Tuesday, March 20, 2018

People continue to find ways to make parenting harder

Well, it's been awhile.  In my defense, the plagues of Pharaoh have continued, and without getting into a work discussion (which I assiduously avoid here), a few weeks ago I helped medically evacuate a colleague from rural Tanzania.  She fell and broke AND dislocated her shoulder.  And, in an entirely separate incident, a spitting cobra tried to attack her.  Yes.  Also, I thought I had a deep vein thrombosis but it turned out to be a muscle issue.  Still, even fake DVT is stressful.  On the plus side, I finally lost a few pounds, which I thought had ceased to be possible in this life.  On the whole, however, 2018 has sucked like a turbo-charged Dyson so far.

On the other hand, I no longer have to diaper or potty train my two children, and this is a good thing, because not only does it appear the cloth diaper trend is gaining steam, threatening to become the latest form of ritual mommy shaming, I have recently discovered that actual women, in the developed world, with actual money and other resources at their disposal and actual jobs and actual non-mud homes and presumably normal mental health, are choosing of their own free will, while living in mostly functional democracies, to forego diapers of any kind, or to use them on a very limited basis, in favor of teaching their babies to use toilets from birth.  If, like me, your first reaction to this news was to say that this, like a President of the United States paying hush money to a porn star, can't possibly be true because it sounds so ridiculously insane, let me assure you that it is indeed true, and a quick google search will reveal that there is in fact an entire movement of people who are willing to endure the time, effort, energy, not to mention the absolute sh**show required to teach an infant, who cannot walk or talk, to use a toilet, which incidentally, is called Elimination Communication (EC).  And also that a President of the United States paid hush money to a porn star.

These seem to be their key arguments:
1) Obviously diapers, even cloth diapers, are destroying the earth.  Never mind that one plane flight to Europe, to which these people are no doubt traveling in order to teach their highly evolved, potty-trained 6-month-olds about Gothic architecture, produces more carbon emissions than a Mt. Everest of poop-filled diapers.
2) It is more natural to poop and pee unencumbered.  It is also more natural to live outdoors, walk everywhere, live off berries and nuts, go naked, and die of dysentery at age 35.  And also not to even have toilets to begin with.
3) Diapers are "coercive" and strips babies of their "dignity." Really? Based on how long it took to potty train my kids, being able to take a dump or a wiz without even having to pause your TV show is definitely more freedom than having some crazy adult sit you on a toilet and gently tell you to release your bowels.  And let me tell you, anyone who has ever been a mother knows that it is you who are robbed of your dignity. Every. single. day.  I mean, half of northern Virginia has manhandled my breasts at this point.
4) Women in the pre-modern and developing worlds don't use diapers, so why should we?  Um, BECAUSE WE CAN? This one has to be my favorite, since I was raised in the developing world.  First of all, I have been peed on by plenty of Kenyan babies, which raises doubts about how well these developing world women are implementing EC.  But also, I know for a fact that these mothers would give body parts for a steady supply of disposable diapers--and formula and reliable birth control and vaccines and epidurals and good bras--and they would find it absurd and frankly rather patronizing that anyone with access to these modern wonders would be like, You know what? I'm passing on that, because the Kenyan ladies don't do it, so why should I?

OK, so I confess, I am completely being judgmental here, and that is not good, and it is not right.  If people want more direct contact with the bodily fluids of others, they should be able to do that, and I should not have anything to say about it.  So, Bad Holly. Stop judging, it doesn't have anything to do with you.

But here's the thing, it kind of does.  This is yet another example of women insisting on making life harder for their species right as things should be getting easier, due to modern technology, greater opportunities, more equality, and eroding patriarchy.  It's like that friend of yours that deep down doesn't think she deserves success and happiness and finds ways to self-sabotage and marry misogynistic billionaires.  I feel like that is what is going on with women and motherhood right now.  Because the bar just keeps. getting. raised.  Women just keep finding new ways to make this already-impossible gig that much more challenging.  And to feel superior to those who can't hack it.

And here's the other thing--for most mothers, this is simply annoying, and they will roll their eyes and move on.  But there are a lot of mothers out there who are really and truly struggling. They have postpartum depression or anxiety disorders or they are working an incredibly demanding job or barely making ends meet or fighting to keep a crappy marriage together.  They do not need to be told that they also need to potty train their newborn.  They do not need to be told that Breastfeeding is Best.  They do not need to be told that screen time is destroying their children's minds.  Or that non-organic produce they can actually afford is giving their kids cancer. Or that disposable diapers are destroying the planet.  They need to be told--if you are meeting your kids basic needs and showering them with love, you are doing more than just fine, you are succeeding beyond your wildest dreams.

So for those who need the extra challenge--Congrats, I'm happy that you are truly enjoying your cloth diapers and your breastfeeding and that these things are manageable for you.  But do you really have to talk so much about it?  Or can you find some fellow over-achiever moms with whom to share tips?  But consider that your announcements of how your chosen, more difficult path is the best way to parent is crushing the souls of the vulnerable who need to hear how to make this thing EASIER, more bearable, less daunting.  You are not helping.

And yes, that is judgmental of me to say.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

As we work our way through the 10 Egyptian plagues...

Well, lice apparently was not enough.  Just when we had picked the last nit and felt confident enough to have friendships with outsiders again, Plague #2 descended upon us, Thus Sayeth The Lord of Hosts.


To Which I Doth Reply To The Lord, LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!!!

To Which The Lord Replyeth to Me, Why did I create such an overly-dramatic whiner?  Go to the doctor, get some Tamiflu and some cough drops and get over yourself.

To Which I Doth Reply to The Lord, OK fine.

Charlotte--who I should just re-name Pharaoh, she seems to be attracting quite a bit of divine retribution these days--went down first.  Her entire group of friends went down in fact.  I am thinking these friends are not a good influence on her, and I need to get her more pets or AI devices or something.  Alexa does not carry communicable diseases that I know of.

We began a mad scramble to convince all our doctors to prescribe Tamiflu for everyone, which none of them wanted to do, despite us telling them God had ordered us to obtain it.  Apparently doctors in other states are handing it out like candy, but the DC area doctors are like, No, a population that drives on the beltway and works for the Trump administration should be able to fight off an aggressive virus without help.  So Kevin took Charlotte to the ER, where they were more liberal with it, having tested people's faith in Tamiflu with a very long wait.  They wouldn't give it to him for himself, however, so he went to another emergency clinic, where they also were feeling generous.   It's a good thing, because not 3 hours later, he started in with the chills and cough and took to his bed.

I was getting desperate at this point--2 family members down,  although neither of them The Mom, meaning civilization was likely to survive--so I called my doctor and pleaded with her.  As I had just had lab work done to determine why I was suddenly becoming morbidly obese and she had just given me the heartbreaking news that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me except age and eating anything more than celery, I guess she was afraid to crush my soul again.  She gave me a lengthy  assessment of the research on tamiflu as both a cure and prophylactic and the risks and side effects and blah blah blah WOMAN HAND OVER THE DRUGS YOU DO NOT WANT TO MESS WITH ME I AM ONLY EATING CELERY AT THIS POINT.

Last up was Lawson, who had a runny nose and diarrhea--about which he gave me regular, detailed updates including color, consistency, and level of explosiveness--but who was otherwise fine.  His doctor told me they absolutely did not give out Tamiflu as a preventative.  I quoted scripture and cried but they said NO.  I hung up the phone in despair.  Then, mysteriously, they called me back.  The Lord had apparently visited their office and threatened frogs and darkness.  Either that or they got him mixed up with someone who already had the flu.  Whatever. They called in a prescription, and I picked it up before they sent some men after me in chariots.

Next the fun part started, and I am not even kidding.  For someone like me, with Ridiculous Anxiety Disorder, all the logistics and calling and getting everything settled is the stressful part.  Once everyone had their Tamiflu, their cough drops, their juice, their tylenol, their beds and their soup and all seemed stabilized, I could now kick back.  Kevin was still worried about people's actual health, but you all know I don't worry about that kind of thing, because after a certain point I am not responsible for that.  Best of all it was now Friday afternoon, so the stress of how to cover childcare and work and such which was also causing panic was irrelevant.  I parked Lawson in front of the TV, cancelled all plans, and began of full weekend of utter sloth and the suspension of all rules because we were officially in AN EMERGENCY, and everyone knows there is no bar for anything other than basic bodily functions in that case.  I even went to McDonalds in my PJs, which was unfortunate, because the drive-thru was backed up horribly, and I ended up going inside McDonalds in my PJs.  Everyone looked frightened, and I just said Screw All You people I am lucky to be alive right now.

Now everyone is about back to normal, tomorrow is a work day, and I'm just assessing the damage.  The place is littered in pill bottles and the 14 thermometers we bought because we didn't trust the reliability of any one of them independently.  There are dozens of half empty cups of juice.  There are used tissues and pillows and blankets and dirty socks and assorted filth.  There is body odor.  It's like a frat house after a wild weekend of partying.

2 plagues down, 8 to go.  I hope he doesn't send locusts next. You all know how I hate those things ever since the boys in 9th grade put several hundred all over my dorm room.  Also, I had a boil in 6th grade and that thing was both extremely painful and really freaky. I still have a hole in my butt cheek from that.  Also, I don't like frogs.  I prefer toads.  I can handle toads.  The others I feel like we could manage (other than the last one, of course, which I will not make light of at all).  We don't have any livestock, so that's good.  And we have a large supply of bottled water and gatorade at this point.
We're going to make it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lice Lice Baby

Stop, why does my head be itchin
And my whiny children be b**chin
Something in my hair's not rightly
Feels kind of crawly both daily and nightly
Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know
Grab the tiny lice comb and let's go
To the extreme, I rock that comb like a vandal
Sit in my chair while this problem I handle
Lice Lice Baby (ba-dum-ditty-dum-ditty-dum-dum)

So, I was going to rap this entire post, but that is both annoying and a waste of what little mental resources I have left.  Needless to say, friends, this past week both our luck and the evidentiary support for one of my key parenting theories ran out.  After years of evasion, the lice finally found us.

As you may recall, I believe very strongly in maintaining a basement-level standard of personal hygiene for my kids for several reasons:
1) They are kids, they don't smell much, and if they do, people kind of expect that.
2) Some dirt and grime help develop their immune systems.  I didn't breastfeed much so they need the assistance.
3) My particular kids perform very little physical activity and rarely leave the couch, limiting their ability to actually get dirty or sweaty.
4) As I may have mentioned, one or two or 23 times, I went to boarding school, where no one makes you bathe. So I didn't bathe much, pre-puberty.  And I was fine.
5) More generally, and as I may have mentioned one or two or 39 times, I grew up in Africa.  And I didn't bathe. And I was fine.
6) I have never heard of a single American dying from not bathing.
7) And now we get to the heart of the matter.  Not bathing my kids or forcing them to bathe is one less thing I have to do.  Because I am lazy, have an anxiety disorder that is triggered by multi-tasking,   and have devised a parenting strategy that weeds out every unnecessary thing.  Like bathing. And it is fine.

8) Most importantly for our purposes here today, LICE HATE CLEAN HAIR.  I am not making this up, everyone knows this. Google it.  In fact, that is almost certainly why there is so much lice in America and not in Africa.  I lived in a BOARDING SCHOOL for goodness sakes, FOR SEVEN YEARS, where we shared EVERYTHING including things I will never admit to sharing except under oath, and never heard of anyone, ANYONE having lice. Not a single case.  If they have it there now it is probably because of American tourists and creeping Americanism in general, no pun intended.  Americans go all over the world bringing their fast food, bad reality shows, obesity, sneakers, denim, overly-extraverted culture, and THEIR LICE, leaving one to wonder which country is the real s--hole.

And now, American lice have found our African-ish home.  Last week, Charlotte casually mentioned to me that her head had been itching. For a few days, actually.  After my blood ceased to run through my veins and my nervous system momentarily shut down and I shrieked AND YOU ARE JUST NOW TELLING ME THIS?! I got up and pawed through her hair.  It was undeniable.  She did not have ambiguous maybe-nits-maybe-dandruff-maybe-remnants-of-a-snack.  She had actual living creatures.  In her hair.

I quickly texted the parents of the 3 children who were at our house earlier that day to tell them the horrifying news.  Of course they had all had lice before, because their children bathe, so I also asked them to TELL ME WHAT TO DO.  This is in fact what I do in any and every crisis, I look for leadership (not even necessarily good leadership either) because I am a youngest child and we must have leadership.  In a truly major crisis I call my friend Sarah in Oklahoma, who will tell you exactly what to do with the dead body you just found with the confidence of a serial killer even though she has only metaphorically killed people (and that she has done many times, only using her eyes, and without the person's knowledge).  Sarah was my next call, but fortunately, one of the parents not only told me what to do, she said she would come over and do it for me.  In my book, that type of person is pure gold, regardless of the results.  I'm a cult member waiting to happen.

So Bette very kindly came over with her supplies, sat Charlotte down and started combing.  And friends, there was like a whole nation of lice in there.  They had not only procreated, they had built roads and bridges and schools and established a government more functioning than what we have right now in the United States (I hear, however, that lice do not like African hair--you can also look that up too--begging a comparison between the Lice President and the American one.  But I digress).  They had completely colonized Charlotte's head.  I of course began fearing for the rest of us.  Charlotte is, fortunately in this case, not a cuddler, but she is a wrestler of brothers, and that brother is very much a cuddler...I could see a clear path of lice imperialism before us.  However, I looked through everyone's hair and found nothing visible.

The next day, though, I began to feel creepy sensations on my scalp.  Of course, I considered that this was purely psychosomatic, but I very wisely decided, nah, best to get this checked out.  As I thought it too much to call Bette to comb out our entire family and try not to do anything DIY if I can help it, I called in a professional.  Her name was Fatima, and she is the most beautiful, talented, kind, and brilliant woman who has ever walked the earth.  She also sold us combs for twice the price than they are on Amazon, but I shall forgive her for this.  Because she combed and combed and combed.  She discovered that all of us, ALL OF US, had the lice.  She got another dozen off of Charlotte and a couple off the rest of us.  And lots of nits.  She gave us an extensive combing tutorial and a detailed lecture on the life cycle of the lice.  She showed us nits under the magnifying glass.  She gave us advice and made us feel empowered.  I truly feel I am now a better person for having met her and think that if she could go comb the hair of everyone in Congress, we would soon live in a utopia.  She told us to comb everyone out every day for 14 days. FOURTEEN. DAYS.

And then SHE LEFT, after I begged her, crying, to just move in with us and raise our children.  She assured me that You will be fine, You can do this, I have taught you everything I know.  I wanted to believe her.  But more than that, I wanted her not to leave me alone with four heads and a comb.  For 14 days.

Now, friends, here is how my life works.  I have carefully analyzed everything I really really have to do (using the toilet, holding down a job, pacifying legos), what I am able to do without panicking (cooking pre-packaged food while my children watch TV), what I need to do for my sanity (exercise, writing, and zoloft), and I have carefully arranged all of those things in a rigid, non-negotiable schedule of events.  I have people in my life who I really like and with whom I would like to spend time, but it's probably not going to happen unless they work with me, can cook for me, can entertain my children, run with me or attend the tortuous strength training class I go to (this last one in particular weeds a lot of people out).  I'm sorry, I really am not a diva, I really do like you, but that is the way it is.  I have a very tenuous grip on my sanity and my time.  I do not, incidentally, have any of the resources needed to spend up to an hour each day FOR 14 DAYS combing people's hair.  I just don't.  But sometimes you don't have a choice and then other things have to give and civilization erodes and that is just the way it is.  My life has spun completely out of control and I no longer brush my teeth.

