Monday, July 21, 2014

Country and Jazz

My Summer of New started off strong, then, predictably, began to falter.  Luckily, when it was novel and fresh and exciting, I'd made myself a little list of ideas, so when I noticed I was really having to reach to come up with a new thing to record at the end of the day ("My kid learned how to dive!  Wait, that's not my new thing.  I watched a movie I'd never seen before!  Yes, and...?), I used the list to get me going again.

Today was the day I listened to not-my-radio-station all day long.  Well, when I was in the car, which is the only time I listen to the radio.  The kids started a day camp across town, which very conveniently starts AND ends at the height of rush hour, so it was a couple of hours of drive time musical novelty.

The buttons in my car are programmed to:
  1. Adult contemporary (Bob Marley to The Lumineers to Ray LaMontage to Sheryl Crow)
  2. Alternative
I mostly switch back and forth between those two channels when ads come on, but sometimes I use the other buttons, which are, more or less in order of preference:

    3.  Classical music
    4.  the 80s station
    5. NPR
    6.  classic rock

So today, I programmed the second menu of buttons to the following:

    1.  Christian music
    2.  Jazz
    3.  the Spanish station
    4.  hip-hop
    5.  country
    6. top 40

Here's what I noticed:
  • Both the hip-hop station and the top 40 station played "Fancy."  My only previous exposure to the song was when Jimmy Fallon lip synched to it.  I had just read this article by Brittney Cooper describing how Iggy, a white Australian, has co-opted black culture with this song, so I was both interested and slightly repulsed.  Also, I can't get it out of my head.  
  • When I switched to the jazz station, I immediately wanted to switch away.  Jazz is so...twitchy.  Not enough melody.  I was grumbling to myself, 'It's like the clarinet and the piano are playing two different songs that happen to have the same beat."  Then I started counting the beat in my head, and suddenly it started making more sense to me.  I wound up listening to two more songs before an ad came on.  It's still not my cup of tea, but I bet it's fun to see live.
  • The Christian station was boring.  Sorry, but it was.  
  • I liked the music on the Spanish station--all that accordion music always reminds me of Eastern European songs--but the DJs were really shrieky.  
  • So were the hip-hop DJs.  
  • Top 40 was only slightly less dull than the Christian station.
  • Surprise of the day--I was kind of digging the country station.  I'm not sure why they have to sing with a twang--in rock and pop, you can't tell if a singer is American, Swedish. British, or what, so don't tell me they're not intentionally twanging--but I am a sucker for story songs.  There were several that were okay, and one I came home and looked up.  Luke Bryan's "Play it Again."   I think I've heard his name, but I don't know any of his music.  
This was fun.  At first I had to remind myself not to switch away from the stations, but by the afternoon I would listen to several songs in a row, switching stations at ad breaks, like I normally do.  My listening to unfamiliar stations all day doesn't do any good for the world, but it was definitely a "break out of my rut" day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New High, which is actually a New Low

I grew up thin without thinking about it.  I thought diets were dumb, and girls who obsessed about their exercise program were boring.  My best friend was prettier and more socially skilled than I, but when we stood side by side examining ourselves in the mirror (that's not weird, right?), she would sigh, "Your thighs are so thin."  I was extremely pleased with this.  (It took me years to realize that we didn't have the healthiest of friendships.)

When I started swim team my sophomore year in high school, my mom took me aside after the first month and informed me that I had 3 weeks to put 5 pounds back on, or she'd take me off the team.  Anorexia was "new" then, and I'm sure when she read about all these middle class white girls who felt like they had to be perfect, she worried about me.

I chuckled then, and I chuckle now.  I also started eating donuts after practice.  I have many hang-ups and unhealthy habits, but starving myself will never be one of them.  

The summer after college, I was on a beach in Cornwall, and realized that my stomach was not perfectly flat.  It rounded (every so slightly) over my bikini bottom.  I was mortified.  Not enough to DO anything about it, but still.  My days of eating whatever I wanted and being slim anyway were clearly numbered.

