Suburban Snapshots

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.