I know it’s been pretty quiet around here, and I still haven’t gotten around to posting a birthday letter to my wild man (tsk, tsk). I’ve just been so busy. I’ve had a few speaking engagements (one is this Friday, and I am so looking forward to the mom retreat), which are always such a joy but also require a hefty chunk of time. I am team manager for my oldest daughter’s soccer team. Three out of four kids are playing the sport this year, so there’s all that soccer schlepping. I’m not sure when I became such a soccer mom, but I am trying to embrace it. I’m also volunteering at the older girls’ school occasionally and am trying to teach the child I am homeschooling more than Look-at-Mommy-try-to-control-little-brother-unsuccessfully–yet-again. Yes, Todzilla remains a loud, physical challenge, but, oh, he can be sweet. Oh, and I landed a fun writing assignment that has nothing to do with poop, parenting, or eating disorders. I am writing about fashion – and loving it! The novel is at a standstill.
I am also traveling to Atlanta almost every other week for ongoing medical treatment. Several more imaging studies have shown that I have femoracetabular impingement (the pincer type, if you’re really interested), which could very well be the culprit behind my high hamstring tendinopathy, more recent hip and back pain, and may require surgery down the road. I am trying to do what’s best for my body and to trust my amazing health care providers, but a part of me is tired of wasting a whole year of my life not running much at all after the partial tear of my high hamstring, which was diagnosed last October. Yup. It’s been a year since all that happened. I bailed out of a race the first weekend of October, but pushed through a half on October 20th. That was my last long run. Sadly, I’ve only been able to manage 10ish miles a week, and now the hip, back, and high butt pain has gotten bad enough that I’ve stopped running yet again.
Like pregnancy bedrest, miscarriages, pining for babies that won’t come, and parenting in general this lengthy and difficult journey has really humbled me.
The other day I was feeling particularly low when my daily Living Faith entry really, really spoke to me. Just when I think all of this faith stuff is wishful thinking, something Spirit-led like this happens to me. Here’s the passage:
Self-emptying to the point of “ouch!” is one of life’s most painful challenges.
To empty ourselves of attitudes that are foreign to the mind of Jesus, to clear out the patterns that limit our worldview, to let go, let go, let go as God invites us: This is the kind of emptying that Jesus modeled. His was a profound surrender, ultimately embodied in: “Not my will but yours be done.”
-Sr. Chris Koellhoffer, I.H.M. Sr. Chris, a sister of Immaculate Heart of Mary, is a writer, spiritual guide and retreat director
That’s just what this injury has forced me to do: to empty myself to the point of a literal and emotional “ouch.” I’ve had to empty myself of my wishes to run or my silly dreams of being a running star when I probably look more like Sponge Bob Squarepants sprinting down the street. It is demanding a “profound surrender” from me, and I am still resisting – a whole year since I was first asked to let go and to accept a path I never would have chosen on my own. I still have days where I cry, days when I ask “why me?” instead of “why not me?” There are days when I forget to focus on all that I can do and the abundant blessings before me. But I am working on it. This long road is forcing me to. It’s also teaching me not only to remain hopeful but to learn to be okay if my hopes are not a reality. I hope to run and compete in races again and to just partake in everyday activities without pain but if that doesn’t happen, it is going to be okay. I am going to be okay.
(As always, thank you for bearing with me and my random rants.)
I’m a big advocate of not categorizing food as “good” or “bad” and also just striving for moderation. I encourage people to not buy into the big, fat lie that being healthy means nothing unless you are also thin and only eat “clean” foods. I know that I personally have to steer clear of fully embracing any new healthy trend that eliminates complete food groups or makes me feel like I am depriving my body of anything. Since I spent so much of my life denying myself calories or delicious food or purging myself of anything that I felt was a “bad” food, my body and mind revolt against any kind of dieting mindset – no matter how healthy.
For example, I have been trying to eat more clean lately, which basically means filling up on whole, real food and avoiding processed garbage that is devoid of nutritional benefits. On the surface, this is a good, healthy decision except I found that I started feeling guilty about grabbing a handful of cereal, albeit healthy cereal, if I didn’t have time to make steel cut oats. Or I felt like the day after I had a glass of wine, I needed to “detox” my body by drinking more water. I have to be on guard against these feelings of guilt because they can backfire on me or send me back down a dark path where controlling my weight becomes my way of grasping the control I so desperately seek. Toddler having more crazy tantrums than usual and leaving you flustered? Well, stop drinking wine (even though it might be good for your frayed nerves), cut out chocolate, eat more veggies (even though the urologist told you your daily, liberal spinach habit contributed to your recent bout of kidney stones), swear off all sweets! You are in control. Look how healthy you’re being. Pat yourself on the back.
