Why does everyone have more money than we do?

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?

I hate HGTV.

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.

I’ll enter my disclaimer here. I realize that a love of HGTV is, for most, another medium of the same time wasters and fantasy fuel I myself enjoy. I carry no actual judgement for these people. If you adore HGTV so much that you’ll find my intense judgement of the channel itself upsetting, I wouldn’t recommend further reading.

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 largely disparages normalcy.

Does your patio lack acrylic hanging retro bubble chairs? Do you have family photos on your mantle, as opposed to an awkwardly large nautical statement piece? Have you yet to set up a Caffeinated Corner in your living room? Does your home actually have rooms? Well, that’s because you’re normal.

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 much wicker 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 white in 2017? Zero, because we live in a state known for it’s wind and red 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.

35th Birthday and 10th Blogiversary!

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 truly happy.

I Read 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 4

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 Jane Eyre “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 Jane Eyre 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, is the 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 Mockingbird is 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

Anthem, by Ayn Rand

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

⭐⭐⭐

We, by Yevgeny Zamyat

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

1984, by George Orwell

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brone

⭐⭐

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Why I Love My Prideful, Stubborn, Pushy Husband

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 and my 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.

No Tami Taylor: A Baby for Free

It’s been a good year, y’all… easier than 2021 so far, which means leagues easier than 2020. I spent the first several months of 2022 in emotional turmoil, though. As we rang in the new year, I was just beginning to feel like myself again, after the physical trauma I’d experienced during childbirth. I could officially lift the stroller into the back of our SUV without feeling short of breath. I could run errands without feeling utterly depleted. I had energy to take care of my girls, the house, and exercise. Emotionally, I no longer felt quite so fragile either. I rarely burst into tears, convinced I’d die. For the first time since July of 2020, when we began IVF treatments, I felt human. Still… Jake and I both wanted another child.

After receiving my perinatal cardiomyopathy diagnosis in the ICU two days after my girls were born, I was informed that while my heart would likely fully recover, another pregnancy would come with risk. Officially speaking, medical wisdom advised no more children, but my cardiologist eventually added that, realistically speaking, plenty of women go on to have additional pregnancies with no complications. So, Jake and I had a tough decision to make: should we count our blessings in the healthy children we were so fortunate to have or take the low, yet not non-existent, risk of another pregnancy? Considering the cost of an embryo transfer and the experience of actually going through additional pandemic fertility treatments, I was a bit of a mess. Sure, we could wait another year, but I’m turning 35 this fall, a dreaded age in the world of infertility. We didn’t want additional troubles or risks and we didn’t want to be old parents.

I’ve previously described my infertility approach as “duck, cover, and run through the fire.” As hesitant as I was to proceed with a transfer, I knew that it was a months long process. So it began in March, when I called the fertility clinic, reasoning that I could start the consultations and spend the next few months finalizing my decision. If I decided to wait, I could always cancel the arrangements, but if we chose to proceed, there’d be no delay. Requesting a possible June or July transfer, I was told to call with my period at the end of April/beginning of May.

I spent the next two months weighing my options. Some days, I was confident that another child or two would be worth the risk and all would be well. Others, I was adamant that we were done and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all again. Most of the time, my internal battle ended with the determination that this was a problem for Future Belle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so indecisive as to repeatedly end a mental conflict with the decision to make a decision another day.

With my period due in mid-late April, the clinic called toward the end of the month to verify that I still wanted to proceed. When I informed them that I hadn’t been tracking my cycle until the previous month and didn’t know exactly when to expect it, they asked if I could be pregnant. I told them that I’d already taken a negative test, that I didn’t want to discuss the subject, and that Jake and I had been assured multiple times that a natural pregnancy was not possible. I also relayed that, when asked what birth control I planned to use, I’d told my OBGYN with confusion “Nothing? My husband can’t get me pregnant,” to which she responded “Oh, yes. I forgot. I have no problem with that.” This was from a woman who had been quite clear that she did not think I should risk more children. In response, I was simply instructed to come in for an ultrasound if I didn’t get Day One in the next couple of weeks, because I could possibly have additional complications.

The week of our five year anniversary and Mother’s Day, I decided to wait until after our celebration to schedule additional tests. The last thing I wanted to think about were more fertility problems. The entire concept was already making me nauseous. In fact, the day before our anniversary, a Thursday, I was feeling pretty unwell and resolved to make an appointment first thing Monday. I knew they’d start with another pregnancy test, something I’d desperately avoided for two weeks, not wanting to get my hopes up that the literal impossible could happen. If we were about to embark on more treatments, though, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even started. Annoyed, I bought a second one dollar test, thinking once again about how I’d never get the chance to be surprised by a second line and trying not to dwell on all that I’d missed out on in this process.

All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. For Jake and I, it ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears, knowing we would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000 and unquantifiable heartache. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused endless stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my complications in delivery. Those marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.

After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get that moment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We had been watching Friday Night Lights, though, and over the previous months, I’d watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, certain that that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not something we would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining.

