Mamas Don’t let Your Babies Grow up to be Rootless

Announcing to your family that you are taking your children and moving 3000 miles away isn’t easy.  We’ve been met with resistance.  We’ve been hammered with guilt.  Some understand, most don’t.  Some make comments, some say nothing.  The latest rash of negativity comes from my 78-year-old grandmother, a woman who has ventured outside of Scranton maybe three times in her entire life.

roots“You can’t move around with kids.  Children need roots, Amye,” she says over the phone on a Friday morning.  The knot in my stomach grows tighter with every spark of doubt she releases into the air between us.

She makes me think, her words make me think.  I imagine my girls, twenty years from now, floating through the world without roots- drifters, vagabonds, unable to emotionally connect to anyone or anything.  I grew up in a loving home with two parents.  When I was twenty, my parents divorced and our home was sold.  My mother moved into a small apartment across town, and my father moved in with a woman he was dating.  My only sister was 2000 miles away in Georgia.  According to my grandmother’s logic, I was rootless.  And I felt that way.  But instead of drifting, I rooted myself in anything that would have me.  I rooted myself to my ex-husband and his family.  I rooted myself to a job I hated.  Why? Because I had been raised with relatively no change in my life, ever.  So when change happened, I was terrified.  I clung to anything, even if it was unhealthy.

When I divorced, I was rootless once more.  My sister moved away again, my in-laws, to whom I was very close, all abandoned me, and I had lost my husband.  And once again, I handled it poorly.  I self-destructed and it wasn’t pretty.  It was a long, crazy year before I finally started to right myself and to find stable footing.  The lesson I learned from these two periods of change in my life is that my roots are under my own two feet, not in another person’s house or life. My parents are my roots, not where they live or who they are with.  Their love for me is my one true home.  Your roots are who you are, not where you are.

I don’t want my girls to become so rooted in Scranton, Pennsylvania, or anywhere for that matter,  that they grow up and become afraid to leave and see the world.  I want their roots to be me and Timmy, one another, or more importantly, themselves.  I want them to be rooted in our love, not our living room.  It is this belief that keeps me going, that allows me to make this move.  I have to believe that the pain I’m feeling now by severing my own roots, will spare my daughters somehow.  If not, well, I’ll keep plenty of bail money handy for when they are soulless, rootless, drifters.

Tales of a Capsizing Mommy

I finished my book just in time to miss the best years of my twin daughter’s lives.  My MFA, two chapbooks of poetry, and an unsold memoir had consumed me for the better part of five years.  I guess I half-expected that they would wait for me, that the milestones: the walking, the rolling over, the talking, the first night sleeping all the way through, would be there for me on the other side, ready to repeat themselves and allow me to linger and actually pay attention this time.

Instead, when I finally lifted my head through the skin of the water, I found a pair of little girls, almost six, ready to cross that invisible threshold into “not a baby anymore” land.  Suddenly there were too-tight shoes, missing training wheels, a pint-sized boyfriend, and sight words that rolled off their pink shiny tongues like water rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, I did what I could.  I kept copious notes in a black journal with embossed flowers on the cover.  Triumphs and achievements stretched out across each page like webs catching every date and every age.  But I had never really slowed down to experience them, to inhale their importance, and when I pulled that journal out weeks ago, after the dust had settled and my writing was dormant, it was as if I was a stranger glancing through a history book full of events I had never witnessed.

So, when Penelope, the baby (by one whole minute), came to me three months ago with a pain in her tooth and it was discovered that said tooth was loose, I reveled in the emotion of the moment.

tooth“Your tooth is loose!  Your tooth is loose!”  I cried as if she had just informed me of a full scholarship to Harvard Law School.  The afternoon sun lit up the kitchen and I danced her around the bare floor draped in the warm rays.  I called all of her grandparents, and acted as if this loose tooth would be it: the one event, the one benchmark of her childhood  I would remember forever.   I imagined she would call me up twenty-seven years from now and I would relive the loose tooth with as much vigor and detail as I had remembered her birth.  Still, just in case, later that night through weary eyes, I pulled out the journal and wrote: Loose tooth, October, 2012.

Now, three months have passed and already that moment is gone from my mind.  I remember the date, obviously, but I can’t remember the sequence, the order in which anything happened.  Did she wake up with the tooth pain?  Had she pointed it out earlier and I blew it off?  Did I know to look for the wiggle of the tooth or did she mention it first?

This is what has happened to my brain since I decided to live the writing life.  I used to remember moments effortlessly.  In my early twenties, I could have told you every single detail of every relationship I’d ever had:  How the leather back seat felt under my bare skin the first time I went parking with a boy, the smell of Jeff’s cologne, and how my stomach flipped every time I heard Mike’s voice.    I was able to recite the phone numbers of my very first girl friends, my employee badge number from SEARS, the first nine numbers of Pi.  Now, I cannot recall the simple historic moments of my own children’s lives.  The events most mothers have living on the tips of their tongues.

Sinking-shipIt’s easy to make excuses.  I’m teaching six classes this semester, that’s 120 students give or take.  That’s a lot of papers, a lot of deadlines, and a lot of emails to answer.  I’m also involved with a few literary magazines, host of a reading series, and mentor to some budding writers.  I’m overwhelmed, clearly, but that’s not all. What’s taking up so much precious real estate in my mind is my next book, play, poem, short story, essay, and haiku.  On any given day, there is a whole host of images and characters just floating around my head, taking up space.  I do everything I can to hold onto the important things, to tether Penelope’s loose tooth to something that will help me remember.  Penelope’s first tooth wiggled one week before Halloween.  I was teaching Creative Nonfiction, it was right after I finished the book.  I secure the rope tightly, but deep down I know it’s in vain.  A little loose tooth is no match for the high tide of unwritten stories.  The memory of my daughter and me in the kitchen, spinning on the balls of my feet while she laughs and beams with big-girl pride will be lost someday soon, the magic of the moment relegated to four words in a handwritten journal.   This is the life of mother, a writer, a captain of uncharted waters just trying to stay afloat.

Get the X Out of Here

stick-figure-kids-hiAbout a month ago, my husband yelled at our six-year-old daughter, Penelope, for something silly.  She wrote in permanent marker on her sister’s magic erase board (these are the exciting things your life will be filled with should you decide to procreate…)  Anyway, he was mad that Penelope acted this way seemingly out of spite and so, he scolded her.  Nothing over the top, just a yell.

A few moments later, her sister, Samantha, came out of the playroom and told me that I better get in there to see what Penelope was doing.   A few weeks earlier, Penelope had  drawn a wonderful stick-figure drawing of us holding hands and she taped it to her playroom wall. And now as I stared at it, I saw a huge black X drawn over P’s little stick body.  I was stunned.  She is six.  Could the bile of self-loathing already be present in her little belly?  Have I passed on some defective gene that will damn her to a life of never feeling good enough?

“What did you do?” I asked her, almost in a panic.  She said nothing.  She just dropped to the floor and sobbed.  Her black hair flowing bouncing up and down with each heave of her chest.  I scooped her up and held her tight against me.  If I could, I would have shaken every bit of this poison from her.

A few weeks later, I was teaching at a local university and noticed a student of mine was visibly upset.  Her eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks were brushed with tears.  This was unusual for her, she was always chipper and ready with an answer when no one else was.  After class, when I asked her what was wrong, she released the flood gates.  She had been in a fight with her boyfriend.  She was angry with him over what I agreed was a justifiable offense, yet, the boyfriend ended up convincing her that she had done something wrong and he ended up dumping her.

“Do you think you had a right to be mad?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

“So why aren’t you?” I responded.

“I…I don’t know,” she stumbled.  “He said I shouldn’t be.”

I wanted to tell her that she should never let anyone invalidate her feelings.  Who was this shmuck  to say what she should be feeling?  She should stand firmly behind what she feels and never back away from herself.   I wanted to spare her the sixteen years it took me to learn those things.  (She is nineteen and I am thirty-five).  But how could I?  I had people in my life who said those very things to me at her age, and I didn’t listen.  Maybe these are things you have to go through in order to get to the other side of adolescence in one piece.  In the end, I told her to have confidence that it will work out if it was meant to be.  Then, I threw up in my mouth a little at the cliche I had become.

There you had it.  Penelope was yelled at and her immediate response was to take herself out of the family, to internalize her pain and frustration.  My student voiced her anger over something she felt was an injustice against her, and the minute her feelings were met with any resistance, she immediately questioned herself and backed down.

How long does it take and how much pain do women have to go through before we start allowing ourselves to stay in the picture?  Are we predisposed to X’ing ourselves right out of the equation?

Dear America, Please Don’t Kill My Kids

Dear America,

We’ve been here before.  As a young newlywed, I watched as terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center and killed an unspeakable amount of innocent people.  Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, over 3000 of them gone, in one day.  I cried for days.  We all did.  Flags dipped low under the smoky sky, and the plume of Manhattan seemed to cover us all in ash.  As a young college student, I watched a television set on Penn State’s main campus as two students shot and killed their classmates at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.  It was an unspeakable horror.  I dreamed about that day for weeks afterward.  I struggled to hold onto my belief that people are good and that America is safe.  I was in high school when Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, I saw the images of the children being carried lifeless out of the burning rubble.

Despite the horrible nature of these crimes, and the crimes that have come later, we, as a nation, have moved forward.  We’ve put one foot in front of the other and went on with our lives.  But this, this latest event, this is different.  There is something worse about a room full of Kindergarten students being gunned down.  There is something worse about this.  Something darker, something blacker. And I can’t get over it.  Maybe it’s because I have kids now.  I have six-year-old twin daughters who are exactly the age of the children who were killed.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and falling out of love with the country I was always so proud of.  Maybe it’s all of the above.

The truth is, I am a ghost of the person I was on Thursday.  On Thursday, I was aggravated that my six-year-old daughters didn’t get dressed fast enough and that we are always running late for school.  On Thursday, I was annoyed by the guy holding up traffic while dropping his kid off at school because he had to give three hugs instead of two.  On Thursday, the world around me was recognizable and despite pockets of dark, there was still light.  Now, all of that has changed.

I thought about dismantling the gun advocacy argument piece by piece and responding to it, but I just can’t do it anymore.  I want, instead, to tell you about my twins, Penelope and Samantha.

026Penelope is a nervous child.  She likes things a certain way and when something is out of place she  can’t seem to  “let it go.”  She loves Barbies and the color pink.  Although, until she was four, her favorite color was blue, and last year it was yellow, now we are on pink.  Penelope has a freckle right on the tip of her nose and her lungs fill with air and she gives me this deep-belly laugh when I try to steal her freckle, which I do often.  She is obsessed with gymnastics and I find her standing on her head all over the house.  When we makes wishes, no matter where we are, she wishes that her family will be healthy and happy.

Penelope is sensitive.  If she seems me crying, she rubs my back.  She’s protective of her twin, her “sissy,” and tells me right away of someone is bothering her.  She loves to sing, even though it’s off-key like her mother, and I’ve sat through about five “concerts” just in the past month alone.  She is polite and sweet, and the weight of this world sits heavy on her shoulders.

Samantha is the complete opposite.  She is a rough and wild child.  She runs around barefoot in the spring and summer and doesn’t bat an eye when she leaves muddy footprints all over the hardwood floors.  She loves to crack jokes and laughs harder than any kid I know.  She loves her sister, and in the morning, I often find them wrapped in an embrace as the sun lights up their shared bedroom.  Samantha is scared of movies.  I took her to see Brave and it freaked her out so much that she now refuses to go to the movies with me.  I tried to calm her fear, but in the end, she will not budge.

But Samantha is strong when I need her to be.  When she’s sick or when her sister is having a meltdown because a button fell off her coat, Samantha is steadfast.  She is made of iron.  I can count on her to keep it together, to wear the button-less coat to school so her sister will calm down.  At night, Samantha hugs me tighter than anyone, burying her little noise into the curve of my neck.

These are my babies.  The ones I waited my whole life for.  These are my Kindergartners.  Please don’t let somebody kill them.  I would die without them.

Is your right to own a semi-automatic weapon more precious then Samantha and Penelope?  If you let them, I assure you, they will grow up to do great things.  They will be productive members of society.  They will save people and invent things.  Or they will work at the mall and just tip better at restaurants than most people.  Either way I will love them and they will love you, America.  If you just let them grow up.

Love,

Mom.

Breaking the Chains

tinkerbell-birthday-cake

So each year around this time my twin girls have a birthday.  This year they are turning six.  Six.  I can hardly believe it.  And each year I write some overly mushy blog post about how much I’ve learned about my girls, how much they’ve grown, and how amazed I am by their beauty.  But this year is different.  I haven’t just learned about them, I’ve learned about me.  I’ve redefined my role as a mother in a way I never have before.  And I owe it all to my no-scale diet.

You may recall that back in September I smashed my scale to bits and decided to free myself from its grip.  It’s been three months now and I have never felt better.   Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a mind-blowing euphoria on a daily basis, I don’t wake up feeling like the sun has risen solely for me, rather its an ease with which I haven’t lived life in a long, long time.  Remember the days when you used to exercise because it was fun?  Or you ate an apple a day because it was healthy?  I’m at that point.

I’m more tuned in to my kids, I’m more present.  I’m enjoying them on a whole new level because I’m enjoying everything on a whole new level.  I’m leading by example and it feels great.  And I’m not the only one.  Women everywhere are starting to break the chains that bind them.  Read this post on Jezebel if you have any doubt that women are starting to get the message.

