This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.
Friday, October 31, 2008
For years I have read other people's blogs, read regular contributors to magazines and newspapers, devoured books, and envied all people who write. I never thought of myself as a writer, as someone with something to say that may be of interest to someone else. I like writing, but what's the point if no one ever reads what you've written? My friend Debbie offered a new perspective. After sharing how much we both enjoy writing, sharing little "rants" with each other, and discussing other blogs we have read Deb laid down a challenge: 30 posts in 30 days. Starting October 1st we were both to accomplish 30 posts. Obviously, I didn't quite make the goal. I don't have 30 posts, but what I do have is immeasurable: a new energy for writing, a deep appreciation of the process of organizing my thoughts and putting them to "paper", an enjoyment of writing to anonymous readers, or no readers at all (I have discovered, to my surprise, that it really doesn't make any difference), a journal of sorts, a chronology of what's going on in my life, a new understanding of myself, and a log of how much or how little I am growing as a person.
October is ending. There isn't any challenge for November, this could be my last blog.
It won't be. I love blogging! I love the process. I love the product.
So...thanks Deb for making me.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
In my opinion, breast cancer research is the biggest fraud perpetrated on the American woman in this century.
Putting a little pink ribbon on a product is a bit marketing genius. Someone figured out that women will buy, buy, buy...thinking they are doing something good for breast cancer research. I am not here to dispute how the funds are used. I have no idea if the money goes to breast cancer research or not, it really makes no difference to me because all of the energies are being spent on curing, not preventing. Some of the very products that bear the pink ribbon are carcinogenic. This has to stop. The very products that can lead to breast cancer are being consumed by women who buy them to help fight breast cancer. Anyone else think this is crazy???
Most of the "pink ribbon" clothing being sold is not made of organic cotton. Some of it is even dry clean only. Dry cleaners use formaldehyde to clean the clothes. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. Another chemical, perchloroethylene, or PERC, is used by three out of four dry cleaners nationwide (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/23/earlyshow/contributors/tracysmith/main2507444.shtml) PERC is stated by the EPA to be a possible to probable cause of cancer. Cotton growers use numerous pesticides to ensure the viability of the cotton crop. Pesticides are carcinogens. In fact five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. (cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin) are KNOWN cancer-causing chemicals. All nine are classified by the U.S. EPA as Category I and II— the most dangerous chemicals. (http://www.ecochoices.com/1/cotton_statistics.html)
Cosmetic companies have long been guilty of hidden carcinogens in their products. Many foundations and pressed powders contain aluminum and talc (which contains an ingredient similar to asbestos and is linked to ovarian cancer), numerous dyes and preservatives that all end up in your bloodstream, via the skin, are present as well. Chemicals such as diaminoanisole and FD&C Red 33 are found in hair dyes, and scientists have directly classified both of these as carcinogens. This evidence is also supported by separate studies that link hair dyes to such rare cancers as: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and multiple myeloma. Another study claims that at least 20% of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma found in women is caused by use of hair dyes. Chemicals found in hair sprays, lipsticks, and perfumes are all linked to cancer. (For a complete listing, click on http://www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=3005277).
Parabens and aluminum-based products (both compounds that are found in antiperspirants) raise estrogen levels. Elevated estrogen levels may lead to breast cancer. (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/AP-Deo)
And the worst part is that these companies know all this information. Sure, the can play dumb like the tobacco companies "oh, does smoking cause lung cancer? We didn't know..." but women are gambling their health, not to mention their money, on these products. The FDA does not regulate hair sprays, perfumes, cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, or hair dyes. These products do not have to undergo any rigorous testing or comply to any safety standards. Basically, anything can be in your body lotion that you are rubbing into your largest organ, your skin, and sending right into your bloodstream. Why do you think nicotine and birth control patches are so effective?
And how about the food? When I walked into the grocery store and saw a huge display of M&Ms bearing the pink ribbon packaging, I was furious. Ignoring the fact that obesity puts a woman at a much higher risk for breast cancer (http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20061127/breast-cancer-risk-age-and-obesity), what about the ingredients in the M&Ms themselves? M&Ms are high in sugar. Sugar feeds cancer. (http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/nutrition/sugar.htm), (http://www.healingcancernaturally.com/sugar-and-cancer.html) M&Ms also contain artificial colors, are high in fat, and have little to no nutritional value. (http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-mm-mars-candies-mms-plain-i19141).
Yet these candies bear a pink ribbon. Even if 100% of the sales were given to breast cancer research, shouldn't these products have some responsibility for not promoting cancer?
Right now companies are content with being reactive, providing most of their support to research cures, not support for prevention. While this is beneficial to the pharmaceutical companies that sell these treatments and cures, this is not beneficial to humankind. This is not an approach that we can support. We must demand that companies remove the carcinogens from their products. We must demand that companies support products that are cancer preventatives. Why isn't there a pink ribbon on broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables that are so good for our bodies? Where's the pink ribbon on apples? How about a pink ribbon advertising for walking and bike trails?
A diagnosis of cancer is terrifying. Let's envision and support a world where that diagnosis is never made instead of putting all our energies into trying to cure a disease.