That was why I’d put off taking a pregnancy test in the first place, even knowing unquestionably that it would be negative. Despite the fact that I’d gotten my family, whether it grows or not, it hurt knowing I’d never have that moment. I worried it would crush me to see a single line and remember what lie before me to get a second one. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to waste another dollar on a visual representation of our inability to get pregnant the fun and free way.

When I got home, I hurriedly took the test, needing to put the girls down for their nap. I sat looking at my phone while I waited a minute for the results and worried that I was somehow starting early menopause or worse, would require a complete hysterectomy. Perhaps the whole thing was out of my hands, after all. I knew a negative after a minute was likely a negative after three minutes, so I didn’t bother to prolong the wait but… it was positive.

Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.

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An Influencer, I am not.

“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”

I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.

Me: “Do you have to stay at work?”
Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong”
Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?”
Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”

I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in teen movies and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on what was surely nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… and then it was three. They were all positive.

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I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.

Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.”
I unlocked the door and sat on the bed.
Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?”
Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him –
Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?”
Me: “I guess so?”
Jake: “That’s… cool.”
Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”

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Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.”
Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”

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This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for naught, and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a tale told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, if you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. It’s an anecdote that comes from people with no knowledge of infertility as a whole, let alone your individual situation. It doesn’t happen. Even the urologist used the word “miracle” when asked if Jake could get me pregnant. If my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.

I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I was so afraid that the pregnancy wouldn’t be viable, that something would be wrong. I worried about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I had only stopped taking a month ago. I worried about Jake’s wonky sperm. I worried about my heart, not having yet gotten the okay from my cardiologist… or as much of an okay as she’d ever give. I worried about all the one in a million odds that had kicked us in our asses so far. I’m still petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just a few days after I got my positive test and the reclassification from cardiomyopathy to severe preeclampsia from my high risk OB. I am, however, 19 weeks pregnant today, after a successful anatomy scan of our baby boy.

The infertility community didn’t need another obnoxious anecdote, but apparently, here I am. I apologize for my aunts in advance and refuse to share such details with strangers and further contribute to such an unhelpful narrative. I got a baby the fun and free way, though. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. Despite my aspirations, I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.

My Baby Girls are One

A year ago, today, I was desperately struggling to lie on my back in an emergency room bed, as my lungs filled with fluid from sudden and severe pneumonia and my heart raced from extraordinarily rare and dangerous cardiac issues…

… oh, nostalgia.

I’m not going to rehash my birth story, considering it was quite literally the most terrifying night of my life and the beginning of an utterly traumatizing period of time… which I declare as someone who frequently scoffs at the overuse of the word “trauma.” Yet… it was entirely worth it.

When Jake and I found out we would have to pursue IVF for even a chance at children, I refused to let myself think of motherhood in any concrete terms. Why fantasize about something, when there was a real possibility that it would never happen for me? There are many different ways to approach infertility and for me, ducking my head and running through the line of fire was the only option. So it was, one year ago, I found myself in pretty dire straights, health wise, and my biggest concern, the one thing I kept asking Jake was…

“What if I don’t love them?”

I didn’t have a positive relationship with my mother after the age of seven. I didn’t have younger siblings, so I wasn’t really around small children growing up. When I realized, in my early twenties, that I simply don’t like children, I wasn’t sure if I should be a mother. I just wasn’t maternal, and unlike the droves of women sporting oversized organic cotton “Dog Mom” sweatshirts, I never considered my affection for my beagle to be comparable. When Jake and I decided to start a family, I just assumed that nature would override nurture and the love for my baby would occur naturally, during pregnancy. Except, that didn’t exactly happen.

After two rounds of pandemic IVF, healthy twins seemed too good to be true. My pregnancy, being a multiples pregnancy, was considered high risk from the start. So, in self-preservation, I found myself always expecting the worst. I spent every ultrasound waiting for devastating news. I put off buying baby items, fearing that I’d be stuck with heartbreaking mementos if tragedy struck. What would I do with an extra crib? Could you even return something like that? I didn’t even announce my pregnancy (or any of the events leading up to it) on my blog until after the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. I love looking back on my blog and seeing who I was at another point in time and I just couldn’t bear to see myself as an excited mother-to-be, knowing that it hadn’t ended the way I’d hoped.

I did try, of course. One of the reasons I insisted Jake agree to names early, was because I felt the disconnect. I wanted to feel close to my babies. I just couldn’t. So, on the most terrifying night of my life, my greatest fear remained… what if I didn’t love them?

I’ve had friends tell me that they feel motherhood is sugarcoated in our society and I’m just not sure what media they’re consuming. The only reviews of motherhood (parenthood as a whole, really) that I’ve read or heard in the last fifteen years told me it’s miserable, thankless, and all-consuming. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, it seemed these sentiments were amplified threefold. People in Sam’s Club would apologize to us when we said we were having twins. We were told we’d barely have time to shower, let alone enjoy time as a couple, and that we could forget alone time. Coupled with the detachment I felt to my twins on June 22, 2021, there was a real part of me that worried that I’d rushed into the decision to become a mother, simply out of fear that it might not be an option if I didn’t.