I was still thin.  I stayed a size 10 (at 5'7") until my mid-thirties.  I have never been athletic (swim team was a delightful two year aberration), but in my thirties I started hiking a lot more, and even climbed a few non-technical mountains.  I was heavier than I'd been in my twenties, but also stronger and with more stamina, so I didn't care.  By 35 I'd grown out of my size 10 clothes, and accepted that I was now a size 12.

My husband and I spent a year in Riga, Latvia, walking everywhere.  Despite indulging freely in the local pastries and readily available Scandinavian chocolates--Daim bars!  Marabou!  Dumle!--I lost 20 pounds.  I was still a size 12, but my pants tended to hang off my hips, clothes that had been tight were now loose, and I crudely took in a few skirts by folding the waistband over an inch and sewing it down.  Then we came home, and I put the weight back on.  Then I lost a chunk of it.  Then my mom died, and I put some back on.  Then we adopted, and I lost some again, chasing after kids and playing tag.  Through all of this, I was still a size 12.

This year, however, I started to put on some more weight.  Clothes became uncomfortable.  I popped the (riveted!) button off my favorite pair of jeans.  I started noticing lines on my skin when I took my clothes off at the end of the day.  I began to favor knits and anything with an elastic waistband.  As spring rolled into summer, I decided that since I would be more active in the summer, I should not buy any new clothes in size 14.  That way, I wisely figured, I'd be even more inspired to lose the weight, so my clothes would be comfortable once more.

Then the hot spell hit. Day after day it's been in the 90s.  I live in western Oregon, we don't have air conditioning, and this is HOT.  I pulled out my shorts the other day and couldn't even get them past my thighs.  I have plenty of elastic waisted skirts, but the day I found myself picking raspberries in a skirt, I decided I may as well buy a cheap pair of shorts.  Goodwill, so I wouldn't be straining resources because of my temporary flirtation with chubbiness.

Today I grabbed two grocery bags of donations, made special dispensation for the kids to have extra computer time, and headed off by myself to find a pair of shorts that fit.  I steered myself towards the "Large" section, then realized it went up to size 12.  Extra large?  Really?  I pulled some 14s and the occasional 16 off the rack, and headed to the dressing room.

14's, like my size 12 shorts, couldn't force their way past my thighs.  16s could, but  pushed rudely against my skin when I (breath held) zipped them up.  The first pair of capris I tried on that were comfortable were size 18.

Size 18.  X-Large.  "Women's" section of the store.

I have friends who would kill to get down to a size 18.  I have a coworker who is on a crazy diet where for 3 out of every 4 weeks she is on 500 calories a day, and she has gone from over 300 pounds to 200 in the same amount of time I've put on 40 pounds.  One of my dearest, oldest friends, who has faced more shit in her lifetime than anyone ever should have to, is trying to do the same thing in a more measured, sustainable fashion.  I can still fit in a regular seat, still find clothes at a regular store.


This flies in the face of my self image.

Which is interesting, because the rage my children call up in me also flies in the face of my self image.

And here's the thing:

If I were to gain another 3 sizes next year, but finally master the Scary Mean Mommy in me, I would be so happy and proud and relieved and self confident.

But if I were to get back to a size 12, and continue to have periodic bouts of insane, borderline abusive parenting, I might feel less shame.

Because people don't know what happens in my house.  But they sure as hell can tell the difference between a woman who has "let herself go" and one who "takes good care of herself."

And that's kind of fucked up.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Casual Saturday

It's got to be a seriously hot day in Oregon before this Mama goes commando.

Just sayin'.

Friday, July 11, 2014


The kids were eager to hit the pool.  I didn't mind driving them across town to the pool with a slide and diving board, because the only good day Oak had during the week he spent at the rec center day camp was the day he (astoundingly) passed the swim test and got to go off the diving board.  His crawl stroke is mostly thrashing around, and he takes on so much water that he can't make it far.  But he had somehow managed 25 yards of it, plus a return lap on his back, and couldn't stop smiling all evening.  I wanted to see it for myself. 

