Thursday, June 30, 2011

200 pounds in a bikini

A few weeks ago, according to the oddly addictive blogger stats page, someone found my blog by typing “200 pounds bikini” into google. Curious, I tried that search, and then immediately wished I hadn’t. The first result was Urban Dictionary’s entry for “bikini beef,” the extra bulges resulting “when the wearer exceeds the legal bikini wearing limits.” The second result was someone relatively thin asking the Yahoo Answers community how she looks in a bikini, with a bunch of strangers criticizing her body in response. Results 3 and 4 were people talking about losing weight in order to be able to wear a bikini. My “Rock your bikini” post was #5. The 6th link was a female blogger who feels “VERY STRONGLY” that there should be a size limit on bikinis, using words like “disgusting” to describe women like me.

I am very glad that my perspective is in that mix.

I’m all for being fit. It is important to me to exercise and eat intelligently so I can be here for my kids and give them a good model of healthy behavior. Despite what my generous proportions might imply, I take care of my body and treat it with respect. I am 37 years old and I weigh 200 pounds, and I am healthier and in better shape now than I was at 20 when I weighed 140.

And I actually think I am more beautiful now than I was then. Maybe not by any objective criteria, but there is a spark in me that has grown over the years into an inferno.

It’s my life force. My energy. My chi. My sexiness. My confidence. My mojo. It’s the thing Maya Angelou is talking about in "Phenomenal Woman." It’s That Thing. I didn’t really have it at 20, or if I did, it was still mostly curled up asleep. But I have it now. And it’s awake and alive and expanding every day. It’s spilling out through my skin and my eyes and my breath. And I believe with every fiber of my being that it is That Thing that makes a woman beautiful. We all have it in us. It just needs to be invited and nourished.

It’s fair to say that this bikini experiment has changed my life. I wear a size 16 and I carried twins to nearly 37 weeks. It would be very easy to find things to hate about my body. But the more I have shown it, the more I love it. This body has been good to me. It carries my brain around and mostly does what I ask it to do. It has given me so many amazing gifts: that feeling of pleasant soreness the day after a workout, the smell of fresh basil and a sun-warm tomato, the sound of my children’s laughter, the view of a sunset on the Amalfi coast, the wild abandon of dancing all night, the taste of a perfect kiss. This body gave me my children. And it is beautiful. Even in a bikini.

It bulges in some places and sags in others. Does anyone really think that makes me less beautiful? Isn’t that the craziest thing you’ve ever heard? Nothing… NOTHING can make us less beautiful unless we allow it to.

Photography by the amazing Rebecca Palmer at Lifescapes Photography. The photos are retouched for razor burn and child-inflicted bruises, but my body shape, bulges and all, has been left 100% untouched by Photoshop.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The glamorous life of a model

So I did the photo shoot last night after all. It was amazing, and the photos are everything I hoped they would be. You will get to see the best of them tomorrow. I need to go through them and narrow it down from the 50-100 beautiful photos I have to choose from. In the meantime, let me tell you about some of the more glamorous aspects of my evening.

It’s not all exfoliating scrubs at the spa and windblown hair. Oh no. We’ll start with why the photo shoot happened yesterday at all. As the sunless tanner began to develop, and my color started getting darker, I noticed something. All of you moms out there, sit up and pay attention. This is important. Sunless tanner does not tan stretch marks. Yeah. My usually fairly unobtrusive white stretch marks were staying white, while the rest of my belly was turning tan. This was not at all pleasing to me. So I decided to wash it off early. I still have way more color than I could ever get from the actual sun, but less than I would have had if I had left it on overnight like I was instructed. This happened at around 4:45pm, and when I called my sister, she told me that the thunderstorm risk had gone down to about 30% and moved later into the evening, probably starting after 8. So if we wanted to do the shoot, we could.

The next hour is a frantic whirlwind of preparation. Showering off the tanner, but trying not to get my hair wet so I can style it without blow-drying. Realizing that the bottom and edges of my feet, despite the oil the aesthetician applied, have gotten more than their share of tanner, so switching to the bathtub for some major pumicing. Pedicure (which turned out to be silly, since I think you may not be able to see my lovely red toes in a single shot). Camera-ready hair and makeup in record time. Packing up jewelry options, a silk orchid for my hair, my pretty blue silk belly dance veil in case we need something flowy, makeup for touchups, and two pairs of impractical shoes in case we decide to shoot somewhere other than on sand. Kiss the kids and out the door. All in an hour.

My sister and I arrive at the beach as the sky darkens. A few guys are fishing on the beach. They give me approving glances as I take off my dress and reveal the first bikini. That feels nice. It gives me energy to feel seen and appreciated. It’s a bit challenging to “pose sexy” with an audience. I’m awkward. For about 15 seconds.

In no time, I am lying on a piece of driftwood, kneeling in the sand, and crawling around at the water’s edge. I am covered in sand. My knees are red and aching from the tiny pebbles on the beach. My sister is making inappropriate “big piece of wood” and “are you wet enough?” jokes to get the smile into my eyes. I am completely and utterly enjoying myself.

Then it’s time for a “costume change” into the other bikini. I put the dress back on, take off the (soaked and sandy) bikini bottom and put on the other one under my dress. I do the top switcheroo magic-bra-removal style, by putting the new one on over the old one and then unhooking and sliding the old one out from underneath. The fishing dudes are no longer even pretending not to watch me.

As I go back to the water’s edge, we hear the first faint rumble of thunder in the distance. There will be no jewelry changes. There will be no creative use of my blue silk veil. We have maybe 10 minutes. Maybe. We get a few more shots and then I wet down my hair. At this point, I start imagining I am on America’s Next Top Model, and I realize what good TV this would make. A thunderstorm approaching... can we get the shots in time? Do I have time to change back into the first bikini to get wet hair shots in that one? I do another under-the-dress bikini swap for a few final shots. In those last shots, you can see the raindrops on the water. We start walking back towards the car, grateful for the plastic trash bag my sister brought to protect the camera equipment. The whole thing took maybe 25 minutes.

As we left, the fishing guys told me I looked beautiful. I wonder if they knew how much it meant to me.

