In Defense of Earning Less

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“Keeping up with the Joneses” refers to different kinds of families, depending on the region. On the west coast, I’d imagine it’s the family we met on our honeymoon, who booked an Alaskan cruise on a whim, because the San Franciscan port was 30 minutes from their house. The mother complained that Cabo would’ve been a much better choice, because the kids could swim all day, while she read by the hotel pool. Both she and her husband had lucrative careers in downtown San Francisco, which apparently enabled them to purchase an $8,000 cruise on impulse, as opposed to their annual trip to Cabo, that seemingly wouldn’t have been much different from a visit to the community pool.

The east coast Joneses call to mind my godfather and his wife. She stays home with her children, putting on hold the well-paid career afforded by an advanced degree, while he travels the world on business and climbs Kilimanjaro. He’s not an absent father or husband, and in fact, the family often accompanies him on these fabulous trips. He makes it home when he can, to see his kids in their recitals and school plays, courtesy of the renowned local public schools that negate the necessity of private schooling.

In the South, the Joneses are in profitable manual labor positions, often oil. She’s a teacher, despite the wretched pay and reputation of our public schools, because she can afford to spend her own paycheck on the cute, fun, trendy, school supplies and classroom decor. If she’s lucky, he’s gone two weeks at a time, working on the rig, to pay for the McMansion and the upkeep of the two acres it sits on, so he can feel like the country boy his grandfather longed for him to be, when he’s at home playing on the newest iPad. If she’s not so fortunate, he’s gone sporadically, working long hours, sometimes not coming home for days at a time. He’s missed every Christmas for the last three years, much to his wife’s frustration, as she’s forced to make the holiday magical solo, but he’s made up for it with an annual family vacation that’s the envy of everyone on social media.

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People love to mock the Joneses, commenting that they’re nearing bankruptcy and struggling to hide it, but it seems wildly unfair and judgmental to me to insist that anyone who has more can’t afford it. In fact, I know many people who fit the description above and live well within their means. They aren’t bad people and they aren’t bad parents or spouses. Different families just maintain different lifestyles and I’m not judging what might work for some… except to say that it’s not for me.

As a kid, my parents longed for the Southern scenario I’ve outlined above. They wanted to give us the experience of a country life, with all the benefits of suburbia. We would feed the chickens and geese before we left for little league or piano lessons. We’d ride in the back of the pickup to go to slumber parties and swimming lessons and rodeos and the lake. We’d eat eggs from our own chicken coop and enter our goats in contests at the Frontier Days parade, before going back to school shopping at the mall. It was the best of both worlds, in my father’s eyes, but it also came at the cost of both worlds. Living on five acres meant living in a trailer house, with big plans to eventually build… when the money appeared… one day… which, of course, it never did, because ballet lessons, T-ball, horses, ducks, and bunny rabbits add up to a small fortune. So it was, that to fund our suburban farm life, my dad worked… a lot.

A lineman for the electric company, my dad had seemingly limitless earning potential. All it demanded was time… time away from his family, his friends, his youth, but the return was substantial. In addition to our pseudo-farm, we had a Motorhome, a camper, a four-wheeler, a boat, and jet skis. We took dance classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics, played softball and baseball, had our own trampoline, roller blades, bikes, game systems, and TV’s in our bedrooms. Had we been born twenty years later, my parents would’ve been the envy of Facebook. It seemed they had it all, and at the time, I think that was a balm to their unhappiness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my parents were never truly happy.

I suppose it’s true that little girls marry their fathers, because my dad is very much like my husband, an extrovert and an adventurer, a storyteller and a comedian. He’s the life of every party and impossible to offend. He has a thousand friends and is universally adored… except he came into this tremendous personality in the 70s and 80s, in the South. It was just assumed that he would contain all of these wonderful attributes to make room for marriage and fatherhood at 22, because that’s what people did. At 20, it’s unsurprising that my mother was a chameleon, taking on the interests and passions of those around her. Whereas my father was forced to squander his liveliness, my mother was kept from developing her own, with the most singular thing about her being that she was a nurse. Every other character trait was borrowed from whomever was nearest, creating a clingy and insecure match for a man brimming with personality. I’m not blaming the times or young marriage, as this certainly wasn’t the case with every other 20-year-old bride and 22-year-old groom in the 80’s. It’s not even necessarily the case for the same set now, if they’re making their choices for themselves… but that’s precisely the problem for my own parents. They made their choices, because they were the choices to make. No one asked if they wanted anything different and they didn’t know themselves enough to speak up.

My husband is my favorite person in the whole world. He’s a good man and a hard worker. He’s infuriatingly wonderful and absolutely my perfect match. Had he been married at 22, though, he’d have been just as unhappy as my father was, when I was a kid. Surprisingly, for the son of cattle ranchers, born in the late 40’s and early 50’s, Jake was encouraged to sow his wild oats. Perhaps his father remembered what it was like to be a young and wild bull rider and his mother remembered what it was like to love one, but for whatever reason, they encouraged him to spend his 20’s getting an education, figuring out who he was and what he wanted from life, creating all those appalling stories his groomsmen told at our wedding. Unlike my father, he was given the freedom to run off some of his wildness, to shape his larger than life personality into the man he is today.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you likely know some of my own background. My mother took off my senior year of high school, to live with a man she met online. Terrified of being alone during such a time of change, I married my first boyfriend… because he was there… before either of us knew who we were or what we wanted. It wasn’t long before the boy I tied myself to, became a man I loathed, a sociopath with no moral center or basic human conscience. I hadn’t just made the same mistakes as my parents, attempting to fulfill some classic high school sweetheart fantasy… no, I’d made completely new, much larger ones, crafting my very own terrifying hell and in a post-Facebook world, it was much more humiliating to admit it.

