I want to talk about some insider blogger stuff that might not interest a lot of you, so feel free to carry on. But if you want a glimpse into the glamorous world of anonymous criticism, presumptuous pitches and writers' block, keep reading.
A funny thing happens each holiday season to bloggers. We start getting tapped via email to help promote products, television shows — you name it, really — usually for zero dollars. Emails will read something like this:
"So-and-so has a new series dropping this Thursday and we've chosen you to help get the word out!"
It will then go onto outline all the ways we can spend our time and talent and be paid in a currency I understand to be as legit as what my 5-year-old and I use to play "store".
That is to say, they'd like us to work for free. Often.
All of my professions involve the arts: writer, photographer, web designer. And at several points in my career, I have worked for free. I've been desperate to get my name out, and I've spent hours I would probably vomit if I tallied giving free labor to for-profit companies. Twenty-something me, you are fired.
In addition to offers like, "Write a post, tweet, and spam your Facebook fans about the new Kardashian line of enemas," my contemporaries and I who happen to be both moms and bloggers are collectively slapped — usually condescendingly — with the label "Mommy Bloggers". From the outside it seems pretty benign, but in the larger world of online writers, it's held in as high regard as "personal injury lawyer". To me, "Mommy Blogger" is another way the work of women becomes marginalized, but that's a post for another time, when I'm not wearing a bra.
We bloggers care about you readers, so when we do opt in on a sponsorship or giveaway, we pain over whether it will suit you, whether you'll flee in droves because you're not here for a free bag or discount code. We consult each other on how to best write about products so that we satisfy both the requirements of the client and the needs of you, our readers. Because in all honesty, while free shit is always nice to get, you are our true priority.
In real life, I am friends with many blogging men and women you've probably heard of, and some really talented people I'm sure you don't know yet, and it amazes me how generous, supportive and encouraging this community has been. Maybe I cultivated my group well, but I haven't experienced any competition, snarky in-fighting, or egomaniacs. I don't know any bloggers whose goal is to get famous. We all like to see our readership grow not for fame or riches, but as a validation that we're doing good work, that we're reaching you, that we are relating.
What we all have in common is a love for this gig, a desire to do it really well, and tremendous gratitude for you, the audience — for your comments and debates, your loyalty — and nothing makes us prouder of this work than the occasional note telling us we've made you laugh or helped you feel less alone. When you reach out, we also feel less alone.
I have a full-time job and don't blog for income (about that — sorry it's been a month), but even for those who do, those notes and comments are the true currency of this often solitary work. We put our experiences on blast anticipating as much criticism as acceptance, and we relish every word of your appreciation.
From all of us behind these screens, thank you.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I want to talk about some insider blogger stuff that might not interest a lot of you, so feel free to carry on. But if you want a glimpse into the glamorous world of anonymous criticism, presumptuous pitches and writers' block, keep reading.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I'm writing this not to tell you how to parent.
I won't ask you to let your kids free-range
or suggest you co-sleep.
I don't care whether you nurse
or use formula
or barley water
or goat milk.
It's okay if you stay home with your kids
if you send them to daycare sixty hours a week
if they were unplanned
or if you struggled with infertility for years.
It doesn't matter whether you had them at 15
or if you are 47.
Maybe they don't have a dad
maybe they have two.
You may have had a few drinks when you were pregnant
Maybe you're in the shape of your life
or maybe your post-baby body is soft, dimpled and scarred.
I don't need you to toughen up your kids
to stop protecting them
to let them play with toy guns
or to dress your girls as princesses
It's not my job to tell you that the name you've chosen is weird
or when to baptize.
I don't need you to put down your phone
throw away your television
I don't dictate how you grieve for the one you lost.
It's up to you how you manage the six you have.
You don't have to buy organic groceries
or join the PTA.
You might not love them all equally.
You've screwed up.
So have I.
We all do it right, and we all do it wrong, and I really believe that we all do it the best we know how.
Monday, November 04, 2013
Hey, fellow school parents. I'm about to venture deep into Get off My Lawn territory here, but what I have to ask you is important so I'm cool with that. Anyway, I look super sexy shaking my cane at people.
Listen, I know you have a pile of morning obligations, so do I. You have a nice car that keeps your family safe inside, and maybe you haven't had your coffee or chai or that hideous kombucha crap you're all pretending to enjoy lately, but I need you to focus here for a second. Because while your children ride securely in their car seats, surrounded by your Volvo's 600 Swedish-designed airbags, and after they're delivered safely to their classrooms, my kindergartner is still making her way to school down quiet neighborhood streets with no sidewalks while I follow behind — not too close though, because she's a big kid now — harping, "Over to the side. The side. Get back to the side. Do you see that car? No horsing around in the street. Speed up a little," and so on. It's more exhausting than that run-on sentence I just dropped.
Have you met any kindergartners? Do you remember how yours used to be? They walk like they're trying to fail a sobriety test, bobbing and weaving, slowing down then breaking into a gallop, looking at rocks, collecting acorns, and sometimes they skip because life is awesome when you're five. I've walked two girls back and forth to school this week and now I know what Lindsay Lohan's handlers must feel like. Anna keeps asking to ride bikes instead of walking and frankly, I'd rather feed her whole grapes on a trampoline.
What I'm saying is, kids are more oblivious to you than you seem to be of them, so you and I need to be the responsible parties here.
I'm asking that you consider the safety of kids aside from your own when careening furiously down my street in the morning and afternoon. Because while watching a woman get pulled over for running a stop sign literally twenty feet from the police officer parked there to ensure the safe passage of everyone else's kids was indeed satisfying and hilarious (and on the second day of kindergarten, no less) there are many other, less potentially tragic things I laugh at in the course of my day. Just last week my dog fell asleep on the back of the couch, rolled over and crashed to the floor. Seriously, that shit was comedy gold.
I try always to give the benefit of the doubt before I write someone off as an inconsiderate asshole; Maybe she's in labor, Maybe he won a chili eating contest last night, Maybe that was Batman. But mostly I know you're just zoned out, ready to go, probably spent the morning repeating yourself because why wouldn't it take forty requests before your kids finally all had their damn lunches ready? I get it. Backpacks are hard.
Let me drop the mic on this situation right now: my daughter is more important than whatever is waiting on your work email, or however long the line at Starbucks will be in five more minutes, or the traffic you're going to have to sit in anyway. So are my neighbors' kids, and the parents who walk with them to and from school every single day. It's hard to see all their beautiful faces when you're blowing by full of morning ambition, so slow down and let's all get out of the blur.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
After spending a week in the den of Internet commenters, I thought I'd have some fun with the ridiculousness of it all and roped in some of my favorite funny women to re-enact their most memorable submissions.
Through the miracle of built-in webcams and email, I stitched together this video of nine bloggers having a laugh at the expense of some really bananas commenters. (And if anyone on YouTube is worried that my family is currently dying of consumption while I waste time not doing dishes or cooking, the entire video took me just under an hour to create — you can tell by the low production value and inconsistent audio.)
Enjoy. And be nice to a stranger today.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
All my daughter knows about this past week is that I've been on the computer even more than usual, and that on Monday I wrecked her room and forgot to put the Barbie van back in its parking spot under her bed. Steve has had to be okay with all the guys on his work crew watching me twerk up on a garbage pail, and my grandmother's friends call her whenever a brunette with glasses shows up on television.
On Sunday, when I saw the original I Quit video I don't even remember where, I decided to do my own version because I like to make people laugh and figured some moms who read this blog would enjoy it. On Monday, I spent my lunch break precariously balancing my iPhone around the house and dancing, then editing the clips into a short movie that I posted to YouTube. I was shocked when it had 2,000 views by dinner time.
On Tuesday, Good Morning America called, asking for an on-air Skype interview. That portion got bumped by breaking news, but a substantial clip of the video was broadcast along with my name. On Tuesday night the video was on Nightly News, which I missed, figuring GMA was my big crescendo.