On the walk back, my sister decides it’s worth trying to get a shot on the path with me in one of the pairs of impractical shoes I brought... my thigh-high patent leather boots. Have you ever tried to put patent leather stiletto thigh highs on sandy wet feet and legs in a bikini without anything to sit on? No? I now have. It’s neither easy nor graceful. For some reason, my sister thought this would be an awesome time to snap some quick photos of me. Thanks for that. Once I am boot-clad and standing, she gets a few shots in between raindrops, and then we pack it in and book back to the car as the rain gets more intense.

Except that I still have to pee. I was going to pee in the port-a-potty on the way in, but it was toooooo gross. So I sneak onto a side path, hope no families (or fishing guys) wander by, and pee on the side of the path in the pouring rain with a lovely view of some poison ivy and wild blackberry. Told ya, I am so glamorous.

We look at the photos on the back of the camera in the car, while the rain pours down around us. My road trip mix provides the soundtrack. Liz Phair. Pink Floyd. On the small camera screen, I can already tell... we got the shots. Better than I could have hoped for. My sister is a genius.

Then it’s off to the Chik-Fil-A drive-thru, because I haven’t eaten since lunch. I am soaked to the bone, sandy in all of my secret places, and happier than I have been in a long time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The fake bake

I spent the morning at a local spa getting exfoliated from head to toe and then smeared with sunless tanner in preparation for the bikini photo shoot. (The shoot, by the way, is postponed until this weekend due to thunderstorms, and also because I couldn’t get the tanning appointment until today and the goo has to set on my skin overnight. Another side note, why does being tan make us look healthy when it is actually completely unhealthy? So annoying. Anyway, moving on.)

I’m actually excited about postponing the shoot because my sis will be sailing in the Chesapeake for the holiday weekend, so there will be the possibility of some shots on the boat in addition to beach shots. Options are good. Ropes and rigging are even better. Maybe I’ll bring the sexy boots after all…

But back to the fake bake. The aesthetician was completely sweet. She was a teeny tiny little thing, but she didn’t bat an eye when I told her I needed the full body tan treatment for a bikini photo shoot. She asked what the photo shoot was for, and I told her about the blog and tried to explain, without getting into my whole life story, how empowering this has been for me.

At one point, she noticed a tiny scar on the inside of my elbow, because the tanning fluid was pooling in the scar. She asked what it was from, and I explained it was from giving blood repeatedly. I am a very good blood donor. It’s easy for me. I don’t get squeamish, or faint, or anything. I don’t miss a pint give or take. The only time I have ever noticed any effect was the time I accidentally gave blood on Mardi Gras, not realizing what day it was. Later that evening, I was a hurricane and a half in, trying to figure out why my proprioception and balance were doing major loop-de-loops, when I remembered that I was a pint low. I was an extremely cheap and giggly date that night.

In the course of the blood donation conversation, it came out that she has never weighed enough to give blood. I asked; the limit to give blood is 115 pounds. I weigh nearly twice what this woman weighs. And you know what? It doesn’t matter at all. I had no emotions about her smearing sunless tanner on my thighs, which are probably the same diameter as her waist. I just measured a thigh to see if that is really true, and yes, it probably is.

I spent some time yesterday looking at photos of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models on the web. I figured if I am going to call this a “swimsuit edition” of the blog, I should know what I am referencing. I also wanted to get posing ideas*, look at the hair and makeup, etc. I looked at dozens and dozens of swimsuit models, and I was surprised how… neutral I felt about it. They look lovely. Young, thin, fantastic abs that have clearly cost plenty of time at the gym, large stationary hooters that have clearly cost plenty of money. I’m not a hater. They look beautiful. I just don’t like that we think we have to look that way in order to show our bodies. I wish we saw more varied kinds of bodies in bikinis, at the beach, at the pool, and in magazines. But none of the images, page after page of flat toned stomachs and long thin legs, made me feel any less beautiful or any less excited about my upcoming photo shoot. Self-love, once you find it, is apparently pretty resilient.

That is so cool.

* Regarding posing ideas, not so much. Lying on one’s side in the sand looks fantastic when one’s hooters stay where they are regardless of gravity. Not so in my case. My wonderful supportive bikini tops only combat gravity when it is going in the expected direction. When gravity is suddenly pulling to the side, I wind up with one “organic” ta-ta in the middle of my chest, one under my armpit, and neither in the bikini top where they belong. Similarly, lying on my back with my back arched, while sexy when I am naked, also leaves me with an oddly empty bikini top.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Excerpts from my invention notebook

I have the spirit of an inventor, and love to come up with ideas for products that should exist. Sadly, I am completely lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. If someone out there has the business side, and wants to team up, I will come up with crazy but occasionally brilliant ideas all day long. As a testament to my lack of business savvy, I will now give away some of my best gems for free.

Stainless steel or otherwise fabulous-looking box wine cozy. Does your red box wine just live on the counter, lending a cluttered appearance to your otherwise sleek array of stainless steel small appliances? Slide this cozy over it, et voila! Classy, huh? Available in Black Box square, Bota rectangle, and new Big House octagon! Modern stainless steel finish or country crackled “hand-painted look” geese with hats.

Antibacterial wipes in refillable canisters. Beautiful refillable canisters. I really don’t need a new (ugly) plastic tub every time I run out of antibacterial wipes. I use those things for everything! Right now, I have one tub sitting out on my kitchen counter and one tub sitting out on my bathroom sink. Maybe you see a theme, but yeah, I leave them out, and I just really wish they were prettier so I could feel better about leaving them out. Clorox went halfway there with the oval decorative canisters, but they’re still disposable, not that cute, and more expensive per wipe than the regular kind. I’d rather buy a refill pack and slide it into a gorgeous raku-glazed ceramic canister. Just me?

Speaking of antibacterial wipes, a mop specifically designed to have an antibacterial wipe inserted into some tabs on the sides of it so you could use it to clean the kitchen floor without bending over. Wait, what do you mean there are other ways to clean one’s kitchen floor without using antibacterial wipes? I remain skeptical.

Kids’ books with plastic pages. Board books are fine, but my kids are completely capable of destroying a board book almost as easily as a paper book. Those plastic playing cards are awesome. Thin. Feel good in your hands. Waterproof (i.e. milk spill-proof). Maybe they would be more expensive than paper books, but you wouldn’t have to replace them nearly as often and they would be suitable for re-sale when you were done with them rather than only being suitable as lining for a hamster cage.

