“Mommy, you look like you’re getting SO strong!”

In the last year and a few months, I’ve lost a lot of weight.  And by a lot, I mean over 100 lbs.  I still have another 20-40 that I would like to lose, but I’m pretty happy with where I am compared to where I was a year ago.  I’m not telling you this to get a pat on the back or for people to tell me what a great job I did or how hard it must have been.  I’m telling you because it’s important to the story I’m about to tell.

My kids are generally pretty observant people.  If I’m in the living room downstairs and whisper something to their dad that I don’t want them to hear, they’ll hear it from upstairs in their bedrooms through closed doors and concrete floors.  My almost ten year old son has a great ear for music, and can tell you when a note is “off.” (Me? I’m pretty sure I’m tone deaf!) I think my seven year old daughter will grow up to be a police officer, because she always gets on my case when she thinks I’m driving too fast or following too closely or I make a Mexican stop at a stop sign (they really don’t stop at ALTO signs here – stopping is likely to get you rear ended!).  She doesn’t let me get away with ANYTHING, that girl! My five year old son knows if I move one of his million and a half Little People to a new location, and he’s perfectly willing to give me hell about it.  Again, my point is that they notice things.  However, until a few days ago not one of them seemed to have noticed their rapidly shrinking mother.

Part of this is because I’ve actively refrained from mentioning it to them.  My mom was constantly dieting when I was a child (and a teen) (and an adult) and it really negatively impacted whole view of weight and food issues.  I also had the feeling that she was constantly “worried” about my weight, and that contributed to a very poor body image.  I spent all of high school believing I was “fat” at 140 lbs (and I so wasn’t!).  I don’t want that for my kids, particularly my daughter.  While there’s no way anyone could reasonably call her fat/chubby/chunky, etc. , she’s very, very tall for her age and often feels self conscious about it.  If she’s anything like the other women in my family, puberty will likely hit young (I was only a year older than her when I started wearing my first bra) and I want her to be as comfortable in her own skin as possible when that happens.  Having the body of a woman when you’re ten is problematic in a lot of ways, and body image is one thing I can have some positive impact on.

Oh yes.  There was a story I was going to tell.  Okay.  Last week, after several weeks of Northern Baja/Southern California “winter,” it hit 80 degrees. (Or, since I live in Mexico, I guess I should say 27 degrees.)  I put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt that actually fit me, after months of baggy clothes that I was shrinking out of.  As I was pulling on my shorts, I noticed a buldge in each of my thighs that hadn’t been there before.  It was muscle! Awesome! As I was walking down the stairs to start my day, I encountered my daughter, lying at the bottom, her nose buried in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As she squinted up at me, I thought the glaring white of my legs might be blinding her.  But then she gave me a big smile and said, “Mommy, you look like you’re getting SO strong!” and buried her nose back in her book.

Both the feminist and the mother in me got a little teary.  My daughter’s first comment about my weight loss was about how strong she sees me as a mother, as a woman.  It wasn’t a “Mommy, you’re so skinny!” or “Mommy, you’re so pretty!” – it was about strength. I felt a little orgasmic burst of “I’m doing something right!” pride.  At least some of what I’m trying to teach her about what it means to be a woman is sinking in, and I can’t stop smiling about it.


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Not a World War II Flying Ace, or What the Hell is a Roof Dog?

Hint: I’ve never met a metaphor I didn’t like.

I’ve had a few people ask me why I named my blog Roof Dog, since even the tag line makes it clear that it is about neither roofs, nor dogs.  So, to be clear, this is not the Roof Dog to which I am referring:

Snoopy, World War II Flying ace, in a "dog fight" with the Red Baron

Not that Snoopy isn’t an intelligent and refined beagle, but he isn’t who I had in mind.  No, I was thinking more along these lines:

Mexican Security System

Isn’t he cute? See, I’m a USAmerican, living in Mexico.  I live in Tijuana, just a few miles from the US border.  Many things about living in a large Mexican city are no different than living in a large US city.  I have a modern house with a garden.  My neighbors are friendly.  I haven’t been caught in any drug cartel crossfire.  I have high speed internet access and Directv.  But, there are some things that take getting used to.  For example, paying all your bills at the liquor store.  That’s weird, right?  Electric, phone, water bill due?  Head on down to OXXO, the Mexican 7-11.  I’m planning a future post about all the things about Mexican living that seem weird, strange, unusual, and quirky to me. For now, however, I’m going to talk about just one thing – the Mexican home security system.