As soon as we got in, he found a lifeguard to watch him.  It was Open Swim, so the pool was crowded, and the lane lines were set up perpendicularly across the route he was supposed to swim.  I heard another kid ask if they were allowed to dog paddle, and the lifeguard said nope, you had to get your arms out of the water.  I wondered if he'd be able to make it again.  Oh ye of little faith.  He killed it.  KILLED IT.  Even more exciting, his eyes sought mine across the mass of bodies--he wanted Mama to witness his success.  I clapped above my head, and we both beamed. 

He joined the group in line at the diving board, and after watching the first few leaps, I was able to focus on Linden.  She had totally forgotten her swim lessons, and kept sinking when she tried to steamboat.   We played and bounced, and after I demonstrated what she was doing, she figured out how to correct it.  We took lots of breaks to go down the slide, bob under water, watch her brother cannonball off the diving board, etc.  I went over once to go off the diving board.  Thinking of my summer of firsts, I jumped high instead of quietly stepping off as usual.  I plunged to the very bottom of the 12 foot pool, and felt a bit panicky as I paddled back up for air.  That was enough of that. 

But after an hour, the lifeguards congregated at the deep end and put the diving boards up.  Could it be?  Yes!  They were lowering the rope.  A simple rope, with two knots in it, held up by a quite complex system of pulleys and cords.  THIS would truly be a first.  I got in line behind two twenty-something Spanish speaking ladies.  We exchanged grins, noticing that the rest of the line was in the 9-12 age range.  Oak twisted around and made amazed faces at me.  I was focused on watching others' technique.  Grab onto the rope above the first knot.  Rest feet against lower knot.  Drop at the high point of the swing.  I worried about my ability to get my feet in the right place, but also about my ability to hold myself up by just my arms.  A few people dropped unceremoniously into the pool at the low point in their arc because of that issue.  My son and mi amigas did great. 

Then it was my turn to stand on the deck.  The lifeguard used his shephard's hook to bring the rope to me.  I grasped it firmly above the knot, then jumped.  My feet didn't hit the lower knot, but it turned out to be easy to rest them against the rope for extra support.  I swung out over the water, then dropped into it.  Splash!  I came up laughing. 

I took two more turns, much to Oaks' chagrin.  "Mom, why do you keep getting in line?!?"  he said to me, half laughing, half whining. 

"Because it's FUN!"  I told him.  "You can pretend you don't know me...oh wait, too late!"  I laughed again. 

The first two times, my focus was on holding on to the rope, then letting go at the right time.  The third time I was comfortable enough to actually pay attention to the swinging part, watching the world (or at least the rec pool portion of the world) swoop by.  I was giddy with delight, but Linden was getting tired of entertaining herself, so I went back to her.

The end of Open Swim drew near.  I decided to take one more swing on the rope.  This time I landed funny, and felt a familiar jolt of pain in my neck.  I got to the side and tried to look casual as I scooted along the edge to the ladder.  I have enough trouble hauling myself over the side of a pool when I'm not in pain.  I even went down the slide with Linden one more time before we headed to the showers.  But hair washing was hard, and that night I had trouble sleeping because I couldn't turn over without waking up and manually turning my head. 

Still.  The neck ache healed in another day or so.  The memory of flying through the air remains, as does my pride in the delightful mix of embarrassment and awe my antics caused my pre-teen.  I'm less than a month in, but I know this is one of the highlights of my Summer of New.

What is something silly you've tried lately?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dinner Alone

Today's new adventure was unplanned.

It was a fairly typical summer day.  The kids and I woke up on the back porch.  We don't have AC for the same reason we don't have a snowplow attachment on our pickup--the weather here requires such things so rarely that when we do get extreme heat or snow, it's exciting and new, and we just enjoy it.  I made breakfast.  I supervised some chores.  I told my dozing husband that I was taking the kids to therapy.  While one kid worked on their crap with our therapist, I took the other across the street to the French bakery for a treat and some summer workbook time.  When I switched kids, we got so caught up in the treat and workbook that we suddenly had the other kid and our therapist standing next to our table.  "Ack!" I sputtered, glancing at the clock behind me.  Yep, we were late.

