Five Reasons I Skipped Your Christmas Party

When I was a little kid, Christmas seemed to last for weeks. Every year, my brother and I celebrated with my paternal grandma and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then again with my maternal Gramma, my mom, and dad, then again on Christmas morning with just the four of us, then again with my dad’s extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on) and finally, we had Christmas with my paternal grandfather, since my dad’s parents were divorced.

As a child, I was closest to my Gramma, but my only cousins were on my dad’s side. Playing with them was the number one appeal of his family’s Christmas parties. We had a blast, dressing up in our parents’ old prom clothes, piling everyone into a plastic wagon and running down the hallway as fast as we could, trying to quiet the cries of the youngest when they inevitably got hurt. I loved these moments almost more than my Gramma’s over-the-top Christmas gifts. Those celebrations with all of my cousins are some of the holiday memories I cherish the most… but that was over twenty-five years ago.

Things have changed, y’all. I’m married to a man who has his own family and now we have two baby girls. It’s our turn to make memories with our children and I don’t intend to do so while spreading ourselves so impossibly thin over a half dozen family celebrations. More importantly it’s our girls’ turn to make magical Christmas memories. That’s a lot more difficult to do if we’re always leaving parties early to make other parties and mom and dad are stressed out and fighting on the way. I want us all to enjoy the holidays, so as much fun as I had with my weeks of Christmas as a child, a couple of these gatherings just don’t make the cut anymore. So, how do I decide which ones to nix?

I don’t want to talk about my body.

Growing up, I was the fat kid… and with my family, that apparently means that my body is up for discussion for the rest of my life. Having lost around 100 pounds in my early twenties, I’ve kept to a relatively healthy weight since and it is still my family’s favorite subject. Like many people, I put on ten pounds of Pandemic Pudge last year, but uniquely me, I also had twins this year. I cannot stress enough how little I want to talk about my weight six months post-partum with twins. I have spent the entirety of 2021 listening to dehumanizing remarks about my body. I am baffled at how there are so many people who still think this is okay and how I happen to be related to all of them. While the occasional vague compliment is appreciated, I was asked point blank if I had lost all of my baby weight at my girls’ baptism celebration, three months post-partum.

I cannot think of any social interaction I would enjoy less on Christmas day, than one focused on my weight. In fact, as Jake and I pulled out of the neighborhood on the way to our first family party, he asked me what was wrong, noticing I’d gone quiet. I immediately burst into tears, “There are just so many people who are going to be so happy that I’m fat again!” So, when it came time to decide which gatherings to skip, it was the ones that would make me feel the worst about my own body at this sensitive time of life.

I don’t want to discuss Covid-19.

Nearly two years into this pandemic, it seems everyone has been radicalized to one extreme or the other and my family is a microcosm of this effect. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually missed social media for a brief moment, having been isolated to my own home. That feeling was fleeting, however, when a few family members relayed the drama surrounding the discussions of Covid-19, vaccines, and various mandates that were taking place on Facebook. I’ve been exposed to so many different viewpoints, from one extreme to the other and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: you’re all fucking crazy.

Even the family members who insist they want none of this drama do so by finishing with their own dramatic and polarizing opinions. Well, my mother died of heart problems after a battle with Covid-19 put her on a ventilator for a week, before the vaccine was readily available. I was then diagnosed with heart complications during pregnancy and told by my cardiologist that the vaccine might have played a part. We all have our own complicated feelings to sort through in regards to the pandemic, so how about we all just shut the fuck up about it for one day of the year?!? I chose to attend the Christmas parties where this was likeliest to happen.

I don’t want to spend Christmas with people I don’t particularly like.

As kids, my cousins and I were able to bond over the shared experience of being children at the same time and that was enough. We played with the same toys and watched the same shows and shared the same childlike sense of humor. As adults, I’m willing to admit that we have virtually nothing in common.

I’m neither far left, nor far right, and am uninterested in any discussion of either that’s fueled by feelings over research. Politics are off the table. I cannot fathom the appeal of reality TV, preferring to spend my binges on teenage melodramas, while occasionally branching out toward high fantasy and dated fandoms. Bonding over our favorite shows is a no go. My girls are only six months old, so I’m hesitant to make broad declarations about my future parenting, but I can guarantee that the antagonistic style employed by much of my family is not for me. This means we can’t even really connect as parents. I have little to no desire to gossip about the people who aren’t present, which is their self-proclaimed basis for entire social events, while I have more than one DnD group where we pretend to be sorcerers and paladins. I’m definitely not interested in being a part of anyone’s round robin of apologies after they’ve had too much to drink… again.

It’s not that I don’t love my family. I do. I just don’t particularly like them, en masse. Whereas one-on-one, we might be able to find some common ground, my status as The Weird Smart Cousin is never more apparent than when facing the collective. That’s when my aunts battle it out in Dirty Santa for the ugliest purse/home decor/stemless wine glasses. That’s when my cousin makes a racist/homophobic joke that will surprise my redneck, cowboy, cattle rancher of a husband. That’s when everyone gets drunk and makes fart/sex/rape jokes. It takes a lot of energy to be just the right amount of excluded, so as to not come across as fake or preachy with my family.

Objectively speaking, I get that many people would think my extended family is a blast. I can appreciate that as an outsider aware of social trends. We just don’t really click and that’s fine. They’re not wrong (racism and homophobia excepted) and I’m not wrong. It took me years to come to terms with that, but I have. Truly, our only common ground is shared history and that’s become nearly as distant as our bloodlines. So, I chose to spend my holiday where I felt like I might more easily connect with some of the guests, because some relationships just aren’t worth the effort they take.

If I don’t have the bandwidth for seven Christmas parties, my baby girls really don’t.

Oh, family. It can be so wonderful to spend time in their company, while simultaneously taking so much work. I loathe the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” almost as much as “ambivert.” People aren’t that simple, nor are their needs, and the definition of “ambivert” is to be both an introvert and an extrovert, which literally just makes you human. That being said, I’ve realized in the last few years that while I love the holiday season, the gatherings themselves stress me out. Knowing how little I fit in with my own family, how socially inept both of my parents could be, makes me hyperaware of social interactions. I spend the majority of holiday gatherings worrying that I’ve said the wrong thing, that my parenting is being judged, that someone overheard me snap at the child who just ran past the infant on the floor. It takes a lot of work to talk to that many people, accept that many hugs, watch that many people pass my babies back and forth.

It is, of course, my hope that my girls will never feel this uncomfortable around family when they’re older, but right now they’re babies. They spend the majority of their time at home with mama, broken up by the occasional visit to Great Gramma’s and snuggling with our DnD pals. One day, maybe they’ll look forward to their numerous Christmases as much as I did as a child, but right now, it’s a lot of work for them to be talked to by that many people, accept that many hugs, and be passed between that many humans. It’s a break in a very predictable routine, a lot of stimulation, and a lot of germs, so we chose to skip the largest of the gatherings. After nearly a week, they’re still worn out and one of them is actually sick. When they get older, even with fortified immune systems, those gatherings will still be made up of a lot of names and faces my girls don’t remember, because I barely do. I’d rather spend our energy and time at smaller, more intimate get-togethers.

We’re setting a precedent.

This year, my baby girls’ first Christmas, was the start of many new traditions. We chose our tree and decorated it as a family, hung the stockings I made myself, opened a door on the new advent calendar every evening, read Christmas books, sang Christmas songs, watched Christmas movies, opened gifts fitting the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” theme, wore our Christmas jammy jams and listened to daddy read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

We also set a precedent for future Christmases, stating quite plainly, that we will not sacrifice the enjoyment of our holiday for perfect attendance at everyone else’s. My girls will not be forced to end their play with their cousins so we can rush off to visit more distant relatives. I will not bake seven different dishes for seven different parties. We will not buy gifts for people we barely know, just because I once shared a great grandparent with them. I will not listen to hateful remarks about my body or heated political arguments for one day of the year. Boundaries are best set firmly and early on and I refuse to make the holiday season something to dread… so I skipped your Christmas party.

Maybe it would be different…

Ten years ago, I’d have given anything to be a librarian. I was in graduate school, working as a half-time circulation clerk and substitute teaching and I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. I wanted to work full time at one job, helping people choose a new book, file for disability, fill out job applications and build resumes, find a safe place to live after their divorce. I would have been on cloud nine to be a teen librarian, giving kids a welcoming place to learn a new skill, make friends, feel respected and valued by an adult. I prayed for this job, every night, and when I got it, it was, in many ways, exactly as I’d hoped.

