Super Duper Uncomfortable. And Honest. And Dare I Say…Brave.

T was wrapped in his towel and cuddled in my lap after bathtime. He poked my belly. “What’s in there?” he asked.

He is really into Disney Princess stories right now. One of his classmates was dressed as Rapunzel last week on pajama/dress up day at school and he asked me to tell him the Rapunzel story later that day. I started, but couldn’t remember the details so I told him I’d look it up online.

The plot of the Brothers Grimm version on wikipedia was pretty damn dark for a three year old-blinding by falling into thorns, agreeing to give away your baby when you’ve been caught stealing, a knocked up 12 year old. I don’t want to sugar coat the world for T, but jesus, that is a lot to explain and I needed to start making dinner. I went with the Disney version and had to explain pregnancy anyway, although it was less complicated than talking about tween pregnancy….

He seems to dig the idea that I grew him and his brother in my belly. So the other night after bath T poked at my soft, blobby stomach and asked what was inside. I told him nothing, that I was done growing babies and distracted him with tickles.

He asks about the milk in my breasts when I’m nursing his brother. Of course he is going to ask about the contents of my belly. And eventually he’ll notice that I’m not as skinny as some moms and more skinny than others. I’m sure he’ll mention it to me. I don’t want to feel self-conscious around him. I don’t want to feel ashamed of my body, of the fact that I don’t fit some unattainable standard of beauty. I don’t want him to expect that women are supposed to look like fashion models. I want him to enjoy beauty, but to find it in all shapes and sizes. Mostly I want him to be attracted to who people are inside rather than what they look like outside.

But if I want all that stuff I probably need to stop berating myself for being tubby. For having wrinkles. For my ghost white skin covered in moles and freckles. For my pale lips. For my ugly man hands. For my tree trunk legs and thighs that rub together. For the stretch marks on those thighs. For the stretch marks around my belly button. For my enormous ass. For my lank hair. How can I teach him and his brother to find beauty in more than the narrow definition fed to us by advertisers and the media if I can’t forgive myself for not fitting into that ideal? Why does it matter to me that I don’t have a banging body? I’m a feminist, god damn it! It’s not like my celulite and average looks are preventing me from having wonderful friends. When giving me a grade my professer isn’t using my physicality as part of her rubric. And not to get too graphic, but Z seems more than happy to get it on with my non-perfect self.

Doing right by these sons of mine is so important to me. Raising them to be good men who value women and who know in their bones that women are every bit their equal is my number one goal. Other stuff is nearly as important to me-raising them to be hardworking and responsible and kind. But equal respect for all people is my top priority. I want them to be outraged that women face so much violence in this country, that women are more likely than men to be food insecure, that women make less money for the same work. I want them to be part of the solution.

But raising these boys right starts with me. For years I’ve wanted to find confidence and pride in my appearance. For years my anxiety has won, whispering to me that I am worthless and ugly both inside and out. For my sons I need to figure out how to let the anxiety go.

So I got a new bathing suit the other day. Ready for some honesty? And some major uncomfortableness? And some fucking fearlessness? I’m going to post unfiltered pictures of me wearing it. So what if I have tree trunk legs that glow in the dark? So what if my thighs rub together? My body has gotten me through a hell of a lot-it created two amazing and beautiful boys. My body! Created beauty! It got me through a devastating mental breakdown. And hopefully it is going to continue to get me through this life for many years to come. So I don’t look like a 15 year old model. Well that makes a shitload of sense being I’m a 36 year old stay at home mom. T and C love me the way that I am. So does Z.

Deep breath. This is me. And I’m trying really hard to be cool with who I am.

k bathing suit

And now I’m trying really hard not to point out all the flaws.

k back bathing suit

And now I’m trying really hard to not imagine that you are laughing at me. I’ve heard that there are some folks out there who enjoy a little junk in the trunk.

k side bathing suit

And I couldn’t resist including this one. Do you see my glowing legs? In high school my best friend used to call me Powder.

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Post Paper Blues

Any of you guys do theater? Or used to do theater? You know the day after a show closes? The feeling of profound sadness and moodiness and emptiness and loss because it is over? I haven’t had that feeling in more than a decade.

Except I had it yesterday. Of course the paper that I spent the last week writing is not some important or significant thing. It’s just a research paper for a class, one of probably several million that are being handed in this week across the country as the semester winds up. It doesn’t contain brilliant analysis, I didn’t synthesized information in a particularly innovative way. I actually have a sinking feeling that it isn’t very good. But the truth is I worked hard on it. Harder than I’ve worked on anything in a very long time.

The paper was assigned the first day of class, while I did research throughout the semester I only had three or four pages done on the Saturday before it was due. So from Saturday till Wednesday I lived and breathed that paper. It gave me a sense of purpose that was much more straightforward than being a Stay at Home Mom. And my feelings about it were less fraught. If I fucked up and I get a bad grade I’ve let myself down. But if I fuck up during my day job I’m inflicting damage upon a human being. And let me tell you, I fuck up every day.

When T hits his brother or is rude to me, when C throws a tantrum after being told “No!”, when T wakes terrified in the middle of the night, when C can’t fall asleep without a pacifier in his mouth I feel like I have failed them. When they behave in a way that embarrasses me or infuriates me I remember that I spend more time with them than anyone else. They are a moment by moment reflection of my work. Their behavior is my report card and most days I feel like my grade wouldn’t be a passing one.

I worked really hard on this paper. I used parts of my brain that haven’t been used for a long time. I got a break from my day job and I while I felt guilty for not being with the boys, I didn’t feel as guilty because I wasn’t just hanging out, I was doing something kind of unpleasant that I had dreaded for a long time. The truth is I’ll be crushed if I get a bad grade. I really want to apply to the new grad program that is being developed in Food Studies and if I don’t do well in this class I doubt I’ll be accepted. I’ll also feel pretty bad about myself. One of my biggest fears is trying as hard as I can and not being good enough. But at the end of the day if I screw this paper up there are no repercussions for other humans.

The stakes are high with this childrearing business. I know that probably seems laughable to people. I get that the stakes are higher when you are earning the paycheck that puts a roof over your family’s head. But the stakes are high as a SAHM because you don’t get do-overs. You are trying to mold your children into decent people and contributing members of society. If your kid is a self involved shit, well, a lot of that falls on you.

I’m not saying T or C are self involved shits, by the way. First of all, it is way too soon to tell. Second of all, one and three are hard ages. They are pushing back, trying to figure out what power they have in this world. They are constantly frustrated and constantly learning and constantly improving and constantly taking steps back. They are doing incredibly hard work. When they act out they are testing me, they are learning where the boundaries are. And one of my millions of fuck ups is interpreting their bad behavior as my failure. I get frustrated. And I lose sight of my job, which is to calmly help them navigate the acting out. I fail, I fail, I fail. I want to do better for them.

ice cream goatee

I’m not a fan of facial hair. Unless it is made out of ice cream.

he is totally scared of monsters

He is totally scared of monsters.

toilet car crash

The Mom business would go smoother if I didn’t freak out so much when I found things like this. Because at the end of the day it isn’t a big deal. Duh. I just find that hard to remember when I’m preparing to plunge my hand into the toilet as I contemplate the number of times we have crapped in it since I cleaned it last.

Home. Home? Home.

The paper due tomorrow has been emailed to my professor and my self-inflicted ban on blogging is officially lifted, which is good because I’ve got something I want to say.

Z and I have been thinking about living in Syracuse. We’ve been here for more than three and a half years already, which is longer than we’ve lived anywhere in our nearly 15 year relationship. On the drive home from NYC two weekends ago Z asked me when do we make the decision that Syracuse is home? When do we put down roots a little?

I didn’t have an answer. Z is happier professionally here than the has ever been in his life. We love our home, we love our community, our boys are happy here. Yes, the winter sucks, but summer sure is fantastic. The biggest problem is geography. We are far from our families at a time when we want our boys to spend as much time with them as possible.

Z and I are lucky enough to have parents who are engaged in our lives, who want to be around our boys. Living near your parents doesn’t guarantee that kind of engagement. Our parents are in good health (knock on a forest of wood) and are able to travel. We are also able to travel, particularly because Z has freedom due to the academic calendar. We might live far away, but we see a ton of our family. Hell, my parents who have vowed to never visit Syracuse during the winter were up here twice while there was snow on the ground this year.

Tomorrow my term paper is due. I have been working on it pretty much nonstop since Saturday. Also, Z left town to perform with those dance folks again on Tuesday. How have I managed to write the paper? My mother-in-law came to town on Saturday. She has cared for my children, cooked our dinners, and kept the house a million times tidier than I ever do. How crazy is that? How lucky am I? This paper would not have gotten written without her. I am deeply grateful for her generosity. In fact, I want to shout my thanks from the rooftops. She is probably sick of me telling her how much this trip means to me. But I can’t help it. This is the most significant gift she has ever given me, and she has given me a lot of gifts over the years. She came here to help and to spend time with the boys. And if she wasn’t interested in doing those things it wouldn’t matter if we lived next door to her, my paper wouldn’t have gotten written.

So we can’t pop over to her house for a quick meal on the weekends. So what? We see her four or five times a year. And when we spend time together we value it.

It would be awesome to live closer to family, really it would. But there is a lot of good here in Sunny Syracuse. And we might not live close to family, but we are close to family. Isn’t that what matters? You can’t have everything in this life, but we have more than our fair share. Maybe it is time to put down some roots and enjoy what we’ve got.

pitcher

It’s been a picture light week, what with the paper and all. My Mother-in-law is a ceramist and this is one of my favorite pieces she’s made for us.

rustophone

There is a Sculpture show at an art park in town and Z built this behemoth for it. It’s called Rustophone and you can make music on it. Pretty damn awesome.

socks

Because the world really is full of amazingly awesome and kind people a friend of mine got T and C these day-of-the-week socks while she was visiting England. Thank you times a million, Janine!

Back In the New York Groove

When Z and I made the decision to get married we also earnestly made plans for our future. We talked about what we wanted-kids someday, but not some day soon. To live in New York forever. I’d been chasing that need to belong for my whole life. New York already felt like home, when I came back the city after being away something inside me relaxed, I breathed easy, it felt right.

It’s hard for me to look back at the kids we were nearly fourteen years ago when we got engaged and not feel distain for our hubris and naiveté  Yes, we thought we knew marriage would be hard. We didn’t know anything.

Those kids we used to be could not have imagined that I would have a spectacular mental breakdown within in a few years. Hell, we would not have believed that the World Trade Center would be destroyed one year and eight days after our wedding. The thought that we’d be on the verge of divorce five years after our big day would have been ludicrous to us. And Z, who adored New York City would not have been able to wrap his brain around the fact that he would grow to despise his home in under a decade.

We wouldn’t have believed what life had in store for us, but our ignorance didn’t prevent any of it. Eight years after we met, six years after we wed I was presented with a choice-stay married and leave my other love, the city I’d called home for longer than anywhere else in my life, or stay in Brooklyn and get a divorce. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice. Although I do think that marriage should be renamed Never-Ending Compromise. And I’m not trying to sell this like I made some huge sacrifice while Z just gets to do whatever he wants. Deciding to stay married to someone who struggles with mental illness means you are putting that person’s needs in front of your own with soul crushing regularity. I could write a novel outlining all the compromises he’s made for me.

I made the right choice. That doesn’t mean that I stopped loving New York. I just decided I loved Z more.

