Suburban Snapshots

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.