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We like to think we’re above it all, today, the gratification of social expectations, especially as women. We travel and go to college and build careers. We have choices and we’re empowered. And yet, we still feel like marriage and family and having all the things are inevitabilities. Few of us sit down and ask ourselves if these are things we truly want, because we’re told from birth that we do and that concept is reinforced at every family get-together, when we’re asked about our dating lives, or when we’re getting married, or buying the McMansion, or having children. The only reason I spent my twenties mulling it over, was because of the consequences of the last time I just went with the flow. Still, I have a master’s degree and rarely does my family ask about my career, but this past weekend, at a baby shower, there were a half dozen stopwatches on my uterus.

The societal expectations are, in reality, stronger today, because we lives our lives so publicly. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has taken on new meaning in 2018. Gail once told me I was “post-high school popular,” when I was still on Facebook. When I asked what that meant, she said I had overcome adversity, dressed cute, made funny posts, had the right job, the right hobbies and interests, and a man to look good with me in photos… and it was true. I secretly preened, after years of rejection in my youth and my early twenties, but in time, I realized how unhealthy it was to care about the opinions, when I didn’t care about the people holding them. As I’ve told you in more depth, I eventually deleted my Facebook and this was one of many reasons.

Despite my absence in social media, though, I still feel the pressure… to have more, be it the McMansion or the babies or the new car. Perhaps it’s because, after years of living our lives deliberately, the choices I’m making, that Jake is making with me, just so happen to fall in line with old school Southern expectations. We’re building a life in suburbia, holding traditionally feminine and masculine careers, and planning to have babies, so why not check all of the boxes? If we want to own our home, to raise children, why did Jake leave oil to build a career in hydrology, a pay cut of tens of thousands of dollars?!?!?

… because many of the men we know do check all the boxes and they miss the first steps and the bed time stories and the recitals and the family vacations.

… because we’re watching our friends divorce in our 30’s and it’s no longer because they never should’ve married, like it was in our 20’s, but because they haven’t taken the time, time to laugh and talk and argue and lean on each other and grow together. They don’t know each other and they don’t like each other and they’re too exhausted to fight the war after avoiding all the battles.

… because I haven’t spoken to my mother in over a year, because she never grew or strengthened, never overcame her worst personality traits, never became the woman she could’ve been.

… because my father is a good man now and we’re close, but it’s a damned shame that that didn’t happen until my twenties. I can’t be ten years old and live in his house and see him and talk to him and play with him every day, ever again, and we missed the chance the first time around.

So it goes, that at every family get-together, they scoff. I tell them we can make more money, but we can’t make more time, and they tell me I’ll learn, “one day.” But I’m not 20 years old anymore and this is not the idealism of youth. I’ve seen the potential fallout of keeping up with the Joneses, squandering family time, couple time, and youth to make more money, losing oneself in work and forgetting to play. I will not risk my marriage or my relationships with my children to have all the things. I will pace myself and I will make the right decisions this time, because it’s my only chance to do so. At every family party, when my rich uncles ask, I will happily defend earning less, as I pack up my children in my used car and drive home to enjoy the evening with my husband.

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Holiday Social Contracts: Landmines for the Socially Awkward

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

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

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One of the major concessions of my marriage involved selling my six foot tall hot pink Christmas tree and decor that looked like it was stolen from the set of Babes in Toyland. No one will ever convince me that red and green M&M’s and Reese’s Bells don’t taste better. I love the holidays so much, that I’ve been a little depressed for the last two weeks, because the season was almost over.

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

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

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

When I first started at the Cherokee Library, I was completely overwhelmed, socially. I didn’t know my coworkers’ backgrounds, religious views, entertainment interests, political affiliations, or tastes in music. If I mentioned my desire to buy a house near the local Catholic school, so I could send my kids there, would I appear judgemental 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 five months now and I’m only beginning to relax, to feel like I belong. In short… extrovert my ass.

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So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve finally realized that what I truly enjoy is the build up. I love sitting at home, reciting every word to Hocus Pocus, with the cat. I love watching Thanksgiving episodes of How I Met Your Mother, on my tablet, while Jake plays video games. I love listening to Christmas carols on the Google Home, while making peanut brittle in my kitchen. I love showing pictures of my Christmas stockings to my coworkers, and oohing and ahhing over photos of their pets in reindeer antlers. I love driving through Christmas lights with my husband. 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, I burst into tears when my three-ingredient peanut butter cookies tasted exactly like three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and angrily tossed them in the trash.

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

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

Being in Someone Else’s Home

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

Why is there only bar soap in the bathroom? How many people have used this hand towel? How obvious is it that I dried my hands on the bottoms of my jeans? Will I look rude 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, I see 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’ll die.

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. 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 30 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. 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, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!

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Don’t even get me started on Dirty Santa, where I’m supposed to spend $40 on a gift for no one, so I can stress myself out by over-analyzing the social etiquette of stealing home decor from my mother-in-law or leave in frustration when I contribute a gift I kind of like and open a bowl of decorative wicker balls and a diabetic cookbook. If I refuse to play, I’m anti-social and if I bring a gift I’d truly enjoy, I’m the weird one who brought the Spock Bluetooth speaker. 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 have. I’ll refuse to hold someone’s baby and call it “it”. 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.

Talking to Adults

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

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

Jake jokes that I’m randomly an 8th grade boy sometimes, likely because I spend so much time with 8th grade boys, but the humor is all relatively innocent and is very rarely gross or cruel. I don’t understand why poop is funny and I understand even less why comparing our former president to a monkey is funny. I was genuinely horrified to hear my dad’s cousin giggle over the news story of the teenage boys who were just arrested for sexually assaulting their teammate with a pool cue, 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.

Conversationally, I’m 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.

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. On the 23rd, at his big family Christmas, he 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. What the fuck am I supposed to say?!?! Trust me, baby, you want me to keep my mouth shut, because if pressed, I will randomly start talking about the presence of second wave feminism in the Harry Potter books or why marijuana is not a gateway drug and the benefits of legalization. Just let me be a mystery, dude. Jake, of course, being the most extroverted person on the planet, fits in everywhere.

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

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million copies.* 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 12 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; though I do know that I’ve already lost this battle and Jake will insist. If you’re a religious person, though, 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. 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 now?!?!

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

My Escape From Social Media

I am a millennial in every sense. I haven’t had cable for years. I go nowhere without my Kindle. I use a tablet at work, instead of a notebook. I have six figure student loan debt, for a degree that no one thought could make a career (suck it bitches). More than once, I’ve answered the phone with “Did you mean to call me?”, because what year is it and why aren’t you texting? I met my husband on a dating app. I actually started typing this blog post on my smartphone. I love technology and all the ways it makes my life easier and makes me more connected. So, naturally, I’ve been an avid user of computers and social media for… well, my entire life.

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In middle school, it was AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. I’d get home from school and chat with my friends all night long, while posting comments and reading articles on gurl.com, browsing online at Delia’s, or participating in a Roswell RPG chat room. Eventually, I took up blogging, with Xanga, and graduated to Myspace, when the time was right. At 21, I joined Facebook and have never once deactivated it, since. I tried Twitter, but quickly realized I care very little about the lives of celebrities and ultimately deleted it. Instagram filters drove me mad, but I enjoyed the photos of friends from high school and world travelers I’d never meet, so I maintained a lazy relationship with it, which consisted mostly of cat photos. Despite it’s peaks and valleys in popularity, however, Facebook was consistently my jam.

I think my Facebook obsession can be attributed, in part, to having lived alone for so long. While I enjoyed my single girl peace and freedom, living alone could be, well… lonely. Facebook made me feel connected, especially once messenger took off. I could be at home and still be in contact with acquaintances, friends, and family. I could both play the hermit and be in-in-the-know about everyone from high school. I could strike up a conversation with any random friend from the 9th grade and ask what was going on in their lives. We could get lunch or a drink and catch up, and we did on multiple occasions. I was never truly alone, as long as I was on Facebook and that was comforting when I was alone in every other sense. Because I lived by myself, I never worried about my relationship with social media. Who cared if I spent two hours on the couch, thumbing through my newsfeed, reading linked articles, or falling prey to Modcloth advertisements? With the dog curled up in my lap, I was neglecting no one.

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Gail has always had a love/hate, on/off relationship with social media, deleting and reactivating her account on the regular. I, however, only stopped rolling my eyes at her and started to consider my own Facebook usage, around the time I met Jake. If things went well, I’d eventually be living with another person, and I couldn’t neglect them for my phone. In a sense, however, it remained Future Belle’s problem. I saw no need to immediately cut back. Then, the Mother’s Day before last, I saw the post of a friend of a friend, the result of Facebook’s annoying practice of displaying every item a friend likes or comments on, instead of just their own posts. She was sharing the ‘About My Mom’ worksheet her daughter had completed at school, stating from her daughter’s perspective, what she did for a living, her favorite color, how old she was, and what she liked to do. It was that last one that stuck in my mind.

“My mom likes to…”
“… play with her phone.”

Several people thought this was adorable. Maybe I’m a judgmental cow, but I thought it was deeply depressing. There are so many ways my hypothetical children could respond to this question:

“Play with daddy”
“Read”
“Crochet”
“Play with me”

I think the most horrifying one would be “play with her phone.” I don’t want my kids to remember me with a smartphone plastered to my hand like some kind of nuclear fallout victim. I don’t want them to keep things from me, because my default setting is to ignore them for technology. I don’t want to look at my 18-year-old and realize I missed her childhood to keep up with people from high school I didn’t even like enough to attend my reunions. I especially don’t want my children to think that I care more about how fun our daily lives, holidays, and vacations appear to be than how fun they actually are. It was at that point that I realized, Gail was right, and I would need to extricate myself from Facebook, entirely… eventually.

Indeed, after I got married, I realized social media was taking me out of the moment. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures and actually carried a film camera around with me throughout high school, but I wasn’t just chronicling our memories for us. I was reporting my every moment to everyone I’d ever met… and it was none of their business. It was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable, sharing so much with people I barely knew, but when I cleaned out my friends, I’d feel guilty when they requested to follow me again. I began to post less. When I wasn’t posting, though, I was constantly checking the feed and responding to Messenger. I was immediately available to every person on my friends list, no matter how remote. It reminded me of the way I used to watch TV, not as something I actually enjoyed, but because it was present and easy and just plain addictive… and it ultimately kept me from doing and/or discovering those things I did enjoy.

I thought a lot about my long term relationship with social media. I considered my already exhausted parent friends, further worn out by the virtual mommy wars telling them they could never do anything right. I thought about the girl from high school who shared pictures of her twin girls’ naked baby butts at bath time, my cousin who shared photos of her five-year-old in a bikini posing like a grown up, the guy from high school who was charged with soliciting teen boys, the IT guy of the local school district who was just arrested for distributing child pornography. If I was uncomfortable with strangers looking at pictures of me, I really didn’t want them looking at pictures of my children, one day. With children just around the corner, no longer was I worried about just my time and personal privacy, but that of my eventual family and my well-being as a parent.

I definitely needed to pull back and knew it would be hard to make such a change after having a baby; so, several months ago, I decided to delete the app from my phone to lessen my own posts and scrolling. When that didn’t work and I found myself just using the browser, I decided I would keep the app, but stay logged out and only check it once a day. I’d only use it at work or I’d only use it before work or I’d only sign on for Messenger or I’d only check it for an hour once a week. Back and forth I went, with variations on Social Media Light, month after month, lending just as much head space to not being on Facebook as I did to being on Facebook… and failing miserably in each attempt.

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Then, six weeks ago, the final girl drama broke out among my friends and I decided I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend so much energy on cattiness and gossip and drama… and in addition to all of the aforementioned problems, Facebook had made these things that much worse, with friends, family, and even complete strangers. The group chats and photos of events that excluded me… the family dinners and evenings out that I was never invited to… the controversial virtual slap-fights with friends of friends of friends… it was all so draining and beyond ridiculous that an online relationship could affect a real one. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account and deleted messenger.

I’ll be straight with you, folks. In the beginning, I thought I was being rash. I knew I would reactivate to check in on the goings on of my friends and high school acquaintances, the happenings of the library world, the photos my family shared…and I did spend the first couple of days picking up my phone, only to remember I didn’t have a reason. I quickly realized, however, how little I missed updates from people I never really knew, political commentary from both extremes, affirmations in the form of likes and comments.

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In the first week without Facebook, I crocheted three hats, sewed my Christmas stockings, finished three books, called my Gramma several times, and cleaned the house. Jake was gone hunting that weekend and I watched all five Twilight movies while crafting all night. I actually met up, in person, with friends I’d previously neglected, because I’d felt like we were somehow still virtually connected.  I had so much fun and felt so rested. No longer did I wonder why I felt like I was working constantly, despite a pretty consistent 40 hour work week, because I was reading endless posts on library boards. No longer did I snap at Jake that I couldn’t discuss some current event for another second, because I’d spent the day reading every possible viewpoint of the church shooting online. No longer did I feel completely emotionally exhausted with other people’s drama and opinions. It was so life-altering that I signed into Facebook one last time: to download my information and request permanent deletion. I followed this with similar requests for Instagram and Pinterest, to avoid replacing one vice with another.

Over the next few weeks, I was more productive at work and more energized at home. Jake and I had more sex and valuable conversations and I actually experienced movies and shows and nights out with him far more, because I wasn’t checking Facebook every 10 minutes. When my Gramma told me she was disappointed that she couldn’t see my pictures anymore, I created an immediate friends and family only Instagram and showed her how to follow it, finding it far less tempting to share only photos or scroll through the photos of about 20 people. I put the account under a false name and denied acquaintances who’d previously followed me, because I don’t owe them anything. When my family expressed their horror that I’d deleted my Facebook account, I reminded them that my phone still works. 

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but in time, I’ve come to realize that I value privacy more than being connected. Perhaps it’s simply because a live person now takes priority over virtual ones. Perhaps, it’s because I have more free time and realize the sheer volume I’ve been wasting. Perhaps, it’s just because so much natural distance has formed between myself and the people I was once knew. It sounds trite, surely, but without social media, I feel free… free to pursue healthier friendships, take up more fulfilling hobbies, have conversations with family and friends about things they haven’t already read about on Facebook. I feel free to continue blogging anonymously about my life, without the discomfort of people I barely remember knowing the intimate details, because I need an outlet. I feel free to look back on my life one day and not regret that I missed out on it for a virtual one, because I’m afraid that’s going to be the case for so many.

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I admit that some people can have a healthier relationship with social media, than I. Maybe they aren’t millennials, used to a technology driven world. Maybe they don’t have jobs that place them in front of a computer, with a healthy dose of downtime. Maybe they just have better self control. I, however, am glad for my escape from social media.

You Can’t Scam Lucille Bluth

A couple of months ago, on one of my rare 12:00 – 9:00 work days, I spent the morning watching Hocus Pocus in my pajamas, with my cat, Thackery Binx, on my lap. I snapped a carefully framed photo of little black cat ears in front of the screen and shared it on Facebook, declaring that it was never too early to start watching Halloween movies, especially my favorite of all time.

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When I got to work, I put my phone on silent, stashed it in the drawer, and went along with my day, at some point opening Facebook in the desktop background, just in case Jake messaged me. Not an hour later, I was surprised to receive an urgent message… or really any message… from Grandma Kay.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my Grandma Kay. She’s the sassy, witty, forthright, bibulous, matriarch of the family. Essentially, she’s Lucille Bluth.

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Case in point, several years ago, at our family Christmas party, my cousins were discussing the idea that telling children about Santa is a breech of trust, because it’s a lie. Grandma Kay, in the process of enjoying her own drink and making another for someone else, held one drink in each hand and shouted “That’s fucking bullshit!”

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Merry Christmas, everybody!

One summer visit, she was showing me some old photos and sentimental knickknacks, of which there are plenty, because she has more money than God and is completely unaware of that fact.

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Grandma Kay: “Your grandpa and I painted that giraffe together. What—? It’s chipped! Lupe must have done that with the vacuum!”
Me: ::in jest:: “You should have her deported!”
Grandma Kay: ::hopefully in jest:: “I should!”

If you’re ever standing in front of the mirror, wondering if your outfit for the family party works or not, have no fear. Grandma Kay will let you know, as soon as she sees you. Some popular Grandma Kayisms include:

“Oh, but that’s just not in!
“She’s just put on so much weight.”
“She’s been so stressed lately and she’s lost a lot of weight, but she looks great. She’s got a really cute figure, now.”

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Now, she might be a wee bit critical of us, but you have never seen anyone go mama bear like Grandma Kay. She might be allowed to tell us all of our faults, but if anyone else tries, they’d better be ready for a verbal filleting like no other. The Thanksgiving Day I showed in tears, because a family member unrelated to my grandmother (and who has a tendency to overshare on medical issues) had been sending me such vicious and hateful text messages, that I’d actually stopped reading them, Grandma Kay took my phone from me, read through the texts and loudly declared:

“Well, then. I’m glad she won’t be at Christmas. Now I don’t have to listen to that cunt talk about her twat over dinner.”

I genuinely share these stories with delighted amusement, because while Esther Walton, she may not be, I’ve never doubted that Grandma Kay cares. It’s just that I’ve always been my Gramma Mae’s best girl. She’s essentially the one who raised me, with her PG swear words and enabling “But he likes his bacon raw!” ways. So, an urgent message from Grandma Kay, before 1:00 in the afternoon, when the family crest includes a warning not to call this woman before 11:00 am, is a bit unorthodox.

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Grandma Kay: Belle? Where are you?????
Grandma Kay: Answer me now!
Me: I’m here. What’s wrong?
Grandma Kay: Where?
Me: At work? What’s going on? 
Grandma Kay: You need to answer your phone!

