Are You Sure You Should Eat That?

I can’t remember the first time I was asked that, but I was young. Very young, maybe six? Seven? And, I felt it far before the words were said aloud. The looks. The awareness of every cookie, every second helping. It was another person in the room. It was a bully at the dinner table. It was a perfect reason to begin sneaking food. And sneak I did.

Let me say this now. Internalize it. No one changes because you shame them into changing. Did you get that? No one. Especially a child. And if they do, it doesn’t take. It’s not out of self-love. It doesn’t come from a place of strength. It doesn’t last. It’s bullying. It leads to more pain.

I have been fat-shamed by my mother, my father, my grandmothers, boyfriends, work colleagues, strangers, Weight Watcher’s Group Leaders (I know, totally insane.) All of these people were wrong. At the time, I felt I was wrong. I internalized their words, their looks, their comments. I believed I was bad, ugly, unlovable, fat, gross, disgusting. Are you getting the picture?

I thought about these things a lot. Food, my body, my weight, exercise. I obsessed. I had been doing this since I was eight on a fairly consistent basis. I was never severely overweight, maybe ten pounds, fifteen, or not at all, or I was underweight from restricting. I’d fluctuate a lot. As a young adult, I’d go on international business trips and fear weight gain, starve myself and come home a shell, jeans sagging at my hips. Later in life, after decades of obsession, pregnancies, chronic illness, thyroid disease and medication weight gain, I’ve been up to thirty pounds “overweight.” And by overweight, I mean heavier than the weight at which I feel best. Not my “this is what you should weigh based on your height” weight. At that weight, I’d be skeletal. The heaviest I was, and this is common for a lot of women, was post pregnancy.

By the way, you, you who rolled your eyes at medication weight gain. It’s real. Don’t even. I stopped the medication, lost twenty pounds. I also almost lost myself in a depressive relapse while I tried other options. Nothing worked. I went back on the medication. I gained eight pounds in a month. A month. It’s real.

I have lost weight, consciously, with great care because of my history, never, well almost never, restricting any foods but rather practicing moderation, portion control, exercising. But this is not a post about weight loss. See, I got side tracked because. Because, fat-shaming. Because, ingrained there is something wrong with my body. Enough. This has got to stop.

I do remember the first time I found my voice. The first time I stood up to a shamer. I was in my twenties, living in Philly, boyfriend, job, apartment, doing well. I was thin then. I didn’t think so at the time, but I was. See, we, and you know who you are when I say “we,” measure our memories by our body size. I was in good shape, exercised regularly, probably too much, bingeing was mostly under control, laxative use too. I was also happy though. My boyfriend and I played volleyball a lot, doubles tournaments, sixes out at the Belmont Plateau (the same plateau in Will Smith’s “Summertime,” yo). I was active, healthy, pretty stable, but I did only have indulgences that smack of an eating disorder (I didn’t think I’d use those two words, but you gotta own it. Right?). I didn’t allow real down-and-dirty indulgences. I didn’t eat normally, without judgment, without consequences.

My indulgence was almost an obsession. I saved myself for this. Skinny Delights on Spruce Street. It was a pleasant walk from my apartment, about twenty blocks round trip, nice Rittenhouse Square neighborhood blocks past brownstones and places of my youth that had become places of my young adulthood. I felt independent and strong and grown up. Also, it was near my boyfriend’s, so that was convenient. It was near my old high school. It was in my ‘hood. It was mine.

Skinny Delights served sandwiches with sprouts, soups, and other healthfood type items but I only had eyes for those glorious soft ice cream air pump machines. Dispensers of my delicious indulgence. What would the flavor of the day be? Would it be peanut butter so I could swirl with chocolate, or would I just go with my usual, the vanilla/chocolate swirl? I was a regular. And, I’d always order a large. With jimmies. Chocolate jimmies. Calories, I think, total, 250ish, no fat. I’m sure the sugar content was through the roof. Didn’t care. There was a lot of air in that giant swirl, but the bigger the better for an eater like me, especially back then when I was still restricting other foods. Skinny Delights, I loved you. And then, I was fat-shamed. Or portion-shamed. Or some kind of shamed and I spoke up.