Well, here we are, one year later and I have a message for all those doomsaying parents…

I always assumed that on this day, I wouldn’t be able to believe that it had been a full year with my little girls in my life. Everyone says they grow so fast, that the days are long, but the years are short. It hasn’t felt that way at all for me. Quite the contrary, it’s felt like a lifetime, in the absolute best way. I remember life before the snuggles, giggles, smiles, tantrums, and injuries that I didn’t even see happen, but if feels like years ago. Perhaps that’s because the year and a half between being diagnosed with infertility, just before a global pandemic struck, and the birth of our twins, well… sucked. I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that 2020 went on for a full decade, and while I miss life before the pandemic, I don’t miss life before children. I don’t miss my career, despite how I loved it. Mama is the best title I’ve ever earned and I am absolutely thrilled with my day-to-day. It is truly a shame that we speak so negatively about parenthood today, because all the worry that I wouldn’t love my girls, just because I can’t stand other people’s children, all the worry that I made a mistake and I’d never have time to myself, time alone with Jake, time with friends, was a waste of energy. This past year has been so much fun. Have I felt exhausted, frustrated, over-whelmed, and even isolated at times? Of course, but it has paled in comparison to the absolute joy I’ve experienced with my little ladies.

You were worth it, girls. You were worth the $30,000, the IVF treatments, the fear during pregnancy, the terror during delivery, the tears in the ICU, the blood transfusions, the echocardiograms, the heart medications. You are not work. You are not a burden. You are a privilege and a gift. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine how worth it all you would be, my precious twincesses.

Why My Favorite 00’s Shows Are Crap

From the time Jake and I started dating, I knew that we would always have some interests we just don’t share. Jake listens to political podcasts throughout the day. I love reading so much that I have an audiobook playing in my earbuds nearly constantly. He likes to work outside. I like to do crafts. He likes playing video games. I like watching the nostalgic TV shows of my youth… which are objectively bad. For example…

Roswell

1999’s Roswell tells the story of Liz, a high school sophomore who works at the alien themed restaurant her parents own in Roswell, New Mexico, alongside her best friend Maria. In episode one, Liz’s and Maria’s lives are forever changed when Liz is shot and healed by Max, a 16-year-old alien played by 26-year-old Jason Behr. Seriously, if y’all thought Riverdale was bad, just check out some of these early 00’s shows.

Everyone complains about unrealistic physical standards for teenage girls, but this was what they told us high school sophomore boys should look like in the year 2000.

I’ll only briefly mention Roswell’s primary lovers, Max and Liz, the16-year-old “soulmates,” when discussing it’s greatest transgressions. Today, media seems to understand that most teenagers are too young to make lifelong commitments to one another, particularly when the basis of their relationship is life-threatening drama. While half of us in the South might still be divorced by 25, the cinematic era of Noah and Ally has mostly passed. However, in the year 2000, it was just beginning and Max and Liz were pretty standard representatives. Also not entirely unique, the level of romance from Max defined unattainable as he literally risked his life for Liz on loop, professed his undying love in flowery, swoon-worthy language, and even refused to accept her rejection of him, because he knew she loved him. What can I say? We all thought low-level stalking was hot in the early 00s.

It was Maria and Michael who fans insisted provided the most realistic depiction of high school dating. If that’s true, millennials all needed massive amounts of therapy. Only recently have I noticed how absolutely horrible this 22-year-old teenage boy is to his romantic interest. Maria repeatedly risks her car, her relationship with her mother, her job, her academic standing, and her heart for Michael and he walks all over her. Nearly every episode features Michael telling Maria that he doesn’t care about her or their relationship, as she begs for his affection and support for the first two seasons. Only in the final season does Michael gain any modicum of decency as a boyfriend and Maria isn’t the only one who thinks it’s too little too late. Of all the criticisms I’ve seen of unhealthy romance in young adult media, I honestly think this one is the worst depictions.

As much as I adore Roswell, despite it’s damaging relationships, I must admit that the real failing is in the terribly inconsistent and indecisive writing. First and foremost, there’s a confusing amount of longingly staring through windows for a show with a “they’re among us” primary plot… as in so much that you’re not really sure if you’re watching a science fiction show at all, sometimes. Additionally, there’s definitely an element of “Where are their parents?!?!”, specifically with Max and Isabel, who play siblings who were adopted by the perfect upper-middle class family and Liz, whose parents own and literally live in the restaurant that serves as their hangout. These teenagers take off for days and even weeks at a time, with little to no explanation, and no one notices. While there is a weak effort to address this by assigning Maria a free-spirited former teen mother who somewhat “gets” her daughter’s behavior and Michael being an emancipated minor, parents in Roswell only really exist to further the storyline. I cannot understand why these shows still star teenage characters. Why not tell the same story starring characters the age of the actors portraying them, in their late teens and early twenties? They’d still be relatable, but the parents that are so lazily written out would no longer be an obstacle.

There’s also the origins and powers of the aliens to address. Historically, the alleged spaceship crash occurred in 1947, which Roswell acknowledges by stating that the four aliens were incubated in a form of cocoon for 42 years before emerging as six-year-olds, who were discovered walking naked and alone in the dessert. It’s quickly noted, though, as a major and recurring plot point, that the aliens don’t have human blood and any sampling of their DNA risks exposure. I’m not a social worker, but I’m pretty sure any child found abandoned in the dessert is undergoing extensive medical testing to verify health and potentially track down parents. Yet Max, Isabel, and Michael have gone ten years without a single blood draw.

