Friday, May 31, 2013

Judgy Mother

I'm a judgy mother.  I wish I were free-thinking, live-and-let-live, love everyone like my inner hippie idealist espouses, but my inner critic always shuts that peaceful bitch up.  Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because it's been raining for a week and I've got a migraine.

My worst judgment is passed on parents who complain about the drugery of taking care of their children.  It drives me insane.  I'm certain the reason it annoys me so much is because I'm envious these superfertile breeders have the balls and ovaries to take for granted something as sacred as parenting.  Something so serious, so special to subfertile me, who counts her blessings every day the thirteen months of stressful visits to the fertility specialist and medication and timing finally worked and produced our proudest creation: Katie.  How could I whine and sigh and post complainy Facebook comments about how frustrating it is to be her mother after all the trouble I went through to become a parent?

I rolled out of bed at 10AM and popped some more Ibuprofen.  My tablet was laying where I left it last night when I gave up after trying for centuries to get through level 13 of Angry Birds.  I woke it up and saw I had some Facebook notifications.  When I opened my Facebook app, instead of checking my notifications I got side-tracked and noticed a link to this post from a fellow mom friend.  I read through it in a hurry--Katie was calling from her bedroom where she had been patiently playing with her Legos until Mommy dragged ass out of bed, asking what's for breakfast.

Hrmmpf!  Well if the blogger's so "tapped out" and frustrated with parenting, why did she have five kids?

Katie called again, asking for eggs, so I brought her a banana and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  "Here, eat this until Mommy gets the kitchen clean enough that I can cook you some eggs.  Right now the stove is covered in dirty pots and pans."

When I walked out of her bedroom I went into the kitchen and decided to brew a pot of coffee.  I needed some caffeine to get energized enough to do the dishes.  I played around on my tablet some more until the coffee was done.  I poured a cup of coffee and went downstairs for a minute to use the laptop.  I needed to share a link on Facebook real fast and my tablet was not cooperating with the concept of copying and pasting URLs.

After I shared the super-important meme, I looked up Jen Hatmaker, the author of that mommy blog that ticked me off a few minutes before.  I wanted to see her full story before I started going off on her on my own blog.

The nerve.  Bragging about her slacker mom ways to the whole world.  How dare she not take her job as mother seriously?

Then I read that she's this wonderful, saintly, spread-love-and-peace kind of mother and I felt bad.  She adopted two of her children from Ethiopia.  That's why she has five kids.  That's why she's pulling four more fistfuls of hair out of her head each day than I am.

I was immediately reminded of the time I ate lunch with Katie at her school.  I'd been writing and working at the library a lot lately and she was feeling neglected, so she asked if I'd come to her school to have lunch with her.  I sat at the table with her little friends and we had a great time.  But I couldn't help myself, judging the lunch of the kid who sat immediately in front of me.  Inside his Angry Birds lunch box he had three Special K cereal bars and a Capri Sun.

What kind of parent packs that kind of lunch for her kid?  I bet the poor thing packed it himself.  What kind of parent makes a first grader pack his own lunch?!

Later I found out Special K Kid's mom had just had a baby, and that he, at seven-years-old, was the oldest of three.  I pictured what my life would be like if I had a newborn, a preschooler, and a first grader to take care of and I cut her some slack about the crappy sack lunch.

It's so easy to judge parents we don't know.  But once we know someone, and we know they're doing their best and some days their best is shitty, as is the case with all of us good parents out there, it's easier to forgive others.  And ourselves.  I should write a blog post about this topic.

Hold on a sec.  Katie's calling.  Again.  It's after noon and I gotta get the dishes done so I can cook my super, special, miraculous kid some eggs.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Difficult Pleasure

I'm on break now from playing stick ball with my six-year-old daughter.  I don't have much time to pay attention to what's going on in the world when the person in my back yard on summer break is so interesting.  So when I do get a break from summer parenting, I like to watch John Green videos on YouTube.  They're short and they're smart.  Here's the best I found today:

It makes my day better when I pay attention to Green and ignore most mainstream media clamor.  Here is yet another reason why John Green is so awesome:

"'s not easy to read Moby Dick, but it is really fun.  Like visiting the aquarium you get to go to sea without puking.  As you know, Hank, I hate the idea that when it comes to books and learning hard  is often seen as the opposite of fun.  It's strange to me that we should be so quick to give up on a book or a math problem when we are so willing to grapple, for centuries if necessary, with a single level of Angry Birds.

When I was a student why was I so willing to work hard, much much too hard, to make people like me, and so unwilling to work hard to read great novels or comprehend the edglessness of the universe?  I don't have an answer, maybe I'll find one in comments or here at the aquarium, or maybe I'll find an answer looking at Melville's great whilte wall of a whale, but in the meantime the search is a pleasure, and a difficult one, as most great pleasures are."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Doll in a Sneaker Car, Seat Belt Included

Cleaning Katie's room is a challenge because we let it get so messy that what should be a routine, easy task becomes daunting.  One fun thing I get out of it, though, is finding toys left in funny positions, as if they were abandoned mid-play.  Here's an example of a doll I found today.  Katie doesn't like these sneakers because she can put on her Velcro ones by herself.  She hasn't yet mastered tying her own shoelaces.  I like that she re-purposed them as her doll's car, seat belt included:

Breakfast at 1:07PM

I announced first thing this morning that I was going to help Katie clean her room today.  We've been putting it off for four days now.  After a couple cups of coffee I got side-tracked writing, while Katie played all morning.  We finally sat down to breakfast at 1:07PM.  Needless to say, Katie and I have been a couple of slackers so far this summer vacation.  That doesn't mean Katie's brain is turning to mush.  She's still thinking.

Katie: "Mom, when I put the bite of egg under my tongue I'm like, 'Huh, what is that?  Is that an egg?  I can't taste it.'  But if I put the bite of egg on top of my tongue I'm like, "Mmm, this is a tasty bite of egg!"

