Suburban Snapshots

The Truth About My Only Child

Friday, May 29, 2015

You may have some ideas about only children. Maybe you've said or thought or overheard generalizations about them, maybe you believe what you hear. Maybe you have an only child and cannot take one more insinuation that your personal reproductive choices have already put her at a disadvantage. Maybe you are an only child, surprised to find that you're neither maladjusted nor lonely, wondering whether you're an anomaly.

I'm not an only child, but I'm raising one. I want to tell you all about her.

My only child is smart, she's funny, she makes friends easily and loves unabashedly. She has so much empathy that sometimes I worry about her navigating this world. She sits calmly at restaurants and pays attention in class. She thanks the server and misses her teacher on weekends. She snuggles in the morning and sometimes still calls for us at night. She does chores (sometimes) and toasts her own waffles. She makes appetizers for company and gifts for the mailman. She spent her birthday money on necklaces for three best friends. She lives for playdates and shares all of her toys. She congratulates her teammates and the opposing players after a game. She gets ahead of me on her scooter but checks over her shoulder to be sure I'm nearby. She once won an award at school for stopping to help a boy she didn't know. She does all of this because she's seven years old, not because she's an only child.

Sometimes my only child talks back, she clowns in class enough to be disciplined, she gets into arguments with her best friends and can be greedy about sharing my time. Her bedroom is usually a mess and often she will stomp down the hall when asked to clean it. She rails against bath time and vegetables and helmets. She forgets her manners and five minutes of not getting her way can color the rest of a perfect afternoon. She exaggerates bellyaches to get sent home by the school nurse. She cries when she feels left out at recess. She has to be told over and over to brush her teeth or turn off her iPad. She won't stop trying to diaper the dogs. She has perfected the exasperated teenage eyeroll and constantly interrupts me when I'm working. She does all of this because she's seven years old, not because she's an only child.

My only child allows me to be available for my friends and their kids. She's the reason I can pick up an extra classmate or two after school or foster five puppies for two weeks. Because of my only child I can be flexible with changes of plans and playdates that run long. I pack lunch for an only child in the morning and can cook for the teacher appreciation luncheon that afternoon. I have an only child and can bring along an extra when the "family pack" inevitably consists of four tickets. My calendar is full of one child's worth of sports and events, leaving our families' calendars mostly free of recorder concerts. Raising one child allows me enough time to help teach the ten more who show up at my Daisy troop meetings. I do all of this because I love my people, and because I have an only child.

I'll gladly tell anyone who asks why I only have one: It's because I planned on having none. I tell them because she is a story of joy I could not have anticipated, because I'm not ashamed to have made choices and then made room for change. We're a family of three because that's our decision.

If you must criticize, leave it with me. My only child knows that she is as happy, loved, and capable as any of her friends, and only those who don't know her would speculate otherwise.

Our family is complete, and we have an only child.

If You Have a Face, This Giveaway is for You

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I've told you guys how many weird, random, and ill-fitting pitches I get for stuff from companies who want me to then pitch to you right? I turn down four or five "offers" a week from folks with products that have nothing to do with you, or who want me to review something but offer you all nothing. So I was prepared to open the email from Simple Beauty Minerals and give 'em the old "Thanks but no thanks," but not only had they taken the time to learn about this blog and you all, they're a sweet little family company making mostly-organic products, they don't Photoshop their models AND they support at-risk dogs! Exclamation point! Oh, and they agreed to give me something to test plus a second to give away.

I warned Lisa that I'm a girl who wears make up roughly three times a month (lazy) and that I only stopped using the concealer I bought for my 2004 wedding about two years ago. She didn't flinch, and helped me pick out the starter kit to work with for this giveaway. I've used mineral make up before and liked it, but I didn't have as many dents in my face back then and I wasn't convinced it would sit right or cover what I need covered on this 41-year-old mug.