We sat at our favorite table by the window. I was about to dig in. And a little man sat at the table next to us with his wife. He was older, he seemed “old” to me then, but I’m sure he was in his forties, fifties at most. And he looked over at me, and he looked at my cone, and as I brought it to my lips he made eye contact with me and said:

“Wow. That is huge. Are you really going to eat all that?”

And everything sunk. I mean through the linoleum, through the concrete, into the Philadelphia sewage system below Spruce Street, into the Schuylkill River.

I wanted to die. I wanted to throw the cone in the trash. I wanted to throw the cone at him. I didn’t think I could eat it. I felt sick. I looked at my boyfriend. He knew. He was a quiet guy, but he knew. He also knew some of my history, my issues. He saw I was upset. I think he said something like “let it go.” I remember thinking, I can’t let this go. This is not let go-able. I tried just eating. I tried ignoring the little man sitting at the table next to me. I sat, I thought, I was humiliated. And then I got enraged. How dare he comment on what I was putting in my mouth?

Finally, finally, I found my voice.

“Excuse me,” I said trying to get his attention. At this point I’m sure at least three minutes had passed maybe more. I don’t know, I was suspended in time.

“Sir, excuse me.” He looked up. “That comment you made before, about my ice cream cone? That was none of your business.”

“Oh, I was just joking, I mean it was really big. Come on, I mean it was so big.”

“Right,” I said, “It doesn’t matter how big it was, we don’t know each other. You are not my friend. You don’t get to comment on what I eat. You have no idea how a comment like that might make me feel. You don’t get to talk to me about my food.”

He stammered a bit, said he didn’t mean anything by it, was just joking, something like that. It didn’t matter because I had found my voice. I had stood up to my shamer. He was embarrassed, and I hope he learned and never did that again. Ever. He did apologize, I think, although he made sure to mutter something like “just joking” to his wife.

My boyfriend smiled. I don’t think he ever quite knew what to make of me, I was a lot to take in, and he was a quiet guy. Amazing guy, but quiet. He definitely smiled. Proud. And I got my appetite back. That was a good cone. Peanut butter swirl.



Hello, Neighbor

I moved a lot when I was a kid. Parents divorced, different neighborhoods, school changes, clumsy custody agreement, instability. When I was in 7th grade, my mom bought a house on a small one-block street. Tree-lined in that majestic, quiet way that many East Coast streets can be. Blanketed by a green ceiling, spectacular in Fall. It was rarely traveled unless it was your destination, and in winter, we’d get snowed in. One year, we were socked in for a week. With snow ploughs overworked across the city, our tiny street was not a blip on their radar. My mom finally Norma Rae’d a group of parents and kids to shovel us out. I’m sure my sister and I were driving her crazy. Schools had been closed for days. And days. It made the papers.

Kids ranged in age from baby to teen. I had twenty instant friends. Year round we’d find a stoop, chat, skateboard, play hopscotch, and build snowmen until way past dark. Crushes and high school and growing up happened. We graduated to dance parties. Our first party with slow dancing was on Valentine’s Day. Earth, Wind & Fire on the turntable, and we were abuzz with adolescence. It was innocent and wonderful and lasting. These people are my friends still, decades later, on Facebook, over email, if we are in town we visit. We built a community for life. We are friends for life.

In 2011, my husband and I moved from Seattle to Austin. Weather was a reason, but cost of living, better public schools, and a better, safer, quieter neighborhood were also high on the list. The first thing we told our realtor was “No busy streets.”

It took nine months of living in a tiny 1,000 square foot apartment, waiting out a sluggish Seattle real estate market and fighting an exploding Austin housing boom. That first year was one of the hardest on our family, our marriage, and each other individually. We knew a cross-country move would be a strain, but, knowing it and living it are two different things.

And then, home we finally found. We moved onto a wide, quiet street filled with children. A single-block destination that isn’t even called a “Street,” it’s a “Hill.” When I talk to customer service people on the phone, they are puzzled, “What’s that, how do you spell it?” “It’s H-I-L-L. Abbreviated HL,” I say. “Oh, that’s a new one.” No, I think it’s an old one. It’s our little slice of small town America. In the city. It’s deer every morning on the way to school, waving to others as you drive by, but with culture galore, music festivals, hiking trails, restaurants, clubs, major university campuses and progressive politics.

