Saturday, February 28, 2009

Listen To Your Belly

Recently, two neighbor bloggers, Dawn and Amy, have posted beautiful musings on body image issues. This is a topic that I have thought about a lot off and on throughout the years. I was a gymnast beginning at a young age—I even said, for several years, that I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast when I grew up—but my ability to defy gravity was seriously hindered by a twenty pound weight gain the summer that I turned 14.

There were many things that contributed to my own unhealthy body image and eventual (thankfully short) struggle with bulimia, and the actual weight didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. A great deal of it was just my personality. I’m a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser. And so when my gymnastics coach told me to try the cabbage soup diet so I could lose a few pounds, I did it. When my uncle told me to “watch it” when I scooped up seconds on ice cream at age 13, I began to watch it with microscopic concern.

Last week, as Luke was recovering from his virus, he had a couple of days of stomach cramps. He didn’t want to eat at all. And not eating made his stomach even worse. I told him that he needed to eat, and it became a huge power struggle.

“I won’t eat! You can’t make me!” he yelled.

And I couldn’t make him. And that was scary. For a few minutes, I thought about what it must be like to have a child with an eating disorder. And in so many ways, it must be worse than having a child who screams and storms around and sneaks out of the house. Because it seems to be the disorder of the people pleaser, and that is harder to combat. That is in the mind.

Once, when I was a freshman in high school, my gym class was doing a weight-training unit. What a wonderful opportunity my teacher had to encourage young teenagers to value their bodies and the amazing things they can do. My gym teacher that year was Mrs. S., the former gymnastics coach and current dance team coach. You can probably see where this story is going.

One day, we were being evaluated, and our grade was partially based on how much we could lift/press etc. in relation to our own body weight. So we lined up to weigh in.

“Good girl!” I heard Mrs. S. say to more than one young woman ahead of me.

When I weighed in, she was silent.

And that silence--not really just silence but the opposite of "good girl"--has been in my mind for over twenty years since.

I have boys, and so the chances of them developing eating disorders are quite slim. But I can try to teach them not to assign moral value to body features. I can teach them that exercise is great for stress relief and health. I can speak positively of my body in front of them.

Also—and this is one of the biggest struggles for me—I can try not to be controlling about their eating. My goal is to keep fairly healthy food in the house and my eating mantra with the boys (and a place I am getting to eventually with myself) is this: “What is your belly telling you?”

I hope I am raising boys that will never tell the women in their lives to “watch it.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Growing Pains

We’ve had a couple of rough nights around here. Two nights ago, Luke was tossing and turning and moaning with a high fever for much of the night. He came up to our bed and I didn’t sleep much. And last night, Henry came upstairs crying around midnight because of a leg ache. I ignored him for a while due to my exhaustion from the night before, but finally, I had to attend to his pain.

Two nights ago, when I was awake with Luke, my nighttime despair began to creep up on me. For a period of time when I was a child, I used to hate nighttime. I had an overactive sense of guilt and at night, I worried a lot. I dreaded nights. And more than anything, I hated spending nights away from my parents. I usually avoided these situations, but if that was impossible, I often spent the night nauseated and restless. While I eventually grew to love sleepovers by my teenage years, I still often struggled with waking in the night in a panic. Now, sleepless nights sometimes bring on a bit of this fear.

As I was feeling a little panic two nights ago with Luke, an airplane flew overhead, and at that moment, my worries abated. My maternal grandparents lived near an airport, and when I spent the night with them, the sound of the airplanes flying over me all night long helped to soothe my worries. Something about being tucked away in their little guest room under the rhythm of the jets overhead made me feel that the world was an orderly place.

And last night, as I fixed a heat pack for Henry’s leg, I was transported back to the days when my own mom fixed a hot water bottle for my own growing pains. In my memory, I am lying on the couch in the dim midnight light, knowing that relief will come, listening to the sound of the water running and running as it gets hot enough to fill the bottle. My mother’s calm, measured actions, performed so many times, took on that same soothing nighttime quality as the jets.

Part of growing up for me was learning to fear the night less, learning to let go of my strange and overactive senses of worry and guilt. It has taken me a long time to learn to be peaceful in the night. I have suffered many growing pains over the years, in my legs and in my heart, and always at night.

I wonder, in the dead of the night, what growing pains my children will face. Just as I have overcome some of mine, theirs are beginning. Just as certain aches of mine fade away, I help to soothe theirs. And I can’t know which of these things they will carry with them into the future, as memories, as part of the rhythm of their beings. I hope the moonlit shadows, the warmth of the heat pad, the murmers of comfort in our bed, are enough.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Boy Quote of the Day

Luke, while in the car: My testicle hurts.

Mom: Maybe you are just sitting funny. Try shifting in your seat.

Luke: I think one of my testicles just popped!

(To ponder: Is this even possible?)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love Is In the Air

Henry had two little girls from his preschool, E and C, over for a play date on Wednesday. About a month ago, Henry began talking about E a lot. Then, a week ago, he started begging to invite her and her best friend over “for a sleepover.” He was quite emphatic.

“I want to have E and C over for a sleepover!” he moaned while rolling around on the floor. This went on for a long, long time, with my position being that he is far too young for a sleepover, especially with two girls that he has never even had over to our house.

“If E and C come over,” added Luke, ever so helpfully, “They can sleep in bed with us.” Luke and Henry share a double bed.

