Suburban Snapshots

Tips for Parents Whose Kids are Getting Devices This Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kids on devices: can't live with 'em, can't get a goddamn thing done without 'em. I am a technophile, I love social media, I love digital everything, I love communicating online almost as much as in person, and I didn't go to the mall once to shop for Christmas. My Internet experiences have been largely positive; I've made some true, wonderful friendships and learned really valuable things on the Web, all of which more than make up for the comments I've gotten on YouTube. I mean for real, YouTube commenters. Damn.

It's true that the Internet can be a scary place to let your kids loose, so I'm not even suggesting that a little bit. What I am hoping though, is that parents give their kids enough freedom to become smarter than we are, because technology is definitely going to evolve beyond what we can keep up with, and I want our kids to be right there with it. Someone's going to have to show us how to configure our Twitstasnaptimebook brain implants in 2045. Our children will eventually outsmart us in every way when it comes to electronics. I live online and still know this to be true.

If you've decided to connect your child to one of these magical voodoo instruments, here are some Apple-centric tips from a mom who's been employing the touch-screen babysitter for a few years.

Your Child's First iPad: Technical Parental Controls
  • We chose to set Anna's iPad up with its own email address under the Family Sharing controls. When we had her signed up using one of our iCloud addresses, she wasn't able to message or FaceTime us. The texts I get from her are usually a highlight of my day. If you choose to use an existing iCloud address or Apple user ID, your device will receive your child's interactions, which you may prefer (this is how Gwen discovered Gavin's romps with the nanny).
  • Choose an address that is generic enough to not reveal a child's age, name, gender, or location.
  • Don't tell your child what his or her address is, so you maintain control over who has it (I realize this will only work for a limited time because kids are crafty af.)
  • A reader suggested not telling your child what his or her iTunes password is. Anna knows hers because with Family Sharing, all downloads require permission from us. We get an iPhone notification telling us what she's requesting and locking her out until we approve or reject.
  • Allow only as much contact with the outside world as you're comfortable with. Anna doesn't have an Internet browser like Google Chrome, because that lets her navigate to unfiltered YouTube. She doesn't have the messaging app Kik either. YouTube Kids is about as off-leash as we go.
Your Child's First iPad: Actual Parental Guidance
  • GET A GOOD CASE. Totally unsponsored, this one has worked miracles. The one downside is that the stand only works horizontally.
  • Talk to your kids about what they shouldn't share across social media. The 4th grade girls mistakenly messaging Anna revealed a ton of personal information even after we replied telling them they had the wrong address.
  • Make a list with your child of approved contacts, then add them yourself to the address book.
  • Teach your kid a little etiquette, because we've ended far too many FaceTime conversations with "YOU DON'T JUST HANG UP ON GRANDMA WHEN YOU GET BORED."
  • Check at least daily the iMessage, FaceTime, and any other social app you've allowed your child to download.
  • We let Anna to use headphones as long as we're in glancing distance. She doesn't have access to adult content, but there are plenty of useless unboxing and haul videos that teach kids all the wrong lessons. There are also lots of really creative users, cooking shows and DIY tips she loves.
  • Set your rules for time allowed, or install an app to do it for you. I found this one, but don't use it. I prefer to repeat myself 500 times until I finally confiscate the whole gd thing.
If your kid is getting a device for Christmas, I hope this will help you be more at peace with it. It's our job as parents to expose them to the world beyond their tiny little selfish brains, and thankfully there are code developers who have our backs. If you have more tips please leave them in comments here or on the Facebook post. 

Sugar and Spice and Puppydog Tails

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

We decided against learning the sex of our baby at my first ultrasound. Our families let out a collective groan and we all waited for what I not secretly hoped would be the arrival of a daughter.

When Anna was born, my sister nearly burst an artery when I said we weren't interested in a pink deluge. Stereotypes aside, I'm just really more of a neutrals girl. Steve and I graciously accepted all hand-me-downs and Anna wore almost everything. Whatever required ironing stayed folded deep within a drawer, because that kind of thing doesn't belong in homes without staff.

Anna spared us a princess phase, except Elsa, which was intense and lasted almost a year despite my insistence that Anna was the real star. We didn't hide her from the princesses, and if you've ever tried to do this you'd quickly realize the futility. Their domination is thorough and unavoidable. She preferred "Yo Gabba Gabba" for a while, then switched to "My Little Pony." I was leery of her love for "Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse" but the schlond poofa jokes won me over.

Lately she's been asking me to buy her camouflage clothes "if you see some at Goodwill in the boys section." She's taken to wearing a wolf print tee-shirt the nurse gave her after one especially spectacular lunch spill and is obsessed with Michael Jackson. Her very best friend is Olivia, and the boy she's liked since last year still makes the after-school recap every single day. We ran into him and his family one Saturday and Anna reported that she got "really sweaty" when he spotted her. The language of her first crush is hilariously unfiltered.

In June she asked to cut her hair short. It was in the middle of little league and her first team experience. She and a set of twin boys would sit in the dugout spitting sunflower seeds far and wide, mostly onto their shirts. The part of her personality that's loud and rough found companions in them, as did the part of her that's better at climbing fences than playing baseball.

It's been interesting in this latest stage. I watch people trying to work out "what" she is, their eyes looking for the familiar cue, something to safely settle on like a pink shoe or pair of earrings. We get a lot of, "What can I get you, buddy?" and none of us mind, though sometimes I try to avoid the whole exchange by preemptively dropping a pronoun. Anna will correct other kids, including a couple of mean-girl run ins this summer. Already with the mean girls.

I realize that in reverse—if I had a son who preferred skirts—this post might be more angst-ridden. A girl who's more comfortable in camo cargo pants generally gets a pass, but what of parents whose sons love polka-dotted tights? That's a post for someone with more experience than I have. What's happening here is relatively uncomplicated as far as we and society at large are concerned, at least in this part of the world. We mostly follow her lead, the only time I've interjected was one afternoon when she announced that "Boys are just cooler than girls." I'll let her grow a beard but I won't have her thinking that girls are anything less-than.