Our current home sold within four hours of going on market. We won over other bids because of my children, their love of dogs, and my letter to the owner. When we came to preview, he was home. An August afternoon hovering at the 107 degree mark. He took his dogs out while we looked at the house. My husband and I took in the wall of windows, the glistening pool, the giant great room, the atrium (in which my older son had already positioned himself and declared, “I’ll be in here, reading every day. Maybe we can get a lizard. A lizard would be great in here.”) My younger son Tigger-bounced through the house. “I want this room,” he declared. “Let’s get this house, Mom.” In the letter, I told the owner how much our family felt at home, immediately, that we would create a space filled with love, pool parties, BBQs. I told him about our sons, their new schools, the incredible positive changes we’d had since moving to Austin. The missing puzzle piece was a home. Sold.

Our first day, waiting for an appliance delivery, I saw an open garage across the street and two boys about my sons’ ages. “You guys want to say ‘hi’?” I walked them over. “Mom! They have a gecko.” My older son was immediately glued to the terrarium’s glass. When the delivery truck pulled up, I gathered them up. “Oh, they can stay,” my new neighbor said, “it’s fine.” And my instinct said, yup, it’s fine. They were there for hours.

We have lived here two years and I have never been so happy, never felt such community. The other night, the entire street was full of neighbors ranging from ages three to twelve to fifty. Adults talking, laughing, sharing a beer, easily moving in and out of conversations. Kids playing, older ones with the littles, teaching them to ride their scooters, stick out their tongues at Dad, safe and comfortable with their “brothers and sisters.” Bicycles weaved in and out of the adults. My younger son carefully crossed the street with two of the three year olds, sat on our front swing and rocked. We could hear “Swing, swing, swing,” giggle giggle, “Swing, swing, swing.” Repeat. Every so often we’d look up to make sure they were OK.

Our doorbell will ring and it will be someone to swim or a little friend with her mom “I want to play animals. Can we come over?” And my nine year old will play with his three year old “sister” while I get to talk to her mom, my friend. I love that she’s three and walks around our house as if it were her own. “Hi, Miss Jenny,” she’ll say to me. “Where are kitty cats?” “Oh they’re sleeping.” “Kitty cats sleeping. I see them tomorrow. I come back tomorrow.” “OK”, I say, and I mean it. You come back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

It’s like that. All the time. And, we love it; we hit the jackpot. We all know how lucky we are. We have a community of our own, a village of neighbors. Friends for life. And a lizard. He lives in the atrium.




Ah, the dreaded “my stomach hurts.” Monday morning, third week of school, everybody’s tired. It’s 6:30 a.m. I had already picked up my older son at school on Friday mid-day for the same reason. Stomach cramps. He rested all afternoon, then was fine over the weekend.

Let me first say, I am not one of those “You’re only sick if you’re vomiting or have a fever” moms. I get that my kids, whom I think I know pretty well by now, can be sick enough to stay home without puking or chills. I can tell by looking at their eyes, by the intensity of their protest, by just talking to them. Neither is the type of kid to fake (even subconsciously) sickness to get out of school. No Ferris Buellers here. They’ll rally after a shower, a little private time in the bathroom, or breakfast.

I also work from home, and very part-time. I’m a writer. My husband and I are fortunate that a sick kid doesn’t involve a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who misses work. I often have to cancel appointments, but I don’t answer to a paycheck.

“Is there anything going on at school that you’re worried about, like a test or another kid? I know 7th grade is a lot harder, especially in the beginning.”

“No, Mom, it’s not anything like that, my stomach really hurts.”

“Can you take a shower and see how you feel after that?”

“OK, I’ll try.” He’s a good sport that way.

The other one starts moaning. “My stomach hurts too.”

“Buddy, I think you’re OK, maybe just some breakfast.”

“No Mom, I feel really sick.”

My mind needs quiet. This was not my plan for today. I like things to go according to plan. Breathe. Jenny, what does your Mom radar say? Your MomDar. It says they’re sick. You’re not wrong about these things. You are lousy at remembering phone numbers, never file that pile of papers on your desk, and you’re not much of a cook, but if you have anything nailed, it’s your instinct.

But seriously? Both of them? No. Somebody throw up so I can make a decision. I had stuff to do today. OK, I take a walk around the house. Kind of a reboot. We have a single story ranch so I can do a lap and still hear the moaning.

