Sarah R. Callender

Archive for the ‘Body Stuff’ Category

Wildebeest

In Body Stuff, Faith on March 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm

If you are one of my Facebook Friends, you know that at least once a month, I make mention of the whisker that sprouts from my chin.

I get a lot of empathy via my Friends’ comments, plus tips for carrying tweezers in the car. Tips on the best brand of tweezers (Tweezerman). The pros and cons of laser therapy.

From my older Friends, I get comments like, “Ha! Just you wait!” Which sounds a little ominous, but I think it’s just another form of empathy. Preemptive empathy.

I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with the chin whisker. Perhaps because I didn’t know I’d be getting one (or five or twenty–Ha! Just you wait!). Or that I’d get the old lady throat. The lumpy hips. That my head hair would relocate on the southern part of my face. Little snowbird whiskers.

Yes, I expected wrinkles. I did not expect mass migration.

Just yesterday morning, my friend, Rapunzel, called. 8:42 a.m. “OK,” she said. “I know you are getting the kids to school, but I have to tell you something.” Rapunzel paused. “My eyebrows are migrating to my upper lip.”

We laughed and talked about our migrating facial hair, and then we hung up to carry on with our day. I love that girlfriends call me and tell me about their mustaches.

But since that call, I’ve been wondering why our hair and various other body parts migrate as we age. Why! Migrations usually ensure the health and survival of a species. Creatures and nomadic tribes migrate to follow better weather, fresher water, more abundant sources of food.

So what about my migrating hair follicles and southward-moving body parts? How do a droopy arse and chin whiskers ensure a woman’s survival?

In 2010, Husbandio’s company awarded him a sales prize–a ten-day, five-star trip to Africa–for him and one guest. He chose me!

In addition to hot air ballooning over the Serengeti, to snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, to seeing baboons piggyback their bare-bottomed babies,

hawaii 099

(I almost grabbed that little guy and packed him in my suitcase.)

we got to witness thousands and thousands of wildebeest in the middle of The Great Migration.

Scientists don’t know what triggers the massive, annual migration. Scientists know only that a few wildebeest, the trendsetters, the ones who would have known that 80s fashion would return in 2013, lead the charge. These prescient few raise their noses to the wind, catch the whiff of something, and post, “Wagons roll!” as their Facebook status.

(Behold, ye of many chin whiskers!)

Eight million hooves etch dusty ruts into the Serengeti. And when they run, spooked by big cats or mangy hyenas, the vibrations of their hoofbeats rattle the earth’s inner core. It is loud, it is powerful, it is beautiful, this great migration.

My body’s own migration is the opposite of beautiful and powerful. Those chin whiskers are tenacious and sharp. The sagging skin looking like a wrinkled plastic Safeway bag. The southward migration of breasts and butts and throat skin makes me wonder, where is that girl? What happened to her?

As I try to remember her–me!–that young-bodied girl, I twiddle my neck waddle. I catch a glimpse of my tush and wonder if someone has, by chance, invented a derriere brassiere.

But thoughts like that make me wonder why I think them. And what would I tell Sweetie about why mama wears a butt bra and is having her waddle tucked?

Instead, maybe I should embrace my body’s migration.

Maybe I should see that our hair and arses migrate not because of gravity or survival but because we are supposed to learn that the appearance of our bodies doesn’t matter very much. Not in the scope of things. That indeed, as my favorite book states, all really is vanity.

Maybe as we age, we’re supposed to learn that we should care for our bodies, but not obsess over their appearance. Instead, maybe we should obsess over what matters: loving each other.

Heck, maybe we’re designed to keep moving in some sort of migration, not so much geographical movement, but movement from one life stage to another.

I see it happening in my life, and in other women in their forties and fifties and sixties and upward. Our bodies are changing, yes, but so too are our senses of self. We no longer care quite so much about perfection and being well-behaved. We care about laughter and connection and making a mark. We stop caring so much about the size and style of our jeans and instead care about the size of our hearts, the style of our personality.

That’s how we are designed. So that we aging women can lift our whiskery chins, hoping to catch a whiff of something that tells us, Yes. Now is the time. Move and survive. Move and there will be a better life. Move and you will have more of what you need to thrive, more of what sustains you.

We are not meant to stay in one place. We are not meant to stay the same. We are not meant to look the same. There is beauty and power in the migration, in the movement of our lives.

That beauty and power is seen in the tracks formed by the hard hooves of the wildebeest.

Likewise, the etched tracks in this woman’s face show wisdom, experience, pain, joy. Beautiful tracks.
Does this mean I’m not supposed to pluck that chin hair? Should I toss my face cream? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. We can admire the wildebeest, but we don’t need to look like one. We can pluck that which makes us feel mannish. When we are eighty, we can wear opt for skirted swimsuits over bikinis. But we should not pluck, alter or hide those parts of us that show we are changing and moving. We should not conceal how our own hooves etch dusty tracks into green earth, searching for better, for fresher, for more than we’d ever be able to find if we stayed inside our own youthful, taut bodies forever.

Young bodies are a kind of beautiful, but the beauty of an etched-faced woman whose body has migrated south? Nothing is as beautiful as a woman who says, “I used  to be there. Now I am here.”

Your turn. How are you migrating? In what ways are you striving to find fresh water and greener prairie grasses? How do you cope with the physical migration of your body, from firm to soft, from taut to saggy, from smooth to whiskery? Please share. Whisker plucking tips are also welcome.