I'm proud of her for going her own little way so soon. I hope I can help her hold onto the confidence she has now, which I was totally lacking through pretty much my entire school experience, and I give credit to the parents of all the friends who continue to love her however she is, however many days in a row she wears her pilfered wolf shirt, no matter who she plays with at recess.

The Summer We Lost

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Well folks, it's been weeks since I've written anything substantial. That's partly because we've had a full (I'm not going to say busy because busy is apparently a bad word now) summer, and partly because when something significant happens like my dog dies or my Nana dies or my other dog dies, I need to acknowledge those events before getting back to business as usual. I guess it's a good thing I waited, because three depressing posts in a row might be more than some of us could handle. Instead I'll compile this grief montage, throbbing 80s ballad not included.

It's never an easy thing to decide to put a dog down. I hate to say it's something we've gotten "better" at, but we have experience. You have to find the unique formula that balances your emotions, compassion, finances, and empathy. Four years ago, when our dog Bert grew a bone tumor that eventually led to blindness and pain, we knew we weren't going to put him through surgery that would dismantle much of his face or through the long recovery. We knew we couldn't front the thousands of dollars for the MRIs and procedures he'd require, and that there would still be a chance the growth would return. Bert was only six and wiggling like a puppy when we brought him in for his last appointment. God that sucked.

A photo posted by Brenna Jennings (@suburbansnapshots) on

We adopted Henry in 2004, already a handsome three-year-old and having fathered dozens of equally attractive pet store dachshunds. We were child-free with disposable income, so when he herniated a disk months later, we spent about $5,000 to bring him back to health. I learned to express his bladder while Steve would "walk" him outside our city condo, bent over to support Henry's back end. But 11 years later with another paralyzing injury, an estimate of $2,500 just for the diagnostic MRI and now a 14-year-old dog, surgery wasn't an option. We carried Henry in, sad but sure in our decision, and held him as he quietly went still. Then he peed all over Steve.

I'm going to awkwardly shim my Nana into this post because chronologically, this is where we lost her. There's no way I could fit all that she was and how much she meant into a paragraph, everyone should have so many stories. Nana always wore a suit, ready for church at any moment. She was born again, and so warm that I'd be confused when I'd meet the kind of born again you're thinking of each time I say "born again." She lost more children in her lifetime than even my highly-productive sister has birthed, and raised seven to adulthood. She was Italian but my uncle once joked that "Nana got a microwave so she can burn dinner in seconds." She was full of humor and faith, and I'll always think of her not just as a woman but as a force. Nana will always be around, just a prayer away. I still don't have my beliefs sorted out, but I know Nana's here. I guess that's a start.

It was a week after I heard from my sister's best friend via text that Nana was gone when Mauser started limping. We hoped it was a strain but two trips to the vet and continual worsening told my gut otherwise. We'd jokingly called him "The Temp," having adopted him at age 11 or 12, knowing we wouldn't put him through interventions at his decline. Mauser belonged to one of the children Nana lost, my Aunt Mair, had been well-loved, and had made his way to us. We recognized his first day here that he was too big and too hairy for this house, and that he would spend the balance of his life here anyway. Maui and I walked Anna to and from school every day. He learned that routine within a week and nudged me each morning and afternoon. He followed me everywhere to the point that I'd almost step on him getting out of the shower or find him on the front lawn, having squeezed his 86 pounds out of the terrier-sized doggie door to trail me to a neighbor's. I'm still finding his hair everywhere and wonder if there's enough DNA left in it to clone him.

Summer though, on balance, has been really nice. Sunny days, local adventures, far-flung visitors, many cocktails, weekend trips, we've enjoyed it all. Anna might remember this one as The Summer Mommy Cried Like Ten Times, or maybe she'll remember going to the water park with her cousins, the beach with her dad, swimming in a thousand pools, tasting her first lobster or moving into her new bedroom. My own summer memories are full of poolside Cheetos binges, bathing-suited bike rides and Tom & Jerry marathons. Maybe summertime makes the losing a little easier. 

My Wooden Spoons Are For Sauce

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Get it through your head!"

It was the last sentence I heard my sister utter before watching my mom leap from her Volvo and up the stairs of our split ranch so quickly she seemed to teleport. This was the morning of Mom's Last Straw. My sister flung the crutches she'd been leaning on as she stood in the driveway, arguing at our mother who was trying to leave for work. She galloped desperately into the house where she tells me (because I remained safely in the driveway) Mom caught her on the couch and landed a sharp slap on her thigh.

It took a lot to get my mom this mad. She rarely cursed, didn't drink, and yelled sparingly, which frankly is a miracle if what I remember of my sisters' and my childhood is accurate. You didn't want to upset Mom not because she'd get angry and gesture for the wooden spoon (which never actually closed the deal), but because it took so much to upset her that if you got her there, you had undoubtedly been a complete asshole and you knew it. I didn't fear my mother, but I hated getting her upset.

There were other adults then who weren't as restrained. I never knew what might set them off—sometimes it was a rowdy mud fight, sometimes back talk, once it was because I didn't respond to a question about onions quickly enough, or the time my sister and I collapsed into giggles during dinner. I remember the lingering burn of that fear. It didn't make me feel strong, it made me want to run. I rarely had concern for the way my actions might affect these people like I did with my mom. I just didn't want them mad, period.

I don't believe that being hit or the threat of it made me tough, brave or conscientious. It may have made me more empathetic, better at putting myself in the shoes of people who hurt, but I have to believe that those good attributes can be modeled in a less menacing way. I know they can be.

Maybe if we spanked Anna regularly I'd only have to ask her once to clean her room. Maybe she'd eat more dinner or argue less often. But I have other tools available, I deliver consequences and try so hard to have patience. I'm grateful that I don't often yell because when I do raise my voice it lands hard. She still responds to my count of three by number two, she still reacts when I threaten to revoke her tablet/playdate/dessert because she knows we follow through.

Maybe sometimes you just have. had. it. It's been a horrible day and your kids have been relentless punks—well, we all have a frayed end to our ropes. It's happened here, not even including the time I slapped a tiny infant Anna on the forehead when she gnashed down on my nipple. I get frustration. I get running out of patience. I get How many goddamned times to I have to tell her not to cross without looking dear lord HOW MANY?

