Orchestrated Mental Vomit

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imageWhat? You don’t like the title?

It’s recently come to my attention that there are people out there – in the Blogosphere as if that’s an actual thing – who time their posts according to when they statistically are most likely to get the most reaction. Wow. In this case I can honestly say, “I can’t even.” How is this possible? I can imagine that these are careful, logical souls who either write for a living or wish they did and pursue that wish at a level I haven’t managed to reach. Yes, I know that you’re supposed to treat writing like a job, and schedule it accordingly. This is tough for me for a couple of reasons. First, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have an actual job. One I love. I also have two school-age kids who require shuttling to and from their respective schools, and expect dinner on the table, even. I had to fight like hell to get that last post written, because my son was at a friend’s and my daughter really wanted my attention. It took several tries to complete, but I pulled it off, more or less. I accidentally posted it before the final edit, because that’s what happens when your attention is thoroughly divided. I went back and fixed it, but somehow it had gotten two views by then. Great.

While it’s all too easy to blame the very real distractions and competition for my attention, I would find it difficult to pull off the whole timed blogging thing regardless. Why? Writing is something that more or less controls me. I’m motivated or I’m not, which is why I went a year or so without a post. It’s more than writer’s block, it’s very nearly writer’s amnesia. It’s like I manage to forget what a gift this is, and how good it feels, which is more than slightly strange, because I feel most like myself when I’m writing. How did I manage to forget the thing that makes me feel most like myself? I’ll go out on a limb and assume it ties in to my self-destructive tendencies, somehow. When I am writing more regularly, the urge to write arrives unbidden, and I can only hold off for so long before I’m forced to vomit my thoughts onto the page, or screen. Whichever. I can wait when I actually have to, such as when I’m working, because I’m a grown-up, because I love my job, and because it’s a super-security conscious place so every room is covered with video cameras. Yup, not kidding. So any desire I did have to indulge my more selfish, less-adult tendencies would be thwarted by my interest in keeping my job. So there’s that.

Back to the mental vomiting. I really do write in bursts – it’s frequently or not at all. Orchestrated it is not. When the urge strikes if it’s remotely possible I give in, even if I’m supposed to be doing something more useful, like sleeping. I try to convince myself it can wait until tomorrow, but that inner voice warns that I won’t remember any of what I intended to write the next day. And it’s probably right. Writing doesn’t happen for me in anything resembling an elegant, controlled way. All of these thoughts careen around in my head until I’m sick and dizzy and have to purge them, so out they come. Yes, I try to mop them into somewhat more appealing piles, so that those choosing to read won’t think, “What the hell happened here?!?” That’s what editing is to me – mopping up piles of mental vomit. And I’m supposed to wait until a certain time of day to post something? Let it sit there, unpublished? Not going to happen. If I wait too long or read something too many times, it will start looking worse and worse to me. Yes, of course I edit, often several times in a row. But not hours apart, never that. I’d come back and decide that everything I’d written was absolute crap, and no one would ever want to read something so awful. No really, I would. You see then why it’s necessary that I post shortly after the, um, regurgitation happens, yes?

So with respect to these über-bloggers, whose posts get 200 or more likes at a go, I just can’t do it. Not yet, anyway. Maybe someday I’ll be a more advanced blogger with loftier goals. Until then, I’ll just be here, mopping.

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Neither Here Nor There

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I work for a religious non-profit. I’ll start there, I think. You should know that I love my job, a lot. It also bears mentioning that when I saw the ad for it on Craigslist a little over a year ago, I got goosebumps on the inside as well as the out. More than that, I felt as if a giant hand was pushing me from behind, toward the screen and by extension, the job. Like, I literally felt the hand. Physically.

Maybe you’re a believer, maybe you’re not. Maybe the metaphysical/mystical/spiritual just isn’t your cup of tea, and I respect that. I’m personally more of a seeker than a follower, and I’m comfortable in that role. But there have been a handful of times in my life where something happened that went beyond my ability to explain. Times where I felt the presence of a Higher Power in a way that went past the “I felt moved in church” kind of thing. Once I even heard a Voice, and it wasn’t just coming from the inside of my head.

Believe it, or not. I’m not here to shove anything down anyone’s throat, since I’m not much of a fan of that sort of thing. Honestly, my experiences with this have been exceedingly inconsistent, so I’m far from an authority. I spend plenty of time (too much) wanting desperately to feel any kind of connection – both to people and to a Higher Power – and coming up empty. Given that background, you can hopefully grasp that these few moments I’ve had aren’t some kind of norm for me. This hand on my back was the first connection of this type I’ve felt in literally years, and it caught me by surprise. Freaked me out, moreover. The message was clear, though: This was supposed to be my job. So I did the reasonable thing – I wrote a cover letter and sent it, along with a resume. Got a call from one of my future bosses, who casually phone interviewed me. Somewhere along the way I pretty much told her I thought it was supposed to be my job. I left the Higher Power aspect out of it, though, as I’m not actually crazy.

I went on an interview, which was somewhat intimidating. It was an Orthodox rabbi and his wife, and I wasn’t sure quite what they were going to make of me. My father is Jewish, my mother is not. I was raised basically Jewish (albeit certainly not Othodox). I went to a Jewish preschool, Jewish summer camp, and shul with my grandma on Saturdays more often than not. I was probably 10 before someone told me I wasn’t Jewish because my mother wasn’t, and I wasn’t too impressed by that. After my parents’ divorce and my mom’s remarriage, we moved to rural Michigan. Not a lot of Jews there. None, actually. I was a very lonely girl who craved connection, so I joined the Methodist Church choir. Then the youth group. I ended up going to Methodist Church camp for all four years of high school. There was a whole lot of wanting to fit, desperately wanting to fit. I talked the talk, and felt something, occasionally. Nothing as startling as a hand on my back, but it was something. I felt somewhat more connected to God,  but with Jesus there was always kind of a disconnect for me, which is a tough place to be if you’re trying to be Christian. I loved the people, loved my minister, and was happy to be there… but. Something was always missing.

