“I’m so comfortable now.”

“I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk in them, and I’m so comfortable now.”
~ Emma Thompson, accepting the National Board of Review’s Best Actress Award in 2013

I grew up in the South and in church, which meant I grew up wearing high heels. When I went to college, I even wore full make-up and heels to classes. The first time I eschewed heels was after college when I was living in London, and I had places to go. I needed to walk long flights of escalators (real city folks WALK the escalators) and jump on Tube cars before the doors closed, and heels slowed me down and got caught on things. I still wore stilettos for nice occasions and to go dancing.

In recent years, I’ve begun to feel that there isn’t any occasion that necessitates wearing things that hurt me. Not that are simply less comfortable, like the difference between trousers and yoga pants, but are painful and proven to hurt my body for Pete’s sake, which high heels are.

The flats I wore to work today with my LBD, power suit jacket, and pearls.

I am thus thankful to Emma Thompson for her permission to forego heels. Even more importantly, though, her words have needled out the essence of feminism for me: I’m so comfortable now.

Years I’ve spent dismantling patriarchy in my heart and life. I’ve cried. I’ve prayed. I’ve voted. I’ve marched. I’ve talked to my therapist. I’ve created rituals with friends, to honor our sisterhood. I’ve read Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Roberta Bondi and Sue Monk Kidd and many others. It has been good and hard work, and it all comes down to this simple intention, this simple four-word North Star: I’m so comfortable now.

Everything that makes that true, stays. Everything else goes.

Earlier this year, I was getting Maggie, my toddler, ready for preschool. I had brushed her hair and was trying to convince her to wear a small bow clip to keep her hair to the side and out of her eyes. And, let’s be honest, because I think it’s cute. Because I let her wear her hair as she pleased in our family photos last autumn and her wispy blonde bangs going every which way made me afraid that people would think I hadn’t combed her hair. I was afraid of what other people thought.

Finally, I asked Maggie why she wouldn’t wear the bow, and she replied with gusto, “It’s not comfortable!”

There are few prouder moments I’ve had as a mother. I am so grateful to have two daughters as my reminders of the person I want to be. I try to teach them to be true to their selves, and they reflect back to me that law in moments when I forget it.

I hope one day my girls have the opportunity to live in a big city and run to catch buses. Wherever they are, I hope they choose the shoes – and all the things – that make them say to themselves, “I’m so comfortable now.”

*****

PS I am sensitive to the fact that saying that feminism comes down to, “I’m so comfortable now,” could come across like an egregious exercise in privileged white feminism.

I am not comfortable with the threat to their physical safety that women and people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community and nonconformists experience every day.
I am not comfortable with the gender wage gap.
I am not comfortable with harassment and discrimination.
I am not comfortable with a lot of things.
I am not comfortable with the privilege that I experience as a white woman. I am working to be more aware of it and to destroy it.

What “am I comfortable” does for me is challenge me to continue the work of critical, intersectional feminism that asks me every day to be radically accepting of my self and others. In that space of grace and acceptance, I am comfortable.

Growing pains

I’ve written before about how Nine Years Old feels like an important milestone. The realization of this began percolating for me earlier this year, as my oldest daughter prepared to turn nine.

Nine was when I began to experience anxiety. It was also the first year I remember feeling shame. A couple of kids in my class informed me that I was chubby. The kidney reflux that I had been battling since I was born flared up again, requiring several hospitalizations. The physical pain of the disorder was exceeded by the terrifying humiliation of the procedures to try to correct it. During this time, the bubbly, outgoing kid I had been grew quieter. I found myself unable to think of what to say to people my age. I was shy. By the time I was 13, the shame was so pervasive, it was hard to know where it left off and I began.

*****

Last night, Emma joined a local basketball league and attended her first practice.

When I was around eleven, I tried out for basketball at my small private school. I didn’t make the team. I proceeded to try out for softball. I didn’t make the team. Nevertheless, I persisted, and tried out for cheerleading. I didn’t make the team.

When Emma asked if she could join the basketball league – anyone who wants can be on the team – I felt the tenderness of pre-teen Christa. My heart leapt at the chance for Emma to have what I didn’t have.

It brought to my mind two things: first, the amazing capacity of this life to give us do-overs.

