Day 26

I’ve never been on any sort of “diet” for this length of time. I’ve almost stopped missing food, but I miss meals something fierce. Humans are designed to break bread with each other, share sliced meats, divvy up the vegetables, refill the wine glasses, and make yummy noises together. I’m ruining the meal aesthetic with my liquid substitute in an oversize plastic cup. Drinking your dinner—unless that means wine accompanied by bits of cheese and crackers and sausages—just isn’t social. Frankly, it makes me feel like a jerk.

About 219 people have asked me why I’m doing this/torturing myself/dieting at all. At first, it was to slide the scale back for an upcoming oncology appointment. Now, it’s really about willpower. Can I eat only one meal a day for 30 days? Will I be able to navigate cocktail parties and (let’s be honest) chilly, dark school nights without a glass of Cabernet? Is a shameful, furtive, late night potato chip binge inevitable? This diet feels like a hair shirt, and the old Catholic sensibilities have kicked in. I’m starving and I’m offering it up. No lie.

I have cheated. A little. Teddy requested teeny, spiced cupcakes for his birthday (cream cheese frosting), there’s a HUGE candy bowl (Almond Joys and 3Musketeers!), and I’ve been to six different cocktail parties (an occasional glass of Prosecco). But my restraint has been LEGENDARY. I’m wildly hungry, headache-y, and occasionally dizzy. Brodie wants to know the difference between this powdery meal plan and an actual eating disorder. I have no good answer.

And now it’s Day 26. I’m lithe and slim and fabulous—that is, if those adjective also mean “look exactly like I did in October,” which is what my kids tell me. Either they are doltishly unobservant, or they’re right: I was actually fabulous then, and remain unchanged. However, my skinniest jeans fit right outta the dryer, which is how all women gauge their weight no matter what the scale says.

Happily, as I enter my fourth week as an ascetic, the scale has budged. But it’s probably not because these liquid meals are magic. It’s because I’m not drinking them. After the first few attempts, I just couldn’t gag down powdered milk mixed with water. I cannot. I will not. I refuse. I’d honestly rather starve, and have chosen this option. How anyone incorporates a whey protein “shake” into her daily life eludes me. Had I known I’d have to drink all of this reconstituted milk, I would never have signed up. First of all, I really do love food. But more importantly, I really really really hate milk.

Remember when President Bush declared, “I’m the leader of the free world and will never eat broccoli again,” or something like that, and then banned it from the White House kitchens? That’s me with milk. I can’t even watch you drink milk. The very idea of someone tipping the bowl to lap up, sweet, chunky, stagnant cereal milk makes me dry heave. And Teddy does it all of the time. I have to look away. It’s my bugaboo. And as Tony used to say when challenged about his limited palate and inability to eat food anyone else had touched, “I reserve the right to be irrational.”

To be honest, what feels really irrational right now is any sort of maintenance on this “system.” I did appreciate the two cleanse days avoiding all food and just drinking an ersatz Gatorade, effectively hydrating my cells and shrinking my stomach. An occasional fast? Redemptive suffering comes naturally (though never easily) for those of us who were raised in the Catholic tradition. But I’ll never swap a fake shake for a real meal ever, ever again.

Four more days, friends. Sauvignon blanc is chilling.


The fasting and near Lenten devotion to restraint and sober reflection on this “diet” has felt decidedly Catholic. When you learn this a small child, you never forget it. It’s also quite a soothing practice when you’re trying really really really hard to forget there are potato chips in the house.

Pathetically ignorant

Have you ever talked to a nun? Spare me your thwacked-with-ruler stories from Catholic schoolrooms of yesteryear. No, what I’m asking is if, as an adult, you’ve had any sort of meaningful interaction with a woman in a habit. It’s not commonplace, since their numbers are dwindling, and while we’re busy checking Twitter and making our own seltzer, they’re squirreled away feeding the poor and praying for us. However, if you had ever, say, shared a moment with a nun, I think you’d be unlikely to post something like this.

Put your personal beliefs in your back pocket for a second. Toss out your partisan reactions (for good, because they’re bullying propaganda and you’re better than that). Understand that most thoughtful people think a woman’s use of contraceptive drugs, abortifacients, and essentially all things concerning her baby-making innards is between her, her doctor, and (for some) her God. Lord, how I wish this was never made a political issue, and left to the good sense of our well-trained doctors and the informed women they have the privilege to treat. I’m also not thrilled with how it’s been hijacked as a moral issue, because, well, I don’t think anyone deserves that sort of judgment apart from her Maker. And though not entirely relevant to this collection of paragraphs, these choices need to remain available to all women, because political people have no medical chops and should never be given this sort of power over our baby-making innards.

