Me and Numbers: Sizing Up A Dysfunctional Relationship

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I put on my favorite jeans the other day.  Joe’s.  Skinny leg, but not too skinny.  I got them almost two years ago and I wear them like it’s my job. 

But now I love them less.  As I was sliding my right leg in, I noticed the tag.  You know the one where the size is written in 6-font.  I always thought they were size X, but actually, the size was X+1.  For almost two years I loved these jeans for how they make my stumpy legs look almost longish and my C-section pouch look flatter than the Dakotas.  But I also loved them because they were “only” size X.  Now that they are actually one size larger, I love ‘em a little less.

Can we all agree that’s messed up?

From the same section of my broken brain comes this little gem:

I was running home from work yesterday.  It was brighter than high noon, even though it was 5:30.  The wind was at my back, I didn’t have on eight layers of fleece and Gortex.  I was blissing out and saying prayers of gratitude for the exquisite run after all the winter horribleness. 

I was also timing myself.  My first two half-miles were solid.  The next two I ran about 15 seconds slower, but the blue waters of the Lake and the sunshine glinting off the museum campus was so gorgeous I didn’t really care. I mean, I cared because I can’t not care, but I was still smiling and grooving along. 

As I turned to head the half mile back home, my thumb hit my stop watch function on my phone and erased all my “data” from the run.  Not the memory of the sunlight on the lake or the joy of my body moving through time and space.  But the numbers.  The splits.  The proof that I was keep up a 8:30/mi pace.  Gone.
And just like that, the run was diminished– less than what it was when I could look down and see the stats.  It became a French fry with no ketchup; a pizza with no cheese, or a wallet with no Costco card.

Again, can we all agree that’s messed up?

The question is where do I begin to fix this?

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Partner Travels During the Week? Lower Your Standards

Here’s a shout-out to all the parents whose partners travel during the week.   Jeff’s traveled since Sadie was about a year old, so I’ve amassed some advice to share.

Basically, I’ve finally learned to have two different sets of standards: one for when Jeff’s in town and one when he’s not.

Example: When Jeff is here, we do family dinner at the table and you are 99% likely to find proteins, vegetables and a whole grain starch on the table.  On those nights, we all sit in chairs and have discussions that begin thusly: “Sadie and Simon, what were your favorite parts of the day?”

However, on the nights when I solo parent, you are more likely to find me scraping food off the floor to serve to my children than to find a bona fide protein source that I cooked by hand.  I actually haven’t sat down to eat a meal since Monday night, right before Jeff left.  Come to think of it, Sadie ate her “dinner” while riding atop our rocking horse (which she dressed up like Yoda, because why not?).  Not to be outdone, Simon found his digestive bliss while sitting on the potty.  Me?  I stood at the island checking the weather, thinking that if a snow storm or weather system was on its way and likely to deter or delay Jeff’s flight, then I was going to make a run for it.  On foot.  In the rain.  Without a sports bra.

Mama, I'm hungry!

Mama, I’m hungry!

For years, I’ve tried to run the same ship when we were down one parent.  I’ve berated myself for being more short-tempered, for cutting corners, and being less playful when Jeff was gone.  The guilt of turning to the devices of Apple, Inc. to entertain the kids so I can get the dishes washed or take a shower before work has eroded pieces of my soul.  (And the soul doesn’t grow back overnight.  It’s not a goddamned earthworm.)

It simply doesn’t work to keep the same standards on the weeks that Jeff is gone. Period.

 And it’s Jeff’s fault.  If he were just a figurehead or a pop-in-right-before-bedtime dad, I wouldn’t miss him as much.  But he’s busy when he’s home: he does most of the cooking, half of the bedtime routine, half of the morning routine (and how fucking soul-destroying can that piece of the day be?).  Come to think of it, he does at least half of everything.  He’s not perfect– he’s not great with washing dishes and doesn’t seem to realize we have a dirty clothes hamper, but he’s super involved in the big stuff.  Like parenting.  He also must do all of lots of stuff I know nothing about since I am busy doing none of it.  See changing light bulbs, killing rats in the mini-van, explaining to the children how ice gets into the ice maker, and balancing the check book.