Just to skip over the dull hours of combing, I have been combing for 7 days now and have found nothing.  Which is good, right? Or not.  Perhaps I don't know what I'm doing and am just missing everything.  Perhaps there is a stealthy band of lice who know they are dealing with an amateur and have done underground to wait things out, like all good guerrilla fighters.  It's like my very own hairy Afghanistan, waiting to bite me in the butt (I would apologize for comparing the Taliban to lice, but I think they deserve it, so I'm just gonna let that ride).  We obsessed over every speck pulled from a scalp.  Is that a nit? an oil globule?  a grain of sand from last year's beach vacation?  We considered buying a high-powered microscope (we may still do that).  But we have found nothing, for 7 days.

We've now decided to live a bit dangerously.  Sure, Fatima said 14 days, but the internet mostly says 7 is fine.  And I have a life I want to live, goals to achieve, dreams to pursue. None of those dreams involve any sort of hair utensil.  Pride may goeth before a lice reinvasion but another week of combing goeth before full nervous breakdown.  I'll take my chances.

I'll leave you with some takeaways, pending round two of the lice.  First, while I still maintain bathing your children is largely unnecessary, not bathing them is not a sure-fire preventative of lice.  I will continue to allow my children to live in filth, but I won't judge you anymore for your cleanliness.  You're welcome.

Second, the song Ice Ice Baby truly is a classic, no matter if Vanilla Ice brazenly stole the beat from Queen.

Lastly, I feel our society is completely off-base in assigning value to different professions.  If Fatima and I were both at a cocktail party, our fellow guests would no doubt think I am the more impressive, interesting person with my doctorate in something blah blah and my yuppie job.  They would probably brush Fatima aside, or rather comb her aside (jokes like that are why I am sure to be a famous writer someday).  But I ask you, who is performing a more worthy function in society?  This woman is going into desperate people's homes (sometimes twice, when they ignore her advice and only comb for 7 days), removing actual vermin from their actual human heads, imparting extensive knowledge about said vermin and how to eradicate them, and offering them hope that they can and will once again toss their hair about in a carefree manner as if they were in a L'Oreal commercial.  Fatima, I don't know if I'm worth it, and I'm thinking probably not, but you my dear woman, YOU ARE WORTH IT.

But just so you know, your combs are available on Amazon for half the price.  Just saying.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Brief History of Motherhood

It used to be that people had kids because they couldn’t not have them, and then they were just there, like your hog or cow or field of corn.  Slightly more intelligent, slightly more useful, slightly more cherished.  You fed them whatever you had, I’m guessing some pork or beef or corn, and put some home-spun organic clothes on them, because there were no Targets, gave them a bed of some kind and then went back to churning your butter.  Which was a lot of work, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I want to churn butter.  And the kids crawled around and pooped in the corner every now and then, but your floor was dirt, so what did you care.  And occasionally a kid contracted a diphtheria or got trampled by a horse, and it was super sad but you had twenty more, so you got over it.  If they didn’t die young, you turned them out into the barn or field or chained them to a butter churn.  That was the way it was, and if anyone had anything to say about it, like, “I don’t wanna churn butter!!! I want a popsicle!!!” then you just beat them with the butter churn, and that pretty much solved that problem.

Parenting was not something that was given a lot of thought, certainly not something “experts” wrote books about and read books about while anxiously biting their nails and worrying it was too late for Johnny, he was already destined for a lifetime of wearing baseball caps backwards while gaming in the basement and watching internet porn and it is all your fault because you only breastfed him for 2 years and his baby food contained a preservative that Jenny McCarthy has since made illegal.  No, those parents had enough on their plates just putting food on their plates, and actually, they may not have even had plates, or else they had to make their plates themselves, which was hardly worth the effort when you can just eat off the pooped-on floor.  Life was pretty brutal in general, and children probably figured out early on that they had better shut up and help themselves or they weren’t going to live to acquire their own butter churn.

Now we buy butter in a store, or if we are a midwestern grandmother with a cholesterol problem or Fabio, we buy I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter.   But in a store. With all the extra time we save, we do crafts with our children and teach them to compose symphonies and shuttle them to their Chinese/ballet/Chinese-ballet classes and generally make a huge deal over them.  They come to the very logical conclusion at an early age that they are, in fact, Beyonce, or some other like celebrity, and can say things like, “Get my damn milk already” without endangering their lives.  And parenting is now officially a THING, an occupation all to its own, at which you can either succeed or fail.  You can even get fired, in the form of CPS showing up at your house, although that is a level of failure that I suppose doesn’t exist in the work world, unless you are a CEO or a President of the United States, in which case you may still keep your job.

