I Won’t Tell My Children To Lose Weight

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When my daughter was a baby, she was fat. And I don’t mean, chubby, I mean good, old fashioned, wearing 24 month clothes at 9 months old, kind of fat. She was glorious. During that time, I had a lot of well-intentioned parents assure me that she would thin out.

“Don’t worry,” a friend said gently, “my sister was fat and now she’s really thin.”

As if when looking at my child all I could see was a meaningless societal standard of beauty as opposed to the adorable, smart, happy little baby before me.

I’m not going to tell you what my daughter looks like now. Because it doesn’t matter. Because even if the doctors were concerned and Michelle Obama was knocking on my door to stage an intervention, I would never tell my child to lose weight. I will talk about being healthy, I will talk about being strong, but I will never, ever tell her to change the way she looks.

On Talk of Iowa, Iowa State counseling psychologist, Taylor Locker, noted, “Children as young as first grade or kindergarten want to be on diets, want to be thinner, or believe that they are too heavy or too fat. [...] At least by first grade, children are starting to notice their body size.”

This isn’t what I want for my children. It’s not what I want for me. Of course, children have to notice eventually, that’s the world we live in. But before that, before they begin to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, before they start staring in the mirror and wishing they could magic themselves away into another body, I want my children to always know that they are loved exactly how they are. Even if they smoke. Even if they knock over a liquor store. Even if they are fat. Even if they don’t like queso. I don’t want my children to change. I never want them to be more (or less) than what they are.

I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood and childhood desperately wishing I was prettier, thinner, more athletic, less brunette, less socially awkward. I think of all the time I’ve wasted fighting against my body instead of dwelling in it. There is also the time I’ve wasted trying to be something other than what I am—a loud mouthed, kind of pudgy, imperfect white lady.

I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them to struggle to come to terms with who they are. I don’t want them to waste time with self-loathing. There is only so much of their journey I can control, and I’m sure they will have to find their own way. But for now, I want to be their compass, pointing them the way toward love. But I have to calibrate myself first—I have to check the way I talk about how I work out, how I eat and how I dress. I want to model healthy and active and acceptance.

Because, besides keeping our children alive and warm, that’s our first job as parents to model an unconditional love. A love that meets them where they are as chubby little babies and deeply flawed adults. I don’t know who my kids will be—fat, thin, mean, nice, smart, in jail—but I do know I will love them, not based on what they could be or will be, but based on who they are in that moment.

The people that my much-abused body created—a body that deserves some appreciation.

Don Quixote, Tome Club and links

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.

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I haven’t forgotten you Tome Club and the two people still standing with me. We all had the flu for a week (except the baby, who eats a lot of dirt and thus is impervious to human weakness). So, I’ve been furiously catching up. Kindle says I’m 51% done with the book and my goal is to finish it this weekend. That’s right. Suck it, family time. I’m finishing this book.

Don Quixote is very delightful, when I finally worm my way in. But it is a bit of a slog. Because it’s just people talking and walking, which Dave points out is the majority of The Lord of the Rings, which I remember loving. Here are THOUGHTS. Such important. Much deep.

