Why I snuck out alone to a movie matinee (and why I’ll probably do it again)

mockingjayOn Martin Luther King Day, my office was closed, but I didn’t have the day off.

Nonetheless, after putting in my hours at home, I had a couple of hours to spare before I needed to pick up the girls. (It’s amazing what hacking off two 30 minute commutes from your typical day can do.) I bundled up and walked a few blocks, feeling vaguely giddy and guilty at the same time.

Why? Because I was heading to the second-run theater near our house for a holiday matinee screening of “Mockingjay” – something that Joe would probably be interested in seeing, too. But since the last non-animated movie we’d watched together was “The Hundred Foot Journey,” at the same theater sometime last fall, I knew that the chances of our making it to “Mockingjay” before it left were slim to none.

So I grabbed at my opportunity, glad to have it, yet sad to feel like I was committing some kind of betrayal. Continue reading

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How new underpants, a giant stuffed snake and a Tigers announcer can utterly ruin an evening

underpants

Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.

“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”

Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.

Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)

Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.

Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L. Continue reading

Arguing for two (and eventually, three)

Joe and I are celebrating our ninth anniversary today – which makes me remember that when Joe and I first started dating, I quickly learned that for some people, arguing is a sport.

Indeed, Joe would have – or has, I guess, as a litigator – turned pro, so born was he to this calling. I, however, am not cut from the same cloth. Being the classic, diplomatic, peace-keeping middle child, I have always gone to great lengths to avoid confrontation.

Plus, the two of us came from very different families. Nothing was too insignificant to parse, and argue about, at length in Joe’s family. When I was growing up, meanwhile, the only kind of disagreement that happened usually involved tears, slammed doors, and extreme discomfort (on my end, anyway). To my mind, arguing was an absolute last resort. If there was nothing significant to be gained by an argument, I didn’t see the point in engaging in one.

So how were Joe and I ever going to work? It’s a question I asked myself several times early on – especially when, on one occasion, Joe stridently argued a position that I couldn’t believe he actually held. In one moment, my eyes narrowed, and I stopped pounding away at the issue long enough to say, “You’re just arguing this side for fun, aren’t you?”

He was. And as extraordinarily annoyed as I was in that moment, the exchange did finally convince me that arguments about beliefs and issues didn’t have to be painful and wrenching. Look at Joe. He was arguing passionately for something he didn’t even believe. When you experience someone turning that ability on and off at will, you realize that most arguments can simply be an intellectual exercise, not a soul-deflating, emotional fistfight. Continue reading

Confronting the past, in jack-ass form

On a recent spring day, when it was a little too chilly to spend time outdoors comfortably, Joe, Lily, Neve and I headed to a nearby shopping mall to buy a few gifts. Not long into the trip – which involved going up and down escalators several times (escalators are for Lily, as they were for me as a child, a thrilling amusement park ride) – Lily spotted the play area and made a beeline for it. Neve had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided I’d follow Lily while Joe finished his errands with Neve.

I halted Lily at the play area’s entry point, reminding her that she needed to remove her shoes. She asked for my help, so I squatted to pull them off; but in that same moment, I also got that feeling you get when you’re low to the ground and someone moves into your line of vision. I looked up. And when I did, I locked eyes with a man I’d known since he was a not-so-nice young boy in elementary school. He hadn’t lost any of his hair (curses!), but had shaved it down to little more than a shadow; his eyes still had that same condescending, humorless, looking-past-you-to-someone-who-might-matter expression; and in terms of his body, this former football player (of course) looked like he was still in rock solid shape.

The two of us stared at each other a beat or two longer than would complete strangers. I was making absolutely sure he was who I thought he was, and vice versa, while in the same moment, we both made a kind of unspoken pact not to acknowledge each other verbally. Why? We weren’t friends; we weren’t going to be friends; and pretending otherwise achieved nothing. So I finished getting Lily’s shoes off and sent her toward the equipment to play, while I settled into a seat on a nearby bench.

While watching Lily trying to walk along the edge of the play area’s rowboat, as if it were a balance beam, I stole glances at this man and his young son, who kept running to his father to eat a spoonful or two of ice cream from a cup. The man was dressed in dark jeans and a dark shirt that flattered his body, and his boy wore a clean, polished-looking play clothes. I started to spin a tale in my head, wherein this was the man’s only time each week with his son, thanks to a bitter divorce. (Cue it: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…”) But who knows? This storytelling impulse is just something we tend to do when a person who was unkind to us during our childhood has the nerve to age beautifully. Continue reading

“Date Day,” the cure for the (un)common date night?

