Our living situation isn't exactly something most American families would aspire to. A mom and her tween son living in a one-bedroom apartment?! It wasn't my first choice but it's what I can afford as the executive assistant at a non-profit. And, so, we moved into this tiny space back in December.
Then, a few weeks ago, J did something super special to help us out. He drove out to Ikea, bought us a loft bed for N and a loveseat, hauled it back to our place, and pretty much single-handedly assembled it for us.
Now we have space! Space to sit together during tv-time. Space to tuck all of N's precious things away under the loft. Space to walk through the living room without getting snagged on random pieces of tween-boy treasure.
So, still less than ideal, according to conventional standards. But it's working. And I am grateful.
Me, eating an egg McMuffin, at the beach, in my car, alone, on a Saturday afternoon. This instance of peace and luxury thanks to a fine young man called The Babysitter.
Here is Little N with Slim and Brother Justin enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning.
It was such a leisurely Sunday morning that I got to sleep in until 8-ish. We stayed at J's Saturday night after a 4-hour playdate with G and her family. Pizza and a movie later and Little N was sound asleep. Only to rise early, with the cats, and then J, while I slept on. happy sigh.
Happy too, to note that N's behavior toward me improved a little after a call with his dad. N heard that he was going a little too far in his treatment of me and some of his classmates. He is still impatient and quick to anger, but he's eased up on his verbal abuse of me.
So we enjoyed a playdate with G's two boys. We enjoyed hanging out for the evening at J's. Little N put down the iPad and enjoyed imaginary games in J's house, which he wishes was ours. He enjoyed pizza, a raucous movie, sleeping in a big bed by himself, with maybe a cat or two. And I enjoyed my son.
It's a beginning. It's a sign, I hope, that we're in a change. I anticipate bumps. I'm seeking additional support in the form of a counselor for N. And I'm holding onto my hope of N learning how to manage big emotions, like anger, like reactions to change and loss. Holding onto my hope of knowing my son throughout this transition and continuing our relationship, on good terms, on the other side of this.
This is what 40-ish years of friendship looks like!
But what do I see? In my vanity, I see me. I see pudgy fingers, too full face-chin-neck, an oversize sweatshirt stretched over the too round belly. I see fluffy white old lady hair. This is not the me I want to see. This me doesn't look like... me.
Little N picks on me mercilessly about my current weight and size. He calls me "fatty" and criticizes my too big butt. His father, L, didn't talk to me exactly that way, but he, too, made it clear to me that I didn't look the way that he wanted me to. According to him, and to Little N, I used to be beautiful. I must complete an ambitious series of changes in a short amount of time in order to be beautiful... and worthy, and not teased or criticized, and good enough, again.
Usually I can resist the harsh criticism of my appearance. I can say back that I'm working on my health and that human bodies change with age. I can tell myself that the ideal they are comparing me to is a societal norm and unrealistic. But then I see a photo of myself and I'm startled and sad to see what I've become.
I don't like how I look.
I don't need to look young. Right? I need to look like me. So what does "me" look like at 40+? What do I want my physical appearance to convey to my partner, my friends, my critics, and everyone else about myself?
I want to exude qualities like: capable, competent, strong, smart, creative, present, attentive, real, genuine. Translating these things into cultural or societal parlance is tricky. Because so often they are only seen as young and thin. I'm not getting younger. I may get thinner but I doubt I'll ever be thin again. So how and where do I, as me, show up?
There's another piece to this besides how I look. I'm 43 and a half. My father was 44 when he died. So I've set myself a goal of practicing good health habits in such as way that they're my baseline lifestyle by 44. Roughly six months to adopt all the good information I've learned from the naturopath and therapist and make it mine. Make it me. Six months to transform my body inside and out.
It took years for my body to take on its current appearance. Years of struggling with an unsupportive spouse. Working dead end jobs. Wrestling with my mental health. Comforting myself with food. Flailing in the absence of the skills and information necessary to make my body healthy.
So I don't expect six months to return me to a lithe 120-ish pound size four with a lustrous bob and stylish clothes. I do expect to improve my bloodwork for sugars and cholesterol. Shed a few pounds. Drop a size (or two...). Decrease my windedness. Increase my stamina. Live a more active lifestyle. And generally feel more like me.
My hope is that when I feel more like me, then I'll look more like me. A makeover from the inside out. Where the inside is more important and urgent, and the outside is granted patience and grace. From me, to me.
I've been sick for about 2 weeks now. I'm not as sick today as I was a week ago. I'm back at the office. I'm holding things together. But weighing me down more than illness is Little N.
He's angry. Every evening after school. Every morning when he wakes. At me.
When I pick him up from school he swears at me and flips me off, calls me names, teases me about my weight, tells me that I'm dumb, erupts at anything I say, any move I make. When he rises in the morning he bellows for me to get up and starts issuing demands. It's near constant. It's exhausting. It's wrong.
His anger is justified but misdirected and abusive. He wants to be with his dad. His dad has moved out of state. He blames me. For everything. All day.
I don't know how to correct him. To let him feel his anger, get it out, and treat me with respect, all at the same time. The questions stew and stir in my mind and my heart.
