… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
After conceiving twin girls through back-to-back pandemic rounds of IVF and nearly dying in childbirth, I wasn’t exactly ready to get pregnant again this past spring. Although Jake and I had already begun the early stages of transferring a frozen embryo over the summer, I was still on the fence, myself. I’ve always wanted four children and still found that to be the case, even with twins under a year. I wanted my girls to have more siblings. I wanted Jake to have a son. I wanted a son. I wanted more noise, more chaos, more fun, bigger holidays, crazier family vacations… what I’ve never had with the brother I see once a year on Christmas. I also wanted to be alive to enjoy all of these things, so I was still erratically swinging between the insistence that the girls were enough and the idea that I was potentially up for two more pregnancies, assuming the next went smoothly.
It was on May 5th, the day before Jake and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, that I was officially no longer able to file another pregnancy under Future Belle’s Problem. I had been waiting for day one of my cycle to begin the FET process and assumed that it hadn’t come, because I wasn’t even a year post-partum. Begrudgingly, I took a pregnancy test, annoyed at having to waste the dollar, but knowing the clinic would insist. Following a few minutes of Googling early menopause and uterine cancer symptoms as possibilities for my missing period, I glanced at the test before tossing it, only to see that it was, indeed, positive. After Jake was told, verbatim, that “miracles happen” when he asked the urologist if he could get me pregnant, after spending 2020 imagining a future without children, after thirty thousand dollars worth of baby girls, I was… pregnant.
In so many ways, I am that annoying anecdote your coworker shares about her friend, whose niece got pregnant despite all odds… the woman who had severe complications the first time around, only for it all to go smoothly the second… the mother of three under two who’d contemplated a forced childfree existence just two years earlier. With all of it behind me, I can honestly say that, despite a few tearful outbursts about how I didn’t want to die, I had an easy pregnancy and a complication-free birth by scheduled C-section at 37 weeks to the day.
I now have three babies under 18 months and I love it. I love watching the girls forget they’re mid-tantrum when they start giggling as they spin in circles of protestation. I love watching them wrestle like little bear cubs until someone cries. I love seeing Scarlet run to the front door arms extended, at the sound of Jake’s keys turning. I love Violet’s contradictory stubbornness and clingy Mama’s girl status. Now, my Thomas is here and he is a dream. After months of insisting the newborn phase is boring, I adore the snuggles. Having started with twins, I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to dote on just one, cherishing everything from feedings to sponge baths. I rarely sleep more than four hours at a time, am weeks from being able to have sex and months from even discussing an embryo transfer, still have visible bruising around my incision, and I’m already trying to talk Jake into our fourth and final.
Just the other day, Jake announced that raising kids with me was the best thing that’s ever happened to him and the feeling is utterly mutual. Watching my husband go from the rough and tumble toddler girl dad he’s become to the sweet and gentle (for him) father of a newborn boy is absolutely precious. After years of declaring mid-spat that he’s an unfeeling robot, there’s nothing quite so dear as watching my cowboy husband hold his tiny son in his callused hands and talk sweetly to him.
I spent a lifetime anticipating being the career woman and the working mom, went to college for seven years including graduate school, threw myself into my career as a librarian for another ten. I never planned to stay home with my children, scoffed at the very idea, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. While I fully intend to reenter the professional world one day, simply put, I just love being a mom… and I still don’t like kids.
Growing up in the South, I was raised to understand that women like children. Little girls love dolls. Teenaged girls eagerly jump at the chance to babysit. Baby fever becomes rampant in a woman’s early twenties. Any gal who doesn’t want to die alone had better start having kids by 25. Those are some Southern facts, right there, so imagine my confusion when I realized none of them applied to me.
Having lived on ten acres until age 11, I didn’t really grow up around other kids at all, let alone little ones. I had a couple of younger cousins, who I babysat once or twice, but I largely considered them nuisances who got us older kids in trouble. I never spent time with young children with any regularity. My first job was at a car lot, not a daycare. In fact, when I did get a job at a daycare in college, I made it two days before quitting. An education major in my undergrad, I still considered specializing in early childhood/elementary and even arranged to shadow my second grade teacher. That was the day, y’all. Despite my religious Southern upbringing, a childhood surrounded by suburban girls who wanted to be teachers and stay-at-home moms, a degree program that pedestalized anyone who worked with kids… the day I spent time in a well-managed second grade classroom was the day I realized that I just don’t like children.
Over the following years, I honed my affinity for teenagers, having initially assumed I only favored them due to their closer proximity in age. During grad school, I substitute taught nearly every day of the week, preferring high school, but happy to take middle school jobs when they were all that was available. More often than not, however, if elementary openings were all I could find, I’d take the opportunity for a rare day off, unless I desperately needed the money. As time passed and I moved further from my own teenage years, I loved working with teens just as much… and dreaded spending any time with children at all.
It wasn’t that I hated kids… at least not well-behaved ones. I just didn’t find them especially interesting. They couldn’t share compelling opinions or stories. Their senses of humor were undeveloped and generally revolved around the obnoxious and immature, but rarely clever. They were often oversensitive and whiney. Regardless, their parents considered them absolutely brilliant and wholly infallible. I frequently worked with children as a librarian and nearly every single reader’s advisory question posed by a parent, came with the insistence that their child’s reading level was two to three higher than their grade. I can count on one hand how many times that was actually true. When they misbehaved, in ways that were entirely developmentally appropriate, their parents wouldn’t hear it, whether they were screaming and running in the library or bullying others in programs. Teenagers, however, warranted scorn and contempt if any attention at all. When the societal blind spot for an age group I didn’t particularly enjoy was coupled with the overall disdain for the one I did, I struggled to even imagine myself as a mother in the distant future. Clearly, I didn’t feel the way everyone else felt about children. Maybe they weren’t for me after all.
A few months before Jake proposed, I became increasingly concerned. I knew Jake wanted kids and, in theory, so did I. I just… really didn’t like ’em.
With genuine distress, I shared as much with a coworker in her 50s, who had two young adult children and two still in Catholic school. If anyone could shed some light on my situation, it was a woman living exactly the life I thought I wanted.
Me: “I don’t think I like children.” Coworker: “Of course you don’t. It’s the end of Summer Reading.” Me: “What if I don’t at all? Jake wants kids. I thought I wanted them. I’m not sure I like them, though.” Coworker: “I don’t especially like other people’s children, either. I like mine, but I never really cared much for their friends. You’ll be fine.”
I didn’t know that was allowed!
In the nearly five years that followed this moment of enlightenment, I met a few others who shared this thought process. A friend at the Northside Library had little to no patience for… well, most humans, but she loved being a mother. At the same branch, a friend living with her parents had more of a sisterly relationship with her young son, yet doted on him all the same. A coworker at the Cherokee library had a surprise baby just before 40, after having accepted a childfree existence. A veteran who named Sarah Connor her hero, she’d never really considered herself maternal… until her son arrived. She still had little feeling toward children in a random sample, but adored being a mother. I’ll admit, it still isn’t a common sentiment among suburban and rural Southern women, but evidently it happens… such as in my case.
Apparently my robot husband and I are quite the pair, because I find myself in the company of Other People’s Children far more frequently these days and I feel little on a personal level… neither disdain nor joy. As with other random folks, I passively wish them health and wellness and go about my day. I do my best not to judge other parents, while still generally finding most small children grating. Yet, somehow, I seem to have endless patience for my own. Objectively speaking, I’ve no illusions about my offspring somehow being superior to others’… except that they’re mine, so they’re naturally cuter, smarter, funnier, and less disgusting by my incredibly biased assessment.
I, of course, still smile encouragingly and affectionately at little ones during storytime, just as I’d expect others to do with mine. I’d never intentionally hurt a child’s feelings and that’s all I really ask of others. I love my nieces and nephews out of necessity, whether I feel much connection to them at this age or not. I do try, but it still doesn’t come naturally to me to snuggle someone else’s baby, tickle their toddler, or get down in the floor and play with their kids. As utterly smitten as I am with my own babies, as I attempt to cajole Jake into our #fourthandfinal while still being on lift restrictions, Other People’s Children… they still don’t really do it for me. I still don’t like kids.
Twelve years ago, the day after Thanksgiving, I kicked my abusive ex out once and for all, starting my life over. Seven years ago, Jake proposed to me, four days before Thanksgiving. Two years ago, after spending $30,000 funded primarily through a lucky Bitcoin investment, we found out our second IVF cycle was successful. Just before Christmas, we found out we were having twins. Now, our miracle baby boy is arriving in just 12 days… if things go as planned with our scheduled C-section.
I love the holidays, y’all. There’s just something about this time of year that makes life feel cozier and more comfortable. The colder weather gives me an entirely acceptable excuse to play the hermit. When I do go out, the world is one of cute winter wardrobes, costumes, colorful leaves, twinkling lights, cheerful music, delicious food, and massive amounts of glitter that even my southern husband finds begrudgingly acceptable. This is my time of year… yet somehow, I’m just now realizing how many great things have happened to me during the holidays, the latest of which will be my baby boy.
I feel so many simultaneous emotions about this baby. Foremost is gratitude that Jake and I get to have a son, in addition to our two beautiful daughters. We’re not a #girldad or #boymom. We get to be both. This baby will be the first grandson of six kids and only the third great grandson of fifteen on Jake’s side. Where I cried when I thought the twins were boys, after our struggles to get pregnant, Jake was thrilled with any healthy children. Now he’s the most amazing dad to our girls, especially considering his cliché cowboy status. I am so happy to give him a boy, not just because he deserves a son, but because the world needs more men like Jake. I’m grateful we got pregnant like normal people, as opposed to in a clinic with thousands of dollars worth of injections. I’m relieved that I won’t have to count down the days until I return to work. I’m thankful that Jake has been able to arrange to stay home through the entirety of my six to eight week C-section recovery.
Beyond gratitude, I admittedly feel fear that things will go as or even more poorly than they did when the girls were born. Never one for birth plans, I had zero expectations for the arrival of my twins and it still went so much worse than I could’ve imagined while still taking home healthy babies.
No one looks that pretty after four days in the ICU, by the way.
I won’t rehash my birth story in detail, but suddenly diagnosed with severe pneumonia and heart complications at 35 weeks, I underwent an emergency C-section and began the most terrifying week of my life. Almost immediately after the death of my estranged mother at 60, I dealt with the very real possibility that I might not see my own girls grow up, or that I might be chronically ill their entire lives. Rushed to the ICU, I first saw my twins at three days old and that was only because I woke up in a drug-induced hysteria screaming that they’d taken my babies. When I was finally released to labor and delivery, I was still receiving intravenous antibiotics and too sick to stand. It wasn’t until day seven that I was able to leave, though the girls had been discharged two days earlier. Say what you will about American healthcare and the $9,000 bill we received, but those doctors did save my life. As grateful as I am for my miracle baby, I admit that I’m petrified everything will go wrong again, perhaps with a far worse ending.
I have more standard concerns as well… that my existing babies will feel replaced and have trouble coping, that I’m having this baby during an unprecedented RSV season, that another child will be another expense during difficult economic times, and as always, that I won’t be the mother I so desperately desire. I’m also hopeful and excited. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a standard delivery with no drama, having scheduled my C-section for 37 weeks to the day. I’m hopeful that I’ll get an uneventful post-partum season, holed up for the winter with Jake by my side to help transition the girls into their new roles as big sisters. I’m hopeful that things will be better this time. I’m excited to meet my son and introduce him to the girls. I’m excited to not be pregnant, at this point. I’m excited to start dieting and exercising. I’m excited for a quiet baby’s first Christmas. You know what I’m not?
