Monday, December 2, 2013

A tattoo at 40

So I’ve been planning my next tattoo, a hummingbird and flowers on my shoulder, in honor of the hummingbird that flew into my house this past spring and taught me about getting myself out of depression

I remember stressing and deliberating over my first tattoo: a Celtic knotwork, moon phase, yin-yang-ish creation that I designed myself.  I got it on my lower back.  I was twenty-five, and there was no such a thing as a “tramp stamp” yet back then.  I remember being so bummed when those tattoos first became known as tramp stamps.  But it was OK, because my tattoo had meaning to me, and it was something I had designed myself.  And, I was also really glad I hadn’t gotten a butterfly tramp stamp, because that totally could have happened.

I remember sitting on that first tattoo design for a year after I drew it, waiting to make sure I wasn’t going to change my mind.  At twenty-five, it seemed like a huge commitment to get something permanently drawn onto my body. 

My friends all got together and pitched in to pay for that tattoo for my twenty-fifth birthday.  I was so touched by that, both because it felt like my community was supporting the spiritual commitment that the tattoo represented for me, and because I was living on a grad student stipend at the time and had exactly zero disposable income.

The process itself wasn’t unpleasant.  I have a very strong endorphin response to pain, so apart from the initial flinch, and a few extra-ouchy spots, I actually kind of enjoyed it.  I know, I’m weird.  I left the shop high on free brain chemicals, and totally ready to get another tattoo. 

And fifteen years went by.

I wanted more tattoos, but I wasn’t willing to get something purely for aesthetic reasons.  Then my kids were born, and I was like, “Yay!  Kids!  I will always love them, so I can totally get a kid-based tattoo!”

But I didn’t.

It felt wrong for me.  It’s right for a lot of people, but a kid-based tattoo just wasn’t right for me. 

I couldn’t figure out why.  I mean, of all the things I can make an unquestioning absolute lifelong commitment to, obviously my kids top the list.  Why didn’t I want some symbol of them inked into my bod?  I seriously considered a kid-based, mama goddess type tattoo on my stomach.  A reclaiming of the extra skin and stretch marks that so challenged me, a beautification something that was no longer beautiful by societal standards, a celebration of the part of my body that housed and nourished my kids. 

But nope.  My soul or my intuition or whatever it is that makes these decisions knew that wasn’t my next tattoo.  It was right on paper, but it wasn’t right for me.

I was bummed.  I had to keep waiting to get my second tattoo.  Crap.

In time I’ve come to realize why it was wrong for me.  Because I don’t need a reminder that I have kids.  That connection doesn’t need strengthening.  It’s already as strong as it can be.  I don’t need to reinforce that bond.  It’s already unbreakable. 

My tattoos are about making a commitment to something in such a permanent way that I will never forget.  Like a reminder to maintain balance, the knowledge that darkness is just part of a cycle and will give way to light, and that sadness can be accepted and acknowledged in the same way that joy can, without judgment or attachment.  That was my first tattoo.  Or the awareness that bliss is always within my reach.  If my patterns aren’t working, I need to try something else.  The doorway is there, I just have to find it, and it’s probably outside in nature, not on my couch.  That will be my second tattoo.

My children have already permanently marked my body.  I don’t need more.  They are already in the front of my mind most of the time.  I don’t need a reminder.  I need balance.  Something that is just for me.  This next tattoo will be that.

I’m 40.  And I’m finally getting my second tattoo, fifteen years after my first.  I still need to set up a consultation and work out the details, but I’ve crossed the critical threshold and made the decision. 

It was so much easier this time around.  Last time, I made sure it would be on a part of my body that was generally covered by clothes, because at 25, I had no idea where my life would lead.  Maybe I would have the kind of life in which a visible tattoo would be a problem at some point. 

Now I’m 40.  And I just don’t give a crap.  If there is a job or a situation or a person that wouldn’t be cool with a visible tattoo on my shoulder, they can go do anatomically unlikely things to themselves.  It’s so freeing to feel that way. 

There is a down side to not giving a crap, like when I stop doing self-care and stop showing respect for myself because I feel like I’m an invisible middle-aged woman, so what difference does it make.  But the up side is that I can do whatever I want.  I can get my nose pierced if I feel like it, even though my nose is “too big” for that.  I can get a big tattoo somewhere that will show in an evening gown.  I can have ridiculous blue hair if it makes me happy.  Wheeeee!

I know I’ll continue to change.  Fifteen years from now, no doubt I will be fifteen years more fabulous than I am right now.  I look back on my twenty-five-year-old self and she was so full of illusions, so romantic, so insecure, so shy, so worried… Also her boobs were so, so very high up.  And she was lovely.  I wish I could go back and tell her to stop worrying about her body, stop worrying about what people think.

So I’m sending my 55-year-old self back right now to tell me that.  Stop worrying.  You’re great.  Get a big damn visible tattoo, because you can and you want to.  You're beautiful.  Also, get off the couch and exercise, you lazy sack, and go to the dentist.  Stop putting that off.  But mostly, you're beautiful. Don't worry what anyone else thinks.  Just live, as big as you want to.

Live.  As big as you want to.

Because this is it.  This is what we get.  Now and now and now and now. 

Fly out that open door into the beautiful universe and live.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"That mom"

Hi, my name is Pam, and I am “that mom.”

Let me back up a little.  My twins are in first grade this year, and they are doing great.  I love both of their homeroom teachers, and am thrilled with how much they are learning in general.  But first grade in our school is the start of “tracking” in math.  At the start of the year, they were assessed and put into groups based on that assessment.  We were told the groups would be flexible. 

Which, it turns out, was a big effing lie.

My daughter is pretty much the kid every teacher wants in their class.  She’s smart, listens quietly, raises her hand, tries her best, writes neatly, all of that good school-y stuff.  My son is also very smart, but has a certain tendency to miss instructions because he was thinking about something else, drop his folders on the floor, forget to bring home his spelling words, or glue them in his folder upside down.  He’s an awesome kid in a million ways, but not exactly a kid for whom the structure of school is a perfect fit.

I’m fine with both of those things, and neither came as a surprise.  My kiddos came out of the womb with those personalities. 

My son, although he was more advanced in math at the start of the year than my daughter was, tested into a lower math group.  He probably had a hangnail during the assessment and really needed to bite it off before he could focus.  Or something. 

I waited, imagining it would self-correct with the flexible groupings they talked about.  It didn’t.  I sent a few e-mails, but was told I had to wait until the end of the quarter.  I didn’t want to be “that mom,” so I waited.

I waited and watched my daughter learn all sorts of new things, while my son didn’t.  At the start of the year, I had to constantly remind him not to tell her the answers on her homework because it was so easy for him.   (His own homework was done in seconds, being too easy by an even wider margin.)  By the end of the quarter, he had no idea what she was doing because he wasn’t learning that stuff.  So it wasn’t a huge shock to find out that he didn’t place into the higher class on the new assessment.  How could he?  He hadn’t been taught anything new.

I asked his teacher at one point what skills he was missing that we could work on at home.  She told me that he needed to focus more and “learn to organize his school supplies.” 

That’s fair, I guess.  He does need to learn to focus and get organized.  Those are important school skills.  But if we wait to challenge him in math until he learns to be organized and focus on boring things, well, he might still be learning 3+4 when he’s in high school.  I’m just saying.

So now I’m setting up a meeting with his math teacher and I’m ready to face my fear of being “that mom.”

You know, that mom.  The competitive one who thinks her kids poop rainbows.  The one who makes trouble.

There are probably a lot of those moms at my kids’ school.  It’s a high power school district and crazy competitive.  It feeds into blue ribbon middle and high schools.  People have loads of money.  In fact, the first grade is 25% larger than the kindergarten was because so many people sent their kindergarteners to private school to give them an edge. 

