A Terrible Summer and the Family Room We Sometimes Shopvac

I hate summer. That is not a seasonal declaration, either. On the coldest day in January, when my husband mansplains how to deice my car, while I tearfully scream at him to stop being an asshole and just take me to work, I hate summer.

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At 31, the majority of my life has revolved around the school year. For the first 28 years or so, this helped to mitigate my contempt for the season. Then, I began working as a librarian full time, which meant having an active role in Summer Reading. For those of you unfamiliar, a teen librarian’s schedule is the exact opposite of a teacher’s. Summer is absolute chaos. The library is packed at all hours, with everyone from teacher moms looking for a way to keep their kids busy on the cheap, full daycare classes, unsupervised children who should be in daycare… and it often feels like everyone under the age of ten is cackling or screaming or crying. In fact, every year, by the first of August, I’ve inevitably come to the conclusion that, if I even still want children, my body has probably developed some kind of immunity to procreation, as it does when exposed to chicken pox. All this to say that, the one redeeming quality that was once reserved for the summer months, a time of relaxation, no longer applies to me, as a public librarian wrangling 35 teen volunteers… and therefore, I hate summer.

Now folks, it would not be a stretch to suggest that I’m something of an “indoor girl.” My husband would tell you so outright, but I do enjoy some outdoor activities, such as hiking, swimming, bike riding, outdoor festivals, laying out… and zetus lapetus it is too fucking hot to do any of those things during a Southern summer. Add to that the plague of insects and insect paraphernalia

Me: ::screaming::
Jake: “What?!?!”
Me: ::spinning in circles:: “Spider web, spider web, spider web!!! It’s on me!!!”
Jake: ::raising a brow:: “Are you okay?”
Me: “NO! I am not okay! I need it to be October!”

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… and I hate summer.

Despite all of this, the assumption that I actually want to leave my home from June to August still persists among my family, because they’re all Lake People. They love getting away for a weekend to share space with a bunch of strangers at a hole full of dirty water and creatures. I hate getting away for a weekend. I don’t enjoy ransacking my bedroom to pack a bag, which will be both overfull and missing something, to sleep in a strange bed, or on the ground with no air conditioning. Y’all, there is no surer sign that someone has a charmed life than their insistence on being poor for a weekend. I’ve been poor. Fuck. Camping. As for the strangers, no thank you. I talk to strangers all day long and they pay me $24 an hour to do it. I don’t need to meet more people. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure every injury I had before the age of 10 happened at a lake. Why would I attempt to relax at the number one setting for horror movies?

Now Jake’s family are not Lake People. They’re Rodeo People. These folks work too hard to understand the appeal of a weekend not spent working cattle or traveling to rodeos. Even attending a softball tournament is more acceptable than a weekend wasted lounging at the lake or anywhere else.

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Every man in Jake’s family.

As for me? When I was six, I wrote in my yearbook that my favorite place to be is “home,” and I stand by kindergarten Belle. While I enjoy being outside for limited amounts of time, when the temperature is between 45 and 75 degrees, it’s with the caveat that I can retreat to my own home, take a hot shower, lounge around in my falsely heated and cooled air, and sleep on my two thousand dollar mattress. Perhaps I love winter so much, because there’s a greater general acceptance of this behavior, but in the South, I feel it’s completely warranted from early June to mid-September, as well… and that’s been my default for much of my life. While everyone else dons far too revealing clothing for my taste and leaps into vats of stranger pee, for me summer is a time to crank the a/c and T-Swift, and dance around the house in my underwear, avoiding any and all people, because I met my quota at work this week. It’s a time to make some real progress on my Vampire Diaries rewatch, read 11 dark paranormal romance novels, and finally get around to that sewing project. I hate summer, but if I ignore all conventional social norms and behavior, it’s bearable… except not this summer. Nope. This summer has been truly unbearable.

Folks, when we bought our house, a year and a half ago, Jake and I decided to keep the converted garage as living space. It had a large closet, access to a remodeled 3/4 bathroom, and a heat and a/c window unit. Combined with the placement right off the laundry room, this allowed us to use it as a bedroom, creating a true split floor plan… with a little work and money. After painting, installing a closet kit, finding 96″ floor to ceiling curtains, it made a huge bedroom, both private and luxurious, with the thick pile carpet Jake insisted on installing. For a few months, it was awesome. Then… the rains came.

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Our house is built on the side of a hill, toward the top, preventing any possibility of flooding on the left side of the house, where the original master was placed, while necessitating a retaining wall on the right… next to the garage. In a normal year, this retaining wall would prevent the garage from flooding. This, however, has not been a normal year. If fact, I’d be willing to bet that this has been one of the wettest years on record for Cherokee, bringing several inches of rain in just minutes on multiple occasions… and ultimately flooding the bedroom.

The first time, in October, it wasn’t so bad. We put some fans on the carpet and Jake poured some tar. The second time, just after Christmas, Jake rented some equipment, dried out the carpet, toiled in the drive for a few days and was certain he’d fixed the problem. The third time, he dried out the carpet with a leaf blower while he researched and brainstormed, determined to put that hydrology degree to personal use, and resolve this issue, once and for all. The fourth time, he tore out the flower bed and put down more tar. The fifth time, he bought pipe to install a drain behind the retaining wall. As this went on, through much of winter and spring, I became more and more defeated, withdrawn, and downright depressed.

As much as I hate playing the role of The Damaged Girl, there was something about being uprooted from the haven of my bedroom, feeling as though my home was threatened, that opened old wounds. While anyone would feel a bit unsettled with their home in disarray, it was something deeper for me. Suddenly, I wasn’t a thirty-something homeowner, but a 22-year-old panicking at the sound of a doorbell, after being forced to move ten times in two years. The true homebody that I am, I had no retreat through the stress… exactly as I felt the day my home burned to the ground and killed all of my pets, leaving me with no place to even lay my head and cry. The circumstances were vastly different and yet, all of the emotions were an echo of those long forgotten heartaches. Just as I once lay in bed, watching my well-loved That 70s Show DVDs, on loop, I spent an entire Saturday unable to move, as I binge-watched The Office.

Jake was supportive and compassionate, showing me more care than I’d ever guess a hard-as-nails country boy was capable of, even though he couldn’t quite understand my distress. When I began to suggest abandoning our converted-garage bedroom, however, he would insist he could fix it, perhaps feeling as though he’d failed me or that he should have been able to resolve the issue, when he literally majored in water. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I could no longer sleep in our bedroom, too stressed from my obsessive weather analyses, though I traditionally love rainstorms, to find peace. When Jake woke up one morning, to find me sleeping on the couch, I quietly told him…

Me: “I think we need to move into the other bedroom.”
Jake: “Okay.”

… and so it began… more renovations, on the heels of the expense and stress of Jake’s attempt to waterproof the garage, which came on the heels of transforming the converted garage into a bedroom in the first place.

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Despite the coming projects and expenses, I was relieved to have a solution, even one that would make summer more stressful and miserable than ever, more expensive than winter and spring combined. You see, when Jake and I bought our home, there were a couple of odd design quirks, such as the kitchy, trendy barn door over the master bathroom, which I hated and immediately sold. Of course, this left us without a bathroom door, not that a door that neither latches nor locks really deserves its name. The master bedroom in a house built in 1980, is also substantially smaller than one built post 2000. While I measured and measured, there was simply no way our entire bedroom suite would fit in the intended master. Luckily, the media console fit beautifully next to the dining table, but there would simply be no room at all for a bookshelf. While most of my childhood mementos were lost in my fire, I cherish and display the few survivors… so I would need wall shelves.

Y’all, my husband deserves a big gold star. Whereas two and a half years ago, Jake couldn’t even discuss decor that wasn’t a dead animal, today he truly trusts me. Not only does he realize that I can envision things he can’t and that I’ll make choices that ultimately reflect him and his taste, he trusts me to dream it up and then make it happen, himself. So it happened, that he cut, stained, sealed, and hung 360 degrees worth of shelves for his mementos and mine.

