Why I Hate to Exercise

With just a few exceptions, I hate to exercise. I don’t do aerobic classes because I’m clumsy and can’t remember my left from my right. I’d rather be water-boarded than run on the treadmill for an hour. “Don’t make my go another mile! I’ll tell you anything you want to know!!” Running outside is a hilarious joke. Why should I punish passing drivers by subjecting them to the sight of me attempting to coordinate my flailing arms and legs? I could cause a four-car pileup!
My newest form of exercise, a.k.a. relentless torture, is Wii Fit. I got the game and the balance board about two weeks ago to spice up my workout routine. I decided that if I’m going to look awkward and ungainly I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own home without a trainer hounding me to do just…one…more…sit-up. 
Little did I know how much the game would become my greatest nemesis. The first day that I tried it—a Monday—I stood on the balance board as the game asked me a bunch of questions. Afterwards, it calculated my “Wii Fit Age.” I’m now on the tail end of thirty-six but the game—a small black box with neither a heart nor a soul—told me that my Wii age is 47. I was a little disappointed but chose not to give that arbitrary number any power over me. It was my motivation to improve. I worked out that first day in several of the categories and felt pretty good about it. The next day, I ran on the treadmill (Please don’t ever tell me any secrets. Now that I’ve broadcasted what my kryptonite is—running in place for an hour—they’ll know how to break me!) so that I could justify buying the aggravating machine. When I went back to the Wii on Wednesday, the first thing it asked me was “Were you too tired to work out yesterday?” That was a little creepy. I felt like I was being bullied by HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I started imagining the Wii contacting the other electronics in our house to strengthen its hold on me.
Wii:“Microwave and Toaster Oven, report on Abby’s breakfast.”
Toaster: “It’s a Pop Tart, sir”
Wii: “Unacceptable. No matter. We will break her yet.”
When I worked out with the Wii in our basement the following Friday, I tried a game that instructed me to flap my arms like a bird to land on these raised platforms. I felt ridiculous doing it but it did get my heart rate thumping. As I was considering how glad I was to be at home alone while making a spectacle of myself, I looked over my shoulder out the narrow window near the ceiling. I saw a squirrel sitting right by the window watching me. It sat there a full minute glancing back and forth between me and the TV screen. Eventually he scampered forward a little bit but continued to watch me. I had no idea I would ever be able to entertain woodland creatures with my exercising awkwardness but you never know how God will use your gifts.
I didn’t use the Wii again until the following Tuesday. Of course, this tyrannical video game was incensed that I had been gone for so long. It also told me that I had gained 3.5 pounds. As if this wasn’t disheartening enough, it gave me a list of choices to select the reason for my weight gain. Since “Bloating/Weight Gain Due to PMS” wasn’t a choice, I chose “I don’t know” instead. Even though it had offered this as a choice, it still had a snarky follow-up question: “Are you sure you don’t know why you gained this weight?” Seriously. It is lucky it’s not built like an anatomically correct man because at that moment I would have placed my anatomically correct knee in its Wii-Baby-Maker, a.k.a. DS-Maker.

In spite of the drawbacks for the Wii—annoying questions, completely inaccurate age-guessing and the possible robot army it is building when I’m sleeping—I’m still determined to do well enough to make it give me positive feedback. Why do I care if this electronic box thinks I’m fit or good at kickboxing? Why do I care if I’m fit? I can blow months of working out with just one week of vacation. That’s the hardest part about exercising, much worse than the actual work it involves. It’s exasperating to realize that no matter how hard I work out, there’s always tomorrow’s workout. It’s like every other chore on an endless, repetitive loop. The only thing I can do is keep doing something—even if it’s just a little something—every (other?) day. I’ll just remember the little guys who enjoy my exercising much more than I do. This one’s for you, Squirrel, you little stalker!

