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Archive for January, 2012

Gwen Stefani vs. Sarah Jessica Parker

Monday, January 30th, 2012

I will go ahead and say it: I tend to bounce back from pregnancy pretty quickly.  Many women spend months – or even years – trying to reclaim their pre-pregnancy bodies.  And now for the second time, I have thankfully gotten back into my old wardrobe by the time I returned to work.  I am lucky.  I realize this.   And I do not take it for granted.  But it brings with it a question for me.  And that question leads me to a larger question.  The first question is, what should I say when people comment on my weight?  The second question is, are there social rules around these things?  And if not, are there sweeping social preferences?

Last week was my first full week back in the office, and with it came a number of comments about my weight that left me feeling a bit awkward.  Naturally I said thank you.  But each comment seemed to come with the expectation of an explanation; like I was supposed to substantiate myself somehow.  Usually I just chalked it up to nursing (which burns beaucoup calories) but, like most things, there is more to the story than that.  That “more” is threefold.  1) I went to painstaking lengths to manage my weight gain during pregnancy.  And 2) as soon as I got the all-clear from my doctor, I resumed my normal workout routine.  And… 3) I am lucky.  But which answer do I  give?

This conundrum reminds me of interviews I’ve read with Gwen Stefani and Sarah Jessica Parker.  When asked about her (literally) rock star body, Gwen Stefani always states quite plainly that she works for it, and hard.  Those abs are the result of intense effort in the diet and exercise arenas and she doesn’t try to hide it.  SJP, on the other hand, is much more evasive about her svelte (sinewy?) figure.  She usually claims that she’s just been blessed with a thin frame.  I recall one interview I read wherein she claimed to have eaten steak, mashed potatoes, creme brûlée, and myriad other indulgences in a single meal for dinner the night before.  (“Yeah, right!” I thought.)  Of course there are women who have won the genetic lottery and came out with lithe figures and fast metabolisms.  But I would wager that most women who have bodies that qualify as enviable do so because they work for them.  Even the Heidi Klums of the world maintain a regular exercise regimen.

But which version would we rather hear such people lay claim to?  What is the most socially acceptable answer?  When one person compliments another’s body it almost always comes with either the explicit or implicit desire for more information.  What is her diet like?  What is her exercise routine?  And how unrealistic would it be to incorporate such (presumably intense) measures into our own lives?  Or, did she just luck out?  Which answer would we rather hear?  Each one comes with implications that we may or may not like.

If the answer is Gwen’s – “I have this body because I work my tail off for it” – then are we relieved to know that we too could have abs and shoulders like hers if only we were willing to put in the gym hours?  Are we relieved to know that this beautiful and successful woman at least has to sweat it out like a normal person to look like she does?  Or do we take it as a referendum on ourselves in the vein of, “You could look awesome too if you were willing to work for it, but you’re not.”

Conversely, if the answer is Sarah Jessica’s – “I was born with this body and it’s just my natural build” – do we hate her for it?  Or are we relieved to learn that we can sit on the couch guilt free knowing that she drew the long straw, we did not, and we will never look like that so we’d might as well just enjoy our bon bons?  (Side bar – what exactly is a bon bon?)

I think for me I’d rather have this conversation with Gwen Stefani than Sarah Jessica Parker.  I’d rather know that she’s a human being who works and struggles along with the rest of us.  I’d rather know that I’m not utterly devoid of the chance to achieve a rock star physique, even if I never avail myself of the opportunity.  But I don’t know if I’m in the majority here.

So what about you?  Would you rather hear about hard work or good luck?  Or do you just avoid such topics altogether?  I’m not sure there’s a right answer here.  But I’m curious about the nature of our gut reactions.

What a Gift It Is

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In mid-December I got a text message from my work friend Layla* asking for prayers for her brother’s family, as his pregnant wife had been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 32 weeks and was having to be induced.  The next day another text told me that the baby had severe health problems (entirely unrelated to the pre-eclampsia).  Layla and the rest of the family convened in her hometown where her brother and his family still live.  Shortly thereafter the baby was airlifted to a larger city with a larger hospital for more advanced treatment.  It was also there that they learned the baby’s diagnosis: Trisomy 13.

Apparently only 10% of babies with Trisomy 13 survive pregnancy and make it to birth.  Of those that make it to birth, only 10% live a single day.   The doctors told Layla’s brother Jack and his wife Meaghan early on that their little boy wouldn’t be able to overcome his conditions, and so they treasured every day they had with him, knowing that the end would come soon.  This little boy fought for his life for nine days.  He was truly amazing.

