MEDS: In which I write about undergarments and what fits in my old bras


MEDS: Minimally Edited Daily Stuff

When you go back to work in an office after 5 years of working from home, the first thing you realize is that your wardrobe is vastly inadequate.

You start shopping for clothes, then realize that your Converse flats won’t cut it. You go shopping for shoes, then learn that there is no such thing as a truly all-purpose women’ shoe. You buy two or three pairs — the black ones, the flat ones and the cool ones. You wargame your outfits and you imagine going out to a professional lunch or coffee meeting. In your mind’s eye, it works until you see yourself putting your winter jacket and boots to go outside. That’s when you realize that the slightly-too-small puffy jacket from the thrift store and the Sorel boots your daughter outgrew in grade 8 are ruining your professional vibe. Buy boots and a jacket, think you’re done bleeding money until you receive the blouse you ordered online and realize in horror that it doesn’t fasten at the front. And the part of your blouse that doesn’t fasten is not the third button that sits across your chest but the one right above the navel, where your chest currently sags. So you decide to see what all the hype is about and get a proper bra fitting. That’s how I ended-up at Bra Chic.

Bra Chic’s sales model is inspired by the home real estate market before MLS became available to everyone. They keep all the bras in the back of the store and let you try what they think you need. Right between the $90 bras, they’ll make you try a $200 bra and your boobs will sing for joy! Here’s my friendly advice: tell the girl who is fitting you how much you want to spend on a bra. If you don’t give the ladies a price range, they will bring you the best bra for your type and it will probably be somewhere in the vicinity of $200. And just like real estate, you think you’re fine in your 3-bedroom townhome with your 4 kids and your dog until you visit the new 4-bedroom single family home on a corner lot. It’s really hard to unsee your rack in a $200 bra so don’t even try one.

That said, after buying a really expensive bra from Bra Chic, I took my new knowledge of bra fitting to Victoria’s Secret and got me 3 more bras and a pair of leggings in their Buy 2 Get 2 special. Wanna know what? A perfectly fitted $60 Victoria’s Secret bra does not make your boobs look half as good as a perfectly fitted $120 bra from Bra Chic. Wanna know what else? Buying a good bra will make you lose 10, possibly 20, pounds.

Still on the topic of my chest… I nursed Ève until she was 4 and Damien until he was 2.5… that’s years, not months. Damien still has the habit of tucking his hand between my boobs, and — if I don’t give him hoof right away — under it. Yesterday I was wearing my car-payment-sized new bra and he was unable to tuck his hand between my boobs, even less underneath it. That’s when I realized that my previous bras were so poorly fitted that my 4 year-old son could put a hole hand in them. That’s not good ladies (Gosh I sure hope there are not gentlemen still reading this…)

I spent good money on oversized clothes to cover what 20 years of pregnancy and nursing did to my silhouette. But they always ended-up looking frumpy. Lesson: spend less on clothes and more on a good bra. Now: is there a similar option for the muffin top that won’t make you feel like you’re on the menu for Oktoberfest? I await your suggestions.

What everything is about.


This is a post about sex. There are no details but if the thought of a married couple having sex is making you cringe, consider this is your warning.

This post is about intimacy in a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship. I don’t think it will resonate or be relevant to people in casual relationships or people with multiple partners. You’re welcome to read it anyway but don’t @ me if it doesn’t apply to your situation: I know!

There is a quote about sex attributed to Oscar Wilde:

“Everything in the word is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”

When sex is bad or not happening, it’s rarely about sex. Many people believe that bad (or absent) sex causes relationships to wilt and die. I think people have it backward: sex is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. It gets weird long before your relationship expires. It’s a sensitive little thing that can tell you a lot about the state of your marriage if you care to listen.

