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.

If These Scars Could Talk

I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!

I remember a story I saw on television as a child. It was the 1970s, before lasers were available to remove tattoos. The story was about a woman who wanted a heart-shaped tattoo removed from her derrière. Apparently, the doctor incised the heart tattoo and stitched up the wound. The scar that the excision left was in the shape of a capital letter Y. I remember thinking to myself, “She better marry someone whose name starts with a Y. Otherwise her husband might get jealous!” Something about that heart-turned-into-a-Y-shaped-scar always intrigued me. That woman had a story to tell.

At age nine, I earned my own first noticeable scars when I broke my femur. My parents bought a small motorcycle, and they’d take us kids out for rides on a piece of country property that our family owned. I was too young to ride the motorcycle alone, so I climbed on the back and hung on behind one of my father’s friends. It was an accident. Emile certainly didn’t want me to get hurt, but a piece of barbed wire was dangling in our path and it snared the wheel, yanking the bike onto my leg. I still remember the pain and the long drive to the hospital. The orthopedic doctor surgically inserted a metal pin through my leg to set me up for traction. After six weeks in the hospital, six weeks at home in a body cast, and several weeks on crutches, my femur finally healed. Over 40 years later, I still think about that accident whenever I see the small scars on either side of my right leg where the pin was.

Most of us don’t like scars. If you Google the word “scar,” numerous plastic surgery and dermatology websites for scar removal pop up. There’s a lot of money to be made in getting rid of our scars. Everyone wants beautiful, flawless skin that’s free of freckles, moles, and wrinkles. But if you think about it, scars equate to experiences. I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

I acquired other scars over the years, too. There’s a small one on my knee from a cut I received in a high school car accident. I think of my friend Linda when I see that scar, because she was in the car with me. Our vehicle was totaled, but Linda and I were okay. In adulthood, two cesarean section deliveries left a thin zipper across my lower abdomen. My sons are the result of those childbirth experiences, and the scars remind me of bringing Mason and Will into the world. There’s also the one on my back where I had a benign skin cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma was likely the result of childhood sunburns, and that scar brings back memories of a particularly hot family beach trip to Corpus Christie, Texas one summer. I’m grateful to those doctors. The scars are my reminders.

My most serious scarring accident happened last year. It was spring break, and I was on a skiing vacation with my family. I was skiing to the right while a young man turned too fast to the left. Our skis crossed and I flew out of control into some trees. It was a frightening experience. I immediately felt intense heat throughout my ankle. I thought it was another broken bone, but I was wrong. It turned out to be a full rupture of my Achilles tendon, requiring immediate surgery.

Despite tearing my Achilles tendon, I somehow managed to attend the book launch events for my first children’s book. I couldn’t drive for a few months, but a wheelchair, a knee scooter, and Uber provided the mobility that I needed. I’m grateful to my husband, children, parents, siblings, and friends for taking care of me. I disliked being dependent on them, but I learned that the Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I’m grateful to the ski patrol team that took quick action. I’m grateful I didn’t die when I hit the trees in that skiing accident.

When the orthopedic surgeon unwrapped the bandage to reveal my new Achilles tendon scar for the first time, I almost hoped it would be in the shape of a capital letter Y. That would’ve been perfect. But no, it’s just a two-inch horizontal mark.

My scars don’t bother me. They’re a literal skin road map of life that allows me to retrace my varied experiences. They reveal a sense of adventure. The scars point out that I might be a bit clumsy, and they always remind me to be grateful.

This post was originally published on the author’s blog.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

Your Kid Wants a Tattoo or Piercing? Don’t Freak Out, Talk.

Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past.

For the first time ever, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to review the incidence of youth tattoos and piercings in depth.
Led by Dr. David Levine, a general pediatrician and professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the new AAP report highlights the potential health risks and social/emotional consequences of tattooing and piercing in adolescents and young adults.
Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past. According to the Harris Poll in 2015, about 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 20 percent just four years before.
Tattoos are especially popular among younger generations, with nearly half of all Millennials sporting one. According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-olds have piercings in locations other than their earlobe.
This may not be a big deal for some parents, especially those who have their own tattoos and creative piercings. But for some parents, it becomes an issue to add to the long list of parenting dilemmas. Permanent body art may not even be on their radar if nobody else in the family enjoys that form of expression or if their cultural or religious beliefs consider the practice taboo.
We have two choices: forbid our kids to get tattooed or pierced and risk that they do it anyway behind our back (and possibly get hurt or regret it), or initiate an open dialogue and work with our kids to guide them to the best decision possible.

