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He has decided camo is cool. A decision cemented by the photo sent of two of his oldest friends as they were off to their school, all of them wearing camo shorts as if they planned it. He insisted on wearing his black high top Chucks, even though they are huge on him. His mind was set, they were his one back to school request so I made sure he had them, even if I didn’t know they ran really, really, really large.
His backpack was filled with all the forms that needed to be signed for the first day and his requisite PB&J was tucked in his brand new lunch box. As we turned the corner to his school, he asked us to turn off the radio, he has done this every day since he started, as if he needs a few moments of quiet to ready himself for the day ahead. He was nervous about the crowds outside the front door. He prefers to be able to walk right in the school. I reminded him of last year when he was in Kindergarten and how on the first day all the moms and dads stood outside taking pictures and trying not to cry. The crowd today would be much larger than tomorrow’s. I reminded him he knew where he was going and the crowd was NBD, as we say.
Before we knew it we were at the front of the line and he hopped out of the van, his jaw set with determination and we watched as he tentatively made his way through the crowd to the front door and then he was gone.
Watch out, first grade. Max is here.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself in order to believe Max gets to attend the school he does. Once again I am thrilled with the teacher he has been assigned, and he is really looking forward to his days. Here’s hoping that lasts and lasts and lasts!!
Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I never fit in. Everyone thought I was a weirdo (or so I thought, and let’s be honest I thought I was a weirdo too.). Boulder was a confusing place filled with wealthy hippies, a lot of actual rocket scientists and as my mother used to say “even the checker at Whole Foods has a PhD.” It was a contradictory place, for me. Until I moved away, I truly believed that Birkenstock’s were the official shoes of all clergy. (except the LDS, but that’s another post for another day, am I right?)
I was too pale, too loud, I wore sunglasses that were too big. Then I moved to California and absolutely everything that made me unattractive in Boulder made me attractive there. It was mind-boggling. I was the same person but people’s reaction to me was vastly different.
It wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles that I truly felt HOME. I understood feeling like you belong to a place. A geographical location. And I met my people. That’s not to say that in Colorado or Northern California I hadn’t found people to which I belonged. I’ve been very blessed to make great and long term friends that become family along the way. My husband says it is one of my superpowers.
I’d say that’s a great super power, but I’m still asking Santa for the ability to move things with my mind. Every year he disappoints.
Within ten weeks of giving birth to my oldest, we packed up the entire contents of our Los Angeles life in an ironically named moving van blazed with Broadway across it, waved good bye to my sister, nephew and best friend and drove away. Almost seven years later and I still can’t believe it. The rawness of the wound hasn’t healed, but something has happened.
I found a second home. For a long time we have felt like been treading water, licking our wounds from the financial crisis, unable to move forward. But in the last six months I’ve been feeling almost as if I am in a chrysalis. Almost ready to burst forth. Hyperbole aside, it’s a strange feeling, not uncomfortable…but almost as if I am perched on the edge of the high dive, at the ready, a little scared, a little excited, waiting for the final impetus to make the leap.
We’ve got all the babies we are going to have. Our family is complete and happy. We have general paths we wish to follow, we are ready.
This weekend I photographed a sweet newborn and traveled back and forth to DC to celebrate NCGE’s 100th anniversary where I photographed the Gala, awards and receptions. I’m not sure if you’ll find a nicer group of people than geographers and geography educators. Did you know we have an official geographer of the United States? We do. I met him.
If you had told me when I was my son’s age and already feeling out of place, that someday life would take me to Los Angeles, that I would do commercials and movies and that at one point Morgan Freeman would lay down one of my biggest life lessons for me while we made dinner. That I would visit the Ancient City, the Vatican, St. Peter’s. That one day I would be a mother, that one day I would be a photographer, that one day I would spend every weekend at the pool and LOVE IT, that one day I would make friends here, that one day I would look around DC and appreciate it’s beauty and feel at home; I would have declared you insane.
But here we are. Oh, the places I’ve been. And the places I hope to go.
This summer my entire family decided to do Whole30 and I was definitely on board. Once I had Piper and was able to eat again I basically went crazy. I was feeling sluggish and crappy and honestly? I have a sugar problem. As in I was eating a big bag of Hershey Kisses a day. No exaggeration. So, primarily I wanted to do it to get that out of my system. I knew I wasn’t eating well and I know food really DOES impact how we feel, think and behave.