Let me tell you a story and see what wisdom I can squeeze out of it. As a young adult, I went on the pill and it was not good. I had a horrible reaction to it: heavy periods, weight gain, mood swings. I had morning sickness, throwing up like clockwork after breakfast. I went off the pill, ended-up having to take the morning-after pill once, was so violently ill, I thought I would die. Went on/off the pill again.  I met Paul and we had two children in close succession. I was 22 years old, halfway through my law degree and considering a lifetime of getting pregnant every nine months until my late fifties. It was a little scary.

My understanding of sex within marriage had been learned from culture: a healthy marriage hinged on having a lot of sex all the time. Having to worry about anything — fertility, inhibitions, morals — led to bad sex. Hormonal birth control had liberated women from all that worry and seemed to me like a good thing. It had brought fairness to relationships, giving women the opportunity to have sex without the looming threat of pregnancy. Except that for me, it came down to a choice between being healthy and being a loving partner. It made me feel broken, not liberated.

The worst thing is, I didn’t feel like having sex all the time. I was a full time student, I had two children in diapers, one nursing around the clock as it was. But when my husband and I heard people talk about sex, it was always about how much everyone was having. It really made me feel like I was failing at life and marriage. Sex was never bad, I simply didn’t have a sex drive like the movies.

I felt an obligation to have sex more often than I wanted. Everyone said that sex begets sex: the more you have it, the more you want it. So I tried to force myself and that made me feel used. I went off the pill and promptly got pregnant with my third child. Tried the hormonal IUD, bled myself stupid. Got it removed. Asked for a new pill prescription and while reading the fine print on the drug information sheet realized that I was only in my mid-twenties and already knew two women who had had a stroke.

Meanwhile, my husband wasn’t feeling all that loved. He also believed that married couples should be having tons of intimacy and here he was stuck with a woman who was starting to feel like sex wasn’t worth the hassle. He felt like the hassle.

After having my third child, people started asking if my husband would get “fixed” and it dawned on me that only when it came to sex did we take medications, use devices  and have surgery to take our bodies from a healthy state to a broken one. Vasectomy doesn’t “fix” anything, it takes a healthy organ and it breaks it. Nothing made sense to me anymore.

The thought of having to go on hormonal birth control or have a foreign object stuck up my uterus for the purpose of making me sexually available at any time made me feel disrespected in my own marriage. I wanted to be loved for who I was: someone who could not take hormonal contraceptives and, therefore, would not be sexually available whenever the mood struck. I felt unloved. My husband felt unloved.

Once I started feeling like pills and devices were a violation of my integrity as a woman all intimacy started feeling tainted. I couldn’t shake off the feeling of being objectified, of being something to have sex with. I remember holding the pack of pills and telling Paul: “Please tell me you don’t want me on that bullshit anymore.” And he said it was ok, we’ll figure it out.

It took a long time to figure it out. We tried learning different methods of Natural Family Planning and most worked fine with a ton of discipline. But when you are in your mid-twenties and at peak (male) libido and (female) fertility, the amount of abstinence required to practice NFP successfully is not all that jazz. As a result, we were very disciplined during the year-and-a-half following the birth of a child, and when the urgency of not getting pregnant receded, so would the discipline and self-control, and I would get pregnant again. We never planned how many children we would have, they just arrived when our life was settled enough to allow for strict discipline to relax somehow. To this day, our level of discipline with NFP still follows the curve of how much we don’t want to get pregnant again.

Why am I writing all this? 

When I was asked to write about sex in marriage, I thought that people would want to know how to keep the flame alive, to use a common trope. How to keep the desire going. How to keep things interesting. And I honestly don’t know what to write. We never really had to worry about desire, our struggle is still to find enough days in the month when I’m not fertile. When you factor in sick children, sick adults, work trips, and the general ups-and-downs of family life like falling asleep before your mate, a 28-day cycle goes by pretty fast. When we have time together, it’s great and we don’t need to be inventive. It just happens. I don’t have to contend with hormonal birth control messing-up my libido: we don’t need toys, movies, or different partners.

