Suburban Snapshots

A Guide to Practical Kindness

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I love that so many people are taking part in the 26 days of kindness that's been going on in the wake of the Newtown tragedies. Friends have been covering the tolls and drive-thru orders of strangers behind them; everyone is trying to bring a little more peace and light in the wake of such a massive heartbreak.

I haven't bought coffee for a stranger in line or paid another driver's toll, mostly because I'm cheap but also because I know there are things I can do consistently, all the time, to help spread good will and reduce some of our collective negative energy pollution. Here are 10 ideas for practical kindness:

  1. Compliment a stranger - if you like that sweater, or hair cut, or the way that dad just comforted his kid, tell them.  
  2. Honk less - some people are bad drivers, some are just confused. Let the guy who didn't merge until the last possible second get ahead of you, and thank the woman who let you cut over in traffic.
  3. Make small talk - the mom sitting alone at gymnastics is probably intimidated by the regulars. Ask her how long she's been coming, or which gymnast is hers.
  4. Give the benefit of the doubt - sometimes, people do inconsiderate things on purpose, but more often it's out of ignorance. Forgiveness feels better than a grudge.
  5. Be a good guest - show up with wine, and don't leave before helping with the dishes.
  6. Be patient - yes, the person in front of you has too many items in express, the guy in the fast lane is doing the speed limit. If you're not in late-stage labor, you can wait.
  7. Hug hello - I love a good hug, and I will hug the hell out of you. If ever there were a time to be more affectionate than usual, this is it. Just don't get all Creepy Uncle.
  8. Have company - open your home to new friends, make someone feel welcome. Comfort goes such a long way.
  9. Wave to your neighbors - the old man who walks his dog past your house, the kids on their bikes, the mailman. Don't feel weird, I'm from New York and I manage to do it. 
  10. Put your gadgets down - your attention is more of a gift than you know. I am such an offender here, but I promise to try.
Let's all just be a little bit better to each other, for a very long time. Merry Christmas to all of you.

The Slow Return to
Our New Normal

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I think we all tried to push through the fog and funk of knowing the depth of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. We had holiday parties and pageants, bought and decorated trees, made cookies, and posted the pictures to Facebook. And now it's Sunday night, and all of us parents are faced with sending our kids off to school tomorrow morning, and we know it will be all right. But we can't shake a little unease, we'll probably sleep badly, we'll definitely take more time getting out the door and into class. We are heavy with apprehension and grief.

This morning, 2 days of the gentlest, most appreciative parenting I could manage had to come to an end. Anna's room needed to be cleaned. She was asking for and then not eating different breakfasts, she called us mean because we wouldn't let her watch cartoons.

And so, as would happen on any day that hadn't been preceded by a tragedy beyond the worst nightmare, I counted to 3. I refused her bargaining, I rejected her stall tactics, and Steve got her started lining up her shoes and putting dirty clothes in the laundry.

If you haven't already, you'll eventually come back to the routine of raising a child who is present, even if you've been given a brutal, stinging reminder of how quickly that could change. I want you to know that it's okay. It's still love. It doesn't mean you don't appreciate how lucky you are to be able to hold a warm, beating body tight before bedtime.

Part of being present is not being aware that you're present. We don't stop every few minutes and ask, Am I appreciating this enough? Am I giving enough love? because then we're so consumed with the concept that we're forgetting the gestures. We live in passive recognition of our blessings, and when it comes to our children, love is at the root of everything we do.

In a few weeks, you might leave your child at the door to school and rush to work, you might forget to say, "I love you." It will be a normal day, and it's all right to have a normal day. Our kids aren't capable of knowing how much we love them. I don't think they can know, despite our anxieties and best intentions, despite morning I-love-yous and bedtime stories, hugs tight enough they struggle against the affection, they just can't. But they know enough.

As we start having normal days again, let's not doubt ourselves as parents. Let's not waste time questioning or being deliberate. Let's just love our kids and know that we're all doing our best.

How to Scare Friends
and Horrify People

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We all need that one person in our lives and/or newsfeed who reminds us that hey, maybe we're not as crazy as we think we are. Today, I'd like to be that friend for you. Prepare to feel more emotionally stable than you have in months.

Over the summer, Steve, Anna and I were at our local playground. It was a rare Saturday when we didn't bump into someone we know or Anna didn't excitedly drag us over to a little friend from school while Steve and I tried desperately to remember the parents' names before the distance closed between us. But after a few minutes, as kids do, she met a little girl named Ally. They hit it off, and after listening to the two of them talk, then watching them walk everywhere heart-achingly hand-in-hand, I kind of wanted to adopt the kid — or at least get her on a standing playdate schedule.

Note: tiny blond is not Ally.

Steve and I talked with Ally's grandfather while we all watched the pair play. Between our sentences, sweet little snips of the girls' conversation would drift over, "Anna, you can climb up with me, it's okay, try it, I'll be right here." "Ally I can ride a 2 wheeler but that's okay if you can't I'll teach you so we can ride bikes at my house." They shared the same brand of clumsy enthusiasm, they seemed to be burst from the same star. It was one of those scenes you catch your kids in and feel at once sentimental and a little sad, because you know that this sweet kind of friend-making doesn't last long.

We learned from Ally's grandfather that she and Anna were about a month apart, that they'd eventually attend the same kindergarten, and that they visited this playground often though it was the first time we'd met them. Figuring we'd bump into them again and not wanting to dump my crazy, "I want these girls to be total BFF can we please have your vital information and hey let's go get ice cream right now!" on him, we all left the park and headed home.

We didn't see them the following weekends, or again. I had enough information to know where the little girl went to preschool, but after polling saner friends decided that leaving a note there for Ally's mother would cross some boundaries.

Then in November our town paper ran a slideshow of local families heading to the polls. And there was Ally, sliding a ballot into the machine while her parents looked on, and there was the caption listing their last name.

People, you know I immediately typed that shit into Facebook. I found her mom right away, debated whether or not to write her, decided to write, then spent forever trying to find the best way to convince someone I'd just stalked on Facebook that I'm not actually a stalker I'm just really good at the Internet. I kept it short and closed with, "You have a great kid, maybe we'll see you around town."

It's been a month with no reply, and I won't write again. Instead I'll call the elementary school and petition to have Ally and Anna in the same kindergarten class.

What? Too much?

Giveaway: This Magical
Timer Will Trick Your Children

Thursday, December 06, 2012

If I remember correctly I was into hour 3 of Anna's morning socks routine when I got an email from Whitney at Stoplight Golight asking if I'd consider a giveaway of their ingenious little task timer. I finished revoking the last of Anna's privileges and replied, "PLEASE YES GOD SEND ME HELP." It was highly professional.

2 days later my timer (and one for you!) arrived. I plugged it in and laughed hysterically — and silently, because I do have a soul — watching Anna frantically brushing her teeth before the light turned from red to green. The next morning I set it in her room and she darted from shirt to pants to socks like someone in a Benny Hill chase scene. I've used it at bath time to keep her from growing barnacles and in time out where I may have set it to 5 minutes but told her it was at 2 because I'm the mom, that's why.

If you need more convincing that this is an excellent little gadget, aside from helping you fool your still-illiterate children, it may also come in handy as:

A foreplay timer - "Above the waist until that light's green, honey."
A conversation ender - "Oh look! We're done talking about the bills now."
Facebook police - "Green light, say goodbye to Grumpy Cat."

The possibilities are limitless! To win your own timer, tell me what you'll use it for in a comment below. I'll choose a totally random winner at 9am EST on Monday, December 10th.

Averting Catastrophe

Monday, November 26, 2012

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted a quote to Facebook about the habit of catastrophic thinking versus living in the moment. Some of it was sadly familiar to me; in uncomfortable situations I'm the one checking for the nearest exits in case someone spontaneously combusts, scanning for sketchy characters in a crowded subway car, wondering which of the other boats on the lake is being helmed by a frat boy who's been drinking since sunrise. As events progress I forget to worry about unlikely tragedies and genuinely enjoy myself, but recognizing this habit I try to appear nothing but calm around Anna, "Hey! Look at that boat coming right at us! They must want to say hello — let's just tighten up this life jacket."

