Suburban Snapshots

Parenting Ad Hoc

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I rolled out of bed a luxurious half hour after my family one weekday morning, hearing Steve making his tea and packing leftovers for lunch, the sound of his heavy work boots tromping over the voice of the weather man announcing probably more snow. By the time I made it down the hall to the living room, Steve was in the bathroom and Anna was alone on the couch. The weather report had ended, and the news anchors were breathlessly recounting the latest fire/school shooting/drug-fueled crime spree. I could see she wasn't fully paying attention, but she'd recently been asking a lot of questions about fire and I didn't need a sensationalized news report getting her any more anxious.

When Steve came back into the room I asked if he could be more mindful of what's on the television when the 5-year-old is present, and he muttered something like "Not a big deal" or "The real world" or something, and I refrained from kicking him in the tender, post-vasectomy testicles.

This is ad hoc parenting. These are the things you didn't think to talk about when you were deciding on education and religion, corporal punishment, circumcision, disposable vs. cloth, and savings accounts. If you thought agreeing on your baby's name was a struggle, wait until you realize that you and your partner have completely different views on your toddler's eating habits.

In our house, Steve is very strict around dinner time: Sit, use a fork, napkin, no hugging during meal times, clean your plate. My philosophy is sit, put food into your body until you don't want any more, but don't think two rigatoni are going to get you dessert. I let her hug me and listen for Steve's heavy sigh, then I joke about him being raised in a Russian orphanage.

On the other hand, I want that kid in bed at 7:30, and Steve is very flexible about bedtime. Stories usually creep past the 8:00 mark while I bide time waiting for my adult company to return to the couch.

You don't sit down and hash out these parenting decisions, you make them on the fly and sometimes resign yourself to your partner's methods because you know this is a shared responsibility and ultimately you trust their parenting. Mostly. On occasion, you'll mutter, "She's not going to go soft because I let her hug me at dinner."

The only way to prepare for this is to know that you can't prepare for it. You'll find yourself in it, living it, arguing about it, and then finally coming to some kind of agreement, even if it's tenuous one. It's a compromise, just like every other part of sharing your life and space with other people.

I know sometimes it's hard for Steve to let go of his tendencies and submit to my parenting style and I might never understand some of the battles he picks. The important thing is that we give each other the trust and respect to make decisions independently of each other. Based on how the five-year-old is turning out, I think so far we're doing all right.

A Letter to My Husband on the
Approach of Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hi Honey,

Listen, I'm with you on this being a fabricated holiday. I get it. But I'm still sitting here shoving pencils through paper hearts for Anna to bring to school because apparently candy is now as big a faux pas as store-bought cards. These make her happy and her little friends will enjoy sword fighting with the pencils until they lose circle time privileges.

I knew you weren't a romantic when I met you and babe, I'm a cynic too. Hallmark can spare me the soulmates line and the meant-to-be business. I was twenty-five and crazy about you, and you were like, "Cool," and our match was made. I knew you'd grow to love me.

I do have a point, and I'm very slowly getting there.

You always take care of me, so even though I can count on one finger the times you've surprised me with wine and cheese after a bad day at whatever crappy job I had in 2002, the fact that you work so hard to improve our lives — the way you do the laundry without being asked, that you never complain when I leave you with Anna for hours, or how you lift all the heavy stuff so I don't have to — trumps your deficit of sentimentality. I joked about the garbage disposal you installed for my birthday but I really do appreciate it and I'm sorry for being such a brat about that new car.

The generator you got me for Christmas was great too and I'm thisclose to learning how to turn it on without blowing up the electrical panel you spent so long meticulously wiring. You do all of this because you're a good man, practical to your very marrow. I've learned that hard work is the currency of your affection.

So when I ask if you want to "do something" for Valentine's Day, you should know me well enough to understand that I am not hoping for some contrived overture that includes waxy drug store chocolate and a hot tub date scene out of "The Bachelor". What I'm saying is that I'd like you to sometimes ignore all your sensible tendencies and get a little corny just because it'll make me happy. It's like Anna's been singing non-stop for two months now: Let it go.

Once a year I want a back rub that isn't a segue. I'd like you to spoon me to sleep with both your hands above the equator. I want you to be the one to call in the reservation then agree to be my designated driver and not balk at the two thirteen-dollar drinks it'll take to get me into the passenger seat. I want your hand on my knee while you drive even though your callouses snag my tights. There must be a view around here we could go enjoy, and when I suggest it I'd like you to not joke about how I won't be able to see anything anyway with my head in your crotch.

Actually that's pretty funny, you can keep that in play.

Honey, let's just be dumb for each other this Valentine's Day and if it'll make you feel better, I'll let you tile the shower on Saturday.


The Love That Keeps You Married

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

I love my husband this week. This week, I look across the room at him and think, "How long can I safely assume Anna would stay glued to that iPad right now?" This week I want to tell his bosses what a dedicated employee he is and tell Anna to stop saying that she loves me better because I let her have hot cocoa after school. I want to make his favorite dinner even though it's so packed with fat that I can't go near it. I'll tell him I'm proud of his work, that he's a great dad and husband, that sometimes when I joke about my friends wanting to get in his pants I'm kind of serious and maybe a little concerned. This week he's getting more random hugs, less sarcasm, and lots of appreciation.

1997. Strictly roommates.

Last week I wanted to beat him with the pillow he hugs to sleep and which inevitably ends up making its way onto my face when he lets go of it in the middle of the night. He couldn't say a thing that didn't annoy me, he was full of sarcasm and tone, he'd been sick and stressed and brought all of it into the house after work. All I could see were the piles of crap he makes on every surface in the house and the pile of dishes he ignored before work. His coughing annoyed me, the tissues everywhere annoyed me, the way he spoke to Anna led me a few times to break the cardinal parenting rule of not contradicting your partner in earshot of your children.

Steve is much more steady in things like this than I am. He doesn't get annoyed like I do. I don't consider myself moody, but I might walk around tense and aggravated and bottled up, I keep it in especially when I know I'm being unfair. Usually my first indication that he's stressed or tired is that he stops trying to grope me every six seconds. And even when I'm such an irrepressible rag that I don't want to hang out with myself, he wants me around. Two weeks ago when I couldn't stand the sight of his wet boots tipped over at the back door, I thought about taking off to my mom's for the day, just for some space, just to miss him again.

And I would miss him, I'd call an hour later and apologize for being so crabby, because as much as I know I'm right about his tone and how heinous it is of him to pile crumpled receipts on his dresser, I also know precisely when I'm overreacting or letting some deep-seated resentment create an uncalled for defensiveness in my reactions. Usually this happens when we talk about money -- like when Steve so much as innocently asks, "Do you know how much you spent on stuff this week?" and I freak out about feeling lorded over despite the fact that to date we have not had to relocate to my station wagon.

The thing is, none of this is even a blip in our state of the union. I know these episodes will cycle over and over, that there will always be times I can't get close enough to him and times when an entire state doesn't seem big enough for us both. Yet I feel like these are exactly the things the uninitiated will point to as a rut or an incompatibility, those people who believe that love is a balm for everything, and that "real love" doesn't struggle. Heading into our 10th anniversary and our 15th year together, I'm less naive. Real love's got this on lock. Real love keeps this in perspective and doesn't anticipate bliss in every moment.

A friend's grandfather told her, "The love that gets you married isn't the same love that keeps you married." But no one's going to dance to that at their wedding reception.