Every now and again it’s good to play hooky.   For a couple of weeks now, Levi has been asking us when we were going to take him back to the Building Museum in Washington, D.C.   Ever since he discovered that his dad’s an engineer and gets to build things everyday, he’s made up his mind that he wants to be an engineer too, and thus a builder.   Recently I suggested we visit the Building Museum but it got the thumbs down from some of the family.  Only Levi wanted to go.  And when he reminded me this past weekend about wanting to go, I couldn’t say no.  So I looked at our schedule and decided it made the most sense for both of us to take off from our regular Tuesday routine.

We left for the city around 10 which meant that our commute flew by.  It was magical.  We hopped onto the Toll Road and navigated to the GW Parkway and then voila!  We were in Georgetown, just a couple miles down the road from D.C.’s government center (see more on that later) and the Building Museum.

The tricky part?  Finding parking.  I circled the museum a couple of times and then eventually I found a spot just a block from the museum.  Unfortunately I am new to the new phone meters so I couldn’t figure out how to pay.  Until I realized I could use change from my purse.  And that added up to a whopping 48 minutes.  So I gathered up our bags and we made the short walk to the museum.  Outside we saw stacks of wood and people carrying loads of materials in and out of the building.   It turned out that the museum is hosting a large vendor art show.  Which was pretty neat except that they weren’t open yet and they were a little picky about letting us cut through the center of the building.  Instead we had to walk around to pay admission.  By the time we made it upstairs to one of the exhibits, we had about 32 minutes left on the meter.

But Levi didn’t care.

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He built and he built and he built some more.

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And I built with him.

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There were all sorts of shapes of blocks and tubes at this exhibit that we were even able to fashion furniture out the materials.
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Here’s Levi sitting at the front of his structure.  I guess we could call it a Seussical Castle.

Then we huffed back to the meter where I ventured into unknown territory and made a phone call to pay the meter.  It was one of those voice automated menus but it wasn’t all that long to take care of.  I did worry about someone robbing me while I stood there waiting to be cued to push a number on my phone but I tend to be paranoid in the city.  I just am.  But, still, I love it in D.C.  Every time I drive into our city, I feel a little happier.   All the good food, the strange people (I know.  I’m generalizing.  But man, I see some  crazy, inspired sort of people, and a lot of who I presume are lawyers and lobbyists when I go downtown).

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For lunch, we sat outside of a deli where I ordered  a salad.  We’d packed Levi a Lunchable, which is his favorite.  As we sat there scoffing down our food, I eavesdropped on the table in front of us.   They were some kind of police in black fatigue uniforms talking about how they nailed someone for murder.  Nice conversation, right?  Levi didn’t seem to notice and I thought it was pretty cool to overhear how our justice system is working.  They were even talking bullets.  Scary right?  But well, it happens.

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Next we headed back to the Building Museum for more adventures.  I was beyond HAPPY!!! that the cherry blossoms were open.  Yeah!!!

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And Levi humored me.DSC_7019

Until I pissed him off.  I think he was like, “Um, Mom, you said we were going inside the Building Museum.  No more pictures, ok?”

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Inside we made our way to the Building Zone which is meant for kids ages 2-6.  I’m pretty sure that the last time our family visited here, Annabelle was about 4 years old and Levi was still an infant.   They’ve added a lot, including a wall with building tools and materials.  I thought that was pretty neat for the kids to see.

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Levi decided he wanted to build another structure of some sort, this time with oversized legos.  Being the OCD Type A mom that I am, I spent the next ten minutes sorting through all the blocks and making two groups: one of legos and one of some lego knock-off block.  Levi liked the lego knock-off so that’s what we built with.
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And then he counted each and every block that we used.  He seems to be into numbers right now.

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And then it was my turn to enjoy a site downtown.  On our way to the museum, we drove past the White House and I decided that that’s where I wanted to stop for the day.  Besides, all the cherries are starting to open and the magnolias?  are just gorgeous.

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Levi was quite tolerant.DSC_7085


And he rocked his koolaid mustach.  Oh yeah he did.DSC_7098

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Then he was like, “Mom, let’s do this.  C’mon!”  So we headed straight over to the White House.  I think I was secretly hoping that Joe Biden would greet us at the gate and say, “Hey Jessica Monte, do you want to come inside and take a look around?  Let me introduce you to the president and his beautiful wife and daughters?”  And I was gonna be like, “Yeah!”  But yeah, well, that didn’t happen.DSC_7103

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But I did take a lot pictures.  I really do need to write my congress person so that the kids can see the inside.  To be honest, I’ve never been in the White House either.

