Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Moms, Daughters & Cookies

August 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Moms & Sisters

Growing up in my house, we ate wholesome, balanced meals. We never talked calories or nutrition, but we ate pretty healthily for the most part.

My mom wasn’t one of those moms who wouldn’t allow cookies in the house; a cookie was a treat, not something we had every day or abused. So if we had a cookie or two for dessert, it was a special night.

She never told me I couldn’t have one. But if I reached for a third or fourth cookie, she’d usually ask me gently, “Lissa, do you need that cookie?”

Nine times out of ten, I didn’t. I’d sometimes feel a little bit of shame, but only because I knew deep down she was right.

My mom used this gentle tactic out of genuine concern. She didn’t restrict me, but let me know cookies weren’t a free-for-all, either.

She often struggled with her weight, and she didn’t want to pass those issues on to me (or my sister). So she taught me early on that food wasn’t meant to be feared … but also was very realistic with me in that genetics would not work in my favor if I chose to indulge a little too much.

The truth is, moms have so much influence over their daughters, and while I’m glad my mom realized it, many don’t. What they say, how they react, really shapes us. That’s why I love Dara Chadwick’s book and blog, You’d Be So Pretty If … and recommend others take a look at it — you can read my review here. (She’s fantastic — she did a Q&A on my blog not too long ago).

My own mom was my biggest supporter when it came to building my self-esteem and my sense of self with respect to body image, especially during those formative pre-teen and teenage years.

She taught me how to dress for my shape … not the shape of my friends, or whatever celebrity was popular at the moment.

Instead of bemoaning my hips and thighs or the fact that I wasn’t tall and lean like my sister, she encouraged me to see my best assets. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Heck, I still use some of that advice even today, even though I’m a leaner version of my early-twenties self: buying some pants a size up and tailoring the waist if need be (it usually gapped); accentuating my strong shoulders and a trim midsection with long, lean tops and button-downs; wearing flowy skirts vs. pencil skirts.

Truly, she wanted me to be comfortable in my own skin. And I was, for many years. I cheered and competed; danced; ran track; coached my sister’s squad. I wasn’t the smallest girl on the squad or team, but I still fit in just fine and didn’t really worry too much. She (and my dad) always made me feel beautiful.

Ironically, in spite of that loving upbringing and the positive relationship with food/body image that was instilled in me, today I’m a grown woman who struggles with emotional eating … while recovering from a history of disordered eating. Yea, that’s a mouthful.

You could say in this case, nature trumped nurture.

Like many women, I use food as a coping mechanism for anxiety … anxiety I can’t always pinpoint. It’s my “drug” of choice, and unfortunately, since it’s related to food, it’s not something we can quit cold turkey.

It feels funny to say it, but it’s true. In spite of it all, I still developed a screwy relationship with food in my mid-twenties.

I don’t blame my mom one bit for this; I believe this is all me, my hardwiring that has led me down this path. My mom has been my biggest supporter in my life – including through my weight loss and then throughout my recovery.

The moral of the story is this: moms (and dads!) can do their absolute best to raise us to be strong, powerful, confident women – and they should! (I will strive for that, myself).

But sometimes, even that isn’t always enough. Sometimes outside influences or personality traits dominate, and nature trumps nurture. It’s not a pretty thing, but sometimes, it’s a reality.

I have no doubt it’s difficult for moms not to beat themselves up if their daughters struggle with an eating disorder, wondering what they could have done differently, if they should have recognized it sooner …

I know my own mom felt a lot of guilt when I came out about my disordered eating behaviors. She knew I was pretty rigid with food and exercise for those past couple of years, but I lived a thousand miles away and she never saw me chewing and spitting … she thought I was just very disciplined with my “regimen” and even admired it. (No one knew what was really going on for a long time).

But I really believe having a daughter with an eating disorder is not something she, or any mom, should feel guilty about.

Especially if they know, like I want my mom to know today, that they did their very best in raising us to be confident young women with good self-esteem.  That they provided us with a safe haven to talk about our fears, our changing bodies, etc. That they were good role models.

And really, is there anything more we could ask of our moms, the women who shape us and help define us early on?

Moms, you really do have more influence than you know.

