Bittersweet

We arrive at the airport with plenty of time - a byproduct of my nervous energy when it comes to travel by air.  I am paranoid and neurotic, and it drives my husband crazy.  He humors me, and as a token of his affection, we are there earlier than he would like.

As we stand in the long line for AeroMexico, I have my boy check for the fifteenth time that he has his passport and wallet in his shoulder bag.  He rolls his eyes, as he often does when it comes to my mothering, smiles, and assures me they are all there.

I look up at this tall young man and see no traces of the boy he used to be.  Gone is the awkward teenage manner and youthful insecurity.  Replaced, overnight it feels, by a mature, confident presence and shoulders that somehow seem more square.  Taller.  He positively glows and I try to drink his essence in.  I study his features and will myself to memorize every line and curve of his face.

I am not ready for this day, and I futilely wish it away.

We make attempts at smalltalk, bantering in our casual, familial way.  No one wants to address the large, explosive elephant sitting amongst us.  So we make jokes and tease instead.

His luggage is checked in far too quickly and we begin a slow walk towards security.  We are there before I know it, and I feel my heart leap into my throat.  I choke back a sob as he turns towards me sheepishly, tears welling up in his blue eyes.

I throw my arms around him and sob uncontrollably.  There is no bravery, no stoicism.  There is only raw, public mourning as I hold him one last time.  I've held this boy in my arms and heart for 18 wonderful years, and the impending separation is more than I can bear.  My mama heart is shattered into a thousand pieces.  I hold him and the tears stream freely down my cheeks.  I tell him how proud I am of him, and how much I love him.  I repeat it over and over, willing my affection to devour the pain I feel.  

I reluctantly let go, then watch in turn as he says goodbye to his sister, brother and dad.  My heartache is mirrored in their teary faces.  It is awful.  This public fracture of our family feels surreal and unfair.  We cannot muster the dignity such an event deserves; we are a sobbing, pathetic mess.  Strangers pass by, unsure of what to make of our tears.  He gives us one last smile, then throws a bag over his shoulder and goes.  He walks out of my life and into his own with such ease that I'm simultaneously proud and devastated.  

I lean into my husband and sob hysterically.  I feel lightheaded and dizzy, the pain so immense that it feels difficult to breathe.  We watch him walk back and forth through the rows that lead toward the security checkpoint.  We stand together crying, arms around each other, as he clears the passport check and loads his bag onto the conveyor belt.  A kindly TSA agent notices the spectacle that is our goodbye and makes a show of putting his arms around my boy, giving me a thumbs-up, promising that he'll be taken care of.  This makes me laugh through my tears, and I feel a small trickle of hope enter my heart.  Surely, there will be others.  People who will watch out for him along the way.  People who will throw their arms around him when I can't.

He turns and gives us one last wave, his smile bright.  Happy.  Ready.

I blow him a kiss.  I offer a prayer for his safety, his well-being, and his happiness.  I ache down to my core.  Two years apart seems insurmountable and unendurable.  

We walk out to our car, empty.  Tears still fall and we take turns sniffling.  No one is joking or teasing now.

Though I knew this day was coming for a long time, I had no idea the toll it would take on my heart.  It is so confusing and powerful -- all of this at once.  Pride, heartache, loneliness, happiness, awe, anger, humility, sorrow, joy.  There isn't room to feel them all, and the excess spills over in salty tears.

A few hours pass, and I track his flight until it's on the ground in Mexico.  It's the last bit of active mothering I can do for a while, and I relish this small piece of control.  I walk past his room and cry some more.  I curl into a ball on the couch and cover myself with a blanket.  My phone buzzes with the texts and calls of concerned friends and family.  It's painful to relive it when the wound feels so fresh and raw, but it makes me feel loved.  We watch movies, nap, and time somehow passes.

We make an attempt at eating dinner together, though no one feels up to the task.  We are a somber, depressed lot.  No one has much of an appetite.

Suddenly, my phone pings and there is an email from our favorite missionary.  It is short -- oh, it is far too short -- but it tells us that he's okay, that he made it, and he's happy.

A warm peace floods my heart and I offer a prayer of thanks for his safety.

And I sigh, rather impatiently, eager for the much longer letter I'm sure to get next week.

