Friday, November 27, 2015


My two-year-old already knows to smile for the camera.

I'm not sure where he picked it up, but any time you point a phone in his direction and look vaguely documentarian, the kid turns, hits his mark, and flashes his gums.

It's not like any of the rest of us have photographic selves that are any more truthful.  When I examine the visual record of my son's first years, I am confronted with a well-lit, nicely framed alternate universe in which he slept beatifically and snuggled in my arms as we floated cherubically in a warm bath of community support.  I'm smiling in the photos -puffy cheeks, greasy hair, jelly belly and all. 

The reality was more ragged.  In those first two years, we faced a random sampling of the short straws any new family must draw: feeding trouble, boredom, loneliness, judgment, teeth....  I wrote every day during first two or  three weeks of it, to keep myself honest and to keep myself sane,  and now, when I contrast the written and visual records, I'm troubled, though not surprised, by the gulf between.

Though it isn't news, the way we curate ourselves.  Social media has exacerbated the practice, and certainly tightened its timelines (no longer do we wait a few years to impress an audience of our future selves; rather we perform our lives in real time to a virtual clutch of friends and near friends and less than friends).  But ever since the first neanderthal put charcoal to cave we've been fronting, and no part of the year is lousier with self-presentation than the stretch from mid-November to late December.  

I'm not advocating for a resurgence of realism (resurgence is the wrong word, and so is realism; we are both what we present and what we repress, and we've never been above fluffing our feathers for a crowd).

Rather I want acknowledgement.  Our smiles are not the whole truth.   But they are fierce and they are brave. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015


My best friend from high school was teetering on her stilettos.

Swathed in white tulle, she might as well have been handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser for all her ability to accomplish everyday tasks.  She needed help to eat a sandwich, help to pee, and help, in this case, to lace up her shoes.

And I, according to the photographer, was on deck.

I frowned down at the shoes, which sported, amidst their rhinestones, a length of lacing that filled me with despair.  I'd dodged at least three other such tasks, hanging back as each bridesmaid, in turn, stood for their handmaidenly photo-op.  Sashes had been tied.  Buttons had been buttoned.  Makeup had been made-up.

I gritted my teeth, held my breath and went in for the kill.

"No, wait," said the bride, a wise woman who has known me a very long time.  "Not Anne."

Another bridesmaid bent over the shoes.  I sagged with relief.

"Well,"  the photographer cracked,  "what good are you?"

It's a fair question.   What good am I?   

I am not a good shoe-lacer.  I am not a good sash-cincher.  I am not good with buttons or make up or hair.  I once gave a good friend a haircut and she, after looking in the mirror, didn't speak to me for a month.  I am not a good cook.  I cannot craft.  I do not decorate or host or sew.  I'm lousy, if you must know, at a vast, ravening, marauding horde of things, and as I move deeper into parenting, I've begun to notice how many of these things fall under the rubric of homemaking, motherhood, or  "women's work." 

I do know that I'm not without talents.  I didn't answer the photographer's quip, but I gave a damn good toast at the wedding reception.  I can write.  I can play some music.   I can speak in public and fake a British accent and read maps and chat with strangers on planes.   I can tell what a student needs or wants and give it to them.

But none of these are things I would have been encouraged to do a century ago.  And the work that would have been mine by fiat- the childcare and the washing, the cooking and the folding- is work in which I would have been forced to confront, day in and day out, not only my lack of excellence, but my lack of interest.  One hundred years ago, it wouldn't have been the photographer asking what good are you?   It would have been me.

So on this Thanksgiving, I offer my thanks to the women who cleared the way for me.  I am so grateful to every brave woman who fought and toiled and wrestled over the years to remake the world into a place where, in 2015,  I can put my son in daycare and outsource my cleaning and not give a damn about dinner parties.  A world in which I do work that matters to me.  A world in which a man can ask "what good are you?" and I have an answer.

Thanks, ladies.

Friday, November 13, 2015


I didn't bother to forbid the babysitter to leave my two-year-old son alone in the house while she went to hunt for her phone charger in the car, because I trusted it would never occur to her to do so.

I didn't bother to check the criminal record of the woman I (almost!) hired to clean my house, because I trusted burglars wouldn't bother with the long con, preferring the quick and sweet.

I didn't bother to worry about all tree falling on my moving car, because I trusted trees stayed rooted in the dirt, and that even if they didn't, even if their roots failed, they'd crush something else, someone else, when they fell. 

I am appalled, this week, by trust.   I've been wading in it.  I've been lathering with it.  I've been shoving it aside in sticky curtains.  When it's been ripped off of me, I've gathered it back to myself in soft folds.

I'm an addict and a fool. 

Yet, trust is all that keeps us hurtling through this world.  We know we will die, but we trust that death is a few inches off.  We understand horrible things will happen, but not to us, we trust.  The sun will come up, tomorrow-

And it does and it does until it doesn't.