I’m not dreading any part of the coming months.
I’m not sorry that my children are going to be so close in age.
I’m not worried about having three under two or three in diapers.
I’m not in need of snarky well-wishes from people in the grocery store.
I’m not looking for sympathy or pity.
I’m not interested in hateful predictions about how I’ll feel when my children are teenagers.
Quite frankly, after my dysfunctional upbringing, my… trying early twenties, my struggle with infertility, I’m not interested inanynegativity toward my family planning. I’m also not clear on why anyone thinks it’s okay to chime in on the subject, with assumptions that this child will be my last, simply for having a penis.
What exactly is the greater tragedy, that I might intentionally have more children or that I don’t care to share those plans with a nosey stranger at the grocery store? Why exactly does someone think they can apologize to me for the existence of my precious daughters, who are doing nothing more than playing peek-a-boo in the shopping cart? How exactly does someone come to the conclusion that this is an appropriate thing to say to a very pregnant mother with her hands full?
I know, I know. People are just looking for something to say. Well, they can say something a lot less presumptive and a lot less ugly, because I’m not interested in keeping the peace with strangers who think saying negative things about my children (who can hear perfectly well, I might add) constitutes proper small talk. I grew up in a volatile home with parents who loved me, but weren’t that great at it. I desperately wanted this life that I have, shopping cart peek-a-boo and all. I hoped my hands would one day be full and my bank account empty. I prayed for this stress. I wept for these blessings, because I want this. I’m thankful for this.
So perhaps, this Thanksgiving, people can pull their heads out of their asses and be thankful for the families and lives they have, as well.
It’s been a big year, y’all. Jake and I celebrated five years of marriage, continued the adventure of raising our IVF-conceived twin girls, and began planning an embryo transfer in hopes of growing our family. We even met with our fertility doctor and scheduled the procedure… only to find out it wasn’t needed. Day one of the cycle that would have kicked off our frozen transfer never came and we celebrated our little ladies’ first birthday just before announcing our miracle baby due in December. We spent the summer arguing over boy names, transforming our larger extra bedroom into the girls’ new room, and preparing to have three children under 18 months.
An incessant reader of news, it was some time in early June that I stumbled across an article declaring that while the used car market had improved, it would most certainly worsen in the fall. Jake had briefly mentioned upgrading the Kia Sorento we had bought when we found out we were having twins, but I’d brushed him off, insisting the SUV would suffice, as long as we could fit all three car seats in the middle row. The Sorento was paid for, comfortable, said to seat seven, and had relatively few miles on it. Buying another new car less than 18 months later seemed superfluous and needlessly stressful. Regardless, I decided to make sure that we could indeed fit three across the middle row, since the back would be virtually inaccessible with car seats in front of it, only to realize…
When Jake and I bought the Sorento, we’d intended it as a ten-year car, assuminga seven seater would actually, you know… seat seven. It really hadn’t occurred to either of us that we’d be in the market for a minivan when we began planning for baby number three. After the fiasco that was buying our Kia Soul in 2019, struggling to find just the right SUV in 2020, paying it off early with Jake’s lucky Bitcoin earnings, I truly did not want a new car… any new car, regardless of type.
Ever responsive toward and utterly dependent on research, however, I immediately accepted that not only was the market in the best shape we could hope for, but that it wouldn’t get any easier or less stressful to shop for a minivan later in my pregnancy. So, I texted Jake about our predicament and began searching for the best model within our price limit.
Folks, buying a minivan was exactly the nightmare I had feared, perhaps worse. Not only was I shopping for a completely different, more expensive, unfamiliar class of vehicle, in a competitive market, I was wading through a newfound swamp of Mom Snobbery. Review after review, I simply could not escape the elitism behind some of the brand names and their elevated prices. Models that seemed to offer exactly the same number of features, safety ratings, and comfort levels were tens of thousands of dollars higher. While many objective articles described the Dodge Caravan as a budget model with a rougher ride and lower mileage, listing the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as a top option for the fuel conscious, I never did figure out what made the Odyssey and Sienna such premium vehicles when all specs remained the same. After reading some of the reviews himself, Jake still points out every Honda Odyssey he sees, with mock awe.
Ultimately, we ended up with a black, 2019, Chrysler Pacifica Limited 35th Anniversary. It isn’t fully loaded, but does include some nice bells and whistles that are new to us, such as leather heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and remote start. Though finding it was a month-long headache, once it was ours, we were excited… and confused that when we shared the news, everyone seemed to expect us to feel defeated at having purchased a minivan. Even after highlighting the benefits of more leg room, dual climate control, flat-folding seats, and remote doors, everyone seemed to be waiting for our response to some kind of minivan stigma.
Before Jake and I had children, I actually do recall insisting that I’d never own a minivan. For purely practical reasons, I didn’t want to spend substantially more money to drive a much more cumbersome vehicle with worse gas mileage. As far as I understood, an SUV would accommodate just as many people, at a lower price. I just didn’t see the point. I certainly had no distaste for what it would say about me or my stage of life. Upon further reflection, in fact, at one time, I’d dreamt of having and eventually becoming a Minivan Mom.
Growing up in the 90s, minivans were at the height of their popularity and said something to me even then. They were a symbol of all the things I wanted as a child, gradually progressing from the frivolous to the completely justifiable.
Parents who owned minivans lived in three bedroom ranch homes in suburban neighborhoods with ice cream trucks and friends just down the street. We lived in a trailer on ten acres, with few children nearby.
Minivan moms either stayed home, worked part-time, or were teachers, so their kids didn’t have to attend daycare. The dads were home every night and weekend and in good spirits. My mother was a nurse, my father a lineman for the electric company, both exhausted after working long hours, nights, weekends, and call shifts.
Minivan families lived in clean housesand the children wore cute clothes and practiced basic hygiene. Even when we moved to a traditional house, it was a borderline hoarder home, only cleaned when we hosted holiday celebrations. In time, my parents became too wrapped up in their crumbling marriage to pay much attention to grooming and fashion and it showed.
Minivan families ate at the kitchen table, played board games together, and the kids were never allowed to watch anything beyond a PG rating. When I was nine or ten, my parents started spending evenings arguing in the garage, leaving us to call Gramma to bring fast food and entertain ourselves however we may.
Minivan parents took family vacations and had loving, supportive, intact marriages. My dad stopped coming along on trips when I was eight and left a month after my mom’s brain surgery when I was 10. Not long after, my brother moved in with him and I stayed with my increasingly violent mother, while my father tried to recapture his youth.
Growing up, our trailer was just down the street from a foster home, where the parents were known to be abusive to their children, so I fully understood that other kids had it worse than I did. Objectively speaking, I didn’t have a miserable childhood, and see no reason to rewrite history to better or worsen it. Still, I perpetually envied what I deemed my normal classmates, who seemed to come from happy, functional homes, lead by parents with appropriate rules and boundaries. They were good at sports, from ballet and cheer to soccer and basketball. They were never blacklisted from sleepovers, because their moms explained the purpose of edible underwear to their friends when they were nine or let them watch Leprechaun when they were ten. They were slender and sweet, wore their hair in high ponytails with big bows, and the boys thought they were cute. Their parents budgeted for the bills first, so the electricity and water never got cut off. Their moms taught them to apply makeup and talk to boys they liked… and somehow, it seemed they all drove minivans.
You also don’t walk around the block for an hour to repeatedly pass by the boy you like, when he’s outside playing basketball.
As I got older, the minivan association morphed from a symbol of the ideal childhood to that of an ideal adulthood. My southern suburbia was particularly known for its Nicholas Sparks-esque young marriages, right down to the dysfunction and drama, minus the geese.
While I was far from the only 23-year-old divorcee in Shetland, there existed many more young marriages, between high school and college sweethearts. I’d like to assume at least a few were and are still happy. Though I’m no longer active on social media, I’ll never forget the time in my life when I thumbed through the profiles of my old classmates with envy. All those years, they told me my middle and high school bullies would amount to nothing and the Mean Girls were posting photos of grand Southern weddings to oilfield men, who paid for the degrees they’d never use after having babies immediately upon graduation. They bought cookie cutter McMansions in gated communities, carried Coach purses, outfitted their baby boys in Air Jordans, and drove minivans... all while I struggled to keep my head above water, massively overweight, living off of financial aid in a seedy motel after another eviction, while my ex swore he had paid the rent with money from the job he swore he actually worked. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
My senior year of college saw a miscarriage, my first year of grad school a divorce, while I worked two jobs substitute teaching and cleaning rec equipment at the local community center… and things started to get better. I moved into a comfortable apartment, where my ex could no longer sneak in and steal things to sell. I met the young men I was so close to in my early twenties, along with Niki, who plays DnD with Jake and I to this very day. I started working for the library system, while continuing to substitute teach and earn my graduate degree. Life was better… safer. I cultivated hobbies, lost a lot of weight, learned to dress and apply makeup. I dated on and off, as I recovered from the trauma of my first and only relationship and tried to decipher whether or not I wanted another. I worked on my credit and learned to manage my money. I grew into someone I liked, someone I wanted to be… but I still felt so far behind the classmates who’d graduated alongside me just six or seven years earlier. They were only in their early to mid-twenties, but they’d finished school, were presumably happily married, bought homes, had babies… and many of them drove minivans.
Ten years later, I of course realize how valuable those single girl years were for me. While the ages of 18-23 exist in something of a fog of memory I rarely allow to clear, 23-27 were the years those should have been. I learned to take care of and depend on myself, mentally, physically, and financially. After a near lifetime of feeling less than, I started to value and respect myself, acknowledge that the only one who had any right to decide I wasn’t worthy of more was me. I could be smart, successful, cute, funny. I could be a happily single respected academic who was really great at crafts, a worldly traveler and career woman who relocated every five years… or I could earn the minivan life I’d so envied at different times. It wasn’t about proving myself… okay, it wasn’t just about proving myself, but choosing the path I wanted, regardless of who my parents were, how I’d grown up, who I was in high school, the mistakes I’d made as a young adult. I finally realized that none of that actually mattered when it came to shaping my future. I had a right to any life for which I was willing to put in the work. I could leave the past in the past.
I’d never put much thought into what a minivan saidto or about me today. It was just the obvious choice until people seemed to expect negative feelings on the subject. To them, buying a minivan meant becoming their parents with their socks and sandals, little league coaching jobs, mom jeans, and pumpkin spice. When I thought about it, it meant surpassing mine. It meant finally having the life I know my mother always wanted and was never quite able to grasp, the life my dad looks back on and wishes he’d valued more. Just as I could have been the academic, the career woman, being a Minivan Mom is an accomplishment worthy of celebration for me. Perhaps others look on and see the pretention and falsehood of middle class suburban white folks. That’s fine and I take no offense, because I wasn’t always in that class.
Twenty-five years ago, I was the the smelly kid with social and behavioral issues. Twenty years ago, I was the fat nerdy girl in overalls and a turtleneck. Fifteen years ago, I was mourning the house fire my ex started, killing all of my pets. Fourteen years ago, I was evicted in the middle of an ice storm, staying with in-laws I didn’t like until we could get into the aforementioned motel. Thirteen years ago, I was conflicted over how to feel about the miscarriage of a child that would have tied me to a sociopath forever. Twelve years ago, I was filing for divorce during my first year of grad school, wondering if I’d ever have the life I’d wanted… if that was even still the life I wanted.
