A tale of two expectations

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The other day, I took a gamble and brought Clark to the lake right around naptime. This could have gone very poorly, with just one parent and one overtired kid and too much sun. I told myself it would probably be a disaster. I gave myself permission to pack it all up and head back home as soon as the winds started to shift.

In my experience, a skipped nap usually means a shitty afternoon. But in my experience, for 1 out of every 10 skipped naps, Clark will actually be chill and delightfully subdued. This, magically, was one of those times. We got to the beach and set up our blanket and beach umbrella. We lounged and ate PB&Js, read some books, dug in the sand and through it all, he was a sleepy beautiful relaxed angel. Even when our beach umbrella cartwheeled away from us, pointed metal stand and all, and I had to chase it — in my bathing suit — further down the beach than you will ever believe, while drawing more attention to the fiasco by shouting “Watch out!” to innocent families in our path — even THEN, Clark was cool and calm. After I safely tucked the beach umbrella away, he asked me, “Mommy, did you save the day?” And I was like, “You’re damn right I did, son. Did you see how fast I ran? In my bathing suit?!”

All to say, I had low expectations for the lake outing. So because it went moderately fine, I have now added it to my Best of Summer 2019 list to be remembered with fondness for years to come.

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This brings us to a recap of an altogether different experience. Our local library has a summer reading program for adults, kids and little kids. Obviously, I signed us both up. One might say that this is a story of high expectations.

Clark loves books, but he had not shown any understanding or interest at all in the summer reading program. I remained undeterred. Every time he read a book, he was supposed to color in a shape on a tracking sheet. How fun! Books! Coloring! What’s not to love? Ok, fine, I had to bribe Clark to color in the shapes. Sure, I colored some in myself. And yeah, maybe I had dreamed up the perfect photo that we would take at the library, with the two of us smiling and holding up our reading prizes together at the end of summer. What’s so wrong with that?

Yesterday after work, I happily announced to Clark that we were going to the library to get our prizes. He countered with a suggestion to visit the “ice cream store”. Desperate, I conceded that would be a good celebration for our summer reading success. When we got to the library, Clark had a choice of three different colored prizes. He picked green. And then he threw a fit because he couldn’t have all of the colors. Negotiations broke down. He screamed. And screamed. We made a quick exit to the car. He cried and yelled for 20 minutes outside of the library and another 5 minutes in the driveway. We finally made our way inside the house and, in further desperation, I scooped us each a bit of ice cream. To his credit, Clark truthfully reported to chris that he, in fact, had been crying and yelling. Chris asked him if he needed to apologize to me for all of the yelling and Clark said, “Yeah, and the tantrum too. The tantrum outside.”

So that was our magical library visit and the culmination of our summer reading challenge. A total and complete disaster. I’m embarrassed to admit how high my hopes were for this occasion. As soon as the plan began to unravel, so did I. To be fair though, Clark obviously unraveled more. Also to be fair, I ate the rest of our ice cream after he went to bed. Such is the delicate balance of life with a three-year-old.

No lesson or advice here, just an observation of what expectations can do to a person.

Things I've done today

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It’s an average Tuesday.

I did not wash my hair. I wore the first outfit I tried on— maybe it’s not such an average day after all? Clark and I debated whether Tasmanian devils or octopuses were more powerful. We think octopuses probably are, given their size. I let Clark scream HELLO! in the stairwell at daycare to see if it echoed (it did a little, but not to our satisfaction). I thought it might finally be time to take a break from social media. Then I decided I would mute all the remaining accounts that make me feel bad. Then I thought I was being too sensitive and not happy enough for others. I thought about the people who probably don’t like me and I felt bad about that. I reminded myself to not care so much about being likeable, as long as I’m still being kind and true.

I gave Clark a dinosaur high-five at daycare. I researched knee joint pain and arthritis, which it turns out has been a pastime of mine for many years now. I read this beautiful piece about raising teenage boys and cried at my desk. Then I read another thread about protecting white teenage boys from becoming radicalized by white supremacists. A few more tears at my desk. (It should be noted that Clark is three years old.) Next I watched the trailer for the new Little Women movie. I tried not to pass out from extreme anticipation. I did a few quick edits on a post about expectations and disappointment. Then I got a cup of coffee and got to work.

Chasing beautiful

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I’m eternally grateful for being woken up to the insane myth of societal beauty standards. Over the past year, I’ve immersed myself in learning — or better yet, unlearning— about the history of beauty standards, the patriarchal mood swings that dictate what is beautiful and acceptable, the toxicity of diet culture and the ways in which we are held down by our obsession with appearance. It’s a total scam. I’m speaking as a woman, of course, but this whole beauty/attractiveness scam hurts men too. It also must be noted that I’m speaking from a place of extreme privilege— I’m white, thin, able-bodied, gender-conforming and generally beauty-standard-conforming too. People with bodies that don’t carry this privilege face prejudice and violence as a daily experience.

In case you are also fed up with this bullshit and with feeling as thought your looks are the most important thing about you, allow me to share a few starter resources to dismantling this shit idea of beauty.

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One quick, readable primer I found is Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees. She tackles constantly-changing beauty standards, female grooming expectations, oppressive beauty routines, uncomfortable clothes, Instagram woes, the myth of “strong is the new skinny”, pesky body shamers and all of the other things that hold us back.

 

“After years of being bombarded with societal messages about the importance of beauty, our self-worth barometers have started to overvalue one factor: our appearance. For many of us, how we feel about the way we look has become the deciding factor for how we feel about ourselves, our worth as a person, our life, everything. When we think we look good, we have confidence for days, but when we think we look bad, we feel defeated, and none of our other accomplishments matter.”

Rees brings some truth about loving our bodies… which is to say, cool if you do but it’s also okay if you don’t. We are all so much more than our bodies and we can still nourish and appreciate and respect our bodies even if we don’t love our cellulite or acne or belly. There! I said it. I don’t look at my stretch marks and think, “Oh what beautiful life-giving badges of courage and motherhood,” but I am trying to look at them and… not care much at all. To not think they are beautiful, not think they are disgusting and certainly not to think that they in any way define me or my worth.

 

“Obviously, the advice to love our body comes from a well-meaning place. But it's also misleading because it keeps women stuck on their mirror image by reinforcing the idea that their physical form is the gatekeeper to happiness. Yes, you should strive to cultivate respect and compassion for yourself, as a human being, and your body (including the way it looks) is a part of that. But if your goal is to be happy and feel confident, understanding that you are more than your body is miles more valuable than writing love letters to your individual body parts.”

Another article that caught my eye was “The Best Skin-Care Trick Is Being Rich” by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic. Because, yeah, it’s true.

 
Celebrities wouldn’t be as distractingly beautiful without dermatologists, estheticians, and the women behind the beauty counters at Bergdorf Goodman. You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.

Rich people can buy beauty, and not just in the form of obvious plastic surgery, but in all of the small and secret ways that money can buy you better skin and nutrition and time to spend on those things.

LA Johnson/nPr

LA Johnson/nPr

Finally, this piece from NPR’s Code Switch “Is Beauty In The Eyes Of The Colonizer?” by Leah Donnella drives home the innate connnection between white supremacy and societal beauty standards.

 

“Think about why that person is beautiful. Is it because of their perfectly white teeth? Their thick, shiny hair? The fact that their features conform perfectly to Western beauty norms?”

Donnella goes onto note that in our society, “beauty is a facet of power.” It’s not just about self-care or self-love, the perception of beauty and attractiveness and unlock spaces and opportunities while systematically denying that access to others. She notes, that “the body positivity movement and the fat-acceptance movements have also consistently pushed back on the idea that thin, young, white, able-bodied women are the epitome of beauty — or that beauty should be a precondition for respect to begin with.”

So, team, let’s stop chasing beauty so feverishly, yeah? Let’s stop skipping the pool party because we hate our bodies in bathing suits, let’s stop piling on makeup when we’d rather be fresh-faced, let’s stop thinking we have to conform to one specific, though ever-changing, ideal of beauty. Let’s unchain ourselves from that myth and reclaim our time. Choose which parts of beauty are fun for you or a creative outlet - maybe it’s your hair or nails or makeup or clothes - but then dump that beauty crap that doesn’t spark joy. And leave your good books, podcasts and Instagram accounts here so I can add to my anti-beauty-standard rant.

Next up: chasing skinny…

Sick days

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I have a little summer cold this week. Nothing unusual or severe, but I took a sick day and stayed home.

Do you take sick days? Probably not as much as you should. All morning I wrestled with whether to stay home or go to work. I had no meetings on my calendar or particularly urgent deadlines. But, I told myself, I also wasn’t that sick. Sure, I have an annoying cough, drippy nose, foggy mind and am tired. Those are things I, like all of you, have worked through before when I had to finish a project or attend to another important commitment. When I was pregnant with Clark, I came down with an awful cold the morning I was scheduled to lead a major strategic planning discussion with 60+ community members. So I did it, then came home and crashed.

Sick days aren’t just for you! They also help prevent the spread of germs and illness! I don’t want my coworkers passing around their germs to me, so why should I come to work and risk them getting sick? What about all of the people with compromised immune systems, that I may or may not know about, who I could come in contact with throughout the day? Also, how gross is it to listen to my sniffle or blow my nose all day? So stay home, please.

An important recognition: I have paid sick leave at my job. I believe everyone should have access to paid sick leave. It’s a basic worker right and one that too many people don’t have. My organization provides paid sick leave to all full-time employees and we’re working on phasing in part-time employees too. It’s a financial risk. It’s cheaper to not provide it. But offering paid sick leave is the right thing to do and trust me, I know the stresses that come with balancing an organizational budget and how these costs add up. It’s also my experience, though, that most workers do not use anywhere near their allowed sick leave and I don’t have any personal examples of workers taking advantage of our generous leave policy. You can watch me talk about why I support paid sick leave here, if you’re in the mood for some local labor activism.

Back to today. We’re made to think that if we aren’t at work, we’re not productive and that if we’re not productive, we’re not worthy. I love my job and I love that it allows me to work on behalf of something I feel strongly about, but it doesn’t define my worth. Nor do the number of loads of laundry I do or whether I accomplished anything at all today except resting. I kept getting up and thinking, “Oh it’s a lovely day I should go for a walk or plant some flowers or do an errand or reorganize my closet.” But the whole point of sick days is to rest, heal and not spread your germs. So please, if you have paid sick leave, use it!

I’ll confess that I did grab my laptop this morning after I brought Clark to school, but it made me feel better to have it and check in a little bit so I’m still counting this as a restful day.

There was an amazing article on The Onion, or maybe McSweeney’s, making fun of people who think they are too important to take a sick day when they need one and are desperate to prove how tough they are at the risk of infecting all of their co-workers and their families. I can’t find it though, but if you have it, please send the link.

A slow 5K

2018 frEIhofer’s run (Last year)

2018 frEIhofer’s run (Last year)

This time last year I’d just run my first post-kid half marathon and felt healthy and inspired. Then I stopped running. I just... stopped. I couldn’t make the time for it, then fell out of habit, then became too intimidated, then called it stupid, then... a year had passed of me feeling less connected to my body than I’ve felt in awhile (ever?), including immediately postpartum.

Christine got her groove back, 2018

Christine got her groove back, 2018

We give new moms such grace for, like, six weeks or maybe even six months and then the grace period is over. Back to hating your body into submission and the relentless quest to shrink shrink shrink yourself. The smaller the better. Diet culture is so strong it’s hard to escape. Even when you know it’s brainwashed you. Even when you are a smart, thoughtful person. Even when deep down you think you might still love your body with the new 20ish pounds but are supposed to feel disgusted or ashamed. It’s a constant struggle for me to distinguish true health-seeking behaviors from diet and skinny culture BS.

2019 FReihofer’s run (also, christine lost her groove THIS YEAR)

2019 FReihofer’s run (also, christine lost her groove THIS YEAR)

But this week, after not having gone for a single run in months, I decided I wanted to run my 8th Freihofer’s Run for Women, a premiere nationally-recognized all-woman road race in my city. I tried to forget how 5Ks have often been a throwaway distance for me and told myself it was ok if it was hard. Ok to walk. Ok to go slow. Ok to feel squished in my workout clothes. And it was... ok. I lined up with 3,400+ women and we ran the streets of Albany. It took me a full 11 minutes longer than my fastest run of this course in 2014. It even took me 6 minutes longer than just last year. But I’m realizing that running and walking are key parts of my Feel Good Plan. Going to the gym? Nah, not now at least. Restricted eating? Nope, can’t do that now either. For now I’m accepting this season of life as best I can, understanding that the postpartum period lasts a lifetime and eating all my free cookies from this morning’s race. Someone sign me up for another (short) race. 

I’ve got more to say about:

  • How the newborn stage was easy breezy for me but everything since has rocked my world

  • Diet culture, man, and it’s death grip on us all

  • Health for health’s sake, not for bikini Instagram photos

The weather was perfect, the cookies were abundant and it was a day ripe for dusting out the cobwebs and plotting the downfall of diet culture and body hating.