Suburban Snapshots

Marry Me and My Mom
Will Feel You Up

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.

I'll Pass on the Jäger
Nips, Thanks

Friday, March 22, 2013

A few weeks ago Steve and I stopped into a liquor store near our old Boston apartment. We were the only people through the door without an ID check, likely the only people in the store who were alive the last time skinny jeans were a thing.

But I don't think it was even age that was the most striking difference between us and the other patrons, it's that Steve and I are parents. Age could never define me more than having a child has. My 20s were good, my 30s have been amazing. I'll be 40 in September and I'm okay with leaving those decades behind.

Back in '98 when I used to print photos. Steve my then-roommate at left, my boyfriend at right. Spoiler: I didn't marry the boyfriend.

Still, you don't age out of those earlier decades and become brand new every 10 years. Your former selves grace you with lessons, regrets, and pleasures that you keep, even as everything changes.

I still turn the music up in my car so loud the mirrors vibrate, but sometimes it's Justin Bieber.
I get together often with my girlfriends; sometimes I still drink too much.
I still spend too much money eating out, and I spend even more on groceries for my family.
I still care what my body looks like, though I've finally stopped fighting its topography.
I still flirt with men, but with the experience to know I'm not missing anything.
I get more invitations to 40th birthdays than to weddings, and they're at least as much fun (and so much cheaper).
I enjoy sex, and the fact that I don't have to work very hard to get it.

The man I dated in my 20s and married in my 30s is his best yet approaching 40. Our marriage has been improved by age and strengthened by trials, because we are both imperfect but adult enough to accept each other as individuals.

So while chasing a 4-year-old around a liquor store occupied by only college students didn't exactly make me feel youthful, I wouldn't trade positions. Sure, I got a little nostalgic for those days when we thought we were broke and weren't really, when we had all of 3 regular bills, when we actually had to figure out how to spend free time.

But I stood in line to pay for our beer with the same guy who stood next to me the last time we were here -- back when we both still got carded -- trying to contain our new, small person who wanted nothing but all the eye-level gum, content in knowing exactly where we'd wake up in the morning.

Zen and the Art of
Birthday Parties

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So far this year we've chaperoned Anna to six birthday parties. Six Saturdays. And while I'm grateful for parents who shell out to invite the entire preschool class I'm also holding up my white flag in surrender, because I'm just not cut out for this particular brand of chaos.

A couple of weeks ago Anna and I went to a classmate's bowling party. The kids LOVED it -- there was pizza, cake, unlimited opportunity to knock each other unconscious with candlepin balls and argue over the reset button. The lights were low and the disco ball spun and sparkled, the game room beeped and spat out prize tickets, and my daughter raced back and forth, abandoning dozens of tokens, half a slice of pizza and all but the frosting on her cake. I walked ten miles that day, from the lanes to the game room and back, standing guard outside the bathroom doors, bouncing from one token-eating machine to the next, eyeballing each exit door as an invitation for my daughter to disappear from the building. Despite her insistence that all I do is "chit-chat, chit-chat" with other moms, I had nothing but truncated conversations and shouted a few, "I SAID HAVE YOU SEEN ANNA!?"s as I whizzed past my friends. Guess who took the better nap once we got home? Not the kid eating a smuggled bag of claw machine Starburst, if you were wondering.

Anna's birthday is coming up and we've been trying to figure out a plan. We can never depend on spring weather -- one year we had glorious sunshine, the next we had a scaled-down version of Tough Mudder. This year my mom offered to pay for a party at Chuck E. Cheese's to which I may have replied with unintelligible shouts and a dramatic buckling of the knees. I love my kid, I believe in super special birthdays, but I'd sooner convert us all to Jehovah's Witnesses.

I prefer house parties; that's what I grew up with and as much work as it is to scrub the bathroom and feed a bunch of kids who hate everything but eat all your ranch dip with their fingers, it still comes in under $500 and feels more welcoming and intimate. These are the people in our life right now, this is not an obligatory list of guests we had to invite.

The cake will be beautiful, but I'm not crafting place settings or handmade streamers. I will feed the adult guests as well as the children, and I'll do it well. Anna will get her first brand-new two-wheeler and a skateboard with the money we won't spend on singing animatrons and greasy pizza, and my house will be torn apart by enough guests to violate local fire codes.

And even as I watch icing splatter on my floors and ceiling, and despite the inevitable arguments and injuries, I'll have more zen than I would trying to track one bouncing head among a sea of preschoolers trading in their 7,000 tickets for a measly bag of Skittles.

It's Okay to Ignore
Your Children and Read This

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

When I was little, my parents got divorced. My mom and stepdad were no-sugar-in-your-Kool-Aid broke, and my 2 younger sisters and I were tyrants.

Our parents worked. They worked and worked and worked, and when they weren't working they were cleaning up after us, or making dinner, or feeding dogs, or trying to find 3 minutes of peace and quiet. I was babysitting my sisters after school by 4th grade — my mom tried hiring people to watch us but we'd either drive them off or they cost too much or both.

We never thought we had enough of Mom's attention. We'd badger her when she locked herself in the bathroom to make calls. She couldn't shower alone or nap, she couldn't leave the house without at least one of us hanging off the cuffs of her pants. When she'd go to work, my sisters and I would argue and call her repeatedly to settle it, "Stephanie wants the volume at 8 but I want it at 7 so I can watch TV and do my homework!" "Shannon's not cleaning her room." "When I said I was calling you to tell on Steph, Shannon said she wanted to call you first," and so on. On weekends she'd drag all 3 of us to the laundromat with no-frills black garbage bags full of dirty clothes and we'd entertain ourselves in front of the strip mall, nagging in turn for quarters to feed the soda machine.

My mom would get up with me at 6 a.m. and type my book reports, she'd drive us to Taco Bell at 2 in the morning if we woke her up and said "please". She'd treat us to the 2-2-2 special at Friendly's if we managed to behave for more than 5 minutes. And we still didn't think we had enough of her attention.

When I was in 8th grade and my parents were at work, I accidentally set my bed on fire. We shared our house with a tenant who was able to drag the flaming mattress out the front door and onto the lawn while I called my mother at work, hysterical, convinced I'd be sent to a home for juvenile delinquents. Instead, my stepfather (who has never been afraid of discipline) said, "I think you already learned your lesson," and my mom cried that maybe she should quit her job.

Back then there was no Internet, and so no one could publicly reprimand my mom for working while her eldest child, clearly neglected and derelict, was at home lighting her sisters on fire. There wasn't a platform for sanctimonious posts like this one to go viral, heaping on the guilt that parents already feel for not having their hearts and eyeballs fixed on their children every precious second of every fleeting day. There was no one to post a Youtube video of my sister and I toppling a metal grocery cart with our toddler sibling perched in front, spinning as she hit the sidewalk face-first, and no comments from anonymous users about how inattentive our mother must have been.

This post is for my mom and all the moms, because now I know how many sacrifices it took to raise us, and now I understand the unshakable guilt in parenting, and now I realize that I had all the attention I could ever need, and that moms deserve time when they're not tending to kids, and that no one has a right to say how moms spend that time — no one gets to decide what's worthy and what's wasted.

Moms, the kids are all right. It's the people trying to convince us otherwise who are in desperate need of attention.