After ten years in a successful career, I spend my days making grocery runs, attending library storytimes, and having dance parties with the baby girls who will never be neglected into outsider status, knowing that one day I’ll be the career mom once again. I’m happily married to a man who’s never known what it feels like to be ostracized, yet handles me with care when I feel left out. I host bi-weekly game nights with good friends and feel included with my in-laws and Jake’s high school buddies when we visit. I fit in and I’m happy. I’ve transcended. These are the best days of my life so far and unrelated or not… I drive a minivan.
Years ago, I was entering my mid-late 20s in the South and had spent the time since my divorce trying to figure out if I wanted the things I thought I’d wanted, or if everyone had just told me I wanted them. Growing up in the early 2000’s suburban/rural town of Shetland, marrying one’s high school or college sweetheart wasn’t just the dream, but the expectation. Shetland’s welcome sign declared it A City With a Vision, but the Kasey Musgraves quote “If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone,” would have been more fitting. Indeed, by the time I found myself reclaiming my maiden name on my undergraduate diploma, I was one of a dozen young divorcees from the class of 2006, most of whom did have two children. While I’d initially felt behind at 23, thumbing through all of those Facebook posts of engagement rings, wedding photos, new homes, and ultrasound pictures, I eventually came to the realization that I had it all to do over again. I could choose something different… if that’s what I actually wanted.
It was at 26, while substitute teaching an elementary school class that I realized exactly the life I desired. I didn’t like young children and only took such assignments if I was desperate for money, like when the school year was ending and I was staring down a summer with only my half-time librarian position to pay the bills. It was an easy enough day, overseeing a music class and watching Frozen on repeat, broken up by an end-of-the-year assembly in the early afternoon. “Assembly” probably wasn’t the proper term. It was more like a show, where Ronald McDonald performed childlike slapstick comedy to a crowd of children roaring with laughter, as I cynically rolled my eyes.
After ten or fifteen minutes of silly props and noises, however, I noticed that it wasn’t just the children who were laughing themselves sick. The parents in attendance were in similar hysterics at seeing their little ones so innocently amused. I looked around the gym full of kids, still lacking the affection expected by Southern women, yet suddenly more aware than ever of the enjoyment they brought their parents. That’s when it hit me that I wanted this… not because of some animalistic biological drive or archaic gender standard reinforced by life in the South, but because I wanted it for myself. I’d spent years considering more adventurous paths less traveled only to finally realize that I wanted exactly the mundane life expected of me… and that was okay. I would, however, need to get serious about dating. It was then that I began to pray, every night, for God to bring me a good, hardworking, even-tempered man, who would make a great husband and wonderful father… and most importantly to open my eyes and allow me to recognize such a man despite the fog of unreasonable expectations and my own self-sabotage.
My first date with Jake started with a pep talk, as I reminded myself that the worst that could happen was another funny story… only to sigh because I was getting awfully tired of funny stories. It had been a year since that day in my elementary school gym. As much as I had enjoyed the single stage of life, I was ready to move on to the next adventure. I was ready to fall in love and be on my way to the marriage and family I’d failed so miserably to secure previously. I didn’t want a romcom Meet Cute or soapy drama. I wanted someone to come home to, curl up with on the couch while I read and he did his own thing, a presence to feel in the middle of the night. I wanted to laugh, argue, grieve, and plan a life with someone. Odds were, my first date with the fluid engineer I met on Plenty of Fish would be forgettable at best, but perhaps… just maybe… it would be my last first date…
… and so it was.
It was on my first birthday with Jake that I realized he didn’t really do birthdays. When I responded with fitting horror, he explained that such occasions were for children and no one in his family really celebrated them after the age of twelve. Even so, on our three month anniversary, Jake made the trip to Shetland and joined me in a two day birthday celebration, meeting my parents for the first time and humoring all of my ridiculous 28-year-old whims. A month or so later, he indulged me once again, as I insisted we celebrate his birthday, not with all the hoopla and whimsy of mine, but by doing something he specifically wanted to do, which turned out to be Topgolf, pizza, and a movie.
Over the years, I’ve gotten no less demanding with my own birthday, insisting on celebrating the struggles and triumphs of the previous year and the excitement to come in the next. There have been numerous ice cream cakes, trips to the zoo, and even a new puppy. There was the Post-IVF Failure Quarantine Birthday of 2020, where we watched Belle Movies all day and ate takeout. There was the first birthday with our baby girls and just last month, our first family lake trip. Surprisingly enough, Jake has begun to look forward to his own birthdays over the years, as well. Friends have visited from Texas. We’ve eaten poorly made boxed carrot cake, sat through Lord of the Rings movie marathons, baked stuffed pizzas, and even unveiled a pricey gun safe in the hopes we’d need it soon, with small children running around.
Regardless, I’ve no doubt that Jake would let his birthdays slip by with little to no acknowledgement, were it not to humor me. With his quiet, stoic affection, though, he brainstorms ways to make the day special for himself, because he knows doing so is important to me. Whereas I see my own birthdays as a celebration of the adventures past and the welcoming of those to come, Jake’s are a celebration of the answering of those many fervently, even desperately, made prayers. This weekend, as Jake bathed our girls, after I sorted and folded laundry, I looked around and really acknowledged my life as it is, the life this man has helped me create.
Friday night, Jake and I hosted our bi-weekly game night, where we ate ourselves sick and laughed ourselves silly with friends in honor of his birthday. We spent Saturday getting lunch with our beautiful, hard-won babies, before hitting the local pumpkin patch, where we took pictures and all four played and laughed in a trough full of corn. We came home tired and dirty, with dried corn in our shoes, as the girls vacillated between fussing and giggling, having missed most of their naps for family fun. None of it had been a farce, staged for appearances in person or on social media. It was true contentment and joy, ending at the home we own, as a happy family unit. The house was clean and comfortable. There was plenty of food in the pantry and the bills were paid. I fed the girls and cleaned the kitchen, while Jake made soup to freeze for our new baby’s arrival. We discussed what movie we would watch and what kind of pizza we would order for our own private birthday celebration.
Compared to where I once was, my life is utter financially strained, middle-class bliss. There have been many times when I thought I would never have this. I prayed every night for half the man Jake is and God delivered. My husband is good, hardworking, funny, smart, ambitious, and an absolutely fabulous father. He’s a prideful, stubborn, know-it-all, who rarely shows any serious emotion, seldom apologizes, and drives me absolutely crazy. He’s also built a new career from the bottom, taken on every home improvement project I’ve dreamt up, financially supported us even through two rounds of IVF, and slept in an ICU chair for four days when I almost died delivering our girls. He’s gotten up in the middle of the night to clear the drains during a storm, chopped wood in freezing weather, and scraped my windshield without my asking. He’s changed countless diapers, soothed epic tantrums, and come home for lunch every day to help feed and play with his girls. He’s made it possible for me to stay home when I couldn’t handle leaving them. He’s comforted my every rational and irrational fear. Simply put, Jake is everything I ever prayed for and more.
We celebrated our first birthdays together when I turned 28, looking back on my single life; and when Jake turned 31, looking forward to new possibilities. My husband still isn’t one to anticipate his birthday with as much excitement as I do my own, but I find myself looking forward to it with increasing giddiness each passing year. I might have my very own holiday every September 9th, but every October 14th, I get to celebrate my best friend, whether that means cake and DnD or pizza and another viewing of the movie Warcraft. I get the chance to give my husband a day that’s all about him, where I can express my gratitude for the man that he is and the life he’s built with me. Jake wasn’t my way out, exactly, but he was the ultimate destination for a gal who wanted nothing more than a blissfully exhausting family life.
My mother once told me that she never minded getting older, until she no longer had anyone to do it with her. This past month, Jake and I celebrated our seventh set of birthdays together and with our girls: 35 and 38. I don’t mind those numbers even a little bit, as long as we get to celebrate the rest as a family, too.
When I was little, the 1986 film The Worst Witch was one of my favorite Halloween movies. I could never catch it when it was on TV, though, and eventually forgot all about it, replacing it with cinematic classics such as Halloweentown and Twitches, both of which could probably win Oscars when compared with the former. Ten years ago, I remembered this old favorite of mine, bought it on DVD, and now watch it a weird number of times throughout the month of October… and sometimes, like… March. Jake must occasionally wonder if he did, in fact, marry an awkward, chubby, 12-year-old, as he comes home for lunch to see me singing along to this terrible children’s movie, eating “candy salad” from a ramakin.
While Netflix has recently produced a much more polished version of The Worst Witch, based on the 1970’s book series, there’s something about Tim Curry passionately singing “Has anyone seen my tambourine?” that can’t be beat. Don’t you worry, though! You don’t have to buy this gem on Amazon. It’s free on YouTube, in its entirety, and it is worth every c. cent. Here are my thoughts, approximately 25 years after my first magical viewing.
Why does Mildred get all of the blame when she and Maud make the wrong potion? Maud was the one caught trying to sneak her spell book in, so she could cheat. Both girls were equally cavalier about the amount of each ingredient used. Why was Mildred the only one sent to Miss Cackle’s office?
As a kid, I really empathized with Mildred, but as an adult, I realize she’s kind of a mess… even for her age. She insists that she tries and can’t help the fact that things always go wrong, but she also admits to blatantly ignoring simple instructions, like gathering pondweed at midnight. How hard is it to read a clock, Mildred? These problems are of your own making…
… and yet, nothing excuses an educator speaking to a student like this: “Oh dear, Mildred. Oh Mildred, oh dear. You must be the worst witch in the entire school.”
Seriously?!?! She’s twelve. The conversation even ends with a playful “Was I nasty enough for you?” You mean when you told her that she ranked last in thewhole school, because she made a potion incorrectly? How much room for error is allowed? Is not the punishment for failing a test a bad grade? This wasn’t even supposed to be the cruel teacher! Speaking of which…
… when Mildred and Maud are gossiping about Miss Hardbroom and she appears in their room to yell at only Mildred, did she curse her name like Lord Voldemort or is she always watching this child? That’s disturbing and I don’t think she should be allowed within 300 yards of a school.
I understand that the girls are awarded their cats in order of excellence, meaning the lowest performers get their cats last, but they still get cats. I don’t actually think this is a bad system. We coddle weakness too much, today. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding high performers and I am decidedly anti-participation trophy. That being said, who was in charge of procuring the cats and why couldn’t they find enough black ones? Black kittens are literally the most common color put up for adoption. Even if they couldn’t find a black cat for the lowest performer, why couldn’t they change the color in a world where humans can be turned into animals?
Ethel Hallow is one of the villains of this story. She’s a bully and deserves the criticism she gets for it. That being said, much of Mildred’s distaste for her is voiced in regards to her successes, getting upset at how often she does well in class or is chosen first for games. “Just like her to be the first one to get her kitten to ride.” Well, Mildred, if you actually made the effort you keep claiming you’re making in a high-pitched whine, perhaps you’d be more successful in school, too.
These villains are fabulous. I love that they plot their evil moves in song and dance, while wearing multi-colored robes, that match their hair. Once again, I am Team Villain.
