Thursday, June 22, 2017

Embracing the Swimshirt

It’s swimsuit season! Nothing brings on body anxiety quite like those three words. This year, I found a new piece that will make my trips to the pool much more bearable: a stretchy mock turtleneck. I’m no surfer, but I’ve become a huge fan of the rashguard. Here’s what I learned along the way.

Women who are comfortable in their own skin take care of it

Just after school let out last June, my daughter and I met a slightly older and wiser friend and her daughter at a local pool. The girls happily splashed around and swam, playing with pool toys like two golden retrievers in the water. After about an hour had passed I was miserable; I felt like my shoulders were on fire. I reapplied my SPF 70 sunscreen while casting an envious glance at my friend, who looked cool and calm in her rashguard. I said, “You’re so smart to wear a swimshirt.” She replied with a wave of her hand, “I just can’t fight with the sun anymore. I’m over it.” And suddenly, I had an epiphany. I have incredibly sensitive skin. There is a history of skin cancer in my family. Why was I wearing spaghetti straps and exposing my shoulders to sunburn over and over? Why was I continuing to fight a losing battle with the sun?

Next time you’re at your neighborhood pool, take a look around. You’ll probably find one or two women who are taking exceptional care to protect their skin. They might be wearing a Kentucky derby-type sunhat or sitting on the side of the pool with a cover-up on. They are confident and comfortable in their own well-protected skin. I aspire to be one of them.

Swimshirts Feel Fantastic

I don’t remember swimshirts being available when I was a kid in the late '80s and ‘90s. It was either a one-piece tank suit or a bikini, and if you got a sunburn and needed more coverage, you could get away with throwing a t-shirt on over your suit. Tanning beds were popular and little attention was given to the negative effects of sun exposure. But thankfully, rashguards have gone mainstream and aren’t just for surfers anymore. They’re widely available and inexpensive, and last season I was able to get one for $20 online. It arrived in time to pack for our family vacation, but I had my doubts. Would I really be comfortable wearing it? Wouldn’t it get hot? I brought along a regular one-piece halter swimsuit, just in case the rashguard didn’t work out and I needed it.

My worries were unfounded. After swimming around in my rashguard for just a few minutes, I felt like one of the von Trapps in a playsuit made of old drapes.  I was pleasantly surprised by how lightweight it felt in the water. I could play water tag with my daughter and not worry about a wardrobe malfunction. There is something very freeing about wearing an item of clothing that is the fashion equivalent of a potato sack--it doesn’t get much more comfortable than that.

A Rashguard Will Make You Look Younger

My daughter and I ordered lunch poolside one day during our vacation. We went back into the water to swim, and a few minutes later my daughter said, “Look, our food is here!” When we made it back to our chairs, the waitress said to me, “Oh, I thought you must have left. I didn’t recognize you out in the looked like a young girl out there.” Now, I am only five feet tall, but I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been “thirtysomething” for a few years. Score one for the swimshirt.

I Am Modeling Sun Safety

I always wear a seatbelt in the car, and I always wear a helmet while riding a bike. Shouldn’t I also model sun safety? I truly believe that every body is a beach body and that women should wear whatever kind of swimsuit they feel best in, whether that’s a bikini, a tanksuit, a rashguard, or a burkini. Because of my skin type, I know that more fabric is best for me. My daughter shares my fair skin, and I want her to see me protecting myself from the sun as I encourage her to protect her own body. I want to ensure that we’ll both be around for many more summers together.  

Summer Reading

Have you ever heard the story of the woman who invented the modern swimsuit and water ballet? I love Shana Corey’s picture book biography of Annette Kellerman, titled Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History! It’s a quick, interesting, informative, and beautifully illustrated book about a woman who challenged conventional norms. I always enjoy sharing Shana Corey's books with my daughter, and this one is perfect for summer.

Image result for Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How To Lose A Baby

"One and done," you say. One child is simple; one child is manageable. You feel fulfilled as a mother, and just one is enough. Seven years of motherhood go by and you're in your mid-thirties now, and suddenly you change your mind. You think, maybe you should add one more. Would it be crazy to do that at this point in life? Perhaps. But you're always doing things the wrong way. So you tell your husband that you might actually want another baby and hold your breath while you wait for a response. It doesn't take him long to agree; he always wanted two kids anyway.

