The following excerpt from Valerie Bertinelli's new book, "Finding It -- and Satisfying My Hunger for Life Without Opening the Fridge," a follow-up to her memoir "Losing It -- and Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time," comes courtesy of Simon & Schuster publishers.
The Sex Talk
The only time I enjoyed being fat was when I was pregnant. I weighed nearly 180 pounds, and I was in heaven. As I ate Italian subs that my mom made to tide me over between meals, I would smile at the thought of the miracle of bringing a life into this world,
a life that I would raise and nurture, guide and fill with love and wisdom. It was a special time in my life.
I did not think the same thing when that miraculous creation of mine called on the phone from the road where he was touring with his father's band and said, "Hey, Ma, can I sleep at my girlfriend's house?"
I wanted to vomit.
Actually, I wanted to open the fridge and eat everything on the second shelf, the third shelf, and then the top shelf. Not even the old brick of cheddar with the mold on it was safe from the surge of anxiety and uncertainty I felt at that moment.
I kept my head on, though, and said, "I don't think it's a good idea."
After we'd said goodbye, I held the phone at arm's length in shock. Wolfie's question lingered in the air, like a smoke signal in an old western portending imminent danger.
I looked around for Tom to ask him how I had gotten to this place. He had gone outside, which was lucky for me. With gleeful sarcasm, he would have reminded me that this situation was the result of one night nearly eighteen years earlier when I had gotten frisky with my then-husband, Ed. Now I had a sixteen-and-three-quarters- year-old teenager who wanted to sleep with his girlfriend. Then Tom came through the front door whistling his happy tune. I was still debating whether to eat or throw up. I filled him in on the news.
"Tell me again—what did Wolfie say exactly?" he asked.
"He said he wanted to sleep at Liv's house," I said.
"Well, that's not exactly saying he wants to sleep with her," he said.
"You're talking semantics," I said. "I'm thinking sex."
"You are?" he said, his face unfolding in a giant smile.
"Oh, shut up," I snapped. "What is it with men? I'm in a quandary, and you've somehow turned this around and think you're going to get lucky."
"I'm not?" he asked, with a sad face.
"Come on," I said. "Help me think this through."
We sat down at the kitchen table and talked. Tom pointed out that Wolfie had called home to ask permission. He hadn't slept over at Liv's house, even though he was halfway across the country and traveling as part of a rock-and-roll band. Tom suggested I think about how Wolfie's dad had been at that same age, something that made me say a quick prayer of thanks. Wolfie knew right from wrong, Tom pointed out. If he didn't, he was trying to figure it out and had looked to his mother for advice. He was a good kid. Ergo, what was I worried about?
"Losing him!" I said with an exaggerated whimper.
At the time, I weighed 132.2 pounds, down 40 pounds from when I had begun a very public diet earlier that spring. I had already surpassed my original weight loss goal of 30 pounds and at some point -- I had failed to note it on my calendar -- I had gone from losing weight to being on maintenance.
I had talked about maintenance for months as if it were a change of life. But I had no idea what it was really about. I figured I would learn once I got there. Then I got there and wondered what it was that I was supposed to be maintaining. My life was in flux -- it wasn't a work-in-progress as much as it was simply work. As I would find out, maintenance was exactly that -- more work.
And it was life work, not losing-weight work.
If my weight was a barometer of the rest of my life, I still wasn't where I wanted to be. In addition to concern about my weight, I also knew that I could be better, kinder, smarter, more disciplined, compassionate, patient, and loving. I wanted to feel like I mattered. I yearned for a lightness of being that couldn't be measured on a scale. I wanted to feel whole, peaceful, and connected to a Higher Power even if just for a few moments.
But real life made that seem impossible. Whether it was Wolfie being away from home, Tom's struggles to be a hands-on father to his children, my career, the house falling apart, or my anger at Bush and Cheney for where they had taken the country, I was unable to relax much less get a firm grip. Then Wolfie fell in love and I felt as if part of the floor had given way.
"What about condoms?" Tom mused one day.
"What do you mean by that?" I asked.
"For Wolfie," he said.
I looked at him, aghast at his insensitivity.
I liked Wolfie's girlfriend, Liv, who was a friend of Tom's oldest daughter. Wolfie had met her the previous summer in Arizona, but he never appeared to take any special interest in her. Nor did she in him. One time he mentioned that she bugged him. I should have taken note.