"It's okay!" she assured me.  "Linden knew you guys would be here, and she wanted to come on her own, but I told her I'd come with her."

I took them to the mall--a first in itself, now that I think of it--where we picked up some supplies at the teacher/homeschool store and window shopped at the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear.  We talked about saving up our allowances for Legos (Oak), a stuffed pony (Linden) and yard darts (me--they're not as deadly as the yard darts of my youth, but I still want them).  We ran another errand, then headed home, where I made everyone lunch.  We got out the new watercolor pencils and started drawing.  After nearly two blissful hours of near-harmony, I sent them out to wash the car.  I knew this wouldn't be the most environmental or economical carwash ever, much less the most thorough, but our car couldn't possibly look worse, and the kids love anything that blends water play and work--have fun AND feel virtuous?  What's not to love?

While they were occupied, I got to work on a long-neglected pile of dishes.

Those done, I headed upstairs and settled into the comfy chair in my bedroom with my laptop and the book I'm reading.  Before I'd quite figured out which I'd focus on, the Winemaker entered.  World Cup matches done for the day, he was ready to get to work on power washing the deck.  "Can you help me move the patio furniture?" he asked.  I did the not-actually-inaudible sigh and shoulder droop that one uses to signify I really don't want to, but I'm too polite to whine.   He said, "Are you busy?"

"I'm not busy," I said, resignedly.  "It's just that I've been busy all day."

"Okay," he replied.  "Let's just do it later."

Suspecting the passive agressiveness with which I would be capable of saying such a thing, I started to go into a no it's okay, really spiel, but he was already walking down the stairs, cheerful as you please.

So I went back to the comfy chair.

About 10 minutes later he was back, and I prepared myself to get up and help out.

"I'm taking the kids to Taco Bell and then Tae Kwon Do," he said.  "See you in a couple of hours."

I think I'm in love.  (With the same guy as always, which is both convenient and miraculous.)

And that's how I wound up on the deck, in the fresh evening air, having half a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream before dinner (!), and then having stir fried kale & carrots, mozzarella with fresh picked basil, and a glass of wine, all by myself. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer of New

How's that for a grammatically troubling title?

Remember when I was going to #cleanonething each day?  Ha!  That pretty much lasted 3 days or so.  I am tempted to go back and erase that post, but that would be dishonest.  And if I'm going to succumb to laziness, I figure I should at least try to uphold a little dignity in the honesty department.  So I'm on to something new.  No, I do not have ADD, why do you ask? 

I feel like goals have been an issue for me lately.  I mean, I can obviously reach big life goals.  I got an undergraduate degree.  I got into Peace Corps.  I got a graduate degree, and a job, and for fuck's sake, I adopted two kids.  Marilla and Matthew may have sent off for a farmboy and wound up with the daughter of their heart* (that sounds creepy since they were siblings,  but you know what I mean), but in this day and age, nobody adopts without being VERY focused on reaching that goal.  Also, I've climbed a few mountains.  I've even taught middle school for fifteen years without ever ONCE killing a student, not even a little bit.  So I like to think I'm a capable person in many regards.  And yet...

Teachers set yearly professional goals.  I imagine it's somewhat the same process all over the country.  You set two "SMART" goals, discuss them with your administrator, then come back at the end of the year and discuss how you did.  I have always chosen goals I cared about and made enough progress on them to end up feeling good about myself.  This year we were given our goals.  Yup. One goal was specifically given to the whole teaching staff, and for the other goal, our department was informed what to focus on, and we had to write one together for all of us.  I promptly forgot about one of the goals, and struggled mightily with the other.  At the end of the year, this had an adverse affect on my evaluation.  To be more specific, I had the first mediocre evaluation of my teaching career.  Blech.  There are plenty of other factors involved, but still, it stung. 

Then there's the weight thing.  Blame it on perimenopause, blame it on depression around my dad's death, whatever--I have gained an impressive amount of weight this year.   In a weird way I was even enjoying it.  "Wow, I'm BIG!"  But then I outgrew all of my pants, which was distressing.  So I joined Weight Watchers through my work.  And forgot to attend most of the meetings.  And did not follow the program.  And continued to steadily gain weight. 

Which brings me to my goal.  I came across an article about a man who was doing something new every day for a year.  He'd realized that his holiday letter from 2011 was virtually interchangeable with his holiday letters from five and ten years earlier and decided he needed to shake things up.  He did things like skydiving, riding a mechanical bull, or starting a fire by rubbing sticks together.  (I am probably combining several of the "one new thing a day" folks, but they all seem pretty adventurous.)  I liked the idea, but I know myself well enough to know there's no skydiving in my future.  I also know my life well enough to know there may be things I'd be willing to try, but the current family and financial situation would make them difficult or unrealistic.  Then I came across a few blogs--not by people who'd written books or been interviewed on national talk shows--in which they recorded new things such as walking counterclockwise on a route they'd always done clockwise, or sitting in the "wrong" spot at the dining room table.  And I thought, "I can do that." 

I decided to do one new thing a day for the summer.  This was on about June 25th, but as luck would have it, I could think of a new thing I'd done each day already, starting with speaking at a memorial service on June 21st.   So far I've been enjoying it.  I've had to stretch a bit to come up with a "new thing" on some of my quieter days, but I've also stretched in terms of trying actual new things a few times.  Plus--bonus!--while I don't plan on blogging every little thing, some of the more challenging items will give me something to blog about (now that it's summer and I have time to write...)

Some of my ideas:  write fiction, swim laps (I used to do that, but not in over 20 years, so I think it counts), go bouldering, make some new recipes, make and freeze meals ahead of time, show up 10 minute early everywhere for a day, spend a day listening to radio stations I'd normally avoid, do a 72 hour sugar fast (nervous about this idea!), figure out how to download books from the library...feel free to share either suggestions, or new things you've tried lately!

*If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not sure I want to be friends with you.**

**On second thought, it just means you need an introduction to Anne.  This is a rare case when I'd even recommend the mini-series if you're not a fiction reader.  Seriously, my macho brother-in-law LOVED the show.  

I'm a Thunderegg.

I’ve always been average-looking.   Not a face to turn heads, but not one to make small children cry either.   This means, of course, that for most of my adolescence I considered myself hideously ugly.  Middle school was particularly rough.  My mom made most of my clothes, I spent lunch hour in the library reading Anne McCaffery’s Dragon Song series and Agatha Christie mysteries, and I sang bass in the school choir, because my singing voice was deeper than most of the boys’.  I could give your more examples—or a completely different set—but either you know exactly what I mean, or you never will. 

Things started looking up in high school.  Overt cruelty became uncouth, for one thing, and I had the good fortune to attend a public school where getting into a four year college was the expectation, not an exception.  Suddenly, being a serious student was cool again.  I joined the swim team and made a good group of friends.   I applied for a short-term exchange program, and the summer I turned 16, off I flew to an island suburb of Bergen, Norway.

I had a fabulous time.  My host sister, Judith (Yoo-deet), and I became instant friends, which is fortunate, as we spent six solid weeks in each other’s company.  I saw fjords and glaciers and the midnight sun.  I shopped at Benetton and got a hot pink and black checked sweater AND a hot pink jumpsuit (it was 1985; what can I say?).  Judith and I walked down to the gas station and bought double decker ice cream cones, pistachio and chocolate, and listened to Springsteen singing “Jersey Girl” on the jukebox.  I learned how to say “good dog!” in Norwegian, and said it constantly to their sweet Burmese Mountain dog.  We took a ferry to Stavanger, and I bought a hand-knit sweater from a little old lady; a sweater I still break out every December.  I toured stave churches, and we watched Dallas on their VCR and Eurovision on their TV.  We went into town and saw Amadeus in the theaters, then hitchhiked back because we’d missed the bus.  (I was terrified, which amused her.)  The family made me a wonderful birthday cake, all whipped cream and fresh fruit, and I didn’t even miss my parents as we celebrated.   After I’d been there a month, Judith and I got weepy every time we remembered I’d be leaving soon. 

