Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ma famille

Today, I spent the day with the boys while my special someone did housework. We went grocery shopping together, then baked a king cake, a pastry requiring many steps that multiple people can divvy up. It was so much fun. I love being a part of the boys' lives, to hear what they think about things, to have their help picking out apples or mixing pastry filling. Even when they're shrieking and hitting each other with pillows or fighting or forcing the dogs to snuggle with them while watching TV or conspiring to attack us, it feels glorious. They are my family, and more and more, I look forward to our weeks together.
Which is a good thing, because in 9 months, these rowdy, silly, cute boys will be officially my family. My special someone and I are getting married, and we will have to love and live with each other no matter what. I've been reading "The Courage to be a Stepmom: Finding Your Place Without Losing Yourself" by Sue Patton Thoele, and although I'm only a third of the way in, all I can think about is how fortunate I am. I found the book a few months ago, when I was feeling frustrated and lost as a parent, and this book seemed to be a salve for my wounds. But my experience has differed from the tribulations described in the book's stories. I'm thrilled to have two stepsons who are kind and accepting of me, a partner who is thoughtful and committed to me and his kids, and friends and family who embrace my new role and new family. I have many of the same challenges other parents have, but I haven't found any tempting reasons to run from this situation.
I know things won't always be this great. The boys are entering adolescence, and their increased independence can only lead to greater challenges. But I have big hopes and dreams for us as a family and I'm excited to watch us grow, independently and together.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts on motherhood

It's been 3 months since my special someone and I moved in together, along with his two sons (ages 10 and 13), two dogs, and two reptiles. Even without the kids here, we have a full house; Dear Kitty is not so thrilled with the dogs, but she has mostly gotten used to the kids aside from an occasional gentle warning hiss, and she's fascinated by the usually sedentary but sometimes comically active reptiles. In the past year, even before we combined households, things have felt different. There were troubles with one of the kids, which I couldn't help but agonize over despite my general role as an empathetic bystander. Then, we took a trip together as a family to visit more family for Christmas, straight out of a movie. The kids hung out at my house a few times and even slept over once, welcome strangers intruding on my turf. And now we all live together, a real family, and we took a 2-week vacation together, family-style. It feels nice and weird and foreign and frustrating and cozy and settling and many other conflicting feelings that come with being a parent. Except I'm not a parent, I'm a step-parent. I used to be a single girl who only had to pay attention to my own life and could get lost in my thoughts and leave my clothes on the floor for days. What I had was my small world, inconsequential to others and beholden to no one, and I felt free every day.

Now, I must pick up my clothes while others' messes lay strewn about. Do I pick up these socks, foam bullets, candy wrappers, shoes, plastic blocks, blankets, etc., or do I struggle with getting the kids to pick them up so that the house feels a little more put-together? Now, I must plan plain meals that the children will eat, which they usually don't anyway, instead of sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, eating fresh, crusty bread with salty olive spread and sardines and a glass of wine, indulging in reality TV. Now, I must listen to stories from Scouts and soccer practice and paintball fights and nod along and mmmm-hmmm to descriptions of warfare tactics and think of questions to ask about things I'm not the least bit interested in, instead of escaping to read in bed with Dear Kitty for hours. Now, I grit my teeth when the entitlement act gets old and I want to yell at them to stop being so spoiled and just listen to us for once, instead of rolling my eyes at other people's entitled kids. Now, I wince and sigh and try to relax during the especially rowdy moments when they can't, just cannot, stop screaming and running around and shooting things at each other and blasting the music, instead of reveling in the silence and the chirping birds while scented candles flicker.

But also now, I giggle along with the silly things the boys do and say. Now, I read about how to raise kids right, and I worry that everything I do is wrong and will screw them up for good. Now, I want to have snuggly moments on the couch, and watch movies together, and make holiday crafts at the table together, and show the kids off to my friends and family, and talk about them like we all belong to each other. Now, I want to be a part of their lives and help them change and grow into men, and go out there in the world, and be as fully themselves as they are now. Now, I feel warm when they include me in their adventures, when they want me to know all about what they care about.

