Maybe around the time I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was preoccupied with the dark freckle that took up residence just left of center on my nose. It was hard not to be worried about this smudge of melanin.
Hey, Kristen, you’ve got dirt on your nose!
Oh, let me get that, there’s a fly on your face.
Hardee har har. These were the jokes of my classmates, usually boys. I thought it was awful. I was embarrassed and self-conscious about my face.
And then I got boobs—way earlier than most of my friends—and realized that that tiny little speck paled in comparison.
Unwanted attention? What an understatement.
And yet here I am, at forty years old, and I find that it hasn’t changed, both the unwanted attention and my utter discomfort with it. You see, I am “fortunate”—a benchmark largely set by society, it seems, and certainly not me—to have a large chest. I hate it. A lot of it is the result of some (OK, lots) of
post-baby post-first grader weight that I never lost, but most of it is just genes and pure dumb luck. I hate it. I can’t wear most button down shirts. I can’t wear anything too low cut and have to be careful with certain cuts of bathing suits because otherwise it seemingly sends a message that I am not even transmitting. I can’t even wear a modest tank top in the sweltering summer heat without wondering whether I’m too “out there”. I hate it.
Let me give you a very recent example. I went to the grocery store last week to get a few odds and ends, the least of which included some half and half for our morning coffee ritual. Happy to be able wander the aisles alone for a change, I sauntered and enjoyed the solitude. It was a hot summer day outside and the air conditioning felt wonderful on my skin. As I approached the dairy aisle, I could feel my skin responding to the colder air, including under my shirt. I was, in effect, smuggling raisins now (as my beloved friend so aptly put it one day long ago). Ladies, you know what I mean.
Crap, I thought. I just want to get this half and half quickly and get out of here and back outside in my car.
But as I darted toward the milk section, I felt two sets of eyes on me watching my every movement. These eyes belonged to two male customers, and they were hoping to catch a glimpse of my breasts. The hair on my neck rose and my face became flush with embarrassment. Their staring was palpable.
Oh by the way, this is what I was wearing:
Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think I could’ve gotten any more modest for a hot July day.
Almost any woman can tell you: this is not wishful thinking, these kinds of men staring. This is where so many men’s eyes go, it seems. Instinctively or inquisitively, I don’t know. Half the time I don’t even think they realize they are doing it, but there are other times when it is more than overt.
We’ve all had it done to us, and for me, I can’t think of any time when I’ve actually wanted it. At least not in the dairy aisle. Or work. Or the subway. Or going for a run. Or asking a question after class. Or standing in line to buy stamps at the post office, while I ‘m wearing my wedding ring, no less. Or walking into the library with my 6.5 year old daughter holding my hand.
Don’t get me wrong. This is just the short list of locations, the ones where I’m fully clothed. Let’s not get started about what happens at the beach.
I’m not implying that sexual or physical attraction must be stunted whole hog. No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m talking about are the times when we women are just going about our business and want nothing more.
The thing of it is is that I am not even sure how to handle this or what the best solution is. I can’t put these things away. I don’t want to wear five extra yards of fabric just because someone can’t keep his eyes averted at the supermarket. I don’t want to hear that schools have to change their dress code to accommodate the uncontrollable nature of some male students. I don’t want to be taken less seriously because I have these two wonderful gifts that fed my daughter for thirteen months. I don’t want to have to feel violated just by walking around, especially when I have a husband at home who was given priority seating in this regard long ago.
I don’t want this kind of discomfort for me, and I certainly don’t want this for my daughter who will be going through her own body changes in just a few short years. Does it feel worse or more prevalent to me now because I am a mother of a young girl, or was it always like this? Are there more wandering eyes these days because having fleshy women sell everything from shoes to beer to music has become the new normal? Has it become expected that we—us regular women just trying to buy a bit of cream to soften the blow of our morning coffee—are considered fair game for ogling now too? Goodness, I hope not. Otherwise, I am going to have to learn how to drink my coffee black.
