What I Love About Jake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Belle of 2030

Happy new year! We’re officially past the verbal awkwardness we’ve experienced since the 90s, with our inability to clearly indicate the current decade. It’s “the 20s” now and it’s only a matter of time before my library teens start telling me that with just a dash of snark, reminiscent of Cher Horowitz and Zach Morris.

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If you’re a longtime follower, you know how much I love New Year’s and that’s only amplified in a milestone year, such as 2020. This isn’t just a continuation of the… the teens (see what I mean?!?!). It’s a new chapter of my life! Perhaps it’s because I was born so close to a decade marker, at the tail end of 87, but celebrating 2020 feels almost as big as celebrating my thirtieth birthday.

You see, as 2019 came to a close, I read of lot of news articles and Reddit posts emphasizing reflection on where you were 10 years ago and while I think that is so important, to help us grow as people, I don’t want to think about where I was at the start of 2010, because I’m pretty sure I was literally cutting myself or couldn’t get out of bed.

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Debilitating depression is so much cuter in GIF form.

Y’all twenty-two-year-old Belle was not doing well. She needed a hug… and a divorce decree… and a job… and to lose 100 pounds.. and therapy. While every other year, I enjoy reflecting on the past, 2020 is a time to look to the future, to plan… and I love to plan, not just for the next year, but the next ten. So, instead of writing a pep talk to 2010 Belle, that she can’t read, I’m going to write to 2030 Belle, who likely can, because this blog is already seven years old. She won’t have to ask herself where she was at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020 or what she wanted for her life, because it’s all here.

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Belle of 2030,

It’s 2020 and I hope that you’re as in love with Jake in 2030 as I am now. He’s infuriating and stubborn and bossy. He always makes me watch dude shows and ignores me at rodeos and thinks $20 spent on whiskey is somehow wiser than $20 spent on Kindle books. He also takes me exactly as I am, whether it’s crying hysterically because an animal died in a book, binge-watching teen shows, ranting at a pitch only dogs can hear, giggling while trying to sexually role play Carl Jung, or single-mindedly obsessing over some new craft/book series/ blogger/self-improvement project. He is my favorite person in the whole world and I never thought marriage could be so wonderful. I hope you still feel that way. I hope both of you still laugh uncontrollably during foreplay, ruining the moment entirely. I hope you still cook together and clean together. I hope you still drive with the radio off and talk. I hope you’re nice to each other and communicate better. I hope you’re still best friends, after twelve and a half years of marriage.

I’m trying to get pregnant right now. Though it’s only been a few months, I pray you’re a mom in 2030… that you have healthy children and you don’t take the years for granted. Naturally, I have ideas on a perfect family size and how I’ll parent, but however many you have, I pray you can afford to send them to Catholic school, that you emphasize family and time together over things, that you practice what you preach as best you can, that you and Jake parent as a team, not as opponents. I pray you’ve broken some cycles and that you’re proud of yourself.

Gramma is probably gone in 2030. I can’t imagine how the world will crumble when she goes, because she’s been the foundation of my entire life, the house that built me. I tell her about the fights Jake and I have and get frustrated with her when she takes his side… which is always. I’m excited for the day I get to tell her she’s getting more great-grandchildren and I’m pressuring her to move into assisted living nearby with the emotional bribery of being able to see them more. I don’t call her as much as I should and I’m sure you’ll hate me for that, when you’d give anything to do so. Sometimes I call her and she hangs up on me, because her football team lost and I can’t talk to her for a couple of days. I hope you remember her laugh. She was the original light in your world and I pray she got the chance to hold your children, to know another namesake.

I’m building good friendships, with people who make me a better person: a harder worker, a better friend, neighbor, coworker, a better Christian, a better wife. I’m avoiding relationships that center around gossip and vitriol and learning to balance standing up for my beliefs with kindness and tolerance. I pray you still appreciate the differences in people, their worldviews and backgrounds and the way they think, that you don’t isolate yourself in an echo chamber of like minds, as tempting as it may be in tense social and political times. I hope you’ve grown closer to family and formed lasting bonds with your steps and in-laws, with Jake’s family. I hope your children are close to them. I hope you see your brother Bo more… or ever.

I’m a teen librarian now and I love my job. I’ve just started playing role-play games with my teens and public and home school kids alike are thrilled by the low-tech, low-cost fun. As happy as I am, I sometimes consider going into teaching, particularly at a private school, when my student loans are forgiven, so I can have more family time. However it may work out, I hope you’re still championing teenagers, giving them a safe place, an adult on their side. I hope you’re making a difference in the world. I didn’t care how naive that sounded at 22 and I don’t care now.

It’s 2020 and I obsess about my weight just as much as I did 10 years ago, though I’m 100 pounds lighter. You probably look at pictures and wish you were this size again… but I hope not. I hope you’re kinder to yourself than I am, that your inner-dialogue is less hateful. Jake and I cook healthy meals nearly every night and if I can convince him, we go on walks together. I hope you still do both. God willing, you have children, but I pray you still make time to read, to crochet and sew, to write. We paid off my private student loans last year and I’m depending on my Public Service Loan Forgiveness going through in 2024. We’re doing well financially and I hope you spend your money well, that you have little debt, that the house is ten years closer to being paid off, that you and Jake don’t have that stress in your lives.

If 2010 is anything to go by, you’re a completely different person now and I hope it’s for the better. I pray you’re happy, that some of these things, if not all, are true for you. I hope you’re still keeping this blog, so 2040 Belle can read your thoughts, because this is the closest you’re ever going to get to time travel.