I actually had TWO occasions to pretty up last week and I used the kit from Simple Beauty Minerals both nights, plus my own drugstore eyeliner and the pink and green mascara everyone loves. It really did cover my eyebags, the mole I hate, and the sunspot on my cheek. You know the rest: didn't feel heavy and gross, didn't wear off, didn't crumble into my cocktail. Sorry about the crappy "No one ever takes pictures of the mom" before-and-after.

If you like small, women-owned businesses and helping dogs, enter to win a starter kit of your own by leaving a comment back on Facebook. If you don't already like my page, that'd be nice but not required. I'll choose the winner at random on 5/28 at 9am ET.

If you hate free stuff, you can buy your own damned make up at this 20% off link.

Where We Feel Loved

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Dada, can you help me put this slide together?" Steve had just walked in from work, barely taken off his boots and was making a beeline for Anna's new bedroom, where trim was waiting to be fastened to the walls.

"Kiddo, do you want a toy slide or do you want me to finish your new bedroom this week?" I suggested that maybe she just wanted a couple minutes of his time before he disappeared into the back of the house as he's been doing after work for the past few weeks. He'd argue that she's so attached to me she barely notices his absence, I'd imply that maybe assembling the Barbie slide would help.

Steve and I have had this conversation often. His side is that he wants her to be self sufficient, or that he doesn't understand why I wait for him to go into the kitchen before asking for a glass of water. It drives him crazy still that I ask to taste his meal when we eat out. He's practical and disciplined, and I've spent sixteen years explaining that sometimes when people ask for a favor or a bite or help opening a jar, they just want to feel a little loved, taken care of.

"But how hard is it to get off the couch and pour yourself a glass of water?"
He misses the point.

"I want her to be able to do things for herself."
Usually she does. Sometimes she just wants Daddy.

The line I use on him when we get on the topic is that not everything needs to be a lesson. She's learning all the time, she's learning by watching what we do. I spend days feeling like not a word I say registers on her synapses and then she'll wander into my room to help me fold clothes or ask to set the table, she makes appetizers for guests and draws cheer-up cards for her friends. I think she has a solid foundation but like any kid, she needs almost constant reminders. She is capable of tying her shoes, brushing her hair, walking to bed, but sometimes she needs to watch our hands make a tighter knot, unsnare a tangle, or carry her to her bedroom. I wish he'd relent more often, but it's a struggle to convince him that she won't be calling us from college to double-knot her sneakers if we help her sometimes at age seven.

I know that Steve thinks I'm a good mom, but I'm also aware that he feels very much like the heavy. He doesn't witness our mornings, when it's all I can do to not exhaust my monthly reserve of yells to get her to M-O-V-E. I don't think he considers it the same kind of discipline when, over the course of our walk to school, I remind her to stay to the side and watch for cars, or when we're at a crowded grocery store on Sunday and I direct her to look out for other people. My lessons aren't as structured as his and maybe less obvious, and my affection is more blatant. He sees the learning during baseball practices, in using restaurant manners, in tying shoes and cleaning up. He tells her when he's proud and when he knows she can try harder.

He takes his work as a father very seriously: to raise her into a capable, compassionate, motivated person. And he's not all business—he's definitely the funner bedtime parent, more likely to let her pile tons of garbage on top of her frozen yogurt, more willing to drop what he's doing to go for a bike ride or spend an hour at Y family swim, he's the reason she climbed to the top of the jungle gym before she turned three and she'll still share the couch with him for a Sunday nap.

I get on him when I think he's being too overbearing and he lets me know when he thinks I'm coddling her. He parents in the way that makes sense to him, and I want to be sure that she understands where his love is.

I also want him to understand where she feels loved. He doesn't need to cater to her, or to be always nuzzling her, I don't expect him to spoon feed her or leap at her beck and call, but sometimes tie her shoes, sometimes bring her a snack, sometimes carry her just because she's tired. I remind him: she's just a little girl, and just for the moment.

We give love in the ways we've received it. Part of loving someone, though, has to be giving love in the way they understand. It's one thing to recognize that you're loved, to appreciate being loved, it's another to feel it. We all want to feel it.

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.