I’m sitting here in my stretchy Walmart-worthy yoga pants and reveling in the Alone-ness. Buttercup is asleep, The Husband isn’t home from work yet, and the dogs aren’t very reliable witnesses. So I take a deep breath, and as I exhale, I smile as I mentally turn off the auto-suck.

You know what I’m talking about, ladies. Unless you’re Kate Moss, there’s a high probability you’ve got a belly pooch even if no one else thinks you’ve got a belly pooch and gets all pissed off and offended when you insist that you do because my left thigh is bigger than all of you so you turn off the auto-suck and at the same moment I do, too, and then we both marvel at the fact that we might not be able to rock a bikini but damn we have strong abdominal muscles if we can hold that in all day.

Spanx are not involved. Auto-suck is simply the ability to train yourself to breathe in such a way that your diaphragm moves up and down instead of in and out while performing what has to be the single longest standing crunch in the history of mankind. The upside is that when you pee you don’t have to worry about painting yourself back into the sausage casing that is a pair of Spanx because that convenient crotch hole they designed is not convenient at all. The downside is that Spanx aren’t affected by too much wine, resulting in a You’ve Had Too Much to Drink Obviously Because You’re Pooching Out So Give Me the Keys rule initiated by The Husband, who happens to be a fucking genius. I never told him about the auto-suck. He just figured it out all by himself. And he still asked me to marry him.

Pretty snazzy.

So was the expression on one of the maternity ward nurses as I was waiting to be emergency induced almost five years ago when The Husband, who was bored, asked me to show her my mad abdominal skills to pass the time. I prepared much like a weightlifter getting ready to dead-lift something ridiculously heavy by closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and focusing on my goal. Then I simply auto-sucked my 36-week pregnant belly into myself before gently letting my bump take up the three feet in front of me it had been before my little trick.

“Did you see this?” the nurse asked a co-worker who came in to join to prep for my delivery. “Do it again.”

So I did. And The Husband and I laughed as both nurses stared in amazement and gushed about how I’d probably push the baby out on the first try with abs like these. And yes, they were wrong, which totally sucked.

My recovery time involved peeing out about 15 pounds of water retention and then getting pissed off when I realized I was going to have to work to lose the rest while consoling myself with something dipped in chocolate. Not once did I consider lacing up my running shoes and winning a marathon six-weeks postpartum like this mom did. Yay for her and her obvious lack of need for the auto-suck. I’m cheering for her, really I am. I’m also thinking it’s over-achievers like her that make the rest of us look bad and calling her names which I know is evil and spiteful so I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and free the belly I subconsciously sucked in while reading the article about Marathon Mom.

Good for her. Now where’s the chocolate?

 

It's socially acceptable for me to joke about this now...

 

*Ya know how I tend to gravitate towards list-style blog posts when my mind goes blank?

*There’s totally a reason for that, but first let me tell you…

*That I stood on a scale backwards on Friday.

*Not mine. The doctor’s. And I told the nurse not to tell me what it said.

*She was too confused to bother asking me why.

*I don’t need the scale to tell me that I’m hormonal and in need of chocolate right now.

*So really, it’s all for the best.

*Mainly because More Chocolate is totally not the answer.

*What do you mean, there was no question? Don’t confuse the issue.

*I can do that perfectly well on my own. The naturopath I’m seeing now told me so.

*See, I went in with my notes and my story about being stiffed with the shallow end of the genetic gene pool, fully expecting him to nod his head, confirm my allergy suspicions, and tell me that all of my problems would be solved if I only drank water and avoided anything that actually tastes good.

*But before the allergy tests comes blood work and then another appointment to discuss the results from the lab. Oh, and it turns out that in the 60 minutes I’ve been talking with Dr. Naturopath, I’ve looked at my phone to check twitter or respond to an email no less than 15 times. Dr. Naturopath told me so before asking me if I always talk this fast and if The Husband is always accusing me of doing things the hard way and do I like coffee?

*Um, yes, yes, and yes. But how did you know that The Husband is an asshole and no I don’t drink it because it’s pointless when the caffeine doesn’t affect me, Dr…So um, what’s your point?

*I believe you have ADHD, says Dr. Naturopath. But I won’t know for sure until you’ve tried the medications for a few days.

*Shut the front door, says I.

*I really want to look at my phone again.

*I twist my wedding finger hard enough to bust a blood vessel instead.

