family fun · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 399: Picture Me

I’m very picky about what pictures of myself I allow to be seen. They should be taken from slightly above me, so I don’t have a double chin, and never in profile, because then my belly looks huge. These are the things I look at first every time I see a picture of myself.

I’ve learned to get creative when posing for family pictures. Having small children helps, because they’re so willing to stand in front of me and be hugged. I’ve hidden behind my kids, my husband, my guitar, and my bike. Even then, I demand veto power before any photos are shared. At least, I try to.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want my great-grandchildren to look at me and say, “Why do we only see her from the shoulders up?” and then learn that I was ashamed to let my body show because I was fatter than the current fashion. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might resemble me, right down to body type. Am I being ridiculous to think that if they see me effectively hiding my body in every picture, they might infer that there’s something wrong with our shared shape?

Maybe the opposite is true, too: maybe they’ll see me, with a double chin and a belly, and say, “That was my great-grandmother. She did so many cool things—music, and building stuff, and quilting, and homeschooling my grandma—and look, she’s got the same chin as me. And she had a belly, too, like I do. And she’s so pretty. That must mean I’m pretty too.”

Of course, I’d be even happier if it didn’t occur to my great-grandkids to judge themselves based on where they carry their extra weight. But in order for that to happen, I first have to raise kids who know better, too, which means that I have to step up and model how I think we should relate to our bodies.

That means no more asking, “Do I look fat in this dress?”; not obsessing over or cataloguing every morsel of food I ingest; not calling myself “bad” for eating an extra slice of cheesecake; and not acting like my body shape and size is so unacceptable that I have to hide it. Not that I plan to wear skintight, revealing clothing from now on—that’s never been my thing, even when I’ve been slim—but I don’t have to choose clothes solely based on how well they hide my fat. My body isn’t wrong, it’s not broken, and I’m not less deserving of being seen because I wear a size fourteen or sixteen instead of a six or eight.

Which brings us back to pictures of me. This evening after dinner we took R and E to the park. I was wearing the dress I bought from eShakti, which might well be my favourite piece of clothing. It’s super comfortable, it has a huge pocket, and the skirt is flowy. I was sitting on the bench with Mr. December, the breeze playing with my hair, and all at once I just felt… pretty.

“I’ve got a dilemma,” I told Mr. December. “I feel so pretty right now, and I think I want you to take a picture of me. Then again, what if you take the picture and I see that I don’t look nearly as pretty as I feel?”

Which is ridiculous, because that would be conflating beauty with size, which are not mutually exclusive. I have quite a few friends and relatives who aren’t thin, and many of them are just gorgeous, full stop. I love and admire them. They don’t need to change their bodies. Their beauty isn’t conditional on their weight. Why, then, have I always felt like mine is?

In the end, the joy of the moment won out over my fat phobia, and I posed for a few pictures. I’m sharing them with you here, deliberately including the ones that I would normally edit out, because I need to learn to see my own beauty with the extra chin and the fat, instead of seeing my beauty despite it.

blogging · family fun · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 379: I didn’t expect this… but here we are.

We finished watching The Sound of Music tonight, all snuggled together on the giant beanbags in the attic. I love, love, love this movie—I sing along to the songs and sigh in all the romantic places—which is why I’m upset about how it made me feel tonight.

(Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, what rock are you living under? It was made in 1965, for heaven’s sake!)

In one of the final scenes when the family is hiding in the abbey, the brown-shirted men come running in with their flashlights as the family cowers behind a tombstone. That’s about when I got a sudden jolt of adrenaline. I felt it in my chest and hugged the kids a little tighter to help myself feel better. It helped, but not by enough. When the movie ended I dragged Mr. December out for a walk, hopeful that the exertion would use up all the extra adrenaline. It didn’t. Even now, writing a blog post two hours later, my body is still on high alert.

I had a similar reaction the last time I saw The Sound of Music, but it was a live production and there was an actor dressed as a Nazi soldier, standing not three feet away from me, that gave me the sudden urge to duck beneath my seat and hold my breath. I assumed that my reaction in that case was because I was part of the scene and it felt so real. I still don’t really understand how just seeing the action projected on a wall in front of me, as I snuggled down safe in my house with my kids, could provoke this feeling of panic and dread.