  • I love that we haven’t met Dulcinea, I hope we never do. I love the power of a character who never shows. Tom Stoppard did this in Arcadia. Lord Byron is a powerful character, who never has a line. In this way, you see the tension of how people create characters in their minds. How much of these women is reality and how much of them is just the narrative pushed on them by the men? Again, I think of Marcela, who just says, screw you I’m out and walks out of the story, because she can’t win. She can’t compete. She can’t fight. She cannot be who she is without the men around her pushing their own narratives on her, so she walks away. In this way, I hope we don’t meet Dulcinea, I hope she doesn’t play.
  • Also, hello, author anxieties. At the beginning of the second part, Cervantes lashes out against a counterfeit part two of his novel, which I thought was a narrative device. But no, actually, some fool wrote a fraudulent part two and Cervantes got nasty about it. Of course he did. He has every right. But still, it makes me giggle a bit, because even the author of one of the great works of literature had a pissing match. It’s perfect. Team Cervantes.
  • Also, side note: The gross lover storyline at the end of part one? Where the girl who marries the man who raped her? This is why I don’t want Dulcinea to show up. Because, lord love him, when ladies do show up in this book, despite Cervantes best efforts, he still screws them over in the name of “dignity.”
  • But that development of Sancho, right? I love how he corrects his wife’s speech, but still finds himself being corrected constantly.
  • The delusions here. They are frightening. DQ is so entrenched in his beliefs that everything, even the things that prove him wrong, prove him right. And oh, the manifold applications to modern life. I actually feel worried. Like, omg, is everyone around me a Sancho? Am I delusional? Is everything I do a lie? But then, I remembered that you all constantly correct my grammar (AS YOU SHOULD) and only two people are reading this with me, so if I have delusions, they aren’t very grand. But are we all deluded? And what is so wrong with delusions? Why is the truth preferable? Is it better to life a cruel truth than a beautiful lie?
  • And I say that line about who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him in reference to my marriage constantly. So, I better stop thinking about that too deeply.
  • I am going to come back to that idea of playing in a narrative that you can’t win at. Don’t play, Dulcinea and Marcela. Don’t play. Walk away. Make your own.
  • I read somewhere that the artist Honore Daumier believed that Sancho and DQ, merge into one. And I see that happening, in a way. DQ is merging toward sanity and Sancho toward insanity. Their folie a deux of grandiosity is so much the addict/enabler prototype. In this way, I wonder if this book isn’t really just about marriage. But you know, gay marriage. Cervantes was so progressive.
  • Before I started this book, I read that DQ was the beginning of the modern novel, because it’s a book where the main character is aware that he is in a book. Meta. Right? But isn’t that just a natural progression of being the main character in your own life? Of doing things just to be remembered. (Also, dear lord, did you not love that digression about people doing terrible things just to be remembered. The guy who wanted to throw himself down on top of the stained glass? Very Kardashian in it’s sentiment, no?) Couldn’t you argue that Chaucer’s character’s are just as “aware” because they are all arranging their lives into a form of meaning through their pilgrimage? Kundera, that same writer who convinced me to read this book in the first place, talks about how we all organize our lives according to the laws of beauty…we all seek a narrative. It’s why we look for meaning in things that have no right to be meaningful. We insist that pain will work for good, when pain is just pain. We demand that everything fit a narrative arc. We ignore those facets of life that don’t. It’s not just Cervantes or the shepherds that push the women into a mold. We do that to ourselves.

Okay, links. Who wants them?

No. Fine.

Take them.

Here. HERE! Eat all of your links before you can leave.

I wrote about why I let my kid sleep in our bed. I wrote about why kidless people know a lot about kids. So, STFU people who say, “Well, because I’m a mom…” A thing is on HuffPost Parents. My marriage is well, a marriage with two kids. I read this wonderful essay about writing. Stassa Edwards on abortifacients. 

 

The Trouble With Dinner

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Based on the look my 3 year old is giving me, which is a mixture between a sneer and revulsion, you would think that the food on her plate was made up of partially cooked fecal matter. It’s not. It is macaroni and cheese. “Dis will make me so sick!” She declares holding her head in her hands.

She starts sobbing. “I fink I will be too sick.” Then, she starts making gagging sounds.

I’m okay with protests and outraged accusations that I’m trying to poison her with my homemade macaroni and cheese. But I draw the line at gagging noises. So, into time out she goes. All I have to do is point and she goes without a fuss. Lately, my daughter spends the majority of meal time oscillating between her dinner and the little stool in the corner of the dining room. I think Stockholm syndrome is setting in.
When she comes back she asks for a cheese stick and a cracker. She asks for a banana or gummy snacks, anything it seems, rather than to eat the cheddar cheese and whole wheat pasta that lies before her. I don’t negotiate with three-year-olds or terrorist. And some days, they are one in the same. Tonight, with ice cream as a motivator, she chokes down half of her food in between huge swallows of milk.

But other nights we aren’t so lucky. Other nights, she declares everything will make her sick and “garbly garbly” and that she’d rather go without a cookie than choke down a bite of lasagna. I admire her strong moral convictions over the evils of lasagna, if nothing else.