My father works for the electric company, my stepmother for the Salvation Army and is currently deployed on hurricane relief, and my three stepbrothers are just boys in their early twenties, so when I checked my phone to see missed calls from Grandma Kay, Aunt Dee, and my dad, I was certain someone had died.

Me: “Dad? Grandma messaged me on Facebook, panicked. Is everything okay?”
Dad: “Well, no. Someone called her and told her they were you and that they were in a Texas jail and needed $2,000.”
Me: “Dad, that’s a scam… a pretty popular one.”
Dad: “Well, I know that, but she didn’t and she didn’t want to call me, so she called your Aunt Dee and they were both worried. I told them you couldn’t be in jail, cuz you were just posting on Facbook about how you were watching Halloween movies with that damn cat.”
Me: “Umm… yeah, and no discredit to Grandma Kay or anything, but if I were in jail, she’s literally the last person I would ask for help.”
Dad: “I know. You’d call your Gramma Mae.”
Me: “Well, yeah, but Grandma Kay is also the least likely person to give me $2,000. I have $2,000 and I’d pay it from that before I’d ask her for a dime, because she’s more likely than you are to tell me to suck it up.”
Dad: ::cackles:: “Well, you’re probably right.”

Once I’d been assured that my stepbrothers hadn’t been killed in a car accident, I took a walk around the block to ease my nerves and messaged Grandma Kay, who told me the same story.

Grandma Kay: I knew it couldn’t be you, that you wouldn’t go to Texas, when we had plans for your birthday on Sunday. It really did sound like you, Belle, but drugged.
Me: You’ve never heard me drugged, Grandma.
Grandma Kay: Well, that’s true.
Me: I’m just glad you didn’t send them any money.
Grandma Kay: You know me better than that. I told them “You’re married now. You need to call your husband or your father” and then I hung up on them.

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Y’all, my grandma literally told me to solve my own damned problems and hung up on me in my hour of irresponsible need! There has never been an old woman so vicious!!!!

Just a few days later, I saw Grandma Kay at my 30th birthday lunch, where she gave me the customary $50.

Me: “This is about $1,950 less than I requested, Grandma.”
Grandma Kay: “Oh, yeah right! You better just stay out of jail.”
Me: “I’m just saying…. for the future, if you and dad ever have a debate over where Belle is: in a Texas jail cell or at home watching Halloween movies with the cat, always go for the latter.”

I assist a lot of naive elderly people in my daily work. Naturally, I’ve always worried about my grandparents being taken advantage of; but I can apparently rest a little easier, because it seems it’s not so simple to scam Lucille Bluth.

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How are we FINALLY happy?!?

This time last week, 15-year-old Gail was banned from all of my future youth group field trips, after our duet of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Let’s Make Love” in the middle of Six Flags.

Six days ago we were sophomores, sitting in the back of my pickup truck, eating Fourth Meal, before it was cool. A couple pulled up, realized their make out spot had been claimed by chubby girls eating chicken in sweats and overalls, and quickly drove away, as Gail and I laughed.

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Five days ago, Gail and I huddled together to keep her infant daughter Grace warm, when I locked us out of her apartment’s gym in 20 degree weather.

Three days ago, I sat next to Gail in the children’s ward, as we both accepted the fact that Grace would never wake up.

Two days ago, we took turns moving each other out after our divorces were finalized.

Just yesterday, we were trolling for dick at the cowboy bar and Gail was begging me to stop calling it that.

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Yet, somehow, today, we’re both 30 (or almost for Gail) and remarried. Just four months after standing by my side on my wedding day, Gail has finally married Terry, after five years of living together. That’s right, folks. Some people do buy the cow.

In all seriousness, I’m unbelievably happy for my best friend… for us. I just don’t know how it happened. Some moments, the happy ones, feel like they weren’t that long ago. I mean, hasn’t it only been three or four years since 9th grade yearbook class, where Gail and I first bonded over deadpan sarcasm and the WB’s Everwood? 

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The tougher stuff, though… zetus lapetus it often feels like it all happened to someone else. It can’t have been just 10 years ago that I called Gail to reconnect after that first year out of high school…

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… after my ex burned down our house and killed all of our pets, but before my miscarriage and Grace’s death, before both of our divorces. It wasn’t just seven or eight years ago that Gaily and I sat at a table in an Arby’s, eating free sandwich toppings and drinking refills from the .99 kiddie cup, because we didn’t want to go home, was it? That can’t have been us.

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For so long, our lives deeply sucked and we were each other’s sanctuary from the storm. I thought our lives would never get better, but I blinked and now we’re both 30 with husbands and careers. Didn’t I just call Gail after being stood up, crying because I was never going to get a full time job or meet a good guy and my life was never going to start?!?!

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Truthfully, I found myself more emotional about Gail’s wedding than my own, despite all of my “Who da real MOH?!?” jokes, the title of Matron of Honor having primarily officially gone to her sister. Watching Gail take pictures with a bridesmaid’s daughter had me crying in secret, because it should have been Grace. She should’ve been by her mother’s side, but had she been, everything would’ve been different. Twenty-four year old Gail would have been far more self-preserving, with a three-year-old at home. She’d never have even met Terry, after finding his profile on Craigslist. I might have been less inclined to date, myself, had Gail not been in a serious relationship, prompting over-dramatic rants about how she was going to leave me behind for her couples cruises. Our whole lives would’ve been different. I suppose this was just how it was all supposed to be.

It’s just so good to see my best girl happy… to see us happy and I was reminded of that even more so, when Gail and I had a moment alone, while the rest of the wedding party chatted about how much she was freaking out.

Gail: “You know what this reminds me of?”
Me: “What?”
Gail: “When we were at the hospital with Grace and you and I were walking around, talking and laughing and everyone was whispering about how I shouldn’t be okay right now, but I was, because you were there. I love you.”
Me: “I love you, too. It was so awful and I couldn’t do it all again, but I’m so glad I did it all with you… who da real MOH?”

