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Musing for Meaning

My Struggle to Lose Weight

December 25, 2011

Whenever it came to trying to lose weight, my classic answer was always, “I simply have no willpower.” And until today, I believed it to be the case. Why else would I gain back the fifteen pounds I worked so hard to lose? Why else would I need to eat at least one piece of every cake at an event? It wasn’t really my fault. I just wasn’t able to stop myself.

At times I would decide I needed to change my eating habits, lose weight and get healthy again. But then hunger would strike, and there was no stopping me. And so I would rationalize that being a tad overweight wasn’t the worst thing. If eating makes me happy, did I really want to deprive myself over a few (okay, more than a few) pounds?

Was she actually suggesting that I was able to lose this weight and just didn’t want to?Recently I was complaining about having gained some extra weight and my inability to lose it, when someone responded that, clearly, it wasn’t important enough to me. If it was, she continued, I would have the self-control and focus needed. I was astounded. Was she actually suggesting that I was able to lose this weight and just didn’t want to? How dare she!

On Friday, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a weight-loss remedy I have heard about for some time. This fat blocker is FDA-approved, and is supposed to help increase the amount one loses. I hadn’t bought it in the past, because it is expensive, and I didn’t want to believe I actually needed it. You see, I was the teenager who couldn’t gain weight. I was one of those people that everyone hated, who didn’t break 100 pounds until college. Yes, the person who couldn’t buy regular clothes, because often a size zero was simply too big.

So you can imagine my difficulty, in looking at my BMI score, to discover that I am most definitely in that “overweight” category. And no, unfortunately, not too terribly close to the “normal” weight number either. (There, I said it!)

The thing I liked, though, about this weight-loss medication is that it has consequences. Eat too much, and you will suffer. Now that is something I need! After all, what better situation for someone with no self-control! No willpower! Perfect . . . a punishment for the wrong choice. It will no longer be whether or not I want the cake and don’t care if I gain the pound. But rather, if I eat the cake, that I will pay for it. In ways that I am not about to explain.

And yet, this morning, as I prepared to pop that first pill, there was a problem.

They were gel caps.

To explain, gel caps mean that there is gelatin in the cap, which renders it non-kosher. All the more so, since this is not a prescribed medication that I need, but rather one I am choosing to take. So I searched online, hoping I could simply open the cap and take the medication itself. It was then that I discovered that the banding ingredients contain pig products as well.

I had just spent $70, and in a matter of seconds I realized I would never pop a single pill into my mouth. They weren’t kosher. End of story.

And then it dawned on me. I have willpower! Serious willpower! Serious self-control! It hadn’t occurred to me that every time I went to a non-kosher event, no matter how good the food looked, no matter how hungry, it was not even a question. And yet, a kosher slice of cake. No ability to resist. Or so I thought.

It turns out that I have selective willpower and self-controlIt turns out that I have selective willpower and self-control. And I guess we all do. This must be what the woman meant who so assuredly declared that if it was important enough to me, I would lose the weight. Hate to admit it, but she was right.

I have been so busy excusing why I couldn’t or shouldn’t or didn’t need to do what I actually wanted to do, that I never invested the real time and effort into it. But I can. And I will. (I hope!)

And if I don’t, there is no one else to blame but myself. It is not lack of self-control, it is lack of the desire to assert my self-control. And so, I really have a choice to make. I can either accept and live with being overweight, and stop complaining about it. Or, I can accept that I do not want to be this way, and that the road to reaching my goal is going to be long, hard and taxing. I have to simply decide if I am ready to take it.

In the meantime, I have a $70 reminder on my desk of my willpower and self-control. So I guess these pills may end up helping me lose weight after all. Not by being ingested and doing their trick, but specifically by not being ingested, and reminding me of my ability to consciously choose in every decision I make.

Author Update: It’s been one month since I originally wrote this piece. During that time, I have lost eight pounds! Without any diet pills . . .

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

My Chanukah Gift

December 18, 2011

I love airports. I really do. I love the excitement of going someplace new, or better yet, returning home. It is one of the few places where everyone is there for a specific reason, with a destination and goal.

Fortunately, I get to spend a lot of time in airports because of my travel schedule for speaking. But recently I took a very rare trip, a pleasure trip (I feel guilty even saying it), with my second-to-oldest daughter. It was a special mother-daughter bonding experience, where we flew to California to spend time with close friends and visit the happiest place on earth—yes oh yes, Disneyland. (Undoubtedly, you will be hearing more about this.)

Every time I pass a man or woman in uniform, I am humbledAnd even though we went in November, we were blessed with an early Chanukah present. No, not the trip, which most definitely counts for an enormous gift in its own right. But a true present. The present of being present for a moving, beautiful, powerful experience of gratitude and appreciation. A present that really is what Chanukah is all about. Acknowledgement.

