Things I Love Today

Nag Champa incense. Mostly I hate stinky things, but this mild Indian incense washes over me in tidal waves of memories of living in Capitola 20 years ago (can it be that long…?) Bean even liked it, as we put it in the kitchen window and the summer breeze carried it away in fragrant whisps.

Finding new areas of my town that I didn’t know about. After my midterms, I had to run an errand, and found myself in a new old neighborhood- and it was fun to drive around and see what it was about.

Ice. Chewing ice is something I’ve done all my life, and few things are as satisfying as a nice cup of chew-able ice. Yeah yeah yeah, I know what they say about it…

Iced peppermint tea sweetened with honey. Oh mercy.

Health food stores. There is that certain… smell… to health food stores. From the tiniest natural cupboard, to mega-nature behemoth Whole Foods, there is just something about them. It makes me feel safe, and at home. I think it’s a combination of vitamins, produce, and bulk bins that blend into that smell, but I don’t really care. It’s comfort to me. (the photo is of the actual Co-Op my crazy chicken Annie used to take me to when I was a very small girl..)

Cloth grocery bags. I’ve been using them since 1989. Did you know that? I still have some of my original ones, and the girls at the market have complimented me on my awesome bags. They go back to my teenage years in Santa Cruz when I worked at Staff of Life.

Speaking of Staff of Life, have you ever made my chai? I’m not huge on being self-referential, but this recipe is seriously the best…

Doctor Bronners soap. Any flavor will do, but peppermind and almond are my favs. Put a little in a squirt bottle with some water, and it’s all I use to clean my counters. Smells good, low waste. You can kill aphids on your roses with it too.

(Wow, this is turning into an expose on what a little hippie I am deep in my heart. Funny how the pendulum swings. As I get older I see how we come back to our center, time and time again. This is clearly mine…)

Fuchs toothbrushes. (made in Germany, pronounced FOX) Been using them for years- recycled plastic, and natural bristles. I love the way they feel. And while you’re at it, add some anise or Silly Strawberry toothpaste from Tom’s to make me really happy. Also, Burt’s Bees grapefruit shampoo. Makes your hair SO shiny, and has no pthalates or sulfates. Smells nice too.

Red nail polish, but on my TOES only. Not in a million years would I paint my fingernails red- or anything besides clear really- but my toes are always brightly painted, and I love me some No Miss polish- and it’s pthalate and formaldehyde free as well. Also been using this for more than a decade. (Wow, I am SUCH a hippie! I totally was NOT planning on that being the bent of this post!)

Okay here’s a couple of non hippie, non granola things I like: Flour sack kitchen towels. I love the non-terry texture and size of flour sack towels. A close second is a white cotton bar-mop, but the flour sack towels are the best. Also, cellulose pop-up sponges rock. I get mine at Trader Joes where they are substantially less pricey than Williams Sonoma though…

Tapped

I don’t have time for this, yet when my mind is full of wind and aching, the only option is tapping the craggy bark  and letting the sticky, messy sap flow. The last few days have not been kind to me- and I have not been kind to myself- or to anyone around me. My patience is short and I have been sharp and curt with my kids, and then when they fall asleep and inevitably look like angels, I weep and am plagued by guilt.

Jeffrey asked me tonight if I could have any wish in the world right-this-minute what would it be. I stopped, wary of ways I might inadvertantly hurt my child with a quick, quip answer full of adult cynicism and pain. “I would wish I was done with school so we could have a normal life again…” I offered cautiously but sincerely. My shoulders burn from tension and my gut aches from stress, but I want my child to sleep well tonight.  “I would wish for a billion billion dollars and some Legos.” I nod solemnly, agreeing that would be a good wish.

Mo told me once that our kids are like mirrors. There is no way we are not going to mess them up slightly, scratch them a little- the trick is not breaking them. This terrifies me. Every time I look at my kids right now, I see my shortcomings reflected back. This was never the plan- this lone mother with three kids thing- and they have the right to look at me and ask “Why, mama?” as I push them off again, hit the books- short on patience, time, hugs, bubbles, homemade bread and picking strawberries in July. Instead it’s midterms and yet another paper that I doubt the professor even reads. But I steel myself against the wheel, damn my tears, and push on. Midterms are tomorrow.

