What are you trying to win?

I recently read the amazingly funny book You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein which led me down a rabbit hole of reading other funny things she produced and wrote. Klein is the head writer on the Amy Schumer show and the writer of this sketch about a group of pregnant women sitting around trying to one up each other about how natural their births are going to be. If you don’t watch it I’ll give you the gist here:

Woman 1: I’m giving birth into a tub of organic quinoa

Woman 2: Oh, yeah, I’m giving birth on top of a high peak in Nepal to get away from western medicine. My doula is a Sherpa.

Woman 3:My doula is a 3 month old baby so she really gets it.

You get the idea. Klein mentions this in light of a friend of hers who asked her once when she was complaining about something child or career related and comparing herself to others -what are you trying to win? I think it’s a good question to ask oneself any time you get overly worked up in comparing yourself to others.

I thought about it a lot this summer when I was on the beach observing teenage girls and young women taking photos of themselves. I work with middle school kids. I’m well aware of the influence of social media and selfie culture. But I was still grossed out by the number of young women I saw spending all their time on the beach getting the perfect shot.

Who am I to judge?

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I included this picture that I’m sure a friend took of me in my bedroom at age 16. The poster, the hair, the come hither expression. I have no doubt that if I were a teenager today I would have posted this. Ugh, it grosses me out to even think about it. But that’s what the kids do. They work hard at posting. The various groups of young women I observed spent almost their entire beach time  working on getting the perfect -casual, sexy, good time image. If I were a kid not included in this outing, I would look at that picture and think, “Everyone is having a good time without me. My life sucks.”

As adults we’re not immune to this either. How many times have you looked at the photos someone else posts on instaface and thought to yourself, “Their vacation is so much better than mine. My life sucks.” A friend of mine recently posted pictures of her camping trip with two young kids. As a caption she added that the pictures did not include her driving home because they forgot the sleeping bags or the time spent chasing their fire-obsessed one year old away from the campfire. I really appreciate these attempts at realism. It made me appreciate and more fully understand her experience.

But why shouldn’t we curate our best lives on social media? No one wants to go to a museum and see all of Picasso’s crappy failure paintings? Right? Maybe not. I was recently given the gift of The Moth -a paperback version of 50 stories from the storytelling podcast. In the introduction I came across this gem, “The number one quality of great storytellers is their willingness to be vulnerable, their ability to tell on themselves.” Maybe it is in fact our rainy days, our toddler meltdowns, our flabby bellies that make the better story and endear us to those we love.

When we curate and photoshop our lives the way advertisers photoshop women’s bodies do we make ourselves as unattainable and unrelatable? Are we losing the present moment because we’re so busy composing the perfect shot? And to what end?

What are we trying to win?

I don’t know. I do know that I spent last weekend away from my family with plenty of time to mull these things over. I went for a walk on Sunday morning down a long scenic country road. At one point a deer walked out right in front of me. So of course, I reached for my phone.

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Like an Unnatural Woman

I’ve been a food shopping human for long enough to know that the word “natural” means just about nothing on a food label. Everything is “natural” these days from Greek yogurt to gummy bears.  And I honestly don’t care that much about the perversion of the word to sell everything from cheese puffs to chicken nuggets. But there’s another place where the word does bother me and that’s when it’s used to describe childbirth.

I had my second child just about 4 months ago and following his birth I went to what I call “baby class” just as I did with his now almost 5 year old sister. This class is run by an incredible organization that facilitates new mom’s groups, breast-feeding groups, and childbirth classes.

As I sat in the first class and listened to each mom share a bit about her birth experience I realized for the first time what I would realize many times in subsequent classes; that my perspective as a second-time parent would change pretty much everything, including way I related to my classmates. I listened again and again as nearly every woman there (who didn’t require a c-section) stressed how great she felt about having a “natural” childbirth. And if she did have a c-section there was a lot of regret about having missed out on natural childbirth -I’ll drop the quotes at this point because I hope you get my point -the word means everything and nothing.

I had a natural childbirth when my first child was born. My daughter came into the world after 31 long hours of labor. I told myself all along that I was open to using whatever pain meds I felt were necessary. I’ve never been a martyr when it comes to pain. But through out the experience I just kept feeling like, well it’s not so bad now. I suppose I can take it a bit longer. And then I couldn’t. Then I was in the final hour sitting on the medieval torture device known as a birthing stool and explaining to my midwife (by screaming and growling) that there had to be another way to get this baby out. I think I actually told her she was going to have to “reach up there” and pull it out herself. I know I’m not the first, or last woman, to feel this way. That was my natural child birth experience.

And even though I nourished that same morsel of pride about the drugs/interventions I’d refused, childbirth, that time, was something I felt I only barely survived. I did not feel especially positive about the experience, nor empowered by it. It did not help matters that a week later I fell into the chemically imbalanced world of post partum depression –which I spent the next few months trying to claw my way out of. My brain and hormones went there completely naturally. And it would take the so-called unnatural world of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants to help pull me out.

Before post partum depression I never would have described myself as someone who lived with anxiety. Now I can’t imagine how I didn’t see it. My whole life I’ve managed my anxiety and I’ve managed pretty well. Most people who meet me or know me would not describe me as an anxious person (that’s how good I am at managing and that’s how little people really understand about anxiety). I know I spent a lot of time managing and strategizing around anxiety. That was living my life naturally.

I feel very lucky to live my life differently now. I guess I think that this line we draw between ourselves and the natural world is pretty fuzzy. We are of nature and a lot of our so called man-made products make life a lot better and easier for ourselves and even occasionally our fellow creatures. Don’t get me wrong we do a lot to foul up the planet for ourselves and our co-inhabitants but I’m pretty sure a sweet and powerful epidural isn’t high on that list.

So back to baby number two. After the hell I went through post partum I still ended up wanting another one. And the one thing I knew about this experience is that I wanted it to be different than the first. I did a lot of things differently. I front-loaded some of the meds that helped me after my daughter was born. I arranged to have my placenta encapsulated to I could eat it after my son was born (talk about natural!!!) And I arranged for my parents to help out for an entire month after the birth.

But ultimately, the thing that really helped me have a completely different birth experience was that epidural.  The first five hours of my son’s birth were strikingly similar to my daughter’s -the contractions this time even faster and more intense. Once I had the epidural everything changed. I was able to laugh and joke and be myself. I was able to be present with what was going on in my body even though I wasn’t able to feel every ripple of every contraction. I asked my mom to join me in the room as he came into the world because I wasn’t worried about her worrying about me. And as I pushed -yes you still have to push and it’s trickier when you can’t feel as much of your body -him into the world, I sang. Yes, I sang a Johnny Cash tune. Because why the hell not? I felt good and powerful and present with my body. And those words are so much more important and meaningful to me -whether or not they are natural.

Without a Map

Ski woods Today, New Year’s Day, I took to the woods for some cross-country skiing.  I went to a local farm where you can pay a few bucks for “25 km of groomed terrain”. This my second time skiing there -the first time was only hours after a blizzard and their snowmobile/groomer had broken down -right mired in snow (as we say here in Maine). A friend and I managed to get hopelessly lost as we tried to follow the map and avoid stumbling in the 4 foot drifts.

This time as I set out on a bright cold morning, I was determined to follow the map and learn the trails. I like maps. My brother teases me about my excessive map-looking when we go hiking together. I can’t help it. There’s just something I like about having my path confirmed by a little piece of paper. Today it quickly became apparent that this was not entirely possible. Many trails were miss-labeled or unlabeled. Some were even labeled with two different names. A few trails were labeled with names that did not appear on the maps. It also seemed that whomever did the grooming enjoyed changing the trails at his/her whim.