You are worried that it might take a long time, but it doesn't. You conceive around the same time you did eight summers ago. You find out in early August, just like last time. The script is familiar. You are so excited and full of plans for the future. You pull out old storage bins that have gathered dust. You find the small collection of maternity clothes and baby items you just couldn't bring yourself to get rid of. You browse through baby name books and review your old copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting.

You have family members visiting. You share your good news with two of them. There are lots of big family dinners over the next week, and the news spreads like wildfire.  Your teenage nephew congratulates you on your pregnancy in front of your daughter, who doesn't know yet. You can't be angry, because it's such good news, so why not go ahead and tell her? The pregnancy feels just like the last one. Your husband cautions you against talking about it too soon, but you don't listen.

But then, after you've enjoyed being pregnant for just two weeks, you have an Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret moment in the bathroom. But you remember that this happened last time also. You call your doctor's office answering service because it's a Saturday morning, and someone tells you not to worry too much. This often happens in the first trimester. They say to call back Monday morning and your doctor will work you in.

There is more blood than last time, though, and you worry that something is wrong. Your doctor's office opens at 8:30 Monday morning and you call at 8:31. Your doctor will see you at 2:00, just to make sure everything is okay. The nurse tries to reassure you that you're probably fine, and the baby is probably fine, but something in your gut tells you that it probably isn't. You are a soggy mess by 2:00, going through tissue after tissue in the waiting room. The doctor brings you back for an ultrasound and you stop crying so you can concentrate on the screen. It's like one of those Magic Eye pictures that you've always been so terrible at. You squint your eyes and look for something that might resemble a tiny baby, but it's not there. You wait for your doctor to point it out, but she can't find it either. It's already gone. Lost. Slipped through your fingers without you even knowing it.

Your doctor questions you about dates. Maybe you aren't really as far along as you think you are? Perhaps it's just too early to see. But you know that you don't have the dates wrong.

She sends you in for a blood test to see where your hormone levels are. You are crying and shaking so hard that the phlebotomist has to wait for you to pull it together so she can stick a needle in your arm. You go home and try to put on a brave face for your daughter, but she can tell that something is wrong. You wish she hadn't found out about the baby. You want to shield her from all of this sadness.

You wake up the next morning and your body feels different. The swelling in your belly has gone down. You know your body, and you no longer feel pregnant. You have already scheduled a play date for the afternoon, and you know that canceling it would disappoint your daughter. So you grit your teeth and try to have a normal day, even though all you want to do is curl up into a ball and cry. The play date feels endless and you know that you're being a terrible host. You find it impossible to make small talk with this other mom that you barely know. You are even more awkward than usual.

You're back in the doctor's office again the next morning. There is no question now that the pregnancy is over. You have to see the same phlebotomist again for another blood draw to make sure that your hormone levels are dropping, and damn it, you're crying again.

You go back home and face your husband and your daughter. You tell them that the baby is gone. You wish you didn't have to say it. You're always losing things...your wallet, your keys. And now you've lost the baby. You wish for anything but this.

Your daughter creates a make believe game where she is a talking horse stranded on a deserted island. You are expected to play along and voice the characters of 15 stuffed animals who are stranded with her. You play the game, knowing that she is creating an escape from this sadness, and you love her even more for including you in her escape. You play this game for hours and hours...there are natural disasters and explorations and a whole system of money is created.

When night finally comes, you hug your family just a little bit tighter. You cry yourself to sleep and you look forward to tomorrow, because tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How (Not To) Make An Apple Pie and Burn Your House Down

My daughter recently had her first kindergarten field trip to a local apple orchard. It rained hard all day long, but that didn't seem to dampen her enthusiasm.  She proudly brought back a bag full of apples that she'd picked, and in a moment of Betty Crocker-ness, I suggested we bake an apple pie.  I'd just checked out the book How To Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman from the library, and coincidentally, it has an apple pie recipe in the back of the book.

It's a wonderful book, with images of gathering semolina wheat from Italy, finding fresh eggs in France, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and sugar cane from Jamaica. It would make a really interesting Google Lit Trip.  And I thought the recipe in the back was going to be easy...but I was in for a surprise.