The “no-mow” lawn. Why doesn’t this exist yet? I know that all living things grow, but have you ever seen a 20-foot high strawberry plant? No. Because they grow close to the ground. So why do we all have lawns made of grasses that want to be a foot tall when we want them to be a few inches tall. This seems like more maintenance than is reasonable, time and money expended every single week all over the country. Sunday afternoon noise pollution and marital bickering reign from coast to coast over this issue. It’s crazy! Surely there must be some fabulous moss or something we could plant that would be decorative and sturdy and perfect as a play area without requiring weekly mowing. Get the scientists working on the no-mow lawn.

Whine-canceling earplugs. I don’t want to drown out my kids when they speak in a normal voice, but wouldn’t it be great if you were literally deaf to the particular pitch of your child’s whining?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It begins

Yesterday, we had a play date with another set of twins, two boys who are six months older than my little monkeys. They played together really well, sharing, taking turns, making up games together. It was a delightful morning, but one thing happened that has me feeling a little sad for the end of an era, come too soon.

One of the little boys noticed that my daughter’s teeth are different. She is congenitally missing her top lateral incisors, just like I am. Those are the teeth just next to your two front teeth. If you look closely at my smile, you might notice that the teeth next to my front teeth are actually my pointy canine teeth, moved forward and slightly shaved down to look less vampirish. Or maybe you never noticed.

It mildly bothers me from time to time, like when the contestants on American Idol hold a big note and I see their perfect line of pearly whites close up, literally larger than life on our excessive TV. But in the scheme of things, this is so not something I spend time or energy worrying about. My parents made the decision to move all of my teeth forward rather than getting false teeth for the spaces. At the time, I didn’t like that decision because it meant 3 years of braces rather than 6 months, but after watching a friend of mine with the same teeth missing spend thousands of dollars dealing with false teeth, I am grateful for the simple solution my parents gave me.

Anyway, back to the play date. I honestly don’t think my daughter ever had any clue that her teeth were unusual, until yesterday when her friend pointed it out. I handled it as well as I could. I told her that she is beautiful and that her teeth are just like Mommy’s. I explained to her about braces, saying that when she is big like Mommy, a dentist will put special stickers on her teeth to make them look like Mommy’s, and that her brother would probably have special stickers on his teeth too.

She still just looked really thoughtful and sad. She said she wanted “lots of teeth” like her brother. It just about broke my heart.

And then her friend, innocently… these kids are all only four, remember… told her she looked like a beaver. At this point, I was so bummed about my daughter’s first body image issue that I didn’t even find it funny that she was chanting over and over “I am not a beaver.” I hugged her, told the other child not to call her a beaver, and reiterated her beauty. I didn’t know what else to do.

She was apparently talking about it again later with my sister. I can’t believe my child is not even quite four yet, and she has already lost the innocence of believing that her body is perfect in every way. I am hoping, with all my heart, that this is something that falls into the amnesia pits of childhood and she goes back to thinking that the sun rises and sets in her stunning smoke-colored eyes.

But whether or not she forgets, I will do all I can to remind her every day that she is the most gorgeous and amazing little girl I have ever seen in my life. That it is her differences that make her sparkle, her uniqueness that makes her who she is, the gaps in her teeth that give her the smile that lights up my life.

Someone loved each of us that way once. Breathe that in. And again. Your differences make you sparkle. Your uniqueness makes you who you are. Light up the world with your smile, gaps and all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We do not negotiate with preschoolers

My kids wanted to play Hullabaloo, and I told them we could play as soon as my son helped me clean up the matchbox cars he had dumped all over the floor. Here is our exchange:

Me: Please help me clean these up so we can play.

Kid: You do it. I want to watch.

Me: No, you dumped them. Now you have to help me clean up.

Kid: I like them out like that.

Me: You know the rules. When we (we??) dump out a basket, we can’t get out any more toys until we clean up.

Kid: But that’s really hard work. It’s too hard for me.

Me: Yes, it’s hard work for mommy to clean up too. That’s why you have to help me. Because you dumped them out and made all of this hard work by making a mess.

Kid: But I’m too comfortable.

Me: I want to be comfortable too. [God, kid, you have no friggin’ clue how much I want to be lounging on that bench being comfortable like you are right now.] But right now, if you want to play Hullabaloo, we have to clean up the cars.

Kid: [This one is my favorite.] I’m right behind you. Go ahead. [I put one in. He doesn’t move a muscle.]

Me: [eyebrows raised] Please come help me.

Kid: But I’m just so tired right now.

Me: OK, but if I clean them up, I will put them in the trash. Do you want to help me put them in the basket or do you want me to put them in the trash?

Victory. I think he actually cleaned up more than half of them in the end. I don’t know what that child is going to be when he grows up, but his negotiating skills are pretty awesome for a not-quite-four-year-old. Not to mention his cojones. “But I’m too comfortable.” Mutter mutter.

P.S. Please refrain from speculation on where he learned these excuses. Especially too comfortable and too tired.

P.P.S. Bonus. If you skip my half of this conversation, and read back only my son’s half, forget that it was spoken by a child, and add “in bed” as if his negotiations are fortune cookies, it’s kind of hilarious.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A taxonomy of toys

Mommy’s least favorite toys

Train tracks. They take up my entire foyer, because to have a satisfying track with lots of bridges and tunnels and forks would only fit on a train table if the train table were the size of my entire foyer. The kids can now mostly reassemble the track when it breaks, but for a long time, they couldn’t. Bonus: When you step on a wooden train track on a tile or hardwood floor in the dark, it slides. And you fall. And you break pieces. The first pieces to break are usually the expensive ones. But the kids play super sweetly together on it, so I don’t put it away. So upon entering my house, the VERY FIRST thing you will probably see is an elaborate wooden train track universe.

Polly Pockets. Can any child young enough to enjoy Polly Pockets actually change Polly’s outfit herself? No? I didn’t think so. I can barely do it without ripping the clothes and swearing a bit. And the tiny tiny shoes. Ugh. But the shoes are the best parts of some of the outfits, so I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Much as I can’t bring myself to get rid of unnecessary shoes in my own closet. I have shoe issues.

