Parent in Need of Life-Jacket (and Haircut)

Lately, I don’t feel like a good anything.  I have been working overtime at my day job.  I freelance as a musician and sound designer.  I teach part-time on weekends. To carve out some “me time,” I’ve taken up the violin… but rushing to my lesson, paying for my lesson, and trying to practice regularly for my lesson all contribute to my stress.  I haven’t had a haircut in 18 months and I am too ashamed to take my socks off in front of other humans because I can’t even stay in the shower long enough to use a foot file.  My mother is currently in chemo, my mother-in-law, who does not live in this country, is having some issues with her recent move and we are unable to assist from a distance, my aunt just had surgery, and my baby is going to have surgery in the next 6 months.  I’m exhausted and cranky.  I feel alone, neglected, and ignored. My family seems to only notice my increasingly bad moods and last night, I picked a shameful fight with my partner because my life stress is so out of control that I got out of control.

sad

I don’t know how to have fun anymore.  I recently went to a 5 à 7 for audio engineers and wound up feeling like poop.  I planned a date night, secured childcare, but by 8pm, I just wanted to go home, and we never made it to the movie we were going to see. My boss invited me to a yoga class, which I hate, and she also hates, so might be fun for comedic value and bonding (maybe).  It is free for staff, and I keep (oops) forgetting to bring my yoga clothes.   But I should go, right?  She says the instructor is great and she’s enjoying the class, even though she is also a (former) lifelong hater of yoga.  It’s more about the social aspect but what’s the point in mingling when I feel so blah?

My 6-year-old has been struggling some at school.  I feel like a terrible mother.  My kids never get to bed on time.  In reality, they don’t have a set bed time and, my partner and I are horrible at schedules.  Maybe this particular child needs greater structure though.  Maybe this child needs more sleep.  Maybe this child needs me to be home and present.  Maybe this child needs more help with homework.  Maybe I would know what this child needs if I were available more often.

Two of my childhood friends lost their dads recently.  I was unable to fully support them because I work all the time.  I work on Saturdays and miss funerals.  I also miss my old friends’ birthday parties, sledding in the park with my parent friends and our kids, concerts that my musician friends perform in, plays that my theatre colleagues write, and speeches that my academic friends give.  I have been an absent friend for the past year, and I hate it.  I feel guilty.

This is what happens when you don’t put your life-jacket on first.  My life has become cluttered and chaotic.  I’m unhappy but I have felt too overwhelmed to make the necessary changes.  Now it’s time.  I need to do some hard work on myself, for myself, so that I can be a good worker, a good musician, a good parent, a good partner, a good friend – a good PERSON.

My first act will be to eliminate something pointless and unhealthy from my diet: alcohol.  It makes me feel gross now that I’m older so, even though I have labeled myself a beer enthusiast, we’re breaking up.  My partner makes kombucha so I’m thinking I can become a kombucha connoisseur instead.  My second act will be to work on our family schedule.  Since we currently do not have one, and never have, this should prove an interesting challenge.  I strongly suspect my 6-year-old needs this and I will not underestimate the power of my intuition.  My third act, will be talking to a Life Coach.  I must admit, I don’t REALLY know what a Life Coach does, but I’m committed to trying new things and I need some help and support that is JUST FOR ME.  Just for me!  Just for ME!  I can hardly believe it.  Something JUST for me.

I told myself when I finished audio engineering school that I would say yes to new things.  This has led to some amazing and unexpected experiences over the last several months but now it’s time to say yes to me.

yes

What’s a Fat-and-Mostly Happy Girl to Do?

I’m a mom now and suddenly, three little beings are constantly watching me for cues on how to be decent people.  That’s a heavy load.  I’m not allowed to say things like “ass-wipe” anymore and I have to hide in the bathroom to eat candy before dinner.  Before having children, my partner and I decided we didn’t want our daughter(s) to learn to hate their bodies.  We also decided we didn’t want our son(s) thinking it is normal or acceptable for women to hate their bodies.[1]  I decided I would make a conscious effort not to talk about weight loss or to put myself down for being too big… IN FRONT of the kids.  But actions speak louder than words, right?

I also started working out more and forcing myself to wear cute clothes, even though most of the time, I still felt like Jabba The Hutt.[2]  A funny thing happened, I started feeling better and then it took less effort to not talk about weight loss and not put myself down.  Did I initially start working out to lose weight?  In the end, the result was that working out made me not care about how big I was or how much I weighed.  Huh. Well, I was hooked.  Keep in mind, that through all of this, I remained overweight – just less overweight and more in shape than when I started.  112 pounds (aka my lowest adult weight ever) never felt as good as that.

jabba the hutt

It’s a few years later and I’ve survived three rounds of childbirth.  I’m 41, I’m short, I wear glasses, I’m tired all the time, and I am fat.  None of these things are insults.  They are just facts about me.  I find it funny how when you say things like, “I can’t sit in that chair because I’m too fat,” People gasp, clasp their hands over their hearts, and respond with things like, “No!!!!!!  First of all, you are NOT fat!”  I’m 5-foot-3 and 200 pounds.  I’m fat.  It’s okay.  I’m also really smart, a snappy dresser, a classically-trained singer, an expert at Smart TVs, and a former restaurant worker.  I’m lots of things and fat is just one of them.  I’m not ashamed of it and I don’t have to use some euphemism for it or pretend the elephant isn’t in the room.   (Here’s a dancing elephant coloring page, just because!)elephant 3

If I say, “I can’t see that because I wear glasses,” Nobody freaks out and says, “First of all – OF COURSE you can SEE.”  We are giving not-so-subtle cues that being fat is a BAD thing.  I’m lucky because I don’t care, but what about the young people who overhear this and understand immediately that if someone is fat, it’s not good?  We console them about it and assure them they aren’t… even if they OBVIOUSLY are (aka we lie about it!).  It’s almost like the only thing worse than being fat is admitting that you’re fat.   On the other hand, I realize that you can’t respond with, “Why, yes.  Yes, you are.  You are very fat indeed,” Because that would be rude.  We’re all of us caught between a rock and the fat lady.

The Rock.

the-rock-0617-gq-cv03-01

And a fat lady.Me

So, I’ve discovered that working out makes me happy and unfortunately, right now, I’m too tired (and too busy keeping three small children alive and trying to have a career and learning the violin) to get up any earlier than I already do to add exercise to my schedule.  I’m also having a hard time tying my shoes because I’ve grown this belly roll that I never had before.  It occurred to me that pushing and pulling 200 pounds around all day versus pushing and pulling 150 pounds around all day equals more fatigue. This realization is creating real a moral dilemma.

I’m nothing if not honest and I have to admit that I’ve decided to go on a diet.  That’s right, I am on a diet.  A real diet where you count calories and can’t go over some allotted amount that is set for you by someone who obviously never gets hungry and who does things like forgets to eat lunch.   I feel like everyone sensible is going to be angry and call me a betrayer of all things feminist.  Never mind that feminism is supposed to be about choices and agency over your own body.  It’s all very confusing, isn’t it?

Am I secretly super-vain?  Does that even matter?  I don’t know.  I truly don’t.  The men I’ve spoken to about this have ZERO issue with vanity.  “Yeah,” They say, “What’s wrong with vanity?”  As a female-identifying person, I feel an enormous amount of pressure to not care about my appearance, or to care about my appearance but not care what other people think of my appearance, or look good without (admitting to) putting any effort into it, or is it that I’m supposed to stop shaving my armpits because the patriarchy, or keep shaving my armpits because freewill (and the patriarchy)?  It’s all very confusing.  I can say for sure, that I want to get back to kickboxing.  The problem I’m facing now is not at all about feeling ugly.  (Eureka!) Big no longer equals ugly.[3]  The problem is, I can’t do the things that bring me joy.  (Boo!)  And while I like the way I look, I know that if I don’t do something about my size and condition, I won’t be able to keep up with my family or pursue my interests.

What’s a fat-and-mostly-happy girl to do?   When I was skinny, I was miserable.  I thought I was gross and regretted every cookie I ate.  For the first time in my life, I’m not worried about what size my jeans are.  When my kids ask me, “Mama, are you fat?”  I simply say, “Yes, I suppose I am.”  I don’t feel hurt or sad or anything at all.  It feels just like when they say, “Mama, you have brown eyes.”  I tell them they shouldn’t say stuff like that to other people because we shouldn’t talk about other people’s bodies.  I try not to make it about being fat.  I try to make it about general respect for people’s privacy.  I’m scared that I’m setting a bad example.  Isn’t that the plight of all conscientious parents?  I want to be a good role-model by being a bad-ass, plus-size mom, but also by enjoying physical fitness, and by doing whatever the eff I want, and also by teaching my kids to respect others.  Again, very confusing.

elephant 2

So, if what I want is to lose enough weight to kickbox again, why do I feel so torn up about it?  If I were a man, I bet I wouldn’t.  I’d just decide.  The bottom line is this: I will NOT obsess about my weight like I did in my twenties.  I have come WAY too far for that nonsense.  I plan to bring everything I’ve learned from my 18 months as a fat-and-mostly-happy, tattooed, bad-ass mom of three into my future.  I just want to be able to ride my bike while I do it.

fat girl on a bike

[1] Obviously, vice versa and all that too and gender neutral but let’s face it, Marie Osmond and Oprah aren’t exactly pushing their campaigns to the boys at the Legion.

[2] I sort of secretly admire Jabba the Hutt and want to dress up as him for Hallowe’en every year.  He’s a boss.  He’s big and fat and naked and doesn’t care.  But…he’s pretty ugly and I just wasn’t always so great with feeling ugly.  I also get that the Carrie Fisher/gold bikini business is unsavory but it’s also kind of hot.  Confusing, right?

[3] I have an Instagram following of Egyptian men who like “fat-bottomed women” to reinforce it – but that’s a story for another day.

Sometimes You’re the Asshole

It’s true.  Plain and simple.  Don’t make it worse by pretending it’s not.

1985AnneGreenHair

Sometimes the problem is you.  If you’re not a full-time, perma-asshole, facing this truth is probably p-r-e-t-t-y painful.  When I hurt the people I care about, I feel really, really bad and when confronted about it, I often get defensive. Or I cry because sometimes, to quote Anne of Green Gables, after I’ve been an asshole, I sink to “the depths of despair.”  I feel shame, which I think might be the most destructive feeling you can feel, and that is hard to handle.  I want to mope, but I have these 3 super-observant, highly sensitive, incredibly needy little creatures to keep alive.  They constantly need food and love and explanations and clean diapers and help with their homework.  Their neediness, when I’m already feeling shitty, can lead to rage but I cannot take out my negative feelings on them and I cannot hide from them.  I must not drive a cycle of demolition. I am the parent.  I have to deal.  If I give in to the guilt and shirk my responsibilities, then I basically continue being an asshole.  If I don’t model good behavior, I risk creating a bunch of little assholes too and that just makes everything worse for everyone.

heartbreak

Most of us have had one of those intense, passionate, tumultuous relationships that lasts way longer than it should, right?  My understanding of the asshole-spiral truly began with mine.  Once upon a time, I was taken completely by surprise when I got sucked down the rabbit hole of love with a legit crazy person.  I was crazy too back then too so tit for tat, I guess.  The thing about this person is, they were in a lot of pain.  They were broken.  They had been punished over and over and over by the people who were supposed to protect them, just for being who they were.  It completely sucked. I spent time with their family.  It.  Completely.  Sucked.

wicked witch

Sadly, this relationship left me broken too, and for a while, I got even crazier than before, but I learned so very much.  This person took up all the space there was in my life and when there was nothing left to take, like the Wicked Witch of the West, they were gone, in a wisp of green smoke.  Poof and there was nothing.  Just a big, empty vacuum of nothing.  I realized that this person was perpetuating a negative cycle.  They were so consumed by their pain that they couldn’t see they were destroying everything in their wake.  They were not taking responsibility for the damage they were causing in the now.  If ever they were to wake from their fog, they would realize they had made things worse for themselves and countless others.  Because what if I decided to take the pain of this relationship out on the next person I met (which I did) and the next person (which I did) and so on and so on and so on to infinity?  Pain can be quite contagious.  I know that I have hurt others because of my old wounds.  I vow to do my best to stop this.  I will renew this vow daily.  And I will fail.  But when I’m the asshole, from now on, I will put on my big-girl pants, face the people I’ve hurt, and say, “I’m sorry.”  That is the best I can do.

eleanor-roosevelt-no-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-without-your-consent

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  I used to balk at the idea that you could create your own happiness but it’s kind of true.  I cannot change others, I cannot erase clinical depression, I cannot change the weather, I cannot make myself like bananas or develop a visual memory, and I cannot control final outcomes, but if something bad is happening, I can address it.  I can control my responses.  It seems to me that everything I do begins with a choice.  I need to choose carefully, and always remember that mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn and grow and change.  I will try not to dwell on my mistakes or on other people’s bad choices.  I will try to live my best life.

no-one-can-make-you-angry-without-your-permission-becky-bailey-a590a

Becky Bailey, the mind behind the Conscious Discipline program (which I talk about ALL the time), re-framed Eleanor Roosevelt’s idea: “No one can make you angry without your permission.”  Someone thought it was important enough to make a greeting card out of it!  Read her book. She attempts to give coping tools to everyone: The bullied and the bully, the teacher, the parent, EVERYONE.  And there are scripts!!!  Scripts for your daily LIFE!  Scripts for apologizing.  Scripts for speaking up when you get hurt.  Scripts for speaking up BEFORE you get hurt.  Scripts for reinforcing family bonds. And the crazy part is, it WORKS.  It takes some effort and some practice, but it works!  Tools for self-regulation (and GOOD coping mechanisms!!)… Imagine that!  Just imagine that!  Bullies can learn not to bully.  The enraged can learned how not to rage.  The sad can learn to cope.  The quiet can learn to speak-up.

unbroken

The goal is for people to feel their feelings but also, learn how to be productive and settled even as they continue to feel stuff.  Speaking of which, you are not your emotions, you are not even your behaviors.  So, allow me to correct myself.  Sometimes, I make bad choices.  Sometimes, I feel devalued.  Sometimes, I feel guilt and shame.  Sometimes, I act like an asshole.  But I am not an asshole.  I am Juanita (self-awareness-ninja).  And making good on my vows, I must go apologize to my partner for telling the entire world about the ADHD-sausage-debacle-thing without permission.  Peace out.

(And here’s a link to Conscious Discipline)

On Kids and Grief

I exist in the kind of world where important things get flushed down the toilet.  Understand that I mean this quite literally. Yes, I’ve made mistakes and broken up with people for no reason.  I also once swallowed a dust-bunny at an audition and choked on it in the middle of a Mozart aria.  I thereby figuratively “flushed” those opportunities down an imaginary toilet  but, I mean that I flush actual things down the actual toilet:  A manual breast pump at an Ethiopian restaurant, my blackberry at an 80s hipster bar, and today, a 24-carat gold brooch that spelled my name in cursive writing.  Brooch in toilet

This was the first thing I did upon my arrival at work this morning.  I went to the big, gender neutral bathroom, and my brooch jumped off my sweater, landed in the toilet water, and before I could muster the strength to plunge my hand in there, the automatic flusher thing flushed.  When I think of how much time I’ve spent peering into a toilet and thinking, “I really don’t want to stick my hand in there,” I shudder.  I will never get this time back and most of the items do not survive the dive.  So why do I bother?  Why do I mourn them? (for so long, that is…)

I don’t think it’s wrong to smile when you’re grieving.  Tears don’t undo contamination or repair short-circuits.  I don’t think it’s wrong to cry and scream either but while these actions relieve tension, they won’t bring anything back to life.  My life goes on, without the brooch, without the blackberry, even without the breast pump.  I remember those items, I laugh at my butterfingers, I regret that I’ve wasted money.  Then, I try to do better, and, I go on.  My question du jour is: How do I impress this upon my 6-year old, currently elbow deep in an existential crisis brought on by The Book of Life, a cartoon involving dia de los muertos. book of life

We just had a party last weekend and it was complete chaos.  My mother’s oldest sister’s ex-husband’s cousin and her new boyfriend Jerry were in town, so naturally, my mother planned a big family party and invited everyone over for 1pm.  My partner, who has zero time-management skills due to ADHD, decided at 10:00am, to begin making soppressata.  I love a salami but timing is also important.  Picture our kitchen at 11:45am, covered in raw pork.  The kids, my partner, and I still in pyjamas.  I thought to myself (but never truly believed) that we might get it all cleaned up before anyone arrived.

No dice.  My mother rings the doorbell at 11:50am with baguettes and rotisserie chickens and pizza and beer and ginger ale and a giant Caesar salad but there is nowhere to put any of it because salami (and ADHD).  As we’re struggling with this, the doorbell rings again.  My mother’s oldest sister’s ex-husband’s cousin and her new boyfriend Jerry have arrived, a full hour early.  Nobody is dressed, the kitchen is covered in botulism, and our lunch is still in grocery bags all over the hallway.   The baby has pooped and my 6-year old wanders by saying, “What does it all mean?  Why did God put us here if we are just going to die?  Death is all I can think about.”  I open a party-beer and take it with me to shower.

After a few days of my pint-sized Nietzsche philosophizing about the purposelessness of all things, our abandonment by God, and whether the spirit of his dead grandfather can now see him peeing (since spirits are everywhere), I am growing deeply concerned.  Does he need a doctor?  A priest?  A happier cartoon about dia de los muertos?  More exercise?  More vegetables?  I just don’t know.  With the help of friends and fellow parents, I am starting a list of books to help little kids cope with grief and I actually plan on reading them with my kid… But not today.    Today, I will handle it my way: By making the entire family (my 5 and 6 year-old, the baby, and my mother) join me in performing a choreography to Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez.  Jennifer Lopez 2013