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.

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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.

Four Stitches and a Tetanus Shot: My Favorite Librarians Who Saved the World

Quiet season at the library has more or less ended, now that the holidays have passed. As a teen librarian, this means that I’m planning more original and creative programs for my kids, as opposed to lazily ordering kits from outreach, because there’s a 60% chance no one will show. This means more prep and sadly, for me, more injuries.

Three weeks ago, on the new branch manager, Penny’s, third day, I was prepping for my stained glass program, when I cut my finger and yelped in surprise and pain. It was just bad enough that, without a Band-Aid, the blood would have been an issue, so Penny helped me bandage it, sharing her own klutzy tale and we returned to work.

It was a rough day, as I later learned that a coworker from another branch had suddenly died over the weekend. He’d been my motivation for becoming a teen librarian and I told him so just last summer, at our teen volunteer laser tag party. I powered through, however, as I chose an additional last minute craft for the week’s book-themed family program. What cuter craft than a laminate bookmark made of shapes cut from book pages… or so I thought, as I trimmed the edges with the guillotine paper cutter.

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In my shock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I walked into Penny’s office, cupping my left thumb and blurted “This is much worse.” A flurry of activity ensued, in which I learned that dealing with blood is not one of a librarian’s many talents, as Penny, a former high school librarian, was the only one who could assist without fainting… including myself. Someone called Jake, as Penny determined that I needed to go to aftercare.

Jake: “So, what did you do?”
Me: “I made a beautiful craft.”

Three hours and four stitches later, the doctor asked when I’d last had a tetanus shot and my manual labor husband chimed in:

Jake: “I’m sure she’s had one through work.”
Me: “I’m a librarian. We were just mocking the fact that we have to take a blood borne pathogens training. When would they have given me a tetanus shot?”

So it was, that after seven and a half years with the system, I learned about worker’s comp… along with my new manager, on her third day. On the way home, I cried and told Jake that Jim died. He asked who Jim was and, knowing it was the only way to jog his memory, I reminded him of the guy at the Southside Library, who, coincidentally… was missing a thumb.

“I’d love to have a job where I can read all day.” Yeah. Me, too. Let me know if you find it.

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So, my thumb has finally healed enough that I can comfortably type to tell you about my favorite librarians, who saved the world. Spoiler warning, as appropriate.

Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It was a fandom war, when I got my new puppy, y’all. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter? In a moment of truth, however, I named my little guy Rupert, after the half-superhero, half-father figure librarian of Sunnydale High. Giles wasn’t just the only reason the Scoobies ever even knew what or how to fight, he killed two major series villains, one as a mercy to Buffy, so she wouldn’t have to take it on her own conscious. For me, his real heroism, however, was best repesented in the scene where he comforts Buffy after she loses her virginity to Angel, causing him to lose his soul. Anyone with a buttload of explosives can be a badass. It takes a real hero to comfort a crying teen, as her world falls apart.

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Mike Hanlon – Stephen King’s It

Zetus lapetus, librarians never get any credit in fiction. If you ask anyone how Stephen King’s It concludes, depending on whether or not they’ve read the book, they’ll either mention eleven-year-old group sex or a weird spider from outer space. No one seems to recall that this story, in ever single way, is about a librarian who saved the fucking world. Not only was Mike Hanlon the only character to stay in Derry, he was the sole individual who kept any memory or record of the horrors that happened in his childhood. He called back Bill and the gang to fight this ancient evil, after they all went on to live lives of success, leaving him behind to be an intelligent black man in a terrifyingly racist town. Fuck Bill. He was only the main protagonist, because he was a semi-autobiographical and Stephen King is in love with himself. Mike Hanlon was the real MVP.

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Samwell Tarly – Game of Thrones

Due to his lack of rapey tendencies and general mental stability, Samwell Tarly is portrayed as a meek, cowardly character in Game of Thrones. In some respects, this is a valid description, as he refuses to stand up for himself and fails at most athletic and physical feats. His overall lack of aggression seems to have freed up a lot of mental space, though, as it’s Sam who discovers the long lost key to killing the White Walkers, by testing it out personally. He even cures greyscale, a magical and more horrifying form of leprosy, on his way to discovering John Snow’s true identity. Of course, Game of Thrones has not actually concluded, which makes this more speculation than spoiler, but we can see where this is going. Sam uncovers the true identity of John Snow and he ushers in a golden age of royal unity for the Seven Kingdoms, even though this is a world where magic is second only to violence, because research is badass.tumblr_myzwhrflwp1s5m21go3_250

Barbara Gordon – Bat Girl

Barbara Gordon wasn’t only the daughter of the police commissioner, James Gordon. She was the head of the Gotham City Public Library. Y’all, I have worked in an inner-city library, and Batgirl or no, this makes Barbara Gordon a tough cookie. Not only was she a researcher and homeless people’s advocate extraordinaire, Barbara Gordon used her innocent librarian cover to throw the scent off her own vigilantism, which is essentially my dream… if I could just get Jake on board. Even when she became wheelchair bound, Barbara Gordon simply shifted her goals and alter-ego to become The Oracle, basically librarianing the bad guys right into the hands of Batman and friends. Librarians, folks, are truly the unsung heroes of literature.

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Deconstructing George Bailey: The First Millennial

It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*

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This is a 12-year-old.

As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of the Messiah. Just last week, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.

Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”

My 82-year-old grandmother just told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Fuck Santa.

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So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…

He’s selfish.

The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”

Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.

Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”

George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.”

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Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”

Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.

As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.

– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”

After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.

– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’

That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:

– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”

“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…

He’s entitled.

As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.

In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.

– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself,  isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”

He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.

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Yeah. I’m entitled.

It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the wold, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.

– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”

– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?

– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”

This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dsytopian version still has a successful library.

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The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?

– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”

Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved  two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.

In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was a total fucking martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…

He’s ungrateful.

When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For GB, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.

George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’s served by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.

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Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*

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Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”

Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:

– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”

– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”

– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”

That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begin to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…

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Pictured: The First Millennial

Citations

https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/pocahontas

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184272/educational-attainment-of-college-diploma-or-higher-by-gender/

https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/how-the-1920s-thought-electricity-would-transform-farms-510917940https://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/censusatlas/pdf/10_Education.pdf

https://www.diydoctor.org.uk/projects/staircase-parts-and-terminology.htm

I married his family.

You all know the old adage: “when you marry someone, you marry their family.”

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I mean, at this point, it’s a standard cliche of “I didn’t know what I was getting into” blog posts and “Eleven Things I Wish I Knew About Marriage” Huffpost lists. I know… because I researched it. In true Ravenclaw-style, I read up… on the patterns of healthy and unhealthy unions, the statistics that indicated success or divorce, and indeed, Huffpost lists of things to discuss before marriage, many of which, seemed pretty obvious to me. I mean, how do people get married without discussing whether or not they intend to have children? I didn’t care how forward it made me, that was pre-first date discussion, when I was single… as was “What kind of relationship do you have with your family?”… because I knew, long before I assigned myself a marriage-prep study routine, that when you marry someone, you marry their family.

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As outlined in the many articles on the subject, you don’t just marry their family, but their traditions, their faith, their culture, and to some extent, their way of life. I was prepared to be pressured to eat fried pork chops, attend Protestant church services, go to rodeos, and do things outside, because in accordance with Newton’s Third Law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every accidentally racist thing Jake’s mother says, there will be a disgusting and vulgar joke told by my father… multiple times, so no one misses the opportunity to enjoy it. For every family rodeo picture, there will be a photo shoot in matching Christmas pajamas, because don’t you dare throw a wrench in my stepmother’s perfect holiday plans. For every discussion of the drought’s effects on the cotton crop, there will be an angry debate about college football teams, from people who have never set foot in the respective schools. I am fully aware that my family earns their fair share of eye rolls and wait-until-we-get-to-the-car rants. If anyone was in for a surprise, it was Jake.

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Folks, what no one told me, what I never understood, wasn’t that I’d marry Jake’s family, but that I wouldn’t actually know them for years after the wedding. When I was a kid, while everyone else my age was hooked on The Babysitter’s Club, I was binge watching Bewitched. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, there was just something about the classic family dynamic that I adored… plus magic. I remember seeing the episode where Samantha meets her in-laws for the first time, though, and feeling baffled by the idea that someone could marry a person without having even met their parents. I mean, what did this courtship even entail? Were there no official meet and greets, no holiday dinners, no tours of his childhood home? How did you get here?!?

The week before last was Thanksgiving… my third with Jake’s family, and folks, knowing that this first get-together would likely set the tone for the holiday season, I was kind of dreading it. Unfortunately, just a week or two prior, we attended a formal dinner in honor of Jake’s aunt’s induction into the local historical society… and it went poorly for me, through no fault of the Grangers. You see, my dear husband, having married at 32, has this frustrating habit of regressing to a 27-year-old single man in his excitement at seeing his extended family. It’s kind of endearing, how much he enjoys them, or it would be if he remembered I existed. On this particular evening, however, I spent the opening social hour, standing alone in a lobby full of people, over-analyzing how my hot pink ski jacket compared with the formal, neutral-toned wool coats of everyone around me, trying to hide my cheap scuffed boots, ultimately planning an entirely new wardrobe in my head; one that would give me the power to discuss the cattle market, sports, killing cute woodland creatures, or literally anything that interests Jake’s family. You know, a magic wardrobe.

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Where was Jake the entire time? Oh, he was there, hugging family members he hadn’t seen in awhile, laughing over childhood stories with his cousins, hobnobbing with old rodeo connections, the Zack Fucking Morris of the party, as always… but Kelly Kopowski I am not. I tried, y’all. I hugged my mother-in-law, Daisy, and sister-in-law, May, congratulated Jake’s aunt, Vi, asked his cousin’s daughter what she was reading and… those were all the tools in my hot pink toolbox. As the opening greetings predictably turned to stories of sports and hunting, I tried to chime in here or there, but was quickly excluded as the discussion grew more and more foreign. So, I stood silently at Jake’s side for some time, until I began to worry that I looked like a stage five clinger to his family, and attempted to awkwardly fade away.

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I escaped to the bathroom, where I hid out for as long as I could manage without giving the impression that I had some kind of embarrassing stomach situation, in a miserable seventh grade dance flashback. Finally, the doors to the dining hall were opened and I more or less fell through them like the first Black Friday shopper, desperate for the normalcy of sitting at a table and engaging in small talk over the weather, because if there’s one thing I know these people love to talk about, it’s the weather. Sadly, there would be no such small talk for Belle, though, as Jake quickly got the table absorbed in a lively story, complete with grand hand gestures and elbowing an invisible neighbor… except said neighbor wasn’t invisible. It was his wife, who quickly grew tired of having her husband stick his hand in her face and elbow her in the side, because she had apparently become literally invisible. At one point, I quite viciously elbowed him back.

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As we drove home, Jake was in good spirits, energized and cheerful after a night with his family and baffled as to why I was so subdued. After only a mildly exaggerated impression of his behavior throughout the evening, I explained to him that while I don’t need him to babysit me, I’d like it if he occasionally attempted to include me in the conversation, ask my opinion, remember that I’m present, because as kind as his family is to me, we have no common ground. I’m a librarian from the suburbs, who names her pets after fandoms. I know more about Quidditch than basketball or football. When Chris Pratt left those dinosaurs behind in Jurassic World, I cried… over the digitized deaths of animals that haven’t existed for millions of years. Zetus lapetus, what am I supposed to say to these good ol’ country folks?!?

As genuinely apologetic as Jake was, after this disheartening holiday pre-show, I had low expectations for the holidays themselves. Jake would promise to introduce me to new people, include me in conversation, not gesture wildly in my face, and the second he saw his cousins, he’d undoubtedly toss me aside like he just got a brand new Buzz Lightyear doll, not because he didn’t love me, but because when he’s with his kin, he’s 25-years-old again.

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A few days before Thanksgiving, Jake called his mother, who reminded him to bring his sneakers and shorts for the Granger Family Basketball Game. He hung up and gave me the message that I was supposed to bring mine as well.

Me: “I thought that was a joke.
Jake: “Oh, we never joke about basketball.”
Me: ::slightly panicked:: “I can’t play basketball with your family!”
Jake: “Why not?”
Me: “I’m asthmatic, uncoordinated, and I hate sports! Have you even met me?!?!”
Jake: “Yeah, I guess you probably don’t want to play basketball with my family. They’re really competitive. They will yell at you.”
Me: “Of course they’ll yell at me! Your cousin refers to one of the girls on his daughter’s softball team as Shock Collar, because she doesn’t listen. I was totally the Shock Collar of my softball team! This sounds like literal Hell.”
Jake: “I think that’s a little over dramatic. You don’t have to play.”
Me: “I think I feel a cold coming on… I should probably stay home.”

