Archive for April, 2009
I lead a journaling workshop on Wednesday mornings. One of the prompts this week was to compile 5 lists of 5: 5 things you love to see, 5 things you love to hear, 5 things you love to touch, 5 things you love to smell, 5 things you love to taste. When I decide on the prompts for class, I very deliberately do not think about what my answers will be. So, just like for everyone else in the workshop, when I gave out the instructions and everyone settled down to quietly brainstorm their lists, I had a blank page in front of me. But then I found these words tumbling out:
I love the sight of baby’s smile when he sees me for the first time after waking or my having been away
I love the feel of baby’s skin
I love the feel of baby’s head on my shoulder
I love the smell of baby’s skin after a bath
I love the sound of baby’s chirping
Motherhood is truly sensational– filled with experiences that delight and overwhelm your senses. It fills you up, tears you apart, wears you down, renews your faith, gives you hope.
We have been home for three months now, and our baby boy is now 8 months old. He knows Lola’s name and when we say her name, he looks everywhere around trying to find her. He knows that if he puts his hand on his daddy’s back, his daddy will turn around with a great big smile. He knows that he will be greeted each morning by me scooping him up and saying, “Hello, critter!” He has faith in the songs that I sing to him, relaxing into them at first verse. His favorite toys are rubber ducks, finger sized stuffed animals that each represent one letter and come together in a zippered book as The Alphabet Train, stacking cups, an aquarium bowl that lights up and makes music when he drops two chubby little fishes into it, and his blue car. He loves to take a bath. He doesn’t mind taking medicine. He has a smile that lights up our hearts and a voice that I am desperate to capture on tape before it disappears. He observes everything, doesn’t miss a thing, cannot get enough of life.
What I know for sure is that his is the life that we were meant to guide. Ours are the hearts that he was meant to soften and wisen. This is the journey that we were each meant to take. It is humbling. It is inspiring. It is maddening. It is raw. It is real. And it is imperfect. But every second of it is miraculous, and our souls can’t help but look on in wonder.
As a teacher and speaker on body image issues, I have the good fortune of going around the country to help people process the experiences that have formulated their body image while encouraging them to take control of that image– not letting it be something that someone gives to us and, instead, being something that each one of us owns and controls. It’s not an easy thing for a person to take power over, but it’s an important thing to do.
As I talk with various people about the experiences that have created their body image, I am always struck by the damage that individuals do to one another, the pain we inflict. In the seminar I teach on body image, the second topic we look at is “Parents, Peers, and Body Image.” In that class, we examine many things including what our loved ones say to us that ends up creating dings in our armor. Last year, one of my students lamented how her mother always said to her, “You’d be so much happier if you just lost twenty pounds.” I like to talk in those classes about the importance of finding your own voice in those situations and finding a way to make some sort of remark back, raising the awareness of the person speaking that your body isn’t up for grabs and that how they are treating you is not okay. When we were talking through what the young woman could say to her mother who believes that she would be so much happier if she just lost twenty pounds, there were some really great suggestions. My favorite? “Don’t you mean that you would be so much happier, mom, if I just lost twenty pounds?”
A few weeks ago, I was having this discussion with the students in my body image seminar this semester and someone told a story of the unbelievable thing that a loved one said to her. I remember standing there dumbfounded and then, all of a sudden, I had a crystal clear vision– one that I had never entertained before but, all of a sudden, it was fully formed in my mind. Here’s what came tumbling out of my mouth:
“See, this is why I need to be given my own reality television show. It would be called Shut Up! I would either travel around America and eavesdrop or be invited somewhere to intervene in someone’s bad behavior. Specifically, my job would be to teach people to be more careful about what they say and how they say it. So when a mom says to her daughter that she’d be happier if she lost twenty pounds, there I would appear to teach that mom why she shouldn’t be saying that sort of stuff. You know that voice in your head that pops up with the perfect comeback an hour after someone has said something mean (and when you are long gone). My job would be to be that voice in the moment and then supply the teachable moment.” The show wouldn’t be limited to just body image issues, though. We would deal with all levels of inappropriateness.
For example, Jen is a dear friend who is the mother of a cute one year old boy. One of the things we often talk about is how people believe that moms and pregnant women are up for grabs in a way that’s just not appropriate. Strangers walk up to you in the grocery store and rub your belly. They tell you whether or not you have gained enough weight. They tell you how to parent or what’s wrong with your parenting. There is infinite judgment of mothers, and it just wears us out.
Well, I just got this great email from Jen on Friday, and I had to clap right at my computer when I read it:
I had a parent moment yesterday, and I thought you’d appreciate it. After getting ice cream, I was strapping Wil in the backseat of the car, and you know it takes some time. I had the door open not all the way but open as I tried to quickly get him in. After shutting the door and going to my door, I noticed a car half in to the spot next to me but waiting for me to shut the door and get out of the way to fully park. I waved and apologized and quickly got in my car. As I was, I heard a man who was waiting for the man parking the car say, “I mean that woman was really taking her time getting into her car wasn’t she?” I mean, come on. I was strapping my kid in, not eating bon bons back there. So, I buckled up, rolled my window down and told him, “you know I heard you and just so you know, I was buckling my child in the car.” There was a woman with him, and I hope he was embarrassed. I finally found my voice in saying things back to people who say rude things to people with kids and pregnant women.
I emailed her right back and told her about “Shut Up: Bringing America’s People to Reality,” and she agreed to co-host. We may not have funding or a network or anything else that gets the show on television, but we’re, nonetheless, on a mission, one person at a time, to bring people to the realization that no one’s body or being is up for grabs. Don’t you want to co-host, too?
So on Saturday afternoon, BF and I loaded baby in his stroller, put puppy on her leash and headed down to the grocery store to do our shopping for the week. All was going well (and you’ll be surprised to know that there was no spit up on my clothing, my hair was done, and I had make up on. If I am honest, it’s because I had to serve on a panel at the college a couple hours earlier but, still, I liked the symbolism of being back in the grocery store in far better shape exactly one week after the dirty, spit-up, mismatched incident). Anyway, all was going well until we hit dairy when baby spit up some carrot/ tomato veggie blend. And that bright orange spit up? Not so cute or easy to mask.
BF looked at me, mildly panicked, “baby just spit up!”
I backed away from the Stonyfield Yogurt and worked my way over to the stroller where baby was indeed coated in blood orange spit up. Nice. Surveying the scene, I did what any unprepared mom would do (all I had was the stroller, people, and my debit card in my pocket). I took off baby’s socks, wiped him down, and then deposited the dirty socks into the little storage pocket on the stroller.
BF looked at me incredulous. “I cannot believe you just did that,” he said.
“What did you want me to do,” I asked. “His sock is all I had.” I was defending myself.
“No, that’s totally what I would have done,” he said. And there you have it, folks, America’s most rookie parents.
You’ll be happy to know, however, that the next aisle we went to after dairy was baby supplies where we purchased wipes that we went ahead and left in the stroller pocket for next time. Because there will be a next time and, fortunately, we’ll be ready.
PS. Baby’s socks WERE cream.
So visit the original blog entry to enter your guesses for when baby will start crawling and sleeping through the night and you could win some African coffee! Even if you aren’t a coffee fan, join the fun (you can regift it!).
I was invited to speak to a Latina seventh grade group at CC Griffin Middle School in Harrisonburg, North Carolina on Tuesday. I decided that I would tell them a little about my life and my career path and then read them the few parts of the book that reveal episodes that took place in middle school. They heard about my first kiss, my first bra (Jenny, they were mortified that I sprayed you up like that in the mall. Again, I’m sorry!), and even (although this happened in high school) my first date (and how I had to beg, bargain, and plead my way into it–Mamacita was strict!).
When I asked them if they had questions, I was so tickled by what they asked. In between what’s life like as a writer and how did publishing a book change your life (God bless them, I think they think I am as famous as the Stephanie woman who wrote the Twilight books), they asked how I felt during my first kiss (“like I wanted to throw up, I was so nervous,” I told them) and if I had married the man that I had gone out with on that first date. I just loved how unabashed they were. We also talked about how I changed the names of the people in the book who I was no longer in touch with and who certainly hadn’t asked to be included in the book, what my parents thought about me telling personal stories, how long it took to write, and when and how I wrote. When the bell rang, the girls got up to leave, thanking me. One of the girls looked at me and said, “I’ve never met an author before” and that was a pretty cool moment for me because I could tell it meant something to her.
