Monthly Archives: March 2014

Drag Queens, Coke Bottle Glasses, and Self-Esteem

I don’t normally wear a lot of make-up.  Powder, blush, mascara, lip balm.  Sometimes no mascara since eye make-up bothers my peepers.  Oh yeah, and concealer for the dark undereye circles I’ve had like forever.  Truth be told, even when I had the time, I was never really good at applying face paint. In my twenties, I had a stunning girlfriend who could rock magenta lipstick and smokey eyes like no one’s business.  But she also had bronzed skin, midnight hair and espresso eyes.  I’m pale.  Way too pale for any respectable Italian.  Even my eyelashes are blonde. Heavy make-up looks clownlike on me.  Worse yet, an unfortunate misunderstanding at the M.A.C. counter on the morning of my wedding resulted in me looking like a drag queen for my big day (no offense to drag queens).  FYI, if the make-up artist tells you he’s going to give you a “dramatic” look, he might be prepping you for your debut at The Birdcage.  My friends and family attempted to console me, “It’ll look good in the pictures.  Don’t worry.  No one will notice.”  They did. Every.Freaking.Person.  The priest even did a double take as I walked down the aisle and I’m pretty sure it’s because he thought he was going to be breaking some rules by marrying us.

Here is a picture of me on my wedding day.  I don’t have black eyes by the way.  They are green but I don’t think you can tell under all that charcoal.

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Here’s a nice shot of the entrance of the theatre where we had our reception.  It has no relevance to this post, I just think it’s really beautiful.

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But I digress. The past week, plagued with a hardcore sinus infection and pink eye, I am make-up free.  None whatsoever.  And I’m wearing my glasses. I honestly wouldn’t mind my glasses except that my lenses could be used as replacements for the Hubble Telescope.  Did you know that, apparently, there are men with a high-myope fetish who furtively photograph women wearing coke-bottle glasses?  That’s just a weird, random fact I discovered that I needed to share because it made me feel all creepy.

Anyway, back to the whole no make-up thing.  Not having to apply makeup or insert contacts has freed up a bunch of time in the mornings.  On days when I don’t have to wash and style my hair, I feel absolutely liberated.  It dawned on me that this is what men must feel like.  Ok, so I look deathly pale and people think I’ve contracted some awful disease.  “Wow, you are really ill.  Look at you. You look so pale and sickly!”  Um, that’s probably the lack of blush.

I know a lot of moms don’t bother with makeup, and if I weren’t so damn vain, that would be an excellent trend to jump on.  My makeup routine probably takes less than five minutes tops, but for some reason, those five minutes feel like a drag on my morning.  I always vacillate when it comes to the topic of grooming and what’s expected of women.  Part of me wishes I could wear a monk’s robe (although maybe in a less itchy fabric than burlap, something with a nicer hand, like jersey knit or something), tie my hair back in a ponytail, and be makeup free everyday.  Part of me likes to dress up and look pretty, even if that requires a bit of effort.  Ideally, I’d prefer that there is no expectation and that I get to choose when I fancy myself up or if I want to go au naturale.

I see how Miss Fancy Pants watches my morning ritual.  I wonder if she will grow up thinking that women have to carefully apply makeup to be considered attractive- or even just to avoid being told one looks unwell?  As a three-year-old, she’s totally into dressing up, tutus, and her hair.  Is it just imaginative play or is she beginning to internalize society’s message that women need to be attractive to be acceptable?  Did I inadvertently contribute to this internalization with my constant admiration of her beauty?  “Do I look pretty?”, she asks.  “You look beautiful!” I gush.  I do try to focus on what she is capable of instead of her appearance. “I love to watch you build that tower!” and “You are such a great little chef helping Mommy to cook!”  I scold family members who may comment (albeit sometimes innocently) about her weight and what a good eater she is.  Having spent the majority of my skinny childhood on a diet or obsessed about my appearance, I’d like to avoid the same fate for my daughter.

Even on days when I’m feeling “fat”, you won’t hear me complain, at least not in front of MFP.  When she called me “beautiful” in my glasses and sans makeup, I didn’t deny the compliment like I normally would with an adult.  I heartily thanked her and then we danced uninhibitedly to her favorite song.

I’ve read research on the topic.  Academics will assert, “Don’t tell your little girls that they are pretty.  Tell them they are smart or strong or creative…”  But then other research will point to not telling little girls that they are smart because once school work becomes challenging, they will already have associated being “smart” with effortless ability; thus equating needing to work hard at academic tasks with [their] lack of intelligence.  Instead, praise girls for trying hard, for overcoming obstacles, and for persevering in the face of adversity.

