“I’m very confident in how I look,” she said.

Anthro dressing room

I’ve already admitted to snapping pics of myself (yep.) in dressing room mirrors because the camera lens is more honest than my naked eye, so I figure what’s one more embarrassing selfie on the blog? This way you get to see my new jacket. Note the peacefully coloring kids on the floor. (If they were scarred by the experience, they haven’t rebelled against it yet. Yet.) For the record, I did not get this dress, but I did get the jacket hanging in the background. See you at the next work meeting or girls night, you pretty jacket, you.

Oh my gosh, you guys. I bought myself something really pretty yesterday and it felt so GOOD! I don’t shop much anymore—an honest outcome of my Enoughness Project (see this link for more on that) and the fact that I don’t work an office job—so my jaunt into Anthropologie yesterday was a rare delight.

Aside to Anthropologie: You are so pretty. You smell so nice. Will you be my best friend? Circle Y/N. I love you.

I picked up some dresses off the main floor and did a surgical strike on a gorgeous jacket just my size tucked away among the extra-smalls in the sales room (Oh? You want to keep my sizes in your wallet for the next time you’re in Anthro and see something that reminds you of me? Sure! Just message me and I’ll fill you in.) Magically, stuff fit and I relished all the frocks the lovely shop girls brought to me so I could leave my boys coloring peacefully—peacefully!—on the dressing room floor.

But the best part of my shopping experience was not the amazing jacket I snagged on super-sale for $79.98, or the fact that my sons were not only game for the excursion but also offered gall-darned spot-on style assessments, or the fact that they told me I looked beautiful 16 times even in the dress below, which, let’s face it, wasn’t the best on me. The most magical part of my trip to Anthropologie on Southport was something one of the employees said to me.

Her: You could tuck that shirt in and wear a belt.

Me: Oh no. I don’t think I could. I just don’t like the way I look with shirts tucked in. See, I have a little bit of a tummy and I just feel like, ehhh…

Her: (leaning in) You know, I have a tummy, too, and I used to think that as well.

Me: (nodding agreeably) Right.

Her: But then I started noticing, ‘you know, this actually looks good, if not better, tucked in.’ I think you may want to just try it. You might surprise yourself.

Me: (awkwardly) Oh my gosh, you just said you have a tummy and, to clarify, I wasn’t agreeing with that. I was more just super interested in what you had to say about tucking shirts in.

Her: (smiling) Oh, I understood what you were saying. But I’m very confident in how I look, so it wouldn’t have bothered me if you had meant it the other way.

Me: (borderline speechless) Wow.

How freakin’ cool is that response? You know what? That girl was unmistakeably beautiful, “tummy” and all, but she got downright powerful-pretty with the words that came out of her mouth. Honest-to-God confidence, without a trace of arrogance. It was a beautiful sentence to hear. Let me repeat. When talking about her body, this Anthropologie stylist–not a size 0 runway model–said: “I’m very confident in how I look.”

If I had a Chicks’ Hall of Fame, I would put her in it. She inspired me.

What would happen if, instead of self-deprecating around every corner, we took her approach?

I’m confident in myself.

Your opinion about me doesn’t matter.

My body’s awesome.

I like myself.

I tuck my shirts in.

Anything else I can get for you?

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The great girlfriend lip gloss interrogation

My first-floor toiletry essentials.

My first-floor toiletry essentials.

There’s a basket on the back of the toilet in the bathroom off our kitchen. In it are bathroomy things like tissues, hand lotion, nail files, tampons (plus pads for visiting preteens and old-school girls out there), a hairbrush, Altoids, moisturizing face mist and a selection of lip glosses. These are things for which I’m not willing to risk general destruction of property by my children were I to run up to my boudoir and leave them alone for two minutes. So, I keep them handy.

During a party, some girlfriends commented on the basket, and then cornered me about the lip gloss. They observed that I always have it on, even while away at camp with another family for Memorial Day weekend.

“Wait! I was really good about not wearing any makeup while at Family Camp,” I protested.

“You were really good at making sure you had lip gloss on,” the camp-witness friend quipped.

Was I really wearing gloss at camp?

I clearly slowed it down with the eye makeup, but was I really wearing gloss in the camp hammock, and everywhere else?

I don’t want to believe that I glossed my lips out in the wilds of Michigan, but I can’t confirm I didn’t because the habit of swiping a wand across my pout is so ingrained that, in hindsight, I frankly don’t know what the truth is. She’s probably right. Ack. What does that say about me? Something bad? Something good?

“So what is your deal with lip gloss?” they asked. “Where does that come from?”

I gave them a story, one of them sweetly declared that I always look so nice, we moved on and then, the next day, I thought about it some more. And—taaa daaa!—I uncovered the following layers to my own personal lip gloss tale…

Level 1: I just love lip gloss. It’s girly, it’s fun, it’s shiny and I like it.
Level 2: I have this really luminous friend who always wore lipgloss. It inspired me, I thought she always looked really nice, so I picked up the habit and ran with it.
Level 3: I learned it by watching my extraordinarily lovely grandma, who even at age 93, doesn’t go a day without sprucing up. Makeup, clothing, accessories, nice shoes, the whole bit. I wasn’t afforded the indulgence of being girly as a kid and young woman, so now it’s my turn to relish femininity. Like grandmother, like granddaughter?

