Thursday, March 24, 2011

Taking Up Arms

Max does this thing with me that is sweet-slash-horrifying. He clutches my upper arm and squishes the flesh, kneading it like dough, while he exclaims, "Squishy! Squishy!" I find it sweet because it's this little corner of my body that he has discovered and claimed as his own. It makes sense as I think about it. He's spent a lot of time with my upper arms; they cradled him as a baby, hoisted him around as a toddler, and shouldered snugly next to him as a reading buddy or fellow watcher of the Disney channel. It's the soft, warm security blanket he never had, I guess. The horrifying part, of course, is that few women (and probably men, too) enjoy having someone describe them as "squishy." With exclamation points.

Usually I ask him to stop. I try to be comfortable in my own skin, but it only takes about four squishy-s until I am sufficiently uncomfortable. And sometimes he seems genuinely hurt. He can't understand why I don't want my squishy arms celebrated! Frequently! In public!

Semi-related tangent: I remember this young couple from our church congregation when I was younger. The husband was whispy thin and his wife, while not fat per se, was quite thick, outweighing him by at least a few industrial bags of flour. Somewhere along the line I remember hearing that he was attracted to her soft, jiggly, fleshy arms because they reminded him of his mother. Aaaaaaaaaack! That kind of disturbing detail just doesn't leave you.

Okay, back to my story.

Beyond the regular, run-of-the-mill body image issues, I think the discomfort comes from somebody loving something about me that I find un-lovable, something I would like to change. Why isn't he obsessed with my sense of humor? My cooking? My blog?

I started doing pushups to de-squish my arms. They've always been bigger than I'd like, but once upon a time they were toned and muscular, so I decided to go retro with some exercise. I made the mistake of doing my pushups once while we were all watching TV together. Max cried out, "Noooo! Don't get rid of Squishy!"

Oh my gosh. Squishy isn't just an adjective, it's a proper noun. Kill me now.

We talked about it and struck a deal. I would keep Squishy as long as Max provided back scratches whenever I asked. (Let's break this down: I stay fat and get unlimited back scratches. Winning!) To his credit, I've received a few on-demand back scratches; however, I'm still doing pushups in the privacy of my own room (with no noticeable results). So we're both happy, I guess. Though I think the real exercise is finding a way to receive this very specific love. I'm not even sure where to begin. Every time I dip my toe into that pool, I can't help but think that someday Max will marry some wonderfully fleshy woman because it will remind him of meAaaaaaaaaack! And then I run away do more secret pushups.

What about you? Has somebody loved something about you that you dislike? How did you overcome?

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Like You

Let it be noted: very nice people read my blog. People like you, for example. Thank you for sharing your happiness with me on my last post. It lifted my spirits and I'm genuinely excited for the great things in your lives. Giddy, even.  As I hoped, it convinced me that I've mistaken this vehicle for a handbasket and assumed the worst about the destination.

Thanks for setting me straight.

And now for a bit of my own good news: I was contacted today regarding a job I applied for in January. (Good grief, I can barely remember January.) Everything is VERY preliminary at this point, but I think I'm going to indulge myself in a little bit of cautious optimism. 'Cause you know what? It feels goooood.

I think you brought me good luck. If I land the job, I'll buy you some Cheetos! Keep your fingers crossed for me?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Will You Tell Me Something Happy?

I'm exhausted from bad news. The last weeks, months, and year have been among the worst ever for some of the dearest people in my life. Honestly, at times it's felt like an avalanche of bad news, compounding in weight and speed as it chases all of us. I feel like I've been heartsick for so long, for so many different reasons, sometimes it's hard to breathe. (It's certainly hard to blog.) My own un(der)employment is a lesser worry compared to some of the challenges being faced by my loved ones, but still adequate enough to give me the beginnings of an ulcer. I don't know which is disintegrating faster, my stomach lining or my belief that I'm employable. And all of this is aside from the daily dose of disaster on the evening news. I can barely watch anymore. My worry is maxed out.

I think this is part of my fixation on our trip to France. It's the one little daffodil bursting up through the broken sidewalk. It doesn't solve anything, but it's given me something to look forward to, a week to escape reality.

Yesterday the sun was out and the temperature climbed higher than the forecast predicted. I went outside to get reacquainted. I stuck my hand out for an awkward handshake, like I was meeting up with my favorite cousin after a long absence. I pulled out the rake, shovel, garden gloves and I worked in the sun for hours, until my back threatened to break. And while I was working, I had a thought. I thought that maybe there is more good news in the world than I realize. Just because the pond sample I'm scooped up in is thick with problems, it doesn't necessarily represent the whole body of water.

