Grandma tales part 3 (grumpy about demanding eaters)

“Picky eater” suggests a limited palate, and that’s not what I have. I am rather a “demanding eater,” which is a whole different thing, thank you very much. Jesse, light of my life, daughter of my loins, follows delicately in my footsteps on this front.

She will eat all sorts of foods and appreciates an array of spices and ethnic cuisines. Many kids with food allergies have a lot of food fear and thus a very limited range of willing eating, but I flatter myself that we’ve avoided this syndrome with Jesse. Anthony and I are competent cooks in a lot of different ethnic styles, in our own fusion way, and Jesse’s egg allergy is no barrier to continuing to explore all these flavors. She’ll choke down almost anything we offer her with a courageous heart. But she must have everything fresh. She doesn’t like leftovers. She doesn’t like packaged bread — it must be from an artisanal bakery or home-made — unless it’s a hotdog bun. Hamburger buns? She’s tasted the fountain of fresh, so she demands homemade buns unless we’re at a restaurant. Tortillas are great, as long as I make them from scratch. Meat should come in its original form — a chunk off an animal, cooked in a piece and then cut to bite size (except for fish sticks, which Jesse eats for breakfast because Ian’s makes an egg-free version, a novelty she enjoys). Ice cream? It’s Talenti or nothin’ these days. Avocado? No. Guacamole? Yes (one ingredient: well-smashed avocado). Onions? Yes, if freshly sautéed and caramelized in balsamic vinegar, with some garlic and pepper, a pinch of brown sugar. No other way will do. Cucumbers? Only if served thin-sliced as a spicy Korean quick-pickled salad, which she can rinse off in a bowl of cold water before she eats them, and then she drinks the spicy water afterwards. Tomato-based soup? Sure, but only if it’s Whole Foods’ gumbo made with okra, only she won’t eat the okra and she needs the artisanal French round cut in thick slices to dip in it (her babysitter learned last weekend: cut that slice too thin and all hell breaks loose). Pizza? Awesome. Cheese pizza, only she takes off the cheese. But it has to be baked with the cheese.

An aside here: I’m not talking about Nick because he’s a PICKY eater. All he wants is box-mac-and-cheese, chips, and Pirate Booty. He thinks almost everything I make is totally disgusting. He took one tiny bite of mashed potatoes tonight — yes, I made mashed potatoes! — and promptly vomited. I have no respect for that.

But I do have a great respect for Jesse’s preferences, and as much as I can, I honor them. I may be 48 years old and much more pliable than I used to be, but I remember the days when I was just as demanding as her. I don’t believe she’s being unreasonable. She just has a sense of what she likes best, and she’s willing to forego food unless she gets it. I could be a hard-ass about it, but here’s why I’m not. It’s a little Grandma tale.

One of my favorite meals as a kid was rice-eggs-and-soy-sauce. The original iteration involved a raw egg. You take a bowl of steaming hot rice. You crack a raw egg on it and stir it up. Then you add some soy sauce. Devour. Done in the right kind of bowl, you’re not eating a raw egg. If you use a hot stone bowl and the rice is just-cooked, the egg cooks in all that heat. When I was a wee lass, I didn’t care either way. The raw egg just made the rice a bit more gooey.

I loved this until one day someone made me rice-eggs-and-soy-sauce with a hard-boiled egg. You take the same bowl of fresh rice, unpeel a couple hard-boiled eggs and chop them up into pieces, and stir it all up with some soy sauce. Devour. Oh my god. Even as I type this I’m salivating. I can taste the simple yumminess. It’s one of the few things I really, really miss in our egg-free house. Damn you, egg allergy, damn you!

One fine weekend, I walked on over to Grandma’s house with her and slept there. My mom says that the first night I ever did this (I would have been 3 or 4), I wept and wept and had to be taken back home. I have no memory of that event. I only remember sleep-overs with Grandma as the most magical, wonderful events of my childhood. In hindsight, I guess she was my best friend.

Anyway, a drowsy morning came in Grandma’s house. I lazed in bed. In Grandma’s house, that meant I was snuggled under blankets on a thick cotton bedroll laid down on the heated concrete floor, which was finished with some sort of glazed paper surface. My pillow was a traditional Korean style cylinder-shaped thing. The bed would have been soooo toasty and warm because by the time I awoke Grandma would have already gone outside to add a new charcoal block to the ondol oven, which heated the floors. On cold days, Grandma would put our clothing between the bed and the floor before she cleared the beddings away, so that getting dressed was deliciously warm.

This particular morning, Grandma asked me what I wanted for breakfast. She wanted to treat me to whatever I wanted. “Bhap he-goo geh-lhan,” I answered. Rice and eggs (the soy sauce, or ganjang, would have been assumed). Off she went to the kitchen. I continued to laze. Some time later, Grandma came back and placed a tray of food beside me, so I could eat in the warmth of the bedroom. I looked in the bowl. GAH. The egg was FRIED, not boiled. Ugh. Ew. Yuck. Inedible! I had a whining hissy fit. I announced my feelings passionately. This is all wrong! This is not how you make rice and eggs! This is not how Song-Ja [our housemaid] makes it for me! I can’t eat this! (“Ee-goh moht-moh-go!!”)

Grandma listened silently to me without moving. She stood there and stared down at me as I sat under the covers in a warm bed. She waited until I was done complaining. She never said a word. When I finally shut up, she still stared at me without moving, for another long moment. She looked at the bowl, she looked at me. She didn’t smile, she didn’t scowl. She just looked patient and blank, like she was tolerating a dong-pah-li she couldn’t get rid of. Then she barely nodded. “Gu-leh.” Okay. She picked up the tray and left.

(“Dong-pah-li” literally means shit fly, aka a fly that likes to sit on shit and eat it. It’s an apt image, because that’s what I felt like afterwards.)