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The Only Millennial Who Hates Travel

Jake was born in 1984, so strictly speaking, he’s a member of the Millennial generation, a title he greatly resents. You see, my in-laws, Jake’s parents and aunts and uncles, were some of the first Baby Boomers, raising his cousins and sister (and he and his brother, by default) firmly in Generation X. While I watched Rugrats and played with my Bop-It and Furbies, Jake was like… playing outside or something. He never saw a single episode of Full House or listened to NSYNC or owned a digital pet. With only a three year age difference, it’s amazing how different our childhoods were and even our personalities and interests are today. He was Varsity Blues to my Mean Girls and I could probably fashion a Jake Granger drinking game, where I do a shot every time he grumbles about what a Millennial I am… and more often than not, he’s right.

Jake: “… and how are you going to figure out how to do this?”
Me: “YouTube? I learned how to crochet from YouTube, I can learn how to paint a house from YouTube.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “My Kindle died! My book is out of batteries!”
Jake: “If only they made a paper version.”
Me: “Ugh. Gross. Those aren’t even backlit. It’s 2019.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “I hate that show. Nothing happened.”
Jake: “It’s a slow build. You like Stephen King.”
Me: “I like his books. The show is boring.”
Jake: “We’ve watched one episode. You are such a Millennial.”

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In so many ways, I am my generation. I love new tech and all things Harry Potter. I took out six figure student loan debt, for a master’s degree, to work in a field I chose based on how much I thought I could Do Good and Change the World. I haven’t had cable in seven years and refuse to watch anything I can’t binge. I’ve hinted recently at the one stereotype I just cannot claim, though: the love of travel. Y’all, I hate travel. I hate it so much that “hate” isn’t even a strong enough term…

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… and I’ll tell you why.
Packing
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Jake and my travels for a family rodeo event, in a neighboring state, where we enjoyed the shenanigans of acting like college kids together. What I didn’t mention, however, was how much I hated leaving home for four days, in part because of the comforts I couldn’t take with me and the ones I could, but would inevitably forget.

Yes, yes, I know, I can’t take the cat, or so say Jake and Thackery Binx alike. It seems, however, that it’s equally impossible to pack the most basic necessities of home, without taking so much that I risk forgetting something important in a hotel room in the Rocky Mountains. On this particular trip, I remembered three pairs of boots, four different dresses in varying levels of fancy, two different belts, and four different sets of jewelry. I had a suitcase, a garment bag, the original box for my wedding boots, and a bag full of items to keep me entertained in the car. I, however, forgot most of my makeup, my hairspray, and socks. But you know, it’s a good thing I brought a physical audiobook, outside of the three I’d downloaded to my phone, and the crochet project I never touched, to potentially take my mind off the fact that I forgot my makeup.

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Transit
Just this month, I had the privilege of attending YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association symposium in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a riot, naturally.

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As a cost saving measure, and as good stewards of tax payer funds, our system-wide group of six drove the approximately seven hour trip, including stops, in the library van. While Jake and I had just driven an undeniably uncomfortable 10 hours in August, I correctly surmised that this was going to be an even less cozy trip. For starters, I was not in my own car and could not fully recline the seat to sleep, but instead had to sit in an appropriate position, no matter how much it made my back ache. I wasn’t driving with my husband, but several virtual strangers and colleagues and could not repeatedly complain that I was bored or ask how much longer the trip would be or request an unreasonable number of stops. No. I had to spend seven hours in a car, acting like a professional, and it sucked. The only benefit was that driving meant there was no weight limit to our luggage, and every one of us brought an empty suitcase to haul home all of our free YA novels… for the seven hour return trip.

I’m not convinced that a plane trip would have been any better, regardless. In fact, the last time I flew, was on my honeymoon and I spent the entirety of those flights with my head in Jake’s lap, too airsick to function. Seeing a new place and experiencing new things would be a lot more fun, if I didn’t have to actually get there.
Resting
Y’all, I’m a next level homebody and I know it. I don’t know if I’m just traumatized from the years in my late teens and early twenties, when I was forced to move every few months or if I’m just that basic, but I just cannot relax in a strange place. Still, I can appreciate the desire to see something new, or something ancient, to dip into another culture and hear another language. As with woodsy activities, however, I want to end my day in a comfy bed, preferably my comfy bed, because anything comparable is in a suite I can’t afford. While I might prefer a stay in a mid-range hotel room to camping, it still pales in comparison to a good night’s rest in my home.

I remember reading Ready Player One and thinking this is my kind of travel. I could fully experience entire worlds, without checking the bed bug registry or hauling around a comforter, because I know hotels only wash them twice a year. I could order sushi that I know I like, from the chain restaurant in town, and eat in an authentic Japanese restaurant. I could meet new people and learn about new cultures and shower in my own bathroom. Forget about the fantasy of flying cars and pet unicorns, that’s my Oasis: adventuring all day long and unwinding at home.

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People
Can I experience another culture, without talking to people? Seriously, I spend all day, every day, talking to people. Librarianship is surprisingly extroverted, so my idea of a vacation involves a lot fewer people than most of the traveling I’ve done, because at the end of the day, I want to see Thackery Binx and Jake… maybe. Yes, I can turn it on, quite convincingly, for $25 an hour. Vacation isn’t supposed to be work, though, and weaving through throngs of people in an airport or a theme park or a cruise ship or a hotel, mingling with strangers, is work. I don’t even like the first few chapters of a book, because I don’t know the characters yet, so socializing for several days in the real world, when I’m not getting paid for it, is incredibly taxing.

Sure, YALSA was a working weekend, but despite the thrill of being surrounded by teen librarians, each evening still found me alone in the hotel gym, taking a break from all the trying… trying to share honest, but politically correct opinions, trying to be friendly without coming on too strong, trying to strike up meaningful conversations and get the most out of a trip I knew cost taxpayers good money, trying to make a good impression with both my system and national colleagues. By the second day, I was so overstimulated, that I found an architectural anomaly in the form of a little nook, tucked away behind a pillar, where I hid from all the cardigans, read on my phone while drinking coffee, and even called Jake crying because I was so bad at this traveling thing and wanted to come home.

