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Archive for January, 2013

I’ve mentioned a few times I have a daughter with Down syndrome. She has been an utter delight in so many ways, and such a blessing to our family. She smiles and hugs and just shines like the sun around pretty much everyone. She’s silly and goofy and has a great time with everything. She was even an “easy” baby, just so content to sit and observe and smile (a relief after my first baby, who was very demanding and had to be held ALL THE TIME).

Yeah, I had an adjustment period getting used to the idea of having a child with a mental disability. Luckily, I was able to absorb that information before she was even born, thanks to a blood screening test and then an amniocentesis. It is a shock; it’s scary; it’s unnerving. It’s not something you ever expect will happen to you. It changes things. But I came to terms with the new emotions and fears and uncertainties and just embraced the sweet daughter I got.

Honestly, even though for the first few years of her life, she was slower in her development than other kids (and than my first), and she needed special early-intervention services, it wasn’t often I thought that it was just that much different than raising my older daughter. It was mostly just a minor adjustment in expectations and in schedule, sometimes. I thought, “you know, this isn’t too bad. She’s not really different from other kids.” And honestly, she still isn’t.

But as she’s gotten older and is now a teenager, so much has changed. As time has marched forward further and further, it’s become clear just HOW much behind other kids she is, at least in terms of what she is learning (reading is great; comprehension is still not as great; and math? ARGH), and how much younger she really acts than other kids. When your child is only 6 and has lags in development and seems more like a 3- or 4-year-old, compared to other 6-year-olds, it’s still not a big difference. But when she’s now 14 and acts like and has the grade level, basically, of a 7-year-old, that gap is much bigger. It’s a gaping chasm that is obvious to everyone.

I was getting accustomed to that growing distance in development as well. But now she has hit puberty and has started menstruating, and man, that is a whole other story. My 10-year-old, who is bright and intensely curious and conscientious, learned about the whole “female thing” last year and asked me with great concern, “Mom, have you told Marissa about this? ‘Cause she’s going to start this soon.” I replied, “You’re right, kiddo. But how would I explain this to her ahead of time? Would she really understand? How would she react?” I thought it would be easiest to just catch her when it first happened and do a very simple explanation. She was fine with it, too, for a few months, happy to be like a “young woman,” like her older sister and mom.

rainBut then the hormones seemed to kick in. Now she’s been moody and sometimes snappish, completely out of nowhere. She will burst into tears like a sudden cloudburst. I thought it was probably just PMS, as in “pre-” menstrual, but now it happens whenever. Her teacher called today to let me know she’s been bursting into tears in class sometimes too.

It’s so much easier to explain the how and, especially, the “why” of hormones and moods and all that female stuff to a young woman who understands the nuances and can do a little better at looking inward and analyzing a bit and piecing things together. But I fear those kinds of things are lost on my second child. So it just breaks my heart to see her going through these moods and having no idea why she feels so sad all of a sudden.

Nope, this is a lot trickier than just making sure my toddler is learning to walk properly or hold a pencil well so she can write. Those were walks in the park. Now, life is much more complicated. But isn’t that always the case?

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Drooling over books

Books are just as appealing to me as food. I’ve come to realize that sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach, but it’s also true that my eyes can be bigger than the hours in my day allotted to reading.

Books, glorious booksFor one thing, right now I have a huge stack of books that must be read in a mere two weeks or so. It just so happened I had requested a number of new books through my library system, and I got a few at once, and then I requested a few to review for the Sacramento Book Review, and I was granted all four of my “wishes.” So within a few days, I had a stack from the library sitting on my hallway countertop, as well as a stack that arrived in the mail. And I won’t be able to renew the books from the library past their three-week due date because other people will have requested them, and there’s a deadline for me to review the books for the book review. So… whoa! I have a WHOLE LOT of words to consume within a pretty short time.

I also noticed recently that I tend to enjoy just looking at Goodreads and other book sites or blogs. Just reading the reviews of books readers I trust have enjoyed makes me eager to read the books, too. On they go to my to-read shelf on Goodreads. What happens, though, is that I keep adding books, and even if I read like crazy, the to-read list piles up and doesn’t ever decrease. That shelf now has 389 books on it. Yep, I’ll just get through those this year. Ha! NOT!