The recipe calls for a whole lot of butter, 1 cup for the crust and 2 tablespoons for the filling. I'm no pie expert--I have avoided pie-making since the time I made a blueberry pie as a newlywed and it took me an entire day. (I'm still waiting to get those 9 hours of my life back, Joy Of Cooking.) Who am I to judge when it comes to butter? I followed the recipe. But when the pie went into the oven, it didn't take long for butter to start dripping out of the pan, creating a pool of oil on the bottom of the stove. It smelled delicious, though, and other than the butter mess, it turned out to be a pretty tasty pie. I made a mental note to clean the butter spill out of the oven once it cooled down...but I forgot about it.

The next day, right around dinnertime, I turned on the oven to bake some chicken. I started smelling something burning, and suddenly the memory of the butter ooze came rushing back.  I opened up the oven door and saw flames inside. And I knew that you aren't supposed to put water on a grease fire...but I couldn't remember what, exactly, you were supposed to throw on it.  I briefly contemplated calling 911 to ask, but that seemed a little silly. I almost Googled it, but the fire seemed to be growing rather than shrinking, so I wasn't sure that I had time for that. I took a deep breath, opened up the oven door, threw a little bit of water on the fire and slammed the door shut. There was a poof, lots of smoke....and the fire was gone.  (So technically, yes, you can put water on a grease fire. I've since learned that baking soda is a better choice.)

We ended up having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner that night, and I made sure to clean out the oven after that fiasco. Amelia told me that she's writing a story about the fire in Writer's Workshop at school, which I can't wait to read--I'm sure her perspective on the whole thing will be interesting. She's started asking me whenever I cook, "Mom, is something on fire? Are you being careful?"

I'll add this incident to my long list of failures in the kitchen.  It will be in good company with the jell-o that didn't gel and the pot of chili that I accidentally cooked with nutmeg instead of chili spice.

If you're feeling adventurous and apple pie isn't really your thing, there's also How To Make A Cherry Pie and See the USA. It, too, comes with an accompanying recipe--but I don't think I'll be trying it anytime soon.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Becoming My Mother

If you ever visit Burlington, Vermont, you'll find lots to see and do.  Walk along the sparkling  water of Lake Champlain and visit the vibrant downtown.  If you're a shopper, you'll find no shortage of options.  My favorite place to shop in the Burlington area is on Dorset Street.  It's not the University Mall with its conglomeration of chain stores.  Across the street from the mall, in a small plaza, is a thrift store called Replays.  For the six years I lived in the Green Mountain state, that was my go-to place for collecting unique pieces.  Some of my best finds included a v-neck Banana Republic shift that is still my favorite little black dress, a charcoal gray blazer that could have been tailored especially for me, and a yellow fleece that became my security blanket for long winters.  Once, though, Replays provided a serendipitous retail therapy experience that left me with a surprising realization.

One autumn, just a few months after my daughter was born, my mother came to visit. My mom just happens to be the queen of thrift store shopping and gladly accompanied me on a visit to Replays.  We split up as we browsed through the store and I met her near the dressing rooms.  She went into one to try on a skirt, and re-emerged a few minutes later wearing a navy wool A-line piece that looked vaguely familiar.

“So what do you think?” she asked, spinning around.

I walked a little closer for a better look and then burst into giggles.

“What's so funny?” she asked.

“Well, it's a nice skirt, but it can get kind of itchy. I just donated that a few weeks ago,” I replied.

“You're kidding! That's like finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

I wondered what that said about my own fashion choices as my mother, almost 30 years my senior, was collecting a piece of my former wardrobe. I stood beside her and looked in the full-length mirror.  I smiled at the reflection of three generations--my mother and I, with my daughter sleeping against my chest in a sling.  I was struck by how alike my mother and I are in appearance: the same brown hair and similar oval faces, mine smooth, and hers showing the evidence of time with fine lines. The same petite frame and pear-shaped body . I thought about all the fashion lessons I'd learned from her over the years: that skirts and sundresses will always look better on our body type than shorts in summertime, that classic pieces are always better than fads, and the how-tos of finding high quality clothes at bargain prices. I  thought briefly of that phrase becoming my mother.  But I realized that perhaps becoming more like my mother wouldn't be a terrible thing.

