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…

Coffee Shop Compassion

One random morning a stranger asked me for a matchbook.  That, in itself, is not significant.  The events that took place before and after, however, certainly were.

You see, our family is like many in America; middle-class, fairly fortunate, insulated from poverty and hardship.  We have a nice house, food in our pantry, a car to drive, and jobs to support us.  We are aware, however, that there are lots of people in this country that do not have what we do.  I try to educate my daughter about helping others that have less than us, and we make efforts to give when we can.

On this occasion, my daughter and I were on an early morning trip to Starbucks in Portland, OR.  We’d flown out from Ohio, so we were still on East Coast time and I was trying to get my rambunctious 6-year-old out of the house for a bit so she wouldn’t wake the rest of the family at 5:30 am.

As we were sitting at our table enjoying our goodies, I noticed a man crossing the street towards the shop.  He was wearing only a black t-shirt and sweatpants (despite it being fairly cool and rainy), he was slightly balding and bent over walking, and he was missing his right arm from the elbow down.  After watching briefly I turned back to my daughter and our conversation which she abruptly stopped, because she had a serious question.

“Mom, why did that man pick a used cigarette off of the ground?”  I turned to look as the man I had noticed before now entered the shop.  I told her I would explain a little later since we were now, with him, the only patrons in the shop and I didn’t want to embarrass him in case he overheard us discussing it.  I heard him ask the baristas for a book of matches, to which they answered they had none.  He then turned and looked at me, rather sheepishly, and asked the same.

Without really thinking about it I stood up and told him I had no matches, but would he like a cup of coffee instead?  He stared at me for a moment, as if he was confused by the shift in topic, and then answered, “Yes, that would be nice.”  I led him over to the counter and said that they had breakfast sandwiches, and would he also like something to eat?  He pointed at the example in the case and said the sausage one looked good.  We got him squared away and he came and sat next to us.  He introduced himself then, “Charlie Chester”, and shook my hand.  I did the same, introducing myself and my daughter.  We made small talk while we ate; I told him where we were from, he told me where he got his shirt with the ten bats.  He seemed a bit disconnected, but happy to have some company.  It occurred to me that perhaps it was not often that anyone took the time to speak with him.  He had kind eyes.  I noticed he was a bit shy but tried to connect with me and my daughter, though she was oddly irritated and wouldn’t respond to him.  I tried to keep myself the focus of the conversation until we were done, then wished him a good day as we packed up to go.  He thanked me wholeheartedly, and told my daughter “You sure have a nice Momma.” to which she scowled and said a snipped “Thank you.”

As we got into the car, I asked her why she was so irritated and rude to the man.  I was sure it had something to do with the fact that he was a stranger, or dressed shabbily (and, to be honest, probably could have used a shower), etc.  I was surprised by her answer: “You didn’t even know him, and you gave him our money, Mom.”  I did not expect that she was possessive of our giving to him in that way.  Especially since the week before she had voluntarily chosen to give her own gumball quarters to the Children’s Hospital fundraiser at her school, and we often pack up her extra unused stuffed animals and take them to the fire station for children in need.  It then occurred to me that she didn’t see what I so clearly did, that this man was so very much in need.  I suppose she just thought he was some random man and I had just handed over something I could have given her instead.

I then proceeded to try and explain, in my best 6-year-old-speak, about Charlie Chester and his world.  I shared that his funny bat shirt and shabby tennis shoes were probably the only clothes he owned.  The coffee and sandwich that Momma bought him with “our” money this morning would probably be the only thing he ate today, maybe even tomorrow, unless he found something else in a garbage can to scrounge (“People DO that, Momma??” “Yes, they do honey, when they have nothing they do lots of things you’ve never thought of…”).  Charlie Chester probably has no place to sleep at night, except wherever he can find outside to stay out of the rain and wind, if he’s lucky; no bed, no pillow, no blanket, no roof.  And certainly no “friends” (what she calls her stuffed animals) to keep him company.  Wherever he goes he has to rely on his two feet, because he also has no car or bicycle or scooter.

At this point, her eyes were fairly wide, and I had her full attention.  I reminded her how she made the choice the week before to give her quarters to the Children’s Hospital (“Yeah, so I can help the little babies who need it!”), and to give her old “friends” to the fire station (“For kids who don’t have ANY friends at all, Momma.”).  I told her just like her acts of kindness, I was choosing to help Charlie Chester with my money, at which point I think it finally connected for her.

