I went to the doctor this morning for a physical and I was shocked to find that I had shrunk over an inch since the last time I was measured.
“Five eight-and-a-half,” said the nurse as I stepped off the scale, oblivious to my look of horror.
“Gravity’s a bitch,” shrugged my doctor, when I complained. (I love my doctor). “You have to start taking vitamin D and calcium. You’re still tall.”
But I’m not, not really. I’ve described myself as just under 5’10″ since I unexpectedly grew two inches my first year at college. “That can’t happen,” said my 5’2″ mother at the time. “Five nine-and-three-quarters,” said the nurse at the doctor’s office.
I agonized over my height when I first shot up in high school, relegated to the back row in choir, towering over my friends in ballet class, cast as Charlemagne in Pippen. I would have gladly shrunk an inch then. “Laurie, come out from behind that Amazon,” said my ballet teacher. “Maybe try jazz,” said another, as I was well over six feet en pointe.
Something funny has happened since those long ago days. I started to like being tall. I could care less that I’m an inch or so taller than my husband. I wear heels as often as my wretched feet let me (thanks again, ballet). My oldest daughter, one of the shortest in her class, envies my height.
Be careful what you wish for. And I guess I’ll just buy higher heels.
My daughter asked me if her legs were fat yesterday.
We were in the car, on the way home from soccer practice, which was directly after tennis, which took place after choir, which was right after school. (And I still persist in thinking that I’m winning the fight against over-scheduling. Let’s just say I have a rich and full fantasy life…but I digress).
“Mom,” I heard from the back seat. ”Are my legs fat?”
Don’t worry, I was cool. I didn’t rear-end the car in front of me, or rupture a vein screaming to the heavens above, or drop a string of profanity so blue I scarred her for life…although all were very possible and even likely reactions.
“No,” I answered, with the “oah” vowel peculiar to my Upper Midwest peoples, and in the tone of Bart Simpson saying “Duh.”
“Why?” I asked, trying not to make a big deal out of it, and grateful that the other two kids weren’t in the car.
“Well, when I sit down, my legs just sort of…spread out. And there’s all this jiggly stuff.” She was utterly sincere. I felt like crying…and raging. Again, I did neither. Who knew my acting background was going to prove so critical to my parenting?
“Riley, those are your strong muscles, that helped you walk to school today, and run at recess, and play soccer and tennis after school,” I said calmly. ”They’re not fat. You’re not fat. You’re perfectly made, the way God meant you to be.”
She believed me I think, because she’s only ten, and I haven’t gotten completely stupid in the way that teenagers’ parents are completely stupid.
Did you get that? She’s ten. My ten-year-old asked me if she was fat. My ten-year-old, who has never been higher than the 25th percentile on the weight chart at the doctor’s office. My ten-year-old, who was a baby so slight of frame that my dear friend called her the “Pilates Baby.”
So my ten-year-old (TEN!) has entered into the ranks of the (by some accounts) 97% of American women who are dissatisfied with their bodies. (I’m not making that statistic up. Google it.)
And here’s my question…Where did that come from? We watch almost no television. I don’t subscribe to Vogue, or any of those magazines filled with pubescent girls modeling women’s clothing. Her diet of movies is by and large animated. She was never a big Barbie girl. I would swear on a stack of Bibles that I haven’t ever, ever, EVER mentioned the word “fat” when talking about myself, at least not in her presence. Where is it coming from?
I knew this was coming, because I have two daughters and I live in America…I just didn’t realize it was coming so soon. And I have to admit, I don’t know how to combat it anymore than I already am, except for maybe by throwing in the towel and moving off the grid Up North somewhere. And actually, that would solve the over-scheduling too.
It sometimes happens that our musical and sporting worlds collide. This past weekend our family had both a violin recital and multiple games. Something struck me about the different events: the differences between the audience in the seats and the parents in the stands.
