Watch Who’s Watching

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I’m constantly reminding my children to say thank you, to look for people who need a friend, to work their hardest in school, and to have an attitude of gratitude (that’s their favorite- it’s always greeted with an overly dramatic eye roll).  Despite correcting their behavior and constantly talking to them about the kind of women I want them to be I am painfully aware that all these lessons and lectures have nominal value and that it will be what they see me DO that will have the most influence over who they will become.

So I try to model the way they should behave, view the world, and view themselves through my actions.  When it comes to relationships, I’m OK with letting them see my husband and I have a profanity-laced screaming match because I also make sure they see me sitting on his lap, holding hands at the grocery store, and going out for child-free dinners.  I wear sexy lingerie to bed every night because I want them to see that relationships require sustained effort in a variety of ways.  I don’t let them watch Disney movies because I don’t want them to believe in fairy-tales.  I do want them to see a realistic view of the relationship I have with their father so they won’t have a skewed view of what marriage and love is and maybe, just maybe, they will pick a partner who they can build a life with forever.  When it comes to being a mother, I make sure they see me at every game, practice, recital, and lesson because I want them to know that raising their children means being there for the little and the big things.  I make sure they see me cooking homemade, nutritious meals and taking care of the house so they can learn how to take care of their own families one day.  I make sure when I go to work I’m dressed up (yes even on dress-down Fridays) because I want them to see how seriously I take my job and my role as a teacher.  I’m hyper aware of everything they see me doing except when it comes to how I view my body.

Last week, I was trying on a bathing suit that I purchased in front of the floor length mirror in my bedroom while my girls were watching TV on my bed.  I was disgustingly pulling at the fat on my sides and complaining loudly about how nursing them killed my boobs.  I started to cry looking at a reflection that seemed to show nothing but my short-comings and my youngest child came to comfort me….”Why are you crying Mommy?” she looked up at me quizzically…”Because I’m fat and no matter how much I work out, I’m still fat”… She thought for a minute and then said “You’re not fat, you’re mommy”…She saw me as perfect because I was her mommy, she wasn’t looking at the stretch marks or the rolls when I bent over.  I took off the bathing suit and kicked it to the corner and went in to take a shower and try to regain my composure.  I came out calmer to find that my 11 year old had put on the bathing suit and was standing in front of the mirror, pulling at her perfect frame and examining herself at every angle with the same look of disgust that I had just modeled moments before and I realized my error immediately.  I’m trying so hard to send her the right messages about so many things that I forgot about the most important message, that her beauty comes from within.

On this fitness journey, I’ve had to look at myself very critically and I know that I’ve completely fucked up when it comes to the messages I’m sending my daughters about their bodies.  It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that they are beautiful,spectacular creatures if I let them see me hating my own shape.  I remember my own mother being very critical about her body and having always been significantly heavier than her, I always thought “Wow, if my mom thinks she’s fat, she must see me as enormous”.  I also remember my mom having an entire dresser drawer in her bedroom filled with candy which she would binge on every night when we went to bed.  My mother shared everything she had with us but would freak out if she even heard the creak of that drawer opening… We knew that those special treats had a significant value to her and this may have been the strongest message she sent me about food despite making beautiful homemade dinners every night.

Be mindful of what messages you are sending to your children but more importantly look at yourself through their eyes.  They don’t see those fine lines by your eyes as ugly- those are where they see all the laughs you’ve shared and the traces of smiles that you’ve lovingly bestowed.  They don’t hug you and revile at the squishiness of your back or sides, they push into it because it is a part of who you are, a soft place to land when they need comfort.  They don’t see that mommy pouch as something gross but as a gentle reminder of where they first lived inside you before they moved into the world and now only live in your heart.  They are watching…intently watching…wide-eyed…make sure that they see you loving your body and accepting yourself because it will be the strongest lesson they learn from you.

 

 

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Cheater

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I’m a cheater.  I’ll admit it.  Everything about the word is sexy- including that it has my favorite word “eat” right smack dab in the middle of it.  When I think about cheating, the thrill of excitement that travels up my spine at the speed of light is driven primarily by the fear of being caught, of doing the wrong thing when you spend a lifetime always doing the opposite, of the devilishness that is contained in being secretive.  But when I really think about it, the darkness that surrounds it clearly dims the reality.  Cheating only shines in its murkiness but when you bring it out into the light of day, it loses most of its appeal.