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We’re both happily and healthily married now and it’s a little bittersweet, because that means Terry and Jake undoubtedly know more about us than we do each other. As much as I’ve always hated when women assign the title of “sister” to every friend they have, Gail and I will always share a history no one else can claim, because the foundations of our adult lives were built on the rocks that we were for one another. So, here’s hoping that our strangely, bizarrely parallel lives that have had us claiming for years that only one of us is real and has imagined the other person up, while rocking in a mental institution, will continue to be so; because all the highs and lows considered, I cannot imagine living my life without my sister, Gail.

The Bluth-McDucks: Merging Our Finances and Debt

I got drunk with Jake and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

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I’d been considering the purchase, having decided against the Amazon Echo, after Jake made me listen to some comparison reviews. He considered both products frivolous and excessive, but really didn’t want me to spend $50 more on the one with worse reviews. So, after a few drinks, I finally came to the conclusion that I had to have a Google Home. Fortunately for me, the purchase only went through once, because I do vaguely recall confirming the order three or four times. So, all in all, it was a well-researched decision, but still… I got drunk and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

As a 29-year-old Millennial, I’m constantly reading articles about people my age wailing over an inability to find a job utilizing their degree in feminist dance theory, refusing to show up on time or display any real work ethic when they do, and despairing over the injustice of having to pay back the money they knowingly borrowed to do so. I saw this immaturity firsthand when I was wading through the sea of Lost Boys that was online dating: grown men living with their parents and “still trying to figure it all out.” I even witnessed it in my year as a manager, when I had to explain the importance of not wearing pajamas to work to 25-year-olds.

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My OKCupid search results from 2011 to 2015

So, yeah, I’m familiar with the generalization that anyone born after 1985 is fundamentally irresponsible… and it still kind of pisses me off. Gail’s a mail carrier who graduated high school and entered the workforce, never borrowing a dime to find her place and discover a career she loves. I, myself, took the more stereotypical Millennial route: entered college at 18, borrowed six figures, and got a masters degree in a field everyone assumed would have no career path. Then, I got a great job making about 50k a year in one of the states with the cheapest cost of living in the country. I pay my private and federal student loans on time, am eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 2024, and carry a small balance on a credit card, which has helped to raise my credit score above 700. For every gum smacking 20-something ironically ignoring you for their phone behind the customer service desk at Wal-Mart, there’s another Millennial working their ass off to make their own way… and I’ve always been the latter.

I had two jobs all through grad school, worked up to 65 hours a week and still found time to write papers and complete my portfolio. When I wanted to splurge a little and buy something I didn’t really need, I never felt bad about doing so, even if I didn’t have the money right then. It would all come together somehow and I would be the one solely responsible for making that happen. No one else was effected by my financial decisions… until I got engaged to Jake; and while I may not consider myself to be bad with money, I’ll admit I’m pretty much Lucille Bluth next to Jake’s Scrooge McDuck.

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At 32 years old, Jake has zero debt and quite the nest egg. Though he’ll spend his money on the things and experiences that are important to him, he’ll neither touch his savings nor take out any credit to do so. He’s determined that we continue to live this way as a married couple and it’s not like I can really argue with that. Over the next year, we plan to live as frugally as possible, so we can buy a house sooner rather than later, but… I think we might have different ideas of what “as frugally as possible” looks like.

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’m finding some truth to the idea that when a couple marries in their late twenties/early thirties, the learning curve for existing with another human being can be a bit longer. We’ve already faced this with home décor tastes and communication styles.

Me: “I love you, but I do want to take premarital counseling, because if you don’t get better at communicating, I’m going to fucking cut you.

In a few short months, though, Jake and I will have to blend our finances, which means adjusting to the idea of consulting one another on how we spend our hard earned money after making those decisions all by ourselves for our entire adult lives. When my Gramma asked me last fall, what Jake thought of my having taken out an Amazon payment plan to buy a Kindle Fire, I told her it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t his money. While Jake asked why I needed my Kindle Voyage and a Kindle Fire, making no effort to hide that he thought it was a superfluous purchase, he never told me not to buy it. Similarly, when I spent $80 on my Fitbit Alta, he thought it was silly and that I wouldn’t use it, but he also acknowledged that it wasn’t his business… nor was the final cost of redecorating the bedroom… and ultimately buying a Google Home after too much whiskey.

Likewise, when Jake insists on $3000 worth of catering and bar service for what I consider an overly lavish wedding, I keep my mouth shut. That’s his money, which he earned without me and he can spend it as he wishes. At present, we operate on a more or less unspoken agreement that as long neither of us is accruing more debt, the other doesn’t get a say… and on that note, on May 06, 2017, not only do my future financial decisions effect Jake, so do my past ones. While I’ve been careful not to charge up my credit card or get behind on my car and student loan payments, since we’ve met, I still have a lot of debt from my college days… and now so will Jake.

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While I might be able to control any future urge to buy matching Kirk and Spock costumes for the cat and dog… I mean, why would I need to again?… I can’t change the fact that at 18 years old, I began accepting thousands of dollars a year to pay for college and life in general, when my ex-husband wouldn’t work. Honestly, I don’t even think I would. That money fed and clothed me. It put gas in my car and rebuilt my life after my divorce. It got me my dream job of librarian. I am where I am because I took out student loans and I’m not sorry. I’m not bitter that I have to pay them back, either. I’m bitter that Jake has to pay them back, retroactively taking care of miserable and lost 21-year-old Belle, because my debt will become his debt. Any and all interest accrued will no longer be mine, but ours, which is why Jake wants to spend a huge chunk of his nest egg paying off all but my federal loans from day one. Why rack up interest over time, when he can pay it all off now? Well, because it’s mine.

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It’s so tempting to stamp my foot and insist that Jake can’t clear my financial name, because if he pays off my debt, not only does that mean I can’t take care of myself now, but that I never could. When I consolidated my private loans, agreed to a terrible interest rate on my car, signed up for my credit card, I did so with a bit of begrudging pride, knowing that one day I would pay it all back, because I take care of me. Despite all my jokes about how I’d let Christian Grey hang me from the ceiling and gut me like a deer if it meant paying off my student loans, I never thought I’d actually meet someone who saw value in ridding me of that debt. I would happily pay a thousand dollars a month for a couple of years, from my own paycheck, but Jake would rather we spend that money building something than trying to dig me out of a hole, which makes a lot of sense. It’s just… it’s my hole.

So, as a compromise, I’ve insisted on adding this bit to the prenup we’ve already agreed to sign for the sake of the family ranch. If Jake wants to take care of my past self, I insist on taking care of his future self, by legally agreeing that I’ll pay him back if our marriage lasts less than 10 years. I’m too pragmatic and quite frankly, I love him too much, to let romance get in the way, here. If he can protect me from further financial ruin, I can protect him. Still, it wounds my pride far more than being told I don’t need another cat costume… and I always need another cat costume.

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The Best Laid Plans…

I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.

I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.

Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”

The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.

Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and  hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.

I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.

In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.

Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.

The best laid plans… well, maybe not “best.”

How Alcohol Poisoning Reminded Me How Good I Have It

Jake and I had a great day on Saturday. We went to a festival in Springfield, ate fried food and candied nuts, watched Netflix, and then walked around the park to make up for the calories we’d consumed. We had a pretty low key night ahead of us, when I checked my phone to see that Catherine, Laura, and Gail were calling me out for a night on Catherine’s patio. I’d promised I’d come, even last minute, if they sent me the invite and Jake, in all his good ol’ boy charm, was game, especially since Gail’s Terry would be there, so he wouldn’t be the only cock in the hen house. Conveniently enough, we’d just been to the liquor store and were more than prepared for this BYOB with whiskey and coke and the small bottle of Strawberry Smirnoff I’d bought to mix with Fresca… only I’d forgotten the Fresca.

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I remember a great deal of the night. I remember Jake arguing politics with Catherine. I remember sitting in the grass with Laura, talking about her marriage. I remember making fish sticks when we got hungry drunk and walking around the block. I remember teasing Gail about her newfound veganism and Terry about their five year engagement. I remember playing on Catherine’s daughter’s swing set. I’m so glad I remember all of that, because I had a great time… until I didn’t.

You see, I also remember judging my shots without a glass and drinking straight from the bottle. I remember wondering why I wasn’t feeling it more. I remember feeling good and drunk and then thinking I really didn’t want to be any more drunk, but that I didn’t have to worry, because the bottle was empty anyway. I remember Laura realizing this and making me stick my finger down my throat… Jake trying to carry me inside, after Laura’s failed attempts to rouse me… and throwing up. I remember that last one the most. The rest of the night was just a blur of pain and humiliation… and apologies, because y’all, I am a grown ass woman. I have no idea what I was thinking. I haven’t even been close to that drunk since the summer of 2011, when Gail, Malik, and I decided to mix shrimp and peach vodka to celebrate my new apartment. Even then, I had an excuse in the fact that I’d lost about 60 pounds and had no concept of my new tolerance. I’m 29, not 19. I don’t even get drunk enough to be hungover anymore, let alone lose the ability to stand or speak. I’m not that girl. I chase chick beers with water and ibuprofen, not vodka with vodka… and thank goodness Jake and my friends know that…

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… because through all the misery and mortification, what I remember most clearly was Jake and Laura working to get me inside and clean up any mess in Catherine’s house, all while assuring me that I didn’t have to apologize and it was okay, that I’d be okay, because losing that kind of control is terrifying. Ashamed, I begged them not to laugh at me or tease me. Laura spoke in motherly tones while cleaning up vomit. As I dry-heaved, Jake held my hair, rubbed my back, and told me over and over again that I didn’t have to be sorry or embarrassed, because he’d done far worse. The two of them sat in the kitchen sharing their own cringe-worthy drinking tales as I fell asleep on Catherine’s couch.

I woke a few hours later to find Jake in the kitchen and told him I wanted to go home. After 30 minutes of gathering my stuff, we headed out, before Catherine, Gail, or Terry woke to witness my shame. Jake helped me up the stairs and onto the couch, where he was once again unbearably sweet to me as I recovered from just that short trek.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Thank you for being so nice to me.”
Jake: “You don’t have to be sorry.”
Me: “Will you be nice to me tomorrow, when I don’t feel good?”
Jake: “I will always be nice to you.”

Still drunk, I showered and changed as sunlight filtered through the window.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Are you going to break up with me?”
Jake: “I wouldn’t dream of breaking up with you.”

That afternoon, Jake came into the living room to find me with a throw-up bowl in my lap, texting Laura a thank you.

Jake: “How are you feeling?”
Me: “Bad.”
Jake: “Well, the good news is, you don’t have to worry about how many calories you ate, yesterday.”
Me: “I’m embarrassed.”
Jake: “Oh, I’ve been much more embarrassed. Do you remember what you drank to make you so sick?”
Me: “All of the vodka.”
Jake: “Were you just drinking straight from the bottle? Did you think you were a saloon owner in an old western?”

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There is no way I would’ve had more than a fourth shot, had I been using a shot glass, let alone a sixteenth.

Gail texted to ask what time I’d left that morning and I realized that Laura hadn’t told anyone about the events of the previous night. She’d kept my humiliation private. Jake spent the rest of the day watching Harry Potter with me and taking brief breaks to check on the Cowboys game, as I failed to keep down pretzel sticks and water… and wondered how I got so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. Those two are both getting homemade peanut brittle this weekend.

No. It’s not okay if I get pregnant.

I’ve had to abandon hormonal birth control, because it makes me sick. While I’m considering an IUD, that’s something of a process, so it’s just condoms and somewhat hypocritical prayer for the time being. This comes up a surprising amount, with medical professionals and even family and friends, perhaps because we live in a society where people “check in” to the urologist on Facebook…

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… therefore, I’ve realized that the world is super okay with an accidental pregnancy for Belle.

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Aunt Lacy: “Why get on birth control? Why not just have a baby?”
Me: “Because Jake and I… aren’t married?”
Aunt Lacy: “So? You’re old enough.”