In parenting MFP, I’ve taken a more laid back perspective.  Certainly, I focus upon working hard and feeling proud when one achieves a difficult task. Often MFP will hear me say (upon completing an arduous chore), “It may be hard, but I’m going to keep trying and trying until I get it!”, a phrase I now hear her repeat as she goes about her day.  I offer sincere and specific praise when she tackles the challenges she encounters, big and small. But when my little smarty pants is dressed in her tutu and tiara, wondering if she looks pretty, I’m not afraid to tell her she looks beautiful.  But I do emphasize that she is beautiful inside and out, and that her beauty does not depend upon what she’s wearing.  She doesn’t quite get the concept yet, but one day, I’m hoping she will.

However I realize that, more important than what I say, is what I model for her.  If I comment upon other women’s appearances (good or bad), complain about my muffin top, and spend hours grooming, what message am I sending?  If I want the focus to be on what her strong body and clever mind can achieve, then my actions need to reflect that message.  Afterall, I’m more than my pale skin and high-myope lenses. We all have gifts to share with the world, no matter what the package looks like.  If we put more focus on those gifts, maybe our girls will too.

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Go with the Mommy Flow

Almost everyone has those moments of being “in the flow,” when one is fully immersed in an activity and it feels natural, energizing, and enjoyable.  Time is lost as minutes become hours.  The experience feels easy.  In my pre-baby days, I used to feel that way when I painted, oblivious to the commotion around me as I focused on creating my masterpiece…um, sorta decent piece of art.  When I worked outside of the home, these moments would creep up too, like while presenting a high profile case or writing a psychological evaluation on an especially intriguing client.

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That’s me and MFP, two winters ago at Myrtle Beach in November, enjoying a moment of flow.  Yes, I do have the Whitest.Calves.Ever.  No, we did not catch pneumonia.

Admittedly, these moments of flow are few and far between now.  My world has become one of multitasking, checking off to-do lists in my head as I attend to the needs of my family.  As much as I attempt to stay present in the moment, I often find my mind drifting to the next task (I’ve got to make dinner before there is a low blood sugar meltdown in the house!); or analyzing MFP’s behavior (Is that age-appropriate?  Normal?  Does she need more omega-3’s in her diet?); or replaying an awkward interaction with another parent (I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize your daughter at church despite the fact that I see her at pre-k drop-off twice a week!), or one of the other bajillion thoughts that run through my head at any given moment.  And sometimes the only thing I’m thinking is, “I really need a nap.”  But there are those instances, although fewer than I care to admit, that I am fully present and thoroughly enjoying a tender moment with my child.  Last night it was while reading the same “Fancy Nancy” book for the upteenth time as MFP snuggled her lavender scented head on my shoulder.  I think she felt the power of that moment too because mid-story she looked up at me with wide, warm brown eyes, smiled a dreamy grin, and said, “I love you Mommy,”  which made the huge tantrum she had thrown fifteen minutes earlier totally worth it.  Last week, it was during one of our late afternoon strolls as we discussed a seemingly deranged squirrel, picked dandelions, and debated about when birds lay their eggs.  MFP insisted it was during the summer, not spring and wouldn’t let it go until I “asked” my phone (turns out most do in spring, some will lay eggs multiple times a year, and some, like chickens, lay eggs year-round).

Because I’m analytical by nature (I know, how nerdy), I wanted to examine the factors that contribute to these experiences, what I’ve deemed “Mommy Flow”, with my child.  I came to the conclusion that in order for me to really pay attention and be present in the moment, a few factors seemed key.  Here is my very unscientific summary of those findings.

Time  It is important that I have adequate time for the activity.  If I’m rushing to get MFP to bed or dinner on the table, flow is much less likely since my focus turns to beating the clock rather than what I’m doing in the moment.

Energy  The more adequately rested and less overworked I am, the more involved I tend to become in the activity.  This made me chuckle.  It’s hard to imagine a mom ever really being well rested.  My measure of having had adequate rest is when I don’t feel like I need to chug three espresso shots prior to engaging in an activity.

Having a goal  My goal might be as simple as helping to make MFP feel relaxed and loved before bedtime or teaching her how to observe and enjoy nature.

Liking the activity  It’s easier for me to be in the flow when we’re sharing an activity that is mutually enjoyable.  Sitting on her stepstool waiting for her to go potty…not so much.  Family day at the museum.  Much more likely.