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Levi then shocked me and said, “Mom, take my picture!!”DSC_7113

He was getting the hang of being my model for the day.DSC_7119

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Then we wandered past the grounds crew and construction and I saw another gorgeous flowering tree for a photo op.  I asked the White House guard for permission to photograph Levi sitting at the gate.  While there, some secret service looking guy walked by and waved at us.   Again, I was secretly hoping for an invite inside.  I  mean, I look perfectly nice don’t I?  And my 4 year old is adorable?  Yeah, yeah.  I know that isn’t how the system works.

Actually, I had to explain to Levi that our president and government needs to be really careful about access to the White House.  It’s sad because even though it wasn’t a perfect world when I was a kid, we didn’t have to worry so much about terrorism when my class made its visit to Washington, D.C.

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Levi thought it was hilarious that all the statues had George Washington’s hair do.  He was like, “Mom, is that George Washington?”  And I was like “No, that’s just how the guys liked to wear their hair back then.”  And he was like, “That’s weird.”

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And then he was ready to go home.DSC_7131

Sad Levi.  He was really anxious to get back into the car.DSC_7133

So I took a few final shots.DSC_7135

But again he wanted to talk about the weird hair dos.  ”Yes, Levi,” I told him, “They liked to wear their hair like that.”  And again he said, “That’s weird.”

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We made our way back to the car.DSC_7140

But not before stopping to see General Jackson.   His hair was different, like Lincoln’s.  It stood up on end.  Very 1980s of him.

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We parked across the street from the Hay Adams hotel because we’re rockstars.  No seriously, I have no idea how I scored such unbelievably good parking, but I did.   And, oh my goodness, their cherries were fabulous.

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I can’t wait to see more cherry blossoms.  I hope I do get to see them.  They seem to open and take your breath away and then they’re gone.  So ephemeral.

Like visits into Washington, D.C. with Levi.  I’m so glad we did this.  I’m really going to miss the days when he actually wants to hang out with me and hold my hand.  I know this time is just priceless.

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The Naked Truth: A Review

by Jessica on March 31, 2014

in Marriage

It’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed a book over here, but I just got in a book that I think is worthwhile for those who frequent this blog and lots of other people too (so send your friends over, would you?).  I usually cover books and blogs about parenting, yoga and exercise, photography, the environment, and home decorating.  Today I am reviewing a book about sex.

The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Grownups is a sex book, and it’s one that I think many couples could benefit from.

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In this educational book written by Harry Fisch, MD, a leading sexual health expert at Cornell Medical College and at New York Presbyterian Hospital, couples can explore their sex life and improve it.  At the heart of Fisch’s advice and this book on sex is that the quality of your sex life is directly correlated to how healthy your relationship with your partner is.  He writes: “Sex is a great indicator of the health of a relationship.”  He goes on to explain that when couples are in a comfortable and satisfying relationship, they are more likely to enjoy an uninhibited sex life.

In the first part of The New Naked, Fisch writes about sexual satisfaction, turn-ons and turn-offs, sexual dysfunctions and sexual risks.  Because Fisch emphasizes the importance of a healthy relationship in order for couples to enjoy a satisfying sex life, he talks about how the daily minutia of life, from things as simple as unloading the dishwasher to texting  your partner with a hello can make your sex life better.  He calls it foreplay.  He goes on to explain that the more time couples spend doing seemingly simple things, like helping with chores around the house or cleaning up after oneself, the more likely they both are to set the mood for fun in the bedroom.

I think it’s important to note that Harry Fisch’s expertise is that in the diagnosis and treatment of men’s health issues, such as low testosterone, and sexuality fertility problems.  Throughout the book, Fisch’s expertise on men’s health is evident in that his advice tends to be aimed more towards helping couples improve their sex lives with suggestions focusing mostly on what men can do in day to day life and in the bedroom to improve the health and satisfaction of their sex lives.   As a woman, much of the advice in Fisch’s book resonated with me–I can agree that most women are not going to be turned on by a partner who is primarily concerned with pleasing himself or who has expectations of his partner but doesn’t do anything for his partner, whether that be taking out the trash or taking a shower.  Fisch points out to men that their personal health and hygiene habits matter.

