About Belle of the Library

I'm a teen librarian with my Master in Library and Information Studies. After years of dating, I married my perfect match. I am my Gramma's best girl and for the first time in my life, I finally feel like a grown-up. I sometimes reach a point where I figure I may as well make everything worse. I often say the wrong thing. I don't always pick up on conversational subtleties. I'll never be dainty or poised. I am a hopeless indoor girl. I read, shoot, craft and BLOG.

I married his family.

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

big-family-5_1467033875

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.

0b934be0-3d08-0132-4118-0ebc4eccb42f

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.

tumblr_lyfkp4vugi1qd6k8fo1_500

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.

bfc4f873-f93e-497c-81c7-bda9adee6d81

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.

source

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.

tenor

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.

woody-buzz-andy-choosing-toy-story

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.”

tumblr_lz5cddejzj1qkx3d4o2_250

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?”

oops-gif-14

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.

ug080170

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.

giphy

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!

giphy1

Advertisements

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.”

christmas

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.

tumblr_mtwt1xezzp1rh92sko1_400

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.

tenor

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

3r9mxl1

… 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.

tenor1

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!”

gif-crying-ice-cream

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?!?!

confused-gif

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

tumblr_opqf06dgkq1w2tlv5o1_500

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.”

idiva_woman_crying

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?!?!

tumblr_n37gehpxsv1s5zj1ko1_2501

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.

giphy

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.

cameron-diaz-bad-teacher-gif-7

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.

giphy1

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.

giphy2

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.

961be0717eb6f66b4bd1cff2d4c89cee

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.

tenor

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.”

giphy2

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.

giphy3

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.

giphy

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.

s0a3ri1iuua01

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.

giphy2

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.

giphy1

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.

b99

Blogiversary Number Six

It’s been six years, y’all. Six years ago, I celebrated my 25th birthday, while working two jobs, finishing up grad school, and becoming accustomed to experiencing the world both single and not 270 pounds. I had no idea what the future held and decided to begin chronicling it via blog. It was thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

giphy

It was just like taking… caffeine pills? Is that really what was happening in this episode?
I owe my master’s degree to Five Hour Energy.

Here I am today, on my 31st birthday, working as a full time teen librarian (my dream job), married to my favorite person in the whole world, living in an entirely different city, writing my sixth birthday blog, from a home I own. Instead of hoping the next year might hold a guy who’s not a total douche or the fantasy that is just the one job, my wonderful husband and I are talking babies. There were times, at 25 or 26, when I would wake up and wonder if it would ever happen, if my life would ever start. Sure, in hindsight, I know that that time in my life was valuable, but I wanted more… and now I have it.

A lot can change in just a short time and at 31, it seems that life is moving wonderfully faster and faster. This blog has taken many forms, from the chronicles of a recovering divorcee, a grad student, an online dater, a librarian, a newlywed. Here’s to the many other forms it may take over the next six years, as I will continue to be the chronicler, the researcher, the ranter, the overanalyzer: The Belle of the Library.

tumblr_pdlrrwyvdu1xuwskro1_500

I was the kid who will ruin your school year.

As the library empties for two of our slowest months, I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood excitement as the school year approached. I suppose it’s no surprise that this present day librarian was unceasingly enthusiastic, kindergarten through senior year, about the first day of school. Even as a kid, I loved the fresh start of the new year, which when you’re eight, happens sometime toward the end of August, not the beginning of January. A new school year meant a new backpack and new crayons and new folders and notebooks. Just as neurotic as a child, I loved how clean everything was. All the crayons were freshly sharpened and there were no graphite smears on my kitten folders or tears in my new backpack. My new classroom was freshly decorated with fun themes that hadn’t yet faded into the background. I had a room full of potential friends awaiting me and I couldn’t wait to meet them and my new teacher.

tenor

In the early years, when my mother put me in cute Disney-themed princess clothes, did my hair in pigtails, and helped me navigate the waters of childhood friendships, I imagine the feeling was mutual and that I blended in quite well with the rest of the class. I was too energetic and talkative to be the class pet, but I was well-liked and fit in with the other kids… until about halfway through the second grade. Indeed, it is a bittersweet realization, that as excited as I was to meet these new people every August, for the majority of my school years, they weren’t very excited to meet me.

