the story behind the story

Back in February, my friend and former Automattic colleague, Michelle, approached me about writing a piece on fatphobia from a parent’s perspective for her magazine, Pipe Wrench.

As an aside: I first met Michelle during the 2012 Automattic Grand Meetup in San Diego. She started on the editorial team a few months after I was hired, and I have this vivid memory of seeing her across the conference room and thinking, “I want her to be my friend.” When we spoke, that thought immediately evolved into, “I definitely want her to be my friend, and I want to be like her when I grow up.” Michelle is a genius, a wit, a word wizard, and a fantastic human being.

Fast forward ten years (what even is time) and she’s created this online magazine that explores one core topic for each issue, with a feature story and multiple shorter essays responding to that feature story. This issue’s topic: Fatness.

Well, I’ve lived in a fat body since puberty, so I have some experience in that area. But fat liberation? I didn’t really know that was a thing until Michelle brought it up. My immediate response was to follow all the fat lib activists I could find on social media, particularly folks of color. I’d started following fat fashionistas and influencers a few years ago, trying to fill my Instagram feed with fat bodies as a means of normalizing fatness for myself. I took this a step further and spent the next few weeks reading about fat activism, listening to podcasts, and amping myself up.

When I received the feature essay, I read it in the parking lot on my phone while waiting to pick up the kids from school. I read it again when I got home. And again that night. Any fears I might have had about not knowing how to respond flew out the window.

I can’t think about medical fatphobia without thinking about my pregnancies, especially my first. Then I think about having daughters, daughters who share half of my genetic code, the same genetic code that says, “Here be fat!” And I think about how they will need to navigate the same unforgiving medical systems, the same societal expectations of body shape and size, and…I was off.

“I think about the time I used the f-word in front of your pediatrician and she looked at me, horrified as if I’d said ‘fuck‘ instead of ‘fat.‘”

I fought off impostor syndrome and put all those years of online journalling and that brief foray into fanfic writing to good use and wrote an actual, publishable essay. I tried to write from the heart to keep things authentic and real, and hooboy, have I mentioned vulnerability is not one of my strong suits? Coupled with a tendency to dial up the drama when I write, I did a lot of thinking and overthinking of every sentence. Thankfully Michelle is an amazing editor and it came together beautifully.

I spent most of Pipe Wrench’s launch day reading and re-reading the other essays (and Marquisele’s piece for, like, the fifth time). I had to take regular breaks to just breathe because it was overwhelming, seeing myself in many of these pieces and knowing that all of us deserve so much better.

The response to the issue has been amazing, and the response to my essay has been humbling. I think I have what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover”. I am not used to being an active participant in social media beyond a small circle of friends, and it was a little scary to see the notifications roll in. Rewarding, but yeah, a little scary. I have zero regrets, but in the process of writing, I did find stuff I need to work on. It turns out I have more to say on the subject. I’ll save it for another blog.

For now, you should really read Pipe Wrench.

introducing ‘rona

We finally caught the COVID, or one of us did. Ellie tested positive early last week after two days with a low-grade fever and body aches. So far none of the rest of the family has symptoms or a positive test, but we quarantined for several days to be safe. My anxiety has been having a field day with this, of course.

Will we get sick? Will Mom get sick? What if Ellie has long COVID? Why is it so hard to get tests? Why did everyone tell us she was ineligible for a booster when she hasn’t had a vaccine in ten months!? Oh god is that a tickle in my throat?!?

And so on, and so on.

Coupled with the anniversary of Dad’s death and some additional sad news, it’s been a rough month. May always takes me by surprise like that. My body and mind are reliving the past in the background, I wonder why I feel like crap, then I remember. I think next year I’m going to take a week off to just focus on grieving, in whatever form that takes.

Tim and the kids spoiled me for Mother’s Day with a cheesecake from Junior’s. I’d show you a picture but it didn’t last long enough for me to get one. Suffice it to say it was both beautiful and delicious. Here are some pictures of random abstract paintings from my latest notebook instead:

Mom and I also went to Bangor for a day to go to a medical appointment, and it ended up being a fun “Moms Day Out”. We did some shopping and walked around a bit and had ramen at Umami (one of the things I miss most about living in a city is restaurants that aren’t diners). Reflecting on the last nine years, I’m glad we chose to move up here; having Mom nearby is a huge help, but I also enjoy our impromptu trips together, and as time goes by I’m even more thankful for her regular presence in my life. I recognize how lucky I am.

We’re entering the last three weeks of the school year, so there are concerts and awards and class field trips to plan for. It feels like the academic year has flown by; soon I’ll have a sixth grader and an eighth grader, yikes. I am looking forward to quieter times, sleeping in, and less structure this summer.

New York, New York!

We spent a wonderful four days in the big city at the end of April, seeing the sights and shows and enjoying lots of tasty food. It was the kids’ first time in NYC, and they were wowed by the size of everything. The verdict: Ellie could do without “all the honking”, and Gwen wants to live there.

