Fun-house mirror

There’s a mirror in my bathroom that I call “the skinny mirror”. I probably shouldn’t call it that because I know the boys have heard me refer to it that way, but whatever, I’ll work on it. This mirror is awesome. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s a little like a fun-house mirror and it seems to slightly elongate one’s shape and therefore makes one appear, well, skinny. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. Even if I know it is an optical illusion.

I’ve laughingly joked that I almost have body dysmorphia, except in reverse of how many people seem to experience it; I walk around thinking I look better than I actually do because of this damn mirror. If I need a dose of reality, I have other mirrors which are happy to give it to me.

But I know body dysmorphia isn’t funny or to be joked about. This is what leads to lifetimes of unhappiness. Eating disorders. Addiction.

Our society is so flooded with negative messages about body shapes and sizes that way too many people obsess over their perfectly normal, healthy bodies. Or maybe society is so flooded with messages that a certain body shape or size is desirable because that body shape is what is used to sell stuff, whereas other shapes are not as good.

I had a sad discussion with a friend today whose 13-year old daughter was in tears over the “extra skin” on her belly. This girl is beautiful, her body is perfect, and there is no extra anything on her anywhere. And yet, she was determined to do an “ab challenge” to make her stomach perfectly flat (or probably concave) as modeling ourselves after models will make us wont to do.

I say, “I’m so glad that I have boys” and yet, that is false too.

Boys are just as susceptible to these body image problems as girls.

I’ve had to stop my boys dead in the track of their conversations on several occasions when the talk turned to “diets” and “six-packs”. They are not even ten, yet! I am careful not to talk about losing weight and to only stress “being healthy” and “making good food choices”. Everything in moderation, I tell them.

Last year, I changed my diet and I explained to the boys I was doing it to be healthy, not too lose weight. I was trying to change my body from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner” and I explained that fat was the preferred fuel for the body. Too many carbs, and too much sugar, just makes the body ultimately slow down and become unhealthy. They internalized this and I think they are more conscious when I tell them that something has too much sugar.

But imagine my dismay at hearing my (rather skinny) young son talking about how he shouldn’t have too many calories. Or my other son comparing himself to his brother and calling himself the “fat one”. He is not. Not by a long shot.

I continue to reiterate how they are extremely active boys and don’t need to worry about anything other than getting enough healthy foods and plenty of water to keep them growing. And yet, they still seem to be getting the message that they need to have a certain kind of body to be attractive and worthy.

This bothers me on so many levels.

I know I am not passing these messages on to them. I do not talk about weight. I do not own a scale. I do not count calories. I do not talk about “six-packs”. However, these messages are still coming through to them.

I’ve struggled most of my life with being happy with the way I looked. When I was very young, I was super skinny. People called me skeleton and skin-and-bones…it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Then when I hit puberty, I grew a set of hips and an ample butt and I had people pointing out my thunder thighs and fat ass. Seemingly, I couldn’t win.

My weight has been all over the place. I’ve been skinny and in bad shape fitness-wise, plump and in good shape, ridiculously enormous with pregnancy, and now, I’ve sort-of settled into my “mom” body, which is pretty average. Certainly, I was in much better shape last year when I was eating better and exercising regularly. Oh, but how I love ice cream. And french fries. And…I digress.

Last week, I was lamenting with friends about how hard it is to try to eat healthy and lose weight. No one had sympathy for me because they perceived me as not having a problem with my weight or eating healthy. Yet, I could sit with a different set of friends and I’d be the biggest and unhealthiest of the bunch, and they would still feel unhappy with their bodies.

I think the problem is we have all become so programmed to believe in an idea of beauty and health that essentially tells us only rail thin or super muscular people are beautiful and healthy. And that is simply not true.

Our minds have become a fun-house mirror of their own. We see ourselves through distorted lenses. We magnify our flaws. We don’t see the truth in front of us. And we pass it on to the next generation.

My sister is a beautiful woman. She is super petite. She has a body that most women would cut someone for. But even she is not satisfied.

