What makes us strong and unique is what makes us beautiful.

My best friend Amy visited yesterday on her drive back to LA. While we played with the baby, she couldn’t help but smile and comment on Lila’s chubby cheeks (can’t blame her, they’re pretty terrific). We started talking about how there’s something so perfect about babies, possibly the fact that they are completely unconsumed with vanity–have you ever seen an adult vomit on herself or poop her pants with such abandon–and how sad it is that this immunity to self doubt won’t last forever.

The first time I can recall wanting to be thinner was in the first grade. I know. It wasn’t so much a desire to be svelte at age six, but rather a simple yearning to be like Carrie, a popular girl in my class. She was tiny with long, golden straight hair. Pretty much my opposite. I have this funny memory of sitting on the floor next to her for some class activity, and noticing that my legs were much bigger than hers. What a strange observation to make at that age, years before I was exposed to anything beyond G-rated movies and Raffi.

It’s not like I was an overweight kid. I really wasn’t. But I also wasn’t a string bean the way many little girls are. I was then, as I am now, what’s politely coined athletic or curvy. Largely due to genetics, but also because I am athletic.

Through adolescence, all I wanted was to lose weight; to fit into a smaller jean size and achieve some warped, pop-culture-infused sense of beauty. I just knew the mythical size 5 would bring me a boyfriend, perfect grades and blissful popularity…Until it didn’t.

Junior high, high school, college…there was always someone to compare myself to with disdain. Cheerleaders, sorority girls in tiny matching shirts, girls who actually bought pants at Charlotte Russe. Even today, I look at old pictures and lament that I wish I was as skinny now as I was then. I curse myself for having a negative body image at the time the photo was taken and not knowing how great I looked.

The trouble with being a young woman in America is that our culture has given us falsified and unrealistic perceptions of beauty–to a damning extent. So that no matter how many times we’re told we’re beautiful by our parents, friends or significant others, and how many miles we run or calories we forgo, we’re always left feeling like less than enough.

Despite all this, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Because while I waste/d plenty of days wishing I was somehow “better,” these thoughts didn’t turn into unhealthy behaviors (to this day I have never consumed water mixed with maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper). I kid. But lots of people aren’t so fortunate:

  • 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting; 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
  • 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
  • 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

I am so, so sad when I read these statistics, and when I think about people I love who have lost parts of their lives to eating disorders. I feel sad for every girl who feels she isn’t worthy because of her weight or appearance. Some of it can’t be helped, but some of it can.

It all matters a LOT more now that I have a daughter. Right now, she’s happily oblivious. She eats whenever she wants (cued through ear-piercing screams), and as she grows, we delight in her rolls. She has a baby muffin top and it’s seriously the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. The doctor meticulously ensures she’s gaining weight at each visit as a sign that she’s thriving. I dread the day she realizes weight has a different meaning.

I’ll do my best to shield her from excesses of pop culture and negative influences, as much as is realistically possible. I’ll teach her what health and beauty mean, across the world. I will model positive behaviors around food and exercise. I’ll encourage her to respect her body, and to demand that respect from others. I’ll share that not everyone is given the blessing of good health, and the importance of taking care of ourselves. I’ll explain that what makes us strong and unique is what makes us beautiful, and that her opinions of herself are the most important. And she’ll likely sigh and roll her eyes, wondering how I could possibly understand.

A few disclaimers:

1. Remember Carrie (name changed) who I referenced in the intro…wouldn’t it be ironic if she ended up overweight and unsuccessful? Whelp. I just looked her up on Facebook. She works for Google and went to Harvard. Ok then.

2. While I (gently) knock sorority girls, I was in one myself…(I KNOW)…but not a typical one which is why I loved it.

This is Sunday.

I was excited to see a package being delivered today, until I realized it was just the stamps I was too tired/lazy to buy this week and ordered on Amazon. Free shipping does things to me.

While changing the toilet paper in our guest bathroom today, I accidentally dropped the entire new roll into the toilet.

My best friend just delivered a bag of prom dresses to my mom’s house in Tucson, which is a long story.

