Happy Monday! Wow, it’s three weeks into the New Year and I’m still on track with the single resolution I made for 2018.  I’m thinking I should feel really good about this, but the little voice in my head is preventing me from doing any sort of victory dance.  Yes, my little voice and I are at odds over this resolution.  It is telling me that I could have resolved to do so much more this year than to “Get as Physically Healthy as Possible.”  But I know something that my little voice is not grasping; no matter how many times I try to explain it!  Getting physically healthy is more than one task.  It means changing your whole lifestyle, or at least it does for me.

In an attempt to satisfy my little voice I decided to make an outline. Remember when you were in grade school and you first learned to make them?  You started with a main topic and broke it down into smaller, although very meaningful, parts.  I despised making outlines, but I will give it a try.

I. Get As Physically Healthy as Possible

A.  Lose Weight

  1. Exercise 6 days a week
  2. Cut back my food portions
  3. Drink more water

B.  Get More Sleep

  1. Establish a bedtime
  2. Get the dogs on a good sleep schedule (no more middle of the night bathroom trips)

C. Get mentally healthy (without mental health there is no physical health)

  1. Make more time for personal projects and activities

Well….you get the picture.

As I was composing this outline I suddenly had horrible flashbacks of grade school lectures on this very topic. I can almost hear the teacher’s words.  “You have to have at least two subtopics for every main topic; you have to have a conclusion”…..Ahhhhh!   I have to say that I despised outlines almost as much as I despised “pop” quizzes and dancing in gym class with the boys.  I mean, what kind of teacher takes delight in using the words “take out a pencil and paper” to instill fear in her charges? Talk about creating anxiety!  And what about a teacher who makes you take the hand of a boy who has “cooties” to dosey doe around the gym floor?

Now “cooties” were a big thing when I was growing up. Thanks to three older sisters and some ‘boys being boys’ in the neighborhood I was introduced to cooties long before I ever got on a big yellow bus for a trek to school.  Imaginary infirmity or not, I was one of those children who hung on to the belief that cooties was a very real disease of childhood much longer than most.  Not that “cooties” was actually a disease but the premise was right.  Touching boys could produce health issues.  I was almost to the non-believing stage when I personally witnessed a girl in my gym class get a rash on her neck after having danced the gym period away with some cootie ridden boy she was forced to hold hands with.  I didn’t understand at the time that some people get rashes when they perspire.  My limited understanding was such that cooties were contagious, and here was a perfect example.

In my day there was no “circle, circle, dot, dot, now you’ve got the cootie shot”. Once you had those cooties, well…..you might as well accept the fact that you were going to be playing by yourself until some other child with cooties of their own befriended you.  Even your best friends deserted you during this time, lest they become affected by association.  There were also no personal computers where one but had to type in the word “cooties” to learn it was make-believe.

If I had a computer I would have known back then that “cooties” was a term used by British soldiers in World War I in reference to infested battlefield trenches. I would have known that some twisted toy company marketed a game with that very name in 1918 and some other perverse toy company revived the name in a new game in the 1950’s.  No wonder cooties were a part of childhood. But I had no way of knowing this.  No, back in the day we had to learn the hard way—through experience.  And I can almost bet there were adult hands, or mouths as the case may be, in this charade of prejudice.  I can hear it now.  Some mother who didn’t like her neighbor imploring her children not to play with the children next door.

“They have cooties.”

“What’s cooties, Mommy?”

“Just you never mind, it’s something bad, and it’s very contagious!”

Thus the beginnings of childhood health anxiety, and I have to admit that I was a victim of this dreaded illness. I can easily call to mind a time in early childhood when my parents bought me one of those large round lollipops, the kind that looks like it’s braided together and produces hours and hours of delectable licking.  Thank goodness for those days of happy memories when we didn’t know that sugar would rot our teeth or cause cancer.  And, perish the thought,  some days sugar was even our good friend.