What I don't get is discipline by fear. I know she'll change and our struggles with her will constantly evolve. I know it's going to be harder to adapt to some phases than to others. I know that I don't know now how hard that will be. I'll certainly lose my patience, I'll say things and wish I could take them back, I'll want to slap her. I hope I'll have the restraint not to.

We're raising Anna just like any parent raises any kid, flailing around trying to figure it all out. What I'm sure of though, is that not all of our own lessons need to be handed down.

Three Home Hacks for Lazy People

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I'm not particularly crafty, but when I am it's out of pure laziness. I come up with hacks that make things more convenient so that I can spend my time farting around on Facebook or ogling my husband while he folds the five loads of laundry I let mold over on the basement floor. I've read a lot of hack lists and usually I think, "Hey that's so clever! I'll never fucking do that."

Still, there are things I've been doing without realizing their hackishness until now. Here are three of them.

My house is small and tends to get stinky really fast. In summer the dishwasher smells like a crypt, our two dogs smell like six, and opening the under-sink cabinet to throw something away requires EPA clearance. My friend Dina helped me solve that last one with this tip:

1. If you have to toss a potentially stinky item days before trash pick up, put it in the freezer until garbage day. Here's a touching photo of some chicken parts stored safely and odorlessly until the men in safety yellow roll up in what my husband tells me is called a packer, and not a "maggot mobile."

2. When we moved into this house we didn't have a child, so only our pristine rear-ends ever touched the dining room chairs. Once the dining room became a "multi-purpose" eating-slash-artspace, the upholstery went straight to hell. I wandered into the local fabric store hoping to find something new and cute to re-cover the chairs when a ray of light shone down from the heavens and enlightened me to the miracle that is raincoat fabric. My friend Amy and I stapled this on in about an hour. I love the design and I can clean it with a sponge. It's as practical as my Aunt Fran's plastic-covered sofas but less thigh-sticky. Two thumbs up even when a bowl of Spaghetti-Os goes down.

3. I don't remember how I was first turned onto natural peanut butter, but I'm a convert. Blended varieties just don't have the same peanut flavor, though their creaminess still can't be beat. I stirred and sloshed for years before learning this simple little trick: Store your natural, oily peanut butter upside down in the fridge. Gravity or whatever causes the oil to float away from the lid so when you open it, no stirring! No sloshing peanut juice all over your shoes. It's still not smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy, but it's hella tasty.

I probably won't have my own show on HGTV anytime soon, but maybe some of you will find one or two of these useful. At the very least you have to admit that the raincoat fabric business is the tits.

The Upside of Catastrophe

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I remember when I was pregnant, my godmother was dying of pancreatic cancer and I thought, this is life now. Not that life would always be untimely death and anxiety, but in my stress over becoming surprise-pregnant and for the first time in my life witnessing at close range the process of dying, I realized that yes, growing up, moving out, heartache and success are all parts of life, but the big things, those are the shape of it.

I'll be 42 this September. In those decades I have met many, many people. It's true what they say about everyone having a story, and what I've learned from the friends and acquaintances who've crossed my path is abundant. For all the obvious reasons I can't be glad my loved ones have struggled, but I've been bettered by their triumphs and catastrophes, and I hope that counts for something.

To my dear friend with M.S. — you live every day with independence. You don't feel brave or especially inspirational, but I think you are amazing. (For the record, this is the only time I've ever referred to you as "my friend with M.S.")

My co-worker, caring for her husband after his traumatic brain injury — I have learned so much from you about the realities caregiving and recovery. Your honesty gives a person like me a clearer path toward understanding your world.

All of the single and coupled gay humans in my life — there has never been a time when I've questioned your equality, and I celebrate with you every victory toward recognizing your humanity.

For Sarah — I know you had terrible days and that I mostly saw you on the better ones. I sat with you just for a precious few minutes during what would be your last one. None of it was fair, but you made me less afraid. There was so much love in that room. You are written on my heart.

The woman who posts to Facebook about her motorcycle rides, her crushes, her nights out and her arduous chemo treatments — you also make me less afraid. You are life going on.

For my friend fighting lymphoma who shares the funniest and most sincere updates — you remind me that humor is alive in struggle. I have a good feeling about you.

(So much fucking cancer.)

I have many friends managing their children's emotional, intellectual and physical needs — your likes on my silly observations remind me that despite all you've adapted to, we are all parenting together. Thank you for keeping it real.

The lost children crush me, and I've met so many grieving parents these past few years — thank you for showing me how to be a friend through the uncertainty of grief. Thank you for sharing your intensity with me. Thank you for continuing to give when you have already given too much.

There are so many of you — the recovering and struggling addicts, the leavers and the left, the people with pasts, the ones with secrets. Sometimes I've easily empathized with you, sometimes I've had to question myself to understand you, always I have learned from you.

We are the sum of our relationships and experiences, and surely we are the sum of the experiences of our relations. I've been taught by your trials and lessons and I am a better person for our collective adversity. What you remind me of every day though, is that each of us is so much more than our struggle.

I Tried an Internet Fitness Program
and I Think I'm Broken Now

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Disclaimer: I adore the women who sold me on this program. This post isn't about the program itself, but about my current incompatibility with its workout plan. If you need to leave angry comments, please refrain from calling me fat.

I'm writing from a very crabby place today. Eventually this crabbiness will subside and might even turn into something like accomplishment or contentment. Right now I'll be happy if it just turns into me being able to use my goddamned legs again.

I'm a hypocrite and a liar. I go back and forth from feeling great in my own skin to being angry at the vanishing of my hip bones to content buying bigger jeans to cursing the meat on my thighs that moves even after I've stopped. Last week was a frustrated week. I was unhappy with myself, though I'd spent weeks being absolutely delighted by the food I ate joyfully and without remorse. As it will, everything caught up and my lovely lady lumps grew and multiplied, and I got sick of it. In a fury I ordered one of those diet and exercise programs some of your friends are surely selling (hint: it rhymes with Everyone Say Dicks) because I needed structure, I needed charts and rules and a support group and a visual cue sitting on my counter reminding me to DROP THE CHEEZE ITS, FATTY.

