appearances

A few days ago I was singing a song while my older daughter read her book nearby. She was also, of course, listening. In fact she was watching, too, and it was lovely. It added to the intimacy of the moment.
After I finished she asked me what the first words of the song were. On hearing them she burst out with, “Mommy, that’s just like you!” The song was “Nobody’s Girl” by Bonnie Raitt and the first words are, “She don’t need anybody, to tell her she’s pretty, she’s heard it every single day of her life.” I asked her what she meant and she said people are always telling me I’m pretty.
What I think she’s picking up on is a stream of compliments I’ve received lately because of this whole weight loss thing. It’s relatively dramatic (about fifty pounds) so people who haven’t seen me in a while find it notable. As in, they note it.
My freshman year of college I dabbled in anorexia and bulimia and dropped down to around 108 pounds (I’m around about 5’6″ and weigh about 160 now). When I went home over Thanksgiving and Christmas that year people were insane. They were gushing and ooooooohing and aaaaahing over “how great” I looked. I was starving myself, making myself sick, and got nothing but praise for it. Our society and the obsession with female thinness is seriously fucked up.
Since I’m not starving myself and I’m not unhealthy now I don’t mind the “you look great!” comments. I’m a little annoyed for the sake of humanity that a woman getting thinner draws more compliments than a plumper woman, but remove the socio-political issues from it and I appreciate people are just trying to be kind.
When I notice a friend looks particularly attractive it’s hard for me not to say, “What is different?” Frequently I say it (I tend to say what’s on my mind without much consideration for the consequences) and realize what I’m implying is that they usually don’t look so great. Oops. Commenting on appearances can be so laden in miscommunications it’s easy to avoid them entirely. Then those of us who strive to always value the person inside more than the external qualities end up feeling shallow for what seems such a surface level assessment. I even had a friend hug me the other day wanting to apologize for “making such a big deal” (about my weight) because she didn’t mean to draw attention to it like that. In that case I think she just caught me in one of my many, many foul moods so her compliment may have been met with a blank stare verging on a stink eye.
Of course with The Beauty Myth still alive and well, some lost pounds doesn’t equal contentment, necessarily. I’ve continued my moratorium on mainstream media which I began last year in an effort to stop letting unrealistic and unattainable visions of “beauty” affect my self-esteem. As the reality of divorce set in I began seeing myself differently. Marriage is a comfortable state and one as loving and good as ours provided unconditional acceptance of me just as I was. I didn’t give much thought to my appearance. I’m working hard on returning to a similar state of disregard. It was a pleasant kind of ignorance I felt with no concern about what I should look like or how I should “take care of myself.” I lived with that peacefulness for years so I know it exists. Cutting out mainstream media has helped immensely. I dread grocery store checkout lines these days because that’s where I’m hit with the images and insidious messages I’ve so successfully avoided.
In about fifteen minutes I’ll be having “spa night” with my seven year old, a ritual we started after I read this article in Mothering magazine years ago. We’ll soak our feet, massage lotion into our skin, take turns having bubble baths, and we’ll even put a “clay” mask on our faces as something “fancy.” I was struck, though, tonight by how tempted I was to pick up some lotions promising they would “get rid of wrinkles” or “firm sagging skin.” Some of the fat might be gone, but The Beauty Myth lives on. For my daughters sake (when my own sake isn’t enough motivation) I will continue my search for loving myself for what I am, for how I am, not for how I believe I ought to appear. Tonight we will celebrate our bodies and as always, I will follow her lead in self-love. Children are wiser than any of us “grown-ups” when it comes to this stuff. We’ll talk, we’ll laugh, and we’ll feel extra special giving ourselves these treatments. The intersection of feminism, parenting, mothers/daughters, and being female will all come together and it will have nothing at all to do with appearances. It will be beautiful.

edited to add:

she’s growing up

Those of you who know me know my older daughter (who will be seven next week!) is very attached. She is brilliant and tender and wise beyond her years. She has empathy at levels most adults can only… well, she’s very, very empathetic. We have struggled over the years with the line between respecting her needs (staying with Mommy has always been her preference) and doing our jobs as parents (making the bigger decisions for her). More than most people, we have eased her in to separations. Sometimes it’s difficult because mainstream wisdom says she’s manipulating us while alternative wisdom says we’re teaching her she’s not capable on her own. Stubbornly, though, we’ve listened to our hearts. We know our daughter. We will make mistakes, of course, but we won’t make choices based on what other people think we should do.

So today when I brought her to horseback riding camp (a place she has visited twice in her life for a few minutes each time) where there were thirteen children (her busiest day at her regular school has 10) she’d never met (she’s known most of her classmates for years) and where the day would be from 9-4:30 (her school day is typically 9:15ish to 3:20ish) you could say I was surprised when she said quickly, “Okay, goodbye!” and literally shoved me toward my car.

I’ll admit I’ve spent the day expecting a call that she’s crying and I should come get her. This happens at school with some regularity, though I don’t go get her (typically) because she calls only moments before the end of the school day. But it’s 3pm, no call. Her sister napped. I got a break. Here are some photos of my big, big girl.

I am proud.



wrestling with gender

Gender is a social construction. We create gender through our interactions with each other. It’s not that biology plays no role. It’s just that the ways we respond to biology create our socially constructed realities. That said, it’s become more clear to me lately how differently boys and girls are from the earliest ages.

Our six year old daughter began school in September. Until that time almost all of her play had been with girls or with very small groups of boys and girls in very gentle settings. It seems she is by “nature” (as much as a role that plays) a quiet, careful, and sensitive child. She always has been, from the time she burst into tears at my shocked squawk when she bit my nipple. (Her sister, on the other hand, has several times heard the same squawk and just looked at me and laughed!) Now that she’s in school my older daughter has been experiencing a lot more rough-and-tumble play thanks in great part to two boys.

Today I found myself more grateful than ever for my husband. Why? Because he seems to have a clue what to do when she says, “Let’s wrestle!” I haven’t confirmed, but I suspect he’d prefer sitting on the couch reading with her just as I would. But once I get past a playful tickle tustle, I’m flat worn out of the “wrestling” stuff. He really seemed to get it in a way I just couldn’t. The two of them played for several minutes at a time throughout the day, “wrestling.” She’s clearly processing the whole new world of body slams, running smashes, and karate kicks. It makes sense she’d want to get some new skills, new (self-defense!) moves even.

I’m delighted she’s exploring all of it. I’m just more sure than ever I’m not the one she should go to when she wants to learn more about all that “boy stuff.” It’s a language I don’t understand. Thank all things Josh is here to share with her whatever it is that’s so fun and interesting about bashing into each other.

Boy, oh boy, I’m not a boy.

Althea’s birth (part 1)

“Of course, since she’s pre-term, we’ll take your baby to the NICU for 24 to 48 hours after she’s born,” said the nurse.

“No. You will not,” I said.

“Well, she could have breathing problems, and I’m sure you want the best for your baby,” he continued.

“Yes, I want the best for my baby. She’ll be staying with me or we’ll go to a different hospital,” I said, but did not shout.

“But you see, when babies are born early, there are all sorts of problems that can happen,” he insisted, clearly insulted and flustered.

“That’s fine. If she’s not well, I want you to take her and care for her. If she is well, she’s staying with me. This is not up for discussion.”

“But, we have to monitor her.”

“You’ll monitor her while she’s with me.”

“But she’ll have to be in the NICU.”

“She can go to the NICU if she’s not well, otherwise, she’ll be with me.”

“Your husband can be with her.”

“My husband can’t nurse her. She needs to be with me if she’s fine.”

“I’m going to go talk to someone.”

So began the ridiculous several hour argument with… I lost count… hospital staff members. Hospital protocol. Fine, if she’s got problems. But she might have problems. Fine, take care of her if she has problems. But she’s going to be 4 weeks early, she might need assistance. Fine, give her all the assistance she needs, but only if she needs it. Otherwise, she’s staying with me.

Hours and hours. At least 5 different people, doctors and nurses. I’m pretty sure it was more.

Earlier that morning, at 9:45am on Wednesday April 8 I was waking from a nap. There was a POP feeling in my vagina, a bit of a shock or sting feeling, and some liquid trickling out of me. I thought, how weird! That’s just like it was with Maya (with Maya I had a dream that her feet switched position and POP went the bag o’). I stood up, and, yes, indeed was flooded by warm water. I touched it, smelled it, not stinky like I’m told you’d find with pee. Waddled to the bathroom, leaking all the way, checked the toilet paper, clear. Amniotic fluid for sure. Waddled back to the bedroom. Flooding. Grabbed a pair of sweat pants to be my diaper. Waddled into the hall, told feverish Maya “my water broke.” She said, “what does that mean?” (She knows what it means, but I’m sure she didn’t at that moment.) I said, “Althea’s coming today. She’s coming now.” Maya squealed. We went, me waddling, to Josh’s office. He was clearly on a work call, but I still interrupted. “My water broke.” I waited for this to sink in. He interrupted his work call, explained he had to go, apologized again and again, and hung up.

We had nothing packed. We had no plan. The night before I had decided, finally, to give up with trying to get her to turn and just schedule a c-section. That evening (Tuesday) I actually thought I might be in labor (see comments I’ve made on Facebook and emails). But, having never been in labor before I assumed it was a bad case of intestinal troubles. I was thinking it was labor enough that I timed the experience (about 4 minutes at 10:35 and again at 11:40ish). We called the midwives, called my parents to come for Maya, planned on meeting at Maine Medical Center (best choice for early babies).

All was going well until the idiot nurse decided to try and tell me they were going to take my baby from me for 24-48 hours. What a time for me to have to go into hard ass mode. I do it fine when it’s something I care about, but, it was exhausting. Knowing when to kiss someone’s ass, knowing when to be so firm it’s scary to some people, knowing when to say “I need to talk to your supervisor,” etc. Knowing the staff out there will be talking about the drama, the difficult patient, etc. It’s very, very exhausting. I just wanted to meet my new daughter.

Well? Guess what? In all of those hours, through all of those people, it turns out no one — not ONE person — thought to mention that as soon as I was well enough to move around (wheelchair or whatever) I could go be with her in the NICU. That I’d be able to hold her and nurse her. No one mentioned that. No one thought it important to say that while Josh could be with her every second, I could, too, as soon as I was able.

What the freaking fucking holy hell stupid ass miscommunication. Our room full of people (Josh, Maya, Brenda (midwife), Maureen (midwife), my parents) all heard it the same way I did. Not one of us ever got the sense that they were saying anything but, “The baby will go to the NICU no matter what and you will not see her until she’s out.” It sounded crazy at the time, but the staff were so dreadfully committed to hospital protocol the idea that anything about this was reasonable didn’t seem possible.

Before I went in for the surgery we had it agreed that the NICU nurse who was responsible for deciding how well Althea was after she was born would not *assume* she’d go to the NICU, but instead would evaluate her and consider a lower level of monitoring for this late-pre-term baby. We all knew it was likely she’d find something that would require the NICU stay, but there was something reassuring in knowing that she understood how important it was that she make the decision based on the case, not on protocol. I’m sorry to say the hospital visit was full of frustrations involving miscommunications or staff obsessed with protocol despite our particular circumstances.

The surgery was easy enough. I didn’t puke from the anesthesia which was nice. They also actually showed her to me as soon as she was out which they didn’t for Maya. I was hit with my love for her on that first look. She was covered in blood and goo, and I loved her. Of course, it takes a few days for the love to sink in, but this was a nice surprise.

When Althea was born, at 5lbs 15oz (why does everyone always ask about and report a baby’s weight?), she did have some troubles. Josh was with her for every second of the evaluation and beyond. I don’t remember what the troubles were, but they involved not breathing right and something else. They brought her to me and I held her, though I didn’t try to nurse her (my decision, I wanted her to be tended to).

Josh went with her to the NICU where they attached her to heart, oxygen, and breathing monitors and put her in an isolette (I think that’s what they are called). After they finished with me (placenta out, given to the midwives, though I’m still not sure what of several options I’ll be doing with it), they took me to the room to recover. It’s a bit hazy. But, when they were going to transfer me to the “Mother and Baby” floor, the nurse who was helping me into the wheelchair told me we’d be going to the NICU immediately. Yay!

Flash forward to Friday evening and she was with us in our room at the hospital. Once she was with us, my milk really came in. Her nursing strength quadrupled. She gained back weight she’d lost since birth (even though it’s typical for babies to lose weight in the first few days after they’re born). And, mostly, we started to get to know her. When she was attached to all those tubes and wires, it was hard to bond with her. The nurses often made it awkward to be with her as much as we wanted, too. More on that later, though.

Maya has surprised us with the fascination she clearly feels for her baby sister. Always wants to hold her, admire her, be near her. In fact, as I write this, Althea is sleeping in my lap and Maya’s arm is flung across my thigh acting as a sort of pillow for Althea’s snorting little face. I am so proud of Maya — we’d never been away from each other for so long, she and I. Of course she visited during the days, but nothing is the same as being together at night.

We’ve got pictures of Althea, of course… she’s tiny… she was about 4 weeks early, but now on day 5 of life (that’s how they say it in the hospital), she’s a nursing fiend. She sleeps most of the time, wakes to nurse, and has a few alert and awake sessions each day. She’s also a pooping fiend. Every diaper and then some. Some day I’ll detail the rest of the experience in the hospital, but, for now, I wanted to give friends and family an account of the highlights of her birth. Our whole family is resting comfortably. Happy but still a bit in shock, I think, from what we’ve just been through. This week (with a lot of my parents’ continued help) will be able finding our centers again, getting grounded. All those things we need to do to have a strong foundation. Above all else, though, we are all so grateful that Althea has joined our family. She just squeaked in her sleep her agreement she’s glad she’s here. Eeep!

waking up

The late-night drive-through attendant passed me two cheeseburgers without judgment. Her emotionless (empathetic?) gaze was better than therapy. Finding myself camped out in the middle of the king-sized bed, computer on my lap, remote in one hand, 3 Musketeers in the other–it took two hours of dazed terror before I realized I’d been there before.

This time, I was in a hotel without my husband or daughter. That time, over ten years ago, I was alone heading toward the worst of my drunk and stoned life. This time, life was mostly full of joy, balance, and serenity. That time, chaos and loneliness led me in endless dark mazes.

I had no idea being away from my daughter overnight for the first time would be so brutal. It kicked my ass for those two hours. When I recognized where I had arrived (desperation, lack of clarity, obscured reality) it was an easy shift into pleasure. Ah ha! Look what’s happened! And, immediately: a bubble bath; guilty-pleasure television with the volume up; doing what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. And, most of all, sleeping harder and deeper than I had in years.

It’s as if life is a continuous set of spirals, lines flowing up and around, higher and higher until the coil is too tight. With each forward movement–it’s always moving forward–the next unspringing is more gentle. Ten years ago every lesson devastated me, as I believed in perfection and an impossible ideal. These days, I usually recognize the signs of an impending challenge or lesson and I just hold on and breathe.

Four and a half years ago our daughter came into our lives through a gash in my abdomen. She wanted to come out feet first. There was no convincing her to turn. On that first night, she lay among my IV tubes of antibiotics for the post-op infection and Pitocin to stop the hemorrhaging. She nursed enthusiastically. She slept with us then and has ever since.

Sleeping in our grand king-sized bed is full of reconnecting, snuggling, giggling, and love. Sure, she’ll sleep in her own room someday but, for now, we all love our arrangement.

So, for all of her sweet little life, any time she’s needed me at night, I’ve been there. I am breathing with her, laying with her, and always within reach.

As we work on less dependence on me and more acceptance of comfort from her Daddy, we realized the best thing for us was me spending a night away. I was desperate for a good night’s sleep (being needed throughout the night had finally caught up to me), and we were both desperate for Josh’s chance to be “the one” she needed. My physical presence, because of the patterns and habits we’ve set over the years, was problematic. Maya didn’t believe she would be okay without me. What a terrible lesson to teach a child: you’ll fall apart if I’m not there. So, it was with some anxiety but mostly excitement and confidence that I packed my bag for this overnight.

A massive burlap sack filled with wet sand smashing me across the room was how I felt when I first left our house. I actually thought I might vomit because I was “leaving Maya.” My perception of my importance, and ultimately Josh’s ability as a father, was skewed. Twisted. Distorted. Reality was again obscured.

Thankfully, it just took that bit of time for me to recognize just how fucked up it all was. As if Maya would fall apart without me. Intellectually, I was sure I didn’t believe that. But those two desperate hours were close cousins to the last few months of my darkest drugging and boozing. This time, I had solutions at my disposal. Easy tools to use to fix this mess. I simply said, “Oh, hey, god? Shit, I’m totally fucked up again. I think I’m way too important and I think I’m a piece of shit. Would you fix all this?” And POP up I sprang from the bed to run the bubble bath.

Clarity. Clearness.

It’s all so simple if I don’t make it complicated. And, holy crap, did I sleep well that night.