I know flow isn’t going to happen all the time or even every day necessarily.  Motherhood is rewarding but challenging and sometimes, plain old exhausting.  There are days when merely keeping the kids supervised and fed seems like a lofty goal.  I recently lamented to an acquaintance that I felt guilty because MFP told me, “Mommy, I love watching you cook and clean…not really.  I wish you could just play with me.”  Ugh.  That was a knife to the heart, even though intellectually I know that I spend plenty of time “playing” with her.  The acquaintance, a lovely mother of four children under the age of ten, graciously responded, “That’s good for her to see you cooking and cleaning.  She has to see the reality is that there is time for work and time for play. You can’t play with her all day long.  And the reason she plays so well independently and can use her imagination is because you have given her that time.”  What wonderful words of wisdom.  Which makes me feel slightly better about telling MFP to “Go find something to do,” when I’m in the midst of completing a project.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

However, in those times when we are “playing,” I can improve the quality of our interactions (for the both of us) by recognizing what factors contribute to flow and helping to ensure that, whenever possible, conditions are ripe for those blessed moments to happen.  Did you ever notice how flow comes naturally to children?  How absorbed toddlers and preschoolers can become in an activity, even if it’s only for the length of their abbreviated attention spans?  How great it is to remember to be “childlike,” not only for our children’s sake but for our own.  It makes me want to pick up my palette and brushes again.  Someday I will, but in the meantime, I’m going to focus on how I can embrace the current moment and find those small opportunities for joy where I can.  Wanna join me at Starbucks for a triple espresso shot cappuccino?

Giada, call me. Bacci.

Hi!  I know you haven’t heard from me in a while.  It’s been pretty crazy around here and I just haven’t had the time to write like I did before.  The snow in the South a couple of weeks back meant that pre-k was cancelled for almost a week and that always sets me behind.  And in a cost cutting effort, we also had to let go of our sitter so I’m finding that I need to squeeze my consulting work, writing, errands, bill paying, chores, building a house, and saving the bees (more about that later) into a much smaller chunk of child-free time.  Moms, I’m sure you can agree with me here.  Isn’t it always the case that when you finally feel like you’ve got your routine somewhat well managed, something happens to throw it off and you’re back to scrambling like a hamster on a wheel?

Right now Miss Fancy Pants and I just finished practicing her letters- tracing Montessori sandpaper letters with her finger and writing letters on paper. Now she’s spelling “words” with the sandpaper letters as I type.  Her pre-k teacher actually suggested that I stop practicing at home with her, at least on the days she has pre-k, because apparently MFP has informed her teacher that she doesn’t need to work on her letters at school because she does them at home.  Where did I get this child?  Seriously.  I used to cower in fear when teachers told me to complete a task.  Meanwhile, my spirited child is trying to guide the curriculum.  I’ve got to nip this or we’re in trouble.  Despite MFP’s precocious verbal ability, her fine-motor skills (when it comes to writing) are simian-like.  Which, when you’ve been dealing with a child who has hit all her developmental milestones months (and even years) ahead of schedule, is a little dose of reality.  At least for my husband, who would have her doing calculus and speaking Mandarin Chinese by age four.

As an aside, while I’m happy to help her with homework and glad that she’s being exposed to pre-writing and reading skills, shouldn’t 3-yr-olds be running around wild and free in the outdoors, exploring, gathering worms, getting skinned knees, and eating dirt?  It seems that so much of childhood is lost nowadays to ever increasing amounts of competition amongst children, fostered by well-meaning parents and societal expectations.  I’m not sure where the balance is, but I’m going to do some research and let you know in an upcoming blog post.

My sister suggested that I supplement my blog with Youtube videos of me cooking healthful recipes, either with or without MFP.  What do you all think?  If anything, it would make for a good laugh.  I told her I’d have to lose a few pounds first since the camera adds, like what, ten pounds?  Right?  But at least you know that I eat my own cooking.  I look well fed.  Never trust a skinny chef.  My nonna doesn’t care for Giada, I’m pretty sure (in part) because she’s too skinny.  I love Giada’s recipes and her daughter, Jade, is adorable.  I don’t think Giada is one of my readers, but I just want to make sure she knows that my grandmother’s views on the topic differ from my own.  Hey Giada, let’s do lunch.  Call me.  Bacci.

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Well, it’s time for me to get MFP’s to sleep so that I can kick back and watch “The Bachelor”.  This season has been a huge disappointment for me.  Juan Pablo, it seems, is only just a pretty face, which is now less so because of his less than desirable personality.  But it’s still a nice, mindless escape from reality so I will continue to indulge in my guilty pleasure.  And it’s less fattening than the box of leftover Valentine’s Day chocolates that I’d like to devour right now.  Good night!