Year Four: When I Fell in Love All Over Again

Every year, for the past four, I’ve written a blog post around my wedding anniversary and only last year did it veer from that main subject on my Belle of Infertility page.

Year 1: What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in the First Year – “That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.”

Year 2: Two Vitally Important Years – “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.”

Year 3: Coping (Belle of Infertility) – “I overcame so much and now I have to be Infertility Girl?!?! As if that’s not enough, my options are now postponed indefinitely due to a global pandemic?!?!

This year, officially two days into my third trimester with two baby girls, I look back on the last year and… zetus lapetus it had some highs and lows.

One year ago today, on our third anniversary, Jake and I got the call informing us of an IVF start date of July 18th after months of tears (mine) over the postponement of all elective procedures. By that time this year, those tears will have turned to ones of pure exhaustion as we try to figure out this baby thing… twice.

We spent our fourth year of marriage in lockdown, only leaving the house for work, grocery shopping, and occasional walks around the neighborhood, or the park if we were feeling particularly daring. We focused our energy and finances on fixing up our house… and making some very expensive babies, which I suppose means we also left the house for a lot of doctor’s appointments.

Pandemic IVF was certainly the most difficult trial of our marriage so far. While for me, 2020 made the top three on the list of the worst years of my life, I’m certain it ranked as number one for Jake. Regardless, it made us closer. During a time when the rest of the world seemed to be rethinking their marriages, ours seem to grow stronger. Jake has always been something of a hardass. I joke that I married Red Foreman of That 70’s Show. When we watched The Boys on Amazon, I realized that I found it deeply attractive that Butcher was such an asshole to everyone he met, but had such a soft spot for his wife and treated her with such tenderness.

Me: “Huh. I find it really hot that Butcher is such a dick to everyone but his wife. What does that say about you? What does that say about me?”

Jake helped his parents run a sprawling cattle ranch his whole life. His first job entailed working grueling hours in a grain elevator at 16. After that, he worked rodeos with his uncle. He drove a truck before entering the oil field, as a fluid engineer. He’s a manual laborer and a supervisor. Soft… isn’t really his thing. He’s not great with empathy and if you’d asked me how he’d handle my mental state in 2020, two years ago, I’m not sure what I’d have said… because 2020 was the year I completely fell apart… several times.

The last time I was as poorly off as I was in 2020, learning that I might not be able to have children and would have to go through IVF during an unprecedented global pandemic, I was divorcing Joffrey Baratheon at 23-years-old. There were a few days last year when I didn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t watch TV or read. I stared at the wall and thought about a future without a family, about the resentment that might grow between Jake and I, about losing him because of it, about being all alone. I thought about my parents and how different things could have been if they’d waited until their 30s to have kids, when they were stable in their careers and their finances and had had their fun during their twenties. I thought about how much I love my husband and how much fun we have together and how much healthier my outlook on romance would have been had I seen that in my parents. I thought about all that we had built together and not being able to share it with anyone.

When I was able to be more productive and positive, going on long walks, reading, binging Netflix shows, and taking on craft projects, I still didn’t eat for long stretches and rarely slept. At one point, I averaged an hour a night. I tried drinking to sleep and that… went badly. After my second or third drunken breakdown, I asked Jake what he thought of my getting a medical marijuana card for the anxiety, since I was unwilling to take any sort of medication after being prescribed 250 mg of Wellbutrin from ages 13-18, because my mother couldn’t handle me. It was something of an investment, but he agreed it was worth a try and I could finally sleep. Even when suffering from depression, THC gummies render you too lethargic to do anything about it and that helped me through the summer… through the failed pregnancy test that followed our first $15,000 IVF cycle, through the dread of the second cycle two months later.

… and all the while, Jake was there, when the pandemic meant no one else could be, whether they wanted to or not. In another year, my step-mother would have loved to take me shopping, my dad would have made me laugh with crass jokes over lunch, my step-siblings would have come to a cookout. All of this would have distracted me from our fertility troubles, but in 2020, not only was I heartbroken that I’d potentially never have a family of my own, I was isolated from everyone but Jake… and he was surprisingly up to the task. When necessary, he sat by my side on the bed and read articles on his phone, while I lay unresponsive. He took care of me when that Whiskey Sleep Therapy idea failed so miserably. He went for walks with me when I felt well enough, laughed with me, grabbed curbside takeout, watched movies and shows, helped me with household projects, and played board games with me when I was up to it, always ready and willing to hold me while I cried when the tides suddenly turned. He never made me feel bad for feeling bad and he was always willing to have a good time when I was able. My relentless hardass husband, who’s never been stellar with empathy, was absolutely my rock through 2020.

