Someone You Used to Know

 

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Dear Friend of Mine,

There is no kind way to say this, but when you told me you’re having a baby, I was sad. Hopefully I said the right words, gushed appropriately, paid careful attention while you talked about your upcoming foray into parenthood. It isn’t personal and I’m glad you’re getting something you (presumably) want, but while you think you’re sharing your joy, all I hear is the sound of scissors snipping the fabric of our friendship in two. You can tell me that things won’t change. I sincerely hope you know that’s a lie, albeit one born of kindness and good intentions. In truth, I’d worry if things didn’t change. I believe in you and know you’ll be a wonderful parent and that’s how I know I’m losing you.

You can tell me that we’ll still spend time together, but I know I’ll be lucky to see you more than once a year. When I do see you, it will be for a hurried coffee or maybe lunch (but probably not – that would take too long). Most likely you’ll have the kid in tow (because that’s how parenthood is supposed to work) so our conversation will have maybe 10% of your attention and I will sit there and pretend to be entertained by the little person requiring the other 90%. I’ll do it, though, because I love you and I miss you. And because I love you, I’ll love your baby too. You’ll tell stories that are familiar, not because I understand, but because I’ve heard them many times before from other friends. I won’t have anything intelligent to share in return. Even though you don’t mean to make me feel that way, and though I believe you are genuinely interested in my life, I will feel that what I have to share is a frivolous demonstration of my own selfishness. Instead I’ll tell you a story about a child close to me and you’ll look at me pityingly, feeling sorry for me, and I’ll just want to stop talking, but will probably talk more because I won’t know what else to do. I’ll miss the days of coffee and lunch dates when the conversation didn’t revolve around the baby’s toilet training and wasn’t constantly interrupted by a child who is too small to handle a 30 minute social date. I’m sure you’ll sometimes miss those days too.

You think you’ll be the exception, that you won’t let the baby change your friendships, but I know better. I’ve been on the other side of those good intentions more times than I count anymore. And I get it. Your child must become your top priority, and believe it or not, I’m grateful. See, I don’t want children of my own, but someday, when I’m old and senile, when I can no longer contribute meaningfully to society, I’m going to have to rely on your child and the others of his generation to make the world a safe place for me. So by all means, give your child your all. I applaud your decision, but know that it is possible to be sad for myself and happy for you at the same time. I am glad for your happiness, but I started missing you the moment you told me of your child’s impending arrival. I will still enjoy choosing your baby gifts, will attend your showers, will hold the baby when she arrives, but I will still feel like an outsider. So please don’t be offended if I don’t seem as excited as you want me to be. And don’t misunderstand how badly I want you to be happy in all of your choices because I am happy with mine.

Love,

Someone You Used to Know

 

 

Mommy blog after mommy blog tells me I don’t understand, I can’t understand. This fascinating bit of information generally comes in the form of a stranger’s online diatribe shared on social media by well meaning, but oblivious, mommy-friends who add their own commentary of “Yes!” or “So true!” I’ve read a lot of them. I’m not sure why I keep expecting the next one to be different. I suppose some part of me is hoping that I’ll read something that will explain why it’s so important for me to know that I don’t understand. These posts are no longer written so that other mothers feel less alone. They must already know that they’re understood just based on the sheer volume of outlets shouting it from their virtual rooftops.

We live in a society that still equates womanhood with motherhood. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it’s still commonly regarded that way. Sometimes even well-meaning friends make off-handed comments about how jealous they are that I get to do whatever I want or how I’ll understand someday when I have kids of my own, or worse, how much I’ll regret the decision not to. Perhaps the assumption that bothers me the most is that just because I don’t have children, I sit around drinking cocktails and eating bonbons all day. The assumption that being child-free is the same thing as living a life of leisure is absurd. Sure, I don’t have to deal with child care and there’s no one at home to feed, guide through homework, and put to bed before I can get my housework done. I enjoy more happy hours than a (responsible) mother would, but just because those are the moments I share on social media doesn’t mean they reflective of my whole life.

