Suburban Snapshots

The Wiener Dog that Ruined My Life

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.

He's still pretty quiet, but he's got two kids now and I can only hope all those nasty baby messes have erased any memory he might still have of the night my dog got into the very wrongest trash.

The Myth of Enjoying Every Moment

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 caf├ęs 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.

If You Need a Favor From Me,
Please Be Very Specific

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.