Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My body is magnificent

Last week, Little Miss made a comment that froze me on my tracks: “My friend Lara said she won’t eat the donuts because it will make her fat.”

Lara is four. My daughter, three. Does it really begin this early?

I wasn’t prepared for this conversation. Because it’s not just about laughing at her remark, calling it silly, tousling her hair and sending her along her merry way. This is only the beginning of a lifetime’s work on body image and the emotions that it conjures. If we, as her parents, do our job well, it would be love and acceptance.

But at the other end of the spectrum is that these innocent statements may someday carry the weight of shame and loathing. And I just can’t bear the thought of my daughter mired in thoughts that make her feel any less than what she truly is. No, not perfect. But perfectly flawed. Like the rest of us.

I know, you’re thinking, sheesh, overreact much? It’s only a donut, for cryin’ out loud, and she’s only three. And maybe I am overreacting. But there’s history behind my fear. My own battle with an eating disorder. It has definitely made me a little sensitive to my daughters’ future in a society that upholds the Hollywood standard of beauty.

My story is pretty typical. It started in college. As a Malaysian student who was new to the American soil and as a lover of food, exploring the new culture through its food became my favorite past time. Cramming mid-terms and writing papers meant late nights, which also became a two-a.m. Domino pizza party between my roommate and me. And there were many nights like that. Foreign to American candy, I, of course, tried everything in the vending machine –Twix? What’s that? Mmm…Twiiiiix…

So, 20 pounds later, I went back home to Malaysia for the summer and naturally, my weight became everyone’s target. Back home, we don’t mince words. Greetings often sound like this: “Hi! Good to see you. Wow, you’ve put on weight!” I wish I was exaggerating but that is, word for word, what most people say to one another, and did say to me. After two months of constant reminders of my weight and without the proper mindset, tools and education, an eating disorder was born.

For three years, I hid that shameful part of me in the dark. On the surface I seemed happy, but I was mostly miserable. That double life was eating my insides (pun intended). It wasn’t until I met the right people who influenced me to exercise and eat right, and what it meant to be healthy that I slowly emerged out of my broken shell. I wanted desperately to be whole again, and I worked hard at it. Eventually, I got the upper hand.

However, even though the act of binging and purging disappeared, that internal struggle didn’t. For years I would continue to be hard on myself about diet and exercise. I had an unhealthy relationship with food – I looked at cupcakes with contempt and agonized over my daily caloric intake. I would also measure my worth by the size of my clothes.

But then one day, it all ended. Something magical happened.

I gave birth.

That was the day that I triumphed – the demons that plagued me all those years were vaporized by this tiny being that wailed her way onto my chest and into my life. There lay this sticky, slimy, thing. This human person against my bare skin, and I thought, I created life.

Slowly, day after day, as I nursed my newborn and healed from delivery, new powerful thoughts subverted old, debilitating ones.

I made this beautiful little creature. This girl in my arms came out of my body.


I would stand in front of the mirror, and look at my belly, not flat but deflated, still saggy and protruding from the pregnancy.

This body.


And I was overwhelmed by a rush of respect and gratitude. For this body. That made this baby.

Holy shit, this body just made a life. A life!!!


It was the breakthrough I needed to break me out of the cycle of years of self-flagellation and shame. My changed attitude also transformed my relationship with food and self-image; Ironically, when I stopped struggling with my weight was when it stopped being a problem. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took 16 years.

16 years.


Think of how many hours, days, or even weeks I had lost in that time engaging in self-destructive behavior and thoughts of self-loathing. And now, when I spy myself in the mirror, I am proud of what I see. Every flaw, every fold, every dimple, every curve. Not perfect. But perfectly me.

My body is magnificent.


Not because it is thin or Hollywood worthy. But because it is strong, it is capable, and it is healthy.
So perhaps now you understand my apprehension in my daughter’s innocent statement. It took years to undo the poison of one summer. What happens when they’re fed this rubbish at age three? I know I cannot protect my daughters from society or even from their own thoughts, but it’s so important to me to build a solid foundation for them so they know what it means to look and be healthy and that their worth is not measured in pounds and inches.

And that’s why I was at a loss at her comment. Because I just wasn’t ready yet. I felt like I needed to arm myself with the right words, so that I could say the right things and steer her towards a healthier attitude towards her own body. But now I realize I was wrong.

It’s not what I say; it’s what I do.

Eat a cupcake. Not five.
Indulge in French fries. Sometimes.
Walk. Dance. Move my feet.
Get popcorn at the movies. Order the small.
Choose whole wheat.
Cook with my kids. Do yoga with them. 
Love my fruits. And veggies.
Bake some cookies.

Dance some more.
Love myself.
And maybe, just maybe, she will grow to learn that her body is magnificent too.



* * *
What are you hoping to change for your kids from your own experience? What is your biggest challenge in raising a daughter? What would you have said to my daughter’s comment?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sappy family

Warning: This is a sappy Valentine’s Day post.

