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November 3, 2019

Tits Over Toes-A Memoir of Hammer Curls, Homeschooling and Hemorrhoids {Chapter Three}

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.

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Tits Over Toes-A Memoir of Hammer Curls, Homeschooling and Hemorrhoids

 {Chapter Three}

My eleven-year-old daughter Talulah plops herself down on an exercise mat and spreads out her pencil crayons on the gym floor. I pick up a pair of five-pound weights and begin my alternate arm raises. After every second rep, Yelena pulls my shoulders back and down. She tells me I’ve got a kyphosis of my upper back, meaning my shoulders naturally rotate forwards, giving me a hunched look. When I was a child learning dressage, my riding instructor used to stick a crop through my bent elbows to counter this tendency; decades later, when I lived in Japan, I slouched to draw attention away from my height.

Lola, Yelena’s French Bulldog, jumps all over Talulah and licks the inside of her ears, which has her run circles and squeal in delight. The map lays discarded on the floor—so much for my plan on homeschooling at the gym.

Somewhere between the shoulder presses and the push-ups, I begin to see stars. Then nausea sets in. I try to ignore it at first, but when my vision starts to go black I put the weights down, and carefully sit on the weight bench. Cradle my head in my hands.

Day one and I am going to pass out? I haven’t even done any high/low impact work, like burpees. Those tend to make me nauseous due to my low blood pressure, but today’s exercises have been relatively easy. What’s wrong with me?

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to Yelena through my hands. I pray I don’t throw up on her clean gym floor.

Yelena takes a seat on the wooden box by the cable machine. “Don’t worry,” she says, “we have lots of time. I’ll just sit here and eat my fruit salad.”

I take deep breaths, tell myself it’s going to be okay. Lots of time? Maybe she has lots of time, but I don’t. I have a transformation to get moving on. The citrus scent from her tropical fruit salad makes me sad. Except for one apple or orange per day, fruit is forbidden on my meal plan, it’s too high in sugar.

When the nausea subsides, I stand up. Yelena has me stand against the wall in a chair pose, legs slightly bent and lower back flat. I stretch my arms out to the side like wings, as Yelena tells me to slide them up towards the ceiling, keeping shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands against the wall. Due to my kyphosis, this is one of the most challenging exercises for me.

Yelena calls this “Wall Angels.”

I call it “Crucifixion Pose.”

Yelena’s core workout consists of eight types of crunches, done one hundred times each. Added to these are rounds of plank pose and back extensions. I know plank is great for core strengthening, but I often experience painful hammocking of my lower back when I do them, which makes me lower my knees to the mat after thirty seconds.

“This is my favorite session,” Yelena says. She’s cross-legged on an exercise mat beside me. “I finally get to sit down.”

There is no way I can do eight hundred crunches in one go. I don’t have that kind of strength or stamina, so Yelena tells me to start with four hundred and add eighty each day. She wants me doing the full eight hundred by the following week.

I’m thirty seconds into my second one-minute plank when the pain in my lower back sets in. It’s like a knife in my lumbar spine. I try to keep my navel drawn upwards, my lower back engaged. I begin to shake with effort and discomfort.

“What’s your favorite color?” Yelena asks.

My favorite color? I can barely breathe, let alone have a conversation. “Green,” I manage to blurt out the word on an exhale.

“Visualize yourself on stage in a green sparkly bikini,” Yelena says. “You’re holding a trophy.”

This distraction was all I needed. I complete the whole one-minute plank without lowering my knees. Yelena said I’d be stage-ready in twelve weeks, and until this breaking point, I thought she was nuts.

***

When I first started training, I wanted to fly under the radar all stealth-like, not tell anyone I was gearing up for a bikini competition. After four months, I’d rip off my Super Woman cape to reveal the stronger, leaner me. I’d post pics of my new bod all over social media and bask in the glory. This was not what happened. By the end of the third week, I told anyone and everyone who would listen. I did this partly for self-validation, but more for accountability. It was one thing to quit on myself—that I could handle. I did not however, want to look like a quitter in public.

My husband was on board with my diet. He’d come home from Costco with packages of white fish, organic chicken breasts and cartons of egg whites, which my phone autocorrected to aggressive whites when I typed up my grocery list on my Notes App. It was fitting, in a weird way.

Talulah kept watch over me so I didn’t cheat, and Maiya, our twenty-year-old vegetarian daughter, cheered me on, although she was disgusted by my chicken consumption—and rightly so. I did try to eat more fish, and substitute tofu for chicken about a quarter of the time, but more and more, I slipped away from my plant-based diet. I told myself it was only for a few months. Then no chicken again. Ever.

***

Talulah had started kindergarten at a French immersion school, which I thought would be fun and educational. I’ve always had an easy time with languages; I grew up speaking German, learned French after working as an Au Pair in France after high school, and was proficient in Japanese. But Talulah and school didn’t go together—this was obvious from the middle of grade one. I had suggested to her teacher we take her out of French, but she thought we should stick with it. By grade two Talulah hated school so much she locked herself in the dog kennel, wrote I hate school on her face with my black kohl eyeliner, and stuck her hand through the kennel bars to give me the finger when I tried to coerce her out. I transferred her to an English program at a school in the neighborhood the following year. This went okay—until it didn’t.

For Grade 4, we went rogue and decided to homeschool her. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but once I decided to do it, it felt like the only one.  I had a loose curriculum to follow. For Social Studies, I was told that I needed to teach her about Europe. Any era, any country, any topic as long as it related to Europe.

Some days were fantastic. We’d head to the Art Gallery or the Police Museum where I’d teach her about cold cases, innovative thinkers and art history. On other days we’d hike to the top of some mountain with our Border Collie Nala yapping at my heels and Talulah, field guide in hand, trying to identify as many species of deciduous trees as possible. If we weren’t doing any of that, we’d head over to the stable for Talulah’s riding lessons.

There were days when I felt stressed and unsure. Days when I flailed as a teacher but tried to act confident. If Talulah acted up I’d threaten to send her back to public school. I hated working without a set curriculum, without weekly oversight from a teacher. I had no measure of knowing if I was doing okay or not. What if I fucked her up? What if I was holding her back? What if I missed some essential component of her education? I worried about her lack of socialization, but she was thrilled not to be in a classroom with thirty kids, most of whom she didn’t like. Homeschooling was great for her; she calmed down and became a much more balanced, kind individual.

The dark winter days flew by without me getting depressed or sick, like most years. I think it was because there was no time to waffle or think about anything other than the task at hand. If I wasn’t running around in the forest with Nala and Talulah, I was teaching yoga, prepping my meals, or working out.

Some mornings Yelena invited me to join her for her 5:00 am workouts. I’ve always been a morning person and jumped on the opportunity. To work outside by side with a woman with such a strong work ethic inspired me. Week by week, I noticed my legs get stronger, my shoulders somewhat defined. I added more weight to my deadlifts.

***

On Valentine’s Day, Talulah and I met hubby downtown. While they checked out the household goods at the new Muji on Robson, I walked a few stores down and peeked at the shiny gold puffer jacket in the window at TNA. I’d already tried it on a few times at the Aritzia near my house but always put it back on the rack. It was too bright, too shiny, too expensive, and for someone younger. But that was a month ago, and I had changed since then. I tried it on again. It was the last one, it fit me perfectly, and was twenty percent off. It was like wearing a liquid gold sleeping bag. I couldn’t stop looking at myself in the mirror.

Hubby thinks it’s fantastic. Talulah was shocked to see her mother dressed like a teenager.

They were both right, but I loved it and I bought it.

 

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