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Archive for December, 2013

Dear oldest daughter,

So. Here we are, you with only one semester left of high school. I think this one semester has given me more grief than it has you. For years, I’ve vowed that I would not, would NOT, have specific expectations for you that were based more on my own experiences than on what should be your own. But this last month has certainly tested that vow. First, I was concerned about your unacceptably low grades in one admittedly very difficult class. Then the deadlines came and went for priority admissions to several universities you were interested in, and you hadn’t completed half of what needed to be done. Last was this past week: that challenging class ended with a very low grade, despite my (unsuccessful) efforts to reach the teacher earlier in the semester to ask what you could be doing to make it better. Yep, I admit I ended up coming home on that last day of school after trying to talk to the teacher and your counselor and collapsing into a puddle on my bedroom floor. Of course, it had more to do with all the other things I’ve been doing for you and the rest of my children, but that was the topper.

So I’ve succeeded pretty well in just letting you live your own life, with support and some guidance from me, without me choosing things for you (pretty much) or imposing my own will or interests on your plans. But now that it’s crunch time, it’s been very hard.

Marce, Cathy and baby BI think back to the day I gave birth to you, my first child, and how absolutely at a loss I was for knowing what to do next. I’d successfully navigated a pregnancy, but holding you in my arms left me gaping into a future that I had no idea how to handle. I barely knew what to do with a baby. In photos holding you, I can just see the look in my eyes of “what now?” Luckily, your dad was much more adept with handling baby stuff: changing diapers, swaddling, clipping tiny but sharp little fingernails that had scratched up your delicate face before birth. At least you took to breast-feeding pretty well; I could feed you.

I’ve become much more skilled at taking care of baby and kid stuff over the past 17 1/2 years, and I diapered and fed and toilet-trained three others after you with aplomb. Now, though, I’m feeling that same feeling I haven’t felt in so many years: “what now?” How do I let you loose on the world? How do I balance not taking over details (I would have just been on top of those priority applications, no question, when I was younger; I was a very focused and driven high school student) with giving some gentle guidance and continuing support? As a young woman who’s about to be a legal adult, you have to make your own mistakes and learn from them the way you need to. But as your parent, it’s my job to help you navigate your way, maybe minimize the number of those mistakes a bit, even tweak natural consequences a tad when I can.

Because this is transition time. I’ve always wanted my kids to grow up working hard and being confident and independent, much like my parents did for me. (My mom says it was tough, but there’s no question my sister and brother and I were independent. Rueful chuckle.) I’ve never wanted to step in and take over, to not let you carry much of your own life loads, because then you’d be in shock when you were forced to do that later in life. But it does kill me to see you bloody your knees too badly.

So if someone were to take a photo of me standing next to you right now, I suspect the look in my eyes is going to be that deer-in-the-headlights look again. “What do I do with this fledgling adult?” I have to let you fly more outside the nest, but you’re getting scraped up a bit much lately and I feel it keenly.

So forgive me for my freak-out moments; be patient as I try to navigate a new time in my life of parenting. Try to come to me for help before things get out of control so I can really help. But that’s a lesson I’m still learning too (ask for help; say no; learn your limits), so I guess it’s just the start for you.

We’ll do this together, and we’ll come through with flying colors. In the meantime, though, the colors might be a little muddled.

Love, your adoring and dedicated mom

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… and that means women need to teach girls to expect better of the media

The latest Photoshopping news item to grab online attention is proof that a magazine tweaked a cover photo of Jennifer Lawrence. Rightly so, people were outraged.

Question is this: will this just die down and go away and be forgotten? It’s already been a couple of days since the story hit the ‘net and I don’t hear much talk about it anymore. People’s attention spans are short, and the next juicy item follows behind so quickly. Today, it’s all about the Duck Dynasty gay-comments issue with Phil Robertson. Tomorrow, who knows?

So, really, since human nature, at least in our 24-hour-news-cycle age, means we’ll forget most outrages in a matter of hours, will this information change anything?

Sadly, I doubt it.

Here’s what needs to happen, though: both women and men need to consciously work to keep this topic in the forefront of their minds. And they need to act. We all need to stop buying and reading the magazines that Photoshop women (which is pretty much all of them, even the health and fitness ones). Stop watching the movies and TV shows that make women secondary characters and, then, feature them only as sexual beings, as scantily-clad “pretty props” or set dressing. With the media, the only way to make a change is to vote with your pocketbook. Stop feeding the beast. And speak out, directly to each media company, and discuss with friends and family.

After years of living in a world saturated with media images portraying women as sex objects and set dressing, it’s taking a while to get older, more experienced women (and men) to realize what’s been happening. We need to keep getting the word out to them (I firmly fall into that category: at 43, I’ve been marinating in this lopsided, demeaning, and oppressive culture for decades).

At the same time, once we older people get the idea, we absolutely must teach our younger family members and friends to see the truth. The media loves the young folks: they’re the ideal demographic, so everything is skewed to their supposed tastes. So if we’re going to get a message out to the media, we must make sure the young people understand it, get it, and act on it.

It would take many, many blog posts to “prove” just how damaging this Photoshopping nonsense is to girls and women, and not only to females, but to males. It changes everyone’s expectations and core beliefs for the worse. There are plenty of resources out there that talk about this. Beauty Redefined is a great one, but there are others (check out BR’s posts related to “recognizing” what’s happening to get a good start). So this little post is just another part of the call to action. Don’t just cheer internally for Jennifer Lawrence’s ideals (not liking Photoshop, wanting to get rid of body shaming, sending a better message to young girls about image) — take a stand and do something. Write to magazines and ask that they stop Photoshopping. Stop watching movies that relegate women to sex objects. Talk about the topic with young people, both boys and girls, and keep it in the forefront.

The media won’t change without huge pressure to do so. Be part of that change. It takes one person at a time, but one person and another and another all add up. Take that first step. Hey, even reblog/post this. Let’s just bombard people with this message. Maybe someday, maybe even by the time my teen daughters are mothers of teens themselves, our culture won’t be marinating us in negative portrayals of women anymore. It could happen.

(For ideas on “resisting” negative body-image messages in the media and our culture at large, read Beauty Redefined posts related to that topic.)

AND AS AN ADDENDUM, another great resource from a woman who’s “been there, done that” when it comes to being ultra-toned. Taryn Brumfitt at Body Image Movement says this (in a blog response to fit mom Maria Kang): “I AM a health advocate. I run, I lift weights, I eat healthily but I also have a cookie with my soy latte and knock back the odd burger or yiros when I feel like it. It’s called balance. And whilst I am getting on my soap box (I’ll just be here for another minute) health is not dictated by your looks. Health is physical, emotional and spiritual and so much more that is not visible and not always obvious to others” (emphasis was added by me). She also told the Daily Mail: “If what you value is your health then you’ll treat your body like a vehicle, not an ornament.” I LOVE that.

Value your body for what it can do, not for how it looks. I think it’s pretty simple.

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I just finished reading a New York Times review of a book about letter-writing (I doubt I’ll have time to read the book itself, To the Letter, by Simon Garfield) and was reminded once again how much I appreciate and enjoy the written word. I suppose that should be obvious, given that I am a writer and here I am writing on a blog. I’m not just one of those people who savors language and words and how, used just so, they can sometimes express what it feels impossible to share outside of the seemingly wordless depths of the heart. Sure, I can and do use the sublime gift of language to share my feelings and thoughts through electronic means, but I really do like to take a pen and commit those ideas on a more permanent medium. It just seems a bit more serious and heartfelt to show my feelings in a way that’s more tangible and keep-able.

I love to receive, too. And, yes, I’m one of those old-fogies-at-heart who bemoans the loss of the art of writing notes and letters. I still frequent the Hallmark store. I have pretty notepaper and thank-you notes, and I relish using my good ink pens, shaping letters carefully and making sure my words not only sound appealing but look nice as well. Since I like those things so much, I do enjoy receiving them, as well. I love knowing that someone I care about took the extra time to put pen to paper (or card) to express their love for and admiration of me.

my arms around youSure, I have folders in my documents file on the computer, some of which hold electronic correspondence from others, and I have kept emails that mean a lot to me. And it’s admittedly kinda nice that these don’t take up any physical space (neatness, too, is a virtue I value), but I also have a few boxes’ worth of just letters and cards from people who have meant a lot to me. They take up real estate in my closet, but I’d never part with them.