And now that you know where this writer (and many good, non-Catholics) stand on things related to women and their attendant bells and whistles, and that this discussion isn’t to shout at you about right and wrong, then let’s go back to those sweet ladies in the convent, those Brides of Jesus, the women devoted to their Faith and service in a manner that should garner your respect, if not floor you with awe. Certainly, if you had spent an afternoon with a nun, you couldn’t possibly think something like this—much less post it on Facebook:

“This is a frivolous damn suit and the sooner they are smacked upside the head by Sotomayor, the better and cheaper for all of us! How ridiculously stupid this suit is and a giant waste of time!!!! The lawyers for these pathetically ignorant people should be run into one of those old Colorado mineshafts…”

And that was one of the calmer comments on Rachel Maddow’s site. These “pathetically ignorant people” are our society’s defenders of Faith. Their complete dismissal as Republican pawns pains me physically. These are nuns, who apart from some ancient ruler-thwacking stories of old, are kind-hearted ladies committed to a life of prayer and good deeds. Let’s give them a moment, shall we?

Imagine your most deeply held belief: that all humans should have enough to eat, or that we must be responsible custodians of the planet, or that all children deserve protection. Whatever unshakable right you imagined, whatever I-will-stand-up-to-Goliath issue has you sandwich boarding all over town, or just quietly championing in your thoughts, then imagine the passion a nun would bring to the cause. Nuns devote their entire lives to these issues… and lately their most public concern is the protection of all children. Inconveniently, they include potential babies in that category. Please allow them this deeply held philosophical and religious belief. And instead of making arguments against them—just for one moment– aim for understanding.

What if you believed this to your very core: that small clusters of potential-people cells were sentient, God-given gifts of Life, sacred and defenseless? Try it on for a second. If you cannot entertain this notion for even the slimmest moment, then click back over to Rachel Maddow and join the fray. But if you could place yourself in those gum-soled shoes for a second, then imagine if you could then take a pen to paper and potentially sign away The Life of a Child, no matter how indirectly. Would it matter one little smidge that the form is… short? They are championing the weakest amongst us in the name of God. It’s their job, their calling, their conviction, their passion. They are unable to back down because they cannot endorse death. That’s how it feels to them.

Are they right? Wrong? Are they “ridiculously stupid” political creatures out to undermine access to health care for the very underprivileged people they devote their lives to help? I was so relieved when Justice Sotomayor called for a breather on this. We are Americans. We do not ask Americans to abandon consistently held religious beliefs, or even require that they skirt around them with semantics. Certainly we can figure out how to provide these drugs and services without involving conscientiously opposing Americans. Maybe we could also figure out how to tolerate, nay honor, each other’s religious beliefs without scorn (or fines).

Are you as terrified as I am that this story is so quiet? Are our media outlets (if not our government leaders) bullying nuns? Or am I a “pathetically ignorant” religious sap who doesn’t see this as an obvious, anti-Obamacare ruse? Is there no place in our society for people genuinely, religiously, and passionately protective of life after conception? Who are we when we say we are American? We should all take a beat to think about a decision that could result in penalizing our fellow citizens for their religious convictions, since this is exactly what we said we’d never, ever do.

I implored Steve, a longtime newsman, to explain why no one is talking about this– why on New Year’s Day, the only thing I could read about was Penny’s pink dress (even if she did look really, really pretty). His answer:

Sensible people have sensible conversations (I’m told) and the media thrives on controversy. So, CNN needs to have a “Pro-Nun” person on and a “Fuck The Nuns” person on. False equivalence rules the day.

I suppose neither makes for must see TV. And it is much more difficult to argue with a nun on national television about her Faith, than to tweet a snarky remark about how nuns (ironically) fill out all sorts of burdensome forms to be tax exempt. Meanwhile, the real issue–that these women cannot, ever, or in any manner, sanction the death of a child—is too unpopular a belief, and certainly too uncomfortable for cocktail conversation.