Over the last eight and a half years, I’ve done all of the above and more. I’ve rushed after an escaped toddler, to keep him from getting hit by a car in the parking lot. I’ve steered a developmentally disabled woman away from online dating, so she wouldn’t get stabbed in an IHOP parking lot. I’ve convinced someone to report her stalker to the police and watched her tear up, finally having her fears validated. I’ve built a resume from scratch for an ex-offender and celebrated when he got a job. I’ve called 911 after a drug overdose and confronted people for looking at porn on the public computers. I’ve comforted teens whose parents aren’t willing or able to do so. I’ve mourned the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. I’ve even gotten one of my teen volunteers hired as a library aide. I’ve been a manager and given references and helped people grow. I’ve moved one library and helped build another from the ground up. Being a librarian has been nearly as magical as I’d always dreamed… and today is my last day.

In December of 2018, Jake and I decided to stop preventing pregnancy. By June of 2019, we were trying in earnest. By September, I was tearfully asking him to get a semen analysis. In February of 2020, we discovered IVF was our only hope for children and I’d have given anything to be a mom. I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. As you might know, despite the pandemic, we were pregnant by the end of 2020 and I gave birth to two healthy girls this past June. It almost killed me, literally, but I’m not sure it made me stronger.

I always planned to work full time when I had children, following in the footsteps of my mother, her mother, and my dad’s mother. Jake knew this from the beginning and we planned our life around this model. We thrived on two incomes and bought our home just 10 minutes from our workplaces, with City Hall just up the street from the library. We took out credit cards and cashed in investments to pay for our $30,000 worth of babies, knowing that we’d make six figures and could afford to pay it off. Throughout my pregnancy, this was our plan. Even after my terrifying birth story, we never discussed an alternative. I would stay home during my recovery and then I would go back, putting our girls in a church daycare just 12 minutes away. I’d get to be the career woman and the mom. Now, I’m here and it’s exactly as I’ve always planned… and it sucks.

For eight weeks, Jake and I have been waking at 6:00 to feed our girls, before getting them ready for daycare and ourselves ready for work. We leave the house by 7:30 and drop them off at 7:45, together. We each go home for lunch, where we do chores that we don’t want to do later, then finish the day at 5:00 exactly and head to pick them up. We get home around 5:30 and try to balance daily tasks with enjoying our babies while they’re awake. By 6:00, they’re asleep and we make dinner and eat before they have their final bottle at 8:00 and we put them down. Then, we do household chores and watch a show before bed or Jake plays videogames while I read. This is every night, until the weekend, when we run ourselves ragged catching up on the errands we couldn’t do during the week, because we didn’t want to miss out on time with our children. Instead of enjoying them at home, we drag them around while we shop for groceries, get the oil changed, and return packages and store purchases. Then, we usually share them with family or friends at some get-together, before returning home to put them to bed.

As a child, I had a handful of careers I wanted when I grew up, ranging from veterinarian to lawyer to nurse to teacher. Stay at Home Mom never made the list. All my life, I’ve pictured having an impactful career, where I work full time, and then come home to my family. I went to college and then grad school and worked two jobs while carving my professional path. Finally, I got a position I love with understanding managers, where I make good money and have a predictable schedule. I have as close to zero commute as possible and a clean, safe, nearby daycare minutes away. It’s the American dream… and it’s a lie. Why didn’t anyone tell me this? For all the complaining parents do, and it is endless, why has no one simplified it to not having enough time, in a dual income family? I have never really considered myself a modern feminist, but I still thought I could do this. This is the model most people follow. Of course we would, too.

Six weeks, y’all. I made it six weeks before handing in my notice to leave my dream job, the job I can’t seem to build any enthusiasm for anymore, while simultaneously remembering how good it once made me feel. Everyone keeps telling me that it gets better, but when I ask how much time they get with their children at night, they almost always answer less than an hour. This isn’t just parents of babies, but those with school-aged children, too. After two back-to-back rounds of Pandemic IVF, an emergency C-section due to extensive pneumonia and pregnancy-induced heart complications that impact .00001% of women, three blood transfusions, four days in the ICU and three more in labor and delivery… I get an hour with my girls each night. I have a cardiologist now and $9,000 in hospital bills, but I have an hour with my babies.

In a perfect world, I could just go half-time again, doing the same job for fewer hours, but my system doesn’t hire half-time librarians anymore. The only half-time positions don’t require an MLIS and pay $5 less an hour. While I’d be thrilled to take one of these and it’s a possibility that one might open in the next few months, if I do so as an internal candidate, I’ve been informed that my retirement will be frozen. If I’m no longer full time, but I haven’t terminated employment, I won’t be able to touch my retirement, not to add to it or roll it over or continue investing in it. Since Jake and I wouldn’t plan for me to return to full time or quit, for at least 15 years, $75,000 would sit in an account and be eaten by inflation. I was told, verbatim, that I do have a choice, though: I can terminate employment… and so I did.

Leaving my job has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I worked so hard for this. I spent years praying for this exact position, a teen librarian job on the outskirts of the county, where I could make big city money and lead a small town life. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. Unlike other people’s dream jobs, it was more or less exactly as wonderful as I’d dreamt. Sure, there were frustrations with other departments and budgeting decisions and weird niche emphases in my specialization, but my day to day? It was awesome. I made a difference. I made good money. I made friends. I had fun

… then Covid-19 hit.

Maybe things would have been different, if it weren’t for the pandemic, the way we had to get pregnant, losing my mom the day after Mother’s Day, or almost dying when my girls were born. Maybe if my job had actually been enjoyable for the last two years, instead of a terrifying effort not to get sick during IVF, while trying to simultaneously appease the conflicting feelings of staff and the public… maybe I’d have been able to make the adjustment, like all other women seem to do. I remember loving my job. I looked forward to work… but I can’t do it anymore. I keep thinking that women do this all the time, but then I talk to them and realize that it doesn’t get better. They just get used to it and those aren’t the same thing. I don’t want to get used to feeling like I don’t know my daughters, to being exhausted and irritable, to constantly rushing and never having enough hours in the day. Maybe I’m weak or the last two years have broken something inside of me, because I don’t have it in me and I never thought I would feel this way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It doesn’t feel right, though, far more than leaving my job doesn’t feel right.

I wish I could split myself in two, like Sabrina Spellman à la The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I could send one Belle to the library, where she’d comfort a teenage boy who just came out to his mom, recommend some fitting YA books, and invite him to the next teen program. Then, I could stay home and care for my girls and my house, freeing up time to spend as a family later, never missing a milestone. That’s just it, though. Just as Sabrina sent her other self to rule Hell, I’d send my other self to work full time. Even in this fantasy, I stay home.

I’ve cried myself sick over the last few days, but it’s nothing compared to the tears I’ve cried over the last eight weeks. I want to be a librarian, but I want to be with my girls more. Maybe things would be different if it hadn’t all been so hard, but I’m not strong enough for this… literally. Jake and I would like to have another baby, transferring another embryo (singular) this summer, but it would be the kind of pregnancy that involves a team with a cardiologist on it. I can’t do that and have twins and work full time. I can’t even do this. For all I went through to get my dream job, I went through a lot more to get my girls. There’s still hope that a half-time position will open in the next six months or so, so perhaps I’ll be able to return to my role in a more manageable capacity… at least that’s what I tell myself, so I can keep it together as Grady, the teen volunteer I got hired on, thanks me for all I’ve done for him.

My heart is breaking for the career I’m giving up, but there’s a chance I can have it again later and there’s absolutely zero chance that my girls will ever be this small again. I keep thinking about my mother, what she’d have done differently. If she weren’t my age during the 90s, when it was just assumed that a woman would work, she’d have chosen to stay home or work part-time. I’m certain. I doubt that would have saved her relationship with my dad, but it might have literally saved her sanity and her relationship with her children. I don’t want to have regrets, but I seem to have no choice. As much as my heart is breaking to leave my library, it breaks more to think of missing these years. So for now, this chapter of my life has closed and I’ll just have to see what the future holds.

I don’t think I can do this.

When I was little, long before my parents’ marriage imploded, I was a daycare kid… always. I started in a home daycare and entered Kindercare, a chain, when I was three or four. My memory has always extended far further than most people’s, so I actually do recall both. I remember Kindercare best and those memories are reasonably happy and healthy ones. On an average day, I would get up at six o’clock and my mother would drive me to daycare, where she would hand me off to my teacher before heading to her nursing job. Sometimes I screamed and cried for her, but most of the time I didn’t. I spent my days playing with toys I didn’t have at home and socializing with other children my age. I felt cared for by my teachers, even when I was in trouble and had very few negative experiences. The ones I did have were normal, like the time I was punished for saying the F word, because another student had misunderstood me when I mentioned my dog Buck; or when I yelled at another girl for breathing too loudly, because I have always been me. What I don’t remember is abuse or feeling abandoned. I was close to my parents at the time, excited to see them when they’d pick me up. When our relationships eventually deteriorated, I hadn’t been in daycare for years, so it bears zero blame, as far as I’m concerned.