As for their powers, it’s explained that the aliens can “manipulate molecular structures.” Well, isn’t that… insanely broad. Despite these seemingly limitless powers, we see the aliens struggle constantly, even declaring that they don’t all have certain abilities, such as healing wounds, which would fall decidedly under manipulating molecular structures. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the aliens are actually alien/human hybrids who have been engineered to use the full capacity of the human brain and that that’s where the powers originate. I’ll ignore the flawed science there and note that later in the show, we find out that with the help of a mysterious structure called the Granolith, the aliens can actually time travel or even return to their home planet where even humans can apparently survive just fine. The scope of these alien powers fluctuates endlessly throughout the show, with some new ones developing while old ones are simultaneously forgotten. For example, two characters rob a store without bothering to change anything about their appearance, which would not only fall under manipulation of molecular structures, but also buying a wig.

Overall, the plots of Roswell are just inconsistent and baffling, with the local police acting as the first enemy, before the sheriff joins the team when the FBI becomes the primary enemy until they… just lose interest? The main villain then shifts to an alien race serving the ruler of the alien’s home planet, who they defeat… with essentially no trouble at all.

A major and unresolved plot point occurs in season two, when Liz finds out from Future Max that she must end her relationship with him before Tess leaves, leading to the destruction of the world in 2014, Liz feigns cheating to turn Max away from her… even though Tess ultimately leaves anyway, pregnant with his child, after she betrays the group and the world is… fine. Perhaps the enemies Tess helped kill so easily were the only real threat and simply took their sweet time attacking over the course of 14 years.

In season three, with other aliens as a whole conveniently a threat of the past, Max searches for a way to retrieve his son and faces a much less impressive variety of villains, such as an old lady who wants him to heal her husband, municipal law enforcement, and eventually the FBI, a seemingly far less threatening force at this point in the show.

Roswell is just generally all over the place, fraught with manufactured and often inconclusive drama, starring actors who are of a completely inappropriate age for the roles they play… and I love it. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this show, but maintain every confidence that the number will triple over the course of my life. I know it’s crap and I just don’t care. Thirty-four-year old Belle might not obsess over this show as much as 12-year-old Belle did, but it will forever maintain a place in my heart as one of the only real bits of solace I had during middle school.

Gilmore Girls

1999, what a time to be alive. Gilmore Girls also premiered the year I started the sixth grade and quickly became one of my mother’s and my favorite shows. Lorelai Gilmore was the star of this dramedy about a mother who had her 16-year-old daughter, Rory, when she, herself, was 16. As the only child of an upper-middle class family, Lorelai felt stifled and railroaded toward a life she didn’t want. To gain her independence, she ran away to a small, quirky Connecticut village, taking her one-year-old daughter with her, maintaining as little contact as possible with her parents. That is, until the pilot episode, when she needs money for Rory’s tuition to attend a prestigious private school. Antics and tantrums ensue.

This show has a cult-like following and I’m not gonna mince words here… it is toxic as fuck. Not even in my Roswellian obsessed middle school days have I ever been as aggressive in my love of fiction. So, while I once thought it would be fun to participate in this surprisingly active fandom…

… I no longer do.

My inclusion of Gilmore Girls on this list would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how poorly it’s aged, from the occasionally homophobic and fat-shaming humor to the “Not Like Other Girls” stereotype. While other girls starved themselves to fit into skimpy tops, listened to Avril Levigne, and obsessed over romantic comedies, Lorelai and Rory ate junk food, wore quirky but trendy outfits, listened to The Bangles, and watched classics like The Godfather. While this garners criticism from newer fans, it’s important to consider what it was like to actually be a young woman in the early 2000’s. It sucked. There was a much more particular mold that women were expected to fit. They were supposed to be blonde, overly tanned, scantily clad, adorably stupid, and very hungry. Watching fair-skinned brunettes wear tasteful but fashionable clothing, discuss classic literature alongside obscure pop culture, and eat whatever they wanted actually was progressive in a time when Abercrombie & Fitch literally sold clothing through nudity.

Another modern critique of Gilmore Girls is Rory’s love interests, particularly Dean, her first boyfriend, who is universally loathed by new fans. In the year 1999, though, Dean was the perfect boyfriend, according to the creators of the show. He was handsome in that Classic White Boy way, understood Rory’s humor and intellect, was protective and attentive, and absolutely adored her. Today, Dean doesn’t quite hold up. What was considered protective 20 years ago, now comes across as controlling, while attentive and adoring is easily interpreted as domineering and obsessive. Even Rory’s second boyfriend, Jess, who embodied the Broody Bad Boy stereotype is often seen as abusive, because we just had much lower standards back then. In fact, many fans hate all of Rory’s love interests, including the Old Money Charmer, who I personally still adore, because what’s not to love about money and charm? What can I say? We were all a little broken in the early 00s and had whopping consent issues.