For my part, I’d love to acknowledge the strength it took to survive the trials of the last year. and I’m sure I would were it anyone else, but I will forever fear turning into my mother, a weak and pitiful woman, who loves being weak and pitiful. Needing Jake as much as I did often made me feel worse, like I was draining him and was too much of a burden. He hadn’t signed on for a wife who crumbled so thoroughly and seeing how strong he was through it all made me feel pathetic. Self-loathing added to my heartache and I often worried that 2020, as a whole, would scar me so badly that there wouldn’t be much of a wife or mother left.

Jake reinforced none of these ideas, though. He comforted me and supported me and encouraged me all year and through both IVF rounds. He kept track of my medications and administered subcutaneous shots and intramuscular shots, well over 100 by the end of the year. He sat in the car during doctor’s appointments and surgeries. He drove me to my monitoring visits during an ice storm. He celebrated with me at 4:00 a.m., when I got a positive pregnancy test and waited in the car during my ultrasound to find out if we were having one baby or two. He rejoiced over the premature news that we were having two boys and once again, over two girls, when the blood test came back. He fought with me over names and painted the baby’s room five times over Valentine’s Day, because the pink I chose was lighter than the beige that was there. He’s built shelves and hung curtains and redone the closet and assured me more than once that I will not be my mother.

Our fourth year of marriage was not an easy one, but it did, indeed make us stronger. In 2020, I saw something in Jake I’d never seen before, a tenderness and compassion I never saw my father hold for my mother and I honestly didn’t expect to see so soon. It may have been a tough year, but it made me fall in love with my hardass husband all over again.

I think I can do this…

So, this baby thing…

… I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. I’ve spent the last year trying not to think about babies, about motherhood, about how my life would change were I to have children. I couldn’t even entertain myself much of the time, because books or movies or TV shows inevitably led to tears about how I’d never be a mom. Now, here I am, six months pregnant with twins, trying to prepare myself. However, as a firm believer that all new parents have no idea what they’re doing, I haven’t been too stressed about my inexperience with babies or children under 10… except for one issue in particular.

Y’all, the human body is gross... especially other people’s human bodies. Whereas Jake struggled to share financial decisions with another person, when we first got married, I struggled to tolerate his bodily existence and still struggle to share mine. I wouldn’t even refer to my period as anything other than “being a girl” for that first year, and we’d already been together for two years, before the wedding day. Even now, well into a pregnancy for which the conception could not have been a less modest experience, I’m embarrassed to discuss any bodily issues, with my husband, the least embarrassed person about all things. My babies were conceived in a room with six people staring at my vagina (none of them married to me, I might add) and I can’t talk about postpartum issues without getting red in the face, because it all disgusts me! That’s right! My body disgusts me, so anyone else’s surely does and here in a few months, I’m going to be completely responsible for the functionings of not one, but two.

I’ll be honest. A year of pandemic fertility treatments left me with some abnormal parenting concerns. It forced me to detach from the idea of motherhood, so I worry about having my babies and feeling nothing, about thinking they’re not cute, about the fact that I had to Youtube “how to change a diaper,” because I have no idea what I’m doing and was too afraid to read the parenting guides when I had the time, for fear of jinxing everything. Of all these concerns, though, this one has been one of the most prominent. How can I be responsible for clearing my children’s airways, when blowing my own nose repulses me?

The year we married, I got food poisoning from grazing all night at a family pool party, when my step-mother reminded me at 2:00 in the morning, that the food had been out all night. The next morning, when I felt queasy, I didn’t want to tell Jake, because the library system had given us free tickets to the local theme park, the theme park of my childhood that I was too cheap to share with him on my own dime. You guys, I do not recommend riding every roller coaster in a theme park while suffering from the early stages of food poisoning… or really any stage at all. By the time we got to the car, I was feeling awful, but accomplished, as I’d ridden every single ride… and promptly projectile vomitted into a sack in the car… only to realize there was a hole in the bottom. Are Wal-Mart sacks actually manufactured this way?!?!

