Spring Tease

It was almost 60 degrees here Sunday and the respite from the damp and windy cold of an English winter was most welcome.

Matt and I have taken to going on walks on the weekends, although unlike our British neighbors who trek out rain or shine, we mostly stick with shine.  Cold we can bear, but Americans don’t embrace the rain the way the Brits do.

Yesterday, though.  So good.

We figure out a lot of our plans for the future while we’re walking.  Lots of parenting discussions and chats about selling our house and where we want to live when we move back to America in the summer and where we still want to travel before we leave Europe.  Long term plans about work and retirement and bucket list dreams get sorted out on these long walks.

This little church is just over two miles from our house.  We walk there and then turn around most days, although sometimes we keep going. 

It’s enough to get to walk and talk without distractions and phones and kids and chores, but when you get to do it on a sunny warm day at the end of January when the air smells like spring might actually be on the way, it’s just that much better.

(Spring is NOT on the way in England, but it’s nice to pretend for an afternoon.  It’s back to freezing today.)

These Days

These days are filled with lots of hockey and football match-watching, Matt and I shivering on the sidelines in many, many layers of clothes and coats and scarves and hats while the boys run past us sweating in t-shirts and shorts. 

Nightly homework overseeing, insisting on use your best handwriting and read the directions before you ask mom or dad what you’re supposed to do. Weekly quizzing on history and chemistry and times tables and French verbs.

Endless school uniform sorting and bag packing, lost item searching and finding and laundry washing all the day and night always and forever.

The sun is up in the morning when I wake up now, and doesn’t set until almost the time I get home from picking the kids up from after school clubs.  It’s still cold out but at least there is sunshine.  Occasionally, anyway.  (It is England, after all).

Bridget is in the final weeks of rehearsals for the school play.  She’s playing one of Prospera’s Spirits in the Tempest.  Her first speaking role.  We have front row seats booked for the last night of the play.

We sold our house.  Matt flies home to pass papers in less than two weeks.  Finality is a double edged sword and saying goodbye is hard even when new adventures beckon.

These days I am working hard to live in the present while my mind races five months down the road.  Anticipation is another blessing/curse: a chance to revel in excitement and what-could-be while simultaneously robbing today of attention to imagine a tomorrow we can’t yet know.

So these days are devoted to a little of both: looking ahead and being here now.  I want to remember all these days.

Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them.

— Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

Working from Home

Ten years ago this month I started working from home.  I had two little babies: Bridget was three and Gabe was one and oh my goodness they were babies.

Look at my baaaaabies…

I had just learned I was pregnant with Owen a few weeks earlier.

I worked as a consultant for a defense contractor and the project I was on needed a part-time person who could work 24 hours a week.

I volunteered to take the 40% pay cut if it meant I could work from home.  My boss agreed.

I haven’t worked in an office since.

It’s been a decade.  A decade.

I’ve had two more kids.  I stopped working entirely after the fourth one, but only for a year. 

Then I started teaching yoga. 

Then I started free-lancing.  Then I took the job I have now and have had for three years, also this month.

Man, how long ago it seems when I was sitting at my desk in the living room – the desk you can see peeking around the edge of the wall in the photo below, while B & G played in the playroom.

That time can seem to fly by so quickly and yet that this scene can feel like a lifetime ago is a riddle I’ll never solve.


When I was little, and didn’t want to sit through getting my hair brushed or styled, my nana would say “It hurts to be beautiful”. It’s a statement I’ve known all my life and one I still say to myself. 

And to my own daughter.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged and accepted.  If you’re a woman, it hurts to be beautiful. 

We color our hair, wear make-up, wax our eyebrows, our lips, our bikini lines.  Totter around on stilettos that make our feet bleed and bruise.  Cram ourselves into spanx and forego food for a day to fit in one specific dress.  Inject our faces with botox to eliminate wrinkles.  Undergo surgery to lift our boobs, tighten our necks, smooth our tummies, all to defy the effects of gravity and motherhood.

I’ve done most of those things.  In the end I’ll probably do them all.  If I leave the house without at least a bit of make-up on, you can be pretty sure the only place I’m heading is to the gym.  I’ve got a fair bit of grey in my hair, and I will continue to cover it up with dye for the foreseeable future.  I own — and wear — shoes that bruise my toes so badly that I can only wear sneakers for the next three days after a single night in them, and spanx that squeeze the thickest part of my thighs so hard they leave indentations that last for hours after I’ve taken them off.  I have worn clothes that made deep breaths difficult and eating impossible.  I regularly have hot wax smeared on my face and ripped off to remove the shadow on my upper lip and the caterpillar eyebrows I inherited from my dad.

I participate in my own torture, willingly, because I have been conditioned to believe that I am only beautiful if I do those things.

I hate the concept, but continue to play the game.  And I’m teaching my daughter to play it as well.  I wrestle with the messages and the practices, both as a mother and as a woman.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I teaching her the right thing?  I’m uncomfortable with it all, but we live in a society that says “this is what it takes to be pretty” and so we follow along. 

Some of it I can paint as pretty harmless: I like make-up, and it’s fun to play with and it certainly doesn’t hurt.  Coloring my hair isn’t painful, just time-consuming, and I like changing my color to suit the season or my mood.  I enjoy getting dressed up and I don’t really mind sucking in my tummy for a while to make the line of a dress lie more smoothly.

But there’s nothing fun about getting the hair ripped off your body with hot wax.  Nothing fun about wearing shoes that bruise and pinch and underwear that squeezes and compresses and clothes that hinder your movement and breath.  I can’t pretend there’s any message but self-torture in there.  And yet I teach my daughter.

Society places a high premium on looks, and the standards to which men and women are held are comically different. 

Why doesn’t daddy look bad without make-up on? Because society hasn’t told him that he does.  His skin isn’t a blemish- and blotch-free poreless canvas, highlighted and contoured in all the right places.  He has circles under his eyes because he didn’t sleep great last night, but he doesn’t need to hide them.  His eyebrows are a bit scraggly.  He has grey in the hair on his temples.  He’s definitely not clean-shaven.  And yet all he has to do is run a warm wash cloth over his face, comb his hair, and he’s done.  Handsome even. 

Can you IMAGINE if men had to undergo the physical modification women regularly submit to in the name of beauty?  Good lord would our standards change quickly.

I have no answers, only questions.  I will still dye my hair and wear make-up.  I will still wear shoes that hurt and underwear that squeezes.  I will continue to have my hair waxed off.  And I will forever ask myself why I do it, what would really happen if I didn’t, and whether I’m teaching my daughter the right lessons.

It hurts to be beautiful.

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