September 29, 2011
I’m checking in. My brother tells me you have not been swimming lately. Tsk.
Well, to be honest…I haven’t been swimming much either. I’ve discovered yoga. Apart from the feeling of strength I derive from my practice, I also find a calm, courageous mindset that renders me patient. And living in New Jersey, patience is a virtue. Nobody here seems to know what a “YEILD” sign means. And people are always cutting in line. So I just breathe and listen, pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth.
No doubt, you’ve been kept abreast of my comings and goings. B** is always quick to mention you too, and I know that he, like me before him, enjoys talking with you. What a treat – when in a menial, low-pay, low-respect job – to have a learned, articulate person, such as yourself, speak to you as an equal! I always looked forward to our chats. The rest of the day was filled with chlorine testing and chasing after lifeguards and smiling through clenched teeth at my boss…but mornings with A***** by the pool made for intellectual stimulation. Remember that I told you your celebrity lookalike, in appearance AND demeanor, is Sidney Poitier? Keep that in mind!
Well, of course, the biggest change in my life is not New Jersey, or even yoga…she’s Ellie. I had a daughter about 14 months ago. This entire experience has changed me from my core out. First, there was the awakening to boldly wanting the pain of childbirth to mark my transition to motherhood. And I had to fight with my doctors for the right to give birth naturally, on my terms. Then, there was a tiny person in my arms, needing me for everything…until, gradually, she’s needed me less and less. And now, there’s the opportunity to get to know this wonderful, magical creature a little more each day. What a thrill to meet someone who is every bit as intense as I am, but not nearly as insecure! I am learning, and learning is a lifelong endeavor.
Perhaps Ellie’s wisdom will be useful to you. I’ve boiled it down to her tenets of everyday happiness:
- Assume everyone thinks you’re cute (because, even if they don’t, they probably won’t tell you anyway)
- Always enter a room with a smile (because everyone thinks you’re cute, remember?)
- Make the best of a tough situation (even if you’ve pooped in your pants)
- Dogs have soft, warm tongues (that feel good on fingers and cheeks)
- Leafy green vegetables taste best when mashed in sweet potatoes (because you’ll hardly notice they’re there)
- Love is elastic and can stretch a little more every day
I’m sure there are many other pearls to harvest, but those are the happy thoughts I carry with me even when I’m not carrying her. I love her, A*****. I’ve really chiseled a wonderful life out of a granite point-of-view.
So, here’s hoping you get back in the pool soon! I’ll try to get there too. Let it replenish our hearts, minds and souls. In the meantime, let us go there in meditation and hold a piece of that breath in everything we do.
With great affection…
May 21, 2011
Ahh…Saturday! No work. No church. It’s a day reserved for thinking about ourselves, our daughter and our dogs. Just because the world is ending today, doesn’t mean we have to pout. (There really is a need for a sarcasm font.)
I had an epiphany about blaming rape victims for their rapes today…at the dog park of all places. Let’s see…
We decided to take our dogs to the nice dog park in the nice town, and then swing by the nice grocery store on our way home. It should have been a pleasant family outing. And it was…until a 50-lb dog attacked and bit our 14-lb Tootie.
Our Charlotte (60-lb pit bull mix) and Tootie (Boston terrier) love the park. They’re leash-less there, and they frolic. They bark at but don’t aggress other dogs, except for the occasional stare-down between Charlotte and an alpha female. We don’t tolerate that at all and remove Charlotte immediately from quarrelsome groups. Tootie has never had a problem getting along with other dogs of any size.
Sometimes, dog parks are divided: a pen for “small” dogs apart from the larger area for “big” dogs. But – as Tootie and Charlotte are generally inseparable elsewhere – at the park, they want to play together. Tootie doesn’t know what to make of small dogs and doesn’t play with them. In fact, I’ve never thought of her as a “small” dog…like chihauhaus or Yorkshire terriers or toy poodles. She cavorts with Charlotte and her equals regularly. In fact, Boston terriers can often be found with big dogs because they have “big dog” attitude.
I observed a woman with an aggressive 100-lb dog telling other dog owners to “watch out” for her dog as he has a tendency “to harm other dogs when he plays.” WTF? Why bring him here? I thought as I eyed Charlotte to make sure she kept a wide berth. And there was also an anxious man with a leashed “boxer” (red flag there: leashed dog in a fenced in area – why?) bragging about how his dog was a rescued animal and how he’d spent thousands of dollars on vet bills to get the dog in tip-top shape. Periodically, he would turn to the dog and say, “Oh no, you can’t come off the leash yet. You’re too excited.”
When he did finally release his dog, it made a beeline for Tootie, 30 yards away. As she always does, she turned and faced the dog and told it what to do with that aggressive stance…but she was soon overpowered and it grabbed her by the throat and swung her around as if she were a squirrel or a rabbit. She screamed. I screamed. Ellie, my 9 month-old, screamed. I will never forget the sound of Tootie scared and screaming. As tough as she is, there was no way she could have saved herself.
My husband restrained Charlotte in anticipation of her intent to rescue her best friend, and several dogs ran into the fray responding to the frightened cry of a lesser creature, as instinct would dictate. After seconds that seemed like minutes, the attack dog’s owner nervously commanded his dog to cease. He reached for his dog as J*** reached for the Toot and the squabble was over just as abruptly as it had begun. When I lifted Tootie, she was shaken and nursing a large gash above her left shoulder.
What do you do in this situation: a dog bites yours at the park? Do you call police? Animal control? Do you just swear at the other dog’s owner until you’re blue in the face? When you’re shaken and angry, door number three seems like the best option. So, I shouted, “Why the fuck is your dog in here?! Get that dog out of here! Your dog just bit my dog! Why did you bring that animal to a public dog park?!”
The man didn’t look at me. He didn’t speak. He leashed his dog again and wandered back to his former perch, a bench under a shady oak.
Meanwhile, a crowd of people with rubber necks had gathered beside me. Several people asked me kindly about Tootie’s condition. But the woman with the aggressive-as-advertised dog muzzled her dog and then shamed me for bringing my “small” dog into the big dog side of the park because “there are several herding dogs present who will attack small animals.” “She told me that her dog is mean to other dogs,” a girl with three pit bulls reassured me. “I don’t know who brings a mean dog to the park!”
But meanie’s owner wasn’t the only one shaking her head at me. What a sight I must have been: furious, crying, holding my daughter in one arm and my Boston terrier, bleeding, in another; with a swarm of finger-waggers circling me. “We all knew this would happen.” “There’s a small dog side for a reason.” “You really brought this on yourself.”
My mind raced and my eyes found their way to a 20-lb French bulldog on our side of the fence. Is there really a difference between that dog and my dog, who usually plays with big dogs too?
Meanie and its owner left. She was probably afraid that we were going to call the proper authority and, knowing that she was in violation of the signs that read “No Aggressive Dogs Allowed,” removed herself from controversy before it could stretch to include her. And with no understanding of what else to do, J*** and I took Tootie to the animal hospital…but not before the attacker’s owner snuck through the fence beside me and threw a snotty “sorry” over his shoulder at me. There was no way to punish him for his failure to restrain his dog and no way to force him to pay our impending $165 vet bill. There wasn’t even any way to learn who he is or where he lives. He vanished, leaving the victim to be responsible for the violence.
Okay, we’re talking dog violence here, not human violence. I understand the difference. For one thing, Tootie will bear a physical scar forever; but she forgot about the attack moments after it occurred. She’s not emotionally scarred the way a human would be after, say, a tiger attack. There were things I could have – should have – done differently today. I should not have brought my “small” dog into the big dog park, even though we’d never had a problem with a vicious dog before. There are signs posted. I put Tootie in the position of being the woman with the shortest skirt at a frat party, didn’t I? For whether men rape instinctively (as dogs attack) or after mental calculation; they often make the argument that the rape is justifiable because the victim “showed too much skin” or “flirted with me at the bar” or “dressed older than her age,” etc. “She was asking for it!” And that’s just what they told me at the park!
