The Art of Jogging

I can walk forever. Even swiftly. I have no problem whatsoever with endless walking. However, the second walking breeches brisk and becomes even light jogging, everything goes to shit. Suddenly I can’t breathe. I’m sucking on air like it’s a blocked oxygen tube. I begin to turn a Care Bear shade of pink and red and purple and I lose control of my faculties. Rather than gazelling gracefully towards an unknown destination I start to claw at the air and throw my body forward in twitchy gestures of desperation. And that’s usually just the first 100 yards.

Unlike most exercise programs where “just getting there” is half the battle, running (or jogging if we want to be all specific) is a constant state of terrible suck. Just getting there is the easy part. I can lace up my sneakers and put on some Bieber and get all #gocarolinego with no problem at all. It’s when my legs begin to carry me forth and my thighs start trying to start a campfire that shit gets serious. There are stages to all fat kid jogs that are universal and well known, but for those who are in shape, I will document for you.

To begin: The initial leap. 

I can imagine that there are fit people who LOVE this moment. It’s no longer acceptable to casually walk along, it’s time to commence the jog. THE MOMENT HAS ARRIVED. I usually try to pick a point at which I have made a blood pact with myself that I will start jogging. If I don’t, I can happily meander along for miles listening to high-impact tunes that feel incredibly motivating but don’t keep very good tempo with my nature walk. For me, the issue is that I have never come to truly accept that there is nothing buoyant and light about me. I think that transition to jogging is going to feel empowering and freeing, but instead I feel like a hippo trying to get going on a trampoline. Everything heaves. I can feel every extra ounce rise up in solidarity and then come crashing down against the pavement. Never, ever have I thought “YES! HERE WE GO, SELF!” I immediately begin a subconscious mantra of “fuckthisfuckthisfuckthis.” Remember ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING.

And then: Bartering.

I have been jogging long enough to know that you do have to “jog the kinks out.” I have not been jogging long enough to remember how that can sometimes take 2-3 miles. (Seriously. Sometimes you have to jog the first 2-3 miles just to get past the suck, then it gets easier. Or so I’ve heard.) Unfortunately, when I’ve gotten jogging tunnel vision I can’t think rationally, instead I begin to barter. Get to that tree, lard ass, and then you can walk for three steps. Get to that fence post and you can pick your underwear out from the clutches of your hungry labia. One more lap and then you can listen to As Long As You Love Me on repeat on the way home. What generally happens is that I can barter my way through the first mile and then when it doesn’t INSTANTLY become the most magical jog of my life, I begin to get angry.

The Anger Period. 

I recently started pepping myself with a chat about progress. This doesn’t happen all at once, Caroline! You’re doing great! This is only day two! You are such an inspiration to yourself! Your brain makes you beautiful! Unfortunately, in the moment, I believe approximately zero of this and instead of powering through with the knowledge that I am a warrior princess, I cruel argument ensues between my two selves.

Warrior Princess Caroline (WPC): You’re amazing! You’re out here doing this at night! In the rain! Against all odds! Phil Collins is singing TO YOU. 

Regular Caroline (RC): You’re an asshole.

WPC: You’ve got this. Just a little at a time. Make it to the tree and then reassess. Breathe in through your nose. YOu’ve got this!

RC: Get to the tree and you’re still an asshole. 

WPC: Getting here was half the battle and you’re here. Do this. You’ll feel so much better after you’re done. 

RC: You’ll feel better. But you’ll still be an asshole. 

WPC: Eye of the Tiger, Caroline. EYE OF THE MOTHER FUCKING TIGER.

RC: If you stop we can sit. All the pain will stop.

WPC: Just make it to the trashcan. You can make it to the trashcan. GO! 

RC: Or make it to that bench so we can sit. Asshole. 

The False Sense of Security

I cannot speak for real joggers, but for me there is usually about twenty feet in there (usually after about 6-8 minutes of jogging) where I become invincible. Suddenly I realize I am not going to run four laps, I am going to run six. And then I am going to do some arm dips on the park bench and then some high knees across the common to cool down. It’s usually in those twenty feel that I make a fatal error: I allow my hallucinogenic state to increase my speed. That is always the beginning of the end. Like a total asshole I increase my pace from fattitude appropriate faux running to ambitious prancing and within seconds I am panting, gasping for air, and telling myself that I have to stop due to legitimate medical concerns. I don’t want to stop, I have to stop. I need to listen to my body. 

The Wind Down

In the end I settle for trying to run between 1.5 and 3 miles, no matter how ugly. If I can’t do that, I at least sit on a bench for the equivalent amount of time so that Corey doesn’t get suspicious. Then I have to Carl Lewis the half block to my house so that I look good and exhausted when I walk in the door. (An all out sprint for 8-10 seconds can take me out of the game for 3-4 hours. I’d like to blame it on my age, but it’s actually because I’m disgustingly out of shape.) The real issue with jogging is the 2-3 hours after I get home where shit just isn’t right and what I think could make it better is cheese. Which, oddly, isn’t listed as a medically sound recovery tactic. My half ass attempts at stretching out are a disgrace to my yoga background. I mostly just writhe around on the floor and yell out to Corey about the cheese, which he refuses to bring me.