Meanwhile, I organized… and painted… and organized, and painted. I started by switching the closets, which fucked up my back, to the point that Jake had to take me to the doctor, because I couldn’t drive myself. Then I painted and organized both the old bathroom and the new one… then the new bedroom and the old one. Jake scheduled an appointment with a contractor to install a pocket door, the only door that would fit. He flaked. I told Jake we should go with someone else and he insisted he knew how these guys worked, as he wrote him a check. The contractor flaked and we lost money. We fought.

Oh, how we have fought this summer. Summer is bad enough when I have a cozy hobbit hole I can hide in, until the worst of the heat and biblical plague of insects have passed. This summer, not only have I hated being outside, I’ve hated being inside, as our house has been in complete chaos. As if that weren’t enough to further ruin an already rotten season, I’ve spent the last two months going toe-to-toe with my best friend and the most stubborn man alive. He gets frustrated because I spend money on a project, when we aren’t done with the current one. I get frustrated because these are all projects we’ve planned and I’m following the agreed upon timeline. He tells me we don’t have the money for paint for the garage and then writes a check of equal value to a flaky handyman, without doing his research. He wants to save, unless it’s time to spend money on something he wants and I want to banshee shriek that it’s not just his fucking money. We rarely fight about money, unless we’re spending a lot of it and this year we’ve had no choice. Now we’re both so stressed that everything sets us off.

– Jake hangs up the phone in his work truck with his coworker. –
Coworker: “What’s wrong?”
Jake: “You know how a mockingbird will just dive bomb a hawk’s nest and get it all riled up, as it defends it’s home?”
Coworker: “Yeah?”
Jake: “Well, Belle’s nest is messed up… and I’m the Hawk.”

We’ve worked and we’ve fought and I’ve hurt myself and we’ve sweated and spent far too much money on paint and wood and stain and rollers. Finally, as Summer Reading comes to a close, as back to school supplies and even Halloween candy are appearing on Wal-Mart shelves, despite the consistently 90+ temperatures, there seems to be an end in sight. What was once a spare room with a TV and an elliptical in it, is now our surprisingly spacious bedroom, complete with pocket door and shelves all around. What was once our watery bedroom is now The Blue Room: a Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac. Jake told me I couldn’t paint it in one day, so I naturally threw out my hip and blistered my hands proving him wrong.

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The Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac is more is more or less empty, for the time being and it will take us two months to catch up financially, but Summer Reading is finally over and Jake and I can stop being total assholes to each other. I can once again arrange my nest and Jake can stop fucking dive bombing it. Now, if only it could be October.

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A Discount Store Celebration of My Girl Parts

Y’all, I’m ashamed to say that, after years of struggle, I’ve managed to take the small things for granted. I still smile when I’m able to buy the name brand Spaghetti O’s, when I only have to work 40 hours a week, when I get to spend an evening reading next to my husband, instead of rushing to an awkward first date. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken one of life’s many blessings as a given. Y’all, for 31 years, I have been living under the assumption that my girl parts were not up for public discussion… and I was mistaken.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. There is, of course, a clear distinction between “public” and “family.” The ink had barely dried on my divorce papers, before my brother informed 23-year-old Belle that all the good ones were taken, so if she wanted to get married and have kids, she’d better get on it. The entirety of my twenties, in fact, were peppered with not-so-subtle suggestions that I procreate, even before Jake and I were engaged. Just last Christmas, my Aunt Dee sat down next to me, as I was holding my baby niece, and demanded “What about you? What’s your timeline? When are you having babies?” in lieu of silly pleasantries like “Hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Belle’s Girl Parts have been a favorite family discussion topic for years. Truth be told, save for my dad, the lot of them have had a stopwatch on my uterus for the better part of the last decade.

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As for Jake’s family, who are far more old school than mine, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that they’ve only just begun to hint that we should get on the baby train, after two years of marriage. Though they don’t quite have the gall of my family, the comments are getting increasingly less subtle, and honestly… that’s okay. While it bothered me to hear these things from my own family, when I was working on my career and figuring out what I wanted from life, I never held any true ire or resentment. As blunt and nosy and opinionated as both sides can be, it’s forgivable… because they’re family. A foundation of nearly every familial portrayal in media is that they suck at boundaries, because they love you… and I can handle that. What I cannot handle, however, is the same lack of boundaries from the cashier at Dollar Tree.

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Folks, I’ve worked retail, and still very much work in customer service, so I try to be courteous. When I get to the register, I put my phone down, greet the cashier, engage in any small talk, say thank you and just generally try not to act like an entitled ass. Usually, I receive the same respectful treatment, from someone who will likely never see me again, but still makes an effort to create a pleasant interaction by smiling, making chit chat and ignoring my purchases. So, last week, when I stopped in to grab a card for a coworker’s last day, I thought nothing of it when I piled a few ovulation tests on the conveyor belt, cuz why not? They’re a dollar and I’ve long since passed the time in my life where I’m embarrassed to buy tampons or condoms. Just as I couldn’t care less when a customer asks me for books on demonology and antique dolls (or I at least keep quiet about it), I know cashiers aren’t interested in my budget fertility experiments… or are they?!?!

Cashier # 1: “Oooooh! Are you trying to have a baby?!?!”q1zsbb8
Me: “I… um… I guess so?”
Cashier # 1: “That’s so exciting! I always said that if I were going to have any more, I’d do it that way, so I could know exactly when they were coming. I’ve got an IUD now, though, so I’m good for five years.”tenor-1
Me: ::I literally do not even know your name:: “Oh, um, yeah I actually had one of those for a little while.” ::Why the hell am I telling this woman about my birth control?::
Cashier # 2: “What’s going on?”
Cashier # 1: “She’s trying to have a baby!”babyishbountifulgarpike-size_restrictedCashier # 2: “Oh, that’s exciting!”
Cashier # 1: “Yeah, I had to use over-the-counter options before this, because I couldn’t use anything else.”
Me: “Yeah, that happens sometimes, I know everything else made me sick.” ::Are we really talking about your condom usage?::giphy-2

… and then I thanked her, wished her a good day and left with my bag o’ pee sticks. That’s right, y’all. It is so ingrained in me to be a good customer, that I thanked the cashier who asked me “How ’bout that vagina?” My When my Aunt Dee asked about my timeline, I had the presence of mind to clap back that Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole (Merry Christmas!), but a woman I’ve never met blasts my sex life over the loud speaker of a local discount store and I wish her a good day.

When did this happen?!?! When did my fertility become something that not only my family asks about in a pesky, yet somewhat endearing way, but strangers think makes for appropriate small talk?!? I’m all for lifting the taboo on pregnancy, liberating “expecting” 50s housewives from their mumus, and encouraging breastfeeding moms to make themselves comfortable in public, but there is a difference between oppressive taboos and basic privacy! For instance:

Telling a woman she should hide her pregnancy shames her for something she should be celebrating.

While humiliating a woman for feeding her baby in a public courthouse makes a healthy and natural activity taboo, asking a woman if she’s planning to breastfeed is prying into a private personal decision.

Congratulating someone on their pregnancy announcement shares in the joy of a growing family, but asking her about her girl parts is invasive and uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that!

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Naturally, I went home and shared this story with Jake.
Me: “Next month, you get to buy the ovulation tests.”
Jake: “If it happens again, just tell them you’re breeding your dog.”

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I’ve been pretty hesitant to revisit this Dollar Tree, though, even with it being so close to work. While a part of me wants to perform some kind of expansive social experiment and buy increasingly awkward items from various cashiers, another part shudders to think what will happen when I actually do get pregnant.

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Update: Two weeks later, when Jake stopped by Dollar Tree to pick up more ovulation tests, the same cashier not only commented “Someone’s tryyyying,” but asked if I was his wife. I called her manager and explained that while I know she’s trying to be friendly, someone has got to explain to this woman that things people pee on aren’t up for discussion at checkout.

I am beginning to HATE going to the movie theater.

When Jake and I met, I was living in Shetland, a suburb of the Metro, where I substitute taught nearly every day, before commuting to my half time librarian job in the city.  Jake, an oil man, lived about an hour west of me, in the same town as his sister, because it didn’t really matter where he hung his hat, when he was working one week on and one week off, as a fluid engineer. All things considered, the chances of us meeting each other (or really anyone) organically were nil. Thanks online dating!