I live my life pretty out in the open.  What I say, what I post, the image I share with the world is pretty broad and gritty.  I’m not afraid to share the craziness, the messiness, and the happiness that permeates my life as a mother, a teacher, and a wife.  But when I have a secret- I closely guard it like a treasure.  My husband and I have lived together for almost two decades so he knows me very well.  We have always had a pretty open and honest relationship but the things that he doesn’t know about me, the really dark shit that would scare him, I clench onto that and wrap myself in satisfaction that there is something that is all mine, that no one but me knows about, my own little dirty, dark place where I can live alone.  Secrets are delicious in their depravity and their solitude.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this journey examining what power the secretive side of me has over my life and what I’ve found is disturbing to say the least.  My most treasured secrets have to do with food.  Cheating with food is my favorite affair.  Eating well in public and cheating in private is something I think many people struggle with in their lives.  It’s hard to hide a drug problem but food is the perfect cheating opportunity that still allows us to function and dysfunction at the same time.  I’ve struggled for the last 25 years with bulimia.  It’s been my most treasured secret.  Eating for me has always been tied up in darkness.  On the outside, it’s all smiles and laughter but food is a tenebrous place for me…it’s where I punish and reward and more importantly where I rebel.  My whole life I’ve had to be the good girl.  I’ve had to swallow a lot of sadness and put on a good face.  I’ve had to be a grown up before my time and embrace responsibility before I ever really got to taste freedom.  Eating a dozen donuts in the parking lot in my car was always my secret little “fuck you” to the world…yeah you think I’ve got it all together well watch me eat this until I’m literally sick.  It was my silent scream that I’m not okay, that I’m hurting, that this whole life is a sham.  But as I started to change my body, I realized that if I’m screaming in silence, no one can really hear me or help me.  I think any kind of cheating has this duality to it.  Not happy in your relationship, rather than saying and showing what you need, cheat….but then are you really getting what you want and need or just silently screaming out for help that won’t arrive?  Secrets have no voice.  Cheating makes no sound.

Find out what drives what you keep secret.  Listen to those clandestine parts of you, try to find out what they are telling you and speak those words out loud to the people that love you.  You will invariably find out two things.  One, that what you’re cheating with really doesn’t solve your problems but continues to deepen them like a river cutting into a valley carving deeper and deeper into the bedrock.  Two, that what you’re cheating with really isn’t as great as what you could have if you could just say those words that you’re keeping secret.  Stop cheating yourself out of getting what you really want.  Bring those secrets out in the open and watch the healing and rebuilding begin.

 

I Let My Mister Replace My Sisters

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I challenge you to look through any old pictures of yourself before the age of 10 and  you will find that every picture where you are with your female friends- your bodies are intertwined like vines.  When we were little, before boys came onto the scene and complicated it all, your life as a female was tied to your female friends.  I watch my daughters at dance or tennis or Girl Scouts and find that through out their time together, they are in constant physical contact with each other, arms linked together, holding each other around the neck or waist, holding hands, always attached.  Somewhere around adolescences that all changes….losing one’s virginity often means losing one’s girlfriends and that is the greatest loss of all.

Growing up, you relied on your girlfriends to make every decision from what to wear, what activities you participated in, what path you chose at school or on the field, what you found funny or offensive, and look at you now….all those influences are male and probably just tied to one male.  I let my mister replace my sisters and it may be part of the process in growing up but it sure does suck.  My girlfriends shaped me in ways I wasn’t aware of until their absence was felt years later into adulthood.  Your girlfriends would tell you when you were being an asshole in the most constructive of ways.  They would tell you what kind of behavior was acceptable and what wasn’t.  They would tell you what your value was in a relationship and to the world but somewhere along the line all their invaluable input faded and you put your entire stock and self worth into what your husband or partner thought.

You wouldn’t take your car to be serviced at the frozen yogurt shop would you?  Of course you wouldn’t because they don’t have the equipment you need to get things right again but we as adults tend to lay our struggles down at the feet of people who don’t have the equipment we need.  And while my husband certainly has the equipment I need in one respect, his lack of a vagina and a woman’s mind certainly doesn’t help me come up with a solution that solves my problem.  While I’m only partially joking, the issue is that women in today’s world go through a common set of experiences that is foreign to most men.  When I’m crying after sex to my husband about how my body has changed due to having children, he can sympathize but he can’t empathize because due to the luck of the draw, he didn’t get the privileged of going through that transformation.  The female experience is unique and we need to realize that we can best be healed, heard, and motivated by others who have experienced those same joys, challenges, and sorrows.  My husband doesn’t know what it’s like to be violated in the most intimate of ways.  He can’t understand what it feels like to carry a human life inside you and then lose it.  He doesn’t know why the commercial about the lost puppy made you lose your shit during the Super Bowl.  He doesn’t understand the significance of losing your name when you get married.  But your girlfriends do…

