Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strung Out

Ah, string camp.  The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music has run a week long summer string camp for twelve years now.  I have been there since its inception, and in some ways it's changed, but the stress, challenges, and sweetness remain the same.  There are special classes each day (I usually do a talk about violin making where I lay out a bunch of wood and tools and answer lots of questions), small ensembles that get coached individually, orchestra, and an extra session (for those who are interested) to learn fiddle music.  It's a lot to cram into just a few days.  This weekend we had our concert, so for one more year it is officially done.

The stress is interesting, because it's not so much the actual work involved in teaching at string camp, it's having to put all of your trust and faith into the kids to do what they need to do.  I want them to perform well for their own sakes, but it's my name on the program too, and it's hard to put your own reputation on the line in a situation where, when the big moment arrives, you give up control.  I am far more nervous watching my students perform than I have ever been on stage myself.

"B1 Steak Sauce"--my string camp quartet on stage
But the miracle every year of string camp is that somehow, inexplicably, the kids manage to pull everything together over the course of just a few days and create a lovely concert.  I'm amazed every time.  I start out with a group of kids who are always charming and earnest, but who have obstacles to overcome that always seem to me to be insurmountable in the time allotted, and yet....

And yet, they never worry.  I have to round them up to practice, and they saunter to their seats.  I freak out because they don't seem to have practiced, and they remain unconcerned.  I clap along desperately, explaining the importance of counting for playing in an ensemble, and they smile politely and can't believe I want them to run the piece again.  I do all the worrying for everyone, while they have a nice time.  It wears me out.

I almost didn't do it this year.  I had to leave the rest of my family vacationing in Michigan to come back to Milwaukee to teach, and it was hard doing string camp in the mornings and then rushing off to the violin store to work into the evenings, and finding any spare moments left in there to walk the dog.  I told Ian that I teach so little anymore that maybe this was the year I just resign.  Maybe my connection with the Conservatory had run its course and I should let it go.

But Ian reminded me that I always get stressed about string camp, but I always get something from it and am glad to have participated.  He didn't think I should give up the teaching part of my identity yet.

He was right.  I enjoy teaching and wish there were room in my schedule to do it regularly, but there just isn't.  So instead I do a whirlwind week of teaching at string camp and remind myself how exciting it is to help kids play music.  I have a chance to mingle with the other teachers and get inspired by what they do.  We get to have a concert in a room with plaster roses on the walls and ceiling so it looks like you're performing in a wedding cake.

When I was in high school I belonged to a chamber music organization for kids that was really wonderful, and some of my best musical memories are from its summer string camp.  I understand fully the kinds of memories and associations we are building for these young musicians as we guide them through an intense week of learning more about music. 

But one of the things I remember best from back then was my father suffering through many of the small ensembles at the concert, and then being floored by how good the whole orchestra sounded.  He didn't understand how such flawed individual players could coalesce into something quite beautiful.  He would say to me, "How does such perfection come from such imperfection?"

Now, the whole process of learning to make music interests me and I am much more forgiving of all that supposed imperfection than my dad was, but I understand asking him to sit through other people's kids botching great music that he loves is one of those crosses parents have to bear if you want to hear your own kid play on stage.  However, he's right, that there is a magic in the sound of a group that improves everyone.  The rough edges are less noticeable and the better parts somehow rise to the surface.  That's my favorite part of string camp, hearing the kids come together as a large group and create something bigger than themselves.  It's beautiful.

So my group, despite my usual fears, pulled themselves together and did not fall apart on stage.  Which amazes me since the first day I assessed how they played, the second day I had to painstakingly teach them the beginnings of several pieces so that we could pick one, the third day one player was absent, and the last day was the first time I got to hear them play the piece from the top of the page to the bottom.  Then they had their concert.  (I had to put polish on my nails every night to keep myself from biting them down to nothing.)  I can only imagine how much we would accomplish if I could work with them for two weeks in stead of one, but even one extra day would be nice. 