I was eight when the shift occurred and you can actually see it in family photos. At the beginning of the school year, I was just an average kid. My clothes were never overly stylish, but no one’s were in the 90’s. I got in trouble on occasion, probably sitting out recess once a week or so, but I wasn’t a problem child. My parents weren’t helicopter parents, but they were involved and had me in after-school activities. As the year progressed, however, I gained weight, stopped bathing and brushing my teeth regularly, started wearing dirty clothes to school, and acting out. I once snapped at my teacher to stop calling our workbook by that name, because it was just a book and we weren’t babies. I made her so angry that she went to the classroom next door, grabbed a textbook, shoved it under my nose and told me that this was a textbook and that it was much harder… to which I rolled my eyes.

tenor1

That was the year I began picking on other children, ruling my friendships through fear of being on my bad side. I continued to do so in third grade and by fourth, when the district transferred me to a new school, I don’t imagine I had any friends who would miss me. I wore a dress on my first day of fourth grade, because I wanted to look nice and fit in, but had no concept or understanding of how to do so. Overweight and the victim of unfortunate genetics, I should have been wearing both deodorant and a bra, but wore neither. I made my teacher a present, because I just really wanted her to like me and I thought that a pickle jar full of Easter grass with her name on it was the key. It was not. She didn’t like me. I smelled. I was bossy. I was a bully. I made good grades and always turned in my work, but I was absolutely the kid in the class that every teacher seems to have, who keeps the year from being perfect. I was a hall kid, sent out for interrupting and mouthing off, for picking on other children and bossing them around. By fifth grade, I was no better.

I ate fast food every night and put on more and more weight. My fifth grade teacher blanched when she bought KFC for everyone as a reward and I asked for my usual of two breasts and a leg, something I wouldn’t order now. I was fat and I was mean. By middle school, I had few friends and anyone who rejected me was the recipient of my own cruel bullying, like the boy who didn’t like me back… who I threw soda on at a school dance, or the girl he did like, about whom I spread rumors. It wasn’t just one teacher who dreaded having me in their class, anymore. It was seven.

giphy-downsized-15-1

What none of those teachers knew, of course, was that second grade was the year my parents began spending every evening fighting in the garage. There were no more family dinners at the table and my Gramma brought us fast food nearly every night, in an attempt to bring some happiness and normalcy back into our world. That was the year my mother stopped washing my clothes on the regular and checking to make sure I was bathing myself and brushing my teeth, because I was eight and incapable of taking care of myself.

Third grade was the year my dad snapped at me that I stank and was disgusting for not wearing deodorant, the first time anyone had mentioned I should and still, neither parent helped me to remember consistent and proper hygiene. It was the year I got lice on Thanksgiving and my aunt bought me my first training bra for Christmas, because my mother hadn’t thought of it.

Fourth grade was the year I decided to sleep in my clothes each night, so I wouldn’t have to get up early to get dressed and went to school sweaty, rumpled and tired. It was the year my mother took us to Disney World alone, because my father refused to go. I hit puberty that year, before the other girls, and was embarrassed that I needed to shave my legs and confused about why I had hair in other places that only grownups did. No one had told me it was normal, so I shaved it with a secret shame. I still have the scar from where I shaved my arms, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. That was the year that the golden boy everyone liked began to bully me relentlessly when no one was watching. When I told the school counselor, she didn’t believe me. 

I’m sure my teacher knew about my mother’s brain surgery in the 5th grade, followed closely by her grand mal seizure, during which I called the ambulance, myself. I doubt she knew my father left a month later and that my mother got me up at midnight every night to pray over a statue of Saint Thomas Moore that she buried in the flower bed, as if it were a magic spell that would bring my father home. She was convinced it had worked, when he returned a week later… and devastated when it didn’t after he moved out for good and took my brother with him, leaving me alone with her. That Christmas break, I broke my arm and my father refused to take me to the ER, dragged me to see Patch Adams in theaters and yelled at me for falling asleep. Despite being a nurse, my mother didn’t stand up to him. It wasn’t until two days later that my Gramma told her they could take me to the hospital or she could take me… and they discovered my arm was broken in two places. That was the year the other girls told me it was gross that my tongue was completely white, because I didn’t brush my teeth. I got my Gramma to buy me a new toothbrush, chose medium bristles instead of soft, and went home and brushed until my tongue and gums bled.

When middle school started, I couldn’t understand why my old friends, no longer forced to include me, had chosen not to do so. After a boy told me my shirt was too tight, early in the year, I wore a jacket every single day to cover my disgustingly fat arms. The boy down the street, who had chased me and kissed me on the playground in the first grade, now threw rocks at me when I took my dog for a walk. When the popular boys at school were over at his house, they joined in… even the ones who were usually nice to me. It was in the 6th grade that I started cutting myself. In the 7th, my mother told my father that she’d only get back together with him if I agreed. When I didn’t, he refused to come to my birthday party and we didn’t speak for several months. That was the year my mother started hitting me. That was the year I started sucking my thumb again. It wasn’t until the next year that my mother told me unspeakable lies about my father molesting me, to keep me from leaving her abuse for him. I wouldn’t speak to him again until my senior year of high school.

