Real Women Have… Shapes. All Kinds of Shapes.

**This was originally written on July 10th, 2014**

I was probably doomed from the start.

My parents were both slender. My father was 6′ 3″ and almost too skinny to join the Navy. My mom was 5′ 6″ and not even 100 pounds. So once the baby fat wore off, I was a bit of a twig.

Skinny1

But honestly, I didn’t even realize it. I was homeschooled, so I didn’t have to endure any taunting about my gangly limbs from that quarter, and the kids at church had known me since I was a baby, so there really wasn’t anything to comment on.

And then I started taking dance lessons when I was nine years old. Dance lessons meant being in a leotard and tights for every class. Leotard and tights that were actually baggy on me. Every costume had to be taken in. EVERY SINGLE COSTUME. And all through this, I kept growing taller and taller, my arms and legs and back getting longer, so I was obviously gaining weight, but the weight kept going straight into more and more height and it was just a whole lot of awkwardness all around.

Skinny2

And then… I became a teenager.

Until then, no one had really pointed out my resemblance to a toothpick in a negative light. But, of course, when you’re a teenager, and you’re surrounded by other teenagers, then suddenly everyone becomes SO WONDERFUL about pointing out your flaws and just being generally catty and awful to one another. As hormonally-charged, insecurity-ridden teenagers often do. All of a sudden, I couldn’t be skinny just because I was a naturally skinny person. No, I must be anorexic. I must be bulimic. I needed to eat more. And more. And more. And more. And while surrounded by other girls who were constantly stressing about wanting to LOSE weight, I wondered why I was different, and what on earth was wrong with me.

And so I started to notice my body. I saw the bones of my rib cage sticking out. I saw my spine, my shoulder blades, my twiggy little thighs and the bony arms and wrists that people just loved to come up and wrap their fingers around in order to better illustrate how small and abnormal I was.

Skinny3

I stopped wearing shorts, first. And then skirts and dresses that showed off anything above the knee. (Funny enough, my mother is probably one of the few mothers who encouraged her teenage daughter to wear short skirts and cute dresses while stressing that I had “great legs”. I, being fifteen years old and wallowing in low self-esteem, did not believe her.) I layered my clothes. I wore bulky, heavy outfits – even in warm weather – to hide my body.

I also started to keep track of everything I ate. I became obsessed with counting calories. NOT to keep myself from eating too many, but because I had to make sure that I was consuming enough. I filled notebooks with daily lists of everything I’d eaten and how many calories were in each serving (I also made sure to round the numbers down in order to keep the totals low and thereby make myself eat more). If I hit my daily goal (usually around 3000 calories) I put a little foil star sticker next to the total. If I didn’t hit the goal? It went into a deficit account that I had to make up by the end of the week.

Into my early twenties I continued to keep the notebooks and the lists and the numbers. (Seriously, you know you have a problem when you voluntarily introduce MATH into your daily life.) I kept layering clothes, putting on leggings under jeans and tank tops under shirts to make me look “thicker”. I would hear the saying “Real Women Have Curves”, and I would get angry at my hip bones, at the sharp angles that made up my body.

Then, when I was twenty-eight, I met my husband. (CORRECTION: I started dating my husband a second time. But this is the time that stuck so it’s the one that goes in the books.) I still – STILL – felt bad about my body. I didn’t want him to see me. I wanted him to think I was curvy, that I had a bosom, that I looked like the other women that he most definitely-obviously-no-doubt thought were better looking than me. But he always made me feel beautiful. He always made me feel like I had the most perfect figure imaginable. He made me feel confident and gorgeous.

I stopped stressing about my weight… a little bit. Gone were the notebooks, the constantly checking out the Nutritional Information on every package to see if it something was fatty enough to even be worth my time to eat. And then, I found out I was pregnant.