But the thing is, I tried that. It’s too bitter that way, figuratively and literally. I like a bit of dairy in my coffee, and I like not having to accommodate the inabilities of others to control themselves. So when I go to the dairy aisle to get the cream, here is some advice for you men out there who think you’re sneaking a peek on the sly: we see you. We know what you’re up to and you need to stop. You need to stop for the sake of your wives and girlfriends, sisters and friends, mothers and daughters. It’s that simple. There is a time and a place for everything, and the grocery store is not the place nor the time. Neither is the bank nor the tire shop nor the ice cream stand nor the park. So conduct yourselves accordingly, and perhaps then we might notice you.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
She caught my eye immediately. With chunky, dimpled thighs that shook when she walked, she held her father’s hand and tried to keep up as they looked for an empty chair near the pool. She couldn’t have been older than three years old. Her hot pink ruffled bathing suit fluttered with each step as she cautiously eyed the water, now bustling with many noisy children enjoying a post-dinner, pre-bedtime swim. She stayed very close to her father. She was wary, and maybe a bit worried too. But her older sister, maybe eleven or twelve, was already jumping into the pool. She clearly did not need her father anymore. My gaze went back to the little one. I was reminded of how M was that age when we started visiting this special place every year. I was jolted by the knowledge of how far we’ve come since then.
That was the scene in the clubhouse pool where we were on vacation two weeks ago. My husband, M, and I were already swimming when I took this all in. My mind drifted, as it has a tendency to do when in a room full of people I do not know. It dawned on me that, when in a place with other families with children of various ages, my eye always drifts towards the children who are younger than my own daughter (who’s just two months shy of seven). I almost never seem to watch the children who are immersed in the tween and teenage years.
Why is that?, I wondered.
It’s not baby lust. No, I settled that account long ago.
I’ve pondered this over the past few nights. I think it’s because it gives me some perspective, if not relief, to see how far we’ve come from those truly challenging first years. There’s no doubt that there’s now less of a physical toll taken each day, what with all the lifting and carrying that must be done at the start. The unexpected, unpredictable pendulum swings of emotion have largely evened out, for both her and me. I can see that we’ve survived so much, and intact at that. If raising a child were like being in Girl Scouts, I feel like I would have earned the lion’s share of patches by now. There really aren’t too many patches left, though they are arguably going to be the most difficult to endure and acquire.
But it’s more than these things. By looking at our past through the lens of other younger children, I feel like I can appreciate the now of where we are this very moment. I appreciate that she still sidles up next to me for a snuggle or a book, though her body much leaner, more limber now. I appreciate that she still wants to hold my hand but doesn’t have to run to keep up. I appreciate that she sometimes needs help sorting through the tangled knots of understanding friendships or fractions but has enough confidence in herself to figure it out alone much of the time now. I appreciate that her silly, pumpkin smile flashes often and without abandon.
Above all, I feel like I appreciate the relative slowness of time passing right this very moment. It’s much like the hazy, humid days of summer, when you’ve got your feet in the kiddie pool and a lemonade in your hand. You don’t have to move. Everything you need is right in front of you, and the day takes forever to pass. That’s what this age feels like to me. It’s calm and balmy. The air is sticky and sweet. It’s not stormy and unpredictable like the toddler and teenage years.
I think that’s why I am almost fearful of looking at the children older than my daughter. I don’t want to see the blank stares and shoulder shrugs they give their parents. I don’t want to see the almost total lack of physical contact or desire for affection on the part of those children. I don’t want to see the failed attempts at understanding one another. I don’t want to see tempo of time tick faster as it seems to do after children reach a certain age.
Is this turning a blind eye my denial that these years are coming? Perhaps a little bit. But more than that I think it’s an overwhelming appreciation for right now. How good it is right this very moment with a child who can do so much independently and yet who still needs . . . no, wants . . . my guidance, wisdom, and insight. How good it is with a child who is comfortable in her own skin, whether she’s by my side or not.
I’m standing in a very magical place right now, and I know it. A lovely, long plateau—I think, I hope—if you will. There is a sweetness and innocence in the air around me. The light is beautiful from where I stand. I can see clearly in all directions, both from where I’ve come and where I’m likely to go. But for me, I realize that the view at my feet and of the footsteps behind me allow for so much gratitude, perhaps more than the uncharted trails ahead.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I am just back from our annual family/friend vacation in New Hampshire. As in just back three hours ago. There are two posts brewing in my mind from that trip, but they need a little space and less laundry giving me the stink eye before I can get those thoughts to gel more cogently. Suffice it to say, pool and lakeside people watching lends itself to some very good material for writing. More to come on that front soon.
Instead, I wanted to share some of the things that are making me smile on this summer vacation which, so far, is only nine days old. But still. I can tell they will be summer staples, and so I thought I’d share.
Athleta Sweet Sport Skort (and Printed Sweet Sport Skort) I’m not sure if it was turning 40, but something about this year has made me want to wear fewer shorts and more skirts and dresses during the summer. Except they are not always practical when I need to be a bit more active and “show a little leg” in the process. Getting on rides at Storyland—and getting wet on said rides—is a very recent example. I feel self-conscious in shorts (and also my perimenopausal body), and more so in skirts which might blow up and reveal the granny underwear that often lurks beneath. Well, thank you, Athleta, for these skorts! They have changed my life. Athleta has many styles and lengths of skorts, and I’ve only tried the Sweet Sport version so far (they make a Sweet Sport Skort Active version which is about 2.5 inches shorter than the one I am wearing, which is just Sweet Sport Skort). I bought one in black and one in granite grey stripe and I have been wearing them virtually nonstop. They are beyond comfortable and forgiving, and you can look sporty or fairly polished depending on shirt/shoes that you choose. It has a pocket on the bottom of the right hem where my iPhone conveniently fits, which is insanely helpful. I also sweat fairly easily and thankfully they are really good at wicking away moisture and drying quickly (i.e. after the log flume ride or hot mountain hikes). Highly recommend. I also noticed they are on sale for less than what I paid, so that’s a plus too.
Other than ice water, hands down favorite thirst quencher this summer is VitaCoco Coconut Water Lemonade.
Want something pretty and fizzy to serve at your BBQ? Fentimans Rose Lemonade is so lovely and great on ice. I might try to liven it up for a party with a splash of vodka, but it’s really wonderful all on its own. Unusual but yummy taste, with a kick of ginger and rose oil. Would make a special little hostess gift too, I think.
My go-to summer cocktail has been simply this: shot of vodka (loving Reyka from Iceland right now), hearty pour of tonic water, and quarter of a lime.
I have been living in my Teva Olowahu flip flops this summer. It’s my first pair of flip flops that have more than one strap, and I admit was skeptical at first, but once I put them on my feet? Pure comfort. I happened to buy mine via Zappos.com where I purchased a two-pack: one in black on black, and the other in Hideaway purple. Honestly I have only worn the purple ones pretty much nonstop.
I’ve set aside a few books specifically for summer reading. I’ve already finished After the Sour Lemon Moon, by Denise Parsons. I really enjoyed this novel and intend to write a separate blog post about it in the coming weeks. But suffice it to say that I was enchanted with the central character’s story from the beginning. It’s a first person perspective, something I don’t recall having read much of over the past few years (other than memoirs and one novel). I liked how this story unfolded, and the prose and imagery was really quite lovely. It’s also the first time I’ve ever purchased a print-on-demand book. I must say, the whole process was easy/efficient (it arrived very quickly) and was printed in a heft of paper that I was delighted to see (read: not chintzy!). And just a side note here: this is the second book that I purchased because of getting to “know” the person/author via social media BEFORE knowing about the book (the first occasion was with Jessica Vealiztek’s The Rooms are Filled). I have followed Denise Parsons on Instagram (@chezdanisse) for a while now and she follows me there too; she is so lovely and thoughtful in her photos, as well as her blog, that I thought I couldn’t miss with her first novel either. I was spot on in my assumption. Anyway, I mention this to give a hat tip to how social media really can open up the door for authors and writers in ways that one might not expect.
Lastly, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, my migraine situation means no more nuts, chocolate, or peanut butter (among other things) for me. This basically means that I cannot eat ANY of my favorite flavors of ice cream anymore, which is hugely depressing. Except that I have found at least one really good stand in at the grocery store: Stone Ridge Creamery ice cream in Salted Caramel. On the premium ice cream spectrum I wouldn’t say it’s at the top in terms of creaminess, but taste? Yes. The caramel is quite good, at least insofar as it’s standing in for peanut butter, and there’s plenty of it. I’m still on the hunt for other flavors this summer, but this one is keeping my attention right now. And, OK, if you want to be “healthy” once in a while, you can’t go wrong with Haagen-Dazs Zesty Lemon Sorbet, which I ate pretty much daily by the GALLON when I was pregnant with M . . . gulp . . . seven summers ago.
What’s got you smiling this summer?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Today is M’s last day of Kindergarten, and a half day at that. The school year has been in wind down mode since about two weeks ago, what with a class walk to the ice cream shop and lots of outdoor time to pass the days and all. You can sense the anticipation of summer break among the children, their teachers, and the parents. We are more than ready.
