Sunday, July 26, 2009

If only moving house and home was literal

I know I shouldn't complain about the toils of moving, seeing as how I have not personally schlepped a box from one house to another in more than 15 years, but having done none of the effort and experienced all of the angst, I just feel as if I’ve missed out.

My husband, you see, is an efficient mover. When we moved from our last apartment about a decade ago I came home from work to find only the “essentials” were left for our last night at the first-floor abode: a lonely old futon mattress, a television and a bag of tortilla chips.

My couch and every other stick of furniture in the place was gone.

My husband’s friend had arrived early and they had nothing to do but get to work.

In no time they’d packed all the possessions in the four-room dwelling and driven them the three towns over to our first home.

It was a big deal.

Almost as big as the first Christmas in our new home, during which three generations of family were invited to attend, and who bought our first tree and decorated the room with lights — without me.

But I’m not bitter.

They saved the decorations for me to hang … alone.

Again, not bitter.

This time, however, as we spent the better part of six months renovating a new house and settling into a new venture, I have no excuse beyond denial.

In as much as I liked the new house for all the normalcy it offered — two floors, front porch, bathtubs — I loved the dwelling we were leaving; our barn. My children were born and raised in that house. We buried a beloved dog in its backyard and planted a tree on my first Mother’s Day in the front yard. I had envisioned ribbing them as they tramped through the second-floor apartment with muddy shoes and flaunted unclosed doors: “WHAT! Do you think we live in a BARN?!”

I know it’s for the best: The new house is better sized for our bigger family and also comes with an expansion for my husband’s business; a chance we couldn’t let pass.

But I can’t help but heave heavy sighs as I belatedly start the process of purging the things we don’t need and packing the things we do. There are two piles of everything: Clothes to keep, clothes to donate; papers to file, papers to recycle; trinkets to save, trinkets to sell.

The process takes forever.

Boxes I haven’t touched in years now hold treasures that spark my memory. I can’t believe I saved all these brochures from our honeymoon … Oh, will you look at that … a matchbook from our first date.

I toss them into the bag that’s headed for the dumpster; a bag that’s leaning against a wall with the tell-tale hatch marks of a growing family – pencil dashes with names, ages and dates.

I know soon that wall will soon get a fresh coat of paint, just as surely as I know I’ll probably find a dozen things that were lost over the years when we move the couch.

As I stand there looking at the smudge-covered partition, I know the reason I’m stalling: I’d rather put that wall into the moving truck and leave the couch.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Throwing marriage out with divorce is like throwing baby out with bath

I was all ready to pick up and hurl the first stone as Atlantic Monthly essayist Sandra Tsing Loh metaphorically suggested in her painfully personal work “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in the July/August edition of the journal, wherein she bluntly and unabashedly revealed her part in the failure of her 20-year marriage, and as a result questions whether the institution has outlived its usefulness in modern society.

Her question: When modern convenience and modern technology has not only freed us from the drudgery of work but also the statistical likelihood of an early demise, would it not seem logical that the idea of making a life-long commitment to another human being would also be rendered obsolete?

Recounting her own mid-life crisis and those of her female acquaintances she wonders why anyone would not only commit themselves to something that has a statistical rate of failure of about 50 percent, but also defend such an institution with such a defective track record so vehemently.

Perhaps, it's just habit; a foolish consistency of little minds. Or perhaps it's something else.

I found the piece, oddly enough, when I noticed my Web site’s hit counter leading hapless readers to my site and an identically titled essay critiquing another piece Tsing Loh wrote for the Atlantic a few years ago on the so-called Mommy Wars.

As I read her latest treatise, my heart was telling me that she is a woman who is going through one of the more painful, demoralizing, defeating moments in life; a moment that – while perhaps a construct of some antiquated system of social support – is no less tragic for a family’s individual members.

But my mind was agreeing with her.

In as much as I am one of the 90 percent of Americans who willingly went into a marriage knowing the rate of failure; knowing that there would be times when the “work” involved could eventually outweigh the value of the relationship; I also believe that if I had made such a decision in my 20s … even in my late 20s … I most likely would not be married now.

