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.

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.

 

Waiting for spring

A few quick updates from last weekend:

  • I did not puke. Nobody did. I’m hoping that means the bug is all gone. (We Lady Macbethed the house, just in case.)
  • I woke up Thursday looking more like myself than I have in lo these many moons. The big dietary difference was peanut butter. PB is now getting the stink eye. One by one, all the foods I used to love are moving to the no-fly list. My younger self would recoil in horrified confusion at my diet these days. But then my younger self would view everything about present-day me with baffled amusement.
  • After a bumpy start (the first printer didn’t work coming out of the box, so tech support sent me a new one), my new printer is installed and works beautifully. Mostly. I haven’t managed to set up the ink replacement plan, because I can’t get the Best Buy site to talk to the Canon site. But I can print. So I’m better off than I was last weekend.

What else is new?

I’ve been wallowing in musical nostalgia, catching up on what two of my greatest musical loves — John Waite and the Goo Goo Dolls — have been up to since I became a mom and lost track of pop culture. JW appears to have gone heavily blues/country in recent years, and that’s not the head space I’m in now, so I’ve put off listening to his new albums at length. However, after the disappointment that was Magnetic (for me, anyway), I’m in love with several tracks on GGD’s Boxes. We diverged for a while, but it feels like we’re back on the same page — an odd sort of forward-looking nostalgia. GGD was my band back in the day, so it’s like coming home.

Dried chickpeas are a no-go for me, but supposedly I can have canned chickpeas if I rinse them well. So I found a hummus recipe to try. Also a guacamole recipe, because I’m still running low on fat — I’m hoping I can tolerate avocados now. What I don’t like about guac is the garlic, but I can’t have garlic anyway. Maybe I’ll like it without? I have a can of chickpeas, a jar of tahini, a lemon, a lime, and a couple of avocados, so…we’ll see.

Anya’s teacher has recommended that we supplement her school-sponsored speech lessons with outside therapy sessions, so we’re currently searching for a new clinic. Hopefully extra sessions will give her the leg up she needs to get past these last few pronunciation hurdles. It’s one more thing to fit in our days, though. I’m glad the kids weren’t interested in spring activities, considering.

At the shallow end of the pool: Mrs. Meyer’s honeysuckle-scented laundry soap is making me ridiculously happy. Every so often I catch a whiff of something that smells absolutely lovely, and then I realize it’s me. I have unironically held my shirt to my face and inhaled deeply, like someone from a detergent commercial. So even though the bottle’s more than half full, I’ve purchased a backup. When something so simple makes you this happy, you don’t want to run out of it.

Over on the murkier end of the lake: I realized that all of my current writing projects feature my grandmother’s kitchen. I don’t have happy memories of that room, so I’m not sure what it says about me that I keep revisiting it in fiction as opposed to, say, my childhood kitchen, which was the location of so many happy moments. My grandparents are dead and their house bulldozed and gone, yet I can’t seem to let it go.

Speaking of writing, I’m not making much headway on my books. Or any of my personal projects. Perhaps some of the blame lies with the long hours I’ve been working; after dinner, I just want to go to sleep. However, I think the truth of the matter is I’m too busy treading water to muster up creative energy. Somewhere between psychoanalyzing my postmortem relationship with my grandmother and sniffing my laundry…that’s where I’m at these days.

Or it could be that my metaphor’s off. Perhaps it’s winter’s last hurrah: the tail end of my hibernation. Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll wake up and, just like the trees, I’ll find my branches covered in tender green leaves. Maybe we’re just waiting for spring.

Ode to Super Target

Our local Super Target is closing, and my daughter is deep in mourning.

I get it. I do. There are several Targets we shop regularly, but Super Target has always been my favorite. Not for the same reasons my daughter favors it — she’s in it for the toys, and for the (admittedly superior) Dollar Spot. Coming so close on the heels of Toys R Us going under, this closing has her panicked. Where will the toys come from?