I feel like I've lost my son. To his anger. To his father. Will I, how will I, reclaim our relationship? Is there any coming back from this?
There's a line in an Ani song, "We never see things changing, we only see them ending." I hope that this is the pain of things changing. And not the grief of an ending.
We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
Little N and I have been suffering a terrible cold. It's brutal - coughing up crud, oozing goo out the nose, headache and body aches, firey throat... But let me tell you, I like being sick. Not the sickness part of it so much, but the permission to rest, to detach from the haste and obligations of daily life, to watch the light make its way around our rooms until darkness settles in. The time and space to just be.
That is how we recover from illness - sleep and fluids. It's one way that I recover from life. A little respite from the requirements. A little grace for something more real.
The dissonance is a kind of pressure on me. What is real to me versus what is required. The requirements get so much more time, attention, and money, than what is real. And the pressure makes me so very tired. It's hard to think, hard to make decisions, hard to create anything, to connect with people, hard to find any inspiration.
My younger self, even up to a couple of years ago, rarely got sick but often took mental health days. I would just get so fatigued... I'd check out for a day or a long weekend, recover myself, and return to work. But since starting this job I've seen my sick days increase - to include actual illness. I try to manage it pretty closely so that I'm not penalized for my days off, but between "reactivated mono" last year and this terrible cold this year, my data points aren't looking very good. I care and I don't. Because I know that I need the job to pay for my life. Because the job is so stinking meaningless and gets in the way of what is meaningful to me.
Meaningful is friendship, care-giving and care-receiving. It's creating. It's movement. Thinking. Reading. Sharing ideas, time, creations. Autonomy. Interaction. And in my current configuration of job, commute, parenting, money... I don't get to meaningful as often as I seem to want to... need to. I suspect that if my job offered more meaning, or if my daily routine offered more time for what is meaningful to me, my body would be healthier, my immune system stronger.
So I get sick.
Of course, sickness isn't actually a solution to the problems of meaning. When I'm sick I can't actually do the things that are meaningful to me. Sickness is a limbo space. Where I float between rote obligation and meaningful connection. Where I rest and regain the energy and perspective to continue to live in the tension between what affords my life and the little bit of life that I get to live genuinely.
Ms. G and I have known each other since we were little girls back in Boston. This photo was taken 11 years ago on my wedding day (of my doomed marriage...). Since then we've had children, I've gotten divorced, she beat a rare blood cancer.... It's been months since we had a good long visit and Sunday night she came over and we caught up on everything. (sigh)
I'm grateful for my dear friend who has seen me at my best and worst, ordinary and ornery. I'm grateful for time with her on a given evening and the time she's been in my life. I am grateful.
this has not been my most healthful, most productive week ever. it was largely a week of recovering from the visit with my mom. well... our relationship makes me tired and sad. so much of what is most significant to me seems to be insignificant, or even negative, to her. and, at 43, i still don't have the words to tell her these things.
so i keep the peace. i let the unspoken words collect in my throat. and when the visit is over, and mima has returned to her home, all those thoughts and feelings splutter up and out, sour tasting and slimy.
i document it all in my journal. what i heard from her, how it felt in the moment, what i think about the same topic (which is largely antithetical to her point of view), why i didn't say anything. i notice the shape and weight of what i didn't say. i sketch it out to try and understand the differences between us and the history that keeps me holding my tongue.
my siblings, though more alike to our mother politically and culturally, have had similar challenges expressing their own points of view to her. they get labeled rude or ungrateful or worse when they talk back. even at our adult ages. but then, they tend to lash out in anger. none of us have found a polite respectful way to say what we think and be heard. each of us have experienced the backlash in some form or another.
i believe that my mother loves me. i'm not sure that she likes me very much. her comments tell me that i'm too fat, too grey, my home isn't ordered properly, my boyfriend isn't her type, my city isn't her culture, my beliefs about spirit are wrong, my faith in friendship is misplaced, my dreams are best left in the past.
so what would i tell her? now that she's gone and the words are still with me.
first, these things are my own - my health and appearance, my home and 4 sets of measuring cups, my sweet thoughtful boyfriend, my cosmopolitan liberal city, my spiritual-but-not-religious soul, my steadfast precious friends, my dreams for creativity and vocation.
second, i am enough and whole as i am. i don't need or want the persistent comments and critique as if i don't measure up to some ideal that i don't even subscribe to. i don't need to be saved. i don't need correction, lectures, exhortations. i'm not interested and the constant comparison is distracting and draining as hell. i am enough.
third, accept me as i am today. see me. value me. let me be. encourage me in the things that are important to me.
fourth, give me space to speak my words. please, pause the monologue. grant me the room, the airtime, to speak up with a clear head and open heart.
it's pretty common to have a challenging relationship with one's family of origin. it's a familiar phenomenon to all get together and start acting out the roles we had in the family back when we all lived together. when we were children. i think maybe my mother is stuck at a particular point in time, which i have grown past. like, maybe she doesn't recognize me now because i'm not the same girl i was back then. mom has often said that she has to be mother and father now that my dad's passed. but i don't really need that kind of parenting. i'm looking to be seen and heard as the adult me, who i am, enough and whole, today.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
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Out of the Attic.
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