Lies mirrors tell

You may notice a lack of goal updates lately. This is not an oversight. I’ve dialed back the goal work recently. This is why.

I’ve heard the term “body dysmorphic disorder” bandied about quite a bit, but I never thought I had it. Not until I read Lindi Ortega’s Lenny Letter and recognized myself. The way I’ve picked apart my skin, my hair, every small feature of my body since I was old enough to start noticing the way I was different from other people. So, like, age 6 or 7.

So young, you say? Yes. Which is why I am dismayed, but not shocked, to hear my daughter obsess over her lack of a six-pack. I have no idea where she heard the term; I’ve never been fixated on having a six-pack. (I just want a flat stomach. It doesn’t have to have definition.) But I did learn, finally, where she got the notion that she, at the age of 6, should have one.

384517_2858208169180_112976356_nThis is me at Anya’s age. I did not do anything special to earn those muscles. I wasn’t especially thin — no thinner than my daughter, at any rate. I just have natural abs. I still do; I can feel them in there, above the endometriosis bloat and beneath the pregnancy-loosened skin and the breastfeeding pudge. I can make them stronger, but they’re already pretty strong; after months (okay, let’s be real — years) of inactivity, I can work up to doing 100 jackknives in less than a week. I can, if no small child decides to sit upon my back while I’m down, go do a 3-minute plank right this second, in my piggie slippers. I can’t do anything about the bloat or the pudge or the floppy skin, but the core strength is still there.

My daughter got a lot of things from me. Her hair, her eyes, her long legs, her smile. But she doesn’t have those abs, and she feels she should. Just as I, at her age, thought I should have a more feminine face and blond hair and more dainty hands and an even tan. (It was the 80s. Tan was a thing.)

When I got older, I fell victim to the Stridex and Clearasil marketing that was suddenly ubiquitous. So much so that I had Clearasilled upwards of 20 chickenpox blisters before saw one on my knee and realized they weren’t the world’s ugliest pimples. (I was 12, and I never really had acne. I didn’t know any better.) I obsessed over my (clear) skin at 12. And my suddenly thick, frizzy, wavy, unruly hair. I didn’t, at least at first, give a thought to my body.

Then I did, because boobs were everywhere. Except, it would appear, on me. I was flat until my 20s, when things shifted a bit to give me a somewhat balanced figure. But I still didn’t fill out shirts. And my calves were like sticks, no matter how much I exercised. I once did so many heel raises that I had to coat myself in Ben-Gay for days just to lurch to class. I had a flat stomach, slim thighs utterly free of cellulite, and a perky butt, but I had a small chest and tiny calves, so I felt hideous. I would buy clothes in the plus-size section, trying to mask my grotesque form.

The funny thing is that back then, everyone thought I had an eating disorder. I was in fact trying to gain weight; I was just unhappy, and when I am unhappy, I can’t eat. But the criticism I received from well-meaning people trying to save me from the eating disorder I didn’t have didn’t help my self-esteem one bit.

Such has it always been. I have picked myself apart my whole life, and people have helped me do it. But the loudest, cruelest voice has always been my own. And to watch my daughter start to do the same is devastating. Even more so because I’m still doing it — only now I’m comparing myself not to others, but to my former self. I put on clothes I wore before I got pregnant with Kai and look at the fat that bulges up around my waist and across my back. I look at the splotches on my face and wish for the skin I had at 18 — pimples and all. I look at my dimpled thighs and wonder why I ever thought bigger calves were such a big deal.

It’s not just my appearance, either. My house isn’t clean enough and I’m a horrible mother and a worse wife and daughter. I don’t work hard enough, and what work I do is laughably bad. I waste my free time doing things that don’t matter instead of finishing my book or working on Anya’s blanket or taking a class.

I will never live up to who I think I should be.

The thing is, I don’t want to. Not entirely. I enjoy setting goals and meeting them. I love always having a challenge before me. I’m not sure how I would derive any sense of self-satisfaction without that. But I also wish I could just be happy with me for five minutes. For my daughter. We can’t continue to compare ourselves to my former self and find ourselves wanting.

For starters, I never thought my former self was all that great to begin with.

But I Googled Lindi Ortega photos, and I don’t see any of the stuff she’s picking herself apart for, either. She’s absolutely beautiful. So it’s entirely possible that my mirror is lying to me, too.

I don’t know how to strike a balance between constantly having some goal to work towards and being forever uncomfortable in my own skin. But I need to find that balance, and soon. Because my daughter is watching.


