Friday, May 31, 2013

Middle age: One Woman's Search for 6-pack Abs (or just a 6-pack)

"Bored with the day to day monotony of life? Take inspiration from Roz Savage, the first woman ever to row solo across three oceans, and put adventure at the centre of your life."

That is from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that a friend recently posted on Facebook. It's about Roz Savage and her new book to be published later this year, Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman's Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific. The article can be found at

To answer to the above question, yes. Yes, I am bored with the day to day monotony of life. Yes, I strive every day to find happiness and meaning. Yes, I do stare off into space frequently, wondering if this is all there is to life. (Such existential pondering is usually answered by an imaginary James Earl Jones-like voice telling me "Yes, in fact, this IS all there is to life. Suck it up."). Whereas my twenties were spent pining away for a romantic partner, the security of a lifelong companion, a child, a house, admittedly, yes, I do lie awake some nights wondering if this is everything I want. (BTW, it appears I also want a lot of chocolate chip cookies plus higher metabolism.)

It's possible I could take inspiration from Ms. Savage without actually rowing solo across three oceans. I suppose if I were to get really creative I could technically put adventure at the center of my life without having to abandon my child and family and all of my responsibilities and obligations. I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert when it first came out and I was sort of inspired by her story even despite feeling mildly annoyed at times that my, my, my, aren't we just so lucky to have the resources and opportunity to just go off to Italy, India and Indonesia for a whole year. I guess it probably comes through in my tone that I am actually a little more cynical than inspired.

I mean, sure, there is no doubt about it, rowing solo across three oceans is a pretty bad-ass thing to do. It is even more bad-ass and appealing because Ms. Savage is an attractive blonde who looks great in a bikini. But I can't row anywhere solo, except maybe in a canoe across the local Minneapolis lakes. Is this adventurous enough? I highly doubt it. And while I could ditch my kid for a period of months, hopefully without leaving her permanently scarred, it would be tremendously selfish of me to put my life at risk all by my lonesome in the middle of the ocean. Or three. Because while I like the idea of a little more separation from my child, I truly don't want her to end up motherless. So I kind of frown upon the type of adventure that entails such big risks.

What I'm really getting at without trying to sink too far into negative bitchiness is where is the adventure for the urban housewives and stay-at-home moms? Who is writing Eat, Pray, Love For the Homebody? Because while I am sometimes jealous of the 20- and 30-something women out there with no kids who get to follow their dreams and go live a life of adventure, I also don't think it's so hugely inspiring that they left their "perfect" lives of marriage and cushy incomes. How is that so courageous? Do you want to know what takes courage? Raising kids. That shit is rough even when it is mind-numbingly boring. Moms want adventure, too! We just want adventure unaccompanied by a visit from Child Protection and watching our kids end up in foster care. Plus, although there are many moms in bikinis around my suburb, childbirth and child-rearing is not always conducive to tight abs. It's just not. In my opinion, if you're not genetically programmed for a flat stomach, you're screwed after about age 30. But that's not necessarily a requirement for a life of adventure. It's merely a nice perk.

So I guess the bottom line is, I don't really want six-pack abs or even a whole six-pack of beer (2 or 3 is fine). And I don't want to row a boat across the ocean or spend a year in Italy. Well, maybe a year in Italy wouldn't be all bad. I like pasta. What I would like is to be inspired by women who are happy, content, spiritually satisfied but who also lead kind of mundane, boring lives. I want them to complain a lot sometimes and swear when they feel frustrated. And then, after I read about these women, I want to have lunch with them. And then, after lunch, I want to be that woman. But I might have to bring my kid along. Is that really so much to ask?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Brief Random Interview with a Person of My Choosing

Hello, and welcome to a new feature I like to call... (read Blog Post title above). Sometimes it's hard to think of stuff to write about and sometimes it's easy to think of stuff to write about but it's just hard to write about it in a way that is vaguely interesting to anyone besides myself. I've been toying with this idea for a while and I really think it has the potential to turn into something big. Like if I start out interviewing those poor, unsuspecting people I find nearby and I make them sound really interesting, before I know it, famous people will be knocking down my door trying to get me to interview them on my blog. I mean, that's just one possible outcome. There are others, I'm sure.