I've got the eating part of this down pretty well. I've successfully lost weight and maintained most of it for five years. I know what's good for you and what isn't, I understand moderation, I know what a portion looks like, and I know that if I stop keeping track of all my trips from the desk to the cabinet for a handful of pretzels I'll accidentally eat a day's worth of calories in snacks before my shower. I'm totally cool with having to check a box or fill a container before stuffing my face. Keeps me off the Goldfish.

On Monday I optimistically popped in the first workout, which starts with a nice warm up, some jumping jacks to remind you just how much noise flesh can make when it's in motion, then launches immediately into this heinous, crippling exercise which basically involves lowering yourself to kneeling one leg at a time and getting back up over and over while holding weights above your head and trying not to vomit down your sports bra.

Fuck. That. Noise.

Look, I'm all for feeling a little burn, a little sore, it reminds me that for a few minutes I wasn't sitting at my desk talking to people inside the computer. But when I tell you that today, 48 full hours later I still cannot lower myself to pee without bracing on the toilet seat like it's a goddamned pommel horse I am not even exaggerating a little. On the plus side, my shoulders are going to be so shredded. This morning I walked my dog, forgetting about the part where I'd have to bend over and clean up after him. I prayed as I covered my hand with an old grocery bag that I wouldn't land tits-first in a fresh pile of shit. It took me twenty minutes, but I can still self righteously chastise people who leave turds all over my neighborhood, thank you very much. Later I tossed a can to my recycle bin and missed. I sobbed in the driveway as it taunted me from below. What have I ever done besides love you, garbanzo beans? I thought we had something.

During the video, the fit, energetic coach promises that she'll get you the body you want if you just stick with her. Girls, this is not the body I want. The body I want can get into its underwear from a standing position. The body I want can get up from the couch without squealing. I had that body three short days ago. My husband still thinks we had the best sex ever the other night because I couldn't bear to tell him that my howls were from sheer agony. I'm pretty sure I caught our neighbor giving him The Nod yesterday.

I definitely need to be more active. I want to stop realizing at noon that I haven't used my feet since nine. I'm just not a person who wants to PUSH THROUGH THE BURN. Give me a little ache, some feeling of accomplishment, evidence that my muscles haven't atrophied, but I am not made for this intensity. There's no level of ripped that's worth the degree of hobbled I'm experiencing—I went to get the mail yesterday and considered camping on my front lawn rather than gracelessly hoisting myself back up the three front steps. This is some bullshit.

Lots of people love this stuff and I applaud their dedication to utter misery. They'll be the ones at the beach who don't jiggle, who walk into a store, grab their size and confidently bypass the dressing rooms. If there's ever a zombie apocalypse that requires a lot of squatting combat, I'll be crouched behind a line of them. But for me, once this program ends, I'll be taking afternoon hikes or biking around my neighborhood. For today, I'm just hoping my dog doesn't need to take a crap during his next walk.

Five Steps to Preparing Your Child for the Real World

Friday, June 05, 2015

*This is satire

There were two posts on totally different topics I shared this week, though similar themes came up in comments. The first was a letter I wrote to our local paper calling out some women who turned a lighthearted piece about the senior prom into a free-for-all judgment volley. The second was my post suggesting that parents don't need to yell at little boys who cry in the dugout. What I saw in a few replies on both subjects was this:

The kids should get used to it, this is how it goes in the real world. 

A photo posted by Brenna Jennings (@suburbansnapshots) on

Advice from the Internet is always on-point, and I plan to apply this parenting credo as I strive to raise a child who is truly prepared for the "real world."

1. For starters, I'm going to make Anna get a job. In the real world, no one lets you live in their home and eat their food for free unless you're rich, famous, or incredibly buff, so she needs to show me some serious talent, a hardcore workout regimen or an advanced aptitude for managing hedge funds, otherwise she's hitting the pavement.

2. Then in a few months, I'm going to announce that we're selling the house and she's got to find somewhere else to live. This happens in the real world ALL THE TIME and I don't want her to be crying into a dirty futon on the sidewalk twelve years down the road when she's evicted from some off-campus hovel.

3. I'm going to use her social security number to open a bunch of credit cards and buy twenty HDTVs at Walmart plus a subscription to online fetish porn. In the real world, identity theft happens to millions of people. It would be a disservice if I didn't expose her to its ins and outs now; I'm giving her the jump on navigating phone menu labyrinths and interminable hold times because I care.

4. When I get home from grocery shopping I'm going to back over the dog. Let's get the searing pain of loss taken care of early, with no sugar-coating. None of this "Fido went to live on a farm" business, she needs to be prepared for the steep toll of grief. I'm not totally heartless though so I'll back over the one she likes least.

5. One Sunday, I plan to leave the house and break up with her via text from the fro-yo store, "ur nice but I got2 bounce." I'll message her sporadically as the months drag on asking "we cool?" and "thinking of u." She needs to understand that life is full of people who won't appreciate her or have the decency to treat her with respect. It's probably best if the lesson comes from the person she trusts most in the world and not from some little dipshit in the 8th grade cafeteria.

There will be a substantial decrease in hugs, compliments, and encouragement, because that shit's for coddlers. If your boss hugs you on the regular you probably need a good attorney. I'll replace phrases like, "You'll be okay, kiddo" with "Suck it up," and I should probably put an end to whatever childhood myths she's still holding onto—if she loses a tooth at her new job she can't just start going on and on about the intricacies of her Tooth Fairy trap.

It's been a really educational week for me, and I owe it all to the Internet.

The Truth About My Only Child

Friday, May 29, 2015

You may have some ideas about only children. Maybe you've said or thought or overheard generalizations about them, maybe you believe what you hear. Maybe you have an only child and cannot take one more insinuation that your personal reproductive choices have already put her at a disadvantage. Maybe you are an only child, surprised to find that you're neither maladjusted nor lonely, wondering whether you're an anomaly.

