Don't Say Fat

A few weeks ago I brought home a pineapple from Trader Joe’s. This excited Norah immensely as she likes to eat pineapple and we don’t purchase them often, but additionally she decided that it would be used for play (because heavy, spiky objects lend well to children’s activities). Her game idea was to carry the pineapple over her head and walk circles around the kitchen island while I counted to 100 (fun?). After completing this task the first time, she declared that she was working hard to get strong, a moment that made me feel a little tingle of pride as I do enjoy teaching my children the importance of health and wellness, and I believe a desire to be strong is a positive sign of understanding that importance. After completing the task a second time, she said I need keep doing this so I don’t get fat.

Fuck.

I grew up a thin girl and did very little to move my body or mind my habits. I distinctly recall coming home from high school during my freshman year and plopping on the couch with a whole Publix cheesecake to mindlessly fork through while watching Sweet Valley High or some other terrible TV program before ultimately passing out. The picture of health I was! No one was telling me to live otherwise and I was lucky enough to have some sort of freakish metabolism that allowed for this and other similar behaviors such as consuming a McDonald’s bucket of fries by myself, so I spent zero time fussing about weight or pant size. I had plenty of other things to be depressed about as a teenager like the simple fact that I was a teenager.

And then something changed.

Not in my metabolism, but more so in my mentality. I don’t recall what the exact turning point was, but during my senior year of high school I developed an interest in the idea of preventing weight gain. It’s absurd that my size 0/2 figure would bring about even the notion that I need be afraid of such things, but I was. I believe it simply became a larger part of the conversation that was being had by my peers and so, as I often did at that age, I adopted their line of thinking and decided that I too needed to dread getting fat. During the summer before college, I began taking things to a new level with days where my entire diet consisted of a Carnation Instant Breakfast, a can of pineapple, and an embarrassing quantity of whatever my alcoholic beverage of choice happened to be once I got off work and “went out.” I wouldn’t say I had an eating disorder for other days still came where I gorged on Miami Subs curly fries or the like, but I was definitely learning some new tricks, one of which included dropping diet pills that were most likely stolen from GNC by one of my besties. We were, like, so good at life.

Enter college and the infamous freshman fifteen, and I simply couldn’t bear the idea of being bigger, so I started counting calories and exercising. With zero nutritional knowledge I determined that 1,000 was an appropriate number and monitored my mostly ramen and canned tuna based diet to be sure I wasn’t exceeding that very well researched (lies) number. New friends came along and with them new ways of fighting the good fight against fat like purging, Xenadrine, and good old fashioned abstinence—“all I’ve had today is like five cheeze-its.” The worst of it is that every last one of us was so fucking tiny and hadn’t a thing to worry about, yet we believed firmly otherwise and so abused our bodies.

I wish I could say that as I’ve grown up I’ve gotten entirely over my obsession with weight, but I’d be lying if I did. I no longer pop pills or purge or play games like how long can I subsist on a handful of grapes, but I still pay attention to the scale and a good bit of my interest in exercise is based on the calorie burn it affords. Being healthy plays a much larger role at this point in my life, but vanity remains and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally free of anxiety surrounding weight gain. Sadly, there are still days when my feelings of dissatisfaction with my body affect my mood to the degree that I’m an asshole to my husband and kids, and I struggle to feel happy about anything. This is not okay.

And then there’s my sweet little girl, just about to turn six, telling me that she’s carrying around a pineapple so she doesn’t get fat. Have I failed already to protect her from such thinking? Pete and I work very hard to never comment on our bodies in front of the kids, and to avoid any negative language around the subject of weight, figure, or appearance. We focus on making healthy choices and taking care of ourselves to feel good, have more energy, and help our bodies function in their best way possible. But what we teach at home is only ever a part of the story, and the world out there is full of information and ideas that infiltrate their little minds, and build their perceptions and beliefs.

I have no interest in sheltering my children. They deserve to learn and explore and experience as they grow into the people they will become, and I hope they question everything along the way. But I can’t help but want to protect them from pain, and not just the physical kind which is a whole other pile of neuroses for me, but the kind that comes from struggling to love and accept yourself.

