I’m done making offensive people feel comfortable.

Many an article and blog post has been written on the rude and appalling things people say to pregnant women:

“So, how much weight have you gained?” – Grandma Kay… three times

“Now, the babies are Jake’s, right?” – Aunt Dee and a 70+ coworker, Arlene.

“Stand up and let me see how big you’ve gotten!” – Arlene

Me: “Just let me use the restroom real fast and you can take your break.”
Arlene: ::laughing:: “Oh, I”ll bet you have to do that all the time.”

Dad: ::laughingly:: “I didn’t know she had a good side. I just thought she had a fat side.”

Great Aunt: ::complete with hand motions:: “Yeah, she’s really carrying her weight around here.”

… and most recently…

“You look like you’re about to pop.” – two customers and a coworker

You know… like a parade balloon.

There’s something about being pregnant that leads people to assume a woman has no bodily autonomy or modesty and comments that would never be acceptable to say to a person who wasn’t pregnant are suddenly small talk, from weight questions, to jokes about how often you have to pee, to inquiries about parentage. Zetus lapetus, folks, I don’t care how close someone is with a person who has gone through fertility treatments, that does not make it any more acceptable to ask who the father is than it would be to ask anyone who conceived naturally!

Sadly, I don’t know that any of these remarks cover new and unique territory. I’m sure every woman who has ever been pregnant has heard something similar. As infuriating as these comments are, however, I think what I’m most sick of is the excuses for them.

Me: “Grandma Kay has asked how much weight I’ve gained every time I’ve spoken to her.”
Dad: “She just wants to know how big the babies are.”
Me: “That’s a different question.”

You know how you ask how big the babies are? “How big are the babies?”

My dad’s not alone in this defense. I’ve heard similar attempted justifications from my Gramma and Arlene. Even my Gen Xer friend and coworker, Tenley, has told me more than once that my offense to these questions is generational and you know what? I call shenanigans.

I do not buy it, y’all. At no point in history do I believe that women were comfortable hearing these comments about their bodies, from the time it was appropriate to acknowledge a woman’s “condition” during pregnancy forward. Not in the 50s, when Marilyn and her 22″ waist reigned supreme, or the 60s, when Twiggy and Mia Farrow popularized the so-slender-as-to-be-boyish figure; not in the 70s, when Charlie’s Angels fought crime in bikinis and evening gowns, or the 80s when Madonna popularized lingerie as daily attire; not during the Baywatch and Sex and the City era of the 90s or the Abercrombie & Fitch adds that legit sold clothing through nudity in the 00s; not during T-Swift and Miley’s heyday and certainly not now, do I believe that any woman was or is ever comfortable with hearing comments about how large pregnancy has made her, her private bodily functions, or the method in which she got pregnant.

I am a millennial, as is Jake, despite his refusal to admit to it, due to his frustration with the generation as a whole. There are many things that annoy me about those born between 1980 and 1996, too, not the least of which is the tendency to find offense. This, however, is not an oversensitive millennials problem. I am happy to talk about my pregnancy, whether people ask when I’m due or what I’m having or what names I’ve chosen or how I’m feeling or how big are the babies. It doesn’t bother me at all for someone to ask if I’m getting excited or how much time is left. But my own mother told me, more than once, the story of being eight months pregnant with my brother, when my grandpa saw her and exclaimed that she had gotten “soooo big!” and how awful that made her feel. That was in 1984, almost forty years ago. She had an even more horrifying story of being asked when she was due, despite not being pregnant in the mid-90s. It is simply not a new phenomenon that women don’t want to hear negative and invasive comments on their bodies!

Ideally, work should have been the one place I didn’t have this problem, as my field is very progressive and since I’d included the following in my pregnancy announcement email:

“Congratulations, well wishes, and positive comments are always appreciated. Negative/discouraging remarks or stories about pregnancy/motherhood/twins/my body are not.”

After Arlene somehow managed to say something offensive during the three hours I work with her every week, for several weeks in a row, I finally snapped at her when she laughed at me, on the public floor, as I struggled to pick up something I dropped. I understand that she meant nothing by it, that she simply relates and would never deliberately say something hateful… but even my good ol’ boy husband agrees that it’s pretty much a given of social etiquette that you don’t cackle as a pregnant woman struggles to bend over. I spoke to my branch manager and told her, quite bluntly, that if a manager didn’t have a talk with Arlene, I was going to yell at her, that I simply did not have the patience for the discussion, because I didn’t want to listen to her apologize for two hours… and that’s exactly what happened after her supervisor spoke with her. That Saturday night, she texted lengthy apologies, insisting she didn’t even understand what she’d said and that she wished I’d just told her at the time. This only ended when I relayed the incidences and explained that I knew she’d be upset and didn’t have the energy to make her feel better.