Sound familiar? And it's not just Lifetime Television that is to blame. Terms of Endearment, Steel Magnolias, Thelma and Louise, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Accused, Beaches, Vanished, (and the list goes on and on) all send the same messages to women. Live in fear.
I have always been a good student and I learned my lessons well from these movies. I lived most of my 20's in a constant state of low level fear. I felt like I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had a hard time feeling content in my happiness because I feared that my happiness was just Act I and soon there would be a commercial break and God-knew-what-misery was in store for when the show resumed. We often hear of the dangers for children who watch too much TV, inappropriate shows on TV, or are exposed to "too much, too soon." I propose that there are just as many dangers for women who are watching all this crap which is targeting women, playing on their emotions, fostering a climate of fear, and generally depressing the hell out of us. I am surprised by how relatively silent the feminists are about this issue. Is there a network for men that shows a constant stream of movies about them being cheated on, molested, beaten, and then sentenced to die a painful death? Spike TV seems to show an endless parade of men doing stupid things interspersed with men being obscenely masculine, saving the day through their heroism, and then getting laid. And we get Lifetime???
I say NO MAS ! (I recently saw Beverly Hills Chihuahua with my daughter) Do not watch these shows, movies, or read the novelizations. Do not give away your power and live in fear. Do not glorify being a martyr or martrying your children. Turn the channel. Send a message.
Do not celebrate fear.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Whatever kind of Catholic I am, I know I am not traditional. Years ago my book club in Cincinnati read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. Hoping to get a little rise from the token Catholic, one of my neighbors asked me how I'd feel if it was proven that Christ was married. I told her, quite honestly, that it wouldn't bother me a bit. In fact I hope that Christ was married. I hope he did have children. I hope that kind of intimacy, closeness, and humanness were his to enjoy for whatever short time he had them. My mother once asked me how I'd feel if it were proven that Christ wasn't divine, or wasn't born of a virgin-birth. Again, I can honestly say it wouldn't bother me a bit. What difference does marriage, children, birthright, or divinity make to the truth of the message "Do unto others as you would have done to you"? All of the teachings of Christ are valid for reasons far beyond bureaucratic census details. I like the stories of the Bible. I do not take them literally because I believe they are meant to be stories with moral, or message to them. I like hearing about the history and politics going on during the time when many of the Bible stories were written. I think knowing the political climate of the time helps a lot in understanding why stories were written a certain way or had certain references in them.
I like the idea of saints: normal-run-of-the-mill folks who were put in tough circumstances and stood their ground. Life doesn't usually end well for most saints, but isn't that true for many people in modern times too? Would death by car accident, disease, murder, or suicide be considered pleasant?
I like statuary too. My mind wanders a bit when I am trying to pray so having a physical, tangible statue in front of me helps me focus my thoughts. Oh yea, I'm supposed to praying, not mentally redecorating my living room...
I like the ritual and pageantry of Catholicism. I find ritual comforting and the fact that I can walk into almost any Catholic church in the U.S. and know when to sit, stand, and knee feels inclusive and inviting.
I don't attend Mass every Sunday. I have managed to break almost all of the Ten Commandments. I don't always tithe. I don't attend Mass on holy days of obligation. I don't venerate the Pope.
I am not the best Catholic.
I do pray daily and almost constantly: a prayer of thanks to God for my world, my life, my family, my health, my friends, the amazing beauty of the leaves around me. I do exult in the love and sanctitude of my marriage and my family. I do one good deed a day, even if it's just complementing the sales clerk on her manicure. I do teach my daughter about God and the amazing wonders of the world gifted to us. I do nurture and encourage spirituality within myself and my daughter.
I am not the worst Catholic.
I am the only remaining Catholic in my family. My parents, siblings, and many of my aunts and uncles have all gone on to different religions, agnoisticism, or atheism. It's strange believing something so fundamentally different from the rest of my family. It's like my parents spent my entire childhood telling me how great the color red was: "We're a red family. We like the color red, we believe the color red is the right color. We expect you to wear red, like red, attend school to learn more about the different tones, hues, and shadings of red, and to marry a man who also likes red and believes it to be the right color too." So finally, after 25 years, I decided that red would be my color too. My husband decided that he liked red so much he would learn all about it and convert so we could have a red family. Then, one day, post-divorce, my dad decides that he really likes blue, indigo, or violet better. Red is too vibrant, too pushy of a color. He wants something more subdued. On another day, post-divorce, my mom decides that it isn't about one color at all, it's about the whole rainbow. No color is better than any other color, they are all equal, they are all connected, part of the rainbow. And my siblings, tired of the color red anyway, quickly threw off their red garments and put on black or white. No color. No choice. Certainly not a rainbow, but no blues, indigos, or violets either. And there I stand, wearing my red, feeling a little confused and a lot betrayed.