Me: “Well, I’m not on anything right now. Both Nuvaring and the pill made me sick, so it’s just condoms and prayer.”
Nurse: “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

Aunt Dee: “Well, you’re 28 now. If you got pregnant, it would be wonderful.”

Please, tell me more about how okay you are with taking my remaining years of freedom. Let’s talk about how great it will be for me to get fat and go five years without sleeping. I’m sure Jake will be thrilled to either have to propose, knowing he’ll never convince me that he actually wanted to marry me or break my heart forever.

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I have just gotten the hang of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as I go, as opposed to musing aloud about taking them to a car wash while balancing a mug precariously on top of the pile like a game of kitchen Jenga. I am so shocked that I’ve kept a plant alive since Christmas that I’m not even sure it’s a real plant. In just the last week, my pets have had to alert me to their need for water by barking and meowing when I turn on the bathroom faucet. It’s either really flattering that the rest of society thinks I can handle the life of another human being or really quite sad that their standards are so low, because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I can barely take care of myself right now. I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford a small emergency and remain on top of my bills and I’m enjoying such expansive financial freedom in comparison with where I was one year ago.

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… how my bills got paid from 2007-2015…

It’s fantastic that the rest of the world is now so keen on babies born out of marriage. I’ve seen Bastard Out of Carolina twelve times and I’m not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, so I really do mean that. I’m glad society is more accepting of individual lifestyles, but I still have a pretty traditional idea of the one I want to live. Call me old-fashioned, but I think life is generally easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if two people fall in love, marry, enjoy some time alone, and then have babies. I don’t want to be the only one to take my kids to basketball and ballet, to be the enemy when I take away electronic time for the weekend, to attend parent teacher conferences and pick up snacks for pre-K, because it’s my week to be the parent. I admire my single mom friends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look absolutely exhausting.

Fine. I concede that at this point in my life and relationship, I wouldn’t actually even be a single mom. Jake would step up, but his mother and father would never respect me again. Regardless of my financial standing, my dad and step-mom would be disappointed in me, too. Who cares what they think, though, right? I do. I care what they think. I care how the world reacts to the news that I’m having a baby and entering a new and exciting stage of life. So, yes, maybe a child wouldn’t derail my entire future, as it might have once, but it’s still one of my greatest fears and will remain so until long after my wedding day, because I can only handle one mouthy redhead for the moment. Am I being ridiculous and overdramatic? Possibly, but no one really gets to decide that other than me. I am not ready for a baby. I want to be excited by the prospect of parenthood, as does Jake. We are the primary individuals effected, after said baby, therefore it’s only our opinions that matter. So everyone needs to back the fuck off and stop jinxing my uterus with their damn well wishing!

 

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Living in the Moment

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At 19, nine years ago today, I came home from work to find my house burned down, my pets dead on the lawn, and my ex-husband suspiciously profiting from the tragedy on the same day he lost another job.

At 20, I woke to pounding on my front door and an officer telling us we’d been evicted… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent.

At 21, I spent an ice storm in a motel room after being evicted, again… with my ex-husband, suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent, again. Later that year, we lived in another motel room for two whole months.

At 22, I had just lost a baby, my ex-husband totaled the truck my Gramma gave me for my 16th birthday, Gail buried her infant daughter, and the engine blew up in my car right after my college graduation… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d changed the oil.

At 23, 24, and 25, I worked two jobs and took grad school classes online, while coping with the fall-out from an emotionally exhausting divorce and attempting to date.

At 26 and 27, I continued working two jobs, with my only emergency fund and healthcare provider being prayer.

My entire adult life has been spent looking toward the future, because the present was at best unsustainable, and at worst made me near suicidal. For years, I told myself that things would be different in X amount of time. In five years, I’d be done with school/have steady income/be married to a good man. If I could only get through the present, the answer to my prayers was just on the horizon. This line of thinking was, quite literally, the only thing that kept me going, at times. I lived for the future, because I had no choice. It was pure survival.

Now, I’m 28-years-old. I’ve finished my master’s degree and and have a full time supervisory librarian position. I have healthcare and a hearty retirement fund. I have the money I need and even some extra I want. I met the man I’m certain I’ll marry and he’s perfect for me (not for anyone else, because he can’t keep his foot out of his mouth). I even got the black kitten I’ve yearned for, Thackery Binx. I’m living what will most certainly be some of the most exciting years of my life and it’s so ingrained in me to look forward that I’m afraid I’m missing it.

Last week, I wrote about my readiness to marry Jake. I don’t begrudge myself the eagerness to start our lives together. I think it’s healthy, at this point in our relationship and that’s truly not what I’m referencing. I just worry that I’ll look back and see myself always longing for another time, never enjoying the moment, because of a time when there were so few moments to enjoy. It’s not just me, I don’t think. We, as a society, treat life’s many stages as though half should be spent waiting, the other half reminiscing, with only a few years in between intended to be enjoyed. I was miserable for so long that I want to take the time to enjoy it all. I don’t want to marry Jake and count the days until we can pay off the debt, buy the house, have the babies, get them in school, get them out of the house, have grandbabies. I’ve been wishing my life away and for a time, it was necessary, but it’s just so good right now, that I wish I could be truly content.

Over the Fourth of July, I downed half a pitcher of margaritas and drunkenly fell on my ass while trying to get Jake to dance with me, in the park. I lit sparklers for his nieces and watched them chase their pigs. His mom and oldest niece both hugged me for the first time, before we left and I felt like one day we’ll really be family. Last week, when I drove to Wellston to enjoy a few hours with Jake, he tackled me to the couch, when I announced that his friends were going to think he was super sappy, as I tried to share Facebook’s “Friendiversary ” video from his phone. He cuddled me on his bed and let me give him Eskimo kisses. I’m terrified that I’m going to wake up one day, old and grey, devastated that I never truly appreciated these insignificantly beautiful moments and I pray for the ability to just… be.

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