This is not a blog post trying to sell you on NFP. NFP is like democracy: it’s the worst form of birth control except for all those other forms (sorry Churchill…) But when I look back on 22 years of marriage, I see that turning to NFP has made our sex life an integral part of our day-to-day life. And that’s the wisdom I’m trying to share in this post.

In our marriage, sex exists alongside other ways of showing love and respect, because there are periods of feast and periods of famine. Sex lives and dies with the dishes, the way we speak to each other, the way we help each other, the way we make raising a family and living in the same house bearable day-to-day. If one partner is terrified of having another baby and the other is throwing all caution to the wind, conversations have to happen. Not about sex but about everything that surrounds it: why can’t we get pregnant right now? Does anything need to change so you are not living with this weight on your shoulders? These conversations are not always easy and we don’t always see eye-to-eye, but having them regularly as we adjust the throttle on the NFP discipline has allowed us to keep a finger on the pulse of our marriage in ways that weren’t obvious before NFP.

So there you have it. I wrote about sex in marriage. The ice is now broken. If you have more specific questions, I can address them anonymously in a post. Feel free to send me a message on Facebook. My blog page can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

Tweeted movie reviews: Raazi


Here is a cross-post of my movie review for “Raazi”. I use Twitter for movie reviews because I use Twitter for Bollywood chatter. You can find me @veroniqueberg

 

Daily MEDS: Looking for work and finding it


I skipped a few days in my daily blogging this week. My husband was out of town and, well, life happened.

I attended a parenting talk and in the process of catching up with people I only see once a year, I mentioned that I was getting up at 4:45 am to make lunches and she noted that it was a whole 3 hours before walking the children to school at 7:45 am. It’s been bugging me ever since. It takes 2h to make lunches, until 6:45 am, then I feed, dress and sanitize the children. I don’t have breakfast and I don’t get dressed. I just work flat out and I simply don’t understand why it takes so long. Does it make sense to you that it takes 2h to make 6 lunches? Then a full hour to get 5 children fed, dressed, brushed and winter-geared? It behooves me. But so it is.

I’m going back to work in 10 days (more on that later) and I’m going to have to shave 30 minutes off my lunch-making or wake-up at 4:00 am, which is getting uncomfortably close to “middle-of-the-night” territory. I will need to be done making lunches at 6:00 am to have time to get dressed in grown-up clothes, put my face on and catch the bus at 6:46.

I’m sure that at this point you are throwing shoes at your screen wondering why (A) I make lunches in the morning, and (B) make lunches at all. There’s a reason for both and maybe I could be convinced to write about it.

With Paul gone for the week, I had to wake up at 4:30 am to walk the children to school (late) at 8:00. Before running out of daylight hours to write things, I started writing a series on marriage and several friends asked me to write about sex and marriage, which I know something about. I mean… we did it 9 times, which is more than the average Canadian who only does it 1.6 times. But there’s knowing about it and knowing what to write about it. On a blog. That might be read by my kids, my parents and my boss. It was ok last week when I was still sleeping with my boss but that all changed when my contract ended and I found a new job.

I bet you’re dying to know about my new job.

The long story started 6 months (or maybe a year?) before we moved to Stittsville. I was having a coffee at Quitters with my bottle of Advil when a charming young lady approached me and said she had peppermint oil and it might help with my headache. We hit it off, met a few times for coffee, I made her pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I fed her, she was mine.

Fast forward 6 months and we were moving to Stittsville, a community in the west end of the City of Ottawa, just as the municipal election campaign was gearing up. As a former political aide and campaign manager, I noticed that a candidate in my neighbourhood was challenging the incumbent and running a remarkable campaign. I thought “I should probably volunteer,” but my husband was in Latvia, we were selling our house and we had 6 children starting in 3 new schools so it wasn’t looking good. I stopped for coffee at Quitters — it’s a theme — and found myself standing in line right behind the candidate in question. First I thought “this is uncanny” and then I thought “How weird would it be to ask him if he’ll need staff once he gets elected?” I decided “Probably too weird” and let the poor man buy his coffee in peace.