I resign myself to this new life now -- a life of waiting, of empty, of emails, and P-Days.  A life more quiet, yet full; lonely and abundant; teary, yet proud.  Oh, so proud.

The bittersweet life of a missionary mama. 

The importance of saying yes

About a month ago, I walked into the garage to find Chase and three of his friends in the middle of a project.  I'd like to say this is an unusual phenomenon at our house, but it's not.  Chase is almost always in the middle of constructing something.  He's built a hover board, a rifle, a go-cart, a knife, several bows and arrows, as well as a variety of other odd projects.  If he can dream it, he can build it.  He's stopped coming to me for permission, and bypasses my authority for that of the Husband's.  

Rightly so.  

I know nothing about power tools and building weapons of mass destruction.  My first instinct is almost always to say no.

They had decided this time to build a boat.  They spent their own money on wood, came up with a design, and started working.

The project took several weeks.  I laughed every time I passed a garage full of sawdust-covered boys sanding the boat with cheerful grins on their faces and music blaring in the corner.  They experimented with waterproof finishes and found a deeply discounted bucket of green paint with which to complete their creation.  They joked and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the process.

Yesterday was the inaugural launch of their boat.  They took it (all couple hundreds pounds of wood, paint and finish) to a nearby pond and prayed to the gods of the sea for success.  It was no surprise, really, that it worked.  Their little green boat sailed like a champ.

More importantly, however, is the lesson here for mothers everywhere.  When your boys want to build and create - say yes.  Even though it will be messy and probably slightly dangerous.  No doubt it will be inconvenient.  There will be sawdust covering your wood floor and paint dripped into your sink.  There will be loud music playing at all hours, and sweaty boys rummaging through your pantry.  Their project will maybe even occupy the spot in the garage where your car should be.  For weeks at a time.

But there is so much more happening.  There is growth, creativity, knowledge and leadership.  They are problem solving and learning to work as a team.  They are using their imagination and understanding the value of hard work. None of them are on devices or sitting in front of a television.  They are setting a goal, and moving heaven and earth to make it happen.  All by themselves.  They are thinking, dreaming, planning, laboring.

They are not really putting together a boat, after all.  

They are putting together the men they are becoming.

And that is a fantastic, miraculous process at work.

On launching...

I find myself struggling under the weight of change.  My heart is simultaneously so full and yet shattered into a thousand pieces.  I am teary all the time.  There's a heaviness on my shoulders that I'm not sure will ever go away.

My baby is about to leave the nest.

Sure, I know what they say.  I know this is an exciting time.  I know he's better off launching into the world and growing into a responsible adult.  I know I will adapt to him being gone.  I know he's not dying.  I am extremely proud of what he's become and going to be doing.  I know he's healthy, competent, and strong.  I know that I don't want him living in my basement until he's forty.  I know how lucky I am.  I know this.

But I cannot seem make my heart understand what my mind knows.

All the many sleepless nights rocking a newborn in the moonlight of a tiny apartment, I dreamed of what he'd become.  Bleary eyed and exhausted, I soaked it up as best I could.  Then later as I wiped peanut butter off sticky fingers after his lunch every day, I fervently longed for when he'd learn to do it himself.  With each tantrum and missed nap, I'd ache for just a few minutes of alone time.  When I had a baby girl in the shopping cart and felt frazzled as I struggled to herd two wandering little boys, I groaned and fantasized about doing the shopping without them.  A lot of those days, I found myself wishing for time to move faster.  Life with young children was a never-ending glance at the clock on the wall, minutes sometimes ticking by so slowly they felt like hours.  If I could just make it until nap time.  Or bedtime.  Or Friday evening at last.

The dirty trick that no one tells you is that one day, you will spend every minute watching the clock and willing it to stop.  They never tell you that your heart will hurt and swell at the thought of time moving forward.  And move forward it will, at a pace so rapid your head will spin.  You will wish and pray for just a few more months or hours or minutes with these babies.  Nobody ever warns you that you'll look back and wonder if you appreciated it enough, loved them enough, taught them enough.  

I have worked for 18 long years for these exact results, and yet I feel unrealistically angry at my own success. I have achieved the perfectly predictable end to the story I have spent years writing.  I knew this was the outcome of the path I was on, but now that I'm here, I want a different one.  One where I get to have my cake and can eat it, too.  One where he flourishes and grows, yet never leaves my side.  