I’m like, dude, people, chill.  It’s first grade, man.  It’s only first grade!

And then I’m like, dude, Pam, chill.  It’s only first grade.



Except I’m watching one of my kids learn and one of them not learn.  Except I have seen the light of pride on my son’s face when he solves a difficult math problem at home and I want that for him at school.  Except that I sat in his math class yesterday and could see that he was bored out of his skull and I couldn’t blame him.  I watched him pull himself back to attention and then fade, pull himself back to attention and then fade, as they did problem after problem that he could easily solve in his head.  Except that I know that the inertia of this math placement will only get more and more solid as time goes on and tracks become deep ruts.

So I’m going to march my butt in there and risk being that mom.

My fear of being that mom, of being seen a certain way by teachers, of getting a bad reputation, kept me from doing what was right for my kid a month into school. 

Fuck that.  Done with that fear. 

I am that mom. 

That mom who advocates for her kids’ education.  That mom who doesn’t care whether or not the teacher likes me. That mom who they’d better not mess with.

I am that mom.

That mom who loves her children fiercely.  That mom who will do everything she can to keep them from wasting time in school.  Because if they’re not going to be here hanging with me—playing outside, chilling in PJs, making music, snuggling—they had damn well better be learning stuff.  That mom who wants to make sure that all of the doors and opportunities stay open for my kids as long as possible.

I am that mom.  And I will do anything for my kids.  So buckle up, teachers.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Too old for blue hair?

I have a big birthday coming up.  Yup, in less than a month I’ll be forty for real.  Now, I refer to myself as a “forty year old woman” all the time, or as pushing forty, but soon I will actually BE forty.  In a complete vacuum, I would be fine with it.  Just a number and all that.  I’m vaguely prepared for shit to start breaking on my body, but I can still do stuff I want to do. 

I have a bad knee from a fall two years ago, so I have learned (for the first time in my life!!) how to do squats properly.  Seriously, no one ever told me to think about sticking my butt back instead of focusing on bending my knees.  Why did no one ever tell me that?  They would say “don’t let your knees go in front of your toes,” but never explained that the way you do that is by pretending you’re dropping a deuce and trying not to get it on your shoes.  But now I have a bad knee, so now I know.  Still, I can still exercise just fine, and nothing else has broken down yet.  I don’t need cheater glasses to read yet, although threading a needle is starting to become an issue.  Maybe I need some of those old lady needle threader thingies.

Oh, and perimenopause is happening.  So, that blows.  Hot flashes, night sweats, and a raging bitch who inhabits my body from time to time.  But whatev.  Some black cohosh, a few extra showers, and control of the thermostat.  I’m dealing.

But the social stuff is harder.

See, since my kids were born, I have been dying my hair funny colors.  Fire engine red, pink, teal, most recently blue.  Here is me with my blue hair.

Not crazy blue, but definitely bluer than anyone else's hair at my kids' elementary school...

It’s not really all that blue.  It’s not like Thing 1 and Thing 2 blue.  It’s just… you know… kind of blue. 

Recently my brother told me my blue hair is ridiculous, because I’m too old for it and I’m a mom.  But the thing is, I never dyed my hair funny colors before I had kids.  I didn’t need to.  I was going to Burning Man and attending parties that started at 11pm and traveling the world. But then I moved to the suburbs and had twins and bought a minivan.  My body, although the same weight as it was pre-kids, was a new shape.  A more… mommish shape.  I was pushing a double stroller, and wearing yoga pants as regular pants, and my fabulous heels were all a half size too small, and I might have had puke on me at any given moment.  I needed something to remind me that I was still me.  So I started messing with my hair.

And I loved it.  I still love it.  But now with forty looming, I am starting to worry about what other people will think.  Am I too old to have blue hair? 

I embrace my mom persona at this point, and now that my kids are in school, they are less all-encompassing, so I can pursue things that make me feel like me again.  I don’t need crazy hair anymore to remind me who I am.  But I still want to keep it. 

The biggest reason is that I like how people respond to me.  People are friendlier, chattier.  Toll takers, fast food drive-thru window workers, random people in the service industry… I can see them snap out of auto-pilot and make eye contact with me in a way that didn’t happen before.  Random strangers talk to me on the street, primarily people who are NOT like me.  Kids talk to me about my hair, asking why it’s blue.  Twenty-somethings who would otherwise look through me as if I were invisible, compliment it and smile, sometimes leading into a longer conversation. 

As weird as it seems, I have many more conversations with strangers as a function of my blue hair, and I love that.  I love finding a connection where there would otherwise be two people on autopilot, just playing roles and not seeing each other at all. 

In fact, the very fact that blue hair is wrong for "a woman my age" is the thing that’s magic about it.  Because it marks me as something other than generic.  Not for my own self-image anymore, even though that was the primary reason I started doing it.  But now, because it makes other people stop for a moment to figure me out.  And in that moment of stopping, there is the opportunity for genuine connection. 

Genuine connection. 

Genuine connection.

My blue hair might be silly.  It is silly.  It’s blue hair on a middle-aged mom.  It’s ridiculous.  And I’m totally keeping it.

Because also? I just like it.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The bikini experiment, two years later

Since the bikini experiment of summer 2011, I have only worn bikinis to swim.  Every swimsuit I have bought or worn for two years has been a bikini.  Wearing a bikini has become a few things for me:  A symbol of my continuing commitment to unconditional self-love, a touchstone for my self-image, and my own little revolutionary act.  I want to be a living example that body love, confidence, and beauty don’t have a weight limit.  Be the change and all of that.  I have a “Be the change you wish to see in the world” window cling on my driver-side minivan door as a daily reminder that we are part of making the world we live in.  I wear a bikini because I want women who worry about their bodies to see me, and worry a little bit less.  I want curvy, large-busted, and plus-size women to see that they have options (Fantasie bra-sized bikinis!)  And, more selfishly, I want to make sure I don’t slide back down into blending in and trying to hide. 

I actually thought I was done.  I thought I had climbed the self-love mountain.  I thought I had arrived somewhere.  Turns out, there’s more to this journey. 

Here’s what happened.  My kids were invited to a swim party. 

To set the scene for this story, let me tell you a little bit about the area where I live.  It’s in suburban Maryland, one of the best school districts in the country, and typically listed as the top 10 “affluent” places to live.  We chose our house because we fell in love with the openness of it and the schools were amazing.  Our immediate neighborhood is racially diverse, which was important to me, and the houses were all built at different times by different builders, carved with restraint out of the woods a plot at a time without strip-mining the place to build a development.  I saw that our income and home price fell well below the median for our school district, and my thought was, “Awesome.  Let their property taxes pay for my kids to go to a kick-ass school.” 

And now my kids go to that school.  And the school rocks.  No lie, it’s awesome. And there are some people like me there.  But there are way more people not-like-me.  Diamonds are big.  Countertops are granite.  Hair is blonde and smooth.  Sometimes brown.  Not blue.  People aren’t fat here.  It’s not allowed.  If you’re fat, you run half marathons or go to “boot camps” until you’re not fat anymore.  You post your exercise on facebook using an app on your phone, and eat lots of skinless chicken and salads. 

So into this weird world, my kids were invited to a swim party.

It was their second one actually.  After much deliberation and gnashing of teeth, I wore my bikini under a dress to the first swim party earlier this summer, but no parents swam at that party, so my jiggling, winter-white, abundant self was kept under wraps.  No other parents swam at this last party either.  Except for me. 

We arrived at the pool, and the parents were all standing around, fully dressed.  I breathed a sigh of relief, realizing I wouldn’t have to expose the bikini to them at this party either.  Or expose what the bikini doesn’t cover.  My daughter immediately started begging me to swim with them.  I showed her that none of the mommies were swimming, and encouraged her to go play.  She did.  But she kept asking.  And the only reason I said no was body shame.  Shit.

