Today

school_busToday my baby girl started Third Grade.  You’d think the summer had barely passed us by the way she hopped her way to the bus stop, new backpack on her shoulders, as if it was old-hat by now.  I was at my designated spot in the car across the street, an “acceptable” distance away so I can still ensure she’s safe, but not too close that she appear uncool to have mom trailing around.  I watched her with her friends, laughing, reconnecting.  Smiling as she got on the bus, grinning while she made silly faces at me when it passed by my car on its way off the block.  I managed to keep the tears at bay until she was out of sight, though it was harder to ignore the desire follow the bus the way I did her first day of Kindergarten.  I was almost as emotional today as I was that first school day four years ago, though for completely different reasons.  Such different feelings, such different milestones.

Today we documented this milestone, with pictures and hugs (too many, by her account).  Third Grade is a big deal, you know.  But a bigger deal is my hope for her this year, as she heads back into that school that she knows so well.  We’ve had some really big struggles over the past couple of years; some we’re still facing.  And she’s working so hard to overcome them; we all are.  So today, as I managed my tears while I went on to start my own morning, I thought of all of the anticipation this school year brings – good and bad – and all that goes along with it.  Not the least of which was the simple hope that this first day go well for her; there seemed to be so much riding on first impressions today, for some reason.

Today I was relieved to talk to her, and get a good report.  She was happy to see her friends, really liked her teacher, loved her new room (they have two ceiling fans, and they have carpet!), and had a great time at after-care.  She was in a fantastic mood for the rest of the night as a result; which doesn’t always happen.  It was the best possible outcome.

Today we read her favorite book before bed, and the main character (also grade-school age) mentioned how embarrassing it was to find notes from her mother in her lunchbox.  I occasionally did this last year for her during times that she was struggling, or seemed to need an extra pick-me-up.  I asked her what she would think about me doing that again this year, whether that would be okay.  She looked at me sideways and said, “So NOT cool, Mom.  But you CAN say ‘Peace out, YO!’, that would be cool.”  The way she said it was so smooth and full of bravado, all I could do was laugh.  Then Daddy laughed, then she laughed too.  It was a great happy moment.

Today I put her to bed without incident, and listened to her bubble and chatter and tell me about her favorite parts of her day.  Then after she fell asleep I snuck back up to watch her slumber a while, like I do every so often, just to soak in the silent serenity that is the beauty of my daughter.  All eight years full.

Today my baby girl had a GREAT first day of Third Grade.  And tonight I breathe a little easier and am grateful.

Goodness Shines Through

Violence. It’s everywhere lately, isn’t it? On the news, television shows, the papers; you can find it without even having to look for it. It’s so prevalent, we almost get used to it, I feel. Reports of fights, murder, abuse, rape. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t encounter some sort of story on at least one of these items somewhere. What a world, right?

Even television; violence seems to be a central plot-point to the most popular shows today. How many “CSI” series are running concurrently now, anyway? And can you have a Crime Scene Investigation without first there being a crime? Well, no, you can’t. And it seems to be worsening; many of the shows that came out last year were pushing the envelope way more than just your run-of-the-mill ‘CSI’. I’m talking about things like ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Following’. Sure, great drama; but if you’ve checked any of them out, they’re extremely heavy on the graphic from a violence perspective. And they’re not alone. Thing is, they’re huge hits. Which makes me wonder, why the desire for more?

I’m not innocent, here. I watch my fair share of crime shows; though I stay away from the graphic ones. I can stomach them, but I choose not to. They simply turn me off. But I also see violence in shows and movies that don’t necessarily have that as their central theme. Sometimes, it’s part of the purpose of telling a story, so I get it. It’s part of life. And as I mentioned, it’s everywhere lately. So you can imagine my surprise when it hit me in the face last night when I watched a movie and was completely caught off guard…

It was a great movie; lots of themes about fathers and sons, responsibility, etc. It was a quick scene about two high school acquaintances coming to blows, only one got the upper hand and really took it out on the other. I mean really went at him. The other one was badly injured, wound up in the hospital; it was rough. Even rougher on me was the fact that this type of violence has touched my life in the past, and this particular scene hit way too close to home. The age of the actors, the sounds of the fighting, the boy lying on the ground. I was instantly transported back to another time entirely, unsuspectingly; and what would have just been some random violence in a movie took on a whole different feel.

I remembered vividly the phone call about the attack; though this one wasn’t from classmates, it was unprovoked and unexplained from strangers, and more violent. I remembered feeling helpless, with nothing I could do until being allowed to come to the hospital. Desperately wanting to go there as fast as I could while simultaneously wanting to avoid it at all costs because I was terrified at what I would see. Once I did arrive, using every bit of strength I had to conceal my fear and worry so as to appear calm when he saw me so I didn’t upset him more. Gathering in that small room with rows of chairs and solemn faces while strangers with scalpels and sutures put him back together. Waiting to find out if it would all be okay, if HE would be okay, all the while knowing that no matter what magic they worked in that operating room, nothing would ever make it OKAY.

