She approached me at a banquet dinner and told me she was wondering if I’d give her three minutes of my time to help with a doctoral project. She’s studying psychology and needed a broad sample of women for her research.
I’m pretty passionate about education and higher learning and achieving and all that good stuff, so it didn’t take me long to agree. Heck, I didn’t even have to set down my glass of pinot to help.
She explained that she was going to show me a series of photos of twenty-five women of various shapes and sizes and I was to choose the one I thought most resembled my own body. It didn’t have to be a perfect match– just the closest I could find.
Easy peasy, right?
I looked through all the faceless images. Scrutinized the shapes, sizes, and proportions and, finally, handed one to her.
She glanced at it, glanced at me, and repeated, “You’re trying to find the picture that most closely resembles your own body type and shape.”
“So this is the one you think is closest? Number fourteen?”
I nodded again.
She noted down some data, then told me more about her research.
She’s looking into women’s perceptions about their own bodies. She’s trying to see if, as a whole, we have an accurate view of what we truly look like. Are we in denial? Are we too harsh? Are we spot-on? Do we really have no idea? Do we fixate on a certain body part and miss the whole picture?
She hasn’t completed the research and doesn’t have any final conclusions to share. However, she did reveal to me, when all my info had been recorded, that I had selected a picture of a 5’5″ woman who wears a size 16.
I’m 5’7″ and wear an 8.
She gently asked if I had lost a great deal of weight at some point.
What she was getting was whether or not I had, at some point, been larger than I am now and had lost some of that weight. The answer to THAT question was “No.”
I did reveal to her, however, that I had, at one point, been significantly smaller. I told her that the only photos of myself in which I had thought I looked “normal” were when I tipped the scales at about 110 and wore a 3 tall.
I’ve never worn a size 16. I’ve never worn over a 10, to be honest.
But I look at that picture and it’s the one that best matches what I see when I look in the mirror. That’s what I see.
The young woman doing the research pulled out photo number nineteen and showed it to me. “I would have chosen this one for you. I think most people would have.”
I looked at the picture. The woman’s body had some curve to it, for sure. If I had to guess, I’d say she felt her hips were slightly wide in comparison to her shoulders. But her waist was small. Her breasts full and high. Her legs not thin, but long and strong. She looked so much smaller than me. I could find similarities in certain features, but the overall impression seemed so much different from what I see in myself.
It’s hard learning that you’re not really the girl you see.
It’s even harder when you can’t see the girl others see even when you really, really want to.
The woman smiled at C. My little girl was crafting loops of color and shape on paper, happily creating. She was in her element.
Turning her attention to G, the woman asked, “And how about you? Are you into art like your sister? Do you like to draw and paint?”
“Sometimes!” G. chirped happily, her attention on hopping on one foot, zig-zagging over an imaginary line on the floor. “And I LOVE gymnastics!”, she added.
“Oh, she does?” the woman asked me.
I grinned. “Oh, yes. G. has loved flipping and climbing and fearlessly using her strength since she was a toddler. She loves it.”
She smiled back at me, then turned back to G. “Oh, so you’re a little tomboy, then!”
G. cocked her head. “A what?”
“A tomboy!” came the response.
G. shook her head, long ponytail swaying side-to-side. “No. My daddy’s Tom, but I’m a girl!”
The woman chuckled and that was that.
We headed home and I didn’t think too much about it.
G. came with me when I headed to the bus stop to meet A. There’s a neighbor girl her age who’s usually there at the same time. That’s a pretty big draw. Even if she weren’t there, though, G. would come.
She likes to climb.
That pic up there is quintessential G. Dress printed all over with cheery cherries, long long hair, cowgirl boots, and the arm strength to pull herself up anywhere she wants to go. Her nails are polished a bright sunny yellow and her young palms have tiny callouses already from the hard use they get.
The boys in intermediate school– they try to climb that sign-post, too. Sometimes, they’re successful. Sometimes, they’re not. Either way, the dad at the bus stop teases them a bit since they have such a short distance to go compared to G.
G. is strong. There is no other word for it.
But she’s just straight-up strong. Not “strong for a girl.” Strong.
She loves to do bar in gymnastics. The pulling and climbing and flipping are right up her alley. Her remarkable core and upper body strength help her do amazing things. Why wouldn’t she love that?
She also loves to wear sparkly necklaces, dresses, fancy shoes, and polished nails. She’ll climb more carefully in a dress, sure, but there’s no keeping her on the ground.