I reacted a bit too sternly when Norah made that declaration a few weeks ago in our kitchen, snapping quickly with “why did you say that?!” Nearly as quickly, I realized that making such a fuss about it was working against my efforts to move focus away from the subject, and so I backed off. More calmly I offered that she needn’t worry about such things, and that what was important was that she loved and cared for her body by nourishing and moving it, and by appreciating its beauty and ability. I don’t pretend to think that Norah can grow through life successfully avoiding body image issues altogether, but I do believe her path can be a bit better than mine.

So how do we parents create an environment for our children that fosters a positive body image and self-acceptance? And how do we continue to teach and guide them throughout life, offering security in the form of support as they grow into adults and perhaps parents as well? For starters, we could all stand to do a better job at loving ourselves. Lead by example; a simple, powerful phrase that I believe in strongly. I maaaaay not always be super awesome at executing on it—like when I’m really angry and yell and cuss and act like a giant jerk—but I never forget the importance and persistently try to be the best role model possible for Norah and Crosby.

In matters of body image, I make a concerted effort to reveal no sign of my own insecurities surrounding my appearance and figure, but kids are remarkably smart and intuitive, and I believe mine will develop their own self-love more readily if what they feel emanating from me is honest and real. And it goes beyond just embracing and appreciating our physical manifestation to loving our whole selves inside and out in a way that shines, a way that the littles of our lives can feel and absorb and adopt. This is something I work on endlessly, and I know the work will never be done, but if even a piece of what I’m able to forge for me is somehow imparted to my children, I will consider the work well worth it and mark one in the win column.

Lying on the bed with Norah two nights ago and enjoying some pre-sleep snuggles, I stroked her hair as I often do and simply said “I love you so much.” “I love you too mommy,” she replied, “and I love myself. Sometimes I don’t like myself though. Like when I’m mean to Crosby. Usually I can’t control it, it just comes out of my body somehow. But I love myself.”

Count it.  

It's Never Always

Our daughter Norah is just a kid. This seems like an obvious statement, especially if you know that she is five years old, so why is it then that we struggle to keep this sentiment in focus?

This morning at breakfast she spilled her cereal. This is not a unique event. I was in the bedroom getting ready for work and heard Pete correcting her, irritation and frustration vibrating through his vocal chords and raising his decibel level. He’s not the yeller that I am, but he has his signature angry tone accompanied by a kick in volume. Incapable of controlling my need to control, I inserted myself by entering the kitchen and investigating the scene. Please stop, I said to him. All we do lately is get mad at her. She’s just a kid.

What a hypocrite. All WE do lately is get mad at her, and that ‘we’ includes me. 

I have noticed a pattern of calmness spreading over me when Pete’s parenting dial is redlining. Calm is not my normal, so the presence of such catches my attention and I tend to revel in the unusual sensation. Regardless of my pleasure in discovering novel feelings, I should not meddle when my darling husband has hit his heightened state. I should know better, for intervention on his part during my far less rational expressions of anger has been known to cause volatile reactions i.e. screaming expletives and flying objects. 

I’m working on it. Forever. 

He left the kitchen, possibly in a huff, but definitely without throwing anything, and I turned to Norah—her flushed face and watery eyes validating my (perhaps untimely) declaration. She’s just a kid. 

Our daughter is five, turning six is July, and lately (maybe longer) she seems to be hitting every one of our negative nerves. She is not a bad kid, and in fact on multiple occasions we’ve been offered praise, sometimes awe, from friends and teachers for her behavior, maturity and manners. With both of our children, we’ve somehow avoided public tantrums and rarely experienced cause for severe reprimand in the presence of those outside of our family. The comfort and privacy of our personal space is a different story, but even then, her moments of misbehaving are far from noteworthy.

Quantity over quality. Death by a thousand cuts. How many times do I have to tell you? We just went through this. Why don’t you listen? Ugh, again, are you serious? Pay attention! Do you enjoy getting yelled at? Stop, stop, please stop, STOP! NOW! 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and…

I feel defeated. I feel sad. I feel as though the negative interactions I have with my daughter are far outweighing the positive, and I feel like I’m wasting precious opportunities to connect with my little girl who before long will be sucked into the tornado of her teenage years. Already at five there are moments when my mama sense twitches in awareness of the slightest slipping away, underlined by the fierce, bone-deep need her younger brother exudes. I don’t want it to be this way. I don’t want to bend over to kiss her goodnight, awash in disappointment over the unfolding of the previous hours, scrambling to make things right with exaggerated affection in the final moments before sleep. 

Breathe deep. Breathe slow. 

I know that this is not forever. I know that in parenting, phases envelop us, obstructing our awareness of their transience. I also know that much like my patience with the lack of attention, listening and mindfulness on our daughter’s part, my patience with navigating and beating this phase is about as a strong as a spaghetti noodle. 

We can do this.

Boundaries. The key to success in all relationships. We can set boundaries without amplifying an already tense moment. We can communicate our expectations, underline inappropriateness, offer consequences, and teach lessons, and we can do all of this without yelling, belittling, cussing, condescending, or displaying any other behavior that will only serve to leave everyone involved feeling awful. 

We can do this. 

Focus on the positive. She’s bright, damn is she bright. She impresses us every day with her ability to learn and apply, her teachers sing her praises, and she wants to go to Duke because ‘smart people go there’ (goodbye money). She is kind and compassionate and she cares deeply for her brother (despite that episode where she kicked him off the bed sending us to Urgent Care). She’s creative and inquisitive and sensitive, she craves adventure and exploration, and she is willing to try (though sometimes only after a brief emotional breakdown) nearly anything. She works hard to live up to my (possibly too high) expectations and though the effort can exhaust her, she radiates with delight when she succeeds.   

We can do this. 

When I arrived home from work this evening, a little girl in pink tights and leotard breezed down the hallway to greet me with a magical smile. Dance bag in hand, she was calm and collected, and practically parented me out the door. Her buoyancy in tact through dance and home, she changed her clothes and eagerly inquired after any chores she could help me with. The laundry never lets us down in its readiness to be done, and so both kids took to gathering the dirty items. “Crosby, please go try to get the hamper from Mommy’s room, and if you have trouble I can help you.” For the entire evening, with the exception of one sloppy moment where she absentmindedly spit toothpaste all over the counter, she was a peach—a well behaved, helpful, cooperative, listening, manner minding peach. 

Did the Universe sense an imbalance in our household and kindly shift its energy to assist with providing a much needed reprieve? It’s possible. Even more possible is the likelihood that what felt like forever mad was actually much less, for so it goes with human nature—we have a remarkable knack for projecting the negative and adopting absolute perspectives. Maybe she’s tired sometimes and energized others and the resulting behaviors make sense; maybe she perceives and aligns herself to our moods and we’re the cause of any anxiety she experiences; maybe her tummy hurts or she feels badly about something that happened at school or she just doesn’t want to deal with all the rules rules rules that everyone in her life seems to be endlessly imposing. 

Maybe she’s just a kid. 

Sheepy

Here is a post that I wrote about a month ago, but held in draft form to await the creation of this new blog...

On our last day in Portree on the Isle of Skye, during our seven years delayed honeymoon, we made a sudden stop at a gift shop before heading to the next town of our Scottish tour. It was September 2013 and back home awaited one year old Crosby and three year old Norah who we missed fervently and thus felt compelled to spoil with souvenirs and legit Scottish swag. This particular merchant was on the fancier side and the dollar of that day was weak, but we were travel drunk on the epic beauty of our surroundings and happily parted with our pounds for one fuzzy highland cow and one shaggy sheep.

For no express reason, the cow was given to Norah and the sheep to Crosby, and our new furry friends joined the ranks of stuffed creatures adorning our children's beds. The fuzzy highland cow came to be called Heather after the main character in a children's book we also brought back, but the sheep took on no name as 14-month-old Crosby had yet to say many words. Time passed, and the sheep took up residence in Crosby's crib, sleeping somewhere close to him for every nap and night, and then eventually began to leave the crib when Crosby did. As he formed his attachment to the sheep he also formed his toddler lexicon, and eventually the sheep was named Sheepy.

