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.

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Cheering for the Underdog: the Frustrations of a Teen Librarian

I’m a married, thirty-year-old woman, with a degree in education, who has every intention of having her own children… and I don’t like kids.

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That statement is usually met with confusion or melodramatic horror. How could you not like kids?!?! Well… like this.

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I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library. Children are trying, yo. At best, any cuteness they possess is canceled out by the fact that they talk incessantly about things that do not interest me in the least and they don’t understand my sense of humor. I simply can’t relate to them. At worst, they’re loud, demanding, rude, have no respect for personal space, and everything they say is spoken through a whine. I’m not allowed to correct them, even when they’re disrupting the entire library, because it’s assumed that everyone thinks the above is adorable… mostly by the helicopter mom with her $200 blonde bob and insistence that the only reason her angel is screaming like Veruca Salt, while tearing books off my shelf, is because she has “extremely high functioning Asperger’s.”

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That’s not a legitimate diagnosis in the DSM-5 and hasn’t been since 2013. You Googled that. Poorly.

In fact, in defense of children as a whole, I understand that they’re still learning: to cope with their emotions, to use their manners, to moderate their voices. I get that it’s completely normal and healthy for a child to have a tantrum at the grocery store, because they can’t always have their way; at church, because sitting still is hard; at Christmas, because they’re just overwhelmed. I don’t hold that against children and it I’m still confident I want my own. I just don’t want to be around other people’s children; and I do hold it against some parents that they have a complete and utter disregard for the fact that there are absolutely settings in which it is entirely acceptable to assume they will require their children to behave or remove them, such as at a nice movie theater or restaurant, the ballet, church, the library. I’d estimate that a good third of my frustration with children can actually be blamed, not on the fact that they’re present, but on the fact that no one corrects them. Regardless of my reasoning, if I tell you that I don’t like children, I’m a monster. You know who everyone’s allowed to vocally berate at top volume, though? Teens.

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That’s right. I’m expected to understand that children are precious little gifts from God, no matter how much they annoy me. I’m supposed to get over it if your child starts screaming at the ballet, because babies exist and for some reason they have to do it near me during The Nutcracker; something I guarantee I will understand even less when I’ve gone through the trouble to get a sitter of my own, so I can enjoy some child free entertainment. In the South, I’m a biological disgrace to my gender, because I haven’t had “baby fever” for the last ten years… but the rest of American society gets to hate on teenagers, like they’re white millennials wearing leggings as pants and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, while they read Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s cool to hate teenagers… and that is complete and utter trash.

My dream job has always been teen librarian. My title has not. I began my first full time supervisory librarian position specializing in adults and so, when I stepped down from management, it was an adult position that was available for me at the Jackson branch. Sadly, it seemed my ship had sailed on teen librarianship… that was until our grassroots restructuring, last spring, when a specialization was demanded from everyone, and I threw my own managers for a loop by taking a chance and adamantly declaring that teens, not adults, were my jam.

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Since then, I’ve been the teen librarian for all five of our satellite libraries, primarily stationed at the central hub of the Cherokee branch; and I’m admittedly under-qualified for the dream job, into which I was mapped and transferred. I have wonderful mentors, but I can’t deny that, if I had actually applied for such a position, I wouldn’t have even been interviewed, with only my substitute teaching and bachelor’s degree as related experience. What I can affirm, however, is that my passion for teens would probably have ranked higher than that of most applicants. Whereas everyone else thinks the Ramona Quimby’s and Scout Finches are just precious, I love teenagers; from Carrie White, to Hermione Granger, to Ponyboy Curtis, to Cher Horowitz, to Regina George, I love them all… and just like the Little Orphan Annie’s and Matilda’s they need a champion, because when you’re a teenager, most of the adults in your life are jerks.

When they come to me, my library kids have just started middle school. They’re excited for the pending teenage years, when they suddenly realize, the understanding that was demanded on their behalf just three years ago, has completely vanished… but only for them, not for their younger siblings or the other kids in the library, the Eric Cartmans screaming in the children’s area. When they were four and terrified of the dark, everyone understood that this was the first time they really felt fear and coddled them for it. Yet, for some reason, now that they’re 11 and feeling every adult emotion for the first time, no one cares. To them, there’s seemingly no catalyst. They went from cute and clever and generally adored to gawky and mouthy and generally despised and I am telling you, they feel every bit of this dislike and they understand exactly none of it… and it’s the lucky ones who have only this struggle.

