The Body Beautiful

Cleopatra (1962 novel)
Image via Wikipedia, redubbed "Miss Cleo"

Now I know why Mama used to say “take your time to grow up!”  I dare not title this post “On Aging” because that would sound so common. Everyone ages. Big deal. That, in and of itself, is not revolutionary. Plus it just sounds boring, scary, recycled, and oh so…old!

More recently, I’ve become amazed by the less-than seismic shifts taking place as I mature in this Life;  the very faint, but visible crow’s feet, the laugh lines even when I’m not friggin’ laughing, the now-thinner skin on the bridge of my nose, the occasional desire for some of my baggage to fly South though I myself am not traveling, the more-difficult-to-moisturize skin on the soles of my feet (though it can be argued that this is more due to the drier, harsher winters of the Midwest), and the appearance of more freckles in more places than I’d care to admit! Oh, and how did I miss the honorable mention of a few strays of gray in my crown?

I’m compelled to take notice and pay even closer attention as my body dabbles in this phase of maturation. Let me first say that for the most part, I do take care of myself, though I can benefit from more sleep.  I exercise regularly, dance like no one’s watching, have struck a somewhat healthy balance between self-control and indulgence, and have developed an amazing comfort level with my body image/aesthetic as I’ve gotten older.  I like what I see, y’all!

The one thing I know I can do is eat better. Sometimes, I get this creepy sensation that I am antioxidant-deprived, or under-nourished in the vitamin and supplement department. There are days when I get enough fruits and vegetables, and then there are those other days when I want nothing but carbs – the simple ones. Think simple, think stupid, right?  (The use of mnemonics to remember stuff as you get older, or perhaps as your plate gets fuller, doesn’t hurt, on occasion.)  These days, I can’t even get that straight.  Wasn’t it “keep it simple, stupid?,” I think, as I reach for that oatmeal raisin cookie. What.Ever! I thought I had this part of the game – eating right, that is – down pat, but apparently I have work to do there.  I’ll blame maturing hormones for sending my metabolism into a frenetic tailspin.  There, I said it! It’s not my fault.

While I hate fessing up to a lackluster performance in the food category, I will say that I have this amazing physical commitment to keeping my body strong, supple, and lean (in most places), so that it endures for as long as I need to use it.  I am adamant about engaging it on a regular basis because I want it to pay me back with resilience, performance, and a superb power to take me through physical and mental changes alike. Though my body continues to challenge me as of lately with its slower-than-usual recovery (perhaps fueling it with the right foods would help?), I love how it responds to a challenge, and how that, in turn, fuels me mentally. Ah, so is this what they call the “Body Beautiful”?

I now find myself quietly admiring the wisdom behind those bright eyes cradled by fine lines and slowly emerging crows feet; beholding the discernment that living and twitching my nose has brought me thus far (hence the finer skin on top my nose); and, honoring the brutal heat of the less-than-sunny moments that I’ve lived, courtesy of my freckled shoulders. Every semblance of this process of maturation, in and of itself, is part of my story. Unlike a tattoo or body piercing, each one is hard-earned, like the scars of giving birth via Caesarean section. I am humbled by how this body has carried me through and over, repeatedly, so I dare not dismiss its prowess, or abandon its care. It sustains me, and gives me joy when it gets all prettified and dolled up, or when it simply warms my soul. It needs me, so I will cradle it – all of it.  I will respect its gracefulness, poise, dogged strength and agility, as well as its ability to stand at attention with me, and in spite of me at all times.

I will respect it and honor it because now, more than ever, it’s inclined to do things that I couldn’t do ten years ago, let alone want to do! (Go body, go body, go!) So I’m cradling that bad boy, and caring for it as I would a new baby, as if its been reborn somehow – taking care of it, loving it, remarking at it, and appreciating it. I intend to keep it beautiful, vibrant, and yes, sexy!

Yes…Joy, and Then Some!