Me: “Just leave me on the side of the road to die!!!”
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes, but it’s just so gross! I’m disgusting!”
Jake: ::laughing:: “You’re not disgusting. It’s fine. I’ve seen you throw up before.”
Me: “Why would you remind me of that?!?!”

Even as a little kid, I was always grossed out by other people’s bodily functions. I remember seeing other children with runny noses and turning up mine. What was so difficult about making sure you weren’t covered in your own snot? At six years old, I “accidentally” forgot to have my permission slip signed to swim at the pool across from my daycare, because I thought it was gross that people peed in it. On top of all my innate distaste for the human body, the struggle that was my early twenties killed any and all baby fever I ever had, which only briefly resurged at the beginning of our fertility journey, before I forced it down to get through the process of conception. I have zero delusions of cute, sweet-smelling, perpetually smiling babies. In fact, I am quite aware that they’re often pretty revolting and until recently, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to be a compassionate and loving mom, when my kids were leaking from every orifice for whatever reason. Then, last month, Jake had major surgery, after failing to comprehend or communicate that that’s exactly what it was to his wife.

Y’all, Jake grew up on another planet, as far as I’m concerned. I am a suburbs girl, raised by suburbs folks, no matter how hard they pretended to be otherwise. Jake’s dad shoots strays abandoned on his property and I cry when animals die in movies. My sister-in-law has her own basketball court in her shop and I’m still hopeful Jake’s family thought I was joking when they heard me say “basketball cleats.” Jake looks at his Uncle Buck and sees John Wayne. I look at him and see Fred from Scooby Doo, because he’s always wearing an ascot.

We are, in so many ways, the definition of “opposites attract,” that when I learned a specialist was recommending complete reconstructive sinus surgery, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the horrifying reason behind it. In the late 90s (that’s 1990s, not 1890s), Jake was loading a horse onto a trailer, when he was headbutted in the face, breaking his nose and… I kid you not… my father-in-law’s immediate response was to grab his twelve-year-old by the back of the head and reset the bone himself, never taking him to the hospital. Folks, we have a new rule in this family: old cattle ranchers don’t set broken bones; because for over twenty years, Jake lived with a nose that was, in the words of his doctor, “completely shattered” in all ways but cosmetic… a fact I did not learn until I called the morning of his surgery, nearly five hours after dropping him off at the hospital to see if he was okay.

We’d scheduled this surgery months in advance, but Jake, with all his cowboy bluster, had insisted that, while the doctor officially recommended he take three weeks off from work, he could go back after just 10 days and that that was only a precaution. Color me surprised when the surgeon explained that the surgery took three hours, because they had to completely rebuild my husband’s nose, that in the first few days, his eyes would likely completely swell shut, he wouldn’t be able to eat or change his own dressings, and he couldn’t bend over or move from the couch for a minimum of 14 days, because a nose bleed could be life threatening.

Me: “He… didn’t really explain any of this to me.”
Surgeon: “Well, I told him.”
Me: “No, I believe you told him and I don’t think he was ignoring you. I think he wasn’t hearing you. We’ve been having that argument for about six years now, actually”

I’m pretty sure Jake wasn’t hearing him, because the theme song to Walker Texas Ranger was going through his head as he pictured himself building fence two hours after major surgery.

So, there I was, five months pregnant with twins, rushing around town to find soft foods after only having just discovered Jake wouldn’t be able to eat for several days. I went to three different stores to find regular strength Tylenol, never having a chance to change out of my homemade Star Trek pajama bottoms and Crocs, before visiting my husband’s post-op room and he… was… miserable. Jake could barely walk to the bathroom, he was so drugged, when the nurse told me she’d show me how to change his dressing. My immediate thought was ‘ew… can’t he change it?’ Of course, I felt terrible for thinking that and watched with rapt attention as she showed me how to replace the gauze on the bandage that ran under his nose and hooked to each ear to manage nasal secretions.

Over the next few days, Jake and I made quite the pitiful pair. I was struggling to bend over myself, while he couldn’t lean forward too far or even open our patio door without feeling dizzy and nauseated. At one point, I put socks on his feet, knowing he’s weird about having his feet covered and wanting to make him comfortable, only to struggle to get back up and tell him that he’d just have to go barefoot until he was feeling well enough to put them on himself. While Jake sat miserably on the couch, feeling too poorly to even play video games, I exhausted myself doing the chores I normally do, along with the ones that Jake had been helping me with, his regular chores, and caring for my invalid husband.

