… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
One year ago, on May 5th, I was worried that my five year anniversary with Jake and my first real Mother’s Day would be ruined. I’d been feeling sick for several days. Jake and I were planning an embryo transfer for the next month and I was supposed to call with cycle day one. With 10 month old twins, though, my period hadn’t regulated yet and I was a week late. When the nurse at the fertility clinic had asked if I could be pregnant, I assured her that Jake could not get me pregnant. We’d accepted it. It was fine, but I wasn’t taking a test. She understood, but said I’d need to come in to check for cysts if I didn’t get my period in the next couple of weeks.
Two more weeks had gone by at this point and, concerned that I might have some severe feminine problems, I decided to make an appointment for the next week. Whatever scary news I received would come after our special weekend. I knew, however, that they’d insist on a pregnancy test. I figured I’d cope with any difficult emotional response at home and take one myself. Off to Dollar General I went, grabbing a can of chicken noodle soup along with my one dollar test, just to feel like the trip wasn’t a total waste.
As I sat on the toilet lid, waiting for my negative test result, I Googled reasons for a late period. I hypothesized everything from PCOS to ovarian cancer, anything other than the obvious. I glanced at the test, assuming I’d immediately be throwing it away. Much to my surprise, however, I saw not one line, but two.
I took two more tests, both of which also came up positive and called my OBGYN.
Me: “False positives, though… that’s not really a thing, right? That’s just a plot device from romance novels and teen movies?” Nurse: “I mean, yeah, basically. If you have three positive tests, you’re pregnant.”
Pregnant. After Jake had been told by his urologist that “miracles happen” in regards to our chances of natural conception… after spending $30,000 on back-to-back rounds of pandemic IVF… after having been cautioned against more children while fighting pneumonia, heart complications, and sepsis following the girls’ birth… I was pregnant.
So it was, that our sixth year of marriage passed in a whirlwind of minivan shopping, home improvements, and continued toddler joy. We celebrated a first birthday, first steps, and first words, all while preparing for the arrival of our baby boy. With no complications and zero drama, on December 6th our Thomas came into the world. The romcoms were half right, y’all. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but I just hadn’t met the right man.
I adore my daughters. I love being home with them, hearing every giggle, witnessing every new milestone, soothing every tantrum, kissing every owie. I look forward to a future where I have two precious little girls to guide. We’ll do crafts, dance to bad pop music, watch princess movies, go shopping, do our nails. I love that I get the chance to be the mother mine wanted so very much to be to her daughter but couldn’t. Our relationship is truly everything I’d hoped. The bond I have with Thomas is not stronger, but it is… more unexpected. Whenever I envisioned having children one day, I was so focused on the idea of giving girls what I never had, that I never really imagined how I’d feel about a son. I even worried that I couldn’t be as close to a boy, no matter how I loved him.
Our sixth year was an utter surprise. It was the year Jake got his future hunting buddy and Lord of the Rings fan. It was the year his parents met their first grandson. It was the year my Gramma finally got her redheaded great grandbaby. Though I love my girls just as much, perhaps I relate to them more, understand their ornery motivations too clearly, because it’s my sweet Thomas who will rarely do anything wrong in his mother’s eyes. With his Daddy’s laidback charm, at just five months, this little guy could sell me ocean front property in Arizona.
After battling infertility and the drama of the girls’ birth, year six was the one where we welcomed a naturally conceived baby into the world without fear or heartache. While I jest that my children are in any way competing with their father, this was the year when I gave a piece of my heart to another man… one who looks just like him. Often having accused Jake of being a literal robot in his extreme stoicism, I’ve found it particularly swoon-worthy watching him fulfill the tough cowboy stereotype as his girls have carefully wrapped him around their little fingers over the last two years. Perhaps one day, I’ll feel he’s too hard on Thomas, just as I’m sure he’ll consider me to be too easy. In the meantime, however, seeing Jake snuggle and kiss the mirror image that is his baby boy…
If I still had my whole heart to give, it would be all his once again. Alas, I don’t think he minds sharing it.
When I was a kid, I adored the TV show Bewitched. I watched a lot of TV at the time, but there was something about the combination of the traditional family dynamic my life lacked and literalmagic that just did it for me. Samantha was beautiful and charming, the mod-style clothes and furniture were delightful, and Endora was the mom I always wanted. Whatever the reasons, though, while the other kids were watching The Babysitter’s Club, nine-year-old Belle thought this 1960s sitcom was the bees knees.
Years ago, I excitedly bought the boxed set of Bewitched. I still watch it when I’m working on various sewing projects and love it just as much. As an adult, however, I’ve spent a bit of time cultivating a head canon to support my suspension of disbelief and explain why Samantha would ever want to be with a man like Darrin. Clearly, this was an elaborate social experiment on her part; to live life as a mortal woman, unequal in the eyes of society to her unattractive, boring, and controlling husband. Sure, Darrin was successful, but Samantha was a witch. She didn’t even need money. Why else would she marry him, if not for research? In the new millennium, Samantha was definitely on a beach somewhere with the immortal Endora, Tabitha, and Adam, enjoying her freedom and decidedly not missing her late husband.
Maybe I was being too hard on Darrin, considering the time period, but I always took particular issue with his ban on Samantha’s magic. This was an integral part of his wife’s being, one that undoubtedly made her life easier. As an ad man, even Darrin appreciated the occasional nose twitch if it meant helping him get that account. What was sowrong with Samantha using her powers to clean the kitchen or visit Paris? Mustlife truly be more difficult so her husband could feel like the conquering hero when he earned enough money to provide her with these luxuries? I don’t have a lot of feminist soap boxes, but as much as I love this show, it remained the source of one of them… until quite recently.
It’s been almost 60 years since Bewitched first aired. Today, many of Samantha’s most impressive and hilarious tricks are simply outsourced or automated. Where Samantha twitched her nose and the house was clean, even middle class families employ cleaning services and own Roombas. While Samantha had to employ last minute spellcasting to prepare dinner for unexpected guests, we modern folks just use an extra couple of meal subscription servings. Endora can fill a room with furniture with a simple point, just to see how it looks, but we accomplish the same by downloading a free app. Darrin explained more than once that he forbade Samantha from taking shortcuts, because he wanted her to appreciate what could be accomplished with hard work, either his or hers. I used to think him a self-righteous tyrant for such reasoning, but here we are in 2023 with every comfort available to us at the press of a button and it has ruined us.
For years, when Jake has found himself frustrated with the state of the world, he’s told me that everyone needs to spend at least one summer building fence. For the longest time, I just took this as another of Jake’s Aging Rancher Quotes, but I’m beginning to think he was right. As a society, we see little to no value in work. It’s something to be outsourced, automated, and avoided at all costs. We don’t cut our lawns, cook our meals, clean our homes, care for our children, walk our pets, maintain our vehicles, fix our clothing, spend time with family and friends in person. Video streaming sites recommend our next watch and have even developed algorithms to randomly select for us. Spotify and Pandora even choose our next listen. We live for our next vacation… once it’s been mapped out for us by travel websites and all-inclusive resorts, that is. We are entertained at all times. Still, as a people, we report being the most unhappy we’ve been in decades.
When I became a mother, I was inundated with warnings of how difficult, exhausting, and trying life would be with twins. One of my horrible labor and delivery nurses even told me that we could not do it without help. Naturally, I panicked and had a breakdown… you know, exactly what a new mother needs after the most terrifying week of her life. When we got home, my aunts were there, folding and putting the girls’ clothes away, while I showered, shaved my legs, cut my bangs, and just generally reclaimed a sense of humanity after a week in the hospital. Though their intentions were good, they were eager to leave by the time I got done. It was clear that, without a mother, and with the majority of Jake’s family hours away, we were on our own… and that was actually okay. In fact, as my aunts pulled out of the driveway, I quickly realized that the old cliché of just wanting someone to do my laundry was not going to apply to me. While I appreciated the sentiment and effort, I’m just too particular about my housekeeping and graciously accepting as someone does my chores incorrectly was not going to make my life easier. So, I pulled up a chair and refolded and reorganized my girls’ drawers to my satisfaction… and I was happy.
Since then, Jake and I have heard countless couples talk about how hard parenting is, with only a couple claiming the difficulty lies in a lack of time, something we felt as well, when I was working. These people love their children, so their complaints are always paired with the same disclaimers I read in poetic mommy blogs. “This ‘motherhood thing’ is the most difficult and rewarding job you’ll ever have…” Yet, here I am with three under two, simultaneously receiving comments from some strangers about how they pity me and others about how they miss these years. So what is it? Are Boomers looking through rose-colored glasses? Has parenting become even harder? Considering the average couple now has less than two children, along with our modern technology, I’m not sure how that’s possible. My Baby Brezza sure says differently, as I make a warm bottle Keurig-style with the literal press of a button.