Both of my parents always worked and I thought little of it. I envied my friends whose mothers stayed home, who could go on random zoo trips or visits to the pool, but I wasn’t unhappy. I didn’t cry on my first day of kindergarten, long since used to being separated from my mom and I never begged to be picked up from sleepovers. As a child, I adored my mother. My dad could be fun, in the right mood, but my mother was almost always loving. She found a way to do special things for us, despite the time we spent under someone else’s care. She’d make us pancakes with candles on our birthday and bring us cupcakes at school. She took off work to chaperone field trips and taught Sunday school. She always stayed home with us if we were sick. I have always maintained that my mother loved my brother and I very much and just grew increasingly worse at it, but back then, she was good at it and daycare didn’t change that perception.

Growing up, my mom did as most 90s parents and told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, without exception. My dad, however, added the caveat that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard enough… and that’s what I did. Despite the fact that neither of my parents were involved in my academics after middle school, I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and immediately entered college. Regardless of my wretched mistake of a teenage marriage, I never gave up on my education. Through evictions and housefires and miscarriage and abuse, I persisted and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in four years. I finalized my divorce my first year of grad school and worked twenty hours a week as a circulation clerk in my system while substitute teaching for another thirty to forty, throughout. I graduated with my MLIS at 25 and was almost immediately promoted to half-time librarian. I continued to sub, saving my money to survive each summer and relying on Our Lord and Savior for health insurance. It was tough, but it wasn’t as tough as many other times in my life and it paid off. At 28, I was promoted to a management position and eventually stepped down to full time librarian, where I was mapped into a teen librarian position on the outskirts of the county. I’d accomplished my dream and had even managed to meet the love of my life along the way, marrying and buying a house. Life was perfect.

When Jake and I decided to start a family, we never even discussed an alternative plan to maintaining our status as a two-income household and that wasn’t just because Jake had left oil and started from the bottom with the City of Cherokee. I had been adamant, from the beginning, that I was not leaving my library system. I had no interest in staying home, for any period of time, for any reason. When we learned we’d have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have children in the first place, it was just understood that I would continue to work full time after my maternity leave, only in small part to pay for it. When Jake received a promotion placing his income just a few hundred below mine, it still never came up. I always “joked” that I couldn’t stay home with my children, that I don’t like children, that I wanted to spend my days talking to adults and enjoying my life. I wanted my own kids, but I was heavily operating on the advice that it would be different with my children. In fact, throughout my entire pregnancy, I feared that I wouldn’t love my children, that I wouldn’t like them, that I’d meet them and they’d just be some random babies, that I’d be miserable as a mom, as my friends in my twenties always reported. The last thing I said to Jake, before they wheeled me away for my emergency c-section was “I’m scared. What if I don’t love them?” Then, there were Violet and Scarlett.

By the time I was lying on that operating table, trying not to choke to death on the fluid in my pneumonia-riddled lungs, as the doctors struggled to keep me from bleeding out, I wasn’t even thinking about my babies. I was kind of just terrified. When the nurse showed me Scarlett, I remember thinking sadly “It is just a baby.” I wouldn’t see them for two more days, when they were brought down to the ICU for a short visit, because I’d woken that day, high on morphine, screaming that they’d taken my babies, that I didn’t even get to hold them, as Jake comforted me. I suppose my instincts had finally taken over. My girls were wonderful and tiny and perfectly healthy (unlike their mama), but I felt ashamed that I didn’t have that moment where the world stops turning and there were only my babies and me. They were babies. They were mine. They didn’t entirely feel like it. Maybe it was the drugs, but my love story with my girls was a slower burn than I expected, as I handed them back, too sick to hold them for long.

Expectation

Reality

I’m not sure when my love for my daughters became all-consuming, as Jake and I woke every three hours to feed them and rushed to change their clothes, before they got too cold without a onesie, pajamas, a hat, and a swaddle. Perhaps it was when we were finally able to go home and I could feed, change, and snuggle them, without a nurse interrupting to take my blood pressure or hook me up to antibiotics or give me another blood transfusion. Maybe that’s when I started to realize they were really mine, my little bear and bunny who I’d been talking to for the last several months. Regardless, the love came and it was just as fierce as I’d been promised.

Due to the complications with my girls’ birth, I had no choice but to stay home for the entirety of my allotted 90 days. The silver lining was that I was so sick that my short-term disability paid out through the whole thing and I returned to work the day my babies were 13 weeks old. Although I’d originally planned to take the girls to daycare a couple of weeks early, so we could all get used to the new routine and I could have a bit of a break, I found myself entirely unwilling to give up more time with my babies and opted, instead, for a horrible first day back. Horrible it was, as I watched my little Violet give her first smile of the day to a stranger, while my little Scarlett rocked in someone else’s rocker. In fact, when I found out that I’d have to leave work, because my doctor’s note didn’t clearly state my restrictions, I was thrilled to have another day off and promptly picked up my girls, despite the fact that I wouldn’t be paid for the day and the daycare would.

The next morning, the drop-off went a bit more smoothly… and I still hated it… as I did the day after that and the day after that. Now, we’re three weeks in and… I don’t think I can do this. When I was four, I killed my favorite doll, a Waterbaby. Quite reasonably, my mother refused to keep refilling it with warm water, to create a more realistic mothering experience for me, so I figured I’d just pop it in the microwave. The Waterbaby didn’t survive and until June 22nd, that’s been my best reference point for my maternal instincts. Every year, during Summer Reading, I declared that I was never having children. I wasn’t even sure that was hyperbole, until Jake and I received the news that we wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally. Only then did I comprehend how very much I wanted a family, as I wept and mourned the possibility of never being the mother I only briefly had, during a pandemic where every day seemed the same. Now, here I am, a mother to twin girls that cost us $30,000 and nearly my life and all I want to be is their mom. I can’t find the passion I once had for my career, the one for which I worked so hard and it’s not getting any easier.

I used to love being a librarian and had this idealistic expectation that any problems would eventually be resolved in my system and the field at large, resulting in the ultimate utopian position. In time, I’ve accepted that all careers come with their ups and downs, but the downs of librarianship were wearing on me, even before Covid-19. I used to hold a title that prided itself on neutrality and fighting a war against censorship. Now the field, as a whole, is comprised of librarians who bully publishers to retire books, because they’ve aged poorly or don’t fit their personal worldviews. Some even advocate pulling them from the shelves, only to excitedly celebrate Banned Books Week a few months later. Neutrality has been replaced with a strong push toward the perceived “correct” viewpoint, to the level that even the most professional discussion isn’t allowed, lest one be branded with some undesirable adjective. Years ago, I’d receive emails reminding staff to leave their politics and personal opinions at the door. Today, I get them from powerful higher-ups, taking sides on divisive political issues. I’m sure the echo chamber that has resulted from extended closures and the rolling back of services has not helped, as we’ve distanced ourselves from our communities, but some of the bloom has gone off the rose in recent years. To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that I’m miserable in my position… at least no more so than anyone else weathering Covid-19, just that the field has shifted to a point with which I’m no longer entirely comfortable, independently of the pandemic. My present apathy is not wholly the fault of babies.

Regardless of the state of libraries, even when discussing the things that do make me happy, like my latest outdoor teen program, I’m no longer as invested. I just want to be home with the girls it cost me so much to make. My mother died while I was pregnant, at 60, and I can only imagine how many regrets she would have had if she allowed herself to admit to them. I remember her toying with the idea of getting alternatively certified to teach, when I was 9 or 10, so she could be home with us more often, but ultimately deciding she couldn’t afford the pay cut. My father has told me himself how much he wishes he could go back and do things differently, spend more time with his kids and enjoy us while we were young. My grandmother has dreams of when my brother and I were little and calls to tell me how those were the best years of her life. My brother, only three years my senior and the same age as Jake, has been particularly remorseful of the years he’s wasted working out of state, now that his children are 9 and 13. I don’t want to feel that way about my family. I never want to look back and realize that I wasted the best years of my kids’ lives splitting my attention with a career I could have had later, spending only a couple of hours with them each night after commuting and performing the duties of daily life.

I am at a crossroads in my life, choosing to stay in my field and remain the career woman I always assumed I would be or take the path I never thought I’d even consider and leave to stay home with my children. Jake and I have planned to send our kids to Catholic school from the beginning, even going so far as to buy a home nearer to the church for that very reason. Over the years, however, I’ve met many amazing homeschool kids through my job as a teen librarian. I’ve heard the stories of why their parents choose to forgo traditional schooling, which include everything from escaping bullying to having more time with their siblings. I have always insisted that I’d love to homeschool, myself, if a) we could afford it and b) I were willing to leave my position. While we can’t afford it now, we should be able to within the next six months to a year. Regardless, it would be about the same price as Catholic school, as it stands; and the field I once adored has changed to the point that I could leave without much remorse, even if it meant I could never return. All I ever really wanted to do was teach and here’s my chance. I can teach my own children. We can all learn together and have more time to play and master life skills.

