Life Lessons: Before We Can Get Back Up

I added “Blogging” on my Apple Watch app for building habits to get myself back on track. I’m currently on vacation (and promise to share more when I have 5 minutes to breathe!) but for now I wanted to share with you my latest parenting essay on Ravishly. (Feel free to check out my writing portfolio and subscribe for updates when I post links to new published work, too!)

I submitted this one when it was still warm enough outside for capri jeans and converse without socks, so it’s always strangely awesome to me when a piece finally publishes…and it’s exactly something I need to be reminded of, at exactly the right time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or for you to share the link with a friend who you think might need to be reminded of the same message in this essay - Life knocks us down, day in and day out. How we handle to fall, and our ability to pick ourselves back up after each one, make all the difference in the world.

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Image source: Ravishly.com

Because Your Mama's Worth a Buck

At least, I would assume she is. I know I am. I even asked The Husband I was worth a buck and after his face stopped contorting itself into inexplicably pained expressions, he totally gave me the thumbs up.

I figure that means he was too overcome with emotion to say the actual words, but awkward silences and dirty jokes are our love language, so I am confident in telling you that his thumbs up meant "Yes, my love, I would certainly buy you your book for 99 cents on Amazon as it is currently on sale through May 9 for 99 cents if your book was not, in fact, your book." And then he would pause, look into my eyes lovingly while trying not to laugh, and say "You are totally worth a buck. I'd give you a buck all day long."

Isn't he romantic? This is exactly why I said yes to becoming Mrs. The Husband fourteen years ago. He's a keeper, this guy.

To celebrate Mother's Day and the BabyFat sale, I'm going to have a little fun. I have a 24-hour giveaway on Amazon for ten winners to get a kindle copy of my book. No purchase is necessary, but you can't win the book if you already own it. (I might even run another contest before the sale is over just for fun!) 

How else can you be amazing and support me and this crazy writing dream?

If  you just wanna be awesome and help me claw my way to a spot on the Amazon bestseller list, you are more than welcome to gift Babyfat to everybody you have an email address for. Your mother-in-law, wife, girlfriend, sister, best friend forever, and that mom you made eye contact with at the last PTA meeting would be very grateful for your consideration and very impressed with your taste in books. Because really, BabyFat is like six degrees of separation from Neil Gaiman because Jenny Lawson blurbed the book and I tweeted Neil asking if I could send him and his wife, Amanda Palmer, a copy of BabyFat and he actually wrote back and said yes and...

Wait. That's only three degrees and now possibly a PPO, so it's probably a good thing I screen-shot that tweet so I have something to hold on to. Did I have a point here? Oh yes...BabyFat is on sale, I want to know how many mamas you know that you think are worth a buck, and I love you. 

Don't forget to enter that contest

The end. 

One of my favorite features in the book is that each chapter starts with a social media update from friends and followers. 

One of my favorite features in the book is that each chapter starts with a social media update from friends and followers. 

Servin' Up a Sample: BabyFat Excerpt, Chapter Two

Yes, I know the book launched in October of 2015. I'm also Mexican and have ADHD so, by my calculations, I'm showing up for this party right on time.

You're Welcome. 

I've been asked a few times where readers can find an easily accessible book excerpt from BabyFat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, & Trying to Stay Sane, so I figured the easiest place to make that happen was right on the blog. I'm sharing chapter two with you, Internet. Click here for the Amazon link if you like what you read enough to buy the book! 

Cover design by Michelle Fairbanks. Find her on twitter at @freshdesign_BC

Cover design by Michelle Fairbanks. Find her on twitter at @freshdesign_BC


Chapter 2: Gimme an F! Gimme a U!


@FreshDesign_BC: Just fished a towel out of the toilet and had to tell toddler to stop licking the walls. Seriously.


July 28 

Ever have one of those days that starts out with unicorns and rainbows and then somehow magically warps itself into someone pissing in your Cheerios? 

While youre trying to eat them?

For me, that’s today. Mom, Pati, and I decided last night to skip Eliana’s gymnastics class for once and venture into town for our first look at the Tucson Mall. The Husband and I moved here from the East Coast in March for his new job. Because my father passed away just a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday, Mom joined us on our move cross-country. It’s all part of a deal my father struck with The Husband that said we’d look after her after he died. Pati must have stowed away in my mother’s suitcase because she wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal. 

Pati showed up six months after my mother. I’m sure it had to do with Pati needing to be near my mother after losing our dad. She’s the baby of the family, so I bitched and moaned about Eliana losing her playroom and then drove to the airport to pick her up. 

Anyway, the plan had been to be out of the house by 9:15 a.m. to arrive at the mall by 10 o’clock. With a forty-five minute drive to sales and civilization, I wanted to make sure we got the biggest bang for our buck when it came to gas and mileage by spending the whole day there. We all figured we’d be fine since Eliana’s woken up at the crack of dawn since we moved here thanks to her internal clock still being stuck on Eastern Time. Good for me since having my mother and sister in the house makes it so easy to revert to family habits like sleeping in until noon. So I didn’t bother setting an alarm.

That was my first mistake.

I’m cocooned in bed, still thanking God and all of creation for my all-weather Ikea quilt. It might be 100 degrees, but I have an innate desire to be wrapped up in all things snuggly. If Ikea didn’t exist, I’d be sweating my ass off with one leg hanging off the bed for ventilation like The Husband does. 

I can hear Eliana laughing and talking in the kitchen with my mother, who graciously takes the morning shift so I can recover from my vampire-friendly writing routine. Figuring I’m two hours ahead of schedule, I roll back over and pass out for a few more precious moments of sleep. Staying up until 4 a.m. has earned me the right to more than three hours of sleep, and I’m estimating it’s about 6 a.m. I’ve got time to kill, right? 

My cell phone vibrates loud enough to shake me out of my haze and I reach for it, still groggy, to Tweet whoever it was that tagged me. It isn’t until I’m already bending over the sink to wash my face and hastily yanking on a pair of Lane Bryant crops that I realize it’s already ten minutes later than we had planned on leaving. 

Shit! 