I know, you’re thinking, wait – what? Isn’t this a little late for a Valentine’s post? Yes, I’m aware of that. Sadly, my virtual self is still trying to catch up to my real life self, so please bear with me. I’m about a week behind, which means next week’s post will be about President’s Day. You can hardly wait, I know.

Anyway, we decided to ditch the lovers’ theme for Valentine’s day and focus on the family or, rather, the girls, instead.  After all, they’re the product of this “love” that we’re supposed to be celebrating, so why not include them? Besides, we’re not the Valentine type. Every year, while others cozied up to play footsies at candlelit restaurants, we were getting our cheap thrills at the Chicago Auto Show, picking our pipedream cars and salivating over fancy fenders. Who says romance is dead? We hold hands when we’re there!

This year we brought the girls and made it a family affair. As much as it hurts me to sound this cheesy in public, it’s our celebration of love. And honestly, it was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.

Because we made this about our daughters, it felt like a real holiday to me. We made cards, I surprised my chocoholic three-year-old with homemade chocolate fondue and My bacon-loving Guy with bacon-wrapped dates, put on heart-themed outfits (the girls, not us), stuffed our faces with more candy than even Willie Wonka can handle, and we even got presents. And thus a new tradition was born.

I’m sure this isn’t new in many households but it is in ours. That’s what being a family is all about isn’t it? Creating new traditions and breathing new life to celebrations from our past. Finding and giving meaning to our lives in ways that resonate with us. Why not? Isn’t life what we make of it?


Here’s that life in pictures (and some words):

On Valentine’s, I came home to an empty house while My Guy picked the girls up from preschool and daycare, and I walked in to cards, presents and surprise treats that My Guy strategically arranged right by the entrance for his girls. (Of all the sweet treats I had that day, he’s the sweetest – I know, I know, cough, cough, barf)

vday_treats

Auto Show: Is that romance I smell in the air? Oh no. It’s the new-car smell. Same difference, I guess.

Chicago_car_show


Bacon and dates, match-made in heaven. Just like us. Ahem. (I warned you about the cheese. Oh, there’s that too. Stuffed inside the dates).

bacon dates 


Little Miss Goofball in her heart-themed outfit, enjoying her heart-themed treats and heart-themed gifts. Can anyone OD on too many hearts? Although as a little girl, her threshold’s pretty high.

yum_yum


Our little cupid. Gratuitous baby shot. Because I can.

thumper_waves_hello



* * *


What new traditions have you created with your family?
What new twists have you introduced to the celebrations from your past?

Monday, February 13, 2012

My dirty little secret

CrazyMessyHouse

There you have it. My disaster zone. This is the lower level of my place, but you can barely see what it looks like as it’s currently being devoured by our laundry. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp! There goes the couch. Oh no, not the lamp too! And don’t even bother asking about the vacuum cleaner. I don’t even know how that got there.

I can’t believe I’m sharing this picture with you. I must really like you. The question is, after this, will you still like me? I guess it doesn’t matter because after you’ve seen this, I’m going to have to kill you.

So what led to this sorry state? My mother. OK, so that’s not entirely true, but indirectly, she is kind of responsible. You see, she left to go back to Malaysia two weeks ago. She was here since the birth of my infant and now, eight months later, the honeymoon is over. The reality of a household with two young kids and two full-time working parents is beginning to surface in insidious ways. Looking at the picture, I honestly can’t even remember which is the clean pile and which is the dirty one. Shit.

I think my mom would be aghast that I’m actually admitting and willingly showing you this wreck of a corner. I’m the type who, while I don’t keep a spotless house, at least likes to pretend like I do as I frantically clean the place just before guests arrive. But now, I don’t even have the energy to fake it.

Here’s the other reason, and some of you who follow my other blog would know: I’ve been working on changing the course of my career. Not drastically, but enough to occupy all of my waking hours as I try to figure out how I’m going to make it all work. After another phone call with an enthusiastic recruiter last week who thought I was perfect for a position only to retract her statement when I said I needed flexibility in schedule, I knew there’s no turning back now.

Inspired by My Guy who’s doing remarkably well at his new venture, I decided to take my own leap to give this working for myself thing a try. I felt like I “did time” with Little Miss, who I saw for a mere two hours a day for the first two and a half years of her life because of my corporate job, and I just couldn’t do it anymore with Thumper. Not this time; not when she’s my last baby. There won’t be another chance for me to relish these precious sweet moments of babyhood, and I just can’t stand the thought of most of it happening while I’m away from her. Deja vu? No thank you.

It seems like the only way to make sure I get in on some of the baby-savoring action is to find a work arrangement that allows me the flexibility I need. While my current position appears to be so, it is also contract work that ends soon. So far, my search for a regular full-time job that allows telecommuting and flextime has been futile. Hence this dramatic change in career scenery, and all the legwork and long nights that come with it.

