The Process

“Whoa!” I set a bag of groceries down on the counter along with my keys. “DCF already got back to me about our application!” I quickly scanned the email on my phone while I wrestled a carton of eggs out of a paper bag with my free hand.

“You got an email already?” Dan looked up from the game he was playing on the Xbox. “What’s it say?”

I turned so I was facing him and read aloud from the kitchen, “I received your application and am working on processing it through the system. We have a class starting in Leominster tomorrow night. It will continue the next ten weeks into November, every Wednesday night from 6-9 pm. I know it is very short notice, but I already received a clean background check on you. Could you make this next round of classes if I can get you in?” I looked up at Dan, who had joined me at the counter.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute”, Dan shook his head, trying to knit the pieces together. “We can’t do Wednesday nights, for one thing. I have bowling.” His forehead wrinkled as he reached for my phone. “Joyce Reynolds… what, is she our social worker?”

“I guess?”, I replied with a shrug. “I’ll email back with a ‘no’ for tomorrow, and ask when the next round of classes starts. I think I saw something about Saturday classes in Worcester.” With that first email, we had started “the process”. It happened the day after I submitted our application.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons pre-adoptive parents are put through the foster parent process is to root out the people who apply on a whim.

In Massachusetts, whether you plan to adopt a child or provide temporary foster care, the steps for approval are the same and each one can be tedious. It goes like this:

  • Pass a background check — because, duh.
  • Pass a DCF household physical standards check
  • Attend the Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training program
  • Submit all required documentation (for us, this was the most tedious step)
  • Your social worker writes a license (home) study
  • DCF reviews your license study and approves you for one or more children

Our first step was to schedule our physical standards check with Joyce. On a Friday in September, Dan and I both left work early to meet Joyce at our home so that she could confirm we weren’t running a meth lab, hadn’t adorned our walls with decorative swords, and didn’t have a bevy of illegal slave children hiding in an upstairs closet. I had cleaned like crazy that week – but was careful to not make things “too perfect”. I wanted Joyce to believe she was getting an accurate picture of our home life.

Photo by Connor Home on Unsplash

“Well, obviously neither of you have a drinking problem, since there’s liquor in all these bottles.”

I raised an eyebrow at Dan as Joyce walked around to the front of our basement bar and opened the door to our garage, “Is there a lock on this door?”, she glanced at Dan and I.

“No, but we can easily add one”, Dan replied.

Her lips pursed, “Mmmm, yeah it would probably be a good thing to do.”

Joyce was a petite, greying brunette with a weathered but pretty face anchored by piercing blue eyes and a no-nonsense expression. There was a hardness about her, although I got the sense that it was acquired through circumstance and not temperament. It’s a strange thing, having a stranger in your home with the sole intent of judging it, and you. We joked once or twice in an attempt to lighten the mood, but got nothing more than a tight half-smile as Joyce measured the bedrooms and checked the smoke detectors.

The DCF Physical Standards Check accomplishes a few things. First, it allows your social worker to record the square footage of your bedrooms, which helps the state determine how many children can be placed in your home. Second, as I alluded to earlier, it provides your social worker an opportunity to “kick the tires” and make sure the foster parent applicants aren’t obviously unfit. Finally, since this is typically the first meeting, it’s an introduction for the social worker and the applicant family. Often, it’s the very first conversation about what type of child the family is looking for. I was excited to finally be having this talk!

“Why do you want a daughter instead of a son?”, she directed this question at Dan first.

He shrugged, “I just tend to be more comfortable around women, and I think I could be a better parent to a girl. Plus, Mindi has sisters who are 10 or so years younger than we are, and I found myself playing the role of big brother to them a lot, so I feel like I got some good practice there.”

Her eyes moved to me, “How about you?”

I paused, trying to think of a good response, but realizing I couldn’t articulate one. I shrugged my shoulders, “I’ve just always imagined having a daughter.” That seemed good enough for Joyce.

“Would you consider a sibling group?”

“No”, replied Dan. When he said this, he drew the word out into three syllables, so it sounded like “No-ho-hoo”.