On Wednesday, all kinds of websites were picking up the video and the story behind it, The Today Show asked me the first of two times (both ultimately canceled) if I'd come to New York to appear live on the show, and GMA showed the clip a second time. Friends kept calling to tell me that their local radio stations were mentioning it, and posting links to write-ups online. The local news had us on a few broadcasts, and on Thursday, two moms at school stopped me to ask if I was the woman in the video. So that was kind of crazy. On Friday, it aired on Telemundo and a producer with The Bethenny Show asked about the possibility of sitting down with Bethenny herself. I politely declined, half figuring they'd cancel anyway.
Commenters had their opinions, and if I were to compile the most common themes into one big comment, it'd go something like:
You're a lazy MILF with no rhythm, are you single? This is the dumbest video I've ever seen, you GO girl, hilarious, but why are your boots on the bed? This was such a waste of my time, maybe you should clean instead of trying to get famous. I love this! I bet your poor husband doesn't get any blow jobs.
And then someone called me the C word and that's when I knew I'd really made it.
It's been fun and surreal and a little stressful, and it's made me realize that I'm happy with my life just as it is. I like coming here to tell stories, I love telling jokes on Facebook for people whose names I recognize and who understand where I'm coming from. Even when you guys completely disagree with something I post or write, you have really intelligent ways of debating and I appreciate that. It was hard to not reply to the negative comments just to remind the people behind them that there are actual humans on the other end of the Submit button. It's hard for me to even understand why people would want to spend so much time being miserable and spreading the Internet's unique brand of ugliness.
I'm looking forward to this week as things taper off and calm down. I appreciate the experience of the past several days and I have no illusions about what kind of "fame" that was. For a minute I was everywhere and it was exciting, and now I'll wash my sheets and load the dishwasher and make my kid pick up her underpants.
And you know, I still haven't heard from the goddamned Girl Scouts.
Monday, September 30, 2013
I work from home, full-time, for a real organization with actual business hours and technological methods of ensuring I'm at my desk fulfilling my obligations between roughly 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. It's a great arrangement with one big flaw.
See, work-at-home moms aren't like, well, I'm working, and I couldn't possibly do those dishes right now. We're more like, well, since I don't have to look at my laptop during this conference call, I'll just pick up all these shoes, make the beds, wipe down the bathroom sink, unload the dishwasher, put the dogs out and get a jump on grouting the bathtub. Usually there's also some household admin, like making grocery lists, remembering birthdays, scheduling doctor and mechanic appointments, and fielding important questions like, "Did I leave my wallet on the dresser?" or "Why do you always pack me raisins when I want M&Ms in my lunchbox?"
So it struck me when I first saw this smart and adorable video a woman named Marina Shifrin used to quit her job that I could also quit part of my job (namely, the part that doesn't pay me in money or medical benefits).
Watch Marina first because she's 25 and she's got great moves, then click here or watch below for my WAHM version of her quit-eo.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I want to tell you all something: you are fucking up your kids. I mean it. Just like I'm fucking up my own, and my parents and your parents built all those flaws into you and your siblings, you are doing it right now. And I want to tell you something else: the kids are going to be fine. Great, even. It's all going to be okay.
Remember that, because I am exhausted by the constant, well-meaning barrage of parenting essays by people who have stopped yelling, stopped using their devices, stopped hurrying their kids out the door, stopped eating animal protein, thrown out their televisions, gone free-range, homeschool, charter school, unschool, moved into yurts, quit their jobs, and how all of it has made them better people raising better people. I know it sounds really good — who doesn't want to love their kids more? Who doesn't want to be more awesome? — but it's one more to-do on the ever-growing list of modern parenting requirements.
It's all so much more noise than we need to deal with. You're doing fine, and just the fact that you read those things all the way through says that you're trying to be better. Don't overthink it, you already have enough on your mind.
I try to imagine my mom; when I was little she'd drop my sister and me off at our warm, loving, and deeply alcoholic grandparents' house (apostrophe not a typo). We'd spend the day watching television or swimming and eating Jax, hoping Gramps would stay in a good mood, and come home reeking of my grandmother's Parliaments. I once watched my mom chase my sister from the driveway and up the stairs into our split ranch after my sister—who was on crutches at the time—mouthed off. I remember Mom locking her door and crying because the house was never, ever, ever clean. Not even for company. Sometimes she'd call us "little animals," and I don't doubt my sisters and I inspired the phrase, "This is why we can't have nice things."
I'm sure my mom wondered if she was doing a good enough job for us, but I don't think she had time to consult pediatric journals about how exactly one raises happy, precious, unique children into functional, compassionate adults. She probably locked herself in the bathroom to talk to my aunt or my nana, cried out her frustration, made some coffee and went back to work. I might be biased, but I think Mom did a goddamned bang-up job with the three of us.
One of her well-worn parenting tenets is, "You'll live," (though I've yet to hear her use this one on the grandkids). I was reminded of those words a few weeks ago when I texted a friend a photo of Anna having a complete breakdown after she'd been fresh and I revoked her time at the park. I was feeling terribly guilty, and she was deep in the throes of actual sadness. He wrote back, "I think Anna will live."
I thought, Of course. He's right. Why do I forget that? It's okay. I don't have to please her all the time. She can hurt. She can feel slighted, ignored, even betrayed by me sometimes, and she will live because I love her and I am sure she knows it.
She'll live whether or not I use my phone to connect with friends instead of playing dollhouse. She'll live when I have to work too long, when I pack her a crappy, last-minute lunch, when Steve and I argue in front of her over money or dishes, she'll live if I have to yell at her and if I tell her to hurry up because we're late, she'll live when it's hard for her to make a friend, or when she's the last to learn to tie her shoes. She will survive my flaws.
And because her life is already rich and intricate, she'll be flawed too. Steve and I are screwing her up, her teachers are too, and her cousins, television and the Internet will have their turn, strangers will leave their mark on her. Because this is how we all gather our complexity. This is how we all grow to be human.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I started thinking about the first day of kindergarten back in, oh, February? March? I knew there'd be reams of paperwork to fill out but no bus to catch, and I knew I wanted to document the milestone using my professional camera for a change.
But I needed to pay attention to what was happening, too. To help Anna get ready, to pack her lunch, to look forward while walking instead of tripping over other kids with my camera stuck to my face. I also wanted to actually be in a few of the shots. So I asked my friend Channing if I could hire him to shoot our morning, and immediately imagined Internet trolls writing entire articles about how I am everything that's wrong with parents of only children. (I'm over it.)
Channing came to our house for the third time in as many years. He brought two cameras and immeasurable talent, and in his usual professional style, documented everything while being barely noticeable. I've always loved the authenticity in his work — I don't Pottery Barn up the place for him because I know he's capturing our real life. The images I received today are beyond what I'd hoped, even knowing how good he is.
I didn't cry that first morning at drop-off, but Chan, you got me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Like the millions of other kids posed in adorable outfits with brand new backpacks and eager expressions, Anna started kindergarten last week. We have many friends in our neighborhood, all with "walkers" — these are the non-bus-riders, not the undead, to clear up any confusion — who live in the neighborhoods closest to school. Alone, this is a five-minute walk. On days when Anna wants to go use the school's playground, it's maybe a ten-minute walk. This morning, from the time we left the front door until we were navigating the chaotic circle where coffee-guzzling parents play Frogger from the curb to the smiling principal's welcome at the door, it took forty-two years.
When this post was first published and started appearing over and over in my news feed as the You're Doing It Wrong Post du Jour, I thought you know, I really do let my kid accomplish things in her own time. I've waited for tons of rocks to be collected and filled my car with all manner of leisurely-gathered pinecones and dandelions. It takes a legitimate effort on my part — I was raised in New York, we talk fast, we walk fast, and we get out of the way — so I learned to break my stride for a dropped penny or tossed gum wrapper. I remind myself that things are still new for her, and that childhood is so brief.
But I think it's important to teach our kids that other people's time — including their own parents' time — is meaningful too. That sure, my getting to the dentist on time or making my dinner reservation within fifteen minutes might not rank with the things I'll be grateful for on my deathbed, but they do matter. It's disrespectful to assume the person on the other end of your lollygagging has that time to waste; think about how you feel when you're sitting for so long at the pediatrician with two healthy kids and one sick one that by the time you leave they're all on amoxicillin.
