Aphrodite

It’s Five Minute Friday…  Where we write with Lisa Jo for the joy of words for just five minutes without over-thinking or over-editing or squashing out the joy of the craft.

I spent the evening looking at artists’ renderings of the female form.  Paintings of Aphrodite, of Venus.  Artists’ renderings of women reclining, or sitting, or standing.  (What?  How did you spend your Thursday evening?!)

After four months…  scratch that–a lifetime… of striving, counting, weighing, longing, and failing, I’ve had a break through.  I began to read a book called Healthy at Every Size.  I became cognizant of the lies I have believed about myself and the relationship that I have had with food.  Craving it, delighting it, using it to satisfy…  Hating it, measuring my worth and morality and value by it and the restraint of my consumption of it.

I’m done.  There is another way.  A more excellent way.  A way of love.  There is a way to pursue health, and life, and to taste the goodness of food and to revel in the beauty of who I am because of Whose I am.

I am not so unlike those artist’s renderings of Aphrodite.  I am curvaceous, voluptuous.  I am ample enough to be a vessel of life… of my husband’s pleasure.

To see this…  To begin ever so haltingly to own this is a gift.  A gift I’ve never known.

I am not a pants size or a number on a scale.  God does not look at me and see my fatness or thinness.  My husband does not require that I be a photoshopped, bony waif to delight in me.

I am Aphrodite.  I am ample life-giver.  I am beautiful.  I am created in the image of the Beauty that sustains all life….  That has created all life.  And I don’t want to spend another day shrinking away from the abundance that He’s given me in this skin that I’m in.

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When Bullies Don’t Look Like Bullies and Mama is at a Loss. Again.

We bring them home from the hospital wrapped up like a baby burrito.

They seem so fragile that we fear we will break them.  We wrap those first-borns, especially, with cotton afraid of everything we encounter being a threat.

We sing them lullabies about how we will always protect them.  We write them poems about how life will be hard, but we will be here to help guide them through it.  We say “The world is big baby, the world is hard, but together we get through whatever comes our way.”

We acknowledge the brokenness in the world and in other people and we hope deep down to be able to keep them wrapped in that cotton and protect them from it.

My oldest is in first grade and it is now that I’m starting to feel that rubber meet the road.  It is now that I’m coming to realize how high the cost is of trying to shepherd them through the things in the world that hurt them…   The messiness of humanity.  The truth that people hurt one another and it’s senseless and unfair when you are the target of that hurt.

I’m not talking about being a helicopter parent.  I know I can’t walk with her through every trial and I’ve long ago stopped wrapping my kids in cotton.  With three you just don’t have the energy.

There is a girl who lives down the road.  She goes to school with C and sees her on the playground…  A girl she wants desperately to be friends with.  But every time she and this little girl play she comes home crying.  She comes home feeling that she is less.

Sometimes the messages this little girl brings home make ME feel less, “My Dad says you are dirty all the time.”  (What my kids look that bedraggled?).  “My mom says I can’t play with you because you say bad words.”  (Oh my…  what did she say???  Did she hear it from me???  What must they think of me?)

At seven years old you expect pig tails and games of hop scotch and the world of friendship to be no more complicated than that.

People are messy and little girls are too.

I always imagined that bullies would look like pudgey-faced freckle laden boys with an ax to grind against the world.  I imagined a surly-toned glaring mob of a kid intent on giving wedgies and stealing milk money.

I don’t know why I believed this notion.  The children that hurt me most–that circled me round on the playground throwing taunts that made me sink down to the core of the earth–were always some of the most respected kids in my class.  It’s why, even to this day, I hide from the pretty girls.  It’s why even to this day I still feel whispers of what I felt on that playground and in those hallways and in those English classes.

Feelings that say that I’m less.  Wrong.  Weird.  Not enough.