All in all, I think the above criticisms are valid, though often taken far too seriously by newer fans for a twenty-year-old WB dramedy. Gilmore Girls was never intended to be looked at through a 2022 microscope. Emily Gilmore wasn’t written as a thinly veiled version of The Grandmother from Flowers in the Attic. Lorelai wasn’t the star of Netflix’s The Maid. Rory wasn’t Anna Karenina, though it is a bit prophetic that she claims this was her favorite novel. No, this show was simply meant to be cozy fun and that’s how I choose to take it… despite it’s other issues, because aging isn’t the reason I include Gilmore Girls on a list I’ve labeled as “crap.” No, it’s earned this title from me for the glaring writing flaws. While Gilmore Girls has an undeniably cozy and charming aesthetic, it is honestly one of the most inconsistently written shows I have ever watched. From major plot points to characterization, it’s obvious that the writers of this series were just flying by the seat of their pants for the full seven seasons.

I’ll start with money, which most TV shows address poorly. In Gilmore Girls, however, money is central to the plot of the show, as Lorelai has eschewed her parents’ privileged lifestyle to raise her daughter as a single mom… where she owns her own home in a town that would have exorbitant property taxes for all the festivals it holds. Additionally, Lorelai simply doesn’t live her life as a single mom, ordering take-out nightly, taking impromptu road trips, and going on wild shopping sprees. Only when it’s plot-relevant is Lorelai impeded by her finances, such as when she needs tuition for Rory or her house has a termite problem. Throughout the rest of the series, she has plenty of money for All the Things, despite the entire premise of the show being her escape from wealth and her insistence on being a strong, independent, single mom.

I’m not sure if I’d consider characterization inconsistencies a secondary issue, simply because they’re so egregious in Gilmore Girls. In the beginning of the show, we’re introduced to Dean, the smart, witty new boy in town, who understands all of Rory’s obscure references, enjoys her books, and can build a car… who by season three isn’t sure if he can get into junior college. Lorelai’s eventual love interest, Luke, goes from the title of casual acquaintance in season one to Rory’s lifelong father figure by season six. He starts out as a health nut and an avid fisherman, who hates red meat, but eventually claims he’s disgusted by vegan food and has never had lobster. Lorelai opens the show having spent the last 16 years doing everything she could to be a different kind of mother than Emily, but cuts Rory out of her life completely when she decides to take a semester off from college. Luke’s sister and Jess’s mother is described as a neglectful addict in the beginning of the series, but is later portrayed as just a quirky flake who loves her son. Even Sookie begins the show as the klutzy chef, but seems to get her bearings by the end of the first season, because she never struggles with her recurring injuries again.

It’s not just money and character inconsistencies that plague Gilmore Girls, but entire plot points that are just… dropped, such as when Rory joins a sorority at school and it’s never again mentioned. When Lorelai discovers that her boyfriend is suing her father, it’s a big enough deal to end the relationship, but we never hear about it again. An entire episode centers around Jess visiting his dad in California, but after the proposed spinoff is ultimately nixed, we never get a resolution to that incredibly dull storyline we had to endure. Jackson takes on Taylor to become town selectman, wins, and Taylor has the title again after just a few episodes. When Rory takes time off from Yale and is magically able to graduate on time, she demands and receives a writing job at the Stamford-Eagle Gazette and never again mentions it.

Beyond the financial, character, and plot inconsistencies, Gilmore Girls is a cozy story starring some pretty crummy people. Emily gets all the grief from modern fans and she certainly has her flaws, but Lorelai isn’t exactly a better human. Her relationship with Rory is arguably no greater than Emily’s with Lorelai, as she fosters extreme co-dependency and refuses to act as the adult in the relationship. Furthermore, despite constantly complaining about her mother’s controlling and manipulative nature, she spends most of a season refusing to speak to her daughter, even to share her engagement with her, because Rory hasn’t made the exact choices in life Lorelai wanted. Rory, who starts off a little sassy and very driven, goes on to cheat on or with every boyfriend she ever has and ultimately defines entitlement. And yet… I fully intend to start another rewatch this fall, as I cozy up and enjoy the fake fall leaves of Calif-Connecticut. For all its flaws, there’s just something about Gilmore Girls that keeps me coming back, be it the aesthetic or the What Not to Do guide to motherhood.

Smallville

Smallville first aired when I was 14, just one year younger than Clark Kent, high school freshman.

Had anyone working for the WB ever actually met a teenager?

Smallville had a pretty simple premise, as a Superman origin story focusing on Clark Kent’s teenage years. As in all Superman renditions, Clark is written as a gawky, awkward teenage boy, who lives and works on his parents’ Kansas farm. Unique to Smallville, however, Clark is played by a literal construction worker/male model, making this description less than believable. While his co-stars are standard fare for the early 00’s WB, meaning far too attractive and stylish, they’re also more appropriately cast for their roles. Simply put, while his classmates walk the halls of Smallville High looking like Seventeen magazine models, Clark Kent looks more like a substitute teacher or the foreman of a construction crew.