Baby baboon butt compliments of my camera.

Wildebeest paths compliments of Flickr’s  Ganesh raghunathan.

Wrinkle paths compliments of Flickr’s  Emilia Tjernström.

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Myth

In Body Stuff, General, Parenting on March 22, 2012 at 6:52 am

A Persuasive Essay, in Which Sarah (who is not a sex educator) Explains Why You Might Want To Be Discussing the Birds and the Bees with Your Children

Our family did The Sex Talk when the kiddos hit kindergarten. This was, I admit, mostly to avoid my own embarrassment. I figured if the kids were too young to know they should be mortified by the conversation, I wouldn’t be so mortified.

But our desire to introduce the topic sooner rather than later was also based on two other facts:

First, Sex is confusing.

For this I blame Ancient Greece. Sure, the Greeks may be the co-founders of modern civilization, but one only has to look at birth stories from Greek Mythology to understand why we might be confused about birds and bees today.

Athena, for example, spent most of her gestation and childhood in Zeus’ skull. When Hephaestus, a blacksmith, took a wedge and split open Zeus’ head, out popped a full-grown Athena, all dressed in armor (complete with javelin and flouncy skirt).

Equally interesting and violent, Aphrodite was born from the sea-foam that rose up from her father’s castrated genitals. Oy!

Dionysus was born from Zeus’ thigh. (Which explains why we never hear that Zeus “peed just a little” during post-partum jumping jacks.)

And Helen of Troy was born (hatched, technically) after Zeus turned himself into a swan and impregnated Leda, Helen’s mother.  Why a swan? you may ask. I suppose Zeus might have asked, Why not a swan?

We also need to give our kids the skinny on sex because of the omnipresence of sexual language and imagery. Our kids will be exposed to it even if we’re vigilant and concerned and involved. Even if we monitor screen time. Even if we home-school them. Call me crazy, but I prefer that my kids learn stuff from me rather than from one of those super-classy Go Daddy ads or from the news headlines detailing the sexcapades of elected officials or, worst of all, from some sicko trolling for kids via the internet.

Two books we started reading to the kids (when Buddy hit kindergarten) were Amazing You! And What’s the Big Secret?. I’d recommend both as good jumping off points; the cartoon illustrations are appealing to kids, and the text is honest and direct.

I will say that in What’s the Big Secret, there’s a page on masturbation that (according to the negative Amazon reviews) tends to disturb at least seven parents in the United States. One negative reviewer was also appalled by the use of the words “vulva” and “scrotum” in this particular book. I suppose she was hoping for “hoochie” and “balls”?

God bless America.

I will also say that the first few times, I skipped right over the page that explained what goes where during sex. At least until Buddy realized that unless sperm had wings or ninja powers, the transfer from the guy’s penis all the way over to the woman’s egg seemed unlikely.

Buddy started jabbing the tips of his index fingers together, asking, “But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

So I swallowed, then forced myself to tell him the truth. “The penis just gets really really close to the vagina.” I paused. “Actually, it goes inside the vagina.”

He nodded. “Oh,” he said. “OK.”

“Buddy? Do you want me to keep reading, or does this make you feel a little uncomfortable?”

A very long pause. “It does makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I want you to keep reading.”

Now, three years later, I am extra glad we’ve already broached the topic, as at age nine, Buddy has reached the mortified stage.  A few weeks ago, Sweetie told us (over post-church Sunday dinner) that so-and-so in her class was saying the f-word.

“Oh,” I said. “What’s the f-word?”

“Fuck,” she said, her little voice as clear as a bell.

It hurt my ears a little, but I was also relieved that she seemed to believe this boy had exposed her to the f-word. As opposed to her mother. Who has been known to use it on occasion.

“That’s right,” I said. “That’s the f-word. Do you know what it means?”

Buddy and Sweetie shook their heads.

I glanced at Husbandio who gave me the green light to take this conversation to the finish line. “Well,” I said. “It’s a not very nice way of saying “having sex.”

Well, as soon as that sentence was out of my mouth, Buddy picked up his milk, chugged it, then stood up and hurried his dinner plate to the kitchen counter, his fair skin blushing pink. “May I please be excused?”

Without waiting for us to answer, he hurried away. It seems the topic still makes him feel a little uncomfortable, only now he does NOT want to hear more.

Yet The Talk needs to keep evolving and changing as our kids get older.

Throughout history, if kids got The Talk at all, it was really just a single talk. One terribly embarrassing conversation, after which parents could put away the copy of Where Did I Come From, breathing a sigh of relief that THAT duty could be crossed off the list.

But Seattle-based sex education experts Amy LangJulie Metzger and Jo Langford believe The Talks should keep happening as the kids mature. Even if our kids aren’t asking. In Lang’s article titled, “The Three Biggest Myths Even Smart Moms Believe That Get in the Way of The Sex Talks,” the Number One biggest myth is that parents don’t need to have the conversation if kids aren’t asking about sex.

Our kids may not be asking us about sex, but they are likely talking about it with their peers. And even if they’re not talking about it with their peers, they are still seeing sexual imagery and hearing sexual language.

Think about it: Thanks to technology, an elected politician can take a photo of his penis and email it to a special friend! Or several special friends! And then the whole world is privy to these indiscretions.

It is difficult to avoid coverage of Weiner’s wiener or Limbaugh’s misogynistic idiocy that likens women to porn stars and prostitutes. It’s even more difficult to watch a simple football game on television without seeing sexual imagery.