When you have children, you do not become more. You just become different and you cease to understand what it’s like to not have children. Just like that. Just like a switch. You don’t think it’s possible since you were once a person without kids, but we are all at the mercy of our experiences. When you look back on your time before children, you might do so with wistful, rose-colored memories of a time when you could get a full night’s, uninterrupted sleep (though I myself still can’t recall ever experiencing that) or when you could go to happy hour on your way home just because. That’s a personal favorite child-free perk. But you’ve also forgotten that you can work so hard and for so many hours that you’re afraid you can’t keep your eyes open and you’re afraid your legs might give out just because there is no one at home who needs you to force you out of the office. Happy hour can’t fix that. You’ve forgotten that everyone always expects you to come to them, whether it’s across town for dinner or across the country for Christmas, because it’s so much easier when you don’t have kids. That doesn’t make it easy… or inexpensive.

It’s also possible you recall your life without kids as empty and unfulfilled, lacking something essential, and you can no longer understand what it means to be fulfilled without your offspring. You’ve forgotten the joy of hosting friends for dinner without worrying about bedtimes or sitters, instead feeling full of wine, food, and most importantly, passionate conversation that nourishes your mind and soul. You’ve forgotten the joy of traveling to new places with someone you love and figuring out just how things work there. You’ve forgotten what it means to have the time and energy to read and learn and get excited about new ideas. It isn’t that you can’t do these things anymore. You’ve just forgotten what it’s like for them to be enough.

So, even though no one else wants to say it, I’ll say it. You– parents– you don’t understand what it’s like to not have children. Not anymore. You’ll say it’s because you didn’t know how much your life was lacking before, but you don’t want to see that it wasn’t lacking at all. It’s just that when you became a parent, your requirements for fulfillment changed. You are not more. You are just different. Why is it that we are all so fixated on the idea that we need to viscerally understand each other’s perspectives and experiences? Can’t we be understanding of each other without fully understanding?

Naturally, at least most of the time, parents will tell you that the pros of having children far outweigh the cons. There are also benefits to remaining child-free, though. First and foremost… freedom! If we want to travel, the biggest complication is who will feed the cats. Our lives are ours to control. We can work late, come home early, go out for pizza or a four-star meal on a whim. Our money is ours to spend on those things we think are important now and to save for retirement. At the end of a long day, we don’t have another, totally different full workday ahead of us at home. There are no complications in our relationship over discipline or schools. We can engage with the children in our lives in a meaningful way… and buy noisy toys for their parents to deal with. That part is evil, I know, but I’ll continue to do it because I’m the crazy aunt and I can.

The decision isn’t about looking for the pros. It’s about understanding what it takes to do an exceptional job raising a child and understanding that it isn’t the right decision for me and my relationship. There are just as many cons to remaining child-free. We’ve become alienated from many of our friends. When everyone joins the parent club, you start to feel slightly developmentally delayed for not joining. I firmly believe that one should only enter into parenthood eyes open and certain in their decision. No parent knows what they’re getting themselves into, not fully, but it’s important that one is passionate about the journey. I’m not.

People often think that not wanting children of one’s own automatically means hating children. I absolutely don’t enjoy bad parents or the products of their bad parenting, but there are many kids in my life who I adore, whose company I seek out, and who I feel fortunate to know. I’m comfortable around babies and I love seeing children’s personalities emerge and strengthen as they grow. Being a parent isn’t the only way that one gives of themselves, but most often, child-free adults carry the stigma of being selfish. Having kids so someone will love you is selfish. Having kids to save your marriage is selfish. Having kids so you can feel complete is selfish. Not having children doesn’t make you selfish any more than having them makes you selfless. It’s what you do after they’re here or what you do with your life instead that determines that. We all have opportunities to be a positive influence on the children who will be responsible for our future even if they aren’t our own. I choose to focus on those.

When I met B, he told me he didn’t want children within a week. He said he’d always felt that way. I realized then that my feelings about having my own family had shifted. His declaration didn’t faze me. I didn’t feel alarmed, nervous, or even mildly concerned. I felt honored that he trusted me enough to tell me. I think he’d make an amazing father, but it’s not what he wants. I’ve never felt deprived or disappointed at the idea of not being a parent. I have immense respect for the amazing group of people who are raising the next generation of smart, critical, strong, and capable men and women. They are doing the toughest job out there, and I’m grateful for it. I think I would have been a good mother because I understand that it takes complete devotion and sacrifice to do the job well. I wouldn’t give myself to that unless I was sure I could dedicate myself wholly to it.

