To The Day

Well, nearly.  I stepped away from this blog just over a year ago thinking that I just needed to find the absolutely right time to get back to writing.  I would sit in a sun-drenched window of a cafe with my soy latte and hours of free time stretching before me in which to ponder, muse, observe, and craft some witty commentary.  Well, as my ancestors in the shtetl were fond of saying, “Der Mensch tracht un Got lacht.” (Man plans and god laughs.)  Not that anything so terrible or out of the ordinary has happened in the past year.  In fact, as far as the more recent years of my life have gone, it’s been a walk in the park.  But much time walking in the park crowded out time for writing and it’s only now, when nearly every day something happens that causes me to think, “I really should write about that,” that I feel a strong pull to come back here.

I’m dusting off my minimal WordPress skills.  I’m updating my tag line.  In the past, I planned on using this blog to shine some light on my lifelong internal struggle with food and my body.  But it turns out there’s other stuff going on in my life, too.  Stuff that I want to write about and share and get feedback on.  And mercifully, it’s not all about food (though that seems to be a pervasive theme in my life and I’ll probably be revisiting that with some regularity).  So at the moment, there’s no tag line because I honestly don’t know what will be coming out here.  I don’t know if anyone will read it.  At the moment, that isn’t a driving force behind my writing.  What is motivating me?  My love of communication, my convoluted thoughts that are sometimes untangled by being laid out flat in words, and yes, my desire to make people laugh.
And there might be some bad poetry.  I just thought you should know.

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Despite having briefly majored in psychology about a million years ago (and perhaps, more importantly, despite being a parent for eight-plus years) my understanding of child development remains woefully inadequate.  I’m definitely in the “learn as I go” school of child rearing, having decided early on that the plethora of parenting books available to me served more to make me feel guilty and neurotic than supported and reassured.  So I have stumbled my way through fierce diaper rashes, oppositional toddlers, limit-pushing 5-year-olds, and now eight-hood.

Eight is a beautiful age.  Kids have all kinds of independent skills and minds still open to the wonder of the world.  And they still snuggle.  My daughter is eight, and while we’re seeing some sassing and more attitude than I would like, I generally enjoy her company very much.  I love hearing her read, watching her run, and seeing how she seeks out the company of her friends.  I love that she dotes on her baby brother, running to me to report the latest cute thing that he said.  I take joy that her oft-repeated answer to the question, “What did you do in school today?” (i.e. “nothing,”) can still be subverted by animated discussions of the Iroquois or poetry or some historical figure that they read about.

I also see eight as a pivotal age, when one’s senses of self and self-worth start to take shape.  Maybe it’s because children only really start to understand how they fit into the world around that time.  They begin to understand how their actions impact others, and how they have the power to hurt, disappoint, comfort, or cheer.  They start being aware of how they are perceived, and there are the first glimmers of adolescent self-absorption in how they regard themselves.  It is so, so easy to introduce seeds of insecurity at this age, so easy to deny children the tools that they can use to create a healthy sense of self-confidence.  Sometimes, try as we might, kids are just anxious and unhappy.  Sometimes, there is something that sets a child apart so that the train that carries that most precious cargo, feelings of worth and confidence and being good enough, derails at the start.

For myself, I always seem to come back to eight when I think about first feeling, first noticing, first worrying, first doubting.  It was the age at which I was first teased about being fat, the age at which I started becoming self-conscious in ballet class.  Eight was my first diet, overseen by our pediatrician.  I remember how defective I felt.  Eight was coming home to an empty house after school and eating and eating, probably to soothe my anxiety about being alone, and to express my relief at being someplace safe where I couldn’t be teased.  Eight was being sure that my dad didn’t love me as I felt his disgust with my weight.  I had no way of understanding that he saw me through the filter of his own depression and feelings of inadequacy.  My parents–well, my mom mostly–were loving and attentive and I know that both of them wanted the best for me.  They put me on a diet because they were worried about my health.  They had me come home to an empty house because my mom wanted and needed to work.  There was no malice, and in many ways, I grew up in a stable, loving environment.  But I was fat and smart and sensitive, and my train derailed in a big way.