Besides a common experience, the way that men solve problems is inherently different than how women seek out solutions.  I often find myself going to my husband with an issue and he inevitably has either one of two solutions, either it’s my fault or someone else’s but that’s not how women solve problems (that blame game belongs entirely to the war mongers (I mean men)).  Women will look at a problem from every angle and give you input for a variety of solutions and then (this is the most important part), they will give you the information that you need to solve the problem yourself.  A man will tell you what he would do and then get pissed when you don’t solve it to his exact specifications.  Women are collaborative in how they solve problems.  I see this all the time in my classroom.  A group of girls working together will begin solving a problem by getting feedback from everyone and then harnessing the specific talents of every team member to come up with a solution.  A group of boys will often spend the entire time shooting down each other’s ideas in an attempt to build up their own and run out of time to finalize a solution.  And they run the world?  Yikes?

As I began losing weight, it was the feedback I found from women that was most crucial in moving forward and making more progress….not that my husband’s golden comments of “Wow I can fit my arms all the way around you now”  or “Your back fat roles aren’t swallowing my hands up anymore” weren’t super motivating.  Women, some who were my friends and some who just happened to notice a change in me, knew exactly the thing I needed to hear to keep me motivated, to make me push myself harder, and to bolster my self-esteem.  All women have struggled with body issues, it’s an unfortunate right of passage that is unique to women, so they know what they would want to hear and they have the courage to speak it and the deep desire to see others of their gender succeed.  While you might have traded in your sisters for your mister, don’t be afraid to reconnect to your girlfriends or make new ones.  Men understand the importance of this gender specific bond and they don’t seem to have to sacrifice their boys when they grow up so fight for yours.  Whether you are trying to lose weight or just need to be heard, your girls are here for you- you just need to reach out, grab them by the waist or the hand and journey back to your 10 year old world where your girls were everything.

 

 

Let Fear Be Your Fuel Not Your Entinguisher

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I’m a parent so I get the significance of fear to keep people safe.  I know that hearing me scream “Don’t touch that” or spanking a child when they do something dangerous serves a purpose.  As a teacher, I know I can control a child’s behavior with the threat of a phone call home.  Fear has a function in childhood and adolescence to keep us safe, to let us know where the boundaries are, to remind us of limitations that are acceptable for appropriate behaviors.  While it is a necessary component of our early years, it tends to mutate into a force (like gravity) that keeps us chained and grounded in adulthood.  Losing weight challenged the role that fear played in my life and forced me to use fear as fuel for change instead of a stopping point.

We got a puppy about a year ago and our neighbors got a dog around the same time and they almost immediately installed an electric fence for their dog.  And while I know this keeps their dog safe, it also limits his experience.  We have a creek behind our house and our dog loves to play in it.  Romeo likes to woof at the teenagers who cut through our property to get to the Carvel.  Our dog likes to greet our neighbors with a good crotch sniff on their property and while I’m sure they don’t enjoy it, I can’t bring myself to limit him because of the way I feel so deeply about how the fear of the zap has kept me from fully experiencing life.

I was talking to a new friend the other night…someone I never would have talked to ever before I lost the weight and she was laughing about how we have become fast friends in a short amount of time despite knowing and interacting with each other for several years.  When I was fat, I didn’t feel like she would want to be my friend but now that I was thin, I texted her one night and we became friends almost instantly.  Now undoubtedly, we would have been friends even when I was fat because she’s just a cool chick and we have such great conversations despite not really having parallel lives or experiences but I let the fear of rejection hold me back from experiencing this great friendship.  I was afraid of the zap of rejection and it kept me from a new friendship with someone who has already broadened my thinking and experiences.

I never got to say what I wanted to, what I needed to, to my dad because I was always reminded of the wooden spoon my mom used to teach me to respect my elders and now he’s dead and I’m emotionally stuck because I let fear stop me from telling him what a piece of shit I thought he was.  My husband had always been riding me to tell people who were walking all over me to stop but I always let the fear of losing them in my life keep me penned in like a dog with the shock collar.  Now, my husband may have preferred not to push me in that direction because I no longer have any fear about telling people in general (and that poor man specifically) exactly how I feel about the way I’m being treated.  I’m not going to lie, it feels fantastic, almost orgasmic to release those words that I would have swallowed and buried deep.  The fear is gone…if I lose you as a friend or a colleague or an acquaintance oh well….I can’t live swallowing these poisonous words and feelings anymore and I won’t live with the fear of disapproval either.

