Friday, August 22, 2014

My Demons Don't Eat at My Table Anymore

I am a recovering bulimic.

Once you have been an addict, it is never wise to call yourself  an "ex", because the moment you start thinking you have conquered all your impulses, life begins to dole out situations where your self control is no match for your former self. I spent seven years binging and purging, hating the necessity of food in my life. When Grant and I got together, his immense love put my own feet back under me and with the new self confidence that comes from being unconditionally loved, I began to evolve from someone who hated food to someone who actually began enjoying it.

When I look back at photographs from the years when I was binging and purging and obsessively studying my body in the mirror, I can't miss the painfully out of control look in my eyes that is the hallmark of an addict. I wore clothes that draped me and my insecurities in loose fabric. And food, unlike alcohol or drugs or sex or cigarettes, isn't an addiction that you can quit cold turkey as a first step. Addictions to food require small doses of your drug multiple times a day in order to continue living.

I enjoyed several years of being free of my eating disorder demons. Grant loved my body and I loved being in control of how I looked. I ran 4 days a week, ate a strict vegetarian diet, and dropped three sizes just by starting to wear clothes that actually fit me. Just when I had almost stopped thinking about my old demons all together, those life situations that test your self control started looking back at me from the full length mirror I found at a consignment shop and hung in our bedroom. I was post partum times two, in my mid-30's, surrounded by full fat yogurt, whole milk, cheese, and drawers full of clothes that I grabbed from the rack at Target while we sailed by in our cart on the way to the diaper aisle. The hallmark card life of a parent with young children.

I was out of sleep, out of control, and out of hours in the day. Very few daily decisions were centered around taking care of myself. I found myself fantasizing about being that nursing mother that blushes and says "I don't know...the pounds just FLEW off while I was nursing. Everything shrunk but my boobs!". I knew it wouldn't be me, but I didn't know how else I was going to lose the weight.

Some things didn't change. Grant still loved my body and I was still wearing clothes that fit me...just bigger clothes. For a while I was on friendly terms with my post partum body and could see very clearly the two gorgeous reasons for my new, larger and softer, physique. Then Knox turned two and I started noticing that there were mothers around me who were back in their jeans. Back running half marathons. Back to "normal".

And I felt panicked. Fear that once again I was in the remedial class. That everyone else had figured it out but me. That my friendly attitude toward my body was actually just laziness in disguise. I needed to be back in control. The mirror became my enemy again and I couldn't see anything reflected back to me but a girl who didn't love herself enough. The funny thing about eating disorders is that very little of the real issue is fat vs thin. It is the need for control manifested by the "right" body size, which is always smaller. The addict's fix is getting rid of calories, or enjoying the feeling of hunger gnawing at your stomach. Those were my drugs.

But I have been in recovery for almost 11 years now. I am no longer the single woman in my own apartment with a bathroom I can lock myself in and throw up until I feel back in control. I am loved and I love unconditionally. I am also a Mama of two young children, one of whom is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. She has long brown hair and deep blue eyes and long legs and a quick, impish smile and a laugh that you would do anything to hear again. She loves dancing to music videos and playing soccer and has just mastered the monkey bars. She likes to make biscuits and snap green beans and make orange juice popsicles. She will read library books on the couch for hours and doesn't like "any open places" left on her pieces of paper when she is painting.

And she has absolutely no idea what size she is supposed to be. Food is fun and exciting and at least four bites need to be eaten before she can have dessert. She chooses her clothes based on pattern and color only. Clothes too big are rolled up and clothes too small are unbuttoned. She is confident and her priorities are spot on. The last thing I want to do is mess with that balance. I want to learn from it.

I have too many things I need to control in a day to spend time on my bulimia demons. I have friends who know about my addiction and a husband who asks me every once in a while how I'm doing. I am not defined by my demons, nor do I forget about them. I respect them and do what needs to be done in order to keep them from slinking their way back into my self identify.

I have a daughter who eats at my table now.

