Archives for the month of: July, 2013

I didn’t sleep well last night. Twice I woke up with intense, sharp pains in my stomach and abdomen.  I told myself that if it happened a third time I’d be waking up Honest Dad and telling him to meet me at Labor and Delivery (I didn’t think that they were contractions, but in a sleepy haze, it’s hard to make these distinctions, and at almost 32 weeks pregnant, it’s better to be on the overly-cautious side).  I was uncomfortable all night.  I knew I was keeping him up.  I tossed.  Lay on my side.  Lay on my back.  Try the other side.  Stack up pillows to prop my head up.  Cross my legs.  Uncross my legs. Kick one foot out of the covers.  Tug on the covers that Honest Dad had stolen (again).  Put my hand under my head.  Fold my hands across my belly.  Pull everything, even my tee shirt, away from my belly and just think about breathing.  Breathe.  Just breathe.  There.  Like that.  Just like that . . .

Alarm.

Instead of waking up Honest Girl to send her to daycare for her usual 7:30 start time, I decided to let her sleep in.  (Poor girl’s working on three molars right now, and those things just look painful.  They’ve reduced my usually easy-going, completely non-picky eater to a pile of tears who can only handle applesauce and mashed potatoes, and who now has to eat her favorite food [cold watermelon] with her front teeth only)  While waiting for my husband’s alarm (set for just a half-hour later than mine), I read a blog post that one of my girlfriends had linked to: The Three Things I Learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: On Being a Radical Scholar.  It was a beautiful post, about how to be an “academic” woman while still being a “whole” woman.  The author argued in favor of openly wearing our femininity, and not feeling ashamed for feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and, most-importantly, of not feeling guilty or somehow less-than for wanting just a day where we can put our work away—physically and (the nearly impossible task) mentally—and just snuggle and play with our children.  How can a woman be a “radical scholar” while at the same time being a wife and a mother who knows that those things will always rank higher on our priority list than the tenure-track?

One part of the post in particular stopped me cold.  While at a session, the author, Dr. Kate Clancy, was asked, “It is 5 years from today. If you were wildly successful in your work and personal life, what will you have achieved?”  She described the answers that the other women in the room gave:

It was powerful to hear women’s answers all around the room. They gave bold answers: to become a leader in their field, to embody social justice values, to raise a family, to be on the path to becoming a provost, to have several federally funded grants. Like many women, I have been chastised in the past for daring to say that I want to lead a big life. But here was only encouragement and excitement.

I stared at the screen.  With the exception of raising a family, nothing in their answers meshed with my own.  Nothing.  Grants?  Provost?  Leader?  In my head, I started to list all of the things that I wanted to have in five years.  What would it take for me to consider myself “wildly successful”?  I made a quick mental list:

  • Have my girls be intelligent, kind, loving to each other, but still maintain that fierce independence that Honest Girl especially is starting to exhibit (Watching her develop a preference for what hair clip to put in her strawberry blonde hair, or what color socks she should wear, I just think about the final scene of Bull Durham, where Kevin Costner tells Susan Sarandon, “I got a lotta time to hear your theories and I wanta hear every damn one of ’em.” <Sidebar>Best sports movie EVER.</Sidebar>)
  • See my husband advance in his new career.  Not necessarily monetarily, but in terms of his abilities, his passions, his responsibilities, the respect he commands.  And, okay.  Monetarily would be really nice too.
  • Have an article or short story published in the New Yorker, or some other literary magazine, and have regular freelance work for smaller, local publications.
  • Have my novel and memoir completed and at least being looked at by literary agents and publishers.
  • Finally run a half-marathon in a slow but respectable ten-minute-mile pace.
  • Slowly work on our new house and make changes to make it feel more like “us.”  Maybe by the end of those five years, we’ll have enough time and money put away to start tackling the downstairs kitchen and bathroom remodel we keep fantasizing about.
  • Maybe have a third child. A boy.  <Sidebar>Is it wrong that after two girls, I would prefer to have a little boy?  Am I not feminist enough for admitting that?</Sidebar>

And that was it.  Are those “bold answers”?  Do my dreams constitute a “big life”?  Was that “radical” enough?  It certainly doesn’t sound like it.  And where was my PhD in all of this?  How did all of this scholarship and research fit into it all?  The truth is, I never even thought about it.  It didn’t factor in.  In five years, if all goes well, I’ll be able to sport the title of “Dr.” (hopefully, I’ll have that title before the year runs out), but I’m sweating and working and stressing on that title now so that I can finally throw it aside and get to work on what I really love—my kids, my husband, my writing, my fitness goals, “Team Family.”

Why am I doing this?  Why do I want this?  Do I want this?

Do I want enough?  Am I enough?  Am I—good God—typical??

Maybe I just need some sleep.  Maybe I just need the catharsis of non-academic writing (which is what I’m trying out right now).  Maybe I just want to spend some time, thinking about my new baby girl, focusing on her and on my body, and how we’re going to spend the next eight weeks in increasingly tight quarters together.  Maybe I need to figure out why it bothers me so much that I seem to be neither “radical” nor a “scholar.”  Why do I feel so uncomfortable “just” being wife, mother, writer, caretaker?  And can I ever actually do and be all of these things, if I feel as though I’m “just” those things?  Why am I feeling guilty for not wanting a “big life”?  Or is my definition of “big life” too small?

Either way, I’m going to sit down and work on my dissertation today.  I have a few short sections that need some serious attention, and I have not gotten the amount of work done these last few weeks that I needed to (family visiting, a teething toddler, the general malaise that comes with entering the third trimester during a heat wave—the reasons and excuses for this slacking are prodigious).  So I’m going to do my work.  I’m going to be a scholar.  Not a radical one.  Not really a willing one.  Not today.  Not right now.  But I’m going to be a scholar today, notwithstanding.

It’s been a rough morning.  And I’m frankly afraid of posting this blog.  I’m afraid that someone from my department, one of my committee members, could stumble across it.  Be angered by it.  Or disappointed.  Or frustrated.  But I’ll post this in spite of those fears, because maybe the only part of being “radical” that I can manage right now is to be my “whole self.”  Frankly, I just don’t have the energy to be anything else.

Advertisements

He was being sexy.  He was being complimentary.  He was being kind.  And what’s more, I’m pretty sure he was being honest.

The pictures flashed across the screen in a regular progression.

“Look, baby.  You look so good.  You are so sexy.  You still look like that.  You can’t tell me you don’t look hot.”

One file was from the summer of 2006.  I was 24.  Wearing a bikini.  Smiling seductively at my then-boyfriend behind the camera.  My hair was tousled and looked like it had been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I had on a red hooded sweatshirt, half zipped. The top of the hoodie had fallen down.  It lay, rumpled in the crook of my elbows, exposing my shoulders. I had the distinct glow of a sunburn across my freckled chest.

He clicked the mouse again.  The next file appeared on the screen.  It was from the summer of 2012.  My daughter was only four or five months old at the time.  I was again wearing a bikini, my hair again showing signs of having been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I remember the day he took those pictures.  I was arguing that I needed to buy a new bathing suit before we left for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  Some good friends were getting married, and my husband and I were taking advantage of their elopement to spend some much-needed alone time over a long weekend away.  My husband told me that I didn’t need to buy the body-camouflaging one-piece I wanted.  He took several pictures of me, modeling my old bikinis, hoping that when I saw myself as he saw me, that I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. I was doing my best to look confident and sexy, but I could see the strain on my face.  I was holding in my stomach, standing with my thighs slightly apart, hoping to make them look thinner, less prone to cellulite.  My hip was cocked, trying to look firm enough so that the small bikini bottom didn’t cut into the soft, ample flesh.  I was trying to stand the same way in every picture, the images all looking stiff and uniform as my husband clicked through them.

I wound up packing the bikinis, but we never made it to the pool that weekend.

“That was only four months out.  Look how sexy you are after just four months.  And this one’s different.  You haven’t even put on much weight.  You’re going to bounce right back.  Just you wait. You already look so good.”

He was staring hungrily at the screen, his hand on my thigh.  He was speaking quietly, earnestly. He was being sincere.  He loved the images of me on our computer.

He smiled as he turned to look at me, but it quickly crumpled away.  He immediately dropped the mouse and folded me into his arms when he saw the silent tears streaming down my face.

 

I didn’t recognize the girl in either picture.

 

In less than two months, I will give birth to my second daughter.  My oldest child will be eighteen months old when her little sister gets here.  Since Saturday, June 5th, 2011 (the date of our intrauterine insemination), I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding.  I will be breastfeeding my second child as well, for at least 8 months.  When it’s all over, I will have nearly 4 solid years of rigid physical reproductive focus, and that’s not counting the year we spent in infertility.

I want my body back.

I’m not saying that I want my body to look like it did before I had children.  I don’t need to be that 24 year old in the red hoodie again.  I don’t need that tan, smooth skin.  Those muscular thighs.  Those firm, small breasts.  I’m adult enough to know that those days are gone.  I know that the body I’m occupying right now is going to be my “new normal.”  Softer, hairier, greater fluctuations from dark to light. This is going to be me now.  But I want some time to myself, time to acquaint myself with this new body.  I’ve been living in this body for two years now, but we’ve never been formally introduced.  I don’t know what it’s capable of, what it can do.  I haven’t pushed it to its limits (not counting childbirth, of course).  I don’t know how it feels when it’s just mine.  When its primary function hasn’t involved the creation and sustentation of my children.   I got pregnant with my second daughter only six weeks after weaning Honest Girl.  I barely had enough time to start looking at (much less appreciating and familiarizing myself with) the new, soft, empty breasts that had replaced the full, firm, milk-filled boobs that Honest Dad used to joke looked like leaky implants (the result of my over-production of milk).  I never made it back to the gym before this second pregnancy, and because of the bladder damage caused by Honest Girl, I haven’t even gone for a jog since early fall, 2011.  I don’t know how this new body breathes, how it moves, how it bends, how it flexes, how it dances.

<Sidebar>God, I miss dancing.</Sidebar>

Honestly?  I’m afraid.  Afraid that I’ll never feel normal in this new normal again.  Afraid that I’ll never feel confident, sexy.  Afraid that I’ll never be able to see my husband behind the camera and flash him that seductive, you-know-you-want-me look again.  Afraid that I’ll never recognize the girl looking back in the mirror.

There are so many unknowns with this pregnancy.  I have to have a C-section.  I have to be in the hospital three, maybe four days.  I have to wear stiff, strong stomach binders, and be on pain killers.  I have to have a spinal instead of an epidural, my torso and legs completely numb, perhaps unresponsive.  My stomach will be sliced and stitched back together, through skin, tendons, muscles, and organs.  I have no idea how my body will react to any of these things.  I have no idea how long it will take for the new normal to take hold, to establish itself.  I have no idea how my new scar will look, will feel, or where it will be.  I have no idea what the normal will look like on the other side.

I’m hoping to join a gym.  And, because I will be breastfeeding, I will be eating as healthy as possible.  For the sake of my new daughter.  Because for at least a little while longer, my body will be hers.  It needs to be.  It should be.  And for now, all I can do is hope.  Hope that the new normal will become a normal that I can feel comfortable about, confident in.  Hope that one day I’ll be able to look at pictures of myself and see what my husband sees, what he’s always seen.  Hope that, after my body is hers, it will be all mine.  Because only after it’s all mine, can I ever think about giving it to him again.