Friday, September 16, 2016

On Elul and Being Present on Shabbat

Ah, Elul. That big, beautiful month full of reflection on the Jewish (Hebrew) calendar. It's the month leading up to the High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah and Sukkot. It's one of my most favorite times of year because it means that fall is coming, my birthday is coming, and that winter is right around the corner and that boots, scarves, and jackets are soon a necessity.

It also means October is going to be a mess of time off from work, multiple days in a row without the ability to use technology, no daycare, and general chaos. But, you know what, that's okay.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I've really, truly, honestly embraced Shabbat and days of rest.

You see, I'm a highly anxious workaholic (no, who, me!?). Shabbat was one of the hardest things to accept as I became religious all those years ago, because I've always been a hyper plugged in person. It's what I do professionally, and it's how I connect with friends near and far, not to mention family, too.

But recently, I've started going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat again, after a good probably nine months of skipping Saturdays at home so I could sleep while Mr. T and Asher were out of the house. Once baby showed up, I slept in, woke up, fed the baby, read trashy magazines, and so on. But when Mr. T was out of town a few weeks in Israel for iBoy's bar mitzvah, I knew I couldn't have Asher in the house for hours on end lest we both go bananas. So I hauled myself out of the house and we went to synagogue.

Now, wearing a sort-of sleeping newborn and trying to daven (pray) with focus is next to impossible. So I spent most of the morning (roughly 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.) in the baby group, where you can drop your little ones off starting at the age of six months (they have programming up through the age of teenagers). They sing songs and there are toys and the other babies like to see my baby, so it's a win-win because I get to talk to the adults in the room and we're out of the house.

When Mr. T came back, I kept going. The baby doesn't sleep so late in the morning anymore, and it's good to get out and see people, right?

During those few weeks where it was just me and the kids, I found myself doing a lot of observing. I watched people coming and going from shul, I watched the kids outside playing with their teenage teachers in groups, I watched the entire theater of Shabbat happening around me. And it was beautiful.

The thing about Shabbat is that, when you're really inside it, when you're really present and experiencing it, the anxiety of the rest of the week really does disappear. Recently I've found myself just enjoying being present from sundown to sundown. I'm not rushed to turn my phone back on, and that moment when I do turn my phone back on I feel a huge pang of regret and sadness. Because I've noticed that when Shabbat ends, after we make havdalah to separate the sacred from the profane, my fingers and face are glued to the damnable little device.

Yes, it's my job to be digital 24/6, but what does that mean? What is it costing me?

As Asher gets older, he's noticing how connected I am more. He'll often say my name repeatedly to get my attention, and even when I respond, it's the device he wants me to put down. Like, literally set down. He needs my attention. And if he's doing something cute, he often isn't interested in it being filmed or captured in a picture. He just wants me to be present.

On Shabbat, last week, we all stayed home because we had a hand-foot-mouth scare (which turned out to be not what he had, but rather just teething and a cold). We played, we engaged, we were present. We went to the playground, we enjoyed the sunshine and make believe. We sang and danced. We enjoyed each other.

I was so present and completely wrapped up in my family that I said to Mr. T: "Days like this make me think I could have a third, easily, without any second thoughts." (Or something to that affect.) It was just such a blissful day.

Then, of course, the next day, Mr. T was tired, the baby was half awake next to me in bed, and Asher was calling, "Mommy. Tatty. Mommy. Tatty." I zipped upstairs to mute the monkey only to find out he'd really, really, really wet the bed hardcore. As I pulled off all the sheets and pulled out the stuffed animals and toys and books I realized that I was good with where I was.

Shabbat really does something beautiful for me. I don't know how people function without a single day to be disconnected from the rest of the world and to really be present with those closest to you. No TV, no phones, no devices, no distractions.

All of this is to say, I guess, that I'm glad that I'm at this point in my life. It took having two kids to really learn to appreciate Shabbat, and now, every week, I long for Shabbat and lament its leaving. I've even started not looking at my phone on Saturday night to prolong a sense of peace and presence just a little bit longer. It makes all the difference in the world.

So, I'm curious: How do you do it? How do you connect, how do you really connect and be present in your own life? 


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

LuLaRoe: My Why

Well, things are amazingly busy and wonderful and mostly busy over here. And here's a video to explain why.



