Recently, a friend posted a link to this article giving a big fat middle finger (or two) to the idea that anyone should have to “dress for their shape.” Everyone should be able to wear what they like, it claims, regardless of body type. I agree, in theory. That said, I wonder if in all our conviction about avoiding body-shaming, fat-shaming and recognizing the sad reality that most people don’t receive a loaded credit card one morning to turn their wardrobes around we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water. By this I mean that some people might want to know if they look ridiculous.
Case in point: me.
I am the type who gains weight while breastfeeding. My body is a wonderful baby-making machine. It conceives easily, carries uneventfully, delivers at home and breastfeeds for years. Only, it’s taking its job too seriously, to the point of overdoing it a little. This would have been an important survival scheme in prehistoric times but in today’s context of overabundance, it bites a little. Especially since fashion is so cruel to the curvy. I used to consider “extended” breastfeeding to be anything past the introduction of solid food and never had trouble regaining my pre-pregnancy weight before conceiving again. Now that I get pregnant with the next child while still nursing the last one, I just pack-on the pounds.
Last winter, I found myself weighting just shy of 200 lbs and that was not cool. I shared about my weight-gain-loss journey on my babywearing blog. I started a Whole 30 program and lost almost 20 lbs. I kept eating Paleo but the weight-loss leveled-off. Oh well. I’m 15 months post-partum, I have back fat and love handles, a twin muffin-top and cleavage. I went from being a boxy size 6-8 to an apple-shaped size 12-14 and I don’t know how to dress!
My idea of clothes-shopping involves grabbing a pair of jeans between a box of pancake mix and a head of broccoli, thank you Joe Fresh. You can do that when you’re a size 6. Recently, I learned an important lesson upon returning from a family walk during which my oldest daughter held the camera: you can’t do that when you are not mannequin-shaped! Exhibit A:
What? Is this really what I look like with skinny jeans? I used to look great in skinny jeans! Those skinny jeans were $19 between the tea bags and the Epsom salts! But the most pressing question is: WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME I COULDN’T WEAR TAPERED LEG ANYTHING ANYMORE? WHY? It wouldn’t have been body-shaming, it would have been good judgement!
Now can we talk about low-rise jeans and t-shirts? Regular normal t-shirts? Once again, you can’t do that when you carry 45 extra pounds between your chest and your midsection. Listen, it’s not that I’m ashamed of my muffin: it has successfully nourished my last 3 children. My belly has accumulated the pounds where my children needed them. But! Being body positive doesn’t mean I have to flaunt my muffin. So why am I still wearing low-rise jeans with fitted t-shirts I ask you?
Because I don’t know how to dress that body, that’s why. It’s a new body that came to me in my early fourties and that I have to tame. I want to see that body as beautiful and it’s hard to see a size 12 as beautiful when you’re trying to fit it in size 8 style.
This article is an invitation. And invitation to send me a fully loaded credit card your best fashion tips, tricks and resources for turning my wardrobe around on a dime. Style inspiration, shopping websites, links, how you do it (especially if clothes shopping involves a lot of little people and very little time), banks to rob, you get the idea. Post your best links, tips and recommendations in the comments and be assured of my eternal gratitude. Friends don’t let friends go out looking like that.
Answer Me This is the internet’s favorite virtual cocktail party where we all answer the same six random questions and get to know each other a little better. Originally hosted by Kendra at Catholic All Year, I invite you to post your answers in the comments or publish them on your own blog and post the link in the comments. Unless you just want to sit back, relax and read. That’s ok too.
1. What’s currently on your To Do list?
I not a list person. The only thing on my to-do list is to write a to-do list because the lack of sleep and exercise is finally getting to my brain. Sitting down to write a to-do list is the best way to obliterate any memory of what I need to do. Clean slate. If I manage to jot a few things down, I’ll forget I even have a to-do list.
2. Better type of superhero: magic/radioactive powers? Or trauma/gadgets/hard work?
I am not well-versed in the world of Superheroes. In fact, I don’t really know any. I don’t watch TV, I rarely go to the movies, it’s just not my cup of tea. But from what I heard, I think I prefer the magic/radioactive powers. There is a scene in the movie Frozen — I know, not a superhero movie but bear with me — when Elsa and Anna’s parents bring the girls to the trolls after their games with Elsa’s magical powers turn deadly. The chief troll asks the parents: “Born or cursed?” meaning “was she born with her powers or did they come as the result of a curse?” I think that we all have gifts that sometimes feel like curses. Or gifts that we misuse and turn into curses. I am an introvert who moves slowly. I process my feelings inwardly and I abhor conflict. My husband is the quintessential “type A” personality. He can do more in 5 hours that I can do in 5 days. He is driven, energetic and decisive. I am mellow, consciensous and ambivalent. For many years, I saw him as a model to emulate. I felt inferior, I didn’t see my phlegmatic personality as a gift but a liability. I was unable to appreciate what it brought to the equilibrium of our family. It took me a long time to see that my temperament was a complement to my husband’s. That slowing him down was not a bad thing. That tempering the drive with a little human touch was creating a much more pleasant mix than pure unadulterated energy. The born or cursed superhero has to learn to use his gifts wisely, for the service of the good. Like us, he didn’t choose to be that way. In that, his struggle is a lot more relatable than that of the whiz kid superhero who tinkers his way to greatness. I often encourage mothers who are feeling inadequate because they are not able to keep the children entertained while keeping the fridge stocked and the house clean on their way to a volunteer board meeting. I tell them: “What if your gift was not to be supermom? What if it was not to run a successful business with 7 kids dressed to the nines and a pitch perfect Instagram account? What if it was to curl-up on the couch, read stories, forage for wild berries and look for weird spiders in the backyard?” What if you have an illness or your children have special needs and you are showing the world fortitude and and perseverance just by getting up? Can you make way cheerfully to the needs of others? Are you able to put people before things or accomplishments? These abilities are gifts. If you don’t believe me, just ask the grown children of successful entrepreneurs and neat freaks, they’ll tell you. The trauma/gadget/ hard work superhero personifies one of today’s most popular attitude: the idea that all your dreams are within your reach if you only dream hard enough. This not only false, it’s not even that good an idea. If we all followed our dreams, there would be only artists and organic farmers and no one to pick-up the trash. The magic/radioactive powers superhero must choose to put his powers to good use, regardless of his dreams and aspirations. How much suffering would not have been relieved had Robin Hood been working at dreaming to be Superman? Not everyone was made for great things. Some of us were made to achieve little things with great love. And that’s ok too.
3. Finding out if baby is a boy or a girl before birth: Good idea? Bad idea?
As a rule, we don’t find out. With exceptions. When my first four were little, we had 3 girls and a boy. My son once asked me:
– I’d really like if God would make you pregnant. Because I really want a baby brother.
I answered: “You know, if I got pregnant it could be another girl.” To which he replied, incredulous:
– Why would God do *that*?
When I did get pregnant, Colin wanted to know so badly that we indulged and found out. It was a very happy moment and I didn’t regret finding out. But I still prefer the surprise at birth.
I also found out with the twins. The pregnancy was a big, shocking surprise. Finding out at 15 weeks that I was having twins was a big, shocking surprise. I was all surprised-out for 2011. I just wanted to know.
With Damien, I found out by accident 2 days before he was born. I had an ultrasound and the technician, who knew I didn’t want to know, let it slip. She said: “He is going to be surrounded by so much love…” Then caught herself and said: “I mean he, like “the baby”…” I would never have noticed her slip had she not caught herself because the noun “baby” in French is a masculine noun (nouns have gender in French, did you know that?) but I left thinking “I think I’m having a boy.” I didn’t tell anyone else so my husband and children were still surprised. When Damien was born, my husband whispered “It’s a little boy!” in my ear and I thought “yup!”
Two of my friends expecting twins kept the surprise. I really admired their self-control — because there are so many opportunities to ask when you have weekly ultrasounds!
4. Have you ever appeared on a stadium jumbotron?
I haven’t but my oldest son has. When he was about 8 we went to Parliament Hill on Canada Day and he got the idea of seeking out the Jumbotron camera dude. That’s when we realized that he had a bit of a showman personality. It was all downhill from there (in a good way!).
5. Are you more book smart or more street smart?
That’s a funny question because I am a book-smartie who married a street-smartie. Almost 20 years later, I am more street-smart by association than I ever thought I could be. Still, my situational awareness is legendary, in the wrong sense. My husband recently moved the camping trailer we used as a base of operations during our house construction. It was located in the field immediately in front of our front door. I didn’t notice, even though I had been asking him to remove that eyesore from my field of view. I think I’m still more book-smartish.
6. Have you had that baby yet? (Feel free to skip this one if it’s not applicable to you.)
Well, no. I’m not even pregnant. We hope to have some good news to share soon but that old body of mine seems to be closing shop early after 20 very intense years. I was chatting with my healthcare provider after an early loss last month (what they call a chemical pregnancy: peed on a stick, saw a faint line, got my periods 2h later). She was asking me if I wanted to do anything about it, specifically look into supplemental progesterone. And upon thinking about it, I decided that accepting not conceiving was the flip side of accepting unplanned pregnancies. Also, being unable to conceive when you are 41 and tandem breastfeeding your 8th and 9th children might actually be a wise thing. As in: my body might be telling me something. And I’m willing to listen.
When I started homeschooling, I encouraged myself by thinking that I wasn’t the first one to do this. Not the first one to homeschool with an infant. Not the first one to homeschool with toddler twins. Not the first one to homeschool with a large family. Not the first one to homeschool 4 different grades. Not the first one to homeschool kids who don’t want to homeschool. Not the first one to homeschool outgoing, extroverted kids with two volumes settings: loud and louder. Not the first one to homeschool children with a lot of energy and big feelings. Not the first one to homeschool with a husband who works long hours and cannot help with homeschooling. Not the first one to homeschool without my family’s support. Not the first one to homeschool in a language other than English. Other people have done it, right? So it has to be possible. Well, I’m not so sure anymore!
It’s getting lonely at the top. I see people quit homeschooling every week for one of the reasons I listed above. And when I hit the Internet looking for help, I find people with any combo of one or two of my challenges but never all of them. There’s Sarah from Amongst Lovely Things who has toddler twins and recommends lowering expectations. But expectations can only be lowered so much when you are homeschooling highschool. We lowered our expectations so much this year, we nearly dug a hole to China. I wish I could curl-up on the couch and read to everyone from the grade 10 chemistry text book but THEY WON’T STAY SEATED!
And then there’s the lovely — lovely! — Kendra from Catholic All Year who has a large family and gets by being pregnant, breastfeeding and homeschooling by having naps and exercising. And how do naps happen? By putting the baby and the toddler down for a nap at the same time and then giving the other children a quiet activity to do. This makes me want to cry. My almost 4 year-old twins have not napped since they were 2-and-a -half and a quiet activity for the four youngest means that I have to physically restrain them, usually by sitting on one and keeping the door closed on the other. It’s great. We have a quiet time daily to the sound of children howling “HOW MANY MORE MINUTES?” every 30 seconds. My husband thought I would feel better if I exercised so we started getting up at 5 am — because that’s how early we have to wake-up if we want to wake-up before the kids. Since we have teenagers who are up until 11 pm, it gives me 5 interrupted hours of sleep on which to keep my wits, my household and my homeschool running smoothly. It gives a brand new meaning to the quip: “I’m in no shape to exercise” believe it or not.
It’s not that I’m jealous of people who have children who are temperamentally disposed to sit down and stay quiet. After all, my four oldest children were pretty easy. But it does make me realize that homeschooling is not going to be easy for us and sometimes I’m a big baby and I shake my fist at God and say: “If you were going to call me to large familyhood, why couldn’t you have sent me the kids who slept in my fourties instead of my twenties??” (then God laughed and sent me twins who didn’t sleep for 15 months and stopped napping at 2.)
And then there’s Julie from Creekside Learning who has a ton of great suggestions for homeschooling with a busy toddler underfoot. Julie adequately describes my life when she writes:
But when he was not-quite-two, I typed “how to homeschool with a toddler” into a search engine and found things like this: “Give your child a copy of the worksheet your older child is doing so he will feel included.” That was good advice but it was just not going to work with my super-active, sweet boy. He was the kind of toddler who tore up worksheets with his teeth, spit them out and looked at me like “What else ya got?”
Julie makes realistic suggestions for the mere mortals but she has 3 children total and I have 3 children *under 4*. And 4 different grades to teach. And 11 people to feed. And a house to keep from getting shut down by public health authorities. We can’t explore our way through algebra outdoors by counting puddles and spiders. Homeschooling at odd hours is impractical for the elementary school aged children who are tired after the twins are in bed and having a slack year will only work as long as it’s an exception, not your way of life (see “homeschooling highschool” above.)
(As I was writing this, I saw Ève apply something to her face from the corner of my eye and I asked “What are you doing?” She answered: “Putting my make-up.” I asked “With what?” She replied: “Butter.”)
There are so many “turn key” homeschooling curricula allowing lucky parents to crack the books open and let the magic happen. Some even have teacher assistance and tutoring. But all these wonderful options would require us to give-up on French instruction. So I’m still here, fighting my way through a makeshift French curriculum while guarding the fridge and making sure the twins don’t set the house of fire. My homeschool days start early and end late and my kids are even less thrilled about homeschooling then they were when we started (which brings the enthusiasm level down to “cadaveric”). Onward and upward!
Are we going to keep homeschooling in light of this difficult first year? In a nutshell, yes. For all the difficulties that we have faced, we have also seen positive changes in our children that we want to see blossom. I can see that the challenges associated with parenting 3 year-old twins are temporary and age-related. I can also see that many of my challenges are due to learning to homeschool and the process of “deschooling” . My teenagers are still affected by the homeschooling stereotypes they have heard while attending school, especially in the year prior to our move to homeschool. They are also not as independent and autonomous as they would be had they been homeschooled from the start. Part of my problems with homeschooling — and the reason why other homeschoolers with large families have better success — is that I have children who should be old enough to work autonomously but don’t. When my teenagers run our of work or encounter a problem they cannot solve, they revert to school mode and stop working. This means that all 7 children present at home during the day need me to be physically present by their side while working or living. That’s not a normal occurrence in large homeschooling families unless they have children with special needs. My children, especially my teenagers, have yet to take responsibility for their learning and their socialization. They are quick to criticize what I throw at them but in true school manner, have not clued-in that they can affect change by getting involved. There is still too much room for improvement to call it quits at this point.
I always tell parents that they need to raise their children with the end-game in mind. When I look forward, I like what I see. I can imagine the fruit before it matures and the fruits of homeschooling are the ones I want to harvest.
(As an aside, if you have suggestions that don’t involve hiring a butler, a maid, a driver and a governess, feel free to shoot them my way.)