What I Learned Spending a Day on the Beach in Italy

Preparing for a day at the beach with my three girls means lots of sun screen, plenty of beach toys, hats, sunglasses and for me, my trusty black one-piece bathing suit with its adjustable straps and shirring across the boobs and through the waist. It’s the kind of suit that stays put throughout a day of sand castle building, shallow water wave jumping and all the bending, squatting and lifting that comes with playing with, looking out for and chasing after kids on the beach. In other words, it’s the classic mom bathing suit.

It’s also the swimsuit I wore for our day at the beach on the glorious Italian Riviera this summer.

IMG_3211We rented a cabana at one of the many beach clubs and let the kids loose. My husband was on duty first, so I laid out my towel, dug around for my book, squashed my enormous SPF 70 sunhat on my head and took in the view. That’s when I felt like a fish out of water.

Teenagers frolicked in the shallows, women walked in twos and threes along the shore, families clustered at the water’s edge, lounging in the sand or digging holes but not a single person wore a one-piece bathing suit. Skimpy, brightly colored bikinis owned that beach and women of every imaginable shape and age wore them. All kinds of bits and pieces hung out and nobody cared. Even the moms playing with their kids in the sand wore tiny triangle bikinis, strings dangling, large swaths of skin exposed for all to see.

I have never felt more self-conscious in a bathing suit as I did that day. People looked at me strangely in my prudish black one piece. Why was I so covered up? Was something awful going on under all that fabric? A terrible scar of some sort? A skin disease?

No.

The only thing I was covering up was my own insecurities. After all this time, I am still body-obsessed, still held hostage by unrealistic standards, both cultural and personal. I am still worried that my body is not and never really will be “bikini ready.” I am still reluctant to expose my stretch-marked belly, soft from three pregnancies and pale from so many years undercover. I still have a hard time accepting the beautiful, hardworking body I have even though I often encourage other women to do just that.

The Italian women, young and old, seemed body confident in a way that meant they hardly thought about it at all. Instead, their thoughts landed elsewhere: on the moat they were digging with their kids, on the conversation bouncing back and forth between cabanas, on the midday cappuccino being delivered on a silver tray from the beach club café by a smiling server. So what if their saggy boobs were showing? So what if their thighs were dimpled and their bellies a little droopy? Some women were absolutely stunning but they too didn’t seem to notice. Obsessing about their bodies didn’t seem to be what these women did.

What a relief that must be.

I wondered if I’d ever get to that place with myself, where I could delight in the whoosh of the waves over my body without worrying about the folds of my stomach or the girth of my hips. Lying there in the sun on that beautiful Italian beach, I decided that life is too short not to try. Being “bikini ready” isn’t really about what you look like. It’s more about respecting and loving the body you have. That’s a goal worth working towards.

I sat up and shaded my eyes, scanning the water for my girls. I spotted them knee high in the ocean, the two older ones holding hands with the three-year-old, scooping her up and over the gentle waves as they rolled in. They were all wearing their bikinis.

I hope they always will.

This post is a Finish the Sentence Friday post.
Your hosts: Kristi Campell from Finding Ninee and Stephanie from Mommy, For Real.
Guest hosts: Kelly from Just Typikal and Katia from IAMTHEMILK.

This week’s sentence was: “Life is too short for…” 

6 Things I Let My Third Child Do That I’d Never Let the Older Two Do

IMG_3913It’s no secret that we parent each kid differently. With my first one, I was on the floor during tummy time, running around to multiple Mommy & Me classes and diligently teaching her the Rules of Life: say please and thank you, share, don’t play ball in the house, don’t stick your finger in the fan, only one hour of screen time. My second one got the same drill, but without as much urgency because it’s hard to enforce the “rules” when you’re fishing lipstick out of the 18-month-old’s mouth while your four-year-old is screaming “I want Elmo now!

My third girl is now three and I’ve finally learned that some things simply aren’t worth getting my panties in a bunch over. Here are a few things I let my third child do that I never would have allowed the first two to do at her age:

1. Ride a scooter in the house
I used to get so annoyed when outdoor toys found their way indoors: sand buckets and pool noodles, hula hoops and soccer balls, the tricycle, the scooter. Now, I just take three deep breaths and look away. So what if the three-year-old keeps crashing into the walls, leaving skid marks on the wood floors and dents in the floorboards? I have more important things than resale value to worry about, like trying not to burn dinner.

