Date Archives September 2013

What new parents and single parents have in common (or) I was crazy but it wasn’t my fault

New parents get an average of 5.1 hours per sleep the first year, losing about the equivalent of  44 days of sleep. According to some very half-assed Internet research I just did, the average adult sleeps the equivalent of 121.6 days (meaning 24-hour periods) per year. So new parents get about 77.6 day-units of sleep.

Interesting.

I’ve averaged about 5 hours of sleep a night for the first three years of single parenthood. Between work, trying to get work, kids who got up too early, boyfriends who stayed up too late and, oh yeah, worry, sleep really took a beating.

I look back on the days of new motherhood and remember the bone-crushing exhaustion, the things that felt like a big deal but probably weren’t, the way everyday tasks seemed so darn hard. I remember being irrational and overly-emotional and weirdly obsessive — and not knowing I was acting that way until I got a few nights of decent sleep under my belt and saw how much more manageable my life suddenly seemed.

I used to say “Now I know why sleep deprivation is considered a form a torture.”

And now, it seems, I’ve spent the last three years doing this myself?

I’ve recently started forcing myself to sleep at least six hours a night.

Dear Self:

Sorry about that. I’ll try to be nicer to you. I didn’t realize what I was doing.

Dear Everyone Else:

Sorry for all that weird shit I said and did that I probably don’t even remember. I’m sure it was all caused by sleep deprivation. 😉

 

My insurance company called my son fat

I can’t stand hearing people discuss healthcare reform in a theoretical way.

I don’t think you can truly make a case one way or the other unless you have some skin in the game. If you have health insurance through your employer, it’s like you’re living in your parents’ basement — you might know something is going on and you might have some thoughts on it, but you’re insulated from feeling the full impact of the dangerous and expensive mindfuckery involved in getting your own health insurance.

And now some Congresspeople are wrangling over healthcare again, trying to hold the government hostage with the threat of another shutdown unless the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” is repealed.

Come the fuck on, people.

For those of us who have to buy our own health insurance, there’s no theory involved here. I’m waiting with baited breath to dive into the health insurance exchange on October 1 to see if there’s any hope at all of getting a rate cut.

 

The real numbers

Here are some actual numbers for you to chew on. Hey! Play along at home! Plug these babies into your own budgets.

My health insurance bill for September was $687.

$278 for me

$197 for my daughter

$212 for my son

This is no Cadillac health plan that we’re on. We have a $50 copay every time someone has to go to the doctor. When I was figuring out our healthcare recently, I had to sit down and think about how many times each year the kids would have to go to the doc v. the cost of a higher monthly premium to get a lower copay. I had to gamble that they’ll be pretty healthy this year.

 

They fuck you at the drive-thru

Let’s talk about underwriting.

When you’re trying to get your own health plan, you can be penalized for anything in your health history that the insurance company thinks might cost them money in the future. If you have the luxury of getting a plan through your employer, yes, your insurance is still probably expensive BUT … you just sign up and you’re covered. No one is strapping on a mining helmet and probing your cornhole looking for reasons to upcharge you.

When you start shopping for healthcare, you get quoted a rate that stings a little, but they don’t give you your real rate until you fill out an extremely detailed health history for each applicant. It took me about three and a half hours to fill out the application for myself and the kids. And no pressure, but that history better be right because if it’s not, they can dump you from the plan or make you pay back money for treatments for conditions you didn’t disclose.

 

My fat, fat son

Warning: This is where it gets super fun!

When I got the real rates for my little family, I was told that my children were “rated up” based on their health histories.

Let’s look at my son. He got rated up for three things:

1. He’s been on Zantac (the generic version) for reflux since he was a month old — he takes it in the morning and before bed. It seems a little petty to rate him up over having one monthly prescription, but … OK.