*Dr. Naturopath explains to The Husband all of the reasons he suspects I’m now allowed to use ADHD as a punchline with little revelations like my tendency to burn eggs while trying to boil them because I suddenly remember that the garbage needs to be taken out At This Very Moment and while coming back to the kitchen notice The Laundry Basket Full of Clothes Still Needs to Be Put Away Upstairs so I carry the basket up and set it at the end of our bed with every intention to follow through but first I Forgot to Respond to that Email and Oh Look It’s My Turn on Draw Something and HOLY SHIT WHY DOES MY HOUSE SMELL LIKE BURNING EGGS?

*The Husband nods knowingly.

*I stare at both of them trying to figure out how Dr. Naturopath just read my mind. And also how I get a retroactive pass on all the times I used ADHD references in social situations as a punchline because I didn’t wake up like this yesterday. In fact, it’s all starting to make sense and…

*Oh look, a Squirrel carrying Something Shiny…

*What did you need again?

Mar 122012
 

The Husband has been uncharacteristically quiet lately. Not in typical, every day conversation, mind you. He’s got plenty to say when Buttercup asks him to pretend he’s five of her princess dolls at the same time. And we’re managing to keep the texting each other from across the table to the times we are paying someone else to make our dinner, so, you know, the face-to-face thing is still good. And when he’s talking on the phone he has this crazy annoying habit of pacing the entire length of the house because, apparently, it’s physically impossible to sit still while unconsciously raising the volume of his voice loud enough that we never actually have to tell the neighbors we are going on vacation and need to collect our mail for us.

For those who are acquainted with The Husband, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that it’s kind of unnerving. I said “I Do” with the full understanding that I was becoming Mrs. My God, You Can’t Help Being An Asshole, Can You? And by Asshole, I totally mean Honest to a Fault. And that fault is named San Andreas.

The time I spent sixty bucks and half the day at a salon getting my kinky curls straightened into gloriously shiny and straight tresses for a family wedding?

He said: Looks good. Don’t do it again. Translation? I love your frizzy curls even if you don’t.

My response as I stood on tiptoe to kiss him? You are such an asshole. Translation? You are such an asshole.

Or the time I was pregnant and was crying about the size of my ass  and my freakishly short legs and said something about how I wished the baby would inherit his genes?

He said: Yeah, I do too. Translation: Oh shit. That’s totally not what I meant. Except for the freakishly short legs thing. That? I meant.

My response as I tried not to fall down laughing: You are such an asshole. Translation? You are such an asshole.

And the time I was being sewn up by the hottest resident not cast in a television hospital drama because giving birth isn’t exactly a fucking picnic and my little baby was snuggled up on my chest?

He said: She really ripped you a new one, didn’t she? Translation: It would have been physically impossible for me not to say that out loud.

My response as I glared at him for the first time during the entire birthing process: You are such an…

Oh never mind. We all know where this is going.

The point is, he was born with a broken filter and prides himself on it. It’s one of the things I love about him that drives me absolutely insane at the same time. So I guess I was a little surprised when I realized that he has yet to comment on my recent (read: since Christmas) lack of OCD-like strict avoidance of processed foods and that brief love affair I had the with elliptical. At least until I was brainstorming writing ideas out loud and mentioned how I’ve realized the scale can call me a fatass one time and it blows my entire routine and reason for living out of the water and drives me straight into the nearest source of sugar-laden guilt covered in chocolate. So, I said, what if I avoided the scale? What if I told society (and my own) obsession with The Number to fuck the hell off and instead focused on how eating right and being active is just plain old Good For Me and Makes Me Feel Good? What if I just trusted how I feel instead of what the scale makes me feel?

And then, because I was just thinking out loud and had a billion ideas in my head that were spilling out at the same time, I skipped right on to the next Thing In My Head. He listened. I threw more out and then he listened some more. And when I was finally done Not Thinking Silently, The Husband stopped being quiet.

He told me how I base my entire self-worth on what the scale says and the rising of the very sun depends on it not pissing me off and making me cry. He said that I can go months and months with respectable losses that keep me motivated enough to keep going and then the One Time I weigh myself and the scale politely asks me why I want to know what the average weight of a newborn baby hippo is, I give up instantaneously and then go months and months before deciding to repeat the whole cycle again.

Then, he told me to take the batteries out of the scale.

Why? I asked.

He said: Because even if no one reads whatever it is you turn this into, you need to learn that you are not a number and stop this professional yo-yo bullshit.  Translation: I love you.

My response as I stood on tip toe to kiss him: You are such an asshole. Translation: I love you, too.

And we put the scale away.

 

It’s been about a month since I went all My Life Sucks and Let Me Prove That Crazy Creative People theory, so I figured it was time for an update. Because asterisks make me happy, this one’s going down List-Style, y’all.

