Suburban Snapshots

Dancing for this Video Counts as My
Cardio for the Week

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.

Because No One Ever Said Parenting Really
Ought to Be Harder

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.

Why We Had Paparazzi on the First Day of School

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.

Hurry Up: The Value of Other People's Time

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.