As predicted, he won. Deservedly.

Then I wrote a blog post about looking for work with a resume that screams “I PUT FAMILY FIRST!” You can read it here.

Then my friend (see above) read the post and sent me a Facebook message saying: “Our new Councillor just published a Facebook post about looking for staff, maybe you should apply.” And she added: “By the way, I applied too.” I laughed and told her he was probably hiring more than one person so we could both be hired and we har-har’d, ok bye.

He received 100 resumes, from which he and his campaign volunteers culled 15. The volunteers called 5 people each — including me — and came down with a short list of candidates that he would interview in person. I got a giant pimple on my face, so of course, I was invited to have an interview in person. That apparently went well because he asked me for references. I gave him three names, including one person I was married to and one person who used to be an elected official. Wisely, he called the one I wasn’t married to and made me a job offer as his Committee Lead.

(As I was writing this — I swear this is true — I got a call from my former boss, which gave me an opportunity to thank him for the good reference and he joked “I told him you were a bit scary but as long as he didn’t ask you to work on this or that he should be safe.” )

So there you have it. I’m heading to Ottawa City Hall in 10 days to work as the committee/policy assistant to Glen Gower, the new Ward Councillor for Stittsville. I sent a message to the friend who had tipped me off about the job to say thank you and she said “Guess what??” and I said “Noooooo…” and she said she’s been hired as his ward assistant, and now we’re like two 8 year-olds who just found out they were in the same grade 3 class.

Life. It’s been good to me lately.

 

A tale of two (arranged?) marriages


I was chatting with someone recently who might have been my therapist. She’s helping me with some somatic experiencing not related to my marriage but it’s hard to think about your life without thinking about your spouse so I gave her the elevator pitch. Now it’s your turn.

I summed-up my marriage as two distinct arranged marriages. Sort of.

In India, the practice of arranged marriages is a robust part of the culture and it is adapting to modernization in creative ways. Traditionally, young men and women were brought together by their families and introduced once — if at all — before entering matrimony. Nowadays, a surprising majority of young Indians still declare a preference for arranged marriages wherein they retain the right to consent or refuse. They are introduced by their families, often with the help of a matchmaker (or a matchmaking website), go on dates and decide if they want to take the jump together or not.

(Here’s an arranged marriage first date scene from Netflix’s “Lust Stories”. The clip doesn’t have subtitles but Vicky Kaushal is such an adorable nerd, it’s still cute. You can watch the whole scene with subtitles plus the following marriage and honeymoon night on Netflix. It starts on the 1:30:00 mark.)

Even in Bollywood, where love marriage is King, several stories portraying the urban educated youth of India have elements of matchmaking thrown in. In “Manmarziyaan”, Rumi agrees to marry “the first loser her family finds her” if she can’t convince her boyfriend Vicky to propose. Her family finds Robbie, a young successful Indian living in London. He is returning home to Amritsar to find a wife. The rest of the movie is an emotional exploration of love (pyaar) and lust (fyaar):

Attraction and love are considered separately and neither is seen as necessary to have the other. Love can grow from a good match and can disappear from a passionate encounter. In “Manmarziyaan” again, Robbie finds out early in the story that Rumi is involved with another man. When asked why he wants to marry her regardless he answers that having agreed to marry him, she must be looking for something else, something that Vicky can’t give her. He’s smitten enough to take the challenge. Love marriages are seen as happening in the margins of extended family life, with eloping leading to forgiveness. Love marriages happen in the “Better ask for forgivenes than permission” space. We see this in the modern classics “Khabi khushie khabie gham” and “Jab we met.” In fact, “Jab we met” lead actor Shahid Kapoor chose an arranged marriage for himself, saying:

“I am a big supporter of arranged marriages. It’s simple, really. You start with zero expectations and once you hit it off, every day is better than the previous one and all the highs come in the course of marriage. In romantic relationships, you reach the peak of your romance before marriage. And then you are left thinking where all the love went and why everything has become so mundane. So I feel the graph in an arranged marriage is better in the long term.”

