Keeping it Real on Valentine’s Day

Here we are – it’s Valentine’s Day. For some it’s all about love sweet love and for others, it’s just another day. When my daughter was born on Valentine’s Day four years ago, February 14 became a permanent LOVE day for me. I’m a sucker for romance. I love chocolate. Love it! I love roses and sparkly things, and I of course love my husband, but more than anything I love this day because it is Sophia’s birthday.

That said, I’m still thinking about love today. I have been trying to imagine what love looks like? I have a few ideas…

This is a picture of Dan and me on our wedding day (August 16, 1997). This was after the ceremony in the backseat of our getaway car – the 1969 Chevelle SuperSport that he and his dad built together. His brother, Max, was getting ready to drive and my sister, Sarah, was riding shotgun. I love this picture. When I look at it, it reminds me of what it felt like to have our whole lives in front of us and all the people we loved most in the world around us. It felt like we could handle anything as long as we had each other. I was probably being goofy when the picture was snapped, but I think I look like I adore him. And he looks like he adores me. Love looks like this, I think.

Love also looks like this:

Oh my gosh, I love this picture! My sister took it last year after my niece’s birthday party. Maybe my mom took it? Anyway, I love that this moment was captured to enjoy for the rest of time. Or however long it lasts. No matter how I’m feeling, I can’t help but to smile when I see this picture. Look at it – my three kids laughing together in my arms and me holding them tightly as if nothing else matters. We are in our own little blissful mother and child utopia at that moment. It’s like a commercial for motherhood. All smiles, all laughter, all hugs!

I think love looks like this too:

Yes, I’m sure of it. This is from Thanksgiving, 2009. The last Thanksgiving we had with my dad. This picture captures the complete chaos that ensues wherever children go. We try to contain them, but they cannot be contained. Kids embody life in all of its glory, with their goofy smiles and random poses. Kids don’t worry what people think about them or whether they have food on their faces. If they don’t feel like smiling or looking at the camera, they don’t. No matter how you try to bribe them. They are impulsive and uninhibited and I love that about kids. They LIVE.

I think love looks like fun. In these pictures, love is about laughter and living and sharing and feeling connected to others. Love has its hair done, mostly, and it is dressed well and it probably smells good too. I just remembered my dad’s friend, Andy. At my dad’s funeral Andy shared that during their gigs (my dad played the guitar and Andy was the drummer), my dad would say, “We may not be good lookin’ but we’re sure looking good…!” Love looks good here.

We are BOMBARDED with images in our lives. Most of these images make love look good. In commercials and television shows and in movies we may see a glimpse or two of heartache, but mostly love looks good. And then there is Facebook! Love always looks good on Facebook. Okay, maybe not always, but for the most part, let’s be honest, with the exception of the picture I saw today of a cupid laid out flat with an arrow – presumably his own arrow – sticking up out of him and blood all around him (seriously People, why the face?), love looks good.

This is where my mama bear springs into action today, on Valentine’s Day, on Love Day. I know there are people out there, and you may be one of them, who see these images and think that what they see looks so good, beyond good, to the point where what they have in their own lives looks bad. Really bad.

So, we don’t typically post pictures of the moments, right before a wedding, when a bride might be acting a little bridezilla-ish in the dressing room, perhaps. I don’t post pictures of myself on days like today where I look like I have two black eyes because I stayed up way too late last night doing God only knows what because I hate going to bed when Dan is out of town. Concealer’s got nothing on these dark circles. I NEVER post pictures of the look on my face, every afternoon, when I am about to sit down for a cup of coffee, and the coffee is actually hot, and Sophia screams out from the bathroom, “MOM! WILL YOU WIPE MY BUTT?” And I think I might just go the opposite way, out the door, and away… To someplace warm, maybe? But far, where nobody ever asks me to wipe his or her butt. And, thankfully, I have not yet posted a picture of Sophia’s butt. And there are no pictures of less lovely grandparental moments, like when my son used to kick my dad under the table at restaurants and after about the six thousandth kick, my dad would look like he was about to blow. My son kicks me now. It’s karma for wondering how my dad could possibly lose patience with my perfect little son, while knowing full well that little kids kick hard. And, all those people on TV, well, we know by now that they are not even REAL anymore with all the millions of ways they are made-up and digitally “perfected,” so while their love looks good, it’s not REAL either.