For most of my formative years, when my crushes, my friends, and even my teachers didn’t like me back, there was no one around to teach me how to handle the disappointment, the rejection, because my parents were too busy with their own drama… and it wasn’t until 8th grade that I was able to somewhat navigate these interactions for myself. Until then, no one liked me at school. No one liked me at home… except, perhaps, for my Gramma. No matter how angry and hateful I was, no matter how badly I smelled, no matter how dirty and mismatched and unstylish, I always had a warm hug from Gramma and that was my saving grace.

tumblr_o8d0gy0vc31s5m21go1_r2_250

In the next month, as I’m introduced to my new after school crowd at the library, I’m going to remember the angry, smelly bully I once was. I’m going to recall how much it hurt to be so disliked by everyone, how devastating it was to try to face it all alone… and I’ll remind myself that not all of those kids are going to be blessed with a saintly Gramma… to insist someone take them to the ER, to hold them when the bullies make them cry, to buy them toothbrushes and new bras. This fall, I’m going to try to remember that these aren’t the kids who keep my year from being perfect, but the ones who give my professional life the most meaning… because the smelly kid, the bully, the girl in the ill-fitting dress… they look to us, their teachers and librarians and school counselors, to be the few people who want them. I’m going to remember that it is so hard to be unwanted. We are their safe haven. We give them hope that things will be better, when no one else does.

xfi1lqf

The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

When I was two and a half, my mother enrolled me in a Catholic preschool. I remember playing with the toys, while she signed me up and I remember going every day. I remember the stern, black nun, holding my hand. I remember thinking that black people must sweat a lot, because her hands were sweaty and at age two, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people of color. I remember when Santa came to visit the preschool. He brought me a Fisher-Price drum and I wore a dress with Scottish terriers on it, because #90skid.

f8df581e85be543de6171f727e1dff80

I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was five years old. I was so scared that I tucked my head into my teal and purple Aladdin t-shirt for the majority of the movie, and sat in my mother’s lap, terrified. That same summer, I saw Hocus Pocus with my Gramma, who hid an entire sleeve of gas station brownies under her coat, because she’d do anything for her grandkids, no matter how ridiculous… and just like Jurassic Park, I saw little of the movie with my face hidden in said coat the entire time.

When I started kindergarten, my mother wasn’t able to take me to school on my first day, so the weekend before, she had me don my First Day Outfit, did my hair, and loaded up my backpack. She took me to the school and had me walk up to the locked doors while she took pictures and had me pose in front of the school, insisting that years from now, I’d never remember it wasn’t really the first day of school.

For much of my life, it’s been a running joke that I remember everything, with friends and family and coworkers, but only in the last few years have I realized that I truly have a capacity for memory beyond what is normal. Though I’m sure I could map out our trailer house from when I was five, I don’t think it qualifies as an eidetic/photographic memory. You see, I can vividly recall far more than just imagery. I don’t just remember when my grandfather died right after I turned five. I remember being confused about why we had to bury him, instead of just propping him up at family events and pretending he was still alive. I remember asking if we could keep the body and my parents (probably confused and a little creeped out by the question), telling me it was illegal. I remember reasoning, in my five-year-old brain, that we could hide grandpa in the hamper if the police came, because that was the best hiding place in the house. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, because I was too young, but considering these other thoughts, I think it might have helped me to understand.

giphy1

I could go on and on about the detailed thoughts and feelings and conversations and events of my childhood, despite the fact that many people tell me they don’t really have memories before the age of 7, but these aren’t the only years I remember with such clarity. I can recount, verbatim, entire conversations and events from middle school and high school. I can precisely quote multiple nights out with friends in my early twenties. I can remember what I wore, what Jake wore, which side of the table we both sat on, what we talked about, on our first date, our second date, our third date. While it is, indeed, a blessing in many ways, in others… well, not so much.

I am the best at arguments.

“Don’t you tell me that the last movie we saw in theaters was a Belle Movie, when I remember perfectly well that it was absolutely a Jake Movie. I did not want to see it just as badly as you did and in fact, I told you that it had bad reviews… and come to think of it, the one before that was also a Jake Movie, so you don’t just owe me one Belle Movie, but two.”

“I asked you nicely four times on four separate occasions to go through your mail, before I threatened to throw it all in the trash, so don’t act like I’m being unreasonable. It was so four. I asked on Thursday, when you came home for your lunch, before I went to work. I asked on Friday before dinner. I asked yesterday after work and I asked this morning, when we got up.”

“Two months ago, you agreed that the next time we went to a rodeo, if the Christmas store was open, we could go there first. Just because you didn’t think it would be open in September, that doesn’t mean you aren’t bound by your promise, mister.”

3gtq

I get embarrassed/angry/stressed out about interactions that no one else even remembers.

In the 11th grade, someone called me “squinty-eyed.” Sometimes, I’ll randomly wonder, 15 years later: Am I squinty-eyed? Was it just my contacts? Did Lasik fix it? Is it just my face?

I still remember, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to be 270 pounds, at 22. I remember that no one was ever cruel to me, because they saw right through me, like the time the video store clerk called to the man behind me, that they could take the next person in line. I remember looking around a college classroom and realizing that I was the fattest person in the room. I remember staring at myself naked and thinking that I didn’t even look like a woman anymore. I remember paying more for plus-sized clothing, being hot all the time, not being able to breathe, my feet constantly hurting, and every time I gain five pounds, I fear I’ll wake up right back there.