And while it may not be a topic that couples talk about openly, many couples suffer a wide array of sexual problems.  Fisch addresses when masturbation becomes a problem in the bedroom.   He explains that this solitary pursuit of pleasure should not be a regular part of a couple’s sexual repertoire.   He writes: “A penis that has grown accustomed to a particular kind of sensation leading to rapid ejaculation will not work the same way when it’s aroused differently.”    Fisch also addresses premature ejaculation, which is a big problem for many couples.  He lists specific ways that couples can improve this very common problem, including: less masturbation, changing positions, taking medicine to reduce sensitivity, and taking a low dose antidepressant.  Fisch then moves on to discuss physical problems that women may have in the problem; a big one is lubrication.  He writes: “As you probably know, when a woman is sexually aroused, the walls of her vagina secrete a clear, slippery fluid that facilitates intercourse.”     Some women produce enough lubrication and others do not.  And when there is a lack of lubrication, women can find sex to be painful.  And there are many causes for vaginal dryness: hormones, nursing, stress, medications, and some personal care products.  The upside to vaginal dryness is that, Fisch points out, it is a common situation and is easily solvable with either hormone therapy or with a high quality lubricant.  Other problems that Fisch addresses in the first part of The New Naked is inability to orgasm and performance anxiety, all of which can have physical causes but also relationship insecurities.

Fisch then discusses turn offs in the bedroom.   He writes: “Our sexual drive, or libido, is hardwired into our systems as breathing, sleeping when we’re tired, stopping to eat when we’re hungry, seeking a purpose in life (in other words, a satisfying career), and experiencing the joys of love from friends and family.”  Fisch explains that our libidos are affected by stress, raising children, our health, feelings of trust and intimacy between partners, and even a “sense of familiarity or boredom” with the same partners.   That said, with all of the factors that affect libido, Fisch emphasizes that what most affects libido is that “people get turned off to sex [when] it’s just not fun for them.”

Fisch includes a list of primary reasons why sex has slowed down for some couples, though he does warn that women ought not jump to conclusions.  Factors might include:

He’s cheating.

He’s unusually stressed.

He’s depressed.

He’s got low testosterone.

He’s gay and in the closet.

He’s addicted to porn.

There are quizzes in this section of the book to help you determine why you and your partner might not be having sex.

This section also addresses when women don’t want to have sex.  Factors involve a man’s weight and health.  Fisch writes: “A man with a big fat gut is pretty much guaranteed not to have big, fat testosterone levels and big, fat erections.”   In other words, big fat guts are probably not a turn on for most women but they also are detrimental to a man’s sexuality and health.  Grooming and bathing are other factors listed for a woman losing interest in her man.   Fisch also recommends that men take care of their manners, skincare and personal presentation–not that a man needs to have a closet full of expensive clothes but that how a man dresses is part of foreplay for his partner.

Another point that Fisch makes regarding turn offs in the bedroom is when one or both partners has an addiction to their digital device.

Physical problems can also affect a man’s performance: hormonal imbalances, congenital problems, erectile dysfunction, weight, being sedentary or over exercising, aging, prostate issues, anxiety, depression, osteoporosis, drug use, self-medication, alcohol use, fatigue and sleep disturbances.

When couples experience unsatisfying sex due to physical problems, men and women might blame themselves.  However Fisch warns against this: “It is perfectly normal for men to have some kind of sexual dysfunction at some point in life–usually from a temporary situation like stress or fatigue or the emotional anxiety of having a new partner.  A decrease in prowess is also to be expected as years go by.  Blame it on biology and the fact that we age and slow down.”

According to Fisch, one of the biggest pleasure killers in bedrooms across America is porn: “When I say that porn is killing America’s sexual behavior, I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating.  I see the detrimental and grave effects of porn on men and women and their relationships every day in my office, and I hear about it every time I go on the radio.” Fisch explains that porn, when used in moderation and as part of mutually satisfying sexual relationship is like a dessert for couples to indulge in; however, he also says that porn addiction is a common problem and that when a man (or woman) is unable to “have sex” without porn, it is a problem for couples.  ”Watching porn is a passive experience–even if a man is masturbating to it, he is still watching other people on a screen” and “sex takes place without any emotional connection because it is wholly a fantasy.”   An addiction to porn can also lead to problems with expectations of what sex with another person should be like as well as feelings of inadequacy.

Fisch argues again and again, throughout the book that “it’s easy to fall in love or lust.  It’s a lot harder and takes a lifetime of determination . . . to maintain a wonderful, loving, stable, thriving and endlessly evolving relationship.”   In other words, having  a satisfying sex life involves work between couples and is more rewarding though not as easy as masturbation and engaging a porn habit.