We stayed in Times Square, within walking distance to our big plans: Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Ellie’s birthday presents). Occasionally we grabbed a ride to explore other parts of the city (Rockefeller Center and the Flatiron District) but did a fair amount of walking otherwise. We saw the Ed Sullivan theater (Tim and I are Stephen Colbert nerds), the Times building (Tim’s employer), and two LEGO stores.

Flying in the COVID era was a bit nerve-wracking, especially when the CDC lifted mask mandates on domestic flights mid-way through our trip. Given the rising case numbers in Manhattan, I was convinced we’d all bring home an extra unwelcome souvenir, but it appears we dodged the ‘rona*, at least for now.

And of course, pictures:

* ... or did we? 

shake-ing it up

We’ve reached that part of the year where I feel like it should be spring, but it’s not and won’t be for several weeks. I’m in a perpetual cloud of annoyance because mother nature is, once again, failing to meet my unrealistic expectations, and for all my work on mindfulness and accepting what is, I remain deeply offended by the murky gray that is March.

There, got that out of my system. I wouldn’t be a good blogger if I didn’t complain about the weather, would I?

Beyond the wretched weather, I’m drawing a blank as to how to sum up the last few weeks, because they’ve been equally gray. I’ve spent many precious spoons keeping up with a daily exercise regimen; my Apple Watch doesn’t even know who I am, I’m killing these move goals so hard. I’m on this weird new kick where I go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up early, it’s pretty bizarre. 😜 I’ve listened to a lot of books. I paint in neon hues to fill the gray spaces with riotous color. My kids are flying through adolescence; there are a lot of BIG FEELINGS in this house, several of them mine. I’ve devoted a lot of time to working on a new Animal Crossing island because virtual worlds are peaceful, and this world is not. Escapism is the name of the game.

I’ve also had a heck of a time with food lately. The “downside” to making meals at home is my taste for most quick-prep food has waned, but I don’t have the ambition to cook a whole meal three times a day.

So I recently started one of those pre-packaged health food memberships with smoothies and veggie bowls. I’d seen this particular one around a lot on the Instagrams and the Facebooks and I was skeptical; their ads — featuring trim, perky young women in skin-tight workout gear, bouncing out the door after hot yoga with a freshly made smoothie in hand — didn’t exactly speak to me. Show me a middle-aged fat lady who’s likely to use her over-priced smoothie to wash down a Hot Pocket and then we’ll talk.

…but OK, the smoothies aren’t half bad.

Ironically, I got into this because Tim wanted to try smoothies as a healthy alternative for breakfast, but he took one sip of some blueberry-chocolate concoction and gagged, and I didn’t want the stuff to go to waste. So now I drink kale and almonds and bananas mixed with almond milk and I start to wonder if I’m on a slippery slope to Soylent.

A bright spot from the last month is Tim getting a much-deserved promotion at work. This has me doing the math to see what 60% time at my job would look like, because I’ve really enjoyed the regular three-day weekend thing, and a regular four-day weekend sounds at least…33% better. The math says so. 😂

2021 in the rearview

Aiyeeeee! Where have I been for three months?

Autumn was a lost cause. I spent most of it awash with stress and anxiety, mostly over work. Burnout is real, y’all. After almost ten years with Automattic, I’m struggling to figure out how I fit in to a company that’s grown to ten times the size it was when I joined, and I’m mulling over what I want my career to look like in my 40’s. Right now, it’s this mishmash of skills and strengths and weaknesses that have yet to be clarified, and the uncertainty is exhausting.

But I’m coming back from Christmas with a renewed sense of determination to redraw those work/life balance lines in permanent ink. I feel rested and refreshed for the first time in many, many months.

Christmas itself was a blast. It’s probably gauche to say it, but for the first time in my adult life, we are not living paycheck to paycheck, so we splurged! Lots of new toys and goodies for all; my personal favorite is a mother’s ring with our family birthstones set in it. We also snuck in a quick trip to southern Maine to see my brother and sis-in-law and do some post-holiday shopping.

Ellie also celebrated her 13th birthday in December, and I’m still reeling at the idea of having an honest-to-goodness teenager in the house. To celebrate, we planned a spring break trip to New York City, where we’ll stay in Times square and see Hamilton and Harry Potter on Broadway. Hopefully by April the current COVID wave will have subsided!

Looking back, my 2021 wasn’t terrible. Echoes of 2020 showed up, but there was also more light, more time with family, and more travel. We’re all fully vaccinated and boosted, so the kids went back to school in person — that alone helped 2021 look better than 2020. Family vacations to the coast and southern Maine kept us from feeling cooped up. I didn’t get to go to France as I’d hoped (boo), but I used the money to buy myself some new furniture, so now my office feels cozy and inviting.

Gwen joined the middle-school basketball team this fall and played in a few games. It’s pretty cool to see how much she’s improved over the short season, and I’m glad we’ve found something to help her expend all that extra energy.