Y’all, I genuinely like Arlene. She’s like our library grandma. Still, I simply refuse to accept that age is a valid exception to rules of society that are widely acknowledged by every other generation, in the vast majority of cases. Whether or not someone is over the age of 70, if they go out and spend time with people, multiple times a week, they know that is not okay to comment to other people on their bodies. I just don’t buy that no one has ever shown offense to such remarks, pregnant or otherwise. At best, they just see it as a social norm, because it was when they were growing up and at worst, they think it’s stupid to take offense, so they’ll say these things regardless, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be called out… and those are both terrible reasons to choose to be offensive, which goes for customers, as well.

Customer: “It looks like you’re about ready to pop, Miss Belle.”

I ignored this as a one-off, said nothing, and kept walking. The very next day

Different Customer: “You look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: “I don’t appreciate that comment.”

The very next day, thirty seconds after I finished telling Sarah how much the above infuriated me, another coworker walked in…

Amy: “Belle, you look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: ::harshly:: “Do not say that to me. No one on the planet wants to hear about how gigantic they are.”
Amy: ::awkward laughter::
Me: “It’s not funny.”

I’m done, folks. I might only have a few weeks left in this pregnancy, if that, but I’m not going to get any smaller in that time and, from what I hear, I have a lifetime of unwanted comments about my parenting ahead of me, so I am done. If there will forever remain those who are content to make me uncomfortable, I’ll find my own contentment in making them just as uncomfortable, right back. I’ll tell them they’re being offensive, argue the point vehemently if they push, and stare blankly if they try to laugh it off. They are the ones breaking the rules of a civilized society by commenting on private matters. They are the ones who need to get with the times. They can be the ones embarrassed in public.

I’ve forgotten how to apply makeup.

The pandemic hit at an all time low for me. Jake and I had just found out that we were going to have to go through IVF over the summer and I… wasn’t handling it well.

… more than once, I called in late, because I couldn’t pull it together.

Even during the month before Covid-19 hit my state, the only reason I bothered to dress nicely and do my hair and makeup, was that it made me feel more capable and put together, at a time when I desperately needed it. So, when the library closed for an indeterminate amount of time, my sole goal, in regards to appearance, was to maintain my weight and basic hygiene. During those six weeks, my daily uniform consisted of athletic shorts, tank tops, and ponytails… not even cute, perky ponytails, but the Founding Father kind that’s worn at the base of the neck.

Indeed, I did look like a young Mr. Feeny for most of 2020.

When the library reopened, I felt little motivation to achieve more than the bare minimum summer dress code of denim capris and t-shirts… and a mask. Whereas I might have considered applying concealer and mascara before, I saw no point while revealing barely an inch between bangs and mask. Makeup is expensive and we were about to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments. Furthermore, customers weren’t even allowed in the building and Jake was just happy that I could get out of bed in the morning. Who was I trying to impress?

I began my first IVF cycle in July and was far more concerned with taking my temperature thirteen times a day than I was with not wearing Crocs to the doctor’s office. Makeup was literally the furthest thing from my mind, at this point in time, and it sort of became habit. Even a year later, no one can see my face, unless it’s during a Zoom call from home, and that usually means a remote program or staff meeting. My teens don’t give two figs how I look, as long as I entertain them with elaborate D&D battles, and my coworkers see me in all my barefaced glory every day, when I’m allowed to remove my mask at my workstation. When customers are allowed in the building, all they can see is eyes.

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Sure, I apply some concealer, when I look especially exhausted… because it has been an exhausting year, but I never see anyone outside of basic grocery shopping and Amazon returns. Jake and I literally entered a restaurant less than five times last year. Date nights consisted of s’mores in the backyard and Netflix. We didn’t even see our families more than once or twice. Halloween came with an ice storm and record-breaking power outages. I didn’t even get to wear a costume, because a) I had an ultrasound and didn’t want to receive bad news while dressed like Darkwing Duck and b) everyone had hunkered down in preparation for the storm, so the library was even more empty than usual, on a pandemic Saturday. Thanksgiving consisted of sweet potato pancakes and turkey sausage with my grandparents on Black Friday, all of us in jammies. New Year’s was just the two of us at home. Christmas was close family only. We were even snowed in on Valentine’s Day and spent the time painting the babies’ room, sewing quilts, and making stuffed waffles.

Now, here I am, fully vaccinated in a state where anyone who wants one can get their Covid-19 vaccine, able to enter the world again and y’all… I’ve forgotten how to apply makeup.

Not having taught myself to use eyeliner until 23, I’ve always been something of a minimalist, when it comes to makeup, only truly investing in decent products in preparation for my wedding at 29. Before that, all of my makeup was from the drugstore and I was fine with it. I’ll never forget marveling over how Jake could choose me, when I met his friends’ wives, who took two hours to get ready for Wal-Mart, when every bit of Maybelline and Revlon I owned was in my purse.

Even now, I only wear Bare Minerals foundation and eyeshadow, buy my mascara and eyeliner in black or brown at Sephora, and almost never wear lipstick. I have clear skin, easy hair, and I’m cheap. I’ve just never felt the desire to spend the time or money on perfecting tips from YouTube tutorials; and although I married a cowboy, who’s used to women with big hair and glitzy jewelry and bright eyeshadow, fortunately for me, he prefers the low maintenance look, along with the attitude and budget that comes with it.

All that being said, I do like to dress in feminine clothing, despite my inability to tell you any trendy brand names or styles. Years after the cancellation of The New Girl, I still tend toward Jessica Day style dresses, long hair, and bangs… though I do cut them myself. Now that I spend my mornings nursing pregnancy headaches, instead of screaming on the bathroom floor, I once again have the energy to dress up in cheap Amazon maternity dresses and accessorize with the jewelry I’ve accumulated over the last 15 years. I even straighten my hair, the one style technique I’ve mastered… before donning my mask.

Now, here we are, able to see our vaccinated friends and family once again, sans masks, according to CDC guidelines. In fact, this weekend, Jake and I are visiting the family ranch for the first time, since we begged for money for fertility treatments last March. I look like a tabloid snapshot of myself! This ranch is located in the land of big hair, turquoise, and people who haven’t been wearing masks for the last year, and I don’t even know how to look human anymore.

I must admit that, after all the ways that Covid-19 has kicked our collective butts, this threw me for a loop. I’ve been alternately praying for normalcy and breaking down because we’ll never see it again, so it never occurred to me how awkward readjusting to it would be, when Earth began to reopen. I have to say, though, it’s a good problem to have and maybe it means there’s an end in sight, if we can start to worry about dressing appropriately and forgetting how to wear makeup.

The Lady Eagles: Sports, but for Girls

It is once again sportsball season, y’all.

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Believe it or not, folks, I actually played basketball as a child… for two years. I can’t say I hated it as much as softball, but I did hate it. You see, I was never an athletic child. On the contrary, I was an asthmatic child. I was an overweight child. I was a creative child. While my parents made mistakes, I don’t actually think that putting me in sports was a notable one. That’s what suburban families do… play sports. No, their mistake was not reading their child, pinpointing her skills, and playing to them, which was honestly a lot to ask of parents in the 90s. I mean, who doesn’t want to play softball and basketball and volleyball!?!?!

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It started with softball… the worst sport of all time. I literally had to sit on the bench and wait my turn to play this terrible game. Then I had to stand in the hot sun and wait my turn to play this terrible game. The fact that baseball is America’s past time is just a testament to our laziness, as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all. The only thing duller, is watching as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all.

Jake: “My cousin was wondering if we wanted to watch the girls’ play softball this weekend.”
Me: “No. I don’t love you that much.”

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Despite my general lack of athletic, social, or teamwork skills, year after year, I was enrolled in sports. There was softball and then basketball, even an awful year as the fat cheerleader for my brother’s youth football team. When middle school started, I went to a single football game as a member of “Spirit Club,” made it through four volleyball practices, and spent a half semester in an obligatory P.E. class before I finally accepted the truth: I… kinda hate sports.

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Folks, this realization occurred the year Varsity Blues was released; when we were all watching Hillary Duff pine over 23-year-old high school football player, Chad Michael Murray, who couldn’t even bring himself to defend her when she was publicly humiliated by his friends; when movies about stereotypical popular boys daring to date frumpy versions of Mandy Moore and Rachel Leigh Cook were all the rage. Long before the rise of nerd culture, when intellect and fandoms became cool, that’s when I chose to hate sports in a suburban public school system.

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While I am, overall, more active and athletic these days, as with any other form of post traumatic stress, I still don’t have particularly warm feelings about sports. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate school that I developed an interest in football, as a student of a state college with a Division I team… I think. I just Googled that. My Gramma has always been passionate about my college team, however, and for once in my life, I felt like I actually had a stake in whether or not they won, beyond pleasing my namesake. So for a couple of years, I followed them as an avid fan… at least until the coach allowed a player who was publicly violent toward women to remain on the team and my deeply buried feminist boycotted the entire team until the coach retired… for five years.

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Since I haven’t had cable in years, I now only watch the games when I can get them via antenna or through a free Hulu + Live TV trial. Regardless, I must maintain a relationship with sports… because I got married.

Jake: ::struts out in his Letterman’s jacket:: “You totally wanna have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”

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Y’all, my husband is my favorite person in the whole world, but sometimes I marvel at how we even work. He was the pickup truck and Letterman’s jacket to my turtleneck and overalls. He can do a toe touch at 35 and I once hit my head on the bathroom counter trying to put on a sock. I remember the time I went on a date with a guy who loved anime, which left me scratching my head about how a grown man could be so obsessed with cartoons… but I’m similarly baffled by the passion Jake’s family has for sports. Like, they know it’s literally a game right… the way that croquet and Mario Kart 8 and beer pong are games? Jake, at least, would probably argue for the skill involved in all three, but I’m pretty sure he’d be the only Granger claiming as much. Regardless of my confusion, however, I’m frequently obligated, this time of year, to cheer on my nieces at their basketball games. Folks, if I thought watching skilled adults play sports was boring…

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How are so many parents putting their children in sports, when it means they actually have to watch children play sports?!?! That’s like listening to kids read aloud! Children doing boring things badly is just more boring! Fortunately for me, since my mind tends to never shut down, I’m actually fairly good at being bored. Sitting still for 45 minutes, pretending that I’m not tuning in and out of the game to plan next week’s grocery list, mentally decorate the guest bathroom, or debate whether or not Harry and Ginny were a natural progression is not a challenge for me. What is a challenge for me, however, is the inherent sexism that’s still ingrained in K-12 sports.

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Me: “Why are they called the ‘Lady Eagles’?”
Jake: “Because it’s the girls’ team?”
Me: “Right, but a female eagle is just called an eagle. Why can’t they just be the Eagles?”
Jake: “They have to differentiate them from the boys’ team.”
Me: “Okay, so does that mean the boys are the Gentlemen Eagles?”
Jake: “What? No. They’re just the Eagles.”
Me: “That’s bullshit! Why do the girls get the only qualifier?”
Jake: “They just have to tell the teams apart.”
Me: “Why? They’re not playing each other.”
Jake: “It’s for schedules and reports and stuff.”
Me: “Fine. Call it ‘Boys’ Basketball Schedule’ and ‘Girls’ Basketball Schedule’. Color code it or use a different font. Problem solved… multiple times… without sexism.”
Jake: “I cannot believe that this is your hill to die on, when you don’t even like sports. Why are you getting so mad?”
Me: “Because you have a Real Basketball Team and a Gal’s Basketball Team. It completely diminishes their sport!”
Jake: “Men’s sports do make more money than women’s sports.”
Me: “Not in middle school! Exactly zero of these kids are ever going to play pro anything. If they did, they’d still get a real team name.”

How are we still doing this!?!? I have never even played school sports and this has always infuriated me! I understand separating the boys’ team from the girl’s team, once puberty hits. Scientifically speaking, most boys have a physical advantage at this point. That doesn’t mean they get dibs on the qualifier-free team name, that they get to be the Real Team! There is either “Boys’ Basketball” and “Girls’ Basketball” or “Just Fucking Basketball.” In fact, I would quite prefer to put my daughter in a jersey that reads “Just Fucking Basketball” than one that reads “Sports, but for Girls.”

Part of the reason I struggle to take sports as seriously as Southern America seems to think I should, is because of the mandatory arbitrary sexual divide. We raise girls to be strong and fast and athletic, only to simultaneously send the message that they’re still the B team. We put them in softball, instead of baseball. We dress the male cheerleaders in pants and shirts and the female cheerleaders in rebranded Twin Peaks uniforms. We give the school field to the boys’ team and send the girls to a public park.

In the South, we talk ceaselessly about the benefits of athletics to all kids, from lower obesity and teen pregnancy rates to higher test scores and leadership skills. Then we treat the girls’ team as a visitor’s team, even when they’re not. When they get older, if they’re lucky enough to be truly competitive, we’re shocked, just shocked, that there’s less turnout for their games and interest in their sports, as a whole. Would calling the 7th grade girls’ basketball team the Eagles, as opposed to the Lady Eagles, make anyone more likely to show up to their games 10 years later? I don’t know, but we could try. We could start taking them as seriously as the Gentlemen Eagles.

Sports have never been my jam. Academia is my jam. It’s intelligence and research skills and forming a strong argument and being well-read. You know what, though? I’ve never felt that being female diminished my value in this regard, from my Pre-AP English class in the 9th grade to the system-wide manager meetings I attended a few years ago. In my industry, I am rarely the smartest person in the room, but it’s an understood coin toss as to whether the person who is, is male or female. Academia doesn’t care if you brought a penis to the party, as long as you brought citations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’ve always felt more at home among intellectuals than athletes… that and the relentless bullying from the latter, of course. Value and skill are based on merit, not some archaic gender standard. There are no Lady Intellectuals and if you were to print up gear titling them as such, they’d intellectually eviscerate you.

Me: “So what’s the other team called?”
Jake: “They’re the Elks.”
Me: “So, what, they’re the Lady Elks?”
Jake: ::laughing at me:: “I don’t know. A female Elk is called a cow. Do you want to call them the Cows?”
Me: “If it means they get their own damned title, then sure.
Me: ::leaning over to a teenager nearby:: “Hey. What is the girls’ team called?”
Teen: “They’re the Elkettes.”

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I own seven bras.

I own seven bras, folks. SEVEN.

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Now, I won’t pretend that I’ve lived such an impoverished life to have been left wanting for underwear. Growing up, I had what I needed… more or less, considering my mother was so distracted by her drama with my dad, that my aunt gave me my first training bra for Christmas, in front of my entire extended family.

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Oh, how I longed for Lizzie McGuire’s home life.

A Gramma’s girl, however, I always had someone who would buy my tampons or take me bra shopping. I wasn’t that deprived. While forcing my likely EE’s into a DDD at age 14, I can’t say that these bras always fit, until after my breast reduction at 15… for a few years there, I had enough underwear. Then, I graduated high school, entered college, and married at 19…

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Dun, dun, dun, dun…
It’s been almost 10 years, y’all, and I can say with confidence that I no longer struggle with food hoarding. Since my darkest days saw a summer working at the movie theater with nothing but popcorn and prayer for dinner (for both myself and the beagle with visible ribs), I admit it was once a problem. In fact, it took years to get over the anxiety caused by a perpetually empty refrigerator and driving around with a bucket full of dollar store food in my backseat, because anything I took home was immediately eaten by not me. Times were hard, yo’. Not knowing where your next meal will come from does some damage. I didn’t exactly have the energy to worry about the fact that most of my bras had visibly broken underwires.

As rough as those days were, they were also, fortunately, short-lived. Divorced at 23, I began to realize that I could take care of myself, if only barely. I consistently had food to eat, even if it did come from the dollar store. I had presentable clothes to wear, even if they did come from Goodwill. I had tuition and a suitable laptop, even if they did come from student loans. I had gas in my car, even if it did come from Gramma. What I did not have, however, was nice or numerous undies.

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As I rebuilt my life, began to work on myself, and lost massive amounts of weight, I began to truly value my appearance for the first time in my life. I bought cute dresses and showed off my legs. I styled my hair, taught myself to apply makeup, and learned to accessorize… all on a budget, of course. However, having only even kissed the one person, underwear was always a low priority for me. I was just too busy keeping the electricity on, the car running, and my grades up in grad school to care. I typically owned two bras, one black and one white and a pack of Hanes briefs. Yes, they were granny panties, but if I was going to invest in clothing, it was going to be in the items people could see, and no one but no one was going to see my panties.

As time went on, I was able to mark Goodwill off my list of clothing stores and even purchase a designer purse every few years. Thanks to Wal-Mart’s throwback layaway, I managed to buy my Gramma a $400 iPad for Christmas, as a thank you for all she’d done. That was a lot of money for me, at the time. My vehicle was upgraded, from a brand that primarily made dirt bikes to one that actually specialized in cars. My laptop went from a $500 base model to a mid-range custom order. My bras and panties remained the same. Like, I probably owned some of the same pairs throughout and that remained true until… well, now.

Soon after I met Jake, I was fortunate enough to get a full time position in my library system, but underwear was not where I first thought to throw my money. When Jake and I got engaged, naturally, I had a wedding and a move to plan, so my three bras (I’d added a mauve one) would have to do. We married and wanted to buy a house. We bought a house and had to buy all the new home paraphernalia (bathmats and cleaning supplies and rugs and shoe racks and pantry shelves and…). Then we needed a new car and we almost had to hire divorce lawyers (I jest… mostly).

Me: “Do you remember when we were dating and I bought you that stuff from the Hanes store, when they were going out of business?”
Jake: “Yes?”
Me: “Well, that was three years ago and that was the last time I bought bras… most of which didn’t actually fit, because they were on sale and I thought I could make them work.”

So it happened that I bought, not three, not four, but seven new bras. That’s right, y’all. I don’t just have food in my fridge, a current electric bill, and a phone that’s only two editions old. I own seven bras. We bought a new car this year and new living room furniture (including a 75″ television) this month. I was able to custom order a new laptop, for the first time getting exactly the high end model I wanted. I got my annual performance raise, officially throwing me over $50,000 in a state with one of the lowest costs of living. Yet, here I am, just plain thankful for the seven bras I now own. I have arrived. This is adulthood.

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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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Roots

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

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

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#goals

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

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

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

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

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

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Blogiversary Number Six

It’s been six years, y’all. Six years ago, I celebrated my 25th birthday, while working two jobs, finishing up grad school, and becoming accustomed to experiencing the world both single and not 270 pounds. I had no idea what the future held and decided to begin chronicling it via blog. It was thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

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It was just like taking… caffeine pills? Is that really what was happening in this episode?
I owe my master’s degree to Five Hour Energy.

Here I am today, on my 31st birthday, working as a full time teen librarian (my dream job), married to my favorite person in the whole world, living in an entirely different city, writing my sixth birthday blog, from a home I own. Instead of hoping the next year might hold a guy who’s not a total douche or the fantasy that is just the one job, my wonderful husband and I are talking babies. There were times, at 25 or 26, when I would wake up and wonder if it would ever happen, if my life would ever start. Sure, in hindsight, I know that that time in my life was valuable, but I wanted more… and now I have it.

A lot can change in just a short time and at 31, it seems that life is moving wonderfully faster and faster. This blog has taken many forms, from the chronicles of a recovering divorcee, a grad student, an online dater, a librarian, a newlywed. Here’s to the many other forms it may take over the next six years, as I will continue to be the chronicler, the researcher, the ranter, the overanalyzer: The Belle of the Library.

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What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in Our First Year

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

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

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

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

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We worried both less and more about privacy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve touched base on our timelines.

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

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

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

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In Defense of Earning Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Scam Lucille Bluth

A couple of months ago, on one of my rare 12:00 – 9:00 work days, I spent the morning watching Hocus Pocus in my pajamas, with my cat, Thackery Binx, on my lap. I snapped a carefully framed photo of little black cat ears in front of the screen and shared it on Facebook, declaring that it was never too early to start watching Halloween movies, especially my favorite of all time.

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When I got to work, I put my phone on silent, stashed it in the drawer, and went along with my day, at some point opening Facebook in the desktop background, just in case Jake messaged me. Not an hour later, I was surprised to receive an urgent message… or really any message… from Grandma Kay.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my Grandma Kay. She’s the sassy, witty, forthright, bibulous, matriarch of the family. Essentially, she’s Lucille Bluth.

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Case in point, several years ago, at our family Christmas party, my cousins were discussing the idea that telling children about Santa is a breech of trust, because it’s a lie. Grandma Kay, in the process of enjoying her own drink and making another for someone else, held one drink in each hand and shouted “That’s fucking bullshit!”

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Merry Christmas, everybody!

One summer visit, she was showing me some old photos and sentimental knickknacks, of which there are plenty, because she has more money than God and is completely unaware of that fact.

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Grandma Kay: “Your grandpa and I painted that giraffe together. What—? It’s chipped! Lupe must have done that with the vacuum!”
Me: ::in jest:: “You should have her deported!”
Grandma Kay: ::hopefully in jest:: “I should!”

If you’re ever standing in front of the mirror, wondering if your outfit for the family party works or not, have no fear. Grandma Kay will let you know, as soon as she sees you. Some popular Grandma Kayisms include:

“Oh, but that’s just not in!
“She’s just put on so much weight.”
“She’s been so stressed lately and she’s lost a lot of weight, but she looks great. She’s got a really cute figure, now.”

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Now, she might be a wee bit critical of us, but you have never seen anyone go mama bear like Grandma Kay. She might be allowed to tell us all of our faults, but if anyone else tries, they’d better be ready for a verbal filleting like no other. The Thanksgiving Day I showed in tears, because a family member unrelated to my grandmother (and who has a tendency to overshare on medical issues) had been sending me such vicious and hateful text messages, that I’d actually stopped reading them, Grandma Kay took my phone from me, read through the texts and loudly declared:

“Well, then. I’m glad she won’t be at Christmas. Now I don’t have to listen to that cunt talk about her twat over dinner.”

I genuinely share these stories with delighted amusement, because while Esther Walton, she may not be, I’ve never doubted that Grandma Kay cares. It’s just that I’ve always been my Gramma Mae’s best girl. She’s essentially the one who raised me, with her PG swear words and enabling “But he likes his bacon raw!” ways. So, an urgent message from Grandma Kay, before 1:00 in the afternoon, when the family crest includes a warning not to call this woman before 11:00 am, is a bit unorthodox.

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Grandma Kay: Belle? Where are you?????
Grandma Kay: Answer me now!
Me: I’m here. What’s wrong?
Grandma Kay: Where?
Me: At work? What’s going on? 
Grandma Kay: You need to answer your phone!

My father works for the electric company, my stepmother for the Salvation Army and is currently deployed on hurricane relief, and my three stepbrothers are just boys in their early twenties, so when I checked my phone to see missed calls from Grandma Kay, Aunt Dee, and my dad, I was certain someone had died.

Me: “Dad? Grandma messaged me on Facebook, panicked. Is everything okay?”
Dad: “Well, no. Someone called her and told her they were you and that they were in a Texas jail and needed $2,000.”
Me: “Dad, that’s a scam… a pretty popular one.”
Dad: “Well, I know that, but she didn’t and she didn’t want to call me, so she called your Aunt Dee and they were both worried. I told them you couldn’t be in jail, cuz you were just posting on Facbook about how you were watching Halloween movies with that damn cat.”
Me: “Umm… yeah, and no discredit to Grandma Kay or anything, but if I were in jail, she’s literally the last person I would ask for help.”
Dad: “I know. You’d call your Gramma Mae.”
Me: “Well, yeah, but Grandma Kay is also the least likely person to give me $2,000. I have $2,000 and I’d pay it from that before I’d ask her for a dime, because she’s more likely than you are to tell me to suck it up.”
Dad: ::cackles:: “Well, you’re probably right.”

Once I’d been assured that my stepbrothers hadn’t been killed in a car accident, I took a walk around the block to ease my nerves and messaged Grandma Kay, who told me the same story.

Grandma Kay: I knew it couldn’t be you, that you wouldn’t go to Texas, when we had plans for your birthday on Sunday. It really did sound like you, Belle, but drugged.
Me: You’ve never heard me drugged, Grandma.
Grandma Kay: Well, that’s true.
Me: I’m just glad you didn’t send them any money.
Grandma Kay: You know me better than that. I told them “You’re married now. You need to call your husband or your father” and then I hung up on them.

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Y’all, my grandma literally told me to solve my own damned problems and hung up on me in my hour of irresponsible need! There has never been an old woman so vicious!!!!

Just a few days later, I saw Grandma Kay at my 30th birthday lunch, where she gave me the customary $50.

Me: “This is about $1,950 less than I requested, Grandma.”
Grandma Kay: “Oh, yeah right! You better just stay out of jail.”
Me: “I’m just saying…. for the future, if you and dad ever have a debate over where Belle is: in a Texas jail cell or at home watching Halloween movies with the cat, always go for the latter.”

I assist a lot of naive elderly people in my daily work. Naturally, I’ve always worried about my grandparents being taken advantage of; but I can apparently rest a little easier, because it seems it’s not so simple to scam Lucille Bluth.

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