No joke.

June 11, 2013

There is an old joke that I have always loved. 

Why do cannibals avoid divorced women?

Too bitter.

It gets me every time.  It’s been on my mind these days when I find I’m feeling sorry for myself or overwhelmed or… bitter

I’m divorced.  It’s not a joke, and I do not think it is funny. 

I hope to continue to write, but consider this my interlude to the second act, which will only be possible if I make it known that this is my transition.

Advertisements

No lane lines

March 14, 2011

I’ve added a layer to my own title of “Momma in Motion” since the new year — and it involves a lot of driving.  Yes, we have entered the ever-exciting world of kids’ activities and I’m Chauffeur in Chief.  My two older children have hit age requirements that qualify them for some new activities — including dance, swimming, and music lessons.

My patient husband has been holding down the fort  — and the toddler — when I’m in driving/delivery mode.  I think it’s the best we’ve worked together to make positive things happen for the family.  I’m more organized than ever — bags of snacks and juice, extra clothes and diapers, and a few distractions for the down time in the minutes before the start of an activity.  The bags are queued up by the door every evening.  My husband checks in to determine where to be and when to be there.  It’s a well oiled machine, even if it is one that is fueled by pretzels and apple juice.

One of the top reasons I’ve been even more proud of my daughter than I usually am has been from watching her swim.  Honestly, I knew after Thanksgiving that I was signing her up for a program for which she was not quite ready.  For a few different reasons, the coaches were willing to take a chance on her, even knowing she was a little bit under the mark for getting started.  And from my perspective, knowing what I know about Natalie, I was confident she was going to see the other kids doing better than her and be inspired to push herself.  Every kid is different in situations like that, but I know Natalie, she was going to want to improve.  And, oh my — she has.

My determined little girl inspired me.  I’ve watched her swim twice a week, an hour practice at a time,  never taking a break or taking it easy.  I enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet, caught up on email or finished a few knitting projects, but I found I was spending more and more time listening to her coaches, watching them explain the drills, and seeing her visibly improve each week.

Then I noticed that while her practice was going on, down at the other end of the pool, the master’s group — which tends to be an age category more than an ability category (although most are former competitive swimmers) — was also having  practice.  And I began to wonder — what would it be like if I tried to swim at the same time as Natalie?

It took me over a month to get up the courage to ask if I might join.  Another couple of weeks to get over the hesitation hump I was stuck on.  And then, one day, I realized it was time.

It’s no secret that I’m a horrible swimmer.  Fear of drowning, inefficient stroke, strong dislike of being chilly and wet, feelings of panic when I can’t breathe when I want….  not exactly the kind of person that jumps at the chance to join a swim team.  And there I was, standing on the deck, and this time my daughter was telling me, “Have fun Mom, do your best!” instead of the other way around.

When I had inquired with the head coach about joining the group, I asked if it would be okay to stick close to the wall or lane line, just to ease into the rhythm and yet still be within arms reach of taking a break if I was feeling nervous or out of breath.  She assured me that this would be completely fine.

I approached the coach of the group I was joining, nervously introduced myself and warned him right away that I wasn’t very good and would be happy to take any advice he had to offer.  His voice said “Fine.  Great.” and his body language said “whatever, lady.”  Then he said, “looks like there is room over in lane 5.”  I followed his hand, counted the numbers across the wall on the edge of the pool and promptly started to hyperventilate.  Lane 5 is in the middle.  Of the deep end/diving well.  And there were no lanes lines anywhere in sight.  I was going to be out in the middle of the pool, in water that was at least 20 feet deep.  This is not cool.

I actually had to take a moment to turn my back to the group and get it together.  Crap, crap, crap!!!  I was looking at an hour practice slogging through something I am terrible at, and doing it in just about the worst possible location.

And you know what?  I did it.