Sheepy became our baby boy's security blanket—integral contributor to his feeling peace and balance. Before falling asleep, he would rub the tag between his fingers, a soothing, rhythmic habit of comfort that made even us parents who watched feel relaxed and at ease. And ever since Sheepy was firmly established in this fundamental role, he has been by Crosby's side for every bout of sleep, every tear, every long car ride, every moment of fear, anxiety, tension, or stress, and all sorts of other occasions on which our son required the presence of his floppy, fuzzy Scottish bestie.

Isn't that adorable, sweet and heart-warmingly lovely? Indeed. Do you know what's none of those things and in fact quite the opposite? When Sheepy goes missing. More specifically when he does so at 9 PM when every other task of the bedtime routine has been successfully completed and your growing sense of giddy anticipation over the moments ahead when you can crawl under the covers and space out before you pass out is spreading through you like the warmth of your second (cough, fourth) glass of rosé. Worse yet? When you and your spouse have taken extra steps to ensure an early bedtime because maybe you had a rough day and just need the quiet to descend that much sooner, or maybe you know that tomorrow morning the household must arise earlier than normal to guarantee a timely departure for a train you have to catch to kickoff a couple days of carefully planned family adventuring during your first every proper spring break with a school age child. Maybe that second example is pretty damn specific because it happened two nights ago and looked a little something like this...

8:35-ish: Jammies on? Check. Teeth brushed, flossed, rinsed? Check. One last potty? Check. Sip of water? Check. Books read? Check. One more last potty? Check. Parents feeling pretty damn proud of themselves for achieving above mentioned tasks before 9 PM? Check. Norah has blankie and Snowball? Check. Crosby has Sheepy?... Crosby, where's Sheepy? Norah where's Sheepy? Anyone know where Sheepy is? Shit. Everyone help look for Sheepy, please. Pete, it's not helpful for you to look in the same place as me, please go look somewhere else. Crosby where did you last have Sheepy? 'I know where he is! (C)' Yay, where! 'Um, maybe in the bathroom? (C)' Okay, we just looked in the bathroom and he's not there.

8:40-ish Damnit. We've looked everywhere. Norah why aren't you helping? You always find him, please help. 'I'm tired. (N)' Sigh, grrrrrr. 'Crosby you should retrace your steps! (N)' Great idea, Crosby stop following me, it's not helping, go retrace your steps. 'Um, I think he's in the kitchen! (C)' Great go find him in the kitchen. 'No he's not in there. (C)' Text to Molly: Any chance you saw Crosby's Sheepy while you were here? We can't find it anywhere. Molly didn't see him. 'Crosby you're just going to have to sleep with a different buddy tonight. (P)' 'NOOOOO! I WANT SHEEPY! (C)' Crosby, I know you want him but we have looked EVERYWHERE and Sheepy is lost and I need you to please go pick a different buddy to sleep with. 'Nooooo, I need Sheepy, I know where he is! (C).' I don't believe you.

8:50-ish Fuck fuck fuck. I don't understand. This doesn't make sense. He has to be somewhere. He was here earlier. 'I'm going to check the car (P).' Um, cool thanks, but he's not going to be there. Crosby do you have any idea where Sheepy is? No? Okay, I really need you to go pick a different buddy because if you don't go to sleep we can't go on our special adventure tomorrow so please please please accept that Sheepy is lost and we'll find him eventually, but right now YOU HAVE TO GO TO SLEEP. 'He wasn't in the car (P).' (Resting bitch face)

9:00-ish FuckingshitdamnitARGGGHHHHH. SO MUCH FOR GOING TO SLEEP EARLY! (Texts Molly: This is insane. We have looked in every drawer, corner, closet cabinet. It's going to be a rough trip.) I give up. This is ridiculous. He can't just be gone.  'He's going to sleep with Heather. It's going to be fine. (P)' Fine. (Kisses, hugs, tucked in, good night, sweet dreams, we love you, get some good sleep, tomorrow is going to be epic!) I need to go to the Brouwers and walk Zoe. Pete, can you please do one more thorough check of your closet? I remember Crosby being in there when he was trying on my heels.

9:08: Walking Zoe, text from Pete: Found it in my closet behind the coats. (Ginormous shoulder loosening, heart rate slowing, brow unfurrowing exhale) Text back: Oh thank god. And WTF.

