Suburban Snapshots

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.

I Hope I Didn't Accidentally Emasculate You

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sometimes I'm not my best. Sometimes I'm careless, I don't use common sense, I've gone as far as being pretty shitty. But in context, on the whole, I think I'm good. I think I'm a friend you'd like to have. I'll bring you soup when you're sick, I'll come over when you're upset and you tell me not to bother, I'll watch your kids in a pinch and I won't judge your husband after you tell me for an hour straight what an asshole he was to you when work was stressing him out.

Sometimes my husband is careless too. Sometimes he screws up, doesn't use common sense, and while I can't say he's ever been truly shitty, at times he's really annoying. Because I'm a humorist, well, I turn all of this into jokes. And in between joking about Steve, I tell you about the time I ambushed him with four foster puppies, or volunteered him to help autistic kids learn to surf, and how he did it all with barely an eyeroll. How ultimately, he helped like he always does. The way a man does.

What Steve understands is that when I take a crack at him for the benefit of thousands of people on the Internet, it's because that's what I do. It's part of my life online. He deals with not having the opportunity for a "his side," and accepts that I elaborate and exaggerate for the sake of the gag. He knows that he's still going to get lucky later and that four posts from now he'll be my hero again.

It's this last part that I wish the men who occasionally stumble on a status or post of mine would get the hang of. Invariably when I make even an innocuous swipe at Steve or husbands, a man whose name I don't recognize appears in the comments. He might assume that I'm generalizing the whole of the male population, perpetuating the stereotype of the hapless husband and his exasperated wife. It's clear from his comment that he was looking to feel dismissed and persecuted, that he's read too much into my update, and that he wandered in from someone else's "Like."

This guy. I can always count on some version of him. I've stopped replying (mostly) because his agenda is set. I'd have an easier time getting the six-year-old to understand the value of diversifying her diet than defending myself to a white, middle-class, 21st century American man with oppression issues. And I'm certainly not going to paint myself or Steve as flawless parental specimens to avoid offending someone — you can all go read Goop if that's what you're into.

There are dad and mom bloggers rallying for the portrayal of fathers as competent, caring, involved parents. They do a great job of it and they're clearly being heard — yesterday I saw an ad for laundry detergent where the dad was in charge and there wasn't even a punchline, just a dad folding the wash and taking care of his kids. And it's my guess that the people working to update old notions of fatherhood are too busy being awesome to bother feeling offended by dishwasher innuendo on Facebook.

Giveaway: Lobster Pot Pie from
The Kennebunk Inn, Like Whoa

Monday, June 09, 2014

This is a sponsored post and giveaway in conjunction with BlogU. Don't leave, there's lobster pot pie in it for you. Photos courtesy of The Kennebunk Inn. This contest is now closed. Congrats, winner!

I'd asked Alicia from Naps Happen about 400 times, "Remind me where that lobster pot pie is that you always rave about?" As many times as she told me, I'd plan to visit The Kennebunk Inn but would get busy with other things, forget to go, or change plans. When Alicia's friend Shanna, who co-owns the inn and its restaurant with her husband Brian, signed on for a BlogU sponsorship, I somehow convinced them that their deal should include letting Steve and me spend a night and eat their food.

So back in March we dropped our kid with my mom and checked into a bright, welcoming room. Then we sat there staring at each other for an hour because it takes us time to adjust to not having someone relentlessly demanding things from us.

Eventually Steve decided to take a shower and I sprawled out and did my most favorite hotel thing — I fell asleep watching crappy cable shows because this girl knows how to party.

Here's the travel review stuff you want to know about our stay: the room was bright, clean, and comfortable, except in the morning, when it was dark, a mess, and comfortable because our stuff was everywhere and we had the blinds set to "I'm sleeping past seven if it kills me." There was a house-made banana bread and bottled water waiting for us on arrival. The building is located two doors down from my favorite area bagel place and near dozens of shops (the kind where they spell it "shoppe" and you die of quaintness). It's beautiful, historic, and very New England. I got lost in its halls at least twice even before I'd had any of the restaurant's delicious cocktails. Everyone who answered my phone calls and dealt with me in person was helpful and courteous, even as I clumsily bumbled through the explanation of why I was there, "Hi, I'm, um, Brenna? I uh, blog? I'm writing about the inn and restaurant and um, I'm here for free?" I felt like I was getting away with something the entire time.

Academe is the name of the inn's street-level restaurant. When I told a local friend we'd be staying the night she nearly swooned telling me how much she and her husband love the place. Shanna and Brian are both hands-on in the kitchen (and highly accomplished chefs in general; find them pretty much everywhere). Their staff can tell you anything you need to know about the menu, including what kind of drink you're in the mood for. I want to rave about my meal because it was truly delicious, but I stole Steve's plate halfway through dinner (in the interest of writing a well-rounded review, obviously) and can't actually recall what I ate except that it was seafood and it was cooked to perfection. I do remember that the way I shoveled homemade rigatoni with lamb ragu into my mouth was probably considered public lewdness.

If you're anywhere near Kennebunk or considering a visit, well, summer has finally freaking arrived here in the beautiful north and you know we kick ass at fall. Get yourself to the inn, tell Shanna I sent you, and be sure to order the dish they're famous for, the Maine Lobster Pot Pie. Would Oprah lie to you?

If you can't get to Maine, sad trombone, but you can enter here to win a lobster pot pie shipped right to your house (preferably when no one else is around so you don't have to share). Comment below just once with the name of your favorite summer spot. The winner will be picked at random on June 13th, 2014.