For the record, I am not being falsely modest about my swimming ability.  The coach watched me for a few lengths of the pool, and after getting the rest of the team going on some killer workout, came to kneel by the side of the pool.  “Excuse me, I was just wondering.  Do you just want to do your own thing, or do you actually want me to help you?”  I told him I wanted any/all advice and coaching that would help me get better and help me feel even a little more comfortable.  He’s pushing me very hard to undo years of coping skills and bad habits.

And so it begins.  I’m the slowest one in the pool, I take breaks whenever I’m feeling panicky and out of breath, and the first thing I always do when I jump into the water is to scan the bottom of the deep end for any sharks lurking about.  (The point is that yes, I am a head case.)  And I’ve experienced several moments of wondering if I was going to make it across the pool again or if this time was it, I was truly going to drown.  I might swallow a bit of water and stop to tread water, coughing and sputtering, and then, mustering up my courage, continue to work my way across the pool again.

I’m learning a lot.  That is the point, after all.  The first thing on my mind is that my daughter is still doing this too.  As a just-turned-seven year old, we agreed to get her in the pool when she really couldn’t swim far enough to qualify, and she also endured one-hour practices during which she swims and kicks non-stop.  I’m gassed at the end of the hour, and I’m theoretically in decent cardiovascular shape.  I was proud of her at the time, but in retrospect, I’m truly amazed at what she is accomplishing!

I’m also learning that I can still try new things, that is is possible to learn something new even when it involves unlearning a mid-lifetime of muscle memory and mental habits.  I will likely not be some inspirational story later on of a the mom who started swimming after age 40 and incredibly got to the Olympics….  um, no, that won’t be me.  But I will be able to jump into the deep end without grimacing (outwardly) and get in a workout (and yes, everyone is right, swimming is a great workout), even if the water is deep and cool, and even when there are no lane lines in reach.

Just keep breathing.

Fat-bottom gals.

December 30, 2010

I’ve always been the kind of person who hates going clothes shopping, hates dressing rooms, hates buying jeans and swimsuits….  I believe in 3-way mirrors, and eliminating panty-lines.  I bought my first pair of jeans since high school at the ripe old age of 37 — only after seeing Oprah’s favorite “long and lean” Gap jeans which she swears by (and now I do too.)  However, I have never worn jeans to work, even on our long-standing and highly endorsed “casual Fridays.”  And I’ve noticed that perhaps more than a few of my coworkers might consider following suit.  In a cross between modesty and self-consciousness, I am very mindful of dressing in ways that I’ve learned flatter my only asset and conceal most of my flaws.

On the long list of reasons I run, very near the top of the list is the fact that only running serves to keep me about ten pounds under the weight I would gravitate to without it.  And, unlike biking, running reduces my tendency to “bulk up” with muscles.  I’m well aware of my body type.  I haven’t embraced it yet, but I know there is a limit to how thin I’m going to get without completely restricting my diet beyond what I think I could maintain long-term.  I know I have curves.  I know I will never wear “skinny jeans.”

But, still.

A few weeks ago, I was playing with my young sons, and I was pretending to be a bear or maybe it was a lion, crawling down the hallway and growling at them while they laughed and screamed in delight, first running away from me, only to return in a few minutes to make sure I was still chasing them, before scampering away again.

At some point, I glanced behind me to make sure I wasn’t about to back into something, and caught a glimpse of my enormous derriere in our full-length mirror stationed at the end of the hallway.  I was fascinated and mortified all at the same time.  I stood up and kept my inspecting going for a few more moments, feeling the heat of embarrassment creeping up the back of my neck and the tears beginning to sting my eyes.

I was looking at my mother’s bottom.

Let me stop right her and get a few disclaimers out there immediately.  1.  My mother is a beautiful woman.  2.  My mother is also a very modest and very self-conscious woman when it comes to her body.  3.  My mother raised 5 children and did not work outside the home, and did this in the 1960s and 70s, which my history lessons tell me preceded the running and fitness craze.  (In fact, my mother points out that during her gym classes growing up, the girls were only allowed to jump rope.  No running, no sports, no calisthenics.  Nothing that my Title 9 generation of woman took for granted in our development, and nothing that I think my daughter will ever have to imagine, thank goodness.)  Mom raised us and didn’t go off to the gym or the track to work out.