“That might mean finding a match is a little harder”, it was clear she had said these words before, “Girls in the 5-8 age range without bonded siblings that match your criteria do exist, but everybody wants to adopt them. They don’t last long”.

We both nodded. “That’s OK”, I said. “It will take as long as it takes”.

With the first big milestone behind us, it was time to enroll in MAPP class. Having attended various classes throughout my adult life, I had a picture in my mind of what to expect on that first day.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Nothing about MAPP class was as I imagined it would be.

On the Saturday morning of our first class, it was raining, and we stood outside with another couple waiting to be let in as we pulled our jackets tight to keep out the raw October-ness of the day. “Are you guys here for the MAPP training?”, I asked. They nodded in affirmation and introduced themselves as we saw a woman through the window walking towards the door to let us in. I would later learn that the woman’s name was Sheila, and that she would be leading our class. She let us in with a warm hello as we hurried inside and out of the rain.

Our class was held in the Worcester Social Services building, right in downtown Worcester near the famed Palladium. The building was built in 1930, and was drab even by Worcester standards. As we took a loud, lurching elevator up to the 5th floor, I tried to place the smells. I smelled mildew, paint, and frustration. As we exited the elevator and walked through the double doors leading to the classroom, I was surprised to notice another smell: breakfast. Breakfast?

Sheila, along with two other social workers and a volunteer foster parent who were helping her teach the class, had made us breakfast. I’m not talking just coffee and pastries; although there was an abundant selection of pastries and 2 full pots of coffee. They had made us breakfast. On a buffet table covered with a white table cloth was… well, a buffet. There were bagels with 3 different cream cheese spreads, muffins, donuts, fruit, homemade breakfast potatoes, several different types of eggy casseroles, a disposable tray filled with bacon and sausage, and brownies. It was less like a mandatory government training, and more like an office party. It was so unexpected and thoughtful that it endeared these women to me immediately.

“I’m not eating any of that”, Dan muttered in my ear as he glanced in the general direction of the buffet. I chuckled and grabbed a plate as I joined the others who were milling around the food, making awkward conversation as I went. Dan has a very strict and simple rule around communal food: he doesn’t eat it. The less familiar he is with the diners, the lower the likelihood that he will break his rule. I admit that the homemade casseroles were a bit too adventurous, even for my trusting nature, but I did grab a pastry with fruit and some coffee before I sat down with Dan.

Class began and to be honest, it was comically disjointed. I’d like to say it got better, but the next five Saturdays were spent in a state of amused confusion: we were given books that didn’t match the materials the panel was teaching from, the members of the panel constantly veered off topic and delivered long-winded personal anecdotes, and there was heavy reliance on group activities that seemed to be more about filling time than actually learning. The ladies leading the MAPP training were so well intentioned and nice though, that I didn’t really mind the disorganized nature of the classes. It was clear to me that they were doing their best to make a necessary chore more enjoyable for everyone involved; for them it was more about welcoming foster and adoptive parents into a community and helping them feel supported. I did take away 2 very important lessons, which I’m going to talk about a little here. They are crucial if you’re contemplating foster care or adoption.

#1. The excitement you feel for welcoming a child into your home will likely not be reciprocated.

I did a lot of imagining what it would be like for a little girl to move into our home – the excitement she would feel about seeing her bedroom for the first time, or meeting our dog, Max. I was so excited to show a little someone around the house and teach her where to find things and what our daily routines were. I was completely caught up in this fantasy of instant mother/daughter bonding. One of the things that the MAPP training helped to do was to break down this fantasy for me. The reality of the situation is that the dominant emotions felt by children who are in the system and moving into a new home are anxiety and distrust. This manifests in a variety of behaviors; they may be overly clingy, regress to a baby-like state, or even become hostile and refuse to join your family in your norms. The early days are not full of warmth and bonding – they are full of behaviors designed to test where your limits are, and what is truly acceptable and not acceptable in your home. If they have been in the system for a long time, they have learned through necessity how to manipulate. You may think you are gaining ground only to have it pulled out from under you again. The only way through this period is patience, consistency, and love. It will get better but you have to wallow in the adjustment for a while, and not take it personally. Your child is doing what they think they need to do to survive unscathed, and they will adjust at their own pace.

