Suburban Snapshots

The Art of Appreciation

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Possibly the highest item on my list of parenting goals is to not raise an asshole. I know we have years left to work on that, but right now my almost-6-year-old seems to be dabbling in douchebaggery at a reality television level.

Lately it seems like nothing is good enough, fun enough, delicious enough, anything enough. If we spend 5 hours at the McDonald's Playspace — which we won't because while I believe in vaccinations I also understand that bleach on a dirty mop doesn't actually sterilize a fresh trail of vomit — what she'll remember on the drive home is that I didn't get her an ice cream sundae.

Yesterday on our ride to school, one of Anna's best friends gave her a necklace she'd made on that loom everyone got their kids for Christmas and immediately regretted. "Ellie, you didn't use all the colors I like," was the first thing out of her mouth. I wondered whether my mom would have just slammed on the brakes and let the back of her seat hit me in the face or if she'd have slapped me herself.

I had neither a free hand or the ability to stop short for effect since only one of the children in the back seat belonged to me. I wasn't even sure if reprimanding her on the spot was appropriate but I was incensed by her total lack of graciousness. Where is my sweet, thoughtful daughter? Who is that little shit in my back seat? "Anna you tell Ellie that bracelet is a wonderful gift and you thank her for all her hard work right this second," I said with no space between my words or my teeth.

I have a high parental tolerance; I can take whining, sobbing, nagging, I can take little girls arguing over who gets to be Elsa this time or shrieking at invented ghosts. I've lived through colic and poop strikes, weeks of wasted dinners, tantrums in Target, I voluntarily sang fake ethnic songs at a mommy-and-me music class for shit's sake, but I cannot tolerate ingratitude.

This lesson is an important one, and I don't want her to be appreciative only for the sake of the other person or just because I tell her to. Understanding the value of a gesture, the connection created by even the smallest token from one friend to another, beyond even the common decency of appreciation are the bonds we make in giving.

Giving and getting gratitude I think is one of the great joys of interacting with other humans. She must know this, she's forever making cards and little gifts for people with so much care. When I asked her at Christmas to draw something for the mailman she wrote, "I love you because you bring the mail." It was a bit over the top but clearly she's not a sociopath. She can be so thoughtful.

If you do it right, there's equal joy on either side of gratitude. I think sometimes she gets it, but maybe at 5 I'm expecting too much.

I Almost Broke My New Year's Resolution Writing This

Sunday, January 05, 2014

I never officially plan to make a New Year's resolution. When I have, they've not been very original: eat less junk, be kinder, workout more. I think the problem is that I'm not displeased enough. I like me, I'm easily contented.

But sometimes Steve will pass a comment about my face being "buried in your laptop" and those get me, because he doesn't ask for much and I can tell it's something that bothers him. I want him to know that I'm interested in his company and don't want my kindergartner to think that what I'm doing online is more riveting than she is (though honestly the story about how Olivia got to play Mother Mary in the school pageant is like two years old and getting pretty tired). I don't want her to grow up believing that nodding at a screen is an acceptable way to interact with someone in the same room.

The computer is a lot of things for me. Because I work alone at home and desperately miss office banter, it's my water cooler. Because I have friends living in all kinds of time zones with offspring at every stage, it's my long-distance call. It's where I read the news, it's where I do all of my job work and my side work, it's where I have really interesting conversations with friends I've never met. I unwind here and I learn things here every day. I think the web is an amazing, collaborative space. I'm not striving to be hands-free, just to remember what I used to do before my life online (which I'm guessing was watch television and make shitty relationship choices because I was in my 20s).

The Internet is a big part of my routine, and though my house is reasonably tidy, dinner is cooked each night, the cupboards are stocked, child hugged and read to, husband given all those things husbands so enjoy, I am showered and dressed, bills paid, appointments scheduled and pets fed, and I feel productive, I know I can cut back.

So I asked Steve what concrete things I could do to improve this habit of mine. He said what drives him the most nuts is when we're out, I take photos and post them, and he thinks sometimes I'm more focused on making content than on the moment — he rolled his eyes into his brain stem when I joined Instagram. I do think about content, I love putting out stories that people will laugh with or relate to. I explained that and so we compromised — I'll take photos, but not post or check anything otherwise when we're out together. Done.

I also plan to once again institute my after-work blackout policy. I try, from when I finish work until Anna's in bed, to not engage online — no laptop, no phone, no iPad. We don't watch television much at all (we don't have cable because we're cheap, not because we're those insufferable people who have no TVs and tell you ALL ABOUT IT), so in a week you'll be able to see the spick-and-span gleam on my house from space.

We'll see how it goes. The changes are small, but they'll take some willpower. Realistically, I'm not going to cut back on using devices and with my new spare time go and re-tile the bathroom, but if I'm modeling better things for my kid and causing my husband less agita, that'll be enough of an accomplishment for me.

Did you make any resolutions this year?