The baby is starting to sit and roll (!) and is currently holding my lap hostage while she naps. I’m learning that having a child makes you simultaneously hurry up and slow down, all according to someone else’s schedule.

Chicken soup in the crockpot. Clean sheets on our bed. Empty dishwasher. PILES of dirty laundry that haven’t been touched.

It’s 4 p.m. and I’m wearing pajamas and my glasses.

four things

Four names that people call me, other than my real name: Jess, Jessie, J-Tay, JT.

Four jobs I have had: Camp counselor for the City of Tucson, public information officer for the county government, communications specialist at a mining company, communications director at an educational corporation.

Four movies I’ve watched more than once: Goodwill Hunting, Troop Beverly Hills, The Sandlot, Titanic. I remember NOTHING about books or movies, it’s embarrassing. Even the ones I love usually flee my memory completely.

Four books I’d recommend: Defending Jacob, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Moloka’i, The Red Tent.

Four places I have been: Israel, Vietnam, Croatia, Costa Rica.

Four places I’d rather be right now: on a massage table, at a beach, surrounded by friends at a wine bar, on the couch in pajamas with my family…

Four things I don’t eat: Black licorice, the rind of brie, lamb, cilantro. If you eat any of these, you defy all logic.

Four of my favorite foods: Donuts, chocolate croissants, spaghetti and meatballs, waffles. All together would be good, too.

Four TV shows that I watch: I don’t watch much, but when I do, it’s in completely excessive binges…Parks and Recreation, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Property Brothers.

Four things I am looking forward to in 2015: More friends having babies, going to weddings of people I love, my brother’s visit/s from the far-away land, hiking again now that it’s not hot and I’m not pregnant.

Four things I’m always saying: I love you, where is my ___?, I’m so hungry, I’m so tired.

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10 things I actually do when the baby sleeps

Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say.

The baby will nap, they say.

The famed advice everyone (seriously, everyone) feels compelled to tell a new mom is, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” Sounds wonderful. Sensible. Convenient.

Also IMPOSSIBLE.

If by some miracle my daughter does nap, I can neither: A) instantly fall asleep after weeks of caffeine-induced mania, or B) forget the piles of laundry, neglected pets, unread emails and hundreds of other things I’d like to attend to.

What do I actually do when graced with these mythical naps I hear so much about?

1. Lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling and marvel at the wonder of silence.

2. Consider showering…try to remember the last time I showered…get distracted by the appalling amount of dog hair on the carpet and then revert to # 1.

3. Frantically use my phone to pay bills, check social media sites, news apps and text messages in an attempt to reconnect with reality.

4. Debate making dinner, cleaning, getting the mail or otherwise being productive but decide instead to re-fluff the clothes that have been in the dryer all week and pick my nail polish off.

5. Spend several minutes staring in wonder at the baby and making sure her breaths are perfectly rhythmic. Tear up at the wonder of the life I created. Panic when she stirs and exhale deeply when I realize she just had to fart and is still asleep.

6. Explore feelings of guilt for not doing anything but lying on the floor. Mentally sweep these feelings under the rug (*real* sweeping is out of the question) and attempt to crack my back. Still on the floor.

7. Wander to the fridge. Sigh deeply upon realizing a chocolate cake has not magically appeared since I last checked. Pick up a string cheese…toss it back. Close fridge. Sigh again. Trudge back to nursery to stare lovingly at the baby again.

8. Call my husband to brag that the baby is napping and to prove that I am not.

9. Think about doing some yoga. Execute one or two poses. Feel wildly confident and fit.

10. Go through the 2,000 or so baby photos on my phone and silently vow to be a better, more productive mom tomorrow than I was today.

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The problem with family photos

My dear friend Bailey has taken some extraordinary family pictures for us (seriously, if you’re in Phoenix and need photos look her up)! After Lila was born, I realized it would be nice to have some images not taken on an iPhone, and she’s been gracious enough to oblige. The photos are incredible — it makes me do a double take to see us as a family — and I will cherish them as small trophies in our parenthood journey (look! I wasn’t a complete disaster all the time!). I want Lila to see one day, from ages before her memories could even form, what our family was like. I want her to look at them when she’s my age and remark on how wild it is to see the younger version of her momma.