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So, as the holiday approached, I grew more and more apprehensive. A family of extroverts and athletes would never understand my refusal to play a “friendly” family game of basketball. I’d sit on the sidelines and look like an antisocial asshole. On the drive to Jake’s sister’s, I began to brainstorm some alternatives.

Me: “What if I just pretend I’m good at basketball?”
Jake: “Oh, yeah? What does that sound like?”
Me: “I’m very athletic. I played basketball in high school. I was Tri-City three years in a row.”
Jake: “Really? Tri-City what?”
Me: “Tri-City… basketball?”
Jake: “You were a Tri-City basketball?”

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By the time we arrived, I had, admittedly, worked myself up into quite the tizzy. Unsurprisingly, walking into a room with over fifty people, many of whom I’d never met (Jake’s brother-in-law’s family), didn’t really help. I offered to help in the kitchen, asked my nieces how school is going, and… once again, those were all the tools in my hot pink toolbox. So, I sat at the bar, prepared for my husband to abandon me and… he didn’t. While Jake didn’t coddle me, he did more or less stay by my side, talking to his cousins, occasionally drawing me into the conversation or sharing a private joke with me. We ate the misleadingly titled appetizers (cheese, y’all… it’s always all cheese) and answered questions about work and our new home.

When the food was being served, I started to get anxious about the social expectations, a personal struggle I have at every gathering, especially considering the differences between our family traditions. I don’t want to seem rude or overeager, nor do I want to fix a plate after everyone’s put their germy hands all over everything. It throws me that the children are served first in Jake’s family, when they’re served last in mine. I get self-conscious about the amount of food I’m putting on my plate, but don’t want to offend someone for not trying their dish. I feel like I’m taking too long to over analyze these things and holding up the line. Ultimately, if it were up to me, I might consider just sneaking snacks in, like we’re going to a movie.

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Family holiday prep.

This time, however, Jake anticipated my nerves and led the way to the serving line, the second the adults were welcome. He even suggested we eat with some of the kids in the garage, since the main area was so crowded and I obviously needed a breather. Once the crush in the living room had dispersed, we rejoined the adults and Daisy recruited me to help her with her phone. Every other Thanksgiving table might have seen Millennials cringing over tech questions from their elders, but that’s literally my job! This is as close as Jake’s mom will ever get to debating Dumbledore versus Gandalf with me, because helping old people with technology is also my jam!

My excitement was short-lived, however, as Jake came strutting into the room in his disintegrating junior college intramural t-shirt, basketball shorts, and sneakers… much to his mother’s embarrassment. It seemed no one had forgotten the scheduled family basketball game, after all. We filed out to my in-law’s new shop, which doubles as a full-sized court for their daughters’ basketball games. Here came the awkwardness. Jake’s family would all use sports jargon and I’d try not to let on that I didn’t understand… until they asked what sports I played as a child. A terrible liar, I’d blurt out that my dad put me in both softball and basketball, despite the fact that I loathed most physical group activities as an overweight and asthmatic (not to mention antisocial) child and would rather have been reading. I would go on to confess that I briefly tried volleyball, but found that getting undressed in a locker room was one of the seven circles of Hell for teenage Belle, so I quit before the school year even started. If more prone to word vomit than usual, I’d even admit that despite two years of basketball, I never did learn how to determine which goal to use and would likely still get it wrong, to this day. Then there would be silence and they’d all go back to not talking to me. Except… none of that happened.

I sat on the sidelines with the others who weren’t interested in playing, primarily the elderly, the new moms, and their babies… but I wasn’t alone. Despite Jake’s insistence that his family’s competitive nature would get the best of them, the game was indeed quite friendly, the teams including our nieces as young as eight all the way up to the oldest of his cousins. Jake’s aunt refereed and the rest of the family provided friendly heckling from the sidelines. No one asked why I wasn’t playing, seemingly understanding and accepting that it just wasn’t my thing. They didn’t seem bothered that I wasn’t particularly interested in the game itself and Jake’s mom chatted with me and asked me questions about her phone, while I tried to keep his youngest niece, Claire, away from the propane heater. Then, as Daisy lifted Claire onto her lap and told my father-in-law to take her phone, he either didn’t hear or was too caught up in his terrible score keeping to respond. So came the moment when Daisy high-handedly passed me her phone, without a word of acknowledgement, assuming I’d simply take it… as though I were one of her own.

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That’s when it hit me, y’all. A few months ago, when we visited the family ranch, Daisy asked me if I wanted to go garage sale shopping. In the midst of a bed bug crisis at work (it’s so a thing), I declined, paranoid of the critters I could bring home… only to later realize that she was trying to spend time with me. The last time we visited, Daisy asked about the bumper stickers on my car and she understood the “What Would Buffy Do?” reference. She’s trying to relate to me! Every time someone’s asked about our new house, she’s taken the opportunity to tell them how nice it is, to mention that we have our own well and septic tank. Originally, it seemed like a random note to me, but for a cattle rancher’s wife, that’s bragging. She doesn’t dislike me or feel there’s someone more suited to her son. She doesn’t want to exclude me. There are just very few women who married into this family and she doesn’t know me.

From day one, Jake’s mother has always been somewhat… not unfriendly, but cool toward me. I couldn’t put my finger on it before, but I realize now that while everyone told me that I’d be marrying my husband’s family, it would have fewer similarities to our own courtship than that of an arranged marriage or a reality T.V. show. Whereas Jake and I had nearly two years to get to know each other, I counted and realized that I spent time with his parents on eleven occasions before our wedding… and had even fewer visits with his sister. They don’t dislike me, nor are they resigned to just not being able to relate to me. They aren’t uninterested in having a relationship with me. It’s just not going to happen overnight, because they live hours away. There’s still a chance of having the close relationship I dreamt of, with the family I married the day I married my husband. It’s just going to take time. I spent all of last Christmas convinced I’d never fit in with these people. Why isn’t that included in the fucking platitudes?!?! I researched this!

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Holiday Social Contracts: Landmines for the People Who Would Rather Be Reading

Every New Year’s Eve

Jake: “What do you wanna watch?”
Me: “We could watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.”
Jake: “I thought we were done with Christmas movies.”
Me: “That’s not a Christmas movie. It’s a New Years movie… and in seven months, we can watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.”

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Y’all, I love the holidays. I don’t mean that the way normal people do, either. I mean aggressively so. I love the decorations, the music, the holiday movies and episodes of my favorite TV shows. I watch and sing along to The Worst Witch and Hocus Pocus on repeat, starting in late September. I love the garishly themed jewelry and t-shirts and hats that are suddenly acceptable on October first, but I pull them out a week early, regardless.

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One of the major concessions of my marriage involved selling my six foot tall hot pink Christmas tree and decor that looked like it was stolen from the set of Babes in Toyland. No one will ever convince me that red and green M&M’s, Reese’s Bells, and Christmas Crunch cereal don’t taste better. I love the holidays so much, that I have to fight getting depressed halfway through, because they’re almost over.

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I will, however, admit that there is one aspect of the holiday season I loathe entirely… 

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

In my field, anyone who doesn’t consider themselves to be entirely crippled by their own introversion, is labeled an extrovert. This somewhat skewed view means that many of my coworkers consider me to be quite the social butterfly, due to my comfort level socializing with all eleven of them. They’re not entirely wrong, either. I quite enjoy my job. I spend each day with the same handful of people, whose personal stories and worldviews and interests I’ve come to know and respect. I have numerous casual interactions with customers that rarely go deeper than a reader’s advisory discussion on the abusive relationship dynamics present in Nicholas Sparks’ novels. I see the same teenagers at each program, where we discuss who would win in a battle, Doctor Who or The Hulk. Overall, as someone who always scores on the cusp of extroversion and/or introversion, I get exactly the right amount of stimulation in my position… now.

When I first started at the Cherokee Library, I was completely overwhelmed, socially. I didn’t know my coworkers’ backgrounds, religious views, entertainment interests, political affiliations, or tastes in music. If I mentioned my desire to buy a house near the local Catholic school, so I could send my kids there, would I appear judgmental to the nonbeliever? If I told my coworkers I couldn’t handle the ALA Think Tank Facebook group, because of their political hostility, would they shun me for my less liberal viewpoint? If I casually suggested that Taylor Swift lacked depth, would I devastate her biggest fan by inadvertently calling him shallow? Every night, I went home and turned over literally every interaction in my mind, wondering if I’d said the right thing, left the correct impression, presented myself accurately. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be well liked, but properly understood. It was fine with me if someone didn’t like me, as long as they didn’t like me for reasons that were valid. While taking on the new title of Teen Librarian was daunting, the social implications of starting at a new library again, left me emotionally spent. It’s been about a year and half now and I’m finally in my element, because I see these people literally every day. In short… extrovert my ass.

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So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve finally realized that what I truly enjoy is the build up. I love sitting at home, reciting every word to Hocus Pocus, with the cat. I love watching Thanksgiving episodes of How I Met Your Mother, on my tablet, while Jake plays video games. I love listening to Christmas carols on the Google Home, while making peanut brittle in my kitchen. I love showing pictures of my Christmas decorations to my coworkers, and oohing and ahhing over photos of their pets in reindeer antlers. I love driving through Christmas lights with my husband and choosing a real tree together. What I really love is sprinkling the everyday, homebody familiar, with bright colors and lights and glitter and festivity. The grand finale, though? That stresses me the fuck out, primarily due to the aforementioned endless mandatory social contracts, such as…

Bringing a Dish

On December 22 of last year, I burst into tears when my three-ingredient peanut butter cookies tasted exactly like three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and angrily tossed them in the trash.

Jake: “They’re fine. Why don’t you just make another batch and cook them less?”
Me: “Because they aren’t good and all the women in your family will be judging me on what I bring. If I take those after taking Oreo balls to Thanksgiving, they’ll all think I can’t cook.”
Jake: “What was wrong with the Oreo balls?”
Me: “They were a no-bake dessert. They’ll think I’m a just a Pinterest cook and they’ll all hate me, because I can’t make cookies!”

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Of course, in the end, there were plenty of desserts, too many in fact, which I knew would be the case, but social norms required I bring something.

Being in Someone Else’s Home

Why do I have to offer to help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, when we both know there’s nothing for me to do and little space in which for me to do it? Why does she have to stop what she’s doing to pretend I’m useful and let me spoon butter she’s already melted onto biscuits she’s already made? 

Why is there only bar soap in the bathroom? How many people have used this hand towel? How obvious is it that I dried my hands on the bottoms of my jeans? Will I look rude/weird if I get out my antibacterializer?

If I don’t eat these “appetizers”, am I going to hurt someone’s feelings? Can you call a bar full of cheese an appetizer? Literally, there’s queso, next to a plate full of cream cheese with cranberry sauce, two cheese balls, and a plate of sliced cheese. If I eat this, I won’t poop until Christmas.

Where do I sit? I like the chair that doesn’t require me to sit next to anyone else, but is there some unspoken familial claim to this chair? Am I in Uncle Buck’s Chair? Okay, I’ll sit on the couch by the arm and Jake can sit next to me. Why doesn’t he ever sit down? He’s been pacing for the last 30 minutes. I’m like 80% sure he’s forgotten I’m here. Wait. Is anyone else sitting down? Should I be standing? But… I don’t want to lose my couch corner.

Gift Giving

Zetus lapetus, y’all, I do not get gift giving. I’m 31 years old. I make $50,000 a year, in one of the cheapest states in the country. If I want something, I can buy it. If I can’t, no one else can, either. So what is the damn point of gift giving? Why do I have to spend $20 to buy a gift for someone that they might like, just so they can spend $20 to buy a gift for me that I, quite frankly, probably won’t like, and pretend that we’ve done some sort of charitable service, when both of us had $20 to spare in the first place? A couple of greedy, materialistic, little bitches trading twenties is, in no way, symbolic of the gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. If anything, we should just all donate that $20 to give Christmas to a family down on their luck or buy toys for children with incarcerated parents or purchase a goat for a family in a third world country or literally any better cause. If I want to do those things, though, it has to be in addition to trading twenties, which just makes the holidays more costly and stressful. I can sort of understand close family trading gifts, knowing the recipients will enjoy them, but why, oh why do the women in my family draw names for each other’s children and trade advice on what to buy them, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!

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Don’t even get me started on Dirty Santa, where I’m supposed to spend $40 on a gift for no one, so I can stress myself out by over-analyzing the social etiquette of stealing home decor from my mother-in-law or leave in frustration when I contribute a gift I kind of like and open a bowl of decorative wicker balls and a diabetic cookbook. If I refuse to play, I’m anti-social and if I bring a gift I’d truly enjoy, I’m the weird one who brought the Spock Bluetooth speaker to Christmas. If we must all leave with gifts, why can’t we each spend $40 on something for ourselves and open them in a big circle with genuine delight? I don’t understand.

Talking to Children

I’m a woman and a librarian, so it’s just assumed that I like children. I don’t. I don’t like babies. They’re fragile and they’re always leaking and it’s inevitable that they’ll start screaming like a newborn banshee and I won’t be able to find the mother. I don’t like little kids. I don’t have the patience or the sense of humor for them. Why are you still telling me this story that I think is about Spongebob? Why did you choose me to tell? Am I sending off pro-child vibes, because I work very hard to maintain subtle anti-child vibes. Why are you making that face? Was I not supposed to ask that? Fuck, don’t cry and get me in trouble.

Give me tweens and teens any day, but the holidays inevitably mean someone will leave me alone with a small child and I will make them cry or tell them something I shouldn’t. Someone will ask when I’m having children and I’ll either sputter through an awkward, but appropriate, answer or make a wildly inappropriate joke about how I can’t get pregnant the way we do it. The build up to the holidays does not necessarily mean associating with children, but the holidays themselves are crawling with them. Yes, yes, Jake and I are planning on having our own children soon, but that’s different, because it has to be or no one would procreate. I’ll figure out children when I must.

Talking to Adults

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I love my family. I do… but we do not get each other. I don’t mean that in some sort of coming of age drama way, either. We’re just very different people; or rather, they’re all the same people and I’m very different. My aunts, uncles, and cousins love body humor, the occasional racist joke, maybe something about killing a cat and I just don’t get it.

Jake: ::talking about our Christmas tree:: “When we get home, I’ll take it in the back.”
Me: ::giggling uncontrollably::

Jake jokes that I’m randomly an 8th grade boy sometimes, likely because I spend so much time with 8th grade boys, but the humor is all relatively innocent and is very rarely gross or cruel. I don’t understand why poop is funny and I understand even less why comparing our former president to a monkey is funny. I was genuinely horrified to hear my dad’s cousin giggle over the news story of the teenage boys who were arrested for sexually assaulting their teammate with a pool cue, last year, because apparently rape by instrumentation is funny if it’s done to a boy. Fortunately, my public school administrator uncle was just as appalled and I wasn’t the only one seemingly lacking a sense of humor. My humor is very dry and my family rarely even gets that I’m joking. When it’s not, it’s usually comprised of dorky and innocent puns, which they also don’t appreciate.

These people frequently tell me that they can’t have a conversation with me, because I’m too smart… which they think is a compliment. Conversationally, I’m just extremely intellectually curious. I like to theorize about the average age of parents who shake their babies, the effect of commonplace Photoshop on the children we’re “fixing” when they become adults, how technology is contributing to pornography addiction in teens and apparently, none of this is Christmas talk. I have one or two cousins who seemingly enjoy these discussions, but we’re not the norm. Even my fashion sense is completely off base. They’re Miranda Lambert to my Zooey Deschanel. They wear National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation t-shirts, while I bite my tongue about how much I hate that movie, in my giant hand-crocheted Christmas tree hat and my Meowy Christmas cat shirt. None of us is wrong. We just don’t really fit… and also, they’re wrong and that movie is stupid.

Jake’s family has been nothing but kind to me, but if I thought I don’t fit with my family, goodness I have no idea how to talk to those people. Last December 23rd, at his big family Christmas, Jake must have pulled me aside three different times to ask if I was okay, because I’d hardly said anything, but it was just so much people and we have nothing in common. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand the appeal of rodeo. I’ve never castrated a bull. I don’t want to look at the dead mountain lion in my brother-in-law’s truck. I don’t fry stuff. I am so not playing in the family Thanksgiving basketball game, because that sounds like literal Hell.I will get yelled at and have an asthma attack and/or break a bone.What the fuck am I supposed to say to these people?!?! Trust me, baby, you want me to keep my mouth shut this year, because if pressed, I will randomly start talking about the lack of  diversity in the Harry Potter books or why marijuana is not a gateway drug and the benefits of legalization. Just let me be a mystery, dude. Jake, of course, being the most extroverted person on the planet, fits in everywhere.

Me: “I wish I fit in with your family as well as you fit in with my family… actually I wish I fit in with my family and much as you fit in with my family.”

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million book and doll sets, which doesn’t even account for the new line of accessories.* For most people, however, it’s a slightly creepy self-imposed chore of a tradition, which many parents regret ever starting. I knew, when it became popular, that I wouldn’t be purchasing an Elf for my own children. I’m even more certain of that fact 13 years later, as I watch my family and friends scramble around to perform for their children nightly, for the duration of a season that’s supposed to already be plenty magical by nature. Speaking of which…

I used to be one of the masses, the people who thought parents who didn’t play Santa were ridiculous and depriving their children of the magic of Christmas, but as time has gone by, I don’t really understand why we do this. If you’re a religious person, as I am, then why do you need to add magic to the season with a cartoon character? Yes, yes, Saint Nicholas was a real guy, but the modern depiction of Santa Claus no more resembles Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas does the historical woman. We’re not honoring a Saint, anymore… and quite frankly, Protestants never were, because they don’t acknowledge sainthood. We’re revering a caricature, who often overshadows the true Christian value of the season, ironically through the very un-Christ-like means of greed and materialism. If you’re specifically nonreligious, shouldn’t you be opposed to such fairy tales? Isn’t that one of the primary principles of Atheism, that one shouldn’t have faith in what cannot be seen or proven? Doesn’t the modern Santa Claus directly defy both of these belief systems? Isn’t this entirely appropriate conversation for Christmas dinner?!?! Can I please just go home and only talk to my husband and my pets now?!?!

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Sources
https://www.today.com/series/holidays-made-easy/elf-shelf-turns-10-secret-history-santa-s-little-scout-t62531

I am a millennial. I am not drowning in my student loan debt.

In 2006, just months after graduating from high school, I stood in line for an hour at my university’s financial aid department, waiting to digitally sign a promissory note, stating… well, I don’t actually remember that part, because I was 18 and I didn’t read it. Legally, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol, own a gun, gamble in a casino, or run for public office, but I was allowed to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt… per semester… and they just trusted that I’d read the fine print.

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From 18-25, I went through the same annual process, spending approximately 45 minutes filling out paperwork, declaring that I understood what I was doing and the conditions thereof, in exchange for a direct deposit of thousands of dollars… wait for it… post-tuition. Despite the fact that “longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s,”* and the fact that it’s against federal law for a credit card company to give a card to anyone under 21, without steady income or a cosigner*, I was sixty thousand dollars in debt to the federal government, when I received my bachelor’s degree four years later. What was my desired career field, you might ask? Did I want to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? Nope. I wanted to be a home-ec teacher.

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Plenty of research has already proven that the human brain hasn’t fully matured until age 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully developed.* This is not new information, either. The very fact that you must be 25, 30, and 35 to run for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, defends the point that the federal government has long been fully and accurately aware of the immaturity found in most 18-25-year-olds. Recent neuroscience simply backs up that decision. The government is offering a terrible deal to college students… and judging by the articles in my Google feed, it’s become pretty common knowledge.

Just this week, I’ve read about how Maine will offset the cost of student loans, through tax cuts, in an attempt to entice a younger population to relocate to the aging state. Several articles report that saving for retirement, buying a home, and having children are just a few of the major milestones being delayed by thirty-somethings “drowning” in student loan debt. To add insult to injury, Twitter is apparently full of Millennials, pissed at Hasbro for Millennial Monopoly’s blatant failure to capture their plight… which should surprise absolutely no one, when the company itself is run by a baby boomer, who brings in $7,000,000 annually. It’s everywhere, y’all… this news that student loan debt is ruining our lives!

Except, if we’re discussing federal student loans… they shouldn’t be, because our student loan system is a dreadful model, not just for borrowers, but for the federal government and by extension, the tax payers. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, only to find there were no teaching jobs available, I was able to immediately enter graduate school, extending my borrowing period by another three years… still three more shy of the 10 year cap. As was the case four years earlier, my major and intended field had no bearing on how much I was able to borrow. I chose librarianship, a field rarely more lucrative than teaching and much harder to break into, and the payout was another sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Why did I borrow so much? Well, not only was I going to school, during all those years, I was also going through some pretty weighty personal crises. Married at 19, I suffered a house fire less than a year later, an eviction and a total of ten moves in the next two years, a sociopathic partner who refused to work, a miscarriage, the death of my best friend’s infant daughter, and finally, a divorce… just as I entered grad school. After all that, a good portion of it was spent consolidating my debt; because, I did start thinking about the long term financial implications of borrowing so much, when my life settled down a bit, at 23.. I worked two jobs and took online classes, but graduate hours were so much more expensive than my undergrad hours, that each year I told myself it would be the last time I accepted the max… and it never was, until my last semester, at 25… the age when modern science says my brain had finally matured.

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Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been in school until the full development of my prefrontal cortex, because when I totaled my student loans and realized where I’d be after graduation, I started doing my research. For two years, I read up on debt consolidation and forgiveness programs like it was another course… which it should have been, because there was a lot of information out there. So, when I graduated at 25, I was prepared… fortunately, because the surprise semester that followed the failure of my graduate portfolio presentation ate up the six month grace period for repayment. I had approximately two months to send in all of my loan information for consolidation under an Income Based Repayment program, because they wouldn’t qualify if they were in default. Prior to consolidation, just two of my loans would’ve added up to $1,900 a month.

Once I was accepted for the IBR program, however, my monthly payments were $0. Working half time at the library and substitute teaching simply didn’t provide enough discretionary income to require a minimum payment. The following year, it only went up to $40. Only when I became a full time librarian was I expected to make a substantial payment, of about $300 a month… which went down when my family size increased with marriage and will go down again with each child we have. If I was drowning in anything, it was my private student loans, not my federal ones, which doesn’t seem to be the dominant complaint. Even so, my struggle with these was less about the monthly payment and more about the lack of impact, considering the interest rate. While my federal loans were also accumulating interest, I was able to sign up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

You see, because I’m working as a public librarian, a lower paying position than many in the private sector, providing much needed services to the community, the government has struck a deal with me. If I work in public service for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments, I can apply to have the remainder of my debt forgiven, tax free. While there are plenty of fear mongers writing narratives about how this won’t actually happen, there’s no research to actually back that up. Even the current administration has only suggested closing the doors on the program, not pulling the rug out from everyone already enrolled. In fact, I’ve actually already been grandfathered into my repayment program, as it only considers my income and the current ones consider the income of the entire household.

While many of those who have applied for forgiveness report being denied, it’s simply because they didn’t do their research or were given the wrong information, having enrolled in the program early. There is a catch to PSLF, in addition to a lower paying job: annual paperwork. Every year, I recertify my income for the IBR and my employment for verification that it qualifies. In exchange, I get an update on the number of eligible payments I’ve made, all but canceling out any chance that I’ll make the aforementioned mistakes.

Now, plenty of Millenials, with outstanding student loan debt, work in positions that don’t qualify for PSLF. The ones with smaller totals are paying them off as quickly as they can, to avoid interest charges and that’s undoubtedly the best approach. The rest, however, have their own option under an IBR, which is to apply for forgiveness after 20/25 years of payments, depending on when they signed up and under which program. This, however, is not tax free. That’s the only catch, beyond paying on these loans for so long.

Is this good for the federal government, for tax payers? Fuck no. This is a wretched, absolutely unsustainable model. Canceling PSLF seems like an obvious choice to some, but the core reasons are still valid. If there’s no incentive to do so, few lawyers and doctors will work in low paying public service jobs. Rural and poor urban areas won’t have teachers or librarians, the latter of which requires a master’s degree. Few will even enter into careers as police officers and EMT’s. Should all of these positions require advanced degrees? Absolutely not. Higher education, in many ways, is a total scam… but it’s a scam we’re still supporting in this country. While I hope to see more emphasis placed on technical degrees and apprenticeships and on-the-job training, more companies demanding applicants show them what they can do, as opposed to who taught them, we’re not there yet. I had to have my degree to do my job, a job I not only love and am lucky to be well-compensated for in my field, but one that makes a huge difference in the community.

I didn’t break any rules taking out my loans to get my degree and I’m not breaking any rules with my plans to receive loan forgiveness for working in my position. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to change the rules and prevent people from getting into these situations in the first place. We shouldn’t be giving teenagers tens of thousands of dollars to major in journalism or literature or education. We shouldn’t be letting people borrow for 10 years, if they’re not going into fields that can repay the debt. We shouldn’t be giving out thousands in direct deposits, after paying the schools, because my personal crises shouldn’t have been covered by the federal government. Some would say the government shouldn’t even be involved and private banks should have to compete for borrowers and choose what fields they invest their funds. Whatever the solution, students, the government, and tax payers are all getting screwed under this system, unquestionably. The only entity coming out on top is the universities, because as many economists agree, the reason tuition costs have risen so much is that colleges know their students can secure the funds through the federal government. Hopefully, future generations will boycott these institutions.

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In the meantime, though, no one should be “drowning” in federal student loan debt. If it’s that bad, follow these links, get out of default, do the paperwork to consolidate and get into an Income Based Repayment plan. Don’t be more the victim of this terrible system than you already have to be as an American tax payer. Take advantage of the fact that our truly fucking awful student loan system does favor the borrower, in some ways… while it still does.

PSLF – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

PSLF application – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-application-for-forgiveness.pdf

Income Driven Plan information – https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action
Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892678/

https://www.thebalance.com/credit-card-companies-love-college-students-960090

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

https://www.businessinsider.com/age-brain-matures-at-everything-2017-11

The Beginning of Things

For my entire life, I’ve struggled to live in the moment. On my first day of kindergarten, I was disappointed, because I didn’t have a desk like the big kids. I couldn’t take my lunch to school. I was only able to go for a half day. I couldn’t grow up fast enough. At nine years old, I longed to be a teenager, look exactly like Kelly Kapowski, hang out at swanky diners after school, and have popular boys fighting over me. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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By the seventh grade, I was counting down the days until graduation, eager to start my life. I couldn’t wait to go to college, live in a dorm, make a thousand friends, and be appreciated for my intellect. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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Just after high school, I was desperate for my life to come together, when I would have the money for the things I needed and a few of the things I wanted, with just enough set aside to cover an emergency. It would all be okay, if I could just get my bachelor’s degree… a teaching job… my master’s degree… a librarian position… full time… meet a good man…

There’s a marketing term, I read about in a college textbook that I can’t find much evidence of online: nexting. It described the concept of wanting the next big thing, finally getting it, and instead of feeling enjoyment, eyeing the next big thing. My favorite Don Draper quote sums it up nicely: “… what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

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At some point, in my mid-twenties, I realized that I was wasting my life wanting. A survival tactic at 21, my tendency to look toward the future was causing me to miss an equally valid and valuable stage of life. I couldn’t see the trees for the forest. So, I began to make a conscious effort to enjoy what I had, while I had it. I decorated my hot pink Christmas tree every year and yarn bombed the living room making handmade gifts. I watched marathons of teen shows and had midnight dance parties with the dog. I went on dates and took myself to movies and dinner alone. Now that that time in my life has passed, I’m glad I enjoyed it. I just sold that Christmas tree, in favor of new traditions, because never again will I be 25-years-old and single. I’m proud of myself for realizing that and refusing to spend that time longing for marriage and children. It was always an effort, though, not to default toward the future.

By Southern standards, I got started a little late on this whole adulthood thing, which means that, at 31, I am still in the most glorious phase of my life: the beginning of things. This is when it really gets good. Jake and I just bought our house and have paid off a substantial amount of debt. I’m at a wonderful place in my career and have built strong relationships with coworkers and customers, teens and their parents. I’m still reasonably young, healthy, and fit and have yet to struggle with any downsides of getting older. I’m truly in the prime of my life, the point people most long for in their golden years, as is evidenced by literally every conversation I have with my Gramma, about children.

Gramma: “You guys have some really fun years ahead of you. I miss that time the most, when you kids were little.”

Now, I suppose, at 84, it’s normal to spend the majority of your time reminiscing, so I won’t fault my grandmother for it. Lately, however, this seems to be the prevailing thought process for most adults, Gen X and Millennials, as well: to long for the beginning of things, despite the fact that we haven’t even hit our midpoint. As a teen librarian, I frequently speak to kids whose once doting forty-something parents, have obviously lost interest in them, now that they’re less adorable and more opinionated. As I enter my thirties, I hear more and more tales of seemingly frivolous divorces, requested by men and women who long for the younger and freer days of only 10 or 15 years ago. Our youth obsessed culture seems to suffer from the opposite problem I’ve struggled with my entire life: they look perpetually to the past, forgetting that the present and the future comprise some of the most exciting years of their lives.

My twenties were great, y’all… but I can’t recapture that. I’m a married, 31-year-old, home owning librarian, planning for motherhood and there’s not a DeLorean in sight. I cannot go back, but more importantly, I don’t want to go back. This is what I’ve been waiting for and for the first time in my life, it’s not such a hardship to live in the moment.

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That girl, the one who thinks five years into the future, is still here, but her voice is a lot quieter, as she makes financial arrangements to afford Catholic school tuition, instead of panicking at the idea that her life will never start. I no longer have to look to the future as an escape, only as the adventure I always envisioned. I am so excited to have babies to snuggle, toddlers to chase around, school age children to accompany on field trips, teenagers to love unconditionally as we scream at each other, and finally, adult children to support and even befriend. I can’t wait to be married to Jake, my best friend in the whole world, for five years, ten years, fifty years. I’m excited to save money, build equity in our home, start a family, go on rare date nights, take the kids to Disney World, and see my children graduate school, start careers and have families of their own.

No stage of life is better or more valid than any other, be that dating in my twenties or motherhood or adjusting to my eventual empty nest. Just as I fought to enjoy my twenties while I had them, I’m going to fight for every other stage of life, because longing for another time in life, in either direction, will only feed a vicious cycle, in which I miss the most important time: now. We have it all wrong, as Americans. The best time in life isn’t when we’re young, fit, and free. It’s this moment, right here, and if you’re longing for the beginning of things, you’re missing it.

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I Shouldn’t Have Gotten My Senior Dog

I got my Jude as a six week old puppy on December 24th, 2007. Five months earlier, I’d lost all of my pets in a house fire, which I only later realized was started by my psychotic ex. Having grown up with pets and desperately needing the unconditional love of a dog, at that time in my life, I began to research smaller breeds. You see, at 20, even I knew that my life wasn’t exactly stable, so I wanted a dog who would remain small enough, even fully grown, for approval on a lease and wouldn’t cost much in food or pet care. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I naively assumed things would settle in the next few years and, like all other young middle class women in the South, I’d be starting a family. Whatever dog breed I chose had to be kid friendly. A beagle seemed perfect.

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Y’all, I’m gonna come right out and say it, just in case the context clues haven’t given it away: I had no business getting a dog, the day I bought my Judybug. At 20, I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t pay for my own healthcare. I couldn’t guarantee a roof over my own head. I didn’t need to take on dependents. Sadly, although I was unaware at the time, my life had not reached it’s peak of instability, either… which means, neither had Jude’s. You see, the thing about having a psychotic partner is that you are not the only victim. When you can’t protect yourself, it’s just a heartbreaking reality that you cannot protect those in your care. For some, this means children and thank God I lost the baby, because what Jude suffered in his early years is difficult enough to recall.

The first few years of Jude’s life, he developed his fear of baths. As a working full time student, I felt it reasonable to expect my unemployed ex to care for the dog. I mean, it’s a dog. You take him outside, give him food and water, and on occasion, bathe him. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered my ex’s motivations, so I don’t know if it made him feel powerful or in control, when he was absolutely pathetic, but bath time for Jude was terrifying. At the time, all I heard was frustrated yelling, but a good deal more must have been going on, because to this day, Jude is petrified of baths and can only be calmed with the song I made up at 23, in my single girl apartment, to the tune of the dreidel song.

♩ Wash, wash, wash the puppy
Cuz, cuz, cuz he’s yucky
That’s why we wash the puppy!

♩ Grab that dirty doggy
He is so very soggy
That’s why we wash the doggy! ♩

Even my tough, country boy of a husband has seen the wisdom in Jude’s bath time serenade.

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Sadly, bath time was not the worst of Jude’s existence, however. What seemed simple enough to me, taking the dog outside between video games, putting some food and water on the floor, was apparently just too much to ask of an an unemployed man. It shames me to admit that, until I worked up the courage to leave my ex, Jude spent most of his days hooked to a leash on the wall. I’d text from work asking that my ex please unhook the dog for a few hours and give him attention. The week my mother took me on a cruise, I returned to discover Jude had spent so much time on the leash, he’d dug a hole through the tile, until his paws bled. I don’t know if he’d ever been free the entire week. That was the summer I worked at the movie theater. That was the summer Jude and I both could only afford to eat popcorn. That was the last summer I spent with my ex.

The only balm to my conscience, in regards to the above, is that Jude spent only a fraction of his life around that sociopath. He was three years old when we left and would spend the next six or seven years sleeping in the bed with me, snuggling freely on the couch, fattening up on table scraps… when I was home. While my ex was gone, no longer able to hurt either one of us or eat all of my food, I still had to work two jobs to support us. I still had to go to school to secure a better life for myself. So, while Jude was no longer being harmed and had all the food he needed, I left every morning at 8:30 for a substitute teaching job and came home at lunch to snuggle him for a few minutes and take him outside. If I was lucky, I’d have an hour long planning period and we’d get some extra time together, before I’d come home for 30 minutes between jobs to do the same. If I was unlucky and got tied up, my dear Gramma would drive over and take him outside. I worked until 9:00 at the library and would come home to Jude, who’d accompany me until the wee hours of the morning, as I worked on my homework. We’d go to bed and in five hours, do it all over again. I have many a photo of Jude asleep in a pile of papers and textbooks and in fact, he was the one to review my presentation of my graduate portfolio… a dozen times.

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We had good times, stopping by Petsmart to meet new people and look at the birds, walking around the golf course in front of my apartment at 2:00 am, taking trips to the park, visiting Gramma for extra snacks and snuggles. What we didn’t have, however, was the space for another dog, to keep Jude company, while I was gone. For a time, we didn’t have the money to remove his cherry eye. We didn’t have near as much daily time together as I’d have liked. We didn’t have a yard.

It has been just shy of 11 years since I brought home my fat little beagle puppy. He was my best friend for most of that, the only one to cuddle and comfort me when I was sick, hurt, or devastated after another rejection for a full time job or another bad date. He was a make or break when I met my husband. Watching Jake, who is generally very stern with his pets, be kind and gentle to the dog he knows was abused, makes me fall in love with him all over again. Jude is an old man today, sleeping on my arm as I type this. When I recall the last 11 years, I’m so grateful for him, but still… I shouldn’t have gotten him in the first place.

Jake gave me the best gift he’s ever given me, for my birthday this month. He gave me a six week old beagle puppy, who I’ve named Rupert, after Giles, the librarian from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jude is getting older and while our wedding gift dachshund puppy has helped keep him young, we can only put off his aging so much. We needed another young dog and Rupert has been an absolute delight. I look at him, though, and I see how different his life will be from Jude’s. Jake and I both work only 40 hours a week, with a commute of less than 10 minutes. We have a full acre for a backyard. We have another dog for Rupert to play with, in addition to the sleepy old beagle who’s really only good for snuggles. We have food with meat as the primary ingredient and up to date shots and teeth cleanings and neutering. We have stability and time… and Jude is only now reaping the benefits of that.

I can’t imagine having these regrets with a child, knowing that the new children get to have a better life. While my sweet old man has been an ultimate joy in my life, I realize now what a disservice it was to him, bringing him into it when it was so chaotic. I love him and he loves me. I’m his world and it would have been cruel to give him up, come a certain point… but he deserved better and I’m sorry for that. I’m grateful for the time we still have together, for the chance to give him a few more good years, and for the chance to give Rupert what Jude always deserved. If I could do it over again, though, I’m not sure I would. I hope, if I had the opportunity, I’d let my Jude have the life that Rupert will.

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