Jake, although nearly as surprised by this change of heart as I am, has been nothing but supportive. A traditionalist, he’s content with being the sole breadwinner. His primary concern is just our financial well-being, but he likes the idea of my being home with our kids, of having the freedom that comes with homeschooling. He understands my feeling of disillusionment with libraries and just wants me to be sure that leaving is what I want and not just what I feel at the moment. I’m entirely aware that I’m still coping with both my mother’s death and my beyond traumatic birthing experience, but is that so wrong? Is acknowledging my own mortality a bad reason to reconsider my decisions, my future? I can’t help thinking that, when I’m 60 or 70, I’d rather look back and have career regrets than familial ones. While my own mother worked and my grandmothers both worked, many of the other women in my family took lengthy breaks from the workforce to stay home with their families. Several of them have thriving careers, now that their children are grown. I can have a career any time in my life, utilizing either my teaching certificate or my MLIS or neither and striking out in a completely unique direction. I can never be with my babies while they’re young again, though.

I fully understand that some women don’t have it in them to stay home, or that they love their career and while the Mom Guilt hits hard, they don’t want to give it up for a handful of years, only to find they’ve been blacklisted later. In fact, I always assumed I would be in one or both of these camps. Everyone has told me that it gets better, but each day, after I hand off the babies I almost died bringing into the world, so I can plan take-home kits and argue over whether or not we should have holiday book displays, I feel worse. I spend the entire day longing to be with my girls, changing diapers and soothing tantrums. So why am I fighting this? Am I really just pushing through the ever-increasing heartache to fit the mold of an intelligent and successful woman, as created by modern American society, to fulfill my own stereotyped vison of what it is to be female? Is that any better than staying home, because that’s what a woman “should” do? It doesn’t feel right to me, leaving my daughters at daycare, even though I’ve never thought negatively about working mothers, in general. No part of me thinks that women who work are letting other people raise their children or are choosing a job over their babies or any of the other hateful things people say about them. In fact, a part of me envies their ability to push through and do so. It just feels entirely unnatural to me to not be with them and as shocked as I am, I don’t think I can do this. Joan said it best, dad: “You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Joan: “It was my choice… not to go. He would have supported it.”
Katherine: “But you don’t have to choose.”
Joan: “No, I have to. I want a home. I want a family. That’s not something I’ll sacrifice.”
Katherine: “No one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan. I just want you to understand that you can do both.”
Joan: “Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?”
Katherine: “Yes, I’m afraid that you will.”
Joan: “Not as much as I’d regret not having a family… not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. This must seem terrible to you.”
Katherine: “I didn’t say that, I…”
Joan: “Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you, a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

My mother is dead and no one cares.

When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.

I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.

These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.

On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.

Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.

Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.

This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.

Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.

She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.

Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.

When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.

The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.

How Luck Prepared Us for Disaster

Right now, I have a firm grasp on positivity… which of course means that later, I’ll have a firm grasp on a bottle of whiskey. My highs are really high and my lows are really low. I half-ass nothing.

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So, in my latest up moment, I’ve been considering all the ways that I’m at an advantage during this pandemic, either by good decisions I’ve made that have ultimately prepared me for disaster, or the more likely scenario of pure chance. I’m a firm believer that where liberals tend to underestimate the role of moxy and self-determination, conservatives tend to underestimate the role of luck. So here’s a mix of both.

We’re used to eating at home.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people eat out all the time. Jake and I split a McDonald’s burger and fries (no drink) to celebrate Easter, since it was already the lamest holiday ever and it cost $7.26. That’s why we never eat out and y’all are crazy. Fortunately for us, this means we’ve got quite the cache of recipes, because we’re used to cooking. We’re not eating pasta night after night, but instead we’re eating soups, stew, salmon, enchiladas, salads, burgers, garlic green beans, battered fish, fries and tots, coconut haystacks, chocolate chip cookies, cake mix cookies… We’ve developed a lengthy menu over the years. Since we come home for lunch, that includes lunches. We are not scrambling for meal planning ideas.

I’ve been cutting our hair for years.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people get your hair cut all the time. A few years ago, I decided I wanted bangs, but I knew they’d need more upkeep than my twice annual haircut, so I bought some hair sheers on Amazon for $15 and started doing it myself, with tips from YouTube. A year ago, Jake asked me to cut his hair, so we could save the $20 every couple of months. For the cost of one of those haircuts, I bought a trimmer on Amazon and have been doing it ever since. Despite all salons being closed, there are no shaggy folks in the Granger household.

I own walking shoes and workout equipment.
I’ve had an elliptical for years and purchased my rowing machine about a month before the pandemic really hit. I also bought a good pair of walking shoes about six months ago and live in an older neighborhood with large lots and wide streets, so walks are a great way to get out of the house.

We don’t have kids.
We want to do the baby thing soon, but we haven’t gotten around to it just yet and I’ve gotta say, what a time to be childless. I cannot imagine going through the highs and lows I hit in one day with small children in tow. I miss my job and the days feel long and meaningless, while I’m constantly terrified that I’ll get news that there won’t be any paychecks after a certain date. I can’t sleep, because I wake up and remember we’re in the middle of the apocalypse. It’s exhausting and I’m so glad I’m not solely responsible for another human’s health and well-being at this very moment of my life.

We have stable(ish) jobs. 
They’re furloughing nurses and doctors in my state, during a pandemic. No job is 100% safe. Jake and I, however, have been lucky enough to keep our jobs and pay thus far. While I’m home, I am doing three remote programs a week with my homeschool kids, to justify that pay and none of my managers seem worried that we’ll lose it, let alone our jobs. Jake is essential, if people want to continue getting water in their homes, and he goes to work every day, as per usual.

I have a contingency plan.
If the bottom falls out, I just passed my school media certification test to add another subject area to my teaching certificate, which I’ve kept going all these years. They will always need teachers and I can always teach… even if that means eventually relocating to Jake’s home state, where teachers are better compensated.

We already bought a house.
Realizing that Cherokee property values were soaring and recognizing that if we waited to buy until we had a 20% down payment, we’d price ourselves out of the market, we purchased our 2,300 square foot, 1980’s flip on over an acre, for $210,000 with 5% down in 2018. Since I have no idea what Covid-19 is going to do to the housing market or mortgages as a whole, I’m really glad we’ve already bought a home that we plan to stay in for at least the next 15 years.

I just refinanced that house.
Literally, two weeks after the lock down, we signed the paperwork on a lower fixed interest rate and a lower monthly payment, which stated that we’d already earned 10% equity. We won’t have to make a mortgage payment until June and can use those payments to secure our financial position.

We’ve paid off a lot of debt and are now nearing an ideal financial situation.
I married a man with a nest egg and that is pure luck. Do any of y’all remember my rants about Fifty Shades of Grey and how I’d let a man hang me upside down and gut me like a deer if he’d only pay off my student loans? That happened!

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Not that part… the part about the student loans. While I still owe on my federal student loans, they’re on an income based repayment program that only counts my income and comes out to about $220 a month, while the remainder is due for public service student loan forgiveness in 2024. My private student loans, however, were killing us. We were paying $300 a month just to keep the phone calls at bay, because we weren’t even touching the principal… that is, until my romantic hero swept in and paid them all off, along with my car and credit card, ultimately lowering our overhead by quite a bit. We’ve also paid off multiple credit cards since then and managed to secure a car payment of about $200 per month, while maintaining a sizable emergency fund.

I like my husband… and for some reason, he likes me.
I’ve seen a lot of memes and articles citing the stress that this pandemic is putting on marriages. Maybe it’s because Jake is still going to work each day or because we have a lot of space to offer each other, but I just don’t feel that way. I have thought a hundred times how much worse this pandemic would be if I were single. I could barely handle getting iced in all alone during Southern snowstorms in my twenties, and those only lasted a few days. I would go crazy with no one but my pets, sitting around 24/7 reading articles about the end times.

During Armageddon, Jake gives me a reason to be in a good mood, to be sober, to keep a clean house, to make healthy meals, as opposed to my famous single girl dining experience of Lotso Snack Foods. Marshmallows and maraschino cherries for dinner anyone? Jake provides comfort and company and someone to share sad McDonald’s burgers as we celebrate Isolation Holidays with video games and drinking. For some reason, he’s grateful to have me around too and I’m beginning to think that’s it’s just his provider instincts. When crisis hits, he needs something to take care of… enter me. 

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What I Love About Jake

I watched Netflix’s Emmy nominated Marriage Story, last week. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the tale of two people, who were somehow both overindulgent and selfish parents, going through the most privileged divorce ever… but I also can’t say that’s an inaccurate portrayal of most divorcing parents regardless of income, either. One thing I did enjoy, however, was the opener. Each spouse listed the things they loved about each other, as a part of a counseling or mediation session. Why do we, as married people, only do this as a Save the Marriage measure? Why not now? So here goes. What I love about Jake.

