Suburban Snapshots

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.