Gramma: “Well, why don’t you just not do them until he’s better and can help you?”
Me: “So… I’m going to stop doing laundry and taking out the trash for three weeks or stop grocery shopping for three weeks?”

I was supposed to work that Saturday and Sunday, my one weekend for the month, and regrettably texted my boss that Jake couldn’t do anything for himself, I’d worn my very pregnant self out doing everything for both of us, and there was just no way I was going to make it. So it went, for several days, bringing Jake water and mashed potatoes and Jell-O and extra pillows, listening to him do all kinds of disgusting things to care for his nose and tell me all about the hardware and… other things… that were inside of it, and helping him change his bandage. I won’t lie. At no point did any of this get less revolting. I was still the girl who only made it one semester as a freshman nursing major. It just… didn’t really matter. Sure, the sounds coming from the bathroom to explain the bloody bandages that were all over it were still absolutely horrifying, but my husband was so miserable, that I was willing to do anything to make him feel better… even helping to clean up bloody snot.

The only point that entire first week, when I lost my patience, was the rare and uncharacteristic moment when Jake refused to take the Tylenol to keep the pain at bay.

Me: “I am five months pregnant with twins and worn out, but I will take care of you all day long, until you make this harder on me. Take the Tylenol or get your own water the next time you’re thirsty.”

He took the Tylenol and by the time I went back to work on Monday, he could get his own water and Jell-O… just in time for my second Covid-19 shot to knock me completely on my butt, once again rendering us an undeniably pitiful pair. A week from his surgery, Jake was still feeling pretty awful, but had mostly gained his independence, only requiring me to move his chair back and forth when he wanted to play his video games. Our poor beagle sat with his head on his paws for the full three weeks, wondering why Jake wouldn’t play with him in the floor, making us even more grateful not to have put this surgery off until after the babies were born. I cannot imagine how much harder those few weeks would have been on us with two infants or toddlers in the house… but now I know that when we do have two small bodies to care for, I’ll be capable of it, not because I’ll be immune to their various levels of repulsiveness, but because my disgust will be overshadowed by my love for them, just as it is for their father. Silver linings can be hard to see, but I’m glad for the reassurance that I can do this. Now, to YouTube swaddling.

Happy New Year?

If you’ve followed my blog for over a year, you know that I love New Year’s… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s. When I was a little kid, I was always confused as to how this was a holiday. There were no presents and we didn’t see my extended family. We just… stayed up late and the next day was no different than the one before. New Year’s paled in comparison to Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween. Why were we celebrating this? How was this celebrating?

As an adult, I tried my hand at many different types of New Year’s Eve celebrations. There was the night I went downtown, stayed with a friend and a handful of people I’d never met in some guy’s apartment… who wasn’t actually present. Huh. That might not have been entirely on the up-and-up. It was the first time I almost got my ass kicked in a public restroom… got thrown out of a bar for napping… nearly got my friend in legal trouble by screaming “I can’t do coke, I’m a librarian!” on a city street… the first time I got high… the night I realized I was definitely straight, when a woman kissed me. It was that crazy night I felt I had to have, but knew I’d never want to relive… and I was right.

The next New Year’s Eve, I rented a room at a casino with a friend and had some less crazy fun, with low stakes gambling and bar food, ending the night in a less than luxurious bed that had at least a 50% chance of not having been the site of a rape at one point.

In the years that followed, I learned the best New Year’s celebrations involved small gatherings, with food and alcohol. As I got older, I nixed the alcohol, preferring to start a new year hangover free. In what now seems no time at all, I’ve come full circle from watching the girl who played Mary in our Sunday school play, dance naked in some guy’s apartment, to spending New Year’s Eve with my husband and our favorite junk food. That’s been just fine with me, as we’ve spent every December 31st since we got engaged, celebrating Jake’s dad’s birthday, in his home town. At most, we’ve gone to see some of his high school friends, but overall, we’re boring thirty-somethings, whose children will one day look at our celebration and declare “Why are we celebrating this? How is this celebrating?”