I pray to God this is worth it. I plead and put my hopes in a leaky mortal basket that my shortcomings are forgiven and bridges are built in my children’s hearts and souls from finer things than what I have to work with currently, and by finer hands than mine.

Women Food & God: A Book Review of Sorts, But Not Really

Warning:  The mask is off, and the language is occasionally raw, as is fitting the emotions.

I’m an emotional eater. I’ve struggled with my weight for almost my entire life, and, I generally hate self-help books. Regarding the second, I’ve plowed through enough self-help books over the last two decades to know most of them are little more than dandelion fluff and unicorn farts. Paint me very, very skeptical of the latest secret, or seven secrets, or way of the magician, or 12 steps or 20 steps or one step- or Oprah, or Goop or whatever kool-ade is being sold. I’ve been around long enough to know that real change in a life course is very, very hard, and that it often only happens with deep personal pain and hard work. There is no formula or secret. Period.

As a woman in the western world, I’ve been fighting with my weight and body images since I was barely more than a girl. My weight has fluctuated, excluding pregnancies, through more than a 100 pound range during my adult life. I have been on every diet known, in every program imagined, and hated myself for what the distorted fun-house mirrors tried to sell me as my worth. No book, diet, self-help guru or aerobics class could kills the demons pulling my puppet strings.

Since last October, I’ve lost 55 pounds. It’s scary for me to even type that- it used to be when I would lose weight, I’d tell everyone, and feel like I had figured out some magic formula, and I wanted to share it- which is exactly what the people who write self-help books do. Which is exactly why I don’t trust those people- because I understand their fervor and zeal. Now, when I have again headed towards a much healthier weight, I want to keep a low profile. I wish I had told the YMCA people no when they asked to put us in a commercial- like I said, people recognize me at the gym now, and I hate it. I hate it because I don’t trust it.

I hate it. As you lose weight, people notice you, they start to see you, instead of see through you. But the compliments of weight-loss have a dark, scary flip-side: it is the silence and eyes that slide away when you put it back on, rendering you once-again invisible. As a woman losing weight, the more I lose, the more solid, legitimate, praiseworthy and real I seem to become- to friends, family, strangers, clerks, law enforcement- the less there is of me, the more worthy I am of being noticed. It is like a transporter beam on Start Trek: As I lose weight, a body begins to appear, forming gradually until people can see me. Gaining weight is exactly the same, in reverse. The larger I am, the less people see me, the less people are kind, helpful or ask my opinion, or seem to value my input- or even offer to help me in public. No wonder; the fun-house mirror is all f****d up.

This is not a woman with a little extra tummy bulge from having a baby saying this- this is coming from a woman who has lost and put-on the weight of a fifth-grader five times over in the last two decades. I know that of which I speak.

I also know my current  weight loss is different than any  before, for many reasons. I haven’t been trying to lose weight. Yes, you read that right. Back in October, when my entire life exploded in an Oppenheimer cloud, I made a decision to take care of myself. That meant being honest with myself in all things. It’s not as easy as it sounds. One thing I decided was to never, ever diet again. I never wanted to swing wildly or have my self-esteem connected to a number on the tag of my pants. EVER AGAIN. I do not diet, and I will never diet ever again. I started doing things to make myself feel good- things I would council a friend or someone I loved to do to take care of themselves… and lo, my body started to achieve its own balance. I was surprised at first when I noticed my clothes fitting better, and I didn’t entirely trust it was real. Tentatively, I began to make small steps towards valuing myself instead of warring with body.

*****

So when I walked by this book at Costco a few weeks back, I glanced, scoffed, and carried on.

But the next time I was in Costco, there it was again, and I stopped to read the jacket. I again tossed it back on the pile went to get milk and eggs. But on the way back, kept thinking of it. I walked by, and to my own surprise, found myself setting it in my cart. What the heck? My internal dialog was crooked and stilted, but for some reason I couldn’t put it back. Here I was, buying into the kool-ade that there was something wrong with me- and I was ticked at myself. Again.