So this year, as my girls cross the threshold from Toddler into “little girl-dom” I can honestly say this has been our best year yet.

By the way, I will not disappoint…  The mushy post will be coming.  Stay tuned.

The Movie Flight: Allow me to Ruin it For You.

(SPOILER ALERT)  I recently saw the movie, Flight, with Denzel Washington, and it stunned me.  Not because of its quality, which is okay but not great, but because of the storyline.  If ever there was a crystal clear example of addiction, this was it.  Denzel’s character, Whip, was grasping at life, trying to beat the addiction that threatened to engulf him.  And all I could see on that screen was…me.  I have suspected for years that I was a food addict, but never had it been made so obvious to me as this weekend as I watched Whip’s behavior which was so eerily similar.  Three key behaviors resonated with me.

1.  Purge.  No, not the kind where you’re bent over a toilet, but the kind of purge you perform often on Monday mornings where you think to yourself- This is it.  I’m done.  This diet starts today.  You then proceed to throw everything you deem as “junk food” into the garbage can, bag it up, and drag it out to the curb. Whip did the same thing with his booze, several times.  And each time he ended up at the liquor store within a few days time.

2.  Lie.  One of the cornerstones of the movie is Whip’s ability to lie about his addiction.  In fact, in one of my favorite lines of the film is when he tells his lawyer, “Don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, I’ve been doing it my whole life.”  I lied about my eating, all the time.  To myself, to my family, to perfect strangers.

3. Regret.  Like a drunk, I began many a days with a food hangover.  Knowing I gorged myself the night before, knowing I destroyed my diet and broke my resolve, I would feel AWFUL the next day.  Like I robbed someone of something intangible.  Like I blew something up inside of me.

I have made many excuses about my reluctance to face my food addiction.  I have made the argument that food addiction is very difficult to overcome since we must continue to eat, while alcoholics can completely avoid their substance of choice, we cannot.  But this is bullshit.  I am not addicted to all food, I am addicted to high sugar, high calorie, high fat foods.  I can eat things that do not contain these ingredients.  Just like alcoholics can drink iced tea, lemonade, soda, etc.

I have made many excuses, but when I saw that movie, I realized what my world looks like.  I realized what I’m doing.  I’m still doing, even though I’ve gained remarkable control over my eating, I’m still a long way from where I need to be.  I’m not sure how to get back, how to find solace.  But I think it’s time I face what I am.

I am a food addict.

Much more on this to come.

 

 

Dr Oz and The Magical Melting Belly

Somehow I think Dr. Oz will fix me.  I’m not sure where or how this idea originated, I just know it exists   I don’t watch his show, or any daytime talk for that matter.  I don’t own any book he’s ever written, yet I feel a strange kinship with the good doctor, as his marketing team intended, I’m sure.  So even though I know what I need to do to feel better about myself, and even though I’ve started embracing my life and who I am without letting my inner critic destroy me, I still compulsively reach for the magazine.  You know the one…. the thin, glossy monthly that promises Dr. Oz’s miracle diet will peel 80 pounds from your belly in just two months.

The truth is, I know what I need to do.  I know enough about nutrition and processed foods and all of the bad stuff,  that I can and do make good food decisions now.  Yet, it never fails, I never empty my grocery bags without seeing Dr. Oz’s face, or the promise of a quick fix, staring up at me.  What am I expecting to find anyway?  I guess, if I’m being honest, I expect to find help of some kind.  An answer.  A solution.  I expect to find some sort of unraveling to the riddle that has engulfed me for the better part of my life.  OOhhhhh, it’s food X that’s the problem.  That’s it, food X!  I can eat cake and pizza and anything else I want all the time and drop weight like rain.  Only, the answer is not there.  Yes, Theresa from California lost 68 pounds in thirteen weeks, and Martha from St. Louis has her sex drive back, but I am not Theresa or Martha.  I am me.  And the answer to my problems is not on the cover of a weekly periodical with Dr. Oz’s white teeth shining out at me.  The answer is within me.

Scale Update:  Still no weigh in.  I went to the doctors last week and was terrified he was going to fight me on this.  Instead, I ended up in a pow wow with three nurses who loved the idea of giving up the scale.  On another note, I discovered yet another benefit.  Without my scale and it’s lack of motion, I can make smaller, long term changes and stick with them.  For example, I recently gave up sweets.  No more candy, no more baked goods, nothing of the sort.  Before the Scale Diet, I would have given up if my scale had not shown immediate results… oh screw it, why am I depriving myself?  It’s clearly not working...  But now, I feel good and I feel proud of myself that I’m making these changes and the numbers on a scale are not derailing that progress.

