The True Weight of 300 Pounds

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment.

I haven’t always been the size I am now. Currently, according to the the scale in my aunt’s and uncle’s bathroom,  I am EE, which I assume is an acronym for Extremely Eloquent. Nailed it!

I weigh 300 pounds – 304.1 to be completely accurate.

It’s important to note that I have been fighting the urge to write this post for weeks because of my own insecurities. It seems contradictory (read: painfully hypocritical) since I remind my high school students all the time how important it is to be proud of yourself at every stage and to own your insecurities. I explain how much my husband loves me and how powerful my body is for having brought two children into the world.

All of that is true. I believe every word. However, I had to accept the realization that hiding behind layers of clothes and not being my true, authentic self regardless of what the scale read wasn’t going to make me any less overweight. People need to put a face to obesity. We need to be responsible enough to educate ourselves and our children so they can understand and begin to be sensitive to people’s struggles. We teach this with racism, sexism, and even poverty-sensitivity, but somehow it’s still acceptable to gawk and stare at a person who is overweight eating at a restaurant like they are some circus sideshow. Maybe if my story can be heard, people can begin to see that we aren’t monsters.

This is 300.

It should be noted that, while I am using my number so that I can begin to own it, many who echo my feelings are much smaller. Every person’s prison looks different.

My weight gain started in about fourth grade but, back then – before the instant spread of information – it was much easier to be blissfully unaware of one’s shortcomings. I had no idea I looked any different from my friends until sixth grade when I found out a boy in my class was paid in a bet to ask me to be his girlfriend and then give me a pack of Slim Fast as a Valentine’s gift…in the hallway…in front of all of my friends. Yeah, not one of my finer moments. (Sorry if I never told you that, Mom.)

To be honest, it wasn’t really the end of the world for me. I’ve never been like most girls who fawned after boys and wanted to be trendy. While I totally rocked the curled forward/curled back and feathered bangs of the 90’s, Guess jeans (which were from Goodwill and I eventually tore the business end out of during gym class), and silk shirts (mine were from the men’s department), I didn’t do makeup and boyfriends, Barbies or dress up. I did goals and involvement, jobs and volunteering. (Seriously, how did I manage to have friends?!)

It occurred to me later in life that I must’ve had some kind of awareness that I wasn’t physically acceptable. In the fifth grade, I wrote a fan letter to my 90s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas (don’t act like you didn’t buy his issue of TeenBeat) and I asked my beautiful, cheerleading best friend to send her picture as my own. I must’ve known that I had no chance to hear back from him with a picture of myself in the letter.

Fast forward through high school and college where I tried billions of diets, fad plans, all natural pills, drinks, meetings, calorie counting, and starvation (for those who know how next-level mean I get when I’m hungry, picture how that last one must’ve gone). None of it worked.

The crazy thing is that, like most of you, when I look back at the pictures from those formative years, I would pay good money to look like I did then. At the time, I wanted to crawl in a hole during most social settings because I felt like the biggest cow in the room. I put on a super-believable front of confidence and hilarity but it was painfully isolating to feel that way about myself. I hid behind books, jobs, sports, and layers of clothing, because obviously a tank top and three t-shirts convinced people that I was only wearing that fat suit from “The Nutty Professor” instead of it being my real body under there.

Somehow I got along by being the guys’ gal. I played football with the boys, was a soccer goalie in college, and was usually one of the first picked for intramural teams because I wasn’t afraid to get dirty, but I really just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. How could I fit in while simultaneously feeling like I was watching it all from the outside?

I killed it in the gym before getting married and walked down the aisle, slaying it (if I do say so myself) at a solid 175 pounds. Anyone who was there would have been shocked by that number, but guess what? American people are idiots. We are so insanely naive to what real numbers look like spread across bones and muscle that we all assume 175 is the size of a grown man. Not always, my friends. I rocked a bikini on our honeymoon at 175 and would do it again in a hot minute if I still looked like that!

I then packed on 50 pounds in our first year of marriage because, well, marriage. I gained 80 more pounds with my first pregnancy since, as a lifetime over-eater, this was a license to eat donuts for every breakfast and wear stretch-pants to work because no one could say anything to me. Herein lies my greatest regret in life. No kidding.

The bounce-back from my post-wedding weight gain and two near-death childbirths hasn’t been the rebuilding year(s) I thought they’d be. I mean, how long is it acceptable to wear maternity clothes after your baby is born, really? Like, will anybody really notice if I rock a nursing bra to my daughter’s graduation?

This is 300.

What most people fail to recognize is that when you’re overwieght, you have to think about things differently every single day. It isn’t only the obvious considerations like seat belt extenders on airplanes or choosing a van over a compact car. Please understand what we see when we look at the world.

When we were deciding to downsize our living arrangements and go tiny, I was nervous because of my size. Could I navigate a ladder if we had a loft bedroom? Would I have to turn sideways in the hallways because, giiiirrrlll, these hips don’t lie? Would I even fit inside the shower or on the toilet? Turns out, it’s perfectly fine and we make it work.

In a movie theatre, music venue, or restaurant, I have to consider how wide the arms of the chairs are because slamming my hips into them is like pouring Play-doh into one of those spaghetti-making factories, if they have plastic seats because those babies don’t stand a chance, or if they have tables instead of booths because those suckers were made for infants. I refuse to eat at buffets because, even though my large frame consumes small meals at a time, I feel like I’m on display. It’s as if I am loading my plate at a feeding trough and all of the average-sized patrons are watching and snickering to themselves about me getting seconds, failing to notice the first plate had only a small salad and vegetables.

