Great Aunt Tilly was a fan of suet. Yes, that white fat you can buy in little blocks to feed the birds. You can also make suet into dumplings, which are both “filling and frugal” when you are forced to feed a huge family on a shoestring because of your “reproductive irresponsibility”. Amen. Hallelujah.
Please re-read the above with an old-lady British accent for full effect.
Great Aunt Tilly was five hundred years old and had not removed herself from the confines of her corset for at least three of those centuries when she would visit myself and my four feral children, all the way from Yorkshire, to try to put me “on the right road to proper laundry.” She was my mother’s Aunt, and I loved her very much.
I did not love her suet dumplings. Tilly used to describe me as “pleasingly plump” and “big boned” and my teaching career as a “nice little job” to keep me busy.
Great Aunt Tilly is one of the reasons I am on a fitness journey today, because she was the only female relative who tried to guide me as a child and as a young mother. My own mother died suddenly at the age of 32, leaving myself and my older sister to navigate the perils of womanhood on our own, a journey which saw our teen years scarred by desperately bad hairdos, an entirely dysfunctional relationship with mascara and fashion sense that tended toward men’s boots, bulky sweaters and polyester pantsuits.
Great Aunt Tilly taught me:
… I would get a cold in my uterus if I hung out clothing while wearing a skirt.
… women would go mad after child birth if they didn’t “drain” completely because all that excess blood would go to their brains and madness would certainly ensue. (“It happened, you know, to dear old cousin Patricia who was institutionalized for the rest of her life with the blood madness.”)
… my husband should never see me in a housecoat, or without makeup. That he should be served first, always, and that I should hide money from him whenever possible.
… I should have a calendar in the pantry so I could monitor my daughters’ menstrual cycles because that’s what her mother did so she knew exactly when her sneaky oldest daughter (my Grandmother Barbara) conceived my mother… at age sixteen… and since my third child was the reincarnation of Barbara I should be ever vigilant…
… that she had once been so ill she coughed up a piece of her duodenum.
With this womanly wisdom as my legacy, is it any wonder I blundered into womanhood like a bat in the daytime? Is it shocking that I birthed four children by the age of twenty-six, (always being sure to “drain” properly) when I had neither a driver’s license, a job nor a proper grasp of laundry symbols? Is it a surprise that I thought my children would raise themselves, much like mushrooms in a dark forest? I didn’t know what a duodenum even was until I was thirty-five! (And yeah… you can’t cough it up. You just… can’t.)
So here I am at fifty. Almost twenty years older than my mother when she passed. Having raised four children… who sprouted quite nicely, despite the dark forest… for the past thirty years. And I still don’t understand laundry symbols. But I do understand that my uterus can’t get a cold, and my duodenum can’t be coughed up, and my third child is not a reincarnation of my Grandmother, and serving my husband first certainly didn’t save our marriage, and calendars aren’t contraceptives… and, as with everything in life, if I don’t take control of my health and fitness and well-being by myself, no one is going to do it for me.
I became a wife and a mother without a whole lot of guidance, but I did learn that no one was going to do it for me. Now that my children are grown I realize that a lot of my fitness and health needs were met when I was younger simply by being a mother to a large family. I was busy! I was running around, chasing children, chasing hockey games, chasing events and mealtimes and police cars… wait, that’s another story… and I was preparing healthy meals to feed the spawn. (Sort of. Frozen fish sticks are healthy, right?) Once they left home it was oh-so-delightful to have wine at dinner on weeknights, and to lie like a flounder on the sofa watching Game of Thrones, and to buy chips that I actually got to eat, without sharing.
Enter: Twenty extra pounds and a hard time climbing two flights of stairs and those weird jiggly dimples on my thighs.
Great Aunt Tilly never had any sage advice about weight gain, or fitness. I don’t think those things existed for her. She had corsets. And girdles. And a bra made of rebar and industrial steel.
I have Beachbody.
Let me be clear… I don’t have a beach body, but I do have 30-minute exercise videos, and a protein shake, and portion control… and my duodenum is quite pleased with all of that. And those twenty pounds are on their way out… not because of my kids, or my partner, or stress, or trying to fit someone else’s vision of who I should be… but because I am making it happen. All by myself, for myself. My fitness journey is about me, for me, and up to me!
And that is more satisfying than suet dumplings, any day!
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