Sorry for the radio silence last week. I was sleeping and mothering and wife-ing and meg alone time-ing.
This week, I’m back in full force. First up for your viewing pleasure, a segment I just did on HuffPost Live about intimacy in marriage. All the panelists were fantastic and my hair is so big it barely fits on the screen. So, you know, enjoy.
Riley and I. Fun in the sun. (some of you have asked…my suit is from lime ricki!)
I am always working to help my daughters have a better body image than my own.
For me, that means responding enthusiastically when they point out my stretch marks. (Those are scars left over from when I was pregnant! Aren’t they amazing? They are proof that my body could grow big enough to hold you! I am so proud of all the work my body did and those marks always remind me of that good work.) Never talking out loud about my body in any terms but grateful ones…even when I just really, really hate that I can’t fit into last year’s jeans. (Sometimes, I have to admit, this just means I don’t talk about it at all. Because mama don’t always have the right perspective.) And finally, it means wearing a swimsuit even when I really, really don’t feel up to it.
Like last year’s jeans, last summer’’s swimsuit is a little….ummmmm…snug. I am eating healthier and drinking enough water to fill one of the great lakes so, hopefully, this is a temporary situation. But it might not be. And that’s okay. I’ve got enough to reach for without also worrying about size 4 jeans. I get that this is all relative. That my ten pounds too heavy is someone else’s ten pounds too light. Because of that, is hard for me to get too upset about something that is so subjective and ultimately fleeting. Also, it’s summer. And the swimming is now. And I want my daughters to understand that our sometimes misguided perception of our form should not influence it’s function.
So we went bathing suit shopping.
Swimsuit shopping for women is NOT like suit shopping for men. Guys basically get to wear water proof pajamas. Us? No. We must be hooked, strapped and squeezed. I know very few women who love the process of suit selection. Even those of us with relatively healthy body images can get a little blue when squeezed into lycra in fluorescent lighting. And I mean, can you blame us? Most of our choices assume our post baby breasts don’t need the support of an industrial crane to stay in place. Also, wide leg, high cut, low cut? Who cares? As far as I am concerned all swimsuit bottoms are terrifyingly close to revealing the motherland. This isn’t a modesty thing. It is simply a matter of practicality. I would prefer to keep my, ahem, special parts free from prying eyes and invasive sand crabs.
But what is our other option? I saw a cute woman at the pool the other day in an adorable bathing suit and big, baggy basketball shorts. The damn things kept falling off when she’d hop out of the pool to chase her kids. When she was in the pool they’d fill the water around her like a life saving flotation device. They didn’t look comfortable or effective but I get where she was coming from. Being a swimming mom is a full contact sport. I literally had to dive across the deck the other day to keep Vi from throwing herself in the deep end. Forget the basketball shorts, I need a cup and face guard. (Hmmmm. What would the female equivalent of a cup be? Breast guard? Yeah, sure. I’ll take one. Maybe it will help my chest fill out the expectations of my suit.)
The girls were pretty excited that they got to help me pick out a bathing suit, although I have to admit, the running commentary that rang out from their dear little mouths made me somewhat less enthusiastic about their presence.
The time the suit was too small and I could barely get it on: Mom! Hey Mom! Look! One of your boobs is sticking out! Get it in! Get it in!!
The time the suit was too small and I could barely get it off: Your bum jiggles when you shake like that! Look Vi! Jiggle jiggle.
The time I couldn’t figure out how to get the suit on: Mom, do you need help? Hey! My mom needs help! Can someone come help her???
The time I had tried on 20 suits and still hadn’t chosen one: Are we done yet? I hate being here.
The time I finally picked a suit: You’re getting that one? I liked the one with ribbons and butterflies. But that one is fine. It just isn’t pretty. Can we go get chicken and fries?
All of this interspersed with Vi’s most passionate opera singing (her new 2 year old love) and yelling and running in circles in the dressing room.
Holy hell. Want to feel like your body image is group effort rather than a personal opinion? Have your five year old try to tuck your stray breast into your suit top while you are trying to keep your two year old from climbing out under the dressing room door. For the millionth time since I became a mom I realized, this ain’t about me anymore.
So I bought the suit and the kids got nuggets. We’ve gone swimming several times a week since. And I know this might not make sense to more well adjusted individuals, but for me, that is a triumph of epic proportions. I think I just might leave the basketball shorts off and run with it.
shame on you!
There was traffic going both ways as I waited to turn left out of Riley’s office complex the other day. While I inched forward looking for a chance to go, a women in a beige SUV pulled up behind me. She was applying mascara and craning her neck around trying to see what the hold up was. (The cars streaming past us in either direction should have been a clue.) After about a minute of waiting, she began honking and waving her hands in the air at me while shaking her head. Her mouth was stuck in some sort of extended and angry OOOOOHHHHHH. It was like I was being chastised by a very blonde anime character. Another thirty seconds and then a hole in the traffic finally opened up. I drove away and let her wait her turn.
It had been a hard morning for me. The kids had cried on and off for hours, I couldn’t find my wallet and I was on my way to my parent’s house to pack it all up before my mom moves this next month. The woman in the car didn’t know I was already close to tears, that I couldn’t find my breath, that I was on my way to pack up my dead dad’s room and books. She just knew she had waited 20 seconds longer than she thought should have.
I wished I had stepped out of my car and asked her to interact with the world with more kindness and understanding. I deserve that much. We all do. And I was angry at myself for the rest of the thirty mile drive for not doing at least that much for myself and others.
Last night, I met my sisters at Chuck-a-Rama, a local buffet place that serves turkey dressing all year long, neon orange chicken some of the time and prides itself on it’s 64 drink choices. We, despite all of our better sense, love it. The kids can get macaroni and cheese WITH their pizza and fries? Immediately? And the bread pudding doesn’t have raisins? Where do I freaking sign up?
After a week of deciding what would fit into my mom’s much smaller new house, what needed to be thrown away and what of my dad’s deserved saving, we were all emotionally and physically exhausted. We’d gone to that all you can eat mecca to find respite in the mountains of mashed potatoes and noisy dining room. The kids sat next to us, ate all their food and then started playing Moon Landing. Moon Landing is one of those childhood games that make no sense. It involved them sitting in their seats, climbing onto each other’s laps while laughing and saying in normal, non-yelling, speaking voices, “3-2-1 blast off!”. I don’t really get the rules, but the kids do and it was keeping them busy.
I am not about to pretend that this is behavior I would let happen in a setting different from the one we were in. But the dining area was so loud I could hardly hear across the table, there were people eating gravy on top of their mac and cheese and the server had just told us how cute the kids were. Basically, it just wasn’t a big deal.
Until it was.
A woman the booth over got up, walked over, told the kids to be quiet and then turned to us. Riley was in the restroom at the time and she only looked at the mothers present while she talked, her eyes staying away from the one man left at the table.
“You ought to be ashamed. I raised five boys and they never played in restaurants. These children should be sitting forward and quiet. And you!”, pointing to my one sister and her 8 month old baby, “Look at the floor around that child! Filled with crumbs! You ought to be ashamed! My kids never got crumbs on the floors at restaurants. I cannot believe you. This is disgusting. You should all be ashamed.”
I have to admit I was on the verge of being indignant until she use the word “ashamed” 562 times. And then when she yelled about the baby getting some cracker crumbs on the floor, I started laughing. Because that was just silly.
A few more words from both sides and then she went to sit down, all red faced and prim lipped.
I thought of the angry woman in the car and all the things I wished I had said to her. Then I took a deep breath and walked up to the angry woman in the booth.
“Hey, you know, I can see that the kids are being more rambunctious than you might approve of in your own family. However, they are sitting in the booth, they aren’t yelling and their laughter is quieter than the discussion about the World Cup happening three booths over. If you are bothered by something, a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are the best way to go about getting your point across. People are much more receptive to sweetly spoken needs than self-righteous proclamations of shame and judgment. Also, I think you should take a moment to reflect on the fact that you never know the story of the people you judge. Our dad just died and we’ve just spent the last week packing up my parent’s house before the bank forecloses on it. We are tired and sad and this ridiculous buffet is the first breath of fresh air we’ve had in awhile. Your words have hurt people that are already hurting. I cannot for the life of me see how the laughter of three children justifies that cost. ”
She started to shake her finger at me and I put my hand up,
“No, you’ve said enough. Have a better Sunday.”
And then I walked away.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that both incidents happened between women. I’ve never met a man that was as ready to judge, instruct or reprimand as a woman who is sure she is right. Maybe men are more tolerant creatures, or maybe they are just too busy thinking about boobs and cars to give a damn. Either way, give me a distracted man over a crusading woman any day of the week.
A few thoughts for the two ladies that shared their indignation with me over the last few days: You do not have the right to not be inconvenienced. Your schedule is not the mechanism that moves the world or the actions of the inhabitants thereof. Children should not run wild, but when you are eating at a place that serves food out of troughs you cannot expect to dine in the atmosphere of a library. A car is not a place where your obligation to act humanely disappears. If the people around you are not being unsafe or untoward than you just keep on trucking along. I can see you in there, with your sneer and mouthed yells and let me tell you, it is not a pretty sight. Would you yell and flail your hands and OOOOOOHHHHH your mouth if you thought the person in front of you at the redbox line was taking too long? No. Because that would be psychotic.
