Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Beauty, Depression, and the Media

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I spent the majority of my final college semester reading and thinking about media literacy. It's an important topic that Americans should be more aware of, but sadly, we aren't. We consume media at an alarmingly high rate, but we often don't fully comprehend what we're consuming or the ramifications of the messages we receive through media. Unfortunately, this often manifests in our own self-image; we feel insecure about countless "imperfections" about ourselves without really understanding where these insecurities came from in the first place.

I've suffered from depression my whole life. Sure, certain events in my life exacerbated the condition, but when it really comes down to it, depression is something that's hard-wired into my brain. As I also mentioned in my last post, I'm now married and happier than I've ever been. My marriage is the healthiest relationship I've ever had, and yet I still have depression. As a result of my own experiences, I should understand that in many cases of depression, an individual's personal happiness and appearance do not preclude them from suffering from depression. But then I see someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones, and when I heard that she has Bipolar II depression (a more "mild" form of the condition formerly known as "manic depression," where the "manic" states are more muted and less pronounced, and the depressed states are more prevalent), my first thought was, "But she's beautiful, rich, and happily married. How could she be depressed?"

Part of the disconnect I experience here is due to media images I consume on a constant basis. Through TV, magazines, the Internet, and more, the media consistently provides us with a narrative that dictates our expectations of personal happiness. We see ads for weight loss products that show before and after pictures. Typically, in the "before" shots, the overweight person is slouched and frowning, but in the "after" shots, the now-thin person has correct posture and has a huge smile plastered across their face. We come to equate thinness with beauty, and beauty with happiness; while we are told that being overweight is akin to being ugly, and therefore unhappiness. One of the most provocative examples of this comes from a series of ads for Medifast:

In each of these ads, we see a moderately overweight female crying about her self-image; also in the room is the same woman after losing weight, smiling. She tells her "fat" self that things will get better, she won't look like that forever, and she'll be happy and healthy.

When I first saw one of these Medifast ads, I felt deeply disturbed; it was a visceral reaction. But when I thought about it, I realized the problem I had with it: these ads are telling us that it's impossible to be happy when you're overweight, and that when you lose weight, you're guaranteed to be happy. But in the real world, there are countless examples of the contrary--countless overweight people who are happy, and myriad others who are thin and extremely unhappy.

I know that for some overweight people, their weight is the sole reason they are unhappy. But the narrative offered by Medifast leaves out some important portions of our populace, and perpetuates the message that thin=happy. First, they omit the people who are overweight for reasons far beyond food, the people who are overweight either due to some medical condition, or who overeat because of other problems in their life. Second, and perhaps more importantly, these ads ignore the people who are overweight AND happy. The media narrative is so ingrained in us at this point that many of us automatically assume that overweight people are unhappy, and that the overweight people who say they are happy really aren't. But I know many people who are overweight and completely comfortable with themselves. They exercise and eat mostly healthy foods, and they feel fulfilled in their lives.

This isn't to say that the media is all evil. They're attempting to appeal to the broadest base, so they make generalizations. It's understandable, really. The problem is that we as media consumers often don't recognize that these messages are generalizations, and instead we turn them into our own expectations of reality and how life should be. We see airbrushed images of our favorite models and actors, and we come to place those unrealistic expectations onto ourselves. Even the models and actors don't look like that in real life, but we strive to look like these fake images.

I've struggled with my weight for most of my life. Interestingly, when I was at my thinnest (I'm 5'2" and have been since I was 13), I was my least happy. By starving myself and eating dinner only because if I didn't, my parents would worry, and working out to the point of exhaustion to work off those dinner calories, I got to 97 pounds. But a 7th grade classmate was 94 pounds, so I berated myself for not being able to get to 93 pounds. I was socially awkward (still am, to a great extent), but I assumed that if I was thin enough, classmates would like me. Of course, they didn't, but I exuded unhappiness wherever I went. I realize now that I didn't have many friends because I was kind of a pain in the ass to be around, but at the time, I thought it was because I needed to be thinner. The magazine articles I read as a teen all seemed to confirm this suspicion, but really, all the constant calorie counting and working out turned me into an even more insufferable pain in the ass.