#2. You’ll need to find a way to humanize the birth parents, no matter what they’ve done to hurt their (now, your) child.

This is a really tough pill for many people to swallow.

Let’s face it, there are people who are not deserving of your grace. However, your child deserves to feel understood and supported. Each child who has been through the system has very complicated emotions when it comes to their birth parents. If you can’t see their parents for the complex humans they are, you won’t be able to help them understand why they’ve been hurt so that they can begin to heal.

For me, this has been extremely important, as our daughter talks about her birth parents (particularly her father) often. She looks to us to reinforce her feelings that she’s safe, and to help her process and understand the moments in her life when she didn’t feel this way. Here’s how I approach this subject: I remind her that being an attentive parent takes a lot of responsibility, and it’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. In the same way that I’ll never be a math-lete or an olympic swimmer, there are people who will never be good parents; it is not part of how they’re put together. This doesn’t mean that her birth parents didn’t love her very much, or that she’s not a great kid. They were just not good at being parents — sometimes people become better with help and time, but sometimes they just can’t do it. I tell her I’m sorry that she had to experience the hurt that came from her parents’ shortcomings, assure her that they wish they could have done better, and let her know how glad I am that I have the privilege of being her mother now. Then I simply give her a hug.

After MAPP class, there was the paperwork. Sweet baby Jesus, there was the paperwork.

I won’t go into much detail here, because it’s boring. We had a lot of paperwork to fill out and it took us a really long time. Probably longer than it should have taken, to be honest, but show me someone who doesn’t drag their feet (at least a little) on submitting paperwork. No really, show me.

That’s what I thought.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The list of required documentation is lengthy. Feel free to just scroll past this part (I won’t be offended!). If you’re curious here is what I believe to be the full list (shudder):

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates (if applicable)
  • Divorce Decrees (if applicable)
  • Driver’s Licenses
  • Well water certificate (if applicable)
  • LTC/FID card and list of guns/registrations (if applicable)
  • Dog license(s) and proof of rabies vaccinations (if applicable)
  • Name of car insurance and home owner’s insurance companies
  • Extensive financial information, including: outstanding debt and the nature of the debt, cash in all bank accounts, all assets, monthly income, monthly living expenses
  • References: medical reference from your PCP, employer reference, personal reference
  • Family Profile (very personal, and must be filled out by both parents – questions include childhood experiences, family relations, past romantic relationships, drug and alcohol habits, best and worst attributes of your spouse, etc)
  • Child Behaviors Checklist (what behaviors would you be willing to tolerate in a child)
  • Fingerprinting (must be fingerprinted within 6 months of approval; our process went longer, so we had to do it twice)

Then there was the waiting.

When we finally got the news that we had been approved to be foster parents, it felt like a monumental achievement. It had been months and several follow ups since we submitted the last shred of documentation, and about nine months since we stepped foot into our first MAPP class. “Don’t get too excited, now you’ve got another long process ahead of you”, Joyce warned me. I wasn’t hearing it; we were licensed to be foster parents in the state of Massachusetts!

Our search could begin in earnest; we were ready to find our daughter. Over the next three months we created flyers to pass out to adoption workers and inquired directly about several children. Then one night we saw a photo, glued to a piece of poster board, that would change our lives forever.

The Applicants

On Labor Day in 2018, I applied to be a foster parent.

I was getting startlingly close to reaching 40, just over 4 months shy of it. My husband and I had decided at least a year prior that we would complete our family by adopting a child from the state of Massachusetts. We both had been looking at the Mass Adoption Resource Exchange website (MARE) for months to stay updated on the children who were free. I had been spending more and more time aware of the fact that there was a child in the system who was queued up, in a sense, to join us in our home. Who was she? Was she safe right now? In a burst of motivation, the type that can only be born by a bubble of inaction that has grown far too large, I decided on that early September day that this was my shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment. So, while sitting on our living room couch and holding my laptop firmly in its rightful place, I shat.

The question that people most often ask us is: Why did we decide to adopt, and why DCF?