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It has always been easy.
Jake and I met on a Tuesday afternoon, for sushi. I tried to talk him into coffee, just in case we didn’t hit it off, but he insisted. I’ve never claimed to have experienced some kind of spark or love at first sight, because this is not a paranormal romance novel, but the conversational chemistry was instant. We shared our core values, alongside humorous anecdotes with ease. We talked and laughed so long, the waitstaff had to ask us to leave, so they could close between the lunch and dinner hour.

When things started getting a little physical, I told him one night that since he hadn’t called me his girlfriend, I was going to keep my clothes on, thank you very much… and then I was his girlfriend. I asked him to join my parents and me for dinner on my birthday and he enthusiastically agreed. He asked me to meet his family and then his friends, to go skiing with him. We began discussing marriage at a year and I had a ring at a year and a half. We had a short engagement, rented for a year before buying a house, paid things off before agreeing to try for babies. We have just always been on the same page, at the same time. It seems as though, after all I’d been through before him, God saw fit to make my second relationship… easy. 

He takes me exactly as I am.
Y’all Jake is the life of every party, both charming and funny and if he’s not someone’s cup of tea, he literally could not care less. The last time he cried was his senior year of high school and I’m pretty sure that was also the last time he was embarrassed. He is everything I am not. I’m a very emotional person. I can have fits of crippling anxiety, go on lengthy rants about everything from the movie Titanic to censorship in libraries, and burst into tears because my husband ate my fortune cookie. Just yesterday, Jake came home for lunch to find me on the couch crying over In Cold Blood, because this tragedy happened to real people and they must have been so scared and even the dog was scared… and you know what? He hugged me as I cried and genuinely consoled me. There was no mockery or laughter, just agreement that maybe true crime is not my genre. 

Jake has never, not once, made me feel as though he’s embarrassed or ashamed of me, whether I’ve asked him just a little too loudly if he was checking out that waitress’s butt or nearly gotten both of our butts kicked for throwing M&M’s in a movie theater. He’s never insulted my weight or appearance or suggested I wear something else if we’re going out, even if that means I’m wearing a hand crocheted Christmas tree hat. He’s never shamed me for my tears, despite his lack thereof. I’m clumsy, nonathletic, far from outdoorsy, awkward, and sometimes too loud… and he has made it clear, from that very first date, that he likes me, very much, just as I am.

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He’s cheerful.
As great a likeness to Ron Swanson as Jake may have, he is generally a very even-tempered man. It takes a lot to truly rile him and, although he’ll go on and on about how Cherokee doesn’t need a Starbucks and this country needs a flat tax and how everyone sucks at Call of Duty, he’s not one to complain about his lot in life. After leaving a high paying position in oil, at my request, Jake got a job working for the City of Cherokee, where he’s been for three years. He literally spends days trudging through raw sewage and he never complains. When he calls his mom and she’s in a terrible mood and quite unpleasant, he rarely comments. If I text him and ask him to pick up shredded cheese and my prescription, they’ll be there when I get home. He tends to roll with the punches and do it with a smile and a joke, which is not my strong suit.

He’s hardworking and ambitious.
Jake likes to work. His “hobby” is working in the yard. He likes fixing things and starting projects. His is much more of a brute force energy than a creative energy, like mine, but the man can get things done. I dream it and he does it. Pair that with his good ol’ boy personality and even-tempered willingness to play the game and he’s already moved up with the city. I suspect one day he’ll own his own business or run his own cattle. Regardless, I know he’ll always provide for us, which is not something I’ve always had in life.

He doesn’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes.
Jake isn’t just hardworking in his career field. He’s a doer at home, as well. More often than not, he spends his lunch breaks cleaning the kitchen and immediately starts working in the yard when he gets home, on a nice day. In the middle of a conversation, he’ll grab the push broom and sweep the great room. He feeds the dogs and takes them to the vet, if I’ll just schedule the appointment. He’s the only reason things are actually clean, as opposed to just looking clean. When his mother comments, in her horror at Jake’s suggestion that he needs to clean the windows, “You mean Belle hasn’t don it?” he tells her “Mom, we both work 40 hours a week. We pretty much split the household duties.” When she concludes “Well… I guess you two do things differently than we do,” Jake simply responds “Yup. I guess we do.” 

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He doesn’t hold grudges.
As is destined to happen in a marriage of stubborn individuals, Jake and I have had some pretty heated disagreements. Last summer, I got the news that my grandmother had fallen and gone to the hospital, while I was at work. I didn’t call Jake, because we were in the middle of some argument or another and I didn’t think he’d feel like consoling me. When I got home, I barely spoke to him, which he naturally read as the silent treatment and went to work in the yard. He came inside to find I’d fallen asleep in front of my comfort show, Star Trek: TOS, and realized this was no silly tiff. He asked if something had happened and I tearfully explained that my grandmother had fallen and I wasn’t there to help her. He asked why I hadn’t called him and I told him that I didn’t think he’d want to hear from me. He assured me that that was never true and I could always call on him.

Jake has proven the above statement time and again, most recently last weekend, when he was angry that I’d demanded he go sleep on the couch after my dental surgery, because I couldn’t sleep due to the pain and his snoring was making it even more difficult. At 4:00 in the morning I came in to ask him if he could call his parents later to see if they had any stronger pain medication and he invited me to lay on top of him while I cried. No matter how bad the quarrel, if I’m hurt or upset about something unrelated, it’s as if it never happened.

He’s gentle.
I think one of the things that attracts me to Jake the most is that as tough as he is, he can be incredibly gentle… with me, the cat, the dogs, his nieces. While I’ve never seen him start a fight, I have no doubt he could finish one, but he treats me with the greatest care, not just physically, but emotionally, as well. When I tell him I feel neglected for his video games or that it feels like we only watch the things he wants to watch, he listens. When I cry over a book, he holds me. When I’m anxious at a party, he talks to me.

He’s a Christian.
One of the fundamentals of my dating search was common religious beliefs. I didn’t need to meet a Catholic, but I had to meet a Christian who was open to Catholicism, which can be a tall order in the South. Jake was more or less lapsed when we met, but in the past three years, he’s grown a great deal in his faith, attending Mass and bible study with me. When I’ve gotten down about dissolved friendships, he’s been there to remind me that they weren’t good people and didn’t make me a better Christian. Neither of us is perfect, but it’s wonderful to have someone with whom to move in the right direction.

He is dedicated to this marriage.
I, of all people, know that it takes two to make a marriage and you simply cannot make another person commit (or be sane, but that’s a different post), so I’m not throwing stones at divorcees in my glass house, but I have every confidence that Jake will never suggest divorce. He might be a relentless buttface sometimes, but he’ll never cheat on me. He’ll never get a drug or gambling addiction. I’ve never seen a man as attached to their wedding ring as Jake, who religiously switches out the golden band I gave him on our wedding day with his rubber work band each morning and back again each afternoon. He doesn’t look at pornography or visit strip clubs and he doesn’t make crass jokes against our marriage with his coworkers. He is all in and so am I, because Jake is the best decision I have ever made.

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Holiday Social Contracts: Landmines for the Socially Awkward

Every New Year’s Eve

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

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Spoiler alert: He hated it.

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

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

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

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

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

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. 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. I did the same thing after my four day YALSA conference with unfamiliar coworkers and again after my recent game night with some new friends. While I love the comfortable surroundings and regular patrons of my every day social experience, it’s only because I’m in my element. New people and surroundings leave me emotionally spent. In short… extrovert my ass.

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So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve realized these last few years, is 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 Pandora, 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 out, primarily due to the aforementioned endless mandatory social contracts, such as…
Bringing a Dish

On December 22nd of my first Christmas season with Jake, 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 or let me cut the onion, when she’s just going to dice it smaller?

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.

When should I get up to get food? I don’t want to rush the table, but I don’t want to eat after everyone’s had their hands in each dish, during cold and flu season. I want to try everything, but I don’t want to seem gluttonous. I should have gotten a larger plate. There is no way these people don’t think I have an eating disorder.

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Gift Giving

Zetus lapetus, y’all, I do not get gift giving. I’m 32 years old. I make over $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, 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 understand close family trading gifts, knowing the recipients will enjoy them, but why, oh why do the women in my family draw names for each other’s children and trade advice on what to buy them, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!

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

I’m a woman and a librarian, so it’s just assumed that I like children. I don’t. I don’t like babies. They’re fragile and always leaking and it’s inevitable that they’ll start screaming 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? Ugh, 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 or call them “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 Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole. 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. If I taught myself to crochet from a YouTube video, I can teach myself to parent.
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.

Me: ::whispering in church:: “What do you want to do for dinner?”
Jake: “I have a big thing of sausage we need to use.”
Me: ::giggling uncontrollably::
Jake: “In church? Really?”

