Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year's Pez-olution

I’m sitting on the couch mowing down Pez from Amelia’s stocking stuffer. My puppy just made a meal of her own feces, and our new security system keeps making weird beeping noises, alerting me to the fact that an intruder may stumble across this sad, sad, scene.

It’s December 28th, folks, and as I sit here braless, contemplating all that was 2016, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got no plans for this next year. Everyone’s joining a gym, learning a new language, promising to quit some bad habit, and yet here I sit, munching on some Pez. My New Year’s Pez-olution. 

Last year I vowed to lose twenty pounds, which I did (I just didn't vow to keep it off). The year before that, I vowed to lose thirty. It’s always been about weight with me. Losing it and gaining it. Dropping it and piling it right back on. Carrot sticks to Cheetoh Puffs. Health shakes to Dairy Queen Mocha MooLattes.

This year, as I gaze upon American soil from my very own American couch (or more likely Chinese), I’m reminded that my life, which was once a whirlwind of different countries and emotions and experiences, has finally slowed to a soothing, high-caloric lull. I’m home, surrounded with people who sound like me and even look like me. No more tiny people with all their tiny clothes. No more pencil-thin French women who somehow make smoking look glamorous and sleek, while if you stuff a cigarette in my mouth, I closely resemble a Sasquatch on fire.

I vaguely remember years ago trying on a black gown at a little French boutique. There were no mirrors in the fitting room (just another way for the French to body-shame me), and after awkwardly taking no less than thirty selfies to avoid finding my way to the public mirror, I decided that this dress may actually be a winner. The employees (whom I’m certain moonlighted as Victoria’s Secret angels), studied me like a trigonometry equation. I immediately felt self-conscious and blamed my curves on the baby weight. “I just had a bebe, you see,” I explained to Gisele and Naomi. “Ah, oui,” they mumbled in return. I peeled the dress off of my now shamed body, hung it back alongside all the smaller, impossible sizes, and returned home to my  giant, three-year-old baby. 

And here we are now, 2017 just days away, and I can’t help but wonder if all this self-focus is my real problem; that besides all the food I've been consuming, I’m actually just too consumed with myself. And no, this isn’t some cop-out to losing weight (I know I'd feel healthier and more energetic sans twenty pounds), but rather an awareness that I’ve made myself the center of my universe, and in doing so, I've left little room for much else. 

So instead of some cliche resolution where I promise to go to the gym three times a week until April rolls around (chocolate bunnies, of course), I’m going to forego any actual resolutions and simply try harder: try harder to be a more involved mother; try harder to take less selfies and more pictures of my kid; aspire to notice the needs of those around me instead of only obsessing about my waist to hip ratio; aspire to replace anxiety with faith; and above all, and perhaps most importantly, strive to be continually kind. 

This obsession with food and body image is going to be a lifelong struggle for me. I'm never going to tire of frosting straight from the can, nor will I ever wake up one morning and think, "You know what sounds good, Stefanie? Celery! Go grab yo self a stalk!"

But I can be kind. Always, I can choose to be kind. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Weight of It All

Not only did I put on my fancy sweatpants today, but I wore a bra as well. I felt so good about these accomplishments that I walked into Walgreens with a little swagger in my step. For the third time in weeks, I was loading up on medicine for my sickly four-year-old. Three bouts of strep throat since September and two sinus infections. #germbag

Strep made an appearance early on in Switzerland, and every time my daughter gets it, well then so does big mama. I remember sitting in the doctor's office and Amelia gagging and dry-heaving as they swabbed her throat for strep. I was up next, and apparently the doctor was concerned with my lack of gagging. "Has anyone ever told you that you have no gag reflex?" she asked in an accented voice.

Cue OCD panic. Is something wrong with me? Why can't I retch on command? Do I have a failing pharynx? I immediately went home and typed "no gag reflex" into my Google search. Yup, bad idea. A bad, blonde, busty idea.

My anxiety always seems to get me into trouble. It manifests itself through panic and ridiculous compulsions. People have often told me that I struggle with showing emotion. The truth is, I never really show my emotions because I'm too busy eating them. I prefer my anxiety with a side of curly fries; loneliness with a milkshake; and irritability with a crispy chicken salad (hold the salad, please).

Whenever my OCD symptoms worsen, so does my unhealthy relationship with loaded nachos. I've gained 15 pounds this year, hence the sweatpants (though I do have a pair with rhinestones). Most of this came on during my move back to the United States. As soon as our last box was packed, I fell into some sort of anxiety-ridden frenzy that has yet to loosen its grip on me.

How will Amelia reacclimate? Should I find a job? Will this weight gain lead to diabetes? Will Amelia make new friends? Is there an underlying medical issue as to why she keeps getting strep throat? Should I go for a master's degree? Are there bats in my attic? Should we try for a second child? Does my husband still think I'm enough? Could our new puppy have roundworm?

This question reel goes through my mind about every other second. I'm like a hamster on amphetamines who can't come off its wheel (except maybe for the wheel part---too much exercise).

And then, in what seemed like divine intervention and the timeliest of answers, I found out I was pregnant. Just like that, I had my direction: I was going to be a mom again. I was elated, terrified, and grateful. Most of all, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.

And then I miscarried.

I've always suffered from inadequacy. I've let it eat away at friendships; at my marriage. And now it was eating away at my body. Why had it failed me? Why couldn't it just do its damn job?

I feel back at square one. Like I have something to prove. And although I know this sounds very self-deprecating (albeit hormonal, as well) and not completely true, it also feels real. Grief, no matter how you calibrate it, always feels so very real.

Amongst all the chaos in my mind and a few very choice words for God, He had a little something for me in return. On my way home from dropping off Amelia at school, I stumbled across a picture she had taken while I was driving. A curly reminder of how blessed I already am.

I don't pretend to understand what God's plan for me is in all of this; only that I know there is one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In Pieces I Lose Him

I sometimes stop and wonder how he left his room that day. Perhaps a drawer remained slightly open, or worn tennis shoes were tucked neatly under the bed. I wonder if a pair of wrinkled pants were thrown across a chair, left to be worn for a day that would never come. When the mind wonders, it wanders…

Matthew left us on an ordinary day. Nothing historic or monumental shook the world or even our city that night. Since I was old enough to understand death, I always assumed it would shatter the atmosphere and destroy my surroundings when it arrived. Turns out, it only destroyed all the people; the world’s rotation never missed a beat.

I met Matthew when I was sixteen years old in the kitchen of his parent’s house. He was the older brother of my very first boyfriend, and it was my first time meeting the family.  I cautiously introduced myself as he sat eating spaghetti with his girlfriend Jackie, the aroma of garlic bread filling the kitchen.  He eyed me with caution, as if to assess whether I was worthy of his baby brother.

Matthew, Jackie, and I spent the next chapter of our lives attending Northern Illinois University and experiencing the best that college had to offer.  Seven years later, as I sat in a stuffy car outside of church, my phone rang with the news of his death. 

All I could smell was garlic bread.

One of my scariest moments in childhood was having the wind knocked out of me after a fall from a swing-set.  I remember lying there helpless, frozen with fear in my seven-year-old body, terrified I would never catch my breath.  Often when I think of Matthew, I fall off that swing-set all over again, only this time I am rational enough to know that it will only be a matter of seconds before my breath returns to me---the hardest realization is that Matthew never will.

I dream of him often.  Some nights, when I least expect it, he comes to me for a fleeting moment.  The illusions are never long or vivid, but he is there sometimes in the background, always silent and always observant.  For months I have been haunted by a dream of Matthew sitting in a fold-up chair at a cookout, his large hand holding a single red balloon.  He is emotionless and statue-like, yet his amber eyes are aglow with meaning.  Of all the dreams, this one will not leave me.

I drive around aimlessly now, usually at sunset, gathering my thoughts and seeking answers through a blurred windshield.  During one of these drives I saw a house---a small, white ranch sitting on the corner of a street.  A sign read “Caleb’s 10!!!” and tied to it was a single red balloon.  I stopped my car on the side of the road and wept.

Life seldom feels the need to provide answers, yet it comes equipped with enough questions to drive a person to one’s knees.  Matthew died early on an unsuspecting Sunday morning, and days later, in a somber church parking lot where we said our final goodbyes, the crowd gathered with balloons and sent them sailing up, up, up, to find our Matthew somewhere in the skies above.  It seems I had forgotten this.

The dream no longer haunts me---I suppose they reached their destination.      

Matthew was twenty-four years old.  I replay this number over and over in my head, adding and subtracting and trying to make sense of a senseless equation.  In twenty-four more years he would be forty-eight, with a family and a home and a near-flawless golf game.  In twenty-four years after that, he would be seventy-two---a grandpa, perhaps, successful and retired…

I never did much care for math. 

There is always a mist of sadness that permeates every room in which Matthew should be.  I find myself occasionally glancing at doors wherever I go.  I look for him; I seek him out in crowds.  My mind is still convincing me he is gone, that he will never again walk into a restaurant, a party, a house, or my life.

I look for him anyways. 

There is no beauty in death.  Some say there is so much light to be found in the darkest of places, but I have yet to be illuminated.  Death approaches with torture and brutality and departs with a piece of the rest of us. It destroys lives in its path.

Death is opaque. 

I wonder what Matthew saw before his brain quit his body.  I wonder if it hurt.  I wonder if he sees the destruction he left behind, the hopeless longing to rewind to November 16, 2008 for just one moment.  I would have picked him up from the bar---he and Tony both.  I wonder if he knew that. 


Matthew left his room on Saturday without knowing he would never return.  He put on his favorite sweatpants for the very last time, and he tied his shoes for one final occasion.  He ran a brush across his short brown hair, and he casually grabbed a wallet that would never again be needed.  I wonder if he closed his door behind him. 

When the mind wonders, oh how it wanders…

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Little Bit Batty

I wouldn't be writing this if Ben Affleck was flying around my bedroom---but when a bat with Michael Phelps' wingspan put on a drunk airshow in my living room, I did what any logical adult would do: I called four doctors, a scientist, animal control, and the health department. I figured the CDC would be overkill.

For all those unfamiliar with the second largest order of mammals, let me give you a fun little fact about these webbed nightmares---they can transmit rabies.

As sure as the sun will set (and that Britney's next album will be a roaring success), OCD will rear its ugly head at the slightest sign of illness or disease.  There is no worse time for me than when I'm in the throes of an OCD episode. So after the bat was finally killed (husband with a wiffle ball bat and a mediocre swing), panic ensued. Since around .005% of bats are thought to be rabid, you can surely understand my trepidation.

Let's begin with my doctor buddies: they gave me the all clear. No one appeared to be bitten or scratched and the bat was now dead and tossed in our woods.  I was reassured for about an hour until I discovered the CDC website on rabies.  Apparently bat bites can go undetected during sleep, and their tiny fang marks can be nearly impossible to detect, especially if one is a child or in an inebriated state. I have a child, therefore I also have nightly wine. Shit.

The health department confirmed my fears. A post-exposure rabies vaccine (which is a complicated series of expensive shots given over a month's time) is recommended if a bat enters a bedroom where one is sleeping unless the bat can be tested and ruled out for rabies---so in comes animal control. They need my bat. Unfortunately it's been tossed in our two acre woods without a proper marking or gravestone. I scour the forest for signs of the corpse, but to no avail. Finally, a very irritated husband comes homes from work and retraces his steps. Alas, we have our suspect.

I'm not usually one to partake in Google reviews, but I must say that Macon County Animal Control gets five stars for efficiency. They came faster than a delivery pizza, placed the bat in their vehicle, and drove it straight to a Springfield laboratory for testing. 

I must also give accolades to the Health Department for their role as liaison. They called to inform me that the bat's brain was indeed testable, but that I would probably need to call the lab for results since I was technically next of kin.

My dear, headless bat finally got a clear bill of health. If he still had a heartbeat, there would be nothing stopping him. Turns out he was one of the 99.9% of bats without rabies. Go figure.

I've since been told that I may have overreacted. What can I say? I'm batshit crazy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Expatriate, Interrupted

I was dead asleep the other night when a thunderstorm rolled through our town. The only reason I became aware of its presence was when it tripped our power and sent Justin Bieber blaring over our in-home stereo system at one in the morning. Talk about a full-blown panic attack. I jumped out of bed, hit my beautiful head on the night stand, and spun around in circles trying to figure out if someone with great taste in music had broken into our home. I went from room to room turning off switches, and then I found myself thinking of Switzerland. This wouldn't have happened there. Hell, we didn't even have air conditioning, let alone the luxury of a sound system in our shower. And for a few minutes, I missed my old, simple life.

I keep thinking I'm on an extended visit. I tripped while eating a creme-filled doughnut the other day, and I couldn't wait to get back to Switzerland and tell the girls how all of my fake nails broke off into the pastry as I landed on my ass. But then I remembered that I'm not going back in a week or a month this time. I'm in America, where I so desperately wanted to be.

Most people have parties upon their return; perhaps a soiree or a barbecue. Nope, not this gal. I went and had myself a good old-fashion nervous breakdown (sorry you weren't invited)! Everything was changing too quickly. The questions kept coming from everyone I encountered. "What are you going to do now?" "Are you getting a job?" "So what's your plan?"

I wanted to cover my ears and scream, "let me eat my damn McNuggets in peace!"

I just spent the last half-decade of my life acclimating myself to a new culture and language and entire way of life, and now everyone expected me to have the next half-decade all figured out, too. Here I was, back in my hometown, where nothing had really changed except for me. I had no game plan besides the next chain restauraunt I wanted to hit up.  What would motherhood look like in the states? How would my marriage fare? I overthought everything, and combined with the jet lag, it all just became too much. I woke up one morning with an emotional hangover, and for the first time in a long time, I was genuinely scared.

My doctor told me that I was overwhelmed by all the change, and thanks to my pre-existing OCD and anxiety, I went spiraling into a major depression. One minute I was euphoric to be back stateside, and the next I was crying my eyes out and desperately missing those who had been like family to me in Switzerland. I didn't know where I wanted to be, and more importanly, I didn't know where I belonged. 

I've bounced back, in case you were wondering. With the help of family, friends, sleep, and Prozac, I'm feeling pretty much wonderful these days.  Once in awhile, when I hear a certain song or I pass a particularly pungent cheese at the supermarket, I get a twinge of nostalgia and I transport myself to an auberge in the Alps where I'm sipping espresso with Dani and Shelly and Sarah, and all is right with the world. I wish I didn't fall in love with people so deeply---the goodbyes would be remarkably easier. 

We figured out our stereo system since the late night Justin Bieber concert. We're figuring a lot out these days, it would seem.