I was in bad habits and wanted to change them, but as an eating disordered person I know this can be a tricky business. In fact one thing that snuck up on me was when I had HG and my neonatologist had be sipping protein shakes trying to keep them down I ended up switching shakes. The ones he had prescribed were the same ones I was on when I had to relearn how to have food. Without even realizing it I started thinking how great it was! I was thinking when the baby was born I would just keep eating ice chips and drinking the shakes. As soon as I recognized that thought pattern, I changed shakes and flavors and that helped a lot.
My point is that as far out as I am from eating disordered behaviors, the thoughts sometimes pop up. And as I want to stay alive I do need to consume my addictive substance-food. I cannot quit it like a drug addict. I need to have my addictive substance while not having addictive behaviors. And for many eating disordered people, restrictive diets are an addictive behavior.
For me restrictive diets are both a good thing- they give me freedom from worry. I know what I am allowed and not allowed and like any structure I find comfort within them. However, they are also a bad thing. Because I’m a bit like Crocodile Dundee and his “That’s not a knife” quote. That’s not a restrictive diet. THIS is a restrictive diet! And the next thing I know I am only eating 5 thin slices of apple and 7 almonds. That only can last so long before I will binge and purge.
So, I knew going into this I needed to be careful. Luckily for me I had already done a restrictive elimination diet before under a doctor’s care and knew a few things, like corn tortillas etc were fine for me. I went in to it with a resolve to focus on health and energy and not worry about weight. (Which was good because at the end of the 30 days I weighed the exact same) I made a few of my own rules, I had splenda in my coffee and non-dairy creamer. I already knew dairy was really hard on my system. So was definitely cutting that out.
I realized several things during this month. One: my stomach was a lot smaller than I thought. Once I got over that omg I want all the junk food craving I was satisfied with decent sized portions and able to stop when I was full a lot easier. Two: by the second week the cravings were gone and I wasn’t feeling like I was being deprived. Three: I have a sweet craving in the afternoon and it was easily taken care of with almonds, coconut, and dried cranberries (get the ones from the salad toppings section, not craisins) Four: I felt GREAT! I had so much more energy, I was sleeping better, my skin was looking good. All around it was a total win! Five: while I didn’t lose weight, it was like I depuffed. It was the weirdest thing!
Then we went to the beach and we ate our own weight in ice cream. And I puffed right back up!
My general plan is a 90/10 split. I want to eat whole 30 compliant most f the time but have the freedom to have a hot fudge sundae without feeling badly. I want to be vigilant, not only for me but for my daughter. I want to focus on being strong and healthy and NOT on weight loss or being thin. I will verbalize why i choose salads with protein over pastas….I simply FEEL better. But I will make sure she sees me indulge, she will see me enjoy ice cream and birthday cakes. Mostly I want her to see me honor my needs and actual hunger. I will grab a snack if I am hungry. I won’t say the word diet to her or to myself.
I almost died from an eating disorder and I will do my best to guard my girl from that experience.
It starts with being healthy. That’s my vow.
(You can read about my struggle with eating disorders here)
Before I had even finished gulping my coffee this morning I clicked a link making the rounds on good old Facebook that was rage inducing. I was prepared to be rage filled by the comment my friend had added to it when she shared the link:
I guess since I can’t have kids, I am not a real woman.
Of course the piece was a half cocked (yes, I said it) rant about how Caitlyn Jenner is really just a freak and while he (her word) can empathize with women, she can never identify as a woman. Because the author of the piece is super qualified with all sorts of intricate psychology degrees and is a neuroscientist she feels that she is supremely qualified to, well, qualify what makes a woman.
Wait, no. She has a vagina. THAT’S what makes her qualified to proclaim the qualifications of womanhood. (feel free to drink every time I write any variation of “qualify”) Hey! I also have a vagina and thus am equally qualified! (drink!)
This woman has every right to her opinion…except her opinion helps have a body count of trans teens who kill themselves. It’s a high rate.
And really? What DOES qualify a woman? She lists searing pain every 28 days, but hopping on up and getting shit done, cause that’s what a woman does. Well, what if you DON’T have searing pain? Or what if you have such debilitating pain that you cannot hop up and get shit done?
Hand in your woman card.
Also, Caitlyn can NEVER give birth. So she doesn’t qualify. So, by her standards, are all those who are unable to conceive, carry and deliver a child not women?
Next of course is menopause and hot flashes. At this point my mother needs to have her woman card forcibly taken from her. She didn’t have hot flashes.
Clearly she isn’t a woman.
And the one that struck me the hardest was the description of being stuck on the side of the road, two men stop and you pray they are there with good intentions and not to assault you. Clearly no trans person has ever felt fear like this. Assaults on trans women are at a terrifyingly high level, both by someone they know as well as strangers. If anyone can identify with this, it’s trans women.
What upsets me most about articles like this, that paint in broad condemning strokes is that while the author is right that Miss Jenner has and does enjoy a financially secured, white privilege life and her transition has been under the best of circumstances not all trans kids have these circumstances. Widespread viral articles like these can affirm what may be the deepest fears of some trans kids.
That they aren’t real…anything. (I am not trans, and I personally don’t think I could every adequately describe their journey or fears.)
None of us, none of us fit into neat tiny little boxes. None of us. I was born a woman, but I don’t fit into all the neat little requirements she lays down. Perhaps you don’t either.
Being a human isn’t like earning a college degree where you have to take all the prerequisites. Being a human is something we just ARE. State of being verb. To be or not to be, that is the question and all that.
We have been commanded to LOVE one another. Above all else, I don’t understand the vitriol this author is hurling but I am trying to send her love. I’m trying send you love. I’m trying to send Caitlyn Jenner love.
We are all just trying to BE.
Every lifetime is a journey.
There are no qualifications for womanhood. If you cannot have a child physically, let me reassure you that doesn’t lessen your womanhood. I am sending you love.
If you are knocked out by menstrual disorders, or have the easiest periods ever…still a woman. Sending you love.
If you are a trans woman, you’re a woman. Sending you love.
Every year on my children’s birthday I write them a letter. This is Max’s seventh.
My sweet Max,
Seven. Seven seems so big. This morning we did your birthday mugshots and I was shocked when I placed them side by side with the ones from one year ago today. You have changed so much!
This year you conquered kindergarten like a champ. I was so worried, I admit I worry about you probably more than I should. You did so well. I did everything I could do to make sure you were in the right school and Dr. Williams put you in the perfect class with Mrs. J and then I had to trust you to fly. You did. This year I learned that as much as I try to ensure you are in situations that allow your confidence to build and your self reliance to grow that YOU know yourself really well and I simply need to listen to you and take my cues from you. Your anxiety is still there, we still do “the thing” every night before bed. But this year there have been fewer acute attacks and very rarely have you exhibited stress tics. I am so proud of you.
You even handled kids at school calling you a fraidey cat perfectly, and while simply thinking about it now- after the fact- makes me want to cry, you told them what they were doing wasn’t for you and then you shook it off. You are amazing. My promise to you this year is that I will release my, well, anxiety about your anxiety and let you be. I will let you breathe but I will be right there, should you need me.
This year I figured out that you are a bit like Dumbo and the magic feather, sometimes we just need to find that magic feather to help you trust your own abilities. You were afraid to go under the water till we gave you goggles, then you were ready to go!
You and Huck have alternated between having a great time together and fighting like cats and dogs. This has been a very hard year for Huck and most of the time you handle his tantrums and tears with love and support. The other night you two had a huge fight, you wouldn’t let him play with you. You told him he wasn’t allowed that only you and Piper could play. There was pushing, hitting and a lot of tears involved. I sent you to Huck’s room to calm down while I cared for him. When I came in you were angry, you have been angry a lot this year and that’s okay, you started to launch into all the things Huck did wrong. But I stopped you. I told you it’s okay to only want to play with Piper sometimes. Then I told you something you didn’t know, Huck’s greatest fear is exactly that, that you and Piper don’t need him or want him. He has struggled with Piper’s arrival not really because I was busy with her, but because YOU were. I told you that when you said those words to him it hurt him. But because he is so little he can’t put those feelings into words, he can’t verbalize it the way you do. I told you he was like Tip in HOME. He was sad-mad. You looked at me like a light bulb went on in your mind, “OH! That’s why he gets so upset and hits! He is sad-mad!” you went to him and hugged him and told him you loved him. He idolizes you Max. You are his hero and he absolutely lights up with a kind word from you.
You guys play a game where you travel to Key West. I have no idea where you got it from but you guys play it regularly and it’s hilarious. The only thing better than listening to you two laugh together is listening to the THREE of you. And you do a great job of helping this along by showing kindness to your brother. Piper practically wiggles out of her skin when she sees you, especially in the morning. You light her up.
