Monday, March 15, 2010

Moving Target

I have a dress from Target that I purchased this summer. There is no shame in my confession. Target has become the go-to store when I need something, cheap, fashionable and most importantly, comfortable. This dress is from the Mossimo line which has become a staple in my wardrobe. Whenever I need anything: a skirt, a top, a casual frock and have looked around (even at more expensive fancy schmancy stores) I often end up finding exactly what I want from that designer. Yes, designer. That’s what I said. Target has name designers that contribute to their selections. Due to the volume of women who need reasonably priced alternatives it would be foolish not to get in bed with the mega-chain.

This dress is creme with lavender, black and beige markings that look as if someone drew on the material with thick chalk. It has a v-neck and short sleeves that hang loose and unfitted around my arms. There is no waist which makes it perfect when the idea of anything hugging my middle is as desirable as wearing a fur in summer. (Not that I’d wear fur in any season. I’m opposed to fur. Go Peta!)Basically, the dress is completely shapeless but when it falls on your body it skims your curves in the right places and looks quite pretty. It is a welcome relief when I don’t feel like wearing anything but my pajamas outdoors. “Attention designers! Ready –to wear- pajama-inspired-clothes will sell like Girl Scout Cookies. You won’t be able to keep your stuff on the racks.”

The other thing about this dress that makes me love it so is that I’ve been able to wear it during my pregnancy. The fact that it is not maternity clothes makes me feel like I’m Gisele Bundchen who recently stated she was able to wear all her regular clothes during her pregnancy and barely gained any weight. This was paired with a post pregnancy picture of her looking runway-read while carrying her three month old son. I was so happy for her when I saw that. I really was.

I am eight months pregnant and I am wrestling with something that could make or break the next fifty-six days. I am huge. There is no other word to describe it. I weigh approximately the same as I did at the end of my last pregnancy but overall I‘ve gained less weight. Does that make sense? Unlike Gisele, I never made it back to my starting weight after my daughter was born but strangely, like Gisele, I was able to get back into all the clothes I wore pre-pregnancy and felt relatively good about myself so all was well. Even though I’ve gained less weight I’m the same size I was in my previous ninth month but I’m only in my eighth month which means I’m slowing down much sooner, uncomfortable much earlier and-ready-to-pop-big for much longer. This needs a diagram.

Did I mention I’m big? My side profile is something to behold. I could rival Hitchcock’s shadow. I think my breasts weigh three pounds each and my butt is bootylicious to say the least. Here’s the thing. Here is what I am wrestling with. None of this has to be bad a thing. I’m pregnant. Why not enjoy this last hurrah and love my largesse?

That question brings me back to the Mossimo dress because what started out as a super-cute non-maternity-option in the beginning and middle of my ten months (yes, we’re pregnant for ten months but we’ve been lied to and told it’s nine) is now on the verge of looking like a super- cute- tarp. Some might suggest I stop wearing it due to this transition. I suggest that I keep wearing it and let go of this illusion that at this point anything I wear could make me look skinny. It shouldn’t matter that the dress covers my butt and stomach like a spray tan. I’m frickin’ comfortable. Comfort is all that matters.

I bought a couple more maternity tarps recently and I feel quite sexy in them. I wear them with black boots and I’m convinced I look good. When I first purchased them, I stopped by my sister’s place to try them on and get her approval. (I do this whenever I’m uncertain of an item pregnant or not) She always tells me the truth. She looked me over from the front view and said, “Cute.” When I showed her my side profile she said, “Well, what are you gonna do?” Not exactly the response you want to hear from someone evaluating how you look but in the end it pushed me to answer the question. “What was I gonna do?” Nothing, I decided. Nothing other than wear those dresses and anything else that doesn’t constrain me.

I’m going to look in the mirror and accept myself. Did you just read that? I’m going to look in the mirror and accept myself. My goal is that this mantra carries on when I am not pregnant no matter how long it takes me to lose the weight or whether I ever do. Maybe, I won’t have a built in excuse like pregnancy to be big but if I follow this new code of acceptance I won’t feel I need to make excuses. We all do the best we can, don’t we? If we’re not doing the best we can there’s a reason holding us back that is probably begging us to give ourselves a break.

None of this is easy and I certainly have my moments of doubt. The other day I wore a Monica-Lewinsky-inspired, blue, short sleeved, knee length dress with a belt. I walked through a hallway where I teach and some college students were waiting outside a classroom. Every single one of them looked at my stomach as I passed by. I don’t know what they were thinking but it was hard not to feel self conscious in that moment.

I’m a moving target. Where else are they supposed to look? Why do I assume they were thinking something bad? Conditioning, that’s why. We women are taught to cover and hide anything that doesn’t fall in line even when we are blessed with child. You would have thought Gabourey Sidibe (the Academy Award nominee for her searing performance in Precious) had murdered someone in Howard Stern’s family the way he spoke of her weight on air."There's the most enormous, fat black chick I've ever seen. She is enormous," he described as if her weight relinquished her from any rights. His sidekick and enemy to women Robin Quivers agreed. Whether the actress is obese or not the hatred Stern expressed was undeserved and gives fuel to the fear of fat women feel on a daily basis.

Each time I reach for clothes I have to do a quick check of my confidence meter. Can I pull this off today? Will I not be moved? Today the answer was no. I wanted to wear this new dark tan ruffley number but I forgot my mantra and put on black pants and a shirt. The shirt isn’t fooling anybody but I feel a little less out there. Maybe I’ll change my outfit later after I look in the mirror and accept myself then conquer my world with pride.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Parental Theatre

Parental Theatre

I realized something March 4th at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston at approximately 12:30p. If you were there at that time then I ask you to take a good long look at yourself. I was with my dear two and a half year old Audra in yet another attempt to convince myself that it’s possible to take her to lunch right before her naptime.