Me: "Yep, that's right.  Why do you think that is?"

Katie: "Because I have like thousands of taste buds on top of my tongue and like maybe one taste bud under my tongue?"

Me: "That sounds right to me.  Did you read about that somewhere or just figure it out yourself?"

Katie: "I just figured it out myself."

Me: "Wow, like a real scientist., experimenting with ideas and figuring stuff out."

Katie, beaming, "Yep!"  Suddenly serious, "You know, Mom, most scientists like messes."

Me: "But what if their work space is so messy they can't conduct an experiment?"

Katie: "But that's what scientists do.  They create messes when they work."

Me: "Well sure.  Same as artists.  I'd rather write than clean my house."

We both sat silently together.  After a minute, I said, "Well, I'm going to go blog about this.  I'll help you clean your room when I'm done."  I left her to conduct experiments on things that need figuring out.  Cleaning can wait for science and art.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Night and Day

Last Night:

Katie: "Mom, I'm going to clean my room."
Me: "What?"
Katie: "I'm going to clean my room."
Me: "Huh?  What's going on?"
Katie: "I'm going to clean my room.  All by myself."
Me: "You're going to clean your room all by yourself?  You don't want any help?"
Katie: "Nope.  I'm going to do it all by myself."
Me, skeptically: "Wow."
Katie: "Mom?"
Me: "What?"
Katie: "If I do chores around the house will you give me an allowance?"
Me, the rebellious daughter of two retired accountants who thought she had been keeping her child in ignorant financial bliss: "An allowance?  Who told you about doing chores for an allowance?"
Katie: "Brady and Kale do chores for an allowance."
Me: "Oh.  Your classmates do this so you think you should do it too?"
Katie: "Yes.  I think it's a great idea!"
Me: "Well, like what kind of an allowance are we talking about here?"
Katie: "Like, if I clean my bedroom you give me two dollars?"
Me, holding out my hand to shake-on-it before my sweet, ignorant child realizes two bucks to clean her room is a freaking steal!  I had planned on helping her with it this weekend but if she wants to do my part for two bucks, have at it kid: "It's a deal!"
Katie: "Really?"
Me: "Sure.  I wasn't going to talk to you about doing chores for an allowance for a few years.  Honestly I didn't think you were mature enough for that kind of responsibility yet, but since you brought it up, sure, why not.  Let's try it.  But I still want you to help pick up after yourself in the living room and take your dishes to the kitchen and set the table and stuff like that for free, just because you're a part of the family and we all have to pitch in on picking up after ourselves, Ok?  But for special, big cleaning projects, sure, you can have some money for doing those kinds of things."
Katie: "I am mature enough to do it, Mama!"
Me, my throat catching a bit: "Yes you are, Sweetie.  So what are you going to do with all the money you earn?  Buy ice cream from the Ice Cream Truck?"
Katie: "No!  I'm going to save it for college."
Me: "What?  Are you serious?"
Katie: "Yes!  Brady and Kale are saving their allowance for college too.  We're going to be scientists!"
Me: "Wow, Sweetie.  That's great!  Would you like to open a savings account at the bank?"
Katie: "What's a savings account at the bank?"
Me: "It's where you give them your money that you want to save for college, and they give you a little bit of money each year that you have money in your savings account, so like if you put fifty dollars in the account they might give you two bucks after the year, so then you'd have fifty-two dollars in your account even though you only put in fifty.  And then if you put in fifty more, you'll have one-hundred and two dollars!  And after a year you'll have one-hundred and four dollars because the bank will give you two more dollars.  So by the time you're eighteen you'll have a lot of money saved."
Katie: "Yes!  I want to do that!"
Me: "Ok.  Clean up your room and we'll open you a savings account."
Katie: "Ok!"

This Morning:

Me, wiping sleep out of my eye with one hand while the other hand holds a cup of coffee: "Katie Bug, are you going to clean your room?"
Katie: "What?"
Me: "Uh.  Remember?  You said you were going to clean your room so you could get an allowance and save your money for college so you can study to be a scientist?"
Katie: "Oh.  Ha-ha-ha.  No."
Me, a little disappointed I felt so disappointed that my six-year-old kid lost her enthusiasm for cleaning her room and not blowing her money on ice cream: "Oh.  You don't want to go to college and become a scientist when you grow up?"
Katie: "No.  I do.  But for now I just want to watch 'The Lion King.'"

Whew!  I was worried my kid was starting to lose her ability to live in the moment.  These hooligan first graders, teaching my kid about financial responsibility.  Good thing she's got all summer to laze around, watching videos and not cleaning her room, to forget about their radical ideas.

Friday, May 24, 2013


A friend of mine shared a photo on Facebook that hit home with me:

image source: Facebook

More than my hot temper, my moodiness, my competitiveness, my struggle with envy is something that causes the most unhappiness in my life.  I wish I could remind myself of this quote each time I feel the green illness creeping inside me.

I don't envy people's possessions.  I don't care that many people in my community drive fancier cars than I do.  Car culture bores me.  I don't care that many people my age and in my socioeconomic class have a bigger, cleaner house with matching furniture that hasn't been donated to them by pitying friends and relatives.  I'm into frugal living and getting by with less "stuff", so I'm pleased with my rickety shit.  I no longer envy other women's bodies.  When you get to be my age, forty-two, and your body has guided your soul through as much muck as mine has, you learn to love the vessel and all its imperfections as much as you love a well-worn robe or a favorite pair of arms wrapping themselves around you in a warm embrace.

The two areas where I struggle the most with envy are 1) writing and 2) breeding.  My creative output.  

