Monday, February 25, 2013

I envy parents of "those kids" more than the parents of the "good kids"

I used to be so envious of the parents of those kids. You know, "those kids." The ones who play high school football. Who are regulars on the honor roll. Who have the lead in the play, or whose team goes to State, or who are recognized for their prolific musical talents. Who are already taking pre-college level courses because they want to get a jump on whatever magnificent thing they want to be at whatever prestigious university so they are studying their asses off in order to get a stellar ACT score.

I see pictures these proud parents post on Facebook - and rightly so. Usually it's a photo of some kid holding a trophy or  medal or certificate and smiling, sometimes with his arms around his mom and/or dad. So proud.

I always think to myself, a) What are these parents doing that I'm not doing and b) what is the difference between these kids and my kid and c) does it really matter and d) Why do I assume that these adults are such better parents than I am just because their kids are "successful" and e) am I that shallow that this really bothers me?

I'm beginning to think that the parents I should model myself after are the ones who raise tough kids. Kids who aren't on the sports team, or in the band, or the play. The parents of the kids not on the honor roll, and who don't like having their pictures taken with their parents - anytime. The kids who may test the boundaries of their parents' rules by breaking them on a regular basis. Because I'm one of those parents. And I don't know why. I feel like I have done everything a good parent is supposed to do - I don't know what I've done differently than all the "successful" kids' parents. I have a good kid at the heart; I just wonder what it takes to be like those "other" families.

It's kind of like before you had kids, you'd see that crying toddler in the store and look at his mom and think, "Why can't she quiet that kid?" Same thing now. Sometimes I wonder if people look at my teenager and think, "What didn't she do that made him act the way he acts?" "He's so smart - why doesn't he apply himself?" "He's so good looking - but what's with that hair?" Maybe they don't. Although he doesn't play sports or isn't on the honor roll, he's a nice kid to adults. (And his hair is pretty awesome.) His teachers and others who meet him are generally charmed by him. I've been told he's polite, respectful, insightful and humorous. So I'm doing something right, right?

But what about the rest of it? Will he be that nondescript, long-haired kid in the background of some random lunchroom photo in the yearbook? Will he look back on his teenage years with regret or indifference? What's the ratio of "overachievers" to "underachievers" in high school and the percentage of those who go on to be successful in life? Is he just a late bloomer who's still struggling to find his way? Will he ever turn to the camera, smile and wave and mouth the words, "Hi, Mom!"?

For all the PTOs and room mom meetings and cliques of parents who work concessions at tennis matches and carpool to soccer games and have club parties and whatnot, there should be a mom's group for the kids who are not - or do not. For the moms of kids who are not in sports, or in clubs, or on the honor roll. The moms of good kids who aren't the great kids because they have yet to find their way. For the moms who feel guilty for wanting their kid to be that kid when they should just feel proud of who they are.

For the moms who struggle every day with the decisions their kids continue to make, and the buttons they continue to push. For the moms who lie awake at night worrying about what's going to happen next. Who search their brains for a solution  - of how to stop what's going on. How to "fix" things. How to divert him from a muddy path onto a smooth, paved one. How to be that parent whose kid puts their arm around and smiles for a trophy photo.

My son and me - when he let me hold him.
I know it's a lot to ask. I love my son. I love him so very much. But I'm not a supermom. I've left no stone unturned to try to ignite him a passion for something. Sports. Scholastic. Band. Church. Clubs. Hobbies. Volunteerism. Nothing sticks. And it's tough to see the kids cheering each other on the sidelines at the game, or crowding around each other to solve a problem, or coming together to help someone in need, or attending a youth group event. Because I want so much for that to be my kid. I want so much for him to feel a part of a group; like he belongs to something good and real. Not for me. For him.

But he doesn't. Maybe it's his choice. Maybe I pushed too hard. Maybe I didn't push hard enough. I'll never know. Someday he'll probably have some criticism for my parenting (which I'll give more weight than the criticism he deals out now.) Then maybe I'll gain some insight. In the meantime, my proud moments are when we can laugh in the car together. Or watch TV in the same room. Or sit down to a meal he actually finishes. You know, the small stuff that maybe doesn't warrant a shoutout on Facebook, but makes me sleep well at night nonetheless.

I have a good kid. I'm a good parent. God has something special in store for both of us; he's just not picking right now to show it to us. That's OK - I'll be patient. Even if my son doesn't have faith, I do. Enough for the both of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Capacity of Love

I'm never in a very good place at this time of year. Valentine's Day is second only to Christmas as an over-commercialized, too high of expectations, set-up-to-fail kind of day that I just can't wait to be over. But amidst all of the perfect couples exchanging jewelry, flowers, and other nonsensical whatnots to prove to each other that they didn't forget this magical holiday of mushiness, I do have a few things to say on the topic of love. God knows I'm no expert. In fact, I've failed miserably. But there are a few things I've learned along the way that I can share.