I’ve often written that I plan to encourage my daughter to make the safest choices she can in life; but this is problematic when it comes to rape because there really is no way to prevent rape if you’re a victim of it. Night joggers, for instance, should wear reflectors. A car driver who can’t see a jogger in the dark can cause an accident by striking the jogger. The key word there is: A.C.C.I.D.E.N.T. That accident could have been prevented by reflectors, perhaps. But it’s not really an accident if the driver of the car is drunk, is it? Even if you didn’t have complete control of your faculties when you decided to drive, you did when you decided to drink. You therefore inflicted violence on another person by extension of your choice, and the fault of the tragedy is yours, whether the jogger was doing the “safe thing” and wearing reflectors or not.
Rape works like that. Whether a rape victim wore a short skirt or ski pants, she becomes a victim when a perpetrator makes a choice to rape her, to perform sexual violence upon her. And whether or not I put Tootie in a dog park or walk her up the block wearing a leash, a violent dog owned by a negligent, ignorant or irresponsible owner might be at liberty to attack her when its owner makes a negligent, ignorant or irresponsible choice. A victim never has a choice about becoming a victim, even if they’re doing “safe” things. Anyone can become a victim of violence at any time. (This stance doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon my intent to advise Ellie to reduce her risk.)
Why do we blame victims for crimes done to them, without their consent and often without their knowledge? I think there are two reasons. For one thing, we like to bend the rules out of our inherent sense of entitlement, believing that we’re special and therefore above them. So, if we own moderately aggressive dogs, or suspect that our un-vetted dog might be vicious…we might visit the dog park a little here or there, increasing the length of our stays or the frequency of our visits over time as we observe no consequences for our breach of edict. But when something goes wrong – as it did today – and somebody gets hurt, we don’t want to believe that we could have been to blame, so we instead blame the victim; even though the perp could have been a perp under any other different set of circumstances. Isn’t it easier to blame someone else than to examine our own culpability?
For another thing, if it’s possible to identify with the victim, we don’t want to believe that such violence could ever happen to us…so we convince ourselves that our own risk reduction will keep us safe from harm. It’s more comfortable to believe that Tootie would have been safe if she had been in the “safe” park for small dogs, than it is to believe that she could just as easily have been bitten by a vicious dog on that side of the fence too. And fences can be breached just like rules, no?
The United States collective stance on war embodies these two human tendencies. We glorify the violence of soldiers because we’re convinced of our own entitlement to enforcing global democracy, or freedom from terror, etc. But what we’re really fighting for is a need for crude oil masquerading as a “global concern.” And when we think of the the victims of the wars we wage, including the innocent who cannot defend themselves from our weapons of destruction, we sleep better knowing that they were “asking for it” by virtue of their geography. “It could never happen to us,” we say. “We’re the good guys.”
At the end of the day, it’s a violent perpetrator who is unsafe; not a dark alley or a bar or a dog park. Those are spaces. We choose how to fill them.
While some of the dog park visitors might be sitting around their Chippendale-inspired dining tables tonight, congratulating themselves on being “above” dog park violence, I’m trying to learn a lesson from this very unpleasant situation. Lesson learned (and compounded by our veterinarian): dog parks are risky environments because dog “play” is often unpredictable. But the biggest lesson to be learned on this and every other day is the lesson we all hate the most, because, let’s face it: it applies to all of us. Life’s not fair. Today, it wasn’t fair to Tootie and me and Ellie and Charlotte and J***, who just wanted to have a pleasant afternoon at the park. And it certainly wasn’t fair (according to the National Organization for Women) to the 600 or so women who were raped, today – or any given day – in the U.S.
Can you fit 600 women wearing short skirts into the small dog side of the park?