As we watched that scene (where one of the Nazi soldiers hid behind another gravestone to wait and see if the family would appear), I pointed out to my kids, “If you’re ever hiding from someone, stay hidden a lot longer than you think, even after you’re sure they’re gone.” It’s a bit disturbing that part of me fears they might actually need to know that one day (God forbid.)

A quick web search suggests that this is what’s called collective trauma, or maybe historical or cultural trauma.

“It kind of makes you understand a bit more about how and why people can get so upset about microagressions, doesn’t it?” Mr. December philosophised as I speed-walked along the sidewalk.

He’s right. It does. And it’s also a potent reminder that we don’t know what other people’s baggage is. Sometimes even they might not really know or expect it. I certainly didn’t expect it tonight, but here we are.

I don’t really know how to end this. Not the blog post—that, I can just press “publish” and send it off into the ether, with or without a solid conclusion—but the panicky feeling I still have. Mr. December (well-read on a wide variety of subjects) says it can take hours to come down from this kind of state. I certainly hope not.

And just for the record, The Sound of Music is still one of my favourite movies, hands down. I guess I’ll just stop watching before the end from now on.

Homeschool · Kids · mental health

Day 362: Turning a Corner

Right now N and R are sitting at the table, reading two books that just came in: The Iliad and The Odyssey, both in graphic novel format. I just rested the books there for two minutes; N spotted them and cooed in delight (I swear I’m not making this up.) Then R begged me to let them read the books.

“No!” I said. “They were supposed to be for our Ancient Greece unit study next term!”

“That’s okay,” she reasoned. “We can read ahead.”

I grumbled back, “Okay, fine.” Then I caught Mr. December’s eye and we exchanged an across-the-room air high-five.

That pretty much captures my mood right now. Everything seems to be working out. The kids are learning and playing together like friends. I’m feeling useful and appreciated. My clothes look good, fit well, and are equipped with pockets. The sun is shining. I’m contented and hopeful, in sharp contrast to how I was feeling just a month ago.

It must be spring.

el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 332: The Impossible Dream

I’ve developed a new internet addiction: Air BnB.

Ever since we started homeschooling, Mr. December and I have been enthralled by the possibility of worldschooling—travelling the world for months at a time and homeschooling along the way. Inspired by the bloggers of Millenial Revolution, one of whom used to be Mr. December’s coworker, we’ve been turned on to the idea that there are parts of the world that are safe and way cheaper to live in than Toronto, while letting the kids experience a totally new culture.

The current “stay at home” order has definitely exacerbated my wanderlust. As I type this, it’s minus ten degrees celsius and snowing. It’s probably normal to want to get away from this weather even without a pandemic. Of course, it’s basically impossible right now. Except…

“Honey, look at this!” I call to Mr. December. “Looks like Croatia is still open to tourists! Look at those gorgeous beaches! And we could rent this four-bedroom villa by the beach for $2100 a month! How crazy is that?”

Four bedroom home near the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. What’s not to like?

Thailand and Bali aren’t open to tourists right now, but I took a look at rentals for those places, too. In Bali I found this insanely cool house with four bedrooms. These people must be kindred spirits: their kids have a jungle-themed bedroom with a gorgeous wall mural and cargo nets for climbing and relaxing; there’s a pool outside with a waterslide; there’s even a trampoline. I think we’ve found our people… for less than $3500 a month. I wonder if they’d be open to a house swap? I bet their kids would love our attic.

Pics of a home in Bali; Gorgeously landscaped pool with a concrete waterslide that looks like it’s part of the stone wall, jungle themed kids’ room… looks like we’ve found a family as crazy as we are.

In Thailand I focused my search on Chiang Mai, a city in the north with a large population of worldschoolers and other expats. Even when I narrowed the search to “4+ bedrooms, wifi, swimming pool, under $3000 a month” there were still eighteen places to choose from. The one that caught my eye just happens to have the same house number as ours, which is just kinda neat.

A single-family home in Chiang Mai, Thailand; private swimming pool; a garden.

We’ve done the math and the research: we could probably rent out our house (perhaps to a doctor from overseas who’s doing a residency at one of the downtown Toronto hospitals) for $6000 to $8000 per month for six months. Any of the places I discussed in this post are at most half that expensive, which means that we could even come out ahead, financially speaking—not that finances are the most compelling reason to worldschool. Not by a long shot.