She even looks good mashing potatoes.

She even looks good mashing potatoes.

But when I reeeeally think about it, I can trace the habitual use of lip gloss to a very specific conversation with a very specific human being: my then-suitor, now-husband. Which brings me to the deepest level…

Level 4: Because I wanted to look like a “Fox girl.” For him.

When I first met Brian, the Fox News Network was young and not yet freaky business, and all the anchors were polished to the nines, right up to what he affectionately called “Fox girl lips.”

“What are Fox girl lips?” I asked him, young, impressionable and yet unsure of what it meant to be a real woman, at age 22.

“I don’t know…they just all have really shiny lips,” he explained. “They must use some kind of special lipstick or something.”

I knew enough to know that this “special lipstick” was called “gloss.” So then and there, I decided lip gloss was the surest way for me to look like a Fox girl. Because, having studied so many issues of Teen magazine and later Cosmo, I was an expert in deciphering casual comments from guys, and I assessed that’s what Brian liked. And I wanted to be what he wanted. And now, almost mindlessly, 12 years later, I have the right shade of lipstick and gloss for almost every occasion, and I’ll be darned if you catch me with naked lips. What’s more, sometimes I do look like a news anchor. (Thanks, Lemon Tree Photography.)

This is but a sampling of my lip-sprucing collection.

This is but a sampling of my lip-sprucing collection.

Lip gloss aside, I’m in a place right now of looking earnestly at who I am. I think all of us are, really. On a cosmic level, that’s what this age is about—finding out who we truly are.

What is my true nature? Who am I, really? How can I authentically be myself and act from my heart in everything I do? Who do I want to become? What do I want my life to look like, present and future? How might I soar while simultaneously empowering my loved ones? How do I want to live? How can I manifest the best possible life for myself and my loved ones?

You may have your own version of these questions; they are not small ones. And because habits are more telling than we often give them credit for, neither is this one: Why do I so diligently brush on lip gloss?

Do I actually “love” lip gloss? And for whom am I wearing it? Is it really who I am to wear lipgloss, or is it just a holdover from my days of figuring out how to be what someone else wanted me to be?

Habits are sticky. They hang around unbeknownst to us. We all have the stories we tell ourselves if people ask about them, but very rarely do we thoughtfully consider our habits and determine whether we wish to change them. For whatever reason, the simple question of “what’s your deal with lip gloss?” set me off on a crusade to examine my own drives for this and one or two other habits.

Long story short, it doesn’t matter where I end up falling on the lip gloss issue. Whether I decide to keep wearing it because I actually do love the girliness of perpetually glossed lips or I decide to abandon the shine because it no longer serves me is inconsequential. In this 24 hours of self-exploration regarding cosmetics usage, I am ultra-clear on one thing I hadn’t consciously noticed about me before the girlfriend lipgloss interrogation: This practice of morphing myself into the person he, she or you want me to be is a habit that no longer holds stock in my being. And that new awareness makes any time spent under the microscope worthwhile.

So, I encourage you to climb onto the glass and look deeply at what’s there. If you have any epiphanies, message me. I want to hear about them so I can cheer you on.

Victory is mine! I conquer swim meet angst and release an old nightmare from the depths.

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Peace out, old demons. I got my victory on and loved every hundredth-of-a-second of it.

I’ve had a recurring bad dream for nearly two decades.

I walk into an important swim meet or a killer high-yardage workout for which I’m ill prepared, and everything (EVERYTHING!) is riding on how well I swim. I always try to explain that I quit swimming years ago, but my coaches won’t hear it. They make me swim anyway. And I’m gripped by fear, inadequacy and insane awareness of my mom belly.

I know people who have actual nightmares, so I recognize this doesn’t qualify, but I still wake up breathing hard and patting the bed around me.

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This is me. In the black suit. On the blocks. Lane 3. Rocking my first track start in 17 years.

Past-life regression, swim-style

There’s much to be said about my former life as a competitive swimmer, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. When I was 15, the most important thing in the world to me, besides boy craziness and an undying, unrequited fondness for Josh, was qualifying for Junior Nationals.
  2. I missed the Junior Nationals qualifying time by two one-hundredths of a second.
  3. I thought going to Junior Nationals would make me awesome. I thought not going made me un-awesome.
  4. I spent the next two years of high school training really hard in and out of the pool, sometimes six hours a day, to shave those last two one hundredths off my time.
  5. I never swam fast enough to qualify for Junior Nationals.

On realizing I was never going to Junior Nationals, which would’ve been my ticket to both awesomeness and a decent Division I scholarship, I was devastated. Openly so for several months, and covertly so for a lot of years.

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This is me trying to beat the boy in lane 1. (Revelation! In this masters meet, we were seeded solely by time, so I ended up swimming against both sexes and all age groups, depending on my seed time. Yet another way–like the fact I swam the 100 IM–in which Masters reminds me of being 7 years old.)