This is Henry’s second year playing Little League, and by and large, we’ve escaped the curse of the ugly parent in the stand – you know the stereotype, I don’t have to describe it. We had a great team last year and we all – kids, coaches, parents and sibs – enjoyed spending time together…a lot of time…really so much time…at the ballpark.
However, that doesn’t stop me from pointing out that at the recital every single member of the audience clapped for every kid…twice. Once as they bravely mounted the stage, and once as they completed their performance, whether that performance was error-free or not. At the game, lots of us in the stands are just clapping for members of our own team. At the recital, none of the parents shouted advice to the performers. We trusted in their teachers, and in their own preparation. At baseball games, I hear advice shouted at each kid as he or she comes up to bat or when the ball comes careening toward them. At the recital, no one groaned when a kid made a mistake…at least not audibly. I’ve heard plenty of groans at the ballfield…when a kid drops a pop fly…or can’t field a grounder…or strikes out.
Here’s the thing, parents…and I include myself in this lecture since I am by nature a terrible sport, competitive to a fault. (I held myself to one shouted, “Wake up out there Henry!” at tonight’s game. But I had to work tonight, meaning I only saw an inning and a half, so I don’t have too much to brag about.) We’re not setting a good example by that kind of behavior in the stands, that much is obvious. But we’re also not accomplishing anything by it. Our players on the field? Half the time they can’t hear us. They certainly SHOULDN’T be paying any attention to us. That’s what the coaches are for. You know who can hear us though? The parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters of the kids on the other team. So let’s put a lid on it. Take a note from the recital parents and be happy for everybody just getting out there and doing their thing. They’re all awesome.
Skipping breakfast, the undecided voter, the NRA, not using turn signals, Humvees for civilian use, jeggings, Jell-o, reality television, short stories, boxing, misuse of first person singular pronouns, humming, bourbon, what happens to all those socks in the laundry, and lastly, perfume, cologne, aftershave, air freshener, smelly candles and room spray.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.
It was a busy Sunday, hardly a day of rest, with seemingly each member of the family running in different directions. Hockey at 7:30, clean up for the previous night’s event at 9, a performance at 11, 1 and 4…we couldn’t get to any of our usual masses, so we found ourselves at one of the “last-chance masses” downtown on Sunday evening.
We pounded sandwiches for dinner on our way down, and arrived soaked to the skin from an evening rainstorm. I led our bedraggled little group to a pew on the right-hand side of the church, all the way up at the front. As we filed in, I realized that the woman sitting directly in front of us was homeless. She had several black garbage bags stuffed full of her belongings with her in the pew. She smelled. Her white hair was greasy, hanging in limp hanks across her shoulders, and her layer upon layers of clothing were dirty.
I sighed as I shuffled my kids to the other side, away from her. ”I don’t want to touch her,” I said to myself, the Kiss of Peace looming in my mind. I couldn’t pay attention to the readings, or the homily, or even the music, as I worried about how I could avoid shaking her hand. Maybe I could feign a cold, smiling politely as I pretended not to want to share my germs. Perhaps I could duck out to go to the bathroom, using my youngest as a beard. Or I could just occupy myself in the other direction, looking at her ruefully as we ran out of time to share a handshake.
I hadn’t quite picked my strategy when I saw her stand up to leave. She exited the pew and headed up to the altar, placing her garbage bags over the altar rail.
“What on earth?” I wondered. ”Is she mentally disordered to boot? Will someone need to do something?”
She walked over to one of the now ubiquitous containers of hand sanitizer and rubbed her hands together. I watched her in bemusement, still not catching on. As she approached the priest and the altar, I finally got it. This woman whom I had disdained, this creature of God whom I had considered unworthy of my touch was going to distribute the Body of Christ to the community…to me, and it was I who was utterly unloveable and unworthy. I burst into tears, and my oldest asked if I was ok. I shook my head and got up to receive the Eucharist, great heaving sobs wracking my body and tears pouring down my face.
The woman smiled at me as I approached her and I swear to you, she could read my mind. Her smile said to me that she knew me, she forgave me, and she loved me. Her face now seemed beautiful to me, shining in the light of the candles and lanterns. Of course she was beautiful, for she was Divine.
“The Body of Christ,” she said, placing the Host on my upturned palms.
“Amen,” I choked and I fled back to my pew and knelt, hiding my face in my hands.
I wept for the rest of mass.
I wish I could tell you that afterwards I approached her, and introduced myself and begged her pardon and hugged her and redeemed myself. I could tell you that, but it would be untrue. Here’s the end of the story. After communion, she disappeared and I cried all the way home, eventually choking out what happened to my husband in sign language and words of one syllable, and even though this happened months ago, I’m crying writing it down now.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
Today’s homily, courtesy of Father Franciscan, belonged to my favorite phylum – we’ll call it: ”Jesus Was an Expletive Radical, and We’re Probably Not Doing it Right.” (I won’t specify which expletive, since my dad reads the blog and I don’t want to offend him, and also, after the week I had I’m not sure how much credit I have Upstairs…but it rhymes with “plucking.”)
As he mulled over today’s gospel reading (excerpted above), FF asked why there were any poor among us if we were following Jesus’ commandment. That’s an uncomfortable question to hear posed in our comfortably well-off parish. I was SUPER uncomfortable when FF brought up St. Basil the Great, who said:
“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
There are a LOT of garments hanging in my wardrobe. My husband calls me a clothes horse, while I would say simply, “well-dressed.” I don’t really want to share those garments, and in fact, I’d like to add more to the pile. I told a friend after church today that were I to win the lottery (which would take a miracle, since I never buy a ticket) the only thing that would change would be the frequency with which I buy and the amount I spend on clothes. So if you tell me that those same garments, both real and imagined, are really the property of the poor, well, I might drop another expletive.
On the other hand, yesterday at mass (double dipping in the church chip bowl this weekend – why aren’t I a better person?! I should probably go to church tomorrow too), Father Pastor mentioned St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer, which is one of my very favorites of all time:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
So I guess the take-home is that Christ wouldn’t be using his hands to order clothes on the interwebs or his feet to walk to the mall? I have a LOT of work to do.
Today’s post is brought to you by Henry:
Have beautiful Holy Weeks, if that’s what you’re celebrating. We’re taking a detour to Passover tonight with a seder with another Jatholic family and will catch up tomorrow.
A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook that I wished I could find the pause button. I was wishing I could have an extra day or two with no obligations, not to get everything on my “to do” list done, but to recharge. I was remembering life pre-kids, when it wasn’t unheard of for my husband and me to have a vacation together, or for me to have a day at the spa, or even just an afternoon at the movies. I wanted, in the midst of our busy lives, a moment. A breath. A pause.
And now here we are again on Ash Wednesday, (also known as the day of my annual blog post) and Father’s homily at mass this morning made me realize that Lent is that pause button I was looking for.
Now I realize that for most people “day at the spa” is not the first thing we think of when we think of Lent. We think of ashes, and fasting, and giving up candy or something like that. And that’s not wrong, of course. But if Lent is only that, I think we might be missing the forest for the trees. Why do we do all of that stuff? Well, we’re told to, of course; during the season of Lent, we’re supposed to pray more, fast, and give alms. That’s pretty clear. But why? ”Because I said so…” doesn’t really work on my kids and frankly, it doesn’t really work on me. I think ultimately, by fasting and giving something up, we’re trying to create a little space in our hearts…a little more room for God, for love, and for each other.
We sang “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” this morning. My favorite verse is the third:
More sparing, therefore, let us make
The words we speak, the food we take,
Our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense;
Learn peace through holy penitence.
As I get older, I’m not so sure that denying ourselves is the point; rather it’s the tool that permits us to find some more peace and love in our hearts. I’ve got myriad bad habits and distractions I could choose to give up this Lent, and an equal number of important things I should be doing that I’m not. Rather than pick one of each, I’m going to try to do it all. I’m seizing this chance to pause…this gift of 40 days to be “more sparing” and focus on what’s important. I’m pretty excited about it actually, more excited than I would be for a day at the spa. Don’t tell my husband though. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow after all.
Everything is a platitude and a cliche and…stupid after something like what happened in Newton, CT last week. That sentence that I just wrote is stupid in fact – after “something like” – please! Nothing has ever happened “like that” before. Yes, there have been horrors before, but each is uniquely horrific. And I’m sorry, but stop saying tragedy. It’s not a tragedy. It is the mother-loving Mayan apocalypse come one week early, and we ought to treat it that way.
Every night at bedtime, before I leave his room, my seven-year-old says “Promise me I’m safe.” And God help me, I say “Yes.”
Because what can I say? “No Henry, you’re not safe. When you stepped off the curb in front of that SUV turning right, you were about ten toes away from disaster. There’s every possibility that there’s a germ or a gene with your name on it spelling catastrophe. And terrible, appalling, heinous things happen in places where you’re supposed to be safe, like schools, and churches, and homes. Now, go to sleep.”
My mom card would be revoked.
And yet there I go, being wrong some more, (I’m getting good at it by now!) because while, yes, it does sometimes seem like life is nasty, brutish and short, it’s the only one we’re given, at least as far as I know. So we have to just keep livin’, dazed sometimes, and confused often. My oldest last night, in a fit of melodrama, sobbed, “I just can’t make it!” “Through what?” I asked, genuinely bemused. “My life!” she whimpered.
But that’s the task, sweet girl! That’s what we have to do, even in an unsafe world, my darling boy! We have to make it through. And we have to make something of it. And we have to make it count, hackeneyed chestnuts be damned.
And we also have to enact some mother-loving gun control…but that’s another blog post.
Henry lost a tooth the other day. Wait, it gets better. Henry lost a tooth and the dog ate it.
Henry thought his tooth was a crunchy piece of bagel, couldn’t chew it and fed it to the dog without looking at it. There are so many things wrong with that picture, I can’t even start. It does make a good story though.
With Riley, there would have been a lot more drama about “but what do I dooooooooo? how do I tell the tooth fairy I lost my tooth?” Henry’s a little more chill, and wasn’t too worried. In fact, when the tooth fairy forgot to put a buck under his pillow that night, Henry didn’t even notice because he’d forgotten to check.
And the tooth fairy wondered…is this my out? Are we done with this now? Because I have to confess, I’m a little over Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. It’s a fair amount of work to keep the magic alive, and Saint Tooth Bunny wonders if it’s worth it. The Tooth Fairy is plagued with forgetfulness when it comes to my house, I kinda resent Santa getting credit for all the Christmas gifts, and the Easter Bunny wonders what the hell chocolate peanut butter eggs have to do with the Resurrection.
I can’t remember believing in any of that stuff, the curse of being the youngest of five kids. My own kids are 9, 7 and 5, and no one has convinced them that those guys are made up yet…and here’s the reason I’m not pulling the plug yet either.
I like that they believe in miracles. I want to be somebody who believes in miracles too. I asked Henry what he thought the tooth fairy did with all of those teeth, and without hesitation, he told me that she made a castle with them. That’s beautiful. I like that they believe that Santa stops and gives gifts to every kid in the world…that to them, every kid in the world is equally loved and cherished. That’s how it should be, of course. That’s what we should aspire to. And the chocolate peanut butter eggs? They’re tasty. And the Passion is hard, so hard. Hard to hear even as an adult. The Resurrection is enough of a happy ending, none happier, but if we want to celebrate it with chocolates and bunny cakes, hey, I’m all for it.
Hurricane Sandy blew through this week and wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people, hitting the US the same day that Jessie ate Henry’s tooth. If believing in things like the tooth fairy helps my kids handle living in a sometimes brutal world, I guess I’m not quite ready to fire her yet…and Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are off the hook too.