Take the damn picture

General

I used to be weird about pictures.

It felt like a very real threat to my security and safety that at any given time someone might take my picture and it might not be a picture that I thought was good. Good, of course, meant one where none of my perceived flaws showed. A candid? A definite non starter. A full body group photo where I’m not able to hide behind anyone? Absolutely not.

My husband has always taken pictures of me. Sometimes they’re really sweet and you can tell he thought I looked pretty and wanted to capture a moment we shared. Other times I’m asleep with my mouth open, but that’s neither here nor there. I recall a particular day when he showed me a pic he took, I grimaced, and I could tell it hurt him. I didn’t really think about it much until I noticed that he’d stopped taking those pictures of me. He said that it wasn’t fun to take them if it was just going to make me pull a face or say something unkind. It had never occurred to me that he’d stop – and I hated that, for both of us. I gave him carte blanche in that moment and promised I’d never again disparage an image of myself. It’s changed things for me in a big way.

A world exists where this photo is never taken because I might not like how I look in it. How sad would that be??

I can remember another time hearing my oldest daughter nitpick a picture of herself, similar to how I had done before – and that was another big red flag for me. I knew it wasn’t just for me that I had to think long and hard about how I thought and talked about pictures of me.

Here’s the thing. I don’t look perfect or even great in every picture ever taken. I’m still usually making a weird face in any candid pic and ok, I don’t typically post those on the internet, as is my right. But what I don’t do anymore is as follows:

◦ I do not question or complain if someone posts or tags a picture of me that I don’t love. It’s not worth it, and if I say something I run the risk of not being included in the future, and as a picture memory enthusiast, I don’t want that.

◦ I do not ~ ever ~ make a negative comment about a photo of myself. I have plenty of thoughts, I can’t control that. But by not saying them out loud, it’s removed a lot of their power.

◦ If my husband or child takes a photo of me and shows me, I smile. I focus on the fact that they are frickin’ obsessed with me and think I’m the best. That’s why they take my photo. How can I be mad?!

◦ I do not refuse photos if someone wants to take one. If I am feeling nervous about how it looks, I’ll avoid looking at it right away to protect my peace. I can either look later or in all likelihood forget about it entirely.

◦ There are exceptions, but they are few. My oldest daughter has a photo of me on her phone that she thinks is hysterical and I legitimately look like a toad/person hybrid. When she brings it out, we laugh and laugh. She knows it’s just for us, and that’s a-ok.

◦ It is still totally my prerogative to rock a selfie angle whenever I feel like it.

You can pry my right to a gorgeous selfie out of my cold dead hands.

I am not the same as everyone, I know that. But I see this happening all the time around me and I know I’m not the only one with a complicated relationship to their own image. What I can tell you truly is that the above has made me a much more relaxed, contented person, and has been huge in healing my relationship with my body and my image of it. The worst has absolutely happened – bad photos exist of me. Some have even been posted! And I didn’t die. Life went on. People still like me and everything.

And so I can advise with absolute certainty: you should take/be in/allow/accept the damn picture. Because people love you, you are beautiful to them, and those memories belong to you. Take them back and enjoy your life.

Sisters in the time of COVID

Mom Life

While I would never be so brazen as to assign any silver linings to the events of the last five months, I am willing to reflect on a few things I’m particularly grateful for during what I can only describe as the weirdest spring/summer ever. One of those things has been the time my girls got to spend with each other.

My children are 10 years apart, and as is my nature, I worried about that. I worried they’d grow up in entirely different childhoods, with little to no points of connection between them. (I was ten thousand percent wrong about all of this by the way, but that’s about what I’ve come to expect with worry.) When things started to get real with COVID in mid-March, my tween left school for Spring Break never to return to her beloved elementary school. The little one had been in her “school” for about a month when she ended up at home with us too. I work from home full time, and while it was a hot mess express while we finished the school year, we made it.

This summer, we cashed in on the age gap big time: my tween, with literally nothing else going on, accepted her first salaried position at the tender age of 11. She signed on for Big Sister Summer Camp, and kept the toddler entertained/alive while I worked. And while it was not perfect, the gift was this: from March to August, I got to watch my two girls bonding and growing up – albeit in totally different phases of childhood – becoming their own little selves, together.

The toddler learned more words in these 5 months than I ever thought possible. She knows all kinds of things (words, showtunes, TikTok trends) because “sissy” taught her. I’m sending her to school again this fall, knowing she can communicate her needs well, thanks to her time with her sister. And my big girl: she got very tall and became a little caretaker like I never expected. While it wasn’t the most fun summer ever, she got good at her job, and gained a kind of self-efficacy you can only get from getting good at a job. I’m sending her to school again this fall (middle school no less) with a totally new sense of confidence, thanks to her time with her sister. They bonded in a way I don’t think they will ever outgrow.

They won’t live in the same house forever.
But they’ll always remember the weird summer they spent growing up, together.

I’ve realized we carry a lot of expectations with us into adulthood. Whether it’s when we’ll get married or when we’ll have babies and how many we’ll have; and then we bring them all with us into our families. And things almost never go according to plan, in one way or another. While I grieved that my girls wouldn’t be in school together or share clothes, I’m watching how it all shook out and realizing that I wouldn’t trade any of it. All of the expectations that didn’t pan out were sad in their way, but if even one of them had worked out how I hoped at the time, we wouldn’t be here today, with exactly the family we have.

It wasn’t how we originally planned things, maybe, but it’s how things happened. And at that point, what choice do you have but to lean in? Watching these two sisters, our two girls, find each other in their own ways despite and because of their age difference is the gift that keeps on giving. My hope for them is this:

May they always find each other in the weird times,
and may no times in their lives be as weird as 2020 has been.

Finding Me in Motherhood

General

All I really ever wanted was to be a mom. If I had a vision board, it would have just been pictures of babies. It was always the goal. Get married, have kids, be the Mom. End of list.

Flash forward through my 20’s, longing for a home in the burbs and the aforementioned husband and children, reluctantly spending yet another evening singing karaoke and drinking Long Island iced teas, having no idea that in about 10 years I’d have everything I wanted and wish I could go back.

I adore my family. I don’t spend a lot of time longing for my carefree days, though I have my moments. Being a mom is, in a way almost nothing else in my life has ever been, everything I wanted it to be. It lived up to the hype (and the horror, don’t get me wrong – childbirth was a nightmare). Here I am, a house in the burbs, a husband who cooks, a burgeoning middle schooler who shares a ton of my interests and all of her thoughts and feelings, and the cutest toddler in the world who says “oh dear!” like a little old lady every time she drops something. I’m happy to be serving at the feet of two very cute if demanding mistresses.

Also – I’m very tired. I typically can’t remember when I washed my hair last. I don’t answer texts in a timely fashion (and not in a cool way), and I haven’t done karaoke in like a decade. I’ve spent the last ten years trying to get here, to exactly where I am. And as backwards as it sounds, getting what you want is actually sort of terrifying. I wanted to be a mom… and here I am. What on earth do I do now? How do I integrate the person I was, the person I spent years being, with this haggard person who barely knows what day it is?

Lest you start to worry about me, I’m honestly very happy. I could easily get lost in the monotony of motherhood – wake up, breakfast, school/work/laundry, pick up, dinner, bathtime, bedtime, repeat – and be a-ok. It’s comforting, and given my propensity for FOMO, I enjoy being present for every minute I can of my kids’ days. But I also know, as a woman, as a therapist, as an adult, a partner and friend – those parts of me need tending as well. There’ll come a breaking point where I’ll wish I’d sought out some alone time, a date with my husband, book club, what have you. I need that too, and I’ll be better off if I start putting it into action before that breaking point approaches.

And so, I made an exhaustive list, at least in that moment, of life-giving activities that would remind me of me, that would energize me to go home (not that I am currently going anywhere) to my lovely, talkative girls and my sweet, probably cooking husband, and bring them the very best me I could. And given my enhanced propensity to forget things, I scheduled the hell out of it. iPhone reminders, calendar invites, texts sent out right then lest I see an Instagram post and forget what I was doing for 7-12 business days. [This was all pre-COVID too, so I had to totally rethink it again and switch gears into Zoom book clubs and Marco Polo convos with friends and driveway dinner dates, but the sentiment remains.]

And where I thought maybe the scheduling would take some of the romance out of it all, I can tell you with certainty that it’s simply a necessity of a busy, family-filled-calendar life. Spontaneity is a walk to the park, not a night out with friends. It’s a stop at Starbucks… while you’re already in the grocery store. The rest requires explicit planning with calendar invites and also reminders to send calendar invites.

The good news is, between my newly scheduled calendar events, I am happily living my best life singing Disney songs to a toddler in the bathtub while checking my tween’s homework, and crashing hard into the couch every evening with my latest book, if I’m lucky. And literally the moment it is encouraged, I’m planning a karaoke night as a do-over for my quarantine birthday. Until then, at least I’m writing again.

It’s a small thing, yes. But it’s a me thing. And reminds me that even in motherhood, in the thick of it: I’m still me, and that is important too.