"Moms Rock!" (Amelia Island Sand Art)

It’s Day 4 of my youngest child being sick with what looks like a wicked virus, or stomach infection.  Hopefully, she turns the corner today because she’s quickly becoming a poster child for Huggies Pull-ups.  She’s become very clingy, so I’m on borrowed time, even as I type.  The last few nights have been punctuated by frequent changes of diapers and full clothing.  I’m awaiting the next explosion, so I’m going to try to get this in before the thoughts escape me. 🙂

I’ve been mulling over my last post, titled  “It’s ALL PurposeFULL“.  In that article, I explored the questions that we often have regarding the mysterious nature of the life-changing events in our lives, including “Why?”, “Why me?”, and “Why Now?” My goal then was to provide assurance that we ultimately become better and fuller selves as a result of the more difficult, inexplicable events that occur in our lives.  This isn’t to say that we should have to experience loss, tragedy, or hardship to self-actualize, but rather that, the occurrence of these situations in our lives wisen us and enhance our potential to live and love more authentically.

Perhaps I took you to the conclusion a bit too quickly, without letting you in on the middle of the “journey”.  While I will never share with you sordid or personal details, or provide you with a blow-by-blow account of the events in my life that shape those truths (certainly not in a blog forum), I can tell you that during those moments in which I questioned the mystery of life, and God himself, I often felt alone, misunderstood, isolated.  My faith and hope seemed to be shaken, lacking, questionable.  To this day, I will maintain that it was not the actual death of a loved one that shook me the most. Unlike many, when my grandmother (my first true mother) passed away, I had an amazing sense of peace and understanding. As she neared the end of her life, she agonized over increasing physical pain and articulated on numerous occasions the gratitude that she had for a life well-lived.  My grandmother believed wholeheartedly that she would be in a better place.  Her death was only physical to me. I maintain a relationship with her that most would not understand. I miss her dearly at times, but most times, I feel that she is with me.

I have had other losses that bore a sharper sting than I could have ever imagined. Those jarred me to the core, leaving me to question where I went wrong, and whether this was some sort of karma.  What was life trying to teach me? I grew jealous and bitter as I witnessed others around me, realizing the very dreams that I thought were mine just for the asking. At that time, I could not see a plausible explanation for any of it. It seemed that my dreams were always on hold, always waiting in the wings, but for some reason or the other, it wasn’t quite time for them to materialize.

Fast forward to the “now”. I wouldn’t change it for the world! My past experiences, good and bad, have launched me right where I am now.  In this very moment, I can be a source of encouragement for those that have gone through similar situations.  More importantly, my soul continues to heal as I share the stories with others, especially wives, mothers, and daughters.  I come alive as I reveal the anguish of that difficult moment, and share the joy in knowing what I believe that moment was designed to teach me.

By the way, I’ve been hurled on once (good thing I wasn’t making a hat at the time), and performed two additional diaper changes since I started! It’s going to be a long, but beautiful day! It can only get better. 🙂

Girls Clapping to Miss Mary Mack

It’s All PurposeFULL!

Ever asked “why”, “why me, or “why now”? Of course you have, as has anyone who is truly living.  We go through things in life that leave us dumbfounded, speechless, at a loss. We find ourselves having more questions than answers. No amount of schooling or living seems to have prepared us for the moment that seems so ambiguous, so vague, so meaningless, so incongruous with what we’ve witnessed, experienced, or ever anticipated thus far. We struggle to find answers and make sense of the moment, thinking that perhaps after a good night of sleep, it will all be clear. Joy comes in the morning, right? Well yes, but that’s just part of it.

I’m not here to convince you that everything will make sense, or that somehow the lightbulb will instantly light up amidst your tragedy, loss, suffering, or other life event not necessarily defined by loss, but perhaps by rejection of some sort. However, I do believe wholeheartedly that, in the final analysis, it all serves a purpose, whether by design or default. The stars do line up, and the epiphanies and discoveries do follow…in time.  Eventually.

The purpose seems to be that of self-actualization. Ultimately, amidst our grieving and coping, our tearful cries and quiet whispers, our rage and tranquility, and our futility and fortitude, we find a stronger voice. We learn something about ourselves, that until now was undefinable, undiscovered, and certainly underdeveloped. We discover gifts within us, tap into amazing coping abilities, learn humility – how can we not be humbled by the order and timing of things – assume unparalleled strength, and dispel myths that we once believed to be true.

Just when we think that we can take no more, we find ourselves morphing from fragile to uncompromising. We transcend beyond our situation and become faces of hope, as we share our stories of triumph. We conquer our situations as we are forced to go within. We transcend our circumstances by finding consolation and comfort in the knowledge that many have come before us that have endured far worse, and managed to make it through. We find our resilience as the carpets of comfort are pulled from beneath us. As we reach out and across, we learn that we don’t have to go it alone, and we learn to finally understand the meaning of community, and its necessity. In the process, we redefine our networks.  Lines of friendship and family become blurred in the process, but we find amazing clarity in the truth that we must connect…with each other, and are not designed to suffer in silence, or rely on our own wit to get us through the situation.

In the end, we learn to love more authentically. Our need to open up trumps our desire to retreat into our shells during our most difficult moments. Our dissatisfaction, disappointment, displeasure, disengagement, disenchantment with half-fulfilled hopes, and dislocated hurt, anger, and pain brings us to our knees, while we are forced to acknowledge that we are in need of a personal touch, an affirming voice, and an encouraging heart. This is when we know we are growing, becoming our truer selves. We are actualizing, becoming connected. Yes!

As we become unglued from our own seats of seeming security, from the places which we sometimes occupied for too long in our roles…as parent, wife, husband, or lover, son or daughter, and even employee, we find freedom in the expression of our most sincere feelings, joy in the liberation from not having to do it all, and light in the exposure of all that once remained suppressed. We emerge victoriously and assuredly, albeit through some very painful processes and lessons.  This is especially true if we live with the acknowledgment that life is trying to teach us something. In turn, we become whole, grounded, humble, resilient, uncompromising (where it counts), resourceful, and confident. We become ourselves, as we were designed to be!

Speak up, Already!

Why does it always take some mad act to happen for us to then have courage – to speak up or do something?

For instance, this recent example of Jared Lee Loughner, who shot to kill Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killed and injured several others outside a Safeway shopping  center in Tucson, Arizona.  For the love of God, when will these crazy dudes (sorry gentlemen, so far, it has been mostly male characters) like Loughner be detected, apprehended, and treated (if necessary) for their lunatic ravings, and wicked motivations before they carry out their premeditated plans to destroy life, and snuff out democracy as we know it?

Unlike those looking to blame the ‘political climate’ in America for what this man did, I blame the systems that allow for the kind of behaviors, leading up to a tragedy (usually a public one), to go largely unchecked. I blame the institutional -isms, and the pervasive bystander mentality among those, who in turn protect sinister characters hellbent on having things their way, and no other way, especially when it means the progression of society as a whole. Sadly enough, I am of the belief that had Loughner been of a darker hue – Middle Eastern, Jewish, African-American, African, a woman, even, displaying the same behaviors – he would have been Big Brother’d to the Nth degree, COINTELPRO style.  Undetected individuals like him always end up committing beyond-violent acts, then they cop-out on an insanity plea or turn the gun on themselves. Real freedom fighters, right? So much for self-preservation.

To me, it’s like the anti-abortion activists who stand outside abortion clinics. They believe they have a right to beat a woman down, as she exits the clinic, perhaps making the most regretful and significant decision of her life, up to that moment, because they think that every life conceived has a right to life, regardless of the circumstance. In a sick, twisted way, they really believe that promoting their pro-life agenda is justified, even if it means taking a life.

These are the individuals whose names need to appear on a “watch list”, along with their audiences – those bystander “cheerleaders”, the biggest silent partners in all of this – who give quiet permission to an these antics and beliefs of superiority and entitlement. For the mother who needs twenty extra minutes of sleep, silence is golden. In circumstances like these, however, silence is downright deadly!

While I’d love to elevate the level of discourse to one of civility, I am more than aghast about this latest score of premeditated violence, and I am coming up short in the euphemism department. While many are focusing on the mental health component of it, I see a lot more wrong with it, and I simply don’t have a lot of lofty language to cradle this one. No pun intended. Seriously.

I know that we must move beyond examining the causes of such a heinous act, and move to a discussion of “what now?”  We can analyze and psycho-analyze this all day, but this approach would be hardly preventive.  Therefore, I’m begging the question of how we protect society at large, from those individuals that feel that they should go to any lengths to demonstrate their intolerance for what they simply won’t accept; same-sex marriages or unions, political differences, progression of women in public ranks, or the countless efforts of those seeking to enhance the dialogue across gender, racial, and political lines.

For one, we can start on an individual level. Inarguably, everyone has the right to freedom of speech, but it doesn’t mean that we have to listen to nonsense.  We are also free to not be part of that conversation.  We can denounce these -isms head-on when we hear and see them. We can teach our children love and compassion. We can choose to not follow the crowd, or ride the tidal waves of intolerance or hate. I insist that we become more watchful and discerning, and further disassociate ourselves from behaviors and groups that willfully exclude, or passively permit the exclusion of a few, on the basis of race, politics, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Furthermore, we can trust our intuition when we feel uneasy, or recognize behaviors and language, that is off-putting, senseless, or rooted in a dogged determination to exact more evil than good. We can and should make some noise!  Run. Tell. That!

Our Children: Are They Really Better Off?

These days, I find myself running interference for any of my children at any given point.  Although the bickering is sometimes nonstop, I wouldn’t trade the healthiness in their voices, or the lilt in their laughter, and certainly not their successful attempts at humoring each other, for anything. Heck, they make me laugh!  Okay, maybe I would trade an evening of all that “noise” for a quiet day in a shady spot on the beach, under the Antiguan sun, with a favorite book, and a tall rum punch. Nice, eh? For now, whatever time I can steal will have to do.

Though I’d rather have peace and quiet when the bewitching hours roll around on a weekday (take your pick between 4:00 and 9:00 pm), I find myself making a conscientious effort to stop myself from corralling them with a lasso. It takes every fiber of me to restrain myself when I witness crayons, toys, paper, and more paper, spread across the kitchen table, yet again! Don’t mention the spills or half-eaten plates of food on the table.

As I seek to create some semblance of order, I bark orders at my little ones to take better care of their things, and encourage them to think of those less fortunate children who would be well pleased with just half of the meal that they’re having tonight.  I’m sure that this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve heard the “You Guys Have So Much More Than We Did” refrain. How many lectures are sufficient to demonstrate that our children are more blessed than us, and certainly more than some of their peers in other regions and countries worldwide? But are they really?

While I don’t romanticize my childhood, I’m sure that most would agree with me that life was much simpler then. I now recall that in my first home as I knew it – my grandparents’ home – seldom a child could be found playing inside during the daytime hours. As far as my granny was concerned, inside was for sleeping, cooking, and doing constructive things like sewing, or listening to an occasional radio program (we had no TV).  In my tropical climate, the sun danced right outside the window, and beckoned us outdoors year-round.  We played outside mostly, in the yard, in front of, and behind the house, in spaces marking the separation between our home and that of our neighbors. With the exception of my grandmother being in the kitchen for preparing meals, the house was quiet while we did things that children did – discovered, explored, experimented, made believe, played tag, jumped rope, and invented new uses for common, but obscure items that we would find throughout the course of the day. We convened for dinner, and cleared out when it was over. Perhaps there wasn’t enough conversation? (That’s an entirely separate topic.)

I sometimes angst about whether I am raising my children up right. All I got was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but no amount of prenatal visits could prepare me for this.  Everything else was useless! When it comes to the most difficult job of raising children, it isn’t so much about winning the “Parent of the Year” award, but about building a legacy for your children, and the children of the communities in which you live, and creating a more harmonious place in which we can all live more peacefully.

Are we teaching our children: resourcefulness – how to find what they need, and use what they already have to create their own solutions; responsibility – for creating and shaping their own outcomes; restraint – in exercising self control and desires that override their own moral compass; and lastly, respect – for themselves, those they claim to love, their elders, their community, and their world?

I believe that these were, and still are the fundamentals. If we continue to indulge our children, with the goal of surpassing our own childhood, or giving them what we believe we didn’t have, I hope that we first acknowledge what we did have, and build our legacy from there. We can deal with what was amiss, awry, or absent for the sake of healing and moving forward; however, too long a pause at that layover will keep us stuck on stupid, furthermore inhibiting our ability to effectively parent. We cannot be successful in creating a new reality for our children without referring to the gemstones of our own childhood, because whether we like it or not, they inform our own instinctive nature as parents.

Lest we forget, our children will certainly not be better off. When all else is stripped away – the material possessions, and all effects of their personal and professional accomplishments – will you be proud of what remains at the core?  Will you be able to say that you did a better job, or as good a job, of raising children, that will in turn, become more well-adjusted, balanced, grounded, vocal, and compassionate?  And, will your children be better off for the experience?