Plan C? When Church & State Collide

In a tight contest, the Supreme Court ruled today that private corporations can refuse to cover certain forms of contraceptives on the grounds that the companies find the contraceptives to be “morally repugnant” according to the companies’ religious beliefs.  Check out a newsie-time rundown here.

So, particular contraceptives are against a company’s religious beliefs.  Wait, can companies even have religious beliefs?  I mean, they’re companies, not Sunday School goers who, like, eat and sleep and poop and stuff.  But whatever, I guess.  The specific companies-with-religious-beliefs in question are Hobby Lobby (but I looooooove all their crafty junk!), which also owns a Christian bookstore, and a Mennonite woodworking company.

The specific no-go contraceptives include Plan B, commonly referred to as “the morning after pill.”  According to the suit, the companies hold religious objections to abortions, and as such, (and I quote, because this is too ridiculous for me to make up) “according to the their religious beliefs” (emphasis added), the precluded contraceptive methods are abortive in nature.  Thus, by covering these methods of contraception in their health care benefits for employees, the company is effectively performing abortions.

So, okay.  Hold on.  I’m a reasonably intelligent adult (Have I told you lately how I have a PhD? Well, I do!), but I’m having a hard time wrapping my wittle bwain around this concept. So, a company (which apparently is capable of believing in things) says that based on their specific religious beliefs (as opposed to some OTHER company’s religious beliefs), these particular birth control methods are doomed to h-e-double hockey sticks.  I have so many objections to this.  I’ll get to them; don’t worry.

First, though, it’s only fair that I outline the rest of the ruling.  Private companies don’t  have to cover the four specific contraceptives outlined in the suit if the company holds a religious objection to them.  That doesn’t mean companies can say, “Sorry, Slutty McHoochieMama.  No baby-killing-pills for you.  You’ll just have to keep those thighs clenched until you’re good and ready to get barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen where you belong!  You’re welcome, and God bless you!!”  They can, however, say, “Sorry, Mizzzzz McHoochieMama.  We shan’t pay for these specific baby-killing-pills.  You can still get other baby-killing-pills (which, for some inexplicable reason, this company takes no religious offense to).  Oh, and we’ll pray for you and your wayward sexin’ ways!!”

No bigs, right?  I mean regular birth control pills are SUPER cheap, right?  Sometimes even FREE! Awww, but nah.  Run of the mill oral contraceptives are cheap or free when a woman has health insurance that covers them.  So, if companies were to get all uppity and decide ALL birth control pills are abominable baby-killing-machines and take moral offense to them, women would have to pay full sticker price for them.  Although I don’t know much a month’s supply (A whole month?!  What kind of floozy am I?!) of birth control is (because I have health insurance that makes them FREEEEEE!), I would venture a guess that – PRESTO! – proactive, informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health would be far less accessible and affordable to womankind.

But have no fear.  The ruling states that should a private company deny coverage of baby-killing-pills and a woman be unable to foot the bill herself, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL PAY FOR THEM!!  Never mind the cluster such-and-such that I envision the process of applying for the Obama to spot women their birth control.  We’re really gonna rubber stamp the government PAYING for things?  I just can’t believe that Americans are okay with this set up – particularly the subset of Americans who agree with this supreme court ruling.  I mean, that money’s gotta come from somewhere.

Along the same lines, I’m entirely flabbergasted by the remarkable (non)logic around issues such as this one from the ultraconservative religious right (which I can’t imagine includes that many people, but DAMN!, are they loud and obnoxiously effective at getting their way!).  My understanding (and full disclosure, I know basically nothing about politics) is that conservatives who often happen to be staunch-ish Christians ARE NOT fans of big government.   They, like, don’t want to government to pay for a bunch of junk because, ultimately, WE pay for it.  The taxpayers.  Paying for stuff for probably-maybe-not-taxpayers.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Except they’re okay with the government paying for baby-killing-pills?  I can’t even.

In the larger women’s health debate, there’s been lots of discussion about whether insurance or the government (or anyone, for that matter) should pay for any form of birth control.  We can’t have women making autonomous decisions about their bodies or their futures, after all.  If women knew what was good for them, they’d keep it in their pants anyway.  The problem with such an argument is that if we restrict women and girls’ (that’s right, I said it) access to safe, affordable, effective birth control (especially among lower SES, uneducated populations), we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a bunch of babies that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  Who does the religious right think is going to pay for those tiny-angels-from-God?  They are. Them there holier-than-thou taxpayers.

So we can either pay a smidgen on the front end (the vagina-end, to be clear) in the form of contraception, or pay a shadoobie-ton in lifetime costs of caring for slews of love-children on the back end.  Apparently, we’ve chosen the back end.

But wait.  The real problem, really, is all the sinful, slutty sex women are constantly having, right?  If only we could get a grip on our libidos, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  Way to go, hussies.  If we choose to make the sexy time, I suppose we choose babies.  So many babies.  That’s just what this planet needs.  More people.

I know what you’re thinking.  There are literally tons of contraceptive options available to us hoes – er, women – if we insist on slutting it up.  There are condoms.  Who doesn’t love condoms?!  I know guys do.  Then there’s the pull-out method (a personal favorite of mine). That one pretty much always works.  Let’s not forget doing it the butt.  No babies that way!!  And there’s dry humping.  Because nothing says “I love you” like a pubic mound rubbed raw by blue jeans!  So many options, ladies.  If all else fails, I’m sure our partners will be so glad we ditched icky old birth control pills for good old abstinence!

But let’s get serious, folks.  My most basic objection to the supreme court ruling is that it limits women’s autonomy in their sexual and reproductive decision-making and takes the full and unrestricted choice for how, when, and whether women reproduce out of their own hands and places it firmly in… their boss’s.  That’d be a fun staff meeting.  “Listen up, folks.  Charlene filled out a request to have safe, protected sex with that guy she met at the dog park last month.  I don’t know, I’m thinking that offends this company’s righteous religious belief that dog park dudes are dirty hippies, so if a woman is going to do sex with one, she should at least sanctify it by having his baby and converting him to the Holy Church of We’re Better Than You.  Board of Directors, let’s take a vote.  All in favor of Charlene’s request for baby-killing-pills, say, ‘Ay, papi.’ All opposed, say, ‘Boo, you whore.’  That settles it.  Charlene, no birth control for you.  You can boink him if you want.  But you’ll suffer eternal damnation – your choice.  Okay!  Moving on.  The quarterly report is due…”

My second objection to the ruling is OMG… SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.  A most basic tenet of this grand country is that government is for government and church is for church.  Period.  The ruling completely muddles the two and opens the door for companies positing religious objections to all sorts of things.  It may not stop at contraceptives.  A company could oppose and deny vaccines, mental health care (oh no, they betta not!), or any specific medical intervention it so chooses. A number of Christian/neo-Christian sects are morally opposed to blood transfusion.  Could individual private companies prohibit that, too?  I don’t see why not. From where I’m sitting, the current ruling sure looks a lot like legal precedent to me. Good heavens, the slippery slope is frightening.

The ruling also begs the question about which religion, specifically, are we talking.  It’s all well and good when Protestant Christians wanna run the show, but what happens when a Muslim-run company wants to start dropping the Islamic hammer.  I have a feeling the religious right might have reservations about that.  So now the courts are going to be put in the precarious position of determining which religious beliefs are legitimate in the eyes of the law.  Call me dim-witted, but isn’t that precisely the kind of religion-driven shenanigans our forefathers fled the motherland to escape?

As part of American citizens’ constitutional rights, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or prospective employees on the basis of the employee’s religious affiliation.  Based on this ruling, though, one could argue that private employers now have the green light to discriminate against employees on the basis of the company’s religious affiliation by limiting employees’ access to medically-vetted health care options.  Further, it could be argued that the company would be discriminating against the employee for NOT sharing the same religious beliefs as the company, which is essentially the same thing as directly discriminating against the employee based on the employee’s religious affiliation.  I understand that my use of “discrimination” here is fairly generous, but you get my point.  The company would be, like, saying “Yo.  Baby-killing-pills are against our religious beliefs even if they’re not against yours.  Too bad, so sad!  My religion wins!  No baby-killing for you on my dime!”

Like I said, I think it’s a slippery slope, and I don’t like it.  Finally, call me an angry feminist, but I’m pret-ty sure that if the ruling limited old, fat white guys’ access to viagra (and thus humping shockingly younger women for pay for up to four hours at a time), we’d be hearing a lot more uproar.  From dudes.  Old, fat white ones who can’t get laid without viagra.  And a substantial amount of cash.  Those guys are the ones with the power.  And the viagra.

A Tisket, A Tasket. Eggs from My Basket.

Among my many, varied life experiences, I’ve had the pleasure of donating my eggs. You know, eggs, as in “ova,” an is “from the ovaries.”  Once they leave the comfort of my ovaries, the eggies temporarily reside in a petri dish in a lab somewhere, being fertilized by top-of-the-line spermies.  The now-fertilized eggies hang out for a while, and then the viable ones are separated from the non-viable ones.  Of the viable eggies, a handful are selected and implanted in the waiting uterus of a confidential mommy-to-be.  The remainder of the viable eggies can be frozen by the recipient for later use, donated to another confidential mommy-to-be, or destroyed – all at the recipient’s choosing.  Fingers crossed, at least one (but possibly more) of the implanted eggies take up residence in the mommy-to-be’s womb.  Approximately 9 months later, voila!  Time for a birthday party!

So far, I’ve donated three times, and I’m slated for a fourth donation within the next few months.  The entire process is entirely confidential and mediated by an independent agency, so I never know any information about the donors.  I do, however, know that my donations have resulted in successful pregnancies (and thus real-and-actual new human life!), and if that’s not the super-coolest thing ever, I don’t know what is.  If it hasn’t happened already, right about now is probably the time that your mind is flooded with questions about the process, about a person’s decision-making process in becoming a donor, about the recipient’s decision-making process in deciding to use and choosing a donor, and (don’t lie) about the money.  Although referred to as “egg donation,” donors are compensated for their time and trouble (of which there is plenty) throughout the process.  To be clear, like the commitments required of the donor, the compensation is considerable, but it’s by no means easy money.  Not at all, in fact.

The first question that most curious folks ask is, “Isn’t it, like, really bizarre to know that there could be who-knows-how-many children out there from your eggs? That you could run into them on the street?” Sure. I guess so. But it’s bizarre in the most amazing sense. I mean, that medical science can achieve such a feat is both bizarre and amazing.  And wonderful and joyous.

People ask, “But don’t you wonder about those kids? How they’re doing? I mean they’re your kids.” My answer is one that I suppose only the type of person who would donate her eggs can understand.

Sure, I wonder. And I hope those kids are happy and healthy and beautiful and smart and inspired. But they’re NOT my kids. My kids clamber and clang upstairs looooong after they’re supposed to be asleep.  My kids smell precisely and intoxicatingly just like themselves when I nuzzle kisses into their necks.  My kids know me inside and out – flaws and all – without even knowing that they know me that way, and they love me with a force and constancy rivaled only by the way I love them back.  My kids are mine.  And they are happy and healthy and beautiful and smart and inspired.

 

The children born from my donated eggies are not mine.  They belong to their parents.  Their parents are the people who wanted desperately to have them, who scoured the profiles of endless donors until they found the most perfect one, and who made a commitment to love them and raise them regardless of DNA or traditional definitions of “family.”  I’m just a kindly lady who’s fortunate to be sufficiently physically and psychologically sturdy and to have a surplus of healthy eggies.  I’m just a stranger who’s decided to share the immeasurable blessing of the “my” of having children with someone else.

There are many more questions that people ask.  So much so that I’m used to people asking about the process involved during the time leading up to and throughout donation, but I get far fewer questions about the potential future implications of donating, specifically the implications for the my own physical and psychological well-being in the short- and long-term.

The only person who’s ever asked long-term what-ifs for me (as opposed to for the children conceived or for humankind in general) is my future mother-in-law.  Coming from her, “Will you still be able to have more of your own children down the road…you know, if you decided that you wanted more children?” seemed like a completely reasonable question that’s relevant to her as the hypothetical grandmother of any hypothetical children I might someday decide to have.  It also seemed completely reasonable that she was not entirely satisfied with my shrugging-off response of, “Probably so.  I don’t know.  I mean, I don’t think doctors even really know that.  Besides, my eggs are strictly for charitable purposes at this point.”

As it turns out, I’m not the only egg donor who’s not being asked questions about my own well-being following donation.  The Today Show recently did a segment on health care professionals’ and advocates’ concerns about the dearth of information regarding the short- and long-term health and psychological consequences of egg donation for donors themselves.  Check out the story here.

It got me thinking.  I suppose it might be beneficial to know how egg donation might impact me 5, 10, 35 years down the road.  I’m not concerned about it enough to not donate again, but at the very least, I’m curious.  Because the data doesn’t currently exist, it’s not likely that such information will be available to me while I’m still within the donor age-range.  But that doesn’t mean that such data-gathering is irrelevant to me.  In fact, I could be the data.  I could provide the information that allows researchers to draw conclusions about the short- and long-term effects of egg donation on donors.  I could be the data that helps future prospective donors decide (or decide not, perhaps) to take the donation plunge.

My gut tells me that the answer to the question, “What bad things does egg donation do to donors in the immediate and down the road?” is probably a resounding, “Nothing much, actually,” but it’s still an important question to ask.  An equally important – no, a more important –  question not asked in the Today Show piece is, “What good things does egg donation do to donors in the immediate and down the road?”  I can think of tons.

If researchers or the general public want to know the effects of donation on egg donors, they should ask us. My own experience as a donor has taught me that the process is certainly a harrowing one with numerous risks. But it’s also a SUPER rewarding one (and not simply because of the compensation – easy money it’s NOT, remember?). Somebody write a grant to fund a study, and contact donors. Considering the other things we’ve voluntarily signed up for, I imagine most donors would gladly participate in such a study. Poke us, prod us, ask us a bunch of weird, really personal questions. It wouldn’t be anything we aren’t used to.

Balls-to-the-Wall Bummed

Disappointment is a bummer.  It’s not just that it’s a “negative” or “difficult” emotion; it’s that it’s a super complex emotion.  Subsumed within disappointment is sadness, anger, confusion, frustration, embarrassment, hopelessness, and even more shades-of-gray yuckiness.  I’m currently feeling uber disappointed, and I don’t like it.  The precise “why” of my disappointment isn’t important.  This post isn’t about me and what happened to disappoint me.  Rather, this post is about the suck-butt experience of being disappointed.

Here’s all you need to know about why I’m disappointed.  I had been looking forward (and pretty much counting on) a particular to occurrence to… well… occur.  I had limited control over the occurrence occurring despite the fact that the occurrence occurring (or not) would directly and heavily impact me.   The occurrence didn’t occur, and now I’m totes disappointed.   And that’s pretty much how all disappointment happens.  We expect some something, and when the something doesn’t play out as we expected, BAM!  Disappointment.  Like a ton of bricks.

Within the dank depths of disappointment, I’m contending with all those yucky emotions I mentioned earlier.  I’m sad because I really wanted the occurrence to occur.  Like, I was preemptively soooo excited about the impending occurrence of the occurrence.  I had spent soooo much time daydreaming about how life (seriously, my whole life) would be different and better once the occurrence occurred.  So, now I’m sad.  I’m sad that the occurrence didn’t occur, and I’m also sad because now I’m faced with life-as-I-know-it (which I had decided was totally lame when I was all hopped up on hope and expectation for the occurrence to occur).

I’m angry because the only reason I considered the impending occurrence of the occurrence to be a done deal was because I had been directly told that it was a done deal.  I’m angry at the people who told me so, I’m angry that they didn’t follow through, and I’m angry that they didn’t apologize for – oopsie! – totally misleading me.  I’m also angry at myself for getting all wrapped up in other people’s promises and my own hope and excitement about the future.  On top of that, I’m angry at the liars-liars-pants-on-fire for putting me in the position of being angry at myself for believing them to be honest and upstanding human beings.

I’m confused because I don’t know why the misleaders would mislead me so.  I’m confused about why they didn’t inform me at the first sign of oh-no-this-isn’t-going-as-promised, instead of keeping me in limbo and running me through the wait-wait-and-wait-some-more ringer, and I’m confused about what to do next.  Because I had planned on the occurrence occurring, I have no back up plan.   Or rather, my back up plan is to carry on with life as usual. which now seems all lame and unacceptable.  I’m a bossy-pants go-getter, and the idea of being patient and content until the universe drops something awesome in my lap is foreign and confusing to me.  Which makes me sad.  And angry.

I’m frustrated because (as I mentioned), patience is not a virtue that I possess, and after spinning my wheels for what felt like 37 forevers, I made no headway and must either accept life-as-I-know-it or go back to the drawing board for a new plan.  I’m also frustrated because my style is to be upfront about my feelings toward others – good or bad.  So, I would like to have a little sit-down with the misleaders and tell them precisely how their behavior was inconsiderate and unacceptable.  Except I have no control over or access to the misleaders now that the occurrence won’t be occurring.  So I feel all jagged and pent-up angsty.

I’m embarrassed because I was so totally and completing counting on the occurrence occurring.  What a sucker I am.  Except that I’m not.  I know I wasn’t duped because I’m daft.  I was duped because I was blatantly misled.  But still, I feel embarrassed.  Because I was so sold on the guaranteed nature of the occurrence and so absolutely stoked about it, I shared it with a number of people.  I said things like, “So here’s the situation.  And they said it’s basically a done deal.  So now I’m just waiting for official word.”   Talk about a red face.  Thankfully, I know the people with whom I shared my exciting news will understand that the non-occurrence of the occurrence has nothing to do with me.  Still, embarrassed.  So embarrassed.  Which makes me sad.  And angry.  And frustrated.

I’m feeling hopeless that all the things I was looking forward to about the occurrence might be available elsewhere, that I’ll be stuck with lame-o life-as-I-know-it for eternity.  Thankfully, I know those feelings will fade fairly quickly – probably because of aforementioned bossy-pants go-getting.  Still, as it stands, I’m feeling hopeless, and it’s no fun.

My understanding of disappointment is that my own experience of it is pretty much par for the course for my fellow humankind.  The specifics of my disappointment-inducing situation may differ from others’, but the core pieces are pretty universal.  It may be that I’m fortunate in that my situation has a clear culprit.  Someone (or a couple of someones, actually) inarguably said and did things that caused me to be disappointed.  Those cases that are not so clear cut – where there’s no one to blame – likely lead to an even murkier, more tortuous brand of disappointment.

So what to do?  Count my blessings?  Sure.  I know objectively that life-as-I-know it is actually pretty rad.  But, see, I want it to be radder, and at this point in my disappointment-process, it feels invalidating to ignore the suckiness of the situation in favor of the rainbows and unicorns.  What’s the solution?  I don’t know.  And frankly, I don’t want a solution at this point.  Sooner-rather-than-later, I’ll go balls-to-the-wall into problem-solving mode.  But right now?  No thanks.  I’d rather wallow (albeit briefly) in this funk.  I find it hard to believe that we can ever “get over” any particular adversity without first fully and genuinely experiencing all the mucky yuckiness that goes with it.  Once I’ve done that, I’ll gladly (and hopefully effectively) get on with getting on.  I could be wrong, you guys, but I think I may be, like, part Buddhist.  :)

Published in: on September 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Life is Good

So, as we tippy-toe – or cartwheel, depending on your style – into the New Year, it seems to be in our nature and our cultural mindset to reflect and to aspire.  We reflect on our past: on events of the past year, on decisions we made, on (in an often disconcerting manner) who we’ve been.  And then we aspire.  We aspire to do better, to be better.  People make resolutions, and although we often resolve to make superficial improvements to ourselves (to lose weight, to obtain some fancy material possession, to get laid), some people resolve to make improvements on a deeper level.  To be better people, whatever particular form that may take.   And good for us.  My training in Counseling Psychology has embedded deep within me the belief that every individual is capable of continuous growth and betterment.  That although people inevitably make mistakes and encounter problems, they are generally capable of learning from their mistakes and solving their problems.  That’s not to say that it’s simple.  Life is always more muddy and complicated than we manage to make it appear on paper.  But everyone is capable of achieving positive change, and everyone should be empowered to do so.  There’s no better time, I guess, than the New Year.

I’ve been surprised (although I don’t really know why) by how many people I know who’ve expressed a general sense of “Good Riddance” with regard to the past year.  The common theme seems to be that the past year sucked balls, so the fresh start embodied by the New Year is more than welcomed.  I’m tempted to wonder what – ON EARTH – has being going on in all those people’s lives that they would be so ready to wash their hands of the past year.  But then, the specifics don’t really matter, and frankly, the gritty details of others’ lives aren’t any of my business.  What matters is that people seem to see the New Year as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and aspire for something greater in their lives.  Amen, and more power to them.  Despite my surprise at the sheer number of metaphoric middle-fingers to the past year, I completely get it.  In soooo many ways, the past year was a total bummer for me, too.  Before the past year, I never knew that life could be so hard, that my heart could break so completely and repeatedly, that people (people I cared for and respected) could be so damn mean and so utterly spiteful, or that fierce-and-feisty-me could be so thoroughly terrified of life, of the world, and of the people in it.

Thankfully (seriously, THANK YOU), even as the terror of the past year swirled around me, threatening to smother me, I understood that what I was experiencing (although real and legitimate) wasn’t all she wrote.  There’s always more to life than what appears to be.  Even as I was thrashing around, I understood that life is good, the world is good, and most importantly, people are good.  Don’t get me wrong, I had more than a few moments when I was convinced that I might not come out on the other side.  But I was blessed to have some fabulous people to remind me of those key truths:  Life is good.  The world is good.  People are good.  And in reminding me, those amazing, wonderful people continuously showed me that at the end of all the ickiness, I would be okay.  Even more powerful, they showed me that even as a stood mired in the muck, I was, in fact, already okay.  Along with those three immutable (if oft overlooked) truths, my okay-ness had never – and would never  – change.

I’m not the only – or the first – person to learn the abiding goodness of the world or the enduring worth of keeping on keeping on.  John Mayer knows it, too, and he says so in his song, “The Heart of Life.”  My favorite verse of the song says, “You know, it’s nothing new.  Bad news never had good timing.  But then, the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining.”  I started the previous paragraph with a parenthetical thank you, and now seems an appropriate time to make what was implied explicit.  The circle of my friends who spent the past year defending my silver lining know who they are.  They neither require nor desire accolade or public recognition.  That doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t deserve just that.  Thank you to my unfailingly supportive family and to Sara, Wes, Maria, Shawnie, John, Megan, Emily, and Diane.  Thank you for getting me through the hands-down roughest year of my life and for never letting me forget that life is good, the world is good, and people (you people, specifically) are good.

Those readers who know me well (or hell, even those who’ve perused even one of my other posts) might be a bit taken aback to hear me make such rose-colored-glasses kind of statements regarding hard stuff.  I’m not typically a glass-half-full  kind of gal.  I find validation and empowerment in acknowledging life’s hard knocks where I see them.  But neither am I gloom-and-doom.  If you’ve paid close attention, my historical acknowledgement of what-sucks-when-it-sucks isn’t followed by pity parties or waving of little white flags.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  What usually follows is a snapping of the elastic of my grown-person drawers around my hips and a deep breath.  Then I get on with things.  It’s not that there’s no use in crying over spilled milk; rather, there’s no use in crying over spilled milk for long.  Sooner than later, you gotta clean up the damn mess and ensure that next time, the cup has a lid on it.

So, as I set forth into the New Year, I too bid good riddance to the past year and embark on new adventures.  Making New Year’s resolutions isn’t really my thing, but I damn well plan to make the most of this year and the ones to come.  The past year taught me that without good people defending your silver lining, life is a much harder row to hoe.  And really, that’s what life and the world is all about anyway.  People and our relationships with them.  Obviously, that includes those people closest to us, our defenders.  But it also includes people and the world in general.  As the New Year begins to unfold before me, I’m setting out to be a better person-with-whom-to-share-a-relationship, which (I imagine) is much easier said than done.  I imagine doing so will involve some heavy soul-searching (at which I’ve basically become a pro) and new understandings and actions of trust, empathy, gratitude, and forgiveness.  The journey will likely be a long one, much longer than this year, and I’m sure I’ll blunder along the way.  But I’ll also grow and evolve.  And that’s just plain nifty.  Also, I’m sure I’ll discover the meaning of life while I’m at it.  Don’t worry; I’ll keep you posted.

