Suburban Snapshots

Another View From the World of
the Suburban Mom

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I just replied to a text from a friend inviting me over for dinner because she knows my kid didn't sleep last night, ended up in my bed, and kept me awake for four hours. Another was checking in because I also kept said child home from school "sick" when I was too exhausted to fight off her whines and pleading this morning. "Is Anna feeling okay?" As a matter of fact, she's fine. I'm about to fall face-first into my own lap and am currently debating whether I should have a cup of tea and risk ruining tonight's sleep for the sake of being coherent when my husband walks through the door in half an hour.

Unlike the author of the discouraging article about suburban motherhood and friendships I just finished reading, I didn't move to the suburbs after we started our family. I moved to the suburbs when my husband dragged me here after he'd grown tired of dealing with Boston traffic and the college students surrounding our condo who regularly used our car as an extension of the sidewalk. Our daughter was a belated and unexpected housewarming gift.

At first I was just a woman looking for friendship. I was freelancing and drove to gigs in Boston almost weekly and I'd squeeze in lunch or coffee with friends. Our neighborhood then was populated mostly by retirees — wonderful people who welcomed us and then went about home improvements and visits from the grandkids. The people our age seemed to all have babies or were expecting. I visited my sister in Maine a lot.

Once Anna arrived I set about finding friends like it was my job. There was a local moms group that I joined, screwed up the time of my first meeting, showed up as everyone else was leaving, and then accidentally flung my sucked-out shrimp tail down a member's cleavage when I finally did make it to a dinner event a few weeks later. I felt neither unwelcome nor a sense of instant camaraderie. I took it for what it was: a group of moms who were somewhat familiar with one another, who had a decent amount of disposable income, and happened to live in the same geographic region. I went in knowing that just like love, real friendships tend to just kind of happen. At 34 I knew what I wanted in a friend and I knew I'd be incredibly lucky to find it at what amounted to a mom dating event.

That night we had a private room and a guided beer tasting. I got the shrimp throwing out of the way early to break the ice and had lovely conversations with the women seated nearest. It was enough for me to get a feel for the community and I left with an idea of which of the moms were most my type. A month later my dues lapsed and I didn't attend any more nights out.

Ultimately, it wasn't the moms group where I made the very real friendships I am so grateful to have now. It was offering an acquaintance a ride to the repair shop, it was posting some maternity clothes on Freecycle, it was volunteering to help with the neighborhood block party and accepting an impromptu invitation to a lesbian dance club. There was no formal admission to an established group or monthly dues or even solid plans.

Making friends is as much about you as it is about the people you seek out. You decide how invested you want to be and how hard you want to chase it, you cultivate the type of friends you need and avoid the ones you don't, you decide whether or not having someone to grab coffee with is worth navigating cliquey, political bullshit. Maybe it's a difference in location or median income, but I either haven't encountered the kinds of cliques the Boston Magazine article is based on, or maybe I've been too busy making friends to notice.

Enough Already With Elsa

Monday, March 24, 2014

I have a vague memory of the Christmas that my sister got a Cabbage Patch Kid when we other two girls didn't. I don't think I wanted one, but had a notion that people were going batshit crazy for the things and that my aunt had visited both an ancient oracle and a witch doctor just to find out which Toys R Us would have them in stock on a given Tuesday.

Every year I watch people on Black Friday cram themselves through sliding doors to pummel each other toward high-def televisions in the true spirit of the season. I'd smugly snicker with everyone else at lines wrapped around Apple stores for whichever shiny, new gadget I'd end up buying three months later.

My sanctimony was as thick as the smell of people who've spent three nights on the sidewalk outside Best Buy.

And then Frozen happened, and the request for a Frozen-themed birthday party, and while it's established that I'm pretty laid back in my parenting style, it's also understood that I lose my fucking mind over birthdays (I actually enjoy this temporary insanity, it's one of the few times a year my husband just rolls his eyes and shuts his mouth while I spend money on coordinating piƱatas and cake plates).

And oh, Anna wants to dress up as Elsa. That's irony, Alanis.

Now, when I say I'm crazy about birthdays, please don't mistake me for the level of crazy that would throw down $250 for a Disney-licensed Elsa dress on eBay, where people who stalk Target's loading docks to intercept new shipments cash in on the tears of a million little girls. No, I'm crazy but I have principles, dammit.