If something so integral to my childhood, my values, the morals with which I was raised, the very fabric of our family could be tossed aside by my parents as being an oops-we-didn't-really-like-Catholicism-as-much-as-thought-we-did, what other parts of my upbringing would be overturned? I always feel a little awkward around my parents now when it comes to Catholic rites of passage, such as my daughter's baptism and her First Communion. I know these are things they once believed in deeply but are now only attending to see their granddaughter. I wonder if their new beliefs are true or if someday they'll swing back to Catholicism, or off in another direction completely. I wonder if they clung to Catholicism for so long because it was the one thing they had in common. Perhaps the only thing they had in common.
I like being Catholic. I am not, by any means, the most traditional Catholic, but I believe, very deeply, in what I teach my daughter. I'm not the Last Catholic Standing, I have a husband, and daughter standing by my side too. And we all look good in red.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I am beginning to suspect that each school/organization has its own PAM. We move all the way to Massachusetts and whom do I meet within the first week of school? That's right, the resident PAM. She is president of the PTO, she volunteers in the library, donates the most books at the Book Fair, bakes the most cupcakes for the Bake Sale and probably turns in the most Box Tops during the Box Tops for Education drive. She is friendly without being your friend. She is, with the support of her husband, running the school.
I volunteer a lot too. I would absolutely be PAM material except that I'm not passive, not too aggressive, and I'm definitely not a martyr. I see volunteering as part of my job as stay-at-home-mom-with-a-child-in-school-all-day. If I'm not doing something to care for the family at home, then I should be spending at least some of my time helping out the school, because really, (I'll say it) what else do I have to do? You'll not find me listing the litany of chores I can't complete and complaining about the endless carpools. With only one child to care for, my life really is pretty easy. If I'm complaining, it's just because I feel like bitching, not because of any real hardship in my life.
I think a lot about going back to work. I was good at working and always liked it. I never can seem to find that perfect job that enables me to be home for sick days, snow days, half days, winter break, spring break, and summer vacation that doesn't require me actually working at the school. Parents that work at the school their children attend, I think I may have to add that to my stray peeves list because it is quickly becoming a new favorite peeve of mine. What may, on the surface, seem a perfect marriage of parenting availability and employment can also lead to blackmail, gossip, and other catty behaviors from parents who are unable to keep their work life and social life separate.
I'd like to think that all the PAMs have their eventual day of reckoning when the last child graduates. Are these the women you see working at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble on weekends with a slightly stunned, lost expression and a bit of Prozac quick dissolve tablets still melting on their tongues? Are these the women now turning that feverish energy on their own bodies as they relentlessly tone, tuck, Botox, and wax themselves to perfection? Or are these the women who are still doing their kids' laundry when said children are 28?
I don't know what I'll do when my daughter's schooling moves beyond my volunteering. I only know this, I'll fight to death against becoming a PAM!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
It took me several years of marriage to figure out that it’s not possible for my father to have been completely at fault and my mother an innocent bystander. I see the role I play in my own marriage, how I antagonize, compromise, criticize, complement, annoy, and love just as much as my husband does.
My parents now live completely separate lives. I would say they are separate but equal, though I doubt my mother who is not as financially successful as my father, would agree with the equal part. The equality comes from the freedom they now enjoy to be who they really are. Who they really are has certainly been a little unexpected for me: I never thought I'd have a stepmom with a tatoo or a stepdad who wasn't, um, a man. I never thought my dad would become a pilot or my mom would be a (wait for it...) marriage and family therapist. I certainly never thought I'd get along as well as I do with my dad or be as frustrated as I sometimes am with my mom.
I'm probably a little unexpected for them too. The daughter who insisted upon wearing parachute pants to Catholic school and mini skirts that left little to the imagination has settled down in a traditional wife/mother role in a small New England town. My brothers, sister, and I are spread around the U.S. making getting all of us together something that hasn't happened since my grandma's funeral 4 years ago. Maybe it's easier for them to like us, separated as we all are. I'm sure if asked they would say they love us all equally. In spite of all the unexpected changes, and maybe because of them, I like my parents too, separately, but equally.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I am a creature of habit. I like my schedule and I feel comfortable knowing that on Mondays I wash clothes and pay bills. Tuesdays I volunteer at school and grocery shop. Wednesdays I do an extra long workout and run errands. Thursdays I volunteer at school and wash all the bedding. Fridays I do an extra long workout and clean the house. Sounds peaceful doesn't it? That's why sick days, snow days, federal holidays and winter and spring break send me into a complete breakdown. Those long hours without routine, form, or plans make me sweat. I think back longingly to my days as a computer programmer. I knew what to do all day long. I was rarely overwhelmed, disappointed, or bored. I had purpose. I couldn't recite most of the dialogue from Beauty and the Beast.
But then my daughter gets sick at school and I remember all the reasons I continue to stay at home. I stay home not to honor a routine, cook meals, clean a house, or be available for errands. My routine is merely the pause to fill the hours until my real job comes home from school. I like to think I am my own boss, and sometimes I probably am. I'm a Mom and whatever form that takes each day is the job description for the day.
Life in captivity isn't so bad, and besides, I like my mini-sloths.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Bra #1: a party favorite, this bra was soft, feminine, lightly padded (you know how I feel about visible nipples), and reasonably priced. Take it off the hangar and put on the body and bra morphs into itchy lace and falling straps. Bra rejected.