(Most of this short throw-off was written back in late August, but I just noticed that I hadn’t published it, so I inserted a brief addendum, and here it is.)

Joe gave me a great anniversary gift this year: he arranged for a day off for both of us to spend together; and I’m thinking that this may be a new, bi-monthly solution to our date night difficulties.

As everyone with a child knows, pretty much nothing is as much of a rare, precious, desperately yearned-for resource as time for yourselves. So for my gift, Joe planned to take a Friday off from work during my maternity leave and paid for Neve to spend the day (in the baby room) at the same place where Lily would be in pre-school. Plus, as a bonus, he arranged for his parents to come over and feed Lily dinner, and take care of Neve, while we ate dinner at a restaurant.

So after dropping off the girls, Joe made a lovely, Cheerios-free brunch while we read the newspapers; then we went for a bike ride and attended a matinee screening of the last Harry Potter movie. (We’d hoped to do more outdoors, like canoeing, or going biking at Kensington, but that Friday turned out to be kind of overcast and crummy.) After picking up the girls and spending some time with them, Grandma and Grandpa arrived, so we left for a quiet dinner at Sweet Lorraine’s.

You know. A dinner where we weren’t begging/ordering Lily to focus on dinner and eat, with Joe trying to fork food into his mouth while cradling Neve, who suddenly wants to be held.

We did another “date day” for Joe’s birthday in December, and I plan to ask for another in February, when my birthday comes up. It’s a lovely, occasional respite that we can look forward to.

Mommy’s got something to prove – to whom?

When Lily was a newborn, one of the only things that consistently soothed her was being toted around in a sling – so we walked around town with our “baby in a bag” quite a bit.

On one occasion, a neighbor, after peeking inside the sling to see our then-sleeping new addition, admonished me and Joe to “cherish this time,” because we’d never get it back, and it would all go so fast.

We nodded gravely, but Joe and I exchanged subtle glances that conveyed that we were both mentally circling a pointed finger aside our heads in a “cuckoo” gesture. Was this guy meshugge? Having your sleep constantly and randomly interrupted; being screamed at for long stretches, and feeling absolutely helpless to soothe your child; being shat and spit up upon regularly; and not being able to eat a meal together in peace (let alone eat a meal, or take a shower, when flying solo with the baby) – this was the apex of parenthood? Seriously?

Joe and I shook our heads while walking back to our house, agreeing that, from what we could tell so far, the baby phase was something to be endured rather than “cherished.”

Now, of course, our family lineup has changed, and we have a boundary-pushing 3 year old as well as a newborn in the house. And this long-past, casual conversation with a neighbor has come to have far more resonance for me.

This is partly due, surely, to the fact that Neve is a low-key, sleepy, easily comforted baby, and I’ve enjoyed the baby phase much more the second time around (when the anxiety is generally lower, anyway). But I think the primary reason I’m recalling this exchange lately is because I’m realizing that handling a newborn, despite its challenges, is relatively simple when compared to the self-doubt/guilt/misery spiral involved in disciplining your average, volatile 3 year old, who’s prone to operatic, irrational tirades. Continue reading

Why date nights seem to occur with the frequency of a leap year

Joe and I could only hope to look this put-together when we get out for one of our own rare date nights

My pre-parental views on certain things now feel downright quaint.

For instance, in the months when we were expecting Lily, many of our friends with kids, and the few books I read, recommended shooting for, at minimum, one date night a month.

I scoffed at this. “Well, that should be the easiest goal of all time to attain,” I thought. “I know we’ll be busy, and tired a lot, but please!”

I was so freakin’ adorable. It’s like I want to reach back through time and pinch my own cheeks.

As it happens, Joe and I will have about four hours on our own this Saturday – because we bought tickets to the upcoming Detroit live recording of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” several months ago – and previous to that, I gave Joe tickets (as a Valentine’s gift) to a Monday (not an ideal night), March 7 Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert. So we missed April entirely, and to be frank, we hardly even noticed.

This isn’t because Joe and I wouldn’t like more nights out together, of course. (And contrary to the stereotype, I’m happy to report that when we do get the chance to spend time alone together, our conversation isn’t generally focused on Lily – partly because my partner happens to be a chatty Cathy with a ludicrously broad range of interests that are fun to discuss.) But when scrambling to make arrangements for a night out, so very, very much has to fall into place exactly right. And that’s just something I didn’t fully grasp before I had a child of my own. Continue reading