Suburban Snapshots

The New Year and What
We're Made Of

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It hasn't been the easiest year for us, it's been one of those years where you're forced to be an adult, to learn things about yourself, to look at your life in all its complicated pieces, to take inventory, to pay attention, to work hard, and to keep going.

It was a year of growing up and taking responsibility, a year with love and hurt. And because life is the way it is, even in the midst of all the serious business that needed our focused attention, there were still bills to be paid, dogs to be fed, car repairs, preschool projects, work trips, family trips, grocery trips.

We lost a beloved dog, friends lost parents, we lost friends.

But there were also new babies, and now we get to watch — from three and a half years in — our friends working parenthood into their lives. There were celebrations, parties, an actual, bona fide vacation, and the best Fourth of July I can remember having.

This was the year when Steve landed a job that he deserved and I started getting paid to write. We met good people in our neighborhood and I made actual, in-the-flesh friends through this crazy little blog.

Anna grew so much this year, sometimes it's hard to believe she's only three. She learned to write her name, she recognizes her letters and most of her numbers, she sings the days of the week in English and Spanish, she memorizes song lyrics and sings to herself in the mirror, she cracks jokes and strikes poses. And oh, does she have opinions.

As the new year approaches, we tend to want to hold the sweet memories and milestones and somehow leave the harder ones behind us. But it all comes with us, what was good and what hurt, and eventually we figure out what to make with it, and what it makes of us.

Happy new year to you and your loved ones.

If You Take a Three-Year-Old to the Movies

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Over the weekend, Steve and I experienced what must have been a Christmas-spirit-induced mutual delusion and decided it would be fun to take Anna to see The Muppets. Because I optimistically bought the tickets in advance, there was no turning back from the 3:30 matinee even after the child was overheard muttering, "Stupid Mommy" during a time out.

In the spirit of one of our favorite bedtime books, here's the recap.

If you take a three-year old to the movies, she'll be sure to skip her nap, eliminating her tolerance for just about anything except giant boxes of candy.

When she spots those giant boxes of candy — priced one dollar less than a week's worth of groceries — she will defiantly stomp hard enough to topple another patron's bag of popcorn.

When the popcorn has fallen to the floor, she'll try to eat it, and while she's down there she'll spot some old, hairy gum. You'll retrieve her in the nick of time.

Mid-tantrum, she'll remember that you often carry gum in your purse and insist on a piece, though today you have left it out in the car. She sentences you to death with a disgruntled furrow.

When you threaten to promptly remove her angry little self to the car, she will reluctantly march into the theater.

In the theater, you will be forced to contain your child through a six-hour series of previews that are as loud as an airshow and offer no distraction from the fact that every other kid in the audience has a bag of popcorn.

Defeated, you just go buy the freaking popcorn.

On your way to the popcorn, your three-year-old spots the restrooms. Suddenly, she feels a life-or-death need to pee.

While waiting outside the stalls, you hear small fingers touching every surface in their vicinity. You open the door to find her elbow-deep into the tampon disposal like it's a goddamned Christmas stocking.

The thought of Christmas reminds you that this is the perfect opportunity to use Santa as a threat. Once you've scrubbed her fingers-to-neck in the bathroom sink, you return to the popcorn counter, where you are now too late to buy any popcorn.

And so, caught between spending her college fund on a giant box of candy and suffering through the last half of the movie with a miserable child, you decide to cut your losses and head home for a nap.

It's a Miracle Anyone
Eats Around Here

Friday, December 09, 2011

Remember when someone else controlled most of your food intake, so you didn't have to think about things like calories, saturated fat, unhealthy ingredients, environmental impact, sad chickens, BPA content, or how it is exactly that meat can sit indefinitely at room temperature in cans? Oh, the halcyon days of Chef Boyardee and Kraft Deluxe.

When I realized for the first time that being out on my own meant I could put anything I wanted into my cart, in went Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Yoo Hoo, Cool Ranch Doritos, and some spinach to ward off a shame spiral.

Now I have two other people to consider: a healthy, growing three-and-a-half year-old who'd live on Pirate's Booty and Laffy Taffy if I'd let her, and Steve, whose daily caloric requirements will eventually force us to start ranching our own cattle. And I know too much to go back to Hamburger Helper, with its delicious sodium and seductive hydrolyzed oils.

Used to be I'd check labels' nutritional info and the length of the ingredients list. Now I only glance at those things, scanning instead for high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, unpronounceable ingredients that start with 'x' and basically, that eliminates the entire convenience food aisle. I buy organic when I can (pay weeks), and avoid produce that's not in season (excepting bananas). I stalk packaged meat slowly, like a lion on live prey, looking for what's all natural, vegetarian-fed, and humanely raised. I have beef guilt and rarely cook it at home. Ditto pork — except you, bacon, I can't quit you. 

And now the reports on sketchy apple juice and BPA in cans. Can a mom get a motherbleeping break around here?

Grocery shopping remains my favorite chore. I'm grateful that I'm in a position to be choosy about what I bring home to my family knowing there are people without that luxury. You'll still find cans of tomato soup in my basket and the occasional box of Funny Bones, but mostly you'll find me walking the aisles, squinting at the back of some box wondering what the hell pyridoxine hydrochloride is.

It's Always an Offer I
Can't Refuse

Monday, December 05, 2011

If you know how to look someone in the eye who you're not married to and haven't birthed, and say unequivocally, firmly, and definitively, "no" then I think a lot of us would like to learn your technique.

Why is it so hard, that little two-letter word? It's probably the most danced around, over-explained little one-syllable word in the vernacular.

A few weeks ago I got a handful emails from different friends, each asking for what really were small favors: a quick photo, some editing, a proof-read, a little Photoshop. I agreed to each request because I love these people and could manage to make the time, and because I value having the skills to help.

It's in all of us, the need to feel useful, the satisfaction of being appreciated, not wanting to disappoint the people we care about. In the meantime, Steve noticed that I was on the computer later than usual, and in his very practical way of looking out for me he said, "Why didn't you just say 'no'?"

He may as well have given me that piece of advice in Mandarin. Just say no? DOES NOT COMPUTE. Often we begrudgingly say yes to someone — a neighbor who needs computer help or the friend with the horrible toddler whose babysitter canceled — we submit because it's just easier than saying no, or because we can't think of a good excuse fast enough, or sometimes because the excuse makes us feel guilty.

We do it out of diplomacy, sometimes we do it because we really want to help and realize too late that we've taken on too much — say, six batches into a thirty-batch preschool snickerdoodle fundraiser. Sometimes there are just certain people we can't refuse.

Maybe it all balances out — I'm sure I've been on the other end of the ask, needing a favor from a friend whose schedule was already keeping him at work too late or a ride from someone who wasn't headed in my direction. Maybe the satisfaction of being able to help is compensation for the sacrifices we make to squeeze in just one more task before bed.

Are you any good at no?

It's Not Like I'm Serving
Frozen Pot Pies

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm not posting a list of things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving, though it is lengthy and names just about everyone who's been a part of my life this year. Instead, I have a confession.

This year, I ordered my Thanksgiving dinner.

That's right, all of it. From the turkey to the cranberries to the pie. "What next?" you might be thinking, "A personal assistant?" But no. This year we had no idea what we'd do for Thanksgiving. My mom will be marching in the Macy's parade (as a safari clown, and despite standing in front of the TV through every tiresome dance routine, there will be no glimpse of her, and she probably won't have the opportunity to ask Anderson Cooper to flex for her or to see how tall Matt Lauer is in real life) which means she won't be cooking.

We try to stay local to get the most out of the long weekend and also because neither of us is particularly fond of spending eleven hours in the car for a four-hour trip (true story). Steve suggested that instead of hoping my sister's relatives would take us in and send us home with conveniently packaged leftovers, we host dinner ourselves. I was raised to believe that if there aren't fifteen people crammed around an eight-person table, if you can actually hear the conversation you're involved in, it's not a holiday.

I invited our neighborhood friends and any relatives whose plans might still be up in the air -- in my family, there's a good chance that plans are up in the air until someone's actually carving a turkey. And it turns out we'll have a nice group of six adults, three kids, and a small after-party to finish up our case of Two-Buck Chuck.