But it was more than just a race to me, my coach said so.

Enter Hank Krusen, one of my all-time favorite coaches. He pulled me aside during practice one day about six months after my fateful so-close race in Oklahoma City to give me a piece of his mind:

The 100 breaststroke is just a metaphor for life. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put your whole self into it. Then, when it comes time to race, trust you’re ready. And go for it.

I see you holding yourself back. Why? Think about it and find the answer. If you don’t fix this, you’ll come up against this theme for the rest of your life. It’s a JOs cut now, but someday it’ll be a job, or a relationship, or a calling or any number of things. You’ve got to go for what you want. Nip this in the bud now so it doesn’t become a pattern in your life.

So much for happy-go-lucky teenager. It was a tough little chat for 16-year-old me. But Hank’s words still ring true.

The Coach Hank effect

Now any time I feel simultaneously afraid and electrified by anything, I take notice. Why the reaction? Is fear holding me back? Once I’ve explored the feelings and determined fear is showing up as a saboteur, I get behind the part that feels electrified, go for it and see where it takes me. It can get bumpy, but Hank’s advice has proven to be spot on. I think his advice is how I ended up joining a masters swim team last fall and, furthermore, entering a masters swim meet a couple weeks ago.

To be sure, leading up to the meet, fear and electricity were in a stranglehold, generally fueled by a vague question with endless applications: What if I don’t meet expectations?

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This is me again. Swim caps make me look so pretty. (Photo credit: my amazing friend, Kellie. She is the bomb diggy. So much so that she morphed into a proud mama as soon as I stepped onto the block and snapped 600 photos of me swimming.) It’s kinda hard to believe how awesome she is.

Surprise! The whole racing-again shebang exceeds my expectations. 

There’s much to be said about the High Ridge YMCA US Masters meet, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. I qualified for nationals in the 100 breaststroke—masters “old-people” nationals, but still. It felt awesome. I also qualified in three other events.
  2. I felt joyful and alive from the moment I got in to warm up till the end of the meet. I had so. much. fun.
  3. I was mysteriously calm before each of my races, two of which I won. (Woot.)
  4. My nightmares are gone. In fact, Peter D. Malone and Hank Krusen have made nary a visit from the depths of my sleeping unconscious since I swam in the meet.
  5. I will not be going to Nationals. This is key. I may have healed an aspect of my teenagey swimmery self, but I’m not even trying to pretend I’m suddenly Dara Torres. This is still just about having fun and getting a workout.
swim smiles

See how much fun I had? Even without my face on (because you know how much I love playing with eye makeup), it seems I was really freaking happy.

So, WWTET*? (What Would Teen Emily Think?) 

Let’s time travel for a moment. I think my 17-year-old self would chuckle at the idea of 34-year-old me competing in a masters meet, and being psyched about qualifying for Masters Nationals. It wouldn’t smack of “cool” to her, after all.

But after she laughed behind my back, I think she’d also feel kinda relieved. Reassured to find there was indeed life after the only life she knew, and life after missing the mark that meant so much. Comforted to know the richness of her world 17 years in the future. And I think her heart would feel lighter knowing she’d eventually find joy in swimming once again.

 

 

Fast approaching: My first swim meet in nearly two decades.

I’m swimming in a swim meet this Sunday. It’ll be my first in 17 years.

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See? It’s for real. I’m swimming the 100 IM in a swim meet for grown ups. I repeat the 100. Not the 200 IM, not the 400 IM. The 100. And a bunch of 50s. Cha cha cha.

Mysteriously, I ended up in a pool back in October. I suppose I wanted to take an interest in myself again, I wanted to give my body the gift of movement, to tell my arms and legs and everything in between, “Hey, I see you. You made a couple babies and you want to be strong again. I get it. And you deserve that. I appreciate all you do. Let’s spend some time together.” And swimming is what I knew, so I went for it.

I stumbled upon a soul sister of a masters coach and small crew of laid-back, smart-assed, superfun swimfriends. We don’t do crazy yardage; we just get exercise. We gab during sets. We take long rest intervals. We do social kick. We laugh. We goof around. We enjoy being in the water. It’s nothing like the intensity that permeated my olden days. Let it be known I was never a swimming phenom, but it was my entire life at one time. I may not have been bound for the Olympics, but I trained like I was. (Possibly because one of my teammates actually was training for the Olympics and ultimately won gold in 1996. I just kinda ate her wake.) I always adored my BFF teammates and did enjoy a good race back then but, compared to high school, my swimming do-over is a chilled-out dream.

And so here I am approaching Sunday, when I’ll swim four races, three of which I haven’t swum since I was approximately 10 years of age because only summer leaguers and Masters swimmers rock 50 flys and 100 IMs. That said, I did decide to try the 100 breaststroke, which I last swam the spring of 1997, at the Kansas high school state meet.

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State championships, circa 1997. What’s up, Manhattan, Kan.? I think this was snapped just before my last race. Also known as my forever farewell to 12.5 percent body fat.