Tim was hired at Wirecutter in the spring, and started a master’s degree shortly thereafter (he got straight A’s this semester!) We paid off our vehicles and home loans and put aside a healthy nest egg for future home renovations/vacations/oh-shit funds. I scaled back to a 4-day work week and we’re not even feeling the pinch. Money can’t buy happiness, but not having to worry about money has definitely increased my happiness. 🤷🏻‍♀️

As for me, I painted, a lot. I filled up a large file box with paintings and sketchbooks. Having a regular creative practice is good for my mental health, and I love that I’m working with a physical medium rather than digital for once. I think I’ve come into my style over the last several months of near-daily practice. I’ve also acquired way too much paint. 😅

Speaking of mediums, in what is arguably the most unexpected turn of events in 2021, I took up cooking. I’ve been using meal kits, which has helped me pick up the basics — things like “at what temperature is chicken done” and “how to make a simple roux” are no longer mysteries — so I’m feeling more confident in the kitchen and more adventurous in preparing things from scratch. But it’s hard to argue with the simplicity and convenience of having all the ingredients pre-packaged and delivered. We’ve also tried dishes we probably wouldn’t have otherwise; I’m enjoying more Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean flavors, lots of rice bowls and curries and veggie dishes. 😋

I’m entering the New Year feeling hopeful. The latest COVID wave is surging, but there’s reason to think it will abate soon. It’s time to hibernate, so it’s not like we have a lot of places to be anyway.

And I have things to look forward to in 2022! I’ll turn 39 in a couple weeks. 😱 We’re taking the kids to New York and Bar Harbor…and maybe even Disney for Christmas?!? I have a sabbatical coming in the fall, and I think we’ll make some much needed repairs and improvements to this house. I’m ready to soak it all up, come what may!

into the fray

At some point in October, life mysteriously returned to “normal”. The kids went back to school. We got our booster shots, and even scheduled the first vaccine for Gwen! Speaking of Gwen, she joined the middle school basketball team. And work got intense for both Tim and me.

Suddenly we’re all juggling full schedules. People expect us to be places at specific times; places that *aren’t* a Zoom call, I should say. We’re eating way more McDonald’s than usual.

Suffice it to say, this has not been the gentle easing-into-normalcy I’d hoped for. We’re in zero-to-sixty mode and I was not built for these speeds. I’ve been so drained and nappy that thought my anemia might have reared its ugly head, but my last checkup suggests not. I’m just not used to all this life stuff after a year and a half of being quiet.

I am spending a lot more time in the car now that the kids have places to be. The other day, even my car decided it was too much, and I ended up with a flat tire in the school parking lot. (OK, that might have had more to do with the roofers we hired this summer leaving screws all over the driveway, but still.) Though I technically know how to change a tire (I even remembered how to use the jack!) I didn’t have to put my knowledge to the test; Tim drove in to help.

Gwen’s schedule is especially busy, with practices and games almost every afternoon. Basketball is the sport of choice in our area, so it’s kind of a big deal, but Gwen is rising to the challenge. She hasn’t complained once about having to stay after school for practice, and I’ve noticed improvements in her technique after a couple games. And after so many months of staying at home, it’s a thrill for her to be able to play with other kids.

When we’re not shuttling kids to and fro, there is work to contend with. I’m in the process of role switching, which is stressful, and I’m still project managing for a small team of engineers through the end of the year. I also started a part-time schedule this month, so I no longer work on Fridays. Theoretically this will provide some stress relief, but I’ve only had one Friday off so far, and it was hella busy, so we’ll see.

my toughest critic

Gwen got a basketball hoop for her birthday, so we’ve been practicing basketball for “gym” on nice days. Let’s just say sports of any kind are not my thing.

Gwen: “I’m going to take a break, but I’ll be here to give you destructive criticism.”

Me: “Don’t you mean ‘constructive criticism’?”

Gwen: “Not the way I do it.”

vacationing and making

I’m back at my desk after two weeks off from work, and I think I should be a professional vacationer. I vacationed the heck out of that vacation. I stayed at home and did a lot of painting and cleaning and cooking and shepherding kids to appointments. I make a pretty good hausfrau when I’m not holding down a day job, if I do say so myself.

Speaking of kids, remember that fleeting two-week period where mine went to school in a separate building and not on Zoom? Sigh. It was nice while it lasted, but then we got one of those “Your child has come into close contact with someone who has COVID” calls and we pulled both kids out, at least until Gwen can be vaccinated. That was a giant bummer, but we’re getting by. Ellie manages her own schedule like a pro, and my Mom is helping wrangle Gwen for short bursts of homework. I do miss the uninterrupted work time but it’s only temporary (…is what I’m telling myself…again…)

Oh look! Pretty pictures!

I realize this year has been one of my most creatively prolific. I always thought I was taking the easy way out by working in digital mediums (photography, illustration, design) but I’ve put many more hours into tweaking a single vector graphic than I ever have a single painting. Maybe that’s why I find the medium so freeing.

And bonus photos of my adorable pets for good measure: