COVID

Well, it happened. My household finally fell to the inevitable. Last Wednesday I got home from having my first ever filling (the dentist did not apologize for his staff having chipped it in the first place, but then I most likely gave him COVID, so it all comes out) to find our nanny waiting with her mask on. Her husband had just tested positive; she ran out and texted me that she was positive shortly thereafter.

At first, other than feeling badly for her and her family, I was mostly just concerned about juggling Edith with my job because I really didn’t want to take off for a week, having just taken a week’s vacation. I’d always wondered how people work with small children at home and on Thursday I found out: not well! Edith tolerated the two calls I had that day and that was about it. And I use “tolerate” very loosely: on one call, she got out her banjo and began banging it festively as she marched around the kitchen island where I was on a Zoom; on another, she climbed onto a kitchen chair over my shoulder and well in the shot, and from there onto the kitchen table where she began to investigate jumping off. I was only half aware of this because I was concentrating and it didn’t really click for me until I saw everyone on the Zoom tensing up. I caught her just before she leapt.

But otherwise, we had a nice day together and I was feeling good about things as we went to bed. Then, at nearly midnight she woke up crying and I found that she had vomited all over her crib and was searing hot to the touch. I darted around half-awake, panicking and trying to do a million things at once. Somewhere in there, I took her temperature and it was nearly 105 and then I force-fed her children’s Tylenol and she immediately threw it up all over the bathroom. Finally I got us both to the emergency room– or, well, an emergency room. In my panic and confusion I took us to some sort of strip mall walk-in emergency room across the interstate from the real hospital and I await the staggering bill from what is undoubtedly some sort of no-insurance money trap any day now.

They brought her fever down and confirmed it was COVID, and once we went home, she ran a fever for about a day and a half and was during that time the most knocked-out I’d ever seen her. She lay in bed with me all day, which is not something I ever thought I’d see from Edith and was very droopy-eyed and low energy, except when it came time to give her fever reducer every four hours, at which points she fought like a bag of cats. Now she has a lingering night cough. I feel really guilty that I didn’t work harder to get her vaccinated promptly. I find the Moderna results much more compelling than the Pfizer for her age group, and her pediatrician only has Pfizer. The youngest I could find a pharmacy to do it is 18 months. I was going to see if they’d take her with a prescription but since she doesn’t go to daycare, it didn’t seem that urgent, and now I feel like a horrible mother.

I got COVID about 24 hours after she did and it was not too bad for me (vaccinated, one booster). I was very miserable for a night and the next morning until about noon, and then I felt regular sick. Then, I got the Paxlovid. The worst thing about my having COVID was that Edith really didn’t anymore, and I couldn’t take her out and about or do much and she was NOT understanding about this.

Our nanny was able to return on Tuesday (she and her husband had fortunately been less sick than we were), and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. I felt like I’d just crawled through the desert and spotted an oasis. Meanwhile, work had piled up, the house was a disaster zone, we’d eaten nothing but bread and fruit pouches for four days, everything needed washing and disinfecting, and I’d had to cancel multiple appointments which all now had to be rescheduled. I have learned that my life works and runs very efficiently as long as it all goes as planned, but dropping the to-do list for four days turns me into Lucy at the chocolate factory.

Additionally, while I wouldn’t say she enjoyed being sick, there were a few accommodations that Edith became accustomed to during her ordeal: sleeping in my bed, unlimited access to my phone, having me immediately do whatever she wanted me to do, 24/7 hovering and dedicated focus from Mom. She was not giving any of this up without a fight and this week has been a lengthy trial of ongoing screaming tantrums and sleepless nights as we reestablish boundaries.

While all of this was unpleasant and I’d rather have avoided it, I was conscious throughout of how immensely fortunate I am. I work for a company that gives me no grief about taking off as much time as I need for things like this (even if I’d just taken a week’s vacation), I have a very comfortable house with all necessary indoor appliances and a private outdoor space, I’m able to afford delivery of food and medications, and I have very good health insurance so I don’t have to think twice about going to the emergency room or whether a doctor will be available to give advice and/or call in a prescription for me or Edith. Everyone deserves the sort of security that I enjoy and very few people have it, and I am never more aware of my luck than at times when everything is going wrong and yet nothing goes that wrong. It’s horrible to think that for so many Americans — maybe most Americans — they would have the stress of crucial income loss on top of all of this, among many other problems. And in a nation this wealthy, it’s really unforgivable.

Body Shit

(CW: eating disorders and body image discussion. Also an acknowledgement that everything I’m discussing here is from a position of extreme privilege compared to what many women have to deal with along these lines, etc. I know how lucky I am comparatively. These are small potatoes problems.)

I never wanted to deal with my fucked up relationship to my body and my weight and my disordered eating habits; I thought I could just continue to tolerate it and live with it until I died, and I would have, but then I had a daughter and I realized I had to fix myself so she didn’t model all of it, so for the past year I have been doing a lot of really hard and boring mental work. It is every bit as hard and boring and unrewarding as I always thought it would be, but it is also more complicated than expected, so although this is different and more personal than the sort of stuff I usually write, I want to share what I’ve learned so far.

My history is so standard, it’s not really worth going into. It’s the same story as most every white woman from the South: I was a pudgy teenager and then a moderately thin young adult and I wanted to be a very skinny woman (and truly thought that being one would fix all of my problems), so I starved myself for nearly two decades and along with that, I secretly binge ate, and I wrecked my metabolism and my hunger cues, and then I stopped starving and went into an absolutely manic extended binge for about five years, capped off with a global pandemic, deep isolation, fertility struggles and hormone injections, and pregnancy, throughout all of which I emotionally ate like it was going out of style, and now I am newly fat and also have a perfect little girl and am trying to fix my mental problems so that I do not hand all this down to her.

As soon as I had Edith, I got a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, and started to work on all this. As always with therapy, I saw the therapist for a couple months, and then got the gist and broke up with the therapist (although she was really great) because I really know what I need to do and I don’t need to talk about it, and now I am just doing it:

  • Accept myself at the weight I’m at now and any weight I happen to be at in the future, and give up on the idea that my weight is a reflection of my worth in any way, and/or something that I will actively manipulate.
  • Divorce my ideas about food from thoughts of good/bad, reward/punishment and let myself eat whenever I am hungry without telling myself stories about how I won’t eat tomorrow or whatever.
  • If I do binge, don’t beat myself up over it or promise myself I never will again, or try to starve for two days to make up for it, etc.
  • When I feel driven to eat compulsively, try to examine where that’s coming from and address the deeper need I’m having even if that’s hard or gross.
  • Really try to accept that other people’s opinions or thoughts about my weight are not things that I can control or do anything about, and don’t let my fears of other people’s perceptions of my body derail me.
  • Don’t put off doing things or seeing people with the vague idea that I will do those things or see those people when I “have my body back.” This is my only body.
  • Realize that Edith will see and model even those things that I think I am hiding perfectly. Everything I do to myself and my body and everything I say about myself and my body, she will internalize and imitate. It is not possible to hide your internalized misogyny and self-hatred from your kid.

All of this is so hard and so, so boring that it makes me want to puke. But I can’t because I don’t do that anymore! (Little joke!)

I even finally told my doctor that I have a history of disordered eating and so do not want to be told my weight, and also will not be losing weight and so need her to help me be healthy at this size, which is something I never had the stones to do before, not so much because I was afraid of my doctor’s judgment, but because I felt that this sort of request was only appropriate for women who had had “real” eating disorders (like had been hospitalized) and was overly dramatic for my situation.