I could talk about the things she learned in the classroom this year, like how to read or add and subtract numbers. I could talk about the physical changes that she underwent over the past 9+ months, like losing eight teeth in the span of five weeks (oh my, that was rough!) or growing almost three inches and one shoe size. I still can’t believe I have a child that weighs 50 pounds. I could talk about the new territory of budding (and flailing) friendships or socializing with many more kinds of kids than she’s ever had to prior to Kindergarten.
Yes, Kindergarten and being six years old offers much time for exposure, experience, and excitement. But those are actually not the important takeaways, at least for me, from this year of Kindergarten life.
No, the most important, impressive thing I’ve seen took place on the monkey bars.
I’ve watched this little girl go from barely being confident enough to leave my side to stride over to the monkey bars—where there is a lot of movement and noise generated by dozens of children every morning, some of them much bigger and older than her—to now being able to swing along the entire length of bars.
She first started out trying on the younger children’s playground at school.
But soon scrapped that plan to aim for the bigger set on the other playground.
These aren’t your stationary monkey bars, mind you. The bars swing from chains, giving them an added dimension of complexity. Once in a great while the older, taller children like to push them so that they swing while a (usually) younger child is approaching. For someone who does not like crowds, noise, or high action surroundings, this was certainly not her ideal set up. But, for some reason, she wanted to give them a go.
It took her many, many months to work her way from only just reaching out to grab the first, elusive bar to feeling confident enough to let go and reach for the second. She worked on it every morning, save for the days of inclement weather when the children were inside before school. She only had about ten to fifteen minutes to practice until the whistle rang, but that’s what she chose to do. She wasn’t interested in playing chase or talking with her friends. She wanted to master this feat.
There were a lot of falls to the ground. There was a sea of children, the same age/grade as her, who could do the entire length (and back!) without any effort it seemed. She was the only one who could do just two bars. One, two, drop. One, two, drop. Weeks and weeks of only that. Sure, many other children probably cannot do any of the bars, but they simply weren’t over there trying, and so it looked like she was the lone child who couldn’t master this childhood rite of passage. I am envious of her inborn set of blinders.
It didn’t matter to her. She didn’t give up.
She was determined and focused in a way that, quite frankly, took me aback. At least considering the anxious, tentative child that she was (and still sometimes is) in the years before this one. She learned how to tell the older children blocking the bars with their game of tag to move out of her way. She found her voice to tell the bigger children that it is not OK to cut the line. She learned how to fall, and pick herself back up, with grace and resolve.
And then, one day late this spring, after a weekend trip down to the schoolyard to show her how to get the body momentum needed to reach the third, she did it. She wasn’t just reaching, grabbing, and then dropping. She was actually climbing. Then more success followed during school day mornings and lunchtime recess. She reached the fourth. Then the fifth and sixth.
And, finally, the elusive last bar. Number seven. She did it. Just days before the final week of school, but she did it, and was already turning herself around to start working on her return trip.
While we were camping over Father’s Day weekend, she showed me her hands. They have callouses forming on them now. They are the physical manifestation of confidence, determination, strength, and perseverance. They are badges of courage for putting herself out there, not knowing if she will really ever achieve her goals or if someone might laugh when she falls. They are little pads of protection for the future challenges that lie ahead.
These, to me, are the most important things for her to learn right now, and I’m so glad she did.
I have learned a similar lesson myself this year, at least when it comes to my endeavors of writing, which are still very nascent. I’ve had to learn how to tune out the noise around me of those who seemingly have more success than I do. I’ve had to pick myself up after many, many rejections and falls. I’ve had to keep at it and persevere with a determination that, thankfully, seems to be unassailable when it comes to this drive to write. I’ve had to learn how to do this in the face of others not understanding or caring much about this path I’ve started down.
I’ve had to wait for callouses to form on my own hands, so to speak.
It’s starting to pay off, all this effort. I was proud to have a piece published on the NYT Motherlode earlier this month. And today, you’ll find me with another piece on Literary Mama, writing about some of what my life as a secular/atheist parent has been like so far.
Maybe these kinds of writing accomplishments will be short-lived. Maybe it is all pure dumb luck. Maybe it’s my fifteen minutes of fame and nothing more. Whatever it is, I’ll take it as it comes.