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Millennials love to travel. Zetus lapetus, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that stereotype referenced, I’d never have to pay for my avocado toast again, but I hate travel. I’m no longer convinced that I’m doing it wrong, either, because what seems to be a rejuvenating experience for most people is just exhausting to me. I don’t remember a time when I traveled anywhere, in fact, that I didn’t require an additional day to take a vacation from my vacation, whether it was my Alaskan honeymoon or the last time Jake and I drove three hours to see his parents. I don’t even have children yet and after a weekend away, I feel the way I think an average parent of three must feel after a week at Disney World. There’s so much preparation and upheaval and stress and so… many… people. I’d rather do porn… locally, of course.

32nd Birthday and 7th Blogiversary

I met Jake exactly three months from my 28th birthday. It was the next year, however, that I scheduled thirty daily countdown text messages just to be certain he neither forgot, nor underestimated the importance of such a special celebration.

Jake: “How am I getting a text message from you right now?”
Me: “Um…”
Jake: “Did you schedule a month’s worth of birthday countdown texts?”
Me: “Maybe…”

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… and it was only in that moment, he realized what he’d gotten himself into…

I love my birthday. I love my birthday so much, that I celebrate it for a full week every September. No worries, though, because over the years, I’ve garnered some enthusiasm from Jake for his birthday, as well, when he’d previously considered them to be for children. Every year, each of us gets a holiday weekend of our very own and it’s even better than when I was single. Now I have my best friend to tour the zoo, eat junk food, do “fall things” like browse the outdoor shop and choose a Christmas ornament, and watch movies with me to celebrate another glorious year ahead of us. Then, one month later, we get to do it all over again with the shooting range, craft beer, pizza, and terrible boy movies.

I’m not only celebrating 32 years, though. I’m also celebrating seven years of this blog. It was on my 25th birthday that I decided my life was finally good enough to chronicle. A lot has changed in seven years. I finished my master’s degree. I switched jobs… a lot. I moved to another city. I married my favorite person in the whole world. I made new friends and grew apart from old friends. I own my home and hope to start a family soon… and I’ve blogged it all.

Seven years definitely constitutes one of the longest commitments in my life. It’s longer than I was ever in any school as a child or any home as an adult. It’s the length of time I spent in college. It’s almost as long as I’ve been in my library system. It’s longer than I spent single and longer than I’ve been married. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised I’ve kept it up, but now that so much time as passed, I’ve come to treasure this blog more and more. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to a time machine, glimpsing the life and thoughts and feelings of 25-year-old Belle, who worked two jobs while waiting for her life to start… of 28-year-old Belle, who had no idea how to do this relationship thing… of 30-year-old Belle, who adjusted to the transition from old friends in an old life to new friends in a new one. One day I’ll get to transport myself back to the joys and pains of new motherhood… of installing a new roof… of saying goodbye to my dog. It’ll all be here for me and my 1600 or so followers. So, thank you for reading and cheers to the next seven years.

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Acting Twenty-Something With My Husband

I met Jake on June 9, 2015, when I was 27 and he was 30. While I was working two jobs, hoping to be promoted to full time librarian, Jake was working in oil, not entirely sure what the future held for his career. Regardless, we were generally considered responsible adults. We were finished with school, lived without roommates, had more or less established careers, paid our bills on time, and the odds of being arrested for any weekend mischief were low. We were grownups and while I’ll always support the claim that that is the best time to meet your future spouse…

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… there are a few things we never got to do together… like act like irresponsible college kids. I mean, sure, we’ve gotten drunk together and we’ve gotten really drunk together, but it’s always been responsibly so, at home or a friendly gathering, away from cameras or judgmental (::ahem:: Jake’s parents) eyes… and that has mostly been the extent of our dual shenanigans. Of course, the more familiar of my readers realize that’s more or less the extent of my shenanigans as a whole, since my college years were spent barely getting by and my grad school years were devoted to working two jobs with the occasional interruption of predominantly wholesome and Cheap as Free fun. Picture the college years in Boy Meets World.

Jake… well his college days were more of the Van Wilder bent. From what I understand, the nine years it took my dear husband to get his bachelor’s degree, comprised many a scene directly from a coming of age college comedy, including putting a woman’s head through a wall during vigorous (consensual) trailer house sex, mopping up the vomit in his best friend’s honeymoon suite with his commemorative wedding t-shirt, and once drinking so much that… well, I’ll spare you, cuz ewwww. So, while we each had our share of high jinks and tomfoolery…

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His

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… they were entirely independent of one another. All the reckless, crazy nights of rodeo queen sex and yarn bombing… of house parties and Potterthons happened long before we met. Moving to a new city, starting over in our careers, buying a house… all of that has been wonderful, but now that Jake and I are talking about having children, we want to make sure to have all the experiences together that we can, while we can. So when Jake’s mother sent us our tickets to the induction of his grandfather and his horse into the Rodeo Hall of Fame (true story), we decided that it wasn’t just an excuse to take a vacation, despite the crazy expenses of our summer, but to be impetuous, adventurous, and just… young.

Our road trip started at about 4:30 in the morning. The ten hour journey was old hat for Jake, the former rodeo child, but for me…

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In return for not leaving me on the side of the road, I let Jake ramble about politics, sing only the chorus of bad songs he hasn’t heard in years (if I hear No Scrubs one more time), and in the true spirit of devil-may-care road trip movie behavior, kept him entertained in saucy ways neither of us had ever experienced. By the time we arrived at our destination, we were ready for a foolhardy weekend, free of contractor estimates, Summer Reading responsibilities, and financial planning (read: arguing). For just one weekend, we were going to be 10 years younger and it started with the Cowboy Ball.