I thought I was doing a good job avoiding using fear in trying to keep her out of harm's way; when she took off and vanished at a crowded theme park, I didn't shake her and yell, "SOMEONE COULD HAVE STOLEN YOU!" though it was my brain's first, desperate output. When she asked why she had to continue taking swimming lessons instead of tap I said, "So you can learn to surf with Daddy one day" and not, "Because watching you run headlong into 3-foot waves at the beach makes me want to flagrantly defy the no-alcohol ordinance." I realized that in these bigger, more abstract situations I do okay — when we flew to Florida, I clapped and giggled during takeoff while my synapses pleaded for another Xanax — it's the small, day-to-day stuff I need to work on. The more I listened to my words the more I realized that hey, maybe this is where all the catastrophic stuff comes out. Maybe as kids we hear too much, Don't dance on the table, it could flip over. Stop teasing the dog before she bites you! Never, ever run away from me in a parking lot, you could get hit by a car! We don't play hide-and-seek in the mall, what happens if I can't find you?

She's already started what-iffing. A few weeks ago, overtired and tucked in bed, she started worrying that she might lose both of her security blankets — here I toe the line between Meh, we'll just get you a new one, they make plenty of 'em! and teaching her to take good care of her belongings because her parents aren't made of money. But she kept undoing my answers, "Well, what if I lose brown blankie?" "Then you still have blue blankie." "But what if I lose both blankies?" "Then we'll go to the store and get a new one." "But what if the store doesn't have any more?" and so on. She finally fell asleep and it never came up after that.

So I'm trying, since reading that quote, to watch how I warn her away from danger; how I teach her to tuck her head when she flips across the sofa, not "because you could hurt your neck" but "because that's how your gymnastics teachers want you to do it." I'll make sure she buckles up in the car "because I want you to be extra safe" and not "because sometimes people drive like assholes." On the way to school we play a new kind of what-if game. I'll start with, "Anna, what if today is the best day you ever had at school?" or "What if someone tells you how awesome you are today?"

I'm trying. I may not be able to totally break the habit in me, but with any luck I can keep it from forming in her. Oh guys, I hope.

My Preschooler Might Be
on the Rag

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First off, I hate the saying "on the rag," but so much of Anna's behavior lately — namely that she can be a tyrant who does little but contradict even the most innocuous statements ("Oh Anna, it's such a sunny, beautiful day out!" "Well no it ISN'T mama. Because I have to go to SCHOOL and YOU'RE MEAN.") — I'm kind of at a loss for a more apt phrase.

I remember when Anna was tiny and I was talking with my friend about her own daughter who was 3 at the time. She said, "Emily is being such a bitch today," and my naive, righteous, brand-new-mom to a pretty easy baby brain thought, Wow, that's harsh.

And now guess what? My kid is being a real bitch, or to be more equal opportunity about it, sometimes she's an asshole.

I've commiserated with friends, I've asked 2 different Facebook groups, I've whined to my husband, my sister, my mom, and some of the best words of wisdom I've heard so far were from Allison of Motherhood, WTF? who said, "She doesn't have a personality problem. She has an age problem. 4-year-olds are assholes." I'm clinging to that because it suggests this is a phase and not a gene handed down from stubborn family members on both sides of her tree.

Anna tends to be at her worst in the morning and evening. She's alone with me before school, and then argues with us both about everything from what's on her dinner plate to how much Ruby Gloom she's allowed to watch to why she deserves dessert. It is exhausting. This morning at drop-off I heaved her into the room, sighed at her teacher and said some pathetic thing like, "I can't do right by her today. Good luck."

But there are days when she is glorious, like when we go out for breakfast together before school and we talk, she eats most of the meal she's had me pay for, she comes and goes without a struggle, sits, she buckles, and I am almost lulled into thinking, "I could totally be a SAHM!" I know she can't be her best self all the time but I feel like I've had to tell her too often lately that even when I seem mad, I still love her. I've had to swallow my outdoor voice too hard and too many times.

You guys can't fix this, and I know I'm not alone, that it's probably a phase. And I have some ideas on how to change things. It's just so frustrating, so draining to have to count to 3 endlessly just to get her to put shoes on, to feel like I'm always revoking privileges or threatening to (100% follow-through, if you were wondering). I love my girl, but man she knows just how to wear me out in the worst way. 

This Giveaway is
Totally Mint(ed)

Monday, November 12, 2012

I just had an exchange with Kim over at Let Me Start By Saying about the use of the term "mint" in grade school, as in, "Oh my GOD Kenny Chapman (this name has not been changed to protect the innocent object of my 8th grade affection) is SO MINT!" I thought it was strictly a Long Island thing, but I digress.

You already know I'm a total raving lunatic when it comes to getting my holiday cards together, so it was kismet that just after I wrote the post about verbally abusing my family in order to get half-decent, card-worthy photos, I had the opportunity to sample and review

To be honest, Minted is the kind of company I normally consider, drool over, and decide is out of my league; the kind of boutique-y shop reserved for people who don't create dog-themed holiday cards that read,"Season's Greetings, Bitches,"or threaten to withhold sex if their spouse continues to blink in EVERY BLEEPING PHOTO I MEAN COME ON.

I chose the one decent family shot from our first attempt and started browsing the Minted templates. Some were too classy for our mugs, others too sappy for my snark, but they were all gorgeous, all so well designed, and created by independent designers from around the world who clearly have talent to spare.

My cards arrived 3 days after I placed my order. The paper is beautiful and warm, the colors in my photos are spot-on, and I can't wait to be the annoying asshole who sends her Christmas cards out way too early this year.

So, want some? In the comments below tell me your favorite middle-school slang, and if you feel like it, give my Facebook page the thumbs-up (optional). One winner chosen at random gets $50 toward a Minted order with free shipping. I'll choose at 9 a.m. eastern on Friday, November 18th.

*Minted provided me 25 of the cards shown above so I could give a fair review of their site and product. The opinions and inappropriate language here are my own.

And Names Have
Sometimes Hurt Me

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

This post is written as part of a bully-shaming project started by Toulouse and Tonic. Visit her site to see more, or her Facebook page to submit.

I remember during recess in 4th grade when a kid whose long, Italian name I still know by heart walked over to me, called me fat and spit on my shoe. I remember the way that insult landed squarely on the tip of my sneaker and glinted in the sun.

I was teased on the bus, in the cafeteria, walking through the halls. I hated walking up stairs with anyone behind me. I was tall and meaty, my rear-end always the object of jokes and taunts. I had just a few friends, I was a good student, I made an easy target.

In September Anna will start kindergarten. She's got her dad's thin build, but she's a goofball with an overbite and a penchant for dressing like a hobo. I love her for all of these things and hate worrying that any one of them might single her out. I'm torn between wanting her to be her unique self and hoping she fits in -- that she finds a seat easily in the cafeteria, that trays and bodies don't close the spaces where she lingers.

School was still okay for me. I survived years of being called "Linebacker Butt" and "Thunder Thighs" by keeping a tight circle of friends and avoiding eye contact between classes. The rest of my world had been filled with so much love, encouragement and affection that I knew those mean kids were wrong. I knew I wasn't the one with the problem. I work hard to give Anna that same sense of security, so though she may not always feel beautiful she will always know she is ferociously, unconditionally loved.

I can't make mean kids and bullies stop being cruel, I can't hug and reassure every kid who dreads taking the bus and tell them that they matter more, but I can try to instill enough confidence in my own so that she understands that she's not the one who's flawed, and how to have empathy for the ones who truly are.

Meet me at the Polls for a
Cup of Burnt Coffee and a Sticker

Friday, November 02, 2012

Four years ago I was an anxious new mom with a 6-month-old daughter and a small freelance business. Steve was at home with Anna after a layoff, and I commuted an hour to work photographing newborns on straight commission.

We enrolled Anna in state medical coverage while Steve and I willed ourselves healthy. I bought milk and juice with WIC vouchers. Steve took odd electrical or labor jobs and for a while we got by, but in March of 2009 we realized that for the first time in 5 years of being homeowners, we couldn't make our mortgage payment. We missed it, took the hit to our credit reports and applied for a government loan modification.

Three-and-a-half years ago I started a meaningful full-time job with a good salary and amazing benefits. Steve remained the "daycare parent", taking electrical work whenever he could, but not having a regular job left him feeling inadequate and frustrated.

Two years ago, he started shift work at a warehouse. The regular paycheck was a huge improvement, and going off to work helped put his head in a better place. But the overnights were hard on all of us, and 9 months later he applied for a new job closer to home.

One year ago, Steve got that position with the City and since then we've been able to chip away at debt, pay our bills on time, and send Anna to school 5 days a week, where she's thriving. We both continue to take side work and are building our savings.

On Tuesday, we'll go to the local high school and cast our votes. We are doing better than we were 4 years ago. We're raising a daughter who I want to one day earn as much as the men in her field, who I want to have ready access to birth control in all its forms, who I want to be the boss of her own body when it's time for me to relinquish that responsibility. I love people who deserve the freedom to marry without judgement or restriction, to share benefits, and to be treated as equals with all that implies. And I want people who struggled as we did deciding between groceries and doctor visits to have better options.

Whatever your priorities are, whatever informs your decision, understand how important your vote is and show up at the polls. Know your local issues, commit to your values, and cast your ballot.

With Love for "Dotter"

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We start our days, we kiss our families, drink our coffee, send spouses off to work and wait impatiently for children to dress for school. We take for granted the comfortably routine, where even the morning's frustrations feel soft and familiar.

On Thursday afternoon, this appeared in my news feed:

My routine of sitting down to work stubbornly didn't want to be interrupted. Surely I'd been misreading Bridget's blog for the past 2 years, surely where I believed all this time that "Dotter" was her child, she must have actually been a family pet. This is in no one's plan. This is neither comfortable nor routine. This can't be.

But my denial was evicted with the air leaving my chest, the involuntary contorting of my lips, unseated by the reality that a woman I've known through 2 years of shared stories, comments, and emails, had suffered the loss that we all spend so much time trying not to consider, the one that compels us buy $500 car seats and wait with our kids at the bus stop. It's the reason we don't watch the news anymore, it's why we pay for swimming lessons and bicycle helmets.

On Wednesday evening, Bridget lost her 11-year-old daughter in a car accident. Her bright, thoughtful, generous daughter, taken in a horrible instant.

I've never met Bridget in person, but over 2 years she's made me spit-take onto my laptop, she's told stories about her dad and sister that have doubled me over, she's posted hilarious texts from her husband and teenage daughter that I've dictated to my husband between guffaws, and on several occasions she's silenced me with gasping laughter.

Over 2 years I've admired her as a writer — today I grieve for her as a mother.

Please help us support Bridget and her family. We've set up a fundraiser to cover practical expenses so that they have time to heal with one less worry. Any donations, prayers, and kind thoughts are welcome. Donate here until November 2nd, leave your messages in comments. Thank you.

The 5 Stages of a Family
Photo Shoot

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Twice a year I go from being a laid-back mom with a sink full of dishes and a duvet full of socks to an all-out, Type-A, this shit is B-A-N-A-N-A-S Stepford Wife; those two times are on Anna's birthday and at Christmas.

I photograph and design Anna's party invites and our holiday card. I don't do themes, but there are special outfits and picturesque locations and the expectation that my family will humor me for just half a bleeping hour so I can get this thing shot. Sometimes I include our dogs because apparently I hate myself.

So off to my mom's we went. She's got a huge, pretty yard with acres all dressed up for fall in New England. The drive up was the last part of my plan that went smoothly.

Anna hadn't napped. We'd been running around most of the day so that by the time I'd bribed pleaded threatened convinced her to put on her picture outfit she was despondent about wearing The Godforsaken Hat. I forgot to pack my own make up and had to make do with my mom's -- she still uses the kind of eyeliner you have to soften with a match. While I was busy trying not to set my face on fire, Anna found a bag of Cheetos. When Steve pointed out that she'd caked her fingers in dayglo-orange dust, she did what any other 4 year old would do and wiped them on her new, cream colored, cable knit dress.

Once he got her cleaned up and I called MENSA to see about preschool enrollment, I handed the camera to my mom and we headed outside. I anticipated a quick, reasonable session. Here instead are the 5 Stages of a Family Photo Shoot:

Stage 1: Vogueing

Stage 2: Godforsaken Hat tossing

Stage 3: Impromptu choreography

Stage 4: Resignation

Stage 5: Amazement that something this beautiful could possibly be mine

But shit you guys, I've got a long night of Photoshop ahead of me.

Learning to b Positive:
A Giveaway

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Right now, I have friends who are dealing with excruciatingly bad circumstances. I know families coping with devastating illness. I love people who are experiencing losses, and struggling through hardships. I know some amazing humans who I look at and wonder how they function each day -- regular people who are braver than any movie hero, as strong as any soldier, and tougher than I hope I ever have to be.

And I guess the thing that keeps them from collapsing in on themselves is their ability to be hopeful, to see the positive in what those of us on the outside consider hopeless. Because life isn't always good, and it's not always fair, and frankly, sometimes it sucks pretty hard.

The b Positive Project was created out of a desire to help families stuck in difficult situations. Its founder wasn't in a great spot in his own life and decided that instead of wallowing in misery, he'd send some kids in-need to a baseball game. His plan worked, it succeeded beyond his expectations, and so he kept going. And he's still going.

What I love about the b Positive Project is that it doesn't sell the message that life is awesome all the time, but that even in the midst of life kind of sucking, there's goodness. There's laughter, there's still life. "In light of adversity, b Positive."

I'm no hippie, but I believe it. I've seen people find reserves of positivity during some overwhelmingly bad times. I have friends who are there right now. Somehow, they keep going.

If you think there's some truth to this and want to wear the message, leave a comment to be entered for a b Positive tee. They're soft, comfy, and cut to be flattering (I can only speak for women's, but assume the same goes for men's.) I'll choose a winner on Friday the 19th at 9 a.m. 12 p.m. ET.

So next time you're about to end a status update with my recent pet peeve, "FML", consider what's going right for you, get a little perspective, and see if you can't b Positive.

FYI: I don't share or use any email addresses you provide when commenting. I'm not that savvy.

Despite the Fact that My Dogs Don't Read Or Understand English

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Hey dogs, let's talk.

First, listen. I know one of you is gravely ill. I'm heartbroken over it and despite everything I'm about to say to the three of you I will miss you every day once you're gone, Bertie. But you know, we've been SUPER extra nice to you lately; giving you more treats than the others, letting you take up half of our bed despite your recent snoring episodes, and only cursing you out a little bit when you beg to go outside and then come scratching at the door .003 seconds after I sit back down. And yet I continue to clean up turds that are distinctively yours from every room in this house. I'm taking care of you, Bert, and you are literally shitting all over me.

Which is an excellent segue: I need all of you to stop shitting indoors. You know, this is your house too, you little ingrates. The poop doesn't pick itself up and throw itself down the toilet, that's ME, the woman who adopted you (That man who lives here? I ambushed him with every single one of you and Stella before you. True story.), feeds you, spends money for your care, provides cozy blankets for snuggling and occasionally notices that your water bowl is empty. And listen, I can handle the random accident -- just today the smaller female human peed in her pants at school because she wouldn't put down the Etch-a-Sketch and walk to the toilet. I know sometimes we leave you for longer than we expect and you just can't hold it. But when you roam the yard for 10 full minutes only to come inside, slink into the kid's room and drop one on her shag rug? That is just inexcusable. And goddamn, why are the rug bombs always so mushy?

Also, I know you guys love my cooking, and I love tossing you the occasional chicken heart or sausage end. Know what I don't love? I don't love almost falling ass over tea kettle literally onto the boiling tea kettle because you won't stop herding me, waiting for food to fall. Boys, you are Dachshunds, not Shepherds. If you doubt this fact just try and climb the stairs on those fat little thumbs you call legs. Now, out of my kitchen before I get the squirt bottle.

In closing, let me just say that despite the above complaints we really do love having you guys around. You're class-A snugglers, you're freaking adorable, and you're very good to the smallest resident human (I appreciate your tolerance for her aggressive affection; I see the panic in your eyes, I know what you tolerate.) I'm comforted by the familiar sound of your paws clicking up and down the hardwood floors, though I'm not as fond of the familiar sound of your nightly synchronized butt-licking.