Feel free to join the fun on Facebook!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sending the Baby to Daycare: Am I a Monster?



Well, Mr. T has been out of the country since August 7, and everyone's still alive here. I still have another five days to go, so there's still a possibility that my head will explode and take both of my adorable children with it!

The truth is, over these two weeks, Ash has been in part-time day camp (9-3), instead of full-time daycare (8-4) because daycare has been out for one reason or another. Little T, of course, has been home with me, and I've been crazy overwhelmed with work. I have been working bizarre hours, staying up incredibly late to get things done, canceling and rescheduling calls because of a wiggly baby, and running myself ragged. And don't even talk to me about the dishes, the laundry, the state of the house ... I've just given up.

And now? Light at the end of the tunnel! I'm excited, super stoked, but feeling an immense amount of guilt because both kids are in full-time daycare starting Monday. Should a 2-month-old baby be in daycare? I don't know.

You see, I've got a full-time job that I love and that I wouldn't give up for anything in the world. I also have two children whom I love more than anything in the world. With all that combined, it means daycare. Now, Asher ended up in daycare at 10 months because Mr. T was out of the country and I had part-time work and was looking for full-time work. He was a pretty legit human child at that point, and I cried when I dropped him off the first day.

Over the past week and a half, I've hired a nanny a few times because I had to get things done for work. It amazed me how easily it was to leave her with someone. I didn't cry. I thought to myself, "Okay, I've got four hours to get a week's worth of work done." (It also amazed me how much money I had to throw at these nannies; they make a serious killing.)

In just a few short days, I'll be dropping Little T off at daycare for a full day. She'll be with strangers for eight straight hours while I sit, working, in my happy place. On the one hand, I'm thinking "freedom!" and on the other hand I'm thinking, "I'm leaving my little baby with strangers."

Is it a second child thing? Is it a daughter thing? Is it a "being a stay-at-home, full-time working mother" is something that drives all mothers to a breaking point on a daily basis? I actually screamed at my crying 2-month-old in the car the other day. Screamed to the point where my throat ached for hours. And I cried. A lot. Several times that day.

So. Am I a terrible human being for being super ready and prepared to drop both of my kids off at daycare first thing Monday morning? I've got a 9:30 a.m. call and a 2:30 p.m. call, and all I can think is "I'm going to get SO much done with a solid eight hours of work. It's going to be awesome."

Sigh.

I'm terrible, right? How do women do this without guilt? I love my kids. I just can't be with them 24/7. I'm not cut out for it. I feel about full-time, stay-at-home mothers like I do about pediatric oncologists and military personnel. I'm glad someone feels good and passionate and capable about doing those jobs because I simply don't.

I'm a good mom. When I'm well-worked, well-rested, and can cook dinner on my own terms, everyone is happier because mommy is happier. And that's the rule, right? When mommy is happy everyone's happy?

Right?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: Garden Lites Superfood Veggie Cakes

Slap me silly and call me in love! Now, Asher is already in love with Garden Lites muffins of all varieties (but especially the Ninja Turtles ones with chocolate chips and the chocolate muffins that we used to get at CostCo), but I have a new go-to for Shabbat and weekday lunch sides: Superfood Veggie Cakes!




The kind folks at Garden Lites sent me these gluten-free, vegetarian goodies for review just in time. With my husband out of the country in Israel for two weeks for iBoy's bar mitzvah, I was struggling to accept the fact that I had to make sure there was food on the table for me and the Ashman. I was thinking of boxed mac and cheese, pizza from the local pizza shop, PB&J, but when it came to Shabbat, I was baffled. PB&J just doesn't scream Shabbat.

Enter Garden Lites. I quickly baked some fish, made a box of Lundberg rice, and prepared these Superfood Veggie Cakes, and our meal was perfectly well-rounded and delicious to boot. At 100 calories, I seriously ate multiples because they just taste good. Also? Asher loved them!

My only gripe? The packaging instructions were a little confusing. I love that Garden Lites prints the cooking instructions on the plastic wrapper as well as the box, because if you toss the box and still have the product, you need the instructions! But the instructions on this package was a bit confusing as it said to remove the outer packaging and place the cakes on a baking tray. I did this, but the black tray that they were in (inside the outer packaging of plastic) started to melt to the side of my baking pan! Luckily, it peeled right off and I didn't ruin the pan. It left me questioning whether I should have taken the cakes out of the black tray they were in, too.