Then Liv and her family moved to Kansas and we didn't hear about her. In the meantime, Wolfie went on tour. We talked every couple of days. He was semi-good about keeping in touch. He texted me from Indianapolis and phoned from Chicago and Detroit. He had a story about each city. Then he called from Kansas, where in an unusually excited voice, he said that he had the day off and that he and Matt, the young man who drove his tour bus and watched out for him, had been invited to eat dinner at Liv's house.
He asked if I remembered Liv. Had I developed Alzheimer's since he'd gone out on tour with Van Halen a few months earlier? Of course, I remembered her. He said that Liv's mom had invited them to have a home-cooked meal.
"Isn't that nice of them?" he said.
"Yes, it is," I said.
"I'm so excited," he said.
Wolfie was never that effusive unless he saw a new gadget at the Apple store. All of a sudden I paid more attention. My son hadn't sounded like himself when he had asked, "Is that nice of them?" He crossed the line when he said, "I'm so excited." I realized he was telling me that there was more to this invitation than dinner. He liked this girl.
It was one of those subtle moments in life when you open your eyes and discover that the pieces that have provided longtime familiarity in a relationship have shifted slightly in one direction or another. It's like waking up in the morning and remembering that you rearranged a couple pieces of furniture in the room. You have to create new walkways so you don't bump into things.
I'm not someone who likes change. I have had the furniture in my living room for twenty years. I bought it with Ed early in our marriage. I have been meaning to get it recovered for the past five years. It shows you how fast I move. I wasn't ready for my son to have a girlfriend and everything that meant. Is any mother ever ready to relinquish her place as first in their child's heart? I wasn't.
I told Tom, who digested the news with a calm nod. It made me suspicious. I asked if he had known that anything was going on between Wolfie and his daughter's friend, Liv. I emphasized Liv's relationship to Andie not to remind him of who this girl was but to instead put him on notice that everything that happened between them from here on out was his fault. He understood and shook his head no.
"You can't do that to me," he said.
"Yes I can," I said.
"I'll find out what's going on," he said.
"Good idea," I said.
Like a dutiful soldier in the age-old battle of parents vs. children, Tom reported back that Wolfie was indeed tight with Liv. I felt a little like an editor at a tabloid magazine. But so what. I wanted to know everything Tom had found out. According to his source, they had been texting and talking on the telephone for months. Wolfie had fallen into "deep like" with this pretty girl, and from the information Tom had turned up, she felt the same way about him.
"So it's all good," Tom said,
"All good?" I asked.
"I wonder if they've kissed," he said, ignoring me.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I don't want to know if they've kissed or anything else," I said.
"You don't?" he asked. "Now's the time when you want to know everything. Well, not everything. But you want to know what's going on."
"I hate it when you're right."
Late that afternoon, Wolfie phoned home and reported on dinner at Liv's. His voice was upbeat and I could hear that he was happy, very happy. Wolfie's willingness to talk was a surefire indicator of his moods. When his voice was soft and he used words as sparingly as a nomad would drink water in the desert, I knew there was trouble. Now I couldn't shut him up. He told me everything Liv's mother had served for dinner and every bit of conversation at the table.
It was a little overboard even for him. I wanted to ask, are you really my kid?
"And guess what?" he asked.
"They invited me to sleep over after dinner. Can I?"
"I don't think it's a good idea," I said.
"Wolfie, it's very nice of Liv and her family to want you to sleep at their house. But you have a hotel room and a show the next day. I'm sure Dad's going to want you there."
Grudgingly, he agreed. I was sure his willingness to listen to me stemmed from the newness of this relationship and the other circumstances of his living situation. I reminded myself that he had called to ask my permission rather than decide on his own, which was the way I had tried to raise him. When you don't know something, ask someone for advice, preferably your parent—and that's just what he'd done. But I wondered how long he would continue to listen to me. I was a year younger than he was when I got involved in my first serious romance and I worked myself into a full steam of anxiety remembering what I had done and not told my parents.
If it had been possible, I might have flown to Kansas and brought Wolfie back home for the night. I had the urge to have my little boy back, the one who used to look at me with blind devotion and raise his arms high in the air and say, "Mama up!" I didn't want to think about him having a girlfriend and all the complications that might ensure. But as Tom reminded me when he got home, this wasn't about me. Even though I wasn't ready for him to have a girlfriend, he was and I would have to deal with it.
"I supposed that's why God invented M&Ms and potato chips," I said, jokingly.
"No," Tom laughed. "But I think it's why He invented the phone, the video camera, iChat, private detectives, and so on."
