We Are Safe

She’s not bleeding; she’s not starving; she has not broken a bone, fallen down the stairs, or gotten caught under something heavy.  She is not in pain, nor is she suffering uncontrollably.  There is no risk of immediate terror or peril; she is safe.’  This is the mantra going through my head as I listen to my daughter repeatedly scream out my name at the top of her lungs from my bedroom downstairs, as I basically hide out in the office upstairs.  After about five minutes, I close the door so the sound is more muffled and I can’t hear her as well.  Then I close my eyes, put my head in my hands and try to breathe…

It’s been a particularly difficult day.  Well, this is a bit of an understatement.  It’s been one hell of a freakin’ day; how about that.  Today is one of those days where you run into your mothering wall.  You have used every bit of patience and sensibility and bargaining and “don’t you dare”s that you can remember coming out of your mouth, and you’re truly just spent.

I’m sure we’ve all been there.  We love our children; and for the most part, they are lovely and wonderful and brilliant and amazing.  But they can also be the Achilles heel of our parenting prowess.  My daughter is closely approaching her seventh birthday; she is in transition.  As a result, we are all in transition.  Every parent laments about the “terrible two’s”, but no one warns you about the other ages.  They make it sound as if once you get past two, it’s almost a breeze; what they fail to mention is that the transitions continue at almost every age, and many of them are just as difficult.

My daughter is certainly not entirely to blame.  She is a small little being trying to figure out how to exist in a world of larger ones; trying to find her way to herself, even though she really doesn’t even know who that is yet.  I have some memory of how challenging that can be, at seven years old; the immense pressures of trying to shift from that “little girl” world where everything was safe and protected and many things done for you, into the “big girl” world where it’s expected (and really, self-desired) to be more independent, more self-reliant, more mature, a more separate being.  But what do you do with all those feelings of still wanting to be safe and secure and babied and coddled?  How do you shed those all of a sudden, just because you’re supposed to?  Even when you want to, you don’t want to…it’s hard to give up that secure little bubble and branch out of it, as curious as you may be.  That ever-present internal dichotomy makes for a perfect little emotional storm that is really a beast to navigate.  Can you blame her for having bad days?

I certainly don’t.  I’m forty and I have bad days; I have a much better handle on how to deal with them and I still struggle.  So I can’t possibly hold it against my lovely girl for simply being human and fallible.  But as difficult as it is for her to navigate her seven-year-old self, it’s equally as tough for the momma to discern how to help her steer a course through these rough waters.  Today’s challenges included everything from clothing crises to attention issues; from inabilities to listen to frustration over toys; from unhappiness over food choices to a power struggle over bedtime.  The current meltdown I was hiding out from, I would later find out, was a result over the fact that she was finally comfy and warm and had finished the apple she insisted on for a bedtime snack, and didn’t want to get out of the bed to throw it away, so she hollered for me to do it for her, and when I didn’t immediately answer (after the fourth or fifth try), she became distressed because she then didn’t know where I had gone.  I had initially not answered because I was on another floor; then when I heard her, I sent my husband in because I was busy, which apparently sent her into more hysterics because “you’re not momma!” and it really just snowballed from there.  The aforementioned hiding only seemed justifiable because I had personally recently put her to bed, knowing she was safe and sound, and also sent the husband in to check, assuring me that if there was a safety crisis he was with her.  Hence the mantra.  I know myself well enough to know when my daughter is better served by not having me there (such as when I simply have run out of everything I have to give, and all that may be left is frustration and impatience).

We did finally get to the end of this day.  I somehow got my 1200th wind, calmed her down, got her to sleep, and then proceeded to lay exhausted on the couch for a few good hours.  (Venting to the nameless blogosphere helped a little, as well, I must admit.)  Not all days are like this; I know the good ones outnumber the bad.  That’s why we do it, right?  It’s because the love is so huge and consuming.  That’s what carries us through.  At the end of days like these it’s the love for that amazingly beautiful creature that softly covers me like the warm embrace I so longed for when I was a little girl; it wraps me up in that safe little bubble and makes it all better again.  That love transcends it all.  And in one funny little moment, I am somehow the parent and child simultaneously, the keeper and the kept.  Only now, I am wise and strong enough to make myself safe, along with my little one; and that is a brilliant realization to behold. WE are safe.