Bra #2: a budget favorite, this bra was basic cotton, no visible seams, lightly padded, and super cheap. Put bra on and see reflection of slightly torpedo shaped sagging breasts and puckering cotton. Bra rejected.
Bra #3: a miracle of engineering this bra promises hidden underwire support, shaping cups and breathable back and sides. Put bra on and try to breathe. Unable to breathe I quickly take bra off. Bra rejected.
Bra #4: a budget buster this bra has seamless cups, no-wire underwire (how can that be??), and comfort straps. Put bra on and notice most of breasts spilling out top of cups. Learn something new: demi-bra = falling out of cups whenever you lean forward. Bra rejected.
Bra #5: old faithful, even down to the aren't-I-too-old-to-be-wearing-this bow in the front, no-nonsense hooks and straps, only availabe in (yawn) white, moderately priced and mass produced. Bra grudgingly accepted because I had to pick up child from school.
I have worn expensive bras from Victoria's Secret and cheap bras from Target. I have purchased special bras to make me feel sexy and industrial strength bras to simply get the job done. I have tried back closures, front closures, sports bras and camisoles. I am not liberated enough (not to mention perky enough) to go bra-less, nor am I ever going to get my boobs "done". I have worn a bra for almost 30 years yet whenever I need a new one the process starts essentially from scratch. I want bra manufacturers to stop messing with their styles. Every time I have found a bra style that I like and that fits me beautifully that company "updates" the line and I have to start the process all over again. My perfect Body by Victoria front close bra: ruined when the Angels line was created. My favorite Bali natural look bra: discontinued in favor of no-wire underwires. The only Champion sports bra I ever found that didn't give me the "wall of boobs" look: updated to have Frankenstein looking seams running through the center of the cups.
A conspiracy? A plot against women? A bit of marketing sleight of hand? Hmmm....all I can say is that I have been able to purchase my husband the EXACT SAME Fruit of the Loom briefs since 1991...
All we needed to get were 2 pairs of jeans, 2 sweaters, and 2 long sleeved shirts. Admittedly, that's 6 items but there was a time, even a year ago, when buying 6 items could take 15 minutes, including the checkout! We were in Justice-Just for Girls for an hour, followed by a crying jag in the restaurant that lasted 10 minutes, followed by another trip to Justice (just me and my drama queen this time) that lasted another 1/2 hour.
Frequently I wonder how Steve and I will navigate the landmines of parenting our daughter: our styles are completely different, our methods generally at odds, and even our goals sometimes make it appear that we're on different teams. Yesterday, though, I figured out why we will make it through, mostly unscathed. We tag team parent. We're not the kind of parents as presented on the Cosby Show or Disney channel who appear together in the child's doorway, arms around each other's waists as they lovingly but firmly lay down the law as a unified team. We are not able to finish each other's sentences or nod along supportively as the other parent presents the thoroughly discussed-agreed-upon-and-sanctioned-discipline for the child. We actually parent best if we don't know what the other person is saying, doing, or God-forbid, caving on. We have only 1 thing in common with our parenting, but it apparently is the most important thing for us: we like each other.
My own parents were not able to jointly parent me or my 3 siblings. I don't know how much my parents loved each other but I know they never liked each other. I didn't realize how important liking your spouse was to parenting until after our daughter was born. Especially in the moment when you're not sure how much you like your much-loved child.
I can't imagine being a single parent. I need to be able to tag-off when I am fed up, irritated, irrational, tired, disinterested, bored, busy, or distracted. I need to be able to walk away for a minute, knowing that a pinch hitter will step in to save the inning. I don't know how I'll know who wins this game, but I sure am glad I'm playing on a team.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I want some of the people who were once prominent in my life to be profiled. I would enjoy watching what has become of their lives so far from the privacy of my living room. I could TiVO the episodes and fast forward through the lesser characters, replay 3 seconds again and again of a particularly funny moment, and delete entirely people who I thought I wanted to see again but in actuality, not so much.
I would definitely choose my 4th grade teacher Ms. Toby. Ms. Toby terrorized me for an entire year with her militant attitude, sharp tongue, and aggressive red lipstick. I would like to see if she got married (or found a partner, she had VERY aggressive lipstick), had a child, softened, lightened up. Or perhaps she is still a teacher, out there threatening other insecure, ugly-duckling 9 year olds who are too cowed to speak up for themselves and whose parents are too oblivious to speak up for their child.
A whole episode could be devoted to my former-best-friend-and-maid-of-honor-at-my-wedding Cathy. Cathy and I became friends in our sophomore year in high school because of our mutual love of books and disappointment with the popular crowd. We remained best friends for 15 years, a friendship that I thought would last forever, could withstand anything, but ultimately couldn't withstand my preoccupation with my new baby and (I think) her jealousy that she wasn't even married, let alone a mother. I frequently miss Cathy and think of things I would say to her if I could. I wonder if she's okay. I worry that with all the women our age dealing with breast cancer, divorce, unemployment that maybe something has happened to her, and could I have helped if I had just reached out to her. It's been 9 years since I've spoken with Cath and I never even really got to say goodbye.