I'm not an only child, but I'm raising one. I want to tell you all about her.

My only child is smart, she's funny, she makes friends easily and loves unabashedly. She has so much empathy that sometimes I worry about her navigating this world. She sits calmly at restaurants and pays attention in class. She thanks the server and misses her teacher on weekends. She snuggles in the morning and sometimes still calls for us at night. She does chores (sometimes) and toasts her own waffles. She makes appetizers for company and gifts for the mailman. She spent her birthday money on necklaces for three best friends. She lives for playdates and shares all of her toys. She congratulates her teammates and the opposing players after a game. She gets ahead of me on her scooter but checks over her shoulder to be sure I'm nearby. She once won an award at school for stopping to help a boy she didn't know. She does all of this because she's seven years old, not because she's an only child.

Sometimes my only child talks back, she clowns in class enough to be disciplined, she gets into arguments with her best friends and can be greedy about sharing my time. Her bedroom is usually a mess and often she will stomp down the hall when asked to clean it. She rails against bath time and vegetables and helmets. She forgets her manners and five minutes of not getting her way can color the rest of a perfect afternoon. She exaggerates bellyaches to get sent home by the school nurse. She cries when she feels left out at recess. She has to be told over and over to brush her teeth or turn off her iPad. She won't stop trying to diaper the dogs. She has perfected the exasperated teenage eyeroll and constantly interrupts me when I'm working. She does all of this because she's seven years old, not because she's an only child.

My only child allows me to be available for my friends and their kids. She's the reason I can pick up an extra classmate or two after school or foster five puppies for two weeks. Because of my only child I can be flexible with changes of plans and playdates that run long. I pack lunch for an only child in the morning and can cook for the teacher appreciation luncheon that afternoon. I have an only child and can bring along an extra when the "family pack" inevitably consists of four tickets. My calendar is full of one child's worth of sports and events, leaving our families' calendars mostly free of recorder concerts. Raising one child allows me enough time to help teach the ten more who show up at my Daisy troop meetings. I do all of this because I love my people, and because I have an only child.

I'll gladly tell anyone who asks why I only have one: It's because I planned on having none. I tell them because she is a story of joy I could not have anticipated, because I'm not ashamed to have made choices and then made room for change. We're a family of three because that's our decision.

If you must criticize, leave it with me. My only child knows that she is as happy, loved, and capable as any of her friends, and only those who don't know her would speculate otherwise.

Our family is complete, and we have an only child.

If You Have a Face, This Giveaway is for You

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I've told you guys how many weird, random, and ill-fitting pitches I get for stuff from companies who want me to then pitch to you right? I turn down four or five "offers" a week from folks with products that have nothing to do with you, or who want me to review something but offer you all nothing. So I was prepared to open the email from Simple Beauty Minerals and give 'em the old "Thanks but no thanks," but not only had they taken the time to learn about this blog and you all, they're a sweet little family company making mostly-organic products, they don't Photoshop their models AND they support at-risk dogs! Exclamation point! Oh, and they agreed to give me something to test plus a second to give away.

I warned Lisa that I'm a girl who wears make up roughly three times a month (lazy) and that I only stopped using the concealer I bought for my 2004 wedding about two years ago. She didn't flinch, and helped me pick out the starter kit to work with for this giveaway. I've used mineral make up before and liked it, but I didn't have as many dents in my face back then and I wasn't convinced it would sit right or cover what I need covered on this 41-year-old mug.

I actually had TWO occasions to pretty up last week and I used the kit from Simple Beauty Minerals both nights, plus my own drugstore eyeliner and the pink and green mascara everyone loves. It really did cover my eyebags, the mole I hate, and the sunspot on my cheek. You know the rest: didn't feel heavy and gross, didn't wear off, didn't crumble into my cocktail. Sorry about the crappy "No one ever takes pictures of the mom" before-and-after.

If you like small, women-owned businesses and helping dogs, enter to win a starter kit of your own by leaving a comment back on Facebook. If you don't already like my page, that'd be nice but not required. I'll choose the winner at random on 5/28 at 9am ET.

If you hate free stuff, you can buy your own damned make up at this 20% off link.

Where We Feel Loved

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Dada, can you help me put this slide together?" Steve had just walked in from work, barely taken off his boots and was making a beeline for Anna's new bedroom, where trim was waiting to be fastened to the walls.

"Kiddo, do you want a toy slide or do you want me to finish your new bedroom this week?" I suggested that maybe she just wanted a couple minutes of his time before he disappeared into the back of the house as he's been doing after work for the past few weeks. He'd argue that she's so attached to me she barely notices his absence, I'd imply that maybe assembling the Barbie slide would help.

Steve and I have had this conversation often. His side is that he wants her to be self sufficient, or that he doesn't understand why I wait for him to go into the kitchen before asking for a glass of water. It drives him crazy still that I ask to taste his meal when we eat out. He's practical and disciplined, and I've spent sixteen years explaining that sometimes when people ask for a favor or a bite or help opening a jar, they just want to feel a little loved, taken care of.

"But how hard is it to get off the couch and pour yourself a glass of water?"
He misses the point.

"I want her to be able to do things for herself."
Usually she does. Sometimes she just wants Daddy.

The line I use on him when we get on the topic is that not everything needs to be a lesson. She's learning all the time, she's learning by watching what we do. I spend days feeling like not a word I say registers on her synapses and then she'll wander into my room to help me fold clothes or ask to set the table, she makes appetizers for guests and draws cheer-up cards for her friends. I think she has a solid foundation but like any kid, she needs almost constant reminders. She is capable of tying her shoes, brushing her hair, walking to bed, but sometimes she needs to watch our hands make a tighter knot, unsnare a tangle, or carry her to her bedroom. I wish he'd relent more often, but it's a struggle to convince him that she won't be calling us from college to double-knot her sneakers if we help her sometimes at age seven.

