A letter to a person who knows nothing about eating disorders

On Easter Sunday, I was blindsided by a comment made to me by a person in my extended family who hasn’t seen me in several months. Apparently this person had heard from other family members about my recent running accomplishments? habits? and decided that the change in my appearance since we last met coupled with running obviously meant I had an eating disorder. 

“So you’ve been running a lot? Do you have an eating disorder? Because that’s what running a lot can turn into, you know.”

I think I was so amazed that someone would actually utter these words TO MY FACE, all I could muster was an incredulous, sarcastic “Yes. Yes, I do” and I walked away. Then I wrote this after stewing for two days.
Dear ____,

I wasn’t going to say anything at all to you, but then decided that for my peace of mind, I needed you to hear my response to the careless, ridiculous, thoughtless comment you made to me on Easter Sunday in front of my mother-in-law and the other people standing in her kitchen. 

Thank you for noticing how my physical appearance has changed. I have never felt better in my life because I have never been healthier in my life. I turned forty in January and quit drinking all alcohol this past September. I have been eating a plant based diet and running since 2013, and on March 26th I ran the Syracuse half marathon in 2:00:26, just shy of my goal of a sub-2:00 race. In training for this race and the Flower City Half Marathon on April 30th, I injured my right IT band and have not been able to continue my training plan, which has been extremely difficult for me. Currently I am doing physical therapy to regain the full use of my leg and am hoping to get back to running as soon as I can. 

Running has been my rock and my sanity in recent times, and I have made many important friendships because of it. For you to assume that “running a lot” is equal to an eating disorder based simply upon my appearance is the most ignorant assumption you could make about me. What was made clear is that you know absolutely NOTHING about eating disorders. Someone who has proper training and expertise in working with disordered eating and body image issues would never make such a heartless comment to someone, especially as a joke. That makes it worse if you were trying to be funny. 

Runners take their nutrition very seriously, and I can assure you that the gobs of peanut butter that I put into my oatmeal every morning are never measured, I enjoy every drop of olive oil I spray liberally on the bucket of popcorn that I eat every night, and I eat as much pasta, bread, fruit, tortilla chips, vegetables, chocolate, and nuts as I want. I don’t measure or count calories for anything. I don’t eat any processed junk food. I couldn’t tell you how much I weigh because I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. And I know what disordered eating looks like because I used to live that way, and when I changed my eating habits for a healthier lifestyle, I threw all that crap away because I didn’t need it. 

I hope that next time you feel the need to make assumptions about someone, you can keep your judgmental comments to yourself. I may have been struck by dumbfounded silence this time, but I can assure you that if you ever make a comment like that to one of my children, I would not be so quiet. 

Beth

Run, run, leap.

One week ago today, on my grandmother’s birthday, September 18th, Charles Aschbrenner passed away.

One week ago today, I ran my second half-marathon. Despite arduous circumstances, including humidity and a hilly course, I earned a PR, running six minutes faster than my first race.

I do not think these two events are unrelated.

Charles taught at Hope College for 53 years, a feat that is almost unimaginable in today’s higher education environments, where budgets and tuitions swell along with the number of untenured adjunct faculty members. His Eurhythmics class was my very first college class, held at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning, in Snow Auditorium. There we were, a room full of wide-eyed freshmen and wizened sophomores (those were the dance majors, who were also required to take the class), walking around the room in a big circle, bouncing a tennis ball to the beat of whatever piece he happened to play that day. I had serious doubts about being asked to do such activities, especially as a self-conscious flannel-clad freshman, but my sense of timing and rhythm was pretty decent, which could not be said about several of my classmates.

He was also my piano professor. Since I entered college planning a major in music education, I would only be taking a two-credit lesson with him. About a year later, after several successful performances and a few unsuccessful education classes (Educational Psychology, or “How to Organize Eight Billion Pieces of Paper While Learning to Manage a Classroom Full of Hyperactive Kindergartners”), he convinced me that a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance was much better suited to my skill set. Charles was very persuasive.

I remember only two instances when he was upset with me; I’m sure there were more, but these two stick out prominently in my mind. The first was when I skipped his performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto with the Hope College Orchestra. I don’t know what I was doing instead; I don’t even think it was a conscious snub on my part. I just didn’t know that one NEVER missed their teacher’s performances. I NEVER did that again.

The second time was during my junior year, when I was starting to develop an attitude – okay, continuing to exhibit a poor attitude – and the interim Chapel Choir director rubbed me the wrong way. I was the choir’s accompanist that year, but choir music was not at the top of my practice priority list, and I had every excuse under the sun as to why the music wasn’t ready. The director finally reamed me out at rehearsal one day, in front of the entire group, and I stormed into my lesson afterward and immediately started ranting. Unfair! Mean! What a jerk! How could he do that to me, etc.

Charles looked at me cooly, clearly displeased. “Well, were you unprepared?”

“Well, yeah, probably, but – ”

“Because you need to learn that every time your hands are on that keyboard, your reputation as a pianist is at stake.”

He didn’t take my side. He didn’t join me in complaining about how unjustified the director’s scolding was. He AGREED with him, and worst of all, I knew he was right.

I still had a long way to go when it came to being professional, but he helped me navigate those challenging waters. Competitions, graduate school auditions, recitals – all of it unattainable if it hadn’t been for his calm, unflappable demeanor and quiet support. Or not so quiet. That guffaw, whenever I said something funny, or when he sat next to me and demonstrated a passage – it just bubbled out of him, uncontrollably.

I’m thinking it was maybe five minutes after I officially graduated that he told me to call him Charles. We went out for a meal with my parents at some fancy restaurant whose name escapes me, and we stopped by his house afterwards. I remember his cat, Chopin, who made me sneeze almost as soon as I walked through the front door. I remember being overwhelmed by the art that crowded the walls, the Steinway grand overlooking the beautiful gardens in the backyard, the immense decorum and beauty found in that organized clutter. Tears, a huge hug, promises to stay in touch, and he told me how proud he was of me.

I have dozens and dozens of emails we exchanged over the years that I will now start to sift through, and there is his newly published website on Pulse Patterning that he finished working on this spring, even as cancer was weakening his physical body. I visited him many times after I graduated, most recently in early August of this year, right after he began chemotherapy treatments. I spent a little over an hour with him, holding his hand, making him laugh (carefully), showing him pictures, and best of all – I was able to tell him just how much he had meant to me, and changed my life for the better. I was able to say goodbye. How many people are fortunate enough to be able to do those things?

I am a professional musician today because Charles Aschbrenner took a young, naive, talented but undisciplined kid and turned her into a pianist. I took that leap, and once I did, I never looked back.

Mom’s sick. Cue the tiny violins of pity. 

Nobody likes being sick, unless you’re one of those people who likes to fill their schedule with a series of doctor appointments. I hate going to the doctor. I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on all things health-related, and being somewhat mistrusting of Big Pharma and our broken medical system being truly invested in my health and well-being and not profits, I usually resort to one of the most terrifying tools available to humankind: WebMD. (Close second: Google)

So about a month ago, when I was taken down by the absolute worst sore throat imaginable, I carefully swallowed my pride and headed over to Twelve Corners Internal Medicine, which for you Rochester peeps is not actually located anywhere near the Twelve Corners in Brighton. I get lost every single time I go there. The office is located in this huge Walmart-esque medical complex at the corner of Westfall and Clinton, and I always drive around that parking lot for fifteen minutes before I find the right building. Unbeknownst to me I was also running a fever of about 104, so besides being directionally challenged I was also somewhat delirious. My doctor took one look at my tonsils and actually CALLED THE OTHER DOCTOR into the room to take a look. To everyone’s disbelief two rapid strep tests came back negative, but in a classic “just-in-case” move I was prescribed an antibiotic and told to call back if things didn’t improve. 

