Archive | August 2013

Cheering On My Administrative Assistant Self: Better Late Than Never

I’ve been reading Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden about a young man’s escape from a brutal North Korean prison where he was born into what amounts to slavery.  You know, light summer reading.  Reflecting on the unthinkable atrocities that occur in Camp 14, it’s a little hard to talk about my relationship to work here in the land of the free.

But I’ma do it anyway.

* * *

Working hard to change another person: Not worth it and not possible.

Working hard to change another person: Not worth it and not possible.
Image from Forbes.com

 

Once upon a time, before I had a law degree but possessed about a tablespoon of self-esteem and a kilo of pent-up ambition, I took a job at a fancy place as an administrative assistant. I figured who needs to use her Master’s degree? Not this lady!

My boss was imposing and grumpy and everyone around the office was intimidated by his mood swings.  I never saw any swings:  he always seemed dour, critical, and negative.  I tried with everything inside my codependent little being to bring him some sunshine everyday, including my cheerful mood (all fake), faxing things in a timely manner (and jamming the fax machine every other time), and pretending the job filled up every single longing in my life (gigantic farce).

He was never inched out of his bad mood no matter how perfect I was.  I even stopped jamming the fax machine (mastery!) .  Out of a boredom I thought would kill my internal organs, I started studying for the LSAT from my desk (something to do!), and I thought of ways to organize his “Honors and Awards” file that I thought would be most pleasing (it wasn’t).  I thouht he might appreciate my ambition and my acknolwedgement of his.

It didn’t work. I was sure there was a warm center of him that I could crack if I only … if only … I didn’t know how, but I was happy to keep trying.

So, I tried.  The harder I tried, the less his mood budged from his status quo.  I stared at those LSAT practice questions asking me whether Sally was sitting next to a long-haired boy or a short-tempered girl and wondered If I was smarter, would he be happier?  My thoughts returned to my boss like a tongue returns to a sore tooth.  If I rearranged his incoming mail, might he soften towards me?  I tried to grasp the logic of the LSAT test while figuring out how to please the unpleasable.  Both of them confounded me profoundly.

I went to dark places during that job.  Places where it seemed like the truth was whispered: I’m stupid. It’s my fault. He hates me. I can’t do anything right.  But now I know those were lies.  Or they were truths that didn’t belong to me.  It was never my fault that his AMEX card was stolen while he was doing a speaking engagement in Ann Arbor.  I wasn’t my fault when the thread count on the sheets were too low (or was it high?).  It wasn’t my fault that the Dean of Yale College never returned his calls.

None of it was my fault. 

Years later, I get to finally get behind that young administrative assistant and cheer her on.  I travel back in time to assure her that she will find her path out of the miserable cubicle; it’s not her fault he’s unhappy; there is NOTHING she can do to fix it; and that Sally was most definitely sitting next to a long-haired boy.

Better late than never.

* * *

In other news, if you have checked Facebook or Instagram or read any blogs lately you know that it’s Miley Cyrus week back-to-school time.  There’s puh-lenty of ink spilled about that these days, so here’s my two cents on how to support a MOM going back to work.  I made a lot of mistakes upon returning to work.  Don’t do what I did.  Read here at Mom.Me about how to avoid my mistakes.

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Houseguesting For Dummies

I have no idea how to be a good houseguest.  In fact, I suck at houseguesting.  I don’t do it often so I don’t know all those unwritten rules that frequent houseguesters somehow know.

Who wants to host me? Image credit: Wikimedia commons

Who wants to host me? Image credit: Wikimedia commons

My most recent stint as a HG proves I need a giant, bright yellow book called Houseguesting For Dummies (it can go next to my unread copy of Moving Without Going Psycho for Dummies).  Here are the areas where I need tips/guidelines/boundaries.

  1. Invitation.  Are you allowed to invite yourself to someone’s house? Can you bring your two kids along?  Recently, I emailed an out-of-state friend to see if I could come crash for a night with my super tidy and hardly-talk-at-all-except-with-indoor-voices children.  I used the private messaging over at Facebook, and I totally acknowledged her newborn son, so I get some points for that even if I lost a bunch for inviting myself and my kids to stay with a friend who has a newborn.
  2. Giving The Hostess An Out.  I think this was an area where I scored high, because I wrote, “You can say no if you want to. Please don’t feel obligated. It’s not like we’ll sleep on the streets, though Jeff and I might end up in D-court if I don’t get all three of us out of the way while he deals with our movers.  But totally. For reals. Say no if that doesn’t work.”  Who doesn’t respond well to that type of passive aggressive victim-y correspondence?
  3. Fending For Myself.  This one is nearly impossible for me. I am rabidly afraid of opening someone else’s fridge or cabinets. I trace this back to being a fat young kid who internalized the idea that I had no business looking for food. Or eating.  Today, this phobia makes it hard to get myself breakfast unless there is a fully cooked bowl of oatmeal just sitting on the counter with a spoon in it with the following engraving: Christie Tate, please eat this! You gotta put some meat on those bones.
  4. Asking For A Blanket.  This is like #3 but it doesn’t involve food.  Let me illustrate: Once I was a HG and the room I was staying in was so cold that I scooched off my air mattress and into the closet, because I thought it would be warmer to be near clothes.  I was a grown ass woman but too afraid to look for a linen clost or GASP! ask for a blanket.  I operate as if a HG is not allowed to take up space or need anything.  Because everyone loves invisible HGs.
  5. Bringing A Gift.  This one’s tricky, right? Do you stop and get a generic Yankee candle from TJ Maxx before showing up on someone’s doorstep?  You could.  I’ve certainly done it.  In a perfect world, I’d have some baked goods that are in concert with my hostess’ dietary aspirations or offer something wonderful I’d crafted just for her front door.  Most recently, however, I faux pas’ed.  Yes, I bought a soft cotton onsie for the little baby, but I also brought my hostess and her partner: two (unused) vibrators that I scored (for free) from BlogHer ‘1312.  Nothing says I appreciate your hospitality like “hey, want some sexual healing in a dusty box from a blogging conference I went to last year”?

You can see why I need that manual right?  Feel free to invite me to be your houseguest in the comments, but please know, I am all about of female pleasure devices, so you’ll likely get a wreath from the clearance aisles at The Homegoods Store.

Hiding Behind Achievement: Why A Valedictorian Makes Great Grades

As my law school career wrapped up in 2003, I wondered if I would be asked to give a speech since I was the valedictorian.  What would I say? 

From wikimediacommons.com

From wikimediacommons.com

 Lucky for everyone, my law school didn’t do student speeches during graduation. 

A decade later, I still wonder sometimes what I would have said.

I wasn’t as snarky funny then as I am now, so I probably would have been very serious and made a heady speech about how we have to use our degrees for the betterment of humankind.  I would have quoted famous lawyers like Lincoln or Kennedy or Ed from that TV show about the lawyer who runs a bowling alley.  I wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to mention Costco because I couldn’t afford a Costco membership until I had a few years of that phat firm salary under my belt.

I probably would have tried to skew my experiences to make myself sound more service-y and socially conscious than I had time to be.  Because guess what? When you are busy over-studying and convincing yourself from DAY ONE that you should make every sacrifice possible to make spectacular grades or maybe something awful will happen (like death or being “merely average”), there isn’t much time to recycle your Diet Coke cans, much less give back to society in a meaningful way.

It’s a pretty self-absorbing enterprise to study so hard to you end up first in a law school class of 170 other students.

So I guess I could say a few things to those law students starting out this month, even though I’ve heard that millennials don’t give a rat’s tooter about what an old fogie like me has to say.

I’ll say it anyway.

First tip: Don’t leave thirty minutes into a St. Patrick’s Day parade to go sit in a Caribou Coffee alone outlining the principles of interstate commerce for a final exam that is still 8 weeks way.   Don’t cancel a date scheduled for Sunday because your ungraded property law mid-term is on Tuesday afternoon. If you look around and there is no one else in the library on a Friday night at 6PM, then maybe you need to take a hard look at yourself and ask, “Why am I here without a single one of other students in my class?”

Because here’s what you may find out if you are a law student like I was: It’s awfully lonely sitting in the library when everyone else has decided, sanely, to have dinner with their families or head out of town for the weekend or to home to watch the OC while doing laundry.  The whole damn thing is so unbearably lonely it makes my heart spasm to remember it.

To be clear, when the registrar confirmed my GPA, I had moments of total euphoria.  I’ve worked so hard for this.  And I had.

I loved everything about law school:  Intellectual challenge.  Great professors.  A promising career waiting to greet me with open arms and billable hours requirements.

But I was also hiding.  I was hiding behind the studying, studying, studying because that was easier than dealing with my personal life, which was stunted in ways that would be painful to grow through.  Law school achievement was a shield I used to distract myself (and others) from what was obviously missing in my life: Deep and meaningful relationships (especially the kind that could be celebrated with sexual intercourse).

So it was amazing to land where I did in the heap, but I knew the truth:  I didn’t have the courage then to take my foot off the gas and un-bury myself from my studies so I could also work on relationships and my personal life. 

I would have traded a few tenths of a point for some of the social skills I was missing, if I’d only known how.

I Swear I’m Not Hysterically Crying Because I’m Stressed

I’m handling the move just fine.  Really. I’m fine.  What’s there to be stressed about? Those 30 cardboard boxes on my dining room table? Why would that be stressful? They are all broken down.

Proof I'm not stressed: Stressed people don't post pictures of cutie pie cats.  Image credit: http://www.desura.com/groups/cat-lovers/images/stress-cat

Proof I’m not stressed: Stressed people don’t post pictures of cutie pie cats. Image credit: http://www.desura.com/groups/cat-lovers/images/stress-cat

Oh, that thing about how Costco is no longer a mile away, but now is like 4.5 miles away down a long, dark road? Why would that be stressful? Just because my happy place remains just out of reach for the foreseeable future and my will to live has evaporated like so much chimera.

Nope. Not stressed.

The dry cleaners doesn’t have candy for my kids so I had to deal with their tandem tantrums upon depositing my dry cleaning yesterday.  That wasn’t stressful.  Who doesn’t want to introduce themselves to the neighborhood by having their children break the sound barrier down one of the most famous streets in all of Chicago? (Michigan Avenue)

It’s not remotely stressful to not know where that box with my workout clothes is.  Who needs to work out when she is SO CLEARLY not stressed?  And the fact that Jeff and I have traded off unpacking the kitchen, which has resulted in both of us instituting systems that as of yet appear to be incompatible? What’s the big deal? He thinks that oven mitts go where I am positive the sixteen spatulas he insisted we keep should go.  That’s not stressful; it’s a marital challenge.  Like Biggest Loser for couples, except I am pretty sure I am gaining weight, but not from stress eating.

Because I am not stressed.

Maybe you heard that I spent 20 minutes crying in therapy because the stupid fucking sellers of our new house didn’t leave us a mail key and I am fixated on an out-of-print writing book I ordered and a sizable check that is currently lost in the bowels of the postal system of this great country.  It wasn’t stressful at all when the management company told us we had to hire a locksmith to get into our mailroom.  Those tears weren’t stress.  They were tears of pity for the sellers who have wreaked havoc on our lives since we first spotted this home and entwined our lives with their for the span of time it took to buy their house.  Bless their hearts.

Ahem.

So, yeah, totally not stressed.  There is not an emergency stash of chocolate Clif Bars (because they are “healthy” and also: Chocolate) in my bathroom closet just in case I need a fix as I wade through this decidedly not stressful time of my life.  (And I certainly haven’t eaten more than half the box in my first 4 days here. (They come 12 to a pack.)).

I’ve been rolling with the little moguls that life has put in my path.  Laid back, I’d call myself.  Sadie slathered her arms and legs with Desitin and then walked all over our new floors.  That’s cool, honey, I’m so happy you did that experiment. What did you learn?  I’m psyched about Simon’s new hobby, which I believe is best referred to as “pediatric kleptomania.”  Now I’ve got a mini van full of toys that don’t belong to us and a kitchen decorated with white footprints that smell like ass cream from the fucking devil.

It’s all part of the magical, colorful tapestry that is my life.  And it’s not stressful so if you see me losing my ever-living shit in the near future, please know I am not stressed.  I’m just crying tears of wonder and joy that all this is mine.  Mine all mine.

How Fierce Is Your Mama Bear Routine?

The mama bear routine.  Have you embraced it?  Have you snapped at strangers who have tried to impose idiotic ideas on your children?  (Think: little boys don’t cry!)  Have you told the childcare workers at the gym that you would rather not see your child festooned with princess paraphernalia after you ran your ass ragged on the elliptical?

I may or may not have done some of those things.

You say longhorn steer, I say bear.  It's my blog.  (Image credit: wikimediacommons.com)

You say longhorn steer, I say bear. It’s my blog. (Image credit: wikimediacommons.com)

I had two major fears about my status as a Mama Bear before I had any cubbies.  My first fear was that I would be an over-the-top jackass imposing my will  on the whole wide world in the name of “protecing my kids.”  My second fear was that I would be a pushover who let other kids bully my kids and other parents bully me.

The truth is that I am somewhere in the middle.  I’m not terribly fierce, but I speak up when someone talks down to my kids or tries to shut them down emotionally.  I pick and choose when to intervene between my children and the other people they encounter in the world.  (I am still mulling over an interaction where a caretaker went to great lengths to tell Sadie she didn’t want to be like her “because she’s fat and no one wants to be fat.”)

It’s mighty hard to know when to jump in with all my mama bear gusto.  But I am crystal clear on one thing: It’ll be a frigid day in hell when I correct my children’s grandparents.  Like Kelvin zero.

Wanna know why?  Click here for my latest on Mom.me about why the grandparents get a pass.

Making The Perfect Running Mix

The first rule to Making the Perfect Running mix: you do not talk about Making The Perfect Running Mix.

The second rule of Making the Perfect Running Mix: don’t quote stupid fucking movies– just make a mix.

For you young readers, this is what  a tape looks like.

For you young readers, this is what a tape looks like.

(Yes, we all know that’s it’s really a “playlist” in popular parlance, but I won’t be hamstrung by your politically correct nomenclature. It’s a mix and it always will be.)

I’ve given this subject a lot of thought this summer because over 75% of my runs have sucked so bad I almost took up Zumba.   I blamed the weather.  Then it cooled off, so I blamed my uterine lining.  Other culprits: gas, grief, El Nino, Congress, imaginary cancers eating my  muscles, early on-set Ebola virus.

Then it hit me.  My music sucked.  I was running to the same playlist (composed in August 2012) every single time, which might work for individuals who more highly prize routines and predictability, but it was not working for me.

Of course you have to update your music– just like you’re supposed to retire your shoes after 500 miles (which may be a conspiracy on the part of shoe makers to get us to buy more).  If you’ve listened to Fun. for over 300 miles, it’s time to visit your local iTunes account and make yourself some new magic.

I spruced up my music and now I’m running better.  Faster.  Longer. No more daydreaming about how I probably have a rare strain of chronic functional abdominal pain or an undiagnosed tumor that manifests as a side stitch and a bad attitude.  Now, I’m running like the goddamned wind.

So to anyone suffering from shitty music syndrome, here’s some tips for Making the Perfect Running Mix.

  1. Don’t Try To Be Cool.  Look, it’s your playlist. It’s private, like your sex log or your scab collection.  No one’s gonna see it so don’t include music you think will impress others.
  2. Sentimental favorites.  You loved the Wham Rap? Milli Vanilli? Carly Simon?  Old school MJ? Put it in there, because the combination of nostalgia and endorphins will get your higher than a funny mushroom you can buy from that greasy guy who lives behind your cousin’s garage.  Tony Bennett reminds you of your parents slow dancing in the living room? RuPaul reminds you of losing your virginity on Shenandoah Lane in Highland Park? What are you waiting for? Put it on there because you may need it at mile 3 when your fatigue hits.
  3. Rebellious Anthems.  Let’s see: Maybe you teach feminist theory at the local college, but you love Blurred Lines, even though it suggests that (1) good girls don’t like sex and (2) that “girls” are animals that need to be domesticated.  Or maybe you are an officer of the law but you love cop killer gangsta rap.  Maybe you are a homophobic right-wing preacher but you love Cher in that forbidden fruit kind of way.  PUT THOSE SONGS ON YOUR MIX.  The thrill of rebelling against who the world thinks you are as you run with the music piped into your ears will help you cover many a mile.
  4. Cheese Out.  When all else fails, add in some Chariots of Fire or that Natalie Merchant song where she’s all “thank you, thank you” for being Kind and Generous.  Maybe some Whitney singing about the children or Elton John singing to the gone-too-soon Princess Diana.  You’ll be surprised how a little schmaltz will send you flying to the finish line.

Unpacking Boxes Is Not A Problem; Bulimia Is A Problem

 In the midst of recent chaos, I found myself thinking, helpfully: I feel fat.  Am I getting fat?  Then there were nights when a handful of Junior Mints failed to do their job of soothing me.  New thought: Shit, I’m using food to medicate anxiety. 

While I’ve had a great deal of recovery from bulimia/anorexia, and I can often joke about my relationship with food, there was a time when there was nothing funny about the stuff I was doing with food.

Today I am sharing an essay about my early recovery from an eating disorder.  It reminds me what real problems are: killing myself with food by purging every day. That’s a problem I used to have.  It was a big one.  Remembering a precarious time in 1992 helps me get in touch with reality: Having boxes to unpack in a new home isn’t a problem;  it’s a luxury– one that could be snatched from my hands  if I don’t remember who I am, where I come from, and what my diseased thinking around food could do if I don’t stay close to my recovery.

Image credit: wikimedia commons

Image credit: wikimedia commons

* * *

I stared at the ceiling of my dorm room. 

I thought about my schedule for the next day.  Sundays were usually relaxing, but finals were about to start so we’d be camped out in the library with half the school.  I had been relying on a steady diet of Hot Tamales, Diet Coke and purging to get me through for months.  Now all of that was off the table.

No one knew I had gone to the meeting. I was scared to tell anyone just in case it didn’t do any good.  My parents and best friends had figured out that I was getting really weird about food; they suspected the worst, and they were right.

For years I summoned every ounce of willpower to control the bingeing and purging, but my reserves could no longer bring full 24-hours of relief from the cycle.  The week before I went to my first meeting I fainted in the shower after trying to throw up a chocolate muffin.  I believed that if those 12-step meetings didn’t work I would probably die like a junkie, except instead of heroin and needles I would be surrounded by snacks from a vending machine and lots of wrappers.

I turned on my side and stared at the wall.  In the darkened room I could make out the picture on the wall.  I could see an outline of myself with my sorority sisters—my silver hoop earrings and the letter shirt I wore on the day we pledged.  It was supposed to be a happy day.  I’d been invited in—my name was on the stationary engraved in gold and blue letters.  That was just over a year before and even though I couldn’t see in the dark, I remembered how my eyes looked that day.  I passed as a normal college girl, but my eyes betrayed me to anyone looking closely.  They were puffy around the edges and there was a sadness that was usually mistaken for shyness.

Right after I got my invitation to join the sorority, we were assigned “big sisters” from the class above us.  It was a tradition to spend the night at the house altogether. My big sis, a sweet girl from my all-girls high school in Dallas, drove me to my dorm to grab what I needed for the overnight.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, leaving her to idle in the parking lot while I ran up to my room.  I was supposed to be packing a bag with a contact lens case, some deodorant and something to sleep in.  But, first I stuffed my mouth full of as many pretzels and crackers as I could.  I thought about going for the popcorn, but the kernels hurt my throat when they came back up.

As that the picture was snapped later that afternoon, I was obsessing about how many calories I had digested during the binge.  Did I get it all out?

Now in the dark, I wondered how different I would have looked if I had started going to 12-step meetings years ago.

I flipped again and stared at the ceiling. Had I really introduced myself to everyone as “Christie, a bulimic”? The details of the meeting swirled in my head.  It had seemed like an utterly unremarkable way to spend an hour until the woman next to me started talking.  “I used to drive around at night eating until I was sick,” she explained, “but I don’t do that anymore.”  As I heard her tell her story, I realized that I had actually gone a few minutes without thinking about food for the first time in years.

For years my bulimia had been gaining strength like a hurricane that starts as a colored smudge on the radar way off in Atlantic Ocean, but eventually gains speed and destroys entire coastal cities. Areas of my life were slowly being picked off by bulimia’s high winds.  There was no dating, very few friends—all of that replaced by piles of secrets about food.  My energy was devoted to food—where to get it, how to eat it secretly and how to throw it up. I knew every bathroom on campus.

But some part of me—brain, soul, spirit—came to a standstill during the meeting.

“Do you have any questions?” A young woman with kind eyes asked me when the meeting was over.  I was overwhelmed and afraid that the buzzing would start again as soon as I got in my car alone.

“I’m just wondering what I should eat. . . ” I sputtered out what sounded like half-statement and half-question.  I’d betrayed my biggest secret: a devastating ignorance about the most basic of human functions.

“We suggest that you eat three meals a day,” she said simply, handing me her number on a piece of notebook paper.  “Call me before you throw up again.”

“That’s it?” I asked, feeling the panic rise, wondering what I would do when the obsession started again.

“Come to meetings.”

After the meeting I shocked myself by not bingeing even though I was alone and my food stash was right there.  I didn’t let myself hope that my new-found freedom would last or that I would never find myself again on my knees before the toilet coaxing food from my gut to the bowl.

I felt sleep coming, at last.  I reached my hand up to the shelf above my bed and felt the piece of paper that had the nice lady’s number on it.  I planned to call if I wanted to throw up.

As for what to eat tomorrow, I decided to start with breakfast and then take it from there.