But it's hard to get out of my head and focus on them. I enjoy them but I don't crave them. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I look forward to our last day together for the week, and I dread the day they come over two weeks later. Not dread, just...feel sad for my temporary loss of freedom, and for the fact that I must share my special someone with them. I embrace this challenge, and I am thrilled to have these boys in my life, for they are simple and lovely and exuberant and still excited about the world, but sometimes, it might be nice to not have them so much in my life.

I know that step-parents feel this way. We wonder whether perhaps it would be different with our own kids. In some ways, maybe yes, but in many ways, parenting is parenting. But I'll never be a parent. I'm surrounded by other people's kids, including my nephew and my friend's kids, and I will bond with them and love them and be a member of their village and give them whatever I have to spare. But I will have no children to call my own, and that's a selfish feeling but also a natural feeling. So I will go on pinning kids' activity ideas and parenting advice and home decor on Pinterest, as if these children were my own, as if we belong to each other. Because now I am no longer lonely, and I have people to live a life for, and even when it's tough, it's still better than eating sardines alone on the floor and watching other people's lives. And maybe someday, for all my hard work, I will get a hug or an acknowledgement that I mean something to them, and it will all be worth it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I'm standing in front of the school, waiting for the bell to ring and children stream out the doors. Other parents wait too, some fathers but mostly mothers. Although many are my age and some are younger, I feel like the youngest one here. I can't possibly be old enough to have a 10-year-old. I'm only 26, right? Or so I feel. But this boy is my family now, and his 13-year-old brother is, too. I went from single woman with an older boyfriend with kids to a sort-of step-mom overnight. I went from usually alone to a parent and domestic partner lickety-split. My life isn't just my own anymore. I was dragging my feet in the days before this move, afraid to give up my autonomy and my life space. But now, it feels nice. The stuff at work doesn't matter because I come home every night to a house full of beings who rely on me. Sure, I'm already tired of hearing my name called every 30 seconds, and I'll deeply need those quiet moments when I get home each day, before everyone else arrives. But life at home is now so much more important than the other stuff. I never was able to really imagine what it would be like to have a family, so it never seemed like a real thing that I might have someday. It will take some getting used to, but I can't imagine going back.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Dreamer By Day and By Night

Yet again, this old rag has gotten a new face, a sign that like so many others, I resolve to write more. I struggle with this, because who is really interested in what I have to say? Besides my own mother, of course. But I've been dwelling in my dreams more, wondering where these crazy conjurings come from in the dark of night, where only my wandering brain can see them. By day, I am a mere mortal, subjected to the ordinariness of the realm of the fully conscious. I am not what anyone would describe as an especially creative person in my dress or demeanor. As I slumber, though, the grinding gears of a clearly repressed brain turn workaday situations and ideas into the worlds of science fiction and surrealism. I don't do any drugs - really, I don't - but sometimes a glass of red wine in the evening can increase the level of weirdness in my slumbering stories.

I fall asleep listening to BBC News on my local NPR station, because admittedly, I'm a little afraid of lying alone in the dark, and the stories distract me from the stream of consciousness that would otherwise keep me awake. Once sleep washes over me, anything goes. Sometimes the scenery could be a long-lost Magritte or DalĂ­ painting, eerily strange and twisted but not scary, with a rambling plot that really makes no sense. Other times, it's whimsical and fantastical, with vivid colors like the beautiful scenes from What Dreams May Come. A few times, science fiction drives the theme, likely influenced by something I read, like my female-centric sequel to the book Ready Player One, this time entering different universes through trap doors in an old Victorian home, searching for some object (what it was, I now can't remember). And then there are the ethereal dreams that imply death - not the scary dying part, but the floating, peaceful, somewhat lonely part afterward.