Go Daddy ads, for example, are trashy and stupid, but man, do my kids’ ears perk up during those 30-second spots. I suppose when you have two hot women painting the body of another hot, faceless woman who just happens to be naked, that grabs a person’s attention.

And what about Victoria’s Secret ads? According to Macmillan’s Online Dictionary, soft porn is described as “films, magazines, photographs, etc. that show sexual images but not sexual acts.” Don’t those angel-filled ads qualify as soft porn? I think so. Perhaps it’s the erotic noises in the background music. Or the way the model is lying across the back of a white horse. Or the way she’s touching her lips with her fingertips. Or maybe it’s just the perfect breasts everywhere. And there’s always lots of wind blowing. Have you noticed? Are we women sexier in a strong wind? Here. This one has the music and the wind and the perfect breasts.

And speaking of perfect breasts, let’s chat for a moment about the difference between pornography of the 1980’s vs. pornography today. Thanks to technology, more breasts can be “perfect,” either by surgery or by airbrushing. Also thanks to technology, porn is available on any computer, AND it’s available in Hi-Def video form. Gone are the days of still-shot photos. Now kids can get their sex education and learn what women really like via porn videos.

The topic of pornography is a larger one for another time, but let’s just consider this: if children are watching porn videos on the internet (and we are naive if we think they aren’t!) they will believe that’s how sex works. No need for relationships, no need for small talk or meaningful conversation or a getting-to-know-you period of courtship. No sir. Give the guy a bit of chicka-baobao background music, and the clothes just fall right off.

That’s a myth that disturbs me a whole lot more than castrated genitals.

I’m certainly no expert, but I’d prefer that Buddy and Sweetie learn from me, not from the internet, not from the mythical worlds of Victoria’s Secret fantasies. Not from kids on the school bus or the playground. Certainly not from Danica Patrick who, in my opinion, really blew her chance at being an excellent role model to girls. But that’s an entirely separate topic.

It’s a myth that educating kids about sexual matters turns them into sex-crazed creatures. It’s a myth that reading the page about masturbation turns kiddos into mega-masturbators. But it’s no myth that too many of us American parents are surprisingly prudish and squeamish when it comes to talking about sex.

Teaching kids about sexual matters (including safety and responsibility) increases the chances that they will turn into responsible, respectful teenagers who grow into responsible, respectful adults.

And it’s a fact that our modern civilization could use a few more of those.

Abe

In Body Stuff, General on August 8, 2011 at 7:25 am

Oy! First off, let me please acknowledge (and apologize for) my recent focus on depression. It’s just that, in case you didn’t notice, my depression has really sneaked up on me and given me a major wedgie. A major wedgie and a few swirlies. Heck, I’m tempted to refer to this as the Summer I Was Bitch-slapped by Depression, but I don’t think my cute mom and her cute friends appreciate terms like “bitch-slapped” (Hi, Mom! Hi Mom’s cute friends!).

Unfortunately, when depression sneaks up on me and slaps me in the face, I really do feel like this:

So let’s compromise. Since it’s summer, let’s call 2011 The Summer I Was Beach-slapped by Depression. Getting slapped by a beach? Well, that doesn’t sound very comfy. It sounds gritty. And exfoliating in that Korean spa kind of way.

It doesn’t take a brainiac to grasp why depression is difficult. Of course it’s difficult. No matter the degree and form of the depression, I’ve never heard anyone say how fantastic it feels to be beach-slapped by depression.

Which is why, whenever I stumble across anything that talks about the benefits of depression, I feel tiny bubbles of hope and pride and gratitude.

One particular article is “Depression in Command” by Nassir Ghaemi, published in the online version of the Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2011. Ghaemi, a Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, seems really into the idea of removing the stigma of mental illness. And for that, I love him. I really do. Not as much as I love Abe Lincoln and Bono and my well-voiced Safeway checker, but Dr. Ghaemi is definitely a close fourth.

(Buckle up, friends; this is going to feel like one of my digressions, but just be patient, and it will all make sense.)

Speaking of my love for Abe Lincoln . . . my Facebook Friends might recall the status update where I casually mentioned that I thought Abraham Lincoln was hot. I believed, when I admitted my affection for an assassinated, melancholy, 19th century U.S. President, I would be greeted with tons of “Really? Me too! I thought I was the only one!” kinds of comments.

I was wrong.

I got lots of “Eeew, gross!” and “Really?!?!?” kinds of comments. My Friends’ responses made me wonder: Are they nuts to think Abe’s NOT a tall drink of water? Or am I nuts to think he is? That’s the problem (one of them) with having a mental illness; it makes you fear that you’re actually crazy.

Anyway. In this very hopeful article, Dr. Ghaemi starts with this thesis, referring to what kind of leader is necessary in times of peace and prosperity, as well as during times of upheaval and uncertainty:

“When times are good and the ship of state only needs to sail straight, mentally healthy people function well as political leaders. But in times of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become the greatest leaders.”

Of course, in his book on the same topic, A First-Rate Madness, Ghaemi clarifies that certainly, there are types of mental illness that do NOT lend themselves to leadership. Duh. Whatever mental health issue Gaddafi’s got going on, it’s NOT the one that makes a good leader.

But Ghaemi’s article explains that leaders such as Winston Churchill and my sweet Abe Lincoln, two who acknowledged their struggles with major depression, were just what their country needed given the tumult and uncertainty of the time. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced depression too, each attempting suicide in their youth and having at least three rounds of major depression as adults. They, too, were highly effective because of their illness.