I stayed in bed, only I wasn’t lazing anymore. I knew how irritated Grandma was. I was so ashamed of myself for making such disrespectful demands of Grandma, my friend and my elder. I sat in numb silence, wondering what she was doing. I assumed I wasn’t going to get breakfast at all. I still cringe when I remember that day. Right now, at this very moment, I had to stop typing because I literally had to hang my head in shame and fight the tears back. I was such a little piece of shit.

But some while later, Grandma came back and placed a tray of food beside me, so I could eat in the warmth of the bedroom. There was rice and boiled eggs. I don’t remember whether the eggs were fully hard-boiled. By that point, I would have eaten anything Grandma put in front of me. I thanked her sheepishly, shamefully, and ate every bite.

Grandma never remonstrated, never corrected or disciplined me. She never tattled on me to my parents. We never spoke of it again. She forgave me and moved on. Her extraordinary kindness and patience was the worst punishment of all. I’ve never really forgiven myself for that morning.

But now that I’m a mom, I can finally make amends to Grandma. So I meet Jesse’s demands. I make it fresh. I put the food in separate bowls when she needs it that way; I mix it together when I must. And well, let’s be honest, I meet Nick’s picky demands too. I try to work with his preferences. I give him the crap he wants to eat and try to get him to down at least a few bites of something healthier, with the hope that someday he’ll come around. I won’t be a hard ass about food. Grandma is looking over my shoulder, reminding me of the shit she put up with. I can’t let her down. I have to pass on her legacy.

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Grandma tales part 2 (grumpy about muggings)

I’ve had Hal-moh-nee on the mind this week. It’s amazing how much I long to see her sometimes. Maybe I would miss her less if I had committed some energy as an adult to seeing her more regularly while she was still alive, but I lived in DC and Grandma was in Seattle and I was a strung-out lawyer. Which is no real excuse. My failure to make time for Grandma in her last years is among the more significant emotional reasons why I’m glad to be out of the profession for good (I hope).

But also I think it’s parenthood that constantly brings her to mind, as I struggle with questions of how to be a functional parent to young children in different situations. Grandma taught me so many little lessons by just being with me when I was small. She was so good to me, a sweet anchor for my grumpy heart. I think I’ll spend the next week or two telling some Grandma tales.

Picture Seoul, Korea in the early 1970’s, a third world metropolis of millions, streets full of stray dogs and crazy drivers and three-wheeled trucks, and here comes the guy pushing a food cart selling beans and steamed rice cakes. I’m too lazy right now to find any photos. Maybe another day. And I guess I should say South Korea, though I wasn’t taught to say it that way. Korea was Korea to my Korean family members, who still remembered a time before the white peeps came and broke it into two nations.

Dad worked as a civilian DOD employee on the Eighth Army base in Seoul. Most Americans associated with the base lived on the base, but many of us with Korean moms lived in the city proper instead. In my child’s memory, the city neighborhoods where nice homes stood were bunkers. Concrete walls surrounded each house. At the tops of the walls were rolls of barbed wire to keep out slickee boys — burglars and thieves. Locked metal gates, topped with vicious spikes and big enough to admit a car, granted entry to a home’s yard.

We lived in a walled-in house at the dead end of one of these bunkered roads, in an area my dad affectionately dubbed Skunk Hollow, probably because of the smell. Grandma frequently walked to our house in the morning, spent the day with us, and then walked home to her own smaller and more traditional Korean home. I have no idea how far it was, but I’m guessing it had to be less than a mile. I used to make the walk with her sometimes, when I got to sleep over at her house. I held her hand tight as we trudged through a claustrophobic maze of narrow alleys, grey walls rising high and tight on either side of me, until we emerged mysteriously at her house on one end or my own home on the other.

One fine day my mom treated Grandma to a new purse and some cash. Grandma headed out in the afternoon with her new purse on her arm, and presently I heard voices of adults sounding very, very unhappy. Grandma had been attacked by two men who beat her up and stole her purse as she walked home. They even broke her false teeth (a full set of clackers, mind you). I imagined my poor Grandma lying broken in one of those bunkered alleys, her body smashed to the ground and broken into pieces by very bad men. I was terrified.

Not long after, Grandma came on over and sat with me in my room. I had questions for her. She was a storyteller and always answered my inquiries. She told me about how two thugs grabbed her purse and threw her against a wall, so that her face hit and her false teeth broke. She rued the loss of that pretty new purse and all that money. The mix of fear and curiosity I felt about the attack must have been apparent. Grandma offered to show me her injuries. She opened her shirt and bared her chest. I had seen it many times before — she wasn’t even remotely body-shy with me — but now the left side of her chest, from her shoulder and down her breast and rib cage, was black as calligraphy ink. I wanted to cry, it looked so awful. I was so upset about how badly she was hurt. But Grandma just laughed gently and told me I could touch it, it didn’t hurt anymore. She explained that it was a healing bruise, and then she assured me she was fine.  And she was. It all healed up just right eventually. She was tough as nails.

Grandma had a way of laughing and shaking her head that sucked fear out of me, but I don’t think of her as a person who lied to me about the risks of life. She took them seriously. She kept me close when we walked around town. She warned me about kidnappers who would want to steal the pretty little blond girl and try to sell me into slavery or, even worse, kill me if my family didn’t pay a ransom. She told me about diseases and shared stories of war. She told me about how my grand-uncle, her brother, was brain-damaged as a child by a Japanese soldier who boxed his head so hard that his ear bled, and then he was never the same again. We affectionately called him “heh-leh-leh sam-chun,” which loosely translates to “crazy uncle.”

For all the scary tales, Grandma always added a touch of humor and made me feel safe about the adventure of life –- and especially about her. Don’t you think kids fear harm to their nurturers more than almost anything else?  A year or so ago, when I had a breast biopsy to see if I had cancer, I remembered Grandma’s way of reassuring me. I tried to emulate her. I played it straight with the kids about what was going on, and I let them see the site of the biopsy, bloody bandages and all. I watched them react, the mix of curiosity and anxiety, and it was like looking down a tunnel into my own past as I stared at my grandma’s blackened breast. I’m glad she taught me not to keep secrets of things like that. Better to share some scary realities with your little ones than to hide it from them. Better to laugh down fear together than to shiver alone in the dark.