Somewhere in the midst of that delightful summer, I was dashing down the stairs of their home when I saw a familiar face.  I felt a jolt of happy recognition.  Sure, I was having the time of my life, but it was the first time I’d ever been so far away from the known.  I’d always taken a friend to summer camp with me; all my other travels had been with my family; I’d lived in one house my entire life.  So when I saw someone I recognized from home, I had a flash of sheer joy.

It was my own face in a mirror.

As soon as my brain identified that dear, familiar, face, I had an epiphany; one that has never left me.  To those who love me, my face is beautiful.  The affection I felt for that sweet little recognizable face is something like what my family and friends would feel if they ran into me unexpectedly.  Not “Wow, she sure has big earlobes,” or “That left eye is a bit squinty, isn’t it?” or “I guess she’s never heard of eyebrow shaping.”  Just, “Hey!  There’s Wendy!  Yay!” 

I pressed on through all those years, into what I currently recognize as my life.  I have days when I feel pretty, days when I feel hideous, and weeks when I don’t really think about my looks one way or another.  Only one person has ever really fallen for me, but since it’s the one person I fell hard for, it’s quite enough.  I smile for cameras like I was born to it.  I wear my bathing suit in public despite having put on 40 pounds in the past three years.  I wore a burgundy and silver gown to my wedding, because white makes me look more corpse-like than bridal, and I figured it was more about feeling beautiful than following “rules.”  

Then I adopted a little girl.  A very pretty little girl.  One who is fascinated with Barbie.  One who begs for earrings, and make-up, and heels, and who is perennially disappointed that I utilize those accessories sometimes, rarely, and never, respectively. One who refuses to wear a plain t-shirt, or even a simple striped one.  All shirts must have glitter, butterflies, or some other evidence of merchandized femininity. 

Last spring I went on her first grade class field trip to the zoo.  She was unabashedly thrilled that I would be there. Then the night before the trip, as I lay next to her at bedtime, she said, “I told the other kids not to laugh at you when they see you.”

“Um, okay?”

“Because of your skin,” she clarified, patting my cheeks, covered as they are in the characteristic red bumps of rosacea.  "And your teeth," meaning the gap between my front teeth.  “I told them that you are pretty on the INSIDE.”  

Clearly, this was meant to be an act of love on her part.  Clearly, I wasn’t taking it quite the way she’d imagined, so she plunged ahead.

“See, some people are pretty on the outside, like they’re a gem on the outside, but they’re a rock on the inside.  You are a rock on the outside, but you’re a gem on the inside.”

“Ah.  So, I’m a like a thunderegg.”

She still wasn’t sure if I was taking this the right way.  That made two of us.

“Because of your HEART, see?  You have a beautiful, beautiful, heart.  And that’s what’s important.  Kaliah at school is like a gem on the outside, because she’s pretty, but she’s like a  rock on the inside, because she’s mean, but with a little bit of a gem inside of the rock, because sometimes she’s nice.”

She trailed off.  This conversation was not going quite the way she had thought it would when she practiced it in her head.  I’ve been in the same situation, and I knew she really did mean well, so I rallied enough to thank her for looking out for me.

It bothered me all the same.  If there’s anyone who will think you’re beautiful, it’s your small children, right?  So if your adoring child thinks you’re ugly enough to warrant warning others, you must be pretty awful looking.

And yet.  I’ve seen her face light up when I show up to pick her up at the end of the day.  I’ve seen her make a beeline for me before she’s all the way awake in the morning.  She kisses, she hugs, she pats, she clings.  She turns to me when she’s scared or hurt or can’t get to sleep.  She quite literally can’t get enough of my cuddles and my attention.  She doesn’t think I’m pretty.  But my face is beautiful to her—I know this even if she doesn’t.  Someday she will look at pictures of me and sigh, marvel at how lovely I was, just as I do when I see pictures of my mom at 4, 13, 25, 68. 

My epiphany holds up.  I am beautiful to those who love me, even if they themselves don’t know it.  I am beautiful because I bring them joy.