I don’t know about you, but I had NO idea that Gandhi and MLK, some of the greatest pacifists and biggest dreamers of our time, also had been beach-slapped. It breaks my heart. It is also deeply comforting and reassuring to me, someone with equally fragile wiring.

But the reason why it’s good to have a Crazy in power (I can say that because I am one) during times of trouble is also really encouraging. Apparently,

“Depression also has been found to correlate with high degrees of empathy, a greater concern for how others think and feel. . . Depression seems to prepare the mind for a long-term habit of appreciating others’ point of view . . . their weakness is the secret of their strength.”

Right on! It’s like a little party favor that Depression gives those of us who attend its not-very-fun party: the ability to feel deep concern for others. The ability to empathize. The ability to not shy away from others’ pain.

These revelations have, I admit, made me wonder about my love for Abe Lincoln. My crush on the Safeway checker makes perfect sense: a nice voice is sexy. My crush on Bono makes even more sense: nice voice AND global humanitarian.

But what about Abe?

I admit I don’t really care for his beard. I also think his photographer/Dagguerreotyper should have had Abe brush his hair and maybe straighten that wonky bow tie. But whatever. We all have photos we’d rather forget. I don’t have any idea if Lincoln had a nice voice (that shaky voice we have all heard doing his Four Score and Seven Years Ago thing was not Lincoln) so that’s certainly not the cause of my crush.

When I really examine Abe, I realize it’s his eyes that really get me. Those soulful eyes filled with pain and wisdom. Here, take a look:

But. Then I read this article, and I wonder. Maybe I don’t actually Love love Abe Lincoln. Because my fragile wiring means I have “high degrees of empathy,” maybe what I feel for Abe is Connection rather than Love. Maybe, when I see Abe’s soulful eyes and think, Come here, baby. what I’m really thinking is, Yeah. I get it. But let’s not give up. You and I both have lots of important stuff to do.

If getting beach-slapped over and over means I have some super-human ability to empathize, a mile-deep concern for others? Well. There are certainly worse crosses to bear. Weary-making crosses, yes. But others have had to carry much heavier.

So how about this: as we muddle through life, we (all of us) should try to acknowledge and accept our weakness and THEN  find a way to make that weakness our strength. Our secret weapon. As long as we are all clad in badge-covered capes, we should also have a secret weapon. One that, needless to say, is to be used for good and for justice and for laughter.

In the mean time, I’m going to see if Schmidtie will make me a cape badge that looks like this:

Because I don’t care what you all think. There really is something rather cute about him.

Airquotes

In Body Stuff, Parenting on July 10, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I am one of the only people I know who doesn’t love summertime. Which is a little embarrassing. But then, so are my night sweats and my chin whisker and my affinity for doing pretend British accents, and I haven’t exactly been shy about sharing those details of my very glamorous life.

Or . . . maybe you don’t love summertime either, and we just have never had the I Dread Summertime conversation. If that’s the case, then please, let’s have that conversation because I know it would make me feel better, less alone, less like some F to the R to the EAK of nature.

In the mean time, outing myself as a summer-hater is risky because being a summer-hater in Seattle is akin to being a communist during the McCarthy era. Being a summer-hater in Seattle is like being that guy who, at the Vida Vegan conference, admits that a BLT without the B is really depressing. Being a summer-hater in Seattle is like being that gal at the writers conference who stands up and says, “It only took me eight days to write my novel, and already, I have three agents who want to represent me and five publishers who want to buy my book. Being an author is easy! And so fun!”

I do see why summer-haters aren’t welcome in these here parts.

For starters, summertime in Seattle is the only reason (most) people live in Seattle. OK, Summertime and coffee. If you are able to walk .3 miles in pretty much any direction, you can run right into a tall split shot, three-pump Americano in a grande cup with room for cream. Or whatever your drink of choice happens to be. Seattle’s a city where addiction is easy AND convenient. I put that in the Pro Seattle column.

Seattle also has bodies of water in pretty much every direction. And mountains to the east and to the west and beautiful clusters of islands where Orcas frolic and bald eagles soar like it ain’t no big thing to be a bald eagle.

I think Seattleites also probably love the idea that it’s OK to wear fleece to the symphony, jeans to the opera, and these weird shoes out to dinner:

But I’m just going to digress for a brief moment and say that it’s not OK to wear these shoes out to dinner. Fine if you’re going to wear grubbies to the symphony or to the opera. Fine if you want to wear these shoes when you are kayaking to the grocery store or searching the tide pools at Golden Gardens. I’ll slap you silly, however, if I see you wearing these shoes at Crush or Le Pichet or even Red Robin. It’s not OK to think it’s OK to wear those shoes. It’s really not. I don’t care how comfy they are, how much your toes enjoy having their own little toe-compartment.

But yes, if you ask Seattleites why they stay in Seattle, most will include “the summertime” in their top ten list. There’s very little humidity, the average temp hovers right around 75 degrees, and the sky is so suddenly blue that you feel like you’re in a kid’s Crayola-ed, blue-skyed drawing.

People are outdoors again, riding their bikes and working in their gardens. Flying kites. Eating al fresco. The sun is finally warm. Everyone is friendly and chatty and happy.

Everyone except me. The idea of summer feels like a punch in the gut.

It goes without saying that Seattle is not to blame. Nor does my dread involve my concern about the sun’s damaging rays. I just know that for the past eight summers, I have entered the summer cheery and chipper, but celebrated Labor Day in a cloudy, scratchy funk.

In spite of the sun finally doing its job, in spite of me getting to exercise a bit more, in spite of a more relaxed schedule, in spite of the opportunity to take a break from Everyday Math and Reading Logs and packing school lunches, in spite of the fact that I take my Zoloft communion wafer every morning without fail, summer ends with me feeling like I’ve been injected with a massive dose of BLAH. Like I’ve pounded a grande quad-shot of I FEEL SO HEAVY AND WEARY. Like I should be wearing a t-shirt that says, Really? This is supposed to be fun?

And I feel pretty terrible about that. I like to think of myself as a hopeful, optimistic person who’s got a really amazing life. So why do I hate the summer?

I DON’T KNOW!

At least I didn’t know until earlier this week. Somehow though, I stumbled across a blog called Beyond Blue written by a lovely and honest woman named Therese Borchard. Therese is a mom and a writer and yes, she struggles with depression.

It is she, my new friend Therese, who helped me understand why even the mention of summer leaves me with rising anxiety and dread. Her post, 6 Tips to Help Summer Depression normalized all of my weirdness about summertime and helped me realize that I am not so alone after all. And really, isn’t that part of what living our individual lives is all about: finding others who make us feel less alone?

Therese, in this post, starts her post with this:

The kids are out of school. Your neighbors are whistling on their way to work, greeting you with an enthusiasm peculiar to warm weather. And if you hear one more person ask you about your summer vacation plans, you will throw a US map and atlas at them.

You don’t mean to be grumpy. But darn it, you are miserable in the oppressive heat, your kids are home for 90 consecutive days, and you are don’t have the stamina to pretend you are giddy that summer has arrived.

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. After publishing a piece recently about the trigger of Memorial Day for me — reminding me that most of my relapses have happened in the summer months — I’ve heard from so many readers that fear this time of year for the same reason: summer depression.

Of course, I went on to read her post, and the reasons behind my unpopular feelings about summer became totally clear:

The summer, at least to me and my lemon of a brain, is terrifying because it is unpredictable and unstructured. And for those of us who are blessed with brains that don’t deal well with large amounts of unplanned, unstructured time, especially chunks of time where small children are needing attention and care, that creates (in me) a feeling of quizzyness and schumphitude. Utter dreadification.

But why? Life is unpredictable. That’s what keeps things interesting, right?

Yes. Right.

Except that reading Therese’s blog post made me recall a study my therapist once shared with me. In this study groups of rats were shocked, some at predictable times where they had some control over the duration of the shock, others at unpredictable times where they had no control over the duration of the shock. The latter group, after a time, showed high anxiety and/or depression. Many rats simply schlumped in their cages, demonstrating utter despondency, passivity, and helplessness.

I think that’s what happens to me too.

While more easy-going people (i.e. not I) appreciate the change in the summer routine, that absence of structure makes me feel anxious and depressed. If you add young kids to an already unpredictable schedule, that’s a doozey of a combo where one’s schedule is both unpredictable and just beyond one’s  control. Unpredictability + lack of control = anxiety and depression.

It’s elementary, my dear Watson!

Of course, I am WELL aware that my woe-is-I version of unpredictability and unstructuredness is an ice cream sundae compared to that of others whose days are filled with suicide bombers or despotic leaders or alcoholic husbands. With that tandem of lack of control and unpredictability, I’d be in a world of hurt.

But my flea-sized version of unpredictability is real to me. So I am trying to structure my summer with the hope that I can be in Rat Group A, the group that’s shocked on schedule, like having Tea and Crumpets and a Wee Electric Shock every day at 4:00. Promptly at 4:00, please.

So I am trying to structure my day with all sorts of things that are fun for both me and the kids so that the shocks, perhaps, are more predictable than not. Yahtzee, for example. Yahtzee’s nice and predictable. As are Math workbooks. Violin practice. Twice weekly trips to the library.

Yes, it may sound a little uptight, but frankly, I don’t want to lose my sugar this summer. It’s less than fun to lose one’s sugar, especially when everyone I know and admire is tra-la-la-ing their way through August, happy as bivalves.

In addition to using the Tiger Mother’s Guide to Summer Violin, Math and Literature, I allow myself to go on vacuuming sprees a few times a week during which I allow my Miele Red Star to inhale whatever flotsam and jetsam has been left behind by the small people who call me Mom. Vacuuming up one’s kids’ crapola is deeply satisfying in that vindictive, I’ll-show-you-who’s-boss sort of way. As you may know.

Along with militant daily structure and my trusty sidekick Miele, I also have a trusty mantra, boring and cliché and trite, BUT effective:

I, Sarah Reed Callender, am appreciating these fleeting moments of my kids’ childhood.

Because it’s true what all those other, older parents have said: the kids do grow up so fast. And, for the first time ever, I feel a glimmer of sadness about that reality. That’s a good sign, that glimmer of sadness. Hooray!  I guess I am like most moms after all; I’m just a bit of a late bloomer.

I am also trying hard to remember to laugh, which is getting easier now that Buddy and Sweetie have started to become funny. Buddy, for his part, has discovered the art of doing airquotes in his speaking. Sure, 50% of the time he does the airquotes on the wrong word. Like this:

Mom? I think we should go to “the park.”

Hm. “The park?” As if that recreational area with three slides and monkey bars and a wading pool and three big fields and a path to ride your bike and a merry-go-round AND that massive climbing structure isn’t actually a park?