I bought her a $40 pageant dress that I'll staple some shimmery scrap of fabric to. My cousin is braiding a blond wig she wore as Lady Gaga for Halloween and shipping that with a pair of sparkly flats. I ordered the cake to save time, and I'll hang our Christmas lights over the appetizer table for ambiance. Her guest list is limited to family — my sister birthed a child army so I'd never have to invite the whole kindergarten class to a party.

It's the gift that's bringing my crazy to the tipping point. All she's asked for is this dinky little $6 figurine, but like all things Elsa, it's nowhere to be found. I've been ducking into Targets, running through Toys R Us and braved two separate Walmarts on a Saturday. I group-texted friends to be on the lookout, and I'm considering setting up a hunting blind at the...I've said too much.

It's less crazy if you know it's crazy, right? RIGHT?

She may or may not get the doll, but she'll have her party and I'll eat my leftover cake for breakfast and everyone will be happy except my husband, who will remind me for the eleven-billionth time that all he ever had as a kid was "some ice cream cake and a song." Then I'll eat his cake too, and that's not a euphemism.

My Smugness Comes From Years of Experience

Thursday, March 06, 2014

One day back in my happily childless twenties, I visited my favorite produce market on a Saturday when the place was so crowded I popped three tomatoes just trying to shimmy down an aisle. I passed a woman with a full grocery cart and two elementary-aged kids and thought, "God, why would she bring them here on a Saturday?" A minute later, her little girl tried to ride the cart and tipped the whole contraption, distributing melons and imported dates across three aisles.

Waiting in the fancy cheese line, I stood patiently as the man in front of me held his daughter up so that she could sample several varieties of cheddar, and wondered, "Does this asshole realize there are six people behind him? Can't he culture this kid on a quiet Tuesday?"

Today I watched a conversation on a friend's Facebook page where several moms tried explaining to one twenty-something woman why we bring our children, you know, out in public, like, ever, and later in the thread, why we choose to have children at all.

Maybe you've noticed that lately the Internet has been pretty harsh toward us parents. We can't do right on planes, in restaurants, museums, we complain too much, we don't enjoy it enough. Our kids are either monsters or milksops, spoiled rotten or thoroughly neglected. Apparently we weren't being judgmental enough of each other, so anonymous strangers have risen to the occasion.

It's not hard to be smug. If I really wanted to, I could give it back and better — I've been a childless twenty-something. I've lived in cities, shared public transportation with strollers, eaten next to fussy babies. I didn't want to have kids, but I managed to make my decision without basing it on some superficial opinion of people I read about on the Internet. I was able to conclude that maybe parenthood wasn't my bag for well-thought-out reasons, not because one time a kid threw a tantrum next to me in Starbucks.

The childfree who take such satisfaction in the wholesale dismissal of parenthood have zero idea what it is to have a kid — no stop, don't even argue. Please. Periodendofstory. I don't say this to people when they wonder why anyone who'd complain about spending Saturday night contracting Black Plague at Chuck E. Cheese's ever reproduced in the first place. I don't wag my knowing finger and tsk, "Oh, you'll see, honey. Around the same time you realize how silly those enormous glasses make you look and stop with the pioneer beard, you'll see what an amazing gift children are. You'll understand that for every shitty, dry birthday party where all they serve is Walmart cupcakes and boxes of Hi-C, there are a million sparkling bursts of joy." That would just be condescending.

No, I'm content to keep that piece of satisfaction to myself and instead diplomatically explain that I really do enjoy bringing my five-year-old to the grocery store, because she loves the free slice of cheese at the deli and she can read all of the cereal boxes now, which is incredible. I remember my twenty-five-year-old self and I know I'd have had little understanding of this. When I was in my twenties, a co-worker lost her three-year-old to a genetic disorder. I knew intellectually that it was tragic and that she was heartbroken, but it's only now that I can comprehend the depths of her devastation and marvel that she ever returned to our office.

I don't think I'm any better than those who haven't yet or who've decided to never reproduce — some of my favorite people are gleefully unencumbered by offspring — and I don't evangelize for breeding. I also don't bother myself with concerns over what people half my age do with their lives, and I won't condemn an entire demographic based on random public interactions or some poorly composed viral headline.

Maybe I'm singing a tune that's only familiar to my contemporaries, but what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?