At first I wanted to attempt the fifty-mile Thanksgiving, where any food we ate would be raised or farmed within fifty miles of our town. Then I wanted an organic turkey, but that seemed silly when I also wanted my grandmother's stuffing, which uses an entire tube of Jimmy Dean sausage. And there has to be pasta and sauce.

Then a friend told me that a restaurant up the road was packaging entire dinners to go. I looked at my collection of pots, all of which were in the sink, opened my tiny, vegetarian oven, peered into my fridge, full but stocked only with questionable Rubbermaid containers and expired salad dressings, and I made the call.

I'll still prepare the pasta and meatballs myself, so even with someone else doing most of the cooking the mess in my kitchen will be authentic, and the gathering at my table will be raucous and joyful.

Happy Thanksgiving to every one of you and your families.

Fell in Love with a Girl

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I haven't written specifically about Anna lately mostly because she's been super awesome and I didn't want to be the mom who's like, "Oh my GAWD you guys, everything my kid does lately is the best thing EVAR!"

She's in ballet now, and my previous gender-neutral, zero-princess-tolerance self cannot even stand how sweet she looks in the pale pink leotard and tights, tall with thin arms and legs, no question that she's her father's daughter. She's still clumsy but eager to perform her improvised spins and leaps for the teachers, crash landing while the rest of the class practices plié-and-stretch.

She actually eats things — whole things — though some days those whole things might be whole bags of Pirate's Booty. She's found my sucker button, the one she's pushing when trying to stay up later than normal and she says to me, "Mama, I really missed you while you were away on that trip." She drops her head and looks at me out the very top of her eyes, lips in a perfect frown, buying herself ten more minutes on the couch.

Over the summer when she sat rapt through a two-plus hour local production of The Wizard of Oz, she also started paying attention through entire movies. Now I'll overhear her singing songs from Tangled, from school, from the radio, and I realize that she's picking up a lot more than either of us thought.

And she's funny as hell. Not just when she's being overly dramatic because I won't let her wear her ballet slippers outside, or when she's dancing like a tranq-darted wallaby, but on purpose. She writes her own material, "Mom, have you ever heard of a TOASTER crossing the road?" There's no punchline, but she laughs so hard I can count her teeth. When she tells these with friends it starts a chain of bad-joke telling and hysterics. I've witnessed it, and it makes me proud.

Three started off a little rough, but heading into four she's pretty much everything I imagined any daughter of mine would be. I still see each of us in her, but so much of what I glimpse is her own little self; her klutzy, joyous, beautiful little self.

Back to Our Regularly
Scheduled Programming

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Now that I'm not home by myself five nights a week armed only with my iPhone and a wooden spoon, I'm free to write about how badly it sucked being at home by myself five nights a week.

It sucked out loud.

It sucked far more for Steve, who actually had to be awake all night, then somehow manage to de-zombify long enough to keep Anna out of harm's way two days a week while also participating in fun family activities on weekends, when all his body wanted to do was collapse on itself and slip into a deep, quiet coma.

His shift was from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., so he'd walk in the door just as Anna and I were waking up. Usually she'd want nothing to do with him and would figuratively and then literally kick him square in the nuts when he'd come to lie with us in the morning. I'd get her ready and off to school, then sit to work and listen to Steve's apneic breathing until around 2. It felt lonelier having him home and unconscious than it did having him off at work. When he accepted the third shift I thought, we are going to be together every. waking. hour. But I ended up seeing even less of him than if he'd been on the nine-to-five — turns out there weren't many waking hours.

In our previous routine I had a husband who was awake and lucid for several hours per day. He'd do dishes, laundry, he'd vacuum. And then his position changed and for three months he slept, and when he was awake he wanted to sleep, and when he was alert he was kind of cranky. We'd bicker more, the house was a mess, we couldn't go out to weeknight dinners or rent movies, we'd have rushed sex in the time between getting Anna to sleep and sending Steve out the door (admittedly this wasn't all bad.)

It was three months that felt like forever, they were exhausting, I kept remembering that this wasn't a temporary situation but an indefinite one and tried to get used to the idea. Steve really liked the work and after a tough year, he was feeling good about being out there hunting and gathering again.

Thankfully Steve landed a new job working half a mile from home with a schedule that gets him through the door by 3:30 p.m. He has real benefits that include time off and a 401(k), movies at night and spontaneous dinners out. Anna still doesn't want to see him in the morning, but I'm more than happy to not be alone at night (she types from a hotel room sixty miles away).

I'm happiest for him, glad that our family is on a reasonable schedule again, and I have a ton of respect for the tired, dedicated people who keep this place running while the rest of us tuck into empty beds, waiting to be woken by the sweet sound of your keys in the door.

Spousal Communications

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

If you've been in a relationship for longer than twenty minutes, you know that many exchanges with a significant other require some interpretation. Below are helpful translations of common household interactions.

The Husband Subtext Decoder:

"I cleaned while you were gone." = "Anything I had to hand wash is still sitting in the sink fermenting what will eventually become the key ingredient in a herpes vaccine."

"It's not in there, I checked." = "When I opened the cabinet door and gingerly moved my head from right to left, then promptly exited the room, I didn't see the thing I was looking for."

"Do you want me to make dinner?" = "I'd rather cook than finish the hand-washing in the sink, because what the crap is growing on that stuff?"

"Does this shirt look okay?" = "Does this shirt increase my chances of having sex with you later?"

"I have to run to Home Depot, need anything while I'm out?" = "I hope you don't need anything while I'm out, because chances are I'll take longer than the Donner Party and I already forgot what you asked for."

The Wife Subtext Decoder:

"I'm making such a good dinner tonight." = "I'mma dirty every single pot and pan we own, even the good ones that need to be washed by hand."

"I did all the laundry." = "Which is now sitting in four laundry baskets getting wrinklier than Joan Rivers' real face."

"Give me five minutes, I just have to do a work thing." = "I just posted a picture to Facebook and I'm compulsively refreshing my page until somebody comments."

"Check out my new jeans." = "The comfort and fulfillment of your penis relies heavily on your reaction."

"I'm running to Target for a birthday card, I'll be right back." = "We have at least eighty dollars in the account, right?"

Five Signs of Kid Infestation

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just before we left Boston, bed bug outbreaks in our neighborhood made national news. Broadcasts included helpful tips on what to look for, how to manage the spread, and alternatives to lighting all your belongings on fire and leaving town naked on a bicycle. Now that we live farther north we find there's an even bigger, more permanent problem: we've got a kid infestation. Here are five telltale signs:

1. Malfunctioning television refuses to broadcast any adult content. You find yourself ignorant to even the biggest news until you glimpse a headline as you run past the newspaper stand that happens to be positioned between the grocery store entrance and the dairy case.

2. Unexplained, illegible marks on all walls, three-feet or lower. Like termite damage, these types of markings accumulate over time. They may not compromise the integrity of your foundation, but can interfere with your desire to own anything nice, ever.

3. Disappearing furniture. You may notice your once-useful coffee table suddenly missing. One of the surest signs of acute kid infestation is finding this central piece of furniture replaced by two pairs of shoes, a pile of DVDs, and three Squinkies.

4. Car impounded, hoarding intervention. A concerned friend or relative noticed four pairs of shoes, six sippy cups, a week's worth of gummy bears, several hundred napkins, nineteen discarded Starbucks cups, and enough changes of clothes for a five-day camping trip, and called the authorities. The good news is that your stash isn't illegal and you're prepared for any natural disaster.

5. Filth Blindness. You realize only when it's time for your mother-in-law's summer visit or just as the babysitter's pulling in that your house has been overrun by herds of angry dust bunnies and heaps of petrified Cheerios. You wonder as you're hunched over the couch chiseling away half an inch of yogurt with your thumbnail, how it is you never noticed the mess before now.

Not Without My Mayo

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A year and a half ago, I joined Weight Watchers for the fourth time since eighth grade. In all my thirty-eight years I've lost weight repeatedly, usually by doing grossly unhealthy things like eating only salads for a month, sticking to a limit of five-hundred calories per day, or having a boyfriend whose blinding hotness made me too nervous to eat — unless I was drunk — for a good two weeks (true story).