Slot cars. These are awesome. For 5 seconds until the car runs off the track and the kid can’t line it back up properly.

Anything requiring cables that hook to your TV set. Not only does Mommy not really know where to hook that stuff, but my kids are in an “I do it myself” stage. No good will come of this.

Megabloks road/ramp toys. Marketed with all of their favorite characters (Dora roller coaster, Thomas the train ramp universe), these are from the devil. They’re not compatible with Legos or Duplos, and they are inferior structurally. Of course, the ramps and roller coasters only work when assembled, and they have to be assembled in very specific ways. There never seem to be quite enough pieces. You need a manual to know how the thing is supposed to go together. Oh, and they fall apart easily. This is a bad combination. Tragically, children love them, so if you buy them, do yourself a favor and memorize the instructions, because you’ll be assembling it over and over.

Pick-up sticks. I got my kids some Disney “game packs” as one of their rewards for filling up their marble jars (our behavior modification system-du-jour). Disney Princess and Cars the Movie. Awesome. The dominoes are fantastic. Much higher quality than I would expect from a <$10 item. It also came with card games (Go Fish, Crazy 8’s, etc.) that I thought would be too advanced for them, but they’re perfect. But pick-up sticks? Really? I can barely play this game. These are basically just annoying plastic detritus that I have to pick up. Hence the name, I guess.

Any toy that makes noise and does not turn itself off.

Any toy that makes noise.

Kids’ least favorite toys

Sock monkeys. They played with these for 5 minutes when they first got them and have not touched them since. But I love sock monkeys, so I have not been able to get rid of them yet.

Any Polly Pocket outfit that is not a princess ball gown. If I’m going to be dressing and undressing that little plastic ho, I want to put her in the 70’s retro bell-bottomed cat suit, or the 60’s mod mini-dress. Come on, look how awesome that is. Oh, it’s not pink, sparkly, and floor length. Right. My bad.

Any toy that I bring to occupy them in restaurants or waiting rooms.

Any similar or even identical toy I offer to help with a toy dispute. That toy, even if identical to the toy being disputed, is wrong in every way.

Kids’ favorite toys

Cars the Movie cars. They’re always a little more expensive than you want them to be, but for $5-6, my son can be made happy beyond compare. I should be dreading the new movie merch, but I’m not. Those little cars bring him so much joy, and at least I won’t be scouring ebay and paying too much for the discontinued cars from the first movie anymore.

Princess Polly Pockets. These are the only ones that get any real play in my house. Save yourself the trouble and just get the Disney Princess pack.

Teeny-tiny Mario characters. Teeny-tiny squinkies. Teeny-tiny Toy Story characters. You get the idea. The smaller, the better. My kids are not quite four, and I have lost about a year of my life searching my house for items that are less than an inch long.

Any toy I have put away to sell at a yard sale or give to my nephew. If found, these will go suddenly and immediately into daily circulation.

A small cord lock that fell off the drawstring on a pair of Daddy’s shorts. A scrap of old dry cleaning receipt with a Tinkerbell sticker on it. Throw away nothing.

Mommy’s favorite toys

Hullabaloo. This is seriously the least annoying kids’ game ever. Many a Candyland request has been circumvented by suggesting we play Hullabaloo instead.

Aquadoodle and magnadoodle. Art without mess=happy mommy.

Matchbox car environments. The princess palace that folds down from full-sized play house to small suitcase. Pretty much any large pleasing toy that folds small enough to fit in the 15X15” Ikea Expedit shelf system cubbies.

Sock monkeys. I know. There’s something wrong with me. Why do I love sock monkeys so much? I don’t know.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Self-love vs. the nose tampon

I have a cold… in the SUMMER. It’s not fair. And it’s one of those really drippy colds, the kind that leaves your nose red and raw from wiping and blowing. The kind of cold that spurred the making of tissues with lotion in them.

There are not many things that will completely eliminate my vanity. Extremes in temperature will do it. Like when the thermometer starts to creep below 15°F, I bypass my cute hats and jauntily wrapped scarves for just as much stuff wrapped around my head and face as possible. Or when it is approaching 100 in both temperature and humidity, I will finally sometimes put my hair in a ponytail.

This cold is an anti-vanity cold. I mean, I already look completely gross. Remember that scene in Friends, where Monica is sick and trying to seduce Chandler, and says (through a stuffy nose), “Are you saying you don’t want to get with this?” Yeah, that’s me. Without the seduction.

Oh, one more thing that’s different from Monica. (Yes, only one. In all other ways we are exactly alike.) Monica is still rubbing at her drippy nose. I have stopped bothering, and am now sporting two lovely pieces of tissue rolled up and hanging out of my nose like nose tampons.

Nose tampons are awesome. It’s just easier! You don’t get that red crusty nose thing from too much wiping and blowing. And you don’t have to wash your hands every 5 minutes because you’re not constantly having to deal with your face goo. Sure, it’s kind of embarrassing, but if you can get past that, it is a fairly sanitary way to deal with a drippy nose.

But I need to go to the grocery store today. I mean, I have to go. And while the nose tampon is more sanitary and decreases the likelihood that I will leave tiny particles of my germ-filled snot on the grocery cart handle, I don’t think that even I can rock a nose tampon in public.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The bikini’s big day out

Well, I did it. I rocked my bikini on a public beach. I wrangled kids and squatted on a blanket to find grapes in the cooler, and bent over to help my kids get their shoes on, and untangled kites, and did all of the normal beach things in a bikini in front of strangers. And it was completely fine. I was not the only bikini-clad larger woman there. There were a few others. No one seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Children didn’t point at me and loudly ask their mothers, “Why is that fat lady wearing a skinny lady bathing suit?” I was really the only person who seemed to think this was a very big deal.

Full-length photos are coming here, I promise. I have the photo shoot lined up for the 28th, weather permitting. My kids were in the photos from yesterday, so I’m not putting them up here. But I put some photos on facebook. A few people seemed to wonder why I was making such a big deal out of the bikini thing. Others said they wished they were bold enough to rock their bikinis. One woman asked where I found such a supportive top. (Fantasie and Freya make great big-hooter bikinis.) So yay! Maybe she will be shopping for a bikini to rock. If even one woman buys a bikini because of me, really, I will be so happy I don't even know how to convey it. I went out last night with a good friend, and she asked me why I have so much confidence. Where does it come from? Why do I get to put on a bikini and walk down the beach like I own the place?