Should we live with such mistakes for the sake of the children?

Tsing Loh makes an interesting, and seemingly logical point in her article that while statistics continually indicate two-parent homes are best for children, single-parent homes are not far behind. The problems, as she quotes the experts, come when parents continually bring new paramours into the mix, wherein children are forced to bond or compete.

It makes me realize, where she’s standing seems to be a strange place to be. There’s no one way to live a life, even though there are socially accepted norms.

It seems to me we are naturally moving toward new understanding of these obstacles, too.

Even in a generation, it seems, we’ve slowed the process immensely.

By my calculation, Tsing Loh would have been about 27 when she married the man she’s now divorcing 20 years later. In some eras 27 would foretell spinsterhood. But today, a woman in her 20s is expected to see the world, and make her mark before she settles down. Ask Rebecca Woolf, writer and essayist, who found herself unexpectedly pregnant at 23, marrying her boyfriend and trying to work family life around her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

Woolf has parlayed her journey into a and a popular blog site – Girl’s Gone Child - despite worries that motherhood would more than likely derail her potential for career success.

And yet, only a generation ago, Woolf’s age wouldn’t have been an issue at all in the framing of family life. Many women had careers and marriage by the time they were out of college.

Now the 24-year-old mother is a unique and suspect being.

Still, I can’t see myself objecting to my children living with their love interests before marriage; in fact, I can more likely see the drawbacks of a more traditional scheme from my own narrative. Had I married the first (or second) person I lived with there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be in my third marriage as I sit here typing.

Yet, in as much as I agree with her theory, I am not ready to give up on marriage.

I’m not ready to file away the 50 percent rate of divorce under the heading of “failure,” any more than I would give up the experience I got from living with the two men I didn’t marry.

Perhaps, in time, Tsing Loh will realize that throwing marriage out with divorce is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Parenting pitfalls are rarely so black and white

My husband doesn’t like to be The Bad Guy, the one who always says ‘no.’

He feels he’s been pushed into wearing the black hat by Yours Truly, The Pushover.

He’s the one who tells Ittybit to eat three more bites before she can be excused, that she has to sleep in her own bed, and that we are dog people NOT cat people.

I am, by comparison, the scoundrel who replaces the fish the moment they die, lets her watch TV to her heart's content and allows her to have ice cream for breakfast.

I can feel his pain, sort of. I return home to the scampering of little feet and the excited cheer of “MOMMY’S HOME, MOMMY’S HOME, MOMMY’S HOME!” after I’ve walked out to the mailbox.

It’s a nice feeling.

But as the traveling member of our tribe — the one who goes away for nights at a time on business — he’d like to be welcomed back into the fold with at least a brief chorus of “DADDY’S HOME!” followed by big, wet sloppy kisses from the members of the family who are not completely covered in fur.

Instead he gets an “oh hi,” a wave and “does this mean I have to sleep in my own bed?” directed at me, the woman who, in his estimation and in his children’s eyes, is always wearing a white hat.

Even the dog yawns and goes back to sleep without bothering to get up. Traitor.

This is exactly the scenario my entirely fictional organization “People for Less Unrest in Marriage” was designed to counsel.

If I were not the leader, the folks at PLUM would completely take me to task for changing the rules; for not picking the battles I know he would have fought or, at the very least, for not scripting the return with a manufactured ticker-tape parade.

But as the creator of PLUM I’ve fired those who would defy me.

It’s not like THEY have to figure out how to get the kids breakfast, get them dressed, give the dog a pill, clean up whatever canine accident took place on the stairs (yuck), get a shower and get ready for work, pack lunches for daycare and get out of the house before we’re so late that the light from late is already blocking the sun, not to mention answering the age-old question: “Where are my keys?”

Now where was I? Oh, yes, disorganized.

Let’s backtrack shall we? A few paragraphs up I mentioned something about replacing fish? Let’s go back there. Yes?

So … Golfie died last weekend and, while my dear, black-hat-wearing husband was busy painting our soon-to-be new house I was practically promising little miss Ittybit a pony as a suitable replacement.

