Posts by mariakostaki

On the Intolerance of Male-Bashing

January 26th, 2018 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Last Sunday, my hometown, Athens, Greece, joined the world in marching for equality.

When I introduced our third speaker, I said this:

“Our next speaker is proof of why men belong at Women’s Marches.”

A woman booed. Before I even introduced him.

I went on to explain who he is, what he does, though that shouldn’t really matter because he was there, by the mic, speaking to a crowd at a Women’s March, giving a diverse voice to an otherwise all-female line up. He hasn’t harassed or violated anyone in any way, quite the contrary, he fights for those that are discriminated and hurt and abused and violated. Men and women.

Equality is the one word that unified every single march around the globe last weekend. From Kampala, Uganda, to New York City, to Wellington, New Zealand. Inclusion. Unity. Two words that are essential to equality; concept crucial to what we all claim to be fighting for.

Earlier that day, when the event’s program was released, a woman first praised it, and then seeing the man on the list, suggested that we don’t need any “mansplaining” done for us. Mansplaining? Confused, I had to look that one up to be sure. And felt very uneasy being put under the umbrella of “us” in the specific context.

Later, someone else mouthed the lyrics of a feminist song and pointed at my husband, who spent the afternoon hauling speakers, setting up sound equipment, and who, to top it all off, was playing the music for the event. The lyrics were not words of appreciation.

This is in little Athens, Greece, where Women’s Marches are small, where the local population does not identify with the causes, and doesn’t speak the language of the chants that sound off the bullhorns as we walk down the city’s streets. I can’t help but jump to the conclusion that the phenomenon of male-bashing, to its varying degrees, exists everywhere.

Three people, you may say. Yes, three people. One voice can start a revolution, three voices can stir it off its path.

So, whatever our personal issues with men may be, and I’m talking about everyday men, not the Harvey Weinsteins or the Dr. Nassars of the world, what’s needed here is some perspective. We’re going to go marching straight back where we came from if we choose to shut half of the world’s population out of our cause. We can’t do it without them. I don’t want to do it without them. I want to fight this fight together.

On why Feminism is not a bad Word

January 13th, 2018 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

I’ve been getting a lot of feminism is αμερικανιά lately. A lot of μιά χάρα είμαστε εμείς οι γυναίκες,  άλλα προβλήματα έχουμε. Some of δεν θέλω να έχω σχέση με το Women’s March, δεν με αναφορά η Χίλαρι, ούτε η αμερική. Ελλάδα είμαστε εδώ.

Hillary Clinton, I agree, is nobody’s concern anymore. What happened to her, on a level, is. Feminism is not an American construct. Feminism is not an extremist movement. If you are born a female, you are by default a feminist, unless you grow up to consider yourself an inferior being to men. It simply means that you believe that you have equal rights. It doesn’t mean that you are running naked through forests with unshaved legs burning your bras. And believing that you as a woman should have equal opportunity, equal wages, the right to safety, is simple human logic. It’s innate. Have you ever seen a two-year-old girl believe that she can’t do or can’t want anything her twin brother does?
The Women’s March next Sunday, is not about America. It’s not about Hillary. It’s not even about American midterm elections, because no Greek knows or cares about them. What it is about, people of Greece, is about your lives. Changing.
I’m no expert. I’m no sociologist. I did not do research to throw numbers and percentages at you in this post. But I am a woman who has lived in this country for 35 years. I have a Greek passport. I pay taxes. I walk the streets. I work. I’m as Greek as any one of you, save the blood running through my veins, which is Russian, if you consider blood a decisive factor of identity.

