Diet Fatigue

Maternal-junk-food-diet-may-alter-baby-s-brain-development_strict_xxlI can’t be the only person out there getting fed up with all the conflicting information about what we’re supposed to be eating.  Every week, it seems as though a new superfood is promoted, or a previously innocuous food is suddenly demonized.  Trans fats have finally been recognized for the artery-clogging poisons they are, whereas food scientists are beginning to question whether the saturated fat in red meat is as awful as we’ve been hearing it is for decades.

I’ve been following health news for quite some time now.  Back in high-school, I started to get a little pudgy.  It wasn’t much of a shock… obesity is fairly rampant in my family and I had seen my mother go through countless diets in an attempt to stave off the diabetes and bad knees and other health conditions similarly rampant in my family.  When my pants started getting really tight and the scale numbers ominously began to climb, I tried to nip it in the bud by going on a bona fide diet for the first time.

In those days, fat was seen as the be-all, end-all evil.  Nonfat foods were the rage. Susan Powder’s shaved head belted out the evils of fatty food from the television screen–she had gotten famous for losing tons of weight, transforming from a frumpy housewife to a svelte GI Jane by keeping her fat content extremely low.  When I consulted a nutrition specialist for help with my spreading waistline, she echoed the sentiments of the day by prescribing a strict diet of 10 grams of fat a day along with 70 grams of protein.

Boy, was that tough.  Even a slice of bread contains a couple of grams of fat.  It was pretty much impossible to follow those parameters with real food… you had to dig into specially processed fat-free food products in order to meet your quota of protein.  I ate a LOT of nonfat cottage cheese with canned fruit dumped into it, as well as a LOT of fat-free cheese, which tastes and melts remarkably like day-glo orange plastic.  Cottage cheese is alright, but months of eating it twice a day put me off the stuff for about a decade.

The diet worked, though by the end of it I was starting to hysterically fantasize about eating anything with actual flavor. It was hard to imagine a lifetime of eating the same horrible crap.  By my early twenties, I was starting to get a bit tubby again, but this time, the diet pendulum had swung in a completely opposite direction.  Suddenly, carbs were enemy #1, and the industry’s replacement of protein and fat with empty calorie sugars became the whole basis for America’s obesity crisis. Like one in three Americans at the time, I went on the Atkins diet, ravenously tearing at the bit to try long-lost friends like beef, eggs with the yellow parts included, salty butter, and real cheese.

The Atkins diet kinda worked too, though you’d be surprised how unappetizing a steak begins to sound and how wonderful a piece of bread suddenly seems when you’ve stripped your diet of carbohydrates.  What’s worse is that you completely lose the ability to eat socially.  Hardly any restaurants cater to a non-carb lifestyle, and you can’t enjoy a piece of someone’s birthday cake when a single bite will throw your body out of ketosis. Still, plenty of people I knew had lost a hundred pounds or more by giving up the white stuff.

America’s love affairs with no carbs eventually died down.  Constant reports about the dangers of saturated fat, the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t a good idea to give up fruit, and Mr. Atkins himself dying of heart disease while clinically overweight didn’t help. My next adventure was the South Beach diet, which is fairly balanced and reasonable.  South Beach kept my weight from getting out of control, but I had to wonder if it didn’t work more because it forced you to avoid fast food and processed crap than from any special magic in its theories.

I have read more diet books than I can count and kept up with health reports in the news for decades now.  What can be intensely frustrating is that much of the logic behind the various diets makes perfect sense, yet they all seem to contradict each other.  Not even the food scientists at top universities can agree on what we should be eating.  Remember when eggs were going to give you horrible cholesterol problems?  Now they are considered healthy and we are told there is no link between eggs and cholesterol. Remember when the food pyramid included about 6-11 serving of carbohydrates?  It has been flipped on its head.  You know how fish is a fantastic source of omega-3 oils, which we are sorely missing in the American diet?  Well, they are also packed with mercury and toxins, so we are supposed to avoid them. Except now they are saying the benefits of fish outweight the risks.

Take the Paleo-Caveman diet, for instance.  They make a good point.  Humans were hunters and gatherers for thousands of years, much longer than we have had agriculture.  Farming allowed populations to thrive, but didn’t necessarily make us healthier in the long run.  If we didn’t eat bread and grains for most of human history, then it is flatly illogical to assume we need to have them to survive. If you follow the Paleo method, you can have meat and produce, but you lose dairy, grains, beans, and sugars.