The Retrospective

When you have a baby, everyone tells you about this magic phenomenon where you forget about how terrible child birth is. I didn’t believe it because there was no way I was ever going to forget about awful that whole experience was. I actually did think I was going to die. Instead I shit all over some poor nurse and survived to tell the story. Turns out you really do forget. You convince yourself it really wasn’t that bad. The exact same thing happens with jogging. No matter how terrible, you begin to romanticize. The beautiful moonlight jog, a light, late summer rain, a breeze from the ocean. You’re an asshole, but it’s not your fault. You can’t remember that you looked like John Candy on a pizza run. So you sign yourself up to do it again. And, if you’re anything like me, you go online and spend a couple hundred dollars on some legit new gear to subsidize your efforts.

Because you’re an asshole.

How I got almost obese

There are a lot of things that I am really glad I don’t ever have to explain to my 15-year-old-self. Among them? My current figure. (A combination of the Venus on a Half Shell and a Mr. Potato Head.)

This morning I “weighed in” to get an official number for my now very necessary weight loss. I weighed 197.4 pounds. To give you some idea, the last time I hit 197.0 pounds I was about eight months pregnant. So the last time I was this size it was because I was carrying around another human life. Like a whole ‘nother person.

When I got pregnant, I was by no means at my fighting weight. I had started to creep up the scale after “retiring” from running because I hated it. I had meant to lose some weight, but because I was about to get knocked up, I didn’t really care THAT much. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I was nearing 170.0 pounds. (Oof.) Previous to that, I had enjoyed a few years of being about 150 pounds. Too thin by some folks standards, but man did I look great. Hungry, but great.

As many of you know, weight is a tough subject for me. Despite every reason to be a normal and well adjusted gal with no body image issues at all, I instead opted to go down the path of being a hugely fucked up gal with lots of issues. I started throwing up my food when I was in first grade. I was at a pool party and I was eight years old. I ate too much cake and I felt bad about myself and for some reason my eating-disorder-preconditioned-brain connected some super fucked up dots and I made myself throw up. That was the start of a 17-year battle with bulimia. (Though I’d argue that was just the first outward manifestation of a life-long battle with food and eating.) Having my cake and throwing it up too was easy. It made sense. There are times even today that it still makes sense.

For starters, I do not eat bon bons. I don’t scoop ice cream into my pie hole while bemoaning my existence. In the traditional sense, I don’t use food as comfort. I know cake doesn’t love me. I realize that BLTs don’t care about me as a person. For me, eating has always been about seeking stimulation. When I’m bored or restless I look forward to eating. Maybe it will be fun! Maybe that feta salata will be entertaining!

Another important thing to know is how healthy I eat. Kale, sprouted nuts, salads, cottage cheese, kombucha, no red meat, lots of herbs, olive oil…. We spend hundreds of dollars a week at Whole Foods on really good quality food. I’m living proof that you can get pretty fucking fat on large quantities (accidentally large quantities) of healthy food.

And I drink. Again, I’m not guzzling growlers and slinging White Russians. But I do drink beer and wine. Usually 3-4 days a week I have a glass or two of wine and then on the weekends maybe more. Depends. But I’m not taking out a bottle a night.

But because I don’t have these crazy swings of totally out of control behavior, losing weight is nothing short of just plain annoying. Because I’m not saddling up to the bar and ordering cheese fries and bacon cheese burgers, the thought of having to lose 40 or 50 pounds seems cruel. I don’t deserve to be punished when I didn’t do anything wrong. But that none of that changes the cold, hard facts. I am 4.5 pounds from OBESITY. Those tiny weights you grab at a step aerobics class are all that stand between me and obesity. And I’m not the kind of girl who was supposed to be obese. Seriously.

But it goes like this.

You stop running after four or five half marathons because you hate running. Running sucks. And then you start having a few more beers or don’t reduce your carb intake even though you’re not running 30 miles a week. Then you get pregnant and you finally find something YOU ARE REALLY GOOD AT. I excelled at being pregnant in a way few can. I was SO good at it. And you’re pregnant so no one is like “why is that chick eating two entrees?” They’re like, “you are so cute and pregnant!” (Wee!)

And then your baby comes and he doesn’t latch so you’re pumping all the time. You’re pumping in a unisex, single bathroom in the hallway of an industrial building at 9AM and 1PM. You’re rushing home to pump again before your boobs explode and your nipples take someone’s eye out. You can’t jog because you wear a 40EE and any sudden movement causes pain and leaking. And no one likes a leaky jogger. Fortunately, breast feeding takes a lot of the baby weight off. (Not all, but a lot.) And you’re feeling pretty okay.