Dogs, I will fulfill my promise to care for you and love you until you're all neatly lined up in mahogany boxes on the mantle, and even after that. I'll continue to share my bed, my dinner, and my paycheck with you, and frankly, I don't think requesting that I not step in your crap on my way to a midnight pee is too much to ask in return. Deal? 

Because if I don't Talk About Sex I'm Going to Talk About Dog Poop

Monday, October 01, 2012

I'm finding myself talking a lot about sex lately with married girlfriends. It's dirty and fascinating and sometimes sad, because often the situation isn't a balanced one.

Whenever I post status updates about Steve's advances, one or two comments will say something along the lines of, "I'd like to have that problem." And while the reality of a husband too tired for or uninterested in sex isn't one I live in, I am close with women who are there now, or who've dealt with it, argued over it, been frustrated and sometimes angered by it.

I also have friends who struggle with guilt over their own indifference to sex, or who don't feel guilty about it at all given the work they do for their households and just wish their husbands would roll over and go to sleep for a change. And there are others where neither spouse is particularly motivated toward physical intimacy and content to live mostly as loving, committed companions.

Steve and I have been in a couple of these places. There were months when I felt I could easily do without, but tried not to let more than 3 weeks pass because the nagging guilt would finally get to me. There have been a couple rare occasions when he's been too stressed out or exhausted and I've let him sleep instead. There were months when anytime we could get Anna to spend quality time with Nick Jr. we'd sneak off for 15 minutes, and date nights that could have resulted in really embarrassing moving violations (pun not intended but awesome).

If our parents are still reading: YOU KNEW THE RISKS.

We still have those moments, and through our most prolific stint -- owed largely to our time in counseling and a whole lot of learning about marriage and each other -- I've gotten better at seeing sex not as a chore and instead as one of the ways we maintain our relationship as a couple and not strictly as two people relentlessly responsible for raising a third human. It's also a delightful addition to my regular workout routine of bending over several times a day to pick up dog shit and dust bunnies.

I like our pace, even the waxes and wanes. What's working now is that Steve figured out what I needed and I figured out how to respond to what he needs. We enjoy each other and have stupid fun together. There are still nights when the familiar hand on my hip causes me to roll my eyes in the dark, anything but in the mood, but now there's no tension, just a quick swat and a rain check.

Where do you fall? Ebbs, flows, aggravation, stress, are you like teenagers on weekends? All the time? Do you talk about it? (Note to my parents: DO NOT ANSWER THIS and WHY ARE YOU EVEN STILL READING?) I wonder how we all manage, and how we can help each other do better.

Dog Shaming and the
Reason You're So Damn Busy

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Last week I was emailing a potential dog sitter to plan our upcoming family road trip. In the middle of outlining each of our 3 animals' quirks — one takes medication in the morning, snores loudly, and doesn't like kids; one can't be let outdoors unsupervised, is cuckoo bananas on a leash, and jumps chest-high; one steals food, barks, and prefers to poop indoors — it occurred to me that this is how we become so busy without ever realizing it's happening, how much we absorb even in the smallest tasks.

Handsome Hank here appeared on last month.

To Steve and me, the dogs are kind of a pain but not a hardship. When we go away we know we need to plan for their care, when we feed them we have to spread out their bowls and watch the one who steals from the others, most nights we gate them in the guest room so we can have the bed to ourselves, in the morning one of them can be counted on to shit just inside the back door, then hide under the dining room table. It's just how it goes.

If you break down your daily routines into their discrete parts — getting a preschooler dressed, drop-offs before work, coordinating grocery store trips, play dates — it's amazing we keep everything functioning without having Siri call a meth dealer. And I'd argue that it's a good thing we do so much of this on auto-pilot, because leaving notes for the dogsitter and actually seeing all we tolerate had me feeling like a pretty shitty pet owner; Why haven't I gotten these tiny assholes better trained by now? How can I ask someone else to do all this? Why am I not a cat person?

So when you're feeling inadequate — wondering if you're doing enough, feeling as we all can that you're half-assing everything, struggling with guilt every time you open Facebook to tune out for a while — look at one part of your routine in all its mollecules, then pat yourself on the back and have a bloody mary for breakfast while posting a status update. You totally earned it.

An Open Letter to Those
Who Market to Children

Sunday, September 16, 2012

To Whom it May Concern,

I'm a mom and last week I turned 39. You've probably stopped reading already, because as of 4 years ago I've aged out of your target demographic. But I urge you to continue because I also happen to be in charge of the future purchases of a girl who will be entering consumer age faster than I care to admit.

I'm a mom who's going to have to be on my daughter's bad side often and who's willing to pick those battles regardless of slammed doors and hurled insults. I'm a mom who stands ready to utter tired clich├ęs about friends jumping off bridges. I'm a mom with a high tolerance for rolled eyeballs and silent treatments, for being dismissed as "un-cool" and for cold shoulders. I can put up with begging, whining and nagging with the stamina of an elite marathoner.

But here's what I won't stand for: I won't accept that a song can't be a hit if the lyrics don't repeat "sexy" 400 times in 3 minutes. I am not buying that the reason there are denim shorts for 5th graders no bigger than a pair of bikini bottoms is because "the market demands it." And while I'm sure they exist, I don't personally know a mom who found last year's lack of Steve Madden shoes for toddlers to be a hardship.

So you can assault our senses with mall stores that smell like whore houses and sound like clubs, tell our kids that jeans should be super skinny and cost at least eighty bucks and that confidence is something they can blow their allowance on, but don't dismiss us parents, because we're onto you. We recognize the too-mature clothes and overpriced shoes, we're watching you try and rush childhoods that are already too short and erode the innocence we know will go too soon.

You may have the power to persuade our kids that they need tiny shorts and sequined underwear but understand something — we're ready to protect their true best interests with passion and ferocity. We're ready for the stomping and sulking, the relentless insisting and demanding. We're prepared to be The Bad Guy.

If you doubt the tenacity and endurance of a bunch of women-over-thirty who continue to depreciate in value to your industry, remember — we signed onto this parenting gig for a lifetime. We are not a trend, childhood is not your commodity.

Please Make My To-Do List
Stop Scrolling

Monday, September 10, 2012

I work from home, full-time. For 8 or more hours a day after I drop Anna at school, I sit at my desk or the dining room table and call into meetings, respond to emails, and do other nerdy web type stuff that I  enjoy but won't bore you with.

When I tell people that I work from home they usually comment on how perfect a situation it must be, and for the most part it is; if I need to run an errand, I run an errand. Out of milk? I can get in and out of the grocery store before the senior housing bus is even done parallel parking. I can wear whatever I please, my commute is 10 feet and traffic is a pair of flip flops left in the hallway.

But the flexibility also creates some pressure. Because I have a desk job while Steve is usually on a truck, I handle all the household admin except for the monthly bills. I make doctor's appointments, run to the post office, organize babysitting, call the bank, call the insurance company, buy birthday cards, thank yous and party gifts. When there's a lice alert at preschool, I pick Anna up and park her in front of whatever hideous show will keep her quiet and occupied while I work, then feel terribly guilty that she's watched 3 hours of My Little Pony while I sit with a headset on and my back to her. I make travel arrangements and plan weekends, respond to texts, RSVP to kid parties and potlucks, I fill out school forms and tax forms and 401(k) papers I don't totally understand. And I cannot sit to work if my house is a mess, so somewhere between waking up and sitting down, I'll clean out the sink, dishwasher if it's done, wipe off the counters, hurl Anna's shoes into her bedroom and Steve's bathrobe into ours, put plastic families back into their dollhouse, hang wet towels and refill dog bowls.

And then I sit to work alone until 3:35 when Steve walks in the door, which is usually when I remember that there's nothing defrosted for dinner and hope we have milk for the box of mac and cheese he'll make Anna.

Lately I feel like I'm not really doing anything all the way, you know? I try hard at work but know that my co-workers often stay later or start earlier than I can. I have a to-do list of work and personal tasks that grows as fast as I check things off of it -- build new web page, deposit freelance check -- and aside from work and the kid and the ever-stinky house, I have this blog (which I love) and my NickMom gig (which I also love), I do photo shoots (again, love) and maintain my Facebook page (ditto) and even though as I type this all out I can clearly see that it's a lot to handle, I feel like maybe I'm just not trying hard enough or organizing my time well enough, that we shouldn't be eating mac and cheese twice a week because it's too late for more than one dirty pot, that I need to get on top of the floors because all this shit sticking to my feet is totally grossing me out.