Of course things did improve, albeit very slowly, which made me think that the infection was probably viral in nature, but oh well. I returned to my regularly scheduled life as soon as possible, fortified with coffee and ibuprofen. I started running again, which for some reason was wearing me out quicker than before. Three weeks after the initial illness, I had a repeat of the same exact symptoms: fever, sore throat, swollen glands, exhaustion. Back to bed. Recovery was quicker this time, and once my symptoms were gone I was back at it – piano teaching, accompanying, running, driving everywhere, chores, etc. 

Then I contracted mastitis. 

Back to antibiotics. Back to bed. Back to feeling like an absolute lump on a log. Few illnesses find me shaking from head to toe with chills underneath a blanket, but mastitis is THE WORST. Not to mention that it usually doesn’t strike past the first few months postpartum, and here I was with an almost one-year-old. It seemed to resolve itself after about 24 hours of being on drugs, so that was a good thing, but now Frederick was sick. Upset tummy, no appetite, fever, and general irritability. Hell hath no fury like a sick baby. His sleeping was a mess, and both Daniel and I were completely exhausted after being up multiple times during the night for several nights in a row. 

By Monday I was feeling back to normal, well enough to go for my morning run, and Freddie seemed better too. Whatever bug had ravaged his system was now manifesting in a classic roseola rash all over his back and belly, so my decision to keep him away from everyone and every living thing for the past several days had been a good one. We ran some errands, came home and ate lunch, and while both little ones napped, I stretched out to catch a few winks myself. 

I woke up feeling achy and more tired than when I had first laid down. Popped some ibuprofen, because kids still need to be fed and bathed and diapered, and dishes still need to be washed. By bedtime I was pretty sure I was down for the count again. During the night I woke up in a hot sweat, and when I checked my temperature in the morning, it was a wonderful 102 degrees. 

Damn it. 

Back to the doctor. This time he ordered a blood test, because obviously something funky was going on, but other than that and strict orders to rest, there wasn’t much he could do. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the couch, alternately sleeping and watching “Hoarders” on Netflix, because one should always watch uplifting shows when you’re sick. And by “Hoarders” being uplifting, knowing that I do a pretty decent job of sorting through the crap that enters these walls makes me feel wonderful. 

Nobody likes a TMI post, and maybe I’ve already crossed the line, but it was a crappy night, and aside from painting both my fingernails and toenails and writing a blog post, I’ve pretty much done nothing except plan my perfect Pinterest wardrobe and check Facebook. I’m hoping to get the rest of my lab results back this afternoon; my CBC showed high levels of white blood cells (shocking), but that I am definitely not anemic, which as a vegan I am always concerned about. Lately I’ve been toying with reintroducing some animal protein into my diet, and I ate a fried egg for breakfast yesterday morning because nothing else sounded good. Eventually one gets sick of being sick, and I’ve always maintained that if something isn’t working, it’s time to try something different. Whether that means insisting upon a 9:30 bedtime, or taking a break from running for a little while (sob), or eating a chicken leg once in a while, I’m open to possibilities. I’ve been sick off and on for an entire month, and I just don’t have time for this. 

Not everything is difficult…

…however, I should probably also post the picture where he’s pinching the skin of my breast between his thumb and index finger, his favorite thing to do these days. But for just a moment, let’s pretend that at least breastfeeding is still all warm and fuzzy and cuddly and perfect. 

I’m tired. 

You know that feeling when you’ve been going all day long, and you’ve finally had the chance to brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, and climb into that glorious piece of neglected furniture known as BED?

It’s even better if there are clean sheets, but I’ll settle for the bed having been made, and not needing to shovel a pile of clean laundry off my side onto a different flat surface, or back into the laundry basket where it’s been for the past three days. 