November 14, 2010
Actress Emma Stone hosted Saturday Night Live on October 23. I just love her! (Stone shot to stardom following her performance as a self-possessed teen in Superbad, a film that is ostensibly about a teenage boy’s date rape fantasy: “If I get her drunk enough, she’ll have sex with me.”) She’s got sharp comedic timing and a wonderful authenticity. In short, she’s seems like a real girl. You can’t imagine her, say, having 10 plastic surgeries like Heidi Montag.
But like 99.9% of Hollywood actresses, she’s thin. Does she have to work at it? Who knows! It could be natural. Or it could be the product of diet and exercise efficacy. One thing is for sure: she didn’t get or stay thin eating lots of potato chips!
Yet one sketch on SNL had her eat potato chips right out of a big bag. It seemed like she ate a lot of them, indiscriminately. And this sketch directly followed a commercial parody for “BabySpanx”: the girdle for “fat” babies, or rather for their disappointed and embarrassed parents. (We’re fat-obsessed in this culture to be sure.)
While watching the potato chip sketch, my inner monologue went something like this:
Um, how can Emma Stone eat those chips?! She’s the perfect ‘skinny.’ If she eats one more bite, I’m going to get really mad… What does she do, throw them up during the commercial break?* She can’t possibly be eating those chips for real! What if those aren’t real potato chips? Maybe they’re made of cotton balls dipped in orange juice or something. I once read that fashion models eat cotton balls to stay thin. Or maybe she didn’t eat anything else all day… Maybe she just has a really high metabolism. Some people are lucky that way… Okay, she’s still eating the chips! Doesn’t she worry about what people will think?! In the United States and other places, it’s considered unsightly for women to eat greasy food, and sometimes to eat anything at all. I can’t believe she’s eating those chips on live television for all the world to see… That’s not fair! I want to be able to eat junk food and stay on track with my weight. What gives?! She should get less calories than I do because she weighs less, not more! How is this happening?!
Silly me: I thought the “battle of the bulge” neurosis was behind me. It’s not. It’s an indelible stain on my psyche. At some point during my childhood, I became convinced that certain foods are “bad” foods, potato chips being one of them. From then on, I feared food, saw it as my enemy. And in denying myself certain foods, I accepted the idea that I could never enjoy eating without a modicum of guilt. In other words, I’d automatically assume that if it tasted good, it was bad for my body. Following that train of thought, I convinced myself that there’s something wrong with me and that I don’t deserve to eat tasty things. Not eating became a form of masochistic punishment for being inadequate: I would starve myself to feel better.
In college, I got so thin that my hips would bruise when I slept on my hip bones at night. But because I was thin, I thought I’d punished myself enough to have earned confidence. I rejoiced in my newfound beauty and smoked enough cigarettes to forget about what I wasn’t eating…and what I was eating amounted to about 400 calories per day. I slept around but didn’t find anything meaningful in sex…and every time a man broke up with me, I’d assume it was because I was too fat and go on a hunger strike. I ate less and less and gradually became emptier and emptier: spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. All of my self-esteem rested on a rusty scale that I hid under my bed. At night, I would curse food and cry myself to sleep.
Largely I’ve overcome this negativity when it comes to food, but not when it comes to the concept of being thin. Women are supposed to be thin, aren’t we? There’s no other way to be accepted as outwardly beautiful. I tell myself and everybody else that I just want to get into a healthy weight range, though in the back of my mind, an insecure teenager is screaming and weeping, “I want to be thin!” Thin is in vogue. Why? Like most things, being thin is popular because it’s exclusive to a small group of people, and for the most part, those people are wealthy. “Good” foods – as opposed to bad foods like those composed of fat and carbohydrates – are expensive to come by. So, like the clothes that most women want and can’t afford, diet foods and diet pills and liposuction, etc. cost too much money for most. Even when you break down nutritious eating to the simple task of cooking meals with fresh produce and lean protein, you still come up with the fact that many people don’t have that kind of time on their hands. Time is money.