Needless to say it never stuck, and I'd always end up squeezing myself back into the two pairs of jeans that didn't suffocate me. I wasn't comfortable. I had lumps in places I didn't enjoy. I was self conscious, jiggly, and dimpled, and I never felt quite like I was rocking anything I wore.

This month marks a full year for me at my goal weight. In total I lost twenty-three or so pounds, depending on which day I'm weighing in. I still step on the scale once a week, and check-in at The Dub-Dub once a month. I still don't love working out. I still refuse to acknowledge fat-free "half and half" as a real thing. I still eat the fries Anna leaves on her plate. I still have a dent on my ass big enough to stage a moon landing, and I still have an ass big enough to accommodate that dent.

But things have definitely changed. I haven't cringed at a full-body photo of myself in over a year. This summer, I confidently wore a bikini in public. When I lie in bed, I don't curse myself because there's belly lying next to me, or because my thighs are putting my hands to sleep. When I walk, my rear-end doesn't feel like a horse trailer roped to a Yugo. I stand up straighter, I seek out form-fitting jeans, and now when I try something on that doesn't fit, I blame the manufacturer instead of myself.

I'm not here to evangelize for Weight Watchers or to tout the 'new me,' because I'm still the same me. I still have a thirty-eight-year-old body with ripples and wrinkles and dents. But with those twenty-something pounds I also lost the whole vocabulary I'd used to guilt myself, and that makes me feel lightest of all.

This is Where I Release
Her Into the Wild

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Here's something I think when I watch Anna playing with her little friends: How will I know if she's the annoying kid? 

We all know one. I think in my childhood I was her for a while — the one who talks too much, or too loudly, or laughs dramatically like some goddamned theater major, the one who's maybe a little too bossy or too precocious, the kid who's overbearing. I just wonder if as her mother I'd have the objectivity to recognize it in her, knowing that there's nothing I love more than everything she is.

I think about these things more now that she's been off making friends without my help. She's the littlest mayor of our block, stopping at three houses on our evening walks to goof around with friends and dodge mosquitoes. It's amazing to observe and to realize that she's probably going to grow up with these kids — that I'll be walking her to school in this neighborhood pack of bedraggled, caffeinated moms chaperoning their backpacked children off to the elementary down the street.

Last Saturday as we made our rounds from the farmers' market (Anna insisted we buy a small pumpkin from Hot Farmer and I really had no choice but to comply. She said "please.") to the playground, we stopped where two boys were horsing around on the soccer field. "Mom, can I go play with them?" I could tell the boys were older, maybe five, and were deeply engaged in a game of tackle kickball. I worried they'd ignore her, or worse, reject her. (Interestingly, I didn't worry about my three-and-a-half year old playing tackle with two older boys, so maybe I need to re-prioritize my concerns.) I told her to go ask if she could join them and watched as Anna inched toward the two, turning to wave me toward her as I shooed her forward. I held my breath, and the next thing I knew there was a tangled pile of three giggling kids at my feet and a soccer ball languishing in its goal.

They played together for a good ten minutes before the official soccer game started. I was proud of her courage at approaching the boys, I loved watching her being independently social, and I realized that this is really the start of something. This is the start of her really being out in the world.

You guys. Hold me.

My First Giveaway Will Make
You Fat and Happy

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The cookbook was won by Allison Reid, whose go-to recipe is rice bowl of melting chard and two beans.

I didn't always have a feel for cooking. I once made overdone hamburgers on English muffins for a dinner date (spoiler: we broke up). I used to dump dried spices into canned tomatoes and call it sauce. Then there was the time I had to put an entire vat of what was supposed to have been caponata down my garbage disposal. Back in the day I couldn't tell a good recipe if Julia Child herself handed it to me.
To the delight of subsequent boyfriends, I developed the ability to cook and even have a repertoire of dishes I don't need recipes for — my sauce is outstanding. I cook almost every night for the three of us, and when I make new friends the second thing I to do (after Facebook stalking them) is feed them. Sometimes I use one of my by-heart recipes, but usually I flip open one of my collection of America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. Below is a totally un-Photoshopped but completely dorky picture of my baking cabinet (here's the adorable outtake).

I have never, ever, ever cooked up a dud from these books. My favorites are dog-eared and drip-stained. I go to them for everything from impressive dinner party ideas to simple salad dressings. While Steve insists on silence in the house during The McLaughlin Group, I shush everyone through episodes of America's Test Kitchen (wow, I bet you're clamoring to come hang out with us now.)
To win a copy of their newest offering, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbookofficially the biggest and heaviest cookbook I own — leave a comment below with just the name of your number one go-to recipe. Make sure to include your email address so I can contact you (I will not use it beyond this giveaway). I'll randomly pick a winner on Monday at 9:00 EST. You must live in the U.S. to win the book.

But Maybe We Can Still
Be Facebook Friends

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last week's post about making new friends got me wondering why it had taken me so long to do, what exactly was the deal with me and the other moms, and how I could possibly make something hilarious of it all. And so, my list of 5 reasons we may not be carpooling to Target together:

1. If you own a stroller that I'd have to finance over 4 years and can talk at length about its features, we might have a hard time making conversation. But call me if you have a yard sale.

2. If your vehicle has a set of those "My Family" stickers on it, well, we can probably still be friends but we're definitely taking my car.

3. If you use "summer" in the verb form, chances are we don't have a ton in common. Still, I'm not averse to an invitation to the waterfront villa in which you summer-as-a-verb.

4. If I bump into you at the grocery store and your cart contains only produce and organic milk, your toddler's not face-first in a bag of Cheetos, and your hair isn't in one of those half-assed bun/ponytail hybrids, we definitely can't be friends. I just don't need that kind of pressure.

5. If you spend all your time at the playground making calls and texting, we can't be friends, because who's going to keep an eye on the kids while I Facebook?

As It Turns Out, I'm Not
a Total Pariah

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Back when Anna was pretty tiny I attempted to, failed at, and wrote about my efforts at making friends with other moms. Lots of you guys related to that post and a follow-up I wrote a bit later.

Since then I've made some friends, the kind who trust me with the secret location of their spare house key and the safekeeping of their children — fine, their goldfish, but still. I've made friends with moms who drink and curse and struggle with guilt and unruly nether regions. Suddenly, I know people in my own neighborhood and they're fun and down to earth, and they're the parents of the kids my kid's going to grow up with.

I'm writing this to give hope to those people who are struggling, because I tried to make friends and it wasn't working. You know that one friend of yours, the only single one left in your circle who's always trying to find a relationship? And all you want to do is sit him down and say, "Stop trying so hard." It's the same with finding mom friends.

The women I met just kind of showed up — one in response to something I'd posted online for sale who happened to live four doors down with a kid Anna's age, and another whose house I wandered into volunteering for a block party. You can feel almost immediatly how things will go; you know by the way you relate whether or not you'll be carpooling to Target and rummaging through each other's refrigerators, wondering why neither of you have eggs or milk but are fully stocked on stuffed olives.

It definitely helps having a kid who can talk and being past the point where your life is consumed by changing diapers and washing breast pumps. You can send your kids into another room to play dress up, then talk about grown up things like the brand new meat shop or the sexy tomato guy at the Saturday farmers' market.

It was a dry few years and I missed the easy familiarity of the friends I'd left when we moved. It was hard working from home, not being able to grab lunch with a co-worker or talk about shows on the cable channels I don't have.

Organized meet-ups didn't work out for me. If they're not working out for you, or if you don't relate to the moms at your playground or music classes, don't sweat it. You'll find your next real friend when her mail is accidentally delivered to your house, or when your kid runs off with her kid's beach toy, or when you're both standing around nonchalantly checking out that hot new tomato guy at the Saturday farmers' market.

Choosy Love

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here's the scene: It is evening. I am lying on the couch buried beneath thirty combined pounds of dog and one laptop. I am deeply and visibly engrossed in a Facebook/Pinterest wormhole news item. Steve is in the kitchen. He stands at the fridge holding a half-gallon container of lemonade in one hand, a cup in the other. The child stands mere feet from him, and yet she exits the kitchen, walks to me, leans in — elbow pestle-ing my right nipple, face just an inch from my own — and sweetly asks, "Mama, can you please get me some lemonade?"