Is that too much to ask of the universe?

And if I can't have that, then I at least want a do-over.  I want to hold him one more time in the moonlight of that crappy apartment, smell his sweetness, and lose an entire day with him in my arms.  I want to see those sticky fingers grasp at cheerios on a tray and rejoice when he can finally pinch one between them and raise it triumphantly to his lips.  I want to see that toothless kindergarten grin look for me in the crowd of parents during the painful squeaks of the beginner violin concert, and watch his eyes light up when he finds me.  I want it so badly that every cell in my body just aches.

But that's the thing about this story.  We don't get a different ending.  We get this one.  We build our lives around these busy, toddling, energetic, lovable creatures and they walk right out of it.  We are left with a hole in our heart where their daily presence used to be.  An ache that will never be filled because the life we had built with them in it is forever changed.  Stevie Nicks brilliantly said it best when she said:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don't know, oh I don't know
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too

I know that I'll be okay and find myself eventually on the other side of this long, lonely bridge.  I know it's not the end.  But it's the end of something; it's the end of something pretty spectacular. 

And I just can't help but wish it wasn't so.

Forced Family Fun

Due to the, er, temporary success of my parenting blog post, I was inundated by requests for blog reviews.  When you have a million+ people looking at your site, you suddenly become VERY interesting.  It's like you're the ugly girl in a movie who gets a makeover (you know, or just took off your glasses and put on some lipstick) and suddenly every boy wants to take you behind the bleachers and make out with you.

This ugly girl was flattered, but not super interested.

I turned all of them down but one.  I refuse to "review" something just because it's been handed to me for free.  If I wouldn't buy it myself, I won't review it.

But I liked the look of this stuff, and figured it was worth giving it a try.

The first product was a Ring Toss Game made by GoSports.  The game itself was compact and the pieces sturdy.  It came with a canvas bag to store and carry when not in use.  I was mildly impressed.   

I forced my kids off their devices and out into the sunshine to give the games a whirl.  

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They were skeptical, but willing guinea pigs.

The one member of our family who was extremely interested in this game was the brown furry one who walks on four legs.  She came tearing out of the pool and immediately wanted to join in.

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Much to everyone's chagrin.

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The game held up, even with multiple rounds in her teeth.  My kids enjoyed it, in spite of themselves, and said they'd be up for playing it again.

Provided, of course, that the dog was put in the house.

The other game I selected was a large set of six wooden dice.  These also came with a nice canvas carrying bag, and were sturdy and rugged.  I imagined the fun we would have had when the kids were in grade school -- adding math games, number recognition, counting practice.  I'd have spent hours with this game then.

My teenagers made the most of it, however, and found themselves laughing as they tried to roll pairs.

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We couldn't really think of much else to do with the dice.  I'm sure with a few minutes online, we could have come up with something better than rolling pairs.  But the siren song of the devices called them back inside, and they were done for the day.  

As for me, I've found a home for the dice on the shelf in our media room upstairs.  I think they look adorable, and I'm pleased as punch.

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All in all, well worth it.  The games carry a pretty inexpensive price tag, but are of good quality and have a nice, old-fashioned feel to them.  I like the idea of forced family fun now and then, and these will definitely get used again.

How to lose 37 pounds in 13 months

Let me just start this post by saying that no part of this 13-month journey has been easy.  There is no magic formula or secret that makes you want to stay away from donuts, cookies, fries, and potato chips.

Because if there were?  We'd all already weigh 110 pounds and be walking around in bikinis in the dead of winter struttin' our hot stuff.

Every. Single. Day., I fight the cravings.  I wake up, and I want to run and get a big diet coke and a sugar cookie.  I want to eat In-N-Out burgers.  I salivate at the thought of a Reese's peanut butter cup.  I dream about the crunchy Hostess coconut donuts they sell at the gas station (that are 460 awful, delicious calories for all six of them).  It doesn't go away - at least for me, it hasn't.

There are moments that I'm stronger than others, and I've caved more times than I care to admit.

That being said, I have had success.  So I will share with you what has worked for me.