Old boyfriends would be of passing interest, probably fast-forwarded through once I saw how they had aged or who they married. Old bosses, friends, neighbors, and even distant relatives could all be lumped into 3 minute segments with brief interviews, a few then-and-now photos, and a quick summary of the last 30 years or so.
Mostly I want to make sure everyone is okay. I don't want to get even, gloat, mourn, or rejoice I really just want to know that they are still out there. I don't want to rekindle any friendships or romances, re-fight any battles, relive any glory days, or prove anybody wrong. I like my life and I hope everyone with whom I have shared space on the planet likes their lives too.
But because I'm nosy, I just want to know...!
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I cannot remember the date of my high school graduation. Or my college.
I cannot remember the exact date my husband proposed to me. I know it was Sweetest Day, but since the date for that Hallmark Holiday changes each year, the exact date has been lost to me
I cannot remember the exact date I found out that I was pregnant. I remember taking the test. I remember calling my husband at work. I remember coming home from work and my husband saying “Welcome home, both of you!” I remember it was in July.
I cannot remember the date of my first day of my first job or even my last job.
I can’t even give an approximation of the date, let alone the month, that I lost my virginity.
But I do know the date when I started my period, closed on my dream house, my husband lost his job, my husband found a new job, my parents’ divorce became final, my sister left my house in a rage and hasn’t really spoken with me since. I remember my daughter’s due date, and then the amended due date. I remember the date of my first baby shower. I remember the day I thought my life was ending and I remember the day I realized I would survive.
Anniversaries are funny because they are so subjective. When is your anniversary? someone may ask, and of course we give them the date of our wedding.
What we really should say is “which one?”
For the record, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. I love my daughter and I know that she needed extra support today during this field trip. The one friend she has made in Massachusetts happens to be on vacation this week and my daughter was feeling nervous: who will sit with me on the bus? Who will eat lunch with me? Who will be my partner if we pair up? Who will be my friend today? I also know that I have limited time left for my daughter to be open enough with me, vulnerable enough to actually ask for my help, want my presence, and hold my hand as we hike through mud, horse manure, and leaves.
I am grateful that I was on the field trip today. I got to see my daughter cope with navigating tricky nine-year-old friendships, especially when the teacher did tell the kids to choose a partner and there was an uneven number of girls. I got to sit with her at lunch when she otherwise may have sat alone. I got to hear other girls clamor for her to sit next to them on the bus. I got to see her face light up and the forlorn, lost look be replaced with hopefulness, happiness, and relief. It’s one thing for me to feel lonely, it’s an entirely different thing to see that loneliness reflected in my child. I learned a lot on this field trip, most of it having nothing to do with the life cycle of dairy cows. I learned that my child is resilient. She is human. She is more aware of the social pecking order than I had previously thought. She is more popular than she realizes. She is kind. She is smart. She has a big heart and all she really wants is to have friends to sit with, friends to eat with, a few friends she can count on to choose her when it’s time to pair up.
Wow, she really is her mother’s child…
Monday, October 13, 2008
Advertising flyers. I don’t know if this form of direct marketing actually works, but I do know that those little bits of neon colored paper that are tucked beneath windshield wipers, tacked on mailboxes and rolled up and stuck in door handles are completely annoying. In addition to being unsolicited, they are constantly seen blowing around the streets on windy days and disintegrating into soggy trash on wet ones. When found tacked to utility poles they seem to rarely be reclaimed by their owners after the event is over or the business has failed. It’s legal littering.
Facial hair on women. Look, I realize that this kind of stuff can creep up on us; if left on its own, my face would soon rival that of a ZZ Top band member; so don’t forget to wax. Let’s face it: caterpillar eyebrows, mustaches, chin hair, and full side burns are distracting on men and downright horrifying on women. I recently met a woman who would be absolutely adorable were it not for eyebrows that begin at her hairline, meet in the middle, and can be swept back with the rest of her bangs. Wax on, wax off.
Scraggly nails. Another grooming habit I know, but again, this is distracting and gives the appearance of messiness, even when the individual is well groomed in every other area. I don’t personally get my nails done professionally at salons and I am not advocating that others do so. Clean, shaped nails with healthy cuticles, that’s all you need. This goes for children too as it can be appalling to hold hands with a child who has a week’s worth of dirt, food, markers, and unidentifiable stickiness on their hands.
Visible nipples. Having nursed a child for a longer-than-socially-acceptable amount of time, I am well aware of nipples that seem permanently erect and obtrusive. I don’t need to see other women’s nipples. This is the reason for the invention of the padded bra. If you look in the mirror and your chest looks like a relief map, get a new bra. Layering clothing, oversized shirts, slumped shoulders, and crossed arms are not good alternatives. Get a padded bra.
Muffin tops. As a product of the 70s and 80s when thin was in, I am appalled at how much gut many women are comfortable showing. Anything that spills over the top of your waistband should be considered contraband and subject to coverage, not display. It’s simply too nasty for words.
Men with long nails. Perhaps because the one man I knew as a child who had long nails turned out to be molesting his daughters, or because of the good job the movie Silence of the Lambs did in creeping me out, I always feel a little grossed out when I see a man with long nails. I would rather see the too-short-bitten-to-the-quick-painful-looking-nails on a man than long ones. Just a personal peeve.
I get all this just from watching Alvin and the Chimpmunks.
I know it all sounds shallow but there are much deeper currents running beneath the surface want. People do feel more comfortable in houses and/rooms that have been carefully pulled together with warm colors, deep, comfortable couches and chairs, different layers and textures and interesting things at which to look and discuss. People do tend to entertain more if they have the room and the room is beautifully furnished. The Chinese call this the art of Feng Shui and have practiced it for thousands of years to bring health and prosperity to their homes and businesses. Though I don't suppose it's all about the furnishings.
I tend to remember wonderful events in my life based upon how the room around me felt. One of my favorite places to be at Christmastime is my friend Debbie's house. Debbie has an annual Christmas Cookie Exchange and sitting in her family room, the week or so before Christmas, with all her Christmas finery, the candles, the table laden with holiday cookies, the friends, the way the wine sparkles in the candlelight... I absolutely adore it. My greatest regret about moving to Massachusetts thus far is that I am pretty sure I will miss Debbie's cookie exchange.
My favorite memories growing up all took place at my grandparents' house. Filled with family, sunshine, food, laughter, and holiday decorations (no matter what the holiday) my grandparents' house was magical. I loved the all-blue Christmas tree my grandma put up in the family room. I was captivated as a child by the white, fiber optic table top tree she always put in the living room. I loved the smell of her cloth napkins when I put them to my face. I loved the feeling of being grown up I had when I was asked if I would like wine. Only at Grandma's would there be special little cut glass bowls for pickles, olives, and cheeses. Toothpicks with fancy tassles at the top. A box of gourmet chocolates to end the evening.
We frequently spend Thanksgiving with my friend Chellie. Now Thanksgiving is linked to Chellie's house. The smell of her kitchen, the way the light comes through her two-story windows in her great room. The special cookies she makes that I have tried to make again and again but that never taste quite the same. The feel of the cushy mattress we sleep on. No matter how many other times we visit Chellie, when I think of her house I think of Thanksgiving.
I want people to feel that way about my house. I want to evoke for my child that instant sensation of HOME whenever she smells a certain scent, sees the flicker of a candle, or hears a certain song. I want my husband to always want to come home not just because of me, but because of the way home feels. I want my friends to sink into my couches and chairs, relax with a cool or warm drink and feel completely safe, accepted, loved, even a little pampered.
Do I need a Hollywood set designer? Do I need professional help, a big budget, a complete home remodel? I don't know. For now all I know is that I really like Alvin and the Chimpmunks and I really miss my grandparents, Chellie, and Debbie.
I miss home.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I had taken my then-4-yr-old daughter to the Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wanted to play in an area of the Children's Museum where there are numerous tubes and walkways to climb through and explore, and a very narrow maze of levels that the kids can use to exit the play area. My daughter was too young to go up in the tunnels on her own without getting lost and scared. My husband was too big to fit through many of the child-sized tunnels. I was elected. Now at the time I didn't know that I was mildly claustrophobic, I hadn't had any experience with mazes and tunnels, as I am a product of the 70s when such things didn't exist. I was okay on all the main stairs, large rope tunnels, and even the tinier crawling spaces were fine.
Then we came to the narrow step maze. My daughter went down first and so I was committed: I had to follow her down. I slithered my body down one level and then another. Locked in an 'S' shape I found myself having a difficult time moving down to the third level. I couldn't go down, I couldn't go up. I was stuck. I wriggled and pulled and tugged myself forward and came face to face with a crying child of about 6 who apparently had no doubts as to his claustrophobic state. We eventually manage to pass each other, mostly because I allow the child to step on my hands, stick his butt in my face and use me as the step to the next level. I reach my hand down to pull myself downward again ... and I feel it. A puddle. My hand has landed in a puddle and I know with every fiber of my being that the puddle isn't water. Well, not pure water, that is. I have put my hand in pee and now I am forced to drag my entire body through the pee in order to exit the maze.
I finally exit: shaken, disheveled, and wet. My daughter and husband are waiting impatiently for me at the bottom, acting as if I am deliberately drawing out this experience just to keep them from moving on to the next fun spot. Of course no one is ready to go home. Of course while I have 2 complete changes of clothes in the car for my daughter I have nothing for myself. Of course sympathy has never been Steve's strong point and he laughs at me until he grows bored with my complaining and then tells me to "let it go." Of course I never even thought twice about going back to that torture chamber because OF COURSE that maze became my daughter's favorite place in the entire museum. Of course. I'm a mom. This is what I do. And my daughter's a child. Lack of appreciation. That's what she does.
But just so we're all clear: I crawled through pee for that little ingrate.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I love reading books, I love discussing books. I love browsing for books in libraries, book stores, garage sales, and newsstands. I love the anticipation of having a new book to read and the satisfied/disappointed feeling I have when I have finished a good book. I married a man who also loves books and am raising a child who is an avid reader. Sometimes when I am not sure that my parenting is really going all that well I remind myself that my child loves to read and is good at reading and therefore can rule the world if she wishes to do so.