You still love baseball and especially the NATS. This fall you move up to machine pitch and it cannot come fast enough for you. You practice all the time. I can usually find you setting up a field and running the bases! You draw intricate plans of the Great American Ball Park and Nats Stadium.
You also draw incredibly detailed drawings of The Cavern! Yes, you still love The Beatles!
You want a YouTube channel and I can find you pretending you are doing a toy opening video regularly. It’s basically awesome.
You change clothes approximately 292,756 times a day. Every activity needs wardrobe.
If you could spend all day every day at the pool, you would.
Your favorite food is rice and beans and you drink seltzer water like a maniac.
My favorite time of day with you is bedtime. Being a kid can be hard with all those emotions and things to learn coming up so quickly. I shocked you the other day when you were having a hard time and I said quietly “Sometimes it is really hard to be a kid.” You looked at me like you couldn’t believe I understood and said “yes. it is!” But at night, no matter how grumpy you’ve been, how tired and cranky, how angry you got because you were embarrassed you made a mistake, at night you snuggle close to me and we talk about everything. You tell me about God, we talk about school and family and we laugh about what happened that day. I feel so blessed to be your mother.
I cannot believe you are off to first grade in five weeks. I know you will be amazing, just as you were in kindergarten and I promise to relax and just let you be.
“Stearns! Can you swim?” Kristen said slapping my thigh with the back of her hand as she got up from our heavenly station in the lounge chairs at the pool. A valid question since until this year my friends had never even seen me in the shallow end. I assured her I could and she told me to follow her, hollering at our gaggle of children to meet us at the Well. We, the adults, were going to have a canon ball contest.
It was adult swim, which every kid knows is the longest fifteen minutes in the history of ever, and snacks had already been had, sodas and juice boxes consumed and the wait to get back in the water seemed interminable to them. And if I am being honest, to us moms too.
Alright then! A canon ball contest it was. The kids all lined up, big and small, feet dangling into the deep water as they perched on the edge of the pool waiting for the adults to be kids. Kristen was first and I watched her sure footedly run? march? jog? to the end of the diving board and leap in. The kids screamed with joy, both desperately wanting to and trying to avoid being splashed. Then it was my turn, I admitted I was a little scared. I had visions of slipping on that diving board and landing flat on my butt before tipping ass over teakettle into the water.
I took a tentative bounce and then SPLASH! Into the water I went. The kids squealed with delight, at least mine did. As I swam to the side I was given a ten! A TEN! I was riding high on that score! That is until Tyler, the teen aged lifeguard joined in and quickly scored a 30. We did it over and over, other adults joining in to the delight of the kids. It was the fastest adult swim ever.
And honestly? I had so much fun.
Afterwards Max told me “mom, you were a little bad at that. But that’s okay cause you were just starting.” Game on, dude. I’m arranging Canon Ball Instructions from Kristen toute de suite.
I don’t think of myself as a bitter person, I don’t frequently focus on what I don’t have. Somehow, somewhere along my life I switched from a glass is half empty person to a glass is crazy full person. Perhaps it just wore me down, a rough childhood and – let’s not sugar coat it- self destructive teen and young adulthood, I was always feeling what I didn’t have, feeling sad for myself, feeling…the victim. And I was a victim in a lot of ways, I didn’t imagine that, but I certainly didn’t have the mindset or the capabilities to get OUT of the line of thinking of victim. I’m not sure how I did, but I did.
Even now I don’t get dragged down too often, even when the last seven years have been a major comeuppance for me, adult like. Having lost our money, our jobs and my identity. We’ve licked our wounds and regrouped, but it has taken time. It’s a scary place to be, but I think I am pretty good at seeing the good, being thankful for what I have. But every once in a while, the I WANTS get me.
I want a place of our own. I want to decorate it with a mix of thrift finds and DIY. I want a Canon Mark III. I want a ring to replace the one that was stolen and the sapphire that doesn’t fit cause I sliced my finger to the bone a year ago. I want a Pinterest house. I want to shop without worrying, not even big things…just little ones. I want to be able to support my mother. I want to be able to afford all the camps my kids want to go to. I want my husband, who works himself to exhaustion to be rewarded for his skill, loyalty and work ethic. He can teach himself anything and he has totally reinvented himself these past years.
I want, I want, I want.