For the last several months, that glorious feeling has been marred by two things:

1) the knowledge that in about six hours, I’ll have to get up and do it all over again, fueled by too much coffee

2) a baby that wakes up the minute I’m horizontal

We have six people living in a three-bedroom house. Just how it is, and we make it work like so many other things in our day-to-day existence. Boy No. 1 gets his own room because he never learned how to share anything, plus he’s the oldest. The girls share a room with bunk beds, too many books, pairs of tights, and stuffed animals. Daniel and I get the largest bedroom, which also houses the youngest member of the circus, Mister Frederick, the aforementioned wakeful baby. On one hand, it’s nice to not have to travel far to get him when he cries during the night. I have also enjoyed the luxury of us both falling back to sleep and waking up ALMOST RESTED after snuggling for who knows how long. Those days are coming quickly to an end, though, because Mister Frederick is almost one year old, and everyone knows that one-year-olds pretty much never stop moving ever, even when they are sleeping, thus rendering an almost restful night null and void. 

Anyway, there is nothing more demoralizing than collapsing into bed at the end of a long day that began somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30am, only to be immediately roused upon lying down by a fussy baby standing up in the crib and howling “Nah nah nah nah NAH” with increasing degrees of urgency. 

This too shall pass, I know, but in the thick of it all…I’m getting too old for this nonsense. 

Growing

"Who is this baby and why is Mommy holding him?"

“Who is this baby and why is Mommy holding him?”

Between Frederick’s 2-month well visit and his 4-month well visit, he grew three inches in length, going from 24 inches to 27 inches. That’s pretty tall.

He gained only three ounces.

I hadn’t really given his size much thought, really – he was nursing like a champ around the clock, and seemed pretty happy most of the time. There’s a lot going on in our house, as you can imagine, and there were certainly many instances where in our rush to get out the door, I’d nurse Frederick for a few minutes and we’d be on our way. He didn’t complain that much, and since he’d recently discovered that he could shove his entire fist in his mouth, he was self-soothing just fine. Dan mentioned his “baby six-pack” one or two times when he changed his diaper, and when I bathed him, I just figured he had a different build than my other chunky babies. He was a long, lean, Freddie machine!

Who wasn’t gaining weight.

His doctor wanted to see him a week later for a weight check. During those eight days, he gained an ounce and a half. At least we were going in the right direction, but all I could think about was that I had been starving my child and didn’t even know it. Or that there was a more serious problem, God forbid, and I was too busy and preoccupied to notice. BAD MOM.

Obviously my doctor didn’t say anything to that effect. She’s a mom of four boys who works full time in a busy pediatric practice, so she totally gets chaos. And she supports breastfeeding, too, so as she asked me questions to figure out what was going on and what to do about it, I knew we could work together as a team. Her solution: exclusive pumping for the next ten days so I could measure how much milk I was producing and how much Frederick was taking at every feeding. I would need to supplement with formula if he wasn’t getting the recommended amount of milk for his age, which was being increased slightly since he wasn’t following a healthy growth pattern.

I was so disappointed. My body had failed me. My visions of exclusive breastfeeding until six months flew out the window as I balanced the three cans of hypoallergenic formula in one hand and his car seat in the other. Already in my mind I was calculating the amount of time I would need to spend hooked up to Bessie III. How was I going to pump for fifteen minutes every two hours under the watch of three other children, including one uncomfortable 6th-grade boy? Not to mention responsibilities galore both inside and outside of the home, including a bridal show that Sunday, rehearsals and a concert and…

“You can do anything for a short period of time, right? Right.” Dr. D looked at me confidently, knowingly. “Your priority is getting Frederick to gain weight. You’re going to write everything down and keep track of it, and you can do this.”

Her assurance in my abilities was supremely refreshing, I have to say, and when I got home and assessed the state of things, I decided that yes, in fact, I could do anything I needed to do to ensure that my baby thrived. So I did. I reached out to experienced friends and family members who had excellent advice on how to increase my milk supply. I prioritized my weekend – Daniel was on his own for the bridal show (sorry, honey). But I grew nervous as my small freezer stash of stored milk dwindled, then disappeared. I gritted my teeth when I broke the seal on the first can of formula, and as soon as I measured out a few scoops, a loud, somewhat obnoxious voice in my head chimed in.