The younger one crawls onto the couch with the coveted purple blanket. The soft, fleecy, most comfortable blanket we have. He means business. I go sit by him (careful not to touch any body parts that might have germs, hey, I’m not an idiot).

“Buddy, what’s going on?”

“It really hurts, Mom.”

“Like how, like throw-up hurt or cramps or what?”

“I don’t know just cramps. I don’t think I’m going to throw up but Mom, I don’t feel good.”

I look at him. He looks like crap. He’s pale and looks exhausted. This is a kid with so much energy he uses a small indoor exercise trampoline just to chill out. OK, he’s sick, I think. And his brother was sick on Friday and is still sick and now they both have it.

My husband is worried. “He’s already missed one day.”

“I know dear, but I’ll send him and get a call from the nurse before 10 a.m. If he’s sick he’s sick.”

To my husband’s credit, he lets me make the call on these issues. He rarely gets sick and unless he’s completely bedridden, never takes a sick day.

“It’s your call, dear.”

The older one gets out of the shower.

“Mom, it’s worse. I really feel sick.”

“OK boys, everybody back to bed.”

Within a half hour, my older son starts with symptoms. And it’s coming from both ends. He’s doubled over in pain.

Trust your MomDar. It’s radar, for Moms. We all have it. If we listen. If we are still. If we forget the “Oh, he’s missed a day already,” “Oh, so-and-so thinks he’s fine,” “Oh, he’ll have so much work to catch up on.” No. If, your kids are sick they’re sick. You know what’s best. You’re Mom.



Things Are Gonna Get Easier

O-o-h child things are gonna get easier
O-o-h child things’ll get brighter

The other day my eldest, my tween, said to me (in high-pitched, really fast stress voice) “You and Daddy treat me like a like grown up when I want to be a child and a child when I want to be a grown up. It’s not fair.” This was after asking me to make him a sandwich, something he is more than capable of doing himself. And, I had said as much. And, I was already doing seven other things. I was about to get into it with him, and then I stopped. I took in all five feet, ten inches of my baby boy in his Weezer glasses and his cool Beatles 60’s haircut. And his face was all red and he dragged the bar stool across the kitchen tile and sat down in a humph.

I went over and put my arms around him. “Oh, sweetie, it’s hard to be in between, isn’t it?” “Un huh,” he said nodding into my hug. “I know,” I said. “It’s confusing sometimes because you’re not sure who you are. But you’re capable and awesome. And, you also feel like a kid sometimes. It’s OK. That’s what it feels like to be twelve.” And we stayed interlocked for a few seconds and then he leaned his head back, gave me a kiss and went on to eat his sandwich. The sandwich he’d made for himself.

A few nights ago, my youngest, my nine year old, had a rough night. He’s been having them consistently since suffering a concussion six months ago. After a slow recovery, after the neurologist proclaimed his brain healed, he’s had issues with insomnia and headaches. A lingering, unwelcome bonus, apparently normal after a head injury. He also has other neurological issues. The perfect storm of brain switches and triggers to lead to insomnia and headaches. It’s been rough and scary. I wanted to comfort him. He’d get so upset about not being able to sleep and it would spiral. For too long, I cuddled him to sleep, after hours of back and forth to his bedroom, every minute of my evening taken up in caretaking, stressing my body, my emotional state, and my marriage.

Lots of advice, routines, and plans later and the headaches are mostly gone, but the insomnia lingers. We developed a specific plan with the doctor (an independent plan taking me out of the picture, no excessive cuddling, Mom gets her night back) and he’s been doing really well. But, a few days ago, he had a hard night. That’s all, it was just a hard night. In the past a misstep would have sent me reeling. Instead I acted on instinct (and fatigue) and climbed into bed with my over-exhausted boy. By the time I got to him, it was so late, for both of us. His eyes were red-rimmed, weary with tears, his body almost limp. Within seconds he was breathing heavily.

Later, in bed, I thought about that song, “O-o-h Child.” A friend had reminded me of it and I’d been watching the same YouTube video of The Five Stairsteps on Soul Train, tearing up with every view. I realized that he didn’t need a refresher course on the “plan.” He didn’t need another sit down. He just needed to know that things would get easier. And, that he’s not completely on his own.

Last night, he started his pre-bedtime routine. He read on his beanbag chair. The next step is to get into bed when he gets drowsy. But, he’s a little kid. He might be drowsy, but he also wants to read. So, he’d push it. He’d power through the drowsy and read one more chapter of Hank Zipzer. Last night, at nine, after he’d been reading for thirty minutes and was, I knew, exhausted from a busy day, I stopped by his room. “Hey bud.” Sure enough, he’d moved on to a new book. “Time to climb in.” Not a second of resistance, he moaned a little and climbed into bed. “Goodnight Mommy. I love you.”

Someday we’ll get it together and we’ll get it undone
Someday when the world is much brighter.


O-o-h Child copyright The Five Stairsteps.





Let love come into your heart
It’s a perfect way to start

Who remembers The Brothers Johnson song? I dare you to not dance. Wiggle just a little bit. Twirl even. Go ahead, click on the YouTube link above and groove. I listened to that song hundreds of times as a teen. My favorite parts: the inspirational shout outs like:

Live your life girl
You can do it!

And that is what it’s all about. Being authentic. Lately, I have less room in my heart, consciousness, inbox, Facebook feed for anything but authenticity. It feeds on itself. I have been sharing more about my true self, without shame or apology, and I am attracting that in others. It’s how I want to live my life. I have deeper friendships now. I have lost some “friends” but that’s OK. My definition of the word has changed. I don’t need anger or aggressive debate around me. I don’t want statistics, the number of Facebook friends, number of Twitter followers, anything but truth to determine my self worth. I love my people. I love feeling a part of a community, feeling supported, accepted.

The other day, someone quoted me to me. She had read a recent blog post, she hadn’t commented but it must have resonated with her. Because she quoted me to me! Did I mention that? I came into her shop and I asked how she was, and she said “Good.” And then she smiled, “I’m good enough.” She was referring to my recent blog post “Good Enough Mom.” I felt a rush of pride and connection. I’m reaching people, I thought. And they are the kind of people I want in my life.

I’m honored by people who are willing to be true and authentic; who trust me with their real selves. That’s what it’s about, folks. Superficiality, hoping to appear perfect, sweeping the dust bunnies under the rug so no one will see. No. That only keeps us apart. You could be surrounded and I guarantee you’ll be lonely. Let it all out. You’ll find your friendships deepen, your self-confidence will soar and your life will be rich and full of so much special.

This post is dedicated  to JC. You inspire me.

Free Yourself Be Yourself copyright The Brothers Johnson




Whether it be your simple everyday “I need to be in front of your car on the freeway. No. Matter. What” or the belief that because of the color of your skin, because you’re white, because you speak English as your first language, because of where you fall on the socio-economic ladder, you are entitled to more freedoms, greater latitude when you exist or when you make a mistake, commit a crime, or don’t. Just as you simply live in the world, that’s entitlement and it’s reprehensible.
At best, it creates dangerous freeways, road rage, frustration at the grocery store. Everyone’s time is valuable. We wait in line for a reason; we live in a community. We need to share the roads, public swimming pools, the gym equipment at our local Y, all of the public space we inhabit. At worst, and what should be on everyone’s radar, is that entitlement is getting people killed, put in jail, dehumanized, perpetuating an unjust society, maintaining horrific conditions for a large percentage of the population of these United States (home of the free, remember?). It’s happening globally, yes, and that’s reprehensible too. But look in your own backyard, really watch or read the news, not FOX, the real news, If you are honest, if you pay real attention, there is no question that white people are treated differently than black or brown people. That’s it. That’s the simple truth. And it’s crazy-making to witness. Imagine living it every day. Living as if you are less than, fearing for your life because of your color. Watching the entitled get away with, well, frankly, murder (George Zimmerman, anyone?) and not being heard. We must all be enraged, and we must all check our behavior, check others’ behavior. It is all of our responsibility to fight this. We are all created equal, remember?
It feels overwhelming, but you can make a difference. Admit the entitlements you feel and stop. Just stop. It can be the little things, be a kind driver, or more importantly, if you feel you are better than because how you were born, the texture of you hair, the color of your skin, get over your damn self and acknowledge that we must, MUST change how we view our fellow citizens. It’s time for a new day for an entire race. Be honest. Own your actions.
When I lived in Seattle, I exercised at a popular local YMCA. The place was always hopping. And, the parking sucked. I mean really, I know I was just talking about a huge social issue, and I don’t want to detract from that, but stay with me here. I’m sharing a personal anecdote. Owning my actions. One day, frustrated by the full lot, wanting to just work out, feeling stressed, time, errands, this, that, whatever had me on edge, I know I was feeling like I need to park NOW. I thought I’d scored. A spot was opening up. Another car seemed to be waiting but in my entitled mind, I had a better angle, so really the spot was mine. I was there to pull in and I “stole” the spot. For two seconds I felt smug relief. And the other driver was apoplectic. Motioned that she had been waiting. I ignored her. She sped off. Then I felt like a giant a**hole. So much so that I sat in my car and realized I needed to do something. I couldn’t just tell myself, “oh, you won’t do that again, you’re stressed out, it’s ok.” What a load of BS. I had acted out of entitlement.
I went into the gym looking for the other driver. I wasn’t sure who she was, but I was determined to find her. Sure enough, she was sitting on one of the lobby couches talking to a friend. I steeled myself. I went up to her. “I just stole your parking spot and I’m really sorry. That was wrong. I have no excuse. I wanted to work out more than do the right thing.” She looked at me, paused and smiled. “Thank you for apologizing. I really appreciate it. And doesn’t the parking situation suck here? It’s so stressful.” “It does,” I said, “and today, I let it get the best of me. Thanks for accepting my apology.” She nodded. “We all mess up sometimes. I’m glad you said something. I’m not upset anymore now.” The next time I saw her at the gym, we smiled at each other and said “hello.”
We live in a community. Everyone has needs. Mine are not more pressing than yours. My skin color or position in the parking lot should not give me greater opportunity. It’s reprehensible to believe otherwise. Own your actions, own your beliefs. Be the change. An entire race of people does not deserve to live feeling less than. We are all created equal, remember?