Grandma tales (grumpy about vaccines and polio)

Everybody’s doing it, so why not me? Talking about vaccines, that is.

I have a good friend who doesn’t vaccinate her kids. She claims it’s because she has auto-immune issues herself so she wonders what vaccines will do to her kids, but in moments of honesty and clarity she’s admitted the real reason to me:  her oldest child gave her hell at some vaccination visit and the pediatrician was a jerk about it, so she won’t do them anymore. Since she knows everyone else is vaccinated, it’s okay for her kids to skip the shots. Her attitude slays me, because she’s a pretty hard-core Republican and she likes to mouth off about freeloaders. It is so hard for any of us to avoid hypocrisy. All I can do is shake my head and let her be as human and imperfect as me. But also, she’s not opposed to vaccines. She’s just freeloading. She knows it.

I chatted some time ago with another mom who actually opposes vaccinations. She’s holistic and homeopathic and Eastern medicine and all that, and her reasoning was that her kids don’t need the vaccines because she uses natural methods to boost their immunities. Thus, she reasons, her kids are unlikely to be infected even if a vaccine-avoidable disease comes around, and also if her kids are infected they’ll survive just fine because she knows how to treat these things. As far as I could tell, the idea of her kids infecting other, more immuno-compromised individuals wasn’t a relevant consideration. I was recently reminded of how much that bothered me when I came across an Onion op-ed, “I don’t vaccinate my child because it’s my right to decide what eliminated diseases come roaring back.” (On the off chance you don’t know, the Onion is 100% bullshit and 100% brilliant satire and social commentary.)

Then this person had to go and use polio as an example, arguing that many people contract polio but survive anyway because they have strong immunities, so it’s not a disease she’s afraid of even if her kids catch it, and also we shouldn’t be giving any kids a polio vaccine because it’s not necessary, the disease isn’t so bad. I remember seething secretly and ending the conversation as quickly as possible.

You don’t have to dig much at all to learn that polio is an extremely contagious disease that has no cure and also it suuuuucks. In fact, almost all of the vaccinations we’re giving our kids are for diseases that are highly contagious and have no cure. And that are capable of maiming and killing. In the case of polio, it’s certainly true that many lucky people who are infected never even show symptoms. But I wonder how they would feel if they could calculate how many unlucky ones they infect in turn, especially if they could avoid catching polio at all by being vaccinated.

My Korean grandma was both lucky and unlucky. She contracted polio as an adult (before a vaccine was available) but survived. A paralyzed foot was polio’s life-long gift to her. She walked with a pronounced limp as a result, and as a little girl I was fascinated by it. As far as I could tell, her foot was frozen in a flexed position. When I asked why she walked funny, Grandma told me of a terrible sickness that caused the paralysis, and I later learned the pesky disease was called polio.

Grandma was an extraordinary person, a bottomless pit of kindness. When I was very little, she would encourage me to work over her foot and try to make it move. As hard as I tried, I never could. So she always won the game, and we’d laugh together and then I wasn’t afraid anymore of whatever had almost killed her. Now I wonder from the vantage of 48 years, did she also secretly hope that her magical little granddaughter could make the foot come alive again?

Over the years, my mom shared bits and pieces of her memories about Grandma and polio. Mom was a child, too little to understand the danger, when the disease came. Grandma was hit bad. She almost died and had to go live in some sort of institutional setting to recover. This was a time of Japanese occupation, before there were two Koreas, when Korea was still a beaten-down, occupied third-world place. It would have taken a lot of money and resources (which my family had back then) to send Grandma to a place where she could survive and recuperate. She was lucky to receive any medical attention at all.

Grandma had a baby at the time (my mother’s oldest little brother) who was still nursing, so she took him with her to the hospital. But Mom, who was also still a very small child, stayed home with the aunties and servants. Grandma was gone for about two years. Mom felt abandoned, lost without her mother, treated unfairly because her baby brother got to go. I remember her talking about it long into my adulthood. I could hear in the rhythms of her stories the deep, unhealed cuts in her heart, the bitterness she couldn’t let go. It mystified me. The child who survived her mother’s polio, who still lived in my mother’s soul, couldn’t grasp that Grandma didn’t have a real choice. The disease owned all the decisions. So it didn’t just paralyze Grandma. It paralyzed a piece of my mother too for much of her life, just not in the flesh.

Some years after Grandma died, my mom finally told me a story of retrieval, not of abandonment. I don’t remember it perfectly (which doesn’t really bother me – I’m okay with reality becoming mythology, especially when it’s the mythology of connection and love). Mom came home from school and a strange woman was standing outside of the house. Mom got closer and realized with a start, it was her mother! She ran over to the woman. Her mother embraced her hard. Her mother looked at her face, touched her, looked in her eyes. Her mother told her, I’ve come back for you. I don’t want to live in the country anymore, I’m moving to Inchon. I’ve come to take you with me; I’ll never be apart from you again. Her mother had survived polio. Her mother came back for her.

As Mom told me this story, I realized that I was finally hearing the last chapter of her family’s polio tale, which had now spanned something like 70 years. I felt a sense of relief, of thankfulness that my mom could finally forgive Grandma for a parental betrayal that had been beyond anyone’s control — so many years after the disease crippled not just Grandma’s foot, but also her relationship with her daughter.

I always think of Grandma and Mom when people talk about vaccine-preventable diseases like polio. The damage they do isn’t just to a body, but to a family, a community. It’s why we owe it to each other to avoid the diseases together, each of us bearing a little bit of risk via vaccination, for ourselves and for each other.