All of this rushed over me in a matter of minutes while I sat on the couch, movie paused, remote in my hand, tears running down my face. It’s been years since all of this took place; and yet it came back so quickly, like only yesterday. Since then I’ve seen someone I love break in more ways than just bones and body. Violence has a way of permeating everything it touches like a virus and spreading outward; like a dark cancer. Untreated, it will consume your whole being.

I would guess that’s partly why I struggle, at times, with being the overprotective mother to my now 8-year-old daughter. It’s difficult, as she grows, to let her have the wings she needs; to not hover so much. To let her ride her bicycle with her group of friends down the block as they laugh without a care; let her run through the backyards of sprinklers and games of ‘tag’ so freely. Because I know what lurks when you don’t watch closely enough; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s an image you can never remove.

But you can fight it. You can be vigilant. You can attack that cancer with light and goodness and send it back to its hole where it belongs. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen that broken boy heal. I’ve seen him overcome demons in ways I never would have imagined, and some he is still fighting. Is he unchanged? Not even close; nor are we. Violence leaves scars on everyone it touches. But if we let it keep us down, then it wins; the cancer keeps spreading. Only when we fight back – even when it seems hopeless – only when we dig out of the darkest pit and move forward past the broken places, that’s when the healing becomes the victor. That’s when the goodness shines through.

We All Need To Be Rocked Sometime

lion-hugWhen I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired.  It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated.  She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away.  Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk.  Regressed syllables, clipped sentences.  It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car.  She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc.  I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.

My daughter is seven.  She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving.  She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering.  Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we?  The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured.  I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.

The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home.  I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words.  When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct.  There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?

When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention).  I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner.  As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach.  I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up?  Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop.  Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right?  She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do.  After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”

I pulled her onto my lap and held her close.  I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby.  We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama.  I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get.  Promise.”  Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.

I don’t even remember who won the game…

Reclaimed Self

ReclaimSudden loss of self.  I suppose that’s how I would describe it, though it’s not quite sufficient.  But I’m at a loss to explain, in any better capacity, the lack of identity I’ve been experiencing for close to a month, now.

Initially, I came down with the flu.  Two days later, I found myself in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.  Only it wasn’t your textbook case of appendicitis; they found I also had an infection – my appendix were gangrene.  I was told that had it gone on much longer, the outcome could have been very different.  In other words, I very likely would not have been writing this today.  A slightly elongated (and entirely miserable) hospital stay followed the surgery, and I came home four long days later; shaken, weakened, in pain, and utterly changed.

Fear became my nemesis.  I was afraid to sleep, afraid to eat, afraid to move.  Afraid to fully face how tenuous and fragile life really was, perhaps.   I couldn’t help but feel I got lucky; I got a second chance, somehow.  Maybe I was afraid to really embrace what that meant.  In addition to the psychological delay, there was also a physical lag; my body simply did not respond the way I was used to.  The combination created quite the unexpected hurdle to climb as I stumbled through my recovery, bit by bit.  I slowly learned to check my expectations at the door, and start taking things one day at a time; a difficult thing to do when all I wanted was to feel even remotely like myself again.

Sometime later I went out in the world, literally, for the first time in three weeks.  I felt like an imposter in my own body.  Fifteen pounds lighter, not fully healed; my pants were too large, my rings loose, my frame moved differently.  I walked delicately, afraid to step wrongly, afraid to fall.  Fear rearing its head, again.  Sitting at a table in Panera, eating alone, I was exhausted.  I wanted nothing more than to be safe in the familiarity of my living room, on my couch, resting.  But that was my goal for the day, to venture.  To exist.  To be in the world.  Not only that, I had to start increasing my mobility.   So that day, my objective was to go out, even if it was only briefly.  Venture.  Be human.  Breathe air.  Move.  It required more effort than you might think…but I succeeded.

As I did the next day, and the day after that.  Although there have been small unexpected setbacks along the way to navigate through.  My body is still a bit of a foreigner to me.  It still looks different; my frame, and even my face, staring back at me in the mirror.  The woman I see is changed, sharper around the edges.  She is more cautious, less trusting, mostly of herself; not as brave.  Not yet fully reclaimed.

But she hasn’t given up; she is still moving forward.  Maybe she just needs a little more time to learn how to move in this new self; or maybe it’s more about learning who this new self really is.  I don’t think you can go through something like this and not really be changed by it, can you?  Maybe it’s less about reclaiming, and more about rediscovery.

I’m not sure yet, of the answer.  I’ll let you know when I figure it all out…but really, whoever does?

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!