Fast forward 23 years, and I could definitely stand to lose a good 30-40 pounds, but I am a much happier person. They say beauty comes from within, and this is all too evident in photos of me through the years. I was intensely camera shy until I met my husband, a filmmaker and excellent photographer. At first, I was only okay with the photos he took of me. He made me look beautiful. But then I realized that I was also happy with photos of me that other people took. This was so new to me, since I hated almost every single picture ever taken of me until I met him; in fact, I assumed I simply was not photogenic. It wasn't some magic touch my husband had with the camera (although there's a fair degree of that as well); it was my own happiness that came through in these photos.

I realize this might make it sound like I'm only happy because of my marriage. I'm not. I spent many years working on myself and healing the wounds from past relationships before I met my husband. I was a much more confident person by the time I met him, and it was because of this newfound confidence that I was even able to meet him in the first place. I'm not happy because of him; rather, I was happy to begin with and he now shares in that happiness with me.

Even so, I still struggle with depression, which goes to show that depression is a condition that is often hard-wired into people's brains. This is definitely the case with me. Even if I was as thin, rich, and beautiful as Catherine Zeta-Jones, I would still have depression. It's not that something is wrong with my life; for me, it's a condition that just is. In the past, when my life was seemingly perfect, but I still felt depressed, I would search for whatever else was wrong that caused my sadness; if you search long enough, you'll find something wrong, even if nothing is wrong. Now I realize that my life is as perfect as ever. I'll continue to strive to make my life better, but there is nothing that needs to be fixed.

It's hard to feel comfortable in your own skin when you have depression. But when you listen to media narratives that tell you that unless you have perfect teeth, unless you erase the "dark spots" (aka FRECKLES) from your face, unless you are at an "ideal" weight, your life isn't perfect and you can't be happy, it's even harder to feel comfortable. Likewise, even if you appear to be perfect to other people, you aren't going to feel that way about yourself. I may look at Catherine Zeta-Jones and think she's possibly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean she isn't depressed. In an odd way, her story is comforting to me. It may seem to be cause for despair, to think that even if I have everything, I might still be depressed, but for me, it's encouraging. It reinforces the idea that I can (and should) strive for bigger and better things, that even though there might always be this part of me that feels depressed, that shouldn't stop me from enjoying my life as it is.

Even for people who don't have depression or other such mental health issues, it's often hard to feel happy in our lives. But if we continue to consume media narratives passively, we will never feel happy. There's also a difference between happiness and complacency. I'm extremely happy with my life now, but I am not complacent, and I doubt I ever will be. In a way, my depression keeps me from being complacent. Provided I don't let depression weigh me down and overwhelm me, it's a useful tool that I can use to keep me vigilant in consistently bettering myself and my life. Taking media narratives to heart, and believing their message that something is wrong with me, will not and does not help.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fear and transition

As I was already well aware, our dreams tell us important things about our subconscious. But figuring out exactly what our dreams are trying to tell us can be challenging. Sometimes, figuring it out can take a long time of self-rumination. 

One morning last week, I had a series of dreams. Each dream caused me to wake up with a start, in this fugue state between subconscious and conscious. I didn't know what they meant, but I knew they were trying to tell me something important. At the same time, I've had a wicked level of writer's block. I knew the two were related, but it was only this morning when I finally figured out what the two had in common. 

My first dream last week took place in my parents' basement, where I used to have a bedroom. In the dream, my parents awoke me to let me know they were going to do some cleaning upstairs, and would run the vacuum over my head. Realizing that cleaning wasn't such a bad idea, I took my own vacuum, and tackled the myriad cobwebs that covered my bedroom ceiling. While running the vacuum's extension hose over the ceiling, I found a GIANT spider. Of course, instead of getting sucked up into the vacuum, the spider jumped into my hair. Thus, I woke up in a terror, batting at my hair in a frenzy to extract the nonexistent spider. I was frustrated and annoyed by this sudden awakening, but I did know this was a clear analogy for my subconscious trying to clear away some metaphorical cobwebs, so I went back to sleep in the hopes that my next dream would tell me more. It did. 