It was really an interesting morning of learning, for both of us.  I was surprised that I had just assumed that my daughter would automatically have known poverty and sadness when it walked in front of her.  I felt that I already talked a lot to her about helping people, but clearly I’ve not done a good job about showing her who those people are, or what the need for help really looks like.  I was reminded that though compassion is innate, generosity is sometimes learned by example.  We’re getting there…

The Pusher

Many areas of the U.S. weathered quite a heat wave this weekend.  This past Saturday in Ohio, temps climbed to a mind-numbing 105 degrees.  Like many parents of young children, this somewhat limits our options for weekend activity; park visits or sprinkler fun look a little less inviting when you layer in the heat-stroke possibility.  However, being cooped up in the house with a six-year-old who’s full of energy and climbing the walls isn’t particularly appealing, either.  Solution?  Play place at the mall, of course!

The play area at the mall closest to us is set up to resemble the solar system.  There’s a mock space ship to sit inside, planets to climb on and around, as well as plenty of room to run.  When we arrived I was relieved to find that it wasn’t quite as crowded as I had expected, especially given the weather outside.  There are only so many seats around the perimeter, and they’re prime property and go fast.  I wound up sitting next to a father who appeared to be fairly near my own age, and settled in while my daughter happily sprinted off.  The father next to me was busy laughing with his son, who looked to be maybe eight or nine years old.  I had my head turned away from them when I heard a really loud *thwump* sound, and turned to see what it was.  The son was lying on the ground with a grin on his face.  Initially I thought the boy had fallen (frequent occurrence in the play area) and, since he appeared unharmed, I didn’t think much of it.

I turned my attention back to locating my daughter (which is basically my full-time occupation on these occasions – there she is!  Wait; lost her.  There she is!  Oh, lost her again…there she is! – and on it goes…), until I heard it again, *thwump*.  Same boy, same fall, same location; right in front of me and his dad.  It seemed odd, so this time I kept looking.  The boy was laughing while he got up, and then he said, “Again!”

At this point, his father proceeded to basically push him to the ground.  (Okay, maybe push is an understatement; shove may be more accurate.)  *thwump*  The boy, lying flat on the ground, erupted in hilarity, then got up again and asked for more.  This continued for a good twenty minutes, to my amazement, and I tried not to stare.  I have to say, it’s quite distracting trying to locate your child when another youngster is being throttled to the floor right next to you.

*thwump*

“Again, Dad, do it medium this time!”

*thwump*

(Wait, there are different speeds?  Can he breathe down there?)

*thwump*

“Hahahahahaha!  Do it again!!”

*thwump*

(Shoot; where did she go this time??  “Hey, no hair pulling, girls!”)

*thwump*

(Seriously, is this really safe?  Minor organ damage, perhaps?)

*thwump*

“Awesome!  Good one, Dad!  Hahaha!”

*thwump*

(Good grief!  What is this, linebacker training?)

*thwump*

And on, and on it went.  I kept looking around to see if anyone else was as uncomfortable as I was by this roughhouse recreation.  I mean clearly, the boy thought it was fantastically fun and the father was happy to play along.  But I couldn’t shake my unease at the forcefulness of the interplay, nor my relief when they finally packed it in for the day and proceeded on their merry pusher/pushee way to greener, air-conditioned pastures.

Talking later to my husband about it, he explained it was really just a sort of father/son male-bonding.  Sort of when guys take turns slugging each other in the arm or stomach to see who can take it better, or jump up and slam their chests together to see if they can make each other pass out.  (Quick note: these rituals sound just as ridiculous as the shoving game, so the logic was a bit lost on me, but I digress…)  He shared that it’s just the way guys sometimes relate, and that it probably made me more uncomfortable than anyone else (well, save for maybe some other mothers in the area).

Interesting observations for an afternoon fleeing the heat.  I think I’ll keep my ‘pushing’ limited to the swings at the park, thank you just the same.

Storms, and Bookstores, and Accordions…Oh My

There are days where you start out with a plan.  Maybe you have a goal in mind, errands to do, an outing, etc.  You decide on a course, confident you will follow it and accomplish what you set out to do; and then fate steps in.

My Sunday started out like this; the goal was to acquire activity books for my daughter to be used during our plane flight on our upcoming vacation.  There is a Half Price Books store fairly near our house, and they often have new ones for cheap, so this was the intended location of the morning.  (A little background…  The weather here – Ohio state – has been volatile lately.  Very hot, humid, and stormy.  Two nights ago we had a particularly nasty storm; 80 mph straight-line winds, power outages, downpours, lots of damage.  Many areas of town were still recovering through the weekend.)  My daughter and I had already wandered over to Half Price Books on Saturday, only to discover they were closed as a result of no power.  However, I was again in the area later that day, and the traffic lights and a couple of businesses looked operable.  I assumed the grid was back up, so we decided to try again the next day.

