Remember the end of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge looks in despair at his own grave and realizes that the dead man of whom people were speaking ill was himself? He asks the fearful specter of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they the shadows of what May be only?” When the ghost merely continues to point at Ebenezer’s grave, Ebenezer cries out, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!” As we all know, Scrooge’s end does change, and by altering his present course he experiences redemption from the lonely, miserable future that awaited him.
I’ve had a visit from a couple of Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come lately; situations that show me a future that might be mine if I continue on my present course. The first one came from a professor I had last year. She is a beautiful woman who knows how to command a room’s attention with her brilliant mind as well as her fashion-forward style. She is also about a size 20. One night after class, I was with a small group of students who were discussing with her the effects of grad school upon one’s personal life. “I started my weight gain in my Masters program,” she told us, “but it really went downhill when I got my doctorate. I’m an emotional eater, and there I was, stuck at my computer all day, writing papers and eating doughnuts.” She pulled a card out of her purse. It was an old driver’s license. “This is me ten years ago,” she said, “before I started grad school.” She passed it around and we all stared at it in wonder. She must have been a size 4.
I knew then that I was on the same path. Working full time, commuting to grad school, writing and grading papers, and attempting to be a decent wife and housemom leave me with zero personal life. Exercise–one full hour and a half to go to the gym, work out, drive home and shower–is like a dream from another life. Eating right takes discipline, and my discipline quota gets used up pretty quickly when I force myself to sit down to three or four hours of homework a night. It makes me feel entitled; I’m driving myself into the ground trying to be too many things to too many people, so why should I have to deny myself a few extra calories? My mentality is, “Right now, doughnuts are my personal life. Just leave me alone.” And the consequences have been swift and ruthless: I went up a about size and a half in 2010 (meaning my new clothes are already getting tight). On my current track, one additional size per semester means I’ll most likely be getting morbid obesity with a side of diabetes and high blood pressure along with that Masters degree.
That’s headstone #1. Headstone #2 actually scares me more. Let me say first of all that I’ve come to grips with my infertility. I’ve built a new dream for myself that includes eventually moving to Europe, getting a doctorate, and writing a book—not too shabby a trade-off. I still feel grief, but I no longer feel sorry for myself.
That being said, there’s an unforeseen consequence of infertility that’s come up lately that worries me. I’ve known a number of infertile couples over my lifetime, and I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that many (not all) of them end up, for lack of a better term, really weird. The best way I can describe it is that they’re ingrown. Children give you something to invest in that’s outside yourself. They humble you and show you your inadequacies. And they can potentially keep you from getting unhealthily obsessed with bizarre ideas because they keep you so firmly grounded in the everyday. I want to stay grounded in the everyday. I want to be self-aware. And I don’t want to morph into the married equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady.
So as I was up late night one night worrying about my weight gain and my Crazy Cat Lady tendencies, I had a total Ebenezer Scrooge moment. I realized that these things are warnings, not predictions. No one said that I had to do things like other people; I’m living my own life and making my own choices. This Christmas break was revelatory for me. I got into a good groove with my workout routine and I’ve been working out six days a week for the last three weeks. I’ve started adding more fruits and veggies to my daily diet, and I am surprised by the results that such a small change can yield. I even bought a gigantic Christmas turkey and gave it some poor little kid named Tiny T—oh wait, wrong story. And I’ve realized that as long as I’m consciously investing in my husband, my students, my church, and my relationship with God, I’m not going to get ingrown. The main thing I realized was that God holds my future—no one else. He has a plan for me that no one in the world is going to derail, least of all me. This is a reassuring knowledge. But if I get a cat and start doing high-pitched voice-overs for it, please somebody save me.