Monday, October 27, 2008

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

I have always enjoyed looking in mirrors. When I was younger I was amazed at every movement I executed. As a dance student I learned in front of a huge mirror. I learned to watch for every flaw, to gain confidence from every successful stride. I learned the joy and surprise that was possible when my body would finally accomplish something for which I had been striving and failing, striving and failing.

I have used mirrors to judge myself. Like a guilty pleasure, a year after Cohen’s birth I stripped down to nothing to shame myself into a metamorphosis. Surely this would make me change my habits. Make me put down that bag of BBQ Lays and finally do away with that frozen stash of Kit Kats in the freezer. But a metamorphosis had already taken place. I found that I was that caterpillar to butterfly story rarely told. The one where the whole amazing process takes place and the fucking bug takes it for granted because her wings didn’t turn out to be the color or shape she had expected.

I took pictures of my flabby self that day in the mirror, hoping the flash might wake the self loathing upon which I have relied faithfully as the voice that gets me to eat better, go the gym… you know lose more weight so I can finally be a better person. But the flash had no effect. No matter how I tried when I looked in the mirror, when I flipped through the photos, I could not see that terrible obese woman which I have always had the power to hate into a smaller size. I could not, on that day, hate every dimple, sag, every bulge where a curve used to be. I could only see a good mother. I could finally see a good mother.

Before having carried and birthed and nursed Cohen my body had been a tool, only good for the task it performed, never good just in and of itself. My body had gotten me things that I wanted, and brought to me attention; some as I craved it and some I wish I had never received. This vessel showed me many pleasures before becoming a mother, but it never could retain the value of its actions until Cohen.

On that day when I tried to belittle myself once again I could see nothing that needed changing. The inability to need to change completely disarmed my hatred. It is not that I one day looked at my postpartum body and accepted it as beautiful. It is more like looking at the face of your baby the second he or she is born, when his or her face is still smashed in and covered with curd and blood. The nose is huge and flat, the eyes are swollen and too far apart, and this is your baby. This is what it was all about, and what your life will be about from here on. No matter what you see that day you know the work that it took to get that way. You know that eventually the swelling will go down and nose will pop out. I knew that my body would get into better shape over time, and it did. At that moment I also knew it was not the most important thing. I had better things to do than hate myself for the time being. That was a true first.

Now that Cohen is 2 ½, I find myself before another mirror, faced with a new type of self loathing. My child can stand before me at only 3 feet tall and in her I can see my every flaw reflected.

This began with her repeat story telling. Every time I get her out of the car she asks me if I remember that time I hit her with the door. I do not, and denied the action for the first week, but then it occurred to me that maybe she meant last year when I accidentally shut the back door of the old car while she was still under it and bonked her in the head. Foolishly I offer this information in the hopes of connection. “No, not that time,” she states. Now, every trip to Target, to Walgreens, to Grandmas, to pick out a pumpkin… every time she steps out of the van it goes like this…

Cohen: Remember that time you shut the door on me?

Me: No.

Cohen: Remember that time you shut me in my room? Remember when you spanked me? Remember that time you ran over that frog? Don’t run over any cats OK mommy?! Don’t run over any bunnies OK mommy?! Don’t run over any ponies OK MOMMY?!

At first, I was more impressed with her language and imagination than I was concerned with my parental abilities. But two weeks later I began to again feel like the naked flawed lady standing in front a mirror. Is this what she thinks of me? All she thinks about? How much do I yell?

Too much.

I know that I am currently still in the throws of prozac withdrawal. I know that I am stressed out beyond belief due to this economy, my personal finances, and my inability to find work. I know that I am angry for all of these reasons and yet I will not yell at my banker. I do not tell my doctor that she can go to time out if she tells me my pap came back abnormal. I do not swat my former employer on the butt and send her away crying because she doesn’t have work for me. I’m lower than a dog kicker… I take it out on my toddler.

This poor kid who just thinks that everything I do is interesting. I wish I had the time to be so interesting, the ability to stop and giggle. There is a shortage of tolerance in the air these days, and the part that hits and sticks is that I am doing my best. I am functioning at my maximum. I stop every chance I get, I laugh through the frustration, I wake up when I am exhausted, I manage to crack open a “My Little Pony” Book nightly and take a bath with Cohen once a week, but it still hurts. It is hard to look into her little face and see such curiosity regarding my state of mind. I remember looking at my father and mother and wondering what could possibly be so bad. Tom and Jerry was on. We had juice. The dog was being good. What could have been their problem?

At this point in parenting I realize that my self loathing was not extinct, rather it had been hibernating. I transitioned from facing mirrors to facing myself in the reflection of my daughter.

This reaches beyond her recapping my flawed behaviors for me. Now I see my self hatred as I watch her disobey the teacher in her gymnastics class. She refuses to sit in the circle with the other kids. She insists on being in the center. She is entitled. It is no question where that came from. And if I hate that in myself how do I deal with it in her? I cringe. I fold in on myself until I realize I am sitting in a ball outside of her gymnastics class feeling tense and isolated because my kid is being…a kid.

As it turns out I am alright. I sat in the center of the circle, and that led to me getting alot of things in life that would not have otherwise been handed to me. Here again, without knowing, she forced me to look at myself with less judgment and more humanity.

I am 31 years old now, and I still spend my time in front of mirrors, trying to correct mistakes and emulate successes. Trying to teach the toddler at my side how to look with less judgment at us both, and hoping I can learn that lesson in time.


Pacing the Panic Room said...

I can't believe you let Cohen watch Tom & Jerry!

This was such a great post. It is so very nice to read your writing again. It also made me think of a great idea for you.

You should interview Cohen once a month on here. see how her answers evolve over time. See her perception of you change.

I know. It is a great idea. Can't wait to read the first one.

Pacing the Panic Room said...

you need to add that follower gadget to your blog so I can sign up and stop checking back here ten times day to see if you posted.

Matt Swanson "Julie's smarter other half" said...

Julie, and I quote, "fatty needs to write a little more concisely." I thought that was a little harsh. Sorry.

Lawton said...

Matt, I am going to have to tell that wife of yours that she is prohibited from using you as a relay - as you are incapable of human emotion when engaging in the use of the internet.