Suburban Snapshots

Monday, Party of Three

Monday, October 13, 2014

This entry is part of the Monday Mornings photo series Mommy Shorts created in partnership with Allstate, a company that is dedicated to helping families live the Good Life. You might not consider rushing kids out the door while choking down a half-frozen toaster waffle the Good Life, but I know you'll still find beauty in these morning routines.

In my twenties, I'd get out of bed at 8:00 a.m. and be out the door by 8:30. Remember those days? When you only had you to get ready and whatever, this thirty-cent frozen burrito will make a fine lunch. In my twenties I wore make-up and drank terrible office coffee. I'd take a twenty-minute train ride full of commuter germs to my office next to Fenway Park. On good days I didn't have to sidestep vomit or rats. In my twenties my built-in workout was a half-mile walk and third-floor cubicle.

Now I'm up by 6:30 most days and still rushing to get out of the house two full hours later. And I don't even bother with make-up anymore. I commute to my dining room table, but in between I've got to jockey for elbow space in my kitchen while my husband and I make lunches. I time my shower around his schedule knowing that regardless of when I climb in, my six-year-old will suddenly lose interest in the iPad and urgently need to pee. Now my built-in workout is the walk and gab-session with a pack of neighborhood moms to and from school each day. We grab our coffees and our kids and spend five blocks hurrying them up while wishing we had a few more minutes to talk before work kicks in. It's all very suburban and I wouldn't trade it for all the uncovered coughs and urban wildlife of my city commute.

I'm not the mom who's going to tell you to cherish every moment. You spend twenty precious moments each morning just begging someone to get their socks on, don't you? I don't know that I'll look back and miss yelling, "Tootsie Rolls are not breakfast!" but I know these elementary days are fleeting. This week I've noticed that Anna's too tall for almost all of her pants, and her face...there's something different. It's longer, more defined — she's a real kid. Still, I hope to look back at these photos someday and wonder when she was ever so small.

Here's a peek into my Monday. I shot these with the help of a self-timer and a spare husband (thanks Josh). Thanks to Mommy Shorts for including me in this series, it's always nice to think like a photographer again.

The morning iPad standoff. This is Steve's fancy man-robe. He's not psyched about this photo
Let's not talk about this room or the fringe
God bless her, she still believes my morning Facebook check is "work"
Preparing to pack her all-carbohydrate lunch
There is one cheese stick under all that starch
The shoe tying, it's a miracle
Her friends want to know why she's still in a "baby seat"
We were out of eggs and half and half, because Monday
The Kid Parade
The Mom Parade
Back at the office

Fall Stuff I Like
No Pumpkin Anything Edition

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This post is not sponsored, it's just fall, and each season I find myself changing wardrobes and learning to love new things (tights) and let go of others (shaving). Here's what I like lately — some of them are splurges but I never splurge unless: It will match everything else I own/I will wear, use or carry it almost daily/I can hide it from Steve.

1. Rent the Runway ($30-$300) I've rented two dresses and joined the Pro program because it saved me $50 on my anniversary rental. Granted, I could easily buy a nice frock or two at Marshalls for what it costs to rent one (mine were about $100), but I've never worn dresses that felt so amazing on my body. The customer service is excellent despite the lack of a published phone number. My emails are always met with a pleasant response and if needed, a quick reconciliation. I'm making up excuses to rent dresses now.

2. American Apparel leggings ($28-$38) I am not a small person, and I mean that (See below. That's me with a fully-grown adult man.) I'm almost six-feet tall and roughly 35-30-46. Dat azz makes it hard for me to find things like tights, undies, bikini bottoms (sub-shout-out to Athleta's Full Tide bottom), and leggings that fit well, don't bind and are long enough. I take an XL in these  and they are so comfy, they don't slide down, they haven't yet stretched out, and compared to the $12 pair I bought from Old Navy that tore in two wears and were capri-length on me, worth their price. I have both winter-weight and jersey versions and they are constantly on laundry rotation. These are a key part of my fall/winter Mom Uniform.

3. Pack-It lunch bag ($20) A friend recommended these to me when Anna's camp lunch kept getting hot during the day, and my daughter who eats exactly two food items would come home with most of her lunch intact because, "It got mushy." Her tin lunchbox felt like an armpit. You've got to remember to put the Pack It overnight in the freezer and you have to wash it by hand when it comes home full of grass clippings and stained with let's-not-even-ask, but it does what it says and keeps her lunch cool for hours. They also have excellent customer service.

