Invasion of the body snatchers

If there’s a stage in menopause where you wake up in a body not your own, I’m in it.

I’m not talking about the digestive issues, either, though part of me wonders if that wasn’t influenced by my hormonal upheaval. No, I’m talking about these pillows on either side of my waist. My upper arm flags. The bags under my eyes, and the matching bolsters on my jawline. The overall jiggliness of myself when I attempt (badly — really, you do not want to see this) to have a dance party with my kids.

I was prepared for grays. For wrinkles. For my bra to wander towards the floor (which, thankfully, is not an issue, at least at present). I was not prepared to look like my grandmother. But here we are.

It’s been a chain reaction of self-loathing. I hate my body, so I hate how I look in clothes. I buy clothes that work better for my body, but I hate them too because they look so…old. I hate my hair, and my face, and I contemplate drastic revisions to both. A new haircut, or maybe hair color. Taking a laser to my face. Or maybe I should focus on my body — have some fat sucked out. Only I’m broke, squeamish, and have seen that episode of X-Files one too many times.

Think smaller. Like anti-aging serum I’m not sure I even needed that — after three days! — left a red, scaly chemical burn-style rash all over my face and neck. Oh, right: I have sensitive skin. I forgot that in my desire to blast the top layer of it off.

So now I’m pudgy and flabby and gray and wrinkled AND red and scabby. Nice.

I’m not opposed to aging, and I’m not a fan of trying to look 30 when you’re 70. But I guess I’m also not ready, mentally, for the age I am. It’s the back bookend to the feeling I had when I entered puberty: I wasn’t any more ready for boobs and body hair and armpit odor than I am for the changes I’m going through now.

Once again, my body is not my own. And I do not approve.

 

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Ten songs

Maren Morris’ “Song for Everything” got me thinking. For years I’ve tried to put together a soundtrack of my current stage in life, but I’ve never managed to pull it off. Probably because a soundtrack is more of an overarching score. It’s not defined by a moment, a month, a week, a year.

These ten songs provided the score to key points in my life. Not that they were the only significant songs to me; there were many, many others. But these helped shape who I was, who I have come to be.

Stay the Night: Chicago. The first song I obsessively listened to the radio to hear. The first 45 I bought myself. Before I bought the 45, I sat in front of the radio with a blank tape in the deck and two fingers on Record and Play so I could tape it — a position I would proceed to spend the next several years in. (Gen Xers know what I mean.) It hasn’t aged well, this song. But I couldn’t make a list of songs that were important to me and not include it. In many ways, this song was my introduction to music.

November Rain: It seemed like Guns ‘n’ Roses’ releases were perfectly timed to coincide with fights with my high school boyfriend…which in retrospect tells me all I need to know about that doomed little relationship. (It was a good year for GnR. Not so much for us.) This one was the end-all: the breakup. It still gives me a twinge.

Silent Legacy: Melissa Etheridge. I’ve talked about my suicide attempt, but what I’ve never really talked about is how worthless I felt after the fact. Selfish, weak, whiny, and completely unlovable. I know that’s not what this song is about, but it still made me feel seen. Gave me hope that someday, things could get a little bit better. (I would really like to go back and give teenaged me a hug. Poor kid.)

Beautiful Day: U2. This song was the first thing to make me smile after my first adult-relationship breakup. I listened to it on repeat until I believed it. The first few chords bring on a tidal wave of sensory memory from the furnitureless living room of my first apartment.

Normal Life: July for Kings. I first heard this song shortly before I got married (the first time around), and it embodied everything I hoped my life was about to become. Things didn’t work out that way, obviously. This song holds the distinction of becoming equally important at another point in my timeline: Shortly after the birth of my daughter. When I moved into the house next door to my parents and realized, suddenly and completely, the driving forces behind the life trajectories of most of the people I’ve known.