Hey, girl. You look psychotic.
You do not know better and you do not do better. You know who else doesn’t? Me. I am barely making it through most days right now…and those are the good ones. Don’t even get me started on the bad ones.
So I am going to take a deep breath, shake the anger out of my heart and give you both the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are having a hard time, too. Maybe you have sorrow that has been channeled incorrectly and turned you into a rage zombie. Maybe you just wish someone would hear your voice and it doesn’t matter one whit how, why or who you use it for or against. Maybe you just really, really need a hug.
I am going to decide to see you as you truly are – my sisters, women who have the same purpose and value as me. I am going to give myself permission to speak up with a gentle heart every time someone like you crosses a line. Having empathy for you doesn’t mean putting up with the bitterness you want to drop at my feet. And finally, I am going to work like hell to make sure I am the kind of woman that assumes the best of every woman that accidentally vexes me as she crosses my path. Because there is nothing – errands, opinions, schedule or convictions about parenthood, marriage or morality – that is more important than her understanding that she is loved.
Hey, you are loved, too.
Now, let’s start fresh, shall we?
My little brother is serving an LDS mission. He is in Germany for two years working to serve the spiritual and temporal needs of the people he encounters. Dad died when he was just five months into the mission. This project I’ve undertaken is personal, but I think, in this space, with my lovely readers, it is alright to share.
photo of dad and daniel, by justin hackworth
Dad spent more time talking about you than not in the months before he died. He was so anxious for you to understand your worth, so proud you were immersed in the Lord’s work and so worried you wouldn’t have enough mail to get you through the hard hours, days and weeks. His mom sent him something in the mail almost every day of his mission. It wasn’t always a letter, even for a loving mom there wasn’t enough to write about that often. Sometimes it was a funny card she saw at the grocery store, a clipping from the newspaper or just a photo of the people back home that loved him. He saved much of this correspondence and as a child, I remember loving to thumb through the silly morning cartoons and little somethings she’d sent across the ocean to a boy she loved.
We were eating BBQ at his favorite local smokehouse when the subject came up again.
“I keep thinking about Buddy. You know, some days are just so lonely and it is so meaningful to come home to something in the mailbox. But it’s hard to think of something to write every week on top of emails and regular letters. I’ve been thinking, what if someone sent him snippets of literature, poetry and other interesting writing? For example, a favorite passage from Mark Twain with the reasons that it is loved. The thoughts it brings to mind. It would be a great way to expand his horizons while he is gone while also filling his mailbox. I think if someone were to do that, it would be as meaningful for them as it was for Daniel.”
And then he took another bite of his ribs and the conversation moved on to other things.
You know Dad. He was asking me to take on this project without really asking. I thought about it for a minute and then got caught up in fall, winter and then the months that came and took him away. In the time since he has been gone, I have missed him for me, but I have also missed him for you. I had a sitter today and should have been working. Instead, I drove around town and cried over the pen pal you’ve lost. I pulled into a parking lot and bent into the steering wheel and asked the air around me what I could do to help you, to give you the experience Dad was so anxious for you to have. Through the wet on my cheek and the grip on the wheel I felt a drop of calm and remembered that conversation over spice rubbed ribs and mustard sauce.
I can’t give you the letters Dad would have written, but I can finally start the project he sneakily laid on my doorstep that day. I don’t know how much it will help you. I can tell you that it will help me. Dad used to call me just to tell me about a good line he’d read in his latest book and he was always interested when I came to him with new to me discoveries he’d found years ago. Right now, I can’t think of a better way to keep that close to me.
So, you’ve got about 54 weeks left in Germany and I’ve got at least 54 new and old discoveries to share. Some will catch you where you stand and others you’ll watch pass you by. There will be lightfilled poems and heartwrenching prose. And maybe just a few thoughts on astronomy, gardening, food cultures, the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse or anything else that sparkles long enough to catch my wandering eye. I can’t say that the collection will be more than its many little parts. I can say Dad wanted us to have it. And for me, right now, that’s enough.
First, a poem from CS Lewis. I found these lovely lines in a book given to me by my friend, Rachel. She sent it to me in the weeks before Dad’s death and it has been a constant companion since then.
It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with the leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.
That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fires one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.