Morning sickness was evil. I hardly ate anything for about six weeks, and having started out at 125 pounds, losing ten pounds was a bit scary. But I knew my body, and I knew I would bounce back as the constant illness began to wane. I remember going in for my first prenatal appointment. I remember the ultrasound and hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time. And then, the doctor sat down to ask me a few questions.

The first question? Did I have a problem with gaining weight?

My first thought was that she meant did I have difficulty gaining weight? Which I do. I’ve always been skinny. And I started to point this out to her, and then something in my head… clicked. She didn’t mean would it be physically difficult for me to gain weight, but would it be mentally difficult for me to gain weight. And at that moment, as tears pricked my eyes, I felt all of my teenage insecurities rush back at me, hitting me with the force of a flash flood.

So there I sat, pregnant for the first time, knowing that my life was about to change in so many wonderful and amazing and frightening ways, and I had to defend myself. No, I was not anorexic. No, I had never had an eating disorder. Yes, I was just naturally skinny. No, I didn’t need to speak to a counselor. Yes, I was sure my baby would be fine without any sort of an intervention. I don’t know if she believed me. Frankly, I didn’t care. But I wanted to be out of there so much, because just a little bit of my pregnancy happiness was suddenly sucked away from me.

Over the next six months, I gained forty pounds. I loved those forty pounds. I gloried in them. My arms, my legs, my belly, my CURVES were gorgeous and spectacular and I wanted to bottle them up and keep them on a shelf so I could bring them out again whenever I was feeling down. I had the pregnancy glow in spades, and I didn’t even mind when someone got a glance at my legs or my upper arms.

Skinny4

And so here I am, nearly five years after the birth of my first child (and with two more children tagging along behind her), and I have to ask myself: Why am I writing this?

Well, I have daughters. Two daughters. Two daughters born to tall, skinny parents (I’m 5′ 11″ and holding steady at about 130 pounds, while my husband is 6′ 2″ and averaging around 170 pounds) so I won’t be surprised if they end up tall and slender, too. But my hope – my fervent, fervent hope – is that after going through what I went through, after hating my body for so many years, after feeling myself pull further and further inward every time someone would tell me I needed to eat something, or would ask if I was TRYING to lose weight (in that oh-so-concerned tone that still sets my teeth on edge), that I will be able to tell them that they’re not alone. They’re not abnormal. They’re not ugly.

Will their ribs be visible during the worst of their growing years? Probably. Will they have the “coveted” thigh gap (that I loathed with every fiber of my being)? More than likely. But I want them to know that they are beautiful, that they don’t have to worry about how others look at them, what others say about them, what others accuse them of when it comes to health and nutrition, AND that they absolutely, positively do not need to eat a sandwich just because their upper arm is not as wide as their elbow.

Oh, and shorts. I definitely hope they wear lots and lots of shorts.

The List Doesn’t Matter

Tomorrow is another day.

I really hate that quote. Of course tomorrow is another day. Just like water is wet and my Swedish heritage makes me recoil from the sun like a vampire. Tomorrow is another day, and no doubt I’ll be sitting up in bed a few hours before Tomorrow gets here, scribbling down all the things I should and need and will have to get done.

That was exactly how today began. I had my list playing on a loop in my head, constantly scolding me for every moment I dithered in front of the computer or stood in the kitchen eating Hershey’s Kisses for breakfast. I had an overflowing hamper full of dirty laundry to take care of, and chili and cornbread to make for dinner, and words to write, and emails to reply to, and that’s without even mentioning the ten thousand little, unplanned chores that three children under the age of six can – and will – create.

But before I would tackle everything on The List, I would take the kids to the playground. Just for a little while. Maybe a half an hour or so, and then I would put an end to their fun and march them back towards the car so we could all go home and irritate each other while I sorted socks and played a game of “Poop or Chocolate?” with a stain on the couch.

When we arrived at the park, the playground was off-limits. They were putting down a fresh layer of those wood chip things under all the slides and swings, and wouldn’t be finished until the end of the day. In an attempt to make the best of things, I told the kids we would take a quick walk around the park, throw some stones in the creek, and go home again. I mean, those zucchini weren’t going to chop themselves.