And Around: Tabitha’s Secret. My first husband was a Rob Gordon type, and he hooked me up with some pre-Matchbox Twenty Rob Thomas. This song was pretty much the soundtrack of our divorce from my perspective. (Plus a boatload of Sarah Maclachlan, which I listened to while washing dishes and crying and feeling like such a movie cliché.)

Wake Up: Joe Hedges. Every so often, the song you most need to hear comes along at precisely the right moment; this is one of those. This song kicked me out of the funk I found myself in when my post-divorce relationship blew up; it made me realize it was high time to start focusing on me. I found 43 Things, set some goals, took some classes, and set upon my current path of self-improvement. (At which point I met R. Of course.)

In the Blood: Better Than Ezra. This is the song that pulsed through my veins during my early pregnancy with Anya. The thrumming drum beat felt like the little pulse tapping away inside me; the song embodied my nervous excitement at finally getting and staying pregnant. The pace suits my energetic daughter, so I still say she chose it.

Ride: Cary Brothers. As “In the Blood” was Anya’s song, this is Kai’s. And much as the former suited her, this one suits my dreamy, stormy boy. I was so cold the whole time I was pregnant with him; my blood coursing through my veins felt like a cool stream. This song is the auditory equivalent of what it felt like.

The Book of Love: Peter Gabriel. This song will forever remind me of my husband, my partner-in-everything, the man who made me a mom and a wife long after I gave up on either of those things happening. Love didn’t end up working like I thought it would, but that’s not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

I’m beginning to see the world with new eyes. Older ones. Sympathetic ones, mostly. I’m not a “Youth is wasted on the wrong people” person. I’m more a “being young is hard and it’s a wonder any of us make it out alive” person. I don’t know when I stopped being a young person myself, exactly, but clearly I have; some of the people I consider young can vote. I’m cool with being older, though. Means I came out the other side.

I can’t wait to see which songs make my next ten songs list.

Talks with my daughter

I’m currently trying to build time alone with my daughter into my schedule. Walks are ideal, because when we go for walks, she talks to me. Really talks. The questions that have been nagging her come out. The things I most want to say to her finally get said. And we relate on that deep level I’d always hoped I would with my daughter.

One of the things we talk about while we walk is consent. Not in a sexual sense, though I see that conversation emerging in the distance. We talk about how people treat her. About how I, as her parent and protector, do and do not allow her to be treated. About how she can and should insist she be treated.

I’ve broken up with the kids’ dentist. The clinic is very kid-centric, and has the coolest waiting room I’ve seen, hands down. The kids were always happy to go to the dentist. But what matters is the dental care, not the office, and they let me down. Worse, they let my kids down.

The year before last, Anya had some dental work done. Three fillings and an extraction. At 6. She’s a tense child under the best of circumstances, so they gave her something to relax her. It didn’t. She screamed and cried the whole time. The dentist kept telling her to be quiet. To stop crying. Kept insisting she stop screaming because she was scaring the other children. Kept telling her she had nothing to cry about. It took all I had not to scoop her up and carry her out of there. But he’d already drilled out the fillings, and I knew I’d never get her in another dentist’s chair if we left just then. The way he spoke to her turned my stomach, though. I fought back tears the whole time.

Later, after we were home and she had calmed somewhat, I told her she never had to go back there if she didn’t want to. But she decided she did want to go back, so I kept the kids’ follow-up appointment.

Again, she was terrified. I mean, why wouldn’t she be, after what she’d been through? She got through the visit okay, though, because she saw a different dentist at the clinic. But her fear had infected her brother, and he refused to have his teeth cleaned. Then, after he saw that Anya did okay, he wanted to try again — and was ignored.

I spoke up for him. I was ignored. And that was it for me. I told the front desk that we wouldn’t be back. And I told Anya that she could start going to my dentist if she wanted to.

“Does he ever yell at you?” she asked. Oh, my heart.

“No, sweetheart. He has never yelled at me. He has never hurt me. He’s a very nice man.”