Now, I don’t know about you, but every time I pass a man or woman in uniform, I am humbled. Having lived in Israel for many years, seeing soldiers was a constant source of pride and awareness that these men and women were dedicating their young lives to help keep mine safe. Since in the States, where I now live, the site of a soldier in uniform is pretty rare, now when I see a soldier I am filled with emotion.

And it was no different when we went to our gate and found ourselves sitting next to an airman in the United States Air Force. Not sure what to say, I awkwardly thanked him for his service. And then, being the nosy person that I am, I asked him some more questions. Where was he stationed? Where was he going? How much longer did he have to serve?

Turns out he was on his way to New Jersey for a month of training before leaving for Afghanistan. Turns out this is his last tour of duty, and G‑d willing, he will return safe and sound in six months. Turns out he doesn’t have much family other than a brother and sister-in-law, also in the service, who are due with their first baby in a few weeks. And he won’t be there.

As we spoke, another passenger approached, stated he was heading to Starbucks, and asked the soldier if he wanted anything. He politely declined. Moments later, another traveler sat next to the soldier. And a repeat of my very questions from his end ensued.

And then, what happened next blew my mind.

The guy nonchalantly asked him where he was sitting. He pulled out his boarding pass to check. Without skipping a beat, the guy says, “Here, why don’t we switch,” and proceeds to hand him his first-class ticket.

Now remember, this is a red-eye flight. You know, the one that leaves at 10 PM and gets in at 6 AM? A mid-workweek flight, getting my fellow travelers to Philadelphia just in time for a full workday? Yeah, that one. And yet, without the least hesitation, he handed over his first-class ticket to sit as a sardine with the rest of the packed flight.

Now, what moved me was not just the generosity of his act, but the immediacy of it. The fact that it came so naturally. As if it was no big deal. More so, with the air of “how could he not?” A soldier. Someone dedicating his life for ours. Someone sacrificing. Who better to sit in first class? Who more deserving?

We had just witnessed an act of selflessness presented to the selflessMy daughter and I sat there with tears in our eyes. We had just witnessed an act of selflessness presented to the selfless. An act of acknowledgement and awareness and gratitude.

As we head into Chanukah, this is the gift I am giving my children. I want them to have the ability to recognize the blessings in their lives and to be able to offer their thanks to those around them. In our home, we don’t give gifts on Chanukah. (Don’t feel bad for my children; I assure you they get plenty at other times in the year.) We don’t give gifts, for the gift of Chanukah is the gift. Recognizing that we were saved, that the few overcame the many, that just a little bit of oil and light can last and outshine so much darkness—that is the gift of Chanukah. Seeing the miracles in our lives is the gift.

We live in a world where so much of our daily news is about the negative, the evil in our midst. But Chanukah is the time when we stop, when we not only bring light into our homes, but illuminate the world around us as well. We add in this light, night by night, increasing our awareness with each wick. And as we watch our dancing flames, we say the blessing to witness the miracles all around us, and even more so, the miracles within each and every one of us.

I doubt that this man had any idea how moved the soldier was by his action. He certainly had no idea how much he moved me and my daughter. He simply did the right thing at the right time. And that simplicity was what was so powerful. He added a bit of light to the darkness. And he ignited flames that will continue to illuminate and light others.

(And I wish he could only know the impression he made, because later we saw him on the plane. He was stuck in a middle seat near a crying baby!)

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

My Bottomless Bag

December 11, 2011

I have a bag that I carry around with me every day. I love this bag and haven’t wanted to replace it, despite the fact that it is old and raggedy. However, I hadn’t known until today that the inside pocket had completely ripped through. Meaning that every time I put things in this smaller pocket, specifically to protect the contents and separate them from the rest, much if not all would slip through the hole and end up trapped between the bag itself and the exterior of the inside lining.

Now you may ask how I never noticed this until now. Honestly, I just assumed that I misplaced things. Happens often. Too often. And I wrote it off to my absentmindedness. There are certain things I consider a law of nature. Such as that when I put a pair of socks in the laundry, I expect to find only one when the dryer is done. Plain and simple. Washers and dryers eat fifty percent of all socks. So, too, I had assumed the same was true of my trusty handbag.

There are times it can feel like our energy was for naught, our input for nothingSo you can imagine my excitement upon realizing that if I put my hand through that whopping hole in the pocket, I would discover and uncover all the goodies that had been missing for months. And sure enough, out came the lipstick (all over my hand, I may add, as the top was still MIA), some spare change, even a few dollars, receipts, and a whole lot more of my beloved and important belongings.

It got me thinking. So often, we put things away for safekeeping. We think they are well protected, and we store them knowing we want to access them in the near future. It might be thoughts, ideas, feelings, connections, observations. And then, when we go to look for them, they no longer seem to be there, and we are not sure if they can be found or retrieved.

