Woman With Cottage Cheese Thighs

One woman’s two perspectives on cellulite.

Perspective One: As recorded in a journal entry on 3-13-2012

Dents, everywhere, and ripples. If I take my hands and smooth them along the surface of my skin, pull upward ever so slightly, they disappear entirely. For a moment I can imagine that it could be so easy, should be so easy, to make them go away. It’s just a micro-movement, after all. Then I release, and it all comes back, my worst nightmare. I have become what I feared the most, what I secretly believed I never would be – a woman with cottage cheese thighs.

Perspective Two: Included in a creative non-fiction piece detailing the hospital stay after giving birth to a 10 pound infant and almost needing a blood transfusion.

That night I was taken off the IV temporarily and given permission to shower. The steam and my light-headedness combined to give the experience a surreal quality. I reveled in the sensation of the hot water and soap floating over my skin. As I looked down at my once-firm thighs, now heavy and covered with cellulite that I wasn’t convinced could be exercised away, I couldn’t help but marvel at the miracle that was my body. For nine months it had grown a human being inside of it, and then worked hard to bring him into the world. I felt amazing and powerful, like a warrior goddess.

The Devil Disguised As Fear

“What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” ~ Erin Hanson

Sometimes it’s a nagging sensation of unease in my belly.  Other times it flat out wakes me in the middle of the night from a sound sleep and won’t let me rest. It makes me do crazy things, like fight with my husband over money and contemplate leaving him. Too often it keeps me stuck, small, and afraid to take risks.

“It” is fear, and I’m convinced it’s the devil in disguise.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with some level of chronic fear.  In an attempt to analyze why,  I’ve concluded that the opposite of fear is faith. Apparently, I don’t have as much of the latter as I thought, and that’s the problem.

When it comes to faith, whether related to pursuing  my dreams, leaving a job that’s draining me, trusting my husband to provide, or turning hobbies and passions into a livelihood, nearly always I let fear win out over faith.

Part of me wants so much to believe that God will swoop in and catch me as I take a leap of faith, and the angels will sing, because finally I have stopped being afraid and trusted in a higher power and purpose. A larger part is convinced that if I step off the edge my entire world will come crashing down.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Too many of us let fear rule our lives. We play it safe, stay stuck, reason and rationalize our God-given talents, gifts, and dreams away.

Living with fear is the equivalent of letting the devil rule our lives. It keeps us small and in check by keeping us frightened. Each time we give in to fear, we let the devil win and take one more piece of our soul.

Faith, on the other hand, is trusting in a higher power to guide us to our greatest potential. Each time we act with faith, love and courage, in spite of fear, we let God win.

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This disturbing image of the devil and Jesus arm wrestling comes via ebay.com.

Recently, I was reminded of this when I found myself on an online forum after Googling “How to get my husband to support my career change” (as if the Internet can answer this question for me). A woman had posed a similar question about leaving her job, and received dozens of responses. The vast majority of them were rooted in fear-based “what-ifs”.

What if, someone said, you leave your job and then your husband loses his? What if one of you gets sick? What if you need to go back to work and can’t find a job? What if, what if, what if…

This woman was miserable in her job, longing to be home more to care for her small children, and seeking the support of her life partner in creating a life worth living – and she was being told not only that she shouldn’t even consider taking a step toward her soul’s calling, but that she was selfish for wanting to do so.

Too many people are living lives of misery and/or mediocrity, not fulfilling their potential, and encouraging others to do the same, all based on a bunch of hypothetical, fear-based “what-ifs”.  How crazy is that?

We need to stop the madness, one person at a time, beginning with ourselves.

Let’s each pick one thing today that we’re afraid of, however large or small, and start working hard to overcome it through faith. Let’s trust in a higher power and purpose, and in the beauty, bounty, and goodness of the universe. Let’s believe with our whole heart that loving arms will catch us when  finally we take the leap.

 

The Horror and Ecstasy of Facing Yourself on the Page

“Ecstasy is a glimpse of the infinite; horror is full disclosure.” ~Kirk J. Schneider

Lately I’ve been doing something that’s sending shivers of horror and ecstasy through my mind – rereading old journals.

Journals

Eight years’ worth of personal journals.

This isn’t the first time I’ve flipped through them since I started journaling. It is, however, the first time I’ve committed to reading every word of every journal weekly until I’ve read them all. I’m nearly done, and the process is shaking up my world.