But I just laugh. OK, I say. As long as you let me put “sunscreen” on your face before we go.

The other 50% of the time, though, Buddy’s dead-on with his airquotes:

Bye, Dad. Have fun “working” at Starbucks.

Hey Mom, since Dad’s out of town, what’s for “dinner”?

Dad, what book are you going to discuss at your all-dads “book group”?

I remind myself to laugh when I hear Sweetie in the shower, belting out songs from church, only she’s singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Peace Like a River” in that nasally Bob Dylanish voice.

I remind myself to laugh when I go into Sweetie’s bedroom in the morning to wake her up, only she’s fake-sleeping and she scares the carp out of me by bursting from under her covers, yelling, “MA-MAAAAA!” in a gravelly Jimmy Durante voice.

Ha-cha-cha-cha!

To be honest, the first time she did the Jimmy Durante thing, it was a “bad” shock–i.e. one of the unpredictable ones. Now though, the shock of my daughter channeling Jimmy Durante has become a predictable shock. So I can laugh.

Summer may always be my least favorite of the four seasons. But darnnit, THIS summer, I am determined to laugh and schedule and mantra myself right into Labor Day, airquoting my way though July and August, laughing so that I can remind myself to feel as “happy” as possible, lulled by the croon of Sweetie Dylan, knowing that fall’s nip–that tart fwwiisst in the air that turns cheeks and leaves red-rosy– is “just” around the corner. Thank goodness.

Now. Where’s my vacuum? I think it’s time to do some “cleaning”  . . . right after I thank “Someone” for leading me headlong into Therese’s blog.

Smooth

In Body Stuff on December 20, 2010 at 9:51 am

Husbandio bought (i.e. I bought) his first pair of skinny jeans this week. It’s pretty cute.

Technically, they are not at all skinny jeans; they are “straight leg,” but because they are two sizes smaller than his previous jeans, Husbandio refers to them as his skinny jeans. I can tell he likes them because he’s doing that male supermodel walk up and down the hallway between our bedroom and bathroom. Makes me glad I married him, all supermodel-walky like that, all 34-inch waisted and skinny-straightlegged like a tall drink of middle-aged husband-dad water.

And let’s not forget his new shirt, bought in concert with the jeans, from Banana Republic (which was having a 40% off of everything sale). Cool shirt + skinny jeans = a get up that can only be described as middle-age metro-hottie.

A bit of background: at 6’4″, Husbandio is a full foot taller than I. And, subsequently, a few pounds heavier. But after attending Coach Kitty’s kick-arse class at our gym, AND after frequent international work trips where he makes Bad Choices like dining on a tuna fish sandwich at the Tel Aviv airport or brushing his teeth with the Mexican tap water, he’s dropped a few pounds and a few sizes around the waist. These days (thank you, Coach Kitty) he likes me to feel his biceps. Which I do. Right after I make him feel mine.

Now. Allow me to digress for a moment and explain that this is the time of year when I like to eat my fabulous neighbor’s (thank you Sarah K.) homemade Almond Roca for breakfast. Thus, I am equally grateful to another Sara. Sara Blakley, inventor of Spanx. Now if you haven’t embraced (and been embraced by) Spanx, check them out. No matter how thin and toned and Coach Kitty-ed a gal is, I have realized that there comes a time when she can benefit from Spanx. I’m not sure if it has to do with skin elasticity or the relentlessness of gravity or maybe how sheer and slinky women’s dresses are these days, but I need me a little Spanx to smooth out the hip ripples. The hipples.

When I was a kid, however, I would marvel at the torture device that was The Girdle. Frankly, they scared me a little.

Sure she may appear so much happier when her various parts are pressed and raised, but I knew, even as a girl, that the girdle was just another form of female torture, not unlike foot binding, the technique where women attempted to transform their feet into THREE-INCH “golden lotuses” in order to land themselves husbands. Not unlike whalebone corsets which gave women 17-inch waists . . . the tinier the waists, the higher a woman’s social status. Sigh.

So as Husbandio is prancing around our bedroom in his skinny jeans, and I’m wishing the Spanx went just a little higher on my torso, I asked him. “Hey. Do men ever wish they could wear Spanx?”

Husbandio looked at me. “I don’t even know what that means. And even if I did know what that meant, I feel like the answer to that question would incriminate me. Or become a blog entry.”

“No, look,” I said, typing spanx.com onto my laptop. “Do men ever wish they could wear stuff like this, but for men? To make you feel smoother? Are women the only ones who try to tighten themselves into corsets and girdles and three-inch shoes, or do men sometimes–”

And then I stopped. Because lo and behold, what to my wondering eyes did appear! There ARE Spanx for men, to lift up THEIR rears!

“Yikes,” I said. “Check it. If Rhett lived in 2010, he could have been as smooth and tiny-waisted as Miss Scarlett.” I clicked another link. “Oooo. Rhett could have also been . . . enhanced.”

So yes, it turns out that Spanx makes a men’s line too. Indeed (as the web page announces) GAME ON!

I will spare you the imagery of the Cotton Comfort Brief ($38.) which claims to add “dimension and depth for an enhanced profile.” But I did show Husbandio.

“Hm. Like a codpiece,” Husbandio noted. “Or male ballet dancers. Those guys have a lot of dimension and depth going on.”

I nodded. “And look at these undershirts. Not that you, Mr. Skinny-jeans, need this, but the undershirt could provide you with ‘zoned compression [that] targets abs and torso.’ Just don this $78. undershirt–it ‘eliminates bulk under clothes.’” I looked at Husbandio. “Do men really worry about feeling bulky under clothes?”