At this point I very calmly point out that the other household resident, who also loves and serves her, happens to be poised to respond immediately to this very need while I am mostly incapacitated by both the weight and breath of the animals, and highly engaged in — ahem — current events.

This is her M.O. lately; if both Steve and I are at home, Anna will almost always ask me to come to the bathroom, to watch her, to rub her back, read her stories, cut her chicken. If she climbs into my bed in the morning, nestling in behind me, she'll insist, "Mama! Put your face out!"

It's sweet in a way, but also frustrating. As soon as I'm in her line of sight I hear the inevitable, "Mama?" I can't walk from one room to the next without being asked to fetch something. I thought maybe she was trying to compensate for the hours she's home with me when I'm working and off-limits, but a friend who works outside the house tells me it's the same scenario at their place where her son has equal time with both parents.

It's a Mommy phase and it carries over to her treatment of Steve. Not only will she usually prefer my attention to his if we're both at home, but she'll deny him even the smallest affection. As the parent who spends more one-on-one time with her and who works the harder job with way shittier hours, I imagine it's tough to drag himself through the front door, into the bedroom where Anna and I lay watching Clifford only to be greeted with, "No Daddy! Don't look at me!" And I know the hugs she gives after I peel her off of me and insist she be nice to her daddy don't feel the same as the unsolicited ones.

Maybe it's the good cop/bad cop thing. Maybe it's the difference in the ways we show affection. Hell, maybe it's just because she's a girl or because she's three. I know it's a phase, I just wonder how long it will last.

An Open Letter to the
Hiring Manager

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Dear Human Resources Personnel and Supervisor of the Position to Which My Husband Has Applied:

I know that we're lucky my husband is currently employed. We're lucky that our house isn't in foreclosure, that our oil tank has at least a puddle in it to get us through until the next paycheck, that we can put our daughter in preschool a few days a week so that when he comes through the door as the rest of the coast is just waking up, my husband can collapse into sleep after collecting Anna's cold-shouldered rejection or squeals and kisses, depending on her mood that morning. I know we are not bad off.

Still, while he slept off his shift on the guest bed in my office, I arranged his résumé to make it clear his experience matches the requirements you seek to fulfill. I spent three hours editing his cover letter, spell-checking, and dropping your application PDF into Photoshop in order to type the information clearly and neatly. With Steve asleep behind me, covered in dogs and dead to the world, I added three references — good ones — and emailed the résumé to your office. After that I slipped out, bought ink for my printer, and printed out a hard copy to hand-deliver (I hope you appreciated the printed envelope, because being unfamiliar with the fickle nature of my printer you might not know what a colossal b-curse it is to get it properly aligned).

We both understand that with these kinds of openings there's usually a brother-in-law or friend-of who's got some of the qualifications and all of the connections to be a shoo-in. There's a guy who submitted his application for show, though his DNA and a handshake could easily land him the job. Knowing Steve as I have in all his jobs and roles, I can guarantee you this: no one you're considering will work harder than he will. No one will be as meticulous, or reliable, or as willing. Chances are other guys will be bigger, but they won't be stronger. They'll know what they're doing but they won't be smarter. They'll get the work done but they won't do it better.

All I want for my husband is a break. I want him to sleep when regular people sleep, and be able to take time off sometimes or call in sick or travel with me for work once a year — he hasn't had a non-lay-off-induced vacation since our honeymoon seven years ago. He needs this. He deserves it.

So please, when the supervisor's cousin sits down to interview, or the mayor's nephew's best friend hands you his résumé, remember there's a guy who's relatively new to town, who's got grease permanently embedded in the cracks of his hands and a rock-solid work ethic, and he's years overdue for a break.

His Wife

Update: On Thursday, September 29th, Steve had a third interview for this position and was sent home with the job.

I'm only going to say this once

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My boss was surprised today when, as I tried to avoid my way out of a cross-country flight, I revealed that I've dealt with anxiety on and off since I was 19 years old. I've only hinted at it here, not wanting to give it any air time or more presence in my life than it deserves, like an asshole cousin who only shows up at your favorite aunt's house when he needs money, then eats half her pantry before leaving with a handful of twenties and her car.

Not surprisingly it runs in my family. We're a bunch of sarcastic, hilarious people with copious love to give and a tendency to over-worry under stress. And we run the gamut: the constant worriers, the obsessors, the panicky. But we're all resilient. We're genuinely happy. We enjoy our lives, we understand our flaws, and we go right on laughing.

But you know how some people facing their own struggles tend to say they wouldn't change things? Well, I'd be more than happy to ditch this crap, far away along some dusty, isolated road and well out of my life. Sure, I've learned really excellent coping mechanisms for all kinds of stress, I've learned that humor really is some of the best medicine, I've learned that I'm stronger than I think. But I've also probably been harder on myself than I need to be, I've missed out on things because I thought I was too anxious to take them on, and mostly, I will be heartbroken if Anna has to deal with more than the standard-issue level of anxiety.

So when I'm trying extra hard to keep my game face on during a flight, or feeling sensitive to Anna's fears, part of my concern is that I don't trip whatever brain wire seems so reactive in my line of DNA. When she is afraid I look for the most practical and common sense ways of soothing her. I breathe deeply and talk reassuringly. I help her to be brave and she helps me to be calm, and I guess that works out pretty well.

Her Bed Time Stories End
in Cupcakes

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I really want to be better at bed time. I imagine Steve peeking in the doorway and finding me snuggled with Anna, patiently and enthusiastically reading Go Dog, Go! and pausing a minute to genuflect before the overwhelming wholesomeness.

But as any number of my report cards will show, I've never been much of a disciplined reader.

Anna's pretty good at getting to bed. She spends too long choosing her toothbrush and asks for a roster of comforts before we can leave her room, but generally she goes in and stays in until climbing into my bed at 6 a.m. saying, "Let's watch some tee-vee, Mama." I don't hurry this process along because I know it's some of the only one-on-one time she has with me between school, the end of my work day, and bed time.

By the time I've patiently watched her debate the merits of the Tigger toothbrush versus the Cars toothbrush, spit, wipe, ask for a back rub, a belly rub, a snuggle, "Lay with me, Mama," "My nightlight is too bright," "Flatter-out my blankie," I've got little left in me for The Cat in the Hat (who I can't read without hearing Martin Short, thank you, PBSKids) or Llama Llama. I skip pages at a time in her collection of goodnight poems and have been known to donate books I can no longer stand reading — Fox in Socks is long extinct in this region.

What doesn't help is her tendency to hop around the room as I read, ignoring the words but protesting the second my lips stop moving. At that point I figure the book isn't enrichment as much as it's another tactic to keep me in her room until it's even more past bed time, cutting more into my grown-up, unwind time.

The compromise I've come to lately is telling her stories, asking her to add her own little thoughts and words. The exchange usually sounds something like a MadLibs All-Unicorns-and-Cupcakes Edition, and I love how her brain works at this age. The back and forth feels more like the time she wants from me, rather than me frustratedly reading while watching her tear apart her toy box and counting the minutes until I can kiss her and slip out.

I still look forward to that good night and some quiet Facebook time, the whole two hours I can spend as a single adult, not working or cleaning or hell, moving, at least until that goddamned Cat in the Hat comes on at 6 a.m.

So, You're Expecting
a Preschooler

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm still at an age where friends are having first babies despite being past the age of getting invites to adult-only wedding receptions with open bars and stumble-distance hotel rooms. My procreative peers always want to know what to include on their baby registries and it got me thinking about what the registry for a three-year-old might look like. Here are a few essentials for those of you anticipating the joyful arrival of a preschooler.

1. Several million Band-Aids. Not to worry, your three-year-old won't be injury prone, just really into wasting hundreds of dollars in first aid, particularly if you're fool enough to buy the character-branded kind. Rookie.

2. Carbon offset credits. These will compensate your utility companies for all the left-on lights, running water, ignored televisions, and empty dishwashers run on the Industrial PowerCleanse cycle by precocious, illiterate children.

3. Only one (1) of each of the following: pair of shoes, socks, pants, skirt, dress, shirt, underpants, toothbrush, pajamas. This may seem impractical, even ill-advised, but during the "I choose!" months this will be the only thing getting you out of the house (almost) on time.