Jake and I have actually been making our way through Smallville since the summer of 2020 and it’s been a fun, if absurd, ride. Even for a superhero show, Smallville, while entertaining, is nonsensical in basically every way, such as overall characterization, the teen romances, Clark maintaining his Secret, and everything about the properties of WB kryptonite.

The characters of Smallville aren’t particularly distinctive for an early 00s teen show, initially comprised of beautiful, stylish teens who are, for some reason, considered unpopular. Clark begins his freshman year alongside friends, Chloe and Pete. Chloe is obviously Smallville’s resident Lois Lane until the creators decide to write in the actual Lois Lane in season four. She’s passionate about journalism to the point that she will destroy every relationship she has to get a story for the high school paper, The Torch, over which she seems to have absolute control. It makes perfect sense that Chloe would be in charge of the school paper, though, because she has a ridiculous number of vague professional connections, including someone at the medical examiner’s office, the mental institution, and multiple sources at the Daily Planet. It helps that she has advanced computer programming skills and can hack into literally any database without getting caught, at the age of 15. For the first three seasons, Chloe is in love with Clark, because that’s why female side characters existed in the early 00s. By far her most annoying trait, however, is her complete inability to speak in normal human sentences. Literally every line she has is such an overblown attempt to sound clever that you wonder if she’s ever actually heard people talk.

  • “Your online horoscope suggests that you try not to flaunt your excitement which I know will be hard since you’ve been waiting for this date since, like your first growth spurt.”
  • “Clark Kent at the keyboard? Have I been downsized in the bureaucratic world of superheroes?”
  • “Canary, you are caught in a virtual cage and you don’t even know it, but I can help you fly the coop.”

This goes on for entire episodes. As for Pete, it’s been 20 years and he did not age well. While Chloe eventually has an entire in-depth backstory, having little to do with Clark, Pete’s character revolves solely around protecting Clark’s secret… even though he sucks at it, taking every chance and excuse he gets to try to out Clark. Regardless, it’s not a good look in 2022 to have such a cliché Token Black Character as Pete Ross. Considering other POC characters, such as Jesse from Roswell, Lane from Gilmore Girls, Skills from One Tree Hill, and Gunn from Angel, it wasn’t a great look for 2001, either.

A Superman origin story would be incomplete without Lex Luthor, of course, and Michael Rosenbaum is still considered by many to have portrayed him best of all. Smallville didn’t only present a young, handsome, successful Lex Luthor, but a sympathetic one. Lex starts out as a something of a local benefactor, befriending Clark, his family, and even his friends out of genuine kindness and interest, despite their continual distrust in him because of his father, the initial villain of the story. At times, it comes off as creepy that he’s 26 and hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, but it wasn’t intended as such when the show was written. Over the seasons, Lex starts to feel hurt, then angry, and even betrayed by Clark for refusing to confide in him and the two have a falling out amidst Lex’s gradual rise to arch-nemesis. If there is any reason to watch this campy show, it is Lex Luthor’s descent into madness and, for a teen show, the WB does not disappoint in how very evil he becomes, from trying to kill Johnathan Kent, to essentially having groomed Lana to be his lover, to committing war crimes.

Finally, there are Clark’s love interests, Lana and then Lois. Lana is Clark’s first love in Smallville and she is absolutely insufferable. I’ll give this show credit for the fact that the majority of the relationships are relatively healthy… except for Clark and Lana who spend far more time having angsty conversations about why they can’t be together than they ever actually spend together. This is primarily because Lana demands that Clark share all of his secrets with her from the very beginning, eventually even teaming up with Lex to investigate him, despite being quite secretive herself. As the show goes on, Lana gets progressively worse, as do the storylines surrounding her, from her sleeping with a teacher, to becoming a witch, to hooking up with Lex. Despite the writers’ insistence that she’s a deep, interesting, sympathetic character, she’s continually proven to be quite the opposite as the show goes on, eventually going toe-to-toe with Lex in corruption.

On the bright side, though Lois definitely fits the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope of the early 00s, when compared to Lana, she’s America’s sweetheart. Lois isn’t a bad character, so much as she’s a bit too abrasive for the iconic role. In the early 00s, strong women were often written as physically beautiful, but closed-off and overtly rude. This is definitely on display in Smallville as Lois repeatedly mocks and insults Clark, despite his and his family’s every kindness. The animosity doesn’t destroy the chemistry between the two, but it’s also never been the case for Lois in any other version of Superman, to be this hateful to Clark, when she just considered Clark to be somewhat dorky, at worst.

Perhaps one of the biggest failings of the writing in Smallville is around Clark’s “secret.” I use quotes, because eventually everyone in Clark’s life knows about his powers, and if they don’t, they should, because he uses them in public constantly. In nearly every episode of this show, there’s a scene where Clark uses his super speed on a public street, yet when his cousin Kara does the same, he throws a tantrum about the importance of subtlety. The only characters kept in the dark for any real length of time are Lana, Lex, and Lois, solely for purposes of plot and overwrought drama. Even guest stars are frequently let in on this secret that isn’t, to the point that there is just no way that it’s not public knowledge by the end of season three.

Finally, the biggest flaw in Smallville: Kryptonite. It’s comic book canon that Kryptonite comes in multiple forms and Clark is impacted in a variety of ways. The problem is that there’s so much Kryptonite in Smallville and it’s affects vary so wildly. For the first several seasons, this show is pretty Monster of the Week with a new kid at school developing miraculous powers that are usually only dangerous because they’re being used in the wrong way. There are two students who can control bugs, one who can turn people into mannequins, another who can freeze people, a young Amy Adams who can suck the fat out of people until they die, several with various forms of telekinesis, a reporter who can turn into water, a few different seductresses… and the list continues. For some reason, however, the Luthors are the only individuals in the world who are interested in studying and experimenting with this magic rock, even though it’s all over town. You’d think that would pose a problem for Clark. Well, sometimes it does… and a lot of times it doesn’t, like when he can’t see it’s in the same room with him yet, while other times, it’s just too hard to roll away from it. Different kinds of Kryptonite require different levels of exposure too, as red Kryptonite appears to be topical, while silver has to be embedded in the skin. The aliens of Roswell have more consistent powers than Clark’s and everyone else’s response to Kryptonite. It’s just a persistent and glaring plot hole in every other episode.

Despite all these issues, Smallville seems to have been the beginning of the the current superhero TV saga and, as consistently ridiculous as it is, there’s something comforting about its camp. Like many shows of the time, it of course ran for far too long, so it may be another two years before Jake and I finish it, but we have both enjoyed it, even if it’s half in mockery.

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill started my sophomore year of high school and ended my first year of grad school. It told the story of two brothers in their junior year, who shared only a father, Dan. Lucas, was raised by his father’s high school sweetheart, Karen, who he abandoned when he discovered she was pregnant, and his brother Keith. Dan immediately impregnated another woman, Deb, who came from money and could help him become the wealthy businessman he was in the show. Naturally, he married Deb and raised his second son, Nathan while neglecting Lucas. The two grew up as rivals in the town of Tree Hill, only for their relationship to come to a head when they found themselves on the same high school basketball team.

Y’all, the only thing I hated more than sports in high school were the popular kids who bullied me. I have no idea why I enjoyed this show. I think I felt some kinship toward Haley, Luke’s nerdy best friend, though she was far more poised and adorable than I have ever been. Perhaps it was just the depiction of the outcasts becoming accepted that I enjoyed, because in One Tree Hill, even the losers were eventually included to some degree. There was also the romantic element, which received far more screen time than the basketball plot, since everyone slept with everyone in this incestuous little town. I was particularly invested in the love story of Nathan and Haley, who married and had a baby as teenagers, the pinnacle of early 00’s Don’t Try This At Home teenage girl fantasies. Despite my enduring affection for this terrible show, basically every single thing about it is beyond problematic.

I’ve mentioned the relationships of both Roswell and Gilmore Girls, intentionally avoiding the word “toxic,” as I consider it hyperbolic and overused… unless one is describing the Gilmore Girls fandom. That being said, basically every relationship in One Tree Hill, outside of Nathan’s and Haley’s could only be described as toxic. Lucas opens the show utterly obsessed with Peyton, Nathan’s girlfriend and the absolute embodiment of the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope. In Peyton’s case, the mystery for her atrocious personality was the fact that her mother had died while she was young, her father worked out of town, and her boyfriend was absolutely horrible to her. She wasn’t alone in this title, however. Nope. That moniker was shared with Lucas’s other romantic partner, Brooke, Peyton’s best friend.

This is what teenage girls were supposed to look like in 2004.

Throughout several seasons of the show, Lucas plays Peyton and Brooke off of one-another, frequently cheating on Brooke with Peyton, yet never concerned with the fact that he and his brother are wiener buddies twice over… because the teenagers in this town are apparently in the porn industry. Literally every relationship depicted in this show is horribly unhealthy and sets a terrible example for teenage girls. Even Nathan and Haley are only a dim light in the dark when she kisses another guy before going on tour with him. Yes, Haley goes on tour, because aside from the toxic relationships, the plot points in this show are ludicrous.

It’s been awhile since my last rewatch of One Tree Hill, but I do recall that over the course of this show, the following storylines take place:

  • Nathan becomes an emancipated minor to escape his insane parents and marries Haley at 16.
  • Haley leaves Nathan to go on tour with Chris Keller, played by up-and-coming singer Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis in Walk the Line, but otherwise never made it.
  • Bullied teen, Jimmy, from the first few episodes brings a gun to school and holds a classroom full of students hostage, eventually shooting himself alone in a hall with Dan and Keith. Dan takes advantage of the opportunity to shoot his brother and blames Jimmy.
  • Peyton meets the brother she’s never heard of, but discovers he’s really an obsessed stalker who wants to rape her.
  • Nathan gets involved with small town gangsters who are really into betting on high school basketball (is that even a thing?) and gets caught throwing games.
  • Haley gets pregnant and intends to renew her vows with Nathan, but gets in a car accident on the way and nearly dies.
  • A witness comes forward and puts Dan in prison for the murder of Keith.
  • Four years pass and we find Nathan in a wheelchair after getting in a fight at a bar and ruining his chances at playing professional basketball for a team that just signed him.
  • Nathan and Haley’s crazy nanny tries to seduce Nathan and takes Dan hostage, posing as a nurse.