I'm an extremely critical reader.  If a book I'm reading is not well-written, I simply can't finish it.  So basically every book I've ever finished is a favorite of mine.  The fact that I got through it is proof it's good.  A poorly written work gets tossed aside in a fit of envy.  A good piece of writing takes me outside of myself where I'm no longer paying attention to my own ego.  I feel inspired by good writing, not envious of it.  It's bad writing that taps my inner envy.  If this crap found a publisher, what does that say about my unpublished manuscript sitting at the back of my desk drawer?  

My most sickening envy comes from other women's fertility, or, more specifically, from other women's lack of appreciation of their fertility.  I want more kids.  When I was younger I had fantasies of having ten children when I grew up.  Will once told me he wanted six kids.  We married when I was almost thirty-four.  After trying for over a year to get pregnant, I saw a fertility specialist who confirmed my suspicions that I'm subfertile.  My mom had taken DES when she was pregnant with me, and that on top of my Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) means I don't produce the right concoction of hormones to sustain a pregnancy naturally.  After six months of taking the medications Clomid and Estrace and timing my ovulation via sonogram in the office, Will and I were able to conceive and my body functioned well enough to bring her into the world.  After Katie, though, we've had no success.  

I used to cry about it.  I felt bad for Will especially.  He's the poor schmuck who fell in love with a subfertile old lady.  He's the one who wanted six kids and I can give him only one.  He and Katie would be better off without me.  He should marry someone younger and more fertile who could give him the big family he wants and the siblings Katie begs for.    

Most days I don't think such things.  Most days I feel blessed with our small family.  The three of us get along wonderfully.  We eat together and laugh together and play together and give each other just enough space that we can focus on our introverted pleasures.  We have a beautiful family that's just right for us.  I'm proud of us.

Yet that green monster stirs inside me some days.  Why can't I have more children?  Why is it so easy for other women who don't even plan it to get knocked up and yet my body won't budge no matter how hard we try?  It's especially loud and obnoxious inside my head when other women, superfertile women, publicly complain about their children and their pregnancies.  Come on!  Seriously, sister?  I'd trade places with you in a heart beat, me puking out my guts inside the toilet or waking up three times a night to tend to my child while you come over here and try to explain to your lonely six-year-old why she doesn't have a baby brother or sister.

Envy.  It sickens me.  It's not helpful.  Here I am, complaining about other people complaining.  There are women reading this now who are sick of me complaining I only got one kid.  Their kids suffocated as their Oklahoma elementary school crushed them during a tornado.  Their kids died during a drone attack by my government.  Their kids got hit by a stray bullet during an inner-city gang fight or out in the sleepy suburbs during a day when some kid forgot to take his meds and felt like people-hunting.  Or there are women reading this now, sick of me complaining that my fertility specialist could only help me have one baby when theirs couldn't help them have one.  Or there are women reading this now, sick of me complaining that my life did not go as I planned it when theirs hasn't gone as they planned it either.  Oh wait.  Those might be the same mothers of unplanned pregnancies and children who won't sleep through the night whose complaints about what they got stuck with in life triggered this envy within me.  

Envy is a ridiculous feeling.  Envy is full of assumptions that other people's lives are better than yours, when in reality we're all struggling and laughing and living and loving in our own way.  Pay attention to your own life, Becky.  It doesn't have to be anything other than what it is.  Love your life for what it is, not what you think it should be.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Corporate Welfare

I'm a total tightwad.  It drives me insane to think I've spent more money on something than I needed to.  I'm also radically progressive.  It drives me insane to think a worker isn't being paid a fair wage.  Years ago I shopped at Walmart because of their ultra-low prices, but I refuse to spend a dime there now.  Partially in moral protest to the death of security guard Jdimytai Damour who got trampled during Walmart's Black Friday event back in 2008, but also because the company doesn't need any more of my family's money.  They benefit from plenty of our tax dollars already.

A few years ago a friend of ours got hired at Walmart, and in the course of filling out paperwork, his boss handed him the forms he'd need to submit to the state of Missouri so he could collect food stamps for his family.  My friend asked why the company couldn't pay him enough money to feed his own family instead of relying on the state to do it.  His boss didn't have an answer.

I do: corporate welfare.  

Here's a great article that supports my point, "The Conservative Case for Raising the Minimum Wage" by Ron Unz for Salon.  This part especially:

Our federal and local governments currently spend vast sums of money subsidizing the social benefits and living standards of our working-poor, including mailing them checks via the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These expenditures constitute an enormous corporate welfare program in which businesses obtain the full value of their low-paid workforce while shifting much of the cost onto the general taxpayer, a classic example of economic special interests privatizing their profits and socializing their costs. Private sector employers should cover the expenses of their own workers rather than force middle-class taxpayers to pay the tab.

I refuse to shop at Walmart until they raise their employees' wages enough that my family no longer has to pay for their employees to eat.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Katie, First Grade Defender of Multiculturalism

When Katie pulled this "Favorite Book Tulip" out of her backpack today, I asked her how on earth she knew how to spell the author's name.

Katie's teacher instructed the class to write the title and author of their favorite book on their tulips.  Katie couldn't remember the author's name of The Legend of Zelda so Ms. B looked it up online for her.  Ms. B found an image of the book and showed Katie the screen, asking, "Is this your favorite book?"

"Yes, that's it!  The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, part 1!" Katie said.

"Well," said Ms. B, "The author has a weird name."

"No she doesn't," Katie argued.  "She's Japanese."

"Oh," smiled Ms. B.  "She's Japanese, not weird."

"That's right," said Katie, first grade defender of multiculturalism.


On the same day my 80 year old Marlboro Man of a stepdad survived a risky heart surgery at a well-funded, highly-regarded hospital in Nebraska, seven children drowned in the basement of their elementary school in Oklahoma.  After I read an email from my mom that said medical staff were working for an hour to get his blood to clot, worried my stepdad wouldn't pull through, I called my mom in a panic and told her I'd say a prayer for him.