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 disgusted by the Christmas ornament my cousin included in our Dirty Santa game last year, featuring Santa doing Mrs. Claus from behind. 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 rant yearly 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 I am only beginning to understand how to talk to them. Last December 23rd, at his big family Christmas, Jake suggested, on his own, that we eat in the garage, as I was so visibly overwhelmed, because it was just so much people and we have nothing in common. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand the rodeo world. I’ve never castrated a bull and don’t run cattle. I don’t want to look at the dead mountain lion in my brother-in-law’s truck. 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. Just last Thanksgiving, Jake’s cousin told a story about the girl on his daughter’s softball team, who he refers to as Shock Collar, because she won’t pay attention. All I could think, is that I was the Shock Collar of my softball team and maybe her parents should put her in piano lessons. Jake, of course, fits in everywhere.

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

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million book and doll sets, which doesn’t even account for the new line of accessories.* For most people, however, it’s a slightly creepy self-imposed chore of a tradition, which many parents regret ever starting. I knew, when it became popular, that I wouldn’t be purchasing an Elf for my own children. I’m even more certain of that fact 15 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 saint, but that means very little unless you’re Catholic. Also, the modern depiction of Santa Claus no more resembles Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas does the historical twelve-year-old. 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 Thanksgiving dinner?!?! Can I please just go home and only talk to my husband and my pets now?!?!

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

It’s Christmas and I don’t know these people.

As an adult, Christmas is my favorite holiday, for many reasons. I’m a practicing Catholic, so the religious ones naturally take precedent for me, but society as a whole, including the secular parts, is kinder and more generous to one another during Christmastime. After opting out of rounding up our dollar for charity for the greater part of the year, we suddenly buy toys for children we’ve never met. Retired hermits volunteer to spend their evenings ringing a bell in the cold for spare change donations. Bad tippers cheerfully leave 20% and library patrons drop off Whitman’s samplers for staff. The Christmas season is a constant source of glitter, pretty lights, whimsical music, decor featuring woodland critters, offensive stop-motion Christmas movies, and cookies and candy galore. Those are my favorite things, y’all! Add in the sudden acceptability of my indoor girl behavior and even in my thirties, this is the best time of year.

As a child, Christmas was my favorite for the more obvious reasons: presents and winter break. I didn’t exactly grow up in a whimsical household, so the Christmas music and movies were limited, as was the decor, which typically only consisted of a tree, stockings, and lights on the house. My parents claimed Catholicism, but it wasn’t until I was six that I realized it wasn’t just a really cool coincidence that Jesus was born on Christmas, but that he was the actual inspiration for the holiday. For me, the season was simply about no school, Santa, presents, food… and family.

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When I was a little kid, before my parents went all dysfunctional on me, the second best part of Christmas (after Gramma gifts) was spending so much time with my cousins. My dad was one of four, making me one of seven grandchildren, the perfect number for holiday shenanigans. Every Christmas, we’d spend an evening celebrating with my Grandma Kay, eventually retreating to her playroom to spend hours giggling and fighting and inexplicably getting hurt while our parents did boring grown-up things in the sunroom. Soon after, we’d repeat at an evening celebrating with Grandpa Geff, because divorce doesn’t just lead to two Christmases for the kids, but the grandkids as well. Then, on Christmas day, my great grandparents would host Christmas for their five children, 15 grandchildren, and 31 great children… plus spouses and steps. The numbers started smaller, of course, growing gradually through the years, until my great grandparents passed in 2005. The tradition didn’t die with them, however, and at last count, the numbers had ballooned to more than 100 people, whose attendance is expected every year, at the church gym at 2:00 on Christmas day.

Y’all, as much fun as I had with my cousins, when I was a kid, even at seven-years-old I’d have told you I preferred the smaller gatherings with my first cousins to the extended family Christmas celebration. In simple, childlike terms, while I knew my extended cousins were family, I didn’t share as much history with them. They didn’t have the same aunts and uncles or the same grandparents that I did. They weren’t present at all the same gatherings and we didn’t have sleepovers. We were related, but we didn’t feel as related… because we weren’t. That was twenty-five years ago, when watched the same TV shows, played with the same toys, had the same immature humor… naturally shared the bond of being children. Today? I have virtually nothing in common with these people, from my nerdy fandoms and hobbies, to my political and religious beliefs, to my career passions and goals. At this point in time, the only thing we share is a history that’s nearly as distant as our bloodlines.

A few years ago, I was a very active Facebook user. I knew everything that was going on with everyone… until I realized that, in addition to wasting massive amounts of time that I could be devoting to my marriage and hobbies, my obsession with social media was just generally detrimental to me as a person. So, I deleted it all and with the exception of the occasional reactivation of Jake’s Facebook account to sell things on Marketplace, I’ve never looked back. At times, however, I’ll admit to feeling less connected to family. When I was on social media, I saw their pictures and read their updates, so I felt closer to them… but feeling closer, is not being closer. The bonds were superficial, at best, and that was no more obvious than on Christmas day, sitting in the gym of a Catholic Church, when I still had nothing in common with these people, but for some reason felt like I should. I’d been liking their humorous memes all year. Shouldn’t we be able to laugh at the same jokes?

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While my absence on social media has forced me to accept how little connection we actually have to one another, out of obligation, I’ve kept up the tradition until this past year, when Jake and I decided to tell each side of the family that we were with the other and stay home eating leftovers and watching Christmas movies all day. We were just so exhausted after three other Christmas celebrations and as small as it might be right now, Jake and I are building a family. If it’s exhausting for the two of us to attend multiple Christmas parties, I can’t imagine how much more taxing it’ll be with a baby, or a baby and a toddler, or a baby and a toddler and a kindergartner. The time to set those boundaries is now, not after five years of setting the precedent that Christmas Day will be spent with their grandpa’s cousins and all of their descendants. If seven-year-old Belle felt the distance of third cousins, I can’t imagine how much less comfortable this gathering would be for my children

Folks, my issue is not with keeping in touch with distant relatives. Sure, I don’t appreciate a good racist joke as much as some of them (or at all), but we do have history and lineage in common, however distant. That has value… just not enough for Christmas Day. If this were an annual family reunion, I’d be an enthusiastic participant, no matter how awkward it might be when I don’t laugh at their jokes or someone gets drunk and starts an argument about politics. Family is family, but the third cousin whose children I couldn’t name is just not family enough for Christmas Day. I don’t need to spend the holiday surrounded by people who get my Star Trek references or who have heard my Titanic rant, but I think it’s reasonable to limit December 25th to people I see and/or talk to at least a handful of times a year, who know my job title and what library I work at, who can tell me what my husband does for a living; and that description barely covers my first cousins, at this point. It’s not about like personalities. It’s not like I have that much in common with my closer family members. I just don’t want to spend Christmas with anyone if I would be more upset by a coworker’s death than theirs. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

As for my family, they’re pretty well divided over our Christmas tradition. The older generation, in particular, still really enjoys seeing everyone and sharing memories. Naturally, as the tree branches, however, the younger ones could take it or leave it and many of them have begun to do the latter. Now that I’m married and have more obligations, it’s both easier and more desirable to do so myself, as I lay the groundwork for how I want my future holidays to look (more intimate, less hectic). Grandma Kay, however, is simply heartbroken when anyone mentions changing the arrangement, and when Grandma Kay is heartbroken, Grandma Kay is angry. She says that she promised her parents that they’d carry on the tradition, even after they were gone. It’s not that I don’t respect that. It’s just that it’s Christmas and I don’t know these people. At what point is family just… not really family anymore?

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“I like getting older. I feel like I’m finally aging into my personality.”

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The child of a blended family, I have a hodge podge of siblings, including biological, step, and in-law. While my oldest (biological) brother and I only talk about once a year, I get along quite well with the latter… so well, in fact, that I was included in a Girls Night Out bachelorette party for my future sister-in-law, 24-year-old Brianna, along with my step-sister Bea (25) and sisters-in-law Sadie (29) and Kallie (27). That’s right. I was invited to a night Downtown, complete with barhopping, dancing, and inebriated fun!

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my sisters… enough to refer to them as sisters. They’re fun and funny and genuinely good people. I like them so much, in fact, that I’d actually agree to a Girls Night Out with them, in the first place… let alone agree, forget, make plans to watch all five Twilight movies, remember, and still go. They’re the only four people in reality or fiction who could convince me to do such a thing. No joke, if Buffy Summers and Spock himself invited me to go barhopping on the moonSabrina the Teenage Witch style, I’d cheerfully decline… but family is family. So, it was, that I found myself leaving work to change out of my grout covered clothes (librarians wear many hats) for a night on the town!

Y’all, I’m not a total recluse. I enjoy good company. I want to be included in sisterly group activities and I realize that declining invitations such as these is a great way to ensure that I’m not, in the future. However, I just celebrated my 32nd birthday and for once in my life, I feel like I can relate to my age group, because I have been over 30 since I was 12. 