I prefer Super Target because it offers the best one-stop shop — for someone with small kids, that’s the Holy Grail of shopping. Some parts of the store are not as well stocked as regular Targets, true. But for our general needs, Super Target covered my bases well.

Super Target was a weekly outing. An event unto itself. Need clothes, groceries, toiletries, toys? Super Target. Need to get out of the house? Need steps? Need to take the kids somewhere indoors? Just need a treat? Super Target’s got you. It was my kids’ first Target. One of their first words. And the first logo either of them recognized. We loved the store, the employees, all of it.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been to Super Target. The weather’s been icky and we’ve been sick and we just haven’t gotten out. But Mom and I shopped there last week. A lot of departments are all but empty. I stood there misting over in what had been the baby clothes section — so many of my kids’ outfits came from there! Yes, I felt ridiculous. But this store has been a constant in my life for the better part of two decades. It’s going to feel strange to shop without going there.

Part of me wants to keep Anya from seeing the store like this. But maybe it would provide her some measure of closure. Just as I needed to see it, one last time. The kids still have Christmas money they’ve not spent; perhaps I will take them to buy one last toy there.

It’s not goodbye forever. There are other Targets. And this is an important lesson for her, for Kai, for me: Nothing lasts forever, but just because something good ends doesn’t mean something good won’t take its place.

We’ll miss it, though. The store and everyone who worked there. It’s in many ways the end of an era.

A door closes

It began in January.

We’d gone out of town shopping for the day, and were on our way home. I don’t remember feeling pain, though I often had stomach upset when we ate in restaurants, so I can’t say for certain that I had no pain. I do remember my underwear feeling sticky, but that wasn’t an unusual occurrence; weird things had been going on in my underpants for a couple of years. But what I found in that gas station bathroom was a shock.

“Mom?” I remember saying. “Come look. There’s something in my underpants.”

I’d started my period. Only it didn’t look like any blood I’d ever seen. It looked more like I’d crapped my pants. Nobody had prepared me for that.

I knew about periods, sure. My mom was open and honest from early childhood about such things. And I’d had that sex ed class the year before, where they separate the boys and girls and show each group a movie about what’s going to happen to their bodies during puberty, and some kids had to sit out because their parents didn’t sign the permission slip. (We filled them in on all the gory details afterwards. C’mon, parents — did you think you could send your kids to public school and still keep them in a bubble?) The movie didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know, though.

I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, however. Case in point: When I got home that January night, I marked a P on the 17th of every month in my planner (yeah, I had a planner at 12; I was that sort of kid) because I knew periods came once a month and I’d seen my mom track them on her calendar with a P. How cool it was, I thought, to know what day your period would start on for the rest of your life? The joke was on me, though; not only did I not fulfill the February P, I didn’t have another P for a full calendar year.

That one looked like blood. Lasted for more than just one day, too.

The subsequent 30 years brought with them a series of Ps. Some light (not many), some gory (lots and lots). Most painful. Some excruciatingly so. For most of those 30 years, I planned my life around my Ps. Waiting for them to come. Waiting for them to pass. Trying this medication, that diet. Yoga and Tai Chi and Pilates, meditation and massage and supplements. Anything to alleviate the pain. Wishing for pregnancy, for menopause, for some relief from the relentless monthly suffering that is endometriosis.

It’s January again. Not the 17th, but close enough. And that door just closed for good. According to my period tracking app (I haven’t carried a paper planner in a couple decades), it’s been a full calendar year since my last cycle, and the doctor says that means I am done menstruating. I’ve gone through young womanhood, and just plain womanhood, and come out the other side.

I’m in uncharted territory now.

I call myself a mothercrone. Not that I feel particularly old; I don’t. But neither am I in the same place as I was a few short years ago, when pregnancy and childbirth were still on my radar. However, I’m still mothering littles — nursing one of them — so I can’t go full-on crone quite yet. Also, I’m only 44. The crones eye me warily yet. I’m on some odd bridge between the two states. Residing in a constant state of change.