To be clear, this is neither an endorsement nor indictment of the ACA. This isn’t a thesis on when Life begins, and when we should begin protecting it. This isn’t meant to elicit comparisons with Jehovah’s witnesses who would refuse their shelf-stockers a blood transfusion, or Jews who wouldn’t want their secretaries to eat pork. Ugh, please do better than this, Internet. The nuns aren’t imposing their religious beliefs on anyone. They are only, quite bravely, standing up for Life as they define it. And Justice Sotomayor wants us to discuss that, and consider what precedent it might set to ignore them.

So let’s do that.

Since you can practically trip over free condoms in college, I'm not really sure why we need to force nuns to pay for these.

Women who take these are “pathetically ignorant” of the order of the days, I suppose.

Weekend With Zealots

The Family Lee traveled south to witness the First Holy Communion of the most pious 8-year-old boy on the planet. Sweet Alex is a rare child who hugs without reservation or restraint, adorably recites all words to all prayers, and answers every “I love you” with “I love you… MORE!” Who hath wrought Pious Boy? Why, the Zealots, of course! My darling (Zealot) sister and her lovely husband (Uncle Kabobs) put on an impressive, Catholic show down there in Suwanee, GA. Pious Alex and his Saintly Sister, Kensley will yes ma’am you silly and can put all of the Commandments into the proper order. And on Saturday, the Family Lee, along with Teeny Twin Grandmas, Pop Pop, and Atheist Uncle Patrick filed into pews to resurrect our Catholic faith.

All of us, save my husband who was raised in the Taiwanese-Christian tradition of obey-your-self-sacrificing-parents, were baptized and catechized in the beat-my-breast-and-call-me-sinner style. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a proper Catholic mass, but all of the prayers and responsorial phrases were as easy to finish as The Pledge of Allegiance. Their repetition through the entirety of my youth has kept them tucked away in brain junk drawers that hold childhood phone numbers and all of lyrics to Babe. (There might even be some Calculus under the piles of old boyfriend peccadillos, too.) But there I was, sit-stand-kneeling with the Faithful, and listening with my Episcopalian-prejudiced ears to the Message: if you are not Holy, you cannot be Happy.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Little girls in teeny wedding dresses and little boys suited up like miniature bankers were reminded that they would be wearing similar outfits when they returned to the altar for the grown up sacrament of marriage. And they were instructed to arrive as unsullied as they are now, at the tender age of eight. The priest generously offered another path: the convent and priesthood are also delightful options should these tiny treasures heed The Call. But I kept thinking that the Message of the Day was that Uncle Patrick, still single, and gleefully sullying up his life, certainly is not, cannot, be Happy.

It’s also possible that I got it all wrong. Maybe the Catholic Church doesn’t trouble itself with the sinning shenanigans of Atheist Uncle Patricks. Maybe the sermon was merely a wagging finger at the miserable wretches who would find happiness if only they’d jump on the Holy Train (neither helpful nor kind, in my opinion). In any case, I got the same queasy feeling similar sermons elicited in my youth. Even if I did my homework and emptied the dishwasher without provocation, I was still inherently bad. Catholics really take this original sin stuff to their self-flagellating hearts.

However, what I really admired about the whole, heavy-handed production was its refusal to be politically correct or to dilute its message for a modern audience. Telling 8-year-olds to remain pure and virginal to their wedding day, or (gasp) forever, may be naïve and old-fashioned (or weird)… but it’s not a bad message. And in a crazy, sexed-up world, Catholics have the parental easy button on this issue. Are they wrong? Any tipsy reprisal of first-times amongst trusted girlfriends would tilt the argument slightly to their favor. And though it won’t hold much weight in the back seat of the Jeep a decade from now, at least hearing an unwavering message during the formative years might prevent a few judgment slips, or at the very least, delay the inevitable, gleeful defilement of the family car.

I’ve got to hand it to Zealot Family. They’re no grocery store Catholics, picking and choosing which rules to follow, and which to ignore. They’re fulfilling obligations and sending up prayers and tithing and do-gooding more often than the Stockton Family makes trips to the package store. And when Pious Alex took the Sacrament, we were all a bit teary. Because Paige and Bob are raising him entirely within the Faith, it was a proud moment for him, one he took seriously with prayer hands and no fidgeting. We were honored to witness it, and possibly a little inspired to reclaim a bit of that innocence and purity the white robed guy was on and on about. And as I looked down the pew at the row of Sinning Stocktons in a collective countdown to cocktail hour, we were all beaming at this beatific boy. We might not be Holy. But are we happy? You bet.

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE...

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE…