The Ice Bucket Challenge Meets Body Image Issues

 

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I made the mistake of showing my kids a few of the ice bucket challenges on my Facebook page.  Next thing  I knew, the kids were spending hours in the bathtub pouring water on themselves.  With their clothes on.  Actually, Sadie talked Simon into standing in the tub and while she poured water on him.  When he said it was his turn to pour the water, she said, “Nah, I don’t really want to get wet.”  Then, she poured more water on Simon.

Ad infinitum.

Eventually, I got tagged.  We took the party outside and filled a bucket full of ice and water. (Sorry, Africa, I’m an asshole.)  Sadie put on her raincoat and boots and asked a neighbor to help lift the bucket.  Jeff had me practice my spiel about ALS in a dry run. (Ha! Get it?)

Then, show time!

The ice, it was so cold. My daughter, her laugh was so bubbly. The neighbors, they so gamely joined us.

All good, right? We raised the money.  We went out of our comfort zone. We taught the kids about why raising money and awareness for causes is a valuable use of our time.

Then, I watched the video.

Like a giant eraser smudging out all the joy, all I could see was my stomach.  I zeroed in on my muffin top like a shipwrecked sailer spotting land.  I could no longer hear my daughter’s infectious giggles or remember the thrill of having my breath taken away by the deluge of cold water on my head.  Suddenly, this was no longer about anything except for a strip of my body between my breasts and my hips.

F*ck you, body image issues.

Seriously.  I’ve got them and hate them.  And I’m 41 years old.  I’m supposed to be too busy, too feminist and too enlightened to do this. To fall into an obsession about how my body got this way, what I should do about it, and why didn’t anyone tell me things had gotten so … so … muffiny?

I want to get back to the joy of the afternoon.  I want to crawl back on my hands and knees across the hot pavement of shame and be in that space of time before I saw myself and formed a judgment.

In the 18 hours since Jeff showed me the video, I’ve vacillated between two poles.

Pole one: I wish I had done the challenge standing up, not slumped in a stadium fold-up chair, so my stomach wouldn’t be so smooshed.  I wish that I had just let my kids do the challenge and stayed out of the picture.  I wish that all the desserts I’ve eaten in the past four years had been eaten by someone else.  These wishes roll up into the meta-wish that the circumstances (my body) were different, or at least looked different.

Pole two: I wish I could just accept my 41-year-old body just as it is.  It’s the same body that can run 8-minute miles for six miles.  It’s the same body that housed two small children for nine months.  I wish that when I saw the video I zeroed in on the love between me and Sadie or the look on Jeff’s face when it was his turn.  These wishes roll up into a meta-wish that I didn’t need anything to be different for me to feel okay.

Whether I like it or not, I have a touch of body dysmorphia.  I don’t really know what I look like.  When I was 110 pounds, I remember crying to someone about feeling fat.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  Because I was.  Still, it felt pretty real.  Then and now.

So until this passes, I pray to be too busy parenting or writing or doing my job to spend too much time thinking about me and that strip of my body.   Everytime I look down and see it, I smile and say, “Hi.”  I’ve no idea why I am doing that, except it sounds so much more pleasant then, “Who let you in here? Get the f*ck out!”

I call that making peace until I can reach Pole two.

 

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When We Bury Our Mothers

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And so it begins. 

We book our last-minute flights that leave at ungodly hours that require transfers through Atlanta and Detroit on the way to Texas.  We return to the churches where we last stood in matching bridesmaid dresses, clutching multi-colored bouquets and smiling with our arms around each other.  Back then, we were exhausted from staying up too late after the rehearsal dinner—and the lives we returned to after the wedding were the uncomplicated (though we didn’t know it then) lives of single, childless women at the beginning of their careers.  We had car payments, transitional boyfriends, portions of our graduate degrees, and fabulous highlights.  We didn’t have smart phones or birth plans or mini-vans.

We return now full of sorrow, having slammed against the awful reality we vaguely knew was waiting for us in the far away One Day. 

We return to bury one of our mothers.

I’m grateful that my own mother is alive and well, recovering from jetlag from a well-deserved summer trip.  My father is well too, having survived his first ever trip to Europe as a septuagenarian.  I’m proud as hell of them for saying yes to the invitation to travel to Spain—for scouring Dallas for the best (but still cute) walking shoes and greeting a new experience with an open-wide yes-ness that took them thousands of miles from their comfort zones, which typically include rounds of iced tea at Corner Bakery and breakfast at a local diner with friends. 

They are tired, but alive, still hurtling through new, pleasurable experiences.  I’ll see them in October, and we’ll let my daughter boss us all around, most likely marching us straight to the American Girl Doll store.  We’ll eat too much dessert, they’ll spoil my kids rotten with adorable (Southern) clothes and Legos, and we’ll sock away new memories.

But not all my friends can say that.  Some of them have been unable to for years.  As I sit here on a plane to Texas where I’m headed to help a dear friend say goodbye to her mother, smooshed between a hygienically-challenged French citizen and a sweet old lady with a gigantic eye mask, I think, “Oh my God, it has begun.”

The new era that’s actually been underway for a few years.  Plenty of my friends’ parents have had health scares, close calls, bad doctors’ visits, scan revealing ominous spots on vital organs.  It’s always gut-wrenching to watch someone grapple with a sick parent.  It’s awful to be the one with a sick parent.

Today is the first day I will bear witness, as an adult and as a mother, to a friend’s final goodbye to her mother.  When my own mother’s mother died, I remember the women from my mother’s sorority and grammar school who showed up.  One sweet, tearful woman (Helen?)  surprised my mom by showing up at the funeral.  When they embraced, Helen kept saying, “Oh, Erin, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

I thought that sounded so strange.  It wasn’t like my mom was doing some once-in-a-life-time trick, like jumping from a high diving board into a little bucket.  Helen’s words made what was happening at that cemetery in Baton Rouge sound so exciting. So not-to-be-missed.  A circus trick.  A stunt.  A show-for-the-ages.

But here’s what I know now.  The daughter who buries a beloved mother is jumping from a high diving board into a little bucket.  In that bucket is a new world where the daughter no longer has a mother.  She now has a grieving father to support and a new identity as a woman whose mother no longer walks the Earth.  Eventually, she’ll have closets to clean out, clothes to donate, insurance forms to file, and Christmases and grandparents’ days to get through without her mother.  

Seems like jumping from a high dive into a little bucket is fitting metaphor after all.

In my back-and-forth text exchanges with my friend about the funeral arrangements and travel plans, she thanked me profusely for coming.  I typed out “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”  Then I erased it.  It still sounded so strange.  Too happy.  Too celebratory. Too jaunty.

Then, I typed it again.

Because it’s true.  I wouldn’t miss the chance to bear witness to her crossing over to her life.  The one without her mother.

Because it has begun.

 

 

This entry was posted on August 16, 2014. 22 Comments

What’s So Wrong With Selfishness?

 

Like anyone else active on social media the past two days, I’ve been inundated by coverage of Robin Williams’ death.  It’s my own fault, of course.  I keep scrolling through Facebook, clicking here and there, and absorbing heated emotions from virtual strangers.

In the debate about whether suicide is or is not a selfish act, I’ve seen particularly nuclear reactions.  More than half my feed is incensed at some conservative media personality whose incendiary rant about the inherent selfishness of suicide sent people into the stratosphere.

Here’s my question: What’s so wrong with selfishness?  Why are defenders of “depression is an illness” working so hard to untangle suicide from selfishness?  I believe that depression is an illness.  I also believe that addiction is an illness.  I happen to call it a disease.  I’m fully on Team Disease/Illness.  Selfishness– it’s not pedophilia or murderous rage or sociopathy.  It’s a shrunken worldview that’s focused mainly on the self.  Is that so horrible?

Because here’s the thing.  Addiction is a disease that makes you selfish.  Addicts in recovery agree on this– the whole point of the Twelve Steps of recovery is to move addicts out of selfishness and self-seeking into a world of happy usefulness.  So why do we need to rescue addicts from the truth of their condition: addiction makes you selfish.  Trudging the road to happy destiny means letting go of myopic self-will and joining the world of the living.

When I was 19 years old I was a raging bulimic.  All I thought about was food– how to get it, where to get it, where to throw it up and then how to get more once I did.  All through my English class discussion of Beloved, I was thinking about the granola I was going to eat and throw up.  On a date with a lovely Sigma Chi fellow, I couldn’t keep my brain from endlessly turning over what I would binge on when he dropped me off at my dorm (popcorn or pretzels or pizza?).  My sister came to visit at college, and I spent the whole time trying to sneak into the bathroom and purge our meals.  My roommate organized a banquet, but I bailed because I was too deep in my disease/addiction.

Was I selfish? Yes, of course. God, there’s nothing more selfish that blotting out everything in the world so that I could finally and at last be all alone with my beloved, comforting, and ultimately lethal food stash.  Nothing mattered at all.  My heart was suffocating from all the bingeing and purging.  I could no more feel or offer love than crawl to Mars.  My whole world was about me and my drug of choice (food).

Was I sick? Yes.  Oh so sick.  It was over twenty years ago, and I still marvel at how sick I was.  I was definitely depressed, but that was impossible to separate from my potentially fatal behavior around food.

In recovery, I’ve come to understand what my disease will do to me.  I’m promised that if it goes unchecked– my wild bulimic impulses– I will end up either dead or institutionalized.  Would that be selfish?  To throw away all my blessings– my husband, my two kids, my healthy body, my agile brain, my creative impulses, my friendships? Sure.  Would I be powerless over that?  Yes.  That’s the tricky thing….I’d be powerless and it would be selfish and tragic and painful and galling and shocking.  A sad, sad, shame.  If my addiction one day grips me and pulls me back and returns me to the state I was in when I was 19 years old, then the people around me would have every right to be angry and call me selfish.  They’d be right.   I’d never take away from them their perceptions of me in my disease– selfish, emotionally unavailable, shut down, sick.

That’s the thing about addiction: It takes every human impulse and perverts it.  It’s a bomb going off, sending shrapnel flying in every direction.  It unleashes an otherworldly amounts of pain and emotion.  Addicts are selfish, sure.  Of course.  But they are sick and suffering with a fatal disease.  And sometimes the disease wins.

Maybe that’s the difference.  In the case of Mr. Williams, I see him as having died from addiction, not from depression.   I don’t condemn him for being selfish, but I won’t rescue any addict from the truth of the disease.  When encountering addicts in the throes of their addiction, however, I hope my first response is detaching with love from their self-destructiveness.  In that space, I hope I find compassion, loads and loads of compassion.  For them and for myself.

 

No One Told Me Their Wrestling Would Be So … Wrestle-y

There’s a half-moon-shaped bruise on my right calf.  Looks like a four-inch sickle.  I earned it when Sadie’s head slammed into my leg.  At the time I was peacefully reclining on the floor, waiting for her to join me for a little mother-and-child reading before bedtime. She, however, was busy trying to put Jeff in a half-Nelson.

 

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Grabbing my calf, I was all, hey, kiddo, I grew up watching the Von Erichs “wrestle” every Saturday morning.  Every time one died, I cried real tears.  I had consecutive crushes on each of them (never Fritz, come on, I’m not Lolita).  I know wrestling.  My brother used to put me in the stomach claw, and I learned to ka-pow him where it really hurts.  I know from wrestling.

Given my extensive early training in wrestling over the ottoman and in the yellow linoleum floor in our otherwise placid 1970’s household, you’d think I’d be better equipped to embrace my own children’s need to get their rough-and-tumble on.  But I’ve been reluctant.  I’m worried one of them will get hurt.  I’m worried what very few precious items I own (St. Francis statue from my parents, Willie Nelson poster, Ikea lamp) will get ruined in the melee.  So far they are too little to do real damage, but there are boo boos and head bonks.

I did some research and learned that this physical play turns out to be very good for kids.  My instinct to make them sit down and work the crossword puzzle quietly is misguided.  Kids need to rough-house with one another, and I need to let them explore this side of themselves.

Easy? No.  Worthwhile? Science says yes.

Click here to see how I’ve come around on wrestling.  It’s good for kids– builds resilience, physical strength and makes their brains stronger.  So, convert that basement to a rubber room and let ‘em at each other.

 

This entry was posted on August 12, 2014. 4 Comments

Lessons From My Job Search: People Are Generous and Helpful

Outlaw Mama readers have come to expect a certain level of snark and wise-cracking when they visit these pages. For those readers, I apologize for what follows. I’m about to out-Oprah Oprah. I’m so flush with the spirit of human kindness that I’m glowing. And it’s all because of my growing understanding of how excellent people are.

 

Actual post-it note on my computer becuse POSITIVE

Actual post-it note on my computer because POSITIVE

 

 

I know this because of my current job search. My existing job ends in February, so I’ve been thinking about my next steps. Thinking out loud, actually, and people are hearing me and helping me. There’s not a single person who has refused to meet with me or failed to put me in touch with someone they know who is doing what I’d like to do.

 

Say it with me now: People are AMAZING.

 

I’m not just talking about people who know me and love me, though those people have been stellar supporters of this process. I’m talking also about virtual strangers. The friends of friends who’ve never laid eyes on me and who don’t yet know what a vivid conversationalist I am—those people have met me for coffee at 8:00 AM to tell me about their jobs.   I’m talking about people who pulled all-nighters getting ready for an expert deposition and still met me for lunch the next day.

Who are these big-hearted people and how did I get so lucky?

 

Ya’ll, I’m humbled. I’m amazed. This experience has increased my joy by at least 12%.   Now, I’m having so much fun looking for my next job that I may be sad when I get it.

 

These people are shining the light on the big, wide world. I like what I see.

 

At first, it was mostly other working mothers who were reaching out to me and for me. It gave me chills to feel so looked after and to know that all of them had my back. I tried not to embarrass them on applications and in interviews. None of my prospective employers need to know that my hobby is Willie Nelson. It sends the wrong message.

 

But as the process expanded, it wasn’t just working moms. It was all kinds of women– stay-home moms, single moms, grandmas. At some point, I realized, ohmyGod, men were helping me too.

 

I’m oozing gratitude right now. If a mosquito bit me, it would fly back home and write a gratitude list. I can hardly remember grumpy, cynical me. Where’d she go?

 

And to think: when a position I really wanted didn’t pan out, I was super bummed. Everyone told me that something better would come along. They were right—I know it’s true and I don’t even have my next position yet. See, had I gotten that job, I would never have learned how generous and abundant the universe is or how many people would freely give their time to help me realize my dreams.  That’s as valuable as any job I could ever get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Want To Raise A Resilient Kid?

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I want my kids to be resilient.  I want them to bounce back after losing a competitive round of Candy Land or roll with the disappointment when their favorite popsicle flavor is not available.  When I think of all the things that they will face in their lives– acne, spelling bees, heartache, identity theft– it seems like best thing I could give them is the tools to face the great ups and downs that are inevitably coming.

But how? How do you teach your kids to dig deep and dust themselves off?  Certainly I hope I model that, but I’m still looking for other ways to reinforce to them that in the face of disappointment, the best course is to face it head-on and then keep going.

Recently, Sadie surprised me by showing me that resilience doesn’t always look like redoubling your efforts at the same task.  Sometimes, getting on with it, looks like changing course and following the bliss of another path.

 

Click here for my new post on Mom.Me about how Sadie abandoned jump ropes for soccer balls and taught me something I needed to know.

I’ll Take “Totally Unfair” For $500, Alex

In long distance races, runners who need to bolster their energy suck down a liquid carbohydrate called GU.  GU is an energy that comes in different flavors– chocolate, banana (vomitous), cappuccino– and go down smoothly.  The jolt of energy is immediate; legs run faster, spirits soar higher; miles melt away.

I’ma need a GU to keep going on this project.   Come day 10 of this exercise, I will need to swallow something sweet to amp me up and propel me through the next stretch of days.

But today is only Day 6.  I knew one of my days would have to involve Cancer because John Green.  Today is that day.

Enjoy!

(PS: Tomorrow I am not posting my story because I have something else to post, but don’t think that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.  Posting and writing: Two different things.)

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Day 6:  Last Rights

 

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Mom and I did a heroic job not fighting in the hospital. Every time a new nurse came on shift, she’d invariably comment, “It’s so nice to see a mother and daughter getting along.” The religious ones saw the hand of God in our relationship. (It was a Catholic hospital.) I guess the thinking was that God must have given my mother the strength to side by my side all those weeks. To me, I guess they thought God bestowed the strength to fight the tumors. Most of the time I was either too drugged up on morphine or too tired to care what manifestations of the spirit they projected on me.

 

Most of the time, I was content to doze in and out of consciousness, watching my mother read her Nora Roberts or flip through the TV stations. She hated to stop on the news because it was depressing, and she knew I needed “positivity.” The only show I remember her watching from start to finish was Jeopardy! She’d stand up and clap when she got an answer right and squeeze my hand when I whispered the right answer for final jeopardy. She always forgot to phrase her answer as a question, which bugged me for some stupid reason.

 

I should have known that all that peaceful time would come at a cost. We’d gone almost three weeks without so much as an eye roll (from me) or an exaggerated sigh (from her). Our antiseptic idyll was bound to crumble and be ground to dust, like the bones of my femur, patella and the right side of my face.

 

It was a Sunday morning and she’d been flipping around looking for anything other than the coverage of Tiger Woods’ shameful eviction from his Florida home at the hands of his golf-club-wielding wife. “That’s irony for you,” Mom said, laughing as she zoomed past CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews.

 

What made her settle on the televised broadcast of the evangelical preacher—the one with bigger teeth than Bobby Kennedy and boofier hair than half the retirees in West Palm Beach? If only she’d had the stomach for George Stephanopolous or Anderson Cooper, then maybe our last words to each other wouldn’t have been screamed at the top of our lungs over the protests of the head nurse and the resident (radiology) who happened to be passing by when I threw the remote control at the window.

 

I snapped. It’s true. The toothy preacher told a seven-minute story about young cancer patient (just like me!) who had such immense faith in God that she never once questioned Him. “She never let her cancer get her down, she never blamed God, she remained steadfast in her faith.” Punchline: God healed her. Because of her faith. Subtext: I still had my cancer because I didn’t have enough faith. Stupid me, I sometimes got pissed about being a seventeen-year old with terminal cancer.

 

“Turn it off, Mom.” The last thing I needed was some leader of a mega-church with stock in whitening strips telling me “if only I believed” my cancer would go away.
“Mom. Change it.” She didn’t. Tears pooled in her eyes, and she grabbed my hands. “Do you want to pray, honey?”

 

“No. I want you to change the channel.”

 

It took three hot seconds to end up where we always did when we fought—my poor decisions and her bad taste.

 

The radiologist turned off the TV. “Maybe you’d like to grab some coffee downstairs,” he said, as he grabbed my mom’s arm and escorted her out.

 

I never saw her again.

 

Alex, I’ll take “totally unfair” for $500, please.