4. Magic Erasers, bulk. Your preschooler is learning to write her name! Oh, so sweet! On the only thing you own that qualifies as an heirloom! Oh. Oh, hell no.

5. Compost bin and/or garbage disposal. Quickly and easily eliminate the hundreds of pounds of food your child will ask for and then refuse to eat the second it's lovingly cut into adorable animal shapes and placed before him.

6. High-quality French cheese, for pairing with the sudden abundance of whine.

7. Corner office, expense account. Your new boss won't settle for less, but may accept Chuck E. Cheese tokens in lieu of a credit line for expenditures.

8. Duct tape. Not for the use you might be considering, but can be employed to keep shoes fastened at least until child is buckled into car seat. If you'd like footwear to remain in place for a ride over 5 minutes in duration, Gorilla Glue is sold in the same aisle.

9. Digital or reel-to-reel recorder. Put your most often uttered phrases on an endless loop without wasting a single breath. Create hours of, "Don't forget to wipe" and, "Stop licking that" in just seconds.

10. Jumper cables. Because oh my God, so much stalling.

My Best Intentions Are All
Shot To Hell

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I just don't learn. I don't learn and I end up frustrated, annoyed, — mostly at myself — and exhausted.

We've been having a really good time this summer, getting out and spending time together, making plans for overnights and theme parks, taking spontaneous ice cream runs after dinner and walks around the block before bed. While we've overall enjoyed this together-time, I think sometimes we expect a little too much from the three-year-old, like an attention span.

Steve takes the collapse of our plans in stride. He doles out the discipline, collects the offending preschooler and initiates the exit strategy. I, on the other hand, feel defeated, failed, I wonder if other families really have quality time or if they just don't post the tantrum pictures to Facebook.

The scenario follows a familiar pattern: we decide on an activity Anna enjoys, we initiate said activity with all the optimism of people who've never actually taken a three-year-old out of the house, halfway through activity we observe things beginning to go to hell, activity ends in sweat, tears, and kid-friendly swear alternatives.

Tonight it was the ice cream stand. It's a perfect night, crickets chirping, a warm breeze, a gorgeous sunset, I didn't feel bloated. Anna was so excited at the prospect of her own cone with sprinkles (let's never mention "jimmies") that she ate almost an entire half sandwich at my first request. She marched to the car and buckled without twenty minutes of stalling, she held my hand as we crossed the parking lot to the order window. She charmed the teenager at the counter with her giant smile and polite, enthusiastic request for vanilla with sprinkles; the whole scene was so New England Summer I half expected a J. Crew photo shoot to break out around us.

Then she took her cone and sprinted away from me across three parking spaces. I wrangled her to our table where she abandoned her ice cream in favor of unstacking all the booster seats and reorganizing the rack of tourist brochures. All I wanted was ten minutes to fellate enjoy some mint chocolate chip ice cream, and instead it puddled at the table while I helped Anna put the dining room back together. This wasn't how I pictured our evening out. I'd been punk'd.

So what am I doing wrong? Maybe I need to lower my expectations, maybe I'm not firm enough, or maybe no one has a kid whose ice cream gets eaten right down to the pointy end of the cone. I'm going to think about it while I suck the rest of this hot fudge from under my fingernails.

Blame it on the Radio

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Last week I took Anna dress shopping. As we stood jockeying around each other in the Marshall's dressing room, Anna critiqued my selections with helpful input like, "Mama, I like your buns!" "Mama, I can see your boobs!" and, "Vuh-giiiiii-NUH!" Around the third dress — a clingy, black, Calvin Klein number (on clearance, holla!) she said, "Mama, that is so sexy." And of course since I was mortified wondering how many other mothers were in earshot of me and Anna-from-the-Block, she said it several more times.

When we got back to the car I called Steve to ask if he had any idea where she'd heard it. I called my sister to blame her kids because, well, even if they didn't teach Anna "sexy" they probably taught her some other devious skill that will manifest in the next few weeks, so better that I get the call out of the way regardless. I took a few minutes to explain that "sexy" isn't really a bad word, but that it's for grown ups. The message stuck, because when I turned on the radio Anna alerted me to each instance of "sexy" in song, which — if you haven't listened to top-forty radio lately — is approximately every third lyric.

Anna and I returned home where Steve had just changed into non-work clothes. I greeted him with, "Hey, Hon. You look super sexy in that t-shirt." I was swiftly reprimanded by my hip-high censor and would have been at least given a stern look by Steve if he weren't busy trying to capitalize on the compliment.

So it would seem that just as we got the dammits and chrissakeses under control, we've got sexy to deal with, and sexy feels more urgent to me. I'm sure to Anna it's just another word that gets our attention, but to me it's a gateway swear to developments and conversations it's way too early to have.

It's also a milestone for me, one of those events when you realize that you think like a parent no matter how much you might feel like you just play one on t.v. I'm the censor now, I'm in charge of changing Rihanna even when Anna protests — loudly, for miles — or making sure Steve turns off his underground rap station when we walk in the door (I consider Anna having never dropped an f-bomb a total coup. Aim high, parents!)

Anna's constantly understanding more about her world, and as much as I love to watch her grow it makes me realize how little time I have left to be her filter. Right now I can switch off Ke$ha, but sooner than I'd like she'll be able to push those buttons on her own.

The Very Sad Way We
Girls Became Outnumbered

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I don't have anything new to write on the subject of losing a pet. Sundry did a lovely post about it recently when she recognized it was time to say good bye to her own dog, and though I didn't have to make the agonizing decision to relieve Stella of her suffering my experience otherwise is the same.

We knew Stella's heart was enlarged on one side, that she may have had congestive heart failure. She was being treated with three medications and seemed to be doing well until yesterday when her breathing became rapid, she refused food and wouldn't lay down. She wasn't herself — even her expression had changed. I planned to get her to the vet this morning when last night she came into my room as usual, took a spot on her pillow but then stood up, walked a few feet and collapsed with a thud I'll never un-hear. My reaction was not calm or composed and even without my glasses on, seeing my dog dying on the floor at my knees was horribly vivid.

Steve left work and met us three at the emergency vet, where the staff was compassionate and kind and the doctor on duty placed a stethoscope on Stella's chest for my benefit; one of those five stages of grief was trying to convince me that maybe she was just having a seizure. We signed the cremation papers and returned home at midnight, leaving Stella on a metal exam table wrapped in our fingerpaint-stained bath towel.

Dogs are constant. They're the animals that remain loyal even when their rank is stripped by new pets and new babies. Stella was the dog who greeted everyone as though her entire life was spent awaiting their arrival, who didn't leave my side through the duration of my pregnancy, who took up residence under my desk while I worked, who'd sit upright to beg for food but would never snatch it from Anna's small hands.

Stella arrived in 2004. She honeymooned with us, she moved to the suburbs with us in 2006, helped keep Bert in line starting in 2007. She was terrible on a leash and would sneak pees on the carpets, her breath could strip paint and she'd relentlessly hump my legs. I'm not ashamed to call her my favorite of our three dogs, even still. And oh, my Stelly, how I miss you.

Small Consolation

Monday, July 18, 2011

The three of us, our dogs, and thirty other friends and family members spent this past weekend camping out in and around my parents' house in Maine. They have acres and woods, and also central air. It was the first time I'd slept outdoors in years; back in high school I stopped going on the annual Catskills trips opting instead to throw parties while the adults were out of town. I impressed myself by setting up a tent, inflating the air mattress, cramming it into the tiny zipper door, and actually sleeping with Anna in the smelly, damp thing two nights in a row.

Anna and her cousins played for hours outdoors. The adults grilled, drank, sat up late around crackling fires, drank, and watched with pride the ever-growing population of kids become increasingly bruised, bitten, and filthy. It was admittedly a soft introduction to camping, but over the course of three days Anna hardly came inside.

Sunday was hot and breezeless. A group headed to a nearby pond to cool off and despite her protests, I packed up Anna and we headed for the water. We weren't pond-side for twenty seconds when she noticed a nearby float being bumped by tiny waves, and next to that an inflatable tube. She became inconsolable.

