Summer Of Champions

May 28, 2015

summer pep talk

It is almost summer, which means no more winter coats, chapped lips, or swearing under our breath while we scrape the icy windshield and the baby screams in the car seat. No more flu season or cabin fever or mismatched mittens no one wants to wear anyway.

We have survived winter. We are Braveheart.

Here’s the thing though, summer in your 30s is not the same as summer in your early twenties when all you needed for a day at the beach was your towel and thigh gap. Now the sun spots have gathered into colonies and have us googling CANCER MOLES in the middle of the night. Now we need sunscreen, a floppy hat, and a beach umbrella. Now we have children.

Have you ever tried putting sunscreen on a toddler? Imagine greasing a back-talking cake pan who has been given the gift of questions while also holding his younger sister, a slippery watermelon with “boundary issues.” Does that sound fun?

I’ve never been great with analogies.

Listen, I love summer as much as the next unoriginal girl who is “always cold.” When I first got AOL Instant Message circa 1998, my screen name was summerdreams19. The perfect internet presence for a 13-year-old girl! I couldn’t wait for summer. Summer was when all the good stuff happened; pool parties, family vacation, finding ticks embedded in your sister’s buttcheek. There is nothing better than waking up to the smell of a summer day. The world is your sweaty oyster. There is nothing you can’t do (even though you do mostly nothing).

Things are different now. Now we have to face grown women wearing rompers and the constant fear of kids and water. I need a pep talk. Someone to say we can do thisWe can slide our pale, jellied bodies into bathing suits and hold our head high. We can pack snacks and water bottles and carry sweaty babies to the park only to turn around because someone has to pee.

We can do months without preschool, weeks without help, long mornings stretched into long afternoons. We can apply sunscreen every dawn and give baths every dusk. We can dodge bee stings, poison ivy, splinters and thorns. We can haul heavy strollers in and out of our trunks 400 times for the sake of “family fun.”

We are strong! We are wise! We know our cousin’s HBO password!

There is so much joy that comes with watching children experience the seasons. Summer is no exception. Hot, salty, and full of magic. I am ready for its hormonal sweat.

We can survive summer. We are Braveheart.

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Here Is Where We Stay: Finding A Village

May 27, 2015

Village

A funny thing happens in your twenties and thirties, and this is especially true for millennial women with smartphones and Netflix, all of a sudden it becomes increasingly difficult to actually see each other. We’re busy, we’re tired, we already have our sweatpants on. Nobody wants to meet for coffee after pushing papers or listening to a two-year-old all day. We have our books. We have our phones. We are tired.

The problem with this is obvious, we are not designed to be alone. Work, children, marriage, our aging parents and arm skin–all of those things require support. Collaboration. Emergency meetings and carpooling. Eventually we need to find a village.

It can start in grade school or high school or in those tender years at college when you’re acting dumb but they hold your hair back anyways. But sometimes it’s harder than that. Sometimes it’s at the gym or on a walking path after months of awkward book club meetings when the gaps between small talk make everyone a bit nauseated. Sometimes you have to try, and that’s the tricky part. The vulnerable part. The part where things get weird before they get good.

When Austin started med school four years ago, I thought I would raise my babies alone. Instead I found a group of women who became family. It wasn’t easy at first. There were many brunches and group texts and picnics in the park when I couldn’t tell if it was going to work. But then slowly we opened up to each other. We shared our dark parts and weird habits and cried about our jobs. We did what you do when you keep showing up, we fell in love.

A few months ago my friend Mo sent me an excerpt from Kelly Corrigan’s book, The Middle Place. An ode to women and friendship found in the epilogue. It got me good and I wanted to share it with you, too.

This is for The Birds and The Circle. For B, L, and S. C & E. For my sister and family.

This is for the women who take the time to invest in other women. Our villages as they ebb and flow.

We are in this together.