Regarding cheating and affairs, Fisch quotes Rush Houston, infidelity expert: “The bottom line regarding infidelity is that men are cheating on their wives primarily for sexual reasons, while women are cheating on their husbands for emotional reasons.”   Still, as with other sexual problems, Fisch says that what leads to cheating is preventable and unnecessary.

In the second part of The Naked Truth, Fisch provides a communication manual for couples that they can use to improve their sex lives.   Fisch calls his method LSD or Listening + Security + Desire.  This was, for me, the most interesting part of the book.

The first chapter in this section is called “L is for Listening . . . So Shut the F**K Up.”   Fisch claims that these four words are what each man needs to tell himself for better communication in his relationship.   He writes: “The more a man can listen and listen well, the more his partner will know that he’s there for her, that he isn’t surreptitiously texting under the table, for example, or thinking about the game on TV when she’s looking for understanding and sympathy.”    He continues, “You’re not going to want to have sex when you feel your partner couldn’t be bothered about you.  But you will want to have a lot of sex when you’r perfectly attuned to each other, listening and acknowledging what each of you has to say.”

Fisch also includes tips for becoming great at listening, including “paying attention to what she is saying . . . looking at her when she is talking to you . . . not interrupting . . . counting silently in your head to ten until the impulse passes . . . deep breathing . . . understand[ing] that women don’t necessarily want or need their partner to jump in to solve their problems or suggest ways to fix things . . . and that listening is like practicing poker and understanding body language.

Fisch then shares an extensive list of techniques to improve one’s listening skills.  I’d say this is great list for both men and women to take a look at.

Regarding women, Fisch specifies ways that women can help their partners be better listeners.  He suggests women find time to talk when their partner isn’t preoccupied with something (say a troubling work day or major game on tv), speak up and speak simply (in other words, be concise), and repeat your statements when your partner doesn’t seem to understand what you’re getting at.

There is also a great section following this that Fisch recommends couples follow to create a safe sharing and talking environment.  Again, this is a great section for couples to read before they sit down to the talking and listening part of their relationship.    At the end of this chapter is a helpful exercise for couples called the “I need five things during sex” list.  It looks like this could really help couples talk about their satisfaction in the bedroom.

Fisch begins his section on communication with listening and then moves on to discuss the importance of security in relationships.  He starts off with talking about a couple’s feelings about money.  ”Money and chores make the marriage go round.  Whatever your financial situation, money is almost always going to be a huge component of your relationship.”    He also writes: “[You don't] need an enormous amount of money to feel secure.  What you need is confidence in your relationship so that you can create your own safe haven together, one where you can shut the door to the outside world and feel secure in your love for each other in the nest that you’re building.”

However, Fisch points out that isn’t just financial security that matters for a healthy sex life but trust. “Without trust, there can never be security.  Without security and trust, you can’t have the best sex of your life.”    Not sure how to create a trusting, secure relationship?   Fisch shares his five infallible rules for sexual security which include letting go of judgement, taking risks and feeling vulnerable, making sure your partner is pleased in the bedroom which will lead to a happier, more relaxed relationship, being a good listener, and acknowledging your partner’s desires.

To establish what your partner’s desires in the bedroom are, Fisch again recommends making a list, this time called “Five Things I Desire.”   Fisch then recommends that couples act on their desires.  He writes: “If you want great sex, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and have some fun!” Push some boundaries and discover your edge.  Trusting your partner to help you live out your fantasies is a brilliant way to reinforce how secure you feel with each other.”  Fisch notes that it’s important to have boundaries for the exploration of desires and that “a certain amount of compromising might be needed at first.”

In the epilogue to The New Naked, Fisch closes with a checklist for couples to review in their efforts to have more fun in the bedroom.

I really enjoyed reading The New Naked and I hope that this book winds up in the hands of many couples who deserve greater happiness.  If readers take anything away from The New Naked, it should be that good, fun and satisfying sexual relationships are the results of good communication, security within relationships, and exploring desire.  Enjoy!

 

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I work most Saturdays, which is okay with me because I love what I do.  I also love that I get to spend several afternoons a week with my kids, and I have the luxury of being able to both bring my kids to school, pick them up, and even pop into their classrooms now and again to volunteer.  Working on Saturdays is a small sacrifice when I think about the fact that not only do I get to spend a lot of time with my kids during the week but I also get to do work that I am passionate about.

Still, when for whatever reason, I get to have a full Saturday off, I relish it.  I sleep in, I drink my coffee slowly and savor each bite of my breakfast.  A Saturday becomes something like a Sunday in that I don’t have to eat my breakfast while I am driving somewhere.   And Sundays are one of my favorite days of the week, usually spent folding laundry, running with Phinn all around Ashburn, and then squeezing in a trip to the grocery store or meeting up with friends for dinner.