I don’t have a clue.

I didn’t always have confidence. I used to struggle over what to wear, how to fit in, what people thought of me. I still do sometimes. I haven’t magically transformed into a completely different person. But the possible and imagined evaluations of others are losing their power for me, and it feels amazing. Maybe it’s just age. Maybe it’s my mom’s teachings finally kicking in a couple of decades later. Maybe it’s all of the therapy or the time spent meditating and soul-searching. Maybe it’s being a mother. I wish I knew. I wish I could bottle it and make a fortune. Or no, I wish I could bottle it and give it away.

Because I truly wish, with all my heart, that every woman could love her body.

If I figure out the secret, I’ll let you know. Til then, I’ll just keep sharing my journey in hopes that the secret is somewhere in here, between the lines.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How much I is TMI? Blogging and self-censorship

Last week, I posted something I never thought I would put out there on the internet: My weight. I’ve posted about skimpy undergarments, cosmetic surgery, my children’s development, body image, parenting struggles, and financial problems. Last night I wrote a blog entry that I decided to censor.

It’s a very tricky line to walk, this blogging thing. Honesty is the coin of the realm. But what I put out there is truly, truly out there. It can be read by anyone, anytime. I have been doing some serious thinking over the last few months about what I will do with myself when the kids go to school full time, and a career in mental health is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Would someone hiring me read the blog? If I work with clients, would they find it? I am completely comfortable with what I have put out there so far, but what I wrote last night crossed some lines that are better left uncrossed.

So no wacky Pam musings today. Just some introspection on how much of myself I am willing to share in a truly public forum. Right now, I would share it all. I have nothing to hide. But my future self may feel differently. I need to keep in mind that my kids may read this blog one day. My kids’ teachers may read it, or their friends’ parents.

I will probably never have a career in politics. If someone wanted to dig up dirt on me, they wouldn’t have to dig much. It would be kind of like an Easter egg hunt for two-year-olds. Just look. There it is. But this blog is my public voice, and I am realizing that there are some things—a very few things—that might be better kept private.

Luckily for you all, I’m still good with letting most of it hang out. And speaking of letting it all hang out, I am headed to the beach this morning… in my bikini. Wish me luck.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend’s back

The man is home. I slept gloriously late, desperately trying to erase my body’s memory of a week of handling every nightmare, every bedwetting accident, every early awakening. Last night, we admired our sleeping kids together and watched So You Think You Can Dance, side-by-side on the sectional, until he fell into a jet-lagged stupor. (Time to jet-lagger stupor, approximately 40 minutes. This is about 28 minutes longer than I would have predicted.)

We are now side-by-side at our computers listening to the kiddos play in the other room. One just came in and asked for “stick cheese” (i.e. string cheese), and I didn’t have to get up and get it. Later I am going grocery shopping by myself. The house is already getting messier with him home, but I don’t care. Because I didn’t have to get up and get my kid his stick cheese just now.

No marriage is perfect, but man, it’s nice not to have to get every single stick cheese and milk refill. It’s nice to have someone to laugh at my witty and snarky comments while watching reality TV. And I never feel closer with my husband than when we are looking at the sleeping humans we made together.

Welcome home, honey. Thanks for letting me sleep in. It’s wonderful to have you back.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ditch the cover-up. Rock your bikini.

Well, it’s official. I wear bikinis. I weigh a cheeseburger or two over 200 pounds, and I wear bikinis in front of other people. It started with family, but now a few of my close and more skin-tolerant friends have been subjected to the display. And you know what? No one has puked yet at the sight of my stretch marks and extra jiggle. They notice. They say something, because size 16 women who have had twins do not wear bikinis most of the time, so it’s worthy of note. Also, they know me well enough to know that if they said nothing, I would assume that they were horrified. I can read more negative stuff into someone’s silence than anyone else I know. It’s a gift.

Last summer I wore a swim dress. Yeah, that skirt kind of bathing suit, the kind that covers as much of the body as it is possible to cover while still calling the garment a bathing suit. I think maybe in a weird way, I would look fatter in a swim dress at this point than I do in a bikini. By just putting it all out there, well, it’s just out there. Under a swim dress, it would look like I was trying to hide something.

I’m done hiding.

A couple of nights ago, I put on one of my new bikinis and took some photos with the timer function on my little point-and-shoot camera. I know what I look like—my bathroom has floor-to-ceiling mirrors, so every time I get out of the tub, there I am (seriously, what crazy person thought that was a good idea for a master bathroom?!)—but that image in the mirror doesn’t always translate to photos. I often see photos of myself and gasp in horror, wondering who the hell that fat old lady is and what she’s doing wearing my clothes. So before I lined up a photo shoot with my sister to do a “Swimsuit Edition” of this blog, I wanted to make sure I was really ready to show the world photographs of my body (where by world, I mean the 100ish people who read this blog, most of whom already love me).

The photos were great. They show what is. Strong muscles and a healthy body under a generous layer of fat. A woman who has given birth and shows the scars. It’s not scary or horrible. It’s a very average kind of body. Compared to how I looked a year ago, I look awesome. Compared to women who usually wear bikinis, I look like a whale. But I am so very done comparing myself to other women. Done. If I can forget what I know (or what I think I know) about how I’m “supposed” to look, it is so much easier to feel beautiful and comfortable in my skin.

In a weird way, wearing a bikini makes me less conscious of my fat. In my swim dress last summer, I spent more effort than seems reasonable worrying about whether my thighs looked fat. I weighed 230 pounds. It’s fair to say my thighs looked fat. But I would try to sit in ways that would keep them from squashing out and looking bigger, or I would just bypass the issue and stay standing, or recline so I could arrange my legs in the classic “one leg slightly more bent than the other” pose that somewhere along the line women learn is the most thigh-flattering. In the swim dress my thighs were the only part of me that anyone could see, and they’re not my best feature. In my bikini, everyone can already see everything. I am almost naked. What’s the point of trying to pretend I am not fat? I am exactly the size I am. Who cares?

