Self-Image, and the Purpose of Pictures

As Mother’s Day draws nearer, I find myself thinking more about self-image. I know it seems an odd pair, but hear me out. First of all, it reminds me of what I want to pass on—and don’t want to pass on—to my daughter. I think of how much we look alike: my daughter, my mother, and me. I’ve thought about my self-image in relation to my daughter before, as per this post, but now I also think of my mother.

First of all, I was fortunate to have a mother who was not at all focused on external appearances. I was aware that makeup existed, and that sometimes she wore some. But I never heard her complain if she had to leave the house without it. Heck, I’m not sure I ever noticed if she had it on or not. I knew my mother was beautiful, and I never heard her shatter my perception. She’s not svelte, but I never heard her complain about her weight, or how her clothes fit. I do remember when she and Dad would do things to try to be healthier. I remember a time when my parents would walk to the end of the neighborhood and back before he went to work; sometimes I would join them. But I don’t remember her ever focusing on losing weight or looking better.

I also have a mom who never hesitated to be in a picture. She never held back because she didn’t think she looked good. She understands the purpose of pictures, and their audience. We look at pictures because they are memories—we want to remember what we were doing when this picture was taken. We do not look at family pictures to critique each others’ appearances. (Actually, there probably are people like that. Apparently there are also people who care if their mom friends show up for lunch in sweatpants and a ponytail. As far as my experience goes, however, both types of people are mythical.) My mom didn’t care if we’d been in an amusement park all day and she was red-faced and sweaty. When we wanted a picture, she was up for it. Because when we look back on that picture, we see our beautiful mother having a wonderful time with us, not … whatever it is that people see when they look in the mirror.

So I grew up without much concern about my appearance, except to make sure that I was appropriately attired for my destination. As I grow older, however, it’s a little easier for our cultural body dysmorphia to kick in. It’s easy to look in the mirror and see eyebrows that haven’t seen wax or tweezers in way too long, hair that needs a new style, and that stubborn flab around my middle.

But you know what? Just as I can look at Kara and realize that if she’s beautiful, I must be too, I can look at my mom and think the same thing. We look so much alike—what would I think if I heard her thinking those things about herself? I’d be mortified. She’s a lovely woman! Do I really think that when my husband, my daughter, my friends look at me, they see the flaws I see? Certainly they do, but they only see them in the context of the whole woman they love.

And so it is with you.

Stop beating yourself up. You’re lovely. Be healthy, be happy, and let yourself be loved for the person you are now.

Happy Mother’s Day.


I Have a Confession

I used to judge people who refer to gardening or yard work as “exercise.” Not consciously. I just grouped them together with the people who park far away from the door when they go shopping and call that their exercise for the day. (Not that it’s a bad idea. It’s a terrific idea. But if that’s your entire exercise regimen, you’re not gonna get very far.)

But, man. Now I have a yard. And now I know, yard work is hard work. I can’t even do it intensively for long, because I have to keep track of a toddler, so I still can’t imagine what it must be like to do it for hours at a time. Today I finally got around to taking care of the jungle of weeds and bushes that had entangled themselves together under a decorative garden tree until I had no idea what belonged and what didn’t and I’ve been wanting to get rid of the whole mess since we’ve moved in. Today was the day. Those bushes/weeds/etc. are gone.

The pine needles in about 1/4 of the yard are still raked into various piles that need to be moved to the curb. I still need to rake the rest, clip back some of the garden bushes I know I want to keep, and pick up a few more of the branches that last week’s storm knocked down from our trees.

I’m still sore from what I’ve managed to do, and I’ve yet to actually exercise today.

I wonder what other unconscious prejudices I have that this little thing called “life” will manage to knock out of me.

We’ve Had Adventures

Kara and I finally made our first foray over toward the “big city”—Southern gem, Savannah. We went to a little island on the coast, and it was everything I’d hoped. Spanish moss everywhere, huge arching bridges across salt marshes, constant fresh breeze. Real maritime forest that makes you think you’re somewhere just plain different. And don’t forget the little fiddler crabs everywhere! My heart almost stopped the first time I saw one scuttling along on the periphery of my vision. It was about the size of the little frogs I’d see when I would go hiking in the mountains, but the movement was just wrong. My visceral reaction was to freeze before whatever mutated bug I saw moving came and ate me.

But then I realized what they were and was able to curb my reaction the countless times we saw them for the rest of the walk.0930141149

Then it was on to the mall, where they had—I kid you not—a double-decker carousel. Kara goes crazy for carousels; I thought she would explode when she saw this one. 0930141357

We had such a wonderful time, but we got so close to the ocean without seeing that vast expanse of ocean—nothing between you and the horizon, and waves and sand and everything the “ocean” should mean—without actually seeing it, I decided that we simply had to go to the beach this weekend.

The weather cooperated beautifully. It was sunny and wonderful. Kara chased seagulls and ran across the beach and splashed in tide pools. She dug holes in the sand and filled them with water. She jumped over waves and rode the swells. It. was. perfect.

It was a little chilly, though, especially for my small one. She loved it so much that, even though she was shivering in the water so violently I think she was making waves of her own, every time we asked her if she was ready to leave she’d say “no.” We finally had to make the executive decision to leave, but just as we were about to leave, we saw a dolphin!

She napped on the way home, and the rest of the day was filled with rich, heavy food, lots of TV watching and computer games, and gorging on cookie dough. A better end to the week could not be imagined.

I Mowed My Yard

A couple days ago, I mowed my yard.

This was a revolutionary step in my life for several reasons: for starters, it means I have a yard. For someone who’s been living in dorms or apartments for the last 11 years, that’s pretty exciting.

It also means that I’m still in better shape than I thought. You see, we have a reel lawnmower. No gas, no outside help, just you pushing this machine across the yard (with an incredibly satisfying *snick snick snick* as the grass goes flying in every direction in tiny pieces. Makes me feel like I’m pushing Edward Scissorhands). The yard isn’t incredibly big, but let me assure you, it seems pretty large when you’re mowing. Also, no shock to those of you who have known me for more than 2 seconds, I’m not very good at walking in a straight line, so I ended up going over parts of the yard multiple times.

Also, I have some incredibly motivating workout buddies:

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of stepping on a fire ant mound, it is very much like this. As soon as anything—anything—disturbs their mound at all, they erupt. Millions of them just appear out of nowhere, and you don’t want anything flesh-covered anywhere near the mound when they come up.

We have fire ant mounds everywhere in our yard, so in case you ever want to take a breather, just remember, if you don’t keep those feet moving quickly, they’ll be waiting.

But I did it!

It’s a Day

I’ve been trying to decide what today’s narrative should be. Is it a good day with a few bumps along the way? Is it a bad day with a few bright spots?

After a short bit of ruminating, I’ve decided it’s just a day. More specifically, a day with a toddler.

It’s my husband’s birthday. We’re not huge on celebrating them, but I was able to think of something small to do that seemed meaningful, so cool.

After a short shopping trip, Kara and I were just getting settled into some food prep when the Internet guy, who was supposed to come yesterday, showed up. When we told him the problem was with our speed, he said he had to fix something back at the … I don’t know, the headquarters or whatever. So he left.

Then… then Kara decided she wanted to take a bath in my big bath tub, and here’s where the real story starts, I suppose.

First, she needed to bring all of her bath toys. Of course, she can only bring one at a time. So she takes off half of her clothes and starts running back and forth between the two bathrooms, while I start filling up the tub. After about her fifth trip, I figured there was enough water, so I turned it off. When Kara came back with her final toy, she said she heard someone at the door. Guess who? Internet guy is back, so my half-naked child and I go answer the door. I had already done a speed test, so he just came in to check the modem and went again. Kara and I go back to the big bath tub, where she pitches a fit because the water isn’t running, so of course she gets sent to her room.

Finally, we’re calm and able to have the big fun adventure of taking a bubble bath in Mommy’s huge tub, except most of the bubbles are gone. But her toys are still there, so it’s still fun. Once she’s finally settled, I start cleaning the bathroom. I turned around from hanging up a towel just in time to see Kara jumping in the bathtub. Incredibly fortunately, the water was just deep enough to cushion the inevitable fall enough that she didn’t crack the back of her skull open, but not so deep that her face was submerged. I got her out, we cried and snuggled, and she said she wanted to lay down in the big bed. So I went to get her some clothes, and when I got back…

… she was back in the bath tub. Whatever, I think. She’s always been a get-right-back-in-the-saddle kind of girl. So I continue cleaning the bathroom, fielding the “why” questions with a little more grace and patience than I’d had before her near-drowning experience. (And yes, there are stupid questions. When you just almost killed yourself by slipping in the bath tub, it is in fact stupid to ask why someone is drying the floor, why they don’t want to slip, and why they don’t want you to drown.) My newly discovered patience disappeared as quickly as it came when she stood up in the bath again.

“I don’t like it when you yell at me!” she said when I scolded her.

Seeing this experience was going nowhere good, I decided to wash her as quickly as possible, hopefully beating the coming meltdown. I washed her hair, and then she decided that would be the perfect time to try to use a cup of water to rinse the bubbles off my arm, except that, as I was washing her hair, my arms were directly above her face. Can you guess what happened when she upended a cup of water on my arm?

We finally get her out and dry and dressed. We snuggle up in the bed. After laying down for 10 minutes, Kara jumps up and declares, “I’m not sleepy anymore!”

So I did the only thing a mother with fraying sanity could do: I put her in her room and told her to stay in there for an hour, whether she sleeps or not.

Thankfully, she fell asleep.

And my nerves are finally recovering with the help of writing and coffee.

Science Says So

I am intrigued by something I’ve observed across generations, from people who are so dissimilar I would hesitate to say they have anything in common. It is a very strange attitude about science.

I observe it most often in social media, because … well, that’s where I interact with the largest number of people, I suppose. They will post an article about something science has proven: the benefits of writing, the harmful effects of sweeteners, the medical benefits of coffee, etc. They will be victorious! Emphatic! Science has proven it; it’s incontrovertible.

But then science will prove something they don’t like. Perhaps they don’t like that tanning beds cause cancer, or that more and more evidence keeps piling up to support the big bang, or that … I don’t know, take your pick, there’s always something. Then suddenly, science knows nothing. Why, just 50 years ago, butter was going to kill you and you needed to eat margarine! Now they’re saying margarine is bad and butter is good. And 500 years ago, scientists thought the earth was flat! What do “scientists” know?

Never mind that not all branches of science are created equal. Nutritional and medical science, for example, versus earth science. The former has so many variables that, while we can continue building up strong foundations, we will probably never understand everything about each individual body, precisely because each body is individual. While earth scientists have a completely different data set and way of forming hypotheses and theories. Never mind that we have clearly made a net gain in scientific and technological advancement. When I want it to be true, it’s true; when I don’t like it, it’s false.

So which is science—magical guessing games or methodical, proven, reliable?

“I Like My Kids”

Last night, after the end of a day that was exhausting for no particular reason, it stormed. Badly. Loudly. It woke Kara and was close enough to keep her from relaxing long enough to fall back to sleep. So we brought her into our bed, which is something we very rarely do. She fell asleep snuggled next to me, clutching my arm with both hands and squeezing whenever she saw lightning until the thunder that accompanied it passed. She so rarely accepts comfort that it was an inexplicably sweet experience to help her keep calm and sleep during the storm. It brought to mind a conversation a few moms had a while ago.

A few months ago, I was at a MOMS Club meeting. One of the moms had 2 boys and was pregnant with her third child. She stayed home with her boys; neither of them was in preschool or daycare. She said many people had asked if she was planning on putting her boys in preschool. When she replied that she wasn’t planning on it, most people said she’d feel differently when the baby came. And this wonderful young mother just shrugged and said, “I like my kids.”

It’s a simple thing, but it’s stayed with me. All parents love their kids, of course, but for some of us—or me, at least—it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that I also like my kid. I like how she plays pretend and helps me when I’m working and how she squishes her blueberries with her apples in her fruit salad and then eats them together. I like how she adds a syllable when she makes her words plural (nest-es instead of nests) and how when she makes her stuffed animals talk, she’ll add, “said Bunny” (or whoever is speaking) to the end of the sentence.

In light of another marriage of two people close to me that’s come to an end, I’ve been reading some tips for spousal relationships, and it’s occurred to me that many of them can also be applied to relationships with your kids. We just spend so much time together it’s easy to get fed up and lose sight of the things I love about my little girl and focus on all the things that irritate me, so I’m going to make an “I like” list to remind me of all the things I like about her. And on those days when it seems like we can’t get anything right together, I’m going to revisit that list.

What do you do to remind yourself how much you like your littles?