Mostly I write about everyday life, but there are also sprinkles of short stories, ideas for longer stories, random thoughts, stream-of-consciousness prose, poems, business ideas, reflections, recordings of dreams, insights after meditation, and the occasional drawing – pretty much anything goes.

The horrifying part is that so much hasn’t changed in all these years. I’m still agonizing over the same old crap – finding the right livelihood, striving for greater work/life balance, longing for more time to create, worrying about my husband’s job, dreaming of personal and financial freedom.

Blah, blah, blah. You’d think I would’ve figured this stuff out by now.

Sometimes the sheer violence of my negative thoughts is embarrassing. So much whining, sniveling, and lamenting to God. He must get so sick of me.

On a positive note, I see a pattern of going through hardships and surviving. There are moments when my thoughts are way more positive than they should be,  given what was happening at the time. My passions remain consistent – yoga, writing, gardening, reading, learning, being near the ocean, my home and family.

This last is especially encouraging. It means I don’t have to reinvent the wheel midlife. But I can see clearly now that I need to stop hoping and dreaming (and writing, perhaps) about the life I long for and start taking more action to create it. This isn’t to say there aren’t things I love about my life, but there are definitely areas that need improvement.

The ecstasy comes when I happen upon unexpected passages that  resonate with me in a deep way, reminding me of sides of myself I don’t often see. In them I can see the longings of an artist struggling to break free, of a woman who wants to be fully and completely alive in an authentic way, but keeps falling short.

I’ve decided to unleash her a bit by sharing journal  entries on my blog now and then. Below is one that reflects the conflict I often feel  between my roles of wife, mother, and  professional and that of simply being a woman.

Journal Entry, 1-23-08

Journal entry

So I am alone, walking the cliffs. Down below the ocean rages against the wind. White caps glow with anger. Farther down a few stupid surfers take their chances. How can they when there are hidden rocks jutting out of unseen places, hidden by angry waves and rolling sea? They are stupid, but they are alive, fully, completely, reveling in the wild water, alive for moments like this.

Rain begins to fall heavily just as thunder cracks in the distance, and I don’t care. Being here is my equivalent of surfing in choppy, rock-infested water. Within minutes my hair and clothes are soaked and clinging to my body. I feel sensual, with cotton clinging to my curves. I forget that I am a mother and a wife and an older sister. I am none of these things, but a woman, beautiful and daring in the moonlight of day.

Then I am cold and wet and want to go home. Now I am the stupid one. All the way home, I think how stupid I am.

Cliff Walk, Newport, RI

Cliff Walk, Newport, RI

Proof of Faith

A book on meditation, a prayer to St. Jude, and a mustard seed. Alone these things might be brushed off as strange coincidences; combined, they are nothing short of a series of small miracles designed to send me a message from beyond. Of this, I am convinced.

The book on meditation suddenly appeared on the tank of my downstairs toilet last month. To this day, not one person in my household can explain how it got there. It had been sitting on a closet shelf in an upstairs bedroom for years, forgotten.

In and of itself this was strange, but even more eerie was that the night before I found it, I’d committed to beginning 21 consecutive days of meditation, yoga, and journaling in an effort to turn inward for answers to my life’s problems. From prior experience, I knew the most important aspect of this challenge was the daily meditation.

And here was a book on the topic, given to me by my meditation teacher, whose guru from India had written it, suddenly appearing out of nowhere. I nearly brushed off the incident, for no other reason than I couldn’t explain it, but then the prayer to St. Jude happened.

On Monday, while I was home from work due to a snow day, I was reading through old personal journals in between doing housework, as part of my quest to do some self-examination. I’d been feeling desperate because once again my husband lost a great paying job and the new one is not paying well. I could feel myself sliding into fear mode.

I started to vacuum, but the machine suddenly stopped working. It does this sometimes when it’s over-heated. So I sat down and starting flipping through a journal from 2008. On one of the pages I’d written the Prayer to Saint Jude. Hope suddenly ran through me. I tore out the page, said the prayer, then put it aside and tried the vacuum again. It still wouldn’t work.

The phone rang. I kid you not – I swear on my life – on the caller ID were the words “St. Jude”. Yes, I have donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital before, and they do call fairly often, but still…

I picked up the phone, politely listened to the woman, and promised to donate. Then I got off and immediately called my closest girlfriend, the one who wouldn’t think I was crazy, who would believe me, who didn’t question that the meditation book had appeared out of nowhere.