4. Timolino tumbler ($25, I know, but read) I googled "best travel mug" and this was America's Test Kitchen's top pick. So I bought one for Steve, promptly filled it each morning before he could ("Why does my tea mug smell like coffee?" — Steve), and bought a second because he kept sulking at me. I am not lying when I tell you that I can fill this with coffee at 8 a.m. and still have a warm sip in the bottom at 3 p.m. I wouldn't close the lid and toss it full into a briefcase, but I can close the lid and shake it to mix the cream up without so much as a drop escaping. It's also fun to watch the people in line next to me shield themselves when I do that. The mouth hole fits a straw for cold drinks. I donated all my other travel mugs to Goodwill because I am a true philanthropist.

5. Hue Denier tights ($14) Like the AA leggings, these stay in place, and they're soft and cozy without being binding (as in, I can wear them without feeling like I should be strung up in a Little Italy shop window). They have a cotton crotch so Anna can watch me get dressed and then yell that I'm gross for not wearing undies, and probably tell her friends over lunch that her gross mom doesn't wear undies, and then I notice the principal looking at me disapprovingly or maybe I'm imagining that part.

6. This soup recipe ($10) Just make it, adjust the spiciness to your liking. You can find the paste in the ethnic section of almost any grocery store. You can even use veggie broth and get rid of the chicken for a vegan version that is just as good as the original. Give it to people you might need to help you move one day.

Lastly, there's a pair of knee-high, low-heeled black boots on my list, but I don't know how much I truly love them because I have to wait for Steve to do something REALLY dumb before I can justify buying them. I'll keep you posted. What are you guys into these days?

Ten Years and a Hundred Yeses

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You'll think about leaving when you can't stand his tone of voice or his running critique of your driving. You'll fantasize about what it might feel like to spend money without having to justify every purchase. You will wonder why he didn't comment on how obviously fantastic you look today. You'll want to smother him for snoring and leaving sealed lunch containers in the sink, and you'll calculate how many years you have left until the sound of his cereal crunching drives you criminally insane. You might imagine warming yourself by the fire you'll kindle with the hundreds of piles of papers and receipts he deposits all over the house. You dream of spending a full day in winter with the thermostat cranked into the seventies.

Still, you hug him while he folds the laundry and ogle him when he gets out of the shower. You tell him to take care on his motorcycle and schedule his doctor appointments. You cook his favorite food and buy the good beer, and you try to remember to get your wet towels off the bed before he gets home. You're secretly proud that he still gets carded even as you're called "ma'am," and not as secretly take some credit for how well he's aging. Even though you might never agree on a budget you try to spend less, and he learns that splurges are a necessary part of living. Each day without trying, you appreciate something about him — that he gets up early and works hard, that when he hears a tiny voice call for Daddy at 2 a.m., he goes, that he listens to you tell the same story ten ways to fifteen different friends without comment. That he understands you're just a little crazy sometimes.

Your first "yes" is the one that gets cake and a champagne toast, but the truth about marriage is that you will decide over and over again to say yes. Yes when it's not brand new anymore. Yes when the frozen slice of cake is long gone and the forks are tarnished. Yes when you're flat broke and on each other's last nerve. Yes when you've been hurt. Yes when the work never seems equal. Yes when all you want is space. Yes when there is no resolution. That early yes is important. It gets you here, and this place is really good. But there's devotion in these later yeses, there's time and joy and disappointment, there's knowing that marriage is a choice you make again and again.

Today marks ten years of yeses, and and I'd repeat every one.

The Benefits of Kvetching
About Your Husband

Monday, September 08, 2014

Every six months or so, the things that irk me about my husband all rear up at once and I spend a couple of weeks dwelling on them, scrutinizing them, and being generally aggravated. It's not fair, and I do my best to not pick a fight each time I feel like he's missed an opportunity to show me affection or pay me a compliment. I've known for fifteen years that this isn't how he shows love, yet I still get frustrated because for me these are simple gestures. Similarly, my husband would have sex ten times a week and there's not enough Red Bull in the world for me to manufacture that kind of energy.

When I post about Steve publicly, what I say is true. He's an involved dad, he does all our laundry and cleans out the shower drain, he lets me get my way most of the time (even when it means I have to sit through his trademarked lecture on budgeting like I don't know it verbatim), and he is always trying to improve himself and our lives. This is where his love is.

But when I post about Steve privately, that's true too. Or it's true under the influence of my frustration. I share with close friends or in private Facebook groups, or both if I feel like his current offense/mood/comments warrant a larger opinion pool.

Inevitably I feel a little bad about the rant minutes after it's out, I soften and point out that I know I'm lucky, that I have a hard-working, loyal husband who looks great holding a guitar. This is one benefit of oversharing — saying the things somewhere helps me get perspective on them. The other benefit is that always someone will want to make me feel better by offering a story about their own spouse, and wow, husbands.

Among my confidants there are no perfect matches, no one completing anyone else. It's revealing to see what we've each decided we can live with. There are compromises and frustrations and things that will never, ever be resolved. So I look at my gripes against Steve and my friends' gripes against their own husbands and I realize I've done pretty well. It's not because these other spouses are horrible, I know them to be mostly great. It's just that their not-so-great parts aren't things I could easily live with, and probably Steve's not-so-great parts aren't things some of my friends could live with.

Eventually my sour mood passes, stories about friends' husbands remind me of how little I tolerate from my own, and while "Oh God it could be so much worse" is no reason to jump at a marriage proposal, after ten years, sometimes it's just the reminder you need.

Self-Preservation and the
Oblivious Grade Schooler

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This isn't going to be a sweet, poignant piece about watching kids grow, finding their own way in the world, every day leaving us more and more. No. This is going to be me, a fairly new parent, asking you, who've parented longer than my six years, when I can reasonably expect my kid to stop being so perilously oblivious to her surroundings. At what point do you think I'll be able to say, even twelve times instead of sixty-thousand, "Stay to the side. Watch for that intersection. Here comes a giant, loud, bright yellow school bus," and have her actually snap to attention? Because this week's experiment with riding a quarter blessed mile to school has ended only with multiple new grays and an escalating alcohol dependency.

"It was so much better in the 80s" nostalgia was fresh in my head after some Facebook quiz or other about Alf or Shrinky Dinks or some shit that I was probably too poor to have had anyway. "Let them free range, give them space, parents today are so overprotective." So I did, I let her ride her bike to school on Wednesday, and despite the thirty new gray hairs and hoarse voice, again on Thursday. She wore a very nowadays helmet and I did my best to hem her in against the grass for the trip from our driveway to the bike racks.

"HIIIII HANNAAHHHHH!!" she shouted gleefully as she veered into my right ankle. "WAIT UP EMMMIEEEEEE!" she giggled and sped ahead of me while swerving into the middle of the road. She doesn't think to look behind her as she maneuvers around parked cars and pot holes, she steers wobbly and one-handed with every wave, she is always, always looking anywhere but where she's going.

I don't have the constitution for this.

Our ride home Thursday afternoon wasn't the nag fest of our morning trip into school. I only corrected her when she drifted toward a minivan out of which dangled the arm of a classmate, flapping a disembodied good-bye. That night when she asked to ride with another girl up the short street directly across from the driveway where I was sitting with a friend I said, go ahead, kid — I'm no coddling, overprotective mom! I am all kinds of chill. After all, I was raised in the 80s.

I watched Anna and Katie ride up the small hill while my friend Steph talked into the side of my face. The girls looped around at the top, and then Anna stood on her pedals and started pumping her hardest back down toward us. She's forgetting she has to cross a street to get back over here, I knew. I bleeping knew. Steph knew too, and then we both saw headlights. I'm not sure who stood first or who yelled "STOP ANNA" loudest, but there we both were, flailing in the driveway, watching this kid head straight for a car.

Anna stopped after far too much shouting. The driver must have seen Steph and me standing there or he saw the girls on their bikes, and I don't know what it is that causes your immediate reaction to be, "Oh thank God she's safe NOW COME HERE AND LET ME THROTTLE YOU," but I could barely speak between clenched teeth as I told her she was done riding her bike for the entire long weekend. D-O-N-E done.

I didn't touch her or even yell, but she read me. She rode an atom's width from the curb on our trip home, looked straight ahead, listened to my direction. But for how long? Just a week earlier she'd done the same thing on foot, darting into a busy street when she spotted friends on the opposite side. We spend so much energy doing everything we can to keep our kids safe and alive, can't they throw us a goddamn bone once in a while?

I remember being a kid and doing dumb things. Sometimes I still do dumb things, but I also spend a lot of time trying to avoid dying. I just need a little confidence that some day Anna will work harder toward self-preservation. I need someone with older kids to tell me that eventually they at least become somewhat more aware of their surroundings, that they can understand peril without living in fear of their own mortality. And I need a sponsor, because if this keeps up much longer I'm going to have to start going to AA meetings.

A Million Brilliant Things

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

I was elbow-deep in the sink when my girlfriend texted me something about her son Jesse. Reading his name reminded me of the Carly Simon song. The memory makes me smile the way I do whenever music reminds me of my mom. I used to ask Mom the meanings to lyrics in the songs she'd sing along to: Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Paul Simon. Even now I won't change the station when "Maggie Mae" comes on or "Me and Julio," no matter how my own daughter protests. My mom is 63 now, and I still have all these memories from back when she was the taller of us.

In June, when we knew that my friend Sarah wasn't going to get the miracle she deserved, that she wasn't going to pull through just this one more time, there were too many emotions to manage. Her daughter would come to play on the afternoons Anna and I were home and she has so much of Sarah in her — in the funny side-eye she'd give me when I said something silly, in her inflection when asking for more lemonade. Sarah had an abundance of patience and love for her kids, even on her bad days, even when she spent most of her time at different appointments, even when she couldn't be out of bed for very long. She was their mother in every molecule. She was a million brilliant things in her life, but what I saw from a house away, on our walks to school, at birthday and Halloween parties, was how much she belonged to them.

It's been over a month that Sarah's been gone, which seems impossible. These past weeks I've seen her walking around the block or at the farmers market, where she would usually be, where she still should be. I've almost texted her pictures of our girls playing together. I've picked up my phone and read through our old conversations; I welcome these ghosts.

Does Anna want to come over?
Feel like going for a walk?
I'm sorry you're in pain today.

The day before she died I went in to visit her. It was sacred and a privilege — her family might not know how I appreciated their welcome. The people who'd known her all her life surrounded her, serenaded her, and fortified her with all the love she gave, they replenished what her illness had cost her until she and her pain could finally part.

When I was leaning over the sink singing "Jesse" and thinking of my mom, I thought of Sarah. I wondered what her kids will remember when they're loading a dishwasher or pumping gas sometime in twenty or thirty years. I wonder how much will stay hard kilned, and what will soften and change shape with time. I wonder whether her absence will firm their memories. I wonder about all the ways they're already holding onto her.

Thirty-four years later I remember my mom explaining "Jesse" to me, and I know that in the time she was here with them, Sarah gave her kids a million brilliant things to remember her by, bright and living.

The Only Time My Husband Has
Stopped at Just One

The post you're looking for isn't here. I don't mean to send you away, it's just that I've been uninspired for so long and this blog has been left vacant for weeks, and I've finally churned out more than a two-sentence Facebook update that I thought you might enjoy. I also didn't want to be a douche and not link over to Dad and Buried's website, because that's just really bad blog etiquette.

So, you're one more measly little click or tap of the finger from reading all my selfish reasons (spoiler alert: sex, money and sleep) for having just one child on purpose. Here's the link!

Stop Telling People You Love Them

Friday, June 27, 2014

Don't tell someone you love them. They already know. They know because you talk to them or write, you send a card on their birthday. They know because you show up at their house, or because they're your mother or sister. Life is gorgeous and cruel and fragile, and we hear all the time, "Tell the people you love how you feel." But don't tell them you love them, that's for amateurs. "I love you" is the new "good bye" after a hurried conversation during your commute. Don't tell someone you love them.

Tell your mom how her homemade sauce always makes you feel like you know where you ought to be in the world. Tell her how much happiness you take in the way she loves your daughter, and that it makes you miss the days when you were small and she could love you in these same, unencumbered ways. Tell her you're trying to give your daughter the same effortless love so that she'll grow up wrapped in memories like security blankets. Tell your husband that every day you're amazed by how hard he works, that everything you enjoy in your home has his handprints on it, that your daughter is braver because of what he's taught her, and more beautiful for his long limbs and almond eyes.

Don't tell someone you love them. Tell your grandmother that you marvel at all she's endured, and that her resilience has always been something you aspire to. Tell her you'll make her famous, six-day sauerbraten recipe, and then really make it. Tell your children that they can do anything, ignoring the resigned, cynical voice in you that's decided it knows better. Tell them they're good people and loyal friends until they believe it. Tell your father that sometimes when you call to ask about car repairs, mostly you just wanted to talk. Thank your sisters for seeing you through what terrified you and for being your favorite and easiest source of laughter.

Tell your good friends that they're the best thing to happen to you since your sisters. Give them your time and a room in your heart. Value old loves for how they've changed you, their lessons and kisses and everything of theirs that lives in how you've loved since.

Don't tell someone you love them, tell them why they matter. Tell them they're alive in every part of you. Don't tell someone you love them, because life is gorgeous and cruel and fragile, and they deserve to know the ways that they'll live forever.