Until recently, I didn’t know that walking down a street didn’t have to be a festival of whistles, crude comments, or fear, if it’s dark. When I was younger, I didn’t know that it was illegal for men to masturbate behind trees, or in their cars, in public spaces. But I knew that if a husband was beating his wife, she couldn’t prove it in court unless a non-related third person witnessed it and testified. I knew that girls in their 20s would jump at the opportunity of sleeping with a low grade politician to secure themselves a spot in the δημόσιο. I knew that the word γυναίκα could be used in a sentence and carry a negative connotation. I know 15-year-olds who are flattered when someone to refers to them as καλό μουνάκι. I know that a stadium full of people can watch a man slap his wife in the middle of a concert, and think nothing of it. So whoever thinks that women have equal rights, well, we’re not even close. We, let alone our kids, have little idea what our lives should be like. Because we are used to what is obviously the norm.
Greece is a country of demonstrations, of unions, of demanding and fighting for what we believe is rightfully ours. Especially over the past ten years. I’ve been to dozens of these demonstrations. I know I’ve seen many of you there. I’ve hid in cafeteria basements around Syntagma, to avoid the teargas and molotov cocktails. We protested again and again. Achieved little. For most of these issues were beyond our control, even beyond our governments’ control. The decisions had been made behind closed doors that we didn’t have keys to.
This is different. This is about us. Us as humans, not only here in Athens, but throughout the country, throughout the world. From Zambia, to New Zealand, to yes, the United States, that quiet unfortunately at this point, digs and paves the road that most of the world drives down. Lets not get stuck in that traffic. Lets pave our own roads, roads that lead to open doors, doors, the keys to which we leave in our children’s pockets.
Join us here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/566539853531218/events/

On When History Looks you in the Eyes

December 13th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 4 comments

So I met this woman yesterday. She is pretty cool. Some of you might know her. Her presence is daunting, but not because she is, only because of the history she carries inside. Her presence is calm, quiet, yet electrifying, because of that history, because of the endless knowledge her eyes hold the minute they look into yours, they lure you in.

A woman who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, prison reform. A woman who led the United States Communist Party. A woman who was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. A woman who was wrongly imprisoned. Now a retired professor, she spoke at the Women’s March on Washington last year. And activist, and educator, an author, a wife, a lesbian, a woman whose facets are so multiple, achievements so staggering, that most of us would only hope to do one of the things she’s done. Live the life she’s lived. And I know I’m missing half her resume here.

And there I was, little me, sitting in this room, with history. As she spoke, I find myself light-headed, unable to decide what to start asking, longing for time to move slower, her words to become a slow slur of syllables, so one by one I can steal all I can manage to absorb.

And then, her eyes are watching mine.

After the international Women’s March last January, having organized our tiny one in Athens, Greece, had me tripping for a solid week. I think most of the organizers all over the globe were riding on a natural high. We had done it. We had mobilized small and large cities, communities, villages, all over the world. We had started a revolution.

Time went by. Trump went nowhere. Tweets kept rolling. Black lives continued not to matter. Women didn’t get equal pay. Muslim bans came into affect. Only when #meetoo went viral, did we begin to think again, that we must do it again.

But for what, I thought to myself. So I asked those eyes, that were watching mine, not because they’re something special, but because it was my turn to ask a question. What can we do, I said, what can we do to make this year’s marches matter more, what would you do to make them more powerful, to keep them from becoming simple annual gatherings that give us a false sense of power, a power that doesn’t reach beyond togetherness, solidarity, and roars after the day has gone?

While I’m sure my question was nowhere near as glibly voiced as above, Angela Davis got the point. She looked at me, warmly smirking, as if wanting to say, my dear child, you have so much to learn, but let me try and teach you in the minute that we have.

A demonstration is not a movement, she said. It’s not a revolution. It’s a call to a movement, a call to revolution. It takes time. Change may never happen in our lifetimes. It may not happen in our children’s lifetimes. But if we keep doing the work, the quiet, seemingly insignificant work, it will. Take Black Lives Matter. Do you think it just sprung out of the blue? We’ve been working on that for decades. Sometimes you may think that what you’re doing is nothing, but there is no such thing as an immediate result. You cannot change the world overnight.

So lets blow things up. Softly, slowly, steadily. Lets be half as brave, patient, and persistent as Angela Davis.

On Our Turn

October 12th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

There is no such thing as a powerless man. His sex, by default, gives him more power over a woman, a power, which even though is imaginary and ingrained in his righteous psyche by history and society. So I’m not quite sure why the recent allegations about “powerful men” come at such surprise to many.  And why anyone bothers to term them “allegations” to begin with. It’s obvious that even if one or two of them fail to be true, there are many more, that sit silently in the corner, constantly scarring and defining the lives of those that keep them.

I’ve been sexually harassed since I was a kid. Only then, I did not know it. I thought it was the norm. When I was 14, walking home from school in broad daylight, a middle aged man in a red beaten up car, pulled up next to me, opened his door and began to masturbate while following me for a few blocks. His car kept stalling, he kept letting go of his penis to restart, until I finally screamed and ran off in the other direction. What troubles me now, is why I didn’t scream from the second I was first exposed to the sight. Did I think that it was my fault, that I somehow encouraged him to do this? I ran to my friend’s house a few blocks away but did not tell her what had happened.  I did not call my parents to pick me up, I sat in her bedroom and drew with all the green Crayola crayons that she had, and eventually walked back home.

That walk home, and later, the same route that past school led towards the central square where teenagers met up at night, became a nightmare, one that I’d learn to live with. I began to take turns onto better lit streets, studied cars and their drivers to know what types to run from, but then the “Albanians” came. I put them in quotes because maybe half of them weren’t even from Albania, and because quite obviously not all Albanian men are sexual predators. But at that time, Greece went into a frenzy because these men were stealing their jobs, raping their women, robbing their houses, setting up gangs. I’d see these “Albanians” roaming our neighborhood’s dark streets and break out in cold sweat. Right after that, communism fell, borders of the Soviet block flew open, and thousands of women came south looking for work. Many ended up as sex workers of all levels. By then, I’d opted for taking cabs home at night, but the drivers, recognizing that something was off in my accent from the minute I told them where I was going, asked where I was from. I made the mistake of telling them Moscow more than a couple of times. One asked me which brothel I work at, another how much I cost.

It didn’t end there. There was plenty more on a much closer scale; friends of the family, boys at school, bosses, customers at a bar I later worked at. And believe me, I was not “asking for it.” My mom, my grandma, they never told me that was not how it was supposed to be. Because they did not know. Once on the subway, my grandma told me to sit straight, but not too straight, with my knees touching at all times. What did they know besides what life had taught them?

In my late 20s, I was walking to work by the National Gardens in Athens. A guy stood in between two trees, doing his thing, loudly, in the middle of rush hour in a European capital. Everyone pretended not to see. By then, I’d strapped on a pair or two, so I yelled at him. He zipped up and ran away.

Have you ever seen a woman masturbate in public? Pull her pants down behind a tree and moan? Both sexes are human, both have the same drive, it’s not about biology. It’s about that ingrained belief that they have the power. Fuck your power, and your history, and your money, that have stripped us of basic human rights, that have made us grow up believing that they are not ours to begin with, that have made us accept this as the norm, this existence which makes us something less than human. Sexual harassment may not be as bad as actual assault. But it’s an assault on the mind, because those two seconds that our boss or our cousin or our teacher had his hand on our ass or eyes on our breasts, they are assaulting, they stay with us forever, they shape the future of our every relationship. But enough.  We’re demanding what is ours. Our daughters are taking what is ours. It’s our turn.

 

 

On the Fire of Eclectic Human Superstars

September 25th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

I just spent a few days on a farm, unlike no other. To recall what it looks like, I need to swipe through the hundreds of photographs on my phone, because it wasn’t the Tuscan countryside, the greenery, the oxygen, that made it magical, it was the people I shared a roof and sky with, the people whose stories made my mind speed, shattering the everyday routine of a mother’s secluded existence that has marked much of my recent life. People from all over the world. Most of them were strangers, a few I hadn’t seen in 13 years, my friend, the bride, with whom we share epic stories of a lifetime, even though we met half-way through, and my new friend, the groom.

