“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.

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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.

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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.

Two Vitally Important Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know how to fight.

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

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

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

We know how to comfort.

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

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

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

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

We know how to share space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re growing and changing together.

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

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

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Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m ready for children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… we have established careers.

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

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

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

… we have our finances in order.

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

… we have our families.

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

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

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

… we have each other.

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

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

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

I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Beginning of Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

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

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

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

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

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

I am the best at arguments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I have more trouble moving on.

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

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

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

It makes me better at my job.

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

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

Nostalgia hits me harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying a House With the Duchess of Cambridge

It’s part of the American Dream, y’all: owning a home. Fortunately, it’s also one part that’s a lot more attainable in the South, where property values and the cost of living are low. Regardless, I’ve been dreading it… not owning a home, but choosing one… not because of me, but because of Jake.

If you’ve followed my blog for, well… a minute and a half, you’re aware that my husband and I are very different people. Introvert and extrovert, librarian and manual laborer, I plan everything and he responds in a drawl “It’ll be a’right.” At 25, I wept over a 98.5% on a graduate school assignment and after seven years in and out of college, he literally chose his major out of a hat. I am pink glitter and sparkly flats. He is dead animals and work boots. I’m an indoor girl and he’s a country boy. If we couldn’t agree on bedroom decor without tears, just a year ago, how would we ever agree on a home for the next thirty years? 

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You’d think, from the above description, that I’d be the one with the expensive tastes, that it would be the gal in the blinging shoes that just had to have the envious wood burning fireplace and stately trees, granite countertops, the expansive kitchen with brand new appliances. Well, you’d be wrong, because it is, without fail, that when making any purchase, am the one excited by most possibilities, while Jake turns his nose up at nearly all of them.

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That’s right, y’all. The same man who still wears his 2003 high school football t-shirts is too good for new trees, a gas fireplace, and white woodwork. For the past year, I’ve been mocking him for his insistence on the perfect brick color, declaring that he insists we can’t buy a house that isn’t between Red Brick No. 4 and Red Brick No. 9 and honestly, it’s not that much of an exaggeration, because I married the freaking Duchess of Cambridge.

Me: “We’re going to be looking at a house and you’re going to make some ridiculous statement about how this wall is just the wrong shade of beige, and I’ll be like ‘Plus, it’s haunted.’ You’ll be all ‘Haunted?’ and I’ll respond “Yeah, cuz I’m about to murder you in it’ and then we’ll have to find a new Realtor.”

Indeed, when we started this process, Jake insisted that we have a newer house, with air ducts through the ceiling, old trees, lots of natural light, a deep kitchen sink with the power wash faucet, a wood burning fireplace, a two car garage, dark woodwork, at least an acre of land with no HOA, but located off the main road… and also, he’d love it if there were a water source on the property. Essentially, he wanted to live in a newly renovated Thomas Kinkade painting.

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Oh, wait. He said no siding. So, not even a newly renovated Thomas Kinkade painting will satisfy my husband, P Kate.

I, myself, had some deal breakers as well. As much as I love the curb appeal of two story homes, I didn’t want to heat and cool the second story in the South, worry about baby gates, or feel like I was constantly going up and down stairs, forgetting something. Whereas Jake had to have space outdoors, I had to have space indoors.

Me: “I don’t want our kids underfoot and on top of each other all the time.”
Jake: “That’s why you make them play outside.”
Me: “Yeah, if they’re like you. If they’re like me, they’ll want to play inside and they’ll hate outside. I’m not subjecting a child to that.”

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For me, it was less about square footage and more about division of space. I wanted our kids to have a space of their own, to be kids, without being yelled at for making a mess or being loud and crazy… and I wanted that space to be somewhere other than their bedrooms, so they would also have a place to be calm and rest. I also wanted a place, ideally a large master suite, that could be a completely kid free zone, an idea on which Jake and I agreed, having both grown up in homes where children did not enter the master bedroom without an invitation.

What the requirements came down to for me were one story, with either four bedrooms or three bedrooms and a formal living/dining room that could one day be a play room. I hate carpet, but since Jake apparently dreams of living in one of those carpeted cat boxes, I’d have accepted it in good condition. I liked the idea of a big back yard, but would’ve been happy with a 1/4 acre lot. Proximity was high on my list, close to work and also close to the Catholic school where we go to church and intend to send our kids to school and I’d have really liked an actual laundry room, as opposed to the nook between the kitchen and the garage… but that’s more or less it.