In the middle/upper class/wealthy Mexican neighborhoods, many homes have actual security systems.  I’m not sure what the company names are, but think of a Mexican version of Brinks.  Like security systems in the US, they’re pretty much useless, as they go off even when nothing’s wrong, and everyone ignores them.  If the police show up, it’s after the thief has already left with your laptop.  And, let’s face it, Mexican police have a lot more to worry about than someone stealing a computer (see the drug cartel crossfire mentioned in the last paragraph!) However, in the poorer neighborhoods and business districts, they have found a live alternative (though, really, not any more effective) – roof dogs.  See, most Mexican buildings are built with large, flat roofs.  And as you drive around and look up on these roofs, you’ll often see dogs glaring down at you, barking their heads off at anything that moves.  Most of these dogs aren’t well socialized – they’ve lived their whole lives up on the roof.  They get put up there as puppies and never come down.  They get food tossed to them, water sprayed up when people remember that they need it, they get yelled at, sometimes get things thrown at them – not very happy lives, really.  They basically have no ability to distinguish between a real threat and a kid riding his bike past their house.  Most of them haven’t been treated kindly by humans, so all humans are seen as threats.  They are the kings and queens of their own little square of concrete, and they patrol it’s borders, howling and whining and barking like mad when anything moves.

There are groups that try to rescue these dogs, and give them a better life.  I was talking to a friend who works with one of these rescue groups, and he said that sometimes the puppies can be rehabilitated.  The adult dogs, however, have a really rough go of it.  Many of them cannot cope with life on the ground – they can’t handle being down in the world, up close and personal with life.  Everything probably seems too big to them.  They’d really prefer to just sit up on their roof and bark their lives away.

So, there’s the metaphor.  This blog is my roof from which to bark – or howl, or sometimes whine.  I can only see the world from where I am, and speak about it from my perspective.  I try to see issues from all sides, and I hope I can make use of the perspective that I do have.  But I acknowledge that I have blind spots.  I know where some of them are, but others are likely to sneak up on me.  It won’t stop me from barking, though.

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Seeing What Sticks

If you’re here, I assume you know who I am, or are at least mildly interested in what I have to say, so I’m not going to give you a complicated introductory post.  I don’t know yet what this blog will be.  For now, I plan to use it as a wall against which to fling my myriad neuroses and you can examine what sticks.

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I’m the daughter of a mass shooter. Or, why I haven’t slept much since Jared Loughner snapped.

So. Yeah.

My mom met the man who contributed fifty percent of my genetic material some time in 1974.  She was a single mom of 2, supporting herself and my older siblings working as a waitress at a bar that has always struck me as the Southern California desert small town equivalent of Merlotte’s on the HBO vampire series True Blood.  My father was a frequent patron, but as it was The Place To Be in town, hanging out at a bar every night didn’t seem to reflect on his suitability as a source of romance.  He presented himself as a single father raising his daughter alone and looking for a woman who would be a good mother figure for her.  They started dating and it wasn’t long before my mom was pregnant.  They married in December of 1974.  My mother soon discovered that he wasn’t the man she thought/hoped he was.  He wouldn’t hold a job (my birth certificate, laughably, lists him as a seasonal worker), spent his days and nights drunk, and his daughter spent most of her time living with her grandmother.  When my mother was 7 months pregnant, the twins she was carrying were stillborn.  When my mother talks about this period of her life, she talks about what a great source of support my then 9 year old older brother was.  While she was bed bound in physical pain and immeasurable grief, he cared for my sister and my mother by cooking and cleaning.  My mom doesn’t mention my father, her husband, at all.  I suspect he wasn’t around much or wasn’t pleasant to be around and certainly didn’t do much to help her through what must have been crushing heartache.  Or maybe it was a pure hell that she just can’t talk about.  In any case, it wasn’t much later that she found herself pregnant again – this time with me.  Getting pregnant again was enough to make her get herself together, take her kids, and leave.