Whenever I lunch with Audra I’m aware that our time is limited. Whatever she is eating is the only thing that keeps her still for an extended period of time. I’m like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she’s locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle and she stares hopelessly at the sand in the hour glass knowing as soon as it is empty her fate is sealed. While I eat my food I keep one eye on whatever she is eating with a lower grade version of Dorothy’s desperation. If she finishes before I do I’ll either 1) be forced to eat much faster than I’d like or 2) be forced to get a to-go box for the rest of my meal.

Unless I am with someone who is able to keep Audra interested while I eat there is just no point in trying to fight the pending battle. Audra likes to move and wiggle, wander and climb. On an average day she risks her life at least four times. In a restaurant the potential for danger is high so once she is out of her seat it is pretty much time to go. Plus, I don’t want her behavior to interrupt other patrons. I’m not one of those parents convinced that everyone wants to be around my child. I try to anticipate the point where she is no longer a cute distraction to other adults and leave them with their peace.

That being said, I’d appreciate a little consideration on the part of the adults I am trying to protect. In public I am currently a sight to behold. I am approximately nineteen months pregnant and although I like to think that the signature scarves I wear around my neck camouflage my stomach I am quite huge. There is no mistaking that I am a big ole pregnant lady already blessed with a very active child. One might think I would be spared from nasty sideway glances as Audra starts to get agitated. One might look with empathy and give a woman a break or some aid. Apparently, not.

Here is what I realized. People like to watch the theatre of parenting when they are not parents or if they are parents on leave from their own charges. It so easy to sit in the balcony, look down and judge that fat lady wrestling with a little girl who is practicing her right to civil disobedience by going limp and falling to the floor like a sixties protester while whining or screaming or both. Somehow the notion of helping said fat lady doesn’t occur to any of these folks as they drink their drinks and slurp their soups.

When in the throes of battle, it is intrinsic to a two-and-half-soon-to- be-big-sister’s knowledge base to make it impossible for her Mother to lift her. When she dissolves to the ground in a fit, my bending over to lift her would likely result in a face plant where I’d sprawl across her, crushing her with my girth while smooshing my unborn child. Nobody needs to see that, do they?

I admit I might be taken aback if a stranger walked up to us in one of those moments and tried to help. Their approach would determine how I would respond (I’m not asking for unsolicited advice here) but I’ve never had the chance to gage what I’d do because nobody every offers as much as a sympathetic glance. At least nobody at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston on March 4, 2010 at approximately 12:30p lifted a bagel in my direction.

Here’s a question:

“People of The Evanston Panera on Church Street! Why didn’t anyone offer to help me get her to her feet? I know there were Mother’s disguised in business clothes who at least once in their lives were in the exact same predicament as me. Why did you look around and over us sneaking glances but never look directly into the eye of our storm!? I know! Because even though a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant interrupts your plans for lunch, there is another part of you who secretly enjoys the entertainment value of watching somebody else’s torture. In this case a defenseless pregnant Mother. It’s the same reason we get stalled in traffic by a gaper’s block and shows like 48 hours and Dateline are so popular! Why else would those “To Catch a Predator” exposes have been so highly rate? We love an ugly scene as long as it isn’t ours! Shame on you! Shame! Shame!” Boy it was good to get that off my chest!

Now I realize people aren’t all bad. We wouldn’t have the type of money raised for Haiti or a strong volunteer force in this country or any other feel good stories about stranger’s lending a hand that are featured at the end of the local news if people weren’t inherently good. The problem is that as parents we haven’t given people (outside family or paid employees) the permission to help us even though we desperately need it.

Giving permission would involve telling the truth about how difficult parenting can be and how almost nobody gets it right on a regular basis. I know there were people in that Panera whose inner dialogue included, “My God, can’t she control her own child?” If they’d asked me directly my answer would have been, ”No, I can’t control my own child! Isn’t that obvious? You have way more of a chance of getting her to do what I want her to do. Try! Go ahead and see!”

Giving permission would mean that I wouldn’t play a part in the Parental Theatre by performing the role of the “Patient Mother” who speaks in low calm tones and gets down to her daughter’s level (when I can manage) in order to gently hold her face and look her right in the eyes. In life, I do try to be that Mother but in certain instances it is nearly impossible to keep all those components together. Instead of indicating to anyone around me that I’m about to lose it, I project a serene demeanor and a sweet smile for anyone who catches my eye. Maybe they think I’ve got it under control due to my bravura performance. Well, I don’t.

One of the things that works the best when it comes to getting Audra to step in line is when I warn her with, “Aunt Gina wouldn’t like that ,” or “Ann and Del won’t allow your Princess slippers in class so you need to leave them at home.” Any time I warn her with another authority figure’s opinion of her there is an immediate change in her behavior. Do you think she’d give a hooey if I say I don’t want her to wear them? Heck no!

There are child experts who would say, “Good job, Mom. She ignores you because she feels safe and secure with you and knows you won’t abandon her, blah, blah, blah.” Great! In the meantime, I. Need. Help. The saying, “It takes a village,” is the right idea but the word village indicates people we know. I advocate that it takes a community: sometimes a community of people we don’t know.

So, if you see a black very pregnant woman with a light skinned, curly haired two and half year old girl having at it at PANERA in Evanston or a book store or grocery store I promise I won’t be offended. I’ll be grateful. Ask how you can help and I will tell you. “Get her to her feet, please.” “Find a way to make her laugh.” “Take her for a few hours and I’ll call you later.” What!?

Now, I feel exposed and hope others feel the same lest this is all proof that I am a bad Mother and everyone else can control their children and I’ll be hearing from child welfare soon. Truth begets vulnerability. I am exposed but maybe next time a pregnant Sister will get a hand.