“So what if he gets formula? What are you trying to prove, anyway? Your other babies all had formula. Nobody’s handing you any prizes for purity or anything. Your baby needs to grow. This is what’s best for him. Deal with it.”

Thus far I’ve managed to mostly keep up with Frederick’s milk needs. It’s fascinating to look at my notes and see that I’m pretty consistent with milk production (25-26 ounces a day), which is certainly within the normal range, maybe a little lower than I’d like, but decent. And Frederick has been HOUSING bottles, so that leads me to believe we’re on the right track. I’ll know if we can go back to nursing the day after Easter, when I’m hoping to place a naked, not-peeing baby on the scale and see that all of this hard work has paid off. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work on my own internal growth and self-awareness, as I was apparently being all judgey-judgey without even knowing it.

Tightening our belts

Look at this picture of Adrienne playing in the snow! She bundled herself up yesterday morning and was making snow angels when I got home from the gym. Daniel took her out for a photo shoot at the Lamberton Conservatory near Highland Park, and after experiencing the tropical temperatures inside, it was time for some fresh air. Fresh, cold, seven-degree air. Hey, at least the sun was shining.

Ah, February, the shortest month of the year. Also the longest month, at least in my most recent experience. This year, I have to say that January 2015 was the month from hell (and not just because of my birthday), what with all of the illness and those long, LONG, dark, sleep-deprived days and nights. I tried as hard as I could to stay positive and enjoy my sweet little two-month-old baby boy, but MAN, it just wasn’t happening most of the time.

Now I am pleasantly surprised and delighted when I realize it’s five o’clock p.m., I’m looking out of my kitchen window across the fields in the backyard, and HEY! It’s still light outside! This has been the sunniest winter in Western New York that I can recall in recent years, and I’m not complaining about that one little bit.

I will, however, complain about the cold, because it’s been freezing-ass cold. -9 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when we got up. Fires in the fireplace. Slippers required before feet hit the hardwood floor of our bedroom, which is located right over the garage. Endless mugs of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, anything to take the chill (and the fatigue) away. I can’t help but worry when I hear the furnace running around the clock, because I simultaneously hear cash registers ringing with a resounding “cha-CHING!” every minute it’s on.

Money. *sigh*

This fall, I sold my house in Buffalo and was finally able to pay off all of my credit card debt (applause, whoop whoop, hooray, etc.). Aside from student loans for my useless–I mean, esteemed graduate degree, we’re doing pretty well on the debt front these days. I do NOT want to go down that demoralizing road again, so we are determined to live within our means from now on. Lesson learned, finally.

Daniel also made the decision to quit working his night-shift job at Wegmans three times a week so that he has more energy to focus solely on making photography our livelihood. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Wegmans would no longer offer health insurance to its employees unless they worked 30 hours or more per week, beginning on the first of the year. That was not an option for us, so he left Wegmans on December 31st. While it’s been great having a non-zombie for a husband around and available in the mornings and evenings, it also meant our grocery money disappeared. I always joked that Wegmans should have just directly given us our groceries every week in exchange for Daniel throwing stuff up onto the shelves in aisle 15, but that’s not how they roll.

So here we are, dearest February, and I have to say it’s looking pretty lean but quite doable at the moment. We don’t have any expensive hobbies to maintain, unless you count music lessons, which I would never categorize as a “hobby” but I might be slightly biased. There’s lots of healthy vegan and vegetarian food on our menu rotation, and we make most of our food from scratch. Gently-used clothing comes in generously from family and friends, because why buy brand-new clothes for kids that they’ll grow out of in three weeks, or even better, put an unrepairable hole in it? We utilize our local library almost every week. We watch movies on Netflix and play outside in the snow. As I look for more and more ways to stretch our money, I have found that living frugally has made me live more mindfully and waste less than ever before. And as we put every ounce of our energy and resources into family and our photography business, I am becoming even more grateful for the things I have (health, great kids, and a wonderful marriage), and the many simple ways we like to fill our time.

Less has become more.