For weeks, I resented that stupid book. It sat on my night stand. I moved it to the bookshelf. I piled laundry on it. Eventually I read the first few chapters, then again discarded it and forgot about it again. Only I didn’t.

Finally, two school papers ahead of schedule, I decided I was just going to read the damn thing and get it over with.

The first few chapters are interesting, but not groundbreaking. Geneen Roth lives in my old California stomping grounds, this book is not absent some formulaic self-help book millstones. It’s not a book about weight. It’s not about weight-loss, though most women who pick it up will have struggled with their weight in their lives- that is certainly its target market. What Geneen Roth is trying to do with this book is hold up a mirror. A mirror that is not all f****d up and distorted from too long in the fun house. She is trying to hold up a clear, clean, straight, and focused mirror- to show us who we are in God’s eyes (and she’s not a deist)- in God’s eyes, we are perfect.

Intellectually, I appreciated what Roth was trying to do, and I understood her concepts. I even liked some of her ideas and imagery, and was appreciating the general lack of standard trope. Deep through the book, at chapter 11, the ground shifted under me. Around page 148, suddenly the mirror I had been contemplating from afar was in my face. Hard. No one works exactly the same way, and words that were burning coals to my carefully constructed paper-defenses may not even register to someone else- but my hands started to shake as I placed the book down on my bed and got up for some tissues. Hot tears were choking my throat and causing me to gasp for breath. I wept until I was exhausted. What the hell…?

It’s not that the ideas of love and value being tied to food are particularly new. It’s the spectacular clarity of the mirror Roth holds up, and the clean, simple lines she draws between pain and protection, faith and fear. I saw myself in her words with a clarity I had never beheld before. There I was, with layers of protections, isolations, defenses and folly from functioning in the false, distorted world of the fun-house mirrors. Like all carnivals and fun houses with their wicked dirty mirrors and tricks, once you know the way out, you can chose to leave. Geneen Roth is holding up a big sign in the fun-house, pointing the way to the EXIT.

Wipe the Floor with Me

A gaping hole of loss and sorrow sits inside of me- a soft, heavy knot, waiting, waiting… The flurry of messes, children, study, deadlines, pressures and chores allow me, in spurts, to cruise along and ignore the hole- and I can even forget about it for periods of time- but when I least expect it or am prepared to deal with it, it rears its head and eviscerates me, leaving me a pile of wet ashes in the corner.

I am running. When I am running, I am afraid. Afraid I will let myself down. Afraid that past patterns of neglectful personal behavior are so strong in their gravity I cannot escape them any more than a star can chose a new place in the galaxy. God can move mountains, and it shows my gossamer vulnerability that dark fears cast long fingered shadows on my faith. I know better. Yet it zeros in with precision on the soft white underbelly of my soul.

So I keep running. I have to. The only difference is, now I think I am beginning to understand. I am beginning to notice, as I notice outside the flurry and pain for brief moments, that what I have always done in the past no longer serves me, and I must, once again, dig deep and take a long, honest look at myself. It’s like trying to stand on a ball- you have only the barest glimmer of a moment of perfect balance, before you are once again thrown off, using all your might to find that place of stillness again. Only memory guides the yearn for balance- and memory is a tricky thing.

My mind an insatiable black hole, so severe in it’s gravity it devours anything that comes near, and emitting a seemingly unending fountain of invisible radiation back into space. You can’t see it, but it’s needs devour and overtake everything. Only recently have I realized this- and with that realization came the notion that maybe, just maybe, my mind doesn’t really rule my world. Maybe there is wisdom in my body, in my heart, as well. Wisdom that is overshadowed by the unending noise generated from above.

My head wants to be entertained, but my heart is still and quiet. My mouth wants a party of tastes and textures, but my belly is full and needs nothing. My eyes want to drive, but my arms and legs are the vehicle. It’s deceptive and frightening how the intellectual noise completely shouts out the wisdom of the body.