Friday, August 8, 2014

You Should Have Told Me

You should have told me that having children was going to try my soul to the very limits. That parenting is one job that lasts all day and into the night and doesn't slow down or give me a break or just wait one minute or ever, ever stop.

You should have told me that when I say I'm having a bad day, no one will stop running around the house screaming about T-Rexes. It used to mean something to admit I was having a bad day- you would bring me a coffee or let me sleep in a bit later or slip me a $20 and tell me to go see a movie or just give me a hug and tell me the sun will come out tomorrow. Having a bad day is the universal symbol for just not feeling full on and everyone in my path knows to give me a little more room. Just for today. A bad day is a 24 hour pass to be a little selfish. You should have told me I was giving up that privilege when I had kids.

You should have told me that there was a possibility that I would have two children who are FULL ON, all the time. That they would be constantly moving, exploring, talking, running, singing, destroying, climbing, asking, swinging, painting, laughing... some kind of activity every moment of every day. You should have told me that I thought I was a full on Mama, but I actually like sitting quietly and reading sometimes. Or not sharing the bathroom when I poop. I like to make coffee in the morning without trying to figure out what sound an octopus makes. You should have told me that I was an extrovert who likes to be alone sometimes.

You should have told me about the weight of responsibility that would crush my shoulders. That two human beings depending on me for their food, clothing, safety, development, and dropping everything when they scream would feel like a giant foot on my chest sometimes. That all of my skills of reason and empathy and encouragement and nuture are completely worthless in the wake of an epic preschool meltdown. You should have told me that it is possible to feel empty and overflowing at the same time.

You should have told me that I would want to run. That the only escape from 24 hours a day of being a Mama is getting in my car and driving towards the Rocky Mountains. That all the love in the world is no match some days for just wanting to crawl deep inside my own head to get away. You should have told me that I could feel so broken and so bad at something humans have been doing for millions of years. Being a parent.

You should have told me that the most important relationship in the world would take a back seat during this season of life. That my best friend would one day look at me and say "I don't feel like you think about me at all anymore". And we would both know it was true. That I would feel like I had to make decisions between them and him, and because they are smaller and less understanding, they get my prime time and he gets the exhausted evening hours. You should have told me that I would fall asleep during sex or glaze over while he is telling me about his day or stop reading the book we decided to read together or get more excited about book club night then when he surprises me with a handle of gin and a bag of fresh limes. You should have told me it's hard to keep the magic alive. (it's hard to keep my eyes open)

You should have told me about the moments when I lock myself in the closet and push my fists into my eyes to feel something that hurts worse then what I just muttered under my breath at my toddler.

You should have told me that the hand of a friend helping my child cross the monkey bars can feel like the breath of God in the moments when my own strength is spent. That my husband on his knees begging me to have sex with him like it's a second marriage proposal would make both of us laugh in relief, shrug off all the expectations and just fool around. That sharing an egg custard on the back porch watching a dog run around the backyard is better then any therapy. You should have told me that becoming friendly with my post partum belly is better then skipping handmade waffles for breakfast. Too much energy wasted in trying to be something I'm not or can't be or don't want to.

You should have told me to relax more. To lower my expectations. To allow more people to see the ugly bits (the good ones will love you more for them). To trust God and believe that He wouldn't have given me these children if I couldn't raise them. That parenting is a hoot and I take myself way too seriously almost all of the time. That what I believe is most important will come out in my daily actions and not in the wordy lectures that I give after a misbehavior.

You should have told me that I would need all my energy and courage and strength and wisdom and grace to do this job- to be a parent. That very rarely is it ONE instance or ONE decision or ONE moment that ruins people. Sometimes the best thing to do is laugh. Or cry. Or just sit down and keep my mouth shut. That I was wasting too much time on things that wouldn't last or wouldn't matter or wouldn't guide our ship towards the waters we want to be in. The waters that will crash over us and make us hold on to each other and become a family.