I barrel downstairs, fully dressed and expecting my mother to be ready with diaper bag in hand, Eliana dressed, and choosing the “baby” she wants to bring (baby Elmo almost always wins) with Pati cranking the air on the minivan so we don’t melt en route to the mall. 

“Mama!” squeals out my fuzzy-haired, diaper-clad Eliana as I run into the kitchen. “I LOVE you!” She emphasizes the word “love” like Elmo does in the theme song to his own show. 

My mother, still in her pajamas, laughs at Eliana’s reaction.

“What’s so funny?” asks Pati. She is still sporting the bra-less PJ look that tells me we are not getting out of the house any time soon. 

“Funny!” Eliana repeats with a mouthful of waffle. 

“Nothing is funny, baby girl. We’re running late, so let’s get moving,” I say, hurriedly calculating my breakfast points and shoveling three-fourths of a cup of Chex into my mouth while Pati runs upstairs to get dressed in the ten-minute window I’ve just allotted her. Drill sergeant-ish? Perhaps. But I know my family. Either I light a fire under their asses now (and keep myself focused in the process) or we won’t be leaving until well past lunch. 

“Aren’t you coming?” I ask my mother, who has made no move to change out of her pajamas. 

“You guys go ahead,” she says. “It’s too hot to leave the dogs outside and I don’t want to crate them all day.” She nods at the couch where our dogs, Finnigan, a border terrier mix, Catherine (Cat) the Great, a Rottweiler, and Francis, our street mutt, are all lounging. The first two are mine. Francis belongs to my mother.

“Damn it!” I hiss when I stub my toe on a chair in my rush to stock the diaper bag full of cloth diapers, wipes, a spare outfit, and a snack. Pati rushes back down and follows me out to the minivan, her desire to shop clearly stronger than the desire to spend forty-five minutes running up my water bill while showering.

“Damn it!” Eliana is on a roll. She does a killer parrot impersonation and keeps the show going while I strap her into her car seat and head out of our subdivision. I don’t mean to brag, but this little girl has always been pretty far ahead of the game when it comes to verbal skills. This is great when at pediatric well checks. Not so great when you happen to have a penchant for dropping more “f-bombs” in conversations than most convicted felons. 

Finally, we are on the freeway heading for civilization.

I’m still pissy from running late, so Pati shifts her attention between her iPod and answering Eliana’s occasional questions about why the airplanes in the sky are going back to their families or where the caballo-horsies are. My Spanish skills call me out as a hyphenated American to the family members who are on permanent visas (and any Mexican with a regional accent), but I’ve been trying to teach some of what I remember to Eliana. The result is usually an adorable mix of baby-voiced Spanglish. 

I concentrate on staying calm while navigating one-lane roads behind a long line of drivers content to coast along ten miles under the posted speed limit. Let me just put this out there: I’m from Detroit. Motown and Big Beaver, exit 69, baby. Seventy-five means eighty and stay the hell out of the left lane if you weren’t prepared to drive like a maniac. Needless to say, it’s been a little difficult adjusting to driving down here in the land of desert and tumbleweed. Then again, my sisters like to say that riding shotgun with Mama Leadfoot and her potty mouth has always been a fantastic form of free entertainment. 

“We’re almost there,” I finally announce, after checking the GPS. Thank God. I need some real food and I can’t wait to…

Dammit!” 

My sister is too busy focusing on my barely contained rage to stop and laugh at the chipmunk-voiced profanities being repeated from the car seat as I continue to throw them out. “What’s wrong? Are we out of gas or something?”

“I wish,” I sigh, pulling into the very same emergency vet clinic I was at two days before with an injured poodle I found wandering my subdivision. This was the last destination I’d entered into my GPS, of course. In my haste this morning I hadn’t thought to enter the address of the mall. Angrily chewing on a baby carrot (zero points!), I Google map the Tucson Mall on my iPhone. The last forty-five minutes have been a total waste of time and gas and my perfectly laid plans for a long and relaxing day strolling the air-conditioned mall are continuing to blow up in my face. I silently thank God The Husband wasn’t with us. He’d be the first person to point out that I and my crazy self like to make my own life more difficult by rushing everything and then ending up surprised when I find I’ve done something stupid.

I consider turning around and going home. I’m tired, cranky, and need to eat. Carrot sticks and cucumber slices only work for so long. But I promised Eliana a surprise and staring at the flashing “Open” sign in the veterinarian’s window from her car seat doesn’t quite cut it. I hastily plug the correct address into the GPS and breathe a sigh of relief. We’re just twenty minutes away. 

Thankfully, Eliana’s a pretty patient kid. I reach back with one of those snack trap cups filled with dried cereal to tide her over and head back onto the road. I’ve got a sea of pizza and Chinese takeout to navigate in that food court just to get to my low-point cold-cut sub. 


***


Poundage Peepers Journal

Subway six-inch turkey and ham with cheese and veggies: six points

Baked Lays, one bag: two points

Diet Coke: zero points


***


Awesome. I survive the mall with its giant and soft pretzels, with only an eight-point dent in my daily allotment. My wallet? Yeah, that took a hit. 


***


Maybe for you it’s balancing kids and a job or rocking the Soccer Mom thing. Or maybe after grocery shopping and getting the kids from school and making a dinner they won’t eat because the crusts aren’t cut off, you move the clocks up an hour without telling them and sit down with a glass of wine after the house is quiet instead of digging the elliptical out from under the pile of winter jackets. Maybe then you channel your inner Orphan Annie and focus on the fact that the sun will come out tomorrow and then you can try again. 

Maybe it’s that. Or maybe it’s my hypoactive thyroid or my insulin resistance or my PCOS, which I like to refer to as The Trifecta of Excuses for a Fat Ass. I’m one of the lucky ones who can claim a reason for my muffin top. It might be easier to blame the doctors who have, for the most part, left me on my own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. After all, they like to say things like “eat less, exercise more” while throwing prescriptions at me as they move on to their next patient, leaving me to run back to Dr. Google to research diets and lifestyle changes and fix myself. 

