This is what I looked like two years ago this week. I was so hugely pregnant that I couldn’t go out in public without being stared at and talked to by strangers. It was like being a very uncomfortable celebrity. And I kept getting bigger for another three weeks after this photo was taken!

As you may have guessed, my body has not bounced back. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight almost right away but things were not the same. My abdomen looked like a war zone. Two years later the stretch marks have faded but my skin is still loose and laced with a web of faint lines. Me pre-pregnancy weight was technically overweight but I still felt comfortable in a bikini. These days–no way. I think this is hard for me because I don’t have any visual references to compare my post-pregnancy body with. There are lots of images in our society of women being confident at varying weights but not of loose skin and stretch marks. I don’t understand how these celebrities get to look so normal after having kids. No amount of diet or exercise is going to fix the skin on my abdomen, and maybe that’s part of why I’m not really motivated to lose weight, even though I know intellectually that a healthy weight is more about health than aesthetics.

Every woman’s body responds differently to pregnancy. Some women gain a lot of weight, some don’t. Some get stretch marks and some don’t. Some women feel fabulous while carrying a tiny human in their abdomen and some…don’t. I seriously felt like I was walking around with 100 extra pounds strapped to my body, even though I only gained about 25. I ached with every step and I even passed out a few times. For a long time when I heard women talking about how much they loved being pregnant I felt guilty, like my love for my child is reflected by my experience of pregnancy.

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There’s no point in comparing my pregnancy or my body to those of other women. My body will never be the same as it was before Jack, and that’s okay. My life will never be the same either! That’s kind of the point. Maybe my next pregnancy will be easier and maybe it won’t, but I have a feeling I’ll be much happier if I learn to just accept whatever the future holds (stretch marks and all).

I have been tearing through some books lately, y’all. I’m behind on all my favorite blogs and TV shows but it feels amazing to be immersing myself in one world after another through literature. Reading was my favorite pastime through childhood and adolescence but all the reading required for my English degree kind of took the fun out of it, then I was really busy through grad school and my first few years as a social worker and then I started a blog and had a baby and only now, ten years later, am I finally diving back into books with the kind of enthusiasm I once had.

I’ve had The Mad Scientist’s Daughter on my list for a while now and decided to download it to my Kindle for our beach trip. I quickly became obsessed and picked it up every chance I got. I’m actually re-reading it now that I know more about Finn’s background and how the story ends.

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A robot love story could easily stray into silly or tacky territory, but this is more like Her than Mannequin and I found myself rather enthralled. The gist of it is that Cat’s father, a robotics expert, brings home a startlingly lifelike android to live with them. Finn is the first and only of his kind and the circumstances surrounding his creation are unclear through much of the book. We spend what feels like a lifetime with him as Cat grows from a young child into an adult. The story takes place in the not-so-distant future, but despite the dystopian setting and element of robots I wouldn’t call it sci-fi. The outside world is background to what is really a study of Cat’s very flawed character and the affection she feels for Finn. It raises questions about whether self-determination is a right or a privilege, the future of feminism, and civil rights in the age of artificial intelligence, in addition to themes of metamorphosis, mortality, modernity vs. decay, and nature vs. sterility. The challenges of Cat and Finn’s relationship could even be compared to those of same-sex couples, especially prior to the changing attitudes of recent years.

What The Mad Scientist’s Daughter lacks in prose and a relatable protagonist it makes up for in Finn. As weird as a handsome android robot sounds I couldn’t help but be charmed by his thoughtful and unwavering nature. In fact, I wish the author had spent more time with him, especially near the end.  I hope this book gets made into an awesome movie just so I can see his character fleshed out a little more. The juxtaposition of a human who is too much like a robot and a robot who is too much like a human was fascinating, and the issue of age difference reminds me of The Time Traveler’s Wife with a dash of Edward Scissorhands.  Fair warning: there are some sexual scenes and quite a bit of profanity, so I wouldn’t suggest it for sharing with your pre-teen who’s recently taken an interest in robots. The next Twilight this is not. But if you’re into romance or character studies give it a gander.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.

We returned yesterday afternoon from a much anticipated trip to Gulf Shores, AL–the westernmost section of the beautiful beaches in southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle collectively known as the Emerald Coast, Flora-Bama, or, my favorite, the Redneck Riviera. Since we were in the most affordable area it was extra redneck, but the particular stretch of beach we enjoyed was less developed and thus delightfully uncrowded. There were lots of seashells and plenty of room to spread out. And the weather was amazing!

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We went with our friends Cassie and Nic and their daughter Olive. Jack and Olive haven’t ever spent this much time around each other before but they were fast friends. Jack started every morning while we were there by wandering the condo calling for Olive until he found her. There were lots of hugs and cuddles. It was adorable.

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Nick gets free car rentals as a perk from his job so we loaded up all four adults and two littles into a minivan packed to the brim with gear. This is the first time I’ve ever done the beach like a grown up, with a canopy and chairs and even a little tent for the babies. In the past I was doing great if I remembered to pack a towel and some sunscreen. Maybe I’d buy an overpriced beach chair while I was there. But this time we were prepared and it was awesome. We even cooked and froze meals before leaving, which is something we did when we traveled with Nic and Cassie a few years ago (before Jack was born). Cassie made lasagna and chili and I made chicken enchiladas. Delicious and so much easier and cheaper than going out every night or trying to buy a bunch of groceries to cook while you’re there.

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Jack and Olive found love at the Waffle House. Just kidding, they’re babies. But seriously how cute are they?!?!?

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To be honest, this trip was too short. Before we had kids we could go to the beach for a weekend and really make the most of it, lying in the sand and playing in the ocean from morning ’til night with only short breaks for meals, but with babies it’s a different animal. They need naps and real food and they get cranky. Babies cannot hang. We were lucky to spend a couple of hours out there each day. I’d definitely like to stay closer to a week next time so that we can get our fill of the beach in small doses over several days. Also different with babies: no daydrinking. It feels irresponsible to be imbibing while your child plays near water, and even if that weren’t the case we had enough crap to carry without adding a cooler full of beer. Every night after the kids were in bed we poured some drinks and went out to the balcony for card games. Nick and I had played Cards Against Humanity when visiting our friends Lauren and Ryan in Atlanta last summer and when we learned that Cassie and Nic had a set that they hadn’t even opened we insisted they bring it. That game is a RIOT.

Overall, we had an amazing time and as much as I dislike traveling I’m sad to be home. I love love love the beach and even with the challenges of tiny humans it’s still quite possibly my favorite place on Earth. I’ve already started thinking about our next visit!

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Amazon**

This book was wonderful in that it was a total pageturner but didn’t feel like binging on junk food. And bonus: it took me over a week to read! I hate when I get really into a book and–bam–it’s over. By the time this one reached its denouement I was ready, but it by no means dragged on past its prime. It takes a great story to keep a reader engaged for 755 pages and The Goldfinch rose to the challenge.

I tend to gravitate toward art that is character driven–in literature, film, and even in music–which means that the stuff that speaks to me is often lacking in more technical aspects and considered cheap and tacky by critics. But in The Goldfinch I found humanity that drew me in as well as layered and subtle themes of beauty, mortality, and obsession. The book follows Theo from early adolescence into his late twenties as he grapples with trauma, grief, addiction, depression, and guilt. It sounds sad, and it is, but it’s also somehow life-affirming and reassuring. I don’t want to spoil the outcome, but if a nihilist like Theo can say something like this, then that gives me hope:

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Some questions were left unanswered at the end and that’s okay, because it leaves me free to imagine what I hoped became of Theo without alienating other readers who would have wanted something different. There is no happily ever after in real life–not because people can’t be happy, but because the story doesn’t end there. I love that this story was left open-ended without it feeling like an obvious open door for a sequel (as is so often the case in the cheap and easy reads that I devour like potato chips). In short, it’s like public radio–at once entertaining and intellectually stimulating. It’s a beach read that you won’t feel guilty about or embarrassed to be reading in public (ahem Fifty Shades of Gray). I highly recommend it.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.