And then after about a year you have to stop pumping. Because pumping is a prison. And breast feeding is making you nuts. And you’re crying a lot. And something is totally up with your hormones. So you stop and you gain a few lbs, but it’s not the end of the world because you’re going to start exercising again because your boobs are no longer weapons of mass destruction. But then you get a new job. And it’s terrible. And you have to buy a Prius and you’re driving to work in the morning, crying, and then driving home in traffic, cursing the clock and trying to make it in time to let the nanny off. And you’re tired as fuck when you get home and your baby hasn’t seen you all day and you have about an hour before he has to go to bed. So you eat some cheese and olives and crackers and wait for your husband to get home. And you stress about money and feel guilty about your baby and your terrible job. And so you open a bottle of wine and you try to just breathe and relax. And then he gets home and you look at your baby and he has some wine and then you talk about dinner and then OH FUCK YOU TOTALLY FORGOT THAT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO GO JOGGING. Maybe you’ll wake up at 4:45 the next morning and exercise before going to your terrible job? Maybe? (Answer: no.)

So then you leave your job. And that’s a huge relief but it’s not a relief to be without a job, a primary breadwinner, and panicked as shit that you need to do something. So you start hustling. Because the nanny has to get paid and the rent doesn’t pay itself and you’re arguing with your husband and eating cheese and crackers because it’s easy and dinner is a distant memory when you’ve got a little guy who needs to take a bath and go to bed. Maybe you’ll cook some chicken later. Or order Chinese. Or both.

AND OH FUCK YOU FORGOT THAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LOSE SOME WEIGHT. So you don’t.

And then you move. Because you and your husband finally decide that something’s gotta give. So you move. And it’s great. But now you commute three hours a day and the baby has daycare and once again working out is going to have to be before 6AM or after 8PM and while that’s not impossible, it’s just not motivating. And you’re happy in your new house and you’re starting to feel like maybe being fat isn’t that big of a deal. And you take on a persona. And you get a little less beautiful to yourself. And your underwear get HUGE.

And then you get on the scale one day and between what felt like yesterday and now you’ve put on more than twenty pounds. And you feel a lot of sadness and guilt. And no matter how many times you say to yourself, “I am more than this number.” It doesn’t make it less humiliating. It doesn’t change that you can’t buy new clothes and you don’t want to see old friends because you know what they’re thinking. They want to know how you got almost obese. And you want to be able to explain it, but you know that at the end of the day the real reason is that you chose this over losing weight. I’m almost obese because I chose to be. And I didn’t even realize that’s what I was choosing. I was just trying to get through another day or season or situation. And ten extra pounds seemed manageable. And then twenty was only ten away from ten. But now…

Now I’m 25 lbs from where I started, 40 lbs from where I “should” be, and 55 lbs from where I once was. And it sucks so bad.

So today I got on the scale and I got the number and I wrote it on my fridge. (Which isn’t symbolic, just centrally located.) And while I know it isn’t about a number, I also know that’s what motivational people say to fat people. It’s about a number. It shouldn’t be about an unrealistic number, but these numbers are a necessary guiding principle. Girl got fat and she’s got to get un-fat. Before I get obese.

Because that, friends, is how I got almost obese.

What two years feels like.

The passage of time isn’t remarkable just because you have kids. Regular, child-less folk are on the big time-passage journey too, only they don’t have to compulsively (and obnoxiously) post milestone photos on Facebook to remind us all that we’re getting older. But when you do have kids, time means something… different. It doesn’t mean something better or deeper, but different. It’s consistently profound. There is a constant reminder— second by second– that time is marching forward. As a parent, you have a front row seat to one of the most incredible time lapse videos of all time. And it blows your fucking mind. And makes you feel so tiny, so helpful, and, sometimes, so sad.

Having a puppy isn’t so different in theory, only the visible toll and mark of time is condensed in a way that makes the emotion of it easier to grasp. Imagine having a 16 week old puppy for a year. And then a 20 week puppy for a year. All that puppy goodness stretched out for an incredible amount of time. You exist in the puppydom so long that when it finally moves on, you have to sit down and mourn. You have to pack up all those puppy toys and puppy foods and say goodbye to that puppy. It wasn’t a few months of puppy, it was YEARS. (Are you really thinking about how profound it would be to have a puppy for a year? Go Google something stupid cute like a baby retriever and imagine having that for a year. GO! But then come back, obviously.) But when it’s a tiny human, there are so many more layers. Heart swelling, soul crushing layers.

Today is Aut’s second birthday. The small boy, the one who baked in my belly during a bombing and came into this world silently, is two. Two is so tiny. Two is so big. Two is not enough cupcakes. Two is too many vaginal diseases. Two seconds are useless. Two words are devastating. Two is complicated and transitional and frustrating and hilarious. And that’s just for me.

