Suburban Snapshots


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.