The problem runs deeper in the South, as many problems do. In a region where it’s assumed you’ll marry and have children by 22, most adults don’t really get a time to be young and selfish. Your twenties are the time when your primary focus should be yourself, figuring out what you want from life and how to make it happen. Your twenties are the best time to find a career path, decide what kind of friends you want, what kind of person you want to be with, if you want marriage, and if you want children. People don’t often live deliberately, around these parts, though. They follow the path laid out for them, by parents who never considered another path for themselves.

While this works out for many and happens to be exactly what they want, many others find themselves in their mid-thirties, trying to recapture this time in their lives, backtracking while they feel they still can. They look at their spouse and children, a decision they made at 22, that was really no decision at all, simply a default, and wonder what might have been. They finally admit that they’ve been unhappy for the last 10 years, but they’ve stayed for the children, so they wouldn’t miss those precious, adorable, early years and they just can’t anymore. The kids are older now and don’t need them as much, they rationalize, because feisty has turned into bitchy, and they aren’t as devastated by the idea of missing this phase. It’s time to think of themselves again… except it isn’t. Their teens’ brains are still just as different from adult brains as they were when they were five years old. They’re not done, even if they aren’t as fun to be around and they still need their parents. That’s when they come to me… when everyone else, often including mom and dad, hates them… and I’m left cheering for the underdog, while people stare in confusion.

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Last week, a man who lives catty corner to the library, started yelling at my teens for existing near his back yard. They weren’t even on his property and he started yelling obscene and racist things at them, so they would leave. Because teens are impulsive and reckless, one of them started throwing rocks and the man called the police. Naturally, they believed the 30-year-old’s story and arrested the 18-year-old rock thrower, as they should have done, because you don’t get to throw rocks at people. I spent 30 minutes on the back patio talking to one of the other kids, 16 years old, angry, and confused. I convinced him not to pick a fight with the guy, to avoid his lawn, and stay out of trouble. The man came to the library later that night and yelled at my manager for allowing “white trash thugs” to exist… “thugs”, I might add, who were do nothing inappropriate until he started screaming at them.

It was just the next day that the same kid I talked down came into the library in tears, because this 30-year-old man got a group of friends together and jumped him. For all his threats and bluster, from the previous day, he was just a hurt child, wanting an adult to care about him and I’ll tell you, I did. In the middle of a program, I invited him and his friends to sit down and eat pizza. I assured them that they would always be safe inside the library, that we wouldn’t let anyone hurt them and I apologized on behalf of all of the adults who look at his hoodie and baggy jeans and write him off, for the collective teenage hate that leads to this sort of violence.

I admit that teens can be mouthy and impulsive and disrespectful. They’re often confused and angry, because being a teenager sucks. They don’t know how to cope with the Mean Girls, the adults who make no secret of the fact they don’t like them, their parents who are suddenly too self-absorbed to care what’s happening in their lives, all their new and strange feelings that they’re told to simply not have, and they lash out. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant for even me to be around them, but the only way to get them through that phase, is to provide them with loving mentors who care about them, like they had for the first half of their lives.

I get that sometimes whatever takes a parent away from their teenagers is unavoidable, be it divorce or remarriage or a new job, but when a twelve-year-old girl sits across from me and tells me her dad is moving to Puerto Rico for fun, I want to dick punch him for fun, because he is not done raising his daughter and he won’t be for six years! No matter how loudly I cheer for the underdog, I can only make so much difference and more than once I have gone home in tears, because of that fact. Even some of my coworkers villainize my teens, insisting they should know better, but why?!?! If you don’t take the time to teach a teenage girl how much physical affection is appropriate to show her boyfriend in public, she’s not going to know, especially not in the abstinence education capitol of the world! If you don’t teach a teenage boy how to control his emotions, he’s not going to know how to deal with the pain of his first breakup! If you don’t teach a 13-year-old what to share and not to share on social media, she’s far more likely to jeopardize her future! If no one is there for them, they’re not going to thrive, because they’re still kids.

Ultimately, if I have to put up with your screaming baby banshee throwing a tantrum in the children’s section, “because they’re just kids,” you can put up with the laughing teens in the young adult section, because “they’re just kids” and I will never stop cheering for the underdog.

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No one ever told me that marriage is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How are we FINALLY happy?!?

This time last week, 15-year-old Gail was banned from all of my future youth group field trips, after our duet of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Let’s Make Love” in the middle of Six Flags.

Six days ago we were sophomores, sitting in the back of my pickup truck, eating Fourth Meal, before it was cool. A couple pulled up, realized their make out spot had been claimed by chubby girls eating chicken in sweats and overalls, and quickly drove away, as Gail and I laughed.

