Suburban Snapshots

The Work

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Here's what doesn't happen during your first appointment for marriage counseling: you don't walk in, lay down your best synchronized hip-hop dance duet and get sent home with a clean bill of happiness. That might have worked at your wedding reception, but 6 years in and 12 years all told, you realize that some most things take more than rousing choreography to sort out.

So you walk in with all kinds of trepidation, wondering what you'll be asked to explain, hoping you don't cry, faint, or drop dead, trying to get a read on your spouse and how he's doing, and if you're me, gnawing your cuticles into bloody lunchmeat.

Then you'll spend 20 minutes going over your insurance information and superficial personal details. You get situated on the nice, deep sofa, your leg still keeping time to the "Flight of the Bumblebee" loop in your brain but otherwise settling in, and this person with half the alphabet after her name and a wall of credentials hits you with, "So, tell me what you're hoping to get out of this."

Well, fuck lady, you're the professional. Can't you tell me what's up?

So for an hour we sat, we talked, I may have cried at kind of an inappropriate juncture. We both learned some stuff, and it turns out with a third party present who isn’t invested in either of you, you start to actually hear each other. (What therapists don’t seem to do, as it turns out, is laugh at the hilarious jokes you might make to break the tension in the room. Lame.)

After your hour, you might leave with perspective, you might feel optimistic and sad at the same time, you may walk in comfortable silence to the car, exhausted and starving and wanting to go home.

You know how people always say, "Marriage is work." and you're all like, "OMG tell me about it, my husband is constantly leaving the milk out." Well, that's bullshit. At some point there will be real work. Serious, gut-wrenching, hand-wringing work — even in the best of unions — and that's when you decide what your marriage is going to become.

The Secret Lives of Parents

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When my sisters and I were kids we got glimpses, but we were too small to understand what was happening. We just knew that Mom was holed up in her bedroom sobbing, muttering something about respect.

When you're small, respect is more an abstract concept than something you feel you can provide. So being empathetic — if somewhat naive — my sisters and I would set about cleaning up our messes, doing dishes, and being uncharacteristically quiet. We didn't know what respect meant, but we knew the things that made Mom happy.

What we didn't know was that these were the first hints that our mother was in fact a human being, with her own history, heartaches, and disappointments.

When you become a parent, you take on the role of caregiver, hurt fixer, my-life-is-yours-now-er. As far as your kid can tell, you didn't exist before they arrived and the whole of your being is dedicated to their welfare. I remember thinking this way. I remember selfish, angry fits when my mother dared to request privacy for phone calls, or time away from us to work or meet with friends. I had no sympathy.

And then I had a baby. Then I had to navigate my double existence as a person I didn't feel had changed at all, and a mother whose life had become 180 degrees different.

Nothing will help you understand your parents as much as having a child will. You start to recognize their struggles. You realize that while they've dedicated themselves to raising you, they've been experiencing pain, joy, sorrow, and regret that had nothing at all to do with you. And then, when you inevitably take the same paths your parents took, make the same choices, and face the same challenges, you know that no one will understand you better than they will.

I don't know when Anna will start seeing the cracks in my veneer. Eventually something will tip her off to the fact that I existed before she did, that there's another me that runs parallel to my mothering self, that I've had quiet joys and crushing heartaches, and that sometimes even a mom isn't sure what the right answer is; that often the person who controls much of her small life is just taking her best guess.

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

My favorite photo from Anna's first hours, and I lost the file. I found this print at my grandfather's house over the weekend and he let me take it home.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Over the last few weeks I've seen the "Letter to my Sixteen-Year-Old Self" blog entries, which is really convenient for me as I have writers' block roughly the size of the Hoover Dam lately.

Dear Angsty Bren,
You are on the verge of trading in your Aqua Net cans for jars of plum colored Manic Panic. Your two gold earrings are going to become six silver hoops. You're going to fall for a gorgeous guy who will come out of the closet from the back seat of your car while you drive around town, unable to pull over and cry. This will happen a few more times — not always in cars — until it becomes a running joke, and these men will never leave your broken teenage heart.

The girlfriend you're distancing in favor of a newer, hipper model is going to be the one at your wedding. The new one? It's not going to end well, at all, but that split will result in possibly the most memorable salutatorian speech ever written (pay attention to it at graduation, because somehow it won't end up on the shaky VHS tape). And the one straight guy you've managed to maintain a two-year crush on? Your kids are going to meet.

I want to tell you that you're not as fat as you think you are, but sometimes I still struggle to believe that. And Mom is right about a lot of stuff, but the thing about college men liking tall women? Well, college men are just a bunch of high-school boys trying to reinvent themselves, and in my experience they like anorexic, chain-smoking, dance majors who put out. The good news is that the guys who will decide to like you will really, really like you.

Which brings me to another point: don't you DARE leave the bedroom when the cute punk boy you spent two years stalking starts running his hands along your back. And, next summer, don't leap up off the stairs when he plants those soft, gorgeous kisses on your forearms. Seriously, if I could come back in time and smack you for one thing, it would be missing out on that, twice.

Know that most of the people you keep close are going to be around for a long time, some will be in and out of your life, in and out of the country, but will keep their places in your heart. They will make you open-minded, grateful, proud, and adventurous. This group you're with is solid, it's small and strong. Good people seem to find you (some crazy ones, too).

I think right now you're feeling like you won't ever have a date, let alone fall in love, but you will. You'll be in love a few times. You'll live to regret breaking one good, sensitive heart — oh, two, actually — and to be sad and angry about having your own mishandled. You'll get through all of it, but maybe take it easy on the Tori Amos and melodramatic letters.

I wish I could tell you that none of this is going to matter, but it all will. I'm almost 40 and I remember you, I carry you around with me. I want you to know that you turn out alright, that Mom wasn't lying all those times she said, "Things will work themselves out." And, as hard as it is to admit, you should grow your hair a little longer (but keep the purple).


Monday, November 22, 2010

When I was in the second grade, my teacher asked the class to name an object matching each color on a handout list (Remember dittos? Will our kids even know what that word means?) I decided to write a poem, it started like this:

Red is a heart all covered with lace
Blue is the eye on a baby's face
Yellow's the flower I picked for Mom
Brown is the suit Mom bought for Tom

I was labeled "advanced." That was the beginning of my long, on again, off again relationship with the Gifted and Talented program.

In third grade I scored high on the reading portion of a placement test. I was promptly assigned the Abracadatlas, a fifth-grade book approximately two-thirds of my body weight and half my height, plus its accompanying workbook. I was the only advanced reader in class, so when we'd go over homework assignments, I'd sit quietly and wait until the rest of the students had bonded over what I was sure had been way better homework than I had, then Mrs. Stavrides and I would run through my work one on one. My place in public school social rankings was pretty much sealed (spoiler: cooties.)

By fifth grade, though my mom was still waking up at 6 a.m. to help me finish assignments for my Greek mythology class (the Persephone project my mom did for me was particularly awesome, and most likely the only thing I ever turned in on time), I was expected to learn the Japanese language and alphabet and understand why a seemingly empty cup wasn't actually empty at all (hint: O2).

My family moved a few times, and each time I'd change districts I'd slip myself back into the normal class. Quickly, somehow, I'd score my way back up into the advanced track. I rarely studied, but I aced quizzes. I perpetually "forgot" my homework. I. Hated. Reading. In eighth grade, I didn't go to my first-period history class for an entire quarter and still kept a B average.

But there was no middle, I'd either land a-pluses without any effort in the regular courses, or below average in my honors level classes. My report cards constantly read, "Smart, but needs more effort." and also, "D."

Anna seems like a smart kid, I hope she doesn't have a brain that shuts down at the mention of long division or literary analysis like mine does. I'll help her with her homework, wake up at 5:30 to type up (and email? print?) her book reports if she needs me to, let her take the occasional sick day if she's unprepared for a big test. But if she ends up being recruited into the Gifted and Talented program, Steve's going to have to step in.

Black and White

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

As parents, there are plenty of things we could potentially worry about our kids becoming — drug addicts, prostitutes, tea partiers — there are all kinds of dreams we keep and hopes we cultivate as we watch them growing. We see them playing with bugs and think, "Maybe a scientist." We notice their interest in wooden blocks, "Architect." We balance the worry of what we don't want with the potential we see in them.

I'm pretty good at The Worry. I think too far ahead, I spin absurdly detailed scenarios based on sensational clips from Nancy Grace promos. But you know what I never, ever worry about? One thing that I know has devastated parents of friends, that became a spike through that sacred relationship?

I don't care if my kid turns out is gay.

Of course I'd have concern for how the world might treat her, but I know that I'm raising her with all the confidence I can spare, every day I nurture her little ego with praise and love. I give her the best I have and when I slip up in frustration or impatience, I work to fix it. I do this because I'm responsible for helping shore up all of her innocent goodness with enough strength to take her through the challenges she's sure to confront — and I want her to confront them. I want her to be tough enough to plant her feet and stare down the inevitable cruelties, and I want her to be resilient.

