This Body

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Photo by Gina Easley

By Zsofi McMullin

The first time the trainer tells me to put my hands on my side and feel my abdominal muscles work, I can’t help but laugh. The only thing I feel are rolls of fat and loose skin. This is not really a surprise—I haven’t exercised in a good decade or more and expecting any muscle activity in my middle region seems silly. For weeks on end, I don’t even feel the effects of doing sit-ups or crunches. It’s like there are no muscles there to feel sore.

Recently I’ve been pushing my body—I am not even sure why. I’ve always hated exercise. I never felt the rush of adrenaline, I never enjoyed the sweat, the effort, the hassle. But something clicks this time around—is it turning forty? Is it fear that the achy knee every morning will lead to more serious issues? Is it wanting to run and swim and climb with my six-year-old? I suppose it is a bit of everything.

I feel my body go into that zone—not entirely under my control, pushing beyond what my mind would encourage under normal circumstances. My mind is more likely to whisper “go, sit on that couch, and have a piece of chocolate and a glass of wine.” But this body pushes on, struggling, jiggling, losing balance, and unglamorously dripping in sweat.

I still hate the sweat and the hassle. But the trainer on the videos is not entirely hateful and her mantras soon take on meanings beyond exercise: “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” “Don’t wish for it, work for it.”

Read the full essay on Full Grown People

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage/Having a Kid Strained My Marriage: Two Perspectives

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Having a Kid Strained My Marriage

The story I like to tell about how having a child strained my marriage takes place on the third day of our son’s life. We had just arrived home from the hospital with our tiny, precious baby. My parents were waiting for us with dinner and a house warmed against the snowstorm winding down outside. All I wanted to do was eat a bowl of soup and go to bed.

But we had bills to pay. As in, some of our utility bills were due soon and when my mom offered to help us, my husband immediately accepted and asked her to take them to the post office. But first, I had to write those bills—we’ve always done it this way, because my husband has horrible handwriting and is distrustful of online payment.

So there I was, ripped and bleeding and sore and so, so incredibly tired, writing checks to the electric company. I remember sitting there, thinking that this was absurd, that I should really just tell my husband to cut me some slack and deal with the bills on his own while I took a shower. But I think I was even too tired to do that.

Five years later, I am sort of able to laugh about this. But at the same time I know that first moment at home has come to symbolize how our marriage changed almost instantly when our son was born. All of a sudden, I had needs and wants and priorities that were completely different from what they were just mere days earlier. My husband’s world jiggled a little with the new arrival, but then it settled right back to where it was before.

Read the full story on Brain, Child

Feeding Frenzy

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The day after Sam and I return home, I have an overwhelming urge to cook. Drew suggests that we just throw some hot dogs on the grill and call it dinner, but the idea—usually welcome on hot summer days—sounds appalling. No, I want real food. Real, homemade, not-from-a-box, not processed, not cooked by someone else food.

Maybe it’s because Sam and I spent the previous week away from home in Maine, staying with my parents in their small apartment. I was making my once-a-month appearance at my remote office and Sam was at camp. We returned home every evening to my parents’ cooking: soups, crepes, stews, rice, potatoes, grilled vegetables and chicken, an apple cake baked in a large, cast-iron skillet. They both still work; this was not their way of spoiling their daughter and grandson because they didn’t have anything better to do with their day. No. This is the way you do things. This is how you feed a family.

My mom is not one of those super-pushy “eat, eat, eat!” kinds of people, but still—every meal has at least two courses. There’s always soup, even in the heat of summer. There’s always a main course and dessert. Cooking is a serious activity for them—sometimes my mom stays home from the beach or wherever we plan to go on the weekend, because “someone has to make lunch.” After my dad sips his afternoon coffee, he usually slips off to the kitchen to prepare the chicken for that night’s dinner, to peel potatoes, to boil water. We are still in the haze of breakfast and lunch when dinner begins to loom over us. When we leave, the smell of onions and paprika linger in our hair and clothes for days.

Read the full essay on Paste Magazine

I Am Not Ready for Kindergarten

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I want to begin by telling you that Sam started out in a cup. He was in an orange medical container with a white lid, the kind they use to collect urine samples—and apparently semen as well. I carried him from our home to my doctor’s office, about 15 minutes down the road, between my boobs. I chose a black, low-cut, cleavage-enhancing number for the occasion so that I could nestle the cup securely in the warm, moist space. At my doctor’s office, the sperm was mixed and warmed and fed proteins or whatever it is that semen likes to eat. And then I got into the stirrups, my doctor took out a glorified turkey baster, and now here we are: Sam is going to kindergarten.

When Sam was born, there was something otherworldly about him. He reminded me of a baby Yoda or some wise elf who lives in the forest under a giant mushroom. He had knowing eyes and a strange calm about him—well, calm for a baby. To be honest, it sort of creeped me out in the beginning, like he was constantly watching me and judging me. As my dad examined him for the first time, he said that before I know it, I would be buying a school bag for him. I really thought that I would never survive that long, that surely in the few days following his birth I would be dead from sleep deprivation and worry.

The backpack arrived in the mail a few days ago—orange camouflage, with a matching lunch box. And I am still here.

Read my essay on The Mid

Keepers of History

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“All of this history,” my five-year-old sighs, “I am just not sure I believe it.” We are standing on the walls of a medieval Hungarian castle on a rainy, gray day. The town has grown around the castle over the centuries and it looks very different from what I assume my son is expecting: dead Ottoman warriors on open fields, burned down walls, and scattered weapons and flags, all leftovers from the unexpected victory of a small Hungarian army against a vast Turkish force in 1552.

We climb steep stairs (new concrete) to the top of the tower (ancient rock), and follow our tour guide’s finger as he points to enemy cannon positions on the ground. We stand at the foot of the captain’s tomb (copy of the original) and wander past the sarcophagus holding the bones of those who perished during the battle (assumed real).

Sam is fascinated by history and I feed him small bits and pieces from books and movies as well as my own recollections. The years are all muddled in his mind—“a long time ago,” he says as he plays out battle scenes with his toy soldiers, “in the 1980s.” He imagines battles that never happened, between Indians and Hungarians, between American Civil War soldiers and his favorite Turkish warriors.

Read the full essay on Cargo Literary

Summer of Independence

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It’s still weird, the silence in the house. I wander around the living room, puttering, putting away toys and books and crayons. I make tea and sit by the kitchen table waiting for the water to boil. I suppress the urge to peek out the front door, walk down our driveway and look across the parking lot to the grassy area where Sam is playing with the neighborhood kids.

It’s a recent development, this sudden burst of independence—last year, at four-and-a-half, he was too young to wander far from our front porch. But this year, it’s a regular occurrence. A couple of kids knock on our door and Sam swooshes past me to put on his sandals, standing still just long enough for me to smear some sunscreen on his neck and face.

He usually returns sweaty and muddy, with the names of new friends and tales of new adventures spilling from his lips, as he chugs ice-cold water and kicks off shoes.

We have our rules: You don’t go into other people’s homes. If you see a gun or anyone playing with a gun, you run home like a motherfucker (we don’t use that word, of course, but in my mind that’s how it goes.) You don’t get into anyone’s car. You don’t accept candy or food or drink without asking me first. You don’t help a stranger look for a puppy or a bike. You don’t go out onto the street.

Read my latest on Brain, Child

A book!

I almost started out this post by explaining and sort of apologizing for the title — it’s not really “my” book or anything… But I will not explain and apologize, because I am proud to be included in Full Grown People’s next anthology: Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex.

 

Soul-Mate-101-coverthumbnailThe book will be available mid-September, but you can pre-order now! I am excited to be sharing space in a real book with other great writers. And Drew is excited that something that I wrote about him made the cut.

I also wanted to take a moment to welcome all of my new followers! Suddenly there are a lot more of you thanks to this post that sort of-kind of went viral. I am used to it that it’s usually my mom (hi Mom!) and my brother (Hey there!) and a few friends reading my blog. But now there’s a lot more of you. So yay! And welcome!