Self-Esteem Lessons From the Petting Zoo.

So. Not-Crazy-Renee and I took our kids to Oak Mountain State Park on Friday. We went on a hike, and then to the petting zoo. The goats, peacocks, donkey, and pony were as much fun as usual, and the mixture of animals and children made for delightful photographic opportunities.



At one point, I took a couple of pictures of Not-Crazy-Renee hanging out with my favorite petting zoo character, the donkey. He’s really quite the best.



I noticed in the pictures (and really several times that day) that Not-Crazy-Renee was looking mighty hot. When I sent her the pictures, she noticed also, and thanked me for providing her the first pictures of herself that didn’t make her say “Holy Baby Weight, Batman!!”

To pay me back for taking FABULOUS pictures of her (and her children), she sent over a photo she snapped of me feeding the goats (because my children had shoved their bags of feed into my hands due to their premature tiring of their goat following.)

Rachel Petting Zoo

I couldn’t even look at the photo but for a second – I was not happy. I have body image issues just like 99.9% of women. I especially struggle with seeing photos of myself, like 99.8% of women (the .01% post selfies all the time and I’m all like HOW ARE YOU SO GOOD AT THAT? And stop.)

Many times, I have complained to friends of the struggle of not knowing which me with the real me -Mirror Me or Photo Me?? I want it to be Mirror Me. Because when I look in the mirror, I’m usually not unhappy. But Photo Me – she kills me every time.

Naturally, I spent the entire evening internally obsessing over new nutrition plans and calorie counting and maybe I need to add some other forms of exercise in with my running, as one does. You know the drill. It’s the plight of women.

(And if you don’t, I envy you greatly.)

The next morning, as I was getting ready to go on a run that I really didn’t feel like doing but I was going to because of that DANG PICTURE, I looked in the mirror in a very similar exercise shirt to the one I had worn the day before. I was again befuddled at the difference between me Mirror Me and Photo Me.

WHY can’t they be the same person? And WHICH one is really me??

So I decided to take a picture of Mirror Me and see if Mirror Me would stay Mirror Me when inserted into a photo. I NEEDED TO KNOW.

Mirror Me did indeed stay Mirror Me.


Further befuddlement.

I had even shot the photo more straight-on, trying to get a bad angle in there to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. I wasn’t sucking in or anything – I needed THE TRUTH. I even let my bra strap side fat hang out!

I then took a selfie without the mirror involved just to make sure Mirror Me wasn’t lying.


(Let me assert here that none of this was done in the interest of a future blog post – it was all done due to my own ridiculous vanity, confusion, and Quest For The Real Me.)

Then I put my Mirror Me Selfie and My Not-Crazy-Renee photo next to each other, zero edits on either one.


I was blown away. And I realized that my photo collage seemed very familiar….if I just swapped the order of the two pictures, I could sell $200 per month diet pills by saying this was my before and after!

Before After or Not

I have known about the power of angles for a long time, and have believed in it fully in the case of how my face looks, but I’d never completely allowed myself to believe it with my body image. So this was a huge moment for me. It helped me realize that I’ve got to stop freaking out about photos. Because cameras lie. All the time. And even the most most beautiful celebrities get horrendous photos taken of them sometimes.


(Oh look at that. Even Beyonce.)

After staring at my two photos for an extended and entirely ridiculous amount of time, I went on my run, feeling much more awesome about myself. Every glance I caught in a window looked skinnier, stronger, and more confident than my last run had because, as I’m well aware, what I look like mentally is 90% what what my head thinks I look like.

So. Next time you see a horrible photo of yourself, and you immediately vow to start a new diet and make your life more miserable with disgusting cardboard food or perhaps just liquids, go look in a mirror. And maybe even take a selfie.

Because it was just a bad photo.

Not-Crazy-Renee and I still love each other (well, she might love me more than I love her – at least for 22 hours,) and in actuality, we both helped each other out with our photos. I helped her realized that she has indeed lost all that baby weight (and she has – it wasn’t just trick photography), and she helped me realize that I need to quit letting my mental image of myself be dictated by Photo Me. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, but from now on, I’m going to believe that the real me is Mirror Me.