(The emphasis is mine)

You have to admit, he has a point.

Paul and I started dating when I was almost 20, the Summer before I started Law School. We didn’t live in the same city: I was in Gatineau and he was in Petawawa, an army base about 160 km away. When I got pregnant a year later, we had never even talked about marriage. We were just two people attracted to each other, with a baby on the way and a military deployment looming. We decided to make a go of it and got married a week before he left for Bosnia. I was 22 weeks pregnant.

The decision to marry when we did was a practical one. In the Armed Forces — this may have changed with the times — it was easier to receive support as the wife of a deployed member than as a girlfriend. We didn’t have a plan, we didn’t even have an apartment: he lived in the singles’ quarters on the base, I lived with my parents. We were two people in love with a baby on the way and a commitment to try our best.

I’d be lying if I told you that everyone was as hopeful as we were. I was a full-time student, he was a young army officer with a bright career ahead of him (the kind of career that wreaks havoc on marriages), we were expecting our first child 4 months into a 6 months deployment. You would be forgiven for seeing this as a shaky start at best, a trainwreck in the making at worst. But I think that — as Shahid Kapoor said — starting with no expectations, we really met along the way. As I mentioned in my previous post, the secret to a long-term commitment is the willingness and ability to change with the other. When your marriage is born out of nothing but a promise to figure it out, it sets the tone.

It served us well 7 years later when we hit the first sharp corner in our marriage. Paul and I do nothing slowly and coming to a 90-degree turn at 100 km/h, we flipped the car and burned it down with 4 children in the backseat. It wasn’t pretty. Everyone said “It was always a trainwreck in the making…” but Paul and I decided to build a new marriage from the ashes of the first one. It was not an emotional decision, it was a practical decision. We had 4 children and neither of us was ready to see them only some of the time. But also, having 4 children meant that our lives were inexorably intertwined, whether we liked each other or not. We would have to plan our holidays together, our major expenses together, our careers together, our moves together. It was immediately obvious that we would have to work just as hard on splitting-up as we would have on staying together.

We didn’t want the old marriage back. That one was broken. We wanted a new, happy one. This was our second arranged marriage. It was transactional, it started from somewhere even farther than being complete strangers because we had baggage. Strangers don’t trust each other because they don’t know each other. Paul and I didn’t trust each other because we had reasons not to feel safe. And to this day, it’s not entirely clear how we climbed out of that hole and went on to have 5 more children. Hard work for sure. A lot of self-awareness. A willingness to move on without needing to assign blame. An understanding — from both sides — of the difference between forgiving and forgetting. An ability to let the other heal without picking the scab. And a metric ton of prayer from friends and family who were rooting for us. But the experience of walking into our first marriage with an openness to receive whatever life threw at us was the template on which our second marriage was built.

In “Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca (Meryl Streep) explains to Robert (Redford) that she can’t erase her life.

Sometimes, we don’t want a new life. We want our own life, but happier.

Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage: 7-year cycles


Continuing down the list of suggested blog topics, marriage was a recurring suggestion in different forms:

– Maintaining a healthy marriage despite the chaos

– Grey divorces

– That time you were thisclose to divorcing your spouse

– Sex after marriage (as in sex in a long term committed relationship with children, not as in abstinence until marriage)

Writing about marriage is a tall order, especially when it involves sex, because, well, I have other people’s feelings, perspectives and boundaries to respect. Anyone who has ever bought me coffee — and even some I bought coffee to — knows that I hold nothing back in private conversations. Blogging is a different kettle of fish but I’m ready to tackle it (tackle, fish, geddit?)