Well, I licked and licked on that lollipop until I got tired. Then I did what I had done many times in the past when I had a treat that was too big to consume at one sitting.  I got out a piece of tin foil (appropriately named aluminum foil now days) and I let my lollipop take a rest.  It was only after I resumed licking that one of my sisters shared that my cousin had licked my lollipop when I wasn’t looking.  I never ate off anyone, and to top it off my cousin was a boy.  Then my sister told me that my cousin had syphilis and it was contagious and that I was sure to get it.  Now I didn’t know what syphilis was but it sounded terrible.  I rinsed my mouth and brushed my teeth a million times.  It didn’t ease my mind.  For weeks I was quite sure I was going to come down with that dreaded disease.  Never mind that I didn’t know the symptoms or the life expectancy from it, or even what it was.  I knew I was getting it and it was going to ruin my life.

Yes, health anxiety was building even in childhood. And there were other indications that this was an abnormal concern.  I think I was the only one of my friends who would not eat off each other or share a drink.  And I guess my classmates noticed, and sometimes used it to their merriment (or at least the boys did).  I vividly remember, and I mean vividly, the day in 8th grade where I embarrassed myself so badly that I still shiver when I think about it.  It was in Earth Science Class and our seats were partnered with another student.  One day the boy who sat next to me, right in the front and center of the class, had a rash on his hand.

Now rashes are very alarming for someone who lived through cooties and the fear of syphilis, not to mention budding health anxiety. Well, never mind that it was winter in the north and sometimes skin gets red and chaffed from the cold.  Another boy told me that my seatmate had gonorrhea.  Remember that I just said there were no smart phones back then, just smart aleck boys who I’m sure went to bed dreaming of ways to antagonize their female counterparts?  I didn’t know what the word meant, but, like syphilis, it sounded terrible to me and I just didn’t want to run the risk of catching it if his hand happened to accidently touch me.  I did the only thing I thought I could do to protect myself.  I moved my chair around the side of my desk away from him.  When my teacher asked me what I was doing I informed him that my seat mate had gonorrhea on his hand and I didn’t want to catch it.  I’ll never forget the look on his face and I’ll be forever thankful that he just let me sit hanging into the aisle that day (yes, God Bless Mr. Rush!)

I’m sure the boy who initiated the whole interaction was laughing at me. It didn’t matter that the whole class heard.  It was 1975 and we were only a few years’ post cooties.  Only some of the boys understood the meaning of this dreaded disease.  All was good!  It wasn’t until later when I was sharing my day at home that my sister told me the meaning of the word.  Oh who cared!  It may not have been gonorrhea but I was sure I had protected myself from some other dreaded malady.  And I was always careful when it came to my health….until the day a simple lie put me in what I perceived to be physical danger.

I grew up a little over a mile from my town’s main street. When my friends visited, during that old enough to go by ourselves and too young to drive period, we would often walk into town.  It was a gradual slope down all the way where we would eat at the local restaurant (Yeah PopIns) or get candy and drinks from one of three places in our little town that competed for kid’s dollars.

This particular summer day found two 13 year olds heading to the booming metropolis of Fallsburg, New York. It was hot out, not a summer day in Florida hot but hot enough that you didn’t want to step your bare foot on the pavement for very long.

A turkey sandwich and fries in PopIns AND a trip to the candy store for a snack and soda. Yes sir, this was living.  We headed home feeling full and enjoying the conversation.  We were young and carefree, eating all the chocolate we bought before it melted and washing it down with our soda.  About two tenths of a mile from town we found a trash can to deposit our empty bottles and candy papers.  And approximately three minutes after this it began.  “It’s so hot out today!”  It really wasn’t that hot.  “I’m so thirsty!”  I wasn’t!  “How long do you think it will take to get back to your house?” A lot longer if one of us keeps complaining.  “Is there anywhere to get a drink on the way?”  Did you notice any stores on the way TO town? “Do you know a house we could stop at and get a drink of water?”  Well, that I did.  I went to school with a boy named Matthew and I’m sure if he were home he would take pity on us, and if not I’m sure his mom would.  I would never think of asking on my own, but it was either that or listen to more complaining (of course you understand that I didn’t really say any of the things I wrote above in response to her fussing, I just thought them).