With our mission in mind we again headed out Sunday morning for our destination.  Unfortunately, they were still closed with no power.  A little frustrated but undeterred, we decided to head a bit farther out to another HPB location so we could acquire our intended loot.  After 20 more minutes in the car and some overly dramatic radio sing-a-longs, we arrived.  There were markedly few cars in the area, and upon inspection we learned that this location was also out of power.  Ugh.  The plan for the day was unraveling quickly…

Given that our trip was looming, and I didn’t have the luxury of more HPB locations nor lots of time to wait for power fixes (some areas at this point were estimating 5-7 days before repair), we broke down and decided to head for the full-price shelves of Barnes & Noble which was very nearby.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of B&N and browse there often.  But for activity books that my girl will use and abuse on a plane and then dispose of quickly, I would really much prefer the budget route.  However, with a little selective browsing and a trip through the sales rack, we wound up getting out of B&N without breaking the bank.

After a nice girls lunch full of laughs and funny faces (not to mention odd looks from other patrons), we decided to meander over to Whole Foods before heading home.  Shortly after we walked in, I noticed the familiar strains of accordion music drifting through the air.  Leaning over to my daughter, I whispered in her ear, “Remember the accordion man I showed you the picture of not too long ago?  He’s here.”  “NO WAY!!  WHERE?!?”,  was the loudly excited reply.  It took a few tries, but I finally convinced her that where he was located was outside of the checkout area, and we needed to quickly gather our purchases and pay for them before we could go see him.  The plus side of this was it helped to get her to be uncharacteristically helpful while we shopped for the few things we needed, and kept her from being as handsy as she normally is.

We checked out quickly and made our way over to the same spot I found him in before; a chair in the corner of the eating area.  I wasted no time walking up to him today, and saying a hearty hello.  The big grin I remembered from the first time I saw him (you can read about it here) was just as sparkly, and he was obviously happy to have company.  I reminded him I was the woman who took his picture a few short weeks ago, and apologized for not having caught his name.  “It’s Burt!” he said excitedly.  I introduced myself and my daughter, who was suddenly very shy.  He pulled a chair up for us and encouraged us to sit down and listen, which we did, my daughter on my lap.  It was so sweet the way he showed her his accordion (“64 years old with lots of duct tape, but it still plays just fine!”), and picked out songs he thought she would know (such as ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’).  My daughter relaxed and opened up once the music began into play.  She loved the tunes immensely, and I loved watching her listen and smile.

What I didn’t expect was to be caught off guard when he started playing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’.  I found myself tearing up as I was suddenly my daughter’s age, sitting in my childhood living room, watching my father play the accordion as I marveled how he could work such an amazing contraption.  Somewhat of a surreal experience as I held my own daughter on my lap.  As Burt shifted to ‘Tura Lura Lura’ the memory continued, and was compounded by thoughts of my large Irish family and my grandfather’s funeral.  I had no sooner started to dab at my eyes when my daughter turned and asked, “Momma, are you crying?  You’re not supposed to cry, dry it up lady!!” She said it in the funniest way I just had to laugh, then we both laughed, and then Burt laughed because he probably had no idea what happened but thought laughing was a great idea and joined in for the heck of it.

We listened a little while longer and then said our goodbyes.  Burt asked us to please come listen again, and we promised we would.  As we exited the store I mentioned to my daughter that it was probably a good thing the power was out in the Half Price Books that day, or we never would have run in to Burt and his accordion at all, for we would have been nowhere near the Whole Foods store.  Our original plan would have had us in, out, and home in a flash.  As it turns out, the revised events for the day held much more adventure and richness than my original plan could possibly have garnered.  I supposed plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, now are they?  Often times it’s the unplanned that yields the biggest rewards.

Wounded

I have this image in my head of a little spider. It’s brown and small, and not too menacing. Mostly, it’s just trying to go about its business. But it’s not particularly successful at the moment, mainly because it’s hiding – in a small burrow on the ground, or maybe in the side of a hill. It’s been wounded, somehow, and its instinct is to stay unseen for protection. It moves gingerly, peeking its head out from time to time, checking to see if it’s safe to come out for food or gathering. But for the most part it stays concealed inside, sheltered, away from any predators or elements that may further harm it; away from the world outside.