Missing the mark

Long story short, this race was my thing. I was never the very bestest at it, not even regionally, but the 100-yd breast was my race. So when I missed my junior national time by two one hundredths of a second (the difference between a so-so college scholarship and a bigger scholarship at a slightly better swimming school) and ultimately never got back down to the time I needed, it devastated me.

Looking back, it’s clear I had more than college riding on that time (1:07.49, btw). Because, see, for a lot of years of my life, I thought swimming was all I could do, all I had to offer. I had school and I had swimming and I was fairly good at both. I wasn’t very pretty, I’d never have a fantastic body and I didn’t think I had a great many other gifts, but people told me that I was an elite athlete and that I was smart. Somewhere along the way, I decided my value in the world rested solely on two pillars: Emily Hughey is athletic and smart. Stop.

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I loved a pool from the beginning. Betcha I didn’t give a flip about what I was and wasn’t back then. What’s athletic? What’s smart? What’s pretty? I’d yet to identify with any of these things as constructs for self worth. Also, how cute is my mom?

Thanks to the encouragement of an outrageously cool boyfriend who saw me for way more than I saw myself (three cheers for Sam, y’all), I made the decision to see what else I could be, foregoing the chance to swim in college and quitting the sport after State, at which point I enrolled in the University of Kansas, joined a sorority and the newspaper and decided that Emily Hughey would be fun and smart. Stop.

Fast forward 17 years, a couple careers, an expat stint in Mexico, typhoid fever, eight years of meditation, an intricate soul mate relationship-turned-marriage, two children, one Enoughness Project and worlds of change later. I’m 34 years old and in the pool again—the same chlorine, the same black line and the same stroke count in from the flags to the wall—but this time around:

  1. I’m not all that smart, thank goodness. It’s such a relief not having to know everything.
  2. “Athletic,” “smart,” and “fun” aren’t even in the top five of things I have to offer these days. Oh, unless we’re out drinking, in which case “Fun Emily” reigns.
  3. While it’s just as unnerving to be in a swimsuit in front of boys as it once was, I’ve miraculously grown to (mostly) appreciate my body aesthetic for the first time ever.

Then what the deuce is up with the stuff that’s coming up right now?

If I’m supposedly so different from teenage Emily, so evolved beyond my adolescence, why are some of the familiar not-good-enough beliefs about myself cropping up as I get close to this meet? For example…

  • If I don’t swim less than 10 seconds over my best time from when I was 15 years old, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t win all my races, am I not good enough?
  • If I lose, am I not good enough?
  • When there are other swimmer moms with way hotter bodies on that pool deck, am I not good enough?
  • If I take my race too seriously, am I not good enough?
  • If I’m not light-hearted enough about it all, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t have an appropriate amount of fun…
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Is this fun enough!? Can I be laid back about swimming in a meet? Can I have fun racing again? We’ll see…

When I bore my friends, compassionate pals that they are (d’ya hear me, Sister, Brian, Jeff, cin and Kellie?) with this rant, they say, “Just have fun. Who cares? This is about fun. Your time doesn’t matter.” But, fact is, I’m not practiced at having fun swimming. Swimming was always a loaded thing for me. Swim fast; get props. Don’t; don’t. So if you want to feel good, you better do well.

It’s taken me a full four months just to get used to enjoying workouts—and I finally do. victory!—but this have-fun-and-be-chill-about-racing-don’t-link-performance-with-self-worth thing is new territory. How will it unfold?

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but the good news is I get to face it head-on at 8 a.m. Sunday, when the first gun goes off and my little guys, who’ve never even seen me in goggles, are cheering for me in the stands.

Wish me luck?

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I left this note, along with three lonely mozzarella sticks, for Brian and the boys before I left the house one recent Sunday afternoon. The swimmer Emily of old never would’ve had this on her training table–candy corns in abundance, yes, but never something loaded with so much fat. I invite that Emily to sit down. This time around is about fun.

Enoughness Project #14: Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle

ENOUGHNESS PROJECT. This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I  abstained from frivolous material purchases, focused on accepting all blessings that came my way and practiced gratitude for all that I have. It was liberating. And in so doing, I uncovered a quest for enoughness that went much deeper than buying stuff. So the project continues in a more freeform format. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives and drives; grow my understanding of when/why I do things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

Like Kip, who's pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a certain level of intensity for me.

Like Kip, who’s pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a distinct level of intensity for me.

Remind me again, God, of when I’m going to rise above sense attachments and body consciousness? Just when I think I’m making all this progress in my Enoughness, I hit a speed bump. Make that a lane rope.

The background is that I’m swimming again after nearly two decades off. In short, I wasn’t ever a swimming superstar but, along with plenty of others, I trained like one. Thing is, I hated those long, grueling swim practices. Racing = fun. Workouts = miserable. I banged it out for six hours a day at a point during high school. By the time I hit age 18, I also hit an existential crisis: I can’t do this anymore. I am more than just a swimmer. I am more than my 100 breaststroke time. I am more than my body weight. So I quit the sport and began exploring other stuff.