But…..we never had to ask Matt or his mom for a drink. You see, about a 10th of a mile before Matt’s house was The Pines Hotel and just as we got to the edge of the hotel property my friend spotted a drain pipe running from the ground into a roadside ditch.  The water looked clear…and it was cold!  She was so excited she actually dropped to her knees beside the pool of collected water.  It was as if we had been in the Sahara desert for three weeks and had just come upon an oasis.  I was a little hot but in no way was I thirsty enough to drink water from a pipe coming from the ground next to a hotel, no matter how clear it looked.

“I’m soooo thirsty, do you think this water is clean enough to drink?” What, you’re asking me, the queen of germ phobia? “I’ve got to have a drink I’m starting to feel sick.”  Well, I’m starting to get a headache myself, but not from the heat or thirst. “I’ll drink some if you drink some!”  Are you kidding me?  But something happened at that moment.  I thought, okay, I’ll pretend to take a drink with her if that will make her happy.  So I knelt down across from her and filled my hand with water and while she was happily lapping hers out of her hand I emptied mine into the ditch.  She drank her fill and we headed home.  By the time we got there her complaints were in full swing again.  A glass of water to wash down the last of her grumbling and we passed the rest of the visit in my room talking about things 13 year old girls find interesting.

After dinner her mom came to pick her up and I popped some popcorn and settled in to watch a movie. Back in the day you put oil in a pan, heated it, and popped your corn, shaking the pot so you didn’t burn it or have too many uncooked kernels.  All went well for the rest of the night and I didn’t give a second thought to the fact that I had deceived my friend…at least not that night.

Now my mother is someone who believes that people get paid back for what they do, so when I woke up to a blister way back on my tongue I was sure it was because I had lied to my friend. It didn’t really hurt but I could feel it against the roof of my mouth when I moved my tongue.  Now, I was “sure” of two things.  Number 1-I was being punished for lying and Number 2-I now had some dreaded disease on my tongue that was going to spread to my throat and then I wouldn’t be able to drink water and would die of thirst, because what goes around comes around.

For two days this blister stayed on my tongue. I barely ate or drank, afraid to aggravate it.  I brushed my teeth, careful not drag my brush over it and watched for any changes.  It stayed the same.  On day three I couldn’t take it anymore.  I went to my mother- after she looked at my blister and rushed me to the doctor to have it removed I was going to confess the whole thing.

My mom got the flashlight and I stuck my tongue out… and then I heard it. My mother was laughing.  What?  How could the woman who had carried me in her womb for 9 months laugh at my affliction?  It was too much!  Then I heard the words that brought a huge sigh of relief to me.  “You have a popcorn kernel stuck on the back of your tongue.” What?  I had never had a popcorn kernel stuck on my tongue before (nor have I had one since) and I have always regularly indulged in popcorn.  In fact it’s always been a favorite nighttime snack.  And how in the world would a popcorn kernel stay stuck on my tongue for almost three days?  Well I took my turn looking in the mirror wondering how my mother could get a blister from lying confused with a popcorn kernel.  But, my mother was right.  Looking at it in the mirror with the flashlight I saw it really was a half of a popcorn kernel suctioned down to the soft flesh of my tongue.

I hurried and took my toothbrush and brushed over it until that stubborn little piece came off on the bristles. Now no one ever had to know that I lied to my friend, until this very day (with the exception of my husband and children who I have shared this story with).  But, I did learn a valuable lesson.  You see, my friend never gave this incident a second thought.  She had her fill of water and that was that.  It was me, the liar, who suffered the consequences of my sin.  And…my mother was right.  We always get paid back for what we do.

Now, with these childhood experiences in the recesses of my mind and Health Anxiety dwelling in the brain cells next door, is it any wonder that my single New Year’s resolution would be to Get as Physically Healthy as Possible?  Forget my little voice, this is a great goal and I have been faithful to it for three weeks.  Yes sir, I’m getting up as soon as I finish this and I am doing my victory dance.

So that’s it for this Monday Morning Perspective. I hope it brought a smile to your face and that you will laugh about it when an event or story brings up a memory of these “Life’s Embarrassing Moments!”

See you next Monday where I will share more humor about the little voice that lives in all of our heads. God Bless each of you!

Penny