But now that I’m finally back on the right medications and working on my diet, I’m finally realizing a very important distinction: My medical conditions are just medical conditions. They are not reasons to stay fat. And under no circumstances are they ever to become reasons to stop trying to lose weight

That, my friends, is where I screwed the pooch. I let my body become its own excuse. 

Why bother when nothing I do seems to work, right? 

“You’re so lucky,” I’d gush to new mom friends who were trim and fit and rockin’ their MILF status like a shiny new engagement ring. “I wish I could have lost just a few pounds! And here you’ve already lost it all and then some!”

They’d smile brightly (but not too brightly so as to not hurt my feelings), always rushing to make me feel better with a, “Yeah, but look how good you look considering…”

Considering. The Trifecta of Excuses implied but not named. 

So consider I did. Eventually I considered myself lucky to only have gained the weight that I did. Then I considered myself resigned to my fate. I began to consider eating peanut butter from the jar with chocolate chips sprinkled across the top as a pick-me-up snack. Then I woke up one morning feeling like crap and wishing I could feel as good as I did before I started considering, so I decided to do something about it.

That’s when I joined Poundage Peepers.


July 31

The Husband is thirty-six today and I’m having fun reminding him that I was just a little eighth-grader when he was walking across the stage to receive his high school diploma. He counters by reminding me that he is regularly confused for a twenty-something while the last time I got carded was before I became a Mrs.

His eyes disappear into a smile.

So far, everything is going great. We have a small group of friends over and our shindig consists of good food and plenty of booze. I’m enjoying the fruit plate I prepared for myself and doing a mental tally of the points I’ve saved up for this very splurge. 

Thanks to some very careful working of the system with plenty of veggies and fruit that barely put a dent in my daily points allotment, I can have a few more glasses of wine before I even have to worry. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Eliana blinks up at me, her fork poised over the plate. She’s waiting for the signal to strike. “Now, Mama?” She looks hopeful. 

“Now,” I say, kissing her face before it’s covered in frosting.

“Birthday cake!” she squeals, her brown eyes crinkling in a smile just like her dad’s, and dives in with the delightfully carefree outlook of a child unaware of the complexities that come with fat grams, cellulite, or calories in versus calories out. I’m jealous, but plan to make sure cake remains a magical part of her childhood—like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy—for as long as I can.

I’m proud of myself, considering I chose a really bad week to jump on the weight-loss bandwagon. First we had the mall food court full of Bad Food the day after our first meeting. I even behaved at The Husband’s birthday dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack last night. It was his suggestion, and I promised him naughty things for choosing a place where I could truly enjoy myself. Shellfish is my favorite food group in the whole world, and minus the butter you can eat a shitload of the stuff without breaking the calorie bank. 

“It’s good stuff, isn’t it?” a little girl asked me from the next table, her mouth formed into a silent “O” as she watched me suck a crab leg dry with all the gusto of a porn star wannabe. Jenna Jameson, eat your heart out.

“Yes, thank you,” I said indignantly as I cracked into another leg, stopping only to gobble up a shrimp. I’m not sure if she was amused or horrified, so I smiled and took a breather. Her mother told her to stop staring and I can bet I was the topic of conversation on the way home. 

But I can’t help it. Ever since I was a kid and made trips to Red Lobster for shrimp cocktail and raw oysters on my birthday, seafood has been the ultimate escape for me. Normally I behave with a bit more decorum, but I had starved myself all day to allow for a nice splurge with some wine and baked potato. All bets are off and I was attacking those crab legs like a death row inmate enjoying her last meal.

“If this had been our first date,” The Husband said fighting laughter, “you do understand that I probably would not have called you for a second, right?” 

I shot him a death glare as I finished up. 

“Oh fuck off, sweetie. I love you, too.” 


***


August 2

While there are a few lucky ones, most of us are still not fitting into our pre-pregnancy jeans anytime before the baby’s first birthday. More likely, we are leaving the maternity ward looking like we still belong there. 

“When are you due?” ask kind strangers as they reach for our still swollen bellies. Maybe our children are with Daddy, or perhaps we have left them with the sitter for some much-needed “me” time. Either way, there is no outward evidence to match up with the baby belly we’re sporting. We raise an eyebrow, defensive. Where the hell does this asshole get off? 

“I’m not pregnant,” we respond stiffly. “In fact, I gave birth six months ago.”

Or maybe it was six years. In any case, our bodies were irrevocably changed the moment we crossed into the second trimester and there really was no turning back. The world no longer revolves around us. Our needs are not foremost in our minds. The role of mother (what baby/toddler/child/teenager needs) now comes first. Who has time to devote to a regular workout schedule when trying to juggle diaper changes, playdates, laundry, soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, and that precious little thing called sanity? 

But, well, there are those who are living proof that balancing Motherhood and Self—while only slightly easier than impossible—can be done. And to be perfectly blunt, I think it needs to be done, or we chance losing ourselves to the motherhood role. I’m not saying to let the kids go feral and start roaming the neighborhood in packs just so Mommy can get a few precious moments to herself, but it is necessary to refocus our lives to keep ourselves somewhere at the top of our own priority lists. Because if we lose ourselves in the effort to be all that we can be to our kids, what are we really giving them? 

So it’s time to get busy and find my body; the one I lost when I pushed a baby out and let myself go to hell. Just let me change this diaper first.

Irrelevant

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I'm not an It-Girl.

I don't have legions of fans. I am not a household name. The Internet is not waiting with baited breath for my next witty social media update. I know all of this. Usually, I'm good with it. 

My blog comment section is made up of mostly crickets with a few (welcome) exchanges tossed in for good measure. My Latina Magazine column is widely read but I've yet to see a letter to the editor from anyone who has ever promised to send one in after stopping me in a public bathroom gushing about their favorite question and answer - I think the reigning champ is the on where I told the woman complaining about hating sex with the boyfriend who paid for her prescription medication that she needed to get a J.O.B. (For the record, I love that one, too.) My book cover is a thing of beauty with blurbs from authors I admire and still can't believe were happy to go on record in front of all creation as saying it's worth reading. Sales are decent -it's a slow build - but I'm nowhere near the literary sensation I had let The Husband's supportive cheerleading convince me I was going to become once the book launched. 

I'm not an It-Girl. In the grand-scheme of things, I think, I fall in to the irrelevant category. 

Before you stop me and tell me I'm being too hard on myself and tell me to believe in my ability as a writer, well-meaning reader, know this: I am not ... and I already do.

I wrote my first book when I was nine or 10 and have been looking beyond each No to the next horizon every day since.  Rejection is part of the profession and a tough skin is a requirement, but I don't think there's anything wrong with a little pity-party to get the and jou-jou tied directly to where we think we should be right now out of our systems before putting out big girl panties back on and getting back to work. 

I know I can write.

I know I am good at what I do and I take pride in my ability to craft a story that draws the reader in. If you're reading this as a writer yourself, you know damned well that no matter how panic-worthy each submission process may be that there's a little voice in your head talking all the smack because you are fucking fabulous and you KNOW it. 

Never stop believing that. That little bit of ego? That's what keeps us going when we've got nothing else with which to measure our success. 

I'm not an It-Girl. But I am a writer. Relevant or not, it's me against the blinking cursor and my words against the empty spaces waiting to be filled. I know this. And I'm good with it. 


Beautiful in Black & White: My Experience with the 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It started with a request to sign a copy of my book. She'd be in the same state, after all, and seeing as how I only live four hours north, maybe I could meet up and we could take a few selfies together to prove we'd inhabited the same physical space after years of conversations in 140 characters and status updates. 

"Of course," was my response. No matter that I would be the one driving the four hours. When you're this far north, hotel rooms and rest stops are just real life if you want to maintain contact with real life. Besides, Target and Starbucks don't exist where I live. If I want you to like me in person, I'm not about to ask you to make a first impression while navigating around Amish buggies and breaking for moose standing in the middle of the roadway. If I had stopped there, if nothing more had come out of my mouth, maybe signing a book and laughing over bad camera angles would be all that had happened. But I didn't. I kept talking. "Maybe I should get naked for you, too."

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson.  Click here to purchase.  

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson. Click here to purchase. 

There was a chuckle in response. Or, I think there was one. I'm a writer. I hear the rhythm of the voice writing the words that would be spoken if the conversation was a spoken one. I fill in the blanks with facial expressions, uuhhhmmm's and ahhhh's, and the blinks that take up the space around the words I hear in my mind. She chuckled when she read my sentence about getting naked; eyes twinkling, probably. She knows my sense of humor. We've known each other a few years now, at least. "Maybe not naked," she said. "Just down to your bra and panties." 

"Only if you buy me dinner first," I shot back. And she chuckled again and I laughed out loud because I actually did Laugh.Out. Loud. I detest the LOL acronym. I know for a fact my sister never LOL's even though every single text she sends indicates otherwise. When I Laugh.Out.Loud, I actually am. Otherwise, I am merely SWMWME (Smirking While Smiling with my Eyes) or LIMH (Laughing Inside My Head). LOL is like the push up bra of the Facebook world. We all know you're selling us more than you've actually got, so let's drop the act and just call it what it is, okay?

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It was all in fun. No commitment. Just banter. But then she said "YES" and I knew the yes wasn't about the dinner joke but about the me getting down to my 'chonis thing because, it turns out, my friend, the famed Ashlee Wells Jackson of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, had an opening for her Portland, Maine, shoot, and she was sending me a contract to sign and ... and ... 

Holy...

Shit. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is what happens when you make a habit of pushing your own boundaries using thinly-veiled sarcasm. There's really no commitment because a No in response to your Maybe I could can be brushed off as a joke and no one gets their feelings hurt. A Yes still comes with an automatic Out because I was Totally Kidding and can quip about how I never let a date get to third base before the third date, at least, because I have fucking STANDARDS. There's alway a moment of pause when the Yes happens. The window of opportunity to wrap my arms around the Thing I Probably Really Want to Do But am Totally Terrified Of is small. Generally, it's understood that I am verbally agreeing, all semblance of general smartassery lost, because Shit Just Got Serious, y'all. 

I'm signing the contract before I have had a chance to process the ramifications, not because I'm an idiot, mind you, but because posing for a shoot in your well-endowed bra and Lane Bryant panties is scary shit, indeed, even for an outspoken body image activist like myself. If I even stop to think, just for a moment, I'm going to Come to my Senses and say But I was Joking and tell the Ashlee's in my life that they'd better give that  open slot to someone else cuz I'm not about to put All of THIS on the internet -- not when my every day is Spanxed and layered and carefully pieced together so as to maintain some semblance of containment and purposeful form. 

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

 

Even after signing the contract, though, I toyed with the idea of backing out. Eliana didn't know it yet, because I needed to come to terms with the Actual Doing before I got her all jazzed up about a mother/daughter photo shoot with a famous and celebrated photographer, but she would be there, with me, celebrating herself as she is next to the mama hoping she was brave enough to do the same. I wrote a book about accepting the bodies we have right here and right now, the scale and Other People's Expectations be Damned. I have a website celebrating our bodies and ourselves in every possible way (which I suck at keeping updated because the aforementioned book takes a lot of time to write and edit and promote upon publication). I am outspoken about my struggles with mental illness - anxiety, depression, ADHD - and my eating disordered past and ever-present body image issues. Once it's a part of your story, it always will be. But until now, I've been able to hide myself behind words and stories that painted pictures for readers to relate to and see themselves in. 

I’m not important enough for media coverage. No need to find the most flattering dress for my shape to talk about my work on daytime TV. No magazine spreads to hope the PhotoShop Fairy I usually hate sprinkles her fairy dust over to maybe make a few bulges here and a few inches there smooth out and disappear. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is real. Black and white. No tummy-controlling undergaments. No bullshit. 

Period. 

It’s everything I stand for and nothing I’ve been brave enough to make happen. 

Until now.

Before packing up the overnight duffle and looking for a hotel, I told The Husband about the shoot and asked him to check out the 4th Trimester Bodies Project site, and waited for his response. I wasn’t looking for permission, mind you, but maybe I’d been hoping for an excuse to say no. “My Husband is being a giant asshole about this whole thing and I’d just rather not deal with the drama” is way easier to say than “Yeah, I know this is exactly what I stand for, but let’s pass on this round because I’m scared shitless that I won’t see myself as beautiful, okay?” But he only waited for me to tell him why I had directed him to the site to begin with because he knows me and simply nodded when I told him I had been invited to participate in the project. “You know I’d never stop you from doing something like this,” is what he said. So I was left with no way out but through my fear and self-judgement, booked the hotel room, gassed up the truck, told the excited little chingona-in-training what we were doing and why, and listened to her sing Eliana Mercedes Originals all the way to Portland about celebrating our bodies and loving who we are.

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

As we stood in the dressing room at Lane Bryant (because I’m not about to drop my pants for the world unless it’s in brand new undies, my friends), Eliana joked with me about third boobs and very solemnly pointed out the styles of panties and bras she thought fit best and so those are the ones I bought. I mentally patted myself on the back for taking the emotion out of the dressing room and replacing it with logic and reason. My audience was watching my every move and I wasn’t about to taint every future dressing room experience with tears and squished face disgust at what perceived flaws. My todays are building the foundation for her tomorrows, after all, and while I may be far from perfect, I’m working with what I’ve got. 

“Mama,” she asked me while trying on her black leotard at our last stop before we checked in for the night in Portland, “What’s so hard about celebrating our bodies? All we have to do is appreciate what we have.”

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

These are the words I remembered and held onto that night, because I didn't sleep. They are the words I remembered when I stood before Ashlee in nothing but a bra and panties the next day. The words I held onto when she pointed the camera at me and asked me why I was there during the pre-shoot interview. 

“What made you want to participate in this project?” she asked me.

I looked at Eliana, waiting patiently to join me for the session. She smiled at me because she knows I am not as brave as I say I am, and that’s okay. 

 

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Looking into my daughter’s eyes, I responded. “Because perfection is photo-shopped. Because self-acceptance is reserved for the finish line. Because you can’t step on the winner’s podium until after you’ve proven your worth until after you’ve stepped on the scale. Every day, I wake up ready to teach myself love the me that I see again. Because this little girl is my reset button. 

Because there was no reason that wasn’t an excuse to say no and every reason that matters to say yes.”

And then we did it. We smiled and we laughed and we posed and celebrated our way through every shot and then again while working with Ashlee to select the image used for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. There was a headshot. There was a safe image. And then there was the one where I wasn’t shielding myself with my daughter’s body because I’m the one that’s supposed to be on the frontline helping her find her way, dammit. That’s what you see. This is who I am.

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

We signed books for each other at the end, as planned. We hugged and smiled and selfies and hash-tagged because we don’t know when we will see each other again. I didn’t even make her buy me dinner. 

Later that night, after hours on the road in between errands on the way home, I saw the status update in my Facebook stream indicating that Ashlee had tagged me on her fan page. There were no tears. No self-deprecating tearing apart of the self I saw standing next to the future I am raising. “Look, Eliana! It’s us!”

“We’re beautiful, mama!” She squealed with pride. She beamed. She looked into my eyes, waiting for me to answer the question she would never dare to ask.

“Yes, baby,” I smiled back and met her eyes because I know this will be one of the moments she look back on as she grows and I need her to see that I believed the words I was saying are true. “Yes we are.” 

On Thanking My Mother for that Time She Pushed Me Out of Her Vagina

Thanks, MOM! 

Thanks, MOM! 


First I'm going to tell you that I have other More Important Things to write about but I've also been a giant chicken lately about writing anything Of Actual Importance, so I'm going to instead distract us all with typos and literary wit. 

Yes, mine. Don't believe me? I once shanked my BFF and told The Husband I was putting on lipstick for a lesbian dinner, both via text message and very probably on the same day, and they will vouch for my truthiness. Also? neither story is as funny as the time I once wrote myself out of the PR job I was applying for. Turns out referring to oneself as an Expert in Pubic Relations is frowned upon when the job in question actually has more to do with Relating to the Public than it does empowering gynecologists to feel good about their life choices, but whatever. I'd have hired me just for the laugh, but I'm obviously unprofessional like that.

I told you I've got two books coming out with my publisher, right? If not, I do. And if I did, pinch me and I'll bitch slap you but totally tell me it's real and tell me often because surreal is still a ginomormous understatement. BabyFat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, and Trying to Stay Sane is the eventual overnight sensation that took five years to get fucking published, so of course I'm over-thinking All The Things 'cuz wouldn't YOU?

I am sitting here freaking the FUCK out about the very problem I have wished for my entire life to have. I could be writing about So Many Things, y'all. And I will. Just not today because my BabyFat editor just sent me an email that included projected dates for final edits and blurbs and I am so very afraid of forgetting Obvious and Important People in the Acknowledgment Page, like my mother for that time she pushed me out of her vagina. 

I need tips. I want examples. Which books did you love that also had a kickass thank you page? Tell me Everything! WRITE ME AN OVER THE TOP ACKNOWLEDGMENT THANKING YOUR MOTHER FOR BEING BORN RIGHT IN MY COMMENTS JUST TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER.

And Mom? I'm being totally serious about the Being Born thing and the Utter Importance of your vagina in the writing of this book. So, thank you. I love you. Don't worry, I'll call you tomorrow to read this to you on the phone because it's just easier than explaining what a blog is. 

That Time I Compared Santa to Chocolate

  Photo by Pauline Campos

My sink is full of dirty dishes. The house is not Santa Spotless as is my usual. I have tons of gifts still to send out and even more missing from under my tree. I lost our magic Santa key so I told the child I texted Santa the code to the lockbox we save for dog sitter. I didn't bake one christmas cookie. I only sent out 15 christmas cards. My usual is 50. It's hard work dragging your ass out of bed when there's no other place you'd rather be, what with missing friends and autoimmune hell running the show.( I got an answer, by the way: psoriasis. The rest of that story will have to wait for another post another day.) But it's work that must be done when you're not the star of a one woman show. And my costars demand Christmas cheer and holiday magic. This is good, because I am doing Christmas even though I'd rather be binge watching bad movies and eating too much ice cream. Pretty sure that depressive, self-indulgent luxury is one every person who agrees to cohabitation loses as soon as Yours  becomes Ours. I'm even telling myself the cluttered mess of a house and the dirty dishes are progress because Instead of staying up until 4 am to scrub the house clean just so I could say I did,  I'm leaving them as they are.

Photo by Pauline Campos

My plans include wrapping a forgotten gift, writing a tiny goodbye note from her Christmas elf in sparkly gel pen in teeny tiny writing, and climbing into bed with The Husband and the child who was too excited to sleep, because Obviously Mom, Who Can Sleep On A Night Like This? She can, Obviously and Thankyouverymuch, tucked up between heartbeats that sandwich her own. Its the only sound loud enough, I think, to soothe her into an instant dream.

Photo by Pauline Campos

The dishes can wait. I've got sleepy hugs waiting. This is progress. Santa, like chocolate, understands.

Now's and Remember When's

 

Okay, so I'm totally aware that all of you with older kids are just itching to say Just Wait Until (Insert Random Milestone Here) while I wax poetic and get all misty-eyed because my little girl took one step further away from me today when she walked out of preschool for the very last time. I get it all the time from a high school friend with a middle schooler on her hands.

You think this is bad? Just wait until...

And then I roll my eyes, tell her I'm just going to concentrate on now, because I want to remember the excitement in Buttercup's eyes as she slipped on her cap and gown for her graduation ceremony and the way she poured her heart into the song her class sang for us sobbing mothers. And the tears and smeared mascara and laughing at myself because I forgot to put tissues in my purse even though every mother at the preschool who had been through the routine before had warned me. I want to remember that, too.

How much she loves her teachers and how she insisted we invite them both to her birthday party because that's what we do with friends that we love. The progress she's made throughout the year and how she has blossomed into a confident little spitfire of a girl who is no longer afraid to show the world she is proud of her abilities. Miss Jessica and Miss Monica and the little classroom family that we will miss terribly because they are incredible teachers and mentors and how I want to pack them up and just take them with me.

Eleventeen and Sangwich and maturing into Eleven and Sandwich.

Mama Read Me Another Story and Kiss My Boo Boo Make It Better and even Mama Can You Help Me Wipe My Butt are fading into Mama Can I Read This One To You Tonight and It Doesn't Hurt It's Okay Mama and Mama Can You Help Me Wipe My Butt because this is reality, people. Reality means we wash our hands with them after they go potty not because we are trying to show them how to do it properly but because we probably are the ones who did the actual wiping. And that's okay with us because it's our baby and our reality and all of the messy bits smushed together make the now that we love that will mesh into the Remember Whens that we will always hold onto.

It's okay, I tell my friend. I'm not worried about Until. In fact, Until isn't even on my radar right now. Because now is all about This. All of it.

She walked out of the preschool today a little graduate and a member of the class of 2025, ready to take on Kindergarten when the new school year starts at the end of July. She was in her daddy's arms, her red-cowboy boots hanging lower on his 6'1'' frame than even just a few months ago. And I will remember this moment.

Always.

Zombies and Dead Dads

 

It's strange how the timing on this one worked out. But the timing could not have been more perfect for me to finally have what has got to be the most bad-ass blog post title ever. Then again, I received pretty high praise from readers on the Love, Assholes, and My Grandpa one, so I guess it's kind of a toss up.

Either way, I've got a zombie to tell you about and a dead father to remember.

There's this poem I wrote years ago. If I remember correctly, it was for a creative writing course in college and the class was silent for just a moment longer than a heartbeat after I finished reading. Zombie is not meant to be a comfortable read or to create images of beauty; rather, it's a very real and very gritty moment that many who have ever suffered from bulimia can (sadly) relate to.

Until very recently, Zombie was in a binder with old papers until I decided to do something more with it. So I transcribed it into a Word Document, hit save, and sent my words off to the editor at Voxx Poetica. My poem appeared on Voxx almost two months ago and I just now realized it had actually been published. Thank you to Voxx for a moment to connect with others who understand and the opportunity to explain the inner-workings of the head of an eating disordered teenager to those who don't.

Because I tend to schedule my blog posts based on the incredibly scientific When I Remember to Do it method, my plan to share my Voxx publication news with you today just now happens to coincide with dead dads, the daughters of all ages who are grieving them, and the woman who is building working to build a community of solace for those who find themselves wondering where to turn. I first met my friend Mary of Mama Mary Show a few years ago at the Phoenix Bloggy Bootcamp conference and got to see her again at Blogher 10 just a few months later. I don't remember how we started talking about it, but we connected when we shared with each other the pain of losing our fathers decades before we had expected to deal with this kind of grief.

Mary's goal was to publish a book and start a new web site on which contributing writers could connect, share, and heal. And I'm honored to be featured as part of the official launch of the Dead Dad's Club.

Every time someone else thinks my words worthy of their space is a day to celebrate. Every day I am brave enough to share again is a day to smile. I survived me. And I'll never delete my my father's phone number from my contact list.

The Bitch and the Lullaby

"Mama, I can't sleep."

"Shhh ... just close your eyes and relax, baby."

"But mama, I tried that already. I caaaaaaaaan't sleeeeeeep."

"Maybe if you try longer than three seconds, it just might happen."

"But Ma..."

"Shhh ... Daddy's already asleep. Want me to sing you a lullaby? Whichever one you want, baby girl."

She finally stops her fidgeting and snuggles closer to me. "You pick, mama."

Without hesitation, I launch into the first bedtime lullaby session in recent memory. She's almost five and while I'm holding on to her wanting to co-sleep for as long as she will let me, she stopped asking me to sing her to sleep a few years ago. I softly sing that she is my sunshine, my only sunshine, as she relaxes even more into my body.

I smile into the dark.

 

 

The day didn't start this sweet. Buttercup has been home sick from preschool for over a week now with a low-grade fever, congestion, vomiting, and lots of whining brought on by the horrible Tucson allergy season. Nebulizers and medications and trips to the allergist and waiting in the Walgreens parking lot for more prescriptions have been par for the course lately. So has an attitude that makes me fear the day she realizes she has hormones. The kid hates being sick.