It’s not just parenting, though. Everyone around me constantly laments the pain of “adulting,” as though life has become more difficult. Y’all, Millennials made a damn word to whine about being an adult! Just as the generations that came before us, we spent our entire childhoods eager to grow up, only to complain once we got here. In the case of Millennials, however, we seem to be truly miserable, despite life being so much easier at nearly every income level. I can pick up a week’s worth of groceries without even getting out of the car. While I wait, I can download my favorite books or listen to literally any song or artist I choose. When I get home, I can put my children down for a nap with a handy-dandy sound machine right there to soothe them. While they sleep, I can watch any show I like, without planning my day around it, while working on a cross stitch pattern I downloaded online, marking off each row with an app on my laptop. If one of the girls cries, I just check their $25 security camera to make sure everything’s okay, so I don’t have to risk waking both of them. At any point, I can realize I need batteries or cotton swabs or dish soap, order it online and have it the next day. Life is so easy today. We have everything handed to us, just as we always dreamt and all we do is cry about it!
So, what’s missing from this generation that every other enjoyed before us? Hard work. With my staying home to care for our three under two, Jake and I don’t have the option to outsource. As I’ve written before, I struggle to understand how so many people in the same income bracket afford meal subscriptions, cleaning ladies, and lawncare, but I’m starting to feel that we’re the ones at an advantage. While it might have been nice to pay someone to dig up, repair, and rebury the septic system, Jake is justifiably proud of himself for doing so. I would love to send off my mother’s crate of family photos to be digitized, but that’s financially never going to be possible. So, I took advantage of modern technology and bought a quick scanner that auto crops. I’ll record each individual memory and reminisce, myself. It’ll take more time and effort, but when it’s all said and done, I’m going to take so much more pride in my childhood family albums.
At this point, I’m beginning to think I wouldn’t pay anyone to clean my house, do my dishes, or fold my laundry if I could. By doing it myself, I know where everything is, how clean it actually is, and although I do get to listen to audiobooks while I do chores, I get more value out of my downtime when they’re done. It took effort and excellent time management for Jake and I to get the garden planted this year, but when we’ve been successful at growing our food in the past, it’s been so fulfilling, in addition to saving us money. I could have ordered Christmas stockings and baby blankets for my children, but I love knowing that I sewed them myself, even if it wasn’t necessarily cheaper. Sure, we pick and choose, just like anyone. I paid someone to make Jake’s custom Wahoo board for our wooden anniversary last year, just as I paid for the girls’ individually carved music boxes for their first birthday. We simply can’t do everything and I feel no shame in admitting that. However, I think I might be done fretting over the fact that we’re unable to afford these so-called luxuries when so many who can seem so unhappy, regardless.
Growing up, I longed for the ease Samantha’s powers brought her, while despising Darrin for insisting she deny herself. Here we are, though, all of us modern day witches, discontent, unfulfilled, and bored, as we watch someone else carry out the minutia of our days. I’m certainly not suggesting we scrap all of the ease technology has brought us or forgo all of life’s pleasures. I have the newest Samsung smartphone. I carry a Fossil purse. Jake and I average one rodeo-related vacation every year or two. I, most assuredly, did not replace my own roof… but I did paint every room in my house. Jake did build the 360° shelves in all of our bedrooms. At the time, we’d have loved to hire someone else to do so, but perhaps we were mistaken in that desire. I look around at our home, satisfied that we’re raising our children in something we have, to some extent, built ourselves. It feels good. It’s possible that our new phones, designer handbags, and vacations would mean more to us if they weren’t one of many. Maybe, just maybe, Darrin Stephens had a point. Maybe leisure shouldn’t be our greatest aspiration. Perhaps, the real joy in life is building it for yourself.
After conceiving twin girls through back-to-back pandemic rounds of IVF and nearly dying in childbirth, I wasn’t exactly ready to get pregnant again this past spring. Although Jake and I had already begun the early stages of transferring a frozen embryo over the summer, I was still on the fence, myself. I’ve always wanted four children and still found that to be the case, even with twins under a year. I wanted my girls to have more siblings. I wanted Jake to have a son. I wanted a son. I wanted more noise, more chaos, more fun, bigger holidays, crazier family vacations… what I’ve never had with the brother I see once a year on Christmas. I also wanted to be alive to enjoy all of these things, so I was still erratically swinging between the insistence that the girls were enough and the idea that I was potentially up for two more pregnancies, assuming the next went smoothly.
It was on May 5th, the day before Jake and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, that I was officially no longer able to file another pregnancy under Future Belle’s Problem. I had been waiting for day one of my cycle to begin the FET process and assumed that it hadn’t come, because I wasn’t even a year post-partum. Begrudgingly, I took a pregnancy test, annoyed at having to waste the dollar, but knowing the clinic would insist. Following a few minutes of Googling early menopause and uterine cancer symptoms as possibilities for my missing period, I glanced at the test before tossing it, only to see that it was, indeed, positive. After Jake was told, verbatim, that “miracles happen” when he asked the urologist if he could get me pregnant, after spending 2020 imagining a future without children, after thirty thousand dollars worth of baby girls, I was… pregnant.
In so many ways, I am that annoying anecdote your coworker shares about her friend, whose niece got pregnant despite all odds… the woman who had severe complications the first time around, only for it all to go smoothly the second… the mother of three under two who’d contemplated a forced childfree existence just two years earlier. With all of it behind me, I can honestly say that, despite a few tearful outbursts about how I didn’t want to die, I had an easy pregnancy and a complication-free birth by scheduled C-section at 37 weeks to the day.
I now have three babies under 18 months and I love it. I love watching the girls forget they’re mid-tantrum when they start giggling as they spin in circles of protestation. I love watching them wrestle like little bear cubs until someone cries. I love seeing Scarlet run to the front door arms extended, at the sound of Jake’s keys turning. I love Violet’s contradictory stubbornness and clingy Mama’s girl status. Now, my Thomas is here and he is a dream. After months of insisting the newborn phase is boring, I adore the snuggles. Having started with twins, I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to dote on just one, cherishing everything from feedings to sponge baths. I rarely sleep more than four hours at a time, am weeks from being able to have sex and months from even discussing an embryo transfer, still have visible bruising around my incision, and I’m already trying to talk Jake into our fourth and final.
Just the other day, Jake announced that raising kids with me was the best thing that’s ever happened to him and the feeling is utterly mutual. Watching my husband go from the rough and tumble toddler girl dad he’s become to the sweet and gentle (for him) father of a newborn boy is absolutely precious. After years of declaring mid-spat that he’s an unfeeling robot, there’s nothing quite so dear as watching my cowboy husband hold his tiny son in his callused hands and talk sweetly to him.
I spent a lifetime anticipating being the career woman and the working mom, went to college for seven years including graduate school, threw myself into my career as a librarian for another ten. I never planned to stay home with my children, scoffed at the very idea, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. While I fully intend to reenter the professional world one day, simply put, I just love being a mom… and I still don’t like kids.
Growing up in the South, I was raised to understand that women like children. Little girls love dolls. Teenaged girls eagerly jump at the chance to babysit. Baby fever becomes rampant in a woman’s early twenties. Any gal who doesn’t want to die alone had better start having kids by 25. Those are some Southern facts, right there, so imagine my confusion when I realized none of them applied to me.
Having lived on ten acres until age 11, I didn’t really grow up around other kids at all, let alone little ones. I had a couple of younger cousins, who I babysat once or twice, but I largely considered them nuisances who got us older kids in trouble. I never spent time with young children with any regularity. My first job was at a car lot, not a daycare. In fact, when I did get a job at a daycare in college, I made it two days before quitting. An education major in my undergrad, I still considered specializing in early childhood/elementary and even arranged to shadow my second grade teacher. That was the day, y’all. Despite my religious Southern upbringing, a childhood surrounded by suburban girls who wanted to be teachers and stay-at-home moms, a degree program that pedestalized anyone who worked with kids… the day I spent time in a well-managed second grade classroom was the day I realized that I just don’t like children.
Over the following years, I honed my affinity for teenagers, having initially assumed I only favored them due to their closer proximity in age. During grad school, I substitute taught nearly every day of the week, preferring high school, but happy to take middle school jobs when they were all that was available. More often than not, however, if elementary openings were all I could find, I’d take the opportunity for a rare day off, unless I desperately needed the money. As time passed and I moved further from my own teenage years, I loved working with teens just as much… and dreaded spending any time with children at all.
