Thursday, July 27, 2006

Of Bread Dough and Racing Stripes

Recently my three-year-old was watching me getting dressed. She’s at just the right height (or wrong height, as the case may be). She tilted her head and quite soberly declared, "Mommy, your tummy is SO big."

Gee, thanks for pointing that out. On Sundays I can mask it with control-top hoes and one of those things they now call a "body shaper" but is really just an elastic girdle that makes it hard to breathe.

Now all I needed was commentary on saggy skin and stretch marks.

I smiled and tried to explain that Mommy’s tummy got a bit stretched out because four babies had grown inside there. "Before you were born, you were in Mommy’s tummy, too."

Nice way of shifting the blame, I know.

It wasn’t until she answered that I realized that unlike my older three children, she had never seen me pregnant and didn’t understand the concept.

She narrowed her eyes, snorted the way only a toddler can, and with a shake of her head and a giggle said, "Nooooo . . ." Apparently Mommy was being silly.

Not quite. Like most mothers who have given birth, I have what can be affectionately referred to as "bread dough tummy." If you have it, you know what I’m talking about—that stretched-out skin with the consistency of bread dough that will never be tight again and instead just hangs there. It's one of those after effects of pregnancy that never go away, like stretch marks.

Eight months into my first pregnancy I was rather pleased that I had managed to escape the dreaded stretch mark phenomenon. I slathered on a cream every day. It was supposed to help repair skin, and three weeks before delivery, I was still stretch-mark free.

Then I ran out of the cream and couldn’t justify buying another $50 tub for the last part of the last month. After all, it probably hadn’t done much anyway, and really, how much bigger was I going to get in the last stretch of pregnancy? Whether the cream worked or not, I’ll never know.

What I do know is twofold:
1) babies do grow a lot in their last few weeks and
2) somewhere in the last days of that pregnancy, stretch marks blossomed on my thighs and crawled up my belly.

Watching the red lines travel felt like being trapped inside a science fiction movie with an organism that couldn’t be stopped.

Over the years my stretch marks have faded from scorching red to a pinkish silver, and I make a point of not even looking at them. Avoiding swimsuits tends to help. But a few weeks ago my husband and I were visiting my parents in Israel. Like good tourists, we took a dip in the Dead Sea. As I floated in the bath-warm water, I looked at my legs, hovering barely under the surface.

Did you know that water is a perfect magnifying glass?

The wobbly silver lines I hadn’t looked at in months suddenly looked as wide as racing stripes.

And this time I didn’t have any of my children around to blame it on. "See? You did that to me."

Which is just as well, because the reality is, my children were worth getting every squiggly line and every ounce of hanging bread dough.

Friday, July 21, 2006

You Calling Me Weird?

Not long ago, I pulled one of my many reference books from my office bookshelf so I could get a few details for an upcoming scene I’m writing.

Holding the book in my hands, I immediately felt transported back to the time I first read it, and I had to smile. Suddenly I felt sentimental.

It was the Christmas holidays, visiting my in-laws, during the time I was still a hopeful writer who hadn’t yet been published. I remembered the manuscript I was working on and why I needed this particular book to help me with certain details—and I still remember what those details were. Snow fell; holiday cheer abounded; carols drifted through the house.

And here I was engrossed in Body Trauma, where every chapter follows an organ system, explaining injuries and how they affect the human body—and even better, how those injuries can be used by writers in their work.

I know; you don’t have to tell me. I’m morbid.

It’s great to be reading along about blood and guts, then have the author insert something along the lines of, "Use this injury if you need your character’s future to be uncertain," or "This is a good one to use if a character needs to be ill, recover, and then relapse."

Okay, so I’m not just morbid; I’m weird.

I’m aware of that.

But sometimes I forget that others don’t share my bizarre curiosity.

You should have seen the faces of my brothers-in-law when they saw the book. "Light reading, huh?" they asked as they inched away from me.

"No, really, it’s so fascinating," I said as I stepped forward, eager to share gems I had just learned. "Did you know that if someone has a bad impact—say they fell from a cliff—and it’s so bad you can’t tell where their face is, you look for air bubbles?"

They sank into the couch, eyes wide with horror.

The reality is that I am weird.

I’m a writer. That makes me a little bit off the beaten path.

How many other people do you know who have conflicts appear in their imaginations in the middle of the night? Who else hears people talking in their heads (and no, they don’t need medication or a strait jacket). Who else finds joy in the discovery of new information that will help make their pretend world a little closer to reality?

And how many people do you know who are so obsessed punctuation rules that they cringe when they see a T-shirt with a comma splice?

So yes, I’m weird. And I celebrate that weirdness.

Weirdness is the quality that brings me the wonder of the written word, characters, storylines, creation, and so much more. It’s what brought me to the place of—finally—getting published.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, that first manuscript I read Body Trauma for did end up published several years later, complete with injuries for three victims of a drunk-driving car accident.

That book is now known as At the Water’s Edge.

A few months after reading Body Trauma I brought my next bit of light reading while visiting family—Cause of Death. I had to chase people around the house so they’d pay attention to the diagrams of autopsies. "No really. Check this out! It’s totally cool!"

They’d block their eyes and run the other way, saying, "Man, are you kidding me?"

Sheesh. Some people just can’t appreciate a good reference book.