This is 300.

At home, in our tiny bathroom, the teal rug is flecked with white. This is the remnants of baby powder to ensure that everything goes smoothly throughout the day because, without it, the chafing that can happen behind the scenes is horribly painful. My husband asked me the other night if I somehow had gotten deodorant on my pants. I lied and said yes, but it was baby powder.

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment. Why isn’t she jogging instead of walking? Why did she wear a tank top in public? Why is she pouring her dumps over that bike seat so we have to all look at it? While their stares may be innocent, I feel the shame of a guilty verdict.

To say that my body is a prison would be a gross understatement. The analogy does no justice to my daily life because prisoners, even those doing time for crimes they didn’t commit, have no freedoms and little idea of the world outside. I’m forced to watch it pass by while my mind tells me I should be able to run, go, play, but my aching joints, bad back, and post-baby belly flap suggest otherwise. If you haven’t lived this life-sentence, please accept that you cannot possibly understand what we are going through. Additionally, we wouldn’t want you to feel this. It is painful…all the time.

This is 300.

When weight loss success stories begin with rock bottom moments like when their kid told them their friends called their mommy fat, or when they were made fun of in public, or when the scale would no longer register their weight, I smile. Good for them! Inside I somehow accept that I can never accomplish what they have. On some level I wonder if I self-sabotage because I feel like I don’t deserve to be successful. I have gone through every one of those scenarios…most more than once, but here I am.

To those of us who need to loose 100 pounds or more, it seems unachievable. We’re told, “Set small attainable goals. Exercise. Take in less calories than you’re burning.”

“You don’t say! Well that is brand new information! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

If you’re fit, or even one of those blessed with freak-show metabolism that burns off your fourth Taco Bell meal so you still make it into your size nothing skinny jeans, I applaud you. But I don’t understand your life. I can smell your burrito and wake up four pounds heavier for it.

This is 300.

I hate shopping. No, seriously. It’s the worst. I’ve always hated it because 10 years ago, when I was 175, it was even less acceptable for females to be larger. My size range of 10 to 14 may as well have been special order Big-and-Tall catalogue items. Now I shop exclusively online and happily pay the fee to return my items instead of awkwardly finagling my way around a fitting room only to leave disappointed and feeling even worse about myself.

It kills me that stores have started changing their sizing from 14/16, 18/20, 22/24, and 26/28 to 1, 2, 3, and 4. While I appreciate your attempt at sensitivity, I know if there are any single digits on my clothing tags, they better be followed by an X. Get serious! Nobody believes this shirt is a size two! The day my pants are a size anything below a 16, that long, narrow sizing sticker is staying on this leg, honey! All. Day.

“Ma’am, did you know your tag is still on your pants?”

“Why yes, innocent bystander at Starbucks. What is that number? Read it out loud. Tell your friends!”

When you’re larger, it’s difficult to feel like you look good in anything. Many have been told their entire lives that they are different, gross, or wrong. So when a well-intentioned friend pays us a compliment, our sensitive minds distort it into some kind of back-handed joke or slight about our looks.

Just because we had a grandpa who made crass comments about our size or a boy in grade school who bought us Slim Fast as a prank doesn’t mean the world sees us that way. Some do, but that is our reality. They are obviously inept. We are people. We have feelings, and families, and hopes for the future.

Just as smaller people should learn to walk a mile (okay, like a block) in our Sketchers Shape-Ups, we need to learn to let it go. Laugh so you don’t cry, call it what you want, but loosen up! Odds are you won’t wake up miraculously killing it in a supermodel frame, so we need to embrace it and decide where to go from here. As we do, let’s at least agree to enjoy the journey, even the bumpy, cellulite-filled parts.

This is 300.

Unlike other addictions, we need food to survive. Our reality is that we know our bodies shouldn’t run on a steady stream of cream-filled coffee, donuts from the office, and the Taco Bell Happier Hour dollar burrito we bought on our way home from work and trashed the bag so our family members didn’t know we ate it. We have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else.

“Oooh that girl is wearing one of those step counting watches! She’s probably on her way to eat kale and run at the park in some trendy yoga pants and one of those tank tops with the built-in bra!”

My Fitbit ain’t fooling anybody! I bought that burrito and ate it like a boss! What even is kale, other than the name of a kid who I imagine has friends with other pretentious names like Heath and Talon? I don’t even attempt Spanx, much less spandex yoga pants. Those shelf bras? HA! They hold up nothing and just spread over my back fat so I look like I am smuggling a pack of sausages.

It’s up to us to decide how we move forward from here. Some of us will continue to wallow in our self pity. Some may choose surgery, starvation, or a reality show in which you work out 12 hours a day. It’s a trick to make real people feel like it is attainable. (You know, those of us watching enviously as we devour an entire bag of chips and imagine what our life would be like if we lost our excess weight.) Many of us will continue to struggle. This is a lifetime sentence, even if you are successful.

I still don’t know my choice. I don’t want to just see my kids grow up, I want to be a part of that. I want to climb and race and do the crazy things I used to be able to do when I thought I looked like a monster.

The Obvious Question When Your Kids are 35 Years Apart

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have kids whose ages are 35 years apart.

“I hate you!” our six-year-old Richard yelled because I wouldn’t let him throw a toy across the room.

“I love you, son,” I replied.

It’s not the dialog we had in mind when we decided to have a child later in life. I’m certain we each pictured some variation of our family walking down the street laughing and holding hands, not being shouted at by an angry child, disciplining him, or arguing with each other about should he or shouldn’t he bring a toy to the dinner table.

