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The diva within

To offset the demands of domesticity, a stay-at-home mom connects with her sophisticated side.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published January 30, 2007


SAFETY HARBOR

Tracey Henry holds her daughter, Amy, on her lap in the kitchen. Amy, 3, shovels sugar into her mom's coffee. One heaping spoon. Two. Three. Four. Coffee teeters dangerously at the rim.

"I didn't want that much sugar," Tracey murmurs. The family puppy, Jingle, gnaws her ankle with fury.

Later, Amy streaks by, wearing only Pampers and a smile.

"She does that."

Suburban Diva would not approve.

Suburban Diva is snarky. She calls it like she sees it. She wears high heels and lipstick, drinks like a fish and ties cherry stems with her tongue.

Tracey Henry, author of Suburban Diva: From the Real Side of the Picket Fence, does none of the above.

Tracey, 36, is 7 months pregnant. Her pants are maternity and her toenail polish is chipped. She spends her days caring for her three kids in Safety Harbor. She cleans up spilled milk and discovers dog scratches in random places.

But when Tracey sits down to write her Erma Bombeck-style columns, her sophisticated alter ego bursts through. Suburban Diva dissects the day like Joan Rivers on the red carpet.

On high school car washes: "I just can't help but think Nabokov must have found his inspiration for Lolita at a Mobil station on a weekend afternoon."

On yoga: "Hello again pectoral and abdominal muscles. Thanks for stopping by. I see you've already met my triceps; they are the ones smoking in the corner."

On dieting: "I consider mint chocolate chip ice cream a vegetable because it comes from something green and leafy."

On ruling the roost: "Sometimes, being queen was a royal pain in the throne."

- - -

Suburban Diva didn't utter a peep for most of Tracey's life.

Tracey and her husband Sean, chief operating officer of the Tampa Bay Lightning, married when Tracey was 21. They started a family four years later.

The family moved from St. Louis to Safety Harbor's Huntington Trails in 2000, settling in tree-lined suburbia.

But what happens after Cinderella and Prince Charming ride off into the sunset and breed mini royals? No one ever tells that story.

"There's this Stepford mentality, a lot of times, looking at the surface, that you're going to have a good hair day every day and you're going to have time to go to the gym."

Reality is more demanding.

"It's a different kind of demanding," she said. "Maybe watching Blues Clues 15 times a day isn't your type of demanding. My home is never clean. It's not going to be."

Somewhere between giving birth to her second child, Matthew, now 6, and sending Steven, now 11, to school for the first time, something snapped. Her mother, with whom she shared everything, had died the year before.

"That's when it all hit me. It was a very emotional time."

Tracey needed a release from babies and bottles and schools and housework, a way to chronicle the slivers of life backlogged in her brain.

She entered a children's book contest and wrote an essay for Chocolate for the Woman's Soul Volume II. She started posting columns on Backwash.com, an online community of writers.

Gradually, Suburban Diva sashayed out.

Tracey doesn't know if some part of her subconscious needed Suburban Diva. She doesn't even know if it happened on purpose. It just happened.

"I'm quiet. I'm not out there, and that's just my personality," Tracey said. "Suburban Diva came out, and she says things that I wouldn't say."

On Christmas lights to husband: "I don't care if you rig those lights on a windmill or reindeer-powered treadmill - just get them up."

- - -

When the people at Backwash.com started a publishing company, Ephemera Bound Publishing, they approached Tracey to do a book of columns. Suburban Diva: From the Real Side of the Picket Fence debuted in 2006.

She's now writing Suburban Diva's answer to the legendary pregnancy handbook, What to Expect When You're Expecting. It should be out by the end of the year.

Suburban Diva on pregnancy: Lying is a side effect of this pregnancy. I tell obvious ones like, "I feel fine!" or "I couldn't eat another bite." In contrast, I also don't feel the need to be lied to. I have no use for false compliments during this time; I know I look exactly how I feel. I'm not "glowing." It's high blood pressure.

Tracey is in talks to contribute to the Oxygen network's Web site. Oxygen was co-founded by Oprah Winfrey.

"I would mop Oprah's floors if she asked me to," Tracey said.

Last year, she did a book signing in the Florida Keys. It was a surreal moment for Tracey, whose high-profile hockey executive husband receives the brunt of media attention.

Now, she's on display. The writing, she hopes, will shake up the suburban housewife stereotype.

"I think it's a huge disservice to women when the 'American dream' or the perfect mother is defined as the one-dimensional suburban soccer mom who carries healthy, organic snacks and rattlesnake antivenin in the diaper bag," she said. "Many wonderful women contribute to their families with love, humor and everyday grace in so many other ways. And some of us don't even like soccer."

- - -

Amy toddles to the kitchen table, lugging a miniature potted palm. She reaches skyward, plops the tree on the table and grins.

"She brought over the tree," Tracey says, matter-of-factly.

Jingle, in a kibble-induced state of euphoria, has nipped Tracey's hand. An hour ago? A minute ago? No telling.

Bleeding?

"Oh, I guess I am."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303.

 

READ IT

Suburban Diva: From the Real Side of the Picket Fence

Available for $13.99 at select Barnes and Noble stores, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com and walmart.com. Read Tracey Henry's columns at suburbandiva.com and backwash.com.