Labor Pains

Lately I’ve been hooked on British television show called “Call the Midwife.” If you like post-WWII era clothes and music, East End London accents, and multi-layered stories with engaging characters and plotlines, then this is your kind of show. If you don’t like graphically detailed breech births and nurses piecing together placenta in metal bowls and other bloody labor scenes in all their slimy glory, you may want to pass on this one. Being that it’s only an hour-long drama, there are moments and details of the laboring process they have to skip over or at least speed through. And there are times when the newborn baby looks a little too perfect (Where’s the cone head and smushed nose?) to have hung around a birth canal as long as the scene would suggest. Still, all in all, it’s convincingly realistic enough for me.
Watching these women labor like there’s no tomorrow makes me think about my own babies. When I had my twins nearly eleven years ago, I had no idea how it was all going to go down. There really isn’t anything that can totally prepare you for that first time so I didn’t even try. I didn’t go to birthing classes or read many books. I got spooked by all of the statistics and horror stories about twin births so I just soldiered on the best I could. I made it to 38 weeks before I was induced. After being admitted, my doctor said I wasn’t far enough along for my epidural so they gave me Stadol, a drug designed to take the edge off the pain. Instead, it made me loopy. I could still feel the contractions but my drugged up mind couldn’t process what was happening to me. My husband told me later that I asked him crazy questions like “If you were a Muppet, which Muppet would you be?” and “Did you just feel that contraction? It was a big one!” Fortunately, the drug wore off before I actually had to start pushing so I have a clear recollection of the big moment(s).
When I delivered my son three years later, I entered motherhood with a much better understanding of what to expect. I labored at home from 10:00 p.m. until we checked in at the hospital at 7:00 a.m. the next day and then continued until he was born at noon. Since I wasn’t induced this time, I was able to steadily become accustomed to the building, ludicrous betrayal of my body attempting to turn itself inside-out, a.k.a. contractions. After they gave me my epidural, I was feeling so good that I welcomed a class of nursing students into the delivery room to watch. I put my feet into the stirrups, instructed the nurse as she adjusted the laboring mirror, and gave my doctor a nod that said, “Don’t worry about anything, Doc. I got this one.” Then I started to push. As soon as I saw that little baby head, I stopped listening to my doctor—you know…that real nice lady who went to medical school—and pushed in spite of her warning that I was about to tear. Guess what I did? I pushed anyway. I pushed and I tore a very sensitive area that really should remain intact if at all possible, that is, if you enjoy things like sitting down on a chair without a foam doughnut under your rear. Suffice it to say, I was ready to take out stock in Sitz Bath technology a month later. Even with a labor and delivery already under my belt (and the stretch marks to prove it), I still had so much to learn about becoming a mom.
Now I find myself learning another motherhood lesson. Depending on how you figure it, I’m eighteen months into a pregnancy that has been just as difficult and rewarding and confusing and exciting as my other experiences. We signed our first adoption paperwork in July 2011 but conception was probably years before that. The type of pain I feel now is like that night 7 1/2 years ago when I rested between contractions that were too far apart to go to the hospital but too close together to be able to sleep or eat or think straight. It was exciting to think I would be holding my new son, the reason I was on all fours on the living room floor panting through the next contraction. But it was scary to think about the possible complications and worst-case scenarios. That’s what this adoption has been for me: The ups of seeing our little Ezra’s picture for the first time and the downs of finding out that we’re not as far into the next phase as we were led to believe. The knowledge that he’s ours but not as far as the Congolese government is concerned. The excitement of buying clothes for him but the worry that we won’t be able to go and get him before he’ll outgrow them. It’s a roller coaster ride.

I have so much to encourage me and point me to the hopefulness of our situation. I can see families that have already picked up their kids from the Congo. I can trust in the experience of our adoption agency and the amazing people who work there. I can put my hope in a Sovereign Lord who I know has called us to adoption with a full knowledge (God’s knowledge, not mine) of how this will eventually end. I can remind myself of all of this every day that I wake up in a house that holds three children instead of four but it’s not always easy. In fact, it gets more difficult every day. But I have to ask myself why we started this whole thing in the first place. Did we do this because we thought it would be easy? No. If child birth has taught me anything, it has taught me that the greatest rewards often come after unspeakable pain—either physical or in the private chambers of my heart. If that formula holds true this time, this sweet African boy will be the greatest blessing of my life.