My closet’s love affair with ThredUp

Historically, I have had the tendency to skip makeup and wear the same 10 or so outfits week in and week out. I thought this meant I wasn’t terribly particular about my appearance. But shifting from a cubicle drone to a WAHM who gets out less and less frequently has thrown me into a funk, and I finally figured out it is because I don’t feel attractive anymore. Before kids, I used to at least go out on the occasional weekend; now thanks to Kai’s threeness, I pretty much don’t go anywhere that doesn’t offer curbside service. And it’s wearing on me.

Anya got me back into the makeup habit when she was a baby (she is that girly), and I have kept it up except when my allergies are in full flare. But I tend to slide into a t-shirts-and-yoga pants rut — sometimes because they’re just comfy, but usually because I intend to exercise and don’t see the point in dirtying a second set of clothes. The problem is that I don’t feel all that attractive in workout wear. Especially since these wacko periods and the progesterone they keep giving me to deal with them have caused my stomach to swell. Spandex is not a good look on me right now. But most of my other clothes don’t fit, or do fit but are cut to emphasize a small waist, not camouflage a belly.

Enter ThredUp. While I do draw the line at some items (shoes, bathing suits, underthings), I have zero trouble wearing vintage clothing. My wedding dress was vintage, and some of my favorite outfits were picked up from Etsy sellers. ThredUp does vintage one better — these are current styles, in great shape, from brands I’m familiar with (so I have an idea of how they’ll fit me). The prices are definitely easy on the budget. Returns (available on most items) are easy. And it’s recycling!

Thanks to the sudden influx in new duds, I’ve been making more of an effort to dress nicely each day. I’ve even started incorporating colors into my wardrobe, which was starting to look very Morticia. My outfit choices are still limited, of course, by circumstance: I have to be able to nurse in it, it has to be easy to care for, and fancy fabrics are out because someone is eventually going to snot on it. (Velvet, I miss you.) But that leaves a surprising number of options. In my size. In colors that are flattering on me.

And I feel just that little bit better about…everything,

Happy happy joy joy

My bangs are getting long again. I love having long bangs; it makes me feel 18 and grunge again. But I’m not certain it’s a good look for me. When I’m having a good hair day, sure. I don’t often have good hair days, though, so I’ll probably cut them tonight.

I’ve been listening to a lot of 90s lately. Toad the Wet Sprocket in particular. I’ve developed a sudden fascination with Something’s Always Wrong, and have been listening to it so much that the kids groan each time it starts. The lyrics, the vocals, everything about the song transports me to college and flannel and bangs down to my chin.

It’s a weird sort of nostalgia. I find myself thinking fondly on one the most miserable decade of my life. Life sucked and I sucked and pretty much everyone I knew sucked, and there was no hope in sight for anything sucking any less. It wasn’t just me, either — look at the music we listened to. The happiest songs I had on frequent rotation were Hey Jealousy and Mr. Jones. Alcoholism set to jangly guitars.

My anthem, though, was Lost Horizons.

The last horizons I can see
Are filled with bars and factories
And in them all we fight to stay awake

Good lord. In the immortal words of Nick Hornby, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

I know the answer to that, actually. The music simply mirrored what I already felt. And what I felt was justified. It just went on far longer than it needed to because I lacked the tools to drag myself out of it and back to happiness. It wasn’t cool to be happy back then. Now it seems we’re constantly competing to see who is happier. The internet is full of tips on maximizing happiness. And I’m over here looking for the backlash.

There’s always a backlash. When it comes, the music will probably be fantastic.

In the meantime, I’ll just content myself by listening to my college soundtrack and letting my hair get way too long. I think I’ll keep the happiness, though. I’ve done my time in misery. Good for music, bad for living.


Meditation challenge, take two

My daughter said something yesterday that made me realize how desperately I need to emphasize this goal. The morning started as usual: I woke (late, because after the previous day’s toddler-driven sleep deprivation plus that night’s nightmares/anxiety attack I allowed myself to sleep in), got dressed and did my morning face/teeth/hair thing, fixed a cup of tea and started to work. Halfway through said work, Kai awakened and wanted to be nursed. Fine. We do this every day.

The problem arose when he finished nursing, but wanted to sit on my lap and twiddle. I wanted to set him down, because at that point I had roughly 2 more minutes of work to wrap up before I could take a break and get Anya off to school. He dug his heels in and refused, slapping me and screaming at me. I yelled back. We proceeded to fuss at each other for the next 20 minutes, while I tried to work with one hand and hold him off with the other. When I went to awaken Anya for school (late, now), I had no patience left; when she did her usual dawdling thing, I snapped at her.