Although he didn’t contribute financially, my father did see me for the first couple of years of my life.  I have no pictures of us together, but I do have a very clear memory of seeing his reflection in the side mirror of a car in a parking lot while perched on my mother’s hip.  I’ve always assumed this was the last time I saw him, maybe as my mom was packing the U-haul that she used to move us to San Diego in 1978.

It wasn’t long after the move that my mom got the disturbing phone call from my grandmother – my father, never terribly stable, had gone completely off the deep end.  He snapped.  He walked into a bar, saw his girlfriend chatting with another man, and started shooting.  Two people died that day.  I’ve always avoided hearing the details, so I don’t know if there were other injuries, but it’s likely.  He didn’t have an automatic weapon, so he couldn’t do the kind of damage that Jared Loughner did. My mom, still legally married to him, had to talk to police officers and lawyers galore.  I’m sure she was both horrified with what he had done, and boundlessly thankful that she left when she did.

My mom always answered my questions about my father as honestly as she could.  I don’t remember not knowing the kind of man my father was.  He was convicted of two counts of 2nd degree murder.  Until I was about 9 years old, I received frequent cards from him.  My first name was always misspelled, and they were always signed “Daddy Loves U” with X’s and O’s added for emphasis.  He tried to contact me again when I was 16 via a family member, but I refused contact.  I have no idea if he is still serving time or if he has been released.  I have no desire to meet with him or discuss things with him or to hear that “Daddy loves” me. I have two pictures of him that he sent me during the time he was writing to me.  I’ve saved them, though I rarely look at them.  Looking at him in those pictures is like coming face to face with my own evil.  It’s hard to see the ways I resemble him.

Sometimes when rage bubbles up in me over something small, I wonder if I have inherited that switch – the one that suddenly flips and turns an otherwise normal human being into a monster.  When someone cuts me off and I feel a momentary urge to ram my van into the back end of their car, I wonder if the anger I’m feeling is normal.  I’m infinitely grateful to my parent friends who are open with me about the bouts of rage they suppress daily when their kids infuriate them – I might otherwise wonder if there’s something wrong with me on those days that every parent has (when the kids are fighting/disobeying/deconstructing the house faster than you can put it back together/the chaos refuses to be tamed/etc), when I have to do something like hide in the bathroom and silently (or not so silently) scream to avoid hurting someone or seriously consider (for a few minutes anyway) getting in my van and driving away as fast as I can and as far as my tank of gas will take me.

Every time someone goes on a shooting spree, it’s like they turned the knife that’s been sticking out of my chest since I was two years old.  I remember watching in horror in 1999 as students and faculty were evacuated from Columbine High School in Colorado following the shooting spree of two seniors.  As details emerged about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters, the knife kept on turning.  These boys were only 5 years younger than me – I could see myself in their faces.  I had to wonder – did I have that capacity?  If high school had been just a little bit worse for me, could I have been them?  More than anything, though – I wanted to go hug their parents.  I’d send Mr. and Mrs. Loughner flowers, if I thought it would do any good.  Most people can’t even imagine being them – but I can.  I understand their grief, too.

So Jared Loughner’s rampage last Saturday has hurt me in ways that it hurt very few other people.  While the mother in me is sobbing for Christina Green, a little girl only months younger than my oldest child, and the American in me is pulling hard for Rep. Giffords to have a miraculous recovery and horrified that a public servant like Judge Roll could be taken out at the grocery store, and the human in me is grieving for the rest of the dead and cheering on those who are still recovering from their injuries – the selfish part of me wishes that I just didn’t have to be reminded of the horrors in my own history that have both so much and so little to do with who I am.  I treasure the long period of time between stories like these, not only because it means that fewer innocent people are dying in the world, but also because it grants me a precious period in which to forget, a time during which the nightmares can fade, and a space in which I can live without feeling frozen with anxiety about all the things in the world over which I have no control.

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