She comes home each day and I hold my breath waiting for the report.  There seems to be almost  a predictable cycle to things.  I used to breathe a sigh of relief on the days she told me that she and the girl were ‘friends’ again, now I know that those will be the days when they’ll both end up being at the park to play at the same time and by the end of their time together my sweet freckle-faced girl who has always been so compassionate that she sensed the hurt of another’s heart even in the depths of baby-sleep will come in tearful, feeling small, and wondering why they wouldn’t want to play with her.

And no amount of my reassuring her that she is a wonderful kid that anyone would be lucky enough to have as a friend will help her erase the whisper of doubt that this little girl has planted.

You don’t expect seven-year olds to be so well versed in emotional manipulation.  How do you tell your child not to play with the kid who can be so sweet to the grown ups around her and who can play nicely 70% of the time, but who can crush a spirit in the remaining 30%?  How do you explain to the school that the little girl who speaks so articulately about her observations of the world, is always sent to school well dressed and put together and who colors inside the lines and isn’t a disruption in class, also has the remarkable ability of putting a knife in your little girl’s back and twisting it over and over with her words?

When my mama’s heart gets sad about it, I try to comfort myself by saying that this is an opportunity to show my child how to be loving even when it’s hard and how to use our words to build up and not tear down.

But the reality is that in many of our moments lately I’m trying hard to not go all mama bear on the defenseless seven-year old.

I’ve watched the situation long, wondering what my child’s part is in it.  Watching to see if she throws out her own emotional barbs.  I know she isn’t perfect, and in fact far too often I have gone into situations seeing her imperfections rather than her marvelous strengths, but still I know I must be objective.  I must not cast her as the victim if she is complicit to the problem.

The cycle continues though and I can only conclude that for whatever reason this pairing of little girl elements is toxic and hurts my sweet girl more than it helps her.

Finally I conclude that they just shouldn’t play together anymore.  But that’s not the ‘make nice with everyone’ first grade answer that you feel you should give to a kid.  It’s not the answer I learned in all those ‘feel good about yourself’ classes that were given to me at similar ages about how everyone is our friend and we look for the best in everyone.

I tell her that we can’t invite them over to play from now on…  That if they invite her out it would be best if she stayed home…  That at school she MUST be kind and shouldn’t even mention that Mom said we’re not going to play with her anymore (as that has been one of her favorite things to say to my girl), but that she should focus on being around kids who build her up and not tear her down.

Still it seems it’s impossible thing to expect my child to abide by.  When she is at home and the girl asks if she can play I can make an excuse and send her on her way.  When she is at school and she is just kind enough for my daughter to want to try things again I can’t be there to divert her to another group of friends.  All I can do is to encourage her to surround herself with kids who make her feel good about herself.

I remember the things I whispered over my babes–all born into stories so much bigger than themselves as it was.  I remember how I swore to protect them and I told them that life would be hard and people would hurt them but we would get through it.

And I realize that when I said those things to my little baby burritos I didn’t really know what it would look like.  I didn’t know how much it would make my mama heart ache in the mess of the rubble that would come when the foundations of their confidence was eroded bit by bit  by children they were trying hard to love.  That they desperately want to love them back.

I didn’t know the reality or the mess that I was walking myself into.

This is only the beginning of that mess.

In this situation, which should be so simple and full of sunshine–friendship issues of seven year old girls–I am at a complete loss.  Every day.

And when I am at a loss I have to go to my own shepherd who told me that in this world I would have trouble.  Who told me that I could take heart because He had overcome the world.

I try.  I try to believe in the light overcoming the darkness and I try hard to figure out what loving your enemies looks like in the first grade classroom or in my back yard.  How do you overcome darkness when it comes in the form of the hurtful words from a sweet looking girl with pigtails?

I come up so short.  All I can do is try to choose love and to speak it over my girl.  All I can do is try to encourage her to stand up for herself but to do it in as loving of a way as possible.  All I can do is affirm her for the things I love in her and to call out those things at every opportunity.  I can’t fix the bullies that come in pint-sized packages with pigtails who themselves need just as much love.

We’re learning together.  This sweet little girl who can be fiery mad, and devastatingly sad, and firecracker happy by turns.