Since my daughter was born I've been able to fully appreciate all the sacrifices my mother made to raise four children.  She has always offered support, encouragement, and shown me unconditional love. Through  the skinned knees of childhood, drama of adolescence, and the joys and disappointments of adulthood, she has been my biggest cheerleader. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom while my brothers and I were young, which meant pinching pennies for several years.  She started her teaching career later in life and has become a phenomenal educator, creating a classroom environment that shows the same dedication to her students that she has always shown her own children.  I have learned so much from her both personally and professionally.

As I looked in the mirror that day I made a promise to my daughter to try to be as good a mother to her as my own has been.  I realized then that becoming my mother wasn't something to dread, but something to aspire to.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and thanks for everything.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meeting Hate With Humor

I got a book in the mail today that I'm really excited about.  I haven't actually shared it with any children yet; I'm on summer break from school, and my daughter is still a bit young for it.  I think it's a beautiful book with a great message, appropriate for older elementary students on up.

White Flour, written by David LaMotte, is an illustrated poem about a true event, a Ku Klux Klan rally that took place in Knoxille, Tennessee five years ago.  On this day, a group of white supremacists met their match: the Coup Clutz Clowns.  A group of counter-protesters dressed in clown suits came to the rally armed with props.  When the demonstrators shouted "white power!", they feigned misunderstanding and answered with phrases such as "white flour", "tight showers", and "wife power".  The clowns' antics have been captured incredibly well by illustrator Jenn Hales.

In the end, the clowns seem to have "killed with kindness".  The white supremacist group slunk away in defeat--an hour and a half earlier than their rally was scheduled to finish.

David's message is one of peace.  At the end of the book, he discusses that there are options when responding to aggression.  We commonly think of 'fight or flight', but he talks about a third option.  He writes, "If we can be creative enough to find ways to disarm hatred without either retreating or yielding to hatred ourselves, we often find that more constructive outcomes become possible." That is definitely a message worth sharing.

Visit for more about the book and the author's other projects.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

For The Girls

I don't talk with my daughter a lot about gender.  Amelia has friends that are boys as well as girls, and she spends a lot more time playing with her Thomas the Train set than her dolls. I like to think that I'm a bit of a feminist, but I realized recently that I don't always set a good example for my daughter.  

Case in point: Yesterday I couldn't get the garage door to close, and instead of taking two minutes to figure out why it wasn't working, I said to Amelia "Let's go find Daddy and ask him to fix it."  Well, it turns out it wasn't closing because I left my gardening bucket right under the door!  Apparently the door has a sensor, and it won't close if there's something underneath it.  When something mechanical goes wrong, "Ask Daddy" seems to be my standard answer.  But what message am I sending my daughter?

Amelia was playing house with her stuffed animals recently, and I noticed she had the mom cooking dinner while the dad was "at work" typing on his computer.  That's exactly how most evenings play out at our house (although I'm no domestic goddess; my husband could tell a few horror stories about my cooking).  I didn't intentionally plan for it to be this way, but the roles in our household are pretty traditional.  I clean, cook, and take care of Amelia's basic needs, while my husband fixes things around the house and does yard work.  There's nothing wrong with that; I'm happy with my life the way it is, but I don't want Amelia to think that she has to follow the same path.

We are starting to make small changes.  We recently got a grill for our new house, and my husband cooked an entire dinner this weekend.  I've started mowing a section of the lawn each week (with a push mower! I love the authentic exercise).  Even though my husband has only put our daughter to bed once, back in 2010 when I had to chaperon the prom, he has become part of the bedtime routine by taking over teethbrushing.  Baby steps.  Maybe one of these days I'll actually change a light bulb.

Although I might not always set a perfect example for my daughter, there are a few books in our collection at home with strong female characters.

My favorite princess story of all time is The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

The heroine, Princess Elizabeth, is engaged to Prince Ronald.  An evil dragon comes along and burns their whole kingdom.  He kidnaps Ronald and puts him in a cave.  Elizabeth's princess clothes  have all been burned, so she dons a paper bag and uses her cleverness to trick the dragon into falling asleep.  She then goes to the cave to rescue Ronald, but instead of being happy to see her, he says:

"You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."

In the end, Elizabeth runs off happily into the sunset--by herself.  This is an entertaining book with a great message for girls of all ages.

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey tells the story of the real Amelia Bloomer, who advocated for womens' rights alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She had the courage to defy societal norms by wearing pants instead of heavy hoopskirts.  The pictures in the book are wonderful and the text is kid-friendly, telling Amelia's story in a funny, entertaining way.  It's a quick read full of  great history.

I found Players In Pigtails, also by Shana Corey, at the library recently.  If you liked the movie A League Of Their Own, you'll enjoy this book!  It tells of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was formed during World War II.  I love fiction books, but it's also wonderful to find interesting picture books that are based on real events in our history.

The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is not a book for young children, but it's a book I will encourage my daughter to read when she gets to high school.  (Actually, if you're an adult looking for a great summer read, I encourage you to go find it!)  Instead of a traditional novel format, this book is told in a series of vignettes (translation: short scenes) that flow together to tell the story of Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago.  It's a wonderfully written coming of age story.  My favorite vignette is A House of My Own near the end of the book, when Esperanza's describes the house she envisions for herself:

"Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias.  My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after...Only a house as quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem."

Beautiful, right?  I had the privilege to hear Sandra Cisneros speak this past spring at UNCA, and I thought she was an amazing woman.  

Links of Interest:

The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature

The Amelia Bloomer Project

Monday, May 21, 2012

Appreciating Differences

My daughter Amelia is a quirky kid.  When we meet new people, she usually introduces herself as a fictional character.  One day she's Pinocchio, the next she's Cinderella, or perhaps Dora or Thomas the Train.  Amelia picks out her own clothes now, and her outfits often don't match.  She wears cowgirl boots with shorts sometimes and loves pink, but occasionally likes to shop in the boys' section (because I need boy clothes when I'm Diego, mama!, she tells me).  She greatly enjoys imaginative play and  loves to tell elaborate stories.

Most young children are quirky, aren't they?  They're fun to have conversations with because they haven't yet learned to filter.  Of course, filtering is a good skill to have as we get older.  It certainly would be weird if we all walked around saying exactly what was on our mind.  I do hope that, as she gets older, Amelia retains some of her quirkiness and all of her creativity.  I hope she will have the courage to be the person she wants to be, and will be accepting of others who are different from her.  As a mother, how do I ensure that happens?  I'm somewhat new at parenting, but I suppose showing unconditional love, encouraging her to follow her interests, and giving her lots of varied experiences is a good start. We've begun to talk about differences among people, and this theme comes up often in children's literature.

Here are a few of my favorite picture books that place a positive spin on being different.

The Big Orange Splot [Book]

The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, is one of Amelia's favorite books.  The pictures are vibrant, sometimes comical, and the text includes some fun repetition.  The story begins with the introduction of the main character, Mr. Plumbean, who lives on a neat street where all of the houses look the same.  One night a bird comes along and leaves a big orange splot on the roof of his house, and instead of covering it up he uses it for inspiration to create a house that "looks like all his dreams". At first his neighbors think he is crazy, but one by one they also create houses that represent themselves.

An interesting note about the author: He was recently named #2 on a list of 'the weirdest children's book authors of all time'.

A Bad Case Of Stripes [Book]
In A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon, Camilla Cream is very worried about what others think of her.  She secretly loves lima beans, but won't eat them because it seems like all the other children don't like them.  Camilla develops "a bad case of stripes", and her appearance changes based on other people's suggestions.  She is finally cured with a big helping of lima beans, when she is able to stop caring about what others think of her.

The artwork in this book is excellent, but it might be a little scary for preschool students.  I have not yet read it with my daughter, but it was a hit with a group of third-graders I taught previously.

Stellaluna [Book]

Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, is a bit of an ugly duckling friendship story (but better than The Ugly Duckling...really!). In this book, Stellaluna, a baby fruit bat, gets separated from her mother.  She finds her way into a bird's nest, where she is taken care of by the mother bird.  The mama insists that Stellaluna act like a bird, so she learns to eat insects and sleep at night.  However, Stellaluna never really feels at home.  When Stellaluna finally reunites with her mother and realizes what kind of animal she is, she's relieved to be able to follow her instincts and act like a bat.  Stellaluna does continue her friendship with the birds, though. The book includes some great dialogue between them as they discuss their shared traits and differences.

"How can we be so different and feel so much alike?" one asks. "And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?" asks another. "I agree," Stellaluna responds. "But we're friends. And that's a fact." 

It's an all-around beautiful story, and even contains a nonfiction section about fruit bats at the end of the book.