But what I really want to write about, because I didn’t expect this to be part of it and haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere, and it’s really kind of rocked me, is that doing this work has really brought home to me how much of my experience of the world and my life involves being an aesthetic object in it. I’ve never really thought of myself this way; I have of course had many girlfriends who were primarily interested in being a decorative part of whatever scene they were in, and sometimes I had fun with participating in that, but my primary self-worth has always been elsewhere and I didn’t think of myself as that invested in it. But now, I am having to re-learn how to exist in various environments and how to experience things like summer days, swimming pools, vacations, parties, winter scenes, etc. without looking the part. My habitual way of existing in the world has been more viewing myself as I am viewed than being in the world and experiencing it as something happening to me. And when I no longer am contributing to the aesthetic of an environment, I don’t know what I’m doing there, or how to enjoy it. Having a drink on a sunny patio is for me inextricably bound up with being a girl in a cute sundress. Going for a swim cannot be divorced from appearing in a swimsuit.*

And I think this is something that happens when you become a mom or just middle-aged generally; my friends and I all talk about the utter relief and weird dissonance of suddenly becoming invisible. But the big change in my body at this exact juncture is really compounding it.

There’s a sort of explicit metaphor for this with leg hair, because (as anyone who normally grows out their legs and has leg hair knows) our nerve endings are in our hair, so when you grow out your leg hair, you suddenly feel the breeze on your legs, which makes you realize that women’s ordinary experience of having summer legs is having numb legs. It’s more important to present a particular image to the environment than to actually be in and feel the environment. And with the extent to which having a child has blown my heart open in a way that it wasn’t before, I am feeling everything more these days, which is both good and bad, but mostly shocking, because I truly didn’t realize how utterly numb I was before.

Along with this is thinking about how much of my self-image relies on having models, and I don’t really have models for who I am now. Mostly when I am trying to figure out how to be present in a social environment, my models are now men. Frankly, I think about how I would exist in a space with other people if I were a middle-aged fat dad and then I do that: that helps me to really put aside the whole question of being a perceived object so that I can sort of learn how to just be a person. It also helps me stop worrying about how I compare aesthetically to other women (which is probably much easier for me to do than it would be for most women because I’m not trying to date ever again; I can’t imagine how impossible all of this would be if I were also still interested in being attractive to men). Then the question shifts from how I might look drinking a beer and/or what other people will think about me having one to just whether or not I actually want a beer and everything proceeds from that perspective.

It’s a hard shift to make and maintain, and I didn’t realize how much simply accepting my body would mean actively changing the way I view and exist in and experience the world. And of course, realizing this fills me with feminist rage and resentment, so then I have to also deal with that.

I kind of hate to admit it, but I do feel mentally healthier now that I’m working on this. I feel less conflicted about who I am and more authentically myself. I don’t feel physically healthier or happier yet, but I know that I will eventually.

Anyway, this is all probably not very well expressed, so I will share some a couple of resources that have been extremely helpful to me while I’ve been going through all this:

  • Maintenance Phase podcast. Not every episode, and it’s kind of spun out by this point, but the early episodes were extremely helpful to me. Mostly it has helped me really internalize that weight cycling is bad for me and that starving doesn’t even work.
  • The most recent issue of the excellent Pipe Wrench magazine, which is focused on medical fatphobia. Pipe Wrench is edited by my friend Michelle who is one of the most brilliant and funniest people I’ve ever met. Caroline Moore’s essay for this issue is so beautiful and absolutely broke my heart.

*I should note here that I am not intending to imply that you cannot both be a fat woman and an attractive aesthetic object. Of course you can, and young women are working on changing the general idea that you cannot be (and are doing a really good job of it). I hope that Edith’s generation will be more accepting of the genuine beauty of all different kinds of bodies, of every size, gender, race, and etc. Rather, my personal experience at the moment is that I am trying to figure out how to not feel like I have to be an aesthetic object in the world at all, because I don’t want to be one really, and I have always felt it was mandatory without really being conscious that I thought that. And my own body image and how I’ve tried to take control of it is inextricably bound up with my need to fit into an aesthetic that has been described and presented to me by a very particular social group.

Secret Vacation

I am starting day two of my secret vacation. I took the week off some time ago, and I am not going anywhere or doing anything. Instead, when our nanny gets here, I go into the guest bedroom and I lie in bed all day reading novels.

The one goal I have for the week is to assemble the exercise bike I finally bought because my foot still won’t heal and even when it does, I’m sure that I will suffer repeated injuries from jogging from here on out and so I need a backup method for exercise. I was going to assemble the bike yesterday and then start using it today. I am looking at it now, in pieces on the floor.

It’s not that hard to assemble, per the instructions. But every time I look at it, with the plastic sleeves and the zip ties and the screws and the bolts, I just go back to my book. I am considering paying for their overpriced home assembly service just to spare myself the frustration, as a vacation gift.

Meanwhile, ERCOT is warning that there might be blackouts due to the ongoing extreme heat in Texas (another reason for an indoor exercise option). I love heat, I moved here in part for the heat, but this heat is so scary that I can’t enjoy summer anymore. Every time I step out the front door, there’s a tangible reminder pressing in on all sides of my body that this planet is becoming increasingly inhospitable and that life is going to be increasingly hard for my daughter and for everyone else’s children. So now the summer just makes me feel sad and guilty and angry and helpless. Like many people, I have had this constant knot of panic in my chest for several years now, and it is just sort of always there, but sometimes I can ignore it better. I’m trying to ignore it this week, but it turns out that not having work as a distraction makes things worse rather than better.

Exercise will help, if only this stupid bike would assemble itself.

A Half-Baked Theory on ADHD

Everyone’s just been waiting for me to dispense completely unfounded medical opinions based on a hunch, right? Well, having had occasion recently to closely observe various people going about their daily routines, I have been thinking a lot about ADHD and focus. The traditional line on ADHD is that it’s an inability to focus, that it makes you easily distracted and you forget what you’re doing. But what I have more noticed is that for most daily activities, neurotypical people don’t use their brain to accomplish them; they get into their muscle memory and then their body just executes them while their mind wanders free in the clouds. But for people with ADHD (at least those I have lived with, which is quite a few), this never seems to happen — they have to focus mentally on a task no matter how many times they’ve performed it because when their mind drifts, their body simply stops performing the task and wanders off from it.

I am praised as being an especially focused person and always have been, but I actually am almost never thinking about what I’m doing. My body is just going through the day performing tasks. I even write sometimes while thinking about something else entirely. I would never have to remember where my keys are, because I don’t ever think about my keys. My hands store and retrieve them in a location automatically when I come in the door. I don’t have to focus on doing laundry while also making pasta, because my brain is not involved in that combination of activities — my brain is thinking about the recent loss of my human rights while my body carries on with whatever chores it has started.

So what if everybody is equally unfocused, and this is less about our focus and more about the extent to which our bodies function as programmable automatons, or fail to?

Driving, on the other hand, is an activity that never gets into my subconscious muscle memory, because I am terrified of driving and of being in cars, and that never goes away no matter how many times I do it. So while other people can easily drive and carry on conversations, if someone in the car is talking to me, driving becomes impossible for me. I cannot split my attention in that way, because my brain is always actively involved in the driving — the fear acts as an interruptor that blocks my body from taking the wheel (literally). But that is the exception on tasks I regularly perform; usually, my brain isn’t involved at all.

By the way, sorry if any of this is accidentally offensive in some way (I don’t think it is?), but before you cancel me, I’m allowed to say it, because I also have been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t really think I have it, but I’m not above indignantly claiming that I do in order to make a point. Although actually maybe I do have it, because whenever I do have to fully focus my mind on something (a conversation, reading, writing something complex), I have to spend like 30-60 minutes sort of meditating myself into it by force, because otherwise my brain keeps wandering off to obsess about other things like, say, the fact that over half the US population is now not in full possession of their own bodies. And I also can’t listen to anything anyone else says unless there are subtitles or I’m also playing with a coloring app on my phone. I took adderall for awhile and it fixed all this, but when Edith was born I decided I cared about longevity and although I don’t know for sure, I just feel like taking speed every day probably doesn’t contribute to living into one’s dotage, especially when combined with all my other unhealthy lifestyle factors which I am making no serious effort to improve, so I cut it out.

And so if you’re ever talking to me and it becomes clear that I have not been paying attention to what you’re saying whatsoever but have just been nodding and smiling and interjecting politely while my brain is obsessing about something like, oh, I don’t know, a massive backslide in women’s rights that will make our overall society substantially worse by just about any metric you could think of, you can’t get mad at me about it, because I’m just trying to stay healthy for my child.

I am so overwhelmed with sorrow and rage that I can’t express myself, but if I could, I would say exactly what Jill Filopovic just said, every word.

Outlawing abortion puts women in a totally unique category of person with fewer rights than any other — fewer rights, certainly, than the egg / embryo / fetus women are forced to carry. Outlawing abortion puts women from the moment an egg is fertilized in the lowest possible category of person. Even before a woman is pregnant, she is consigned to this status of sub-person who is legally required to use her body in the service of a fertilized egg imbued with far greater rights than she; she has fewer rights to her own body than any other category of person, dead or alive, in the US.

I’m so sorry, I’m so frightened, I’m so frightened for my daughter. We have utterly, utterly failed.

A Year of Posts

Throughout my 40th year of life, I posted on this blog every single day. This wasn’t initially a goal — during my parental leave, I enjoyed writing a little something here just to get a marker of my baby’s life down and to do something a tiny bit creative while braindead and sleep-deprived. Then, at some point, it became a point of curiosity as to whether I could make it a year, and finally I got so close, it seemed somehow mandatory to reach the benchmark.

There have been good and bad things about publishing here every day:

The good:

  • I have a lovely little treasure box of a year of my baby’s life. I keep a diary but my diary is mostly just a boring emptying of my brain’s current stressors. Because I was publishing here for an external audience, these posts include detail and narrative that I can imagine reading when I am much older and have forgotten all of this.
  • Forcing myself to find something worth writing about every day caused me to be more observant and to think more creatively. I wrote when I thought I couldn’t possibly write, and those were some of my better posts. There’s a lot of stuff here that I’m proud and happy to have written that I absolutely would not have written if I didn’t have this arbitrary self-imposed requirement.
  • I’ve gotten a lot of really nice compliments from people on my writing, including sometimes from people who I had no idea were reading this blog. That’s felt great! Also, my family has really enjoyed reading these posts.
  • It’s taught me that conditions do not have to be perfect for me to write. I can get really avoidant about writing and think my house has to be spotless and I need five hours of uninterrupted time, etc., and this has really broken me out of that way of thinking. This is also helpful for my job, which requires a lot of writing — previously I felt if I were exhausted and not able to think clearly, I simply could not string two words together. But now I know I always can if I make myself; it might not be solid gold, but I can at least get a draft down and refine it the next day.
  • I think I have gotten better at writing.

The bad:

  • There’ve been a lot of good posts that I wouldn’t otherwise have written, but there’ve also been a lot of pointless things that I posted just because I had to post something. I don’t really agree with adding to the noise that’s out there — if you publicly share something even just on social media, I feel it should be of at least some use to somebody.
  • Blogs are dead and writing here has basically been like throwing a party in an empty parking lot. It’s really depressing and lonely to write something you think is good and get no response to it whatsoever; most days here I just get a like or two. Not to mention all the bots that interact with my posts. By comparison, it’s so easy to get real engagement on Twitter. I’ve been doing this for myself when I’m older, but even still, it feels silly some days and vain, like performing for a mirror.
  • I have Opinions about talking about Edith on the internet. I know this is a minority opinion and I won’t go too into it, because most people feel differently, but I think it’s important to be a good steward of her privacy until she’s old enough to take control of how she wants to represent herself. It’s a tricky balance because my experience of motherhood is my own story, not Edith’s, and talking about my life on the internet is one way I communicate and express myself, and I’m allowed to share the most profound thing that’s ever happened to me. But it’s also Edith’s story, and I don’t have the right to tell hers. I’ve tried to walk a line that feels comfortable to me, but sometimes I really feel like I shouldn’t be talking about her at all.
  • It’s a real pain in the ass to have to post something here every day, especially on the weekends.

Going forward, I think I’m going to aim to publish something twice a week, and also maybe put a little more effort into my diary. I’m hoping this balance will keep all the good stuff above, but cut out the bad stuff.

Vegetables

There are many ways I consistently fail throughout my life, but possibly the most omnipresent and shameful is produce-based. I can’t recall a time when I did not have vegetables rotting in the fridge that I was simply unable to deal with. Right now, for example, there are any number of bags of pre-cut vegetables that I paid extra for, knowing this would make it easier for me to toss them in the oven for roasting. For about a month, I did! But then I got tired of roasting vegetables; the act of roasting vegetables began to seem unpleasant and then impossible. This week, I began to resent the vegetables: who the fuck do they think they are, do they think they control me? Nobody can make me use my scant free time to roast vegetables if I don’t want to; I’m a free adult.

There are some people (I live with one) who, when they notice vegetables turning in their fridge say something like, “Gotta cook these tonight, it’s the last night for them” and then…do it. Like it’s nothing.

I will never be one of these people. For me, spoiling produce is a rebuke, a battle, a vice, a deep personal shame, a symbol, a resentment, an enemy, and finally, garbage in about that order.

Meanwhile, I ate an entire bag of goldfish crackers for dinner last night.

Makeup

A friend recently discovered that when Sally Ride went into space in 1984, the NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would be sufficient for her two-week journey. My friend found this so ridiculous that she Snopes’d it to check.

I had heard about the tampons, but I had never heard about something else in the Snopes article: that the engineers also developed a makeup kit for her, since they figured women might…need makeup? Like how they need tampons? I find this even more incredible than the tampons bit. They seriously gave Sally Ride eyeliner for space.

Eyeliner.

I just. What the fuck. What do men think women even are.

This made me think about how a friend and I were talking about things after the Trump election and we both had been feeling very strongly that it was suddenly very important not to wear makeup. I was surprised when she brought this up, because I really felt it, but I didn’t expect it to be a relatable sentiment. I had felt this vaguely in the past — that at my level of status, it was important that I make a real point of going bare-faced especially in professional settings since I will not actually be penalized economically for it unlike other women who cannot make that choice, and so those of us who can push back about these expectations need to do it — but after that election, it felt newly pressing. I haven’t worn makeup since, really, I don’t think (except some concealer when necessary). I don’t ever plan to again, although who knows.

Increasingly as I get older, I feel more and more like I’m compromising my personal values when I adhere to beauty standards. Or more to the point, I feel actively submissive when I do, which is not how I want to see myself. There are some I still can’t seem to buck, like I’ve stopped shaving my pits, but I really don’t feel comfortable going out with hairy legs. But I’m working on it.

Cocktail

After a long weekend, I very much wanted a drink, but there is nothing in the house, so I am currently drinking some whiskey mixed with cucumber lime Gatorade.

I’ve drunk worse.

Scorpion

Well, it finally happened. After four years of shaking out my shoes preemptively, I have come face-to-face with a scorpion in the house.

I was taking a shower last night and a massive one appeared from thin air and started running around the perimeter of the shower. I am usually a catch-and-release person, but I beat this thing to death with a nearby shower brush I have never once used before I could even consider its humanity (arachnidy?).

Then I stayed up late googling all about scorpions and scorpions in the house and scorpions in the bed and whether scorpions could scale a pack-and-play and the effect a scorpion sting might have on a 22-lb fourteen-month-old. Which sounds stressful, but comparatively speaking, it was actually a light diversion from the doom scrolling I had been doing prior to the scorpion encounter, so in that respect I am grateful to it.