I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

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

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

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

Bringing a Dish

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

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

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

Being in Someone Else’s Home

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

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

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

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

Gift Giving

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

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

Talking to Children

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

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

Talking to Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

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

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

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

The Beginning of Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Shouldn’t Have Gotten My Senior Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What No One Tells You About Being a Grownup

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

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

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

My tastes have changed.

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

My financial outlook has morphed.

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

Being too ambitious is a thing.

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

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

My social life has been consolidated.

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

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

My timeline changed drastically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in Our First Year

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

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

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

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

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We worried both less and more about privacy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve touched base on our timelines.

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

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

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

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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.

No one ever told me that marriage is awesome.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is seeing a movie with my family on Christmas Eve. Amidst all the traditional, somewhat formal (occasionally forced) merriment, we all take a break to do something fun and normal. My stepmom buys out a row at the nicest theater in town and packs goodie bags of candy for everyone. Initially, Jake hated this idea, insisting that going to the movies wasn’t enough of a Christmas activity. While he still doesn’t quite get the appeal, he’s accepted that, at least until we have a baby, we’ll gather with my family, on the night before Christmas, to take a break from carols and baked goods and eat processed sweets and popcorn, while enjoying the latest Blockbuster.

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This year’s movie choice was Jumanji, much to my delight, as I’d turned down the opportunity to see an advance showing in the hopes that this would be a our Christmas choice. In addition to Lena’s goodie bag, I snuck in a Caffeine Free Diet Coke and a family sized bag of Christmas M&M’s and settled in, like the extra from Roseanne that I am. The movie was hilarious, with just the right amount of mockery aimed at its teenaged cast, something to which I’m particularly sensitive in my job title as teen librarian. Then, the inevitable happened: the woman in front of me and to the left pulled out her phone.

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Now, in my defense, this woman was not calling 911. She wasn’t even checking a notification that might have been urgent. I could clearly see that she was looking at Facebook. That’s all I can really say, though, because I don’t know what happened, y’all. It’s like I was taken over by 16-year-old Belle, as I chucked an M&M at this stranger. Of course, 30-year-old Belle immediately reclaimed my body, just in time to realize what she’d just done.

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Luckily, my survival instincts kicked in and I dove into Jake’s side and snuggled up to him, as if we’d been that way the whole time. From the corner of my eye, I watched in horror as this woman sat up, spoke to the man next to her, turned around and craned her neck to seek out the M&M thrower… and I realized she was much larger than I am… and so was her date.

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No, no, no, no, no, I cannot back this up. Undo it!

It was at this point, that I realized this could go bad fast, so I caught Jake up to speed in whispers.

Me: “Hey, I don’t know how this is gonna go, but that woman was playing with her phone, so I threw an M&M at her and she looks really mad. I love you.”

Jake shushed me and pulled me closer as the woman continued to search for the culprit. Finally, she sat back down and we all turned our attention to The Rock and Jack Black, in their teenage roles. After some time, Jake leaned over to me to me ask where I’d put the M&M’s and I told him they were in my purse. That was probably for the best, because it wasn’t 10 minutes later that the same woman pulled her phone back out and continued scrolling through Facebook. 

Me: “Can I throw another M&M at her?”
Jake: “No. Be quiet and watch the movie.”

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When the credits rolled, Jake grabbed my hand and we were the first two out of the theater, while my family lagged behind. He explained that he’d been going over different scenarios in his head for how things could go south, with his number one  concern being that the movie would end and the couple would turn around to see me with a bag of M&M’s in my lap, so he’d wanted to get us both out as soon as possible. That’s right, folks. My husband saved me from my own juvenile impulsivity, when he could have just bolted, himself.

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As the new year took hold, I decided to get a jump start on one of our goals, so on January 2nd, I called a mortgage lender. While we aren’t planning to buy a house until our lease is up in June, I wanted to secure financing and things somehow… snowballed. The second was on a Tuesday and by Friday, we were sitting down with the lender, discussing our pre-approval. So, on the way home, we went over the normal hypotheticals that come with the news that you can buy a house in two months… and within 72 hours, I was hyperventilating over math.

