Saturday, August 25, 2012

Suburbatory


I just got back from Max’s preschool open house.

Let me start by saying these are not my people.  You put me into a crowd of 2000 sweaty, lean, charged up Type A superfitfreaks and I feel at home.  In fact, I feel like the mayor.  If USAT had any sense, they would move Nationals to Chicago next year and put me in charge. Free race morning coffee.  NormaTec boots in (CLEAN) porta-potties for the post-race unleashing of the fury of nerves, Power Gel and threshold effort.  Take your time.  Chocolate fondue fountain with – no, not strawberries – but spoonfuls of peanut butter for dipping. 

But Mayor McTri has nothing on Naperville.

Earlier this year, we moved to Naperville.  From Lisle.  We were moving on up.  Parts of Lisle are nice.  Parts are suburban ghetto.  Right around the block from us there was more than one car propped up on cinder blocks.  But not in Naperville.  Land of teardowns, competitive peewee soccer leagues and the best school district around.  Naperville, once voted one of the best places to raise a child.   This would be our new home.

We found an older house in a nice neighborhood nearby by everything we liked to do – bike at Fermilab, run at Herrick Lake, swim at the quarry.  We bought the house per the advice of our realtor – you can change anything inside or outside the house but you cannot change location.  That said, we changed a lot of things inside and outside the house but love where we are at.  

Soon after moving in, we were greeted with suburban charm – plates of cookies, flowers, neighbor introductions.  The incessant are you joining the neighborhood pool?  We’re still not sure what goes on in the pool and not really interested in paying the $2000 bond to find out.  Yet everyone we meet – even those who don’t live in the neighborhood – ask us if we’ve joined the pool.  We’re convinced that every Friday night the “social” involves dropping your kids in the pool, your keys in the bowl and going home with an entirely new family. 

The neighborhood also produces a newsletter.  My eyes widened and my competitive blood boiled when I read about a competition that involved having the nicest garden/landscaping.  The winner had a picture of their house on the front of the newsletter.  I had visions of my house one day being in that photo.  The coach in me created a master plan.  I referred to it often.  When Chris said, Liz, more hydrangeas?  It’s all part of my master plan.  Enter about $$$$$ in new landscaping and an obsessive need to water everything twice daily.  This led to an exorbitant water bill but like I’ve spent $$$$$ on race wheels, helmets, supplements, I’m willing to drain Lake Michigan if that’s what it takes to win this thing. 

At times, the transition to Naperville has been difficult.  I’ve been the victim of a ding dong ditch.  I’ve had to train the USPS delivery guy to never EVER ring my bell after 1 pm.  I’ve yelled GET OFF MY LAWN to junior high students too lazy to follow the sidewalk rather than cutting the corner.  I’ve been told that my garbage cans were facing the wrong way at the curb.  I’ve wasted 20 minutes of my life driving to the post office to claim a certified letter from a bunch of lawyers informing me that someone was stinking rich enough to buy the 1.3 million dollar lot two houses down from me and wants to build a house on it.  In the category of things I don’t give a shit about, the letter would have been much better if it said “we’re building you a 1.3 million dollar house and paying the taxes on it.”  I feel like I need 20 minutes of my life back.

“difficult”

Little did I know my comfort would be further tested when I took my son to his new preschool.  In a few weeks, Max will begin a one day a week parents day out program.  Basically pre-pre-school.  It will be a great socialization opportunity for Max.  It will be an even better FINALLY PEACE AND QUIET opportunity for me.  I have no idea what I am going to do with 5 hours entirely to myself once a week.  Maybe pee with the door closed?  I’m willing to find out and will report back to all of the stay at home moms in late September.  At that point, I’ll probably be twiddling my thumbs with all of the freetime that I used to spend cleaning up the kitchen floor.    

