Who Knew a Bedtime Story Could F%@k You Up?

My 4 1/2 year old son started school last week. He is in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) which is a year of publicly funded Pre-K offered at public schools for children who will turn 5 during the school year. Though it's not even quite kindergarten yet, I consider this the official start of school seeing as he has to be there every day, will be doing everything in a classroom environment on a public school campus, and will attend an after school program at least a few days per week.

I'd known the day was coming for at least 3 years, but ramping up to it in the weeks preceding still filled me with emotion--equal parts anxiety and pride (which pretty much describes the make up of my emotional state during every transition my child works his way through).

The first time I teared up was when I put his TMNT backpack in the shopping cart at Target. I stopped to take a picture of the moment and send it to my mom. When it came to crying at the realization that your baby is growing up, I knew she'd understand.

Then I was fine until the morning of his first day. I lay his first day of school outfit on his bed just before I roused him and teared at the thought: the day has arrived.

Then I teared up again as I held his hand and we approached the school. Seeing all the other parents there arriving with their own children finally drove the point home.

But while these were all moments of excitement and a little bit of sadness, I worked through them pretty easily. Things were moving quickly. You can't just stand there and cry in front of a room full of 4-year-olds who look terrified as it is. You suck it up and move on. Anyway there was work and the everyday moving forward of life to contend with. These emotional moments were fleeting.

What I didn't realize, however, was that something was continuing to brew throughout. And what shocked the hell of me was that it would take a children's picture book to bring it to the surface.

After I picked my son up from school that first day we stopped by the library. Nothing special about that; we do it all the time. While I quickly preview books before we choose them (making sure they're not too long or too short or have shitty illustrations that would irritate me), I never read them through. It's a surprise every time when we get to them in the evenings and I learn what the actual story line is.

So I wasn't prepared for the dark horse that lie within Imagine Harry, a book my son chose and which I hadn't even remembered making into our library bag. It was Wednesday evening, three days into the School Experiment when it made it into the rotation.

Imagine Harry seems innocuous enough. Indeed it starts innocuously enough. Little Rabbit has an imaginary friend named Harry with whom he goes everywhere and does everything. Nothing crazy. Neither my son nor I were identifying much with it. Neither of us have ever had an imaginary friend. For the first 2/3 of the book it was simply another tale told with accompanying illustrations.

And then this...

Little Rabbit starts school. Things are changing in his house and in his relationship with the imaginary Harry.

After Little Rabbit has been in school for a while, Harry begins to hang back in the classroom when the kids go out to recess. Harry insists he doesn't need a snack. His needs are diminishing. He begins to fade into the background. (Dear Lord I am tearing up as I type this!!!)

And then one day, during a particularly fun music class,
Harry whispered softly in Little Rabbit's ear,
"I'm tired. I think I'll go take a nap."
"Okay Harry," Little Rabbit whispered back. "See you later."
It was when I read the above page that I started losing it. Oof. Harry begins to understand that Little Rabbit doesn't need him so much anymore. Little Rabbit barely blinks when Harry, who seemed so crucial to him before, begins to distance himself.

Earlier that afternoon I had picked my son up from his after school program. I was so excited to see him and concerned about how he'd been fairing in his new environment with new kids. I was practically frantic by the time I made it into the classroom.

There he was, zooming around the room with a Candyland game piece in hand, alongside a child about three years his senior. They were laughing and doing voices and I swear if I hadn't finally tapped him on the shoulder he may have carried on for hours without even noticing me. Even when I did so, he merely looked up and said "hi," then continued on his merry way.


This was a big change from the kid who three days previous was still clinging alternately to his dad and me as his TK teacher instructed the children to sit down on the carpet. With a forlorn look on his face he'd taken in the surroundings in a state of semi-annoyed mistrust.

What had happened in those three days?!

These two pages followed:

Shortly after the first snowfall, Little Rabbit was invited to an ice-skating party.
When he returned home, Little Rabbit told his mother all about it.
"It sounds like a wonderful party," Mother Rabbit said. "Did Harry have a good time too?"
Little Rabbit was startled to realize that he hadn't seen Harry in weeks.
 Holy shit. This was no joke. Through tears, I kept reading.

"Harry moved away, "Little Rabbit said. "He's got his own house now."
"Oh," said Mother Rabbit, "He's certainly welcome to visit anytime."
I couldn't make it through this page smoothly. I had to stop, words stuck in my throat.

But Harry never came back to visit the Rabbits.
Sometimes at dinner, Little Rabbit and Mother Rabbit talked about him.
"Harry doesn't have a phone at his new house," Little Rabbit said.
"And he never learned how to read or write. So I guess we won't be hearing from Harry anymore."
This one did me in. I couldn't pretend I wasn't crying anymore, and then I was alternating between crying and laughing. Crying because of course I was relating to this story on a metaphorical level and it perfectly symbolized the feelings I'd been having about my baby growing up and becoming more independent...feelings that had been building all week and were now coming to a head. Laughing because I knew it must have seemed strange to my son that, from his perspective, I was ALL KINDS OF BROKEN UP about Little Rabbit's *imaginary* friend Harry moving away, a plot development that hadn't piqued his emotions in the slightest.