* If black is the new brown, then anti-depressants are the new happy. And Siri has been a very good girl when it comes to reminding me to pop the happy every morning, especially when I get cocky and think my brain will manufacture visions of unicorns and rainbows without the pills.

*Of course I’m not seeing unicorns and rainbows because of the pills, you dumbass. It’s not that kind of drug. I was simply illustrating the point that seeing a unicorn would make me as happy as taking the medication does. Probably happier, if I really stop to think about it.

*Dammit. Now I just want a unicorn.

* But since I’m pretty certain I won’t be seeing a real live and in the flesh unicorn anytime soon I’m settling for the pharmaceutical definition of happy. Copay? $5.

*Insurance is a beautiful thing.

*Also? About that Calling You a Dumbass thing? You’re welcome. I ignore the people I don’t like. I save terms of endearment for the special people in my life.

*Of course that means you. And you…And…wait. No. I’m ignoring you. Everyone else here is cool.

* Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism, isn’t it?

* Yes, I’m still a certifiable mess. But these rose-colored glasses are kind of making everything look a bit pretty, so I’m taking things slow in the Getting Back on the Wagon department.

* Forget the counting of calories, the number on the scale, or labeling of Good versus Bad for the foods I am consuming. Instead I’m focusing on how I feel and taking note of an acknowledging the setbacks as well as the steps in the right direction.

* How I feel is also a factor in deciding to take the plunge and make an appointment with a local naturopath because traditional doctors either don’t want to listen to me when I tell them the tests stating I’m normal are all lying, or they want to help and just don’t know what to do with me. I don’t know how to describe it other than telling you that I am certain there are autoimmune issues and possibly serious allergy issues that need to be addressed. Like, yesterday.

* How do I know this? Because one day about six months ago I woke up to find out my Mexifro had decided to give up the cute curly look and instead opt for the Detroit Crack Whore look. I can say this because I’m from Detroit, so that makes me an expert. The soft kinky curls morphed into straight, flyaway pieces of straw and it was breaking off at my neck but the new growth was fine. Which made me realize that…

* That fluke thing that happened to me when Buttercup was a baby that lasted for six months and then suddenly went away and I woke up with normal hair and a smile wasn’t a fluke thing. Still, my doctors think I’m crazy. And I think most of them are assholes.

* It’s kind of a stalemate.

* Of course, me cutting off all my hair with the scissors in the junk drawer just because I suddenly thought it might be a great idea but mainly because I had so much break off it was either that or a wig might give some credence to the doctors’ argument, especially if you focus on the Suddenly Great Idea and Scissors part, but since I don’t have paparazzi hanging out in my garbage cans and my name isn’t Britney Spears, I’m totally fine with that.

 

 

 

 

“Mama, that one’s pretty!”

I frown at my reflection in the unforgiving dressing room mirror. The lights are too bright. Beneath the glare, I see a too-fat woman with too-full hips and a too-round belly shoved into not-enough Lycra. There’s fat where muscle once was, cellulite hiding definition lost long before I got pregnant almost five years ago. I see my mother’s words.

She sees her mama in a pretty blue bathing suit.

“I don’t like the way this one fits,” I say, evasively. “Let’s try that black one on and see how it looks.”

Innocent eyes blink up at me.

We are at Target because of a last minute birthday party invitation. It’s a pool party and it’s tomorrow. The black suit is…disappointing. Or rather, the body within it isn’t living up to the standards of beauty set so deep within. It could work, except it’s a bit too tight on the stomach and my boobs are spilling out of the top. I see lumps and bumps and cellulite. I see a label. I hear my mother’s voice. And I see my daughter’s eyes.

I keep my eyes neutral and smile at Buttercup’s reflection.

“Let’s keep looking.”

Trust blinks back at me.

“Okay, mama.”

 

 

 

 

SPLASH!

She’s smiling. Jumping. Giggling. My toes dangle in the water. I’m sitting on the edge of the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of denim capris.

I am surrounded by laughter and sunshine and my own judgement. That one’s got twins and in a bikini. Lucky, isn’t she? And that one, over there…the hips are softer than they once probably were but I’d kill for their bodies; to look like them.

Remember? The chunky one? That’s who I’m talking about.”

I don’t remember the day. I don’t even remember the circumstance. Only a few months have passed since my mother uttered these words in front of Buttercup and me. We may have been eating dinner out. Or maybe we were walking through the mall while window shopping. I saw people. She saw labels.

Thin. Tall. Fat. Short.