Really, though, this is all for Max and his development.  At Max’s two year old check up, the nurse told me she had some questions.  More like 100 of them.  The questions ranged from was your house built before 1970.  Yes.  Lead paint risk.  Does he tantrum what you would consider excessively?  Define excessivelyDoes he respond to you when you call his name?  Sometimes.  It’s a yes or no question.  Yes.  Does he sleep in his own bed?  YES.  Does he like to be around other children?  YES.   

Would it not be easier if you just installed a camera system to watch me so we don’t have to go through this litany of questions every time I am in this office?

Does he have 50 to 100 words?      

….(silence)

You mean I’m supposed to be keeping records?  I’ve kept him alive for the past 6 months since I’ve seen you, is that not enough? 

I tell her Max has about 20 words.  She tells me he should have 50.  Even up to 100!  100 words!?!  He’s two years old.  WHAT on earth should he be saying!?  We live a very simple, quiet life, he and I.  And he’s got the basics – mama, dada, Boss, coffee and rocks.  What more does he need to say?

Enter pre-pre-school.   To get Max around more kids, more language, more opportunities for imitation.  Sure, I talk to him all day.  So much so that I now talk to myself, mommy needs to go potty.  Really, Liz, I don't think anyone at the coffee shop cares.   

On Saturday, the preschool hosted an open house.  An opportunity to get to know the classroom and the teachers.  I walked into the building feeling like this was the first of many future steps of Max stepping away from me.  Sniff.  Independence is both relieving and heartbreaking.  By the time he’s 5, if we don’t have more kids, I’m going to need another dog or something else to need me.

I thought carefully about what to wear to this open house.  I’ve heard enough stories from Jennifer Harrison about horrifying her children by showing up at school to pick them up wearing cycling shorts.  Seeing that I had ridden 3 hours before the open house, wearing cycling shorts was very tempting.  But I knew I needed to make a better impression.  Or at least, smell better.

I put on a dress, first thinking – maybe this is too much – but it’s 95 degrees outside and it seemed like the best option.  I did my hair.  I put on eyeliner.  Contain yourselves: I even had on a necklace.

Once at the school, Max goes immediately to the kitchen set, pretending like he doesn’t know us (already?).  I’m left to look around.  Watching the steady stream of moms, dads and kids walk into the room.  A few minutes later it hits me.

I am the only woman in Naperville without fake boobs or a baby bump. 

Also missing: full eye make up, hair with highlights, oversized necklace that matches cotton strapless to the floor beach dress, Louis Vitton bag, Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses and token good looking husband wearing long pants and a matching polo.  Oh, I’ve got a good looking husband, trust me, I stared at his good looking ass for 63 miles earlier that morning, but he was standing in the corner with a pair of Rudy Projects propped on his head, cargo shorts and a Star Wars themed cotton t-shirt that had three men riding bicycles – two dressed as Storm Troopers, one dressed as Vader.

I rest my case.

I want to fit in.  Desperately like the junior high girl stuck inside of all of us that only comes out in moments of self-doubt and new situations. I don’t need to fit in (and have spent most of my life NOT fitting in) but there are times you want to fit in – if not for your own social sake but for the sake of your child not being THAT child with weird parents standing in the corner wearing a Star Wars shirt.

(I married into this?)

Max, of course, fits right in.  He’s a little small but what he lacks in height he makes up for in utter cuteness.  In fact, it’s been decided (actually voted on, in the car afterwards) that he IS the cutest one there.  There was another boy who was perhaps equally as cute but he had an epic meltdown requiring his father to extract him from the Thomas the Train table. Tantrumming significantly diminishes the cuteness factor. 

As Max not only played with but dismantled the play kitchen (teacher says: we’ve got a future engineer here), I looked around admitting that – like it or not – these now are my people.  I need to learn to relate to them.  To, gasp, fit in.  So I eagerly put my name on the list to volunteer to make play-doh for the classroom.  I can barely make dinner but play-doh, yes, I CAN DO THIS!  What else do we do.  Do we drink coffee? I can do that too.  Do we talk about how our kids are a genius?  My boy can say rocks – not rock, ROCKS, PLURAL!  I don’t just want to fit in, like anything else, I want to win.  You can take me out of the competition but can’t take the competitiveness out of me. 