Last week he suddenly looked big. My first reaction was to panic that he was losing his cute. I scrutinized him for a few minutes and then decided that he was still cute, but definitely taller. Less baby, more opinion and sinew. He’s starting to understand words as more than indicators. They have meaning and gravity and tone. He knows when he’s done something terribly evil and then makes a choice to apologize or laugh like a menacing sociopath. He feels scared when something isn’t right and he feels real feels when we are careless with our words or ambivalent to his deep, soulful need to hear the.same.fucking.book every night before he sleeps. But he’s also just two. He is insignificant in so many ways to the world. He doesn’t produce letters or numbers. In most third world countries he’s not even old enough to contribute to the child labor force. He thinks the most important thing in the world is throwing rocks in the beach and the most devastating is finding out Fi and Katie aren’t coming over. He thinks the big boy potty is a chair for reading books in the bathroom. He has no idea what hunger is. He doesn’t know what loss is. He hasn’t even been here for 1,000 days.

But then there’s me. I know what two years is; I’ve experienced two years on the bright side and the dark side. I know, logically, that time passes at the same rate no matter how happy or sad you are, but it’s an argument that holds no weight in times of either. Two years ago I was rolling on a ball at Brigham and Women’s Hospital willing this baby boy to get the lead out and join us. At that moment I couldn’t see past the baby. The puppy. I couldn’t see past being a new parent. I didn’t see a reality on the other side of being a mom for the first time. If I knew then what I know now, here’s what I would know….

Babies are the beginning of people and while that makes a nice quote, what it really means is something so heavy and burdening that if any of us took the time to really think about it, we’d realize what an incredible honor and responsibility that is.

Two years of anything can give you the kind of perspective that makes you ashamed you ever opened your mouth to say something rude on a broad range of topics. Like Birkenstocks.

Time will march slowing and quickly forward and somedays it will grip you with so much happy that you think the world is perfect. Hold on to that.

Most of the things that matter don’t matter at all. And you won’t ever be able to keep that perspective, but you have to keep reminding yourself. Potato chips can be good for you. Watching Frozen can be educational. Bedtime isn’t immovable. Tiny human beings need to be tended to day-to-day and moment-to-moment. Sometimes that means kale, sometimes that means ice cream and popcorn for dinner.

Be as hard on yourself as you think your child should be on himself. You’re someone’s child too, you know.

You’re going to be fatter than you ever thought possible. (Maybe I’m glad I didn’t know that then, honestly.)

Saying “fuck” in front of your child may not be appropriate, and might make your mother insane, but it’s not the worst thing a parent has ever done to a child.

No amount of Xanax will ever lessen the full-body anxiety of watching your child try to make friends. It’s a physical, all over kind of pain.

Two years is such a long time when they are screaming, but such a short amount of time when they are telling you about their day.

You’re going to lose sight of what you thought mattered and then you’re going to realize it maybe didn’t matter. And then you’re going to become indignant. And then you’re going to mourn. And then you’re going to rally. And that cycles over and over.

Everything is finite and that is so comforting and so scary.

Becoming a parent is terrible, but it opens you up to a 4th dimension. It’s not a better path, it’s not a preferable path, but it’s a totally different one. It’s immersive and total. It sets you on a different track than the one you started on. And there are always times you want back on the other. You watch a train pass you going faster and looking fancier and you will always take a moment to wish you were on that train, but you’re not. And there are people looking out of that train window at you too.

****

This morning on my way to work I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Today someone is happy with less than what you have.”

Two year’s feels like training for the next two. And the two after that. Two years feels like a beautiful, fucked up, anxiety-ridden, laugher-filled, angst-y trial period for trying to understand what matters to me and how to balance what matters with what’s necessary. Like dishes. And exercise.

Two year’s didn’t fly by. It plodded along at a metered pace. Somedays I wanted to last forever, some days I wanted to start drinking at noon. (And some days I did.)

Two years feels like a good start to feeling happy with exactly what I have.

Why David Sedaris isn’t in love with me

“You were a mess.”

Those were my husband’s encouraging words to me after waiting in line for two hours after a Sedaris reading at Boston Symphony Hall on Wednesday. When I responded that I hated him and wanted him to jump off a bridge he responded, “No. It was really cute seeing you completely lose your cool and be so ridiculous.” Jesus, thanks.

Here’s the thing, I don’t stalk celebrities. I don’t generally talk to them or bother them or try to tell them all about what good friends we would be. Mostly it’s because I realize that I don’t want to be friends with them. I want to be friends with whomever they play on TV. (There were two celebrity instances that broke this mold, both not optimal. One involved Tom Brady and the other The Boss. But those are for another time.)

I’ve been going to Sedaris readings for almost 10 years here in Boston. I have even been to some alone, which, if you know me, you know is a Huge Deal. I don’t typically do anything like that alone. I can’t even eat alone unless I have a stack of papers and a Very Important, Very Busy look on my face. But I have, indeed, bought a ticket for one and sat my ass in a seat at Symphony Hall on more than one occasion to hear Mr. Sedaris tell me all his stories. Tell ME.