The beauty of now having an eight year old girl is that I am finding it easier to spend time with my own self at eight.  I hear the words that I say to my daughter (the kind, supportive words, not the come-inside-and-practice-the-piano-RIGHT-NOW words) and imagine that I am filling in the blank spaces of my own childhood.  I tell my daughter what I would have wanted to hear at eight.  Now, I know that my daughter is not me.  That much is clear.  Just as her long, muscular legs and her smooth, shiny hair are so different from mine, so is her personality.  Quirky like me, yes.  A little too smart for her own good like me, ditto.  But she has a thicker skin than I do.  She is sensitive, but she is self-assured.  She looks to her friends for fun, but can just as easily be entertained by her own inner world.  She takes pride in being a little offbeat; as she once said to me, “People who aren’t weird are just boring.”  So I take heart knowing that she may not be so harmed by the slings and arrows of mean kids and ignorant adults as I was, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to hear that she’s loved.  That she’s safe.  That she’s beautiful.  That she is a good person.  I try to tell her these things every day, and my hope is that my own eight year old self is listening, too.

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Mom, Moving On

I drove my mom to the airport this morning. This in itself is nothing new. Even before my dad died 16 months ago, my mom did a lot of traveling on her own; my father was wedded to his work and was loathe to take any vacations, ever. Even after he was diagnosed with melanoma, most of his time and energy, which diminished month by month, was spent wrapping up loose ends and handing off projects to other medical researchers. So over the course of their 45-year marriage, mom got pretty used to having her own life. When my sister and I were young, she would take us on epic car camping trips through the Pacific Northwest. The summer of 1978 found the three of us venturing into the giant redwoods in our little Honda Accord, the trunk nearly filled with the huge, orange canvas tent which we would call home for weeks at a time.

It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, then, when she bought the camper. Or rather, they bought the camper. It was my mom and her friend Penny, also recently widowed, who, in a stunning Thelma-and-Louise-before-the-end-of-the-movie moment, bought the little green and white RV which was quickly nicknamed “Cuddles.” Mom had gone down to Maryland to visit Penny and, as legend has it, had gone with her to the store to buy cat litter. Somehow, they wound up with the camper. It had something to do with the two of them planning a trip to the Southwest and thinking about renting a camper down there, and mom noting that she had never even been in one, and shouldn’t they maybe go to a dealership to at least see the inside of one, but wouldn’t the dealer be more obliging if they posed as two women who were actually thinking of buying a camper. I guess they posed a little too well, because that evening, I received an email with the subject “Surprise!” containing a photo of my mom and Penny in front of the camper, my mom pointing to Penny with a goofy, she-made-me-do-it expression on her face.

Fast forward five months. “Cuddles” has been overwintering at Penny’s place, and mom has packed her bags for her flight down to BWI, where Penny and Cuddles will scoop her up for the beginning of another epic journey. There was more than a little ambivalence in her voice and her manner as she was getting ready to leave. Certainly, there was the expected reticence to leave home for such a long period of time. I imagine there was also some hesitation in facing the reality of an extended road trip with a friend who had been her traveling companion only once before. The real hang-up, though, was one that my mom certainly hadn’t expected would arise when she and Penny bought Cuddles last November: my mom has a boyfriend. And like a teenager experiencing the thrill of new romance, my mom didn’t want to leave him.

If someone had told me three years ago that three years hence, my mom would be leaving her new boyfriend to go on a cross-country journey in a small RV, I would have laughed. My mom? Leaving her what to do what? Even if I could have conceived that all of our realities would be so substantially altered to arrive at such a scenario, I couldn’t have imagined my mom with anyone else. It wasn’t that my parents had a flawless marriage; there was more than one separation when my sister and I were kids, and more than one visit to a divorce lawyer. As mom tells it, the only problem was that they went together to the same lawyer. The guy apparently took in their story, said “Are you sure you want to do this?” then made them go get drinks together at a bar down the street. So they stayed together, sometimes in spite of themselves. They knew each other their entire lives. I actually have a photograph of my mom with some other kids at her second birthday party. In the back row, looking decidedly nonplussed at the mature age of six, stands my dad. It was one of those relationships, where the marriage happened because everyone just figured it would, where the two families were intertwined, sometimes hissing and spitting, through their own history and through my parents, and then through my sister and me.

For my mom to be with anyone else was beyond the realm of my imagination. Until Frank. Frank was tall, lanky, and shy at the age of 16 when he took my mom to their junior prom. He had a thick head of hair, a strong accent from his native Germany, and a big crush on my mom. My mom was already falling in love with my dad, a college man, by that point, and she noted that Frank “didn’t stand a chance.” Frank found out a few months ago that my dad had passed away and sent a very nice, unassuming condolence note. There were no overtures, no intimations that maybe NOW my mom would get together with him. Just a self-effacing, “You probably don’t remember me, but…” She did remember him and wrote back saying so. Then there were emails, then photos exchanged, then phone calls. Then visits, with flowers, champagne, and adoration. My dad was an accomplished man who excelled at many things, but adoring my mom was not one of them. He loved her without a doubt, but 68 years of familiarity had bred, if not contempt, then a lack of appreciation. And that many years of being on the back burner had a profound effect on my mom.

Now that she’s on someone’s front burner, she’s happier than I’ve seen her in years. Of course there’s weirdness. There’s bound to be when starting any relationship, especially after being widowed. But surprisingly, I don’t feel much weirdness on my end. It feels like a door opening for her, hopefully into a room that is filled with love and adoration. I loved my dad, but I didn’t always love the way he treated my mom. I wanted for her what people have in good relationships: the joy of being with someone who raises you up, who helps you feel good about yourself, who brings you laughter. Now it appears that she’s getting those things and mainly what I feel for her is happiness. I also feel hope and amazement that our lives can contain so many chapters: love, loss, kids, camping trips, RV’s, grandchildren, and new boyfriends. I’ll miss her while she’s gone, but this is her road trip and her adventure, and as long as she’s happy and being treated well, I’ll send her on her way with love.

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Hey Big Dancer

From the minute you walked in the joint (hip pop), I could see you were a man of distinction (hand flare), a real big spender (point, hand cross over and down), good lookin’ (hands on hips), so refined (head toss).

I vacillate between obsessively reviewing these moves and thinking, “Dear God, please get this song out of my head.”  I am a member of an adult show choir.  No, no pole dances.  Think “Glee” for grown-ups.  Actually, I’ve never watched “Glee,” but that was part of the description in the performing arts center’s flier when it advertised the class.  Once a week, we, about 20 women, get together to pick our way through broadway tunes and strut our stuff in a dance studio downtown.  A dance studio with a wall of mirrors.  And I get to look in those mirrors over and over and over again as I struggle to remember my steps and try to look flirtations (“strutty, not slutty,” as our choreographer instructed us).  I joined because I wanted to be singing again, and because I have always harbored a not-so-secret desire to be in a musical.  This is the closest thing that my schedule will allow me these days, and I have embraced it with gusto.

I’ve always been in the “what the hell I’ve got nothing to lose” school of thought when it comes to movement and my body.  You ask me to mambo, and I’m going mambo using every inch of my large hips; trying to hide a large body in a dance studio is like, well, trying to hide a large body in a dance studio.  The smaller you try to be, the more you stand out.

None of which is to say that I don’t struggle mightily every time I line up in front of that enormous mirror.  I mean, I stopped going to yoga classes because I spent too much of what was supposed to be relaxing, meditative time thinking “I can’t do this twist because my stomach is too big,” or “I can’t sit back on my heels because my thighs and calves are too big,” or “I’m just too fucking big.”  Not conducive to self-acceptance, and I could not induce myself to simply “be where I was” in spite of some excellent and inspiring instruction.  Maybe the difference with dance is that I really don’t have time to think, especially not when I’m trying to sing and dance at the same time.  My brain is way too engaged trying to remember what the hell comes next.

Still, I often entertain two thoughts:
1.  That I look foolish.  What looks sexy when a size 8 body does it looks ridiculous when a size 22 does it.
2.  That other people in the class are pitying me.  “Hell, I might not be able to dance, but at least I’m not huge.”

Still, I keep going back and putting myself into my hip rolls and my jazz squares and my schmaltzy hand flares.  There are entire class sessions when I look at the floor much more than into the mirror.  There are other sessions where I can’t look anywhere other than at my face.  Looking at my arms or belly or, god forbid, thighs, would unleash a torrent of wildly self-deprecating thoughts.  While I could afford to give up yoga, and while it really was in my best interest, I can’t give this up.  I’ve been waiting too long and I’ve been hiding too long to go back now.  If I need to just look at my face or at the floor sometimes, then so be it.  If I don’t mambo with all of me, then I may as well not mambo.  In this arena, at least, I have nothing to lose.