I wish my parents had been paying closer attention to my desire to play sports. I would have never been an all-star, but I think with the right help, I could have made a team, or at the least played on a city league. I think that would have given me more confidence around my peers.

As pastors, my parents devoted countless hours to the church. They have both told me as I’ve grown up that they wish they would have spent more time focusing on our family and what we needed as kids and less time at church. They’ve apologized for that.

I know one day, I will have to apologize to my kids for something I wish I had done differently.

As I parent, I am so thankful to have the ability to call my parents up and talk with them about raising babies. There is such kind grace in being able to cry and laugh with your own parents. The laughing part is important. We laugh together at how hard and absurd parenting can be, and it makes the heaviness of knowing I will make mistakes at parenting – the one thing I most want to get right, just like my parents wanted to get it right! – more bearable.

I am thankful for do-overs. That, as parents and children and people, we get to keep loving each other until we get it right.

Second, thinking about trying out for the basketball team reminded me of my lifelong quest for coolness.

I’m smart. During middle school and high school, I took special summer classes just for fun. I graduated high school and college with a high GPA.

But what I wanted to be was COOL.

I wanted to be like the girls who played sports and were effortlessly pretty and always knew the right thing to say. I wanted to fit in. I wanted people to like me.

I married my husband because he is cool. He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. But he’s the kind of cool you can talk to. It’s cool beyond cool, because he couldn’t care less if he’s cool or not. He is himself.

And that’s cool.

It’s been in recent years that I feel I’ve “achieved” coolness in a way that no one can ever take it from me. Which is kinda funny, because in recent years I’ve become an in-my-30s mother of two who drives a minivan. (Not just drives a minivan. I love my minivan.)

For me, coolness means I feel comfortable with my self. I’m at ease with my self. This has a direct relationship with my shedding of shame in recent years. It doesn’t mean that shame doesn’t ever show up. Sometimes, still, when I make a mistake or am anxious for whatever reason, a voice whispers to me, “Should I be ashamed of my self?”

The difference is that now the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”

I hope we’ve given Emma what she needs in order to grow up feeling cool. To grow up feeling like she is alright, just as she is. Or maybe peace with one’s self is only found on the other side of a struggle. Maybe that is part of being human.

*****

The weight of all of this sits with me. It is in my heart. Sometimes I sit in meditation, with outstretched hands, and I actually feel the heaviness in the skin of my palms. I don’t have any other answer but to be with it. With the weight of humanity. Of imperfections and failure and anxiety and shame and do-overs and coolness. To love the hell out of all of it.

Rumi wrote, “Through love all pain will turn to medicine.”

Reproductive health care is not “just one issue”

I love Bernie Sanders. I voted for him in the primary. But Bernie is wrong to refer to reproductive rights as “just one issue,” as he did yesterday in his defense of campaigning for an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska: “I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

For context, Bernie recently declined to endorse Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for the Georgia congressional seat Tom Perez left open when he became Trump’s Health & Human Services Secretary, stating that Ossoff was “not progressive” on economic issues.

I want candidates who are progressive on economic issues, too. It is inconsistent, however, to hold such a hard line with Ossoff yet be willing to overlook the harmful anti-choice stance of another Democratic candidate.

Here’s the bottom line, and listen up, because this is important:

Abortion is not just one issue. It’s health and economics and education and stability of families.

Most of all, access to abortion is VIEWING WOMEN AS AUTONOMOUS BEINGS.

And that is everything.

Namaste

In the past few months, I’ve been dealing with age-related angst in a serious way for the first time.
“When did that start looking like that?!”
“Is this supposed to be happening so soon?”

I’ve found renewed solidarity and humor in Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Strangely, though, I would say my self esteem is higher now than it’s ever been (we humans are messy and full of contradictions), even higher than just five years ago when I would have considered my self pretty evolved in terms of self acceptance. Today I realized perhaps that’s because five years ago I was working at a yoga studio in Southern California.

Life tip: if you want to feel good about your self, don’t hang out with people who are habitually on juice cleanses.

The OR Principle

I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.

My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”

The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.

As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.

But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”

That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.

“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.

And everything changed.

In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.

When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”

OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.

OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.

I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.

You do, too.