It is worth noting that December is an emotionally grueling month for my friend’s family.  Her birthday falls in December.  One of her niece’s birthdays falls in December.  And her youngest sister Catherine’s birthday is in December.  Two years ago Catherine was home for Christmas and out of the clear blue died of an undiagnosed heart condition.  She was in her mid-twenties.  They buried her on Christmas Eve.  And then again this past December tragedy struck again.  Indeed, December is filled with heartache for this family.

Jack and Meaghan have two beautiful little girls, May and Emily, who are about four and two years old, respectively.  When their brother was born they were told that he had arrived, but that he was very sick.  After he passed May asked her grandmother what had happened to him.

“Well, you know how your Aunt Catherine went to heaven and now she flies around with all the angels?”

“Yes.”

“Well, your brother went to heaven to become an angel too.”

And then May said the thing that makes this whole, miserable, heartbreaking story worth reading.  She hollered to her little sister, “Hey, Emily!  Did you hear that?  There are baby angels flying around all the time and our brother gets to be one of them!  Isn’t that wonderful?!”

What a gift it is to see the world the way a child sees it.  What a gift it is to see joy where we only saw pain.  Whether you believe in heaven and angels or not, there is something inspiring about the way these children experience loss – with a silver lining that not only softens the blow, but supersedes it altogether.  What an incredible gift it is.

*All names have been changed.

Drudgery and Delight

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

If you were on Facebook at all last week (and if any of your friends are of the Mommy set), chances are good that someone you know posted a link to this article about cherishing every moment of parenthood.  It’s worth a quick read, but to summarize, author Glennon Melton states that while she is out in public wrangling her three kids she is often told to “cherish this moment” by older women whose children are grown.  She posits that this well-intentioned advice actually has an adverse effect on her, leading her to live in a state of constant paranoia that she isn’t savoring her role as a mother enough because parenting small children is an incredible amount of work.

As I read the article Melton’s words rang true to me – so much so that my response was something along the lines of, “Well, of course it’s hard!  Doesn’t everyone already know this?”  As I watched the Internet explode with re-postings of her piece what struck me most was that the article was causing such an uproar.  (It garnered more the 1,500 comments on The Huffington Post.)  Any parent will tell you that parenting is hard.  Any parent will tell you that there are days when everything seems to go wrong and all you want is for the sun to set and your kids to go to bed.  Any parent will tell you that there are moments when the only way to get even 30 seconds of peace and quiet is to go to the bathroom.  This is not novel information.  So why all the kerfuffle?

I think it’s due to a serious lack of both honesty and understanding.

The honesty problems belong to us parents.  As parents (especially as mothers) we feel compelled to address our children’s behavioral imperfections in one of two ways.  1) Don’t really talk about them at all.  Or 2) Talk about them with a self-deprecating humor that suggests we aren’t ever actually driven to our limits.  But this isn’t true, is it?  IEP (whom I love to the ends of the earth) can make me crazy faster than anyone else I know.  In a couple of years SSP (whom I also love to the ends of the earth) will fit that bill as well.  And I would wager that this is true for all parents.  So why can’t we say so?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but the mere fact that Melton’s piece created the dust storm that it did indicates to me that not enough of us are.

The understanding problems belong to the people who question us.  Just because our children can run us ragged doesn’t mean that we are in over our heads or that having them in the first place was a mistake.  In her article Melton likens parenting to climbing Mount Everest.  People don’t climb Mount Everest because it is easy or relaxing or enjoyable.  They do it because it is an unparalleled challenge, the completion of which is enormously satisfying.  This isn’t to say that parenting is merely one grueling step after another or that there is only a single, fleeting moment of accomplishment when they graduate high school.  Obviously there’s more to it than that or we wouldn’t do it.  Even climbing Mount Everest doesn’t take 18 years.

For me, though, the biggest take-away from this whole thing is that we each parent in our own way.  We each enjoy different things about parenting.  What one parent sees as drudgery another parent may see as a delight, and there is incredible freedom in that.  No one can (or at least no one should) tell us which aspects of child-rearing ought to be enjoyable to us.  For Melton navigating three kids through an afternoon’s worth of grocery shopping and other errands might be a chore.  For another parent it might be an adventure.  And that’s okay.

We can wish away the moments of the things we find maddening.  And we can relish in the moments that we love.  And we should never have to justify any of it.

Resolved – Part 3

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Maternity leave is officially over.  (Woe is me.)  Friday was my first day back at work so starting today I am back in the blogging saddle.  I realize that discussion of resolutions is so three weeks ago, but back around New Year’s Day I was busy recovering from the holidays and relishing the last few weeks of my time at home with the boys.  So here I am, on January 23rd, documenting my goals for this year.
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Before I launch straight into the laundry list I feel compelled to wax philosophical about resolutions in general.  I’ve documented my resolutions here on this blog for the past two years (2010 is here, and 2011 is here) with wildly differing results.  In 2010 I was a resolution rock star.  I set reasonable goals for myself and lived up to them all.  Last year I was plagued by hubris from 2010′s successes, set pretty aggressive goals, and by April found myself in the face of abject failure.  (I will offer the caveat that pregnancy had a pretty big hand in unraveling my resolutions.)
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Nevertheless, I am back here in this space offering my goals for the new year.  In spite of last year’s disappointment I still contend that goals are worth having, even if they aren’t always met.  I am a work in progress.  I am not complete.  I can be better.  I can do better.  I always have room for improvement.  And so, one year after another, I will sit down and identify the things I’d like to work on.  For if I don’t identify these things to myself (and I am a person who benefits considerably from the accountability of making goals public) then how can I expect for any of them to change.
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With that, in 2012 I plan to:
  1. Be more thoughtful.  This is something that I used to be very good at as a kid and in my teens and early twenties.  Then when I was 27 I took a job that required me to travel three to four days each week.  At the same time I enrolled in an MBA program that was almost exclusively night classes.  My bandwidth was at capacity.  As soon as I finished my MBA I got pregnant with IEP and with motherhood my spare time continued to diminish.  And one of the things that has been negatively impacted by all of these other obligations is my thoughtfulness toward other people.  So, this year I want to do more that falls into this category.  I want to make small but thoughtful gestures that let other people know that I care about them. 
  2. Read more.  I’ve been veryspecific about my reading goals in past years.  In 2010 it was to read more nonfiction and I knocked it out of the park.  Last year it was to read classic works of fiction I’d never read and I struck out majorly, not making it through a single classic.  (Again, I blame pregnancy.  I’d get into bed at 9:30 and facing a choice between sleep and Tolstoy, sleep won every time.)  So this year my goal is to read, period.  I’d like to work some classics into the mix, specifically A Tale of Two Cities. But I’d also like to mix in some modern fiction (perhaps the second and third titles in the Stieg Larsson trilogy), and some nonfiction (Moneyball and Kitchen Confidential are on the docket).  I’d like to average more than a book a month, and am shooting for at least 15 total.
  3. Get out of my workout rut.  I spend way too much time on the elliptical machine.  I usually run about one day a week.  And I do weights three days a week, rotating between arms, legs, and core.  But that’s not enough variety.  I would like to work swimming and rowing into my regular workout routine, as well as shaking up things in my strength training routine.
  4. Learn to use Photoshop.  I got Photoshop Elements for Christmas a year ago.  I can use it for some basic exposure corrections and cropping, but it is capable of much more than I know how to do.  I’d like to learn to create layers and use opacity, to download and run actions, and figure out what other key features I’m overlooking.
  5. Send birthday cards.  This is a repeat from last year.  This is such an easy thing to do, and I’m woefully bad about it.  It dovetails with being more thoughtful, but this is a very specific thing that I want to do a better job of.  This shouldn’t be a difficult one.
  6. Grow an herb garden.  Another 2011 repeat.  I was in the midst of first trimester misery (that’s the last time I play the pregnancy card, I promise) when it should have been planted, and by the time I got my head above water again we were about to leave on vacation and by the time we got home it was really too hot for seedlings to survive.  This year I’m committed.  I will grow parsley, chives, basil, and thyme.

And there we have it.  I’m trying to harken back to 2010′s list a bit by choosing goals that are attainable, but still challenging.  I think this list meets those criteria.  I will be back with bigger thoughts on Wednesday, but wanted to get these resolutions into the archives before any more time passed.  I enjoyed my time off from blogging, but I’m also looking forward to getting back into the swing of thinking Ten Dollar Thoughts.  I hope you’ll join me.