I want her to grow to be strong and independent, as much as it will break my heart as she learns to navigate without me. And I won't tell her what to wear, and I won't care what color her hair is, or what music she listens to, and if she's happy and confident, then she can love whomever she wants.

There aren't many issues I'm thoroughly black and white on, but this is one. I have no tolerance for intolerance, no patience for ignorance. I couldn't comprehend the devastation that played out in my twenties as friends came out to parents whose reactions ranged from bewildered to enraged, and now I understand it even less.

When you're expecting a baby, the mantra is, "I don't care if it's a boy or girl, I just want it to be healthy." Well, I don't care who my daughter ends up in love with. With every pulsing, microscopic particle of my being I just want that girl to be happy.

Thanks to Nerdy Apple Bottom for her inspiration.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Once I started working full-time about a year and a half ago, we decided to put Anna into day care two days a week at a little place less than a mile from home. We needed the free time and knew that being around other kids — biters, screamers, and hitters alike — would help her grow.

The first time I dropped her off I didn't shed a tear. I was nearby, she'd be happy, no big deal. Those first couple weeks were tougher on Anna than me, though. For a really social kid, she had a harder time adjusting than I thought, but every day when I'd arrive to collect my exhausted, sad-faced baby, she'd be snuggled into the same teacher, holding it together just until she'd see me and soak her already sticky, pink cheeks. I was so grateful for that teacher, who comforted my kid every single day, whose lap Anna came to depend on until she finally settled in, and who continues to dote on her even from a room away.

Each morning I'd drop Anna off to a chorus of "Good morning!"s, happy greetings from each of her four teachers and enthusiastic flaps and grunts from her little classmates. I loved watching them get situated around their miniature table and maneuver Cheerios or pineapple gracelessly into their mouths.

After she turned two, Anna moved into an older classroom, many of her friends tagging along. The first thing I noticed was the fact that her new teachers could barely manage to glance at us when we arrived each morning. While they'd take the time to make a note of who was dropped off when, they didn't take the five seconds to say hello. I know Anna didn't notice, it was enough that I did.

I never expected day care to give Anna the attention or love that she gets at home. I know every kid is cute, some are the favorites, they come and go every six months or so. They have names like Bronwyn and Amy and Jaxon, and parents who stay too long at drop-off or complain too often to the director. All I wanted was a safe place, some people about Anna's size, and friendly adult faces.

I guess if I take the average between that first teacher who went beyond what I'd expect from anyone with a classroom full of thirteen one-year-olds, and her current teachers, I'm getting pretty much what I expected from day care. My hope is that Anna's getting more than that.

My Space

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When Steve and I bought our Boston condo together, we went shopping for new furniture. We came home with a sectional sofa that seats 6 comfortably. You'd be amazed how fast that thing fills up now. It's like the last lifeboat on the Titanic come 7 p.m.

Personal space seems to be at a premium around here lately.

I totally cop to counting the minutes from the time the credits start rolling on Arthur to the first blast of hot water hitting me in the shower each morning, where I stand, alone. I admit to looking forward to leaving Anna in Steve's capable, patient hands and heading two rooms over into my office, where, for 8 or so hours I sit in a chair that holds only one. I will share with you how I get all kinds of twitchy when Steve leans over my left shoulder to do even the simplest, quickest thing on the desktop while I work inches away on my laptop, or when between conference calls, he'll let Anna wander in to climb my file cabinet or crawl under my desk and trigger the paper shredder ("Anna, FINGERS!").

When my day ends, I'm happy to rejoin my family. Anna and I might run an errand, we come home, I make dinner. Lately though, the act of dinner involves jockeying around 3 dogs who first trip me, then scamper into the exact spot my foot is about to land; explaining to an upset toddler who only wants my attention that she can't help stir the boiling macaroni or take the bread out of the oven, which then leads to repeated attempts to peel a now sobbing child off of my leg while handling hot utensils. When she's not asking to help, she's delivering a list of demands that would rival any stage diva's hospitality rider.

After we eat Steve will sit at the kitchen laptop (if you're playing along at home, that's 3 computers) while I fall into my couch dent, curl Anna up next to me, and read a few books (or one book over and over and over and over) while the TV flickers and blabs. This happy scene also involves the 3 dogs, 2 of whom get on the couch under their own power and the third, being in possession of the shortest of legs, first barks to be lifted, and then pokes and cold-noses his way under my shirt for warmth and cover. Anna scolds him for taking my attention as her feet finally annoy dog #2 enough that he leaves for the bedroom, and the girl dog climbs to her perch behind my head, stepping on my hair as she does.

I wouldn't trade these scenes or these people for a bright, one bedroom apartment, long, lazy baths, or even hours of time begging to be filled with, God, with anything. But man, it would be nice to stretch my legs out the length of this couch every once in a while.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anna's just half a year from three, and already she's at a deep disadvantage in the feminine arts. See, I'm kind of helpless when it comes to things like buying and applying make up, which isn't to say that anyone in possession of lady business also is mandated to wear blush and mascara, but she's already into my two-dollar lip gloss, and is fascinated by the medieval eye cage that I'm told is used to curl lashes. Inevitably she'll want to learn and experiment, and I am woefully under-qualified.

I have friends who expertly apply eye shadow, putting the darks and lights in all the right places, ending up looking smoky and mysterious, and though I might follow along side-by-side, my results are closer to the hot mess I turned my Farrah Fawcett Make-Me-Up mannequin head into at 8 years old. My mom had to bleach the life-sized head clean an hour after I'd opened it that Christmas. RIP, Farrah.

The first time I experimented with foundation was in the tenth grade. I thought I looked great. I loved how even and smooth it made my skin. I didn't realize it also made me look like my grandmother's eighty-year-old neighbor whose trademark was the flesh-colored chinstrap created where her foundation abruptly stopped; a perfect, clean edge of too-tan. It wasn't pretty. Worse, this had to be pointed out to me.

I work from home now, my commute is about five steps, not counting pit stops for bathroom and coffee. I use cosmetics so infrequently that I've still got months' worth from the stuff I splurged on for my 2004 wedding. When I visit with my youngest sister I raid her stash of fancy bottles and tubes, wondering how anyone knows what to do with all this shimmery, slippery stuff, watching her fill in all the right spots with dabs of this and smears of that, and hoping I don't end up looking like my ex-boyfriend's mom — also a non-doer-upper — who'd get dolled up for special occasions only to emerge from the bathroom looking like a deranged Cirque du Soleil understudy.

So I'm afraid my daughter will have to sit Indian style in front of a full-length mirror with someone else's mom, contemplating which brushes to use, working out what palette works with her beautiful olive skin, figuring out the difference between cover-up, concealer, and foundation. I'll just sit across the room and blog about it.

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Monday, October 18, 2010

Or more accurately, Ninja Mom over at Ninja Mom Blog likes me enough to have included me in some kind of pyramid scheme bestowed my little slice of blogdom with the Versatile Blogger Award. Because I'm versatile enough to holler at my dogs to shut their yaps, tell my daughter to go freaking potty by herself already, and provide you all with semi-regular updates on the state of my undercarriage.

But with great power comes great responsibility, so in keeping with the award's rules I thank you, Ninja Mom, both for the award and for cracking me up, and while I can't even think of 15 bloggers to pass this on to, I can at least getcha' 3. And finally, 7 things that somehow in all my constant not-shutting-up, you may not already know about me:

1. I love, respect, and refuse to eat any form of shark.
2. I am not scared to catch frogs in my hands, but hate stepping on bugs.
3. I have a birthmark on the front of my nose that looks like a speck of chocolate.
4. I can burp on command.
5. I once had a letter published in Rolling Stone. It was about Alias.
6. I was kicked out of the Gifted and Talented program twice.
7. I'm left-handed.

Now, the three of you who I'm tagging to keep the lovefest rolling (selections based on post frequency/hilarity):

1. Let Me Start By Saying
2. My Convertible Life
3. Naps Happen

Go spread the award love, you bunch of goddamn hippies.

Party in My Pants

Friday, October 15, 2010

Today was that most marvelous of days we wait all year for, the air was crisp, the sun shining, and I, sitting bare-ass-naked over the side of the tub painstakingly preparing for my annual exam. You know, that annual exam.

It happens every year, just like a birthday, but with less cake and more invasive probing (though, I don't know you people. Probing might be your idea of a birthday party.)

The whole pre-appointment process is made exponentially more difficult by the fact that I'm hopeless without my glasses, which I can't wear into the shower while wielding a rusty, last-resort razor and a cracked sliver of soap — you don't want to throw your legs into the stirrups and have to explain the Dora Band-Aid plastered across your sensitive bits. So after several minutes of delicate navigation, awkward positioning and frequent squinting I was ready to go, and then thought to myself, shit, if they give me the hippie midwife today I'm going to be pissed I wasted all this energy.