Getting married at 40-something, is very different to getting married at 20. You know what love is. You know what you’re fighting for. What you’re sacrificing, and why. You know the faces you want to see, the smiles, the laughs, the silence, and you know that they will be there. The friends and family that you’ve held on till then, are bound to possess the fire you’ve burnt to get this far, to be this brave. I want to tell you about a few of them.

I’m going to start with those I know, dad, mom, stepmom and cousin of the bride, after knowing me for 24 hours over a decade ago, made me feel like I was coming home. It was hardly a bad home to come to, warm bear hugs, and a freedom of jokes and laughter that you can only have with those that are not your family.

It was a partly Swedish wedding, thanks to the groom, (the other part a medley of New York, Boston, Italian-America), and the tradition there is to have two people run the show. They ran it as if it was they who were getting married.

The groom’s mother, the absolute powerhouse, bustling with energy, humor, and surprising warmth that suddenly appeared out of nowhere and kept me asking for more.

A perfect couple, with a perfect family, beautiful beyond the initial flash of perfection, brought together by a story that makes me want to put the wife on my shoulders and parade her cheering, around a town square.

And Lauren, the only person whose name I feel free to mention, for I finally found the person who can integrate the word “fuck” more than I can into a single sentence at inappropriate moments. We laughed so long, so hard, that I swear I could see the abs peeking out of my post-pregnancy 40-year-old pooch.

(The rest I will save for a future novel.)

We gave speeches at the dinner table, sharing personal stories, toasting the newlyweds, and at no point was there nobody crying into the freshly made pizza on their plate, even though the speech-giving lasted close to two hours. At the ring of the bell (yes, there was a bell), silence fell, gazes searched for the next amazing tale. Half-way through mine, I blacked out, as if I’d fallen onto a huge white pillow, listening to my almost incoherent babble, but it didn’t matter, I was there, I was part of it, I remembered who I am. I remembered what is real, what is true, what I live for. In an old farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, in the darkness, surrounded by nothing by bright, burning, human balls of light.

 

 

 

 

 

On the Reality of Freedom

September 14th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

I took a long break, I haven’t been here in a while, I know. But see, it’s because I’m finally free. I let myself be because I’m finally free.

Not that that’s necessarily liberating. It’s terrifying.

I’ve spent the past four and a half years trying to survive, while trying not to fail a young child. My life has been about failing at breastfeeding, formula feeding schedules, hauling organic produce from the market on three hours of sleep, mashing that organic produce better than the best baby food expert on the internet, potty training, chasing, feeding, chasing, feeding, crying, encouraging, teaching, all while demonstrating the patience of a superhuman. But that’s what moms of young kids do. For the first few years, most of us, as we knew ourselves, cease to exist. We temporarily lose our partners, we have no child-free friends. We long to go out to dinner, when we get there, we curse the moment we chose to do it instead of going to bed. We long to sit on a beach, sit, without moving until the sun heats us enough to go in the water. We long to slip on a pair of expensive heels, only to realize our feet no longer fit in them, let alone have the agility or energy to walk in them. We long to work, to create, to be surrounded by adults, because we think that what we’re doing, here at home, is not real life, it’s simply raising a child.

Well let me tell you something, it’s as real as life is going to get. And it won’t last that long, in the grand scheme of things. But we can’t see that while we’re there, no. And then, suddenly, it’s over. They hang their schoolbags on their shoulders, grab hold of their friend’s hand, and run off in the schoolyard with a simple wave. If that. And there, we realize, we’re free.

Or I did.

The first week, I stared out the window. The second week, out of guilt, I began to cook two to three meals a day. When most of the food found itself in the garbage, I embraced Netflix, read a book. And then it came, the bomb, the one that explodes little shards of “this is your life now” quotes all over the kitchen. Suddenly, at 44, I can do whatever I want. Till 4.30pm, that is. But compared to a year ago, that is a lot of time. And I start to think, what can I do, and I begin to panic, because there isn’t that much I can do, and the last thing I want to do is sit and cook three meals a day for the rest of my life, even if someone eats them.