My dreams aren't always like this. I have recurring expressions of anxiety that manifest as various forms of travel that never get me to my destination. Or wandering a giant shopping mall, looking for an item that I never find. Or hiding from a tornado that passes overhead or nearby, leaving me unscathed. Lately, I have cared for my brother as a small child or experienced the alienation of my special someone's son growing up and becoming someone we can't recognize. But usually, it's the same randomness that everyone experiences during the night - snippets of real life combined and twisted into something that resembles reality but makes much less sense. It feels like it goes on for the entire night but is probably only an hour two in total, and sometimes I awaken feeling just as I do during the day, like it would be such a relief for my brain to just turn off for a while. The dreamless nights, or at least the nights during which I sleep so soundly that I'm not aware of my dreams, are such relief and are sadly so rare.

And yet. I'm envious, really, of Dreaming Me. Sometimes my nightly worlds and experiences are so fun, so interesting, so pleasantly strange, that I want to stay there longer or bring them back with me to the land of the conscious. At the very least, I wish that I had the skills to translate my inner machinations into a story in words or images. Something that I can hold onto when regular life is just so mundane. A technique for pulling ideas from my brain so that I can enjoy them while awake and be rid of them while asleep. Or maybe even a new way to make some money. Maybe someday, we will be able to download our brains, record unconscious images like a DVR to play back later, splice and enhance and edit. Some people practice lucid dreaming, but it's still ephemeral, lasting only a short while and never to return in the exact same form.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

(Not) Broken

My move to this new place in 2011 was in a bit of a fit of despair. I felt lost, stuck in a city in which I no longer wanted to live, lonely without any romantic relationships, purposeless in a job I couldn't and didn't want to do, antsy to see more of the country. I was looking forward to starting completely over, in a city where no one knew me, in a job I knew I could do, in a landscape that promised real adventure. I was feeling broken, and I wondered if a new life would help me put my pieces back together. It did, mostly, but when I still sensed some holes, I looked to a professional to help me with the last few pieces. Soon afterward, I felt fixed. It was something I should have done years before. But just like any life changes, you have to be ready or it doesn't take.

Two years later, my body has felt broken, after too many years of not addressing the little things. So, again, I turned to professionals to help me. After many co-pays, a prescription, and some twisting and turning, again I feel like I'm on the upswing. I feel more capable, and strangely, a little more invincible. All those things that held me back in the past are now in the past. My list of excuses has dwindled.

I have always lived my life so independently. It's been up to me to figure out how to get through any obstacles that have come my way. The past few years have taught me that it's okay to seek out help, that even the strongest people sometimes can't handle everything alone. I learned to accept that it's okay to not be the strongest person in the room. It's been good training, because soon I will have to give up a great deal of my independence. My special someone and I will soon live under the same roof with Dear Kitty, two small-in-stature but big-in-character dogs, a corn snake, a bearded dragon, and every other week, two rowdy boys. We will be a family unit, dependent on each other, even when we'd rather go it alone. It will be a big adjustment for me and Dear Kitty, who enjoy our solitude and freedom. But it will be better, because few people can stand to be alone forever. These days, I come home from the circus to my quiet house, and I feel lonely. There will be days when I can't handle the circus, and I hope that I will be granted a few hours of solitude. But overall, I suspect that I will feel even more complete, more so than I imagined possible.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Running Apparel Season is Upon Us

Today, my special someone signed up for the Robie Creek half marathon (he's much more hardcore than me), and I signed up for the Idaho Potato Half Marathon, which I did last year, and for which I'm hoping for a PR (that's personal record, for all you non-racers out there). I've been doing a lot more weight training this winter, and the extra strength combined with greater lung capacity (Why did I wait so long to get my asthma under control?) has enabled me to get to a sub-10-minute mile without too much effort. I feel good already and I haven't even started training yet.