So I’ve got some work to do. I’ve got some knots to unravel, and some radiation to redirect. I’m okay. Ironically, I’m actually more okay than I’ve been in a long time…

At My House

Chaos reins. The kids cheered last night when I turned in my paper and actually had a WHOLE evening with no homework. Oh, sure I could have started some to give myself a cushion, but they needed me to just hang with them. Hanging actually meant an episode of Mythbusters with new ideas involving duct-tape, but whatever.

Abby has a mad love affair with Boursin. Like her mama. Although, I can usually restrain from EATING THE WHOLE WEDGE. My girl now stinks like a garlicky, fine French cheese. Mmmmm….

Are you still drinking water from disposable water bottles? If so? Stop. It takes about 1/4 the volume of the vessel in crude oil to make each bottle. Look at your Dasani bottle and imagine it 1/4 full of gloppy Gulf oil. Go to Target and buy some reusable bottles, stat. I won’t spring for the expensive Siig bottles, but I like the Rubbermaid two-pack flip-top bottles for under $4. We have a dozen of them, and the kids use them exclusively as well. Easy and simple. End of soapbox for today.

I caught Bean showing Abby how to pee standing up last night.

Jeffrey’s eyeball deep in the Percey Jackson books. I’m thrilled, actually. For months now his reading has been confined to Calvin & Hobbes. Don’t get me wrong- j’adore Calvin & Hobbes- but I’m happy to see him reading something with more substantial vocabulary and plot. Although, who didn’t learn what “transmogrify” meant from C&H?

Ramping up again- papers due in three classes, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Then midterms next week. Deep breath…

Got all my papers off to the state of California today, proving that I have not, in fact, lived there since 2002, and that I do not, in fact, owe them income tax as a resident in 2008. Why is the burden of proof on me??

I let the kids make sundaes for dinner last night. Yes, I did. We went to the market, and they got to pick ice cream. Bean had a banana split, and the other two opted for entirely unhealthy. Sometimes being a single mama has its perks.

I wonder when my tax return that the Treasury Department seized to pay my child support will finally show up… the part that burns me, is he gets credited for paying the child support from that money, even though the taxes would never have even been filed had I not done it. Fairness is a joke. Anyone wonder why some divorced women get bitter…?

Trying to figure out a way to get down to see my family in the short window of when my school is out, and the boys start back. We really need a small break, and I miss my family. We’ll see if it works- it’s going to take a miracle, with what airfare is right now, and the idea of four days in the car on the road with just me and the kids? Makes me start to shake.

Tipping Point

I mean, I wonder where it is? How long before I break like a dry brittle reed? This morning, I spent an hour with an academic advisor, and even though I had an advisor for my current classes, it seems I repeated a requirement. Even though I specifically- emphatically- stated I needed to be efficient and not waste any time or money on redundant classes. With. An. Advisor. Fury doesn’t begin to describe it. I don’t have time for this crap. I have to finish, and finish quickly, so I can support myself and my children- I am not some 20 year old spinning my wheels trying to figure out who I am…

The people- no really, the entire department- I need to speak with are on vacation, but I have to register for fall. My shoulders burn and my head swims in the July heat, and I am unsure if I’m going to puke. I got a sitter specifically so I could take care of this without my kids. Turns out I cannot be cleared for fall registration without an online formality- which has to be done from my computer. I do not have my laptop with me- so I have to drive home, then come back- a 45 minute trip.

Swallowing my anxiety, I pick my fall classes like throwing darts at a map. From my academic sheets, it looks like they count for both departments I’m courting- but really, it looked that way for summer, too.

When I get back home, I set up the Slip-n-Slide I picked up for the kids, and get everyone in their suits. Within two minutes- I hadn’t even gotten the sunscreen washed from my hands to sit down and work on my paper- Bean jumped on the reservoir at the end and blew a huge, gaping hole in thing. Now Jeff and Abby were screaming and wailing in despair, since neither of them even got a single chance to slip or slide.

Shaking and fighting to control my own breath, and heard them in the house, and tell everyone to get out of their swimsuits and back in their clothes. I yank the hose from the blown out Slip-n-Slide and stomp back in the house, while my books and computer mock me from the kitchen table. It’s almost 1:30 now, and I haven’t even started either paper that’s due by 9 p.m. Abby is weeping, broken hearted over having to come in the house, and while I am helping her in her dry clothes, the boys begin to pummel each other again. I start to cry. Now we are all crying.

