Suburban Snapshots

Bleacher Parents

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I stood leaning against the dugout fence for five minutes before saying, "Well, I'm going to get my grocery shopping done while I have the time to myself."

"That was my plan too, but I just enjoy this so much."

Our little league team mom had three kids at practice, at least one of whom I think was actually able to catch and throw the ball. Her kids have done other sports, she listed them off: soccer, karate, a third and maybe fourth I don't remember. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching them play.

I know it's not even really the season yet. The kids are just starting to practice and the age spread on our team is anywhere from 6 to 9 years old. Anna's one of the youngest and after spending the past several months trapped indoors by snowbergs, not the most practiced. Steve and I suffered through cold, windy t-ball practices and games last year watching one kid bat while the other eight made dirt angels. Anna's a strong hitter with the attention span of a summer gnat.

We signed her up for little league because Steve loved it as a kid. I knew he'd been waiting for her to age-in, so when try-outs were announced I sent our registration fee, plus three proofs of residence and her original birth certificate. We'd like her to enjoy sports  but short of that, at least enjoy being in fresh air. It wasn't until she was signed up that we were swept into the seriousness of it all—practice three times a week (both weekend days), compulsory announcing and concession duties, and since I helped talk Steve into managing her team, hours of research spent on practice drills and studying the team roster and regulations, coaching clinics and parent meetings. I don't know if this is normal but I know it's our life until June.

I maintain that Anna performs better when I'm out of sight. She doesn't stop short to make goofy faces at me (literally, she does this at swim lessons and sinks every time) or gesture wildly until I figure out that she's trying to get me to notice her nail polish. I will be at most of her games and some of her practices because I love my kid, but I don't love baseball.

My exposure to sports has been by vicinity—an office a few doors from Fenway Park, a condo between Boston College and Boston University, a professional basketball team at my college gym. I never had to look up a score, I just counted how many times my floor shook. That's how I spectate my sports.

Already bleacher parents at practice are engaged, giving their kids direction, watching each toss and catch, "Hands higher, Marcus!" "Get under it, Sofie!" I'm standing there hoping Anna doesn't get beaned in any permanent teeth by a baseball that she awkwardly misses, that she won't be the bench warmer, that she'll actually enjoy herself. I want to have the confidence these other parents seem to have in their kids, but I'm kind of half-assing that too. I think my daughter is funny and smart and sometimes even athletic, but she's Bambi on ice. She has the legs of a runner, and I anticipate one day they'll take her eyebrows-first into a track hurdle. Maybe she just has to grow into her limbs.

As the season begins I'm sure I'll get more invested, I'll cheer from the bleachers and I'll try to soothe Steve when he stresses over managerial duties. I'll cheerfully work the concession stand and chat with parents who wear team jerseys and don't wish they'd thought to put a nip in their tumblers, and I'll be glad to be outside again.

Until then, you'll find me grocery shopping during practice.

I'm No Physicist But I Enjoy Time and Space

Monday, March 09, 2015

As soon as my husband said, "We're going to Grandma and Grandpa's on Sunday" I had my whole day planned. Without my tiny entourage I'd grocery shop, I'd clean the house and it would stay clean for longer than forty-three seconds, I'd finally wash the bedsheets, and when I was done, I'd buy a coffee and browse somewhere, anywhere. I'd browse so hard.

Anna and I spent Saturday in Boston visiting a college friend in town on business. First though, I sat for an hour at a splurgy high-end salon and waited for her to lose interest in her iPad. She lasted about twenty minutes before wandering over to my hairdresser's chair, standing just a little too far into the aisle, blocking traffic and pillaging the candy bowl. There was nothing bad about her behavior, but there was nothing relaxing about my appointment, either. We walked to meet my girlfriend for lunch, and though I love taking Anna to bigger cities, I don't love trying to keep her safe and out of other pedestrians' paths over and over. I want her to learn these skills, I just don't know when I'll have it in me to patiently teach her. She's been testing my patience a lot lately.