I know that Steve thinks I'm a good mom, but I'm also aware that he feels very much like the heavy. He doesn't witness our mornings, when it's all I can do to not exhaust my monthly reserve of yells to get her to M-O-V-E. I don't think he considers it the same kind of discipline when, over the course of our walk to school, I remind her to stay to the side and watch for cars, or when we're at a crowded grocery store on Sunday and I direct her to look out for other people. My lessons aren't as structured as his and maybe less obvious, and my affection is more blatant. He sees the learning during baseball practices, in using restaurant manners, in tying shoes and cleaning up. He tells her when he's proud and when he knows she can try harder.

He takes his work as a father very seriously: to raise her into a capable, compassionate, motivated person. And he's not all business—he's definitely the funner bedtime parent, more likely to let her pile tons of garbage on top of her frozen yogurt, more willing to drop what he's doing to go for a bike ride or spend an hour at Y family swim, he's the reason she climbed to the top of the jungle gym before she turned three and she'll still share the couch with him for a Sunday nap.

I get on him when I think he's being too overbearing and he lets me know when he thinks I'm coddling her. He parents in the way that makes sense to him, and I want to be sure that she understands where his love is.

I also want him to understand where she feels loved. He doesn't need to cater to her, or to be always nuzzling her, I don't expect him to spoon feed her or leap at her beck and call, but sometimes tie her shoes, sometimes bring her a snack, sometimes carry her just because she's tired. I remind him: she's just a little girl, and just for the moment.

We give love in the ways we've received it. Part of loving someone, though, has to be giving love in the way they understand. It's one thing to recognize that you're loved, to appreciate being loved, it's another to feel it. We all want to feel it.

Bleacher Parents

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I stood leaning against the dugout fence for five minutes before saying, "Well, I'm going to get my grocery shopping done while I have the time to myself."

"That was my plan too, but I just enjoy this so much."

Our little league team mom had three kids at practice, at least one of whom I think was actually able to catch and throw the ball. Her kids have done other sports, she listed them off: soccer, karate, a third and maybe fourth I don't remember. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching them play.

I know it's not even really the season yet. The kids are just starting to practice and the age spread on our team is anywhere from 6 to 9 years old. Anna's one of the youngest and after spending the past several months trapped indoors by snowbergs, not the most practiced. Steve and I suffered through cold, windy t-ball practices and games last year watching one kid bat while the other eight made dirt angels. Anna's a strong hitter with the attention span of a summer gnat.

We signed her up for little league because Steve loved it as a kid. I knew he'd been waiting for her to age-in, so when try-outs were announced I sent our registration fee, plus three proofs of residence and her original birth certificate. We'd like her to enjoy sports  but short of that, at least enjoy being in fresh air. It wasn't until she was signed up that we were swept into the seriousness of it all—practice three times a week (both weekend days), compulsory announcing and concession duties, and since I helped talk Steve into managing her team, hours of research spent on practice drills and studying the team roster and regulations, coaching clinics and parent meetings. I don't know if this is normal but I know it's our life until June.

I maintain that Anna performs better when I'm out of sight. She doesn't stop short to make goofy faces at me (literally, she does this at swim lessons and sinks every time) or gesture wildly until I figure out that she's trying to get me to notice her nail polish. I will be at most of her games and some of her practices because I love my kid, but I don't love baseball.

My exposure to sports has been by vicinity—an office a few doors from Fenway Park, a condo between Boston College and Boston University, a professional basketball team at my college gym. I never had to look up a score, I just counted how many times my floor shook. That's how I spectate my sports.

Already bleacher parents at practice are engaged, giving their kids direction, watching each toss and catch, "Hands higher, Marcus!" "Get under it, Sofie!" I'm standing there hoping Anna doesn't get beaned in any permanent teeth by a baseball that she awkwardly misses, that she won't be the bench warmer, that she'll actually enjoy herself. I want to have the confidence these other parents seem to have in their kids, but I'm kind of half-assing that too. I think my daughter is funny and smart and sometimes even athletic, but she's Bambi on ice. She has the legs of a runner, and I anticipate one day they'll take her eyebrows-first into a track hurdle. Maybe she just has to grow into her limbs.

As the season begins I'm sure I'll get more invested, I'll cheer from the bleachers and I'll try to soothe Steve when he stresses over managerial duties. I'll cheerfully work the concession stand and chat with parents who wear team jerseys and don't wish they'd thought to put a nip in their tumblers, and I'll be glad to be outside again.

Until then, you'll find me grocery shopping during practice.

I'm No Physicist But I Enjoy Time and Space

Monday, March 09, 2015

As soon as my husband said, "We're going to Grandma and Grandpa's on Sunday" I had my whole day planned. Without my tiny entourage I'd grocery shop, I'd clean the house and it would stay clean for longer than forty-three seconds, I'd finally wash the bedsheets, and when I was done, I'd buy a coffee and browse somewhere, anywhere. I'd browse so hard.

Anna and I spent Saturday in Boston visiting a college friend in town on business. First though, I sat for an hour at a splurgy high-end salon and waited for her to lose interest in her iPad. She lasted about twenty minutes before wandering over to my hairdresser's chair, standing just a little too far into the aisle, blocking traffic and pillaging the candy bowl. There was nothing bad about her behavior, but there was nothing relaxing about my appointment, either. We walked to meet my girlfriend for lunch, and though I love taking Anna to bigger cities, I don't love trying to keep her safe and out of other pedestrians' paths over and over. I want her to learn these skills, I just don't know when I'll have it in me to patiently teach her. She's been testing my patience a lot lately.

We ate lunch at a deli-slash-market, and though the candy displays, soda fridges, handmade jewelry and dessert case were on our side of the shop, she insisted on meandering out of sight toward towering shelves of wine and beer. I (mostly) stayed seated, calling her back between bites and sentences. She ordered a seven-dollar smoothie from which she sipped about four cents. Lesley and I managed to catch up for a little over an hour and my reuben was on point. On the way home I stopped to see another friend and his toddler. My almost-seven-year-old undid every child safety lock and gate, and made sure the smaller girl knew about the staircase hidden behind a door in her bedroom. Twice.

