Suburban Snapshots

Hang Outdoor Christmas Lights
in 10 Infuriating Steps

Monday, December 05, 2016

I just this minute dismounted our twenty-foot ladder for the jillionth time during the process of stringing Christmas lights across our one-story house. There's only one peak that I need that tall ladder to reach, so naturally I had to climb it repeatedly. I'd like to share my experience with you, because while it serves as a cautionary tale it's more than that — you'll want to read it while you're getting sauced later, once you, too have come down off the ledge.

1. Find the ladder. Sure, it's big, but you have a basement, shed and garage. Try not to call your husband to ask because goddammit you are an independent woman. Carry the ladder to the front of your house without knocking into any walls, hitting any cats, or gouging anyone's car. Have an epiphany about people who do Crossfit.

2. Level and extend the ladder. Now is when you realize that there isn't one square foot of level turf in your entire yard. You'll declare victory when both safety feet are flat on the ground until you notice the ladder's leaning dangerously to the right, like so many of your relatives' Facebook posts lately.

3. Say four Hail Marys and climb. Scaling the rungs gets easier the more you have to do it, which will be at least thirty times. Extension ladders are super bouncy and you'll develop a new fear and respect for the pointy, wrought iron gate your neighbors installed for its "curb appeal." Go slowly and try to recall everything you napped through in tenth-grade physics.

4.  Stand back and admire your first strand. Who's badass now? You are. Look at those lights; they're perfectly spaced, better hung than Jon Hamm and just waiting to be plugged in. Totally worth the wobbly knees and neighbors who heard your prayers now spreading rumors that you're a practicing exorcist.

5. Notice that you've put the plug-end on the wrong side. Now you're working f-bombs into your deities' names because how many extension cords is it going to take to plug those in clear on the other side of the garage? Drink and/or begin your downward emotional spiral.

6. Find all of your extension cords. Because there is no f*cking way you're re-stringing those motherf*ckers. J*sus F*cking Chr*st.

7. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH HAS ARRIVED. Okay Clark, this is it, and if you recognize that classic movie reference then you know exactly how this is going to go. I'm so, so sorry.

8. Refer to step 1. 

9. Climb your quivering thighs back down the ladder. Use your aching shoulders to gingerly put it back in its storage place. Plug those ungrateful a-holes back in and laugh like a maniac on the front lawn. Go back indoors and indulge in your vice of choice.

10. Demand adequate praise and appreciation from all family members. But don't reveal what a struggle it was because remember, you are an independent badass. It's okay to let your kids read your delight in their simple, innocent joy, not knowing how many times you almost died for them today.

Happy holidays, everyone.

A note from the token family liberal

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It's always interesting for me to see posts from conservative relatives generalizing us liberals in ways that are totally inaccurate and also leave the impression that they've never actually met us. I thought it might be helpful ahead of what are sure to be some difficult Thanksgiving dinners to clarify a few things about us lefties, so that at least when those loved ones return to Facebook on Monday, they'll be able to rant more accurately about us.

Okay look, I don't even like Priuses. Yes, I recycle and compost. I shop at the farmers' market and buy local meat because I want to support my region's economy and agriculture, but I drive a crossover and my husband's in a pick up. It's maybe the only one in town that doesn't have an NRA sticker on it, but we're cool with that. Anyway, we're holding out for a Tesla.

No, we didn't think Hillary was an immaculate candidate (some of us are still feeling the Bern), but we also weren't "voting with our vaginas" or choosing the "lesser of two evils." I did my research and read reporting from an array of media sources, saw the woman speak in person, and then made my choice. To solidify my decision I followed the president-elect on Twitter for like, seven minutes.

We come from police and military families, and we love, respect and appreciate those men and women. So while we can be outraged by the treatment of Black Americans or DAPL protesters, we can be equally horrified and saddened by the murders of police officers. We can be in awe of the sacrifices our troops are called to make and supportive of the demonstration of rights they're sent to defend.

Most of us aren't on state or federal assistance (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's touted as fact that liberals are all on the dole, able to show up for primaries or iPhone releases because none of us work for a living. For the sake of accuracy, I have four jobs. My friends all have jobs. My lefty husband has a job with union security that helped bring us out of a pretty tough spot. Short of finally hitting that Powerball number, we both plan to work as long as we're able.

We don't believe that every man is a bad guy. For the most part, we were raised with help from some really good-hearted men, we've married them, we've birthed them. But lots of us have stories of not-good guys, or guys who'd consider themselves part of the good ones who by ignorance or entitlement truly weren't. There are millions of stories, from gropes on subways to forceful first dates, and these can't be dismissed and they can't all be coincidences. Part of building up good men is acknowledging the underside of what our society values in masculinity, recognizing where it's affected our men and deliberately teaching what's right.