I have to say, I know how it feels.

There have been many offenses on my own battlefield lately that have left several wounds, and I find I’m having a hard time recovering. Physically, my migraines (which, for the most part, are fairly manageable) have decided to go completely off the chart these last several weeks, and have been immensely difficult to control. Personally, there are relationships that are testing the limits of tolerance, for one reason or another. These are not the casual kind, but the bonds of substance that play the biggest part in our lives; the ones which, when they go even slightly off the rails, cause the biggest shift in our axis. Professionally, a wound that was inflicted a while ago that I continue to work on repairing seems to want to tear itself open again at the smallest but most inconvenient intervals; maddening, yet somewhat out of my control.

None of these, on their own, cause the earth to shift. None of them make me stand out from anyone else. We all have our hills to climb every day. Many have much larger demons to fight than I, and more massive gaping wounds than I will ever experience. Rest assured perspective is not lost on me, even when my funny little mind tries to push it out of my viewfinder.

Never the less, we do all have moments when our wounds, from different aspects, collide in our own world simultaneously; times when the wounds run a little deeper than usual. Moments when we find ourselves looking for that burrow in the ground we can retreat to where no one will find us; where we can crouch down and hover while we heal, softly and silently, away from the world and its harsh jagged edges.

It’s interesting during these periods of self-preservation that I find my creativity also hides away. No ideas bubble to the surface, nothing floats around my mind asking to be explored further. I wonder if, in my psyche’s desire to guard itself, it is also burrowing; not wanting to share any thoughts or creations with the larger collective. Not wanting to put itself out there to be seen or heard. Also wanting to keep itself safe; if it doesn’t create and produce, there is no risk of injury, per se.

I suppose it makes sense, in a way; the body does not wound independently. It wounds as a whole, regardless of what part acquires the injury. All areas will suffer, and all areas will gather together to protect and conserve while it heals. It knows how to defend itself; when to burrow, when to hide.

And it also knows how to heal. As well as when to come back out and look again for the light, even if it takes a little time.

Blog-Tech-Failure

Perhaps I should order?

Let me introduce myself: hello, my name is April, and I am a blog-tech-dork. Okay, not completely, but sort of. At present, there are seventeen of you who have kindly chosen to follow this fledgling blog of mine, because for some reason you’ve decided you are interested in what I have to say. (Either that, or you find my ramblings are great fodder for illustrating to friends and family what not to say, perhaps?) So by now, I’m sure you have all seen the lovely and informative post including “J4WZWGUEEKR2”; for that, I must apologize. Or at the very least, explain…

Rest assured, it is not spam, nor is it a virus. Your internet security is safe, at least from the reaches of my verbal ramblings. It was actually a claim code to a website called Technorati, which is a site designed to help enable blogs to become more searchable and shareable to the webiverse. In researching ways to expand my writing audience I had stumbled onto this site, and thought it might be helpful to join (because, clearly, my goal of world-blog-domination needs further assistance; a 17-count is a bit thin, domination-wise). As I went through the motions of adding my blog “claim” to their ranks, I was schooled in just how NOT blog-tech-friendly I currently am. True, this is my first foray into the online writing world. But still, I thought “I’m a fairly intelligent female; I’m pretty darn computer savvy; I have a master’s degree; I work on a computer for a living; I can do this, right?” (I can hear the Technorati help staff laughing in the background already…) So, I decided to sign up.

First step: fill out their profile info, enter my blog details, and submit my form. Shortly after that I received my ‘confirmation’ email, and waited. And waited, and waited some more. It wasn’t until about four days later, after waiting even longer (and thinking to myself it was taking way too long for their ‘validation’ process), I investigated a little further and realized I wasn’t supposed to be waiting for additional verification, I was supposed to be doing something. *eyeroll*  That ‘something’ involved the cryptic claim code you all have now seen. I was supposed to put this somewhere on my blog so they could independently verify that it was mine, and proceed from there.  Sheesh; work was involved!