I got to the office, weighed in, stripped down, blood pressure etc. etc., talked about the many crappy options for birth control besides our current crappiest and least-convenient method, and our previous method which ended up all, "It's a girl!," and just as we got to the part of the appointment where I begin to actually feel my entire reproductive system trying to tuck itself up behind my esophagus, someone knocked at the door and Jean left with a quick apology and her stethoscope.

I laid myself back wrapped in the green and white johnny, pulled out my phone and checked email, contemplated but thought better of posting a Facebook photo of the knitted uterus hanging on a bulletin board across the room, and responded to a text from my sister who wanted to know "where the f r u?" ("GYN u r jels"). About 15 minutes later a medical assistant came to apologetically tell me that Jean wouldn't back to examine my immaculate business. It was even worse than the hippie midwife scenario.

I climbed back into my jeans, marveling at the all-the-way-up feeling of smooth (because within an hour I'd be clawing at my southern hemisphere like a desperate junkie), and not exactly jonesing to do it all over again in two weeks.

On the plus side, I now have plenty of time to buy a new razor.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Saturday I had Anna all by myself, all day long. Any number of you are already like, "Wait, why is this blog-worthy?" I know, but I've mentioned the balance of parenting around here and though I fill all the standard mama roles — snuggling, soothing, actually combing hair instead of strangling a sticky handful of nappy curls into a pony tail, getting all whelmy against my better judgment during cloying commercials and bad country songs, and generally being treated like Anna's intern — Steve handles most of the one-on-one care.

Usually when it's just Anna and me I'll find another adult human to spend the day with, heading up to Mom's or down to a friend's. But I wanted to give her a full day of Mama, knowing we don't have them often, imagining all the sweet moments I'd have with my little BFF.

I woke in the morning not to her usual whimpers, but to an immediate request for water. After we were both out in the dark living room where I turn each morning to PBS Kids while I wait for my mouth and eyes to unstick, she rapid-fired a few more demands: potty (can someone please tell me when she won't need an escort for this?), juice, snack, blanket, and I translated "IT'S TOO BRIGHT, MAMAAAAAA!" to, "Please lower the dimmer on the kitchen light while you urgently pour your coffee, Mother." Once she found her amenities adequate, she did sit quietly watching the Saturday line-up for a good two to three hours I think, I can't be sure but when I woke up Saturday Night Live was on while.

But then, more demands. Requests for everything in sight, and it wasn't that she was being bratty about it, just that it gets really damn ass exhausting to have to say and then explain "No" four-hundred-catrillion times. We took a bath and dressed — now that I'm letting her pick, this is a 25 minute, drawer-clearing process  — and headed to the grocery store where I spent another half-hour refusing all manner of items, from tampons to balloons to calf liver. I flinched at each new aisle, wondering what she'd see and want, then ask for without so much as a hint of good manners. I ran into a friend's sister and made small talk that was necessarily a few decibels higher than, "Mama, Froot Loops! MAMA! Look! Fruit Loops! Mama, I want that. I can have it with MILK! I want milk, Mama! Mama, MORE Froot Loops! Mama, I want money and I want to WALK."

Hey, remember that time I wrote this? BWAH-HA-HA-HA. What a dick I was.

So we headed to our Green Zone: the play ground. Our entire day turned around on that climbing structure.

Anna took off, not even glancing back for me, needing no escort, no assistance, making no demands. She stormed up the stairs and down the slide, she grappled up onto the bouncing see-saw thing, sat at the little wooden table and ate her bag of gummy fruit, happily sharing some with an older girl (here I did intervene, because you never know which kid might be allergic to strawberries, or corn syrup, or you know, dirt or whatever). Then, without asking for my help she climbed up a ladder to a platform higher than the top of my head, and grabbed onto a bar farther than my arms could reach. She swung herself out and onto a twisty, metal death-pole, and just like that, spiraled her little body to the bottom.

She did it over and over, and each time I put my hands close, spotting her from platform to ground, holding my breath. Each time her little feet touched the dirt, she'd smile wide at me and run away back up the ladder. My little girl, suddenly so very, very brave. The day's earlier struggles floated away like the dust under her shoes.

I don't know how you full-time moms do it, but I damn sure know why.

The Goods

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A very wise, very dear friend of mine once said to me after her divorce, "You leave the first man because he throws his socks on the floor, and the second one throws his underwear on the floor." It made me laugh at the time, and now I totally get where she's coming from.

Husbands (OK, to be fair you can say "spouses") pull lots of Universal Husband Shit, y'all. And what's great about it is that when your own husband is doing something that irks you, chances are you've got a friend who can totally relate (unless the irksome habit is like, "keeps leaving bloody clothes in the basement sink." You might have to find a chat room for that.)

I recently complained to a girlfriend that my own dear husband had walked into our bedroom to find me wearing nothing but black panty hose, my sexy "Mama's Night Out" black bra (just the matching is a feat here), and the mad hot shoes shown in that photo, and he shot me a look that said, "Uh, that's an interesting ensemble," then proceeded to walk around me to get to his sock drawer, all feels left un-copped. People, come on.

I know two things for certain about my husband: he will never be fat, and he loves the sex.

So when I e-blabbed my frustrations to this friend, she shot back an email seconds later with her own story: when she was newly pregnant with only larger breasts to show for it, she'd stand by the bed each night and rub her chest and belly with anti-stretch-mark oil. It's ok — picture it, you can come back in a few minutes. Rubbing oil on pregnancy boobs. It's what happens in porn right after the pizza gets delivered. Her husband didn't even glance.

So she and I have scheduled a date night during which we'll do nothing but ogle each other and make crude comments. If the sangria's good, we might make out.

I know there are those of you thinking, "God, what I wouldn't give for my husband to stop groping my boobs/grabbing my ass/looking at me like I was Thanksgiving dinner all damn day," because everyone's got their own greener grass. Obviously we love and appreciate our spouses for a whole host of reasons that more than compensate for their shortcomings, and it's probably true that any one of them could keep a blog based entirely on our own faults. Still, it's  good to be able to commiserate about these things with friends who will laugh, pour another glass of wine, and share potentially humiliating stories of their own. It makes you realize that the grass is pretty much the same color no matter who's mowing it.

In Cars

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I love my car. I've loved all of my cars except for one. Recently the amazingly hilarious Aunt Becky over at posted about giving up her favorite car and it started me reminiscing.

On my list of reasons for maintaining my one-child lifestyle is that I don't want to be forced into a bigger vehicle. You can judge me.

My first car, Suki, was a 1986 5-speed Chevy Spectrum, a little red tin can that got me places. I was 20 when Dad bought it for me. Barely knowing how to drive stick, I still got it the hour home from New York City. When I needed to stop I'd take it completely out of gear and slam on the brakes. Eventually I learned to downshift, and I'm forever grateful to that junker for forcing me to learn stick. After a while it started to buck in low gears like a mechanical bull, a problem no one could seem to solve. One afternoon I hit the brakes and my foot thudded to the floor. Later, the clutch cable snapped in a similar fashion — I pressed it, and the pedal kept going. My dad was able to rescue me, rigging up a bike cable to get me home. I'm still impressed by that (but do I know how to change a tire?).

Next, the first brand new car I ever owned, Javier. He was a 1995 red Honda Civic CX hatchback. Always reliable, no power steering (hello, parallel parking guns), and a shockingly big cargo area. I moved dressers in that thing. I loved him. I cried the day my good friend Joe, Jav's second owner, texted me a photo of Jav, dismantled and disrespected, left for dead in the woods just outside of Boston. We'd been so many places, through 3 or 4 idiot boyfriends, a similar number of apartments, several parking tickets, and one boot (oh, those fuckers'll find you). I couldn't bear to see him treated so brutally.

After Jav came unnamed, used Civic sedan. I couldn't master the clutch in that car, and while he was pretty, we just never bonded. His driver's side window got stuck open just as Steve and I hit the road home from South Carolina, and that was his swan song.

Steve and I bought the Honda Element together, brand new. I commuted by train so it's always been his toaster car. I loved the 13-year-old Subaru I got when we moved to New Hampshire, it ran perfectly and only had to be taken off the road two years later because of rust. After three years of taking public transportation with people who I swear were raised by deaf badgers, the Subaru was my personal space restored — plus, 100% fewer masturbating homeless guys!

Just over a year ago I went and mommed it up with a 2002 Passat wagon. My love for the car rivals my adoration of Jav. I was never a power-everything-leather-V6 kind of girl, but of all the used Passats we looked at, this was priced best. Now the problem I have is this: I can't go back to unheated seats, 4 cylinders, no cool red light shining down from my rear-view mirror, and seriously, the miniature sun visor that sits between the other two visors. Oh Germans, how I love you.