This bikini experiment has been one of the most liberating and empowering things I have ever done for my body image. If you’ve ever even remotely considered it, and even if you haven’t, I encourage you to find a bikini.

Buy a bikini. Rock your bikini. Because our bodies are beautiful. If you feel sexy and gorgeous in your bikini, you ARE sexy and gorgeous in it. I believe that with my whole heart. Nothing is as beautiful as confidence and self-love. Good posture, a smile, and a look in your eye that says, “You wish all of this was yours.” That is all you need. You don’t need to lose 15 or 30 or 50 pounds to wear a bikini. You just need to lose self-loathing. Losing weight is way easier, but until you love yourself, you will never be thin enough or young enough or pretty enough. The minute you know you are beautiful, you are enough. Just as you are.

So be on the lookout later this summer for the Pam-a-rama ding dong Swimsuit Edition. I’m not going to post my no-makeup, post-shower test shots done in crappy lighting with a consumer camera on a 10 second timer, even though they are totally hot. Because I am fabulous and a diva and only professional photography can properly capture what I am trying to convey. But rest assured, bikini shots ARE coming to this blog. Soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Permission to play

I don’t want to jinx it, but my kids have really been behaving well. Shhhh, I know, don’t say it out loud. But seriously, we’re talking an hour of happy playtime together at a stretch. Minimal fighting most days. It’s crazy, and totally amazing. Maybe it’s our new marble jar reward system, or maybe I am finally over the terrible threes and into that delightful phase that is the four-year-old. They listen. They say, “Thank you for having us,” when we leave someone’s house. They sit and eat (well, sometimes), and stay in bed until their stop light clock turns green. They ask permission before touching my makeup or dumping out the laundry baskets. When they want to go out in the pool, or play one of the games on the top shelf, they ask me, without even a hint of whining, and often tack an unprompted “please” on the end. Occasionally, I even get a “thank you,” or an “I love you.” It has been ludicrously fantastically friggin’ awesome.

Even better, they have been so sweet to one another that sometimes I feel like my heart might actually explode. Thing 1 will do a drawing or painting, and Thing 2 will say, “Oh, wow, that’s beautiful. I’m so proud of you.” Thing 2 will want one of Thing 1’s toys, and Thing 1 will say, “OK, here ya go. Let’s play together.” I mean, really? REALLY? After a year or so of “That’s mine!” followed by screams and tattling and hitting or pinching, I can’t believe the tide could turn so quickly.

So here is my question. I’ve spent the last year pretty much as full-time mediator and referee. My job description is clearly changing, but into what? Stretching out in front of me is a whole summer free of commitments. No preschool. No ballet. I haven’t signed them up for princess camp or soccer or anything. I guess what I want is permission to just let the little buggers play. I mean, Thing 2 can’t really write his name yet. I guess we could work on that. There’s always phonics, or early math concepts. They’re doing well in both areas, but could probably be reading simple words by the end of the summer if I really focused on that as a goal.

But I kind of don’t want to. I want to let them swim while I read a novel. I want to listen to their delightful Thomas-the-train banter while I write a blog entry. I want to take them strawberry picking, and make banana bread together, and go to the aquarium, and watercolor paint as a family. I want to take them to see their cousins, spend the day with their buddies, or drive up to New Jersey so they can see where Mimom and Poppie live. I basically want to screw around all summer. Is that OK?

It feels a little too easy. This twin parenting gig has been the most wonderful job I have ever had, but it’s been hard. Like, really really hard. Collapse on the couch into unconsciousness as soon as my husband walks through the door hard. Use all of my zen to keep from screaming my head off hard. Is it allowed to be easier for a little while? I found the energy inside me somewhere, in a deep still pool I didn’t know was there. I found the energy to get 3-4 hours of sleep a night for 6 months. And then to deal with a baby who needed surgery. And then to wrangle two kids who could walk in opposite directions, and then run in opposite directions, and then run faster than I can run in flip-flops. And then defiance, and fighting, and hitting, and testing. And more fighting. And then preschool, and worries about whether or not my kid was OK. Oh, and did I mention the fighting? I found the secret extra love and power reserve inside that enabled me to deal with all of those things with more grace than I would have predicted. Am I allowed to let go of this death grip on zen for a while, and just let my kids play?

I have been using every drop of energy I have, and some I didn’t think I had, just to be a reasonably good mom for the last nearly four years. It feels weird to have anything left. I know I’ll need that extra energy again. There are plenty of challenges on my horizon that will make the non-stop fighting of the past year look like a cake-walk. I know that. But for now... for now... can I just let it go?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A math mystery

Those who are coming here in hopes of an actual math problem, you can go. There will be no Taylor series, no integrals, no eigenvectors. I will probably throw a few math words in because I’m nerdy like that, but I may or may not be using them correctly after all these years. So, no real math. I’m talking about parent math here. And I have a mystery on my hands.

It happened the last time John went away. The house got cleaner. Let’s say that p equals one parent working his/her butt off. So when we are both here, we are 2p. 2p equals 1 house that looks like a tornado deposited all belongings completely at random. Actually 2p + 2k = tornado house, where k = cherubic three-year-old demolition expert. OK, this is getting too mathy. I’m losing 74% of my audience. I feel it. (95% confidence interval .62-.86) OK, OK! No more math, I promise. Come on, don’t go, you guys. I’ll stop.

OK, here it is in words. Last time John went away, the house got cleaner. I thought it was a fluke, but he has been gone less than 24 hours (at time of writing), and the house is cleaner again. Getting cleaner by the hour. WTF?? We took away one parent working his butt off, kept the two cherubic destructors, and somehow more is getting done. It’s not a fluke. It’s twice. It’s a pattern. Here are some theories:

Less TV. Because hubs is not here, I am watching less TV and using that time to clean. This is a totally plausible theory. But it’s also WRONG. I did watch less TV, but I spent the evening talking on the phone with friends, drinking wine, and reading. Not (scoff) cleaning. I did my usual 20-30 minute blitz before bed, but no more.

More activities. We’re home less when he’s gone because I try to fill the days to keep myself from losing the rest of my mind. Maybe. But I would think that any tidiness advantage conferred by the 90 minutes we spent strawberry picking at the farm yesterday morning would have been more than counterbalanced by having two extra three-year-olds come over for a mini play date afterwards.