After what felt like our journey to Mordor, Jake and I had just enough time to check into our room, unload the car, and realize that our search for a marijuana dispensary was in vain, before having to dress for the ball. You see, while I wasn’t a fan of pot the two times I’d tried it, prior to meeting Jake, it was always on our bucket list to do it together. Jake smoked a bit in college and neither of us have moral or ethical objections, but being a grownup, with a mortgage to pay, generally means setting aside any illegal pastimes. Libraries, a super liberal industry, are hugely pot friendly. In fact, after the state to which we traveled legalized marijuana, my system actually revised their drug policy to restrict only “illegally acquired” drugs. While I’m good, Jake’s still subject to federal law, which means he’d lose his CDL and his job if he were caught. That risk has never been worth the experience of getting high together, so we jumped at the chance to do so, legally, over a long weekend, which meant Jake would be clean by the time he returned to work. We just had to locate a dispensary, but in the meantime, alcohol would have to hold us over.

The Cowboy Ball was held in a rodeo museum and included a litany of butt-numbingly dull speeches and an auction full of rich white people bidding on saddles and limited edition guns; basically that scene from Jurassic World, where all of the Evil Capitalists are fighting over dinosaurs. Fortunately, there was also an open bar, so by the time the credits rolled and dinner was served, I was perfectly content to watch men in ten gallon hats fight over T-Rex’s as I tipsily swapped rolls with my neighbor when he wasn’t looking, because his looked tastier.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed and Uncle Bobby invited us to his after party. Jake and I appeared to be some of the only ones dancing, as he, an excellent dancer who refuses to teach his clumsy wife, twirled me around and tried not to clothesline me like he did on our wedding day. I’m sure we were the romantic envy of the evening as Jake drunkenly sang along and I giggled and stumbled in my wedding boots.

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Soon, Jake, who only smokes when he drinks and never in front of family, decided the time had come for a cigarette. Now folks, my husband can be quite charming with a few drinks in him… especially when he wants something. It’s amazing to watch this superpower evolve based on his audience, as well. In a group of men’s men, he’s his overconfident jovial self, but toward women, there’s a subtle shift. I won’t call it flirting, because it’s in no way suggestive, but there’s something about the tailored charm of Jake Who Wants Something that’s unique to a female crowd, perhaps as he’s channeling his college self, the Man of a Thousand Headboard Notches. So it was of no surprise to me when he simply asked the bartenders, with that glint in his eye, if they had a cigarette… nor was it surprising to see the women openly flirting with my husband as they summoned up both a smoke and a lighter. Tipsy and entirely content in the knowledge that I got the ring, I stood by as Jake, forever the storyteller, brought them to fits of laughter over some tale or another, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, when I noticed my mother-in-law, Daisy approaching.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate Daisy more and more. She’s the Southern rancher’s wife who wants her children to lie to her. It started when Jake and I were dating and he had to stay at my apartment in Shetland, because his duplex in Wellston was impractically far. Daisy would ask Jake if he stayed the night and then she’d be upset when he affirmed. When she asked if we planned to move in together before we got engaged, the answer was no, but that changed for two months for simple practicality’s sake, as the new rent house was minutes from my work. We’ve been married for two years and Daisy has only recently gotten over our cohabitation. I don’t think she’s in denial, based on the laughing conversation we recently had about Jake’s sister, May, quickly putting out a cigarette when she saw Daisy coming, years ago, because her mother had thought she hadn’t smoked since her early twenties. No, Daisy is aware of her children’s antics, as a mother can only be when she’s paid bail and court costs more than once. She just seems to feel that respectful children hide these things and takes it as disrespect when an effort isn’t made to do so, such as blatantly smoking around family.

Jake: ::caught up in a grand story::
Me: “Your mother’s coming.”
Jake: ::laughs at my joke and continues talking, gesturing with his cigarette::
Me: “No. Your mother is actually coming. She’s walking up behind you right now.”
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Me: “Hi, Daisy. How are you?”
Bartenders: “Hey! I love your necklace. That’s so pretty! Where did you get it?”
Daisy: “Oh, thank  you!”
Me: ::grab the cigarette from Jake’s frozen hand, quickly walk over to put it out on a table leg, and toss it aside::
Daisy: “Hey, Jake. I’m glad you all came. We’re heading over to Bobby’s party. Will y’all be by?”
Jake: “Yeah, we’ll see you there.”
Bartender: ::as Daisy walks away:: “That is the smoothest thing I’ve ever seen.”
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I’d say the odds are 50/50 as to whether Daisy was successfully distracted or noticed the cigarette and simply appreciated the elaborate effort to hide our indiscretions. Regardless, my mother-in-law’s wrath did not ruin anyone’s night and we soon headed over to Uncle Bobby’s after party at the nearby Marriott.

At this point, I think it was safe to say that while I was definitely not sober, Jake was good and drunk. We had a limited amount of time to spend with his family, before the last shuttle arrived, however, so I figured little could go wrong. Enter Drunk Jake.

giphy-10I’ve never chosen a more en pointe gif.

Y’all, Jake is not… a man to be lead… when sober, so Drunk Jake is particularly unpredictable, as was proven when his cousins convinced him to do a toe touch, because for some reason still unbeknownst to me, my 34-year-old husband has the flexibility of a 14-year-old cheerleader.

Me: “Are you guys just going to do this annually, until he pulls a groin?”
Cousin Joe: “Yup, or until he tells us he can’t do it.”
Me: “So, when he pulls a groin… because there is no way he’s just going to admit he can’t do it.”

Jake’s cousins, aunts, and uncle cheered him on as he stretched, gave it a go, and realized he’d need to stretch a little more in his dress jeans.

Me: “Maybe you need to take off the pants.”
Cousin Kate: “No! Leave the pants on!”
Me: “Hey, this was y’all’s idea. I tried to make it better and failed, so I figured I’d make it worse.”