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I turned 13 in the year 2000, starting my teen years when Abercrombie & Fitch, Eminem, and American Idol reigned supreme. Preppy was in and the football players and cheerleaders ruled the school. A DDD, prior to my breast reduction at 15, I could never shop at the trendy stores. At 13, My favorite hobby was sewing. My single-minded obsession was Roswell. I didn’t know one Eminem song, but I could sing every word of “Love Will Keep Us Together,” from The Parent Trap soundtrack. I never attended a single sporting event and spent my weekends in RPG chat rooms based on my favorite TV shows. In short, I was not cool.

Today, I primarily buy my clothes at Ross, because I’m cheap. A good number of them are adorned with some kind of nerdy print, from the Halloween dress covered in witches to the Spock “Trek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” tee. Sewing is still a favorite pastime, along with crochet and I’m psyched about season two of Roswell, NM. I can sing every word of “Earth Angel,” and I’ve planned a pretty awesome vampire RPG game for my teens next week, called Bite Club. It’s chock full of hidden learning opportunities and I’m super excited. In short, ain’t much changed.

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At 32, in 2019, though, I’m no longer alone! Millennials have embraced nerd culture from Harry Potter and other YA novels to coding to D&D. We’re all drowning in student loan debt and working on a side hustle, so Dave Ramsey and crafting hobbies that can bring in a little money are cool now. All of my old crazes, like Roswell, Buffy, and Charmed are considered cult classics and some of them are even getting remakes, reboots, and spinoffs. I might not be up to date on modern music, but in a time when we’re all nostalgic, my knowledge of Beatles lyrics is cool.

When I was six, I “forgot” to give my mother the permission slip for my daycare field trip to the public pool, because I wanted to stay inside and play with all the toys alone. That same year, the memory page in the back of my kindergarten yearbook asked “Where is your favorite place to go?” I wrote “home.” Folks, kindergarten Belle was more self-aware than any version of Belle up to age 30. I have always preferred to be in my own home, with no more than a handful of people. At 8, 14, 22, and 26, this made me antisocial, a recluse. At 32, 28% of my ilk (a word I did, indeed, learn from Double, Double, Toil and Trouble) prefer drinking at home. Not only do Millenials go out less, they read more, care more about self-improvement, love tech, and are even flocking to suburbia. Y’all, I am all of those things! I’ve been all of those things my whole life! Zetus lapetus, you guys, I’m finally cool!

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All that being said, a downtown Girls Night Out is very much not my jam. As I drove to my sister’s house, I tried to psych myself up for a night of adventure, via a conversation with Belle.

Me: Come on! This was fun at 25!
Also Me: No, it really wasn’t.
Me: Alright, it wasn’t… but what would you even being doing tonight, that would be so much fun?
Also Me: Crocheting, watching teen movies, and eating snack foods for dinner, while Jake is away… exactly as I’d planned, until Bea reminded me of Girls Night Out.
Me: Okay. So, it won’t be fun. The company will be good, though.
Also: … until they get drunk. Everyone’s annoying drunk.
Me: Alright. So you’ll go, smile, pretend you’re having fun, and worst case scenario, you’ll be home by midnight. Maybe next time, the itinerary will include a craft show or some board games!

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When I arrived at Bea’s house, everyone was waiting inside for Kallie, so I sprawled on Bea’s bed, next to my impending sister-in-law, Brianna and we shared our life updates. The wedding planning is complete, leaving room for some excitement. Bea gets along well with her new roommate. Sadies’ daughter, Annie, is developing her own little personality. Librarians sometimes grout tile. It was nice, casual, quiet, and intimate. Then Kallie showed up and they started to hammer out the plans.

Me: “What exactly are we doing?”
Bea: “Oh, I just figured we’d stay here and play board games.”

I perked up, until everyone started laughing, voting on different trendy neighborhoods in the city, and discussing calling an Uber. It was in that moment, that I should have realized that I was not getting home by midnight.

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The Uber arrived and our first stop was the newly opened city park.

Me: Alright… a stroll through a lightly populated downtown park. This isn’t so bad.
Bea: “There’s nobody here. Let’s go get something to eat. They’ll have live music later!”
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We walked to a hip new eatery, where I ordered $14 nachos at the bar, got water from a self-serve fountain, and sat outside at one of the picnic tables lined up in a row… so like really expensive summer camp. We shared our food family style and although pricey, it was quite tasty. We sat and talked about our lives, our marriages, future plans. It was really quite nice and I dutifully ignored the fact that we could have easily done this on my sister’s queen-sized bed. Not my night, not my plans. Soon, they grew tired of the tame atmosphere, however, and suggested we take the streetcar to a more populated area.

A product of suburbia, the streetcar was probably the best part of my night. We told jokes and took selfies, with my dear sisters posting everything to social media. We disembarked further into downtown and walked to a… beer yard? I don’t know what else to call this, you guys. It was an area outdoors, sectioned off by white lights and a bar, with picnic tables and yard games, like corn hole… and it was completely deserted, save for a few guys talking and a couple on an obvious first date. Kallie ordered shots and we drank to Brianna, before going upstairs to sit at another picnic table… where I dutifully ignored the fact that this was only a slight variation on scenery to what we’d just done. Not my night, not my plans. We drank, talked, snuggled the bartender’s pomsky dog, like the basic white girls we are, and played a game where one person listened to loud music through headphones, while the others took turns saying a wedding phrase, which the listener was supposed to guess by reading lips. Eventually we each gave our best wedding advice.

Me: “Being divorced sucks. No matter what you guys are fighting about, I promise dating as a divorced 27-year-old sucks a lot more.”

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I’m basically Yoda.

At this point, the night had gone at a pretty acceptable speed. I’m not sure if it was the football game that day or what, but even though the weather was nice, the crowds were unusually thin. It wasn’t watching Twilight movies and eating a bowl of candy salad for dinner, but it was fun. Then someone called another Uber and the night took a turn for me, as we made our way to a venue with uncomfortable modern seating, a bar, and random overpriced eateries in different kiosks… so a mall food court with booze… and music that was way too loud, despite a sparse crowd and no dance floor, ultimately requiring shouty talk.

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After an $8 ice cream “sundae” (so not a sundae), I was kind of over the evening and just wanted to go home… but not my night, not my plans, especially since I didn’t have my car. So, I sat at a table and chatted with my increasingly drunk sisters. The normally very private Bea opened up a little about her dating life and Brianna and I talked about our most common spats with our guys, while Sadie and Kallie quietly bonded. It wasn’t a wretched time, but it was 11:00, on a Saturday when I’d worked all day, and I was really tired.

Finally, an inebriated Kallie excitedly suggested we go to the bar where my step-brother Brent bar tends. I was firmly in the “no” camp, but since it wasn’t actually a camp and was just me being a curmudgeon, I said very little and left it up to Brianna. She clearly did not want to go, but Kallie, in her drunken state, insisted Brent would love to see us and called another Uber. The saving grace of this night was that, at no point, did anyone ask me to chip in for these many Ubers, nor did I offer. The van pulled up and Breanna, seemingly almost as sober and tired as I was, despite being the bachelorette and the youngest one there, turned to me and said, in her best Cher Horowitz impression:

“Ugh. It’s a van. This car is so going to smell like snacks.”

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We got in, sat down, and neon lights lit up under the ceiling and on the floor. This guy knew how to get his tips from drunken twenty-somethings.

Brianna and Kallie: “Oh my gosh! Is this Cash Cab!?! You guys, I think we’re in Cash Cab!”

Y’all, I am too fucking old to ever be in a van that can be mistaken for Cash Cab… as evidenced by my attempt to take a short nap on the way to Brent’s bar, while Breanna and Kallie took selfies.

… and that is how I found myself sitting at a table in a bar, on a Saturday night at 1:00 in the morning, sipping water and eating bland fries. Breanna sat across from me, alternately texting Cade and ranting about how much she hated this bar and couldn’t believe people were still allowed to smoke. Bea drunkenly tried to find her dollar pinned to the wall, an establishment trademark I have never understood, because I’m not going to even waste one dollar on bar wallpaper. Kallie danced around like she was in her living room, because she essentially was, having spent countless nights there with Brent and his coworkers. Sadie, quite the social butterfly, despite motherhood, took advantage of a night out and soberly danced along with her. Me?

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Brianna: “Are you actually reading a book right now?”
Me: “Yup. It’s The Shining… really good… much better than the movie.”
Brianna: “Why do you have your Kindle in a bar?”
Me: “What do you mean why? This is why.”

Finally, after twenty minutes of an intoxicated Bea repeatedly assuring me “You are my family” and at least two phone calls from Brianna to Cade, because she missed him, Sadie called an Uber, fifteen minutes before last call. Bea climbed into the SUV…

Bea: “Are you Dominique?”
Dominique: “Yes.”
Me: “Dude. You’re supposed to ask him for your name. We’re totally going to be sold into sex slavery.”

