Are You a “Real” Mom?

Reynolds Ad

OK. I can’t let it go. Both Sarah & Jane have been talking about motherhood for the past two posts, and I was going to move on to a different topic, but I just can’t do it. I can’t do it because there’s a larger issue here..and it’s not just about women.

I often wonder what it means to be a woman. If I’m not a mom, am I still a woman? Women who have lost their breasts, their ovaries, and other parts of the female anatomy–are they still women?

Biologists would argue that two x chromosomes create a female human, and a woman is simply an adult human female, but women know that is not enough of a definition. What about people who were physically born as men but feel that they are women? What makes them women? Are they “real” women?

On the same vein…I think of motherhood. Motherhood is easier to define. (Or is it? I’ll let the mothers hash that out…) For me, I can safely say that I am not a mom. I have no children, but I am sympathetic to the challenges of motherhood and sensitive to how women are portrayed.

This weekend, I was watching one of my favorite cooking channels and a commercial interrupted my program with some pie-baking tips. Normally, I skip the commercials, but I like pie and I like to bake, so I kept it on. Little did I know it would make me angry. The narrator of the commercial stated, “Real moms know how to make it perfect every time.” “It” referred to pie crust. So, basically, the ad stated that real moms make perfect pie crust “every time.”

What exactly is a “real mom”? Is there such thing as a “fake mom”? I suppose if I pretended to be a mom to one of my 23 nieces or nephews, that would make me a fake mom. But what about moms who don’t make the “perfect” pie crust? Are they fake moms? This commercial seems to imply that moms who can’t make perfect pie crusts “every time” are not “real moms.” So, what about my mom? Is she a “real mom”?

I grew up in a dairy-free household. My mom is allergic to dairy products and cannot stand the smell or sight of butter. Despite this, my mom is an excellent cook, and I grew up eating her dairy-free homemade pies, cookies, and other scrumptious meals. However, and I’m sorry mom, but I do not particularly like her pie crusts. I have discovered from making my own pies that butter makes all the difference.

This commercial did show the woman (Emily Lyon–“Reynolds Real Mom”) using butter, so that implies that the “perfect” pie crust contains butter, but since my mom did not use butter, and sometimes even burnt her pie crusts, does that mean she isn’t a “real mom”? Of course not!

I recognize this as hyperbole, but still, words matter–just ask Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. Phrases like this get into our psyches and affect our attitudes. They pick at our over-crowded to-do-listed brain and undermine our self-worth–much like subtle images.

Of course, women are not the only ones being pressured to be “real.” There are plenty of YouTube videos and books about being “real men.” It doesn’t make it better, though…it makes it worse.

We put enough pressure on ourselves to be “perfect” or “real.” We don’t need to add to the pressure. Instead, we need to give each other a break. We need to accept our own and each others’ flaws and be kind. We need to be careful of the words we use because words really do matter.

~ K

September 11

Today is an important day in our country. It is a day of remembrance and recognition for the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. Today we pause to consider the events that occurred on that day.

Usually on Sept. 11, I am silent. I tend not to talk about it and I avoid the Facebook memes and images of the towers with the statement “We will never forget.” Everyone grieves in their own way, and everyone has his or her own experience of that day, and perhaps that is why I remain silent. For me, the effect was profound, but for others, the day means something different.

Just like thousands across the world, I will never forget where I was on 9/11/01. Working on my master’s degree in Laramie, Wyoming, I lived in a basement room in a house with three other college students. As a night owl, I had been up late the night before preparing for class. I was trying to sleep in, but commotion upstairs woke me. I heard the radio blasting and I felt confusion and chaos in the house. The telltale squeak of the stairs alerted me to my roommate’s presence. Having the only TV in the house, Maria asked me to turn it on. “Something’s happened,” she said as I sat up in bed. “Can we turn on the TV?” I could tell from her voice that it was serious.

I scrambled for the remote and clicked it on. The image of the World Trade Center towers came on the screen. One tower was smoking and the ticker tape across the screen announced that an airplane had crashed into the tower. Our conversation joined those of the reports: Was this an accident? Was this on purpose? What’s happening?

Then, in our horror, a second plane crashed into the other tower, spewing flames and debris through the sky. Maria & I both gasped and instantly, I was in tears. Maria sat on the bed as I called my mom to see if she was watching. She was.

New York was her home state. She had spent her childhood in Greece, NY, a small town near Rochester. We still had family there. As far as we knew, thankfully, our family was safe. I did not know of anyone who died in the buildings, but just like everyone else, I recognized that our world had just changed.