I’ll stop there, even though there are way more ridiculous plot points to note, because I want to mention one of the biggest issues that makes this show complete trash, and that is the insane level of success that every single character reaches after college. While the first four seasons of One Tree Hill tell the story of the characters’ junior and senior year of high school, even writers for the WB/CW seemed to realize that these actors were just getting too old for these roles. So, instead of writing a story where everyone went to college together, they chose to skip ahead four years to age 22, when everyone has their shit together.

I don’t know where you folks were at 22, but I was married to a psychopath and substitute teaching while working at a rec center for minimum wage, driving around with my valuables in my trunk so my ex wouldn’t pawn them. I certainly wasn’t married to an almost professional basketball player, down on his luck but still rolling in it from his sign-on deal, raising an adorable four-year-old, and reaching troubled teens with my love of literature. I knew zero published authors working as a high school basketball coach for their love of the game. I also didn’t have any friends who’d started luxury clothing lines or become successful sportscasters. I certainly didn’t know any 22-year-old record producers/club owners the year I graduated college. I’d buy the plot point that a stoner’s dog ate Dan’s heart before I’d buy that anyone is that successful right out of college…

No really, I’m not making this up.

… and still, I find myself trying to figure out if I can finish Roswell in time to start One Tree Hill with enough time to start Gilmore Girls in the fall, while Jake and I continue to truck along on Smallville, because there’s just something so comforting about the shows I watched as a teenager, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps it’s the stress of soaring gas prices and inflation and the threat of a world war that leads me to seek solace in pure nostalgia. Perhaps I just take comfort in the fact that Jake will never impregnate my alien rival… I’ll never not know who the father of my baby is… my former best friend won’t attempt to assassinate my father… and a dog will probably never eat my heart… but what can I say? When it comes to 00s shows, I just have terrible taste.

Not having my mother breaks my heart every single day.

I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.

My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.

The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.

My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.

My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.

I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.

I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.

Here’s to Five Years

Almost seven years ago, on June 9, 2015, Jake and I arranged to meet at a sushi place in Springfield, just north of my hometown of Shetland. I remember the date, not just because I remember all of the dates, but because it was my Gramma’s birthday and she was my next stop.

At 27, having been divorced for four years, I was growing weary of the dating scene, though I hadn’t yet begun to approach truly desperate. What had once been a fun and exciting experience had become tedious and redundant over the years. While I largely preferred online to organic dating, simply for the screening it allowed, the process had become unchanging. I’d talk to a man for a few days to a week. We’d schedule a time to meet in a public place. I’d determine we were incompatible for some reason. I’d blow him off with varying degrees of politeness. On rare occasion, I was being a diva, but most of the time my reasons were entirely valid. The day I met Jake, I was more or less over it. I didn’t want any more first dates that ended with my return to my single girl apartment, where I’d thumb through profiles I’d already seen a dozen times. I wanted to move on with my life, start the next adventure. Then I met Jake.

Ha. I jest. Jake and I didn’t have a Love at First Sight moment, because life is not a poorly written historical romance. No, we just had… a really good date. He more or less looked like his pictures, was funny, found my awkwardness endearing, and didn’t seem to be turned off by the fact that I just could not stop talking. He thought I was cute, was pleasantly surprised that I was as… loquacious as I was for a librarian, and enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t afraid to talk back to him. An hour or so after we went our separate ways, I received a text telling me that he had a good time and would like to see me again…

… and two years later we were married on May 6, 2017 after a courtship which was surprisingly easy in nearly every way. Sure, we had our spats, but overall, we were shockingly well-matched for the cowboy and the librarian. Our tastes were just similar enough to enjoy things together, yet different enough to introduce each other to new interests and entertain ourselves separately. We shared goals and worldviews and it was always just… easy.

On our wedding day, I never experienced a single moment of doubt that Jake was the best decision I’d ever made. It was a perfect day, right down to the weather, as my dad turned to me and told me I’d picked a good one this time. It was right and it has been right every day since…

… but after celebrating five years or marriage, I can’t say that it’s always been easy. In fact, 2020 would rank as the most difficult year of my life if the ends hadn’t justified the means… and if it hadn’t been for Jake and his complete and total acceptance and strength. He is the string to my kite and while he’s certainly not perfect, he is perfect for me, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I used to lie in bed at night, every door locked, with a loaded gun in a sock in the bed next to me, praying that the next man would be a good one. After the devastation that was the one and only relationship I’d ever had, I prayed that God would see fit to bring me a Godly man who was hard working, funny, intelligent, and would be a good husband and father. I didn’t need a hero from one of my romance novels. I needed someone real, someone who would compliment my own personality… and on June 9, 2015, I found him. It was my 21st first date and little did I know that I’d meet my very best friend.

The last year has been kind to us, overall. We welcomed our baby girls into the world and I spent the year regaining my strength after that terrifying ordeal. We realized that my staying home was the best choice for our family and fully embraced parenthood. We have had so much fun with each other and our girls. I never thought marriage could be this amazing and I’m certainly looking forward to the next five years.