Work In Progress

Five year old me
Five year old me

I am my harshest critic. This I know. I am more cruel to myself than anyone I’ve ever known. No flaw escapes my notice. No misstep is not cataloged for future self-flagellation. I never turn a blind eye to my foibles. If there is minutiae to scrutinize, surely I’m already on it. My husband has threatened to remove all the mirrors in our house to keep me away from myself. I rarely worry about what others think of me because I know it can be no worse than what my mind already accepts. I assume that this incessant self-investigation and castigation comes from a lethal combination of being an overachieving first born, having a natural proclivity towards analysis, and growing up in a household where anything less than your best was, frankly, not good enough.

For years I’ve been working to relax my relentless self-criticism. Turns out I suck at it. Really. I’ve honestly made very little progress in this arena. I haven’t been able to remedy my pessimistic thoughts with therapy, self-help books, or yoga. I’ve tried reducing the negative input in my life. I’ve stared at affirmative statements pasted to my mirror until they’ve been burned into my retinas. They haven’t helped. This whole blog, this journey toward zen, was also meant to help move me toward peace. At times, it has helped. At other times it only made me further question myself, my skills, my sanity. Most days I’m unsure if I’m any further along on this trip than I was when I started seven or eight years ago. And in the midst of all this emotional work, the hormonal changes of midlife have not helped one iota. I feel like a ticking time bomb. The best I can say is that I’m aware of the problem, and acknowledging the problem is the first step toward a solution, right?

This morning I was standing in my bathroom when it hit me. I was looking in the mirror (which, so far, has not been confiscated by my husband), noticing the extra holiday pounds, and I heard myself say, “I’m a work in progress.” Holy crap. Where the hell did that come from? I almost turned around and looked behind me. I let that sentence roll through my brain a few more times. I’m a work in progress. Could it really be that simple? Is that all I need to let myself off the hook for everything? The more I thought about it, the sweeter it got. All this stressing over every detail, every imperfection, every gaffe…could it all be alleviated by considering things on a continuum? For so long I’ve looked for and compared myself to a desired end result. What if I stopped worrying about where I end up and work each day on where I am today? The thought was intoxicating.

Because I’m a realist, I know this new mantra will not solve all my self-abuse problems. They are deeply ingrained, and I haven’t had much luck ridding myself of them to date. But I am going to try to start thinking about myself differently while I work toward a better me. Maybe I am a bit heavier after a rough-ish year last year. So what? I don’t need to beat myself up over it. I’m a work in progress. I’m going to start thinking of myself on an evolutionary scale. Right now I might feel like something that just crawled out of a swamp on four legs, but sooner or later I’ll be upright. And that will be progress I’ve earned.

 

A Mind Of Its Own

Gotta know where it is at all times.
Gotta know where it is at all times.

I am the mother of sons. Although I had no say in the matter, the truth is that when hubby and I decided to have children I made it fairly clear that I expected him to give me sons and not daughters. Now, I know we had no say in the matter given that the general rule of conception, at least at this current moment, is “you get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit,” but I’ve always been a girl who knew what she wanted. You see, I am the oldest of three girls. And, while I know my mom enjoyed having young daughters, I remember what I was like as a teenager. I remember how I treated my mother. Furthermore, I remember what it was like living in a house with three teenage girls. Frankly, that amount of estrogen scares me. So, I put that part of my life behind me and gave it a firm “no thank you” when I considered my future and potential parenthood. I was thrilled when the Powers That Be determined that I should have not one but two darling little boys. Apparently, someone up there either understood what I wanted or figured I should parent what I was least likely to strangle. I have always understood why some animals eat their young.

Being the mother of sons is an interesting proposition, though. On the one hand, I never have to share clothes, make up, jewelry, or zero-calorie soft drinks. On the other hand, I am the problem child when it comes to camping and long car trips since I wasn’t built with an external pee hose for convenient potty breaks. All in all, though, being the only female in the house has been an ideal situation for me up until now. Now, my oldest son is now firmly in the throes of being a preteen. Situations in which I am asked to demystify the male anatomy are becoming more frequent. This might freak some women out, but I am not squeamish. I’ve never talked to my sons with baby talk about body parts. I’ll bet I utter the word penis at least five times in any given day, and I’m okay with that. I’m the one who gave my sons their first (very simplified) “sex talk” because 1) they had questions and asked me, 2) their dad was not interested in discussing it yet, and 3) I determined it would be better if they got the details from me than from one of their little friends who has erroneous information. Quite honestly, it’s been fun to hear the things my sons will tell me.

“Please put your penis in its house,” I requested of a not-quite-fully-clothed Joe who was standing in the hallway wearing nothing but a towel after his bath.

He looked down into the towel. “It’s not ready to get dressed yet,” he replied matter of factly.

I closed one eye, cocked my head, and pondered why it might not be ready to get dressed yet. Then I shuddered. Oh Good Lord. “It will be fine. It will fit into pajamas. Get dressed. I may not have a penis, but I know how they work,” I claimed.

“Trust me, Mom. They have a mind of their own.”

So I’ve heard.

You know, my whole life I thought that saying was a cop out. Turns out that even 11 year old boys know it to be true. The best part about being a mom to boys isn’t what I expected it would be. It’s not that no one is hogging the bathroom while doing their hair or that no one is breaking down into weepy, hormone-induced puddles, although those are both good things. It is instead the education I’m getting being able to see the male experience as it happens from birth. It’s given me an entirely new perspective on the male species. I still don’t truly understand men, but I’m getting closer. Apparently, it really is all about the penis.

Hormones, Guns, And Astronaut Diapers

In September 2009, Celeste and I used our crazy hormonal rage to walk 50 miles and raise over $5k for MS research. Please note: no one was harmed during our MS Walk.

This afternoon I got to enjoy one of my favorite fall pastimes, holiday shopping at a craft and gift fair with friends. I very rarely start shopping for Christmas gifts before October. My mind is simply not in the game. Once the trees begin to lose their leaves, though, there’s no point in denying the obvious. Christmas is not far away. So, when Heather suggested we go to the Mile High Holiday Mart hosted by the Junior League of Denver, I had to acquiesce. I picked up Ana and we headed to the Inverness Hotel to meet Heather and get our shopping on. As we approached the hotel, the volume of traffic increased. I knew it would be packed with other women who had the same thought. My introverted self prepared for the exhausting task of elbowing my way through throngs of distracted ladies. If you’ve ever been to a holiday craft fair, you know the crowd is by and large comprised of women. The few men who are there lurk in corners and hold full shopping bags, praying their descent into the halls of estrogen ends soon.

After about a half hour of browsing separately, my friend Ana found me and told me she’d just received a text from her sister. There had been yet another shooting, this time in a shopping center area in her home state of Wisconsin. Ana’s sister lives not far from where the shooting had occurred. Coming not long after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman shot and killed 14 people and wounded another 50, this was not welcome news. What is wrong with people?

I spent part of today reflecting on this shooting spree mentality. It’s not just an American phenomenon. In the past twenty years, armed gunmen have opened fire and killed hundreds of people in Britain, Germany, Finland, Norway, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Before I write another word, I want you to know this is not a blog about gun control. I’m not against the 2nd Amendment. I’m not anti-gun, and I’m not trying to take guns out of anyone’s hands. This is because I’ve decided that guns are not the problem. Testosterone is the problem.

Has anyone noticed that these mass shootings are carried out by Y-chromosone-enhanced persons? Women aren’t the ones opening fire in crowded theaters dressed as Batman. We’re not the ones shooting people in churches, schools, shopping malls, and political rallies. We’re not the ones who air our sadness, our disappointment, our anger, through a spray of bullets. Instead, we women are slightly more subtle. Take, for example, astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was so upset to find out her boyfriend had another woman that she wore an astronaut diaper so she could drive across country without stopping just to pepper spray her competition. She didn’t take anyone’s life. Heck. She didn’t even take anyone’s car. Her clearly hormonally driven, emotional attack didn’t land her in prison. Nope. She got two days in jail, a bunch of anger management classes, 50-hours of community service, and the embarrassing nickname “the astronaut diaper lady.” No one had to be buried. We women may act a wee bit crazy sometimes, but we’re not usually homicidal maniacs. We may occasionally run high on emotional drama, but we don’t often run high on murderous rampages.

And yet, the stereotype of the PMS-raging woman persists. We can’t have a woman president because a hormonal women is potentially dangerous. We wouldn’t want a woman in the throes of estrogen fluctuation to have access to nuclear weapons. Yep. I’m certain that this world is not going to end on 12/21 as the Mayans predicted. Instead, the world will end at the hands of an emotionally unstable woman in control of nuclear launch codes. (Yes. I am rolling my eyes as I write this.) You know, I spent a couple hours crammed into a small space with hundreds of other women and, although that’s not exactly my comfort zone, not once did it cross my mind that perhaps one of them might go postal and whip out an AK-47 because another woman got the scarf she’d had her eye on. You know why? Because estrogen doesn’t kill people. Maybe we should leave gun owners alone and start doing background checks on testicle owners instead? 😉

 

(PS…Before any of you testosterone-enhanced individuals gets your whiskers in a twist, this blog was meant as a tongue-in-cheek editorial based on an observation I made. I’m not really suggesting we deprive men of their most prized possessions. Well, not seriously, anyway.)