Since this weekend I get to spend both Saturday and Sunday with my family, I decided to sacrifice the slow breakfast and long Saturday morning and suggested a trip downtown with the kids.  And surprisingly, the kids, including two 7 year olds, agreed to willingly go into D.C. to spend a day at the museum.

My favorite museums are the art museums, but I haven’t been able to convince my other half to love them.  He’s more of a history and science buff, and well, I love history, so I negotiated for the American History museum.

Of course, rainy Saturday mornings in D.C. usually add up to lots of tourists and locals clogging up the national mall and filling up all the parking spots.  Matt dropped us off at the entrance and then spent the next twenty minutes finding parking.   While he found parking, I took the kids inside where we visited the Star Spangle banner exhibit.  It surprised me, but the kids were excited to see the old flag, the cannons, and rockets.  And they asked a lot of questions.  Which, being that I’m a talker and love an excuse to talk, is a great thing for me.  They ask questions and I get to be the all knowing mom who can impart a very broken understanding of American history.  But they don’t know that . . . shhh.

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Meanwhile, even though I do get see my kids all the time, I do deal with a significant amount of mommy guilt because I don’t photograph my kids as much as I used to.   What that meant is that I brought my camera with me and even took photos of while the kids were waiting on the benches inside the rest room.

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Once Matt got to the museum, we organized our time because that’s what Matt does.  I always joke that it’s because he’s a virgo–his need to take the lead and organize time, closets, and anything having to do with numbers.   I actually don’t mind it because I often find myself organizing our lives Monday through Friday.  It’s nice to have someone else dictate the schedule.  So, we divided up the morning between three exhibits: the Benedict Arnold exhibit and a revolutionary boat, a military history exhibit and of course, the first ladies’ dress exhibit (my favorite).    I’m pretty sure the kids liked seeing the revolutionary boat with its cannons, rope and wartime artifacts.

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On the walk back to the car, I sacrificed my hair to misty rain and frizz to take a few photos of the Smithsonian castle grounds and the kids wandering through it.   It was worth it.

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Unfortunately not everyone was happy about getting wet.  Levi was grumpy about that or something else.  Luckily, he’s still at an age where  a trip up on his dad’s shoulders make him smile again.

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And then it was time for lunch.  We chickened out of finding parking again in D.C. and instead and hopped on 66 to stop at the Reston Town Center for burgers at the Counter.  I inhaled a contradiction of a vegan burger loaded up with cheese (but at least I didn’t get bacon on it–sheesh).   Matt ordered a burger with a fried egg on top (it looked awesome and he said it tasted good too) and the kids all ordered kids’ burgers which were adorable (little mini burgers with cheese on top).

It was a good Saturday.  I’m so happy it rained.  And I’m excited too because it really is starting to feel like spring.

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This week we had a surprise visit from our nanny Sydney, who just came home for spring break from her college in South Carolina.   It was a complete surprise for the kids, as Sydney asked us to promise not to tell them.  They’ve been asking for her, and we’ve been face timing with her about once a week so the kids get a chance to see her and she can see them.  In the year and a half that she nannied for us, Sydney became like a big sister or aunt to the kids, and it wasn’t easy saying goodbye, even though we’re so happy for her.

When the doorbell rang, the kids ran to answer it like they always do and I was quick to grab my camera to catch a few shots of the action.

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When we made it to the kitchen, it was hard for the kids to break old habits.  They both immediately grabbed their most recent craft project to show her and to ask for help too.  I had to remind them that Sydney had come for a visit and that maybe they could get together to craft some other time.

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Of course, being the awesome gal that she is, Sydney had a busy day and our neighbors who’ve gotten to know her and work with her too wanted to visit too.  Before she headed out though, Annabelle begged Sydney to watch her ride her new electric Razor (which still gives me heart palpitations).  Levi rode his bike and Phinn was happy to get outside.  In fact, when Sydney did head down to the neighbors’ house, I took Phinn out on a long Sunday run.  He’s become my best running partner ever.  He usually keeps me company right at my side, but when I slow down, he usually gives a little pull to let me know to pick up my pace.

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Hopefully we’ll get to visit with Sydney a bit more before she heads back down to school next week.  We do love our current nanny Janelle, and I’m sure when she leaves for school later this summer, it’ll be a fun treat for us all to get to visit with her.