If we wait to service the cars and get the dogs current on their shots, then we can put approximately $2,000 aside in January and another $2,000 aside in February. That gives us $9,000, plus whatever Jake gets for his silver and our combined tax returns, which is optimistically $3,000, and we’re still $3,000 shy of the $15,000 the realtor says we need for a 3.5% down payment and closing costs. What if we don’t get our tax returns in time, though? My coworker didn’t get her return until December last year, which would put us $5,000 below our target and then what would we do?!?!?

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Having made the appointments with the lender and the real estate agent and gathered all of the documentation, myself, I was frustrated with the lack of assistance… overwhelmed by the financial stress and irritated with Jake’s laissez-faire attitude… perturbed by his negative comments about every house I liked… and of course, the inevitable happened and I revealed my crazy.

Me: “You’re not helping! You’re just being the super chill, cool guy, while I do everything and you’re just gonna show up to the party and take all the credit, just like you did with the wedding! This is supposed to be so exciting, but I wish it was all over. I know it’s never going to be, though, because it took approximately 37 years to plan that stupid wedding you had to have and you never helped! Noooo, you just argued with everything and gave your boy input about how the clothes were supposed to be comfortable. It was our wedding day! Do you really think I was comfortable in that dress?!? Now you’re gonna do the exact same thing and only chime in to complain that we can’t by that house, because it’s Red Brick Number Three and you can’t abide by any brick color that’s not between Red Brick Four and Red Brick Nine!”

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Jake: “Are you done?”
Me: “We’re never going to agree on a house. You want space outside and I want space inside and you’re going to get your way, because you’re pushy and you won’t like any of the houses I like, because nothing’s good enough for the Duchess of Cambridge, but I’m still going to have to do all the work.”
Jake: “You’re not going to have to do all of the work and I will love any house as long as you’re in it.”

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He doesn’t say the right thing often, but when he does…

With our newfound dedication to saving money, I was excited last week, to tell Jake that the library system had given us tickets to the NBA game. Considering the moratorium we’ve put on all but free fun, this was a great opportunity to have a zero dollar night out, especially since Jake’s never been to a game and I’ve only been to one, four years ago. So, we ate dinner at home and headed out with just enough time to make the lengthy walk to the arena, since we went for the free parking. After much hyperbole from me, about rugby teams eating each other’s remains in such cold, we finally made it the more than half mile to the front doors… where Jake was told he couldn’t take his pocketknife, a Christmas gift from his parents, inside. He could either surrender it to be thrown away or he could take it back to the car and come back… approximately an additional mile and a half of walking in the cold. So, as Jake began another trek, I mingled with some coworkers and found our seats, keeping my eye out for his return, planning to go get him a beer for his troubles.

Our team started… well, not strong, but not too weak, either. By the time Jake returned, however, the first quarter was over, we were behind, and it only went downhill from there. Jake was still in good spirits, despite his trip to Mount Doom and while he complained about our team’s performance, it wasn’t with genuine malice… and he was the only fan in the audience whom I can say that about.

Y’all, I don’t think I am ever going to another NBA game, because while our team might have sucked that night, they weren’t half as awful as their fans. A few rows in front of us, sat one man (who I’m pretty sure bought all the beer, judging by his behavior), screaming and booing every chance he got. When we fouled the other team and they took their free throws, he screamed “YOU SUCK!” as loud as he could.

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Me: “I wish I’d brought some M&M’s.”
Jake: “They’re just trying to distract him. They aren’t actually booing him.”
Crowd: ::booing::
Jake: “Okay, maybe they were that time.”
Me: “That’s horrible. If you ever acted that way at a game, I’d never go to any sporting event with you again.”
Jake: “Oh, they’re not that bad.”
Me: “You know what? The next time they boo the other team, because we fouled them, I’m going to shout affirmations and words of encouragement to balance it out.”
Jake: ::sighs:: “Please don’t.”
Crowd: ::booing::
Guy in Front of Us: “YOU SUCK!”
Me: “YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! YOU HAVE VALUE AS A PERSON, TOO!”
Jake: “Thank you for that.”
Me: “When we have kids, you can teach them to win and I can teach them to do it nicely.”