I think this is so important to remember, as sweet spiritual beings, in our human bodies, surrounded by images that make love and life look so good and words (i.e,. “status updates”) that make it all sound SO GOOD, that what we see isn’t always real. There is a place where we can celebrate along with our friends and family members and even strangers, and that is a nice, happy place. There is another place where we begin to feel badly when we see people looking really good and hear that things are going well for them. We might feel like we don’t measure up, or wonder if there is something wrong with us because we aren’t looking or sounding so good – because while they are on a beach in Hawaii we are wiping butts in snowy Michigan. We might ask, “Why can’t I have that (that love, that family, that child, that spouse, that body, that house, that job, that vacation…whatever that is)?” That place is a little darker, a little sadder, and it doesn’t really feel good. Not at all. Sometimes we get stuck there. We might think it is our destiny to stay in that dark, sad, uncomfortable place forever.

I know now, like I have never known before, that each of us, all of us, each and every single one of us, is worthy. We all measure up. We are all lovable. I want you to trust me on this one. I may have dark circles under my eyes and I don’t love wiping butts, but I am trustworthy. I can say with all the confidence in the world that you measure up. You absolutely, positively measure up. That dark place? You can go there if you must, but please don’t stay there.

We all hurt. We all have bad hair days. We all make mistakes. We are all learning. Please tell me we all have bags under our eyes? Sometimes? We all have not so picture perfect moments. Even if we don’t share them. Even if we pretend they don’t exist. Oh, they do. Some of us lie. Some of us are fake. Some of us aren’t keeping it real. All things considered, it’s not fair to compare our worst with someone else’s best, or someone else’s attempt to look their best. You know what? It’s not fair to compare. At all. When you compare yourself to someone else, for better or for worse, your own light dims. We need bright, shining lights on this planet.

On this day, this LOVE DAY, I would like to invite you NOT to compare your love or your life or your light to anybody else’s love, life, or light. If you are wondering what love looks like, like I was. Look in the mirror! What you see there is love. Don’t look online or in magazines or in books or on television, look at yourself. YOU are LOVE. You are worthy. You measure up! You have talents and dreams and a beautiful mind that can make them all come true. You are lovable. You are a knock-out and an AMAZING soul. Love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Be your own very best Valentine. YOU are what love looks like. Take my word for it.

Me and Sophia Pearl, my little love girl.

I’m too sexy for my…BODY.

So, it’s February now, Folks. Time to ask ourselves how we’re doing on meeting our goals for the New Year? Specifically, the goal of achieving great health and fitness! Are we kickin’ it’s butt? Have we fallen off the wagon?

“Lose weight” makes my list every year. Over the last few years, I have lost weight, just like I wanted to. And then I gained it back. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it is supposed to work. As I thought about what might happen in 2012, I wondered what I could do differently.

In November, a friend of mine forwarded a message to me about an online Body Restoration class being offered by the Brave Girls Club at www.bravegirlsclub.com. I knew about the Brave Girls, but I hadn’t heard about the class yet. If you are unfamiliar with the Brave Girls Club, they describe themselves as “a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly liveā€¦and that means something different to every single one of us.” It was founded in 2009 by Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins. While they offer many amazing opportunities, I think they are best known for their Soul Restoration workshops and Brave Girl Camps. Their website is beautiful – filled with gorgeous images and inspiring words. I am in love with it.

