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?