2011

I feel like a New Year should symbolize something bold and brilliant; it should be some sort of clear signpost aligned with a major life change.  I am graduating from college this May, so I guess that signifies something. But nonetheless, I feel damp; cold; stagnant.  It’s not that I’m not excited about graduating, or that I regret 2010 (quite the opposite; it was a joyful year).  It’s that the overwhelming characteristic of my emotional landscape right now is fear.

I have a tendency towards anxiety in general (I believe it is often associated with depression), but it has never been particularly associated with the changing of years or the passing of time.  As a child and adolescent, I was so unbelievably eager to grow up that sometimes I felt as though I might explode from waiting.  And there are many pleasures of adulthood: romantic love and sex, of course, but also things like living on your own, exploring new places without constraints or boundaries, and choosing the life that you want to live, in terms of education, career, friends, lovers, location, etc.  There is an exhausting number of variables.

More than anything, I felt my childhood crumble away in late 2010.  I had a similar feeling in late winter of 2009, just about two years ago. You can read my essay about that here.  Maybe there are a series of sudden moments or realizations or overcomings that signify the end of childhood.  Maybe this is one of the moments in that series.  But it still feels too sudden, too painful.  From the time I was about 12, I had the skills to take care of myself.  Granted, I was not an emotionally sound adolescent, but I was remarkably good at cooking, getting myself to and from places, and keeping track of events (gymnastics meets, doctor’s appointments, school concerts).  I don’t remember thinking of myself as a kid past the time I was 11 or 12.

And now I’m 21 and I’ll be 22 later this year and it’s too late to go back.  I want to at least stop time, if I can’t go back.  But I’m not allowed to do that either.  For the first time in a decade, I don’t want to grow up.   I want to stay the same.  I want to play outside with my cousins.  I want to catch minnows in the summer in glass jars.  I want to build intricate snowmen in the winter and not worry about how many calories are in the elephant ear I’m eating.  I want my mother to live with me and make me pad thai or spaghetti with meatballs. I don’t want to take planes and trains and buses by myself.

Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I see 2009 and 2010 as the last years of my childhood.  In May, I will graduate from an Ivy League university with absolutely no clue what I want to do in this world.  I will probably delay the inevitable entrance to the real world by travelling and going to law school.  And maybe I will eventually do something that’s sort of un-adult, like teach kid’s dance lessons or be a nanny.  But my little safe cocoon of late adolescence is peeling away.  Soon, I’m going to have to do things like pay bills and taxes and apply for grown-up jobs.

So that’s the fear and the anxiety that I am feeling.  But as I write this, I’m beginning to feel a spark of some other feeling: it’s not exactly joy or excitement.  Maybe possibility?  Or curiosity?  Or calm?  There are wonderful parts about being a grown up.  And I have a feeling that I will always be the sort of grown up who doesn’t think twice about wearing colorful mittens or sifting for shiny seashells at the beach.  So maybe 2009 and 2010 do signify the terminal point of my childhood.  But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The very end of this year (the second half of December), which I spent with no less than 27.5 relatives from my mother’s side of the family, was rough.   But I think that it makes sense: I was acting out in ways that a seven year old might.  I alternated between fits of misbehavior and moments of deep, deep sadness.  I think somewhere inside, I knew that this was not just the ending of a year, but the ending of an important segment of my life.  Maybe I was trying to delay the onset of 2011.  I will admit that midnight, January 1, took me by surprise.  I was sitting on a couch with my favorite aunt and uncle.  We didn’t notice until it was about 12:03. We promptly went to bed.

In 2011, I do not want to be a misbehaving girl any more.  I want to be a real woman.  This, of course, is probably dangerously undefined, but that’s how I want it to be.  I think that my transition to womanhood began a long time ago.  USB probably sped things up, and then my 21st year ended and I was nudged over the edge.  In this next year, I wish to move away from the child who had to do everything she could to take care of herself and thus grew up too quickly.  I will never leave her behind; that girl is a big part of who I am and how I am today.  Instead, I want to move closer towards the bright, collected, exuberant young woman that I want to be.

Over the next few days, I will begin to compile a list of ways in which I intend to become such a woman.  If it is blog-appropriate, I will most definitely share.  I am not sure they will be resolutions, per se — I strongly dislike the pressure of a resolution.  More like ideas.  Let’s call them ideas.  Stay tuned!

What did 2010 signify for you?  How will 2011 be different?  What are you favorite parts about being a grown up?  About being a child?

Food, Mothers, Families

Today’s Happy Note: Honey-Lemon-Echinacea cough drops.  They’re special.