2. Asthma. I can’t argue with that. He needs meds sometimes and they’re not cheap. What can I say? OK.

3. Height and weight proportion.

I took this photo this morning.

b

 

He’s a little on the short side — but just a little.  And certainly a person couldn’t be charged more for being short? So I guess they must think he’s fat. I mean, sure. Just took at him.

I was told I can dispute the upcharge, but I need an official doctor’s measurement to do so. I called my doc and asked if I could have Benjamin weighed and measured by a nurse without an appointment. They said no, they have to charge a copay if they do anything at all with the child. So it looked like I’d have to pay $50 to have my kid step on a scale. Then I figured out that I could schedule his well visit early and guess what? That visit was FREE thanks to Obamacare.

So now I need to write letters and fax stuff and cross fingers.

 

Sidestepping problems

Another unfortunate side effect of this brutal underwriting process is that it keeps people on independent plans from seeing the doc for certain things. For example, last fall I was having a pretty hard time. My life felt like a saggy pair of underpants that I kept tripping over because there was no elastic in the waist. I couldn’t seem to leave the house for, like, months. I felt like I was watching a movie of my life and I was getting nervous about how our protagonist was failing to handle her shit.

I thought about going to the doc to see if I could get a little something to make me feel like perhaps I should get dressed in real clothes and eat something other than Girl Scout cookies and also, you know, stop crying so much.

And then I thought forward to the day I knew was coming: The day I’d have to go through underwriting again. I decided that no matter how bad I was feeling, I couldn’t go to the doctor.

Why? Because if you have any hint of depression in your health history, I hate to tell you this, but you are totally and forever SCREWED from an insurance perspective.

Luckily, I’m OK. It was just my turn to stroll down Depression Lane after a few years of really Big Intense Problems. I found the exit ramp off that road. But not everyone does.

 

Give us a chance!

The ranks of the self-employed are only getting bigger. We need a fighting chance to be able to provide healthcare for ourselves and our families.

I don’t know if Obamacare is going to make things better. I’ve had hard time finding out concrete info on what will be covered, how it will be covered, and what it’s going to cost. October 1 is supposed to bring some answers.

All I ask right now is that no one cuts the lifeline before we get to see what’s at the end of that rope.

 

 

Me, Full-Length: A remedial shopper gets a makeover (part one)

Me and Mr. P at Blogher 2013. We both need to incorporate more color into our wardrobes.
Me and Mr. P at Blogher 2013. We both need to incorporate more color into our wardrobes.

Confession time. Lean in real close, would you?

I lack the shopping gene.

I never know what’s in style or what’s on sale or where to buy anything. I walk through stores with the same wide-eyed wonder that a third grader might have on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History. “Wow … so this is where it all comes from …” So sure, it’s fair to say that I’m not the most fashion-forward person. Most of my clothing purchases during the past three years have been of the vintage variety … which is a nice way to say that I regularly hit up the Goodwill down the street.

Heck, I don’t even own a full-length mirror.

That makes it all the more bizarre that now, at age 41, I’m working with a fashion stylist. She’s teaching me not only how and where to shop, but how to put together attractive outfits that simultaneously express the essence of my true authentic self and also make me look 10-20 pounds thinner.

My head might explode. This experience so far has been like my personal fashion edition of The Biggest Loser. But instead of a treadmill, I’m facing down a pile of clothes in a dressing room and Elizabeth, my stylist, is going all Jillian Michaels on my ass. “Come on, Trish! You can’t wear those black-and-white prints forever! They totally wash you out! Here, try on this cobalt shirt! No, these jeans are not too tight! Jump and down and if that’s how you need to get them on! Keep telling yourself I am pretty and petite!”

Let’s be honest. The real draw of The Biggest Loser isn’t watching a bunch of people count and burn calories. It’s about the contestants’ histories, their self-esteem, and the way they walk through the world. It’s not about the food.

Turns out, it’s not about the clothes either.