I got sober at the end of my freshman year of college, which isn’t a story I want to rehash here. My Higher Power was certainly present and accounted for during that period, as not too many 19-year-olds get and stay sober. I felt very connected back then, which is fortunate as I certainly wouldn’t have survived otherwise (this is in no way an overstatement). I felt held up when on a very basic level I wanted very much to lie down and die, daily. I had lost a lot of important people in my life, people I wasn’t sure I could survive without. But God was there, then, perhaps because He had to be. I heard Him, felt Him, kept going because of Him. But, as happens when you stay sober long enough, eventually I found a way to want to live for me. And I got better, and life got good. Then there was college (again), new friends and a sorority (yes, I pledged sober; I’m weird like that). Then there was a semester in Paris, and relationships, and a move to California. Then other relationships, and jobs, and real life. I met “the one,” and married him. Had my babies. Sometimes life was good, often it was rough. I had a house; was forced to sell it. Wasn’t feeling much in the way of God or connectedness, but I was feeling pretty pissed at the universe in general. Went to Bible study, seeking again. Didn’t find anything except for a whole lot of judgment. Wasn’t impressed. The answers I was looking for, I couldn’t find there. (At this point I will apologize to my many beloved Christian friends. It’s not personal. In the end, I’m just more of a God girl than a Jesus girl. I tried, and couldn’t get there. Wanted to, for awhile, but couldn’t. I respect your faith, it just isn’t mine.)

So back to the hand on my back, and the interview, which included discussion of some of my mixed-up background. They (of course) do not consider me Jewish. I knew this, and remained convinced I was supposed to be there. They called me back for a computer test. I was a mess; I was shaking so hard I could hardly type. It wasn’t subtle at all – I had to crack a joke about how nervous I was because I was worried they might think I was on something, otherwise. I was terrified I wouldn’t get it, my job. But still, somehow, they hired me. My boss (the rabbi’s wife) told me that when she read my cover letter, she knew I was the one for the job. For real. They may not think I’m Jewish, but happily they do think I belong there. I know I do. There have been other moments, too. For awhile things got tough enough for us financially that I thought I’d have to give up my job. And then miracles happened, and here I am, still, right where I am supposed to be. I don’t feel the presence of my Higher Power every day, or even close, but the fact that I’m still working there is enough for me, most days.

My daughter went to camp there this summer, and I got the almost indescribable joy of getting to listen to her sing all of the Hebrew camp songs I used to sing. I get to take both my children there for the Jewish holidays and it offers me a way to teach them both about their history, which is amazing. A lot of the Jewish side of my family has passed away, and my childhood memories, while formative, aren’t as clear as they used to be. Now I’m not relegated to the Internet as my sole means of teaching them. Because of my job, Judaism is becoming a part of their lives, too. That’s incredibly meaningful, and unexpected.

Not being viewed as Jewish is, depending on my mood, either annoying or painful. I get it, to them I’m not. Their belief system is exceedingly clear-cut. I respect that, even envy it sometimes. They don’t believe that you have to be a Jew to be a good person, which is nice enough, I guess, but feels like a backhanded consolation prize. I don’t aspire to convert, so it’s not about that. Who I am and how I believe isn’t based on anything other than me, and my confusing, on-again off-again relationship with my Higher Power. I’m not Christian, so I’m not quite sure where that leaves me, by their rules. I have to accept them as they are. It’s a fascinating window into a very unusual world, which keeps me impressed and entertained, most days. My bosses are kind, warm, intelligent people and I’m happy to be working for them. It’s been an Experience with a capital E. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Untie the Knot of Your Fear

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Yes, song lyrics as a title again. Probably not the most creative I could be, but I’m choosing them regardless. They’re not even from one of my favorite songs on the album, Swallowed by the New by Glen Phillips. But favorite or not, this lyric gets me every time. I think it’s because the imagery is so apt. Fear is a knot. Sometimes it’s a knot in your stomach, and sometimes it’s a knot in your throat (or worse, feels like it’s wrapped around it). If I started writing about one thing that scared me each day, would I ever run out of topics? Honestly, I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. Some of my fears are basic and all-too-common: fear of loss (my husband, my kids, my family and friends) or of not being good enough (as a wife, mother, friend or writer), for example. Some are more complex and buried so deep I’d be too ashamed to list them here. Fear and shame are bedfellows, an unholy couple that gain energy from each other, fucking in the middle of the night and keeping me awake. It happens, I swear.

I’m less fearful than I used to be, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean I’m cured. I have good days where I’m busy or feeling pretty good about life in general, and fear at that point is pretty much on the periphery and I forget how knotted up I can get, until the bad days come. I’m not having one right now, if that’s what you’re wondering. Not consciously, anyway. But those lyrics got inside my head and made me consider the areas in which I’m still knotted up, and there are more than a few. I’ve been lucky enough to find a few people who I trust enough to help me untangle the knots. My husband is one, certainly, and I know how big a gift that is, to have found him. I’ve shown him the knots, and he loves me anyway, deeply. It’s an amazing thing. I have friends I trust as well. In those cases I tend to be more careful, giving each a select knot. The tangles of my brain tend to overwhelm people. I’ve experienced this, so I’m more cautious now. Life lessons. Also, I’m not always good at letting people in. Or rather, I’m better at it in theory than in practice. It’s possible you need to get beyond the knots to forge the deeper connections, and that’s hard to do, especially face to face.

