Trying My Best to Love Me

This week on Facebook, the radio, and news there was much discussion about a meme showing a very physically fit woman and her three children. The heading said, “What is your excuse?”  There was much discussion both supporting and vilifying this photo. I came down on the side of “if the heading had said, ‘I am proud of what I have accomplished,’” I would have had no issue with the post.  There are many ways to be healthy and many bodies to be healthy in. Size is not always an indicator of health, because like meth y’all. You can be thin and be anorexic. You can be thin and a meth head. You can be all different types of unhealthy and be thin. It needs to be repeated that size is not a sure fire way of determining a person’s heath.

I have body issues by the dozen. Some days I change clothes three times because I feel constricted. I huff and puff and yell that I am too fat to wear anything. Other days I feel like I am a womanly fertility God and meant to be worshipped. Every day is different and I have a sneaking suspicion that some of this is hormone driven. I am me and this is the body I live in. I am beautifully flawed (we all are) and I think it makes me interesting. When people meet me I don’t know if my weight is the first thing they notice? Maybe they say, “Why is that fat lady saying ‘fuck’ so much?” Who knows what they think?

A few nights ago I lay on the couch and watched The Little Couple. Saidee climbed up next to me and asked if she could lie on my boobs. I laughed and said yes, she snuggled up and asked questions about the show, because that is what she does.

“Momma, why are they little?”

“Well, Baby they were born that way.”

“Who is Zoey?”

“Zoey is a little girl in India that they are adopting.”

“Why?”

“She lives in an orphanage and needs a family to love and take care of her.”

“Like Annie?”

Soon she stopped asking questions and I felt her become heavy. Her breath was rhythmic and I could hear a slight snore. On my chest was the head of a six year old that has no question of her place in this world. She is safe, loved, and protected. I worry that I have inadvertently passed on my own body issues to my children. To help keep this little girl from feeling bad about her body I need to be more self aware about the things I say regarding my own body. 

So, to answer the meme I say. I don’t need an excuse for not looking like you. I look like me and I am okay with that, or at least I am trying to be.

I am a size 22 and I am many things: friend, daughter, wife, mother, student, employee, funny, smart, occasionally hateful, and occasionally insightful.  Most of us have a lot going on and don’t need the added pressure of being asked, “What is your excuse?”

Putting an Actual Face to Food Stamp Use

This week the House voted to cut $4 billion a year in food stamps, which is about 5% of the almost $80 billion-a-year program. This new bill would “tighten eligibility standards, allow states to impose new work requirements, and permit drug-testing for recipients, among other cuts to spending” (Associated Press). Apparently, the House has been reading some of the e-cards on my Facebook news feed. Of course, I get that this is a huge issue and most of us work very hard to feed our families and accept no assistance to do so. For most people that is a point of pride. It comes from a long and steady line of pulling ourselves up from our boot straps and national pride, but sometimes in this life shit happens, and sometimes people need to ask for help. I know, I have been one of them, more than once.

I was a teenager when I gave birth to my oldest kids, 17 when Kiaya was born and 19 when Selena made her appearance, and like a lot of teenagers I had a raging ego, a case of know it all, and no discernable skills. I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18 and worked a part-time minimum wage job at Kroger while my boyfriend (later husband and even later ex-husband) worked full time. We were not out of our teens, had a rent payment, utilities, car insurance, and two babies. Things were tight and we received food stamps. This was in the 90s when “food stamps” were paper monopoly money bundled into books of $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100s. They were cumbersome to handle and refused to tear from the books. They stuck together and made a distinctive crinkle that could be heard, what felt like, all over Kroger.

Most of my grocery shopping experiences took place with Kiaya in the bucket seat of the shopping cart and Selena in her car seat. I would put the food around them like an intricate puzzle. Mac and cheese, ramen noodles, spaghetti noodles, sauce, pork and beans, off brand soda, baby food, and whole milk wedged in the open places of my cart. These foods are not healthy. These are not leafy vegetables and fresh fruit because healthy food is often expensive food and what I concentrated on was filling food. Food that can be stored for a near eternity without going bad was the smartest way to shop. So with my cart, kids, and food, we would head to the check out line. I would strategically check out the lines to find the longest one because the chances of someone coming up behind me were less if the line was long.