I'd have had the same Saturday on my own if Steve didn't have to work every weekend this month. When he's not at work working, he's busy trying to finish the room we're moving Anna into. Even today, the visit with his parents wasn't strictly social — their pipes burst and he wanted to help his dad sort things out. He works. I am grateful. But I didn't have time Saturday alone, and I didn't have time on my own last weekend. I bring Anna almost everywhere I go because Steve needs to get things done on weekends. She loves hanging out with me and for the most part, she's an excellent sidekick.

The prospect of them being away together for at least a few hours on a Sunday filled me with visions of all the amazing things I could do — change the bedding, shop at Trader Joe's instead of the regular grocery store, drop off our overflowing box of Goodwill donations, listen to really, really explicit hip hop — glamorous and extravagant things. So when Steve added an hour before leaving, "This is a family trip" I took a cue from Anna and stomped and pouted and probably cried a little. Steve took a cue from every fed-up 80s mom ever and left without me. I felt guilty until my house was spotless and my bed was fresh, and the sample lady at Trader Joe's had wine and cheese and the kid with the mini-cart ramming into ankles wasn't mine.

Balancing is hard. I can't tell my husband to not work because I need "me time." Or I could, but I'd feel like a jerk being like, "I see you're covered head to toe with insulation and stuff but I really need to get out of here for a few hours." I'm aware that for every minute I just want her away from me there will be a thousand when I'll wish she would be closer. (It's worth noting that the first three-quarters of this entry were written to a soundtrack of "You Are the Meanest Mom You Never Let Me Do Anything!" ©Every Kid Ever)

I don't know if there's a solution. Steve and I are good about talking, but we're mismatched in our needs to be "out." I work from home, I am rarely elsewhere. I don't get to come home from work, and though I anticipate his arrival each day like a puppy at the door, I just as often knock him flat in my rush to get out of the house after eight, twelve, twenty-four hours.

I love hanging out with these people, but I'm better at it when I get time to myself.

Tundra Parenting

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Linds, I would rather spend a hundred bucks a day and be out of the house than spend one more breath telling Anna to put her goddamned skateboard away."

That's what I said to my friend who asked if taking Anna on hotel overnights was getting pricey. I have a limited supply of spending money but I also have a limited supply of sanity, and one is a lot harder to replenish.

The snow itself hasn't bothered me this winter. It's everywhere, it's getting dirty, it won't stop. I hold my breath backing out of the driveway between towering banks. The repercussions of the snow are killing us all. Steve has been at work almost constantly for what feels like a month. I don't camp, but I've learned to keep the home fires burning (literally), I can use the pull-start on the snowblower, and am prepared to cook dinner even under the threat of power outages. I like showing Anna that these things can usually be handled, that Daddy's not the only one who knows his way around the power equipment. I enjoy the camaraderie among neighbors that can only exist under circumstances like the ones we've had—I'll trade you a roof rake for a six-pack and hey, park yourself on my snow couch and have one with me.

As the snow leads to school closures things get more complicated. I still have to work, and the driveway has to get cleared and the fire stoked and dinner cooked, I can't entertain the girl who's standing behind me in pajamas during a video conference smiling at my co-workers, elbow-deep in a bag of Goldfish. Steve can't come home, and when he is home he has to sleep, and when he's not sleeping he has to clear the snow from the roof, build a path through the yard for our dogs, figure out if he can defrost the exhaust fan in the bathroom. He's working hard and I'm working hard and I can't ask him to do more, though the cheese that's burnt on the pan he used to make nachos waits in the sink, threatening to undo me. I'm not a neat freak by any stretch, but I prefer order in confinement.

The messes never end. We are all cooped up; piles of blankets and pillows from middle-of-the-night comings and goings sit on the couch, muddy boots block the back door from opening, sand and splinters leave trails everywhere, dishes linger, recycling overtakes my countertop, Anna entertains herself with anything she can reach, and I can't spend my day reminding her to pick up one before taking out the next just as I can only ask Steve to wash his nacho pan so many times before the sound of my voice gets on my own last nerve. I don't have the stamina to sit through another episode of Liv & Maddie or drag a kid who insists she doesn't need a coat through a crowded grocery store.

We've been given six feet of snow and brutal cold, and only these last few days have seen consistent sunshine. So we escape. Instead of clenching my teeth and sweeping four times a day, we find a cheap hotel with a pool, and Anna and I leave. When I'm not watching her indiscriminately scatter her belongings around the house or badgering her to eat something with an iota of nutrition, when we're bobbing in a hot tub or watching bad cable on a hotel bed, things are just easier. I guess that's obvious. Both of our attitudes improve, the scenery is different, the soap smells nicer, even Goldfish taste better from cups I don't have to wash. Steve misses having us around, but he also needs the space to work on things at home.

This is how we've been getting by lately. I know there are worse circumstances and better parenting. Right now I'm just trying to make it to her April vacation.

Everybody's Got Their Something

Friday, January 30, 2015

When Anna was two I put her down on the sand of a lake and watched her spiral into uncontrollable hysterics trying to collect all the toys at the water's edge and bring them farther into shore. We stayed only a few minutes and I carried her sticky, trembling body back to the car. When she was three and we put her pop-up tent in our yard on a breezy day, we couldn't reassure her that it wouldn't fly away, and the tent found its new home in our living room. At four, she had a fire drill in school and for weeks insisted her bedroom door be closed at night because the fear of her toys going up in flames overtook her fear of the dark. At five, a friend told her that licking a pencil could be fatal, and Anna spent the next several weeks confirming that the crayons, Play Doh and paints she touched each day were safe. At six, I've seen most of these fears fade but there are new ones. There always seem to be new ones: that our dog will get loose and be run over, that I'll leave her alone. If I'm working quietly in another room I'll inevitably hear a timid little, "Mama?" from wherever she is. Just checking.

Anna has her dad's build, his odd, flat toenails and beautiful olive skin. She has my chestnut hair and the profile I love on her but always hated on myself. These are the obvious traits, the ones that strangers notice when we're out together, when grocery store clerks comment on how alike we are, or how she'll be tall like Steve and me. She's outgoing, social, she has two best friends and is always, always begging for playdates. She puts on dances and when we have company, she sets out snacks and "cocktails" and wears her fanciest dress-up. She lives to make people laugh.