My mother is five feet tall and, after birthing five children, is a petite, body-conscious woman who never knew to censor her thoughts in front of her impressionistic daughters. Conversations about others always led off, and still do, with physical descriptors of those being discussed. Blonde. Skinny. Ugly. Pretty. Black. Puerto Rican. The one with the mustache that put on a few pounds? I grew up viewing the world through the same eyes. I see the person second.

“I weighed 80 pounds when I got pregnant with you,” bleeds into echos of  “These size 6′s are getting loose on me” and “I need to lose five more pounds.”

She can eat what she wants, never exercises, and is confused for my older sister more often than I care to admit. Obviously, her half of the gene-pool was not passed down to her first born, save for the kinky hair that makes strangers argue with me about my own ethnicity. At 5’6”, I tower over my pixie of a mother and remember sharing clothes with her when I was eight. Today, I probably outweigh her by a good 60 pounds, and even if I woke up at my goal weight tomorrow, she’d still be a few weight classes below me in a boxing ring.

“People never believed you belonged to me,” she likes to remind me, smiling as she sees me for the baby she once balanced on her hip. “They always told me you were to big to be mine. I should know, I’d tell them. I pushed you out, right?”

I was three feet shorter than her on the day I was born. I was probably born with a complex. The Latino tendency to use “Gorda” and its  diminutive as terms of affection may also have played a part in my off-kilter thinking, or maybe it was the constant thigh pinching and tongue-clucking that always went hand in hand with offers for more of the fat-laden, sugar-filled treats of my childhood.

“Aye, m’ijita. You need to loose some weight.” Pinch Pinch. “Who wants another bowl of ice cream?”

Ask anyone in my family and they will most likely tell you they didn’t mean anything by it. No one set out to make us feel less than ourselves or thought that today’s words might have an effect on tomorrow’s mindset. But it was internalized, nonetheless. Out of the five of us, one is within the medically acceptable range for her weight and has to put very little effort into dropping a few pounds when she feels the need. She’s built just like our mother because the best was saved for last.

Of the rest of us, two have known thyroid issues, one I assume will regain her pre-baby body quickly enough if she is able to find the time to devote to herself after having four children with little age separation, and one likes to refer to herself as “fluffy and not fat.”  We’ve talked and Fluffy nods her head in agreement when we get to the part about the mangled “starving kids in China” and “You need to start watching what you are eating” messages we had thrown at us when we had nothing but trust in our own eyes.

My hips betrayed me when I was twelve. At least they had the decency to not double-team me with my boobs when I woke up to a fully sprouted pair the year I was eight. My mother marched me right over to my father, who had been trying to fix the broken screen door.

“Look Rene,” she said, turning me sideways so he could examine my profile, the red, white, and blue glittery arrow on my pink This End Up T-shirt only serving to emphasize my mother’s point. “Don’t you think she needs a bra?”

I don’t remember what he said. I do remember my mother on the phone telling her friends how training bras were not even going to work so could they please bring over their old bras so she could see what would fit me? It was a B-cup, I think. It’s also the year I got a head start on developing an S-curve in my back from always trying to hide myself and my untrained chi-chis from the world.

 

 

 

 

My husband takes his cues from me when it comes to Buttercup and food. We don’t make her eat if she isn’t hungry, we offer a variety of healthy snack options when she is, and when strangers point out how big she is for her age, he says nothing when I gently correct them with a “yes, she’s very tall, isn’t she?” I exercise to be healthy and strong, I eat to give my body good energy, and I refrain from body-judgement of myself and others whenever she is within hearing distance. I might be dead-set on losing 15 more pounds before I’ll happily shop for a bathing suit again, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spoil her joy of pushing her little belly-panza out and rubbing it like a little Buddha when she is “full of good food” and other happy thoughts.

There’s a woman in the pool; the mother of a preschooler and a nine-month old. Of all those swimming before me, I wish to be her. Not because of her body. She’s overweight. Boxier than I am with no defined waist. She laughs as Buttercup jumps into the pool into her soft, outstretched arms, and then reaches out again to catch her own daughter. Cute sunglasses, a smart little hair-do, and the lipstick to stubborn to be washed away highlight her pretty face. I glance at the rest of the bodies in the pool area and then back at the woman playing in the pool with my daughter. I see more labels when I hear my mother’s voice. I see confidence when I listen to my own.

“Did you have a good time getting your feet wet today, Mama?” Buttercup asks me as we drive home from the party.

I smile into the rear view mirror. “I sure did, baby.”

We fall into silence as we drive home, listening to her radio station, and singing along when we both know the words.

 

***

 

I wrote this in August of 2011 and for one reason or another have kept putting off publishing. Today, I’m sharing another piece of the puzzle that grew up into the woman who continues to fight with the reflection she sees in the mirror.

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