I learned a lot about marriage through my own experience and through watching other people do it. Some are inspirations, some are cautionary tales, everyone has something to teach everyone else. In my writing about parenting and family life, I strive to avoid the word “should.” If I learned anything in my 22 years of parenting — and as many of married life — it’s that there is no recipe for a happy and well-adjusted family life. There are broad lines — don’t hit or shame people, give plenty of physical affection and healthy foods — with room to adapt our own circumstances. Families are made of a mish-mash of different personalities, temperaments and life experiences. Some apples don’t fall far from the tree, some apples are adopted into foreign orchards, and some apples pull DNA three generations removed. And of course, as my children noted with horror, you marry someone you’re not related to. (Lucas, when told he could not marry his twin sister: “I’m not marrying someone I don’t know!!!”)

The truth is, there is more I don’t know about what makes a happy marriage than what I know. One thing I noticed is that when couples find an easy magic solution to marital bliss in a book or at a conference, it’s almost always the calm before the final storm. Because there is no easy path to long-term marital happiness. It’s a work of constant reinvention and acceptance

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy relationship through the ups and downs of a long-term commitment is to accept this constant reinvention, of ourselves and of the other. It takes resilience and flexibility to accept that the person we married will not always be the same, and to make the decision to love whoever this person becomes. In one of the better-known scenes from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Rochester tells Jane:

“I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap. And I have a notion that I’d take to bleeding inwardly.”

I love this image of commitment as attaching to something deep within the other person, something essential that exists independently of appearances, goals, and ambitions. As the years pass and life acts on us like a river molds its banks, what matters to us may change. The ability of a marriage to withstand this constant reinvention is to connect somewhere under the left ribs, to the heart of the other. It’s to accept the other for the other’s sake rather than for what the other brings us.

When we fall in love, the dance of hormones and emotions makes connecting easy. It makes connecting necessary. We love, we thirst, we need the other to feel complete. As we age and family obligations take their toll, we look back on the ease of the early days and wonder “If he/she hadn’t changed, would things still be easy?” and we answer in the affirmative because our minds are like water, always rushing through the path of least resistance. But the dance of hormones and emotions was never supposed to last. Its purpose was to get us naked and reproducing. Now that the deed is done, the rest is up to us, and it’s hard work.

Marriages turn on a 7-year cycle. Breakdowns — whether they are permanent or not — happen at the 7-year mark, the 14-year mark and the 21-year mark. These cycles are not written in the stars, they correspond to inflection points in our personal growth. The first 7 years are a blur of babies, chaos, and sleep deprivation so deep we’re not even allowed to impose it on hardened criminals. The next 7 years are spent getting to know the new adult version of ourself and our spouse. At the 14-year mark, our children are now teenagers. After 21 years, the children are leaving and we take stock of where we are, sometimes wondering if this is really where we were meant to be, with a crushing sense of the merciless march of time.

Paul and I often joke that we front-loaded all the marriage trouble at the 7-year mark, so we didn’t really feel 14 and 21 pass us by. But what I think really happened is that having failed to love the other for the other’s sake through the first 7 years, having relied too much on the forces of attraction and too little on hard work and understanding; having made a decision to stay together and do it better for the next 7, we gave each other permission to change. We supported each other through questionable choices, new ambitions and sharp turns. We gave each other permission to stumble and a hand to grab on the way down.

Falling and flying are almost the same until you hit the ground. The difference between a thud! and a smooth landing is a bit of air, moving at the right speed, in the right direction.

 

 

 

Daily M.E.D.S. — Minimally Edited Daily Stuff


I retitled my daily blog to Daily MEDS because we’re military-adjacent and nothing says family like a good acronym. Also, I want readers to know that these daily posts are a discipline in leaving well-enough alone. I don’t need to learn how to write like Steinbeck, I need to learn how to ship. I mean… writing like Steinbeck would be nice too…

“You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath