Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The MILF Swimsuit Edition

This past Memorial Day weekend, (except for the tiny little moms who look more like their children's nannies than their mothers) I am the only mommy at the beach club not wearing a cover-up.   How do those stick-like moms do it?  Do they not eat ice cream?   Is it genes?  I admire their commitment, whether it's to skipping pasta and dessert or running 5 miles each morning. Work it, girls!  You earned it!  (Unless it's that case, sigh, some girls have all the luck. Carry on)

I don't want to not be wearing a cover-up.  But my 5 year old wants to go in the pool, and even though he's a good swimmer he rightfully asserts it's more fun to go in the pool with mommy. And I've yet to find a cover-up that's underwater-savvy.

And I love being in water.  Pools, inside or out.  Any ocean.  Most lakes and rivers. The tub.  I like playing Marco Polo and doing chicken fights.  But this winter we had A LOT of snow. And I baked a lot of cookies, breads, cakes and casseroles.  And there was a lot of vodka, books and board games.  And when the vodka ran out there was always wine. I wasn't able to run throughout the cold months and it was only in late April that I started running again (translation: labored jogging) on a regular basis.  The calories accumulated more than the snow.

So, to put it very forgivingly my nearly 5 foot 8 frame is carrying an extra 10-15 pounds.  This unwanted extra weight is getting lost slowly but healthfully. When you cease eating 5 banana chocolate chip muffins a day the weight seems to come off pretty easy, although I can't imagine why.  No one seems to care about my weight gain. Not my friends or my kids or my husband or my mom.  That is, no one except me.

I care deeply about my extra weight when I'm forced to parade into the pool at the beach club in a swim suit.  And I realize now how awful  it feels to be insecure about your weight because (despite my abundant insecurities) I generally have always felt good about my body. ( I think this stems from my father always telling me, without irony, that I was smart and beautiful when I was going through an awkward stage at 13 even though the potential permanence of my purple glasses, zits and braces must have scared the crap out of him.)

See, I've never had much hatred for my hips and curves.  The women whose figures I always idolized and thought were beautiful (whether in my family or on tv) were more voluptuous than skinny.  Especially since having two children I feel pretty amazed at what my superhero of a body is capable of.  (We don't know what its capable of! Except for eating an entire lasagna during a snow storm.  That much is clear.)  So this disgust at my body is something new and it makes me feel for women who struggle with body issues on a daily basis.  Throughout their whole life. Because how bad must it feel to constantly want to escape from your own body and know that you can't?

Since my husband was off on baby pool duty with our 2 year old and my be-goggled, sun-blocked 5 year old practically had ants in his pants to get into the pool, I steeled myself to molt my cover-up.  What was the alternative?  Giving up fun pool time with The Big A because I felt like an Orca?  Sitting on the sidelines and watching him play alone when I desperately wanted to be in there with him? Warping his young mind by saying "Mommy can't play with you in the pool because Mommy feels fat today."  Less so than being an unfortunate model of low self-esteem I feared the disappointed look that would flash across his face as he would surely doubt my intelligence while probably asserting "Mommy that's dumb."

So I did it. I stripped off the cover-up, tugged my bright pink one piece down to cover an escaped butt cheek, adjusted my straps and walked the length of the pool over to the steps with as much panache as I could muster.  No one even seemed to notice me, let enough laugh or leer.  Except that there was one dad sitting on the side of the pool with his wife and toddler.  He was wearing a visor  and full-on staring at me.  I knew the water would be freezing (hence why only a handful of kids were in, and no parents) but I slipped into the pool to The Big A's delight and began swimming after him.

I was surprised when Visor Dad raised his visor at me.

"I have to say something" he said.

"Okay."  I said cautiously.

"I have never seen someone enter a 50 degree pool so...elegantly. You just walked right in, like it was nothing. No squealing.  You're tough," he said admiringly.

"It's true!" affirmed his wife. "You couldn't get us in there!"

I was touched by this unexpected compliment.  I was both glad to be in the pool playing with my son and even a little ashamed I had felt so uncomfortable with my body to begin with.  I wondered, in a flash, if my extra padding even made the freezing water more tolerable.

I smiled at them. The cold never bothered me anyway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

French Fries and Forgiveness

"Watch closely" said my husband, The Big G, as hit bit into a cheeseburger and stared at our 5 year old son, The Big A.  "This is the only time that you will ever see your father eating fast food."

We were at Wendy's somewhere in northern Pennsylvania driving back from Niagara Falls this past weekend.  Though it's strange, but true, I have known my husband 15 years and this was the first time I'd ever seen him eat fast food. 

"Daddy," said The Big A, "can you please relax?  Mommy says everything in mon-er-AY-shun"

"Yes!" I chorused as I dipped a fry in ketchup.  "Everything in moderation!  Now, are you gonna eat those fries?" I asked of my 2 year old, Little D.   I took her silence for consent (she was busy with her straw wrapper) and went for it. A few minutes later she frowned at her empty container "Where my fry go?" she wondered. I unashamedly pointed to Big G as he polished off his burger.

"Honestly?" Big G mused "This was actually pretty good." 

The menu on the 8 hour ride home was vastly different from the cuisine served on the 8 hour drive to our destination.  For the ride up there I had packed a homemade tofu brown rice salad, raw carrots, strawberries, grapes, grilled chicken and a bunch of bananas along with some dark chocolate brownies.  Having exhausted our rations on the trip up we knew we'd have to stop somewhere on the trip back. I just never thought it would be here.

My husband is VERY AGAINST fast food. It's gross. It's fattening. It's full of chemicals.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't even need to make a case against fast food because it's too easy a target.  There nothing I can write here that we don't all already know. But Big G is a man who drinks a scary concoction of something called Mighty Greens most mornings which bubbles up like thick green sludge. I drink it occasionally and I can assure you it tastes just as it looks -- like grass and soil mashed up in a blender.

Big G gets VERY UPSET when any of the grandparents or that super-indulgent Aunt V treats the kids to a Happy Meal. I have too many other things to get upset about besides my children being taken out for the occasional junk food, especially when it's not by me. They know it's a treat and their dad reminds them of how awful fast food is on a regular basis with flow charts drawing a parallel between quarter pounders and global warming.

So it was kind of surprising when we stopped at a Wendy's for a bathroom break, and my children, having been in the car for ages and being extremely hungry, looked around the brightly lit, welcoming space of the fast food place and asked "Can we please eat here?" and my husband said "Yes!"  No one was more surprised than me.  I almost ordered a Frosty Dairy Dessert on the spot to commemorate the monumental occasion.

Big A's eyes became more saucer-like than usual.

"Daddy just said we can eat fast food! I want a hamburger, a hot dog, fries, a chocolate milk and chicken nuggets!" he said excitedly, (obviously having no idea how this whole thing goes).

"They don't have hot dogs here," I corrected him. "And you can have a hamburger OR a chicken nuggets....not both."

And I had a rare, surprising moment of peace, happiness and clarity.

I know this may sound bizarre, considering the result was eating fast food, but I was really happy that Big G was stepping out of his comfort zone. He wasn't judging me or the kids but most importantly he wasn't judging himself.  When you have clung onto a tightly-held assumption for (at least) 15 years, it can be very hard to let go.  ( Perhaps, much like a comet, 15 more years will pass until I see him eating fast food again.)

Because it would seem in that moment Big G was willing to forgive himself for not making the perfect choice as a parent.

But he didn't torture himself that he was somehow lacking because he was letting his children eat grease and fat.  He didn't suddenly announce "Now you can eat Wendy's once a week, kids!" and nor did he moan guiltily throughout the meal about what a bad parent he was for allowing such nutritional blasphemy to occur.  We had a jovial meal that did not need to be eaten on a bench outside a rest stop. 

We got back into the car until a half hour later when both of my children, their bodies not accustomed to this kind of food, had the runs.

Big G felt really bad about that and quite regretful about the french fry frenzy he had orchestrated and condoned but I hope it didn't detract from his ability to be spontaneous and forgive himself for making the wrong choice.

I have a lot of trouble forgiving myself when I make a misstep with the kids.  I was rushing Big A out the house so quickly yesterday (he moving at the speed of a tortoise dripping in molasses) that I finally gave up, grabbed his arm and pulled him along with me.

"Mommy, that hurts!"  he exclaimed. 

I immediately felt awful, got out the boxing gloves and began going Floyd Mayweather all over myself.  I shouldn't have been rushing. I should have budgeted more time. I should have been more patient. Big A is only five. I shouldn't have grabbed his arm. I should control my frustration more.  After a few minutes, I was convinced that I was unfit to parent even a hermit crab.

I don't want to do this to myself anymore. 

If a friend shared that story with me, putting herself in my place, I would have assured her that she is a wonderful mom.  That she asked Big A FIVE TIMES to put on his shoes and walk into the garage before she blew her stack.  That she's human and we all make mistakes.

So I'm trying to forgive myself for not being the perfect mom and not always making the right choices.   And it's nice to see when my partner can do that also.

I believe a lot of the moms of our generation beat themselves up.  For not being present enough. For being too present. For not being firm enough. For being too firm.  I bought the organic milk, but not the eggs. I work too hard and don't spend enough time with my kids. I don't work hard enough and I'm setting a bad example for my daughters. I yelled too loud.  I lost my temper too soon. I was just sick of going to the park and I kept them inside on a sunny day watching Finding Nemo. The self-doubt runs as rampant as a toddler with a kazoo. Please take your gloves off.  Mine are taped on with duct tape but I am trying desperately hard to stop boxing myself into a nosebleed for not being perfect.

So if you're reading this blog and you occasionally give your children fast food (or do anything else that's not optimal parenting), I think you are a wonderful mother or father.  Don't feel guilty. I'm sure you encourage them to eat their greens the rest of time. 

Night Out

On Friday night, I said a quick “Hail Mary”, gulped down a glass of wine and boldly went off to a fancy schmancy Italian restaurant with both my children (Little D, age 2 and Big A, age 5) to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.  I’m not a big fan of taking my young children to a restaurant at night. ( Their presence seems to disturb the other diners from enjoying their meals and by other diners I mean me.) But my folks insisted they wanted all four of their grandchildren present at this dinner so I steeled myself for an evening of eating cold food while I tried in vain to stop my overactive children from knocking over wine glasses and wanting to make multiple dashes to the bathroom.

See, the thing is, I know that Little D would be the epitome of a quiet, perfect child, if only I would hypnotize her with a handheld device.  But you know I just can’t.  My sister and I decreed that our four collective children would get 15 minutes as soon as we arrived to look at pictures (Little D) play Minecraft (Big A) and do whatever (my 9 year old nephew and 7 year old niece) on phones or iPad touches while we all were getting settled and ordering meals.  After that, they (and we) were on our own.

I’m not kidding… a huge part of me wanted to just yell “Just let them play!  Let them play as much as they want…as long as they want! I’ll just sit here and drink my non-spilled wine, enjoy adult conversation and relish the first pasta I’ve eaten in weeks!”  But then I would have missed what happened.

Because here’s what happened.  The children roamed to different parts of the table to converse with all of us adults. They also had a spaghetti slurping contest but that's besides the point.

Our son launched into a stand-up comedy routine that lasted about 20 minutes.  Every time he thought up another joke or story he would lightly clink his fork on his glass and announce “May I have your attention please?”  The aunts and the grandparents were in hysterics.  I would have missed Little D doing pull-ups on the back of her chair and snuggling into my sister’s fiancĂ© as she smushed her cheek against his, laughing. I would have missed hearing all about my nephew’s last baseball game and I would have missed the opportunity to answer his question “What does the word racist mean?” If the children were quiet and sorted, staring slack-jawed at their hand-held devices, I never would have gotten to hear my niece’s hopes and dreams about her attire for an upcoming family wedding. “Why CAN’T I be the bride?” she asked reasonably “My communion gown would be perfect!”

And yet, the night culminated in Big A belching so loudly I thought a wild boar had somehow sneaked under our table. “Excuse me!” he called over to the adjacent table of two well dressed couples in their mid-50s.  That’s when my husband and I went over to make our customary apologies.

“I’m very sorry,” I began.  “I apologize for my children’s behavior. We usually don’t take them out to a restaurant this late but my parents insisted-”

“Oh no!” said the woman in pearls. “They were so well behaved!”

“Thank you for lying to our faces.” my husband nodded.

“Really,” said the man sitting with her. “We barely noticed they were there at first.  And then we heard them having such great conversation with you all.”

“Really?” I asked dubiously. “You weren’t bothered?”

“Oh no!” said the other blond woman. “We all have children in their 20s and it seems like just yesterday they were toddlers.”

“Even when he burped?” my husband said suspiciously.

“He said ‘Excuse me’” the blond reassured us.

“I just loved,” said her companion “how we could see your kids’ faces.  They weren’t huddled over their phones. Your baby daughter has such a gorgeous face.”

At that moment, Little D of the gorgeous face had messed up her hair so badly from climbing about various laps that she looked like a cross between a hedgehog and Albert Einstein. Big A was in the midst of telling a joke about omelettes.

“Omelettes?” I called over to him.

“Yes,” he yelled over “Breasts.  Like on ladies. I call them omelettes”.

The foursome pealed into laughter as my husband and I slunk back to the table in embarrassment.

But besides that mortification, it was a joy to be interacting with all four children, cracking up at both their bon mots and their embarrassing moments.  And I’d like to think that we were teaching them something about learning the art of conversation and how special restaurant meals can be when you don’t check out into a game of Angry Birds but enjoy laughter and debate with your dining companions.

These hand-held devices can be a Godsend when you need to occupy your child for a short period of time and certainly the kids enjoy them. Yes, it bothers me when there’s a christening at church and there’s a kid in the front row playing on an iPod. Yes, it saddens me when I’m at the Molly Pitcher bar, having dinner with my mom and sisters and a child is PITCHING A FIT, complete with high pitched shrieking and kicking when Mom and Dad say it’s time to put his electronic game away because his chicken fingers are getting cold.  I was horrified at a play date last week when Big A had access to an iPad and he burst into sobbing tears when I told him it was time to shut it down.  So once, again, everything in moderation. 
But after the joy of Friday's dinner I think I just might put on embargo on screen time when we're out to eat, even at the expense of good behavior. And next time, we're having omelettes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Kindergarteners in Love

Since I wrote about the topic of marriage last week, it's seems only natural to follow up with some ruminations about falling in love.   But in this entry it's not me but my 5 year old.

My 5 year old, The Big A, (despite a penchant for attending musical theater) is your typical boy.  He loves Minecraft, Star Wars and Angry Birds.  He adores drawing but his subject matter is limited to the aforementioned three topics.  He likes play fighting and wrestling. Words like "butt" or "toilet bowl" are the height of humor to him and at this year's Easter egg hunt he refused to pick up any pink or purple eggs on principle because they were "girly colors". I've heard him mutter "Boys rule, girls drool" a few times. I put that smack down on that so he later amended it to "Kids rule, grown-ups drool". This year, unlike last year in pre-school, nearly ALL of his play dates have been with boys.  So, keep in mind he's identifying more with his own gender and also keep in mind that every time he cracks up when someone "toots" I realize that there's not a lot of deep thinking going on here.

So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I was putting him to bed and this conversation happened.  VERBATIM.

Big A: (staring up at the ceiling)  Mom, I think I'm falling in love with Faith.

Me: (having fallen off the bed) What?

Big A:  I've fallen in love with Faith.

I recalled a cute little girl with long hair.  I began to grin and tried to stifle laugher at what my 5 year old was earnestly telling me.

Big A:  (raising an eyebrown)  Are you crying?

Me: No.  I was laughing.

Big A: Because sometimes people cry when they're happy. It's okay to cry.

Me:  (equally shocked by his observation) Yes, that's true. But I wasn't crying. I'm happy, though.  Falling in love is good.  Does Faith know?

Big A:  (begins grinning)  Yes.

Me:  Well, does she feel the same way?

Big A:  I think so. 

Me:  How do you know?

Big A: We play on the playground together a lot.  She pretends to be Princess Toadstool. And I'm Mario. And I save her and bring her snacks.

(Ah -- the bringing of snack offerings to your lady. The cornerstone of any successful relationship. Big A's father has taught him well.)

Me:  That seems about right.

Big A:  Yes, when someone is in love with you, they like to spend time with you.

(So true, Little Grasshopper, so true!)

Me:  Well, I think Faith is lovely!

Big A:  (somewhat annoyed)  Maa-omm!  It's not how she looks on the outside. It's what's on the inside that counts.

Me:  shocked silence

Big A: (concluding) She is pretty though.

My eyes bugged out of my head as I pondered the level of self-awareness being expressed by this little person who is usually smashing something with his foam sword or whining to play on his father's phone and eat jellybeans, usually simultaneously. I stared at my child as I wondered where all of this was coming from.  Although we're both free with kisses and I-love-yous when we're coming or going,  my husband and I rarely prance around the house beaming at each other while proclaiming "I'm in love with you!" I had no idea where Big A was getting all this "in love" business from as even the nomenclature he was using seemed so foreign to me.

(A few days later I found out that the children have been watching Frozen all winter long during lunch so perhaps he drew inspiration from there.)

Big A ended the conversation by rolling over and saying "I'm going to sleep now. I still want to be a train engineer, a golfer and a farmer when I grow up.  But I'm also going to be Faith's husband."

Me:  Well, she has to agree to that.  Rather than jumping the gun, maybe we could start by inviting her over for a play date?

Big A:  That would be great! And I'm going to invite her to my birthday party.

Love hasn't yet become complicated for The Big A.  Find someone you like to hang out and eat with and invite them over your house and....that's amore!