I really, really believe that he would benefit greatly from the remarkable friendship we would have if he would just give me a chance. No, seriously. I actually believe this.

But every year when it comes time for audience questions or book signings, I slink down in my seat and get all nervous and sweaty palmed. Again, if you know anything about me, you know I don’t ever get nervous or sweaty palmed. I could stand up in front of 20,000 people and talk about any random topic without so much as a butterfly, but ask David Sedaris to be my friend? OMG NO.

This year was different. This year I decided that I was going to wait in line with my book and I was going to have him sign it. I was going to use that time to seduce him with my wit and charm and by the end of it he would be begging me for my home address. I even went one step further on the crazy ladder and wrote him a note. Unfortunately the only paper I had in my purse was a print out of the contagious disease page from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but I did not let that deter me. I told him we needed to be pen pals and then outlined in great detail why this was going to be so wonderful. I explained that I had tried to just BE his pen pal by locating his address on the internet, but that I didn’t want to exhaust too many resources because I knew it would look creepy. (I also left out the part about how, if I was taking notes during the last ten years, I could probably use random context clues to triangulate his location in England.) I told him about how normal I am and how I would even send the occasional care package. The note was wrapped about a business card so that he could Google me and see just how normal and pen pal worthy I am.

The line after the show was long. Two hours long, in fact. And that was after I bought some other random author’s book so that I could cut to the shorter line. (I had to have him sign it, which was awkward because I hadn’t the foggiest idea what the book was about or who he was. And he was Indian and you know how my humor doesn’t translate with the ESL crowd.) For the most part, the hubs and I spent the two hours chatting about random stuff to keep my mind off the fact that I was just hours away from the biggest moment in my life. I was going to have 5 minutes to charm the pants off of my idol. The only writer I’ve ever actually admired. The only writer I KNOW needs to be my friend. Occasionally the hubs would ask what I was going to say and I would just look at him with that “stop talking or I’ll puke on your shoes” look and he would laugh and tell me he really did support me. He thought it was great that I was going for it. (I now realize he was mocking me.)

Adding to my stresses was my outfit. About six weeks ago I bought this dress thinking it would be something a little different. By something a little different, I apparently meant “dress like a fat hooker.” I don’t know what my deal is. I know that I am chunky and I know I need to lose the weight, but I go into these strange empowerment phases where I suddenly get all “power to my body” and buy things that, upon reflection, I have no business wearing. Between that dress, the no makeup, and the 68 and raining hair, I looked every bit the crazy stalker I was going to convince him I wasn’t. Oh, and I was breaking in some new over the knee boots, so I looked like a swashbuckling hooker. Because I had a limp. Like a peg leg. From the boots.

Unbeknownst to the hubs, I had decided that the best way to get David to warm up to me was by telling him that my husband had a fatty tumor. My best friend David had told us all about his fatty tumor during the show and I knew that this knowledge would make him feel some kinship for me. He would definitely say, “that’s all I need to know. Let’s go get ice cream and then head to your place to watch Hart of Dixie on Netflix.”

After two hours of waiting, and a very awkward signing of The Other Book by The Other Author, it was time. There he was. Sitting at the little table with his pen and personality just waiting. I took a deep breath and turned to the husband. And he was gone. He had gone about thirty feet away to stand in the corner. He was pretending not to know me. I blame this entire unraveling on him.

Have you ever heard the term “word vomit”? It’s exactly what it sounds like. After that night, word vomit has a new meaning for me. I actually visualize type writer style words flowing from my mouth, covered in some kind of viscose nasty, hitting the table and splashing my best friend in the face. I should have aborted my pen pal mission, but I couldn’t. I started with the book and who to sign it for. I tried to pull up a picture of my son so he could see who he was signing it for. Total disaster. It pretty much looked like I was making up the kid. I immediately switched to the Fatty Tumor Plan, but with the husband hiding in the corner I was going to have to yell at him to come as proof. And if you know my husband, you will not be surprised to learn that he all but looked up and said, “what fatty tumor?” My best friend David was UNBUTTONING HIS VEST to show us his tumor while my husband just stood there. Panicked, I vomited some more.

“Well, at least it’s a fatty tumor and not skin tags. His grandmother had hundreds of them. Like fringe.”

WHATTHEFUCKCAROLINE?!

“Skin tags?” David asked.

“You know. Those horrid floppy skin pieces that grow on people. Totally gross.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his notebook and jotted down the words “skin tags.” (Now, for as poorly as this whole thing turned out, at least I can say I inspired him to write in his notebook.)

If you weren’t already visualizing my profuse word vomiting accurately, be sure you take into account the sweeping hand gestures I am employing, and the acting out of the husband’s grandmother (God rest her soul) covered in skin tags.

I realize that my  time is waning. The book is long signed and I still haven’t connected. He clearly does not find me charming and my options for wooing him are pretty much nil. I pull out my note, which now feels entirely creepy and not even a little bit charming. I start explaining veryquickly how I’ve written him this note, which isn’t creepy at all, about why he should be my pen pal. I’ve never seen such an obvious “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” face in all my life. Ever. He opened his mouth to speak and I silenced him.