As for that change. Not much has changed, I suppose. The hot flashes and sleeplessness may be a bit more intense now than they were last January, but not so distressing that I feel the need for medication. I cry easily. I’ve become a crier since giving birth for the first time, but now a passing thought is all it takes to turn on the waterworks. I have love handles that I’m not sure will ever go away. Without monthly hormone fluctuations, my fibrocystic breasts are less lumpy and painful. (Also smaller — I guess I really was mostly cysts.) I no longer develop sausage feet for no discernible reason. Otherwise…I’m just me. Only me doesn’t bleed anymore.

I look back on adolescent me, young woman me, with a lot more sympathy now. I felt like such a screw-up, when really I was just a lost kid. I wish I could tell that girl that it’s okay to be lost. That everyone is lost. That if you only admit that you are lost, someone might come along and help you get found.

In a similar fashion, I look back on adult me, and while her failures and shortcomings sting more, mostly I wish I could just assure her that things will be okay. The things she worried most about never came to pass. I wish I could tell her to pause, breathe, and be.

I wonder what old me will wish she could tell current me. I also wonder when I will feel that I have earned my crone wings. Not today, not tomorrow, and likely not next week, month, year. But I’m on my way. A little lost. A little nervous. But doing my best to pause, breathe, and be.

Maybe Heihei has IBS, too

Those of you who keep track of this blog, particularly the recipes, may have noticed a trend over the past few weeks. Specifically, a shift from actual food that people might want to eat to…soup. Soup with 5 or fewer ingredients. Glorified baby food.

There is a reason for this.

Remember back when I found out that I’m full of it? Since then, I’ve been on a mission to eat healthier — more fresh fruits and vegetables, less cheese and pasta. And I succeeded. I, an avid, lifelong fruit hater, managed to consume fruit on the regular. Even grew to like fruit. (Okay, some fruit. Let’s not get crazy here.) But it didn’t help.

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I drank enough water to sink the Titanic. Exercised. Meditated. Did yoga. Abdominal massage. De nada.

So I started doing research. Discovered this lovely autoimmune disorder called irritable bowel syndrome. And these foods called FODMAPs. The internet tells me that if I eliminate FODMAPs for a month or two, I should go into remission, and may then be able to eat food again.

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I began to experiment. I discovered quite quickly that gluten is a highly probable trigger for my symptoms — the last thing I ate before I wound up in the ER all those months ago includes gluten as a main ingredient. So I eliminated gluten. And dairy (another common trigger). And, as I began noticing reactions to them, almonds, oats, corn, rice, then pretty much all grains. Eventually, I was down to eating these foods:

  • avocados
  • mangoes
  • honey
  • strawberries
  • pomegranate juice
  • potatoes
  • apples
  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • celery
  • peanut butter

I stuck with that for a month. And it didn’t help.

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Back to the FODMAP drawing board. Turns out a lot of what I considered to be “safe” foods aren’t low FODMAP-friendly. (Depending on the list you are consulting; I’ve found them to conflict.) So while I do believe I’ve resolved the original impaction (I still need to go back to the doctor to verify that), I have not yet corrected the cause. Which means that I still swell up like I’m 8 months pregnant nearly every evening. I still wake at 2 a.m with excruciating back/abdominal pain. And I’m still hungry pretty much all the time.

So I’ve cut things back even further. And continue to eliminate foods. I’ll give it a month. If I can’t sort this out with another round of low-FODMAPping on my own, I’m consulting a dietitian. Because I am still breastfeeding. Because I’ve begun losing my hair, and have had to start taking B12 as a result. Because I’m a wife and a mother and a business owner, and I don’t have time to be run down. But mostly because I’m becoming depressed every time I try to cook or eat or buy groceries; the joy has been sapped out of eating, and what I’m left with is a pinless grenade of a digestive system. I’m miserable, and I’m making everyone around me miserable.

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Sorry the food’s been so boring. Believe me, this isn’t what I want to eat, either. With any luck, I’ll get this glitch under control and go back to eating at least some fun foods. Or, less fun, I’ll start posting IBS-friendly recipes. I just have to sort things out first. Thanks for hanging in there while I do.