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.