That’s Embarrassing!

There’s nothing funnier than an embarrassing story–even if it’s about me—as long as I get to tell it. There’s nothing more humiliating than finding out that others have been telling embarrassing stories about me and I’m not there to spin it sufficiently toward funny and away from devastating. I assume that’s true for most everyone. Sharing past slip-ups and faux pas are very entertaining and, I think, a very healthy way to keep your ego in check. It’s like a colon cleanse without the laxatives.

I’ve been a professional “self-embarasser” for years now but I realized that I could reach new heights as a “child embarrasser” when my daughters were in preschool and I had volunteered to drive on a field trip. As I loaded my car with my four-year olds and the three extra ones I had been assigned, I asked the question we always asked at the beginning of a car ride: “Is everybody buckle-dee-buckled?” (I think it’s my husband Brent’s homage to Ned Flanders from the Simpsons but I’m not 100% sure.) My daughters groaned, “Mommmm…” I was aghast. Had I embarrassed them? I knew it would happen eventually but I assumed it would be at a mall or a slumber party. Maybe it would be in the school drop-off line as they were getting out of our minivan and I would yell, “I love you sooo much!” They would be pre-teen, not preschool. This meant I had years and years of “Mommmm!” groans to look forward to!
The most effective method for embarrassing yourself is to do it on television. I know this because I’ve done it and have the reruns to prove it. Four years ago my family was on HGTV’s “House Hunters.” If you know the show, you know that a realtor takes a family to see three houses and by the end of the half hour episode they have chosen and signed all the papers for their new house. My husband took a week off work to tape the episode. This involved sound and light checks, costume changes, and exterior shots (but no craft service, unfortunately).
We are a very accommodating couple in most respects, so when the director said she wanted a shot of me riding through the park on my bike with my son in the toddler seat I did it. When she requested a shot of Brent pretending to look at a patient’s chart with his nurse at his office she had it. When she suggested shooting me planting pansies in a rocky flowerbed near the trashcans, I was totally cool with that. That’s why we were both completely invested in the scene that consisted of me calling for Brent’s help while struggling to stack our nuclear holocaust supply of toilet paper in the closet of our old house to highlight our need for more storage space. In an Oscar-worthy performance I cried, “Brent, can you help me?” and he came running to my side. “That Charmin looks mighty heavy, little lady.” In the “I-Can’t-Believe-We’re-Gonna-Be-On-TV” environment of that week, we didn’t question much of anything. We just went along with any idea that came to the director’s mind. (Is that how Hitler got the Nazis on board? Why would anyone sign up for that insanity unless they had been meticulously lured into it with promises of their own cable TV show?)
When our episode aired for the first time, we watched it on a giant screen in the gym at our church with a bunch of our friends. That will go down as one of the top ten most embarrassing yet hilarious nights of my life. It was a like a car accident—I wanted to close my eyes but I just couldn’t look away. We had spent hours and hours taping what would be about 22 minutes of footage (after taking out the commercials). If you subtract every sixty-second update of the riveting storyline after the commercial breaks, then it would be more like fifteen minutes. So much had been edited out and some of the parts they did use—like the toilet paper scene—I barely remembered. Not to mention the things that happened off camera, like the time that I put pantiliners inside my shirt so that I wouldn’t have sweaty armpits. Somehow one of the pantiliners slipped out and made its way to the bottom of the sound guy’s shoe. I noticed it just as they were releasing Brent and I to leave so that the crew could stay and shoot some B-roll. I was in the van with the engine running before Brent knew what had happened. Gland control of a woman in her thirties was not something I wanted to explain to the twenty-something sound guy who had just worked on an episode of MTV Cribs before coming to shoot our show.

When I look at the whole experience—embarrassing parts and all—I’m still glad we did it. I got to spend a week with Brent doing something new. We gave our kids a wonderful gift—a readily available fun fact to use at freshman mixer games. We put our city on the map, hopefully in a good way. My one regret (other than the toilet paper wimpiness and the pantiliner), was the brown capris I wore one of the shooting days. In the shot of us walking up the front porch, I look like I’m wearing a “Big Momma” fat suit. Apparently, the camera added all of the fifteen pounds to my rear. Phew! I’m just glad I got to say it instead of hearing someone else say it first. I feel so much better now! A little dose of embarrassment from time to time is good for what ails you!

Mad Skills

No matter who you are or what you’re capable of, there’s someone out there who has a talent that you envy at least a little bit. Maybe it’s a universally desirable skill like dunking a basketball or singing like Mariah Carey. Or maybe it’s something a little more obscure like the auto-tisement (Did I just make that up? Nope. I just googled it. Already there. Darn.) that said “British Voice-Over Talent, Call 555-1234.” That’s a talent you don’t run into every day.
I have a few talents I’d like to develop over the next fifty years:

  1. Smooth Talker.
  2. I know people who can talk themselves out of any ticket or sticky situation. It baffles me how they do it. I can’t say for sure but a slight disregard for authority probably helps. For me, on the other hand, I can’t pass a postal truck without checking my speed. It’s not as if I’m constantly breaking the law but if I do I will always get caught. I was feeling really rebellious the other day so I ripped the “Do Not Remove” tag from my new pillow. Unfortunately, I ripped the seam open too.

  1. Great Memory.
  2. My husband has an amazing memory. He says it’s mostly insignificant facts but I’m still jealous. My sisters, brothers-in-law and I once played a game of Trivial Pursuit with him and he won the whole game before the rest of us ever answered a question. When I’m trying to recall the name of an actor or a movie, I have to take him on a trip I like to call “Abby’s Celebrity Road to Nowhere.” It goes a little something like this: “What’s that movie? They ride in a hot air balloon…It’s got that girl with the brown hair…Oh, I know, she played the sister of that other girl who was in that movie about horses…You know the one…The father was a bank robber…” It’s painful for everyone involved.

  1. Dance Like No One Is Watching.
  2. I’ve never felt comfortable doing anything in public that even remotely resembles dancing—just walking past a crowd can be problematic. I don’t take aerobics classes, either. Just the thought of Zumba-ing in a mirror-lined room full of strangers makes me want to vomit. I’m as coordinated and graceful as a newborn moose. It would be hilarious for everyone else but I’m not that generous.

  1. Inventor/Phrase Coiner.
  2. My son constantly asks me who invented everything. Sometimes it’s something I already know or I can look up like: “Who invented basketball?” or “Who made the light bulb?” But sometimes it’s not that easy like when he asked me “Who invented swimming pools?” That got me thinking that I’d like to invent something. Imagine if I’d come up with the recipe for the Colonel’s Secret Recipe Fried Chicken. I’d be a millionaire! Or what if I’d invented Velcro instead of that old slacker George de Mestral? I’d be adored by every mom whose toddler has easy slip-on sneakers and by every boy who carries a Velcro wallet! If I can’t be an inventor then I’d at least like to coin a phrase. It would be so cool if everyone started saying a catch phrase that I made up. Like what if I had been the first one to say “No way, Jose!” or “Fiscal cliff?” I’ve got a few options I’m going to throw out there to see if anything sticks. 1) My brother-in-law should actually get credit for this one. My sister and I were talking about the stupidity of the phrase: “That’s like comparing apples to oranges.” You can totally compare apples and oranges. I could come up with about twenty ways that they’re the alike! Instead, my brother-in-law suggested that we say, “That’s like comparing apples to mustard.” I like it. Let’s see where it goes. 2) I’ve also been working on a word for the greasy spots on my sunglasses that show up when they get pushed back too far on my face and rub against my (apparently greasy) eyebrows. I like “smoodge.” It’s short and practically an onomatopoeia. My husband prefers his own phrase: “eyebrow juice.” Since he is the trivial genius in the family, he may be on to something. I guess we’ll just have to let it play out.