Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

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!

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.

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.