It’s discouraging on both a personal and a more cultural level.  I don’t know if I can explain it well, but I occasionally contemplate how in our day so much processed food and enormous portions undermines the gains we have made as a society that knows so much more than ever before in history about the science of food, fitness, exercise, and improved health.  Successful athletes continue to push the limits of what is known and believed about the capacity of the human form, and yet as everyone knows we are facing unprecedented levels of obesity at all age levels.

My mom served us simple meals, the kind of food that is characterized know as “whole foods” because that was just about the only options available.  If memory serves, the only processed food you could get back then were a few varieties of Hamburger Helper or Shake and Bake Chicken?  We never had chips or cookies just lying around, and when we did have cookies, she made them herself with ingredients she could pronounce.

Of course, joggers and walkers and aerobics classes were not a common sight in those days either.  Exercise was simpler, and it mainly entailed the manual labor of running a household and keeping it and its inhabitants clean and fed.  I have a vague memory of an electric vibrating exercise belt that involved standing on a platform, placing a wide belt around one’s hips and thighs, and flipping the switch.  It would vibrate, jiggling those offending body parts.  I can’t, for the life of me, imagine what the point of this “exercise” was, other than perhaps to horrify the person doing the “exercise” so they would decide not to eat anything for the rest of the week?

So when I looked in the mirror and saw my mother’s backside looming at me, I was more than a little upset.  I run every single day, for crying out loud.  The whole point is to NOT have my mother’s bottom, and yet, all signs point to the fact that it’s there, larger than life.

My mom did the best she could with the information that was available to her at the time that she was raising kids and trying to keep up her mojo.  Her wisdom, passed on to me, has included very good tips, such as “don’t clean your kids’ plates” and “if you find you’re eating everything else in the house because you’re trying NOT to eat the cookie, just eat the cookie and get on with your day.”  She didn’t run, bike, or swim.  She didn’t lift weights, but of course, she did lift countless baskets of laundry, bags of groceries, and babies, toddlers, and children — and now grandchildren — in those arms.

So what lesson can I really glean from this?  I can’t fight my genetic make-up, but at the same time I can’t give up the good fight.  I know it’s not just about fitting into a size 8 instead of giving it up and relaxing in a more spacious size 12.  It’s about being healthy, being energetic enough to be the fun mom at the playground and at the pool instead of the mom sitting on the bench and watching, it’s about having the endurance to get through the day when the day is 18 hours long and doesn’t include 10 minutes to sit down.  It’s about showing my kids just how great it is to be active together and how much fun it is to be able to move and jump and climb and run.

But I will  be thinking it’s still better if I can do all that and fit into a size 8 besides.

Thanks, Mom.

Chatterbox.

November 9, 2010

For the past 7 years, I have accomplished most of my runs by running with some company.  I can’t think of a run that I’ve done without my constant and steadfast companion, my dog Josie.  But at least 65% of my runs over this time period have been run while pushing one or 2 of my 3 children.

I have very strong and powerful memories of running in Cedar Rapids, which will always be a depressing and smelly town from my perspective.  As a new wife and a new mom, I pushed my newborn daughter through the NE side, trying to make sense of the roads, trying to get my bearings in both literal and figurative ways.  We lived near the Mt. Mercy campus, and to this day, I can’t think of more challenging hills than I endured on that small and lovely campus.  Over the course of those early years, Natalie and I talked about everything.  She learned to identify all the sights and sounds of the outside world, and later, I got to listen in as she learned to tell her little stories with her Polly Pocket dolls.  Once I got in good enough shape, I was able to sing with her while running, first the alphabet, but later Old MacDonald — strangely enough, her farms must have resembled some sort of GLBT Puppy Mills, if such things exist.  On and on we’d sing, about Red Dogs, Pink Dogs, Green Dogs, Purple Dogs…  E — I, E — I, Oooooooo.

Even when Max arrived, Natalie remained my running buddy.  I’d time my runs to be post-nursing events, when Max would doze off in my arms, and I could put him down to take a nice long nap.  So Daddy was in charge, but admittedly it was a pretty easy job of mainly making sure that Max was still breathing (“Please check him every 10 minutes!”) and not setting the house on fire.  So Natalie and Josie and I would take off and explore City Park and other routes now that we moved to Iowa City, the college-town dynamic that was more to my liking given where I had grown up.

When I was pregnant with Timothy, and then during maternity leave and beyond, Timothy became my running partner.  Back to the infant accessories and a much lighter load to push up and down the inevitable hills in our neighborhood.  It seemed like a natural transition, and I just took for granted that Natalie and Max were able to entertain themselves with some minimal supervision from my husband, who could keep an eye on things while he read the paper and did his own morning routine.

Lately though, Max has emerged as my Dark Horse, my favorite little man to take along on my runs.  Out of the blue, one morning as I was heading out the front door, after having set the kids up with access to some toys, some soy milk (Natalie) or almond milk (Max) and having pre-selected a show that was in keeping with our family values, Max hurried to me  and declared, “I want to come with you!”

“You do?!?”

“Yes, I want to come with you!”

And so I delayed my own start to get him set up to come along in the newly cool weather, including a drink and a snack, a jacket and hat, and transplanted Timothy from the single running stroller to the double one, and put Max alongside, and put him in charge of handing out snacks to his little brother.

For the next hour, I enjoyed the company of my imaginative and observant 3 1/2 year old, who noticed everything and was thrilled to tell me about all of it.  “Look Mommy, a UPS truck!”  “Look at that crow up there!”  “There’s our church!”

I realized what an excellent memory Max has for things we’ve seen and done in the past.  I noticed how polite he is.  I noticed how UN-demanding he is in comparison to his siblings.

By the end of the run, I felt compelled to just hold Max for a minute after I helped him out of the stroller.  “Thank you Max, for talking to me during my run, it really helped me to have fun with you.”

Since that day, Max has joined me on several other runs.  Our best moment so far was an early morning run during a stretch of time when Max was waking up much earlier than usual.  We had managed glimpses of bats and even a raccoon, but those sightings paled in comparison to a huge owl we happened to notice up in a lone tree set close to the sidewalk near our house.  As we stopped and quietly watched it, it turned its head the impossible distance that only owls can achieve.  A slow blink, and then it spread it wings and silently dropped from the tree, gliding off, nearly effortlessly and motionless, and disappeared into the darkness of the pre-dawn sky.  Max and I didn’t know what else to say, other than “Wow, Max.”  “Wow, Mommy.”

The other day, I was still in the tail end of the funk that had been hanging on for a few days.  I needed some time outside to clear the last of the black thoughts out of my head, and hooked up my dog’s leash and prepared to head out the front door.   I was still having a pity party and wanted to be alone.

“I want to go with you Mommy.”

“No, Max, not today.  Mommy wants to go alone today.”

“But Mommy, I want to go.  I’ll talk to you!”

One guess whether or not I changed my mind.  (It’s the eyelashes.  Max, like many little boys, has those seductive long eyelashes that it seems only boys are blessed with.  Gets me every time.)

I know the days are limited, how long I can push my kids in my stroller before we reach its weight limit, or the limits of my own strength as I try to power them up the hills on my route.  I know I’m much slower when I take them along.  I know I have to plan to take breaks to play at a playground we pass, or to go potty, or to look at something interesting and discuss what it is and what it’s doing.  But these runs with my kids are the best parts of my attempts at fitness.  I get to know them in ways that just wouldn’t be possible any other way.  And perhaps they are getting to know something about me that I can’t just talk to them about, or teach them about in any other way.  I want to move, I want to be outside, and I want to share it with them.

And if someone wants to talk to me while I’m doing it, well, I’m going to listen.

Crash. Burn.

