Jan 152010

Weighty Issues

This is heavy stuff Monkees. It’s also long.

When I suggested this as a topic to Glennon I was really nervous. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m still nervous as I’m writing this. I know this is something our fearless leader struggled with for decades and that it is a sensitive topic for many women, so it is with much love and great fear and trepidation that I talk to you now.

I’m going to talk about food and our often bizarre, abusive, and unhealthy relationship with it. And how not only what we say, but also what we do, impacts our daughters and the other young women we coach, mentor, and love. More than anything with this post I don’t want to upset, offend, or trivialize anyone’s problems or suggest that redefining our relationships with food or body image will be easy.

But I believe it’s important to talk about and, even though it’s not easy, I know that we’re Monkees and we can do hard things. And knowing that gives me the courage to write this.

So here we go.

The first time I remember thinking I was fat was in 7th grade. My best friend, who was built like a bean-pole, was sporting her new Jordache jeans (that’s right, I just dated myself) and I wanted a pair. Bad. After many tears and countless attempts to squeeze my more athletic build into the latest and greatest designer jeans, I blurted out to my mother that it was useless because I was fat. I don’t remember what she said to me that day – all the right things, I’m sure – but I can imagine how hearing her 13-year old criticize herself so harshly must have crushed her mommy spirit.

I remember my mom always saying the right things to me – that I was healthy and fit and smart and talented and kind and beautiful. You know, all those things that we tell our children so that they will learn to see themselves and love themselves as we do. But I also remember my mother always being on a diet. I remember hearing her complain about her weight, label certain foods as “good” or “bad” and verbally flog herself when she “cheated” on her diet or gained weight. I think that, combined with my own perfectionism and drive to excel, was enough to cultivate my own body issues and unhealthy relationship with food. Issues that lasted until quite recently.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that I experimented with binging, purging, and fad diets in the same way someone else might experiment with drugs: just long enough to realize it wasn’t for me. I do remember feeling that if I just lost 5 more pounds or toned this or that body part that I would be “perfect.” That I would be happy. That someone, or maybe everyone, would love me. Of course, now I see how dangerous that mentality is – the notion that happiness lies in a number on the scale or some other aspect of our outward appearance, rather than the content of our soul.

It’s only in the last year, since becoming a mother that I have completely redefined my relationship with food. This happened in part because I don’t want my daughter to inherit my obsessions and also because I have finally embraced my physical imperfections. Short of surgical intervention, there’s nothing I can do to remedy the deflated breasts and excess tummy skin that seem to remain a year after the twins’ birth, but I’m strangely okay with it. How I look is not what’s important or what defines me as a person.

So I no longer label foods as good or bad. It’s just food. It is meant to fuel my body to do the things I enjoy and give me energy to care for my babies. I eat when I’m hungry, and only very rarely now when I am stressed or sad. I don’t ever purchase or eat “diet” food because I have learned that it’s not really even food. I try to avoid processed, fake foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce knowing that if it doesn’t come from the ground or have a mother, it’s probably not good for me. And, when in doubt, I eat a banana because that’s what Monkees do.

I have found that since I no longer divide foods into good or bad categories that I enjoy food more and naturally seem to eat less of what I shouldn’t and more of what I should, perhaps because I’m interested in energizing my body rather than depriving it or harming it. I try to exercise because I enjoy it and it helps me stay balanced, but I don’t freak out if I miss a day … or a month. And here’s the irony of it all: I not only weigh less but I also obsess less than I did two years ago before I got pregnant with twins. Go figure. The real transformation, however, is that I feel emotionally lighter and generally much more relaxed.

Now my mission is to encourage my loved ones exercise more and eat well so they can feel better and be healthier. So I pester my parents. A lot. I’m like a broken record. Nag. Nag. Nag. My mom has become my favorite pet-project because I love her and have watched her struggle with her weight my whole life. And, also because the twins are a LOT of work and I need her help.

The other night I was trying to convince her that most of what she’s learned over the years with regard to dieting is wrong and that she needs to focus on the quality of the food she is eating. Nourishing her body with nutritious food rather than depriving it or polluting it with unnatural ingredients. She told me that she’s always been on a diet because she has always struggled with her weight, and I reminded her that she wasn’t always overweight. I’ve seen pictures – the woman was, and is, beautiful. Then, with big tears in her eyes, she said that her mother always told her she was heavy. It breaks my heart to think that my sweet, generous, compassionate, and kind mother has carried that with her all these years.