Bring On the B-Cup!

It only it were really this ‘blissful’…

Ask any woman, and she’ll probably tell you she has a pretty good relationship with her breasts.  I think it’s a given, really; proximity-wise, you can’t get much closer.  They’re pretty much front-and center for the majority of our lives.  We live with them, grow with them, love with them, give life with them, lose life for them; it’s a whirlwind relationship that lasts from beginning to end and everything in between.

In addition to being close to our “girls”, most of us are intimately familiar with our current bra size (actual ‘correct’ sizing issues aside – we’ll leave that for another time).  Though that size clearly changes over time — from puberty to adulthood, from childbearing to middle-age to maturity, and beyond — we generally have enough time in each stage to know our existing letters/numbers.  I, myself, have clearly changed over my forty years in this body.  I shifted quite a bit after having my daughter seven years ago and again after dropping weight about three years ago. Since then, I’ve been markedly consistent.  I’ll even publish it (yeah, bold move, or maybe foolish? This is the webiverse, after all…); 40-C.  Steady as a rock – nay, two rocks, maybe – for several years now.  Or so I thought…

I’ve purchased my bras at the same store for years; Lane Bryant.  Call me unadventurous (well, call me an accountant – sometimes the label really does fit the mold, I tell you), but when I find certain products I like, I stick with them.  Like many women, I have the “work” bras, and the “relax” bras, and some “special” ones thrown in for good measure.  But generally, I stick with the same styles, because I like them, they fit and they work for me.  Recently I noticed a new style advertised that was particularly cute, so I thought I would check them out.  Out doing errands the other weekend I wandered in, grabbed a few good colors off the rack in my size, and proceeded to the dressing room figuring it would be a quick trip and I would shortly be on my way several bras ahead and several dollars behind.  However, when I tried the first one on, the fit wasn’t nearly what I expected; cup or band.  Nor was the second one, in a slightly different size.  Heading in I had noticed the “Free Sizing!” offer sign, so I decided to buck my normal process of eschewing the salesperson assistance and taking them up on it.  After the sizing, the associate told me I was really more of a 36-38, and she brought me the new sizes to try.  The 36 was far too tight; the 38 fit better, but the cup still didn’t work.  Then I heard something completely unexpected.  “Well, you must really be more of a true B-cup, and we really don’t carry many of those here.”

B-cup?  I was stunned.  I was able to mutter a polite “thank you” to get her on her way, so that I could process this information in private, as I stared at my newly labeled jewels in the poorly lit store mirror.  I’d just been reduced by one cup size by some random department store clerk, and though it was completely irrational, I felt oddly…well…deflated.

It probably didn’t help matters that a mere week earlier I had been in the shower with my daughter (modesty is a far-off concept at our house) and at one point, she cupped my breasts in her little 7-year-old hands, pushed them up as far as they would go, and proclaimed “look, Mom, they’re YOUNGER now!” with this giant grin on her face.  Then she laughed and laughed, because she clearly thought she was hilarious.  I laughed, too; not because I thought her joke was funny, but because I knew how hilarious it was that my girls would really ever be that high again (without serious surgical intervention).  The memory flashed again now, and didn’t seem quite so amusing.

Standing in front of that long store mirror, those lovely petals suddenly seemed much less supple and much more wilted, given my new size declaration.  It took nearly five whole minutes for me to get dressed, mainly because I was still trying to figure out why it bothered me in the first place.  Logically, it made sense.  Age, additional recent loss of weight, child bearing followed by breastfeeding, all of these things are present on my frame.  And really, the size of my bosom has never really been of issue with me.  (To be honest, I recently started a birth-control regimen in an effort to assist with migraine control, and the temporary size-increase that came with it was a bit of a nuisance.)  So why was I so stilted by these few words from some total stranger who knew nothing about me?

I knew everything about me.  At forty, I can honestly and happily say that I’ve developed a healthy and fairly loving relationship with my body.  Certainly, this was not always the case; I had some pretty strong self-image issues in my teens and twenties that it took a lot of hard work to overcome.  They still rear their head sometimes – you can’t have a stilted view of yourself for 20+ years and not expect it to pop back up now and again.  But truly, I’ve worked immensely hard to come to the root of those issues, shed the pain/guilt behind them to truly accept me for me, and feel fully comfortable in my own imperfect frame.  The age spots on my hands that remind me of my father, and my father’s father; the stretch-marks left by my daughter as she grew inside; the puncture marks, left rear thigh that bring to the forefront the scared 5-year-old girl every time I see a large unfamiliar dog; the scar inside right arm from a screen door window accident at eight that reminds me of the bravery of my father when faced with blood and peril, and to be vigilant at what can actually happen to our children when they are not on our watch; the suture marks front left thigh where they (thankfully) removed the melanoma, that remind me how precious life really is; the softness of my stomach; the firmness of my upper arms; the left ankle that clicks when I walk; the fairness of my Irish skin; the blueness of my eyes; the grayness of some of my hair, these days.  I know all of her; she’s carried me through this life, through love and loss and fear and joy and all the spaces in between.

As an extension, I have a similar relationship with my breasts.  From being a little girl, admiring the women in pretty lace and wondering if I would look like that someday, to being the awkward but somewhat giddy adolescent getting her first training bra (though really, why are they called that?  What are we ‘training’ them for, anyway?).  Then, when they really finally came in, trying to decide what my “style” would be; did I like lace?  Silk?  Certainly it needed to be “modest”, right?  I was really only in junior high, after all.  Then on to high school when style was replaced by the boldness of patterns and colors and the realization that breasts could equate to power, if I wanted them to.  That power was wielded well into my twenties; everything was still in the right place then, so perky and full and supple and alive, just as I felt, discovering new worlds and new parts of myself, and who I was to become.  In my thirties my breasts took on a whole new role; life.  I had my daughter then, and was content to fully give them over to providing for her; though I was surprised to find that something I assumed would be so natural, breastfeeding, would prove to be so difficult for the both of us.  My daughter didn’t latch properly; something that baffled and frustrated us both to the point of weeping exhaustion, and I came to blame myself and my breasts as defective and sub-par; it was truly a blow to the psyche, that one.  I sought help from female friends, family members, practitioners, the LaLeche League, the internet, the library, basically anywhere I could find it.  Finally, with the help of a shield, my daughter finally found a comfortable norm and began eating like a champ, but we were both worse for wear.  At that point, I relegated the girls to one job only; sustenance.  If I wasn’t home feeding her directly, they were subjected to the pump so that I could nourish her as long as possible.  Amongst all the planning for a new bundle of joy, you somehow don’t land on preparing yourself to feel like a feed-cow strapped up to industrial-strength suction several times a day while cowering in the tiny “mother’s room” at your place of business, but it happens.  And you endure it, for no other reason than that tiny miraculous beautiful face that greets you when you walk in the door.  I will say that I did eventually reclaim my own territory on my breasts after my daughter no longer needed them, but it was never really the same.  I don’t know if it was like that for other women or not, but I’ve always since felt a bit detached; I still love them, but it’s hard to overlook that at the moment I needed them most, they betrayed me in some way.  I agreed to forgive, and they agreed to be repentant; but neither side  ever really forgot.  Sounds odd, I know, but that’s the best way I can think to explain it.

Today, the effects my forty years are evident; the girls have long since stood where they used to; they are truly reflective of the life I have lived with them.  And for the most part, I’m okay with that.  So why did all this knowledge and comfort suddenly fly out the window at the mention of a decreased cup size?  Why was I standing in a poorly lit dressing room scrutinizing myself in a way I hadn’t in years, and questioning my self-worth again?  Where was all this coming from?  It might have something to do with recent realizations of many life-questions popping their way into my conscious (you can read about it here), but I’m still trying to figure it out.  I will say that I completely abandoned any further bra shopping that day.  I am a creature of habit, and on top of the chest deflation I couldn’t deal with trying to figure out the intimates section at a completely new store; it was really just too much for my overloaded brain.  I did venture into a different store about a week later, only to find that their brand of bra was sized “S, M, L, XL”, which clearly didn’t help me in any way since I had so recently been given my correct band/cup size in letters and numbers.  I gave up that day too (does it really need to be THIS complicated to buy a bra?  Sheesh.)  I fully intend to brave the bra-world again; I just have to work up a little stamina for all the trying-on that I suspect it will take.  If I’m really feeling adventurous, I could always take my daughter along with me; I’m sure she’d be good for a little comic relief.  After all, what better way to get over yourself than to laugh a little, right?  Regardless of the letter or the number or any of it, I’m still me at the end of the day; just blood and bones and body.  I’m not a number or a letter or a size or a section.  The label is just a means to an end, really; I may as well embrace it for now.  It’s changed before, and it will change again, I’m sure.  So in the mean time, I think I’ll take the girls shopping again – bring on the B-cup!