 

The Universe doesn’t like your outfit

I didn’t seek out a stylist. But since I subscribe to the “there are no accidents” school of thought, I suspect that somewhere out in the cosmos some higher beings had grown tired of looking at my thrift store ensembles and so they decided to throw Elizabeth Douglass* into my path.

Elizabeth was the only non-blogger at my lunch table for the Guy Kawasaki keynote at Blogher ’13. She explained that she was a stylist and in the process of building her website.

I’d never met a stylist before. The one thing I really wanted to ask her was “How do I accessorize?” but even a remedial fashion flub like myself knew that was painting with too broad a brush.

Instead I asked her what type of client was her favorite. I expected to hear a story of a budget-be-damned socialite who was on the hunt for a perfect pair of suede boots, but Elizabeth’s answer surprised me. “I love working with someone who wants to learn, so they can dress themselves later,” she said. I pressed her a bit. Surely it was more fun to work with someone who had higher spending limits. “You’d be surprised,” she told me. “Some people want to shop at Target and Kohl’s, so that’s what we do. It’s not about the money. I can work with any budget.”

That knocked me off-kilter. Here was a professional fashion stylist saying that she could build an attractive wardrobe at any budget level? Hmm. If that were possible, did that mean that I didn’t have an excuse for phoning it in, fashion-wise? I chewed on that thought while the conversation continued.

Someone at the table suggested that Elizabeth put before and after photos on her website. She explained that she’d love to, but that her clients were often high-profile executives who didn’t want people to know that they were working with her. “I even told them I’d give them my services for free if they’d let me photograph them. All they’d need to do is buy the clothes.”

Then my mouth formed this sentence before my brain had a chance to intervene: “I would totally do that.”

 

Am I beyond help?

Elizabeth took a good long look at me. I suddenly became extremely self-conscious about my outfit choice for the day: jeans, a black sleeveless shirt, a cardigan with what I thought were some fun details (bell sleeves and a cute collar – I counted it as a thrift store “find”) and animal print sandals. I imagined she was thinking one of two things: “Oh boy. There’s so much room for improvement here. I’m going to look like a genius,” or “This chick is a lost cause. How do I get out of this gracefully?”

“I’m a little dressed down today,” I admitted to her. “It was a long day yesterday so I decided to go casual with today’s outfit.”

“That’s not an outfit,” she said quickly. I busted out laughing, guessing that her idea of an outfit was probably very different from mine.

“Where do you live?” she asked. Turns out, we only live about 45 minutes away from each other – me in the western ‘burbs of Philadelphia and her in Wilmington, DE.  “That’s completely doable,” she said. Then she agreed to style me as well as my conference compadre Stefanie, who lives in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth got down to business right away. She said she’d come to our homes to interview us and look at our clothes. “You’re not even at my house yet and I’m embarrassed for myself already,” I told her as I mentally threw out at least ten things. “Can I clean some stuff out beforehand if I know it’s crap?”

“No! Those things can be the most telling,” she said. “We can talk about what you were thinking when you bought them. Unless there’s blood from a murder scene on it, keep it.”

She asked me and Stefanie if there were any celebrities whose looks we admired. As Stefanie began gushing about Agent Scully’s suits in the later years of The X-Files, I was quiet. I couldn’t think of anybody.

I sat there struggling to recall any outfit that I had ever liked at any time. I came up dry. It occurred to me that perhaps this was more serious than I realized: I was suffering from fashion blindness.

 

Second thoughts

Stefanie and I spent the rest of the conference mercilessly ribbing each other about our clothes.

“Nice cargo pants, Trish. And what’s up with that shirt? That’s the same material as my underwear. Look,” Stefanie said as she yanked up the waistband of her panties.

“I know Elizabeth hasn’t seen your shoes today, but I can feel her hating them,” I hissed back.

We were laughing our heads off, but the truth was that I was starting to second guess every item I put on my body. Even outfits that I had liked before the conference started to seem lame and sad to me.