He just lie by my side, unsure how to react, wanting to laugh with me or cry with me but realizing he didn't really get why I was doing either. That quiet waiting on his part was making me laugh as well. And so there I am hysterical in both senses of the word, trying to gain composure when he, with his barely-becoming-apparent comedic timing, chimes in with, "awkwaaaaaaaard."

And of course that made me laugh even more.

I kissed his little forehead and, having finally made it through, sang him his bedtime song, snuggled in a for a few minutes, then left him already fallen into the hard, super zonkout sleep that has characterized his first week at school.

Then I retired to the living room.

"This book fucked me UP," I said to my boyfriend, eyes puffy and red, I'm sure. Even in just trying to tell him about it, I was crying again. Then I was crying. Uncontrollable sobs like I haven't cried in years. And then laughing again because I know very well how ridiculous it is to be crying over this book.

But of course it's not about the book. And being a parent himself, my boyfriend recognized this. And so he sat with me and comforted me through the cathartic moment that I suppose just had to happen, however it was going to be brought on.

I'm curious all the time about how things get processed in my young son's mind. I wonder how he sorts all the events he's observing and makes sense of them. The Harry Incident, as I will forever forward refer to it, may be a difficult one for him to grasp. He knows his mom has never gone all whack over a bedtime book before. And a similar book-related incident won't likely repeat itself anytime soon.

Maybe one day he'll come across Imagine Harry again--one day when he is older, maybe a father himself--and he will understand. For the meantime, maybe on one level he'll know it had something to do with love: bold and undulating and sometimes achy but always-and-everywhere-present love, which is of course the best kind of all, and which is worth every tearful moment it may bring about.

Kevin's Sketch

A quickie...

Bron Aur Sleep.


Weighing in on Body Image

Last night I wrote a half-joking status update about doing "emergency crunches and lunges" in advance of a weekend trip to the lake. I say half-joking because I was, indeed, doing the crunches and lunges, but I knew they would of course have no observable impact on my bikini appearance two days later.

My friend responded with "throw in a few emergency self acceptance exercises too." I dug what she was saying. And I liked that she wasn't saying "instead of" but rather "along with."

Finding the equilibrium between accepting one's self (in this case, one's body) as-is and doing what one can do to improve and feel better...it seems to be one of the most pervasive conundrums women face. Sometimes we see a fit body and think 'I would like very much to look like that...I'm gonna step it up at the gym, maybe add in some of that giant rope shit,' and sometimes it's 'fuggit, I'ma eat these BBQ Lays (like, the *whole* bag).'

Sidenote: Yes, I know men face this conundrum as well; I will be writing about women because 1) I am a woman and 2) I've had dozens of conversations with women on this topic and very few with men.

As I get older, I'm starting to realize that the balance, for me, comes from responding not as much to how I look but to how I feel. Sometimes how I feel is related to how I look, but mostly it's related to what I know I have or haven't done to be good to my body and the extent to which I'm enjoying life as a result.

While I agree that it's important to seek out the positive and to accept one's self, I don't think this should stand in as a substitute for actual health.

When I've felt the worst about my body, it was because I wasn't eating well or I'd fallen into a state of inertia. What's to feel good about in that case? Sometimes the feeling was exacerbated by the fact that unhealthy behaviors often have observable consequences (i.e. muffin top). Trying on clothes and discovering we've graduated up a size or two is not as thrilling as it was when we were kids; I will THROW DOWN with anybody who tries to claim the contrary.

But physical appearance isn't everything, either. When I'd gained 30 pounds during pregnancy and had power cankles, I actually felt pretty healthy because I was exercising regularly and eating healthy foods (healthier than I did when I wasn't pregnant...tiny humans growing inside can be incredibly motivating!). Our bodies know the difference between healthy and unhealthy, regardless of our size.

For me a good litmus test is also the question of whether or not I feel sexy. I like to feel sexy (I mean, who doesn't?), and while feeling sexy can have a lot to do with self-esteem in general and the state of one's mind, both of those things are often affected by the knowledge of how kindly a person is treating her body.

Women are quick to lambaste men who report not feeling attracted to their wives because their wives have "let themselves go." Fine. It's okay to be outraged about that. But I personally don't feel as excited to get down when I'm feeling like a blob. I think a lot of partners pick up on this mental block that occurs for women when they're not feeling healthy. A woman who feels sexy is sexy. She is comfortable in her skin, magnetic. Rather than simply expecting our spouses to suddenly become attracted to blobs (meaning women who feel like blobs), why not also do what we can to get ourselves out of the blob-like state of mind?

(Disclaimer...not all spouses. Not all spouses pick up on women's state of mind and respond accordingly. Some just really will not be attracted to a woman who's gained 15 pounds. These partners will have a hard time in life, as will their wives. This is unfortunate.)


Finally, for me, becoming a mother has motivated me to strive for the balance I mentioned earlier because I don't want my body image issues to keep me from taking my kids to do fun things, namely things involving water and bathing suits. I was the girl sitting by the pool fully clothed for a full decade of my life (20-30...I should have been flashing strangers at pool parties in Vegas!). 

My gym/exercise routines are sporadic, at best. My weight stays within a 5-pound range, but sometimes that extra 5 pounds can feel like a deeeeeply unhealthy 5 pounds. Time to rein it in, get things bank inline, feel better as a result.

And then, there IS this part: There are times when I just have to go with the self-talk and say, 'No, I don't look exactly like I want to look, but I'm not gonna be a hermit about it in the meantime. I am not hideous. My cellulite does not define me. I will own what I've got and, most importantly, HAVE FUN. Just go out there and LIVE, and shake my booty if it makes my young son laugh and let my boyfriend grab my love handles (or lonjas, the Spanish slang I've taught him and which he uses with much affection) and know that it's the laughter and the memories that we are forming that are what is important. SHAME on me if I let it be about my lack of perfection.

And then...yes, be healthy, as healthy as you need to be in order to feel healthy...and keep on keepin' on...


On Inviting in Challenge...

Today I watched in abject horror as a little hourglass--meant to depict some kind of behind-the-scenes action--ticked off moments on my computer screen at an agonizingly slow pace. My mouth had been dry for at least 45 minutes at that point, my heart racing with impatience and fear.

I'd just finished taking the 2nd in a series of 3 banking-related exams I'd been in the throes of studying for during the previous 4 1/2 weeks, and I was awaiting my score. It couldn't have been more than 10 seconds (was likely only 5), but it was the longest 10 (5) seconds.

When the result came up, (PASS--yay!), I stared motionless for a spell before finally releasing the breath I'd been holding for longer than what is probably healthy.

Comfort did not arrive quickly. I filled out the optional survey about the testing center just to get my sea legs before standing up. I texted my honey and my boss and then emailed my licensing coordinator to report the news. Then I drove to the nearest beach (which, luckily, was about 7 minutes away) to decompress.

As you may have imagined based on the high drama of my description, a lot was at stake. I'd already been out of my branch for over a month. Failing would mean more time away, the loss of the bonus I'll receive only if I pass all three tests the first time, the added drain on my company's/branch's resources (which actually matters to me), and, most of all, the disappointment I'd feel at having failed. I'd be wondering where I went wrong, wishing I could have a do-over, worried I wouldn't be able to pass the next time either.

Passing was as much about feeling relieved as it was about feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

Possibly more. This was not exactly a personal goal I set for myself and then achieved. It was a sink or swim kind of thing: Do this or you'll be looking for another job at some point.

It was a challenge, but not the warm and fuzzy rewards kind of challenge.

It did, however, get me thinking about challenges in general, and about setting personal goals in the first place. I didn't used to do it at all. Any goals I managed to accomplish were sort of pre-formed for me by virtue of the fact that I was a student or held a job. I put forth my best effort in those areas and was pleased when the outcomes were favorable. Until I was about 1/3 of the way through my year-long GGA blogging project a few years back, I truly wondered whether I was even capable of seeing a personal goal through to the end. What a sad thought; I was already 32 years old!

I now know I'm capable, but I haven't done a lot with that knowledge. These recent exams made me realize I missed the feeling of achieving something difficult. The exams were akin to the sort of challenge I'd have faced in school--just thrown down there for me, do it or don't. But the experience made me long for the greater-reward, more meaningful sense of accomplishment I know I feel if, unrelated to anything already expected of me, I decide to put myself up to the task of achieving something difficult.

What was stopping me?

Well, that's easy. It is just so, soooooo much more comfortable to humdrum along and pretend there is nothing more satisfying to be done in this world than to successfully feed a family and get children tucked in for the night. Like having just finished folding the last load of laundry were an orgasmic experience and walking away from day #119 of the 265 days I will spend at work this year were an alarmingly triumphant accomplishment.


This is called getting by. This is maintaining.

Do you realize that while I sit here thinking and writing about how little I challenge myself to do, people are forming foundations, launching innovative products and ideas, overthrowing asshole governments, designing and perfecting and administering and truly stretching the limits of their known skills and abilities? They are running ridiculously long races and researching the shit out of shady goings-on to keep the rest of us informed. They are adopting children with special needs and writing entire albums of songs, working 2 and 3 jobs and figuring out new ways to put together and cook ingredients, rendering the mundane act of nourishing our bodies an unforgettable, transcendent experience.

They are. They are doing those things and so many other things that to simply think about makes me feel tired.

So maybe I don't need to change the world in a sweeping gesture next week. But I need to remember this feeling. This feeling, in words, translates this way:

There are things I can do if I try. I will likely not be able to do all the things I try to do. If I were able to, the things I was trying to do weren't interesting or challenging enough. They were not pushing my limits or causing me to grow. But all the things I dare myself to do will leave me knowing more on the other end than I did before. They will stretch my experience and grow my knowledge, if even just a little bit and even if (especially if?) I fail at them.

They will all be worth more than 100 days spent doing what I know is easy and predictable and comfortable.

So then...what's next?

Kevin's Sketch(es)

Speaking of challenges! Tonight we did a 30-minute Manzanita challenge...I was finishing up my blog and Kevin did these two sketches in that time. Can you guess which one he did with his eyes closed?