Husbandio shrugged. “Maybe once or twice. But that was before skinny jeans.” And then he resumed his male supermodel prance.

So there you have it, people. Men may, at times, yearn to be smoothed and “enhanced” (and will pay large amounts of money to be encased in stretchy fabrics) just as women do.

That makes me feel a bit better, less like I am willingly purchasing torture devices that bind my various body parts in dangerously, bone-breakingly, organ-smashingly tight spaces, just to land a husband.

More like I just want to smooth out the hipples.

As long as men are willing to go to similar lengths to look like middle-aged hotties, I say, bring on the Spanx! As long as all’s fair in love and girdles, game on, I say.

GAME ON!

Concrete

In Body Stuff on August 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

We are in Sunriver, Oregon right now . . . but by the time you read this, we will be back home so please, if you are a robber, don’t bother breaking into our house.

It’s been two years since we were last here. Two years ago, Buddy was five; Sweetie was three, el husbandio was as amazing as ever. And I was severely depressed.

I just didn’t realize it.

In spite of my crying-for-no-reason, my anxiety, my everywhere-but-nowhere pain, my inability to sleep well, and then, my inability to get out of bed, my trouble processing more than one simple thought at a time, my feeling that it would feel really good to drive my car into something concrete (I know; it’s awful to admit), I didn’t realize I was depressed.

How is that possible?  After all, I had been through it before. I should have remembered, oh yes, here’s the depression again.

The first time (at least the first time I gave it a label), I was six months postpartum after the birth of Sweetie.

But I thought that was postpartum depression. Something hormonal and temporary. Temporary or no, it was so debilitating that I stumbled around, forming Team Sarah, a combo of mi husbandio, a close friend, my doctor, and my therapist. And yes, medication.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Zoloft, the first SSRI I tried, eventually worked like a charm. It allowed me to feel the opposite of an incapable, despondent, suicidal, insomniac. Zoloft didn’t make me feel happy; it made me feel normal. Functional. Present. Not constantly crying.Like it was a better idea to steer clear of concrete.

But after two and a half years, I figured I should wean myself off of it. After all, I felt great again, AND, if it was “just” postpartum depression, there would be no need to stay on meds. Aren’t we an over-medicated nation as it is?

Of course, that’s one of the sneaky, terrible things about depression: sometimes, when it’s more than “just” post-partum depression, it comes back. Dressed in an invisible cloak and soft-soled shoes. As my dear friend Janna Cawrse Esarey says in her memoir, (and I’ll paraphrase) “that’s the thing about being depressed, the depressed person is often the last to know.”

So I called my lovely doctor who saw me THAT VERY DAY and who also explained my depression perfectly: “Sarah, your brain doesn’t make the right about of serotonin. That’s all it is.”

I loved that.

Actually, I didn’t love that. Being who I am, I don’t appreciate slacker organs. Slacker anything is unacceptable. But I loved that she reminded me depression is a medical issue. Not some issue a wack-job creates out of air and cotton candy. Not something that can be willed away.

Still though, it was embarrassing. Postpartum depression was OK. Chronic, clinical depression? Well that’s not necessarily something to chit-chat about at parties. Not really something to highlight on the old resume.

But (speaking of resumes) as I reminded myself,  I was a writer. And weren’t writers always dying of depression or alcoholism? Given the choice, I’d definitely rather be mentally ill. Mentally ill writers are allowed to have a glass of wine now and then and not get dirty looks from their friends.

Only I was not in the mood to die from anything other than really old age or excessive laughter. Or eating too much watermelon (which I almost did today). So I re-formed Team Sarah, added a Dr. Marty Hoiness, Psychiatrist (AKA, His Royal Hoiness) to the team, embraced my underperforming brain, and got myself back on Zoloft.

Of course, getting rosy again wasn’t easy. Beyond the medical team, I had to rely heavily on my husbandio, who, thank God, is the tallest, most solid piece of concrete I’ve ever run into. I also leaned hard into friends like Schmidtie who developed a score system for me, knowing that someone who is depressed has a hard time articulating how she’s feeling. If I told Schmidtie I was at a Two, she’d be over in a heartbeat. Anything between Three and Five was rough but not desperate. Anything above a five? Well, that never happened. Until the Zoloft eventually kicked in.

I have had people tell me (people who don’t know I struggle with depression) that meds are unnecessary and silly, that Americans should be OK feeling sad now and then, that we pop pills to make us feel happy. I have had friends (who do know about my depression) tell me I should just buck up, change my attitude. I have had someone jokingly compare my depression to her problematic overabundance of ear wax. Yup.

Whatever. I understand people say silly things because they are uncomfortable with mental illness. I also know it’s easy to have opinions on something when a person’s never had first-hand experience. But frankly, I’m a little tired of the stigma (which is, of course, the main reason I share in this very public venue). Why should I have ever been embarrassed?

I guess I also think people who don’t deal with depression or bipolar disorder or OCD or paranoia or schizophrenia should consider themselves lucky that their brains make the right stuff each day and zip it already.

Because being here this year makes me remember how I felt two years ago, and I know this (plus, my concrete-solid husbandio will back me up): summer 2010 in Sunriver is a heckofalot sunnier than it was in 2008. Thank goodness.

Even my poor, slacker brain knows that’s a fact.