It wasn’t that I hated kids… at least not well-behaved ones. I just didn’t find them especially interesting. They couldn’t share compelling opinions or stories. Their senses of humor were undeveloped and generally revolved around the obnoxious and immature, but rarely clever. They were often oversensitive and whiney. Regardless, their parents considered them absolutely brilliant and wholly infallible. I frequently worked with children as a librarian and nearly every single reader’s advisory question posed by a parent, came with the insistence that their child’s reading level was two to three higher than their grade. I can count on one hand how many times that was actually true. When they misbehaved, in ways that were entirely developmentally appropriate, their parents wouldn’t hear it, whether they were screaming and running in the library or bullying others in programs. Teenagers, however, warranted scorn and contempt if any attention at all. When the societal blind spot for an age group I didn’t particularly enjoy was coupled with the overall disdain for the one I did, I struggled to even imagine myself as a mother in the distant future. Clearly, I didn’t feel the way everyone else felt about children. Maybe they weren’t for me after all.
A few months before Jake proposed, I became increasingly concerned. I knew Jake wanted kids and, in theory, so did I. I just… really didn’t like ’em.
With genuine distress, I shared as much with a coworker in her 50s, who had two young adult children and two still in Catholic school. If anyone could shed some light on my situation, it was a woman living exactly the life I thought I wanted.
Me: “I don’t think I like children.” Coworker: “Of course you don’t. It’s the end of Summer Reading.” Me: “What if I don’t at all? Jake wants kids. I thought I wanted them. I’m not sure I like them, though.” Coworker: “I don’t especially like other people’s children, either. I like mine, but I never really cared much for their friends. You’ll be fine.”
I didn’t know that was allowed!
In the nearly five years that followed this moment of enlightenment, I met a few others who shared this thought process. A friend at the Northside Library had little to no patience for… well, most humans, but she loved being a mother. At the same branch, a friend living with her parents had more of a sisterly relationship with her young son, yet doted on him all the same. A coworker at the Cherokee library had a surprise baby just before 40, after having accepted a childfree existence. A veteran who named Sarah Connor her hero, she’d never really considered herself maternal… until her son arrived. She still had little feeling toward children in a random sample, but adored being a mother. I’ll admit, it still isn’t a common sentiment among suburban and rural Southern women, but evidently it happens… such as in my case.
Apparently my robot husband and I are quite the pair, because I find myself in the company of Other People’s Children far more frequently these days and I feel little on a personal level… neither disdain nor joy. As with other random folks, I passively wish them health and wellness and go about my day. I do my best not to judge other parents, while still generally finding most small children grating. Yet, somehow, I seem to have endless patience for my own. Objectively speaking, I’ve no illusions about my offspring somehow being superior to others’… except that they’re mine, so they’re naturally cuter, smarter, funnier, and less disgusting by my incredibly biased assessment.
I, of course, still smile encouragingly and affectionately at little ones during storytime, just as I’d expect others to do with mine. I’d never intentionally hurt a child’s feelings and that’s all I really ask of others. I love my nieces and nephews out of necessity, whether I feel much connection to them at this age or not. I do try, but it still doesn’t come naturally to me to snuggle someone else’s baby, tickle their toddler, or get down in the floor and play with their kids. As utterly smitten as I am with my own babies, as I attempt to cajole Jake into our #fourthandfinal while still being on lift restrictions, Other People’s Children… they still don’t really do it for me. I still don’t like kids.
It’s been a big year, y’all. Jake and I celebrated five years of marriage, continued the adventure of raising our IVF-conceived twin girls, and began planning an embryo transfer in hopes of growing our family. We even met with our fertility doctor and scheduled the procedure… only to find out it wasn’t needed. Day one of the cycle that would have kicked off our frozen transfer never came and we celebrated our little ladies’ first birthday just before announcing our miracle baby due in December. We spent the summer arguing over boy names, transforming our larger extra bedroom into the girls’ new room, and preparing to have three children under 18 months.
An incessant reader of news, it was some time in early June that I stumbled across an article declaring that while the used car market had improved, it would most certainly worsen in the fall. Jake had briefly mentioned upgrading the Kia Sorento we had bought when we found out we were having twins, but I’d brushed him off, insisting the SUV would suffice, as long as we could fit all three car seats in the middle row. The Sorento was paid for, comfortable, said to seat seven, and had relatively few miles on it. Buying another new car less than 18 months later seemed superfluous and needlessly stressful. Regardless, I decided to make sure that we could indeed fit three across the middle row, since the back would be virtually inaccessible with car seats in front of it, only to realize…
When Jake and I bought the Sorento, we’d intended it as a ten-year car, assuminga seven seater would actually, you know… seat seven. It really hadn’t occurred to either of us that we’d be in the market for a minivan when we began planning for baby number three. After the fiasco that was buying our Kia Soul in 2019, struggling to find just the right SUV in 2020, paying it off early with Jake’s lucky Bitcoin earnings, I truly did not want a new car… any new car, regardless of type.
Ever responsive toward and utterly dependent on research, however, I immediately accepted that not only was the market in the best shape we could hope for, but that it wouldn’t get any easier or less stressful to shop for a minivan later in my pregnancy. So, I texted Jake about our predicament and began searching for the best model within our price limit.
Folks, buying a minivan was exactly the nightmare I had feared, perhaps worse. Not only was I shopping for a completely different, more expensive, unfamiliar class of vehicle, in a competitive market, I was wading through a newfound swamp of Mom Snobbery. Review after review, I simply could not escape the elitism behind some of the brand names and their elevated prices. Models that seemed to offer exactly the same number of features, safety ratings, and comfort levels were tens of thousands of dollars higher. While many objective articles described the Dodge Caravan as a budget model with a rougher ride and lower mileage, listing the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as a top option for the fuel conscious, I never did figure out what made the Odyssey and Sienna such premium vehicles when all specs remained the same. After reading some of the reviews himself, Jake still points out every Honda Odyssey he sees, with mock awe.
Ultimately, we ended up with a black, 2019, Chrysler Pacifica Limited 35th Anniversary. It isn’t fully loaded, but does include some nice bells and whistles that are new to us, such as leather heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and remote start. Though finding it was a month-long headache, once it was ours, we were excited… and confused that when we shared the news, everyone seemed to expect us to feel defeated at having purchased a minivan. Even after highlighting the benefits of more leg room, dual climate control, flat-folding seats, and remote doors, everyone seemed to be waiting for our response to some kind of minivan stigma.
Before Jake and I had children, I actually do recall insisting that I’d never own a minivan. For purely practical reasons, I didn’t want to spend substantially more money to drive a much more cumbersome vehicle with worse gas mileage. As far as I understood, an SUV would accommodate just as many people, at a lower price. I just didn’t see the point. I certainly had no distaste for what it would say about me or my stage of life. Upon further reflection, in fact, at one time, I’d dreamt of having and eventually becoming a Minivan Mom.
Growing up in the 90s, minivans were at the height of their popularity and said something to me even then. They were a symbol of all the things I wanted as a child, gradually progressing from the frivolous to the completely justifiable.
Parents who owned minivans lived in three bedroom ranch homes in suburban neighborhoods with ice cream trucks and friends just down the street. We lived in a trailer on ten acres, with few children nearby.
Minivan moms either stayed home, worked part-time, or were teachers, so their kids didn’t have to attend daycare. The dads were home every night and weekend and in good spirits. My mother was a nurse, my father a lineman for the electric company, both exhausted after working long hours, nights, weekends, and call shifts.
Minivan families lived in clean housesand the children wore cute clothes and practiced basic hygiene. Even when we moved to a traditional house, it was a borderline hoarder home, only cleaned when we hosted holiday celebrations. In time, my parents became too wrapped up in their crumbling marriage to pay much attention to grooming and fashion and it showed.
Minivan families ate at the kitchen table, played board games together, and the kids were never allowed to watch anything beyond a PG rating. When I was nine or ten, my parents started spending evenings arguing in the garage, leaving us to call Gramma to bring fast food and entertain ourselves however we may.
Minivan parents took family vacations and had loving, supportive, intact marriages. My dad stopped coming along on trips when I was eight and left a month after my mom’s brain surgery when I was 10. Not long after, my brother moved in with him and I stayed with my increasingly violent mother, while my father tried to recapture his youth.
Growing up, our trailer was just down the street from a foster home, where the parents were known to be abusive to their children, so I fully understood that other kids had it worse than I did. Objectively speaking, I didn’t have a miserable childhood, and see no reason to rewrite history to better or worsen it. Still, I perpetually envied what I deemed my normal classmates, who seemed to come from happy, functional homes, lead by parents with appropriate rules and boundaries. They were good at sports, from ballet and cheer to soccer and basketball. They were never blacklisted from sleepovers, because their moms explained the purpose of edible underwear to their friends when they were nine or let them watch Leprechaun when they were ten. They were slender and sweet, wore their hair in high ponytails with big bows, and the boys thought they were cute. Their parents budgeted for the bills first, so the electricity and water never got cut off. Their moms taught them to apply makeup and talk to boys they liked… and somehow, it seemed they all drove minivans.
You also don’t walk around the block for an hour to repeatedly pass by the boy you like, when he’s outside playing basketball.
As I got older, the minivan association morphed from a symbol of the ideal childhood to that of an ideal adulthood. My southern suburbia was particularly known for its Nicholas Sparks-esque young marriages, right down to the dysfunction and drama, minus the geese.
While I was far from the only 23-year-old divorcee in Shetland, there existed many more young marriages, between high school and college sweethearts. I’d like to assume at least a few were and are still happy. Though I’m no longer active on social media, I’ll never forget the time in my life when I thumbed through the profiles of my old classmates with envy. All those years, they told me my middle and high school bullies would amount to nothing and the Mean Girls were posting photos of grand Southern weddings to oilfield men, who paid for the degrees they’d never use after having babies immediately upon graduation. They bought cookie cutter McMansions in gated communities, carried Coach purses, outfitted their baby boys in Air Jordans, and drove minivans... all while I struggled to keep my head above water, massively overweight, living off of financial aid in a seedy motel after another eviction, while my ex swore he had paid the rent with money from the job he swore he actually worked. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
My senior year of college saw a miscarriage, my first year of grad school a divorce, while I worked two jobs substitute teaching and cleaning rec equipment at the local community center… and things started to get better. I moved into a comfortable apartment, where my ex could no longer sneak in and steal things to sell. I met the young men I was so close to in my early twenties, along with Niki, who plays DnD with Jake and I to this very day. I started working for the library system, while continuing to substitute teach and earn my graduate degree. Life was better… safer. I cultivated hobbies, lost a lot of weight, learned to dress and apply makeup. I dated on and off, as I recovered from the trauma of my first and only relationship and tried to decipher whether or not I wanted another. I worked on my credit and learned to manage my money. I grew into someone I liked, someone I wanted to be… but I still felt so far behind the classmates who’d graduated alongside me just six or seven years earlier. They were only in their early to mid-twenties, but they’d finished school, were presumably happily married, bought homes, had babies… and many of them drove minivans.
Ten years later, I of course realize how valuable those single girl years were for me. While the ages of 18-23 exist in something of a fog of memory I rarely allow to clear, 23-27 were the years those should have been. I learned to take care of and depend on myself, mentally, physically, and financially. After a near lifetime of feeling less than, I started to value and respect myself, acknowledge that the only one who had any right to decide I wasn’t worthy of more was me. I could be smart, successful, cute, funny. I could be a happily single respected academic who was really great at crafts, a worldly traveler and career woman who relocated every five years… or I could earn the minivan life I’d so envied at different times. It wasn’t about proving myself… okay, it wasn’t just about proving myself, but choosing the path I wanted, regardless of who my parents were, how I’d grown up, who I was in high school, the mistakes I’d made as a young adult. I finally realized that none of that actually mattered when it came to shaping my future. I had a right to any life for which I was willing to put in the work. I could leave the past in the past.
I’d never put much thought into what a minivan saidto or about me today. It was just the obvious choice until people seemed to expect negative feelings on the subject. To them, buying a minivan meant becoming their parents with their socks and sandals, little league coaching jobs, mom jeans, and pumpkin spice. When I thought about it, it meant surpassing mine. It meant finally having the life I know my mother always wanted and was never quite able to grasp, the life my dad looks back on and wishes he’d valued more. Just as I could have been the academic, the career woman, being a Minivan Mom is an accomplishment worthy of celebration for me. Perhaps others look on and see the pretention and falsehood of middle class suburban white folks. That’s fine and I take no offense, because I wasn’t always in that class.
Twenty-five years ago, I was the the smelly kid with social and behavioral issues. Twenty years ago, I was the fat nerdy girl in overalls and a turtleneck. Fifteen years ago, I was mourning the house fire my ex started, killing all of my pets. Fourteen years ago, I was evicted in the middle of an ice storm, staying with in-laws I didn’t like until we could get into the aforementioned motel. Thirteen years ago, I was conflicted over how to feel about the miscarriage of a child that would have tied me to a sociopath forever. Twelve years ago, I was filing for divorce during my first year of grad school, wondering if I’d ever have the life I’d wanted… if that was even still the life I wanted.
After ten years in a successful career, I spend my days making grocery runs, attending library storytimes, and having dance parties with the baby girls who will never be neglected into outsider status, knowing that one day I’ll be the career mom once again. I’m happily married to a man who’s never known what it feels like to be ostracized, yet handles me with care when I feel left out. I host bi-weekly game nights with good friends and feel included with my in-laws and Jake’s high school buddies when we visit. I fit in and I’m happy. I’ve transcended. These are the best days of my life so far and unrelated or not… I drive a minivan.
Years ago, I was entering my mid-late 20s in the South and had spent the time since my divorce trying to figure out if I wanted the things I thought I’d wanted, or if everyone had just told me I wanted them. Growing up in the early 2000’s suburban/rural town of Shetland, marrying one’s high school or college sweetheart wasn’t just the dream, but the expectation. Shetland’s welcome sign declared it A City With a Vision, but the Kasey Musgraves quote “If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone,” would have been more fitting. Indeed, by the time I found myself reclaiming my maiden name on my undergraduate diploma, I was one of a dozen young divorcees from the class of 2006, most of whom did have two children. While I’d initially felt behind at 23, thumbing through all of those Facebook posts of engagement rings, wedding photos, new homes, and ultrasound pictures, I eventually came to the realization that I had it all to do over again. I could choose something different… if that’s what I actually wanted.
It was at 26, while substitute teaching an elementary school class that I realized exactly the life I desired. I didn’t like young children and only took such assignments if I was desperate for money, like when the school year was ending and I was staring down a summer with only my half-time librarian position to pay the bills. It was an easy enough day, overseeing a music class and watching Frozen on repeat, broken up by an end-of-the-year assembly in the early afternoon. “Assembly” probably wasn’t the proper term. It was more like a show, where Ronald McDonald performed childlike slapstick comedy to a crowd of children roaring with laughter, as I cynically rolled my eyes.
After ten or fifteen minutes of silly props and noises, however, I noticed that it wasn’t just the children who were laughing themselves sick. The parents in attendance were in similar hysterics at seeing their little ones so innocently amused. I looked around the gym full of kids, still lacking the affection expected by Southern women, yet suddenly more aware than ever of the enjoyment they brought their parents. That’s when it hit me that I wanted this… not because of some animalistic biological drive or archaic gender standard reinforced by life in the South, but because I wanted it for myself. I’d spent years considering more adventurous paths less traveled only to finally realize that I wanted exactly the mundane life expected of me… and that was okay. I would, however, need to get serious about dating. It was then that I began to pray, every night, for God to bring me a good, hardworking, even-tempered man, who would make a great husband and wonderful father… and most importantly to open my eyes and allow me to recognize such a man despite the fog of unreasonable expectations and my own self-sabotage.
My first date with Jake started with a pep talk, as I reminded myself that the worst that could happen was another funny story… only to sigh because I was getting awfully tired of funny stories. It had been a year since that day in my elementary school gym. As much as I had enjoyed the single stage of life, I was ready to move on to the next adventure. I was ready to fall in love and be on my way to the marriage and family I’d failed so miserably to secure previously. I didn’t want a romcom Meet Cute or soapy drama. I wanted someone to come home to, curl up with on the couch while I read and he did his own thing, a presence to feel in the middle of the night. I wanted to laugh, argue, grieve, and plan a life with someone. Odds were, my first date with the fluid engineer I met on Plenty of Fish would be forgettable at best, but perhaps… just maybe… it would be my last first date…
… and so it was.
It was on my first birthday with Jake that I realized he didn’t really do birthdays. When I responded with fitting horror, he explained that such occasions were for children and no one in his family really celebrated them after the age of twelve. Even so, on our three month anniversary, Jake made the trip to Shetland and joined me in a two day birthday celebration, meeting my parents for the first time and humoring all of my ridiculous 28-year-old whims. A month or so later, he indulged me once again, as I insisted we celebrate his birthday, not with all the hoopla and whimsy of mine, but by doing something he specifically wanted to do, which turned out to be Topgolf, pizza, and a movie.