This morning she woke up happy. But somewhere between getting out of bed and sitting down to pee, the stars must have fallen out of alignment because the child shot right passed crabby and hit bitchy in ten seconds flat. Her eyes narrowed and she glared up at me from her perch on the toilet with a look that gave me every confidence in the world she's ready to hold her own on an elementary school playground. Then she announced that she couldn't pee.

"What do you mean, you can't pee? Do you mean you don't have to go yet?"

"No," she spat out. "I have to and I just can't."

Um...okay....

"So try harder?"

"I am, Mama! I. Just. CAN'T."

And the stand off began. I had things to do today and lots of shit to attend to before I ran out of time. BFF Heather was going to be coming over later to tag along on another one of my doctor appointments this afternoon while her fiance was set to play dollhouse and watch princess movies with Buttercup. I wanted to make sure I had a bra on before they showed up in four hours.

"Do you hurt in your belly?" I ask.

"No," she grunts back.

"Does your vagina hurt?" I ask.

"No, my bagina does not hurt." She says back, her teeth clenched. "I just can't go."

Satisfied she doesn't need a trip to the pediatrician and this is just the world's most original tantrum, I leave the bathroom and make my way to my shower.

"Fine," I call back as I walk away. "Sit there as long as you want to. I'm not scheduling my day around when you decide to stop being a drama queen."

I'm answered with furious tears and sobbing. Turns out she hadn't expected me to leave. And yet she's still sitting there after I return, dressed, teeth brushed, flossed, hair done, and make-up applied. Kid knows how to dig in her heels, that's for damned sure. So I called her bluff.

"I guess we need to go to a hospital."

"NO!"

"Well, if you can't pee, that's not a good thing for you body. And that means I need to take you in so the doctors can fix you." I pause for effect. "I'll go get my purse and the car keys so we can leave right away."

Her eyes are wide. She's blinking. A lot. The wheels in that head of hers are turning furiously. And just as suddenly as she flipped the switch to bitch, she flips it back to sweet angel as she finally let the iron hold on her bladder go. "Wow, guess what, Mama! I'm cured!"

I gloat inside of my head and rejoice with her as we finally get started with our day.

 

 

 

"Mama, I love you," she whispers. Her head is on my chest now. Her voice thick with the sleep that's about to consume her.

I ask her to please never take my sunshine away, and hug her closer.

 

 

Happy Chaos and Punky Power

I grew up with jelly bracelets, bright neons, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, and everybody's favorite 80's kid, Punky Brewster. Surprisingly, I've never had the chance to name a dog Brandon. I'll have to remedy that. For now, I'll just focus on the fact that my childhood hero has grown up with me into a a powerhouse of a mom with two adorable little girls, her popular Moonfrye.com site, over a million twitter followers, an eco-friendly clothing line called The Little Seed, and her role as Target's Mommy Ambassador. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not one to run out and buy the latest celebrity memoir, but when I was offered the chance to read and review Soleil's new parenting book, Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and my Perfectly Imperfect Adventures In Between, I decided my childhood dream of becoming Punky's best friend was just a blog post away from coming true. I'll keep you posted on how that works out, y'all.

Happy Chaos shares stories from Soleil's childhood (she once had Johnny Depp show up as a surprise guest to a birthday party), precious moments with her children, and perhaps most importantly,  brings us non-celebrity moms right there with Soleil when she shares how she's learning to accept that the mom she thought she was going to be is not the mom she became once her children were born. The beauty of it all is in the journey of discovery with our children.

And while not every mom can relate to a roster of celebrity BFFs or boast about directing her first film at the age of 18, reading Happy Chaos reads more like a chat over a cup of coffee with a girlfriend than anything else. Part memoir and part parenting manual, Happy Chaos reminds us to embrace the crazy that motherhood brings while taking a moment to celebrate the magic of cutting an apple sideways just to show our children the star inside.

 

***

Soleil has graciously offered a signed copy of Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between with one Aspiring Mama reader. To enter, simply do one of the following (or more for extra entries!)

* Leave a comment for Soleil on this blog post.

* Tweet, Facebook, Google +, or include a link to this post on your own blog. Each counts for it's own entry, so be sure to leave me one comment letting me know what you did so I can add up points!

* Comments will be accepted through midnight, EST, on Monday, January 16.

* One winner will be selected via Random.org and will be announced here on Aspiring Mama shortly thereafter.

***

I'd like to thank Soleil Moon Frye for offering me the chance to share her book with all of you.

 

Validation

I'm standing in the canned food aisle at the market, trying to keep track of my shopping list while shuffling Buttercup along with me. "What do I need to put in the cart now, Mama?" she asks me, eager to help.

I check my list. Next up are the ingredients for the black bean chili.

"Six cans of black beans," I say, waiting to see what she'll do next.

Buttercup puckers her lips in concentration and looks hard at the cans of beans on the shelves. Each can has a photo and black starts with the "buh buh" sound, right, mama?

"These!" she says excitedly as she shows me the correct can.

"Ok, how many did I need again?"

"Six!"

"Right. So, gimme six cans."

I watch as she runs between the cart and the shelf, one can at a time, skipping right by the number five like she always has, and I gently correct her. The job is done and she's ready for her next assignment.

"Excuse me," I hear a gentle voice behind me just as a soft touch lands on my shoulder. I turn to see an elderly woman standing there, smiling up at me. I instantly step to the side, thinking I am in her way, but she stops me.

"I just wanted to tell you, dear, what a lovely job you are doing with your daughter. So many times you see the little ones kicking and screaming when out with their mamas when all it takes is a little bit of thought on your part to get them to think a whole lot on theirs. She's learning," the woman says, nodding her chin at a smiling Buttercup, "and you should be proud."

And I was.

***

Buttercup and I are walking hand in hand across the parking lot on the way into my doctor's office.

"Thank you for letting me bring my baby in," she says, clutching her doll to her chest.

"That was your choice. Now, what did I tell you will happen if you ask me to hold her?" I gently prod.

"That's easy. You said I bring her in so I have to bring her out."

I nod. "Exactly. If you give her to me, I'm handing her to the first little girl I see."

She looks up at me and studies my face. Nancy Drew is trying to determine how serious I am.

Buttercup charms the nurses and the doctor and acts the part of an angel until the very minute I say it's time to leave. That's when she suddenly decides she is tired and can't possibly carry her doll one more step.

"Will you carry her, mama?" she whines, placing her doll on the chair closest to her in the waiting room.

I shake my head firmly. "What did I say on the way in?" I ask her.

"I dunno," she says, looking away from me. So I remind her.

"You brought her in so you bring her out. If you put your doll down, I'm not picking it up. If you give it to me because you got tired of carrying it, I'm handing it to the first little girl I see," I say, pointing to a child sitting next to her mother in the waiting room. I'm suddenly aware that we have an audience and both mother and child are staring intently, waiting for our little scene to play out. "How would you feel if I suddenly got tired of taking care of you and just left you sitting here while I went home?"

Her eyes wide, Buttercup reaches for her doll and holds her to her chest again. "That would be horrible."

"Exactly," I say. "You are my responsibility. And that doll is your responsibility. I take care of you and..."

"I take care of my doll," she finishes for me.

"Good girl."

The other mother is smiling at me. A we leave, she gives me a nod and gives the a thumbs up. And I suddenly feel like I might survive motherhood.

Or at least today. Yeah, today I can handle.

This Breath

I just had sex with my husband on doctor's orders because my ovaries finally decided to kick out a few follicles that might turn into eggs that might turn into a baby or quite possibly a litter and I've got to tell ya, I'm not sure if I'm rooting for Team Infertility or Team Modern Medicine to come out the victor. The first I already know and can handle. The second is shiny, new, and... I can't wrap my mind around what I don't know.

Disclaimer: Wait, what? Me? Sex? With my husband? If you know me in real life from before social media existed, please stab yourself in the eyeballs with the nearest semi-sharp object and let yourself continue to believe that we brought Buttercup home with us after holding hands while skipping through a cabbage patch field.

Of course, the deed *ahem* has been done and I can't undo whatever fate may have in store for us anymore than that hairdresser at Great Clips can emotionally unscar the teenage boy who broke into tears after she complimented him on his new Justin Bieber-esque look before he left with his mother who kept reassuring him that he and every other boy in America or at least Tucson younger than 20 do not, in fact, look like Belieber groupies in denial.

Even though he totally did.

I can't undo. And it's not the um, doctors-orders-homework that has me all a titter. Life is good in the land of The Married. He drives me crazy. I drive him crazy. And when things get boring we pretend to argue just to spice it up a bit. The issue that has me wondering WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST DO? is the fact that I may have voluntarily and irrevocably changed the simple reality I know and love for allowing me to not go any crazier than I already am.

She can walk. She can talk. And she's fairly self-sufficient on the potty front. She goes to school a few hours for a few days a week and makes herself laugh silly with really bad knock-knock jokes. She's four going on fourteen going on forty and she's the miracle we waited almost two years for that I didn't know would become the reality I wanted until I held her in my arms for the first time because I'm the kind of person who is so afraid of change that I've trained my brain not to want the unknown and instead accept the new today once the wind has already changed direction.

It's true. I don't want to go to Paris or Italy or dream of cruises or tropical islands because I have never experienced them. I have no desire to try something crazy just so I can say I did it because that would require planning and foresight and a willingness to not be so rigid but if I happen to be out on the town with a friend and she decided on a whim to stop in a piercing shop I can't promise I won't come home without a dainty little nose piercing. I didn't plan my wedding as a girl growing up or sign my name with the Crush of the Week's in doodle hearts while dating because I that would have required me dreaming about What If instead of focusing on What Was. And when I finally came to the moment where The Boyfriend became The Fiance who became The Husband as I walked down the aisle to become The Wife, I was In Love and In Awe and In Flux between states of complete calm because Life was Happening and Utter Terror because Life was Happening.

It wasn't until the day after graduating high school, arriving on my college campus, graduating with honors, starting my first job, moving in with The Boyfriend who became The Fiance who became The Husband, pushing the baby out, moving cross-country Anything Important that Has Happened in My Life that I've had pretty much the same thought process work itself out in my mind: That wasn't as bad as you thought it was going to be, you jackass. Well, except for maybe the pushing the baby thing out. She was totally worth it but Dude! That pretty much sucked. This is what was meant to be and where I was meant to end up. This moment is magic and I really need to lighten up and allow more magic to just spontaneously happen because that's how life works.

I know this. And yet, I sit here...wondering what I want the doctor to tell me when it's time for results and how I will react. Wondering if I can love another baby as much as I love the miracle that already is. Wondering if I am enough to mother more than once child and nurture them both completely in the way that is singularly unique to their own beings and needs without falling short and thinking I should have quit while I was ahead.

I wonder because I don't know. And I won't know until tomorrow comes. Until then, I concentrate on this breath...

And then the next...

Go the F*ck to Sleep

Love it or hate it.

Those seem to be the only camp divisions when it comes to Adam Mansbach's new not really for children children's book, Go the F*ck to Sleep. It's really more of a I Finally Got The Little Bastards into Bed after Promising Them Ponies and Rainbows and Am Seriously Hoping I can Convince Them the Entire Conversation Was Just a Dream Because There is NO F*CKING WAY I am Buying Them a Pony and Amazon Doesn't Have Rainbows Available for Free Shipping and Good F*CKING GAWD I Need a Glass of Wine Right Now kinda nights.

Do I even need to clarify which camp T-shirt I brought home?

My favorite page?

The eagles who soar through the sky are at rest

And the creatures who crawl, run, and creep.

I know you're not thirsty. That's bullsh*t. Stop lying.

Lie the f*ck down, my darling, and sleep.

Why? Because I have BEEN here. And honestly, so has every parent in the world at some point in time. The silently uttered F-bombs are optional, of course, but you've been there, too. In between the hugs and the kisses and But Daddy I'm scared's and Mama I need to potty's, a few How the hell long is it going to take to get this kid to f*cking sleep tonight's start to work their way into the good ole' internal dialogue.

Adam Masbach didn't invent the wheel, people. He just wrote about it first.

Well played, Adam. Well played.