This also explains the laundry that ate my house. By the end of the day, I am tired to the bone. I’m sure I’m not the only mom who feels that way. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking of a friend who’s pregnant with her third and having to manage the entire house and pack for an impending move while her husband is away on business. Bless her heart!

So really, with my partner home and juggling it all equally with me, I shouldn’t complain, but having had the luxury of another set of hands in the house when my mom was here, playing house had a lot more “play” in it. Now it’s just mostly house. And all the responsibilities that it contains.

When the kids are awake, it’s mostly about them. We play, shop, visit museums, attend birthday parties, eat out, craft, cook together, watch TV – we try to cram in as much fun in their waking hours as possible. When they’re in bed, I have about four-ish hours to do everything else. Now that the career is taking precedence, the house is falling behind. Something has to give right?

This evening, this blog wins. I get my one post in, also known as my fix, and then I get to decide: do I work on the proposal for this potential client or work on my current client’s work? How about my portfolio? That needs serious updating. And what about my other blog? When will I be posting again? Ooh let’s see what’s happening on Twitter. And Facebook! I also need to shop for a birthday present online. And some diapers while I’m at it. I think the gas bill is due soon too. Thumper’s also running low on veggies – time to make some more.

And the laundry? Right. That. Probably not tonight. Again. It’s ironic that with a laundry list of things to do, the laundry almost never makes the list.

 

* * *

When you’re juggling priorities, what is/are usually at the bottom of your list? Where does laundry appear on your list?

Monday, February 6, 2012

I never thought I’d say this

SoupyFace I never thought I’d say this, but I fed my eight-month-old Italian wedding soup. Gasp! Oh no! (OK, so I’m a little dramatic.)

We were at a restaurant, and when my soup arrived, she gave me the “are you holding out on me?” look as I spooned some into my mouth. To my own surprise, I gave her a taste, and she went wild. My one-tooth wonder wanted more. 

And that’s how she went from homemade pureed vegetables to table food. An Italian meatball soup with pasta and kale nonetheless. I skipped the meatballs but she was all about the mushy pasta. We also let her chew on a fry from her daddy’s plate except after a brief coughing fit, we thought perhaps it was a bit premature. She liked it though. The fry, not the choking.

While waiting for the check, My Guy looked at me and said, “You know you wouldn’t have done this with Little Miss.”

He’s right of course. As a first-time parent, I mothered by the book, word for word. I found a site that listed the foods Little Miss was allowed to try at each stage, and I didn’t dare stray from it. Rice cereal at four months. Green beans at six. Eggplant and spices at eight. Salt at ten.

It’s different with Thumper. And I don’t just mean the eating. With Little Miss, we were adamant about not co-sleeping, hoping to avoid a “bad habit” but now, even though Thumper goes down by herself at night, I pull her into bed with me when she wakes for her one feed at night and let her stay there with us. Waking up with my baby next to me is still one of the most rewarding and pleasurable experiences of parenting, and I’m not ready to deny myself that yet.FrenchFryThumper

As an infant, Little Miss wasn’t allowed any TV. Even though we still don’t turn any shows on for Thumper, we are less inclined to remove her from the room while her sister watches them. She stares at it a few minutes, gets bored and moves on to an object that she can stuff into her mouth. I can deal with that.

I’m also less concerned about her milestones. Thumper neither sits up by herself nor does she crawl yet whereas her older sister was mobile by this age. But she’ll get there, I know. I’m not going to sweat it.

Maybe it’s because I’m doing this the second time around that I am able to relax a little. I don’t feel the pressure to “fix a problem” or stress about delays just so she can reach each stage “appropriately”. Besides, every child is different. But more importantly, as said beautifully in this piece by Glennon Melton of Momastery, I am different.

No longer the wild-eyed parent who depended on Google for advice, it’s liberating, this parenting by instinct rather than by the book (or rather, the Internet). I adore this confidence of a seasoned parent as I’m less apt to worry about what others think or say about my decisions. No swagger though – I am still a worrier – but I’m all right with that. It keeps me on my toes, but it’s not all-consuming. I suspect it has something to do with this happy, intelligent little three-year-old I see before me. We must have done something right with Little Miss. 

I also think it may be the fact that Thumper is our last baby that our focus has been more on savoring every last bit of babyhood that we can before it vanishes completely. We can’t afford the time to sweat the small stuff; this time is fleeting. We’d rather be enjoying this baby and all the joy that she brings, as well as the ones we can give her.

And that means if she wants the Italian wedding soup, by golly she’s going to have the Italian wedding soup.

ItalianMeatballSoup

* did I just say golly?

* * *

If you’re a parent of two or more, how did you feel about parenting the second, third or even fourth time around? How did it change for you? And if you’re a parent to an only, did you feel more confident as your child grew older?

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