Sunscreen

In Body Stuff, Parenting on August 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Well, here’s a bummer. It turns out the the very Coppertone 50+ and Neutrogena SPF 90+ I slather on my dear, pasty-skinned children to keep them safe might, in fact, be giving them cancer. And breasts.

And gosh, as I’m writing this, I especially hope it doesn’t give my son breasts, mostly because there was already that time I accidentally bought him Girl pull-ups.

This was, in fact, the exact style. The packaging, just to clarify, was severely misleading: dark maroon. Probably a color chosen by the American Society of Child Psychologists, just to ensure there is an endless flow of little boys needing therapy because their mothers bought (and yes, made them wear) Girl pull-ups.

There he was, Buddy’s skinny little 2% body fat body in Girl pull-ups, butterflies and flowers decorating the hoo-hoo area. Oh, he was so mad.

So right? I really don’t want to have to worry that, in addition to talking about Girl Pull-ups with his shrink, Buddy will also need to discuss how his mother’s obsession with sunscreen gave him a really nice rack.

I just feel really betrayed. It’s like suddenly I’ve learned that it’s safer for kids to ride in the car sans booster seat and seat belt. That wearing a helmet while biking will increase the chances of brain injury. That allowing your four-week old to watch Baby Einstein DVDs for seven hours a day will actually give them ADHD instead of a guaranteed spot at Northwestern (go Wildcats!).

Of course, it’s all about trust. And just in case you don’t trust a bullshooter like me, OR just in case you do trust me and are heading out to Sears or Victoria’s Secret or wherever to buy training bras, let’s examine the facts.

On May 24 of this year, AOL news issued the following report:

Almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A or its derivatives, according to an evaluation of those products released today.

AOL News also has learned through documents and interviews that the Food and Drug Administration has known of the potential danger for as long as a decade without alerting the public, which the FDA denies.

The study, released by the Environmental Working Group, goes on to say that “Other additives cause harm including the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone, which penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Titanium dioxide that is made nanosized may also have serious health implications.”

Ick!

True, nowhere in the report does it mention boy breasts, but when I hear the phrase “hormone-disrupting chemicals” I guess I immediately assume artificially-created breasts will start appearing all over the place.

So I went around the house, collecting and examining my stash of sunscreen. Nine cans of spray-on sunscreen; five bottles of the lotion; one tube of the stuff that looks like Chap-stick.  All nearly brand new. All of which contain the dreaded Oxybenzone, the alleged darling of the cancer-causing world.

At this point, I must also point out that the American Academy of Dermatology stands behind their claim that sunscreens do not cause cancer (or boy breasts). But still, when I look at the back of the sunscreen that I coat on my own face, year round, rain or shine, as my dermatologist instructs me, I can’t help but wonder, what ARE all those chemicals doing to me? To my children?

Am I just slathering cancer all over our skin? Should I toss all fourteen bottles of new sunscreen, mosey down to PCC, and buy fourteen new bottles of the all natural stuff that makes me look all greasy-faced? I don’t know. I kind of like my face better when it’s not slippery.

That said, I would imagine I like my life better when I don’t have cancer.

Can’t a girl dream of an all natural sunscreen that doesn’t make her look all lubed-up? Is that really so much to ask?

Or . . .  maybe a girl can dream, as long as she does it in the shade, with SPF 50 clothing and a cute, big-arse hat. As far as I know big hats are still relatively safe. For now.

Augmentation

In Body Stuff on August 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

So a Sunday morning seems about as good a time as ever to discuss fake breasts.

And for the record, I am neither pro nor con fake breasts. I am merely fascinated by them. Awed by their presence. Humbled by their pronounced prominence.

I think it’s weird that I’m so fascinated by them, given that I have always liked men. But take, for example, this one lady at the gym on Wednesday. There she was, her fit little self all spandexy and lululemoned out, even cute bright-colored workout shoes. Yet what was even more impressive than her get-up were her headlights. I am not kidding: perfect shape, perfect position, perfect nipples pointing straight out, rather than one aiming a little left-ward and the other maybe a little southward, as nipples are wont to do. It was hard not to be impressed by these girls.

“Hey, Boss,” I whispered to Husbandio. “Check out that lady. The one with the cute shoes. And for the record, I’ll understand if you want to be partnered up with her for those tubing exercises. I really will . . . I kind of want to be partnered up with her.”

Husbandio glanced around, all cool and casual. Then he turned back to me, shaking his head. “I can’t see her.” He pointed to his eyes. “I’m not wearing my contacts.”

Which was cool in that it meant maybe he would choose to partner up with me after all! But also not cool because I’m sorry, when I see breasts that fake and perfect, I like to discuss it with someone, even if it is mi husbandio.

Sweetie once asked me, “Mama, when am I going to get breast mints like yours?” After explaining that breath mints are what I eat in the car when I realized I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth, while breast mints are . . . well are not exactly anything,  I realized that I didn’t know if she wanted to get them, or if she feared getting them. Breasts and all breast-related baggage, can be complicated, no? Did Sweetie already sense those complications?

So maybe that’s part of my fascination. Maybe breasts and all their societal significance add to my curiosity, to the intrigue. Are there other women out there (you, for example) who are equally intrigued by the implants of others? And come on, are breast implants really any different than buying a padded, push-up, gel-cupped bra that promises to add TWO WHOLE SIZES? I don’t know. But I wonder . . .

I also wonder if next time we attend this particular class, Husbandio will come prepared, wearing his contacts. I kind of think he’d be nutters not to.