Monday, September 23, 2013

On Being Too Sensitive: A Water Aerobics Follow-up Post

{Alternate title: Aquabitches}

I was dreading going to water aerobics this morning, likely because of my blogpost from last Saturday. You know how when you told your mom how great your friends were and how much they all liked you, and how the day after that you were a little afraid to see them all, afraid they secretly thought you smelled bad?

It felt like that this morning. I'd joyfully blogged, and now it would never live up to that again.

I got there late, and the water was crowded, and I felt awkward. At one point we had to jog to one end of the pool, then jog back, so I took this opportunity to position myself a little deeper in, since it's hard to do the moves in shallower water. I thought I fit fine, but soon two women near me looked at each other over my head, and I could somehow tell they found me irritating.

I racked my brain for why: was I too eager, too happy to be there, too fat? Should I just settle down and splash less? Was I too splashy? And the other part of me was thinking, too splashy? Come on. If you didn't want to get your hair wet, you should have brought a pink polka-dotted shower cap like that lady in the back row.

I tried to be confident and chill and assume I'd misunderstood their glance, but then one of the ladies, who was sporting sinister-looking black nails, said, "Umm, could you please move over?"She said this rudely, like I'd been standing in her personal space for days, instead of for thirty seconds. She said like I'd made her morning, giving her something to be very upset about.

And I said, sure, sorry, and also, "You have plenty of room on the other side of you, too. You could move over." I said this as nicely as I could, but it seemed important to stand up for myself, to say something assertive.

She said, "Yes, but this is where I was. This is my spot."

I was tempted to argue further, but I knew that I only wanted to argue because I felt very small and stupid and sad, because what she'd said had arrived like an explosion in my chest, and I knew arguing further wouldn't take that feeling away.

There are those close to me, those who love me, who say I'm too sensitive, and they're right, of course. What this woman said was not at all a big deal.

But in a way I don't know what that means--too sensitive. What does the word "too" mean here, exactly? Because if her words made me feel small and stupid and sad, if they arrived in my chest like an explosion, if I was tempted to weep and never return to the gym, what exactly could I do about that? My emotion was real and unruly, and my gym-courage is still young and tenuous, and I handled it the best I could, in the way I've learned over the last 30+ years of being "too sensitive": I stayed. I prayed silently that my feelings would get more manageable. And by the time I left, I felt fine. I even looked for her, wanting to apologize again, make peace, and tell her it was only my second time, and I was still learning the ropes. I wanted to ask her name, so I could nod and say hello the next time I came to class.

I'm particularly interested in all of this because of Henrietta, of course, because it's clear, even now, that she's my kid in this regard. While her cousin who's the same age seems to glide through life as easy-tempered as anything, things break Henrietta's heart all day long. She doesn't even speak English yet, and already we're breaking her heart all over the place.

And what will I tell her? Will I tell her she's too sensitive?

I don't think I will. I don't think I can, knowing what I know about feeling that way. How can I tell her that the way the offense explodes in her and threatens to ruin her day is not the way she should feel? That doesn't seem a useful way to approach.

She's going to run into aquabitches all her life, I assume. Women with long black nails, women who like confrontation, who live to make you feel a little smaller so they can feel a little bigger. And I want to teach a different way.

There's an elementary school around here with a big sparkling reminder painted on the wall near the entrance: "Be Kind" it says, and I want to tell her that. That there's too little kindness, too much that feels threatening, that all of our hearts are breaking and we all worry we're too splashy and even the ones who break us are worried they smell bad. And all we can really do is pray, extend our hand and say, "I'm Henrietta; sorry I crowded you."

And if none of that works, we find another class. We try yoga. We try spin. We get on the treadmill and we run very fast.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"In the water I am beautiful." --Kurt Vonnegut

I joined a gym this week. My morning walks around my mother-in-law's neighborhood were great, but last week, after running into a snake and a neighbor's unleashed doberman who gave me a little nip (among other terrifying wildlife), I was done.

I went in really just to a get a few days of working out for free. I didn't expect to love it. But surprise: I loved it. I dropped Henrietta off at the gym daycare, got on the treadmill, rocked out to my music, watched the news on closed caption, and started a couch-to-5k program using an app. Endorphins flooded me. I forgot how much I love those endorphins.

And this morning I went to my first water aerobics class. I'm not yet brave enough to try the other classes, though I will get brave enough soon, and this was the perfect reintroduction. Water aerobics is ideal for a post-pregnancy body. Really, I think water aerobics is just ideal.

There aren't any mirrors! No one was competing! Someone told me my swimsuit was gorgeous! All of this was precisely what I needed.

My post-pregnancy body is such a disappointment, still. My hips are hippier and my belly is loose and my breasts are heavy with milk. I'm working on it, but gently, gently, and slowly, slowly. I refuse to beat myself into a smaller form. But in the water, it doesn't matter at all. All you can see is my head, and I'm okay with my head. I love my head.