In the meantime, we’ll appreciate the time we have and go about our regular busy circus.  This week Annabelle competed in a Jump Rope for Heart event, Levi’s creating a Star Wars masterpiece with all the many vintage and new figurines that his Dad and Grandma have given him, I’m out running most days and jumping through hoops in preparation for a vendor show later this week, a senior session, and a glamour photo shoot.  Matt’s busy with work, as always, and is trying to get his book published.  And somehow, in between everything else that he’s doing, he’s experimenting with different portrayals of Moonlight Sonata, which is such an emotional piece that I’m begging him to move onto something more upbeat because I find myself nearing real tears whenever he plays it.

Last I’ll leave with a photo of Toby he came by to hang out with me one morning last week while I was photographing boutique products for my studio.  I couldn’t resist a photo of the Tobester.   He’ll turn 13 this April and he’s still looking good and going strong.  I almost think that his usual annoyance with Phinn has been good for him.  He likes to spook the dog whenever he walks by and I think that somehow it gives him a certain amount of satisfaction.    Who would’ve thought that adopting a dog would have been a good thing for a cat?

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So it looks like much of the rest of the month is going to be pretty busy.  We have St. Patty’s plans, birthday parties, art and swim class, work, work and more work, and the promise of days spent outside, especially on Sundays when we’re all home.  I’m crossing my fingers that March doesn’t turn into a lion and stays a lamb.

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I have felt the need to write the post that I am about to publish here for a long time.  What’s pushed me to finally press “publish” is a couple of things.  For the last year, my photography work has brought me closer and closer into contact with young adult women, some of whom would like to pursue modeling.  In my conversations with these young women, I’ve learned how many of them struggle with both feelings of empowerment and self hatred when it comes to their bodies.  At some shoots, I’ve told a young woman, “You are just so beautiful,” and she’ll look up surprised to answer, “I am?”   It saddens me when I see a young lady doubting her own beauty and strength.  I stand behind my camera and see them through a frame which, for me, captures their beauty.  Maybe it is because of my training as a portrait photographer, but my eye always looks for the beauty in my subject, whether it be their face, their form,  their eyes.

I’ve also felt that I should write a post like the one that I am about to share because as the clock ticks and the number of birthday candles on my cake grows, I’ve noticed my own body changing.  I notice that my clothes are tighter and that parts of my body that used to feel firmer and higher are, well, different.  I wish I could tell you that when I confront my changing body that I feel self love, that I am able to profess my appreciation for my body.  Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.  And it is something about myself that I am trying to change.

Recently, Annabelle, who is now seven, has overheard me making hateful comments about myself.  I’ll sigh in frustration as I stand before the mirror and curse myself for eating that extra piece of chocolate at dinner the night before because the legs of my pants are pulling and the button at my waist can barely close.  I’ll say, under my breath, “I am so fat.”  And my daughter will be in the background, plopped on my bed and watching me, and she’ll yell, “MOM!  Stop it!  YOU ARE NOT FAT!”

When I hear the small but strong voice of my seven year shouting to grab my attention to snap me out of my negativity, it is like a slap in the face.  It makes me feel ashamed that I am standing right in front of her setting an awful example.  It makes me feel sad that I sometimes struggle to see my own beauty.

So, because I want to change the way I see my own beauty and body and because I want to set a good example for my daughter and for the young women who I work with as a photographer, I’ve decided to tell my story.  So here goes:

The first time I felt ugly and fat was when I was eight years old.  My step father was watching me eat a bowl of ice cream and he said to my mother, “She really shouldn’t be eating that.  Don’t you think she’s had enough?”   I felt my cheeks flush when he said this because earlier that month, I’d had to go for a gown fitting for my uncle’s wedding.  When I pulled up the gown that had fit me just a few months earlier at the first gown fitting, the seamstress could barely zip it up.  I remember my aunt’s mother, who was Korean, saying in a strong accent, “Oh my!  So cute!  So chubby!  You get so chubby!”  If an eight year old can feel mortified, I am fairly certain that that is how I felt.  It was around age eight that I started to understand that how I looked could be a problem for some adults in my life.

When I turned nine, my mom and step dad moved us four states away to be closer to my step  dad’s parents, who were aging.  We packed up our things and made the four and half hour drive to Connecticut.  I remember climbing into the car with my mom and Mikey, who was my step father’s dad, and feeling so sad to have to leave everything and everyone who was familiar to me.  As we drove away from the hills of Pennsylvania to the mountains of Connecticut, I felt afraid.