Miss Hardbroom is clearly the Severus Snape of this tale and just like Snape, she never redeems herself. “Ethel Hallow shows promise, Mildred Hubble, anything but. Mark my words, Mildred Hubble will never graduate as a witch from this academy!” “That’s very good. Who’s that? Oh. Mildred Hubble. Four.” What are the professional standards for educators in the wizarding world?!?! What does the interview process look like? Do they require teachers to hold vendettas against their least favorite students? Just as the Dursley’s made me cautious of British CPS, Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches makes me pretty wary of their education system. Why doesn’t Miss Cackle take this Miss Hardbroom down a peg and remind her that her role is to support Mildred and build her up? Then again, why didn’t Dumbledore intervene in Snape’s abuse?
How did Mildred think ketchup was blood? She might not be the worst witch, but she might be the dumbest.
Mildred didn’t just scream in terror at the sight of ketchup, she screamed literally 21 times when Ethel came out of the bathroom wearing a mask. Why do these witches scare more easily than humans?
Why wasn’t Mildred suspicious of Ethel for being so generous as to loan her a broom, especially with the pointed and sinister comment “It’ll take very good care of you”? It wasn’t just Mildred, though. No one raised a brow to the school bully loaning a costly piece of equipment to the spaz who bested her in front of the whole school. Now that I mention it, are there not school brooms? My schools always had optional communal equipment, even if it wasn’t as high of quality as something you might buy personally. Hogwarts had school brooms and I have a hard time believing that an almost 400 years old international academy for witches wouldn’t. Is there a school-wide conspiracy to humiliate Mildred?
Why do these girls want huge, sexy noses if no one else in their world has them? This seems like an offensive stereotype of witches, when even the young and attractive ones, like Miss Spellbinder and Miss Cackle’s niece, Donna, don’t have them.
What frigging crossroads demon did Tim Curry make a bargain with and how many years are left in his deal? This man is a household name and has starred, almost exclusively, in movies that can only be described as fabulously terrible. You have not lived until you see Tim Curry’s disturbingly sensual music video cutaway from The Worst Witch, as he flies around in a cape singing about how gremlins are going to mess up every cassette from London to Idaho.
“Oh Miss Hardbroom, your girls? … I love it, Miss Hardroom. Let’s get this show on the road.” Iwant to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume they were going for flirty towards Miss Hardbroom, a consenting adult, but the Grand Wizard might be a sex trafficker.
“I was a fool to trust you! You abominable child, Mildred! Get out of my sight!” “Go to bed without supper and I’ll see you in my office, tomorrow at noon.” “If these are the witches of the future, I hate to think what the future will bring. What is this generation coming to? I’ve got to split. I’ve got another gig.”
It was a performance put on by children. It’s like a flashback to my years of softball… and basketball… and volleyball… and just gym class.
Why does “turn these witches into snails” turn witches in to snails, but “Ethel Hallow is now a frog” turns Ethel Hallow into a pig? Why does no one believe the former, when they saw the latter? I don’t understand the rules of magic in this world.
Why would Ethel confess to Maud, Mildred’s best friend, that she bewitched her broom, humiliating not just Mildred, but the entire school, in front of their Celebrity Rockstar King? Furthermore, why wasn’t she expelled for this, when Mildred is repeatedly threatened with expulsion for innocuous mistakes? Are there actual guidelines for expulsion or is this just the 80s?
“Once in a purple moon, there is a special young witch, who shines above the rest. Often, she goes unnoticed, because she’s out of step. I have seen this girl trying to fly. Oh, yes, I have. I’ve watched her at play and seen how her friends treated her. The best witch isn’t always the girl who comes out on top of tests. A true witch has witchcraft in her at all times… and this is what you have, Mildred Hubble.”
I… I don’t even know where to begin, folks. First of all, these are bold words from a man who cut his visit short, blowing off a feast that was prepared for him and dismissing an entire generation, because a child made a mistake in what amounted to a school play. Second, on what is he basing his praise of Mildred? He’s never even met her, which brings me to my third point. When was he watching her?!?! The Grand Wizard visits for the first time on Halloween night, but he’s “watched her at play and seen how her friends treat her”? I once had a man show up on my doorstep in a hoodie at 9:00 at night and tell me that he was a Mormon and wanted to come inside and speak to me about Jesus Christ… and I didn’t piece together the fact that that probably wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up for years. Y’all, even I can tell that the Grand Wizard is 100% buying children.
“Now, Mildred, have you made any plans for this unexpected holiday?” “No, Grand Wizard. I suppose I’d better practice my flying.” “Would you like to practice with me?” “With you?!?” “Oh, absolutely.” ::he said seductively::
Just recently, Jake and I found the nicest public lake nearby. Living on the outskirts of the county, it’s nearby no one else, but the exact distance to the swim beach is 18 minutes from our front door. It’s small, clean, has picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. After the distance, the second best thing about this little lake, is that it costs $5 per car, per day. The nearest aquatic centers costs more than that per person.
Last Christmas, my step-brother announced that he’d booked a company-owned luxury cabin, in Crested Bute, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The whole family was welcome, at a discounted rate, which depended on how many committed. Because the cabin could only be reserved for four days, the plan was for everyone to stay at a nearby hotel for three to four more. My parents and all of my step-siblings were enthusiastically in, without private discussion, while Jake and I offered non-committal responses, knowing we’d talk about it in the car.
Though we didn’t wish to share the details of our financial situation with my entire family,from the beginning we felt it was optimistic, at best, to think we could take a family vacation in a year when we planned an embryo transfer, which costs about $4,000. So, with the final total up in the air, we tabled the idea, under the heading of “Wouldn’t That Be Nice?” In April, Zane clarified that the cost would be $100 per adult for the full stay at the cabin. Jake and I tentatively agreed that we could probably swing that, but that the hotel was out. In May, we received the wonderful news that we wouldn’t have to pay for an embryo transfer after all. In June, however, I read an article about how the used car market was going to get bad again and finally admitted that we couldn’t actually fit three children in rear-facing car seats in my Sorento.
So, we found ourselves the proud owner of a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica… along with a $1500 pending tag and title and a $100 car payment, when both of our cars had previously been paid off. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was $1500 on our emergency credit card. All the while, my pregnancy was progressing and we needed to move the girls into the larger bedroom, so we could ready their old one for their baby brother. After purchasing a new closet kit, wood and brackets for the 360° shelves Jake built, stain, paint, brush and roller kits, curtains, and additional shelving to make the most of their small shared room from 1980, we were easily looking at another $1200 on said credit card.
In August, I conceded that Colorado just wasn’t doable. A 12 hour drive with 14-month-old twins would be miserable. With gas prices as they were, it would cost an additional $400 just to get there, making it no cheaper than flying. Flying on a holiday weekend sounded even worse with the current transportation issues, all for the equivalent of an extended weekend. We’d already put so much on the emergency credit card, yet still felt we could pay it off completely with our tax return, avoiding any interest. While we could justify charging new baby preparations, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put a leisure trip on credit, even if it was during my 35th birthday. Instead, we would take our girls on their very first lake trip and save approximately $1,495. While everyone else was in Colorado, our family vacation would comprise a few hours less than 20 minutes away. So, in this time of 40-year-high inflation rates at 8.4%, historically high gas prices, soaring electric bills, and general financial discontent across the country, I sent a group text bowing out of the family vacation… and I was the only one.
Y’all, I try to remember that what other people do with their money is none of my business… and I have a lot of practice doing so. Even before I quit my job to stay home, I never got manicures. I cut my hair and Jake’s. I owned one purse, a leather Fossil bag, which I’ve been carrying for three years, as I did with each of the previous three. My clothes have always been bought on sale from Kohl’s, Target, Old Navy, or Amazon.I keep the newest or last edition phone, only for the camera, because I make annual photo albums. Jake’s was five years old until he got a free upgrade. We don’t have cable and keep our streaming services to a minimum. We rarely eat out, cooking at home with groceries we buy ourselves, sans meal kits. My weekly splurge is maybe a $10 sushi bento box, with Jake’s equivalent being beer. When we do get fast food, we literally always split something we buy with a coupon.
Don’t get me wrong .We’re not destitute or struggling without. We have nice computers, a 75″ TV, and quality furniture. Jake owns the newest XBOX and I the latest Cricut machines. However, these are already paid for, so we spend a lot of time at home and rarely do things that cost actual money when we go out. When we go to the zoo, I get a free pass from the library. We go to the park, farmer’s market, free festivals, church events, rodeos with tickets from Jake’s uncle. We stream new movies or check them out from the library. We host two separate DnD games every other week to maintain a pretty decent social life for parents of small children. For fun, I do various crafts and read, while Jake works in the yard or plays video games. Our tax returns go, primarily, to pay off the 0% emergency card or home improvement projects. Our mortgage payment is a little high, but it’s most certainly balanced out by the fact that we have very little debt beyond that.
I’m not complaining about my circumstances. I live in a nice, spacious home on over an acre, in a safe neighborhood, in a small suburb, in the state with the third lowest cost of living. I love my used car and Jake has no complaints about his 12-year-old truck. I like saving money and enjoy the challenge of finding coupon codes. Target clothes are enough for me. I enjoy painting my own nails. I don’t want a new purse. I’m content to be able to buy and cook good food. I’ve done the math on meal kit subscriptions and they’re a terrible deal, only slightly worse than eating out. I just don’t understand where people are getting their money and why they have so much more than we do. No matter how hard I try to be a good and non-judgmental person, I’m frequently left scratching my head at how people are affording their lifestyles.
With Jake’s friends and family, their circumstances at least make sense. His friends have largely gotten loans to start their family farms and run cattle. His sister has land and cattle because her husband once won quite a bit of money at the NFR and started his own business. One cousin is high up in oil and another helps run the family rodeo company. They’re also all 10 years older than us and most of them can’t even comprehend the term vacation, they work so hard. It’s not these folks who are confusing me and I genuinely hold zero bitterness toward them for their success. When looking at people our age, in similar life situations, though, I’m not bitter, but I am at a loss.
I’m not even on social media, but I still see some of my own family members, who’ve just bought their first home and had a baby in the same year, taking vacations, getting manicures, hitting Starbucks every day, and trying out expensive subscriptions, knowing that how much they earn annually places us firmly in the same bracket. They make similar money to what Jake and I do now or what we did before, but while paying for daycare. Still, they buy new cars, don designer handbags and jewelry, shop at pricey boutiques, and eat out all the time. They never seem to financially struggle during the holidays, whereas Jake and opted out of trading gifts between adults years ago. They had elaborate weddings, live on just enough land to cost some serious upkeep, and own farm animals that earn no revenue and essentially amount to expensive, but Instagrammable chores. They buy hundreds of dollars in gifts for their kids, keep them in stylish clothes and the latest tech, and take so many family vacations. I don’t even like to travel, but I’m still wondering how all these middle class people with small children are affording to do so, while Jake chooses a vacation horror movie on Netflix and I Google “fun and free family activities?”
I did not rejoice in the fact that my family all had to miss their flights and sleep on the airport floor with their many babies, came down with altitude sickness, got food poisoning, and experienced several Covid-19 cases during their Colorado trip… but I did rejoice in the fact that Jake and I didn’t put $1500 on a credit card to share in that experience. Similarly, I try not to somehow console myself with the idea that all of these people are drowning in debt. I truly hope that’s not the case, because although Jake and I had to pay $30,000 to have some babies, our house payment, new car payment, and minimum on the 0% credit card are the only monthly installments debts to our name. We also have investments, outside of Jake’s retirement. While they’re not as robust as they once were, with Bitcoin having bought us our babies, they still equal around $35,000. Additionally, although I’m staying home and these other couples earn two incomes, were I still working, the cost of daycare would have voided my pretty decent earnings when our boy arrives.. Even when Jake and I were both working, earning six figures together, we weren’t even able to daydream about keeping up with the Jones’s the way everyone else seems to be doing, so effortlessly.