But I always feel a bit guilty when I share these pictures with people. Sure, it’s nice to have everyone ooh and ahh on Facebook, but the professional-photo version of us, while lovely, is far from authentic. Shocking, I know. We don’t typically wander through scenic parks on Sundays in coordinating outfits. And I don’t ever wear make up or do my hair unless I absolutely have to, so take that into consideration. Of the hundreds of images captured in a shoot, I might share a few dozen, the best we got, keeping the outtakes (screaming baby, puking baby, wrinkles, unflattering angles…) hidden away from scrutiny.

It’s one thing to put your best foot forward, but I would hate for someone who might be having a low moment or tough day to see these and feel like I actually have my act together, and am doing something right or better than everyone else. Cause I don’t, and I’m not. The real us is unmade beds and messy bathrooms and sweatpants.

We build each other up by being honest and real, and holiday-card photos are not an accurate glimpse into anyone’s life. But that’s ok! They capture the joy and love we do feel but that we sometimes overlook amid the day-to-day struggles. They’re fleeting and staged but that’s why they’re so great. They’ll be what we can look back on one day to help us remember more of the good stuff and fewer of the trials.

I like the holiday-card version of us, but I like the real one, too.

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Oh, the wonder of it all.

A funny thing happened in Buy Buy Baby yesterday: a frantic person asked me for help choosing bottles. And then a funnier thing occurred: I provided reasonable suggestions and advice *gong sounds*. I knew my Avent from my Dr. Brown’s and spoke about nipple flow options like a boss.

A few months ago, every stinking minute of motherhood was a struggle. It felt like I was constantly swimming against the current, gasping for breath and exhausted, convinced I’d never find dry land.

I spent an excessive amount of time wondering what the hell I was doing, and why no one warned me I would ruin my life bringing a child into the world. It was a dark time. But then the craziest thing happened.

It got better.

You guys–yeah, ALL of you–who gently reassured me, gave me advice, let me cry and redirected my dark-circled eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel…you were right. Thank you.

I should note that I did NOT believe you at the time. In fact, I wanted to slug you every time I heard, “Oh just wait until she smiles!” or “Trust me, it does get better!” I’d roll my eyes thinking, “These fools don’t get it…my situation is the hardest EVER.” I didn’t understand how what I was experiencing could possibly evolve into something I would be able to handle or enjoy.

Lo and behold, I came to realize that friends, family, coworkers, random strangers at Target, pediatricians and every internet forum were NOT collaborating against me (for a while it felt like world’s best-orchestrated prank.) Because after a few months, a supremely fussy baby did start to chill out, smile and SLEEP, and the darkness of post-partum hormones faded. I got into a rhythm and started having fun. I’m still very tired and very scared, pretty much all the time, but I’m so enamored it doesn’t matter as much. Without any fanfare, motherhood grew within me, into the fiber of who I am.

There’s logic behind this metamorphosis. When you’re completely sleep deprived and isolated at home all day with a tiny crying human, unable to fulfill your own basic needs, things get weird. Anxiety gets gnarly. There’s a massive, never-ending learning curve as a parent that I doubt will ever dissipate. But aside from the information I learned and the skills I slowly honed, I adapted my whole style of being. I stopped swimming against the current…which, when you think about it, is an illogical waste of time, and realized I could float on my back and go with the flow. It was still scary and hard, but it worked, and I could relax.

I ceased trying to live my pre- and post-baby lives as one. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone. I relinquished my white-knuckle grip on who I thought I needed to be and began to see that between the black and white, the old and new, there was a beautiful new gray (gray is very in right now…coincidence?!).

Of course I can sit here now and wax poetic about the hardest time in my life, and that doesn’t erase it. But I feel so indebted to everyone who helped me out, I needed to pay it forward to whoever else might be out there, just a few weeks behind me. It’s gonna be ok.

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