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If You Give a Compulsive Eater a Cookie

(With apologies to Laura Numeroff and gratitude to MB for inspiration and laughter)

If you give a compulsive eater a cookie
She will want another cookie

If you give her another cookie
She will have her eye on the rest of the cookies

If you give her the rest of the cookies
She will nibble at them, bit by bit, until they are all gone
Except maybe for one or two

If she nibbles at them, bit by bit, until they are all gone
Except maybe for one or two
She will need something salty to balance out all that sweet

If she eats something salty to balance out all that sweet
She will be really thirsty but won’t recognize it as thirst
And she will keep eating

If she keeps eating
She will become painfully full but she’ll still be thirsty
And eventually she will realize that she’s thirsty

When she finally realizes that she’s thirsty
She’ll have something to drink, which will make her feel bloated

Once she feels bloated
She’ll start berating herself for having eaten so much and getting to this point AGAIN

Once she starts berating herself for getting to this point AGAIN
She’ll start feeling ashamed of herself and vow to change

When she vows to change
She’ll tell herself that, starting tomorrow, she’ll eat 1200 calories a day
and exercise seven times a week

And when she wakes up tomorrow,
She’ll be hung over from all that food and sugar
And she’ll still feel ashamed
And bloated
And tired
And she’ll crave some quick energy

So she’ll make some coffee
And to go with her coffee, she’ll want a cookie

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No such thing as “a little pregnant”

Good lord, no I’m not.  Three kids and just turned 42.  My procreation days are over.  I’ve just been thinking about things that can’t occur in moderation.  You can’t be “a little pregnant.”  Something can’t be “pretty unique,” or even “really unique,” for that matter.  (Either something is one-of-a-kind or it’s not.)  And, apparently, I can’t eat “just a little sugar.”

Damn this sugar thing.  I love you so, cookies, scones, and pumpkin pie.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream and brownies, without you, I’m unsure that life has meaning.  But you are a cruel mistress, sugar.  You beg for my devotion and then you throw me aside, tired, logy, and forgetful.  Unable to think straight.  Like heroin, or so I’m told.  I’ve never indulged in anything beyond the occasional joint.  No need to.  My drug of choice comes in 5 and 10-lb. bags, and it leaves me strung out.  When I include it in my diet, it obliterates any sense of impulse control that I have around other food.  It’s my gateway drug.  A little sugar, and the door is blown wide open to second and third helpings of everything, just a little more coffee, another handful of chips or crackers or my kids’ Halloween candy.

So why was it so easy to eliminate sugar last summer?  Last summer, of all times, when life seemed intent on seeing just how much misery it could dish out before I would crack?  But hell, I stayed away from sugar.  I ate my protein.  I felt a little like my sister must have felt  eight or nine years ago, when she landed in the hospital for a month.  She had a six-month-old baby at home and was blindsided by a severe GI problem and subsequent complications.  She couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, had raging fevers and infections.  Through it all, she kept the hospital-grade breast pump at her side and pumped several times a day.  At the time, I felt it was crazy, stressing her body out more than it was already stressed.  But now I know that it was a way of keeping her sane, a way of focusing on something other than how horrible she felt and how scary the situation was.  Maybe that kind of focus was what kept me off sugar.  It kept me from dwelling too much on my husband’s misery and the terrifying thought that he would be incapacitated.

So what now?  For sure, life isn’t a whole lot easier.  My husband is still battling depression.  We are nearing the one-year anniversary of my father’s miserable death.  But at the moment, staying away from sugar feels like a punishment rather than a way to take care of myself.  My inner kid doesn’t want to be told what to do.  She wants something sweet NOW, dammit, because life isn’t feeling very sweet most of the time.

But ultimately, moderating what I eat to help me feel better can’t be a punishment.  It can’t be a method for taking my mind off of other things.  It can’t be a “diet.”  And it can’t be something that I do so that I can feel like a good girl.  None of those things is real, and none of them lasts, and my inner kid is way too smart to put up with any of that shit for very long.

Moderating what I eat to help me feel better needs to be a decision that the grown-up me makes.  The caring me.  The nurturing me.  Then maybe I’ll understand that it’s not a punishment or a diversionary tactic or a diet or anything else that will ultimately cause me to rebel.  It’s a choice that we have to make together–the grown-up me, the kid me, the rebel me.  Maybe I can call upon an internal mediator to help all of us talk this over. Maybe it’s time to gather all of us at the table for a kind, rational, supportive discussion about what I’m going to put in my body today.

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curl up baby

curl up, baby
I hold you tight wrapped
in two blankets with your pillow
clutched under your arm

sweet blond curls, baby
I sing you to sleep
rocking, nursing
milk flowing warm

fingers tightly curled, baby
around the fabric of my shirt
piles of blankets and pillows erase
where I begin and you begin and we end

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