Love, in any way, shape or form, is about capacity. Your capacity. His capacity. Her capacity. The love that two people have for each other can be an incredible love, but if one or the other doesn't have the capacity to recognize the other person's needs (after the basic expectations have been met,) then that relationship will never be what it needs to be.

Let me clarify. I mean "after the basic expectations have been met" in the most basic sense. For example, there's a mutual attraction. They're of an acceptable age, height, hair color, body style, or whatever visual criteria you have. You're on the same page with the things that are important to you, such as wanting kids/not wanting kids, religious and political views, career goals, etc. That's what I mean by "the basic expectations."

Capacity is, for all intents and purposes, their ability to "get" you - above and beyond "expectations." To recognize - not necessarily fulfill or even understand - but recognize your innermost needs so important to you that you would rather be without someone than have these needs go unfulfilled. Unfortunately, you can be with someone whom you deeply love, who meets and perhaps exceeds all of your criteria, but who lacks the capacity to recognize what you truly need.

In my opinion, this is when some long-term relationships come to an end. The short-term relationships never have a chance to get to capacity. The long-terms have the potential, and can go one of two ways. You can grow to learn about each other and develop the capacity needed to recognize the needs of your partner, or you can struggle through and just never really "get it." Why? You just don't have the capacity.

See, it's no one's fault. Either you got it, or you don't. For example, everyone has that friend whom they can tell ANYTHING to. ANYTHING. She's always there for you, she understands when you're being stupid, silly, bitchy, depressed or overjoyed. She "gets" you. On the other hand, you can have a very good friend whom you DON'T tell everything to. She might be the friend who tells YOU everything, but tables turned, she just doesn't have the CAPACITY to be that friend YOU can confide in. Make sense?

Love relationships are the same way. I can look back at all of my failed relationships and see where either I or my partner or both of us didn't have the capacity to recognize what the other person wanted or needed. In my marriage, I wanted more than anything to have a stable home life and to raise my kids around family and friends in the town where I was most comfortable. That's what I thought I signed up for. When things changed, I tried to roll with the punches. I really wanted to roll with the punches. Other women did it - why couldn't I? In the end, I just didn't have the capacity. As hard as I tried, I couldn't make that life change successfully, and during the time I was trying, my husband at the time didn't have the capacity to help me through it. In the end, it broke us both.

My most recent relationship lasted four years. I loved him immensely. Actually, I never thought I would ever feel the way about someone the way I felt about him. I truly loved him. I respected him. I admired him. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. And I believe he felt the same way about me. Our ideals seemed to align - we felt the same way on a variety of important topics and issues. But I came to realize his life was very different than mine; his priorities were different. His work was what made him who he was - it certainly defined him.

He told me I was his "island" - his "escape" from the stresses of work and school. He wasn't my "escape." He was a part of my life. I made a huge move to another city to be with him, but in the end, I didn't have the capacity to live in a world away from my friends and family, where I was just his "island." He didn't have the capacity to understand what I truly needed - to be a priority in his life - not just an "escape." I didn't have the capacity to understand the magnitude of his work and how much of his life it required - or that he chose for it to require. He didn't have the capacity to let go a little - to not make life such an afterthought; to know that you can agree to disagree without getting angry; to remember national holidays. In the end, it was hard to let go because of the depth of my love for him. But I knew long before it ended that our capacities were not aligned, and probably never would be.

I sometimes wonder if, like my expectations, my desire for capacity is too high. I look at my parents - married more than 50 years, and wonder if they understand each other's capacities. Obviously, no one person can fulfill your every need; that's why you have family, friends and other relationships. But at the end of the day, the person whom you spend your life with should be the person you can look at and not wish for more. That person should have the capacity to make you have no regrets. That no problem is insurmountable. That the "next thing" isn't going to be the thing that breaks you.

I may never find someone who has the capacity to recognize what's important to me, or have the capacity to recognize what's important to him. Maybe it goes hand in hand with my "too high of expectations." It certainly sucks to find someone who exceeds your expectations but lacks capacity. I've also discovered the opposite, where the person completely recognizes capacities, but doesn't meet basic expectations. That makes me feel like a heel. But, like a hopeless romantic, I won't stop hoping someday I'll have the best of both worlds. Until then, I still believe this quote: “Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.” And I won't settle for anything less.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I WON'T do for a great body

I was skinny once.

Actually, three times. The first time was puberty. Ages 7 to about 13, I was awkwardly lanky, with long legs and a physique more in line what you would consider a boy rather than a girl. In fact, with my curly hair cropped shorter than short by my mother's hand, I was often mistaken for one. I waited with bated breath for my womanhood to appear - it's only a matter of time, I told myself, before I'll be wearing those thin, silky bras like my sister and have a tiny, circular waist that guys will just love to put their arms around.

I'm still waiting.

The only other two times I've ever been "skinny" were event-induced. The second time was post-divorce. You know, that time in your life when you finally look the way you've wanted to look for years but are in absolutely no mood to do anything with it. The third time was also relationship-based. Couldn't eat, looked fabulous, didn't care. Not the best combination.