Oh, that cookie looks so good. Just look at the chocolate chunks in that sucker. Mmmmmm…. But I can’t eat that cookie. It’s huge. I bet it’s at least 500 calories. Maybe more. I don’t want to even think about how many fat grams are probably crammed into that circle of deliciousness. It looks so chewy and gooey and good. I wish I had a super fast mutant metabolism. Then I could eat it and not have to worry about it showing up later in the form of cellulite on my thighs or as a soft pooch on my belly. At least I can suck in my stomach. Why can’t we suck in our butt or thighs? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Your jeans get a little tight on your bum, and you just suck those cheeks in.
Gosh, that cookie is calling my name, and I have been good today. All I had for lunch was a big salad. I did use some dressing though, but it was the light stuff. I’ve been exercising every day, too. Don’t I deserve a little treat? I mean, it’s just a cookie. I could skip a meal tomorrow to compensate for the extra calories. Or I could workout twice in one day.
Maybe I should try on my jeans first. If they feel big, then I should definitely just eat the cookie. Or, I could weigh myself. Or better yet, why don’t I just have one bite? I don’t have to eat the whole thing. One tiny morsel won’t hurt me. That’s the perfect solution. Here, I’ll break off this tiny piece and put it in my mouth….
Oh, my goodness. That is so good. It tastes even better than it looks. Maybe I’ll have just one more bite. Besides, the chocolate taste like dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is good for you. I mean, I’ll be fighting cancer if I eat some more of this cookie. Just one more tiny bite… Oh, so yummy. Well, gee. Now I’ve already messed up. What’s the point of leaving half a cookie? I might as well go ahead and eat the rest of it. Yummy! That was so good.
Wait a minute. What did I just do? I can’t believe I just ate that entire cookie! It’s the size of a freakin’ plate. I swear, I’ll never do that again. I need to go to the gym…right now. I’ve got to burn off some extra calories. I’m so weak. Geez…the stupid cookie wasn’t even that good. It tasted kind of artificial, really. It was too chewy, too gooey.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – with a cookie.
No more cookies for me…ever. Except maybe at Christmas. And I can have some cookie cake on my birthday. But that’s it. I’m detoxing my body of all processed food starting tomorrow. What’s wrong with me? I feel fat already. I bet I’ve already gained a pound, and my jeans will definitely be tighter. I’m going to go try them on now…
A little funny? Yes. And a bit sad, too? Definitely. And for the record: I have come a long way and my little tête-à-tête on this particular ended with me laughing at my ridiculousness and buying – and enjoying! – the damn cookie.
Perhaps you’re wondering who really might spend as much time as the monologue above suggests thinking about a stupid cookie besides that furry blue monster that entertains preschoolers. I’d bet more people than you’d think.
And even if most of us don’t agonize that much over one cookie, I’ve heard plenty of people talk about their constant struggles with food choices.
Now let’s think about all that cookie and body angst this way: Just consider for a moment what would happen if we took all the time we spend obsessing about what we eat or how we look and used it instead to pray or to think of ways we could simply be kinder or live more fulfilling lives. We may not end up looking like super models, but we’d surely be more at peace.
When I was first married, the vestiges of my eating disorder sometimes surfaced, and I’d start to think of food in terms of my morality. I am a good person if I say no to the cookie and eat only wholesome food. I am a weak, bad person if I, however, do eat the cookies. Whenever I would categorize food as “good” or “bad,” my husband would remind me: There is no good or bad food. It’s just food – fuel for your body. Some of it’s better for your body, of course. Whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies are the premium fuel. But consuming the other stuff – cookies, salty chips, butter and fried food – in moderation won’t sabotage our health – and it certainly doesn’t make us less of a worthwhile person if we like to enjoy a bowl of ice cream from time to time.
There are plenty of people who choose to eat clean or whatever new fad is all the rage and do it with a healthy balance and also discover that they feel better. But there are some of us who have to be careful to embrace too rigid of diet plans. Saying no to an occasional cookie is a good exercise in self-control, but if you swear off everything and have had past struggles with your body image or eating intuitively, it could all backfire.