Do you think you'll give these yummy cakes a try?

From Garden Lites: Available in the refrigerated section of Coscto stores, Garden Lites Superfood Veggie Cakes are kosher, delicious, vegetarian, Gluten-free and only 100 calories! The first and main ingredients in every Garden Lites products are always vegetables, and the Superfood Veggie Cakes are no exception. Superfood Veggie Cakes are perfect for healthy snacking on-the-go, or also as a quick side dish at home to go along perfectly with any meal. Garden Lites® Superfood Veggie Cakes are available at Costco at a suggested SRP of $9.79 and online at HealthyGoodness.com.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On Being Fat: Stick to Style, Not Size Number

First grade, homemade dress!
Once upon a time, I was a slam poet. I guess you don't ever really stop being a slam poet, but for me, my poetry juice appears to have dried up. I went through a period in my early/mid 20s where, when I put pen to paper, it made me proud and I worked up the courage to throw words into a crowd. Now, I'm lucky to find the time to blog right here, where I've been blogging for 10 years now.

One of those poems I penned during my slam renaissance was called "First Fat Miss America." It was inspired by an interaction I had as a child while watching the Miss America pageant, and it painted how I viewed myself and how I felt about myself for a long time. Yes, I was told that I, Amanda Jo Edwards, could be the first fat Miss America. I had the potential. Now, I suppose this could have been a compliment, the idea that I, a girl born and raised in the Midwest of the United States, could achieve such a fanciful goal. But I got stuck. Stuck on "fat." And I think that was the point.

I was never thin, and I was always depressed about my size.

I was a pretty cute baby, gosh darn't, but starting the moment I hit school, I was fat. I was basically fat up until I hit middle school and learned that I could skip lunch, I could dump it all in the garbage and my parents would be none the wiser. Yet, somehow, years of skipped lunches and grumbling stomachs didn't leave me thin. I just got fatter. My mom made my clothes for most of my younger years, and as I got older I ventured into the Pretty Plus section at Sears (the girls' equivalent of Husky), and when I entered middle school, I started noticing how different I was. I had a very tight-knit group of friends, 80 percent who were much, much thinner than me. By 6th grade I'd shot up in height, hit puberty, and was gigantic compared to both boys and girls in my class. I started wearing women's clothing, and it wasn't pretty.

Hello fifth grade.
In high school, I went through the same pattern of having extremely thin friends, tossing my lunch, and trying to stay as slim as I could. When I'd tell people how much I weighed, I was always told, "wow, you really wear your weight well." I worked at McDonalds for two years in high school and managed a steady diet of a plain grilled chicken sandwich with a touch of sweet and sour sauce and a small fry. I didn't succumb to the cravings; I had to watch my already-large figure.

Just before graduation in 2006.
By the time I graduated college, I was at an all-time high weight because the rigors of college newspaper life (80 hour work weeks and midnight runs to the local bar) left me drunk and with the munchies and that led me to fast food restaurants. Food was comfort, clothing was hell.

After I graduated college and moved to Washington D.C. in 2006, I lacked a social life, and I started to lose weight. I went vegetarian (it was cheaper), walked just about everywhere, and was depressed as hell. I moved to Chicago to be with a boy and gained 30 pounds because, well, I was still depressed and he cooked the most outlandishly fattening food and bars and late-night pizza were our jam. I was at another all-time high weight when I moved out and we broke up.

I went on Weight Watchers in 2008 and lost 25 pounds, bought a new wardrobe, and finally felt beautiful. I attempted to replicate that 25 pound weight loss, but despite a dozen times rejoining, it's been unattainable. Since then, I've basically been the same weight. I will proudly and boldly say I hover at around 210 pounds, and there's nothing I can do to budge those numbers, it seems.
2008 in Chicago

With Little T, I managed to gain about 25-30 pounds, quite the opposite of what happened with Asher, when I lost 25 pounds during and after the birth (and then regained them, of course). The funny thing is that right after I had Little T, I dropped those pounds and floated right back to my starter weight (yes, it was all fluid retention).