The entire time my mom was telling me this I kept hearing the words that a very wise friend told me when the twins were newborns: “whatever you tell your children about themselves, they will believe.” Think about that. Think about the power we have to shape the way our children, especially our girls, view themselves and their self-worth. Powerful stuff.

I’m suddenly acutely aware of how important it is for us to set an example for our girls. They should not have to listen to us condemning our own bodies or see us abusing them via extreme exercise or radical, unhealthy diets. After seeing how hurtful my grand-mother’s words were to my mother I know we need to be extra careful with what we say too because they are listening and they will believe what we say about them.

But I digress. The real reason for writing this was not to talk about myself but rather to figure out how we avoid making the same mistakes with our daughters. How do we, amidst the constant bombardment of air-brushed “beauty” advertisements, ensure that they will value their bodies and develop a healthy relationship with exercise and food?

Where does this leave us? I’m not sure exactly. But I imagine the first step is to forgive the mother, coach, mentor, friend, stranger, or self who made us feel a certain way about ourselves. Because I believe they were doing the best they could at the time, even if we were a little hurt by their actions or words. Then, we need to seize control and take ownership of our issues and decide what to do about it.

So let’s decide to focus on our achievements, attributes, and talents rather than what we perceive to be our shortcomings. Let’s remind our sisters, friends, mothers, and daughters what makes them special and important and unique so they never doubt themselves. Let’s eat and exercise to be healthy and strong and to set a good example. And let’s remember that God made us all in different shapes and sizes for a reason and we are all beautiful and that the world would be a very, very boring place if we all looked like a Barbie doll. Let’s remind each other that food is simply fuel and its purpose is to nourish and fuel our bodies. But mostly, let’s make sure we don’t pass our body image and food issues down to our daughters. This is one burden they don’t have to carry.

Who’s with me?

Jan 212010

I’m currently re-reading an old favorite called “The Cloister Walk,” a book about Benedictine monks and how their monasteries operate. This time through I’m reading with a specific purpose. I’m studying the book as research for our Momastery. I want to learn everything I can about how to build and care for a community of individual women. I want to learn how to celebrate differences and unity simultaneously. How to tirelessly set aside ego for love. How to, in Benedict’s words “persevere, bear one another’s burdens, and be patient with one another’s infirmities of body or behavior.” I am trying to learn how to take good care of each other, because I’d like to turn the notion that groups of women have to be exclusive or petty on its head. This type of peace seeking and peace keeping are hard work for an American girl. But so far, it sure has been worth the effort.

A community, in order to thrive, needs to have a common purpose. And it occurs to me that right now, the Monkees’ purpose is trust building. We are learning how to trust each other by making ourselves vulnerable. By tearing down our walls and admitting that we might be a little needier than we suggest at the bus stop. That we might need something more or something different from relationships. That we might be lonely enough to reach out, brave enough to be challenged, loving enough to put down our guns and care for imperfect people. That we might be strong and wise enough to quit taking everything personally and be kind, knowing that everyone is fighting a battle.

I’d like to introduce you to my friend, to your friend, Diane. If you meet Diane in real life, you might think that she already has every single thing she needs, what with her supportive husband, brilliant children, important career, cute hair, fancy pots and ingredients, and doctorate. You might be wrong. Monkees, meet Diane.


I have a confession to make. I am a Momastery imposter. A wolf in Monkee’s clothing. (Well, I will be once I get my hoodie.)

“Nah,” think the nice Monkees, “everyone feels like that some days.” I know. But I have a very good reason to think I’m different. Besides the obvious one…that I always think I’m different .

Here’s why. Women–especially groups of women–kind of terrify me.

I have a metaphor to help you understand my bizarre fear of my own gender. It’s just exactly like my bizarre fear of birds.

I went to the San Diego Zoo a decade ago and wandered into a bird habitat. Everyone (else) was delighted in this claustrophobic netted area (I refuse to call it a sanctuary) because several varieties of exotic birds were boldly landing upon them. With false bravado, I poked out my index finger and seconds later, was taken aback by the disturbing pinch of little birdie feet. Watching this fragile scrap of feathers over balsa-bone working to steady itself on my shaking finger, seeing the rise and fall of its little breast, and looking into its tiny eyes, made me want to FLING IT OFF. IMMEDIATELY.

But I clenched my teeth and waited for it to flutter away, because:
1) I knew I couldn’t be gentle enough,
2) I didn’t want to hurt it, and
3) I had to admit, it was kind of beautiful to look at up close.

Developing close friendships with women terrifies me in just that way– I know I can’t be gentle enough, and I don’t want to hurt them. It’s why I rarely venture out on the new friend market (well, I do hate shopping.) Even with the friends I’ve had for a long time, I have to watch myself. I unwittingly play the role of insensitive guy in the relationship, neglecting to respond to my best friend’s emails or forgetting the exact date of her birthday or forgetting which topics are OK to tease her about and which ones just aren’t. I never cry at the expected times and I don’t text or call every day “just to say hi” and I refuse to keep her company in public restrooms. That’s just silly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always dreadfully sorry if I’ve made a false move. It’s just that sometimes I feel like the world of women is a minefield. And when I’m with my closest friends, I don’t feel like I should have to work so hard.

On the rare occasion that I find another woman whose gravitational force is impossible to ignore, I start by telling her that my brand of New-York-direct dialect often clashes with the Passive Aggressive dialect, resulting in the occasional girl faux pas. Then I speed right past gossipy girl talk and dive into deep conversations; for example, how stupid I was to ignore how passionately I hated school when I decided to be a teacher, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop (it’s 726, by the way).

I just have to make wandering into that minefield worth it, as soon as possible.

Girls like me need friends too.

I can’t resist seeking intimate friendships, because up close, women–like birds–are so breathtakingly and beautifully complex. I started reading this blog and knew I would not be able to resist Glennon’s pull…I’m a sucker for complexity. And wooden signs. That doesn’t mean I’m not still terrified I might accidentally hurt her one day. Like today. Which is why I plan to obsessively check the comments you post after this. (Yeah, yeah, THAT’S the reason.) I feel assured that, in this place, a blatant detour from tact ought to be called out by someone. But you have no idea how freaked out I am to put myself out there, having no idea which of my offhand comments will be my downfall for the day.

On the other hand, I fear flocks of birds for precisely the opposite reason I feared that bird on my finger. Let’s just say…I’m not at all worried that I’ll hurt them

Just the other day I was teaching a lesson when a first-grader, briefly glancing from my (apparently not so riveting) lesson to peer out the window, called us all over. There were literally THOUSANDS of birds quietly, eerily blanketing in black the front lawn of the school, the benches, and the playground equipment. As birds do, they rustled in waves, swooping up in mini-groups and settling back down in new formations, a few yards away from where they started. The classroom teacher and I watched in awe and fear, contemplating indoor recess, when those THOUSANDS of birds just up and left at precisely the same moment in time. Just like that.

I find flocks of women just as threatening. Actually, it’s not because I think they will intentionally hurt me (like Hitchcockian dive-bombing buzzards), but because they just shove their sense of belonging right in my face.

I treasure my solitude, my unique perspective, the way I question everything and my habit of coloring outside the lines. Most of the time.

But sometimes the world feels exactly like my high school cafeteria, and I can’t find a seat at a table. Which makes me want to skip out on lunch altogether. And eat vast quantities of chocolate.

Sometimes, when I’m confronted with a happy, humming group of women who simply look like they belong to each other, to something more than just the sum of their separate selves, I have to come to grips with the fact that belonging to a flock might not be as lame as I think. They always seem to be laughing. And I love laughing.

Please understand that I have no self-preserving choice to call it anything but shallow, this sisterhood among women. (Yes, I know it is just as shallow of me to think that, but I haven’t watched “The Breakfast Club” for a long time.) All my life, I have gotten itchy in close quarters with women…in Girl Scouts or sororities or malls or spas or book clubs or PTA meetings or at-home parties or mom networks. (Imagine my dismay to discover that deep and interesting people like Glennon and Adrianne actually met through a mom network. My world tilted a little at that one.)