So, I'm asking you to tell me some good news, something wonderful happening to you right now. What is going right in your world? What is making you smile? What is giving you hope? No matter the size or scope, please tell me about it. I truly want to know, so don't be a stranger. Let me rejoice with you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don't Worry, It's Not Contagious

The countdown to France is on. Ever since the fifteen minutes of frenzy when we bought our tickets, I've had the opposite of ADHD. I can focus only on France. Would you like France on your toast for breakfast? Toss me the France so I can change the channel. We're all out of France in the downstairs bathroom. When you go out, will you fill the car with France? Do you want a spoon or a France for that?

Ryan, the Travel Whisperer, has been reading the holy canon of Rick Steves, Frommers, and Fodors. He nudges me in bed while he's reading to share a tidbit, custom, or must-see. I find it mildly annoying, since I'm very busy, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about the France.

At the bookstore, we picked up a french language learning program from the bargain bin. In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea, but I'm still under-employed and the Rosetta Stone CDs cost 400 billion dollars. Our CDs only cost our dignity. As it turns out, the program we bought is nothing more than a very sadly written off-Broadway musical, featuring John and Jaqueline, two lovers brought together by their love of the french language. It wasn't completely worthless. We learned how to say "beige" in french. It's beige, pronounced bayzsh.

I've taken it upon myself to educate my family on french culture. I filled our Netflix queue with important french films, including The Pink Panther, Chocolat, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Bourne Trilogy.  I've encouraged everyone to temporarily stop shaving their legs and pits. At meal times, we serve french fries and Nutella. I've arranged french manicures for all of us the day before we leave.

The kids are excited, but not exactly suffering from my condition. They seem to be able to carry on with everyday tasks, such as completing a sentence that doesn't include France. I admit, I'm a little jealous. They seem to do it with such ease.

Lucy, a proud German, is disgusted. She ignores me when I greet her with a proper bonjour each morning, and rolls her eyes when I shake her paw with an enchanté. When she saw me reading My Life in France on the toilet, she promptly trotted out and took a crap on the living room carpet.

After this trip, I plan to return to my regular life and thoughts. I hope I will recognize them. My apologies if I've neglected any of your phone calls or Frances. Be patient with me, please. It's only a matter of France until this is over.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Self Help

I decided something today. I'm going to start making decisions that will benefit Future Self instead of just satisfying Present Self. Present Self is driving me nuts, eating too much, and not being tidy. She's like the worst college roommate. (Wait, I was that roommate, I think.) Time to put Present Self in her place and start sucking up big time to Future Self. I heard she's awesome.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Two Things I Want to Say

1. We have friends living in Japan right now, not one but two families. I'm very thankful to have heard from both of them today, letting us know that they are all right. Whew.

2. I love caramelized onions. On everything. Especially nachos.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with My Second-Born

We spent some time this weekend reading old blog posts of mine from 2006. We came across an interview I did with Christian. He was seven years old, the same age Max is now. I copied the questions and gave Max the same interview last night. (Apparently, there is a lot of resentment towards teeth brushing in our house.)

What did you have for lunch today?
Let's see...oh yeah, um, Chinese food. Oh! Japanese food!

Where do babies come from?
Mama's stomach.

What do you like best about your parents?
They care for me, they care about me, and they love me.

If you could drive the car tonight, where would you go?

What’s the best part about being a kid?
You don't have to do work. You're not really into, like, "We need to get our professor things more up!"

What’s the best part about being an adult?
You can do whatever you want and you don't have to sit there and be yelled at, like, "Brush your teeth, you fat lady!"

What’s the best part about being a little brother?
That you're more luckier than the older brother because the older brother always gets more made fun of when he does stuff wrong.

What do you like about your friends?
That they could play with me and I don't have to sit there playing with my brother only.

Name the three greatest inventions:
Video games, money, and care.

What do you like about girls?
Nothing at all. All they do is talk nonstop and think they're so cool and so better than boys.

What’s the worst part about second grade?
It's way harder than first grade and first grade's way funner. Second grade is fun, but first grade---Wow!---way funner.

What does it mean to be happy?
It means that you're just kind of normal and not like, "Heyyy! You brush your teeth!"

If you were going to write a poem, what would it be about?
I'm glad I'm on earth and I have all the things that I love, like video games and my family.

When will you get a job?
Probably about 21 through 32, because if you're a doctor you have 12 more years of school.

Describe a perfect meal:
Cheeseburger, fries, root beer, drumsticks, spaghetti, robin noodles, chocolate brownies, pumpkin cookies, and cake.

What’s the worst feeling in the world?
The worst feeling is when you're really sad or really, really, really mad. You know I was really, really, really mad one time? 

Are you a republican or a democrat?
Wait. What are those? 

What’s the best use of five minutes?
Play DS, have fun with mini puzzles, and sit down and relax watching TV.

What’s life all about?
Having a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really good time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Probably Time to Talk About the Alien

"Confidence is fleeting," Ryan said to me one day. He was quoting Joe Montana or Joe Namath or somebody who never had any business being un-confident.

It hit me like a football to the back of the head. Confidence is fleeting, I thought. I used to have some, but where has it gone? It's a haunting feeling, knowing it was there one minute and gone the next, like that favorite pair of sunglasses that grew legs and walked away unannounced. Apparently I had been storing my confidence supply in the claw-footed bathtub of my psyche. The one with an apparent leak. 'Cause it's gone, baby, gone.

The timing is wretched. First, I lost (most of) my job. But then (and more upsetting, it seems) my son's voice dropped an octave and he started giving off strange vibes. My vibe-reading told me that he suddenly had no interest in carrying on a conversation with me and that my opinion on anything and everything was completely irrelevant. Pesky, even. There were stronger vibes, ones that invited me to cease from interacting with his friends, teachers, coaches, and any other acquaintances that met him first. He would, I surmised, admit our relationship to others strictly on a need-to-know basis.

It's not just me, either (which helps my confidence a smidge). Ryan took him to school one morning after a dentist appointment. He walked in the building with our son, only to find himself suddenly several paces behind. He started to say something to him in the crowded hallway and was met with a quick "We don't know each other" glance, followed by a bionic stride to distance the two of them by at least two zip codes. Guilt by disassociation.

"It was the strangest thing," Ryan said to me afterward. He confronted Christian about it later that same night, who plead innocent.

"What was that all about?" Ryan asked him. "I work with kids your age all the time. I'm young and cool. Why would you be embarrassed of me?"

I hated to break it to him, but stating that you're young and cool sort of immediately invalidates the claim. Christian whatevered us both with a shrug and went downstairs in the basement to obliterate rival villains/sports teams/spy networks with his Playstation controller.

"I feel like he's lost to me," I said. The words tumbled out of my mouth before I'd even had time to think about them. But that's how it feels a lot of the time. Sure, there are moments of lucidity, when his pre-teen self bobs to the surface to mingle with us---he might laugh at one of our jokes or voluntarily remain in the same room---but they are bittersweet moments that never last for long. Sooner or later, a text comes through on his cell phone, and he dives back down into the deep blue new world of his adolescence.

I find that every time I talk to him, I'm telling him what to do, what to straighten, what to pick up, what to tuck in, what to comb, what to read, and what to take his feet off of. It's like an involuntary act, a form of Parenting Turrets Syndrome, which has so much less to do with his need for regulation and so much more to do with my need to remind myself that I'm his mom.

I had confidence before Christian was born, right up until the moment they put him in my arms to send us home from the hospital together. Any confidence I gained after that point was hard earned, but eventually it came. I got comfortable in our routines, and for a long while I sort of knew what I was doing. I should know by now that those feelings of self-assurance (particularly in the realm of parenting) are the quiet before the scream, the calm before the storm, the smooth side of Life's sandpaper.

My friend once said that her children were taken over at age 12 by alien life forms, only to be returned mostly unscathed at age 20. She came to accept it, expect it, and eventually laugh about it. It seemed like a sweet anecdote to me at the time. You know, when my kid was six and liked to snuggle before bedtime. (Waaaaaaaaaaa!)

This afternoon I ran an errand, heading to a place I hadn't been before. I plugged the address into the GPS in my car and put the car in drive. I pulled out of my driveway, and was flooded with memories of using that GPS every time I stepped outside my door when we first moved here. I practically needed it to find the mailbox. Back then I couldn't imagine the day would ever arrive that I would drive out on my own, knowing exactly where I was going and precisely how to get there. I honestly don't remember when I stopped needing it every day; it's been quite a while now. I guess it's just the way things go. The unimaginable slowly becomes the norm. The days we think will never come arrive without announcement.

I'm going to remind myself that it's a good thing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some Thoughts On Personal Safety

I passed a frog on my walk yesterday. He was crossing my path, making his way from the little pond, across the road and toward the lake. It's strange to encounter animals that you're used to seeing only in animation. His slow, deliberate hop was so grandiose, it was like a caricature of a real frog. I guess I thought real frogs were much less dramatic. Perhaps he was an actor frog. 

His long legs extended at least a foot launching him into a wet plop on the asphalt as he began his real life game of Frogger. (Lucky for him, it wasn't rush hour.) He seemed to be in no hurry, resting thoughtfully in my path. It makes no sense, but I was nervous as I got close, as I am with all animals despite their size. I know I'm bigger, more threatening, and higher on the food chain, but I don't like taking anything for granted. I want to be ready for any surprise attack or sudden, threatening moves such as whipping out a tiny banjo and singing about rainbows. 

I passed him without incident, keeping my 3.3 mph pace. I got a few strides beyond him when I felt that eerie feeling of being watched. By the frog. I whipped around, one hand in karate position, the other securing my phone for a call to 911 if necessary. He pretended to ignore me.
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