October 25, 2010

It was a rough weekend at our household, and I humbly admit that my own funk contaminated the rest of the family.  In my own defense, I’m on the tail of my annual bronchitis-palooza that has translated into coughing spells only about every 45 seconds or so for the past 17 days.  I’ve actually thrown my own back out, coughing.  Needless to say, I have not exactly been at my best for awhile.

That being said, I simply reached my limit on Saturday.  In a good faith effort to keep my children occupied while my patient husband gallantly offered to vacuum and shampoo our carpet, I decided I would keep the kids and their grubbiness out of the house, and give the carpet a fighting chance to be clean and dry before our return.  The day was easy enough to schedule around this — I gathered the gang up for a visit to the library, then off to a birthday party where the entertainment duties were off my shoulders for 2 1/2 hours, then took them to Mass that evening.

I don’t know when it all started to go down-hill, but at some point during the day, I could feel my blood pressure rising, the volume of my own voice increasing, and my will to live plummeting.  I had enough.  By the end of the day and the end of Mass, I was feeling very outnumbered  3 to 1, and decided God would understand if I just needed to leave after Communion — which I NEVER do, usually —  I quietly put our few books and distractions in my purse and prepared to make my exit as non-disruptive as possible, and suddenly found myself in an argument with my (usually) sweet son Max.

“Please put the blanket in the bag,” I whispered.

“No, I want to give it to Timothy.”

“Please put the blanket in the bag.”

“NO!  I want to give it to Timothy!”

“Blanket.  Bag.  Please.”

“No!…”

I was gritting my teeth.  I was hot.  I was pissed off.  All the whining, demanding, and bickering of the day — and yes, it had been like this all day — came to a head right then at that moment and I reached my limit.

I’m officially pulling out of the election for Mother of the Year.  I think I’ve disqualified myself.

By Sunday, I was pretty sure that it was either them or me — someone needed to go away and regroup.  I chose me.  I left them all behind, in the capable-enough hands of my patient husband.  (In his defense, he is used to me running the show where the kids are concerned.  It’s probably the result of working-mommy guilt, I really do want to be the one to do it all with the kids, even though this weekend would show that it can wear me down to a whimpering nub.)

So he’s a bit out of practice.  He counts on me to do it all, and I count on him (and hate to admit it) to pick up the pieces when I crash and burn.

Even though I knew their afternoon would pretty much be spent watching TV and eating goldfish crackers and popcorn, I got out of the house for a few hours.  Inhale.  Exhale.  And repeat.

And, eventually, I missed them.  And I went home.

I arrived back at the house to find a very sober group of short people.  And my husband admitted, “I actually thought, just once, ‘I wonder if she’s coming back.'”  He knew I would, but it was a passing thought that came up.

The rest of the afternoon was subdued, and people were quick to listen to what I asked, and responding the first time, instead of the typical 5th or 6th time.

I have very mixed emotions today, about how I handled all of this.  I have to admit I’m human and that there is a limit to my patience and my ability to manage this family.  But I’m sorry I reached it, and that my children paid a little bit of a price, and they did feel a little sad and maybe a little worried about what was going to happen next.  I’m glad I had the self-control to stop myself before I said something to my husband or kids that I could never take back.   I’m sorry there are children out there, far too many children, who do truly suffer at the hands of parents or caregivers who weren’t able to find a way to stop themselves before they lose control of their tempers.

After a little time away, knowing my children were safe and sound with their father, a little time to rest and get perspective, and I was ready to go again.  We took a little walk last night, and everyone apologized to everyone else for our various mistakes and missteps.

As I have said many times, this life really does take endurance.  I must remember to pace myself, physically and emotionally, so that I can be in it for the long haul.  I will remember to ask for help, and not push away the one person I probably need the most when the going gets really tough.  I don’t want to be a single mom, and I hate that just when I clearly do need him the most, I tend to be the hardest on my patient husband.

I get one chance to raise these children, and I know it’s my privilege to be their mom.  Some days, it’s just not easy.

Weaning weenie.