“I want to go to your dentist,” she said. “I need a nice dentist.”

I told her that no doctor or dentist, or teacher — no one — had the right to speak to her the way that dentist spoke to her. That she may be little, but she is a person. That she had every right to scream and cry, because she was scared and in pain. Screaming and crying are perfectly acceptable ways to express those feelings. Especially when you’re six.

Last summer, on the second to last day of her swimming lessons, the swim instructor walked her out after class, long after the other kids in her class had gone. She was choking and sobbing and trembling. The teacher told me she’d gotten scared putting her face in the water, and jokingly asked Anya if they were still friends. Anya didn’t answer.

On the way home, Anya told me the teacher kept pushing her face in the water — water that was over her head — even though Anya was sobbing with fear. She begged me to let her skip the last swimming lesson. Up until that day, she loved swimming lessons, and even planned on getting lifeguard certification like her dad. No more.

I’d had my reservations about the swimming lessons, I must admit. They wouldn’t let me go back with her. That always sets off alarm bells for me. So when Kai’s turn at lessons came up, I was on high alert.

They let me go in with him the first day. I watched as one of the instructors made a little boy cry so much he nearly vomited. He was afraid of the water, so she made him hold on to her as she swam out to the far end and back with all the other kids. His mother finally pulled him out of there and left. I was ready to do the same, but Kai was so eager to swim. He begged to go back the next day. I was hesitant, but allowed it.

He said nothing after that next lesson, but when it was time to leave for class the following day, he refused. And that was it; he was done with the lessons. I don’t know what the instructor did to him, but he refused to go after that.

I told Anya all of this. I told her that those women had no right to treat her and her brother — any of those children — the way they did. I told her that while I do force her to do things that are scary, that hurt, like doctor visits and vaccinations, I only do them when needed to keep her and Kai safe and healthy. Otherwise, I respect their wishes. If they don’t want to learn to swim, they don’t have to. I told her that some adults feel that forcing a kid to do scary stuff helps them get over it. And I told her that because of adults like that, I still can’t swim.

I told her that it’s very important that she go to the dentist. That sometimes the dentist has to do scary, uncomfortable things — cleanings and fillings and x-rays and such. But that no dentist has the right to tell her not to cry when she’s scared. No dentist has the right to continue inflicting pain when she’s begging him to stop. I told her about the little boy at swimming lessons, and how I didn’t think the instructor had the right to keep swimming out to the deep end with him when his mom was telling her to let him out of the pool. Maybe that instructor taught hundreds of kids that way. Maybe she taught her own kids that way. But it wasn’t up to her to decide that this boy must learn that way — that was up to the boy and his mother, and they were saying no.

Consent isn’t just sex. Consent is the thousands of liberties adults take with children from the time they’re babies, because they’re bigger and think they know better. Because they can. I sincerely hope that by teaching Anya and her brother these things now, I’m giving them the tools to better handle consent when sex enters the picture.

A graduation of sorts

Yesterday was my last physical therapy session.

I’m not better, but things have drastically improved. I can sneeze and cough without wanting to cry. I can bend over and pick up Legos without (much) cursing. I can pick up my son without help from people or furniture. My lower back moves now. Not without pain, but the pain’s bearable. I can work through the rest.

Now it’s on me. If I want to keep being able to do those things, I need to carve out some time each day for my exercises. That’s been hard, especially this week. I logged close to 80 hours of work this week, and Monday was a holiday. But as I heard my therapist say to another patient yesterday, “Work is important, but so are you. And if your body doesn’t work, you can’t.” Too right. So on today’s agenda is setting up an exercise schedule.

The second part’s harder. Most of my pain now comes from dietary flares. They’re not as bad as they were, but I’m still swelling enough that I have to wear R’s pajama pants to bed. R outweighs me by about 50 lbs. I should not be swelling that much. So clearly I have more work to do on my diet. I need to be a bit more scientific in my food trials, and I need to start menu planning again. For all of us — our eating habits went out the window when I stopped planning dinner menus.

