Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why I exercise...

I'm going to be very upfront about something.  You won't be seeing a picture of me in a sports bra and boy shorts on social media any time soon. I've noticed this trend popping up lately as everyone shows their before and after pics but I'm pretty modest.  That's not to take away from the people who get a lot of pride and motivation out of posting these pictures but it's just not for me. And there's a context issue. While I'd be comfortable on the beach in my bathing suit with whoever, I just don't want pictures of a scantily dressed me popping up on a Facebook feed next to my cousin's newborn baby and a recipe for gluten-free lasagna.  But these before-and-after pictures are generally posted with an emphasis on working out, weight loss and eating more nutritiously -- all of which are really good things.

Because as much as I wish I could eat mass quantities of Broad Street Dough and NEVER exercise, I think that eating healthily and exercising is really important.  Not just so you whittle yourself away to nothing, but so you're strong, happy and possess an energy level higher than that of a snail.  For the past 4 months, I have been exercising at least four times a week which is massive, considering the number of times I exercised from September to January was ZERO.

And I hate exercising. I mean, I really, REALLY hate it. I hate it more than the NJ Housewives, the wardrobe of Miley Cyrus and Goldschlager combined.

While I'm on a run, I waver between feeling like I'm being tortured and praying that no one is watching me.  It's awful. Like really, really awful.

When I take my weekly karate class, I curse under my breath as I'm made to do squat thrusts, spar guys twice my size who bat me away like a fly and plank for two minutes at a time.  "Why am I DOING THIS to myself?" I wonder angrily, thinking I could be home curled up with a book, a wheel of brie and a box of chocolates from the Red Bank Chocolate Shoppe.

However, as much as I truly HATE AND DESPISE working out, I love having exercised.
For realz, after I'm done running around Meadow Ridge, covered in sweat and red faced, gulping water and drooling on myself, I feel like a million bucks. On any given Saturday afternoon after I've finished letting karate masters far superior to me kick me up and down the dojo, my legs sore and my shirt sticking to me, I feel like the goddamn queen of the world.

So as much as I think exercise is cruel and unusual punishment I love the way I feel when I've done it for the day.  I know it has great physical benefits from healthy heart to strength in your muscles to higher energy levels (not to mention sliding into, rather than shoehorning yourself into, your skinny jeans) but the emotional benefits for me are far better. If something was worrying me before I went for a jog, it seems less important.  My mood is elevated and I'm less likely to bite the kids heads off when they spill an entire bottle of grape juice on the couch. I'm a better listener. More likely to smile.  More apt to feel at peace. And did I mention how much better my skinny jeans fit?

A recent New York Time article reveals:

"The sweet spot for exercise benefits, mostly by walking, is 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised. At that point, the benefits plateaued, the researchers found, but they never significantly declined."

So apparently, I'm also going to live forever!  And alls I have to do is walk for over an hour a day.

I used to drive 6 blocks to the park. Now I throw Little D in the stroller and I walk. I never used to play soccer or basketball with my son, content to let his dad handle that I sat nearby as the cheering section. Now I jump right in and let him give me a run for my money. 

For me, exercise is not about making extra weight on my body disappear, although that's a nice fringe benefit. It's about appreciating my body and letting it do what it's capable of. Not hating my body for not being a perfect and skinny size 4, but loving my body for it's beauty, it's speed, it's strength. 

It's about making time to move my body and being grateful, in fact, I am not too old, or too sick or too injured to move my body through running, karate or sometimes dance.

When I get up at 6:10 to get in my jog, my daughter will sometimes get up and ask "Why you goin' JOGGING?" and I tell her that I'm doing it to be healthy and happy.  Because as much as I don't like the feeling of exercising while I'm doing it and as much as I'm a natural bookworm, not a natural athlete, I like how my body and mind feels when I'm through putting my body through its paces.

And not to mention, a little known fact is that the more calories you burn off exercising the more freshly baked cupcakes you can consume without your cholesterol skyrocketing.   


