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Walk This Way: A Mother and Son Journey Towards Recovery

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“You truly are looking amazing mom!! I am proud of you!♥”

I think any mother would well up seeing a note like this on her Facebook wall for all to see, but coming from a 15-year-old son, it is nothing short of miraculous. I had just posted a series of photographs from our recent Halloween gathering and people were commenting on my costume and recent weight loss.

Like his father, my son is not very effusive, so when he says something of the non-critical persuasion, it means a whole lot. But this note was above and beyond any he had ever done. Though raising a teenage boy is often like wrestling with a six-foot porcupine, on this weight-loss quest I have always felt his strong and supportive presence behind me, equal parts a kick in the ass and a pat on the back. Though I often worried about passing on my eating issues to my son, I think the smartest thing I’ve ever done was to invite him along on my journey from obesity. Truthfully, it is something I have some experience with myself.

Hello my name is Ann, and I’m the daughter of an alcoholic.

Yes, I’m one of the many who grew up hiding car keys, doing the household laundry at 11, and generally trying to keep my mother alive. My father died when I was eight, so by that point it was just me, my older brother John, and a mother who found solace at the bottom of a bottle of Bacardi. And yes, the experience essentially robbed me of any real chance at childhood. However, Mom sobered up when I was 12, and did something that basically saved our relationship: she brought me along in her recovery.

From the minute she came back from rehab, she brought me with her to open AA meetings. I baked cakes for people who were celebrating their anniversaries, and eventually ended up running the local Alateen meeting. The thing is, there really wasn’t any semblance of a traditional mother-daughter relationship between us, but as a result of this shared healing experience we developed our own kind of relationship, and ended up as close as a mother and daughter could be.

I’m not telling this story for sympathy; I would not change a thing about my past, it is part and parcel of who I have become and I’m pretty damn proud of who I am, but as I lay in bed thinking about Carlos’s note, I thought of my mother and the similar journey we took together – and also how it was different. The biggest difference was that I accompanied my mother on her pursuit of sobriety purely as support, while for awhile Carlos was right next to me in the battle of the bulge.

You see, when he was younger, Carlos and I were fat together. In earlier posts I’ve told the story of how my obesity followed a miscarriage when Carlos was only two, and though at that time we were both normal weights, when he hit about five years old he started to get heavier, right along with me.  I worried about the influence of my crazy, out-of-control issues on my son. Was he genetically cursed or imitating my self-punishing behavior? Either way, I could blame myself. Though he was always popular, we both suffered the social ramifications of being among the obese. On top of the pain of my own loss, I blamed myself as I struggled to find “husky” clothes to fit my son.

But then Carlos’s height took off and his weight stayed the same. His natural athletic abilities emerged (clearly a genetic gift from his father). As I watched the strong, broad-shouldered man’s body emerge from beneath the chubby layers of middle school, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. He could escape my fate. I hadn’t ruined him.

I know, I know, I’m hard on myself, but I don’t think enough parents take responsibility for the rapidly expanding bodies of our children. I mean, who are they modeling? Yes, there are some exceptions, but most eating habits are learned by watching the first adults we are exposed to, and I’m the first to admit I was not a good influence. Partner that with a slim, fit father who eats nothing all day and then consumes a massive, carb-filled dinner, and your waistline is doomed. 

But as Carlos stretched up and slimmed out, my own transformation began. When I came back from Puerto Rico this past January, I sat Carlos and my husband down.

“I’m done.”

“Done with what?”

“I can’t deal with being so fat anymore. I’m done.” Cue tears. They came easily those days.

“Okay, how can we help?”

Carlos came with me to the gym, gave me tips on how to use the machines, encouraged me to push forward (albeit usually peppered with playful abuse, but he is a teenage guy after all). He made me quinoa salad for lunch on the weekends and we discussed nutrition and fitness. When I was tempted by pastries as we ordered our coffees at Starbucks he reminded me of the size 8 jeans that hung on my bedroom door, waiting for me to shrink into.

Do we always get along? Hell no. We bicker and butt heads and shriek at each other, but from what I hear, that’s pretty normal preparing-for-eventual-separation type stuff. And then there are those mornings when I walk out dressed for work and he says, “Mom, you look very slim in that outfit.” Or when he makes bold, supportive statements on Facebook. The thing is, he understands what it means to shed layers, he always will. That doesn’t really justify the exposure of my previous bad habits, but it is a sort of consolation. When he is a grown man and a woman complains about how much she hates her muffin top, he will not dismiss it as female vanity, but rather treat it as important as it really is.

I wouldn’t change a minute of the journey I took with my mother or a second of the one I shared with my son.

But upon seeing Carlos’s declaration of love and support on Facebook, I realized that the importance of fitting into that pair of size 8 jeans has just taken a back seat to my son’s being proud of me.

I feel like I already hit my goal.

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Jodi Paloni

    So happy you wrote about this. It’s such a good reminder how our older children continue to teach us and when it’s all on the table, there’s no guessing, hiding, wondering, inventing.

  • Nicole

    What a great post, Ann!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank you both! Yes, Jodi, they do teach us don’t they? Really from the time they’re babies. I’m grateful to have had a “all on the table” relationship with both my mother and my son.

  • chris

    wow

  • chris duca

    Ann, I knew my son always had good instincts when it came to making friends but I had no idea how amazing it would be. I am so glad to have met you and your fabulous family. Alex always wanted a little brother and now he has one! Loved the book you published too! I checked it out after we spoke last week. By the way I just downloaded “my fitness pal”. I too have had issues with the scale over the last decade and it’s time to get over it already. Thanks for the inspiration. Maybe next time we see each other there’ll be less of both of us!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank you Chris! It was wonderful to meet you too! And thank you for reading Sister Chicas. It was a wonderful experience and I will always have a fondness for that book

    As for issues with the scale…sigh. I’m figuring this will be something I’ll be working on my entire life, but that’s okay. The journey this year has been a powerful one, and I’m grateful to have comrades like you along for the ride! Here’s to less fat, but more of what really makes us…us!

  • Sara Haskins

    Tears once again.. ;) Hit my 20 pounds yesterday! My husband has been a great support in my weight lost journey. But my son has been my rock. He is contanstly asking me how many points are in foods or if I really should be eat one choice over another.. I have notice that in the 3 1/2 months I have been working on my goal that Dylan has also started to slim down.. I worry that I am harming his young relationship with food.. but hoping it is him playing two sports and me buying healthier food at home. Thank you for writing and sharing once again!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Yay Sara! 20 lbs is quite a mark to hit! And I think it’s wonderful that your son is along for the ride. My feeling about harming his relationship with food is that it is more of a concern if you are “dieting” rather than changing your lifestyle for the better. There is nothing wrong with him being aware of what is healthy and what isn’t.

    I’m so happy to get your note. And nice work! Keep me posted on your journey!!!

  • chris duca

    Good job to Carlos for ordering the broccoli pizza! Thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them. Carlos has an infectious smile and laugh. My son doesn’t want to remember the days but he was also in the “husky” section until 15 yrs old. He has finally grown into his body. I wish I could grow 6 inches like he did and all this extra weight would just streeettttccchhh. I begin anew today, thanks to you.

  • Ann Cardinal

    I asked Carlos to read this post before I published it because I wasn’t sure he wanted to remember the husky time either, but he was fine with it. I think it’s a reminder to him of how far he’s come.

    Yeah, getting taller would be nice, huh? My 5’3″ “height” leaves a lot to be desired! :)