In the second dream, I was in my current apartment, the townhouse my husband and I share (yes, to any reader who possibly doesn't know me from Facebook, I've remarried. I'll go into that in another post shortly). In this dream, the ceiling in our living room needed to be patched, which I did with a piece of posterboard and some push pins--at this point, I knew I was in a dream because there's no way I could reach the ceiling without a step ladder. Anyway, I noticed that the push pins kept wiggling themselves out of the ceiling. Angrily, I shoved the pins back in, only to have the plaster and, for some reason, some plumbing, come crashing down over my head. Again, I awoke with a start. Determined to figure out what my subconscious was trying to tell me, I went back to sleep once more, which led to my third dream. 

The third dream was seemingly completely non-sequitur. It was a sex dream, the kind I typically have. Sorry, I'm not going into details with that, because the details aren't really pertinent to this exposition. Suffice it to say that the dream didn't tell me anything about myself or my desires that I didn't already know. This frustrated me, because it felt like a dead end; like my subconscious decided to abandon the goal of enlightenment in favor of my base desires, of which I'm already well aware. 

There was, however, one important detail about this third dream that seemed pertinent. While in the throes of passion, my husband's coworker (not his boss; his freaking coworker) texted him to inform him that he was fired. I was furious because what kind of douchebag fires someone via text message, so we went to his office and I started yelling at this coworker for being so inconsiderate. 

I've thought about these dreams off and on for the past week, trying to connect the dots and figure out what they had in common, and thereby glean their greater meaning to my life. This morning, it finally hit me. 


To use one sentence to describe the past year of life for me and my husband, I quote Dickens' most famous line: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As a couple, we have been deliriously happy. This may come as a shock to most people who know me, but my husband and I have never argued. We have the healthiest relationship I've ever had; honestly, I didn't think it was possible to have such a healthy relationship. My marriage has brought out the hopeless romantic in me that I didn't even know existed. I've been happier than I ever thought was possible. 

At the same time, we have endured soul-crushing poverty--the kind of poverty where my husband has donated plasma twice a week for the past several months just so we could eat. We nearly lost our apartment--a few months ago, our landlord showed our apartment to prospective renters, and I had to leave during these showings because I knew I'd be a sobbing mess if we were here when the prospective renters were. 

We now have our own happy ending/new beginning. My husband has a part time job that he loves, as well as a full time job that isn't the job of his dreams, but it's easy work and therefore an easy paycheck that frees us up to enjoy our lives. I finally graduated college a few weeks ago, and now that my husband's income is enough to support us, I can take some time to try to launch a career in writing. This thrills me beyond belief, because I never thought I'd have that kind of freedom, or the kind of nurturing relationship that would support the pursuit of my dreams. Yet, I have found myself stymied by a creative block. 

To describe this block, I now paraphrase a quote from FDR: The only thing I have to fear is fear itself. I am struggling to find my "voice," and in doing so, I have prevented myself from doing any writing whatsoever. I really shouldn't have this fear; I know I have the talent necessary to make it as a writer. For my undergraduate major in history, I wrote what I considered a first draft of my thesis, but my professor, whom I respect more than I respect most people, informed me that my "draft" only needed minor edits and was already a complete thesis. 

What, then, am I afraid of? In short, I find fear comforting. In the past year, although my husband and I have been deliriously happy in our marriage, financially we have been in a constant state of fear. Now, those fears are gone. We find ourselves at the precipice of personal greatness. But in order for me to make my way as a writer, I must find my voice. I could go in any of several directions, but narrowing down which direction is what scares me now. What if I pick the wrong direction? My interests are varied. Right now, I have ideas for no fewer than four books: a political philosophy book; an expansion of my undergrad thesis on media literacy into a full-length book; and two fiction novels--a horror novel, and a series of romance novels that transcend the formulaic stereotypes of the genre. I could go the romance route first, since that would likely be the most lucrative; but then I fear that I wouldn't be taken seriously as an author for the first two ideas. I could write the horror novel first, but again, I fear getting pigeonholed into that genre. 

When I started this blog years ago, I planned to use it as a venue for observational humor, but that part of my voice is lacking in creative fodder for now. So now I find myself using it as a sounding board for my ideas. Which leads me back to the beginning of this entry: my dreams.


