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.