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As our playing steadily worsened, so did the audience, booing and taunting the other team, not over bad calls or dirty plays, but because they were just tacky. Each time, I called out praises and emotional support, along the lines of…

“YOU’RE PLAYING VERY WELL!”
“YOU ARE GREAT AT SPORTS!”
“YOU HAVE WORTH AS A HUMAN BEING!”

… and the whole time, my small town, former Varsity football player husband, who was voted class clown and one of most popular guys in school, continued to sit contentedly, with his arm around me: his Potterhead, Trekkie, Kindle-toting, nerdy librarian of a wife, screaming affirmations at the opposing team during an NBA game. He’d roll his eyes or give a resigned sigh, but never once did he tell me to be quiet or suggest that I was embarrassing him, because that’s what marriage is, folks. That’s what they never told me, between cautionary tales and divorce statistics. When it’s right, at the end of the day, marriage is having someone on your side, no matter what…

… to grab your hand and drag you out of a movie theater, before you get your immature, reckless, M&M throwing butt kicked…

… to raise his brows and ask if you’re done with your latest met down, promise to help more, and swear that everything will be okay…

… to sit by your side, with humor and zero embarrassment, as you are 100% your most awkward and ridiculous self in a crowd of sports fans…

… and that was just in the past month. We don’t give marriage enough credit, y’all and as a former 23-year-old divorcee, I’m the first to admit it. At one time, undoubtedly within this blog, I joked that I wanted to get married on a snow covered mountain top… in Hell. When I was dating, I only had two settings: “I’m going to die alone!” and “… hopefully.” I had it wrong, though. Marriage isn’t always a Lifetime movie or a horrifying news story. It’s not just a lifetime of fights over who gives or takes more. When it’s right, it’s loving each other for our every impulsive, intense, and absurd aspect. It’s being each other’s best friends and favorite people. It’s a soft place to land. It’s seriously undersold, because no one ever told me that, when it’s right, marriage is awesome.

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Single for the Weekend

I always sort of scoffed at the idea that opposites attract… until I fell in love with Jake.

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You see, Jake is literally the most outgoing person I’ve ever met. Just last week, he struck up a conversation with a woman at the grocery store, who was dressed in head-to-toe camouflage and wore a gun on her hip. They talked about hunting, one of the many sports that draws Jake, as witnessed by the letterman jacket he modeled for me the same day.

Jake: “You want to have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”

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He’s not just outgoing and athletic, though. He’s outdoorsy.

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I will readily admit that while I regularly test on the cusp of introverted/extroverted, by the end of a day at the library, where I’m paid to be an extrovert with my teens and every customer who walks up to me, I am worn out.  Whereas Jake is up for any last minute social gathering, I need to know, at least three days in advance, that I cannot come home and put on my comfy pants and read or crochet. I have to give myself pep talks that I will indeed have fun and be happy that I went to Taco Tuesday with my friends from work. If I get a text at 4:00, inviting me to join in on some 7:00 plans, there is an astronomically high chance that my answer will be no, because I don’t want to go and I’m not waiting until I’m in my fifties to start insisting I’m too old to do things I don’t want to do.

I have a picture of Jake doing a toe touch, on our wedding day, as his groomsmen look on in amazement, everyone decked out in their coats and ties. I don’t know why. Contrary to Jake’s natural athleticism, I once busted my head on the bathroom counter putting on a sockwhich is only one of the many reasons I do not participate in sports. I don’t mind exercise, honestly. I quite enjoy using the elliptical while reading my Kindle or watching Netflix, in the air conditioned or nicely heated third bedroom. I am unabashedly an indoor girl, though. Even as a child, if the temperature was lower than 45 degrees, it was too cold. Higher than 75 degrees was too hot, especially for physical activity. In all their attempts to get me interested in softball or horseback riding or just playing outside, my parents never figured out that I wasn’t necessarily lazy; I just like to be comfortable and for a good portion of the year, outside is uncomfortable. That’s why I loved piano and dance… not because I was any good at them, but because they were indoors.

From the beginning of our relationship, I’ve made my Indoor Girl stance clear to Jake. He knows that, for me, camping is renting a cabin and spending the day outside and the night inside, in an air conditioned bedroom. Any sports I play will be done indoors, or within my designated 30 degree window… and I won’t win. I am a product of my generation and roughing it means going without a cell phone signal or the ability to download a new book to my Kindle. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m going to sleep on the ground, I may as well churn my own butter, stir a large pot of lye soap, or dye some denim with my own urine, because no.

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As you can probably guess, when it comes to killing our own food, I am also out.

Me: ::suddenly covering my face in the passenger seat, crying::
Jake: “What’s wrong?!?”
Me: “Nothing… I saw a dead cat.”
Jake: “Oh. I thought it was something I said. I’m sorry.”
Me: “I’m glad Thackery Binx has no interest in ever going outside, just like his mama.”
Jake: “Are you sure you don’t want to go hunting with me?”

Now, don’t misunderstand. Jake and I have plenty in common. Our values are near identical, which is great, because we exhaust each other debating about the few that aren’t. Our political ideologies are very similar, with both of us identifying as libertarians, although Jake claims I lean left, because he leans right. We both like comic book and horror movies and have a handful of shows we enjoy together. We enjoy discussing current events and articles and blogs we’ve read. When we don’t have an interest in common, we’re perfectly content to sit on the couch together, while he plays his video games and I crochet, read, or watch Gilmore Girls. We really do compliment each other, but when Jake goes hunting, I get the weekend to myself and I’ve got to admit that the weekend before last, I was really looking forward to it.

Jake and I have been married for just over six months and, in short, I’d call it a wonderful adjustment period… because, although I adore my husband, I have to live with a boy.

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Most experts will tell you that it’s better to wait until you’re a little older and better established to get married, and I totally agree with that. What they don’t tell you, though, is that it’s a lot harder to live with a person after living alone for six years. Y’all, when I lived alone, I could buy Easy Mac, not be in the mood for Easy Mac for a month, and still have Easy Mac. In my little single girl apartment, Miracle Whip and peanut butter lasted for months. If I bought the fancy pickles I like from Wal-Mart, not the cheap ones from Aldi, I knew that would actually get to enjoy them. Then I apparently married a man with a tapeworm.

Me: “You already ate all the peanut butter?!?!? I haven’t even had any!”
Jake: “We’ve had that for like two weeks.”
Me: “I KNOW! THAT’S MY POINT!”

I swear that man drinks Miracle Whip through a fucking garden hose, because there is no other way he can consume that much, that quickly. Although I pride myself on my emotional control, one night, a few weeks ago, I hit my threshold, when Jake came out of the bathroom after some time. I hadn’t heard the faucet run, which in his defense, is not at all his routine. He’s not that disgusting.

Me: “Did you just come out of the bathroom without washing your hands??”
Jake: ::goes back to wash his hands, as I head into the kitchen to get a snack::
Me: “You ate all of my pickles?!?!”
Jake: “I left you three!”
Me: “Three?!? I bought those, because like them! You don’t even know the difference between those and the ones from Aldi!”
Jake: “I’m sorry. I tried to leave you some.”
Me: ::crying in earnest::
Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “You’re such a boy! You eat everything in sight and you leave your dirty clothes on the floor and you hang dead animals on my wall and you won’t let me have my pink Christmas tree and you hog all the covers and you don’t wash your hands when you poo!”

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Jake: ::sincerely trying, yet failing, not to laugh:: “Oh, I do too. I forgot one time.”
Me: “I married The Beast!”
Jake: “What?”
Me: “The dog from The Sandlot. I married the dog from The Sandlot. You’re so hard to live with…”
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Jake: “I know, baby. Aaron told me so all the time, in college. I’ll bet you guys will have some great stories for each other, about just how hard it is to live with me. I’m sorry I ate your pickles.”

I’m obviously nothing but a delight to live with, but did I mention that Jake is is super laid back and I am… well, not? That’s why, when Jake was going to stay on his family’s ranch for four days, I was looking forward to a Single Girl Weekend. I was going to read and watch all five Twilight movies and sew and crochet and feed the dog table scraps and dance to Taylor Swift and sleep starfish style. It was going to get cray up in here.

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That it did, y’all. That it did. I crocheted two hats and spent two hours at Hobby Lobby, choosing the perfect fabric for his and hers Christmas stockings, which I immediately went home to start sewing, from scratch. With no time for “real food”, I ate snack foods for dinner and finished all five Twilight movies in one very productive night, only to wake up six hours later, in the middle of the bed, start where I left off with my sewing project, and watch Edward and Bella fall in love all over again, but as Christian and Anastasia this time. After work on Sunday, I hit Wal-Mart for more fabric and embarked on another evening of lots of crafts and five hours of sleep.

Niki came over on Monday night and we ate junk food and crocheted with Star Trek the Original Series playing in the background, while we talked about our lives. After she left, I read romance novels all night. On Tuesday, I watched This Is Us and went out for tacos with my work pals. It was entirely reminiscent of my off dating phases, when I was 26… and by the end of it, I was bored out of my mind… and exhausted, because apparently Jake is the only reason I ever go to bed at a reasonable hour.

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When I met Jake, at 27, I was just getting to a point where I was tired of coming home every night to an empty house; where I’d eat sweet potato fries, a handful of marshmallows, and a small bowl of popcorn for dinner, with no one to complain that it wasn’t “real food.” Vampire Diaries and One Tree Hill marathons with the dog were only beginning to lose their appeal, as I imagined snuggling on the couch with a beau. Sleeping starfish style was still pretty awesome. Because I really did enjoy my single days, when Jake went away for the weekend, I thought it would take a lot longer to hit that threshold. By Monday, afternoon, I was sitting at work, thinking I couldn’t wait to go home to… oh, wait.

Everyone says the first year is the hardest, and granted, I cried because my husband forgot to wash his hands, one night, but overall, being married to Jake is pretty awesome. At one time, I thought my introverted side would suffer, from a lack of peace, but that hasn’t been the case. On the days when I walk through the door and declare that we aren’t having children, or worse, say nothing at all and maybe take a shot, Jake will usually leave me be for thirty minutes or so, while I read on the couch. On his tough days, he’s usually had time to calm his own nerves with a drink, since I get home an hour or two later. Once we’ve both had time to decompress though, it’s like having a nightly slumber party with my best friend. We watch Netflix and eat popcorn or play two person board games or he plays video games while I read. It’s surprising how quickly I’ve adjusted to having Jake in my space at all times and, despite how much I’ve always liked being alone, I feel lonely when Jake’s not in the house. Jake Only is my new solitary comfort level.

By the time Jake returned, I’d Single Girled myself out. I was ready to eat real food at the kitchen table and sleep with my husband my side, at a normal hour. They say we look at our past with rose colored glasses, but I disagree. I really did have a lot of fun as a single girl, reading in my little living room, with the patio door open and no political podcasts playing in the background… cleaning up my own, much smaller mess… eating my breakfast cereal and frozen yogurt for dinner. That time was great and no less valuable than my new domestic life. Marriage, though, has been so much more awesome than all the blogs and lifestyle articles have claimed. Having someone to come home to, to tell me about his day, to buy little surprises, to cuddle with on the couch, while we do our own things, to make weird jokes with, because he’s just my kind of weird, is a dream come true. It more than compensates for the fact that the man can’t seem to enter a room, in which I’m sleeping, in any way unlike that of the fucking Kool-Aid man…

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… or that he’s constantly under threat of stepping on a straight pin or having to search for the shorts he left on the floor for me to passive aggressively hide. Admittedly, we’re still learning, but it sure is fun.