I think back to those nights when she was wrapped up like a burrito and those things I whispered over her and I try my best to live up to those words that I promised her.

Sometimes Brave Chooses You

It’s Five Minute Friday.  Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama wants us to remember that we love words–she wants us to paint with them without reservation or over thinking in just five minutes.

For the sake of transparency I will tell you this one took me a couple minutes past five.  I got interrupted at 4:15 and sat down to pound out more than 45 seconds worth…  But not much!  😉

My Mother named me Valerie.  From the same root word as “Valour.”  My name means, “Strong Woman.”

Which is funny because I’ve always felt so timid, so easily overwhelmed.  I’d much prefer staying in my quiet comfortable places than blazing out anywhere in pomp and circumstance.

There was this cat that lived at a friend’s house when my husband and I went to visit  back when we weren’t yet husband and wife…  The cat was the kind that is terrified of people, and crouched and cowered especially when people were around, but when the cat’s person would get out this stick toy and fling around a  birdie, the cat would tentatively peek out.  He just couldn’t help himself.  He mustered up all the bravery he could find and came out and attacked that bird.  The cat’s name was, “Tiger.”  Husband deemed it my nickname soon after.

But somehow, I ended up being the wife of a man who serves our country in the Navy.  And this lifestyle takes some bravery.  You  might think that the brave moments are the ones that happen when I take him to the air terminal and kiss him goodbye and drive away trying to stifle the sobs.  But those moments are unavoidable and they aren’t chosen.  They happen whether I am brave or not.

What I find with every twist and turn this lifestyle brings us, and with every spell of time that we’re apart is that bravery isn’t just worn like a metal on a uniform or a suit of armor.  Often it’s an every day thing.  It’s waking up in the morning exhausted because you don’t sleep well when he’s gone, and putting a smile on your face for your kids even though you miss him right down to your core still on the 90th day of deployment, and the missing is every bit as acute on the 90th day as on the 9th.

It’s having the Internet and Cable and Phone go out and figuring out what it’s going to take to get it back up and running.  It’s taking on the maintenance of two vehicles and figuring out how to mow the lawn during nap time.  It’s not flinching in the face of the myriad daily tasks that you normally leave safely in ‘his domain.’  It’s hearing the doorbell ring at an odd hour of the day and forcing yourself to know that it’s probably not the uniformed men that you fear (yes, even as a Navy wife with a husband who sleeps securely in a rack at night).

I never would have chosen a life that proved my name so thoroughly, but it seems this life has chosen me and for the love of this incredible man, I creep out from my corner and chase it with gusto.

In Which My Inner Rosie the Riveter Makes an Appearance

No two days of deployment are the same, that’s for sure.  Lately we’ve had the ‘holed up in our house with sickies and germs’ kinds of days, but along with those there have been a couple of “Rosie the Riveter–You can do it” days of empowerment and Navy Wife aplomb and also a day of back to back to back to back gremlins.

The Rosie the Riveter days are kind of fun.  Exhausting but fun.  They start with a project–the kind of project that I would never tackle myself if my husband was home.  The kind of a project that is full of tasks that fall squarely in ‘his domain.’

This time I was inspired by the need of a treadmill.

Endorphins are important to me.  I kind of wither away without regular does of them.  And lately instead of basking in the glow of them, I have been letting my backside grow and grow.  So I got it in my head that I NEEDED a treadmill.  Because really–I like to jog well enough.  But do you have any idea how hard it is to get out to pound the pavement when you have three kids in varying stages of wellness and weather that is as changeable as a slot machine when you are THE grown-up in charge all the time?  So my solution was…  a treadmill.

A good friend just happened to have a treadmill, a pretty decent one, just collecting dust in her garage.  She said her husband had told her to sell it.  And so…  I decided to buy it.