There is an Eric Carle board book about a little girl who asks “Papa, can you get the moon for me?” And her father gets a ladder. When my boys were little, I read this to them. I kept it because when I see it on the shelf,  I think of the many ways, as parents, we want to give it all, to make the pain go away when they hurt, to make their joy last forever, to protect them. To never disappoint them or make mistakes. To hang the moon. And also to know, while we can’t hang the moon, we can revel in its beauty. We can enjoy it. And we can parent beautifully all the while making mistakes. We are human. I am human.

Motherhood, there is no perfect or even “Super Mom.” To my mind, there is “Good Enough Mom” (or GEM, a nice acronym, don’t you think?) and she is different for each child and family. This week, I not only intellectualized being a GEM, I felt it in my bones. I absorbed the joy knowing I, along with my husband, am not just doing something right, I do believe I’m crushing it.
First day of school family dinner. My sons couldn’t wait to take their respective turns sharing. Middle schooler went class-by-class in vivid detail. The words “fun” and “awesome” were used repeatedly. Fourth grader had already spilled the beans at pick up. “Mom, we did the most ginormously awesome science experiment.” “Wait, let me turn off the radio so I can hear every word.” And he told me the intricate details, every single one. The repeat story for the rest the family was just as exciting. These are happy children, wonderful children, fulfilled children who are engaged in the world socially, academically, musically, athletically.
Later, middle schooler riffed on his violin while doing orchestra homework practice. I’m glad we didn’t force the practice issue over the summer. The break served him well.
The GEM.  Letting them grow into who they are. One who creates new species of amphibian/dinosaur sketches with detailed drawings, imaginary habitats including feeding patterns, measurements, prey, predators. Who has watched me like at hawk since my shoulder surgery. Who leaps at the chance to help, even if it’s not manual labor but notices I’m in pain, or even just sad from the long recovery. Who holds me when I cry out of pain and frustration. Nurtures me with compassion and genuine empathy. Kisses my forehead. Teases me when I’m barefoot, standing 5’10”, kissing the top of my head “Such a cute little Mommy, look at you, you’re so little and cute. I love my little Mom.”
One who smiles all the time, wants to be around others and just be, just share time and space. Who loves to watch football with Dad just as much as he loves to read Winnie the Pooh with Mom, warm in the crook of my arm, eyes closed quiet together, just breathing. Who cracks jokes like a seasoned comic and laughs with abandon.
Both, who, when they smile at me and hug me, have taught me what a melting heart truly feels like.