Home. Part One.

Scotland, 2013:

I rarely walked down Balcarres Street in the daylight. The number 23 bus took me directly  to my Edinburgh flat.

The night buses dropped me off on Morningside Road, a main thoroughfare, though still shuttered  and empty after nightfall (save a few pubs).

The 10 minute walk from Morningside Road was dark and residential. Pavement wound past a graveyard and adjacent to a mental hospital. Just up the hill sat the old asylum turned college, now an abandoned, wooded campus frequented during the day by hikers.  But at night, blackness.

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The woods on the hill in our Edinburgh neighborhood.

As my family’s year abroad neared an end and I prepared to finish my degree, I’d walk down this road with earbuds in and music loud. It took away much of the creepiness. John Mayer’s Paradise Valley is one of the albums of my Year of Writing Creatively (the other being, in all seriousness, Katy Perry’s Prism).

Mayer’s song “On the Way Home” resonated with me, especially with our Scottish adventure coming to an end. A sample lyric reads:

“The summer’s over, this town is closing.
They’re waving people out of the ocean.
We had the feeling like we were floating.
We never noticed where time was going.
Do you remember when we first got here?
The days were longer; the nights were hot here.
Now, it’s September; the engine’s started.
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted.
But just remember on the way home….
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.”

I’d climb up to our fourth floor flat and turn off the music…eventually.

I cried when I said goodbye to every place which made our/my time there…home. They were  never big things- the university campus, the church building, the friends I’d made – which brought out the tears. My tears were in the details of home. 

The Morningside Parish playgroup. ( I’d never park Alistair’s buggy in the foyer again.Sob.)

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Knowing Your Naked Body (and Naked Face)

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Selfies with the 7x magnifying mirror

I recently had the opportunity to experience that most rare and exotic of situations: solitude.

Not the kind of alone time you get when your toddler is napping and you finally collapse on the couch and look at your emails, and not the kind of alone time you get when you’re driving between errands or managed a solo trip to Target to pick up diapers. No, this was real solitude, or at least the winter 2014 version of it (It was more ‘fireplace suite for one’ than Thoreau’s ‘Into the Woods’).

I drove four hours one way to visit my mom last Sunday. My husband and I agreed I would go alone since I was going to do the return trip the same day, and our two-year old wouldn’t enjoy over eight hours in the car. I knew a snow storm was coming, but I still decided to give in to temptation and make an IKEA run…and late that night, while I was still 175 miles from home, I grew incredibly sleepy and started driving over ice patches. I decided to be sensible, and I checked into a roadside motel in a tiny town off the interstate.

I woke up the next morning to nearly a foot of snow. The entire hotel was abuzz at breakfast, talking about how no one was going anywhere that day. I dug my car out and took a test drive to the grocery store. I had to help a lady push her car out of a snow bank which had formed while she was shopping.

I quickly returned to the hotel after stocking up on food and checked in for another night while the storm raged outside. For the first time, it hit me. I was totally alone with nothing to do. No errands to run. No people to talk to. I sprawled out in the bed and ate Cheetos (bad, I know). I went down to the pool and sat in the hot tub in my pajama shorts and a tank top, hoping no one would tell me off. I went back up to my room and showered and as I hung my pajamas in front of the fire I realized I had nothing clean to wear. Oh well, I thought. I’ll just be naked for now.

This hotel room had a lot of mirrors all of a sudden. A LOT.  There was even 7x magnifying mirror above the sink.  I realized I was audibly going ‘Ahh!’ when I caught sight of myself.

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The endless, makeup-less face. The 7x magnifying mirror strikes again.

I hadn’t looked at my body in a long, long time. I loved my body while pregnant, but as soon as I gave birth I felt uncomfortable with it. So much of my shape had changed. My stomach had a new, looser jiggle, and my midriff harbored stretch marks over what used to be smooth, youthful skin. I’d read all of the memes about being a tiger who earned my stripes- but I still didn’t want to look at them.

I breastfed for 11 months and my breasts became something else to me. Beautiful, but in a different way. They were functional. That was it. I only saw them in the context of feeding, or pumping, or trying to fit into new bras, unsuccessfully.