My BMI is somewhere between Maria Sharapova and Sylvester Stallone.
I've never been grossly overweight. According to my BMI, I'm "normal." But like many women, I have a very poor body image and pretty much always have. I joke that I don't even like to SHOWER naked. I wish my mirrors were only from the neck up, and sometimes even that's too much. I keep waiting for age and time to "make me love and accept my body" but it's just not happening. I seem to have an ample lower body (read BUTT.) Either that or my upper body is ridiculously disproportionate and makes my lower body SEEM ample. In fact, my mother recently told me (kid you not), "You're so lucky that behinds like Beyonce's and JLo's are in style now."

Really? And what happens when they go OUT of style? Am I screwed? Apparently.

Turning 40 was a wonderful thing in many ways. I looked forward to it; I was ready for it. What I wasn't prepared for was that my metabolism would come to a screeching halt, and what I considered before to be a meager diet of basic sustenance would now be considered gluttony. What before was an exercise regimen fit for an Olympian would now be categorized as "sedentary." The ratio of physical exercise to basic nutrition necessary to maintain my optimum weight is so skewed that I have come to hate even looking in the mirror.

My eating habits aren't stellar, but they're not bad, either. I often look a the restaurant commercials for Friday's or Applebee's or Hardees and think, "I would never eat that." And I don't. However, if I do go to a restaurant, I'm probably more inclined to order a burger and fries than the plank salmon and rice. I'm not a cook, nor do I play one on TV. But I also don't eat what my kids eat. Oftentimes, I fix their fried/microwaved/boiled whatever then sit down with a bowl of edamame or a baked potato with spray butter.

Snacks for me are usually an apple with peanut butter or carrots and hummus. I rarely go out to lunch during the week and bring in my Lean Cuisine/SmartOnes/Healthy Choice cardboard of the day or a can of soup. And breakfast? Coffee and oatmeal. Or a bagel thin with peanut butter. I pass on the Trefzger's danishes at work, I haven't eaten one Girl Scout cookie, and the snacks at my desk include dry pretzels and maybe some low-fat Cheez-its. On the weekends, I may imbibe in more than my share of beers, which I'm sure doesn't help. But it's not like it's a nightly thing.

I've tried keeping a food diary. I've tried counting calories. Watching my carbs. I'll admit I have a weakness for some of the junk food I allow in my house on occasion for my kids, like potato chips. I've also been known to eat an entire sleeve of saltines in one sitting. I'm definitely not one who can keep a full jar of chocolates at my desk. Occasionally I do. But not for long.

I exercise; sometimes in spurts, but I try for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I took up running in September, and have been doing it pretty regularly, running two 5K races and even doing a 10K on my own a couple of weeks ago. My knees hate me - actually, the rest of my body isn't real thrilled with me either. But my beef (which I also rarely eat) is that since I started running, I have not lost ONE POUND. And don't give me that "muscle weights more than fat" bullshit, because the mirror don't lie. Nor do my jeans that I have to squeeze into every day. Not to mention the ones that are at the bottom of the pile until I can "fit into them again".

I'll continue running, but not as regularly. It's just not giving me the results I want. Honestly, walking fast feels a lot more productive, at least in my lower body, and my knees don't scream at me when I'm done. I'm getting back into strength training, which I enjoy, and I may even try to supplement that with a little Pilates. My issue is motivation at home, since I don't belong to a gym, and time. The odds of me consistently getting up early to exercise are slim (I wish) to none, but I do have about a 45 minute window when I get home from work when the kids are off doing their things before dinner that I try to dedicate to getting my sweat on.

It's just frustrating that now, at age 46, I seem to have to work so hard for so little result. It doesn't help that many of my friends have awesome bods. True, some haven't birthed two ginormous babies. Some are fitness instructors and freakin' work out more in a day than I do all week. So not only do I have to try to keep up with the Joneses, I'm single and not getting any younger. The middle age spread isn't going to help my chances out there any, that's for sure. There's only so many guys who will love me for my brain and awesome personality.

I've exhausted all the possibilities except one. Weight Watchers. I never thought it would come to this, but it's come to this. And in researching the myriad of weight loss options out there, WW always comes out on top. So I'm going to try it. No, not going to meetings where I stand up and say, "Hi, I'm Amy and I have a weight problem" and they all say, "Hiiiii, Amy......." but the online version where hopefully they'll tell me how much to put in my piehole and I'll keep track of it, which will in turn motivate me to exercise more and see if I can turn back time and give this metabolism a kick start.

Can I get my 13 year old body back? Definitely not. Would I like my post-divorce/relationship body back? It'd be nice, now that I'd be in a place to enjoy it. But to do that would require me to eat NOTHING and also sleep very little and generally be miserable all the time. I'm over doing that. For now, I'll just keep trying to change things up until I find that magic nutrition and exercise regimen that works for me for the long haul.

Wish me luck, and feel free to share any tips of your own. Remember, we're all in this together (except for you skinny bitches - get out of here and go eat a sandwich.)