So I woke up Saturday morning and it was treadmill day, which might have inspired some excitement for me except that suddenly I realized what all that entailed.  And so…  I spent  a few hours freaking out and walking around in circles trying to decide where to start.  It’s what I do to inspire myself.  I look at the mess and get up to do something about it and get scared of the mess and run to check Facebook or turn on a c.d. to listen to or munch on something in the pantry to shield me from the scariness.

Eventually, I got around to moving the huge bookshelf that I have long taunted Husband about.  It was the first Amazing Building Project of our marriage.  And let’s just say, those book shelves…  hold A LOT of books.  After clearing them of books, and scooting, and dragging, and pushing, and scooting them some more, I got them moved.  Then I had to rearrange the rest of the room.  I moved the love seat and the recliner about half a dozen times before I finally found a configuration that looked ok and didn’t cover any vents.  And then…  there was the rest of the house that needed some attention and the cupcakes I promised my oldest I would make as a mini-birthday celebration…

One by one I knocked the tasks out.

Also…  I pulled the seats of the van out.  All of them.  And marveled at how incredibly heavy those boogers really are.

I had persuaded a friend of ours to help with some of the heavy lifting and he arrived.  The kids were shuttled into the care of my treadmill benefactor and we went to retrieve my new toy.

When I got there, and pulled my little van up to the garage I quickly discovered one unignorable fact:

The treadmill was REALLY, STINKING HEAVY.  I mean ridiculously stinking heavy.  We’re talking, you reach down and try to lift it and nothing happens heavy.  STINKING HEAVY!!

Our heavy lifter was daunted.  So he went and wrangled up a random neighbor who was caught unsuspecting in his very own driveway.  Said neighbor graciously came to my friend’s house and we loaded that puppy into the van.  It just fit.  We closed the door and drove on to my place.

At this point, it was obvious that even with my heavy lifter, that treadmill would be staying in the back of my van unless I got some more help.  So…  I determined it might be a good day to meet some neighbors.  I too took them unawares and batted my little Navy Wife-in- need eyes at them and drug them over to move the heaviest stinking treadmill I’ve seen in my life.

Two burly looking guys volunteered, and they came cheerfully, of course they hadn’t seen the treadmill yet.  The first attempt at going through our garage door was a no go.  We went for another strategy–the front door.  The only problem was the narrow hallway in my kitchen…  Somehow it was navigated and the treadmill found it’s home nestled along the back wall of my computer room, canted in a way that I could watch Netflix episodes of glee while putting miles behind me.  The burly looking new found friends of mine stayed cheerful throughout the endeavor, but I thought I caught the hint of a snarl when they finally got the massive piece of metal into the room and I insisted they turn it around.  What can I say?  I didn’t want to exercise while looking at a wall.  Couldn’t they understand that distraction is my friend??

The only thing left to do was put it together.  My benefactor friend and deployment battle buddy came with her previous knowledge and between the two of us there was a collaboration nearing genius levels.  The conversation started this way.  “Hmm…  This little screwy thing has a hole shaped like this…  so it must need an Allen Wrench.”

“Um….  what does an Allen Wrench look like again?”

Look–my husband is the tool guy, ok?!

But we found an Allen Wrench and set to work.  It only took us four tries, and the baby was together.  I only stripped one screw in the process too!

We made the cupcakes while our kids played and we griped about how much we hate deployment and regained some sanity in commiserating and connecting with a fellow adult.

The kids got wired on sugar and finally it was passed all the kids’ bedtimes so it was time to call the evening over.

The only thing left to do was to put the seats back into the van and I figured that wouldn’t be too much of a chore.

One snapped in right away.  Easy-peasy.  Almost too easy.  I should have taken a clue from that.

The next one…  Well I wrangled it and angled it and looked at the track to see where it was supposed to nestle and I pushed it and I banged on it.

And I pouted.  And screamed.

I might have even cried a little.

Because seriously–I got a behemoth treadmill moved into my computer room, assembled it, and made cupcakes to boot, but I was going to be stuck calling for help the next morning because I couldn’t get the stupid seats put back in the van?!

I cried and pouted some more.  And I had some words with God about how I NEEDED HELP RIGHT NOW, OK?! PLEASE!!!

And finally when I collapsed in desperation at just the right angle onto one of those car seats, it snapped right in.

I tried the collapsing in desperation trick on both of the two remaining seats and with just a little bit of trouble, got them snapped in.

And lo, I came in and pounded out the first mile on my new treadmill and called it a day.

Sometimes even a girl who doesn’t know her Allen Wrench from her Phillips Screwdriver can still get the job done.

And on those days, as tired as I am, and as happily and easily as I would relinquish the job over to my husband in a heartbeat if he could he be here to do it… at the end of the days when my inner Rosie the Riveter is channeled and I use tools and do heavy lifting and get dirty, I learn something beautiful about myself.

I learn that I am able, and capable.  And that even when I think I’m about to be outsmarted by a car seat, I find my way through.

As hard as the long days of deployments can be…  Those moments of empowerment remind me that there is more ‘can do’ in me, than even I realize.

As for those Gremlin days?  Well…  I’ll tell you about that one of these days too.

Unsettled

For whatever reason I’m unsettled today.  I read about the senselessness that happened in Afghanistan, I ached about the grief of a friend, and for whatever reason, my brain has been chewing on some of the harder aspects of the trip we took for tests and surgery to deal with my tumor last year.

I don’t know why these days and these moments of stewing on things that I’ve mostly felt my way through and that happened in the past come up as they do still.

But they do.  Still.

Today I was thinking about the “extra” hard parts.  The ones that weren’t directly related to the tumor that I had, but that complicated the situation just the same.  I thought about how ridiculous it felt to have to go to another hospital–when I was at the foremost research hospital in the country–first because we thought I had pink eye (I didn’t) and then because my ear drum ruptured and I had an ear infection.  I thought about how terrified I was when the potential case of pink eye nearly sparked an epidemiology scare that I was all but told could set off a chain of events that would wreak havoc not just for me but potentially for the entire institution performing my surgery.  I thought about how much scarier it made tooling around in an unfamiliar hospital and having tests and procedures was when I could hear nothing out of my right ear because my eardrum had ruptured.  I thought about the scowls I got at my choice to continue to breastfeed through the entire ordeal, and my choice to bring my baby along (and I was told this plan would be ok). I thought about how much easier it might have been if I hadn’t done all the research I had about breastfeeding and had just taken the doctors and radiologists very, very conservative advice rather than trusting my gut and the advice of the lactation consultants I met with and pumping and dumping but only as often as my lactation consultants advised.  I thought about the disequilibrium and isolation-fearing despair I felt when my husband and my not quite three month old babe were told in no uncertain terms that they could not stay with me in my hospital room and the scary words of warning intoned everywhere we went about infectious diseases she could catch.  I thought about the meds I wasn’t given to ease my anxiety prior to surgery and the pain meds I wasn’t given after the surgery again because of overly conservative medical folks who didn’t know how many choices there really are for a breastfeeding mother.

I thought about how terrifying it all was and how out of control I felt and how this was all outside of the actual surgery itself…  the fear that I’d built up over the entire year about the feeling of being laid out on the table and positioned to be cut into.  I considered how very much it felt that I was the ‘trouble’ patient who had so many different outside issues that I insisted on juggling.

Then the post-op infection.  The pain and the helplessness.  The doctors who were afraid to touch me.  The scolding I got from local doctors who told me, “That’s what you get for seeking care 3000 miles away,” the day in the ER as my neck continued to swell, and the doctors didn’t come and didn’t and didn’t come…  the tiredness, the vanco drip for two days, the ache of being away from my big girls again so soon after we’d returned.  The vulnerability of another unlikely thing going wrong.

I thought about how much more bleary-eyed caring for an infant feels when you have delicate surgery and a post operative infection requiring two solid days of intravenous anti-biotics.  I thought of my husband pacing two different hospitals on opposite coasts with her in the middle of the night so I could rest.  I thought about trying to hard so be the one to soothe her because she just wanted Mommy even before I really felt well enough to do so.

And then I got an email from my protocol folks asking me to come for scans and clinical appointments at a date that will be tricky for us between homecoming and kiddos in school and all that I had already been ruminating on came up that much more and was compounded by how stuck we are in this Navy lifestyle, and how isolated.  I feel it so much more when the dates we are called out for are crunchy for us and I need to think through contingency plans.  We’re 2000 miles away from our families and all of the people that it feels more ok to impose upon to help with our kids when we need to jet set to the other side of the country to have pictures taken of my insides.  The friends we’ve made come and go and we’re in a season of rebuilding new relationships after moves and Navy attrition have taken confidante after confidante and friend after friend and continue to do so.

I feel very vulnerable sometimes.  I feel the heavy reality of how easily life can turn on a dime and how exposed and isolated I feel in those moments.

I am unsettled today.  Truth be told, I am unsettled by that last couple of sentences a lot lately.

It’s not that we don’t have wonderful friends and people who care about us.  We do.  They’re all just scattered at varying proximity from us.

It’s not that I don’t understand and give thanks and praise to God for how well everything has turned out so far.

It’s just that I’m so disabused of the notion that there could be any guarantees that it always will.

I am unsettled.  I live in a world where a husband and father of two kids could suddenly go and massacre innocents, walking miles in the middle of the night, and searching out people to harm–children to harm.  I live in a mind and a heart that feels as much empathy for him and his family as I do for the innocents who were slain because I am positive that such a thing could not have happened outside of the grievous mental wounds of war.  I ache at the horror of it and the terror of retaliations and the questions it stirs up.

I live in a world where one in a million tumors can hit you at random while you’re pregnant and then hit you again in all the ways the doctors say they probably never will.  I live in a world where I know people who are living the reality of those tumors doing what the doctors say almost never happens every day.

I live in a world where the assumed levels of support aren’t always accessible even in a life blessed with rich friendships and loving family.

I am unsettled today.  And sometimes when encountering the major and minor versions of this  uneasy world and it’s lack of easy answers and inexplicable pain, I think unsettled is the reaction that makes sense.

Opportunity or Danger

I fell off the earth for a couple of weeks blog-wise, but all is going ok enough really.  I’m jumping back in with a Five Minute Friday, because I do love them so.  Over at the Gypsy Mama’s place we’re given the chance to dive in with others to write with abandon on a word of the week and I find it helps me find my words and love crafting them again and again.

Item of housekeeping:  My dear friend, Sarah L. was the winner of my first every give-away.  Even though it’s over, I’m still finding ways that I can BE Rare and SEE Rare.  I hope you are too.  A  book will head Sarah’s way soon!

Ok…  Five Minutes on Empty

I’m learning, ever so slowly, that emptiness can be one of two things.

It can be an opportunity.  When I stub my toe on emptiness it can serve as impetus to fill myself at the well of my Father’s love for me.

Or… it can be a danger.  It can be a slipping point where in search of something to fill that emptiness I turn to lesser things for comfort and satisfaction.

When 5:30 p.m. rolls around every day I feel profoundly empty.  Weekends as well.  Deployments show you the pieces of your routine that are made sacred with togetherness and, in the absence of my husband, the house, my life, my heart feel the void. An immense aching void.

Those are the parts of the day when you can’t lean on other friends because you know they are partaking of their own sacred rituals of togetherness and you can’t, out of your own loneliness, impose yourself on them to fill the empty places that are screaming at you.

I have a variety of ways that I try to chase away the emptiness.  Some of them are good, and some of them aren’t great.  Chocolate beckons seductively…  Facebook is so easy to get lost in….  Ignoring the house and sometimes even the kids to curl up into a book is a great and dangerous escape.

But I have to pull myself out of this mindset and think about what I’m doing.  There is only One who can satisfy me in the ways that I need and crave.  He is the one to whom I must turn when these long deployment days and their dull, gray emptiness threaten to swallow me whole.  I need to seize the opportunity to be satisfied in Him.