By “other stuff,” I generally mean parties, sorority life, guys, freedom, study abroad-ness and journalism, the importance of which is reflected here in this devastatingly hot pic of my fellow campus newspaper pals on our last night of production, circa 2000-ish. If you were in college around this time, I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize the Charlie’s Angels pose. We were cool.

Fast-forward 16 years.

I inexplicably find myself in a YMCA pool talking hip rotation and intervals with a charming coach and masters team mate. It’s all going well, I’m having fun, feeling good, my shoulders aren’t revolting, I’m laughing a lot during the practices and I’m enjoying exercise for the first time in eons.

And then, one night, out of nowhere, it occurs to me that my flesh operates like Jello when I push of the wall. Subsequently, because of the way we push off the wall at the start of each set, others can see this gratuitous view. So I switch lanes in an attempt to hide. (It would take too long to explain why this made sense at the time, but just know that my crazy reared its head.)

This type of crazy is not who I am right now, today, at age 34, mom of two, wife to Brian. But pull on a swimsuit, stare at that black line, move through water and, on some level, I’m bound to be transported to another time, another unrelenting version of a younger, supremely unsure Emily.

swimming collage

Just a little stroll down my swimming memory lane… (photos found in a duffle bag in my parents’ house.)

Clearly, as I immerse myself in swimming again, my old body stuff is surfacing. What’s next? Replacing food with Diet Coke? Not eating for two days before I plan to weigh myself? Throwing up when I feel like I’ve eaten more than I “should”? Well, no, of course not. Unequivocally, none of that is next for me. But the old themes are coming up, so I figure they’re asking to be looked at.

Observing my crazy

It’s interesting to observe how my beliefs about myself shift as soon as I end up half naked in a pool wearing a swim cap and goggles, the uniform of my past. While this new swimming-again thing is insanely fun on the whole, and I love how I feel as a result of my new exercise regimen, I’m noticing a familiar mean voice that comes up when I’m doing something really nice for myself and for my physical body.

My inner mean girl goes for the throat.

Despite my best efforts at being conscious and loving, when the inner mean girl pipes up about my physique, I give into her. If she were ridiculing my spirit, or my mothering, or my whatever else, I’d tell her to sit the hell down. But because she’s talking about my body, I sit back and take it.

My inner mean girl isn’t allowed at yoga class, so I’m kicking her out of swim practice, too.

It’s interesting to note the mean voice was far out of earshot last Saturday when I inexplicably–and ecstatically–worked my way into wall-supported pincha mayurasana in Keely Jones‘ tantric vinyasa class at Yoga Tree Chicago. (Forearm stand is the one pose in all of yoga I’ve always felt was out of my reach.) I almost didn’t believe it when I felt my feet touch the wall behind me as I perched on my forearms. I’ve never felt so confident, free and grateful. I was fully grounded in my present-day self, and fully in contact with my own power. So how can I bring that sense of self, freedom and gratitude into the pool and all other areas of my life? For one, I can ban the inner mean girl from swim practice.

Clearly, like yoga, this sudden swimming-again thing is another opportunity for me to get in touch with my body in a healthy, loving, relaxed way. And so it is decided: Through my twice weekly adventures in the laid-back-est masters team you ever saw, I’m going to move beyond this rash of negative body consciousness even if it means putting my rotator cuffs to the test. Until I can love my body for all the many ways in which it’s awesome, and detach from equating my physical form with my general enoughness, I hereby vow to let my curves jiggle off as many flip turns as it takes.

Paddling off into the sunset–without my inner mean girl.

SIDEBAR: Five ways I could’ve differently handled the impulse to hide my pool-cruising body, had I not instead jumped back into adolescent paranoia.

1.) I could’ve found it within to appreciate the fact that my body isn’t the same as it was when I was 16 and aiming for a Division I scholarship. For example, after bearing two kids, I could choose to be ok with the softness that comes with motherhood for some of us. What’s to hate about softness?

2.) I could’ve acknowledged my discomfort with public swimsuit-ness, put it temporarily on hold and decided to dive into that uneasiness with a nice, long meditation after practice.

3) I could’ve remembered that Marky Mark did not ignore me when I walked past him this summer. (Why did I not think of that? Admittedly, my mental picture of his gaze is not as elevated a tool as examining the true source of my discomfort within. But it’s certainly more fun.)

4) I could have remembered how much my husband loves the very flesh in question and taken refuge in that sweet sense of appreciation rather than fixating on imperfection.

5) I could have just enjoyed the fact that I’m having fun getting exercise in a pool and decided not to care that my un-Olympic curves were on parade.

Farewell, summer. And, all hail the benevolent Mark Wahlberg. (Spoiler alert: This is about healing my inner teenager.)

Since June, I’ve been calling this “The Summer of the Golden Tan.” My golden tan.

I shed my cover-up at the beach, caught morning vitamin D on as much of my body as a tankini allows and admired the gilded shade of my legs every time I stretched out on a picnic blanket. Which was a lot. It’s true:  I have a phenomenal tan this summer. Not too much, not too little. Very summery. Mission, like, totally accomplished.

