Signs of Life Day Three

When I was 15 years old, I was easily 70 lbs. heavier than I am right now. I was unhealthy and insecure, but when I started Rollerblading on the weekends in an attempt to lose weight (hey, it was the 1990s!), I never thought it would lead to a lifetime of enjoying exercise.

Fast forward TWO DECADES and I’m still at it. Though my Rollerblades have long since been retired and replaced with running shoes, a gym membership, and a yoga mat, I still enjoy the mental and physical release exercise gives me. It is for my brain first and my body second.

It’s a curious thing, then, to still struggle with body image, self-esteem, and all that emotional garbage I’ve been carrying around for most of my life. It makes no sense whatsoever, but that is the nature of the beast. It is my lot. But I continue to exercise – and continue to love it – because this is the one body I have. There’s no swapping it out for another.

So today, after my workout was complete, I did the thing that I never do: I snapped a photo of myself at the gym. I felt silly doing it, but in that moment I wanted evidence that I am alive and healthy and able to do many things. 

One day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Why I didn’t want a daughter

I was so glad when we were given boys: the first boy in 2003, the second in 2006. Two boys meant we’d never have to deal with self-esteem issues, body image problems, and disordered eating. Sure, we’d have other stuff, but not that.

Boy, was I wrong.

Growing up a chubby kid, and then a very overweight teenager, I was pleased with my emaciated senior high school self. Not only did I drop 85 pounds through disordered eating and excessive exercise, I’d also gained some attention. Boys finally noticed me. People called me pretty. No more did I hear, “You have such a pretty face.” (Which is an insult, if you didn’t know.)

My poorly patterned lifestyle waned halfway through college. I decided not to actively destroy myself anymore. The heart palpitations ended, I stopped being anemic. There were some permanent repercussions, but nothing life threatening. Though the weight I gained back – nearly 30 pounds – was difficult for my brain to process, I just kept telling myself, “This is what’s healthy. This is okay.”

Ah, but it’s never been okay. The body dysmorphia remains. It still haunts. I manage it. 

From the first time I started thinking about motherhood, I crossed my fingers for boys. Boys don’t have body image problems. They don’t care about weight and size and the way their clothes rub against their bodies. They are not like us. They are not like girls.

When Jeremy and Jackson came along, I breathed a sigh of relief. We would dodge these demons entirely.

Only recently did I recognize the ignorance in my lopsided reasoning, and by “recently,” I mean in the last five years. As I’ve watched puberty creep onto our doorstep, I’ve been slapped into reality. Body image struggles are not exclusive to one gender. They haunt some and ignore others. Whether we had boys or girls was irrelevant.

This morning I watched a poignant video that reminded me that healthy self-esteem and body image don’t always come naturally. How we respond to our children in this arena – boys and girls alike – can shape who they become as adults. Will we engage in conversation about body image or will we be dismissive? Will we take their worries seriously or will we shrug it off as a phase? Will we watch for signs or assume there won’t be any?

There is also a balance to keep, because whether the emphasis is positive or negative, too much emphasis on physical appearance isn’t healthy. 

If you are a parent, especially if you have a son, take seven minutes and watch this video. May it serve as a reminder that insecurity can plague every single one of us.

Might we choose our words carefully.

“Not being weird is my goal today.”

This is what Jackson said to me in the car on the way to drama camp this morning. My heart broke in a million pieces.

Fountain at HH

It reminded me of a conversation he and I had a few months ago when he used the word “weird” to describe himself for the first time.

Jackson: I don’t have any friends. Everyone thinks I’m weird.

Me: You’re not weird. You’re unique.

Jackson: What does that mean?

Me: You’re one of a kind. I’d much rather have a kid who’s one of a kind than a kid who’s like everyone else.

Jackson: Well that’s nice.

Jackson cuts the water

If someone knows what else I should say, I’m happy to listen. He wasn’t moved by my efforts to comfort him but instead has continued to call himself “weird” every so often. (I’d love to know where he got that from.) I’m quick to correct him because the last thing I want either of my children feeling is less than.

And yet, that’s where we are so often – Jackson calling himself weird and Jeremy feeling insecure about his hearing impairment. I’d love to say that I’m the perfect example of a healthy self-image, but I fail miserably in that arena all the time. It makes me wonder if my boys don’t stand a chance at confidence because I’m unable to offer an example. Even though I don’t bum around the house being down on myself (which would be an obvious habit to break), perhaps I don’t exhibit a positive attitude in a way that promotes a healthy self-esteem. Telling my boys to be confident is much different from living by example with an intentional mindset of contentment. 

It’s something to consider, don’t you think?

in the Atlantic

What a careful balance it is – being your children’s cheerleader while letting them fail and suffer so they can learn to bounce back. I want to protect them from all the junk in the world, but that will only produce adults who flail and drown in a bubble of naiveté. They need to experience the lows so they can appreciate the highs. They must know sorrow so they can recognize joy.

By the way, no one tells you these things when your babies are all new and fragile and smell so good you think nothing will ever go wrong. No one warns you that one day your child may be so riddled with insecurity because kids are cruel and the world isn’t kind and you don’t know how to fix it. Here is your warning, new parents! Hold tight. Get ready. Take notes.

In keeping with the randomness of this post, I’ll leave you with another recent conversation I had with Jackson. Let’s end with a laugh, shall we?

Jackson: I’m sorry Mom, but my wife and I are only going to have dogs. No cats.

Me: No cats? Why?

Jackson: Because we’re dog people.

Me: What if your wife doesn’t like dogs?

Jackson: Oh, she will!

Me: But how will you know?

Jackson: I’ll buy her a ring, then I’ll get down on my knees and ask her to marry me, and then I’ll say, ‘Do you like dogs?’

Me: And what if she says she’s allergic to dogs and can’t have one?

Jackson: We’ll get rabbits!