Look, I know this isn’t going to happen for a long time. They just extended the “stay at home” order here and the government has announced dire projections for a third wave of COVID if we open up too early. Even if I was completely immune to the open scorn we’d surely endure by travelling when the government has asked us not to (Mr. December is immune, but I don’t think I am,) I’d still be a bit leery of travelling right now. And if we were going to travel with the kids, my first choice would be Israel, which is leading the world in immunizations. But Israel is still closed to tourists, and I fear that when they open it will be to tourists who’ve been immunized. If that ends up being the case, we as Canadians will be screwed: our government has been ridiculously slow in procuring vaccines and getting them to the populace.

In the meantime, I can fantasize. It might be one of the only things keeping me even a little bit sane. If not for the tantalizing hope of future travel, I’d spend my days ruminating on the fact that we’re doomed to spend the next year or so in our little box, separated from friends and family, going nowhere and doing nothing. In the face of that probably reality, who wouldn’t fantasize?

Keepin' it real · mental health · whine and cheese

Day 326: Pockets, Proportions, and the Patriarchy

“Oh geez, where the heck is my phone?”

“That’s the third time you’ve lost it today. Why don’t you just keep it in your pocket?” Mr. December asks.

“Because my pants don’t have real pockets!” I shot back.

“Then why did you buy them?”

“Because women’s pants NEVER have good pockets!!!”

“That’s stupid,” Mr. December said, “I’d never buy a pair of pants without pockets.”

I huffed, “That’s like saying you’d never buy clothes that didn’t fit your body properly. You can only buy it if it exists.”

“Eema,” K put in, “Why don’t women’s clothes have proper pockets?”

“One word, kiddo,” I answer. “The patriarchy.”

I’m hardly the first person to complain about a lack of pockets in women’s clothing. Heck, I’m probably not even among the first thousand complainers. But us women don’t need our own pockets because it’s the man’s job to carry the money, right? Not to mention the fact that if we put our stuff in our pants pockets, it would ruin the beautiful line of our bodies that is so important to the male gaze. As I said above, it’s the patriarchy’s fault I don’t have pockets.

I don’t remember the exact search term I used, but I found my way to a site called—get this—Pocketocracy. They have a list of retailers and designers that make women’s clothing with real pockets (defined as pockets that can hold stuff like a phone or a wallet.) This was exactly what I wanted! The unexpected pleasant surprise was that a good number of these sites also offer their products in a wide variety of sizes (I think they might max out at a 7XL) or even custom-make the clothing for your measurements.

Wait! You might be thinking. Clothes that actually fit your body no matter its size? Such a thing has never been done! It has, actually, since mass-produced clothing is a relatively new concept; a hundred and fifty years ago most people’s clothes were custom-made to each person’s proportions. Sadly, though, these days we’re generally limited to what designers and retailers want to sell us. Too bad what they want to sell us extends beyond clothing to the idea that if our bodies don’t look good in their clothes, we are somehow lacking.

I’ve decided I’m not buying it anymore. Not buying the clothing, and not buying the implicit body-shaming that comes with it. That’s my justification for spending two hours this afternoon on ogling dresses with pockets.

It was seriously fun because aside from the pockets and the custom-sized aspect, the design of the dresses can be altered. I spent some time changing a scoop neck to a boat neck, making sleeves longer and shorter, and raising and lowering the hem. Their customization tool shows you exactly what that dress would look like with, say, inset cap sleeves, a split jewel neckline, and a just-below-the-knee skirt. It was so much fun that even E stopped complaining about boredom and started redesigning dresses.

It seems a bit too good to be true; a dress that fits me properly, with my favourite neckline and hemline, and pockets, all for less than eighty dollars! Mr. December thinks I should go ahead and order one to see if it’s as good as I think it will be. So, readers, which one should I get?

blogging · Good Grief · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 316: Remembering

Do you have any idea how many posts I’ve written and deleted today?

I wrote a post about some of my home-improvement work that I’m doing, but it was kind of boring.

Then I wrote about my experience with curbside pickup at IKEA and Canadian Tire. It was okay.

And then I remembered that today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and suddenly just posting a normal, everyday post felt a little too oblivious, somehow.

So I wrote a long post about the Holocaust and the vicarious trauma I feel, even as someone whose grandparents weren’t there at all. By the time I had finished writing it, I was feeling anxious and teary, and wondered what kind of trigger warning I could add to it so as to not cause someone else that kind of distress.

And now here I am, to tell you that I have no intention of posting any of those today. I’m just gonna leave this here and do some deep breathing, because I still feel kind of off.