I turned 40 a few weeks ago. I tried (twice) to make a toast about friendship but both times, I blew it. I wanted to say something about my mom and her friends, who call themselves “The Pigeons.”

There were once at least a dozen “Pigeons” (I believe the name was a self-effacing twist on Hens) but in the past few years, they lost two of the greats, Robin Burch and Mary Maroney, to cancer. On the pigeons go, though, like women do, limping one minute, carrying someone the next. They started in the 60s, in suburban Philadelphia, with bridge and tennis and chardonnay (ok, vodka) and, over time, became something like a dedicated fleet, armed ships sailing together, weather be damned.

For me and women of my generation, it started with playdates, cutting carbs and meeting on Monday mornings in workout clothes to do awkward moves with large colorful balls. And I can see exactly where it’s heading.

We’ll water each other’s plants, pick up each other’s mail, take each other’s Christmas card photos. We’ll confer about jog bras and contractors and pediatricians. We’ll gossip about babysitters, teachers, neighbors, in laws. We’ll speculate about who had a shot of Botox, who cheats on their taxes, who cleans until midnight. We’ll implore each other to read this book or see this movie or listen to this song. We’ll persuade each other to bake, sell, recruit, fold, stuff, paint, clean and write checks for our favorite non-profits.

We’ll celebrate each other’s achievements –opening an exercise studio, a corner store, a jewelry business. We’ll celebrate our kids’ achievements – making the traveling team, singing in the choir, learning to use the potty or speak French or play the flute. We’ll borrow eggs, earrings, extra chairs, galvanized tubs for a barbeque. We’ll throw birthday parties for each other and stain the rugs and shatter the wine glasses and mark up new counters with the odd slice of lemon. We’ll worry about who seems down, who looks tired, whose drinking more and more. We’ll say things we wished we hadn’t and have to find a way to regain each other’s trust. Things will break, they always do. Many will be fixed.

We’ll fret over our children—too shy, too loud, too angry, too needy. We’ll brainstorm ways to help them become more resilient, patient, forgiving, light-hearted. We’ll protect them—fiercely—pulling little bodies from the deep end, double-latching windows, withholding car keys.

We’ll bury our mothers and our fathers—shuttling our children off for sleepovers, jumping on red eyes, telling each other stories that hurt to hear about gasping, agonal breaths, hospice nurses, scars and bruises and scabs and how skin papers shortly after a person passes. We will nod in agreement that it is as much an honor to witness a person come into the world as it is to watch a person leave it.

People will drift in and out. Book clubs will swell and thin. We’ll write someone off and they’ll reemerge later and we’ll remember both why we loved them and why we let them slip away but we’ll be softer and we’ll want them back, for nostalgia will get stronger.

We’ll admire each other for a fine crème brule, a promotion, a degree, a finished marathon. We’ll commiserate about commutes, layoffs, mortgage rates, bosses, unappreciated toys. We’ll confide in each other about feeling anxious or angry or uninteresting or uninspired or how many pieces of Halloween candy we accidentally ate from our kids’ bags. We’ll confess that our husbands don’t really listen to us or that we should be having more sex or that we yell at our kids every day. We’ll admit that we believe in God, Jesus Christ, Heaven and Hell, or that we don’t.

We’ll give up things together—caffeine, catalogs, Costco, social smoking. We’ll take up things too—morning walks, green tea, organic dairy, saying grace.

We’ll throw potlucks and take each other to lunch and give each other frames and soaps and bracelets. We’ll check each other’s heads for lice and examine new bumps and moles and listen to lists of symptoms. We’ll diagnose each other’s brown lawns, torn muscles, basement odors. We’ll teach other how to set a ring tone, make a slide show, download a movie.

We will call and say “I heard the news” and whatever the news is, we will come running, probably with food. We’ll insist on taking the kids, finding second opinions, lots of rest and the best surgeon. We will face diseases, many kinds, and will—temporarily—lose our hair, our figures and our minds.