Yet they are there. For everything we learn, everything we encounter and every good deed we have done makes an everlasting impression and exists, even if not immediately accessible. There are times it can feel like our energy was for naught, our input for nothing. It makes us feel useless, questioning our self-worth and wondering why we bother.

And then, one day, we realize that we can reach beyond the pocket, and hidden in there is everything we put in. It didn’t disappear; it just took some time to be found.

It didn’t disappear; it just took some time to be foundThere is the famous story of the woman who asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe how he didn’t get tired handing out dollars for hours on end. He responded that when one is counting diamonds, one doesn’t tire. We compare each soul to a diamond. Some revealed, some in the rough. And if we know those diamonds are there, we will keep searching. No matter what muck we have to put our hand in.

I always thought I had the bottomless bag. What went in never came out. But it wasn’t true. What went in was so well protected that it stayed safe, even from me. And it took time, but sure enough, eventually, everything was recovered. And, with the exception of a lipstick-stained hand, I was beyond thrilled to reunite with my long-lost items. And, best of all, the hole in my bag reminded me that nothing is for nothing, and everything I input will eventually find its proper output.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Getting to Know my Daughter

December 4, 2011

Have you ever had the chance to watch your child through someone else’s eyes? It is truly amazing. No, transformative.

Recently I took a trip to California with my second-to-oldest daughter. Just the two of us. We had a wonderful few days filled with visiting friends and family, and an unforgettable trip to Disneyland.

Now, all my children are amazing, in different ways, and each one has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. And I had always thought that I treated each child as an individual and worked to bring out his or her best. What hadn’t occurred to me was that I was treating each child the way I saw that child, and in my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were there.

In my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were thereMy oldest is the kind of kid who was born an adult in a small body. She doesn’t seem to get older, just taller. Even looking at her baby pictures, she never looked like a baby or a cute little girl; she always had a mature look. From literally the moment she was born, she was called an “old soul.”

My next daughter is a free spirit. Not only physically much smaller than her older sister, she is much more relaxed, free-flowing, and mainly a happy, upbeat, worry-free child. She loves to dance around, sing at the top of her lungs, make funny faces and joke around. She is rarely without a smile on her face, and her high-pitched, squeaky voice means she can be heard from quite far away.

It is my oldest who babysits. Who cooks. Who cleans. Who takes care of organizing things and responsibilities. I guess I never needed to ask her younger sister to share in these tasks, because my oldest is so competent. I don’t think it ever even occurred to me.

So you can imagine my shock when, in California, I enter the kitchen, and there is my little blonde beauty putting in the oven a cake that she made, herself, start to finish! Sure enough, my friend needed help, handed her the cookbook, and she took charge and did it. This is the same child who woke up in the morning when the rest of us slept, took care of the baby, fed the older children, read to them and helped them finish their homework.

It doesn’t actually surprise me that she was able to do all of this. After all, she is a bright, helpful, loving girl. What surprises me is that I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chance. I was so busy thinking I knew my child that I was missing out on getting to know her.

I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chanceJewish philosophy teaches us, Chanoch le’naar al pi darko,” that we should educate a child according to his way. Meaning that each child is unique and different, and should be taught accordingly. I couldn’t agree more. I am a big believer in differentiated learning in the classroom and working with each individual the way that individual needs. I love the poster that hangs in the teachers’ room of my kids’ school. It reads: “A student need not learn the way a teacher chooses to teach. A teacher must teach the way a student needs to learn.”

I thought this is how I was parenting. What I failed to recognize is that my children are growing, changing and developing. It is not enough for me to recognize when they are ready to be toilet trained, or to move onto solids, or can cross the street by themselves. Emotionally, they are changing as well. And somehow, I missed that my second child could also be the responsible one, the cooking aide, the babysitter and the big helper. I was so busy seeing her as the younger sister, and treating her as such, that I failed to let her develop what she is truly capable of.

Coming back home, I started to take a good look at all my children and the unspoken roles that they fill. Even though my baby is my baby, if given the chance, maybe she could be a great “big sister” to a friend’s younger child. Maybe my oldest, my responsible one who can handle anything, wants or needs to be babied a bit more. And maybe my middle children really need to be treated as the oldest or the youngest at different times.

Sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can beIt’s funny how, sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can be. So when your kid, who always has tantrums at home, comes back from a playdate with a glowing report . . . don’t think to yourself, If only she knew how he really is . . . Think to yourself, How can I get to know this side of him; what can I do to bring this out in our home . . . ?

We are not the only ones who know our children. Their teachers do, their friends do, and what they know is just as real as what we know. And, as hard as this can be to swallow, sometimes what they see and know is even more real than what we know!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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