Anya, being my insightful girl, asked me (once she was dressed and ready to go; she’s no dummy) if I’d slept okay the night before. Because she’s learned that when Mommy doesn’t get enough sleep, Mommy is cranky and low on patience. I told her that no, I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before. And that’s when I realized that nothing that had transpired that morning was actually that bad; I was just tired and headachy and lacking the resources to deal with conflict.

I apologized to Anya. Then to Kai. The morning proceeded much more smoothly after that. (Though not 100% smoothly; Kai is still nearly 3. And when he is tired, he acts out. Imagine that.)

A second example: Later in the morning I realized I had been rubbing my nose for hours. Earlier, as I was in a hurry, I used a lotion I know upsets my allergies, because (a) it works quickly and (b) it was there. I washed it off after dropping Anya at school, as I had been hacking my head off ever since I put it on, but apparently I didn’t get it all. So I scrubbed my hands and forearms, and used the nose spray (Flonase, otherwise known as my nose’s BFF) to boot. No more itchy.

This type of allergic reaction isn’t a huge deal by itself, but we’re fast approaching one of my worst allergy windows: Soggy late winter mold plus tree pollen. If I am to avoid getting a sinus infection, I need to keep a tight rein on my allergies. Which means not blowing off minor irritations like postnasal drip. It’s all cumulative.

I need to be more mindful, in other words. Little things snowball into big things — but if they are caught early enough, they can be dealt with easily and much misery can be averted. It’s a whole lot easier to grease the squeaky wheel than to replace it.

Coupled with yesterday’s thoughts on calm, I think the solution is clear: I need to meditate more. Every day. I need to make it a habit, as I’ve made brushing and flossing twice a day. (And look, I never thought I’d be a morning brusher; it took me years to train myself to floss consistently.) So I’m bringing back the meditation challenge, and I will stick with it until the meditation habit sticks. This is more important than the sugar thing (nobody cares if I kick sugar entirely if I’m a bitch), so I’m bumping that down the priority list for now.

I’m also going to track my mindfulness work so I don’t let it slide. (Yes, another goal. It’s who I am; I’m hardly going to change that now.) Simply meditating every day isn’t enough; I need to pay attention and act on what I observe. squeaksqueaksqueak

I may not have gotten the daughter I expected, but I think I got the daughter I needed. I’d do well to be more mindful of her wisdom, too.


In search of calm

I’ve hit one of those lulls again. Impostor syndrome writ large. I don’t feel I’m good at anything I do — writing, editing, any sort of creative endeavor. I’m not a good wife, or a good mother, or a good daughter, or a good friend.

I mean well. I’ll give myself that. But I keep spinning in circles, coming up empty.

It occurs to me that this is why I keep seeking validation from goals lists and fitness trackers and productivity apps. I want to feel good at something, and by crossing things off of lists and achieving goals, I can feel like I am at least good at getting things done.

But what does it matter if I’m good at getting things done if they are not the right things?

I have learned that these feelings are blips on the radar. That I can ride them out, and they’ll eventually pass. But I haven’t figured out how to maintain my calm as I do so. Instead I lose sleep to nightmares and anxiety attacks and snap at the children and fill up online shopping carts and then abandon them instead of getting my work done. (And then blogging about it as a further procrastination measure.)

Perhaps that’s what I should work on first: Strengthening my calm.


A new year, a new approach

As I mentioned in my last post, I am changing my approach to goals. No longer am I using them as a means to a gold star; instead, I view them as tools to get me from where I am to where I want to be. And it’s working.

I did one of those silly quizzes on FB recently — one that scans your recent posts and shows you in a nifty graphic what words you use most. I was amused that in mine, the word “cake” was way bigger than the word “work.” It would not have been that way 10 years ago; my Timehops pre-Anya are pretty much nothing but work rants. All I did, all I thought about, it seems, was work. And I was miserable at work, so I was miserable most of the time. That’s no way to live.

I’m not replacing work with cake, of course. For starters, I highly doubt my landlords would accept cake in place of rent. Also, I’m trying to cut back on the sugar. But as far as priorities go, I’d much rather focus on cake. Cake is tasty, usually present at celebrations, and is beloved by young and old alike. Work, if it’s good work, allows room for creativity and personal growth, but it usually is woefully short on frosting.

It’s a good litmus test: Cake or work? Which would I rather my life be full of? On my deathbed, when I look back at my life, will I feel worse for passing on a gig or passing on a slice of cake?


I mean, it’s a silly question, really.

