The view from my kitchen table

I’ve been consumed with minutia lately, so I don’t have a deep blog post for today. Most of my focus has been on my diet and exercise routine (the total lack of the latter). It doesn’t make for fascinating reading, so I will keep this brief.

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I’ve been on the Linzess for a couple of weeks now. It’s…working, definitely, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to know when a problem I was unaware I even had has been resolved.

I am also experimenting with various diet tweaks, in the hopes of getting off the Linzess. (TEN DOLLARS a pill.) I am really very tired of thinking about food. I am also over water. On the plus side, I’m down a cup of tea most mornings. Two more to go.

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Kai has, for reasons known only to 3-year-olds, chosen this week to potty-train himself. I’m guessing this is what paper-training a puppy is like, if the puppy were to poo on the floor and then run a toy bus over it a dozen times. But he’s improving. He disassembles his potty chair each time he uses it, empties it in the big potty, and then reassembles the chair. And he always lets me know when there’s a mess he can’t clean up — unlike his sister. (With her, I played “Poop or rock?” more times than I care to recall.)

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One evening recently it was actually pleasant outside, so I took the kids outside to play. The porch table and chairs were gritty with pollen, and my phone was instantly coated in green dust when I set it down. So my pipe dream of jogging once the cold spell broke is now gone. Once I get a handle on my diet, I’ll start working up a doable exercise routine. I read somewhere recently that you should strive to exercise a bit each hour rather than save it all for one big chunk; that’s most certainly the only way I’m going to fit it in right now.

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I’ve ordered a lot of things for myself recently, but the one I’m most excited about at the moment is a pair of reading glasses. Because I am old.

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I’ve not stopped looking at houses, but I think we’re going to stay put this year. Pay off some debt. Pick up some things we’ve been doing without. And do a massive amount of decluttering.

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I’m all for shoegazing and tightening my focus to the little things, the building blocks, as needed. But I’m ready to do more, bigger now. Get the garden started. Buckle down on this book while the words are still flowing. Plan a birthday party. Just get outside — I’ve spent most of my waking hours at my kitchen table as of late, and while I love how my back yard is turning out, I need a change of scenery.

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Putting down roots

The house I think of as my childhood home is the one we moved into when I was 6 years old. I remember feeling excited about the move — a new neighborhood, a bigger bedroom, a huge yard to play in. Nothing else in my life really changed; we were moving across town, so I still went to the same school and everything. I don’t remember feeling at all sad to leave the only home I’d ever known. Sure, I was a little lonely without my neighborhood friends that first summer, but I quickly made new friends. Life was good.

When I was 14, my family relocated from central Illinois to the Memphis area, and it shattered me. The loss of my childhood home, my friends, my school, my sense of belonging. I became severely depressed for a while. Abandoned my first true love, music. Developed some toxic relationships. A totally different animal, that move. Life was not good again for a very long time.

Being sensitive, then, to the effects a move can have on a young person, I vowed to stay in this house a very short time. I wanted my daughter to have a true childhood home, one in which she spent all of her remembered days. But things didn’t pan out that way, and now she’s nearly 7 and we’re still here, looking at houses.

Because she’s older now, I’ve talked with her about moving every step of the way, and have done my best to honor her wishes. She doesn’t want to change schools. She doesn’t want to live too far from her Mimi and Poppy. She wants a house with stairs and a yard with a swing set and a tree she can climb. I told her I will see what I can do.

The other night, we were talking about houses as a family. Moving in mentally to the houses we found online. R noted that we’d be leaving a hole in the yard here, as he wants to take the cherry tree I gave him. Anya wants to take the trees we’ve planted in the backyard over the past few Earth Days — an apple tree and a few little saplings from two 250k Tree Days. I told her I wasn’t sure we’d be able to bring them all; some of them may not survive the move. She burst into tears.

“We can plant new trees, baby,” I told her. “Any trees you want.”

“But I want my trees!” she said.

“They’ll have a much better chance of survival if we leave them here,” I explained gently.

“But I can’t see them if they’re here!” she wailed.

And I realized, then, that despite my best efforts, we did put down roots in this house.

When I was a child, for Earth Day one year each kid at my school received a tree to plant. A stubby little pine tree. We planted mine in the corner of our yard. I was so freaking proud of that tree. It was mine, at an age when nothing was really mine. It barely grew in the 6 or so years between its planting and our move to Tennessee, but I couldn’t bear to leave it behind, so my dad dug it up and brought it here in a bucket. Only we were renters for the first two years we lived here, so it stayed in the bucket. By the time he got around to planting it, the tree was weakened; it eventually died.

I was thinking of this while explaining to Anya why we may not be able to bring all of her trees. Thinking that of the two saplings we planted last year, one didn’t make it. It happens. And wishing, secretly, that we’d never planted those trees; I knew we weren’t going to stay in this house forever. I should have waited to plant trees. But the urge to do so, to set in the earth something that could outlive me, was too strong. The need to nurture something like that. The need to set down roots.

For too long, I’ve been that transplanted tree in a bucket. I never intended to stay here, so I avoided creating ties. This was all supposed to be temporary. But this coming November, I will have “temporarily” been here for 30 years. I have lived here more than twice as long as I lived in Illinois. So where am I really from, exactly?

I don’t know if we’ll find the house we’re looking for. And I don’t know if we’ll attempt to move all of the trees we’ve planted if we do. But I do know that we’ll be putting down firm roots wherever we end up next. It’s time.

The next phase

I dreamed the other night that I had a miscarriage. It was so realistic, the dream. And also completely surreal, as dreams often are. Bloody and gory and graphic, and also full of non sequiturs and surprise plot twists. But mostly it was simple, and true, and sad.

I’m sure I had the dream because I watched the final episode in season 11 of the X-Files that evening. But it’s probably also relevant that I’ve become fairly certain I’m done being a reproducing woman. While I can’t say never at this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost both the will and the ability to have more children.

This is a new phase for me.

I started having periods when I was 4 months shy of my 14th birthday. I’ve been at this for 30 years. Granted, I wasn’t actively on the baby train that whole time, but pregnancy and motherhood were always on my radar. And horrible gynecological symptoms were pretty much always on deck. To be standing at the exit looking out at a life free from all of that feels…weird. Good. I loved being pregnant, and I love my children, and part of me is a little sad to draw a line under it and write off having more. But it’s also a release. From pain, from fear, from planning and calculating and worrying.

It occurs to me, thinking about it all, how very temporary everything is. I mean, this portion of my life hasn’t felt very temporary; at times, in relentless pain with no end on the horizon, I have despaired of how very long the reproductive years really are. But now, on the back side of it, it seems to have gone by in a blink.

Everything does.

Kai is so very three right now. The kids had their checkups the other day, and I decided to wrap up work early and treat them to a trip to the mall beforehand. Visit the Easter Bunny, ride the train, maybe get a cookie, ride the carousel, and take photos in the photo booth. Do the mall thang. But Kai crumpled in the face of the Easter Bunny and had a flailing-on-the-floor tantrum that had me wrestle-carrying him to the car. (While wearing 3-inch heels, because I am dumb. I don’t get to wear 3-inch heels until Kai is 4, and I know this. But sometimes I try anyway.) I was flabbergasted. He had been pumped up about Easter and the Easter Bunny since the helicopter egg drop the weekend before. He seemed excited, if a bit hesitant, to sit on the Bunny’s lap at Walmart the previous day. But he’s three. You roll with it.

Later, he told me he was afraid. “Scary bunny, Mommy,” he said, his eyes wide. “Creepy.” And you know, a grown man in a bunny suit is a little freaky.

The whole day drained me. The mall, the doctor, the errands, plus some other balls I had up in the air. I bit off more than I could chew, and things snowballed, and I ended the evening by collapsing in a chair watching Hulu and shushing the kids whenever they tried to talk to me. Anya stroked my hair. Kai fed me pocky and chips and gave me kisses. Anya usually cares for me when she sees that I’m stressed, but this is a new thing for Kai.

Three shall pass. Next year he will be 4, and will be excited about the Easter Bunny. Next year he won’t feel compelled to dump all the toys on the floor five minutes after I pick them up. Next year he will start school, and I will have time to work, tidy the house, jog, do yoga, have a phone conversation. Three is already passing. He’s growing, and learning, and doing more and more. Every day.

Next year, I won’t have babies anymore. Ever again.

It’s exciting and scary and sad, as changes often are.

So I’m indulging the threeness. If he doesn’t want to leave the house, we don’t have to leave the house. I can work around it. If he wants to grow his hair out, I can deal. (He’s looking rather Beatle-ish of late.) If he insists on scattering his toys all over the floor, so be it. If he doesn’t want a picture with the Bunny, he doesn’t have to take one. It’s temporary. All of this.

And it all goes by so damn fast.

Weaknesses are for the weak. Or something like that.

“I think that it is useless to fight directly against natural weaknesses. One has to force oneself to act as though one did not have them in circumstances where a duty makes it imperative; and in the ordinary course of life one has to know these weaknesses, prudently take them into account, and strive to turn them to good purpose; for they are all capable of being put to some good purpose.”

— Simone Weil, Waiting For God

I used to be able to tally up my weaknesses on a full sheet of paper. Front and back, were I to be honest. But I’ve worked so earnestly on what I perceived to be weaknesses that I’m left with a core list of things that would irrevocably alter my personality were I to change them. Are they still weaknesses in that case?

More to the point, can they truly be considered “capable of being put to some good purpose”?

For instance. I’m convinced, deep down, that everyone dislikes me, or at best is irritated by me. I don’t know if this is something I was born with or something I learned, but it’s there and at this point I don’t really see it going away. I’ve tried logicking myself out of it. I’ve tried affirmationing myself out of it. I’ve tried meditation, medication, isolation, and a bunch of other -tions. It’s not going away. And the only purpose it serves is to make me not want to talk to anyone, ever. Is that the good thing?

Probably related to this, or perhaps not: I would much rather type at someone than talk to them in person or on the phone. There are very, very few exceptions to this. And while it’s a position that’s growing more acceptable as we as a culture go digital, it is still not the norm in business situations. Which makes it really hard for me to progress professionally. (Also makes it damned hard to make friends.)

I have anxiety. I’ve never been diagnosed, but when something is this big and this disruptive, you don’t need a professional to rubber-stamp it for you. I have a huge checklist of things I must do every day, every week, every month, every season, every year, because if I don’t write them down I’m afraid I won’t do them, and if I don’t do them I’m afraid the bottom will fall out of my world. I sometimes remember something I’ve forgotten — some minor little thing, like buying eggs — in the middle of the night, and it keeps me awake for hours, wondering what else I’ve forgotten. I have a carefully orchestrated flow to my days, and if the slightest thing goes wrong it derails me.

I have, in fact, gotten better since I had kids; if I hadn’t, I’d have truly lost my mind by now, surrounded as I am by people who eat off the floor without washing their hands after picking their noses. I tell myself I’m doing a good thing, letting this slide. That I’m strengthening their immune systems. And then I go wash my hands. And the sink, for good measure. I get that a little bit of caution is a good thing, and advance planning is smart in all cases, but hypervigilance is exhausting.

I’m chronically late. Or on time, but by the skin of my teeth. If I’m ever early, it’s because I had absolutely nothing else going on and felt like having an excuse to play on my phone for a bit, so I left extremely early. (By my estimation. By yours, probably “on time.”) I know people get bent out of shape over people who are late. It’s not about you. I respect you, and I respect your time. I just have a tremendously difficult time estimating how long something will take, from how long it takes me to get ready (in my head, 10-15 minutes; in reality, probably closer to 25) to how long it will take me to get out the door (if I’m bringing the kids, 10-15 minutes plus infinity) to how long it will take me to get to my destination (always 15 minutes or 45 minutes).

I get wrapped up in my own stuff and lose sight of…everything outside of me. And then I feel bad for not noticing, not asking, not caring. I’m a bad friend and a bad relative, a bad wife and mother. I see this, yet I don’t stop doing it. What is that good for?

I can never cut myself slack for anything, ever. I am kicking myself right now for writing this post instead of working, or playing with my kid, or cleaning. I see no issue with anyone else taking time for themselves to reflect, rest, recharge, and will ceaselessly defend their right to do so. Me, not so much.

I can usually be pretty creative with things. I can bright-side. But this big stuff, these albatrosses…I can’t spin them. They’re just there.

Without them, though, there’s no me.

 

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.