I recently went skiing with my kids and my husband.  I had only been once before in college with a friend who was a great skier but not a great teacher.  I remember being paralyzed with fear going down the mountain for the first time (the mother fucking mountain not the damn bunny slope).  While I didn’t die, I knew that the feeling of being out of control was not a sensation that felt good for me.  So there I was a decade later on the bunny slope, in tears, as my kids had to drag me down the 10 degree incline.  I literally cried, shaking, snot dripping down my nose because I was so afraid.  Fear had paralyzed me and I couldn’t enjoy this beautiful moment with my family because I was literally frozen.  I started thinking about the hundred other fears I had and how irrational and ridiculous they were.  I’m not a great swimmer (probably due to those 30 years or so when I desperately tried to avoid being in a bathing suit in public) so I actually keep a life vest under the front seat of my car in case I go off of a bridge and into the water with my kids in the car so I can save them.  As I science teacher, I know that we would be dead from the impact so why do I clench my whole body when I’m going across a bridge?

Fear has no place in adulthood.  It’s irrational.  It holds us back from living a life that quite honestly is worth living.  So what if people think you’re weird or a bitch?  So what if you don’t think you can do it and you end up looking like an asshole trying?  So what if you disappoint people…life is disappointing and living a life in fear isn’t really living at all.  As you start to shed the extra weight, imagine each pound lost has a little of whatever fears trap or zap you from living a life that sets you on fire then run the yard and take in all the sniffs it has to offer.p

 

 

 

 

A Body Re-imagined Sometimes Leads to a Life Re-imagined

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Maybe you got your tax return and decided to use that money to update the furniture in a room in your house, dispose of those dorm room remnants and give that neglected room a fresh look with your evolved taste.  Then when it was redecorated and remodeled, you found yourself looking at every other room of your house with disdain or minimally with a critical eye and you slowly started evaluating and adding new artwork or rearranging the furniture or painting the walls a new color at 2 am on a Sunday morning.  Weight-loss had a similar effect on my life and it will on yours too.

Food is a drug, at least it was for me.  There was always certain foods (and certainly not the healthiest ones) that induced a dopamine response as soon as I swallowed them.  The last decade of my life was lived in a fat coma where food kept me high and not really focused on the life I was living, living under the influence of food was a simple, happy way to live.  When a strong feeling would sneak past my subconscious, I would anesthetize it with whatever junk food I could find and I would medicate myself until I didn’t hear those questions or feel those feelings anymore.  As I got well (and yes-that’s what this process feels like, a 12 step recovery), I started to reevaluate every aspect of my life.  Was the man I married the best choice for me (ouch)?  Did I really have any business having children or did I just long to be part of the 2.3 average American Dream?  Did the career I thought I loved really match my true potential?  Should I have bought this house and be tied to one location for the next 20 years?  Are my friendships really challenging me or are they just comfortable echoes of the life that I’m supposed to be living happily?  All these questions broke through to the surface without my frequent food-use pushing them back down and it terrified me in a way that I couldn’t have imagined, almost to the point where I longed to be fat again and to get my daily soma pill so I could function in a quasi-like haze of reality.

As a teacher, especially as a special education teacher, there is no greater exhilaration than when a student asks a question about a procedure or a concept that shows that they are thinking about their own thinking.  I know I’ve done my job when a student asks those type of questions but as a person inside my head that kind of meta-cognition was something I wanted to suppress, to extinguish, to avoid.  Because unlike a problem that had to be solved on the board, these questions forced me to solve things that I wasn’t ready to examine and that potentially would result in solutions I wasn’t comfortable with or ready yet to accept.

Asking these questions and searching for the answers within my heart has been the hardest part of my weight-loss journey.  It has truly shaken me to the core.  There is nothing scarier than awaking to a reality that you are no longer sure belongs to you.  Some of the answers I’ve found and others I’m still in search of the correct solution for but real learning and growing doesn’t happen by not asking those questions.  Don’t be afraid to re-imagine your life as your outsides are re-imagined…sometimes you just need a new piece of furniture and sometimes it’s a total gut job but the changes you make will ensure that you love your space for the rest of your life.