Tiger Stripes, My Stretch Mark Streaked @$$…

Okay, so the following picture has been plaguing my Facebook news feed like some sort of vile reoccurring blemish.  If you haven’t yet been assaulted with this nonsense, here it is…

While I sort of appreciate the chutzpah behind the message, most of what I feel when I see this ridiculous picture is, “Oh,  PUH-LEASE.”  At the precise moment that thought crosses my mind, my eyes begin to roll involuntarily, and my initial reaction of mild irritation morphs into something much more sinister.  That’s when the outrage sets in – at the idiot(s) who created this image and its asinine message in the first place, at the women who see this image and either pretend to feel empowered or are too vapid to know any better, and finally, at the women reposting the image on Facebook like wildfire, thus flooding my news feed and further irritating little ol’ me.  If this is not your first visit to my blog, you’ll not be surprised that I’m all fiery and judgmental about yet another thing most people wouldn’t bat a pretty little eyelash at.  If this is your first visit, well hey there!  Nice to meet you.  I’m Tara, and I’m 70%  high-and-mighty and 30% holier-than-thou.  It’s who I am.  It’s what I do.

So, anyway.  I’m outraged by the picture for a couple of reasons.  First of all, NOBODY looooooves her stretch marks.  Let’s be real; they’re hideous, and they deserve every ounce of hatred they receive.  The fact that our stretch marks exist because we managed to create, cultivate, carry, and coax forth a human life (with a little help, to be fair) does nothing to change their fundamental hideousness.  To pretend otherwise is just preposterous.  It’s that kind of non-logic that women occasionally (and foolishly, I might add) employ that gives men juuuuuust enough confirmatory evidence to continue accusing us of being simple, silly souls.  Come on, ladies, we’re better than that.  Do we love our babies?  Absolutely.  Would we endure stretch marks 10 times over if that were the only way to ensure us our babies in the first place?  Without hesitation.  Do we proudly display our disgusting stretch marks like shiny badges of honor for all the world to see?  Hell to the no.  We cover that mess up.  Because it’s disgusting.  And hideous.  And no one wants to see it.  Including us.

Before I launch headlong into my second point, please reacquaint yourself with the image above.  Study it carefully.  Anything stand out to you?  How about the overall smooth, taught appearance of the disembodied belly?  How about the lack of any trace of love handle or weird-and-squishy-fat-dimple?  How about the absence of the entirely offensive and utterly avoidable post-baby-lower-belly paunch?  That looks like the belly of a super model.  Are those stretch marks even real?  Or are they photopshopped in?  Wrap your brain around THAT.  My point is that the typical mother does not possess a belly like the one in the photo.  Are there women out there that do manage to “get their body back” after baby and rock that kind of belly?  Sure.  But they’re few and far between.  And they’re certainly not the every-mom.

Given my obnoxious insistence on spewing my totally Judgy McJudgerson rants all over the interwebs, I figured it was about time to put my money where my mouth is.  This time, instead of just yelling, “Liar, liar. Pants on fire!” at the top of my lungs, I’m going to yell, “Liar, liar!” and then prove it to you.  The typical mother – like moi, por ejemplo (that’s right I just threw French AND Spanish into my otherwise English post. I’m hardcore like that) – does not sport that kind of midsection.  Here’s a belly of a typical mom…

This is me, in all my two-kids-later glory.  No sucking in (which sadly, I actually lack the core strength to do even remotely effectively).  No standing up really super straight to compensate for my inability to suck it in.  Just the real deal, folks.  Notice the undeniably and more than slightly nauseating not-tautness of my belly region.  To paraphrase my original Black grandfather, Mr. Cosby, I’ve got more jiggle than a JELLO jiggler.  Very soft and cushy.  In a revolting kind of way.  If you look closely (and if you do, do so at your own risk), you can see weird, random, and absolutely vomitous dimples and ripples in my squishy, jiggly skin.  Check out the definition of my six-pack.  Nahhh, I’m just kidding.  My abs have been completely transformed into a pudgy yet surprisingly loose and flabby layer of winter-friendly blubber.  And then there’s the pooch.  That pooch is the reason that Mom Jeans exist.  The natural place for jeans to lay is now consumed by the pooch, causing an unsightly muffin-top when actual-hips-hitting pants are worn.  Apparently, Moms across the globe just threw up their hands and decided the only solution is to wear jeans so high that the pooch is entirely contained within the pants themselves.  I’m not saying Mom Jeans are okay (because they’re not).  I’m just saying I get it.

 If that didn’t drive my point home, this image certainly should.  This is me sitting.  Just regular sitting.  Not the awkwardly leaning back kind of sitting that we all engage in poolside in a pathetic and futile attempt to trick people into thinking we’re not total fatties.  Give it up, girls.  We’re not fooling anyone.  Again, you can observe the doughy, ripply, sickening nature of my post-kids belly.  Notice how the pooch now has a gag-inducing overhang to it.  If you’re a brave, brave soul (or a complete masochist), look really, really closely a couple of inches below my bra.  You’ll notice that there is a faint red line spanning the width of my body.  That’s the line left over from my three (count em, three) fat rolls that appear when I slouch or hunch forward.  Nice, right?

I feel like I can’t move forward without acknowledging that, yes, those are oversized sweatpants I’ve had since middle school that I’ve rolled down to give you the best view of my barf-ish belly.  Even better, those are absolutely terrible, baggy granny panties doing a little peep show there.  In fact – funny story – I bought those panties when I was HUUUUUGE pregnant with Austin.  Austin is almost 6 years old, and I’m clearly not currently ginormously pregnant. Yet, the granny panties remain.  If you wanna get really real up in this biznatch, take a minute to ogle my boobs.  And then commence with pitying me.  Feel free to send your condolences.  Feel freer to send monetary donations toward new, not-depressing boobs.

Neither of my pictures even REMOTELY resembles the initial image that is supposed to make me feel better about my mommy body.  I’m sorry, but after looking at that image, I feel markedly WORSE about myself.  I bet I’m not alone in that.  And here’s the kicker… As crappy as my body image is, I recognize that I’m not fat.  In fact, I’m not really typical in terms of body type/weight.  I’m a size 4.  The average American woman wears a size 14.  So if my size 4 post-baby belly looks like that disgusting mess up there, I’m guessing that most other moms aren’t dealing with much better.

If you’re a keen reader, you’ll have noticed that the original, infuriating image and the beginning of my rant involved stretch marks.  I didn’t point out stretch marks in my belly pics.  I didn’t forget.  I don’t have stretchmarks on my belly.  And still my midsection is no picnic.  Let me be clear.  I’m not stretch mark free.  I’m literally striped with stretchmarks.  To prove it, though, I’d have to take nakee shots of my butt and boobs.  And as much as I generally hate people, nobody deserves that kind of cruel and unusual punishment.

My point in all this was not simply to humiliate myself or obliterate the chances of any human being ever finding me remotely acceptable to lay eyes on ever again.  My point is that messages like the one communicated by the original image are not empowering.  They’re stupid and inaccurate, first of all.  But more importantly, they function to reinforce the entirely unreasonable and unhealthy tendency for women to take cues about how we should feel about our bodies (and by direct extension, our worth as human beings) from others.  From the media.  From society.  From dirtbag men (Simmer down, boys.  Not all of you are dirtbags.  Just most ;) ).    If you look at your stretch marks (or your cellulite, or your scrawny yet inexplicably wiggly calves) and hate them, then that’s your perogative.  And it says nothing – and I mean NOTHING – about your worth or value as woman or a person.  Just between us, I’m still working on that last part myself…

Not a Stepford Mom

I’m a mother.  I know it’s totally cliche, but that is a huge part of my identity and my day-to-day doings.  Trust me, I’m not always thrilled about it, either.  I’m the kind of broad who doesn’t want to be defined by things.  Not by my profession. Or my taste in music (I swear I have no idea what kind of music I like.  Seriously.  Apparently Pandora has it figured out though.).  Or the color of Starburst I most prefer (Yellow. Duh.).  Or by motherhood.  I don’t want to be defined by aspects of my life so thoroughly that in planning my wedding, I absolutely shirked that whole “unity candle” business.  You know, the thing where the bride and groom’s parents each light a candle representing their children’s individual identities, and at some point in the ceremony, the bride and groom take their individual candles and light a single, bigger candle, representing their new, shared identity, after which they blow out their own individual candles.  They blow them out.  Their own identities.  Poof.  Just like that.  No more individuality.  Clearly, I was having none of that nonsense.  Sure, marriage would change me, but not completely.  Not if I had anything to say about it.  As silly as it may seem, my heels-dug-in stance on the unity candle is one of my proudest moments.  I will stubbornly stick to my guns on just about any topic.  Most of them don’t matter… at all.  The unity candle was different though.  It was important to me to keep my candle burning.  And I’m glad I did.

So instead of being defined, I prefer to define myself. That’s part of my heel-digging-in tendencies.  Who cares if something is tradition?  Not me.  Who cares if some stance is out of line with something I’m supposed to care about?  Not me.  Who cares if I’m being a total hypocrite in one way or another thirty-three?  Yep, you guessed it.  Not me.  All that convention-be-damned is me defining myself.  And as boastful as I feel about that, I’m also not retarded.  I understand that the defining that I do is much less than the defining that is done for me.  In many ways, my profession does define me.  It says I’m oriented toward the welfare of others and am a curious, critical thinker, for example.  The fact that my music tastes are neatly captured by “acousticy guitar with smooth male vocals – Kanye – old school soul – dark and twisted British chicks  – super dirty Rhianna (but not radio friendly Rhianna) – folksy punk lesbians – drop your panties John Legend” defines me.  I’m pretty sure it says that I may, in fact, be schizophrenic.  More than anything else, motherhood defines me.  It says sooooo much about me.  Like it or not, it’s an inextricable part of who I am.  You can’t grow a person, love and protect that person, and not be defined by that experience.

Most basically, motherhood defines that I’m not the center of my own world.  That’s huge, people.  I’m fairly self-centered and selfish.  And as soon as I realized that Austin was an adorable bundle of cells incubating inside my uterus, though, I ceased to be the most important person in my life.  Add Gracie to the mix, and I’m barely a blip on my own radar.  Most of my survival (Because let’s be real, that’s all I can manage.  Sorry self-care.  I ain’t got time for ya.) is directly related to my babies’ survival.

You know how when you fly, the flight attendant gives that whole spiel about parents putting their oxygen masks on first.  I remember being, like, 3 years old and sitting next to my dad on a flight to San Diego when I first heard that spiel.  I was APPALLED.  I’m sorry, did that lady in the ridiculous navy skirt suit just say that my dad should take care of himself before he takes care of me?!  I was certain I heard her wrong.  I was also concerned for my safety.  My dad is not the most reliable person on the planet Earth, and I felt it was very important that he pay keen attention to the “how to make sure your daughter doesn’t die in case of an emergency” speech.  It’s not like he had any parental intuition to fall back on.  I panicked, looking up wide-eyed at my dad.  He smiled stupidly down at me and pointed out the window to the runway.  “Oh great,” I thought, “He’s not listening.  He’s looking out the window like an idiot.  I’m doomed.”  Thankfully, the plane did not go down that day because I felt certain that I would have suffocated to death while my dad puffed mightily on his oxygen mask and stared over my ringlet-covered head out the window at all the pretty clouds.

I also remember a later flight with my dad – this time I was about 8 – when I heard the same spiel about the oxygen mask.  This time, I understood.  The adults have to hook themselves up with a hit of oxygen so that they can ensure that the children get the oxygen they need to not die.  My self-care – hell, my life – consists basically of a few oxygen mask moments.  I eat, but I don’t worry about what or how much.  If I’m sick, I’ll go to the doctor and get meds, but only because without my health, I’m pretty useless at making sure my kids are taken care of.  If I have had a hard day at work and need to unwind, I’ll  have a plastic kiddie cup of cheap wine with my leftover-pickins-from-the-kids’-plates dinner.  But only because that cheap wine might keep me from ruining the whole “kids not dying” thing by my own hand.  On that flight when I suddenly understood the oxygen mask concept, I still wasn’t sure if my dad could be trusted to ensure my not-dying, so I made certain that I paid extra careful attention to ensure that I could apply the mask and make my way toward the nearest exit efficiently.  If there’s one thing a less-than-reliable parent can teach you, it’s that you better be fully capable of locating your own flotation device if necessary.  Oh, and how to order a pizza for yourself at 10:00 in the morning.