I took this incident as proof that St. Jude was letting me know he’d heard my prayer.

Now for the mustard seed. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I ended up writing a blog post about how the opposite of fear is faith, and that I needed more of the latter (yet to be posted). Anyway, my son goes to parochial school and every Thursday night he must study for Friday’s religion test. Usually we read his religious text together for this purpose.

About a month ago, we read a story that included a mustard seed, which I learned is a symbol of faith in God. It was then that my son told me his teacher had given a mustard seed to him and each of his classmates a while ago, but that he’d lost it. He explained that it was very tiny, which was why he lost it.

Again, on Monday (so much gets accomplished on snow days), I was surfing the Internet and came across a blog post about mustard seeds and faith that included a picture of one. I called Christian over to show him, and to tell him that I understood how he could lose his mustard seed, because they really are so very tiny.

Once again, I kid you not – I swear on my life – yesterday morning, as we’re preparing to leave for school and work, my son says to me, “Mom, I found my mustard seed.” It was deep in the pocket of his uniform pants. For some reason he decided to stick his hand in the pocket and viola – the mustard seed! Those pants have been washed so many times, yet there it was, the near-microscopic seed, back in the hand of its owner. Even my son thought it was kind of a miracle.

That was the final straw for me. There is no doubt these events are far more than coincidences. A higher power is telling me that I am on the right track, that He hears my prayers, and that I need to have faith.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Motherhood, Then and Now

If I could be granted only one wish, it would be to go back in time, to when my boys were babies, and hold each one in my arms for a while.

Joshua and me.

I was 16 years old when I gave birth to my first son. Too young by modern standards, but that didn’t stop me from ignoring the voices that whispered words like abortion and adoption in my ears.

From the moment I set eyes on the perfectly formed, 16 week old fetus on the ultrasound monitor, I knew there was no turning back.

I was in love with my baby boy, and his father, and I was young and naïve enough to believe that our family would be together forever.

Fast-forward 30 years. This month my son will enter his third decade. It’s a defining moment for this 46 year old woman who can still remember what it felt like to be that 16 year old girl.

I’m on my second marriage, which I’m grateful has lasted over 20 years. I have four sons total. The youngest is eight. He often reminds me of his oldest brother.

A broken arm didn’t stop Christian from living it up in Florida during a family vacation.

Both have strong personalities and wills. They are extroverts to the extreme, natural athletes, have good senses of humor, and like to have fun.

Both know how to push my buttons. Easy and breezy are not how I’d describe them. I don’t even want to know how they’d describe me.

As mothers, we do our best. But as I reflect on my mothering then and now, I know that my best has changed over the years.

As a young mother, I was grounded in the here and now. I didn’t give much thought to the future beyond what I should cook for dinner that night. Weekends were for fun, hanging out with other couples, picnics with family.

My days had more structure back then, probably because I didn’t work. My son had his little routine, and so I had mine. I admit some days felt boring.

When he started preschool, I didn’t worry about which one to send him to. By then I was divorced, waitressing, broke; I sent him to Head Start.

Head Start Graduation.

Bedtime was 7:30 PM firm throughout the elementary years, even in summer.

As he grew older and tested the limits, I became stricter, until one day, when he was 15, he said that living with me was like being in prison and I was the warden. I let him move in with his father.

Nowadays, getting to work, putting dinner on the table, and helping with homework is about all the structure I can manage. Weekends are mostly for cleaning, grocery shopping, and doing laundry.

My youngest son goes to parochial school because the public schools in our town stink. His bedtime is 8:30 PM on school nights, 10:00 PM on weekends. In summer, anything goes.

When he tests the limits, my husband and I are usually too tired to fight him, and he’s only eight. God help us when he becomes a teenager.

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Christian’s already in the driver’s seat.

As an older mother, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Kids grow fast; cherish each moment with them.
  • Sometimes boring is a blessing.
  • Remain in the present, but plan for the future.
  • Pick your battles, and even lose some if it means you win the war. This includes working through marital problems for the sake of the family.
  • Letting go is one of the hardest and bravest things you can do as a parent.
  • If you run your house like a prison, the inmates will revolt.

My oldest son watched me grow up. My youngest will watch me grow old. Such is the story when you have children 22 years apart.

Brothers arm wrestling.

Brothers arm wrestling.

Happy 30th birthday, Joshua! I love you.