2. Use real scissors
I know it’s not exactly safe, and we do have a pair of those crappy, blunt tipped kid-friendly scissors, but the three-year-old refuses to use them because she wants to be just like her big sisters. I don’t tell her no because I can’t deal with the yelling. (I get enough of that from my 12-year-old.) Meanwhile, the joke is on me because I have to stop obsessively checking Twitter and supervise if she’s going to use grown-up scissors, right? At least this gives me the opportunity to teach her how to be safe around sharp objects, like the Leatherman Multi-Tool, my beloved pruning shears and the X-Acto knife in the junk drawer.

3. Eat candy for breakfast
Well, not for breakfast, but certainly before breakfast. Why, you might ask, do I feed my three-year-old corn syrup laden sugar toxins so early in the morning? Well, I’m sort of in a bind: when toilet training, I used candy to reward the little tike for pooping in the potty. This “tradition” has continued and I don’t know how to make it stop. Actually, I’m too lazy to make it stop. So I still give her a lollipop if she poops in the potty, even if it’s 5:37 a.m. Because it’s hard to go back to sleep with a three-year-old whining in your ear about a lollipop.

4. Skip meals
My third doesn’t always eat at meal times and some days she does nothing but snack on yogurt and Veggie Booty. I used to chase the other two around with broccoli dangling off a fork, fretting that they weren’t getting enough protein or vitamins or whatever. Now, my mantra is, “This is dinner. If you don’t eat it, you’re not getting anything else.” I do still worry, just a teeny, tiny bit that she’s starving to death, but I get over it. Turns out kids eat when they’re hungry and know what their bodies need. The other day she ate a raw kale salad for lunch. #winning.

5. Pee on the front lawn
I think this one is just plain laziness on my part and a downward spiraling of my concern for hygiene. We’re outside blowing bubbles or jumping on the Stomp Rocket or spraying the roses with the foul smelling anti-deer spray, when nature calls. Sure, the house is right there, but why run fifteen feet when you can just pop a squat right where you are? I see it as a feminist move on my part: if boys can pee outside, so can girls.

6. Cut in line
This happens most often at the playground while waiting for the swing or a turn on the slide. I promise, I’ve coached my kid about taking turns, but there comes a point when I’m just blathering on at her to be patient and wait her turn for the benefit of the other parents hovering around the monkey bars. Now I retreat to the sidelines and let the inmates run the asylum. More often than not, some slightly older kid schools mine about cutting and turn taking and she usually says something like, “Oh, yes. You have a turn. I have a turn.” Unless some kid cuts her in line. Then she’s all like, “IT’S NOT YOUR TURN!” That’s my girl.

Clearly, I’m more chill about parenting than I was when my first two were young. Either that or I’m just plain tired. Could be a little bit of both.

What Happened When I Let My Kids Have Unlimited Screen Time

This summer, I basically let my kids have as much screen time as they wanted. The three-year-old watched endless loops of Frozen and dozens upon dozens of episodes of Caillou (why doesn’t he ever grow hair?!). The middle-schooler watched two full seasons of New Girl, Divergent three times and logged a gazillion hours on Minecraft. My nine-year-old watched a lot of Dog With a Blog, which is actually kinda funny, re-watched all the Harry Potter movies and also played a lot of Minecraft.

I wish I could say I fought them tooth and nail whenever they asked for/snuck screen time, but I didn’t. I guess it was a combination of wanting to say “yes” more this summer, needing a break from my kids who should have been signed up for more camp and being curious about what, exactly, would happen if I just let them vege out on screens whenever, wherever. Would they really watch 24/7? Would their brains turn to applesauce? Would they remember to eat?

Here’s what happened when I let my kids have unlimited screen time this summer:

At first there was a whole lot of this:

screentimeluccaThis is all six cousins on their screens while vacationing in Tuscany. Go ahead, shake your heads. It’s shameful, I know. And this is after a full 14-hours of screen time on the flight from San Francisco to Italy! They were like addicts with an endless supply of their favorite drug. Go ahead kids, OD why don’t you?

We finally staged an intervention and got them out into the real world by promising them a whole lot of this:

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And guess what? They forgot about their glowing, beeping screens and they loved the real world! They did this:

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And this:

IMG_2957And this (notice Ella on her tiptoes making sure she looks taller than her younger sister):

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The big girls even got creative and designed and sewed original outfits for the Barbie dolls.

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They also made houses for the Tooth Fairy so she can rest between pick-ups (yes, everyone in my house still believes in the Tooth Fairy or at least pretends to for my sake).

IMG_3681The big girls also went away to sleep away camp where screens are not allowed and Lilah went to her preschool’s summer program (there are NO screens at preschool, people!). There were plenty of pool days and bike days and scooter days; plenty of dancing in the piazza and playing bocce ball and a good number of lazing around reading days. But I’m not gonna lie, there was still a lot of screen time in between.

Here’s the thing: my kids use screen time as a brain vacation. I get it. We all need down time and giving my kids screen time means I get to have some grown-up time. You know, time without three energetic, sometimes bickering, maybe crying, could be rowdy kids knocking around within close range. That time was well spent with a book or a glass of wine, around the table having adult conversation, writing or simply contemplating the view.

With school starting this week, it’ll be impossible for the kids to indulge in huge amounts of leisure screen time, which makes it a whole lot easier to wean them off their devices (thanks for doing my job, school! I love you!). Plus, while unlimited summer screen time was a win for me, and I’m pretty sure the kids felt is was a win for them, I did still feel a little guilty about it. Then, a week or so ago, we went to the California Academy of Sciences where Lilah said, “I wonder if this guy eats algae.”

Spotted rayAnd I said, “How do you know about algae?”

“I learned it on Caillou. Fish eat algae, mom.”

So all that screen time was actually, kinda, sorta educational and I got to drink my cocktails in peace? Brilliant.

 

In My Car

Sometimes I just sit in my car. I sit there for as long as I can filling my car with minutes of me not being a mom or a chauffeur or a wife or a stay-at-home anything. I sit thinking or not thinking. Breathing so only I can hear it.

Parked in my driveway, I wait to be ready to go into the house. Just before I open the car door, I wonder if I can eke out any more alone time. Maybe I’ve forgotten something “urgent” that requires backing out of the driveway once more before heading into the high-energy together time that awaits me in the house for the rest of the day and on into the evening. Maybe I need to pick up the dry cleaning. Is it ready today or tomorrow? What day is it anyway? Do we need more milk? We always need more milk. Do I have time to go to the vet for more flea medicine? Wait, are they even still open? What time is it? Oh, perfect, they’re already closed. Who closes at 3 p.m. on a Monday anyway?

I sit in my car and check email or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I do this throughout the day wherever I am, but alone in my car, I take my time. I scroll through other people’s lives with their smiley, happy pictures and shared links and witty or completely mundane status updates. On a micro level, it seems everyone is “blessed” and had the “best summer ever” and is raising awareness for ALS by pouring icy cold water over their heads. On a macro level, the world is a shit storm of evil. Over a matter of minutes I feel joyous, jealous, big-hearted, anxious and depressed. A friend of mine from high school passed away from ALS some years ago. Even if no one nominates me for the ALS challenge, I decide to write a check anyway.

After I’m done being emotionally chewed up and spit out by social media, I check the digital vehicle messages. How many more miles until I’m out of gas? How many more weeks until I need an oil change? Is the traction control still on? There’s something reassuring about these clear data points. I check how many miles I’ve driven total: 43,621 in three and a half years. Some are road trip miles to Napa and Disneyland and Tahoe, but most of them are carpool miles and grocery store miles and a few girls-night-out-in-the-city miles. Those miles tell the story of my life and the way each day is a spiral that begins in my driveway and circles out and around then back around again the way it came.

IMG_3797I also sit in my car in parking lots. That’s when I eat lunch. I grab tofu spring rolls from Trader Joe’s while shopping for my family’s seemingly endless food demands. We have six to eight boxes of cereal in the pantry at all times and they are all open and in play. This is why we always need more milk. I click the key fob remote to open the door to the way back, load the groceries and gallons of milk and then sit in the front seat, eating my spring rolls. Even if someone is waiting for my parking spot. Yes, that’s me with the engine running and the car in park. Move on.

I make a lot of calls when I’m alone in my car. To friends back east and my parents just down the road in Tiburon, to the hairdresser and the dog groomer. I make orthodontist and doctor and waxing appointments. It’s a delightful thing, making it through several phone conversations without interruption. When I’m done with the calls, I turn on the radio as I’m backing out. I listen to whatever I want, even if the song has bad words in it or is about an inappropriate theme, like burning down your cheating asshole boyfriend’s house. Mostly I listen to Alt-Nation, but if I come across “Nobody Does It Better” on the 70s channel, get ready to hear me belt it out. I’m sure people can hear me. Even with the windows up. Even if I’m driving.

A friend of mine who is newly enamored with meditation told me I can even meditate in my car. Really? That’s awesome news: another just-for-me activity I can do alone in my beloved car after eating a tofu spring roll and channeling my inner Carly Simon.

We Are All Just Visitors: Remembering Robin Williams

morkI’m not sure when it was I first figured out Robin Williams wasn’t actually acting. He wasn’t pretending to be an endearing visitor from another planet or a shattered, homeless man in New York City or an energetic Genie trapped in a bottle. He wasn’t posing as a passionate, beloved poetry teacher or a grownup who could fly or a father crazy enough in love with his ex-wife that he’d waltz around as a stout, prudish nanny. Instead, he was just being himself – his nuanced, magnetic, hysterical, genius, explosive self.

I imagine it must have dizzying for him to feel such intense, raw emotions so much of the time. As someone who struggles to corral my own over-active monkey brain and small-scale bouts of extreme emotion, Robin Williams’ openness thrilled me. He was willing to be ridiculous, both physically and emotionally, to show us exhilarating joy, childish wonder, profound sadness. He took the complex business of being human to an emotional level very few of us ever contemplate.

By the time he went public with his addiction and depression, I was well into my 20s. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t just the fun and funny that were heightened for him; it was also the dark and shadows and everything in between. I know living this way wasn’t a choice for him or something he could readily control. Feeling so much so intensely is a double edged sword: it can be addictively thrilling, but also frightening and lonely.

The only time I have ever experienced intense, overwhelming depression was in the months following the birth of my first daughter. New motherhood shocked me. Nursing was a disaster and Ella lost weight. She cried all the time. I barely left the house for two months because I was so strung out. I’d imagine myself tripping down the stairs and dropping her. I’d be in the kitchen cutting vegetables with Ella asleep in her bouncy chair 8 feet away and visualize the knife slipping out of my hands, flying across the room and stabbing her. These open-eyed nightmares left me breathless and consumed by sadness and failure. Wrapped in desperation, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling better and it terrified me. I didn’t know how long I could endure it.

I know now that I suffered from postpartum depression. My housecleaner saw me struggling and offered to babysit two afternoons a week. My husband gave me all his love and support. My friends came to me, eventually coaxing me out of the house. The nursing got better. Ella began to thrive. A few months later, I felt better. My depression had been temporary and I did what I needed to do to keep that demon away after having my second child and then a third. I know this doesn’t happen for everyone.

Sometimes our souls go to the deepest, darkest places. Sometimes we recover. Sometimes we don’t. I cannot imagine how utterly desperate and completely out of options Robin Williams must have been to voluntarily leave this world. But I do know how it feels to arrive at a point where you know, for sure, that you won’t survive another stint in those painful, emotional hinterlands.

We are all just visiting this earth, learning the customs, mastering the language, trying to be human. Robin Williams made me laugh until I ached, but even more than that, he showed me that being human is a layered emotional experience unique to every one of us. He gave us all of himself in the most honest and unselfish of ways. For that I will always remember him. May his light forever shine, on good days and bad, in the darkest corners and on the clearest moonlit nights.