Oh – and because I know you wanted this to be a Not-Crazy-Renee story and not some introspective revelation, just to let you know, Not-Crazy-Renee is just as Not-Crazy as ever – especially when she uses text dictation.

renee text

On Crossing the Bridge from Kid to Tween.

Dear Ali,

Something about turning nine is clearly a large step – we’re entering into something new, something unknown, a completely different territory of life.


Maybe it’s not that exact age for everyone, but we sense it with you. You’re growing up, figuring out who you are, becoming more self-aware of your personhood.


We’ve been having lots of talks lately about what it means to age, boggling your mind with stories of how your future hormones will probably make you want to hate us and hate your brother and hate everything else (and that you can’t let those pesky hormones win), and also, how proud we are of who you are becoming.

You’re braver than you’ve ever been, you still have your goofy kid side, and you’re brilliant, perceptive, hard-working, and thoughtful.


Wherever this journey takes you,




I hope that you stay you,

That you remember who you are and Whose you are,


That you remember to set a good example for your brother who infinitely adores you,




And that you never forget how much we love you.160108i

Oh – and be sure to have fun along the way.



Happy birthday to the kid who made me a mom…


I hope that you live the rest of your life with as much vigor and passion as is now contained within you.


A Brief (or not) Summary of the Week.

Disclaimer: Don’t expect this to be too amusing. Muscle relaxers make minds mushy. Narcotic pain pills make minds even mushier. And I can’t make tragedy humorous unless I have at least a day or two away from it, and I only got one day away from it and I didn’t sit around writing. But more on that later. This is just an update for those who have wondered how it’s going. I miss really writing, but alas – muscle relaxers and narcotics. So all that to say, you get what you get.

Last Sunday – As I had promised to put myself on a seven day bed rest as much as possible, I slept and laid around all day. Hurting. A lot.

That evening, Chris insisted that getting out would make me feel better (I hadn’t left the house in 48 hours), so he took me on a sunset ride. I couldn’t use my DSLR camera, but at least I could take pictures with my phone.


Only…I realized when Chris posted the picture below of me taking that picture that I broke one of the two rules I was given – don’t lift anything more than 3 pounds and don’t lift anything above your head.


Oops. I blame my husband.

Monday – I had hoped that I had been sandbagging when I said that I wasn’t going to blog for a week, and that I’d get all kinds of writing done while I was resting.


It hurt to type, it hurt to write, it hurt to hold my phone…and hurting hurt because I don’t like not doing anything.

But, I went to physical therapy, then went to complete the process of buying a new car (more about that soon), then came home and gladly fell into the arms of my prescription drugs and had a comatose rest of day.

Tuesday – More physical therapy followed by more drugs and more non-movingness. Yeah. Like, how exciting is my life right now.

Wednesday – I had no choice. This was the day I had been dreading all week, as I lay in bed trying to find my comfortable spot. Ali had a spelling bee that morning, and I had agreed to be a guest lecturer at a class at my alma mater, UAB, about social media later that afternoon. I was to be out most of the day, it was raining, it was exactly three weeks since the accident, which also happened on a rainy Wednesday when we were going to a school event.

The children and I both experienced PTSD. Nobody really wanted to leave the house, but we had been studying for that spelling bee since school started – you can’t just flush that kind of spellinvestment.

So we weaved our way through the many car wrecks all over town and made it to the spelling bee miraculously unscathed, albeit a little stressed, where Ali had to confront her already-existing-before-the-wreck weather fears as the spelling bee faced the window where the rain was pouring and the lightning was flashing. At the biggest thunderclap she turned around and yelled “Hey Mommy can I come sit with you?”, but she settled back down and adored rocking out spelling, placing first in her age group and 4th overall (meaning that she was spelling against 8th graders and discovered that she has her mother’s competitive genes.)


We went home for a short time where I took narcotics and muscle relaxers and a very short nap, all of which are fantastic preparations for guest lecturing at the college level.

And I survived.

But not without ending the day with the worst pain yet.

Thursday –  But Wednesday was not worse than Thursday. Pain got to all-time high, including pulsing down my arms for at least an hour every time I accidentally raised one hand over my head.

It’s really hard to not raise an arm over your head. Hair in your face? Too bad. Want to switch a floor lamp on? Nope. Wash your hair? That’s gonna hurt.

Plus my dysautonomia was quite severe, giving me the gift of blacking out and feeling exhausted due to having laid around for 5 days. Activity is vital to my life, and car wrecks ruin that. I was not happy.

I Whine-Texted everyone I knew. And continued to whine-text the ones who didn’t try to cheer me up or tell me it could have been worse. (If you want to be the future recipient of whine-texts, I’m applying for backup candidates.)

Then I ended the day by not falling asleep until 3am from the pain.

Friday – Fridays are apparently my marathon health days. The Friday before I spent 10 hours trying to get answers, and this Friday ended up being a seven hour journey. I started the day at physical therapy, and my PT agreed that my worsening pain after a week of near-constant rest definitely qualified as a trip back to the doctor and another ask for an MRI.

I dropped my kids at my parent’s, took a meandering route to attempt to find a doctor that was working and could see me, and ended up seeing the rudest, angriest, most awful doctor I’ve ever experienced.

(And I’ve experienced a few.)

BUT. He ordered an MRI. Very angrily. Because apparently, according to him, Obamacare has made it nearly impossible to order an MRI without all types of insurance denying it, which is why I couldn’t have one the week before – I just hadn’t had enough good, quality, long-term, debilitating pain yet to deserve to know what was causing it.

I drove straight to the MRI clinic, where they told me my insurance had not yet approved it.

I sat in the waiting room, picturing Malia Obama in the back of a dusty unused bedroom at the White House, looking at me through a crystal ball, analyzing my length of time in pain, and deciding my fate.

Finally, Malia approved my MRI. And they took me back to that tiny Star Trek Coffin, slid me in the tube, and provided me 15 minutes of an Introvert’s Techno Rave Dance Party – without the dancing.

That evening, my regular doctor called me with the results. The MRI showed that I have muscle spasms, pressure on my spinal cord fluid, two bulging discs in my neck, and one tear/rupture in a disc in my neck. It explained my pain, but there wasn’t really a way to easily fix it. No surgery – just more physical therapy…and perhaps a lot of time.

In one of the kindest acts anyone has ever offered me, he prescribed me steroids.


I took two that night despite the fact that I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t sleep. I FELT HUMAN.

I watched TV with Chris, comfortably and in focus, and slept fine.


…But I was so mad that it had taken someone almost a month to offer them to me.

Saturday – Saturday was the most awesome day that ever did exist.


I felt energetic, I wasn’t in pain, and I felt like a normal human being.


I even dared pick up my camera for the first time in a week and a half.




I took a one mile walk around Aldridge Gardens.



Then went on a 4.7 mile hike at Oak Mountain State Park with my friend Kristin and her daughter Taylor.


(Because they’d never been and she asked me for directions and I couldn’t let her get lost with her precious daughter.)


(But I made Kristin carry my camera backpack. Because I’m high-maintenance like that.)



My steroid, Decadron, was my Saturday Superhero. And, as my friend Renee’s doctor-husband pointed out, Decadron even sounds like the most fierce of superhero robots that there ever was.


I went to bed Saturday night blissfully happy for having lived, for having gotten my heart rate up and helped my dysautonomia, and with hope for a brighter future of pain-free normalcy.

Sunday – Chris, being the enabling husband he is, suggested I skip church and go on another walk while I was feeling good. But, I felt like I should be a decent deacon’s wife and go to church for the first time in weeks.

But oh. I should have listened to my husband. Chairs in Sunday School and pews in Church are not made for neck support. Or for propping up one’s legs to take the pressure off of one’s neck.

I did not make it through Church. My neck and shoulder pain was back and it was angry at me. And Decadron had failed me.

I mourned deeply for Decadron only giving me 36 glorious hours and wondered if taking, say, ten Decadron, would bring me back my happiness.

(I’m never going to become a narcotics junkie, but Decadron? If it consistently gave me days like Saturday, I’d totally be strung out.)

So that’s where I am. Not exactly knowing when I’ll be out of intense and pretty constant pain, going to physical therapy three times a week, taking so many pills that Ali’s eyes widen in judgment, and still trying to homeschool my kids, be an accountant, provide my children with food and basic interaction, and not go crazy.

Don’t get hit head-on in a car accident, kids. It’s not much fun.