When I think of our decision years from now, I have a natural fear of what will happen as we age. We will miss out on shaping part of the future generation and having an impact on our world. We won’t build a family legacy or learn about ourselves through our children. We will never know the joy and love of connecting over a life we’ve created. I’ll never experience the care and affection that people have for pregnant women. I won’t join mommy groups, or have that strong support network. No, I’ll always be the one who “doesn’t understand” because that’s what people say to child-free women the most. “There’s no way you can understand.” It’s ok. I don’t need to understand and I’m ok if my decision baffles you too.

Adaptation

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I’m not much of a cook. I sometimes don’t mind cooking and I accept it as a necessary aspect of adulthood, but it doesn’t bring me joy. It doesn’t relax me. I do value knowing what goes into my food, though, and the more important that becomes, the more I have to make my peace with the kitchen. That makes it all the more exciting when I find a recipe that is easy and delicious.

I love tomato soup, or at least the idea of tomato soup. Even when it’s warm out, it takes the edge off when I’m hungry, but not hungry enough for a meal. It seems like a healthy choice, but too often tomato soups are laden with grains, dairy, salt, and sugar. I did what any self-respecting haphazard home cook would. I took to Pinterest. What I found was more sugar, more dairy, more salt, and more grains in the form of flour galore.

I stumbled across one from Perla Meyers on finecooking.com. As written, the recipe contains both grains and sugar, but promised to be creamy without the dairy. Working around sugar, salt, and grains is substantially easier than substituting dairy without dramatically increasing the fat content or changing the flavor.

Ms. Meyers struck gold with this recipe. The first time I made it exactly as written aside from eliminating the sugar. I’ve made it several times now and, each time, I’ve made slight adjustments. I now have a recipe that suits my taste and my sensibilities perfectly. I add a bit more olive oil, half the butter, three times the amount of garlic, half the flour and substitute it with a gluten-free blend. I do love thyme, but given that the summer is upon us, I much prefer the taste of bright, fresh basil.

Adapted from Perla Meyers’s Classic Tomato Soup

  • 4 tablespoons quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large white onion, chopped or spiral cut
  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (28 oz.) can whole, peeled, fire-roasted plum tomatoes, puréed with the juice
  • 5-10 fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I invite you to visit her recipe at Fine Cooking for cooking and preparation instructions. If you are not dairy or grain adverse, this recipe is just begging for a grilled cheese sandwich.

The Next Frontier

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“I want you to understand that you’re doing this for cosmetic reasons.” This is what my doctor said to me when he signed off on what will quite possibly be the greatest voluntary physical challenge of my life. I’m about to begin the 20/20 Lifestyles program at the Pro Sports Club. I’ve been an active member at the club since 2007, but I’m getting ready to spend more time there than I ever imagined possible. I qualify for the program based on my BMI (barely) and a couple other health indicators, but I’m by no means the typical 20/20 client. I am doing this for cosmetic reasons, but also because I don’t ever want to get to a point when I need to do it for serious health reasons. The weight I want off is going to be hard enough to lose. I don’t need the added stress of the weight I need off a few years from now.

20/20 is a weight loss program with a focus on metabolic disorders. It involves a structured diet via a dietitian I will meet with weekly, 3 personal training appointments a week, educational videos, group and individual counseling, and 2 additional prescribed workouts on my own per week. No caffeine (no problem), no alcohol (gulp), no fun.

At least I have some idea what to expect. I know quite a lot of people who have been through it successfully. Whether or not they’ve maintained that success after depends on the person, but the program definitely gives you the tools you need to keep the weight off if you’re motivated to do it. I personally can’t imagine going through it only to gain the weight back, but I’ve seen it happen to a few people. That said, their success rate is fantastic. The national average for people who keep the weight off for 3+ years after completing a structured program is 1-2%. 20/20 has a success rate of 48%.

I’m ready, I’m excited, and I’m absolutely terrified. Just like with last year’s Pure Barre challenge (that I’m sad to miss this year), it’s important that I have the right tools before beginning. Mind you, this list is a mix of what I know the program really requires and of my own interpretation of what I need to be successful.

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  • BKR water bottles (Pure Barre branded, of course) – I’ve been a decent water drinker since last year’s kidney stone incident (yes, it took two incidents before I changed my ways). What container works best for me changes all the time, but right now my Pure Barre BKR bottles (I have one in red and one in blue) are working well. I like that they are made of glass so the water doesn’t taste funny, and though they hold 16 ounces, they’re compact, and the handle makes them easy to carry. I wish they fit into a standard sized cup holder, but you can’t have it all. The Pure Barre branding is important because it’s a community I’m proud to be part of and it serves as a reminder how much I want to feel better about what I see in the studio mirrors.

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  • The official 20/20 Lifestyles app – The Pro Club has an official app to help you log food, activity, weight, all of the things that matter. It’s an integral part of the program.

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  • Fitbit Flex – I’ve been wearing my Fitbit Flex for a few months now. I always approach tools like this with some skepticism. I know calorie burn takes much more than a pedometer, height, and weight to accurately measure. For me, it’s mostly an awareness tool. Fitbit also integrates with the 20/20 app, so while I will have to use multiple tools occasionally, for some things like weight, I don’t have to record it in multiple places.

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  • Fitbit Aria scale – The Fitbit scale is wireless enabled and will automatically upload my weight and (estimated) body fat percentage to my Fitbit dashboard. I understand the methodology behind breaking up with your scale, but at this point, weight is an important measure for me. Ideally, I’ll get to a point where I will rely more on clothing fit, but for now, it matters.

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  • Garmin Forerunner 110 Heart Rate Monitor and GPS – This is the one item I didn’t already own. I have owned and used a heart rate monitor for about 6 years, but the model I had was really out of date and I never really liked it. I know aesthetics shouldn’t matter with something like this, but it helps me to put it on every day if I don’t hate the way it looks. This one reminds me of the Baby G watches I had in the 90s. Let’s not talk about how much that dates me. I opted for the upgraded version with GPS. While it’s not something I need now, if 20/20 can make even a beginner runner (or hiker or biker) out of me, it’s a tool I’ll want and I’d rather not buy another one later.

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  • Vitamix 5200s – It’s not a blender, it’s a Vitamix. Yes, it’s a marketing slogan, but it’s also true. I got my Vitamix for Christmas, and the first time I made a smoothie (almond milk, mango, banana, pineapple), I was smitten. Since shakes are an integral part of the 20/20 program, I wanted a blender that would make them taste pleasant rather than like something I have to choke down. I already regularly have the shakes in the morning already after a workout at the club, so this will supplement for when I’m not there.

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  • Food Scale, measuring spoons, and measuring cups – I have a basic Oxo digital scale. I believe a scale should be a staple in any kitchen, but for now, for my purposes, it will help me use the food tracker.

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  • Workout Clothes (that don’t make me feel enormous) – I hate mirrors. I hate photos of myself. I’m not a fan of reflective surfaces in general, but gyms are full of them. I went through all my gym clothes and got rid of anything that qualifies as laundry day appropriate. It might mean a bit more laundry, but I’m fine with that. I also sorted my clothes into two piles, regular gym and Pure Barre. Lululemon No Limits tanks are my favorite of the moment. They’re loose around the midsection and don’t require an additional sports bra.

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  • Moleskine Notebook – I have a vast array of Moleskine notebooks. I’m not one for gratitude journals or the like, but I know I’m going to struggle with the necessary evil of withdrawing socially for the next six months. I refuse to be that girl that goes to dinner and orders a glass of water and a plain salad. It would be miserable for me and would make everyone around me uncomfortable too. Like it or not, coming together, friendship, and communing with loved ones almost always involves food and drink. There’s no love shared over a plain chicken breast. I know this is the part I will struggle with the most. I need a tool to record and remind myself why I’m doing this.

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  • Pure Barre – With 5 prescribed and hopefully intense workouts a week, there won’t be a whole lot of room for other exercise routines, but I don’t want to lose Pure Barre. It’s important for me mentally as well as physically. My current plan is to take either Tuesday or Thursday and Sunday as rest days and to do my additional hour of cardio and a Pure Barre class on Saturday. As I get more established, I may try to go to one rest day a week to split the Saturday workout in two.

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  • A motivational photo – I haven’t chosen this yet, but one suggestion they presented at the pre-program workshop was the idea of keeping a motivational photo easily accessible to look at it times of weakness or lagging motivation. It can be a photo of yourself at your worst as a reminder that you don’t want to be there. It can be a photo of what you do want to look like or even a photo of something you want to attain through the program. B and I are planning a celebratory trip to Maui at the end. Maybe I’ll choose a sunset beach photo like this one from our last trip.

Right now I’m just waiting for the notification that my file is complete so that I can get scheduled with my various new experts. I’m about to be thrown into a whole new world of structure and accountability, so in the meantime, I’m just focused on enjoying my last few days of freedom.

Have You Seen This Woman?

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A friend from college has a literary podcast called Literary Disco. I listened to it with some regularity when it started, but I’ve stopped the past few months. B dutifully downloads it for me and has remarked on multiple occasions that I’m about 100 episodes behind. He’s asked whether I’m just not enjoying it (and assumes I am not), but that’s not the case. Far from it. The truth is, I stopped listening because listening makes me feel stupid and lazy.

I forgot that this was the real problem until I listened to a couple episodes while traveling recently. Instead, I talked myself into lame excuses and mumbled “too busy” reasoning. I am busy, but I have bus commutes and endless hours on the treadmill and elliptical. I have plenty of time to listen to three people argue over books, poetry, movies, and sometimes music, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t bring myself to listen to others having the conversations I  no longer have, but miss desperately.

My bachelor’s degree is in English – Creative Writing with an emphasis on fiction and a minor in philosophy. Basically, I’m a nerd who is capable of talking… a lot. My day job in tech involves copious amounts of writing, but it’s business writing. I write and edit email, newsletters, random other copy. I’ve gained a reputation for being capable of unraveling any mess of the written word. I’m sort of proud of that, but it’s not what I set out to do.

I set out to write and read and teach others about the same. I set out to spend a beautiful (if not cash poor) life surrounded by my books, writing lilting, nonsensical sentences, and feeling slightly self-righteous for my superior vocabulary. Instead, I write meaningless blog posts, freelance food writing, an absurd amount of email, and feel sorry for myself and my slack academic brain. I long for the times when I engaged my brain and my mouth in debates about Joyce and Whitman, for the times when my podcasting friend and I bonded over our shared hatred of A Room of One’s Own and disagreed over far more.

I don’t know the answer, though, I suppose it likely has something to do with reading more, writing more (important things), and spending more time with people who do the same. It’s difficult to explain how hard it is to reestablish those habits after so long and how much it hurts my heart to know that it doesn’t come easily anymore. So, if you see my slightly flighty, but far more creative self wandering the streets starting fights with strangers over the impact and relevance of Faulkner on the present day, please send her home. I miss her terribly.

For Ravenwood

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B and I just returned from an amazing weekend at the Ravenwood Lodge at the Run of the River Inn and Refuge in Leavenworth, WA. One of the highlights was the classic typewriters that guests are encouraged to use to write a poem as a guestbook entry for the lodge. I’ll share more about this incredible place later, but for now, this is my poem for Ravenwood.

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between concrete walls & blasting horns,

exists our singular identity.

in small shared spaces filled with

worn belongings &

noisy overtures,

we share a common comfort.

 

seeking reprieve from the clang

& clamor of a pace worth sustaining

intermittently.

in healing flames & bracing breeze,

damp chilled bones seek light &

palpable silence.

 

amidst the restorative crunch

of frosty creature tracks

& filtered light through winter trees,

the mired stillness

& echoing silence bare the priceless currency

of ravenwood.

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