I'm not a daily pray-er.  I save my prayers for desperate times, when I literally can think of nothing else to do. When I feel hopeless and scared and unsure.  When life is chaotic and unkind.

When I pray, I usually try to find a dark, enclosed space--under the covers in bed or huddled on the closet floor.  I'm usually sobbing before I get there, and I let the dark wash over me.  My prayers usually go something like this:

Please God, help me.


Please God, help [insert pitiful person's name].

A cry for help.  And that's it.  I don't know what else to say.  I figure God knows.

I used to be a daily pray-er.  When I was young, my mom taught me this prayer, and I said it every night before I went to sleep, with mom sitting at the side of my bed:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Thinking of a six year old Becky talking about "if I should die before I wake" creeps me out.  No wonder I had to sleep in bed with someone until I was twelve.  I mean, yeah, it's great and all to ask God to care for our souls in the afterlife, but must we really focus our thoughts on dead children at bedtime?  Couldn't we end the day on an up-note?  Something like this:

Thank you, God, for everything.

In the end, does it really matter what we say to God when we pray?  "Let go and let God," the bumper stickers say.  Isn't that what prayer is?  Telling God, uh, um, I don't know what to say, or where to turn, or what to do, so I'm going to be quiet and try to tune into something bigger than me.

This morning after I talked on the phone with my mom, and my stepdad, and we marveled at science and how tough he is, I turned on the radio to listen to the news while I washed dishes.  I felt a little guilty when I realized I had forgotten to say a prayer for my stepdad the night before like I told my mom I would.  Then I heard the man on the radio report that seven children had drowned while hiding from the tornado that hit their school in Oklahoma.  From the safety of my suburban home in Kansas, my own hands submerged in dishwater, I pictured these sweet, precious gifts from God, seven dead children floating in a pool of water under the rubble of their school.  Tears flowed from my eyes and plopped like rain drops into the dishwater.  I immediately wanted to say a prayer for these seven nameless children, too.  But what good would it do?  They're already gone.  So I wanted to say a prayer for their surviving loved ones.  I thought of my own child, my sweet, precious gift from God, sitting in school right now and I wondered how solidly constructed her building is.  I worried about what she would do if we had a tornado.  I wanted to say a prayer for her, too, to ask God to protect her.  I immediately felt selfish for thinking God might answer my prayers while other parents' prayers went unanswered as they sat in a church in Oklahoma and waited for authorities to tell them their children are dead.

I pulled my hands from the water and dried them on my pants and turned off the radio and turned off the light and stood in the corner of my kitchen.  I looked at the unwashed dishes.  Particles of my husband's and my daughter's and my own DNA covered those dishes and it was my job this morning to wash them and dry them and put them away until we'd come together for another meal.  I cried and held my face in my hands.  I felt so sorry for those seven dead children and their surviving loved ones.  I felt so happy for my mom and my stepdad, that they'll have more time together on this earth.  I thought of my husband at work and my child at school and I pictured them getting home and sitting down to dinner with me later this evening in the safety of our home.  I wiped my eyes and shoved my hands back into the dishwater.  I looked out the window, up at the sky, and I said this through quiet tears:

Thank you, God, for everything.

I don't even know what that means, but I figure God knows.

As I washed my family's dishes, I felt lucky.  If I ever catch myself complaining about the drudgery of housework again, I'll think of those seven dead children and how their parents would feel lucky to get one more chance to wash their children's dishes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Naked Questioning

It was the first hot day of spring.  The three of us were outside in our front yard.  Will had his shirt off and his "dad shorts" on, futzing around the yard, picking up sticks and snapping them til they fit neatly inside a giant brown sack full of our compostables.  Katie and I were sitting together on the front porch swing, both wearing t-shirts and shorts, when she said, "Mom, can I take off my shirt?"

I was seven when my mom broke it to me that I was too old to go outside without a shirt on.  It was so unfair.  My friends who were boys got to run around the neighborhood shirtless on hot days.  I was so teed off, I stormed into my bedroom and sulked until I realized having the freedom to go topless in the isolation of my own room was not nearly as fun as throwing on a t-shirt and going outside to play with my friends.  My first feminist defeat, crushed by my desire to play kickball.

I didn't know how to answer Katie's question.  She's only six.  But then again, she's six already!  My gut felt like telling her, "Sure!"  She's a child.  It's hot.  We teach her that boys and girls should be treated equally.  But my brain cried out, "No!  What will the neighbors think?!"

I told her no, and I felt lame.  But then I felt better after we spent the next ten minutes discussing why our culture has different rules for women and men.  We talked about how sometimes we have to follow rules we don't agree with, and that if we really think the rules should change we have to work hard to convince other people why the rules should change.  We talked about respecting other people's feelings, other people's religious beliefs about modesty.  We talked about how in our culture many people think of breasts not just as body parts that deliver milk to babies but as "sexy" private parts.  Then I got to try to define what "sexy" means to a six year old.  We went on to talk about how some other cultures in the world don't have the same rules as we do about women and girls going topless in public.  We talked about how we have to learn to respect other people's beliefs while also working to make sure our beliefs are heard and respected.  

Whew!  I must have wiped my brow at least twenty times during our conversation.  Too bad I couldn't take my shirt off to cool down.

It looks like our conversation would have been different if our family lived in New York.  Here's a recent news article about how NYPD officers have been instructed to stop arresting women for exposing their breasts in public.  

What do you think?  Should girls be allowed to play outside without a shirt on?  If the answer is yes when they're young but no when they're older, at what age do you think girls should be restricted from going topless in public?  Have your daughters asked to take off their shirts outside, and if you tell them no, do they seem to resent it or to live with this gender rule unquestioningly?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Suits My Style

While out and about running errands this morning I listened to my local public radio station, KCUR.  They had a great piece on Here and Now about the recent Bangladeshi factory collapse which killed 1,127 garment workers, and what Americans can do to make sure the money we spend on clothing goes to companies that ensure the people have safe working conditions.