So that’s it. I remember the Shoah. And education is vital… but maybe with just a little less vicarious trauma for the next generation, hmm?

Back to normal tomorrow… or as normal as I ever get, anyway.

Apathy · education · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 308: The January Slump

Apparently I’m a day late on this, because yesterday was “Blue Monday”—the most depressing day of the year. Or something like that. I wasn’t paying attention.

I figured that I’ve been feeling out of sorts because the lack of sunlight triggers my SAD. I assumed that I was losing some of my homeschooling mojo because it’s just too hard to educate my own kids day after day. Then I just happened to see a post in a homeschooling forum that made me feel a whole lot better: a new homeschooler asking why she’s so unmotivated to do the homeschool thing.

Almost instantly responses started pouring in. They were all some variation on “This happens every January and February. Veteran homeschoolers call it the January slump.” Some people revealed that every January they become dissatisfied with their curriculum that was so awesome just a few weeks ago; others confided that they don’t do much schooling in January because everyone is just in a funk.

On a related note, I switched our writing curriculum last week. Instead of the “expose your kids to the joy of writing!” approach that demanded so much of my presence and energy, I’ve returned to the workbook-based program where I assign lessons and the kids complete them. It even helpfully breaks up a school year’s worth of work into thirty-six weeks, and each week into five days. Right now I don’t even want to check their work every day, so I’ve assigned them one week’s worth of lessons to be turned in on Friday. Problem solved.

Our social studies curriculum is pretty neat, but I’m not feeling the energy right now; so for the next little while I think we’ll be watching Canada: A People’s History. It’s got nineteen episodes that begin in prehistoric times and end in 1990 or so. I think that should cover us for a while, thank goodness. Sitting on the couch watching a documentary is my speed right about now. Anyhow, I think there’s an excellent chance they’ll remember the documentary better than the discussions we were having before.

Looking at the last two paragraphs I feel like I’m on “lazy homeschooler” mode. That’s okay, though, because if homeschool parents were unionized, it would be union policy to slack off at this time of year. Everybody’s doing it.

family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · mental health · The COVID files

Day 300: Getting Ready

I spent most of today getting ready for K’s Bat Mitzvah, which is this weekend. It won’t be the grand affair we imagined last year, but there’s plenty to do: tidy up the part of our living room that will be on camera (anybody who Zooms knows how that goes); arrange to pick up the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) from our synagogue office; compile a booklet of the abridged service we’re doing on Saturday and format it so people can download the PDF; figure out what K wants to have for brunch after the service and order it.

Oh, and I’m leading the whole service, so I should probably rehearse a bit and make sure I know what I’m doing when. And practice the Torah reading. That’s all.

I got thrown for a bit of a loop this afternoon by the announcement of tighter COVID restrictions. For a tense few hours I was worried that we had lost the ability to have ten people, physically distanced, for a religious ceremony or rite. Thankfully that rule remains unchanged with this latest announcement. In fact, I’m having a hard time seeing what did change, really. We’re now being told not to leave the house except for medical care, groceries, and outdoor exercise (physically distanced, of course.)

After the announcement I had a sudden sense of being hemmed in, and a mild panicky feeling. I don’t know why—absolutely nothing has changed for us from last week, and we haven’t gone anywhere in ages—but suddenly this announcement made me feel like we’ll be stuck here forever, in an endless cycle of opening up and then locking down. As of now, the emergency order is for 28 days. After that… who knows?

But this weekend we have a simcha (happy event,) virtual though it is, and I’m determined to make it feel special for K. Tomorrow (while we’re still allowed to leave the house) we’ll be dropping off packages (that contain a copy of the booklet and some candies to throw at K) at the homes of our nearby family and friends. K is coming with me: putting a package on the doorstep, knocking, and then stepping away is as close as she’s going to get to actually seeing anyone in person.

Mr. December has taken on the task of schooling the kids tomorrow while I do whatever needs to be done for Saturday. I’m hoping he’ll be just as agreeable when I tell him that one of the tasks on my to-do list is a nap.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 299: Avoidance Hobbies

I took up the viola again when E was eight months old. It became my default activity anytime I wasn’t motivated to do anything else. If it was a bad depression day, I’d just play the songs that I knew so well they were automatic. On other days I would work on newer pieces. That process was automatic too, actually: play each phrase on its own, identify the trouble spots, play one slowly at first and increase the tempo gradually, repeat again for muscle memory, next phrase. Practicing viola was easy for me, even when the pieces I was learning were hard.