“Just take the note. Maybe you’ll feel bad about what a hot mess I am and change your mind.”

He took the note graciously, holding it like one might hold a baggie full of human shit.

“Okay. Thanks.”

I knew I’d failed. I didn’t even want to take my signed book off the table because it represented the door of friendship being slammed in my face. In that moment I think I managed to accidentally look like the saddest, most defeated person to ever walk the earth. I looked at the line of people behind me, many of whom I’d been mocking just minutes before, and realized that they were all going to be BFFs with David Sedaris and I wasn’t. I was going to end up on some kind of list. I’d inexplicably be unable to get tickets to next years show.

Walking home, I tried to get excited about the fun note he wrote for Author and how exciting it was to meet him, but it was an act. I’d flubbed epically.

“On the bright side, you may have inspired him to write something.” said the husband.

“About skin tags?” I asked, remembering that I’d inspired him to jot down the note.

He didn’t reply. He looked at me with pity for the first time in our relationship. He didn’t have to say it. I knew. The words were hanging there like yellowed sheets on a clothesline.

“No. Not about skin tags…”

This is not about Robin Williams. It’s about you.

The husband and I talk a lot. It’s kind of our thing, the talking. Sometimes I am half listening while doing something else and other times I am completely focused on the conversation. It’s hard to slip the first one past him because if I don’t disagree completely, he usually gets suspicious and asks me to repeat back to him what he said. And then I tell him he’s being ridiculous and scurry off to a fake burning dinner. 

Sometimes his perspective on something is so daft that I refuse to listen any further. We recently had one of those. He shared a topic he wanted to discuss, gave me his point of view, and I responded that if he ever mentioned his perspective on that ever again we would divorce. Other times he can be cynical; it’s in those cases that I am less focused on the conversation and more focused on convincing him to be a little softer on humanity. 

About a hundred yards from our apartment is the bench from the famous scene in Good Will Hunting. Since the news of Robin Wiliams’ death broke, it’s become a memorial of pictures, words, and momentos to the late actor. Swarms of people are gathered at any point in the day, snapping photos or adding something to the pop-up alter. The husband and I walked by it on Tuesday afternoon and he made a comment about the absurdity of it all, commenting on how disingenuous it felt. I was going to let it go and allow him to remain the soulless, shell of a man that I have come to accept and love as my life partner, but I couldn’t. He needed the counsel of his wise spouse. 

I can’t speak for everyone and I know that. I realize that my perspective of this earth and this life is vastly different than someone–anyone– elses, but I do think we share a few very basic things. I think celebrity deaths and national tragedies awaken in us a desire to be in an emotional community and to be recognized as alive and feeling. I think that without even realizing it– often eschewing it, in fact, we crave that connection to other human beings. That reminder that we are each fragile, vulnerable beings. In the face of communal suffering, strangers hug and make selfless sacrifices and show that our basic instincts are what define us, not our premeditated and over thought actions.

We’ve become desensitized to the value we each have to one another and that’s the reason we become cynical. Yes, it is possible that a no one man in a nothing suburb of a normal city in a largely rural state was affected by the passing of Mr. Williams because one time, two times, five times– however many times– that actor gave that man a moment of happiness and laughter. And he remembered it. Maybe it was a point of reference. Maybe it was a turning point. Or maybe it was nothing more than a a few hours in an air conditioned movie theater, but that man had a moment’s worth of unexpressed appreciation that he carried with him. And he never got to tell anyone. And now he can. On the day that Mr. Williams died, that man could saddle up to the bar and look another man in the eye and start a conversation about his feelings and no one could bat an eye. Because remembering is the greatest form of appreciation. They could share their lives with one another through Robin Williams. 

So when I looked across the pond at all those people standing at an abandoned bench, together, I didn’t see a bunch of people standing there remembering Robin Williams, I saw them standing there remembering themselves. That made them feel something. Maybe it was a sadness at the loss of a catalyst in a world that continues to make it harder to be. Maybe it was the hard realization that someone had worked so hard to lift them up when no one could do the same for him. Or maybe it was that feeling that in saying goodbye, Mr. Williams had given back all the laughter he had ever brought to this world so that we could play it all again and remember how much we loved…

crossing the bridge

| This post may contain content unsuitable for children and the impressionable. | 

Saying that parenthood is a club is obnoxious and makes all your childless friends want to kill you. Unfortunately, much like being a cancer survivor or divorcee, being a parent is something you really don’t “get” until you’re in the throes. You can intellectualize the experience. You can understand the statements being made by parents– “I think I’d rather be dead”– but you can’t truly internalize these statements until you’ve been there. How do I know this? Because I spent 29 years pretending I totally understood when my friends told me they wanted to jump off bridges. Turns out, I did not understand. Not until my little toesies were gripping the edge of said bridge did I reflect back on those friends and think, “oh my god. you were not kidding.” 