Dara O’Rourke, co-founder of The Good Guide, which rates consumer goods on safety, health, green, and ethical standards, explains how our clothing is made and how consumers can make informed decisions about our purchases.  He recommends tweeting our favorite brands to ask them to sign agreements that they will pay to make improvements to these crumbling factories.  But companies like Walmart, The Gap, JcPenney, Kohl's, and Target so far have not signed such an agreement.  Abercrombie & Fitch signed it, but they don't want fat people like me wearing their clothes.  So what's a concerned, fat, naked American to do?

Will and I were talking about the Bangladeshi factory collapse the other day, and I said I wish I had it in me to learn how to sew so I could just make my own clothes.  I try not to buy much of anything new, to save money for our family, but also to cut back on waste in general.  Why not buy a shirt someone donated to a thrift shop instead of giving my money to companies I don't like for a brand new shirt I'm just going to end up spilling spaghetti sauce on anyway?

The problem is, someone in our neighborhood who is also a frugal shopper must wear the exact same size I do, because I have trouble finding a decent selection of clothes in my size at our thrift stores.  Or else fat chicks hang on to their clothes disproportionately longer than skinny chicks do.  What's the deal?  Once we find something that actually fits we hang on to it til it turns to dust?  

That's why I wish I could sew my own clothes, or at least buy smaller clothes at the thrift store and then add fabric to them so they fit me, but alas, when my seventh grade sewing teacher told me I was the worst student she'd ever had after she caught me playing basketball that evening against her kid's team even though I had pretended to be too sick that day to go to her class, I hung up my needle and thread and never looked back.

Throughout high school my mom sewed my clothes for me.  My hippie taste clashed with the fashions for sale at Oak Park Mall in the eighties, but Mom kept me well-supplied in long skirts and bell-bottom pants until I was kicked out of the house at age eighteen for skipping too much school.

Once out on my own, my fat girl wardrobe began to shrink considerably.  I currently have two hand-made dresses I bought.  One I got at this cool store in Westport called It's a Beautiful Day.  I love their clothes, but, again, it's hard to find a size big enough to fit my gargantuan ass, and they're a little expensive for my tight ass.  The other one I ordered online.  Even though I entered my measurements on the form, the dress is too small in the bust.  I feel too self-conscious to wear it outside the house.  Since it was made just for me I felt too bad to return it.   Online shopping is a drag for hard-to-fit sizes.

So basically I just wear my clothes until they turn into rags.  I'm about due to buy a new dress though, so I'll save up some money and head down to It's a Beautiful Day again soon.  It would be so much cheaper and easier if I could just learn how to sew.  At least when I buy a fifty dollar dress at It's a Beautiful Day I can tell myself I'm supporting a local artisan instead of a company that mistreats its garment workers.  I don't mind paying a little extra for that peace of mind, knowing I'm contributing to the greater good of the planet.

Once I was riding in the car with Will and he turned right a block ahead of our street.  I asked him why he does this since it uses more gas for us to drive around the block to get to our house.  He explained that since the block ahead of ours has a turning lane, he uses it whenever there are cars behind him so they don't have to slow down unnecessarily.

"We have to pay a little more for the gas it takes to drive around the block, but think of all the brakes and gas wasted when those other cars behind us have to slow down for us to make the turn.  If I use the turning lane, it's only affecting my gas use minimally, but it's better for the planet as a whole."

Hey, Will's a big-picture thinker who likes to tread lightly on the earth.  Maybe I could sucker him into becoming my own personal dressmaker?  Either that or I'm going to have to just stay home and live in my robe.  Either way suits my style.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Body Wise

A couple of years ago I gave up dieting after reading Dr. Linda Bacon's book, Health at Every Size.  I began listening to my body and eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full.  I'm now healthier than ever.  It not only suits my body chemistry well since I have low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and average blood sugar, but it also suits my personality.  I'm terrible with schedules and routine.  I prefer to live in the moment and do as I please.

The moments I live for and what pleases me most is writing.  I've discovered I don't like to eat when I write. I feel lighter and free-thinking, more clear-headed and energetic when my stomach is not full.  Occasionally I've begun to worry I might be sliding back into my old anorexic habits when I'd be on an all-day writing binge and forget to eat anything.  But I listen to my stomach and I pay attention to my energy level, and I feel great.  So what gives?  How can a former anorexic get by without eating for eight hours and actually be healthy?

Turns out, Dr. Weil recommends what I unwittingly have been doing: occasional fasting.  Turns out, the less-food, more-mental-energy thing might not all be in my head:

Occasional fasting also seems to boost activity and growth of certain types of cells, especially neurons. This may seem odd, but consider it from an evolutionary perspective -- when food is scarce, natural selection would favor those whose memories ("Where have we found food before?") and cognition ("How can we get it again?") became sharper.

Not that occasional fasting is right for everyone.  As Dr. Weil writes:

I don't recommend IF for everyone. Children under 18 should not fast, nor should diabetics, nor pregnant or lactating women. Some health conditions -- such as severe gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD -- are easier to manage when food intake is more regular.

What I take away from my experiences and Dr. Weil's article is not that most people should follow a particular restrictive diet, but that we should follow our body's natural cues for hunger and satiety.  Eat when you feel hungry and work when you feel energetic and relax when you feel stressed and rest when you feel tired.  Our bodies are wiser than we think.

We All Need Some Me Time

According to this interesting story on NPR:

The Census Bureau finds that about 3.5 percent of stay-at-home parents are fathers, though that's doubled in a decade. But Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families calls the figure vastly underreported. It doesn't include the many fathers who do some work yet are their children's primary caregivers, a trend that cuts across class and income.

You can listen to the story here:


I could especially relate to this quote from Coontz:

The place where you see the greatest sharing of child care, interestingly enough, is in blue collar and union workers who often work split shifts and then trade off the child care.

Neither Will nor I are union members, and I wouldn't describe our customer service jobs--his at Whole Foods, mine at the public library--as blue collar per se, but our middle-low income required us to think creatively about what we would do for child care when Katie was born. Neither of us wanted to pay someone else $200 a week so they could spend more time with our kid than we did, so we took a tip from Will's folks and shifted our work schedules so that one of us was always at home with Katie.  That's what Will's parents did when he and his older brother were young.  Their mom worked at a meat-processing plant and, later, at the switchboard for a home appliance service repair company during the day, while their dad stayed home with Will and his brother.  Then they traded off child care duties in the evening when their dad would head to work as the manager of a pizza joint.

My parents are much older than Will's.  My dad is old enough to be Will's grandfather.  Heck, he was forty-three when I was born, so he's old enough to be my grandfather too.  Perhaps my parent's age is why they're more traditional than Will's folks.  When I was first born, Dad worked outside the home and Mom was a housewife.  When I was four, Dad lost his high paying job as the Controller in the office of a big truck line.  He could never find another job that paid as well as that one did, so Mom had to start working outside the home.  I was four when she took a part-time job at Montgomery Ward.  She later worked at Dairy Queen, Kmart, and, after she completed her bookkeeping certificate at the community college, in an office of a big dental lab.  She worked there for twenty years before she was eligible to collect Social Security and she'd built up enough money in her 401k to retire.  She hated nearly every moment of work life, or so it seemed to me growing up.  She'd come home every night from work, exhausted and cranky, wishing aloud we could go back to the days when she was a housewife.  

I was different.  Mom grew up in the forties and fifties, when women in her social class were discouraged from going to college or having a career.  Mom had once dreamed of being an architect, but by her senior year of high school she dropped her math and science classes and took Home Ec instead when her boyfriend proposed to her.  She would be a housewife.  That was her calling in life.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties when feminists and lower-income women who might not have identified as feminist but who nonetheless knew they had to work to help support the family were bringing home the bacon and expecting their spouses to help them fry it up in a pan every once in awhile.

I will not be like her, I told myself when I witnessed Mom's frustration with her marriage to my controlling father and her dissatisfaction with her uninteresting jobs.  I will be a career woman, I thought.

When it was time for me to start my career, in my early twenties when I got my job at the library, I honestly had no idea what career I should try.  I wanted to be a writer, but I was exceptionally ignorant about the process.  I didn't know how to support myself financially in order to have time to write.  My guidance counselor in high school didn't understand me, neither of my parents attended anything other than a community college or a trade school, and I was too depressed to advocate for myself, so I had no idea that if I had gone to a university I could have learned how to be a professional writer in the English department.  When I told most people that I wanted to be a writer, they laughed in my face and said, "Yeah, but what do you want to do to support yourself?"

So I lucked out and got a job at the library, surrounding myself with books and those that love them.  If I couldn't support myself by being a professional writer, I'd support myself by surrounding myself with the works of those who could. 

And, I'm not like my mom.  I enjoy being a career woman.  I love working at the library.  I can think of no other job I'd want, other than being a paid professional writer.  I love my husband.  He's the polar opposite of my dad, not controlling at all.  Turns out, working and being married isn't bad, like Mom made it out to be.  It's an ill-suited job and an ill-suited spouse that's the problem.  If you find a good match, in both your work and home life, most days can be pretty peachy.

When Katie was born, at first, since I made slightly more money per hour than Will, we decided that I'd work full-time days and he'd work part-time evenings and weekends.  We live close to the library so I'd come home for lunch.  It was a wonderful break in the day from work and it allowed me to get the Baby Kate fix I was jonesin' for during the hours I was away from her each day.  

When Katie was three, Will's dad agreed to babysit a couple days a week for us so Will could go back to working full time too.  Katie now has a fantastic relationship with her grandpa due to all that one-on-one time she got with him before she started kindergarten.

A month before Katie started kindergarten, six months after my brother Pat had died of liver failure, I sat slumped over in my doctor's office trying to find some relief from the crushing depression and survivor's guilt I was experiencing.  First diagnosed with depression at age eleven, I've struggled with chronic depression ever since.  For the most part, I manage it amazingly well considering my early childhood trauma of sexual abuse, a hypercritical father, and general family-of-origin dysfunction.  Adulthood has been good to me.  But then my brother has to go and drink himself to death and it gets my own depression spiraling out of control.

My doctor, a woman, looked me in the eye and said, "Is there any possible way you can work part-time instead of full-time at the library?"

Despite my depression, I laughed out loud.  What a ridiculous thought.  It had never occurred to me to not work full time.  I'm a feminist, for God's sake.  I'm not like Mom.  I can't let a man financially support me.  Plus, what would I do with my time at home?  Katie was getting ready to start school and she'd be gone most days.  God forbid I learn how to cook and clean.  That's not my calling.

But the more I thought about it, and after talking it over with Will, and realizing the man who would be supporting me is nothing like my father, the more it all made sense.  I'd always wanted to be a writer.  I could be a stay-at-home writer.

For the sake of my mental health, I took my doctor's advice and slowed down the hectic pace of my life so I could write more.  I cut back to twenty-four hours a week at the library. I had worked full-time for eighteen years, so it felt weird at first, but only because my thirst had become more familiar than the drink I had been offered.  Now I drink it all in, this extra "me" time.

I'm an uninspired cook and a terrible housekeeper, but it turns out I'm not a half-bad blogger.  I write about twenty hours a week, so I'm probably actually working more hours now than I did when I worked full-time at the library, but it's so gratifying it doesn't feel like work at all.  I can say, hands-down, writing is the best thing I've discovered for my mental wellness.  I still take fish oil pills and I still walk most days, two other "natural" ways I've found that helps keep my depression at bay, but I've been off Zoloft for nearly two years, and my first prescription for clonazepam expired before I'd taken my last dose, and now, since I have post-traumatic stress disorder, I only keep the pills on hand at the suggestion of my doctor in case I have a panic attack, like a person allergic to peanuts keeps an EpiPen on them just in case.  