It sounds like I was using my time productively, and in some ways I was. But to my mind it was just like taking a nap to shut out the world, except that it sounds productive. Day after day I would practice viola until my hands hurt, while my responsibilities—mail, bills, correspondence, scheduling—went undone.

I injured my left arm on Friday, which means that I can’t play viola right now; but I just happened to get some new calligraphy pens this weekend, and it’s turning into my next “avoidance hobby” (for lack of a better term.)

I bought the pens for a specific homeschool project: illuminated manuscripts of the kids’ chosen quotations from Pirkei Avot. I took the pens out to try them before introducing them to the kids; an hour later I was still practicing my Hebrew calligraphy and marveling at how perfect some of the letters looked. One by one the kids joined me and practiced writing Hebrew letters (much more willingly than they would have otherwise.)

Today we were doing some preparation for Passover (this will be the year that my kids can actually read some of the text fluently in Hebrew) which involved copywork. The kids are usually reluctant to do it, but they jumped at the chance to use the calligraphy markers again. I did it alongside them, enjoying the focus and flow that comes to me when I’m creating one letter at a time.

Now I can’t decide whether the calligraphy is meditative enough to call it a mindfulness practice, or just another avoidance strategy? I certainly have plenty to do—mail, cellphone contract re-negotiation, finishing up things for K’s bat mitzvah, adding a sketch to the email I drafted for the landscape designer—but I can’t bring myself to do them right now, whereas I’d happily sit down with the markers and some lined paper for another hour of calligraphy practice.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 298: A Mixed Bag

This morning I announced that there would be no computer use after 12:30 p.m.

There were moans and complaints, but we stood firm. They got off the computers, went upstairs, and started playing. It was the kind of play I love to see from kids: there was an imaginative storyline, there were props, there were roles and rules. Every so often I heard snippets of conversation, but for the most part it was the four of them in the attic.

That’s right, four. For reasons unknown to me, K joined their game today. They were all laughing and having fun and there were no major fights or calls of “Mo-om! He hit me!” They played like that for hours.

Mr. December and I spent an hour going over our financials from 2020. We concluded that, among other things, ordering in pizza was too frequent and too expensive last year. Mr. December suggested that we go back to making homemade pizza.

The kids cheered when they heard we were having pizza for dinner. Then I revealed that we were going to make it ourselves, and they booed. The complaints started:

“I hate pizza!”

“I can’t eat it. Every time I eat pizza that isn’t from Pizzaiolo, I throw up a little.”

“I don’t like cheese! You know I don’t like cheese!”

And so on.

I quickly scrapped my make-two-large-pizzas plan and announced our first “family make-your-own-pizza” night. I divided the dough into sixths, distributed them, and told everyone to do whatever they wanted with the dough. E wanted garlic bread, so I showed her how to make garlic breadsticks with pizza dough. R and I made fairly conventional cheese pizzas; I also used half my dough to make an olive oil & za’atar flatbread. N made a weird deep-dish type pizza, and K made a pizza crust topped with melted chocolate, bananas, and strawberries.

Mr. December challenged the kids to make him “something weird.” They added all sorts of things like mango, olives, and hot sauce; then they insisted that he wear a blindfold while tasting their creation. He successfully identified four of the five toppings, and pronounced the pizza “really good!”

Image description: a man seated at a wooden table, wearing a blue scarf as a blindfold. A plate in front of him holds a pizza with many toppings. Two girls observe, smiling.

I got a plant dumped on me tonight. E was climbing up on the windowsill behind my desk chair. She must have reached up to the ledge by my desk to steady herself, and the trailing plant I have on the ledge came down on me. There was soil everywhere. I vacuumed up most of it, but as I sit here I can see that I forgot the surface of my desk, so focused was I on the chair, the floor, and my clothes. To E’s credit, she did do some of the vacuuming up.

Everything hurts. I did something to my left arm on Friday night, and now it hurts if I bend my hand forward. And the fibro pain has also migrated to my arms, along with a fatigue that made it hard to hold my cards during our evening board game. The pain makes it hard to distract myself with my usual activities (viola and quilting—not at the same time,) but between the board game and make-your-own pizza night there was enough going on this evening to keep me from feeling too bad.

Still, this lockdown can’t possibly end soon enough.