Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Life With Really Ugly Legs

I imagine it was an undiagnosed congenital disease, since I barely remember a time that I wasn't hyper conscious that I wasn't like the other kids. By grade six, at the tender age of eleven, I was actively trying to do something about my condition. It was the year my mom required us to pack our own lunches, and let it suffice to say, that mine was left sorely lacking.

By the age of eighteen it must have been catastrophic, since it was at that time I began to puke my guts out. And not from the flu, either. More of a "home remedy" sort of approach to prevention against the fear of growing further out of control.
Often, I could tell that other people didn't notice my curse. They would comment on my skinny-ness, and how lucky I was. I needed that so badly, as I felt I had so little going for me in the broader arenas of personality or intellect. I had a serious deficit in "coolness factor" that no one could deny.
So, I went with skinny, even though I knew how ugly I was. And I puked my guts out because I had to hold the inevitable at bay. Getting fatter would only accelerate the condition.
Somehow I was always a pretty happy person, smiling and laughing a lot so by hook or by crook, I managed to get some dates. I kept smiling a lot, even when I thought the guys were total idiots, because I didn't want them to find out that I had no personality and no brain. So, sometimes they would think they wanted to marry me, since it was a pretty good deal from their angle. That's when I really had to bolt, since I hadn't even been honest about my problems, and if they knew me at all, they'd start laughing and running and not stop until they reached the sunshine coast.
By the time I met Brian, I was pretty tired of smiling all the time, and super tired of puking. So I told him all my terrible truths, especially the one about my legs being really ugly. I cautioned him that the condition was irreversible, chronic, and progressive and that he may want to consider his options, and quite possibly take up the sort of long distance running where you never, ever look back. But Brian was distracted by my breasts, I think, and kind of tuned out of the whole bit about the legs. Maybe he thought it wasn't really a big deal, just a little something that would clear up,over time.
He was wrong about that.

We're more than twenty-two years in now, and my legs are uglier than ever.


But Brian's legs are strong and beautiful, and since he has stayed married to me despite my condition, I like to think of them as at least half mine.


With his legs and mine, we even managed to compile a gorgeous family. Incredible.


A few years ago, I started to think about this word: "Enough". I'm pretty sure it was after a cousin told me that she had finally aligned herself with the truth that she was enough.

It sounded big and daring and bold to me. Outside of my reach.

But, it played on my brain, and I started to wonder about living as though I too were enough. Thin enough, smart enough, bold enough. Just for today. And to say ENOUGH! to things and thoughts in my life that were choking out the good, making the air feel thin and raw, and like I had to gasp and claw for a little place to feel safe in. Maybe there was already enough space for me.

So, one summer day at the beach, I didn't cover up my Really Ugly Legs when I went for a little walkabout. I noticed a lady doing henna tattoos, and I decided to practise wearing a visual reminder to myself that my legs were good enough.
Thing is, my legs have taken me to so many interesting places. Have carried my body and my eyes on such beautiful adventures.
My ugly legs, so utterly lacking in coolness, have been welcomed into some Very Cool atmospheres, where the Ultra Cool people hang out, playing their instruments and chatting about the book learnin'.
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises of investigating the enoughness concept has been that these Ugly Old Legs of mine have carried me through some very turbulent waters of terror, and into the local cross fit gym. These legs have remembered how to skip, have learned how to squat, and how to do a little jog.
My gym friends don't seem to notice my condition, and if they do, we are too busy laughing and loving on each other to take much notice about my ugly legs.

Last summer, my legs went ahead and did some other ridiculous things that I hadn't thought they were capable of. Like, participating in the local Imagine run for Mental Health, and much to my surprise, managing to run four out of the five kilometres that were set out before me. Evidently, cellulite in no way impedes the ability in thighs to grow tiny muscles and just keep moving.
And equally, if not more remarkable, was that my legs began to dance. It was the darnedest thing, that will live in the legends of Blunderview for generations to come. These nearly atrophied, entirely repressed Mennonite legs, with a pretty serious case of RUL, began to dance. They danced for hour upon hour, as the townspeople stood agog and aghast at this thing that had come to pass.
For sure, there are days when my condition feels crippling and my mind and eyes can't see straight. All I see is shame, disgust, and horror when I look down at the sags and bags, cellulite, fat, veins, lumpy mashed potatoey mess that is my legs.
But if I could gather up that little girl in the chevron fortrel pants, I would tell her not to waste a minute of her precious life worrying about the state of her limbs. I would tell her to pump her legs on the swing and go really high and really far, to use her legs to explore the big tree in the garden, and to love on her legs early on so that they know they are enough.
I'm pretty sure that 50, 60, and 70 year old Joyce would like to sit 47 year old Joyce down to do some leg talk too. I imagine them encouraging younger Joyce to stay mobile, limber, to use those legs to live out her life.
They might even say- "You think your legs are ugly now? Whoa mama! Those were the good old days, cuz now we be living with Really Ugly Legs!"
And I would try to remind them, in the kindest way I know how, that our legs are enough.
Just the way they are.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Dreaded Family Christmas