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I didn’t care if it had siding or what color the brick was, as long as it wasn’t too garish. I preferred something post 1980, but would’ve been content with a remodeled 70’s home. I like garages, but we never use the one in our rental home, so I could live without one, and the same goes for a fireplace. I’d have probably agreed to an HOA, were it not too restrictive, but figured we’d price ourselves out of a neighborhood like that in an older, smaller suburb, like Cherokee anyway. Mostly, I wanted to find something quickly, because interest rates are rising and it’s a sellers’ market out here, as the Turnpike comes through our neighboring town of Harmon. What did want out of the home buying process? The same thing I wanted out of the wedding planning process: to contentedly put it behind me. What did Jake want out of the home buying process? The same thing he wanted out of the wedding planning process: a fucking fairytale.

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Oh, look. It has a water source.

So it goes, I was exhausted by the experience before it had even begun. It’s a uniquely stressful process, not just because of the Duchess, himself, but simply the nature of purchasing the home we plan to live in for the next 20 years. At 33 and 30, Jake and I talked it over and decided that the time in our lives for a starter home, had passed. Were we five years younger and five years further from starting a family, perhaps such a purchase would be an investment, particularly in Cherokee, where property values are rising… but we’re not and buying a home with the intent to sell in the near future sounds exhausting, when the next five years are guaranteed to hold babies and toddlers.

So, not only are we expected to choose the perfect house for us, within our current income restraints, but one that will fit a family we haven’t even begun to grow, both indoors and out, in case we have an adventurer and a hermit, while still remaining affordable amidst expenses like daycare and Catholic school tuition. It’s not enough that I find something close to my work or close to Jake’s work, but close to the Catholic Church, where we’d like to send our entirely hypothetical children to school, but still in a fair school district, in case that’s not an option later. Y’all, I just got used to making accommodations in my life for Jake. I’ve just stopped calling babies “it”… mostly. I’ve just gotten excited about the prospect of starting a family in the next couple of years. I’m not ready to commit to where my children are going to school!

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Fortunately for Jake and I, I jumped early… as I tend to do… and we were pre-approved for a mortgage two months before we could actually make an offer, if we didn’t want to pay both rent and a mortgage for a month. So, for the next two months, we bickered… over the importance of a fireplace in the South, where it rarely even snows, over where Jake was even planning to get firewood, over flooring options, over siding vs. brick vs. stones carried over from Windsor Castle by hand, over whether or not that one has a “weird roof”, over square footage and our budget…

So, by the time we were actually able to look at houses, we’d narrowed down our boxes. We both had a more realistic understanding of what we could afford and what we actually needed. Having considered every listing that had come on the realty website for the last two months, at least had an understanding of how long homes were staying on the market and how choosy we could be… which was “not very.” All the bickering ultimately paid off, by the time we looked at our third home. The first was a poorly executed flip, with bent and wavy aluminum back splash, crooked tile, and a window seat that extended onto cinder blocks, adding up to a home that was still about $10,000 over budget. The second was an open house we’d stumbled upon, with an enormous luxurious shop and nice shed on one acre, but only three bedrooms with the master being so small that we’d never get our furniture in it. Finally, the Monday before the weekend we’d scheduled to spend a day looking, I had a feeling about a listing and asked the Realtor if she’d show it to us that night, since it was just 10 minutes from work. She agreed and after two months of squabbling, we found our home.

I’d have never converted a garage, but I fell in love with the idea of finishing the conversion to a master bedroom, since there was a 3/4 bath right off of it, creating a true split floor plan and fourth bedroom. That means, when the time comes, our existing master will make the perfect den/play room and our kids will have their privacy and quiet and we’ll have our grown up cave. Jake got his wood burning fireplace, as opposed to a modern gas fireplace and his large trees, because this house was built in 1980. Being a well done flip, however, meant we got new appliances, granite counter tops, and completely remodeled bathrooms… three of them. With the converted garage, we’ll have 2,300 square feet indoors and more than a full acre outdoors. We financed less than $200,000 at a 4.75% interest rate and have a manageable mortgage. Less than 10 minutes from both of our workplaces and 17 from the church, it is absolutely perfect and we have a total of six weeks of overlap, before we have to leave our rent house, in which we can make it truly ours. It’s a good thing we found it when we did, too, because literally every house we were scheduled to see that weekend was under contract by the weekend. That’s right, y’all. The fighting is over and all we have to do is agree on paint colors and a couple of pieces of furniture!

Me: “Literally every dining set you chose was over a thousand dollars and you turned your nose up at every one I suggested.”
Jake: “They were just really small.”
Me: “They were seven piece sets! That means they seat six. Who are you inviting to dinner, the Duggars?!?”

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Me: ::crying:: “You’ll never be happy, until you have a hearth you can do jumping jacks in, just like your parents’. We’ll never have that kind of money. We’ll never be able to buy the thousand dollar dining set.”
Jake: “That is not true. I’m always happy with you and you’re always good enough.”

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In Defense of Earning Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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