All this working out gets me thinking often about my workout attire. I consider my body to be in the Fit Fertility Goddess category - solidly a size medium, with healthy curves that are only accentuated by muscle tone.  Tons of workout clothes are made for women who are petite, are athletes, or are just naturally thin. These women can wear short shorts, small tank tops, sports bras that aren't padded or super-reinforced, and any kind of spandex their hearts desire. We fit fertility goddesses cannot wear these types of clothes, and unfortunately, the athletic-wear companies generally just make clothes bigger to fit the curvy and the full-figured among us. But while making the same styles in larger sizes may work for some women, sadly, that is not the answer for us active curvy girls with hourglass figures, because we're not bigger all over. Our hormones have blessed us with bodies made for birthing babies and raising children, but we're fit and toned because we're runners, cyclists, weight-lifters, rock climbers, yoga practitioners, dancers, skiers, hikers, and snowshoers. We may have shoulders, mid-torsos, knees, and ankles that fit into a size small, but our 32/34/36-D/DD breasts and our 40/42/44-inch hips definitely do not. However, we're also generally not a size large, except for some smaller-cut pants and shorts (I'm looking at you, Columbia Sportswear. Some of us actually have hips and butts, you know.) We struggle with pants that fit either the waist or the butt, but not both, and tops that make us look either slutty (too tight in the chest) or frumpy (too big all over). We need:
  • sports bras that provide serious support without smooshing the girls and aren't bulky, that wick away a ton of sweat, and that don't chafe on the shoulders, ribs, or under-boob. Our girls may be ample, but we're proportionately smaller around the ribs, and we need a bra that will stay put despite all the bouncing.  
  • spandex that supports and compresses, hides panty lines and cellulite, and doesn't create cameltoe. Spandex and similar blends are light and stretchy, and even though they're not the most flattering fabrics, for those brave enough to wear them, we need them to be highly functional and as flattering as possible. That means wider waistbands, dark colors, and appropriately placed seams and panels that flatter curves and don't chafe. And, it bears repeating, no cameltoe.
  • lightweight shorts and skorts in lengths that extend beyond our saddlebags and inner-thigh bulges, but not all the way to our knees, and that don't ride up at all when we walk, run, or jump. We will never have a thigh gap, and anti-chafing gels and creams are not sufficient solutions to inner-thigh rashes and irritation. Neither is wearing spandex shorts under nylon shorts, which is just not an option on a hot summer day.
  • warm-up and hiking pants made of a material with some stretch and some structure, with wider waistbands, options for adjusting the waist, and a wider cut in the hips that tapers slightly from mid-thigh or knee to the ankle. Pants that are the same width from the widest part of the hips all the way to the ankles make curvy women look frumpy. Pants should be flexible and comfortable, but not too flowy or too clingy. And again, no cameltoe.
  • longer tops in lightweight wicking material. Our extra padding means more movement, higher core temperatures for some, and thus more sweating. Shirts that come down to the hips, with sleeves that are cut wider and a little longer, are more flattering and won't ride up as much. Tank tops with wider straps and higher necklines cover up larger sports bras and provide more modesty and style. All tops should be cut to provide more room in the chest and hips, while tapering in the middle to flatter the waistline. This goes for coats and jackets, too.
  • some kind of waist or hip belt for water bottles that stays securely and doesn't ride up. When a curvy woman puts a hip belt on and goes for a run, the belt quickly rides up to the narrowest part of the body, which for fit fertility goddesses is often right below the breasts. Fastening the belt securely at the natural waistline can look funny and isn't terribly comfortable. Backpacks and hand-held water bottles can work, but they're not the preferable solution. There must be a better lightweight way to carry water on long walks or runs. 
  • socks and shoes that withstand and absorb greater impact force and prevent over-pronation. Curvy women are harder on their hiking and running shoes because they're heavier, and the greater angle from the hips to the ankles can lead to all kinds of hip, knee, ankle, and foot problems. We need socks and shoes that provide proper foot and ankle position, support and disperse the extra force, and last longer despite the extra beating we give them. 
Maybe in my next life, when I have greater financial resources at my disposal, I will make athletic apparel for fit fertility goddesses. We sort of get ignored, in between the natural athletes and the much-fuller-figured women, and that makes it really frustrating to be the badass chicks we know we are.