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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Besty Rand, photographer adored

This spring we did ourselves a huge favor and booked a photo session with a woman we absolutely love, Betsy Rand. She also happens to be a gifted photographer. This is what happens when you mix a lively family of four girls with someone as talented as Betsy.  

Ella pulled a brilliant move on me while we made a mad dash for clothing we could wear to compliment each other. She has been desperate to get a jean jacket for some time and casually walked over to me at Old Navy with these matching jean jackets and was like, "So...what about these?"  Always good to have a fashionista in the family. 

Maya insisted on this. I swear.

Our little Ella gymnast. 

We all left the evening we spent with Betsy with joyful bubbles of love popping around inside of us.  When I look at these pictures, it is the fun and the love and the giggles and the silliness I remember.  They aren't just photos to me.  They are moments captured forever.  Betsy Rand, thank you. You are a genius.

(Note: former photo credit to Betsy for the picture of Maya in the previous post.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

heart-expanding, hair-pulling, coffee-drinking, patience-testing, stamina-inducing = the parenthood of Maya

My baby is about to turn 8.  I am not all that keen on it. I would like a different menu to order from, please.

Maya came into this world like a rocket. She was born with 4 swift pushes and we joke that if no one had been there to catch her she would have gone sailing right across the room, bounced off the opposite wall, gotten up and said, "Hey! When does this party get started?"

Here is a typical day in the life of Maya:

-wake up at 6 A.M. and read or color or create some elaborate art project
-occupy a solid 15 minutes to get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, etc., then either continue elaborate project or beg to watch TV and complain that there is nothing to do if TV is denied
-leave for school 8:20, be an engaged learner (we hope) until pick up at 3
-come home and play, do homework or complete elaborate project (or likely all of the above), followed by a 90 minute gymnastics practice, a run down the street, dinner and a shower and then complain that she is bored
-in bed 8 or 8:30, staying up to read by flashlight until 9

The house breathes a collective sigh of relief when Maya is finally in Slumberville.  I have always felt Maya and I were well matched for stamina.  This year she officially surpassed my supply and I drink copious amounts of coffee.

If only you could bottle this:

Maya is silly in the truest form of the word, finding play and goofiness where other people experience pedestrian life.  A trip into a public restroom becomes a game of, "What if this was our house?" Cleaning the toilet with the bowl brush gives way to exclamations like, "This is SO fun!" complete with dancing and wiggling around. Mopping the floor is an unparalleled joy.

Maya is insanely competitive which is very difficult for her noncompetitive sister or any other human being living in our house.  Maya constantly says things like: "I got in the house before you. I win." or "Let's see who can get their pajamas on fastest!" She trash talks when she plays Candyland and playing UNO with her is not for the weak at heart. We have learned that she is a kid who needs constant challenge and stimulation and it takes two very present and invested parents to keep her from making everyone in our house crazy.  Recently, Sandi had Maya upstairs for a while so I could work downstairs.  When they came down Sandi said, "Thank you for all the times you keep her occupied.  And you are welcome for all the times I do."

We joked that it will be interesting to see what kind of partner Maya ends up with who can actually keep up with her since it takes two of us and a very engaging school experience. Sandi said, "She will probably need more than one partner when she grows up.  One might not be enough."

She is a spitfire, a live wire, a firecracker.  She is a risk taker and a free agent. She stomps her foot and argues like a trial lawyer if she feels her independence is being violated.  I can easily see her being the dictator of a small nation when she grows up.

The other night, she got distracted from clearing her spot at the dinner table in favor of doing her homework.  In her hurry to get to the couch with her homework sheet, she abandoned her backpack and folder on the floor in the middle of the busy kitchen.  I asked her to pick it up and she told me "not now" (a parents favorite answer).  I tripped on it again and asked again and she began to yell at me.

Now, if you are a parent I'm sure you can picture how this went down.  I was trying not to yell so I selected my "strong" voice and went for annunciation.  With significant pauses for effect between each word I said, "Maya. You. Need. To. Pick. Up. Your. Backpack. Right. Now."  Maya capitalized on every pause to get her point across to me.

Our debate sounded like this:

And then Sandi stepped in. Again, two parents required here for this job.

She is also a compassionate girl who will stroke your cheek and give you a hug if she thinks you are crying when really you have just yawned.  If our family needs to take separate cars she is always concerned about the parent who gets left riding alone (despite our attempts to convince her that sometimes parents really like to ride alone). Her writing at school is often centered around how much she loves her family.  Maya is in a constant struggle to tell us she loves us more than we love her so that she now says, "I love you more than you love me times infinity and I can't hear what you are saying back!" and she covers her ears. She will look out for the kid in her class that needs some extra assistance, loves to help out with family projects and will always root for the underdog.

Maya is the only child I know of who sleeps with a sneaker on her headboard so she can practice tying shoelaces before she falls asleep.

Maya is my baby, the one who couldn't always do what her older sister could do, who had to be watched more closely because she was smaller, the one who had frightening airway issues and who had to be rushed to the hospital, the one who I last held in my arms.

We have come to always expect the unexpected where Maya is concerned. 

One particular morning I had to wake Maya up for school and she was not impressed.  She delivered me this note: "I want to go back to sleep!"

Throughout first grade, Maya would come home from school everyday and play, you guessed it, school.  She was ALWAYS the teacher.  

This was the night Maya finally convinced me to duct tape her to her chair to help her stay seated during dinner. 

People think Maya is adorable, wild, unruly, hilarious, silly, irreverent, or sweet.  Often we are asked, "Is she always like this?" which could refer to any of the above qualities.  We just nod, high five and pour another cup of coffee.

It turns out it is a very fine line between breaking a kid's spirit and allowing that same free spirit to roam untethered.  It is a slippery, moveable line and we worry every day about falling on the wrong side of it.  The consequences of failing are massive either way.

So, as classic parenting wisdom says, we pick our battles.  We strive to allow creative expression and personal freedom and keep entitlement and inflated assertions of power in check.  We have more wrinkles and have learned to laugh more easily because, when you live with a child like Maya, laughter is first on your list of things to do. Hair pulling is a close second.

Twister, Maya-style, means I spin the wheel and call out the commands rapid fire.  She loves to get twisted up in knots and when the game demands more than her flexibility or stature allows, she just pulls the mat in so she can succeed. In some circles this is called cheating.  In her world it is called modified success. 

The other night it was just Maya and I (playing Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and the aforementioned Twister) and she was talking about how her birthday was in a week.  I told her I wanted her to slow down and not grow up so fast.  She replied, "I will still think of you when I am 100.  I will visit you when you are in heaven.  But don't worry. I will probably stay with you until I am 30.  You have a bunch more years."

And just as my heart is trying to figure out how to beat again, she added, "I will always be your baby."