The hardest part of that day for me was having to face my students. As a second-year graduate teaching assistant for the English department, I taught one course each semester. That day, I was scheduled to teach at noon. I had no idea what to say or what to do in class. I simply decided that we would talk and I would do what I could to help my students.

In the classroom, my students talked of the events in hushed tones as I entered the classroom. I sat on one of the desks and I listened to my students as they each talked about how they felt.

One student walked in late, apologized, and then took her seat in the back of the classroom. Quickly, I realized she didn’t know what had happened. “What’s happened?” she asked, and all of the students looked at me. They didn’t know how to tell her that two terrorists had just killed thousands of people and the New York skyline was forever changed. It was up to me—I was the adult in the room. I was in charge. No matter how much I didn’t want to, I had to tell her what had happened.

She screamed and cried. “Oh my god!” She grabbed her cell phone and dialed as she explained, “My family is there. My uncle works there! Oh my god!” Of course, the circuits were busy and she couldn’t get through to anyone. “I have to go.” I nodded and gave her a hug as she left.

I wondered where she was going and what she thought she could do, but I didn’t ask; I let her go assuring her that she could come to me if she needed.

A few days later she came to my office. She withdrew from school, and she still could not reach her family. “I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,” she said to me in my office. “I have to go home. I don’t know what to do. I have a flight into Jersey tomorrow. I can’t even get home.”

That was the last time I saw her.

Every Sept. 11 I wonder where she is, who is alive and who is dead in her family. That moment changed her life forever in a way that mine did not. My life carried on. I taught. I studied. I graded. I spoke with my family. That day belongs to her and people like her–it belongs to those who lost loved ones. Yes, I grieve in a way, but most of all, I am here for my students…to help them process these life-changing events…to help them find their place in this ever-changing world. And sometimes, all it takes is listening.

Success…Finally!

Towards the end of an 8-mile hike through slot canyons.

Towards the end of an 8-mile hike through slot canyons.

Cleaning out my computer files, I ran across this journal entry titled “NOT Forever Fat”:

I have been fat for so long, it’s hard to imagine that I can ever be thin. I stare at my body in the mirror and I see layers of fat, stretch marks, and floppy skin. Can it ever be that my body will be svelte and “normal” looking again? 

For so many years, I have followed diets, worked out to the point of injury, dieted to the point of starvation, and still, my body was lumpy, over-sized and unhealthy. It’s really hard to imagine that there is hope. I’m afraid to hope. So many times I have hoped and so many times my hopes have been dashed. I have gained and lost enough weight for four people. Is it really possible that I can once again be a healthy weight? Is it really possible that I could be a size 12? A size 10?

I wrote this one month before undergoing Gastric Sleeve Resection surgery for weight loss in October, 2012.

As of today, I have lost 107 pounds, and I am a size 14.

With 50 pounds more to go, I still have “layers of fat, stretch marks, and floppy skin.” Some of that will never go away, but losing the weight so far has helped me feel comfortable in that floppy skin. My confidence grows with every hike and with every pound I lose.

What helps is a club I joined over a year ago: TOPS. It’s a support group for people losing weight. I spent this past weekend in Casper at State Recognition Days where we celebrated people’s successes. As part of that success, I shared my story, which is reprinted here for you to read:

For as long as I can remember, I have had a weight problem, and for as long as I can remember, I have been dieting. Like countless other dieters, I have lost and gained hundreds of pounds. I have been on every diet and spent who-knows-how-much money on weight loss programs. I lost some weight, but it always came back, and I never reached my goal. Finally, exhausted and hopeless, I gave up.

In 2010, I was forced to take my health seriously when I was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer six weeks before my wedding. Desperate for a silver lining, I told my doctor, “at least I’ll lose weight!” My doctor shook her head: “You’ll gain weight with all of the steroids we’ll be pumping into you. Don’t diet. You need your strength. You can eat whatever you want.” At first I thought that was the silver lining, but honestly, I didn’t feel like eating much at all. My appetite vanished, and food I love, like chocolate, no longer appealed to me. Despite having no appetite, my weight ballooned to 315 pounds.

Dealing with cancer was difficult, but I finally found the silver lining: cancer forced me to examine my life and make health a top priority. After treatment, and with my doctor’s permission, I began dieting again. I lost some weight, but I needed help.

Help came when a friend gave me a book called My Choice. I read the book from cover to cover, and that was my introduction to TOPS. I tried the program on my own—even purchasing an online membership. I realized, however, that I could not and I did not want to be alone. Finally, I took the step and found TOPS, Chapter 20, in Sheridan. My first TOPS meeting scared me. I sat in my car for several minutes working up the nerve to walk in. I did go in, and immediately, I felt welcome. I felt like I had found my place.

Finding my place helped me, but it didn’t make losing weight easier. I still struggled. The scale yo-yo’d up and down week after week. The hardest part of losing weight was dealing with my emotions. After cancer, my hormones and emotions fluctuated wildly (just ask my husband!). My metabolism also changed. Losing weight was nearly impossible. Granted, I had lost 26 pounds in a year, but still, every week, I felt more and more helpless. Despite following my doctor’s program, the weight would not come off. My doctor told me that if I didn’t lose weight, the cancer would return. I didn’t want to give up. I didn’t want to die. TOPS helped give me the courage to face reality: willpower was not enough. I needed more help.

In October of 2012, I decided to have weight loss surgery. Many people think that weight loss surgery is the “easy way out.” It is not. The surgery gave me a tool to help lose weight consistently. I still struggle daily with what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and when to exercise. I also struggle with emotional eating. The difference is that, for me, it is physically impossible to binge on unhealthy food. If I do, I become ill. Surgery has forced me not just to deal with my physical health, but also my emotional health. Instead of turning to food for emotional support, I deal with my emotions, and my TOPS family helps. From February to December 2012, I lost 48 pounds. Since January, I have lost even more. I did not do this alone. I had help from several entities: cancer, friends, family, surgery, doctors, and TOPS. Without this help, I believe I would not have been this successful, and I look forward to continuing my journey with their support.

Hiking a steep trail in the Big Horn Mountains

Hiking a steep trail in the Big Horn Mountains

I share this not to trumpet my own success, but to help others who may be struggling with such a journey.

Weight loss, no matter how you go about it, is like climbing: it isn’t easy, but getting to the top is worth every struggle, ache, and pain. It just takes one step at a time.

~K

Marriage Expectations…They’re not all THAT

women juggle

Recommended Reading:

7 Reasons Why Age Doesn’t Matter in Marriage” by Sasha Brown Worsham

I overheard a conversation the other day that quite offended me: “A family can’t exist without children.” Well, as a child-free woman, I beg to differ.

A family concept is larger than a wife, husband, and child (or more). There are step-families, adopted families, close friends considered as family, pets, and so many other non-traditional families that I can’t even name them all. Family, as well as marriage, should be something defined by those in it, not by outside sources.

It was with this idea that I started reading Sasha Brown Worsham‘s article on “The Stir.” The article is Warsham’s response to Susan Patton’s letter to the women at Princeton University–an article Sarah responded to on this very blog. Worsham claims that people should marry whenever and whomever they want. She states, “It’s not what age you marry. It’s who you marry. Period. End of story.”

These posts, as well as Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In, have me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. It’s discouraging that women still struggle with their place in our society and continue to fight for equal pay, equal status, and freedom over their own bodies. I thought these battles were fought and won a long time ago. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the other hand, we live in a time period where women have more choices than ever before, and perhaps, it’s these choices that cause us to question once again our place in society.

Technically, I’m a newlywed. In June, it will be three years. I say “technically” because I have been with my husband for 13 1/2 years, but we didn’t exchange wedding vows until 2010.

Living together back in 2002 was a difficult decision–one that went against my family’s belief system, but it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

Not having children was another decision we made. Again, it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

I can understand why people want our lives and our roles defined: it can make life easier. If it is a wife’s duty to procreate, clean, and cook, then we know what our husbands expect, and we know what we need to do on a daily basis. Raised in a strict, Christian environment, I struggle with guilt about my “duties” as a wife: I keep thinking that I should do the dishes every day or keep the house spotless. I struggle with guilt that my husband does his own laundry and has household chores like he did growing up in his mother’s house.

At the same time, if I did all of these things on top of my full-time job, I would never have time to spend with my husband. We have our own expectations and our own ideas about how we want to live our lives.

What about the expectations of our own? What about the book I’m trying to write? The 60-hour work week my husband and I keep? Our desire to relax in each other’s company daily–sometimes more than once a day? What about those expectations? Should we ignore our own expectations in order to fulfill society’s expectations?

I don’t think we should, and yet, Patton’s letter and Sandberg’s book set up these expectations, but we do not have to meet them. Marriage is hard enough without bringing in other people’s expectations. Create your own. Live your life. It’s your life, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who chooses your own happiness. This is what Worsham gets right, and HAPPINESS is what feminism is really all about.

~K