So anyway, for the big debut of the Brief Random Interview with a Person of My Choosing, I found the most interesting person I know and I sat her down for an interview. Actually, she was already sitting down so I just started talking to her. She was a little reluctant at first, probably because she was engrossed in a gripping episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. But my instincts told me there was a good story here, so I persisted. And here it is: My conversation with the one and only Martha D.

Me: So Martha, I'm going to interview you for my blog. What do you think of that?

M: Ok.

Me: What's your favorite color?

M: Pink

Me: And what's your favorite food?

M: Croissants

Me: What's the most hilarious thing you've ever seen?

M: Probably on the last episode of iCarly when Spencer lit a towel on fire. (Author's Note: Sincere apologies to those of you who are not familiar with the Nickolodeon channel line-up of shows, which primarily features never-ending episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants peppered with a small selection of bad tween-targeted shows starring 20-something cable tv stars in the roles of young high school students.)

Me: What is your favorite thing about being 10 years old?

M: Being a double-digit age.

Me: Why is that?

M: Ummmmm....... I don't know?

Me: Can you tell me what is so fabulous about having me as your mom?

M: The fact that you give me treats a lot, like tonight when you split the last piece of buttery, grilled bread with me. (Author's Note: To my chagrin, this policy of frequent treat-giving appears to be in conflict with my previous post about weight issues and our efforts towards healthier eating. Author wonders if a reduced tendency to give treats will lessen her popularity with the child. She was expecting the interviewee to report that her mother is just so hilarious and beautiful that every day is the best damn day in the whole wide world. Well, imagine my surprise.)

Me: What is your favorite subject at school?

M: Besides recess?

Me: Um, yeah, preferably.

M: Math. Because I'm good at it.

Me: Do you think that you're good at math because your mom is so brilliant?

M: (Look of confusion passes across Martha's face.) (Dead silence follows.)

Me: Nevermind.

Me: Is there anything else you'd like the world to know about you? Like if you could get up on a big stage and tell everyone something about yourself, what would it be?

M: That I like SpongeBob.
Martha in her girl-cave

Ok, perhaps my interviewing skills need a little work. For instance, it might be better to conduct my interviews without SpongeBob SquarePants on in the background, and this goes for anyone, not just my 10-year old child. That porous little sea creature can be very distracting. Lesson learned. Also, I get the sense that maybe my questions should be more provocative, less egocentric. This is only a guess. (Cue Violent Femmes music.)

Also, I want to advise against the urge to start referring to this feature as the BRIPMC, or Bripmac, because I'm just not really a lingo person. I'm not even good with nicknames. I don't know what it is about my personality that makes me so resistant to the shortening of words and/or names, but I much prefer the long, drawn-out version of things as opposed to worrying that I will sound like a pretentious idiot walking around talking in abbreviations 24/7. Do you see what I mean?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How I met my husband

Many times since this blog's inception, my husband has read a post and suspected that there was a secret message directed at him, hidden within my prose. Many times I have assured him that no, I am not trying to send him encrypted communication. While I have become fairly lame at informing him of certain details, like, "oh, by the way, Martha's teacher conference is tomorrow morning and if you love her, you will be there. Oh, can't make it? Yeah, I figured as much." Ha ha, just kidding, that's really overstating it. But what I started to say was that although I am not always on top of the passing-on-of-information, I have not considered the possibility of sending secret messages in my blog posts. That's because I'm not sure he actually reads it. But if I DID intend to encode subtle messages, it would be something like, "you might want to break out a new toothbrush... your old one may or may not have been used as a chew toy for the dog after I saw him eat poop on our walk today." See? As if that would ever happen... This is why I have not tried the secret message thing yet.

So today, I am writing about a story that is definitely, positively, directly related to him. No mistaking it. (That's why I put the word HUSBAND in the title.)

In 1995, I worked in downtown Minneapolis and I rode the #17 bus to work, complements of the Twin Cities Metro Transit (and my bus pass). Same story for Chris, although I lived a few miles farther down the route than he did. For years (I guess this makes 18?) we have been telling everyone that we met on the bus, because it sounds kind of cute and charming, a little unusual -- many people who are regular consumers of public transportation tend to be a little on the skanky side, which we obviously are not. What are the chances of meeting your future spouse on public transportation?! Very small, I'm sure I don't have to tell you.

But see, that's a lie. Although we did enjoy many jolly bus rides home, chatting and getting to know each other, we technically did not actually have our first introduction on the bus. One afternoon while I waited for my bus inside a small kiosk on Nicollet Mall, I was listening to two women discuss the Army and how one woman's brother had been in the Army and it didn't teach him nothin' but how to drink and shoot guns. I say I was "listening to" their discussion and not "eavesdropping" because it was a small space and these women were talking pretty loud, not like they were discussing top secret information so I really couldn't help but overhear the whole thing. And it was HILARIOUS. I loved their honesty, their cynicism about the value of the military experience. So there was this guy standing near me and I glanced over at him to see if he, too, was as highly amused as I was. He appeared to be minding his own business, like most normal people will who ride public transportation on a daily basis (and especially if you grew up in New York City, you have been taught early on not to make eye contact with other people because they are probably freaky axe murderers). Okay fine, I thought, I can mind my own business, too. Or, you know, pretend to. I never have been good at being discreet.

So here's the truth, bold and uncensored: later that afternoon I had gone to my local gym, the Uptown YWCA, to workout. I was in the weight room, most likely finishing up some bench presses with like, 100 lbs. or something, and I spotted Mr. I-mind-my-own-business-at-the-bus-stop. So I catch up to him by the drinking fountain and say, "So, did you catch that hilarious conversation at the bus stop this afternoon?" I am assuming he will take one look at me and know without a doubt that I was waiting at the same bus stop as he was because who doesn't like to just check everyone out and people-watch constantly? Well, I may have been off-base, I'm not sure he knew who the hell I was, but he did remember the Army commentary (I reminded him) so he was not totally oblivious and he was not entirely minding his own business afterall. We exchanged some chit-chat about where we worked and then he asked me my name. I told him. He told me his name, and presto! There's the actual introduction. All bus-based interaction took place following that exchange.

I'm not discounting the cute and charming potential of the story mind you, but I am pointing out that we've misrepresented ourselves and the initial moment our relationship began.

At our wedding, four years later, the Deacon who performed the ceremony told a story about us meeting at the bus stop and I believe he made reference to the 60s song "Bus Stop" by the Hollies. We had no idea he was going to say that, just as we were also quite taken by surprise when he pointed out to our wedding guests that our names were Christopher and Christen, which both contain the name Christ and he found that very meaningful but Chris and I had really never made note of that little fact and, although we are nice, good-hearted people, neither of felt any special affiliation with Christ but, whatever, it was a wedding, he was a religious dude, so we let it pass. It just seems like drawing a connection between our relationship and that Hollies' song is really misleading. It wasn't raining, neither of us had an umbrella, it was winter so the temperature was probably just above zero and we had big, puffy down parkas on that make you look like the Michelin tire man. And I can't claim to know all the lyrics but I'm pretty sure in the Hollies' song there's no loud woman disapproving of the Army's bad influence on her brother. Also, the Hollies make no mention of Christ, but I don't know if that observation is relevant.

Anyway, I apologize to anyone who has heard the bald-faced lie version of how we met on the bus. I'm sorry we made it sound so cute and charming. Chris may have thought I was blatantly hitting on him at the gym and how's that for the tackiest, cheesiest way to meet a guy/gal? I should probably feel more embarrassed about it. But I don't. Relationships are funny, as are the stories we tell, because they are so malleable. We shape them into what we want, what we need. All of history gets told in this flexible manner that leaves room for interpretation and perception to manipulate the truth.

On a totally different note, however, for anyone out there who is searching for that special someone, let me recommend the bus-ride-tactic as a very clever strategy in the big, wild world of dating. I mean, you don't literally have to be on the bus or even any other form of public transportation, but the idea is that you find some way to swing a conversation (or two or ten) before any actual dates have been arranged -- preferably something with a time limit of say, 20-30 minutes. It allows you to get to know a little about the person without having to be on an actual date, because you know how hideous dates can be sometimes. Quite frankly, if you can't think of a clever way to just bump into the person in a situation where they are stuck next to you for a brief period of time, I say just ask them flat out if they'd like to have a conversation which does not involve going to a public place and partaking of any form of food or drink together because you'd like to figure out if you want to ask them out on a date or not. Really, anyone with any sense of practicality will see the genius in this approach and appreciate your directness and the economy involved in the preliminary chat. If the chat doesn't go well, no one's out any money, barely any time was wasted, and you won't feel like a total loser because every date you have is a disaster. No date, no disaster. It's just a little chat. Everyone wins. You're welcome.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Like mother, like daughter -- only better

"Momma, am I fat?" Martha asked me recently.

"No, baby, you are absolutely not fat."

"But my belly is so big."

"Well..." I trail off. I am at a loss for how to respond. Her belly is a tiny bit big. I mean, it's not huge. She's not grossly overweight. But yes, she's got a belly. And not just a little poochie belly. It's a little plumpy, maybe. But I can't say that to her. I can't answer, "Yes, honey, your belly is big. That is because you eat too much bread and chips and you spend too much time watching SpongeBob and playing on your iPad simultaneously." I am the parent and I still have a fair bit of control over her activities. So if she's allowed to eat too much and watch too much tv, whose fault is that? Exactly.

On the other hand, I can't quite bring myself to tell her "No, your belly is not big." Because that doesn't feel entirely honest. What feels honest is what I tell her, which is that we are going to work on being more active this summer and making changes to her diet and maybe her belly will get smaller but even if it doesn't, I'm confident that her body will go through changes during adolescence that will make her belly not seem like a big deal at all. And I am in no hurry for those changes. She is my only baby and I don't want her to grow up too quickly.

I also don't want to whisper one single word that will make her self-conscious about her weight or her body image. I asked her if anyone at school ever called her fat and much to my relief, she answered no, in a tone of voice that implied that this was the craziest thing I could ask her, that the very idea that anyone would ever call her fat was so preposterous she just could not imagine it. Good thing, because the kid who insults my kid? He (or she) is going down. Figuratively, of course. Not like Nancy-Kerrigan-knee-clubbing down, but just, you know, they better watch out. I'm the momma bear and I will protect Martha from as much pain and heartache as I possibly can and this includes protecting her from my own misguided parenting sometimes.

The problem started when she was a toddler and was plagued by sensory issues and picky eating. There is no shortage of judgemental women of my mother's generation who tersely proclaim that if you feed the child what you are eating and she doesn't eat it , then she just doesn't eat. That's her choice. She'll eat when she gets hungry. Well, if I wanted to be a cold-hearted bitch to my child and let her lie in bed at night with an an aching, empty tummy, I could certainly have tried that approach. Instead, I let Martha eat buttered toast for dinner when she refused everything else. Yes, I fully enabled her picky eating, I won't deny it. And I'd do it again the exact same way if I had to do it over.

For several years as a toddler Martha had no chub on her to speak of. Her diet wasn't great, but I bent over backward to find ways to supplement her meals so that we could get all her food groups covered. She took vitamins. We got by. Then came the day she discovered God's most perfect food: the potato chip. She was in love. Hopelessly, undeniably, head-over-heels in love.

This is kind of our issue to this day: the salty, crunchy, chewy carbohydrate. It comes in many forms and it is delicious. It is buttered toast, buttered english muffins, buttered waffles, potato chips, various other forms of snacky, chippy, corn- and/or potato-based puffy, crunchy things; it is french fries, buttery croissants, any form of deep-fried breading (but rarely the foodstuff that is inside deep-fried breading), dinner rolls, bread sticks, garlic bread, croutons, crackers. Martha is kind of a bottomless pit for this form of food.

And I am a sucker and even though I have created a thousand rules about what I, myself, can and cannot eat, I let her slide by on a lot more of the starchy stuff than I should. In my defense, however, she rarely eats fast food, McDonald's is forbidden and she never drinks soda. She knows high fructose corn syrup is bad, GMOs are evil, and sugary cereals are to be avoided, even though she tends to stare longingly at the boxes of Trix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the cereal aisle.

The whole issue of weight, for me, is an unbearably complicated, sticky, emotionally-loaded mess. In terms of the big picture, it's incredibly difficult for women and girls in our culture to maintain a healthy self-image when so much of the media and entertainment and even toys promote unrealistic standards of beauty. I started to worry about my daughter's body image pretty much the day I got the ultrasound showing I was carrying a girl. No exaggeration, I swear. Add to this the fact that my daughter has a mother who has spent some 30+ years criticizing her own body, obsessing over her weight, restricting her eating, working out, trying to make her body more attractive, more like the images I see all over the place or like the millions of women and girls I've compared myself to who clearly have perfect bodies unlike my lumpy, ill-proportioned self. One of the most important things I have ever wanted to accomplish is to raise a daughter who loves and accepts herself in a way that I may never accomplish with myself. I work on it, I will always work on it, but it is work, every single day.

I could tell you about my eating disorder in my mid-20s but really, my self-perception has been distorted since I was about 8. And I doubt I'm alone among my friends when I remember putting myself on diets way back in elementary school, always trying to lose 5 lbs. The problem certainly was at its worst around age 26 when I invested pretty much every ounce of energy I had into exercise and restricting calories. I never achieved that state where I was all skeletal and hospitalized and eating 3 tic tacs each day like you see in the after-school-specials about girls with anorexia, but let's just say you don't have to be quite that bad off to still be kind of fucked up. With help, I worked my way back to "normal" fairly easily and I eat like a fairly "normal" person now-a-days and I threw away my scale at age 30 but then went and bought a new one when I was pregnant. All in all, though, I consider myself healthy these days.

But I don't really trust myself to be a good role model for my child without paying excruciating attention to every word out of my mouth and every way in which I might possibly influence Martha's attitude towards food and her weight. And that makes my summer project with her all the more important and difficult, you see, because I've told her we will work on her belly. I didn't say she has to be smaller or thinner or anything of the sort. I've talked about being healthy and active. Mostly I just detect some level of self-awareness developing in her about the size of her stomach and while I don't want to encourage her to think she needs to lose weight (unlike a classmate of hers who came to Martha's birthday party once saying her mom said she's not allowed to have cake -- so I served her two pieces) I do want her to be aware of what is healthy; I want her to feel comfortable with her body, to feel strong and powerful. Every girl deserves to feel strong and powerful. I'm pretty sure I can do this.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Navel-gazing (or Oscar Goldman is building me a bionic belly button)

I didn't want to freak anyone out with a photo of my actual belly button right off the bat... But my belly button is, in fact, what this blog post is about. I know, right??

Today I am engaging in literal navel-gazing but not because I am excessively self-absorbed. I mean, maybe I'm being a bit self-absorbed; I can see that this isn't really a relevant topic for anyone besides me, and maybe Martha, who is a big fan of my belly button in its current incarnation. There is no conceivable reason why anyone should be at all interested in this story. But I like to keep you abreast of my current goings-on. With my navel. Among other things.

The bold truth is: I am an outie. I have been an outie ever since I was born. My sister once tried to tell me it was because the doctor botched the job of cutting the umbilical cord when I was born, like he sneezed or something and the scissors slipped and he didn't quite make the cut where he planned and then bam, I'm stuck with this goofy-looking belly button the rest of my life. I'm not sure that's really accurate, but you know, older sisters will tell you all kinds of crap to try and torture you, make you think there is totally something wrong with you. And I did, too. Think there was something wrong with me. I thought the freakishly protruding nub in the middle of my stomach was clearly something to be ashamed of, something to hide from people. Only my closest friends could ever possibly know the terrible secret I carried under my shirt. And even still, I was never sure I would be accepted once I had revealed my mark of shame, or whether, upon exposure, my friends would shun me in horror and tell all the world of my gross deformity. I had an active imagination, I guess.