All of us had beautiful heads. There was a woman with a gorgeous afro and another with a stylish grey bob. A few of us wore glasses, speckled with pool water. It was clear our bodies had suffered: we'd born babies and lifted grandchildren and perhaps had a few joints replaced, and we were freckled and wrinkled and sagging.

But our swimsuit cleavage was magnificent, and we swished and splashed. I found myself laughing out loud. It didn't just make me happy; I was outright joyful. I loved myself under the water. I loved all of us, moving our bodies and making waves and churning things up as much as we pleased. Underwater, we were dancers and kickboxers and yogis and cheerleaders and basketball players. Underwater, we were beautiful. Underwater, we ran so fast.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


As it turns out, jumping off a cliff together is terrifying, especially when a few of your parachutes don't open. We've had, since we've moved, a string of bad luck. Our house still hasn't sold, and the opportunity to make a good bit of income has dried up. That income was meant to carry us through the next few months and give us a bit of cushion and allow us to move into a place of our own.

Stress? What stress?

Luck is a funny thing. I've been thinking of it that way--as a string of bad luck. A month or so before we left, on a picnic at the park, Sam found a five-leaf clover. He wasn't trying to find it. We were in the middle of a stressy conversation about money, and he looked down, and there it was.

Our Clover, pressed and preserved in a book about Paris gargoyles.

I did a quick Google search to see if five leaf clovers are good luck, or if it must be four, and Google said they were even rarer, and therefore luckier. We're not people particularly prone to symbols of this kind, but it seemed hard to ignore. Our stressful conversation dissipated. We finished our dinner, laughing at Henrietta's enthusiastic crawling and interest in the grass, and went home hopeful.

We've tried to stay hopeful, tried to think things will work out, but it's difficult. Sam sometimes thinks we've just made a mistake, that we shouldn't have made the leap, but I had such an unmistakable impression that we were supposed to come that I don't usually think that. Don't get me wrong, I'm terrible to live with right now. I alternate between hopeful and happy, when I can muster my internal and spiritual resources, and sad and pouty and catatonic and downright mean, when I can't. We've had the worst fights of our marriage in the last few weeks, our relationship buckling under the pressure. But still, when I think about our situation, I'm certain things will settle out somehow. 

We're learning patience, here. A slow, plodding, endurance sort of patience. I'm remembering how important diligent spiritual practices (prayer, study) are to my sanity. We're learning what is essential and what is not, and what becomes unessential when it has to be. We're living monastically, sometimes not leaving Sam's mother's house for days, trying to finish writing our books and hammering out the freelance work we can get, and passing Henrietta back and forth and following her around while she laughs at the cats and claps her hands, practicing her new walking skills. We've zeroed out our expectations for our futures and our careers, rethinking everything, imagining new business ideas and going back to school and applying for various jobs and whatever else we care to think of, as seriously or unseriously as we're inclined, because there's nothing we have firmly in mind to do next. 

I'm worried. I really am. But underneath all of that worry, I'm thinking and hoping that this is the sort of drastic life change that is bound to lead to a breakthrough. Something new is coming, as we muck around in our unlucky situation, trying somehow to manufacture our own luck. I don't know what the something is, but I'm sure enough that it's on its way. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Baby in Galleries

Two months ago, I was in New York City to see some dear friends and meet their new baby. It was a whirlwind trip--in Friday, out Sunday. We had a lovely day at the Met on Saturday, and this is what I wrote in my journal once we got back to our hotel room.

Pretty Hen at the Met

Lovely day in New York. Here to see Arin and baby Alli before we leave the coast. We drove into the city from Westchester County and the she had on all of her jewels. I've never been here when the city was so green, the trees heavy with summer.

We found a miraculous parking spot on the Upper East Side and walked to the Met. I pushed Hen in the stroller and she stopped people in their tracks with her cuteness, as she tends to do.

She had a little foam W she was playing with and chewing on and she kept dropping it. I'd have a feeling she dropped it and I'd turn and see it there in the middle of the gallery, a security guard advancing to pick it up and return it to us.

I held her hands and walked her through the galleries, crowds of people parting around us. I didn't even look up to make sure they would. I just proceeded, Hen's tiny feet slapping forward like a dainty Frankenstein monster.
Pretty harp at the Met
When it was clear she was tired, I fed her, then put her in the stroller with a blanket and wheeled her around rather briskly so she would sleep. I got the brilliant idea to turn on the white noise app on my phone to the ocean waves she's used to and placed it in the stroller. Her eyes were closing, narrowed to slits, and I made laps through a darker, uncrowded part of the museum. We blew past decorative tables and lamps and vases, and I was so proud of myself for knowing how to do it, for being the mom and knowing how to get my baby to sleep that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to stop people and tell them how clever I was.

On a small elevator, on our way to meet Arin and Lucas and Alli in the Impressionist galleries, a woman looked up and all around her, then asked, in a British accent, "Is that the sound of the sea?" I was so pleased to tell her that it was.