Lucky for Jake, myself, and our financial situation, he was still able to pull it off without an ER visit and I now have more photographic proof of this talent, because the pictures from last Thanksgiving and our wedding day weren’t enough.

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We sat down to chat with family and Jake continued to drink… as did I.

Me: “It’s just been a very stressful summer. Our garage bedroom didn’t work out and it took six months to convince Jake that we needed to move into the original master. It wasn’t until I started sleeping on the couch that he relented. He was convinced that between his hydrology degree and his penis, he could find a way to fix gravity.”
Aunt Camilla: ::laughing:: “You know, I think this is the most I’ve ever heard you talk.”
Me: “Well… Daisy is a really sweet person, but she’s very… reserved… and I’m terrified I’m going to offend her. Jake and I were dating for eight months when we went skiing and she tearfully asked him if we were living in sin… which we weren’t, but did she think her 31-year-old son was a virgin? I’m just terrified I’m going to say the wrong thing.”

While I figured Camilla could handle these comments, only later did Joe turn to me in shock.

Joe: “I  don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say the word ‘penis’ in front of my mother.”
Me: “Penis? It’s a medical term. Jake told me not to say ‘tinkle’ and now I can’t penis?” 

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Later the next day:

Me: “So Joe seemed horrified that I said ‘penis’ in front of Camilla last night. He told me he didn’t think he’d ever heard anyone say that in front of his mother, but I feel like Camilla has probably heard a lot worse, being married to Bobby.”
Jake: “Well, yeah, but Camilla isn’t Joe’s mom.”
Me: “Wait… Vi was there!?! I don’t remember seeing her! Do you think she told your mother?!?”
Jake: “Oh, definitely. Mom and Vi tell each other everything.”

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After this blunder, Jake’s report on his brother’s meth addiction, and my interjection…

Kate: “How is Craig?”
Jake: “Is he a jerk or is he a jerk with a belly? If he’s just a jerk, he’s on meth. If he’s a jerk with a belly, he’s probably okay.”
Me: “I don’t understand why you people can’t tell the different between Craig on Meth and Craig Not on Meth. Wouldn’t it be nice if he didn’t always act like he’s on drugs? He literally just told Jake, surrounded by pretty rodeo queens, ‘You brought sand to the beach!’ He was at a party with his wife.

… the party drew to a close, long after Jake and I had missed our shuttle. So, there I was, at 12:30 in the morning, in a foreign city in a foreign state, with a drunken cowboy in my care, who suddenly seemed to get his second wind, as I was trying to figure out how to get to our hotel, just a few blocks over, through the winding, twisting mountain roads. I stood there, waiting for Google Maps to load, when suddenly Jake yelled…

Jake: “I know the way! Follow me!”

… and leaped over a hill like Mario.

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Me: “Jake! Wait! Come back!”
Jake: ::skips back:: “… but I know the way! C’mon!”
Me: “I can see the building, too. Ugh, you’re even patronizing when you’re drunk. I’m trying to figure out how to walk there, because I can’t climb wet hills in a formal dress and my wedding boots.”

I worked my phone one-handed as I hooked a finger through one of Jake’s belt loops, to keep him from bounding off, again. We headed toward the hotel, through the almost deserted streets, me steering my drunken husband as best I could, when comparing my strength to his determination to lead the way. Eventually a car pulled up beside us and the driver rolled down her window.

Driver: “Are you okay? Do you guys need a ride?”
Jake: ::merrily heads for the back door, as I pull him back::
Me: “No. No. We’re fine, thank you. That’s our hotel, right there.”
Driver: “Are you sure? I almost hit him.”
Me: “I… believe you. I’m sorry. He’s really drunk. I’m not, though.”

As she drove off, I looked around for the entrance to the hotel, when Jake suddenly shouted…

Jake: “Follow me!”

… and ran up the hill to the parking lot, as I stood alone on a deserted street, in the middle of the night.

Me: “Did you really just leave me here?!? Boy will your face be red when I’m abducted by highway men!”

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With few other options, I hiked up my dress, sat on the sidewalk, and tugged off my wedding boots, so I could climb a wet hill in the middle of the night… only to realize that Jake had the room key and odds were low that he’d answer the door. I defeatedly entered the hotel lobby, Jake’s cowboy hat askew on my head, boots in hand, and addressed the clearly amused night clerks, who must have seen my husband saunter in 10 minutes earlier…

Me: “My husband has my key. Could I please get another copy?”

It was not a classy moment, y’all… probably the closest I’ll ever come to a walk of shame.

Ten minutes later, Jake was sprawled on the bed, naked, save for one jean-clad leg, because he couldn’t get his boot off. Knowing how loudly he snores when sick or drunk, I tried my best to get him to move to the sleeper sofa, so I could hope for even a little sleep, myself. When he wouldn’t budge, despite my begging, I dragged him off the bed by one arm, where he sat up and drunkenly tugged at his boot, while I pleaded with him to move. Eventually I started recording, so I could show him what a drunken pain in the butt he’d been, the next day. The following conversation was verbatim.

Me: “You really suck for this.”
Jake: “Why aren’t you helping me?”
Me: “Because you don’t deserve my help. You’re a buttmunch. Go lay on the sleeper sofa and then I will help you.”
Jake: ::groans::
Me: “You’re like a big naked baby. Will you go lay on the sleeper sofa? Please?”
Jake: “Will you help me pull my boot off?”
Me: “Once you’re on the sleeper sofa.”
Jake: ::Slumps forward and goes silent::
Me: “Are you asleep? Cuz I guess that’s okay, too. Go lay on the sleeper sofa.”

By the time I dragged my 215 pound husband across the room, I cared little about his comfort. I left him sprawled on the sleeper sofa, spread eagle, butt naked, save for the one boot I still couldn’t remove. It was official. I’d met college Jake.

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The next morning, I woke early, assuming Jake would be hungover. He, however, insisted he felt fine. The whole way to the induction ceremony, he was fine. When we got there, Joe and his wife, Sandra asked how he was doing. He insisted…

Jake: “I’m fine.”
Joe: “That’s his sixth bottle of water.”

After the formalities and pleasantries, family time was over and we were determined to get high together. We doubled our efforts and finally found a recreational dispensary in a nearby town. While Jake really wanted the nostalgia of an old-fashioned joint, it simply wasn’t feasible to smoke in our hotel room, so we settled for gummies. Despite the clerk insisting we start with one, Jake and I were determined to make this experience worth it… and besides, we couldn’t exactly take the leftovers home, so we each took two.

Folks, I love candy… like Buddy the Elf Love… but pot gummies do not taste good. It surprises many to know that the only reason I can identify the smell of weed is through on-the-job learnin’, so I certainly didn’t know what pot tasted like until recently. I’m not sure how children are overdosing on these things, because they are both potent and unpleasant.

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Jake and I decided to head down to the hotel pool until we felt something. After about thirty minutes in the hot tub, however, we realized that we did not want to run into our nieces high off our butts and quickly headed to the room to order dinner. It was right about the time our food arrived that we definitely started to feel something, Jake seemingly more-so with his higher metabolism. Having decided to shower the chlorine off before I was too high to do so, I wasn’t able to answer the door when the knock came… and apparently neither was Jake.

::knock, knock::
Me: “Can you get the door?”
::knock, knock::
Me: “Jake, get the door.”
Jake: “There’s no one there!”
Me: “That’s because you took too long to answer. Call them, before they leave with our food.”
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Jake made it to the lobby just in time to collect our order and I have no doubt that the reason behind the delay was painfully obvious to the man delivering food in a state where they’ve recently legalized marijuana.

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Once we’d gotten our food, we settled in to enjoy our high together and it was really fun… at first. We ate and laughed and did saucy grown up things, until…

::Jake’s phone rings::
Me: “Who is it?”
Jake: “It’s my sister.”
Me: “What does she want?”
Jake: “I don’t know. The girls wanted to go swimming earlier.”
Me: “We cannot talk to your sister or your nieces right now. What do we do?!?”
::ringing stops::

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We settled back in to enjoy an adjacent drugged stupor, when…

::Jake’s phone rings::
Me: “Don’t answer!”
Jake: giphy-9

The phone turned off, we lay back on the bed, completely lifeless.

Me: “I think we might have taken too much.”
Jake: “Yeah… one might have been better.”

I’m not sure how much time passed before:
::knock, knock::
tenor-2Me: “Who’s that?”
Jake: ::approaches door:: “I don’t know.”
::knock, knock::
Me: “Don’t answer it!”
Jake: “I’m not going to answer it. I’m trying to see who it is… there’s no one there.”
::waits a few minutes and opens door::
Jake: “I don’t see anyone.”
Me: “Well, come back inside. It’s probably just the girls and you don’t want them to see you.”
Jake: ::closes door and waits a few minutes::
::knock, knock::
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We were somehow caught in a state of extreme paranoia, complete with the knowledge that we were being extremely paranoid. Yes, May was calling and would absolutely know we’d been sampling the local goods, were she to see or speak to us… and yes, the girls were knocking and it would be completely inappropriate to interact with them… but there was a door between us. We’d literally planned this activity, in the safety of our hotel room, where there was little chance of social or legal consequence. Such sober logic did not transcend to our current state, however. Folks, I desperately hope that, one day, when pot has been federally legalized for years and the stigma has lifted, we can enlighten our adult nieces to the weekend they reached Troll Level: Expert, because I have no idea how long we stared in horror at a hotel room door, as if a nine-year-old would put an ax through it and yell “Here’s Johnny!”

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My experience with drugs is pretty sparse, but the Ravenclaw that I am, I’d researched the effects of gummies prior to our vacation. Fortunately, I was aware that the high for edibles lasts much longer than smoking, as I lay on the bed rising and rising. The room began to spin and my stomach began to churn, but I was able to remind myself that no one had ever died from eating two pot gummies. I had a pretty fitful night’s sleep, but woke delightfully not hung over the next morning. Jake and I were able to go hiking with his sister, brother-in-law, and the girls, with no ill effects from the night before… mostly.

Shana: “We came by your room last night, to see if you guys wanted to swim!”
Lucy: “Yeah, we knocked and knocked!”
Jake: “That’s weird. We must have been sleeping.”
Shana: “It was like 7:00!”
Jake: “Look at those mountains!”

After a day of wholesome family fun, we conceded that we’d spent about $30 on gummies we couldn’t take with us, so we spent a similar evening in our room, without the paranoia. After all was said in done, we reflected on our experience, as we packed for the drive home.

Jake: “You know, I had fun with the edibles, but…”
Me: “… we kind of just layed there all night?”
Jake: “Yeah.”
Me: “Yeah, I’m glad we got to do that together, especially since we’ll probably have kids when it’s legalized federally, but I’m not sure how people waste their whole lives on that stuff.”
Jake: “Right? It might be fun to do edibles a couple of times a year, maybe smoke a little every few weekends, but I’m kind of good for now.”

And so, after a weekend of youthful shenanigans, Jake and I returned to our pets, at the home we own, in the city where we have grownup careers and all sorts of responsibilities. We left a weekend of being twenty-something together, after just enough time away to enjoy being thirty-something together.

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Between Marriage and Motherhood

Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.

When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.

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It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.

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I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.

Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.

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Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.

Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”

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As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.

Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”

It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.

Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”

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She didn’t seem to hear me.

Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.

Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”

While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.

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Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.

Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”

… and I meant it

The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.

I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.

Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
Jake: “Okay.”

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Two Vitally Important Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know how to fight.

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

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

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

We know how to comfort.

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

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

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

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

We know how to share space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re growing and changing together.

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

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

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Buying a Car: An Unexpected Matrimonial Challenge

Y’all remember, a little over a year ago, when I was super prepared for buying a house with the Duchess of Cambridge? I knew how impossible it was going to be for this suburban librarian and her hardheaded Southern man to agree on a modestly priced abode that fulfilled all of our contradictory must-haves. I had us pre-approved for a mortgage and started looking months before we could even consider purchasing. We had plenty of time to reconcile our needs and wants with what was both available and possible. We had time to discuss whether or not we really needed a garage, how much land was actually feasible, and deliberate potential paint colors and new furniture. There were still some pretty heated… debates (we’ll go with that), but it went surprisingly well and we ultimately ended up in a house we both love. Now… what the fuck happened to that Belle and why didn’t she warn me that buying a car with a stubborn cowboy would rank with buying a house with a stubborn cowboy?

It all started with talk of babies. As I mentioned in my last post, we’re ready to start a family. I’m 31. Jake is 34. We’re just shy of our two year wedding anniversary. We really are best friends, even if that manifests in the occasional bickering, because Jake’s primary inspiration for lifelong romance is his mother and father, who never stop pecking at each other; and I can’t even rightly say my dad and stepmom are any different.

We have stable jobs. We own our home. Rupert is more or less over the puppy phase. Our finances are almost in order. Our cars have been paid off since we got married and Jake insisted on paying off mine, due to the exorbitant 12% interest rate. Except… it was beginning to show its age. I’d never been overly conscious of my 2010 Nissan Sentra. In fact, more than once, I jumped into the wrong one, because it looked like every other car on the lot, just another silver sedan. Sure, I’d have liked something snazzier, but as long as it got me from point A to point B, the air conditioner worked, and I could listen to music, it was fine. Then, winter of 2017, Jake slipped on the ice in the driveway and grabbed my driver’s side mirror to brace himself… which shattered in his big rancher hand. A few months later, the check engine light came on and since buying a house is so expensive, I decided that this could be Future Belle’s problem. Ultimately, we both agreed to ignore it, in lieu of putting more money into a car with 150,000 miles. Finally, just as the engine would stall at stoplights, the blower motor went out, meaning no heat and air, just before a major freeze.

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At least the radio still worked?

That frozen morning, as I covered my car in deicer, unable to get a grip on the glaze with the scraper, I called Jake and told him I couldn’t turn on the defroster and couldn’t get the ice off. I could hear his eyes roll, as he imagined my girl arms failing at something so simple, not realizing that the ice was too fine and still accumulating. He responded in his most condescending voice…

Jake: “Pour some deicer on it and then scrape it.”
Me: “Thank you. I’m so glad you’re always available to narrate what I’m already doing.”

I was finally able to clear enough ice to make the short drive to work… or so I thought as I drove east out of our neighborhood, only to turn north, into the sleet, and watch my windshield completely freeze over. Driving with the window open, repeatedly stretching my arm out to spray deicer, I stopped twice to spray down the windshield completely, before I was forced to pull over, as cars began honking at my attempt to Bird Box it to work.

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I called Jake crying, shaking from both the cold and fear of having almost gotten into a wreck.

Me: “I need a ride.”
Jake: “Why?”
Me: “Because I can’t see to drive.
Jake: ::beleaguered sigh:: “Alright. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Able to drive south, away from the sleet, I got my car home in time to meet Jake, who clearly still thought I just didn’t know how to scrape a windshield and, without consideration for my well-being, patronizingly and exasperatedly demanded…

Jake: “Give me your scraper.”shrillunderstatedgerbil-small
Me: “I ALREADY SCRAPED IT! Stop being an asshole and just take me to work!”

I cried the whole way, still shaken up from my attempt at driving blind. Not knowing the details of my harrowing trip, Jake sat quietly with his dude pride, making no move to comfort my seemingly irrational tears until he pulled into the parking lot of the library. As he opened his mouth to say something, I jumped out of the still moving truck to avoid saying something.

That night, as we clarified our misunderstandings and apologized, we both agreed that we couldn’t wait much longer for a new car. While we’d initially planned on a Kia Sorento, we agreed that we should scale back and aim for a smaller and less expensive vehicle, until we actually need a family car. After another month and a trip to Texas, sans air conditioning, with two dogs in the back, one of whom gets car sick, we agreed to look at cars the following weekend. On the way home, the bickering began.

Me: “What about a Prius? They get really good gas mileage.”
Jake: “We are not buying a Prius.”
Me: “Why? Because of your Southern-male-Dodge-pickup-driving pride? That is not sufficient reason to veto a car.”
Jake: “Oh, yes it is.”
Me: “It’s my car. You only get veto rights for practical reasons, like size, age, mileage, or a ridiculous color. You know what? I’m going to buy a Prius, whether I like it or not. Then, I’m gonna order a Bernie Sanders ‘Hindsight 2020’ decal for the window.”
Jake: “You hate Bernie Sanders.”
Me: “Not anymore… and not as much as you do. I’m a Bernie Bro, now.”

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As we drove home, I’d point out different vehicles, which Jake would insist weren’t big enough. He’d point out larger SUV’s and I would remind him that we were going for something smaller. I thumbed through an app on my phone and showed him ads for newer sedans, but with a dachshund nose at his elbow and a fishing pole in his neck, he had a point when he declared them too small. I found a couple of cars that I wanted to consider looking at the next day and if they weren’t available, we agreed to just wait until the weekend.

The contenders were a 2015 Buick Encore with 31k miles or a 2018 Kia Soul Plus with 37k miles. On Monday, in true Ravenclaw style, I devoted all of my downtime to research. I looked at numerous cars and concluded that these were really the largest we could afford, if we wanted something newer and with low mileage. I compared the two in question… at length. I read dozens of expert and consumer reviews, which all declared that they were essentially the same size, despite Jake’s insistence that the Soul was too small. Wanting to save time, I got off work a couple of hours early, so I could test drive the Soul and see if it was even worth the time to show it to Jake.

I instantly loved this car. It was bigger than it looked and the large doors meant maneuvering a car seat in and out of the back would be easier than with the smaller doors of an Encore. It was fun to drive and, compared to a 2010, had plenty of bells and whistles. Most importantly, it was marked several thousand below comparable models. It was also bright red. I have my whole life to drive a boring mom car. I wanted a bright red one this time. The salesman tried to keep me from going to see the other cars, but I knew Jake really would want to stick to our plan. He offered to let me take it, with a temporary tag, and I told him that I was certain my husband would feel like I was making decisions without him, so we would just have to come back.

When I got home, I told Jake I loved the car, that I thought he’d like the size and that I wanted to go see it first. He insisted on seeing the Buick first, since it was on the way. I calmly explained why I thought the Soul was the better deal, cheaper and newer with similar miles, and coming from a dealership with a better reputation. Finally, after nearly an hour of waiting for Jake to dress and get everything together, and twenty minutes of driving toward the other dealership, Jake agreed to see the Soul first, which landed us in five o’clock traffic.

Becoming more and more tightly wound, I chose not to speak, to avoid a fight. When Jake asked what was wrong, I explained that I was certain the car would be sold by the time we got there, because he took too long and the salesman had texted to tell me someone else was looking at it. When he scoffed about salesmen tactics, I told him that’s exactly why I hadn’t said anything, and went back to silence. We got to the dealership and learned that the Kia Soul, that I only wanted my husband to consider, because it was heavily marked down from comparable models, had already sold because it was heavily marked down from comparable models. I was pretty upset. The eager salesman suggested some alternatives, but I told Jake that I didn’t want to look at anything else and just wanted to go home. I didn’t care if he felt like I was throwing a tantrum, because I knew that any car we bought that evening would always feel like second choice. I needed time to adjust and find something else I actually wanted. Before we left, however, the manager came over and told us that if we really wanted that car, for that price, he could get something very close at an auction at the end of the week. After test driving a comparable model, Jake admitted that he really did like the car. He agreed to let the manager see what he could do and said we could discuss it over the next few days… except I didn’t really feel like talking to him, anymore.

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It took me a couple of days to fully articulate exactly why I was angry with Jake. It clearly wasn’t about the car, as the dealership could apparently cut us a similar deal. In fact, waiting a few days was turning out to be for the best, since it gave me time to actually sell my Nissan, as opposed to trying to trade it in for far less. No, it wasn’t about missing an opportunity. There were other cars. It was about feeling bullied into doing things Jake’s way.

I’ve mentioned before that the hardest part about getting married at 29 and 32 is that we’re both quite set in our ways and we both have strong personalities. The process for buying a new car, in Jake’s mind, is test driving five or six vehicles, from five or six dealerships and then making a decision. That sounds like a circle of Hell to me. I hate the idea of talking to several salesman, taking their time and getting their hopes up of making a sale. I don’t feel that the important information comes from a test drive and schmoozing with a salesman. It comes from research, reading reviews from experts who know how it compares to other cars in its class and every day people who report frustrations and appreciations. Fortunately, I’m a researcher, by trade and I did a damned good job. While I understand that I have to compromise too, in this case, I stand by my declaration that it’s my fucking car and after two days of little to no communication, I finally told Jake as much.

Me: “How would you feel if you thought you’d found the perfect truck… you loved the color and it had low mileage and it was a great deal, but I made you keep looking and you lost it? Not that that would ever happen, because you could pick out a bright yellow Chevy S10 and I wouldn’t say a damn word, as long as it were in our price range.”
Jake: “You asked me to help you buy a car.”

Me: “Yes. I asked you to help me buy a car, not choose a car. Under what scenario would I ask you to help me research? I admit that I got screwed the last time and that’s why I asked for your help with the financing. I don’t need you throwing it in my face as an excuse to bully me into doing things your way.”
Jake: “I wasn’t trying to throw it in your face or bully you. You had only test driven one car.”
Me: “It’s my car. I just wanted the option to buy it, after you saw it, but you wanted to force me to do it your way. You know that if you’d test driven that car and liked it, you would have insisted I test drive more, even though I was certain that was the car I wanted. It was also undeniably the best deal, financially, and we still would’ve lost it.”
Jake: “That’s how you buy a car!”
Me: “That’s how you buy a car! I’m not some silly little woman who wants a car because it’s cute. I researched several cars, exhaustively, and just because I didn’t do it your way doesn’t make it wrong. I’m not a child! You’re not the adult in this marriage! I’m smart, too!”

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It took some time for both of us to cool down and try again.

Me: “I could’ve taken that car home, that night, but I didn’t want you to feel disrespected and steamrolled. The thanks I got was feeling disrespected and steamrolled.”
Jake: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bully you into anything. That’s just not how I buy cars. I know you’re smart.”
Me: “You liked the car, didn’t you?”
Jake: “Yes.”
Me: “Then why?”
Jake: “Because I’m a stubborn asshole. I’m sorry.”

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I love him. He’s my very best friend… and I am so glad we don’t have to buy a car together for at least another five years, because my new red Kia Soul only has 35k miles on it and will definitely haul two children.

Jake: “You know, the more I look at those Encores, the less I like them. They are really small.”

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If you’re wondering, by the way, I settled for a “Kirk/Spock 2020: The Logical Choice” decal.

I’m ready for children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… we have established careers.

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

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

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

… we have our finances in order.

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

… we have our families.

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

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

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

… we have each other.

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

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

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

I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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