I am so very grateful to have been raised by my mom. She’s truly a class act, and I’m thankful and grateful every single day for her support. I can only hope to be the half as great a mom as she is someday.

How about you? What kind of influence – positive or negative – did your mom have on your self esteem as a tween/teenager or even as an adult? Were you restricted by your parents when it came to certain foods? If you struggle/struggled with an eating disorder, do/did your parents feel any guilt?

WATRD

Comments

39 Responses to “Moms, Daughters & Cookies”
  1. kemp says:

    I remember clearly the best thing my mom ever did for my self-esteem with regards to body image. I was about ten years old and thin as a rail, and my mom was 5’10” and probably weighed around 300 pounds. We were visiting relatives out of state. One afternoon, my mom noticed that I seemed extremely upset and asked me what was wrong. Eventually I reluctantly admitted that my cousin had said “Your mom is fat.” I had been so upset that I had stormed off. My mom had almost no reaction. She just said, “Sweetie, I AM fat.”

    Now I’m 25, and I’m fat, too. During my childhood I remember my mom losing weight through Jenny Craig once and then gaining it back. Eventually she had weight loss surgery on the advice of her doctor. She may be thinner now, but she is still fat.

    The most important thing I learned from her is that her size (and mine, by extension) was in no way related to laziness, intelligence, or morality. This information, instilled in me from a young age simply by the way I observed her living her life, made it just that much easier for me to accept Fat Acceptance almost as soon as I was first exposed to it and, as a result, start learning to accept myself.

  2. Oh my goodness, we have such similar backgrounds with our mothers. Our house was healthy maybe 80% of the time, but a soda when I was sick or Chinese take out on Saturdays was not unheard of. My mom had (has!) so many issues that she unknowingly passed on to me.

    The thing is, I do believe that as much as she affected me, I still would have been affected by society’s obsession with weight later down the line.
    I will strive to ensure any future daughters of mine have a healthy body image, but in this day & age, I do think a certain amount of exposure is inevitable.

  3. laurelg1 says:

    I love this post. My mom was my mentor. She only had words of encouragement and affirmation for me. She was also “comfortable in her jeans”. We did eat healthy, and we also ate as a family every night. Dessert was a treat, not a nightly necessity. Even though we rarely have “dessert” in our home now, our generation has taught our children that dessert is a 3 meal a day staple.
    Now that I have influence on three children I find that my children mimic my foods… Unfortunately they witnessed my now two year battle against food. I have my own hurdles to jump, and I have to keep them in line too – even when I’m not sure I believe what I teach them!

  4. Candice says:

    Starting as early as 12 or 13, I always said I never wanted to have a daughter because I knew for certain that I would “screw her up”. I no longer feel that way, but I do feel like if I have a daughter, I’m going to have to work hard *every* day not to inflict the body shame and critical self attitude my mother inflicted on and nurtured in me. (Part of this work begins now as I work on my own body image and shame daily.)

    I don’t really fault my mother for it; she truly didn’t know better and had no outlet where she would have been exposed to healthier thinking. It is what it is. But I know better and will do better – as best as I can.

    I’m definitely going to pick up Chadwick’s book. Thanks for what looks like a wonderful recommendation.

  5. Holly says:

    I think about this a lot, when I think about future daughters I might have, and what I’d do differently than how I was raised.

    My mom is overweight and has been her whole life. Growing up, her grandma always chided her for being overweight. Then she would treat her to ice cream when my mom broke down in tears because of it. Needless to say, my mom was determined to NOT put restrictions on her daughters.

    Ironically, my sister and I developed eating disorders and my oldest sister struggles with overeating. In NO way do I blame my mom for this – I think she did what she honestly thought was best. She let us have free reign, and if that meant a sleeve of Oreos as an after-school snack, that’s what it meant.

    I think some of us are just “wired” to be more sensitive and likely to pick up disordered eating habits. What I can promise is that I am going to do my best to set a good example – a healthy example – for my future little ones.

  6. AJ says:

    My mother said something to me when I was about 8 years old that I think about much more now. When I was complaining about how all of my friends were tiny and how I was a giant next to them she said,

    “Look at their parents. Are they big people or are they smaller people? That has a lot to do with it. You come from big people, you will never be a small person.”

    At the time this was absolutely devastating! But now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I realize that accepting my genes and family history is important. So what if I’m a big person? So what?

  7. cggirl says:

    Hi.

    I want to say that when I started reading the post, with the “do you really need that cookie” thing, I thought wow, way to trigger an eating disorder. I didn’t realize that’s where the story was going, I just thought it wasn’t a good idea to say that to your kid…

    We love our moms and they love us. Clearly, your mom loves you, and did the best she knew how. But it sounds to me like nature didn’t trump nurture. It sounds like nurture encouraged some very problematic attitudes about food. Of COURSE your mother did the best she could, and this does not make her a bad mom, I can’t stress this point enough – I’m not trying to paint her as something horrible. It’s just hard for me to read you describing exactly how everything she did is everything I believe contributes to eating disorders, and then have you somehow reach the opposite conclusion. It doesn’t mean you have to blame her for the whole thing – not everyone has the propensity toward anxiety or ED that you describe you have, and not everyone reacts the same way to these things. But just in my humble opinion, based on the experiences I hear/read about/see, this type of encouragement for children not to eat too many cookies – or even to wear this or that clothing to “cover” their flaws (which may or may not be what your mom did, not sure, just sounds a bit like that) – doesn’t lead to anything good, and often leads to something bad. You might want to consider seeing that, and knowing that this DOESN’T mean you don’t love your mom, or that you blame her for everything, or that she wasn’t a good mom, or anything extreme like that. Of course, I know I don’t even know you or her so please don’t be hurt or offended – if what I say isn’t useful, just ignore me and I will sit quietly in the corner and stop butting in to other people’s business 🙂

    P.S. Note on the clothing thing: I think “dressing for your shape” can go either way. On the one hand, when I realized certain things suited me and showed off my curves, it made me much happier. On the other hand, the thing that made me MOST happy about this was not worrying anymore about “hiding” my “flaws”, and when a mother’s advice is based around that, and makes someone think they “can’t pull off” a pencil skirt of whatnot, that can be very negative in my opinion. My own mother to this day has some strange ideas about what she “can’t wear” because it doesn’t suit her, because HER mother told her that, and btw she is wrong in my opinion. That’s another point – that what is “flattering” isn’t entirely objective, it’s not like there is some deep truth there. What my mom encouraged me to wear was basically things that hide me and end up making me look bigger, at least in my opinion, but I’m sure she thought it was better, because to show certain things would be unacceptable or bad.

    Whew sorry for the long post…

    • lissa10279 says:

      Hi there, Cggirl, thank you for commenting. I have to respectfully disagree, although please know I welcome your input and assessment.

      My mom was just trying to teach me that 2 cookies is fine, but did I NEED 4? No. No child “needs” 4. My brother and sister have no food issues at all; I do — I’m hard-wired differently than them. (And we grew up the same way).

      I think what she taught me was portion control — enjoying something, but not going back for more just because I wanted it. Some moms would restrict food altogether or talk calories — not my mom.

      And she never encouraged me to hide flaws…I think I said it clearly that she wanted me to accentuate my assets — and I can’t find fault in that.

      I’ve never binged/purged and I’ve never been anorexic, my issues with food are disordered, but it was never a full-blown ED and didn’t start til I was 25 or 26.

      Thank you for noting though that you can see how much I love my mom, that means a lot 🙂 I definitely don’t blame her. And I still say it’s nature trumping nurture in this case. My mom served as a great role model and I was still screwed up with food.

      • Zenoodle says:

        I read it, and also thought it was going to be a ‘and that’s how my ED started even though my mum really loved me and was trying to do the opposite’ sort of thing, just because I have read articles that did that which began with similar anecdotes. By the time I got to the bottom, though, I found myself wondering if, rather than ‘nature trumping nurture’ in the sense of ‘hardwiring’, there might be a case for suggesting that ‘society’s nurture’ (or perhaps ‘societal conditioning’?) trumped your mum’s nurture? There are a lot of damaging messages out there that run converse to your mum’s attempts to protect you and instill in you a strong belief in yourself, and it’s hard to be immune to all of them.

        Or even perhaps your mum’s nurture helped to inoculate you in some way from developing what you refer to as a full-blown ED, which you might have developed with a different upbringing? I’m just suspicious of any direct linking of genetics/hardwiring to behaviours, because there are other components — in the sense that I don’t think it makes sense to speak of nature vs. nurture but rather to look at the interactions and overlaps between nature and nurture… I guess what I’m saying is that genes interact with their environment, and their expression are affected by them. Magnify that up to the level of behaviour, and it gets really complicated! So, to talk about hardwiring, IMO, slightly gives our bonkers culture a get out clause, in the style of ‘it’s not our [magazine/media/sales types] fault that you developed an ED just because we put out ridiculous messages and unattainable ideals, it’s just *you*’. I don’t think you meant to say that it is just you, or to give them a get out clause, but maybe that’s one possible conclusion to draw from that line of thinking?

      • lissa10279 says:

        That’s a very good point, Zenoodle, that maybe it was societal conditioning … I honestly don’t know.

        One thing I do know is that people with EDs/DE tend to be overly anxious by nature: perfectionists at school, work .. .controlling people. That’s pretty well-known and documented and I think some people, like myself, are sucseptible to falling into the controlling trap based on our hardwiring; this comes from my therapist — not just my own thinking. She was 100% sure my anxiousness drove my ED. And I couldn’t really argue with her. I’ve been anxious since I was a toddler, and it’s just now I use food/exercise as a coping mechanism, if you will — for better or for worse.

        Interesting thoughts though; thanks for sharing!

  8. cggirl says:

    Yeah, I wasn’t entirely sure about the clothing thing, was just putting it out there for those of us who DID have that sort of “hide your flaws” influence. And the eating thing – what can I say, I have a different idea of where “control” should come from (i.e. intuitive eating rather than external rules), or of what is the best way for a parent to influence their child’s eating habits if they DO feel that it’s necessary to step in. But, even where our opinions differ, I certainly wouldn’t think of your mom as some sort of horrible restricter of food who slapped your hand away when you just wanted to eat something, lol. Clearly THAT was not the case, and that’s a good thing.

  9. cggirl says:

    (oh and the clothing thing – again, not in YOUR case, but maybe in my case and other readers – sometimes advice to hide ourselves comes in the guise of accentuating our positive features. It can be a fine line. So that’s why I wasn’t sure, but obviously you know what the case was with you. And for other women where it WAS a hide-your-flaws thing, I can only hope they get over it and realize that it’s all in the eye of the beholder 🙂 )

  10. lissa10279 says:

    I see what you mean, Cggirl — and that could be the case for some women, but honestly, it wasn’t the case with me.

    And I still don’t think, even intuitively, that any child “needs” four cookies. Or any adult, for that matter. We might WANT it … but we don’t need it.

    But we can agree to disagree 🙂

    • cggirl says:

      Oh i totally agree that a child doesnt NEED those cookies. they probably don’t need even one, at least not physically. I just disagree on whether it’s helpful or appropriate to SAY that to them, I would choose a different approach but that’s just me. Plus it’s easy for me to say, i don’t have and kids yet! hahah.

      Also, i’m definitely glad that for you the clothing advice from your mom was on the positive and helpful side 🙂 I had to wait for the british what-not-to-wear girls to help ME out!!

      • lissa10279 says:

        🙂 Me neither, Cggirl–not yet!

        Yes, it was def. positive. She’s a killer dresser; my mom has always been more stylish than me – knowing what to wear (she dresses her age, but she’s always been on the cutting edge of style/fashion).

  11. Hi, Lissa:

    Thanks so much for the nice words about my book and for recommending it to others. I enjoyed your post — and the comments posted here . I always learn so much from hearing about other people’s experience.

    I completely agree that some people are simply more “hard-wired” to be prone to eating disorders. There are so many outside influences coming at us all the time! As you know, my book doesn’t “blame” moms or try to tell them that it’s their fault if their daughters don’t feel good about their bodies. Instead, I encourage moms to be conscious of the example they’re setting with their words and behavior toward their own bodies — and toward their daughters. As for those outside influences? True, we can’t shut out the world — nor would we want to — but we can be a buffer and we can teach our girls to filter what they see and hear through the values (like good health, positive attitude, feeling good about who you are, etc.) we model for them.

    Keep up the great work :-).

  12. lissa10279 says:

    Thanks so much, Dara! I hope others here will take a look at your book. I shared my copy with a friend; it’s the kind of resource that is going to come in very handy for me when I’m a mom, but one I learned a lot from now.

    I actually did a post today like you did re: the SELF cover shoot; I’d read about it on your blog and some others and just had to spout my mind!

  13. Susan says:

    I could write a book on the effect my mother had on my body image and confidence.

    When I was growing up, she rarely missed an opportunity to made a snide remark about my looks, shape, glasses, you name it, constantly comparing my looks to hers.

    She said my nose made me look like a pig at the waterhole, and that I should sleep witn a peg on my nose to make my nostrils narrow like hers.

    I had a huge gap between my front teeth and begged for braces, but my mother said they “loosened your teeth”. I actually believed that until my early 30s when I finally had my teeth capped. After I had my teeth fixed, my mother pretended not to notice, even though the difference is as plain as the nose on my face! 😉

    Then when I lost 90 pounds, she pretended not to notice that too. It’s coming up to seven years now and she has never once commented on my weight loss.

    And she wonders why I never had children…

    • lissa10279 says:

      Oh Susan … that makes me want to cry — especially because you’re soooo not alone in having a mom like that. We hear stories like this all the time and it’s heart-breaking. I’m glad you haven’t let her lack of attention deter you from being your best self, and if you do have children someday, you can rest assured they’d never endure what you had to endure.

      • Susan says:

        Thanks Lissa. 🙂

        I know it’s not exactly politically correct to bitch about your mother like that, but it’s helpful for me to hear that I’m not alone, and I think it’s important for those of us with similar experiences to be heard too.

        Of course, I now realize that my mother’s put-downs say a lot more about her own insecurities than they do about me, but you don’t understand that when you’re a teenager.

    • Candice says:

      Please, I barely understand the put-downs now. lol It’s never gotten easier for me but I don’t think I ever tried to understand and feel any sympathy previously. I think it does say a lot more about her than me, but it still hurts. We’re so hard-wired for parental approval.

      • lissa10279 says:

        You ladies are right though — it’s important to talk about this because both sides of the coin need to be discussed; it’s good to get each person’s experience out there. You’re DEF not alone.

  14. clairemysko says:

    Dara Chadwick’s work is so important, and I’m really glad her book is out there. Moms need to educate themselves about how their own attitudes about food and weight influence their children.

    I’m not speaking specifically about your mom, Lissa. It sounds like you got a lot of support from her, but I think there can be a real danger in comments like “do you really need that cookie?” You just never know what’s going on in someone’s heart and mind. Even that question, while it might be good-intentioned, can trigger feelings of shame in some.

    I think in order to teach kids how to develop healthy relationships with food and make smart choices, we have to GIVE them choices and allow them, with guidance, to discover their own appetites and preferences (which will change over time, of course). So maybe it’s not, “do you need one more cookie?” but a more neutral “Do you feel full?”

    Removing all sweets from the house or universally deeming certain foods “good” or “bad” can sometimes be a setup for future issues like secret eating or bingeing.

    • Susan says:

      Removing all sweets from the house or universally deeming certain foods “good” or “bad” can sometimes be a setup for future issues like secret eating or bingeing.

      I can see how that could work, but the opposite approach of serving dessert every night, without asking if you want it, and always having lots of baked goods around, certainly contributed to my weight issues as a child.

      I guess the best approach is a careful balance and a lot of tact.

      • clairemysko says:

        Yes, I think the key is encouraging kids to be in tune to their natural appetites. Children should be encouraged to articulate feelings of hunger and fullness, and validated when they do.

  15. lissa10279 says:

    So true, Claire. Actually, Dara uses that very same example in her book about her own daughter reaching for another roll at dinner and her snapping at her, but realizing later that though it’s meant well, but can definitely be perceived as a red flag — a mom putting her issues out there for her daughter’s consumption; however unintentional it may be. Dara learned from that, and I hope to find balance myself when I’m a mom. It’s a fine line to walk.

    And it’s funny you say, “do you feel full?” b/c I do remember a couple times her saying that to me, but I didn’t “get” what full meant then. Even now, it’s a struggle. Emotional “want” vs physical “fullness.”

  16. lara says:

    I admit that I was thinking along the same lines as cggirl as I read this. The feeling I got from “Do you NEED 4 cookies?” reminds me of friends’ watchful eyes if I went for the bread basket. Or of that scene from Little Miss Sunshine — do you know which one I mean? — when Greg Kinnear tells Abigail Breslin that she shouldn’t eat ice cream.

    But at the same time, should parents not parent? Should they not try to make sure that their kids are healthy and happy? When I’m a mom and my kid ditches the veggies and goes for two servings of ice cream, what should I be thinking about? “She must need more dairy in her diet, she’s fine” or “She’s a kid — how the hell does she know what’s best for her?”

    I love intuitive eating and I want to make sure my hypothetical children have great body image and self esteem. But can I trust that they’ll know what’s best for themselves?

    Ugh. I feel so torn…

    • lissa10279 says:

      I think parents do have a role — no child NEEDS four cookies; I think my mom was doing her job as a parent — allowing me to enjoy, but putting some barometers.

      Were it carrots or apple slices and she said, “do you need that?” maybe there would be a different feeling. But sweets are not necessary for survival; they’re a treat, meant to be enjoyed.

      I think there needs to be a middle ground and my point of sharing this story is I think I did grow up in that middle ground environment and still ended up screwed up, whereas my siblings – totally fine!

  17. Susan says:

    I love intuitive eating and I want to make sure my hypothetical children have great body image and self esteem. But can I trust that they’ll know what’s best for themselves?

    Lara – children don’t “intuitively” know what’s best for them. Most of them, if they could eat whatever they want, would live on ice-cream, sweets and so forth. That’s why they need parents.

  18. Rachel says:

    I think Melissa’s experience goes to show there is no set of “magic” trigger words–while cggirl might find Melissa’s mother’s words to be triggers, Melissa did not and that’s what counts. What seems to be more important is the message behind the words, which is part of what I think Melissa is getting at: she never felt like her mother was trying to control her or put her down.

    As Melissa said, it’s more about how we’re “wired” than what is said. After all, who hasn’t said something with good intentions and been totally misinterpreted? We only have so much control over what we communicate–the rest is what the other person hears, and that’s influenced by a variety of factors.

    All a parent can do is his or her best to encourage and support his or her child no matter what. We have to accept that a certain amount will always be beyond our control.

    • lissa10279 says:

      Thanks so much, Rachel. Amen!

      “All a parent can do is his or her best to encourage and support his or her child no matter what. We have to accept that a certain amount will always be beyond our control.”

  19. MizFit says:

    Man this is a post Ive read a bunch and still have no comment but more…not fear…prayer? hope? nerves? 🙂

    Because I know you are right. I look at my daughter and think CRAP I CAN DO THE BEST I CAN AND YOU MAY STILL STRUGGLE AND THAT SUCKS.

    I hear what people are saying about the NEED and I think for me it would 100% depend on the tone with which the word was said.

    that kind of phrase was uttered a lot to my sister and the word NEED was definitely snide and loaded.

    in your instance? It sounds as though it was simply a word. really a question. no strings or underhanded insults.

    would I use that wording? probably not—but that’s because we’re all different in our mama’approach.

    • lissa10279 says:

      I can see how that could be taken that way; I actually had a conversation with my mom about it today (she’d seen the post and the comments and felt awful — second-guessing herself). I ensured her that I still stick to my guns that she was doing what was best for me, but that I could see how to some people, that same comment about “need” could have been taken in a different manner.

      I don’t know what kind of wording I will use when I’m a mom, but I hope to find a delicate balance like I think my mom did. It’s scary because anything can really be taken any which way, depending on the person.

      As they say, perception is reality. And no two people’s perceptions are the same.

  20. missincognegro says:

    Lissa, your story resonated deeply with me. In many respects, my upbringing was similar to yours. Food held no shame or stigma, and I was taught by my mother to like and accept my shape.

    Unfortunately, media images crept into my life, dictating what I should look like, not to mention the stress of daily living – I, too, am a stress eater. Sometimes, even being raised with the most positive attitudes about food, eating, and body image fall away under a more fierce and intense force. Funny how we then spend the rest of our lives trying to reclaim that which, for a variety of reasons, was lost.

  21. quickbooks pos says:

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