Some people are trim without trying, that’s true. The fact of the matter is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But, whether you’re predisposed to obesity or not, if you consume more calories than you burn off, your body will create and retain fatty tissue. That’s why it’s frustrating to think about a slender woman eating indiscriminately. The part of my brain that has achieved a quiet repose with regard to dieting tends to go a little nuts when I see a calorie contradiction in terms like skinny overeater.
But Stone didn’t overeat at all. I watched this sketch twice, and the second time, counted the chips she ate: 22. That’s roughly one serving or 250 calories and 15 grams of fat. For me, that’s about a quarter of my daily food intake…but certainly not off-limits. In fact, there is no food that’s strictly off-limits for me, thin-speaking. I just have to do a little planning. I had potato chips yesterday, for instance. I ate a bag of kettle-cooked, reduced fat chips (240/11) along with a salad of lettuces, legumes, broccoli, radishes, olives and a drizzle of red wine vinegar. All told, it was a 10-point lunch (I follow the Weight Watchers® plan) and well-worth the splurge on potato chips. I ate them slowly and savored every morsel.
I have the best of both worlds: I eat all the foods I really like, some of the time, and still lose weight…some of the time. (I have 26.8 lbs. left to lose, and I’m about 4 lbs. over my pre-pregnancy size. I should be back to my old size 6 in…a year or two. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day!) But all of this rational thinking doesn’t mean I don’t slip up from time to time: lapse back into a pattern of guilty eating. What keeps me from overindulging and hiding the evidence is leaving evidence of my food intake in plain sight via a food diary in which I write everything I consume. In this way, I own my eating. Occasionally, I’ll have a moment of weakness and ingest an extra slice of pizza or too much wine. Then I find myself thinking, “If nobody saw you eat that last bite, it never happened.” The hardest thing I have to do is admit I ate it to myself and then write it down. Once I face the scale on Saturdays – hey, I gained .4 lbs. last week, it’s easy to get back on track. And I have to get back on track because, even if nobody saw me eat, I did. I can’t hide it from the scale. And ultimately, feeling under control and not feeling guilty are the keys to feeling good, for me.
This same mental hurricane happened to my Weight Watchers meeting leader on a recent trip to visit her daughter and grandchildren. She was pressed for time and decided on a fast food lunch, always a trigger for overindulgence. On the menu: a Whopper® with cheese. Knowing that she was going to be spending time with inquisitive kids who enjoy getting to the bottom of a your-breath-smells-like-onions-so-what-did-you-eat? food mystery, she quickly stopped by her own home to brush her teeth and even change her clothes (onions are potent, I guess). In the back of her mind, she told herself to own the cheeseburger and write it down, but she was rushing to meet the family and didn’t do it.
Her daughter served fried chicken and mashed potatoes, of which the rambunctious children ate very little, leaving heaping portions for the grown-ups. My leader didn’t know how to say “no” to a serving or “no” to taking home leftovers. Her inner monologue kept telling her not to let her ex-husband know about her afternoon fast food selection. So she ate, all the while thinking that she’d make it up to herself with a full day of salad tomorrow. And as for the leftovers: the dogs will eat them, she decided.
“But let’s be honest,” she told our group. “Those dogs were never going to eat that chicken. I went home and put it in the fridge only to hang my head and eat it cold over the kitchen sink at 3 a.m. when I was sure nobody was looking.” Even the dogs were asleep.
Why did she do that? I’ve done it too. Why? Why, why, why? Because of the guilt. Because of the desire to be skinny like the “pretty” girls and the wrongful notion that being thin enough (for Weight Watchers and my doctor and myself) isn’t possible. Because of the attempts we make to be seemingly perfect women: with makeup covering every blemish or wrinkle and “LadySpanx” sucking in every spare ounce of fat on our bodies. Unfortunately, even all the money in the world can’t make us perfect because there’s no such thing. The most we can hope for is to be happy.
And that means eating a serving of potato chips from time to time.
*I am NOT suggesting that Emma Stone has an eating disorder.