Be Yourself: Kid-Advice That’s Good for Moms, Too

July 7, 2011

Playing with my daughter

Something happened to me when I had a baby.

And I don’t just mean my body turned into a bloated pickle, though that happened, too.

Another transformation began, out of my desire to Do Well and Be Good for my child. I went from being “Amy” to “Mama” – I became “a mom.” A Mom. Not myself.

Mom: A role I was playing without any rehearsal, an archetype I was enacting without any experience.

My little girl tottering in my heels – me teetering in mom shoes.

Of course, you have a baby, you stop certain things, like swearing; and you start other things, like caring about nutritional values and safety ratings. Your goals shift from enjoying yourself and achieving personal aspirations to keeping this little needy little human from getting run over or choking on a safety pin. The years blur.

And then, several years into Motherhood, you realize you’re trying really hard to be This Person, this Mother, and you’re failing, desperately, and the reason you’re constantly stricken with bouts of inadequacy is because you’re striving to be something that you’re not.

Contemplating this recently, I asked myself: What would it be like if I gave up trying to be A Mother, and instead was just me, myself, Amy again? Amy, who is a mother, but who is – still! – Amy. Me.

I’m not sure if it was the kava-kava tea or not, but relief flooded my veins, just at the thought.

In my meditation practice, I’ve been learning to be true to myself, to find my authentic self. But I noticed when it came to mothering my kids, I felt this requirement to listen, not to my own needs, instincts, and preferences, but to some strange idea of Perfect Parentness.

Included in this was:

– trying to get the kids to behave properly at all times

– ignoring my own feelings

– behaving like a drill sergeant

The real Amy:

– sings incidental songs

– is playful and flexible, but definitely not perfect

– has feelings and needs

Of course, there are things that go against my original self that I still try to do – creating/adhering to routines, eating regular and robust meals, being on time to things.

But I think being honest about these challenges – to myself, and even somewhat to my kids, is more helpful than my attempt to just make them happen, forcing myself along with my kids.

Being a single mother is harder than anything I’ve ever done. It frays my nerves, it strains my heart, it kicks my ass on a regular and nonstop basis.

But I think remembering myself in it and through it, being myself and being present, I can draw on my strengths and be honest about my weaknesses and survive with an adequate amount of humor and grace. Trying to be A Mother is just pure exhaustion and totally unachievable. Trying to be myself is both a help and a hope. It’s a lot more fun. And being a mother is more fun, too.


Body Image: Thinking from the Inside Out

June 17, 2011

Close your eyes.

(I just realized, if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to read this post. So – metaphorically speaking, close your eyes. It’s an exercise. )

Envision your body, just as it is – pear shaped, apple shaped, kumquat shaped, mashed banana shaped – whatever it is, the thick thighs and the deflated boobs (that’s me, by the way) – see your body, flaws, muscles, poofs, pudges, dimples, spots, inflammations, bulges, creases, bloats.

Now step into an alternate reality with me and imagine that your body – just as it is – is the ideal form for a woman.

All the magazines suddenly feature models with your breast-to-hip ratio; all the celebrities get their bodies done to have their thighs match the width of yours; and when you walk by the male construction crew, they all nod and whistle and say, “Lookin good, lady.”

Imagine that you do look good. Right now. Just as you are. Just how you are supposed to.

Imagine that your body is perfect, just the way it is. (Now you can close your eyes, stop reading for a second, and see if you can give yourself this mind trip. It really is a trip. A kind of vacation away from the normal ideas you take for granted as factual.)

Now, I’m not addressing here whether my body or your body is in “healthy shape” or not. I know some of you reading this will start protesting with me that you don’t care about looking good, just being healthy, and that the fat or lack of muscle or whatever you know to be wrong with you really is a problem or flaw that needs to be fixed.

I’m not going to argue with you. (Nice of me, huh?)

I just want to ask you to try the mental experiment. Just for today, remove the concept that is corseted around most of our brains that there is something wrong with our bodies if they don’t manifest certain features – minimal fatty tissue, proportions that emphasize our busts, muscle tone that doesn’t admit to any aging. Play Bruno Mars in your head – he’s serenading you – you are amazing, just the way you are.

Try it.

What does it feel like?

For me: Relief.

Relaxation.

Deep breaths.

I’m interested in the body image as an idea that I know I have ingrained in me as a Fact of Life – my breasts are too small, my tummy is too big, my jaw pokes out too much, my eyes are squinty and increasingly surrounded by undesirable puffs of skin.

I might rationally ‘know’ that I’m supposed to not have a negative body image; I’m a lesbian-feminist, for goodness’ sake, with a daughter to whom I want to present the most positive endorsement of female physicality possible. I abhor the sexual objectification of women; I try to stay aware of how I’ve internalized ideas of the ‘right’ way for a body to look.

But I’m a product of this society, and ideas slip under the door of our consciousness all the time.

So, take away the idea your body is wrong – looking at your body from the outside – what does it feel like from the inside? What feels strong, what feels pained, what feels comfortable? Can you construct an image of yourself from the inside out?

This is not happy therapy talk; I’m not encouraging you to love your flaws.

I’m asking you to stop thinking about your body as a separate thing, like a car, that needs to be fixed.

What is your relationship to your body? Do you think of yourself as being in – even stuck in – it, like it’s a jar?

As I try to understand myself as not in my body but as my body – I am my body – any idea of making it being wrong – any part of it being shaped “wrong” – is ridiculous, irrelevant. That would be like a tree wanting to bulk up or slim down, a pig feeling her figure needs to be an hourglass – well, it would seem silly, no? Why? Because they are the shape they are supposed to be, right? Can you apply that logic to yourself?

I have heard people say, have said myself, when disappointed or disgusted with my body – “I just can’t live with myself.”

Well, goodness, how can you live with yourself if you believe that yourself is somehow not okay?

It strikes me that our society benefits from this divide and conquer strategy – dividing us within ourselves, so that we are never comfortable or okay with what we look like. What a transformed world it would be, here in consumer-materialistic land, if we weren’t spending our money and time on endlessly adjusting our appearances…

Try it, for one day at least. Feel your body, yourself, from the inside out – remove the good/bad comparison with the manufactured ideal, and see how you feel. You are perfect. Just the way you are. Try it on. How does it feel?