In Connecticut, we arrived to my step dad’s house.  His mother had just died of cancer and my mom and he were trying to decide whether to rebuild and repair his parents house or to begin construction on a new home somewhere nearby.  He wanted to live closer to his dad Mikey because Mikey was in his eighties, was in poor health and had no idea how to take care of himself.  I remember that his idea of a good meal was to drive to the Duchess fast food chain and order something that was fried.  Looking back on how my parents decided to take care of Mikey, I really admire them. It isn’t easy to care for an older parent.  In the years that they had ahead as a newly married couple they’d adjust to living in a house under construction (because we ended up living in Mikey’s house and rebuilding it to add on an addition and to remodel everything else), caring for an elderly man whose care became increasingly more demanding, and they’d have to take care of my sister and me.  To say it was hard is an understatement.

I already really liked to snack and when we moved to Connecticut to adjust to a new place, new people,and entirely new circumstances, I snacked more and more.  I remember when school started, all of my classmates were so curious to meet me: the new girl.  I was in fourth grade and yet I remember that I had two boys ask me if I would be their “girlfriend” during that first week of school.  I also remember receiving phone calls from said boys and my step dad telling me that I wasn’t allowed to talk with them and that I needed to help with chores around the house instead.  Specifically, I was helping with construction.  Each day after school, my sister and I would do our homework and then we’d have to carry bundles of wood from the back of my step dad’s truck into the house.  He was laying hardwood floors through the entire house, which meant that the task of being gopher fell to us kids.

I’m not sure how it happened because I don’t remember feeling particularly sad or having the urge to eat, but by the time I was in sixth grade, I was the fat girl in class.

By middle school, my weight was out of control.  I envied the other girls in my class who could shop at boutiques like 5-7-9 and Contempo Casuals.  I was happy that Contempo carried larger sizes like a 13 or that department stores like JC Penneys and Hechts had ladies’ sizes, which worked better for my already curvy figure.  I also remember one Christmas  I opened presents of beautiful clothing that my mother had bought for me, but that when I held them up, I knew that I wasn’t going to fit into them.  She begged me to go upstairs to my room to try them on and I remember wanting to hide because I couldn’t even pull the pants up over my knees.

And the saying that kids are cruel is well, true.  I remember lots of comments, mostly from boys, about the size of my butt.  To this day, I do not have a small butt, though I will say that I have come to appreciate my butt, and as my husband tells me, in his humorous way,my butt is one of my greatest assets.  I like to think that he’s right about that.

When I think about middle school and even high school, I have  more compassion for the boys who made hurtful comments.  Now that I have a little boy and I’ve had more experience around teenagers, I understand that boys are dealing with hormones and their own insecurities, however, I still wonder that parents and teachers during that time in my life didn’t do more to reign in the bad behavior that went on and that caused a lot of pain for me and likely for many other young women at that time.  Some of my friends were supportive and would tell me to ignore the hurtful words.  Still, there were other girls who I remember I considered close friends, who would join in one the harassment.   To this day, I still have trouble forgiving them for it.  It is worse, at least in my eyes, when it is those who you really care about who are putting you down.

Eventually though, I had to do something about my weight, and it wasn’t because of peer pressure or because I didn’t want to be bullied at school.  At the end of middle school, I decided to try out for softball and part of the sign up process required a physical.  At my physical, my very sweet and kind elderly doctor told me, “Dear, you need to lose some weight, or your heart will not be healthy.”  He prescribed a diet for me and I walked out of his office scared for my life.  I would say, if I were being interviewed by Oprah, that this was my A-hah moment.  I was determined to get healthier.

My mother brought me to a GNC store where we picked up vitamins and supplements.  I started eating more vegetables and fruits, fewer fried foods and less cereal (which I remember being a large staple of my childhood and young adult diet).   It took the following four years, but I lost  40 lbs between middle school and graduation.   By the time I walked across the stage at graduation, I was able to wear a little black dress and I felt beautiful.  To be blunt, I had also let go of wanting approval from the crowd that had bullied me earlier in high school.  I focused on having fun with a great group of friends who I had made in track and cross country.  I was athletic, graduating at the top of my class, and ready to take on the world at college.

What we can never anticipate though is what life has in store for us.  The summer before college I fell in love with an older guy.  And it was wonderful.  Of course, as most of us know, when you fall in love, your head gets wrapped up in the moment and you can lose sight of things, like friends, grades, etc.  And when you fall out of love and you look around at what is left of your life, well, it’s a real bummer.