At first, I thought last week's dreams were my subconscious' way of getting me to uncover some deep secret about myself that stymied my creativity, as evidenced by the cobwebs in the first dream and the plaster in the second. But the third dream was what didn't fit in this scenario. The sexual situations in the dream were no surprise to me; the part about my husband getting fired was not a fear grounded in reality, because he is doing well in both of his jobs. 

What I realized is that my fears are tied to residual fears from my first marriage. I suppressed many aspects of myself in my first marriage, because when I was honest with myself, I realized how unhappy I was. I suppress nothing of myself in my new marriage, and there is remarkable freedom in that. I can explore my creativity without fear of coming to some realization of my own unhappiness. Indeed, each time I do explore my creativity, my happiness in my marriage is only further cemented. This time, I have the support I've needed and craved my whole life; in fact, he helps me believe in myself even more. 

These dreams told me that I was holding myself back because of fear, but that this fear was based on nothing relevant to my life today. My fear came from a past from which I have already recovered. I never really agreed with the quote in FDR's inaugural address. I thought (and still think) that there are lots of things to fear in life aside from fear itself. But in this instance, the fear that kept my creativity from flowing was purely based on fear itself, and not on a separate reason for the fear. 

I am married, and I am freer than I ever was when I was single, or when I was in my first marriage. This freedom is the best gift I could have ever received. Now, for me to  do something with this freedom. Now is the time for me to utilize this freedom and creativity to realize my potential as a writer. Those possibilities scare me, but that is a good kind of fear. I'm finally ready; now for me to start this journey and to keep going no matter what. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trying something new!

Look out everybody, I've got all sorts of creative energy and no place to put it, so I'm going to give this whole blogging thing a shot again!

I'm tinkering around with some ideas for how to actually turn this into a career (or at least a living wage to  keep me going!) One of the ideas may pan out soon; if it doesn't, I'm going with Plan B.

Both plans involve rewards in the form of various memes that will offer you (yes, YOU!) the opportunity to have me either include you by name in a future blog post or have me write about a word or topic of your choice.

This is guaranteed to turn out SPECTACULARLY!!

(Okay, maybe not THAT spectacularly)

It'll either be a spectacular failure, or a spectacular success, but be sure to stay tuned for what variety of spectacle this winds up being!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackkkkkkk! :D

Okay, so I'm not going to bother explaining why the hell I neglected to post for so long, despite my own advice that I gave here, but I'll just say that I'm back, a considerably different person than I was when last I posted, and hopefully considerably more creative!

So, uh, hi guys, and stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I learned something very important recently...

Winter break ain't all it's cracked up to be.

All through fall semester, students in universities nationwide eagerly await the end of the semester so they can have a great 5-week break. I'm no exception. Especially during the last 2-3 weeks before the semester was over, I couldn't wait for things to wind up, to take my finals and get my grades and get another semester's worth of credits under my educational belt. Since I'd started blogging right around that time, I particularly looked forward to having all sorts of time to blog all sorts of great, witty posts!

Obviously, that didn't happen. Instead of my magically becoming this orb of literary energy, I turned into a literal blob.

At least I didn't gain any weight. In fact, I actually lost two pounds, somehow.


Yes, I heard that. Although I haven't actually posted hardly anything lately, this blog has actually been on my mind daily. I've tried to think of things to write and... nothing. It's not that there's not plenty for me to write about. There's all sorts of funny anecdotes I could share; all sorts of posts that I probably will get to eventually. But right now, when I try to think of what to write, it feels kind of like trying to grab a cloud in your hands. You see it, you reach for it... but then just when you get to it... there's nothing.

Some of these issues most likely have to do with pharmacological issues that I SWEAR I'm going to write about soon... I've alluded to it before, and it WILL get posted. When it's funny. There's definitely a lot there that's funny.

Other issues include severe financial strains that weigh heavily on my mind. Yes, if I actually freaking stuck to posting regularly, some of that might be alleviated, but somehow that's not enough of an impetus for me right now, and I'm not sure why that is.

It's also definitely partly because I've been cooped up in this house for over a month. Probably if I'd gone for daily walks or something, I might not've gotten into quite this funk, but... as I've mentioned before, I'm a total klutz. And it's been horribly cold and icy most of this time; I probably would've gotten yet another sprained ankle (the original sprained ankle will be described in a future edition of "Walking, standing up, and other physical feats I fail at").