As I said yesterday, I'm working with a local company here who has a nutritionist monitoring my food diaries.  The accountability piece of that has been HUGE.  She looks at what I enter (or don't enter) every day, and weighs/measures me once a month.  She offers suggestions, encouragement, and course correction.  It's been fantastic.

The food piece is the hard part because I have to go that alone.  I have to monitor and police myself, make the choices that enable me to actually pull off a loss.  My 42-year-old body is different than the one I had 10 or 15 years ago.  I don't lose weight like I once did.  I have to fiercely fight for every pound that I lose.  I used to be able to give myself a cheat day(!) once a week and still easily lose 2 pounds or more in a week.  I can't do that now.  I can't cheat if I want to see a loss.  It's just the sad reality.  I allow myself something indulgent once or twice a month.

I know.  

Depressing, right?

I'm eating between 1250 and 1350 calories every day.  I strive to hit at least 100 grams of protein.  I also shoot to have a good source of carb, protein, and fat at every meal or snack.  I eat three meals a day and one or two snacks.  The only real exercise I get is walking my dogs 3-4 miles every day.

So what am I eating?  

I start my day out with Zipfizz. 

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 It's an energy drink developed for diabetics, so it's no sugar, low carb, high vitamin content stuff.  I mix one Zipfizz with 24-30 ounces of ice water and have two of them in the morning after my walk.  There is a small amount of caffeine, which I honestly think is actually a great appetite suppressant and has really helped me not feel hungry.  I like the flavors (except grape, gag!) and there is a huge vitamin B-12 boost that makes me feel great.

My favorite breakfast is a waffle made from this protein pancake mix.

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It tastes so good!  It's got 14 grams of protein and is only 190 calories for 1/2 cup of the dry mix (which you just add water to).  One-half cup makes two waffles on my small waffle iron, and I eat them both every morning.  I love it.  It feels like a treat.  I buy the mix at Costco.

I top the waffle with a little bit of Walden Farms calorie-free syrup. 

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The concept of something actually tasting delicious and being calorie-free actually frightens me a little bit.  I assume the reason it tastes good is because of chemicals that will probably cause cancer and/or kill me.  So I use it rather sparingly, even though there are no calories to feel guilty for.  It really does taste good.  I order this from Amazon, though you can probably buy from the  company directly online.  I've never seen it in stores.

Lunch is almost always a turkey sandwich on 21-grain bread topped with 1/4 of an avocado and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. 

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It's my go-to lunch and I'm still not tired of it.  The turkey I buy at a local BBQ place - it's simply smoked turkey breast.  It's real meat, not processed (I'm talking to you, Oscar Mayer!), and tastes delicious.  If you don't have a Rudy's (my local BBQ joint) find one of your own BBQ places nearby.  I am sure you could get smoked turkey breast pretty much anywhere.  I love that it's not processed lunch meat and it tastes unbelievably good.  

Super filling lunch.

Afternoon snacks vary.  My favorite is Greek yogurt with raspberries and 1/4 cup of my homemade granola (recipe here).  I also like the Special K protein meal bars if I'm pressed for time or running kids all around.  Great on-the-go-snack.  I chug water all day long, too.  But I find it most critical in the afternoon when I'm more likely to go on a search through the pantry for sugary temptation.

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Dinner varies - but is almost always some version of lean protein, green vegetables, and high fiber carb.  Usually chicken breast, turkey, or pork tenderloin.  I also will add in flat iron steak once in a while, too.  Lots of sweet potatoes and salads in all their varieties.

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I have found these wraps at Costco to be a super food.  I will use them at lunch or dinner, and they taste great.  I also have made flat-bread pizzas out of them, as well.  Really versatile.  And they freeze beautifully.

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The other thing that I use a lot is the yogurt-based salad dressings.  Bolthouse Farms is the only brand I've tried, and I really like them.  They are at my local grocery store, and Target.  They have a ton of different flavors, and are only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons.  They do not taste like the low-fat dressings of olden days.  They are really good.

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The last piece of advice I would give you is to get a good digital scale.  You need one with the "tare" feature, which allows you to put your plate on the scale and then zero it out.  That way, you can add your food on top of the plate, preventing you from having to clean and wipe down the scale every time you use it.  Get one that measures in ounces and grams.  I got ours online at Amazon for pretty cheap.  I think maybe $20 or $30 max.