Catherine once said, about her best friend, “She’s just being a bitch, because she can’t get pregnant.” At my 30th birthday party, she went on and on about how Laura was crazy and her kids were afraid of her and Catherine was going to change her own locks so Laura couldn’t get into her house. Gail didn’t even remember these conversations, but every now and then, it really pisses me off that Catherine acted like was the only Mean Girl in that group of Mean Girls and I’m sure it still will in 10 years.

Last Christmas, Jake’s cousin and his wife wore matching Willie Nelson Christmas shirts. I made a reference to Duck Dynasty, not because I didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but because the shirt made me think of it. I still stress out over the idea that Jake’s very country family thinks I can’t identify Willie Nelson.

I’m more introspective and focused on self-improvement.

It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a need for change, when you can vividly remember every shitty thing you’ve ever said or done. I think, for people with average memories, it’s easier to put these things off on others, claim that someone else started the conversation or told that secret or made that joke. I, however, can remember all of the times I  found a reason to mock people I didn’t even know, to be catty about family and friends, and how I used Facebook as a visual aid… and I can remember how often other people did it, too, that this was normal social behavior.

These glaring recollections are the reason I did away with social media and this behavior entirely… and my perfect memory is the reason I can see how much my life has changed. I remember how much time I used to spend staring at my phone, talking about people I didn’t know or care about, and how ugly my comments tended to be, as a result. I remember that I talked about people instead of ideas and instead of doing things I actually found fulfilling, like reading, writing, crafting, and spending time with my husband and family.

Though my escape from social media has been hugely impactful, even just my innate ability to acknowledge that I’m guilty of being hypocritical or impulsive or lazy, helps me to improve. When I see the statistic that only 37% of Christians attend church weekly, it’s much harder for me to convince myself that I’m following my faith. When I tell my husband that we need to start spending less, it’s not as easy to ignore the $10 I spent at the gas station on beef jerky, or that book I bought on my Kindle. When I get frustrated that I haven’t been successful at losing weight, I can’t deny that it’s because I’ve been sneaking ice cream and candy all week.

tumblr_lusc8h2xjn1qapto0o1_250

I have more trouble moving on.

As I get older, I realize that there are seasons in life and it is perfectly natural and healthy to drift from one to another… but I think I struggle with it more than some. When I was 24, my whole world revolved around school and Gail and my guy friends… until my guy friends and I started to move in different directions. Gradually, they stopped inviting me to do things with them, and didn’t make the same effort to keep up with me. At the time, I had to find fault in them doing so, telling myself that they were jealous of my academic and career success or that they didn’t want to move forward with their own lives, so they resented me for doing so. Now, I realize that we were all just growing and it was okay to do so in different directions.

Today, I find the same has happened with Gail and I. What was once a relationship that defined me as a person is now comprised of sporadic text messages and the rare meet up at the mall for lunch. It’s not that either of us is truly at fault, so much as it is that we live on opposite sides of the city and Gail has grown passionate about veganism and travel and charity, while I’m further on the traditional path for which I always longed; buying a home, having babies, getting involved with my conservative church, connecting with my siblings and their spouses. While I’m sure we’ll always be connected in some way, it’s still hard for me to move forward, without Gail, when our lives were once so entwined. I so clearly remember having lunch several times a week, texting each other throughout the day, discussing every decision, big or small, with her, and its unlikely that that’s what our future relationship holds.

I’d imagine the same will be true when my dog has to be put down, or my Gramma passes, or my children grow up, or my dad dies. While I think these trials are tough for anyone, I think I remember life’s stages more vividly and while that’s nice when you’re looking back fondly, it also makes for some much more painful longing.

It makes me better at my job.

“They should know better.” I hear this so many times a week, in my job as Teen Librarian and each and every time, my response is “Why?” Everyone expects to have to explain behavioral and social norms to children, but never to teens. Teens should “know better.” I remember being confused as to why I suddenly went from cute to annoying, sassy to mouthy. I remember every conversation being colored with patronizing tones and preachy, subjective religious stances. I remember adults refusing to speak to me like I was a person with feelings, capable of extreme embarrassment and regret and heartache, because “teenagers are stupid”… and it makes me a lot better at my job.

tenor

Just yesterday, I sat in the teen area at work, talking to my kids, when a woman came back and rudely snapped “You guys don’t have your own room, you know.” I firmly replied “This actually is their space,” to which she responded that we were being really loud. No, we weren’t. The building is just stupidly designed in a way that funnels sound into the computer area. “We can be quieter, but this is the teen area.” I don’t think anyone ever championed me like that as a teenager and that just made me angrier and it made my life harder. My ability to remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 makes me so much better at my job.

Nostalgia hits me harder.

It’s a good thing I’m so happy with my life, y’all, because sometimes, I really miss being 16 years old, riding around with Gail and Malik. I remember my 17th birthday party so vividly, giggling as we played a pathetically PG version of “strip Twister,” when we were all virgins, who’d never been kissed, before any of us were divorced or addicted to drugs or had babies that died. I remember life before any of us made any real mistakes and I remember how it felt to have all of those decisions ahead of me. Thirty seemed so far away and I pictured my life so differently… because I couldn’t comprehend how great my life could be if I spread things out a little more, but I miss that naivety.

From what I understand, most people have vague impressions of childhood, their teen years, and even now their twenties… but I remember it all in extreme detail.

I remember my mother making me birthday pancakes every year, before school, even though she worked full time as a nurse. I remember how she volunteered for every field trip and put little green foot prints all over the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remember, when I was 9, how my best friend teamed up with a boy down the street to lock me in a van and beat the crap out of me, because she didn’t know how to tell me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I remember not telling my mother about it, when she picked me up, and how much it hurt that she was too distracted with her own life to notice something was wrong.

I remember my middle school crush and how horrible it felt that he didn’t like me back. I remember the embarrassment when his friends made fun of me. I remember how relentlessly I bullied him in revenge.

I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, making nerdy jokes and having spinning contests, finally feeling accepted and welcome. I remember how much I loved those friends, who I no longer know and I miss them… not the 30-year-olds, but the 15-year-olds.

I remember the black cat I had as a teenager and how heartbroken I was the day she died, along with all of my other pets in the fire set by my ex. I remember exactly how the charred house smelled and the feel of warm water on my pants and I tried to salvage what I could. I remember everything about that day and exactly how horrible it felt.

I remember Grace, Gail’s daughter, and how much I loved her and how hard it was saying goodbye. I remember Gail and I leaning on each other during the hardest times in our lives and I miss that bond.

I remember being single and free to do as I wished, crafting and reading and Netflixing all night, and eventually waking to a feeling of emptiness and longing for my life to start.

I remember the uncertainty I felt in dating my husband. Was I texting too much or too little, did he really like me as much as I liked him, should I play hard to get, was I really as awkward as I thought I was and did he care? Yes and no, by the way. I remember the first time I told him I loved him and how badly I wanted to take it back, because it made me so vulnerable and I remember falling in love with him all over again a dozen times. I remember his proposal and the joy I felt walking down the aisle to him.

For better or worse, it seems I really do remember it all… and there are no rose colored glasses with a memory so clear.

What No One Tells You About Being a Grownup

I’m not sure when it happened, y’all. Was it my master’s degree, a full time job, health insurance, marriage, turning 30, buying a house? Maybe it was the combination of all of the above, but I recently realized that for the first time in my life, I feel like a grownup.

finally-gif-22

I waited for this epiphany for the entirety of my twenties and was ultimately convinced that the concept of “adulthood” was, like the horizon, an imaginary line that recedes as you near it. For me, it wasn’t just about self-sufficiency, but generally just having my life together. I didn’t just want to be able to work and pay my bills. I wanted to build something, a career, savings, a family. Perhaps because millennials openly abhor adulthood, the concept had begun to feel like a fantasy. Then, after Jake and I bought our house, life began to settle and the topic of children came up again, as it does from time to time, more so lately. Out of habit, I defaulted to my usual internal monologue of “Kids? I can barely take care of myself right… wait.”

Zetus lapetus, y’all, that’s not true anymore! It is a rare day when I feel like I need to get a more grownup grownup to handle my problems! For years, my dad and I have had an unspoken agreement that if I called crying, he’d give me money, as long as I didn’t abuse the privilege or require… you know, emotional support, because that’s awkward and messy. It’s been almost three years since I’ve had to play that card! It’s real you guys! That magical place called adulthood actually exists… and here are some of the things that no one ever told me about living in this fantasy world.

My tastes have changed.

As a kid, I hated avocado. It’s now a weekly staple. While I’m still not the biggest pasta person, I can appreciate a cup of Ramen, where once it tasted like nothing, as long as it’s the spicy kind… even though I could barely handle cinnamon gum 10 years ago. I enjoy fancy teas and black coffee. I like sappy romance movies and the occasional Hallmark channel and Lifetime shows. A registered Democrat at 21, my political views have drastically shifted, as have my religious views and my thoughts on various social issues. Whereas once, I thought my tastes were an integral part of me, I now know they’re ever changing and I’ll never stop trying new things.

My financial outlook has morphed.

Once upon a time, I joked that I’d know I arrived when I could afford to buy my panties by the pair, instead of by the package. Well folks, that day has come… and I’m still wearing Hanes. At 24, with a pantry full of generic Spaghetti O’s, a hatchback that rattled like a can full of bolts, and my favorite dress from Goodwill, I felt like security meant stuff. If I could buy the things, it meant I could pay the bills. Now, as a real live grownup, I still buy generic. I still buy in multi-packs. I still shop at Aldi and Ross. I eat at home, almost never eating out and when I mentioned that to my family recently, they thought it meant I had money troubles. On the contrary, because we’re frugal, we know we can afford our mortgage, build an emergency savings, pay off our zero interest credit card before the deadline. Where once I thought having “arrived” meant you could see it from the car I drive, I now know that I can feel it in the lack of car payment.

Being too ambitious is a thing.

I’ve had some miserable years in my adult life, and I won’t begin to pretend that my year in management was one of them, but fuuuuuuuck, I hated it. Desperately needing full time, I was so excited to take on a position described as 80% librarian, 20% supervisor, only to realize that it was, in fact, more like 80% librarian and 100% supervisor. While I love the idea of building people up, making them better at their jobs, serving the community in a more profound way, I cannot tell grownups to do the base level requirements of their jobs, on a daily basis. The entirety of my life as a supervisory librarian was meetings about meetings. It was explaining to 25-year-old pages that they had to show up when scheduled and couldn’t wear their jammies to work. It was listening to my boss, Brett, quote managerial podcasts about labeling employees to better “handle” them. It was supporting policies I didn’t agree with to my direct reports, to prevent complete and utter anarchy. It was crying in my living room, because I hated my job and I went to school for seven years to do so. It was sheer envy toward the teen librarian who got to do what I’d always wanted to do, when I thought that ship had sailed.

c05ef263bd0b8991ef6303b99cfb191e8c88b06e_hq

Stepping down from my management position was one of the hardest decisions of my professional life. I was told by people below me, above me, and laterally that I was great at it. The director himself told me he didn’t want me to step down, that he wanted me to run my own library one day. Even I knew that I was a force for good, in it for the right reasons, eager to treat people like humans, instead of going by some new managerial standard, be it True Colors or Strengths Finder. People need that in management. But I needed something else. I needed to be happy in my career. I needed to feel like I was changing the world, not just talking about changing the world. I was shocked to realize that upward momentum was not the only golden ticket. I could be amazing at a mid-level job… and I could be a lot happier.

My social life has been consolidated.

I used to be quite the social butterfly, even if it were in an introverted sense, via social networking. I knew everything about everyone, was hip to all the gossip. I would spend hours chatting with random people from high school, via messenger, and even met up with them in person a few times, just to catch up. I had acquaintances, work friends, and close friends. I was immediately available to every single one of them, too… until the day I realized how exhausting it had become. What had, at one time, fueled my extrovert side, was wearing me out. I realized that I didn’t have the energy to keep up with my marriage, family, work relationships, and the other connections in my life that mattered, if I was constantly stressed out about what some friend from high school thought of me, what my extended family was saying about me at the family party I couldn’t attend, whether or not people found my Facebook posts funny or my arguments intelligent.

giphy2

Today, my world is much smaller. I keep my friends local, preferably limited to people I know through work or church, so we have built in opportunities to spend time together and easy conversation topics. Instead of chasing relationships I should have let go of long ago, I’m building bonds with my step-siblings and Jake’s family. My marriage is stronger, since I’m not constantly checking my phone for a message from that girl from elementary school who’s a foster mom now and the friend from 11th grade who’s in a poly relationship. I talk to and connect with my husband more, sharing my stories with him instead of the world… and it doesn’t make me less interesting or dynamic. It just makes me more energized and happier.

My timeline changed drastically.

Y’all, sixteen-year-old Belle would be devastated to hear that 30-year-old Belle doesn’t have kids yet. She wouldn’t even be satisfied with new kids, but would expect, like, school age children, because in the South, that’s what you do. You get married at 22, buy a “starter home” that you still can’t afford, and have all your babies by 26. Your husband ultimately goes into oil to keep up with this lifestyle, as you both begin to realize what you missed around the time you turn 30. You give it another five years before you file for divorce, just as your children are entering their teen years and need you the most. If they’re lucky, they have a public library within walking distance, staffed by a teen librarian willing to give them hugs and hear about their problems, because you’re all selfish assholes.

giphy1Ahem.

If the latter doesn’t happen, the former is still tradition around here. You marry before 25 or you’re breaking the mold and no one knows what to say to you at Christmas. Even when I divorced, feeling as though I were too old to start over (at twenty-fucking-three, mind you), I assumed I’d be working full time in the next year or so, fall in love, and be engaged or married again by 26. What no one told me, however, is that growing up is a marathon, not a sprint. None of the people in the above scenario were any more advanced than I. Most of them were just more comfortable with their place on the conveyor belt, taking on roles before they were ready, often with the wrong people. If you think I’m jaded, just look at where we rank in divorce statistics.