We ate lunch at a deli-slash-market, and though the candy displays, soda fridges, handmade jewelry and dessert case were on our side of the shop, she insisted on meandering out of sight toward towering shelves of wine and beer. I (mostly) stayed seated, calling her back between bites and sentences. She ordered a seven-dollar smoothie from which she sipped about four cents. Lesley and I managed to catch up for a little over an hour and my reuben was on point. On the way home I stopped to see another friend and his toddler. My almost-seven-year-old undid every child safety lock and gate, and made sure the smaller girl knew about the staircase hidden behind a door in her bedroom. Twice.

I'd have had the same Saturday on my own if Steve didn't have to work every weekend this month. When he's not at work working, he's busy trying to finish the room we're moving Anna into. Even today, the visit with his parents wasn't strictly social — their pipes burst and he wanted to help his dad sort things out. He works. I am grateful. But I didn't have time Saturday alone, and I didn't have time on my own last weekend. I bring Anna almost everywhere I go because Steve needs to get things done on weekends. She loves hanging out with me and for the most part, she's an excellent sidekick.

The prospect of them being away together for at least a few hours on a Sunday filled me with visions of all the amazing things I could do — change the bedding, shop at Trader Joe's instead of the regular grocery store, drop off our overflowing box of Goodwill donations, listen to really, really explicit hip hop — glamorous and extravagant things. So when Steve added an hour before leaving, "This is a family trip" I took a cue from Anna and stomped and pouted and probably cried a little. Steve took a cue from every fed-up 80s mom ever and left without me. I felt guilty until my house was spotless and my bed was fresh, and the sample lady at Trader Joe's had wine and cheese and the kid with the mini-cart ramming into ankles wasn't mine.

Balancing is hard. I can't tell my husband to not work because I need "me time." Or I could, but I'd feel like a jerk being like, "I see you're covered head to toe with insulation and stuff but I really need to get out of here for a few hours." I'm aware that for every minute I just want her away from me there will be a thousand when I'll wish she would be closer. (It's worth noting that the first three-quarters of this entry were written to a soundtrack of "You Are the Meanest Mom You Never Let Me Do Anything!" ©Every Kid Ever)

I don't know if there's a solution. Steve and I are good about talking, but we're mismatched in our needs to be "out." I work from home, I am rarely elsewhere. I don't get to come home from work, and though I anticipate his arrival each day like a puppy at the door, I just as often knock him flat in my rush to get out of the house after eight, twelve, twenty-four hours.

I love hanging out with these people, but I'm better at it when I get time to myself.

Tundra Parenting

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Linds, I would rather spend a hundred bucks a day and be out of the house than spend one more breath telling Anna to put her goddamned skateboard away."

That's what I said to my friend who asked if taking Anna on hotel overnights was getting pricey. I have a limited supply of spending money but I also have a limited supply of sanity, and one is a lot harder to replenish.

The snow itself hasn't bothered me this winter. It's everywhere, it's getting dirty, it won't stop. I hold my breath backing out of the driveway between towering banks. The repercussions of the snow are killing us all. Steve has been at work almost constantly for what feels like a month. I don't camp, but I've learned to keep the home fires burning (literally), I can use the pull-start on the snowblower, and am prepared to cook dinner even under the threat of power outages. I like showing Anna that these things can usually be handled, that Daddy's not the only one who knows his way around the power equipment. I enjoy the camaraderie among neighbors that can only exist under circumstances like the ones we've had—I'll trade you a roof rake for a six-pack and hey, park yourself on my snow couch and have one with me.

As the snow leads to school closures things get more complicated. I still have to work, and the driveway has to get cleared and the fire stoked and dinner cooked, I can't entertain the girl who's standing behind me in pajamas during a video conference smiling at my co-workers, elbow-deep in a bag of Goldfish. Steve can't come home, and when he is home he has to sleep, and when he's not sleeping he has to clear the snow from the roof, build a path through the yard for our dogs, figure out if he can defrost the exhaust fan in the bathroom. He's working hard and I'm working hard and I can't ask him to do more, though the cheese that's burnt on the pan he used to make nachos waits in the sink, threatening to undo me. I'm not a neat freak by any stretch, but I prefer order in confinement.