Hopefully my already-loyal readers haven't given up on me; and hopefully my future readers will have a lot to enjoy from me very soon.

I really take pride in trying to make things here as funny and light-hearted as possible, even if I talk about difficult topics sometimes. Unfortunately, this means that when I'm not feeling quite as funny as usual, I don't post anything. Thus far, I've stuck to my original promise of never deleting anything I post here, and if I spewed forth a bunch of emo bullshit, I'd definitely go back on that promise once I snapped out of this funk.

One of the main reasons that I avoided the whole blogging craze for so long was the tendency I noticed in a lot of blogs to turn it into some emo pity party. Seems to me that if you're so sad about stuff, just make it a private journal, even if it is online. Just the act of writing itself can be cathartic; writing a bunch of sad stuff and then inviting all your friends to look at it and play tiny violins for you is something I abhor.

Who knows. Maybe the simple act of my writing this post will give me some momentum to get going on this again. I sure hope so!

In the meantime, until I actually post something funny (well, at least funny to ME), I'm not going to share this on Facebook. If you stumble across this, especially if you're new to my blog, I'm sorry. This will hopefully be as close to a "pity party post" as I get. Especially since I really don't have anything to be sad about. Sure, my financial situation is horrible, but really, aside from that, my life is pretty damn good.

Anyway, I'll try not to be such a stranger!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

COMPLAINT OF THE WEEK: French pedicures

You see some of the strangest things when you take public transportation in a major city, particularly when you take it on a daily basis for an extended period of time.

The 57 is actually one of the bus routes I frequently took when I lived in the Bay Area;
yay for Google giving me a relevant image!

Sure, there are the requisite schizophrenics, who have heated arguments with themselves while headed to their daily panhandling destinations. Not to mention the people who have absolutely no sense of self-control, combined with a lack of respect for personal space--you know, the ones who sit WAY TOO CLOSE to you and proceed to talk about a bunch of banal things that go right through your head (or, maybe completely bypass your head... once you've ridden public transit long enough, you don't usually really hear what anyone is saying; you kind of build a force field around you that lets you ignore pretty much everything, no matter how weird it may be).

Of everything you can see on public transit, probably my favorite activity was observing the increasingly questionable fashion choices the riders made. Typically, this involved some combination of neon colors, underwear-as-outerwear, and clothing that clearly hadn't been washed since 1974. More often than not, these dubious outfits were made out of Spandex--which of course left me wondering why on earth they'd make something out of Spandex in a size 4X.

So one morning, many years ago (I think it was 1997 or something), when I rolled out of bed and staggered onto the bus to go to work, I was amazed when something I saw on the bus actually surprised me.

This woman, probably in her 30s, boarded the bus, clad in floral-print Spandex (for once, this woman happened to be size-appropriate for wearing Spandex, and hey it was the 90s, people actually wore floral-print Spandex sometimes, however mind-boggling that may be), and wearing gold lamé sandals that allowed her to show off her new pedicure. A French pedicure.


What... The... Fuck...?? My mind was completely blown by this. Little did I know that this woman was actually ahead of the curve in terms of nail fashion, and that this would become so ubiquitous in nail salons. Silly me, I assumed that this oddity, like so many others I'd seen during my people-watching on buses and BART (the Bay Area's light-rail system), was restricted to just this one woman, and it certainly wouldn't catch on! Ah, how naïve of me.

Nowadays, when you go to a nail salon for a pedicure, the esthetician typically assumes that you're going to want a French pedicure.

PEOPLE: WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????????????????????????

Seriously. I totally understand French manicures. In fact, back when I could actually afford such things, I had gel nails with a French manicure done every 3 weeks. It's elegant, and makes the nails look longer. I bolded and italicized this for a reason. Read on. 

See? This is my hand next to a cast of a saber tooth at the
Awesome museum, by the way. 

I know there are millions of people out there who absolutely LOVE how French pedicures look. Well, good for you. But again, I ask: WHY? If the entire point of a French-style nail is to make the nails look longer, why in the HELL would you want to make your TOENAILS look LONG???? 