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Five days ago, Gail and I huddled together to keep her infant daughter Grace warm, when I locked us out of her apartment’s gym in 20 degree weather.

Three days ago, I sat next to Gail in the children’s ward, as we both accepted the fact that Grace would never wake up.

Two days ago, we took turns moving each other out after our divorces were finalized.

Just yesterday, we were trolling for dick at the cowboy bar and Gail was begging me to stop calling it that.

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Yet, somehow, today, we’re both 30 (or almost for Gail) and remarried. Just four months after standing by my side on my wedding day, Gail has finally married Terry, after five years of living together. That’s right, folks. Some people do buy the cow.

In all seriousness, I’m unbelievably happy for my best friend… for us. I just don’t know how it happened. Some moments, the happy ones, feel like they weren’t that long ago. I mean, hasn’t it only been three or four years since 9th grade yearbook class, where Gail and I first bonded over deadpan sarcasm and the WB’s Everwood? 

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The tougher stuff, though… zetus lapetus it often feels like it all happened to someone else. It can’t have been just 10 years ago that I called Gail to reconnect after that first year out of high school…

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… after my ex burned down our house and killed all of our pets, but before my miscarriage and Grace’s death, before both of our divorces. It wasn’t just seven or eight years ago that Gaily and I sat at a table in an Arby’s, eating free sandwich toppings and drinking refills from the .99 kiddie cup, because we didn’t want to go home, was it? That can’t have been us.

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For so long, our lives deeply sucked and we were each other’s sanctuary from the storm. I thought our lives would never get better, but I blinked and now we’re both 30 with husbands and careers. Didn’t I just call Gail after being stood up, crying because I was never going to get a full time job or meet a good guy and my life was never going to start?!?!

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Truthfully, I found myself more emotional about Gail’s wedding than my own, despite all of my “Who da real MOH?!?” jokes, the title of Matron of Honor having primarily officially gone to her sister. Watching Gail take pictures with a bridesmaid’s daughter had me crying in secret, because it should have been Grace. She should’ve been by her mother’s side, but had she been, everything would’ve been different. Twenty-four year old Gail would have been far more self-preserving, with a three-year-old at home. She’d never have even met Terry, after finding his profile on Craigslist. I might have been less inclined to date, myself, had Gail not been in a serious relationship, prompting over-dramatic rants about how she was going to leave me behind for her couples cruises. Our whole lives would’ve been different. I suppose this was just how it was all supposed to be.

It’s just so good to see my best girl happy… to see us happy and I was reminded of that even more so, when Gail and I had a moment alone, while the rest of the wedding party chatted about how much she was freaking out.

Gail: “You know what this reminds me of?”
Me: “What?”
Gail: “When we were at the hospital with Grace and you and I were walking around, talking and laughing and everyone was whispering about how I shouldn’t be okay right now, but I was, because you were there. I love you.”
Me: “I love you, too. It was so awful and I couldn’t do it all again, but I’m so glad I did it all with you… who da real MOH?”

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We’re both happily and healthily married now and it’s a little bittersweet, because that means Terry and Jake undoubtedly know more about us than we do each other. As much as I’ve always hated when women assign the title of “sister” to every friend they have, Gail and I will always share a history no one else can claim, because the foundations of our adult lives were built on the rocks that we were for one another. So, here’s hoping that our strangely, bizarrely parallel lives that have had us claiming for years that only one of us is real and has imagined the other person up, while rocking in a mental institution, will continue to be so; because all the highs and lows considered, I cannot imagine living my life without my sister, Gail.

Carcinogenic Radioactive Waste and Oranges: Marriage at 19 vs. Marriage at 29

Jake: “So, we’ve been married for four months now, give or take. Do you ever look back and compare it to your first marriage and realize how different it is?”
Me: “Well, honestly, I try not to think about that time in my life, but even if I do, it’s just… apples and oranges. Yes, I was legally married and have never claimed otherwise, but that wasn’t actually a marriage in any way.”

When I was a senior in high school, my mother let my boyfriend move in with us, and a few months later, she took off to live with a man she met on the Internet. Because years earlier, she’d seen to it that I had no relationship with my dad, I didn’t really have anyone else. Sure, my Gramma has always been an amazing presence in my life, but it wasn’t the same as having a parent in the home every day to help me through the huge transition that was the end of childhood. Graduating high school, leaving those friends, going to college: those things are really hard with a supportive and loving family… or so I heard from friends. At 18, though, I felt like I had nothing and no one to hold onto as my mother prepared to sell the house she’d left behind, less than gently pushing me out the door, and my high school boyfriend was… there.