So I had this whirlwind of a relationship with said older guy and meanwhile I was attending college on an academic scholarship that required a 3.0 GPA.  That first semester I struggled but I did finish with a 3.9  Which wasn’t too shabby since I had to spend a week in the hospital due to a kidney infection . . .

Anyway, as we know, not all love stories end happily.   When we broke up, I lost so much weight.  I guess it was heartbreak.  But what sticks out to me is that as I started to lose weight, I got a positive response.  People would tell me that I looked great.

And my coping mechanism to deal with the breakup, the pressure of keeping my grades up, and being on my own at college (though I did commute, it was the most freedom I had yet experienced in life), I focused on losing more weight.  I grew thinner and thinner until about  a year had passed and I was sixty pounds thinner than I had been when my weight loss had started.  My parents sat me down and asked me what was going on.  They wanted to know whether I needed professional help.  But even after that conversation, I remember feeling proud of achieving a fit, thin body.  It was the first time in my life that I had ever been smaller than my mother and sister, both of who had never struggled with their weight and who were able to eat all the junk food that always put weight on me just by looking at it.  I was lost to this image of myself thought because all of my time was spent fixating on food, my next workout, and of course, working, which I became obsessed with.

I started to see a therapist to talk about things.  There were so many issues tied up in my weight.  At that age, I remember blaming the media for its emphasis on models like Twiggy and Kate Moss.  The gaunt look was in and as a young woman I wanted to be hip and thin too.   Kirstie Alley was a curvy actress but even she was always swearing off her curvy look with the Jenny Craig commercials.  Looking back I also know that I was still struggling to accept the changes I’d experienced in my childhood when my parents divorced, the changes that went with merging into a new family with my step dad (who loved me a great deal but whose criticism also affected my self confidence), the out of state move away from my mother’s family, the cruelty and bullying that went on at school when I was overweight, and then the breakup with my first love.

For the first time in my life, I started to try to eat more. I’d experiment with eating what I’d consider forbidden foods, like pasta.  I moved on campus and lived in a suite with three other women, who were all shapes and sizes.  I ran most mornings with one roommate while my other two roommates would spend their nights cooking amazing Caribbean food.   I wouldn’t say that I was “CURED” by any measure, though I will say that I was never diagnosed as having an eating disorder.  In therapy, I learned that what I was struggling with was disordered eating.

By the time I met my husband, I was still thin but on a better track with my eating and exercise habits.  Between work and school, I had to cut some exercise out of my life and because I was more social, I was going out and eating (and drinking, :-)) more.  Within two years, I’d gained about twenty pounds.

And while I won’t say that I have ever felt total self love and acceptance for my figure, I was able to stay healthy with my eating and exercise habits.  To this day, I make sure that I exercise most days, but I don’t forbid myself anything that I want.  Which is the key for me.  I ask myself, do I want this?

Through two pregnancies I was able to eat healthy and though Annabelle was born early at 37 weeks, she was still a good sized baby.  Levi was born later and was a larger baby, but with both pregnancies, I felt like I was able to treat my body well and give my babies the nutrition they needed to develop.

Almost five years now since my last pregnancy, I am just a few pounds heavier than I was when I initially gained weight at the end of college.   But I am so much more appreciative of my body.  I recently pulled a hamstring in a yoga class and it hurt like nobody’s business.  But I let it heal and I pulled back with my routine.  Eventually my hamstring healed.   Then just a week ago I fell hard on my knee while moving a heavy piece of furniture.  I stood up and limped over to the stairs uncertain whether I’d strained a ligament . . . I couldn’t bend my knee.  Luckily an urgent care doctor ruled out a break or strain and within two days I was walking normally and able to bend my knee.  In fact this week I started training for a 10K and my knee has felt good on runs.  When I think about what my body can do, I feel strong and powerful.  My body has birthed two babies, run hundreds (maybe thousands?) of miles, achieved challenging poses in yoga and carried me through shoot after shoot for my job.  Oh, and it has also carried two small children around for over 7 years now.  Which is not too shabby, right?

Moving forward, I know I am not going to be perfect.  I’m not sure I will ever be able to look into a mirror and say, “Damn, you’re gorgeous!”  But I will do better when it comes to the words that come out of my mouth.  I will also have to react to my negative thoughts the way my seven year old did and tell myself to STOP it.

Ladies, young and old, let us eat, drink and be merry.  Let us celebrate our bodies, our health, and our love for ourselves.  Let us choose kindness in words and action, and let us set a better example.  Our little girls are watching us.  Let’s teach them to love themselves.

 

 

 

 

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