Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Larger than Life

I am not the heaviest I have ever been, but I am close to my largest weight as an adult.  Always told "you have such a pretty face" and the rest was left silent, but the elephant in the room was me.  I don't struggle with my weight, though.  The world I live in struggles with my weight and while I'm getting older and worried about diabetes, my heart and weight on my joints, I generally eat pretty healthy, drink lots of water and am either commuting via public transit and walking at least an hour a day, or active with  my 2 and 4 year olds.  Most days, I collapse exhausted into bed from a day of chasing my daughter, playing sports with my son, and keeping these two active kids engaged with movement.  We have dance parties and walks to the park, I chase them down city blocks, through playgrounds and the green meadows of Lincoln Park with regularity. I live in my active wear.

I have no excuses for not losing "the baby weight" after Sali was born, except that I haven't been alone in 3 years and when the fuck am I going to lift weights and be able to lay on the floor for core work?   Doing so in my household is an invitation for both kids to climb me and begin wrestling with various limbs of mine, assuming that this was why I lowered myself to the floor on a yoga mat.  This summer, I have chosen sleeping in instead of getting up early to work out, and I don't doubt that choice for a second.  Why do moms have to feel pressured to "get their bodies back" so quickly?   I've never had a small pre-baby body, so the horror that many smaller women have about being 200 lbs is my everyday, for most of my life, and my life at that weight was pretty rad.  Why does our society not honor the scars of motherhood and mom bodies like other cultures do?  Why is our fatphobia so intense?

I also remember how great I feel after working out, and miss the solitary time to listen to a playlist and push my body's physical limits.  I grew up an athlete, and still run around after children, but I miss the calculated practice of breathing, moving and working out particular muscles to assist my growth.  I have friends who continue to work out, train, dance, practice jiu jitsu and capoeira, go to classes, even teach fitness classes while parenting, so I know it's possible, but my desire to work out is not linked to a desire to lose weight, rather to gain energy, strength, and endurance.

It has taken me a long time to get to love my post-children body.  It has taken conscious resistance to dieting, business cards given to me by plastic surgeons, others body shaming me in public, loudly talking badly about my body within earshot or saying I shouldn't have foods I love.  After Beyonce posted her announcement of her twins on Instagram last week, a mom group I'm a part of analyzed her belly in the photo, and mused about whether or not she had surgery, or the image was photo-shopped.  I said that the photo was fierce, and lamented that she didn't use the moment to share the realness of motherhood and how it changes your body, but her body is her livelihood in a way mine is not.  She is a billionaire, and I am not.  Surgery may be an investment for her brand, while it is not true of my lifestyle.  I also will not judge the choices that another woman makes about her body, as I hope they would leave me to captain mine.

In this country, it is frustrating to live the reality of a larger self for logistical reasons (not finding the right size, not fitting into "regular" store clothes, not fitting seat belts, assumptions of poor health, assumptions of being dirty), but this is not something new for me - I've been obese all of my life.  I learned a long, long time ago that being happy with myself as I am is the only way to be, instead of looking for all of the ways that I should change myself.   My weight has fluctuated between 175 and 275 pounds, and I feel comfortable and beautiful in my skin at the larger end of that range, because it looks proportionate on my frame. In my husband's culture, losing weight significantly is a sign of illness, not an accomplishment, as it is seen here in the U.S. Outside of whiteness, curves are beautiful, are natural and are desired.  Outside of patriarchal capitalism, we don't need to buy products that make us more beautiful, thinner, to please the male gaze.  The exercise industry is just as guilty as cosmetics in contributing to the idea that you need their product to be beautiful.  Sufi mystic poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī once said, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." So while you may look at me and think "oh, she's struggling with her weight", I am feeling myself.  You can't match this shine.

So, while ya'll might be chasing B's flat stomach and starting surgery funds, I'll be over here eating all the dishes my husband makes and dessert, living in the moment, trying to be active, healthy and taking self-care seriously.  I'll be reading, writing,  walking, playing 25 sports a day with my son and daughter.  As a working mom, educator, writer, thinker, wife, daughter and friend, I have a lot more to worry about than your struggles with my weight.  When you're ready, come meet me out in the field beyond white beauty standards, capitalism and insecurity, in the place of truth and love.  We have cake. :)

Monday, July 10, 2017

semblance of a summer

Summer is a luxury I was afforded as a kid.  We got to go "up north" (as we say in Michigan) every summer, to stay with my grandparents in their home.  They are Finnish and now I remember the details of their home with precision, because it is no longer there.  Cedar log-cabin feel on the inside with a huge loft where we all slept together.  Dad snoring but getting up early, mom dreaming but getting up later, me rambling late down the carpeted stairs to the kitchen table in the morning, glancing out toward the lake to gauge the weather.  "How's the water today?" we would ask grandma, who we know had gotten up at 6 to go down to the dock to take the temperature.  "Cold.  72." she'd say, and banter about what she was going to make for dinner, in between bites of toast and coffee in ceramic dishes.

Everything about the house was so Finnish, quaint, and wonderful.   The wooden ducks that looked out the bay window on the south side, the huge picture windows overlooking the lake.  Their overstuffed furniture and doilies on end tables.  How long I sat on the couch and stared vacantly out those windows my whole childhood.  How the presence of the lake was calming, even if storms rained down on the waters.   The obvious sauna in the guest bathroom, and my obsession with the stove when I was younger, and with watching the temperature rise as we poured water on the coals.   The Kalevala out and open on the end table, portraits of dad, Jude and Dave everywhere in their hockey and band uniforms, 70's hairstyles poppin'.  Pasties in the oven, grandpa reminding us not to only drink half a can of pop and leave it out there unfinished. Promising to be careful and save the petoskey stones we found.  Then, getting our suits on and being in the water all day, swimming, lounging, rock-collecting, finding crayfish and minnows, playing catch, napping in the sun, making up games in the water, calling up Kim and Leijona and seeing what mild trouble we could concoct, reading at the picnic table in the sun.

We went to see the house when my family went up north this summer, and the family who bought it from my grandparents promised they weren't tearing the house down, but did exactly that, and rebuilt it to fit their family's summer memories.  The garage was the same:  country blue and yellow, where we'd stumble out to get more pop from the fridge, and grandpa would be puttering with a lawnmower or filling a birdfeeder, fixing a bike or listening to talk radio.  Grandma's garden was long gone, but I remember picking snap peas and weeding with her, this memory visible in the grass as we stopped the car in disbelief.

I am blessed to have these memories.  I want the same for generations of kids, I want the same for all kids.  For summer to mean time, sun, water, recreation and imagination, with the occasional meal urged in by moms, with the occasional layer of sunscreen applied.

But summer in many parts of America has long meant violence.  To my students, it is time for fights, for parties that end in gunfire, arrests, police surveillance, intoxication, rape and death.  The kind of summer that I had each summer is not a reality for so many children.  Going to camp is not a reality. Summer sports on organized teams is not a reality.  My summers are white privilege, crystalized and idyllic in their blissful ignorance of hot, city summers.  There is lots of idle time spent on stoops, sports played at the park, swimming pools, local beaches if your parents can afford to take you somewhere, lots of TV, social media, lots of repetitive days in the park with the same neighborhood kids.  There is also a lot happening, cookouts, block parties, stoop parties, dominoes on the corner with the viejos, bodega parties, tons of free events in the city if you have the subway fare.  I love New York City in the summer, but it is hot and sticky, and the heat can be oppressive, and maddening, and when combined with alcohol, violence-inducing.

I don't want to romanticize this violence, and my intent is not to bring pity upon my students, who love their summer freedom of riding bikes and splashing in opened fire hydrants just as much as I loved playing in the lake all day.  It is to recognize that certain things I love and remember are the products of privilege in this country, when they should be accessible to all people, in an allegedly free country.   While I do have to fear my husband being pulled over with a busted tail light and the encounter that could ensue with a police officer in Michigan or New Jersey, I certainly didn't grow up with the knowledge or fear that police violence spikes in the summer.   I am constantly aware of these things now, and also remember being in the streets of New York with a wallet in the air after Amadou Diallo was killed.   As a white person, I have made a choice to open my eyes and bear witness to America as segregated still, because I have witnessed the duality of existence in this country.  From something as simple as childhood summers, the glaring differences in race and class are crystal clear.