Identifying why your child wants it

The first step is to explore your kids’ goals and motives for wanting a tattoo or piercing. This conversation can lead to a simple answer, like they just want to show off their artistic flare. Alternatively, the conversation could open the door to issues you were not aware of.
According to the Harris Poll, people typically get tattoos because it makes them feel: sexy (33 percent), attractive (32 percent), rebellious (27 percent), spiritual (20 percent), intelligent (13 percent), employable (10 percent), and healthy (9 percent).
If your daughter wants a tattoo at age 15 to feel sexier, then a red flag may go up. You could broaden your conversation to her reasons for wanting to attract more attention, her current sexual activity, and the feelings she has about her own body.
If your son wants a tattoo to feel tougher or more rebellious, you may want to explore his level of anger and aggression. Is he having trouble making friends in school? Has he displayed signs of bullying?
If your child wants to ingrain the name of a significant other on their skin, you may need to talk to them about the level of commitment involved and the possibility of future heartbreak.
Finally, if they are doing it for spiritual reasons, what is the message they want to communicate, and why now? Should you be concerned about the influence a religious leader or spiritual mentor has on your child?
We need to take the time to listen to our children’s reasons so that we can help guide them. The answer may be very simple and positive, like they want the word “peace” on their body because they wish for world peace. It’s hard to argue with that.

Addressing your concerns

Talk to your children about exactly what getting a tattoo or piercing involves. They may be so set on it that they haven’t thought through some of the possible risks or downfalls.
For starters, the AAP report addresses the possible job market repercussions down the road. Some employers may frown upon visible tattoos in the workplace, which can limit your child’s job prospects and success. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2,700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos and/or piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos and/or piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
While your child may be many years away from getting their first job, it’s important to talk to her about how a tattoo or piercing can impact her life in the future. Ask her to consider the risk involved, taking into account that life dreams should take precedence over a potentially rash, trendy decision in her teenage years.
Consider a compromise. Suggest that your child get a tattoo in a place that would not be visible on the job. Piercings are a bit more challenging. Clearly, a tongue ring could hinder one’s speech, and other piercings on the face in particular may motivate an employer to choose another candidate.
Tattoos, moreso than piercings, are pretty permanent. When you talk to your kids about getting a tattoo, be sure to bring up the fact that this commitment is not easily erased. Laser removal can also be costly – up to $300 per square inch of treatment area – and may only be partially effective.
Plenty of people have admitted regrets that you should bring to your child’s attention. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of people with tattoos say they regret getting them because they were too young, their personality changed, it no longer fits into their lifestyle, they chose someone’s name with whom they no longer associate, it was poorly done, or it’s simply not meaningful to them anymore.
Perhaps most important, weigh the health risks associated with tattoos with your child before he goes ahead with it. The most serious complication from any form of body modification is infection.
Other health concerns related to tattoos include inflammation, abnormal tissue growth like keloid scars, and vasculitis, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels. Body piercings have also been associated with pain, bleeding, cysts, allergic reaction, and scarring. Tongue rings, meanwhile, can cause tooth chipping.
Once you’ve openly discussed the pros and cons, give your kids some time to ponder their decision. Ask them whether they feel it’s really worth it, all things considered. How will the tattoo or piercing enhance their life? How will it hinder them? Are there alternative forms of expression they would be happy with, such as creative fashion choices or changing their hair color and style?
No matter their decision in the end, at least you sparked a mature conversation that will bolster their respect for you and remind them of your genuine, loving interest in their life. When something more serious comes about, they will know they can turn to you, which is, of course, more important and lasting than any tattoo or piercing.

A Straightforward Approach to Teaching My Kids About Sex

I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my kids and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives.