The trip this weekend excited the hell out of both of us. We know we need to be paying more attention to our marriage and this opportunity was the perfect break. So when we were driving down the highway on Saturday afternoon and the Manhattan skyline came into view I was horrified by the sudden and severe anxiety attack that took hold. And on top of the anxiety I was enraged. Suddenly I hated Z for making me choose between him and the city, even though that choice happened years ago. I hated him for not missing the city. I hated the city itself for changing, for leaving me behind. I didn’t belong there anymore. And I hated myself for feeling so betrayed by Z, by the city, by life, by myself. I hated that the vision of life my 22 year old self imagined didn’t come to pass. I hated that part of me still expected it to. I guess I’m still naive nearly a decade and a half later, or to be blunt I’ve failed to grow the fuck up.

But here is the good part. Z immediately recognized what was going on. He got me to take a chill pill. He went to his work event while I stayed in our room and calmed down. We were able to talk about my reaction and strategize about future visits. Next time before we get close enough to the city for me to see the skyline I’ll take a pill. We’ll talk about how hard it is for me not to be there anymore ahead of the trip so remembering won’t seem like such a slap in the face.

The rocky start did not ruin the trip. We met up with two of my favorite people on the planet. She is the chef of a new restaurant in Brooklyn. The first review kicked ass. If you are anywhere near Prospect Heights you should go and get the duck confit sandwich. It was criminally delicious. He’s the one that set up my wordpress account and moved over all the content from blogger. He’s smart like that because he is the Product Engineering Director of a cool news website. If I’m going to be honestly uncomfortable, and you know I am, I’m jealous of them. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud as hell of them or that I begrudge their success. I mean, I’m an asshole, but I’m not that big of an asshole.

But I look at them, and Z for that matter, and I see people who made intentional and thoughtful decisions about what they wanted from life and worked their asses off to get there. They didn’t magically become successful, they put in the sweat and tears, they had setbacks, but they persevered. They are in their mid to late 30s and their careers are blossoming. And I feel inadequate compared to them. I’m 36, a Stay At Home Mom without the skills to find a job that would cover the cost of day care for my boys.

But here’s the thing. Only I have the ability to change where I am in life. I can decide it’s too late for me and feel sorry for myself, or I can made decisions and do the hard work and open myself up to facing failure as I try to make something out of myself.

So it was an eye opening trip. It made me think about where I am and where I want to be. It reminded me that I’m the one standing in the way of my own dreams, dreams that scare the shit out of me so completely that I don’t acknowledge them. On top of all that I still managed to have an excellent time with friends who I love dearly and who somehow love me back. I continue to love New York while loving Z more. And speaking of Z, let’s just say it was a fantastic trip for our marriage.

I love new york

This skyline never fails to break my heart, to exhilarate me, to make me feel like I’m coming home, to make me cry.

home again

We were happy to get home and see our boys. Man, did it feel nice to miss the boys.

porch in the rain

Hanging out on the porch for the first time this year.

And bonus dork points to anyone who knows who sings New York Groove…

Boston

Yesterday I was in the middle of writing a post about our trip to NYC when the news about the Boston Marathon came on the radio. There isn’t anything I can say that hasn’t already been said better by Patton Oswald or Mr. Rogers. But I can’t just post more of my self involved dreck without acknowledging the attack.

It is completely insufficient but to every person who was affected I am so very sorry. My heart aches for you.

A thought occurred to me yesterday. This is going to sound nuts, but I immediately hoped that Boston has some kind of emergency like the Blackout of ’03 in the next year or so. Now hear me out. I don’t want Boston saddled with an additional financial burden, I certainly don’t want anyone else to lose their life, but I do want the collective city’s faith in humanity restored.  It won’t heal the people who are directly involved, the injured or those who have lost a loved one, but everyone else? It might help a great deal.

My memories of the NYC blackout are ones of gratefulness. Ok, also overwhelming physical discomfort because it was hot as Hades but the gratefulness trumps all else. September 11th was a day of horror and terror, I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that it changed me. And for the first few minutes of the blackout those feelings came roaring back. I was at work in a professional shared kitchen in the basement of a building in Soho. The building was a short block deep and our space was farthest from the stairs to the ground floor. When the chef of the space next to ours started screaming “We are all going to die!” I believed him. But we used our cell phones for a little light and traveled across that block of blackness to the stairs. Once outside we gathered around a car with the radio blaring and quickly found out it was a power failure. The relief at discovering it wasn’t terrorism was so intense it made me giddy.

Z and I managed to find each other that day and we walked home over the Manhattan Bridge. On the Manhattan side we stopped at a deli that kept its doors open and bought a dozen bottles of water. By that point the fear mongering that there would be a repeat of the looting and violence of the Blackout of 1977 was everywhere.

But guess what? It didn’t happen. As we were crossing the bridge folks who had been stuck on the subway for several hours were being evacuated. We shared our water with a couple of the overheated and shellshocked riders. And when we arrived in Brooklyn there were vendors hocking water bottles. For a dollar. No price gouging at all. When we got home probably about four hours after the blackout happened we realized all we saw were people helping each other out. Decency and kindness were the defaults that day. I was so proud to be a New Yorker, for the first time I felt like the city was going to be ok.

Of course this is an enormous oversimplification of how to heal from a terrorist attack. Obviously I don’t really hope that Boston is faced with another emergency, though I do want the city to experience the relief and love and pride in itself that I felt on that August day in New York. I don’t mean to suggest they ignore or forget the pain and heartbreak and fear they are experiencing today. But decency and kindness-and there has been so much decency and kindness and heroism-is harder to digest when the horror is so close. Someday soon I hope that the conduct of the citizens of Boston will serve as a reminder of the good in people without being overshadowed by the hate that drives a few. After time Boston will be able to celebrate its decency without simultaneously mourning the casualties of hate.

family

My family sends love to all Bostonians.

Therapy After Therapy

Our babysitter pointed out that I keep threatening to have her over so Z and I can go on a date and it never happens. She was scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon and offered to stay longer than we needed so Z and I could grab dinner out. I was all set to tell her thanks, but no thanks. But I paused for a minute and thought about it. There were leftovers in the fridge for the boys’ dinner. Z and I don’t spend nearly enough time alone. He is leaving in about a month for a month. Why wouldn’t I say yes?

So after therapy we drove back home, ditched the cars in the driveway, and I linked my arm through his as we moseyed over to the self-proclaimed “Gastropub” that opened around the corner last fall. The restaurant was nearly empty which is perfect for someone with agoraphobic tendencies. And there is a big part of the problem. I’d make it more of a priority to go out with Z if going out wasn’t so damned hard for me.

A few weeks ago my parents, sister, and I gathered in the lobby of our hotel before getting in the car to head to my Uncle’s funeral. It ended up being a wonderful day full of love and family and hard goodbyes and gratefulness. As we were getting ready to head out the door I turned to my sister and said, “What is it like not being scared to go to an event?” She encouraged me and pointed out how great it was going to be to see everyone. But I was actually asking the question seriously. What is it like to not feel shackled by fear? Because every time I leave the house I wonder for at least a moment about how I can get out of whatever I’m doing. Even if it is something I enjoy. Before every class I have an excuse email composed in my head for my teacher. I have to force myself out the door and ignore the voice in my head that tells me I’m going to humiliate myself by participating in life.

Of course the vast majority of the time I end up enjoying what I’ve been dreading. I don’t humiliate myself. I feel glad I’ve engaged. Even when the experience outside the safety of my home is just sort of ok I’m proud of myself for doing it. Until I stop and realize that being proud of yourself for going to the grocery store is pathetic.

I’m embarrassed that the anticipatory anxiety disorder has made me into such a fearful person. I hate that I torture myself after every human interaction, sure that the person doesn’t like me, or that I said something offensive. And during a time when our marriage has taken a necessary backseat to getting through the overwhelming task of dealing with two toddler aged sons I despise that the disorder makes me even less likely to fight for time with Z.

During our meal we talked about having a quick date after every therapy session. “It’s like therapy after therapy.” Z said. Yup. And every bit as valuable as well as excellent motivation in terms of facing my fears about leaving the house.

Tomorrow morning Z and I are driving to New York. I am so excited for the trip. I am so scared of the trip. I hate that I want to bail on something I know is going to be incredible. But I’m fucking doing it. Even if it takes a truckload of imodium and lorazepam I am getting in that car. How is that for romance?

k and t haircut

When T and I got our hair cut a few weeks ago I showed this picture to Z. “Is that the woman who cuts your hair?” he asked. “Um, no Zeke….it’s me.” He insists it looks nothing like me. I fear that after nearly 15 years together he wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a lineup.

naked snacks

Naked snack time!

t and the princesses

He is obsessed with Disney Princesses right now.

Neighbor

When we decided to move to Syracuse Z wanted to buy a farmhouse with outbuildings on a whole bunch of acres in the middle of nowhere. I told him he could have all that jazz with his second wife, but if we were moving to the snowiest city in America and I was going to be alone in the house with a baby all day then that house needed to be in walking distance of…something.

Our search centered around the University Neighborhood and the house we purchased is a few blocks from a little business district with coffee shops, restaurants, a live music venue, a bike shop, several thrift stores, and a library that caters to kids. On top of all that there are two parks and a Natural Food Co-op within a 10-15 minute walk.

You can’t sugar coat it, the weather sucks here in the winter-that-seemingly-knows-no-end. But here’s the thing, when spring finally arrives it is amazing. Summer is magical. Fall is arrestingly beautiful. There really is a lot to like.

When it finally warms up a bit the sidewalks fill with folks out for a walk. In a lovely and organic way you sort of get to know your neighbors around here. You might not know their names or their stories, but you know them by sight. It’s fun to see people you haven’t seen since last fall.

Late Monday and Tuesday afternoon the boys and I took a walk to one of the coffee shops. Monday’s walk was less than ideal. I carried T most of the way as he wept because he didn’t want to go. But I wanted an iced coffee, damn it. And he was a peach on the way home. Which was good because although C was a delight for the first half of the walk, he decided to throw an extravagant tantrum on the return. Tuesday’s walk was just plan awesome. Both boys were into it. I was into it. Life felt good.

As we ambled past the big yellow house a block and a half from our own I idly wondered when we would see the couple who lived there next. We’ve been stop-and-say-a-few-words friendly with them since we moved in. Or Z has and I try to be. My shyness and lack of social grace will be no surprise to anyone who knows me. Our home has a front porch that is only accessible from inside the house which affords a level of privacy somehow. People don’t tend to notice us sitting there when they walk by, the voyeur in me loves it. In the summer we like to sit out there with a drink after the boys go down. The couple from the yellow house would breeze by, him running and her riding slowly by his side on her bike. We got a kick out of their routine. And she was always incredibly friendly and sweet to the boys when she saw us out and about.

Today I went to get my teeth cleaned. The dental hygienist looked at my chart and said, “Oh, you live on Allen Street. A woman who goes to my church lives on that street. She just passed away in March.” I told her I was sorry, but didn’t think much of it at first. The hygienist was old enough to be my mother. I assumed her friend was as well, which is certainly sad, but not unusual. It became clear that she really wanted to talk about the passing of her friend, she started to explain exactly which house the couple lived in and my heart sank. I asked how old the woman who passed was. “Thirty-three.” she said.

Her name was Rachel. I felt numb as I realized we’d never see her on our neighborhood walks again. And frankly I feel outraged. For her husband, her family, and mostly for her. For the loss of the life she was leading. For how precarious and unfair and painful and wasteful this life can be.

I don’t have a tidy summation for this story. The thought of spouting platitudes frankly nauseates me right now. I’m just sorry and incredibly sad.

neighborhood flowers

Bulbs planted throughout a lawn. This is truly a beautiful neighborhood. I wish Rachel was still able to enjoy it.