I just don't get it. Never have, probably never will. I also know my opinion probably won't change anyone's mind on the matter, but seriously, why on earth would anyone ever want to create the illusion of long toenails? Long toenails, whether intentional or due to negligence/laziness, are disgusting. I'm pretty sure most people agree with that... right? So why actually pay someone to carefully decorate your toenails in such a fashion that your nails appear long...?

There's very little that I'm sure of in this life, but this I know for sure: If you ever happen to see me with a French pedicure, I will a) have gone completely insane; b) have someone pointing a gun at me and forcing me to have it done; or c) have been offered an insane amount of money to have it done, as some sort of weird dare. Feel free to offer me obscene amounts of money to wear a French pedicure for a week or something... but it'd have to be a lot of money for me to even consider it!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Ode to My Daughter

I'll return to my state of irreverent normalcy after this, but thank you all in advance for reading how I feel about my daughter. I'm never going to be a "soccer mom," I'm never going to be on the PTA or do bake sales or any of that "typical mom" stuff, but the pride I feel for my daughter is boundless, and I don't try to take credit for it. I was blessed with having this wonderful person brought into my life. She's not some lump of clay, being molded into shape. My daughter is a timeless sculpture, and I'm the curator, who's here to protect her, and from time to time, put Sponge-Bob Band-Aids on her boo-boos. 

My daughter, taking a nap, age 3.5.

Growing up, I never really thought I would be cut out for the whole parenthood thing. As a kid, when I'd see babies on TV or around town, I'd usually grimace. My mom would ask me, "Isn't that baby cute??" and I'd respond with a sneer and the response of, "Maybe to its parents, sure." As a teenager, when all my friends eagerly awaited the day when they'd be considered "old enough" to babysit, I abhorred the concept. After my one and only foray into babysitting, I got home and told my parents I never wanted to do that again (and it wasn't even an eventful experience; I just hated it). The idea of having a small human under my charge alternately disgusted and terrified me.

Then, when I was about 23, that little clock inside me, the one I thought I'd never hear, started ticking. I tried to ignore the metaphoric sound, but it grew within me, resonating, the echoes trembling throughout my mind. Later that year, I became pregnant with my now 9-year-old daughter.

EDIT: Yes, I realize that 23 is awfully young to start hearing that biological clock. But maybe my body knew well in advance what was to come in my life--that this was going to be my one and only shot at motherhood.

At first, being pregnant felt surreal; I kept expecting to find out it was all some strange dream. But when I flipped through a book of baby names, selected a good first and middle name, and said them together in my mind, I felt her kick for the first time. That kick, that one small flutter, seemed epiphanous to me, as if she was saying, "That's it, Mom! That's my name! Call me that!"

Thus, our bond was formed.

Incidentally, I recognize it could be argued that this wasn't some kinship between us, but rather she was crying out to me, as if to say, "FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THIS WORLD, DON'T NAME ME THAT!" but I prefer to think of it in the more positive light, thankyouverymuch.

Almost four years later, we found ourselves moving into my parents' house. We were damaged, but we were together, and rebuilding our lives. As much as the thought of parenthood had frightened me, the concept of single parenthood PETRIFIED me. Here I was, this depressed, fragile, numb creature, who didn't have a clue who I was. How on earth was I going to instill in my daughter the values she needed in order to become a happy, whole person?

I wish I could say that I suddenly and magically turned into Super Mom™, but I didn't. The fact is, I learn from her every day.

We've both grown immensely in the past 5 (almost 6) years. From the age of 2 or so, until we moved in with my parents, whenever she was faced with any sort of conflict (people arguing, someone being angry with her, whatever), she would close off. We called it her "dark place." Even in day-to-day happenings, I can see the difference, just in her eyes. There is no "dark place" any longer; now she is happy, and I learn from her (even envy her, sometimes) in many ways:

She knows who she is, and makes no apologies for it. 
For as long as I can remember, I have always apologized. For who I was, for what I said, for things I did... even for things others have said and done. But my daughter... it's cliché, but she radiates confidence. When she was told in 2nd grade that she would need to wear glasses, she met this concept with excitement. I asked her what the other kids said about her glasses (fearing that they would make fun of her, as so often happens when kids get glasses), and she said, "Well, some of them said they didn't recognize me, but I can see now, so I don't care what they think!" 