The kids are dry and watching Ang and the airbenders on Netflix, and I sit at my table, spilling the chaotic contents of my mind onto the clean white screen of my mac. I have to, or I will be helplessly sucked up in the swirling vortex of my thoughts and never be able to focus on the lives of colonial women in American history. Maybe someday some grad student will be writing a paper about me. If only the leaden knot in the pit of my belly would dissolve and unravel, and I could find the surface again.

Fine Dear, and You?

A friend offered to have the boys over to play today. BOTH boys. Which is a rarity, let me tell you. Bean seldom gets invited anywhere, and has cried before over Jeffrey getting invited places- so I was so grateful for this cool mom for including him. She’s spent enough time with us to understand his quirks, and she’s laid back enough that I knew he would be fine.

After dropping the boys off, I stopped at the market with Abby, then headed home to write a paper on how cold and warm fronts effect cloud formations and mountain ranges effect precipitation. Just call me Al Roker. I got the paper done, but not submitted, when my friend called. Uh oh…

She had taken the boys to the park, and all was going swimmingly, until Bean discovered some water… she tried all the things that she’d seen me employ, but he was being cagey and running and hiding. She wasn’t sure what to do besides keep him in her eyesight until I got there. Saving my paper in my computer, I threw Abby in the car and headed to the park downtown. I found them easily, and by this time, Bean was out of hiding and back in the water. With a little help, we got everyone corralled and into the car, I thanked my friend for including him and rolling with it, and we headed home.

I needed to submit my paper, and I had a timed-test to take to finish off this particular module for class. I fed the kids dinner, got everyone cleaned up and put a movie on. I explained that I was taking a timed test, and needed 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. Everyone nodded and smiled- and six minutes into the test, the sickening sound of fists pounding flesh and boys screaming ripped me away from my (timed) test and back into conflict-resolution mama-mode. My resolution this time consisted of sending everyone to their rooms and grounding them for the rest of their lives (I may have yelled) and then racing back downstairs to finish my test in the few moments I had left. Not happy. Not happy, at all.

Abby had peed her bed while on her time-out, and now I am washing bed linens, and Bean fell asleep in my bed, where I put him to separated him from his brother.

I take a deep breath and walk out to get the mail. I find a letter from the Treasury Department saying they have siezed my tax return for back-child support. Oh, the irony. I filed our taxes jointly, because I had to because we were still married in 2009- and was hoping that tax return would help me since I am not getting any CHILD SUPPORT. They confiscated my tax return to pay me child support. Oh, sweet, bitter irony. Who knows when I will get it now.

Next letter: From the Federal Student Financial Aid Administration, requesting more information and my firstborn before they can process my 2011 loans. Not a big deal, but it’s another thing I have to take care of, and figure out what they need.

Next letter: From the State of California, claiming I owe them taxes for income I earned as a resident in 2009. I have lived in Washington since 2002. But the burden of proof is on me, and oh yeah, they need the form back by next week.

Next letter: A birthday invitation for Jeffrey this Saturday.

Next letter: from DSHS, saying all the forms I brought down last week are accepted and we will continue to receive food stamps for the time being. Oh thank heavens.

Tonight: I have a test to take before midnight on Plato, Hume, Hobbes and Kant for my Philosophical Ethics class. I also have two papers due tomorrow on three chapters of reading I haven’t even started. Next week is midterms in all three classes.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with my advisor about course selection for the fall, and possible academic credit for outside work, including writing and public speaking. Then I will come home and write two papers. I have until 9 pm to submit them… right?

Oh, and did I mention that it’s summer and I have three kids home all day, every day while I am doing this?

I can’t breathe. And I can’t stop.

Shouldn’t Have

The kids lost my charger plug for my iPod and it’s on the fritz. It’s hard enough to get myself to the gym with school- I think I’ve made it all of three times in the last week and a half- and to do so without music makes it drudgery. When I went downstairs to look for it, I found a playroom and tv room that were trashed. Someone had been in my desk and papers were all over the floor. The couch was torn apart (serious pet peeve of mine) and it was just a general wreck.