These traits– these “girly” traits– are not in opposition to her love of climbing. They don’t contradict it in any way. She isn’t “girly, but she loves to climb.” She isn’t “a tomboy who likes girly things.” She is just a little girl with a wide array of interests.
The sign is bright and bold and impossible to miss at the front of the bus. I watch the driver carefully wipe off the three and change it to a two with a vivid orange dry erase marker.
That’s what stands between us and summer break.
I sigh a little.
I read all the posts and lamentations about this time of year. I get it. We’re all DONE. It is brutal what is asked of us in these final weeks of school– the parties, the concerts, the orientations, the shows, the presentations, the meetings, the appreciation notes and cards and gifts, and on and on. Brutal.
We’re all tired. As the mercury climbs, motivation drops and we just want to breathe a little. Sleep in. Eat random food on a blanket outside for lunch. Stay up past bedtime chasing fireflies.
Freedom. We seek freedom. Freedom from the grueling, unrelenting schedule that drives us through these weeks in May.
And so I smile and nod in solidarity when I hear the whimpered pleas for it all to just be DONE already. I’ll fist-bump you about the never-ending and exhausting series of events that has us running in circles.
But, then, when I’m by myself just looking at the calendar, I feel a pang of sadness.
I don’t want it to be done.
I LIKE my current life. I love dropping A. off early in the morning to go practice the cello with his multitude of groups. I love getting to the elementary school early and chatting with the secretaries while my girls put away my lunch and chatter with their favorite teachers. I love spending my days either teaching or, on my one or two off days, at home alone, plowing through a zillion tasks and to-dos.
I am busy.
I have a ton on my plate these days and, when my husband asks, “So what’s on the agenda today?”, he often just shakes his head in disbelief at my response.
But I’m happy.
My days are full and challenging and demanding, but fulfilling as all get-out.
I’m not sure I want it to stop.
But then I remember that we have a week at the shore all planned for June. I recall the joy of just sitting at the lake while my kids take swimming lessons. I’m reminded that I can go on impromptu coffee dates with my mom or keep the kids up late just to eat ice cream under the stars…
I love those things, too.
And, so, it’s bittersweet, this time of year.
But I’m going to enjoy every last day of the chaos.
Because– (let me whisper this truth to you all)– I actually really like it.
She didn’t even come right out and say it. Instead, she’d climb into my minivan at the end of the day and her narrow, angular shoulders would simply melt in relief and she’d murmur, “I’m just so glad to be out of there.”
It took me awhile to ask the pointed questions, too. But, finally, I couldn’t ignore it and I dug deep to find out what was going on.
She was being bullied.
There’s really no other word for it. The acts were small and petty, but constant and unrelenting. Calling her name repeatedly, then ignoring her when she turned around. Telling her she’s babyish. Making fun of her math difficulties. Cutting her off in line.Telling her the mini meatballs in her pasta salad looked like turds. Teasing her for being one of the slower runners. Knocking down the sand creation she made at recess.
She got through it, day after day, and then, one day, just collapsed in tears. “Mommy, I don’t know what to do. I decided to pay him a compliment, because I truly believe everyone needs kindness and he just laughed at me and said, ‘Shut up, C. I don’t care what you think.’”
And, at that point, I realized that all our tips for self-advocacy were just not enough. I emailed her teacher and special ed coordinator.
They are both wonderful and lots of things unfolded from there. Things are better, if not perfect, now, and I am grateful to have my little girl who enjoys school back.
I was eating lunch with the kindergarten special ed teacher yesterday. She knows C. well, as she worked with her in both kindergarten and first grade. I told her what had happened and how frustrated it made me. The thing is– despite everything he said and did? C. would be happy to be his friend. She really doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, despite her funny little cackle of a laugh.
Ms. J’s mouth tightened. She shook her head slowly and said softly, “Please don’t even tell me his name. It makes me so angry. I’ll want to beat him up.” Kidding, of course, but also a little serious. Anyone who has loved a child who was tormented knows that feeling. She took a breath and went on, “What I always take comfort in is this…”
She broke off and I ventured a guess, “C’s got a lot of people in her corner?”
“Oh, she does! Absolutely,” Ms. J. agreed, “but more than that. C. knows there’s something bigger than all of us. She knows who she was created to be and that, ultimately, it’s not her classmates or her teachers or any of us that she needs to answer to. She knows that. And I truly believe that’s how she remains both kind and strong through everything.”
I smiled, shakily, tears burning in my eyes. And I nodded, because, honestly, I couldn’t talk just then.