I will try to remember this for next year, when again I will wonder if it's worth the extra work and time to teach at string camp.  Because it is.  And actually, Aden is old enough that she might be ready to join in, if I can convince her to try it.  Just the thought of having her be part of that kind of experience makes me smile.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The latest chapter of be careful what you wish for

I recently got back from a nice trip to Michigan.  I went out to visit with my parents and see my brother and my niece, and I had an amazing but all too short dinner out with my friends.  I loved it all and wasn't ready to come home.

My kids and my husband are still out at my parents', but with a business to run and teaching obligations to fulfill I had to come back early.  So I have the house to myself.  And it's weird.  I don't think I've ever been alone in my own house overnight since we've had kids.  I've been away from them before, but I can't think of another time when everyone was away from me.

How many times have I wished wished wished that I could have a vacation in my own house?  Where everyone would leave for a while and not undo all the cleaning as I'm doing it?  Or that there was no one to cook for but myself and I'd be free from the tyranny of meals for other people?  To do what I please without interruption?  To have it be quiet?

Well, it's quiet.

I'm starting to see that there is such a thing as too quiet.  And too clean.  And too simple.  

I straightened up the stray toys in the living room last night, and now the room looks less inviting.  There's no evidence of my kids' happy play and creative games.  I like things to be clean because it sets the stage for something fun.  But there is no one here to then step on that stage, and all that clean space just looks lifeless.

I'm being silly, right?  I'm being silly.  I'm probably just having trouble adjusting and by the time I'm used to it and it feels like a good thing it will be over.  But I miss the hugs and snuggles and the cute things my kids say and do.  I miss my family.  My days never feel complete when I don't have my husband to tell them all to, and any day that I don't see my kids I know I'm missing something.  All of that is worth more than a clean living room.  And it's lonely here.

Luckily, I have the dog.

Chipper on Aden, whom he misses very much
The dog, who was being cared for by a neighbor for a few days (that in dog time probably felt like weeks), and who greeted me upon my return by practically levitating with happiness.  It's nice to have somebody be glad when I get home from work, and I appreciate his company as he follows at my heels from room to room.

I think I'd be enjoying this more if I weren't stressed out about teaching at string camp (it's my twelfth year doing it and the first few days are always hard because it's impossible to imagine the kids will pull it together and be ready to perform in only a week's time, but they always do) and if I weren't drowning in work at the violin store.  It's harder for me to wind down when I have so much going on, so I'm not using this time the way I probably should.

Maybe tonight I'll do something insane, like read.  With the dog at my feet.  While blasting the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon, which I certainly can't do with the kids around.  (I am trying to think of anything wild I could be doing to add to this list, but I am duller than I realized.  I don't even drink so it's not like I can toss a glass of wine to this picture.  Sheesh.)

Anyway, I'm at least trying to file this away in my mind for the next time the house full of kids is driving me up a wall.  Because that wish for an empty house?  Emptied it of feeling like a home.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Personal Puzzle

I've written before about how Quinn loves map puzzles.  He's loved them since he was very small.

Quinn has also enjoyed making maps at school, and within hours of starting summer vacation seemed to be going through a bit of withdrawal.  He asked if he was allowed to make maps at home and I said of course.  So he got out his Asia puzzle and put India on a piece of paper and tried to figure out how he could trace it like he would the traceable wooden map parts at school without ruining the puzzle piece with a pen or pencil.  Quinn is careful with things, and couldn't figure out a way to make it work without damaging his puzzle.  He began to look dejected.

So I asked him if there was something else we could do that was different from what he did at school, some new kind of project.  He thought about it and decided what he really wanted was a map puzzle of Australia.  The map puzzles we have from GeoPuzzles include North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.  When he does them all at once he then lays them out on the floor together like one big map, and every time he points out to me that we are missing Australia and Antarctica.  He likes things to be complete, so this bothers him.

We agreed a map of Antarctica in the style of the other GeoPuzzles would be boring because the land mass would be one big piece.  (Although we can always just do that someday like a regular puzzle and cut up the continent into random shapes.)  But Australia has states (which Quinn could readily name and I could not) so it would make a good puzzle.  We set to work.