My mom tells me to make her special food. Advice on the internet says if I speak to her kindly and let her help me make dinner, she will suddenly eat everything put before her and ask for seconds. I read a book that said I brought all of this on myself by giving her rice cereal as an infant instead of steel-cut oats or letting her baby-led wean, which is just crazy talk for giving kids normal food. My neighbor suggests a gluten allergy. Someone who reads my newspaper column emailed me once to tell me my daughter might be on the “Autism spectrum.” Another internet search reveals that perhaps my delicate flower turning her nose up at macaroni (which she devoured last week) has a problem with texture. I would kindly like to say this is complete and utter partially cooked fecal matter.

Sure, some kids have problems. But not every kid who acts like a jerk at dinnertime is some sort of special snowflake. Sometimes, they are just jerks. And the overwhelming dearth of information that parents have at their fingertips gives them the illusion of control. And that somehow, if your child becomes a demanding little fiend, it’s all the fault of GMOs or the fact that you didn’t breastfeed past nine months old.

But the reality is, toddlers are little wackos. You know what else makes my daughter feel sick and “garbly garbly”? Putting away her princess dolls and wearing pants. So, gluten be damned. That macaroni is all she gets. And after she goes to bed, I’m eating all the ice cream.

Last night, as my 3 year old watched me make enchiladas, she frowned. “Your children don’t like dat food. Your children only want macaroni.”

I glared at her. “My children can starve then.”

She ran from the room sobbing. Later, as we ate she turned up her nose at dinner. Declaring it too yucky, to “terwibble.” Finally, after she choked down a bite, she smiled. “Oh wait, mom, I do like this. I’m like Sam I Am!”

And me? I poured some whiskey in my tea and smiled a serene smile that masked all the cursing I was doing under my breath.

Oh, Brothers…

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While wrangling my children out the door of the frozen yogurt place one evening, my daughter started crying. “Bubba pulleded my hair!” I was holding the bubba in question, her little brother. I highly doubted he had pulled her hair. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said distractedly. Gently guiding her through the door and into the car. She was sniffing still as I buckled the baby in. “Bubba, dat hurt!”

He smiled and waved a clenched fist in my face. I gasped. In his hand was a tangle of long blonde sister hair. “Oh, brother!” I said. And he laughed.

At fifteen months old, the baby, who is on the fast track to becoming a toddler has shut his sister in the closet, assaulted her with tools from the doctor kit and repeatedly pulls her hair. Once, as my daughter lay on the floor playing Sleeping Beauty, she called to him, “Bubs, come give me a kiss and wake me up.”

He toddled over and smacked her full on in the face. There is no greater evidence for the cruelty of human nature than a little brother.

I have three little brothers. Two of my brothers are 10 and 13 years younger than me, we are too far apart to have much of an antagonistic relationship. But my brother Zach is only 16 months younger than me and it was clear from an early age that his greatest talent was driving me crazy without even touching me. You know in “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter somehow convinces the man in the cell next to him to swallow his own tongue? It was like that. My brother knew the exact sounds to make to push me to my psychological limits. He would sit next to me on long car trips and whistle in my ear until, at my wits end, I would haul off and punch his arm. Then, he would begin sobbing. I got in trouble every time.

To this day, he is my best friend.

My parents handled the fights between me and my brother by rolling their eyes and declaring, “You deserve each other!” At the time, that seemed entirely unfair. But as I watch my children beat the crap out of each other, the wisdom of their insight washes over me. When the baby shut the three year old in the closet, she just began sobbing. Of course, she could have opened the door, but no, she chose to wail. “Bubs, you trappeded me! You trappeded me!” The baby, banged on the door and laughed, while I stood back and watched.

When I had one child, my parenting was guided by love and a nurturing spirit. Now that I have two children, my parenting is guided by natural selection and Lord of the Flies.

I think they are going to be best friends.

If You Want My Advice…

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Sometimes, I get emails asking for writing advice. I’m not a famous writer. I don’t have any books out. I know, I’m trying. But these things aren’t easy, right? So, I’m not exactly sure why people write me for advice. I do always answer. Always. Even when all I can say is, “Just keep at it. I’m getting rejected too.”