We are not orchestrating a war on Christmas.  Conservatives love to portray us as pushovers until this time of year, when suddenly we're war mongers with our sights set on Baby Jesus. This house celebrates Christmas and we have plenty of friends who don't. You'll get a "Happy Holidays" from me, because Christmas isn't the only December game in town (and because I have too much shopping to get done to spend my time being mad at a Starbucks cup).

There is no gay agenda. So okay there totally is, but it's not the one hardcore conservatives want you to fear and trust me, you want in on it because it is awesome.

Tomorrow and after that, please remember that you know and love a "libtard." I hope this guide will help you engage more thoughtfully during thousand-comment Obama rage sessions, or maybe just make your Thanksgiving dinner a little more peaceful.

Just let me be furious today

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

There's a rule in writing, that you should let emotions settle before taking to your desk. But today my brain is spewing expletives and I don't have the composure to wait them out. Everything feels urgent. My arms are jittery and my shoulders ache, my eyes want to sleep but my legs want to kick, and my fingers want to pound out a tirade to purge the fury in my chest.

Maybe it's a good idea to stay off of social media, but I work alone except for two dogs whose inability to read or understand English I envy today and nearly always. I'm scrolling Facebook for reassurance and commiseration, I'm looking for the words of people I respect who've managed to find cooler heads in this burning calamity, and if I can't find hope there at least I can find community.

And look, I'm a fine person. I normally sleep well. I'm a giver. When I engage I try to do so thoughtfully. When I contradict someone I try to acknowledge that they perhaps come from different experiences than I do. I belong to one of the most scrutinized and judged populations in America — the Modern Parent — and it's taught me to have a little more empathy and less reflexive criticism. Today I'm not in the mood. And all over television and my laptop and my phone people are telling me to bring it in, that now more than ever we need compassion, understanding, we need to work hard to unearth the deeper reasons why there's now a man in charge of our country who represents all the worst -isms. Today there are people whose faces I don't want to look at and whose opinions I'm suffocating under. There's something that feels like an unending wrongness surging, and a sentiment that we need this transfer of power to happen peacefully, that it's up to the rejected, dismissed, the quieter people to see that through.

I'm sick to fucking death of being quiet. Today I have a list of fuck-yous long enough to wind its way through every red state and back again, and it's rivaled only by my list of heartbreaks over the injustices played out in this outcome. Anyone who claims to want "change" and then elects someone guaranteed to set LGBT, women's rights and racial relations back decades is on the list. Those who put orange shirts on their kids for Bully Awareness Week and then put an orange bully directly into the oval office is on it. You, who've benefited from government healthcare and social services and then voted yesterday to dismantle them, maybe eventually I'll feel a little bad for you, but today is not that day.

I hear the message of unity and somewhere under this crushing disillusion I know it's the right path. I'll get back to the hard, hard work of extending empathy not only to people who feel like I do, but to those who are the most opposite of me, the ones who just sent their own daughters the message that the notion of equality is still just a marketing ploy.

Today though, I have to use all my energy to help my own daughter believe that this country is hopeful, that there's reason to have faith in a future where she can accomplish whatever she wants, love whomever she wants, dress the way she prefers, be considered an equal and a contender, and I have to do all of that in a crisis of not really believing it myself.

So please do spread those good words, lift people up, give us faith in the future, just don't expect me to join you today.

So, Your Kid Found Some Internet Porn

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

I'm at the school playground watching Anna run barefoot up a green, plastic slide. Two little girls squeal and pull her in by the wrists each time she reaches the top. Next to the play structure, a maybe-5th-grade boy is throwing clouds of wood chips at a girl who's probably his age but already looks three grades older and I think, That's him. That's the boy who's going to yell something about blow jobs during recess and trigger a dinnertime flurry of awkward conversations all across town.

Look, I know it's going to happen, whether it's this kid or some other one — amazingly it was neither Steve nor me but a girl in her 1st grade class who taught Anna the F-word — and I already feel like I'm behind in starting any of the bigger talks with her. She knows about periods and that babies typically exit vaginas, she knows that she has half the material to make a human already inside her body, that one day she'll have hair in all the most inconvenient places, she knows that she is the boss of her own body, that boys have penises and can pee standing up, and she knows that teenagers really like to kiss. It's this last part that started the trouble, because two of Anna's favorite subjects are teenagers and pranks.

It was after a night spent with family — the adults in one room and the seven- and eight-year-olds in another — when I received a series of texts that began with: "Anna and Ella were watching PORN!" Apparently they'd been using an unrestricted adult iPad to search the web for "kissing pranks." If you aren't familiar with Rule 34, now you know. Rule 34 was on and popping in this scenario.