As for New Years Day, now that’s always been a time of reflection and goal setting. I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post for every new year since I turned 25 and started this blog, highlighting my accomplishments from the previous year and declaring what the next one’s will look like, because I love New Year’s resolutions… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I didn’t just make a list of 2020 goals last year. I cited goals for the next ten years by opening the decade with a post on how I wanted Belle of 2030’s life to look and well… I think I can safely say that she’ll declare 2020 took a lot out of her, to put it simply.

I posted a little less last year, even taking a five month hiatus at one point, and while I plan to give some more details as to why later, I’m pretty grateful that last year’s New Year’s post gave me ten years to work on said goals, because I’m not sure very many of them were accomplished. I know 2020 was rough on pretty much everyone and I was no exception. There were days when I didn’t get out of bed, weeks when I barely ate, hours of watching the same show or movie on loop, because I found something that wouldn’t upset me. It was a difficult time and honestly, I think my biggest accomplishment of 2020 was getting through it. One thing I can certainly tell January 2020 Belle, is that I do love Jake just as much now as I did then, maybe even more so, because he was there during one of the most difficult times in my life, when I quite frankly wasn’t able to hold it together. He was the string to my kite, y’all.

I cautiously say that things have begun to look up, not just in my personal life, but globally. Covid-19 has multiple vaccines and my being phase two in my state gives me hope that I’ll be able to get it in the next month or two. The divisive election is over, where ever one may stand. Cases aren’t going down, but there’s hope that they will soon. That dim grey lining leaves a pretty bleak outlook on the New Year’s resolutions front, but I’ll give it a go:

  1. Be healthy. Stay healthy, mentally and physically.
  2. Get the Covid-19 vaccine, as soon as possible.
  3. Keep your job. Do well at it. Save your money and put any stimulus money toward debt.
  4. Call family.
  5. Go back to church, when it’s safe.

That’s all I’ve got, folks. I’m so grateful that I finished 2020, I can’t really muster up any more than that for 2021… not even me. So, on January 28th, I say… happy new year? I hope.

Do Something Nice for Your Spouse

When Jake and I got engaged, I frequently ranted about how generic all of the marriage advice sounded. Three and a half years later, I feel just as strongly that if you haven’t discussed finances or kids or familial boundaries, you have no business even getting engaged. I also firmly believe that “never go to bed angry,” is the single worst advice ever for two incredibly strong-willed individuals. “Continue arguing, no matter how exhausted you become” sounds like a great recipe for mariticide.

Now, here we are in 2020, the worst year ever for planet Earth, and I find the best marriage advice I can possibly suggest, is to concentrate more on what you give than what you get, with the obligatory disclaimer that this only applies to healthy relationships and not those who are married to lazy scoundrels.

Y’all, 2020 has hit hard and if anything, it has made me love Jake more. He’s string to my kite and I can’t give him enough credit for his unwavering strength and support through the breakdowns and the days when I just can’t get out of bed. So, when I have it in me, I do what I can to give back, in the following ways:

Doing Things He’d Never Consider

When Jake visited his parents the weekend before last, I did my best to keep myself busy, feeling as though being alone with my thoughts was the most dangerous place on Earth, even during a pandemic. So, I decorated for Halloween and updated my annual photo album. I went through some old pictures, trashing many, and made copies of others, for Jake and my Gramma. I filled the remaining slots in the photo collage dedicated to Jake’s pre-Belle days. I finally went through that box of wedding cards and realized I could use them to fill up the pages of our nearly empty guest book. I made a trip to Hobby Lobby and purchased some Thanksgiving decorations and a glass block frame for our wedding invitation, because there’s no point saving something that’s not displayed. I bought another frame for the blackout poetry I made in my first year at the Cherokee library and some reasonably priced decor to round off our his and hers bedroom theme, so Jake’s side looked more masculine. I bought pumpkins and a hay bale for the porch, replaced some old plants, donated books I’ll never read, and bought supplies to make Jake a pizza when he got home. He couldn’t have pinpointed these things, but he was pleased as I showed him how hard I’d worked to make our home more comfortable and inviting, in ways he’d have never considered.

Keeping the House Clean and Even Doing His Chores

Jake and I have split our household duties, as opposed to trading off, so we never have to argue about taking turns. So, while he was away, I took the liberty to do not only my share, but his. I cleared off the porch, emptying the bags of potting soil into the planters and cleaning up the dead elephant ears in the vegetable garden. I did the dishes and wiped down the kitchen counters. I went grocery shopping and organized the pantry and refrigerator. I swept and vacuumed and replaced the waxes in the burners so the house would smell nice. I cleared off the dining room table and made sure all of his laundry was done and the sheets were clean. Many of these things fell under the heading of Jake’s responsibilities, but I figure if he can sit quietly with me through a bad weekend and put off visiting his family, so I wouldn’t be alone, I could make his life just a little easier on a good one. Even when he’s home, I do my best to follow old and new routines, by switching the towels on Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday, watering the plants on Thursday and Sunday, making the bed every day, and washing the bedding every two weeks. Considering the fact that we have literally nowhere else to go, this has been vitally important to our mental health in the dumpster fire that is 2020.

Giving Him Video Game Time, Sans Nagging

When Jake comes home from work, he often either does chores or plays videogames and one of the ways I’ve tried to make his life more enjoyable, during a tough year, is to be more forgiving of the latter. I’ve never been a videogame hater, but I do consider them a massive waste of time, comparable to my romance novels and teen shows (though these actually make me better at my job), so in excess, I find them pretty obnoxious. During a pandemic, however, I’ve worked to redefine my internal definition of “excess.” What else is he supposed to be doing with his time? During a normal year, he usually only plays video games a few days a week, especially during Daylight Savings Time, but… this ain’t normal. Sure, there are some projects he could work on around the house, but that’s a lot to ask of someone who’s been working a very stressful new job all day. So, each night, after we’ve watched a movie or show or gone on a walk, I try not to give Jake too much grief when he wants to spend some quality time with his XBOX again, especially when it’s a social event, because he’s playing online with my step-brother or his old oil buddies.

Doing Thoughtful Little Things

Jake is not good with “thank you.” He sucks at “please,” too, as a matter of fact. I see why, when I visit his family and not a single person utters such pleasantries. It’s as if they think that family doesn’t need these formalities, but it drives me batty. How hard is it to show just a little bit of basic gratitude?!?! This year, however, I’m trying to do more nice little things for Jake, regardless of the lack of praise. I get him his favorite movies from work, make his lunch if I get home first, surprise him with a Monster drink or a Dr. Pepper, and unload the dishwasher so he doesn’t have to do it on his lunch break. I buy him the gum and coffee beans he likes and a bag of bulk chili mango slices, which I’m not only allergic to, but find absolutely disgusting. With or without verbal thanks, I know these things make Jake feel loved and appreciated and I’m doing my best to do them more often.

Cherishing the Little Bit of Normalcy That is Staying Cute

This year isn’t going to be any easier on either of us, if we both get fat and sloppy. In fact, that would make next year suck, too. While I’ve essentially stopped wearing makeup, for the time being, because it seems like a waste when half my face is always covered, I’ve done my best to maintain my fairly low-maintenance beauty routine of shaving my legs and using the fancy conditioner (fancy still means $3) on Thursday and Sunday, keeping my skin as clear as I can when it’s often covered by a mask, trimming my bangs, and once again dressing cute and professional for work. I’ve spent some of the money we’ve saved this year on new dresses and shoes from Kohl’s and Old Navy and thrown out anything ratty or torn. I’m hardly dressed to the nines, but I also refuse to make my life any more difficult by gaining 30 pounds or getting into the habit of lounging around dressed like a slovenly mess. It makes both Jake and I feel a little better to recapture the normalcy that is not living in athletic shorts and a tank top, as I did during our six week lockdown.

Giving Him the Best Birthday I Can

My Red Panda turns 36 next week and I’m going to give him the best birthday I possibly can, in a year when Earth is still only varying degrees of open. I’ve been saving for several months to buy Jake a new 30 gun safe, a long time goal of his. I’ve read the first in The Fellowship of the Ring, so we can watch it together and I’ll know what’s happening. I’ve gathered a few small surprises. I’ve got a plan in place to get his favorite cake and I’m going to make him his favorite cookies. This weekend will be all about him. Whatever he wants to do, that we’re able to do we will. My birthday was a little underwhelming, but I’ll do my best to give my favorite cowboy whatever I can.

This has been a hard year, folks. While I don’t claim that my values or emphasis are universal and fully understand that there are many different kinds of marriages, I encourage you to do something nice for your spouse, whatever that may be, expecting nothing in return. We all need someone right and it’s the luckiest of us who have our best friend with us each and every day.

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.

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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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