She has unbridled ambition.
My daughter has always had an interest in science and medicine. Over the years, she's narrowed the scope of her interest, from being a doctor, to now wanting to be a surgeon. She vacillates between general surgery, cardiology, and neurology, but she always looks at the world through a doctor's mind. When family friends visited over the summer, and she found out that one of them was a Vietnam War veteran who had lost his eye in combat, she was naturally curious, but we asked her to be polite and not ask him about it. When he offered to take out the artificial eye so she could see how it worked, her face lit up, like it was christmas morning. 

Apparently*, he took his eye out, placed it on a paper towel, and let her look at it. She took great interest in the shape of it--it wasn't a simple ball, but had this conical shape and a mechanism to allow it to "lock into" his eye socket--but took even greater interest in his eye socket, in the procedure involved in making the artificial eye fit. 
*I say "apparently" because I'm squeamish about eyes, and when I heard he was going to take his eye out, I excused myself and got out of the room as quickly as I could. 

My daughter is a real "girly girl," with Barbies and My Little Ponies and pink everything, everywhere. But interspersed with all the pink, you can find a model human skeleton, brain, heart, and a frog on a dissection table, complete with "x-ray" image and scalpel. She also has collector's editions of the original Gray's Anatomy, and Bodies Revealed, the touring exhibit of uniquely preserved real human cadavers and internal organs.

Discovery Exclusive Dissect A Frog
Discovery Exclusive Dissect A Frog
(I only include this because it's really cool, and not exactly something people think to look for)

My daughter at her Daisy Girl Scouts graduation in 2007.

She thinks before she speaks.
This is a lesson that I'm still trying to learn, to varying degrees of success (and, more often, failure). When our family doctor talked to her during a routine check-up, he asked her about wanting to be a doctor. She had been swinging her legs, and she stopped, looked at him very seriously, and said, "Well, please don't be offended, but I want to be a surgeon. I don't want to be the kind of doctor like you, filling prescriptions. I want to cut people open and find out what's wrong with them and fix them!"

This exchange took place when she was 6. The fact that a 6-year-old could have the foresight to think that a family physician could be insulted by hearing that she wanted to be a surgeon instead was both charming and mind-boggling.

She has genuine compassion for everyone.
Whenever someone at school is sick, be it a teacher, classmate, librarian, or member of her family, my daughter always asks how they're feeling, if she can do anything for them. Obviously, part of that is hard-wired into her, as I truly believe she was born to be a healer. However, she also heavily leans toward being either a heart surgeon or a brain surgeon... and both cardiologists and neurologists are known for having the biggest egos and the least compassion in the medical profession (just ask anyone in the medical community, particularly hospital nurses. It's true!)

The compassion my daughter shows for everyone she knows goes far beyond the typical lip-service that goes around so often. So many of us are caught in our own little bubbles that we don't really see how other people feel--our own maladies, when they happen to us, are just so much worse somehow! But not with her. With her, when she sees someone who is ill, her face changes. Her eyes change, soften. It's obvious that she genuinely cares.

Raising my daughter is a team effort. My mom, dad, and I all take active part in various aspects of her day-to-day activities. But I often feel like I'm dealing with a truly "old soul" (argh, there I go again with the clichés, but sometimes they really are appropriate, I guess). It often feels like I'm just lightly guiding her in the right direction if she starts to veer off-track--as if she's already on the right track, and I'm just there like a set of training wheels.

With my daughter, every day brings a new adventure. She truly has joie de vivre, a vitality that I have always strived for but never quite attained. As her mom, my daughter admires me, turns to me for advice. But I admire her every bit as much, and in many ways that I never would've expected, I have grown from her existence.

I may have spent most of my early life doubting that I'd ever be a parent, and I know I won't have another child (among other reasons, I physiologically can't have more), but having my daughter in my life makes me want to be a better person--she enriches my life in ways I can't express.

At the Rainforest Café for her 6th birthday. 
No, she didn't dissect this frog. 

Okay, so maybe the term "Ode" isn't all that accurate, since at least in my mind, "Ode" connotes poetry, and I absolutely HATE poetry, and this wasn't a poem at all. "Homage" might be more appropriate, but I don't really like that word. So, "Ode" it is. Was. Whatever.