The iPad's owner flipped it open to read a bit before bed and saw what was definitely not an age-appropriate video left up on the screen; I want to interject here my hope that our children are always this inept at covering their tracks. I didn't ask for graphic details and so Steve and I were forced to proceed not knowing exactly what Anna had watched. Would I have to give her The Talk: Director's Cut Featuring Commentary By Gloria Steinem, or just The Talk: I'm Not Mad But That Was Super Inappropriate? If you find yourself in a similar situation with your child, I recommend knowing more than we did going in. I couldn't really ask our witness without giving her the vapors, so I had to start with the culprit.

"Hey kiddo, listen. I'm not mad, not even a little, and I want you to know that you can talk to me and ask me any questions you can think of, okay? So, I heard you and Ella were watching some pretty inappropriate videos and..."[dramatic faceplant between sofa cushions and a now-muffled insistence that she told Ella to stop, she didn't even want to watch those stupid kissing pranks. I believe her about 20 percent.] Anna again says she has no questions, so I tell her that if she knew the videos weren't for kids, she should have told an adult. I add that if she wants to write questions down and leave notes for me, that's fine too. So far it's been a note-free week, and Anna's back to using only her own, restricted devices.

And that's what I did when my kid maybe watched porn. Since then, I've polled friends and crowdsourced to see where we're all at with The Talk, and it seems like I'm pretty on track. I've gotten two book recommendations from folks for when it's time to bring further mechanics into the conversation, which I anticipate will be sometime soonish. If you want to postpone this situation or at least mitigate the risk, here's a post listing all the ways Anna's devices are locked down.

Godspeed, parents.

Any One of Us Could Be the Cincinnati Zoo Mom

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Update: here's a first-hand account of the incident.

There was a group of us at the zoo one afternoon a few summers ago—Anna, at least 3 of her cousins, plus something like 5 adults. We said our goodbyes when a couple of friends opted to go drink away the loud, crowded park, and as I pulled out of a quick hug, Anna was gone from her seat in our wagon. She wasn't anywhere among the tanned, summer legs of our group, wasn't watching the ferris wheel a few feet away, she wasn't even up the path eyeballing the cotton candy vendor. My eyes darted in every direction, unsure which way my body should move. After an eternal few minutes or so, we found her standing at a hunting game, flanked by bigger kids shooting water at decoys. At home, drinks were had.

When I was little we lived in a high-rise on a military island off the tip of Manhattan. My mom wasn't feeling well one afternoon and had sent me alone down the elevator to the building's courtyard playground, where she kept an eye on me from the window of our apartment. On my ride back up, I exited at the wrong floor and wandered into a stranger's unit. She helped me find my way to the place I actually lived. I swear I have a memory of first seeing her stove and realizing it wasn't the same color as the one in our kitchen. In the story I am 3 or 4 and my mom aged 5 years.

There's a legend in my husband's family as well, though some of the smaller details are contested depending on who's doing the telling. During a vacation to the Jersey Shore ("down the Shore," he corrects me), Steve, his 3 siblings, a few cousins, both parents and some combination of aunts and uncles walked from their hotel to the beach, except that Steve decided he wanted to watch television instead, so he peeled off from the group and headed back to their room. In this story he's either 4 or 6, but the ensuing chaos remains pretty consistent. Eventually they found him and decided to let him live.

Just last week a friend of mine posted the story of her own slippery toddler, when, at a park, she had turned to comfort her tantruming middle child and in the midst of this fully-engaged, hardcore parenting, her 2-year-old wandered clear across the grass and sat himself in the middle of a baseball game. He was not awarded the MVP.

Anna didn't slip into the alligator pen, Steve wasn't snatched by a pedophile or riptide, I was safely returned to my mother, and my friend's toddler wasn't beaned with a foul ball. None of that happened because of probability and plain, dumb luck.

It seems though, that people forget these kinds of stories when they end in tragedy, and especially when they happen to strangers. A gorilla in Cincinnati had to be killed yesterday when a 4-year-old slipped from his parents and wandered into the animal's enclosure. Tranquilizers were not an option. The internet lashed out hard and fast at the boy's parents, going on just enough detail to condemn them, and a willful forgetting of any personal experience that would remind them how easily kids evade even the most attentive guardians, how you don't instinctively know which direction to move when your child has suddenly vanished from your side. Many drew a hard line, feeling for the gorilla only, as though compassion were that one-dimensional. Others touted their decades of flawless parenting, having themselves never experienced the cold panic of losing sight of a child—or maybe they've just forgotten, like we do with labor. Once in a restaurant a couple stopped to let me know that their children had never behaved the way mine was in public at that moment; I believe they were experiencing the same kind of selective parental memory.