The class sounded intriguing, and fun, so I registered. Before the class even began, I figured out what would need to be different in order for me to meet my great health goals by the end of this year. First, I knew I had to want it. I knew that because my Weight Watchers leader told me so when she heard me say, “I need to…” She told me that if I thought I needed to lose weight, I wouldn’t, but if I wanted to do it, I would. That made sense to me, especially since most anything I think I need to do gets put off until the last possible second. Second, I knew in my heart that if I was going to change my lifestyle, it had to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-hate. Ouch. It hurts to even think about how much I have hated myself at different points in my life. This requires going to a dark place and until recently, I was afraid of the dark. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences – I’m not sure I do), as I figured out what needed to be different, I also figured out that the Brave Girls’ Club Body Restoration class might very well help me to bridge the gap between self-hate and self-love. Ahh…huge sigh of relief. Not even a brave girl should have to go into the dark alone.

The objective of the class is to “make peace with your body through art and journaling.” Obviously, I love journaling and the art part entails making collages. SO FUN! My mom is taking the class too. She is a master journaling artist. Her journals are beautiful. She cuts things from magazines, newspapers (God help you if you discard a newspaper while traveling with her), and catalogs to make wonderful collages right in her journal. Then she journals around them. She makes cards too. I am in awe of her artistry. I covet her journals. I convinced myself that I would never have time to journal like her. I rarely get to reading my magazines, let alone cutting them up afterward. Although now that I think about it, maybe cutting them up in lieu of reading them would save me a lot of time? Anyway, one of the many aspects of beauty in this class is that Melody Ross and her team have already spent hours creating art and words to use in the class collages. Melody is a fabulous artist. I love her style. And I love love LOVE having the opportunity to take her work and incorporate it into my very own collages. Let me tell you something else too, on the few occasions that I actually committed to making collages with my mom, I quickly learned that one can literally spend HOURS in search of the “perfect” word for a collage. Especially one who may exhibit signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not mentioning any names. So the brilliance of the idea that all the words and images I need are provided for me on .pdf files that I can download and print at home is not lost on me. At all.

Okay, so the whole point of this post is to process the collage I just finished. There was so much involved that I need to debrief. Last week’s lesson was about how we objectify ourselves and other women. Hard pill to swallow. I received many a training in relationship violence back in the day, I have a degree in Social Work, and I’ve worked with young girls as a Girls on the Run Coach (www.girlsontherun.org). I have both received and given lessons on body image and the multiple ways in which we objectify women in the media, especially in print. I’ve done my fair share of ranting about the injustice of it all and the disallusioned men who buy into it. I don’t remember ever really taking to heart the possibility that I buy into it.

It’s very simple. When we pick apart our bodies and other people’s bodies, we objectify ourselves and others. I’ll use my breasts as an example. They are big. See? When I say they are big, I am seeing them as objects. The point of the lesson is to really see that we, nor any parts of our bodies, are objects to be looked at and picked apart. This is what I LOVE and what really hits home for me: we are not our bodies, WE ARE SOULS. Admittedly, this is not the first time I have heard this message. There is something that happens though, when you spend time cutting out images and words. Then more time figuring out how to lay them out on paper. Then more time handling them, covered in Mod Podge, placing them each individually on the collage. Then more time brushing them again and again, with Mod Podge, so that they stick. Sealing them, securing them. I come to treasure each little piece of paper and the image or words it contains. We develop a relationship, in the quiet of the night, when my children are sleeping, and it’s just the images, the words, (the Mod Podge), and me. I handle each piece with care. I am deliberate. Sometimes I cry.

Here is the collage I’m talking about, No Woman is an object to be looked at and picked apart…We are all souls:

You’ll need to piece it together because it covers two pages.

I used Melody’s images and some of my own. Here is a picture of me when I was pregnant with my first child, Sweet Baby James:

Even though I loved being pregnant, I had fears, like any woman on the brink of motherhood. Like anyone really. In pregnancy especially, we need to know that we are more than our bodies. My mom took a lot of pictures of my belly. I had no idea what a luxury it was then to have SO MUCH time to just sit, rubbing my belly, or waiting for James to move around in there. We took pictures with the other two, but it was much more of a blur, in the midst of caring for the person or people who were already born. I might sit for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before I needed to get up again.

The woman in the middle here, the middle of the three in white, she is Minka Kelly:

I had to put her on my collage as a reminder that she is indeed real. She played one of the love interests of Tim Riggins, my fake boyfriend, on Friday Night Lights. I was real-life jealous of a fake person. Whatever. She is real. Not an object.