Over the years, I’ve gotten no less demanding with my own birthday, insisting on celebrating the struggles and triumphs of the previous year and the excitement to come in the next. There have been numerous ice cream cakes, trips to the zoo, and even a new puppy. There was the Post-IVF Failure Quarantine Birthday of 2020, where we watched Belle Movies all day and ate takeout. There was the first birthday with our baby girls and just last month, our first family lake trip. Surprisingly enough, Jake has begun to look forward to his own birthdays over the years, as well. Friends have visited from Texas. We’ve eaten poorly made boxed carrot cake, sat through Lord of the Rings movie marathons, baked stuffed pizzas, and even unveiled a pricey gun safe in the hopes we’d need it soon, with small children running around.
Regardless, I’ve no doubt that Jake would let his birthdays slip by with little to no acknowledgement, were it not to humor me. With his quiet, stoic affection, though, he brainstorms ways to make the day special for himself, because he knows doing so is important to me. Whereas I see my own birthdays as a celebration of the adventures past and the welcoming of those to come, Jake’s are a celebration of the answering of those many fervently, even desperately, made prayers. This weekend, as Jake bathed our girls, after I sorted and folded laundry, I looked around and really acknowledged my life as it is, the life this man has helped me create.
Friday night, Jake and I hosted our bi-weekly game night, where we ate ourselves sick and laughed ourselves silly with friends in honor of his birthday. We spent Saturday getting lunch with our beautiful, hard-won babies, before hitting the local pumpkin patch, where we took pictures and all four played and laughed in a trough full of corn. We came home tired and dirty, with dried corn in our shoes, as the girls vacillated between fussing and giggling, having missed most of their naps for family fun. None of it had been a farce, staged for appearances in person or on social media. It was true contentment and joy, ending at the home we own, as a happy family unit. The house was clean and comfortable. There was plenty of food in the pantry and the bills were paid. I fed the girls and cleaned the kitchen, while Jake made soup to freeze for our new baby’s arrival. We discussed what movie we would watch and what kind of pizza we would order for our own private birthday celebration.
Compared to where I once was, my life is utter financially strained, middle-class bliss. There have been many times when I thought I would never have this. I prayed every night for half the man Jake is and God delivered. My husband is good, hardworking, funny, smart, ambitious, and an absolutely fabulous father. He’s a prideful, stubborn, know-it-all, who rarely shows any serious emotion, seldom apologizes, and drives me absolutely crazy. He’s also built a new career from the bottom, taken on every home improvement project I’ve dreamt up, financially supported us even through two rounds of IVF, and slept in an ICU chair for four days when I almost died delivering our girls. He’s gotten up in the middle of the night to clear the drains during a storm, chopped wood in freezing weather, and scraped my windshield without my asking. He’s changed countless diapers, soothed epic tantrums, and come home for lunch every day to help feed and play with his girls. He’s made it possible for me to stay home when I couldn’t handle leaving them. He’s comforted my every rational and irrational fear. Simply put, Jake is everything I ever prayed for and more.
We celebrated our first birthdays together when I turned 28, looking back on my single life; and when Jake turned 31, looking forward to new possibilities. My husband still isn’t one to anticipate his birthday with as much excitement as I do my own, but I find myself looking forward to it with increasing giddiness each passing year. I might have my very own holiday every September 9th, but every October 14th, I get to celebrate my best friend, whether that means cake and DnD or pizza and another viewing of the movie Warcraft. I get the chance to give my husband a day that’s all about him, where I can express my gratitude for the man that he is and the life he’s built with me. Jake wasn’t my way out, exactly, but he was the ultimate destination for a gal who wanted nothing more than a blissfully exhausting family life.
My mother once told me that she never minded getting older, until she no longer had anyone to do it with her. This past month, Jake and I celebrated our seventh set of birthdays together and with our girls: 35 and 38. I don’t mind those numbers even a little bit, as long as we get to celebrate the rest as a family, too.
Just recently, Jake and I found the nicest public lake nearby. Living on the outskirts of the county, it’s nearby no one else, but the exact distance to the swim beach is 18 minutes from our front door. It’s small, clean, has picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. After the distance, the second best thing about this little lake, is that it costs $5 per car, per day. The nearest aquatic centers costs more than that per person.
Last Christmas, my step-brother announced that he’d booked a company-owned luxury cabin, in Crested Bute, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The whole family was welcome, at a discounted rate, which depended on how many committed. Because the cabin could only be reserved for four days, the plan was for everyone to stay at a nearby hotel for three to four more. My parents and all of my step-siblings were enthusiastically in, without private discussion, while Jake and I offered non-committal responses, knowing we’d talk about it in the car.
Though we didn’t wish to share the details of our financial situation with my entire family,from the beginning we felt it was optimistic, at best, to think we could take a family vacation in a year when we planned an embryo transfer, which costs about $4,000. So, with the final total up in the air, we tabled the idea, under the heading of “Wouldn’t That Be Nice?” In April, Zane clarified that the cost would be $100 per adult for the full stay at the cabin. Jake and I tentatively agreed that we could probably swing that, but that the hotel was out. In May, we received the wonderful news that we wouldn’t have to pay for an embryo transfer after all. In June, however, I read an article about how the used car market was going to get bad again and finally admitted that we couldn’t actually fit three children in rear-facing car seats in my Sorento.
So, we found ourselves the proud owner of a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica… along with a $1500 pending tag and title and a $100 car payment, when both of our cars had previously been paid off. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was $1500 on our emergency credit card. All the while, my pregnancy was progressing and we needed to move the girls into the larger bedroom, so we could ready their old one for their baby brother. After purchasing a new closet kit, wood and brackets for the 360° shelves Jake built, stain, paint, brush and roller kits, curtains, and additional shelving to make the most of their small shared room from 1980, we were easily looking at another $1200 on said credit card.
In August, I conceded that Colorado just wasn’t doable. A 12 hour drive with 14-month-old twins would be miserable. With gas prices as they were, it would cost an additional $400 just to get there, making it no cheaper than flying. Flying on a holiday weekend sounded even worse with the current transportation issues, all for the equivalent of an extended weekend. We’d already put so much on the emergency credit card, yet still felt we could pay it off completely with our tax return, avoiding any interest. While we could justify charging new baby preparations, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put a leisure trip on credit, even if it was during my 35th birthday. Instead, we would take our girls on their very first lake trip and save approximately $1,495. While everyone else was in Colorado, our family vacation would comprise a few hours less than 20 minutes away. So, in this time of 40-year-high inflation rates at 8.4%, historically high gas prices, soaring electric bills, and general financial discontent across the country, I sent a group text bowing out of the family vacation… and I was the only one.
Y’all, I try to remember that what other people do with their money is none of my business… and I have a lot of practice doing so. Even before I quit my job to stay home, I never got manicures. I cut my hair and Jake’s. I owned one purse, a leather Fossil bag, which I’ve been carrying for three years, as I did with each of the previous three. My clothes have always been bought on sale from Kohl’s, Target, Old Navy, or Amazon.I keep the newest or last edition phone, only for the camera, because I make annual photo albums. Jake’s was five years old until he got a free upgrade. We don’t have cable and keep our streaming services to a minimum. We rarely eat out, cooking at home with groceries we buy ourselves, sans meal kits. My weekly splurge is maybe a $10 sushi bento box, with Jake’s equivalent being beer. When we do get fast food, we literally always split something we buy with a coupon.
Don’t get me wrong .We’re not destitute or struggling without. We have nice computers, a 75″ TV, and quality furniture. Jake owns the newest XBOX and I the latest Cricut machines. However, these are already paid for, so we spend a lot of time at home and rarely do things that cost actual money when we go out. When we go to the zoo, I get a free pass from the library. We go to the park, farmer’s market, free festivals, church events, rodeos with tickets from Jake’s uncle. We stream new movies or check them out from the library. We host two separate DnD games every other week to maintain a pretty decent social life for parents of small children. For fun, I do various crafts and read, while Jake works in the yard or plays video games. Our tax returns go, primarily, to pay off the 0% emergency card or home improvement projects. Our mortgage payment is a little high, but it’s most certainly balanced out by the fact that we have very little debt beyond that.
I’m not complaining about my circumstances. I live in a nice, spacious home on over an acre, in a safe neighborhood, in a small suburb, in the state with the third lowest cost of living. I love my used car and Jake has no complaints about his 12-year-old truck. I like saving money and enjoy the challenge of finding coupon codes. Target clothes are enough for me. I enjoy painting my own nails. I don’t want a new purse. I’m content to be able to buy and cook good food. I’ve done the math on meal kit subscriptions and they’re a terrible deal, only slightly worse than eating out. I just don’t understand where people are getting their money and why they have so much more than we do. No matter how hard I try to be a good and non-judgmental person, I’m frequently left scratching my head at how people are affording their lifestyles.
With Jake’s friends and family, their circumstances at least make sense. His friends have largely gotten loans to start their family farms and run cattle. His sister has land and cattle because her husband once won quite a bit of money at the NFR and started his own business. One cousin is high up in oil and another helps run the family rodeo company. They’re also all 10 years older than us and most of them can’t even comprehend the term vacation, they work so hard. It’s not these folks who are confusing me and I genuinely hold zero bitterness toward them for their success. When looking at people our age, in similar life situations, though, I’m not bitter, but I am at a loss.
I’m not even on social media, but I still see some of my own family members, who’ve just bought their first home and had a baby in the same year, taking vacations, getting manicures, hitting Starbucks every day, and trying out expensive subscriptions, knowing that how much they earn annually places us firmly in the same bracket. They make similar money to what Jake and I do now or what we did before, but while paying for daycare. Still, they buy new cars, don designer handbags and jewelry, shop at pricey boutiques, and eat out all the time. They never seem to financially struggle during the holidays, whereas Jake and opted out of trading gifts between adults years ago. They had elaborate weddings, live on just enough land to cost some serious upkeep, and own farm animals that earn no revenue and essentially amount to expensive, but Instagrammable chores. They buy hundreds of dollars in gifts for their kids, keep them in stylish clothes and the latest tech, and take so many family vacations. I don’t even like to travel, but I’m still wondering how all these middle class people with small children are affording to do so, while Jake chooses a vacation horror movie on Netflix and I Google “fun and free family activities?”
I did not rejoice in the fact that my family all had to miss their flights and sleep on the airport floor with their many babies, came down with altitude sickness, got food poisoning, and experienced several Covid-19 cases during their Colorado trip… but I did rejoice in the fact that Jake and I didn’t put $1500 on a credit card to share in that experience. Similarly, I try not to somehow console myself with the idea that all of these people are drowning in debt. I truly hope that’s not the case, because although Jake and I had to pay $30,000 to have some babies, our house payment, new car payment, and minimum on the 0% credit card are the only monthly installments debts to our name. We also have investments, outside of Jake’s retirement. While they’re not as robust as they once were, with Bitcoin having bought us our babies, they still equal around $35,000. Additionally, although I’m staying home and these other couples earn two incomes, were I still working, the cost of daycare would have voided my pretty decent earnings when our boy arrives.. Even when Jake and I were both working, earning six figures together, we weren’t even able to daydream about keeping up with the Jones’s the way everyone else seems to be doing, so effortlessly.
What is it? Is everyone investing without me? Have they all inherited money? Are they printing it? Are they somehow not paying $4 per gallon in gas and $250 a month for electricity? Are the seemingly normal life expenses Jake and I experience so ridiculous? Do other people not need to have their thermostat replaced, upgrade their car with the increasing size of their families, repaint the occasional room, and save up for a new front door? Are these people, who seem to be living so lavishly in such similar circumstances to ours, somehow living in a pocket dimension where it’s the 1990s and a bag of frozen chicken doesn’t cost $30? Are they just spending more money? Do they have no savings? Are they all drowning in debt? Am I missing something, here? Am I just blind?
Ultimately, of course, I try to remind myself that the answers to these questions don’t actually matter. I have a nice life, one I’d have only dreamt of at one time. While we do make sacrifices to allow me to stay home, they’re both worth it to us and not that much greater than what we’d have been making were I working to pay for daycare. I wouldn’t turn down manicures, fancy haircuts, and massages, but I don’t feel my life is poorer without them. My children are too young to enjoy movie theaters, eating in a restaurant, or vacations. Jake and I appreciate the option to pause the movie on HBO Max and discuss or rant. We like cooking together every night, feeling it makes our marriage stronger. As for the Colorado trip, in hindsight, it seems we had much more fun watching The Hills Have Eyes after taking our girls to our new little $5 lake.
Still, no matter how hard I try to just mind my own busines, be thankful for all of many blessings, keep from looking into other people’s bowls… I can’t help but wonder, why does everyone have more money than we do?
I’ve been dreaming of writing this post for several years now. Having started this blog on my 25th birthday, I wondered if I’d ever make it here, still sharing my story with Future Belle and her readers. I imagined how my life would unfold over ten years. Would I ever get the job, meet the boy, buy the house, have the babies? I’m sure the overall picture is quite different in several ways, but I am undeniably happy.
You see, today I am 35 years old, a big number in the world of infertility, and I am a mother of two, soon to be three. While I never fully joined the online infertility community, I do occasionally dip my toe in and read stories from women still struggling and others who’ve survived. From the happily married and trying for years, to those still searching for love and unsure of whether they’re ready to take on single parenthood, it’s no secret that women hoping to conceive often dread and fear their 35th birthday. While we all rationally know that every body differs, we still hear echoes of generalizing doctors, aunts, and old wives’ tales warning us that if we’re not calling ourselves mothers by 35, there’s a strong chance we never will. We turn 31 and tell ourselves we have plenty of time. At 32, we get a little more anxious. At 33, we feel rushed. At 34, we start to panic. It’s positively triggering for women struggling with infertility to even think about 35.
There are so many choices in life, so many doors closed after one is opened, by the time we reach our mid-thirties. Over the years, I’ve coped with these missed opportunities through my own (probably scientifically inaccurate) interpretation of the Many-Worlds Theory. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a Belle who works as a veterinarian specializing in large cats… in another, a successful travel blogger… in yet another, a respected theologist or historian. For years, I’d often slip into one of these imagined realities for a time, escaping the monotony of real life for a bit of adventure. Yet, I find myself doing so less and less often, these days. I’m not reporting a fascinating life to Instagram. My father does not live vicariously through me. I’m not a renowned academic, publishing scholarly articles. I’m not even a librarian anymore, something I’d never have imagined on the day I started this blog, ten years ago. Nope. I took the road more travel and I wouldn’t slip into one of these more interesting worlds for anything.
I’m a wife and a stay-at-home mom. My days are filled with sing-alongs, story times, and Target runs. I no longer lead meetings, attend trainings, or make schedules. The only emails I send are links for my Gramma, when she wants to buy something for my girls or the new baby. In ten years, on my 20th Blogiversary, I’ll likely be that respected professional, once again. I’ll put my master’s degree to further use and earn new anecdotal stories from my dad. Right now, though, my most wonderfully average dreams are being fulfilled. There have been several times in my life, when I’ve feared I would never have this, when this was the universe I visited. I’m happily married to my best friend, living in a home on one unremarkable acre, enjoying the most amazing days of my life to date, raising precious babies. One day, I’ll be interesting again, but here, on my no longer triggering 35th birthday, I am trulyhappy.
Jake and I met in the summer of 2015, at 30 and 27. He was working as a fluid engineer an hour away, in an oil town. I was living in the suburbs, working as a half time librarian and enjoying a break from substitute teaching during the financially leaner summer months. We met online, during a time when the stigma had lifted just enough to make it ubiquitous, but not quite so much that everyone had become utterly jaded and exhausted by the entire process. Compared to the modern woes shared by my single friends, it seems 2015 was something of a Golden Age for online dating, when the majority of people approached it with some genuine sense of purpose. After all, if you were going to risk a coworker finding your profile, you were at least going to try to meet someone.
From the beginning, things with Jake were… uncomplicated. Essentially strangers, there was no immediate “spark” or “love at first sight” moment between us, because we weren’t the leads in a paranormal romance novel. I thought he was funny and had pretty eyes. I liked his beard. He thought I was cute and smart. We talked long enough for the restaurant to close for lunch and he texted within the next couple of hours to tell me he had a good time. We didn’t kiss until our sixth date, what with him having been my literal second of most things and eventual first of quite a few. He met my parents on my birthday and I met his on Halloween. I said I love you at four months and he immediately said it back. We first slept together after eight months, when we went skiing in New Mexico. That was the same weekend we hypothetically discussed marriage. By one year, we were making serious plans and that Thanksgiving, I had a ring. A week later, we’d set a date.
Just kidding… I was totally a prude.
We were married just shy of two years after that first date and bought our home a year later. Aside from the election year of back-to-back pandemic IVF cycles, followed by that time I almost died in childbirth, our relationship has gone pretty smoothly.
We’re genuinely happy.
We are each other’s best friends.
There is no one I’d rather see every single day, beyond my baby girls andmy Gramma.
Still, quite often, he drives me absolutely mad.
As a former 23-year-old divorcee from a terrifying relationship, I can honestly say that I have never considered leaving Jake. I know what a bad marriage looks like and this ain’t it. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight. We met as whole people. We weren’t clueless youngsters from a Nicholas Sparks novel, embarking on an adventure together, with no idea what lay before us. We were grown adults possessing clearly set ideas about how the world works and the best way to approach it. We were and are both stubborn, opinionated, insufferable know-it-alls… and sometimes we clash.
Indeed, we do take pride in it.
Last night was just such a time. There’s no need to share the details of the fight, as I’m usually a firm believer that one shouldn’t air their dirty laundry in public, but I can assure you, Jake was in the wrong. I was the victim of course… though there may have been a throw pillow hurled in his direction, before I tearfully left to take a walk around the neighborhood. As I walked, pregnant and hormonal, I thought of all of Jake’s flaws. He’s stubborn, pushy, has the pride of ten men, and may or may not be a robot completely incapable of human emotion. Then I thought of all of my flaws. I’m often neurotic and high-strung, stressing out easily over inconsequential details. I, admittedly, have a flare for the dramatic and cry easily. Then, I acknowledged that combined, these flaws… actually complement each other quite well. Where I’m unsure and anxious, Jake is confident to the point of arrogance. In the midst of my stress, he’s always there with that Texan drawl, assuring me that “It’ll be alright”. While he takes few things too seriously, I highlight their urgency, sometimes quite necessarily. While he sits stoic, I rant about the injustice of the world. Despite our flaws, despite the fact that other people often wonder how, we do still fit. He is the string to my kite and remembering that, I began to think of all the reasons I love my husband.
He’s hardworking. When Jake left oil, at my request, he started at the literal bottom working on sewer lines for the City of Cherokee. He made eleven dollars an hour, at a time when I was making more than double that, despite having a bachelor’s degree in hydrology and several years of oilfield experience. He took call shifts and worked all-nighters and never once complained or acted like it was beneath him. He spent his weekends helping his parents on the ranch. Even now, he spends a good deal of his time off doing chores around the house, helping me fulfill whatever grand new vision I’ve formed. He is truly the hardest working individual I’ve ever met.
He’s ambitious. Five years after taking his $11 per hour position, Jake has a lengthy title that, summed up, means he’s the stormwater manager for the entire city. He spends his days explaining to engineers why their building permits were denied and rebuffing their attempts to resolve the whole “misunderstanding” with a sexist joke and a good ol’ boy handshake. He draws up plans, gives presentations, prepares for audits, and fights for budget items. Were I still working as a librarian, he would officially be making more money, just as I wagered he would five years ago. There have even been talks of him eventually becoming the director of public works. He will always strive for more. In the process, he’ll always take care of his family.
He’s responsible. One of my requirements when dating, was to find someone who didn’t need me to be the grown up in the relationship. I didn’t want to have to budget someone else’s money and time, pick up after them, or nag them to do household chores. Sticker charts are for children, not adult men. While Jake and I sometimes disagree about which chores take priority, idle is not a word one could use to describe him. He is always working on some project, digging drains in our yard, tilling the garden, filling in holes the dogs dug, installing a closet kit or building shelves for the girls’ new bedroom. Not once in our marriage have I ever felt like he consistently failed to do his share.
He’s even-tempered. On our third date, Jake and I met at a Fourth of July festival. He was at least thirty minutes late with no prior explanation, because his cell phone had died. I had seriously considered going home, but with no other holiday plans, I decided to stick around at least until it bordered on truly pathetic. When he arrived, I was flustered and awkward, having worried I’d been stood up again, so I forgot the blanket I’d brought to lay out until we were halfway to the other side of the park. I expected Jake to be annoyed at having to turn back, but he seemed entirely unphased. Growing up in a volatile household, this was a balm to the senses I’d never deliberately sought. Since the beginning, Jake has been cool-headed, rarely raising his voice or even getting angry. This stoicism occasionally presents itself as a lack of emotion or feeling overall, but day-to-day, it’s quite comforting to know that this marriage only includes one irrational partner.
He’s funny. I’d met stoic, even-tempered men before Jake, but they all seemed to take themselves too seriously. Jake takes nothing seriously. While that sometimes drives me a little crazy, it works to my benefit as well. The man is nearly impossible to offend. I’ve only managed it once, when he came out dressed for his family’s Thanksgiving in a rodeo vest and cowboy hat. I’d never attended a holiday with him, so I didn’t realize this was how everyone in his family of cowboys and rodeo performers dressed for nice gatherings. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have offered to put on my Buzz Lightyear costume. Yet, in five years, that’s the only time I’ve hurt his feelings. As obnoxious as his borderline arrogance can be, Jake is confident enough for the most self-deprecating of jokes. He can laugh at himself, which makes it sting a lot less when he laughs at my own blunders and antics. I, myself, am not typically known for my gravity, which makes for a delightful marriage. Jake and I don’t even drive with the radio on, instead opting to talk and joke until we laugh ourselves sick. Being married to him is just fun. I love that my girls will witness that.
He’s a fantastic dad. Growing up, my parents loved me. They just weren’t very good at it. As a result, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be the mom I hope to be, but I have not for a moment doubted Jake as a father. He’s never shied away from feedings, tantrums, or dirty diapers. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve struggled in the mornings, only recently able to get up with him. He’s taken on getting the girls fed and settled in their play yard before he leaves work for several months now. It’s not just the duties of parenthood at which he excels, though. It’s also the joys. Jake comes home for lunch every single day, cheerfully getting the girls up from their nap and helping to feed them, often taking the lead depending on how I feel or if I’m working on something else. When he comes home, it’s clear he can’t wait to see his little ladies, letting them crawl all over him, stealing his hat, badge, and phone. He loves being a father and he’s really good at it.
He’s masculine, without being chauvinistic. When I was dating, I made a lot of exaggerative jokes about requiring a classically masculine man. A Real Man was Louis from Interview With a Vampire, crying one tear every thousand years. If he wasn’t a better shot than I was, he wasn’t a Real Man. Real Men didn’t drive sedans, but pickups. I’m sure I could search the early days of this blog for more examples. This was all hyperbole, of course. I’ve met some great guys who fit none of these descriptors. Manicured, well-pressed men just never did it for me. The catch, however, was that the men I described often came with antiquated, even downright offensive ideas of gender roles… until I met Jake. Jake cooks the majority of our meals. He never balks at changing a dirty diaper or cleaning a toilet. When I was working full time, he respected a career that most men I’d met openly mocked and we split the household chores 50/50. He’s not exactly one for flowery words, but now that I’m home, he frequently mentions how much we all benefit. He doesn’t belittle my contribution as a stay-at-home mom, make me qualify my time, or attempt to control our finances. I’ve also still never seen him cry and he’s a better shot than I am. Oh, and he drives a pickup.
He has never, not once, asked me to change. My entire life, I’ve never quite felt like I belong. It’s difficult to say that without unintentional Breakfast Club emphasis, but I mean it without drama or angst. I’ve always operated on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, often unamused by popular comedy or overly interested in odd topics. I like to be around people, but get anxious around too many. I’m a homebody, but I never stop talking. I prefer crafts to sports, but frequently roll my eyes at what passes for art. I’m too conservative for liberal circles, too liberal for conservative circles, and too opinionated to keep my mouth shut. I’ve zero interest in the personality tests that attempt to make me feel better about such attributes and will overzealously cite studies about how they’re complete and utter hogwash. I’m too quiet at times, too loud at others. I always choose the wrong moment to share that anecdote about Pablo Escobar’s hippo menagerie taking over Columbia.
In the last seven years, though, I’ve realized that all of this is okay. I don’t need to fit in with the mean girls of my twenties. I don’t have to pretend to possess a political bent when I don’t. It doesn’t actually matter if I bring up the legalization of marijuana with the wrong audience. Jake has never once asked me to change anything about myself. From my weight, to my hair, to my volume, to my beliefs, to my interests, to my poise, to my temperament. Jake has never criticized me or been embarrassed by my awkwardness or clumsiness. He’s never asked me to be anything other than exactly who I am, so the least I can do, is offer him the same courtesy and love him, flaws and all.
It’s been a good year, y’all… easier than 2021 so far, which means leagues easier than 2020. I spent the first several months of 2022 in emotional turmoil, though. As we rang in the new year, I was just beginning to feel like myself again, after the physical trauma I’d experienced during childbirth. I could officially lift the stroller into the back of our SUV without feeling short of breath. I could run errands without feeling utterly depleted. I had energy to take care of my girls, the house, and exercise. Emotionally, I no longer felt quite so fragile either. I rarely burst into tears, convinced I’d die. For the first time since July of 2020, when we began IVF treatments, I felt human. Still… Jake and I both wanted another child.
After receiving my perinatal cardiomyopathy diagnosis in the ICU two days after my girls were born, I was informed that while my heart would likely fully recover, another pregnancy would come with risk. Officially speaking, medical wisdom advised no more children, but my cardiologist eventually added that, realistically speaking, plenty of women go on to have additional pregnancies with no complications. So, Jake and I had a tough decision to make: should we count our blessings in the healthy children we were so fortunate to have or take the low, yet not non-existent, risk of another pregnancy? Considering the cost of an embryo transfer and the experience of actually going through additional pandemic fertility treatments, I was a bit of a mess. Sure, we could wait another year, but I’m turning 35 this fall, a dreaded age in the world of infertility. We didn’t want additional troubles or risks and we didn’t want to be old parents.
I’ve previously described my infertility approach as “duck, cover, and run through the fire.” As hesitant as I was to proceed with a transfer, I knew that it was a months long process. So it began in March, when I called the fertility clinic, reasoning that I could start the consultations and spend the next few months finalizing my decision. If I decided to wait, I could always cancel the arrangements, but if we chose to proceed, there’d be no delay. Requesting a possible June or July transfer, I was told to call with my period at the end of April/beginning of May.
I spent the next two months weighing my options. Some days, I was confident that another child or two would be worth the risk and all would be well. Others, I was adamant that we were done and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all again. Most of the time, my internal battle ended with the determination that this was a problem for Future Belle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so indecisive as to repeatedly end a mental conflict with the decision to make a decision another day.
With my period due in mid-late April, the clinic called toward the end of the month to verify that I still wanted to proceed. When I informed them that I hadn’t been tracking my cycle until the previous month and didn’t know exactly when to expect it, they asked if I could be pregnant. I told them that I’d already taken a negative test, that I didn’t want to discuss the subject, and that Jake and I had been assured multiple times that a natural pregnancy was not possible. I also relayed that, when asked what birth control I planned to use, I’d told my OBGYN with confusion “Nothing? My husband can’t get me pregnant,” to which she responded “Oh, yes. I forgot. I have no problem with that.” This was from a woman who had been quite clear that she did not think I should risk more children. In response, I was simply instructed to come in for an ultrasound if I didn’t get Day One in the next couple of weeks, because I could possibly have additional complications.
The week of our five year anniversary and Mother’s Day, I decided to wait until after our celebration to schedule additional tests. The last thing I wanted to think about were more fertility problems. The entire concept was already making me nauseous. In fact, the day before our anniversary, a Thursday, I was feeling pretty unwell and resolved to make an appointment first thing Monday. I knew they’d start with another pregnancy test, something I’d desperately avoided for two weeks, not wanting to get my hopes up that the literal impossible could happen. If we were about to embark on more treatments, though, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even started. Annoyed, I bought a second one dollar test, thinking once again about how I’d never get the chance to be surprised by a second line and trying not to dwell on all that I’d missed out on in this process.
All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. For Jake and I, it ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears, knowing we would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000 and unquantifiable heartache. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused endless stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my complications in delivery. Those marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.
After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get thatmoment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We had been watching Friday Night Lights, though, and over the previous months, I’d watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, certain that that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not something we would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining.
That was why I’d put off taking a pregnancy test in the first place, even knowing unquestionably that it would be negative. Despite the fact that I’d gotten my family, whether it grows or not, it hurt knowing I’d never have that moment. I worried it would crush me to see a single line and remember what lie before me to get a second one. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to waste another dollar on a visual representation of our inability to get pregnant the fun and free way.
When I got home, I hurriedly took the test, needing to put the girls down for their nap. I sat looking at my phone while I waited a minute for the results and worried that I was somehow starting early menopause or worse, would require a complete hysterectomy. Perhaps the whole thing was out of my hands, after all. I knew a negative after a minute was likely a negative after three minutes, so I didn’t bother to prolong the wait but… it was positive.
Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.
An Influencer, I am not.
“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”
I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.
Me: “Do you have to stay at work?” Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong” Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?” Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”
I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in teen movies and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on what was surely nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… and then it was three. They were all positive.
I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.
Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.” I unlocked the door and sat on the bed. Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?” Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him – Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?” Me: “I guess so?” Jake: “That’s… cool.” Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”
Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.” Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”
This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for naught, and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a tale told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, if you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. It’s an anecdote that comes from people with no knowledge of infertility as a whole, let alone your individual situation. It doesn’t happen. Even the urologist used the word “miracle” when asked if Jake could get me pregnant. If my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.
I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I was so afraid that the pregnancy wouldn’t be viable, that something would be wrong. I worried about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I had only stopped taking a month ago. I worried about Jake’s wonky sperm. I worried about my heart, not having yet gotten the okay from my cardiologist… or as much of an okay as she’d ever give. I worried about all the one in a million odds that had kicked us in our asses so far. I’m still petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just a few days after I got my positive test and the reclassification from cardiomyopathy to severe preeclampsia from my high risk OB. I am, however, 19 weeks pregnant today, after a successful anatomy scan of our baby boy.
The infertility community didn’t need another obnoxious anecdote, but apparently, here I am. I apologize for my aunts in advance and refuse to share such details with strangers and further contribute to such an unhelpful narrative. I got a baby the fun and free way, though. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. Despite my aspirations, I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.
Almost seven years ago, on June 9, 2015, Jake and I arranged to meet at a sushi place in Springfield, just north of my hometown of Shetland. I remember the date, not just because I remember all of the dates, but because it was my Gramma’s birthday and she was my next stop.
At 27, having been divorced for four years, I was growing weary of the dating scene, though I hadn’t yet begun to approach truly desperate. What had once been a fun and exciting experience had become tedious and redundant over the years. While I largely preferred online to organic dating, simply for the screening it allowed, the process had become unchanging. I’d talk to a man for a few days to a week. We’d schedule a time to meet in a public place. I’d determine we were incompatible for some reason. I’d blow him off with varying degrees of politeness. On rare occasion, I was being a diva, but most of the time my reasons were entirely valid. The day I met Jake, I was more or less over it. I didn’t want any more first dates that ended with my return to my single girl apartment, where I’d thumb through profiles I’d already seen a dozen times. I wanted to move on with my life, start the next adventure. Then I met Jake.
Ha. I jest. Jake and I didn’t have a Love at First Sight moment, because life is not a poorly written historical romance. No, we just had… a really good date. He more or less looked like his pictures, was funny, found my awkwardness endearing, and didn’t seem to be turned off by the fact that I just could not stop talking. He thought I was cute, was pleasantly surprised that I was as… loquacious as I was for a librarian, and enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t afraid to talk back to him. An hour or so after we went our separate ways, I received a text telling me that he had a good time and would like to see me again…
… and two years later we were married on May 6, 2017 after a courtship which was surprisingly easy in nearly every way. Sure, we had our spats, but overall, we were shockingly well-matched for the cowboy and the librarian. Our tastes were just similar enough to enjoy things together, yet different enough to introduce each other to new interests and entertain ourselves separately. We shared goals and worldviews and it was always just… easy.
On our wedding day, I never experienced a single moment of doubt that Jake was the best decision I’d ever made. It was a perfect day, right down to the weather, as my dad turned to me and told me I’d picked a good one this time. It was right and it has been right every day since…
… but after celebrating five years or marriage, I can’t say that it’s always been easy. In fact, 2020 would rank as the most difficult year of my life if the ends hadn’t justified the means… and if it hadn’t been for Jake and his complete and total acceptance and strength. He is the string to my kite and while he’s certainly not perfect, he is perfect for me, the best thing that has ever happened to me.
I used to lie in bed at night, every door locked, with a loaded gun in a sock in the bed next to me, praying that the next man would be a good one. After the devastation that was the one and only relationship I’d ever had, I prayed that God would see fit to bring me a Godly man who was hard working, funny, intelligent, and would be a good husband and father. I didn’t need a hero from one of my romance novels. I needed someone real, someone who would compliment my own personality… and on June 9, 2015, I found him. It was my 21st first date and little did I know that I’d meet my very best friend.
The last year has been kind to us, overall. We welcomed our baby girls into the world and I spent the year regaining my strength after that terrifying ordeal. We realized that my staying home was the best choice for our family and fully embraced parenthood. We have had so much fun with each other and our girls. I never thought marriage could be this amazing and I’m certainly looking forward to the next five years.