I know some of you prefer your trucks, need your minivans, or drive Escalades because you're a Real Housewife of the Someplace Trashy, but I'm forever a car girl. I like it low to the ground and tight on the curves, and when Anna's not around I like it ear-splittingly loud. Even with all the smashed up Goldfish, it's pretty hot.

Sweaters for Sheep

Monday, October 04, 2010

Here's the kind of story I find myself telling people and then realizing I'm One of Those People. So I'm telling you, because you're on The Internets and can't give me that "I'm nodding as though I agree with your assessment of the adorableness of this exchange but am actually going to wander into another room now and talk about more interesting things, like the spinach dip en boule" look.

Driving to Maine on Saturday morning, the long road from the highway to my parents' is full of rolling hills, hay bales, and the occasional farm animal. On this day we passed a herd of sheep, each missing its thick, gray coat.

"Look, Anna. The sheep are missing their fur. Do you know why? They cut the fur off and make clothes and warm things out of it." She asks, "By themselfs?" Stifling my chuckle, "No, baby. People sheer the sheep. They take the fur and make yarn, like we see at the farmers' market. And then they knit sweaters."

"For the sheep?" she asks.

Beautiful photo taken by Channing Johnson. He is amazing.

To Whom It May Concern

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm a letter writer. I write letters of complaint to companies when I feel their product has disappointed or somehow wronged me.

A few weeks ago I opened up a brand new container of ice cream that promised swirls of caramel, chocolate shavings and teensy peanut butter cups. From previous experience I knew this to be accurate, and would try to achieve the full combination in each of the two bites I could have before blowing my caloric intake for the day. Anyway, I opened this brand new container and GASP, HORROR, not a speck of chocolate. Nary a shard. No peanut butter cups, nothing but a lonely caramel brook swirling its way into the depths of unembellished vanilla ice cream. I excavated, I created tunnels that would impress Chilean mine engineers, still nothing. So I wrote a letter:

Dear Ice Creamery,
My chunky chocolate caramel swirl was neither chunky nor chocolatey. Please send reinforcements. Sincerely, Digger

I got an email reply the same day and not one, but TWO coupons to replace the ice cream that my husband was more than happy to enjoy despite its shortcomings. Now that is some good goddamn customer service.

So. I had these two pairs of underwear. They came in a four pack, yet these two delinquent garments started falling apart the minute I wore them. And wore them. And wore them. I don't know what took me so long but finally I'd had it with strings hanging out the tops of my jeans, my ring getting caught in shredded elastic, and knowing that if I were to get in an accident, these were NOT the underwear my Nana would want me in. And again, I wrote a letter:

Dear Intimate Clothier,
I've purchased 4 pairs of your bikini underwear. While they are very comfortable, they have begun to shred. They were not cheap. I'd appreciate reparations. Sincerely, Drafty

Again a reply, then an escalation.

When the regional manager contacted me, she asked me to return the defective articles for a replacement. In respectable language I let her know that these garments were in fact highly used, and had been up in my business to a degree that my husband only dreams of. She assured me that this was Official Policy, and in doing so also made the assumption that I wasn't the kind of person to grab two pairs of underwear off the bathroom floor and go traipsing into fine her retail establishment waving them around being all, "Hey so, where do you want these here USED PANTIES?" I also wondered whether this wasn't just a tactic designed to get me to forget the whole deal.

Today I walked into that shop with two laundered pairs of pink bikini underpants folded neatly and placed inside a Ziplock bag. The clerk informed me that I'd bought these items back in February, and still continued to replace them with not two, but four brandy-new pairs.

This time I got polka dots and decided against asking where the damaged ones were headed.

My All

Monday, September 27, 2010

Are you trying to have it all? And what is "it all?" Every month there's the obligatory news segment about taking it easy on ourselves, not over-extending, accepting that we have a hell of a lot to be proud of (it's usually sandwiched between the rotating "cancer breakthrough!" and "coffee is good for you/bad for you" spots).

I see these clips, with soundbites from attractive psychologists and a supposed representative mom, and I think to myself, Shit, am I supposed to be striving for more right now? Because I'll need some meth in that coffee. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I'm happy with where my career is, and the fact that she still asks for me first in the morning tells me that Anna still thinks I'm a-OK. That's gotta count for something.

I'm just not really a striver. I'm a procrastinator, a dilly-dallier, an I'll-get-to-that-laterer, a task-task-Facebook-task-task-Facebooker. Everything that needs to get done does — on time — and I do my best to get it done well. (I learned the hard way, repeatedly, even, that doing things half-assed will come back to bite you in the remaining half.) I don't think I have the most perfectly awesome life ever, but I'm pretty easily contented and consider that a good quality.

I remember having a conversation with Steve about a co-worker friend of mine. Our mutual boss had said about the friend, "He's just the kind of guy who wants to show up, do his work, and go home." He said it in a disparaging context, as though doing the job my friend was (just barely) paid for wasn't enough, as though we all ought to be rung-climbing type-a's, constantly clamoring for more and better and "all."

Right now my all is this: one happy daughter, room enough to live, a job I'm blessed to have, a second career I always dreamed of, a great group of people who continue to read what I tap out before bed twice a week, a hard-working husband and a heated driver's seat. What I don't have is disposable income, well-behaved pets, clean floors or a single business suit.

The world needs those achievers, all the go-getters who've annoyed me so deeply at past workplaces. Some of them are my very best friends. But I'm not convinced that all of us are really "trying to have it all," or at least not the all the media's selling.

Tell me, what's your all look like these days?

Waiting to Talk

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I remember when I heard the saying, "There's a difference between someone who listens and someone who's just waiting to talk." I was like, oh my God, that's me. I decided then to make more of an effort to really listen to people, to process what they were telling me, and to respond in a way that proved I was hearing them, and not just waiting to interject with my own monologue.

I've always related to people in that way, I'm sure a lot of us do — someone tells you what's happening with them and you yank some old dusty anecdote from your own past with a similar series of events, asshole ex-boyfriend or idiot boss. But my brain often gets ahead of the person I'm with, so that the story is lurching out of my mouth before they've finished their sentence, and though I've tried and tried to work on this, I think being employed full-time from home has only made things worse.

Over the past several weeks I've been able to go out to a handful of dinners without spouse or child, because my husband is awesome and considerate, and even though I play part-time mom to his full-time dad, he only flinches when I request a night out if the place sounds expensive. (Prior to my realizing I should actually request these nights out, I'd just announce that I'd made plans. Then I remembered new-mom friends categorizing this as sex-strike behavior coming from their uninitiated husbands).

After 8 or so hours in front of a computer, maybe a solo workout if it's a motivated kind of day, I get to these rendezvous and become utterly possessed. The part of me that's only communicated with other humans via status updates or in the third person (Why, by the way, is this a universal parent thing? You know you found it annoying before you had kids, and now you're all "Mommy has to go pee, Mommy's working, Mommy's not drunk she's just sleepy...") is like, "HELLS YEAH! WE OUT, BITCHES!"

As I sit with my interesting, hilarious companions, I notice that after 45 minutes I haven't glanced at a menu, my wine is still mostly full, and that I've got simultaneous inner dialogues: one that's sharing stories with friends and another one that's going, "Holy shit, can you shut yourself up for like ten seconds?"

I guess I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank my amazing friends for listening and laughing, and to assure you that I really am hearing you, that I love your company, and to suggest that maybe you bring duct tape to our next get together.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Last week I turned 37. I love birthdays, and I think it's the first time the actual number bugged me. Not a lot, but some. I'm definitely over the hump of my mid-thirties, well out of that key 18-34 demographic everyone's so hot in the pants to market to, and though I don't feel any differently than I did at 23, or 30, I know I think differently. I'm sure my looks are changing, my face and ass seem to be in a dent competition, there are sprouts of gray hairs threatening to become a built-in headband, and cracking joints make it impossible to sneak out of Anna's room at night; I'm never sure if my ankles or the hardwood floors make more noise.

Then there's all that stuff you used to think was so important that you find letting slide, and younger you is like, "Hey, you know you're getting lame" and present you is like, ""

I hardly check concert lists anymore, I drive a station wagon, I love grocery shopping. I stopped lamenting over Saturday nights in when we started cohabiting with creatures that lack both common courtesy and the ability to tell time. We watch PBS almost exclusively. I find radio such a load of suck that I've got NPR from 3 different states in my programmed stations. I couldn't give less of a crap about what Lindsay or Paris or Gisele are saying. I often use the term "kids" to describe the local high-schoolers, as in, "I wish those spoiled fucking kids would stop speeding down this street."

When Anna and I go to the playground on Saturdays, I check out the other moms there. I scrutinize their clothes, hair, their high-end strollers. Moms around here are pretty hip, in shape, but despite the details expensive sunglasses hide, I can tell they are not young. And then it dawns on me that I am also them. We all show up at the same spot each Saturday morning, we each have a kid by one hand, and a paper cup full of hot something in the other. Anyone seeing us together would group us, and it's then that I realize there's still some part of my brain that thinks I'm younger than I am, that looks at these other women as older, more mature, when really we're all in the same bracket. Clearly there's still some part of me that's not sure what the hell's going on or how I'm 37 when I just graduated college, like, yesterday.