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From that first date, our distance and schedules manifested into an old fashioned courtship, of sorts. On Jake’s week off, we’d have one date and then we wouldn’t see each other again for two weeks. In an attempt to make the most of the one day we had, we’d often cram several dates into one, getting lunch, visiting the zoo, getting dinner, seeing a movie…

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Having met during a Southern summer, movies were an excellent go-to date. There was always a new blockbuster to see in an air conditioned theater, with a bucket of popcorn and a small bag of gourmet candy from the store in the mall. While I’d personally gone to several movies alone, this was admittedly a classic date for a reason; far superior as a romantic activity, where my sexually awkward self could snuggle up to Jake, without fear of things progressing beyond my comfort level. That first summer, movies quickly became our thing and to this day, movie dates hit me with a burst of nostalgia… before a much larger burst of annoyance, frustration, and even rage.

It’s been four years since Jake and I saw Jurassic World on our first real date, after the Zero Date, where we met for sushi. In that time, I’m not sure if audiences have gotten worse or if I’ve gotten more sensitive to them, but I’m beginning to hate going to the theater. It started with Stephen King’s It: Part I, a movie both highly anticipated by Jake and myself, in addition to being part of my 30th birthday celebration. As we watched the kids of Derry scream in terror, a group of women in front of us cackled at inappropriate times… on and off for two hours and fifteen minutes. The laughter was so consistently ill-timed and obnoxious, that I actually complained to management, knowing as a former movie theater employee, that they’d likely do nothing. I was right, and at the end of the movie, I asked for readmits, since I didn’t even see anyone check the theater. Okay, I thought, we had one really bad audience and got free movie tickets, as a result. It could be worse.

Just a few months later, Jake and I saw Jumanji with my step-family, for our annual Christmas Eve outing. The movie was hilarious, so ill-timed laughter wasn’t a problem. Being Christmas Eve, there were no young children in attendance and there were surprisingly few talkers, save for my dad. There was, however, one Avid Facebook User seated in front of me. I’ve previously shared this story, so you may already be familiar with the moment that 16-year-old Belle briefly took over my body and chucked an M&M at this woman who was, quite literally, twice my size… and not happy about having Christmas candy thrown at her.

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Coward that I am, when I realized my impulsivity might get my juvenile ass kicked, I dove into Jake’s side, and whispered in his ear…

“Hey, I don’t know how this is gonna go, but that woman was playing with her phone, so I threw an M&M at her and she looks really mad. I love you.”

… and then snuggled up to him and looked straight ahead as if I’d been there the whole time, while Mark Zuckerberg craned her neck in search of the culprit… for like a full minute. It was one M&M… and it should have been more, because she went right back to her damned newsfeed.

Me: “Can I throw another M&M at her?”
Jake: “No. Be quiet and watch the movie.”

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This story has become something of a family joke, as Jake likes to bring it up to his family, who are only beginning to get to know me. Overall, the act of playing with your phone in the theater is equally as obnoxious as throwing candy. Even though she totally started it, I concede that the two canceled each other out. Still, the person playing with their phone has become such a staple of the movie theater experience, that I have to draw on the time I nearly got my ass handed to me for Christmas, to cite one that’s actually notable. Just as when I sat next to the Deliberately Loud Laugher, who must be on a first date, because she wants to make it absolutely clear that she finds Thor Ragnarok hilariousthe self-absorbed, disrespectful theater goers seem to just be par for the course. After last weekend, though, I think I might officially be done. 

Jake and I love horror movies… not the cheap torture porn on Netflix, but the high budget ones that actually make it into theaters. It’s rare that we miss seeing one, so I was pretty excited for Child’s Play this past weekend. I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for the movie itself, as it’s based on an 80’s movie about a murderous doll, but I genuinely enjoy remakes and figured it would be fun to see a modern take on such a ridiculous story line. It was somewhat forgettable… more of a Black Mirror episode than a full-length film. The audience, however, was atrocious. 

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To my right was Jake, and to his right, was an Exclaimer. You know, the woman who loudly exclaims “WOW” of “NUH UH!” every time there’s a big reveal. In front of me, was the Marathon Texter, and behind us was a woman with three small children, including a crying baby.

Y’all, I try not to judge parents. I really do, because I don’t have kids and I can’t empathize. I do know that Jake and I have only been to so many movies this year, though, because we’ve agreed to go as much as we can, since we know that when we have kids, movies are going to be few and far between… because it’s a dick move to bring a baby to a theater. Now, if we were seeing Toy Story 4 at 2:00 on a Saturday, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the presence of fussy children. That is, in fact, precisely why Jake and I don’t see children’s movies in theaters. While I still think it’s stupid to bring a baby, who can’t even comprehend the movie, I understand that there are some toddlers who love Toy Story. I don’t think I’d take mine, because I’m cheap and would feel like it was a waste of money on an experience they can’t fully appreciate, but I don’t blame the parents who do. This, however, was Child’s Play, an exceptionally violent, vulgar horror movie, where young teenagers say “fuck” on loop. I am 100% comfortable judging the choice to bring small children to this movie.

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Not only was this movie completely inappropriate for the children behind us, they were completely inappropriate for the theater, starting with the opening trailers. The boy, who couldn’t have been more than seven, was an Exclaimer in the making, loudly commenting on random lines with “That was a good one!” At no point did his mom correct him, either. No. She was too busy shushing her baby, who she was simultaneously trying to distract with a cell phone, because she’s self-absorbed, inconsiderate, or short-sighted (perhaps all three) and brought small children to an unquestionably adult movie. I get it. Being a parent is tough and sometimes you need a break, but:

1. How is this a break?!?! You’re literally spending the entire film trying to keep your baby from erupting from pure boredom. You’re unhappy and your baby is unhappy.

2. Other people deserve breaks, too. If you’re a parent and you want a break, either get a sitter, so you can have some fun adult time or do one of the many family-oriented, appropriate activities that your children might actually enjoy and let other people have some adult fun time, sans kiddos.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like children, but I do not complain about the existence of children, where children are expected and intended. When a child throws a tantrum in Wal-Mart, I don’t bat an eye. Everyone needs groceries and underwear and toothpaste. Some of those people have children and children aren’t always happy. When a baby screams in the library, during story time, I understand that some toddlers, who love sensory play and mermaid books, have little brothers and sisters. Of course mom isn’t going to get a sitter for the baby and bring the toddler. It would be ludicrous to expect that.

As a married, but childless, woman in her thirties, I often feel surrounded by small children and as a librarian surviving summer reading, I often am. I’m happy to coexist with children and when I’m not, I realize that it’s my nerves that are tender, my threshold that’s low, my problem, because children are a part of society. When I’m in a rated R horror movie, however, I think it’s a pretty damned reasonable expectation that I not have to listen to a baby cry on and off for two hours… which was exactly what I told management, when I asked for readmits, which I have not done in two years, since It: Part I. 

When I returned to the theater, I snuggled up to Jake and whispered “I have free movie tickets in my pocket,” and we were both better able to handle the baby crying through the rest of a meh horror movie. Except, as I consider all the new movies coming out, that I’d love to see with a respectful and considerate audience, I’m not sure I want to risk seeing any of them in a theater. Anyone want free movie tickets?

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Between Marriage and Motherhood

Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.

When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.

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It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.

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I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.

Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.

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Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.

Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”

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As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.

Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”

It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.

Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”

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She didn’t seem to hear me.

Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.

Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”

While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.

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Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.

Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”

… and I meant it

The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.

I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.

Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
Jake: “Okay.”

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Two Vitally Important Years

One of the first Saturday mornings after our wedding day, Jake came into the living room to see my cat, Thackery Binx, crawling into my lap, as I sipped my coffee and ate my donuts, while reading the news.

Jake: ::waves his hand at TB:: “Git! Go!”
Me: ::shielding TB:: “What are you doing?!?”
Jake: “He’s trying to get to your food!”
Me: “No, he isn’t! He’s trying to get to my snuggles. He doesn’t even care about my food. You, ‘GIT!'”