 

* * * * *

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Using stories to teach our kids about strong food

I recently got a shout out from Dr. Sam Spillman, local physical therapist/chiropractor/golf game improver/wellness advisor/philanthropist, for a conversation we had about modeling healthy eating habits for kids.

Sam appreciated that I talk with my children about food being strong or weak, instead of good or bad. Additionally, I only talk about weak in terms of which foods would not help our bodies be strong if we ate too much of them.

I don’t want any food to be off the table (ha! pun intended) for my kids. I want them to appreciate the deliciousness of buttercream frosting. I want them to know what cotton candy tastes like. I want them to drink champagne at their friends’ weddings (in 20 years, of course).

I also want them to have information about which foods will do the most to make their muscles and bones and brain strong and healthy.

One way that I’ve found to do this without entering lecture mode is telling my kids a story. In fact, we have one story in particular, about a little girl named Arianna. She loved ice cream so much that she decided to open an ice cream shop. At every meal, every day, she ate watermelon and mango ice cream with strawberry boba on top. One day she started to walk up the stairs, but she couldn’t! She couldn’t even lift up her legs. Her mom and dad rushed her to the doctor, who told her that her muscles had TURNED TO GAK because they had not had enough strong food. So Arianna started eating strong food again, and her muscles and bones grew stronger. She still ate watermelon and mango ice cream with strawberry boba on top, but not at every meal. Just sometimes.

My kids love this silly story. One reason is that they helped me create it. I often play a game with them where I start a story and pause to let them fill in the blanks. Emma named Arianna and picked out her favorite flavors of ice cream. Years later, Emma’s little sister Maggie loves this story because she knows I told it to her big sister when she was Maggie’s age.

As a mom of an almost-nine year old and a three AND A HALF year old, I am still learning how to best teach truly healthy, joyful ways of fueling our bodies and celebrating life, without the shame that, unfortunately, so often attaches itself to food and eating. Story telling with exaggerated parts to help children understand consequences is one tool that seems to resonate with my girls. I hope it might be useful for your family, too.

Yoga breath

Yoga classes are like church services for me in that they are a time when I am open and honest and vulnerable with my self. Last summer, I was dealing with some challenges, and being with the heaviness of those challenges in the rawness of yoga was too much. It had moved from discomfort to pain, and it stung. I had to stop attending classes for awhile.

And that’s ok.

In yoga, the whole point is your breath. In vinyasa flow yoga, teachers will tell you that if your breathing becomes too labored during practice, if you can’t maintain that steady, long inhale & exhale, come back to child’s pose, where you lay your forehead on the mat, chest draped over your knees. All tucked into a safe cocoon, resting your weight on the earth, sinking back into a rhythmic breath. Because yoga isn’t how far you can lift your leg in the air or behind your head. It’s breathing.

Not going to yoga class for awhile was my returning to child’s pose.

It was easing up for as long as it took for me to catch my breath. As long as it took for things to become lighter again.

Of course, it was also a sign. When things are heavy, it can mean an opportunity for us to grow stronger. It can also indicate that something needs to change. Sometimes, as it was in this case, it is both.

Last week, I gave myself a present of a month-pass to yoga. I’ve been to several classes since then, and it feels so, so good to be in that room again, breathing, expanding, being strong.

Breathe with me, wherever you are. Let your breath carry comfort to the hidden places where pain is stuck. Let it open you up to possibilities, those you can dream of and those you can’t, for joy and wellbeing.

Breathe with me.

PS I call this image Tree Pose with Trees. The best kind of tree pose. Obviously.

tree-pose-with-trees

Stars

The tears that just wouldn’t stop last Wednesday began to scare me when they still weren’t drying up by the time I put our girls to bed around 8pm. I realized that I was reacting as if someone close to me had died.

That seemed preposterous, but it was how I felt. I am old enough and finally wise enough to know that the only way through feelings is… through them, so I sat with how I felt. And I invited a friend over, because Mike was at a work dinner, and it was too much to sit with alone. As we talked and I cried some more, I realized that what died was a hope that I had, an expectation that I was going to wake up and there would be a woman president-elect. A hope that millions of women were going to be vindicated by seeing our selves in one of the highest places of power that exists. That I was going to be vindicated.

In the days since, I’ve begun to name other things that died, or that it feels like died.

Stephen Bannon has been named Trump’s chief strategist. Before joining the Trump campaign, he was best known for being the executive chairman of alt-right Breitbart News. Headlines for his stories on the Breitbart website are stomach churning. One of many examples: “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”

I grew up in an environment where feminists were often jeered.

It took everything I had to pull my self out of there.

Everything.

Two days after my fifteenth birthday, yet another boy at church made yet another comment about my weight. I was too chubby. The next day, I stopped eating. Within months, I dropped from 145 pounds down to 70.

The boy’s comment was the tipping point, but it wasn’t the whole reason for the anorexia. I had been too big for a long time. I took up too much space. I had way too many opinions, and I insisted on defending them. Obviously, I ate too much, when other women were able to contort their selves and their bodies to whatever thoughts and size were acceptable. To not take up so much damn room.

I couldn’t be a real woman until I could do that, too. So I did it.

A year or so later, I overheard adults at church talking about feminism, how shrill those feminists were, how wrong. I went home and wrote a poem that included,

ESA/Hubble
ESA/Hubble

“I am beautiful
Though I do not believe it myself.
But I must be,
for God made the stars
and they shine, and I know
His hand made me.”

Along with the crystal-clear message that I was taking up too much space as a woman, I had also internalized the message that God loved me and made me. We humans are so messy, capable of holding contradictory beliefs.

Thankfully, as I was perilously close to permanently damaging my health, the latter message won out. When the choice was most acute, I had just enough faith that God’s love made me worthy of being alive that I started eating again.

It was even harder coming to a place where I owned my own thoughts and beliefs, without apology. It wasn’t until I was 25, living in another country and working on a master’s, that I would say I owned my self. All my choices, all my mistakes, all my responsibilities.

To do that, I had to let go of religious beliefs about women’s places, which I had been told were essential to the salvation of my soul. Women being pretty and pure and deferential were a big part of that salvation, reinforced by cultural mores.

I threw off the patriarchal mantle under which I had been born. I married a life partner with whom I am an equal. I made my own choices about my body and life. I gave my little girls my own last name.

What has died this past week is my belief in how much of the mantle’s reach I had been able to throw off in my own life. There is more of it, and I cannot stand it. I remember it. It makes me feel like my throat is choking. It is that against which I would expend every cell of my body to fight off from overtaking my children. It will not cover them. It will not. I will work against it until my dying day.

“Fat Shaming Works”
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive & Crazy”
“Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer”
“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews”

These are just some of the headlines of Breitbart News, and just examples of the sexist ones. There are also the racist, anti-Semitic, and nationalist headlines. And now the man behind Breitbart is chief strategist for the President of the United States. His power to shape policy and thus the every-day lives of Americans is real and potent.

Thus, I grieve.

(Don’t worry, I’m going to get to work, too, but first, grief and self care.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Andre Lorde)

To the folks at the pool

If I was being paid for the number of hours I’ve spent looking for a swimsuit the past month, I’d have enough money for a weekend getaway with my husband. (Only I wouldn’t have a swimsuit to wear once we were there.)

I just wanted you to know I’ve done my best. There are two main requirements to fulfill. I need something that fits well a body that is way different than it was eight years and two kids ago. Without making me look like I’m wearing a muumuu. And oh, there are some muumuus out there. I know, because I’ve tried them on. Second, I’ve always had a larger chest, and now that I’m still nursing a toddler a couple times a day…. Do you know how hard it is to find swimwear with a modest neckline? I was lamenting this to a couple friends, who both told me, separately, that I should just tie the straps tighter, which made me laugh and laugh because, as anyone with a higher bra size knows, those straps are just no match against the force of gravity, no matter how tight you tie them. Bless their hearts.

I’ve done my best and found a still-imperfect suit. I’m going to go to the pool and splash with my kids and bend down to hug them and eat pizza from the snack shop. I am going to TRY, going to PRACTICE, not worrying about what other people think, of my body or my cleavage. If you see me at the pool, please feel free to give me a wink and a high five if this resonates with you. We’re in this together, mamas.

PS And by “mamas” I include all women who labor for greater love and acceptance.