Luckily for me, within a few days, Tom and I visited Wolfie on tour. The trip had been planned months earlier, so it didn't seem like I was checking up on him. Though delighted to see us, Wolfie still needed a little time to adjust to having his mom out there with him. I understood. I upset the routine he got into of studying during the day, going to soundcheck, performing, eating dinner late, and then staying up even later as he wound down from the show.
It wasn't exactly the day of a normal sixteen-year-old. But that's the reason I visited as frequently as I did. I thought whatever facsimile of family time I could manufacture would be better than none.
On this trip, though, I had questions. I asked the obvious mom-type questions before the show. I didn't ask about Liv until the show was finished and we were back at the hotel, playing cards in the two-bedroom suite Wolfie shared with Matt. Wolfie was much more relaxed than he had been prior to the show, which I reminded myself made sense considering he had many things on his mind before performing onstage in front of twenty thousand people. Finally, I asked how dinner at Liv's had been. All of a sudden he perked up. His eyes opened wide and he began to recount the dinner in the same detail as he had on the phone. Except this time, in the course of telling me the story, he mentioned that he liked Liv.
"Oh, really?" I said, drawing on thirty-six years of acting experience to deliver that note of nonchalant curiosity.
"Yeah," he said. "The way I felt about her last summer . . ."
"You liked her last summer?" I interrupted.
"Now it's not the same, you know?"
"Good for you," I said. "She's a very nice girl."
"Really nice," he said.
We spent Thanksgiving with my parents and brother, Pat, and his wife, Stacy, in Arizona. Wolfie was there with us, regaling everyone with stories from the road and catching up with Tom's son, Tony, and friends. After the holiday, Liv flew in and stayed with us for a week. I was more nervous than she appeared to be; in fact, I had to remind myself that I was the parent, not the girlfriend visiting the boyfriend's family. The problem was, I didn't know how to play my role, whether to be strict or cool or super cool or what.
Pretty quickly I figured out that I really liked Liv, who impressed me as a mature and together young woman. I could tell that she had been raised properly. She was considerate and well-mannered. When she arrived, I had her put her suitcase in Wolfie and Tony's room and made it clear the two boys would sleep in the plush tour bus parked in front of the house. She thanked me for allowing her to visit.
Very late that night, I woke up in a panic, wondering where Wolfie and Liv were sleeping. They had not given me a single reason to suspect they weren't in the places I had assigned them earlier in the day, but my mind was full of scenarios that filled me with concern. It was because I had been a teenager once, and I knew what I had done at that same age. Actually, I'd been younger. Was that beside the point? Or was it the point? I had no idea. Nor did it matter. I got out of bed and crept through the house like a guard on the show Lockup. As I tiptoed back into the bedroom and quietly slipped back under the covers, Tom rolled over.
"And?" he asked.
"Everyone's where they're supposed to be," I said.
"Except for you."
"Touché," I replied.
I shut my eyes and tried to go back to sleep while realizing something that many parents before me had discovered: I was the one with sex on the brain, not Wolfie or Liv. I knew that would change if they stayed together, but for now this was more my issue than theirs. I supposed it was part of being a parent. I had the wisdom and experience to know what lay ahead, and to prepare for it. Was I prepared? I didn't know; I'd have to see when I got there, wherever that would be.
There was a more important question: Was Wolfie prepared? Had I done my job as a parent?
I thought about two things: The talks I hadn't had with him about sex and love and maturity, and the discussions I should have had with him about relationships, the highs, lows, joys, difficulties, and potential of heartbreak. We had spent hours discussing favorite movies such as Galaxy Quest and Lord of the Rings. We had also talked endlessly about the video game Legend of Zelda. We had discussed school, music, favorite bands, clothes, acne, friends -- all the stuff that happened. I had at times even solicited his opinion on stuff I had seen in the Pottery Barn catalog? How had I managed to not talk to him about girls, sex, and love? What was wrong with me? I felt like a bad mother. I worried that I had failed both of us.
I still felt that way in the morning. As I made myself coffee, I thought about handling those feelings in the way I had done so many times in the past: by opening the fridge and eating my way into numbness. I didn't do it. I knew it wasn't a healthy or productive way to handle a problem. I had learned that I was an emotional eater, and as such, I had come to recognize my desire to eat during times of upset or stress for what it was—an emotional response to a feeling that is starved for action or discussion, not a desire for a slice of leftover pizza at 9:30 in the morning.
I heard Tom stirring and took him a cup of coffee. I asked if he wanted to go for a walk, explaining that I needed to work off something that was bothering me.
