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Trailer-park temple

In my absence from this blog, I’ve been reading and thinking and learning. Were you aware of the Health at Every Size movement? That there’s a whole community of interneters working for fat acceptance? That there are people who are actually standing up and saying, Yes, I *am* overweight, and I am also healthy and I love my body, so what of it?

This boggles me. Blows my mind. It never even *occurred* to me that there would be fat people out there — people my own size — who are not ashamed to be who they are, who aren’t hiding their bodies under layers and layers of bulky clothes, who are not just accepting of their bodies but *proud* of them, who love themselves.

And slowly, I’m becoming one of those people, too.

I wear a size 24. I have dieted and dieted for months and years at a time, I have lost and gained, and inevitably, this is the size I keep coming back to. What’s that cliche about the definition of insanity? I’m beginning to make peace with the notion that I am never going to be physically perfect — not by some arbitrary, external definition, anyway — but I am going to stop making myself insane trying to measure up — or measure down — to someone else’s ideal me.

I’m going to love and nurture and celebrate my body, not abuse and deprive it. I would never withhold food or affection or sleep from one of my children — I give them healthy food, plenty of it, and treats every now and then in moderation. I give them plenty of opportunities for fun exercise. I make sure they get plenty of sleep. I defend them when other people say cruel things to them, and I do not allow them to say cruel things about others; I teach them to treat people with dignity. I love them and snuggle them and tell them how special and wonderful they are to me, how God made them to be perfectly them.

And I am going to love myself the same way. I am God’s child, and He expects me to treat my body with healthy love, not unhealthy abuse. So I’m going to love me, all of me.

***

Just because I can write all of this, of course, doesn’t mean I really believe it yet. But I’m getting there. I’m working on being more mindful of what I eat, of making sure I’m getting healthy fruits and vegetables and just the occasional bit of chocolate, of paying attention to how different foods make me feel. Not bingeing, and also not denying myself when I’m hungry and my body needs fuel. I’m exercising, going to the campus gym several times a week to walk the track and listen to my iPod. Once I overcame fear of being a fat old(er) woman in a university gym full of thin perky 18-year-olds (a serious exercise in systematic desensitization), I’ve actually been enjoying it. I feel better when I’ve exercised, stronger, more energetic. I sleep better. It’s a surprising feeling, this exercising-to-feel-better instead of exercising-to-get-thin.

So I’m getting there.

I’m working hard at remembering all of this, controlling what I’m putting in, seeking out writers who are uplifting and positive about body and size and self-esteem. There seems to be an absence of Christian voices on this topic, though; I’ve only found one so far, and what I’m missing is the company of other writers who are writing about body-love from a Christian perspective.

***

We’re not very good at love, we Christians. Most of the time, we’re better at judgment – towards others and towards ourselves. And when it comes to body image, we pretty much fall back on two verses: the bit about gluttony, and “Your body is a temple.” And we all know there are certain things that are off limits for our temples: drinking, smoking, premarital sex, and being fat.

I was hung up on the body-as-temple image for a while. If I’m remembering right from all my years of Bible classes and Sunday schools, Solomon built a pretty freaking amazing temple to honor God — all gold and jewels and fancy statues, opulent and expensive, a place worthy of communing with the Most High God. If that temple were a human body, it would be Angelina Jolie. Is that what God wants from me? Because I can never live up to that. My body-temple is more of a shack, with shag carpets and crummy wood paneling. My body-temple belongs in a trailer park, not a palace.

But then. It’s not saying I’m supposed to build this temple of my body — it’s already built. I had no control over the construction, the materials, the workmanship. I have to trust that God built this temple of mine exactly to the specifications He wanted, out of exactly the materials He wanted, fearfully and wonderfully. I’m not the architect here — it’s just my job to keep the carpets vacuumed and the furniture dusted, to light the incense and burn the candles, to make this temple welcoming and warm, a fitting place to honor God. To nurture and love and care for this temple, not take a sledgehammer to the walls and try to make it something else.

***

So that’s a very lengthy summary of what I’ve been thinking about lately. What about you?

Stay happy, baby girl.

Ten weeks into the semester, I’m mostly keeping up with my course load — all 6 credit hours of it — except when I’m not, which is this week. In desperation this evening I fled the house when Aaron got home from work and spent the next six hours reading Nathaniel Hawthorne and Fanny Fern and Herman Melville away from the inevitable distractions of home, first in a wobbly booth at a nearby Mexican restaurant (bottomless chips and salsa!) and then moving to Starbucks when I felt I’d overstayed the welcome afforded by a $6.75 burrito platter. I’ve been making the rounds of cheap eateries with free coffee refills lately, in an effort to find someplace nondistracting to study — I can tune out the white noise of nearby conversations and overhead music so much more easily than the blasting home-sounds of dirty laundry and piled dishes and boys demanding attention that I can’t afford to divide, not when the assigned readings are this dense — and ever since getting an extremely cold shoulder from a waitress at an Eat’n Park who apparently wasn’t happy that I was occupying a table and a coffee mug longer than she would’ve liked, I’ve been overly solicitous of servers, checking in frequently to make sure they don’t mind my staying and reading (and of course tipping accordingly).

Tonight my burrito platter was delivered by one of the restaurant’s dozen or so friendly Latino men of about forty, who punctuated each sentence by calling me “baby girl.” He spoke unaccented but oddly-syntaxed English and, when I gestured to my textbook and asked if it would be a problem if I sat and studied for a while longer, responded (in retrospect somewhat contradictorily), “You’re the boss, baby girl.” Later he brought me the bill, asked if I needed anything, refilled my coffee, and when I thanked him and told him I was fine he murmured, “Stay happy, baby girl.” It was oddly soothing, all his “baby girl”-ing; patronizing in a familiar, habitual, comforting way that felt more complimentary than offensive.

Later at Starbucks I had an engaging, if weary, conversation with the barista who rang up my tea about Hawthorne’s use of imagery — red and gold and forest-mythology  — in The Scarlet Letter, the secret handshake of one English major to another. His degree completed, he now works in a coffee house: behold the career path of the liberal arts major! And yet I’m undeterred, thrilled to be registering for spring classes (Development of the Arthurian Legend! Introduction to Linguistics!) — harboring secret dreams of becoming the exception who writes a bestselling novel, sure, but mostly just thrilled to be discussing literature with other intellectuals who will all someday brew espresso for $8 an hour, delighted at the prospect of another semester of mostly keeping up.

Nineteen

Yeah, I haven’t written in a while. I hope to do better; the Blogger’s Paradox is, the more interesting stuff you have going on in your life, the less time you have to write about it. And trust me when I say things have been very interesting around here, what with surviving summer vacation with two boys who can’t play together for more than 10 minutes without telling each other they’re not going to be each other’s friends anymore, and a two-year-old hellbent on escaping our house and hurling himself headlong into danger, and all with my therapist out on maternity leave. And of course, just when we got our summer under control, poof! it was back-to-school time — for two out of three boys, and for me: I’ve started back on the bachelor’s degree I abandoned ten years ago.

So: things are interesting around here, for sure. Air-quotes interesting, even: “interesting.” I’d even go so far as to say “interesting” like that, in italics. THAT’s the kind of fall it’s shaping up to be, and I hope to make writing a more regular part of my schedule now that kids are back in school — but you know me: don’t count on it.

The other reason I made it back here today, of all days, is because it’s a grim anniversary in my life: 19 years ago today, on Friday the 13th of September, 1991, my mom died of cancer. I miss her a lot — an inexpressibly huge amount — I wish she were still a part of my life, of my boys’ lives. It’s unbelievable that I’ve now lived nearly twice as many years without her as I lived with her. I wish I had more time with her, had a chance to know her better. I wish she were still here.

Here are some pictures, starting with Mom and me at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville:

I love this next picture, from spring of 1983, because it’s such a great shot of my mom as a human being: I’m wearing one of those toddler leashes. Which I fully confess to having used on my own escapist children:

A family portrait from the fall of 1983:

And finally, here’s my mom from 1986. She was lovely:

After the big game

I wonder what last night’s Nielsen ratings were for C-SPAN? I was watching the House debate the healthcare reform bill for most of yesterday afternoon and evening, something I don’t think I have ever done before (or will again) – watching it with the same sort of intensity most people reserve for more important things like March Madness, and sometimes shouting things at the screen. It was very much like watching Your Team make it to the Final Four, only they were playing the game in slow motion and with infinite time-outs and possibly in Japanese*; I watched most of it while pacing (although not pacing with a bag of chips, which was what I really wanted to do – my therapist will be so proud) and kept trying to distract myself with other things, but I couldn’t turn away for long.

(*I saw someone on Twitter compare the coverage to watching a telenovela, which was so very apt – I didn’t understand anything they were saying or much of the plot, but it still managed to be thoroughly engrossing.)

Now today I keep fighting the urge to work parliamentary procedure into my speech, like: There will be order on the floor! The gentleman on the phone from the credit card company deserves to be heard!, and: The gentleman from the top bunk yields one minute to the gentleman from the bottom bunk. — Perhaps I will get a gavel and wear it around my neck like a team jersey.

Good Mom

Yesterday afternoon I posted this as my status on facebook: “The boys came home from school under the impression that leprechauns would visit our house today – which is a shame, because I was under the impression this was one of those holidays I didn’t have to go to any effort for.” Half an hour later I updated the post with my last-minute solution: adding food coloring to the muffins I was already making anyway and telling them a leprechaun must’ve turned the muffins green, and then sending the boys outside with a tupperware container to search for little people. The whole thing took minimal effort on my part, plus it got the kids out of the house: win.

I wrote the post as a way of poking fun at myself for such lazy parenting – so when I started getting comments like, “Good job – this is why you’re such a good mom!” I was truly surprised. A few drops of food coloring followed by shooing the boys out the front door are far from what I would’ve thought a Good Mom would do in that situation – no, her solution would’ve involved leaving a trail of tiny green footprints to a hidden cache of chocolate gold coins, or something, and then having the kids help her mix the green muffin batter. And maybe taking the muffins to the homeless shelter. Maybe while speaking conversational French with the kids so that they could grow up to be fluent in a foreign language. No, mine wasn’t the Good Mom method, it was the do-enough-to-make-them-happy-and-get-them-out-of-my-hair-so-I-can-go-back-to-watching-hulu-while-I-cook-dinner method.

Jennifer The Therapist has been trying to get me to see that the bar I’ve set is unattainably high. She’s been arguing that I’m trying to compare my mothering to that of my mom – and not even to my actual mom, but to my saintly dead mom whom I have only fuzzy memories of, and so whom I’ve built up in my head as being inhumanly perfect and loving and Susie Homemaker-y. She’s been gently trying to make me understand that no one can meet that standard, not even my mom herself. I’ve not been buying it; but when some of the women that I hold up as Good Moms, much better moms than me, left me compliments on what I considered to be a rather lackluster parenting moment – well, it gave Jennifer’s words a bit more oomph.

The boys talked all afternoon about the green muffins, and when Aaron got home from work Noah gravely hypothesized that a leprechaun had sprinkled magical green dust in the oven when the three of us were in the other room; they didn’t have any luck catching a leprechaun in the yard, but they were optimistic to try again next year on St. Patrick’s Day – “I’ll be older and faster and trickier then,” said David.  So I guess if it got their imaginations and their bodies working faster for an afternoon, that’s Good Mothering enough, even if it doesn’t live up to the standards in my head. With any luck I’ll get through these 18 years without them ever noticing I’m not a Good Mother.

Well hello, there.

I haven’t written in five months. FIVE. MONTHS. I don’t really have an excuse for this. I mean of course I do, I have a lot of excuses: I could tell you all about the time Peter climbed onto the dining table and poured a full cup of coffee into my laptop, that’s a good story, it ends with Aaron taking my laptop apart piece by painstaking piece and cleaning every single one and then gently putting them back, and the laptop working again but not before Aaron had turned several shades of purple and said a number of words that I’ve cautioned the children not to repeat. Or I could tell you about how after a few months of coasting through therapy (there are bound to be a few months of those after seeing her twice a month for three years, but there’s still a surprising amount of Work to be done; apparently I am quite the screwed-up individual, still able to find damaged bits of self to examine and fix up even after all this time; or perhaps it’s not that I’m that unhealthy, but that I’m just terribly bad at therapy) anyway after a few months of coasting through therapy on easier topics like how to strike up casual conversation with the other parents at my son’s preschool, I am back to being neckdeep into hard things like my body image and relationship with food and my father’s addiction and whether it’s possible to be unconditionally loved — and in fact I do plan to write about all of these things here, soon, but we all know about my track record for following through on things I plan to write about, so don’t hold your breath is what I’m saying. The truth is that I could have made time to write, even with snowbound kids to entertain and scrapbook pages to lay out and groceries to buy and books to read and all of life happening around me – I could have made time to write, but I just didn’t feel like it.

But I’m back! So, hi there. I do have so many things I want to say, things about therapy and about the guest post I’m writing next week for a friend’s blog and about how much I really enjoy my kids even after a long winter with not enough playing outside. But as I have been thinking about all these things I’ve realized there is a more foundational post I need to write before I can adequately explain everything else that I want to say, so here goes:

I am a Christian.

It’s a bit telling that I have to take a deep breath before I can write that sentence, isn’t it? The fact is I’m extremely conscious of how “Christian” is usually defined and so I normally identify myself as one only when I have ample space to do a lot of qualifying about exactly what kind of Christian I am, and so it’s much easier just to not bring it up. There are so many assumptions about what Christians are that just don’t apply to me – I don’t vote the way most Christians are said to vote, I don’t think making it legal for same-sex couples to ride tandem bicycles makes it any less special when my husband and I ride a tandem bicycle together, I don’t think Haiti or the poor or the uneducated or the uninsured are asking for it. I don’t have an opinion on how others should live their life, nor do I wish to have one. I don’t have the energy for that.

No, these days most of my energy is tied up in trying to get a handle on the unconditional love of God, grappling with the truth that because of Christ, God loves me completely, limitlessly, despite how I eat or how I vote or how I parent my children or how I feel about other people. God loves me. And with the understanding that Christ covered every possible thing I could ever do, I’m free to live my life without worrying that anything I do can make me attain, or fail to attain, God’s love. I’m free to let the Holy Spirit (yes I said Holy Spirit and it’s such a churchy thing to say I know but there, I’m saying it) direct my life and my actions – and do the same work in everyone else’s life, too, without it being a reflection on me. After a religious upbringing that emphasized being “right with God” — that unless you’re “right with God,” you have no platform for asking Him for help, or guidance, or just experiencing His love, so until you can find a way to get right, you’re trapped in an endless loop of not measuring up to His standards for rightness, but not being able to ask Him for help to get there — after this upbringing, it’s incredibly freeing to know that no matter what I might do that changes my relationship with God, His relationship with me will never change. He just loves me, unconditionally, limitlessly. And that’s amazing.

So I had to write this, to put it out here for the entire internet to see, because this is the foundational belief that colors everything else I am learning in therapy, colors how I feel about my children and my parents and my cellulite and my refrigerator. This is the truth that I am trying to just get, the one piece of myself that will make all the other pieces work. And I need you to know that I am a Christian because God loves me, not because I think He shouldn’t love anyone else.

And now I can write all the other things I want to say.

Disguised

A post over on The Girl Who is asking for commenters’ favorite childhood Halloween costumes. Here’s mine:

The year after my mom died (this is shaping up to be a horribly depressing comment but I promise it really isn’t) I was 11 and I tried my hand at homemade Halloween-costume-making, because she had made our costumes for as long as I remembered so how hard could it really be, right? For whatever reason – I had a really weird sense of humor as a sixth-grader – I decided to go as Brunhilde, i.e. the Wagnerian “it’s not over ’til the fat lady sings” opera Viking lady. My dad and I managed to stitch together a long plain dress out of red jersey material without too many problems, and then for a breastplate I cut some shiny silver fabric and glued it to the dress. The best part, though, were the boobs – at a newly-pubescent 11, I didn’t have anything like what I needed to pull off a convincing portly Valkyrie – so we made broad cones out of posterboard, covered them with the silver fabric, and glued them to the front of the breastplate. (We did something similar for a hat with horns.)

So on the day of the school Halloween parade, when all the students dressed up in their costumes and marched laps through the school hallways, I secluded myself in a bathroom stall, wrapped myself in cotton batting, pulled the dress down over it, bobby-pinned the hat to my hair, and strode back to my classroom to join my other costumed classmates, readying myself for their gasps of approval and admiration.

That was when I realized that all the other sixth graders were waaay too cool to dress up for Halloween, that was apparently little kid stuff. Ah well. I adjusted my cotton flab, pointed my shiny conical boobs, and – as the oldest student in the parade – led the little kids around the hallways, like a Viking princess with her minions. It was pretty awesome.

What was your favorite Halloween costume? Were your costumes store-bought or handmade?


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