The good news is that luckily, my closest friends are getting older with me. Some have been able to maintain a shred of hipness, others open their windows each day just to shout, "GET OFF MY LAWN" at passersby. I'm OK in this phase of aging limbo, and I'm sure Anna will let me know the very second I become an out-of-touch, total embarrassment, like, OMG.

Diary of a Wimpy Chick

Sunday, September 12, 2010

When we first moved here, I went to the local Mac store to see about picking up the software bundle I used for freelance work. I needed 90% of what came in this particular bundle, and when I asked the clerk what I'd be shelling out he said, "That costs twelve-hundred or so, but you won't need most of what's in there." Not that he jumped to conclusions based on, my lack of external sex organs? Facial hair? I was furious at being pigeonholed. I smiled politely and continued browsing.

We have one neighbor who's a nice enough guy, but if the cops discovered 14 missing hitchhikers living as enslaved chipmunk taxidermists under a trap door in his back yard hot tub, I wouldn't be the neighbor interviewed on the news saying, "I can't believe it, he's always been a nice, quiet man." The last time I saw him he acknowledged my recent weight loss. He said, and this is a quote, "I noticed your breasts are smaller." Instead of alerting him to the jaw-dropping inappropriateness of his observation ("You know you just said that OUT LOUD, right?"), I folded my arms over my chest, replied that my top half always goes first, and tried to get out of there as fast as possible.

After incidents like these I feel like crap. I wonder what I'm doing just sitting there — being polite, even — when I know I ought to speak up for myself.

I remember the woman instructor of a self defense class I attended saying that part of the reason women become targets is that we tend to do exactly this — we don't want to ruffle feathers, or tell some dick at the computer store that yes, in fact, I am a professional web developer and photographer, and I'm pretty sure I'll be using all of the programs in that bundle, you little generalizing twit.

Instead I get as mad at myself as I was at the offender, rant here, sometimes cry in frustration. I hope that somehow I'll find a way to teach my daughter to speak up for herself and that until then, the strength I've found in being her mother will help me fight for her in ways I rarely seem able to for myself.

Hey, Jealousy?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

It's pretty easy to break my husband, or anyone, down into good and bad qualities. Obviously the good usually outweighs the bad, and the bad with Steve is mostly just annoying and nothing at the level of like, "German porn addict" or "Glenn Beck."

For example:
He tends to get a little drinky at parties.
He packs WAY too much, and mostly socks.
He's constantly, forever, perpetually blowing his nose.
He can't find anything ever.
The map thing.

He's also one of the hardest working men I've ever known, a patient and involved dad, the easy-going to my what-if. He's very non-judgmental (though sometimes when I just want him to agree that so-and-so is a total asshole, this characteristic isn't my most favorite) and obviously he has a sense of humor — I keep trying to get him to start a blog, but what with all the baby-raising and keeping-a-roof-over-our heads I guess he can't manage to find the time.

But he's got this one trait that I'm conflicted over — the man NEVER gets jealous. And I'm not asking for table-flipping outbursts, or even heated-discussion jealousy. But he actually once said to me these words, "Honey, I wouldn't be mad if you left me for some other dude, because he'd probably be a pretty cool guy." I mean people, WTF is that? I'm fairly certain he offered me up to a friend at the last big party we attended (see also: negative trait #1, above).

I'd like to come in the door after a night out for which I've actually applied make up and proper footwear, and get a cockeyed look, a raised brow, a suspicious glance at my cell phone. As it is I could walk into the house slurring with half a condom wrapper stuck to my pants and he'd be all like "Have a good time, Hon?"

I guess I'm lucky to have such a loving, trusting, even-keeled guy around to put up with my crap and raise my kid, but seriously, what's a girl got to do to get some old fashioned, green-eyed validation around here?

Dress in photo is from The Grace Boutique on Etsy and I love it (I get asked often, they aren't paying me).

And No George Clooney

Friday, September 03, 2010

A couple of years ago, a friend sent me this link (caution: sad photo, but happy ending) to the story of a local baby who'd nearly died after swallowing a button battery. Following that little slice of my worst nightmare, I soldered, duct taped, and Crazy Glued the one remote we own that contains one of those deadly little fuckers, then cleared out the junk drawers and vacuumed from attic to basement. I added "ingested button battery" to my list of Threats to Baby and returned to my regularly scheduled program of Accidental Choking Neuroses.

There would be no musical birthday cards, sucked-on remote entry fobs or toys that contained anything smaller than C batteries behind screwed-down covers. In fact, maybe it would be best to stick with chalk and blocks.

My house on lithium-cell lockdown, I chilled out and became less panicked and more aware. Thing is, we're not always at home.

We had gone to my parents' to house sit while they were out of town. Anna insists on scouring my mother's kitchen cabinets for pacifiers, and finding none, opted to play with a digital thermometer. I knew the thing was dead, but it was either too early in the morning or I had one of my trademark moments of oblivion when a few minutes later, Anna said "Look Mama, this came off" and handed me the cover to the battery compartment — which was empty. My brain immediately started arguing with itself:

She wouldn't have put that in her mouth, she's been putting the thermometer under her arm and calling it a 'shot.' But she does put coins in her mouth, the battery would look like a coin. But the thermometer wasn't wet like she'd been sucking on it. Are you positive? I think I took the battery out last time we were here when I realized the thermometer was dead. Are you sure? Even if she did swallow it, it's a small one, it would easily pass. But oh my God what if it doesn't?

After I tossed the couch and patted down Anna, I called my mom to ask if the thermometer had had a battery in it, "Uuummmm..." was all I needed to hear. We were off to the ER.

The good news is that I was TOTALLY overreacting. Anna didn't swallow anything, and all 8 staff (none of whom seemed to be embroiled in complicated love triangles or dramatic hostage situations) who saw us during our 3 hours in the empty ER confirmed it. Anna was so brave on the x-ray table, and I think she had such a good time that Steve's threats of "Get off of that _____ or you're going to end up in the hospital," now sound better than Disneyland to a girl who came home with 5 stickers, a tattoo, and a personalized plastic bracelet.

After the whole ordeal I did feel a little bit like That Crazy Mom, but in this case it's exactly the outcome I wanted.

Me When I'm Angry

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We try really hard to get Anna to pick up after herself. Each time I get a pair of tiny underpants caught on my toe as I walk down the hallway, I have her toss them in her hamper. Whenever I find petrified raisins rammed between the couch cushions, I hand them to her and have her throw them away. After I dislodge animal-shaped barrettes from the soles of my feet, she'll return them to the bathroom drawer where they belong. These are basic lessons; clean up after yourself, be considerate of others. I don't know a mom who hasn't taught this over and over to her children just as soon as they achieve mobility.

So why is it that sale day at the Gap or any given Saturday at TJMaxx leaves these places looking like the aftermath of an L.A. riot? Why do I still see people nonchalantly hurl cigarette wrappers out of car windows? Who is the family that left four meals' worth of fast-food packaging in the middle of the parking lot? Who the crap empties their ashtray at a four-way stop? And when Anna and I go to the beach, why is it easier for her to find clothing and bottle caps than seashells?

I just can't begin to comprehend the thought process behind this kind of...laziness? Slovenliness? Pick your own 'ness,' I'm being much more forgiving in type than I am in my head. I judge whomever is forcing me to dig through a ransacked pile of jeans to find my size, which is normally conveniently located near the bottom. I judge the shoppers who have all stepped over a shirt laying on the floor without at least tossing it onto a nearby rack. I judge the guy who decided he didn't need ice cream and ditched it on the shelf next to some macaroni. I'd like to track down the owners of all the water bottles and plastic bags stuck between rocks at the beach and ask them to kindly recycle. 

Last weekend a friend made fun of me for carrying around my empty, sticky, dribbly plastic cup as I chased Anna around the playground next to the farmers' market where I'd bought a smoothie an hour earlier. "I have to recycle it," I told her, when she alerted me to the many barrels marked "Recycling" scattered around the market. I don't walk around attracting flies because it gives me a sense of satisfaction or superiority (though it does make me look pretty sexy). I do it because I really believe we've got to take care of what's ours, that ultimately we share our stuff and our space with a whole shitload of other people.

I do it to set a good example for my kid, and I can't imagine that there are parents — any humans — who don't know the value of being considerate.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's not enough that last Tuesday morning Anna crapped all over summer by noticing a red leaf laying on our driveway as we headed out the door for day care, "Mama, what's that? Why that leaf's red?" I walked her to the miniature personage corral known as the Older Toddler Classroom, where one of her teachers handed me a bag full of Anna's swim diapers, water shoes, and whatever other warm-weather encumbrances were required back in June. On top of all this anti-summer fuckery, some of you bastards are already blogging about Halloween.

I hadn't yet started stressing over thinking about Anna's costume for this year. She was Raggedy Ann last year, and holy crap was that adorable. I'll dress too, and experience the usual righteous indignation as I browse catalogs full of "Slutty _____" or "Sexy _____" costumes. With each turn of the page the models of said tarted-up, highly-flammable outfits seem to become less of legal age and the costumes  more improbable — "Sexy, Helpful DMV Employee". Each "set" includes exactly 2 feet of chintzy fabric and some Velcro; presumably you'll already have the thong bodysuit foundation in your lingerie drawer.

So I curse and I complain. I go on about how Halloween is nothing but a pressure holiday like New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day. I'll wish I had the skill to make something from scratch like my mom used to, something creative, fun, something that captured what it meant to be a child...prostitute?

That photo over there, that's me. At maybe 8 years old, possibly 7. And I'm wearing one of my mom's homemade costumes. I'm in 4th grade and I'm dressed like a hooker and I walked door-to-door like that. A trick who delivers — No cash? That's cool, I'll take two miniature Snickers, save your shitty apples for the E.T. nerds behind me. The visible control tops totally make this one authentic. (Though note that this was the last time in my life I didn't actually have cellulite. I'm sure the hose were just for a little extra warmth. Mom thought of everything. Except child predators, apparently.)

So what have we learned? Well, that you don't have to shop a catalog full of poorly-made, highly-toxic costumes sewn by illegal, overseas, child labor just to look like a two-cent tramp, and that back when I was 7 or 8, I didn't come home from trick or treating with any goddamn apples.

Cops and Toddlers

Monday, August 23, 2010

After an unexpected series of events that may or may not have included a fever, headache, contractions, an emergency c-section, and one bouncing new baby boy four states away, Steve and I found ourselves in possession of Anna's cousin Lilly for an overnight stay.

The girls are mostly great together, and it's so much easier to manipulate Anna into pajamas or onto the potty when Lilly's just done it. Lilly, the youngest of three, is the most self-sufficient two-and-a-half year old I've ever met. When I woke up this morning she had coffee ready, was frying bacon and had let the dogs out. I might exaggerate, but she can dress herself, and I'm almost positive she knows how to drive.

We hit a little snag at bedtime, because for one, Lilly can reach a whole bunch of shit that Anna can't yet get to, so I had to basically re-childproof first Anna's room, then, the other two bedrooms Lilly kept bouncing in and out of like an episode of Fawlty Towers. Secondly, have you ever tried to get two over-stimulated toddler BFFs to bed simultaneously between requests for matching pajamas, sippy cups, and pillows? (I hear the collective laughter of the parents of multiples.)

If Steve were on duty alone, both girls would have been locked down in separate bedrooms with two gerbil-drops of water each, wearing whatever pajamas were easiest to wrestle them into, in the pitch dark. Steve is very practical in these matters, very Bad Cop. In contrast, I spent ten minutes digging through Anna's pajama drawer to find two sets of pink feeties with similar material and pattern, washed clumped milk out of an Elmo sippy to create a pair, set up the portable DVD player on Anna's dresser and snuggled two little girls into her twin bed with similarly fuzzy pillows and a couple of silky blankets. I was optimistic, victorious, even. Until the wailing started.

Lilly ended up in my office/guest room only after I'd surveyed all of the pricey electronics she could get her sticky fingers on, strangle-hazard cords and pointy corners. I put a DVD on one of my computers, fetched her a snack when she asked (listened for choking noises outside the door, retrieved the snack, closed door again), and returned to the living room to exasperated glares from Bad Cop.

But not for long. Anna stirred and I obliged her request for back tickles and one more book. Finally, at ten minutes to ten, they were asleep.

In writing this out, I see the many ways in which I am a pushover. I am most often Good Cop, relenting to demands for juice at bedtime, snuggles, back tickles and contraband snacks. Sometimes it's just easier than arguing, other times I just don't care to be a hard ass. Despite our reversed-role household (I work and earn full-time, Steve is an at-home-dad most days), we fall into the traditional gender assignments for Good and Bad Cop. Growing up my mom was always Good Cop, her "maybe" never meant no. I suppose it could be genetic.

Does your household have a Good and Bad Cop? Does it create balance, or is BC continually feeling undermined? Who wears the badge in your family?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So listen, I'm no patchouli-wearing hippie. I shave my armpits, wash my hair, and think Birkenstocks are what Jesus would probably wear for his Flintstones cameo. I say this because when I tell you that I do and will continue to let my 2-year-old daughter run around naked, you don't suddenly picture me living on a commune in the Adirondacks practicing free love and herding goats.

Anna is naked a lot. She prefers to paint in the nude — the photo here is one of my favorites. Ninety percent of her visits to the bathroom end in pantsless antics. She spends naked time in the back yard, at my mother's house, at close friends' homes, at the dinner table. She jumps on the bed naked, chases the dogs naked, demonstrates her gymnastics acumen naked, and when asked to put her undies or pajamas on, she usually complies.

I don't remember the last time I felt totally comfortable undressed, in my own dimpled skin. I only walk nude through my own home if I've forgotten a towel, and that's more an ungraceful, hunched-over sprint. Sure, part of that has to do with our enormous picture window and the local police presence, but mostly, age and insecurity have sapped most of that brazen confidence, my body image taking a hit with each passing year.

Inevitably she'll feel this way too. As Anna grows she'll feel too skinny, or maybe too plump. She'll wonder if her skin is clear enough, she'll wish her beautiful, curly hair were pin straight (mark my words, people). She'll shave and wax and pick and pluck, study every dent in her skin, every crease, each pore. If I do my job right, this will pass, and eventually she'll come to an agreement with her body, she'll learn to dress it, treat it well, maybe even love it sometimes.

So for now, while her horizons expand and her world necessarily becomes less under her control, I'm letting her stay blissfully unaware that not everyone eats waffles in their birthday suits. I'm letting her live a safe, happy, and uninhibited childhood, and I'm hoping not to accidentally raise some sandal-wearing hippie.

All to Myself

Monday, August 09, 2010

One of my favorite places to be is in a big city early in the morning. I love walking around with a paper cup of coffee when nothing's open but train stations and bodegas. It feels like I have the whole world all to myself, the quiet world, just waiting to rumble to life.

Mornings aren't like that anymore. There's really no "all to myself" after I wake — actually, am woken — up. I've given birth to someone who's even more of a morning person than I — offensively so.

At 5:40, Anna either walks adorably into my room wrapped in her blanket, sidles up to my edge of the bed and waits to be scooped up, or stands on her bed screaming frantically for someone to come get her because HEAVEN FORBID she drop the blanket and get to the floor under her own power.

The routine usually involves a stop at the toilet, 64 requests for juice, 5 minutes trying to figure out where we left the TV remote before bed, tuning to PBS Kids ("I want Arfur!"), and hoping she'll be glued long enough for me to make coffee and straighten the kitchen. The mornings when that actually works are fine, I have a few minutes to remember how to string sentences together after my eyes uncross.

The mornings when this doesn't work, well. Those mornings are when I think to myself "I'm going to write a blog post called 'Things I Don't Say Out Loud'." And yes, I do expect a medal for not going all Alec Baldwin on my kid when she starts in with unrelenting demands, overlapping requests for juice, milk, waffles, and popsicles.

She's like a tidal wave of wide awake that I'm just not ready for, and though I voluntarily let Steve sleep in to prep for his days with her, on these mornings I want to wake that sonofabitch up with a fire hose.

The Guilt Factor

Friday, August 06, 2010

Subscribe to almost any parenting blog and you'll undoubtedly see the word "guilt" appear in roughly every other post. We have guilt about working, about not working, about discipline and spoiling, we feel badly about our sex lives, full sinks, and empty fridges.

So I'm boycotting guilt, at least on a few things. I'm not going to guilt myself and I won't give the voices of not-my-kid's-parents any airtime, either.

1. Divided attention. I think about Anna 95% of the time (you can do the math on that to figure out how it's affecting my sex life). When she's at school, I wonder what she's having for breakfast, whether or not she's socializing, if her teachers will send her home in a fine dusting of sandbox dirt all stuck to whatever lunch is left on her chin. I wake up with her ("Mama, I waked up!"), eat with her, read to her, shop with her. So if she crumbles to the floor because I'm too busy reading emails on my iPhone while not getting her juice "IN THE GREEN CUP," I'm going to finish typing and then pour her juice only after I've posted a pic of her in full-tantrum to Facebook.