There’s kind of this new term now that anything people enjoy looking at online is ____ “porn.” There are beautiful websites devoted to recipes (with lots of gorgeous photos of the final products and the processes involved) and food. So one can peruse those and literally drool and Pin them in hopes of re-creating them at home. That’s “food porn,” and it’s really popular (oh, yeah, Pinterest, you know you’ve contributed to that “problem”). Then there’s “home decor porn,” and there are lots of websites  devoted to showing how to create the perfect styles of decoration at home, and probably two-thirds of those are aimed at doing that beautifully on a budget. And there’s “clothes porn,” where you can look at all the fashions out there that look so cute. Me, I don’t get too hooked on those kinds of sites. I find them useful every so often, but I don’t spend hours just looking and dreaming and drooling. No, I like “book porn.” Look at that new cover! Look — there’s a new title by a fantastic author! Look — what an incredibly clever and original premise! I click away, adding the books to my to-read shelf. And it’s piling up with options for me to read, which I’ll never have time to get to. Still, I surf and I savor. What? Is there something dripping down from the side of my mouth?

Don’t want that to warp the pages of my great new read.

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If only making a change were as simple as making change.

If only making a change were as simple as making change.

So I have been working on eating better recently. For me, eating better doesn’t necessarily mean eating healthier foods because I generally eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. I just have a sweet tooth and tend to rely on high-fat, high-sugar and, therefore, high-calorie treats sometimes when I get stressed. Or sometimes I just eat them out of habit. Either way, they’re not great for my health, and when it comes to the visual representation (in a way) of that inner health, those habits wreak havoc on my waistline. So eating healthy for me equals eating fewer treats.

I’ve thought a lot about how I and many in our culture relate to food. It’s the center of celebrations and gatherings. It’s an easy and quick emotional crutch. It’s just habit. We get bored, we snack. We get distracted or just not sure what to do with ourselves, we pick up food and put it in our mouths, even when we’re not hungry. Often when we’re not hungry.

Our bodies naturally know how to regulate our food intake. If we really pay attention to our hunger signals, we can eat just as much as we need and then stop when we’ve gotten enough. But because of these distortions of food in our culture, it’s gotten easy for many of us to just drown out that inner voice telling us when to start and stop.

That means that we get into bad habits and we can even get addicted to certain kinds of food and food combinations. When the topic of habits comes up, I immediately think of a talk I heard when I was a teenager; the speaker said that if we want to establish a new habit, we must do it every single day for 14 days, and it will stick. OK. So if eating treats is a bad habit, I could stop that by very, very carefully monitoring what I eat for two weeks and just strongly reminding myself not to eat those things. Then I should be in a better groove, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be quite that simple. One, I might do fine for a while and stay in that better habit for a good bit. But then when trying situations or simple busy-ness come up, I slide right back into that bad habit. Two, maybe there truly is an addictive element to this, so it’s not as simple as working on habits.

I am sure this topic could be talked about in dissertation-length form. I can’t possibly address it all here. But I realize that with the various elements coming into play, really changing my/our relationship with food takes a multi-pronged and layered approach. It takes a couple of weeks of really focused effort to switch out habits. It also takes a lot of emotional digging and thought to change triggers and the tendency to lean on food instead of working through an emotional difficulty the harder and truer way. It takes support and, really, ideally, it should be a societal movement, where our whole country is more attuned to the problems and willing to change as a culture how we relate to food. It takes a lot of the same steps that are involved in addict’s recoveries, and knowing that we might actually be treat addicts our whole lives, aware that we could easily slip back anytime without the proper support and personal planning.

For now, I’m starting with trying to break the habits. I’m going cold turkey off of sugars and starches and all the treats for a while. Even as I feel happy about the progress I’m making as each day ticks by and I haven’t had bad stuff, I feel in my gut that this is going to be a lifelong battle. Next step is to look at those 12 steps. Either way, none of us should be doing this alone. We need to have a huge cultural paradigm shift. That’s a lofty goal. But in the meantime, more of us could talk about it and be aware and support each other. ‘Cause the obesity problem, among a lot of other food-related problems, is not just going to go away on its own. And being isolated from each other as we all run like hamsters in our little stress-balls of life isn’t going to cut it, either. Gotta press forward, be open, and be healthy, on whatever paths will help get us there, a step at a time.

