Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When the Beach Isn't Flattering to Your Body

It’s all too easy for women like me to sit underneath the tent or giant umbrella stuck in the sand and just wave to my family having the time of their lives out in the waves.  It's even easier to simply hide behind the camera and stand beneath some amorphous, flowing cover-up that swirls sexily in the wind, hides a plethora of sins, and (once again) keeps me firmly on that shore.

I'm not a size six.  Nope.  

That era of my life ended when my body carried 11+ pounds of twins inside a belly stretched too far to shrink back afterwards...except for maybe with some pretty expensive cosmological nips and tucks that will never find their way into our always stretched budget.

The women in my family fight their weight from before the time their faces develop acne.   Slow metabolism.  A fat gene kicked into overdrive.  Something keeps my family tree from producing waif-thin runway models.  We're not "skinny fat," either, you know, the kind who empty pure poison into their bodies, never break a sweat, yet never gain an ounce.

I eat healthily.  I exercise daily.  Cardio and sweat, that's me.  But my nearing-forty body is never going to be the body it was before I gave birth to twins.  I'd love for it to be, but it just isn't.  

So, I deal with my figure as best as I can.  I wear outfits that make me feel beautiful.  I listen to my husband's compliments.  I read Scripture about how I am wonderfully made and beautifully crafted by the Creator of the universe.  I also pray for God to help me--with my negative body image, with my weight, with my health.

And then my children ask me to do the one thing I don't want to do--go to the beach.  No, not visit the beach.  Go to the beach.

Play at the beach.

Swim at the beach.

Spend a day at the beach....

In a swimsuit

In the water.  

With the stretchy material pulled taught around one's body, there is simply no denying what you look like.  There are no ruffles, long lines, or belts to distract, no necklaces to draw the eye upwards.  It's just you in a clingy piece of fabric too small to even make into a blanket for a newborn.

Add water, and of course, it sticks to every part of the body women would rather not accentuate.

My children don't care about my battle scars, about the rolling hills I'd prefer be flatland.  All they see is an opportunity for fun--with their Aunt, their Uncle, their grandparents...and their mother.
What's a mother to do but cast off all electronic devices, towels, and modest cover-ups; grab a child in each hand; and march towards the always shifting line where the ocean meets the sand.  

There, she is to join in the closed-mouth laughter as she jumps in tandem over the crashing waves.  She is to strap a boogie board's Velcro tether to her wrist and ride those waves to shore with her oldest son.  She might even sit slumped gracelessly over a pile of wet sand as she builds a "replica" of Ariel's castle in Atlantica for her little girl who happily decorates it with broken shells washed up near her feet.
The woman in red and white smiling for the photograph?  She knows her children will look back at this image one day and remember the joy of the day, not how slim she isn't.  She grabs Emerson in one hand as he and she dance past the incoming waves.  She carries Amelia piggy-back through the towering walls of water large enough to knock her down.

Last week, I watched with the world as Prince William's bride, Kate, caused a media flurry when she wore a dress that distinctly showed her post-baby belly bump.  She was beautiful, as always, and my heart went out to her, as I knew the pressure she would be under to achieve physical perfection...again.  

I look at young mothers today and fear for their mental well-being.  Even before their babies are born, everyone is asking how soon they will again be back to their pre-baby weight and in their best pre-baby shape.

And if your babies are now approaching five or ten years old and you still haven't regained your youthful figure?  Well, then, shame on you for your lack of willpower.

Only that's not always the story.   If it were, I'd have willed myself onto the cover of Vogue years ago.

Yeah.  As I said.  It's easy for me to want to hide beneath that tent and cover-up.

But even when it's hard for me to completely internalize God's Word that says I am beautiful to Him just as I am, the smiles, joy, and laughter of my little ones is enough to make me say, "Let's go again next  year."