Anna lost it. She screamed for us to go get the floats, to bring them farther in. She was yelling that they'd be washed away. She gestured frantically. She hid her face in my mother's chest like she was watching a horror movie. Her fear was raw and it beat hard on my chest. Two groups nearby watching our failing efforts to calm Anna shared stories of their own kids' fears, one woman asked me if she acted this way with other things. I wanted to tell them all that little kids get weird fears all the time, my kid is okay, I know she's a disaster right now but I swear she's normal. She's normal.

The kind people who owned the drifting water toys pulled them to shore, and for a second Anna was calm. But her eyes surveyed the water line and spotted more, and before she spiraled back to panic I carried her across the road to the parked car. We weren't in the cross walk before I was sobbing. I was trying to calm her and I couldn't stop myself from crying. She held onto my neck trembling out her last tears. Her hair was sticky and her face was wet on my shoulder. I held her and rubbed her back, leaning against my car until I could pull myself together.

I can tolerate a lot with Anna, I can take her little rage, her disobedience, I can take being dragged out of bed and bossed around before the sun is even up, but my God you guys, I'm really bad at fear. And I know this will pass -- it's just the latest in a line of fears that have included everything from fuzz to wind. But it's awful to not be able to reassure her, to wonder if I need to be tougher, hoping I'm not reinforcing her worry with my impulse to comfort her in the moment.

I was under the impression that being a mom meant being able to always fix things, where saying, "It's going to be okay" made it so. Or at least I'd hoped to hold onto that myth for a while longer.

Anna, Long and Lean

Friday, July 15, 2011

As she gets taller and leaner, I'm reminded that Anna's got about .004 seconds before she starts scrutinizing her own body. So while she's blissfully unaware of the torrent of societal bullshit about to threaten her self-image, I'm going to let her enjoy her skin and bones and ignorance.

We're not an especially naked family, owing mostly to the enormous windows at both the front and back of the house (any one of my neighbors can tell you our morning PBS lineup and what we had for dinner last night), but between Steve and me I'm definitely the less modest. Anna barges into my bedroom as I'm changing, then walks behind me kneading my rear-end as I move around the room. I laugh and pretend to be comfortable with the softness there I've never loved and the dimples I've always had.

She'll tug my shirt down while we sit together on the couch and ask, "When I was a baby, I ate from your boobs?" and I give the simplest "Yes" that I can, hoping to convey how proud I was to nourish her that way, how normal it should seem. Last week she smashed her doll into my nipple and asked me to feed her, so I think she's getting it.

I don't shy away from her questions or get embarrassed by her curiosity. I explain that her nakedness is for certain places only and not for strangers or the street-facing picture window; oh, how she loves to dance in the picture window. I have never loved a body like I love every single cell on my smooth, lanky little girl's (ok, well maybe...but totally different context.) I want her to love it for as long as possible, to know it and to use it. She should understand her body so she has the confidence to enjoy it and the intelligence to protect it.

In the years since I became aware that my own body was taller and thicker than most, I've had just a few periods of really liking it, of feeling totally comfortable with myself. I've been acutely aware of how my thighs feel when I walk, where they touch, how jeans fit, how the size I used to be was at the high end of 'regular.' I often felt out of scale among groups of women friends, clumsily photoshopped into the scene.

I love watching Anna play at home, totally unencumbered with those kinds of concerns, exuberant in nothing but Elmo underwear and temporary tattoos. I've watched her meaty baby legs become long and muscular, her round cheeks develop contours. I'll continue to marvel at her growth and to love her every pore, and hope that her boundless confidence stays with her always.

Five Lesser Milestones
(that will f*ck your sh*t up)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Once your baby starts walking, everyone goes apeshit telling you how much trouble they'll be now, into everything, never giving you any peace, pulling on the hem of your strapless sundress and exposing your bare breasts to everyone in the produce department...oh, was that just me? I found Anna's first steps to be liberating (more so even than bare boobs in public) because she could get to the things she'd previously needed a lift to, freeing my other hand to post about her hilarious faceplants on Facebook cook and clean.

What I learned as she grew was that there are other, smaller but more insidious milestones that will throw your routine out of whack faster than you can say, "CAN I GET A LITTLE PRIVACY?!"

1. Doorknobs
In the days of Anna's infanthood and well after she could walk independently, all I had to do when work called was don my sexy headset and close my office door. I vividly remember the day I heard those tiny hands wiggling my doorknob, expecting to hear Anna pad back down the hallway in defeat, when in she popped with a big smile and a "MAMA!" turned up to eleven. Thankfully my co-workers were amused.

Now she's in the bathroom, into the toothpaste, out in the garage playing with extension cords, walking down the basement stairs. Forgetting to lock my bedroom door at night is pretty much a guarantee of future therapy.

2. Light switches
When Anna grew tall enough to operate light switches, I thought, "Good, now I don't have to escort her to the bathroom so often." Well, the potty chaperone job is still almost exclusively mine, but now the living room becomes a flash rave as Anna flicks the switches off* and on until someone develops a migraine or the dogs are borderline seizing.

*Despite the evidence posed here, she insists she cannot flip a switch to its off position when leaving a room.

3. Logo recognition
The first logo Anna recognized was for Baby Einsteins. The second was for Dunkin' Donuts. She's since outgrown the Einsteins, but is under the impression that the sight of a Dunkin' mandates immediate strawberry frosted satisfaction. Because we live in New England, the second she recovers from her tantrum at passing the first store doughnutless, another one comes into view. That's some solid marketing.

4. Locks
If you've been a parent for more than .3 seconds, you know that a kid out of your sight is usually trouble; a kid out of sight with her three-year-old cousin locked in a bathroom is either a call to poison control or a plumber, depending on whether or not they've mastered Lesser Milestone #5.

5. Child Safety Device Removal
Once she could open doorknobs, we employed those plastic covers that not only prevent small hands from turning the knobs, but leave adults sweaty and cursing, the knob slipping from your grasp over and over until you just decide you didn't need to leave the house anyway. I can barely operate the mothereffer, so you can imagine my surprise at finding my kitchen door wide open, knob cover in two pieces on the floor, and Anna blowing bubbles in the yard. She explained, "Mama, I took it off so little people like me could get out it!"

And this is why I'll never have a pool.

Easy to love, but let's
not move in together

Monday, June 27, 2011

Steve's been busy tearing plaster off of our bedroom walls and while he's in the midst of this project, our mattress sits in the middle of the living room floor making the room either one giant trampoline or an orgy den, depending on which of my co-habitants you're asking.

The rest of the place is equally upturned — the expanse of one room's worth of stuff is pretty impressive. I continually circulate through the house trying to maintain some kind of order, and what I keep finding is that as much as Anna can't seem to return a single goddamned thing to its proper place, I might actually be worse at it.

Below, I present photo evidence that while I am a good wife in many ways, I might also deserve to be smothered in my sleep.

I made this snack an hour ago, and I smeared some yogurt in the jelly jar.
I prefer to leave cold cups of coffee near pricey musical instruments.
I park dead center, Steve has to butter himself to get out of his own car.
I stick my hair to the shower wall. I then forget to throw it away.
This is no where near a door and those Pumas are just gross.
This is my plan to expedite the new laundry chute.

Thankfully, it would be really hard for my current roommates to evict me; one would risk certain malnourishment while the other would spend weeks wandering around the house yelling, "Somebody wipe me!" I'll let you all sort out who's who.

Clawing at the Slippery Slope

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Next week Anna's moving up from her current room at daycare into the adjacent preschool class. I have no problems with her current school; I like the teachers (after some turnover, the fortuitous return of her most-favorite-ever teacher, and the long-overdue resignation of an inexplicably cranky one), the location couldn't be better, the rate is beyond reasonable, and she has the most adorable, miniature friends — even one kid who's been the source of two incident reports seems to be chilling the hell out. So it surprised even me when I found myself researching other area preschools. Still more unexpected is that I was doing it based entirely on what other moms were doing.

Who am I?

It happened at a birthday party over the weekend. I was chatting with a very nice, well-put-together mom with a little boy in Anna's class. Both she and the mother of the birthday girl were pulling their kids from the daycare and enrolling them in a stand-alone preschool. Knowing the shorter hours and likely higher rates at dedicated pre-Ks, this move had never been a consideration for us; we need the full day and God knows we don't need to up our expenses. But minutes into the conversation I felt something start whirring in my brain, questioning my decision to stay put, wondering what benefits I might be denying Anna by keeping her at a mixed daycare/preschool. Would they teach better at the other school? Could I be squandering precious learning years? Am I supposed to teach her to read?

Ultimately we've decided to keep her where she is. She's adjusted and happy, I love that all of the other classrooms' teachers know her, that at pick up all of her tiny friends scream, "Anna! Your mommy's here!" as though I'd arrived on a pony with my arms full of kittens dipped in sugar.

But even as I'm putting this moment behind me, I find a similar pattern starts to emerge when considering Anna's activities. Today I combed the websites of three local dance schools, cross-referencing each program with the schedule for the soccer camp I signed her up for and the gymnastics class she's been taking for three months. I'm not sure what triggers it but I know I never wanted to be this mom — next I'll be spending two hours a day at the gym, volunteering for bake sales, and organizing preschool study groups. I'm jeopardizing my lazy laid-back mom title with each intramural.

I guess in this scenario like in every other parenting situation I've encountered these past three years, I'll just wing it, trust my instincts, and hope like hell I'm not messing up my kid in the process.

To Profanity and Beyond

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If you follow my Facebook posts at all, you know that Anna's been experimenting with some colorful language lately. It's not the first time she's spouted obscenities, but at three she's got the context down too, so that when, in the middle of a crowded sporting goods store on a recent Saturday she dropped an entire bag of pretzels, her, "Oh that freakin' CRAP!" was delivered with the inflection and emphasis of a fifty-year-old construction worker.

And what's amazing is how she picks up on the exact wrong word in any given sentence when she barely hears the phrases I've got on perpetual repeat, like, "Don't get in the dog's face," or, "Please take the macaroni out of your underpants." In a single hour I deliver any number of non-expletives, but the second I trip over a dog begging at my feet and mutter, "Dammit, Henry," the house fills with tiny, little dammits from door to door.

I joke that it's my electrician husband who's at the root of all the R-rated turns of phrase in our house, but we're both really careful about dropping those big swears. Mostly it's me, tossing PG grenades at annoying situations; a broken glass, poop in the house, slamming the funny bone I didn't know existed near the knee cap into a table (this totally deserved a giant, screaming, "FUCK," but I exercised  restraint). Finger nails bent too far backward get furrowed, "Oh, crap"s. Jars sealed shut by solidified jelly are usually "freaking pain"s.

We don't want to raise a foul-mouthed kid, and the folks who've commented on my status updates suggest guiding her in her use of expletives rather than disciplining her. I get the philosophy behind that, but also remember an ex-boyfriend who frequently called his mother a bitch, and I wonder if maybe that had been her method for dealing with his preschool potty-mouth and it backfired completely in his teen years.

Admittedly it's almost impossible not to laugh when she says matter-of-factly that the melting of her ice cream sucks, or shouts, "Oh, mandammit!" in frustration. Usually I hide my convulsive laughter and try to ignore the offending word, distracting her into something else.

I know some of you have teenagers, I wonder if you had a strategy for this or whether you just let it work itself out. Were there bars of soap? Wooden spoons? Time outs? Did you use different levels of discipline according to the volatility of the four letters in question? If you've been here or are currently stifling your own laughter, I'd love to hear from you.

Where Guilt Finds Me

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

I've probably mentioned before that I work full-time from home. It's a gig I'm lucky to have — I get the security of a job with benefits and the freedom to run a few errands when I need to. Anna and Steve are home with me two days per week but generally stay out of my home office during work hours. (By 'generally' I mean that Anna has to be asked repeatedly not to photocopy her face while I'm on conference calls.)

We share all the household responsibilities, but because of how our schedules work out Steve does the bulk of the child care and whatever chores have to get done during the day; mostly this involves washing the same three sippy cups four-hundred times and pulling Anna's hands out of the candy bowl in seven-minute intervals.

I don't know if it's the nature of our personalities or gender differences, but not once has Steve asked for time away. He's never complained about being exhausted by our daughter, beaten down by her demands, her after-market rotten attitude, or her inability to clean up after herself. He's never said to me, "Honey, I just need to go get a coffee or meth or something for a few minutes." And yet he can glance at me and know the second I'm about to grab my keys and slip out the garage door for a ten-minute latte run.

I admit to you all that I need these breaks. That sometimes I'll walk out of my office into the living room, greet my family, and within seconds Anna's yelling to talk over whatever conversation Steve and I are trying to have, we both cut off sentences to ask her to say, "Excuse me," and she complies, now shouting, "EXCUSE ME!" insistently, even louder than her previous interruptions until there's nothing but half-finished sentences filling the air. In that moment I just want to return to the quiet of my little office and shut the door.

I'm okay with not being stay-at-home-mom material. I know if I needed to I could manage it, but I am in awe of women who choose it and who are great at it (though I suspect as a condition of motherhood none of them actually consider themselves great at it.) But damn I have hella guilt over being a working, fulfilled mom with one measly kid who's really good and super adorable, and a husband who just handles what needs to be handled and who understands my frustrations and gives me the space for them, and still feeling the need almost daily to be away from them, just for a few minutes.

Please chime in on the topic, even if it's to say, "Someone call the whaaaambulance." And click over to Mommyfriend's vlog on the subject of working mothers, me time, and guilt.

My Favorite Bitch

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Update: after a day in the specialists' office, Stella is doing much better though the source of her bleeding is still unknown. Thanks for all of your support!

The only reason I agreed to buying our own place after renting around Boston for more than ten years was that I wanted dogs. Two months after we became the proud owners of our condo we adopted Henry; a scrawny, terrified Dachshund who'd been removed from a puppy mill in North Carolina.

We had more disposable income then than we do now (and maybe than we ever will again), so when Henry's back gave out leaving him nearly paralyzed, we took out the credit that allowed us to spend $4,000 on surgery to save his legs. I'm not entirely sure he appreciated our dedication, as now he spends most of his time under my feet in the kitchen daring me to step on his delicate spine, and despite a series of ramps to accommodate our tiny, thumb-legged beast, he barks relentlessly at us until he is lifted to his destination. I love him, but he's kind of an asshole.

Soon after we brought Henry home, I decided that with us both working full-time he needed a companion. A friend connected me with Stella through a rescue organization out of Puerto Rico. I agreed to adopt her sight unseen, knowing only that she was a smallish terrier mix.

Stella has turned out to be far and away the best of our three dogs; she's good with kids and the elderly women who would nearly crush her with desperate hugs on our visits to the local nursing home. Stella is the most independent, not interested in staking claim to our bed or occupying our laps. She doesn't snatch food out of Anna's hands or chew up the mail. When I was pregnant she'd lay on my foot or shadow me around the house, always by my side. I don't love all my dogs "equally but in different ways" — I love Stella the best.

A month ago she started leaving blood stains on the couch and rugs. Some were small spots, one was alarmingly big. I found dried blood caked in her chin and neck fur. Her vet suspected periodontal disease and told us to keep an eye on her. She also informed us that Stella has a significant heart murmur. A second vet found troubling signs of heart disease. Stella's gums and tongue have gone pale, she's become lethargic, and she's starting to scare me.

Tests were recommended, and as much as I hate to do it — hate what I feel is judgement from clinic staff, hate the assumption that maybe I'm not willing to spend money on my animals rather than the truth that I just do not have the money to spend — I asked how much her tests could cost. I sighed heavily at the answer. I fought tears both at the potential diagnosis and the existence of a comma in our estimate. I looked at Steve, he looked resigned.

Some really wonderful, generous people have given significant help to get Stella well. Steve is selling a surfboard to cover some of the expense. But what I wanted to say to the well-meaning vet who said, "I know it sounds like a lot, but this test in a human would run two-thousand, not three hundred dollars." was that right now, three-hundred dollars might as well be two-thousand — might as well be ten-thousand.

Shit, am I seriously bitching about money again? What I meant to do was tell you that I have this awesome little dog who better goddam outlive these other two bed-hogging, baby-biting punks. She's my sweet little bitch and she's sick and she's got to be alright. If you find any spare karma in that jacket you haven't worn since last spring, maybe you could send it our way.

Captain Oblivious

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When I was twenty years old, I almost accidentally killed a guy.

I was driving a jet ski for the first time out on the Long Island Sound, towing a friend on an inner tube. Because I had never operated any kind of watercraft previously, and because we were twenty-year-old idiots, he wore no life preserver. We hit some wake, he flopped off of the tube and I, believing any number of falsities about the depth and expanse of the Sound, drove off oblivious to my friend's peril. Ten minutes later he was rescued, flailing, by a fishing boat.

One of the men on that boat sent a letter to the editor of a local Hamptons paper, dubbing me "Captain Oblivious." I felt hideous that day and it took ages before I could even think about what I'd done without feeling gnawing, gut-churning shame over my carelessness, imagining how much worse things could have turned out.

I've had many, many moments of being inattentive, zoned out, unaware of my surroundings — the time I mistakenly took a stranger's hand thinking she was my mother and walking half a mall corridor before realizing my mistake, for example — but none as potentially tragic as this one. It's not a trait I'm proud of and now that I'm responsible for keeping track of another human being, sometimes it's pretty terrifying.

I worry for two reasons; the first is that I see hints of this same affliction already in Anna, who spent most of our time in airports this week walking blindly in front of golf carts and luggage trolleys, and tripping up senior citizens. The second is that it is I, Captain Oblivious, who's supposed to not only teach her to be attentive, but be focused enough myself to keep her out of danger.

Last week in a classic scenario that has for generations significantly reduced the lifespan of parents, Anna hid herself in a clothing rack at the mall. I knew where she had gone. All of the logic centers of my brain were saying, "Yup. Right behind the cute jeans on clearance for four-dollars that are, of course, only available in size 00." But that twinge of panic was still there, "What if you slide those pants apart and she's not in there? What if someone carted her off while you weren't paying attention?"

Anna pulled a similar stunt on Steve waiting in line at Disney World, and I was relieved to hear that his reaction was similar to mine — that he knew she could only be inches away (she had repositioned from in front of his knees to right behind them), but the realization that she'd gone out of his sight in a split second set off some parental DEFCON alert.

Between Steve and me I'm pretty confident we can keep Anna well-wrangled, but with my tendency for distraction and Anna's inability to focus, it might be best if she and I have a chaperone for a few years.

Vagina Vagina Vagina

Monday, May 02, 2011

I always knew I'd be the kind of mom who'd tell Anna the anatomical names for her body parts. I know there are other, cuter versions of words for female genitalia that make situations less awkward for parents with foresight who anticipate things like their naked daughter mooning her seventy-something grandparents while singing, "Coolie! Vagina! Coolie! Vagina!" But I want her to be proud of her junk and of her femaleness, though somehow I did not foresee the weeks of vagina parades, songs, and choreographed numbers I was setting myself — and anyone who happens to drop by the house — up for.

Anna doesn't spend as much time naked as she used to. In fact, now she painstakingly chooses every article of clothing she wears — a lengthy process involving negotiations, bribes, and reverse psychology. I'm all for individuality and autonomy in my preschooler, except when I have anything else planned that day. But the second she's pantsless, choruses of "Coolie-Vagina" fill the house from one end to the other. She works on her pitch and tempo, ignoring badly needed lyrical development.

Thankfully she hasn't taken to prodding and poking and tugging just yet; I've seen what my nephew puts his penis through and I fear for Anna's brand new, delicate business. She's happy to point and twist, singing her little song, emphasizing and dragging out the already overly-syllabled "vuh-GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-nuh!" like it's a piece of salt water taffy.

When we visited her doctor for her three-year checkup, he said, "I'm going to take a look at your vagina now, and that's okay because both your mom and dad are here." (He was only looking at the area near her hip bones, really.) I was relieved when a few days later she repeated what he'd said about Steve and I being present as she undressed for her bath, hoping she'd retain the instruction without asking for reasons. Two minutes later I had to pull her naked, dancing self out of our picture window.

Steve's gotten almost as comfortable saying the word as he is saying, I don't know, "proctologist," which is helpful. I have no idea how long this fascination will last or where it will lead, but she's going to have that vagina forever, and I don't plan on teaching her to be ashamed of it any time soon. So how do you explain modesty and privacy to a three-year-old?

Birthday Body Snatchers

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I don't like to whine, I swear. I admit to enjoying commiseration though. So sit tight, because people, exactly one day after her birthday someone body-snatched my daughter and replaced her with a perpetually exasperated teenager with a complete inability to end words without adding, "-UH" and treating me like I was placed on this earth to either cater to her or ruin her life. It's like living with my sisters in high school all over again.

Our day starts at sun up — shout out to daylight saving, holla! — when either she bellows from her bed, demanding that I come chariot her into the living room, or her little mop head shows up in my face whining for me to take her to the bathroom. I don't think she's had a good snuggle with us in the week since she turned three.

At the couch, more demands. This isn't really new; she wants juice, PBSKids, and her blanket. If I'm coherent enough to anticipate these three it spares me at least two solid minutes of whining-correcting-demanding-reprimanding-Mexican standoff-someone in tears. This is before the hot water has even thought about filling up my French press (we're very international here before seven o'clock).

Even as I type this she's been put in her room for whining and crying non-stop since she pulled me from my warm blankets, insisting I carry her to the couch, then spending the morning fighting with her cousin over Angry Birds, a spot on the couch, their feet touching, shared oxygen, take me away.

I try to be consistent. She gets no demands met until she asks politely for them. She gets put in time-out the second I see any portion of her tongue jut in my direction. I tend not to yell, but respond to her firmly and respectfully, though I'm sure the exasperation shows in my voice just as the tension shows in the throbbing veins on my forehead. She seems to act up regardless of whether I'm entranced by Facebook or giving her my undivided attention over Play Doh.

What saves my sanity are the moments like this, where her hilarious personality is on full display. This is my daughter, and I'm trying to understand why she seems to spend so much time and energy trying to turn me into a beet-faced lunatic instead of killing me with gasping laughter.

This is your cue, fine readers. Please send help.

In My Head I'm Tina Fey

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I've seen this prayer circulating on Facebook today while Bossypants waits patiently within the digital guts of my Kindle. I love Tina Fey and sometimes imagine in great detail the lunches we'd have together where we're BFFs; picturing people at nearby tables convulsing with laughter as they eavesdrop on our undoubtedly hilarious exchanges.

Then I snap back to reality, get my nagging kid her juice and clean up the trail of dog crap leading from my office to the back door. It's all very glamorous.

Tina Fey's Prayer for a Daughter

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hey Kiddo,

I'm right out here on the couch waiting to be sure you're asleep before I sneak down to the basement and bring up the little kitchen set we bought you for your birthday. While you dream about Dorothy and Toto and cupcakes, I'll be wiping down the three wooden pieces and neatly putting all the accessories inside, watching as your toys continue to turn my living room into a day care center.

Tomorrow you'll be three, though the date is a mere formality. You've been as smart, fresh, and tall as a preschooler for months now. You're still a lanky little thing, all kneecaps and angles, except your cheeks which are the only parts that don't jab and nudge me in the mornings when you squeeze into our bed. I still love pressing my nose against your face, but honestly baby, I look forward to whatever age it is when you'll want to snuggle just a little bit later in the morning.

You've got a pretty sizable fan club for a girl your age, especially considering your lack of any marketable skills. You are so beautiful that despite seeing you every day I still have moments of total amazement that you're mine. You get your sense of humor from both your dad and me, but I'm pretty sure your smart mouth comes entirely from him; you're going to get the hang of sarcasm any day now. You've got attitude like a girl four times your age, stomping dramatically out of a room with perfect timing and rhythm, slamming doors with an exasperated sigh. I envy your courage (though holy cow can an insect send you shrieking), and your total lack of grace reminds me that you have more of my DNA than what showed up in your face.

With you these last three years I've laughed breathlessly, silently, more than in my 34 years before, and I've yelled in frustration so loudly I've startled myself. Sometimes I need to get away from you, most  days I'm not even sure where I end and you begin.

Little Bean, I know I tell you a similar version of all these things each year, but it can't hurt to say over and over how much I love you and how despite the nine months I spent being utterly panic stricken over having to raise another human who I never actually invited into my womb to begin with by the way, you and me, well, we're both doing alright.

Happy birthday, my beautiful girl.