If you cut my brain neatly in half, you could count the layers of attitudes I’ve held throughout my life around the topic of motherhood. Specifically, on whether or not I wanted to “be a mom”. At my core, when I was a little girl, I just assumed that it would happen. Then, when I was a teenager I began to help care for my step-sisters, who were babies, and my attitude changed as I realized how much work was involved. As an adult I felt the pressure and desire to be a parent, especially after getting married, but it seemed I was always focused on other things. As I entered my thirties, the pressure grew and I felt the likelihood of having a baby slipping away with every new grey hair. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Then there was my husband, Dan, to consider. He was never comfortable with the idea of starting a biological family. Early in our relationship, casual mentions of parenthood would arise, but they were so distant that they were essentially meaningless. After we got married, I brought up the topic in earnest.

Dan pushed back on the suggestion, “I don’t want to raise a kid in a tiny basement level condo”.

I agreed with him, and resolved to wait until we were in a house. Once we bought a house, however, we didn’t have enough money for daycare. Then we increased our savings and our salaries. Still, it wasn’t enough to convince him that it was time.

“You’re not even 100% sure you want to be a mom”, he finally said to me one day.

He was right, I wasn’t. We both struggled with the social responsibility of bringing a life into the world if we weren’t 1000% sure it was the right thing for us. Those who know us well know we can be maddeningly responsible.

I was also struggling with something else – I hope you won’t think me a terrible person, but I don’t really like babies. I was terrified of the thought of not being able to bond with a newborn. Also, I am a bumbling shit-show of a human being when I’m sleep deprived. Those two nuggets of knowledge haunted my fleeting aspirations of being a mom.

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

In light of everything, I decided that we’d ultimately be better off with our dog and occasional visits from our nieces and nephews, and I relayed this to Dan who happily accepted it.

The only downside was that the decision broke my heart into so many pieces that, more than once, it left me gasping for air as I sobbed. It clarified for me what I already knew at my core. I really did want to be a mom, but I was scared of things that were difficult and messy. Dan and I loved being married; we had a very fun, very orderly life that was free from drama. I didn’t want to mess that up, but the thought of never experiencing what it would be like to be a parent alongside him… well, that wasn’t going to fly either.

The months following were difficult. We talked, we fought, I cried. Dan was left feeling like the bad guy. He had aligned with my bogus decision to stay childless, and I was pulling the rug out from under him. Both of us were afraid of living with regret. After so many truly uncomfortable conversations, we landed on a compromise that felt right. We had examined our motivations and realized that neither of us were particularly enamored with the prospect of becoming parents the conventional way. That idea alone made it seem unreasonably frivolous for us to bring a new life to Earth. There are so many kids already here – kids who need maddeningly responsible parents. We should adopt one of those kids, we decided. We felt that, if we were going to do something really hard like become parents, we would be better suited for that hard.

I think when most people hear that we’re fostering to adopt, they assume we wanted a child but couldn’t have one. This isn’t that story. To those who are experiencing that sort of heartache, I can’t imagine your pain. Parenting is an incredibly personal decision, and the reasons behind the decisions that drive us are slightly different for everyone. I never experienced a strong desire to have a baby or pass on my genes, and neither did Dan. I wanted to be a parent because I had amazing parents, and I wanted in life to help a child learn and grow the way they did with me. I was lucky, and so many kids are not.

Photo by A. L. on Unsplash

With our decision made, and 4 more months until my 40th birthday, I sat looking at my computer screen, my cursor hovering over the “Apply to Adopt a Child” button on the mass.gov website.

I filled out the application in a sort of trance, my mind trying to decide in the background whether or not I would actually submit it. I didn’t tell Dan, because I didn’t want to risk being talked out of – or into – doing exactly whatever was right for me in that moment. Plus, he had made it clear to me that he would show up at every turn to support the adoption, but it was up to me to get the ball rolling. This moment was mine.

After the required information had been entered I quickly clicked “submit”, then let out my breath and let myself feel. I had finally taken the first step; the bubble had burst. My eyes welled up and I smiled like an idiot, all alone in the living room. After a while, I was ready to share my news. Casually, I walked out onto the sunny deck, the wood just hot enough to be uncomfortable on my bare feet. I reached behind me to slide the screen door shut. Dan was absorbed in a book, enjoying the late Summer afternoon.

“Sooo… I just submitted an application to adopt a child, and I listed you as the secondary parent. If you see anything from DCF, that’s why.”

He looked up from his book, alarm growing on his face. “We’re doing this now?”

I sat down. “Look, it’s never gonna be the right time.” I began telling him about the research I’d done around next steps and timelines.

“It’s as if we were just finding out I was pregnant”, I explained. “We’ve got at least 9 months ahead of us before anything changes.”

As it turned out, it would be almost a year and a half before our daughter moved in, turning our lives upside down and inside out. By then Dan had traded in the bulk of his anxiety, and had made good on his promise to support our decision — even admitting to me that he was getting excited to be a dad. I won’t say that our uncertainty ever completely subsided, but we made room for it to come along with us rather than allowing it to continue holding us back. We learned a lot in the following year – about our country’s child welfare system, about the situations of children we decided not to pursue, about how protected our own childhoods were and how fortunate we are. We were so excited to learn about our daughter — and soon enough, we did!

My Unproductive Productivity Habit

Many of us have a thing. A thing that is marketed to us, which strikes with such promise that it cannot be passed up. A Game Changer. Maybe it’s a particular diet or workout regiment, a new skincare routine, a self-help book, a well researched course, a tropical vacation opportunity  — or something else completely life changing that you didn’t know you needed until you saw it. This thing will open the door to the “you” that you always knew you could be, if only you had the right… thing.

MY thing? A thoughtfully constructed planner, bonus points for quirk or sass and plenty of room to write in the margins.

The scene is familiar. After browsing through lackluster offerings, I’m rewarded with a beauty, holding pages upon pages of space for my productivity. Oh, and how productive I could be with this planner! My cursor over the buy button, I daydream of filling it in, coffee in hand, and then finally living up to my own expectations of wondrously focused days, punctuated by the gleeful checking off of my accomplishments. With satisfaction, I click “buy”, and begin to feel accomplished already.

If I charted all my past purchases of productivity planners, I’m betting they would coincide to the different episodes over the last 10-15 years where I’ve felt truly aimless and frustrated. Once during a low point, I bought one for myself AND a friend – completely unsolicited – because I was so certain that it would help both of us out of our funks. I never asked her if she used hers, but mine is still mostly empty. In fact, I rarely fill them out and yet I’m still waiting to receive the planner that will change my life.

Naturally, when the pandemic started in March I began researching the perfect planner, and my purchase was complete within a few days. This time, due to the sheer magnitude of this rough patch I leveled up and ordered not just a planner, but a planner subscription. These monthly planners are more like themed self-care journals, as they are filled with mood trackers, habit trackers, appointment blocks, inspirational quotes, self-reflection prompts and more. I was giddy. This month’s theme is Passion, and I happened to receive my journal the week before our 4th of July vacation. Immediately it went into my suitcase to be filled out during a quiet, indulgent moment.

While I indulged in many things during vacation week, writing in my planner was not one of them. I sat down at the breakfast table one morning and eagerly turned the pages to start journaling. I stopped cold when I got to the part where I was supposed to journal what my “passion” was. There were prompts like “What can you lose hours doing” and “What did you want to do when you were younger”. I had nothing. I could name a few things I like to do, but a passion? I sat in the quiet, feeling the sun and a sense of loss.

I was bothered.

Was I depressed? Was I boring? Why wasn’t there anything I was passionate about? I closed the planner in frustration and it stayed on the table for days – another empty book filled with promise.

I still haven’t written in it, but I’ve done a lot of reflecting. The very first thing I remember wanting to “be” was a writer. I can spend hours thinking through an idea, and then hours more writing through it. Often, my finished piece is completely different than what I started with, as I uncover new opinions through the act of reading my own words and decide to change course. This piece was supposed to be about “The Myth of Strength”, but I’ll have to change my current title and write about that next time.

I’ve also determined, sadly, that part of what has kept me from realizing my passion is my damned “productivity” obsession. Writing takes time; if I’m not doing it for income, I’m wasting good time. Even now, as I wrap up this piece I feel as though I’ve spent too much time on this today. I’ve got more laundry to do, the house is dirty, the kid has had too much screen time, I could stand to get a jump start on the work week, and on and on and on. I should get a really good planner so I can write all this down and finally get some stuff done.

 

My Shiny New Job!

I got a job!

Well, it’s not a job job. I’m still on the prowl for one of those.

THIS job, while only five hours a week, combines two of my biggest passions: acquired brain injury advocacy and… parties! Needless to say, I’m super excited about it. How did I get this weird and wonderful job, which seems custom made just for me? It’s kind of a cool story, which I shall now tell you….

:: wavy shimmery story transition ::

As some of you know, my stepfather, Brian, has an acquired brain injury (ABI). A little over twenty years ago he was badly injured at an auto salvage lot, when an exploding tire (improper handling by staff) caused an immediate and severe head injury. He lost a large portion of his skull and about 30% of his frontal lobe. It happened about 4 months after his wedding to my mom; she hadn’t even gotten all the film developed. In the years since, he has amazed both his family and his doctors in his recovery. A man who wasn’t expected to live has relearned how to walk, regained most of his speech and fine motor skills, and now joyously interacts with his grandchildren. If reading that choked you up, know that I have tears from writing it. I have learned so much about the fragility and preciousness of the lives we take for granted, and of the sheer strength and resiliency that we are capable of, by growing up while watching him constantly fighting to make progress. He’s a big part of my life, and the injury is always present in my family – a silent reminder of heartbreak and hope.

When you get older (I sound so mature!) you tend to parse out the bullshit in your life and focus – finally – on the things that are truly important to you. This is why I decided that I truly want to become an advocate for people with ABI. My recent unemployment gave me the perfect opportunity to start – it’s not like I didn’t have any time! I did have a challenge, though, in the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to get started. Like, no clue. And then, a few days after I started mulling this all over, I went to the Leominster Public Library to job search with a change of scenery and came across a flyer for brain injured adults. It was for a group that meets weekly and does activities together (parties, concerts, painting, etc). I tore off a number and called, explaining that I was interested in becoming involved and asking what was available for volunteer positions. Turns out it’s a non-profit in Worcester, and they had an actual paying position open that they were having trouble filling because it’s so few hours per week. BOOM!

My role will be coordinating the group events, transporting the members if necessary, and forming new and rewarding friendships. I’ve met two of the group members, who were hilarious and inspiring, and drove the big white transit van around Worcester for my “driving test”. Taking a corner in that thing is like trying to turn the wheels using a steering column made up of twisted bedsheets. Don’t even talk to me about coaxing it up to 60 on the highway. Terror. The hours are so few (6-9 one night per week, and about 4 hours one weekend per month) that I can continue looking for the perfect “day job”.

I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” person, but it’s nice when things do fall in to place. This role will introduce me to a community who views advocacy as their mission, and I’m open and eager for this new chapter of life.

Could the Body Positivity Movement Help us Fight Obesity?

Fat Acceptance. Body Positivity. If you exist on social media or have an internet connection, you’ve likely heard these current buzz words. You may have also noticed that they carry a lot of weight. They are, let’s say… loaded terms. They’re heavy topics… with, um… tons of opposition. You see what I’m doing here? Good, cause I’m out of fat puns.

Seriously though, proponents of the Fat Acceptance and Body Positivity Movements (from here on out, bopo) encounter a lot of criticism and pushback as they spread their message. As surely as the Pope shits in the woods, whenever a fearless bopo queen posts a picture of herself looking fabulous in her fatkini, she’ll get comments about her “promotion” of obesity. Remember – this isn’t a photo of her force-feeding cake to pre-schoolers while looking at us with a sadistic sneer and a thumbs up – this is her, in front of the surf, wearing a two-piece bathing suit and a smile. That’s it. She’s being herself and loving it. Which, apparently, promotes obesity. What’s going on here?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this topic over the past few days, and about how shit stompingly irritated I get when I read comments about how pretty girls in bikinis are making people fat. I think I’ve figured out what’s bothering me, and it’s two fold.

  1. The bopo movement, if properly embraced, could actually help us fight obesity.
  2. Ok opponents, I’m actively addressing you now. I think… that you don’t actually think bopo promotes obesity… not really, anyway. I think there’s another reason you don’t support bopo, but either it doesn’t feel good to say it out loud, or you haven’t come to terms with it. It’s ok – I will help you through this; we’re here to dig deep.

Let’s start with numero uno. In order to unpack my point, I first need to express what I believe bopo to represent. Don’t worry, I won’t skew the message to meet my agenda – my representation will be pretty standard. Secondly, I’ll need to get a little personal and explain what it was like to grow up as a fat girl without bopo, and how it has affected me. I know, feelings… gross.

So… what the hell is body positivity anyway? From what I have seen, the movement is all about empowering people to not let their perception of their bodies keep them from living their best lives. It starts with learning to appreciate your body, accepting your “flaws”, realizing that the standard you’ve been holding yourself to is unrealistic. It’s about taking up space, and planting your feet… or your ass. It’s about shedding years of “I can’t” and “not me”. When a bopo babe wears a fatkini, it’s because she’s reclaimed the right to proudly feel the air on her thighs, arms, stomach. She deserves it every bit as much as the size 4 woman with washboard abs sitting near her. It’s about freedom and rebellion from every f*cked up put-down you’ve ever heard about yourself – the ones you’ve heard with your ears and the ones you’ve heard in your head. It’s about believing… that you are beautiful, not that you “have a pretty face”. It’s about ending the self-proclaimed caveats.

I remember the first time it entered my awareness that I was getting fat. I think I was 5 or 6, which would put this at around 1985. I quickly learned that there were some things that were now off limits. My red and white striped bikini that I wore when I was four still took up space in my dresser, but I was discouraged to wear it, and my mother would not buy me another one. That is the only two-piece bathing suit that I remember owning. Ever. My childhood bathing suit collection consisted of the suits that were popular for women at the time – low back with a skirt. Not really appropriate for a 7 year old, but I wore them. When they started to make fun of my arms and belly, and newly developing breasts, I wore them with a long t-shirt.

By the time I was eight, I was full-blown taunted at school. Every fat insult that would come to a third-grade boy’s mind was hurled in my direction. When we played kickball, a pit would form in my stomach once I found out that teams would be picked rather than assigned. I was always picked last. Even though, as a bigger kid, I was stronger than many of the other girls and kicked harder. I shook this off though, because I actually liked kickball. I liked gym class. I grew to hate it as the snickers about my ass jiggling when I ran became apparent to me. I stopped trying to cross the monkey bars on the playground because I slipped once, and one of the mean girls told the entire class that I bounced when I fell. I can thank the movie Stand By Me for the hushed “boom baba boom baba boom” I sometimes heard as I walked around the class room. Is anyone still wondering why fat kids wind up on the sidelines?

As this fat girl passed puberty and moved on to high school, the list of things that “weren’t for me” only grew. Fashion trends (remember body suits with a pair of jeans and a belt? Guess who couldn’t wear those). Sports. Boyfriends. Being active in front of others (can you see how much she sweats? She’s so out of breath). Being in any situation that would require a bathing suit. Eating freely in front of others without fear of judgement. This list is longer, but this is not a novel, so I’ll move on. In a world that is hostile to fat people, the situations in which shame is felt are limitless. Our natural inclination is to protect ourselves from shameful situations. In many cases, this leads to exclusion. Shutting in, rather than getting out and freely partaking in life. I know that for me, in adolescence, books became my solace. I’m forever grateful for my love of reading, but flipping pages doesn’t exactly make one sweat. I began to form an unhealthy relationship with food because I equated eating to being judged. We all need to eat, right? I ate like a bird in public, then over-compensated in private. All of this helped contribute to me wearing size 22 jeans in the 11th grade.

It’s not body positivity, it’s FAT SHAMING that helps to promote obesity.

Did others make me fat? No, of course not. However, were body positivity the norm instead of fat shaming… imagine how my childhood would have been different. I wouldn’t have had a need to withdraw because of my jiggling. I liked sports, I probably would have continued playing them. Maybe my baby fat would have evened out because of my activity level and healthier relationship with food. Perhaps you grew up with similar circumstances, and you’re nodding your head in agreement. Perhaps you didn’t, and you think I’m full of shit. Either way, you have to admit that one childhood scenario here is healthier than the other, both physically and mentally. Teach body positivity to your kids. If they are overweight, they need to understand that everything that they see other kids doing is for them too. Don’t try to protect them, teach them to value their bodies enough (yes, even fat bodies) to grow thicker skin and go do stuff. They DESERVE it. If your kids are not overweight, teach them that all bodies are capable, and that you cannot tell much about a person from their size; you need to go talk to them to find out what they are in to. Maybe they’re really good at kickball. Fat bodies can move like thin bodies, especially when you’re a kid. Teach your kids that there is NO SHAME IN HAVING EXTRA FAT.

If you still, after reading this, are an opponent of bopo: come on, really? Here’s what I think of you. I think that the real reason you just can’t support this movement is because this movement comes with an ask. It asks you to be accepting of fat people. It asks you to rethink your idea of what we’re capable of and what we deserve. It asks you to let us in and let us be. And you don’t want to. Because we don’t deserve it. That’s what I think.

And if I’m wrong, simply ask yourself this:

Body positivity is about getting out there and living. Fat shaming keeps people on their couches. Which one do you think burns more calories? Which one do you support? Why?

Welcome to Motley Cognition

I’m sitting here on the couch, ice down my shorts, and this moment seems as good as any for writing my first blog post. Why do I have ice down my shorts? I’ll get to that in a minute, but really what I want to tell you about is why I decided to start a blog, and what you can expect to find here.

I’m recently unemployed. The hows and whys aren’t very exciting or important, so I won’t get in to detail. Basically, my job of 12 years ended when the business was acquired, and from there I jumped into a job that wasn’t a good fit for me. Honestly it felt like relationship hopping… you know how sometimes you need to be single for a little while to figure out what you want? Well, I’m single now. Trying to find meaning in the quiet.

I’ve discovered that one of the consequences of my joblessness, aside from having more time on my hands, is that my thoughts are no longer corralled throughout the day. Routine is about more than what you do with your body; your brain focuses on getting you through the day as efficiently as possible, with little room for daydreams. Lately I feel like my head is one of those big geodes, but if you cracked it open you wouldn’t see vaguely disappointing purple crystals. Instead, a rainbow of pent up and unleashed creativity would come spewing out, which actually is way more satisfying. My thoughts have been everywhere and nowhere. I’ve come up with no less than 3 business ideas (and no more than 0 viable ones), a stand-up comedy routine for my surely inevitable open mic night, art projects I want to get started on, oh – and my phone search history now resembles my dreams: a somewhat confusing yet entertaining mash up of the past week’s conversations with friends and random musings. Brain eating amoeba has made its first (but not only!) search appearance of the summer. Melissa McCarthy has lost a bunch of weight. Channing is still hot.

So anyway, I decided to start a blog. I’ve always loved to write, and I love sharing ideas with people. However, one of the reasons I’ve never done the blog thing before is because I’ve never wanted to pick a focus, and I still don’t. Enter Motley Cognition. I picked the name as a description of what the blog is about, and also because I like the words. Motley just means varied, or assorted… but it somehow conjures up both innocent apple sauce and sexy 80’s bad boys – and I mean, how can you not like that combo? I love “cognition” because I’m a sucker for anything Psychology, and the word evokes a machine-like working of the mind. It’s all very Steampunk. Steampunk is still cool, right? Did I miss it?

At Motley Cognition you might read my thoughts and (hopefully) choose to interact with me on any one of these topics: psychology, feminism, food, alcohol, aging, social issues, politics, animals, people with traumatic brain injury and other disabilities, love, childlessness, body positivity, gardening, interior design, and more. I almost forgot – I will also talk about pulling my groin while playing with my dog at the park (ice, meet crotch). Yeah… I was running with him, and I did the “fake out” direction change. Fell down and couldn’t get back up for a little while. Eventually I gathered Max and his toys and walked back to the car like Quasimodo – those who have pulled that muscle know exactly what I’m talking about. Freaking dog.