The messes never end. We are all cooped up; piles of blankets and pillows from middle-of-the-night comings and goings sit on the couch, muddy boots block the back door from opening, sand and splinters leave trails everywhere, dishes linger, recycling overtakes my countertop, Anna entertains herself with anything she can reach, and I can't spend my day reminding her to pick up one before taking out the next just as I can only ask Steve to wash his nacho pan so many times before the sound of my voice gets on my own last nerve. I don't have the stamina to sit through another episode of Liv & Maddie or drag a kid who insists she doesn't need a coat through a crowded grocery store.

We've been given six feet of snow and brutal cold, and only these last few days have seen consistent sunshine. So we escape. Instead of clenching my teeth and sweeping four times a day, we find a cheap hotel with a pool, and Anna and I leave. When I'm not watching her indiscriminately scatter her belongings around the house or badgering her to eat something with an iota of nutrition, when we're bobbing in a hot tub or watching bad cable on a hotel bed, things are just easier. I guess that's obvious. Both of our attitudes improve, the scenery is different, the soap smells nicer, even Goldfish taste better from cups I don't have to wash. Steve misses having us around, but he also needs the space to work on things at home.

This is how we've been getting by lately. I know there are worse circumstances and better parenting. Right now I'm just trying to make it to her April vacation.

Everybody's Got Their Something

Friday, January 30, 2015

When Anna was two I put her down on the sand of a lake and watched her spiral into uncontrollable hysterics trying to collect all the toys at the water's edge and bring them farther into shore. We stayed only a few minutes and I carried her sticky, trembling body back to the car. When she was three and we put her pop-up tent in our yard on a breezy day, we couldn't reassure her that it wouldn't fly away, and the tent found its new home in our living room. At four, she had a fire drill in school and for weeks insisted her bedroom door be closed at night because the fear of her toys going up in flames overtook her fear of the dark. At five, a friend told her that licking a pencil could be fatal, and Anna spent the next several weeks confirming that the crayons, Play Doh and paints she touched each day were safe. At six, I've seen most of these fears fade but there are new ones. There always seem to be new ones: that our dog will get loose and be run over, that I'll leave her alone. If I'm working quietly in another room I'll inevitably hear a timid little, "Mama?" from wherever she is. Just checking.

Anna has her dad's build, his odd, flat toenails and beautiful olive skin. She has my chestnut hair and the profile I love on her but always hated on myself. These are the obvious traits, the ones that strangers notice when we're out together, when grocery store clerks comment on how alike we are, or how she'll be tall like Steve and me. She's outgoing, social, she has two best friends and is always, always begging for playdates. She puts on dances and when we have company, she sets out snacks and "cocktails" and wears her fanciest dress-up. She lives to make people laugh.

And sometimes she's anxious. Steve and I both have tendencies, though he's more practical in his worry, constantly thinking about and creating new home improvement projects, mentally tallying our bills and estimating what's in the checking account. The way Anna worries is all mine—it's irrational and sometimes it's relentless. I've got twenty years of experience dealing with it, taming it, working on it, and she's still so new. I have more patience with it than Steve does, but even still I find myself wanting to beg her, Why can't you just believe me when I tell you it's going to be okay? Why can't you just stop and let ME worry about this? 

Most days are fine; she's happy, fresh, she bounces around singing and asking for snacks she won't eat, and Facetiming her best friends about boys. But sometimes when we're doing something new, going somewhere unusual, she worries about too-dark clouds, smokestacks that look like fires, she doesn't like me to be away from her. This last one started over the summer and it took me far too long to realize the impact of losing Sarah—the mother of one of her best friends, a woman she saw right across the street, every day—had on her. It was an afternoon I felt crappy and she came to my spot on the couch and asked, "Mama, are you sick like Sarah?" She smiled, but I could see that little bit of worry in her.