And finally, at age 40, I’ve accepted that I will never have my sister’s body. We are just not made the same way. Yes, I’m petite (read: short), but I’ve got those hips (maybe twins were in my design from the beginning) and I’m fuller all around. That’s OK. Some people are tall, some people have an enormous rack (I do not), some people are naturally stocky, some people are super skinny; there are so many different body types. Why do we continue to compare ourselves with one type?

Being comfortable in our own skin, accepting our differences, making healthy choices when it comes to food, exercising regularly, and having that damn piece of cake without guilt are what we ought to be striving for.

Letting our children, girls AND boys, know that their bodies are GIFTS and that they should love them and feed them and make them strong and resilient is more important than ever in this age of over-saturation of advertising and emphasis on the young and beautiful and the tendencies of models to only represent one body type.

Maybe more of us should get “reverse” body dysmorphia. I’m not suggesting we all become morbidly obese, eat whatever we want, never exercise, and then look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look GOOD”. But, I do think everyone could benefit from a skinny mirror. The thing is, it’s all an illusion anyway. No mirror is an accurate reflection of how you look. It all has to go through the filter of your mind. Which is why we have the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

More of us need to open our eyes. To behold ourselves in a different way. Perhaps to behold ourselves the way we look at our children, or someone we love. Without critical judgement, without comparison to another. Simply hold an alternate view of ourselves that says, you may not be perfect, but damn, you are one fine, beautiful human being who deserves to be happy. And no, those jeans don’t make your butt look big.

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Triggering memories

In school, I was never great at history and remembering dates. I’ve got a couple big ones left in my head (Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492), but mostly they are all gone. I’m much better at remembering personally important dates like birthdays and anniversaries and such. Way before Facebook’s birthday reminders, I was a master at remembering birth dates of friends. I’m less masterful at getting my act together to actually send a card, but that’s a different story. Recently, I got in touch with an old friend I haven’t seen in probably 15 years and I texted her on her birthday and she couldn’t believe I remembered.

Lately, I’ve been getting a big kick out of Facebook’s app “On This Day”. Facebook will show you posts from years before on the same date so you can reminisce and re-share and reconnect with people over shared memories. There are other apps that do the same thing with pictures and such. It’s fun to see where my head was at on any given day 6 years ago or see pics of my boys as they grow.

was i describing laundry?

was i describing laundry?

2013 glasses

wordpress 2014

All cute, but none that I especially felt like re-sharing (ironic, since I’m now writing a blog post about it) and nothing that would actually lend itself to remembering this particular date in time. Since today also happens to be “Throwback Thursday”, another social media trend I enjoy following because who doesn’t love an excuse to post old pictures?, I began sorting through old pictures of the boys thinking I could find a fun one from July of another year. That’s when I realized the significance of the date.

July 9th. It’s not exactly a super important date in my personal history, but it is exactly 2 months until the boys’ 10th birthday. Here’s what they looked like 2 months before their 1st birthday:

10 months G 10 months cjm 10 months

Look at those pudgy little babies! How lucky we were (and are). This was back when I would take a photo on the day of their birth each month to see how they had grown. I even had a frame where I was going to put each of these monthly pictures for the first year. I think they are in a box somewhere, but I digress.

Here is what I looked like a year before that:

hospitalThree days from now will mark the tenth anniversary of the day I was admitted into the hospital with the possibility of having my babies 13.5 weeks before they were due. July 12th will be a date I will remember forever. Mostly because I make myself remember. I’ve made it a twisted anniversary of sorts. A day which could have been really horrible. A day my whole life could have changed. Maybe even a day where my world should have changed more than it did.

If I were trying to write a good story, I would say that July 12th was one of the scariest and most confusing days of my life. But that’s only partially true. Looking back, I can see I wasn’t nearly as scared as I should have been. Maybe it was faith. I had to believe that everything was going to be just fine. Maybe it was naiveté. I didn’t understand the seriousness of the issues I was having. Maybe it was stubbornness. I couldn’t let anyone think that I couldn’t handle what was happening. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was denial.

I do remember that when they admitted me to the hospital, I really didn’t think I’d have to stay there–despite the doctor flat-out telling me I was going to have to stay. I do remember thinking the doctors were being overly conservative and I was sure I’d be fine. I remember worrying about work. I do not remember being truly concerned I was going to go into labor. Even when the contractions started. Even when they put me on super strong drugs to control the contractions. I was going to be JUST fine. Yes, looking back. I think July 12th was a day of denial.

It wasn’t until the following day(s) when shit got real. I became very sick from the medication. My lungs filled up with water. I was having difficulty breathing. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure everything was going to be fine. It felt more like I was going to die. At one point, it was late at night and I was being rolled down to have a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t developed an embolism. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t want to expose my babies to radiation. I was singing “Me and my Bobby McGee” to the boys trying to make them dance in my belly so I knew they were OK. I’m sure the hospital staff was convinced I had cracked. I kept complaining about how I didn’t understand why it was necessary and wouldn’t it hurt the babies and just being a general pain in the ass until finally the frustrated technician told me it would hurt the babies a lot more if I had a pulmonary embolism and then went into labor and died.

Well, if you put it that way…

Obviously, it all turned out OK in the end. It would probably be easier for me to let my memories drift into a soft, hazy blur like so many of those first few weeks and months after the boys were born. Some memories are difficult. Some are better with the soft edges. Maybe some are even better left in the dark recesses of our minds, all but completely forgotten.

Without reminders from Facebook or birthdays or special occasions or re-reading old emails to discover what we were thinking on any given day, without a conscious effort to tell and retell stories which conjure up vivid memories of a place or time, all we are left with are the general impressions of moments in our lives; fleeting, fuzzy, and fallible.

I think it’s important to make that conscious effort to remember. To mark the passage of time with personal anniversaries and milestones. To revisit those key memories which shape who we are and reinforce them by sharing them. So, I’ll keep looking back and telling the boys stories about the days leading up to when they were born and then all the days after that I can remember. I’ll weave for them a story of their earliest moments so they will know how much I fought for them, how much I wanted to protect them, and how much I loved them.

For this memory will always be the sweetest of my life:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Getting the best of me?

I recently advised a friend that I felt his ex-girlfriend was getting the best of him.

Traditionally, if you say, “Her temper got the best of her,” you are implying that she is being controlled by her temper. If you say, “Don’t let him get the best of you,” you mean, don’t let him come out on top.

And I did mean that she seemed to be controlling the situation and that he was on the losing end of the relationship. But when I said it, I also meant that the situation with the ex was literally getting the best that this man had to offer. His energy, his brain power, his love–all wrapped up in this person who had decided to say goodbye and walk away; perhaps to the detriment of other parts of his life. I reflected on this double meaning for some time and began realizing there were quite a few situations that were getting the best of me that shouldn’t be.

I, too, have let my brain and heart be consumed with a person who lost their love for me. I’ve spent way too much time and energy under the guise of self-improvement with the hope that I would desirable to that person again.

Time and energy and hope that could have been spent cultivating a new relationship with someone who didn’t need to be convinced of my worth.

I have allowed politics and stress at work affect my mood and behavior. Allowed frustration and fear to overcome me and sap my patience, strength and resolve.

Patience and strength and resolve that could be used with my children who deserve the best of me more than any other person or situation.

I’ve let my emotions control me instead of the other way around. Allowing them to hijack my being and reacting in the moment, instead of taking a moment to breathe, refocus, and then act.

Reactions that may have cost me good decisions, friendships, and understanding.

As the wonderful Glennon Doyle over at Momastery reminded me today, we need to travel light. No use lugging around those heavy thoughts, emotions, grudges, relationships, crosses. Those things should NOT get the best of you. Ever. Give your best to the people and things that matter; for me: my kids, my health, my passions, my family, and those people who truly love me for who I am. I will no longer let the rest get the best of me.

The best of me

The best of me

What’s getting the best of you? And what should be?

To thine own self be true

I usually love Halloween. I used to very much enjoy the spooky stuff, but after I became a mom I found I didn’t like to be scared anymore. I guess motherhood was (and is) scary enough for me. But I do still enjoy dressing in costume. It can be fun transforming into someone or something else.

One of my sons has always been intrigued with the scary side of Halloween. He liked looking at the scary decorations even as a two-year-old . He likes scary stories. He likes blood and gore and also the supernatural. The other one can do without it, but will read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books without a problem. Well, except for wanting to leave the light on and occasionally climbing into my bed after a bad dream.

So, for the last couple of years, G has wanted to dress more on the scary side and it has been slightly more challenging to find costumes that appeal to C. Luckily, we begin talking about costumes somewhere around September so we’re able to come up with something. Last year, C wanted to be a turtle. While shopping in Walgreens, I perused the costume rack. Bingo. I showed him the costume. No, he says, not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Just a turtle. Oooookaaay. But with a little ingenuity and some borrowed ideas from crafty friends and Pinterest, voilà:

Turtle hiding in shell

Turtle hiding in shell

It was pretty awesome if I do say so myself. But the best part for me was that C knew what he wanted to be and he stuck to it. He has always marched to the beat of his own drummer and while sometimes it is maddening for me because he can be a bit inflexible and it would be easier for me if he just was able to go with the flow, I admire him for being his own person and not letting popular trends or his brother or anything else dictate what he likes. It is not easy as a child to be different, but I want to cultivate his independent thinking and enable him to shape his own tastes in music and clothes and books and sports, and encourage him to ALWAYS do what feels right to him and not just follow the crowd.

Which is why I was so sad and disappointed yesterday evening when I watched his independence and uniqueness take a hit. At the Halloween party we attended, several children thought it would be OK to taunt C about his costume. This year, the popular costume for boys his age was scary mask/black cloak/scythe or other weapon accessory. In short, exactly what his brother wanted to wear:

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper

But that isn’t C. One year, he thought maybe he wanted to be Dracula. I got the cape, fake teeth and makeup and when I got done applying it all, he hated it. Washed it off. Got his costume from the year before and called it a day. I was annoyed, but I learned something that day. He is who he is and if I love all the wonderful things that make him unique, I have to let him make his own choices (as long as they are safe, of course) and ensure he doesn’t lose that spirit.

We went through a lot of thoughts on costumes this year. At one point, he thought “panda”. I was a little dubious about pulling that one off as spectacularly as the turtle, but was willing to support whatever he came up with. Ninja, Captain America, soldier; all considered and discarded. C loves archery and received a bow and arrow set for his birthday this year. So, I suggested: Robin Hood.

It had come to my attention in the late summer that the boys had never heard the stories of Robin Hood. I don’t know how this happened because it has always been one of my favorites, my family always went to the Renaissance Faire when I was growing up, I basically wanted to be Maid Marian…I could go on. We started with the rather awesome Disney version of Robin Hood and then I took them to the NY Renaissance Faire which is pretty much the best in the country. We met Robin Hood and joined his band of merry men and all received a little bow and arrow medallion for doing so. C loves to wear his.

Now if C was a girl, I probably would have suggested he be Katniss Everdeen. After all, I’m not totally behind the times. But Robin Hood is a classic and as a fit for my strongly independent young archer, it was perfect.

I mentioned the costume choice to a fellow parent who said she had a green tunic and hat from an old costume that might help. I looked everywhere for brown boots, but we settled for very realistic looking black boot covers. I thought I had a pair of pirate breeches that I could re-purpose for pants, but I didn’t. The only black pants we seemed to have were from another year, another costume.

As he pulled them on, he said, “Wait, these are leggings.”

I conceded that they were.

“Are they girl leggings or boy leggings?”

“Well, leggings are leggings, dude. They are sort of gender neutral.”