Writing has helped me make sense of my life and appreciate it and my loved ones more.  I need the extra time each day to write like we all need air and exercise and good food and good lovin'.  I don't think everyone would benefit from blogging as much as I do, although our society as a whole could benefit from slowing down some.  Everyone needs more "me" time to delve into their own interests and hobbies, aside from their kids and their careers.  Moms and dads too often lose themselves in the time crunch that is work and family life.  We all need some "me" time.  We need to get over our preconceived notions about who takes care of the kids and who works outside the home.  Sharing the work and child care burden allows us to not think of work and child care as a burden.  It allows us more time to care for ourselves, so our stressed-out mental state does not make us a burden to those around us.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mary Lambert's Powerful Song: "i know girls (bodylove)"

Wow, have you heard this powerful song by Mary Lambert?  Here's the live version:

Here's the version for sale on her website:

So powerful.  Thank you for sharing your soul with us, Mary Lambert.  We need more heroes like you, taking their pain and creating beautiful art to share with the world so we all heal together.  I cried at the end when she talks about concentric circles:

i know girls who are trying to fit into the social norm 
like squeezing into last year's prom dress 
i know girls who are low rise, mac eyeshadow, and binge drinking 
i know girls that wonder if they're disaster and sexy enough to fit in 
i know girls who are fleeing bombs from the mosques of their skin 
playing russian roulette with death; it's never easy to accept 
that our bodies are fallible and flawed 
but when do we draw the line? 
when the knife hits the skin? 
isn't it the same thing as purging, 
because we're so obsessed with death, 
some women just have more guts than others 
the funny thing is women like us don't shoot 
we swallow pills, still wanting to be beautiful at the morgue, 
still proceeding to put on make-up, 
still hoping that the mortician finds us fuckable and attractive 
we might as well be buried with our shoes, 
and handbags and scarves, girls 
we flirt with death everytime we etch a new tally mark 
into our skin 
i know how to split my wrists like a battlefield too 
but the time has come for us to 
reclaim our bodies 
our bodies deserve more than to be war-torn and collateral, 
offering this fuckdom as a pathetic means to say, 
"i only know how to exist when i'm wanted" 
girls like us are hardly ever wanted you know 
we're used up and sad and drunk and 
perpetually waiting by the phone for someone to pick up 
and tell us that we did good 
You did good. 
( i know i am because i said am, my body is home) 
so try this 
take your hands over your bumpy lovebody naked 
and remember the first time you touched someone 
with the sole purpose of learning all of them 
touched them because the light was pretty on them 
and the dust in the sunlight danced the way your heart did 
touch yourself with a purpose 
your body is the most beautiful royal 
fathers and uncles are not claiming your knife anymore 
are not your razor, no 
put the sharpness back 
lay your hands flat and feel the surface of scarred skin 
i once touched a tree with charred limbs 
the stump was still breathing 
but the tops were just ashy remains, 
i wonder what it's like to come back from that 
sometimes i feel a forest fire erupting from my wrists 
and the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things 
i've ever seen 
love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet 
and brother, arm wrapping shoulders, and remember, 
this is important: 
you are worth more than who you fuck 
you are worth more than a waistline 
you are worth more than any naked body could proclaim 
in the shadows, more than a man's whim 
or your father's mistake 
you are no less valuable as a size 16, than a size 4 
you are no less valuable as a 32A than a 36C, 
your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood; 
you are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out: 

from letters don't talk, track released 17 July 2012
from Letters Don't Talk, released 01 August 2012
Writing, beatbox, vocals: Mary Lambert
Mandolin: Soren Olsen
Percussion, vocal percussion: Braden Torras

The Incredibly True Tale of the Goverment Employee Who Really Does Care about You

I was in my car listening to NPR on my way to work when I first heard the news about the IRS violating its own policy by targeting conservative political groups for extra scrutiny.  I spend a lot of time defending The Government to my conservative and libertarian friends, so when I heard about this massive screw up, I reacted exactly the same as Jon Stewart does in this clip:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Throughout the day, I kept checking headlines to see if some good news could come of this. There must be some misunderstanding.  When no good news reports about the scandal surfaced, I turned to Jon Stewart, as I often do when I'm feeling overwhelmed by shitty real news.  Maybe Stewart could explain the situation in a way that gives me hope.  If nothing else, he's good for a laugh when it feels like the only other option is crawling into a fetal position and sobbing. 

Did Stewart's words help me feel better?  Nope.  Just more jokes about unethical, corrupt government jackasses hard at work making a mockery of the system.  But really, what did I expect from Jon Stewart?  What more is there to say about this scandal than Motherfucker!

It makes me think of another comedian who deftly criticized the government, George Carlin.  I don't agree with everything Carlin ever said, human beings are complex individuals and prone to imperfection and judgment, but Carlin's rants are honest.  Here's one I don't always agree with, but I nod my head and say motherfucker! when I watch it on bad news days like today:

Sooner or later, the people in this country are gonna realize the government does not give a fuck about them! The government doesn't care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply doesn't give a fuck about you! It's interested in its own power. That's the only thing. Keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.  --George Carlin

But hold on.  Carlin is right in cases like the IRS targeting conservative political groups.  But a few misguided people in one government agency does not mean the government is full of power-hungry jerks.  