Her anxiety is helping me understand the ways I have not been kind to myself about my own. I'd never tell her to Stop being so stupid and crazy and pull it together, which is my standard self-coaching speech when my thoughts race into catastrophe. I also understand that there's usually no reassurance that her little brain can't unravel.

Her pediatrician recommended a couple of books for her to read and techniques for us to practice with her. She has worry dolls, and most nights before bed she gets "worry time" though I suspect now this is a stall tactic. We're balancing things, letting her know she's just a regular kid with parents who love her and friends who adore her, trying to play down the role anxiety has in what she's made of, but understanding that it sometimes needs attention from us all.

This is my daughter. None of them are simple creatures, and of course I wish this wasn't her burden. Of course I sometimes feel the burning guilt of owning the bullshit genetics I passed onto her. Of course I hope that she'll grow out of at least parts of it. Of course I'll love her through every day, even the ones when the sky is falling. Of course I'll teach her that she can catch it.

Could You Be Suffering From a Mom Cold?

Monday, January 12, 2015

I called in sick today. It's always tricky business when you work full-time from home, but sometimes I just don't have it in me to respond coherently to emails and sit upright during conference calls. It was a weekend of near constant battles with the first-grader; of being ignored when I asked her to do something and ignored when I asked her not to do something, of not being thanked for brunch with friends or the six-hour playdate that followed. I was exhausted and hoping to fend off whatever my husband's been hacking up like creating specimen bacteria is his job.

So naturally, I cleaned the whole house. I couldn't relax in the mess but things escalated and before I knew it I was folded over on myself behind the toilet. This is a Mom Cold. Scroll to find out if your symptoms could mean you've also suffered from a Mom Cold.

Thanks to Abigail Thompson for use of her perfect photo.

Anna at My Life and Kids

Suzanne at Toulouse & Tonic

Robyn at Hollow Tree Ventures

Andrea at The Underachiever's Guide to Being a Domestic Goddess

Ashley at It's Fitting

Paige at There's More Where That Came From

Kerry at House Talk'n

Jessica at Four Plus an Angel

Ellen at Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms (This mom was the only doctor on call at the time, no infants were harmed in the making of this graphic.)



Love in the Outside World

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

God, love is a mess. Right? You spend your teens wishing you were old enough to really understand it, (or if you're me, hoping to have a shot at it at all, truly unable to imagine a day will come when the person you like actually likes you back. I remember how implausible that seemed and how miraculous when it finally happened. I'm what John Hughes movies are made of.) your twenties having to sort through options that may or may not be or have the potential to become love, your thirties feeling like you finally have it pretty well worked out, and eternity, I think, questioning all of your assumptions.

Two weeks ago I found Anna's diary. Of course I read it, she's six, she lives in my  house, I bought it for her. Dibs. There were several pages filled with detailed drawings of her name, bubble hearts, and the name of a boy she "loves" who I'll call Kai. Amazingly enough, there's not actually a Kai in her grade so one day when she finds this entry she can't accuse me of blowing up her spot. Or maybe one day I'll read this at Anna and "Kai's" wedding, and everyone will laugh, I'll cry into my champagne and then insist she dance with me to a sentimental but upbeat tearjerker. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Prior to finding this diary I had no inkling my daughter even knew about the possibility of boys as anything other than circle-time interrupters and dodge ball villains. She only ever mentioned James because he has to take lots of "breaks" during class, and Ethan, who farts. Suddenly her whole wide heart was there in glitter ink, complete with illustrations of the most innocent and adorable variety and a note about who Kai's crush is. Anna is not Kai's crush, but she's thrilled that it's one of her best friends. You don't consider this a problem when you're six.

Anna spent an hour yesterday on Facetime with another of her best friends, but they don't actually look at each other during their conversations, instead they talk while texting the secrets they know I'll overhear. I'd share a thread with you but first of all, the sweetness might launch candy rainbow unicorns into being and secondly, it would give up this boy's real name. Let's pretend one of those reasons was "I respect my daughter's privacy" because that makes me sound like a better person.