And maybe that’s how I came to see my post- baby body. Different, functional.

Ignored.

My husband says I wander around naked, but that’s just because I can never find  clothes I’m happy with to cover  this new body of mine. When I find them, I cover up and certainly don’t do what I used to do- preen, change outfits, compare how my butt looks in certain jeans.

All of a sudden, in this hotel room, I was faced with something I’d been avoiding: what I really looked like naked.

I didn’t stand around naked all day– that 7x magnifying facial mirror was my next project. Whoa!  The pores. The unplucked eyebrows. The nose hair. I could see it all, so so clearly.

I took the above photos in the magnifying mirror as this blog post took shape in my mind. I was getting to know my body, my face.  And why hadn’t I done it earlier?

I love my son. He is absolutely worth every mark, scar, tear, stretch, and hormonal shift. He is my world.

But my body is mine alone. My face is unique to me; it tells my story.

I feel we need to honor ourselves more, inside and out. My body deserves more than the shameful covering I’ve been quick to toss on while never acknowledging  what’s under those clothes. My face deserves a closer look.

I need to learn to love my body again- to nourish it, to know it, to treat it how it deserves.

“Whatever it is, it’s okay.”

Last night I attended my final mindfulness seminar. The focus was on acceptance of what is and staying in the present. Letting the moment be and learning how to act in the moment.

We did a breathing exercise where we focused on the physical sensations associated with difficult thoughts or feelings. It was interesting to feel my heart beat faster and notice the feeling where you want tears to ‘spring’ to your eyes. I didn’t fight those feelings….I didn’t give in to them, either. Instead, I breathed and breathed and told myself, ‘Whatever it is, it’s okay. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s okay.’

Acceptance is something I went into mindfulness class NEEDING to learn. I’m always trying to change things, make things something other than what they are, or wanting people to act differently than they do. I’ve learned, sometimes, these are fair requests. Some things SHOULD be different. Some things aren’t fair. Some people SHOULD treat me differently.

The class didn’t give me some magic tool to all of a sudden stop wanting change. Acceptance isn’t about resignation. Acceptance is becoming fully aware of difficulties, feelings, and situations and responding in a skillful way, a thoughtful way, and a way which accepts our own feelings and acknowledges them as valid before making a next step.

So to you, dear reader, I say: Whatever it is, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. Allow yourself your feelings.

I know acceptance is something I will be working on for a long time. It won’t come easily to me. But one idea resonated with me deeply and immediately. It is best described in this quote from Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

As a class we pondered that space. That amazing, powerful space between stimulus and reaction. Nobody can fill that space but you. It’s all yours.

We can’t control the stimuli all the time. We can’t always control our circumstances. But we can always, always, choose our reaction.

I’m going to apply this idea to the greater issues surrounding me – my civic duties, my marriage, motherhood, my career. But on a micro level, this can be applied to how we respond to a negative comment. How we respond to temptation. How we respond to the urge the sit on the couch instead of walk all the way to the car and drive to the gym!

I’m about to go on blog hiatus for two weeks – I’m heading off to London on Thursday and then onto Scotland to graduate with an MA in Creative Writing. Until I’m back to my normal routine, I’ll leave you with another quote from the mindfulness seminar. It’s a different topic than acceptance, but it goes right along with not falling into resignation.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity.

Day Five: Epic Fail

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

According to the internet, this is something Bill Gates said. I don’t have much in common with the richest man on earth, but I figure he’s probably right about some things in order to be in his position.

And today, I need to heed the lessons of failure. Well, hopefully tomorrow I’ll heed. Today I’ll just write about it.

The weekend is drawing to a close, and with it the end of my fifth day as a fitness and diet guru. Right? Shouldn’t I have lost 10 pounds by now and discovered inner peace?

Alas, all I’ve done this weekend is one list of things I should be doing, another list of things I shouldn’t be doing, and feeling like an epic failure in between.

Friday night I went to the movies with my husband. I skipped dinner so I could have popcorn and chocolate at the theater, and I went to seep feeling okay about that choice, just this once.