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What Jake didn’t realize, was that Thackery Binx and I have a morning routine, which involves my eating breakfast, around him, as he lounges across my lap or chest. He never goes for my food. He’s not interested in human food and doesn’t think I should be either, if it’s going to interfere with his morning snuggles. It’s literally been our schtick, since I got him as a half pound kitten.

On another early day in our marriage, Jake started to get up from the couch, putting on his Crocs.

Me: “Where are you going?”
Jake: “Nowhere… just to get a drink.”
Me: “You put shoes on to get a drink?”
Jake: “Yeah. I don’t want to walk around barefoot.”

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What I didn’t realize, is that Jake cannot stand the thought of walking anywhere barefoot. I’m not sure if I even wore shoes for the first ten years of my life. I’d go so far as to state that it’s a societal norm, in the mild temperatures of the south, to walk around barefoot, any time doing so is not prohibited by policy or law. Just last week, I climbed a chain link fence barefoot, which I 0/10 do not recommend. It is bizarre to me, that a man who has had his entire arm in a cow’s vagina, cannot handle the thought of walking to the kitchen sink, without having his feet protected.

They say you never truly know a person until you’ve lived with them, often claiming this supports the idea that you must cohabitate prior to marriage. I’ve always disagreed with this insistence, feeling that two mature adults can be honest enough with each other, to reveal any genuine deal breakers, without living together. If it’s the little things that might do you in, like the way she eats her breakfast around the cat or the way he wears Crocs at all times, then you’re probably not ready for marriage, anyway.

After two years of marriage, I stand by this. Jake and I represented ourselves quite authentically, in our year and a half of dating, prior to engagement. We knew each other’s goals and visions of the future, religious and political worldviews, and financial and personal wellness habits. We might not have known all of the quirks, but we knew each other. Still, as we celebrate our wedding anniversary, I must admit that the last two years have been vitally important, as we’ve gotten to know each other even more.

We know how to fight.

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Goodness do we. Y’all, Jake is my best friend in the whole world. Incidentally, he’s also capable of pissing me off more than anyone in the whole world. In the last two years, we’ve gone a few rounds… over life changing things, like buying a home and a car… and over stupid things, like who ate all the Miracle Whip (spoiler alert: him) and whether or not we really needed more candy (spoiler alert: yes).

Whereas Jake is definitely the more prideful of the two of us, I just might be the more stubborn, which has, admittedly, led to some pretty epic standoffs. As a result, we’ve discovered how to fight in the most effective, and least harmful, ways. I, personally, have learned how to explain, in a more timely and collected manner, why I’m actually upset… which is almost never the reason Jake assumes. On his part, Jake understands that I’m not likely to dig in my heels over something frivolous. His pride deflates more quickly these days. He’s better at listening overall, and quicker to apologize. As a result, I’m less likely to make it to irrational and tearfully explosive.

Before I met Jake, I worried that I’d have a bigger personality than anyone I married. I feared I’d be left to make all of the decisions, discipline the children, act as the primary authority and intelligence in my family. That sounded exhausting. What is the point of having a partner who needs his hand held through every moment of the day? Jake harbored similar worries, until he met me. We both have pretty big personalities and, therefore, may have a lifetime of brawls ahead of us… but we’ll never have to worry that we haven’t met our match.

We know how to comfort.

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I’m not great with tears. I used to joke that Spock was the perfect man, completely logical and entirely emotionless; that Louis, from Interview with a Vampire, was a close second, because he only cried one tear every thousand years. It’s not sexist. I can’t handle a woman’s tears, either. In fact, I am at a loss for how to comfort anyone who’s crying; and it is an absolute double standard, because as I get older, I cry all the damned time.

In this way, Jake and I were made for each other, because my husband has not cried since he lost a football game over 15 years ago. A coworker once blamed his “toxic masculinity,” but no one ever told Jake that boys couldn’t/didn’t cry. He was never punished or mocked for it. I’ve seen other men in his family cry, with zero criticism. It’s just as sexist to claim that a man has to cry, to avoid being labeled toxic, as it is to say he can’t cry, when women are allowed to cope with their emotions however they see fit. In general, the men in Jake’s life just work their frustrations out via ranch chores, because there are always plenty to do. When Jake is upset, he works in the yard, because that’s what he knows, what makes sense to him, and what actually makes him feel better. I’ve learned to leave him to it. When he comes inside, I’ll cuddle with him quietly, but I don’t insist he copes in a way that makes sense to me, because it’s not about me.

As willing as I am to cry around Jake, I’m only willing to cry around Jake. When Rupert escaped, a few weeks after I got him, I had to leave work early. My coworkers were just so compassionate and sympathetic, that I couldn’t get any work done and I refused to break down. When I nearly cut off the end of my thumb with the guillotine cutter, I didn’t shed a single tear until Jake and I were on the way to the clinic. If it’s just Jake and I, I’ll cry because I just read the scene where the dog died, but if anyone but my husband is around, I’m pretty sure I cry sand. Jake is the only person I want, when I’m hurt or upset… and he is surprisingly good with my tears, no matter the cause. Throughout this past weekend, as we celebrated our anniversary, I periodically broke dow, over the teen I lost to suicide. Each time, Jake just held me, until my crying jag passed.

I recently told Jake that I didn’t call him about something that had upset me, because we’d had some silly argument the previous night. Growing up, my parents were both the people who would declare “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me” in such a situation. Jake reassured me that, no matter what ridiculous quarrel we were having, I could always call him crying, because he knows he’s the only one I want… even though providing comfort over the phone seems to be his emotional Kryptonite, because he has no idea what to say. Maybe that’s one for the next two years.

We know how to share space.

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I admit it. Living together has as a learning curve and I’d say one of my biggest struggles has been with the fact that human bodies are disgusting, something Jake doesn’t struggle with at all. This was best evidenced by that time I failed to mention I might have food poisoning, because we had free tickets to the amusement park, a few months into our marriage. Jake seemed to catch on, however, when I projectile vomited all over myself, on the way home.

Me: ::crying::
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes… but I’m so embarrassed.”
Jake: “Why are you embarrassed?”
Me: “It’s just so gross! I’m disgusting! Just leave me on the side of the road to die!”

I have never felt worse in my life and at no point, was Jake ever disgusted with me; a sentiment I can’t say I’ve always had the grace and selflessness to return. It wasn’t just the night that Jake got sick and called for an extra pair of underwear from the bathroom. No, people are just gross. Jake is admittedly better than many, but while there might not be pee on my bathroom floor, there are certainly red beard hairs all over my sink. While he doesn’t intentionally do crass bodily things, we’ve had repeated arguments about how often a grown man should clip his toenails, because I have to share a bed with him.

Me: “You’re going to cut my femoral artery in the night. I’ll bleed out right next to you and you won’t even realize it, until it’s too late.”
Jake: “I can’t cut them. What if I need to climb a tree or catch fish from a stream?”

Sharing space hasn’t been as much of a struggle for Jake as sharing in general. Early in our marriage, there never seemed to be much time to stop and talk with my Gramma for a few hours, on the way home from an entire weekend with Jake’s family. There was always time and energy for video games and the movies and shows Jake liked, but the reserves were tapped, when it was my turn to choose an activity. Financially, there always seemed to be enough money for a bottle of whiskey on the weekend, but strangely, things were tight when I wanted to buy a new cardigan. What was Jake’s was mine, when it came to household chores, but not so much when it came to peanut butter, cottage cheese, apples, and chips.

In the past two years, we’ve learned to choose our battles. I’ve made great strides in overcoming my aversion to the human body and Jake has made an effort to watch more Belle Movies and go on walks before losing himself in a video game. Jake buys discount whiskey and I buy discount cardigans. I still feel lucky if I get any peanut butter, though. It’s like living with a human tapeworm.

We’re growing and changing together.

It’s only been two years and Jake and I are already different people than the day we married. On Jake’s part, he’s more considerate to other people, more religious, a better listener. On mine, I’m more careful with other people’s feelings, more family oriented in my career goals, and a better communicator. We’ve changed, but we’ve checked in with each other, as we’ve done so. When Jake wanted to invest a portion of his IRA, he discussed it with me, before making a decision. When we started thinking about children, we set a timeline and followed up. When I started thinking about a career change, I began talking over the family benefits and financial implications with Jake.