But, what I have is a safe roof over my head, with love-filled rooms and smile that greets my babies every time they wander in. I have a loving wonderful husband and three great kids, even if sometimes I just want silence for five minutes, I enjoy the chatter! I have enough money to cover the bills and work towards the future. I have a husband, friends and family who support my photography dreams and build up my confidence and skills at every turn. I have a sister, nephew and niece in LA that I would die for, I can’t wait to hug them again, and meet my sweet Dahlia, niece. I have a lot of laughter in my life. That’s something I have. I’m pretty lucky.
That sentence jumped off the (ipad) page at me like a thunderbolt. Choose the Bigger Life. When I was young I would have thought that mean being an actress, living in LA and being successful. Then I moved to LA and was an actress…moderately successful commercial actress and yet…people, myself included, weren’t really living a BIG life. It’s the mindset of a struggling actor, holding off on life. Any moment in Los Angeles as an actor your entire life can change and so we all seemed to be waiting for that big change before we really lived. The big break that will change it all, the series regular, the ad campaign, whatever it is that will instantaneously alter your situation and so we wait, we stay in apartments, with mismatched furniture and roommates longer than others and I am NOT knocking this experience at all, it was great…but it was always on hold. Holding on because things would surely change any moment.
For now at least, I am not working as an actress, I am a mother, a writer, a photographer. And yet I still hold on. I still wait. My life seems small because my viewpoint is small.
Today I realized exactly how big my life actually is. It’s huge. Sure, it’s the repetitive cleaning up of huge messes caused by three small people, but it’s also full of imagination, love, laughter and joy. It’s the possibility of the greatest pain ever and also the greatest happiness ever.
In The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin quotes Herman Hesse “Happiness is a how, not a what. A talent, not an object.”
Happiness is a how. Currently, I’m working on the happiness of how I look at things. I tend to get bogged down in the mire a lot, I am unable to see the forest for the trees and all that. I frequently focus on what I do not have and am unable to see the blessings I do have. Perhaps that’s why this book smacks me in the face so often with those “ah ha!” moments. As soon as I was two chapters in I texted my sister and insisted she read it immediately. Recently she texted me back “I’m loving the Happiness Project, it’s a good balance for all my woo woo spiritual books lol” it truly did make me laugh out loud. Like many kids raised together she and I frequently have opposite compensatory skills. Being raised in Boulder raised the woo woo quotient considerably and she is able to be more open to it than I am. (For instance, the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up had me at hello, and lost me at thanking my socks for their service before putting them in the drawer to rest. Cause no. They’re freaking socks. Add the INDIGNITY of spare change being tossed into jars! And I was a hard pass. But the getting rid of clutter was A+) But that’s okay, because Gretchen’s number one rule of Happiness is to be Gretchen and thus mine is not to be Gretchen (Or Heather…which is hard cause I’ve been trying to be Heather since I was three) but to be STEPHANIE. Stephanie knows she tunes out of things get to woo woo but knows she will go to the ends of the earth to get Heather whatever woo woo thing she needs. Heather knows she resonates to the woo woo, she is more open to that, so that makes Heather happy. Heather must be Heather. (I’ve totally checked out a woo woo book or two on Heather’s suggestion and ended up finding a lot of value in some of them. BTW. )
So, my latest Happiness Goal is to focus on the HOW of happiness. This morning Pip woke before the sun and then took at a nap at 7:30 am. The boys were still sleeping so I took my coffee out to the back deck, under the umbrellas, the light sprinkling rain and the birds at the feeder the only sounds and I read. It was heavenly. I was so relaxed, I was afraid to move for fear of popping that tranquility bubble. But after an hour or so here came little Huckleberry, the Hucknado. I chose the Bigger Life and welcomed him with open arms and when he asked to swing on the swing with me pushing him (a task I do not particularly enjoy) I wholeheartedly said yes. HOW I viewed this activity might make a difference. It did,. We laughed and talked and had a great time. Just the two of us, in the cool morning with the rain gently sprinkling on us.
In honor of Piper’s first consistent word, which by the way is “ME!” (as in hey the boys are swinging…ME!) and the release of all of the 2015 Listen To Your Mother Show videos today, I’ve decided to post, you know…ME!
So, if you’re a minivan mama, considering being one. dreading being one, embracing being one this is for you. If you’re cool or not…this one is for you.
It’s all good you guys. It’s all good. You can watch the entire DC show HERE.
(we can discuss what the heck is up with YouTube cover photos later…because holy what??)