I think life is easier for those of us who love to read. We are rarely bored, our hobby can be free (though I admit that just seeing a Barnes&Noble on the horizon makes me feel giddy…), we tend to have better vocabularies, be better spellers, have broader senses of experience even if we haven’t travelled much, and be more interesting in conversation. There are always new books being written so we can never run out of material, and our hobby is helpful and applicable in everyday life.
I love books. Last year for Christmas I bought my husband a Sony e-Reader. He loves it. He loves how small and compact it is. He loves getting a new book quickly simply by downloading it from the internet. He loves the technology. I have read a few novels on the e-Reader, but for me, it’s just not the same. I am a touchy-feely kind of girl, I guess, because I want to hold the book, turn the pages, flip back to re-read something, or flip forward to “cheat” on what happens next. I want to meet new people because they see the title of what I’m reading and want to discuss it. I want the anticipation of opening the book and I like the finality of closing it when I’m finished.
My friend Debbie drives a lot for her job, so she also likes audio books, something I am quickly learning to love myself. I feel like I can workout for hours while listening to an audio book. I have cleaned my house, painted many rooms, and folded endless loads of laundry while listening to audio books. I even find myself sometimes envying Deb her time alone in the car with her audio books. I imagine her all snug and comfy, driving along, sipping a coffee, alone in her own little world while listening to a great book.
I sometimes dream of writing a book. I don’t think I am committed enough to the idea now to really stick to it, but maybe someday. For now I’ll stick to my little blog, hopefully providing reading enjoyment for somebody else who shares my love.
When I lived in Cincinnati I was a Stepford friend.
I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati called Mason. Mason was a once-little-farm-town-now-growing-t0-massive-proportions that was just coming into its own. Or leaving behind its true self, however you choose to look at it. In my neighborhood in Mason one-upmanship was the name of the game. All the houses were new and middle class affluent. All the families were growing, careers were growing, and debt was growing as everyone tried to outspend everyone else to show our worthiness. It was understood that your house was to be furnished from Pottery Barn, your kitchen outfitted by Williams-Sonoma, and your car to be no more than 2 years old. It was bad parenting to allow your child out in the winter in anything less than LLBean and summer swimwear could only come from Lands End. I knew I was expected to attend holiday parties with my daughter in adorable mommy-and-me combos from Hanna Andersen. Vacations were taken for a week at Disney World and weekend getaways without the kids were the norm. Purses from Coach, jewelry parties from Silpata, hors d'oerves courtesy of Tastefully Simple, (prepared using your specialty Pampered Chef tools of course), children's bedding from Land of Nod, adult bedding from Pottery Barn, holiday dishes from Crate&Barrel: the list of things you had to own in order to be acceptable went on and on.
The women also had strict standards to meet. You had to workout, highlight your hair, be tan but not go tanning (?), wear gorgeous outfits from Ann Taylor and Talbots to all the parties, be in the neighborhood book club, play Mah-Jongg, be active in the neighborhood women's charity club, decorate your child's bike for the annual neighborhood 4th of July parade, bake exotic appetizers and desserts for supper club, adore jewelry, drink, know all things pop culture, drink: the list of what you had to BE to be acceptable went on and on.
I bought into it all, literally BOUGHT it all.
Then my husband was laid off. Suddenly my world was upside down. Steve couldn't find another job in Cincinnati because Procter and Gamble had just dumped 1000 IT jobs on the market a few months earlier when they outsourced their IT department. After searching for months he found a job in Toledo. We had to move. Moving meant leaving behind the house, the friends, my daughter's school. I was devastated and turned to my neighborhood friends for support. What neighborhood friends? They were all gone. I was persona non grata. I moved on a dreary March day and not one person was there to wish me well as the moving van pulled out. My phone calls, emails, and Christmas cards went unanswered.
For years my feelings were hurt. I was confused. I wanted to know, what happened? Why did all my friends abandon me? Steve got another job, he even ended up getting a raise! He still drove the requisite BMW and I still carried the Coach purse. Why wasn't I good enough anymore? Then one day it dawned on me: I was a Stepford friend. I didn't really have any friends once I broke out of the mold. I didn't want to break out, I certainly never planned on breaking out, but once I couldn't be counted on for lighthearted, problem-free entertainment, I was no longer useful to the group.
I am so grateful I am not in that neighborhood living up to those standards anymore. I am so grateful that I don't have to BE that person anymore. I live in Massachusetts now, not in Stepford.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I'm addicted to sugar.
A sugar addiction is socially acceptable, not usually seen as an addiction, and just as dangerous and deadly as any other addiction. But oh my God it tastes so good! I have always had a sweet tooth. Until about 4 years ago I thought that handling problems by eating chocolate was not only a good idea, but also fairly healthy. I am not one of those women who will demure coyly saying "oh, that's too rich for me!" I have never, and I mean never turned down something for being "too rich." I have quit sugar many times: gone cold turkey, weaned myself off sugar, substituted natural, unrefined sugars, tried just eating fruit, every trick in the book has been attempted. I always go back to sugar. Sugar is insidious! It's in everything from bread to barbecue sauce!