So, okay, I’m a mother, and that defines me.  It’s cliche because it’s true.  And I know there are plenty of confessional books and blogs out there written by moms who are willing to tell it like it is, so I know I’m not about to stumble upon something revolutionary here.  But here goes… I’m not perfect.  As a mother.  And you know what?  I don’t feel bad about that.  At all.  What will follow is a list (like a frickin’ never-ending scroll) of imperfect mothering.  To be clear, I’m not apologizing.  I’m shouting those imperfections from the rooftop.  I’m proud to be an imperfect mom.  Seriously.

I feed my kids crap.  Not actual crap.  What kind of mother do you think I am?  I feed them the kind of crap that all those hippy-dippy, celebrity, and hipster moms spend what feels like eternities harping on as terrible, soul-squashing food choices for children.  I feed them processed, boxed, microwaveable delicacies like mac & cheese, spaghetti-o’s, frozen pizza, and frozen chicken nuggets.  Oh sure, I throw in salad and fresh fruit… most of the time.  Add PB&Js to that list, and – no kidding – that pretty much encompasses my kids’ entire diets.  Why would I do such an inexcusable thing?  For several reasons, actually.

First, my commute to and from work is bat-crap crazy.  By the time we stumble in the door in the evening, I’ve spent nearly 3 hours driving, and it’s  usually precisely dinner time the moment we make it home.  So I don’t have the time or energy to make them a “healthful” (Seriously, it’s “healthy.”  Stop saying “healthful.”  It makes people want to punch you.) home-cooked meal. I do, however, have time to microwave some Easy Mac and throw together a salad.  Could I muster the whatever-good-mother-quality-I’m-obviously-lacking to make a Rachael Ray worthy meal?  Sure.  I might even be able to do it in 30 minutes.  But I DON’T WANT TO.  I’m tired, and the kids are hungry.  In fact, it seems cruel to think about making them wait 30 or 40 minutes for something that would impress all the Stepford moms when I can whip out a PB&J in about 2 minutes.

Second, the kids LOVE the crap I feed them.  There’s a friggin’ dance party in the kitchen each night over what I’m “cooking” for them.  They love it, and they eat it.  Would they love a home-cooked meal?  Gracie might. But Gracie eats random food she finds on the ground in public places, so I’m not sure she’s the greatest judge.  Austin, frankly, would prefer pizza to anything I slave over.  Why fight that battle?  Because I should care about their health and well-being, you say?  Puh-lease.  They’re strong, healthy kids.  Really.  Their pediatrician will back me up on that.  Red dye number whatever is not going to kill them, and that’s good enough for me.

My kids can attest that I’m like the toy Nazi.  I understand who the Nazis were and the atrocities they committed.  And I’m knowingly comparing myself to them.  I hate the kids’ toys.  I don’t always hate them, though.  I hate them when they’re strewn all over the house.  Which is constantly.  So… I hate them.  We have a rule in the house.  If a toy remains in the kitchen/breakfast area after one warning, it finds a new home in the trashcan. Just yesterday, I filled a trashbag with several of Gracie’s toys that I was tired of picking up from all the places her toys shouldn’t be.  I have a gentler rule for rooms other than the kitchen, and repeatedly throughout any day, you can catching me growling, “If that piece of crap plastic thing does not find its way back to its properly organized bin, I will put it in the keep-away, and you’ll have to earn it back.”  Those rules generally work for getting Austin to pick up his junk, but he needs the constant reminders (okay, they’re legit threats) to make it happen.  Gracie, on the other, could give two craps about me throwing out her toys.  I could set them on fire in front of her, and she’d probably shrug and walk away.  That’s because Gracie isn’t interested in toys; she interested in sharp objects, making messes, and dangerous risk-taking behaviors such as unsafely climbing and jumping.

Why am I so terrible about their toys?  Because I hate the toys, and I am evil.  I thought we had covered that.  The kids have an insane amount of toys, even after I’ve gone on one of my rampages with a trash bag in hand.  And they play with maybe 5% of them.  Austin has been playing with the same 10 small stuffed animals for years now.  I refuse to allow my home and my sanity to be completely overtaken by plastic junk that my kids barely even realize that they own.  I’ve taken my hatred of the kids’ toys to an impressive level. For their birthdays, we get them a few gifts.  Family gives them gifts.  At their parties, though, NO GIFTS ALLOWED.  On the party invitations, we note that we will not be accepting gifts; instead guests are invited to donate cash money to a preschool for poor kids that I used to work for.  All the parents fawn over how admirable it is that we’re teaching the kids to help others, blah, blah, blah.  And, sure, that’s great.  But what’s even greater is that we don’t end up with 37 $15 pieces of crap from Target or Walmart that the kids will forget about in exactly 2 and half days.  And I’m not insulting the other parents’ gift choices.  I’m guilty of the same $15 crap at other kids’ parties.  I’ve just found a win-win way to stop the madness at my house.

I don’t teach my kids stuff.  By that, I mean I don’t sit down and “work with” them on academic skills.  I don’t drill them about colors or shapes or chemical reactions.  And not because I’m lazy. I mean, I am lazy.  But that’s not why I don’t make us all crazy and miserable trying to “make sure they’re ready for school” or whatever barf-o reason those other mommies are grating on about.  Here’s why.  In the long run, it won’t matter.  At all.  Do you think Einstein’s mommy tortured him with flashcards?  No.   She let him run around with pants on his head pretending to be a long-haired giant.  When Austin was about 2 1/2, that very activity was his favorite thing to do. For hours at a time.  He started reading all on his own, and midway through kindergarten, he’s reading at the-end-of-first-grade level or something like that.  He’s doing fantabulous in school because he’s intelligent.  He was born that way.  Could he improve?  I’m sure he could.  At some point, will I have to step up and help him do so?  Absolutely, but all signs point to that time not being now.  Will Gracie teach herself to read without my “working with” her?  Who knows, but I feel certain she will enter kindergarten having taught herself how to get out of a pinch by batting her eyelashes, to jump start a car, and to survive in the wild.  And that’s no small feat.

Relatedly, I don’t feel the need to enroll my kids in fifteen trillion “enriching” activities.  Know what’s enriching to a two year old?  Running naked through the backyard, chasing the dog with the water hose.  Austin plays a couple of sports throughout the year and does VBS in the summer, and I think we’re all good on activities.  Next year, I’ll enroll Gracie in gymnastics or archery or something  suited to her natural talent for and interest in mass destruction.  I’m not interested in overscheduling my kids in activities and giving them an ulcer by second grade because I think as it is, life is pretty enriching.  Plus, I hate shuffling them from this thing and that, pretending to play nice with all the Stepford moms. As they get older and express actual interest in various activities, I’ll be more willing to suck it up and go activities-crazy.  Until then, we’ll stick to as few scheduled activities as humanly possibly.

A friend of mine from grad school recently asked me what I knew about something called “attachment parenting.”  She thought I might know for a couple of reasons.  First, I’m a parent.  She’s not.  The odds were better for me than for her.  Second, my area of research in grad school was attachment.  I published an article dealing with and wrote my dissertation on attachment.  I’ll spare  you all the high-falutin academic mumbo-jumbo and just say this… Attachment is the bond an infant makes with his primary caregiver(s), and it shapes the way the infant comes to approach the world and interact with others as he grows, as well as how he views himself.  One’s attachment to parents predicts the later attachments one makes to romantic partners, as well as lots of other nifty things.  Basically, a “secure attachment” to a primary caregiver in infancy bodes well for the individual throughout the lifespan.  So anyway, she asked me what I knew about “attachment parenting,” and this was my response (true story), “I don’t know, but it sounds gay.”

Since then, I’ve done a little digging, and this is what I know about attachment parenting.  The concept was originated by Dr. Sears.  He’s, like, famous and stuff.  It’s based on the tenets of attachment theory and developmental psychology.  Right up my alley, yes?   Nooooooo!  My initial reaction was correct.  Attachment parenting is, in fact, gay.  I understand that using the word “gay” to mean “lame” is politically incorrect and pejorative.  And I mean it that way.  I don’t mean “gay” in the homosexual sense.  I mean it in the pop-cultural, “that is totally mockable” sense.  I don’t mean that gay individuals are mockable. Judge me, scold me, for that if you wish, but you’ll be wasting your time.  I think I’ve also used the term “retarded” in the post, so obviously, I’m a lost cause.  Cut your losses and move on.

Attachment parenting seems to take everything that’s good and legit about attachment theory and knowledge of children’s development and turn it into hippy hogwash.  The people who practice attachment parenting are the same ones that either dropped dead from shock or huffily navigated away from this post immediately after reading that I knowingly and willfully feed my kids spaghetti-0’s.  So we don’t need to worry about offending them. Basically, parents who practice attachment parenting are literally attached to their kids for, like, at least a couple of years.  Breastfeeding is pretty much law, and as I understand it, you have to keep doing it until the kid graduates from homeopathic med-school.  Co-sleeping is required.  This is where your child sleeps in the bed with you EVERY NIGHT, thus ruining any chance your EVER having a good night’s sleep, of making any new babies, and of maintaining any type of connection to your spouse outside of the existence of the child.  I think the idea is that if you’re, like, always right there, loving and (as I see it) physically and emotionally smothering your child, she will come to see herself as a worthy and lovable person, and she will experience the world world as a safe, exciting place to be explored and mastered.

Actually, most of that (about feeling worthy and the world being safe) is pretty much straight from attachment theory.  And there’s literally A TON of research validating that attachment theory is the real deal.  I think that’s where people get hooked.  Attachment theory is legitimate, so attachment parenting must be legitimate, too.  The problem is that according to attachment theory (and the ton of research validating it), secure attachments are created by primary caregivers who are warm and responsive their their infants needs WITHOUT BEING CLINGY, OVERPROTECTIVE, OR OVERBEARING.  In fact, the research clearly indicates that those qualities pretty much guarantee that the infant forms an insecure attachment to the caregiver, which results in feeling as if the world is not safe or masterable.  And we end up with whiny, sniveling little wusses.

No thanks, attachment parenting.  No thanks.  As an after-the-fact disclaimer, I’m obviously not an expert in attachment parenting, so if you’re interested in finding out actual facts about it, there’s a bunch of websites, and I bet you could find a gaggle of hipster stay-at-home moms at the park who could tell you all about it.  They’ll be the ones with 4 year olds swaddled in a sling breastfeeding.  And if you’re a ridiculous individual who practices attachment parenting, feel free to comment and elucidate.  But be prepared for it to go in one in and out the other.  My mind is made up; attachment parenting is gay.  I can, after all, pretty confidently assert that I AM an expert in attachment theory and research, and I know what attachment parenting is isn’t what attachment theory is about, and that the research on actual attachment parenting is not impressive or stellar.  You should pretty much be embarrassed of yourself right now, attachment parenters.

That little rant may have felt like a tangent from my imperfect mother confessional.  It wasn’t.  That’s how my mind works.  So many mothers work so hard to do all the right things for their kids.  No, that’s not accurate.  We ALL work so hard to do all the right things for our kids.  But there are some moms who go to lengths that are just unnecessary.  And for gains that I feel confident are marginal at best.  In fact, I often wonder if we do our kids (or at least our relationships with them) inadvertent harm by trying so hard.  When we’re trying so hard to make them the healthiest (or “most healthful,” if you’re obnoxious), smartest, most “well-rounded” kids possible, we expect to see some pay off there.  As hard as it is to remember sometimes, it is not our kids’ responsibility to meet our ridiculous expectations.  So maybe we should just ease up a bit.  Let them eat oreos.  Resist the urge to correct them when they say they “breaked” a crayon.  Don’t take Sonia up on the invitation for the play date with her twins, MycKynzie & Koltyn (Seriously, people.  Just spell the names right.  Why do you want to torture your kids with that kind of nonsense for their entire lives?) and instead let them watch 2 straight hours of Mickey Mouse Club House (It’s Mickey, after all, not Marilyn Manson) in their underwear.

I know I’m not a perfect mom. I’m not trying to be.  I’ve got enough pressure.  I don’t need to deal with that imminent failure, as well.  And all my imperfections… they aren’t doing my kids any harm.  Are the going to be top tier at everything they do?  Probably not.  Is that because I didn’t pay 400% more for the organic grapes?  Probably not.  Or because I threw away some toys they forgot they had anyway?  Nope.  Or because I accidentally called Austin a “moron” the other day when I meant to say “maniac?”  Nope.  My kids know I love them and will protect them and care for them until the end of all time.  The next time we’re on a plane together, they’ll have no doubt that I will use the oxygen mask on myself first before making sure that they don’t die.  And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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A Benevolent Bully: Recess Nazi

Family is a funny thing.  There are these people who we’re genetically connected to, and we’re supposed to be loyal to and supportive of and wonderful toward them under all circumstances, no exceptions.  Simply and precisely because we’re family.  That’s sort of an unspoken rule.  It never actually happens that way, but that’s the expectation.  In reality, we’re definitely loyal (mostly), we’re typically supportive (unless we think they’re being stupid or obnoxious), and we usually manage to behave wonderfully toward them (well, to their faces, anyway).  And that’s on a good day.  Factor in sibling rivalry and other general effed-up-ness that almost always goes hand in hand with family, and it can be a real circus.  And usually not the fun kind.

But for most of us, family isn’t limited to people with whom we share genetic material.  In adulthood, most of us drink the kool-aid and decide to marry, thus inheriting a whole new branch of the family tree:  in-laws.  It’s funny to me that we call them in-laws.  It’s like we feel the need to announce to world in no uncertain terms that we’re not ACTUALLY related to these people, nor would we claim them if not required to by law.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my in-laws.  All of them.  They’re fantastic people, and actually, I would claim each and every one of them as my own in a heartbeat.  In fact, I genuinely and truly feel honored to call them family.  For most of us, family also includes step-family.  Stepmoms, stepsisters, step-second-cousins-twice-removed.  In-laws and step-people, they’re clearly family, but they didn’t get that way by sharing DNA with us.  They got that way because somebody (if it is wasn’t us personally) chose to make them family.

And then there are those people who are like family.  “Dude, you’re like a brother to me.”  We all have a handful (or more, if we’re lucky) of those people.  These are the typically the coolest and most fun of all our family-people, so cool and fun that we go out of our way to make them family for no particular reason at all.  Just because we want to.  And these people, these like family folks, they’re often more loyal, supportive, and wonderful than our actual family.  Why?  When they have no evolutionary or moral obligation to us?  Because they’re awesome, that’s why.  Which is why we choose to make them like family in the first place.  For at least a good percentage of you reading this post, I can name one like family member that you and I share.  Seriously.  As soon as you read this person’s name, you’re gonna be like, “Oh.  Yeah.  Totally.”  Ready?  Here goes… JLove.  One of the coolest, most fun, most awesomely generous and loyal humans to ever walk the face of the earth.  If you’re reading this, and you don’t know JLove, truly, I’m sorry.  Maybe someday soon you’ll be fortunate enough to cross paths with him.  For now, I’m lucky to call JLove my like family.

And here’s the thing about family:  Once you’re in, you’re in.  Whether it’s genetics, marriage, or childhood pinky swears that bind us, family is in it for the long haul.  Which is fantastic.  Except for when it’s not.  Sometimes, it would be nice to call a time-out from family.  To get a break from being forced to be subjected to a family member’s company and the subsequent fall-out.  We’ve all been there.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all been on both the giving and receiving ends of the “sometimes family is a suckhole” experience.  Even me.  Oh, I’ve dished it out.

If, for some inexplicable reason, you doubt my capability for causing my family misery, I can prove it to you.  Sure, you could ask my parents.  I have surely caused them plenty of grief.  You could ask my little brother or sister.  If fact, you should.  There are some excellent stories there.  You could ask my husband.  Ask him on a Sunday when he’s trying to watch football in the midst of my honey-do nagging, and I have no doubt he’d convince you of my nerve-working nature.  For good measure, I’m sure my mother-in-law (or more insistently, my grandmother-in-law) would confirm Kyle’s saintly ways for putting up with me.  You could sure as shiz ask my children.  After returning from two days away from me, I asked Austin if he had missed his mama.  His response?  “No… Oops.  I mean, yes.  I missed you, Mommy.”

You could ask all of those people.  You should ask all of those people.  But not today.  Not to start.  To start, you should ask my stepsister.  I thought long and hard about whether I should include her first name in this post.  After thorough consideration, I decided there would be no harm in calling her by her true name.  First, most of you reading this know her personally.  You know her name.  Calling her something else would be silly and pointless.  For those of you who don’t know her first name, learning it will not magically allow you to decipher her full name, address, or social security number.  Finally, it’s not like anything that will follow will embarrass her.  If anything, I’m the one who should be embarrased.  I’m not embarrassed, but I realize that I should be.

I met my stepsister Beth on the first day of kindergarten when we realized we share a dad.  Yes, that marked the beginning of my Jerry Springer inspired childhood.  We became fast friends, and we spent A LOT of time together.  We didn’t live together, but we were in the same classes and shared the same circle of friends.  From that first day in kindergarten, I commenced tormenting her, and I didn’t stop until I went off to college.  Actually, maybe I never stopped.  I’m not always the greatest judge of friendly behavior.  In any case, I’ve certainly slowed my roll in the last several years.

I didn’t mean to torment Beth growing up, but torment her I did.  Relentlessly.  Highly successfully.  It’s a wonder she still speaks to me.  And maybe you could argue that my tormenting was just innocent sibling rivalry, but you’d be wrong.  It’s not that I enjoyed causing Beth misery; rather, I felt both justified and obligated to teach her important life lessons.  Never mind that we were kids, that I was actually a few months younger than her, and that I had no business teaching her anything.  I thought that somebody needed to look out for her, and unfortunately for her, I decided that somebody should be me.

Case in point:  In elementary school, Beth’s mom dressed her like an idiot.  I feel pretty confident that she would back me up on that.  It wasn’t Beth’s fault that her mom’s idea of appropriate attire for a 4th grader on a typical Tuesday was a table-cloth-esque floral print dress with a lacy sailor collar, sheer control top panty hose, and sensible flats.  It wasn’t her fault, but she sure suffered the consequences.  First, kids made fun of her.  Nothing made-for-TV-movie worthy, but mean-spirited heckling nonetheless.  Most of the girls were nice enough, but the stupid twerp boys (even the generally friendly ones) tended to revel in pointing out the inarguable absurdity of Beth’s everyday attire.  There’s no excuse for forcing a 9 year old to wear panty hose to school in the blazing Texas heat.  Had I known about CPS at the time, I’m pretty sure I would have reported Beth’s mom for abuse, neglect, and whatever other accusations were made available to me.  Seriously… White pointy toe dress flats on PE day?  If that’s not abusive, I don’t know what is.

To make matters worse, Beth was a terrible klutz.  Every day at recess, without fail, Beth would fall down.  On her knees.  Every day.  And every day, she’d rip her ridiculous panty hose and scrape up her knees.  She’d scuff her stupid, developmentally- and context-inappropriate church shoes.  And then she’d cry.  Not about her bloody knees.  But about her torn hose and scraped shoes.  Her mom was going to kill her.  She was going to get grounded, or at the least, griped at.  As much as I hated to admit it, I recognized that I was powerless in forcing Beth’s mom to see the error in her style-challenged ways.  I knew Beth would be forced to go on dressing like every day was school picture day.

So I set my sights where I could more realistically affect change.  I might not be able to keep Beth from dressing like a Sunday school reject, but I could keep her from spending half of the school day fretting over the fact that she ruined yet another pair of Leggs.  My plan?  To forbid her from any sort of running, romping, or scampering at recess.  Yes, I said forbid.  When I commit to something, I commit 100%.  Kickball?  Nope.  Take a seat, Beth.  Hopscotch? You can be the square-drawer, but you may not engage in any hopping.  Jump rope?  Oh hell no.  Walking around chatting?  Maybe, but only if you stay in the grass on nice flat ground.  Skipping?  Girl, please…

I’m not sure that I ever outlined for Beth my noble intentions in treating her like a retarded prisoner of war.  And I’m not sure that she ever really questioned my authority over her (obviously, I had brainwashed her or utterly wore her out much earlier in our lives).  She seemed to have resigned herself to the fact that, whether she liked it or not, I was the boss of her.  While she didn’t question my authority, she did question the reasoning behind my forbidding basically every fun-and-fancy-free activity available to her.  My response was typically something along the lines of, “So you don’t fall down, idiot.”

It never occurred to me that my efforts might be more appreciated had I told her that it broke my shriveled black heart to see her fret and worry about getting in trouble with her mother for things that were entirely her mother’s fault in the first place.  I wanted to protect her from the pain of falling down, the ridicule of kids inevitably laughing and poking fun when she did fall, and the scorn of her mother’s harsh words about the stupid panty hose.  I remained the Recess Nazi until we went to middle school, and I only quit then for two reasons:  we no longer had recess, and Beth’s mom finally let her pick out her own clothes.  No more panty hose for that girl.

To be clear, though, just because I gave up recess as a source of torment doesn’t mean I stopped tormenting Beth altogether.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I think middle school is when I really started to lay it on thick.  And the general tone of it all became less philanthropic and more purely mean on my part.  I’ve got no excuse for my not nice behavior toward Beth, other than that I’m not a nice person.  But we covered that already.

Once, Beth and I lied to her mom and said we were going on a bike ride.  Actually, that part wasn’t a lie.  We did ride our bikes, but we left out our intended destination.  Had we announced to Beth’s mom that we were going to ride to Checkers to get some french fries, we would have been doubly punished.  First, we would have been forbidden from going and thus the denied crispy, salty deliciousness that we so craved.  Second, we would have been forced to listen to Beth’s mom scold her about her “weight” and insist starting a preemptive diet immediately.  That would have obviously been more unpleasant for Beth than for me, but I still hoped to avoid it if at all possible.  As a side note, Beth’s “weight” was not an issue.  There was an issue, but it didn’t involve weight, and it didn’t belong to Beth.  Needless to say, we simply called out that we were going bike riding and would be back before dark, and we high-tailed it out of there.

Our destination was not a quick jaunt away.  Rather, it was a good  couple of miles away, across a number of busy streets, and under one highway.  Not a convenient or particularly safe trip for a couple a teenage girls.  But seriously, the fries were worth it.  We made it to Checkers, got the fries, and immediately headed back toward our neck of the woods.  Checkers was in a relatively seedy area, and we were not looking for a side of sexual assault to go along with our fries.  About halfway through the ride back, Beth dropped the bag of fries, and they skittered across the side of the road.

Suffice it to say, I was not pleased.  Every last fry was on the ground.  No crispy, salty goodness for me. Once again, Beth’s clumsiness was to blame, and I was not going to let her off the hook.  She needed to pay for what she had done.  Obviously, that meant that she needed to eat several of the fries (not all of them.  I’m not a complete monster) directly off the ground.  Oh, she protested, but I was having none of that.  She was going to eat some of those fries.  When she pleaded, “But Tara, they’re dirty,” I responded coldly, “Well, God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.”  Terrible, I know.  And that’s not the worst of it.

I went from treating Beth like someone who needed to be managed (“Don’t sit there, dummy; it’s wet.” or “Hey bookworm, no one wants to hear how many AR points you have.”) to shamelessly treating her like an indentured servant.  I spent mornings and afternoons in middle school at Beth’s house.  As soon as I waltzed in the door in the morning, I would wedge her out from in front of the bathroom mirror.  “Move,” I would demand as I proceeded to complete my very sophisticated 7th grade primping procedures.  The entire time, I barked orders at her that were reminiscent of a brain surgeon in the operating room.  “Curling iron,” I would say flatly as Beth rushed to unfurl the thing from her own head to place it in front of me.  “Hairspray… Clear mascara.”  Yes, I said clear mascara.  None of that garish black gunk for me.  I was 12, after all.  What kind of floozy do you think I was?

Occasionally, I’d break from my clinical item-demanding to squawk various other orders at Beth.  “Ew!  Go change the radio station… Now!  I hate this song.  Seriously, Beth.  You know that.”  The vast majority of the time, Beth unquestioningly met my demands and followed my orders.  Occasionally, though, she’d get fed up and throw some (well-deserved) attitude my way.  “Change it yourself,” she might snap, “I’m not your slave.”  This did not sit well with me.  But like any effective superior understands, you can’t let your subordinates see when they’ve got you riled.  My typical response to Beth’s rare testing of my limits was to repeat what she had just said to me verbatim in a deep, slightly moronic and highly immature voice.  I’d then switch back to my normal voice and roll my eyes as I said calmly, “Just do it, Beth.”

One afternoon after school, we were sitting in Beth’s room listening to a Reba McEntire cassette on her boombox.  Actually, that’s not true.  A Reba McEntire cassette was involved, but we were not merely listening to it.  We were singing along and recording ourselves as we did so.  After much debate, I ceded Reba’s part in “Does He Love You” to Beth, while I took Linda Carter’s part.  I couldn’t argue that Beth’s voice was slightly more appealing than my own, and thus, she deserved Reba’s part fair and square. (For the record, Beth has an amazing voice.  I, on the other hand, have the singing voice of a demented cat in heat.).

After a borderline amazing rendition of the song, I suddenly had the hankering for a snackie. “I’m hungry,” I moaned.  “Ok… Go get something,” Beth responded.  “Psshhh, you go,” I quipped.  “Um, you’re the hungry one,” she attempted to reason.  I was having none of it.  My voice took a particular tone (if you’ve ever been bossed by me – and let’s face it, you all have – you know the tone I’m talking about).  “Heh.  I’m your guest, Beth.  You have to wait on me.  It’s, like, the rule,” I said as I plopped myself onto her sunflower comforter.  She rolled her eyes and countered, “You come here everyday.  You’re walking around in your underwear.  You’re NOT a guest.  Get your own food.”

We went on like that for a few more minutes before Beth finally caved, “Fine. I’ll get you a snack.  Anything to shut you up.”  That’s generally how it works.  If you’re met with resistance, just keep at it until you’ve exhausted the other party, and they give in.  Every whiny preschooler knows that.  Beth headed for her bedroom door, “What do you want?  Chips?”  I scoffed, “Chips?  Seriously?  Beth.  I’m starving.  No.  I do not want chips.  I want a melty bagel sandwich.”  She whipped around, “Uh, that is NOT a snack, Tara.  That’s a meal.  I have to toast things and microwave things.  It takes like 10 minutes to make.  No way.  I’ll get you some chips or something, but if you want a bagel sandwich, you can put some pants on and make it yourself.”

Beth had some pretty good points.  Sound logic and good reasoning.  All things with which I wasn’t the least bit concerned.  It was clear to me that Beth had forgotten her place, and I’d have to remind her of it.  Minions need to be dealt with firmly, after all.  “Excuse me?  You already agreed to get me a snack, so you can’t go back on your word now.  What are you, a liar? You know what?  It’s not up for discussion.  Quit whining, and get in there and make me a melty bagel sandwich.  Go.”  Beth stood, blinking at me.  “Oh, and I want the oniony bagel, not the plain one.  You screwed it up last time,” I added.

I watched as Beth clenched her fists and thought I saw her eye twitch spastically.  Before I could find out for certain, she lost it.  She yelled.  No, she screamed at me.  She told me I was a terrible and awful brat, that she didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and that she didn’t have to take my crap.  I almost started to agree with her and feel guilty, but I thought better of it.  “Actually, Beth, you’re right.  You don’t have to take my crap.  You don’t have to follow my orders.  But here’s the thing:  you do.  Without fail.  You’re gullible and weak and vulnerable.  Do I take advantage of that?  Absolutely.  Who’s fault is that?  Not mine.  Nope.  It’s your fault, Beth.  If you don’t want to be treated like a doormat, then don’t.  Me and my melty bagel sandwich are the least of your worries.  Think of what kind of crap other people are gonna throw at you.”

Beth slumped in a heap onto her daybed beside me.  “You’re right,” she sighed.  We sat in silence together for a moment before I grinned and said, “So, how about that sandwich…”  To my absolute lack-of-surprise, she got up, went to the kitchen, and made the best melty bagel sandwich I’d ever eaten.  She even remembered the oniony bagel.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Benevolent Bully

About once in every five statements in any conversation with her, my mom scolds me by saying, “Tara Lynn, that’s not nice.”  And every time, without fail, I reply,”Well, I’m not a nice person.”  My mom and I don’t have some sort of weird, shared memory dysfunction where we forget what we said just five statements earlier.  Rather, at least every five statements, I say something that is not, in fact, nice.  And my mother – because she is nice (or at least she tries really hard to be) – feels the need to chastise my unfriendliness, at which point I feel the need to remind her (yet again) that I am not, after all, a nice person and am therefore exempt from socially sanctioned niceness.  And it’s true.  I am not a nice person.  Not at all.

My not-niceness dates waaaaaaay back.  Seriously, as far as back as I can remember, my mom has been droning, “Tara Lynn. Not nice.”  When I was 3ish, there was an older boy on my street who liked to pick on me.  As I remember it, he liked to call me a cry baby and taunt me by singing repeatedly, “Cry baby, cry baby.  Suck your thumb.”  This pissed me off to no end because, first, I was not crying, nor had I had ever in his company either cried or sucked me thumb.  So his choice of taunt made no sense to me.  Plus, I recognized that he was a big kid and thus had NO business picking on the likes of teensy tiny me.  So what did I do?  I waltzed right over and knocked the sense out of him.  Who’s the cry baby now, idiot?  Although he was clearly asking for it, my instinctual act of physical aggression was categorically not nice.  I should have gone and told a grown up or some crap.  And I learned a valuable lesson from my KO of the big kid bully.  Not-niceness may not popular or well-accepted by others, but it sure as hell gets the job done.  You don’t have to tell me twice.

So from that day forth, I committed myself to a life of not-nice.  And let me just say, I’ve done myself proud.  That commitment was bolstered and nurtured at home.  Not, to be clear, by my mom.  She’s never wavered in her well-meaning but completely useless quest of teaching me some manners. It was my dad who championed the “give ‘em hell, and don’t think twice about it” message that characterized my childhood.  I remember him teaching me to fight and letting me practice various techniques on him.  My favorite was the backhanded slap.  I grew quite proficient.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that was blow that took down my taunting big kid nemesis.

If I complained about other kids irritating me or teasing me (which, as the only girl in a five block radius of our house, happened frequently enough), my dad would say plainly, “Just knock the shit out of ‘em, babycakes.”  And although I rarely followed that advice precisely, I did learn to stand up for myself.  Adamantly and effectively.  I learned to run with the boys, and I didn’t take any crap from a one of them.  The complete lack of little girls to play with on my street, coupled with my dad’s coaching, allowed me to become fluent in the ways of boys.  In the crap-talking and chest-puffing and putting-your-money-where-your-mouth-is.  I learned to talk the boys’ talk and walk the boys’ walk.  And if any life training has equipped me for success in the real world, it’s been that training.  It is, after all, a man’s world.  And I’ve got the key to unlocking the code.  Puberty didn’t hurt that regard, either, to be honest.

My dad’s coaching didn’t involve violence exclusively (although that was the lion’s share of the message).  He also told me not to give a “got-damn”  about what other people think of me.  “People are assholes,” he’d say.  Instead of trying to please or appease people, he told me, I should just be myself.  “The good ones – the people worth a damn – will ‘ppreciate ya for who ya are.  The rest?  Fuck ‘em.”  And despite his use of language that is unequivocally unacceptable for use in conversation with a 7 year old, my dad was right.  Most people do, in fact, suck.  Not matter what you do.  There are those few people, though, who are worth a damn, and they really do accept you for who you are.  Wasting your time trying to please or appease the sucky people is – well – it’s a waste of time.  My dad is obviously a very wise fella, and I’m beyond lucky to have him.

So my philosophy in life is this:  I’m precisely and unapologetically who I am, and I tell it like it is.  Love me, or hate me.  Take me, or leave me. I’m good either way.  For as much as people might not like what I have to say or my general way of being, at least they know where I stand.  No surprises here.  And you know what?  Some people do hate me (or at least they don’t care for me), and some people do choose not to associate with me.  And as promised, I’m good with that.  Because the best part is that there are plenty of other people (in surprisingly abundant numbers, actually) who love me, and they take me, just as I am, under all circumstances.  And I love them for it.  For reals.

The point of all of that rambling is not (or, at least, is not only) intended to prove how awesomely self-assured I am.  As it stands, I have my fair share of insecurities.  Poke around the various blog posts here, and you can see for yourself.  The first point is to give my dad mad props for molding the bold, ballsy girl you see before you.  Without him, who knows what kind of meek, ruffle-and-pearl-adorned doormat I might have otherwise become?  Seriously, I shudder at the thought.  The second point is to illustrate the way I became the “not-nice” girl I am today despite my mom’s valiant efforts otherwise.  As Jessica Rabbit so eloquently put it, “I’m not bad.  I’m just drawn that way.”  Although my genetically predetermined temperament might be feisty enough, it’s clear as day to me that my dad’s coaching was integral in allowing me to give a flying-frick about the way other people perceive my natural inclination toward not-nice.  And for that, Daddy, I am eternally grateful.

What will follow is a series of posts illustrating examples of the not-nice I’ve inflicted on innocent victims throughout my life, many of whom have been unfortunate enough to be related to me or be otherwise unable to remove themselves from my presence.  Let me be clear.  I am not proud of the havoc I’ve wreaked on others’ self-esteem and sense of worth as human beings.  But I’m not ashamed either.  I may be a bully sometimes, but it’s for your own good.  Enjoy.  And you’re welcome.

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 10:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ashamed & Proud of It

So according to Oprah and Dove soap and my mother, I’m supposed to love my body.  I’m supposed to see its reflection in the mirror and be thrilled with it.  Well, guess what?  I’m not.  Not in the least. Quite the opposite, actually.  I hate my body, and I’m not afraid to admit it.  I’ll sing it from the rooftops.  I HATE my body.

My hatred doesn’t stem from some unrealistic pipe dream that I should look like Jessica Alba or Beyonce.  I understand that I am a regular person without personal trainers, personal chefs, personal stylists, or photoshop at my disposal.  I understand that I’m thiiiiiiiis close to the big 3-0, and my body has withstood some age-related wear and tear.  I understand that I’ve grown,  birthed, and nourished two human critters, and that process sure as shiz takes its toll on the physique.  I understand that I’m 100% all-natural and organic, and my lack of surgical enhancements sets me apart from the current Hollywood ideal of feminine beauty.  I understand all these things, and still, I hate my body.  With a passion.

I also understand that I’m not hideous.  I’m not disfigured or disgusting. People don’t wince and turn away when I enter a room.  I know I’m not (technically) fat.  Actually, let me revise that.  I know I’m not fat.  My weight (which my doctor recently inadvertently told me despite my preference to remain ignorant) is within the normal, healthy range for my height, age, and body type.  If I’m being completely fair to myself, my weight is actually on the low end of the normal, healthy range.  My doctor advised me not to diet or attempt to lose any weight.  Lucky for both of us, the idea of me dieting or exerting any effort toward losing weight is about as preposterous as the idea of me learning to whittle or speak an African dialect.   And still, I hate my body.

You might be thinking me silly at this point, and you might be tempted to enquire what, exactly, it is about my body that I despise with such fervor.  I’m glad you asked.  I will tell you.  In detail. Ahem…

Let’s start with the overall package. My silhouette, if you will.  I’m not sure what mold the Maker cast me from, but I’m pretty sure it should have been rejected during the quality control phase of production. My body is so ridiculously out of proportion that it’s almost comical. But, mostly, it’s just frustrating.

