Sunday, December 13, 2015

Our Christmas Letter

Christmas is our favorite time of year, and we love having the opportunity to look back over the last 12 months and marvel at our many accomplishments, especially those of our precocious and talented kids, Danny (12), Charlotte (10), and Tommy (6).

Here is a partial list of some of the highlights of 2015:

Danny beat the entire Metroid Prime Trilogy in record time, while Charlotte was victorious in Plants vs. Zombies.  Tommy created many donut confections in Hot Donut on the Kindle and shared them with his dad.

The kids all fought valiantly in Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Super Paper Mario, and New Super Mario Brothers, eventually trouncing Bowser & company in each game.  They honed their aim and paintball skills in Splatoon, while also befriending the Wisps in Sonic Colors.

In between bravely fighting zombies, Endermen, and Creepers, Tommy tossed many cows into the lava.  Minecraft steak is delicious while keeping your hunger bar full!  Charlotte built Pikmen statues as well as an entire home for her mom on Minecraft, and Danny crafted a replica of the S.S. Dolphin Spacecraft.

As you can see, it’s been a very busy year filled with culture, travel, and adventure for the Hoopers.  We wish you all happy holidays!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fat Shame

I happened to see a friend in passing the other day, one whom I hadn't seen in a few months.  I noticed that she had put on some weight.  And that realization made me feel better about myself.

Before you start casting stones in my direction, it isn't what you think. Honest.

When I noticed that this acquaintance had packed on some pounds, I felt sympathy.  I know she's under a lot of stress, and I can totally relate to stress eating my way through several pints of Phish Food.  I also know that getting to the gym is typically at the bottom of my long to-do list when kids, work and "Walking Dead" episodes are all competing for my attention.

As I considered her weight gain, I felt better because I realized I wasn't the only woman out there who struggles with her relationship with food.  My friend is a smart, kind, vibrant woman, who cares about people and is strong.  If she happens to struggle with emotional eating, I thought, then maybe it's not such a thing to be ashamed of.  I mean, really, who DOESN'T have some unhealthy habits?  If she, someone I genuinely admire, struggles with weight issues, then, I'm sure in good company.

Even more important, though, I noticed how I thought about her.  I didn't feel judgment or criticism bubbling to my lips.  Instead, I just felt compassion and understanding.  And the reason this was an epiphany was because I realized that I reacted to her weight gain exactly opposite to how I react to my own frequent slip-ups.

I didn't think, "Wow, Susy should really put down the Oreos, the fat pig!  She must be so lazy and disgusting.  How does she not learn her lesson?  All that ice cream always makes her sick, yet she still gorges on it when she's stressed.  I cannot believe her.  She's gotta be really, really stupid to keep make these same mistakes over and over and over again."

Nor did I think, "That woman needs to haul her fat rear end to the gym once in a while.  Why can't she just make time to exercise for once?"

And I definitely didn't think, "There is no hope for her.  She'll never lose the weight.  She'll never keep it off.  She will be a big, giant, fat pig for the rest of her life.  She disgusts me."

Yet, those are all things I have thought about myself.  To be honest, these are some of the tamer criticisms I have regularly hurled at myself.

Lately, I have been noticing how prevalent fat shaming is in our society.  What's more disturbing, however, is how much I have bought into that fat shaming.  I like to think of myself as relatively smart, someone who thinks about things and tries to be open-minded.  But when it comes to body issues, I catch myself thinking thoughts that I know are illogical or damaging, yet, they are so hard to control.

I have been working hard over the last few years at not talking negatively about my body.  I don't want to pass on my weight and body issues to my three kids.  The more I work on not saying negative things, the more I realize how often they pop into my head.

Everything I have read about emotional eating says that beating yourself up or shaming yourself about your body and eating only serves to exacerbate the problem.  If you beat yourself up for eating the three extra brownies on Saturday, you end up feeling guilty and miserable and hopeless.  Then, you find yourself gorging on about 10 more brownies to drown your feelings of guilt and misery.  At least this is what happens to me, on a semi-regular basis.

I know all that, yet, I still have difficulty NOT shaming myself for how I look or what I ate.

Seeing my friend, however, made me realize that all is not lost.  If I can feel sympathy and understanding for Susy's weight gain, then perhaps someday, I can offer myself the same level of caring, understanding and forgiveness.

That's my goal, anyway.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How does she love me? Let her count the ways

republished from 2011

The following is a transcript of an overheard conversation between Bil and Charlotte ( when she was about 5 years old), as they shared a piece of Chocolate Almond Chiffon Pie:

Char: Mommy makes the best pie in the whole world!