Daniel, we could sit and talk about the concepts introduced in those few words for hours and hopefully, someday we will. But for now, I will share just a few brief and incomplete impressions.
First, I think sometimes as we grow up we feel that we must be the ones that do the walking away to achieve our selfhood. You and I both know now, that isn’t true. Dad never would have walked away from us, rather he was carried from us. But he is away, nonetheless. So you and I and all the people that looked to him, and the partnership comprised of him and mom, are left a little like our friend in the poem, searching for a path where none seems to lie. The path is there, it is just waiting for you to make it. Take the first step. Yes, we’ve been burned by the ordeals that fire and set our irresolute and immortal clay. Buddy, I want you to know, that it’s okay if it feels too hot sometimes. Don’t let the heat distract you from the flames’ work. Acknowledge the pain of the fires that lick and then feel about your soul for the things they’ve hardened into place.
Second, in both the most brilliant and most agonizing moments of mortality, we are given glimpses of God. Separation is the act most necessary for us to establish our eternal selfhood. We must walk away from home to get back it both in mortality and immortality. You and I believe that we were sent here, away from our heavenly home so that we could become more like God. What I think we often forget is that by reaching to become our best selves, we are also reaching for our divine selves. God trusts us to become like Him by living up our truest selves. It’s a beautiful and heady and honorable task. You are strong enough for it, I promise.
And finally, love does not dissipate across the distance of space or time. Rather, those two things work to prove its construction. Love doesn’t simply reach across the baseball field, the move from home, the closed casket. It overcomes them and sees clearly beyond them and and picks us up to place us in the spheres we are meant to inhabit. We’ll find one another there when this mortal daylight dims. Until then, we’ve got fire to face, paths to make and love to prove.
I’m watching from across the field and buddy, you’re doing just fine.
I live in this really adorable 1920’s bungalow. It’s all red brick and original wood floors and project after project after bleeping project. It is also about as efficient as you’d expect something built in the same decade that gave us Daisy Buchanan to be. In the winter we wear sweaters and pretend the extra chill in the air is helping our metabolisms. By Spring, I’ve forgotten the discomfort. Everything is idyllic. Until July. And then the blasted heat sweeps in – pouring into the cracks of our little house, roasting through our brick walls, settling on us in the middle of the never ending sweat drenched night.
We have an air conditioner. It is brand new. And pumps its chill through the house with admirable determination. The problem is that it cools indiscriminately. So, you know, the basement is usually freezing. The front room is always hot (windows! poor insulation!) and the rest of the upstairs is some sad middle ground – like there is perspiration on my top lip but it hasn’t yet gotten to the point of sweat pouring down my back. And all the while our energy bills are big enough to make my face look like a surprised anime character every darn time I open one of them.
“I know, I know – Meg! You should close and open the vents in your house to control the airflow! Direct it to where you are and keep it from cooling the rooms you aren’t currently using.”
Man! That sounds great. But I am not about to walk around my house closing and opening all the different vents 15 times a day to redirect the air to the routinely occupied locations. It’s just not going to happen. Also? I’m not always home. I guess I could leave detailed instructions for vent control for the family members and sitters that take charge of the place when I am not there. But that seems a little crazy. Could you imagine?
Open master bedroom vent
Close kitchen vent
Open left family room vent
Close right family room vent
Open kids bedroom vent
Close downstairs bathroom vent
Open upstairs bathroom vent
Open office vent for 15 minutes so the room cools down just a little and then close office vent….until 10:30 when I will want it open again.
And on and on and on.
Now, here is the part where I thank the Gods of Crowdfunding. They’ve given us the perfect hoodie, more wallets than you can shake a stick at and now, finally, we’ve been presented with a perfectly affordable way to banish upstairs sweaty lip and frigid basements.
Hello, E Vent.
Yeah. Vents that are programmed from your phone to open and close THEMSELVES. And they’ll provide the same efficiency of a $20,000 air flow control system for only 25 bucks each. But right now on Kickstarter, you can get them two at a time for only $38. Thermal control, microprocessors, intuitive overrides and programming from an app. This is like something from the future and my home from the past desperately needs it. Guys. Let’s all buy some, huh? Let’s kickstart the hell out of this thing so that I can finally live in an environment that makes sense. One that doesn’t simultaneously require a jacket and a tank top. Pretty, pretty please?
My sweaty upper lip thanks you.
Hey, Meg. Is this a sponsored post?
Nope. I am friends with the co-creator of E Vent, but when he offered to give me some vents, I said “No! I am buying them from your kickstarter so that I help fund this beautiful climate controlled dream.”
And then I did.