Mother Does NOT Know Best

My almost five-year-old is utterly obsessed with the music from Tangled. We listen to the CD in the car on constant repeat and last night, she gave me the lyrics booklet and had me do a half-hour long concert while we colored a picture of Rapunzel. (I think I had more fun than her. I was belting those songs out.)

During her The Little Mermaid phase, my daughter was obsessed with Ursula. Right now, she loves listening to Mother Gothel sing “Mother Knows Best.”

I find this interest in villains utterly adorable and “Mother Knows Best” is an insanely catchy song. (It was my power ballad last night.)



There’s one line near the end of the song, when Mother Gother is basically using classic abuser tactics to convince Rapunzel that staying in her tower is the only solution. She lists all the dangers in the world, then insults and demeans Rapunzel, saying she’s not strong enough to make it on her own.

“Take it from your mumsy
On your own, you won’t survive
Sloppy, underdressed
Immature, clumsy
Please, they’ll eat you up alive.”

Then she says her pièce de résistance, the last part of her argument, the insult to really drive her point home:

“Plus, I believe
Gettin’ kinda chubby.”


OH! OF COURSE! Girls shouldn’t go out into the world if they’re chubby. That would be awful. People would hate that. That’s more dangerous than those ruffians and thugs that Mother Gothel warned Rapunzel about. Being chubby is worse than the plague!

Our society makes it feel that way sometimes, though. It makes us feel like we can’t do anything until we’re our “best selves,” when really, we’re already our best selves. We just have to realize it, free of the trappings of diet ads and “love your body, but only when…” messages.

“Gettin’ kinda chubby” isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a death sentence. Rapunzel–and everyone–should be able to explore the world and see the lanterns regardless of what she looks like. (Although a haircut would make things a bit easier).

Yes, I know Mother Gothel is supposed to be the villain. That if she says something like that, it’s supposed to be a “bad thing,” something viewers should know that “bad people” say. But what if viewers don’t pick up on this? What if they don’t analyze media the way I do? I hate that my daughters or other kids could hear this song and think that being chubby is a fate worse than the plague.

Being chubby shouldn’t be used as an insult or as a reason to stay locked inside a tower. It’s a state of being. It’s a way bodies can look. It’s not good and it’s not bad. It just is.

It’s just beautiful.

Can’t the world just see the light already?



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Magic Lessons

Yesterday morning, I finished the last episode of Season Two of Magic Lessons, author and memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast about overcoming blocks to creativity and engaging in creation more joyfully. Each episode, Gilbert talks to a different individual about what they’re working on and what’s holding them back. Almost every time, the main reason/excuse/culprit is fear:

Fear of putting their whole selves into their poetry.

Fear that they won’t be able to tackle a daunting photography project.

Fear that their second book won’t be as good as their first.

I get afraid.

Here are some things I’ve been scared of lately, things I worry about:

I can’t write anymore.

This book is going to be awful.

The first one was a total fluke.

What if I never sell another book?

I’m such an awful mom.

Why aren’t they listening to me?

Why am I so drained at the end of the day?

Everyone else is doing this parenting thing so much better than me.

Is anyone even reading this blog?

Why isn’t my daughter doing “x” as well as her peers? What’s wrong?

I worry about things. I think a lot.


But I think that’s true about everyone. Everyone gets afraid. Everyone gets stuck.

I admire those people whose natural inclination is to put their full, unedited, genuine self forward into the world. No makeup, no hiding. They step out and don’t worry what other people will think about them. They don’t care.

Then I realize that in my entire life, I’ve only known a few of those people. Most of the people I meet, most of my very best friends, are as messed-up (this is said with the utmost love, of course) as me.

We all have fear holding us back, whether it’s in our creative projects or in other aspects of our lives.


The other thing Elizabeth Gilbert does in her podcast is bring in an “expert” to counsel the featured artist of the week. She’s talked to Brene Brown, Neil Gaiman, Michael Ian Black, and Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), among others. In this last episode, she spoke with Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery fame, whose two books, Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior, are basically my bibles. (Yes, I know–more Glennon love from me. But I found her before Oprah, thank you very much.)

Glennon talked about how she started her blog when she was broken. When she was scared of the world. She talked about how readers always ask her how she grew her blog from a single Facebook post into a website and a movement encompassing millions. She said that she was open. She was scared, but she was vulnerable. And she kept being vulnerable. Because regardless of whether she was reaching thousands of people or ten people, she was still reaching someone. Her blog was still something that those ten people made an effort to seek out, to make part of their day.

Sometimes I don’t know if this blog is reaching anyone.

Then I get confirmation that it has. That it’s changed someone’s life and made them reach out for help. That makes this worth everything. All the self-doubt. All the fear that comes with exposing my own fears and struggles.

It’s okay to be vulnerable. You can even choose your level of vulnerability. I don’t tell people everything about myself. I don’t share all my fears. I don’t share every time I cry or make a mistake. But I am open about my eating disorder. My struggle with self-esteem. How hard I’ve worked to tunnel through all that. How bits of dirt and debris still cling to me from the excavations.

I’m not all the way clean. None of us are, even those no makeup self-esteem goddesses. They’re hiding things. I promise you; you don’t know the whole story.

We all need periodic magic lessons to find our best self. We need to talk to people who understand the fears that come with being human. If you ask for help, if you speak up about your struggle, someone else will learn from you, too. Even if it’s not ten people, it could still be one.

It happens.  .

Last night, I learned that my words helped someone else.

And it means everything in the world to me.



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An Avalanche of Anxiety

I woke up in a good mood today. I woke up happy and relatively (within my own mom of two standards) rested. I worked out. Busied my older daughter with the iPad while I showered. Got my two girls breakfast. There was whining and a tantrum, but that’s normal for a weekday morning. That didn’t stress me out.

Then our cat barfed on the rug. Our cat has barfed on the rug before. She has barfed on the rug many, many times. However, last week our cat had radioactive iodine injected in her to cure her hyperthyroidism. So to clean up the barf, I had to don rubber gloves. I had to double bag the paper towels I used to clean up the barf. I had to use carpet cleaner, which I accidentally sprayed on her food. So I had to double bag the food. And wash out the bowl. Then I had to scrub the rubber gloves with hot water. All while two children piped in with questions and requests for water and OMG I’M TRYING NOT TO TRANSFORM INTO RADIOACTIVE-GIRL HERE!

Before all that, I was in a good mood.

Lots of days, I would have been able to brush off the annoyance. Even with the radioactivity (a sentence opener I don’t get to use very often), I could have moved on with my day.

Today, it stuck.

About a year and a half ago, soon after I weaned my almost three-year-old, I went on an antidepressant for anxiety. Not severe anxiety, but enough that it was interfering with my life. I’m one of the lucky ones in that the first medication I tried worked fairly quickly and I haven’t had any major issues since. I had a lady in CVS compliment my patience and call me a saint a few weeks ago. I still get stressed and have obsessive thoughts, but I haven’t felt that body-tensing, all-consuming anxiety since then.

Today I felt it.

My chest was tight, my limbs stiff. The deep breaths I forced myself to take weren’t working. If I didn’t have anything to worry about, why was I so anxious? What was the reason? There had to be a reason, so I could fix it.

I couldn’t fix it.

Years ago, I would have taken that snowball of anxiety and tossed it down the hill, watching with ever-increasing panic as it grew and grew until an avalanche formed around me. I would have gotten angry at myself and my body. I would have gotten so discouraged that the snow would have buried me completely.

Today, I didn’t do that.

My chest still felt like a snowball, tight, dense, and compact. That snowball was inside of me. I felt it. But I didn’t add anything to that ball. I didn’t keep it inside. I didn’t let it roll away from me, furious and out of control.


I set the snowball out in front of me and looked at it.

Then I invited others to look, too.

I reached out to my best friends.