I have learned that if and when I start obsessing about ice cream or a piece of chocolate, it is best to simply just allow myself a small indulgence and I really savor its taste. On Sunday night my husband and I ordered our favorite Indian takeout. I ate more than I usually do, but I simply tried to enjoy the melange of flavors without eating up a side helping of guilt.
If I start to feel guilty about noshing on something that’s less than nutritious, then I remind myself that the virtues of prudence and temperance are helpful in achieving balance when it comes to healthy eating and living. When we apply the order of reason, enjoying an occasional ice cream sundae or full-bodied glass of wine won’t kill us, and indulging in them every once in awhile does not make us bad or weak. So many healthy eating trends or diets take an all or nothing approach. I’d argue that the dieting and health industry is designed to help people lose weight AND gain it back when they can no longer adhere to swearing off birthday cake on their birthday for the rest of their lives. This way people start to see themselves as the failure while the diets or clean eating or the banning of carbs or the detoxing with juice for three days are the solutions. The weight loss industry doesn’t really want us to succeed. They want us to keep coming back, feeling like big failures.
Don’t believe the lies. Believe in yourself. Believe you have the power to have a cookie for dessert every once in awhile and when you decide to say no to the cookie, it’s because you made the choice, not because eating it would have been a sign of just how pathetic you are.
The next time you really find yourself wanting a cookie or chips or chocolate or whatever you find yourself craving, first ask yourself if that’s what you are really hungry for. Maybe a walk or calling a good friend would satisfy you more. But sometimes having a taste of something delicious is really what you desire and want, so go for it. Give in to a craving. Eat it slowly, and savor the taste, the texture, everything you love about it. And when you’re finished, do not feel guilty. I repeat: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. Do not think you have to exercise more or eat less tomorrow to atone for your “sin.” Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so enjoy it!
Here’s an old post from the archives as part of my Recycled Series. I dedicate this to both of my sister-in-laws – one who has recently welcomed a baby into her arms (whom I had the joy of spending a lot of time with on Monday) and to another who is on the eve of new motherhood and also a cousin of mine who recently had her first baby. I wrote this when Mary Elizabeth was just a little nugget.
Recently, I had the rare opportunity to go to the grocery store toting only the baby. She was a happy, wiggly little thing, and I quite enjoyed our visit as well as her many admirers.
Typically, I’m in such a rush that I avoid onlookers. I’m not overtly rude, but I don’t stop to make idle chitchat either. My goal is to take care of my grocery list before one of my kids melts down or surreptitiously takes shampoo off a shelf, pulls it into the car she’s cruising along in at the front of the cart, and starts smearing it all over her body (thinking it’s lotion of course), and isn’t caught in the act until a confused Mom smells mango, even though that type of fruit wasn’t on her list (yes, this is a true story. I won’t fully reveal the guilty party, but she often wears pigtails and exclaims, “I two!”).
But today was different. I had only one child with me. This was easy street.
During our visit we were stopped by the grocery paparazzi several times and received the following comments:
“She’s a big one for almost 4 months!”
“She’s so small for almost 4 months, isn’t she?”
See how fickle the paparazzi can be. You’re too fat one minute and a weak waif the next!
“Well, you’ve got an angel there.”
“Oh, look at that funny hair.”
I swear, I combed it. It has a mind of its own.
“He’s so cute. Errr…I mean, she. Sorry.”
No worries. Apology accepted.
“Is that comfortable for you to have her attached to you like that?”
Yes. Very much so.
Now in the olden days – as in when I was a newbie mom with just one child in my care – I admittedly would have fret over some of these comments.
In fact, I vividly remember when my husband and I ventured out to a salad buffet-type of restaurant with Madeline when she was around the same age as M.E. is now, and an older man and his wife stopped to ooooo and ahhhhhh over our little brawny bundle.
“Wow! He’s gonna be a linebacker. How much did he weigh when he was born?” the man asked, smiling.
I looked at my daughter’s pink and yellow outfit and then back at the grinning and obviously nearsighted man. “She weighed 6 pounds and 15 ounces.”
“She? My goodness. What are you feeding her?” the man asked, still smiling.
“My milk,” I replied, not smiling at all.
“She’s beautiful,” his wife added, probably noting my annoyance with my firstborn daughter being mistaken for a beefy linebacker.
This was not an isolated incident. Everyone use to comment on how chunky Madeline was. I know now I should have been proud of those rolls and extra dimples (they were of my own making and made for a healthy, happy baby, after all). But I used to worry my daughter was destined to a future in the NFL and that it would be all my fault for nursing her too much too often.