Bea tried to pass herself off as sober, out of politeness.

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Bea: “Hello. I’m Bea. Do you do this full time?”
Dominique: “I do.”
::chatter continues for a moment::
Bea: “So, Dominque, do you do this full time?”
Me: “You already asked him that.”
Bea: “Oh, well do you do this full time?”
Dominique: ::laughing:: “Yes. I do.”
::chatter continues as Dominique gives us what is likely his usual Uber driver spiel::
Me: “… but the important question is… do you do this full time?”
::everyone laughs, including Bea::
Bea: “You guys are all assholes! When we get back to my place, none of you are invited inside! Except for you Domnique.”
– INFO: Bea is a proud Christian virgin. –
Me: “Wow. Dominique’s getting a big tip tonight.”
Bea: “That’s not what I meant!”
Domnique: ::laughing:: “You guys are definitely my funniest group tonight.”
::SUV pulls up to Bea’s house and we all get out::
Me: “Wait! Bea, is Dominique not coming?”

After trolling my drunken sister, I briefly went inside to say my goodbyes, before heading home, completely exhausted. I walked into a dark house, stripped to throw all of my clothes into the wash, because they’d smell like smoke, tried not to fall asleep in the shower, and crawled into bed, beside my husband. He’d driven three hours from his hometown, having left at 9:30 and still beat me home. Though I’d only had a single shot all evening, I woke early with a pounding headache and asked Jake to bring me some ibuprofen and slept until after 11:00.

Jake: “Do you feel bad?”
Me: “No. I’m not hungover or anything. I didn’t even drink. I just had a really bad headache.”
Jake: “Oh, well did you at least have a good time?”
Me: “Ugh. No. It was horrible. The company was good, but no.”
Jake: “Why didn’t you just leave?”
Me: “Because we Ubered there and I didn’t have my car. I didn’t want to be that person.”

… but you know… the girl reading a Kindle, while sipping water in a bar? I’m totally okay with being that person. She spent the rest of the day being comfortably 32: reading, crocheting, watching Vampire Diaries, and absolutely not nursing a hangover.

The State Fair: A Family Affair?

Y’all, it is my favorite time of year: the beginning of the last third. Nearly everything good about the year is still ahead of us, with only my birthday in the rear view mirror. I still have the premiers of all of my favorite shows, several pre-ordered books, Jake’s birthday, the YALSA conference, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and…

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Christmas! Even following that, is a season of socially acceptable hermit behavior, with the possibility of waking up to a winter wonderland and a text message from the automated system at work, informing me that I have a paid day off for reading and snuggling the dogs. Come fall, the decor is prettier, the food is better, the clothes are cuter, and the temperatures are bearable. Zetus lapetus, after playing the house cat all summer, I love this time of year.

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There’s one favorite fall festivity I left out: the state fair. Every September, the fair immediately follows my birthday, a convenient extension of the already drawn out celebration. Now that I’m married to rodeo folk, our trick riding nieces serve as the perfect annual draw to people watch, day drink, and eat ourselves sick before settling in to watch a nine-year-old hang upside down from a horse, before triumphantly hoisting herself to a standing position, when I can barely be trusted with a step stool on the best of days. It’s always been great fun and I looked forward to it for some time, having bought tickets in August, to save a few dollars.

This year, as we made our way through the horde of people, however, I saw it through new eyes. With Jake and I having spoken more and more about starting a family, I couldn’t help but notice the families surrounding us… and how miserable they all seemed. I eventually turned to Jake and declared:

Me: “I’m willing to concede that this is possibly one of those claims I’ll make before we have children, and later I’ll eat my words, but I don’t think I’d ever bring our kids to the fair.”

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I stand by this claim and if Future Belle wants to prove me wrong, I welcome her to do so, because…

The fair is swarming with people.
We went to the fair on a Saturday night, because that’s when the girls were trick riding. Folks, I don’t even like to go to the mall on a Saturday night and that’s open for the entire year, as opposed to just two weeks in September. When I was single, I frequently did my grocery shopping at 1:00 in the morning, because that’s the best time to go to Wal-Mart. Black Friday is strictly for eating sweet potato pancakes and watching Christmas movies, while shopping online. I hate crowds.

Rationally, I’m afraid of some drunk guy getting in my face when I stumble and cause him to spill his beer. I’m afraid of setting my phone down as I get out my wallet, only to turn around and see it gone. I’m afraid of losing Jake in a crowd and realizing that he doesn’t have his phone, but he does have the keys. Less rationally, I’m afraid of gunshots going off or a fire breaking out and confirming my suspicion that while everyone else has a fight or flight reflex, I have a deer in headlights reflex. I’m a first world survivor, y’all. When the rules of society break down, I am nothing but a liability.

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All that being said, I can’t imagine trying to keep up with a four-year-old in a crowd like the one at the Saturday night state fair. Jake has enough trouble keeping up with me when I see a really cute dog or a sign boasting chocolate covered cheesecake, but a smaller Belle with fewer inhibitions? She’ll have the power to teleport. Every six months, it seems there’s a national news story of Some Horrible Thing that happened to Some Poor Family, because kids are slippery, y’all. You let go of their hand for ten seconds and a gorilla dies or they get eaten by an alligator. That sounds like the worst night out ever.

The fair is generally inaccessible.
As a rule, with crowds comes congestion and with congestion comes inaccessibility. This is especially true at a festival which takes place among a hodge-podge of buildings of varying ages, over a few square miles. I’m no expert on children. In fact, just last week, I accidentally referred to a customer’s child as “that.” However, it’s my understanding that they’re not known for their ability to wait, that their needs are generally pretty immediate. Weaving through a jam-packed labyrinth of identical stands to find one of the newer buildings, with the cleaner, larger bathrooms, only to wait in line for 10 minutes is tedious when I’m the one who has to pee.

Every time I’m around my four-year-old niece, it seems she needs something, be it a drink of water, a snack, help in the bathroom, or someone to scold her older sisters for making her fake cry. By the time one problem has been resolved, another arises and that’s just at Naunnie’s and Pa’s house, where all life’s necessities are immediately available. Navigating the fair to find a water fountain, a clean bathroom, a changing table, a spare diaper or wipes, a cheap snack, air conditioning… with the urgency of a child’s needs sounds wretched. I’m not even sure where one fits fun into this real life adaptation of a bad cell phone game.

The fair is way too expensive.
I admit, these problems aren’t exactly unique to the state fair. They could easily be replicated at a street festival or the local medieval fair… but entry to those and many of their attractions are free. The state fair costs $12 per person for admission alone. As for food, a single ear of corn is $4, a piece of chocolate covered cheesecake is $7, a slice of pizza is $10. The activities a child might actually enjoy, such as carnival games and face painting might only cost a few dollars, but they also only last a few minutes. Thirty minutes of games could easily add up to fifty or sixty dollars. Add in rides that fold into boxes for easy travel, an entirely separate issue, and you’re looking at another thirty or forty dollars for wrist bands, per family member. I don’t even have an estimate for the random junk sold at every stand.

Even if you can budget a couple of hundred dollars on this family outing, while an older child might enjoy such things, I’d wager they’d also enjoy a family day at the park and a new video game, a trip to an amusement park and pizza, or a family trip to the drive in and burgers, all cheaper combinations. Regardless, a smaller child tires easily, overheats easily, melts down easily. It’s fair to assume that being dragged around a crowded fairground in 100 plus heat is not fun for them, in addition to all the reasons it doesn’t sound fun for the parents.

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It’s of course possible to forgo fairground luxuries or pick and choose. Jake got his ticket for free from work, while I bought mine in advance to save $4. We ate everything that caught our eyes and bought some soup mixes as planned, but rode no rides and played no games. We people watched, ate, and walked around looking at stalls. It was a lot of fun… for grownups. At one point, I heard a frustrated dad tell his nine or ten-year-old daughter, “Well, I’m sorry you think you’re bored, but…” Of course she’s bored! You’re dragging her through buildings full of grownup stuff, when there’s a carnival on the other side of the fairgrounds! The best behaved child would grumble about that. I totally support not blowing all of your money on such frivolity, but I also support finding something more fun for your child to do than follow at your heels, as you repeatedly tell her no.

Perhaps I’d understand this choice of family fun better, were Jake and I in a different income bracket, but it ain’t exactly the Kardashians who frequent the state fair. It’s pretty consistently a middle income form of entertainment. Most attendants don’t have the money to do everything and even if they did, that doesn’t negate all of the other reasons taking children to the fair sounds like a terrible time. A customer once told me that she hated to travel when her children were young, because she always felt like she was playing house, just without the comforts of home. That’s how I feel when I travel, now and that’s how I imagine I’d feel taking kids to the fair.