When you're part of the Kehler lineage, getting together for Christmas is no small feat.

Folks, its all about the appearances, and the pressure is insane.

I like to get up real early to ensure plenty of time for a pedicure.

There are a number of steps involved- move the dish rack. Lay out a towel beside the sink. Position self within arm's reach of the coffee machine, ipad, and variety of foot scupting tools. Soak the feet in hot water, and begin process of removing approximately eight pounds of nasty callous. Ask Brian to bring in the palm sander from the garage. And the chain saw. Things are pretty jammed up in the whole heel situation.


Like I said- getting ready for the Kehlers is a huge, big deal. There's always the dreaded heel check. So, after scraping off the worst of it, a lavish handful or two of vaseline gets massaged in, then the foot wrapped in saran before slipping into a pair of kitten socks.

Knowing how everyone would be checking for lulu and anthropology labels, I decided instead to wear all the cats all at the same time. Because, there would be no winning. Cat leggings, Hipster cat t-shirt, cat sweater, cat necklace. I left out the earrings because they make my ears itch, and what with the Saran Wrap in my socks, I just felt it was asking too much.

And have I mentioned the cost of this Christmas charade?! For her gift this year, my mother wanted lard from New Bothwell, PLUS I had to bring a salad. Sheesh. That's well over $13.00 at the grocery store, and I haven't even started in on all the gifts. Good heavens.

Every year, we are expected to compete in this gift exchange. Simply an exercise in outdoing one another's appearance of generosity. I mean- My nephew brought the most elaborate, obnoxiously, show offy gift for our white elephant gift exchange.


How is this not supposed to make me feel inadequate. So, my brother lands up with a satellite dish, my daughter with a fax machine, my brother in law with a perfectly intact set of 8 track tapes. Not to mention my niece with all those half filled bottles of hand lotion.

The pressure!

Then there's that awkward moment when the sixteen year old gets a pipe that absolutely no one fesses up to bringing. Now how am I supposed to make Christmas morning exciting for my son after that??

They're all just here to make me look bad.

Fortunately, there are bright moments that help with the sting.

(I force a plastic smile.)

And at one point we found outselves outside the living room window singing carols around the festive sausage tree. Mother was visibly moved. May have peed just a little.

All that singing around the sausage ladder may have been rehearsal for the really, really show-offy uptown types in the Kehler clan who brought their violins and insisted on marching around town to sing carols at people's windows. All this performance and overspending has left me rearranging my saran, and pulling at my catalope tights.

It's just not easy, folks.

Thirteen dollar salads, sausage ladders, gift exchanges that give everyone a belly ache from laughing way too hard. A dear old dad who still reads the Christmas story and leads us in the blessing. A dear old mom who insists on cooking the turkey, the meatballs, the ham, and all the buns at the tender age of eighty-eight. And my six remaining siblings, who simply refuse to sweat the petty things.

Or pet the sweaty things.

Good thing I kept my feet under wraps.









Friday, December 12, 2014

Because, Broken.

There's a lot of stuff broken in the world. It's easy to see that in the Big World, what with the CIA shooting blender meals up suspect's asses with Dr's approval, the UN running out of money to feed refugees in Syria, and moms who kill their babies. And while all of that and more is horrifying, its all sort of "out there", and pretty easy to compartmentalize as "things that will never happen to me, and that I can't do too much about, -sigh-"

But the busted up world isn't just "out there" and no one is offering immunity from all the sad and broken coming into our families, friends and ourselves.

I've been ever so slightly taking it out on Brian in the form of neediness and unrelenting snuggles, snivelling and whining in his ear to please not leave me... or die... He's been largely tolerant, patting me and saying "there, there" types of things while every so patiently reminding me in the gentlest of flabbergasted terms that he's not persuing a sexy relationship with anyone at the local grocery store or during his early morning forays to the pool where he swims lengths with a hairy jumbo sized panting man.

But its all around me folks, and this isn't news to you because many of you are living it. You're figuring out how to hire lawyers and divide mortgages, and maybe kids. Or you're sitting in the hospital with your babies and feeling every shade of helpless. Or wondering when you'll land up in the hospital with your kid (or husband, or old dad, or....) Some of you, my friends, feel like there's a giant sign on your head that says "Shit here" because that's what your boss is doing. (or your son, your husband, your sister...) Everything feels tenuous and incredibly fragile, and that sense of invincibility is way gone.

We are meanwhile working hard at our day jobs because the plumbing broke and the car payments must be met. Plus there might be a mediator to pay for, or some extra dollars to sneak into a secret account for when its finally time to leave the guy that shoves you up against a wall and calls you a fat bitch. Or you accidently ran over your smart phone and need to rustle up $500 to pay back your Mastercard.

There are Pots of Gold to buy for the piano teacher, and your cousin's baby died so your'e trying to figure out how to navigate family Christmas. Dad keeps falling and not remembering and every time you say good-bye at the door, it feels like you're leaving your preschoolers alone at the top of the stairs with sharp knives, and a pot of gasoline bubbling on the hot stove.

Your kids want to know what you want for Christmas and all you can think of is- I DON'T KNOW but I need: Time, and I want a couple of trips to get out of endless winter, and, hey some version of world peace would be nice. And you feel like a first class brat for being depressed about something as mundane as cold, knowing full well that you're living a very privileged sort of existence, what with the utter lack of masked snipers in your immediate neighborhood. But a couple of trips or one would be so nice, and way more doable than helping your friends with broken hearts and broken children, and you recognize that you're selfish anyway, so may as well say it out loud.

The Christmas tree just looks weird this year, and you catch yourself thinking- why do we do these strange things? Bring in a living thing to watch it die by twinkle light?

But we do. We practise our traditions or make new ones to accomodate our missing holes and shattered parts. Like trying to ensure eye contact with the Wal-Mart employee while paying for the chocolate oranges and Disney Frozen socks. Remembering that she's a person with her own family and plumbing, her own fears and wishes, and take the time to ask if her customers are being nice to her today? Are her feet sore?

**(but I'm not nice to the people who phone me to offer to sell me things. They are not real people. They are monsters. Do Not in any case, phone me with any sorts of offers. Also- DO NOT come to my door to sell me meat off the back of your truck, or try to talk to me about a home security system. In that case, you have recinded your right to be a human. You no longer have feelings or any human characteristics, as far as I am concerned).

I'm at the awkward part of this blog post now, where I should turn this gloomy ship around and offer all kinds of hope and Bible verses, but all I've got is "love your neighbor" and some awkward, non specific version of peace and good will toward humans.

I'd like to offer concrete advice for how to heal some hearts. How to rescue the kids. How to make love last for really real next time so that nobody dies or leaves. How to fix that disorder, that cancer, that weird kidney thingie. I'd like to be able to tell all the kids that their dads won't die until they're at least 92 and I'd like to tell the old men that its ok to stop taking their pills and go ahead and die. I'd like to tell the young moms that their next baby won't die in or out of utero and that their other kids are also immune. From all the bad things.

But I can't offer any of that without becoming hopelessly cheesy and full of bull crap, even though I'll stubbornly hold onto the conviction that God is good, and that Jesus' words of loving one another with casseroles, mittens, wine, and tears are definitely the way to go. (slightly paraphrased version of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned). Sometimes the people we love are in different kinds of prisons than the one Peter lost his head in, and I think we should visit them there too.

It's too bad that we can't save each other. Because its what I would like to do.

So, my loved ones, and the ones I don't even know but I'm rooting for anyway- Let's decide that love wins. That it rises to the top, past the scum of the ones who leave. Past the pain of the ones we've lost and the ones we're losing.

But because the pain is so real and so deep and so awful, I'll try not trivialize it with pat answers and trite words. It's hard work to keep deciding on love, even when we want to hurt each other and we'd rather crawl under the covers with a box of wine in one hand and some nice gin in the other.

Turns out that there is a pretty great verse to wrap it all up with, folks. Huh. who knew.