Quick, how tall am I?  I bet you thought, “Oooooo, pretty tall.”   I bet you ballparked 5’9″, maybe 5’10”. Nope. 5’7″.  Actually, just shy of 5’7″.   People always think I’m much taller than I am.  In fact, when I say that I’m 5’7″, people often react with disbelief, wanting me to prove it.   Which I’m happy to do.

So why do I seem so much taller?  Because I have freakishly long legs.  Freakish.   And before you say, “Long legs are sexy.  I would kill for legs like that,” let me suggest you try dressing legs as freakishly long as mine first.  Good luck finding pants long enough.  Especially dress pants.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a store with “long” inseam pants.  If you’re really lucky, they’ll be 34″ inseam, and then you’ll be relegated to wearing flats only.  If you somehow hit the jackpot, you might, once in a blue moon, find a pair of 36″ inseam pants, and you can wear kitten heels.  Oh, and you might as well give up on expecting the waist of the pants to fit you.  When you reach those inseam lengths, clothiers expect your waistline to be remotely in proportion with your leg length.  So invest in a belt.

I remember during my early 20s, I had what I mistook for an epiphany.  If pants are too short, just stick to dresses and skirts.  Problem solved, right?  Wrong.  Hemlines that hit normal-legged women at the knee hit me a good two or three inches above the knee. So even in really professional skirts and dresses, I run the risk of looking like I’m auditioning for the part of slutty secretary.  Which, to be clear, I am not.  Pair a dress or skirt with even reasonable-height heels, and I might as well throw caution to the wind and add thigh high stockings and a garter belt to the mix.  None of that is to say that I end up actually looking “sexy” in a dress or skirt.  Only that I look like that’s what I’m trying (very hard) for.  Blerg.

It’s not the legs alone that are problematic. Remember, we’re talking about my overall silhouette here.  My utter lack of proportion.  My legs are ridiculously long.  The top half of my body should be similarly long.  But that’s precisely the problem.  The top half of my body is not half at all.  At most, it’s, like, a quarter.  My torso is so comically short that I hardly have one at all.  My belly button scarcely has a place to exist.  I’m like legs, legs, legs, legs, legs, boobs.  Not okay.  Putting my hands on my hips is essentially like cupping my boobs.  Again, it’s no fun dressing that.

The lack of proportion doesn’t end with the relative length of various parts of my body. In addition to being too long to do anybody any good, my legs are also toothpick thin.  I know, I know.  So many women would kill blah, blah, blah.  My legs are so thin that I can’t wear ankle boots, knee high boots, OR thigh high boots because my scrawny stems can’t hold ‘em up.   To make matters worse, my knees are knobby and reminiscent of a 12 year old boy’s.   On a day when I was wearing a skirt, a male coworker recently commented, “Geez, your knees are knobby. That… is not attractive.”   No duh, dummy.

My toothpicks for legs lead right up to hips so narrow they were unequivocally NOT built for childbearing.  Seriously, at two weeks before his due date, Austin had to be suctioned from my body with a baby Hoover because he got stuck in there.  Gracie had to be induced while she was still scrawny herself to prevent another go round with the vagina vacuum.  Like I said, narrow hips.

At least my thin legs and narrow hips lead into a similarly tiny waist, right? Pssssh, no. My waist to hip ratio is somewhere around 1.0 (or greater). Science has established 0.7 as the most universally attractive waist to hip ratio (which, not coincidentally, is related to a woman’s supposed childbearing potential).  Men want a gal whose waist is 70% the width of her hips.  Or said another way, they want a gal whose hips are 30% wider than her waist (like an hour glass) because that ratio looks to be ideal for popping out babies (evolution strikes again, people).  My waist and hips are essentially the exact same width.  On some days, my waist takes the lead (muffin top, anyone?). Not attractive.  Not fun to dress.

Related to the no-hips is the no-butt.  In terms of junk, my trunk is sorely lacking.  This baby does not got back.  To add insult to injury, my backside is blessed with both cellulite AND stretch marks.  It’s a cruel joke, and I’m not amused.  Most women complain that they can never find a pair of jeans that fits well. They say that the curves of their hips and butt relative to the narrowness of their waist causes an unsightly gap in the waist, typically in the back.  I experience no such problem.  Rather, I struggle with the opposite problem.  If jeans fit my waist, they sag unappealingly in the butt and thighs, giving the appearance that I’m carrying a load in my pants and causing me to endlessly hike up my pants to keep from exposing my lack-of-butt.  If, on the other hand, my jeans fit nicely through the thighs and butt, then it’s muffin top city.  And that’s just unacceptable.

To continue with my lack of proportion, I’ve got the chest and shoulders of a linebacker.  I’m broad and bulky up top, and not in a good way.  If shoulder pads ever come back in style, I’ll be golden.  I already look like I wear them.  The bulk of my upper body atop the long, lean line of my lower body creates a silhouette not unlike an upside down triangle.  Not cute.  When was the last time you heard someone say, “What a beauty! She’s got the shoulders of a lumberjack and the legs of a stork. Such a sexy upside down triangle figure.”   That’s right.  Never.

Connected to my shoulders are my arms.  That, in itself, is not a problem.  That’s where arms are meant to be.  The problem is the shape of my arms. First, they’re stupidly long.  In ANY long sleeved shirt, I end up looking like Ichabod Crane, and he’s not on my short list of most desirable celebrity doppelgangers.  My wrists are dainty and feminine, and I actually don’t hate them, which is a blessing given that they’re always exposed due to the aforementioned Ichabod syndrome.  My upper arms is where it all really falls apart.  They are huge and chunky.  Like ham hocks, complete with fat dimples.  My upper arms are so massive that I can’t wear shirts with fitted sleeves because the sleeves cut off the circulation to my fingers, and they start to turn purple.  True story.

Atop my shoulders is my head.  It’s tiny.  I can wear toddler sized hats.  I’m a grown woman.  That’s not okay.  It’s as if someone placed a shrunken head voodoo hex on me.  Like in Beetlejuice.  Attached to the sides of my head are two appropriately sized yet Dumbo-esque ears.  Totally sticky-outy ears.  Ponytails highlight their significant pokey-outy-ness, so I avoid ponytails at all costs.  On top of my head is my lame excuse for hair.  Thin, fine, and blah in its natural shade of drab, murky dishwater blond.  Blech.  No long, flowing, shimmering locks for this girl.

Quickly, let’s cover my face.  I’ve got a stupid square hairline that does nothing to accentuate anything worth accentuating.  My chin juts out much like Jay Leno’s.  My lips (despite their naturally rosy tint that I do not despise) are too narrow for my face. Once again, science has supplied us with hard data in terms of facial ratios that are considered most attractive.  Needless to say, my ratios are all kinds of out of whack.  On top of screwy facial ratios, the whites of my eyeballs are kind of yellowy.  My skin is terrible. I’m contending with both acne AND wrinkles.  I’ve never really given much thought to my nose, and for my self-esteem’s sake, I’m not gonna start now.

Finally, I’ve saved the best for last.  And by best, I obviously mean worst.  The parts of my body that I loathe most intensely are those that have been most heavily ravaged by pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.  Namely, my boobs and belly.  Even before kids, I didn’t have a great stomach.  I always had a slight pooch just below my belly button, and I always had vaguely grabbable love handles.  But the pooch and love handles on a pre-kids, size-4 lady are virtually imperceptible compared to that of a post-kids, size-not-4 lady.

The slight pooch is now an utterly disgusting ponch that has a certain loose hang about it.  I’m sort of convinced that the ponch is due in part to loose, stretched skin after gaining and losing baby weight.  Given that I’ve never attempted to work it off, though, I can’t say for sure.  My love handles have now worked their way completely around the circumference of my body, creating a muffin top even in the absence of pants.  My entire midsection is a doughy, squishy mess.  Sitting.  Standing.  Laying down.  It doesn’t matter.  My belly is barf-ish any way you slice it.

Before kids, I did not appreciate my boobs.  If you’re a woman without kids, take a long, hard look at (and feel of) your boobs, and give them the kudos they deserve.  If you’re a woman with kids, you know what I’m talking about.   Don’t get me wrong; my rack was never perfect or even particularly impressive.   My boobs were always a little wide-set for my taste, and I certainly would have been okay had they been a smidgen bigger.

But really, my boobs were pretty stellar.  Because they were perky, and full, and cute.  My nipples were fairly spectacular, as well.  I remember being pregnant with Austin and noticing that my nipples had expanded in size, and I thought, “Well, surely they’ll go back to normal once he’s born.”   And then I remember when I began the treacherous journey into breastfeeding, and my nipples grew even more.  Again, I thought, “I’m sure that’s just temporary.”  Nope. It’s permanent.  And a tragedy.

Before kids, my boobs were free of stretch marks.  They were round and seemed to defy gravity.  They were a cup size larger.  I don’t think it’s so much that my boobs shrank after growing and feeding two kids.  Rather, I think that during that process, my breast tissue was stretched beyond its limit and lost all elasticity.  So the boobs that were previously held firmly and fully in place high on my chest now hang loosely and seemingly smaller a bit below their former resting place.  Nice imagery, right?  Welcome to my world.

Of all the parts of my body that I hate (which is most of them), it should be clear to you that I hate my boobs most. So much so that when I am faced with the sight of them, I want to simultaneously scream in fury and fall into a heap of tears.  I hate seeing them myself, and I’m  mortified when other people are forced to lay eyes on them (which, thankfully for everyone involved, isn’t very often).  If I had the money (which will never, not ever happen), I’d get new boobs in a heartbeat.  That, coming from a feisty feminist, is saying something.

I know women who look at their bodies after kids and claim to feel blessed, honored, and most importantly, completely happy with what they see.  They look at their flabby, stretch mark striped stomachs and rejoice, “This belly carried my babies.  I’m happy to have the reminders of that.”   Or they see their deflated, droopy boobs and proclaim exhilaration that those breasts nursed healthy, fat babies.  As if the existence of the child (which is absolutely a blessing) makes the rest of it completely worth it.  Like we should be thrilled with all of the bodily fall out simply because we’re thrilled to have kids. BS.  Every bit.

First, I’m pretty sure those women lying.  And even if they’re not, I disagree.  Although I certainly feel blessed to have to healthy, fantastic kids, and I certainly feel honored to be their mommy, that is in no way related to how I feel about my body after having them.  Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are hard work, and instead of being punished for all that with a ravaged body, I firmly believe that God should reward mothers with a new and improved body after baby.  But a ravaged body is what most of us get.  And if we feel crappy or angry about that, more power to us.  Motherhood makes us martyrs enough.  Let’s not sacrifice our honesty or outrage, too.  We deserve that, at least.

And not just mothers, actually.  Women are told explicitly and often that we should accept and embrace our bodies.  And while that’s a noble enough message, frankly, I’m tired of being told what to feel, particularly about myself.  Especially when, all the while, we’re implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) told that there is absolutely a feminine ideal, and we don’t meet it.  So instead of feeling bad about ourselves because we’re not the cultural ideal of beautiful, and then feeling bad for feeling bad about that, I say we just own up and admit the fact that we feel bad in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong.  The better option would be to alter the  feminine ideal to be more realistic and to demand that women be valued primarily (or at all) for more than just the view we provide men.  In fact, yes, let’s do that.  But let’s also not let “the man” keep on keeping us down by telling us we’re not good enough and then further telling us that we’re weak and fickle for caring about such silly things in the first place.

Nope.  I’m gonna stand tall (but not quite as tall as my freakishly long legs make me appear) and assert proudly that I’m insecure about my body.  That I feel considerably bad about myself.  And I won’t apologize for that.  I’m not weak or fickle.  I’m just honest.   And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Published in: on November 26, 2011 at 9:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Nature versus Nurture

One of the first topics to initially intrigue me in my very first psychology class was nature versus nurture.  What makes us who we are?  Our genes – all of the junk we inherit from our parents?  Or our upbringing – all the occurrences that surround us in the environment?  Is every detail of our being predetermined at the moment our mama’s ovum rips the head off our daddy’s sperm?  Or are we shaped and molded by life and the people in it?

When you really stop to think about it, the answer to that question is supremely important.  If it’s all predetermined by nature, then we can neither take credit nor be held accountable for anything in our lives.  We can’t change, we can’t grow, we can’t improve.  Neither can we be scarred, tainted, or ruined.  We can’t succeed or fail.  We can only roll along, living out the destiny we have no part in determining.  From the moment of our conception to the moment of our death, we would be completely at the mercy of the double helix of our DNA.