Exercise: I felt really icky this morning but felt better as the day went on.  I made a little pharmacy run for cough drops, ibuprofen, and kleenex and just felt like I had to run afterwards!  I did my favorite route along the Hudson River, 3 miles down and 3 back with 20 minutes of abs in the middle.  I did 30 reps of 16 different exercises and my tummy was burning. Some of my favorites include boat pose and crunches with legs at 90 degrees in the air.  Averie did a great post about abs — her favorite exercises, how to get good definition (hint: you need to do a few things besides crunches),  etc. I recommend it, it is very informative and inspiring; I love the attitude she takes that when we want something for ourselves we have to get out there and go for it!  Something I want?  A date.  Or two.  I do not think this is greedy.  I don’t yet have a plan for getting said dates, though.  Any ideas?

What’s something you want?  And what’s your plan of attack for getting it?  I say go for it!

I managed to forget to take pictures of everything today so I thought I would talk a little about food and my childhood (in conjunction with one another).  These are topics that I have definitely talked about before, but not really together.

Feeling Confined: Food, Mothers, Families

My parents, as you well know by now, are both doctors.  Good doctors (my dad was recently ranked second best doctor in the county!  Go papa!).  Both of my parents were very (and are) informed about health,  and their jobs allowed us economic and social access to a variety of healthy experiences.  I was a gymnast for ten years, a swimmer, a soccer player (briefly), runner, diver, scooter-rider, park-going, bike-riding, playground-loving kid.  My parents knew about the importance of fresh fruits and veggies.  They knew that kids don’t need to be pumped full of juice or candy or highly processed junk.  Other kids were bringing sandwiches on white bread to lunch; I had multigrain bread sandwiches with sides of carrots and apples.

I am extraordinarily grateful for the healthy childhood my parents gave me, in so many ways.

Last night I was talking on the phone with my dad and he mentioned that he absolutely had to buy a box of cocoa crispies.  His rationale?  He still felt the need to defy my mother’s “food rules.”  All this time I had thought I was the only one who was traumatized by them!  Don’t get me wrong; my mom always had the best of intentions, but sometimes food could become a stressful experience within our already chaotic household.

Sample “rules” (most unspoken):

-no cereal with more than 7-8 grams of sugar

-no white bread

-dinner isn’t dinner without about five servings of produce

-fake food is not food (ex: processed cheese stuff)

-pop and candy are useless calories

-you don’t need dessert everyday

-fast food is a once a year kind of thing.  If you do eat it, you should not enjoy it.

I think that for the most part these are quite good principles to live by.  And for the most part, I live by them today. For example, I have no interest in most highly processed foods, outside of th occasional oreo, and I quite dislike fast food. But there was something constraining about the relationship with food that I experienced.  I think that my mother was right to be concerned about what she put in her own body and the bodies of her children and husband, but is there a way to remain concerned without becoming obsessive?

When I was 16 I came to NYC on a trip with my poetry team.  One day, we all ate lunch in Harlem at a fried chicken place.  I had a milkshake.  I was terrified of the fried chicken because I had always been taught (and believed) it to be somehow evil.  Food is not evil.  It does not possess any inherent goodness or badness.  It is food.  In a single moment, much of my understanding of the world unraveled: it became clear to me that not everyone did or could eat the way my family and I did.  I had been “food privileged.”  And at the same time, I experienced a disordered relationship with food in much the same way that many very unhealthy people do.  How could these two worlds exist simultaneously within me?

In a way, they still coexist.  I find myself wondering if my actions with food are “correct.”  What if I eat a sandwich for lunch and there is too much bread?  What does “too much bread” even mean?  I don’t know what, precisely, is a proper relationship to have with food.  How I should interact with it on a day to day basis.  I know one important thing: there is a major difference between real food and processed food.  But other than that, I don’t know a whole lot.

I think one other thing I understand is this: maybe I don’t need to know all the answers.  Maybe I only need to live and breathe and be.  Maybe the answer does not lie in the precise outlining of a relationship with food.  Maybe there is no perfect program, but rather, I will find answers and comforts in not following any rules at all — neither restrictive rules nor wildly unrestrictive ones.

I am picturing my eight year old self lying sprawled on an asphalt driveway, a friend outlining my giddy body in pink chalk.  I think this is the rule; remember what it feels like to color yourself in with chalk; remember that outline, how it was sometimes blurry and jagged.  This is what food is.  It is not black and white; my relationship with it may be jagged and this is okay — maybe even beautiful.  Little pink chalk body outlines, surrounded by happy blue stars and yellow suns: this is beautiful.  This is happy.  Food can make me happy too.  A million things can make happy, and I do not have to participate in any relationship in which I feel constrained.  I want that girl back — the one playing with the bucket of colored chalk.  That girl.