Cliche, I say. Every mom has this crisis when they’re finally reintroduced to the concept of breathing. So maybe I’m just going to breathe for as long as I need to. Let this freedom engulf me, stress me, push me, scare me. See where it takes me.

On Beautiful Monsters

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

So, what’s up, primary caregivers of beautiful monsters who ask you questions and demand to be fed stuff for at least 12 nonstop hours a day? How’s your summer going? Good?  On vacation? How’s that working out for you? Relaxing on a beach and having candlelight dinners with your partner?

NO?

Me neither.

It started well. I followed the “let them be bored” mantra that has swept over the already exhausted population of summer parents. It seemed like a valid concept, but they forgot to mention that letting them be bored can be more tiring than entertaining them. But I stuck to my guns, pulled through, drank the KoolAid, felt proud of my accomplishment. His boredom led to a fascination with tiny Legos. Currently, I have an airport landing strip running along my living room floor, which I’m not allowed to move. There are heliplanes, fire truck garbage trucks, and bulldozer cranes on display, for anyone who dares to come visit us, which truthfully is pretty much noone.

During rest time, we began by watching “Sid the Science Kid.” The past week, two farting and burping larvae in the gutters of New York have been playing on Netflix all day. I have stacked my New Yorkers back into a corner, unread, and reached level 1000-something in Farm Heroes, which besides slowly killing my brain, has also affected my eyesight. A random burst of noise from the plastic electric guitar or our favorite harmonica, usually signifies that rest time is over. And it’s Lego time again. Today, I suggested we sit together while he builds his vehicles, and I read a few pages of my book. He eagerly agreed. We all know how that went.

Basic errands, such as buying two liters of milk a day for my growing angel, take hours instead of minutes. It’s reached the point where two different shoes on feet is completely acceptable, as is trying to carry Teddy, a coloring book, a sticker book, a fire truck and a little plastic bag of tiny Legos in tiny four-year-old hands and dropping them multiple times on the way to the car. All of these things end up in my handbag by the time we reach the entrance of the supermarket. The supermarket, another horror, was the place I began to teach my kid the value of money not so long ago. You know, the old song and dance about how we can’t buy things all the time, nor can we buy yogurt that comes with Smarties just to eat the smarties and throw the yogurt away. And then claim that we ate something healthy. Not so slowly, this deteriorated to us leaving with him carrying his own little bag of stuff. Tomorrow, when we go on the milk/wine run, I will offer to buy him something.

Then we have the lunch/dinner situation. When school closed, we sat down and made a schedule of each week’s balanced meal. I don’t know where that schedule is, actually, I ‘m not so sure anymore that we made it. And today’s lunch featured a donut from Starbucks.

Bedtime begins shortly after lunch time, for me at least, for that’s when I start thinking about it.

“Mommy, I want to do something exciting! Mommy, what are we going to do today? You know, like the zoo, or the trampoline, or the beach!”

We did all of those, multiple times. The zoo in 35 degrees celsius. The beach, where by 11am, there are hundreds of school-free little monsters, louder than mine. Grapes covered in sand, sand stuck in little pink gums, three bags of crap to haul back and forth from the car, hours to spend in the warm, shallow waters while getting a special back tan that leaves the rest of you as stark white as you were in December. The trampoline that opens at 3pm, not an ounce of shade, but a four-year-old doesn’t care, until sweaty and exhausted, he passes out in the car on the way back and bounces off walls till way after bedtime.

Bedtime, yes, that’s where this began. It finally happens, and you feel like something magical has occurred. You suddenly have options, such as do I shower, do I clean, do I pour wine now or later, maybe I should have a glass now, then shower and have another one, do I watch half an episode of a girlie, brainless show before the spouse comes home and assumes that that’s what I do all day, or do I play some more Farm Heroes?