He shrugged. “Meh, I don’t really care.”

“Are you sure? We can find something else maybe.”

But he didn’t care. Because once he put the whole costume on, he looked amazing. Yes, it was a touch “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” but really, it was a little boy’s costume. And he is a little boy. The pants were no different than any superhero pants. We went to the Cub Scouts Halloween party on Wednesday and everyone loved it. He was a happy little Robin Hood.

Until last night. At the party, he came in from where he had been running around with all the other kids outside. I could tell that he was upset. He gets a certain look. I asked him what was wrong and he just snapped at me. He asked me to put his bow and arrow and hat in the car.

“Nobody even knows who I am.”

“Sure, they do! And if they don’t, tell them!”

Pause. Lip tremble, and Mommy’s hackles go straight up.

“Are they teasing you?”

“They don’t know who I am. They are saying I’m Peter Pan. In tights.”

“You aren’t wearing tights.”

“I’m never going to be this costume again. It’s so stupid.”

“Your costume is NOT stupid. You loved it at Cub Scouts. You look great!”

“That’s just because all the adults knew who I was. Kids don’t.”

I could tell he was done talking about it because he was coming close to tears and I didn’t want him to get that upset. I knew nothing I could say would make it better and I knew he just wanted to go run around with his friends. I asked where his brother was in all this. But before even asking, I had a sinking feeling that he was a part of the taunting crowd.

I asked C if he wanted to change. He had shorts that he could put over the pants that were loose, if he was bothered by their cruel comments. But he didn’t want to. I talked to his twin and told him that I was extremely disappointed that he didn’t stand up for his brother.

“It was funny. We were only kidding.”

And just like that my heart broke. How many kids suffer because the crowd was only “having a little fun” at their expense? How many kids go along with the crowd because it is easier and seemingly harmless? How many kids who have been on the receiving end of such teasing, will STILL turn around and make fun of someone else?

I’ve always known that kids can be cruel. I had my moments of being “on the outs” of the cool kids and being bullied, even, in middle school. It hurts. And I was not some trend-setter or a unique person or someone who stood out from the crowd. Somehow, I thought I had a few more years before that started for my kids, although I was warned by a teacher last year that cliques were starting to be formed even amongst the boys.

My “little” boys are now faced with peer pressure. I’ve glimpsed what it will be like on each end: what a child risks by being an individual and what a child gives up to be accepted by the crowd. Being different isn’t easy. But being the same can also be dangerous.

I was happy to see that C was able to shake off the teasing. One of his friends took on the role of “bodyguard” and told everyone to knock off the jokes. He also stuck by C and agreed that it was “stupid and annoying” that the other so wouldn’t let the joke drop and they went off and played elsewhere until the kids got bored of the teasing and found something else to focus on. But, I was more than a little pissed overall. Especially when a parent suggested to me, all in “good fun” of course, that if I didn’t want my kid to be teased I shouldn’t have dressed him in tights. Fuck that. Excuse my French. And no wonder kids will tease when parents condone it.

There were teaching moments all over the place last night. I missed some, but nailed others. G received a lesson in family loyalty. And my awesome, sleepy, little Robin Hood got a lesson in Shakespeare before he went to bed.

To thine own self be true. The hardest lesson anyone, adult or child, needs to learn. Sometimes it takes people their whole lives to even figure out who they really are. I told C how incredibly proud of him I was, not only for the way he handled the teasing, but because he is his own person. He knows what he likes and he is true to himself no matter what. And I’ll be damned if I let the world tell him it isn’t good enough and try to turn him into a lemming. I let him know that it might be difficult sometimes to be different from the crowd, but that staying true to yourself is the most important thing to do. Because school ends and the rest of life begins and the “popular” kids don’t always succeed, but people who have their own minds do. Knowing one’s own heart and mind and following it and loving it are the keys to happiness. And I will do everything in my power to help him hold on to that.

The amazing Robin Hood

The amazing Robin Hood