What is it? Is everyone investing without me? Have they all inherited money? Are they printing it? Are they somehow not paying $4 per gallon in gas and $250 a month for electricity? Are the seemingly normal life expenses Jake and I experience so ridiculous? Do other people not need to have their thermostat replaced, upgrade their car with the increasing size of their families, repaint the occasional room, and save up for a new front door? Are these people, who seem to be living so lavishly in such similar circumstances to ours, somehow living in a pocket dimension where it’s the 1990s and a bag of frozen chicken doesn’t cost $30? Are they just spending more money? Do they have no savings? Are they all drowning in debt? Am I missing something, here? Am I just blind?
Ultimately, of course, I try to remind myself that the answers to these questions don’t actually matter. I have a nice life, one I’d have only dreamt of at one time. While we do make sacrifices to allow me to stay home, they’re both worth it to us and not that much greater than what we’d have been making were I working to pay for daycare. I wouldn’t turn down manicures, fancy haircuts, and massages, but I don’t feel my life is poorer without them. My children are too young to enjoy movie theaters, eating in a restaurant, or vacations. Jake and I appreciate the option to pause the movie on HBO Max and discuss or rant. We like cooking together every night, feeling it makes our marriage stronger. As for the Colorado trip, in hindsight, it seems we had much more fun watching The Hills Have Eyes after taking our girls to our new little $5 lake.
Still, no matter how hard I try to just mind my own busines, be thankful for all of many blessings, keep from looking into other people’s bowls… I can’t help but wonder, why does everyone have more money than we do?
Having grown up the fat, frumpy, awkward girl from a dysfunctional home, it has essentially been my life’s goal to be a cliché Basic White Girl. I jest, but sprung from an unstable foundation, I have genuinely always aspired to be an unremarkable suburbanite. At first, I aimed to be the working mom with an ideal career for a family. When life… shifted those plans, my new ideal became the stay-at-home mom and wife, who returns to work as a teacher or librarian, when her children reach school age. I want to spend my thirties and forties sitting in school drop-off lines, chaperoning field trips, having family game nights, hosting fantastic slumber parties, and embarking on family road trips, all without pretense.
While I’m well on my way to this hard-won life, there are a few trends that will forever expose me for the convert I ultimately am. I do love me some printed leggings, Converse shoes, Friends reruns, avocado toast, and romance novels; however I consider Starbucks and iPhones to be for shmucks, bestsellers virtually unreadable, reality television completely unwatchable, social media an utter waste of time, and wine reminiscent of Mass. Most of all, what keeps me on the outside of all Basic White Girl social circles, is my absolute hatred for HGTV.
Aside from a handful of shows about families with over a dozen children, I’ve never been a fan of reality TV – a fact that will forever contribute to my inability to converse with my family at holiday celebrations. It’s not an elitist viewpoint, by any means. I watch plenty of trash television. I just prefer even slightly better acting and production values. While I wouldn’t cite that as a main reason for my HGTV loathing, it is a contributing factor. The disasters are just so telegraphed, the drama so rehearsed, and even a cursory Google search on the experiences of those who’ve actually been on the show will reveal that the “makeovers” are falsified in many ways. This is an issue with all reality TV, though. It’s not unique to HGTV. However…
HGTV is fantasy fuel, but these things are fantasies for a reason. Living in spaces as formal, as loud, as stuffed to the brim with furniture would be overwhelming for most people. A couple of statement rooms and pieces, like a green kitchen, a deep blue velvet reading chair, or a plant corner, are enough of a “pop” for the average human, without lowering resale value. Of course, no one wants to watch a show where an average looking home is transformed into a slightly less average home with the addition of a single colorful accent wall, a patterned rug, or some new light fixtures. Unless you’re Pee Wee Herman, though, that’s likely going to be enough for your senses. I just don’t have the suspension of disbelief to look at the after photos of an HGTV room without a headache coming on at the very idea of spending every day there.
On the same topic, a common criticism of HGTV is the careers and corresponding budgets of their chosen contestants. Why does no one have a real job? Why is the budget always $900k?!? Is living in the state with the third lowest cost of living blinding me to real finances? No, actually. I just checked and it’s not. The average cost of a home in the United States is $354,649. The average in my state is $181,574. Jake and I paid $210,000 for a flip from 1980 with 2,300 square feet, counting the converted garage. It sits on 1.13 acres and has no HOA, because we’re not communists. Were we contestants with our budget on House Hunters, we’d be looking for garage apartments in Flint, Michigan.
Everyone’s house looks the same.
Somehow, while simultaneously looking down on average home décor, HGTV also manages to define the concept. When I was a kid, my mother refused to paint any room in the house any color other than white, insisting that it “makes the room smaller.” When I asked how that was possible, she conceded that while the room would still be the same size, colored walls would create the appearance of a smaller space. In hindsight, I understand her reasoning. It was the 90s, after all, and the average person knew very little about decorating and color theory.
In our modern world, this is no longer the case, as anyone who’s ever shopped for curtains or throw pillows can see from the targeted ads directing them to numerous interior design articles Yet, somehow, everyone’s living room is still painted a ridiculous shade of white called “gilded linen,” accented with “minimalist” furniture and light fixtures of wicker, bamboo, and rattan. The entire house is fitted with light colored wood, subway tile, shiplap, or marble, depending on the year it was decorated. The “eye-catching” features comprise a couple of plants, a gold-trimmed mirror, a neutral patterned rug, a wall of crosses and/or a sign declaring this .13 acre dwelling to be a “Farmhouse“. Chip and Joanna Gaines seem like lovely people, really, but my stars have they leached all the color from the world.
While the above accurately describes the varying degrees of Farmhouse Chic in the quintessential suburban/rural home, the trendy urban dwelling is positively bursting with retro 70’s colors and mod style art and furniture. Bonus points are awarded based on the number of thrifted, antique, or locally commissioned finds. Emerald green velvets, tropical patterned wallpaper à la my parents’ prom backdrop, yellow gold light fixtures, and so muchwicker positively overwhelms the senses in these homes. One can’t decide if they should look at the vaguely pornographic statuary, the funky red velvet sofa, or the geometrically patterned accent wall.
None of these individual trends are bad things. A white room with light-colored wood can feel airy and light. A thrifted retro chair and brightly colored shelf or desk can draw the eye to a nice reading corner or home office space. The problem arises when normal folks in normal homes attempt to perfectly copy the spaces they see on HGTV shows, forgetting that humans will actually be occupying these showrooms. Perhaps in some cases, this look is truly what these individuals love, and it’s just not to my taste. I know people who detest color and others who abhor what they consider the mundane. If that’s the case, more power to them! I have seen so many variations of both of these extremes, though, from people who’ve visited Waco or the art museum one too many times, that I’d wager in many cases, it has more to do with getting the “right” look than the right look for them, whatever that might be… and I blame HGTV.
The choices are often impractical.
A researcher at heart and once by trade, I have actually taken quite a bit of care to avoid biased searches for this post, keeping my inquiries as general as possible, such as “interior design trends HGTV.” Still, I’ve found numerous examples of recommendations that are just completely and utterly pointless and/or impractical. The pointless ranges from a wall of clocks, to a fake mantel, to mounted decorative wooden doors, to words on the wall, my foremost detested popular décor since the first time I read the words “live, laugh, love.”
While I can ascribe what I see as pointless to a matter of personal taste, I simply cannot forgive the impractical, such as a chalkboard wall anywhere but a children’s space. Who is going to take the time to clear those shelves and counters to etch out cutesy diner drawings and phrases? How quickly is it going to get smudged? How thoroughly is it going to have to be cleaned to avoid that 1980s second grade classroom look? Who is going to dust all those knickknacks on that open shelf? What books are in those decorative stacks? Is that giant fig real? If so, what are the care instructions? If not, does it look fake up close? Why is the fireplace in the middle of the room, taking up so much space? Is it functional? If so, how does the room not fill with smoke when there are no doors? If not, why isn’t this space being occupied by something more useful or, at the very least, less structurally permanent?
Jake and I moved to our almost rural suburb of Cherokee, on the outskirts of the county, five and a half years ago. Do you know how many brick houses were painted whitein 2017? Zero, because we live in a state known for it’s wind andred dirt.
What in the actual Hell, y’all? How do people not realize that these homes are going to be pink in five years? No amount of power washing is going to fix that and you can’t unpaint brick.
Why, oh why, would anyone want marble countertops? They’re more costly. They stain and are prone to etching if exposed to acid. They’re not especially heat resistant. They need to be sealed annually. There are arguably better options, but according to my research, right behind painted brick, marble is the trend of 2022, along with subway tiles. Just as with the chevron printed walls of 2010 and the grey on grey of 2015, these fads will also fade, only this time, it’ll be far more expensive to remodel.
Trendiness is expensive.
As you can see, the issues I have with HGTV all fall under the umbrella of their constant promotion of trendiness. I got a few of my examples for this post from an article titled Interior Designers Forecast 2022 Design Trends. It opens with a paragraph on the environmental impact of fleeting interior design choices and the importance of developing a long lasting personal style, before going on to push in vogue furniture, “more marble,” and even tiny homes. Other HGTV articles recommend contemporary furnishings, brightly colored chandeliers, and gold-touched wallpaper. Unless these things specifically appeal to you, they are going to get old fast, as they become just as dated as the Tuscan style décor of the early 2000s. They aren’t going to be cheap to replace, either.
When Jake and I bought our home, open floorplans were all the rage and had been for quite some time. While this is still a prominent layout in new construction, in a post-Covid world, people often find themselves working from home alongside their spouse and children. In time, open floorplans might become less popular… and that’s okay with me. Jake and I love the spacious feel of our great room, just as we love our granite countertops. We’ve no desire to erect walls or install marble to keep up with the times.
If you love your loud dining room wallpaper and furniture as much as I love the papasan chair in my red reading space full of plants, everyone else can go kick rocks. If you’re prying off your shiplap to put up subway tile, because you’ve heard that shiplap is on it’s way out, you need to turn off the TV. While it can be fun to play around with throw pillows, floor lamps, and wall art, as HGTV does encourage, the larger furniture purchases and makeovers really should be built around genuine personal preference. While I’ve seen numerous homeowners pushed to make pricey, fleeting, or impractical decisions, I have never seen personal taste come before modern style on any HGTV show… and as much I detest it, I’ve watched a lot of HGTV these last few years, which brings me to my final point.
HGTV gives me wartime flashbacks.
While all of the above reasons for my HGTV hatred are true, I’ll admit that I do possess a certain level of bias that has thrown that general distaste into flat-out loathing. Folks, I confess that I cannot watch HGTV without having flashbacks to Covid-19 infertility appointments. That chipper over voice plays, those preppy Urban White People costumes flash across the screen, someone says the words “open concept”… and suddenly I’m sitting alone in a waiting room, next to a chair with an ‘X’ taped on it, wearing a medical mask, Googling adoption horror stories to take my mind off the news.