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wake-up Call

On Sunday morning I found myself zipping around my house like a ferret on steroids, stuffing my son into a jacket and tie, sticking Mary Janes on my daughter and repeating out loud "Do not forget the christening gifts!" After my umpteenth shrieking request, my husband sauntered out to the driveway and shepherded the kids into the car as I chugged a glass of water, grabbed a lipstick to apply in the car and thankfully, I did not forget the gifts.

But I did forget my cell phone.

I realized this as we were halfway to the church, determined to be on time to dress my godson in his christening finery.  I was alarmed to be without my phone all day.  How would I take pictures at the baptism?  How would I send and return text messages? How would I update my Facebook status with adorable pictures of my niece and nephew?  Way too late it occurred to me, "What if I need to make a phone call?"   I felt as though one of my limbs had fallen off. It was like watching any of the NJ Housewives give an interview...I was in a constant state of bewilderment.

It turned out, being without my phone was pretty awesome. 

It turns out that on any given Sunday, my cell phone is way less necessary than I thought.


I didn't have to remember to set it to silent before church began.

Pictures?  My sister, mother of the twins, took oodles of pictures all day and posted them to Facebook that evening.  And I actually got to be in the pictures for once instead of behind the camera.

During the lunch at Char Steakhouse that followed the baptism, I was fully present for the first time, I have to admit, in a long time.  I truly didn't realize how often I dip my hand into my purse to check my phone. And for what? I wasn't expecting an important business call or anything.  Why shouldn't I be completely focused on socializing and eating the vegetarian option on the menu whilst sipping wine with my family?  I didn't realize how much of a slave I am to my phone until I left it at home and realized the sweet freedom and liberation in not having it.

Sure it was mildly bumming when I went to take a picture of my sides to put on Facebook and I realized I was sans phone. However, who's really being hurt by not getting to see my photos of creamed spinach and fluffy mashed potatoes?  Victimless crime.

When I did return to my phone, more than 8 hours after I left it, I had ten missed texts and 3 missed calls.  A couple of play date requests for the upcoming week. A photo of new shoes from a gal pal. A question from a Sunday School parent. A friend had dropped some wine in our mailbox and wanted to inform us it was there. Nothing was critical.  There was nothing that couldn't wait.

When I ended up taking my kids to the park a bit later for some early evening sunshine I intentionally left my phone in the car. It felt good. I felt bad I had missed another parent's calls about directions to the park, but it wasn't Earth shattering. We didn't end up meeting up with them, but we would next week. No biggie.

I shut my phone off completely that night, determined to watch Mad Men Sunday night without its addictive presence.

I am not saying that I want to get rid of my phone of even turn it off all day.  I'm not insane.  My phone is my alarm...if I hadn't turned it back on Sunday night I would have never been awakened for my terrible Monday morning wog (walk/jog).  My phone is my camera. My growing kids aren't going to photograph themselves. My phone holds my calendar of where my family is supposed to be at any given time. My phone is a huge convenience (directions, anyone?), I love texting my friends and it's fun to read articles/ put pictures of baked goods on Facebook. 

But every Sunday, maybe I'll just turn it off all day.  Every night at 8 pm, maybe I'll put my phone to sleep along with the kids for a few hours. Maybe I'll bar my phone from the beach this summer.
 It's very whiny, my phone. Always beeping. Always pinging. Always demanding my attention. And the truth it, when I pay attention to my phone, I'm usually ignoring everyone around me.

So I think I'll be without my phone more often.  It's hard to explain why, but taking long chunks of time away from my phone just plain feels good to me these days. 

It's a bit of a wake-up call to realize how marvelous it feels to be away from something I love so much but I guess distance makes the heart grow fonder.  Ringing off now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gossip Girl

It's been a while since I was around gossip of this magnitude. 

I adore my circle of female friends.  ADORE.  And I love stumbling on new friends who speak my language.  Many of them are moms I've met through my kids. While there's sometimes an amazing connection (generally with moms who share my love of books, humor, wine, baked goods and conversation) even the moms I have to make more of an effort to converse with (their discussions center on their diets or home furnishings, neither my forte) are good people who generally don't say unkind things about others and that's why I like them.

Look, I live in a small town and I think, on some level, all of us want to play nice because we realize we're all stuck together (at least through our kids) for the next 13 years. Even more if you have younger children.  But it's been refreshing that the way I've experienced the moms around me has been specifically as "non-gossipy".

We've all gossiped at one time or another, right?  Especially in our 20s, when we were young and irresponsible and perhaps hadn't discovered more enriching subjects about which to chew the fat.  For me, there's always been a high correlation between how insecure about myself I am feeling at the moment and the nasty things that come out of my mouth about others.  It would make me feel better about myself to put someone else down.  But, (and not always) for the most part, that ship sailed many years ago. On my best days, anyway. 

It's been a long time since I've been around nasty dirt-dishing and I only realized it when I was confronted with it the other day.

When I look at my life and my interactions, now, I can see why I was so floored when faced with three other women dragging people we collectively knew through the mud.  The  friends I'm lucky enough to have tend not to be gossip-mongers. Whether intentionally or not they have been selected to fulfill roles in my life. Most of those who adore gossip have been eradicated from my circle, moving away from me and towards those who share their interests.

So when I was in the midst of it, I didn't know how to react. You see, it's been a while.  The three women I was with were going for the jugular as we drank our coffee.  One laughed about a "friend" who hadn't covered her greys in MONTHS!  I gulped, wishing I had worn a hat that day.  Another claimed that the children of her friend were "always acting like brats". 

"She's annoying!" the first affirmed. "She never wants to go anywhere without her husband."

"Oh God, I HATE that!"  I got quieter and quieter until it was obvious that not only had I checked out of the convo, I was sending decidedly judgey vibes towards these women. 

"Oh stop it!" one said "We're scaring Natty."

I wasn't scared but I knew that our blossoming friendship was probably not going to work out.  While they were very nice to me, I felt sure that they would talk about me the moment that I left.  It made me not want to have any more coffee with them. But they're good people. Good people that like to gossip. 

So, I'm not in the club anymore. It's okay, I don't need to be in that club.  I know what I needed to do to be in the club.  Agree!  Exclaim! Make jokes!  Validate our collective superiority by putting others down.

There are so many amazing topics of conversation.  So many events, emotions, ideas and notions worth discussing.  Why talk about how much weight a fellow mom has gained? Maybe she's under incredible stress. We don't know.

I'm not a Little Miss Merry Sunshine.  Realistically, we all have people we don't like.  You can't like everyone. There's a mom I'm acquainted with that I don't like.  It's because she triggers one of my pet peeves.  The way I experience her, she is incredibly rude.  I don't like rude people.  They bother me. Every time I have come in contact with her, she would say something to me and the way I would take it would ruin my day. But I don't drag her name through the mud when she comes up in conversation.  I don't try and enlist others to dislike her also.  I try very hard not to do this, because it's a waste of my time and energy.  I try hard not to do this because I don't want someone who experiences me as rude to try and get others to gang up on me. So, finding this individual rude, I don't hang out with her.  Fullstop. If I bump into her, I'm civil, even friendly (but not familiar). Just because I don't care for her doesn't mean that other people will feel the same way.

I know that it may sound unrealistic to try not to gossip. Everybody does it, right? But it hurts people...and mostly...putting someone else down makes you look bad. It really does.  And from the upcoming election to our fears and hopes for our kids to wallpaper potentially making a comeback to wine to movies...well, there are so many fascinating topics of conversation that won't leave you feeling like you need to wash the ick of your hands because you just dragged someone else through the mud.

Mediocre people talk about other people. Smart people talk about events. Brilliant people talk about ideas.

I'd like to try to be more in touch with my brilliant self.  Thanks to all the wonderful moms surrounding me who seem to feel the same way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In the company of men

A few weeks ago, Big G and I were invited to an Irish breakfast on St. Patrick's Day by a friend of ours.  Big G, as is his way, got up early went to work and called me an hour later saying "I FORGOT today was the Irish Breakfast! Arrgh!" 

"Oh well," I responded, "I'll have some bangers for ya, my lad!"

Bangers means sausage.

When I showed up there, it truly was a sausage party. There were 5 dudes.  And me.  But there was also piles of eggs, bacon and coffee so I figured I would stay. I felt awkward for a fraction of a second but then got over it.  All the men present, besides being very nice, were talented musicians. So not only did I have a delicious breakfast cooked for me, I got to witness a truly amazing jam session that was totally awesome.  I was so glad I didn't leave due to my status as the only chick present and I was also happy I didn't just not come at all because my gentleman escort forgot we had plans that morning.  I would have been denying myself great food, terrific music and conversation with other parents who just happened to be male.

See, I am one of the few people who truly believe that women and men can be friends.  Real, actual friends.  I have a number of close male friends, but two particularly come to mind.  One is close friend high school that I've had since I was 14 and another I met in my early twenties at work. Both are amazing men I respect, love and admire and both I consider to be family.  In all of our years together, although I feel their love for me with certainty, neither one of them has ever made a pass at me and if they're even reading this I'd imagine at this point they just fell out of their seats laughing at the awkwardness of such a prospect. 

Thanks a lot guys.

Friendship between men and woman will enrich your life immensely but only if you follow a few guidelines I have discovered along the way.

Your male buddy can only be married if you and the wife adore each other. Fullstop. If she doesn't like you, or even just kind-of-likes you this is not going to work. Because she will get totally jealous and think something untoward is going on when really all you're doing is quoting lines form Arrested Development.  The wife doesn't like you?  The friendship is over.

You cannot be friends with a man who you are attracted to.  I remediate this problem by being friends with men who possess many of the traits I find physically unappealing.  Men who dress better than I do, men who wear jewelry, have long hair, have excessive tattoos or who are overly dramatic make great male friends while also making them sexually unattractive to me. It's a win-win!

By the same token, you cannot be friends with a man who is attracted to you.  Since most men are attracted to everything, even a pumpkin (which I fear I resemble now that I've done all my winter eating) this can be tough. I try to make this easy for my male friends. I tell them in great detail about my child birth, I unload my problems on them demanding advice I likely won't take and I talk constantly about eating. That usually does it.

If that doesn't work, I'll often raise issues about regularity and what works for me.

Example of phone call between male and female friends:


Male:  Hey. What took you so long to answer?
Female:  I just got out of the shower.

No, this is wrong on many levels. It's flirting. The dude just unwittingly pictured you naked. It's not even his fault.


Male: Hey, what took you so long to answer?
Female:  I was picking at an ingrown hair, actually. Then I considered brushing my teeth because it's been days but instead I decided to eat a bag of potato chips while watching Downton Abbey. Do you want to get the kids together?

Viola!  With that statement you have just made any man within 100 mile radius completely unattracted to you and you've likely disgusted some lesbians too.

Male-female friendship doesn't work if said male is waiting, "in vulture position" for your relationship to break up. Ten years ago there was a guy I thought was my friend and one day when we were having a business lunch he busted out with "If you and Big G weren't married, don't you think we'd be an amazing couple?"  I almost choked on my turkey wrap in shock but rather than being flattered I was totally taken aback. 

"Never.  Like never, ever." I admonished him.


"Why?" I sputtered.  "The way you're gnawing on your pulled pork sandwich is reason enough."

"Please don't tell Big G I said this," he pleaded.

But I had to. I couldn't have a secret with this guy that I would keep from Big G.  That would create intimacy between me and Pulled Pork Sandwich. And it's not like he was friends with Big G. He wasn't even really friends with me, it turned out, or he wouldn't have said something to make me feel so uncomfortable. I never had lunch with him again and stopped taking his calls. Like a canker sore on your upper lip, he eventually went away.

Which brings us to, you cannot be friends with a man that doesn't also love and respect your partner.  When I think of my closest 4 male friends, I will bet you dollars to donuts they would rather hang out with Big G than with me or both of us together. Whether it's because I'm around more during the day or less of an introvert than my spouse, who knows.  But they love and respect my husband and that's what makes me able to be friends with them and often puts them that strange grey area where your friends become so close to you they become family.

And for all of this to work, you have to have a supremely trusting, confident spouse who knows you think the sun rises and sets on him. He has to appreciate that you get things from your male friendships you don't always get from your female friendships. He not only trusts you around all your male friends but trusts all of your male friends around you.

If Big G doesn't like someone, that person is out of our circle of friends. Fullstop.

And I'm glad that Big G is so wonderfully adjusted.  Because when I think of all my friends, both male and female, I sift through the laughter, the tears, the adventures, the sad times and the unbelievable ways in which they've added so much to my life, I feel incredibly lucky to not have just limited myself to one gender. 

You know that famous old saying -- "Female friendship is awesome. Male friendship enables you to base an entire friendship on lines from movies.  Stay away from Pulled Pork Sandwich."   It's so true.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Oh, behave!

Not too long ago I was with a couple of other mommies and they were trading war stories of instances of their kids being rude and misbehaved. We all have those, right?  I certainly do, in spades. But these moms had just met me and didn't yet know our family's rich history of terrible behavior.  I was gearing up to add a few of my own tales to the pot when this happened.

This one mom sighs and says of my 5 year old son "Big A is so good. He never misbehaves...you're so lucky."

I am not making this up when I say I almost laughed in her face. I don't mean this figuratively. I mean I literally almost lost control of myself and began going "Hahahahaha!" right up in her grill as I slapped my thigh and tears streamed from my face.  I had to settle for biting my lip and grimacing so it sort of looked like I was about to take a really big shit.

Because this:

Some kids are born wonderful. They're mellow and lovely from the get-go.  It's unfair, but true.

Unfortunately, the stork didn't bring me one of those kids.

What the stork brought was a high-strung, emotional and demanding little critter whose looks of pure disgust as an infant caused his aunt to dub him "The Angry Fisherman".

As new parents, my husband and I handled our difficult child the only way we knew how.  By always and consistently letting him have his way. Often at the expense of others and our own sanity. I'm not proud of it, but it's true. We were learning. And believe me, we learned. The hard way.

By the time Big A hit pre-school, he was hitting. He was scratching. He was intimidating other kids with his size and taking their toys away.  He was screaming AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS when he didn't get his way.  He wasn't going to win any prizes for Mr. Congeniality, that was for darn tootin'.

I was mortified. I went around doing damage control, apologizing to the parents of his many victims and generally feeling like an incompetent loser in the game of parenting.  But the biggest loser in all this?  Big A.

I was unsurprised, but nonetheless heartbroken when I heard one of his classmates, Suki, say to her mother in the parking lot, "Big A destroyed my sand mermaid today. I hate Big A!" 

"I don't blame you Suki!" I wanted to yell. "And I'm so sorry about your sand mermaid!"

After many instances of Big A's less-than-charming behavior toward his classmates, we were called in to meet with our pre-school's director (and also his teacher) to get a full accounting of his crimes. I began sobbing like a Real Housewife who's had her Botox taken away.  It was a combination of feeling like a failure as a parent, my embarrassment at my son's behavior and my sadness that he was being mean to other children.

"HE'S A BULLY?" I wailed at the top of my lungs.

"No, he's not a bully," the director assured me, "he's only 3 years old."

"Do you think he's going to have...you know...EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS?!!!????"  I blew my nose loudly into a tissue as my husband looked pained.  "Do you think this means he's ..like...emotionally DISTURBED!??" I sobbed noisily (as I'm sure both teachers were thinking  Big A might very well have a genetic propensity for just that very thing.)

"No, I don't," the director assured me. "All it means is this.  You and your husband will have to worker harder with him.  That's all."

We would have to work harder with him?  That's literally the first time it occurred to me.  This parenting thing which has brought me unspeakable joy, adorable Christmas photo cards, unlimited snuggles and taught me to love unconditionally and blah, blah...it's work?  I did not know that.

My hubby and I went home and discussed. I cried to my mom and my sisters. I berated myself for being such a jellyfish of a mother to the detriment of my child. The blame lay squarely on our shoulders. And though it was humbling, there was some empowerment in that.

We went back to the preschool the next day and said "Okay, clearly we are part of the problem, but the good news is that this means we can also be part of the solution. What do we do?" 

Both the pre-school director and the teacher looked flabbergasted. The teacher said that usually parents are defensive.  They offer excuses instead of solutions for their child's bad behavior.

Fer serious? we said.

Fer serious, they said.

We talked about providing rewards for good behavior and most importantly, (and most difficult to enforce) consequences for bad behavior. We talked about accountability not just in Big A, but in ourselves in order to get him on the path to righteousness.

As the year went on and Big A's bad behavior got better, I noticed the birthday party invitations came trickling in. He began being asked on play dates. And what's more, he seemed so much happier. He wasn't angry and lashing out all of the time, because he was no longer tasked with the anxiety of having to set his own limits. That's a lot for a little kid.

Big A seemed comforted by knowing what the rules were and by the consistant consequences that would follow breaking them.  He knew if he hit another child at school his beloved trains would be in timeout for the rest of the day.  He knew if he screamed into the face of a classmate that we would not, in fact, be going over Grandma's for cookies.  That deterred him and helped him to control his behavior.  And mostly, we talked about feelings. Not his feelings of how unjust it was he couldn't always have his way. But rather, we talked about the feelings of others. How he might feel, for example, if he joined another child to play in the block corner and that other kid shoved him out saying "Go away!"

5 months later, around Valentine's Day Suki's mom mentioned that Suki said she loved Big A and he was her valentine. She also explained that Suki wanted Big A to be her business partner one day in a chicken nugget venture.  It was a huge turning point and something I will never forget because it seemed to be a mile marker of his progress. Suki used to hate him, and with good reason.

When I think back on that agonizing pre-school year, I can't believe we got through it. It was SO HARD to always be managing my son's behavior to help him improve. But honestly, what was the other option? We do nothing and let him stampede about the classroom, being mean to other children and turning himself into a miserable and lonely social pariah?  

I look back at that time 3 years ago and I wonder what kind of a first grader Big A would be if I had opted out of the hard work of teaching him how to treat others with respect.   He surely would not enjoy his wide circle of friends that leaves us with rarely an afternoon where he doesn't have someone to play with.  He surely wouldn't be as happy. Because no one would have wanted to spend any time with a tantrum-throwing, hitting, toy-grabbing, shrieking 6 year old.

It's possible, sure, without my husband's and my interference Big A would have worked things out on his own. But knowing the emotional nature of my son, I doubt it.  I shudder to think I could have been part of creating such a lonely future for my wayward child.

Because what we've ended up with, in Big A, is a child who is complimented not on being a superior athlete or the best artist or the smartest in his class. What I hear again and again whether it's from parents, his teachers or even occasionally other kids is what a sweet and respectful boy our son is towards others.  And knowing how hard his road (our road) has been, no compliment could mean more.

So if you have a kid who's acting like a punk like mine was, please don't give up on him.  You can help bring him through that phase...just keep at it!

So, I'm brought back to that day not too long ago when that mom said to me:

"Big A never misbehaves...you're so lucky!"

Of course he misbehaves.  Still. And big time.  He's a kid.

But after all the tears (both his and mine), doubts and agony we went through with him as a little kid, after all the play dates I had to drag him OUT OF for being mean to another kid (where they were freshly baked scones, mimosas and desperately needed adult convo, might I add), after the many times I wanted to throw in the towel and give him his way, BUT I DIDN'T, I say thank you for such nice praise to my son.

But what I don't say is that if you knew him back in his wild years, you'd know that luck had very little to do with it.