Next step: where to put it? Well, not only did I need to place it in a post, I had to ensure it would be received by them through my RSS feed. Now, I do know what an RSS feed is. However, let me tell you, it took me just about forever to find the actual web address of my WordPress RSS feed to type in on the Technorati site.  It’s not as easy as you would think; they don’t just list it for you in the FAQ’s, or account profile, or somewhere logical like that. With the help of Google answers (because apparently several others have encountered this conundrum) I finally found it. Now to apply the code to the blog…

I finally felt I was making some progress.  At this point it did occur to me that when I posted the code, I didn’t really want the world to be blasted with it. So I did a little more investigating and I thought I had successfully turned off the publish option before I posted the claim code. Needless to say, I was clearly mistaken. This was evidenced by a couple of helpful family members (who are currently also subscribed) calling to ask me something like, “What was that really weird post you sent out, it was just numbers and a code? No story? Was it a joke?” This meant that everyone else had gotten it, too. Great – fail. *facepalm*

On the upside, the code worked, and my blog claim is now in ‘final review’.  I’m pretty darn sure at this point there is no additional action required on my part (though I’ve been checking frequently just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, again).  On the downside, I’ve now clearly shown my lack of blog-site-savvy, and should probably check Amazon to see if the Dummies series has any helpful volumes to offer.  I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it eventually, and hopefully won’t have to use any future subscribers as unwilling guinea pigs.  For those of you that already were, my apologies; I blame the complex, technical beast that is the blogosphere!  But if you can hang with me and keep on reading, I promise to keep the ‘mystery codes’ to a minimum.

Sprinting Towards Selflessness

AP Photo/The Daily Call, Mike Ullery

AP Photo/The Daily Call, Mike Ullery

What compels a runner, struggling to finish her own race, to stop and help a competitor finish – even pushing that opponent ahead of herself causing them to finish first, and herself to finish dead last?   Good question.  It’s the one on the minds of all the spectators present last Saturday at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, as well as many a reporter trying to secure an interview with said runner after the race’s end.  (You can see a more detailed account here: http://espn.go.com/high-school/track-and-xc/story/_/id/8010251/high-school-runner-carries-injured-foe-finish-line)

Many are calling it ‘sportsmanship’; some are calling it ‘compassion’.  Others are labeling it ‘humanity’, even ‘heroic’.  Clearly, any of these descriptions would be accurate.  The runner herself, Meghan Vogel (of note, a junior in high school), doesn’t seem to know what all the fuss is about; she felt she was simply doing what anyone else would have done.  But really, did she?  Or rather, would anyone else have done the same?  Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily a given, which is what makes this act of selflessness so amazing.

Traits like those Miss Vogel exhibited are not always innate; often, they are learned.  The fruit would have to fall close to the tree, as it were.  While we do have the seeds of compassion and empathy inside us all (at least I believe we do), it is the way these seeds are nurtured that determine how we put these traits into practice as we transition from children, to adolescents, to adults.  We are taught, often by example, how to treat others around us; whether to value humanity, when to lend a hand, how to practice simple decency.  The fact that, at around sixteen years of age, while obviously being a serious sports competitor, this young woman would sacrifice her athletic goal with nary a second thought to help out a fellow runner, simply illustrates the examples she has clearly been following, likely, for most of her life.  It’s not something she suddenly chose to do some random Saturday in June.  And that she would do it without even batting an eye is what makes it so extraordinary to me.

As I looked at the photo at the end of the article I couldn’t help but think of my own daughter (currently six years of age); I thought of all the hopes and dreams I have for things she will accomplish in her own life.  I have to say, I can imagine how proud Miss Vogel’s mother was of her on this day; and really, she should also be proud of herself, for helping to raise such an amazing young woman.  Selflessness is not an easy trait to foster; but it is one that will take you farther than any other.  And Miss Vogel has shown us, with this one act of kindness and compassion, that she’s already accomplished more than many have in a lifetime.

Unpredictable

Children are so unpredictable.  As a mother, you work hard to make sure you learn them as well as you can; your own, anyway.  Their moods, their tells, their triggers.  You pride yourself on not only knowing them like the back of your hand, but being there for them whenever they need you.  You don’t often prepare yourself for the moments when you will fail them; when you can’t be there for them like you want to, like you feel you should.

For me, these moments most often happen when I’ve had a significantly nasty migraine, such as the one that hit me out of nowhere last night.  Well, it wasn’t completely out of nowhere; I’ve been having a string of them all week.  The cycle is familiar; it starts out with a bad one on a particular day, followed by recurring less-severe ones in the evenings for several consecutive days until I can get the cycle to break.  The triggers are varied; they can be hormonal, weather, sleep, stress –  the list is long and complicated.  I’ve been dealing with them since my daughter was born six years ago.  While I very much abhor them, I have settled into somewhat of a respectful truce.  I cannot conquer them, so I’ve learned to exist with them as best as I can, while improving my quality of life where possible.

