Suburban Snapshots

Bigger Fish

Sunday, February 27, 2011

We came home from a morning spent in Maine to find Anna's betta fish keeled over at the bottom of his cloudy bowl. Steve and I shot each other the look that says, "Crap." While Anna occupied herself with couch acrobatics, Steve and I debriefed at the kitchen sink; this seemed like a potentially loaded parenting moment and we needed a strategy. After a minute we decided on a big cover up; we were both exhausted and neither one of us had adequate brain function to describe fish heaven to a 2-year-old.

Steve took the bowl stealthily into the bathroom where he unceremoniously — well, you know. No sooner had he left the room — tank in hand — than a previously oblivious toddler pulled the meat thermometer from its drawer and announced that she needed to "measure" Jervis, the ex-fish. She does this often, breaking the water with the point of the thermometer and announcing with a wide-eyed gasp, "He's FOURTY-SEVEN!"

Steve came back into the room and put the vacated bowl into the kitchen sink, turning around just in time to see Anna over the half wall, climbing up onto the arm of a chair and looking confusedly at the spot where her fish's tank used to sit. With the meat thermometer un-sheathed she asked, "Where'd Jervie go?" Another, more desperate look passed between me and Steve and he mouthed, "We'll have to rent her Finding Nemo."

I'm not sure if my heart broke just then because I understood she might actually miss the fish, or if it was because I knew that the next thing I'd do was lie to her, or because I realized that eventually we'll have to deal with this in a meaningful way — that someday we'll have to come up with something better than, "Jervis swam back out into the ocean, now watch this uplifting, animated feature."

She's only just shy of three and I pray that her first experience of real loss is years away. Hopefully by then we'll have something better than guilty smiles and Disney movies to console her.

Filling in My Blanks

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sometimes when I'm racking my brain to find all the best words, staring, glazed-over catatonic before a taunting, white text box, something crosses my screen that fills in all the blanks.

Last night I was struggling to write a post on all the things I'd tell Anna about marriage if and when she gets there. It was sitting in draft form when a friend sent me this. I deleted the post and pasted this in its place.

From The Writers' Almanac, February 21, 2011
The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 3
by Mary Mackey

It's easy to love
through a cold spring
when the poles
of the willows
turn green
pollen falls like
a yellow curtain
and the scent of
Paper Whites
clots
the air

but to love for a lifetime
takes talent

you have to mix yourself
with the strange
beauty of someone
else
wake each morning
for 72,000
mornings in
a row so
breathed and
bound and
tangled
that you can hardly
sort out
your arms
and
legs

you have to
find forgiveness
in everything
even ink stains
and broken
cups

you have to be willing to move through
life
together
the way the long
grasses move
in a field
when you careen
blindly toward
the other
side

there's never going to be anything
straight or predictable
about your path
except the
flattening
and the springing
back

you just go on walking for years
hand in hand
waist deep in the weeds
bent slightly forward
like two question
marks
and all the while it

burns
my dear
it burns beautifully above
you
and goes on
burning
like a relentless
sun

Little Envelopes

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Today Anna came home from day care with a fistful of candy and a bag of Valentine's Day cards from her tiny classmates. She hurried clumsily through the back door and stampeded down the hall to my office where she ran arms-out into my stomach, still clutching her sugary plunder.

There was a sweet little ribbon bracelet threaded with a candy heart that said "BFFs." One card read, "Thanks for being my friend." I know the boy who gave it to Anna didn't actually write the message, but as we filled out our own notes I'd asked her about each classmate: "He shares his Buzz!" "She plays babies with me." "Her sneakers are sparkly."

These are the earliest, purest gestures of friendship. These little cartoon-themed cards are the first tokens of our most important connections.

Mixed in with the cards was a birthday party invitation, her first ever from a classmate, a friend she'll make without the benefit of blood relation or parental friendship. With equal parts delight and trepidation I thought, this is where it begins.

I try not to picture Anna's future in light of my own experience. I want to be able to project less of myself onto the little girl who already has so much of me in her. But I worry. I remember years of Valentine's Days riding the school bus home with only a card from my teacher. I can count on one hand the number of birthday parties I was invited to before high school and even then, when it seemed every other girl in eleventh grade had sweet sixteens to attend each Saturday into the summer, I may have been invited to one or two.

Little envelopes play a huge role in the social lives of school kids. In my case, it was a lack of little envelopes that ranked me if not with the undesirable, then at least among the invisible.

It's true that I came through it. I'm sure most of the best parts of who I've become are a result of feeling insignificant in the social rankings of grade school. But my heart breaks for small me — always hoping for a secret admirer, wishing someone would sneak an envelope into my backpack just once — and it would break exponentially harder for Anna.

She isn't near old enough to understand the significance of her little fistfuls of cards and candy, I just hope that when she is the little envelopes will keep showing up, and that she'll bound through the back door smiling even if they don't.