Eventually, someone whose not supposed to die will, maybe one of us, maybe a husband, God forbid a child, and all this celebrating and sharing and confessing will make certain essential comforts possible. We’ll rally around and hold each other up and it won’t be nearly enough but it will help the time pass just a hair faster than it would have otherwise. We will wait patiently and lovingly for that first laugh after the loss. When it comes, and it will come, we will cry as we howl as we clutch as we circle. We will transcend, ladies. Because we did all this, in that worst moment, we will transcend.

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The Body Post

May 22, 2015

Body Post

I am 14-years-old, 5’8, and 185 pounds. The only pants that fit over my thighs are outdated and torn. I’ve been an awkward kid my whole life, but now I am a teenager with braces, butterfly clips and obesity. It is hard. I try my best to ignore the fact that I don’t look like everyone else, but still pray every night for a better body so that I might have a boyfriend other than “Chad,” my fictional lover “from the city.”

Then one day my wish comes true. I don’t know if it’s hormones or a bona fide miracle from Jesus, but between my Junior and Senior years of high school, I lose a whole 45 pounds. That’s like one Justin Bieber.

The first thing I do is buy a normal sized jean jacket. It is thrilling and strange. Gone are the days of “Well, at least you have a nice smile!”, and for the first time in my life–boys notice me. All of a sudden I am popular, pretty, and picked first in gym class despite being a truly terrible athlete. All the balls are literally in my court, staring at my miniskirt and making awkward conversation about my “different look.”

The rest is predictable. I get drunk on the power and obsessed with being thin. It’s all I think about day and night, resulting in some really creative diets including the “The Sleep Diet,” “The Saltine Diet,” and perhaps most repelling, “The Refried Beans Diet.”  By the end of college, I have dabbled in all the dark eating arts; bulimia, anorexia, dipping cotton balls in orange juice and calling it “lunch.” I am a jack of all trades.

Most notable is my long relationship with laxatives. For years I pop these pills into my digestive system to “cleanse” all the calories after meals. The problem is that they are A) habit forming and B) will ruin your body and cause you to shit your pants in the school cafeteria. They also do not work. My weight goes up and down like a yo-yo due to false hope over these tiny pills. When I finally quit cold turkey, I have a weakened metabolism and lasting damage to my bowels.

Enter the children. The first thing I do when I get pregnant is promise myself I’ll stop abusing my body. The months before my wedding I had been eating less than 500 calories a day, barely enough to walk up a flight of stairs without passing out. I couldn’t do that while caring for a baby. And so I look down at my stomach, say Honey, it’s just not worth it, and promptly gain 75 pounds.

I’ve been sporting a pear shape ever since.

A few weeks ago I was asked to write about body image and how it’s changed over the years. Despite spending the past three decades being too big or too small, here are some things I know for sure:

1) Eating too little will make you feel like shit.

2) Eating too much will make you feel like shit.

3) It doesn’t matter how much therapy, exercise, or humor you pour into yourself–body issues do not disappear. They are with you for life. Amy Poehler calls it “the demon.”

Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.” Sometimes you say, “Demon, I promise you I will let you remind me of my ugliness, but right now I am having hot sex so I will check in later.

The demon is annoying but I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be everything. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to life than thigh gap. Also, spending thirty years in a woman’s body has taught me a few things. For example, how to buy appropriate sized clothing. Pro tip: squeezing into a smaller size out of vanity could result in a situation that requires scissors or your uncle’s butcher knife. Similarly, how to avoid fad diets. Take it from an expert dieter, juice cleanses and 30 day fixes do nothing more than give you temporary weight loss and diarrhea. Doctors, science, and years of research are actually telling the truth. Healthy eating and exercise are the only ways to truly lose weight. I know it’s the worst.

There is no way to go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self that binge eating colace will cause her 30-year-old self to shit her pants at the grocery store. All I can do now is laugh and maybe become a motivational speaker for teenage youths who think Angelina’s arms are normal. I can think of no better way to dissuade someone from laxative abuse than describing the particulars of throwing out your underwear in the Costco bathroom. The details are truly horrifying.