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Who can argue with that golden tan?

Summer is now over. Beginning this week, both my boys are in school, one for three hours and one is there all day long, and in the time I have to myself, I’m left to carry out my freelance work and, hopefully, attend regular yoga classes, all without having to pay a babysitter for the time. Money saved!

I’m already missing the Summer of the Golden Tan. But off I go into autumn, like everyone else.

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First day of school

What’s that, Mark Wahlberg? You like my tan, too?

One day after preschool I took my littlest to the set of Transformers 4, which was filming less than two miles from our house. I figured on seeing some Hollywood mass destruction, which Kip would love, and I hoped I’d catch a glimpse of Mark Wahlberg, whom I’ve appreciated for various reasons since I was a teenager. I was in a hurry to pick up Kip from school, so I wore my clothes from a yoga class two hours earlier. If you know me, you know how I’ve struggled with various aspects of my physique (see here), and I try to avoid public displays of tight clothing because I think I look like a Hot Doug’s special sausage in stretchy stuff.

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Here, the Hot Doug’s specials menu. I went with the smoked Texas pork hot link. Obviously.

With that context, the hot yoga getup fit me a lot closer than usual and, moments after parking the car, I regretted that. Why? Because I was about to stroll past Mark Wahlberg and there was no hiding.

Mark Wahlberg was sitting on a bucket a few feet away from us just hanging out between takes. I looked over, pulled my stomach as tight as she goes, smiled at him and reached for Kip’s hand. He looked at Kip and smiled just a quarter twinge, then he looked at me and squinted. And he squinted at me again. And again.

Inside my head: Wait a minute. Is he looking at me? Nope, Kellie and the kids are over there, Kip and I are right here, there’s no one else next to me, so, ok, this is happening. I’m having extended eye contact with Marky Mark. Wow. He really is a handsome man. Well, duh, but he’s rocking some enormous depth in his eyes and a very still, very masculine energy. Even awesomer than I expected. Hmm. He kinda reminds me of Brian. That’s hot. They have the same energy, same shoulders. Wait, he’s still looking at me. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh.

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One of our summer adventures was to have a picnic in Millennium Park while the symphony played. Also, we attempted yet another photo of ourselves in Cloudgate. I do like Mark Wahlberg, but I’ll take this guy’s shoulders any day. (here’s hoping neither Mark Wahlberg nor my husband mind my objectifying them a little bit.)

He was probably was thinking, “That’s a cute kid. Look at his mom. Whoa, what’s with the tight top? Why is she smiling? Wait—she looks like someone I know…yeah, yeah, yeah. A fat Mary Louise Parker. MLP has an amazon twin in Chicago.”

But *maybe* he was thinking, “I’m sooo tired of filming with Megan Fox. If I have to look at that girl one more time—hey, that’s a cute kid. Wait, look at his mom. Yep, that’s one stunningly beautiful woman. I think I’m going to watch her walk away now because she’s just that lovely.”

I’m not always telepathic, so it was hard to tell. He was squinting. Expressionless. And it all took place in about 20 seconds. But when a man’s eyes do the face-legs-face-torso-face-nod course, it’s usually not out of disgust, right? And, frankly, it doesn’t really matter because, hey, Mark Wahlberg didn’t ignore me as I walked by and that feels like an honor. The rest is just details. I’m going to go with calling it a respectful double-take. Because that’s what I need right now. Victory!

It was a couple minutes after I half-loud-whispered, half-bursted to my friend that I noticed it was not my 34-year-old self talking: “Kellie!!! I will only say this out loud one time, and don’t tell anyone I said it, but I think Marky Mark just checked me out. Oh my gosh!!!”

What adult says “checked me out”?

The euphoric chick making eye contact with a movie star was not the grown-woman Emily with the husband whose biceps are naturally as magnificent as Mark Wahlberg’s (seriously). I had jumped time zones and landed right in my teen years.

Which explains my dive into external personal validation, an otherwise adolescent pattern of thought, and one I work to avoid. Quite simply, I was channeling my inner teenager. And she was super excited.

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This is Kellie and me at the New Kids on the Block concert this summer. Can you see my inner teen in this photo? Huge shout-out to the Wahlberg boys for making my summer awesome.

The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over?

On second thought, I’ve been lingering with my inner teenager a lot this summer*. This summer has been about great tans and lighter hair, boy band concerts and ice cream nightcaps. I even got surprised by the arrival of my period—twice—in the most nightmarish ways a teen girl could dread: at the pool, and in white jeans. (handled it. no humiliation involved.)

Perhaps I should rename this “The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over.” At the onset of warmer temperatures, it was like I grabbed my very serious, goal-oriented, unimaginably driven, shame-drenched 13- to 15-year-old self by the hand and said, “You’re coming with me, honey, and we’re gonna have some fun.”

