Life in Poland

How I learned I was fat

I was one of those kids blissfully unaware that someone could be considered fat or thin or that being either fat or thin had any meaning in life other than having to buy bigger or smaller clothes.

Until the day I was made aware.

Ok, let’s face it, I was a big kid compared to the rest of my class at the Immaculate Conception Catholic School (yep, that’s the real name, try to explain to a bunch of 5-year-olds what it means). Not only was I the biggest kid in my class, I was also bigger than our classroom teacher and bigger than our principal Sister Sandra. Do you remember how tall you were and how much you weighed in elementary school? I do, thanks to the once-a-year height/weight check performed by our always tactful PE teacher Mrs T. In the 5th grade, I was 5 ft. 4 in. tall and weighed a slightly pudgy 116 lbs (162 cms, 53 kgs). In the 6th grade, I was 5 ft. 6 in. tall and weighed 110 lbs (167 cms, 50 kgs) and I haven’t grown an inch taller since then. Hardly a fatty you say, but those times were different. Anyone over a hundred pounds was deemed suspicious. I remember exactly because it was commented by Mrs T. that I was on the road to obesity (she didn’t use the actual word obese, she used just plain old fat) as she could practically predict my miserable future based on those miserable height/weight figures and also on my inability to overhand serve in volleyball (or underhand serve for that matter). I brushed it off not really knowing what she was talking about, but I started to think.

I figured it was pretty much bull. I was an active kid. I played AYSO soccer, but later in gym class while wearing my beloved AYSO shirt, Mrs. T., always sympathetic to the fragile self-esteem of children, asked me who I got my shirt from. When I replied that it was mine she said in disbelief, “they’ll take anybody these days.” OK, I said that I played, not that I was any good. I started to think.

Then one day I forgot my lunch at home. In the 1st grade, this was reason enough for total nuclear meltdown but in the 6th grade, I thought I’d just have to suck it up and wait until I got home. Unavoidable question from the lunch monitor, “Where’s your lunch?” My honest answer, “I forgot it at home.” That couldn’t possibly be the truth and an impromptu conference between the lunch monitor, our teacher and the principal ensued. A decision was made–to call my mother and explain that in a desire to lose weight I had been skipping lunch. Funny that not even one of them thought to offer me any lunch, but anyhow. My mother, thank goodness, had enough sense in her head to see my forgotten lunch in the fridge at home and to only tell me not to forget it and to carry some extra money with me to school in case that happened again.

That was the 6th grade, my last year in elementary school. I think kids nowadays would be really lucky to be unaware of things such as weight, sex, drugs till that age. Let’s fast forward to the summer after 7th grade at the church fair where I ran into our elementary school principal, “Hi, Chris. It’s good to see you. Don’t lose any more weight.”

PS. How did they explain the meaning of Immaculate Conception to the young pupils of the school? They ran a kind of Bill Clinton/gays in the military “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If we didn’t ask, they didn’t tell us. Usually our school was referred to as the Catholic school (there’s only one in the area) or simply IC. The kids from our class did finally ask in about the 3rd grade (apparently we were not very sophisticated or curious for that matter and we didn’t even have Google back then). Our teacher gave us a kind of general explanation of God giving the Virgin Mary the baby Jesus in a special and holy way and even explained to us that “virgin” meant “holy”. We agreed and immediately began using the word virgin as a synonym for holy as in the Virgin Jesus or the Virgin God. Our teacher never did explain to us exactly what it meant but she did tell us to stop using it when we referred to our principal as the Virgin Sister Sandra.

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