Suburban Snapshots

Good Husbands Deserve Enthusiastic BJs
and Other Things My Mom Shouldn't Read

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. 

Anticipating Kindergarten

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.

Daughters Without Borders

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.