"What's up?" he asked.
"I haven't had the sex talk," I said.
He put his hands on my shoulders, pulled me close and said, "Baby, we don't have to talk about it."
I pushed him away.
"Not you, silly," I said. "I haven't talked to Wolfie about sex."
"Doesn't he know where babies come from?"
"I'm sure he does. It's how they're made that I'm not sure he understands completely."
"Or how to keep them from being made."
"I'm sure he knows that part, too."
"But I'm not sure," I said.
"It's a little late, don't you think?" Tom said. "Besides, he's probably seen everything and then some in the movies or on the Internet."
"Yeah, but I know seeing it and talking about it are two different things." I took a deep breath and sighed. "This isn't fair."
"Wolfie's still in bed, sleeping soundly without a care in his head other than what he and Liv are going to do today--and I'm pacing the kitchen, wondering if dipping Cheetoes in peanut butter might make me feel better about not ever having talked to my son about sex."
"Probably not," Tom said. "I think we should take a walk."
"Yeah, good idea."
I had a good, albeit sardonic laugh as I thought of being on maintenance in the context of my life. First, let me say that I wasn't yet on maintenance. I was looking ahead. In reality, thanks to a handful of macaroons, I was up one third of a pound, which meant I still had a pound and a half to go before I reached my weight loss goal. On my blog, I wrote, "Guys, what if I'm on maintenance next week?"
What if I was?
That's what made me laugh.
What was I trying to maintain beyond my weight -- and even that wasn't set in stone?
I made a list in my head, and the things I needed to fix or change outnumbered the things I was content to merely maintain. Who came up with this concept of maintenance?
I realized my life was similar to my closet. No matter what time or year, it could always use a little straightening or cleaning. The job was never finished. Motherhood was the same. The problems changed, but they didn't end or get any easier. At one point when Tom and I were on our walk, I looked up at the sky and mused, "Oh really, God. Why didn't you tell me that it wasn't going to ever end or get easier -- or that the poopy diapers were just a warm-up?"
The following afternoon, I had an opportunity to talk with Wolfie. I found him on the sofa, watching TV. Alone! Miraculously, he wasn't with Liv. The two of them spent more time together than conjoined twins. I seized the moment.
"Hey, I want to talk about you and Liv," I said, trying to sound casual and relaxed as I plopped down on the sofa.
"Yeah, Mom. What's up?"
"We've never officially or even unofficially talked about sex," I said. "You know, the sex talk."
"You mean where babies come from?" he asked.
"No, more like how babies are made."
"Please don't go there," he said.
"But you're in a relationship."
I took a deep breath. I agreed with him. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed talking about sex with my son, not that I would characterize what we were doing as talking about sex. But I wanted to make a point. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't thought that part through to a conclusive place I could articulate. In my head, I had only gotten as far as "we need to talk."
So I just looked at Wolfie until he said, "What? What are you looking at?" How could I explain what I was looking at? I was looking at sixteen years of life, his remarkable growth, my frustrating inadequacies, and the fact that in the beginning it had been just the two of us and now here we were, the two of us brought together yet again by the miracle of life. I could have, and probably should have, just been forthright and said that from the little intelligence I had been able to gather, I knew that he and Liv were still as chaste as the Jonas Brothers, and I wanted to keep it that way, at least for a while. But if things were to change, here's what I wanted him to know. Here's what I had learned about men and women, sex and responsibility. But there wasn't a chance in hell of that coming out of my mouth.
I also thought about asking if he would take a vow of chastity and I would take a vow of silence and the two of us would meet back here in a few years. But that didn't happen either. Instead, I blurted out that I was looking forward to being a grandmother someday. But he was way too young to start giving me grandchildren.
Wolfie responded exactly as I would have if I had been sixteen and sitting cross from me after that ridiculous statement. He stared at me with a look of startled bewilderment. I shrugged. I thought it was a nice try—the best I could do.
"Do you feel better now?" he asked.
"I don't know," I said.
"Mom, let me just talk to Dad about it," he said. "How about that?"
Relieved, I walked out of the room. About two minutes later, I was kicked in the butt by reality. I couldn't believe what I had agreed to. Had I lost my mind? God only knew what kind of information Wolfie might get from his dad. Getting your sex talk from Eddie Van Halen wasn't recommended in any of the parenting books I read.