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Looking back on my reasons for getting married at 19, it’s no surprise that said “marriage” deserved air quotes. I don’t know that “apples and oranges” is even a fitting phrase, considering those are both fruit. Being “married” at 19 and married at 29 are more like… carcinogenic radioactive waste and oranges. For instance…

The Wedding Day

At 19, on my “wedding day,” I tried to look five years into the future and determine whether or not I’d still be “married.” I couldn’t picture it, but… I also couldn’t think of any other options. The college I was attending would only let us continue to live in family student housing if we were legally married and I had nowhere else to go… or so I thought. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I could’ve called off the wedding, even the day of, and the rest of my family would’ve supported me. I’d have been able to stay with my Gramma or my dad (who I fortunately reconnected with in time), until a dorm opened up the next semester. There was always an option besides getting married at 19, when it didn’t feel right, watching a troubled young man become a sociopathic grown man, derailing my life because I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable or be the subject of gossip. I couldn’t see this, however, and there was a chapel full of people…

On my real wedding day, as I like to think of it, I was so excited to join my life with Jake. The only nerves I experienced were the result of knowing that in just a few hours, a lot of people would be staring at me… and I’d have to dance. Jake though? He has never been a question. The day I married Jake, I’d already moved past fantasizing about our newlywed days and well into day-dreaming about the complacency and monotony of everyday married life that everyone dreads. I haven’t just looked five years into the future and felt certain I would still choose Jake. I’ve imagined growing old together a thousand times… and not in some romantic Noah and Ally from The Notebook sort of way, but one that includes the horrors of childbirth and dead pets and money troubles and funeral arrangements and prayers and tears and heartbreak. I don’t need a romantic fantasy. I just need Jake. I’ve never doubted that he was the right choice; not when I walked down the aisle with my dad, as he assured me I had chosen right this time, not when Jake elbowed me in the head during our first dance, not when I was seasick for most of our honeymoon, not even the dozens of times we’ve argued since. Jake has consistently been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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The Religious Implications

As a confirmed Catholic, for any marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church and God it has to be blessed by the Church. Now, even practicing Catholics elope or get married in beautiful wedding chapels or at pricey outdoor venues. However, their marriage has to ultimately be blessed by a priest in a convalidation ceremony. I knew this when and after I “married” in a wedding chapel at 19 and yet, something prevented me from ever actually going through with the process. In time, I distanced myself, not just from the Church, but from my faith in general. It’s difficult to call someone Godless without drama or exaggeration, but it’s a fitting term for my ex. Unlike an Atheist or an Agnostic, the man truly lacked any moral center. He stole, lied, cheated, and he did so indiscriminately from friends, family, enemies, and strangers. Simply being associated with him as a person made me feel unworthy and yet, leaving him would also be wrong in the eyes of many. It took two years after my divorce for me to shake my shame enough to return to the Church and I promised myself that my next marriage would be official in the eyes of God.

When Jake and I married, we decided together that with his Protestant family and my Catholic family, moving and career changes, our short engagement due to rodeo season (no really), a Catholic wedding wasn’t for us. We were married at a beautiful and rustic outdoor venue, by a friend of Jake’s, who’s a youth minister and faithful husband and father; which was preferable to me over a minister to whom Jake felt no connection if we couldn’t get married by a priest. Jake might not be Catholic, but on this we agree: God’s authority is superior in every way to that of the government and the approval of my faith, as well as his, is crucial. So,we’ve already met with our new priest and scheduled to have our marriage blessed, the day after Jake’s birthday. Because I’m a confirmed Catholic, my previous “marriage” was never recognized by the Church. I have some paperwork to send in to complete my “defect of form” annulment and then, in the eyes of God, my marriage to Jake will truly be, my only real one.

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Our Standing in Life

When I was 19, I had worked a couple of minimum wage jobs and had nothing to show for it. My ex had even less, with no work experience at all. I had no savings, no assets, no real job prospects. I wanted to be a teacher, naively insisting that the money didn’t matter, making a difference in the world did. My ex didn’t and wouldn’t work or go to school, which I hoped would change. I tried not to think too much about the future, because any level of stability seemed so distant. We were renting married student housing, which was about to be condemned by the city (literally) and counting on financial aid to house and feed us. My mother paid for the wedding, because if I was married, she could sell her house guilt free and wash her hands of me. I had no real concept of money, myself, and ultimately accepted all the loans I was offered. It was Future Belle’s problem, as were many things, as I coped with how drastically my life had been derailed since the beginning of my senior year.