I didn’t just press the reset button on my relationships at 23. After finishing my degree in education, I started at the bottom in an unrelated field, embarking on an additional three years of schooling to advance. Ultimately, at 25, I was where my high school classmates had been three years earlier; in my career, my financial standing, and my personal life… and that was okay. More than okay, actually, it was fantastic. I had a great time in my twenties and, as I’ve mentioned before, I still enjoy recapturing those days when Jake’s gone for a weekend. Now, at 30, I’m exactly where I always wanted to be. I just took the scenic route and now I’ll always have those memories. I’ll know what the grass looks like on the other side, because I took the time to visit it when I was supposed to and I’ll be able to truly enjoy my future adventures, knowing I didn’t give up my past ones to have them earlier.

My limits for my future aren’t as firmly set.

On our third date, I told Jake I was never leaving the Metro, in part because libraries are such a volatile field. Depending on their funding model, many libraries are cutting staff, hiring only part time, even closing their doors. I was very clear that I’d never give up my place in such a strong library system once I got full time and that’s still true… mostly.

I never thought I’d love someone enough to consider leaving my home, my family, my career… and then there was Jake. We’ve been married for one year now and I’ve realized that, if it would make him truly happy, I would be willing to discuss moving to his home state to run the family ranch. It would completely uproot my life, require home schooling our children and only allow for a part-time job, if that. I’d be hours from my family and friends and I’d have to watch animals die on the regular. Even six months in, my response to this scenario would’ve been “no fucking way”…. but now we’re married and I’d be willing to have that conversation.

I am still me, but we’re also we, and I’m willing to consider sacrifices I never thought I’d make. Jake left oil for me, paid off many of my debts, lives much closer to the city than I think he would on his own, and I realize that it’s not just about me anymore and my plans are a bit more fluid than they were five years ago. It seems, there might be many more things I haven’t discovered about being a grownup.

nick-new-girl-getting-old

What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in Our First Year

Y’all, married people love to give marriage advice. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been married or how dysfunctional their own relationship is, no married person will ever miss the opportunity to pass on their wisdom, not unlike the relatively new parents of a poorly behaved toddler.

giphy

It seems everyone had marriage advice, this time last year and all of it was generalized and just… kind of lame. The Ravenclaw in me even went in search of true marital wisdom, scouring blogs and books and Huffpost articles, desperate to reveal a unique perspective that just fit for Jake and I, but to no avail. Just last month, I kept my ears perked at my new sister-in-law’s Breakfast with the Bride, hoping to leave with some valuable insight, only to receive the somewhat confusing advice that “If you’re going to fight, fight naked.” The only thing I actually learned from any of my studies is that middle class white women really like platitudes.

giphy1

I (like every other bride of one year) think I have it figured out, though. The reason all this marriage advice sucks so much, is because you can’t advise the masses on something so personal. Different people have different needs and my true marital advice probably wouldn’t make a motivational poster for the family therapist’s office that could compete with the likes of “Never go to bed angry.”* So, as Jake and I celebrate our one year anniversary and three years since we met, here are the things that we did to make it all more enjoyable.

*Zetus lapetus, this is the worst advice ever. If we didn’t go to bed angry, sometimes, we wouldn’t go to bed. Occasionally, we have to agree to shut the fuck up, before we say something we’ll regret later.

giphy2

We worried both less and more about privacy. 

I’ve written before about Jake and I’s vows not to watch pornography. Summed up, while there are moral reasons, we agree that in 2018, it’s just too addictive and we don’t need to court that kind of complication in our relationship. Married at 29 and 32, however, neither of us claims to have never enjoyed porn, nor that we’re no longer tempted. We’re both human and humans have urges. As husband and wife, though, we’ve decided that it is our job to hold each other accountable for being good people, and it’s still 2018.

Ultimately, we’ve agreed to a mutual lack of technological privacy. We don’t keep our phones from each other, clear our search history/use incognito pages, or delete all of our text messages, because that’s where secrets form. Even our more conservative and traditional friends view this as a lack of trust, but for us, the opposite is true. I trust that Jake won’t look through my search history (spoiler alert: lots of cat photos). He trusts that I won’t monitor his texts. Knowing, however, that either of us are welcome to use each other’s phones, to find that text message with the date and time of the party, Google the bank’s routing number, settle a debate on the pronunciation of a word… even a year in, this has kept us in check, because we are flawed and in a lifetime, we will make mistakes. 

In addition to less privacy from each other, we’ve placed an emphasis on more privacy from the world. After I left social media, I realized how damaging it could have become to my marriage. Instead of simply enjoying a night out with my husband, I put energy into showing people that I was enjoying a night out with my husband. My social media persona was never false, but it did require energy… energy that could have been spent on my actual life, instead of my virtual one. I never acknowledged just how much effort I put into all of this, because as a millennial, I’ve had some form of online presence since I was 11. I have grown up in a crowded hallway, constantly available to everyone from the vegan food truck owner who moved to Canada and loves to debate healthcare with me, to that guy in my high school biology class who likes to trade horror movie recommendations. Those connections are so much more draining than we think. Denying tidbits of intimacy to these frivolous surface level friendships has made me so much closer to my husband. The privacy involved in going out to dinner truly alone, in arguing without input from my very own Teen Girl Squad, in taking photos that my distant relatives will never see… is unbelievably intimate. Honestly, I have no doubt that one day, I will look back and see that quelling my online presence has saved my marriage.

once-youre-actually-dinner-you-fill-awkward-silences-constantly-checking-your-phone

We spent time together, separately, and together doing separate things. 