Images: Our family visiting my brother and his sweet wife up in North Carolina this past week.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Difficulty of Women Raising Men

Many days, I feel ill equipped to raise the two boys God has given me.  Honestly.  How can a woman raise a boy to be a man when even on the most basic level, she thinks differently than his entire gender?  How can she communicate in a language he will understand when her own adult husband often fails to understand her meaning, leading to discord in the household?

Thankfully, I do see a good bit of myself in my two boys, especially their love of reading, but there is too much I can't relate to.  My boys see everything as a competition, a chance to tussle, an exercise in using too much force.  They run when they should walk, fail to listen when they should hang on every word, drive their bicycles straight through mud puddles when they should steer prudently around them.

Watching my daughter play just highlights the gender differences.  Amelia will line up her cars and take them places.  The boys?  Their playing with matchbox cars always ends with horrific accidents sure to back up any freeway for hours.  Amelia tells stories involving princes, knights, and dragons.  The boys' stories always involve monsters, traps, and aggressive sword fighting.

Even playing with dolls is a completely different experience with my boys.  Whereas Amelia carefully tries each outfit on every doll, then arranges them to have conversations with each other, the boys find it more interesting to clip the dresses on their own clothes or, as Emerson did, turn the dresses into monster claws, one for every finger.

When Wyatt and Emerson are all rough and tumble or in an unconscious competition to become man of the house when daddy is away, I really feel the weight of trying to raise these two very active boys to become Godly men, leaders of their own household one day, and passionate workmen for the Lord.

Yet, in those times that I think I don't have a chance at getting it right, I am reminded of Paul's words to Timothy: "I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (1 Tim. 1:5).

Timothy's father was a gentile and not a believer in Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 16:1-3).  Even so, two women--his grandmother and mother--were able to instill in him a love of the Lord so that he remained in the faith.

I remember this Scripture and my heart knows it doesn't matter whether I ever fully understand men or not.  What matters is that I live out the love of Jesus before my children.  What matters is that I send them to the Scriptures and to the Lord with their troubles, that I teach them to pray without ceasing for everything, not rely on mommy for all the answers. 

He can communicate to them in a heart language my feminine self may never be able to comprehend nor speak.

(**This week, my family is on the road visiting my brother and his wife in North Carolina.  Please be in prayer for us as we travel cross-country and spend more time than usual with each other in very tight quarters.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Last Day at the Beach

You and I both know that day is coming--the last day sitting with the waves' ebb and flow; the last evening watching fireflies from the backyard swing; the last morning drinking a steaming cup of cocoa from a front porch rocking chair in the mountains.

Summer will soon be at an end, causing this mother to look once more at that summer "to do" list taped to the side of the computer monitor.  Just a glance from the list to the wall calendar is enough to make me flustered and go into supermom mode, which, honestly, isn't good for anybody, not the kids and definitely not me.

Even for a (sometimes) super-mom-wanna-be, my heart knows it is best is to not try and squeeze everything into a twenty-one day span but rather, to reevaluate the list and decide what really matters.  Will the world come to an end if I don't get those t-shirts painted or the old home movie DVDs converted to computer files before August 9?  What if I only get my son to memorize a little over one third versus half of the first grade spelling words I had set as our goal? 

What then?

I'll tell you exactly what I did this past week--I busied myself with a few items that I determined were "must do."  Then, I simply relabeled my "Summer To-Do" list my "Autumn To-Do" list, snuggled down on the sofa with a purring, old Balinese cat asleep on my stomach, and read a book while the children spent their free time making animal tracks from rain puddles on the porch and drawing on a large, cardboard box with markers.

Don Hoesel's newest Blood and Bone is a long-awaited sequel to Elisha's Bones.  Yes, I stand by this "sequel" statement, knowing full well the author published a novel, The Serpent of Moses, in between the two.

In the 2009 Elisha's Bones, archaeologist Jack Hawthorne crosses the globe in search of the bones of the prophet Elisha, which supposedly are imbued with the power to heal.  As is typical of the suspense genre, Jack and his fiery sidekick Esperanza (a linguist well-versed in seemingly all of the ancient languages) spend their time finding and solving clues, going further and further down the rabbit hole with each passing page.