And sometimes she's anxious. Steve and I both have tendencies, though he's more practical in his worry, constantly thinking about and creating new home improvement projects, mentally tallying our bills and estimating what's in the checking account. The way Anna worries is all mine—it's irrational and sometimes it's relentless. I've got twenty years of experience dealing with it, taming it, working on it, and she's still so new. I have more patience with it than Steve does, but even still I find myself wanting to beg her, Why can't you just believe me when I tell you it's going to be okay? Why can't you just stop and let ME worry about this? 

Most days are fine; she's happy, fresh, she bounces around singing and asking for snacks she won't eat, and Facetiming her best friends about boys. But sometimes when we're doing something new, going somewhere unusual, she worries about too-dark clouds, smokestacks that look like fires, she doesn't like me to be away from her. This last one started over the summer and it took me far too long to realize the impact of losing Sarah—the mother of one of her best friends, a woman she saw right across the street, every day—had on her. It was an afternoon I felt crappy and she came to my spot on the couch and asked, "Mama, are you sick like Sarah?" She smiled, but I could see that little bit of worry in her.

Her anxiety is helping me understand the ways I have not been kind to myself about my own. I'd never tell her to Stop being so stupid and crazy and pull it together, which is my standard self-coaching speech when my thoughts race into catastrophe. I also understand that there's usually no reassurance that her little brain can't unravel.

Her pediatrician recommended a couple of books for her to read and techniques for us to practice with her. She has worry dolls, and most nights before bed she gets "worry time" though I suspect now this is a stall tactic. We're balancing things, letting her know she's just a regular kid with parents who love her and friends who adore her, trying to play down the role anxiety has in what she's made of, but understanding that it sometimes needs attention from us all.

This is my daughter. None of them are simple creatures, and of course I wish this wasn't her burden. Of course I sometimes feel the burning guilt of owning the bullshit genetics I passed onto her. Of course I hope that she'll grow out of at least parts of it. Of course I'll love her through every day, even the ones when the sky is falling. Of course I'll teach her that she can catch it.

Could You Be Suffering From a Mom Cold?

Monday, January 12, 2015

I called in sick today. It's always tricky business when you work full-time from home, but sometimes I just don't have it in me to respond coherently to emails and sit upright during conference calls. It was a weekend of near constant battles with the first-grader; of being ignored when I asked her to do something and ignored when I asked her not to do something, of not being thanked for brunch with friends or the six-hour playdate that followed. I was exhausted and hoping to fend off whatever my husband's been hacking up like creating specimen bacteria is his job.

So naturally, I cleaned the whole house. I couldn't relax in the mess but things escalated and before I knew it I was folded over on myself behind the toilet. This is a Mom Cold. Scroll to find out if your symptoms could mean you've also suffered from a Mom Cold.

Thanks to Abigail Thompson for use of her perfect photo.

Anna at My Life and Kids

Suzanne at Toulouse & Tonic

Robyn at Hollow Tree Ventures

Andrea at The Underachiever's Guide to Being a Domestic Goddess

Ashley at It's Fitting

Paige at There's More Where That Came From

Kerry at House Talk'n

Jessica at Four Plus an Angel

Ellen at Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms (This mom was the only doctor on call at the time, no infants were harmed in the making of this graphic.)



Love in the Outside World

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

God, love is a mess. Right? You spend your teens wishing you were old enough to really understand it, (or if you're me, hoping to have a shot at it at all, truly unable to imagine a day will come when the person you like actually likes you back. I remember how implausible that seemed and how miraculous when it finally happened. I'm what John Hughes movies are made of.) your twenties having to sort through options that may or may not be or have the potential to become love, your thirties feeling like you finally have it pretty well worked out, and eternity, I think, questioning all of your assumptions.

Two weeks ago I found Anna's diary. Of course I read it, she's six, she lives in my  house, I bought it for her. Dibs. There were several pages filled with detailed drawings of her name, bubble hearts, and the name of a boy she "loves" who I'll call Kai. Amazingly enough, there's not actually a Kai in her grade so one day when she finds this entry she can't accuse me of blowing up her spot. Or maybe one day I'll read this at Anna and "Kai's" wedding, and everyone will laugh, I'll cry into my champagne and then insist she dance with me to a sentimental but upbeat tearjerker. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Prior to finding this diary I had no inkling my daughter even knew about the possibility of boys as anything other than circle-time interrupters and dodge ball villains. She only ever mentioned James because he has to take lots of "breaks" during class, and Ethan, who farts. Suddenly her whole wide heart was there in glitter ink, complete with illustrations of the most innocent and adorable variety and a note about who Kai's crush is. Anna is not Kai's crush, but she's thrilled that it's one of her best friends. You don't consider this a problem when you're six.

Anna spent an hour yesterday on Facetime with another of her best friends, but they don't actually look at each other during their conversations, instead they talk while texting the secrets they know I'll overhear. I'd share a thread with you but first of all, the sweetness might launch candy rainbow unicorns into being and secondly, it would give up this boy's real name. Let's pretend one of those reasons was "I respect my daughter's privacy" because that makes me sound like a better person.

She doesn't talk to me about Kai, and becomes visibly embarrassed when I mention him. Let me restate that she is not yet seven, and also that I am probably way under-qualified to guide her through the next many years of love stories. I'm full of joy and dread at the potential of all of this; last week we spent the morning with my friend and her 3rd grade son, and I found myself hoping as he and Anna played together in her room that she wouldn't decide to have a crush on him and weird everything up between them.

Do I have to try and talk to her about boys? I don't know how to ask without getting a too-sophisticated skeptical glance in return. Is there a pause button on this? It's just, oh there is so much time to be screwed up about love and boys, I guess I just wish she'd give herself a few more years of oblivious ease.

The love she's known until now has been simple and uncomplicated. It's been freely given and received with no entanglements, no consequences, no stipulations. The love she's beginning to enter into is loaded with all of those things plus some, and there are so many years of complicated before the spectacular. Even then, it's still a little complicated, isn't it?