Suburban Snapshots

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?