I spend more time than I realize cleaning up after the man. He won’t like this theory. I don’t really believe this is true, but I am including it for the sake of completeness. Do I clean up after him? Sure, sometimes. A dish here, an empty beer bottle there. But mostly what I consider cleaning up after him is cleaning up after his caring for the kids. I put away the pancake-nuking plate he leaves in the microwave. I put away the (slightly thawed) box of frozen pancakes left on the counter. I wash the pan and spatula he left on the stove after making their eggs. But when I’m here alone, I still have to clean up those things, and I also have to make the pancakes and the eggs, so that can’t really account for this whole effect. It might contribute slightly.

No dance classes. This is potentially a biggie. On a regular basis, I am running out the door immediately following dinner to a dance or exercise class. Without the man here to make sure the kiddos don’t set the house on fire, my exercise comes to a grinding halt. So between dinner and bedtime, what have I been doing? I feel like I am just alternating between fetching Mario characters for the kids and playing Scrabble on my phone, but probably I am also putting dinner dishes away. And maybe any other crap I come across that is easy to just grab and bring with me to the next room where it belongs. Hmmm, this might be a huge component. The semi-unconscious tidying that happens while waiting for my friends to take their turn in Scrabble.

Meal slacking. Making food for just me is way easier than making food for both of us. I’ll eat random leftovers plus a bowl of strawberries and half a green pepper. Basically, I am eating what the kids are eating, which is easier and healthier than what we usually eat. But I don’t feel like I can throw some scrambled eggs, an apple, and a raw broccoli crown on my husband’s plate and proudly announce, “Dinner!” I kind of wish I could though, because it’s yummy and easy and healthy and it generates very few dishes. I would miss risotto and enchiladas and from-scratch tuna-noodle casserole (the kind where you make your own cream of mushroom soup first—OMG, it is the best thing ever), but I don’t miss the mess generated by the making of those meals.

I am a diva princess. This is the theory I don’t like, and I don’t want to be true, but I fear might be just a teeny tiny bit true. When the man is here, I wait for him to do crap. When he’s not here, I just do it myself. Trash needs emptying. I just empty it. Recycling container under the sink is 3/4 full, I empty it while it’s still easy rather than filling it to overflowing and then resentfully tossing cans and bottles back into the depths of the cabinet because recycle emptying is his job. Maybe when he’s not here, I just sit on my butt less. I don’t want to talk about this theory any more. Moving on.

Bunnies. Bunnies aren’t just cute like everybody supposes. What’s with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway? Bunnies. It must be bunnies. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sad for you, but we can still be friends.)

I don’t have any more theories. I think it must be that hour between dinner and bedtime when I am normally shaking my booty in either a Latin way or a Middle Eastern way or a “drop it like it’s hot” way. Hmm, all of my exercise classes involve somehow shaking my butt. Concerning? Or awesome? Not sure. Could my exercise addiction really be the reason my house is usually a mess? That’s crazy. But we’ve taken away one parent working his butt off, and more is getting done. Do the math. Or screw the math, and just watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, not the movie) from the beginning if you didn’t get the bunnies reference.

Friday, June 3, 2011

How the mighty…

I was never popular or cool or a hipster. I was neither a queen bee nor a wanna-be. I was kind of bee-irrelevant. But looking back on my teens and twenties, I was cool enough that my young self would be completely horrified by some of the things that now completely f-ing make my day. I’m not talking about my kid telling me he loves me in pidgin sign language (point to self, make heart with fingers, point to mommy). Even my edgy(ish) twenty-something self would understand how that would cause my middle-aged heart to melt into a sopping puddle of goo. I’m talking about the truly pathetic things that make me happy. Like these:

My minivan. The doors open and close by magic. I can fold down the seats in the back and have enough space for furniture, boxes upon boxes of yard sale crap, or a week’s worth of groceries. It can fit 4 car seats plus 4 adults. It smells vaguely of sour milk and the carpet is coated in mystery crumbs. Bonus: if we are ever trapped in a blizzard, we could assemble an entire carton of slightly dessicated but probably still edible McDonald’s French fries from beneath the seats. I am so in love with my minivan that when I told my sister that minivans are sexy, I was not even being facetious.

Brown rice sushi from the grocery store. Gone are the days of west coast sushi snobbery. To get west coast quality sushi here costs more than I am willing to spend. But my grocery store has brown rice sushi. Brown rice unagi roll. With toasted sesame seeds and “eel sauce.” Bliss.

Speaking of the grocery store, grocery shopping alone. Grocery shopping alone while Daddy watches the kids feels like a trip to a favorite bistro for brunch followed by a calming walk on the beach. I get to choose the perfect apples rather than just throwing the closest ones into my kids’ miniature shopping carts and then watching the carts overturn, bruising all of the apples anyway. I get to peruse meats on sale to stock up the sad empty freezer. I get to sample the pumpernickel bread with fancy imported Irish butter. I often get mildly flirted with by at least one random stranger (or the dude behind the deli counter) when shopping alone, which is a little disturbing given my shopping cart full of multiple gallons of milk, Cheerios, and miniature frozen pancakes. But hey, I’ll take it. P.S. The rumor that we are soon getting a Wegmans in Columbia has me in a gourmet grocery tizzy. It would be tragic how happy this makes me if it weren’t just so exciting.

A new dishwasher. Our dishwasher has been on the fritz for more than a year. It was disgusting. We switched to detergent with bleach in it because there was some sort of mold problem developing in there. Dishes were coming out dirtier than when they went in. You would think I would consider hand-washing instead, but I have OCD an aversion to having dirty dishes in the sink. They have to go straight from table to dishwasher. Finally, this past weekend, we took advantage of the Memorial Day sales to replace that piece of crap (a piece of crap that is only 6-7 years old, by the way. It was new when we moved in. Had 2-star ratings on the Sears website for all of the same reasons I have always hated it.) We now have a brand new 5-star-rated dishwasher. It’s stainless on the inside. Why this brings me so much happiness, I have no idea, but looking at that shiny silver non-moldy interior brings joy to my heart. Also, it doesn’t have hard water stains down the front of it, and it WILL NOT get any, because now we have a water conditioning system for our well water. Best of all, it is nearly silent when running, so it will not force me to turn up the TV while watching The Bachelorette.