I'd like to note here that through all of that Crosby was either following me from place to place saying I think he's in here! Or playfully rolling around on my bed, calmly asking if I found him yet. Which is to say that even though he released a few loud exclamations of panic over not having Sheepy, he was quite a bit less affected by his bestie's game of hide and seek than I was. I'll add that when Pete went upstairs to bring the freshly found Sheepy to the recently tucked in Crosby, the latter was nearly out with Heather on his face. Regardless, I was less anxious about that night than I was about the ensuing 48 hours away from home, and was largely less stressed about the trip knowing he had been located. In the very back of our walk-in closet. Behind a bunch of coats. Is it crazy to think that Crosby, who had been there just thirty minutes prior playing with my heels and hiding from us, knew exactly where Sheepy was the whole time? Sometimes I wonder about the enjoyment our offspring surely get from watching the ludicrous behavior of their flustered parents. Sometimes we can laugh at ourselves when looking back on such, and perhaps if we were able to remember that feeling of hysterical hindsight when approaching a moment of anxiety, we might never let it get to ludicrous to begin with.

Death: Part I

For 34 years, death kept its distance from me. My grandfather died when I was a teenager. I remember sitting on the floor of my mom’s bedroom when she told me over the phone from wherever she was. I knew him and in recent years I had visited him, but we were not close, and the impact I felt from his passing was passing itself. Brief tears, a small bit of reflection, and very quickly I was back to focusing on that which better held my attention—friends, boyfriend, school, job, drinking, smoking, obsessing about my body. He was the first person I knew that died from cancer, and when I was at the grocery checkout and the clerk asked me if I wanted to contribute a dollar to research, I said yes and wrote his name on the memory card. But there was no grief.

When I was working as a hostess at the restaurant in Gainesville, FL where my husband and I met, a girl came in that I’d gone to middle school with and hadn’t seen in years. We exchanged happy college kid hellos and hugs, and then she asked me if I had heard about TJ. Smile evaporated, shoulders dropped, pulse quickened, no? He died recently in a car accident, she said. I took her party to their table, and went to the bathroom to cry. TJ was my first boyfriend, my first real kiss, and a boy with whom I shared a lot of experiences and made a lot of memories. He was also a mess, and when in eighth grade I started spending more time with new friends, our interactions became limited to him giving me shit for every bit of myself that had changed. Then he moved away. I saw him one last time early in high school. He was visiting and rang me, and I invited him over. We spent a few hours together, catching up and laughing over the absurdity of middle school, him still giving me shit. Then as quickly as he had returned, he was gone. Years passed tucking him ever further away from the forefront of my mind, and by the time I learned of his death, the youthful bond we had once formed was nothing more than a fond memory. And there was no grief.

I’ve been to exactly one funeral and one wake in my life. They were for two different people. The funeral was for the stepfather of my high school friend Rick. I didn’t know him, but Rick was one of Tony’s best friends and Tony was my love, so I went to support them both. It was sad because it was a funeral, but the powerful emotions experienced by Rick, and more so his mother, were beyond my capacity for empathy. I had no reference point and I didn’t understand. I went to Rick’s house. I ate and drank. I went back to my life.

The wake was for a six-week old baby girl. She was the second child of a couple with whom we’d shared a once active friendship, but ultimately lost touch with beyond the occasional social gathering. My first born was nine months old when we received the news from another friend, well beyond the high risk age range for SIDS, but still she tiptoed. The wake was held a day or so later, and we left Norah with Grandma so we could attend. Already deeply affected by the loss, nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered—the parents had chosen to present their baby girl to the attending mourners. Like a tiny doll, she lay lifeless in a basinet, surrounded by gray, tear stained faces. My heart throbbed with ache, my body felt cold and stiff, and I wept freely. Once home, I enveloped my darling daughter in my shaking arms, desperate to protect her from anything and everything that could bring her the slightest of harm. And then we went to bed. The next day, life as usual resumed for us and the distractions of routine and responsibility diminished the feelings of sadness surrounding our friends’ loss. Still, the memory of that day will live with me forever, and the chills I experienced just writing about it are a heavy reminder of the impact it had on my life. Grief had introduced itself, and I now had enough understanding to fear its return.  

Last Friday we lost Graycie, one of our two Weimaraners. She was 14.5 years old and had been declining slowly for a year or more—hearing loss, incontinence, mobility challenges, fatty tumors. As the parents of two human children with a lot on our minds and plates, we had become less affectionate and more annoyed with our pups as they aged. Nights brought multiple moments of waking to let one or both out, or worse yet, clean up the mess of not doing so in time. Always underfoot or in the way, stinking up the house, oozing or leaking or vomiting, and certainly not offering any sort of companionship, caring for them became dealing with them, and we simply lost patience. Sometimes we’d speak flippantly about their passing, and in moments of extreme stress or irritation, we’d secretly wish for them to move on. We were candid about this with our friends and family—these feelings of exasperation and the resulting irreverence. We gave our dogs a cozy life, they had lived well beyond their expected lifespan, and regardless of our struggles with their aging, we never stopped caring for them.

The Wednesday before Graycie died, she woke us up in the middle of the night and began pacing. We let her outside, our normal pattern for attending to this behavior, but once back indoors the pacing persisted. In and out of the room, from bedside to bedside, sometimes she would stop and lie down only to rise seconds later and pace again. We tried water, food, petting, pain pills, another trip to the backyard; nothing worked. After an hour of growing frustration, we left our bedroom and closed the door, finding sleep separately in other rooms of the house. The next day, exhausted and worried, I called and made an appointment with the vet.

Before leaving work I texted Pete that we were set to bring Graycie in on Friday afternoon, and he rang to let me know that her day had not gone well. Unstable in her movements, she had collapsed on the way to the back door, and then upon finally making it outside, she hid herself in a dirt hole under the back porch steps. For so long I had suffered anxiety from the uncertainty surrounding the impending death of our dogs. How will we know when it’s time??? They had lived long enough beyond the average age of death that we had stopped believing they would die on their own and were firmly convinced that the decision would have to be ours. Abundant ailments notwithstanding, until that Wednesday night, neither dog had shown any clear sign of suffering and so we couldn’t wrap our heads around this idea of reaching the point where you visit the vet to let go. But when I got home from work that night and went to visit Graycie under the steps, I knew.

Pete lifted her out and brought her inside. She was limp and her breathing was strained. For awhile we sat next to her on the floor, cradling her head, stroking her fur, talking through tears of the adventures we’d shared—Remember when we brought you home in the Vanagon and you slept on my lap? Or when you fell out of the canoe on the way to the island for a picnic? Remember the freedom of running through the woods? Rides in the car to the beach? Remember your nine puppies and the one that didn’t make it and how we buried him in the backyard and said goodbye? 

Just before we went to sleep she moved herself from the foot of the bed to the floor on Pete’s side. We placed a towel under her just in case she needed to go, and then we closed our eyes. At 5:30 in the morning, Pete woke up and she had gone. 

Grief.

I know that Graycie was not a person and that in my developing relationship with death the worst is yet to come, but that doesn’t change the fact that it fucking hurts. And in a few months or weeks or maybe even days when Jake decides to join his love in doggie heaven, it will fucking hurt some more. 

As for the kids, having only known the dogs in their old age, they never formed a bond with them, and the passing has been fairly inconsequential. Norah did express (tearless) sadness, but quickly moved on to asking (again) if she could have a bunny. Fuck no. Pete and I are perfectly on the same page about no more pets for a long LONG time. Maybe when Jake has passed and we’ve had some peace and rest from the stresses of aging and dying companions we’ll consider something innocuous like a Betta fish, but there will be no furry creatures joining our household for the foreseeable future.

We miss you sweet Graycie Mae. Jake fasted for two days and seems a little lost, but the latter is pretty normal for him and he’s hanging in there. We hope you found peace. And lots of bacon. Love, your people.

Coming soon!

My fancy free trial has officially expired so I've taken the plunge and put up my $96 annual dollars to make this thing real. Design and content planning are in the works, with a hoped for proper launch by the end of April. If you happen to stumble upon this because some internet crawler bot decided it was worthy, and you also happen to be interested in the writings of a working mama of two, then be sure to check back in a bit. 

Take care.