Winter Beauty Plan journal

Day 1:
Shave legs. Well, halfway up each leg anyway.

Day 5:
Begin using fabulous Aveda highlighting conditioner for redheads. Hair begins transition from dishwater-reddish to Brassy Slut.

Day 7:
Somewhat capriciously visit thebodyshop.com and fill shopping cart up with $70 worth of lovely products. Ponder marital influences of making such a purchase without discussion and sex-bribery. Log off without purchasing.

Day 8:
Make a resolution; NO new beauty products, shampoos, pedicures, et cetera without going through the cluttered hallway cupboard full of makeup, snarled jewelry, the bobbypins used from my wedding, menstrual products, an old positive pregnancy test, and a large and assorted pharmacy of utilitarian first aid and recreational pain pills. Vow to tackle cupboard and throw out items with extreme prejudice.

Later in the day, buy a bottle of Coconut Trip lotion in the foreknowledge I will, in fact, get to abovementioned chore.

Day 9:
Receive long massage from oh-so-talented massage therapist. Sip a cup of tea and think on the spring. Feel refreshed. Go to bed early and cuddle with husband.

Day 10:
Confront the hallway cupboard during my children’s naps. After a forty minutes of grueling work – success! Throw out of copious amounts of makeup and perfume, much of which hasn’t been used since “Seinfeld” went off the air. Enjoy going through the various trappings of harlotry I used to court my husband.

In the evening, spend 20 minutes giving myself a pedicure while hiding from the children. Toes scream in protest as they are contorted into the toe-spreader. Paint nails in subtle winter pink. Feet look and smell great. Join the legs for smoothness and semi-respectability.

Day 11 – Day 226:
Abandon plan to keep “Beauty Journal” entirely until 7 months later when I stumble on it while cleaning computer files.

chemo cap

Edited December 13, 2009: Today I started on a new knitting project and reflected on how much I love to knit – even if I only make a few items a year.  I wrote this almost five years ago and published it in my first zine, the PT Breeder.

A week ago, I took my friend Jen up on her long-standing offer to teach me to knit.  She has some misgivings on the ambition of my first project (small needles, tight stitches) but helps me in picking out my yarn and loans me her needles.  At my house, after dinner with our two families and a couple glasses of red wine, she casts on 120 stitches and watches as my fingers tremble through their first attempts at an age-old maneuver passed down for centuries.

I have decided to knit my father a chemo cap.

My family has been through this before.  “Secondary cancer” – or “distant disease”— means he has less of a chance of survival than the first time.  His first round with colon cancer a few years ago we got to see what cancer treatment looks like.  He was poisoned and irradiated and large pieces were cut out of his body.  He lost his hair, he lost weight, he had sores in his mouth and was sick all the time.  He suddenly aged.  Wheeling him out of surgery on a gurney he looked as if someone had hammered him flat.  But, we thought we had a success story.  He recovered quickly due to a healthy lifestyle as a long-distance runner and some good Polish prole genes. We thought we had one of those “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” family stories you hear about.  And then we find out, a day before Thanksgiving this year, that the cancer has bloomed again in his chest.  I realize this will probably be the disease that kills him, sooner or later.

I want him to live.  I want him to live to know my children.  I want him to live for my sake and his, too; but I am thinking of my children when I imagine him gone from my life.  The one grandparent I never knew is a mystery to me whereas the other three are each people I know, I have a history with.  I want him to be there for them as they enter kindergarten, play their first soccer games, graduate from high school.

I am powerless to heal him, but I want to believe I can nurture him even here, miles away.  I keep at the knitting, doggedly forcing my hands into yet another repetitious task.  As I inch along I remember suddenly how we called him “Captain Kiwi”  a few years ago in a lighthearted recognition of the fuzzy new hair growing in after they stopped treatment.  I smile to myself as I think of him; my fingers and hands gaining a body memory and the stitches flow like water from my fingers.  I sit down to knit in the quiet times of my day, a few minutes stolen on the couch, kids asleep, no sound except the hum of the heat, and the knitting needles clicking conversationally with the soft strains of the radio.  I think of the Psalm 139:  “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.  With each stitch I am knitting together a healed body; I am holding vigil.  The cap will be about 12,000 stitches when I am done.  12,000 stitches, more than the days I lived in his house, and with each one I am envisioning joining his cells into wholeness, combating the poison that even now is flowing through his veins.