It’s easy for people in first-world countries, living in the lap of hygienic luxury, to argue in smug ignorance that diseases like polio aren’t that dangerous and don’t need to be vaccinated against. Goody for you. As for me, my kids are fully vaccinated. Jesse gets the shots even though they’re grown in egg whites and she’s allergic to eggs. I give her antihistamines prophylactically and she seems fine. It probably isn’t helping her outgrow her allergy. But if vaccination means she can’t eat eggs for the rest of her life, I’m actually okay with that. I guess I’d rather have her get stuck with an epi-pen now and again than crippled by polio, or killed by small pox, or scarred by measles. For the anti-vacc’ers, know this: if my grandma was still alive and had the means, she might just sneak up behind you and stick you in the ass with a polio vaccine, just so you don’t catch polio and go give it to someone else. She’d probably giggle and say a happy prayer for your wellness as she did it. I guess I’d be laughing with her.

grumpy about the pick-me-up card

My last post was about how annoyed I am about misdirected inspirational one-liners. So it goes without saying that Anthony and the kids reacted to my grumpy by giving me feel-good cards.

Last week Anthony had to go to Florida for a few days, to a conference where he didn’t have to present or discuss anything. He had to spend his days socializing and eating well and working out instead. Without Jesse or Nick or me. Poor, poor fellow. While he was gone, Nick came down suddenly with a bad fever late Friday night, which left him acting lethargic and miserable like he had the flu. And Jesse seemed to be developing a new cough. I took them to the doctor first thing Saturday morning, and then Nick and Jesse and I were trapped in the house for 24 hours as we waited to see if his flu test came back positive. (I take quarantine seriously for infectious diseases and viruses. I don’t want to be responsible for infecting somebody who has compromised immunities. You probably don’t want to get me started on the anti-vaccination movement.)

It turned out Nick just had a really bad ear infection. Still, being trapped in the house for a couple days with one sick child and one stir-crazy child is always emotionally exhausting for me. I don’t get all “la la la let’s do some crafts!” I get all “stop coughing in my face! Stop whining! Stop playing with the dog’s butthole! Stop touching me!” I’ll never know if the kids really are jackasses or if it’s all in my grumpy, irritable head.

Okay, I do know, but I don’t feel like saying it out loud right now.

So Anthony took the kids away for lunch and a matinee when he got back in town. After 5 sweet, silent hours by myself, the minions came back bearing cards for me.

Here was Jesse’s:

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Dang that’s a cute little round thing. Hedgehog, right? The message inside:

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Aaaw. And Jesse wrote this note:

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“Sometimes when I’m a little prickly you still love me. You still are nice to me. You’re the best!”

Wishful thinking on Jesse’s part, I think, but sweet. I felt like I was the prickly one, but Anthony quietly chewed me out when I said that out loud, pointing out that Jesse was saying she was the one being prickly. Check.

Nick also gave me a card.

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Okay then, tell me. What do you see? A giant blue peacock? Are those feathers a romanticized depiction of my enormous ass? (Shrinking, by the way, thanks to the bipolar diet I’m on.) This is apparently what Nick sees:

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Really. I’m amazing. Amazingly stinky when I forget to shower, amazingly prickly when I’m overwhelmed by the kids, amazingly under-achieving? I know I know I know, head slap that grumpy out of me! The best part was Nick’s special message to me, dictated to Daddy, who wrote it in his best handwriting:

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Perfect. Nick loves me 69. Just last week he loved me 15, so the vector is moving in the right direction. Someday he might even catch up to me:  I love my family infinity.

grumpy about marriage (guest blog!)

I’ve been super busy last couple weeks, and there’s been sickness in the house, so I haven’t had time to write anything. Also I haven’t had anything to say that I think anyone would find even remotely interesting. So my friend Elizabeth wrote a grumpy guest blog! Yay! I’m not alone in my grumpy!

Let me say this without Elizabeth’s permission: Elizabeth is a most excellent lawyer I worked with some years ago. She’s really bright and snarky and sweet and cynical, with a wicked sense of humor, which is a beautiful combination of qualities. Like me, she came to parenthood late. Like me, she has a daughter who faces some challenges in the years ahead, but hers are probably more significant than Jesse’s. Unlike me, the challenges of parenting a child with unique needs don’t seem to be breaking Elizabeth. Instead she seems to be becoming even more resilient, more peaceful, and just plain better because of it. Woulda coulda shoulda. But hey, that’s why I’m in therapy with Jesse.  Anyway, here’s what Elizabeth has to say this week about her mate, providing further proof for one of my new inspiring inspirational inspirations: Everyone farts in the same language.

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Hi! My name is Elizabeth and I’ll be your guest grump today! I really can’t hope to equal the excruciating grumpitude that is Carla, but I will try to whet your appetite and keep you somewhat satiated while she is recovering from flu, missing An-ton-ee, or just busy.

I have to free associate a bit here to get my grumpitude up to speed. I just had my wedding anniversary on January 8. So I will be….GRUMPY ABOUT MARRIAGE? Yes? Okay. Disclaimer: I love my husband very much, and our life together is good. We have a partnership, he’s a wonderful dad, he respects me, blah blah blah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

When I first got married there was a reality tv show on called “Things I Hate About You” that I liked to watch (in secret, because I didn’t want Max to know that I watched reality TV — I guess I thought I was only supposed to watch PBS or Wall Street Week or something). Anyway, this show consisted of couples airing to their gay boyfriend Mo Rocca their various gripes about the other spouse — the spouse was messy; the spouse sang in the car; the spouse complained a lot; the spouse never cleaned up. At the end of the show someone won a major household appliance or trip, I can’t remember why.

Okay, I’m right on the cusp of getting to my point now. Here’s the thing that’s insane: When I watched this show as a newlywed, I really and truly believed that if Max and I went on this show (okay I’m starting to snort with laughter), he would have a list of things about me that were annoying, obviously– but, but — I would not possibly come up with even a single quality about him that was unacceptable. Yes! I actually believed him to be perfect! OMIGOD! And I was so lucky that this perfect being was willing to co-exist with my clearly imperfect self.   Can you imagine?

Well, times have certainly changed! Let’s see now, do I only have to pick ten things that annoy me about him?