Looking back over the last two years, I’ve never been happier that Jake left oil when he did, because these years without children won’t come around again. These chances to improve ourselves for each other will be harder to come by as time passes. The habits and relationship dynamics we create now, set the foundation for our marriage. These have been two vitally important years.

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Library school didn’t prepare me for losing a teen.

Everyone hates teenagers. We all know that, I more than most, as their champion and advocate. They’re mouthy and hormonal and loud and mischievous… and that’s all most people see. Unlike the villainous dislike of children, everyone’s allowed to voice their disdain for teens… and they do, usually within earshot of their subjects.

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Adults don’t care about teens’ confusion and widespread abandonment issues, the extreme self-consciousness caused by the live streaming of their very existence, from their friends and parents and enemies. They don’t care that they’re coming into their sexuality in a minefield of consent and its constantly changing definitions, that their most private texts and photos are often traded among their peers like collectible playing cards, that they’re expected to trade them, themselves. No… most people just assume that if they could overcome their adolescence X years ago, then so can today’s teenagers.

Last night, I learned that one of my daily library kids didn’t overcome his teenage years. I don’t know the circumstances of his arrest, his guilt or his innocence… but I knew him and I liked him. I hadn’t seen him since a program in January. I was beginning to worry, but I was looking forward to having him as one of my teen volunteers this summer. I knew he was looking forward to it, too, since he was the first to register… but I won’t see him this summer. I won’t see him ever again, because he died this week. He was alone and scared and thought he had no future… a self-fulfilling prophecy, because he was discovered hanging from a light fixture in a county jail cell… and that’s all anyone will remember. They’ll whisper about rape charges and suicide and they won’t question why or how it could have been prevented. They’ll only condemn… and my heart is breaking, because I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t that person, wasn’t in a position to do so, but I wish I could have helped him navigate whatever it was to which he was lost. Could I have been clearer, that time on the patio, when I talked to him about the rumors the girls were spreading and the behavior that might lead to them… about respect and consent? Could I have been clearer with the girls about the consequences of such accusations, when upon further investigation, I realized their terms weren’t entirely fair or accurate? I tried, within all my power and professional boundaries, to explain it as thoroughly as I could, without accusation or dismissal… and one of them is still dead.

I wish I could help my teens more, without crossing a line. I wish we were all more invested in protecting them, providing them with the love and care we were so intent on giving them just five years earlier. I wish we were more comfortable and transparent in guiding them through their social and sexual interactions. Mostly, I wish a sixteen-year-old boy hadn’t killed himself in a county jail last week… that whatever landed him there hadn’t happened… that he had a chance to make better decisions and figure out who he could be… that I had any idea how to process this.

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Roots

Roots are a funny thing. For most of my life, my roots have been shallow, at best. As a child, I suppose I took stability for granted, as all children will and should do. Our trailer house on five acres, with my grandmother living next door, was all I knew. My parents were never… happy, but they weren’t overtly miserable, either. Besides, Gramma was right next door and seeing her was the end game of literally every day. Fuck parents.

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When I was 8, we left the trailer and my grandmother moved to town. After a year or two of finally having all the things, my parents still began their Lifetime Original Movie level divorce and my brother and I were more or less left to fend for ourselves. Stability was a thing of the past and I wouldn’t claim to have gained anything resembling it until after my divorce at 23. My new roots were shallow, indeed, as I worked two jobs to afford my single girl apartment and attended grad school part time. I hoped that, in time, all my efforts would pay off and my roots would deepen. I dated on and off, at times wondering if I even wanted to try the marriage thing again. At 24, my brother told me I’d better get on it, because the good ones marry early. At 25, my aunt offered to set me up with some cute musicians, to which I responded that that’s exactly what I needed, another man without a job.

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#goals

At 26, the cynicism began to fade and the panic began to set in, as I wailed to my Gramma that I was going to die alone. All the while, I worked to climb the ladder in my library system and shared my dating stories with you fine folks. At 27, Jake showed up, fucking finally. At 29, I married him; and at 30, we bought our own home. In these six or seven years, I found myself at six different libraries, living in three different dwellings. In short, it was a crazy time. I yearned for stability.

Today, I’ve begun to set down new roots. I’ve been stationed at the Cherokee library, heading the teen programming for all five satellite locations, for almost two years now. Jake has received a promotion to crew chief, with the city. We’re fixing up our home and planning on children soon. We’ve formed some tentative friendships at church. Still, not three months ago, I was in tears, because the connections feel so insubstantial. We live near no one. My family isn’t nearby and if they were, I wouldn’t be especially close with them. As wonderful as my step-siblings and their spouses are, Jake and I have vastly different interests and are simply in a different stage of life. I have delightful friends, but they have different goals, dreams, worldviews. Jake’s friends, who are much more relatable, in these regards, are in another state. His family is scattered across both states and again, are largely in different stages of life. I love my husband and feel entirely secure in our marriage, but I can’t help but wonder, will I ever feel anchored in any other area of my life?

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The first couple of months of the year were hard for me. As much as I love working with my teens, my library system doesn’t provide any additional compensation for working in the satellite branches. We get such varied experience, it makes us obvious candidates for promotion, something many gladly take, because working at five libraries is substantially more stressful than working at one. Even small issues, such as sharing supplies, covering the desk, and filling out mileage forms, often become huge stressors. Naturally, this results in much higher turnover and every time a position is filled, another is vacated. We finally get a strong team, in which everyone works well together, only to have to train someone new. It’s exhausting, particularly when coupled with the general chaos of the system as a whole, which was turned on its head nearly five years ago and has never quite righted itself. For literally the first time in eight years, I’ve begun looking at my options. Yet… my library system is all I know. I’ve worked there since I was 23 and the idea of leaving is scary… but since I don’t seem to have set down any deep roots, just yet, perhaps this is the right time.

I’m reading Gone with the Wind and I find myself envying Scarlet. I’ve never had a Tara, a place for which I feel a true sense of home… and maybe, as hard as it’s been lately, that’s for the best. Just maybe, before Jake and I have children, get them into school, plant ourselves more firmly into our fields and our community, we could consider uprooting, once again. I still have a valid teaching certificate and I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of education for the last ten years. I could leave my system and work as a school librarian, my original goal, when I began pursuing my master’s degree. I could continue to work with teens, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and have more time in the summers, the most hectic time of year for public librarians. If we were to relocate to Jake’s home state, I could make very similar money. We could move closer to friends and family, before starting a family of our own, and be there to support Jake’s parents as they move into their seventies. We could even use the superior public school system and save money on tuition for Catholic school. We could transplant these shallow roots, in a way that might not be an option in five years.

And yet, I worry that the constant shifting within my library system, although beyond my control, has created a sense of professional wanderlust in me. Am I considering leaving so I can have something more consistent or have I just been in Cherokee for almost two years, which is about my turnaround per branch? Am I looking for a stronger commitment or a bigger challenge? Do I crave predictability or chaos? Have I spent so long with a shallow root system that, although appealing in theory, the idea of deep roots has me feeling trapped? I don’t know, but the prospect is terrifying. Roots are a funny thing.

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Buying a Car: An Unexpected Matrimonial Challenge

Y’all remember, a little over a year ago, when I was super prepared for buying a house with the Duchess of Cambridge? I knew how impossible it was going to be for this suburban librarian and her hardheaded Southern man to agree on a modestly priced abode that fulfilled all of our contradictory must-haves. I had us pre-approved for a mortgage and started looking months before we could even consider purchasing. We had plenty of time to reconcile our needs and wants with what was both available and possible. We had time to discuss whether or not we really needed a garage, how much land was actually feasible, and deliberate potential paint colors and new furniture. There were still some pretty heated… debates (we’ll go with that), but it went surprisingly well and we ultimately ended up in a house we both love. Now… what the fuck happened to that Belle and why didn’t she warn me that buying a car with a stubborn cowboy would rank with buying a house with a stubborn cowboy?