But, just like my daughter, I’m going to keep reaching for that last bar until I get there.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
“The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” – Navis (Steve Martin) in The Jerk
The sound of the rotary dial, tick tick ticking down the numbers. We only had to dial seven digits back then, but with the exchange being “679″, those numbers could still take a while.
The full body hug offered by the springlike snake of the phone cord—avocado in color, Anaconda in length—wrapping around me while I talked on the phone with my grandparents. Winding, unwinding, winding while I told them about my day.
Conversation location: kitchen or bedroom.
Seeing one of my parents drop to their knees when they learned that one of their own parents had died. Tethered, unable to escape with the tears and wails to another room, uncomfortably imprisoned in the kitchen instead.
When we moved out of that house in New York, my fingers barely fit inside the digit holes of the dial.
I knew the phone numbers of all my friends. By heart.
Calls during reasonable hours only, please. Is 9AM too early on a Sunday?
Eventually we upgraded to a push button, with touch tone. Fancy.
Piecing together the latest neighborhood gossip while my mother talked on the phone. You can figure out a lot with only one side of the information. Who has the chicken pox, how many brownies to bring to the picnic, when the school recital starts.
The yells across the house, “There’s a call for you!”, increasing in volume and irritation when one of us did not answer that we were “Coming!” or “I got it upstairs!”
The daily, if not hourly, ring of the telephone, almost tangible as I imagined the hammer striking the bell inside with each festive “Answer me!”
The awkward moments when a boy called for the first time, and I waited patiently for the receiver while the caller had to wade through the imposing voices of my parents who answered.
Telephone books. Yellow Pages. White Pages. Booster seats on the cheap.
Stealth surveillance from a bedroom phone. Careful not to breathe too heavy, now. They might hear you.
Not knowing ahead of time who was on the other end. Exciting, awkward, anxiety-provoking. Happy surprises, uncomfortable letdowns.
Answering each call because there was no machine to pick it up. Wondering who we missed while we were out. Convincing ourselves that maybe that’s when he called. Must have.
Cauliflower ear from talking too long. Warm earpieces when neither person wants to hang up.
Prank phone calls . . . without any trace of who it was, who you were.*
Connections were obvious and often, audible and affirming. The house felt full of people, even though they weren’t really there.
I’m cooking dinner. Let the machine get it.
Damn. Another telemarketer. Let the machine get it.
I don’t want to talk to her right now. Let the machine get it.
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t . . . “Oh! Hi! You’re home!”
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t be . . . “Hi! Guess you’re not home. Just wanted to let you know . . .”
Let me just text . . .
PING! Hold on, I need to read this text . . .
Emoji edging out emotion, emoting.
Conversation location: Can you hear me now?
Children choosing the broken cell phone to play with instead of the retro Fisher Price rainbow rotary dial phone. Always.
House phone: Ten digits to be dialed. Push buttons, touch tone. Beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep.
Cell phone: Swipe (screen unlock), tap (Contacts), tap (name), tap (number).
I don’t have her telephone number . . . let me just email her.
“Mom? What are these yellow books in the driveway for?”
Numbers by heart are down to only parents, in-laws, and husband. If I ended up in jail, hopefully one of them is home.
Plans made (and broken) with texts and emails. No exchange of voices, mood, or inflection. Is she mad that I ditched? Does he really want to go?
School outbreaks of strep and stomach bug announced on Facebook. New baby news texted across the miles. Working with fellow classroom parents via email to finalize the ice cream social—who’s bringing the whipped cream? Check Survey Monkey to confirm.
Access, 24 hours a day.
The phone hasn’t rung in five days. Except for Rachel from Cardmember Services. She always calls. That’s how I know it’s dinner time.
Many connections, but not much connecting. Silent exchanges of information.
So much conversation that my daughter does not hear.
What about you—do you talk on the phone more or less than you did a few years ago? More or less than your parents? Do you feel more or less connected to others in light of the unlimited access we all have these days?
* I have one very fond memory of making prank phone calls. It was with my friend/next door neighbor (A) while we both lived in upstate New York. We were at her house, her parents’ bedroom I think. We thought it was a good idea to get the phone book, and randomly call people to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to brighten up their day. A few were annoyed (to our surprise), but some were happy. I wonder if they would have answered today. I wonder if I would.
Join me next Friday for the final installment of Me + Her, Then + Now when I wrap it up with a post about Hobbies/Pastimes.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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