You pick one, and then your partner comes home. Excited to tell him about your day, inspired by the fact that you have spoken to nobody all day but your child, you begin to recount things completely insignificant to anybody with any inch of sanity. When I personally do this, my husband sits and stares at me, blankly. As if wondering why he married me, or if this is really the person he married, or counting to ten, or 100, until he knows that I will stop rambling. Because really, I don’t have that much to say.

The highlight of my day today was running into my OBGYN at the local mall and explaining to my unprepared child that this is the woman that brought him into this world. Yesterday, it was telling the cashier at the supermarket that my mom is coming at the end of August. She doesn’t know my mom. Or me. But she asked. Probably something irrelevant to my answer, but she was a grown up, and she looked pretty sane.

I sit here now, in the silent darkness, with what I think is a tiny yellow Lego piece floating in my glass of wine, a slinky hanging off the banister, and another month ahead of me, and as every night, try to relive the amazing things that happened today. I taught him that “passing gas” is a much better version of “fart,” he made his first phone call to his best friend, he blew up his first balloon, walked around his room (way past bedtime) in the tacky, furry fuchsia flip flops he made me buy, and he hugged my neck right before he fell asleep with his little beautiful arms. My husband will be home any minute, and I think I won’t have to tell him about the OBGYN, at least not until later, because I’ve told you. Good night, primary caregivers of beautiful monsters. September is right around the corner, and some of us still have a family vacation to survive.

On Letting Your Hair Down

July 31st, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 8 comments

I feel silly writing this, almost like a romantic 15-year-old, but sometimes a romantic 15-year-old is the most magical person you can be.

A couple of days ago, I walked through the gates of a building I hadn’t been to in 25 years. It’s unnerving, at first, to find yourself in a place you know so well, yet feel so estranged from. I looked up at the stairs that I ran down in glee, age 18, high on the future, the freedom, on the last day of 12th grade, graduation gown waiting for me at home, they looked less steep, smaller. Out back, on the basketball courts, an all-class reunion was underway, the setting sun shining its last rays on the familiar faces I found myself surrounded by. It wasn’t one of those rigid reunions where you sit at a table and exchange professional and family histories to elevator music. In fact, not a single person I spoke to that night, asked me that sort of question. We mostly hugged and smiled. A few old teachers came and went, tears in their eyes; I imagine their source wasn’t the joy of seeing us, but the realization of how much time had passed.
Two or three people from my graduating year showed up, most of the others were semi-strangers, faces I remembered, names that I did not, voices and laughter that shot me back to childhood. The laughter that day. I don’t know how to write about the laughter, it came from a feeling of sudden freedom, comfort, one where all filters are off, and all walls are down. We made fun of eachother, then and now, pointed at people we didn’t recognize, told stories about recess and class trips and dances and skip days and boyfriends and girlfriends and more class trips, trying to put together pieces of a collective memory puzzle.

The music got louder, the older crowd, whose walls and filters are much quicker to fall than ours, just stepped out onto the fake grass and got down. Next thing you know, we’re all with them, arms waving Ys and Ms and Cs and As, then singing the words to “Fame” as if our lives were really just beginning, as if we have so much time to make the world remember our names. Maybe it was the sense of safety, finding ourselves in such a sheltered environment of our past, maybe it was the wine, the warmth of friends, the kindness of strangers, a mixture of it all. A slight breeze blew threw my wet head (line dancing can make you sweat), and I remembered that my hair was straightened and free for the first time in ages. I immediately looked for an elastic to pull it back, but my head felt light, and I went back to dancing like a teenager; fearless.

Most of us headed to an old neighborhood bar once the music stopped. But the minute I walked out that gate, the magic was gone. I was back to being a middle-aged mom, looking at my watch, counting the hours I had to sleep, wondering if I should have another drink, and going home shortly after. I didn’t pull my hair back, hoping to keep the feeling twinkling inside.