Also on my radar is intermittent fasting. (My preferred eating schedule when I was younger — back before it had a name, and influencers.) If the only sure-fire way for me to feel better is to not eat, maybe I should try to plan not-eating times into my day. I made a half-hearted attempt at IF earlier this year, before the house blew a hole in my routines, and it helped a bit. Perhaps it will help more if I don’t eat trigger foods during my eating window.

Today, though, I’m taking it easy on myself; I’m sore and swollen from yesterday. So I think I’ll do some stretches. Plan some menus. Set up an exercise schedule so maybe I don’t have to go back to PT.

I love my physical therapist, but I’d rather spend that money on furniture.

Homecoming

I don’t believe in love at first sight. But if I did, I’d say have experienced it exactly six times:

  1. At 16, when the boy who would become my first love smiled at me for the first time.
  2. At 27, stepping into the living room of the apartment my wasband and I ended up moving into together.
  3. At 32, the night I first locked eyes with R.
  4. At 37, when I held our daughter for the first time.
  5. At 40, the morning I gave birth to our son.
  6. At 44, when I first entered the house we just bought.

Each time, that first glance set off a chain reaction deep inside me. A sense of homecoming. It wasn’t so much that I could see the pieces falling into place, but that I could see where I fit, finally. Everything up to that point suddenly made sense, because it all led me to that moment.

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There is nothing about this living room I don’t love.

It’s a little embarrassing to talk about, really. I don’t tend to think in such woo-woo terms. But I can’t deny that those six moments held a significance that was apparent immediately. I dated a lot of guys between that first boy and R, but the others didn’t make me feel the same way. I’ve lived other places, and even loved those places, but none of them gave me that immediate feeling of being home.

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This picture pretty much sums up the adult life I’ve been working towards since I was 19.

So buying this house was understandably a big deal in more ways than one. Because three of the people on the list above moved into it with me. And while there’s still much about the house that feels weird and foreign and new, in many ways it feels like we’ve always been here.

I recently came across the Day Zero post I wrote nearly a year ago, in which I committed to writing my wish list for a house. It’s funny how much of what I was looking for I actually got. Of my incredibly specific 34-point list, here’s what I didn’t get that I can’t easily/immediately add myself:

  • A built-in vanity in the master bath
  • A walk-in pantry
  • A covered patio/sunroom with a ceiling fan
  • A walk-in closet for Anya
  • All wood/tile flooring

I mean, if I were designing a house from scratch, what I’d come up with would be almost exactly this house. I imagine that factors heavily in the way I feel about the house. But it’s more than that. We just fit here.

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See, even the couch fits! Not that we won’t be buying a new one at some point. This one’s ten years old, and looks it.

The lack of posts recently is because I have been busy. First unpacking, which is now mostly done — no, really! — and then cleaning and sorting and organizing. Which will be an ongoing process for a while.

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I wish I could say this was a temporary state, but the big difference is the garbage bags have been emptied and removed. All that crap’s still on the floor. I just stay downstairs as much as possible. But I will eventually have to go up there and deal with it.

The previous owners took good care of the property, but they weren’t much for dusting and vacuuming, it appears. My birthday present of a new Roomba (named Milo) is getting quite the workout. We’re all pretty congested these days, but I’m hoping that things will improve once I get some of this dust out of here.

The sorting and organizing I expected; no matter how streamlined and efficient your organization process, it never transfers perfectly from one house to the next. You have fewer drawers, more cabinets, more closets but less shelving. That sort of thing. My current project is the closets: They all have wire organizers that are simply not up to the loads we need to place upon them, so we’re in the process of replacing/upgrading them.

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I am also in the process of buying all new curtains, because the last time I bought curtains was with wedding present money. From my first wedding. In 2002.

