Thursday, October 21, 2010

Self Help for the Easily Distracted

My latest efforts at self improvement involved cutting sugar and alcohol from my diet on weekdays. It started back in September. Even decades out of school, I still have the urge to embark on some new challenge when summer draws to a close. Since I’d spent the last two weeks of summer on a rustic vacation with a collapsible camping wine glass firmly attached to my hand, the better with which to wash down the Eagle Bay donuts, getting back on track with healthy eating seemed an obvious goal.

I managed pretty well until the first Tuesday, when the kids each came home with a telephone book sized sheaf of back-to-school forms that needed filling out before the next day, and the husband mentioned that he would be leaving for China a week later, and would probably be traveling for work every week after that for awhile. That’s when I amended the program the first time: cut out sugar OR alcohol on any given day. As I sat listing eighty-three emergency contacts on two schools' worth of forms with a pen that kept running out of ink, a nearby dish of chocolate covered pretzels made it so much less tedious.

A week later a large box appeared on my front step; a craftsman whose work I admire and have talked up to anyone who will listen sent me four bottles of New Zealand white wines in thanks. It was a Wednesday, and I’d already eaten a cookie, but I couldn’t very well write a thank you note for something I hadn’t used yet. Besides, I’d already made it four days of solo parenting without anyone yelling, “I have the worst family in the WORLD!” and slamming the door, so there was reason to celebrate.  I uncorked a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with dinner, just for a sip.

I’m a beer girl, so for me to say that I detected notes of grass, ripe gooseberry, passionfruit, and fresh citrus lime should tell you that this bottle was something special. The sip quickly became a glass, which then became two, which then became me telling the girls in sloppy tones how proud I am of them, and how much I love them, and did they want me to teach them some dance moves to a Doug E. Fresh song? 

The next day I felt a bit chagrined at my inability to stick to the plan and forwent both sugar and alcohol to compensate. It wasn’t a hardship; by then the weekend was only 24 hours away anyway, and all bets would be off. I researched recipes for candy-based vodka cocktails.

Since then I have reliably avoided alcohol Monday through Thursday, unless I am cooking a recipe which calls for a half cup of beer (I can’t stand to waste food, even if it’s drink) or if the Giants are playing and I need to steady my nerves. I am also staying away from sugar except for when I am on deadline and can't come up with the closing paragraph, or if the girls are baking their weekly batch of chocolate chip cookies. But never at dusk. I would never do that.

The fact that my guilt is so easy to reconcile is a testament to a life spent falling short of self-help efforts, without any lasting ill effects. There was the grapefruit diet in high school that would finally help me be model-thin enough to get a boyfriend; I never got skinny, but I did end up with a manageable aversion to grapefruit and, eventually, a husband. There was the second, third, and fourth attempt to learn French after I’d already mastered German, the only result of which is a tangle of neurons that takes any French word I hear and first translates it into German before I can process it in English. So that’s kind of a cool party trick.

Then there was the kick-boxing class I signed up for after my last baby was born. The gym smelled so nasty that it drove me outside into the fresh air and I ended up pushing the stroller up and down the hilly streets of Oakland until I got back in shape (that shape is "cylindrical." )

I’m not knocking self-improvement attempts, or the miles of bookstore shelves that point the way for people to follow along their individual roads to reform. I’m sure each little goal I’ve set and fallen short of has left some sort of mark on me (though seriously, I will never go in that kick-boxing place again.)  I’m just pointing out that the path to enlightenment might be paved with cobblestones, not smooth asphalt, and a couple of stumbles are to be expected. Besides, if you always got it right the first time, what would you have to shoot for next September?


  1. Oh thank God. I'm not the only one! I'm always looking for that new kick in the pants - finding whatever promises to make my life even better until later I decide that moderation is the key to life. (Moderation of course being a relative term. For me it's the averaging of calories. Green muddy smoothie for breakfast and chocolate chip cookies and wine for dinner.)

  2. Technically, I think if you eat a green muddy smoothie for breakfast, you're allowed to shoot heroin for dinner.

  3. Loved this post Nancy! After being too busy in September to committ to anything (except copious amounts of said wine, after being on my feet for too many hours)I have embarked on a 'free' month of Bikram Yoga AKA 'hot' yoga. You wanna talk about a smelly room!!!....I'll let you know how it goes.

  4. You've reminded me of the article I read about some restaurant where they do wine & candy pairings. Apparently Chardonnay and candy corn is the most sublime of all. While neither of those is my favorite, I can't wait until Halloween to try because it does sound pretty yummy.

  5. Why wait, Jill? The candy corn is right down the aisle from the Chardonnay at your Safeway. Perhaps a Pinot and a Peanut Butter Cup?

    Maureen - that is simply not enough air flow for me, you are a brave woman.

  6. At least your girls are somewhat inclusive as they rail against the "worst family in the world." Mine are very specific about with whom the shortcomings lie. "Do you just live to make me miserable? You're the worst mom in the world." On the flip side, found a note from Charlotte to me that said,"Dear Mom, I love you. You're the best. You can be mean sometimes, but still." I take what I can get!

  7. that last sentence of the note is priceless. "But still." Hold on to it and give it to her when her first child turns 3.

  8. Yes! Self help IS for dummies. Normalarky is what we should aim for instead. Thank you for this refreshing take on being human in the modern world, with (in the words of the motto of my girls' school of yore) "the saving grace of a sense of humor."

  9. Just reading this post now, half a bottle in to an excellent Medoc on a Wednesday night for no apparent reason other than it being so damned good and one of life's perks. How I miss you! This blog of yours reminds me of that way too often. miss you and want to see that cylindrical body of your soon, my conic shape wants to bump up against you and drink beer and wine and vodka and eat candy and cookies and peanut butter and whatever else is in the cupboards. Love, poor man's Joan Cusack (Shira)


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