It all started with talk of babies. As I mentioned in my last post, we’re ready to start a family. I’m 31. Jake is 34. We’re just shy of our two year wedding anniversary. We really are best friends, even if that manifests in the occasional bickering, because Jake’s primary inspiration for lifelong romance is his mother and father, who never stop pecking at each other; and I can’t even rightly say my dad and stepmom are any different.

We have stable jobs. We own our home. Rupert is more or less over the puppy phase. Our finances are almost in order. Our cars have been paid off since we got married and Jake insisted on paying off mine, due to the exorbitant 12% interest rate. Except… it was beginning to show its age. I’d never been overly conscious of my 2010 Nissan Sentra. In fact, more than once, I jumped into the wrong one, because it looked like every other car on the lot, just another silver sedan. Sure, I’d have liked something snazzier, but as long as it got me from point A to point B, the air conditioner worked, and I could listen to music, it was fine. Then, winter of 2017, Jake slipped on the ice in the driveway and grabbed my driver’s side mirror to brace himself… which shattered in his big rancher hand. A few months later, the check engine light came on and since buying a house is so expensive, I decided that this could be Future Belle’s problem. Ultimately, we both agreed to ignore it, in lieu of putting more money into a car with 150,000 miles. Finally, just as the engine would stall at stoplights, the blower motor went out, meaning no heat and air, just before a major freeze.

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At least the radio still worked?

That frozen morning, as I covered my car in deicer, unable to get a grip on the glaze with the scraper, I called Jake and told him I couldn’t turn on the defroster and couldn’t get the ice off. I could hear his eyes roll, as he imagined my girl arms failing at something so simple, not realizing that the ice was too fine and still accumulating. He responded in his most condescending voice…

Jake: “Pour some deicer on it and then scrape it.”
Me: “Thank you. I’m so glad you’re always available to narrate what I’m already doing.”

I was finally able to clear enough ice to make the short drive to work… or so I thought as I drove east out of our neighborhood, only to turn north, into the sleet, and watch my windshield completely freeze over. Driving with the window open, repeatedly stretching my arm out to spray deicer, I stopped twice to spray down the windshield completely, before I was forced to pull over, as cars began honking at my attempt to Bird Box it to work.

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I called Jake crying, shaking from both the cold and fear of having almost gotten into a wreck.

Me: “I need a ride.”
Jake: “Why?”
Me: “Because I can’t see to drive.
Jake: ::beleaguered sigh:: “Alright. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Able to drive south, away from the sleet, I got my car home in time to meet Jake, who clearly still thought I just didn’t know how to scrape a windshield and, without consideration for my well-being, patronizingly and exasperatedly demanded…

Jake: “Give me your scraper.”shrillunderstatedgerbil-small
Me: “I ALREADY SCRAPED IT! Stop being an asshole and just take me to work!”

I cried the whole way, still shaken up from my attempt at driving blind. Not knowing the details of my harrowing trip, Jake sat quietly with his dude pride, making no move to comfort my seemingly irrational tears until he pulled into the parking lot of the library. As he opened his mouth to say something, I jumped out of the still moving truck to avoid saying something.

That night, as we clarified our misunderstandings and apologized, we both agreed that we couldn’t wait much longer for a new car. While we’d initially planned on a Kia Sorento, we agreed that we should scale back and aim for a smaller and less expensive vehicle, until we actually need a family car. After another month and a trip to Texas, sans air conditioning, with two dogs in the back, one of whom gets car sick, we agreed to look at cars the following weekend. On the way home, the bickering began.

Me: “What about a Prius? They get really good gas mileage.”
Jake: “We are not buying a Prius.”
Me: “Why? Because of your Southern-male-Dodge-pickup-driving pride? That is not sufficient reason to veto a car.”
Jake: “Oh, yes it is.”
Me: “It’s my car. You only get veto rights for practical reasons, like size, age, mileage, or a ridiculous color. You know what? I’m going to buy a Prius, whether I like it or not. Then, I’m gonna order a Bernie Sanders ‘Hindsight 2020’ decal for the window.”
Jake: “You hate Bernie Sanders.”
Me: “Not anymore… and not as much as you do. I’m a Bernie Bro, now.”

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As we drove home, I’d point out different vehicles, which Jake would insist weren’t big enough. He’d point out larger SUV’s and I would remind him that we were going for something smaller. I thumbed through an app on my phone and showed him ads for newer sedans, but with a dachshund nose at his elbow and a fishing pole in his neck, he had a point when he declared them too small. I found a couple of cars that I wanted to consider looking at the next day and if they weren’t available, we agreed to just wait until the weekend.

The contenders were a 2015 Buick Encore with 31k miles or a 2018 Kia Soul Plus with 37k miles. On Monday, in true Ravenclaw style, I devoted all of my downtime to research. I looked at numerous cars and concluded that these were really the largest we could afford, if we wanted something newer and with low mileage. I compared the two in question… at length. I read dozens of expert and consumer reviews, which all declared that they were essentially the same size, despite Jake’s insistence that the Soul was too small. Wanting to save time, I got off work a couple of hours early, so I could test drive the Soul and see if it was even worth the time to show it to Jake.

I instantly loved this car. It was bigger than it looked and the large doors meant maneuvering a car seat in and out of the back would be easier than with the smaller doors of an Encore. It was fun to drive and, compared to a 2010, had plenty of bells and whistles. Most importantly, it was marked several thousand below comparable models. It was also bright red. I have my whole life to drive a boring mom car. I wanted a bright red one this time. The salesman tried to keep me from going to see the other cars, but I knew Jake really would want to stick to our plan. He offered to let me take it, with a temporary tag, and I told him that I was certain my husband would feel like I was making decisions without him, so we would just have to come back.

When I got home, I told Jake I loved the car, that I thought he’d like the size and that I wanted to go see it first. He insisted on seeing the Buick first, since it was on the way. I calmly explained why I thought the Soul was the better deal, cheaper and newer with similar miles, and coming from a dealership with a better reputation. Finally, after nearly an hour of waiting for Jake to dress and get everything together, and twenty minutes of driving toward the other dealership, Jake agreed to see the Soul first, which landed us in five o’clock traffic.

Becoming more and more tightly wound, I chose not to speak, to avoid a fight. When Jake asked what was wrong, I explained that I was certain the car would be sold by the time we got there, because he took too long and the salesman had texted to tell me someone else was looking at it. When he scoffed about salesmen tactics, I told him that’s exactly why I hadn’t said anything, and went back to silence. We got to the dealership and learned that the Kia Soul, that I only wanted my husband to consider, because it was heavily marked down from comparable models, had already sold because it was heavily marked down from comparable models. I was pretty upset. The eager salesman suggested some alternatives, but I told Jake that I didn’t want to look at anything else and just wanted to go home. I didn’t care if he felt like I was throwing a tantrum, because I knew that any car we bought that evening would always feel like second choice. I needed time to adjust and find something else I actually wanted. Before we left, however, the manager came over and told us that if we really wanted that car, for that price, he could get something very close at an auction at the end of the week. After test driving a comparable model, Jake admitted that he really did like the car. He agreed to let the manager see what he could do and said we could discuss it over the next few days… except I didn’t really feel like talking to him, anymore.

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It took me a couple of days to fully articulate exactly why I was angry with Jake. It clearly wasn’t about the car, as the dealership could apparently cut us a similar deal. In fact, waiting a few days was turning out to be for the best, since it gave me time to actually sell my Nissan, as opposed to trying to trade it in for far less. No, it wasn’t about missing an opportunity. There were other cars. It was about feeling bullied into doing things Jake’s way.

I’ve mentioned before that the hardest part about getting married at 29 and 32 is that we’re both quite set in our ways and we both have strong personalities. The process for buying a new car, in Jake’s mind, is test driving five or six vehicles, from five or six dealerships and then making a decision. That sounds like a circle of Hell to me. I hate the idea of talking to several salesman, taking their time and getting their hopes up of making a sale. I don’t feel that the important information comes from a test drive and schmoozing with a salesman. It comes from research, reading reviews from experts who know how it compares to other cars in its class and every day people who report frustrations and appreciations. Fortunately, I’m a researcher, by trade and I did a damned good job. While I understand that I have to compromise too, in this case, I stand by my declaration that it’s my fucking car and after two days of little to no communication, I finally told Jake as much.