  1. He farts constantly. I’m not talking about a little gas and maybe that was a fart, maybe it wasn’t. I’m talking about gas that ruins furniture, that makes you drop to the floor and moan “Oxygen!”
  2. He won’t drive. Ever. I do all the driving.
  3. His idea of a healthy meal is pork fried rice with extra broccoli. The broccoli cuts the fat, you know.
  4. He can’t hang up a towel without smooshing it so that it takes maximum drying time.
  5. He is incapable of throwing anything away, including any little piece of artwork our daughter does. Believe me, she’s no Van Gogh.
  6. He answers every phone call. Every phone call.
  7. He doesn’t understand the concept that one buys new clothing just because one likes the clothing.
  8. He will talk to anyone. See #6. I think every telephone survey person hits us up.
  9. His idea of a great night of entertainment is a vampire zombie slasher film featuring Nazis on skis.
  10.  He only ever wants to go the Jersey shore on vacation.

(I have to admit I was sort of scratching a bit for the last few there. ) Well, it’s too bad that show is off the air!

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[Carla here: It sounds like love to me.]

grumpy about inspiring inspirational inspirations

Thank goodness all the hubbub of New Year’s resolutions has finally died down. The worst thing about the New Year celebration is the vague inspirational one-liners that float ’round the web as people make implausible resolutions. That fluff is always present, but it surges hard for a couple weeks in January, pushing itself into my consciousness like a properly aimed gust of wind bringing me the foul, pestilential stench of an out-of-sight port-a-potty from down the street. I should just plug my nose and go on about my business, but I can’t stop myself from sniffing, spurred on by the unanswered question in my mind: does this shit really help anybody?

This year I spent way too much time on Facebook, scrolling through screen after screen of upbeat one-liners pasted onto images of cute animals and back-lit tree-scapes. And sometimes psychedelic images, which is even better. I eventually managed to get a handle on my dry-heaving and hari-kari-miming, and then I remembered that Marci Shimoff inspired me to own my grumpy by trying to fill my soul with chicken shit so that I could be happy for no reason.

Sorry, slip of the tongue — it was chicken soup she was selling, wasn’t it. Catchy.

Anyway, Marci’s an uber-master of irritating and meaningless one-liners.”Plug into presence.” “Forget the coffee, try a morning cup of connection.” “Feel your feelings.”

Just… Bite me. There’s an inspiring one-liner for you.

It is hard to top Marci’s mastery of the vacuous uplifting quote, but that’s not stopping humanity from trying. Here are some of the lines that crossed my path this year and got my grumpy aura glowing wildly.

Wait. An apologetic before I continue: I know what’s coming is going to sound and seem hostile and, well… It is. Sometimes I have a lot of hostility toward peeps who pour on the random upbeat, positive, can-do crap. I’m too cynical for that. I can’t look at the miseries of life and say, gee, this isn’t so bad, it’s all in my head, blah blah blah. I guess that helps some people. Not me. I’d rather look at the fire I’m walking through and scream “THIS SUUUUUCKS” and come out the other side thankful to be alive, relieved my burns aren’t so bad (i.e., I’m not dead), and grateful if there’s anyone there to help me. See? I’m optimistic and upbeat. I just want my upbeat a certain way. Reality-based and very specific.

Right, so here’s my grumpy list of useless inspiring inspirational inspirations:

ACCEPT YOURSELF. (flowers and sunrises)

But what if I’m an asshole? I don’t think I should accept that at all. In fact, I think the root of change is exactly the opposite of acceptance. DON’T accept yourself. Maybe forgive yourself for being an asshole, and then stop being an asshole by whatever means are available to you — therapy, self-flagellation, confession, meditation, charitable work, whatever it takes.

I get it. Don’t beat yourself up for those extra pounds, don’t look in the mirror and hate on yourself, and so on. But if that’s what the one-liner is getting at, then it should say so. “Accept the things about yourself that are acceptable.”

Dr. Abrams, Jesse’s therapist, has this incredible approach to her self-loathing. When she tells him she’s hating on herself for something she’s done, he typically answers, “Well why don’t you change the things that are making you dislike yourself?” Aha, and duh, and why didn’t I think of that. You want to make a new year’s resolution that matters? Don’t accept yourself. Identify the ways you suck, and then try to fix them.

LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE. (rainbows and trees)

I have an admission to make. I bought a box at Michaels that said these three words on the cover, even though this alliterative word string drives me crazy. In my defense, I bought the box because it was on super-sale and just the right size I needed for some Christmas ornaments and it wasn’t a totally hideous color. Otherwise, honestly. Please don’t ever tell me to live, laugh, love and expect me to be moved in any way. I DO live. I’m doing it RIGHT NOW. Still doing it.

Still. Living.

Miraculously, living just happens to us while we’re alive.

If you mean to tell me to live a certain way, to experience life more fully or something like that, then say so. Jeez. Why be so cryptic?

As for laughing and loving — well, shit, that’s a pretty big directive. If a person is having trouble laughing and loving, there might be some significant problems going on, like maybe her life sucks, or maybe she’s depressed or has some issues. Maybe she isn’t well served by a superficial directive that says, in essence, go stop sucking.

But I guess it’s not as inspiring to put this quote on a picture of a sunrise. “If you’re unhappy and lonely, and you have trouble connecting to people, seek help. Therapy is a good option.”

MAKE IT GREAT.

Make WHAT great, asshole? I know, I know, whatever I’m doing. Well what if I’m taking a dump, or wiping my 5-year-old son’s ass after he takes a dump? Do I really need to make that great? Can’t I just survive it and move on?

I INSPIRE.

I followed a silly-looking link one day to a website whose tag line was “I inspire.” Wow. You INSPIRE? That’s hubris. And very broad. The person who wrote that inspired me to leave his website immediately.

I’ll tell you what inspires me. When people DO inspirational things. Yes, MLK Jr said many inspiring things, but they would have been empty tripe if he hadn’t acted. He inspires me by virtue of what he did, not because he told me he’s going to inspire me. I have a friend who just ran her first marathon and she’s almost 50. I’m inspired. And she didn’t even tell me she was inspiring me. Oh wait. She wasn’t trying to inspire me, in her own mind. She was just running a marathon! Still totally inspiring.

And now I’ve written and said that word enough times that it looks and sounds funny. Inspire. Inspired. Inspiring. Inspiration.

LIVE EACH DAY LIKE IT WAS YOUR LAST.

Worst. Advice. Ever. As Anthony-the-economist put it, this advice tells you to discount the future by exactly 100%. That’s just stupid.

If I lived each day like it was my last, I would never do any of the following things. Wash clothes or dishes. Clean the house. Take my kids to school or the dentist. Make healthy meals. Take a shower. Read a book. Exercise. Take my blood pressure meds. Care about anything. Instead I’d spend every day fighting off bitter, angry tears over my imminent demise. I’d cling desperately to my children (I’m talking physically) until they got freaked out and ran away from me. I would live a raw, insane existence.

Come to think of it, sometimes I do live like this. Huh.

(Extended awkward moment of silence while I think about what the hell I’m doing with my life.)

I’m back. Sorry about that. Anyway, I beg you, DO NOT live each day like it was your last, even if this inspiring phrase and the beautiful sunset photo accompanying it come through your Facebook feed. I don’t think it’ll turn out well.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Awww, come ON. This stupid one-liner was in a list of things you allegedly need to do before you turn 50, or something like that. It’s just empty nonsense. Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh made a difference.

You want me to make a difference? Point me in the right direction. I’d rather make NO difference than an evil, life-destroying difference. Incomplete advice like this might just create the next Darth Vader.

DONE IS THE ENGINE OF MORE.

Uuuuuugh. My head just flopped backwards at a 90-degree angle. My tongue fell out of my mouth. And nooo, it’s not because of the margarita I’m drinking. Here’s all I need to say to the person who tells me “Done is the engine of more”:  fuck you.

TRUTHS ABOUT SUFFERING.

This isn’t a one-liner but an inspire-you list someone posted to Facebook, so I’m going a little off-message — but bear with me. A fellow named Jeff Foster apparently wrote some “truths” about suffering. He says things like this. “Circumstances cannot make us suffer… You could probably boil all of your suffering down to this: ‘I want to control this moment but I cannot.'”

Yeah. Tell that to victims of violence, of torture, of war, of famine, of cancer, of all manner of disasters and vicious diseases. I bet most of them disagree.

This guy also talks about “innocent energy clouds.” Oooooh (eyebrows up). I’m crossing the street when I see Jeff Foster walking down the sidewalk toward me, because otherwise I will want to sock him square in the face and tell him this. Jeff, my friend, you are a complete asshole and a thoughtless lout. Circumstances CAN make us suffer, even when we know we can’t control the shit that’s happening. I have a neighbor whose young son was in the ICU for days with whole-body staph-like infections. There were question marks. It was horrible and scary, and those circumstances made her family suffer. I have a friend suffering from a brutal auto-immune skin condition that makes him experience pain like a burn victim, and the treatments have been awful and it’s all very difficult. His suffering is circumstantial and REAL. Even if he accepts that he can’t control the moment, he will continue to suffer until his condition is brought under control.

Can these folks survive what’s going on with grace and acceptance? Of course, and they are. But not with platitudes and false one-liners. They are struggling, fighting to find a path that brings light and hope into their lives. I love them for it. I love them for sharing their suffering and their needs and their journeys, without faking like they’re okie-dokie.

I mean, I get it. If you’re talking to first-worlders who bitch and moan about their opulent lives without having any real trouble to speak of — say, first-worlders who are, I don’t know, grumpy for no reason — then making the point that we, I mean, they shouldn’t be “suffering” is great, because really, we have it good. And I guess it doesn’t work to paste the following one-liner over a picture of a happy polar bear mommy rolling in a snowy bank with her two cubs: “Get over it. Your life doesn’t suck.”

* * * * *

I understand that I’m probably outside the mainstream. Some people need these one-liners to cope with tough moments. But it doesn’t work for me. If you want to inspire this grumpy girl, you’ll need to get really specific and really plain-spoken. Like this:

Have you looked in the mirror lately? (motivation) Get a haircut.  (inspirational directive)

You smell bad. (motivation) Go take a shower right now. (inspirational directive) (Anthony uses this one on me regularly. It works every time – I go straight to the shower.)

You don’t help other people enough. Go volunteer some time for a charitable cause.

You’re really grumpy.  But it’s okay, I still like you. (See? I told you I was an optimist.)

* * * *

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’m realizing what a downer I am. I need to change. I need to see myself a new way. I will imagine a different me. This year, I’m going to start over. Because every day is a new day. Every day is the beginning of the rest of my life. And I have the power. I am the master of my feelings. Love can lift me up. Acceptance can bring me closer to happiness. I can make a difference. I just need to smile a little more, because everyone smiles in the same language.

Grumpy about dieting – day 3 (soooo hungryyy)

Today was a 500 calorie day. I woke up anxious about it, but after my delicious breakfast of milky coffee and an orange, I felt good.

I had a late morning snack of dried seaweed. Turns out the margarita I had last night wasn’t sitting well this morning. The salty seaweed did the trick.

For lunch I had a salad and half an apple. This is what a 110-calorie salad looks like.

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Contained in that mixing bowl are precisely the following items: 100 grams of romaine; 1 ounce of mushrooms; Half a grated carrot (1 oz); 1 oz of roasted chicken breast; a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar; the juice of half a lemon; and my hopes and dreams for a smaller, more healthy me.

Let me interrupt myself here to point out how disturbed I was a few weeks ago to discover that my flexibility had improved to a point where my belly fat is actually impeding me from sitting on my butt with my legs stretched out and bending over my legs as far as I’d like to. I plan to hold that image in mind in low and hungry moments.

Here’s what a 200-calorie dinner looks like.