photo credit to Betsy Rand Photography

Sunday, October 18, 2015

body matters

We all have one.  Most of us don't like the one we are in and would prefer to trade. At least this part or that part.  I will take that women's hair and that one's ass.  And she can have these legs and this nose.
I am going to surprise even myself in saying this but I am sort of an expert on bodies.  I get paid to work on people's bodies; I am a massage therapist.  Plus, I have a body of my own as well. I have the moment by moment experience of living in my skin and regular encounters of having my hands on other bodies.
Working on people's bodies, having them completely surrender to my touch, is a privilege. Every move I make is made with an intention, to loosen, to open, to dig in and also to infuse tenderness, kindness and acceptance.  I travel my hands over the layers of skin and muscle, to the connections of bones and tendons, marveling at the sheer wonderment of the human body. 
And then a client will say, "Excuse my fat thighs," or "That feels good except I can feel that I am all squishy" or, worst of all, "I have put on weight and am very disappointed in myself."
These statements are like the ultimate bubble bursters.  There I am, in this moment of reverence, celebrating the unique conglomeration of cells that belong exclusively to this one human being, and she is thinking about how she has failed.
I say "she" because most often that is the case.
I have admired countless women, for their strength, their vulnerability, their guts, their rawness, their ability to live honestly, for their talent, their grit, their grace, their passion.  I have never admired a woman for the way her ass looks in a pair of jeans. I confess I may have been jealous from time to time of such a thing, but this has always been from the most insecure depths of myself, the place where I distill my own worth down to the size and shape of my body, a place that I work hard every day not to dwell.
How is it that as women have finally claimed our power and yet so often we still measure our success by a number on a scale or the size of our pants? 
There are so many stunning women (inside and out) walking around feeling inadequate about how they are failing in the great competition of living in the female body. What would life look like if we all stopped trying to keep up?  If we woke up tomorrow and what mattered was if you live with heart and if you give love to yourself and to the world.
There is an truth, however, that lies in the center of the quest to release ourselves from overvaluing our bodies: we still need to value our bodies. The answer to the question how do I free myself from the suffocating cultural pressure about my body? isn't screw them all, I will eat all I want of what I want and sit on the couch all day.  Not because you can't do that (you can and many people do) but because those are the not steps into love and care. Those are the steps of defiance.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a goal to lose weight, to get more fit, to improve one's diet.  But it is all about the intention.  Can we lose weight because we love ourselves, because it feels like a burden to carry those extra 15 or 20 pounds around?  Can we do it in a way that is full of allowing rather than fraught with deprivation?
I have wasted years of my life trying to manipulate my body into a form I would find more acceptable through punishment, regiment and control. I could sometimes effectively change but it never lasted.  I would gain and lose the same ten pounds, castigating or celebrating depending on which side of the swing I found myself.  Something deep inside me rebelled against those methods and I decided that I simply couldn't stomach it anymore.  I would rather have the ten pounds and rejoice in my body than feel like I was constantly failing.  
I would rather live in the body I had than constantly strive for one I didn't.
And will you be surprised when I tell you this part?  Adopting that more relaxed, I'm-on-my-own-side, I'm-going-to-enjoy-everything-I-eat attitude has made me less inclined toward excess and overindulging.  Giving myself permission to love my body means that often times I notice the nuances of my system and act accordingly.  When you no longer hate your body, when you aren't constantly manipulating it, you lose the desire for cruelty and something much more powerful takes its place: love, care, consideration, compassion, celebration.
Today, as every day before and every day that will follow, I am entirely imperfect. What fantastic news.  I can stop striving for perfection, not just in my body but in myself.  I can stop wasting my energy on a fruitless task and instead germinate creativity and passion in my life. Without anyone's permission or approval, without being an inch smaller or a pound lighter, I am working to love my whole self like it is my job. I am the expert on this campus. 
You are also an expert - an expert on the body that you live in. Congratulations. Together we can invent a new rhythm for inhabiting our own skin. Everything is more beautiful when it is loved. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

on Suzanne Carver, expert on nothing about writing

Sometimes the Universe prompts me with a gentle nudge- while hunting for a parking spot I will end up in front of a favorite store and decide to pop in only to run into someone I was meant to have a conversation with on that day. Other times the Universe takes the sledgehammer approach.

I must say I prefer the former but am more persuaded by the latter.

No less than 6 people told me that I needed to read Stephen King's On Writing.  I said I would.  I promised I would.  Then my mother, unbeknownst of all these recommendations, bought it for me for my birthday.  Shortly after 3 more people told me, "Oh, you should definitely read On Writing by Stephen King."

Okay fine!  So I am.

Can you see what is coming next?

You need to read Stephen King's On Writing.  Especially if you want to write.  Or if you are like me and you kind of more need to write.

To be honest I am only about 1/3 of the way through it and I love everything about it- the rags to riches story of a hard worker who believed in his dream enough to try, a man who has to dig his way out a pit of alcoholism and the practical advice on writing itself (of which I have only just begun to read).

He talks about writing a first draft of what would become his first book, Carrie, and throwing it in the trash.  While he was at work, his wife (who I have a total soft spot for as the cheerleader and keeper of the flame of hope) took it out of the trash, read it and told him he had something there.

I have been writing every day for the past 8 days.  While this is no world record, it might in fact be a record for me.  I made a commitment to myself to write at least 2 pages in my book for 30 days, starting on October 1st.  (For inspiration to start new habits or end bad ones do yourself a favor and watch this 3 minute TED video on the 30 day challenge.)   A friend shared this video with me on September 30th and when I realized that the next day was the start of a new month, it felt like on elf those subtle nudges from the Universe. It turns out this is a perfect way to build a writing habit  where writing fits in first and other things, like laundry and groceries, fit in around it. I have actual momentum and excitement each day when I sit down.

I'm wondering how my family will take when I say, "There is no food to cook dinner tonight but check out these pages!"

I have just enough self-importance to read On Writing and imagine writing my own memoir, several bestsellers down the road, about how I became an author.   I picture my own made-for-TV movie about how I used to write short stories I intended to turn into books when I was eight. How I won first place in the Mother's Against Drunk Driving essay contest in sixth grade and got a $100 prize, got to meet the Governor and be on the news. How I embarked on my first real attempt at a novel at age 24, compiling 140 pages before deciding it wasn't any good. To the decade I spent being a full time mom and used this blog as an outlet for writing as well as family record keeping. To how I finally made writing a priority when my kids were in second and fifth grade and I crafted a novel in between the morning rush, the afternoon shlepping and my sporadic massage clients, drinking too much coffee and relying on the encouragement of others like a parasite.

I imagine dedicating my first book to my wife for believing in me and for telling me she was planning our wealthy retirement on my success.  I envisage giving credit to my own personal cheerleaders and of autographs and book clubs and head shots. I conjure the advice I will give to aspiring writers about how the only way to write is to write, how to breath life into characters, how to pace a scene and all sorts of other wisdoms I don't yet have and so can't yet dispense.

Fortunately,  I also have enough self-depreciation to be paralyzed by my own feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt.  It is hard to tell people I am writing a book and not have it self incredibly self-indulgent.  Practically every day when I sit to write, I tell myself:  it doesn't have to be good.  You just have to do it. Sometimes I struggle to write any words because I know that probably 60% of everything I write will be cut later. I feel crippled to type the words that will likely be sacrificed  on the alter of editing.  I am too attached to my own words.

I am myopic in my view of the journey of writing. I have this notion that people like Elizabeth Gilbert, Jodi Picoult and R.K. Rowling just sit at a laptop and compose perfection with every key stroke. I sit at my laptop, volleying between fist pumps of success and a running mantra of who will ever want to read this?

And don't get me started on my worries about how herculean it is to get a manuscript published.

Cheryl Strayed wrote this in her stunning book, Tiny, Beautiful Things (another book I highly recommend): "I finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than writing a book that sucked. And so at last, I got to serious work on the book."

She also talks about how having a book inside her is like have two hearts beating in her chest and goes on to say: "I'd lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest.  Which meant I had to write a book. My very possibly mediocre book.  My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book.....It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do."

Her memoir, Wild, was recently made into a movie staring Reese Witherspoon.

I am a patchwork of intense self-belief and debilitating self-doubt.  Regardless of the presence or absence of raw talent, writing a book takes dedication and work,  sweat-inducing, humility-provoking, soul-digging work.  It is work worth doing no matter the outcome, a journey worth taking no matter the destination because if you have a book inside you, you must extract it.

Photographers have to take endless pictures to get a handful of good ones.  Writers have to write countless words to write the ones that matter.  I am 28 pages into this book-ectomy.  Hopefully that translates into a solid 4 pages of good writing.

As a practical matter, if you come to my house and see a rejected manuscript in the trash it is likely a cry for help.  I may need you to take it out, brush the coffee grounds off it and tell me I have something there and to keep working.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Fashionista

I have a story I have been saving up.  Here's to hoping the months that separate today from the actual events have dulled the humiliation.

One can hope.

To give the proper context, first you must understand the degree to which our oldest daughter requires autonomy in all matter of clothing.  From the time she was three she was insistent, to the point of tears, about what she put on her body.  We went through a year and a half stage where she only wore dresses.  And by dresses, I mean petticoat dresses.  She went to preschool in flower-girl-eque dresses, no matter the rain, the snow, the messy art project or the trip to the local farm.

Sledding day?  No problem. Tulle and silk can compress down into the forgiving legs of snow pants with just a small amount of effort.   And velour half shirts are surprisingly warm in a Maine winter.

When our younger, more sporty, daughter turned three and we opened up the totes of hand-me-down 3T clothes from her big sister, we sighed and remarked, "Ah, yes.  The dress phase," and we headed for the mall to get jeans and sweatshirts.

The summer Ella was three, we had purchased a yellow sundress from a friend's store and Ella fell in love with it.  She called it her "Twirly Dress" and she wore it at least 5 times a week.  My friend Emilie called it her summer uniform.  The summer she was four, we went back and bought another one in blue.

Year two, second string twirly dress. 
The original twirly dress.  

Come to think of it, age five, saw twirly dress number three.

And year three.

Dresses, dresses and more dresses....

Eclectic footwear was often roped into the game.

There was a lot of letting go about Ella's wardrobe as you can imagine.  I struggled to let her out of the house many days until a mom friend of mine said, "No one thinks you dressed her like that."  That was all I needed to make peace with it.

Anyone who knew Ella in these younger years can recount the specificity and eccentricity of her dress.   Dresses gave way to "fancy" clothes, matching sets and two piece shirts (the ones connected by thread at the top of the shoulder that get all twisted and inside out in the washer and make mothers lose days off their lives each time it comes through the laundry) with elaborate beadwork on the inside and a sheer, draping fabric on the outside.

Yes, my five-year-old needed to have her clothes washed on the delicate cycle.

In addition to being particular about the style of clothing she would wear, Ella has always been very specific about which items she would wear when.   Often she would want to wear an item that was still dirty or dream up a sweater that was in winter storage and feel an urgent need to wear it that day when we needed to leave for school in ten minutes.

Sometimes Ella would come downstairs in tears telling me that she just couldn't pick out her clothes.  Could I please, pretty please, pick out something for her?  I would fall for the trap, yet again, and head up to the wardrobe of my fashionista and pull together some things I thought would look cute together.

Approximately 98% of the time, she would look at my selection in disgust and say, "I cannot wear THAT."  She was six at the time.

Eventually I stopped falling for the rouse.  I also got tired of the power struggle of having my child come down in a tank top in February, fleece in August and insisting that the skirt "still fit" even though it wore more like a tutu. I was tired of the yelling and the crying.

We made two clothes rules:

1.  It has to fit.

2.  It has to be appropriate for the weather.

Fast forward a few years.  Ella has become much more mainstream about her clothing choices but still retains a wonderful flair to her dress.  She is, without a doubt, legitimately fashionable.  Her aunt, also a risky dresser, consults Ella for fashion opinions.

Last winter when we pulled out the totes of warm clothes, Ella was thrilled to see a pair of footed pjs from the previous year to which Maya had an identical pair.  If you have ever had the joyful task of being in charge of kids' clothes from season to season and size to size, you likely agree that it would be more fun to have a root canal.

The footed pjs, with their fuzzy little snowman, looked, shall we say, a tad stretched.  They wore more like spandex.  And instead of being cozy up around the neck, it stretched tight like a muscle shirt, exposing her collarbones.

We gently said, "Honey, those look a little too tight."

"NO!  These fit just fine.  I love them.  They are perfect," was the expected reply.

We let her wear them.  Pick your battles, as the age-old wisdom says.

Life went on.  We forgot about the inappropriately sized pajamas.

In the midst of the holiday clamor and ruckus that is December, Ella woke up one night with a painful throbbing in her toe.  Her toe was hot and red and the pain was significant enough to cause tears and sleeplessness.  Can children get gout we wondered?  We gave the requisite children's pain relievers and put her back to bed.

Her foot was mostly okay the next day but the pain woke her again the following night and the night after that.  This seemed to warrant a call to the pediatrician.  I took her in and our lovely pediatrician examined her toe, told me kids do not in fact get gout, asked a bunch of questions about Ella's activities as of late.  Had she banged it?  Stubbed it?  Fallen down?  Eventually the pediatrician turned to me and said she was concerned because of the location of the pain being in the toe knuckle (is there such a term?) and that fact that it was waking her up at night.

Tests were ordered, labs and x-ray.  Being the stellar mom that I am, I was aware that it was December and that this flurry of medical testing would both not be paid for by our insurance because we hadn't met our deductible for the year and would not apply to our deductible for the following year which was only a few short weeks away.

So I asked the question every star parent asks:  "Are you sure this is really necessary?"

The doctor's concerns were of a bone infection. Yes, this was necessary.  Since she is never one to jump the gun or cause unnecessary alarm, I nodded and proceeded to imaging and the lab.

I waited with anxious mom nerves for the test results and I think the prayer chain at Sandi's family church may even have been activated.  Bone infection?  Bone cancer?

But alas,  the problem was more close to home.  It turns out your doctor can't fully assess the situation without all of the pertinent details.

Ella's toe was fine and her labs were perfect.   Naturally, we were relieved it was nothing serious.

That night, as the kids were getting into bed, Ella in her trusty, spandex footed pjs,  complained, "My toe still hurts."

My wife, Sandi, looked at me with a stunned expression on her face.  "It is the footed pajamas,"  she said calmly.  "They are too tight and they are causing her toe to hurt.  We just spent $600 on medical tests because of pajamas that are too tight."

Yes, you heard it here.  Our child's profound dedication to fashion freedom cost us $600 out of pocket. 

I marched up to Target the next day and bought her a pair of footed pjs so big the feet pool like puddles on the floor.  And I can promise that the next time a random ache or pain presents itself, I will consider the clothes in my first line of questioning.

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