I'd never made a puzzle from scratch before, but it didn't look hard, so I thought I'd share what we did here in case anyone else wants ideas for making a personalized puzzle for their kid.  (Maybe with pictures of family pets or favorite toys.  Lots of possibilities!)

We started by finding a piece of cardboard (taken from the back of a big pad of drawing paper) about the thickness of our existing puzzles.  Since Quinn wanted the new puzzle to match the others I let him use a ruler and a pencil to mark off how big he wanted the finished puzzle to be.

(Lots of photos in this post, so maybe it's best to add a jump here....)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Man Under the Bridge

The other day I didn't feel like getting organized enough to go for a swim, so instead for a bit of exercise before a full day of work I decided to take the dog on an extra long walk.  I headed up in a direction I never go on foot, by fields and buildings and parks that look different than they do at a glance from the road.

Bay View is an interesting area.  It has some beautiful sections along Lake Michigan, but much of it is grittier and working class with pockets of artistic aspiration.  We're still in the city of Milwaukee but south of downtown, residential but not suburban, green but dense.  When we were house hunting over a decade ago the realtors referred to Bay View as "the affordable East Side."  It doesn't feel cut off from the issues of the city they way suburbs do, but certain problems don't stare us in the face every day.  Like homelessness.

My dad grew up in New York and we used to visit relatives there every few years.  I've taken my kids to New York several times, but it's not the same place I remember as a kid in the 1970s and 80s.  It was grimier, a bit scarier, and my brothers and I found the beggars on the sidewalks confusing and upsetting.  One of my brother's clearest memories of one of those early trips was of a man in a suit rushing along and gingerly stepping over the cane of a blind beggar without a glance back.  It seemed heartless to ignore people in need, but there were so many.  You couldn't blame the man who needed to just be on his way for not stopping because he would never get anywhere if he stopped for them all, but still....

It's a complicated question for people in areas like NewYork where they are confronted with that problem on a daily basis.  They have to be wary of scams in the subways and concerned that maybe handing someone money on the sidewalk is exacerbating problems instead of helping.  They have to decide all the time how much attention they want to pay to the blind beggar with the cane.  I don't know if my heart could take it.  It was the hardest part for me about visiting India, feeling helpless in the face of so much need.

But the truth is such problems are everywhere.  In the suburbs where the environment is manicured and clean, addictions are masked by money and abuse and neglect are hidden behind neatly painted doors.  And in my neighborhood I may not see beggars when I step right outside my house or on my way to work, but desperation exists just past my gaze.  You simply have to know where to look.

And the other day I happened to look under a bridge.

My dog is small and cute, but noisy and loyal.  As easily as I know he could be kicked aside by anyone needing to get past him, he still lends me an air of protection when I walk with him at night or in unfamiliar places.  I'm more inclined to wander somewhere unusual with Chipper than I am all alone because lord help the strange man who thinks that cute little puppy-dog won't bite if someone gets too close to me.

So we walked along some areas with crumbling buildings and strange paths and torn fences near the river.  We explored a park I've never been to and checked out a softball field and a wooded area.  And then when we were back along the main road near our house I noticed for the first time from the bridge that on the bank on the north side of the river there seemed to be some concrete steps.  I was curious.  I crossed the bridge and circled down onto the grassy area to a fence at the top of the slope above the water.  Across the river was a wide set of steps leading to a space overgrown with trees.  I have no idea what it was once for.

But I didn't speculate for long because when I glanced back in the direction I'd come from I realized there were things tucked under the bridge.  It looked like a little makeshift sleeping area.  And there was a bike.  Someone lived under the bridge and he had a bike.  I had never considered a homeless person owning a bike and wondered where he went on it.  Then I saw movement and realized the man under the bridge was getting dressed and I didn't want to cause him any embarrassment so I nudged the dog and headed back up toward the street.

Not a day goes by now that I don't think of the man under the bridge.  My first instinct is to leave him something maybe he could use.  But what would that be?  Is that condescending?  Or dangerous?  Is it kinder to look the other way and pretend I don't know, or is that callous?  Is he happy under the bridge?  Is he suffering?  Is it even any of my business?

The main thing that kept going through my mind as I finished the walk home with my dog was that whoever the man under the bridge is, he was once someone's baby.  How would I feel if one of my babies ended up in a situation that necessitated sleeping on a blanket by a bike under a bridge?  It makes me cry.

I try to help individuals in need when I see an opportunity, but this is definitely an area where people who belong to a church or similar organization have an advantage over those of us who don't.  If you are ready and willing to do something, someone in your organization would likely be able to point you the right direction.  I do think the problems of the homeless are better addressed by groups that understand all the needs involved beyond my superficial concerns.  But I don't belong to such an organization.  I have to make the effort on my own.

For a long time now I've been meaning to investigate the food pantry I've seen signs for outside the jobs center by where I vote.  I finally went there and found a phone number to call and left a message.  My volunteering for the food pantry may not directly impact the specific man I saw, but then again it may.  It's a start.  I talked with my kids about helping out there if the food pantry can use us.  We have so much and want for nothing important and should find the time to help others in need.

I'm not sure where in my schedule I will find that time, but that's not an excuse.  Because how would I take such an excuse from someone else if my son were the man under the bridge?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Marks of Practice

I clean a lot of little violins.  Our rental program goes down as small as 1/32, and there are six more sizes between that and a full.  Every time one comes back to me, either as a return or an exchange for the next size up, I go over the whole thing and touch up any dings and fix anything that needs fixing and give the whole instrument a good cleaning so it's ready for the next person.

Now, on the smaller instruments in particular I've had this recurring problem with stains on the front of the violins.  They are always on the treble (right) side on the lower bout, and they run diagonally across the instrument.  It looks like someone spilled pop or water on the varnish, and it's hard to remove.  It has puzzled me for the longest time because I don't know how or why anyone would be drinking anything while holding their violin, and it happens more often than made sense.

But I finally figured it out.

I was helping Mona practice today.  She's working on the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and the bowings in it are a bit complicated.  Mona wants my help but doesn't listen.  It can get very frustrating for both of us sometimes when the music is hard and she's struggling.  On her third time through when I corrected her again about the same spot where she kept getting it wrong, a large tear rolled down her cheek and plopped onto her violin.  Onto the front, treble side, lower bout, and it slid diagonally off the edge of the violin.

Those stains are tears.  And they don't polish out easily.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts on Brave

We took our kids this past weekend to see the movie Brave.

How many ways do I love this movie?  So many that I want to write about it here at length with spoilers so I will put any of that after the jump so as not to ruin anything for anyone.

Also, believe it or not, I may have to rewrite/amend part of my first novel because of this movie.  I may include an excerpt in an upcoming post to get some opinions on that if anyone is willing to offer them.  (Hell, I may just put the whole damn novel up here at some point just to get it out into the world finally.  I'm up to 120-plus rejections and may soon turn to plan B.  The B may stand for Blog.)

So here are some general thoughts on our experience seeing Brave without giving anything away:

My girls loved it.  They are ten and eight and were appropriately nervous during the suspenseful parts, but not scared.  There was nothing about it they could think of they didn't like.  I'd read that there were some scary parts involving bears and warned them all ahead of time and that seemed to help.  Mona hugged my arm at one point, but otherwise did great.

Quinn, however, was quietly weeping toward the end of the movie.  The scene was not a scary one, it was a section with a lot of talking, and I'm not sure if he'd been crying for a while and I just missed it or if something in that particular scene actually set him off.  When I realized he was crying I offered my lap and tried to comfort him but he would have none of it.  He kept quietly choking out something along the lines of he wasn't scared and that wasn't the problem.  So I left him alone.  By the end he was fine and echoed his sisters that he liked all of it.  I wish he would talk to me about what happened, but my curiosity does not trump his dignity so that topic is closed.  He's only five, so I don't know how deep his understanding was of certain plot elements, but part of me suspects he was a little freaked out that something troubling was happening to the mom.  The boy loves his mom, and that may have been too intense.  (Most likely that's me projecting my sense of self-importance since I am his beloved mom, but I really can't pinpoint anything else that matters enough to him that might have made him upset since he was fine during parts with scary bears.  I have no idea.)

I find it interesting that all the less than completely glowing reviews I've seen are all written by men.  The complaint from some that the male characters are not written as well as the female leads is laughable to me.  Welcome to my world, boys.  The film was still primarily populated by men.  Most movies I'm lucky to have one female character to relate to, and she tends to be situated as an object of desire, a comic foil (who is physically atypical and therefore not to be considered desirable), or a pal who must be everything good (i.e. thin, capable, spunky, smart) because she's carrying the weight of all who are female in the film.  (The cartoon equivalent of the everything pal that springs to mind would be Jessie the cowgirl in the Toy Story movies.  She feels like she's there so when people say there are no female characters everyone can say, "There's Jessie!" and we are supposed to be satisfied.)  The male characters in Brave were not complex, but there was a large variety of them, and by the end I thought they were all left in a good light.  That is far better than female characters fare in most movies, so I have no patience for the complaints about the portrayals of men in Brave.  If it irks you, go watch, I don't know, every other movie in the world.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous.  We watched it in 2D because none of us particularly enjoy 3D so it's not worth the extra money.  I'm sure if you like 3D it would be great that way.  The music and sound design were wonderful, and personally I'm glad it wasn't a musical and nobody burst into song. (That always pulls me out of the story and leaves it all feeling less believable to me.)

Overall it was exciting, funny, moving, and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again.  I am glad this movie exists for my kids.

Now for spoilers:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Parade of Enduring Freedom

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July!

Ours was lovely, and we got to share the celebrations in our local park with friends who were refugees from the recent power outages in Ohio.  (It may have been 100 degrees here, too, but at least we had central air, lights, and refrigeration.)

We enjoyed the morning parade, which for the first time in our memory did not include any giant sausages running races, but did not lack for candy.  (The consensus among my children was that judges throw the best candy.)  Lots of baton twirlers, most of who were still managing to twirl in the heat despite our park being at the end of the parade route.  We had a cookout in the backyard for dinner and the fireworks in the evening did not disappoint.

But the big event for us this year was the bike decorating contest.

There is a children's parade in the in the middle of the day every 4th of July where kids decorate bikes, trikes, coasters, and buggies and get to go across the main stage at the pavilion and receive prizes.  My daughters have become disillusioned by this in the past few years because it's always apparent that the winners had help from their parents and my kids do everything on their own.  Aden almost didn't enter this year because it seemed hopeless.

But I told her the fun of it is in decorating her bike any way she likes, prizes or no prizes, and she should just have a good time with it.  She would be too self-conscious to decorate her bike for no reason, so this was a great excuse to be creative.  Aden wasn't sure, but got interested when we started buying supplies.  A couple of days before the fourth we went to the store and the kids picked out red, white, and blue streamers and a package of straws that had red and blue sparkly tassels on them.  And Mona found a pinwheel she liked.

I love watching my kids dive into a project.  They set up the whole back deck with scissors and tape and streamers and pipe cleaners and worked on their bikes and Quinn's scooter for many hours despite the heat.  Mona attached her pinwheel to the handlebars so it would spin as her bike moved forward, Aden constructed a small bald eagle out of duct tape, they all found ways to use the streamers and pipe cleaners and tassels.  I was really proud of them.

On the day of the big event we went with the kids to register their bikes and scooter only to encounter the cranky volunteer ladies.  The woman in charge really needs to just give up control to someone who cares at this point, because she's impatient and simply seems annoyed by the whole thing.  She was dismissive last year when the kids were on stage, and this year she actually opened the event by saying, "Welcome to the children's parade of coasters, buggies, and whatever else there is.  It's very hot so let's just get through this as quickly as possible."  Hooray, Happy 4th to you too!

But the first cranky volunteer lady looked at Mona's bike when it was our turn to sign her in and asked, "Where is the theme?"  Theme?  "Yes, the theme this year is Enduring Freedom.  Where is her theme?"  Well, good grief.  I'd never seen mention of a theme anywhere in all the years we've been going to the park for 4th of July.  Everyone's bikes were decorated in red, white, and blue.  They are always decorated in red, white, and blue.  (Except the first year my girls entered and they bought stuff in tropical colors and added dozens of small plastic snakes to their bikes, because why not?  Now they at least get the patriotic slant of the event, but personally I miss the snakes.)

Enduring Freedom indeed.  I looked at the lady and said, "Mona had freedom to do her bike completely on her own without any help at all and it is my hope that that kind of freedom endures."  Whatever.  They gave her a number and put her bike in line with the other bikes all decked out in red, white, and blue to await judging. 

Aden's bike somehow escaped that kind of initial scrutiny, and Quinn was on the fence about whether he wanted to enter his scooter.  He'd done his minimal decorating all on his own, and it looked like what a five year old boy would do by himself and he was unsure about having it be judged.  And who can blame him, because look at the other entry in the coaster competition:

That's Quinn's scooter in front with its couple of tassels and streamers taped on, and the wagon behind it is decked out with American flags dragging on the ground and the sign attached to them says "Enduring Freedom" so they apparently got the theme memo.  But which kid do you think did his own work?  Anyway, they divide all the categories into boys and girls, and Quinn turned out to be the only boy in the coaster category this year.  The only one. 

So he scooted across the stage and picked up a trophy for first place.

Not bad for just showing up!

It was hilarious.  And adorable.  Despite the cranky volunteer lady whining into the microphone and mispronouncing his name and rushing through everything.  Quinn got a trophy and a ribbon and a Hot Wheels loop-the-loop toy.  It was great.

Aden and her eagle
But the really exciting thing was that this year, all the bikes in the girls' division looked like they had been done by the kids themselves.  There were some elaborate entries on the boys' side that gave me doubts, but not among the girls.  And Aden won second place!  Mona received honorable mention.  We were really proud of both of them, and Aden looked pleased to know that on a level playing field she could do well.

Mona fussed that if she'd only known the theme she might have had a better chance in the judging, but I really can't imagine what she would have done differently.  All the kids in the parade got a certificate and a toy and it's just for fun.  I don't want her to take it seriously.  I just want her to enjoy her Enduring Freedom to do what she does.  Her theme should always be 'Mona' and she will be mentioned honorably her whole life long.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Body of Work

I suspect that if I live long enough to get to die of a ripe and wrinkly old age I will regret that I wasted so much time and energy being frustrated with my body.

It's unwarranted, my disappointment with it, because it serves me so well.  It works!  No, I haven't put keeping it in its optimum condition a priority, but I can walk and move and see and feel and breathe....  From a vanity standpoint I don't think I'm conventionally cute, but I like my face and wouldn't change it.  I should accept my body's size and shape and concentrate on being healthy and not get so critical.  I know these things.  But it doesn't matter sometimes what I know.

It's a weird line between getting motivated to change and being self-critical.  I'm not in the shape I would like to be in, and it's hard not to feel like a failure about that.  But if I'm too forgiving of myself in that regard then I'm less likely to do something different.  There must be a happy midpoint in there, but instead I tend to ping pong over that net between the two extremes.  I wish I didn't, because as I mentioned, it seems like a colossal waste of time.

I have been back on my 'paleo' (no grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, or processed foods) kick since the first of May.  It does solve my problem with headaches so it's not a completely ridiculous thing to do, but it's not easy.  My husband needed to lose weight for the Army so he did this plan with me this time, and annoyingly lost about as much weight in six weeks as I did in as many months.  (Ugh, men.  A friend told me her dad dropped twenty pounds and when she asked him about it he said, "I just had one scoop of ice cream at night instead of two!"  Yeah.)

I am proud of myself for staying with the stupid food rules even while on our recent road trip.  Those are hard restrictions to follow outside of my own house.  I eat really well most days and enjoy some really nice food, but it's labor intensive making every meal.  I make a good carrot soup, and zucchini strangely enough is a good substitute for noodles, and throw some pine nuts in with my curry stir fry and I'm happy.  I start planning my meals around vegetables, and there is something really satisfying as I watch our groceries at the checkout because it's all produce and whole ingredients and just an occasional box of cereal for the kids, but otherwise it's eggs and apples and kale, etc.

But eating out is hard, and eating with other people is awkward.  I end up eating my hamburger without a bun, and I can't have the chips or the dip or an ice cream cone.  It looks silly and arbitrary (which it is, being self-imposed and not some medical need), and I fear unnecessarily draws other people's attention to what they are eating when they shouldn't have to.  In my opinion it's rude to turn down food offered to you at someone's home, but on my trip I felt like I needed to do it and tried to not make it seem annoying or overly weird.  I know people understand, but sticking to my salad while everyone else indulged in some outrageously good looking pizza was really tough.  But I did it.  I decided I've had pizza in my lifetime.  I've had too much pizza.  The couple of minutes of enjoying more pizza at this time does not outweigh my desire to fit into smaller clothes.  Someday I will eat pizza again.  Just not right now.  So for the first time ever I came back from a vacation a little lighter than when I left.  That's good.

But what's not good is the more weight I lose the more critical I seem to feel about my body.  I can actually tell when my weight goes up a bit because I'm oddly more confident about my appearance.  Why is that?  What screwed up relationship do I have between my brain and my belly that I can't see or feel things clearly in this area?  I just don't know.

As regularly as I can I swim at the Y in the mornings.  Most often I do laps at the same time as the aqua-aerobics class which is populated with old ladies.  (I suppose I should say Seniors, but my grandma used the term old lady and I just like it.  I find it endearing and hope to live long enough to become an old lady.)  I sort through an interesting collection of thoughts and emotions when I'm in the changing room with the aqua-aerobics class.

There is nothing that will make you feel better in a swimsuit than to be at the Y during aqua-aerobics.  I see bodies that are large, lumpy, saggy, discolored, and all kinds of odd.  My overweight, 43-year-old self seems quite young and fit in that environment.

Then I end up next to a lifeguard who appears to be about twelve with perfect skin and has thighs that don't rub together and I blend in better with the old ladies, lumps and all.  I go from feeling sort of aghast that the people with such heavy or peculiar bodies are willing to be seen in bathing suits, to being impressed by how little it matters.  It will seem crazy to me that they to want to be in public in such outfits, and then it seems just as crazy for them not to be out there baring themselves if they wish.  They are not there for a beauty contest, they are there to get healthy and strong, and I admire that.  In the end it's neither heroic nor an affront to fashion, all these different shapes in their different suits.  It's just people living their lives.

The thing is, I intellectually understand where I want to be in terms of my own attitude and level of comfort with myself, and I can't figure out why I put as much importance on my body image as I do.  Because I know, for a fact, that my love for other people is not dependent on their body shapes.  I don't give a damn what size my mom or friends or brothers or cousins wear.  I care in the sense that I'm interested in what matters to them, and if that's something that concerns them then I am concerned too.  But I would love them at any weight or in any condition.  I would not love someone less if their bodies were fat, thin, sick, healthy, or covered with tattoos.  I'm quite sure none of the people in my life who love me do so based on my size.  As long as my husband and kids want to be with me, I bet they feel whatever size I am is the right one.  Which happens to be how I feel about them as well.

I suppose the trick is to be able to extend that kind of love to myself.  I find it a little alarming that apparently I don't.  In the meantime I will continue to pay attention to what I eat and keep exercising as part of a regular routine, because regardless of how I see myself (or don't see myself) I know what the right things I must do are to stay healthy.  If I can't do that at the moment for love of myself, I will do it for those who love me back.