Perhaps at this time of the year, where we shop so much online and send e-holiday cards and e-gift cards, we could take just a few minutes to write a personal note. Maybe after Christmas, when life isn’t quite so hectic. Perhaps as part of a physical thank-you note to someone who gave us a gift we unwrapped or just has given us the gift of themselves, we can get out a nice ink pen and craft a few heartfelt words of love and appreciation. What a present that would be!

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The older I get, the more I realize there are certain lessons I’m just not learning, despite life’s intentions otherwise. One big one is this: I fall victim to one of the classic blunders—the most famous of which is, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”—

Oh, whoops. I mean, I fall victim to one of my own classic blunders: trying to race through a marathon when I should be walking steadily, turtle-like. A scripture I find quite true but somehow manage to keep ignoring says to serve others, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, etc. But very wisely it goes on to say, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.”

Lately, all in the name of doing good for others, I have been running mental and emotional marathons, at the rate of probably 50 miles a day, and stopping only very briefly for breaks. A little water and food here and there, maybe a quick bathroom stop. I’ve almost managed to keep running at this crazy and unwise pace. I’ve powered through walls, I’ve kept going in hopes of second winds, I’ve told myself that I’m “almost there” a hundred times, only to find that the race is far from over. And sure enough, I’ve now managed to spectacularly flame out. I’ve collapsed in the middle of the road, nearly getting trampled by other runners, and I’m just getting myself over to the sidelines, where I can continue to heave and pant and moan.

empty track

The road’s looking a little fuzzy from where I am right now…

Yes, I have four daughters — plus an exchange student — living at home. One is a senior in high school and is in the middle of applying to colleges. The second has Down syndrome and certainly causes some excitement (see my previous post if you don’t know what I mean). The third is a precocious sixth-grader, the fourth a six-year-old who has very definite ideas about how she wants to live her life, which tend to run contrary to how the rest of us see things. My responsibilities toward these growing people are certainly demanding enough, so when you add in my own interests (editing for pay, writing for fun, running a book-review website for the benefit of other like-minded readers, reading, exercising, spending time with my husband of 20 years) PLUS the commitments that I’ve perhaps foolishly made (the past couple of years it’s been a hefty investment of time and energy to the band boosters, to just name one), it’s more than this one woman can carry.

People who don’t know me well (maybe) keep telling me they “don’t know how I do it.” Others who do know me well keep telling me I need to start saying “no.” The answers: I’m not doing it: I’m coming apart at the seams. To those who tell me to say no, I’ve only been able to reply (wail?), “But how???” Because that has been the question of the year. I’ve had no idea how to stop what I’ve already started.

So what’s happened now is I’ve fallen apart and found myself unable to continue. So instead of even walking slowly along the race route, I’m splayed out on the ground. I’m hoping that soon I can regain my wits and strength and start limping again, slowly making some progress.

I’ve had to quit the band boosters mid-year because I simply can’t function anymore; someone else will have to step in. Today, I went to see my therapist a week and a half earlier than I had scheduled because I had to have someone to talk to, to think aloud with, to vent to; to tell about my frustration, my disappointment, my exhaustion. I have an appointment in two days with my psychiatrist, who monitors the medication that keeps me (mostly) “normal” or what I would call on a baseline with others who don’t have the mental-health challenges I have. Perhaps I’ll find some ways to really recuperate and regain my strength so I can once again take up the baton and jog a little down the race course.

I’d like to think I’ll learn something from this latest flame-out. I know I’m trying. Balancing all the responsibilities in life and my desires to do good and make a difference with my own body’s mental and physical needs is a very, very delicate job, and it’s one I’m far from mastering. The problem is when I have some spare energy, I immediately want to use it to do something good for someone else, when perhaps I should be keeping some in reserve. I have to remember the rainy days and save for them in my mental-health bank even when the skies are perfectly clear and blue right now. That’s hard.

I’m likely going to need the rest of my life to learn how to balance, to keep energy in reserve, to really carefully exercise wisdom to gauge when to say yes and when to say no, to keep running or kick in a burst of speed or slow down to a trot or a walk. But I’m going to keep trying.

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