It might be that we were busier and away more with the summer here, and maybe the cooler weather will make more space for getting things done. It's the typical struggle of the working mom though, right? And the at-home parent too, I suspect. It makes more sense for us to handle household business, and I know it's fine if the floors are sticky and the sink is never empty and honestly none of that normally bothers me. I just feel really behind lately, behind everything.

Do you think it's the season? Have you found things slipping and notice yourself playing catch up lately, or do you feel this way all the time? Have any good ideas on the matter? I'll read them all just as soon as I get this toilet cleaned and call the vet.

I Might be Having a
First-World Parenting Crisis

Monday, September 03, 2012

Sometimes I don't feel like going through the hassle of booking an appointment with our counselor to talk over a single issue, and when that happens I turn to you, Internet, to play Unbiased Party. Plus you don't charge me a co-pay.

My 6-year-old niece has been taking horseback riding lessons for several months. We've watched her a few times and have seen her wobbly trot become a confident gallop, and though Anna is usually too distracted by barn dogs or horse penises to really pay attention, she's said more than once that she'd like to ride horses too.

To date Anna has taken and loved gymnastics, and though neither Steve or I are under the illusion she will excel and go on to spend thousands of hours perfecting her skills under the stern but loving care of a burly Russian coach (this description is based entirely on a bunch of movies I watched in the 80s) she'll continue. She took ballet which none of us enjoyed, and a quick stint swimming which will resume in a couple of weeks so I can stop growing gray hairs at the beach. Oh, and last summer she spent 3 days lying on a soccer field telling us she was tired.

Steve's been showing her BMX and skateboard videos and she's excited by them, she says she wants to try everything. I'm down for letting her have a go at almost anything except hockey, because I'm a morning person and I still think 7 a.m. games are kind of bullshit. Also the money tree died when we bought this house.

The trouble is that Steve feels the same way about horseback riding as I do about hockey.

It's a pricey activity, no doubt. I imagine that seeing my lanky 4-year-old perched on the back of a 7-foot horse will scare the manure out of me, and the whole thing is at odds with the world I was raised in. On Long Island, girls who rode horses also got BMWs at their sweet sixteens.

But the ones who keep horses at the stable where my niece practices look so responsible, or at the very least, so modestly dressed. They tie and brush, walk and shovel, and it all seems like there are so many lessons beyond how to get the animal to go this direction or that on command. They're just regular kids whose parents probably have to really work their lessons and boots and equipment into the monthly budget.

I've relented for now, I'm giving this one to Steve because gives into me almost 100% of the time. I know if Anna wants to do it she'll ask again, and if she asks enough he'll let her go because that's the kind of dad (and husband) he is. But I don't want to miss an opportunity and in general, it's hard for me to keep my trap shut when I feel like I have a valid argument.

What do you think, Internets? About horses, about kids being scheduled and overscheduled, about your own kids, or about how you live in a cardboard box outside a hockey rink somewhere so that your daughter can get to her 500 practices on time. Mostly that last part, because I don't want to have any guilt if she asks about hockey once she's old enough to play.

Next Year I'll Tell My Dentist I Ride a Motorcycle for Fun

Monday, August 27, 2012

If you asked anyone I know to describe me, none of their adjectives would be "daring" or "adventurous" or even "spontaneous". In general I'm none of these things; it's okay, I'm fine with that. I've never thought, "If only I were brave enough to hurl myself from a plane and let a large piece of fabric keep me from having my internal organs spread across several acres."

So when Steve got his motorcycle back in January and I decided I wanted to learn to properly ride it, people were surprised. And when I posted the image below to Facebook during our basic rider course, friends commented "Cool!" and "Badass!" And if you've ever taken a 3-day motorcycle training course having only spent maybe a quarter mile on a motorcycle (and almost running yourself down in the process) you'd know that more appropriate statements might be, "Grueling!" or "Exhausting!"

The class made me realize how long it's been since I've had to absorb any amount of new skills and information. Those brain cells I used a little bit in college started to come out of their midlife hibernation so that by the fifth drill when we had to not only remember the million steps to make a bike stop and go safely (there were 5 steps just to start up my wee training bike) but pay attention to curves, other students, traffic patterns and the instructors' hand signals, all I wanted was A/C, a nap and a beer in whatever order I could get them. My brain and body were spent.

I woke up the night before our second riding day dreading getting back on the little Suzuki. I was tired of the unrelenting heat and sun out on the tarmac where our range was set up. I was tired of clumsily  shifting gears and accidentally riding outside the lines, I was anxious about the licensing assessment and my clutch muscles were killing me. But at 7:45 a.m. we arrived back at the airfield and by 8:00 I was taking curves at a breakneck 12 miles per hour. People, it was fun as hell.

Steve and I both passed the course; he got 100 on his written test to my 98 (NERD ALERT), we tied on the riding assessment. I still don't feel tough or badass or especially confident. I have a lot of practice ahead of me that I'm looking forward to starting on. But I'm proud of myself for stepping way out of my comfort zone and for doing pretty well, for going back even though I really thought I'd had enough of drills and videos and sunburn, for taking a risk and following through.

Ironically, the most dangerous part of the 3 days happened on the asphalt before class had even started,  when Steve made me laugh so hard I choked on a piece of my Egg McMuffin. Sure, I almost asphyxiated, but I did not dump my bike. True story.

Sorry Dad, I Didn't Get
Pregnant for Your Birthday

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I've been telling people all week that my dad's turning 60, and without exception the response is, "Wow! That's so young!"

Dad may not share their assessment, but I happen to think it's awesome that though I'm about to be 39, he's barely past the age when AARP starts sending you things you didn't ask for in the mail.

My parents had me young; I can't do math but I think Mom was 22 and Dad was 21. Can you even imagine? Things between them were good and happy, and then I have to assume things were really neither good nor happy, and now that I'm an adult I realize how much credit they both deserve for keeping my sister and me mostly in the dark about the ugly stuff for a really, really long time.

As far as my sister and I knew, we pretty suddenly had a couple of new parents and a few trips a year to visit Dad in whatever super cool new place he was stationed (that's him below in an old Coast Guard photo, standing under the number 4 totally owning that mustache and tiny hat.) Dad showed up at all the big family functions and Mom still visited her ex-in-laws and my sister and I remained blissfully ignorant to any residual bad feelings.

We pulled the usual shit that kids with parents living separately tend to do — always wanting to go to Dad's when Mom was being "mean," (note that if you were my mom raising the three of us you'd be "drunk" as well as "mean" and also likely "clinically insane"), insisting that child support checks be cashed and spent immediately at Toys R Us, threatening to go live with Dad, you know the drill. It was all very After School Special.

And even though the time we've spent with Dad has been exponentially less than the amount our mom was forced to endure enjoyed, there's no mistaking that my sister and I are his own.

For one, my sister Steph walks just like him. Her feet turn out and her hips move in exactly the same way. She's practically his twin, her expressions — hell, just her regular face — have Dad all over them. And her sense of humor is all Dad. We both lucked out and got his thick, wavy hair; she got more of his red than I ended up with though my hairline is unmistakably his, as is Steph's mustache. Zing!

I'm over-analytical and thinky which Mom says is all Dad, as is my 5'10" height. Everyone says I got his brains, I know for sure I got his crummy eyesight (edit: this may have been a joint contribution).

I'm a car snob because of my dad, not because he's superficial but because he knows how to work on cars and appreciates good engineering. I drive a Passat because he owned 2, and maybe also because I still have some memory of the red VW wagon my parents had when I was born. I try to figure out problems that I notice in my cars because I've always seen Dad go to work on his. I used to be amazed that he could change the oil in his old diesel Mercedes. When the clutch cable snapped on my first car, it was Dad who taught me that you don't need a clutch to drive a 5-speed, then, if I'm not imagining this, he fixed it with the brake cable from my 10-speed. MacGyver who?