The image we have of ourselves is always shifting. May we continue to grow into our bodies, forgive our arms, and celebrate our working bones.

We are always a work in progress.

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13 Tips On Love And Relationships From Smart Women

May 21, 2015

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.
Sheryl Sandberg

amyIt’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.
Amy Poehler

chelsea_peretti_mirror_RJEpkoF.sizedIf you text “I love you” and the person writes back an emoji, no matter what the emoji is – they don’t love you back.
Chelsea Peretti

mindy-kaling1As my mom has said, when one person is unhappy, it usually means two people are unhappy but that one has not come to terms with it yet.
Mindy Kalingstrayed

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.
Cheryl Strayed

rosanneA guy is a lump like a doughnut. So, first you gotta get rid of all the stuff his mom did to him. And then you gotta get rid of all that macho crap that they pick up from beer commercials. And then there’s my personal favorite, the male ego.
Roseanne Barr

lenaIt’s somebody who gives you the space and time you need to do your work. Somebody who says, “You couldn’t do anything that would embarrass me. Just be yourself in a way that has integrity, and I’ll be proud of you.” I think women are conditioned to stand by their man and watch them make it to the top, but most men never believe the person they get into a relationship with is going to rise any higher than she was when they met. It takes a very special, evolved person to be able to deal with change within a relationship.
Lena Dunham

cherylDon’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.
Cheryl Strayed

sarahBeing single used to mean that nobody wanted you. Now it means you’re pretty sexy and you’re taking your time deciding how you want your life to be and who you want to spend it with.
Sarah Jessica Parker

meganSpend a few minutes a day really listening to your spouse. No matter how stupid his problems sound to you. 
Megan Mullally

lizPeople always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities. Who wouldn’t? Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of it.’? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to be pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.
Elizabeth Gilbert

ellenSo many people prefer to live in drama because it’s comfortable. It’s like someone staying in a bad marriage or relationship – it’s actually easier to stay because they know what to expect every day, versus leaving and not knowing what to expect.
Ellen Degeneres

cheryl sandbergEveryone knows that marriage is the biggest personal decision you make, but it’s the biggest career decision you can make. Partner with the right person, because you cannot have a full career and a full life at home with the children if you are also doing all the housework and childcare.
Sheryl Sandberg

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The End Of Preschool

May 20, 2015

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When Waylon started preschool last year, I pretended to be confident in our decision when really I was just another sociopath mom suppressing nervous gas and ugly crying in the school parking lot. It was so hard to send my first baby off into the world. It didn’t help that the first few weeks we had to go through the Orphan Annie routine at drop off. You know, the PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME sobs followed by murder screams and sad, Disney eyes. It was a whole thing.

Then one day, a miracle happened. He stopped crying! They tell you it will happen, but like so many “it gets better” promises in parenthood, it’s hard to believe until you see it with your own eyes. A year later, and I saw the whole thing. I watched him want to get dressed in the morning and ask to stay for lunch. I watched him get braver, grow taller, and be a friend to everyone. A few months in and he even stopped looking over his shoulder to say goodbye. It broke my heart in all the best ways.

We know teachers are sent from baby Jesus, but there is a special VIP spot in heaven for preschool teachers who send you texts saying “He is having fun” and “Thank you for trusting us with him.” I will cry about it until the day I die. Women helping women.

I know I’m not the first overly sentimental mom to send my first, precious, newborn spawn to preschool, but I will never forget this first year of school. The feelings in my gut and the tears on my face. It was the start of something. The beginning of the very long process of letting go.

It’s a funny thing, to be in charge of a life. We hold it like a robin’s egg even though it’s more like the bird itself; wild, independent, slowly slipping away.

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Waylon is saying goodbye to his best friend Ginger next week. A look back on their four years together. There’s just something about that first best friend.

ginger and wt