So I lost it a little bit this morning. On our walk to school, as we collected friends and parents each time we turned a corner, with harried grown ups driving mindlessly through our neighborhood, I must have reprimanded Anna a hundred times to pick up her pace and pay attention. The enriching part of this experience is her learning to negotiate traffic and crowds, it's about understanding street safety and socializing, and not to gather and inspect rocks from the same driveway she stops at every time we take this route. The distance we walk isn't to be spent whining that I should carry her backpack, and I want to have conversation beyond threats of leaving that backpack in a stranger's driveway if she can't manage to wear it, or urging her to speed up, or watching her fiddling with her name tag, oblivious to oncoming bikes and cars. I'd like us both to enjoy the groggy, morning company of our friends but to walk with purpose.
Instead, today I lagged twenty feet behind our group, and Anna another ten behind me. I stopped every little while, patiently at first, to ask her to catch up. But soon my patience ran out just like it does the times we're heading to the grocery store and she's instead climbing the rock pile that's been stationed in my driveway for four months, inspecting it like it dropped from the sky that very second. It's like living with that guy in Memento.
When it counts, yes. I want her to take time to gaze in wonder, put it up to her nose and examine every facet. I want to look at her face and remember what it must feel like for so much to be new so often. But I also want her to understand that being on time means something, it's not always arbitrary. It's respectful and considerate. If the school principal is waiting to greet her every morning with a smile, then it's only right she's there in time to return the gesture.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In high school I had a crush on a boy who was so introverted he was practically inside out. He would often visit my house and we'd spend hours leaning against opposite walls of my bedroom, separated by eight feet of angst and adolescence, Morrissey warbling from my tape deck. I quietly envied my sisters' parade of boyfriends who seemed to be constantly eating Taco Bell on our couch, perfectly able to relate to other human beings in a not-totally-agonizing way.
My sister's guy friends drove loud cars and did stupid things like graffiti the shuttered grocery store up the block or get kicked out of their houses, like, once a month. They'd get in fights and smoke pot, ride their bikes and curse - sometimes all at once. And even though it wasn't really my scene, at least my sisters weren't stuck in a dark room with a Trappist monk who may or may not have liked them-liked them but who wasn't about to make a move regardless.
For a while this boy was coming over pretty often, so we had ample opportunity to make uncomfortable, stilted conversation that I'd overanalyze for days afterward and try to figure out which of the four words I'd spoken was the wrong one. Phone calls were painful to the point that after a solid thirty second silence I'd be hoping for the usually dreaded, "I'll let you go now" because his phone manners made me more uncomfortable than the time I accidentally found a box of my stepdad's condoms.
We'd pass each other in the halls at school as though we'd never met, staring at our feet. I wasn't all that insecure but I acted the part, making my way from class to class scrutinizing my shoes and wondering if my butt looked big, or if my bangs looked cool the way they hung over just one of my eyes. I tried to shrink for him because I've been five-foot-eleven since 10th grade and in high school, everyone loves the tiny girls.
I felt big and loud in the shadow of his moody contemplation. And he'd sometimes respond to me with a snicker, the kind that makes you reevaluate everything you've ever said in your entire life. It was such perfect teenage torment; I'd call my best friend and we'd be like, "He almost hugged me good bye!" or "He looked up that one time when I asked if he wanted Doritos!"
One night when my mom had agreed to drive him home whenever we were done not talking, touching or otherwise interacting like normal teenagers, my stepdad stopped us as we walked out of my bedroom at 1 A.M., and like a man who had never met me before this very second said, "Hey BUD, it's one in the morning. Don't you think it's a little late for you to be in my daughter's bedroom?" People, I died a thousand deaths in the hallway of that split ranch, right there on the mauve carpet that ran into the livingroom and down the front stairs in exactly the path I wanted to follow. My crush stood there looking at his feet — naturally — but was actually answering my stepdad's angry questions. I was sort of jealous of my stepdad just then. But I was also thoroughly humiliated. I'd tried so hard in school to seem smaller and here I was in my own house effortlessly breaking into atoms.
Even after this first encounter that ruined my life, the boy kept coming over. Occasionally I'd find myself alone with him, and I'd sit there, perplexed by his presence, wondering why he stayed; his parents weren't abusive, he lived on the fancier side of town in a nice house with a pool, and at home, there was no risk of running into angry fathers who'd call him Bud.
We'd been hanging out in my livingroom for a change one night when both of my sisters were at home, running in and out of the house, flirting like fully-functional teenagers instead of like the two inept ones sitting on separate couches avoiding eye contact and waiting for something to happen.
And then something happened.
My sisters, who were as subtle as a pair of jackhammers in a library, came charging out of the kitchen and practically leapt into my lap. They whispered to me like I might be wearing protective earmuffs: "BREN, DO YOU HAVE YOUR PERIOD?" Oh, I immediately hated them. The burn started in my low back and radiated to the tips of my ears; I remembered our Dachshund and the bathroom garbage. Oh no. No no no no no God please let it be in my bedroom, please make these two shut up, get them off of me, WHERE ARE ALL THEIR BOYFRIENDS?
Then I saw it lying between the livingroom and the kitchen like a wounded soldier. My dog had dragged a maxi pad out of the trash and left it lying face-up in the middle of the dining room floor. My sisters continued to exhibit the kind of compassion normally reserved for sociopaths and conservatives. There was no way for me to subtly get up and remedy the situation. I was frozen, horrified. This was high-level mortification.
I don't know if my crush caught on — and how the hell could he NOT have? — but just then he decided to go get a glass of water. I swear it was like he wanted to see it. Maybe because he only has a brother, maybe he really didn't notice how I puddled into the floor like the Wicked Witch after my sisters threw that bucket of humiliation all over me, but HE WALKED RIGHT FOR IT, and I'll never forget how he did this little grimace, curled up his shoulders a little — and I'm not totally sure of this part but I think he actually stepped right over it.
I have no memory of picking up the hygiene product that ruined my whole life, but it made its way to the bathroom trash and the boy managed to get home. We drifted into different groups later in high school but I don't think it was because of the maxi pad, and eventually we got back in touch.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Last week a friend of mine posted to Facebook disappointed in all the updates by moms eager for their children to get back to school.
Enjoy every moment! was the message.
It doesn't last! was the subtext.
You're not doing it right! was the implication.
Anna's been in school all summer. I've loved the lazy, long mornings when I bring her in later than usual, and the afternoons when I pick her up earlier than I normally would. I enjoy sneaking out for breakfast at cafés where I shouldn't be spending money. I've been amazed by how much she's grown and that I'm buying her clothes for kindergarten when the first glimpse I ever had of her is still drawn on her face.
But today, when I was talking to my sister and Anna dug her fingernails into my nipples as she tried to climb me — I didn't appreciate that moment. This morning, when I was cleaning up four heads' worth of cut Barbie hair from her bedroom rug — I didn't pause to bask in the glow of that memory. I didn't stop to be present in the moment as I watched her empty the sand from her sneakers in the middle of the kitchen floor I'd just finished sweeping for company, or when she slapped me and shouted, "No! YOU do it!" after I'd asked her to pick up her pajamas for the fifth time.
There was no sentimentality when I watched her trip and fall repeatedly in the flip flops I told her not to wear because she'd trip and fall. I didn't take a mental snapshot when she cried in the car for forty minutes straight because we had to leave the playground, and I didn't will myself to freeze all the moments when, after a day spent in the idyllic scenarios the articles and blog posts say we should be having, she'd fall completely apart because her ice cream dripped.
So no, I don't enjoy every moment. No one enjoys every moment, and my guess is that once their kids have grown, no one feels like they had enough time.
But I love her in every second of the day. I'm thinking of her in every minuscule decision. I am grateful that she is there for me to hug for too long before bed and kiss too much in public. I'm proud when I overhear her playing alone while I work and I have the best seats in the house during her improvised living room productions. I know that I am lucky, and I am very aware that it is all so fleeting.
What I'll remember from this summer is how much exploring we've done, how the humidity makes two perfect curls appear at her temples, how she cried when she realized that not all of her preschool friends will be with her in kindergarten. I'll remember how well she did in swimming lessons and how much calmer I was with her at the beach. I'll remember how kind she's been to her friends, how her empathy is growing as much as she is. I'll remember that this will be the summer when she loses one of the big, top teeth that make up so much of my impression of her beautiful face.