The week before my 13th birthday, my mother, a registered nurse, handed me the small booklet called “A Doctor Talks to 9-to-12-Year-Olds.” That and occasional reminders to “be a good girl” and to “save myself for marriage” were the extent of my sexual education at home.
In seventh grade, after my mother hesitantly agreed to sign a paper allowing me to participate in the public school’s sexual education program, I remember thinking finally some real information might be shared. Mrs. Trent’s classroom was covered with posters of Voyager and Spacelab with planet mobiles made by students hanging from the ceiling. She encouraged questions and went into great detail in her answers.
But the fertilization part was exactly like in the doctor’s book. It wasn’t until the last day of our chapter on sexuality that it looked like we might finally be getting to the truth about exactly what sex is. I don’t recall what was shared and don’t remember asking any questions, but clearly, I still didn’t get it. My journal at the time states in big bold letters: “Today Mrs. Trent told us all about SEXUAL INTERSECTION!”
With my lack of information in mind, I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my own children and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives. The only problem was, with no experience talking as a child or with a child about the subject, I wasn’t confident in my own knowledge. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
So I bought books. Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins’ “Where Did I Come From” and Robie Harris and Michael Emberley’s “It’s So Amazing” had a place on my children’s bookshelf before they could read. Sometimes I’d find them looking at the pictures like any other book. Every once in a while, I’d pick one up and casually read a few pages to them just as I did “Frog and Toad” or “Winnie the Pooh”.
Despite my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt and my lack of role models for valuable communication, I gradually became more relaxed about addressing the basics. I learned things no one ever told me about. The vas deferens and clitoris never made an appearance in Mrs. Trent’s basic diagram. I was using words that I’d never heard spoken out loud and certainly never said myself. Vagina became common vernacular.
From the start, I attempted to be straight-forward and factual with my children about puberty and sex. Even as a little dude, my son knew about menstruation. When he was five and found a tampon on the bathroom counter and questioned whether I smoked cigars, I gave him the basic details about periods.
My description must have included some facts about gestation because, over a year later, when he and his older sister were playing LIFE, they had gone around the board twice and my daughter had two cars full of children. I overheard my son say to his sister, “Hey, you haven’t had a period in five years!”
At first, I was thinking, “The kid is a math whiz!” and then I realized that he was no more than seven and actually grasped the fetal-growth concept I had shared so far back that I barely remembered the conversation. Point is, the kids seemed to be listening, and they seemed to be willing to share and ask questions.
During the summers, when we had some time on our hands and my children were each around 11, I made them sit with me and read through “It’s So Amazing”. My son hated it, but I told him that it was my responsibility as his mother to give him this information. Did he know how much I wanted to be a good mother? Yes? Well then, dude, you have to help me out, here.
When the subject came up in seventh-grade health, he told me he was glad he’d already heard all that information and more, and he wasn’t as uncomfortable as many of his friends clearly were.
Those early talks helped set the stage for the more difficult conversations as my children have moved through their teenage years. We’ve talked about blow jobs and masturbation, reproductive health and orgasms, hook-ups and body image, sexual orientation, identity, and sexual pressure.
We’ve talked about asserting needs, desires and limits, and a girl’s right to pleasure. When a subject gets tricky and I don’t know how to address it, I’ll check out sites like More Than Sex-Ed or Peggy Orenstein’s book “Girls and Sex” for tips.
I’ve had frank conversations with my children about the easy access to pornography and how watching it might shape ideas of what sex is or should be. I’ve shared that, when I was young, about the only access to such images were in the magazines I found at one of the houses where I babysat and how the videos were far less graphic and only available at XXX stores or if friends passed the contraband around.
Music wasn’t as graphic either. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” was scandalous (at least in my house), and the first time I ever saw sex was when I had it myself. Now people can watch it on their phones.
I am not like my mother. I don’t say “Just Say No” without giving explanations. Just as we talk about what alcohol and drugs do to your body and when and why you might not want to make that choice, we also talk about how the images in pornography may stay in your mind and become an expectation of how you or your partners should feel, act, or pretend to act. We talk about how those videos aren’t real life.
I tell them how I hope that, when the time is right, they will have more authentic experiences. We talk about respect, for themselves and others. We talk about the emotions that go into the decision to have intercourse.
I was the first person my daughter told after she had sex for the first time. I would never have told my mother, who tried, awkwardly, when I was 29 to return to the conversation we didn’t have when I was 13, asking if I felt comfortable choosing a white wedding dress as we prepared for my wedding.
I had conversations with my own daughter for several months as she considered whether her long-term boyfriend should be her first lover. Of course, we talked about safe sex. And we talked about protecting the heart.
She still calls me from college and shares anecdotes of her relationships. Sometimes she asks for guidance, and I promise no judgment. All indications are that she is confident in her sexuality. She’s taking care of herself and has healthy attitudes about what she wants and how she should be treated. That is what I was hoping for when we first opened up “Where Did I Come From?” when she was tiny.
My children came from a safe place where they could talk about anything, and still can.

