RSS Feed

Tag Archives: children

Life is Not a Test

Image-1

Once when I was at Wal-Mart I came across this Filipino cashier. She was excited to see me because there aren’t a lot of Filipinos where I live. So instead of speedily checking me out with as few words as possible, she asked me a bunch of personal questions. Which was a little awkward and probably annoyed the people behind me. But I still tried to answer all of her questions to the best of my ability.

Are you married? Dating someone? Do you have kids? A pet? She became more distraught with every “no” answer. I tried to make light of the situation. I have some plants, and I’m barely keeping them alive. That’s enough of a challenge for me. (Which is true, by the way. I don’t get much light in my place.) She didn’t seem reassured.

After I left Wal-Mart, I sat in the car for a few minutes, trying to think of how I could turn this blow to my ego into a blog post. I couldn’t think of anything at the time. It still hit too close to home.

In my defense, I tried to get the answers right. I got married. I tried to have kids. It’s not completely my fault that my marriages didn’t work out. And it’s definitely not my fault that I didn’t get pregnant. And I didn’t know I was supposed to get a pet if I’m alone. That was not in the study guide.

But to be honest, this is where I want to be. When I was in high school, I said I didn’t want to get married or have kids, but no one believed me. You’re just saying that. You’ll change your mind when you get older. You don’t want to be an old maid, do you?

I took their word for it and did what I was supposed to do. But maybe things haven’t worked out because I did know what I wanted back then, even though I was just a kid. I mean, I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and a writer back then, and those things are still true.

Since the Wal-Mart incident, I’ve gotten better at embracing the fact that the answers to my life make small talk awkward. I tell myself it’s OK. That life is not a test where there are right or wrong answers. So in the spirit of embracing who I am, here are 10 things that I’m taking off my wrong answer list:

1. I still love the song “Let it Go.”

2. I’m not a cat or a dog person. Or an animal person.

3. I bring my karaoke machine to potlucks instead of cooking something.

4. I don’t drink.

5. I count when I pee.

6. I don’t follow most of the advice on how to get your blog noticed.

7. I live my life more like a college student than an adult.

8. I’ve had two divorces.

9. I use an astounding amount of sweetener in my coffee.

10. I don’t change my sheets often enough.

If you have items you’d like to take off your wrong list, I’d love to hear them. It would help me feel more normal.

For the Love of Food

IMG_0819

Kids grow up so fast these days.

I spent Thanksgiving with my niece, and since I only see her every few months, I am keenly aware of every change that takes place in my absence. The addition of Seriously?! into her vocabulary. Her latest career aspiration (humanitarian and veterinarian). The evolution of what it means for her to be a girl. Thank goodness that now includes sports! It makes it a lot easier to watch UVA football and basketball games when I’m down there.

On this trip, her latest thing was to ask how many calories something has and to obsess about being skinny. Did I mention that she is eight years old? I specialize in eating disorders, so I’m well aware of the stats on how early girls begin to worry about their weight, but it’s still shocking to see it play out in real life.

One of the things I’ve always loved about her is how much she enjoys food. When she was a baby, one of her first words was cake. Desserts were usually the most memorable part of any family gathering for her. And whenever she eats, she hums to herself and periodically shakes her hands over her head like kids do when they’re excited. So when we went for brunch and she asked me how many calories pumpkin waffles had, I was disheartened.

I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I know how it feels to spend your life worrying about getting fat. I didn’t start worrying about it until I was about 25, which is pretty late in the game these days, but that’s still 20 years of my life that I’ve spent thinking about the state of my body. I obsess less than I used to, but I still monitor my weight.

I’ve always been a little turned off by the campaigns to combat all of the body image brainwashing. Especially the suggestion that we should compliment people on their personality rather than their appearance. That seems incredibly unrealistic to me. But maybe I’m just vain and superficial and want to hear compliments about my appearance.

Even focusing on eating healthy and exercising can be problematic, because anorexia often begins with that very goal. Being extremely health-consious and fit can be just as obsessive and unhealthy as having an eating disorder. And there’s nothing more boring than talking to someone who is on a diet. (Sorry, dieters, but it’s true.)

I’m not sure what the solution is, but perhaps it would be better to focus on giving ourselves permission to enjoy food in addition to loving our body. Because food shouldn’t be the enemy, either.

I don’t do prevention programs for children, so I wasn’t really sure what an age-appropriate intervention would be for an eight-year old. So I just told Sadie that I work with college students with eating disorders, and they spend many years suffering because they want to be thinner. That if she starts worrying about calories now, that’s a long time to spend not being able to enjoy food. So I made a deal with her that we would not talk about getting fat while we were around each other.

She agreed, and we happily ate our pumpkin waffles together. I’m sure it didn’t put an end to her focus on calories and staying skinny, but at least I can hold her accountable when I see her. And she can do the same for me.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Lately I have been reminded of why I never watch the news. Ignorance really is bliss, as far as my mental health is concerned.