Me: “How would you feel if you thought you’d found the perfect truck… you loved the color and it had low mileage and it was a great deal, but I made you keep looking and you lost it? Not that that would ever happen, because you could pick out a bright yellow Chevy S10 and I wouldn’t say a damn word, as long as it were in our price range.”
Jake: “You asked me to help you buy a car.”

Me: “Yes. I asked you to help me buy a car, not choose a car. Under what scenario would I ask you to help me research? I admit that I got screwed the last time and that’s why I asked for your help with the financing. I don’t need you throwing it in my face as an excuse to bully me into doing things your way.”
Jake: “I wasn’t trying to throw it in your face or bully you. You had only test driven one car.”
Me: “It’s my car. I just wanted the option to buy it, after you saw it, but you wanted to force me to do it your way. You know that if you’d test driven that car and liked it, you would have insisted I test drive more, even though I was certain that was the car I wanted. It was also undeniably the best deal, financially, and we still would’ve lost it.”
Jake: “That’s how you buy a car!”
Me: “That’s how you buy a car! I’m not some silly little woman who wants a car because it’s cute. I researched several cars, exhaustively, and just because I didn’t do it your way doesn’t make it wrong. I’m not a child! You’re not the adult in this marriage! I’m smart, too!”

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It took some time for both of us to cool down and try again.

Me: “I could’ve taken that car home, that night, but I didn’t want you to feel disrespected and steamrolled. The thanks I got was feeling disrespected and steamrolled.”
Jake: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bully you into anything. That’s just not how I buy cars. I know you’re smart.”
Me: “You liked the car, didn’t you?”
Jake: “Yes.”
Me: “Then why?”
Jake: “Because I’m a stubborn asshole. I’m sorry.”

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I love him. He’s my very best friend… and I am so glad we don’t have to buy a car together for at least another five years, because my new red Kia Soul only has 35k miles on it and will definitely haul two children.

Jake: “You know, the more I look at those Encores, the less I like them. They are really small.”

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If you’re wondering, by the way, I settled for a “Kirk/Spock 2020: The Logical Choice” decal.

I’m ready for children.

At 21 years old, I was in the midst of the lowest point in my life. While my college classmates were planning their futures, I was struggling to get through the day. While they were attending concerts and parties and taking group road trips, I was working as many hours as the movie theater would give me and taking as many classes as the school would allow me. While they were binge drinking, I was… well, binge drinking, but it was in a pretty different fashion.

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We’ll pretend it was just wine… and that I ever used a glass.

Times were hard, yo. I was married to a psychopath and, while I knew it wasn’t going to last much longer, I also didn’t have the energy to end it. I literally lived for the idea that one day, maybe years from now, life wouldn’t be so hard. If I could just get through college, a job would be waiting for me (lies) and stability would soon follow. In short: it was not the time for an unplanned pregnancy… but I suppose that’s the defining feature of the term.

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If you’re wondering about my lack of baby from said pregnancy, I’ve previously written a pretty darned depressing account of losing my unwanted baby, so I won’t rehash that woeful tale here.

Around this time, I remember talking to my older (though, equally irresponsible) movie theater coworker about how I didn’t plan on having children for a few years… to which she responded: “Belle, if I had waited until I was ready to have children, I never would have had them. You will never be ready.”

This advice came from a 26-year-old movie theater manager with three children and a husband who wouldn’t work… essentially my future at the time… so she wasn’t exactly life coach material. However, for the past 10 years, I’ve heard a similar sentiment from family and friends, of all lifestyles and backgrounds, and had actually begun to believe that I would never be ready for children.

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Miscarrying at 21 was simultaneously one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me and the best course for my life, an epiphany that certainly reinforced the feeling that preparing for kids was an impossibility. Throughout my twenties, I assumed that, if and when I had children, they would be the result of my acceptance that, ready or not, my healthy fertile years were limited. When Jake and I married, at 32 and 29, the baby questions began immediately, despite the fact that neither of us felt as though we were ready for a family. Just as I’d begun to believe that feeling like an adult was an ever-receding point for me, I was more and more certain that, personally, I’d never feel any more ready for children than I did at 21. So, Jake and I set the timeline at about two years of marriage and I figured we’d just let our future selves worry about it.

Well, here we are, just weeks away from our two year anniversary, and I am surprised to say that, we’re actually ready for children. That’s not to say that we know what to expect, but that we’re eager for the unexpected. I don’t think Jake ever doubted we’d get here, but I definitely did. I’m happy to announce, however, that just as I eventually did begin to feel like a grownup, I now feel truly ready to start a family, because…

… we have established careers.

It took a long time to find my professional footing… over ten years, in fact. Despite finishing my bachelor’s degree at 22, and my master’s degree at 25, I didn’t get my first full time position until I was 28 years old. It took another two years to settle into my current job, one in which I’m content to settle for some time. That kind of struggle, in a field the uneducated claim is dying, definitely caused me to feel somewhat adrift for the entirety of my twenties. It’s no wonder I never felt like a grownup, in all that time. The waters have finally calmed, though. I love my job and I’m damned good at it. I make excellent money for my region, have great benefits, and understanding managers.

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As for Jake, when we met, he was in oil, a lucrative and volatile field. Were it not for me, he’d likely still be on a similar career trajectory, but I grew up with a blue collar, keeping up with the Joneses dad. Fuck designer handbags and new cars. I wanted to be a family… and that required Jake to be present. So, for me, he handed in his coveralls and started as a laborer with the City of Cherokee, for just under twelve dollars an hour. “Toxic masculinity” my ass. It takes some serious humility to start from the very bottom like Jake did for me. That he did, though, and today, he’s earned several licenses and raises, along with an unsurprisingly stellar reputation, in his good ol’ boy field.

Neither Jake, nor I, will have to take time away from our family to go back to school. I have no use for a PhD and Jake’s bachelor’s degree is essentially a formality. We won’t have to start over, in new fields, taking pay cuts, because we’ve already done that. We have our jobs. We like our jobs. Which leads me to my next point, that…

… we have our finances in order.

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When Jake and I met, he had no credit and no debt. I had great credit and a ton of debt. Over the course of the last two years, we’ve balanced those scales out a bit and here we are: homeowners with pretty good credit and dwindling debt. My private student loans are paid off and my federal student loan payments are manageable and income based. Our cars are paid for and in six months, everything else will be, as well. Sure, we could always be more flush with cash, but I’m officially at a point in life where I can afford  daycare, the formula my post-breast reduction boobs will inevitably require, and a couple of years worth of diapers. We won’t be buying a $200 Dock-a-Tot, because we aren’t insane, but we can do this. In part, because…

… we have our families.

Y’all, Jake’s family is shockingly respectful of our reproductive privacy… which is more than I can say for my own, as they’ve been dropping hints since before we got engaged. Just last weekend, though, my mother-in-law overheard Jake tell his dad that one of our friends is having a girl, to which she excitedly asked “You’re having a girl?!?”, causing his sister to blurt into the phone “Jake and Belle are having a baby!”… and me to declare, that if Jake was having a girl, it wasn’t with me.

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The day Jake first met my parents (on my 28th birthday, no less), I made a joke about how someone didn’t have to get married to have a baby, and my stepmomma immediately told me “Yes. You do.” Two years ago, Jake admitted that if he’d gotten me pregnant before marriage, his mother never would’ve respected me. Whenever this subject has come up with friends or coworkers, I’ve often gotten the reply “Oh, who cares what they think?” Um… I do. They’re family. 

Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have my family’s blessing in my first “marriage” or because they collectively gave quiet sighs of relief when I miscarried, but it’s vital to me, for our families to be excited, when we have children. I want them to be involved, as their best selves: people who are willing and eager to help, because they love us and want to see our family thrive, not because we just can’t do it on our own. I want them to look at us with pride, not as two people who are too old to get these kinds of things out of order… and we’re officially far from that description. Most importantly, though…

… we have each other.