I have never experienced depth in any female relationship that wasn’t one-on-one. (Except maybe my huge family, on our good days.)

Until now. Until here. Every single day.

And that terrifies me most of all. You’re making me think I might be wrong. About what happens when women flock together. And I hate being wrong.

It seems to me that all flocks have a secret language, a shared understanding that allows them to move together as one. But all my life, just when a flock of women has settled near me and I thought I’d be able to anticipate its waves, it flew off together. Just like that. Leaving me a little relieved, honestly (it is less work), but a little lonely, too.

In the Momastery, for the first time in my life, I’m being let in on the secret language of the flock. I know, you have every right to be wary of me. Heck, I’ve told you to be wary of me.

But I’m still drawn to your beautiful colors. I’m mesmerized by your complexity, your fragility, your strength. And I’m singing the best way I know how. Please don’t fly off without me.

P.S. To all Male Monkees, this not-so-comfy-with-sisterhood-talk girl hereby requests to hear more from you. But a friendly word of caution: tread carefully today with the hearty “Women terrify me, too!” response. On second thought, don’t worry. You’re all probably more sensitive than I am.

And now, my birdsong.

Jan 262010

Yesterday was heavy. We need a break. And we have been provided a magical break by our own resident song writer, Bonzo. Bonzo is one of Sister’s dearest friends, but I am trying to steal her. Bonzo is fiercely wise and brave and loyal, and we are very lucky because she believes in the Monkee Revolution. I appreciate that she stands by me and loves me in spite of the fact that I talk about Jesus a whole lot. Bonzo and I are learning to love and trust each other even though we don’t totally understand each other. Maybe because we don’t totally understand each other. I think respecting differences is important in a friendship. Also, a mutual obsession with Bon Jovi helps.

I got this email from Bonzo a few nights ago:


Ok. Well, as you may know, moderation is not my inclination. Half-ass is no ass. SO. Since you have gotten as big a kick out of the Monkee Anthem as I have, I have decided to complete it for you. It BROUGHT ME JOY to know that this might BRING YOU JOY. AND NOW, when we have karaoke at the Monkee slumber party, we can sing the whole song:

Our Anthem:

Monkee Medicine

By Bon Jovi and Bon Zo

I ain’t got a fever, got a Momaster-ery
It’ll take a lot of cloisters to hold our community
I got lots of Monkees, it’s exactly what I need
Gonna take more than a shot to really compromise our glee
I got all the symptoms count ’em 1, 2, 3

First we read
That’s how we started falling in love
Then we bleed
We spill our guts and then we get back up
And we feed
That’s how we keep on falling in love
Now this Monk’s addicted and our words are the drug

Your love is like Monkee medicine
Monkee medicine is what I need
Shake it up, just like Monkee medicine
Dancing around in the Momaster-ery

Mon – Kee medicine (is what I want)
Mon – Kee medicine

We’re loving and we’re fearless and it’s giving us a thrill
The more we give, the more we have, so every Monkee gets her (or his!) fill,
We get tired very quickly whether home or off to work
But we give it all we’ve got when we try not to be a jerk
When we someday have our slumber party, we’ll all go berserk

First we read
That’s how we started falling in love
Then we bleed
We spill our guts and then we get back up
And we feed
That’s how we keep on falling in love
Now this Monk’s addicted and our words are the drug

Your love is like Monkee medicine
Monkee medicine is what I need
Shake it up, just like Monkee medicine
Dancing around in the Momaster-ery

Mon – Kee medicine (is what I want)
Mon – Kee medicine

We need some inspiration when we’re running out of air
So we found our own formation and our flock is pretty rare
Every day we really want to throw the towel in
We put on our perspectacles and try it all again.

Your love is like Monkee medicine
Monkee medicine is what I need
Shake it up, just like Monkee medicine
Dancing around in the Momaster-ery

I mean, are you kidding? Tell her how brilliant she is. BRILLIANT.

P.S. If you are interested in more information about the project that was introduced yesterday, please email me so I can get you on the distro list. Shake it up today, Sweet Monkees.

Invest 2 seconds & get your first G-LOVE email in your inbox NOW!!