The next day, I wanted to tell my husband about the unexpected great time I had at the reunion. But I didn’t, because every detail I thought of seemed silly, unimportant, banal. Ok, so we line danced on the court where I learned to play basketball, where I had fights with my best friend at recess, where I had my first crush on a boy, where I was a girl, where so many of the friends that I have to this very day grew up. It was interesting to nobody but me and those who were there.

It seems that childhood creates a bond that can last forever if we are just fearless enough to let it. I salute all you fearless people and love those of you that I even barely know, simply because somehow you are a part of me, and I am a part of you. Even if for those few hours, when again, we were 15.

On Proms & Pasta

July 27th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

Age: 43

Weight: 75 kg

Height: doesn’t really matter, unless very short or very tall.

This is how I have spent my life defining myself, in the dark corners of my mind. This is how most of the women I know define themselves. Women who like me, are not overweight, but women who are not perfect. Why do we choose to use those two criteria? Who taught us? We all know the answer to that; our moms, our friends, society.

We live our lives crippled by various forms of minor eating disorders, and these disorders affect our lives to a much greater degree than our bodies. At my senior prom, I pulled on a bright red, tight, off-the-shoulder dress, cut my hair into a short bob, pasted on some dark makeup, and strutted out of the house and into a limo. My mother was horrified, not so much by my outfit, but by the fact that I was nearing 90 kilos at 18, and hadn’t noticed. I thought I was as hot as the skinny tall chick next to me. When she kindly told me to maybe control my eating, I began sneaking into the kitchen at 3am and eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon that could barely fit through its opening.

That was the “fattest” I have been, including my pregnancy. Yet, then, and forever, I became aware of the fact that I’d never be what I’m supposed to be. My 20s were a nightmare, for while wearing strappy, lycra tank tops from Zara, without a bra, I was constantly convinced that my stomach was too chubby. My obsession was validated by an owner of a bar who refused to hire me because I wasn’t skinny enough, even though I had hot legs, he said. And back then, we didn’t talk about our body issues as we learn to do into our 30s and 40s. It’s terrifying to live with the glitches of self-loathing that moments like this imprint on our minds.

About a decade later, obsessed with spinning to the point that I’d walk on the treadmill for an hour to warm up for two consecutive classes, my stomach still was not flat enough, because I ate too much pasta, my skinny friends suggested. I do love pasta. I will eat it straight out of the pot, with ketchup, with complex sauces, with canned sauces, in lasagne, what have you. And despite the non-flat stomach, I refuse to give it up. But whenever a low hits, I will eat such amounts of it, that even if I was a lean ballerina, I’d feel like the Michelin Man.

“I ate one half of a lemon,” I overhear a girl telling her friend.

“I had chocolate for breakfast and have to go to the gym for five days straight,” a friend tells me.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and raided the junk cupboard,” another self-loather says.

“I lost 20 kilos in two months,” a proud voice boasts, knowing that she will put it back on and plus some, in the next six months.

What is this? Why do we eat half a lemon? Why do we eat chocolate for breakfast? Why do we pig out in the middle of the night? And why do I refuse to give up carbs?

Maybe because we don’t want to. Maybe because we know that even if we do, we will never be that girl in the ad, that girl on the beach, and most definitely we will never be perfect enough for ourselves. We are bombarded by body image stereotypes, diets, exercise fads, glossy magazines are all over the internet, we don’t even have to spend money on them anymore, torture is free. And a couple of Dove plus size ads aren’t going to change that. It’s centuries upon centuries of conditioning, being told how we should look, how our weight and height must correspond. We measure our fat, for god’s sake. Measure our fat. And at the same time, modern life provides little leeway for eating right. You have to search the supermarket aisles to find something that’s not loaded with chemicals, sodium, preservatives, sugar, trans fat, this fat that fat the other fat. The vegetable section is where broccoli comes to die after its vitamins said goodbye in a fridge somewhere underground a week before it was put on sale. And I love broccoli in my spaghetti sauce, and in my veggie lasagne.