They say with every pregnancy and as you get older, your weight shifts and you wear it differently. My truth is that, yes, perhaps I wear my weight well, but I have always hated how I wear it. I've always been angry that my mom, my dad, and both of my brothers had skinny chunks of life. I've never had the opportunity to experience "skinny" like they did. They could lose the weight, I always told myself. They just don't. It's not fair. 

When I came home from the hospital with Little T and surveyed what was left of my pre-baby clothes and my pregnancy clothes, I cringed. Nothing fit right. Too loose, too baggy, too tight in the wrong places. Only my loose-fitting cotton Old Navy maternity skirts really fit well. I tried very hard to put the clothes on and feel comfortable, or beautiful, or whatever a woman who just gave birth and who has hated her body her whole life should feel. Toss on the fact that everything I wear needs to be nursing friendly and, well, I could have broken the mirror.

And then it happened.

You see, a friend from Facebook who I've never met in real life had invited me to this online "party" to buy clothes from this company called LuLaRoe that I'd never heard of. I ended up wanting to buy some things, but being anxious about the sizing, I opted out. After I had Little T, I popped into one of these "parties" and ended up buying a skirt on a whim based on some sizing instructions from a LLR consultant. Unfortunately, the sizing instructions, while perfectly accurate, were not really perfect for someone of my size trying to dress modestly.

On a whim, I went to the LLR website to see if there was a local consultant. I found a woman who happened to live right around the corner (I could walk to her house in about 10 minutes) and it turned out she was hosting an in-house popup that very week. Perfect. It was bashert (meant to be). I sent her a message about how excited I was because I needed to try on some of the styles to see what sizes were right for me. I explained I was Orthodox, and that I'd see her soon.

In the meantime, I was waiting for a skirt I'd purchased, again on a whim, from a small company called Jade Mackenzie to arrive, and guess what, it did. Perfectly. Like a glove perfectly. The funniest thing about it was that the size that I ordered would have once made me cringe or be depressed about my size, but it fit, and that was all that mattered. I found something that was stylish, comfortable, and fit my modesty needs. I felt like I was on to something.

At the LLR party I went to, I started trying on clothes. The sizing is a bit wonky until you get used to it, so I was able to buy a Large in one style and a 2XL in another, but again, the sizing didn't get me down. I found shirts that fit. Shirts that were stylish. And the consultant encouraged me to go for patterns, and when I picked one up and tried it on, I felt golden.

Now, for those of you who've never been fat, you might not understand what it's like to put on a patterned shirt. I'm not talking about something black and white that's lightly patterned, I'm talking bright, vibrant colors and loud patterns. As a fat person, you just don't wear that type of clothing. It draws attention, you're told. It makes you look like a clown, you're told. Fat people don't wear patterns, stripes, polka dots (+1 on the clown comment), or anything other than muted colors and, most importantly, most especially, black. You wear a lot of black. It's slimming on everyone, but especially larger women, of course.

My unicorn.
This patterned, size large, Irma was a gateway. I'm reimagining my wardrobe as we speak. I bought another patterned Irma, my "unicorn" as I'm calling it, because when I put it on (I could wear it every day), I feel invincible and beautiful and funky. It's the textile version of the ridiculous dialogue that's constantly running in my head. And the best thing about the Irmas? No crazy layering. As a fat, breastfeeding Orthodox woman, the truth is layering is my worst nightmare, especially in the summer, but in many cases, it's a necessity.

For the first time in a long time, maybe since 2008 when I dropped those 25 pounds and found my figure and self-confidence, after three years of hearing Mr. T say "stop insulting my wife" when I put myself down, I think I'm on to something. I think I'm on to feeling beautiful and throwing cautious attire to the wind. I'm not looking at sizes anymore, I'm looking at styles, colors, patterns, and what it does for my shape.

Size is just a number. A stupid, unnecessary number that makes people feel bad about themselves. Stick to style.

Some of my favorite brands right now, as a proudly fat, breastfeeding mother of two:

Note: Yes, I use the word "fat" to describe myself. By medical standards, I'm morbidly obese, oh my! I could use the words curvy or plus-size, but they're just masks. I'm okay with the word. Are you?

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