Since humans mostly ate this way for ages, it makes sense.  But on the other hand, life expectancy wasn’t nearly as high as is is now, and even if you attribute that to antibiotics and other medical innovations, it still suggests that our ancestors might have eventually succumbed to heart disease had they not been gored to death by a mastodon or brought down by infectious diseases.  Our ancestors might have been a lot more active than us too, needing to gather berries for hours and hunt wild game rather than sitting at our computers and Playstations being the wonderfully sedentary being we have now become.  So maybe they could handle a few more calories.

At further odds with this theory, though, is the fact that the Mediterranean diet seems to keep people so dang healthy.  The Mediterranean diet is packed with vegetables and beans, and includes dairy and loads of heart-healthy fats.  It seems to forestall heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and all kinds of other nasties we want to avoid.  The problem with the Mediterranean diet is it covers a vast region of different populations, everywhere from the Middle East to Spain to France and Crete, so what are its exact parameters?  I have read books on the Mediterranean diet and many of them suggest crap like fat-free yogurt and dairy, even though I know damn well that Europeans aren’t chowing down on processed fat-free crap the way Americans are.  Apparently, scientists saw that the Mediterranean diet was working out but took it upon themselves to determine what was good about it and want to present us with an altered food plan that brings down the fat levels because they can’t let go of the idea that fat is terrible for you… even though we already made that mistake in the 80’s.

So then we hear that the Mediterranean diet is good for us because we should be eating whole, unprocessed foods like white bread, rice and flour.  That sounds plenty reasonable, except I have spent a good deal of time over in Europe and know folks are in fact eating white bread and flour and are still slimmer and healthier than us.  The French, for example, start each day with a buttery, fluffy croissant or white bread roll smeared with butter, washed down with lashings of hot coffee with full milk included.  They are most certainly NOT eating fat-free cheese. In fact, I would be afraid of mentioning the stuff in their presence.  Yet, they have a longer life expectancy than we do.

The Italians are also living well and they aren’t going out of their way to find wholegrain pasta.  Asians have a great life expectancy and they eat plenty of white rice.  Once I asked a Chinese friend of mine why he thought Asians are so healthy despite all the dietary advice to avoid white rice and I’ll never forget what he said: “The Chinese have been around over 10,000 years and Atkins has been around for 30.”  Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?

Speaking of Asians, apparently lactose intolerance is pretty rampant among Asian populations, as well as among African-Americans.  Europeans are genetically better able on average to handle dairy, which makes sense when you consider that dairy has been a staple in European diets for a very long time and this might effectively weed out folks who can’t stomach it. There are plenty of health studies out touting the great benefits of dairy, and of course also a large anti-dairy contingent that blames dairy for nearly every health issue.  More contradiction.  Is it then possible that various populations have evolved that respond well to different diets?   It makes sense that if a population ate a certain way for thousands of years, the people might adjust to favor that diet… kind of like how the Europeans developed some resistance to smallpox but then inadvertently brought it over to the Americas and devastated the vulnerable Native-Americans with it.

So, maybe differnet genetics favor different diets.  The Eat Right 4 Your Type system touches on this, and I know many people who swear by that diet.  However, if you look at the parmeters of the diets for each blood type, they are so bizarrely restrictive that you can kiss eating out goodbye.  Plus, researchers have debunked its theories left and right.

We can’t agree on dairy and also can’t agree on how much protein we need.  Some researchers are promoting the satiating qualities of protein and claiming its replacement with empty carbs has led to obesity and shortness amongst Americans.  Other researchers, however, are saying most Americans get far more than enough protein without even trying.  You’ve got the vegan contingent claiming our protein needs are overstated and throwing out studies about drastically improved cholesterol and whatnot after giving up animal products.

It’s hard not to be impressed with some of the vegan results.  Add to that, the horrors of the slaughterhouse industry make the idea of a vegan diet sound morally righteous.  The problem, however, is that just because we like the idea of not hurting other living beings in order to live, it doesn’t mean that’s how we were designed.  The fact that it’s very easy to suffer nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet, that there isn’t naturally a solid, non-animal source for B-12, and that no vegan cultures have existed on earth that we know of for any length of time all contradict the idea that we are supposed  to be vegan.  Cavemen didn’t have Brewer’s yeast, Spirulina, and fortified tofu trees at their ready disposal.

Just because we weren’t designed to be vegan, of course, doesn’t mean it can’t be a healthy way to eat.  We have managed to send people to the moon.  We may have figured out our nutritional needs so well that we can be vegan and perfectly healthy though the wonders of modern science. I know that I have personally felt like crap anytime I have experimented with veganism, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for people.  On the other hand, now we have targeted gluten as the next big dietary enemy. The Wheat Belly diet is making waves.

I have no problem with adjusting my diet for a good cause.  Like many other people, I want to be healthy and don’t want to end up miserable and broken down before my time.  But I don’t like to suffer for no reason whatsoever and am starting to fear that whatever  new insights the food scientists are coming up today with will be reversed tomorrow.  Even exercise is coming under scrutiny.  Some studies are reporting that it is good for you but doesn’t help much with weight maintenance, and others are even saying long bouts of cardio, the darling of fitness experts for ages, may be terrible for you in the long run.

On top of all this, one has to wonder about the role of placebo and nocebo effects.  The mind is a terribly powerful thing.  If we are suddenly convinced that wheat is killing us, can we think ourselves sick after eating it?  We have heard about how important one’s optimism is when battling dread diseases… what is it doing to us to start to fear meat, fish, dairy, salt, wheat, fruit, beans, sugars, genetically modified soy, barbecued food, jogging, not jogging,now getting enough protein and getting too much protein?  Are we able to take a bite of food anymore without being afraid it is slowly poisoning us, or alternatively that we have cut so many foods out of our diet that we are becoming grossly deficient in something?  Even vitamin supplements, once thought a good form of nutritional insurance, are coming under scrutiny.

I think I’ve about had it.

Confronting the Stick

pregnancy-testI will never forget that moment, two years ago,  when my husband stood in the bathroom doorway peering at a stick.  “You’re pregnant, ” he told me flatly, “with an alien baby.”

I rolled my eyes… clearly he was making a bad attempt at a joke to release nervous tension.  For a couple of weeks, I had been having bizarre stomach cramps and a thorough search online had revealed that this was often the early signs of pregnancy.  I doubted this was the issue.  My husband and I had only been married about a month and a half, after dating a couple of years, and we hadn’t decided to try for children yet.  After reading about the whole stomach cramps=pregnancy, I had asked him to pick up a test on the way home “just to rule it out.”

After peeing on the little white stick, I begged him to look for me, because the news just seemed too daunting if left unfiltered.  So when he cracked a joke about it, I figured we were in the clear.  Imagine my shock when he showed me the test and I found two pink lines ominously staring back at me… “Umm,” I nervously stammered after a few moments, “I need to go for a walk.”

So, we headed out the door and started walking… Aimlessly, for about two and a half hours.  I didn’t speak for the first hour, just walked off the adrenalin flooding my system with an increasingly rapid pace.  Finally, I looked at him and said, “Well… I guess this is good.  We’re married.  It’s a good time.”   He nodded back at me and we kept trudging along until all our nervousness had been marched out with an uneasy fervor.

I hadn’t decided yet whether or not I wanted children, but now the decision had been made.  Growing up Generation X, we were no longer expected to have children by default.  On the one hand, how amazing to create a whole new person, watch it grow, and leave your legacy.  On the other, children require a tremendous amount of time, money and work.  You are responsible for them for a couple of decades, at least, and who among us has not seen out-of-control kids in public spaces, the wearied and hopeless looks on their overworked parents’ face, or imagined trading our freedom and leisure time for dirty diapers and tantrums?  I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of having children entirely, but I also had never been one of those women that melts at the sight of a newborn or fantasizes about decorating a nursery and knitting booties.

You always hear about how much people love their kids, but deep down, I had wondered if they exaggerated the good stuff and went into denial about the bad.  After all, once you have kids, you can’t put them back. The human species needs someone to reproduce, so was there a mass campaign to convince people that having children would make you utterly fulfilled, when in reality it is a thankless job that saps all your independence and resources while making you an everlasting target of criticism?  You can’t flip on television or the radio without hearing someone talk about all the ways their parents screwed them up, and sometimes it seems people can’t win… you’ve got psychology articles saying you can’t spank or yell at or discipline your kids without damaging them forever yet in the meantime, kids are bullying each other and bringing guns to school… it’s terrifying.

Whenever you hear or read about women’s brains, you hear all this stuff about the maternal instinct, or women’s intuition, or how evolution shaped our wiring to accommodate being a mother above all else.  It leaves you with the impression that pregnancy is a default state for women and therefore we all fall into it with a natural sense of great fulfillment and instinctively know what to do.  That really couldn’t be further from the truth.  It felt very bizarre to contemplate that I had a small being in my body, growing ever larger, crowding my organs, separating my joints, and causing all manner of strange sensations and heartburn.  The niftiness of making a person was offset by the alien sense of having a parasite invade your body and being swept into a process beyond your control. The realization that I would eventually be giving birth filled me with white-hot fear as the screams of thousands of agonized women in labor haunted my imagination.  Suddenly, I had to confront the possibility of tearing from stem to stern and questions about whether I wanted a giant needle jabbed into my spinal cord when D-day arrived.

Pregnancy and childbirth had never been particularly interesting, but now I read obsessively about what miniature organs were developing when and how. You become awash in hormones… feeling livid sometimes at the slightest provocation, overwhelmed to tears by anything remotely sentimental (even commercials) and always intensely vulnerable.  Sometimes you freak out and are later embarrassed by your strange behavior. You suddenly become a whole lot more sympathetic to your parents and how hard this job is… you remember anything obnoxious you ever said or did growing up and nervously wonder how karma plans to wreak vengeance in the future.

Still, you have magical moments that shake you from your former complacency and delight you, like seeing your baby’s face on an ultrasound and watching bumps ripple across your belly.  Becoming a parent is intimidating, but you also know that all you can do is try your best to do a good job… since you aren’t a drug addict or felon or sociopath, things could be a lot worse for the little tyke.

Sometimes I think the idealized parenting hype does more harm than good.  As a women, for example, I grew up thinking I was supposed to delight in the sight of newborns and dream of motherhood above all else. When you don’t find yourself awash in maternal instinct, you wonder if you’re not cut out for the job.  I think one point that gets lost is that it’s really quite different when it’s YOUR child.  Even if you’ve stifled a yawn at every baby photo that came before, you will probably think your child is the coolest, cutest being in the universe.   You will probably be so taken with your little infant that you will eventually bore the crap out of everyone around you with photos of them breathing and staring at the wall, even if everyone else pretends to be just as fascinated as you are.

For me, the maternal instincts kicked in the moment I awoke from my emergency C-section, looked a few feet over, and saw my daughter’s glistening eyes staring back at me from her baby tray.  A glistening of light reflecting off her shiny eyes and the consciousness of a brand new person staring back at me… part of me, but also someone different, reflecting back.  Bonding.  I had spent the entire pregnancy uncomfortable and terrified, but now the entire universe made more sense.  Everything else seemed insubstantial… THIS is what it was really about.  So many meetings at work about how the new X627 form should be constructed and filled out, petty debates with coworkers, irritation at drivers who meander aimlessly on the road… all these snapshots of daily human trials and tribulations suddenly felt absurd as I felt my place in the giant mysterious Universe.  All species, growing, evolving and strategizing have been planted with this driving force to replicate themselves, care for their offspring, and see that Life continues.  I had created a new human being and knew I would throw myself on a grenade to protect her.  Awash in a flood of Love and the sense that I had done my cosmic part to fulfill our human destiny, I would now raise and protect this vulnerable little being and even if I made mistakes along the way, it would be okay because ultimately, there now was a little person that didn’t exist before.

Maybe it’s a grand delusion… this sense of overwhelming importance we attach to a little baby, who is but one in millions and millions that have existed before. Maybe it’s nothing but practical instinct that floods our brain with happy chemicals to convince us to fulfill our biological imperative.  But does that matter?  It is the beginning of deep bonding for our fellow beings, an oasis of love and connection we feel for others in a vast ocean of human selfishness. This seed of caring for other people is an escape from the oppressive prison of Self.

What It’s Like to Have Kids

The agony and the ecstasy.
The agony and the ecstasy.

Yesterday, I went to check on my 20-month-old daughter, who had been napping, and suddenly found myself confronting a dirty diaper outside the crib, a giant turd on the floor, and a naked baby who had smeared her poop all over herself, the crib, the bedding, and every surrounding stuffed animal.  It was one of those days… when you find yourself elbow-deep in someone else’s feces and contemplating the best way to approach an entire room suddenly smeared with hazardous material. Not a situation I routinely faced before having a baby.

It wasn’t long after that I received an email from a friend asking me about what it’s like to have children.  She and her husband have been married several years and have been contemplating whether or not to make the leap into parenthood while there is still time.  Answering her the best way I could (by listing some of the pros, cons, and factors I would consider) led me to reflect on the past couple of years: how my life has changed, what surprised me about parenting, and what I’ve learned so far from watching a newborn morph into a toddler.

Since I waited until my thirties and a second (more stable) marriage to procreate, I’m probably in a good position to describe this new reality.  After all, I spent an entire decade in childless adult independence, unlike people who had children shortly after leaving home themselves.  By contrast, single folks (or childless couples) may have notions about what it’s like to be parents from observing the world around them, but you really don’t understand the experience until you have done it firsthand.  I didn’t used to understand People With Children myself, always wondering why we couldn’t seem to relate to one another.  Now I get it.

First off, parenting is more exhausting and frustrating than you could possibly imagine.  People routinely refer to their dogs or cats as their babies, for example, but it’s not a very apt comparison.  I’m not saying they don’t adore their pets to pieces (I love animals myself), but the amount of work and responsibility that goes into caring for children is absolutely all-consuming.  Let’s just begin by examining the poop issue… Your dog will start crapping outside after a few weeks of training, and your cat will naturally use a clean litter box (barring any medical problems).  Your baby, however, will come out the door pooping from ten to fifteen times a day, and you will personally be responsible for cleaning out every turd-epoxy spackle from every crevice, containing poop floods that squish out of diapers and into clothing, which occur in public as well as in private, for several years.

Your dog or cat naturally avoids its own feces, but human being are apparently different. Whereas a cat will cover up her turd with obvious disdain, a baby will be curious about it and happily squish it in her fingers, smear it on her face and paint the room with it. I’ve heard that infant boys will pee straight in your face.

Several months ago, my daughter decided she didn’t like diapers anymore, though she has no idea what potties are for, and began stripping her diaper off with nimble fingerwork before running around squealing, crapping and peeing anywhere she stood with utter abandon.  We upped the tech on her diaper by putting it on backwards, so the pull-tabs were in the back.  This worked for a while, but humans are crafty animals, and she eventually sorted it out. So, next we made sure to keep pants on her at all times.  This also worked for a time, but then she mastered the two-step process of removing the pants, THEN the diaper.  Now we keep  onesies on her that button behind her head.  It’s currently working, but I have no doubt that she will in due time master this new technology.

Human complexity means that infants will remain in a relative state of dependency for a long, long, time, whereas pets will practically become adults in a few months.  This means your child will cry, agonizingly loud, for hours on end, on a daily basis, because he or she cannot communicate what he or she needs.  Being parents, you will be biologically wired to respond to this cry… your blood will run cold, your frustration levels mount astronomically quickly as you struggle to figure out how to help the baby, and you will be tremendously embarrassed when this happens in public.  And it will.  Without notice.  You may in a restaurant, having finally gotten your food. You may be in a grocery store with a packed shopping cart.  You may have been waiting for ages in line while on some necessary errand, and your kid will suddenly start shrieking at the top of its lungs, oblivious to the reproachful stares you are suddenly receiving from everyone in the vicinity. You can’t make the baby stop, yet you can practically feel the thoughts of multiple bystanders: why aren’t they doing something? How obnoxious… Why did they have to bring their baby?

Thus you face a painful choice between routine public humiliation or living under self-imposed house arrest for many years, until your child is old enough to behave predictably.  On top of this, you are exhausted. Everyone has heard jokes about never getting any sleep once you have a baby, but until you have experienced the slow burn of waking up multiple times a night, for months and months on end, it’s hard to imagine how frayed your nerves will become, what near-hallucinatory levels of fatigue you will reach.  Sometimes you have to put the screaming baby in its crib and walk away for a while, just to calm down and collect yourself.  You wonder if you’re a bad parent for needing to do this. You wonder why your child is so upset and whether it’s your fault.

When things got really stressful at work, I used to be able to go out for a couple of pints with my buddies.  We could bitch and moan about our jobs or relationships while getting a pedicure.  Maybe we could go dancing that night, down a shot or two and revel in the freedom of it all. Our pets were fine till we got home–after all, the food and water dishes were full.  Not so with a baby at home.  If you want to blow off steam or have a date night, this becomes an incredibly elaborate scheduling ordeal.

And since humans are so damn clever, it makes supervision a nightmare at times.  Toddlers have a frightening temperament combining insatiable curiosity with an utter lack of understanding about the consequences of their actions.  This means they will dump the contents of every drawer or box they encounter.  They will immediately head for every electrical outlet, precarious ledge or hot curling-iron. Just when you think you’ve childproofed the house in every way possible, they will find a novel way of conducting entropy experiments or dialing random people on your cell phone.  I’ve struggled with the baby for hours before finally sitting down with a cup of tea and a moment’s rest, only to catch a midget hand out of the corner of my eye pop up and dump a pile of filthy lint into the teacup.  Last week, I lifted the toilet lid to see a pile of random objects floating in the bowl.  Once, I walked into the bathroom to find my daughter covered in my best makeup, which she had also used to paint the walls, the counters, and grind into the pale carpet.

My daughter recently figured out how to push a dining chair to the kitchen counters, pull plates out of the cabinet, and drop them on the floor, creating a massive circumference of broken glass strewn across the kitchen floor, trapping her in a prison of pointy shards. Once, she managed to remove a poopy diaper then dragged her chocolate-pasted butt down the white-carpeted stairs in order to wipe it.  Last week, she angrily THREW A DIAPER FULL OF POOP AT HER FATHER.  It was vengeance… Monkey-style.  We are not even sure what prompted this fecal retaliation.

Our cats have shown enormous patience in the face of this crazed little being.  She loves the kitties, but has no sense of boundaries.  So she endlessly chases them, crawls up their cat trees after them, pulling their tails, yanking their whiskers, and patting them way too forcefully.  Somehow, the cats seem to understand this behavior as immature rather than an obvious declaration of war, and have mostly ran away from her, only lightly peppering her arm once or twice.

I’m sure you’ve heard the countless jokes about kids being on a sugar high, although it’s a persistent myth that sugar acts like a kind of amphetamine on a little kid.  Of course, it isn’t healthy to feed your children loads of sugar (or adults, for that matter), but the crazed behavior you see is simply excitement.  Kids NATURALLY behave like midgets on PCP.  Life would be so much easier if toddlers only raced around like hallucinating Tasmanian devils when fed a dose of sugar, but the truth is: they by default always have this energy, which is far, far more than you have had in years, and you will be completely worn out from chasing after them, day after day.

My daughter recently developed a toothpaste addiction.  At some point, she must have sampled it and decided it was Baby Crack.  Now we have to be very careful with the toothpaste… setting it down too close to the edge of the counter while drifting off in thought means that a tiny hand will immediately snatch it and we will have to chase her, squealing, as she runs while squirting as much toothpaste into her mouth as she can manage.  Once, we found a half-squeezed tube buried under the stuffed animals in her Pack-n-Play.

So, childless couples may think parents are very BORING and that Everything is Suddenly About the Kids.  In a way, this is true, because suddenly you have to consider the kids when contemplating doing absolutely anything. There is a considerable loss of time and freedom. Things take longer than they used to… you never know when your child is going to have a meltdown, or fight with you to not put clothes on, or spray the room with buckets of poop. You tend to get closer to other parents because they become People Who Know What You’re Going Through.  You start losing patience with your childless friends for complaining about a coworker that got to leave twenty minutes early because her child started projectile vomiting in a complete circle, or about how their date was too uninformed about the latest Indie bands. 

Having children can also make or break a relationship.  You’re going through a tremendously stressful experience, when tempers are raw.  You can work as a team, or turn on each other like the cornered, exhausted animals you are.  My husband and I got closer after braving the rigors together because shared hardships can do that, but I’ve known many people who split up after having kids.  It’s really unfortunate, because you can really use a partner when going through something this (I don’t know how single parents manage!), but the strain it can bring to your relationship becomes too much for many people. It’s much harder to be romantic and spontaneous, and you will see each other at your worst… but it can also bring you together.

Yet there is another side to this, of course.  No matter how unaffected by cute baby pictures you might have been in the past, it’s different when it’s YOUR baby.  You know that everyone on this earth has been born, but it truly becomes a miracle when you experience it firsthand.  This person did not exist before, and you MADE them. You see the baby develop on ultrasounds, and there’s this moment, after struggling for hours in ungodly pain in the delivery room, or braving the terror of a C-section, that your eyes meet your child’s eyes for the first time and you know that for the rest of your lives, you will mean more to each other than you could ever express.  The evening after my daughter was born, I stared into her little shiny eyes and started bawling, because I loved her so, so much that I didn’t know what to do with all that feeling. Then they squeeze your finger, and fall asleep on your chest, so trusting and vulnerable, and you realize that this tiny person will love you for the rest of your life, and you them.  It’s an intimidating responsibility, but also amazing.

As the baby grows, it is sometimes  tremendously difficult, but you also have moments that make it all worthwhile.  You see them struggle and wobble and try desperately to stand up, then one day… they stand proudly, and look into your eyes, and beam.  They snuggle into you, are so happy to see you, and it’s incredible to watch them learn something new… say a new word, use a spoon, start uncontrollably clapping and dancing when they hear music.  Things about which you have long since grown blase are exciting and new to your child, and some of their astonishment makes you remember.  They feel so intensely, their obvious delight at the fall of rain or the sight of a new kitten reminds you of when the world was glorious, wonderful, and mysterious.  Plus, they crack their own baby jokes, which can be hilarious.  One time my husband accidentally let one rip, and the baby started howling, pointing at her dad and blowing raspberry sounds.

Having children isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always the right time, age, or relationship for people to be ready for them.  Sometimes you are so at wit’s end, all you can do is vent your frustrations on a blog. Like this. But then sometimes, it is so miraculous and wonderful, that you want to share the beauty of it all to anyone near you, even if they don’t get quite what all the fuss is about.

What are White Women thinking?

What are we doing to ourselves?
What are we doing to ourselves?

Picking up the house this morning (which mostly consists of containing the nonstop trail of debris from my toddler), I was listening to the Bethenny Frankel talk show in the background. I know, I know… It isn’t the most intellectually stimulating program, but it provides some fun light entertainment while I’m tooling around, doing boring-but-necessary chores.

Today, Loni Love was on the show. She is a black comedienne and was discussing dating and guy friends with Bethenny. What struck me was her unbelievable and infectious confidence. At one point, she said “I’m 240 [pounds] and can get any guy in this room!” before approaching a cute guy in the audience and flirting with him, much to his obvious delight.

Now, I’m not saying that weighing 240 pounds is the healthiest place to be physically, but not allowing your weight to make you feel like less of a person, not allowing it to put your life (or even your love life) on hold, seems very emotionally healthy. Loni was confident, charismatic, and attractive… A striking contrast to friends of mine who have moped around publicly in sweats, openly whining about their weight whenever they have put on a few pounds.

It put me in mind of Loni’s white counterpart, Melissa McCarthy, who cleans up real nicely but always plays the slapstick comedienne, never an attractive woman whose charms are to be taken seriously by her audience. Hell, even gorgeous Kate Winslet was constantly humiliated with fat jokes, and she’s only fat compared to abnormally thin celebrities.

You hear the black and Latino communities like their women bigger than the white community, and it makes me wonder whether black women are more confident because of better acceptance within their community or whether there is more acceptance because black women are more confident. For example, Niecy Nash wore a fat suit for her role in Reno 911, not because they asked her to, but because she said she had grown up associating women in roles of authority as bigger, more physically substantial. I doubt any white actresses would take it upon themselves to adopt a fat suit.

It seems to me that fashion is based on norms and context. By that, I mean american society generally prefers slender women, but what “slender” means changes over time. Actresses in the 1940’s and 1950’s had hourglass figures–they weren’t overweight, but they were not nearly as thin as celebrities today.

Many women are understandably frustrated by the supermodel physique. Supermodels tend to be about six feet tall and weigh barely over one hundred pounds. They have narrow hips rarely seen on a woman over age 16, and drugs and eating disorders are rife in the industry.

But are women themselves, particularly white women, partly to blame for this crazy ideal? Swimsuit models, for example, are impossibly fit and buxom, but they are still meatier than high fashion models, who are usually rail-thin and built like Olive Oil. And women are the main audience for fashion models. We keep buying the magazines that keep us in a perpetual state of not feeling good about ourselves.

It has never made much sense to me that men are the ones with the crazy sex drive, yet women are the ones breaking themselves to always be thin enough, busty enough, plucked, waxed, and manicured within an inch of their lives… while most men are barely grooming themselves beyond sniffing the armpits of the shirt they are considering wearing. This seems to defy the basic rules of supply and demand: women have the supply, men have the demand, so why are we wrecking ourselves to be attractive enough?

It’s also interesting that black women deal with the twin evils of sexism and racism, so you would think their confidence would be even more under assault than white women’s, yet they seem to, as a group, feel less pressure to conform to ridiculous standards.

Why are white women making their lives so difficult?