Personal Essays

Toddlers Are A**holes/2016

I haven’t dated anyone since 2006. Thoughts swirl around and around my head like a carousel: What’s my pickup line? Do I have any interests? I can’t remember having any. Did I shower this morning–sniff–nope. Scanning the area, I spot a promising candidate sitting near the drinking fountain: we’re around the same age, we’re both alone, we have similar taste in clothing, and is that a book I see on the bench? Moving slowly so as not to arouse suspicion, I approach, warily eyeing my competition–this one is mine! Territory marked, I perch on the edge of the wooden seat and wait the appropriate length of time before making my move.

Stay cool and play it safe, don’t seem too desperate, “How old?”

“Going on three and a half. What about yours?”

“Just turned three a few weeks ago.” The conversation stalls, I always get stuck here. Should I get a little more personal?  Not sensing annoyance, I decide to risk it. “Do you live around here?”

“Yes, we’re a few streets over. Do you?”

“Same. We come here often.” So far, so good. “What’s her name?”

“Antonia.”

“Pretty! Mine’s named Cadence.” Ok, ice broken. Leaning back against the bench, I feel a little more at ease. We sit, watching the subjects of our conversation alternate between digging in the sandbox and eyeing each other suspiciously. You will be friends. You will be friends. You will be friends, I communicate to my daughter Jedi-mind-trick style as she hits her new “friend” with a plastic shovel. Figure it out kids. Mommy needs this.   

You don’t know desperation until you find yourself hysterically laughing while simultaneously ugly-crying. Parenting is like that; you often find yourself between fulfillment, love, and happiness and completely losing your shit with frustration, anger, and isolation. Moments like when your toddler says, “I want apple” and you lovingly peel an organic apple and cut it into tiny, non-chokable pieces for your offspring, who then, instead of thanking you for providing nourishment, throws said tiny pieces all over the kitchen with all the fury of a tornado because she wanted the peel on today correspond with her saying, “I wuv Mom” in her sweet little voice and you love her so much but also hate her a little bit too. What are you supposed to do with such intense, conflicting emotions when drinking is socially unacceptable?

Enter “Mom Friends,” those shell-shocked, bleary-eyed, three-day-old-yoga-pant wearing individuals that can usually be found haunting your neighborhood sidewalks, parks, coffee shops, and playgrounds at 7am. These fellow stay-at-home-moms offer adult interaction, playdate possibilities, intelligent conversation and, perhaps most importantly, empathy. They understand how monotonous daily life can be, how isolating. They won’t judge you for leaving the house in a yogurt and God-knows-what-else-stained T-shirt, soggy cheerios stuck to the seat of your pants, with unwashed hair and dark circles under your bloodshot eyes. They’ve all been there. Contrary to your husband or the person in the check-out line behind you at the Whole Foods, these fellow combatants will listen to toddler war-stories all day long:

“Yesterday, Jack broke every single one of his crayons and threw them into the toilet.”

“I found a bag of frozen chicken nuggets in my closet.”

“Clara watched three hours of TV because it was raining and I ran out of activities. And snacks. And motivation.”

“I started to read Finn his bedtime story and discovered that at some point he had smeared poop all over its pages. I read it anyways.”  

Mom Friends are necessary in retaining what little shred of sanity you have left, in sympathizing with you when you’re awake at one am for the third night in a row, covered in vomit, thinking holy-shit-why-did-I-want-this-make-it-stop. Such friends are necessary, but elusive–as mythical as unicorns. Finding them is a lot like dating; you’ll have a lot of awkward conversations, unsuccessful playdates, and conflicting parenting styles until you find “the one.”

I sneak a peek at the book laying on the bench between us, David Sedaris’ Naked.  

Similar interests, check. “Have you read his other work?”

After discussing Sedaris’ comic genius, we move on to other important topics such as our favorite brands of wine (quantity over quality–Barefoot and Sutter Farms all the way), our children’s height/weight percentile rankings (hers: 60th, mine: 99th), and the general cluelessness of our husbands (staying home isn’t all roses, pal).

I am almost giddy with excitement. Could she be the one I’ve been searching for? Instead of locking myself in my bedroom during the inevitable 4 o’clock toddler meltdown, scrolling through the STFU Parents blog and Huff Post’s “Funniest Parenting” tweets while quietly crying, I could text her: SAVE ME! And she’d reply, ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER THE TERRIBLE TWOS. Calm down. Don’t scare her off.

“Do you stay home with Antonia?” Translation: are you also lonely and afraid you’ll go insane if you have to read “Potty Time for Elmo” one more time? “Maybe we can get together for a playdate?”

Is it sad when I’m surprised she actually gives me her number? After the exchange, I clutch my cell phone like a lifeline. Is tomorrow too soon to call? Maybe I should follow the three-day rule, keep her guessing.  

“Mom, Mom, Mama, Mommy, Ma, MOM,” Cadence is repetitively hitting me and yelling, willing me to pay attention to the disgusting old band-aid she pulled out of the sandbox like some kind of pathetic buried treasure. In the confusion of the resulting hand-sanitizer-tussle, my possible new Mom Friend left, saying something about her daughter being “hangry.”

I never asked her name! Quickly tapping out a text message while wrestling my screaming toddler into the MacLaren, I apologize.

“No, we are NOT eating ice-cream for lunch, Cadence.” Stop thrashing around you tiny demon. Beep, beep. My phone alerts me to a new message,

“My name is Kate and it’s not your fault, toddlers are a**holes.”

Yep, she’s definitely the one.

 

Confessions of a Facebook Addict/2016

“Fuck you. It’s over.”

Are you sure? Action cannot be undone.

“I’m sure.”

By selecting “OK” your account will be permanently deleted. Continue?

“Yes. No…wait. I didn’t mean it! Give me another chance, we’ll be happy together.” I tap the cancel button. Facebook and I have a love-hate relationship; I threaten to cut ties yet the fear of being alone always lures me back.

Its five inch screen is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I reach for in the morning. It never leaves my side. Google predicts and answers every question before I ask. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram connect me to everyone and anyone I’ve ever known. Weather, news, shopping, photos, email, text messaging, books, and movies are instantaneous with the mere swipe of a finger. Without question, my life is easier. More accessible. Organized and entertained. But happier? I’m not sure anymore.

My toddler hates my cell phone. When she hears the ding ding of an incoming notification her little eyes look up at me, begging me not to answer, to finish reading her a story or playing dolls with her instead. And I hate myself for needing to check which outlet of communication is demanding my attention, yet at the same time I am grateful for the distraction, the excuse, to interrupt the ten-thousandth reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

It’s brilliant really; removing the human element of interaction enables one to have hundreds of friends who do not require much maintenance aside from the occasional “like” or “comment.” With little to no effort, we are privy to each other’s lives, albeit on a superficial, edited level. The ability to instantly record, share, and communicate life’s joys, successes, and heartaches should create a sense of community, friendship, and happiness right? Right. Except,  all too often, we are left wanting and obsessing over the lives and possessions showcased by our Facebook friends.

My husband and I are enjoying a rare evening out–our three-year-old daughter is at home with the sitter. The restaurant is downtown and comfortably high end without being stuffy–white marble tabletops, linen napkins, modern decor–and the food is artistically plated and delicious. Nearby tables are occupied by other couples, families, and professionals. Instead of muted conversations and quiet laughter of our fellow diners, I hear…restaurant musak. Despite the living, breathing person sitting directly across or beside them, nearly everyone is focused on the illuminated screens of their cell phones, absentmindedly shoveling food into their mouths. And, really, I’m no better. So what if I quickly scroll through my timeline, check my email, pin a recipe promising “easy & healthy weeknight meals,” or respond to a text message at the table with my husband? Instant gratification and superficial interaction sure beats casting about for a topic of conversation outside of, “So how was your day honey?” It’s easier to get lost in the time-sucking whirlwind of personality quizzes, hilarious Donald Trump memes, and endless pregnancy and baby photos than to invest your precious free time in an actual conversation with your companion.

Believe me, I get it. A stay-at-home-mom for the past three and a half years, I am just not that interesting. My days only vary depending on whether or not I am able to shower or drink a hot cup of coffee–never both. Every week my daughter and I rotate the same four playgrounds, visit the Children’s Museum or library, and watch re-runs of “Curious George” or “Sofia the First.” So while I can’t really blame my husband for preferring to answer emails or scroll through Flipboard over listening to me discuss the trials of potty-training, a part of me longs for the pre-cellphone days of eye-contact and face-to-face, meaningful conversation.

Social media is a platform perpetuating a “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset. A mindset that often leaves me feeling isolated, cut off from a world filled with happy people, wondering why that elusive feeling of contentment–that I am enough, that I have enough–is missing from my life. While Facebook provides an escape from the monotony of my daily life, it has also become a source of guilt–guilt that I am neglecting my duties as a mother, neglecting my relationship with my husband, and yes, even neglecting my physical friendships–chasing instead the happiness splashed across my friends’ timelines and news feeds.

So, every few months, I end my destructive, addictive, obsessive relationship with Facebook. I pledge to spend more time playing with my daughter, providing her with a varied schedule of enriching activities and excursions. I tell myself that I will do better at calling my friends, in setting up playdates, at having meaningful conversations with those physically present. I challenge myself to limit my forays into social media to an hour a day, a half an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day. I try to write down interesting items of discussion to be discussed with my husband at the dinner table instead of our usual silent scroll and swipe. Am I happier without a constant stream of perfect photos and deliberately worded status updates illuminating my bedroom at night? Yes. But also no–I feel disconnected, like I don’t exist outside of that little blue icon. Is happiness worth it?

Hold on, let me ask Google.

Advice From White Silk/2016

The white silk wedding dress hangs like a beacon between the ubiquitous thrift store polyester. Lifting the hanger free I hold the delicate fabric against my body, visualizing the effect. Its style is reminiscent of the sixties; bohemian lace and white embroidered flowers fall gracefully to the floor from an empire waist. I imagine the original owner’s ceremony; warm sunshine filters through the trees as she appears before an intimate gathering of guests holding a bouquet of bright yellow sunflowers. Who was she? Was she happy?

“Did you ever regret it?” I ask the dress silently, my own marriage coming to mind.

A voice drifts into my subconscious, I was young, maybe too young, but I didn’t lose myself in marriage. I was happy. Don’t waste time with regret or you’ll end up with a life not lived.

I hug the beautiful dress closer, startled and vaguely ashamed. My eighth wedding anniversary is fast approaching and lately I’ve been regretful of getting married so young.

You are more than a wife and mother, the dress whispers as I carefully nestle it back between its floral neighbors. My phone rings and my husband’s photo illuminates the screen.  I am just twenty-eight years old–young enough for a second chance.

“Hi there,” I answer, fingers lingering upon the dress as I smile with new anticipation for the future, “No, just browsing. I’m on my way home.”