Bil: You're right! She really loves us, doesn't she?

Char: Yes, mommy loves us lots and lots!

Bil: And we love her.

Char: Yes, I love mommy sooooo much! She is the best cooker EVER!

Bil: And mommy's pretty funny, isn't she?

Char: Yes. And mommy makes really good chocolate chip cookies!

Bil: You love it when mommy is silly with you, don't you?

Char: Mmmhmmmm....I also love mommy's Rice Krispie Treats and the cakes she makes!

Bil: And don't you love how nice mommy is to you?

Char: Yes! She makes me brownies and they are deeeelicious! And I love her pies and her cakes and her cookies! Oh, mommy makes the best treats in the world. Her peanut butter chocolate chip cookies are yum, yum, yummy! I really, really love mommy! And I love the muffins and cupcakes she makes, too. Mommy is great!

Mommy: Hey, Charlotte, what if I couldn't make you treats anymore? Would you still love me?

Char: (woeful) Nope. I would be soooooooooooooooo sad!

For more posts on cooking and food, go to Second Blooming

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The color of love

Each time I was pregnant, Bil predicted that this baby would be the one to inherit my blue eyes.  Though Bil's are brown, a dominant characteristic, his dad had blue eyes, so there was a remote chance genetically, that this could happen.  Bil would quote genetic statistics proving that our chances were not as minuscule as I predicted.

The baby would be born and Bil would claim vehemently that he/she had blue eyes, as newborns are wont to do.  But each time, the baby's eyes would invariably change to brown, rather quickly. So quickly that I don't really believe they were ever blue.  It was just a trick of lighting or Bil's very strong wishful thinking.   Bil would look into their giant, beautiful, dark eyes and swear they were still blue, that there was a chance, but I knew better.

All three of my darling children have Bil's big, brown eyes.

And I couldn't be happier for it.

One of these things is not like the others.....

Years ago, I was teaching a Sunday School lesson at church, when I looked out into the sea of faces and I latched onto a pair of big, warm, brown eyes filled with kindness.  When the owner of those eyes approached me and chatted me up, I was instantly smitten.  Bil, he said his name was, and he made me feel good, comfortable, accepted, all because of those eyes.  The smile didn't hurt any, either.

There have been a few people over the years who have mentioned that Bil has kind eyes, and they are right. In my husband's case, I agree that the eyes are the window to the soul.  When I look into his eyes, I see understanding, acceptance, and caring.  

And love.

And now I have three beautiful children with the very same eyes;  beautiful,brown eyes that are full of joy, adventure, mischief, and most, importantly, love.

For more posts on the color of love, visit the Spin cycle at Second Blooming or Lemon Drop Pie.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Getaway Skills

I gathered up the remains of the happy meals and head to the garbage bin when I hear a blaring repetitive noise.  An alarm has been set off, and without even looking, I know this is the doing of one of my children.  Call it mother's intuition, experience, whatever.  I know my kids.  And I know this is the work of their hands.

It had been a half day of school and instead of heading home, we decided to drive 30 miles to the nearest McDonald's Playland.  Danny was especially delighted as he needed only 2 more of the Power Ranger Happy Meal toys to complete his set.   Charlotte and Tommy were just happy to play on the brand new, ultra cool playground equipment.

Our outing had been relatively uneventful.  I mean, sure, Tommy spilled his entire root beer all over the recently mopped floor, but I would hardly call that newsworthy.  Had he not spilled something, that might have surprised me.  And yes, Charlotte ended up crying at one point because Danny kept saying we were leaving (when we weren't) and I think he pushed her, resulting in a timeout.  Again, nothing new here, unfortunately.

And even when the alarm started ringing from the emergency exit door, (seriously, who thinks an emergency exit in a playland with the bar at a kids' level is a good idea?  No one with kids, that's for sure.) I wasn't surprised, either.  About a year ago, Tommy pulled the fire alarm at Bil's work, forcing the entire 300+ employees to empty the building in an impromptu fire drill.

I ushered the kids out the door, all while the alarm blared mockingly, as if to say, "Watch your kids, watch your kids, watch your kids, you negligent mother!"  Head down, I avoided making eye contact with the other mothers as if my life depended on it.

We ran to the car while the theme music to "Mission Impossible" played in my head.
As if reading my mind, Danny asked, "Uh, mom, are the police coming for us?"

I felt the perverse urge to reply, "Don't worry, honey, we can outrun the police! Don't worry about them."
Instead, I said that it was an accident.  We weren't in trouble.

When we were safely on our way home, I said, "That's what we call 'making a clean getaway'."

Danny giggled delightedly and said, "Yeah, mom!  That was like we were robbers and had accidentally robbed a bank."

Yep, that's exactly what that was like.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Popping Tags

Shoes I bought at Goodwill for $5

As an adult, I was never a big shopper.   I would look for excuses to bow out on invitations to shopping marathons with friends.  I couldn't really see what all the fuss was about.  Why would anyone like spending the entire day trying on clothes in very unflattering lighting?  Where's the fun in that?

Trying on clothes always depressed me. I never seemed to look good in any of the current trends.  And when I did give in and shop, I had difficulty picking flattering styles.  I just didn't have that eye for fashion so many other people seemed to naturally have, and I was never adventurous enough to try new things, so all my clothes tended to look the same.

Also, as a college, and later grad, student, I never had an overabundance of money to spend on clothes.  It didn't help once I had graduated, since I became a teacher.  I had to be frugal and save my pennies, so shopping at the fancy malls of Chicago's suburbs was never on my list of fun weekend pastimes.

Once I had children, it got even worse.  I wasn't working anymore, so what was the point in buying new clothes?  Spending money on my appearance typically left me feeling guilty, especially once I was no longer bringing in a paycheck.

It was more than just the money, though.  For my entire adulthood, I have struggled with my weight; there was always at least 30 extra pounds on my frame at any given time, and often it was even more.  I promised myself,  "As soon as I lose weight, I'll buy some new clothes."  But, the time never came.  Sure, I lost a few pounds here and there, but never enough to warrant (in my mind) some new duds.  I didn't feel like I deserved to spend money on my looks, until I lost some of this extra poundage.

As a result, I spent the better part of my 30s feeling dumpy, ugly, unfashionable, and fat.  I dreaded being invited out, because I literally had nothing decent to wear.  And definitely nothing I felt good in.

Last October, I started a new job, and I had very few clothes suitable for the office.  I made do for a few months with some hand-me-downs from my sister and a couple holdovers from my days as a teacher, but eventually, I had to break down and buy some new clothes.  I had a gift card from Kohl's so I bought a couple blouses and a pair of slacks.  Even with the gift card and discount, my credit card took a hit.  I loved the pieces I had purchased and decided that those would have to do, since I couldn't very well spend all my salary on clothes.

The thing is, wearing those couple outfits made me feel good.  I liked how I looked in them.  I actually got compliments on my clothes, for the first time in a very long while.  I got a taste of what it was like to look nice and I wanted more.  Still, I worried about the money.

Then, on a visit home,  my sister took me to her local Goodwill store.  Beth, who is much more daring and fashionable than I, heaped clothes in my shopping cart, ordering me to try them on.  When I balked at a more adventurous outfit (like the blue poncho or the flower-printed capris) she urged me to give it a chance.  "Try something new, Patty!" she would say.  "You'll look great.  Trust me!"

Surprisingly, I had the time of my life!   All of a sudden, I had a legitimate excuse to drop some change on my wardrobe; I had a job and I couldn't very well show up in my flannel pants everyday, like I did as a stay-at-home mom.  On top of that, the clothes at Goodwill were a fraction of the original price, which made it all the more fun.  And having my own personal stylist in the form of my sister only made it better.

Outfit I bought from a couple different thrift stores for a total of less than $10

When I worried about spending all that money on clothes, Beth reminded me that I needed the clothes for work.  She told me that it was important to feel good about how I looked.  And she assured me that I looked great.

It turns out, she was right.  I did look great, and I felt incredible.

I spent over $100 that day and came home with a new wardrobe: new shoes, Anne Taylor capris, blouses from the Gap, jeans, a new dress, and many, many more items.  Every single thing I bought looked great on me. I couldn't believe it.  I had never had that many items of clothing that I loved.

That shopping trip completely changed my attitude about clothes and shopping. Now, I love shopping at my local thrift stores and finding cute clothes for work.  I thrill when I find an adorable pair of shoes for $5 or a whimsical top from Old Navy for $3. But, most of all, I love that I look more put together; I feel more confident and pretty. At these prices, I can afford to buy some cute pieces without compromising the kids'college funds. It's a bonus that I am doing the environment a favor by recycling other people's castoffs.

I still feel guilty about spending money on myself, even at these amazingly discounted prices, but I'm working on that.  I tell myself that I am worth it.  I deserve to feel good about how I look, no matter what I weigh.

I love this top.  Bought at Goodwill for $3.50


For more posts on Everything Old is New Again, visit the Spin Cycle at Second Blooming.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Everything that drowns me makes me want to fly

"everything that drowns me makes me want to fly
everything that kills me makes me feel alive"
There was nothing unusual or noteworthy about this particular meltdown.  No reason it should have been so incredibly grating to me.  Sure, it had been a stressful day, but all in all, not any worse than most.  In fact, Danny had been incredibly cooperative as the nurse removed his cast this afternoon and I didn't get lost on the way home from the hospital in a city 85 miles away.  It was a pretty successful afternoon, all things considered.

Still, as Tommy repeated over and over and over some rant about a purple shirt that he refused to wear tomorrow to his pre-K "purple party" I could barely stand to be in my own skin.  Everything inside me screamed for him to just. shut. up. already.  I could not take one more meltdown over something so inconsequential it didn't merit a minute's discussion, let alone the better part of an hour.

I don't know what it is.  I don't know if it's autism or his language processing issues, but Tommy has a tendency to go from 0 to 100 over the craziest issues.  He'll tell me he wants pizza for dinner, but when I place a slice in front of him, he'll just lose it and spend the next 45 minutes voicing his displeasure in a repeated 2 or 3 sentences. Over and over and over again.

Some days, I feel like my children are draining every last little bit of sanity, energy, and emotional fortitude from me.  Honestly, I feel like that most days, even the good ones.  By the time they are in bed, I am so happy to have a few minutes' peace, I could almost cry.

In fact, some nights I do cry. And not always from happiness. 
You see, these kids, they take everything.

They want my attention all the time.  They want me to focus on the game they're playing, the picture they drew, the limb they've bruised, the problem they're having, the story they're reading, the booger they've picked. 

They expect me to feed them, bathe them, kiss away their tears, bandage them, instruct them, pamper them, cater to their every whim.

If I'm not careful, they sometimes do take everything I've got to give and more.  Those times are not good, because they leave me feeling depleted and resentful.  I've learned over the years that I have to balance my needs with theirs.  I have to take care not to give so much of myself that I have nothing left for myself.

See, it's not just their demands that are exhausting.  It's my own.  I want to be there for everything.  I want to fix all their problems, take away all their pain and discomfort, and bring smiles to their faces.

Because here's the thing.  I love these kids with a fierceness I never knew was possible.  Some days, I feel like I will explode with love, that's how strong it is.  No matter how exhausted I am, I never stop loving them.  They are everything to me. 

Still, on days like yesterday, I feel like they are killing me.

Then, there are the other days.

Days like last night when we gathered up the whole gang and went to see "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" and I watched my kids' faces light up with delight as they laughed and giggled and chortled.

And there are times like this morning when Danny was uber cooperative with chores, so much so that he actually did Char's for her.  He followed me around the house with the Pledge and helped me dust while telling me all about the wonders of CLR Cleaner, which he claims cleans everything from toilets to coffee pots.  Danny assured me that, "It will give you back your day, mom!" in full-on infomercial voice.

Those other times are ones like when  Danny and Charlotte and Tommy reenacted scenes from "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2", getting giddy about "foodamals" and laughing hysterically at their own jokes.
Later, as Danny and I walked up to the library, we talked animatedly about movies, books, and haunted houses.  Danny and I had an elaborate and circuitous discussion about how to not go crazy from anticipating Halloween.  He concocted all manner of distractions we could use in the next month to keep from thinking too much about trick or treating.  We also discussed the book we are writing with Charlotte: Scaredy Squirrel's Halloween Survival Guide.   It's a spin-off of one of the kids' favorite series about an OCD, anxiety-ridden squirrel.

As Danny ran ahead on the way home, he looked back at me periodically, to make sure I was keeping up.  He was beaming with happiness, and my heart flipped.   There are times, like these, that are so incredibly simple, yet sublime, that they literally take my breath away.  I feel my love for my kids so tangibly I can barely stand it.

It always hits me hard, that feeling, and my heart is so full it seems hardly possible that I could love someone--three someones, in fact--so utterly without reserve.

And that's when I realize it: they are not killing me.  They are making me live fully.  They teach me to live in the moment, take delight in the simple pleasures.  They challenge me, make me think, they stretch me and make me grow. And they make me laugh every single day.

For more spins on  "everything that kills me makes me feel alive" visit Second Blooming.
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