Monday, April 9, 2018

Two sides of the same kid

Yesterday, Mal and I were on our way to a birthday celebration for a child he's only met in passing. As we approached the party, Mal said, "I'm a little nervous." When I asked why, he said, "Because of the house. I've never been there before."

Internally, I marveled a bit at the self-awareness it took to be able to name an emotion like that for a three-year-old.

Then today.

I was cleaning the back bathroom when I heard Mal call, "Mommy! You have to help me get the pink ball out of my nose!"

He had been snacking on some little candy cake decorations and, for some reason, had jammed one up his left nostril.

So, no. Definitely a typical three-year-old.

Anyway, it was harrowing (for me). He was whimpering and had pink melted sugar oozing out of his nose. I tried to pinch it out, but he yelled that it hurt, and then SNIFFED.

"No! Don't sniff! It will go up further. Can you blow?"

He tried blowing a couple of times, arguing with me when I closed the opposite nostril, but that didn't work. I went to get a pony-tail holder because his hair was getting in the way.

He insisted, "Mommy, I need a Band-Aid!" "A Band-Aid would the opposite of help."

Finally, after his hair was out of his face, I could actually SEE the shape of the candy at the bridge of his nose, where glasses would rest, if he had any. I pushed in toward the center of his nose, and he yelled and cried again that it hurt.

"I know, but this is the only way to get it out! I'm sorry!"

After a few pushes, I rolled it out. It was a little smaller than when it started, and I know it would have dissolved or gone up into his sinuses and he probably would have gagged it out. But, ooch, what a discomfort.

Today was a big mail day for Mal. First, he got his Hot Wheels Color Shifters we ordered last week. He was thrilled, and took a 2-hour bath to play with them. Then we got the Lightning McQueen scooter we'd bought on sale a couple of weeks ago. He's trying to figure that one out. Finally, he got a soft baby doll I actually ordered from Amazon this morning (we don't have Prime Now out here, but can still get some things on the same day!), because he's loving his baby and wants to sleep with it, but the baby he has is plastic and not comfortable to be cuddled or rolled onto during the night. He kept saying, "Aww, it's my cute baby. He's hungry!" and feeding it or taking off its hat to check out his little tuft of hair.

He's having a good time in general! Love this kid.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Sometimes, you're just tired.

Not sleepy.



Certain that if something doesn't give, you're going to crawl out of your skin.

And then something happens.

A memory.

A realization.

A quick "hello" in passing.

And the feeling of gratitude washes over you, soft and endless, and nothing else matters.

And you wouldn't trade that for a month of naps.

Because it's the important thing.

And you have it.

You have it all.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

He Giveth and He Taketh Away (like Calgon)

This morning, Mal woke up early. raring to go to Target. When we got out, I realized that the 51 degree high for the day (yesterday was 85) had already been hit and the mercury was dropping. We ran by Chick-fil-A and got free chicken minis and a free "Sunrise" something that's basically just orange juice and soft serve mixed together, then went to the store. Mal picked out a couple of Cars, and on the way home, I got my free cow calendar treat for the month (which I couldn't order with the other free things, but two trips was no problem because it's in the Target parking lot), which was a chicken biscuit. James got the drink, D got the biscuit, and I offered the minis to Mal, who rejected, so I was forced to consume them.

When we got home. James was still in bed and, I have to tell you, I was not in the best head space about that. I'd already tweeted something snarky (which you can go see, because I'm not going to share it here, but I think I'm pretty funny), and just kept coming around to this thought I was repeating in my head about how, yes, I appreciate that James gets up early every morning during the week to go to work and support our family financially, but surely he realizes that even when I'm in bed when he leaves, I'm not asleep nor have I gotten much rest overnight and no, I don't want to fall into a "me or him" mentality but there is the fact that when our child is awake and one of us is asleep, the other one necessarily has to be awake, so would it be reasonable for me to hope that maybe my husband would offer just one Saturday a month where he would rise with the son and allow me a lie-in since he surely recognizes my contribution and desire for rest, also?

When James got up, he played with Mal while I made lunch. And did laundry. They were going outside, and I wanted to watch a video while I chopped stuff for the curry, but for some reason, it was taking FOREVER for them to get ready to go into the back yard, and so I loaded the dishwasher while I waited for the quiet, and then they finally went outside for like 4 minutes, as you might remember the temperature comment above.