I don’t hide them from my daughter; they are a part of my life, and they very much affect my life.  As such they affect my family’s life and, by proxy, affect hers.  As a result, she is aware when I have one; she is aware that I take medication for them.  She is aware that sometimes, they knock me out completely, like today.  This last cycle was rough, but I thought I was on the other side of it; when I went to bed last night, things were feeling fairly clear.  Then I woke up at 2:30 am in blinding pain.  They rarely present that way but, when they do, they’re merciless and almost impossible to control.  The few times they have, I’ve wound up in the ER for pain meds; it’s not pretty.  This time, fortunately, I was able to control it at home on my own, but it was difficult.  It also meant that I would be completely out of commission for the rest of the day trying to recover; both from the pain, and from the meds.

As I mentioned, I’m very honest with my daughter about my migraines.  Mainly because I feel honesty is important, but also because at six, she is keenly observant and can usually tell when something is up anyway; it’s no use trying to hide it from her.  So today when she hugged me to say good morning as soon as she woke up (shortly after 6:00, at which point I’d barely relieved the pain and gotten almost no sleep), she looked at me funny and asked if my head hurt.  I told her that I was going to need her help today and why, and gave her some suggestions about options for breakfast and activities for the morning while I slept in.  She kindly kissed me on the head saying “don’t worry, Momma, I’ll make good choices and come check on you real soon.”  It’s an odd mixture of guilt and sweetness to see your 6-year-old take care of you the way you do for her…

When I pulled myself out of bed a few hours later, I started to go through the motions of steeling myself for the rest of the day.  It’s odd how your mind will shift into survival mode, especially from a mom-perspective.  What food do we have in the house that’s relatively healthy that I don’t have to actually prepare?  What can I keep her occupied with for a full day and still move as little as possible?  Because regardless of what horrible shape I was in, the reality was that I had a daughter who required watching for the day, and she still needed me.  But as I mentioned, children are unpredictable.  And today was certainly one of those times.  My 6-year-old usually rambunctious daughter was so fluid today, I was amazed.  She entertained herself in the morning without complaint.  She helped with ideas for lunch for both of us.  When she clearly appeared bored this afternoon and needed to blow off a little steam, she willingly compromised with me by sacrificing a trip to the park in lieu of the swing set in the front yard (where I could sit in silence on the porch and watch her), even though it meant she would have to play alone.  She ate leftovers for dinner without issue, and helped clean up the living room without complaining.  She again compromised afterward by accepting Mom as her badminton partner (far lackluster in comparison to her friends) so that I could keep her near the house and not have to chase her down when it was bedtime.  And then, when it was time for bed, she went willingly with a big hug, kiss and smile.

Given my lack of energy today and basic inability to cope, I could not possibly have asked for her to have been any more amazing than she was.  Don’t get me wrong; my daughter, for the most part, is a pretty good girl (though she has her moments; she is six, after all).  But I felt like today, she sensed that I really did need her help; that by trying extra hard and being extra good, she really was doing something special.  It reminds me that we all have such an unlimited capacity for empathy and compassion; even at such a young age.  And even though my head can throw me for a loop in its unpredictable capacity for pain, it’s still no match for my daughter’s unpredictable ability to love.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today

Today I was in a bad mood. I’d had a rough week with my head (migraines), work was a pain, we were having challenges with my daughter’s school, and all of it was feeling like a lot of weight resting squarely on my shoulders alone. It was clearly not helping my attitude. Then at lunch I happened to be shopping at Whole Foods and, while in the checkout line, I noticed the strains of accordion music wafting through the air. I questioned the checker about it, and she said it was an elderly man who happened in a couple of times a week on his own to play; they believed he was a little lonely and liked the company. I found myself compelled to stop and say hello to this stranger before I left the store. He was cheerful as could be; sitting alone in his chair, playing for whomever chose to listen. He shook my hand and patted my arm, thanking me for coming by. I told him my father used to have an accordion when I was little and that his melodies reminded me of that; my reminiscing seemed to cheer him even further. He shared that his favorites were the religious hymns because he could remember them better, and proceeded to play the intros of a couple for me “testing” to see if I could guess them. He seemed pleased that he could stump me as he chuckled to himself. I asked if I could take his picture and had to laugh at his response of “Sure, but I might break your camera!” I told him I needed to leave, but encouraged him to keep on playing and thanked him for his time. He shook my hand again and I left him with not only a big grin on both of our faces, but a much improved countenance on my part. It’s amazing how a random encounter with a total stranger made my “today” so much brighter.