I don't know the particular psychology behind what happens on internet comment threads, or the personal psychology that causes me to continue to read them, but my guess is that we soothe ourselves, trying to believe that we'd have avoided the tragic scenario because we're simply better parents. Our kids are safer, we're more attentive/smarter/vigilant than the parents we've just read about. We smugly type away, satisfied in our righteousness, then switch off. We hurl condemnation at people we know nothing about beyond 300 or so words, staunch in our sanctimony, ignoring completely what kind of horror it must have been to see their child in that kind of peril, refusing to feel it ourselves. We trade empathy for torches and pitchforks because those tools are easier to carry.

The loss of Harambe is tragic and heartbreaking, it's prompted new debates over the purpose of captivity. The gorilla was killed to save the life of a curious little boy who'd wandered away from his parents during a trip to the zoo, the way children wander away from their parents at amusement parks and beaches and playgrounds. If you have a child, you know this to be true; if you were a child, you've done it. But in our outrage over the loss of that majestic, endangered animal, we have to be careful to hold onto our humanity.

What I Need Men to Understand Before My Daughter Is Grown

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Men, I have to confess that I've been getting really upset with you lately. It mostly happens on the internet but sometimes even in my own home. I get especially mad when you get mad at me for being mad. You follow? But even as I mutter terrible things about you under my breath and resist posting retorts after reading yet another comment on some item about Trump or Kesha or Susan Sarandon's breasts, I understand that you can't understand where my anger comes from. You haven't been taught. You've lived as men your entire lives! I know you have your own struggles; you get mixed messages on whether or not housework is manly, you're under the impression that sending dick pics is the key to a woman's heart, your workouts are suddenly military-themed. It's weird out there for you, I see it.

Your mom may have never pulled you aside to give you the talk about what life is like for her. Your mom's life was probably really good, she was full of love and felt loved, she poured her energy into seeing you through, even puberty. But she didn't tell you some stuff, and it might have helped you to hear it. I'm going to tell you my stuff. These are some of the things I remember from the 42-years I've walked this planet with a lower half full of ovaries and folds. These are things that for most of my life I accepted as part of being a girl, "just how it goes." Daily things, seemingly small things, tiny events in an overall really good life.

I had my body critiqued and commented on by everyone from my grandfather to bullies in every grade. The first time I walked past a group of men on a New York City street who applauded my rear-end instead of mocking it, I felt truly grateful. I was thrilled that in the world outside of teenage suburban boys were men who liked the way I was built. They catcalled me for an entire block. The last time this happened, a carload of men shouted at me from open windows as I walked down the street with my husband. It was last summer, and I asked Steve to stop in a coffee shop until the car was no longer driving next to us in slow traffic. I'm older and I know better than to be grateful for it now.

In high school my best friend's boyfriend would relentlessly lift up my skirt, no matter where we were. I laughed it off, I hated him. Another boy would jab his fingers into the crotch of my clothing when he'd walk behind me up the school stairs. I started timing my pace to avoid him.

There was the guy in college my roommate wanted to hook me up with, who dove on top of me as soon as she'd left the room. I don't think he would have hurt me but I was uncomfortable, and grateful that my roommate forgot her keys and came back through the door a few minutes later.

Twice I saw two different men parked on a popular walking route to the high school, masturbating as they watched us go by in packs. Over the three years I rode the train to work I'd see many more men fondling themselves, including one whose rhythm I felt on my lower back for a second until I realized what was happening and exited the train three stops early.

Out shopping with my sister on a busy Saturday, a man in a large, black pick up stopped us to ask for directions. My sister helpfully offered them up, but I noticed that he was naked from the waist down and pulled her away.

There was the time I was out for a walk in broad daylight, in a "safe" suburb, and was followed by a man who landed an aggressive handful of my rear-end. And there was after that, when I showered and went to the police, and the officer reprimanded me for not walking in immediately after the assault. I'd just wanted to get home.

Last week I sat at a bar in a restaurant waiting for a girlfriend. The man to my left was alone, busy on his phone, and the older man to his left was staring at me. After a minute the older man said to the younger, "Hey! Since you're here alone tonight you should fuck her!" and gestured my way. I pretended not to notice, then beat myself up for staying quiet.

Those are just the ones that stand out in my memory. What I'm getting at is that women being angry isn't new, there's not some trend in man-hating that's a result of Obama or Beyoncé or Facebook. Some of us are just tired of being confused, ashamed, and non-confrontational. We're frustrated by ignorance. We have faith in you, we love you, and it's hard to see you get it so wrong sometimes.

We have lifetimes of these experiences and worse, much worse, and we've made lives for ourselves including and in spite of those events. You may bristle at the term "rape culture" as much as I'm irked by 8-year-old athletes being called "studs," but it's not a condemnation of you personally. You want to understand, you think you're pretty evolved and it offends you when someone insinuates otherwise.

I think you're getting there, and I need you to keep working at it. See, I'm on a deadline. I've got a daughter to send out into this world.