Now, there was a golden decade or so after labor saving devices, store-bought butter, and disposable diapers somewhat relieved women’s past burdens in the home but before they discovered that television and tobacco kills and your children have to ride in car seats and wear sunscreen at all times and need constant attention and nurturing and crafting or they will hate you.  That period was called the 60s, maybe into the 70s, and I know from watching a lot of movies that mothers sat around smoking cigarettes, drinking boxed wine, playing bridge, and getting their hair “set.”  True, they did still have to cook and clean, or at least cook, until shag carpeting went out of style, and everyone realized things were disgusting down in there.  But then the microwave was invented.  One of my earliest memories was our family buying our first one circa 1978, after which my mother converted every recipe she had to a microwave version (which probably used up all the time the microwave saved, not to mention making the chicken really rubbery) and allowed her to do… I have no idea.  Because whatever she was doing, she wasn’t doing it anywhere near me.  I was either watching The Brady Bunch, roller skating in the basement or picking my nose and wiping the boogers on the wall behind my bed (was THAT ever a horrifying moving day).

But then lots of women got all educated and started entering the work force in large numbers and people in general got more educated and children became fewer and more precious and people started studying children and coming up with theories of parenting the basic thrust of which were that YOU SUCK, and a bunch of other stuff happened, too, like car seats being invented, including dire warnings that if you don’t break a couple fingers tightening the straps to maximum capacity, your child will die a painful death next time you have a fender bender.  And then women started feeling guilty about working, and a lot of them started going back home, college and graduate degrees retained, to raise their kids guilt-free (as if that is even humanly possible anymore) and to the best of their extensive abilities, and the ones that kept working started looking for more and more ways to assure their kids that they were extra-extra-special and Mommy loves you even though Mommy, gulp, likes her job somewhat but not too much and really I would stay home if we didn’t need to save up for your medical school.

And thus, motherhood—whether performed by over-qualified former career women who now directed their talents and ambitions toward their children, or angst-ridden current career women looking for ways to assure themselves, their kids, and society writ large that they were not horrible people—became a full-fledged profession, complete with its own journals, best practices, and review panels (i.e. other mothers, as well as your children’s future therapists).  

Here’s the thing, though:  While only certain women become accountants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, chefs, or whatever, most of women, statistically, will become mothers.  And while one’s choice of an occupation is usually correlated to one’s suitability, talent, and passion for that occupation, one’s choice to become a mother—and in some cases, there is no choice, there is more of a, What, it’s Tuesday?! This pill pack says it’s Saturday. I’m confused—is not.  We become mothers because we become obsessed with our partners and think our love is so great, it needs another body or two to inhabit.  We become mothers because we want to be genetically immortal.  Because we want someone to wipe our butts for us some day.  Because our marriage is too easy and perfect and we want to see if it can handle an existential threat to its life. Because we love Star Wars and want an excuse to play with our action figures again.  Because we are committed to the continuation of the human race, and we see a bunch of stupid people reproducing and become concerned.  Because it’s just what you DO, according to society.  Just because.

And some of us, maybe even most of us, become mothers because we are very well suited for it.  We have the skills and temperament not just for the relationship, but for the job.  We dreamed of nothing else as little girls, love the smell of babies, cry about children growing up, do not feel nauseous when we encounter a woman breastfeeding, like making cupcakes and other baked items, do not just wrap our Christmas presents in a perfunctory way but actually put curled ribbons and other crap on them, and can cook dinner while children incessantly whine and scream all around us.  We are maternal.

Then there are the rest of us.  The ones who as little girls could not understand why their friends were so eager to live a life of enslavement to mercurial masters, think toddlers aren’t so much cute as RIDICULOUS TERRORISTS, like eating cupcakes and other baked items made by other people, put Christmas presents maybe in a gift bag without tissue paper or just whip them out of the closet unwrapped on Christmas morning, and approach cooking dinner with unrestrained children in the vicinity as if we are climbing over a chain link fence with a pack of Rottweilers chewing our toes off.  If there were an interview process to become a mother, we wouldn’t even know how to lie.
“In a hypothetical scenario, if a child throws up on you while you are sitting on a sofa, what would you clean first, the child, yourself, or the furniture?”
“None of the above? I think I would just start crying and maybe run out of the house.”  
  “I’m sorry, the correct answer is ALL OF IT, simultaneously, but if one thing has to give, it would be yourself.  If necessary, you would wear those vomit clothes until the child’s high school graduation as long as he needed something and your house was a mess.”
“Oh. I guess I don’t get the job.”
“No, you’re getting the job. You’re just going to be really, really bad at it.  And you get some stretch marks, too.  Congrats!”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Want to Wear a Tunic (and other thoughts on aging)

I want to wear a tunic.  A big, soft, flowing linen tunic.  I want to wear it over soft linen pants with an elastic waist band.  I want to push the boundaries of pajamas-as-clothes as far as they will go.  I want to wear this all of the time.  In the winter, I will trade linen pajamas for leggings and a massive, cuddly sweater.  That's what I want to wear.  I can't really explain this per se.  It is a deep-seated urge that is steadily growing within me.  Although I have put on a few pounds post-40, my body is roughly the same size and shape as when I desired to wear jeans.  But now I require extensive negotiation with myself to maintain any sort of relationship with denim.

The last time I wanted to wear massive clothes was in my early 20's.  Because at 5'9" and 135 lbs, I thought I was obese.   Starting from my teenage years, I desperately tried to acquire an eating disorder, but I just didn't have the discipline or blood sugar stability for anorexia nor the gag reflex for bulimia.  And that's the truth, I am not making light of eating disorders.  I had one on the inside, and it wasn't funny at all.  I hid beneath ugly clothing that was several sizes too big, hoping not to be noticed and to be noticed all at the same time.  

Now it's totally different.  I still don't love my body, this is true, but I'm getting sick and tired of not loving it.  And I'm getting sick and tired of dealing with its outfitting.  I am weary of shoving it into skinny jeans and high heels and anything that feels scratchy, skimpy, or squeezy.  I still do, mind you, I'm not quite waving the white flag yet.  I have a husband I still hope to impress anyway.  But I want very badly to wear a tunic and call it a fashion day.  I am growing bored and fatigued of trying to fulfill the loudly unspoken female calling of beautifying the world.  Grow some flowers, world.  I will be over in the corner draped in linen.  

I have become obsessed with chin hair.  I have tweezers stashed everywhere. I am constantly searching for something to pluck, carefully scrutinizing my face in any mirror I encounter and running my finger tips over my skin the rest of the time (which by the way breeds acne, with which I am also obsessed and which has nothing to do with aging).  I confess to having a bizarre fascination with facial hair, the way it seemingly appears overnight like young, female pop stars who sing like nauseous cats in their efforts to be alluring.  I go to bed fresh faced as a choir boy only to wake up with with a 2-inch-long thick, black hair growing in the middle of my cheek like some sort of anomalous robot character in a Civil War drama.  I am horrified but also thrilled by the magic of it.  And there's something so gratifying about plucking it, seeing another good half-inch slide out of the recesses of my face.  I imagine what else is under there--chocolate bars? orphan socks? the remains of a fetal twin?  It's terribly compelling.

I want to adopt all the young adults in my life.  They are already raised, for one thing, and they are all so shiny and confident compared to how I was as a young adult.  I was roadkill compared to their leaping gazelles.  My youth was indeed completely wasted on me, while I wallowed in grief and faux eating disorders and imagined obesity and stupid decisions, and it's good to see so many of my young friends already thriving.   I can't be them, so I'll just make them all my grown children.  And the ones that aren't thriving, I want to mother even more.  I know what it is to be lost and wandering in the dark of self-hatred.  I want to tell them they are precious.  And that they should eat that cookie while it won't reappear as a chin hair or butt bulge in 24 hours.  

Despite my best efforts, my back goes out annually, like some kind of lumbar birthday celebration.  I find myself telling anyone who will listen about my degenerated discs and how they slightly herniate on occasion, impinging upon my sciatic nerve and various other painful things.  I do this even though I know they can't possibly care.  I have no idea why I tell them. It is a compulsion, just like the plucking and the tunics.  

I strategize sometimes about what kind of old lady I will be.  I don't think I can pull off the Sweet Old Lady type.  I find myself growing increasingly blunt and sarcastic.  So I imagine going with the Edgy Artist type with spiked hair and large turquoise jewelry and loud opinions.  But then I realize I have rarely sustained the energy to routinely accessorize and highly doubt I will suddenly want to change my earrings every day when I turn 65.  Beyond tunics, I can't say exactly what my future holds.  I'm thinking something akin to Betty White.  She's my senior citizen spirit animal.  

But I'm looking forward to it, in a way.  I'm at the age now where I am very much aware that my time is short.  40 or 50 years doesn't sound like a long time when the last 10 have zoomed by like a binge-watched Netflix show.  I feel more at peace about the prospect of death now than when I was younger (and, ironically, much more religiously certain).  But I am sad that my life is essentially half-over because I feel like I've just now figured some things out.  I'm looking forward to figuring more things out and living in the joyful knowledge of those things.

And as a woman, while part of me is desperately, frantically afraid to see my beauty (such as it is) fade, part of me is relieved at the prospect of lowered expectations and greater invisibility.  Perhaps the plentiful number of heinous men out there will no longer accost me in the grocery store or otherwise burden me with their need for gratification.  The thought of sliding through life unseen has its appeal.   I just hope my lover still sees me when I'm old and finds me beautiful in some way.  The thought of losing his gaze or that it might be disappointed when it finds me is one of the most shattering things I can imagine.  I think of the Emma Thompson character in Love Actually, whose husband loves her but is captivated by his young co-worker.  Kevin is a big reason--really THE big reason--I still want so badly to be beautiful.  

Right now, I'm still in that transitional space, where societal expectations and stretch-denim still lurk in my closet even while wrinkles and cellulite spread on my body.  There is some anxiety.  But I know the Tunic Days are coming, and I'm betting they will be good.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Grandma's Marriage and Family Therapy, LLC

As have pretty much all couples who have been married for more than 2 weeks and/or have children/marital kryptonite, Kevin and I have been to couples counseling.  I obviously won't go into details because even I have some discretion, but it was during a time when Kevin's job was extra-demanding and our kids were regular-demanding.  And I was demanding him to come home earlier and he was demanding me to leave him alone can't you see I am doing my best.  There were lots of demands.

We went to therapy for a few months, and it was fine, good stuff.  We picked up great tips like "Just talk about the chair."  I don't remember what that means, but it was helpful at the time.  We talked about our childhoods, obviously.  You ain't getting out of the Trump White House without legal bills, Congo without dysentery, or therapy without careful dissection of your family-of-origin dynamics.  We practiced listening and empathizing and learned to say things like, "I'm feeling stressed," and "I'm hearing you say you feel stressed."

But then we went on a trip.  No kids, just us, for one whole week. Kevin's mom came and kept our kids.   We went to Arizona, which was incredible, but we could've gone to Omaha, didn't matter.  We learned many things on that trip including:

  • We are both really nice people when there are no kids around
  • There is not much to fight about when there are no kids around
  • We are both incredibly attractive when there are no kids around
  • We sleep much better when there are no kids around
  • We are both super funny and entertaining when there are no kids around
  • Neither of us has any annoying habits when there are no kids around
  • Our families of origin dynamics are totally functional and compatible when there are no kids around
  • We don't need to talk about the chair or even know what the chair symbolizes when there are no kids around. We don't even need chairs. We can sit on the floor.
  • No one feels stressed or says they feel stressed or needs to communicate that they hear that someone feels stressed when there are no kids around
  • Food tastes better, the air is cleaner, skin is clearer, the weather more temperate, God is on his throne, and Abraham Lincoln is the president again when there are no kids around
We came back feeling like newlyweds, and while that wore off some, this one week brought real, permanent change to our relationship.  It was like a miracle.  It turns out the main challenge in our marriage is that we share it with two other, very demanding people who turn us both into trolls.  We can't do much about them, they are here to stay and we of course love them, but we can periodically run away from them and our troll-alter-egos.  And that is what we have continued to do.  A week in California here, a weekend at the beach there, a week hiking in Maine.  Less glamorous, weekends at in-town hotels.  One time we stayed at the airport because we had points to burn.  We stared into each others' eyes serenaded by the sounds of planes taking off.  Needless to say, all of this is far more fun than sitting awkwardly in front of a marriage therapist and talking about chairs and feelings.  

Of course, the only way we can do this is because of Kevin's mom (my parents have their hands full caring for my 97 year-old grandmother).  She has literally broken bones taking care of our kids so we can recollect what we look like on a full night's sleep and why we ever liked each other in the first place.  I'm not joking--She called us in California to tell us she had broken her foot "but I'm doing just fine! No need to come home! Have fun!"  Is it terrible that we did what she asked? I told you we had troll-sides.  

The only downside to all this is that our kids are seeing everything their grandmother is doing and I fear will expect the same of us.  I guess I'll worry about that later.  For now, I'm sticking with this program.  Some people stay together for the kids, but we leave the kids for the marriage.  I think everyone is better off in the end. Except maybe poor Grandma, hobbling around on one leg.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How to Dismantle a House in 10 Years or Less

Those of you who are newly-wed or soon-to-be, take a moment to look around your home.  It is no doubt stocked with brand new towels, pots and pans, furniture, dishes, and bedding that kind friends and family have bought you or you and your beloved have bought together.  There may be a new coat of paint on the walls, a clean rug under foot, a lovely blanket over the arm of a sofa in a way that looks casually thrown but is in fact neatly styled.  Things are just the way you like them, shiny and new.

Take a good look.  Take some pictures.  Bask in the Pottery-Barn-like-beauty.  Because it won't last.  In 10 years, you will be living in filth and chaos.   And this is how it will happen.

Year One--Your perfect beloved will break some dishes while trying to wash them. It also turns out he has an annoying habit of leaving change lying around and never throws away receipts.   But that is neither here nor there.  It also turns out he doesn't know what a coaster is. (Clarification:  I am seriously not talking about Kevin.  I have used generic annoying things as a stand-in for things about Kevin that are annoying, in that they don't exist.  There is nothing annoying about Kevin.)  Your coffee table now bears the insignia of the coffee cup Olympics.  A klutzy friend will spill a glass of red wine on the rug.  Someone will grab one of your white Turkish towels to clean it up.

Year Two--Maybe you get a dog, maybe he eats some tupperware.  Or maybe you just have friends who never return the tupperware.  Some of it gets melted in the dishwasher or microwave.  Regardless of how it happens, you soon have 3 lids and 2 containers of tupperware, none of which goes together.  Also, your non-stick pan coating starts to peel regardless of how fancy the brand.  You have to throw it out and you buy cheap Target stuff because you don't cook anyway and you are saving for dog obedience school.  Also, the hangers in your closet are now all those cheap wire dry cleaner hangers.  It's not clear what happened to the other hangers, but they have clearly moved on.

Year Three--your white bedding is now brown.  Which is fine, you never make your bed anyway and the throw pillows for it are always underneath it.  It bothers you that your bedroom no longer looks like a magazine, but you have to leave the house at 6 am for your new job, so it is what it is.  The walls of your house now have a millions scuffs and chips and things from people recklessly kicking their shoes off.  All the baseboards and corners of every room have a thin film of grime and lint.  Your sofa at this point bears the unmistakable marks of hosting numerous picnics.  Also, you now have 4 kinds of glasses in your cabinets, none of which match.

Year Four--Hurricane Katrina hits your location, flooding your house with raw sewage and all manner of disgusting filth.  Just kidding, you have a child, which is worse.  You can get insurance money for Katrina and fix things up in time, whereas with a child, your house will never be clean again.   Despite your firm declaration that your hone will not be littered with baby items, there are in fact bouncy chairs, swings, play gyms, diapers and stuffed toys every 3 feet.  At first you try to buy things that match your decor, but then you just say Trump It, the garish zebra striped exersaucer with the blinking fluorescent lights entertains the child 3.2 minutes longer, and that's definitely worth it.

Year Five--As your child begins walking, you start losing control of where the items in your house reside.  You will find stuffed animals in your oven, hopefully before preheating it. You will find your blowdryer in the bottom of a dress up bin.  You will find cups of coagulated, molded, rancid milk between couch cushions.  None your upholstered furniture is the color it was when you bought it.  You can no longer remember what color it was, and you can't really say what color it is now.  It is the color of all the colors mixed together or all the foods mixed together and vomited up.  Your dining room table is bedazzled.  You can't see out of your windows for the finger smudge.  Also, all your cups are now ones acquired from Happy Meals.  Also, your walls are covered in stickers.

Year Six--Well, you done lost your mind and had another kid.  Why would you ever do that.  Because you done lost your mind, that's why.  In rare quiet moments, you can audibly hear your house begging you to PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.  Or is that your own soul.  It's hard to tell and kind of doesn't matter because there's nothing you can do for either one.  So.  Now you get to start all over from the beginning with the ugly exersaucers and spit up and poop.  Meanwhile, your older child continues to grow in assertiveness, mobility, and artistic expression.  That child now wants to paint and cook and attempt to clean in a way that is not cleaning.  Also, your bathroom rug is now completely mildewed.

Years Seven and Eight--These are the years when your oldest child develops their own social life.  They start going places without you--school, Sunday School, sports events and birthday parties--and they start acquiring things at those places and bringing those things into your house without your permission.  Your house is now a junkyard of drawings, popsicle-stick sculptures, plastic tops, and fake tattoos.   You spend 75% of your time sorting through things and making agonizing decisions about what is trash and what is not and how you might dispose of all the things without anyone realizing it.  75% of your home is covered with the stuff you were unable to dispose of without someone noticing and having an annyeurism.

Year Nine--Now you have entered a new, horrible phase that can be described with one word: LEGOS.  Which are very fun. They are also very small and disperse like dandelion seeds in stiff wind.  Your entire home is infested with them, like lice in the the hair of a girl with very thick, very curly, very dark hair.  You find them ground up in your garbage disposal, in the gear shift of your car, in pockets of clothes that have been washed, dried and put away, in pillow cases and shoes and bathtub drains and light sockets and in your ears and between your toes and worse.   Also, you have two kids attending birthday parties and getting the horrible favor bags.

Year Ten--The dismantling of your once-pristine home is now complete.  There is not a single item or surface in the entire place that is truly clean and unchipped, unbroken, unscratched, unscathed or otherwise bearing any resemblance to what it was when first acquired.  Even your own underwear is disgusting, we won't go into all the reasons why, but it doesn't matter. Nothing can stand pure and undefiled in this place.  And it's not like it doesn't bother you.  You are highly bothered.  But you are resigned to the reality that it is easier to just lay down and take it than to try to order and clean a house while it is being ravaged by a tornado.

There are forces of entropy in the world, my friends.  Things that were once new and perfect decay and get dirty and fall apart and unravel and get overgrown and break and get jumbled unless carefully maintained.  Cars. Gardens. Faces. Muscle tone. Panty Hose. Language skills.  Relationships. Book shelves.  Eyebrows. Democracies. I wish that once you achieved something or cleaned something or set something right or got it where you wanted it to be that it would stay that way, even just for a year or two.  The maintenance of life can be overwhelming.   Then you add a couple kids and it's like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace or being put into a wood chipper.  Or flying at hyperspace speed into a wood chipper.

Some people spend their entire existence trying to beat back every inch of chaos and they end up on an HGTV show.  Other people just say Trump the Whole Thing and do nothing to beat it back and they end up on a TLC show.  Most of us fall in the middle, and my own strategy--in addition to medication--is to spend the bulk of my time maintaining what is truly valuable and/or what I enjoy maintaining.  My marriage and my physical health are at the top of this list.  With the rest of it--to include my house--I try to do a little bit every day, but then to let it go.  Sometimes I survey the chaos, take in every imperfection, and practice doing nothing at all about it.  I can feel the anxiety creep up, the sheer panic that everything is falling apart around me and it's on me to keep it together or....or...or...or What? Will the smudged windows and chipped dishes harm us? Will the expanding lines on my face rob me of value? Will the realization of my spouse's imperfections make me unable to love him?  Will the meaning of my life be measured by how organized my closets are?  And on the flip side, would a Pottery Barn house or a cellulite-free butt or a husband who throws away all his receipts make my life appreciably better or my worth more?

However, I truly do believe that I would be happier with some ankle definition.  I will never know, because, tragically, that is the one thing a plastic surgeon can do nothing about, but I think it might make a difference.