A few days later, Liv flew back home, Wolfie went back on the road, and I reached my goal of losing 40 pounds. I celebrated the milestone at the kitchen table in my sweats, asking myself what now? Maintenance? Ha! Instead of throwing myself a party for hitting my goal, as I had always expected to do, I went for a hike with Tom up and down Pinnacle Peak, a rugged mountain outside of Phoenix.
As we huffed and puffed, I asked Tom if his parents had ever talked to him about sex. They hadn't, he said. He had learned about the facts of life from friends on the playground. I had discovered that information the same way, separating fact from fiction as I went along. Did anyone get the formal, sit-down sex talk? Or was that just a chapter in the parenting books that everyone skipped?
"I'd like to think that I progressed beyond my parents," I said.
"Well, I have always spoken pretty openly about sex to my girls," Tom said. "They even told me when they got their periods."
"Aren't you evolved," I said.
"I just recently told your mother that I've seen your penis," I said.
"What?" he said. "What'd she say?"
" 'Oh, honey. I've seen it too. It's no big thing!' " I said, laughing.
By the time we returned home, I had put all joking aside and decided to speak to my son again and make sure we had the kind of talk that I knew in my heart was right. I wanted to make sure he was prepared, responsible and sensitive -- and informed -- if only for my own peace of mind or just to prove that I could do better than my parents. I knew that I would beat myself up if I didn't do it.
Later that day, after working up my determination and thinking about what I wanted to say, I called Wolfie at his hotel. He was waiting for Matt to finish bundling gear before they headed to the arena.
"Do you remember the talk I wanted to have with you after Thanksgiving?" I said.
"Maybe," he said.
"The one about sex," I said.
"Have you spoken with your dad about it yet?"
"Good," I said. "I wanted to get to you first."
"Ma, it's gross -- and whatever happens between me and Liv, it's none of your business."
"You're right," I said. "That would be gross, as you say. I don't want to know about the two of you. This isn't about Liv, in fact. It's about you." I paused momentarily, waiting for him to cut me off. He didn't-- and I knew right then I had him and this was my time.
"Look, I just want to tell you that as far as you and Liv or you and anyone else that comes into your life goes, it's about your heart and hers. Don't give your heart and self away easily. But when you do, don't protect it to the point where you don't open yourself up to your feelings. Always be kind and treat other people the way you want to be--"
"Ma, I know," he said, cutting me off. "Treat people the way I want to be treated. You say it all the time. I get it."
"One more thing," I said.
"Babies come from storks."
Relieved, I told Tom about the conversation. I don't know if it was helpful, but I felt better.
A few days later, all of us rendezvoused at the Van Halen concert in San Diego. Before the show, I pulled Ed aside and asked him to speak to Wolfie about being responsible and sensitive in relationships. I didn't come right out and say he was serious about his girlfriend and we needed to make sure he was well informed. But Ed understood. I saw him take it in, think about what he should say, and then he looked at his girlfriend Janie, at me, and at Tom, and nodded.
"Got it," he said.
I was nervous about what he might say, because he could be crude even when trying to be sensitive. But I felt like I had run out of options. God help me, I turned it over to Ed.
A little before the show, I was standing with Tom in the hallway outside Ed's dressing room when I thought I overheard him having the talk. I shushed Tom and inched closer to the doorway. Tom was right behind me when I turned around and we heard Ed tell Wolfie to listen to his heart, to be careful of who he gave it to, and then "when you give it away be careful of their heart, too."
Then he added, "Treat each other with kindness."
I gritted my teeth at Tom.
"That's what I tried to tell him," I said.
"Shush," Tom said. "They're still going."
We listened closer and heard Ed finish: ". . . and be wary of all the sluts and skanks and whores who will want to be with you because you play in a band and have a famous last name."
I shrugged. I wouldn't have said that last part. But it was essentially the same talk I had tried to have. I wanted to praise Ed, but remembered that we were eavesdropping and quickly grabbed Tom and guided us away from the door. Then Wolfie strolled out and into the hall. He was in a good mood.
"Hey, Ma," he said.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "Just talking to Dad."
I watched him walk back to his dressing room. All of us were learning about the facts of life.
Notes to Myself
Drink more water! Thirst is different from hunger. Thirst for knowledge, thirst for health, thirst for love . . . lots of water.
Today, my mind and body are in conflict about going to the gym, but I'm telling them to get on the same page! How? I'm thinking of all the times I've wished I'd worked out but couldn't. And the times I've wished I'd felt good about myself but didn't. Now that I have the time to get exercise . . . is forty-five minutes such a big deal?
Tom says I snore. He doesn't. We're an odd couple.