I understand the impulse to write and ask people how they do it. I used to do it all the time. I have some emails from some of my favorite writers, who I wrote to to ask, “How do you do this?” When they wrote back, their advice was very fundamental or generic. It chafed me at the time, but now I understand it. Each writer forges their own way. It’s hard to be prescriptive. I know people who have just been approached and asked to write for places. That’s only happened to me once and it’s because it was an editor I had worked with years before. When I got an essay on the New York Times Motherlode, that was a result of almost two years worth of pitching, writing, rejection and even meeting the editor in person. It’s not always so hard for everyone. It’s not always so easy.

So, how can you say, “This is the path”? When you don’t even know what the path is yourself. I once took a writer I admire out to lunch. She has books and a job teaching. I was plying her with food so she could give me some advice. I was surprised, when during our lunch, she started asking me for advice. When I told her I was shocked, she kindly rolled her eyes. “We’re all trying to get somewhere else,” she said.

Right before Ellis was born, I printed out an article (which I have since lost), that was advice on finding time to write. I was so afraid that having children would swallow me whole and I would never pursue the things I wanted to do. Because writing is so nebulous. Success is so scanty. Writing requires an investment of time that is often unpaid. And when it is unpaid, the pay is crap. I don’t remember much about this article, except that it advised me to steal time whenever I could. To refuse to do the dishes during naptime or vacuum during a quiet moment. Write, she said, always write. I’ve taken this advice to heart.

My mentor from grad school, AJ Verdelle, once told me when I complained that I didn’t have enough time, that Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer-prize winner, had four kids and wrote in 15 minute snatches. She also told me that if I took the time I used on my blog posts and put that toward a book, I would have had five books by now (I have three now, two crap novels and a pretty awesome memoir). AJ said she wrote her novel as a single mother working full-time as a statistician. So, I try to whine less. I do my best not to clean when my kids are down. I don’t do dishes. I don’t cook. I pay for my kids to go to school for 8 hours each week. That’s my writing time. And when my kids nap, that’s my writing time too. I’m not supposed to be on Facebook or Twitter (I use a browser extension called “Stay Focused” to limit my time). Just writing. I can cook and clean when the kids are up (sure it’s harder, but it’s better than not writing).

I think there is this myth out there that we are mothers first and everything else second. That we must put all of that after the job of mothering is done. We will write when the house is clean, when dinner is made, when the kids are perfectly calm. But that never happens. Instead, we find ourselves pushing what makes us ourselves to the outer limits of our time and our priorities. Look, the house will never be all clean, the dinner will never be all made, but you have these 15 minutes, hold them, make them work for you.. The truth is we are not mother’s first, we are humans first. We are complicated. We are so much more than a monolithic thing. We are not defined by what comes out of our uterus or our relationships. All of what we are works together to make us who we are. If we want to be something, we should just be it and not wait for permission from time, from the housework, or our kids. Because if we don’t just stand up and take it, no one is going to hand it to us.

I’ve had times when I’ve been on a deadlines and I put a bunch of markers and paper in front of Ellis and said, “Color, mommy is working.” I hate that. But I do what I have to do. And I hope that she see’s an example of a woman working. A woman trying to be the thing she wants to be. Because that’s what I want for her. I don’t wrack myself in guilt over it.

I use Microsoft Word to make lists of ideas I have for stories or articles, or places to pitch. Whenever I read something I like, I stalk the author. I see where she has published. I add those places to the list. I get up at five in the morning to run, while I’m running, I think of things to write, I think about what I am writing, I think about the things that I have read that I love. When I come home from my runs, I go and write those ideas down. First thing, before the coffee, before the babies, before I shower.

I heard my mom tell a friend who was considering her PhD to go for it. “Look,” she said, “time will go by whether you are working toward that goal or not. You might as well work.” I think about that all the time. My mom’s friend was 40 when my mom gave her that lecture, by the time she was 50 she had her PhD and her dream job. Time always passes, grab it. Make time work for you.

I’m writing this in a week that I’ve received two rejections for the book I finished editing and revising this summer. I also am writing this advice this week after receiving an acceptance for a pitch I sent to a site I’ve always wanted to write for and having an essay published on a site I’ve always wanted to write for. Big failures. Small successes. Writing is 10% talent and 99% being stubborn son of a bitch. (It’s also 5% being bad at math.) I want to cry. I want to raise the roof in an awkward white girl fashion. I want to nap. But I only have 15 minutes left of rest time, so back to work.

And if you want my advice, you should do the same.

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