“I don’t know if I want to go through with this,” I told Stefanie. “I know who I am. I’ve done a lot of work to make peace with my true self. If this is going to chip away at my self esteem then I don’t know if it’s worth it.”

“Fuck that,” Stefanie said. “You are beautiful and an amazing person. This is an opportunity to show that to the rest of the world.”

And then I thought about how my life had been stripped to the bone over the past few years. I had gotten divorced. I went bankrupt. I had to rebuild my career while adapting to life as a single mom and also learning to date again.

Reinventing my life had given me the chance to transform some things that hadn’t been right. Part of that included paying more attention to my appearance. I had made some deliberate strides to make the outer me look more like the inner me – but that was hard for a fashion-blind woman on a thrift store budget.

I remembered something Elizabeth said when we met her. “You pay someone to do your taxes. You pay someone to cut your hair. If you never had anyone take you under their wing and show you how to put together a great outfit, how would you know?”

She was right. If I ever wanted to get Inner Trish and Outer Trish on the same page, I was going to need some help. Little did I know, my fashion makeover was going to turn into one of the most powerful therapy sessions of my life.

 

*Elizabeth is in the process of creating her new website. In the meantime, you can find out more about what she does here.

Click here to get future posts by delivered by email.

 

 

 


A Gentile does Rosh Hashanah

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I’m bogarting Rosh Hashanah this year. OK, maybe I’m not stealing the entire holiday … but I’m hacking a little piece off just for myself.

Yesterday I saw my Jewish friends wishing each other a Happy New Year on Facebook. They wrote about eating honey and wishing for a sweet new year. And I was all … “This is an excuse to eat honey? Make some room, Jews! I’m all over your holiday!”

Happy New Year to me!


The fact is, I could use a new start. If life is a house, the last year wasn’t the year of stenciling patterns on the walls and hanging pretty curtains. It was the year of mucking out the basement.

Some important and difficult things got done. My divorce and the accompanying financial mess finally got sorted out after three years. I clawed my way out of poverty by working more hours than I can count. I did the hard, right thing of breaking up with a person I loved but who wanted me to ride shotgun on his joyride to self destruction. I got some uncomfortable answers relating to a medical issue with one of my children but that news came with an action plan that will hopefully make life better for all of us.

In short, shit got handled.

But by the time summer hit, I realized I was depleted. Where I would normally be booking my kid-free time well in advance to make sure I was doing super-awesome grownup stuff, I just began sitting in the house watching Netflix and drinking wine. I didn’t call anyone. I barely wrote. When I did write, it took a monumental effort to get things out of my brain and onto the page. It didn’t help that I’d gotten used to sleeping about five hours a night so I was also just plain exhausted.

You can only do that for so long.

It was time for a change.

 

I am molting

I’ve always been fascinated with metamorphosis. I let my curiosity lead me down the Internet rabbit hole with this topic the other day.

Turns out, when caterpillars turn into butterflies, they don’t just go into their cocoons, slim down their chubby little bodies and then sprout wings. Some butterfly stem cells start forming very early in the caterpillar’s life, but then they stop. They incubate inside the caterpillar’s body until it’s time to undergo metamorphosis. Then the caterpillar’s body begins producing enzymes that digest all the caterpillar tissue and allow the cells to reorder into butterfly form.

That’s where I am. I’ve been re-ordering. Re-forming. Doing the hard work of changing.

Now it’s time to take to the sky.

 

Gifts to myself

Yesterday I said goodbye to last year. I wallowed in the heaviness one last time and then I made a conscious decision to step into the New Year. It felt good.

Before I went to bed I made myself a sign and put it on my computer so I’d see it right away when I woke up.

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And I left myself a little gift. Honey. I spooned some onto my yogurt this morning and then I sucked the rest off of the teaspoon. It tasted earthy and complex. It made me think of the bees, just doing their thing — fulfilling their destinies to fly and interact with the world and create something surprising, beautiful and delicious.

It’s going to be a sweet year.