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Again, in reference to recent hotly debated issues, I’m not going to address gun control. I do think, though, it’s interesting to think about what constitutes true “safety,” or implied or felt safety. I’ve been thinking that most of the safety measures that are being implemented in schools right now, for instance, are really more there to create the illusion of safety than really, truly making our kids completely free from danger during school.

Kids are smart enough to figure this out really quickly, too. I have children at a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. Soon after Sandy Hook, all three schools immediately started sending home letters and providing recorded information via phone calls about their stepped-up efforts to ensure students’ safety. Honestly, my first reaction on hearing the first phone call message was, “Right. Like changing which gates are going to be open at which times and which will be locked all day is really going to change things that much.” Yep. I was skeptical, and I’m still skeptical a month later.

fenceThe high school started locking more of its gates two days ago. When I picked up my child and a friend at the end of the school day, I heard a good amount of reasoning from the backseat about how they viewed the new policies. Mostly it was this: it’s not going to do any real good. For one thing, the fences surrounding the school are just about six-foot-tall chain-link numbers. My little teen girl has jumped them any number of times (for good reason, let me just say; she’s not a rule-breaker) when she’s been at school outside of regular hours. So locking more gates isn’t exactly going to keep anyone out who really wants to get in.

The kids also observed that the recent threat that actually occurred at the school was by a student, and he had told a classmate about his intention to harm someone the next day at school (I think on a Facebook page). Allowing only students in to a few particular gates in the morning would not have kept this kid out because he belonged there!

The door to my kindergartener’s class is now locked every day the second the kids have all lined up and marched inside. If we arrive even 30 seconds late, then she has to stand outside, knock, and wait for someone inside to open the door. This is the only change I could see as making some kind of difference. The classroom’s only access is that door, and because of the design of the schools here (we’re in California, so the weather’s temperate, so the buildings all have rooms that open directly to the outside, not using any hallways), the room is then secure if the heavy door is locked. There are some smallish windows, but it would be difficult to get in through them. So I think this is the only measure that makes sense, though it stinks if we’re running late. That’s OK, though.

Aside from that, all the gate-locking in the world is like having a basic home alarm system: it helps the most as merely a deterrent to the casual intruder. But someone who is absolutely determined to get in will easily find a way around it.

These are just a few simple examples of how the schools are trying to demonstrate their increased commitment to our children’s safety. But really, it doesn’t mean much to me. Life is impossible to secure. Wacky, random, and tragic things happen everywhere. It’s impossible to fortify ourselves or everywhere we go to a point that we will be completely safe from any threat. Stuff happens. People are crazy. They do stupid, crazy, horrible things sometimes. Yes, it’s good to do what we can to reduce the harm, but so much of what the schools are doing really just seems pointless. I want to be safe, and I sure as heck want my kids to be safe. But neither I nor anyone else can guarantee their safety anytime, anywhere.

That’s the thing: we can talk about gun safety, about gun control and rights, we can talk about making security better in all kinds of contexts. But (yes, TSA) there are always holes in the systems and loose ends and cracks of some kind or another, whether it’s human error or breakable machines, etc. Stuff slips through all the time.

Thinking we can actually keep everyone safe in any situation is just fruitless and ridiculous. We can try. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. But in the end, all the measures in the world are merely an illusion of security. Because life and other people are unpredictable and not safe. We can just do the best we can to go about our business and take care of each other in the meantime.

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Yeah, so I’ve written about how I was going to take better care of myself. I was going to eat better and change my relationship with food. Yep. That was a few months ago. I did great for about a month. And then the holidays hit, and it wasn’t the holidays per se that got me — all the usual kinds of articles you read about all the treats constantly available and parties being thrown, etc. — it was simply the stress and lack of time.

I got my shopping done relatively soon and was pretty organized this year, compared to the past few, and I didn’t feel really crazy in the week before Christmas, which was really wonderful. I was able to relax and enjoy the Christmas spirit. But I was busy beforehand getting things bought and made and shipped and so on, and I was busy doing other stuff for my kids, and I was busy with all my other commitments and responsibilities that essentially for about the two months before Christmas and New Year’s I had very little downtime. I had very little time to myself, to just relax, to be with myself, to be myself, to be alone, to have my head to myself, you know? My life and my mind were taken over by everyone else’s needs.

So back to food and “dieting” — this is the bottom line: it takes real focus and energy to change habits, to essentially break an addiction. And I had no focus or energy left for myself and this very important goal after everything else in my life drained those things from me.

Now it’s January, and several of my big projects are either done or done for a while, and my kids are FINALLY back in school. I finally have some time to think about myself and my needs again. So, back to food. Back to my relationship with my body, with my self-image, the food that’s in my house, the food I put in my mouth.

I am reading this interesting book I downloaded on my Kindle, called Weight Loss Apocalypse. It’s about our relationship with food, but it ties it all in to the hCG weight-loss “protocol.” Just putting aside the whole idea of the hCG thing, there are some fine ideas in the book. The author, Robin Phipps Woodall, talks about how our entire culture (let’s confine this to the U.S. for the moment, but it certainly is a First World or Western phenomenon at the very least) essentially has an eating disorder: she says as a culture “we need to blame (the obesity epidemic on) our rationale for unlimited eating.”

Everywhere we go in the U.S., we're faced with food, especially junk and food in outlandish portion sizes.

Everywhere we go in the U.S., we’re faced with food, especially junk and food in outlandish portion sizes.

Our culture pushes food everywhere. Not just food, but unlimited quantities of food, food in abundance. We feel entitled to be able to eat everything we want, as much as we want. Then, as Woodall says, when the scales tip just enough that we’ve become obese, we’re judged by the very same culture that forces food on us in the first place.

As she says, “Our culture justifies emotional eating, but then discriminates against obesity.” Yeah, that’s fair.

If we want to fix our obesity epidemic, our culture needs a huge shift in how we use food in so many contexts. But when it comes to us as individuals, we have to find it within ourselves to stick out, basically. Woodall asks, “Can you live in our culture of normalized gluttony, and know that almost everyone eats too much, and by eating less, you appear abnormal?”

Yep. There it is. Changing our relationship to food is hard work, and it takes focus and energy. It takes a sea change in our emotional lives. And society is not going to have our backs. Sure, they’ll reward us if our weight changes for the better and we become thin as a result of changing our food habits, but in the meantime, society’s going to block us at every turn.

These are just a few of my thoughts. I’ll revisit again soon. This whole addiction thing and idea of personal and national eating disorders are just a few of the ideas that are running through my head. But those will wait for another set of posts. In the meantime, how do we support each other in beating this? Any thoughts?

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I triumphantly announced a couple of days ago that I’d managed to check a couple of major items off my to-do list. Rather than being excited for me, my husband countered, “Well, are you going to add any more things onto the list?” Sadly, he knows me all too well.

2013I am a type-A personality, capital A. I have always been goal-oriented, planning and working for the future. That personality served me well in school, leading me to be valedictorian of my high school class and earn a full-tuition scholarship to my desired university. Since then, it’s not been quite as useful, at least in day-to-day life. In fact, it’s probably downright detrimental when raising children. ‘Cause honestly, it’s pretty difficult to get things done efficiently when the house is full of children. They do not care that I have a list of things to do. Their raison d’etre is to prevent me from doing anything for myself, having any quiet time, or reaching goals.

Even so, I don’t know any different way of doing things, so I forge through every day with kids, taking care of them and squeezing in my goals and to-do’s and trying to think straight in the moments they’re not asking me for something. It’s like swimming upstream in molasses. But since I am so programmed to check things off a list, I just keep swimming, regardless of how thick the water is.

So making resolutions at the beginning of a calendar year is completely pointless. One, I make goals (aka resolutions) every single day. I simply CAN’T HELP MYSELF! Two, I’m already so busy with the goals I’ve already set for myself that coming up with new ones simply because it’s January means I don’t have time to work on the new ones; I barely have time for the old ones.

Therefore, I am resolving to not make any more goals, at least until I’m caught up on the lists that are scribbled on scratch paper on my desk, on the yellow sticky-note program on my computer desktop, and the ones that just crowd my head. Perhaps I can demote myself from a capital-A type-A personality to a lowercase-a. We’ll see. That’s the most grandiose resolution I’ve ever considered.

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