There’s something about HGTV that is just so totally innocuous, that it has apparently been endorsed by the American Medical Association for it’s calming effect on anxious, primarily female, patients… because I rarely see it playing in any gender neutral office, such as the dentist. I get it. There’s simply nothing truly objectionable about the programming, in a broader sense. What could possibly be less threatening than home décor? Most certainly, in a year when every news story was about the number of deaths in various cities, it was the obvious choice. I suppose it worked in my favor, after all, that this experience didn’t ruin something I truly enjoy, like reruns of Friends or Bewitched… because even before it gave me flashbacks to one of the most difficult times in my life, I hated HGTV.
I’ve been dreaming of writing this post for several years now. Having started this blog on my 25th birthday, I wondered if I’d ever make it here, still sharing my story with Future Belle and her readers. I imagined how my life would unfold over ten years. Would I ever get the job, meet the boy, buy the house, have the babies? I’m sure the overall picture is quite different in several ways, but I am undeniably happy.
You see, today I am 35 years old, a big number in the world of infertility, and I am a mother of two, soon to be three. While I never fully joined the online infertility community, I do occasionally dip my toe in and read stories from women still struggling and others who’ve survived. From the happily married and trying for years, to those still searching for love and unsure of whether they’re ready to take on single parenthood, it’s no secret that women hoping to conceive often dread and fear their 35th birthday. While we all rationally know that every body differs, we still hear echoes of generalizing doctors, aunts, and old wives’ tales warning us that if we’re not calling ourselves mothers by 35, there’s a strong chance we never will. We turn 31 and tell ourselves we have plenty of time. At 32, we get a little more anxious. At 33, we feel rushed. At 34, we start to panic. It’s positively triggering for women struggling with infertility to even think about 35.
There are so many choices in life, so many doors closed after one is opened, by the time we reach our mid-thirties. Over the years, I’ve coped with these missed opportunities through my own (probably scientifically inaccurate) interpretation of the Many-Worlds Theory. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a Belle who works as a veterinarian specializing in large cats… in another, a successful travel blogger… in yet another, a respected theologist or historian. For years, I’d often slip into one of these imagined realities for a time, escaping the monotony of real life for a bit of adventure. Yet, I find myself doing so less and less often, these days. I’m not reporting a fascinating life to Instagram. My father does not live vicariously through me. I’m not a renowned academic, publishing scholarly articles. I’m not even a librarian anymore, something I’d never have imagined on the day I started this blog, ten years ago. Nope. I took the road more travel and I wouldn’t slip into one of these more interesting worlds for anything.
I’m a wife and a stay-at-home mom. My days are filled with sing-alongs, story times, and Target runs. I no longer lead meetings, attend trainings, or make schedules. The only emails I send are links for my Gramma, when she wants to buy something for my girls or the new baby. In ten years, on my 20th Blogiversary, I’ll likely be that respected professional, once again. I’ll put my master’s degree to further use and earn new anecdotal stories from my dad. Right now, though, my most wonderfully average dreams are being fulfilled. There have been several times in my life, when I’ve feared I would never have this, when this was the universe I visited. I’m happily married to my best friend, living in a home on one unremarkable acre, enjoying the most amazing days of my life to date, raising precious babies. One day, I’ll be interesting again, but here, on my no longer triggering 35th birthday, I am trulyhappy.
My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, at least half of which I could reference in casual conversation without making people uncomfortable… so, not rereads of poorly written romance novels… sorry Kristen Ashley. Since I’ve never actually read most of the classics I was assigned in high school and, as a teen librarian, my main customers were still being forced to do so, I figured I’d make all 26 classics. I finished them just after my girls were born, with a six month delay due to the headaches caused by infertility medications… and I quite enjoyed myself. In fact, I’ve continued reading classics, though not in such abundance. Those included, I still only violently hated one and generally disliked a second one, as you can see in my review of books 1-7 and 8-13. I’ll also link books 14-19 as I successfully completed not only my goal to read 26 classics, but to review them. After two and a half years, I present my final installment in this series, books 20-26.
20. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury ⭐⭐
I read Something Wicked This Way Comes right around Halloween, as it features a carnival that’s come to the hometown of two young boys, Will and Jim, on October 23rd. Excited by the arrival of such an attraction, the boys quickly realize this is not just any carnival; but one peopled by sinister beings, who operate a mystical carousel, which possesses the ability to age people forward and backward.
Having discovered the truth about the carnival, Will, Jim, and Will’s father, Mr. Halloway, embark on the adventure of their lives, attempting to save themselves and eventually the townspeople from Mr. Dark, or The Illustrated Man. Mr. Dark, the leader of the carnival, is a powerful wizard who comes around every generation to prey on the community with the help of his minions. In a somewhat hokey conclusion, the trio manages to defeat the festival fiends through cheer and laughter and all is well.
Something Wicked This Way Comes was likely the perfect coming of age story for a young teenage boy in the early 1960s. A woman in her thirties in 2022, however, I had some trouble relating to the innocently rambunctious and brave spirits of Will and Jim. That’s not necessarily a fault on the part of Bradbury. It is wonderful to read an empathetic protagonist, regardless of gender, such as Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen, to remind us that, on some level, we’re all experiencing the same thing. However, the unique realities of growing up male versus female, which Bradbury attempts to portray, are equally valuable perspectives for young readers. The trouble with Something Wicked This Way Comes is in its failure to live up to my standards for a classic novel.
Upon Googling what makes a classic a classic over the years, I’ve found all sorts of pompous, trite, and self-righteous definitions, none of which ever resonated with me. Only after having read nearly 30 of them over the course of a year and a half did I finally decide on one of my own. While there’s something to be said for quality of writing, at it’s most basic level, a classic is a story whose themes transcend time and societal norms. While few can relate to the lifestyle of the Regency period depicted in Pride and Prejudice, we can all all empathize with the feeling of having misjudged someone, to our detriment or theirs. As much as I disliked The Lord of the Flies, I could acknowledge the validity of some of its references to human nature. Something Wicked This Way Comes, however, serves as more of a snapshot in time. I’m not sure how apparent it would be, had I not spent years working directly with its target audience, but it is one that I feel this story fails to accurately represent.
Will and Jim depict a level of youthful innocence that was quite common in the media of the time, but which I’m not sure ever really existed. While this might be a fun story for a child of eight or nine, it’s quite the sanguine portrait of an age most people remember as being quite difficult. Even Mr. Halloway’s longing for his youth fails to consider its trials. While his character does have twenty years on me, at fifty-four, Charles Holloway spends the entirety of this story looking at childhood through rose-colored glasses, fantasizing about taking a few trips around the magical carousel in reverse. In the end, it’s not an understanding or remembrance of the trials of adolescence that even deter him, but an acceptance of the fact that his peers would resent his sudden vitality. As a woman nearing 35, I must say, were I given the ability to be physically 24, while remaining financially, professionally, and emotionally 34, my peers could go kick rocks.
Something Wicked This Way Comes wasn’t a bad read. It was a delightfully spooky children’s adventure, perfect for the Halloween season. I’d share it with my son, when he’s eight to ten, though likely not much later. Even having worked with preteens/young teens and nearing something of a milestone birthday, I found its themes and characters particularly unrelatable. I award two stars, because I can’t say it truly warrants the title of “classic.”
21. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte ⭐⭐⭐⭐
When I was 22, I found myself in an elevator with a couple of classmates discussing which Bronte sister they preferred. The moment I heard the airy words “I’m more of an Emily than a Charlotte,” I vowed to never read a work by either of the Brontes, for fear it would make me as insufferable as these two, who’d repeatedly presented themselves as pretentious snobs in class. It was a petty declaration, sure, but it was also one I stood by for more than ten years and that took dedication. I was, therefore, admittedly hesitant to read Jane Eyre, even though I’d truly enjoyed Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Now more than ever, I find this to be the greatest deterrent for most readers, when it comes to classic literature. People are terrible at selling their favorites, almost incapable of doing so without condescension and self-importance. Instead of discussing the titles, they emphasize what it means to have read them. Instead of focusing on the storylines and themes, they get stuck on imagery and perceived hidden meaning. Essentially, they ruin the fun. While I wouldn’t exactly call JaneEyre “fun,” I can honestly say that its title character was one of my favorites in classic literature.
Jane Eyre tells the tale of orphaned Jane, who lives with her cruel and abusive aunt and cousins, until she’s sent away to an arguably harsher boarding school. When her difficult tenure as a student ends, Jane spends the next two years as a teacher, ultimately finding a position as a governess, under the employee of Mr. Edward Rochester at Thornfield Hall. Here, she cares for Adèle, who is eventually revealed as the abandoned daughter of a former French mistress, though Edward does not believe himself to be her father. I won’t ruin the convoluted tale as Jane attempts to stay true to herself while falling for Mr. Rochester, but it was complex and original, particularly for the time. In fact, Jane Eyre serves as the origin point for the cliché “person hiding in the attic/walls” trope we now see so often in thrillers and horror. Who knew?
… probably pretentious English majors, to be fair.
At nearly 600 pages or 19 hours, Jane Eyre is tedious at times. Yet, out of 26 classic novels, I felt only a few female protagonists were developed enough to earn the title of “heroine.” Written at a time when women were primarily Madonnas or whores ::cough:: Anna Karenina::cough::, Jane was a refreshingly complex lead, as she struggled to find a balance between her own strong-willed personality and what was considered appropriate and respectful for the time. Jane struck me as the possible inspiration for Alcott’s Little Women, attempting to stand up for herself, speak the truth, and also tow the line of propriety. She was independent, intelligent, hardworking, and didn’t expect handouts or a fairytale when women in literature were hopeless romantics, at best. Jane loved Edward for his character, not his wealth, and proved it in more ways than one. For a year and a half, I read stories of damsels, femme fatales, harlots, and just plain old background music for the conversations of Very Important Men. Jane of JaneEyre ranks with Wilhelmina Harker of Dracula and Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. They’re the real MVP’s.
22. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The first year Jake and I were together, I was shocked to discover that his favorite movie of all time was A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. This was an oil man who wore a cowboy hat without irony or falsehood. His duplex consisted of a broken couch, a plywood “coffee table” he and his buddies had cobbled together during his college years, a glass end table, a recliner, and a bed. A deer head, a mirror with an etching of some deer, and a framed photo of a deer comprised his “decor.” That’s it, y’all. He had no table or chairs, just an ancient microwave and coffee pot, in which he used paper towels as filters. Hmm… perhaps there was some merit to his affection for Ebenezer Scrooge.
… and his favorite movie of all time starred Kermit the frog.
It feels superfluous to recount Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but I’ll proceed. Ebenezer Scrooge stars as a bad-tempered miser who hates Christmas, on a bitter cold London Christmas Eve. Scrooge goes to bed content in his tight-fisted ways, only to wake to the first of three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows him where he’s gone wrong. Next comes the Ghost of Christmas Present, sharing what Scrooge is missing in life as a curmudgeon and the troubles he could ease. Finally, he’s visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who reveals Scrooge’s own funeral with not a single mourner. On Christmas morning, Ebenezer Scrooge awakes, determined to change his ways and immediately sets about doing so.
A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, yet feels as though it’s been told, in some fashion or another, since the beginning of time. It is, perhaps, one of the most relatable classics ever written, since there’s not a soul on earth without regrets, a desire to change in the present, or hope for a better future. While different forms of art have taken liberties with Dickens’s original story, no rendition quite holds up to the original. Considering there have been nearly 200 years to attempt such a feat, that’s quite impressive. In fact, this makes me want to read more Dickens, despite the general modern distaste of his writing from Americans who were forced to read him in high school. Short and simple, a marvelous Christmastime read, I give A Christmas Carol four stars.
23. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐
Since there seems to be no official consensus on what makes a classic a classic, I chose to include one modern classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Having read this book in 2020, before the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, it seemed controversial, but not overly so. Still, I was hesitant to choose a politically divisive title, when as a general rule, I tend to avoid politics on this blog.
The Handmaid’s Tale is told entirely through the perspective of a handmaid denied her own name and known only as Offred (Of Fred) in the dystopia of Gilead, the totalitarian society that was once The United States. Amidst a rampant fertility crisis, handmaids have been taken by the wealthy elite and forced to bear their children, through a disturbing monthly “ceremony” of rape. Through Offred’s eyes, we see her life before Gilead, when she had a husband and daughter, neither of whom she knows the whereabouts. Offred longs to escape, as she thinks her friend Moira has done, but doesn’t dare, instead forming an emotional bond with her Commander out of desperation and lack of choice. Offred soon realizes that Moira didn’t exactly flee to the life she’d hoped and her options are even more limited. Forced to conceive, she begins an affair with actual feeling and is not sure if this will lead her to escape or ruin.
Despite current tensions claiming otherwise, The Handmaid’s Tale, simply put, is dystopian fiction. As with Brave New World, 1984, and Alas, Babylon, it was built on modern themes and trepidations of where the world is headed, but unless read with a hyperbolic fear of the current state of politics, The Handmaid’s Tale is just as far-fetched as its predecessors. Of course, there are plenty of people on the extremes of the political wheel who feel all of these titles are coming to fruition in some way or another, comparing Offred’s story with both abortion rights and surrogacy. Not being one of them, I found it disturbingly enjoyable, but your mileage my vary.
One of the primary criticisms I’ve read and heard of The Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s dry. I find this to be a valid assessment of most classics, when compared with the literary hits of present day, because the competition for the attention of the target audience has never been so fierce. Published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s most famous title seems to start in the middle, requiring several chapters to fully grasp what’s happening. Whereas I might have found that tedious at one time, this project has broadened my outlook, because I rather enjoyed the challenge of trying to put the pieces together, almost as much as the bleak picture they created.
As a character-driven reader, I appreciate tales of complex individuals, who are neither wholly good nor bad. This element does feature in this story, though it could have been more prominent. The Commander is, of course, a rapist by today’s measure, yet shows compassion and even affection for Offred. His wife, Serena, isthe devil, but her actions are driven by a desperate yearning for a child, any child. Moira finds a way out of her circumstances, but her ending is hardly desirable. Since we’re never privy to anyone’s thoughts but Offred’s, we never fully understand the motivations of these individuals or how they feel about the world in which they live. Offred herself so longs for the past, while attempting to bear her torturous present, that Atwood never really expands on her immediate feelings. As a writing choice, the mystery makes sense, but as a reader, it did leave me wanting.
While I’m aware this is a series, reading it while struggling with infertility, I wasn’t in the mood to continue Offred’s story at the time. Pregnant, I don’t wish to continue it now. One day, however, I’d like to revisit and see if The Handmaid’s Tale still only warrants three stars.
24. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee ⭐⭐⭐⭐
To Kill a Mockingbird was actually one of my earlier picks, which I seem to have forgotten to review. It was a title chosen at the most ambitious point in my project, because I was truly dreading it. I’m not even sure if To Kill a Mockingbird was assigned to me in school, if I was forced to watch the movie while substitute teaching, or both. All I remembered prior to my 2020 read was that it was mind-numbingly dull and I loathed Scout, because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: even as a stay-at-home mom who loves her day to day life, I don’t like children... unless required to by some kind of evolutionary or spiritual programming. My introduction to Scout Finch, via the 1962 film, came long before either of these exceptions and I was not looking forward to a second impression.
To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the years 1933-1935, as a first-person account from six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout. The story is something of a coming of age novel, as Scout grows from a mouthy tomboy to a still begrudging young lady, unwilling to adhere to the strict standards of femininity shared by the older female characters demanding she tow the line. While it also explores themes of masculinity, through Scout’s middle-aged father Atticus, older brother Jem, and neighbor friend Dill, To Kill a Mockingbirdis primarily known for it’s discussions and plot revolving around race. Told alongside the shenanigans of Scout, Jem, and Dill trying to befriend their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, is the story everyone recalls. Atticus, a lawyer, chooses to defend an obviously innocent black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of rape, despite the objections of the town and even Atticus’s own family.
Out of all the classics I read, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the book that surprised me the most. I honestly loved it. While I still have little faith that I could sit through the movie without yelling at young Scout, reading a story from the perspective of a little girl is far more relatable than watching her on screen. In first-person narrative, Scout’s antics went from obnoxious to nostalgic. I could remember thinking the way Scout did. I wasn’t putting up with a stubborn and disobedient child, but recalling what it was like to be one. Similarly, on page, Atticus wasn’t dull and preachy, but stoic and wise. He might not have been the father who played ball in the yard, but he taught his children valuable lessons about living with honor, while still standing against the injustices of a world that doesn’t.
While the court room scenes of To Kill a Mockingbird were indeed a little dry, they held up better in the book than on a black and white screen. The movie is not poorly done. This book just doesn’t translate well to film. While the written work stars dynamic, flawed characters, a compelling narrative relatable to both men and women, and a realistically infuriating ending, without Harper’s narration, all of that falls flat on screen. As a remarkable depiction of youth, societal gender roles, the good and bad of small town living, and racial injustice that will keep you up at night, I give To Kill a Mockingbird four quite unexpected stars.
25. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Tom Hardy ⭐⭐⭐
I am a self-aware person with no ability to lie. In fact, I tend to overshare to my detriment and readily admit that while the Twilight movie taught me the correct pronunciation of “irrevocably,” its adult counterpart, Fifty Shades of Grey, taught me of the existence of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In May of 2021, well past my self-imposed deadline of one year, just weeks out from having my twins, I was beginning to run out of classics. So many of the suggestions were unheard of or notorious for their length. As much as I enjoyed this project, I really wasn’t up for Les Miserables or War and Peace. So, having watched Fifty Shades of Grey numerous times for the cheesy romance (in spite of poor Jamie Dornan clearly reciting the rosary in his head during all of those painfully awkward sex scenes), I decided on Anastasia Steele’s favorite. While I didn’t enjoy the Fifty Shades book series, I was curious about the proposed allegorical reference to Thomas Hardy’s most famous novel, particularly the following quote:
“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks.”
I supposed this was as good a choice as any. Yes. That is the kind of scholarly process that went into my selections.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles stars Tess Durbeyfield, an innocent and utterly spineless country girl with absolutely wretched parents. After covering for her drunken layabout father one night, Tess feels responsible for the unfortunate death of the family’s only horse and agrees to meet with a potential wealthy ancestor, Mrs. d’Urberville to “claim kin.” Not realizing that the late d’Urberville only claimed the name to cover his own roots, Tess is taken in by Mrs. d’Urberville and her son Alec, who one night rapes her.That is the meaning of the above quote, which Christian sends to Ana with a first edition of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, folks: a warning that she might get raped.
The following summer, Tess has her rapist’s baby, who dies soon after.
For fucking realz, y’all.
A few years later, Tess has fallen in love with a young minister, Angel Clare, while working as a milkmaid where no one knows her past. Ever the Mary Sue, she feels she cannot marry without revealing the truth, yet Angel tells her they can confide in one another after their vows… which he does, admitting that he was once the willing participant in an affair with an older woman. Tess feels that Angel will surely understand and tells him of her own tragedy, only to be discarded for her disgusting part in her own rape. After years of living apart from her husband, a repentant Alec finally convinces Tess that her true love will never return. The two marry, as Tess’s only option to save her miserable family, only for Angel to show up to reclaim his bride. For the very first time in the 600 page novel, Tess stands up for herself and stabs Alec to death in a moment of glorious off-page revenge. After five days of bliss with Angel, she’s arrested and eventually executed, having secured his promise that he’ll marry her younger sister and care for her undeserving family.
There really is no way to summarize this book without blatant spoilers, if the intent is to discuss it. I’m sure it appears as though I hated Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but I quite enjoyed it. As much as I love romance novels, historical has never been my jam, simply because the suspension of disbelief is just too great. Not only am I supposed to believe that the handsome, vaguely wealthy hero is into the relatably plain heroine, I’m also meant to accept that he’s not a hairy, toothless, brute who only bathes a few times a month. It’s easy enough for authors to skip over basic grooming, dental care, and hygiene, of course. While I’m no historian, the Bridgertons are just a wee bit too understanding and respectful of the women of their day for believability. No, real men were often Alec d’Urberville: charming, seductive, classist, rapists. Others were Angel Clare: hypocritical, self-righteous, narrow-minded, cads.
While I’m sure there were men of honor in the late 19th century, I appreciate Thomas Hardy’s snapshot in time. Just as we long for the music and fashion of the 80s, while forgetting the AIDS epidemic and casual racism, sexism, and homophobia, we tend to look at Simpler Times through rose-colored glasses. Austen and Alcott paint a romantic picture of a dreadful time, while Hardy’s chronicle is just deeply disturbing. Tess exists in a world where family is everything, even when it’s not much. She’s beholden to lazy, thoughtless, selfish parents, and the children they carelessly bring forth. She’s the victim of both classism and sexism in her rape, as her standing as a woman of lower class leaves her not only with little credibility, but a societal acceptance that it’s somewhat her fault. Unlike the Bennet sisters or the March girls, Tess’s dedication to purity, goodness, and truth is her Achille’s heel. Were she more selfish or deceitful, these tragedies wouldn’t have befallen her and she’d have had a better life.
Before reading 26 classics in 18 months, I’d often assumed those with a romantic focus to be sappy and predictable. Thomas Hardy utterly debunks that assumption with a gritty image of the world and a bleak, hopeless approach to the fate of a good woman. The Wednesday Addams in me loved it. I give Tess of the D’Urbervilles three stars.
26. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen ⭐⭐
Having read and loved Pride and Prejudice, I decided on another Austen novel as my final classic in my list of 26. I chose Sense and Sensibility, assuming it would be as light and entertaining as its chronological successor.
Sense and Sensibility tells the tale of Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, after the recent demise of their father. The second wife of Mr. Dashwood, Mrs. Dashwood is ultimately overlooked as his property changes hands, in favor of the son from his first wife and his greedy bride, Fanny. During their brief stay in their former home, Elinor becomes quite smitten with Fanny’s brother, Edward, much to Fanny’s distaste. Soon, the Dashwoods relocate to a cottage owned by a cousin, where they meet 35-year-old bachelor Colonel Brandon, who is taken with Marianne.
Uninterested in a man so much her senior, Marianne becomes swept away in a romance with the charming and ultimately deceitful John Willoughby. Through a complicated series of events, it’s revealed that Willoughby is engaged to another woman and intentionally led Marianne on, as one of many. Heartbroken, she realizes that Elinor’s quiet, slow burn relationship with Edward, which has been progressing in the background, has far more merit to it than one of passion and drama. In time, she begins to see Colonel Brandon for the man he is and each girl gets their happy ending.
Folks, I truly loved Pride and Prejudice. I expected to hate it, after years of hearing book snobs gush over it, but found it to be charming, funny, and starring relatable characters. I expected similar magic from Sense and Sensibility. Sadly, it came up short. While I can appreciate the overall titular themes, they felt preachy without the dynamic characters of Austen’s later work. In fact, Sense and Sensibility often felt like the rough draft of Pride and Prejudice. Elinor Dashwood’s sense came across as a shadow of Jane Bennet’s demureness. Similarly, Marianne’s sensibility could be seen in both Elizabeth and Lydia, as she unfairly judges an honorable man and allows herself to be charmed by a more insidious one.
Not only did the characters themselves pale in comparison to Jane, Elizabeth, Charles, and Darcy, but the story did as well. I found that the supporting storylines of Sense and Sensibility failed to add color and depth, instead creating distraction and confusion. The side characters were one-dimensional and forgettable, at best, while transparently existing only to further the plot, at worst. Having listened to the audio, I caught myself repeatedly rewinding portions to figure out who was talking with and about whom, because none of these people had distinct voices, and I don’t mean that literally. Whereas Pride and Prejudice seemed to tell a tale that transcends time, Sense and Sensibility came across as a one that was cautionary, while also somewhat shallow and forgettable. A part of me wonders if I’d have appreciated it more, had I read it first, but another part of my knows it would have likely been my last attempt at Austen. A fair effort, but certainly not her best work, I give Sense and Sensibility two stars, maybe two and a half.
I did it!
After a year and a half of reading classics and an additional year to write the reviews, I completed my goal to both read and review 26 classics! Once a librarian who never understood the appeal of classics, as you can see, I surprisingly enjoyed most of them. Here’s the breakdown:
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkein
Jake and I met in the summer of 2015, at 30 and 27. He was working as a fluid engineer an hour away, in an oil town. I was living in the suburbs, working as a half time librarian and enjoying a break from substitute teaching during the financially leaner summer months. We met online, during a time when the stigma had lifted just enough to make it ubiquitous, but not quite so much that everyone had become utterly jaded and exhausted by the entire process. Compared to the modern woes shared by my single friends, it seems 2015 was something of a Golden Age for online dating, when the majority of people approached it with some genuine sense of purpose. After all, if you were going to risk a coworker finding your profile, you were at least going to try to meet someone.
From the beginning, things with Jake were… uncomplicated. Essentially strangers, there was no immediate “spark” or “love at first sight” moment between us, because we weren’t the leads in a paranormal romance novel. I thought he was funny and had pretty eyes. I liked his beard. He thought I was cute and smart. We talked long enough for the restaurant to close for lunch and he texted within the next couple of hours to tell me he had a good time. We didn’t kiss until our sixth date, what with him having been my literal second of most things and eventual first of quite a few. He met my parents on my birthday and I met his on Halloween. I said I love you at four months and he immediately said it back. We first slept together after eight months, when we went skiing in New Mexico. That was the same weekend we hypothetically discussed marriage. By one year, we were making serious plans and that Thanksgiving, I had a ring. A week later, we’d set a date.
Just kidding… I was totally a prude.
We were married just shy of two years after that first date and bought our home a year later. Aside from the election year of back-to-back pandemic IVF cycles, followed by that time I almost died in childbirth, our relationship has gone pretty smoothly.
We’re genuinely happy.
We are each other’s best friends.
There is no one I’d rather see every single day, beyond my baby girls andmy Gramma.
Still, quite often, he drives me absolutely mad.
As a former 23-year-old divorcee from a terrifying relationship, I can honestly say that I have never considered leaving Jake. I know what a bad marriage looks like and this ain’t it. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight. We met as whole people. We weren’t clueless youngsters from a Nicholas Sparks novel, embarking on an adventure together, with no idea what lay before us. We were grown adults possessing clearly set ideas about how the world works and the best way to approach it. We were and are both stubborn, opinionated, insufferable know-it-alls… and sometimes we clash.
Indeed, we do take pride in it.
Last night was just such a time. There’s no need to share the details of the fight, as I’m usually a firm believer that one shouldn’t air their dirty laundry in public, but I can assure you, Jake was in the wrong. I was the victim of course… though there may have been a throw pillow hurled in his direction, before I tearfully left to take a walk around the neighborhood. As I walked, pregnant and hormonal, I thought of all of Jake’s flaws. He’s stubborn, pushy, has the pride of ten men, and may or may not be a robot completely incapable of human emotion. Then I thought of all of my flaws. I’m often neurotic and high-strung, stressing out easily over inconsequential details. I, admittedly, have a flare for the dramatic and cry easily. Then, I acknowledged that combined, these flaws… actually complement each other quite well. Where I’m unsure and anxious, Jake is confident to the point of arrogance. In the midst of my stress, he’s always there with that Texan drawl, assuring me that “It’ll be alright”. While he takes few things too seriously, I highlight their urgency, sometimes quite necessarily. While he sits stoic, I rant about the injustice of the world. Despite our flaws, despite the fact that other people often wonder how, we do still fit. He is the string to my kite and remembering that, I began to think of all the reasons I love my husband.
He’s hardworking. When Jake left oil, at my request, he started at the literal bottom working on sewer lines for the City of Cherokee. He made eleven dollars an hour, at a time when I was making more than double that, despite having a bachelor’s degree in hydrology and several years of oilfield experience. He took call shifts and worked all-nighters and never once complained or acted like it was beneath him. He spent his weekends helping his parents on the ranch. Even now, he spends a good deal of his time off doing chores around the house, helping me fulfill whatever grand new vision I’ve formed. He is truly the hardest working individual I’ve ever met.
He’s ambitious. Five years after taking his $11 per hour position, Jake has a lengthy title that, summed up, means he’s the stormwater manager for the entire city. He spends his days explaining to engineers why their building permits were denied and rebuffing their attempts to resolve the whole “misunderstanding” with a sexist joke and a good ol’ boy handshake. He draws up plans, gives presentations, prepares for audits, and fights for budget items. Were I still working as a librarian, he would officially be making more money, just as I wagered he would five years ago. There have even been talks of him eventually becoming the director of public works. He will always strive for more. In the process, he’ll always take care of his family.
He’s responsible. One of my requirements when dating, was to find someone who didn’t need me to be the grown up in the relationship. I didn’t want to have to budget someone else’s money and time, pick up after them, or nag them to do household chores. Sticker charts are for children, not adult men. While Jake and I sometimes disagree about which chores take priority, idle is not a word one could use to describe him. He is always working on some project, digging drains in our yard, tilling the garden, filling in holes the dogs dug, installing a closet kit or building shelves for the girls’ new bedroom. Not once in our marriage have I ever felt like he consistently failed to do his share.
He’s even-tempered. On our third date, Jake and I met at a Fourth of July festival. He was at least thirty minutes late with no prior explanation, because his cell phone had died. I had seriously considered going home, but with no other holiday plans, I decided to stick around at least until it bordered on truly pathetic. When he arrived, I was flustered and awkward, having worried I’d been stood up again, so I forgot the blanket I’d brought to lay out until we were halfway to the other side of the park. I expected Jake to be annoyed at having to turn back, but he seemed entirely unphased. Growing up in a volatile household, this was a balm to the senses I’d never deliberately sought. Since the beginning, Jake has been cool-headed, rarely raising his voice or even getting angry. This stoicism occasionally presents itself as a lack of emotion or feeling overall, but day-to-day, it’s quite comforting to know that this marriage only includes one irrational partner.
He’s funny. I’d met stoic, even-tempered men before Jake, but they all seemed to take themselves too seriously. Jake takes nothing seriously. While that sometimes drives me a little crazy, it works to my benefit as well. The man is nearly impossible to offend. I’ve only managed it once, when he came out dressed for his family’s Thanksgiving in a rodeo vest and cowboy hat. I’d never attended a holiday with him, so I didn’t realize this was how everyone in his family of cowboys and rodeo performers dressed for nice gatherings. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have offered to put on my Buzz Lightyear costume. Yet, in five years, that’s the only time I’ve hurt his feelings. As obnoxious as his borderline arrogance can be, Jake is confident enough for the most self-deprecating of jokes. He can laugh at himself, which makes it sting a lot less when he laughs at my own blunders and antics. I, myself, am not typically known for my gravity, which makes for a delightful marriage. Jake and I don’t even drive with the radio on, instead opting to talk and joke until we laugh ourselves sick. Being married to him is just fun. I love that my girls will witness that.
He’s a fantastic dad. Growing up, my parents loved me. They just weren’t very good at it. As a result, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be the mom I hope to be, but I have not for a moment doubted Jake as a father. He’s never shied away from feedings, tantrums, or dirty diapers. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve struggled in the mornings, only recently able to get up with him. He’s taken on getting the girls fed and settled in their play yard before he leaves work for several months now. It’s not just the duties of parenthood at which he excels, though. It’s also the joys. Jake comes home for lunch every single day, cheerfully getting the girls up from their nap and helping to feed them, often taking the lead depending on how I feel or if I’m working on something else. When he comes home, it’s clear he can’t wait to see his little ladies, letting them crawl all over him, stealing his hat, badge, and phone. He loves being a father and he’s really good at it.
He’s masculine, without being chauvinistic. When I was dating, I made a lot of exaggerative jokes about requiring a classically masculine man. A Real Man was Louis from Interview With a Vampire, crying one tear every thousand years. If he wasn’t a better shot than I was, he wasn’t a Real Man. Real Men didn’t drive sedans, but pickups. I’m sure I could search the early days of this blog for more examples. This was all hyperbole, of course. I’ve met some great guys who fit none of these descriptors. Manicured, well-pressed men just never did it for me. The catch, however, was that the men I described often came with antiquated, even downright offensive ideas of gender roles… until I met Jake. Jake cooks the majority of our meals. He never balks at changing a dirty diaper or cleaning a toilet. When I was working full time, he respected a career that most men I’d met openly mocked and we split the household chores 50/50. He’s not exactly one for flowery words, but now that I’m home, he frequently mentions how much we all benefit. He doesn’t belittle my contribution as a stay-at-home mom, make me qualify my time, or attempt to control our finances. I’ve also still never seen him cry and he’s a better shot than I am. Oh, and he drives a pickup.
He has never, not once, asked me to change. My entire life, I’ve never quite felt like I belong. It’s difficult to say that without unintentional Breakfast Club emphasis, but I mean it without drama or angst. I’ve always operated on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, often unamused by popular comedy or overly interested in odd topics. I like to be around people, but get anxious around too many. I’m a homebody, but I never stop talking. I prefer crafts to sports, but frequently roll my eyes at what passes for art. I’m too conservative for liberal circles, too liberal for conservative circles, and too opinionated to keep my mouth shut. I’ve zero interest in the personality tests that attempt to make me feel better about such attributes and will overzealously cite studies about how they’re complete and utter hogwash. I’m too quiet at times, too loud at others. I always choose the wrong moment to share that anecdote about Pablo Escobar’s hippo menagerie taking over Columbia.
In the last seven years, though, I’ve realized that all of this is okay. I don’t need to fit in with the mean girls of my twenties. I don’t have to pretend to possess a political bent when I don’t. It doesn’t actually matter if I bring up the legalization of marijuana with the wrong audience. Jake has never once asked me to change anything about myself. From my weight, to my hair, to my volume, to my beliefs, to my interests, to my poise, to my temperament. Jake has never criticized me or been embarrassed by my awkwardness or clumsiness. He’s never asked me to be anything other than exactly who I am, so the least I can do, is offer him the same courtesy and love him, flaws and all.