Determined to get a workout in early before I have to knuckle down and write a philosophy paper on Kant (due at midnight tonight) I threw everyone in the car anyway and headed to the gym, while giving a lecture on responsibility, respecting boundaries and taking care of our home. I may have raised my voice. I was not happy.

At the Y, the commercial they made of us (remember that?) was sent out to everyone, and suddenly I moved from anonymous chubby chick with three kids to a celebrity. I am, emphatically, NOT comfortable with being recognized, and now I wish I had said No. It’s hard enough to get there, but to have everyone and their brother coming up to me was disconcerting and deflated me like a limp balloon.

I got the kids checked in, threw my stuff in a locker, and went up to find an eliptical. 30 minutes is a long time with no music- but I shouldn’t have worried, because 11 minutes in, the daycare lady came to tell me I had to go get Bean, because he was running away and hiding from the teacher. Eleven minutes. That was my workout.

Down in the gym, Bean was calm again, and involved in a game of Duck Duck Goose, but the teacher-girl said he needed to leave anyway because he had not listened to her. I asked if she knew he has autism- she said yes- but I know she is in no way aware (nor should she be, I suppose) of how to deal with a SPD kid. I had to pull Bean from a game he was playing with joy and politeness, and remove him because of something he did five minutes earlier. He had NO IDEA why he had to leave, and proceeded to melt down, biting and kicking me. Famous Me, who now everyone knows, dragging her completely unglued kid out of the Y.

None of it had to happen.

When we got home, Bean stayed in the car for about 20 minutes, refusing to come inside. I let it ride.

As I got everyone else settled, a friend called and asked if I could watch her four kids this afternoon. It’s no reflection on my friend, nor on her children, but I felt like I was going to puke. I cannot watch anyone’s kids right now- I can barely keep mine occupied while I write one paper after another and try to keep my nose above the rolling, liquid edge of the deep blue water.

Sunday Word Picture

Oh, that I had my camera with me… Yesterday, a friend of mine offered to watch my kids so I could go to the Temple. It was awesome of her, and my kids love playing at her house with her kids. They live on several acres out in the county, and there is dirt, hills, tall grass, tractors and things a-plenty for kids to have fun. It’s one of those situations where the kids hoot and holler with glee when I tell them where we are headed. As we pull in the long, gated dirt driveway, the boys can barely wait for the wheels to stop before they barrel out of the car and head off to boy-dirt-joy-nirvana.

After the temple, I ran by my house to pick up a plate of the Best Freaking Lemon Bars on Earth to give to my friend as thanks for watching the kids, and to 86 my heels for flip-flops. The sun was sinking low and making the light all Maxfield Parrish, the windows were rolled down to the let the surprisingly balmy July breeze wash over me and send my hair whipping around my head. It felt good.

As I pulled in the drive, there to the side of the barn were all my kids. The boys were dusty and happy, and Abby was wearing her Snow White dress (remember the one I made for her last year? that one.) as she marched across the dirt road, hand on her hip, and a pair of clear plastic safety goggles pushed back into her hair, and a Red Rider BB Gun over her shoulder. Yes, you read that right. There were little beads of sweat on her nose, and her dress was torn. “MOM! Brothers won’t get out of the way and let me have my turn!” And she spun on her heel and marched back towards the barn.

Now before anyone panics, my friend was camped out right next to the kids, and everyone had safety goggles on, and they had set up a bunch of root-beer cans on a large log. My friend is a scout leader, and teaches classes at scout camp on archery and BB guns. Each kid had a BB Gun, and they were all taking target practice. Bean was in absolute heaven. Jeff was bragging and claiming he could shoot the eye of a Jack of Spades at 50 paces (okay not really, but he likes to boast) but the best thing was Abby:

She marched herself right up to the firing line, planted her feet, cocked the BB Gun and leveled it at the tin cans. Ping! Ping! Ping! The Snow White dress blowing around her ankles, the back seam split open from vigorous playing (it IS a year old after all) and the fierce look of concentration on her face… it was a Norman Rockwell moment. And I didn’t have my camera.