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That’s 2 ounces of flounder fried in a bit of olive oil and a couple hundred grams of roasted butternut squash. No butter or sugar. I made do with hot sauce.

It’s water now until tomorrow morning.

Bah.

Grumpy about dieting – day 2 (binge day)

So today was the eat-what-you-want day on my strange diet, which seems to be called variously the alternate-day or intermittent or fasting diet.

I think I’ll call it the ON-OFF diet or the binary diet or the bipolar diet. Yesterday I survived on 500 calories. ON, zero, depressed. Today I was free to eat what I want. OFF, one, ecstatic.

It’s taken just one iteration of this two-day cycle for me to realize that I won’t ordinarily be treating the eating day as a BINGE day.

I woke up this morning and took the dog for a walk and shoveled a couple inches of snow off the driveway. Normally this would be a great low-stress way to wake up and jump-start my body and get the blood flowing. But today on a deprived stomach, the shoveling was grueling — not in a muscular or aerobic way but in a blaaaaah-feed-me-Seymour way.

I headed in and found Anthony arranging a small feast for himself at the table. I also feasted. I had a banana immediately, and coffee and milk, and some avocado left over from making Jesse’s lunch guacamole, and a large piece of French bread with some butter, and two small chicken sausages, and finally a small tortilla I made with the scrap of dough left over from making Jesse’s lunch tortilla. I’m not sure I remembered everything.

Ugh. It was a lot. Anthony and I were both weighed down.

Then Nick wanted Bruegger’s bagels for lunch. What the heck, I thought, I’ll go with it. It’s my binge day! I got the western egg sandwich, so that would be some raw peppers and onions and an egg and cheese and sausage on a sesame bagel. A lot of food, given my breakfast. My carb meter was bulging.

Dinner time came along and my gut was still satisfied. I was feeling dehydrated so I had an orange, and then I scratched my head about dinner. Remember the chicken and veggies I roasted for dinner last night? We threw the leftovers in a pan with a jar of pasta sauce and boiled up some penne. Grate some Parmesan, done. But the pasta — on top of what I’d eaten earlier, it seemed like a lot of carb even for me. On a whim I looked up the calories in pasta. Yikes. It seemed a shame to waste yesterday’s virtuous deprivation on a bunch of boiled wheat, so it was easy to cap myself at a cup of pasta and a bunch of chickeny vegetable-laden sauce.

I’m vaguely disgusted by today’s carb fest. I normally eat more vegetables. But here’s the thing. I put everything that I wanted in my mouth today and then some. I’m not supposed to count calories today but out of curiosity I roughly calculated my intake. Even if I have the celebratory margarita i’m planning to have when I’m done here, my caloric load for the day won’t go over about 2200, mostly because I didn’t pig out at dinner. Add that to yesterday’s 500 and I have a daily average of 1350 calories. That’s a good, reasonable number in light of today’s excess.

Grumpy about dieting – day 1 debrief

I made it through a 500 calorie day. Well, I haven’t quite made it yet, I still have to get the kids to bed. But I didn’t fail on calories. My eating went like this:

Morning:
coffee with a little milk in it.
A pinch of shredded lettuce left over from making Jesse’s school lunch.
Lick my fingers where a little yogurt got on them.

In other words, nothing.

Mid-day:
a banana at 11:00.
3 slices of deli ham (about 2 ounces) and half an apple at 12:00.

In other words, not nothing, but pretty close for someone who hasn’t eaten anything yet.

Evening:
This plate of food, which contains about 200 calories.

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Half of that is steamed cauliflower. The other half is a mix of carrots, onions, and celery that were roasted with a chicken.
The red stuff is Cholula sauce, which I poured on like gravy. Why not.
Hidden under all that fiber were 2 very paltry ounces of roasted chicken breast. See if you can spot the meat in this close up.

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I still felt hungry when I was done, as well as bloated. But I wasn’t shaky anymore. We all went to tae kwon do after dinner. It was a tough class, but it’s no surprise that a hard workout made me feel stronger. I smell funny though. Hopefully that means some of my fat is purging out.

We got home and the kids wanted a snack. Ice cream for Jesse, yogurt for Nick. I had saved calories for an orange as my last hurrah, and as a result I didn’t stare at the kids with beady eyes while they ate. Instead, I stood at the sink and snarfled my orange like a rabid maniac.

All in all, a successful day that didn’t suck so bad. I have to go take a shower now to get the orange juice out of my hair and off my face. In about 11 hours, I get to eat.

Grumpy about dieting – day 1

I just put myself on a diet. I need to lose about 25 to 35 pounds, depending on how much muscle mass I have under the blubber. I am chiseled under there… so maybe I’ll only need to lose 25.

Here’s a news flash:  Carla is grumpy about dieting. The very idea of dieting bothers me. As Jesse’s therapist Dr. Abrams once put it, the best way to keep your weight in the right place is to eat the right amount of food for your body. You’re not dieting; you’re just eating the right amount. Duh. Why aren’t I capable of that anymore?

I’ve only ever “formally dieted” once before, just after Anthony and I agreed we’d try to make a baby. I was about 20 pounds overweight, which I hadn’t really realized until then. Being of advanced parental age and all, Anthony and I felt that we needed to be super fit so that we’d be younger in body than the years that had passed us by. We called it “getting in fighting shape for parenthood.”

Also I lost weight and got fit because Anthony didn’t believe me when I told him I was ready to get knocked up, and I thought this would convince him.

I couldn’t really blame him for being skeptical. In my late 20’s, if Anthony made hints about children, I’d say things like, “If you want offspring, you must obtain a womb in your body.” I’d place my hands on my gut and add, “This womb is not open for business.” (I’ve said it before and I can’t say it enough times: it’s a miracle that Anthony didn’t dump my bitchy ass.)

