Suburban Snapshots

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.

How to Be Married to a Blogger

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My husband has come to tolerate a lot from me because of this blogging gig. He still doesn't love my after-hours on the laptop, my constant online communication because, "There's a really hilarious conversation happening in my blogger group right now," or the way I put lots of our personal stuff on blast, but he supports me and loves me, and he knows that somehow I find this mostly pro bono gig pretty fulfilling.

Understand that Steve is a quiet guy; it took me six months of living in the same 500 square foot apartment with him before we ever uttered two words to each other. I didn't know he had a family until we'd already made out under a halogen lamp on a filthy sofa the way you only do in your 20s. He's quiet and his tastes run toward short women in tube socks on skateboards, and yet he seems to appreciate my big frame and bigger mouth. But he didn't really sign up for the Mr. Snapshots gig and I give him a lot of credit for letting me run this production pretty much as I please (I always check with him before I share anything sensitive, like the marriage counseling stuff or the vasectomy.)

Last week when the parody I created started to appear on national television, he walked over to me, put his hands on my hips and whimpered, "Honey? Can you please not get famous?" Steve works in a blue collar job with big, bearded men who spend their days hauling, lifting and smoking, and it's understandably awkward when a guy in the garage asks, "Hey Steve, your wife gonna make any more videos?" Because that can't not sound like I run a porn empire from my guest room.

Being my husband isn't easy work, so I've got the want ad all ready in case he ever decides it's just too much.

My sincerest thanks to our blog-widow spouses who do the dishes while we struggle with perfect titles, who don't question being handed a camera and told to "shoot now and ask later," who take on bedtimes and overtime because of Twitter parties and project collaborations, and who almost always know exactly when to shut up and look pretty and when to say, "I'm proud of you, babe."


Secrets and Lice

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

"Hi Brenna. I've got Anna in here in my office and I think I've found a couple of nits in her hair. You don't have to pick her up, just check her over at home."

Anna's sailed through at least seven previous lice outbreaks—in all of her preschool rooms, in kindergarten, in camp and gymnastics. Her hair is always dirty and it's short. I'm not the type to carry hand sanitizer or to own Lysol (I know you guys are dying to come over now), I don't quietly blame other parents or kids if mine gets a cold or a stomach bug. Shit happens. When you have a kid, shit happens times infinity.

I checked her at home and found one adult louse and several nits. I texted the parents of her two best friends. I emailed her teacher. We combed, picked, Cetaphiled, combed, picked, checked, picked. We're still in the process of making sure she stays clear. My entire block is itchy. I've designated one biohazard hamper to toss her blankies and sleep stuffies. I've had to ask my first grade girl to not hug anyone and to sit still for hours while we comb and pick at her, and to quote a friend of mine, she's handling it like a Viking. Do you have any idea how much first grade girls hug? It's Woodstock all day long.



I know I share more than most and it's for a good reason—lots of people think they're alone in things, and I mean anything from picky eaters to hungover spouses. So I told Facebook about Anna's lice even knowing that several of her friends' parents would see it, even though it was the day before our Halloween party. You know what happened? I started getting messages from other parents in her class that they were also dealing with the outbreak.

I see these people every day, but no one wants to talk about lice. I respect that—no one wants to be a pariah. I also know that the scenario is completely different with older kids. But here's the other thing, parents of those still too young for Facebook: If we talk about it we can help stop it. Also, maybe that one annoying kid will stop asking for playdates.

We can't all shave our children and burn our houses to the ground, but maybe we can learn to be more open about our pestilence for the sake of other families. For the sake of all our sanity.