Fast-forward four years, and my daughter is tall and slender. But what if she’d stayed on the roly-poly side? What difference? Why was I so hung up on what strangers had to say about my baby?
I wish I’d had the confidence I have now. To appreciate the fact that I was feeding my baby somehow, someway with my body and that she was perfect just the way she was.
While I was a fairly laid-back first-time mom in many aspects (I didn’t constantly check to make sure my infant was breathing, for example, and I nixed the whole idea of having a perfect nursery, didn’t bother to use a Diaper Genie, and didn’t put a call into the pediatrician with a question until she was 15 months), the most innocuous comments could occasionally drive me to collapse into a heap of self-doubt. Was I nursing her enough? Too little? Was I, by subscribing to what experts called “attachment parenting” but what just felt natural to my child and me, setting my child up to be a leech who would be rooted to me like a barnacle for the rest of her life?
How tiresome it must have been to spend so many of my waking hours fretting over others’ unsolicited (and probably well-meaning) commentary about parenting!
And what a blessing it is now, that as more of a seasoned mom (although I realize more than ever with three completely different, tiny human beings who are constantly growing and changing under my care that I’ll ever have this whole parenting thing figured out), to not be crippled by the relentless foray of unsought pearls of parental wisdom tossed my direction at every aisle in one random grocery store visit.
Yes, M.E. is a chunky love. Is she too big or too little for four months? We’ll see at her well-child visit in a two weeks. Honestly, I don’t care what the growth charts say. She started out small, and now she comes in chunk-style – just the way I like my babies. Of course, Rae was on the small side at this age, and she was perfect, too. (Yes, I’m biased. I’m their mother. I’m supposed to be.)
I feed M.E. when she’s hungry, when she begins to stir in the night, when she cries during the day, or when she just wants to be close to me. I take note of her rolls, and I pump my fist in the air in triumph. I have a healthy baby, with strong limbs, who is growing each and every day! I “wear” her as I go about the daily grind. She’s a lovely accessory, and yes, it is quite comfortable to keep her so close to me. She sleeps close by and I sometimes hear her soft sighs and marvel at the wonder of her. I soak up her smiles and watch as her cheeks move in involuntary sucks long after she’s ceased nursing and is sleeping, curled into me. I don’t really care what others think or say about my baby. She is tiny for four months. She is big for four months. Perhaps she’s an androgynous sprite with hair that defies gravity to the casual onlooker. And I wholeheartedly agree with the “experts” that she’s an angel attached to me.
This post is not an endorsement of any particular type of parenting. If you’re new to my blog or are just wondering why my baby appeared to be “attached” to me as I foraged for food for my family at the grocery store, attachment parenting, or some semblance of it is the ideal I strive for, but I’ve found some of its principles – which seem to change anyway – are not always a constant reality in the trenches.
This is, on the other hand, an endorsement of mom intuition – a gift I believe all women-turned-moms possess. Use it, and use it wisely.
This one’s for all the new moms who – after a trip to the grocery store or anywhere out in public (or even during a click-by on some random new parent discussion board where a plethora of welcome and sometimes not-so-welcome advice awaits) – might find themselves lying awake in bed at night reciting an inner monologue of self-doubt about their mothering. Silence the inner critic. Once you become a parent, it is a waste of precious energy to seek popular acclaim from the experts and all those who make their public opinions known. Parenting gurus are an opinionated lot, and each has his or her own idea of the right way to parent. If you try to listen to everyone, you’ll end up with confused kids and no firm parenting principles of your own.
Please ignore the sweet old lady in aisle 7 who tells you your baby is too big. Ignore the cashier who says your baby is awfully small. Ignore comment number 7 on the discussion board that says the only way to be a good mom is to do this or to not do that. Ignore the friend who advises you to let your baby “cry it out” if every ounce of your maternal being is saying it doesn’t feel right. Tune out the finger-wagging advice that tells you you’re spoiling your baby by keeping him close to you all day. Be the mother you want to be. Better yet, be the mom you feel called to be. Smile politely at all of your baby’s admirers (they really do mean well), and snuggle up with your little one. Then repeat after me: Your baby is fine, and so are you.
Mother knows best, and you – not the woman who tickles your baby’s toes in the produce section – are your child’s mother. Be secure in your role. Because your baby doesn’t feel more secure in anyone’s arms but your own.