Oh my. I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the fact that E and C are darling and blond.

Finally, we compromised. We arranged an after school play date, which Henry anticipated all weekend. Every morning, he woke up asking, “Is today the day that E and C are coming over?” While whining about not wanting to go to bed, he stopped for a moment to ask, “Do you think E and C don’t want to go to bed right now?” And while constipated, he added, “Maybe E and C’s poop also won’t come out.”

My Henry. Always thinking of others.

Both boys seem to be entering a new era: The Era of Love. While E and C were over, Henry stood up at the table to make an announcement:

“E and C? You are my gowlfriends,” he said, with his funny mispronunciation.

And Luke? He has a new girlfriend every day, according to his accounts. Right now it is O. But she doesn’t know it.

They come by all of this naturally. Craig, in grade school, stole a deer figurine from his parents and gave it to his sweetheart, along with a note that read, “A deer for my dear.” No wonder he went on to score so highly on the verbal section of his SAT. Voluntary homonym usage at such a young age!

After Luke tired of playing with the little kids, I took him upstairs to settle him into another activity. When I came down, I heard Henry saying, “Let’s play lovebug. Chase me and if you catch me, you have to give me a kissy kiss.”

And this morning, I overheard Henry saying to Luke, “I have bad news, Luke. We didn’t get to play lovebug in school yesterday.”

“Too bad,” said Luke.

Oh my. I don’t think I’ll be inviting the girls over for a sleepover any time soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boy Quote of the Day

Henry: Mom, you need to trim my nails! It hurts when I scratch my butt.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Another Post That Isn't Funny

I have been meaning to write a follow-up to the posts about Luke’s visits to the psychologists, but, frankly, I’ve been a little embarrassed. But it is only fair to Luke that I say this, for the record. The short version: Luke is nothing more than an intense little guy, and we haven’t been parenting him very well.

And here’s the long version:

While the first psychologist believed that Luke might have a mood disorder, the second believes that Luke is just very intense and somewhat oppositional. In other words, he is a challenging kid. And while Dr. B. didn’t say this in so many words, we haven’t been rising to the challenge.

Dr. B. gave us a very specific discipline plan to follow with Luke, and we have been doing it for almost three weeks now, and things are going much, much better. Luke has a set of rules at home, and if he isn’t following a rule or we want him to do something, we tell him that. Then, if he ignores us, we say, in a calm but stern voice, “Luke, please do xyz. If you don’t, you’ll go to time out.” If he doesn’t stop, he goes to time out. We say, “You are in time out because you didn’t xyz.” We have a plan for what to do if he doesn’t go to time out, too, and what to do if we are on our way out the door. Basically, we have a very simple, clear plan that has been completely scripted for us. And it is working.

I could go on and on about why I think we weren’t very effective before. Part of it is that I read too many parenting books and everything was always muddled in my head. Part of it is that I don’t much like conflict and so I avoid it. But really, it is hard for me to be objective enough to analyze the dynamics in my family very clearly.

I’m not saying that we don’t have any challenging situations with Luke (or Henry, for that matter) any more. And I’m not saying that Luke’s intensity has gone away. But we are managing it much better, I think, and when things do get a little out of control, we have a plan. We have something to cling to.

And also, just because I’m always talking about Luke’s difficult behavior, I want to throw this out there: He just got his report card, and he is doing GREAT in school. I couldn’t ask for better. He has had his name written on the board once all year, and his reading and writing and math are all going very well. And he loves art and music and gym class.

This parenting gig? Sometimes it’s a little bit of a roller coaster ride. Actually, scratch the little bit. And the sometimes.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


We have survived another snow day and a sick day and a lot of bitterly cold, icy weather since my last post. It has been a long week and a half. Making it longer has been the fact that we have now instituted a screen time only on weekends rule.

We have gradually, over the last two years, become more and more lenient with our screen time allowance for the kids. Until Luke was five years old he was only allowed about a half hour of screen time a day, computer or videos or PBS. Then, on the weekends, he could watch a longer movie if he liked. Once we moved away from Hyde Park I started getting a lot more lenient. Part of it was that we had just moved and neither the kids nor I had any friends. Part of it was that we had moved into a more conventional community—and I wasn’t sending Luke to a media-shunning Waldorf school any more—and so I didn’t feel so conspicuous allowing more screen time into our lives.

But a half hour on weekdays has become an hour, and a movie on the weekends has become several. The kids have been whining for more and more screen time. Sometimes they ask to get on the computer or watch a video first thing in the morning. And you know what? Even though it is nice to have the kids occupied while they watch, they are always out of sorts when we turn it off. They are surly and demanding of my attention.

So we sat them down on Sunday and told them no more screen time on weekdays. And, surprisingly, they didn’t whine much. And now we have completed one media-free four-day stretch, and it has been wonderful. We have been doing things that we haven’t done in a long time. We’ve pulled out puzzles that haven’t seen the light of day in at least a year. We’ve made a lot of very fashionable shrinky-dink jewelry. We have played every board game on the shelf. We biked through the snow.

And yes, I have had to work a little more to keep them occupied, but once they are in the groove, they are playing by themselves pretty well. And last night at the beginning of the weekend, we borrowed Home Alone from the library (which was marginally inappropriate, I thought, with the swearing and the fake shooting and all, but oh well) and we made nachos and popcorn and enjoyed ourselves immensely. There is nothing like laughing at slapstick comedy with little boys.