Sigh.

Being around the other moms, I quickly feel like my fitness friends are a secret cult I escape to a few times a week at masters or online or teaching a class in person and the rest of the time, I’m bumbling about trying to look normal, talk normal and refrain from always carrying a water bottle.  My fitness friends speak a language I understand and do things that make me feel – well, like me.  When I blow my nose into the street, they don’t flinch.  When they come back to the wall and ask what I swam my 100 in, they give me a congratulatory fist bump.  They understand the importance of hydration hence why I’m carrying a bottle with electrolytes. 

You can understand, then, how I feel like I’m going to have trouble fitting into normal mom world.  I’ve been warned many times about the inner workings of suburban mom life.  Jennifer has shared stories from her own existence; they drink a lot, they complain about being fat but don’t want to exercise.  For a moment, I think to myself but I drink a lot (sometimes) and exercise all the time yet STILL complain about being fat.  How can I not fit in?  But any athletic mom knows how this goes.  I give it a few weeks before someone in that group of moms walks up to me and confesses their workout sins.  The problem with looking fit is that ordinary people feel compelled to walk up to you and tell you what they haven’t been doing.  So much so that I feel like I need to pull a screen in front of us and prescribe a few Hail Marys.

But I want to make a solid, personal best effort at fitting in with the mom circle.  I will speak their language.  I will only pick up my son wearing full make up.  I will wear NORMAL MOM CLOTHES (there goes the comment to Chris – the best part is that I can ride my bike right out from here & get to Plainfield within 20 minutes!).  I will not wear anything from Lululemon.  Nor a Sweaty Band in my hair.  I will fit into Naperville, dammit.  I will one day be Mayor McMomNaperville and will WIN the gardening club award.  Then spend every Friday night at the neighborhood pool in a mom bathing suit that involves a tankini and a skirt. 

Suburban life will be a smashing VICTORY!

(crickets)

None of this will happen.  Not even if it’s part of my master plan.  Because long ago I decided in life that my master plan was to keep on being my bad ass self.  In fact, the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was from my friend Steve:

Never change who you are for someone else.

So there’s a good chance that next Wednesday at 1 pm I will be picking up my child in cycling shorts.  I will smell like 3 hours of dust, grit, wind, salt and hard work.  I will probably have sunglasses on top of my head and a Sweaty Band in my hair.  My feet – should you get near them – will stink the stink of my cycling shoes that I cannot for the love of god wash off (I’ve tried, trust me).  I will bring my son home, put him down for a nap and will spend the next 3+ hours writing workouts and answering emails for other fitness freaks just like me. 

And if everyone stays off my lawn, I will consider this not just a win but a landslide victory of being me no matter what the outside pressures or how out of place I feel.

(but I still wouldn’t refuse a Louis Vitton bag should someone gift it to me!)

13 comments:

Meaghan said...

Caitlyn's going into second grade, and I still don't fit in. I'm not on the PTO, I show up to her concerts/events in Oakley's and running shorts, most of the time still dripping sweat.

I tried for a fleeting moment to be a "proper" mom, but realized after a hot second that I wasn't willing to change everything about myself for a "certain" image I was "supposed" to present.

And last year, Caitlyn's friend said to me "you're the coolest mom of all the kids, because you're like one of us".

I rest my case.

Great post, thanks!

TRIHARDCHIK said...

I was old (38/42) when I had my kids, so I already didn't fit in. I've always been myself, and have found that real friends accept you the way you are. Some of my friends are like those you describe, some are just like me. My kids love me the way I am, and think I'm a pretty cool mom. They don't see me as "old" at all. (I'm 57, they're 15 and almost 19, so that's kind of surprising!)

As long as your "real" friends and Max and Chris love you, that's what really matters. Good luck! Max will love school, and you'll love your "free" time!

LZ said...

As I was reading, I was starting to get sad that you were saying you wanted to fit in so bad and then you wrote the best words: Never change who you are for someone else.

Enjoy suburbia!

Luis De Freitas said...

I don't fit in with the reg fathers either, but that is a good thing!

ha ha ha

Jennifer Harrison said...

GREAT post. I cannot wait for your stories about school for Max and the neighborhood moms.

This weekend I spent a rare Saturday with 10 of my neighbor friends...on a boat in Lake Michigan...and they were all TOTALLY trashed, high and you name it....and the best thing? I have never changed myself for them. OF COURSE I did not touch a thing and even got up at 4:30am to train and they just say, 'Oh Jenny...!!!' And that is it. NO peer pressure to fit it or not...I am who I am - take it or leave it. Just like you!

And, thankfully they have taken it. I just left before the cops got involved. lol

Max will LOVE PS. I remember how great those PS days were - so so exciting for the kids and moms. And, your free time will be refreshing! ENJOY.

PS The only thing I have changed are my outfits when I go into the school for the kids. I did get out of my LULU tight pants - to not embarrass my son. (he begged me to wear jeans).

Shevaun said...

Don't worry about fitting in. You'll embarrass your kids, no matter what, so you might as well enjoy yourself while doing it. My kids are in 5th and 7th grade and now turn a blind eye to my sweaty stinky appearance when I show up to get them.

Elsbeth said...

GOOD FOR YOU!! Someday I want to be a badass sweaty mom too.

I saw a t-shirt the other day that said "If you have haters, it means you're doing something right". People think whatever they need to think no matter what you wear or do, so do your own thing.

I went in for my final wedding dress fitting last week, and the seamstress and saleslady both tsk tsk'd my Speedo tan lines, suggesting that I go to the MAC counter to get studio makeup to cover them up for the wedding. My reply "Hell no, I earned these!"

I also really believe that you're sending Max the right message too- it's not about bowing to the social pressure over neighborhood pools and D&G sunglasses, it's about staying true to yourself no matter what other people are doing.

Jennifer said...

I think I almost snorted my french press coffee all over my keyboard when I read what Chris was wearing. Because it was awesome. I want one too.

More than anything, I love that you and Chris are showing Max what is like to lead a an active, healthy life (augmented by the occasional glass/bottle of wine), which will have much more of an effect on him down the road. I wish more parents were like you guys.

I fully expect you to rock those cycling shorts next week.

running-with-needles.com said...

Love this!

I solve the cycling shorts issue by pulling on a cutoff denim skirt over them. Which gets me some weird looks in the parking lot, but whatever.

And you know I've caught the dads admiring my bike on the back of the car!

Leah said...

Just wait. The peer pressure is intense to be-a-good-mom-and-volunteer. It will suck you in and never let you leave. The volunteer nazis are sorta like the mob. You will find yourself overcommitted and contemplate faking your own death.

Chris said...

Best post EVERY!! :-)

Jo said...

I thought I was the only person in the world who felt this way! I struggle with this daily only because I worry it has some negative impact on my children's well being but in reality I think they are pretty comfy with who their mommy is.

Becky H said...

LOVED this post- only another triathlon Mom would get this, it was almost eerily de ja vu!! I get the workout confession from people all the time, ALWAYS have sporty sunglasses on my head and yes, the waterbottle is an accessory. I even picked myself up a pretty blue one because it matches most of my workout clothes that yes, I do wear to pick up my children. It's who I am, so glad to hear other Moms struggle with being an athlete/Mom on the go vs the perfectly groomed woman. I prefer the spandex over a sundress any day, will choose to spend my hard earned $$ on toys for my bike over Gucci sunglasses and have a backpack instead of a purse because you can't fit spur of the moment workout clothes in a purse, plus a purse that size woudl throw off my posture. Great post, thanks!!