I went home, girls in tow, and they went outside to play. In typical fashion, G. found something treacherously high to climb and C. found a shady spot to draw.
I found her picture this morning, out on our paved driveway.
She’s going to be just fine, my little C. She’s got a wisdom that little bully doesn’t even know about.
(But I’d still kinda like to kick him in the knees. Not gonna lie.)
Spring has arrived in full force around here. While two weeks ago I was driving in SNOW to take C. to horseback riding lessons, as I type this, the temp is pushing 80. Honestly, that’s a touch TOO warm for this time of year around here, but I am certainly not complaining. Winter was long and harsh in our corner of the country and warmth and sunshine are more than welcome! Joy!
I’ve been subbing a lot, hence my scarcity around here sometimes. It’s mostly awesome and that means it’s a pretty good fit for me, I’d say! My husband is endlessly amused by my new “local celebrity” status around here as kids come up to me in stores, restaurants, and events constantly.
And C. made her First Communion! Just one day shy of a year after her brother, she received the eucharist for the very first time, wearing the same dress my sister and I wore, and it was simply lovely.
In the midst of all that, we still need to eat, of course! So here’s what’s been happening on that front:
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch– Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches, Clementines
“Mike’s end-of-the-year work party is coming up, so I ordered a bunch of dresses from Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom’s, figuring I’d just have them delivered and return what I didn’t like. I think I got like a dozen of them. Mike may have raised a brow at the $2,500 charge (giggle), but I knew I’d be returning most of it.”
“So did you find something good?”
(sigh) “Well. I didn’t like any of those, but I drove to Macy’s and I found a really cute dress for only $175, so now I’m excited, because–”
“– You can splurge on shoes!!!”
(much nodding and laughing)
I heard the conversation and didn’t think much of it. I’m glad she found a cute dress. And, frankly, it’s not even close to unusual for women to drop a couple hundred dollars on a dress they’ll wear once or twice. It’s not my money and not my decision. It truly makes no difference to me whatsoever. If it works for their family? Go for it.
On the flip-side of the coin, I know women– online, not in real life– who manage to find adorable get-ups at tag sales and thrift stores for pennies on the dollar and still look like a million bucks. I’m super happy for them– that’s awesome. At the same time, I cannot stand going to tag sales and thrift stores aren’t my jam, either. I admire these frugal fashionistas for their incredible scores, but I’m not even interested in attempting it myself.
Somewhere in the middle, I have this large group of friends and family who fall in the Stitch Fix/Target/TJMaxx camp. Obviously, those are three very different places and ways to shop, but all of them fall in the broad “mid-budget” category. They’re reliable, with a wide array of choices. It’s not as much work as a tag sale, but you won’t have to drop triple digits on many items.
I ordered the dress from Walmart. It was less than fifteen dollars. It came for the juniors department, which means it’s probably pretty weird for a thirty-eight year old woman to be wearing it.
I really am! And this is in spite of the fact that today marks the end of Spring Break. And I had to get out the door at the crack of dawn* to drive A. to Advanced Orchestra. And I hardly got any sleep last night thanks to a certain five-year-old who concocted more issues than I knew were humanly possible. And I ran out of my beloved Italian roast coffee. Oh, and I got hailed on. HAILED ON. For the love…
(Apollo’s happy to inside– and pouncing on window raindrops.)
Anyway, despite ALL of that, I am in a simply splendid mood.
Why? Why on earth would I be feeling all lovely and smiley when so many unpleasant events have unfolded?
You might think I’m going to give you some answer about God or devotionals or prayer or faith at this point. I’m not. Those are all wonderful and important things as far as I’m concerned, but that’s not actually what I’m pinpointing today…
As I dropped my son off for his early, early music group, I waited in the standard drop-off lane and, you know what? Everyone did just exactly as they were supposed to. They took turns. They moved efficiently. They pulled forward. It was beautiful.
I drove down the road to the elementary school and a bus’s lights went on as the stop sign came out. I slowed to an easy stop and waited, hanging back a bit so as not to block an intersection. After picking up a little girl at her stop, the bus driver flipped on his turn signal to go onto that road and flashed me a big thumbs up. It made me smile.
Crossing the school parking lot with my girls later in the morning, I ran into the on-site police officer and beamed a smile at him through the raindrops. “Good morning!” he called out with an enthusiastic wave.
Dodging hail in the grocery store parking lot, I was fairly skipping because I was so excited about scoring more of the discounted cinnamon maple bread that my family adores. An old man tipped his hat to me and gave me a little salute. I flashed a toothy grin right back at him– I couldn’t hide my good mood!
And, finally, winding my way back up the steep, curvy road that leads to home, I saw the “utility work ahead” signs and prepared myself to stop. And wait, if need be. I did have to wait– probably less than a minute– and then was waved ahead by a man clad head to toe in heavy yellow rain gear. As I drove past, he gave me cheery nod and a wave and I did the same.
I’m home now, groceries put away, and wet clothes swapped for dry.
And I’m still smiling.
It was an ordinary morning, by all accounts. Dropped off children, got gas, ran to the store… there’s nothing exciting there. If anything, it was on the unpleasant side due to extra stops and nasty weather.
But I’d call it a great morning.
Why? What could make a plain, boring day so bright and fun?
It’s really so simple: the people.
Tiny little gestures making a whole world of difference. Could it be that easy? Following rules, smiling, waving, and greeting… do these things really set the whole tone?
I’m going to suggest that they do– that they can.
No one did anything amazing for me this morning. I have no dramatic stories to share with you. Just ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things…
that add up to extraordinary in a world that’s too often distracted and self-absorbed.
So smile. Wave. Give a thumbs-up or a high five or a cheery little nod.
It’s the little things that make a big difference.
So far, I’ve written a little about what got me interested in essential oils and also what mistakes I’ve made along the way. I apologize upfront for this series being so very spread out, but it truly is intentional– I don’t want to bore or overwhelm you, for one thing. For another, this is an emotionally charged topic for some people and I honestly don’t want anyone to feel insulted, attacked, or to get riled up. For those reasons, it’s best to take it slow and easy, I think.
Today, I want to just take it back to the very, very simplest reason to use essential oils:
For the smell of it.
Here’s the thing– we humans? Like things to smell good. How we define “good” is highly individual, but there’s no denying that what you smell helps affect your mood.
I want to be clear here– I am NOT a scientist and I don’t know all the chemical effects of every compound on your brain, nerve endings, and everything else on a cellular level. Honestly? Few of us do. I’m also not going to pass on information to you gleaned from other non-scientists. This is not because it’s all bad– it’s just that I haven’t vetted the info and, thus, don’t feel comfortable passing it on. Fair enough?
I’m talking about smell at the most very basic level.
Let me offer a few personal examples to better explain what I mean by that…
When I feel nauseous? Peppermint is just about the only scent I can handle and it immediately helps settle the queasies a bit.
When I smell lemon + pine/fir together? It smells like a super clean house to me.
When I inhale eucalyptus? It helps clear my sinuses.
When I breathe in sweet orange? It calms me. (Lavender does this for some people, but not me.)
When I smell fir needle + cinnamon + mint? Well, it might just as well be Christmas.
The list goes on and on.
In many cases, these very real effects are caused by just how powerful the brain really is. There is no doubt about it– scent is evocative. We all have aromas that immediately transport us to a different place or time. Maybe the smell of sunscreen takes you back to a beach vacation. Perhaps the smell of lime and spearmint reminds you of a mojito you had on your honeymoon. Take a whiff of baby powder and your mind will take you back.
This is how we’re wired. This is how we work.
Essential oils allow me, in a natural way, to deliberately evoke the memory or response I want from my body. Since I know the smell of grapefruit is bright, energizing, and makes me happy, I have learned I can reach for grapefruit essential oil to diffuse or inhale and I can expect a good result.
On the flip side, ylang ylang is a very popular essential oil for a number of reasons. One of its wonderful benefits is the ability to help lower blood pressure just through inhalation. That’s all well and good and makes it AWESOME for many people. For me? It means that I feel dizzy and disoriented and overall lousy. That’s not because the oil is bad– it’s because we’re all individuals and we all have different responses to scent. (Remember how I told you that lavender isn’t particularly calming for me? Well, there you go.)
There is MUCH debate about there about ingestion and dilution for topical use. Those are important topics, but not for today.
Today I just wanted to talk about using essential oils for their wonderful smelly goodness and the very legitimate impact that that has on our bodies. Sometimes I think people underestimate that purpose– it seems too simple to just SMELL something and have a positive effect.
But it’s real. And it’s effective. And it’s one of my favorite ways to use my oils.
In case you were wondering? Today, I’m diffusing a blend of fir needle, blood orange, and peppermint in my kitchen and it smells like the freshest, cleanest place ever. Those scents are energizing and encouraging for me, while being clean and fresh enough not to overwhelm.
So there you go.
Even if I did nothing else with them? (And I do…)
I would use essential oils just for the smell of it.