Suburban Snapshots

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.

How Nerds Do The Prom

Thursday, June 05, 2014

High school wasn't awesome. I didn't love parking lot parties or underage drinking, I really didn't believe that my peers were having sex despite very PDA pre-class make-out sessions, and figured you could tell who smoked pot by their mullets and army jackets. My group of friends was small and, as I'd learn later in life, mostly gay.

Before the invites ever went out for my own prom, I'd watched my two sisters attend roughly 700 proms apiece across ten school districts on the arms of upperclassmen. It was exhausting to observe, and there was so much hairspray. Though I wasn't expecting to be asked to the prom, I still wanted to go. In a stroke of teenage brilliance, I used all the money I'd been saving for a trip to London to pull it off.

Come prom time, my friends and I had no interest in (or any idea how to begin) drinking but we did manage to create substantial high-school drama by a mid-plan group shuffle that started a grudge so powerful it led to the most momentous valedictorian speech in our high school's history. (This is the one portion of my entire long, boring graduation ceremony that no one in my family bothered to record.)

We went to the glittery, mirrored venue where we sat at a long table under a huge crystal chandelier. The music was bad, maybe we ate a little. We watched savvier kids leave early, off to more exciting, boozy plans. When it was over, we had our limo driver bring us from eastern Long Island to Central Park and back until we made our way home to the suburbs at sunrise. No one got drunk, arrested or pregnant. We were a parent's dream.

Our night was tame. I think the worst that happened was when the limo driver overheard me refer to him as cranky at some Long Island diner at 7:00am. I think even he was expecting something more exciting from the evening.

Want some tips for keeping your teen's prom night super chaste, safe, and sober? You're in luck!

1. Be sure your teenager has a huge crush on a guy who will be coming out any day now.
2. When the gay crush somehow ends up going to the prom with your teen's BFF, have the BFF set her up instead with a random cousin.
3. Be sure your teen and her BFF's random cousin have almost nothing in common.
4. See that BFF's random cousin has a really cute brother. This adds a layer of resentment to the evening.
5. Set up the most uncomfortable front-lawn photo of your daughter and the date she just met that minute.
6. Have your teenage daughter wear what amounts to a cumbersome bridal gown on what has the potential to be the most scandalous night of her high school career.
7. Ask whether anyone in your child's prom group has seen genitalia aside from their own or during that one really awkward health class.
8. Hire a limo driver a the last minute who is clearly Not In The Mood For This Shit. His glare alone will keep passengers out of the mini bar.
9. Suggest they go to romantic spots like Central Park and the beach at sunrise. This will reinforce the fact that your teen and her date have zero chemistry.
10. Make sure one guy in the limo looks just like Morrissey to dampen any party mood.

The good news is I really did have fun. We took a then-unadvisable trip through Central Park in the dark morning hours and stayed up until sunrise for what may have been one of only four times in my life. The next year I went to the prom with my hot gay crush, sans crush, in the same dress, but with purple hair to match his tie. And for the second straight year, I didn't come home pregnant.

This post is written for NickMom in conjunction with their paid sponsorship of the BlogU blog conference.  I take full responsibility for my string of crushes on gay men. In my defense, none of them were officially out at the time.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say
You're Not Going to Get Lucky Tonight

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Husbands, we love you. In fact, I was really conflicted about even writing this post because I know I lucked out when I decided fifteen years ago that my scrawny, bald roommate had boyfriend potential. He's got all that good stuff: honesty, loyalty, brains, an almost complete lack of ego, a ridiculous work ethic, and as a bonus, I enjoy watching him change his clothes.

But, you know, none of us is perfect, and I have to believe that as long as we recognize all the good, we've got a pass for commiserating about the bad and ugly. What I'm offering you today, husbands, is a lesson in appropriate honesty. I'll call it When to Either Lie or Shut the Fuck Up 101. Next time you bemoan your lack of spontaneous kitchen sex, consider whether you've committed one of these infractions.

Here are a couple of scenarios:

1. Your wife is modeling a dress she bought that she is obviously feeling confident and sexy wearing. She asks, "What do you think?" If, say, this dress is sleeveless and you prefer sleeves, short and you prefer long — pay close attention here — your wife does not give one good goddamn. Read her face, her tone, her gestures. After years together you should totally have this one. Your reply should indicate that her appearance pleases you. Depending on your usual style of banter you might say something like, "You look beautiful," or, "I'd definitely bend you over my tailgate in that." Your wardrobe preferences are irrelevant, your honest opinion is uncalled for. You need to keep that bullshit to yourself.

2. At noon your wife says, "I'll see you in a couple hours, I'm going to get my hair cut." You, being the wonderful, equal partner that you are, think nothing of parenting solo while she's out. You don't text her during her appointment unless someone is on fire. Maybe you even throw in a load of wash while she's gone. You, sir, are squarely on the BJ track.

At two she returns home, still your wife but slightly glossier, with a little more spring in her step. Protocol dictates that you should immediately comment on her hair, but let's say you've been waiting to go mow the lawn and you breeze past her before she's even dropped her keys. Later, when you notice she smells different and remember that she had her hair done, your reaction ought to be, "Sorry babe, your hair looks really nice." Because again, "Did you even have anything cut off? It hardly looks different," or, "Wow, you went short," are unhelpful observations. And you were doing so well earlier.

One more thing: if you make a big enough gaffe, we are fully capable of becoming upset even to the point of tears at any time of the month. It's always a best practice to not blame our menstrual cycle for your misstep.

Guys, I've got your backs on this. I want nothing but success for you. I want you to take care of my girlfriends because they really love you. I want you to have the relationships you deserve. And I want you to understand that sometimes, all you have to do is keep your mouths shut.

Protecting My No

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I don't say no easily. This is why I'm currently in charge of maintaining the PTA website and am running a Daisy troop that's one girl over the official ratio. It's why there are 46 containers of Play-Doh in my living room. It's why the local girls' softball team has twenty of my dollars and why I'm constantly burying copies of The Watchtower in the bottom of my recycle bin. Hell, it's why I have a kid.

I thought I'd be better at saying no. Growing up I was often frustrated that my mom never seemed to refuse anyone, and was constantly giving people rides or covering shifts or taking in relatives with no where else to go. She still does it, plus now she's constantly inundated with other people's children — mine included. I come from accommodators, it's in my genes.

So when I do say no, I have important reasons. When I say no, I've considered all other options, including "maybe" and "not right now." I've quickly run through scenarios and consequences. I've contemplated the outcomes of yes and have decided that they don't override my discomfort with no. It's not that I want to let you down. I don't want you to feel dismissed or hurt, my no isn't about you, it's based on a complex series of probabilities and experiences.

Sometimes no is met with a frown or grumble: No, you've had plenty of candy before bed. No, I don't have time to run to the post office for you tomorrow. No, I'm not making lasagna because it's such a pain in the ass that I'd almost rather have actual anal sex.

I understand those brief rebuttals. What I don't need is a debate, I don't want a guilt trip or a multi-sentence exchange justifying my no. We aren't discussing why you can't stay up another hour, I'm not apologizing for not being in the mood right now or explaining at length why I'm not going to open a credit card with your store today. My no deserves respect, dammit. My no is never easy.

I like to yes. Yes makes everyone happy, yes makes me a hero, yes makes me santa and the ice cream man all at once. But sometimes yes makes me tired or overbooked or frustrated with myself for not protecting my time or my convictions. I'm trying, I'm working on the balance between yes and no. I'm learning that often, a decisive no hurts everyone less than a reluctant yes.