What I Gained by Giving up Weeknight Drinking

What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? It matters quite a bit, actually.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
This is going to sound cliché, but as I’ve gotten older I have found it harder and harder to maintain my “happy weight.” I know, I know: Join the club. But I started examining the possible reasons and I had to admit something that I really didn’t want to: Calories from alcohol do count. But it wasn’t that simple.
What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? I eat a healthy diet (I told myself) and exercise every day, so I assumed it would all balance out. And yet, the less attention I paid to how much I was drinking, the faster the weight crept on. I decided that there was nothing else I could do. My knees will no longer allow me to work out three hours a day, and who has time to do that anyway?
The turning point came when I was watching TV one weekend morning, flipping through channels aimlessly. I landed on a show where a young, beautiful, skinny host travels to different exotic destinations and basically eats and drinks her way through all the cheesy, meaty goodness, and tropical alcohol combinations that the region could offer, all while cavorting on the beach in an impossibly small bikini. Or sometimes a sarong.
It should have been obvious before, but it hit me then: She doesn’t really do that. No thin person really does that. I wish it were true, but it’s not.
That was it, I was going to quit drinking. At least on weeknights. I honestly expected an amazing transformation, considering not only the calories in the alcohol I was drinking, but all the additional calories I was taking in as an indirect result of drinking.
Case in point: Almost every very morning I would wake up at 3 a.m., thirsty. I would go downstairs, fully intending to only get a glass of water, but the pantry would call to me. “A doughnut would go nicely with that ice water … How about a handful of crackers with cheese? Some olives would make a nice accompaniment. Come on, it will help you get back to sleep.” I gave in every time. Why I didn’t just bring a glass of water with me to bed every night and avoid the middle of the night doughnut dance is beyond me.
Then there were the morning breakfast choices. The mornings after not drinking, a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey seemed perfectly reasonable. The mornings after drinking, cold pizza was the obvious choice.
After three days of no drinking, I stepped on the scale, eager to see what I figured should have been at least a pound lost. Nothing.
Ok, maybe a pound isn’t enough to register on the scale. I’ll wait a few more days.
At the end of week one: Nothing. No weight lost. I almost gave up. What’s the point? If trying and not trying have the same result, why go through the effort of trying?
But I stuck with it, and somewhere during week two, I noticed something interesting. No, not weight loss. That still hadn’t happened. But I was feeling different. Mostly I was in a better mood. I realized this when I sat at the table with my son one morning and calmly told him to chew with his mouth closed. Any other day, I would have snapped at him for breathing too loud.
I was also sleeping more soundly. No more middle of the night trips to the pantry, no waking up thirsty or groggy. I got out of bed when my alarm went off, made myself oatmeal, and didn’t think anything of it. Who knew that feeling normal could feel so … normal?
My memory also improved. Don’t you hate when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you are there for? Well, that didn’t stop happening. I still do that, quite often. But the difference is that I remember what I came for much faster. I even produced an actress’ name in record time the other day. “Jessica Lange!” I blurted out in a conversation with my husband, rudely interrupting him. He couldn’t understand why I was so happy to yell her name.
Some weight finally started coming off in week three. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s been six weeks now, and I’m seven pounds down. It wasn’t the sudden, amazing transformation I was expecting, and I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’m about halfway there.
What surprised me is that the non-weight-related improvements have been as rewarding – if not more rewarding – than the weight loss. Once I realized that being crabby, tired, and forgetful wasn’t normal, I embraced my “new normal.” No drinking. I mean, on weeknights. I may be slightly transformed, but I’m not perfect. And I can live with that.