I posted on Facebook and Twitter.

People responded. About their own anxiety. With hearts and hugs and “I’m here for you.” With “I’m in the same boat” and “I totally get this.” With “Thank you for your honesty.”

Some people attempted to melt my snowball, to smash it on the ground with warmth and light. Some people offered their own snowballs, just as tightly packed and dense as my own.

We put our snowballs together, big and small and somewhere in between.

We built a snowman. A whole village of snow people.

And out of ice and cold came something beautiful: a community.


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Riley’s Story

I’m writing a book about eating disorders. A book where my main character gets sick and goes to treatment. A book where she questions whether she wants to recover and struggles  with her friends moving on without her. A book where she pushes back against the counselors and keeps her true feelings to herself. A book about shame and loss and fear and love.

And hope.

It’s not my journey; my main character is eleven years old. She’s in seventh grade and has a  little sister with a chronic disease.

When I got sick, I was eighteen and in college. Those seven years make all the difference in the world. We come from different backgrounds and different family structures. We have different emotional needs that weren’t met by our families. We did different sports, thought different feelings.

My journey is different than Riley’s.

So much is still the same, though, and Riley is becoming so real to me.

One of the biggest pieces of advice for writers is to “write what you know.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that every book should be an autobiography. The joy of writing comes from research and using your imagination, delving into how others may experience the world and what we can learn from them.

This book isn’t autobiographical, but it’s the closest one of my books has come to being who I was. Who I still am in so many ways.

I’ve left a piece of me in all of the books that I’ve written: my love of crossword puzzles and my summers on Cape Cod. My sadness over friendships that have fallen apart. My questions over what it means to be a female in this society. My doubts about religion.

This is the book that is the most me, though. I still have my journals from when I was in treatment, a stack of books filled with scrawls and scribbles about my deepest darkest fears and the hope that I would someday find my way. I have the binders of handouts we got in treatment, the notes about proper nutrition and the cognitive therapy exercises we did so often.

I remember so many of the people I was sick with. They’re reflected in this book, bits and pieces of each melded into new characters. I remember the nurses and the counselors, from the elderly Southern woman who drove us all crazy with her motherly attitude to the novice staff member who plain didn’t know how to deal with a house full of anxious young women.

2003 and 2004 weren’t so long ago. In some ways, that period of my life feels like forever ago. In other ways, it feels like I was just there, curled up on that couch, girls knitting and crocheting around me, a DVD of My So-Called Life playing on the television, my journal in my hand.

I remember meal-planning and the threat of Boost drinks.

I remember feeling like a lion in a cage, with no way to roar the way I always had.

I remember being scared to tell anyone the truth about how I felt.

I’m telling the truth now. Or I’m trying to. It’s interesting tapping into all these old memories, then morphing them into an entirely different narrative.

This is Riley’s story, not mine, but parts of me will forever be entwined with her.

That’s why it’s scary. Because this is the book and the story that I believe I was meant to tell. I want it to be good. I want it to reassure girls that they’re not alone while not being didactic. I want a story of hope that’s still a story that’s good.

I remember being in treatment and being amazed that other people felt the way I did. That I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t the only one.

Some girls don’t get to go to treatment. They spend way too long feeling alone. They may spend forever feeling alone. I want my book to speak to them, for them to see themselves in Riley, just like I do. They won’t get to meet her until 2018, but I’m getting to know her now. I like Riley. She’s vulnerable and strong and so, so brave.

I’m writing and I’m feeling. I’m reliving and writing and editing and feeling for the girl blossoming on the page. Riley has a long road ahead of her.

We’re walking it together.


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The $70 Lesson

I haven’t posted in a while. Yes, I started out with lofty expectations of at least two posts a week. But life got in the way. Exciting life stuff, which I’ll talk about in my next post. But besides that, I haven’t written in a while because things have been good. Really good. Good at home, good with my husband, good with my daughters. Good with the body image and maybe-kinda-slightly eating disordered thoughts that sometimes softly knock at my door and whisper, “Hey. Remember me? I lived here once.”


No one has been knocking for a long time.

A few weeks ago, I heard something, though. Bang bang! Bang! Bang! The former owner of my brain, the jerk who made me feel so special for so long, poked me in the shoulder.

“Hey. Want to feel special again?”

I really like to run. I really like exercising. It makes me feel strong and capable and energetic. It calms the part of me that can get anxious and gives me an adrenaline boost.

I was also hopelessly addicted to it for a good ten years.

Many times when I was really sick, I wished that I was an alcoholic instead. Or a drug addict. Not that I really wanted to be one, but those illnesses seemed easier to me in a way.

Addicted to alcohol? Give it up. BAM. RECOVERED.

Addicted to heroin? Give it up. BAM. RECOVERED.*

*I am in no way stating that drug addiction is an easy illness to manage or recover from. I am simply stating what my formerly ill mind thought.

Food I couldn’t exactly give up. (Although at that point, I desperately wanted to.)

Exercise I couldn’t exactly give up. (Okay, I could, but I really did enjoy it at the same time that I reviled how it had taken over my life.)

I still struggle with this balance sometimes, how something I really enjoy doing can also take over my mind.


Like it did over the past month.

I did a half marathon last fall and really enjoyed training for it. I enjoyed running it so much that I did early bird registration for another one at the end of next month. Then life got in the way. Not bad things, just busyness. Busyness that made me really not want to stress out about fitting in long runs every weekend. Or following a training plan.

Busyness that was exactly how I envisioned my life would be someday, when I was placed on “activity ban” in a residential treatment facility.

I didn’t want to run this half-marathon because I had a life now. A life that I value and adore. A life with goals other than beating my “old” time.

That’s where the sick part of me comes in. Because there’s another reason I backed out of the half marathon. Because I could already tell, before I had even started training, that I was starting to worry about “beating my time.” About running faster, like running fast is some measure of self-worth. Like if I didn’t get a PR, I’d have failed.

I didn’t like that. I didn’t like feeling myself morph back into SuperRunnerGirl, who feels superior to others in a single bound! I didn’t like how I was starting to see running as the “best” exercise.


THERE IS NO BEST EXERCISE. Sometimes even doing NOTHING is the best exercise.

So I decided that even if I did like running, I didn’t want to run the half marathon. I didn’t want to start training for something that could prove toxic for me.

I wanted to run when I wanted to, without focusing on a specific time or pace.

The only problem was that I’d already bought my number. $80 down the drain. Luckily, I found someone to take it over for $40.


All right. That’s okay. It was fine to sacrifice $40 for my mental health.

So I brushed my hands of the matter, patted myself on the back…and signed up for a 10K.

Yes, you’re totally rolling your eyes at me. I’m rolling my eyes at myself. Because man, my brain is good at tricking itself.


I told myself I was signing up because it was a shorter race that I didn’t have to train for. That I was signing up because my  four-year-old desperately wanted to do a fun run and it’d be great to do something together. Because at least it wasn’t a half. Because races are FUN!

Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right, Jen.

Those were all reasons. In some ways, they were all true reasons. But the bigger reason was that I was still holding on to that old identity of mine: Runner Jen. Jen who achieves. Jen who competes against herself. Jen who needs this “thing” to feel like she’s special.

I don’t like being in that Jen’s head. Which I realized the day before the race, when my husband and I were trying to coordinate race logistics. (With my daughter’s race starting a full hour before mine and him having two kids to keep track while I was running.)

So I decided not to run. $30 more dollars.


Except I’m choosing not to think of it like that. I’m choosing to think of it as money I spent to learn a lesson. Money I invested to see how I’d react in a potentially triggering situation.

And you know what? I was triggered. Maybe not in action (I didn’t go super crazy exercising or start running ten miles a day), but in thoughts. In the thoughts that started out as a wisp of a breeze (“This will be a way for me to prove that I’m good“)* but that I knew had the potential to turn into a tornado that would tear me apart.