What would they think?  Would they think that I thought I looked good?  Would they gossip about me later? 

(I do know that no, of course they wouldn’t gossip about me later.  I know with my brain that this isn’t about them at all.  This is my stuff.  Social anxiety is such a narcissistic asshole.)

Anyway, a bunch of the kids moved to an indoor heated pool, one with a fairly steep drop-off with water over my kids’ heads.  My daughter can swim.  My son can’t really.  Both begged me to come in with them. 

So I did. 

I took off my skirt and seriously considered leaving my tank top on.  But I didn’t.  I took it off and I swam with my kids, while all of the other moms stood around fully dressed with their coiffed ponytails.  When I put my hair in a ponytail, it doesn’t look like that.  I think maybe you have to blow dry or hot roller your hair first to have it look like that in a ponytail, and if you’re going to go to all that trouble, why wouldn’t you just wear it down?  It’s all a mystery to me.  But my kids asked me to swim with them, and my son kind of needed me to swim with them.  So I swam.  In a black bikini.  At 220 pounds.  My son practiced his back float.  My daughter practiced her freestyle side breathing, backstroke, and flip turns. 

I didn’t die.

Not too long after, they moved the party inside to a party room.  I put on my clothes, gratefully, even though my wet bathing suit left two wet spots under my boobs and I couldn’t sit down for fear of also having a wet ass.  I said something to two of the moms about the bikini thing.  I explained about the blog and how I am a body-love advocate.  I explained because, if they gossiped about me later, I wanted at least a couple of people to be able to explain why on earth I was wearing a bikini.  At my size.  One mom nodded politely.  Kill me.  The other mom looked thoughtful and gave me a smile and a high five.  Gratitude.

Be the change be the change be the change.  Fuck.  It’s so hard sometimes.

I’ve gotten to the top of one mountain.  I look in the mirror and I’m happy most of the time.  I wear bikinis.  I am the change inside myself.  I love my body.  I think I’m beautiful. 

But there’s a new mountain.  One made of class distinction and baggage from high school and fear that a weird mom with blue hair who wears bikinis at 220 pounds will somehow stigmatize or marginalize my kids.  The change I wish for is happening in the world too, but slowly.  For that change to come, people like me need to stand up and be seen.  Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hard. That thoughtful high five, that's the change.  I stand for something, something I believe in very deeply.  I hope that one day, that will be a good thing in my kids’ lives.  I hope that I am one voice among many working to change the world they will inherit.  I accept that one day, probably sooner than I can imagine, they will want me to blend in.

I hope I don’t cave.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

DIY: Custom wall stickers

Who are these characters?
You've never seen them before, right? Yeah, tell me about it.
So let’s say you have kids who are really into some obscure video game.  Or some non-merchandized TV show.  And they want a theme room.  Welcome to my world, people.  My kids don’t just like things, like normal people.  They get obsessed.  Seriously.  Also, I’m crafty, so when I tell my kids that “they” don’t make that toy or costume, my kids are like, “That’s OK, mom, you can make it for us.” 

Many of my “make it for them” moments are such ludicrously time-consuming labors of love that I don’t even post them here, because they look like a bad case of Pinterest-perfect mommy syndrome.  I’m not perfect.  I’m just crafty.  And slightly (charmingly??) insane.

But this latest project was just so… do-able!  It didn’t require hours in front of the TV, hand sewing tiny cones stuffed with batting onto a certain Bowser costume.  It didn’t require mad miniature gown-sewing skills like a certain Rosalina plush doll.  It was easy!!  When I searched for a tutorial before I began, I didn’t find anything that fit the bill.  And when something doesn’t exist, apparently I make it.  So I’ll make a tutorial.  Here ya go.

How to make your own wall stickers
Papilio waterproof vinyl

 1)  First, buy this stuff.

That link is for 10 sheets of Papilio 8.5X11” waterproof vinyl.  You can buy single sheets, or 100-packs (or more).  It also comes in larger sizes if you have a big fancy printer that can handle that kind of action.  Note: This vinyl is designed to work with inkjet printers only!!  You need access to an inkjet printer.  They do also make a laser printer vinyl.  It is likely the same adhesive and would work the same, but I didn’t test that, so I don’t know.

2)  Find images online.  For 8.5X11” paper scaled images, I found that at least 500 pixels in each dimension made decent enough stickers.  The higher resolution, the better.

3) Resize the images.  I used Photoshop to make them the right size to fit on my paper.  I’m assuming everyone has a favorite photo-editing program.  Use that.  Make them fit on paper.  If you have decent resolution to start, keep it at 100-300 pixels/inch or so.  You don’t need any higher resolution than that for this.

4)  Print your images onto the vinyl.  Use the glossy photo paper setting.  I just did normal quality, and they look good enough to me, and my kids are thrilled. 

5)  Let them dry and then carefully cut them out.  I’m sure you could use a utility knife or some fancy stuff to cut them perfectly.  I used my junk drawer scissors.  The directions say to let them dry for at least 15 minutes.  They seemed quite dry to me after just a few minutes. 

6) Peel and stick.  The peeling can be a little tricky to get started.  You know, stick your fingernail in or kind of mush the vinyl sideways with your finger until a little edge comes loose.  Be careful at thinly cut parts not to tear the vinyl.  Stick em on the wall.  Be a hero.

Princess room becomes Kirby-themed "King Dedede's castle!" 

So basically, my entire tutorial is, like, go buy Papilio vinyl sheets.  Yup.  You’re right.  I don’t work for them.  I didn’t get paid to tell you this.  There may well be other products that would do the same thing.  I did this.  It worked. 

A note on the vinyl.  Papilio also makes a product called “removable” vinyl.  That seems like it would be the right thing, but it isn’t.  It peels right off the wall while your child sleeps and then they cry in the morning, and you cry too because you foolishly bought 100 sheets of it for $70-something and it didn’t work.  Boohoo.  The stuff I used is labeled as “permanent” adhesive.  That seems scary, I know.  I tested a sticker in an unobtrusive area for 2 weeks and it came off fine.  The paint finishes in my kids’ rooms are eggshell or satin or some other word that means somewhere between flat and semi-gloss.  One has a glitter glaze.  Neither finish was damaged at all after two weeks.  Beyond that, I can’t make promises, but two weeks seemed like a reasonable test period to me.  I encourage you to buy a single sheet and do your own testing on your wall to make sure it’s safe.

A note on copyright. I don’t own the images on these stickers.  They are from the Kirby video game and TV show, and then shamelessly stolen from the web using Google image search and my trusty right click button.  I made these stickers for my own personal use and will not be selling them.  If you make stickers with copyrighted characters, don’t sell them, K?  Kirby people, please don’t sue me or whatever.  If you made wall stickers, dudes, I so would have bought them.  Trust me when I tell you that whatever crap you have made, I probably own it already, two of them in many cases, one for each kid.  And if you would re-release the King Dedede plush toy, that would be awesome, because otherwise I’m going to have to make two of those bad boys by Christmas…

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lines and curves

Two years ago, I put photos on the internet of my plus size bod in a bikini.  This past year, the curvy bikini thing has really taken off, and I’m honored to have been a part of that revolution.  But between then and now, my self-love has slipped some.  I’ve gained a little weight, coming back up to my extremely stable set-point.  I’ve had an episode of depression.  As part of that depression, I’ve been less active, so my body isn’t as healthy right now as I like to keep it, regardless of size.  As a body love advocate, it’s hard when I find myself self-hating.  It’s difficult to talk about.  But yeah, that shit happens.

I’m part of a monthly women’s spirituality group.  Once a month, we get together, make a meal, eat, share our joys and challenges, and do an activity.  On Friday night, I was the host, so it was my turn to come up with our activity.  In the past, I have done groups on trance dancing, the tarot, Zen meditation.  Over the years, we have explored everything from feng shui to past lives, dreams to Isadora Duncan. 

I knew I wanted to do a group on body love.  I needed it.  I know most women need it.  As I was brainstorming activities, I remembered posing for my sister, who is an amazing artist, as she sketched me nude.  I had seen her sketches of strangers, the lines of their bodies, the wrinkles, the rolls, the curves and shapes.  I had seen how the “imperfections” were the most beautiful parts.  So I asked her to sketch me.  I watched her click into artist mode, where she was no longer looking at my body as a body, but only as shapes, lines, curves.  In that space, there is no judgment.  There are only shapes.  I wanted to see myself that way.

Before the group met, I tried it.  I took a photo of my nude torso in the mirror, and then used the photo to sketch myself.  I don’t know if it would work for everyone, but I am enough of an artist that it worked for me.  My belly was no longer this sagging thing to be judged or hated.  It was a shape, a curve, that I was trying to accurately capture with my pencil.  It was a completely non-judgmental space and a very transforming way of seeing my own body.

When I finished the sketch, I looked at it as a whole.  It was the kind of body I would wish for.  And it was mine.  As a set of lines, it was easier to see the beauty.  The perfection of the imperfections came across in a piece of art in a way that doesn’t happen in the mirror.  I decided to write over the pencil lines with my thoughts about my body.  I intended to do affirmational positive body talk, but what emerged was just… what is.  “This is my fupa, my apron, my flap.  It used to hold my precious children.”  “This one [my right breast] is smaller and lower.”  No judgment.  Just… what is.  When I was done, I erased the pencil lines, and was left with my body shape, created out of my language about it. 

I was left with a sense of peace.  And this incredibly powerful piece of paper. 

My body, in my own words

The next night, the group met.  We ate and drank and talked.  And then it was activity time.  They did sketches of their legs, their bellies, their smiles.  I watched as they clicked into artist mode, trying to capture the beautiful lines of themselves.  I did a second piece with the group of my face in profile.  I have struggled with my nose for as long as I can remember, and more recently with my neck, which hovers just on the cusp of a double chin.  As a piece of art, though, my nose is the best part.  That roller coaster curve of bridge, bump, and ball.  That’s me.  It’s one of the defining curves of my body.  Although slightly larger in person than it is in this drawing, that curve of my nose is what makes this image identifiably me. 

Faces are way harder to draw.  If you try this at home, maybe don't do your face.  Because dude, hard.

If you struggle with body image, I encourage you to try this activity yourself.  In the aftermath of it, I feel a kind of calm acceptance I haven’t felt before.  It’s different from the exuberance, the “I am one sexy bitch,” of the bikini project.  This is a quiet love.  An acknowledgment of what is, without judgment or the desire to change it.  These curves are me.  These words and thoughts are me.  I am a perfectly imperfect piece of art.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I don’t have a food blog

I love to cook, and every so often, I toy with the idea of starting a food blog.  I even went so far as to register a domain name for a food blog I planned on starting with a foodie friend.  I just paid the second year of registration to hold the name, but we still have no blog.  Here’s why.

1) I am starting to recognize the “new project” excitement that leads to lasting and good things, like this blog, and the “new project” excitement that leads to a project that I start and then abandon, like making my own Nakashima-esque table.  I have a sneaking suspicion that a food blog might of the latter variety, and would run out of steam once I blew through the ten fancy things I make on the regs. 

2) I don’t take photos of food.  Well, sometimes I do, but I take them on my phone.  Poorly.  No stunningly styled photos in which the fork sits just so, sparklingly clean in the professional lighting.  Nope, blurry photos on my phone, through a lens smudged by my sunscreen-covered fingers, on my basic everyday dishes on a table with permanent marker marks and glitter glue residue. (FYI, glitter glue isn't washable like regular glue.)  Or I forget altogether until I’ve eaten a few bites and messed up the pretty drizzled things.

3) I steal recipes.  Sure, I have some things that are all mine.  My chicken wing dry rub.  The polenta appetizers I made this past weekend.  My fruit crisp topping.  The crème brulee with ganache that I sort of reverse engineered and then perfected after having it at a restaurant.  Those are officially “my” recipes.  But mostly, I’m stealing stuff from other food blogs I follow or find on Pinterest or making stuff with recipes my mom invented/perfected.

4) Failures are funnier than successes.  If I had a food blog, how would I not show you this cake I made?  I mean, come on, that’s blogging gold.  A gluten-free carrot cake.  My first time making carrot cake.  My first time working with gluten-free flour.  And my first layer cake in, let’s say… ten years?  I forgot the basic rule.  Make sure you have enough damn frosting to hide the mistakes.  Oops.

My gluten free baking masterpiece.  No, the kids didn't help.  This is all me, people.
And how would I not talk about how I made this cake the morning after a bout of food poisoning, on 4 hours of sleep because I was up all night violently and variously expelling food from my body?  And how would I not describe the swearing, ohhhhhh the swearing, as I was already running an hour behind for the dinner party I was co-throwing with a friend at her house, feeling sick and clammy, on no sleep, and this damn effing cake just kept crumbling and I didn’t have enough frosting and F**K!!!! 

I mean, never mind that the deconstructed fried rice recipe I shamelessly stole from Smitten Kitchen was a hit.  Never mind that if you make polenta with from-scratch veggie broth and broil some Cambozola cheese on top, people are going to love that shit, duh.  Never mind the perfect combination of goat cheese mousse, roasted red peppers, and basil puree.  From my perspective, the cake is the story here.  And the fact that I got too drunk to chop garlic because apparently homemade Limoncello martinis are not a good way to break one’s fast after food poisoning. Oh, and the balsamic reduction I over-reduced so it turned into balsamic salt water taffy.  (Just so you know, if that happens, you can totally add a teeny bit of hot water to it and salvage it.)  THAT.  That’s my food blog.  What you do when you over-reduce your balsamic vinegar.  What you do when you make the world’s ugliest cake.  (Answer, make sure everyone is drunk and then serve it sliced.) 

What was I saying?  Oh right, reasons why I don’t have a food blog.  So anyway, those are the reasons.  But, I do love food.  I love to experiment with food and make delicious things, and I even like to photograph food poorly.  So if it’s OK with you guys, I might do some food-related entries.  They’re far more likely to be comedic failures than Pinterest-worthy masterpieces.  I guess that’s just who I am.  Coming off of a delightful dinner party with spectacular food, wine, cocktails, and company, the story I find I want to tell is one of food poisoning and the world’s most hideous cake.  Maybe that makes me negative.  I prefer to think of it as amusingly real.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

“Mom, what’s lesbi?”

In honor of today’s joyful, love-affirming SCOTUS decisions, let me tell you a little story of something that happened a few months ago.  I’ll preface the story by saying that I let my kids watch youtube videos on their ipads.  And the occasional Gangnam Style or Baby Monkey sing-along aside, 99% of the videos they watch are Mario and Kirby play-alongs.  Basically, adolescent or adult guys, playing video games, and talking while they play.  I monitored it for a while, because I have learned that any Mario-related video on youtube is one click away from excessive profanity (which I don’t really care about that much, because let’s be honest, it’s probably no worse than what they hear from me), but also no more than three clicks away from Mario-related porn.  Yes, people make Mario porn.  Yes, really. 

So… I monitored their youtube consumption, but as you can imagine, listening to hours on end of adolescent (or protracted adolescent) boys playing video games while you’re trying to work, read, or play Candy Crush can get old real fast.  So imagine my joy when they settled on one favorite gamer.  This guy is a celebrity in our house.  Half of the phrases that come out of my son’s mouth can be traced back to his new online friend.  And I’ve listened to enough of this guy’s videos to know that he’s pretty reasonable.  So I let them watch his videos in their room without me listening, or with headphones.  Blissful silence.

