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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Aim Low: Tips from Stonewall Jackson & Other News

Did you miss me, Readers? Or did you note with relief the absence of posts from me? I know one person who probably felt relief. I’m talking about my friend - let’s call her X - who told me she preferred one post a week from me. Ouch! She said two per week are too hard to keep up with, considering everything else going on in life. And I get it. Oh my lawd, has it ever been like trying to get out of quicksand around here this week. School finally ended this week. Thank goodness, I must say, because both kids are going away this weekend. So this week I've been preparing for both kids to go to their respective camps. In opposite directions from one another and at the same time, of course. One thing that's flowing easily around here is money. It's flowing away like water, not like quicksand. Hiking boots, underwear, mini fridge, luggage. Both children’s clothes suddenly fitting them like sausage casings, and while they might not mind the look, I do. So, clothes. Toilettries. Why am I telling you this, Readers? Well, that’s the stuff that’s on my mind. 

So, a collection of random thoughts for you, some related just to my life, some to the topic I purport to focus on: success.

Last weekend we took a family trip to the Poconos to celebrate my father's 90th birthday. "We" were  his lady friend, my sister-the-psychoanalyst, her husband-the-psychoanalyst, and their cute children, and the husband and the 13 and 16 year-olds. Here are a few highlights:

  • My father sinking balls at the pool table. Definitely a favorite. 
A ringer at 90

  • My nephew having a hilarious tantrum when he realized he had to wait longer since his grandfather had sunk a ball. Tantrums are funny, Readers. Sometimes they’re even funny when they are your own children. I am fortunate that nowadays the only person who has tantrums in my immediate family is me. 

  • Riding a horse called Pedro. Then trying to stand up and walk afterwards. 
The view from Pedro

  • Watching my sister-the-psychoanalyst trying to stand up and walk after horseback riding. 

  • A Belgian Draft horse named Junior. As I mentioned on Facebook, Junior triggered my latent girl-horse love affair, on hold since preadolescence. 

One of us weighs 2,400 lbs.

In other news, avocados have no protein. Just fat. Good fat, but no protein. This is according to the nutritionist. And I need more protein. Also according to the nutritionist. So, yeah, I have the good fats covered, but not the protein. Also the bad fats, but that’s another story. 

I am so stuck in quicksand here. At this very moment, I am trying to write a blog post while making dinner and answering questions about how to address envelopes, since the 13-y-o will have to communicate by snail mail whilst away at theater camp. 

Just a reminder about successfully developing and maintaining good habits. Yes, I was right, Brian my Pilates teacher was quite taken with the 5 Tibetan Rites and has been twirling ever since. I’m patting myself on the back here, although there is really no reason to do so. After all, how much credit can I take for introducing a fitness enthusiast to another fitness regime? It’s not as if I invented the 5 Tibetans. But we take our successes where they come. Aim low. 

Which brings me to the email that arrived in my inbox today from who knows where. Some fitness newsletter that sent a tip on losing weight that applies to successful habit forming of all kinds. Here’s the link. Anyway, the upshot is: Have a Fallback Plan for your goal. This is apparently based on Stonewall Jackson’s way of running his army. They never retreated and called it defeat. There was always a fallback point to which they could back up - and still attack. “Stonewall Jackson never told his troops to 'run away.' Before he ever went into battle, he picked a spot on the map to retreat to that was also a great attack position.” Psychologically, this was very astute. No one had to feel like a failure. Backtracking and scaling down were in the plan. 

I endorse this idea. The Fallback Plan, a.k.a Aim Low strategy. For example, take my morning routine. It used to be very long and complex and I got overwhelmed. Waking up and facing it became burdensome, and because I am a human being, I tried to avoid the burden. Now I have scaled it back to a minimum. It’s something I can do even when I’m running late, or sick. Just 5 Sun Salutations. Once I do those, I’ve succeeded. If I have time, I do more. I do the 5 Tibetans, or lots of physical therapy stretches for my hips and pelvic floor. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. All that matters in terms of calling it a success is getting those Sun Salutations done.  Apparently, Stonewall Jackson would agree. 

The best part is that once I do those Sun Salutations, I often feel inspired to go on and do the other stuff. But in the immortal words of my Inner Child, “I do it ‘cuz I want to, and not because you told me to.” I'm not overwhelmed by my goals, and that makes me want to try harder, rather than run away. 

Psychological games, Readers. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. 

