S is for Stretch Marks

stretch marks: streaks or stripes on the skin caused by excessive stretching, especially due to pregnancy or weight gain.

It was one of the coldest winters on record, certainly one of the windiest northern Europe had ever seen. Rain and sleet battered the cobbled streets. Ice left the pavement slick and dangerous. Venturing outside for a walk was questionable. I spent most of my semester abroad in Brussels inside, either in class, in cafes or tucked away in my room in my host family’s house. The lousy weather sapped the happy out of me. What better way to feel better than to eat?

Source: alternavox.net
Source: alternavox.net

Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolates, Belgian beer. I indulged mightily in all of it. A break between classes meant a quick trip to the most amazing waffle stall a few streets over. I sampled every brand of chocolate in town, settling on Neuhaus with its exquisite pralines as my go-to favorite. And the beer, well, let’s just say I developed a special affection for the gnome on the label of a particular pale ale. I ended up gaining 18 pounds in five months. It took me a summer doing Weight Watchers plus the first two months of my college senior year on the early-90s college girl crash diet (plain bagels, broccoli and Diet Coke) to lose it.

I first noticed them in the shower. Actually, I felt them. Ripples of puckered skin arced around my hips and traveled down my butt cheeks. Stretch marks. I was horrified. Why hadn’t my body simply bounced back to its previous glory? How would I ever wear a bikini again? Wasn’t I too young for stretch marks? Months went by and those Belgian stretch marks failed to fully fade. They left me feeling insecure and imperfect.I hated them.

Twelve years later I became a mom. I gained 36 pounds with my first pregnancy and was lucky to carry it with relative ease up until the final few weeks. Those first few months of motherhood kept me in a tailspin of fatigue, stress and acute joy. Losing weight was not top on my agenda. Life smoothed out a bit after the six-month mark. Ella was a happy baby, eating and sleeping well. I decided to focus on losing the last 15 pounds and it steadily melted away. Soon all that was left to remind of my swollen belly and middle of the night Texas Toast cravings, my daughter’s first kicks and astonishing in-utero hiccups were stretch marks. New ones.

The telltale puckering started near my waist and once again curved around my hips and over my bum. This time the lines looked more pronounced and there seemed to just be more of them. I couldn’t tell where the old ones began and the new ones started. That was a good thing. The first round of stretch marks reminded me of an uncomfortable time in my life. I was young, yearning for connection and second-guessing my choices (why Brussels when I could have studied in Paris?). I didn’t know how to make myself happy so I found comfort in chocolate – lots and lots of chocolate.

These new marks tell a different story, one of creation and strength and wonder. They weave the tale of motherhood and that of my three gorgeous, sometimes challenging, always beloved, girls. They stand for the power of women and the mind-blowing feats our remarkable bodies perform. They remind me to embrace all experiences, even the not-so-good ones, because this is life and uncertainty and sadness are as much a part of it as truth and delight.

Don’t get me wrong – I still don’t like my stretch marks, but I can appreciate them and how they tell the story of me, insecurities, superpowers and all.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

 

A is for Anniversary

IMG_1211Anniversaries used to mean the world to me. I wanted pomp and fanfare, poetic words of undying love, preferably original, but pre-printed in a meaningful card was good too. Flowers for sure, a nice dinner out and a gift couldn’t hurt.

For our first wedding anniversary, Josh gave me beautiful, delicate diamond earrings with a side of first trimester nausea. In response to the terrifying horror that was 9/11, we got pregnant. When our anniversary arrived in late October, I was in full on morning sickness all day long mode. We spent a lovely weekend at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay, me huddled in a robe staring out the window at the foggy beach and Josh enjoying the spa. I could barely move let alone be rubbed. The earrings were a good call.

Ella arrived the following June and honestly, I can’t remember another anniversary since that first one. Except the 10th one, which was when we unwittingly created Lilah who will soon be three. I’m not saying we didn’t celebrate or otherwise mark our anniversary. I know we did, often with cards, sometimes with flowers or jewelry or dinner out. Once Josh even wrote me a song and I’ve given him a poem.

Throughout the years, though, we haven’t always been able to muster an anniversary level of love exactly on the day. It’s challenging with three kids, work schedules and stresses and ordinary life demands. I’m not always in the mood and neither is he. We’ve even fought on an anniversary or two.

Whether out of necessity or simply because we both realize it’s sort of ridiculous to elevate a single day and pour all our love into it, we’ve adopted an ad-hoc approach to showing our devotion. It can happen anytime and without any warning. A sweet card left on the desk. An unexpected sparkly ring, given just because. A guilt-free weekend away with the boys or the girls. A massage appointment at the spa. These surprises come at just the right moments, when our tanks are low and we need to know that the other one notices.

IMG_1827Our love is there whether it’s our anniversary or not. It’s in the weekly rolling of the garbage cans to the curb, the walking of the dog at night when I’m too tired, the rounding up of three energetic kids on the weekend so one or the other of us can go to the gym. It’s in his big bear hug and my back scratching. It’s in the way he delights in the kids’ skiing or piano playing or my writing. It’s in the pride I feel when he passes a sailing test. It’s in the clink of ice in our Friday night gin and tonics served up in the gold-rimmed crystal glasses we got for our wedding almost 14 years ago.

 

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.