2. Drive-Thrus. We recycle. We buy 95% post-consumer toilet paper that actually has a grit rating; I'm almost positive I could see a faded, old grocery list on one roll. We rescued 3 dogs from, if not certain euthanasia, then definitely inadequate spoiling. We rarely water the lawn (lazy is the new green). So if I take Anna to Dunkin' Donuts for sprinkle Munchkins, or to McDonald's because it's too hot to cook, I make no apologies. And I'm damn sure not going to unbuckle her, bring her inside, then spend 45 minutes negotiating her back into the car seat while she screams for Playland.

3. Television. I always find myself qualifying Anna's TV time to people, "Oh she watches TV, but just PBS Kids/only for a couple hours/just when we're snowed in and about to go all Shining up in this piece." But whatever, Anna watches well beyond the AAP's recommendations. Anyone who walks past our picture window will tell you that her favorite episode of Backyardigans is Movers and Shakers. Amazingly, she's still intelligent and active, and my dishwasher is currently unloaded.

4. Reading. There are 5 books next to Anna's bed. Some nights she only wants one, other nights she wants them all. Some nights I run into her room before bedtime and hide Fox in Sox because I cannot effing stand it. I've been known to skip the pages of Scarecrow Pete, because damn that book can drag out a bedtime. Oh and The Napping House read on CD? I take advantage of that, too, despite the godawful hippie music that accompanies the story — kiss, press play, lights out.

5. Leaving. That's right. Sometimes I leave her home. I leave her at Grandma's. One night I left in tears, another day I left on a workout just to escape the combined force of Anna and her dad's miserable attitudes. Often when I calculate the amount of time an errand will take me with her vs. solo, factoring in buckles, re-applied shoes, and parking lot crossings, I slip out alone because you just can't leave kids out in the car like the old days.

I'm deciding to keep some of my life for just me, without guilt. I'm still a great mom to an amazing kid, period.

So what are you going to stop feeling guilty about?


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A few friends I follow on Twitter or Facebook have some automated app that generates a status update listing how long and how far their daily run was, and how much of a fat loser you are for sitting on your ass eating Oreos doing nothing but catching up on tweets. That last feature might have been me projecting. But people, one of these friends happens to be like, seven months pregnant.

I've never been an active person. As a kid I'd spend an afternoon swimming in my grandparents' pool, emerge pruned and bloodshot, then stuff my face on cheese, crackers and ice cream and fall asleep in front of Heckle and Jeckle.

Since April I've been trying to finally lose weight for real, without going on some all-salad diet, or no carb, macrobiotic, or The Gwyneth Paltrow is Full of Crap Cleanse (and P.S. Skinny McStepford, STFU). It marks the 3rd time in my life I've joined Weight Watchers — an endeavor I first attempted at 13 — and the 60,000th attempt in general to lose significant weight. So far I'm doing the best I ever have, hovering at around 15 pounds lost without the help of a serious crush, miserable break up or carton of Camel regulars. But goddamn it ain't easy, and I've got 10 to go.

I don't enjoy exercise. I drag myself out, slog around the block, and only feel the reward when I'm in the shower soaping off my glisten. I pass runners and bikers (this one biker in particular who's still circling my neighborhood long after I've showered, dried off, gotten dressed and made coffee. Freaking overachiever.) who wave, and I wonder if I'll be seeing them in a month, or 12 weeks, or if, once again, I'll have abandoned my good intentions along with my skinny jean hopes.

Do you think it's possible to become someone who actually enjoys working out? Who naturally gravitates to the baby carrots instead of the tortilla chips? Or are you just waiting for Valerie Bertnielli to get all chubby again?

Table Matters

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anna's less-seen cousins are visiting from far flung places this week — beautiful Colorado mountain country and the exotic reaches of central New Jersey. They are, together, four beautiful little girls ranging in age from 18 months to 4 years. At 2 and a few months, Anna is still the lightest of the quartet.

My daughter is a string bean. From the neck down she's composed 100% of her dad's genes, from her little square butt cheeks to her wonky, upturned toenails. She looks older than her 2 years because she's lacking the pudge that usually doesn't shed until preschool (or if you're me, until I'm in an urn on someone's mantle). She's long, and this summer I've frequently had her in shorts left over from her 6-12 month collection.

I love her little body, with beach-tanned legs, saggy bathing suit bottoms and floppy straps. I love how her belly pops out the second she eats so much as a single Cheerio. I picture it making a sound like a penny in a piggy bank as she swallows. I've never seen a more beautiful silhouette than her lanky shadow on wet sand.

And still, I can't help but feel pressure to chunk up my little Jack Sprat. When we sit all of the girls down to dinner, I watch in amazement as her cousins eat entire bowls of rigatoni, followed by a meatball, then maybe a yogurt. Three girls are wiped down and picked up, and the chorus of "Just one more bite, Anna" begins. Food is waved, bribes are offered, the child is defiant (but a Popsicle? No problem.)

My instinct tells me she's getting enough. Her annual check-ups say she's growing just fine. But there it looms — the image of a cherubic, applebottomed baby, the worry that she ought to be eating more.

As someone who's never known food strictly as fuel, and has been engaged in thigh warfare for most of her life, I don't want to force Anna to eat arbitrarily. I'd like her to sit when we sit and to know set mealtimes, I won't let her exist solely on Popsicles, but I think it's more an adult issue than a kid's when we demand cleared plates and eaten greens.

Maybe I'll just start pureeing entire meals and freezing them into Popsicles.

Oh, the Places You'll Go

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hey so remember Poop Strike 2010? Let's not relive that. Let's not revisit the week of the malfunctioning toddler, incapable of focusing on anything lest she lose her grip on her undercarriage and accidentally allow her digestive process to come to its natural conclusion.

We don't want to go back to the days where we couldn't leave the house, because at any moment the slightest rumble in her belly would send a swinging, swimming, running outside kid darting for her blankie and the couch.

I'd hate to remind you all of the tiptoe dances, the grimaces, hours spent on bent knees in front of the toilet bribing, coaxing, begging Anna to just let it out, just let it out and your tummy will be all better/you'll get a bag of gummies/Grandma will take you to watch the airplanes/I WILL BUY YOU A GODDAMN UNICORN.

I'd hate for you to think we were uptight about the whole ordeal. I mean, it's just poop.

Hoping to avoid any probe-based interventions, on doctor's orders we started Miralax. I was in my office late in the day when I heard Steve utter five beautiful words, "You made a nice poop!" Almost immediately Anna's whole demeanor changed. She was her old self again, the happy, adorable kid I'd almost forgotten about. She's been back ever since, though we still aren't totally done with Poop Strike.

While she's no longer afraid that it's going to hurt, she hasn't quite gotten back on the potty. In the past week we've cleaned poop from 3 bathtubs, the bathroom floor, kitchen floor and dining room floor, our back yard and my in-laws' front yard. They happen to live in a condo complex where dogs aren't allowed for this specific reason.

It ought to bother me having to clean human feces off of my hardwood floors, but it's still easier than using a flimsy wipe to clean crap spackle off her butt. I've got a method for scooping it from the tub, too (am now short one slotted spoon) and so far, her eliminations at other peoples' homes have been met with understanding and empathy. I'm just so relieved she's going that I'm admittedly being lax about the logistics. Hopefully she'll work herself back to the bowl, to flushing the toilet with a chirpy "Bye-bye poop!", back to collecting that prized bag of gummies (delighting dentists within a 10 mile radius).

I hope those of you who commiserated and gave me such good advice on the last post about poop — no, not that one , the other one. No, I mean the other one. — are doing alright. How are you managing?

My Milkshake

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's been a while since we talked about my boobs. It seems they're continually evolving, these tiny little breasts of mine, but not into the full, upright position. (Also, I find that any entry with the word "boobs" in it gets me higher traffic from search engines. Prior to you all rocking my world with the frat party post, an entry called "Mama Boobs" was #1 for months.)

Even at my heaviest, I top out at a 36A. On someone who's almost 5'11" and hardly small-framed, that equals the topography of a pair of chicken pocks. I actually envy people who can create cleavage with duct tape.

When I was pregnant, my little pocks grew. To my delight I moved up to a B cup — to my sheer, unbridled ecstasy, the woman at the maternity undergarments store advised me to buy an even larger cup for nursing. It almost made me forgive this particular chain of stores for their ridiculous checkout interrogation where before you can just hand over your goddamn money and leave the freaking store, you've got to politely decline giving out your phone numbers, zip code, refuse enrollment in 42 different New Mommy clubs, agree to their stringent return policy and promise to name your baby-to-be after the sales clerk who assisted you.

36C was perfect on me. I could have put up with engorgement, pumping, and restricting my breasts to their On Duty status indefinitely because of how great they felt, how nice they made my clothes look, the fantastic cleavage. I loved the weight of them, I was surprised by how, uh, attached I grew to them because really, aside from the dread of bra shopping before, I never gave them much thought.

I stopped nursing Anna at 11 months and within weeks my period — which had taken a blessed 21-month hiatus — was back and my spectacular rack was gone, and then some. I took friends' advice and got myself fitted for a 'real' bra, as opposed to whatever was on clearance at Marshall's for ten bucks or less. The girls and I had a little renaissance then, with the fifty-dollar bra. A few months later I signed my increasingly mushy self up for Weight Watchers.

I've since dropped about 15 pounds. The fifty-dollar 36A now has enough room for my boobs and a couple of contraband Quarter Pounders. So while I'm delighted to be back in my skinny jeans, I'm less thrilled to find myself browsing training bras. I figure by the time I reach my goal, I'll just need a pair of Band-Aids.

Picking Battles

Monday, July 19, 2010

I slip in comments here all the time about what slacker parents we are, how Anna's covered in bruises or ear wax most of the time, snacks daily on fistfuls of dog food (and not even the good kind) and, in the past two years, has slowly built a candy shell over what used to be my couch.

If I'm being fair to us, Steve and me, we're not really lazy parents. As anyone with a kid knows, there are just so. many. damn. battles. that if we didn't choose the really important ones (the Dog Kicking Conflict, or the Fingers in the Fan Fracas, for example) we'd be perpetually frustrated with mouths stiffly frozen in the "No" position.

When Anna started stomping around at 5:30 a.m. demanding popsicles, I decided to make my own out of apricot nectar. I call them breakfast popsicles. She thinks it's a super treat, I pretend juice isn't rotting her teeth as she opens the freezer (bottom freezers — brilliant idea, childless engineers) to retrieve her 4th one before 7 a.m. Win-win.

We have a very lax policy on nudity, with the application of undergarments required only in public and at the dinner table. It's easier for me to throw a sheet over the couch than maintain patience through 15 minutes of "I want to do it myself," sitting on my hands to keep them from grabbing her skinny ankles and shoving them through the right holes — that's ONE leg in each hole — and pulling them up over a wiggling, protesting rear-end.

The hardwood floors in my dining room boast a CSI-worthy splatter pattern of washable paints, because she works so intently at her easel we get at least 15 good minutes of quiet time. So when she sits on the floor with a loaded brush and tells me she's putting on sunblock, I walk calmly to the bathroom (after snapping a pic for Facebook, natch) and run a bath.

So should you ever visit my house, you may not want to sit on my couch or eat anything Anna offers, but you'll meet a happy, paint-spattered naked kid with all ten fingers intact and feet that she usually keeps to herself.

Some Other Mothers

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A couple of months after I had Anna, I decided to use my new baby to help me make friends. It worked in Boston with my dogs, so why not, right? We were still relatively new to town and most of our neighbors are senior citizens, so while we're friendly with the lovely people over our fences, we weren't really relating on anything beyond lawn maintenance and devious squirrel activity.

I found a local mothers group and attended one meeting, but after 5 minutes I realized that while motherhood does instantly give you a mutual topic of conversation, it can't bridge other gaps, like the one where I don't play tennis or drive a Mercedes. (OK fine, or remember to brush my hair sometimes, or clean the breast milk out of my kid's neck rolls.)

Then a few months ago I gave it another go, signing up — dues and all — for a different mothers group. They have a website with lists of things to do, forums for exchanging reviews on anything from dentists to dishwashers, pages and pages of conversations and playgroups. A real community, I thought, so many women to choose from. Surely this is the source for my local BFF.

Each day I'd open the group's upcoming activities email, and every single time whatever was happening was happening without me. Playdates took place at 2pm or 10am, with consideration made for naptime but not for having to be planted in front of a desk from 9-5. I started getting irrationally annoyed with the entire group for always planning things in my absence, like the time in junior high my two closest friends went and got "Best Friends" t-shirts without my name on them. I'm not bitter, Linda and Stephanie.

Maybe at this age all of our strongest relationships are built; the friends you never call or see, the ones who require no maintenance, who understand the unspoken rule of canceled plans. Maybe if I have to try this much I'm kind of forcing the issue. But it would be nice to have someone to run errands with every now and then who I didn't have to bribe, carry or threaten, someone who could buckle themselves into the car, whose shoes I wouldn't have to constantly pick up, track down, or re-apply.

Do you think there's a cutoff to making lasting friendships? Have you found it harder or easier in your late 20s, 30s, 40s? After a move? After kids?


Monday, July 12, 2010

Remember how Anna was acting out, having a hard time adjusting to her new room in day care (Come to think of it, I might not have mentioned that. The past week has been what a good friend of mine might call a 'shit storm.'), and generally causing me to suspect that she'd been body snatched? Apparently the hand we were dealt — the one with the horrible cough causing her lack of sleep, leading to bleary-eyed misery throughout the land, exacerbating the tough day care transition and thereby increasing the household alcohol budget — were not quite the whole deal.

On Thursday, after an unpleasant toilet experience, Anna decided to exert whatever will she wasn't using to slowly kill me to become the boss of her bowels.

All weekend we watched her — mid-sentence or play — bolt up on tip-toes, clutching her cheeks, wiggling uncomfortably, whining, then insisting she lie down. From the backyard pool she'd sprint to the living room, "Read a book!" At her easel, she'd drop her brush, leaving another potential masterwork unfinished, "I want to go to bed!" She'd even double-tantrum me, clinging to my leg screaming for popsicles when suddenly, "I want to snuggle on the couch!" She is the definition of agitated.

Today I phoned her pediatrician who recommended a laxative powder, which I added to straight apricot nectar. At this point I just want it out, and I want her to see that it doesn't always hurt, and of course, I don't want her to know that I had anything to do with it.

Finally, in the midst of an Oscar-worthy fit performed exclusively for my in-laws (again, shaving years off their lives), something dropped. I turned the corner to find my mother-in-law snuggling a quivering Anna in her blankie, "She needs a wipe." Upon removing the blanket, I discovered she needed something more like a Silkwood shower.

I did a quick clean up with all the battle I had left in me to chase her fish-flopping, squirming little body around the bathroom floor. I could still smell the poop as I lowered her into bed.

Finally the house is peaceful, I have photos I've been dying to edit and a nice, cold glass of chardonnay at the ready. My dogs have calmed down and are all splayed on the guest bed that shares my office space. Bert, the youngest, yawns. But he's not yawning at all. Before I can act, he's dumped what looks like Cujo's last stand onto the bed and down to the rug. As I fetch cleaning supplies, he skulks into the living room and leaves another hot pile on my brand new goddamn rug.

People, there is not enough chardonnay in the entire world.

Textbook Twos

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We seem to be having a moment here lately. The situation is this: I'm pretty sure my daughter is out to get me. I think each day she's trying to weaken my defenses by turning me into a frustrated, weepy, compliant drone without the willpower to argue another point, reason one more debate, or deny her a 2-popsicle breakfast.

Anna spends most of her time in Steve's care while I work. I'm home, but he keeps her out of my office for most of 8 hours a day. They run errands, take naps, visit playgrounds and the beach. By his account, she's 'sometimes' fussy. Apparently, she saves the big guns for me.

I have tons of guilt about not enjoying all of my time with Anna like I used to, before she could rapid-fire demands at me, throw low-grade, moaning tantrums with Iron Man stamina, or turn quick runs for milk into 50-minute exercises in diaphragmatic breathing. 

But lately, every move is a negotiation. Every request is met with defiance or some creative runaround involving 3 pairs of underpants, 2 sets of shoes and a burning desire to read Cat in the Hat 4 times.

Last week we took a stroll together to the grocery store, where her good mood held right until we hit the automatic doors. She decided she urgently had to have something from each aisle we passed, so while she yelled about yogurt, Pop-Tarts and watermelon, I coolly reminded her she had all of these things at home. I tried to distract her with the giant Tony the Tiger cutout standing above the milk section, I screamed things in my head that I'd never say out loud. I just wanted to buy some dinner, she wanted to demonstrate the Testing Boundaries portion of toddlerhood.

I sang to her on the walk home. I wiggled the stroller back and forth, while she writhed against the straps and sobbed "I want to WALK!" Row, row, row your boat.... I made a conscious effort to keep my jaw relaxed and my pace steady. I managed to keep my cheeks dry.

Of course we also have some really great moments. I love her face at my bedside in the morning, even if the sun is just barely up. Before that, I love hearing her bare feet pat down the hallway. She and Steve sit at the kitchen bar and have breakfast together, I could sit on the couch and watch them there all day. Sometimes after day care I'll bring her to the beach — the salty air corkscrews her curls tight, her bathing suit baggy on her lanky frame. I watch her play in the sand, my beautiful girl in the late, golden sun. She is amazing, and I remind myself we're just in another phase.

So what do I do here? As she gets older I feel somehow less adept at sorting through my job responsibilities in these transitions. Do I comfort her? Continue distraction techniques? Introduce consistent, organized discipline? Find someone to sponsor my stay at Canyon Ranch until she's 5? Now that she's so much a person, I feel more pressure to be doing right — it's like being in those last few years of school that colleges give a crap about. There's no more winging it, right about now I'd like a guidance counselor.