Saturday morning I went to see the first Harry Potter movie by myself. It was a special screening and I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd, so I had to go. I snacked and forgot to log My Fitness Pal, which started the guilt train. Then I felt lonely because I was out by myself, but I’m by myself a lot and I’m usually used to it. This guilt was brought on by the fact that most of my friends  were sitting at home watching General Conference for the Mormon Church (which I belong to) and I was watching Harry Potter instead.

So I went home and joined my husband and son and quickly turned on General Conference. Phew. I was doing something on  the list of  *shoulds.* And it was fulfilling. Only no one in my house cared about my change of heart – my son was doing laps around the kitchen and my dog was needing walked and played with and my husband was napping after playing with our son all morning so I could watch Harry Potter and my computer kept freezing so I was missing half of the talks I wanted to be spiritually edified from and on and on.

Weren’t most of the people I know surrounded by loved ones, eating Lion House rolls and singing hymns in unison in their perfectly clean living rooms while I was sitting alone with a toddler and a frozen computer screen?

By the second two-hour block of conference talks I was feeling better. My husband watched some with me, I baked cookies with my son and I felt the pendulum swing again into the *should* category.

But I was still feeling lonely. It had been building up all week, where I spent my days with my two year old and my nights doing homework, devoid of any socialization or connection with human adults. I needed fresh air, so I went for a quick drive.

To the ice cream shop.

Screw it, I thought. I’ve been such a failure all day. I’ll finish with ice cream.

Sunday- today-  I woke up weary but ready to start fresh. But as I started watching General Conference again, and the house erupted into chaos, I kept thinking of all of the loving homes with reverent children, and probably fruit salad instead of the three cookies I just ate, and how they all sat around feeling spiritually and personally fulfilled.

Fail, fail, fail, I thought. I’ve done it all wrong for so long. You can trace it all back sooo far.

So we ditched General Conference and decided on a more worldly pursuit- the pumpkin patch. I fetched out my favorite autumn jacket from the past few years and it wouldn’t fit. It was so tight in my arms I couldn’t fold them. It buttoned but I was more lumpy than a sack of potatoes.

Fail.

I felt the pendulum of my weekend success slide way over into the *should not* category. After the pumpkin patch, we went to my husband’s company picnic at a park and I ate a cookie. And chips. And a non-diet Coke.  Screw it, screw it, screw it, I thought. We came home tonight and I ate chocolate just because we had it.

Now, there’s a few things to know about me: I like to think I’m quite self-aware, and I definitely don’t think I’m mopey, in general. I do take issue with the societal expectations placed on women and I don’t think I am correct to feel like a ‘failure’ at every turn like I did this weekend. It’s not the ‘normal me.’

But I’ve recently moved continents, and that’s a big change. I’ve had to adjust to a lot more time by myself and a lot more time with my thoughts. I’ve switched from having people to talk to about everything to internalizing a lot of my struggles.

And I often feel like an outsider in my new life, here in Fargo. Like I don’t fit anywhere very well.

I don’t always have weekends like the one I just described, but I wanted to recall an honest account of what went into thoughts and decisions this weekend.

If a therapist asked me to synthesize what I’ve written, I’d be able to point out how often I emotionally ate. That’s not something I realized I did!  I’d be able to spot my all-or-nothing attitude. As soon as I felt myself sliding, I let myself down for the rest of the day. I’d also realize I’m probably having some self-esteem issues, which may be related to my weight, or to the move, or to my relationships with others, or a whole host of things. Life, I guess.

I titled this post Epic Fail, but I know that the weekend wasn’t. Yes, I failed at My Fitness Pal, and I ate cookies and ice cream. But I got a lot of good snuggles from my two year old and painted pumpkins with him. I got to see his joy at decorating cookies. I was spiritually edified by my church’s broadcasts (when I was able to watch). My husband made me breakfast this morning and let me sleep in both days!

I’m sure there are plenty of Epic Fails to look forward to. For now, I’ll chalk this up to a learning experience and remember that tomorrow is a new day!