Before you cast that stone, let me just confess I just can’t flush one more fish down the commode. I just can’t handle the karmic responsibility. I’ve had better luck with mammals. That is why, as we stood – her eyes all teary – toilet side, I suggested a guinea pig to the girl as we watched dear old Golfie circle the bowl and descend.

But it might as well have been a stallion if you’d seen my husband’s eyes bulge when I told him.

I said we’d “TALK” about it, but we all know that means “DONE DEAL” to a preschooler.

I know Mr. Black Hat is only being the true voice of reason when he rightly points out that we are moving soon, after which we will be going on vacation. It doesn’t make sense to get a new pet right now.

He’s right. I know he’s right. Stop rubbing it in.

I break the news to her that we’ve talked and we agree that a new pet is not going to happen until after our lives have settled down again (in three to six weeks). Until then, we can go to the pet store to look at the little critter she’d like to harbor and buy a book telling us how to take care of her.

She does a happy dance, all is right with the universe, I’m still wearing the white hat and off we go to the pet store … where she decides on a hamster.

But now, after having read six chapters at bedtime on the nature and care of hamsters, her father and I are finally on the same page: We’d rather have a cat.

He’s going to break the news.

He gets to wear the white hat for a change.

Write to Siobhan Connally at or read more online at, click on “Blogs.”

Sunday, July 05, 2009

No good deed goes unpunished

No good deed goes unpunished.

As a mother, I should know that. As a shopper, however, it never occurred to me.

It also never crossed my mind that my comeuppance would come in the form of a broken toe.

Before I tell you how I managed that, I'm going back to the beginning.

I am a dutiful shopper.

I follow the aisles the way that marketing psychologists intended. I weave my way through the produce section first and then meander around the outer edges of the store, picking up meat and eggs and milk before getting lost in the mire that is in the middle.

And when I say lost, I mean literally.

I walk around for nearly a half hour looking for the beer (beer being the only food group, in my husband's estimation anyway, that is improperly placed in the wasteland that is the store's processed food island). I have a distinct Deer-in-the-Headlights expression with a touch of Zombie when I finally find it and heft a case of some high-priced India Pale Ale into the cart.

But that's not what I really mean when I say dutiful.

My follow-the-rules personality flaw continues past the checkout to the parking lot, where the design of the cart corrals has always made me suspect that the designer might have also gotten lost in the beer aisle. Why else would a shared shopping cart park be accessible from only one row and impossible to squeeze carts through if cars are parked next to it? The answer has to be the Demon Drink.

No matter. Where there's a will there's a way, right? No one wants to have some errant cart bashing in the side of their minivan all because the last driver was too lazy to put it back.

When the kids were small, I'd leave them in the cart while I packed the car with our haul, and then we'd make a final drive back to the store or to the cart corral.

Now the kids are bigger and more likely to flee the scene or get into trouble if they're not strapped into their seats as I offload the natural granola bars and organic cheese puffs that they require in their lunches. I can't have them playing chicken in the parking lot with the other abandoned carts, you understand.

Instead I bribe them with one of the tasty-treats they were allowed for being quiet and docile in the store if they will sit tight while I run the cart across two lanes of parking spots to the badly designed car corral.

But as they sit and slurp their Gogurt (or whatever liquid sugar-y substance that comes in a plastic tube) du' jour, I have somehow managed to run the front wheels of the oversized kid-friendly/parent-mocking car shaped like a car right into the side of my foot.


And with each step back to the car it just gets worse

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Owwwwwwwwwwwwww.

It's broken. The toe is broken.

As I drive the throbbing only increases.

This isn't good. Usually time has a way of taking pain away, or at least dulling it.

I pull into the driveway.

Conspicuously missing is my husband's car.

There's no one to help me schlep two kids and six bags of groceries (not to mention that case of IPA) up the stairs and into the house.

And wouldn't you know it? Every single time the kids jump around in the waning light of approaching bedtime and processed sugar they somehow land on my battered, ballooning and now blackening toe.

Like I said, no good deed goes unpunished.