At the end of Hoesel's first novel in the Hawthorne series, the characters find and then re-hide the bones, believing that their power is too great to be entrusted to any man or organization.

After a weak second novel in 2012 that had a fabulous premise but then plodded almost backwards through the pages only to fall flat at the end, this third novel takes readers where they expected Hoesel to go in The Serpent of Moses--on a search to recover the bones of Elisha, which (surprise!) have gone missing.

In Blood and Bone, Jack Hawthorne and Esperanza are now much older, married, and have settled down with their two children into the sedentary life of academia.  When their children are threatened by a CIA agent bent on possessing the bones, himself, the two must reach out to their old contacts once more.  The rest is a suspenseful race to avoid being murdered by one of three different organizations as Jack and Espy trace the clues to discover who in the ancient organization they crossed years ago now is the caretaker of the bones.

In all honesty, after reading the popular Dan Brown's page turners, Don Hoesel's text seems a bit slow, and the ending was so predictable that I spotted it by the end of the first chapter.  At the risk of spoiling it for you, all I'll say is Hoesel's ending would have been more radical and surprising had he chosen to not have the bones work their magic once more.  

With that said, Hoesel's characters give the reader something Dan Brown doesn't--prayer and genuine faith in God, although without intrusively beating you over the head with Christianity every other sentence as some authors do.  And honestly, that small bit of true faith in God counts for a lot.  Brown's novels always seem to end up at the same place--a quiet space of inquiry where truth is mixed up seamlessly with untruth, where Christianity is intimated to be no different than Buddhism or Islam or any other religion such that if one isn't careful and doesn't know his Bible very well, it is easy to be convinced Brown's view of God, man, and religion just might be correct.

Don Hoesel's novels don't have that problem, making them a good, easy read for both adults and young adults.  And although the three are part of a series, but they can clearly stand alone without your having to read the other two previous ones. 

It's a good way to end a summer--relaxing with a good book, not stressing out over what we didn't quite get around to doing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Kitties

Once upon a time, this pure white tiger had distinctive, black stripes.  Clear whiskers sprouted forth on both sides of her furry maw.  Oversized blue eyes shone with a high luster when the light hit them.  What's more, she easily stood on four pebble-filled feet, legs stiff and tall with just the right amount of stuffing in just the right places.

That was three years ago on the twins' second birthday.  

Today, well, one glimpse at the photo, and it's rather obvious "kitty" has withstood the trauma only twin two-year-olds can inflict on a well-loved toy.  Those sad eyes no longer catch the light, beckoning for someone to love her.  There is no sign of there ever having been whiskers.  And even for a photo op, I couldn't force the legs to stand at attention. 

She (yes...she) has been washed more times than I can count, dipped in a rainbow of water colors, soaked in spilled milk, dropped in an after-rainstorm puddle of mud, even drawn on with a marker at one point.  She has been repeatedly stolen and hidden by mean-spirited brothers who want to make their sister scream, fought over in tug-of-wars, cried for when "missing," and packed in a suitcase for sleepovers at Grandmama's house.

I'm still not sure what to call her.  Some days, it's "Gnocchi" from Curious George.  Other times, my daughter has used white out on the birth certificate and kitty goes by a completely different name (that mommy is roll-your-eyes dumb, dumb, dumb for not remembering).
The day we brought kitty home, I think I was more impressed with the toy than my daughter was.  As is evident from a photo taken at the party, the red glittered shoes, Cinderella crown, and beeping cell phone won top prize for 'best gift.'  Still, the tiger was a close fourth, waiting patiently on the floor for her turn.

The Dorothy shoes are long since outgrown.  The cell phone met its tearful demise beneath the wheels of Opa's gator.  And the Cinderella crown is only taken out for the occasional romp in dress up clothes.  

Only the kitty has remained a constant companion, so much so that earlier this year after another round in my washing machine and a few stitches to a gaping head wound, I told my daughter kitty was getting too old to play with each day.  We needed to get her a new kitty.

