Rooted in the land of torn

It seems that there is an inevitable counterweight to pressure, when things at work begin to move quickly, requiring more focus and time, the details at home get trickier. I suppose I signed on for this, I knew that being a mom and being a business owner would multiply the number of things and people who are my responsibility. What I did not understand was that the peace I make with sacrifice and compromise would not be one and done, I go through it over and over again.

“I’ve got this.”

“I am failing.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I have to do this.”

“What have I done?”

“Why do I do this?”I read the words of other women on both sides of this, I read the comments of dads. I skim the articles about how kids are better with moms at home and on and on. We’re all different, managing different circumstances and dreams. Opinions and think pieces either really help or bind me to flashes of regret and fury.

Finley leaned into me this morning, her face letting me know her headache from the day before had not gone away. “What do you think I should do mom?” I nuzzled her and thought about my day. A 2:30pm presentation 45 minutes away, a speaking engagement at 7pm also 45 minutes away, and a morning of rehearsing for both.

“I think you should get up slowly, feel my icy hand, it’s my new wake up weapon,” I placed my hand on her forehead and she squealed and giggled as she wriggled away. “Then you should have a drink of Gatorade, which might help your headache and then, more cold hand, ” she dissolves in laughter, “and then let’s go downstairs and I’ll drive you to school with your sisters and we’ll have a Starbucks date.” She grinned.

I had bought a day. I was disgusted with myself. She didn’t have a fever, it was likely that it was morning blahs, but I wasn’t allowing room for anything but her going to school. I needed her to go to school and I literally felt sick about conning her into it.

Yesterday I snapped at Sean as he tried to get me to focus on my preparation for today. I wanted to listen to the hearings and tune into the press briefing. He nudged and nudged. I yanked the ear buds out and stewed. He’d been right, there are only so many hours in the day and last night and this morning I had to cram.

Dropping the girls off at their schools they were perfectly content, saying I love you and wishing me luck. The Starbucks date was a luxurious 40 minutes of I spy and ‘I remember when…’ we both lingered and declared it the best date ever.

The 2:30 meeting went well, now I’m sitting at another Starbucks killing time after an update that Fin’s headache never went away. Then came a text.

She apologized saying I had too much else to worry about, that she shouldn’t bother me. I corrected her and said that I always have time for her, which is true. Yes meetings and research call for me, but I can break away. I can also stay home for sick days and go on field trips.

It’s just that it’s hard to remember the times that it’s worked perfectly. I feel guilt for the adrenaline I feel when the work stuff goes well. This is inelegant and rushed, but the many ways in which love and purpose crystallize are unpredictable. This late afternoon sun and strangers milling around me as the texts turn to hearts and I love yous and “I’m so excited to hang out with Dad tonight,” is revealing that even in this space between unhurried and overbooked is bittersweet beauty.

 

One Day More

St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans—a scrawled message on the mirror made us happy through and through.

 

Our arrival to the next phase has been an exercise in time bending. My friend Lindsey Mead often says, “Years are minutes,” which to me is breathtaking in its truth. I can still feel the sensation of nursing the girls, whether for sustenance or to ease an injury. Their tiny heads nestled in my arm, impossibly soft fingers patting my side or stroking my chin. I remember the chill of the hard lift chair at Pico beneath me as I watched the three of them ride the lift alone together for the first time. Just like that, it was over, they ride together now.

It was the perfect metaphor for how the success of parenting is in shepherding the kids to be able to move just out of your reach, susceptible to danger, and leaving your arms empty. Sean laced his arm around me and whispered, “You ok, mama?” It won’t be the last time he says those words.

 

Since December Briar has been rehearsing for her role in Les Misérables. Avery was working on a production of her own as a performer, as well as another where she was on the stage crew. They are 20 months apart, bonded in a way that people tell us is not normal, and still, as different as night and day. They are both drawn to the stage, but in it seek very different things.

 

The pull to different schedules and the shifting of the spotlight are challenging, but when done within the tumultuous emotions and energy of puberty it can be heartbreaking. This isn’t because they are girls; it’s a natural evolution between siblings and family unit to spider into new territory, specifically in ways that are not laced together. During Les Mis the song One Day More is threaded throughout, sometimes a cry for one more day, other times a lament to get through one more day. I witness Briar and Avery testing new things, time apart, comparisons, and declarations of identity, I feel caught between the meanings of one more.

 

First, there was a trip to Sephora to explore make-up, not to look like other people, “It’s really like art and I think being able to express myself on my face would be great.” Then there was a late night talk about fitting in and figuring things out, requests to stagger bedtime for alone time or one-on-one time with me, ragged sighs over being interrupted, and eyes rolling over countless things. I can’t buy them clothes anymore, they want to steer toward what they like, which I don’t innately know.

They are often so caught up in what they are doing that my voice doesn’t register. I ache for the fresh-from-the-bath giggles and scents, but a touch on my shoulder and the words, “I can do that for you” is wild.

I cannot have it all and I can. They remember when they were little and many times need to revisit it as much as I do. “Can you tell me things about when I was little? Just until I fall asleep? I want to dream about it, kind of like being little again.”

I smile in the dark and do my best to follow my memories back. Finley is not yet pulling away; she dives deep into goofiness and togetherness. Nearly everything is more enjoyable when she has a sister with her, or me in a pinch. Suppressing the impulse to cajole them into playing together is gritty work; ‘fixing it’ undoes all the work we’ve all done. Then sometimes it just happens.

 

I think about one of the things I’ve had on repeat lately, which is the idea that each day we get the chance to (re)define ourselves. It’s particularly helpful when something crappy happens—harsh words spat in a moment of anger at a sister, something humiliating on the bus, a bad grade.

“This isn’t who you are. Your next test can be different. Any time you want you can choose to do things differently. It doesn’t take away all the hurt, but other people don’t get to say who or what you are.” I’m figuring out that I could stand to use a lot of the wisdom I try to dish out to them.

Day by day we try, holding our tongues for different reasons. This phase we’ve hit takes all of us to new places and understanding how to be who we want to be without losing who we have been and who we love is hard work. There is wistfulness and rage, heartbreak and hilarity.

There is also Finley, a tether and an invitation to joy in the most irresistible way.

She is uncomplicated. I watch the girls use her as permission to play and also as a safe zone. She helps us all articulate why things change and in doing so it feels slightly more gentle. Mostly though, she helps us remember to love for one more day.

 

Count On This

Tomorrow is Wednesday. Babies will be born. People will die. Marriages will end. First crushes will crescendo. People will be hired. New stories will begin. Garbage bags will tear.

We will all feel different things.

As my Instagram feed has shifted, a result of each of us grabbing the reins of our own stories and sharing what we feel is appropriate, I am seeing bouquets of flowers because life is too short not to buy them, as often as I am seeing flowers because life was in fact too short. Mountainous swells of joy follow words that so succinctly portray heartache it doesn’t seem possible that they occupy the same realm.

I have no answers, but I do know one thing—I want to fight time less. Less judgment, less contempt, and more space for light. The other day I was in the car with Fin. The car was idling as we waited for something, though I can’t for the life of me remember what. She was bored, not cross, but definitely not as happy as she could have been.

I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and realized she’d begun to play with a bit of light. Her little fingers twitched and pointed as she made tiny shadow puppets from sunlight.

It occurs to me that we don’t have to have the answers or to be right, but we do need to remember how to let the light in, if not to see, then to keep us company as we pass the time.

 

 

 

 

Stunned Silent Watching Others’ Battles

A week ago we went to see the movie “Embrace—Your body, the movement, global change”. I watched the promotion of it with curiosity. It was strange for me to see a local connection to a deeply personal issue, one of the hosts was my neighbor, friends of mine were posting on Facebook that they would be attending.

I’m used to managing my demons in a private vacuum. I know there are women in my community who have battled with image and that there are abuse survivors, even closet liberals, but I’m more accustomed to finding connections on these issues through the relative safety and anonymity of the internet.

I suppose me talking about anonymity is strange as someone who has voluntarily shared great parts of my life over these last twelve years of writing online. Early on my writing did feel anonymous because no one locally read what I was writing; that has changed. I still have parts of my life that are kept for my family and me.

The themes in Embrace are deeply personal and intimate. I won’t lie, there were scenes that made me gasp audibly. Nudity, candor and a matter-of-factness to the way women’s bodies can be treated like cuts of meat to grade.

Skin       Stomach        Ass        Lips        Breasts       Vulva      Thighs

 

 

Thin women get judged for how they look, heavier women get criticized for liking themselves, older women are chastised for being sexual.

Get over it, go to the gym, eat a sandwich, cover up, dress your age.

One of the things I really valued was that Embrace wasn’t a dissection of the media making women feel bad, it was an honest depiction of various people’s lives. It does not lay blame as it portrays the different ways women feel about their bodies. It also acknowledges that men have complicated relationships with their bodies, but the focus here is on women.

I sat next to Fin, Briar was to her right, then Avery, and then Sean. We were in a booth, which felt safe. The theater was intimate and seeing faces we knew as well as people we didn’t was intense. I was proud and grateful that people in the community wanted to support this movie and participate in this conversation. As the scenes unfolded I heard weeping, I saw parents watching their children’s faces, and I saw heads nodding in agreement. At one point Finley squeezed my arm and pulled me toward her to whisper, “Mama, do you like your body?”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know the answer. Separating years and years of not thinking I was doing enough—working out enough, eating right, moisturizing, grooming, you name it, it ran through my head.

“I’m not sure, but I am trying,” I answered. I felt her shift. I waited, then I said, “No, let me change my answer to I do. I do like my body.” She smiled and squeezed my arm, “I like it too.”

 

Finley asked me if I liked my body. A while later in the movie, Taryn Brumfitt said, “The purpose of your life is not to be an ornament.” I jotted both things down on the notepaper they provided.

I sat through the rest of the movie processing the idea of allowing myself to say that I like my body without qualification. It feels complicated to separate vanity, arrogance, shame, aspiration, and perception. 43 years in, I am so ready to shuck the cloak of not-good-enough. I’ve long since given up trying to understand when I put the damn thing on, I know it doesn’t suit me, nor does it help me. As much as I want to be the best parent that I can, it’s also not possible to do it for somebody else. I am trying, I think I’ll always be and that is ok.

I asked the girls after the movie how they felt. It was hard for them. We talked about Photoshop and peer pressure, and the feeling at school “that you have to do and want certain things by a certain age, but I don’t.”

 

I’m not sure if I expected the movie to be some sort of magic potion that would settle things once and for all. I know that I should be kinder in how I view myself, I want the girls to not pine for “skinnier legs” and “to be small like my classmates,” but those words have already been uttered, along with, “the more athletic kids get treated differently, like the teachers like them more.”

Whether we call it girl power or self-love, I hope that we work together to understand that there is a difference between wanting to improve and wanting to be something or someone else entirely.

 

 

A Game of Chicken with Weight

I have obsessed about weight. In college I abused laxatives. I’ve battled with disordered eating. I said hateful things to myself. I compared myself to women in magazine, classmates, strangers, and, quite possibly, people who didn’t even exist. The lengths I took to keep the bar of how I was supposed to look and what I should weigh just out of reach was staggering. I made it impossible to succeed.

As I raise three daughters I feel terror because of all the very real threats in the world, hating ourselves can be the most devastating. I watch them grow, their shapes changing constantly, and each new contour and curve makes me fall more intensely in love with who they are. They have never had a blemish, freckle, or roll that I have seen as anything short of magnificent, and yet that is still not a way that I can respond to changes in my own appearance.

I’ve largely quieted the voice in my head. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still in there, but she no longer possesses the mic around the clock. I don’t writhe to get out of my own skin like I once did. I donate clothes that don’t make me feel good, I move my body to remind myself of its strength, and I try to lean into the things that I used to hate. I work at loving myself.

I used to have no-touch zones on my body, worried that someone feeling my stomach would think it was too soft, I worried about the size of my butt, the width of my calves, I once came to think that my index fingers were hideously shaped. I had self-loathing super powers, but I couldn’t possibly tell you where they came from. I can’t blame my mom, I don’t remember a pivotal moment in time when I heard or saw something that specifically said I was the wrong shape. This is what terrifies me. How do I help the girls or is it simply inevitable that they will hate parts of themselves?

I want to believe we can do this. I let them see me. I tell them that sometimes we feel sad for no reason or that things can go bad, but that these are moments in time, not concrete definitions. We talk openly about changes, puberty, peer pressure. Tight skirts, skimpy tops, make-up or no make-up. I tell them that it is all ok. I don’t know if that’s enough.

Sisters conquering the mountain.

Taking Action

Today we are going to see Embrace—the documentary. It is one woman’s journey to understand why we apply so much pressure to ourselves and what is at the root of the relentless sense of being less than. I realize that there is a good chance we’ll be exposing the girls to sentiments that they haven’t entertained. They don’t look at each other’s body with envy; they very plainly understand that each of them has her own shape, speed, height, weight, you name it.

The comparisons I hear them make to classmates and celebrities has nothing to do with weight or beauty. Yet. I want to do this with them so that we can all be reminded of perception. I think sometimes we are more receptive to seeing the flaws in self-loathing logic when it isn’t our own voice. “Of course she shouldn’t feel like that” unless of course, the she is me. Right?

“Darling girl, don’t waste a single moment of your life being at war with your body, just embrace it.”

I want to work toward that, and so in a couple of hours, our entire family will go see the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing from the girls on the other side of it.