Two minutes of walking took us down to the creek, and I let the kids go down to the edge of the water. I chided them not to get too muddy, not to make too big a splash with the rocks they threw. I didn’t want to add “de-mud three kids” to my ever-growing list of things to do.

And then… something happened.

While I sat on the grassy bank, with blue sky and puffy white clouds over my head, and a cool breeze whipping my hair into my eyes, I realized that I didn’t care about all of those things waiting for me at home. When a couple other kids arrived with buckets and cups and nets for catching crayfish and minnows, and my daughters looked back at me with pleading eyes as those other kids waded out into the water, I smiled and gave them a quick nod.

“Put your shoes in the grass,” I said. “And don’t go out where it’s too deep.”

While my son toddled around the edge of the stream, digging in the dirt for the muddiest rocks he could find, my girls hiked up their skirts and waded out into the water, squealing at every crayfish that was found, at every little fish that darted around their ankles. We stayed there for hours, until my son fell asleep in my arms and the girls, muddy and bedraggled creatures of the water, clambered out of the creek and walked through the grass until their feet were dry again.

And now we’re home again and it’s almost evening. I haven’t done any laundry. Dinner hasn’t been made yet. No one did any schoolwork or watched anything educational. That weird stain is still unidentified. But my kids had an amazing day. I had an amazing day, too. I sat in the shade, my eyes dazzled by the reflection of the sunlight on the water as it flowed over the rocks. And they keep telling me about how much fun they had, and asking when they can do it again.

“Maybe tomorrow,” I said. Because all that laundry? I never wanted to do it anyway.

DSCN0476

The Last Phone Call

Family

A little over three weeks ago, 22 days to be precise (I could count the hours, too, but I’ll refrain from going that far) my father died.

I haven’t mentioned it here because I didn’t want to. I couldn’t figure out the words to type, and when I tried to type words that weren’t quite right, they hurt. So I stopped, closed the tab, closed the laptop, and went off to do something else.

But today I’m going to acknowledge it. My dad died. He was 67 years old (it wasn’t quite a month since his birthday) and I miss him. Very, very much.

EPSON MFP image

Instead of going through all the particulars of his death and his funeral, however, I’m going to talk about the last conversation I had with him on the phone.

It was May 18th of this year, his birthday. I called earlier in the morning to wish him a happy birthday and make all the promises of bringing the kids up to visit him later in the week (we did, two days later, with all of the presents and handmade cards that little kids love to create).

But anyway, back to his birthday. After I called, he called back. I picked up the phone, expecting it to be my mother, but instead it was my dad, speaking in a low, whispering tone.

EPSON MFP image

He reminded me that his wedding anniversary was coming up in two days, on May 20th. Their 43rd anniversary. He explained in a hushed voice that he couldn’t go out and get a card or flowers or a gift for my mom because he’d been so ill lately, but would I… could I send her a message of some sort? Like, an email or something? And maybe get her something, like a gift card or… anything. But make certain that she knew it was from him? And I had to send it on their anniversary. So that she would know he hadn’t forgotten it.

“Because she’s had to put up with me all these years,” he added with a chuckle. And then he hurried up and ended the call because he thought he heard my mom coming downstairs, and he didn’t want her to overhear.

EPSON MFP image

So I sent an email from my own account, but put in his message and “signed” it from him. I sent an Amazon gift card along with it, also signed from him. I made sure it arrived in her inbox on the morning of May 20th, their anniversary.

The next week, he went to the hospital, and after being sent here and there and finally to Johns Hopkins, he died on June 16th.

When he called and asked me to set up the anniversary surprise for my mother was the last time I spoke to him on the phone (though I did, obviously, see him after that).

And that gift card? My dad’s last present to her? My mom still hasn’t used it. I’m not sure she ever will.

10401923_10154107887580462_8587934448203068692_n (1)