I can directly relate my sugar intake to my mood: feeling bad? eat a lot of sugar, feeling good? eat a lot of sugar, not sure how I feel? hey, here's something to do, let's eat some sugar! Moving to Massachusetts hasn't helped at all because Dunkin' Donuts is everywhere in this state. There is actually a Dunkin' Donuts across from a Dunkin' Donuts just down the road from my house. People here say there are so many Dunkin' Donuts stores because the coffee is so good. I don't drink coffee (one addiction being enough, thank you) so if you see me at the Dunkin' you can be sure I'm going for a Munchkin fix.
So now for the most sugar filled holiday of all: Halloween. My daughter is too old to fall for the "just checking your candy" ruse, and too wise to believe me when I say I just want one little miniature Snickers bar. I have, though I'm not proud to admit it, been reduced to sneaking candy out of her bag after she goes to bed, lying to her about the number of candy bars she had, eating so much of her candy that to hide my indiscretion I tell her I "donated" it, and forced myself to go to bed when she does to avoid eating at night. All for sugar.
My next hurdle is to somehow not pass this addiction on to the next generation. I feel I am failing already as my daughter will do almost anything to get dessert, a trip for ice cream, or bubble gum. Restaurants that give candy with the bill are among her favorites. She considers chocolate a food group. She gets cranky if denied sugar and even sometimes appears to get a headache if she hasn't had sugar in a while.
She is her mother's child.
But all is not lost. I once successfully had no sugar at all for 6 months and wouldn't have broken that streak except I was too embarrassed to refuse dessert when it was offered by a woman who intimidated me. I have days, weeks, sometimes even months where I am able to make better food choices and feel great. I have not purchased sugar foods for our home in months, thus only consuming the occasional dessert when we go out for dinner.
But it's Halloween again, and the Trick is avoiding the Treat...
Monday, October 6, 2008
Now I’m on a break from houses. Living in a rental, I feel displaced, uncertain, a little lost. I frequently wander through the rooms of this house re-decorating them in my mind and imagining how I could lighten, brighten, modernize, and energize this home. I know it won’t happen, this isn’t my house to change, but just thinking about what I would do if I could helps to connect me to myself. I am excited to buy a house next year, I have even picked out several homes here that I hope will go on the market when I’m ready to buy, but more than physically owning a home, I’m excited to get back to the things I love: sanding, priming, painting, tearing down wallpaper, tearing out, fixing up, and, eventually, moving on.
I have to change friends.
Now of course I’ll keep in touch with all my friends from Cincinnati and Toledo that I have made so far, but I mean the casual friends. I have no friends in Massachusetts, casual or otherwise. My 9 yr old daughter remedied her friendless state by the third week of school by simply asking another little girl “do you want to be friends?” The little girl said yes and they are, as I write, upstairs playing happily together. It’s not quite so easy for adults. As an “unknown” at my daughter’s school I spend a lot of time on the outside looking in. I am at the edge of the group at pickup time, listening in, smiling, trying to look friendly, casual, open, but not lonely. Trying to look like I’m part of the group without actually BEING included in the group. I get to listen to a lot that way. Because of my “unknown” status I am actually quite benign and therefore gossip is not whispered around me, voices are not lowered, backs are not turned, and eyes are not averted. You see, right now, I don’t really exist at band practice, art club, or pick up from school. This status is both unnerving and exhilarating. I get the benefit of seeing how people behave when they don’t realize they’re being watched but I suffer the anonymity of not really being seen. I know I won’t have this status forever. My cloak of invisibility will be fading soon as I get more involved at my daughter’s school, work at recess, volunteer during Book Fair and “prove” myself worthy of being known. I am lonely a lot, so I look forward to the time when the pack accepts me, sniffs me out as one of their own, if you will. But I know someday, not next week or even next month, but in a couple of months when I am running with the pack and therefore subject to ridicule by the pack, I’ll miss this time of being the Invisible Woman.
Where did it all come from? Recently I have been thinking a lot about money (paying a mortgage and rent will do that to you), and I was feeling pretty good about how lean we have been living. Now I look around me as I fight for space for my laptop on the desk, and I realize that I don’t know what lean is. I haven’t lived “lean” for many years. I could make a resolution to return all of these items to their rightful owners/places but I’m a realist: I don’t live alone therefore I don’t have complete clutter control. Of course blaming others for my “stuff” problem isn’t really the answer either, but what is the answer? Do I shop less? Purchase only what is absolutely necessary for life and nothing else? What about the stuff that just seems to happen: I am quite sure I never purchased an Empire Today Carpet bobble head! Does anyone at Goodwill really want that? Can I sell it on eBay? Feed it to a landfill? Send it back to the company and tell them thank you, but I already have enough stuff and would they please keep their stuff to themselves?
I resolve to have less stuff. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to lessen the stuff I already have, but I can (somewhat) control acquiring new stuff. I aim for a warm, comfortable, happy, and healthy home with JUST ENOUGH stuff, but not TOO much.