Suburban Snapshots

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.