I'm a part of good government.  I've worked for the county for twenty years at my library gig.  Taxpayers pay my salary.  It's my job to help all patrons, regardless of their political persuasion, regardless of how much I might personally disagree with them on how our society should operate.  Just because I think Bill O'Reilly is a pompous blowhard and I'd rather pluck my eyelashes out one-by-one than be forced to read his latest book, it's my job to be aware of it--to read reviews of it and pay attention to how popular it is in our community.  I don't have to subject myself to the cruelty of reading it myself, but if someone asks me for a good read and they tell me they like other conservative pundits' books, I don't point them to my favorite political books, I point them to books by guys like O'Reilly.  The number one trait I must exude while being a government worker is this: empathy.  Guess what the number one trait I must exude while being a decent human being is?  Empathy.  If you lack empathy, you'll be a shitty employee no matter where you work. 

Yes, as in business, there are plenty of government employees who make flagrant errors and ignore rules and operate unethically.  But let's not talk about Government like it's one entity.  Some of us who work for the government really do care about you, even when we disagree.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Creations

Mom and Me, October 1974, age 36 and 3

This photo is blurry, like a forty-year old memory, but each time I look at it I recall the days sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, eating lunch and talking. Mom is no powerful politician, no famous artist, no spiritual leader to the world. But she taught me that kindness is more important that winning an argument, that creative pursuits might not make me rich but they strengthen my soul, that God loves me and I should try to love others as much as God loves me. My mom is the most important influence on my life, and I can't thank her enough for all she's given me. All my goodness comes from Mom.

Mom and her wildflowers, our front porch, circa 1985, age 46.  

As a teen, I loved sitting on the front porch, talking with Mom.  Whenever we talked about my future, she'd say things like, "when you publish your stories".  Never "if you publish your stories".  Granted, Mom would prefer I write something light and easy, a witty romance novel, a spunky amateur-detective mystery.  She worries about me wallowing in my depressive ruminations.  She doesn't understand why I don't write fun!

"You're so funny!  You should write fun stories!" she says.  

Still, she's supportive of my endeavors, however serious and gloomy they may be.

"I don't understand what the word ambiguous means but I'm happy your blog is doing so well!" she says.

In all my creative pursuits, Mom has always been my number one fan.  A talented artist herself, when I was young she stuck pencils and crayons in my hand and plied me with paper.  I wanted to be just like Mommy--an artist--so I watched her sketch and modeled her methods.  Here's a drawing Mom did of me from a photo taken when I was about two, around the time I myself began drawing stories:

"Becky" by Beverly Martinmaas, aka Mom

Here are some other examples of Mom's creations:

Mom drew this Chief shortly after she left my dad after twenty years of marriage.  I think it's one of her best.

A portrait of my sister Kit, Mom's oldest daughter

My sister Jenny is the proud owner of this drawing.

I am the proud owner of this painting.

"Patchwork Skirt Bedspread" by Beverly Martinmaas, aka Mom

The story behind the bedspread above is that when I was a pippy--a punk/hippie as my friends called me--in high school, Mom sewed patchwork dresses and bell bottom pants for me.  Over time my clothes began to fall apart, so mom used the fabric to make me this bedspread.  It is so freaking soft.

"Katie's bedspread" by Bev Martinmaas, aka Grandma Bev

Mom loves to draw with kids.  Here's a drawing she and Katie did together when Katie was just four:

"Two Kids Playing on a Tire Swing" by Katie Carleton and Grandma Bev 4-10-11

This is my favorite picture of Mom doing what she loves best: creating.

I have fond memories of Mom and me drawing together when I was a kid.

Mom and my sister Kit both saved many of my early drawings.  Here are some of my favorites:

"Becky's Clowns" 10-16-73, age nearly 3

These others are nameless and dateless.  Circa 1974-1977, ages 3-6: 

The next one is dateless too, but my sister, Kit, remembers it's called "People Stew."  The happy wolves are gathering around a pot of people stew, awaiting their feast.  

Mom encouraged me to see things from a different perspective, to look closely at life and examine it from all angles.

I gave up drawing when I got old enough to write my stories.  Now, while I pound out stories onto my keyboard and share my creations with the world, my other creation, my flesh and blood creation, sits at our kitchen table and creates her own stories to share.

Katie's Drawings:

"A Bathtub" by Katie 10-20-09, age 3

"A Bird in a Tree" by Katie Carleton 10-24-10, age 4

"Mommy with Fingers and Toes" by Katie Carleton 1-16-11, age 4

"Katie at Different Ages" by Katie Carleton 3-21-11 (I wrote March 2010 in error), age 4

Katie explained this about the picture above.  The first person, on the left with the big head is Katie, as she said, "Me when I am four, now."  The person directly to the right of the first person is, as Katie said, "Me when I was three."  At the bottom is a representation of fetal Katie, as she said, "Me inside your tummy."  At the far right is another representation of fetal Katie, as she explained, "Me when I inside you where the food goes down to me and I get it and grow."  I'm fascinated by her in utero self-expression.

"Katie and a Smoothie" by Katie Carleton 5-11-12, age 5

Katie gave me the drawing above last year for Mother's Day.  She explained that since she and Daddy planned on fixing my blender for my Mother's Day present it would mean she'd get to enjoy a delicious smoothie.

"Thank You, Mom!" by Katie Carleton 10-11-12, age 6

Katie made me the card above when I came to her first grade class and read a book to them and then stayed for lunch.  I love how our faces are melded into each other's as we embrace.

"Mommy, Katie, and Daddy with a Grateful Dead T-shirt" 1-28-13, age 6

Here's what Katie made me for Mother's Day 2013:

"Sunflowers" by Katie Carleton 5-6-13, age 6

"Love Flower" by Katie Carleton 5-10-13, age 6

And here's what Katie made for her Grandma Bev.  She did it in pastels and then painted water over it, "to make it realistic since Grandma Bev is a great artist."

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  You showed me how to be an artist.  You showed me how to be a mother.  You inspired me to create.  And now my creation is inspired to create too.