Jake is my best friend. Truly. He’s the only person I want in my space at the end of a bad day, the boy who knows all my flaws and secrets and loves me anyway. We have so much fun together, going to movies and festivals, hiking, bike riding, shooting guns, playing board games, battling each other in old school Nintendo games, arguing about social and moral issues, discussing articles we’ve read… but we had a lot of fun before all of that, too.

Y’all, during the summers when I worked at the library 20 hours a week and lived off of my substitute teacher savings, I used to wake up at ten o’clock, roll over and continue reading the romance novel I’d fallen asleep with for two more hours, lay out by my apartment’s pool, come inside to eat snack foods for dinner, while binge watching Vampire Diaries and sewing into the wee hours of the morning. I’d crawl into bed at 3:00, wake up and repeat. It. Was. Awesome. Jake has similarly self-proclaimed awesome tales (some of them quite appalling) and was equally ready to move on to the next stage of life, but in some sense (a toned-down one), those people are still here. Jake still wants to play video games or watch YouTube reviews and I still want to read trashy paranormal romance novels and crochet. One of the best things we do for each other, as a married couple, is to still enjoy those things… together, but separately.

Often times, after tough days at work, or on a lazy Saturday, we’ll sit on the couch and indulge in our own silly hobbies… independently. To the outsider, it might look as though we’re completely ignoring each other as Jake shoots aliens and I read about their intergalactic seduction, but every half hour or so, he’ll hit pause before another match and touch my legs in his lap, and tell me he loves me. I’ll finish a chapter, nudge him on the arm with a toe, and he’ll look over to see me mouth that he’s my favorite. We’ll go back to our guilty pleasures, absolutely content in the knowledge that the other person is enjoying themselves.

I’d argue that it’s been just as important for us, though, to spend the occasional time apart. Fortunately, the house we just bought is close enough to each of our workplaces to come home for lunch and we tend to take them an hour apart. Counting the hour I have before work and the hour he has after work, on an almost daily basis, we each get about an hour and 45 minutes to do as we please… but that can only accommodate so much. While Jake and I usually visit his hometown together, every three or four months, Jake will take a weekend to cross state lines and explore his old stomping grounds. He helps his parents on the ranch, goes fishing and hunting, hangs out with his old friends… and I get to be 24-year-old Belle again; staying up all night (despite having to work the next day), dancing to bad 2013 pop music I just discovered, reading trashy novels, and marathoning Twilight, Fifty Shades, or every single Nicholas Sparks movie on Netflix. We have so much fun apart, for just long enough to miss each other and it’s just an absolutely wonderful, rejuvenating vacation to our twenty-something selves.

giphy

We’ve touched base on our timelines.

Jake and I have a deal. When the apocalypse comes, it’s his job to get us to safety and it’s my job to organize the supplies when we get there, because I am The Girl With the Plan. My whole life, I’ve had a plan… ‘cept for those few blurry years after high school and we all know how that ended… which is precisely why I became even more determined to follow my path, not my Gramma’s or my dad’s or feminists’ everywhere, but Belle’s. I was well aware of the scoffing. I did what I wanted, regardless, and I must say, it’s turned out pretty damned well. That doesn’t mean there was never any rewriting, though and in the first year of our marriage, Jake and I did a little rewriting of our own… together.

If I recall, one year ago, our plan was to live in our rental house for a couple of years, while building our careers and funds for a down payment on a home of our own. Around the time we started looking for homes, this time next year, we’d start trying for a baby and ideally, we would be moved in and comfortable before growing our family. Well, that all got a little… muddled. I’m not sure when the shifts happened and maybe that’s my point, that they weren’t profound moments, but rather the results of frequent conversations and dreamings and musings, because for the first time in my life, I don’t have to make the plan alone. Together, we mused over the cost of renting, rising interest rates, down payment options, and at some point, we decided to bump up this huge portion of the plan by a full year… and we did so successfully.

Riding high on said success, we decided to bump up kids by nearly a year, too. I mean, if we were going to be in our own home, why not? I do remember when that suggestion was ultimately overruled, however, three weeks before our move, when I had something of a meltdown, weeping to Jake about how I just wasn’t ready for babies and didn’t think I would be in six months, either. It’s just too much: too much change, too much responsibility, too much of a financial burden, and I just can’t commit to it in 2018… and it was and is okay, because Jake’s not the only one who makes the plan anymore either. That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.

tenor