My point is that parenting is like a table and if two legs are knocked off it, then the table can’t stand up straight. It’s going to wobble and shit’s gonna slide off of it.  And that’s okay, because there won’t be anyone around to see you scoop stuff off the floor and serve it for dinner.

Would You Do It? Pose For a Painting In Your Birthday Suit?

I’m daring in lots of ways.  Not in the jump-out-of-an-airplane way, but in plenty of ways that allow me to keep my feet on the ground.  Top of my list of daring maneuvers is having kids– letting their gestations and births and subsequent physicality wreak whatever havoc on my body as comes to pass.  To me, that’s braver than jumping out of an airplane because having kids lasts a whole lot longer than the time it takes to float back to solid ground.  (Though, I’d have to be drugged with a fistful of “roofies” before I’d consent to skydiving.)

Before I had kids, I did brave stuff too.  Getting into recovery– that ain’t for the chicken-hearted.  Giving up caffeine– now that’s not for the timid either.  Going to law school.  Traveling abroad alone.  On-line dating.  When I think back on those things, I have the urge to pat younger me on the back and say, “You’ve got spunk, little lady.”

Image credit: Joyce Polance, artist, www.joycepolance.com

Image credit: Joyce Polance, artist, http://www.joycepolance.com

 

I also once posed au natural for an artist who was doing a series of pieces on the Holocaust.  For someone who can’t draw a credible stick figure, the chance to help create art was compelling.  And also a little vain– I’d just run the Chicago marathon and thought, “Well, if I don’t bear it all now, when would I? I’ll never have a body this tight again.”

I think that was a true enough statement.  However, I’ve been rethinking my motives for posing.  And, I’ll just cut to the chase: I’m thinking I might do it again even though…. Even though my body has been altered by gravity, childbirth, and plenty of chocolate ice cream and salty carbs.  Even though I’ve looked better.  Even though I can’t wear a forgiving black ensemble when the artist needs a naked body.

There are lots of reasons not to do it.  But the reasons to go for it are winning out.

To read more about my round-trip journey to contributing my body to the art world, please click HERE.

Diversity Counts

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I can’t stop counting.  I feel like Rain Man.  One, two, three white men to my right.  One white woman and a white man on my left.  At the other table: six white men and two white women.  Later, another white man and an African-American woman join us.

I should stop counting.  What am I trying to prove? Don’t I hate math?

I’m not supposed to care about this.  We’re supposed to be beyond all this, gender and racial politics, right?  I’m neither a sociologist nor a census-taker.  Why am I graphing the race and gender of the room like a graduate student doing work “in the field”?

The food is amazing.  “Prepared by one of the iron chefs.”  Jose Garces.  Latino, I think to myself, realizing I can’t not think about broad social constructs during this dinner.  I concentrate on his expertly prepared chorizo and the perfect cauliflower side dish.  I ask one of the men to pass me more salad.  How often can you get perfect shoots of asparagus in the middle of a snow storm?  I hope it’s not cliché to be a woman asking for seconds on salad.  I don’t want any of the tenderloin, but I make myself take it because the men pile it on, and I don’t have a golf game.  It tastes like raw power.

Speeches are made.  The men who seem so different than I am in ways I can only trace with my index finger give tributes to the guest of honor.  Everyone is brought to tears for the goodbye that has brought us together.  They speak of friendship and loss and memory.  If I close my eyes, I can forget that there are less than ten women in this room, half of them plus-ones, and all of them kind to me during the cocktail hour when we mingle on the mezzanine floor.

In truth, everyone is kind.  Interested in what I do now, how many kids I have.  Boys or girls? Everyone asks.  One of each, I say, knowing that it’s the perfect answer. I’m interested in them: their general counsel jobs, their scions who have joined the family business, their aging parents.

It may or may not be true that the people who visit our table come to talk to the men.  Maybe they seek each other out because they are from the same generation (the one above me), or they know each other from “work,” or have met in rooms like this before.  I don’t approach anyone at all and recognize that’s part of the problem.  It’s definitely not the solution.

I finger my name tag to be sure that everyone knows who I am and how I belong.  Just in case they’re wondering.

It’s weird that I belong here.

I’m definitely not supposed to think that. I’m supposed to be so filled up with my accomplishments and success and good fortune that I would never allow such a traitorous thought.

When everyone’s looking for their coats, I put aside my field work and extend my hand over and over.  I let myself shine.  Corny, I know, but true.  I drink it all in so I don’t wake up with regrets about how I should have stood up taller, or “been myself”, or made more connections.

The next morning I find LinkedIn requests in my email.  I accept them immediately with a stroke of a key.  It’s just that easy.  If I could just stop counting.

What I Don’t Want

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Don’t make me do all the work. Mix it!

 

I don’t want fruit at the bottom of my yogurt or yogurt instead of ice cream.

I don’t want videos screaming at me when I’m scrolling through Facebook while lying quietly in my son’s room waiting for him to fall asleep. 

I don’t want to sleep on the wrong side of the bed.  I don’t want to lie in the bed I’ve made. I don’t want to make the bed only to have them mess it up next time they walk into the room. 

I don’t want the room to be full of this stuff I don’t love and don’t use and don’t like but feel too scared to throw away.  I don’t want to throw away stuff that doesn’t fit even though it makes me feel suicidal and homicidal and regicidal (quick! hide your kings!) to wear shit that doesn’t fit. 

I don’t want J. Crew to guilt me into thinking I need a fucking shoe strategy for spring.  I have a shoe strategy: try to wear matching ones that aren’t hideous. I don’t want to up-sold, down-graded, or side-swiped.

I don’t want to trick myself into thinking the snow is gone forever and my kids will sleep in now because it’s dark outside at 7 AM.  No more tricks.  I don’t want a life that relies on tricks to get me through the long hours when snack is over and dinner is, like, hours away.

I don’t want to hear my own excuses.  I can’t because I didn’t….or I haven’t… or I won’t.  I don’t want to hear my tongue thick with disappointment about this or that. 

I don’t want to burst into tears when the kids have eaten the mango I hid for myself.

I don’t want to cry when someone shows me my mistakes.  I don’t want to push away the idea that other people’s words are like presents in the air that I catch with both hands and open like I believe they are from goddamned Tiffany’s.

I don’t want to wish I was somewhere else when I’m right here.  I don’t want to pray for more money so we can have a vacation when who am I kidding? I hate travel and find vacations traumatizing.

I don’t want to beg God for more Grace, though I clearly need it (I just wish I didn’t need quite so much).  I don’t want to chase the next thing when I’m not sure what exactly this thing is I’m holding right here. 

I don’t want to sneeze on those mornings my back is aching like knives on my spine.  I don’t want to pay extra for toppings or have to ask for dressing on the side. 

I don’t want goddamned egg whites in my omelette or dry-ass toast.  I don’t want to have half the dessert and all of the guilt.  I don’t want to worry about putting my jeans in the dryer or have to remember the insurance cards. 

I don’t want to forget to validate my parking or update my address with the credit card company.  I don’t want to check the fat, remember the passwords, stir the sauce or pinch the salt.

I don’t want to check: spelling, the oil, the thermostat, the roads. 

I don’t want to tie it up with a bow.

Women, Writing, and Grief: My Imaginary Literature Class

Sometimes I pretend I’m a college professor and it’s my job to write a syllabus for a class. (See how the imagination soars when you give up TV?!) As a pretend professor, my goals are to attract lively, insightful, and curious students to sit around and discuss books I want to talk about.  Also? Gotta screen out anyone suffering from misogyny, small-mindedness, fear of sharing ideas out loud, or general douch-baggery.

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My summer class would be called Writing Grief: Contemporary Women Writers Explore Grief in Memoir.  We’d spend a week on each of the following: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent, Splitting the Difference by Tre Miller Rodriquez, Invisible Earthquake by Malika Ndlovu, and Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor.  We’d explore the different ways these process, narrate, cope- and ultimately transcend– the losses they faced.

I’m thinking I could cross-list my class in Women’s Studies, English Literature, and Cultural Studies (Is that a thing or did I just make that up?).

How to get an A in my class:

First of all, you have to take issue with Magical Thinking.  Are you fucking kidding me with Didion’s restrained response to the awful tragedy of her daughter’s coma and her husband dropping dead at the dinner table (after just visiting daughter in the hospital)? Where’s her messy, thrashing, juicy, Steele Magnolia-style grief?  I could barely finish that book because it was all too polished and upper-class-ish for me.  Anyone who fawns unabashedly at this book can’t take home an A.  Maybe not even a B.

I’m pretty sure I’d give an A to any student brave enough to talk about the sexual acting out from Cut Me Loose.  Someone has to start us off because fully 89% of that book depicts the lost and abandoned-by-her-parents Vincent acting out sexually to deal with the grief and trauma of being ousted from her ultra-Orthadox family. How many times did I have to squint at the page because it was so hard to watch her degrade herself over and over with men? Same with Rodriquez’s year following her husband’s sudden death—at one point she called herself a four-letter word for her various sexual exploits as she tried to outrun her grief.  Come to think of it, Ms. Strayed had some wild times following her mother’s death (before she got on the PCT).

God forbid, I ever face similarly tragic circumstances, I pray that I turn to something other than casual sex and cocaine for comfort.

Oh, who am I kidding? I am much more of a curl-up-with-chocolate-and-self-pity kind of person.  I’d never have the wardrobe or the babysitting money to slut it up or snort it up if I was a widow.

If class got slow, I’d asked erudite, open-ended questions like “how did each of the writers understand her own alterity through grief?”  Then, I’d just sit there and beam my intense brown eyes at the students.

At the end of the semester, I’d ask each of the students to bring in a song that best captures the mood of one of the books.  Super extra bonus points for anyone who brings in a Willie Nelson song.  I’m thinking You Were Always On My Mind or Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.  The end of the semester party will take place at Costco.  I’ll buy.

Without that pesky PhD, however, I doubt there’s a college that would hire me (though University of Phoenix sends some promising e-correspondence), so for now college students are safe to take their accounting, computer science, or modern English lit.  But you never know, if they ever let lawyer-Mommy-bloggers take over universities, this is so happening.

The Thing About Change: Some Things Stay and Some Things Go

“I just hate change.  All I can see is what’s slipping away. I’m not in touch with the good parts.”

Those were my opening words to my therapist recently.  It wasn’t a complaint so much as a wish to have different vision.  Like a figure skater who can’t land a jump on her left leg, I can’t survey my life and conclude, “Hey, this is going so well! Much better than I thought.”

And nothing’s wrong– it’s just different.  A recent birthday party for my son filled my house with more of his friends and less of mine.  It wasn’t bad, but it was a shift to not have my kitchen filled with my best friends who’ve loved my family since the day it was created.  With all the new families we’ve met at both kids’ new schools, it’s hard not to wonder who will stick around and be around in two years.  Or four. Or until I die.

It’s already March and I’ve met lots of great people in our new communities, but I’m struggling to take it to the next level.  I sit in the carpool line and wonder who, if any, of the moms I see will one day be close enough to me that I ignore her voice mails or text her in the middle of the night to complain about Jeff’s snoring, Sadie’s attitude or Simon’s erratic sleep.  Like the old chestnut Are You My Mother? I search each face wondering if I’m looking at a bird of a feather or just an airplane or crane.

My therapist dusted off his Yale-educated brain and came up with a brilliant answer to my implicit question: Will I ever love what I’m gaining as much as what I’m losing?  I was referring to friendships that have grown more distant, job offers that never came, dreams that have been deferred well beyond my timetable.

“You gained weight during your pregnancy, right?” He said.

“Um, you don’t remember those glorious 40-50ish pounds I sported thanks to the actual baby and the Fritos?”

 

Here: only 20 lbs in.  Mostly Fritos and mac & cheese.  Some change is good.

Here: only 20 lbs in. Mostly Fritos and mac & cheese. Some change is good.

“Well, did you lose that weight?”

“Yes.  Eventually.”

“Well, there’s something you lost that you don’t miss.”

Kind of hard to argue with that.  It didn’t stop me, but it was an uphill-battle-barefoot-in-icy-nettles kind of situation.  And since that conversation, I’ve felt less like a snow(wo)man in a miniature globe, the pieces and people in my life swirling furiously around me.  I feel more like a woman whose willing to wait and see– what will remain and what will become part of a treasured history.  No pointing in chasing the flakes– I’m just letting them fall around me, trying to enjoy the view.