We parents are sometimes so busy molding our children’s lives that we forget that we are the ones who really need some serious work. That was my situation a few years ago when I came home from a family vacation and saw the photos my niece posted on Facebook. I was flabbergasted. There was no denying that those pictures showed an aging, overweight woman who could barely move. I had to do something.
Now, 26 months later, I am here to tell you that I changed my life. I lost 70 pounds. I went from a sedentary, arthritic person who watched a lot of reality television to a walker/jogger/hiker who exercises every day. When people ask me how I did it, I usually give them the short answer — a combination of Weight Watchers online and the dance program Jazzercise. But the long answer is a lot more complicated than that.
I had an epiphany. I smile as I write this because here at Seton Hall University I am always urging my freshmen to have their “epiphanical moment.” You are not going to find the word “epiphanical” in the dictionary anywhere because I made it up to describe the “aha!” moment our students often need to have. They need to change their lives — when they abuse their new-found freedom as college freshmen; when they realize that the major they have chosen is too hard; when they discover their life’s vocation; or, when they make poor choices and get themselves in some sort of trouble.
We parents are very good at barking out orders that force our sons and daughters to change: “You’ve got to fix that math grade;” “You need a haircut;” “Get a job!”; “Stop hanging out with that kid”; Maybe the best thing we can do, however, is to lead by example. We need to be agents of change.
My niece who is a senior in high school just asked me to read her college essay that describes someone she admires greatly. She picked my mother, a woman who raised nine children and graduated from college at the age of 75. What a great role model for her 31 grandchildren! At a time when many are retiring from work and putting up their feet in front of a television, Maryrose’s grandmother was trudging between Fahy and Corrigan halls (yes, another SHU graduate!) to get to her classes. She showed first hand that we are all capable of change and that, even as we age, change is hard, but good.
My own epiphany came at a time that I was at a crossroads. Either I gracefully accepted the indignities that aging was foisting upon me, or not. I chose not. I can’t really say why it worked this time. My mindset changed. I had friends being diagnosed with breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart conditions. My bones were creaking from arthritis. Something clicked. And I changed.
My epiphany spread ripples around my house. I threw out junk food, turned off the television and got moving. My husband, in a show of support, started eating what I ate. He lost 20 pounds. The turning point came for both of us about nine months after we started. We arrived at the train station in Giverny, France, and had two choices: we could get on a shuttle bus that would take us to the artist Claude Monet’s home, or we could get on a bike. We pedaled the six miles each way. There was no turning back. We started hiking. Our weekends are now spent trekking through remote corners of North Jersey.
Our children have gotten on board, too. While there is a certain amount of grumbling about the paucity of junk food in our cupboards, everyone is reading labels, discussing and incorporating fiber into their diets. “Our family is obsessed with food,” my daughter declared recently when all five of us were chopping and sautéing a family meal together. “But in a good way,” I added.
The message this month is that we too can be agents of change for our children. Sometimes we can make our points better by saying nothing but by going about our business making ourselves better and more fulfilled. That kind of change speaks volumes.
~Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.