Here is Oprah. I had to have Oprah on my collage!

Although she doesn’t know it, Oprah and I have a love-hate relationship. I started hating her when I walked into a bookstore in the mall once, many, MANY years ago, and saw a huge display of journals with a sign above them that read: “JOURNALS, AS SEEN ON OPRAH.” I was offended. No, I didn’t invent journals, but for the love of God, Oprah didn’t invent them either! I loved her again when James was first born. I was at home with him and Oprah was sometimes the first adult who spoke to me each day, at 4:00, from the television set. One day she had a show about the reality of motherhood. I have loved her ever since. I don’t care what the haters say, Oprah does good stuff. And she is real. And she keeps going.

This is a picture from two summers ago of some of my goddesses and me.

I love this picture. My goddesses are a really special group of friends. If they weren’t entering right along with me, they were there to welcome me into motherhood. They have supported me through my three pregnancies and births, through mothering and married life, through the loss of my dad, and just about anything else that comes my way. We don’t all share world views, but we are all very good people, and we provide a safe space in which to explore our differences – with no judgment (okay, maybe a little judgment, sometimes, but we still love each other at the end of the day). I don’t know if my goddesses know this, but I think they are mostly responsible for showing me the value of taking special care of myself. Come hell or high water, we have gotten together at least once each year for a Girls’ Weekend for the past 12 years (roughly…). We always treat ourselves to a spa treatment. I had NEVER had a massage or anything outside a manicure from the local beauty school in my home town until our first weekend together. Even when it only occurred once a year, that hour or so of being pampered has been pure bliss and I am so grateful to my goddesses for showing me that I am worth it.

From left to right, we have Paige – she is a teacher and she thinks a lot. She thinks about teacher stuff, and other stuff too. Then, Michelle – she is hilarious! She can impersonate Molly Shannon. She makes us all laugh, and so she laughs. Next is Janelle – she is a photographer, so she creates. Then me – I give. I thought that was appropriate because I hosted that weekend. I gave out goody bags. Then Libby – she tries, really hard to be the best person she can possibly be. My wish for Libby is that she will see that she already is the best person. And finally, Holly – she hurts. She was the first in the group to lose a parent. She lost her dad and she misses him and it makes her heart hurt.

Now, look at this woman:

I have no idea who she is, but I think she is beautiful. Look at her eyes. She has stories to tell.

Here is my sister and me:

She IS a beautiful human being. I want her to know that she is okay. She is a-okay.

And this is my mom.

Isn’t she lovely? After my dad passed away someone told her that rather than torturing herself with the unanswerable question: Why did he die? Why not ask, “Why did I live?” Torturing is my word. The person who made that suggestion was much less dramatic. So, here she is after climbing to the top of a dune, something she wasn’t able to do the year before. She IS alive! She also deserves a loving chance. Oh, she has so much love to give. More than anything, I want her to find love again. She definitely deserves that.

Creating this collage was so incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears. Even now, looking at it and thinking about it moves me. I love every woman on my collage. At the end it was so much more obvious to me – the point of this particular process – to really, truly, tangibly see that we, all of us, all the women in the world, are definitely NOT objects to be looked at and picked apart. We ARE all souls. And, the beauty of it is that we are ALL alive, we all keep going, we all think and laugh and create and give and try and hurt. We are all beautiful human beings, and we all need to know that we are okay. We ARE all okay. All of us. For real.

Time will tell what 2012 holds for me and my body. But, I can tell you this, I PROMISE not to pick myself apart anymore and I promise not to pick you apart either. When I look at you, or at myself in the mirror, all I see is a big, beautiful, bright, shiny, super smart and sexy soul. Did you hear me? That’s a promise.

Oh, and you can still register for the Body Restoration class, if you are interested. Go to http://bravegirlsclub.com and look for Body Restoration. There is also a link to their site on the left side of my homepage – the one about whimsy and inspiration. Their daily truths are wonderful.