So ok, we’re over 40, we’re almost over this whole thing, we talk about it with our friends over some pizza. But then comes the day when even the most self-confident of us has to take off her clothes at the beach, or in front of a man. I know that even she, is overwhelmed with insecurity. Imagine the rest of us.

I remember laying on the beach in Mykonos in my late 20s, surrounded by three or four of my best friends. None of them perfect, me knowing that none of them were perfect. I remember that I tried to get from towel to sea as fast as possible, never sit in the half-seated position on the beach bed, always reading flat on my back with arms stretched above my head, because laying on my back was the only way to make my stomach look semi flat. I found a picture of myself during that very holiday today (picture in this post). And I wished I could go back in time and slap myself. And then, I realized, I should slap myself now, I should slap all my friends too, maybe even some strangers, for its such an unnecessary, pointless, petty, trip this ride we’re on,  to not even give yourself the chance to see who you would be, what you would look like if you’d just leave this obsession aside, to always try to be someone else, someone else that does not exist. Even if it’s for a few moments a day. And we all know, that it is so much more than moments.

Age: 43

Weight: 75

 

On the Group of Moms at the Playground

July 20th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

A post went “viral” today, you’ve probably seen it if you’re a mom, written by a mom who lists why it’s ok to be any kind of mom, and still be a good mom. To basically stop mom-shaming eachother.

The fact is, the summer months are hard. Kids are home all day. That’s more than 12 hours of awake time for some us, 12 whole hours to feel like a failure. There’s lots of time for self-shaming, let alone the result of that awful but innate habit, judging other moms. But it’s more complicated than that. To stop judging eahcother, we must stop judging ourselves and the choices we make in raising our kids. And to openly talk about our feats, faults, failures, successes.

There is a playground close by here. At 6pm, daily, it fills with the same group of moms and their kids. When we first moved to the neighborhood, I’d take my son down there every now and then. The only mom who spoke to me was one with an autistic kid. Back then she wasn’t sure autism was the problem, so she kept swinging him on the swing, rhythmically, smile on her face, talking to her child non stop. Look, there’s an airplane, look, you’re eating a cookie, look, that little girl is playing with a truck. She was so deep in self-shame that I didn’t even know what to say to her, blaming herself for something that was completely out of control, not seeing that she is a hero, opening doors for others to judge her.

Another mom, twin boys, toddlers, terrible twos that seem to be stretching well beyond  that age, gravel in the air, in other kids’ faces, fighting, crying, screaming, she too exhausted and ashamed to tell them what they are doing is wrong. Again, and again.

The semi-foreign mom, who hears my child speak English and ask to play with her kid’s bulldozer, pretends she doesn’t speak English so she doesn’t get edged out by the rest who stare at me as if they’ve never seen a foreigner before. He even says “please,” but nothing. I tell him that it’s ok, we have a bulldozer in the trunk of the car, in Greek, but nothing.

The grandma who is way too old and tired to be tending to two kids, doing it for the unconditional love for her son or daughter, given little choice by the conditions of the country we live in, asking me which building we live in, on which floor, what school my son goes to and speaks the “xena” (foreign).

All of you, I’m just as freaked out as the rest of you, none of us knew what we were signing up for. I could mom-shame you as you do me, I see you stare at me in disdain as I open my phone and play a round of Candy Crush, as I take my son by the hand and take him home for bath and bed hours before any of you do. And I let you be, because I know you do it because you see parts of yourself in me, parts you wish you could be, as I do in you.

It’s ok, I understand, as I’m sure somewhere deep down inside, you do too. Mom-shaming is just self-shaming.
You haven’t seen us in a while, and you probably never will, for I no longer take my kid to your playground, there’s no room for us. I take him somewhere we can breathe, unashamed.

Pieces: a novel

“Pieces” is the winner of the silver medal at the 2017 Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY), and a finalist at the USA Best Book Awards and International Book Awards.

When Clouds Embrace: a children's book

All proceeds from the sales of "When Clouds Embrace" will go to Giving for Greece, a foundation that works to help the hundreds of unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece.