Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Too Late?

I had a long and informative conversation with my mother yesterday about her transition into becoming a vegan.

The Chief Lou and I have a summer tradition every four years of watching Olympic gymnastics and crying and cheering and remembering how we both wanted to be Mary Lou Retton when we were kids.

A dear friend of mine took me out to dinner at a new swanky hipster joint where we devoured fresh oysters on the half shell and licked the platter clean.

My mother was diagnosed with diabetes about ten years ago. This woman who raised me has always been conscientious of her diet. She fed us from our huge organic garden, locally raised chickens and milk and dairy products. Our sweets and treats were always homemade from scratch and in our childish dementia, a Hostess Snack Cake was a foreign and exotic delicacy. She did aerobics in the 80s, step in the 90s and does circuit training and yoga in the new millennium. Since being diagnosed with diabetes, she has been continually frustrated with willy-nilly blood sugar levels, despite her best efforts. She has spent the last several years feeling like a failure somehow.

I used to stand in front of the mirror and practice my Mary Lou smile and throwing my arms up over my head triumphantly. I cartwheeled around the basement and begged for gymnastics lessons. I taught myself to do a front handspring and wondered if I was well on my way to the Olympics. The Chief Lou mostly ate Wheaties, so he could enjoy her visage on the front of the orange box. He was clearly the most dedicated of the two of us. Anyone who would eat that much sawdust to be closer to his goal is hard core.

I have eaten lotus root sauteed in plum sauce. I have eaten deep fried scorpions and cicadas. I have eaten sea cucumber, turtle head soup (the cheek meat is the most desirable and considered lucky), beef Tar tare, fresh caviar from the Black Sea. I have eaten the worst green beans ever made at a pot luck. I have eaten foot, crow, my words and dirt on innumerable occasions. Until a few weeks ago, I had never eaten oysters on the half shell.

Bumper sticker wisdom and, more recently, Facebook status commenters would tell us:
"It's never too late." Chirpy words of encouragement that are parroted to folks who reach out in a new endeavor, to prod people who may be hesitating about trying something new, to cheer for people who strike out after their dreams.

Sometimes it is too late. I will never be Mary Lou Retton. I will never compete as an Olympic gymnast. That ship has sailed. Unless they open up an event for doughy, hirsute thirty-seven-year-olds thundering and sweating around the mats, I will not get my gold medal or my Wheaties endorsement deal. Let us not even discuss the coveted spangly leotard.

Sometimes it's late, but not too late. My mom, at age sixty-five, has decided to completely change her lifestyle, to chuck over notions she has held dear for as long as I can remember so that she can feel better, live better, and help out her malfunctioning pancreas. The Chief Lou and I have cried and cheered for her nearly as much as we have for Gabby Douglas this summer. We have marveled at the strength she has shown in eschewing foods she loves and trying to re-adjust her way of thinking so that she might just have this chance to control or even reverse the effects of her illness. Many of her friends have encouraged her not to. Many have told her just to get the 24 hour insulin pump so that she can eat whatever she wants. She, the avowed chocoholic, has refused. Why is she doing this? She told me yesterday, "I just don't want to wait until it's too late."

And me. The not-gymnast. I have tried not to resist ageing in any sort of inappropriate way, but I get overwhelmed sometimes with the feeling of marching time. I am content and have no serious complaints about my life, I've done a lot with my years thus far. I've accomplished things I set out to do and some that I didn't set out to do. But sometimes that dull fog of having seen it, done it sets in. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is a little tattered and worn, a little too familiar.

But then a friend calls you up, takes your arm and says let's go here. She laughs that you've never, and she gets you a seat at the bar with all the cool people. She orders for you and promises greatness. Sometimes you get to grasp that shell and let the ice-cold slippery goodness, drenched in lemon and garlic, slide down your throat and you laugh and lick your fingers and go back in for more. Sometimes you get to taste new flavors, get drunk on only the delicious unexpectedness of it. Sometimes you get to be new and inexperienced again and discover something for the first time. Sometimes you get to realize as you sit back and survey the pile of empty shells that sometimes it is too late, but probably not as often as you might think.


  1. Don't worry, you can always get a strange leopard. You may have to keep it in the basement and feed it raw meat, but it can be your secret wild animal .... I am constantly hoping for eventuaLLy cheaper buffalo meat.

  2. True dat.

    Your mother is marvelous, I can tell. I keep saying to myself that vegan is the next step, but oh how I would miss my yogurt. Strange how we attach ourselves to food as much as they attach themselves to our hips and thighs. I am wishing all sorts of goodness in her general direction.

    And good for you for trying something entirely new, and for sharing the inspiration you gleaned from those shells with us.

  3. Say, how far did you move, still in the Seattle area?

  4. Thank you for the inspiration and motivation to do the things I want to and the things I need to!

  5. It's never too late. I love this. And I think I love your Mom too!

  6. Pam Houston wrote that suicide is an attempt to break up with the world before it breaks up with us. I see similar themes here. So slippery: to keep hoping, or to give up. I'm always back and forth.

  7. Your mom is brilliant and like Margi, I think I love her. She's a fabulous example of how we should all look at life.

  8. All this how late is too late business reminds me of my eight-year-old niece asking my thirty-six-year-old self, "Do you want to be an author when you grow up?" Late is relative, I guess.

  9. So much to relate to. I gave up sugar, flour and cheese (oddly enough)long before I was sugar, gluten and lactose intolerant. I gave them up because I wanted to have a healthy body, and because I am not at all good at moderation, but I am much better at abstinence. Because I am about half the size I used to be, people often ask me how I did it. No one is ever happy to hear how. They always want to believe I could enjoy a little cheesecake. I deeply sympathize with your mother. Give her a fist bump from me.

    Another thought: I have found it empowering to say sometimes, "Yes, it is too late. It is OK to mourn now. It is too late." And other times I have delighted in the taste of that dream I had forgotten to even wonder about having anymore or never thought to want.



Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!