What Story Does Your Closet Tell?

MoMA’s new exhibit, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” got me thinking. What story does the contents of my thirty year old closet tell?

The Museum of Modern Art has a new exhibit. “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” pieces together 111 articles of clothing from low end to high, from basic to extravagant, from eastern to western culture. Each garment must have had “a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries – and continue to hold currency today.” 111 items to tell the story of the world.

You can walk past a plain white t-shirt and study a row of little black dresses. A pair of flip-flops earns a spot, as does the iconic pearl necklace, a pair of Levis, and a sari. A 1980s red Champion hoodie and the very first teeny tiny string bikini redefine function and style.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own clothes and the story they tell. So I stepped into my closet, a time capsule in itself, and took a look.

All heels higher than two inches sit on a shelf so high I cannot reach them without a step stool. They are covered in a fine layer of dust. These are what I call my “wedding” shoes. They only come down for events requiring RSVPs where three courses of food will be served.

Below the heels are the shirts, arranged by color, because I treat clothes like mood rings. Greens and yellows are good luck charms and charcoals are for dark days. Even as I run my hands over them, under the fluorescent light that is supremely energy efficient but also gives everything an antiseptic look, I see that two-thirds of my wardrobe is moot.

Silks and beaded things and sheer blouses from Anthropologie hang lonely on their padded hangers. Anything that requires a camisole has been abandoned. I spy the pants from before pregnancy, two sizes ago, still hanging in there underneath it all. Their presence is not a goal, but a respectful memorial, perhaps something to pass down to my daughter when fashion circles around again. Will people ever fall back in love with boot-cut? Acid wash came back, so maybe.

None of these speak to my current life as a mom of a five-year-old with special needs and three-year-old twins. Dry-clean only doesn’t hold up well when you’re refereeing Spaghetti-O food fights. And who has time for a camisole? I know other women can do it – the glam mom thing – but I’m lucky if I remember to put on a bra.

If I’m honest, the most highly trafficked area isn’t the hanging items at all, but the two narrow shelves of t-shirts, stretching all the way back to an 80s relic from a trip to Lake Tahoe and all the way forward to last Saturday’s impulse buy at Target that reads: “Sunday is my Funday.” These are my go-tos for the life I lead now as a work-from-home mom. However, the fact that I’m still holding on to all my old work clothes that used to carry me out of the house smelling like rose lotion instead of bacon and sweat says something. The old life is still there, staring at me in that six-by-four-foot space that I also share with my husband and his decades of apparel.

I suppose it means I’m not ready to give up on the pin-tucks and off-the-shoulder numbers that require a strapless bra. I think they’ll come around again when the kids are older and, fingers crossed, more self-sufficient. The heels won’t have to wait for a printed invitation.

Even in this future picture, I’ll still hold on to the 80s tee and the yoga pants and the Chacos and my favorite cowboy boots that are currently competing for space with eight pairs of toddler shoes because nothing is sacred in this house. My closet tells the story of all the living I’ve done. The dry-cleaned things might be shoved into corners, but it’s for a good cause – to make way for all the people tramping in with their own messy lives.

What I can’t makes sense of, though, is how MoMa managed to cover two centuries in 111 pieces when I’ve got that much on my floor just from yesterday.

Why I’m Determined to Live a Fearless Life

I no longer trusted that my feet would land in the right place, and I stopped all of my leaping and swinging and flipping and turning.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
My eight-year-old tan toes curl around the hot, steel edge of a North Carolina bridge. Below me, a creek swirls and cuts against large boulders that line its wildflower banks. The water shimmers underneath the late afternoon sun as a tiny hummingbird zips across my line of vision. It fearlessly pumps its wings against the thick, humid air, ascends higher, and then – just as quickly as it arrived – disappears. I am young enough to believe I can be just like that ruby-throated wonder, so I take a deep breath, spread my own wings, and then – filled with a mix of fear and joy and excitement – I jump.
Moments later, when I float to the top and emerge into the air of that hot summer day, I can’t help but notice that I feel deliriously, deliciously, wonderfully alive.
* * *
Once upon a time, I was a gymnast. I spent endless hours at the gym practicing and perfecting my routines. My strong little body tumbled across floors, hurtled toward vaults, moved from bar to bar, and dismounted four inch beams. I ran and leapt and swung and flipped and attempted to stick every single one of my landings.
Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no room for fear in gymnastics. You trust that when you come out of that back flip, your feet will land squarely on the floor. You trust that when you propel yourself forward off the springboard, your hands will be positioned correctly on the vault. You trust that when you swing backwards, you will see the bar and catch it at just the right moment.
My physical fearlessness as a gymnast meant that I was pretty fearless when it came to other things, too – things like jumping off bridges and going down zip lines and riding the fastest roller coaster I could find. Since I was shy and had a hard time speaking up, the rush of these other risks felt like a way I could live out loud a little bit more.
* * *
During practice one day, my coach walked up to me as I was getting into position for my floor routine. He reached down and slapped my thigh. “No routine,” he said. “You run instead. You’re getting fat.” At the time, I was 13 years old and 115 pounds of pure muscle. Though I should have known better, the comment changed how I felt about myself: Doubt crept in, and just like that, the physical action of the sport – the one that required the movement of my apparently too heavy body – seemed daunting. So instead of being fearless, I started being fearful. I no longer trusted that my feet would land in the right place, and I stopped all of my leaping and swinging and flipping and turning. I became that girl on the edge of the bridge again, but this time, I was too scared to jump.
Shortly thereafter, I quit.
Looking back, I hate that I quit doing something I loved because of that man’s off-handed comment. But even so, I have to admit that it is a comment that I’ve often thought about over the past few years, years that, for me, have been full of decisions where I could have chosen to let my fear get the better of me, decisions where I could have let that little fear-filled voice inside me say, “Don’t do it. It’s way too scary.”
Because now, as an adult, I can look at my coach’s comment and turn his hurtful words into something 100 percent positive. If I could look that coach in the eye now, I’d speak up and say, “Okay, fine. I won’t follow the routine – I’ll run. But instead of running around in circles like you want me to, I’ll run wildly toward where my heart is pulling me. I’ll run and I’ll leap and I’ll flip and I’ll turn, and I’ll trust that no matter how scary the first steps of that journey might be, I’ll be headed in the right direction.”
* * *
When was the last time you jumped? Were you five, 10, 15, or 25? What would happen if you started jumping again?
Because life’s too short for anything less than a passionate, fulfilling, fearless life. Life’s too short to not run fast and far away from anything that makes you doubt yourself. Life’s too short to regret not spreading your wings every once in a while. Life’s too short not to trust yourself. Life’s too short to let your toes burn on the edge of whatever bridge you’re standing on. Life’s too short not to jump.
So today, be determined to live fearlessly. Take the leap into the unknown, and trust that wherever you land, it will be worth the risk.
This article was originally published on The Nostalgia Diaries.

If You're Lucky Enough to Have a Grandparent, Call Them

Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. Making a change starts with the way we treat our grandparents.

On my grandma’s birthday this year, I called her at 6 p.m. When she didn’t pick up, I left a voice message wishing her a feliz cumpleaños and saying that I would try calling her later in the evening.
A couple hours later, my dad was on the phone with her and passed me the phone so I could wish her a happy birthday:
“Hi Abis, Happy birthday!”
“Why haven’t you called me? You said you were going to call me?”
“Well I did call you, but you didn’t pick up.”
“No, I don’t mean today, I mean before. The last time you called, you said you would call me more often.”
I didn’t know what to say. She was right, I had promised to call more often, and I hadn’t talked to her in a few months. That made me feel awful. Though she said it in more or less of a joking manner, I knew it was more than a lighthearted guilt-trip.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lives with one of her sons in Nogales, Arizona, a small town bordering Mexico. You can see the fence that divides the two countries from their backyard. My parents moved my sister and me to Boise, ID, when we were infants. Over 1,000 miles away, I only get to see my extended family once or twice a year, so phone calls are an important means of communication.
This is especially true for my paternal grandmother, who has severe arthritis and shoulder problems. She’s seen many specialists, but most days she’s in too much pain to leave her room. She has a lot of support around her, but I know how happy it makes her when she hears from her long-distance family.
Most of my family lives in Arizona and Mexico, including my other grandparents. I love them and I think of them often, but I get so caught up in my own routine that I don’t make the time to call them — though I easily could. The fact that I can make a difference in my grandma’s life and I don’t, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.
Worse, this issue goes far beyond myself and my family. Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. The population of adults over 65 is currently 47.8 million and is expected to double by 2050, and the overall attitude in the USA towards senior citizens paints a negative image of them. This seeps into their work prospects and mental health. The bridge to making a positive change starts with the way we treat our parents and grandparents.

Ageism in the USA

Ageism as a societal problem in the USA affects millions of people in both obvious ways, like unnatural beauty standards, and unexpected ones, such as lower employability for those over 40. American culture is known for treating its older citizens unfairly, which has permeated its way into almost every facet of life.
Many Americans do not seem to understand that aging is a normal biological transition. This leads to unhealthy and unattainable expectations for women to achieve, like having an unwrinkled, fat-free, and flawless body; and for men to have a magical six packs and biceps that can lift two cars and a small house.
Data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2015 illustrate the dramatic trends to make artificial improvements through plastic surgery: 1.7 million cosmetic surgical procedures were performed on females in 2015 including over 200,000 breast augmentations, liposuction, and nose reshaping procedures. In 2016, males underwent over 200,000 cosmetic surgeries, including facelifts, breast reductions, and liposuction.
The substantial number of cosmetic surgeries labeled as anti-aging procedures emphasizes the need many people feel to slow the aging process. Not surprisingly, this manifests itself in a negative portrayal of those who have entered the stage of “growing old.” Anyone 40 years old or older (and sometimes younger), can face age discrimination.
One of the most visible effects of age discrimination is negative bias when applying to jobs. Currently, baby boomers face unrelenting ageism when looking for a job. Though it is illegal for employers to favor candidates based on age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), many job seekers over the age of 40 find it difficult to find a job.

Treatment of Seniors

Of course, age discrimination only worsens the older a person gets. Seniors in society are affected by the way others treat them on a daily basis. Offhand comments like calling a senior “adorable” or speaking to an adult like you would a child harbors fundamental prejudices against older people.
This type of treatment is not only unfair, but it leads to depression. Depression in seniors is often unique as it’s commonly comprised of anhedonia, the lack of enjoyment in life, rather than sadness. Older people can feel like their life is not worth living due to poor health and can think of themselves as mere burdens to their family
While nursing homes can sometimes provide a feeling of community and belonging, they can also work to further isolate seniors in society. Studies found 40 percent of patients in nursing homes have depression, but not many will admit to it.

Our responsibility

The widespread issues with the treatment of elderly people in our culture are not acceptable. Even in our local communities, making a conscious effort to treat older people with respect is one helpful step to ending negative attitudes towards those growing old. Not only is this beneficial to those around us, but we should consider how we want to be treated when we grow old.
Though certain careers such as Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNP) are designed to eliminate age discrimination, it is important to realize the unlimited potential everyone has to ameliorate the treatment of the elderly in their own communities. This can be as simple as making eye contact with a senior, acknowledging what they say, and making an effort not to talk down to them – basically treat them like a regular person, which they are.
Making the effort to figure out even small ways to do so can seem daunting; Americans are largely defined by individualism. We grow up in a hurry to move out of the house and become independent. We want our own car, apartment, and job – and we don’t like to rely on others. We focus on our own lives and get caught up in the madness: get up, go to work, run some errands, relax however possible, go to bed, and start over. We all feel it.
However, it’s important to sometimes pause the Netflix, get off Facebook, and make an effort to reach our grandparents. When I think of mine, I think of how my maternal grandfather keeps photos of us in his wallet and says a prayer for his grandchildren every single night before he goes to sleep. I think of how my maternal grandmother sends us weekly pictures of her garden.
Most recently, I think of how my paternal grandmother always asks me to call her more often. Though it takes time to make widespread changes in society, making a difference to your loved ones can be as simple as not taking your grandparents for granted. From now on, I will make it a point to reach out to my long-distance family, especially my grandparents.