One trip to Hobby Lobby later, and voila, a "grown-up" version of kitty was on the scene to take over as the much loved pet.

There was just one problem.

My daughter.  

After a few days, the newness of a fresh toy wore off, and the "new kitty" was relegated to the sidelines deep down under the bed sheets while the old kitty surfaced once more by Amelia's side.

I tried everything--the baby needed to rest.  This was a big sister (?) a mother (?) who wasn't sleepy.

Try as I might to keep the original kitty within the four walls of my home for her own safety, I failed.  That stuffed critter must have majored in covert ops before arriving at my house.  My back is turned for one minute, and I find she has tiptoed past my radar and hidden in a bicycle basket, climbed atop a John Deere tractor, or buried herself somewhere in my mini van.
At some point, I simply gave up hope and resigned myself to the day when I would open the washer and find kitty had just dissolved into a furry ball of lint inside the delicate's bag.  Then, Grandmama bought a children's book about a huge, white Persian cat named Violet.  Suddenly, the new kitty had a name (no longer Gnocchi 2)!  This was Violet!  And, of course, she had to go everywhere Amelia went!

Finally!  Success!  

As the weeks passed, Violet started to look more loved.  Her tufted mane was more ragged.  Her stripes were beginning to fade, and those tall legs were developing a permanent lean like the tower of Pisa.  Before long, her whiskers were gone, too.  

Yet, I noticed that instead of replacing one loved pet with another, now, Amelia was lovingly carting both kitties from room to room.  In that moment, I held up the white flag of surrender.

If the Velveteen Rabbit story were only true, Gnocci or Violet--or whatever moniker she's going by these days-- could be found prowling around our backyard in a few years' time, a childhood toy turned real because of a little girl's love proven genuine...despite her mother's best efforts to replace that love with another.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

To Live Ninety Years

I can't imagine living ninety years, but health experts tell us our generation can even expect to see more centenarians.  Official projections are that one in three babies born in 2012 will live to see one hundred birthdays or more.

At thirty-six and in the throws of raising children, sometimes just the thought that I'm perhaps not even halfway through this life can be overwhelming.  I already see a doctor for arthritis in my writing shoulder and a compressed disk in my neck.  Then I watch my Grandmother and her level of pain; it's then I'm convinced that one hundred years on this earth may not be a goal of mine.

For her, the years click by, one by one stealing a friend here, a family member there, a lifelong husband...until she is alone, the only one left of her era.  With the death of a close friend earlier in the year,  her small circle grows even smaller until inviting everyone her age to a birthday party is actually feasible.

Last week, my Grandmother reached that ninety-year milestone in her life.

We celebrated, giving her the thing she loves most--an afternoon of time with her family.  Instead of cards and other material possessions, the nineteen of us wrote letters and gathered just a glimpse of her as captured over ninety years worth of photographs, all assembled together in a scrapbook celebrating her life as well as the love and appreciation of a family.

In my memory, she has never been young, always old enough to sit on the sidelines instead of being in the middle of whatever game we were playing.  She was opinionated but never the one to dominate an animated conversation, especially in a large family full of three daughters and their seven children.  She and Grandfather were the spiritual heads of our family, her Sunday School book and Bible ever open on the kitchen table each Saturday afternoon.

And yet, there before me are grainy black and white photographs of a little girl riding on a cow with her uncle standing nearby.  As I crop and mat these photographs taken with an old box camera, I find myself constantly asking my mother which one is Grandmother.   I can't tell.

My mother points out a lanky girl in her early teens with a serious expression and a low-brimmed hat.  The next is of a beautiful twenty-something girl with shoulder-length hair and a trim waistline.  She is running and laughing, the carefree happiness of youth splashed across her face.  Another is of this same girl shortly after she married my grandfather, her shirt tied high in a knot across her stomach to reveal a scandalous bit of skin.

I find I don't know this Grandmother.  This isn't the always mature woman who held me each day as a baby, who taught me to make Easter nests out of flowers and grass, who patiently rolled her hair in pink curlers each time I slept over at her home. 