I'm proud of my dad. He's done a lot with his 60 years. I'm sure his next 40 will give me even more to brag about.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

One Thing I Won't Do for Fun
is My Dentist

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I was at the dentist — the one who kept saying, "You don't want me in your mouth for that long," like he had no clue that it might sound a little, I don't know, FILTHY — and during my compulsory pre-cleaning interview he asked, "What do you do for fun?" Note that this was actually on the interview sheet and in no way related to him spending any time in my mouth.

I was stumped. I thought about people who could quickly say, "I golf!" (snoresville) or, "I run." I felt a little inadequate at not having one major outlet. I wrinkled up my nose and said, "Uh, I drink?" Then he asked me what kinds of things I like to drink and wow, the more I type about this dentist appointment the more I think maybe he did want a date. Anyway. I don't really drink all that much and it's definitely not the first thing I turn to for fun. But what I do do for fun seemed kind of lame at the time, and there are a lot of things I do, so it was hard to point to just one hobby on the spot like that.

I guess I'm not a person who's all "work hard play hard." My day to day life is actually pretty good, so while I love a long weekend or a nice afternoon playing hookie (spellcheck really wants me to change that to either 'honky' or 'nookie') at the beach, I don't punch out on Friday and take off on a 12-miler to relieve the stress of my work week. I feel really lucky about that.

Still, I'm a little disturbed that I don't have a formal hobby because everyone has something, right? And Facebook doesn't count, or at least I don't want to admit that it might.

I like to cook, I like to read blogs, I write, I enjoy making funny graphics for your entertainment, I take walks with friends, I try to Rollerblade a few times a week, I enjoy driving fast and blaring top-40 dance music, I like the beach but not for more than a few hours at a time, I love the farmers market on Saturdays, grilling out with neighbors, I enjoy having sex with my husband and flirting with strangers, long talks at happy hour with girlfriends, impromptu dance parties in my living room and huge outdoor concerts in summer. I also love a good nap.

So, if your dentist asked you the same question, what would you have to say?

I'll Never Be
Convinced Otherwise

Thursday, August 09, 2012

I don't expect any of you to be interested in my political views, because there are people who are far more well-informed than I am on most topics of national importance. I don't think what I feel compelled to say here is actually a political issue, but you can bounce off the page now if you're not in the mood for some soap boxing. You can also keep on reading and contribute to the conversation in comments, or unlike me on Facebook, or donate to a good cause. It's your call, I just need a little bit of a podium for a few minutes.

Last week you may have heard that little flap about Chick-fil-A and you probably had relatives proudly posting photos of themselves enjoying fatty, overprocessed chicken sandwiches in solidarity with the restaurant's president. I'm not going to get into that whole specific controversy, but it all reminded me, harshly and brutally, that in this country it's still perfectly legal to discriminate against people because of their sexuality. To quote one of the best articles I read on the issue: "In 29 states in America today, my partner of 18 years, Cody, or I could be fired for being gay. Period. No questions asked." (Here's another good article.)

Does that not seem completely fucked to anyone else? I mean fundamentally, horribly and totally fucked.

I know I just lost a whole bunch of you, and that some of you will strongly disagree and want to comment, and I just ask that you do it as the reasonable and intelligent people I've known you to be since this blog's inception (though you're free to curse indirectly, as I have just used some choice words myself.)

It breaks my heart to hear stories of people who couldn't visit their partners in hospitals, or adopt babies, I'll never understand or empathize with parents who disown their gay children. It is utterly unfathomable to me that someone can be denied such basic rights, that in this great society there are laws limiting -- even prohibiting -- freedoms that those of us who happened to be born straight take for granted every day.

The whole thing truly puzzles me, it boggles my mind. I'm astounded by the ignorance of people whose convictions dictate that homosexuals are somehow in a lower caste, that it's acceptable to legally deny them anything that any other citizen is given freely. It makes me deeply sad and incredibly frustrated.

I can't change the whole world, I can only demonstrate what I hope to see. I'll continue to celebrate the local victories of my gay friends, support their equality, love my little girl boundlessly, regardless of who she loves, and hope I live to see the day when we finally, collectively recognize this injustice.

Our long, national nightmare of ill-fitting drawers is over

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My husband couldn't be more tired of hearing about my quest for (and purchase of many unsuitable pairs of) underwear. Since summer arrived and my wardrobe changed over from jeans-in-boots to flowy, strappy dresses, I've struggled to find unders that meet what I think are pretty damned reasonable requirements:

1. No clinging
2. No wedgies
3. No bumps

I'd been to Target and Macy's, Kohl's, Sears, Marshall's, TJ Maxx and Victoria's Secret. I tried on underwear OVER my underwear. I polled Facebook and got good suggestions, but mostly for online retailers and I didn't want to risk paying to ship back another pair of silky disappointments.

Some were promising initially but failed later. On really desperate days I'd just buy the least attractive, most sex-repellant granny pants, figuring bigger and uglier must = comfortable. I'm delighted to tell you that this is not the case. There's no need to resort to this, at least not until you actually have to tuck your boobs into your panties.

In the middle of all this frustration I was starting to believe that my body was to blame, that my proportions were just so out of whack I'd never find anything that fit right. I like my shape, it just seems that most clothing manufacturers model on either Kate Moss or 12 year-old boys.

All dressing rooms should be this well lit.

So I got out the tape measure. You'd think that being an advocate of getting a professional bra fitting I'd have done this sooner and realized that — with measurements of 36-28-forty-SERIOUSLY?!-four — I'd been buying a size too small in all my previous attempts. I had to suck it up. I had to buy the XLs. Getting the size right solved 80% of my problem.

I found these great hipsters (the underwear variety, not the skinny jean/mustachioed variety) almost by accident at Marshalls for three bucks a pair. I love them. They've passed the getting in and out of the car test, the walking up stairs test, the bending down to feed the dogs test, even the getting in your kid's face to scold her for disappearing in a crowded amusement park test. I bought 6 8 pairs.

So I'll be shutting the eff up about my underwear issues, sparing you all my constant laments about wedgies and panty lines, and finally leaving this whole episode, ahem, behind me.

This is Happening
Again, Already

Monday, July 30, 2012

Today we got bad news about one of our three dogs, Bertie, the youngest. It's been just over a year since we spent over $2,000 trying to save Stella, my favorite, from congestive heart failure. The money -- most of it borrowed -- bought her 2 months.

Anna still talks about Stella, whose ashes sit with her photo and collar on our mantle. She only remembers that we left Stella at the vet's office, and will often refer to her still being there despite the few times Steve has explained that Stella is permanently gone.

This morning as we drove Bertie to the vet to check on a bulging eye that a 2-week course of antibiotics didn't touch, Anna said to me, "He's only going to be at the doctor's for today, not like Stella. He's going to come home, he's not going to be there a long time." And he did come home, but he's not going to be with us for a long time.

Bertie is the only one of our three dogs that I got when he was a pup. God he was cute. 5 months after he came home I found out I was pregnant. I expected him to adapt. Then, when Anna was 11 months old, he bit her face. He missed her eye by millimeters. I wanted him gone, but Steve was so devastated that I agreed to keep Bertie and instead became vigilant about his and Anna's time together. The arrangement has worked well for over 3 years and I've managed to keep my promise to this adopted mutt that I'd give him food, love, and shelter until his last day.

I just didn't expect his last day to be so soon.

Bertie has a bone tumor that's growing into his skull. It's pushing on his eye and expanding into his jaw. Soon it will likely move toward his cranium. Right now he's not in pain, but once we see signs that he's uncomfortable, we've made the decision to euthanize him. Steve and I will be there. Anna will be anywhere else.

I'm not sure how we'll tell her what's happening. This time, we've made a decision. This time, it won't be an 11 p.m. collapse that sends us to the vet. Anna's older now than she was with Stella but she still doesn't understand death.

So it's pretty sad around here, living with this dog we know has such limited time. We'll feed him well and let him hog up the whole bed, pet him extra and give him the warm spot on the couch when we stand up to get a drink or answer the phone. I'm sad that Steve is losing his favorite dog, that Anna will miss 2 animals now.

Bert, our big dog in a tiny dog's body, who dances for treats and is the only one of the three with any manners, who loves to roam the woods at my parents' house in his orange safety vest, who refuses to sit still on car rides and still has puppysoft fur, give us a few months. I'll let you have the good side of the mattress.