So I’m Writing a Book

So I’m writing a book about being overweight, about being diagnosed with PCOS, about thinking and believing that I would never have a baby.  I’m writing about how, ironically, I was the only woman in my family who ever wanted a baby, yet the only one who could not produce one.  And when I write these sentences and the narrative begins to take shape, the pain and misery of those years almost takes my breath away.  It’s as if writing this story has me standing on the edge of something and I’m ready to fall.  I remember those days when seeing my friends with their babies would make me want to barricade myself indoors for months.  I remember being divorced and feeling like I was nothing, less than a woman, less than a human even, because I was barren and fat.  And what did I have to offer anyone?

My story may not be extraordinary   My story may not matter to most. But I have to go forward and believe that it will matter to someone, even if that someone is just me.

 

The Universe Between Us

Alone, I am a star burning against the night sky.   I am lost in a blanket of darkness, a heaving illuminated mass threatening to collapse in on itself.  But together, Timmy and I are a galaxy, a vast wonderful world of possibilities.  We are bright and organized, burning into one another with fire and fever.  We are celestial.  We are so fucking fantastic together that I know deep down inside, it is only a matter of time until we fizzle out, or at least until I fuck it all up.

Things have been going swimmingly thus far.  Timmy has all but moved in, staying six out of seven nights at my apartment.  In the mornings, he crawls out of bed and makes coffee for the two of us.  In the evenings, he sits and listens as I play my guitar.  We talk constantly.  We make love almost every day, in every nook and cranny of the apartment.  We orbit one another in perfect harmony.  But I am terrified.  I have yet to tell Timmy about my addiction to food, about my daily uphill climb.  I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed, but I am.  I’m ashamed that I am not strong enough to be thin on my own, that I need assistance.

Then, there’s an element of insecurity.  I know that if I just let myself, I could fall madly in love with this man.  But I wonder if he could ever really fall in love with me.  This thought is an aftershock from my divorce.  This is what happens when someone leaves you for real.  This is what breaks inside of you when someone walks out on you and earthquakes your foundation.  When the person who is supposed to love you the most in the world, flips a switch and chooses another.  And you are not enough, not good enough, anymore.  That betrayal reverses something in your brain.  It makes you doubt your market value.  Because whether I ever want to admit it or not, there is a small sliver of truth to the idea that Jack left me because I let my body balloon into obesity.

And now, I cannot act like a normal, untainted, self-assured woman.  Because I will never be that.  You can carve every ounce of fat from my body, and I will still never be able to walk around naked in front of you, trust whole heartedly that you are where you say you are, or sleep at night basking in the calmness of our union.  No matter how beautiful I look on the outside, I will always feel like I am selling you a used car that I know has been in an accident and will never again drive the same.

I wasn’t supposed to be insecure anymore.  Like swallowing a pill, losing weight was supposed to instantly fix all of these neurotic, self-conscious thoughts swelling inside my brain.  But I’m beginning to realize that being fat for so long has created a gushing wound that may never truly heal.

“Take off your shirt,” Timmy whispers and I freeze.

“No,” I answer.  No, no, no, a thousand no’s.

“Why babe?” he wonders.

Why?  How do I explain away the ripples of extra skin hanging below my belly button like rings on a tree, only instead of telling of my past, they tell of the future, the potential for thick ankles and triple chins?  How do I explain to someone who has never stepped foot in the land of heavy that the weight of belonging to such a place comes at the cost of sanity?  Timmy has never been fat, in fact he has spent his entire life underweight.  And that, right there, that fact is the vast expansive universe between us.  My insistence on lights off during sex, my one too many “checking in” phone calls, or questions about late night bar visits, all combine to comprise the wormhole through which Timmy will have to plunge if he ever hopes to really understand me.  A wormhole so vast in size and density that it would take someone solely dedicated to the cause to get through and survive.  I don’t know yet if Timmy has the resolve to hang in there.  I hope he does, but I don’t need him to.  And that, right there, is the big difference in my life from a year ago.  I don’t need him to.

While I still cling to my shirt, a size medium that I stole from my sister, Jennie, during a visit to Brooklyn, a clingy white cotton tank that maintains enough elasticity to shave an inch off my belly, Timmy quietly extends an arm and clicks off the lamp.  And in the safety of the darkness we are once again stars in our galaxy, burning and bumping our way into one another’s hearts, unsure of what will come next.