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It gets tedious to religiously measure and weigh everything, but it really makes a difference.  You think you can eyeball it, but you're really only adding extra calories if you aren't precise.  And why work so effing hard only to not succeed, right?

That's about it, my friends.  That is what I'm doing and how I've been successful.  This fight is the hardest one there is.  Our brains are wired to love sugar, and I spent years allowing myself to feed that need.  I tried and failed several times, and for whatever reason, this time it worked.  It is possible to make healthy choices and still feel happy.  Getting over the first few weeks is the worst.  

Falling off the wagon happens, too.  I pretty much took off from Thanksgiving to New Years.  But I dusted myself off and got right back up come January.  Just do the best you can when you can.

Hang in there if you're struggling.  Don't give up.  Don't give in.

You can do it.

Finding me again

Six years ago, I was pretty happy with myself physically.  I worked out with a trainer three days a week, and ran on the treadmill every day.  I watched what I ate for the most part, but felt little guilt or effects when I treated myself to something sweet.  Which I did often.

I was strong and felt great in a pair of jeans. (Truth be told, no woman really feels great in a swimsuit, even when they look fantastic in one).

Then I got hit with a hurricane of crippling health issues.  I've shared that story before here.  To say it was brutal is a complete understatement.  I went from being an active, healthy mom to a bed-ridden depressant who medicated with food.

Getting diagnosed with Crohn's disease was only the beginning.

It was followed a few year or two later with a move to a new city.  One that was harder to adjust to than any of our previous moves.  I struggled to plug in and find my place.  I cried often and felt totally alone.  It was a devastating move for my kids, as well.  You can read about that here and here.

All this stress led to a complete and total physical breakdown.  Pounds piled on until it became too hard to exercise with any regularity.  I felt horrible in my own skin and ate like my plane was going down.  Over the course of four years, I gained nearly 40 pounds.

I hated how I felt physically.  I hated how I felt mentally.

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I looked at photos of myself and cringed.  This was not the girl I knew.  This was not who I was supposed to be.

Several times I tried.  I did challenges with friends.  I joined weight loss groups.  I started and failed multiple times.  In January of last year, I joined Weight Watchers (for the umpteenth time).  I found myself succeeding on the program and dropped 15 pounds.  For the first time in a long while, I had hope that I might actually be able to get control of my weight.

Spring break came, and with it a vacation out of town.  When I got home, the number on the scale was higher than it had been when I left, so I told myself I would skip Weight Watchers that week, and hit it hard the next week.

I didn't go in the next week.  Or the week after that.

A few months went by, and I put back on five pounds.

I was depressed and felt that I would never be able to really get the weight off.

In June of 2015, I decided to try again.  The local company I chose was NOT cheap.  They offered accountability with a nutritionist and personal training.  I decided to pre-pay for six months (though I told myself that if it didn't take, I would be done trying and make peace with my fat self).  It cost a small fortune;  I ponied up $3,000 for six months and felt sick to my stomach that I'd just thrown my money away.

The nutritionist was there to give me general guidelines and provide accountability.  I already knew what I needed to do:  Eat less and move more.  She was there to review my food logs every day and give feedback.  I felt I had three choices.  I could:  a) not do it and continue gaining weight, thus throwing away all the money I had paid for this; b) lie on the food logs and have the results show up in our monthly weigh-ins, to which I would pretend I had no idea why I wasn't losing weight, thus making me look like an idiot; or c) actually do what she was telling me and try to lose weight.

I chose the third option.

It's been eight months since then, and I am down a total of 37 pounds.

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I am three pounds away from where I was six years ago, and am planning to lose another 11-15 pounds total.

Words cannot describe how fantastic it feels.  It is a hard-fought battle, and has taken discipline, effort, creativity, and vigilance.  I have had plateaus (just came off a one-month plateau, UGH) but have found what consistently works for me.

I have gone from a size 14-16 to a size 6-8.  I feel so much better in my own skin and have eradicated nearly all my Crohn's disease symptoms.  I will continue to take the medication for that, but I feel SO GOOD.  I feel healthy.  I feel strong.

I feel like me again.  

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post:  What I'm actually eating.

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