My first reaction was annoyance. I was plotting exactly what I was going to say when I checked in at the warming hut at the end of my ski. But after a little while I realized that map or no map I was having a pretty good time. The woods were crusted with sparkling ice, the snow was dotted with animal tracks and there was little noise aside from the occasional overhead crack of a pine branch.

(I should add that this is a relatively small farm, bordered very clearly by roads and powerlines. There was very little chance of my getting lost in the wilds of Westbrook, Maine.) It didn’t really matter if I could follow the map. Instead, if a trail looked good, I followed it. If it looped back on itself, well then I chose another way to go. I had a great time and it was a good reminder that even for us type A map-followers, a little time off the grid can be good for us.

2013 has been a pretty damn good year. I look forward to 2014 as the year my first published book will arrive in the world. Along with that comes a lot of territory for which I do not have a map. In fact there are many experiences in life for which we do not have maps, or the ones we have provide, at best, a false sense of security. Sometimes it’s good to choose your way based on the best information you have on hand and a sense of play and adventure.

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Birthday Bonanza!

Those of you who know me, even just a little, know that I generally like to make a big ole stink out of my birthday. Rose petal parade, costume dance party, scavenger hunt, nothing is really off limits. This year, my hiking  (but please no camping) buddy declared June 30th-July 7th the week of the birthday! And it’s been a rather marvelous week. In fact, tonight when I went to blow out my candles, I realized that I didn’t have anything to wish for. Not for lack of imagination (still hoping for a silver pony) but because I think birthday wishes should be reserved for something truly special and my life is pretty full of wonderful right now.

So I thought I would share, in list form, a few of the things that made this week birthday-rific.

  • Swedish fish and junky magazines
  • Hiking Dorr Mountain and the crazy summit winds
  • Not passing up a swim in the “heated” pool
  • Beach time with my family
  • Writing and reading time
  • Seadogs biscuits (ice cream cookie sandwich at the ballpark -for you non-Portlanders) and friends at the ballpark
  • Tacos
  • My Little Free Library IOU (more on that later)
  • An email with the almost finalized version of the cover for my book!!

(Warning, cheesiness coming) So, because I couldn’t think of anything to wish for, I made my standard birthday wish -for peace in the world and peace within myself.  I know, I know, I should take this act to the Miss America pageant. Though I think technically once you’re married you have to enter Mrs. America which always makes me think of mom jeans and baking contests. And I do make a mean Pillsbury Crescent Roll!

Seriously though, inner peace is not something I take  for granted. Last summer was a challenging one for me and the months that followed, even more so. I am grateful to be where I am and feel how I feel on this day.

Here is a windy, grinning selfie  from the top of Dorr Mountain. (Sorry T.I. I know this wasn’t your best hair moment of the trip.)  Happy Birthday to me!

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Long time, no blog

I could offer excuses, but I won’t bother.  None of them are interesting or original.

I’m back at work in the past few days, and trying to achieve some sort of balance between my mothering world and my working world.  So far, so good.  Even though it feels hard and overwhelming at times, it also feels right.  Teaching is always a good source of blog material.  I asked my students on an introductory questionnaire, if they could have any super power what would it be?

Me: So what did you write down for your super power?

Student: Migrating!

Me: (impressed) Really?  Wow, cool choice!  Yeah you could just flap your arms and fly south!

Student: (annoyed) No, not migrating, mind-reading!

Time to get my ears checked.

Camping

I’m off for a long weekend of camping.  I think it will be good to get away from all technology for a few days.  Last week I took an amazing class at USM with Alice Barr.  It was all about how to incorporate web 2.0 tools and skills into your classroom.  I learned a ton, but also developed serious butt calluses from sitting in front of a screen for eight hours a day.  I’m ready to commune with mutha nature.

We’re heading north to the Cobscook Bay State Park which is a beautiful and under-visited campground near the Canadian border.  There are a ton of great hiking trails in the area.