Seventh grade is such a tender age, and I was really excited and touched to get the opportunity to be with the girls. And it was fun, for just a minute, to relive the giggling embarrassment of that first kiss and that first very special date. There’s not much I’d go back to middle school for, but this group of girls was definitely worth it.
In honor of Earth Day and Inspired Tuesday, I want to recommend two books to you by a colleague and friend, Jodi Helmer.
The Green Year does just that. More than a calendar, it offers simple, practical, affordable, and engaging activities that make going green a blessing rather than a burden.The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference was published in December 2008. The book is filled with practical and inexpensive ideas for a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
In addition to these easy green suggestions, readers will find:
- The reasons for each activity—what makes it good for the environment and the reader?
- A quick how-to for any activity that requires it
- Room for readers to write in their own creative alternatives
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Careers is a comprehensive guide to environmentally conscious careers, including the fastest-growing and highest-paying careers in the green workplace. It is slated for publication this month. Buy it here.
If you own a television or computer, you caught wind of the Susan Boyle story last week. A 47 year old Scottish lady gets the chance to sing for her life on Britain’s Got Talent, and, it turns out, she’s got quite the voice. My favorite Broadway play is Les Miserables (it’s fabulous; put it on your must see list if you haven’t), and so I was excited to see what Susan Boyle had to offer with I Dreamed a Dream. What I wasn’t prepared for was how the audience reacted to her initially. I almost had to turn the video off before even getting to the clip where she sang because watching the way Ms. Boyle was judged before even sharing her talent was almost indigestible to me. The clip has now gone viral and millions have seen it, surely cheering Ms. Boyle all the way.
What I am curious about, though, isn’t about Ms. Boyle’s life back in the Scottish village and what she thinks of winning people over– because, to be honest, I find the media hoopla surrounding Ms. Boyle a bit condescending. It feels a little “you didn’t look like we thought you should and sound like we think you shouldn’t and that’s amazing so let’s dwell on how unbelievable it is that you can sing like that.” I do get why everyday people- like me and, maybe, you- go to You Tube over and over again to see the video. We’ve all felt like Susan Boyle at some time or other and it’s like seeing the bully finally get taken down for what we know to be inherently true. My friend, Jill, who is way smart, brought up this point when we were talking about that whole thing and I found it so interesting, “While I watched the clip, I couldn’t help but think about the particular song she was singing. These lines made me cry: But the tigers come at night/ with their voices soft as thunder/ as they tear your hope apart/ and they turn your dream to shame. I kept thinking about how this didn’t feel like a random song, but it was her song to this audience, media, etc.” Yeah, Jill’s smart. Fortunately, she doesn’t have a blog so you can’t leave mine for hers.
All this said, I found Susan Boyle’s confidence all along, her passion, her good humor, her pluck, and her immeasurable joy in singing really contagious. And while I am not curious about Boyle’s life back in the village and how she feels about the reaction she’s receiving (I just want to hear her sing again), I am curious about the people in that audience– the ones showed having such a negative reaction to Ms. Boyle based on sight when she walked onto the stage and said she wanted her chance. How has their thinking changed since seeing what they saw in person, hearing what they heard, and knowing the sounds and faces and judgments they made in that auditorium? Are they less quick to judge? Do they now understand that beauty comes in a far more diverse package than the one labeled blond, young, tan, tall, and thin? Are they more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt? Do they offer grace more? Because it’s not enough for us to get to a place in the world where we are willing to cheer the underdog on once they impress us, willing to have exceptions to the rule once they prove their worthiness of being an exception. Really, the place we need to get to is one where we don’t assign value to someone– underdog or topdog value– based on whether or not their appearance fits into a box of our individual understanding and appreciation, the place we need to live in is one that holds its arms wide open for anyone’s possibility, a place where there are no rules based on universal standards of beauty. Because it really just doesn’t work like that. Beauty, as we viscerally know—which is why millions of us have connected with this video–, does not fit into just one box. It’s bigger, more dramatic, more marvelous, more encompassing than that, and all of us, inherently, have it.