You know what’s worse than miscarrying? Miscarrying alone in bed, on a Spiderman beach towel. Jake would never leave me to that fate. He’ll read the pregnancy books and attend the doctor appointments and research the car seats. He’ll change the diapers, make the bottles, and do the daycare pick-ups. Simply put, Jake would never leave me. He’s my best friend, my confidant, my partner. He’s the only person, aside from my Gramma, who’s never made me feel disposable. He won’t just start a family with me, he is my family, now and always. He’s already an excellent husband and he’ll be an excellent father. We’ll never be alone in this adventure, no matter what it brings. Even now, despite all the platitudes, we’ve realized together, that we truly do feel ready for the utter shock of children. It might not be common practice in the South, but it is possible.

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“Belle, if I had waited until I was ready to have children, I never would have had them. You will never be ready.”

Perhaps, if you had been lucky enough to wait, you’d have realized that you could be ready.

The Curse of Ambition

When I was in pre-school, I overheard my parents talking about my brother getting “straight A’s,” as though it were impossible. In my childhood literalism, I understood this as a reference to handwriting (“A” was, like, the easiest letter to write) and confidently declared that could make straight A’s. Something about the way my dad responded that he wasn’t sure if that were true, because getting straight A’s was hard work, alerted me to the idea that there was clearly more to it. Regardless, at four years old, admittedly uncertain as to what I was being challenged, I essentially clapped back with “It’s on, bitch.”

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Not verbatim.

As I grew up, I became used to being, if not the best at every subject in school, one of the best. I hated P.E., because it was rooted in the only area in which I couldn’t excel. It didn’t matter to me that I always got an A in the class. I wanted to be on the National or Presidential Physical Fitness Award wall. If I couldn’t, I didn’t want to fucking play.

I always viewed athleticism as simply unattainable… which to some extent, was an accurate assessment. I was born with asthma, in lieu of any innate grace. I was blessed with a broad rib cage and enormous breasts, at a young age, as opposed to a naturally svelte form. I couldn’t change the fact that I was slow and short of breath, so I was an inattentive daydreamer, which does not make for the best team member. If I tried my hardest, I was middling, so I chose to save my energy and just not try at all. Of course, this meant that I not only missed out on the sport itself, but all the benefits that might have come with it, such as exercise, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills, just to avoid the embarrassment of being not one of the best. 

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Intellectual endeavors, however, were totally my jam. I was overweight, antisocial, and lazy, but straight A’s came easy… more or less. The only time I received a C, was a 79 in reading, because I refused to follow the totalitarian Accelerated Reader regime, a stance I still proudly hold as a public librarian, today. While I struggled in math (a failing I credit to my parents’ claim that the Addin’ Muscle resides in the penis), I always managed at least a B. In high school, I was able to enroll in AP courses and, for the first time, I felt somewhat challenged. Not only was the subject matter explored more deeply, but my classmates were actually engaged and competitive. I was no longer certain of my status as the smartest person in the room and that sparked my sense of ambition. I wanted to continue to be one of the best, and I was willing to work for it, knowing it was at least possible. Unfortunately, these AP courses only made up two or three hours of my day, so I largely found high school to be only slightly more demanding than all that preceded it. Although Rory Gilmore promised college would be different, I did not go to Yale. I went to the third largest public university in my state, and while I did eventually feel engaged, I can’t say that I ever felt truly challenged, until I began my master’s degree.

Lacking social, musical, or athletic graces, prior to graduate school, my sense of ambition was almost exclusively rooted in academics. I’d have ceaselessly climbed that ladder, too, had I been offered more rungs, or encouraged to pursue the areas in which I struggled, like science and math. It should come as no surprise, though, that I gravitated toward an intellectual field and, in hindsight, that I eventually did so well… perhaps too well.

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When I started as a half-time circulation clerk, my goal was simply to gain experience working in a library. Originally, my dream job was to work as a middle school librarian, because I didn’t even realize that teen librarian was a job title. Once I learned what this job entailed, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that working in my system was both more stable and more lucrative, while lacking many of the headaches of working in the public education system. I set my sights on a new goal and for two years, I substitute taught, worked 20 hours a week at the Southside library, and pursued my MLIS.

After graduation, I was fortunate to move, almost immediately, into a half-time librarian position, no specialization… where I stagnated for two and a half years, because there are plenty of 70’s and 80’s feminists, who haven’t recovered from the mentality that women must tear each other down to succeed. Truly, this woman had a list of people she didn’t want to destroy and I was just one of many who failed to make that cut. When the time came for her to retire to her cave and eat puppies, however, my ambition was reignited and I jumped at the chance to move up, as surprisingly to some, there are many opportunities for upward movement in the library world.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that at the end of 2015, I accepted a new position, advertised as 80% librarian and 20% supervisor… and rocked it for eleven months, before succumbing to the fact that I just could not be a manager any longer. If I had to tell one more grownup that she couldn’t wear her jammies to work, I was going to be on the news. For the first time since the semester I took 22 credit hours, I realized that my ambition had bitten me in the ass. I had thought long and hard about stepping down, about the possibility that I might never get the chance to be a manager again… and ultimately decided that I’d prefer that to never being a librarian again. So, I became an adult librarian… and as the result of a grassroots restructuring and an impassioned speech on my love for teens, with no experience as a teen librarian, I was eventually mapped into my current title: teen librarian for the five Satellite Libraries, primarily operating out of the Cherokee branch.

In those first few months in my position, I had the following conversation with my immediate supervisor:

Me: “I am wildly unqualified for this position.”
Supervisor: “There’s… room for growth, but I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Me: “If this job had been opened for interviews, I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

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My sense of ambition had been more than sparked, y’all. I was petrified. After all the years I’d spent yearning for the title of teen librarian, only to feel as though it had slipped from my grasp, when I became a manager and then an adult librarian, I finally had my dream job… like my ten year plan dream job. I’d been willing and eager to head the teen programming for one library, in one community, not five. Although, I’d worked as a substitute teacher for six years and enjoyed the teens there, I had no actual experience working with them in a library setting. What if they didn’t like me? What if I completely missed the mark and became the guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks to them, never actually making a difference? What if I never built a following and decimated the teen attendance in the Satellite Libraries?!?! I’d been forced to take a bite, much larger than what I felt I could  chew.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my initial home school teen book club from an average attendance of four to 17. Moms comment in Facebook groups about how much I do for my teens and how much they love me. One of my regulars has decided she wants to cut her hair like mine. I remember the names of more than thirty teenagers who come in and out of the library, in a given week. We’ve had murder mystery parties and nerd trivia battles and played Clue and improv games. We’ve debated Doctor Who vs. The Hulk and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. My teenagers are the highlight of my work day, every day. I’m no longer overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me and have long been making jokes with Susie, the children’s librarian and my good friend, about how we’re both going to die at the reference desk of the Cherokee branch.

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For years, I’ve been joking about how I wanted to get a teen librarian position and simply stagnate. In actuality I just wanted to get the perfect position and be really good at at it and never move up again. It seems that’s a perfectly reasonable and delightful plan, at this point, except… there’s a possibility that a librarian position might soon open in the materials selection department at our downtown location. The pay would be approximately $11,000 more a year, though the commute would increase by at least 45 minutes round trip… but the position would entail selecting books and materials for the entire system, digitally and physically, ensuring we have a balanced collection. It’s one of the few titles I’ve ever said could tempt me away from Cherokee and the Satellite Libraries, my teens and my non-existent commute… but no one ever leaves materials selection. They all stay until retirement, which means that these jobs almost never open… and I see that little spark of ambition in the girl who once cried over a 98.5% . She just wants to put in an application, when the time comes, and see what happens. Except this time, I’m not working for half the hourly pay as a circulation clerk or half time as a librarian, desperate for benefits. I’m not miserable as a manager or being forced to choose an age group with no knowledge of where I’ll end up. I’m happy and if I vacate my job, it may never open again… but I also know I’m at least a decent candidate and I may never get another chance… and yet, there’s always the possibility that I’d regret it. I suppose it’s a good thing the position hasn’t actually opened yet. I still have time to try to lift the curse of ambition.