So I write, because that’s what writers do, I suppose. We expose ourselves on the page or post in a way that borders on emotional exhibitionism, but face to face we are often quite private, even hard to get to know. I’ve had a couple of occasions where someone mentions my blog to me in person, and I stare at them in horror, as if they’ve suddenly pulled a pair of my oldest underwear out of the drawer, the ones with holes that I haven’t been able to bring myself to throw out but would be horrified to have someone see. You mentioned my writing, in front of me?!? Are you mad? (I love the word “mad,” as the English use it. It’s a much better word than “crazy,” don’t you think?)

Anyway, while I may be flattered when people mention my blog to me (and I am), the larger part of me wants to turn and run. I don’t run from much these days, in the literal sense, at least. But talking about my writing is a Very Scary Thing. I’ve avoided doing so even in the places I’ve felt safest, because this is one area in which I am so not okay with potentially being judged not good enough. Also there’s the fact that I tend to spill the messier parts of my head in here. You might think that because I’m willing to write about them, that I’m willing to talk about them as well, but you’d be wrong. “But that doesn’t make sense,” you might say. No, it doesn’t, but you’ll have to live with it. I do, and it’s harder for me, I promise.

I need this outlet – need to be able to purge my thoughts here. Writing helps me process. I should do it more regularly, honestly, but I tend to be motivated in waves. I have found that if I’ve written about something enough (and by “enough” I mean incessantly on a level you can’t even begin to imagine, with sincere apologies to those who’ve been on the receiving end), it becomes easier to talk about, out loud. The path to reach that point is often long, but worth the journey. Probably. So the bottom line is, it’s getting better, but there are many knots left to untangle. I’m not sure if being witness to the untangling process is much fun for others, but here I am.

In related news, my daughter has my exact hair texture, which is fine and ridiculously easily tangled. Between the two of us, we go through tons of detangler, which is a survival tool rather than a luxury item for us both. Note: my hair is short, coming only to the bottom of my ears. It STILL tangles furiously. I comb my daughter’s hair only after spraying it with detangler and rubbing in leave-in conditioner, and I still get the occasional yelp from her. I am careful, though, and patient. I get it – working through knots hurts. But the reward is great: sleek, shiny hair that you can flip about with pride. We’re both getting there, one way or the other.

New Routine

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  So we’re halfway through the first week of school – hooray! My husband got a sub position for one of the three days, which isn’t too bad considering it’s week one and a bit early for teachers to be calling out in droves. My son is surviving his zero hour class so far, but I’m not sure my husband shares the sentiment, and I can’t blame him. My turn to drive my son is coming and I’m dreading it; I don’t want to be driving anywhere at 6:45am. It’s just plain wrong.

Avery loves kindergarten so far, and told her teacher as much, but went on to add that she “doesn’t like getting up early.” Her teacher apparently shares her feelings. That said, Avery goes beyond not liking getting up early; she can be damned near impossible to wake up. Today wasn’t bad, but yesterday I was forced to give up and had Chris carry her down the stairs to the couch, still snoring on his shoulder. My poor little night owl! This is a huge shock to her system… to all of our systems, actually.

One of the reasons I practically fantasize about Chris being able to give up the part-time jobs is that for the entirety of the 18 years of our lives together, he’s been the cook. It’s not that I can’t cook, I can. I actually love to bake, and I make the best chocolate chip cookies around. But cook dinner every night? No, no thank you. I hadn’t done it for 18 years and I had zero desire to start. Chris is a wonderful, enthusiastic and creative cook. Why would I want to stand in the way of that?

Then Chris started working from 4-10pm, and what I wanted flew out the window. The kids had to eat, obviously, and I’m a fan of eating myself. So after 18 years I found myself in the unwelcome position of making dinner every night. At first I was heavily reliant upon Trader Joe’s and what I happily describe as “insta-food.” I still really like it, especially when I’m exhausted and time is tight. Mixing riced cauliflower with their chicken fried rice is a new family favorite, and I can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes or less. What I lack in creativity where meals are concerned I make up for with lightning speed! This is probably the one category where I excel that Chris does not. After all these years, he still drastically underestimates how long the process of moving food from stove to table will take. Not me; my sense of time is strong, and the desire to get the hell out of that kitchen spurs me on. I’ve gotten a lot more confident in the last three months, often making foods that didn’t come out of a bag at all. (A round of applause!) But while I’ve managed to exceed everyone’s expectations in this area (which to be blunt were not high to begin with), I’d still happily relinquish the stove. When Chris cooked, I cleaned up. It was an even exchange that suited everyone. The trouble is, Chris now gets home from work at 10:15 or 10:30pm, and then has to shower immediately (he works in the fish department). He’s not even eating dinner until 10:45pm. So I’m now the one cooking AND cleaning up. The kids are great about helping clear the table, but the rest is up to me. It’s a very large part of my evening, and I’m not a fan. I do take pride in the speed at which I can pull things off,  but mostly I’m just tired and want a break.

Speaking of which, I just spent the the evening at Chuck E. Cheese for the second time in under a week, which has to be some kind of record for me. The first was for Avery’s friend’s birthday party, and tonight was for a school fundraiser. It’s far, far from being my favorite place. The amount of auditory and visual stimulation sends my brain right to the edge. I’ve never experienced a bad drug trip (or any drug trip), but this is what I assume it would feel like.