October 21, 2010

I am venturing into uncharted territory.  I have been breastfeeding my son longer than I had done with my other two children, and I’m thinking it might be time to wrap it up.

First of all, a disclaimer.  While I have faithfully and gladly breastfed each of my 3 children, I am respectful of the fact that this is a very personal decision for each and every woman, and I know that there are a wide variety of reasons, all valid for each woman, to nurse for only a few months, or not at all, or well into the toddler years and beyond.

As a matter of personal taste and personal style, and an effort to keep my nipples attached to my own body, I tend to nurse my son in a private setting away from others.  I am mindful of other people’s comfort level up to a point, and, to be honest, I’m mindful of the fact that little Mr. Distractable tends to look at every single thing that moves or makes a sound while he’s nursing.  I offer the astounding length of my own nipples as evidence of the fact he will turn and look at people or objects while still powerfully attached with that little wet-vac of his, also known as his mouth.  My poor, patient husband has suffered many times under the laser beam glares of death I have projected at him because he has the audacity to move about while I’m trying to nurse his son.

Our nursing days are numbered, and I’m not entirely sure how to proceed.  It’s a strict policy of mine to bring it to an end before we have actual conversations about it, and before I think they will have any long-term memory of actually breastfeeding.  This is just me.  Call me an uptight Republican if you wish, I just think that, for boys especially, it’s just a little weird to remember cozying up to one breast while gently caressing the other… of your mother.

Recently, based on the time of day and a certain feeling of fullness I was experiencing, I thought it was a dandy time to take a break and nurse my son.  However, I clearly made the mistake of failing to consult with him first.  For one very brief moment, I had him in a kind of head lock-type grip, trying to coerce him into nursing and he wasn’t having any of it.  I finally laughed and released him, and he toddled off to go back to playing.  I imagined the conversation we might have been having:  “Nurse, dammit!”  “No, I don’t want to!”  “I said NURSE!”  “No, you can’t make me!”  Etc.

By now, you would think I would know better.  3 children.  3 completely different schedules.  3 very different personalities.  (All quite strong, though, go figure.)  I should know that these beautiful children do things on their own time schedule, when their own personal DNA flips the requisite switch and then it’s time to tackle the next milestone.  Natalie talked at 9 months (and has never stopped) but didn’t walk until she was 14 months old.  Max walked at 10 months but didn’t talk until he was almost 2.  Timothy uses a spoon better than his older brother.  And so on.  And on, and on, and on.

I’m not in charge, even though if you dropped by (at your own peril) some morning and witnessed my attempts to get 3 short people dressed and out the door by 7:15 am, you would think I am certainly trying to be.

I breastfed my daughter until she was 17 1/2 months old.  April 17, 2005 was the last day.  The next day, she fell asleep in my arms without nursing, much earlier than she had up until that point and I thought, “oh, so I’ve been keeping you up?”

Max nursed for the last time on Jan. 1st, 2008.  The next day, he looked at me like I was crazy for sticking that thing in his face and never nursed again.  He was 11 months old.

Timothy is 17 months old.  He’s not ready to quit, but clearly he wants me to breastfeed him only when he wants it.  It may be just for a few minutes, and he sits up, waves “bye-bye” to my breast, slides off my lap, and grabs a toy on his way back out of his room.

I’m not in charge.  I’m here for these kids when they need me, either for milk or a hug or a bandage or a story.  And when they start walking farther away and climbing higher and going for longer stretches of time without me, I need to remember that this is, after all the point.  If I do this “mom thing” right, they can tackle this world without me hovering over them.

But for now, I’ll still cuddle my baby close when he does want me, hold him a few minutes longer than necessary when he does drift off to sleep in my arms, looking more like a baby at that point than he does the rest of the day, and try to keep the memory of these chubby cheeks and belly full of milk close in my heart, because when I’m an old lady these are memories that I get to have all to myself.

It’s hard to let go, and it’s hard to hold on.  But any mom will tell you that.

Weenie.

My daughter’s gift.

October 20, 2010

My daughter is a tough cookie.

I listen to her talk to her brothers and her dad with a strange mix of amusement and horror because she has a viciously strict vision of her sense of order and justice in our family.  She has a “tone” in her voice that is undeniable.  In fact, my patient husband admits that at times, when he is in a different room, he has to pause to make sure he knows who is calling to him — his lovely wife? or his lovely daughter?  So yes, I am amused that she is learning how to take charge and whip certain people into shape.  But I’m a little bit ashamed because I guess I know where she gets this from.

Natalie is our hand-washing police.  She times how long everyone’s turns are.  She knows who got to pick the movie last time (and the time before that.)  She never forgets a promise made.  She has even taken on my mother in a battle of stubbornness that was truly a sight to behold.

I remember quite clearly the day(s) I labored to give birth to her.  After months of an easy pregnancy, when the OB told me numerous times how it should be “no problem” — I was fit, I was healthy, and, face it, I’m built like a brick house — she claimed that labor should be just fine.  (Do you hear the ominous music in the background?  Yes?)  Well, needless to say, no amount of pushing, prying, and pulling was going to get that baby out, and I was (eventually) wheeled off for a C-section.  After the relief of the spinal block, when my beloved OB was ready to make her incision, she suggested, “must be a boy, giving you all this trouble.”  And I retorted, “Are you kidding?  I come from a long LINE of ornery women.  It’s a girl.”  Moments later, Natalie announced her arrival with a holler, latched on, and didn’t let go for about 17 months.

I’ve been thinking about Natalie a lot lately.  She continues to blossom, just as my own appearance continues to fade slightly more every week.  Natalie is a lot of things to me.  She made me a mom, which changed my life.  She wore me out as a baby, as a toddler, and now as a young person finding her way in the midst of peer pressure and the desire to fit in.  She does, in fact, have many gifts, gifts which I hope and pray she will continue to nurture, so that she will always be true to herself, and find peace and fulfillment even in the tumultuous and toxic days of “tween-ness” ahead.  (Not to mention when she is a teenager, but I can’t bring myself to consider that yet.)

Yes, Natalie has many gifts.  She is a great runner, she is incredibly honest, imaginative, and very self disciplined.  But there is one gift I admire more than any other.

Natalie stops when she is full.

Oh, I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this seems like a strange thing to applaud and praise.  It’s just that as I remember my own issues with food — my long-standing and on-going issues with food — this is the one talent I envy most.  It doesn’t matter if it’s dinner, or a cookie, some chips, or any kind of treat.  She stops, announces, “well, I’m full,” and puts it down, and walks away.

Every time, it kills me.

You see, I spent years living a quasi-bulemic lifestyle.  Diet pills, laxatives, excessive workouts to compensate for a ravenous appetite.  I don’t, and never did, stop eating anything until it it’s gone.  I could be in pain, but I would finish what was in front of me, by gum.  I’ve learned to compensate somewhat for this lack of knowing when it was time to stop — I don’t buy things I shouldn’t eat, I don’t open packages of treats until there are several people there to share, those kinds of things.

But Natalie, she’s just got it.  She knows when she’s eaten enough, and she stops eating, and I hope she always does.

I’m very careful to point this out to her, how rare it is that she does this, and she knows I think it’s very special, and that I am trying to learn from her.  And I am, even though it’s not natural or normal for me.  Plus, I must point out that I did figure out the complementary skill that supports this rare gift — I have to make sure I let Natalie eat when she is hungry.  These qualities do, after all, go hand in hand.  She is good at listening to her body, and in turn, I have to listen to her.  Natalie eats when she is hungry, and she stops when she is full.

Natalie comes on strong, and she fills up her place in our family with gusto and intensity.  She rules over her younger brothers with a firm hand and an outspoken opinion that what’s hers is hers, and what’s theirs is hers, too.  I trust her to keep a watchful eye on them when I can’t keep them all in my line of sight.

And I love her fiercely,  I’m proud of her, and I wish, just a little bit, that I was more like her.

(Oh, my poor, patient husband.)