I have only one photo of the belly button of my youth:
This is a photo of my sister, Carrie, and I from 1986 when my high school friends and I went to Mazatlan for our Senior-year-Spring-Break-drunken-let's-pretend-we're-so-grown-up-I-can't-believe-none-of-us-died-vacation. My sister, two years older than I, was one of our "chaperones" (please be sure to visualize air quotes here). She was brutally strict with us girls, except for that one afternoon when she disappeared with Alan, the other chaperone, and they returned to our motel later that evening super stoned dazed and covered with sand. Huh... Whatchoo guys been up to?

So why am I talking about my belly button?

Today is a big day. The end of an era. I'm going to intentionally let a surgeon slice me open in order to correct the freak-show flaw that has been my belly button for the past 45 years. Not because I want to pursue a career as a swimsuit model, as fun and potentially lucrative as that might seem. More like so that my middle-aged self can cough without the fear of popping a section of my digestive track out the hole in my abdominal wall. Glamorous, huh?

It's called hernia surgery. That's why it sounds so glamorous.

In case you are curious, and even if you are not, I thought I would capture a parting shot of the fleshy little blob before it was fixed (sorry):

Then Martha and I thought maybe we'd have some fun with it. Maybe the belly button would like to go incognito to surgery.

Weird? Perhaps.

I'm undecided about an "AFTER" photo. It might be too strange. Or not strange enough. Maybe I will have moved on to obsessing over a different flaw. We've all got 'em.

P.S. The reason I was convinced to bare my midriff in that bikini in spite of the previous policy of concealment at all cost? One word: boys. Oh what a teen-age girl will do to try to win them over.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Stuff I have been up to in the last 4 months and 5 days

1. Working part-time in an elementary school media center, which we used to call a library but now it's the media center because information is not just limited to books and media means information and library generally implies books as it derives from the latin liber or libri, which means book. My job primarily involves checking books in and checking books out, which primarily involves using a hand scanner and scanning various bar codes for student accounts and the different books. Elementary school-aged kids think that using the scanner looks like a pretty kick-ass job. Someone with a master's degree thinks it might be a little sad that this is how she has chosen to utilize her fancy-pants education. But she also thinks the kids are awesome and having daily visits with most of them is worth the degree of tedium that comes along with the job.

2. Walking my big lunk of a dog Mandy (mentioned previously), at least up until March 26th, even though it required intense vigilance about the presence of other dogs anywhere within a one-mile radius because if Mandy was walking on her leash and saw or smelled or sensed or thought she might perhaps sense another dog within a one-mile radius, she immediately wanted to eat it. Then came the day she actually did attempt to eat the neighbors' dog who is a small, black dachshund and who, let's be honest, could look a little food-ish to another, bigger animal. But eating the neighbors' dog, or really anyone else's dog, is against the pet-owning rules, at least in my municipality, so we kind of had to make a difficult decision about what to do with Mandy even though I loved that dog more than words can say. She was an excellent huggy dog.

3. Shoveling a fuck-lot-of snow. I know, complaining about the weather is so cliché, but you should see my driveway and we don't own a snowblower, partly because we're too lazy to buy one and partly because we like to feel superior using our own energy to displace snow rather than contributing to our national petroleum dependence issues. And also, partly because my husband's friend Jake has an intense fear of digital amputation by machinery. He lives in Long Island. Don't ask.

4. Taking a lovely vacation to Florida for a week in April. Someday I want to blog from Florida and include a photo of me with my feet up, drinking something tropical and typing on the laptop with the caption "Blogging away again in Margaritaville." One highlight of Florida was renting a stand-up paddle board and trying it out for the first time. I confirmed that I have a horrid sense of balance. I think it's because my feet are too small for the rest of my huge body and it makes me very tippy. My daughter, on the other hand, rocked the stand-up paddle board.

5. Engaging in various forms of inappropriate behavior.

6. Feeling melancholy. I excel at moodiness. However, I also try to live by the adage that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Hence, my absence from the blog world.

7. Learning that I will not be returning to my part-time job at the elementary school media center in the fall, due to "budget cuts." Ah, the old proverbial budget cuts. They'll getcha every time. So I'm going to return to my previous efforts at cobbling together some kind of life with my various interests. Like writing. Stay tuned, dear readers.