But this is the circle of life. It’s a series of epiphanies about how someone else felt and guilt that you did not react appropriately. Your relationship with your own parents improves mightily when you realize what an assbag you are for complaining about not having the perfect childhood. You’re lucky you came out alive. So long as no one tried to diddle you, you’re fine. Now move on. 

The hubs and I aren’t reading any parenting books. Primarily we don’t care, but we also don’t need any standards set that we know we won’t meet. Sitting in a mommy’s group last week I listened to one mom cry (CRY!) because she read a book about making her baby sleep 12 hours by 12 weeks. It worked perfectly for her sister-in-law, but 12 weeks had come and gone and her baby was only sleeping 6-8 hours a night. She actually used the word “failure.” Meanwhile, elsewhere in the United States, a woman is being arrested because her child was found eating herself in a cage. Let’s employ a little perspective here. Your cashmere swaddled bundle of 8-hours-of-sleep joy has the memory of a goldfish. Cage girl is going to be fucked up. It’s highly unlikely she’ll forget that time she ate her arm. 

Aging has (in my experience) little to do with wisdom and everything to do with perspective. Maybe perspective and wisdom are actually the same thing… (ZING!) 

I look back at pre-baby Caroline and I miss her, but I also think she’s a dumb ass. I don’t blame her, I’d be a dumb ass if I were her too. (Ha. See what I did there?!) But pre-baby Caroline didn’t understand her own reality relative to what it was to become. There is a legitimate grieving period that takes place when you take on a small child. The old you is gone. And while your life will normalize, it’s not going to ever go back. You have to say goodbye. And that goodbye is a big ball of hard. It involves facing your mortality and understanding the cyclical nature of all things, but most of all it just sucks so hard to realize that you will likely never feel okay signing up for the Santa Speedo Run again. Shit ain’t right. 

But, there’s a silver lining. Seriously. Your brain actually changes. 

I spent nearly seventeen years throwing up my food. I joke that I liked to have my cake and throw it up too, but obviously eating disorders are no joking matter. (If you or someone you know is suffering, I encourage you to reach out. Life if too short to be living in constant fear of food.) It started when I was in first grade and continued well into my twenties. I will not lie to you, to this day I think the sick Caroline looked fucking phenomenal, but I also know how much turmoil lurked within and I know that I don’t have the emotional or physical energy to be 130 pounds ever again. I used to dream of being pregnant, not because I wanted kids, but because I wanted a break. I wanted air cover to eat. I wanted to be able to put something in my mouth and not have to explain to myself what I was going to do to make up for it. Or figure out how to throw up in a public place. 

Now let’s fast forward. 

Yesterday I was at the gym. I look terrible. I was there in a feeble attempt to kick start the rejuvenation of my body, but I could not help but be distracted by the form staring back at me in the mirror. To be clear, this is nothing new. I’ve been looking at this alien form for a few months now. When I look in the mirror, I see a body of smooth lines and clear, youthful skin has been replaced by… lumps. Deep purple stretch marks make an interstate map out of my huge, efficient breasts. If my nipples could talk they would tell me to fuck off. Their once pink color is gone. They are dark and National Geographic like. Hours on a breast pump has pulled and stretched them to awkward protrusions. They are cracked and sore and angry. 

The stretch marks don’t stop there. My thighs– the Carsey wonders that once never touched– are now smooshed together like two obese people on a JetBlue flight. My stomach is jiggly and shaky and deformed. My arms have little wings. When I wear pants (or pant, singular, as only one pair fits) the excess Caroline bubbles over and makes my shirts catch. (Which is only made more attractive by my breasts tugging at the top.)  All in all, I’m a train wreck. And the silver lining? I really just don’t care that much. Not in a “I’ve given up” kind of way, but in a way that acknowledges that I made the choice to go whole ass with the Ben & Jerry’s during my pregnancy and now I’ve got other shit to do. The gym simply isn’t my biggest priority. Not by a long shot. 

And when I see skinny 23-year-olds prancing around half naked, I actually smile and think “you go girl! You walk around half naked in 43 degree weather.” Because I know that one day they will cross the bridge. They’ll find themselves staring at a foreign body in a mirror and thinking about how fucking hot and amazing they used to look and feeling bad about giving me stink eye when I rolled past them on the side walk with my bulky form and screaming baby. Every thing comes back around. 

It’s still not easy to be a plus-sized version of myself, especially not when I have to go home for the holidays, but for now I sort of see my body as a recovering vessel. The small boy used it to create a perfect little environment for baking to optimal cuteness and then left me with some broke ass shit. And it’s probably not the last time he’s going to pull something like that. 

Asshole. 

 

should something happen

After realizing that Zooey Dechanel was actually a disappointing guest on Conan and it seemed safe to transfer the small boy from my arms to the bassinet, I got into bed. I laid there for about thirty minutes before it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until I wrote some things down– epically important things: things that cannot wait until the morning. (Plus by morning I’ll be fucking miserable because I didn’t get any sleep and the thought of writing anything will seem unfair and terribly hard.) 