On the bright side, I didn’t have to cook! Yay for the little things!

Dress Code Drama

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My daughter is entering kindergarten tomorrow. Kindergarten. She won’t even be five for another couple of weeks, and I’m not at all on top of her birthday plans, but that’s a story for another day. Last night I was going through the paperwork in the folder that they gave out at orientation on Friday, and my eyes fell on the dress code. I started reading it, and the more I read, the less comfortable I became. It’s a funny thing, because my son went to this elementary school, and I assume that the dress code was the same back then. At the time, I most likely skimmed it but didn’t react. Why? Because he was a boy and it largely did not apply to him. Anyway, this time it bothered me. It bothered me enough that I posted about it in a local Facebook moms’ group. It wasn’t the post that broke the internet, by any means, but it certainly garnered more attention than I was expecting, and not all of it positive. Below is an excerpt of what I posted, or most of what bothered me about the dress code (and a bit of my reaction to it):

Shirts: Shoulders and tummies must be covered. No strapless tops. No bare tummies or backs. Funny how every word of this applies solely to girls, isn’t it? Avery got a new dress from H&M specifically for school which has spaghetti straps. Her shoulders are very much uncovered. Should I keep this one for home-only use? Wouldn’t want to test that code, right?

Shorts/skirts: Must be no shorter than the end of the fingertips while arms are at rest. Really? I had this same rule as a child in rural Michigan in 1978, and it was just as hard to follow then unless my mom cut off my pants to create shorts. For starters, once again, this part of the “code” appears to apply solely to girls. What happens if my daughter wears shorts or a skirt that isn’t of Bermuda length? Will the boys be unable to learn? I think at this moment she owns ONE pair of shorts that would be deemed acceptable under this rule. One. The dresses are probably hit and miss. I guess I could have her wear leggings under all her dresses, but as it’s often still over 90 degrees, I’d rather not.

In the end, there were so many replies to my post, and replies to replies, that it became difficult to find the reply itself even when receiving the notification of that reply. It was a bit crazy, honestly.

I may be an outspoken liberal, but where my children are concerned I consider myself fairly conservative. I certainly don’t buy anything resembling provocative clothing for my daughter, and I feel I am an excellent judge of what is or is not appropriate for her to wear. Does my kindergartner really need shorts to be as long as her fingertips? Is a glimpse of her shoulder going to send some young boy over the edge?

I may be more sensitive to this at the moment because I’ve read half a dozen articles in the last several months about various dress codes nationwide and how they get applied, mostly to girls. Articles that describe girls being forced to kneel in front of their teachers or a principal just to be certain their skirts touch the ground (this one sent me into a blind rage). Articles about a girl being sent home for failing to wear a bra (how is this anyone’s choice other than the student in question?). This kind of gender bias infuriates me, and seeing it get applied even at the elementary school level was very upsetting. There were a couple of responses to my post that I found particularly disturbing. Here’s a piece of one:

Just another silly thought, but if we are for girl power, maybe having our girls dress modestly (I may be mentioning a taboo word now) then the focus is not on the body but on the brain and the ability.”

Wait, so in order for the focus to be on the brain/ability, it is necessary for girls to dress modestly? How about just teaching our children to focus on people’s minds and abilities, rather than on their style of dress? I am not against modest dressing, if that’s what the wearer prefers, but to imply that in order for the focus to be on the brain or someone’s abilities modest dressing is required…? That really scared me. Below is another one that bothered me:

“Just follow the dress code and stop whining about it. Rules are rules!If you don’t like it you have the option to homeschool. (sic) We need to teach our kids young that even though we don’t always agree with the rules we MUST follow them.”

Wow. So if I disagree with something I’m by default whining about it? And I’m supposed to just go along with rules, regardless of how much I’m bothered by them? By that logic, women still wouldn’t have the right to vote and Jim Crow laws would still be in effect. Also, it bears mentioning that I absolutely do NOT have the option to home school, given that we both have to work in order to make ends meet. But thanks for sharing your thoughts. And yet another:

When you all have a 3rd or 4th grader that wants to wear the tiny Justice shorts to school, all you have to say is that it’s not to code. I am pretty sure they won’t be measuring the shorts of your kindergarteners (sic). It’s more obvious on a leggy 9 year old.”

While I’m all for allowing parents to mandate what is or is not appropriate for their child to wear, it’s the “leggy 9 year old” part of that response that left my stomach unsettled. So by 9 my daughter’s legs will be seen from that sexualized vantage point? Nine.

I’m all for open discussion, and no one is required to agree with me, ever. That wasn’t and isn’t my point. But I felt like so many of these responses gave tacit approval to a system that does in fact sexualize girls from a very young age. And perhaps the most upsetting response of all was this:

Oh man. Yes. My daughter was sent home in 1st grade because she was wearing a tunic tank top. You know, the kind that is all ruched elastic across the middle. The teacher at recess was the one to call her out, projecting and sexualizing her. I was livid.

My daughter owns tops like the ones described above. I have been warned, and I won’t be sending her to school in them, but in my opinion there is nothing at all wrong with the tops. FIRST GRADE. The girl was six. Give me a freaking break! Livid? I would have gone apeshit.

In the end, this was what I posted to one of the responses, and my feelings stand:

Boys will ALWAYS sexualize girls. Their clothing choices won’t change that. If a girl is told that she should dress modestly so that the focus is on her abilities, she’s learning that it is her job to hide/disguise her body so that others are able to focus on her insides. Maybe we should start teaching our young people that all people’s abilities should be noticed, and whether they’re in Daisy Dukes or a hijab shouldn’t matter?

If a girl WANTS to dress modestly (and I have no problem with the word at all) she should be able to. I work for Orthodox Jews, so clearly I’m on board with that concept. But to tell a girl that if her shorts don’t hit her fingertips she’s showing too much leg… or that if her shoulders are showing it’s somehow titillating, that’s wrong on any number of levels and it’s teaching our girls that their bodies need to be kept hidden, whether to allow others to notice them for their abilities rather than their bodies or to prevent boys from being distracted by the apparently endless allure of the female body (an allure that apparently becomes an issue as early as 9).

The more responses I read, the more convinced I become that it is perceived as normal that girls should hide their bodies, whether for their own good or for the good of others. NOT okay.”

So where do you all stand on dress codes? You don’t have to agree with me, I promise. Just don’t tell me I’m whining if I don’t happen to share your identical viewpoint.

 

Begin Again

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back-school-marketing1So, long time. I’m rusty, unsurprisingly. I also keep waiting for my old Nook to auto-correct, which is awkward. I hadn’t realized how much I’d come to rely on that handy feature to fix things for me. We all complain about Auto-correct’s failings, and there are many. But damn. It appears I can barely type without some kind of electronic intervention. Sad. Sadder still, I have an iPad now, but I haven’t downloaded the WordPress app and that is in part because I’m not convinced I remember my password. Whoops. I should do something about that at some point.

I bet you’ve all missed these clearly well-thought-out musings. I had the urge to write last night for the first time in ages, but the urge to sleep was greater still, and it won. Since it was my husband’s day off I was able to sleep the clock around, which was bliss. I woke up at 12:30pm with zero feelings of remorse.

School starts on Monday, and it will change our lives across the board. My husband has been a substitute teacher for the last year. He loves it, and he’s really good at it. He wants to go back to school to get his certification so that he can teach, possibly middle school science. Much more on this later. This summer has been rough without the mostly-steady income that subbing provided, and we will all be very grateful to have him back at it again. But what we haven’t quite determined is what to do about his other part-time jobs.

He’s been working at a grocery school since around the time school ended a few months ago. The pay is terrible, but it’s weekly, and there are definite advantages to having money always a few days away from coming in, however meager it might be. The school district pays once a month, five days AFTER our rent is due. You can imagine how much fun that is. It’s far better money, but it isn’t so much that it creates a surplus that will carry us easily through to his next paycheck. That weekly “grocery money” (Chris’ ironic nickname as it’s where it comes from and where it goes as well) is incredibly helpful. But I’m not sure how logical it is to expect him to work 8am to 3pm at school, then 4pm to 10pm at the store. While he’d only have that schedule three days a week, as he typically gets two weeknights off, it would still be exhausting. Oh, and as I mentioned he wants to go back to school. That schedule precludes that concept entirely. Additionally, he valet parks one extremely long day a week. But it’s a weekday, so neither of us can figure out whether it’s logical for him to hang onto that or not. With that job he also gets paid weekly, which is helpful. That regular influx of money has been a huge relief. It still obviously doesn’t pay as well as school, but relying on that once-a-month paycheck is a huge strain. We need to figure out how to proceed, but it’s tricky.

My daughter starts kindergarten on Monday – my baby! These five years have flown by, in spite of the financial stress and resulting loss we’ve struggled with. I’m excited for her, no question. That said, her school has half-day kindergarten and I work until 3:15pm. Ugh. So aftercare is required, and it’s $110 per week. Suddenly those annoying part-time jobs with weekly paychecks don’t seem so expendable. The aftercare program requires weekly payments, and won’t wait because the monthly paycheck from the district hasn’t arrived yet.

There’s no ready solution for any of this. We’re looking into his going back to school and taking on enough student loans to cover the cost of tuition, books AND his part-time job(s). Giving up the part-time jobs is the only feasible way he can study, regardless. It’s just that given what we’ve been through, willingly taking on debt, even of the student loan variety, is scary as hell.

My son is entering his last year of middle school, which is honestly a bit more than my brain can handle. His schedule is obscene; he’s in the GATE program and has a “zero hour” class this year, so school will start at 7am. Worse, we encouraged him to do this. We must have been out of our minds! We were watching the Olympics last night and talking about the next ones and whether Michael Phelps would in fact be there. My son said, “Wow, 2020.” I said, “Yes, and you’ll be 17.” That alone might have been horrifying enough, but of course my mind had to go to how old I’ll be in 2020. Jesus. So not okay.

I try hard to be relaxed about my age, especially now that I’m in the “older mom” category. I really do try, and I do all right, for the most part. But the realization that in 2020 I will be 51 years old just… honestly, it’s a giant mind fuck. I still feel 20-something, on average (and like I’m 15 on a bad day). Maybe I look 30-something on a good day, I’m not sure. But I just can’t picture myself at 50-something; it’s entirely unrelate-able to me. At the same time, I understand that getting older is a privilege, and not one everyone gets. So while I struggle with the notion of myself as “old,” the truth is I have an almost-5-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, so my reality is that old is good, or great, even. Hell, I’ll accept ancient, because I want to be around to watch them get married, have kids and figure out who they are. Since I had Avery at 42, those dreams absolutely require that I reach an advanced age. So bring it on, and I’ll work my way through my mental angst over being older than I feel.

Some days I look in the mirror and see every second of my life displayed in glaring detail on my face: gravity at work, bags under my eyes, those f’ing witch hairs that drive me to the brink. Others I look at my reflection and am surprised to find that I look pretty. There’s very little consistency and I’m never sure which version of me will appear. Is it my mind that skews what I see? It doesn’t seem to be solely mood-related. I can be having a great day and then catch sight of myself and think, “Yuck.” Conversely, I can be feeling shitty and then see myself and be shocked by the fact that I look great, especially for my age: glowing skin, relatively few wrinkles, eyebrows more or less on fleek. But all of this can change from day to day, or even hour to hour. So I never get the chance to build a solid sense of confidence, which sucks, but on the flip side I’m also not the depressed girl who never saw anything positive or appealing, even for a split second. The rotating image in the mirror might be tiring, but it’s better than it was. Speaking of tiring, I should edit this significantly. It feels like it should be a two-parter. It probably won’t, though.

Welcome back.

Tick Tock

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. Probably because it seems to be speeding up. My kids are going to turn 12 and 4 this summer. In the fall, my son will be going into his second year of middle school and my daughter will be starting preschool. Preschool. My baby. How in the hell did that happen? I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and there’s no slowing down. I’m moving at the speed of life, like it or not.

Most days, I’m fine with it. I enjoy having more “grown-up” kinds of conversation with my son, who surprises me all the time with his on-point observations. And while my daughter’s “Terrible Threes” leave something to be desired, I’ll take them over the infant stages, any day. She’s turning into her own person, and it’s (mostly) fun to watch.

So what gives, then? What has my stomach lurching into my throat wishing I could slow down the clock? It’s me. I’m not where – or even who – I thought I would be. That whole “What do you want to be when you grow up” question seems a lot less humorous at 46 than it did it 20 or 30. Back then I still felt like I had time to figure it all out. Now I’m acutely aware that time is slipping away, seemingly faster and faster. Those things I kept putting off “until” are rattling around in the boxes I put them in, reminding me that if things are shelved too long they might be lost altogether. My Facebook feed is full of articles aimed at people my age, and the prevailing theme seems to be:

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

When indeed? I lie in bed at night, my mind worrying over things I need to fix, things I can’t control and snippets of stories I never get around to writing. (If not now, when?) I wake up in the morning and the anxiety is still there but the stories are gone. The need to write – to find my voice – is recurring but unfortunately not constant. I shelve it a lot, based on everything from fear to getting the laundry done. Weird, I know. It shouldn’t be that easy to put off something so important.

This leads me to the self-esteem stuff. In this area I can honestly say that I’ve made real progress. I like myself far better today than I did at 20 or 30, but there are still things that need work. I like my face now, which is kind of amazing, honestly. I recently had a conversation with a friend about affirmations. It seems like only yesterday that I was 20, fairly newly sober and was forced to do them. God, I hated them, and felt like the world’s biggest idiot giving myself compliments as I looked in the mirror. Trust me, my tone at the time would have convinced no one that I meant what I was saying, and yet. Somehow, ever-so-slowly, the words took hold. The repetition became meaningful, less ironic. Miraculous, I swear. I wouldn’t have believed back then that I would reach a place where I would smile at my own reflection, but it happened.

Unfortunately, that positivity doesn’t entirely extend to my body. When am I going to find complete acceptance? At size 12, 10 or 8? At a particular weight? (If not now, when?) And what happens if I never get there? How many days, weeks or months of my life have been lost to wishing I looked a certain way? Moreover, how sad is that? What could I devote all of that wasted time to if I woke up tomorrow and decided to like myself – my whole self – exactly as I am? This shouldn’t be limited to my appearance, of course. Acceptance works best when there aren’t exclusions. What if I never sat around at a social event feeling weird and “other?” What would I do instead? What could happen? Deep thoughts. It would be helpful if I had the answers.

I am typing this on my Nook, somewhat haltingly, as I have been spoiled by the auto-correct on my iPhone. (Wait, you mean I actually have to type an apostrophe?!?) I am drinking cold coffee out of a cup that reads “Breathe,” advice I should certainly follow. I am still in my “lounge pants” (sounds better than pajama bottoms) at 2:30 in the afternoon and I have to pick up my son from school in 20 minutes. Next week is the last week of school, and it seems impossible that summer is almost here, already. Regardless, it’s clearly time for me to get my act together. Past time.

P.S. I recently have begun to follow a few “body-positive” models on Instagram. They are varying sizes and shapes, and all are quite attractive. I wish this notion of “attractive at any size” had existed when I was younger. When Cindy Crawford is the only example of a “curvy” model, you know you’re in trouble. The women who are out there now are advocating for women everywhere, and it’s refreshing and more than a little awe-inspiring. They may be younger, but I have plenty to learn from them.

Elementary

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Elementary

Last week I watched the season finale of “Elementary” with growing trepidation. The main character, Sherlock, is put under extreme stress and deliberately brought into situations meant to trigger a relapse into his addiction, which happens to be heroin. He resisted throughout, but the end of the episode leaves the viewers believing that he has in fact succumbed. It’s not entirely clear, but ultimately whether or not he’s actually relapsed is immaterial. The goal of the writers is to convince the viewer that he has fallen victim to his disease once again. I started throwing things at my TV in disgust.

Okay, not really. My TV is less than a year old and it’s my first flat screen, so nothing would inspire me to do it harm. Also, I’m not that crazy. But in my head, I was absolutely throwing things. Relapse is my least-favorite theme on TV. Writers would have us believe that 100% of addicts, however long they’ve been sober, will always relapse. In the real world the odds aren’t great, but they certainly aren’t that insurmountably ridiculous. On TV though, things are brutal: In the last week of season finales, Booth (a lead character on “Bones”) relapsed into a gambling addiction after years in recovery, on “Arrow” Captain Lance started drinking again after several years of sobriety and Sherlock on “Elementary” presumably relapsed on heroin. All three in a week? Seriously? Come on, writers. Twelve-step programs work better than that!

At the beginning of April, my mom texted to remind me that I’d turned 27. Oh, yeah. On April 2nd, it had been 27 years since I’d last had a drink. In that time, I’ve obviously seen many people relapse. Friends, sponsors, guys I liked. (Too many. I seemed to have a twisted form of radar for guys about to relapse. If I liked someone, he was a goner.) I saw relapse in people who’d been sober for years, and others who couldn’t seem to hold it together for more than a week or two. Addiction is a bitch, no question. But you know what? I’m not alone on some unreachable mountain of sobriety. I’ve also watched people get and stay sober, piecing their lives back together like intricate quilts. The threads show, sure, but that’s not a bad thing. It shows the work, shows where they came from. I’ve been lucky to know many people who made recovery the norm in their lives, until it’s the background, not “the thing” about their identity. I’m not saying it becomes unimportant: Recovery is the base that holds my quilt together. Always will be. But my life now is comprised of many pieces: husband, kids, their activities. At 19 years old, staying sober was the main thing, the only thing. Now at 46, it just is. I don’t take it for granted; I know I’m lucky – lots of people don’t get here, or worse, get here and then leave. But guess what? I’m not an anomaly, either. I’m not the only person in the history of the world to get and stay sober. There are thousands of us. Hundreds of thousands, even.

I realize that from a television standpoint, long-term sobriety is dull. So much less dramatic than relapse! But damn it, I can’t help feeling that these fictional relapses create this false notion that recovery from addiction is temporary at best. For the majority of the public, what they see on TV is the only exposure they may get to 12-step programs. I’m here to tell a different story, one that may not garner ratings, but here it is: It IS possible to succeed in recovery. I did it, and frankly I’m not that unusual. I would love to see a character like me: someone who has been in recovery for so long that it’s just another part of her life. Or his life. Not dramatic, not a constant, white-knuckled struggle. Just another piece of the quilt. Sounds good, but it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that I’ll be mentally flinging things at my TV once again. Damn writers are such drama queens.

Struggling

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A friend of mine shared a blog on her Facebook page the other day. The blogger is on WordPress at cannebodyhearme.wordpress.com, and she flat-out blew me away. The truth is, she is me, or might as well be. Except that she’s much younger, and much, much thinner. But her weight loss was achieved via Weight Watchers, so she’s been me, too. She’s been heavier, actually. Currently, though, she’s smaller than I’ve been in my adult life, ever. Or am likely to be, in truth. She must be 20-something; I just turned 46. I expect to lose more weight, eventually. I also expect to reach my goal weight, a number I have yet to choose. But will I stay at this mythical goal weight, once I get there? That also has yet to be determined. At the moment, it doesn’t matter. The future is not for me to angst over. I could, and have, but I also recognize that it’s a waste of my energy. One day at a time is more than just a 12-step program cliche, it’s the truth. It’s all we ever have. When I put that idea into practice, it makes all the difference. 

There was so much this woman said I could relate to… too much. I ended up reading several posts, skipping around randomly. She spoke of hating herself in pictures, of only seeing the flaws. That has little to do with weight; nearly every woman I know – regardless of size – seems plagued by that same issue. She wrote more specifically of avoiding smiling in pictures because she felt it made her face appear larger. Ouch. Guilty. So very guilty. Moreover, I almost never smile with my teeth showing in photos, because I think it makes the problem worse. When I do try I think I look awkward, nearly manic. Years and years of trying to smile “just enough” have taken their toll. 

She wrote one blog about being stuck in a mode where she wanted that piece of cake worse than she wanted to be thin, at least for the time being. She also talked about avoiding meetings because she knew she’d gained, and about the shame she felt. I’ve been there, lately. I haven’t been tracking and I haven’t been to a Weight Watchers meeting in a month. Initially I had gained a little, and wanted to “fix it” before weighing in. Uh huh. Want to guess how well that’s working? The further I get from my last meeting, the more I gain, and the harder it is to face that scale. She at least seemed to be getting on the scale at home, though. I’ve been avoiding even that, worried that it will tell me I’ve failed, that I’m huge, ugly, a mess. Ah, numbers. The bane of my existence. I was never very good at math, but the power those numbers have over me is horrifying. I know I’ve gained, and I feel terrible about it, but without the number, it’s a nebulous, manageable kind of terrible. I am guessing I’ve gained around five pounds, because my clothes still fit, they’re just less comfortable. But if I get on that scale and find out I’ve gained seven pounds instead of the five I think I’ve gained? Let the torrent of self-loathing begin. All that over a theoretical difference of two pounds? Yes. Yes, indeed. 

It’s about the number, yet it’s not. The entire thing is a construct, really. I feel pretty and good about myself at a given size, but hideous at the next size up. It’s all bullshit. It’s me beating myself up and grabbing an arbitrary number to use as my weapon. It’s not about the weight.

When I was in Overeaters Anonymous, I learned that anorexics were no different than I. Oh, they looked different, to be sure, but it was an illusion. Different sides of the same coin. The low self-esteem and self-hate, the battle for control of our weight… all the same. They might have been thinner but they weren’t winning the battle, either. The differences were all a matter of perception. Our own, society’s…. In the end it didn’t matter.  The goal was never a number, but a different way of looking at ourselves, and at food. The struggle to achieve those things is so much fucking harder than reaching a fixed point on a scale. 

I looked at this girl’s “after” picture, and I was jealous. She’s young, she’s thin and she’s very, very pretty. It’s all a lie, though, an illusion. We are the same, she and I. We both seek a healthy relationship with ourselves and with food, and both of us continue to struggle. She hasn’t “won” because she’s thin now. Her post revealed that “after” wasn’t an easy place to be. Not surprising, in the end. There is no “after,” there is only today. It’s all we have, all we can have. What we choose to do with today, though….

As for me, I need to face my fears and get my butt back to my Weight Watchers meeting. I can’t do it alone. Any lie I tell myself that keeps me from weighing in is ultimately just my self-destructive tendency rearing its ugly head. I need to go. To face the number, the scale and myself. Those people in my meeting, my leader included, will neither hate me nor shame me for gaining weight. No. I do that to myself. Self-love can’t be conditional, hinged solely on what the scale is telling me. Going to that meeting is an act of love. Staying in my townhouse eating cookies, not so much. The struggle is real, and it’s a life-long one. Today was better than yesterday. I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Debbie

Witch Hair Trials

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I know I’ve shared before about how important tweezers are to me, and how without them my eyebrows would almost certainly have taken over my face. Eyebrow trauma is easy to share. After all, stories about getting the perfect, face-framing eyebrows abound. We joke about unibrows, threading and waxing. But eyebrows are not my topic today. Honestly I feel like I’ve more or less won that battle, finally. No, this story is about a much darker, more shameful issue: the witch hair. Read any InStyle articles on dealing with them lately? Didn’t think so. Fashionistas clearly don’t discuss witch hair. Ladies either, I’m guessing. Oh, well. I’m known for my fearless honesty.

Witch hair is a much more recent entry into my Hall of Shame. I don’t remember worrying about the hair on my face – eyebrows aside – until I hit 40. Suddenly, the intrusions began. Just a single hair, here or there. But UGH, the texture! Unlike the baby fine hair on my head, these suckers felt like wire. Also, ironically, in spite of the fact that I am losing the war with gray hair (80% now, underneath the blonde), these enemies almost exclusively are the dark brown I was born with. Bastards!

I should mention that in spite of my approximately 25 years as a SoCal resident, I remain quite fair. Years ago, on trip to Boston, my not-yet husband remarked, quite unnecessarily, “I think we’ve found your people.” Yep, I fit right in. I haven’t been asked to play an extra on iZombie yet, but it’s not an impossibility. Anyway, back to the witch hair.

Stiff and dark, they stand out in horrifying fashion against the pale backdrop of my skin. Also, what started out as an occasional skirmish became a miserable daily battle. I’d pluck one out, and three more would pop up to take its place, Whack-a-Mole style. I couldn’t wax because the skin on my chin is way too sensitive for that (don’t ask). So I plucked, and I plucked, but it never got better. Often they would break in the process, leaving me with short-but-still-obvious witch hair. I hated them. So much so that I finally cracked and decided to try laser hair removal. I was initially concerned about the expense, but finally I decided for the sake of my sanity I had to give it a go.

The place I chose was in a nondescript center in a strip mall. It’s actually pleasant inside, in a clinical sort of way, but it isn’t a building that screams “glamor.” I doubt I’ll be running into any celebrities there. I filled out their forms, waived my right to sue them if the process of trying to rid myself of witchiness ended up setting my face on fire or something, and met the woman wielding the magic wand. She cautioned me to remove any makeup, lest the laser be attracted to the pigment and burn me. I scrubbed, hard. I was worried about the pain, which many describe as feeling like a snapping rubber band, but honestly there was none. The noise was startling, and the smell of burning hair was slightly disturbing, but otherwise it was all fine. When it was over, she handed me a tube of heavy-duty sunscreen and told me I should schedule another appointment for about six weeks later. Then she told me not to use dipilatories, wax or pluck in between. If she had told me not to pee for the next six weeks, I couldn’t have been any more shocked. “There must be SOMETHING I can do,” I wailed frantically. “It grows too fast! I can’t do nothing!” Inside, I was trying to rationalize staying inside my house for six weeks. What excuses could I make? Could I feign quarantine? “You can shave,” she said finally.

Shave. My face?!? Like a man?!? (Well, maybe not the hipsters sporting lumberjack beards, but you get the idea.) If I’d thought fighting a losing battle with witch hair was demoralizing, the idea of having to shave was somehow worse. Girls don’t shave their faces. Razors are for legs. Or underarms. If you’re desperate, your bikini line. Not your face. Never ever.

I made it three days before I caved. I couldn’t do it, but I couldn’t *not* do it, either. I wasn’t about to face the world with stubble. There are only two small areas that cause me all this trauma, one on each side, each less than a square inch in size. (The total cost of a laser treatment for an area this small is $10. Ten. That’s it.)  It took me only seconds. Demoralizing, yes, but also fast!

I had my second treatment two weeks ago. I thought maybe there was a little less hair on the right side after the first treatment, but somehow the left side seemed worse. I was frustrated. This time the technician was a bit more aggressive, since I’d had no negative reaction after the first round. In fact, a few days later, I had a light pink patch in one spot on the left, kind of like a sunburn. The hair grew back; again I shaved. And then the miracle happened: It’s been a week since I last shaved, and the left side of my face is clear. No stubble, nothing! On the right I have two small pieces of hair, but that’s all. Believe me, there used to be a lot. The treatments appear to be working! (Insert choirs of angels singing.) I look in the mirror, and the witch hair has almost vanished! It’s amazing!

I don’t know what price you can put on sanity, but at a grand total of $20, I’ll take it.

Don’t judge.