I’ve been particularly disheartened by our inability to see things from the other side’s perspective. And I admit, it’s not easy for me to do, either. So I decided to try to see things from a fresh perspective by asking my eight year old niece about some of the fundamental questions that underlie the latest headlines. Here are the highlights from our interview:

Me: What is truth?

Sadie: Being honest.

Me: But what about when both people see the same thing but have different stories about it? What’s the truth then?

Sadie: Well, neither side is lying. I guess you could get another person who also watched and they could say what the truth is.

Me: What are you thankful for?

Sadie: Everything.

Me: Be specific.

Sadie: Leaves, hands, feet, legs, and pumpkins. (We were eating pumpkin waffles at the time. I have no idea why she said the other stuff.)

Me: What can we do to help people get along?

Sadie: Let’s say that I have a friend but my other friend doesn’t like her. I can tell my other friend that I’m going to play with this new person, and you can play with her, too, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Me: What do you do when someone breaks the rules?

Sadie: Make them pay a fine.

Me: What if they break the rules again?

Sadie. Make them pay a bigger fine. And if they break them again make them pay an even bigger fine and put them in jail.

Me: How long should they be in jail?

Sadie: 10 years. Unless they do something really, really bad, like shoot the President. Then they should be in jail for life, because the President is the one who makes the rules.

Me: What are your strengths?

Sadie: Running and jumping.

Me: What are your weaknesses?

Sadie: Throwing and catching.

Me: If there were one new skill you could learn how to do, what would it be?

Sadie: To play basketball and football so that I won’t be scared of the ball. (Later that night she asked her mom if she could practice playing football outside in the dark.)

Me: Can you show me how to run like a girl? (See #LikeAGirl video.)

Sadie: OK…but it’s just running like anybody else.

Sounds like a girl who is ready to watch the UVA vs. Tech game on Friday! Go Hoos!

photo

Good Fortune

Money can’t buy happiness. Beauty is only skin deep. Age is just a number. It may be an illusion that wealth, beauty, and youth bring happiness, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s still a convincing one.

Earlier this summer, when I was stranded in South Carolina waiting for my car to be fixed, I had the good fortune of staying with a friend from graduate school and her family. At the time, I had been on this kick about destiny, so her daughter recommended that I read Holes, by Louis Sachar. It’s about a boy who is sentenced to work at a camp for delinquent boys for a crime he didn’t commit. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I was working hard to stay positive about my situation, so I wondered if my reading “Holes” was meant to be, as well.

I asked my young friend what else I should read, and she recommended Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s about a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a long journey to try to change her family’s fortune. In the end, she learns that family is the greatest fortune of all.

Every year my college friend and I have an Inner Child Reunion. During our first reunion a few years ago, I introduced her to Sophie and she realized that she had a part of herself that was not allowed to play. So we make it a priority to get together for a few days over the summer for an extended play date. This year we could not find a mutual time to meet, so she decided to bring her son and meet me at my brother’s house because I had to babysit my niece. So it was a double reunion since she, my brother, and I all went to UVA.

As usual, my friend and I lamented over the very adult burdens of money, weight gain, and aging, but without the same level of obsessiveness as before. Perhaps it was because spending several days with 4 adults and 2 actual children, in addition to our inner children, left us with less energy for lamentations. Or perhaps it was because being together helped us to be more grateful for what we have.

I’m not gonna lie. We did not become enlightened beings over the past few days. We would still like to make a little more money, lose a little weight, and slow down the aging process. But we were also reminded that we are blessed to have family and friends who enjoy singing and recording “Let It Go” for hours on end, several days in a row. How many other people can say that? (I would post one of the videos but it’s kind of embarrassing.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I finished “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” last night, at the conclusion of our Inner Child/College Reunion. Grace Lin was right: gratitude brings good fortune.

Change

You know how I said I’m not good with endings? Well, I’m not that good with beginnings, either. I think I just don’t like change, in general.

I’m like my niece in that way. When we were on vacation last month, she threw a fit when she found out that she was going to start summer camp when she got back home. Even though she knew she was going to summer camp before we left for vacation. And she goes to summer camp every year. She cried about it right up until she had to go on Monday morning. Of course, when I asked my brother how her first day of camp went, she thought it was awesome.

It’s funny how our brains work that way. There is some part of us that is like a child, and no amount of reasoning or memory-jogging can talk us out of our dread of something that we are actually going to enjoy. The difference is, when it happens with kids, you accept it as being irritating but normal. When you’re an adult, you think it’s crazy. Well, that’s how I think of myself, at least.

This past weekend I went to my friend’s wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I was going to have to drive to Florida by myself and go to the wedding dateless. I tried to squeeze in as many visits with friends as possible to break up the trip and to have more to look forward to. I tried to tell myself it could be like a romantic comedy where I meet some great guy. But my inner child Sophie was having none of it; she whined and cried just the same.