If something were to happen, there are plans for the small boy. He’ll go live with our best friends, the ones who know us well and know what we kind of life and lessons we would want him to have. It’s a surprisingly difficult conversation to have, not because your facing your mortality, but rather because you realize you have to tell your family that you love them, but not enough to let them raise your child. The hubs and I thought a lot about who the small boy would go to, but the choice was pretty clear. Certain friends know you better than your family, and in a completely different way, and it’s those parts of us that we want him to be exposed to. Even if we’re not here. Plus I always thought it was weird and creepy when people lived with their grandparents. (I also wondered if they woke up every morning just a smidge nervous that someone was dead. I would.)

But there are other things that the small boy should know, things that need to be stated, things that may fall through the cracks or be assumed but never said and I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Dear Small Boy. (Or maybe you are now Big. But to me you will always be small.)

I want you to have influences. So many influences: good, bad, beautiful, ugly, gay, straight, white, black… even Asian. Grow up knowing that you are a city kid, a Boston-born boy with East Coast sensibilities, but never be of this city, this coast, or this region. Remember that you have Texas and California deep in your heart and soul and knowing the south and west will be a part of you. Weigh them with equal merit– don’t judge accents, your Mimi and Gramps have them, don’t judge sparkly flip flips, your Gami owns 100 pair. Don’t believe that buildings and sophisticated streets are better than wide expanses of endless earth, just know that they are different. One day you can choose one over the other, but you’ll do so knowing that you could make a life in either. And even though your Mama has always hated California, you should give it a shot. They have nice weather.

Fall in love with people before gender, age, or ethnicity. If you promise to do this, I promise to love whomever you bring through the door. Be true to your feelings, but always remember that everyone has their own feelings. Navigating the angry sea of conflicting emotions is not for the faint of heart, so learn to say you’re sorry when you are and never let anyone tell you that your feelings don’t matter. People who say that deserve to rot in hell. 

Speaking of hell, while I hope you don’t decide to be born again or Mormon, the journey of faith is one that you get to take on your own. Don’t fall victim to propaganda and even in the throes of salvation, try to keep an eye on objectivity. No matter what faith you choose– even if you choose none– I know wonderful people who can help you down your path. And if you decide to be an evangelical, practice your witness on the homeless people on Newbury, not your parents. Everyone has religious freedom around these parts. 

Don’t buy cheap toilet paper. And don’t buy Scott. I think it’s very strange to wipe yourself with a toilet paper named like a boy. Charmin is for bear bottoms and the preferred tp of this household, but so long as you’re not using Scott or CVS brand or some other subpar nonsense you are free to choose among the name brands. (If you decide against Charmin, I think Cottonelle or Quilted Northern would be good choices.) 

Buy Viva paper towels. I learned this from your great grandmother. If you find yourself in a retail establishment that doesn’t sell Viva, you can get by on a roll or two of Bounty. After that you need to just order them on Amazon. You get free shipping on the 12 pack if you’re a Prime member. When you’re older and are faced with hiring a cleaning person, you will find that they use WAY less when provided with Viva as opposed to the cheap alternatives. So really you’re honoring tradition and making a smart financial move. Which will matter to you, as you’re a Virgo. 

Marry a Tampax girl and never trust a Kotex girl. Whores, all of them. 

And unless she has a Masters Degree from Harvard or some sexual magic trick, be leery of girls who use applicator free tampons. There are bigger things we can worry about keeping out of landfills. That’s practically masturbation. 

Even when women are running the world and men feel belittled and emasculated, always open doors and offer your chair. It’s not about equality, it’s about manners. And no matter how digital the world becomes, get a pen and write thank you notes. The fate of the written correspondence is on your shoulders. It’s a beautiful art, don’t kill it. 

Small boy, your name is going to drive you bonkers. It will be mispronounced and misspelled your whole life. There will be days– maybe even a lifetime– when you curse your parents for not just naming you Arthur, but your name belongs to you for very good reason. Every story begins with an author. You have a whole life to write the story you want to be your own. Make choices that make you happy, but always make sure they make you proud of yourself. Be inspired, take the road less traveled, read books, listen to music you love, even if other people hate it, and if there is something you are passionate about, be truly passionate. Find something that matters to you, no matter how small, and believe in it. There is no meaning of life, but there is always meaning in intention. Make bold statements, deliberate choices, and be self aware, but never self conscious. 

Do hard work that pays poorly for at least one summer. Do easy work that pays well for at least one year. Neither is reality. For the rest of your years and summers do work you love that pays fairly. 

Should something happen to me, small boy, you probably won’t remember all of these things. You might forget to buy the right toilet paper or use the wrong brand of sour cream. These things are forgivable. So should something ever happen and we’re not there to remind you every single day, just try to remember this one thing: 

be you. 

That’s all we ever wanted.