I’m a Baby Boomer, retired and collecting Social Security. I have two adult children from my first marriage and I write, work in my woodshop, enjoy our home, raise bees, and help raise our son, Richard. I don’t miss leaving for the office in the morning and I celebrate that by drinking three cups of coffee before breakfast and one cup after just to relax. What possessed me to want another child?

Simple. I love my wife and I want to make her happy, and I love kids and always wanted a big family. My wife, Mindy, was never married and never had children. We’re happy, we could afford it, and I knew she wanted to be a mom and I always enjoyed being a dad. I view our decision to have a child as a selfless act, although not everyone shares that point of view. I avoid those people because I want to stay positive. Our son has fulfilled both of us and made us happier, notwithstanding his childish bouts of “I hate you.”

I’ve heard from friends, “Shouldn’t you be able to relax and not argue with or about children?”

Other friends tell me, “You’re nuts and you always have been.”

I tell them all, “I am relaxed, and I have to argue about something, so why not kids?”

They are all satisfied with their first set of kids. I’m satisfied with all my kids. One of my best childhood friends was a guy named Lew who had four brothers in a huge house. There was a second house on their property and his grandparents lived there. It was an early example of a multi-generational living situation and I was secretly envious.

I also sought divorce from my ex-wife when our daughter was fifteen and our son thirteen. I missed some of their growth because of divorce dynamics.

I do have to admit that late parenthood also has issues.

When my older son, Greg, now 39, was up for a weekend, I took my two sons out for ice cream. As we approached the counter, the guy waiting to serve us looked at me, pointed at Richard and asked with feigned warmth, “Is that your grandson?”

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have children whose ages are 35 years apart.

There are also potential health issues. Time published an article by Jeffrey Kluger in the April 11, 2013 edition, entitled, “Too Old to be a Dad.” He cites data that concludes kids of older dads have higher incidences of psychological and physical problems, specifically memory function. Then he goes on to name well-known older fathers from the entertainment world. That seems to contradict his point or else those older entertainers were his database and they had memory loss. He didn’t say.

So, I have to admit, there is risk in fathering a child in my sixties, but the biggest risk is that I’ll leave Mindy a widowed single parent. Am I playing family roulette, betting that I’ll live to a ripe old age? What happens if my roulette number doesn’t pay off? Perhaps my age won’t ripen after all.

To what age will I live if my number pays off?

My paternal great-grandfather lived to 100, and that was all before the invention of antibiotics, suggesting he had a very strong constitution. My maternal great-grandfather lived to 98. Did I inherit those genes? Doubtful. My Dad and his father both lived to 88. Sadly, Dad lost his mind a few years before he died. My wife tells me, “I think you’re losing yours.” I don’t answer because wives can also drive men out of their minds with needless worry, in addition to losing memory to the aging process. Maybe I have a little of both working. Uh-oh.

So, family longevity is in my favor and I guess secretly I’m betting that I’ll be around for a while. Maybe not a hundred years like my great-grandfather, but I certainly look forward to watching our son graduate college. I’ll be in my eighties, that is, as they say down south, “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise!”

What’s changed from raising my first two in my 30s? First of all, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison because I’m not only married to a different woman, I also have the benefit of more than 30 years’ experience. Back then I worked 50 or 60 hours a week building a career and now I am home all day except for excursions to doctors, the gym, and a weekly writing workshop.

I took my older two to school in their early grades and now, our son takes the bus. My older two spent their childhoods in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and two houses in New Jersey. My younger son has lived in New York since he was born, although we moved from a smaller home in the boonies to a larger more suburban home. There’s some stability there. My older kids went to public schools, and we started Richard in private school and he’s now in third grade, still in private school.

There are similarities too. They’re all my children and, while that’s obvious, it’s also rhetorical. I’m proud of them, I love them and I see myself in their faces. They are part of my desire to leave a legacy. There are other similarities too. For example, kids are not naturally neat and I’m not sure that neatness can be taught. It’s inherent and none of my kids had it in their youth. Similarly, kid’s toys tend to be specific to the era. Our younger son loves Legos and his creations cover every horizontal surface. That toy didn’t click together into shapes when my older kids were his age. They had Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, and watched Sesame Street. Richard watches Netflix and plays Minecraft on his iPad.

They all seem to depend on me to one extent or another. Richard completely because of his age, but older son Greg too because he’s had trouble launching a career. I hired my executive trainer for him and paid for it. My oldest child is a physician who considers herself entirely independent right down to her BMW, but even she used to invite me to her home and add, “Please bring lunch and your tools.” Something always needed repair.

What do I conclude? Kids are great if you can afford them, play with them, be there for them, and instill good values. If one or more of those is impossible, then enjoy your grandchildren if you have any. There’s an advantage to them once you reach a certain age. That advantage is grandchildren go home eventually and their parents are responsible for them. Richard is home all the time, although fortunately we can still manage well.

The other night he hurt himself in the bathtub. He was crying and I was out for the evening at my writing workshop. My wife said it wasn’t a fun evening. She missed that TV show she likes and I missed the whole thing.

Determined…to Lighten Up

Lately, I’ve seriously resolved to take myself less seriously. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Just like so many aspects of life. As time goes on, I’m finding that many age-old oxymoronic mantras ring true: less is more, pride brings low, humility brings high, giving is receiving, and so on.
As I find myself five-and-a-half years into marriage and two years into parenthood, I’m creating my own paradoxical saying. I’m determined to not be so determined, or I’m serious about being less serious (whichever you prefer).
I find striving for control a natural instinct. Though the motives of my heart may be pure (e.g. – “I just want what’s best for my family.”), the ripple effects of this habitual behavior in our home are almost palpable. It discourages, undermines, and steals away from what could have been an otherwise pleasant situation.
Manipulating the environment around me to be “just so” tends to go hand-in-hand with taking life too seriously in all the wrong ways, as well as fretting over outcomes that are beyond my control. Allow me to provide a few examples:
Correcting the way my husband loads the dishwasher.
Over-analyzing something he said innocently in passing.
Harping on things I want to get “done” around the house at a time that is only convenient for me.
Worrying excessively about my son’s milestones and whether he’s meeting them.
Comparing him to other children.
Being anxious over my every action as a mother, while spiraling down a wormhole of fear as I consider how each expression and word spoken might impact him as an adult.
(Cue: loud exhale)
There is a time and place to consider and address (almost) all of the examples above. I’m not suggesting that forsaking healthy order and parental responsibilities is the way to go. But letting these petty instances become the soundtrack in my home will suck the joy right out of the people living here.
To what end? That has been the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Why do I do this, and what is it all for in the long run?
Ultimately, the dishes will get cleaned, even if the way in which it happens is not the most efficient. My husband and I will hurt one another’s feelings, whether we intend to or not. Things around the house will get done, and it’s okay if it’s not on my preferred timeline. My son will reach his milestones at his own pace. He already possesses strengths and weaknesses, just like every other human being.
Yet, here’s the doozy for me lately: Not everything I say and do is going to powerfully impact my child. Sadly, it is pretty guaranteed that we’re all going to mess up our kids. This is unavoidable, so I can let that fear go right now.
We’re also going to do some really amazing things for them. Ironically, I think that the more we try to be perfect, the more we’ll probably mess them up.
When I take myself less seriously and simply be me – as a wife, mom, friend, and whatever other role I play in life – I’m reminded that I’m the best wife for my husband and he is the best husband for me because we intentionally chose each other, regardless of whatever our fleeting emotions might tell us.
Similarly, I’m the best mom my son will ever have. He was given to me and I was given to him purposefully, because we suit one another in spite of whatever challenges come our way.
So I will continually try to let go of controlling each facet of my life. I might even resolve to enjoy the imperfections as a sort of beautiful chaos. I aim to free up my husband and son to be themselves while providing them the extra respect, love, grace, patience, and understanding that I hope to receive from them.
I’m determined to stop wasting energy on the insignificant and the inevitable. It’s time to lighten up.

When One "Snore" Closes, Another Door Opens

People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all.

“Do you think anyone has ever divorced her husband over snoring? Asking for a friend.”

I jokingly wrote this on social media a few weeks ago because I was up late listening to my husband slumber away. When I say that I was listening to him sleep, I mean I was unfortunately really listening. There he lay, a foot away from me, snoring loud enough to shake the walls of our home (I swear it). It was the loudest, most wretched sound I can describe to you good readers: a mixture of gurgling, choking, gasping, coughing, mumbling, and good old traditional snoring. A real medley of marital unhappiness, if you will.

This is the soundtrack to my life between the hours of 10 p.m. and six a.m., and it has been like this for a number of years. Unfortunately, as we enter middle age, the snoring is only getting worse. The infant cries in the night have been replaced by this crap and, sadly, I can’t just pop a bottle in the hubs and make the noise cease.

I roll him “beached whale style” constantly, jab him in his ribs hard enough to leave him with physical reminders of my constant frustration and irritation, and wake him out of his pseudo-slumber several times a night in hopes that I can quickly fall asleep as he startles awake and tries to settle himself back down. My tactics no longer even leave a dent in the snoring.

Just a few years back he used to snore only after he had a few beers or stayed up late watching sports. Now I swear it starts before he has fully closed his eyeballs. I don’t think he even has to be asleep to snore!

I used to become agitated, but I could deal…or move beds. I am a mother to four young daughters, so musical beds is nothing new to me. As the snoring developed into a nightly experience, my agitation also developed into anger, aggression, and really negative emotions.  Every single morning we would bicker via text regarding the previous night’s snore-a-thon.

Why doesn’t he go sleep on the couch? When is he going to call and schedule a sleep study or buy some fancy mouth guard over the internet? Why doesn’t he care that his sleep selfishness is causing me to be exhausted and perpetually pissed off at him?

At the root of it all, this marital impasse wasn’t about the actual act of snoring. It was about something so much deeper: Why does he always come first? Does he think that he needs rest more than me because he has a high stress job that requires him to keep people alive while I’m at home vacuuming and doing laundry? When we jointly decided that he would work stressful, late hours at the hospital and I would give up teaching to become a Goddess of Domesticity, did I accidentally also give up my right to a good night’s sleep? Did I sign on some dotted line that I agreed to be the lesser person in this marriage and, therefore, if one of us had to sacrifice rest, it would automatically be me so that he could be his best?

Well, hold the phone dammit!

I started to firmly believe that his nightly snoring was a personal attack on my wellbeing. He might as well kiss me good night and then say, “Good night. If you get no sleep tonight that’s probably okay because you stay home all day and do nothing, so rest up then.” Of course he never said that, he isn’t suicidal or anything. In fact, he never said anything other than sorry or that he doesn’t mean to snore. Sorry didn’t matter to me though, the resentment was so thick you could slice it with a knife.

Now I’m not exactly the type of woman who bottles up her emotions and buries them deep down in the depths of her soul. No. If I’m pissed, you’ll know about it. If you’ve upset me, you’ll hear about it, over and over and over again. There’s no guesswork in deciphering how I’m feeling. He knew that the snoring was causing major anger and rifts in our marriage. I made it fairly clear to him.

Snoring! People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all. So why didn’t he just do something about it!?

As usual, we had to hit marital rock bottom before we were able to discuss the “whys.” Beneath his gurgling, snoring, middle-age manliness was some serious insecurity he was dealing with all by himself. Unlike me, my husband is the kind of person who bottles up his emotions and pushes them deep down only to have them explode once in a great while. He knew that he’d gained some middle age weight, which was contributing to the snoring. Even though he runs each and every day, he too was struggling with the beast that is “the thirties tire.” Facing middle age was another mirror that my husband wasn’t wanting to look in. While I seem to be accepting the fact that we are getting older, fatter, and grayer, he isn’t accepting that as easily. He still wants to eat, live, and drink like he’s 23 years old. No one wants to admit the golden days are long gone, I suppose.

So he kept on denying his snoring and I kept on hating him – every day – until we were able to get down to the root of his insecurity and the root of my feelings of being the lesser important human. Those kinds of marital talks are never fun. They are exhausting, they sting, they go on forever and ever, but they’re totally and completely necessary.

A week ago he went online and purchased a snore-guard. It can’t be the most comfortable thing to wear all night long, but sweet Lord it is working! He still lightly snores, but it’s tolerable – so tolerable. More importantly. I’m so grateful that this simple gesture of wearing his snore guard shows me that he does care about my comfort. It makes a world of difference in my sleep patterns and a world of difference in my appreciation for him.

Thank you, husband. Thank you for wearing your cumbersome mouth guard at night so that I can sleep and so that I know that you love me.

Fellows, if your wife tells you that you snore, then you snore. If you love your wife, if you value her and see her as equally important, buy yourself a snore guard. Nothing says I love you like a snore guard.

I Asked Navy SEALs and Green Berets For Advice On Surviving Sleep Deprivation – This is What They Said

I’d read about how SEAL recruits had to endure the most physically challenging conditions imaginable – including sleep deprivation. Maybe they could help.

I couldn’t stop worrying about the sleep deprivation. It’s what I what I feared most about becoming a first-time dad. Of course I was worried about the normal things – Am I really cut out to take care of another human being? What if my child goes on tour with the Juggalos? Or becomes an accountant? – but I was always able to talk myself out of the those worries.
The sleep thing was different. After years of chronic insomnia (both the sleep-onset and the sleep maintenance variety), I’d finally settled in to a semi-normal sleep routine. I wasn’t ready to go back to the zombie state that resulted from long stretches of only getting a few hours of sleep a night.
But what if I didn’t have to? What if I could forgo the doctor-recommended sleep time and still avoid the side effects of sleep deprivation that had plagued me in the past? I convinced myself this was possible – with the right guidance. And this line of thinking led me directly to the most elite units of the United States military: The Navy SEALs and the Green Berets. I’d read about how SEAL training forced recruits to endure the most physically challenging conditions imaginable – including extreme sleep deprivation.
With these thoughts in mind, I reached out in earnest to both the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets for tips on how I could deal with the sleep deprivation that accompanied a new baby. Here’s the email I sent:

NAME REMOVED, 

I know this is going to sound unusual, but I was actually writing to see if there were any tips the [U.S. Navy/Army] – specifically the [Navy SEAL/Green Beret] division of the [U.S. Navy/Army] – could offer to help me deal with sleep deprivation. I’m having a baby any day now, and I’m actually pretty worried about how the lack of sleep is going to impact me. I know this sound ridiculous, but I’m very serious about my question. People tell me you just have to sleep when the baby sleeps, but that’s not really an option for me.

I have sleep issues where I need a very specific set of conditions to fall asleep. So I’m thinking the sleep deprivation thing could be extra terrible in the first few weeks – and I really want to be as helpful, productive and present as possible during the baby’s first few weeks with us. I figured it was at least worth a shot to see if one of our military’s most elite units was able (I don’t know how much training is classified) to offer me some tips on how to help my body adjust to the lack of sleep I’ll no doubt be experiencing soon. Anything at all would be greatly appreciated.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions or would like additional details from me.

Sincerely,

Jared Bilski

I can’t believe I got any response. The email clearly sounds like it’s coming from a lunatic. What type of person asks the military for secret and potentially classified tactics to help them parent more effectively. I’m not sure what kind of response I was looking for. Maybe, I was hoping for specifics like:

Dear Jared,

Keep a basin of ice water and a hammer in a strategic location at all times. When fatigue starts to set in, submerge your head under the ice water for 30-45 seconds. Then, as soon as you exit the basin, immediately drop the hammer on your bare foot. The pain and adrenaline rush should mask the effects of the sleep deprivation for 48-72 hours after which you should repeat the process or sleep.

I actually heard back from both the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs, and their responses weren’t what I was expecting. Due to scary language about the SEALs’ email being an official Department of Defense communication, I won’t reprint the entire transcript of the message on this parenting website.
Essentially, the anonymous SEAL recruiter told me there wasn’t really a magic workaround for sleep deprivation and that the condition could be harmful even over the course of a short period of time. He said the SEALs overcome the condition because “they are in a life-threatening environment where adrenaline makes up for it [the loss of sleep]. Don’t do that to yourself.”
He also urged me to split up the parenting duties, catch up on sleep whenever possible, and urged me to get family help if possible. Then he wished me luck with the new child.
The Green Berets’ respondent offered me the following advice:

I’m sorry, but we only answer recruiting questions. However, as a mother of four children, I can advise you to get someone to help with the baby as much as possible in the first few weeks until you can adjust. Congratulations and I hope things go well for you!

Respectfully,

NAME REMOVED

Looking back on the Army recruiter’s message, I can’t believe a woman who had not one, not two, but four children, had the discipline to not call me a whiny little bitch because of my fear.
But what struck me the most about the responses from both elite military units was the common message: Get help whenever possible and take advantage of any available family.
Their emails made it clear they thought parenting was far from an easy job. And somehow that made me feel better. After all, if a Navy SEAL, someone who survived drown proof testing and Hell Week (7,000 calories a day are consumed and people still lose weight!), thinks taking care of a baby is hard, then I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for getting a little overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a parent.

What it Means to Build a "Home"

I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places.

Home. I’ve grown up my whole life hearing phrases like “Home is where the heart is,” and “Home is where your story begins.” Many people don’t know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, “home” was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that’s comfortable and safe. I was lucky enough to know this reality.
My family moved into what I grew up calling “home” when I was five. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn’t stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could “make it” on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we’re going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.
With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don’t have a home anymore.
I don’t mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, “houseless.” I live in a house with my JuneBug, two dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.
I can easily go to my mother’s house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly, fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.
I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word “home,” I don’t think of a specific place because there isn’t one. Home isn’t a place.
My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn’t seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmother’s house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen three generations grow up, is home.
I’m starting to believe that I will never have a “home” again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn’t where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you’re “home.” So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building “home” all along.
This article was originally published on Diary of a June Bug.

I Wouldn’t Wish Labor Pains on My Worst Enemy, But I Would on My Husband

Without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires.

I wouldn’t wish labor pains on my worst enemy. But I would wish them on my husband.
To be fair, I don’t have that many personal enemies. The mean girl in high school? Ex-boyfriend? They don’t deserve 12 hours of back labor that leaves them feeling like their hips are stuck in a vice. That jerk who cut me off in traffic? I hope she never knows what it’s like to vomit between blood-curdling screams.
The blinding pain, the all-encompassing agony – I don’t think anyone should have to go through that.
Except my husband.
What I wouldn’t give for him to experience labor just as I did.
Here’s the thing. He’s a good husband. The best, really. This isn’t some personal vendetta against him. It’s not like he was off romancing a mistress while I sweated through contraction after contraction. He held my hand, told me how well I was doing, and texted family with updates for hours.
And I hated him for it.
It was the same throughout each of my pregnancies. I was grateful when he gave me a foot rub, but what I really wanted was for him to know what it felt like to have swollen, throbbing feet. Sure, he was sympathetic as he hoisted me out of bed each morning. But I would have preferred that he fully understand the humiliation I felt at not being able to accomplish such a simple task myself.
When my breasts ballooned to triple their normal size, I was grateful for the cooling cabbage leaves he ran out to get (even if they were purple and stained my chest). What I truly needed, though, was for him to know what it was like to have a tiny life solely dependent on something you still weren’t quite sure how to give them.
My husband doled out sympathy for every pregnancy, birth, and postpartum ailment that came my way. But what I really needed was empathy.
Everyone knows that empathy is the trendy version of sympathy. It’s the one you are supposed to offer. But without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires. My husband could believe me when I told him my pregnancy and breast-feeding struggles, but he had no idea what they actually felt like.
Unfortunately, even talking to other moms doesn’t often provide us with the deep understanding we so desire. Conversations tend to head in one of two directions.
The “I had it way worse – why would you even complain?” exchange:
You: “I was in labor for 16 hours and pushed for another three.”
Playground mom: “Oh I wish I was in labor for only 16 hours! I was in active labor for six days, had back labor the entire time, and one contraction that lasted a solid 24 hours. I pushed for five hours while on a conference call for work. You don’t know how lucky you are!”
Or the “I can totally relate! Except I can’t.” exchange:
You: “Bed rest is really mentally and physically difficult for me.”
Other playground mom: “Oh, I know how you feel! My husband would cook me breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings and, honestly, sometimes I just kinda got bored laying there waiting for him. So hard, but such a blessing!”
You: No comment.
We crave someone who can fully share our experiences, and in turn, validate what we have been through. At the same time, we want recognition of the pain and difficulties that are uniquely ours, without having them watered down by comparisons.
More than wanting to be understood, even, we want to be appreciated. And on some level, we know that even the most sincere “thank you for all that you do” feels a bit inadequate when we think of all the aches and pains we didn’t even bother to clue our partners in on.
My husband will never fully understand what I went through with each of my pregnancies and births. But he knows the rest of the story: the sleepless nights with a child who wants to be walked up and down the halls, the panic the first time you rush your child to the E.R. with an undiagnosed allergic reaction, the pride and nerves you feel when they first hoist a backpack onto their shoulders and wave good-bye.
Occasionally my blood boils when I think of how he technically didn’t have any parenting responsibilities between the moment of conception and the moment of birth (and enjoyed a significantly lighter workload than me for the first few months thereafter). But the more years that come between the birth of my first son and the present day, I realize what a small percentage of parenting that truly was.
My husband might not ever be able to grant me true empathy. But I’ll be okay as long as he believes me when I tell him how difficult it all is.
And, yes, I plan on telling him about it for many years to come.

When Parenting Ignites Your Imposter Syndrome

I’ve always wanted to be a mom and was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.

Today, my spouse and I did something new that marks a transition in our parenting journey. We took our very first preschool tour. It was good, but I found that I felt unbearably awkward through a lot of it.
Sure, we learned a lot about the educational models they follow, and got to see the classrooms in person and ask some important questions. But I spent the majority of the time half wondering whether I was even supposed to be there, which is ridiculous.
I am a 32, with a child who will be ready to begin their pre-K program next fall. The application window is right now. Of course, I had every right to be there, as did my partner. (We even RSVP’d several weeks ago). Yet that awkward self-consciousness still permeated the experience.
Afterwards, my spouse turned to me and said, “I wonder if I was the only one there who felt like they were wearing an adult costume?”
“Well no,” I responded, “because I definitely did, too.”
“I felt like a stack of kids in a big coat!” she said, invoking my favorite metaphor for imposter syndrome, and a popular cartoon trope. “I kept waiting for someone to find me out!”
As a freelance writer active in a community of women and transgender writers, I’ve had a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome, also called imposter phenomenon is described by Dr. Pauline Clance (one of the psychologists to first describe it) this way:
“I experienced IP feelings in graduate school. I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did. My friends began to be sick of my worrying, so I kept my doubts more to my self. I thought my fears were due to my educational background. When I began to teach at a prominent liberal arts college with an excellent academic reputation, I heard similar fears from students who had come for counseling. They had excellent standardized test scores grades and recommendations. One of them said, ‘I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.’ In discussing these students, Dr. Suzanne Imes and I coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” and wrote a paper on the concept.”
In my totally unscientific experience, imposter syndrome seems to be experienced a lot by women, trans people, and nonbinary people. Perhaps we just got into the habit of constantly second guessing ourselves at a young age, or maybe coming up against gender bias again and again has affected us more than one might expect. Regardless, these feelings are real and can have a pretty dramatic effect on anyone experiencing them.
When I started writing professionally, it may have made sense to feel like an imposter. I had to present myself as a professional to editors, but I was very new to being a professional and didn’t quite believe it about myself. I often worried that I would say something that would give me away, everyone would realize I was woefully underqualified to write words, and I would go back to my old job selling dog food.
What actually happened was that I said plenty of wrong things (I was brand new, after all) and I received gentle and kind corrections. Mostly, the people I worked with were more than happy to fill me in.
You’d think those feelings would have dissipated with time and success, but they honestly haven’t very much. With each new assignment, I often find myself worrying that the next email in my inbox will be, “Why did you think you could write? You clearly can’t!”
Because I talk with other writers all the time, I know that such feelings are surprisingly normal, but I still wish I could make them go away. I’m decently confident, but I still feel like I’m faking it a lot of the time. I have always assumed this is (mostly) due to the fact that I don’t hold a formal degree.
Hi, my name is Katherine, and I don’t hold a formal degree.
Only, if my education (or lack thereof) was the reason for my imposter syndrome, why do I feel like an imposter when it comes to parenting? I’m pretty sure you don’t need a degree to parent! I’ve always wanted to be a mom and have been planning to have kids my entire life. I was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.
I took Dr. Clance’s IP Scale quiz, trying to pay careful attention to my feelings about parenting and being a parent in the world. I scored a 78, which means I “frequently have imposter feelings.” The maximum score on the quiz is 100.
In groups of moms, I often worry that the other moms will figure out that I’m not really “one of them.” Whenever we’re faced with a new parenting task, like introducing solid foods to our baby, I’ve felt absolutely certain that I wasn’t good enough. (Please note that my two-year-old now eats three meals and two snacks every single day of his life, and in retrospect, I can see that I was perfectly competent – as are most parents – in helping him get to this point.)
I don’t know how to turn off my parenting imposter syndrome, but I do have one small sliver of hope in all this: My partner and I can’t be the only ones.
When other parents also feel like outsiders or fakes, like a stack of kids in a very big coat, and I can see from the outside that they are definitely not those things…maybe other people can see that I’m a decent mom, too? I sure hope so.

I Coach Five-Year-Olds and We Keep Score

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win.

The little five-year-olds in blue jerseys were running like cattle toward the soccer ball – bulls all mushed together. There was the occasional red player trying to squeeze into the herd, but they kept getting bowled over. The other kids in red stood there in the grass like scarecrows, only scaring no one. The black and white ball was repeatedly hitting the back of their net. And as their coach, my hands were chapped from clapping, trying to “rah-rah” my conquered troops.

The director of our youth soccer organization asked me to coach my son’s team. They had no one else to do it. I was reluctant because we all know kids listen to every other adult on Earth better than their own parent. But I said yes and my son has surprised me, in many ways actually. He listens, hustles, and waves his pom-poms for his teammates.

The first game was much harder than I had anticipated. How difficult could coaching these kids be? Play some games, let them run around, and feed them a snack, I thought. Well, my players stood petrified as ice sculptures and the other team easily scorched them.

On the car ride home, my son was stripping his legs of the sticky shin guards, socks, and cleats. The roots of his light brown curls were dark from sweat. “We did bad, huh Mommy?”

Now I was the scarecrow in the passenger seat. I was not ready for this teaching moment.

“No, honey. You guys tried really hard, and you had fun. They only beat us by four goals.”

But my son couldn’t ignore billboard-sized scoreboard in his brain. “No, Mom. The score was five to zero.”

He was right. I forgot about that last goal because I was too busy watching my stopwatch, praying it would tick faster, but it felt like the pause button was stuck.

My son took losing that first game pretty well. We’d been practicing at home because, just a few months prior, there was door-slamming and punching the wall when he was defeated. In the car, I recited the lines I was supposed to as a parent. “You tried really hard. Maybe we’ll get ‘em next time. You can’t always win.”

However, since that first game, I’ve been keeping score. Technically, I’m not supposed to in the league we play in. Plus, they’re only five. I keep track anyway. My son and most of my players tally the goals, too. When they ask, “Did we win or lose, coach?” I tell them the truth. I don’t say, “Oh, the score doesn’t matter.”

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win. We need to teach our kids that when we lose, you can still puff out that chest, as long as you left no regrets on that field. When you win, yes, you can puff out your chest too, but you better be humble. No gloating. If we don’t teach the true results of competition when our kids are young, we’ll have ten-year-olds throwing tantrums like toddlers because they can’t handle a loss. Or we’ll have the winners taunting the losers in a good ol’ bullying session.

I want my five-year-old players to know why they shake the other team’s hands. It’s not because we both won, it’s because both teams battled and earned respect.

I’m not into saving my players’ feelings, but I’ll certainly help them deal with these emotions. You learn way more in life from being on a losing team than a winning team. Winning is easy. And losing happens, in more than just sports. Someday, my players may not get into the college they applied for, ace the test they studied for, or get the job they interviewed for. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean giving up, it means quite the opposite. It means fighting.

Since our first defeat, my son and his teammates have won every single game. Maybe they didn’t like the feeling of that lost battle, I don’t know. Either way, they learned that working hard feels much better. We may lose again, but for now, they’ve lost their scarecrow costumes and have become the herding bulls they were meant to be.

How Parenthood Changed My View of Scary Movies

When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

When my two best friends wanted to put together a movie date to see IT, I jumped at the chance to have a girl’s day without my eight-month-old son in tow. Brunch and besties? Yes, please! Plus, it’s almost Halloween, so I figured a scary movie – albeit one based on a book I’ve never read, but by an author I enjoy – was seasonally appropriate.

I wasn’t expecting to walk out of the theater unable to stop crying, but that’s what happened.

I’ve been sensitive to creepy movies and books since I was a kid, but over the past decade or so, I’ve grown to enjoy certain “scary” movies. The Cabin in the Woods pleasantly surprised me in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore in that genre. El Orfanato is deliciously creepy from start to finish. And as far as Stephen King goes, Carrie nails it.

But it’s been a while since things that go bump in the night had the capacity to reduce me into a whimpering mess. What’s different?

I have my own kid now, that’s what’s different. When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

Obviously I’m not afraid of a homicidal clown like the one in the movie, but the biological instinct to protect my kid at all costs flooded my body in a way I’ve never experienced before. When I made it home after IT, I put the question to Facebook. Who else felt like this switch had flipped once they became a parent?

I was floored to discover how many parents, mostly women, have experienced this same shift. It’s as though we’re completely incapable of separating ourselves from the fictional narratives. I was flooded with responses like these from other parents:

  • “For several years after my child was born, any movie/show where the kid was the target of violence or terror just made me ill.”
  • “I can’t deal with anything involving children being harmed in any fashion.”
  • “I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my kid after [seeing IT].”
  • “When Georgie goes out to play in the rain alone, it gave me so much anxiety.”

And so on.

Even my aunt, a nurse of many years, admitted that she had to leave bedside nursing in the oncology ward after she had her three sons. She explained that “the death and difficult disease process were too much to bear after having my own children.”

If somone who faces death and decay on a daily basis felt the same trauma I felt when caught unaware, I knew this guttural reaction went deeper. Dr. Keith Humphreys, psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care, confirmed my suspicions.

“We’re pretty deeply programmed as humans to love and protect our children,” says Dr. Humphreys. “If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have survived as a species for so long.”

He goes on to explain that fathers, as well as mothers, are susceptible to this same reaction after becoming parents. Part of this is due to basic biological survival mechanisms, but he suspects it’s also due in part to our overexposure to violence in the media.

“It’s still tough for people because the media knows that stories about children being harmed are eye-catching,” confirms Dr. Humphreys. “It’s common to open a newspaper and see that every day they have another ‘horrible thing that happened to a kid’ story. It’s a way to manipulate you. That’s very upsetting, but it’s hard not to click on it. And that’s what causes anxiety. A lot of parents find it really challenging because you can’t avoid that. You can avoid horror movies – just don’t go to see them.”

This protective reaction isn’t universal. Dr. Humphreys says that even non-parents can be affected in the same way when faced with children in vulnerable situations, and some parents are better equipped to separate themselves from the fantasy.

I don’t think it’s masochistic [to still enjoy scary movies as a parent],” says Dr. Humphreys. “Some people are able to.”

After IT, I decided to test this theory by watching movies I’d seen before that I knew included violence (or implied/attempted violence) towards children in various situations. The Shining. Room. The VVITCH.

What I found was that I was better able to stomach violent images that I’d seen before. My mind had already witnessed these atrocities; I was prepared, albeit still disgusted. I didn’t “enjoy” them, but I avoided the involuntary reflex to protect.

That’s why I think IT affected me so badly. Watching a child succumb to Pennywise’s manipulations made me nauseous. It’s a worst nightmare come to life, it’s reality cloaked in fantasy. It’s masterful. It’s merciless.

This instinct isn’t rooted in weakness, it’s a testament to the power of parental love. If the price I have to pay for being a parent is an inability to digest horrifying imagery like this, I’ll happily skip seeing mother! and keep Hocus Pocus on repeat for every Halloween season to come.

(P.S. My friends, who are non-parents, felt really bad. I still love you guys!)