My Kid Went to an Amusement Park and All I Got Were These Gray Hairs

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anna's cousins are in town from Colorado, so we've been doing lots of family activities with multiple kids in crowded, summer fun spots with festering bathrooms that the girls don't ever seem to need to use at the same time, of course.

Yesterday 4 adults and 3 girls aged 3, 4, and 7 went to the local zoo-slash-amusement park figuring that maybe morning weekday crowds would be reasonable. We didn't anticipate that every recreation department within 50 miles would be having a field trip, and so we arrived to lines and busloads of kids wearing matching t-shirts. I immediately went into perpetual inventory mode, taking headcounts of the girls every 20 feet or so, hoping to lure them into our wagon with Rice Krispie Treats and gummy fruits.

We'd done most of the zoo and gone on all the rides, and were standing near the ferris wheel getting ready to pack it in. My sister had met up with us, and as we stood with our kids between us I leaned over to hug her goodbye -- it wasn't an especially lingering hug like that one creepy uncle gives, so no more than 5 seconds must have passed. I stood up and Anna was gone.

Over the course of the day I'd had those little shocks of, "Where's Anna?!" to find she'd just moved  from one side of my body to the other, but as I scanned our group, our immediate area, then down the crowded stretch that led to more rides, and in the other direction to lines of people getting cotton candy or heading back to the zoo, she wasn't there. She wasn't in any direction -- there were so many bodies.

The adrenaline I was barely keeping at bay flooded my arms and legs, my hands were trying to shake, my knees jittered. I called her name, I saw a hundred heads that weren't hers. And then from the wagon, my beautiful 7-year-old niece said, "She went that way, she went over there." I followed her pointing finger and found Anna, about 100 feet from us in a group of kids playing a driving game.

I may have grabbed her too hard by the arms as I stooped to reprimand her in the calmest tone I could manage (I think I did fine, though I'm sure every single passerby heard me telling her to never, ever run off ever again without telling someone.) For good measure, my sister helpfully added a little parable about a man who kidnaps little girls and forces them to live in his basement and eat dog food.

Some of you responded to my post on Facebook with stories of losing your own kids for far longer than Anna was out of my sight, and I don't know how you remained functional. Is this one of those things that gets a little easier once you're on kid #2 or 3? Does that immediate feeling of helplessness dull after the second or third incident? Do you think it'd be weird if I sewed leashes onto all of her clothes until she's 18?

Field Guide to Craigslist
Missed Connections

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For years I've had a habit of reading the Craigslist Missed Connections section like it's the news. There's so much longing and heartbreak there, and so much unintentional comedy: Met at state hospital unit G, or: U and kid at unemployment office, g-string.

After a while you notice categories of posts and posters. Leaving out the most common Guy Who Types Like a Drunken Chimpanzee with an iPhone and Sexting Addiction, I've listed ten.

Here's your field guide to The People of Craigslist.

1. Guy who lists every minute physical detail of a woman, ends ad with, "I'm definitely not a creeper."

2. Couple in the midst of an ugly split whose inappropriately personal posts jeopardize your faith in the marital institution.

3. Daycare dads scamming on daycare moms, who despite posting in a public Internet forum claim to be "totally discreet."

4. People who pass attractive people in cars.

5. Woman who will not give up on guy she made out with at the beach once when she was drunk 20 years ago whose name maybe starts with R or T.

6. Dramatic, heartbroken soul with atrocious taste in music who continually posts the lyrics to godawful ballads riddled with typos.

7. The estranged boyfriend who wants to be sure Craigslist knows what a slut you were, anyway.


9. The genital photo ambusher, who clearly confused Missed Connections with Casual Encounters.

10. The romantics are my favorites. The ones who make me want to reply just to console them, the underdogs who've been quietly in love at the office or with a friend, the ones begging for second chances.

So next time you're browsing for a used fridge or trying to unload a 400 lb. tube TV, take a few minutes to peruse the love stories of your local Craigslist users. And if you find a really good one, I'd love to read it.

Better Late

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My grandfather is a complicated man. In my memory, he's always as barrel chested as the Marine he used to be and as tough as the New York detective he was when he retired. He would drink scotch and water from just after waking until he went to sleep, and the alcohol made visits with him tense. But his love is at least as powerful as his temper, his heart twice as big, and in time we'd forgive his outbursts.

In December, Gramps was hospitalized after a bad fall. He was finally sent home a few weeks ago and we visited him for the first time in almost a year. He hasn't had a drink in 5 months and though it's hard to watch him struggle on weak legs it's amazing to be around him sober. I was finally relaxed, not mentally planning our exit just in case something set him off, not looking for signs of agitation — this must sound crazy to anyone who hasn't known an alcoholic.

Grandpa turned 82 in May. I hope he's finally found some peace. I hope sobriety sticks. I know he's frustrated by the new limitations of his old bones. I want to have more visits with him like this, and I am so grateful that the grandfather Anna met on this trip was the version I wanted my whole life to know.

On Treating Others the Way
You'd Want to be Treated

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I found out that last week a friend lost her young nephew in a tragic, freak accident. The news clenched my stomach. My heart broke for her and rest of the boy's family. The story appeared in several local news outlets; I read one article and its accompanying reader comments.

Maybe it's the nature of the Internet, maybe it's the nature of human beings, but before anyone had mentioned sadness or sympathy for the family's loss, they were quick to imply that somehow the parents were to blame here, somehow instead of a freak accident, what happened was neglect. They eagerly pointed fingers and suggested what should and shouldn't have been done in a situation they had no connection to, anonymously reprimanding a family they knew nothing about.

None of us has any right to be smug about those parents unfortunate enough to become headline news. Remember that time you drove just a couple of houses away and didn't make your toddler buckle up? Or the day you had to answer the front door while your 4-year-old was in the tub? That time you left the baby 10 feet away in the car because she was sound asleep? The text you read in traffic?

When my husband was preschool age his family took a vacation in a hotel on a crowded beach. One afternoon as they headed for their spot in the sand, Steve wandered back to the hotel. He slipped out of a group of several family members unnoticed and walked alone to their room. My grandmother once left the house with only 7 of her 8 children, leaving the 18-month-old perched next to the kitchen sink. Once when my mom sent me out to play unaccompanied, I ended up in the wrong apartment trying to find my way home.

Everyone fucks this gig up sometimes. Every single one of us. And any of those stories could have had a different ending.

Still, we rush to judgement; the news can barely breathlessly spit out the "missing toddler" headline before all of us armchair DSS agents have the parents fingered as culprits. And I know that sometimes they are, that real abuse and neglect happen. But in situations where there's been some accident, some one-in-a-million event or two-second misstep that results in unthinkable tragedy, those of us who aren't involved should keep our condemnations to ourselves and instead hope that the affected family finds peace. We have never been the perfect parents we expect complete strangers to be.

I Invented a New Disease,
Let's Recover Together

Sunday, July 01, 2012

In the last couple of months it's occurred to me that I am much happier with my surroundings when I'm not watching $50,000 home makeover shows or cruising Pinterest or reading This Old House's "simple" remodeling tips or prostrating myself on the cool, glassy countertops at Ikea.

We are bombarded by professionally-styled photographs that make our own kitchens seem dark and dated. Entire channels are dedicated to remodeling and while I'm all for home improvement, I think it would serve us well to turn that shit off, look around and ask ourselves whether Brazilian rare wood floors are really the key to contentment.

The Interwebs is giving us all a case of the inadequates, or as I've named this new disease, BAFS (Before-and-After Fatigue Syndrome, trademark pending). If, like me, you are exhausted by the constant onslaught of staged dining tables swathed in ethereal window light and children's rooms with only perfectly symmetrical messes and nary a stray Lego, take a moment to tour my actual house — my company-is-not-imminent state of existence.

Have you overcome BAFS? Do you hate when those people on makeover shows get all nitpicky about double vanities? Leave a comment, let me know what you've decided to be happy with.

The wine left in that glass is a sin!

Where I work.
Where Anna works.

Sometimes the dogs let us sleep here.

Where she's outgrown the playhouse and learned to swing.