*whatever good means.

So maybe I can’t give up food. Or exercise.

But I can give up races. I can live with that.

I closed the door to my sick thoughts before, but maybe I need to seal that door up even tighter.

This is my soundproof barrier.

I don’t want to hear even a whisper.




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Learning to Take My Medicine

I’ve been sick all week. ALL week. I went to a writing retreat this past weekend and apparently, a good number of people returned with the plague.

I’m not good at being sick. I’m not one of those people who whines and moans and acts like they’re on their deathbed, but I am someone who heavily denies being sick until it’s blatantly obvious that I’m hacking up a lung, choking on the unmentionable “stuff” that’s coating my throat, and stumbling around the house with a body that feels more like a concrete block.

This winter, I’ve really had to change my preferred method of operating. Because it hasn’t just been this week in my house. Some illness or another has been infecting us pretty much all winter, cycling from Big Sister to Little Sister to Daddy to Mommy and then back around again. It’s like the worst game of Tag imaginable, where everyone gets a turn to be “It” and the game never ends.

Also, the game involves feeling like crap and watching your loved ones feel like crap.

Boy, do I love winter.


This week was a bit worse than “normal,” though, so my husband went out and bought a massive bottle of Mucinex for us to share. (Because you know the old saying: “The couple that chugs medicine together, stays together.”) And as I tipped that capful of blue liquid into my mouth, I remembered something:

I used to be afraid of taking cough medicine. I used to jump on the computer and look up stuff like “calories in cough drops.” I used to lace up my sneakers and go for a run, even when my head was pounding and my body begged me to crawl back into bed.

I used to see rest as a sin and denial as a virtue. I used to deny myself medicine on the off chance that it would make me “fat” and trust my body to make itself better, all while still pounding it into the ground.

I trusted it (or “said” I trusted it, because really I didn’t trust it in the slightest), but I didn’t do anything to prove that it could trust me.

I forced my body into an unnatural shape and lived a life of constant motion. I said no to cough medicine like it was chocolate cake. I denied it all the deliciousness that life has to offer (both in food and in experience).

I’ve learned over the years that my body is meant for deliciousness. It was meant for growth, in so many different ways.

So this week, I took my medicine.

And even though I’m still sniffling and occasionally hacking, I feel better.

Imagine that.

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Mom Guilt, Part Seven Thousand, Five Hundred, and Two

This morning, soon after my four-year-old woke up, I told her that today’s plan was to go to the trampoline park. She screamed with excitement. I smiled. We got dressed. Then my husband groaned and stumbled out of bed into the bathroom. Soon after, he plopped back down in bed, struck by the same illness I had a few days ago.

Then my two-year-old woke up and turned into a whiny snuggle monster. A whiny snuggle monster with a 101 fever.

And I learned the “Mom Lesson” that I probably should have learned a good three years ago: never tell a child that you’re going somewhere fun until you’re in the car, EN ROUTE TO SAID FUN PLACE.

Because oh, man, was that child disappointed. That child has also been chronically sleep deprived over the past month or so, waking up in the middle of the night once or twice despite NEVER HAVING DONE THIS BEFORE. Which made the letdown so much worse. So now I had two whiny kids on my hands. And a husband in bed.



It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t have a vision in our minds of how the morning was going to go. If I didn’t feel bad for taking that excitement away from her. If I didn’t then have to focus most of my attention on her sister, who needed snuggles and Tylenol and wasn’t very excited at all at the idea of going outside to play.

It’s hard to feel like you’re neglecting a child. It’s even harder to feel like you’re neglecting a child when that child is struggling, too. But tired and whiny isn’t as bad as sick and whiny. So sometimes you have to make a choice. You have to focus your attention in a certain place.

I know that she’ll be okay. I know that it’s just one day. I know that she’s learning about disappointment and that me scolding her about her whining is going to teach her something.

That doesn’t make it any less sucky, though.

Mom guilt, man. It never ends.


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