She doesn't talk to me about Kai, and becomes visibly embarrassed when I mention him. Let me restate that she is not yet seven, and also that I am probably way under-qualified to guide her through the next many years of love stories. I'm full of joy and dread at the potential of all of this; last week we spent the morning with my friend and her 3rd grade son, and I found myself hoping as he and Anna played together in her room that she wouldn't decide to have a crush on him and weird everything up between them.

Do I have to try and talk to her about boys? I don't know how to ask without getting a too-sophisticated skeptical glance in return. Is there a pause button on this? It's just, oh there is so much time to be screwed up about love and boys, I guess I just wish she'd give herself a few more years of oblivious ease.

The love she's known until now has been simple and uncomplicated. It's been freely given and received with no entanglements, no consequences, no stipulations. The love she's beginning to enter into is loaded with all of those things plus some, and there are so many years of complicated before the spectacular. Even then, it's still a little complicated, isn't it?

My Nana Would Not Suggest Grapefruiting

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Women, friends, wives: I'm about to level with you. I'm going to tear a page from my Nana's playbook and tell you how to please your man. This does not in any way require you to purchase a grapefruit but go for yours if that's your thing (I'll want a review.)

Y'all have to stop re-loading the dishwasher and re-folding the damn laundry. Girl. Your husband thinks he's doing something pleasing to you, and when you come and un-do it like that he's left feeling incompetent and unappreciated. Now don't kiss his ass for folding a few hand towels, but hold on the criticism or wait until he's out of the house to wash everything again with the right fabric softener. I die a little inside when Steve inevitably holds up something of mine that went through the dryer, but you know what? I probably shouldn't have tossed it into the hamper like a lazy twat.

The same goes for raising your kids together. Listen, Steve does plenty of things in ways I never would. We were parented differently and it affects how we each handle Anna. Obviously I'm right in my criticism 100% of the time, but I still let him do his thing. Sometimes this means biting my tongue bloody to keep myself from contradicting him. If your child is not in peril, if your husband isn't being an enormous jerk, if the real issue is that he's not doing it the way you'd do it, take a breath. Let him handle it. If something he does really bothers you, bring it up later, directly. I find, "She was a real pill today, I just think you might have been a little harsh" works better than, "Why not send her to Guantanamo next time?" or "Were you raised in an Eastern Bloc orphanage?"

You have to let your man be a man. I once reprimanded a smart, hilarious blogger friend who "couldn't leave the house" because her husband had taken over kid duty and naturally, there was utter mutiny. I reminded her that she married an adult, that he helped father these children, and regardless of having two kids clawing at him like an open car window on a chimp safari, he was totally capable of managing them in her absence. So she got to go out and he was left to feel capable and needed. I assume she came home buzzed and got lucky.

A few weeks ago Steve and I were arguing about money or he was nagging me about how hard I hit the brakes or some crap and I said, "Listen, when you want to criticize something, think about whether it'll achieve any result other than pissing me off." We all choose parenting battles, if we didn't we'd be correcting our kids constantly and pouring vodka in their our Cheerios. This applies to marriage too—for today I'll ignore the shirts he left on the dining room table because I want to talk to him about his parenting grenades.

I realize I'm coming from a specific set of circumstances: one kid, a hard-working husband, and a sense of humor to temper my frustrations, but I've definitely done things to make Steve feel less like a million bucks and more like the sticky Canadian dime that lives at the bottom of my purse. I'm sure that sometimes I still do; marriage has a huge learning curve. I also know that you all are pretty spectacular and probably not married to assholes. Your men are capable of work and their work—like yours—deserves appreciation.

Just like kids, I believe adults try to live up to the best you see in them. Because of kids, couples sometimes have trouble just seeing each other at all. We can expect more from our spouses and show that we believe they can handle it. Then maybe, maybe the grapefruit.