Giveaway: I'm Too Hungover
to Make a Bag Pun

Monday, June 25, 2012

Personally, I don't care much about handbags, but I've been on a quest for the perfect tote forever — leather messenger bags, canvas bucket bags, backpacks, roller bags, free bags from supermarkets and street fairs — name it, I've got one on the top shelf of my hall closet.

So when Bob from Simply Bags emailed to ask if I'd review one of their beach totes I was all, "Yes! This will probably not end up in the pile on top of my closet!" A week later my monogrammed beach bag arrived and within 24 hours was filled with a towel, sunblock, water and some crap for Anna to snack on (note: cheese sticks are a hot weather snack fail). My favorite feature is the inside zip pocket that kept my iPhone and key fob out of sandy little hands that can't just play with their damned bucket and insist on rummaging around the bag when for the 100th time I TOLD YOU, MOMMY FORGOT THE GOLDFISH! Ahem. Also the carry straps are very comfy and sturdy enough to drag a 33-lb. 4-year-old who insists there are Goldfish in there somewhere all the way back to the car.

Want one? Simply Bags created a sweet little code that gets you 10% off their stuff, just enter SNAPSHOTS at checkout. And because I felt crappy about reviewing a bag I got for free without giving something away, I'm buying one of these for you guys:

The winner will be picked at random on Thursday at 9 a.m. EST and entry is easy (that's what she said — zing!):

1. If you don't already, please go and like Suburban Snapshots on Facebook
2. In the comments below, tell me what you collect

Good luck and happy summer!

Maybe He Won't Notice
There's No Gift

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Since I stole my Mother's Day post from an idea Mommy Shorts sparked, I'm also plagiarizing her very sweet Father's Day meme. (Thanks, Ilana. And congratulations!)

I'm Dealing With the Dad Who...
Gets Anna's teeth brushed and puts her to bed every night
(and sometimes at naptime).

Does all of our laundry, including folding.
Washes the dishes after dinner, even if my recipe totals the kitchen.
Makes a mean Sunday breakfast.
Works with his hands, without complaint.

Refuses to use turn-by-turn driving directions.
Is strict about Anna's eating habits, but lenient about bedtimes.
Is one of the most genuine people I've known.
Is figuring out the skills he can teach his little girl.

This week, Anna asked to have the training wheels taken off of her bicycle. Steve did it, then spent half an hour hunched over, holding her upright as she circled the block. This will be our job for a while, helping her find her balance and then watching her go. I hope when she's old enough she'll realize how lucky she is that this man — the one who gave her those big, brown eyes — will always be right behind her.

I Was More Smug Before
a Person Came Out of Me

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I used to be impermeable to the cloying, sappy lyrics of popular country songs. I used to be smug about morning news showings of the typical feel-good tearjerking clip, or heartwarming miracle pet stories. I never, ever watched childbirth documentaries on cable channels I didn't have, and ugly news items were just more fear mongering for higher ratings.

And then this tiny female human squeezed her way into the world, and everything went awry.

After Anna, I still recognized that the lyrics to "I Saw God Today" were targeted toward new parents like me, written to sell us iTunes downloads and CDs, yet I'd sit there in my car without changing the station, bawling as hard as the hungry 2-week-old behind me in her infant carrier. It was a weird sort of internal conflict.

When Anna was still tiny we rented Knocked Up, and if you haven't seen the part where the fakest baby ever emerges from the fakest vagina ever, then maybe you'll think I'm slightly less lame for stifling sobs when it happened at the end of the movie. What had I become?

I cry watching television characters getting ultrasounds, I cry rivers watching YouTube videos where kids fighting cancer sing along to Kelly Clarkson (I actually can't even listen to the song anymore without bawling — true story.), or dogs reunite with soldiers returning from duty. Today as I sat through a kindergarten "graduation" ceremony that my pre-procreative self might have dismissed as gratuitous, I barely contained the waterworks during a photo slideshow featuring narration by the children of complete strangers.

Next Wednesday Anna has her own moving up ceremony at school. She'll be going from the classroom at one end of the building to a new one, about 50 feet down the hall. Most of her classmates will go with her. Yawn, right? But this is her last room before kindergarten, one more year with these familiar faces in this basement daycare that smells of olive oil and diapers. Over the past few weeks she's muttered lines from the poem her class will recite, it's something about "I am somebody." My professional critique of the chosen materials is Oh God, I am going to fucking lose it. 

Parenthood is a strange new world of surfaced emotions, unique sets of worries, milestones that seem as big as the moon landing. It's true, I cry easier — admittedly sometimes at really stupid shit — but I'm learning to think less about it, to relinquish my old cynicism and adopt a new code of smugness.

I don't cry more now because motherhood has made me a sucker, but because motherhood has made me so much wiser.

Another Giveaway Where
I Continue to Fatten You Up

Thursday, June 07, 2012

When Heather from So Lucky Gifts got in touch with me about doing a giveaway, I checked out their website and everything looked so classy and legit I figured she'd accidentally emailed the wrong blogger. Gorgeous packaging around delicious food, and everything is gluten free! Turns out, she'd actually emailed me on purpose.

Heather sent me the So It's Grill Time Medium BBQ Box. It arrived beautifully packaged and full of good things I immediately sampled with every single one of my fingers. I don't even think I can write about the bourbon pralines without risking censorship in several states.

I don't need to entice you with details about how the gourmet salts blew my tongue's mind, or how Steve is finding excuses to use the wing sauce on things that are entirely inappropriate for wing sauce, or how I regret ever casting a side-eye in the direction of the onion jam because I could get totally NSFW talking about it. Just trust that if this wasn't worthy of you guys, you wouldn't be hearing about it from me.

Here's the part where you can try it for yourselves. So Lucky Gifts will ship the So It's Grill Time Petite BBQ Box (shown above) to one completely random very lucky reader.

The requirements are simple:
1. Leave one brief comment below about the most memorable food you've eaten, good or bad.
2. If you don't already, please "Like" my Facebook page

I'll choose a comment at random on Monday, 5 p.m. EST and make the announcement Tuesday morning on my Facebook page. Good luck!

This is Why We Fight

Monday, June 04, 2012

Generally, Steve and I don't argue over much. We're not yellers and are careful in choosing battles. This morning for example, I knew I was in a foul mood. The weather's been crap, I feel bloated and I woke to a full kitchen sink. When I started to make our bed I noticed that Steve had clothes hanging over or crumpled up on almost every surface of our room. There was a t-shirt slung over the door, pajama bottoms draped over the change jar, a pile of Carhartts stacked on a storage bin, another pile in the closet and as I headed for my phone I spotted a pair of his dirty socks hanging over a chair. This is the stuff those episodes of "Snapped" are made of.

What I wanted to do was photograph every incident of Do These Look Like They $%*#&$ Belong Here?! and text them to him one by one. Instead, realizing I was headed for Shrewsville, I took a breath and called, calmly asking, "Honey, what's happening with the Rubbermaid in our bedroom, and the pants folded on top of it?" My technique worked, because he apologized for leaving such a wreck without once getting defensive about it. Usually, that's how we operate.

Except when it's time to do the motherbleeping bills.

For a little while I handled the bills, but Steve is so anal orderly about his process that what I paid and when constantly caused arguments. I gladly handed the duties back to him, knowing this would lead to the monthly scrutiny and questions bellowed from the office; "Honey? What's this $32 at 900 Lafayette Road? Did you go out to breakfast on Thursday? I need the password to your Gap account." I hear the frustration in his voice, I get defensive, like I have to justify every penny spent on a lunch out here or there, a morning working at Starbucks, a $16 shirt from Marshalls, a party gift.

I don't spend much but I could spend less. I'm glad that one of us is so meticulous in overseeing the household budget, even as I sit annoyed while Steve verbally itemizes the outgoing bills and balances, then notes the figures on a whiteboard chart. I appreciate that he's on top of it. And despite his frugality, he found a way for me to drop significant money on a timing belt and upgraded camera last month.

I suspect that bill night will always be tense because dealing with money causes Steve immediate stress. I plant myself as far from the office as possible, anticipating the interrogation, and though I'm not good at disguising my aggravation with the whole ordeal, we both know it'll be over in an hour or so…for at least another four weeks.