What Do I Stand For?

Most of us know ourselves pretty well.  We’ve spent our whole lives growing into who we are; living inside our own heads, cataloguing our experiences, making decisions on why we believe the things we do, what we hold important.  For many of us, we get to a certain point in our lives where we feel we’ve finally and fully grown into our own skin; it rarely happens in our twenties, perhaps in our thirties, but often it’s into our forties and beyond, when our experiences are truly outnumbering our years.

But what happens when you unexpectedly encounter a shake-up in your sense of self?  When the course you thought you were chartering towards becoming “you” gets blown wildly off-track?  What do you do when you’re faced with the fact that you are slowly realizing that who you are is not who you thought you would become?

It’s probably more common than we think.  It may not even be that significant of an event, really.  Maybe just a nagging feeling, an inkling that occurs in a random conversation when you start to agree with someone on a topic you normally would and suddenly realize you actually don’t.  Or maybe you find yourself going through the motions of your daily life only to wonder when they became more motions and less life.  Perhaps it’s the time when a colleague comments how good you are at your job, you must love it so much and you find yourself amused because you couldn’t possibly feel less engaged.  Or maybe you’ve been promising yourself you would change something in your life for so long, you don’t even notice years have passed and you’ve stayed exactly where you were when you started, with no change happening at all.

For me, it hit me in the words of a song not too long ago.  Currently, on various radio stations around the country, I am prompted with the question “What do I stand for?” courtesy of the band Fun. in their recent hit ‘Some Nights’.  I immediately liked the tune when I heard it because of the melody and the beat, but the lyrics are what caught me most, as the lead singer repeatedly questions himself about the importance of his life.  I find that every time I listen, I can relate more than I would care to admit.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just crossed the forty mark, myself; certainly it’s a banner year not to be trifled with.  The big 4-0 can cause some serious re-evaluation for even the most stalwart of females, or so I’ve heard.  But I think it’s more than that, really.  Forty was never really looming, for me, so I don’t think that’s the key to this tremor in my thought process.  I think this is more of something that’s been brewing for longer; probably more like a decade, I suppose.  We all change constantly, do we not?  And perhaps it’s been that long since I really turned the internal lamplight on brightly to see where all the shadows and reflections landed.  I know my internal daily voice but, really, where am I on the overall path?  What do I bring to the larger life-table?  Is this really where I thought I would land, and am I holding up the banners and brevity in the manner I thought I would by now?  And of all that I have learned, lost or sacrificed along the way, has it been worth it so far?

So this is it? I sold my soul for this?

Washed my hands of that for this?

I miss my mom and dad for this?

I guess I find it surprising that I have so many questions showing their faces that I don’t immediately have answers to.  Large, life questions; sand-shifting ones.  It’s not that I’ve been plunged into the complete depths of mystery; I still have a good handle on my morals, my beliefs in spirituality, parenting, etc.  It’s more of a life-direction type of re-evaluation that seems to be happening.  Now that I’m here, in this soul-space, is this really the place I want to inhabit?  Do the choices I made years ago still fit today?

In the immediate, I’ve decided to befriend the questions.  Uncertainty is not always the enemy; questions lead to learning.  Accepting that I don’t necessarily have all the answers is also key to moving forward to finding them.  The next step is to take some time to really look at the landscape and decide what parts of it need to change to suit who I’ve become; and to know that the scenery will keep changing over time.  When I finally figure out everything I stand for today, I’m sure ten years from now I will find that, again, I may not know.  But at least then the question will be more familiar…