In thirty-six years, I've never seen her with a different hair style, have never seen her move anything but slow, and have never seen her wear anything less than short sleeves and a full, knee length skirt.

As I assemble those photographs, I determine that to live ninety years is to live past the time when people knew what you were like when you were just you, not Mrs. Wife, Mother, or even Grandmother, but just you.  It is to live past those who knew you before children, before the lack of spontaneity set in once the responsibilities made life more rigid, before the body's deterioration left you unable to do everything you once did.

Living ninety years is to perfect the art of losing people.  But it is also a long time to craft a legacy to leave behind. And her legacy?  It is of a woman who always put her family and her Jesus first.

After the party, I look at a photograph my husband took of her and me.  No longer is there a gulf of years between us.  Instead, I look in her face and see my own.  The nose, the smile, the roundness of face and broad forehead. We are suddenly so much the same.

If God chooses to let me live another fifty years, I wonder if I will have had the grace she has shown when living through all of life's losses.  I can only pray that like her, I, too, will stay the course and leave behind a legacy of faith in Jesus and devotion to family for those who comes behind me.

All too soon, it could be my grandchildren looking back at photographs of me or reading these blog entries and shaking their heads in disbelief, never really knowing that young girl in the pictures.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I will Miss the Misspellings

I assume my person is the one with long eyelashes.  Then again, that person has blond hair when mine has turned almost raven black over the past decade, so I'm  not completely sure...or maybe the two boys were not-so-kindly alluding to my increasing threads of grey.

Either way, all that mattered was that I was there in the family lineup on this card, complete with the reason for its existence (stated twice), in case daddy couldn't figure it out on his own.

We love are daddy.

One card finished, Wyatt patiently sat and made a Lite Bright "daddy" with green (!?) spiked hair to go with the card.  I, on the other hand, kept catching myself silently mouthing the "ow" sound in "our" and thinking it did sound a lot like are when spoken quickly.
That precious spelling snafu is the second this summer to give me pause.  First came the "Do Not Disturv us.?" sign posted to keep sister Amelia out of the boys' bedroom.  I reach to twist the knob each morning and shake my head at the question mark after the period.  Is it a question or a statement?  Or maybe a statement with a question because the author is unsure whether mommy will tolerate excluding sister from "boys only" play.
Question mark or period--it hasn't kept anyone out of anywhere yet.

This newest card was propped up on the dining room table, just waiting for the second a well-loved daddy walked through the door.  Literally.  The Second.

By five minutes till six, everyone was dressed and ready for daddy's arrival to take them to Wednesday night worship at church. Amelia had already peeked out the side door too many times to count, the curtain permanently shoved back at an angle.  Then came the much anticipated sound of the turning doorknob followed by Emerson's outside-voice squeal of "Daddy's home!" followed instantly by Wyatt running to grab Papa Bear's hand and shepherd him towards the gift.

He acts as a daddy should, gushing over leftover paper and washable marker transformed by his bouncing boys.

Amelia feels left out and raises her voice loud above the fray to admit she didn't make him anything.  (She doesn't say it was because she was having more fun making her dolls dance the Nutcracker Suite with me.)  Daddy doesn't miss a beat before responding that there's nothing he needs more than a hug and a kiss from her.

In the kitchen with after-supper clean-up, I can't help but smile even though I'm a bit jealous at how easy it is for them to love this man they spend time with only a few hours each day.  Daddy is simply important.  Period.

I pick up the card, look at the misspellings and irregular handwriting, and think, I will miss this.

I will not miss the fingers always in their mouths so they catch every illness and pass it on to this mother after she has nursed them back to health.

I will not miss the splinted fingers, the glued-closed gashes on faces, the tears over not-even-close-to-end-of-the-world events, the whining, the sibling bossiness, or the bickering.

But this?  The outpouring of love "just because," the open expression of felt emotion, unrestrained and ashamed....

I will miss this.