My 2 1/2 year old daughter is up from her nap.  She climbs up to join me at the kitchen table and watches me.  “You’re knitting a hat for Grandpa?” she asks.  Yes, I say.  “Because he’s sick”, she says.  Then looks in my eyes and asks, “Is he feeling better?”  I am suddenly so sad I can’t answer her.  I don’t know if he will ever, in fact, feel much better.  All I can do is hope, and pray, and keep my hands busy.

debunking the myth of Supermom

I never thought I’d be seen as the woman who “did it all”. I hate that phrase. Annoyingly enough, I have had more than a few friends and family pay glowing homage to what they think are my supernatural abilities to manage a home, create art, and raise beautiful children. In reality things had a darker side than they were seeing. I had become so performance-based I had lost the ability to enjoy myself. Here’s the real story of a SuperMom.

Last Monday at the tail end of a dinner party, a friend of mine hiked her cranky 6–month old baby up on her hip and said with genuine exasperation, “Well Kelly, I don’t know how you do it.” I was floored by her comment and it took me a moment to get my bearings. I knew, of course, what she was referring to – a humble but homey dinner party in a modest but tidy home, my recent success in putting out a zine, my sewing, my volunteer work for the Health Department, and my recent switch to cloth diapering my two children. In short, all of the items I struggle with and share with my friends. The fact that my friend would look at me and see a series of successes, a seamless life fully-lived and easily enjoyed, surprised me. I was being elevated to the title of SuperMom.

This episode was easily recognizable because it has been happening to me more and more in the last year. This almost makes sense considering the circumstances of my life lately. About the time my firstborn approached a year and a half, I found I had built a solid base of resources allowing me to enjoy and succeed at life as a housemom – to prepare meals, keep my home ordered, sew for my children and friends, enjoy my child, and tune into my husband. Not surprisingly, this latter development soon got me pregnant. Going through pregnancy and having a newborn while caring for a toddler certainly threw me a curveball in my routine, but with focus and help from friends and family I bounced back rather quickly into the busy life I’d come to enjoy. Referring to becoming a second-time parent, I told people, “I want to enjoy this time, not just survive it.” I asked friends and family for help, embraced my labor and birth, and enlisted my husband’s help in creating time for myself.

All of this has a dark side however. My second labor, birth, and early months with my new baby seemed almost too good to be true. They were. About six weeks into my son’s life I realized I had arrived in a dark place. To the outside observer, I probably seemed a relatively successful and capable woman. I felt a wreck inside. The most minor glitches in my day would seem insurmountable.

It took a few breakdowns before I realized no one was going to help me, and I needed to figure out a way to get the inner struggle, whatever it was, out into the open. I tentatively, oh so tentatively, suggested to my husband I might need a counselor. It was a tough call to make. What would happen? Would I find out? Or worse, that there was more wrong with me than I’d even imagined? The thing that made me determined to go was the realization that the only thing keeping me willing to survive was my love for my children. And if things got bad, really bad – and I lost my love for them – what then?

At about the time I started seeing a counselor, the fog began to lift. I began to see my moments of despair as being unreasonable. Life didn’t need to be so overwhelming.

And now I am wondering about my friends and acquaintances who appear to have a solid face to the outside world. I wonder what secret pain they hold, and how easy it would be for them to say to someone, “I am really faltering here. I need help.” For some reason, all the stories about women who need and get help seem to be about someone else. They can’t be about us. And maybe that self-imposed pressure is why it’s so hard for our friends to admit to one another that, for the now, it’s their story.