Affirmation

Friday, February 11, 2011

Growing up, even as a taller-than-most, thick-legged, and awkwardly dressed kid, I was always made to feel beautiful by my family, always warmly and genuinely loved. It was a good early boost to my self esteem, because school kids wouldn't be as concerned with my feelings. Still, I only remember a brief period of feeling like I really was fat and ugly, that I'd never ever have a boyfriend, that only Morrissey knew my pain.

The guys I eventually dated — the ones worth mentioning, anyway — tended to be similarly appreciative. My first serious boyfriend proposed on a weekly basis, my hottest ex walked through crowded Boston bars with me as though I were the one turning heads (Honestly, it was always him. I fucking loved it.)

Steve has always been quiet and practical. I knew it from the time we were roommates, I knew it when we moved in together, I knew it when he proposed by handing me my simple, beautiful ring wrapped as a Christmas gift. He asked no official question as I sat staring into its blue box, sitting on the futon in our spare room. Instead of talking, he tends to show his love in hard work, in loyalty, in his solid character. I love him for all of those things.

I feel like that should have been enough. I feel great in my own skin, I consider myself a feminist. So why did it tear me down that I always had to ask if I looked nice? Why did I let it bother me when I knew this trait of his all along? Why was I being such a girl about it? I brought it up with him repeatedly, gently in our twelve years. I hinted. I asked him to please find ways to at least tell Anna how beautiful she is, because a girl deserves that from her dad. I made light of the issue here and here.

Early in the fall we were headed to a friend's wedding. I'd recently lost around twenty pounds, I was wearing black from head to toe, my hair was cooperating, my heels were high, I felt sexier than I had since my nursing boobs. We left the house. We drove two hours to the venue. We parked the car. We walked into the hotel. Finally, standing in the lobby I asked, "Honey, how do I look?" His response was genuine, but my heart was already hurt.

This has been a big topic in counseling and in our talks together about being better, about making improvements and listening to each other. It turns out that I wasn't the only one in this relationship who couldn't understand why it seemed so difficult for Steve to toss a compliment my way; he's just as frustrated with himself for the years of silence.

I honestly wasn't sure he'd be able to pull off such a change in a way that felt comfortable and organic, and I'd grown so used to his stoic affections that I wasn't sure how I'd react to tenderness — would it be awkward? Suffocating? Forced? Would he resent me? The good news is that he's really taken to it, that he delivers sweet, genuine compliments several times a day without sounding like a cheat sheet of seventies pick-up lines. He tells Anna he loves her often and how pretty she looks in her wildly mismatched outfits.

It wasn't counseling that finally helped Steve understand how important this seemingly small thing was to me, but it's been counseling that's helping us both learn how to hear each other from now on, because as I'm finding out, you have to nurture your happy ending.

Fresh, Part 539

Sunday, February 06, 2011

So it's looking like all the people who'd warned me that three would be worse than two were probably right. You know how much I hate that?

In addition to all kinds of new adorableness, like the way she tucks in her babies, insists on hugging me tight any time she kisses me, and singing age-inappropriate hip-hop lyrics while pushing her shopping cart around the house, Anna's also growing more and more mouthy. She's answering back like a door-slamming teenager, "No I DIDN'T!" She sometimes swats at us when she's frustrated; despite her increasing dexterity, she's taken to having episodes whenever her tights won't pull up or her jeans won't zip, howling a chorus of, "I caaaaaaaaan't!"

She's definitely gone through stubborn, frustrating phases before — a better blogger would link back to the full series of posts — but she's smarter now, and she's looking so much like a little girl. It seems like with a lot of the trouble she makes, she really is cognizant enough to know better. Most of the time I swear she's just. not. listening, "Anna, don't walk on the dog. Anna, don't walk on the dog. Anna, PLEASE stop walking on the [internal expletives deleted] dog." (Replace "walk on the dog" with anything from "touch the computer screen" to "put that in your mouth.") until the child has to be physically removed from the dog and possibly given a time-out.

I'm not sure whether it's more like living with a sociopath or a stoner.

Despite her testing boundaries and growing independence, she still insists I accompany her on every bathroom visit. Now yes, I know I'll miss her needing me like this one day when she's stealing my car keys and looking at me like I do nothing but ruin her life on a minute-by-minute basis, but I think I've satisfied the sentimental memory requirement for Sitting on Edge of Tub Watching Toddler Grimace on Toilet like, three or four times over.

I officially have two months and nine days until she's really three, and I'm hoping this isn't just the wind-up. I'll ask you all kindly to shut your traps about four.

Object Affection

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


With SNOWMAGEDDOPOCALYPSTROPHE keeping us pretty much indoors for the past, oh, what day is this again? I've been appreciating some of my favorite happy-making objects extra hard. Here are a few, and please note that I dusted for you people:

1. Horse built by my grandmother during a stint in rehab

2. Large Dutch oven that might be my next husband

3. Jewelry tree, insulted by my cheap baubles

4. Grown-up flannel sheets, like buttah

5. Five-dollar plant that will not let me kill it

 

I'd love to see inside your house without these pesky binoculars. Let's see your small treasures.