Funny thing about these projects: They don’t feel like home improvements, but home realizations. It feels like we are helping this house become what it was always meant to be.

Ours.

 

March was busy

Lucy, I got some updatin’ to do.

  1. We bought a house. It was a whirlwind sort of thing. I saw a house I liked. We filed our taxes, and I found out we qualified for a mortgage sufficient to buy said house. Before we could view the house, however, someone bought it out from under us. But then we viewed two other (better) houses, and made an offer on the second one on the spot. Now we live in it.
  2. I had a follow-up with my nutritionist and found out that while I am not deficient in anything (go-go gadget multivitamin), I am sensitive to stuff I have been consuming every day for years. Like milk. Wheat. Quinoa. Ginger. Vanilla. Mint. Soy. (Have you ever tried to remove soy from your life? It’s in everything.) Life makes a lot more sense now. I still don’t have my stomach under control, but I gurgle less.
  3. I started PT for my stomach and back. I am tight as a drum from my ribs to my hips. I also have diastasis recti and adhesions from the cesareans. Hence the pain, and the pot belly even when I was 105 lbs. I’ve spent the past several weeks trying to teach my lower spine to curve. I didn’t realize this was a thing you could forget how to do.
  4. Moving week saw me get another cortisone shot in my wrist. Scalpels were mentioned. I’ve decided I’m going to let the nice PT ladies take a crack at it first. I don’t love needles, but I hate scalpels.
  5. R got a new job. His new employer lets him come home way more often than his former employer, and also gives him two whole days off every week. Compared to how things had been going, this feels like he’s working part time.
  6. Kai turned 4. He would be starting pre-K in the fall, but the local school canceled pre-K next year, and he refuses to go to a different school than Anya. So I get one more year with my little man. I’m deep in my mommy maudlins these days (mah babies are growin’ up too fast!), so I’m totally fine with this development.
  7. Anya is improving in all ways, but none so much as her science game. Kid has the mind of a biologist. And we are all learning much about science along the way.

We are currently settling in to our new digs. More updates when the dust (literally) settles.

The pain is getting to me

I’m having a hard morning.

My lower back and abdomen hurt. I hurt so bad that it awakened me from a sound sleep. (That happens pretty much every day, tbh.) The pain is bad enough that when my daughter dropped a box of oyster crackers earlier — why, of course upside down! — I couldn’t help her clean them up. And snapped at her for dropping them. I hurt bad enough that I have to hold on to things to sit down and stand up. I can hold a plank for three minutes, but can’t sit on the toilet without bracing myself.

And there’s more. My belly is flat now, but if I consume anything other than tea, anything at all — a smoothie, a snack, a meal, a sunflower seed — by evening it will be resting on my thighs like I am pregnant. My legs swell. My face. My skin itself is stretched and itchy, and is marked with grooves left by the loosest of clothing. I can’t tell you exactly when this all started, because for a time the symptoms blended in with the endometriosis symptoms and I simply wrote them off. But I can tell you that it’s been going on for several years, and that it’s only getting worse.

I wish I had faith that the nutritionist will help me, but I don’t. If the ER docs and the GP and the GI all got it wrong, can her blood tests do any better? And if she can’t help me, who can? WTF is going on, and what brought it on, and how do I stop it?

I’m healthy. I’m in good shape — not the best shape of my life, perhaps, but fit. I eat a healthy diet. I take care of my body. I’m older, but not old yet. Why do I feel so bad?

You can see in my kids’ faces that we’ve been through this so much, they’ve adapted. Their voices soft and solicitous, they bring me blankets and give me gentle hugs that do not involve contact with my abdomen. They squabbled for a second earlier, but now they’re calmly watching a tablet and waiting for the storm to pass.

They know it will pass. I know it will pass. But I’m tired of having something that has to pass.

I know that hope will return, but I’m tired of dealing with the lows between.

I just want to feel better.