If, however, our environment and our upbringing make us who we are, then, technically, the world is our oyster.  We can do and be anything we can dream of.  If and only if, though, our upbringing and environment treat us kindly and afford us with sufficient opportunity and support.  If we get sheisted by our upbringing and environment, on the other hand, we’re royally and absolutely screwed.

At this point in contemplating the nature-nurture debate, it may appear that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  That if either nature OR nature is responsible for making us who we are, then we have no active role in our own lives.  At best, we’re no more than pawns to be shifted and shuffled around the checkered board of life.  And if that’s the case, then the answer to the nature-nature question is entirely moot.

But that’s the thing.  Neither nature nor nurture are responsible for making us who we are.  Not in isolation, anyway.  Rather it is a combination of nature AND nurture that create us.  And this combination includes our own free will.  By providing us with abilities and skills, temperaments and personalities, values and morals, and experiences and opportunities, nature and nurture collude to roll the road map of life out for us and allow us to choose our routes.  Although each person’s particular map may be predetermined by the tag-team of nature and nature, thus limiting the options for routes and providing detours along the way, the specific course we choose to take within that map is entirely up to us.

And while it’s a certain degree of fun to sit around philosophizing about the relative importance and contributions of each nature and nurture to who we ultimately become, at some point, we begin to circle the drain.  We, alone cannot answer the nature-nurture question definitively.  We can only reason and conject.  And eventually, that gets old.

Enter science.  Psychology, to be exact.  Where philosophy ends, science begins.  And where philosophy provides us the questions, science provides us the answers (Take that, philosophy majors).  Psychology has taken the question of nature versus nurture and provided us answers.  These answers come in the form of data, and you can’t argue with data.  I mean, you could try, but you’d just end up looking silly.

Psychology has answered the nature -nurture debate by collecting scientific data from human beings.  No extrapolating data from rat research necessary.  And we didn’t even have to put the humans in tiny cages to do so.  Instead, we collected data on real people living real life throughout the lifespan, from cradle to grave.  The bulk of this data comes from two sources: twin studies and adoption studies. As it turns out, the real world is an EXCELLENT laboratory.

Adoption studies involve collecting all sorts of data (intelligence, achievement, personality, criminality, interpersonal skills, attractiveness, education, career, etc.) on children who are  raised apart from their biological parents.  Twin studies involve finding sets of twins and collecting the aforementioned data on them. Twin studies are my favorite because the iterations seem limitless. Studies can include either monozygotic (identical) or dizygotic (fraternal) twins and can follow twins raised together or apart.

Monozygotic twins come from a single (mono) fertilized egg (zygote) that splits into two separate eggs.  Because monozygotic twins are essentially carbon copies of the same fertilized egg, they share the EXACT same DNA.  Which is why they are “identical” in terms of physical appearance.  Technically, they’re “identical” in every way.  Or at least they start out that way.  The only NOT identical aspect of monozygotic twins is that they have distinct sets of fingerprints.  Which is FASCINATING and an absolute lucky break for crime lab workers.

Dizygotic twins happen when Mom ovulates two separate eggs, which are subsequently fertilized by two separate sperm.  Essentially, dizygotic twins are just siblings who happen to share the uterus at the same time.  But sharing the uterus at the same time means that they are exposed to all the same junk in utero at the same time, making them a lot more similar from the start than just regular siblings.

Twin studies are extra super awesome in that the twins involved, whether they are monozygotic or dizygotic, can be reared together in the same household or in separate households.  So consider monozygotic twins reared in separate households.  They have the same genes but an entirely different environment, right?  So if they turn out to be highly similar, we can reasonably say that nature is more important in determining who we are, yes?  And if they turn out to be highly dissimilar, we can reasonably say that nurture is more important, right?  As cool as twin studies are, adoption studies are pretty awesome too.  If an adopted child turns out to be more like his adopted parents than his biological parents, then we can chalk up a win for nurture, whereas if the child ends up more like his biological parents, then nature gets the W.

At this point, I’m sure you’re screaming at your screen, “So which is it?!  Nature or Nurture?!”  Heh.  I really have been holding out on you.  Basically, the answer is both.  Both nature and nurture make important contributions to who we end up being.  Actually, the answer depends on the specific characteristic we’re considering.  Intelligence  (defined as a person’s potential to learn and apply information), for example.  Nature.  Achievement (defined as a person’s actual performance with regard to learning and applying what has been learned), on the other hand.  A nice combo of nature and nurture.   The same can be said of a person’s overall being.  But actually, for most characteristics, our genes make a more hefty contribution to the particular expression of that characteristic.

Here’s how we know this.  In adoption studies, children end up being much more similar to their biological parents than their adoptive parents.  Despite  being reared by entirely different people in an entirely different environment, adopted kids end up being more like the people who supplied their DNA.  Twin studies typically produce similar results.  Monozygotic twins reared separately tend to remain super duper similar to one another, although not “identical” in every regard.  Dizygotic twins raised separately STILL remain pretty similar to one another, despite being nothing more than siblings, but they are less similar to one another than monozygotic twins reared separately.  Dizygotic twins reared together are much  more similar to one another than those reared separately, which suggests that nurture does, in fact, play an important role in who we are.

So wanna take a guess what happens with monozygotic twins who are reared together? They have EXACTLY the same DNA, so being raised in the same environment should yield ENTIRELY identical people in every regard, right?  Wrong.  Although monozygotic twins reared together are by far the most similar of all twinsets, they do not end up being carbon copies of one another.  But how can that be?  Because even when reared in the same household by the same parents, monozygotic twins don’t have the exact same experiences in life, and parents don’t treat them exactly the same.  So, despite the fact that nature tends to more heavily contribute to who we are, nurture is nonetheless an important player.  Especially when you consider that beyond choosing our reproductive mates wisely, we as parents have no control over the genetic material that our children inherit.  We can, however, control (or at least much more so) how we treat our children and the opportunities we afford them.

So now, all these years and a PhD later, I’m still fascinated by the nature-nurture debate.  My fascination only increases as I watch my own kids grow.  They are not twins.  They are opposite sex siblings separated by 3 and a half years.  But still, they share genetic material, so we can expect them to be fairly similar to one another in  many ways.  In terms of physical appearance, anyway, they obviously share DNA.  That much is clear.  Beyond that, though, they really are like completely different species.  Some people might argue that the fact that one is a boy, and the other is a girl makes all the difference, but I’m gonna say emphatically, no.  Especially because Gracie is much more stereotypically boy than is Austin.

The fact that they’re being raised together in the same household by the same parents is certainly important to consider.  Given that I’m a psychologist who regularly harps on adults about the importance of consistency for children, you’d be smart to assume that I am very consistent in the way I treat each of my kids.  In the way I interact with them.  The way I respond to them.  The way I discipline them.  You would, in fact, be very, very smart to assume that.  You’d also be wrong.  Waaaay wrong.

Psychologist or no, I’m still a human parent.  So as much as I try (and honestly, sometimes I don’t try all that hard), I don’t treat each of my kids exactly the same.  They are distinct little creatures.  Each with their own temperment, personality, pattern of behavior, and so on.  And based on the distinctness of their beings, I respond distinctly to them.  I’m not saying I should respond differently to them.  But I do.  Even though the rules are the same for both of them, and the outlined consequences for breaking the rules are the same, the way that all plays out at our house couldn’t be further from the same for each of them.  And although I typically try and keep him out of my ramblings as much as possible, the same is true for Kyle.  Daddy is guilty, too, people.

Austin is extremely intelligent.  I say this not because I’m his parent, and I think he’s fabulous.  I say it because it’s objectively true.  I’ve resisted the urge (and all Kyle’s pestering) to formally assess Austin’s IQ, but I can confidently and competently assert that he’s a smarty pants.  He went into kindergarten already having mastered essentially all of the kindergarten academic skills.  And I can’t take credit for that (beyond him sharing some of my genes, anyway).  I’ve never worked with him or done flash cards or bought fancy educational toys.  And not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t think (and the research backs me up here) it will make all that much of a difference in the long run.  We’ve got plenty of time to pressure him about academics.  I figured I’d give him a few years free from that.

Beyond being smart, Austin is also friendly, affectionate, helpful, and tender-hearted to a fault.   He would never intentionally hurt someone else’s feelings, and he has a tendency to be steamrolled by more assertive or aggressive kids (including his little sister).  He is super anxious in every aspect of his life.  He doesn’t do well with uncertainty and attempts to control his environment. When he faces a small obstacle, he immediately flips out, jumping to the inaccurate conclusion that the small setback is, in fact, a legitimate catastrophe.  Which interferes with his ability to problem solve and typically leads to emotional overreactions involving super dramatic crying.

Because he’s smart, Austin thinks he is right all the time, and because he is anxious, he NEEDS to be right all the time.  I’m talking supreme know-it-all. Can’t get a word in edgewise.   He is also fairly resistant to following orders from Kyle or me.  Thankfully, his anxiety keeps him in line with other people.  Austin argues about everything.  He looks for loopholes in our reasoning.  He makes excuses about why his behavior “shouldn’t count” toward whatever consequence we’re attempting to lay out.  It’s fair to say Austin is oppositional, but his tendency to argue and push the limits stems from his firm belief that he is right, and we are wrong.   If we’re wrong, why WOULD he listen to us?  My mom used to tell me (okay, she still tells me) that I would argue with a brick wall.  Touche, Mom. Touche.

Gracie is an entirely different creature altogether.  She’s feisty and ornery and mischievous as all get out.  She’s a smarty pants too, and her intelligence is most often showcased in her problem-solving skills.  Any obstacle you put in her way (often in the form of a baby-proofing measures), she promptly overcomes.  Easy peasy.  I’m telling you, after the Apocalypse comes, all that will have survived are the cockroaches and Gracie.  Gracie is cute, and she knows it.  And she uses it to her advantage.  She’s bossy and demanding  and defiant simply because she wants her way.  She is the farthest thing from anxious.  Rather, she’s bold, assertive, and absolutely socially gifted.  She’s a whirlwind.  Literally.  You can tell when Gracie has been in a room simply by the absolute mess she leaves in her wake.  She’s always on the move and into something.  She’s fast as lightning, and she enjoys the game of chase she can engage adults in at her every whim.  Don’t want her to have that permanent marker?  Good luck catching her.  Seriously.

Both my kids drive me batty.  Both leaving me exhausted and wanting to pull my hair out at the end of the day.  But I respond in vastly different ways to their shenanigans.  When Austin gives me grief, my first reaction is annoyance, which quickly morphs into full on anger.  I feel angry – outraged, even – that he would behave in whatever exasperating manner that he is currently behaving, and my instinct is to yell.  To snap him out of it.  He obviously knows better than whatever is happening in that particular moment.  He’s far too upset.  It’s not that big of a deal.  He’s making it worse.  Those are the things I want to (and often do, to be honest) yell in those moments of intense anger.

When Gracie gives me grief (which to be fair to Austin, happens sooooo frequently), I have a completely different reaction.  I often have to fight back the urge to smile or laugh.  And I often fail.  It’s not that I’m enjoying myself.  Quite the opposite, actually.  But she is so funny and clever in her indiscretions that I can’t help myself.  When she continues with one shenanigan after another (which is precisely what happens), I inevitably lose the urge to laugh and instead have to fight back tears.  Where Austin makes me feel angry, Gracie makes me feel utterly and completely defeated. There is no way I can keep up with her.  And it’s only going to get harder as she gets older.

But here’s the thing…  I obviously love both my kids.  And the anger and the feeling of defeat are only temporary (even if they do occur multiple times a day).  And when I look toward my kids’ futures (because that’s what parents do), I’m optimistic about who they’ll eventually become.  I think nature provided them with a decent gene pool, and even at my least impressive, I know still provide a good environment for them and nurture them well.  And when they inevitably hit bumps in the road of life, I’ll be there to support them and be understanding when they blame me for their struggles.    Because they will probably be justified in that blame.  Like I said, I’m not a perfect parent.  And I blame my parents for that. ;-)

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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