You should have told me how much I would love being a parent. That the bad days never last and the exhaustion always fades and I wouldn't want to run too far before I long to hear their voices again. That seeing their sleepy faces peering into our bedroom in the morning erases all thoughts of life without them. You should have told me that I would love them a crushing amount. That forgiving myself for my horrible impatience and starting over with a deep breath actually WORKS. Counting to 10 isn't just for toddlers...

You should have told me that I can do this.

Because I can. (if you do it with me)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why You Should Take Your Babes Camping

Camping has long been in my head the benchmark of good parenting. I love hearing stories of friends taking their kids camping, and have been waiting patiently for the season when Grant agrees with me that our babes are old enough to take camping without sacrificing everything we love about camping itself. We know lots of people who have taken their infants on extended backpacking trips and while I tip my hat to their being badassess, I love sitting by the campfire under the stars with a tin cup of bourbon. Part of loving this activity is not fighting the slow warm paralysis that comes from drinking bourbon under the stars next to a tent with a handsome man...this does not go well with small children.

It does however, go very well with two children who ran and climbed and explored themselves silly all day and by the time we got back to the campsite were begging to go to sleep. We fed them a piece of cheese or two and zipped them in their sleeping bags. They were snoring before we zipped the outer fly.

We drove to Charleston, WV on Friday morning and set up camp by early afternoon. It was car camping, which is again, perfect for small children. There were bathhouses not too far from our campsite, one of those old school metal jungle gyms within eyesight, and the sites around our immediate vicinity were empty. It was quiet. We let the babes run and play without us holding their hands or even vigilantly watching. They spent most of the weekend free ranging, and it was very cool to see what they were capable of without my urban park helicopter parenting. Knox can climb to the very top of the upside down dome, hang by his hands and drop to the ground. Purslane somewhere, somehow learned how to pump her legs on the swing and could get herself going without a starter push. They were super careful about crossing the small dirt road, which was inhabited only by the ranger on his golf cart and the pairs of deer who came close enough that we could see the fading spots on the side of the fawn.

It's hard to say what the most important part of the camping weekend was for Pursy and Knox. When asked, Pursy would say that it was "sleeping with my cousin Aly", even though the sleepover lasted approximately 4 minutes before my sister in law appeared outside our tent flap with a pink sleeping bag, Teri the perpetually naked baby doll, and Pursy in hand. The idea was better then the reality. She curled up very happily next to me (I was grateful for the pink sleeping bag which we borrowed from friends of ours... the novelty was exciting enough to prevent her from wanting to crawl into my bag with me, which I territorially protect for my own). Knox keeps talking about the creek hike he took with his Papa, which for a two year old boy has to be as cool as it gets.

Grant required full participation from all family members for set up, maintenance and breaking down. Both babes helped with the tent stakes and rods, delivered logs to be chopped into kindling, threw away all trash and leftover food, and rolled up their own mats. I loved watching him demand they "slow down and do it right", instead of treating them like children who couldn't learn the important basics of camping. My highlight had to be teaching Pursy to pee in the woods- find a slope and a tree, pee away from your shoes and give your bottom a shake before you let go of the tree and stand up. She did it all weekend, even though the flush toilets were less then 50 yards away.

My sister in law, who has to be the coolest woman I know, is also a beast when it comes to camping. She caught a crawdad with her bare hands, usurped my authority in front of my children about how to properly cook a marshmallow, and drank wine out a paper cup, discarding the bits of broken cork that resulted from opening the bottle with a leatherman and willpower.

When the days were done, the bourbon drunk, the fire dying, and games of cribbage ended, Grant and I crawled inbetween our sleeping babes and just laid there. Marveling at the beautiful course of life that for us, began in a tent under the Colorado stars. Grant asked me to marry him in the light of a campfire, we got to know each other while we camped through Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, and the six person tent that somehow felt very cozy with just the four of us in it was a wedding present from his parents. Now here we were with two little people who weren't even dreamed of when we began our adventure together over 10 years ago.

We may be very happy urbanites who shop at Trader Joe's and walk to the neighborhood pub on date nights, but camping is part of our story. And after this weekend, we are damn sure it will be part of Knox and Pursy's.