Because of my night-owlness, I could not fall asleep the night before, so I woke up late as usual. Which filled me with guilt and shame for being a bad friend. I was speeding the whole way down there, trying to make it in time for at least some of the rehearsal dinner. Until my car broke down. My 4 hour drive turned into an 8 hour drive, a good portion of which was spent on the shoulder of I-95 talking to unhelpful people who supposedly deal with roadside emergencies. It felt like punishment for having a bad attitude.

I didn’t meet some guy at the wedding. And I still don’t have my car. And the car rental and repairs are going to cost me about a grand. But that’s OK. It was still worth it. I had a good time at the wedding, and I was honored to be included in my friend’s innermost circle. Things could have turned out much worse with my car. Plus, I’m getting an extra day of vacation out of it.

I guess that’s one important difference between being a child and having an inner child. In the latter case, hopefully you also have a part that is an adult who can make you do things that you don’t feel like doing. Because the adult knows that you’ll be OK in the end. Perhaps that’s what it means to be an adult–to be someone who understands the nature of change.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get there someday.

Snow Days and Olympic Dreams

Today we finally got our big snow day.  Enough for sledding, snow ball fights, building snowmen, and everything.  But I am stuck home alone with no one to play with, so I didn’t go outside, except to take a few pictures.  I’ve mainly been knitting a sweater–which I finished–and watching the Olympics.

I really want to be an Olympian.  I don’t care about winning.  I don’t even care if I come in dead last.  I just want to wear the USA uniform.  I want to attend the opening and closing ceremonies.  Stay in the Olympic Village.  Exchange pins with other Olympians. 

The main obstacles standing between me and my Olympic dream are that I’m not that athletic or talented.   And I’m too scared to do flips in the air or go high speeds.  Which pretty much eliminates all of the events except curling.  But that seems really boring.

I could imagine myself as an ice skater.  But I didn’t grow up near an ice skating rink.  And apparently you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get your practice in, which would have been hard for a night owl like me.  Even if I had been motivated enough to do it, I probably would not have been able to talk my parents into taking me to the rink every morning, what with my lack of talent and all.

I’ve tried to think of ways to get around the lack of talent thing.  Maybe I could do one of the events in the Summer Olympics, like badminton.  I don’t play badminton, but how hard can it be to get good at it?  It can’t be harder than playing tennis.

I thought I could also increase my chances of qualifying by competing for the Philippines.  I might even get to carry the flag since they only send about 4 people.  That’s a 25% chance.  I would need dual citizenship, which would probably mean paying taxes in the Philippines or something.  I barely have enough money to pay my bills, so that would be a problem.  Without the talent to attract sponsors, I would at least need money.

Plus, I bet even the badminton players are in good shape.  I couldn’t even talk myself into exercising for 30 minutes today, so I might lack the necessary discipline to be an Olympian.  Even if I were disciplined, my allergies, GERD, and exercise-induced asthma make it hard for me to engage in sustained physical activity.  It’s hard to be competitive when exercise makes you throw up.

Hmmm.  Maybe there really isn’t any way I can be an Olympian.  Maybe I’ll just have to settle for  knitting and watching the Olympics on TV.  I hear the accommodations in the Olympic Village are terrible in Sochi, anyway. 

Sophie drew this picture for you.

 
 
And here’s the sweater I knitted.
 
 
 

Moms

I watched the Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas (Warning: Spoiler Alert!).  In addition to the theme of what it means to live a full life, I also liked the more subtle theme about how mom’s save the day.

For example, it is the mom’s cake that is used as currency for passage into forbidden territories. The mom’s piano is sold to cover Mitty’s worldly adventures.  The mom’s photograph of the piano leads Mitty to Sean O’Connell.  And ultimately, it is the mom’s rescue of the wallet that allows us to find out what the shot was on negative 25.

Yes, we want a life filled with risks and adventures.  But these risks and adventures are often made possible thanks to the home base that mom’s provide through their more mundane, everyday activities.

My mom is a superhero.  While I was home for Christmas, she hosted our Christmas Eve party. She cooked every day.  She went to work on Thursday and Friday–as a physician, no less–while the rest of us lounged around the house.  She carefully packed up our food in ice as my brothers and I left for home, one by one.  The only gift she asked for was that we all come home for Christmas.  This is the only gift she ever asks for, regardless of the occasion.

But there are disadvantages to having a superhero for a mom.  It’s impossible to live up to the example that she has set.  She often does know best, and I hate being wrong.  She is aware of her superhero status and takes every opportunity to remind me of it.  But I guess she has earned her bragging rights, and then some.

Often it is when children become parents themselves that they fully appreciate all that their moms have done for them.  I do not have children and do not plan on having any unless it is through divine intervention.  So the best I can do is to practice gratitude for all the big and small things that my mom has done to help me become the person I am today.

So this blog is dedicated to her, and to moms everywhere.