an epistle regarding masochism

I’m in week two of a program called Lively Woman. It is run by the lovely Emily Nielsen, who owns Balance Family Fitness. The program is six full weeks of Tuesday/Thursday 5:45am HIIT classes, two at-home workouts, a weekly run and dedication to clean eating (plus, logging everything you eat). I waffle back and forth between feeling motivated to change my life through Lively Woman to wondering why in the world I would ever want to set my alarm for 4:45am on a regular basis. 

Our homework this week was to write an “open and honest” letter to ourselves about why we wanted to take part in the program. Taking time to ponder this made me realize how eating and exercise are tangled into every element of my life, past, present and future. This is the letter that I wrote.

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To the Rachel that I am:

I suppose there are a lot of reasons I could list for signing up for Lively Woman. The most obvious reason would be the weight I still haven’t lost from my pregnancy with Jasper. Unsurprisingly, the pounds don’t seem to want to burn themselves so I’m having to become proactive.

But there are other reasons. Reasons as simple as the fact that I am a badass. It used to be more obvious, back when I lived in inner-City Chicago and biked all around town. Back when I looked cool smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee at all-night cafes. But now I am a mom and I have softened. I wipe noses and search for baby dolls, make peanut butter sandwiches and sing silly verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”. Deep down, I am still a badass and this is giving me a chance to remind myself of that. Being pushed to my limits, making tough decisions and growing strong.

Another reason is the legacy that my mom left for me. Most of the attributes and traits that she passed along are things I hold so tightly to and cherish. But then there are the uglier ones, the ones that I would have been better off without. The sweet tooth (ok, actually sweet teeth), the unconscious way that I view food as a reward, the lack of portion control. I grew up with a role model who constantly battled her weight but was always ready with a warm plate of chocolate chip cookies. I don’t want to pass this legacy on to my children. I want to learn to curb my sugar cravings and to stop after a cookie or two. I want to care enough to bake with clean ingredients. I want a healthy strong body to be what my children see, not frustration over the fact that I’ve let myself go.

So carry on, warrior. You are still a badass.

-Rachel

hangups and bangups

“Grace has cellulite,” she said with a tone of disgust.
I have cellulite,” I countered.
“Well yeah, and you don’t workout, do you?”
Like a slap in the face.

And so, as a nineteen year old college student, I decided that I would never exercise for the sake of exercise. It was a petty, vain way to spend your time and I was going to be above that, obstinate beast that I am.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a crazy metabolism. College and post college left me with a diet of cheese fries, countless cups of coffee and half a pack of Camel lights a day. Go to bed at 2am, get up at 6:30am, nanny from 9-5, coffee shop from 6-midnight. How was I still standing? I stopped wearing a bra in effort to be edgy and natural. I stayed (dangerously) skinny and straightened my hair and wore lots of eye liner. I looked bitchin’.

Alex and I quit smoking when we got married and by then I settled into a single job with more regular hours. I cut out caffeine in effort to combat my addiction to it and read a book that convinced me that we needed to be vegan. Well, kind of vegan – girl ain’t gonna give up goat cheese or salmon. Working at a tiny natural food store in Chicago made me take more of an interest of what I was introducing to my body. We started eating more organics and since Alex had introduced me to biking, that was our main mode of transportation. 20 miles of biking while running errands was an average day. With Alex in school, we got poor. Newlywed, college student poor. I quit wearing makeup (which I was never any good at anyway) and started making some of my own hair product in an effort to save money. After battling acne for years, why had no one ever just suggested drinking more water and wearing less makeup? Turn out, that was the trick.

But apparently when you have babies your world gets turned upside down. Like, all of it.

Miraculously, I had escaped high school and college without body image issues. I thought I was too badass for all of that. But when my first baby emerged into the world, she decided to leave a lot of extra weight behind, particularly in my middle and thighs. It’s cool, baby. We’ve all got baggage; except now I have yours and mine. I turned into a person who puts on weight. A person who needs to go out of her way to get exercise in order to maintain a healthy body. But those ugly words from college came back to haunt me and I didn’t want to join the ranks of vain and petty.

More and more I am trying to embrace the new me. Not accept an unhealthy body, but to learn how my body now looks in a healthy state (had I ever even seen my body healthy before?). I’m still much heavier than in my hipster-cigarette-smoking days. But I am strong. I exercise regularly and, dare I say it, have learned to enjoy it. I am trying to not battle who my body wants to naturally be, but to embrace it and take it to the strongest level. I have learned that so many women in the world have cellulite that it’s actually just considered a secondary sex characteristic, not a badge of laziness. And I am trying so hard to let go of the stick-skinny image of myself that I harbor in my mind, and relish in the curvy, battle-worn body that I have earned.

the everyday things

“The problem with climate change is that it is global… yet, it is not one vast, impersonal challenge, but rather billions of tiny, personal ones. It is our coffee pot in the morning, our daily drive to work, our weekly supermarket shop, and our annual holiday. It is a thousand things we do without thinking: everyday behavior that we assume, quite wrongly, is a normal part of life and therefore sustainable.” -Nick Spencer, Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living

I tend to get overwhelmed if I think about, well… anything too much. Issues like human trafficking, global climate change, LGBT rights, or even just the slow food movement tend to make my palms sweaty and give me a choking feeling in my chest. It’s not that I don’t want to be bothered by thinking about heavy things, it’s just that sometimes they feel so heavy that they might crush me. I have a hard time finding the balance between apathy and overwhelmed.

Because I could run around in circles for days, attending rallies, planting gardens, researching the origins of every single thing that I buy and it would never be enough. I can never do enough. No matter how much I do, it will always just be a drop in the bucket. Too easily that line of thinking makes me want to curl up in bed and just watch old seasons of Parks and Rec for days, and then I REALLY start to feel bad about myself and my inadequacies.

Apparently today was “National Preach-in on Climate Change Sunday” at church. You learn about these things when you go to a tiny, hippy Mennonite church in Boise, ID. I love my church dearly. And I love the thinking that it makes me do, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. At the beginning of the sermon our pastor asked us about what small things we have each done in our own lives that are good for the environment but that also bring us joy. He encouraged us to really consider this because there would be time to share our tiny joys at the end of the sermon.

Picking up trash on a hike. Solar panels on a roof. Willingness to lend out a pickup truck. Planting a tiny garden. Wearing handmade clothes. Hearing everyone else’s joys made my heart happy. And it reminded me that even though I am only one person, one drop in the bucket, I’m in a pretty good bucket, surrounded by a lot of other beautiful drops.

I decided to raise my hand a share an odd joy: cloth diapers. We used them for 2+ years with both kids and they gave me joy. I loved the colors and how they made my babies’ bums look so chubby and sweet. I loved saving money and knowing that I wasn’t contributing to the landfill. And honestly, I loved the smug satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something counter cultural. Dealing with poop? Doesn’t phase me.

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It got me thinking about other tiny, personal decisions that I have made. And I realized that I will never do enough, but I can always try to do the next right thing.

you can only complain once

I have this philosophy that a person should only be allowed to complain about one season of the year. If you complain that summer is just too hot, you better be prepared to be happy about the change that winter will bring.

I allow myself to complain about winter. Because, well, it is the worst.

It’s taken me several years to even pinpoint that I didn’t like winter. Classically, I fall into that horrible seasonal funk that grabs so many of us and I don’t even realize how heavy I’ve been feeling until the first sunny day in March rolls around. And oh, that is a glorious day! 

I moved to the suburbs of Phoenix when I was in sixth grade and lived in warmer climes for the next six years, throughout all of junior and senior high school. I never learned how to drive in the snow. I never owned a winter coat. I never tried skiing or snowboarding or any of those insane winter sports that some people claim to enjoy. When I moved to Chicago for college, winter became something to be avoided. I dashed from my apartment to the train. From the train to my job. From work to a warm and cozy bar to meet up with friends. If I had to wait for a bus for too long in the frigid January chill I would hail a cab. No one enjoys winter in Chicago because it’s dirty and ugly, brown slush spattering on your jeans when a car drives past the bus stop. But I survived it.

Then we moved to Minneapolis and I thought I might die. We moved there in October and immediately the heavens opened up, dumping a suffocating blanket of snow on our heads that aimed to keep us pinned in one place for the next seven months. I tried to walk my dog only to have her and I comically slip and fall repeatedly on the unbelievably icy sidewalks. Public transportation required standing in place, stamping your feet to stay warm for thirty minutes or so until the next bus decided to show up. Why would anyone choose to live like this? We moved away.

Boise has been better. The winter is shorter and there is less snow. But this season still weighs so heavily on me. The people who seem to enjoy winter enjoy the activities that it brings. But these things are so expensive. They require gear. Skill. Effort. I have none.

Yesterday our yard was covered with several inches of fresh snow. A friend emailed to say that she was bringing her kids sledding at the neighborhood park and did I want to come? In my mind I know I should try to get my kids (and myself) outside in the winter, but it’s so easy to talk myself out of it. I don’t own proper snow gear and when it comes to spending money, that’s never a priority for me. Plus, why would I want to go and roll around in something that will only get me cold and wet? It doesn’t help that both of my kids hate the snow as well. I can’t blame the baby for not liking it. He can’t walk yet and I know that I would be miserable, stuffed into an uncomfortable snowsuit and left to just sit in this bizarre shaved ice.

All this to say: SUMMER! COME QUICKLY! I’ve been dreaming of shorts and sundresses. Walking through the neighborhood and playing at the park. Going camping and eating dinner in the yard at the picnic table. A glorious string of months where if I want to spend time outside, I can simply step into our yard, no need to struggle on an uncomfortable amount of layers and try to not slip and crack my head open on our treacherous back porch.

Summer: seriously, come quickly. Or I am likely to lose it.

throwing in the towel

Lately parenting has been feeling more and more like a series of failures than anything else. I suppose that has a lot to do with the expectations that you set for yourself and I tend set some pretty high expectations. I need to be one of those people who are happy make do, go with the flow.

As I think about my (nearly) three-year-old who has no interest in using the potty, the baby that I want to wean so desperately, and every morning that I wake up with both of them in my bed despite resolving the night before to have them sleep in their own beds, I feel exhausted.

When do I get to throw in the towel? Or did I already do that?

In her book Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Melton discusses how maybe when you acknowledge that parenting is hard it means that you are doing something right. I guess I wish I weren’t so damn right all the time.

the solution to the problem

We are in the middle of a sickness. Not a metaphorical the-world-is-all-going-to-pot sickness, but literal sickness. The flu.

On Monday Alex had gotten the bug and decided to work from home. This never goes as nicely as it sounds. When he first got his job and heard about the option of occasionally working from home we were so excited. I had images of him settled in at the table with his laptop, productively typing away, while still somehow perfectly meshing our daily activities into his agenda. It was going to be the solution to so many problem days. New baby at home? Work from home! Alex is feeling sick? Work from home! Mama is overwhelmed? Work from home! Turns out, the whole “work from home” thing is not as idyllic as we had supposed. It generally ends up being the kids crying to sit on daddy’s lap while I grumpily wish that he would eschew his work duties and take care of them so I can have a break and the day ends with him usually bringing his laptop to a nearby coffee shop to escape the pandemonium for a few hours.

Well, he worked from home. He set up his laptop on the dining room table and typed away. He held a crying baby on his lap and typed. I tried to keep the toddler busy so that daddy could work. We were all sick but we did our best to get some rest and let daddy work. But I was on day three of being sick. And day three of being sick doesn’t make you the most equipped to keeping a baby and a toddler away from daddy while he works, and keep your sanity. Maybe I kind of forgot to eat lunch. Maybe I kind of forgot to be kind. Maybe I kind of exasperatedly whisper-shouted “Oh my GOSH! I am going to KILL myself!” when the baby dragged the giant Richard Scarry book over to me to read for the seven hundredth time that day.

Alex’s head snapped up from his computer and asked if I needed him to read the book. “No,” I sighed. “I’m just hungry. And I don’t know what to eat!”

He volunteered to get get pizza from Papa Murphy’s. I sighed that that would be ok. He volunteered to stay with the kids and let me go get the pizza from Papa Murphy’s. I countered that I didn’t even think I could MAKE it to Papa Murphy’s in my current condition. He took his cue and preheated the oven before he went out the door.

Once the pizza was cooked and consumed, everyone’s outlook brightened considerably. As I was recounting this story to my sister she commented how funny she thought it was that Papa Murphy’s was the solution to our afternoon meltdown.

I looked at her and said, “Papa Murphy’s is always the solution. I can’t think of a single problem where Papa Murphy’s is not the solution.”

the immediate truth

Things That I Currently Know to Be True About Myself:

I talk a lot and very loudly; loyalty and longevity are not my strong suits; I have a very slight peach fuzz mustache; anger and rage can lie just beneath the surface of a calm exterior; this last year has left me hollow; I one time thought that Detroit was in Colorado; I have never exactly learned how to tie my shoes; I hold others (and myself) (especially myself) to impossibly high standards, making me an uncomfortably judgmental person; I am a stress-eater.

But also, I am an excellent conversationalist; ideas are never lacking in my world and I am always willing to start something new; I stopped wearing makeup seven years ago as an exercise to try to reconcile myself with who God created me to be; laughter (and dancing!) is something that I often gift to family and friends; I am searching to find the new person that I am in the wake of grief; to be fair: Detroit? Denever? Whatevs. ; I can fold a fitted sheet beautifully; I am an excellent judge of character; I can bake a mean loaf of challah bread.

It’s strange how you can be one person yet present so many different sides of yourself. How are you supposed to let anyone really get to know you if you are still just learning who you are yourself? I moved from state to state, town to town, my whole life and thought I would be content to live in one place and put down roots. February will bring the fourth anniversary of our move to Idaho and that is the longest that I’ve lived anywhere since I was nine years old. We have gotten eerily well established in this town. I can’t go anywhere without running into someone that we know. I thought that would make me happy, and usually it does, but sometimes it makes me feel claustrophobic. I find myself craving the anonymity that happens when you are new somewhere or live in a big city. When you can walk down the street, surrounded by people, and have no one know who you are.

I think this is a sign that I need to learn how to be in one place.