It makes sense. My inner teen has needed some TLC for a long time. Being a teenager is hard on everyone, and there are specific things with which we all remember struggling. For me, I never learned the promise of my own vastness, how to not feel shame about my darkness or imperfections, or that being pretty enough to get the attention of a man—let alone a handsome one—wasn’t the most important factor in my self-worth.

Fast forward to the present day. I am more acquainted with my vastness, my darkness, my drives and, yes, my beauty, subjective though it may be. As with most 30-something women—wow, the thirties are potent—I’m in a wiser, more magnanimous place, largely owed to all the work I’ve done and am doing to understand myself and to make the all-important journey toward love.

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More evidence I was channeling my 15-year-old self: I picked myself up some sunglasses, which, as it turns out are probably better fit for a teenager. I later realized I’d found them in the juniors department. Also, note the blonde in my hair. That’s not natural. Now that I’m back in the present, I went ahead and dyed my hair back to its dark self.

Not being ignored + eye contact with a movie star = triumph for my inner teen

The sheer act of not being ignored by one of Hollywood’s finest worked like a wonder drug for my enduring 15-year-old self-image. Instantly. With one mindless double-take, Mark Wahlberg told me I was noticeable, maybe worth regarding. Do you know what a thoughtless nod from a megastar does for a girl who’s stuck in her adolescent belief that she has nothing to offer in the looks department? Grand shifting.

Basically, Mark Wahlberg looked right at my imperfect body in tight clothing and didn’t turn away. (Yeah, my standard for validation is what it is. I know how utterly ridiculous this all sounds. But it just is.) His simple, most likely unconscious gaze zoomed right through some inexplicable wormhole and touched an earlier version of myself that felt like she was not enough, not a viable woman, because she was never going to be movie-star skinny or movie-star pretty. The result of being noticed by His Benevolent Funkiness is that my inner teen was able to drift peacefully to the dimension where she belongs, allowing me to stand stronger in my own present-day self. Euphoria.

Picking up the kids

For people who’ve ever experienced a healing of their inner child, cheesy as it sounds, it’s the real-ass deal.

Time isn’t on a continuum as we often think. It all exists at once, on varying dimensions. So it’s much easier to slip back into a childish pattern than we think. (Not to worry! If you have awareness, it’s just as easy to pull yourself back into the present. Well, not easy, but very do-able with practice.)

My brilliant friend is writing a book about healing from sexual trauma and she has a chapter called “Picking up the kids.” As she described it to me, anyone who’s ever experienced trauma in childhood or young adulthood has to go back and pick up the kids, or the younger versions of ourselves, and bring them home with us to take care of them. (Aside: It doesn’t apply only to victims of sexual trauma. Picking up the kids has a much broader application, as you can see from my own experience in this post.) Once we do gather up the kids, we can love them and help ourselves heal in the past so that we can thrive in the present. Because when a kid hasn’t gotten what he/she needs before growing into the next phase of life, that kid remains in state of need, and it won’t settle down until those needs are met.

For me, this summer, my inner teenager whispered to my spirit that she desperately needed to cut loose, have some carefree fun, frolic at the beach, dance without caring what she looked like, sleep in as often as possible, squeal at a concert, stalk a movie set, drink in the unconditional love of a hot guy (grown-up Emily’s husband) and eat a ton of ice cream.

And, you know what? She feels so much better now.

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After Brian left for work and the kids had figured out how to turn on the TV downstairs, Ralph was my cherished late-morning snuggle buddy. Who wouldn’t feel better after cozying up to this? I always wanted to sleep with a dog when I was a kid. Living the dream.

In paying attention to and caring for that inner child, whatever age she is, you heal him or her. And once that child is healed, you can step more fully into who you truly are, who you’re meant to be. You can step into your power.

Visualizing the healing

Here’s how this healing of your inner child may look, metaphysically speaking, or how you might visualize your own healing: The teenage version of myself, which I can picture in my mind’s eye, becomes surrounded in gold light, which radiates from her heart center and consumes her entire body until she joyfully dissolves in a sprinkling, twinkling of radiant light. This is how I believe it works when you heal younger versions of yourself. You give your inner child the medicine he/she needs, you both become consumed with light, the child rests and you are stronger in your present.

Before floating away with a big smile on her light-filled face, my inner teenager asked one thing of grown-up me: Please stop being mean to yourself about your looks, and please stop being so consumed with the features you lack. You are vast, powerful and beautiful, and you always have been. Marky Mark thinks so, too. <squeal!>

Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!

*Sidebar

My teen summer divulged:

–       I got blonde highlights for the first time in my life last spring. It wasn’t me. Last week, I joyfully dyed it back to my natural color.

–       I rocked out at my first-ever New Kids on the Block concert, precisely 23 years after my parents refused my pleading to attend with a friend and her mom.

–       On more than one occasion, after a dinner with girlfriends, we headed to an ice cream parlor for sundaes instead of to a bar for cocktails.

– I taught the boys how to turn on the TV and find PBS Kids so that I could stay in bed till, sometimes, 8 a.m. It was pure luxury.

Get to juking, Chicago. Pride Week is upon you.

This weekend begins the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Week. As such, I would like to come out in support of my queer pals, and offer up a devastatingly vivid visual of this mama letting it all hang out at a big, gay dance party a few weekends ago.

How long has it been since you’ve danced with reckless abandon? Your own hands weaving through your hair like the fingers of a lover lifting the locks off your neck at 1 a.m. when the music is so loud and you’ve been dancing for hours and the new air on the skin of your nape feels like heaven.

A particular sense of freedom rises, uncaged after God knows how long. And you’re picking up the beat or the melody, or sometimes both, and moving without once worrying what everyone in the club thinks of you. You don’t even pause to consider what you look like, who sees you or whether you actually have any business dancing like no one’s watching, because you magically feel unconcerned that your body wasn’t built for music videos, and you can’t wipe the smile off your face. Your hips shake, your head tilts back and a hand laces in yours, pulls you in close, chest to chest and now you’re face to face.

I’m going to take you away. Just escape into the music. DJ let it play…

You haven’t felt this way in public in…maybe not ever. It’s ecstatic without X, drunk without drunkenness, sexy without sex. You laugh. And then you break it the hell down with the warm body pressed up against yours like you’re on Soul Train. No, more like Save the Last Dance, but the imaginary version starring a straight girl and her gay male friends.

You learn a new word, “juking,” and you’re not sure what it means, but you are pretty sure you’re nailing it. You find out later juking* is “A frequently used word by the Chicago urban scene meaning to dance, party, get crunk, get buck, get loose, and just simply have fun,” and you know you that’s what you did.

This is not how you spend most Saturday nights, not anymore. Usually you’re snuggled in the hammock with your husband after putting the kids to bed. Sometimes you’re out to dinner for a girlfriend’s birthday. Sometimes you’re already asleep. But Saturday night is rarely about unleashing your best attempt at Shakira hips, unless in front of your dining room mirror, and, if you do happen to be out dancing with actual people in public, it’s never to a gay bar because you’ve had too many wonderful friends mention they’re not fond of the bachelorettes who storm into the only place some gay people feel comfortable publicly revealing their sexuality with penis necklaces and cameras as though they’re visiting the circus. “I’m not your clown,” comments one of your friends. So, with respect as your intention, you stay away from Boystown and Andersonville’s dancey bars. You let your gay friends and their gay friends have their space, knowing that, as a heterosexual person, comparatively, the whole world is your space.

But these generous men talk you into joining them one night, this night, and you don’t feel like you’re dressed for a night out in white shorts and a top you’ve had for ages, but you throw on some heels and go anyway. You talk, you laugh, you dance together, the world slips away with the spinning DJ, you get told you’re gorgeous approximately 105 times by people who want nothing from you, no one so much as looks at you with disrespect and you smile the entire night. You wonder if, you being you, you could experience this kind of euphoria at a regular dance club, and, if you were out with your girlfriends in a typical hetero club, would you be ducking around, trying not to let loose for fear of a.) looking foolish, b.) not being as good a dancer as the glamorous chick in the sequins, or c.) attracting attention inappropriate for a married woman to entertain?

You brush the thought away because you’re here and not there, and your new favorite song is playing. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

You watch one of your friends, a particularly tender soul, fall into conversation with a handsome stranger. And it makes you smile, like, huge, because he really needed someone to just notice him tonight. Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

Despite all the joy, it’s late and you’re losing steam, so two friends wait with you on the curb to see you safely into a cab. You go home and fall asleep wrapped around your husband with your hand on his heart. You wake a few hours later pinned between your man and your five-year-old, who’s saying, “It’s morning, Mommy.” You tell him you’re super tired because you were out very late dancing in one of those places where grown-ups dance all night long. He responds by saying, with a quivering lip, “You’re making me feel a little jealous, Mommy.”

You know that it was a fluke of a night, and that it’ll be a while before you enjoy another dance party like that one, but you feel the sense of freedom lingering. And you pause to consider whether that freedom was accessible to you before this night, and before the two other nights of your adult life in which dear friends invited you to dance with them amid a sea of some of the free-est-seeming people you’ve ever seen.

But whether it happens again doesn’t really matter.

Your hypercritical inner mean girl got a little bit smaller tonight because your appearance-conscious self was juking without a care in the world. What else is there to say?

…A prayer. Yes. You can say a prayer.

Dear God,

May all queer people of the world feel as free to be their true selves as I felt in the safety of their space. You made us all, and we’re all perfect in your image. Thank you, God.

Amen

Happy Pride Week, Chicago!

*Note: “Juking” may also have a slightly more risqué connotation, and I can assure you what I was doing on that dancefloor didn’t remotely resemble the juking you might find on YouTube. How I’d love to be able to make my body do that.

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Sometimes you can’t even believe how blessed you are to count these guys as your dear ones. They have treated you to innumerable joys, but for context of this blog post, they’ve facilitated two of your life’s best dance parties. And by facilitated, I mean they have made a sandwich out of you for the entirety of “Hungry like the Wolf” and not laughed at your serious efforts to pretend you know how to samba. Here, you prepare to break it down to 80s cover tunes at Midsommarfest.