As my food would move across the conveyer belt, I would try my best to separate any paper products or nonfood items. Diapers, baby wipes, paper towels, and baby powder had to be kept separate because food stamps didn’t pay for those things. When my food items were checked out, I would receive my food stamp total, and the next part of the humiliation would start. One of the reasons I worked so hard to make sure that I was last in line was because paying with the stamps took forever. The monopoly money was not to be torn out of the book until you were ready to pay. It was even printed on the books, just in case you forgot. I think this was to help ensure against fraud, but to be honest I am not sure. Another reason I always choose the long line is because mental math is difficult for me. Making the experience even more frustrating was the money would stick together, so you would have to separate the coated money, and recount a dozen times before you finally were able to pay. It took what felt like an eternity.

On occasion someone would come up behind me in line and I would be scared that they were judging my purchases. I always worried that I was being judged if I bought Kraft mac and cheese instead of a store brand. Sometimes I would feel the need to justify my purchases to total strangers or apologize if separating my items and paying took too long. There were multiple times over the years that I relied on the government to help me feed the girls. I was grateful for their help. When I heard that they had started to use a debit card system I was grateful that some of the humiliation was taken away, and if I see someone use one of those cards, I stand patiently and smile. I don’t know their situation: they could be a grandmother raising grandchildren or a mom or dad who has lost their job. Sometimes, we fall on hard times and it is okay to accept help.

Fraud happens. I get that and I have known people who have done it; selling the use of their stamps or card for money. I know that some questionable businesses allow illegal purchases in exchange for the “stamps” and then are reimbursed by the government. I don’t know how to fix the fraud; those that are dishonest have always existed and found a way to make life difficult for others. However, I also know children who don’t have enough to eat and families that have used the system correctly in their times of need. I have been one of these families and I know these families. Now you know one too.

Why I Believe Dolly Parton to Be the Most Universally Beloved Person in the World

In the 6th grade we had to pick a song to sing in front of our music class. There I stood in my awkward adolescence. My stomach was round and my breasts were insubstantial. My hair was a dirty blonde Prince Valiant. My stomach was in knots and there is a high likelihood that I had a fever blister. In my Sears “Pretty Plus” outfit, I opened my mouth and started to sing.

“Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah-ha
From one lover to another, ah-ha”

This song was at that time the most beautiful and heartfelt thing I had ever heard. Kenny and Dolly were in love. You could tell by the emotion in their voices. These two people couldn’t stand to be apart. I assumed they were married and lived in a big Nashville mansion with mirrored furniture. Because, how could I have assumed otherwise?

Every time I saw Dolly with her tall blonde wigs, huge breasts, and tiny waist on the big screen I felt sure she was in a relationship with her leading man. She was too beautiful, too sweet, and too sexual for each of those men to not fall in love with her. Her impish giggle and business sense make for a powerful aphrodisiac. Now, I know that she is married and has been since the beginning of recorded time and it seems like Carl knows she is both powerful and beautiful too as Dolly once said, “He (Carl) says he’d think less of any man who didn’t fall in love with me. But he really respects what I do and would hate to stand in the way of that. He always makes me feel pretty, even when I’m not.” So, what I am seeing is a smart, powerful, talented, beautiful, sexual, and loving woman.

While Islands in the Stream is what introduced me to Dolly, what sealed my love is hearing Jolene for the first time. Jolene is for me a Nick Hornby moment. When I sing Jolene I absolutely must close my eyes; I must be fully engaged in the moment when I hear this song. If it comes on while I’m driving I have to pull over. Jolene is just that strong.

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can
Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene”

That is some painful shit right there. Who hasn’t felt that about a relationship they were in? I know I have. That terrible ache of feeling that you aren’t enough compared to someone else. For some reason I do not fully understand (deep seeded emotional shenanigans, maybe?), I was under the impression that Jolene was a sister of Dolly’s. Think about that. Knowing you are losing your man to your beautiful sister ups the pain level to an eleven.

I have yet to meet someone who does not have a guttural reaction to hearing Jolene, and it doesn’t matter who is singing it either:

Olivia Newton John = heartbreaking

The White Stripes = heartbreaking + haunting

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes = heartbreaking + fast

Miley Cyrus = heartbreaking

Fiona Apple = heartbreaking

The list could go on forever, because everyone knows that this song is as beautiful and heartfelt as it comes. To put the power of Dolly’s writing in perspective I Will Always Love You has been a number one hit not once but three times. Twice with Dolly and once with Whitney Houston who helped it to be an earworm for the entire year of 1993. But, back to her business tactics for a second, Dolly was so savvy that she owns the publishing and copyrights on all of her songs. When Whitney Houston did that song for The Bodyguard soundtrack Dolly received all the writing and publishing royalties. She said, “When Whitney did it, I got all the money for the publishing and for the writing, and I bought a lot of cheap wigs.” I enjoy the quip, but with a booming theme park, a water park, The Dollywood Foundation, The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, and various other business ventures, I am pretty sure the money didn’t just fund her wig collection.

Dolly is at heart a writer, business woman, and a philanthropist. She takes her perceived stereotypes and breaks them up. You can’t help but love her.

So, out of curiosity, what are your favorite Dolly Parton stories?

Lord, don’t even get me started on my love of 9 to 5 and Straight Talk.

A 21 Year Old Grudge

When I was in high school, a junior to be exact, I walked in on adults having a conversation about me. I was 17 and pregnant. I wasn’t the first girl to get pregnant and I most definitely wasn’t the last. This was a time before shows like Teen Mom made celebrities out of young mothers. According to Kiaya, who was the fetus involved in that adult conversation, I was the first teen mom. As if Jesus himself didn’t have one as well.

On that faithful day I walked to the school office to ask about getting an excuse. I had an OB/GYN appointment the next day and would need to be away from school the first half of the day. I knew that I would need an excuse if I wanted to attend my junior prom which would be held that Friday. There were pretty tight rules about leaving school on the day of prom, because hair and nails were obviously not as important as English and math. The powers that be had obviously forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. As I turned the corner I heard this sentence, “Well, you know that Heather has ruined her life. She won’t do anything with a baby.”

I stopped and my back stiffened. I remember the pure shock I felt. I remember the ugly outfit I was wearing: a purple and orange flowered baby doll dress with matching bike shorts. That outfit should have been considered a crime against humanity. It was truly hideous. I also remember the anger. I was pissed. One of those all over body rages where your arms feel numb and your fingers feel electric. With my anger brewing I walked into the office. The woman who thought I would amount to nothing looked shocked to see me. She pursed her lips and asked me what I needed. I explained that I had a doctor’s appointment the next day and was going to prom as well. What did I need to do for an excused absence? “We will need a detailed doctor’s excuse.” If they needed a detailed excuse I would give them a detailed excuse.

That year was filled with tiny horrors for me. A great deal of time was spent thinking about how I would tell my parents. There was my first pelvic exam. My breasts leaked in history and I had to ask to be excused. My pee smelled of hell due to the prenatal vitamins and I tried to time my peeing so no one would know how bad it smelled. I count the day that I heard the woman talk about me as the changing point. Heather would be a victim no more.

In the early 1990s the health department was run like a cattle ranch. Teen girls lined up early hoping for a low number so they would be the first called. Pregnant girls, with expanding waist lines, stood in long lines holding on to empty cups to pee in. One by one we would be led into the bathroom to pee in a cup marked with our initials. We would line those cups up on a rolling tray and then we would sit and wait for the doctor who was taking his turn at ranch Questionable Decisions. The process normally lasted about four hours. I was glad that I liked to read. When my turn finally got there I asked a nurse for a favor. I wanted her to write down every thing that happened. From dipping the test strips into my urine, measuring my stomach, to every detail of the pelvic exam; I wanted every second on record. The nurse asked why and I gave a quick summery. She was more than willing to go along with me. After I was done she handed me back the paper and wished me luck. I returned to Reidland High School a little after noon on the day of my prom.

With my five month pregnant belly leading the way I walked into the office and gave the talker the excuse. She read it and looked up at me. “Detailed enough for you?” I asked. “I hope this doesn’t ruin my life.” Her eyes were a little wider as she handed me my excuse for class. I had just had my first “how do you like those apple” moment.

That night I strapped a bright blue size 24 dress to my body; a spray of sequence against one lactating breast. I danced and talked to my friends. We ate an overpriced meal and went to a cabin at the lake. I slept through about half of the fun at the cabin as I was growing someone’s hair.

I will admit that for 21 years I have been holding a grudge against that woman. A grudge against the person who said, “Well we won’t have to worry about the baby being very smart.” A grudge against, “It’s always the quiet ones.” Everything that I or my kids accomplish is a middle finger in the face of those people. Every scholarship and award is a fuck you. At times I feel petty for feeling that way. A better person wouldn’t still feel that way.

I am coming to terms with not being a better person.

Advice I Gave to My College Age Daughters

This world is a tough place. Sometimes it is the bully tripping you as you walk between the rows of desks in the sixth grade. You trip and your face flushes with embarrassment. Other times the world is the loving mother making you brownies for after school, without even knowing a bully had tripped you. This ebb and flow is what makes life both fantastic and frustrating. When Kiaya went to college I had the idea of leaving her Post-It notes all over her dorm, gentle reminders of advice that I had given her over the years.

The first note stated: Do not do anything that would make me call you an asshole. While other parents may give specific advice, I preferred to cover everything with a simple rule; I started using this personal golden rule when they were very young. I simply told the girls to do nothing that would make me think they were an asshole. I thought of this as a blanket statement as it covered almost everything:

Talking too loud on your cell,

Standing in a busy walkway,

Loudly cursing,

Being those asshole kids who put their hands in each others back pockets,

Being racist or homophobic,

Flunking out of college.

My asshole Post-It covered all that with one simple sentence.

Kiaya’s second Post-It stated: Always wear a cardigan. It will make you look cool. This note worked on multiple levels. First I am mildly obsessed with a casual coolness that I feel I lack. Cool kids wear cardigans; it is just a fact of life to me. Right now open a Google search and type “cool people wearing cardigans”; one of the people will be The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I personally can think of no one cooler than The Dude, his coolness traipses time as even my five-year-old sees Jeff Bridges and says, “Hey Momma, look it’s The Dude.” My thought was if Kiaya feels awkward (and if you know her, you know she does) she could wear the coolness of a cardigan as a shield. The other thing is that a cardigan will keep you a magic comfortable temperature, neither to hot or too cold nor too heavy or light. Cardigans are the perfect accessory.

My third Post-It said: Do not become an alcoholic trollop. College is a time for living and experimenting and I get that, but I also know that dependency can be a bitch. I do not live in a world where I think my children will never have sex or try alcohol. I just don’t want either act to be consuming. The Post-It could have read, “Please, don’t be the hung over girl doing the walk of shame with her panties in her purse,” but that seemed rather long.

I left Kiaya other notes as well, one simply said, “Kiaya, Stop talking. Love, Mom.” If you know her, you know that it was good advice.

Selena left for college the following year and she too received Post-It advice. While both of my children are intelligent (naturally – hah!), Selena has a sense of whimsy while Kiaya is very linear in her thought process.

For the first note I wrote: Condoms are cheaper than diapers. It has been my personal goal that my children get past the age when I got pregnant without being pregnant. Kiaya sailed past hers with no problem. Selena has now passed hers as well and I couldn’t be happier. Babies are expensive and easier to prevent than to care for. I want my daughters to have experiences that I didn’t get to have. Go to school, travel, have adventures, and do it without having a baby attached to your hip is the message of that particular Post-It.

Selena’s next note said: Boys will rape. Never drink from a glass a boy hands you. I have seen Veronica Mars so I feel I am an expert on date rape drugs. Of course, I do not believe that all boys rape, nor do I believe in victim blaming, but I think that being diligent about your surroundings is important. Walking in pairs and letting someone know where you are is just a smart way to live on a college campus. Really, it is a good idea for almost every living situation. My current parenting advice is to forbid my children from traveling to India, as India has been a little rapey recently.

The third note stated: Only I know everything, remember that. This was written tongue in cheek because Selena has a history of thinking she knows everything. She was my very own Clarissa Explains It All. I wanted Selena to know that it is okay to take advice from other people and it is okay to admit that you don’t know or understand something. It is normal and how we grow as people. Accept input, if you don’t like the advice you receive, discard it.

Just like with Kiaya, I left Selena other notes as well. One simply said, “Selena, Shhh…not so loud. Love, Mom.” If you know her, you know it was good advice.

Saidee leaves for college in 13 years. I need to start working on her advice now.

In Defense of Kim Kardashian or the Time I Had Sex in a BP Bathroom

In Clarksville, Tennessee, there is a gas station that is known as “the porn BP.” Everyone calls it that: children going to church camps, truckers, Carvell and me, pretty much everyone. What makes the porn BP so special is not just that it is outside of Nashville traffic, or that it is the most convenient place to fill up, it is the fact that there is a magazine rack in the middle of the store that sells porn. This isn’t your run of the mill Playboy or Penthouse, this is real porn; the kind of porn that caused Julia Sugarbaker to run over the magazine stand in Designing Women. Sitting on the shelves, not behind the counter, are titles such as Black Tail, Barely Legal, and Buttman, mixed in with People and Star, as if these magazines are just as socially accepted. It has always been a game for Carvell to dare me to buy the dirtiest magazine I could find. I, of course, have remarkably little filter and would walk in and buy Hustler or some plus-sized porn mag with little hesitation. Never, however, Black Tail, as it felt much too exploitative.

Porn is here and it isn’t going anywhere. I feel sure that cavemen and -women drew naked ladies on the walls for either titillation or just giggles. The celebrity sex tape is what I suppose to be the new wave of porn as it does double duty, feeding our lust and our need for celebrity gossip. I have no issue with women making millions off of these tapes. What I do have an issue with is slut shaming. Slut shaming is defined as the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in sexual behaviors that deviate from the norm. And for some reason I think Kim Kardashian receives the brunt of the abuse. Every day I open Twitter to read joke after joke about how Kim is only famous for making a porn. How she only sleeps with black men. How stupid and materialistic she is. How fat she is, and now, that she may have given birth to the antichrist. I follow smart and funny people on Twitter, and sometimes I think that making a Kim joke is taking the easy way out and maybe slut shaming just a little.

If we were to openly talk about our pasts most of us can pull out at least one story where we have acted a little slut-like. It may be something as innocent as flirting with a married man or using your femininity to get out of a speeding ticket, but there is a better than average chance that you have one something that verges on sluttiness. Lord, knows I have.

Many years ago, while in a committed relationship, the relationship started to falter as relationships sometimes do. The stress of life and the future weighed the relationship down and it was on the brink of ending. It was an ugly and devastating place to be. We agreed to take a break from one another and then reconvene to see where we stood. Before we were able to take a break, we were involved in a car accident that should have killed us. We were battered and bruised, but left with no life-threatening injuries. That night I asked if he was still unsure of the relationship. He was no longer unsure as the jostle of the overturning truck had knocked the sense back into both of us. It was too late to stop the time-apart decision and I left on a week-long vacation.  We called and texted and declared our love for one another. Upon my return he picked me up at the airport and kissed me out of view. We drove and talked about the trip and the flight. We stopped at the porn BP to get something to drink and pee. I made my way to the bathroom while doing a slight pee pee dance. I had just locked the door and sat down when I heard a knock at the door.

“Let me in.”

It was obvious to me who it was and I figured the men’s room was full, so I pulled my pants up and let him in. Immediately after locking the door again I was pushed against the dingy wall. The kisses were desperate and the hands insistent (I know how bad romance novel that sounds). With me up on the tips of my toes and with my back to the wall, we had sex in the porn BP bathroom. It is on record as the second best sex of my life. After we finished we realized that we had no idea how long we had been in that bathroom, and we heard a woman’s voice say, “There is more than one person in there.”

I was horrified, not by the fact that I had just had sex in the porn BP bathroom, but by the fact that I was going to have to face a line of people. We got ourselves together and left the bathroom. The line of women was about six long and I kept my eyes downcast. I had little doubt that these women thought me to be a slut, and that wasn’t the case at all. “We have been together for years!” I wanted to yell at them. “This was recommitment sex!” But without a back story or context, I just looked like a slut, and there was no way to defend myself.

I wonder how Kim feels knowing the things people say about her. If she wants to defend herself against the haters or if she knows that by being famous for her indiscretions she has to leave herself open to the hate. My issue isn’t so much about Kim but about why people think it’s okay to hurl those kinds of insults at her, at anyone really. A female comedian recently spoke out against rape jokes and social media inundated her with “I hope you get raped” jokes. Lena Dunham was told that “I hope you get breast cancer.” As humans, I think we should just know better than to insult and slut shame.

Oh, and if I ever tell you the porn BP story in person, I almost always add, “Really, at its core it is a love story.”