“Indigo” by Clarks. Clarks’ cuter, trendier line of shoes. They are not as comfortable as Clarks proper, but they are more comfortable than the non-Clarks version of the same shoe. In my 20’s, I didn’t even know what Clarks shoes were. I would not have been caught dead in any “comfort” line of shoes. Now I am pretty much just waiting for Dansko sandals to get a titsch cuter, and am considering the sparkly sequined version of the FitFlop. (If you go to Zappos or wherever and look up Indigo shoes, no, I have absolutely never spent that for them. Clarks outlet... clearance section. That’s how I roll.)

Box wine. Gentle readers, I truly never thought I would see the day. I was never a hipster, or cool, or whatever. But I WAS a wine snob. I am still kind of a wine snob. I have the palette potential of a sommelier. I sniff and swirl and suck air and pretty much do every pretentious thing that one can do with a glass of wine. (Although when servers give me the cork, I am always a bit at a loss. What am I supposed to do with that? I don’t give a rat’s patootie about the cork. I sniff it and nod so they will stop looking at me and just pour some wine into my glass already, but the cork tells me nothing. If I’m wrong about this, please, someone tell me what I am supposed to be doing with that thing.) Aaaaaaanyway, all that is to say that I love wine. But finances being what they are, we have sunk to the lowest of the low... box wine. It’s shameful. But it’s $18 for 4 bottles, less when it’s on sale (10% off every Tuesday at King’s Contrivance Liquor and Smoke Shop). And it is totally drinkable. Especially the Bota Malbec and the Big House “Naked” (i.e. un-oaked) Chardonnay. It’s probably just a matter of time until I am drinking Franzia White Zin with ice cubes in it ($12 for 5L, compared to the $18 for 3L I am spending on my snooty elitist box wine.)

Last, but certainly not least, my cordless stick vacuum. Light, maneuverable, with floor and carpet settings. Cordless stick vac, you complete me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bugs and death

A very helpful parenting book I once read called “Just Tell Me What To Say” by Betsy Brown Braun said (excuse me while I paraphrase... loosely... from a book I read three years ago) that bugs are a great way to teach one’s children about death. They’re not fuzzy or cute. They’re not pets. And they have short life cycles, so you can talk about how they are eggs, and then grubs or maggots or whatever, and then bugs, and then they are all done living and they die. You can talk about how most animals live much longer than bugs, and people live much, much, much longer.

Mostly, I try not to kill bugs in front of the kids. They watch Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, and have formed attachments to all sorts of bugs on that show, from Stinky the stink bug to Bounce the bed bug (shudder), and of course Miss Spider and all of her adorable buglets. The exterminator came last week to spray the house. I just said he was spraying the bugs. I didn’t tell them that he was killing them.

So, um, what happens when there is a spider crawling on your kid, and your husband brushes it off and then steps on it? I’m not sure what the teachable moment is in that scenario. The kids were definitely watching and paying attention, but they didn’t seem too traumatized. I just hummed a little of the “be good to bugs” theme song and let it go. My kids don’t like real bugs very much, so I don’t think we have scarred them for life or anything with one callous stomp of a shoe. I guess bug-stomping might be a good way to teach them about tsunamis and earthquakes. I mean, really, the bug never saw it coming.

Our early bug-death teachings have led to some very strange phenomena in our house. Death is now forever associated with stink bugs, a highly prevalent dead bug in this part of the country. I guarantee that if my kids understood word association and I said, “dead,” they would both respond enthusiastically in unison with, “like a stink bug.” When my kids are angry at one another and want to pull out all the stops, while still “using their words,” they will yell to the other, “You’re dead like a stink bug!” It is simultaneously hilarious and deeply disturbing. (No, we don’t allow them to speak to each other like that, but it has not completely extinguished yet.)

I’m not really sure how to move from talking about bug death to talking about human death with my kids. We have touched on it with regard to going in the street without holding Mommy’s hand. Because the cars, of course, would squish them “like a stink bug.” I think they understand at least that much, because it translated well to a deer I narrowly avoided hitting recently with the kids in the car. After our near-miss, the kids said that the deer was almost squished like a stink bug, and he wasn’t being careful, and he needed to hold his mommy’s hand in the street. So they get it, sort of. But other than vehicular dangers, I don’t think they have any understanding of what death means. We’re not a heaven and angels family, although if anyone close to us passes, I will probably wind up using some variant of heaven in my explanation. I’m not a worms-and-dirt believer myself, but I think my religious mélange might be a little too complicated for them. Heaven... so nice... so simple… so tempting in the face of grief.

Death is confusing, even for adults. It’s hard to know how much kids can take in. Some of my kids’ playmates were told about angels by a grandparent. You know, angels… like people, but with wings. You know what else looks like people with wings? Fairies. My kids’ friends now think that when we die, we turn into fairies. If you’re 3 or 4, that sounds kind of awesome, and maybe not sufficient inducement to hold Mommy’s hand in the street. Then again, heaven doesn’t really sound like a place to avoid either. “Worms will eat you” is probably going to be the most effective deterrent, all things considered. It’s a pretty good deterrent. Maybe I should start eating healthier... hmmm...

This week I taught my kids the concept and word “alliteration.” (For those adults reading this who don’t know what that means, alliteration is a poetic device in which words start with the same sound—often the same letter—like “Baa baa black sheep” using the repetition of the “b” sound.) My kids are interested in rhyming right now, but often give an alliteration example (like octopus and octagon) and say, “They rhyme.” Do they need to know what alliteration is? No. But I do think it will be kind of hilarious when they come across an example and one of them pulls the word alliteration out of nowhere. I kind of can’t wait to see people’s faces when that happens. If you can’t teach your kids stuff that will amuse you, where’s the fun in this parenting gig? But I digress… My point is that if they can understand the concept of alliteration, they are probably ready to move further into the concept of death.

But am I ready? Am I ready to field questions about heaven and souls and who is going to die when? The simple answer is no. But maybe, like becoming a parent, you’re never really ready. But, also like becoming a parent, maybe it’s still better (or at least easier) to do it on your own terms. I would rather they learn about death from me than learning it “on the streets.” I guess it’s time to get a goldfish…