And yes, years from now when she's grown and I'm thinking about her smaller days, I'll laugh over the cut Barbie hair and the piles of sand in front of my kitchen sink. I'll tell stories about her penchant for abusing my breasts in all her clumsy, enthusiastic affection. The stories of her frowning all the way home from a day at the beach or crying over the color of her ice pop will be told over dinners or maybe recounted to her own children. The gift of passing time is perspective and its ability to create so many moments from just one.
So to those who insist we parents bask in every precious second, that we understand now that the bad isn't really bad, and that childhood is so very temporary: we do. We recognize it, we quietly appreciate these moments. We've just decided to save some for later.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
I live in one of those 1950's developments where you come in one street and though the neighborhood isn't very big, you can spend four hours trying to find your way back out like some suburban version of The Blair Witch Project, "OH MY GOD didn't we just pass that same ranch with the novelty garden statues and the SUV?"
Most of the neighbors with children know each other, and texted last-minute dinner invitations or urgent babysitting requests are not uncommon. We unload outgrown clothing, uneaten food and unfed kids on each other often, and now that it's summer I've had roughly a metric ton of zucchini show up on my doorstep (not a euphemism).
So when this message showed up on my phone, I said hey, no problem. I'm happy to take some fish off your hands.
My friends a few houses down were about to embark on a week-long camping trip (BRB, that whole sentence made me break out in hives) and had given me most of their perishables the night before. I'd made a delicious chowder with some fish other neighbors had given us the previous weekend and still had some potatoes to use up. I could practically taste the creamy, oceany goodness.
I was out running errands when my friends brought their fish by. Steve must've been in the back yard and hadn't heard the doorbell, so when I got home it took me several minutes to notice the double-grocery bagged fish sitting inside the front door. I had no idea how long it had been there, but it wasn't stinky enough to overpower the summer stench of our dogs and the sink full of dishes I'd been passive-aggressively ignoring, and everyone knows the mom sniff-test is proven 99% accurate.
I carried the bags into the kitchen, and because I hadn't grocery shopped, I planned to put the fish in my freezer until I could manage to travel the entire block to the supermarket for bacon and cream.
We have one of those bottom-drawer freezers, and adding food to it requires Tetris Expert-Level Certification with a Masters in Jenga. Even when we're down to the sad block of tofu I always buy full of good intentions and half a can of furry Spaghetti-Os in the fridge, the freezer is packed.
I opened the drawer hoping there'd be a spot big enough for what felt like five pounds of fish inside a Tupperware container inside the two plastic bags. But no, of course not. Not between the frozen pizzas, the bananas I'll never get around to making bread with, the gallons of homemade chicken broth, the knishes I froze to prohibit my devouring them, or the three varieties of artificially-colored ice pops Anna keeps suckering us into buying.
The last thing I felt like doing was rearranging my freezer. So, maybe I can take the fish out of the Tupperware thing and put it in a Ziplock bag, then kind of just, you know, cram it in there. Now I was thinking like a husband — and it was this moment of ingenuity that saved a life today, people.
Because when I took the bags off of that container, this is what was inside:
Oh. My bad.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I read this story as part of an I Just Want to Pee Alone event. To see me struggle to read it live while hyperventilating with laughter, click here. I'll post the full reading soon.
When my two sisters and I were young, my parents would take us camping each year near the Catskills. I remember genuinely enjoying our long weekend trips when we'd spend four hours riding together each way in our family car-of-the-moment. The five of us traveled in a series of vehicles including a Volkswagen Beetle that my aunt had either loaned or given to my stepdad, a small Subaru well before Subarus were the "it" car for the Whole Foods set, a hand-me-down Pontiac that was once rear-ended by an elderly gentleman who insisted when he surveyed the damage that we'd been parked on a blind corner with our trunk wide open, a small Mazda pick up truck with a cap over the bed that served as the back seat, and — once my stepdad started doing well — a company Chevy.
On this particular trip we took the Mazda pickup — and don't envision the pick up trucks of today, with their crew cabs and comfortable suspension — this was the five-speed, low-end model, roughly the size of a toaster oven, with an added metal bed cap and no pass-through window into the cab, just two, thick pieces of tempered glass with three inches of space separating the cabin and the rear bed where we kids rode, bouncing around unbelted, arguing over who'd have to sit on the wheel well. My parents couldn't hear a damn thing that went on back there. It was brilliant if not even a little bit safe.
The memories of the actual campout are a hazy mix of campouts that came before this one; there would be the smell of coffee in the morning, of fire all day long, muddy dreadlocks and dirty faces, showers that cost a dime to operate and toilets that drew more flies than Staten Island in a heat wave. There was a general store where we'd beg our mother to buy us quarter parachute men or candy, despite the fifty overflowing bags of groceries sitting back at our campsite. In the afternoon we'd eat lunch, then snacks, then some more snacks before dinner. We'd play perilously close to the rapids until they got too deep or too quick, we'd drench all the towels and drag dirt into our beds, and sometimes at night there'd be a social event at the pavilion where I only remember country music and a rusty swing set that likely ran the local ER clean out of tetanus shots. Looking back, I'm sure there had to be alcohol, barely disguised in coffee mugs.
So for three or four days we'd swim and run, we'd eat, argue, listen to the adults up talking late at night and we'd wake them up before the crack of dawn. We had all the kinds of fun that people claim to be nostalgic for today, the kind we modern parents are sure will lead to contusions or certain death, if not kidnapping or Hanta Virus. Thinking about it now, it IS kind of a miracle no one died.
And while most of the content of those days has blended and the trips to and from the Catskills are an uneventful blur of two-lane roads and thick woods, one ride stands out. One ride has become a legend in our family. One ride home from the Catskills will never, ever be forgotten.
There were two adults sitting in the cab of the pick up. My mom and stepdad drove through upstate New York, maybe they were listening to Doobie Brothers, maybe the truck was as loud up front as it was in the back, or maybe my parents had perfected the kind of selective hearing that comes with having three children who never stop asking for things. In the bed of the truck, under its flimsy metal lid, we six cousins were jammed in like stowed immigrants crossing the border from the wilderness back to the suburbs. To ensure not an inch of space was left unoccupied, Saint, our big, dumb Irish Setter was also with us.
Saint had enjoyed as much of the barbecue and s'mores as we had, but likely with a higher concentration of dirt, bugs, and bottle caps. So there we rode in the truck's bed, sliver windows that cranked open like gills to get air into the tiny space where we all sat, circulating the smells of damp camping gear, muddy skin, stale pit smoke, and wet, dirty dog.
I remember that I was wearing shorts, and knowing my awkward, adolescent self, they were at least a half-size too small. I recall little of the trip before this, but I distinctly remember the moment that I realized our dog was shitting in the back of that truck, with all of us packed in around him. I don't know who shouted first, but I do remember my cousin Adam shoving me with his feet, because Saint's second emission had hit my back and rolled from my waistband to the bottom of those too-small shorts, leaving my backside generously smeared with dog shit. Saint's first pile was the one I saw when I landed hard on my hands and knees, my face so close I could analyze his breakfast. The dog was suddenly everywhere and we six had become borderline psychotic with disgust and panic. None of us could get away from him and his clumsy, confused maneuvering or his prolific hindquarters. Already the biggest of the cousins, I was now the biggest, smeared in dog shit, and being pinballed around the back of a poorly ventilated toaster oven.
I don't know how my parents remained oblivious to six children shouting hysterically and jostling each other violently in that four- by five-foot space mere inches from their cushioned, air-conditioned cabin, but neither our shrieks or movement could get their attention. If we'd been on a sailboat instead of in a pickup, desperately, erratically throwing our weight around, we'd have capsized and drowned, which in that moment seemed like the preferable fate. Instead we drove on, the dog seeming to shit for hours as we screamed and clawed away from him.
My cousin Jason cranked open the tiny awning window and started flapping frantically like a one-armed man paddling against the current, hoping to catch my parents' attention. Nothing was happening, the car was not slowing down. Either they really couldn't see him or they figured we just needed to pee, and parents driving four hours home, exhausted from parenting, and possibly hungover with a car load of filthy kids do not stop for a singular bodily urge. Not the human kind, anyway.
In that tiny metal hell, the hysteria continued. My cousin yelled out the window, "SAINT POOPED! SAINT POOPED!" in the panicked falsetto of all his seventeen years, and then more urgently, "SAINTY SHIT! HE SHIT! SAINTY SHIT!" The six of us bounced around our putrid aluminum box trying to avoid the turds, my smeared shorts and the confused, terrified dog. It was a perverse, desperate game of Twister.
Finally — for the love of all that is decent and holy, Jesus Mary and Joseph, if you get me out of this I'll never hit my sisters ever again — my parents pulled over.
If my stepdad wasn't furious he was at least annoyed, expecting to hear the word "tampon" or "farted" being whined out of one of our mouths. But I think once he opened the glass hatch of the cap and then the tailgate, the full extent of the situation made itself stiflingly, malodorously apparent.
I must have stripped off those shorts right in the middle of that mountain road, because none of us was about to climb back into that literal shithole in less than a hazmat suit. I'm sure my mom took care of all the soiled sleeping bags, pillows and clothes while stepdad walked the dog empty so that we could continue the trip home without further interruption.
I still see most of my cousins regularly and somehow managed to evade any unflattering, fecally-themed nicknames as a result of my unfortunate position in the truck that day.
And I have not since nor do I plan to camp ever, ever again.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
I clearly remember standing in small clubs in my twenties, waiting anxiously for the opening acts to wrap up so I could see the band I came for play the songs I was dying to hear. I never felt like the coolest in the room or even close, but I was comfortable in my place outside hipster cliques.
The arc of seeing live music always goes like this: I hear the band is coming and get super excited. On the day tickets go on sale I sit at my computer (pre-internet I'd done my share of camping out on sidewalks, and getting great seats for something is still pretty much my only impetus to camp at all) practically shaking, waiting to click that "Buy" button. The printed tickets get hung on the fridge and as the time before the show stretches out, they become a reminder of this obligation, this hiring of a babysitter, staying up late, spending money on drinks, dealing with crowds, standing for hours, or feeling old and lame when we decide to sell the tickets and bail all together.
There's always that moment of contemplation when I think, man, is this worth it? The couch is so comfortable and not packed full of drunk kids wearing hats in a swampy bar space. But almost every time I've pushed past that urge to give into my homebody tendencies, these nights out have been some of my best.
Last night Steve and I were guests of our good friends at a show nearby. We don't live in a place that gets many national acts and for months we couldn't wait. Then, predictably, after a busy long weekend and months of anticipation, our excitement waned. If it were just Steve and me going we'd likely have opted to stay home flopped over different ends of the sectional watching Antiques Roadshow. Instead, on a Monday night, we pulled ourselves together, hired a sitter, took cash out of the ATM, and followed our friends to the venue. We collected our will-call tickets and VIP passes, through security — girls to the left, guys to the right, please — and headed for the bar.
And just like it always does when I rally and force myself out, the night got good. At a venue on the ocean, the floor so sticky I almost lost my sandals, that familiar feeling was building. Even before the first note, the energy that equalizes a room full of mid- and quarter-lifers — the guys in football jerseys and the guys in wool beanies, and even the guys in button downs — reminded me of all the reasons I push through the crowds and deal with the waits, the peed-on toilet seats and disorganized bar lines. It's one of the few experiences that feels exactly the same at thirty-nine as it did at twenty-one and at fifteen; at Jones Beach and Great Woods and The Middle East, and here, at the Casino Ballroom. It's why when I was at shows in my twenties there were always people in the audience twice my age.
What's changed is that I'm less inclined to crouch and squeeze my way through a general admission crowd to press myself against the stage, though the urge is still there. I still don't care how I look when I'm dancing. There's still a twenty-year-old hoping to be spotted in a stage light, wanting the band to see the appreciation in my enthusiasm, hoping for that second of eye contact.
Last night all four of us let ourselves get caught up in it. We spent too much on too-icy drinks, we stayed up later than we ought to on a weeknight and we kept the babysitter longer than she'd planned. And even as we arrived home to meet the sleeping kids who flopped like laundry over our shoulders, to grown-up houses and jobs in the morning, we'd spent the past two hours in music, grateful to those up-off-the-couch versions of ourselves that know well the good these kinds of nights do for us.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Do you and your spouse have That One Fight? You know it, sometimes you'll go months without even thinking about it and then all of a sudden you're back in the thick of it, having the same damned arguments, re-tracing the same old steps into and around it, feeling like maybe you'll get there this time and then realizing that there just might not be a resolution.
Every relationship has its little frustrations, like the missed hamper or tension over finances. Generally these are shallow arguments with all their facts and variables right there on the surface. But That One Fight always has deeper conflicts. It's loaded with convictions and baggage, it's where two haven't exactly become one.
Steve likes to drink socially, and sometimes over-drink. I've been legitimately drunk fewer times than I have fingers and had some childhood experiences that didn't exactly lead me to believe alcohol did anything but make good people horrible.
Our friends have always loved to drink with Steve. He becomes talkative and animated, a change from the quietish guy most of them know. He's easy to get along with, genuine — he brings no ego or motives to a friendship — and when he's enjoying a few beers he's all about conversations. So he'll keep drinking as long as people keep offering. But there's a level of drunkenness when Steve isn't the guy I'm crazy about anymore — while his friends enjoy his boozy enthusiasm, I start to get annoyed by this alter-ego. But he and they will keep going until the beer's gone and everyone always has a very good time.
The thing is, friends aren't the ones who have to share the bed with him later, or hear about his headache and sour stomach the next morning while he's out of commission on the couch. Friends don't feel like they got left at the party alone though they arrived with a fantastic date. Friends don't watch the person they're in love with becoming the guy they don't even really like over the course of a few hours. Friends don't have to go home and have The Fight.
Part of what I love about Steve is that he's willing to improve himself, and he went to work on this knowing how it was affecting me. When we end up in a situation where he's had too much and I'm aggravated, I leave him alone — literally — I go away. I don't try to talk anything over in the moment (because having serious discussions with a drunk person is rarely productive) and sometimes not even the next day. Now I let his occasional hangovers do the talking for me. And if he needs a night out with his friends once in a while to drink without consequences from his wife, I'm fine with that.
But the tension can still be there when we're invited to something and I wonder whether he'll go overboard, or when somehow meeting a friend for a beer ends up with me playing the well-worn role of designated driver. I accept that while The Fight happens very infrequently these days, it may never be completely gone.
I still love going out with my husband and getting silly over cocktails, and I'm proud to be anywhere in his company. I'd love to know that we'd never argue over this again and have the whole issue evaporate from our relationship. But short of full resolution, I think the effort we've both made to live with our conflict is exactly what people mean when they say that marriage is about compromise. Compromise in marriage isn't about one person sacrificing, it's about two people working toward something together, even knowing there might not be a solution.
Posted by Brenna at 2:48 PM
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Last week I emailed a friend who'd asked for weight loss suggestions. As I typed away, I felt like I'd been making the same list for a lot of people lately, mostly because the crap that gets sold to us about "Getting Thin!" seems to me unsustainable at best and usually unrealistic. If I hear about one more shake or juice fast, or workout that requires IV fluids afterward, I might actually throw things at my television, which would be bad because then what do I do with my kid on Saturday mornings?
I worked for six months to lose 25 pounds and have been (mostly) maintaining it for over two years. I've learned what I personally need to do to keep from slipping back up the scale. I've also learned where I feel my best; right now I wear a size 12 in jeans and an 8 top. I know what it feels like when I'm gaining and what I need to do to get it back off. After spending two-thirds of my life fighting my thighs, I'm finally okay with them, even the way they move as I walk. I like my body enough that I'd never consider taking on a near-death exercise routine. I know my limits, both in what I'll stick with and what I can and can't binge on.
This list is a compilation of what I've learned over the past three years. I think it's practical, level-headed advice but I recognize that every person has a different goal and set of habits. Here, pretty much verbatim, is the email I sent my friend:
- Stock your house with more whole or high fiber foods — except brown rice because that shit takes forever to cook. Couscous, wheatberries, farro. I don't like quinoa, it feels like I'm eating tiny, exploding bugs.
- The only "light" stuff I ever use is light wheat bread and Cabot 50% Cheddar. No fake sugars. Non-fat "half and half" is an abomination and an insult to dairy cows, and haven't they suffered enough? Use two-percent Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Know what you can't eliminate — there was no way I was giving up beer, cheese or using cream in my coffee. Keep what you love and work the rest of your food around the givens.
- I use Anna's chalk wall to track my "Points" but you could do something similar to track just food or calories or whatever. If I don't write down what I'm eating I gain, no questions asked. This is key.
- Salty snack: hummus and pretzels, or Fage and pretzels. Sweet snack: keep a bar of dark chocolate around, break off a square. Sometimes my snack is just one glorious glob of peanut butter on a spoon, sometimes on an apple.
- This is such a check-out rack magazine tip I can't even stand it, but use a kid's plate at dinner. I've been eating off of an eight-inch plastic M&Ms plate for three years now, unless we have company.
- Get a dog to give the kids' leftovers to. Short of that, compost it before it's in your mouth. It was really hard for me to stop feeling awful about wasting food, but not feeding her at all is frowned upon.
- Give yourself a forgiveness day. Once a month I want to clean out the fridge with my face. I do it and move on. Usually once a week I have a big splurge, 3 good beers or my favorite mint chocolate chip and hot fudge in a 1:1 ratio. It's something to look forward to.
- Don't be an exercise hero. The workout isn't what makes the weight come off, but it's a nice boost. I have a simple goal of walking one mile a day, then I try to do things like ride my bike to the grocery store or to take Anna to school as often as I can manage.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Last week, one of Anna's friends walked up to me and said, "Anna ruined my whole day." A second little girl added, "Yeah, she's really annoying us." Anna wasn't in earshot, off playing or chatting up an adult somewhere, and probably would have snarked back and gotten on with her afternoon. I stood in front of these two wondering how they thought it was okay to give a parent that kind of report, I said nothing, and walked away to cry. It was one of those cries that sneaks up, like when a country song reduces you to tears and you get mad at yourself because you cannot stand country music.
I was sad then and for her future where more of this will happen and where I can't — and won't — protect her from it all. My girl is insulated right now, but I see the hierarchies starting already, the BFFs forming. I see the kindergartners who know about Justin Bieber and crushes while Anna wonders how anyone could have possibly invented a double-sided light saber and hides behind a pillow not during gruesome battle scenes, but when she can tell that the actors are about to kiss.
I know that in the long run this quirkiness of hers will serve to make her a funny, interesting adult. I'm already so proud of who she is, though she can be a little (read: a lot) loud, a little bossy, and kind of a dork. I don't want a thing about her to change. This particular angst doesn't seem much easier even knowing that all parents feel it on some level — Just love my kid a billionth of the amount I do, world. Just see how amazing she is.
After I pulled myself back together, once we had Anna in bed and were talking about the day, I told Steve what had happened with those girls. He said, "Honey, I don't care what those girls said. And I don't want Anna to care. I want her to learn to not give a fuck what people say about her." That concept is so completely foreign to me that I hadn't even considered it a possibility. What if we can raise a kid to be herself and do her own thing, and to not be hurt by the judgement of others?
Steve told me that when he was little he'd just hang out at home, and if friends wanted to come over, they could come over. If not, he'd just spend time alone. I, on the other hand, remember when the two girls I spent most of my time with went and got BFF tee-shirts without me. I remember the parties I wasn't invited to, the cliques I tried to get in with in college and never quite succeeded. I eventually made real, wonderful friends and I wouldn't change where I ended up, but the thought of living those school years with less concern about who liked me — maybe growing up to be someone who could respond appropriately to those girls who found Anna annoying instead of choking up and hiding — that seems like such freedom.
I'm not modeling this for her right now. I love to please, I live to make people happy, to feel comfortable and loved, and when I know someone is upset with me — no matter how unjustified — all I want is to smooth things over. Part of that has nothing to do with worrying what people think of me, but I don't know how to untangle my motivations. This will have to be where Steve comes in. This will have to be where he teaches her better than I can when to just let people go.
Monday, June 03, 2013
When Ben from ADK Packworks in Vermont emailed me about doing a giveaway, my first thought was, "You know you're a mom blogger when a reusable grocery bag giveaway gets you excited." I've been perfectly happy with my ten-year-old canvas bags — sure, they wear the stains of a decade of leaky yogurts and probably a lethal dose of salmonella, but they serve me well.
I was skeptical of the ADK Grocer bag when it arrived. It has a rigid frame, it's definitely heavier than my regular bags, and I knew "sold at Whole Foods" wouldn't be appealing to everyone (you can also buy them online). But when I took it to the grocery store and didn't arrive home with a smashed container of strawberries or bread with a milk carton impression in it, I was sold.
Then I took it to the farmers market (where I buy exactly zero vegetables because they have these breakfast burritos and man, I don't know what your local pigs taste like but my local pigs are DEEEElicious) and it didn't crush my container of Ukrainian dumplings (also not a vegetable) or the cinnamon bun (still not produce) Anna didn't want after all, because why not it only cost four freaking dollars. It's definitely my #1 farmers market bag, beach bag, and smuggling two six-packs into the neighborhood block party bag.
I made sure to snag an extra to give away. In the comments, tell me the best song you've heard playing at the grocery store. PLEASE SIGN IN TO COMMENT WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS — I never save them, but haven't had luck contacting people via Facebook. I'll choose a winner at random on Friday, June 7th at 9 a.m. eastern time. Winners have 24 hours to respond.
Friday, May 24, 2013
I joke often on Facebook about my husband's favorite leisure activity. Almost daily he'll walk in the door from work and greet my leaning-in for a kiss hello with his standard fly-opening gesture — this was funny the first three times for me and continues to be a wellspring of amusement for him.
The BJ posts always get lots of likes and comments. Some people blush while others run with the topic like an elite fellatio relay team, always a few express their aversion to the practice and occasionally a husband will show up amazed that some men didn't lose this benefit immediately upon marriage.
Men, I'm going to do you a little favor here. I'm going to encourage your partners to engage in this practice by telling you how to improve your odds. While I know it's easiest to just get drunk together and see where things go (pun intended?), there are methods that don't require a handful of Advil and a bunch of regret the next morning.*
So without any further blah blah blah, my personal tips for getting the good action.
1. Be awesome with your kid(s). Not even all the time, but part of the day. Steve does the bedtime routine every night and has more patience for reading chapter books and answering abstract questions about space and heaven than a zen monk with a master's in child development. On weekends I might find him teaching Anna to hit a baseball or polishing her nails. His relationship with her warms my heart, his skill at being a great dad warms my pants.
2. Pick a chore and own it. The dishwasher in this house is always, always in rotation — it's the official appliance of Groundhog Day. I work from home so I'll usually unload, put away, reload. But many nights Steve will jump in after dinner and start unloading, often he'll stop me as I do it, tell me to relax, and pick it up once Anna's in bed. You know what else happens once Anna's in bed?
3. Seriously, just snuggle sometimes. I know this is the biggest cliché ever. It's the basis for a million sitcoms and bad stand-up gags. But for real, if your partner thinks the only reason you want to touch her affectionately is toward one end (spoiler: we know which end you're after), she's going to be less receptive. It's good to play hard-to-get sometimes instead of just regular old hard.
4. Be handy in whatever way you can. Steve is building us a patio. It's grunty and manly and awesome. But you don't have to be a manual labor kind of guy to get things done, getting things done can also mean calling to sort out the water bill, remembering your mother's birthday card or scheduling your own dentist appointments. Real men call for take-out.
5. Shut up about money. I don't care who earns it, unless you suspect that your wife is planning to black market your kidneys to cover her debt, stop having the argument. Nothing kills a mood faster than when I excitedly show Steve a new dress and can tell he's fighting every urge to immediately check our balance. Tell her she looks great, grab dinner, get lucky.
See how easy I've made things for you? If you find this entry folded inside your porn drawer or tucked in your wallet, that's just your spouse saying, "I want to make you happy," and attesting to my expertise in the field of marital relations. Or not.
*I know some of you will recognize these tips as things you already do and if you honestly feel you're making the awesome husband effort, you could be due for a quiet, no-kids sit-down with your spouse.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I picked up Anna's kindergarten registration papers back in March and promptly put them in the pile on my desk that I ignore until it cascades onto the floor. After a few weeks I filled out what felt like a thousand duplicates of the same guardian, medical, and emergency contact information, and put the blue folder in a less cluttered spot in my office.
On Friday, I tucked a utility bill and her birth certificate into the front pocket and carried the complete set to Anna's kindergarten evaluation. I was having pretty standard feelings about the day; excitement for her new adventure — my girl, already riding a two-wheeler and minus one tooth — pride at watching my now five-year-old walk confidently into the school and take her seat in line, and the hope that even when she's too tall for these small, plastic chairs, she will not have outgrown the friends she's already made.
A teacher came and ushered our fidgety children into a classroom while a woman from the PTA educated us on boxtops and fundraisers, and the school principal assured me that even with a full-time job I'd find time to volunteer making copies or popcorn or whatever needed doing to support her staff. It was all so optimistic and exciting. She mentioned that the kids would go to the library and the gym, have lunch in the cafeteria, and it seemed so far from the two rooms where Anna currently spends her preschool days — these halls of a big-kid school smelling of glue and pencils, the rows of desks, the walls papered with art projects.
And as we took the tour, winding through the halls, peeking into the classrooms, a thought: What are the escape routes? I wondered for a second how hard it would be for someone bent on harm to move from room to room in this floorplan, to slip in unnoticed. I caught myself scanning for safe hiding spaces, for solid doors and emergency exits. When we circled back to our chairs, the woman from the PTA showed us a past yearbook. I thought, These kids are no different than those kids. Sandy Hook could have been anyone's kids, Sandy Hook was everyone's kids.
Early on a September morning I'll no doubt be negotiating outfits, cereal, and the appropriateness of her shoes. Anna will be anxious to leave, she'll ignore me when I ask her to slow down and she'll run headlong for the friends we'll walk with to school. We parents will have our smiles on but our tissues ready, we'll have comforting good-byes on the tips of our tongues, and just the smallest nagging worry in the backs of our minds. On the first day of kindergarten we'll walk our own children to school and carry twenty more in our hearts.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Every day when my husband comes home from work, he enters our side door, walks through the garage and to the door that leads into the kitchen, which I keep locked during the day. Every day, I hear him grab the knob, grumble when he realizes it's locked, and reach for his keys. Almost every day, he asks, "Why do you lock yourself in here like that?"
I don't know whether it's because he's a man and hasn't been trained to think this way — that he's a little more vulnerable working at home alone, even in a busy neighborhood — or whether he's just more laid back than I am. But we've had broad-daylight burglaries just a few blocks over, so the door stays deadbolted even when I'm home.
Ten years ago or so I left our cheap apartment in a pricey Boston suburb to take a three-mile walk. It was 11:00 on a sunny Saturday morning. I wore black yoga pants and a tank top, and back then carried an iPod that seems enormous now. I didn't yet own a cell phone.
I was almost done with my loop, walking past a gas station, pace set to whatever song was playing, when I felt a hand squeezing my ass. Though it didn't make any sense, I thought it had to be Steve or a friend playing a joke, and when I turned around to see a total stranger there, still grabbing me, I froze.
I don't know how I looked — furious, horrified — but he let go and as I silently walked away in shock, he caught up, put an arm around my shoulder and said, "Sorry, I thought you were someone else." I still wasn't really processing and half believed him. I slid out from under his arm and as he walked away he grabbed me again and said, "You got a nice ass, bitch." I yelled, "Fuck you!" at the back of his black t-shirt.
I didn't watch to see where he went — I think he was on a bike but there may have been a car. I walked the rest of the half-mile home sobbing, didn't stop at the police station as I passed, just needed Steve.
I told him what had happened and took a shower. Steve asked if I'd be okay if he left for a drive around the neighborhood. I assumed he wanted to find the guy and knew he wouldn't, and I said it was fine. I wasn't afraid to be alone, after all, it was just an ass grab, right? I felt silly getting so emotional about it. It took me years to become more angry at the guy for grabbing me than I was at myself for being slow to react.
Later we went to the police station and filed a report. The officer asked why I hadn't walked right to the station on my way home, and then rounded up any man in the vicinity with a passing resemblance to the description I'd given, but none were him. I learned that the way he'd touched me was a felony. That afternoon, I bought my first cell phone.
Sometimes I marvel at the difference in how Steve and I navigate the world; I don't know that he's ever wondered whether it's okay to walk home alone from a bar, or to take a shortcut through a wooded lot. I doubt he's ever peeked to be sure all the stalls are empty before using a public restroom, or quickly checked the back seat of his car before getting into it. I'm sure he's never owned a pepper spray key chain.
I don't feel unsafe in general, but I know when I need to be aware and alert. What I wonder is how to raise a daughter to understand that she should be able to take the shortcut, and feel safe in her car and her home, that she deserves to live in her beautiful, unarmed way forever, but that she just can't. How do I let her know what she's up against without darkening the world she inhabits?
It's a struggle to raise her with awareness but not fear, with optimism but not naïveté, with a wide-open, vulnerable girlhood in a world that's constantly tempting me to build walls around her.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Steve and I moved out of Boston when after ten years there he grew tired of city living. It's fair to say he dragged me from our sweet condo on the C and D lines and away from many good friends, though I knew it was either fight to stay and live with an unhappy spouse, or move — knowing I'd adapt — with a happier husband.
Most of those we left behind live within the limits of last Friday's lockdown. Some had their homes searched, they woke to SWAT teams in the streets. They heard shots, shouts and detonations. They were afraid of the potential danger but grateful for the police presence. I spent Friday waiting for updates from those I knew were closest to what I could only watch on television. I texted without expecting replies and though I knew they would all be safe, sat anxiously waiting for contact. It seemed impossible that there could be anything else happening in the world, and when friends in other parts of the country posted about their lunches or their weekend plans, it all seemed so out of context.
Taken from my friends' window Friday morning.
When they captured the fugitive bomber and residents took to the streets to thank those involved, I remembered how, from my condo, I always knew when the home team scored because cheers would erupt out of windows and ricochet off the sidewalks. I imagined how joyful that noise must have been in the living room of the old place and wished I could have heard it.
Throughout the week, people who I have to assume were distant from the events took to public forums to promote their own agendas; one Arkansas lawmaker's notorious tweet is by now widely known and ridiculed, but there's also a conspiracy theory about martial law that's wrapped in a pro-gun message and fearmongering over the loss of our personal rights. Seriously.
I haven't asked my friends who were told to evacuate their own home, carrying two little girls over a fence in the hours after midnight how they feel about the theories because it's an insult to their experience. But if I had been in their shoes, if we lived within the lockdown zone on Friday, where a fugitive who'd proven his utter disregard for human life was known to be hiding, I'd feel a hell of a lot safer seeing trained, armed SWAT teams and police officers from my window than roving, gun-toting conspiracy theorists wandering my streets.
There are true professionals with skills and training and the courage to put themselves directly in the line of palpable danger, and there are those who speculate about conspiracies from the comfort of their desk chairs. If you're at all uncertain who would be more likely to step up and save your life at their own peril, go ahead and ask someone from Boston.
Monday, April 22, 2013
I'll preface this by confessing that I am borderline phobic about flying. I avoid it whenever I can, and I enjoy a pharmaceutical assist whenever I can't. So maybe I'm actually phobic, shut up, whatever. I make up for it by being generally awesome otherwise.
Two years ago I had a work conference at Disney World. The three of us flew down. In addition to my normal stress I was hoping and praying that Anna would enjoy herself and not be a pest to other travelers. The last thing I wanted was for her to pick up on my own anxiety; I could have won an Academy Award that day. So I packed a laptop full of movies, any and all non-contraband snacks, a pacifier (she was three but cabin pressure something something), I'd filled my phone with kid apps and left my husband to manage the logistics of our duffel bag, carry-on, seven-million pound car seat, tipping the skycap, and remembering where I'd parked the car.
If you haven't been on a flight to Orlando, Florida, then you don't know what it is to wait at your gate behind several strollers, wheelchairs, children and high school kids going on a summer field trip. It's just about three hours from where we are to Orlando, and other than rapid-fire requests for snacks, more movies, more volume, and her refusal to let me open the window shade, Anna did amazingly well on her first flight. I did pretty well too, on this my twentieth-or-so flight, as did the woman flying alone with five kids across the aisle.
Can I tell you who didn't do so great? It was the class trip. As I sat wearing my best Turbulence is Awesome face, pointing out familiar land masses miles below us, and laughing myself onto a no-fly list reading Bossypants, most of the high school kids made dramatic "WHOOOOOOAAAAAA" sounds with each bump. There were loud "OMIGOD"s and then someone asked if they were going to die. I felt bad for those kids, because they couldn't even order in-flight cocktails.
I felt bad for those kids the same way I sympathize with parents who are equally unsure of how their flight will go, because "Will my toddler spend 3 hours kicking the seat?" is the parent equivalent of a teenager wondering how often planes spontaneously nosedive.
There's endless advice on flying with kids, ideas for how to make the trip less stressful for both parents and offspring, because there's a huge difference between remembering your passport, enough underwear, and shoes you can easily slip off at security and having to carry on the accouterments that keep the preschool set occupied for hours, on top of the worry that the mere sight of your child will result in audible sighs from 150 strangers.
So I implore my happily no-kid friends, the next time you board a flight to your no-kid destination, don't take to Facebook before taxi to post about your preemptive annoyance over the potential fussiness of the baby next to you. Consider that while you breezed through the terminal Starbucks, your row-mate had to traverse the airport like a sherpa whose client wouldn't stop sprinting toward peril. Try to imagine what it might be like to have to control someone else's bladder mid-flight. We are all using a very public mode of transportation, one that's not especially accommodating to us breeders. Know that we are stressed, uncomfortable, and hoping like hell our kids don't behave like marsupials.
And remember mostly that we were all kids once, and as adults we could stand to do a little less whining.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I've definitely been feeling like five is a big milestone. The last traces of baby cheeks have melted into defined features and long legs, and though she still trips over her own shadow, gone are the clumsy grasps of unsure toddlerhood.
As I always do, I took Anna's portraits this year, but I also spent her birthday documenting what she's like right now. I think I'll plan to do this every year.
Five wakes up and asks for the iPad. (Five still sucks her thumb.)
Five adds the sprinkles all by herself.
Five gets herself dressed.
Five is a real kid. Five is everything good in the world.
Posted by Brenna at 11:01 AM
Friday, April 12, 2013
I don't believe in soulmates. Based on pure population data, the chances that my husband is "meant" for me seem slim. And lately I've been a little bristly over the unrelenting stream of "true love" graphics coursing through my Facebook feed. The friends who post them are usually single, somewhere in their twenties. The images have quotes like, "If she's jealous, she cares," or "A real relationship has no secrets." I don't mean to be cynical because I believe in lasting love, I do.
Eventually I want Anna to experience what it is to be on that particular drug that makes her feel impossibly light, the one that pulls from the chest towards a flawless joy. I want her to experience what it is to have someone out-of-their-mind crazy about her, who loves her just for showing up. And when it's time, I also want her to know that this will fade, and that the chaos of love isn't something that can be summed up into the space of a viral graphic, that romance changes shape — at first it looks like flowers and picnics, and later it tastes like shared leftovers on the couch.
I hope her love starts in her belly, that it's flecked with hard kisses and torturous separations. And I hope it lasts into arguments over left-out dishes and forgotten bills. I want that one day she'll see that love is being able to hurt and then reconcile, that romance is sacrificing the better side of the bed or the last slice of cake, and that these are more substantial than all those movie-scene rushes to airports or boom-box serenades.
She should know that at some point she'll choose to stop looking, not because there's no one left, but because she's decided to make a life with someone. And when the day comes that she realizes this wasn't fate but a conscious choice, that she's still sure of herself.
I hope she'll understand that years of love can mean days of needing space, that the separations become more mundane but that there's always happiness in the reunions.
I want her to feel all of these things, so she understands that we don't find "the one," but that we work and compromise and nurture to create them.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
I get emails from people all the time asking to guest post on this blog, or suggesting that their content is a 'good fit' for this audience (spoiler: it never is). Most of the time these letters are addressed to Blog Owner and while it's always nice to be thought of, I get tired of non-specific spam.
So when Chobani contacted me to say hey, we want to send you our new Chobani Champions and we think you're funny and we don't even care if you give us a review, I waited for the follow-up email telling me how to wire money to a Nigerian Prince in exchange for my yogurt. But it turns out this gig was legit. A few weeks later a box full of Chobani arrived at my house, and I ate one of the coffee-chip Chobani Bites with just my tongue before I'd even unpacked the rest.
All three of us loved the flavors; if it wasn't socially unacceptable for a grown man driving around in a city truck to suck yogurt from a tube, Steve would have gladly taken those to work. Instead he packed whatever cups I didn't hide in an effort to keep some for my-damn-self. Anna decimated the tubes in a day, refusing to eat just one at a time.
It's easy enough to go buy some Chobani at the grocery store, but why put up with the guy buying cigarettes in the express lane and paying with a check when you can win it in a click?
Enter here or below to win 1 GRAND PRIZE* of a year’s supply of Chobani and Chobani Champions. The grand prize winner will build a custom case to be delivered to their doorstep monthly, including 1 case of assorted Champions Flavors, 1 case of assorted Chobani Flavors and a bonus case of either Champions tubes, Chobani Bite or Chobani 32 oz cooking sizes. Every month for a YEAR!*
a Rafflecopter giveaway 10 Runners-up will receive one case of Champions Tubes delivered to their doors.
*Giveaway begins April 3 and ends at midnight April 8. Giveaway open to residents of the United States only. Grand prize winner will choose from products available at http://chobani.com/products/
Posted by Brenna at 9:30 PM
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I've written before that my husband is a thin guy. Strong and thin. And in the course of our relationship I've never weighed less than he does; right now I'm about fifteen pounds up on him, but it's gotten as high as thirty during some long, chowder-filled, New England winters.
In the fourteen years we've been together, I've fed him. I've developed my cooking skills with him as my subject — and sometimes victim (oh, the great caponata debacle of 2002, before the Internet had ratings on recipes and every Excite search was potentially lethal). My family literally shoves food down his throat, "Eat! You're so skinny!" and acquaintances think nothing of commenting on his lean physique.
Early on, I remember being amazed by the landscape of his toned stomach. My previous boyfriends had all been average-to-sedentary, with workout routines consisting mostly of lackluster sex. Steve took care of his body, and he still does. But lately, I've noticed something changing.
Lately when I hug him, his torso feels noticeably thicker. The defined bumps there have faded, and I can tell even with a beard that his cheeks have filled in. He gets self-conscious when I point out his new weight though I do it with sincere excitement, "I love your new belly," I say, rubbing circles around it with the palm of my hand. This softness on him is foreign to me. I proudly show it to my family like some beaming father-to-be, "Ma! Feel it, look at this, Steve has a gut! I'm serious, touch it -- Honey, stick it out." And because my family is comprised of butt-pinching cheek-squeezers, she does.
Although I know this new bulk can be attributed squarely to his upcoming 40th birthday and afternoons eating lunches from home supplemented by dollar-menu sandwiches and the occasional fountain Coke, I guess I take some of the credit. I tell myself he's finally gained some weight because he's happy, because I've helped him find contentment, because after almost killing him ten years ago with an inedible eggplant appetizer, I did finally learn to cook, because I could spend my life loving people and feeding them.
Steve is fond of the patch of grays that's started to sprout from my crown and infiltrate my bangs. He says they're a story of how we've changed since we met, and how we're slowly growing as old as dirt together (he didn't actually say "as old as dirt.") I'm equally sentimental about what his newly-acquired girth represents to me: that the man I know who's never stopped trying to improve himself might finally be getting comfortable in (more of) his own skin.
Posted by Brenna at 9:26 PM