THEN later, James asked Mal if he wanted to go down to the Cajun Festival at the park, so I drove them down and they were gone long enough for me to almost vacuum the whole house. Then James went back down there alone, and I have raging hormones right now, and my son is on 100% + at this general time, and... I needed a dang break.

"And the gods heard her prayer." To borrow a quote from "Once on This Island." Which is a different musical altogether, but we'll get to that.

Mal wanted to nurse. During the day. My mom made the comment, "I thought you were about through with nursing." WE WILL NEVER BE THROUGH. This is what they don't tell you when you have a squirmy newborn: If breastfeeding "takes," you will NEVER NEVER wean them. This is our life now.

Anyway, it turns out, he went to sleep at about 4:30. I was hoping this meant he was just feeling super stimulated from a busy week and might sleep all night, but even at 8:06 PM, we never know. It still looks promising, though.

SO, I got online and saw that the Easter performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" Live in Concert was on YouTube.

I was vaguely aware of this show growing up, as we were a theater family. And while I don't remember hearing, "This is blasphemy!" about this particular show, as James does, we never really paid as much attention to it as we did Phantom or Les Mis or Into the Woods or Secret Garden.

When I was in college, though, majoring in theater with a concentration in musical theater, one of my classmates performed "Gethsemane" and I was absolutely floored. Totally sold on the whole thing. Listened to it a million times and loved it. I didn't enjoy the film too much, as it was so blatantly 70s, an aesthetic that I, ironically born in the early 70s, didn't embrace. (I'm sure the JCS I listened to was the revival, though I have adored Ted Neely's every dang performance.)

Watching this show was hugely cathartic. I sobbed at Pilate's initial song about his dream. I was transfixed by Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas every time he was on stage. Caiaphas was haunting. The musicians were flawless. The updates to the musical and visual style were fabulous. Sara Bareilles was genuine as Mary Magdalene, but there's no comparing her "I Don't Know How to Love Him" to Judas's reprise of the same song. Both she and John Legend, who played Jesus, are incredible singers and performers. And when they're the least memorable players in a production, you know it's top notch.

Oh, and Alice Cooper as King Herod? I literally gave him a standing ovation at my dining room table. His take on Herod was more "old school rock and roll" (to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber) than the kind of effeminate vaudeville style that is traditional. It was very satisfying to watch.

I felt more positively spiritually moved by that hour and 40 minutes than I have in years, I believe.

It's interesting to me the reaction of some people when new or "different" takes on familiar Bible stories come out. We do it with kids' books, making it available to them on their level. We do it in allegories and parables in study books to help drive home the point. But when the people from familiar Bible stories are presented as raw or urban or messed up, sometimes people's knee-jerk is to be offended and ignore the offering.

I find fresh eyes to be invigorating and thought-provoking.

The Bible isn't measured or tidy or easy to deal with. I think we get this white-washed version of Bible stories (meaning like paint, not like race, though we certainly do that, too) that make us thing that because people go to church and are generally quiet and respectful that it's the only honoring way to handle the material.

One thing I've appreciated about my pastor and the environment at my church this past year is their willingness to look at Scripture and literally ask, "What are we supposed to do with this?"

A funny thing... a few weeks ago, the scripture reading was from Numbers 21. Specifically: And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food." Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Typically, at the end of such a reading, one would say something to the extent of, "This is the Word of the Lord." The reader, who has been the accompanist at this church for more than 30 years, just shook her head and said, "This... is the book we... cherish." And everybody cracked up. Because, seriously. What?

I hope there's room for that in most Christian circles. I think it's healthy.

And how it's 8:30 and I should be heading toward bed, since we'll probably be up at 3 and Mal will be starting since he really didn't eat anything today. Oy.

I still appreciate a few quiet hours to myself.

And I love my husband, of course. He does a lot. I just needed the chance to get out from under that cloud of funk.

Friday, April 6, 2018

More Stuff Mal Says

Lately, chatting with my little is an absolute hoot. What comes out of his mouth belies so much of what's taking place in his mysterious mind. So here are some examples I want to remember.

The other day, Mal asked me to go do something with him, to which I agreed. He lit up and said, "Really, you will?! That'll be precious!"


One night he wanted to make pancakes, so we just threw stuff into a bowl and every time he had an idea of something we should put in  (mostly food coloring), he pronounced, "It will be FAB-uh-luss!" Over and over again.


Today at Little Land, Mal was obsessing over the 18-month-and-under play area, affronted because there was a kid in there who was over 18 months. I told him that I was sure it was because he had a smaller sibling in there with his mom. This conversation started, beginning with Mal:

I wish I had a baby so I could go in there!
You want a baby?!
I could be a babysitter.
Yes, if you were a babysitter, you could go in with your baby. Maybe when you get a little older.
I'm getting bigger right now!
But you need to be a little more mature before you can take care of a baby.
I can be a babysitter.
Okay, if you were a babysitter and your baby didn't feel good, what would you do?
Hug it.
What if the baby were hungry?
I'd give it breakfast.
What's breakfast for a baby?
A Popsicle.
What would you do if the baby threw up?
I'd clean it up.
What if you needed help? Who would you call?


James and I have discussed lately the unfair reality experienced by most families: That the kids go to the mom for EVERYTHING, regardless of which parent it would be more convenient to approach. Today, James and I were both hanging out, lying on the master bed, while Mal played with his cars in "Radiator Springs" (the cat condo). He said, "Mommy! Wake up!" I suggested, "Why don't you ask Daddy to wake up?" He reasonably answered, "Mommy, no! Daddy's sleeping!"

Then James laughed so hard he cried, and the same again later in the day when I brought it up again.


Along the same lines, later I was working in the kitchen. Mal had gone to the back restroom and passed his dad in the hall to come ask me to help him put his underpants back on. I told him to go ask hi Dad to help as I was in the middle of something. He went to the back of the house yelling, "Daddy! I need Mommy!"


Mal wanted mashed potatoes the other night, and the only potatoes I had were little new potatoes that had been cooked in a beef stew. Because of the carrots and tomatoes, the potatoes did have an orange tint, but I made extremely tasty mashed potatoes out of them and handed them to Mal. He received them with, "This isn't right. Try again, Mom."


In pulling out his desk chair, Mal accidentally knocked it over. Very understatedly, he said, "My beautiful plan... Ruined."


We were eating with my parents recently, and Mal asked my dad something. Dad responded genuinely, but Mal thought he'd said something about boogers. Mal reprimanded him, "Pappy, don't be a jerk."


I think on these things when I'm lamenting how tired I am, how hopeful we were when we removed caffeine from Mal's diet and he was sleeping hours on end for a while but we're back to the same or worse than usual, or how monotonous so much of parenting a tiny person can be. It's also very rewarding and outright hysterically funny much of the time. I'm grateful to get to accompany this kid through his days.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Software Quality Metrics

I ran across a forum post asking about ways to track tangible achievements in terms of software development. The original poster complained about the fact that pretty much every tool they can find is based around just spending time on a problem rather than actually checking off solid accomplishments.

I spent enough time writing a response that it seemed worth sharing here:

If you can come up with a good, tangible way to track useful software progress, you could make billions of dollars selling it.

Personally, I have one "Contribute to Github" daily to remind me to do something to give back to open source. And another for spending at least 1 hour a day on a personal project (which is usually something hosted on github).

I'm very careful about tracking time for the latter. Time spent on technical emails asking for advice counts. Time spent scanning mailing lists for responses doesn't (but actually reading any responses and sending back "Thank yous" does).

And then I have a slew of individual TODO items that I'm vaguely trying to use the way I would a project management tool. But that interface seems clunky enough that I haven't actually messed with it in over a year (I'm still working on a single item from that list, really, and it hasn't seemed worth the effort to break it into smaller pieces).

In a lot of ways, it's easier to beat procrastination by focusing on the "process" over the "project." If we focus on things like "I have to accomplish x, y, and z," then our brains will find ways to derail those goals. It's a daunting, complicated thing, and our brains are terrible at that sort of thing. That's a great way to spend a lot of time in front of your computer and accomplishing nothing.

Instead, just decide that you're going to spend x amount of time trying to make some sort of progress on x. The stupid, lazy, really powerful parts of our brains can get behind that and push.

Put in the time. Take a break. Do something to reward yourself. (There's good neuroscience that experts tell me show this really is incredibly effective. Anecdotally, it works pretty well for me).

Lots of people swear by the Pomodoro technique for this. I haven't had much luck taking it to that level of formality (once I get involved in a problem, I can quite happily spend 4 hours on it without noticing).

Deadlines can also be an incredibly effective tool, if you have a meaningful way to measure progress. 

This is actually pretty easy if you're doing something like writing a novel. It's very difficult (back to your original point) to do this in something like a software project.

Measuring things like the number of lines of code changed in a git commit can make you feel good about yourself, although it's very easy to game the system and add in needless garbage. Be sure to give yourself bonus points for lines that have been deleted.

Code that doesn't exist is guaranteed to be bug-free. (Although the code that used to call it might have unexpected problems...measuring lines of code is always a risky idea).

Good luck. Please let us know what you find. This has been one of the biggest pain points of my career.

Happy Marriages

I've often wondered why some marriages work and others fail. All too often, the failures are obvious from miles away. But many times they just seem (to outsiders) to have happened out of the blue after many years of success.

What's the difference between those and the ones that continue for entire lives?

A few months before Laura and I got together, a wise friend (I generally try to avoid naming names, but I suspect Kirsten Stensaas Jackson will appreciate the publicity) told me the secret to her life-long marriage (it was only 17 years, since her husband was tragically taken away far too young. But I suspect she'll never remarry): Wake up every day and choose to be happy and dedicated to making your marriage healthier and stronger.

That doesn't work if you're in one of those train-wreck doomed-from-the-beginning marriages. But I suspect that a lot of people who seem to be in one of those could probably make it work if they both just did that.

Then again, I've seen far too many marriages where one person threw themself into that wholeheartedly, only to discover years later that that other had really just been along for the ride.

So it also has to be mutual.

I ran across this definition many years ago: "I love you" means "Your happiness means more to me than my own."

In America, we tend to think of love as an emotion. Or a feeling. A couple of months or so ago, I heard an interview a with someone from China. This person derided the American pop culture idea of "love."

Most people I know who think of love think of it in terms of that young love zing sort of thing that clouds your judgment and makes you do stupid things like moving to another country to be with someone you barely know. We seem to think in terms of passion and energy and need.

If you pay attention, a lot of the pop culture version of "love" revolves around things like

  •  creepy stalker behavior
  •  long-term damage to your body to shape it (and thus you) into something that's worthy of all the benefits that stem from making it lovable
  • Romeo/Juliet levels of stupidity when relationships don't work out
  • the idea that there's some individual soul mate (The One) who's perfectly compatible
  • snagging a good match before someone else manages to sink their claws into "the One"
  • the belief that that initial zing you felt when Cupid's arrow hit will last
  • the subsequent disappointment when it doesn't
  • a woman's loss of identity when she submits to a man
  • a man's drive to conquer a/many woman/women
I could easily write an entire blog entry about each and every one of those fallacies. I'm pretty sure other people have already covered them much better than I possibly could. (For example, a lot's been written about that initial "zing" is called either "new relationship energy" (or NRE) or limerance, mostly depending on the context).

And those are just the ones that popped into my head immediately.

But this is a diversion.

Back to that interview with the Chinese:

Their culture doesn't really place any importance on love at all.

To them, marriage is really about the devotion.

I think it's pretty safe to say that all people have been lovable (and deserving of our love) at some point in their life. If you truly get to know someone else, you're going to feel some love for them. Even if it's just "at some point in his life, he was just a vulnerable child who needed love."

Some people are not capable of maintaining a loving relationship. That doesn't make them any less lovable or deserving of love, but it does make them very unlikely to find anyone who will truly be devoted to them for the long-term. I suspect these people are extremely rare, and I feel very sad for them.

But, in general, if you make the effort to devote a little time and energy to your devotion to your spouse (or spouses...even if it isn't legal, I'll give a shout out to polyamory), and they reciprocate, it seems like it can probably work out fine.

Not that I'm an expert on long-term relationships by any means. I'm pretty sure it was my mom who convinced me that can't truly know another person until you've been married to them for 10 years. From that perspective, Laura and I are halfway to getting to know each other.

And I won't claim that we've worked out all the jagged edges. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about a lunch date that I had with Laura's pastor (Jacob). He tried pretty hard to convince me to just call the marriage off at the last minute. Well, not call it off. Just postpone it so we could sort through all the spiritual and scriptural ramifications.

My argument at the time was a little bit lame. Laura and I had already committed. For all intents and purposes, she'd already moved in. He told me that was OK: we could figure out an alternative. I still don't know what he had in mind.

Her stuff was in my house. She wasn't moving in without the legally binding covenants: she was setting the "proper" example for her kid. She had already donated her home to charity. She was living in an AirBNB with a dog chorus that was so crazy that she showed back up at the Nuthaus for a while to play Battlestar Galactica for a while before her spine betrayed her again and she had to run away just far enough for me to catch her.

In retrospect, the discussion with Jacob seems almost humorous. He basically grew up with no knowledge about Christ, and had become the shepherd of one of Austin's most liberal tiny churches.

I grew up in a pretty extremely fundamentalist/evangelical church and have decided that I simply cannot believe the things I was taught then about the Bible. The God and Jesus with whom I grew up are such monsters that I cannot worship them.

If that version of the Bible is true, then I'd rather spend eternity in Hell than praising the sort of God who would Create a reality that followed those rules.

If my interpretation of Jesus's love and forgiveness is correct, then we all receive it and get into Heaven. Or maybe we already have. Either way, I don't believe that Jesus is going to hold this sort of question against anyone, if Jesus is the Real Deal.

On the same lines, I simply cannot believe that Jesus' love and forgiveness doesn't extend to people who don't buy into the concept of Original Sin or His divinity.

Because of Jacob's personal theology, I think he believed that Laura was risking her immortal soul by marrying me. Due to this, he not only refused to officiate the wedding, he decided he couldn't even endorse it by showing up.

Huh. I didn't realize until now that I'm still bitter about that.

Jacob, if you ever happen to read this, please know that this was never a personal grudge. I'm shocked to discover this bitterness. Your presence would have meant a lot to Laura, and I like you enough that I'd have felt extra happiness if you'd showed up. 

Then again, this was before we got any chance to know each other in Haiti. At this stage in our relationship, you were asking about my heart, and I was trying to figure out what you meant. Or maybe I was just guarding it very closely. I'd just been through a lot of pain, and I wasn't ready to share it with a stranger.

To complete the side-track, I really appreciate Jacob's approach to Christianity: on nights like tonight, I still vividly remember the first sermon I ever attended, where he discussed the fact that apostleship is a continuum of belief between absolute certitude and very serious doubt.

When you think about the analogy the Bible makes repeatedly between marriage and the Church, it seems worth pointing out that continuum.

Since I decided to dedicate my life to Laura, I haven't ever gotten close to that "very serious doubt" side of things. I'm sure they'll happen. They're bound to, right? I'm told that I'll start I have the 7 year itch thing to look forward to.

I think I remember discussing it with other couples who told me that it hit them around Year 9 instead.

I'm not worried about it.

Because I'm completely and totally devoted to my wife.

And our children, but I don't expect them to be around in 30 years.

I know she's a dirty rotten liar, but I'm pretty sure that she's also pretty devoted to me. I've found that I don't really mind when she lies to other people to make my life better.

I'm sure that's a character flaw on my part. I decided long ago that I'm going to love everything about her (disclaimer: loving asthma is a tough thing. I wish she didn't have to deal with it, but I think I'm going to be forced to find a way to wage war against Big Pharma so she can breathe)

So...there's where I am at Year 5.

Holy shit. I can't believe it's been this long.

For all intents and purposes, I think we're both still happy. 

If we aren't, then I wish she'd let me know before. But then I never even asked you to promise. Just that you couldn't expect me to realize if this falls apart.

We should probably revive our regular health-check.  Once upon a time, we used to ask each other whether we were doing OK. I'd like to keep that active. I think we're doing great, but I want to always remember to ask and make sure that you do also.

I'm going to scroll way back through all the ideas and streams of consciousness that I've just babbled out.

Laura, I love you.

I feel happy just thinking about you, and. more than anything else, I want you to be happy.

And well rested. That's a nice bonus that I fantasize about for text year.

Happy Anniversary, my Love.

Thank you for everything.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Five Years

These pictures were taken 5 years ago yesterday.

We had walked from the Nuthaus to Nau's Enfield Drug store for breakfast, but got there too late and had to have lunch. A few things about this day: 1) It was HOT, and we're all sweaty. 2) Mei Li's feet were bleeding because she hadn't realized we would be walking all over creation and had only brought flats (and we still had to walk home... uphill). 3) D was there but I didn't include that picture, since D doesn't like public photos at this stage. 4) My back was in constant searing agony. Bonus for 5) James and I look pretty young, and he looks well-rested (I wasn't sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time because of my back).

It's only in hindsight that I know what happened to my back, but here it is: The weekend I moved into the RV park in Austin, I slipped and fell in the laundry room because water had accumulated in a clogged grate in the middle of the floor. I went down in the splits and my left knee swelled to ridiculous proportions almost immediately, though I didn't remember hitting my knee. That was in mid-August 2012.

It wasn't until December 2012 that my back started hurting. Once again, Khrys and Mei Li were visiting, but this time with Patsy and Kitana. Every time we got into a car, I writhed in a shock of pain. It got worse and worse until I couldn't sleep more than 3 hours at a time because I had to get up and stand up. I couldn't sit normally, either. I stood and I found one of those 1980s ergonomic kneeling chairs. I had sciatica that was excruciating, and lower back pain.

The night these pictures were taken, March 30, 2013, I actually told James he didn't have to marry me if he didn't want to, because I was a different person than he had started dating. I was sleep-deprived. Everything else in my life suffered because of this. I was moody and exhausted and couldn't go on road trips. I felt like my whole life revolved around avoiding pain, which I couldn't, so I felt like a failure. My sweet kid would often ask, when I cried out, if I was okay. At some point, I said, "I'm not. Please don't ask me anymore. Neither of us can do anything about it."

Several months later, I would find that I had a ruptured disc, and after pursuing many treatments (chiropractic, acupuncture, massage), time, gabapentin, and a failed pregnancy healed me completely. I only took gabapentin at night for about 3 weeks, but that allowed me to sleep through most of the night for the first time in months. That, I believe, gave my body the energy to start healing. Then the spike of pregnancy hormones, I fully believe, finished the job. Also, I'm well aware that the gabapentin might have contributed to that pregnancy loss, but we were not expecting to get pregnant so early, not even sure that was a possibility.

By the time we went to Haiti in June 2013, I wasn't too uncomfortable on the plane or in the shuttle van. By the end of summer, I was pain-free. The whole cycle took a year.

I mention all of this in conjunction with our anniversary, because I had an epiphany this week...

The RV park where I lived ended up reimbursing me for my medical costs due to the injury. That was the only concussive thing that had happened to me. It was the cause. But I exacerbated the situation by not listening to my pain, and by "pushing through" to work out.

I remember vividly lying in the floor of the trailer, trying not to half-ass workout components I had done easily for years. Tears would stream from my face as I pulled and stretched, fighting against my body, which was telling me, "STOP IT! This isn't the 'good' kind of pain! You're hurting yourself!"

But I couldn't stop.


Because I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped.

I was afraid that if I didn't work out, the nightmare would come true.

I would get fat.

And the lesson I'd learned all of my life was that gaining weight was the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to a person.

When I was in junior high, a friend's mom told her daughter and me that we needed to watch what we ate, because her husband once told her that "boys don't want to hold on to no chalk."

How I wish the 14-year-old me had had the confidence and swearing ability to tell her, "Then eff those guys."

Because, seriously, EFF THOSE GUYS.

(Side note: same message for the ladies who won't date someone shorter than they are. Idiots.)

I overheard a guy saying he couldn't date me because I was "too much woman" for him.

I felt like I was a pretty cool chick, but never had a boyfriend, while all of my friends around me did. I was desperate for someone to love me. I dated gay guys, not knowing even if I kind of "knew" because they were the only ones who didn't seem put off by my large physical presence... which, at the risk of being offensive, is really part and parcel to being a "beard."

Then I got married. Twice. When people enter into a marriage, they promise to love each other through all sorts of situations. However, it became clear to me that "fat" was not one of those circumstances.

Both of my husbands had issues with my weight. Neither of them said anything initially, but they both began to treat me with disdain. I could feel the resentment boiling beneath the surface, and confronted them about what was going on. Denial. Confrontation. Denial. Confrontation.

Finally, they both cracked and told me. I was overweight. It was difficult to be attracted to me. I looked pregnant. "Why didn't you say anything earlier? "I was afraid you wouldn't marry me."

I tell these stories together, because they were strikingly similar. They played out almost the exact same way.

In one situation, the guy had a breakdown later in the day of our conversation, confessing that he was afraid I would leave him. I wish I'd had enough gumption to tell him that was it. Or at least to inform him that he didn't have the right to have a crisis of confidence in which I had to reassure him. It was my turn to spiral out of control, and he needed to man up and take responsibility for the pain he'd caused. Instead, we stayed married more than 4 years after that. I developed an eating/exercise disorder, lost a ton of weight, and was pretty dang hot for a few years.

I garnered a lot of attention with my newly-slim body, and after a while, was over being ignored and left alone by the workaholic husband. We got divorced, and a couple of years later, I married my second husband.

After OUR conversation about my weight, he is the one who said he wanted a divorce. I fought against it, as we had a 1-year-old child. I lost weight in a more "healthy" way (meaning I ate more than jellybeans and candy corn and fat free bread with fat free butter substitute and jelly), and kept it off for a long time. We stayed married 9 years after the "you need to lose weight" conversation. Sometimes, he seemed pleased with me, but mostly he seemed to dislike me a great deal. And I always knew I was only a stone or two from losing his affection entirely.

Even my failed attempts at dating after my second divorce reinforced this idea that my natural body was not okay. One guy I tried to date referred to my "weight fluctuations" and how he weathered those, still finding me attractive... when I didn't realized my weight was fluctuating. I had long jettisoned a scale, knowing my relationship with it was not healthy. And I was post-divorce, trying to keep my head above water, so was focused on other things. Apparently he was not.

And a second person I met online told me after our first meeting that he couldn't date me because he wasn't physically attracted to me. I can only assume that this was because I am heavy, since I'm pretty symmetrical and have (or had, when I had the time to "do" it) great hair, and my eyes are amazing, and all of that.

Incidentally, this guy changed his tune after a while, when he got to know me better and realized that my high school self was on to something: I'm a pretty cool chick.

Why all of this, and what does it have to do with my anniversary?

I haven't wanted to have to worry about my weight. Ever. When I worked in an all-woman office in my mid- to late-20s, I saw ladies in their 50s and 60s obsessing over the latest diet, what they could and couldn't eat, how grossed out they were by their appearance. I'd seen the same thing in my first post-college job at a newspaper, but that was young women my age.. I was incredulous that women were wasting decades of their lives focusing on depriving themselves and being negative about themselves. I didn't want to be on that track.

It's taken a long time, but now, at 45, I'm finally 5 years into a life that is giving me the gift of loving myself because I'm married to a man who loves me unconditionally. He loved me when we first got together. He loved me when I was a mess because of chronic, unmitigated pain. he loved me when I had baby brain. He loves me when I'm over-tired and grumpy. He loves me when I'm dressed up or when I'm still in the pajamas I wore to bed two days ago. He just loves me. And knowing that I don't have to be anything I am not to retain his affection has made a revolutionary difference in how I live.

This is definitely a process. I'm only about 18 months out from the time I saw a picture James snapped of me on his cell phone and declared, "If that's how I really look, I should just kill myself now." I'll never forget the shock that flashed across his face. That was the last time I tried to drop weight, and I did so by eating only 1200 calories for two full months and seeing zero difference. I was hungry, obsessed with food thoughts, packing the early part of my day with food and then not being able to eat after about 3 PM, and constantly thinking about food. I knew it wasn't healthy, in addition to not working. I've probably messed up my metabolism horrifically by all of the times I've lost 25-50 pounds (which is probably 3.5 times, and I've kept weight off for five and then almost ten years, but it's always come back).

So I stopped. And I decided I was going to try to love myself and focus on other things. It's amazing how difficult it is to accept myself. I have a photographer friend who has captured a few candid moments between Mal and me over the past couple of years. One was of us giggling and having a good time at the apartment pool. My first reaction to seeing the picture was to pick apart "problem" areas on my body, but I forced myself to ignore that and focus on the joy. And I put the picture away to enjoy when Mal is 10 or 11 or 12, and I know it will just be more precious to me then. Same thing with a picture of my holding his hand, walking him down to the lake. I wanted to think, "That shirt is NOT flattering... I look so short and stocky!.. The rolls!" but again forced myself to see the relationship instead of being vain and making it about my physical appearance.

Because that's the crux of it. My weight loss has never been about health. Most people's isn't. It has been about vanity. About looking good. About earning the male eye of approval.

My husband's eye of admiration regardless of what is going on at the moment has been the catalyst to the greatest strides I've made on my journey to freedom in this area of my life. And I am grateful.