One day in our early 30’s, we were watching the news and saw a piece about eight Ethiopian siblings, ranging in age from infant to early teen, who had lost their parents to famine or war. Anthony sighed longingly and chatted innocently about how we had the means and stability to provide a home to a family of kids like that, so that they wouldn’t be separated. Yikes. He wanted eight children? Nah, he actually wanted a couple of his own genetic spawn. Still, the newsreel conversation was  when I realized I was denying something very important to him, and even if I wasn’t sure about kids, I was perfectly willing to fulfill my man’s need for paternity. So then I’d say things like, “If you really want to have children, then as your wife I am the appropriate means by which you can make this dream come true. My uterus is open for business.”

Despite this warm invitation, Anthony insisted that I never, ever get pregnant unless I myself wanted kids. Being old school and all, it mattered to him that the decision be based on my wishes alone. My body, my choice – that old-fashioned, long-forgotten idea.

I got to 37 and suddenly I wanted kids. There’s no explaining it, and I’m not the first woman to go through this transformation. But no matter how much I assured Anthony that I meant it, he would say things like, “You’re lying. You don’t want to have kids. You’re only willing to get pregnant because you love me. That’s not good enough.”

(I think it’s been several months since I wrote about how much I adore Anthony. Have I recently mentioned what a perfect human being he is?)

His argument really rattled me, because it was impenetrable. So I decided to convince Anthony by going on a WeightWatchers diet and getting down to my high school weight and size. I’m still not sure if it was the actual weight loss, or the tortured and martyred way I dieted, that sold Anthony on the idea that I really, really meant that I wanted to have a baby.

I was the grumpiest dieter I’ve ever met. I grumbled and whined my way through meal after meal. I hated every minute of it, counting points, weighing food, calculating point values for the food I made, using my cheating points, figuring out how much food I had to give up so I could go to the bar and drink. It took about 4 months of nearly-daily deprivation and hunger and data management, and I was down to my goal weight. Then 6 months later I was pregnant and on my way to my current, solidly overweight, middle-aged mom’s body. (Anthony has joined me in this body-image journey, though to a much lesser extent.)

I can’t stand it anymore. I’m supposed to be better than this. I take meds to control high blood pressure. Both sides of my family have extensive histories of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. Being overweight is like smoking, it’s just an incredibly stupid place for me to be. I’m too heavy to run without hurting my knees, and I long to run again. Yadda yadda. But I can’t do Weightwatchers again. It doesn’t work with kids and little time to measure and weigh and all that. I can’t count calories for a normal weight loss number. 1200 calories takes thought and planning to work out, unless I eat frozen meals out of a box, which I don’t.

Enter my friend Ken, who just told me about intermittent dieting, or alternate day dieting. Every other day, eat 500 calories. On the off days, eat whatever you want. It makes so much sense for me on a lot of fronts. There’s no day-after-day endless grind like in WeightWatchers – every other day you’re free. It’s really hard to eat two days’ worth of food in one day. Counting 500 calories is, like, half the effort of counting 1200 calories, duh. After a 500-calorie day, one has strong incentives not to over-eat too wildly on the eat-what-you-want day. It’ll teach lessons about not over-eating day after day, and taking light days to make up for heavy days. And, as Ken points out, it makes you feel virtuous.

Ken is a statistician with a very large and well-utilized brain. He writes textbooks about SAS, which is a statistical modeling software system package thingy that people like Anthony, my economist husband, use to manipulate data and reach big conclusions going well beyond my housewife pay grade. Check out Ken’s blog post about how he SAS’ed his weight loss.  When you plot your weight loss and rolling averages using SAS, you can say things like this: “The lubridate package contributed by the invaluable Hadley Wickham contains functions to make it easier to use dates in R.” (Pinch your nose tight while you intone the sentence aloud, and it’s even better.)

Whoa. Anthony and I are IN. We started this morning.

It’s been six and a half waking hours and I’m already in a living hell of hunger.

I “ate” coffee with skim milk for breakfast. The quarter cup of milk I put in my coffee used up 25% of my caloric allotment for the day! That’s so wrong! I wonder if I can find the milk equivalent of diet soda. While I ate nothing, I fed my kids yogurt and chicken sausages and cereal and fish sticks (don’t ask, the fish sticks are a Jesse thing) and slices of french bread. I put together Jesse’s school lunch — a freshly made tortilla, frozen black beans and chicken (they’ll defrost by lunch time and taste super fresh), salsa and lettuce and smashed avocado —

Oh my god, just from typing this I’m salivating wildly and suffering gut pain —

and some canned peaches for dessert. I couldn’t help myself – I stuffed the 2 calories of shredded lettuce that didn’t fit in Jesse’s little container into my mouth. Aaaah, so tasty for breakfast!

Around 11 a.m., Nick had his snack of a banana and some juice. By then, my hands were shaking so bad I thought I was having a seizure. I realized I was acting like a dog, drooling as I stared at Nick eating his banana in that totally disgusting way that 5-year-olds eat bananas.

For lunch, Nick got naan and an apple and some turkey balogna. I ate 3 thin slices of deli ham and a banana. Nick didn’t finish his naan. I glared at it; my hand reached out for it. But I successfully got it into the garbage before my mouth sucked it in.

Next my starving hands prepared dinner. I chopped veggies and dropped a whole chicken on top of them in a pot, with herbs and such, and I threw that in the oven to roast at a low temperature. The kids can eat that for dinner while I crouch on the floor next to them waiting to catch food droppings.

Actually, I think I’m going to eat 2 ounces of chicken breast and half a head of steamed cauliflower for dinner, plus a few carrot slices and onions. Maybe a couple leaves of lettuce. That will max out my 500 calorie day. I’ll still be ravenously hungry, but I can console myself by keeping in mind that tomorrow I can pig out.

My family is going to have to tolerate a whole lot of grumpy, because I’m going to be hungry every other day for a few months to come. But as I sit here ruminating on my situation, I’ve had a small epiphany. I think we can all rest assured that the massive fibrous vegetable loads I put down at dinner on the diet days will fuel some pretty fierce gaseous anomalies. I think the dutch ovens I can unleash on my kids may well bring enough good cheer into my world to offset the dieting grumpies.