For some reason, this reminds me of a conversation we had in the Poconos. My father and his lady friend were interested in some golf tournament that was happening. Talk naturally led to Tiger Woods, who has been playing very badly but keeps on going. My father's theory is that Tiger was trained from so early on to focus on only golf, he never developed any other resources or interests. It was just golf and his father, and now that his father has died, he has fallen apart. Instead of moving on and trying other things, he keeps screwing up at the only thing he knows. Which is a lesson to us all about the price of single-pointed success. It is too high. We have to have other ways to define it and ourselves. 

So, if you missed me, I am sorry. And if, like my friend X, you are relieved there has been a break in the onslaught of blog posts from me, then I am pleased. Next week, I intend to be back on track. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Annals of Successful Parenting - Tuning in to the Program

Warning: This post is full of delaying tactics. The meat starts about halfway through. But if you like my nonsense, please read all the way through.

I am trying to get with the program and eat at regular times, but this morning I ate my second breakfast - excuse me, I believe the technical term for the ingestion I undertook at about 11 a.m., following the inadvertent Zumba class is “refueling”. That’s what the nutritionist said. MY nutritionist. 

That’s right. I consulted a nutritionist. I consulted a nutritionist about The Uninvited Guest (mentioned in this previous post). Actually, that’s not really true, although the Uninvited Guest was a prod. The real reason I consulted a nutritionist was that I wanted the 16 year old to consult one, because she dances two to four hours a day six days a week. She’s the one who really needs to refuel. And I wanted someone besides me to tell her that Goldfish are not nutritious. Knowledge is power, as my longtime friend - let's call her A - tells me, when I tell her things like I can’t look at my bank balance. (No longer true, A). I don’t know why I’m writing to A. A never reads my blog. She will never even know I mentioned her. Knowledge is power, but when it's your mother who's imparting that knowledge, it just seems to have a little less oomph.

But anyhow, knowledge IS power, and another one of the bits of knowledge I’d like her to have is how to avoid that dance world cliche of an eating disorder. “Her” meaning the 16-year-old, not A. 

So I figured, if I was taking her to a nutritionist, I might as well take myself, too. And so I did. 

And now I’m under strict instructions not to go any longer than five hours between meals. 

Bwahahahha. Excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone that long without eating - except at night. Which, come to think of it, causes me to wonder if I’msuspposed to get up and eat a midnight snack? Maybe a meal between my first and second sleeps?

Okay, I’m just playing with ya. I know that’s not it. 

By the way, the Zumba class was inadvertent because I don't intentionally go to Zumba. I went to NIA, but the NIA teacher was away and the substitute teacher they got was a Zumba teacher. It was fun, actually, and had lots of Bollywood in it. I definitely needed that refuel afterwards. 

I have to go to the dentist. My tooth has been aching, off and on. I wasn’t sure if it was a cracked tooth or that I was clenching my jaw. Then I got a bad cold last week and couldn’t breathe through my nose and my teeth stopped hurted. So obviously, I had been clenching, but no longer could. See, there’s the silver lining. 

On the down side, last week I had a bad cold and so, despite by operating theory that it’s almost always better to exercise, I didn’t. Last week was just not one of those times when it was better to exercise. 

Okay, Readers, I can no longer delay getting to the reason for this blog post's title. 

In further news, I am a terrible mother. Yes, I am. Here’s why. The other day, I picked up the 16-year-old from a sleepover. After she finished giggling and hugging goodbyes to her friends, she slipped into the car and said, “This whole time I’ve been freaking out because XXX of five sauce was performing last night at Wembley Stadium and he got burned by some falling debris and I’m just so worried. He’s supposed to perform again tonight.”

Translation for those of you who don’t know what five sauce is: A popular - wildly popular - band comprised of 4 cute young men. One of whom had facial burns now. A band, mind you, playing across the sea. A band called Five Seconds of Summer (5SOS - five sauce).

Readers, I know about teenybopper love. I really remember the stomach-churning love feelings elicited by photos in Tiger Beat of (and here I further date myself) Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett. I really do. Reeeelllly. 

So did I bring up those old feelings and really get into empathy mode with my daughter, who has spent I don’t know how many hours hunched over YouTube videos of Five Sauce? Did I accept with kindness and generosity this information she shared with me that was obviously very important to her?

Hint: No, I did not. I just could not. It was these words, "This whole time I've been freaking out." Something curdled in me. Had she really been freaking out about this transatlantic incident during that whole sleepover, which included actual, live boys for the evening portion? Really? 

All I managed was a matronly, “Oh dear, that’s terrible,” which lacked all intensity of inflection that might have saved me. I kind of flatlined it, in truth. And then, because the image popped right into my mind, I said, “Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire once. He was okay.” 

Silence. That blistering silence that radiates disapproval engulfed me. The 16yo turned on Spotify and filled the void with music. 

“It’s not that I don’t care. I mean, I’m sorry he got hurt and I hope he’s okay,” I tried to recover my humanity. Then I turned to her, “But you do know you don’t actually know them?” I said. "What happened with the guys at the party?"


Yeah. That was smooth. 

At home, she bounded into the house ahead of me. When I arrived in the kitchen, she was telling her father about the burned sauce. 

“Wow, that is terrible,” he said, inflecting. “Is he going to be okay to perform tonight?” His voice rounded the curve of the question on an upnote. Inflecting further. 

At least she has one good parent. Damn him. 

Other news, that may or may not be good, is that I discovered chocolate ice cream made out of goat’s milk. Although I am lactose intolerant I can tolerate goat’s milk products, digestively speaking. It is delicious. This is small consolation. 

And yes, I know it seems ridiculous now, but Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy were really cute.
Leif Garrett

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A French View of Success

You know, until I got well into this success thing, I thought there was something wrong with me. I seemed genetically incapable of holding down a full time office job without plunging into depression. I assumed my need for blocks of free time and my tendency to grab a few moments to sit in a chair and stair out the window indicated lower energy than a “normal” person, or perhaps congenital laziness. This idea of laziness sharpened against my conflict over earning money versus time to write. Or, in plainer English, what I mean is that I felt like a hypocrite because while I wanted plenty of money, I didn’t want to do the jobs that would earn me it. So what did that make me? A big baby or a hypocrite, both terrible things for an adult to be. Especially a feminist adult. 

Then, when I got married and had babies and ended up staying home with them, well, the things wrong with me multiplied. I was a sell-out for staying home, and a bad feminist for the same reason. I was clearly lacking in some element that would allow me to have energy for parenting, being a spouse, AND writing. Did I mention the part about being supported by the husband? I was dependent on someone else for my financial security. That was a big no-no, for sure. 

Let’s see, what did that make me? 
  • genetically incapable
  • depressive
  • lazy
  • abnormal
  • low-energy
  • hypocritical
  • greedy
  • a baby
  • bad feminist
  • sell-out
  • dependent
Oh, yeah, and 

  • writer

Yikes. What a loser. 

However, I no longer feel that way, usually. Usually. I have my moments, but right now, I feel okay. Perhaps it’s the night time affirmations I do sometimes. Perhaps it’s all the reading I’ve done on creativity and flow and success and happiness and motivation and self-control and on and on. It’s all drip-drip-dripped against my brain and worn it down a bit. 

Or perhaps it’s some smaller successes along the way, like having more than 7 readers (Thank YOU), and a couple of publications in the NYTimes and so on. Nothing like external validation to prop up a lazy hypocrite. 

Into this little trickle of brain drips flowed this little piece in the NYTimes by Francophile Pamela Druckerman, American ex-pat (PDAXP) living in Paris. It is a cute little piece about giving a commencement address to an American school in Paris with French and American students. A commencement address is, according to PDAXP, a quintessentially American thing that boils “down to: Yes you can. Here’s how.”  That would not fly with a largely French audience. “A French commencement address,” she says, “would probably boil down to: No you can’t. It’s not possible. Don’t even try.”  

Well, Readers, you know how taken I am with French style. In fact, just today I tried this French dry shampoo, which is what it sounds like, and makes your hair look clean without having to wash it. If this sounds strange and unnecessary to you, then you must never have had a great blow-out at the salon and then got sweaty exercising. That’s all I have to say. Except - doesn’t my hair look great?  It’s Klorane Shampooing sec. I got it at Sephora, FYI.

But I digress. I was talking about the article by PDAXP. And so I read on with interest how she resolved her dilemma of delivering a very unFrench address in a French style. She chose, she said, a common French saying, something “optimistic, but not grandiose.” 

So practical, those French. Here it is:

Vouz allez trouver votre place
You will find your place. 

PDAXP goes on to talk about some rules for being a creative person and finding your place in life. And they are so, um, validating. What a nauseous word. You can look it up. Her list, I mean. I’m not writing about creativity rules today. Except the part about sticking to it, and about creating blank space for yourself. And about paying attention to what you do on the side of what you do to earn money, because that gives you big clues as to where your place may be. Yes, validating is the word. 

If you’re wondering what I’m on about, this is it. Finding your place. That is success. Some people do it without much fuss, some people have more trouble. I have, no doubt, been one of the latter. I have had so much trouble. Partly because of who I was raised to be, and partly, again without doubt, because I am a creative person. A “creative”, as I’ve seen it nominalized. Like a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher - a creative. The word sounds a little weird like that, with an article, turned into a noun. I used to hate it, but I’ve just this second convinced myself I kind of like the term. Making a description into a thing in this case is helpful, because a description is abstract, but a thing - well, a thing can find its place. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Yard Work, Shades, Life

The dog and I have colds. Interesting that the two of us were the most passive members of our family this weekend. The husband and the 7th grader performed “Once on This Island” three times. He played music, she sang, danced, and acted. The 11th grader danced in two dance recitals in a row on Sunday. I watched most of these things. Milo the dog stayed home, where I presume he lay on his side, probably mostly in the powder room. And now we are the ones with sniffles. 

Speaking of complaining, I realize that this is the time of year I complain about the yard work. Currently, the grass is as high as an elephant’s eye and I’m just fine about it. The husband has had no time to mow, and I refuse to do it. My excuse is that I’m allergic to grass. This is actually true. Also, I don’t want to mow. Furthermore, as I may have mentioned, I’m allergic to bees, which provides a further excuse for avoiding weeding. All of this renders me more comfortable putting in forty-five minutes here and there, pulling things out of the ground while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross or Lexicon Valley on my iPhone. Whenever I sense the rising level of overwhelm - I really hate that word, but it does fit here - I remind myself of the above-mentioned life-raft of excuses. Plus, I just don’t care that much anymore. 

I’m guessing this attitude adjustment is overall positive. Viewed one way, perhaps it’s indicating a slide into total slovenliness. Viewed another way, it’s a sign that I’m becoming more comfortable in my home and I’m not so worried about the Joneses anymore. That’s the way I choose to see it, Readers. 

Although our bedroom shades might tip those scales in the slovenly direction. Have I mentioned our bedroom shades? Our ugly bedroom shades? The shades that, when we first moved into the house, filled me with core-shaking rage every time I had to open them? I must have mentioned the shades. This, by the way, is a fine example of displacement. Yes, the shades were ugly, and yes, I wanted to replace them. But the real problem was how angry I was about our move and that we couldn’t afford to replace them because we had more pressing expenses. I displaced my anger at my situation onto the shades. Also onto the husband, from time to time, but that's another story.

Well, the other day, as I opened our ugly slatted shades in our bedroom, I noticed that I had become more relaxed about those, too. Last year I almost replaced them. I went so far as to take advantage of the consultation service at Calico Corners. We had almost made our final decision on a nice fabric roman shade. Then the consultant quit and we were left to ourselves. Without the push of a salesperson, I sunk back into nothingness. And now the shades are still there, still ugly, still insufficient. But they don’t fill me with rage anymore. 

But the garden. Well, we hired someone to help us do a little landscaping that will eventually result in more ground cover and fewer mulched beds that need weeding. This awesome landscaper who feels like a friend moved a bunch of stuff from the back yard to front yard, and a bunch of stuff from the front yard to the back. We also have a plan that will unfold over a few years. So overall, we are working on the yard, even when we are not actually, uh, working on the yard.
Landscaper added Pieris japonica by the front door. 

So what is the lesson here? A little money is a rage emollient? Oh, dear, that’s not a lesson I want to teach. How about acceptance? Yes, that’s a better lesson. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to race to have the best looking yard unless I really love gardening. Also, patience. I can wait for things. That’s good, right? 

Why am I asking you if it’s good to be able to wait? I know it’s good! Didn’t I just finish reading a whole book about how learning to wait is good? In case you weren’t paying attention, I’m referring to Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test. I talk about it here and here.

The shades. I’m not that concerned about the shades, although eventually I would like different ones. In the meantime, I wear a sleep mask. Yes, really. And I feel just like Auntie Mame. 
I love this thing. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

#TBT Secrets of Successful Families

I published this post exactly two years ago today. I'm reposting it for a good reason. Soon I will have an update on the family meeting. It is all ready to go, but I'm hoping a certain newspaper might want it for a certain blog and I'm waiting to hear. If not, I'll just plunk it down in here for you, Readers. Wish me good luck!

Some of my readers might be unfamiliar with "#TBT".  TBT is an acronym for "Throwback Thursday." What does Throwback Thursday mean? Well, it means you post something from your past on your social media streams on Facebook or Twitter or maybe Instagram - I wouldn't know because I'm not on Instagram.  Often people post adorable childhood pictures of themselves. Then, when you have posted your picture, you add this symbol #TBT.

While I have many of those adorable pictures, I am restraining myself. Why on earth would I invite comparison?  I'm adapting TBT for my purposes.

Secret of Successful Families: The Family Meeting

Bruce Feiler sums up his research on happy families by offering a “nonlist list of things that happy families do.” This list consists of the following three nonrule rules:
  1. Adapt all the time. 
  2. Talk. A lot. 
  3. Go Out and Play.

Feiler offers multitudes of ways to follow each of these nonrules. One of them is the family meeting. The family meeting appeals to me for several reasons.

  • First of all, there is so much in a minute. You don’t even have to have relatives who are psychoanalysts to know this. Nor do you have to be a mindfulness meditation expert. Just think about how (surprisingly) much it hurts if a driver passes you and gives you the finger, for example. And that’s someone you don’t even know, and a situation that’s not even personal. Now think about all the casual remarks that pass among family members rushing around to ballet and soccer and work that affect you. A stray snap on a day when you have a short fuse can have its own sort of a butterfly effect on your mood and life. Yes, it’s true, I do have relatives who are psychoanalysts, AND I practice mindfulness meditation, so I may be a bit more invested in what’s going on under the surface in a moment than most. In fact, this may be the secret to my failure more than anything else – all that time parsing and analyzing can get you into a thoroughly tangled state of conflict and make it hard to move forward with your goals. But since that last sentence completely undermines what I’m getting at, let’s pretend that I’m 100% in favor of trying to understand your emotions in a situation, so that you can make an informed decision, or can react intentionally instead of instinctively. This takes time, and conversation. A meeting provides a forum to catch some of those moments that could use a little dissecting: To address some of those moments that result in decisions on the fly – decisions and their effects that never get fully explained.

  • Second of all, a family meeting sounds like a reasonable idea when it’s hard to find regular nights to eat together because this one’s got an extra rehearsal and that one’s soccer game time changed and that one forgot he had to teach his medical students and the other one has a book club, because all of those ones have book clubs; you’re not actually a suburban mommy if you don’t - but that’s another story. These meetings don’t have to be long. They shouldn’t be long. Sunday night, which Bruce uses, seems like a good time to me. Usually everyone is home then, and there’s an opportunity to look at the calendar. This doesn’t guarantee that we won’t be scrambling for forgotten appointments, but it does help us become aware of our commitments, at least for a moment, together. This group moment might well improve the chances that we’ll get where we need to be on time. I make no promises, nor do I have any proof, since as of this writing, our family has had only one family meeting.

  • Third of all, the family meeting, as Bruce describes it, is child-centered. Or to be more precise, while parents may set the agenda, the children should be vocal participants. This gives them practice explaining themselves, exploring and expressing their opinions, and listening to others’, which I defy anyone to deny is good life training. Since the message in my family of origin was “Children should be seen and not heard,” this idea appeals to my rebellious inner child. Let the children be heard and seen. Then let the parents make final decisions.

  • And last of all, the family meeting is a way to solidify or otherwise emphasize the idea of the family unit as a unit. I like this idea of emphasizing the family as a unit. It’s one of Bruce’s ideas that’s so fundamental you don’t even see it: To be a successful family involves focusing on the family itself, and seeing it as a working group, not just as a staging ground for “real life.”

The Meeting

Now, I’d been mulling this idea for a while. I was intrigued and wanted to do it, despite the hoke factor. So when the 5th grader came home, I think it was the very day I behaved so admirably at the DARE assembly, with a letter announcing that she’d won a leadership award, and that there would be a ceremony at an arena at a community college to recognize her and the other recipients, I had my entrée. 

Readers, if you would kindly lower your bayonets, I will continue. After feeling my moment of pride in my offspring – a moment immediately followed by one of complete amazement: I have never won thing one for leadership – I realized that this ceremony would conflict with the 9thgrader’s ballet schedule. Frankly, that went without saying, since the 9thgrader spends less time not dancing than she does dancing. So the question was, should she miss the classes, which were in rehearsals for her end of the year performance, to attend her sister’s ceremony? Perfect for a family meeting. 

I’d like to tell you that each participant met the announcement with equal enthusiasm; but that would be a lie. The husband was on board – surprising to me, considering the aforementioned hoke factor.  He was even willing to commit to weekly meetings. However, when we told the children we were having a meeting,  the 9th grader’s reaction was, “Oh no,” and the 5th grader’s was, “Are we in trouble?” 

But it went well. Or at least, it didn’t go badly. When I brought up the awards ceremony - ballet schedule conflict, I tried to remember Bruce’s advice to let the children do a lot of the talking. The 5th grader immediately announced that she wanted her sister to attend her award ceremony. The 9th grader countered immediately with acquiescence. Conflict resolved? More like conflict swept underground. I suddenly saw how good an idea a family meeting was. I think it’s the kind of thing that might just help keep people close. If you’re the kind of person who acquiesces because your sister states a strong preference, despite your own mixed feelings, then eventually, you may avoid your sister, to avoid hearing her state her preferences. But if your sister can start to understand that her preference acts like a command, then she may begin to be a little more careful and less categorical – more empathetic – in stating it. 

Since their conversation had apparently ended, it was up to me and the husband to stir the pot. How did the 9th grader feel about missing the ballet class to go to the ceremony? For that matter, how would the 9thgrader feel about having her sister at her upcoming recital? And how would the 5th grader feel about the looming conflict over missing a soccer tournament to go to (another) dance recital? I wanted the conversation to be both concrete (about this particular conflict) and hypothetical (attending each others’ awards and recitals, etc.) Okay, I know, this may be slightly nauseating, as if I envision a golden-paved road of award upon award for my children, stretching into the future. However, even the most curmudgenly reader must admit there are many milestones ahead (God willing), with attendant ceremonies. It seems worthwhile to figure out who needs to go to what when.  But mostly, I wanted the big sister to express her preferences and feelings about attending her sister’s award ceremony, and to see how important her presence was to her younger sister. Also, I wanted the little sister to realize that her big sister would be sacrificing something very important to her (dance class) at a difficult time (rehearsing for upcoming recital). 

The upshot was that we, the parental units, listened to the children, and then we told them we would make a decision. Meeting adjourned. Not exactly an unqualified success, but not terrible, either. Later, the 9th grader came to us privately and said she didn’t want to miss her class. We told her we had wanted her to say that at the meeting so that the 5th grader would know, but of course she hadn’t wanted to hurt her sister’s feelings. I suppose immediate openness was too much to expect from one meeting. 

In the end, we decided the 9th grader should go to the ceremony. In private, I told the 5th grader that her sister was making a sacrifice by missing her rehearsal. The 5th grader said, “Now you are making me feel guilty.” I told her I wasn’t trying to make her feel guilty as much as I was trying to make her appreciate that her sister was doing something nice for her – and that she ought to thank her. 

So the 9th grader came to the ceremony. On the way, the 5th grader thanked her for missing rehearsal. Afterwards, the 9th grader hugged the 5th grader.

Overall, I thought it was good for the 9th grader to hear her sister characterized as a leader, and good for the 5th grader to know her sister heard that characterization. 

We haven’t had a family meeting since; but I stand by the process. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Uninvited Guest & Pressure to Look Good

Nothing to do with this post, except that I picked this up at a tag sale
and the husband doesn't really like it. So it's an uninvited guest, I guess
The other day at the Y, I ran into a woman I've seen practically every time I've been there over the past five years. I've never met her, though. She's about my age and she exercises strenuously. She was talking to another woman and I couldn’t help overhearing her complaining that no matter what she did she couldn’t get rid of “this.” (She slapped her midsection, which, yes, was a little bulgy. Like mine.) And for some reason, I barged in on their conversation.

“Oh, I hear you! Nothing works,” I said. (Although, it's possible eating less might help.)

She turned to me and said, “I call it my ‘uninvited guest.’” She slapped her midsection again. “And nothing works. And it doesn’t help that I can’t eat just one handful of nuts.”

Well, I was startled by her vehement slapping, but then again, I wasn't. I have vehemently slapped my midsection from time to time. I did it just the other day in Pilates, in fact, and my teacher said, "Yes, I know that workout." 

Anyway, my uninvited guest. I love the phrase. I could parse it. In fact, let’s. The use of the words “guest” and "it" suggest that this flesh doesn’t actually belong where it is, and that it’s not a part of you, normally. Both of which things I feel about my midsection bulge. 

Looking at my body that way is not healthy. After all, as my annoyingly tall and skinny therapist says, shouldn’t my focus be on how grateful I am for everything my body does for me? All parts of it? And not so critical of individual aspects of it? Ideally, yes. After all, my rational self knows that "me" and "my body" are not exactly two separate entities. Without my body, there is no me. We haven't achieved "brain-in-a-box" ability yet. 

The nuts comment, by the way, reminded me that I want to know exactly whose hand is measuring that handful of nuts? Because if it’s a male hand, then I can eat a lot more nuts than I think I can. 

Later, a friend was talking about Weight Watchers and said she was thinking of going to a nutritionist.  I told her I’ve made an appointment with a nutritionist, but I’m a little nervous that it might trigger my old eating disorder. I’m going to go anyway, because maybe this nutritionist will help me dislodge my uninvited guest. 

Or maybe she will help me accept that it’s a permanent tenant. 

As I said to my friend, it’s a question of how much deprivation you want to undergo versus how much self-acceptance you need. 

Which brings me to this metaphor of riding the rough edge of the wave. I thought of it while walking the dog today. It just came to me. I love reading about extreme surfing. Which I wasn't. I was walking the dog. But I was thinking about an article I read in the NYTimes Sunday Review by author Jennifer Weiner about the pressure to look good and the image of a surfer came to me. As a woman, I do some extreme surfing here on land when it comes to body image and self-image. Jennifer Weiner’s riding the wave, too. The rough edge of the wave. Talking about being a feminist and yet feeling pressure to get Botox, pressure amplified by social media. All too relatable, I’m afraid. “How do you preach the gospel of body positive when you’re breathless from your Spanx? How can you tell your girls that inner beauty matters when you’re texting them the message from your aesthetician’s chair?” 

Exactly. Do you talk about Jolen cream bleach and facial hair? Or do you just shut up and let them find out about it themselves eventually? 

And then there’s the other side of the pressure to look good: it can be fun to make yourself look good. Legions of style bloggers will swear on their Bobbi Brown makeup books that spending time to make yourself look good on the outside will help you feel good inside. 

Recently, I took advantage of the personal shopping service at Lord & Taylor. It’s complimentary, by the way. I looked into it out of desperation. That uninvited guest had rendered some of my nicer clothes unwearable and I have an event coming up for which I feel some Pressure to Look Good. After shopping on my own in vain, I noticed an office that said “Personal Shopper.” I asked for a card, and I contacted someone called Blair for an appointment. I arrived feeling pretty crappy about my body. 

And I left feeling really great. I had three outfits under my arm. Yes, I only needed one, but I am suggestible, and that service is complimentary for a reason. Anyway, these things looked good. Having someone professional look at clothes on me turned out to be good for my self image. And it wasn’t as if she yessed everything, either. She had assembled six or seven possibilities for me, and she evaluated them all somehow without evaluating me. Imagine. Instead of me looking at something and saying, I'm too matronly to wear this, and falling into a stupor, Blair said, “That dress is not flattering on you. It makes you look matronly. Let’s try something else.” There was no judgement of my body. It wasn’t about whether my body was suitable for the clothes. Instead, the judgement was whether the clothes were suitable for me. 

Interestingly, one of the dresses she picked out for me was one I had tried on by myself. All I saw by myself were lumps, so I had decided it wasn’t the kind of thing I can wear anymore. Stupor followed. But when I put it on this time, Blair and her assistant said it looked great. I mumbled “Spanx” and she said, “Oh, absolutely. Everyone needs Spanx for that.” See, again, no criticism that my body wasn’t perfect. 

So, it’s true that looking good will help you feel good. Yes, Readers, of course I understand that is because women feel better when society thinks they look good. It’s the catch-22.  It’s the rough edge of the wave. Until such era exists where no one is judged on appearance, those who take time to look good will reap some rewards internally as well. When that era of total equality arrives, well then we can all dance with the uninvited guest and sport facial hair, no matter our gender identity. Oh what a glorious and boring era that will be.