But this isn’t just about cake or work. It’s about what I want my life to be full of. Do I want to look back on my life and see weeks full of work and weekends full of house cleaning and grocery shopping? Hell no. I want a clean house and a fridge full of food, of course, but it’s not enough. I want adventures. I want walks in the woods with my kids, and museums, and science experiments, and days spent daydreaming on a blanket under the trees. But there are only so many hours in the day, so I’m going to have to kick some stuff to the curb. The filler. The stuff that doesn’t add to my vision of what my life should be like.

Therefore, I present to you the theme for my 2018:


I treated myself to this shirt as a reminder. (It’s a v neck, so I can even nurse in it.) To acknowledge the fruitless, the frivolous, the time sucks, the butthurts — and let them go. My energy is much better focused on what I can do, on that which will help me progress, and the rest is best left on the cutting-room floor.

Let that shit go.

My first step towards this, blogwise, is to re-evaluate my Monday list. I’ve felt for a while that the categories didn’t really fit what I am trying to focus on. So here’s my new list:

Goal in focus:




Listening to:


Working on:


Making me happy:

I’ll start using this list next week to track my progress. Here’s to a happy and productive 2018!


The momicure

There was a time when I kept my nails (fingers and toes) neatly painted. I was too cheap (okay, and too averse to being touched by strangers) to get them done professionally, so I painted them myself. I soaked my nails, carefully pushed back and smoothed out my cuticles, trimmed and filed the nails so that they were even lengths and perfectly smooth. Fretted over every chip, every broken nail. It took most of the evening, usually every 2 weeks at the outside. If I got nail polish on my skin, I carefully removed it. If I streaked or smudged a nail, I stripped the polish and started over. If I got sheet marks, I put a coat of clear polish on to smooth them before leaving the house. I maybe didn’t shave or put on makeup every day, but my nails looked good. I felt no less indecent if my nails looked bad than I would have going out in my pjs.

After a while, it got to be too frustrating. So I stopped painting my fingernails, but kept up the pedis. At least if they chipped, I could put on socks.

Then I went through a fairly crunchy phase and didn’t paint my nails at all. Chemicals. Not that I was convinced that nail polish was causing my problems (at the time, my endo was pretty fierce), but I figured any unnecessary chemical exposure I could prevent was a tick in the plus column.

Now I am the mother of a girly girl, so we do nails. Not all the time, but on occasion. To be honest, I’d probably do mine even if she didn’t — sometimes I need to feel pretty, and the mirror does not always oblige. But time is short, and my standards are lower. I may paint my fingernails, or my toenails, but rarely both — not since Kai was born, anyway. I worry less about getting the coats perfectly even. I still make sure my nails are free of snags — it’s one of my pet peeves — but the lengths vary. I’ll fix sheet marks, but smaller flaws I let ride. Nail polish washes off skin in the shower more often than not, I’ve found. And nobody’s really looking that closely at my nails anyway…nobody I care about, at any rate.

My color choices are looser now, too. I am particular about the brand: I tend to gravitate towards Essie, because it dries super fast and lasts a long time. But I am less rigid in other areas. No longer am I looking for the perfect shade that compliments every outfit I will wear with it. No longer do I rule out colors for being too bright, too unflattering, whatever. If I like it, if it fits the season/event/mood, if it’s fun, I will wear it. Often, I let Anya choose the colors. And I’ve learned a thing or two in the process.

She chose this combination: A sheer red glitter polish over a baby blue pearl. The end result is a delicious purple-red. I never would have come up with this combo in a million years.

These aren’t manicures; they are momicures. They’re not perfect, but they’re good enough. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They brighten my day a little bit — the more creative ones brighten others’ days, too, I imagine. (One of these days, I’ll get brave enough to let Anya paint them, instead of restricting her to color selection. Not this day, but some day.)

It’s the participation award of life, the momicure. Just getting it done is a reward in itself. A lot of things in my life get the momicure treatment these days. I no longer clean to the standards I used to hold dear. (Quite frankly, I’m a little horrified that I can live like this.) No longer do I spend hours putting together outfits, or selecting household furnishings, or arranging ornaments on the Christmas tree. “Good enough” has replaced “good.” “Done” has surpassed “well.”

This photo doesn’t do the polish justice. It’s a deep navy blue with a clear pearl top coat. It looks like a starry sky. Very winter solstice-y. And very much not a color I’d have chosen in my serious mani-pedi days.

This is hard for me to reconcile at times. I’m an editor. Every comma in its place, no modifier misplaced. I’ve had to loosen up all around, and at times I feel like an abject failure on all fronts. But I get more done this way. And I’ve learned that, in some instances at least, that’s all that matters.

I should note that, by the time this post runs, that momicure pictured above will be a distant memory. Perhaps another one will have taken its place, if the stars align. Most likely not, though. It was pretty while it lasted, anyway.