That brings us to the story.  One fine evening, as I settled down to watch TV with my hubs, our children nestled snug in their beds, visions of Mario play-alongs glowing in front of their heads, my son comes out and asks, “Mom, what’s lesbi?”

“You mean lesbian?”

“Yeah, lesbian.”

“Where did you hear that?”

Youtube, obvi. 

So no big, I tell him that that’s what you call a woman who loves and wants to marry another woman.  And that a man who loves and wants to marry another man is called gay.  We never talk about marriage in our house without the option of either/any gender as a partner, so it’s not new information for them.  We’ve even already talked with them about how some people think a man can only marry a woman and a woman can only marry a man, and how ridiculous that is. 

Then he asks me, “Can I say lesbi at school?”

Shit.  He knows that our home rules are more lax than school rules.  I don’t let them say stupid or hate at home, but most other words… eh… I’d rather teach them that part of being allowed to say “grown-up words” is being grown-up enough to know when NOT to say them.  So lesbi… home-only word or OK-everywhere word?  It’s a hard question.

It’s a hard question???  No!!  WTF!  No, that should not be a hard question.  And yet, I hesitated.  While Maryland is a blue state, the area where we live is kind of purple.  It’s pretty darn socially conservative around here.  Can he say lesbi at school?  I don’t actually know.  I don’t know if the teachers would tell him not to say it.  I don’t know if the other parents would be angry if their kids learned the word lesbian from my kid. 

Are you effing kidding me?  Am I really having to think about this? Nothing about that is OK.  I’ve been angry about some of the religious stuff other kids have taught my kids at school.  So let them be angry if my kid teaches their kid about love in every form.  Love is my religion, if anything is, so let my kids proselytize that on the playground. 

“Yes, honey, you can say lesbian at school.  But some people might think that it’s a mean word or a bad word.  It’s not a mean word or a bad word, but people who think that a woman shouldn’t marry a woman might think that it’s a bad word.  So you can say it at school, but if the teacher tells you not to, then you listen to her, OK?”

The end. 

Except to say this.  Please, please let me live to see the day when I wouldn’t have to think twice.  The tide is turning, but we’re not there yet. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Walking in the in between

For the last few days, I've been in this in-between state, between depression and not depression.  It’s a weird state, an interesting state, and not one I remember spending much time in before.  Everything is suddenly symbolic.  Like the hummingbird that helped to pull me out the door, everything I see takes on meaning.  It feels like a good place from which to create art, and is giving me theories about the link between creativity and depression.  I bet a lot of cool shit was created in this weird in-between state. 

I walk into the kitchen and notice that the compost canister is full.  OK, actually I notice that it was full days ago, and now there is also a mixing bowl next to the compost canister overflowing with banana peels, strawberry leaves, and dead flowers.  I pick up the canister and bowl and think about taking the rotting cast-offs in my soul and trying to turn them into something rich and life-giving. 

I walk outside with the compostables and a light rain is falling.  I have always loved rain, especially spring and summer rain that’s not too intense or stormy.  Actually, I like stormy too.  If it were safe to be outside in a big storm, I would be totally into it.  Being outside in the rain is weirdly a mood booster for me.  For most people, it’s the sun, but I don’t really like the sun that much.  Sure, I’ll take a gorgeous blue sky on a perfect fall day, but there’s just something about rain.  I turn my face up to the rain and think about my tendency towards tears, about how antidepressants made me unable to cry, about how much I truly enjoy being moved to tears by something.  I like to cry.  Not sad cry.  I don’t like to sad cry, but I’m not willing to give up tears of poignancy and beauty in order to get rid of tears of sadness.  I embrace the rain.  Even the storms. 

As I walk back with my empty canister, I notice that the lawn service mowed down my tiny baby fig tree last week.  The fig tree that I planted outside a little bit too late this past fall, that probably froze too soon and went into shock, that had no leaves this spring.  The fig tree that I had given up for dead, but which was still surrounded by a protective ring of rocks and mulch so the kids wouldn’t step on it by accident and the mowers wouldn’t mow it.  [Seriously, mowers, a ring of grapefruit-sized rocks with mulch inside.  Don’t mow cavalierly over that shit.  That dead leafless stick is symbolic of someone’s soul, assholes.]  But here’s what happened.  From the root of the cut-off stick, new leaves had emerged.  Life.

New leaves grow from the half-dead, frozen, cut off stump of my soul.
P.S. If these are not fig leaves but are, in fact, a weed, please don't tell me.

In this in-between state, taking out the compost becomes a poem.  Or maybe three poems.  I’m not a poet, so I can’t write them.  They would come out unbearably cheesy and overbearing. I’ve tried.  Once I put the word “poem” on something I’m writing, it instantly turns to crap.  Prose is my poetry, so I wrote them my way.  Laundry next.  Hoping I can keep this state going, because chores are a lot more interesting when I’m wandering around with poet brain.  Maybe I should ditch the vacuuming of the living room that is on my agenda and instead go weed the front garden in the rain. 

Oh no, “weed the front garden” just became a symbol for grooming my hoo-hah.  Aaaaaand I think poet brain might be done for now.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The big D

It has become kind of trendy lately for bloggers to reveal their mental health stuff.  I think that is pretty effing awesome, because no, we don’t all have our shit together.  And because mental illness is still stigmatized, and that stigma reduces the utilization of resources and treatments that can help.  And because the last damn thing you need when your brain is messing you up is to feel alone. 

Many of my favorite bloggers suffer from depression, and they have written about it so eloquently that I kind of want to stop writing right now, because who the hell am I to say anything more?  Recently, Allie of Hyperbole and a Half had a post on depression so true and honest, I could barely get through it.  The Bloggess has been extremely open about her mental health stuff. Here is one of her early posts about it.   Her two word mantra, “Depression lies,” has been enormously helpful to me.  Julie, from I Like Beer and Babies recently did a post that really resonated with me.  Because here’s the thing.  Someone could be depressed and you would never know.  When I gave my best friend a peek behind the curtain, she was completely surprised.  Because I still get up and do all of my stuff and put on the same minimal amount of makeup I usually do.  I laugh, and post funny crap on facebook, and talk about my kids melting my heart.  And all of that stuff is true.  I’m not faking it.  Depression, at least for me, isn’t all day every day.  As much as Hyperbole and a Half’s account yanked at me with that feeling of like calling to like, the complete lack of feeling she describes is not what depression looks like for me. 

I feel everything.  All the time.  I feel too much. 

I’ve talked here a little bit about my history of depression, and one tool that has helped me keep it at bay.  But that was an account of something in the past.  Something I used to experience, and how I kicked its ass.

Crap.  So yeah, no. 

I mean yes, a little bit.  I have been pretty depressed for months, but may not have actually met criteria for clinical depression in that time.  See, before I became a professional boo-boo kisser and lunch packer and kid snuggler, I was a statistician.  And before that, I was a depression researcher.  I have a PhD in Psychology and spent seven years of my life studying depression.  I could recite the criteria in my sleep.  And have I met those criteria lately?  Hard to say.  Maybe, or maybe not quite.  I spent a decade in therapy and even longer with meditation and other tools to try to keep myself out of this pit.  And maybe it all worked a little bit. Maybe I didn't fall all the way down.

Except my brain still does the thing. 

The thing.  The thing where I go from bed to couch and nap a lot.  The thing where my brain tells me I am a failure, and worthless.  The thing where everything just seems really difficult.  The thing where all I see are the negatives.  And when I shake my head, try to snap out of it, and focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for, instead of feeling grateful, I feel guilty for being depressed when my life is so good.  Sleeping is a sweet release from feeling like complete crap, so I sleep a lot.  I read novels to escape, and I play Candy Crush, 15 lives at a time (5 on the phone, 5 on the ipad, 5 on the laptop). 

Self-care goes out the window.  I usually have a regimen of supplements that help keep me feeling good and keep my body healthy.  Calcium and magnesium for bone health, B-vitamins for hormone regulation, Fish Oil for my heart, D for mood.  You can tell me I’m just making expensive pee, and maybe that’s true, but when I stop taking those, I know I’m slipping.  Not caring about future Pam’s bone and heart health.  Not caring about anything.  I shower less often.  I don’t floss.  I eat crap.  I don’t exercise.  I lie on the couch and do nothing and then beat myself up for doing nothing. 

Here are some of the things that could help me.  Exercising.  Going outside.  Writing.  Seeing friends.  Going to see my therapist.  Yup, all of those things would help.  I really should do them.  Ugh, but then I would have to shower, and put on a bra, and get off this couch.  I’ll take a nap instead.  And months pass. 

I was a depression researcher.  I have dealt with and (mostly) successfully managed my depression for decades.  I knew I had slipped, but there is a gravitational field to depression from which it is incredibly hard to break free.  I didn’t go see my therapist, because I knew she would encourage me to do stuff, like exercise and go outside and crap, and the next week she would ask me if I had done those things.  And what if I had to tell her that no, I had just napped on the couch instead and cried into my fourth glass of whisky.  What if she saw what an utter failure I was?  Or worse, what if I had to actually get up off the couch and exercise?  Better just not to see her.  Easier.  Maybe no one will have to know.  Shame.

A few months ago, I wrote this.  I seem really happy with my hibernation, but somewhere between February and May, pleasant winter hibernation turned into depression and a complete disengagement from life.  Like I said, you might not have known.  I still met my friends when they set something up, and I always felt better when I was with them, glad that I went, but when they bailed, I was relieved that I could stay home.  I had moments of joy with my kids when the sun was shining or they were being particularly funny or adorable or just being so themselves that I was overcome with love.  Everything I said on facebook or when talking to people was true.  I just didn’t talk about the part how I was also crying for no reason and not taking care of myself and hiding in my bed all day. 

Here’s the good news.  The fact that I am telling you this means that I think it’s over.  I’m writing.  And while a part of me is still judging every word harshly and wondering why any of you would even give a crap, I’m still writing.  I filled up my old lady 4-week pill container yesterday with all of my superstitious supplements.  I got off the couch and cleaned two bathrooms, including tackling a pile of random crap that had been accumulating for several years.  When my kids made me get up six times in the space of about two minutes to refill their after-school snacks today, I didn’t even snap at them for disturbing my love affair with the couch.  Progress. 

So what got me out of it?  Well, spring doesn’t hurt.  Spring is good.  Flowers and the color green and the smell of lilac and 75 degree days and flip flops and dandelions.  Also, I decided to plan my next photo shoot.  I’m going to do a pin-up shoot.  Now unlike posing in a bikini, plus size women doing pin-up is not exactly revolutionary.  That kind of fashion was made for curves, and plenty of curvy women know it and have demonstrated it beautifully.  But while a pin-up shoot may not be as political or groundbreaking as wearing a bikini, you know what it is?  Fun.   It’s fun to buy leopard print bras and matching panties with attached garters.  It’s fun to buy slinky red wiggle dresses and fabulous corsets. It’s fun to experiment with red lips, and play with crazy rolled up hair, and plan something that will make me feel good. 

From the couch.  I planned it from the couch. 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.  In part, I just want to be honest and tell my story, particularly because there was a shame component that kept me from seeking help.  Even me.  Depression researcher. Past board member on not one, but two non-profits aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.  Person who takes her shame and blogs about it for all to see.  Still.  Even me.  It even happened to me.  That means that even with all of the recent openness about depression, there is work to be done. 

Another part of the story is to say that part of getting out of this depression was meeting myself where I was.  I was on the couch.  Yes, if I were magically in a twice-weekly yoga class, I probably would have gotten better faster.  But I wasn’t capable of making that happen.  I was capable of shopping online, perusing pinterest for vintage hair styles and posing ideas, and getting excited about doing something fun for myself.
A week or so ago, a hummingbird flew into my house through my open front door, lured by the bright red glass of my foyer light fixture.  And then he couldn’t figure out how to get out.  He kept banging his head against the white ceiling, thinking it was the sky.  Over and over, it wasn’t the sky. The door was wide open right next to him, but he tired himself out banging his head on the ceiling.  Eventually, he stopped and perched on the light fixture, making the most pitiful sound.  I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how.  The door was right there.  All he had to do was look over, see the flowers outside, try something new, and the whole sky would be his once more.  But he couldn’t see it and no one else could show him. Eventually, after more than half an hour, after I had stopped watching, he found his way out the door. 

I think I’ve found my way out too.

*Side note: When I posted on my personal facebook page about the hummingbird, a prophetic friend suggested I put on a sexy red dress to lure the hummingbird outside.  As it happened, the arrival of a sexy red dress may have been the tipping point that helped me find my way out.  Never underestimate the power of a sexy red dress.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The stages of phone grief

A few days ago, my phone died the final death.  It was my first smart phone, the first phone with which I could check e-mail and facebook and twitter.  It made texting 1,000 times easier than with my old phone.  I loved that phone.  I loved that phone with the unnatural love of a woman who is fundamentally shy and socially anxious, with a fear of talking on the phone, who finally found a way to feel connected without sitting at a computer. I don’t call people, but I can chat with my bestie in our ongoing scrabble game, show my parents and mother-in-law pics of their grandbabies, and share funny things the kids say or just funny things that I think.  I recognize that sometimes it’s good to unplug, and I also recognize that maybe I have a little eensy-weensy problem with unplugging.  It has been pointed out to me, believe me.  But I can’t help it.  I’m attached.  Attached to feeling connected, attached to checking in without having to face my phobia of calling people, attached to Word Hero or Drop7 or Candy Crush or whatever game is my waiting-room game du jour.  I’m attached to my phone.

I’ve dropped it a few times.  It had a crack or two across the screen, not a spiderweb, just a few minor cracks.  It was just so sexy, all sleek and smooth, without a protective cover.  It felt good in my hand, and slid into my pants so easily.  Bzzzzzz.  Mmmm, I love you phone. 

And then it happened.  I was crouched on the floor in the coat room of the Maryland Science Center, trying to get a shot of my kids and their cousin, all of whom had wedged themselves into adjacent cubbies as if to say, “Please, please, mommy, take our picture.”  Except I dropped my phone.  And there was a disheartening clunk.  I picked it up, my heart in my throat, but no… no new cracks!  Had I dodged a bullet?  It had turned off in the fall, and when I pushed the power button, it showed some weird lines not in any way resembling anything.  Uh oh.

Stage 1 of phone grief:  Denial.  My phone isn’t dead.  It’s just stuck in some weird mode.  It will be OK.  You remove the battery and put it back in.  Fingers crossed.  It’s all going to be OK.  If you’re me, you stay at this stage for quite some time, removing and replacing the battery three or four times to be really sure.  And then again an hour later, just in case it went into spontaneous remission.

Stage 2: The forgetting.  Let’s say you’re still at the science center.  And your kids are playing with a sort of simulated tornado thing.  You reach for your phone to take a photo… and then you remember.  Shit.  You have no phone.  This stage was particularly difficult for me.  Even after I got home, I kept reaching into my pocket, not feeling my phone, and thinking… “Where’s my phone?  Oh, right… it’s dead.”  And then I would weep.  Not really.  Just on the inside.  This happened over and over until I finally just put my dead phone in my pocket and carried it around so I would stop wondering where it was. 

Stage 3: The realization.  You realize… I don’t have a phone!  Crap!  This hit me hard when driving home from the science center.  I had to drive without a phone.  What if my car broke down?  What if I got into an accident?  What if my husband was trying to reach me?  What if aliens chose me for first contact and I couldn’t get a photo of them to upload to facebook?  Shit.  I don’t have a phone.

Stage 4: The research.  OK.  You’re going to need a new phone.  You are beginning to accept it, even though your dead phone is still in your pocket like a freakish security blanket.  You begin evaluating options for a new phone. 

Stage 5: The new phone.  If you’re me, within a few hours you’re at a store getting your new phone.  Because seriously, how are you going to watch the Idol results show without multitasking on your phone?  I mean, you can’t just sit and watch that schlock.  You vaguely listen in case someone doesn’t suck, glance up at the fashion so you can pretend you have your finger on some kind of pulse and don’t just wear jeans or yoga pants every day, and screw around on your phone.  No?  Just me?  So anyway, you need a new phone, like, 5 minutes ago.

Stage 6: The transition.  You have your new phone.  It’s annoyingly different from your old phone.  The buttons are in the wrong place.  You can’t figure out how to turn off the little beep that happens with every single keystroke.  It keeps autocorrecting f*cking to ducking and doesn’t have douchebag in its dictionary.  You have to add all of your favorite slang and swear words into the dictionary again.  For a minute you think you have lost all of your old Word Hero statistics and have to start in the unrated league again, but then it remembers your username and puts you back in Diamond where you belong.  Whew.  You take the memory card out of your old phone, caress its lifeless form in a loving goodbye, and put all of your photos and videos into your new phone. 

Stage 7: Love again.  Your new phone is so shiny.  It’s 4G.  It’s sexy.  Wow, it can take a burst of photos, and the camera is really much better across the board.  The screen is so big and bright.  Photos upload to facebook in, like, seconds without error messages.  You get a nice protective case for your new love, and promise to treat it better.  You love again.  It buzzes in your pocket.  The buzz is stronger.  You smile.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The “special naked hug”

It’s spring break around here, so my kids are home all day with me.  Not so good for work-from-home productivity, but great for sleeping late and hanging out in pjs.  Sleeping late, you ask?  Yes.  You can hate me if you must.  I have those rare, almost mythological children who sleep late if they stay up late.  I’m not gonna lie.  It’s freakin’ awesome.  They slept in until 10am this morning.  I don’t look like death.  It’s great. 

What’s slightly less great is what bedtime looks like.  Yeah… that’s where we pay the price.  (The completely, utterly worth-it price.)  During school breaks and on weekends, we push bedtime later, and then the kids push it later still with various requests and irresistible cuteness.  We often have our best conversations late on non-school nights, because they don’t have access to toys or iPads, and they will do anything to keep the conversation going so they don’t have to go back to bed.  So last night… around 11pm… my daughter decided to ask me a question.

“How did we get in your belly?”

Oh yeah.  Buckle up. This is happening.

“Well, there is a special hug that makes babies.  So when mommy and daddy decided to have a baby, we did that special hug, and a little part of daddy and a little part of mommy came together and that made you.”

Yeah no.  That’s bullshit, I know.  They were so on to me and not having any of it.

“But HOW do you do the hug?” my son asks.  “Do it to me.”  Oh shit.

“No, no, it’s only for grown ups who love each other.”  Or, you know, grown ups who smell really good to each other.  Whatev.  Same diff.

“Then do it to Daddy so I can watch.”   

[At this point, I am stifling laughter and totally unable to look at my silently shaking husband or I will just laugh until I pee myself and the conversation will be over.  I squeeze my kegels and continue.] “No honey, it’s very private.  I can’t do that in front of you.”

At this point, I realize that they may think it’s, like, a regular hug, and my daughter might stop hugging people.  So I specify that it’s a special NAKED hug. 

Brought the house down.  Who says I’m not funny?  Apparently, I am effing hilarious.

“But HOW?” my son asks again.  “What do you really do?”

At this point, I look at my husband, because had I been alone with the kids when this question was asked, it would have been time for the bombshell.  The P-in-V bombshell.  They’re curious and asking.  I answer honestly.  That’s my philosophy.

But not my husband’s.  He looks horrified, and tells me no, that they are too young. 

So we tell them that it is a very grown up hug and we will tell them more when they’re older.  Sigh.  Not how I would have handled it.  Why did they have to ask when he was around? 

We divert the conversation to genetics.  So the little parts of mommy and daddy have all of the information about our bodies, blah blah, and you each got parts of each of us and that’s why you (son) have daddy’s eyes and you (daughter) have mommy’s eyes blah blah boring not talking about penises or vaginas boring.

Oh, the non-boring part of this is that my son mixes up the word for cells and nerves, because he learned both of those words during another 11pm delay tactic/conversation about “How do our eyes see?”  Except he can’t remember the word nerves, so he calls them “nerds.”  So he says, “So daddy’s nerds and mommy’s nerds went together and made us?”  I die from cuteness.  And also, yeah, pretty much.  Our nerds played a big role.

Then my daughter realizes that we keep talking about a man and a woman.  She asks what happens if there are two mommies or two daddies.  I’ve never been prouder.  I leave out the concept of adoption for now because I don’t want to add the complexity of unwanted children to their lives (P-in-V, OK.  Unwanted children, not OK.  Am I weird? Contraception and sex-for-fun-not-babies talk, later.  Not tonight.)  I explain that if two men want to have a baby, they need a woman to help them.  And if two women want to have a baby, they need a man to help them. 

We ask if they have any questions.  They don’t.  They go to bed.  My husband and I discuss/argue for a half hour, I post the whole thing to facebook, and then we go back to watching Castle.

Today, on the way to the grocery store, we talk a little more about it.  I give them the names for egg and sperm.  I talk about the sperm swimming to find an egg, and how daddy has millions of sperm, but most of the time there is only one egg at a time.  But that I sent out two eggs, and two of daddy’s sperm found my eggs, and that’s why I had twins. We’ve talked about periods before, because for a while there, I couldn’t even pee alone. So I reintroduce that.  We talk about ovaries and testes.  “You mean my nuts?”  Yes, honey.  Your nuts.  I love my kids.  You’re right.  Testicles is a lame, un-pleasing word.  Nuts.  Much better.

“And the baby grows and grows until it’s ready to come out.”  They already know how babies come out.  We talk about it again.  How babies usually come out, and how they didn’t come out the usual way.  “And then the doctor sewed you back up.”  Yup.  C-sections still make them laugh.  Weirdos.

And then the light bulb comes on for my son.

“So babies come out the vagina.  Is that how the sperm get in?  They go in your vagina?”

Both kids laugh uproariously at this concept, while I say yes.  I’m not sure whether they really processed the yes.  Because vaginas are just too damn funny.  So no “Tab A in slot B” conversation, as my sister put it.  But you know… something in slot B.  It’s a start.

I’m much more comfortable the more real the conversation gets.  There is nothing shameful or illicit about these questions.  And even if there were, I would rather they know they can always come to me.  Always.  I want them to know that I will tell them the truth.  For me, this is groundwork.  We are building trust that, I hope, will remain as their questions get more complicated and the truthful answers more difficult. 

We move on to a conversation about how they shouldn’t talk about any of this at school.  How private parts are private, and conversations about private parts are also private and just for our family. I’m comfortable with my kids knowing this stuff, but lots of people (including the person I’m married to) are not.  I don’t want my kids to be the ones telling tales on the playground that make the other kids say, “Ew, gross.”  I don’t want any angry phone calls from parents who prefer to keep their kids innocent of the tab-slot mechanics.

But at home, they’re safe, and they can tell me or ask me anything.  I want them to know that.  At this point, I’m pretty much just waiting for:

Who’s there?
Sperm who?
Sperm in your vagina!!! 

If When that happens, I will not have to fake the laughter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The big time

This week, a high school friend posted a link on my wall of this gorgeous plus size woman in a bikini.  She was just like me.  Over 200 pounds, gall bladder scars, stretch marks, within a cup size or two of my prodigious hooters.  I look at her body and see only beauty and a flatter stomach than I could ever dream of, but for her, showing her body was a very big deal.  Just like it was for me

Except that she’s already kind of famous, so her post got picked up by Huffington Post, and then talked about around the world.  Big girls in bikinis are suddenly news.  Oh, hello, envy, how nice to see you.  Hi, slight tinge of bitterness, yes, yes, you did do this a year and a half ago and it was not picked up by the Huffington Post.  I know.  Shhhh.  Simmer down.

So, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do.  I stalked researched the hell out of her.  Turns out that she is effing awesome.  Her name is Brittany Gibbons.  She’s funny and real.  She doesn't like to wear a bra.  She reads smut and uses the word fupa in her blog.  OK, the more I read, the more I love this woman.  I want to be her new stalkery best friend.  (OMG you guys, she accepted my facebook friend request.)  She started an online magazine called Curvy Girl Guide. She appeared on Good Morning America in a bathing suit (one-piece at the time).  Her rationale for doing it was "Be the change you wish to see in the world," the same motto I have on a sticker on the driver's side door of my minivan so that I am reminded every single time I get in the car.  She did a TED talk in which she stripped down to a bathing suit on stage.  I love her.  Here’s the other thing I learned while stalking her, both from her TED talk and from an article written about her:

All of this attention she has gotten for showing her body has not been universally positive. 

People give her shit about her body.  People say that she is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.  People call her fat and tell her they're surprised she managed to get a husband.  Two things.  One. Fuck those people.  Fuck them.  Two.  I’m really, really glad that’s not me. 

I posted my bikini photos, fully expecting that the 200 of my nearest and dearest friends would see them.  Instead, it was in the tens of thousands.  I still get hundreds of hits a week on that page.  My bikini adventure was a crazy wild ride for me given the small scale of my blog.  You know how many negative comments I got? 


One person, not even on my blog, but on BlogHer’s link to my blog on facebook, said that I was glorifying an unhealthy body size.  Hundreds or maybe thousands of people were inspired to love their bodies more, and lots of them told me so.  One person made me feel like I didn’t deserve to love mine.  But of course that one cut me.  Of course it did.  It was outweighed by the outpouring of support, but it takes a lot of positive messages to counterbalance one negative one. 

Here’s what I learned from this.  You need a thick skin to hit the big time, and I don’t have that.  I pretty much have the thinnest skin around.  I’m not ready for the big time.  I’m not ready to absorb negative comments as the price of increased exposure.  I find myself grateful that my bikini post was not the one picked up by HuffPo.  I’m glad that strangers are not criticizing my body and making incorrect assumptions about my health.  And hurting my feelings.

I’m intensely proud to be part of the body love revolution.  But I don’t need to be the poster girl.  I’m glad I’m not the poster girl.  And the girl who is the poster girl?  She’s awesome.  Go read her blog.  Especially this post.  And this one.  And this less funny but very real and honest one. And then if you want to laugh again after that last post, this one.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Leprechaun love/hate

One of the many, many shamrocks
strewn about my house. My daughter
insisted that I photograph this one.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my beautiful, talented, brilliant, discerning readers.  I raise a drink to you.  (Surely it’s 5pm somewhere on this, the day of drinking!)

Let’s talk about the damn Leprechaun. 

All I remember about St. Patty’s from when I was little was wearing green.  And if people wore orange, you pinched them.  Right?  Am I making that up?  Was that regional?  Anyway, I got older, and it became about beer, green dyed or otherwise.  Guinness, black and tans, or Baileys if you were a girl-drink-drunk.  Then I got older-older and just drank whisky.  Usually not Irish whisky.  Scotch, mostly, which would probably really piss off Irish people if they cared enough to care.  But my hubs is half Irish and he doesn't seem to care, so whatev.

But these days, apparently, my children have informed me that the night before St. Patty’s, you clean the house, and then while you’re sleeping, the Leprechaun comes.  And that little fucker fucks that shit up.  Knocks over furniture, takes cushions off the couch, dumps out all of the crayons.  

So basically Leprechauns are exactly like my children?  Except short and green and THEY DON’T EXIST SO I AM EXPECTED TO MESS UP MY OWN DAMN HOUSE?!  Excuse the barrage of bad language there.  But, seriously.  Mess up my own clean house?  Not cool.  Their teachers told them this.  Because one doesn't have kids yet and the other is a grandmother. 

Look, I love my kids’ teachers.  We totally lucked out.  But teachers, you see how effed up this is, right?  Do you realize how much work you have made for me?  If you want another sweet Target gift card at the end of the year instead of a picture frame shaped like an apple, you’d better put the kibosh on this Leprechaun thing.

So love/hate I said in the title.  Where’s the love?  Here’s the love.  My daughter was so excited for the Leprechaun to come that she wanted to bring him to her bed.  No really, here is a sign she made for him so he could find her bedroom and "sleep with her." 

"Dear leprechaun, come to my bedroom and sleep with me.
Right next to my bathroom."  

She left it on the floor in the hallway outside her room.  She also created this adorable vignette of green shit to make sure the little homewrecker felt welcome.  Including hand-drawn artwork, a rainbow collage, a green crayon, and a whoopee cushion.  Which is almost... almost... cute enough to inspire me to mess up my clean house. Almost.

Instead, I decided to use distraction to minimize the mess.  A few chairs knocked down.  Couch cushions still on the couch.  No crayons dumped out.  And chocolate.  Green M&Ms pilfered from the M&M bag.  Gold coins.  Some letters to the kids and a trail of green sanding sugar.  Nothing like green M&Ms for breakfast to soften the blow of a less mischievous Leprechaun than average.  

And the kids helped clean the house last night.  

Pam – 1.  Leprechaun – 0. 

OK, so that was the blog entry I had completed and polished up, which is to say I read it over once and changed two typos.  Yeah, I wrote this last night in the past tense AS IF it were this morning.  Crazy, right?  I feel like I'm totally breaking the fourth wall here.  Yeah, I do that.  I write in the past tense about shit that hasn't happened yet.  I hope that doesn't mess up this honesty thing we have going between us.  It's all about time management and the fact that I'm funnier after a glass or two of wine.  At least in my own mind.

So here's what happened after I finished this entry.  My son had a major meltdown over wanting this Fire Mario hat because he was playing a Mario game with Fire Mario in it.  Who is Fire Mario?  You don't care. Don't worry about it.  Pray that you never need that depth of Mario-verse knowledge.  We let the kiddos stay up late on weekends, so he was extra tired and crabby.  He had a full scale tantrum, throwing himself at the ground, crying, wailing.  Not hitting, so that's awesome.  Here's the thing.  This Fire Mario hat is in our house, and he knows it.  It's in the "marble present" stash, a stash of gifts that we use to bribe our kids encourage good behavior.  

Knowing it was in the house and that my strength of will was the only thing keeping it off his head was incredibly difficult for him.  I talked him about halfway down, reminding him of all of the ways he could earn marbles to get the hat sooner, and then reminded him that the (%$#& *%&@ %&#@!) Leprechaun was coming and might leave him some treats in the morning, hoping that the prospect of treats and a stupid damn Leprechaun messing up my clean house would be enough to cheer him up.

And then he had the brilliant idea to leave the Leprechaun a note telling him to sneak into our master bathroom and get him the hat for free.  Well played, Leprechaun, well played.

My son doesn't particularly like writing, and generally avoids it like the plague.  Yet, here he is, buckled down to write the Leprechaun a note.

So now both of my kids have notes on the floor outside their bedrooms.  One seeking a bed partner, and the other seeking instant gratification.  Here is his note:
"Dear Leprechaun, I want you to go in Mom's bathroom and find the
fire Mario hat and put it in my bedroom."

Pam – 1.  Leprechaun – 1. We'll call it a draw... this year.  Asshole.