At 29, my wedding and honeymoon were always paid in full. At 32 years old, Jake had ample savings from his days in the oil field and zero debt, which of course meant zero credit. At 23, I’d begun working to improve my credit score and after six years, it somewhat made up for my debt, particularly when coupled with my Income Based Repayment Plan and the fact that I qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. While Jake is beginning a new career in hydrology, his bachelor’s degree in the field, his experience in oil, and his crazy work ethic have already been assets to him. Because I make just under $50k myself, in one of the cheapest states in the country, we can afford for him to start at the bottom and I’ve every confidence he’ll move up quickly. We do have debt, but we’re both committed to paying it off and we’re currently saving to buy a home within the next year. The future is looking bright and Present Day Belle handles her problems like a big girl.

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Our Actual Relationship

It’s easy for me to put that first relationship in air quotes, not just because I was 11, but considering the motivation, the fact that God wasn’t looking, and that its primary funding source was financial aid and prayer. I feel those reasons invalidate the union plenty. The foremost reason, however, that my first “marriage” was no marriage at all, was the relationship itself. At the best point, we were extremely codependent. I don’t know that, looking back, I’d claim to have ever loved him, so much as I’d say that I needed someone, anyone, and he was the only one present. 

As time wore on, though, I moved closer to Shetland and my Gramma. Gail and I reconnected after that initial graduation drift, and even any sense of codependency faded. I once explained to Gail, that you get different things from different people, that I trusted and loved her and my dad and my Gramma. All I needed from my ex was for him to work. Literally, I didn’t need love or support or trust or fidelity or goodness or strength of character or a partner or someone to lead me closer to God. I just needed him to feed himself. I was actually completely willing to continue taking care of myself, if he’d stop stealing from me. I used to joke that I’d never get married again, that marriage is miserable, that my next wedding would be on a snow covered mountaintop in hell. However, no matter how hard some readers may judge me for claiming that any marriage can not count (in which case, they can go fuck themselves), I cannot stress enough that the relationship that spanned those four years was not a marriage in any sense. 

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Today, happily and healthily married to Jake, I’ve had to get used to a few things… like the fact that my Gramma and Gail are second and third in my life. It’s strange, having not just an additional person on my list of people I’m willing to see on a weepy and frustrating day, but having someone actually upstage them. Gail has been my best friend since the 9th grade and she still is… but the dynamic has shifted. Jake comes first for me and Terry comes first for her and in neither of our previous marriages was that ever the case… nor could it or should it have been. We were married to scary fucking dudes and were both somewhat distant from our families. It was us against the world… and now it’s not. We still talk every day and have some pretty fucked up shared history, but we’re not 20 and married to psychopaths, eating fish we grilled in a public park because we don’t want to go home. When I get pregnant, she won’t be the first to know. I’ll never drive her and her baby to the ER again… and that’s weird to imagine and sometimes even weird in practice: having someone. Being married.

I’m not driving around with food from The Dollar Tree in my backseat anymore. I don’t sleep with my wallet in my pillowcase. Zetus lapetus, y’all, I trust this man enough to share a bank account with him. What the fuck happened?!? When I went home crying from the stress of my first week at the Cherokee library, Jake was the only person I wanted to comfort me. When I had food poisoning and threw up all over myself in the car, I was only mildly embarrassed that he was present to see me miserable and covered in vomit. If I have good news or a secret to tell or a funny meme to send, Jake is the first person to come to mind and that’s so weird. What is this fantastical adventure they call marriage?!?! I ask, because this is truly the first time I’ve experienced it.

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The most I can say, in defense of 19-year-old Belle, is that she was not an adult. Nineteen-year-olds are teenagers, whose brains function differently. They still need guidance and I didn’t have that. In theory, it would’ve been nice if I did, but then I might not be here… and here is really good.

Losing an Unwanted Child

Eight years ago this week, I found out I was pregnant. I know, because it was my brother’s birthday, and also because I’m the guy from Rain Man and can remember exactly what I was wearing the first time I saw Jurassic Park, when I was five.

Miscarriage is a common topic for bloggers. Women everywhere grieve through writing, discussing their struggles with infertility, their fears that they’ll never have a child, and perhaps even previous losses. When we know them personally, we weep for these women and pray for them, as we should. We tread lightly and try not to look their way when someone else announces their own pregnancy. Hopefully, we celebrate with them when they refer to their first live birth as a “rainbow baby.” It’s really quite beautiful to see how kind and loving people are to a woman who loses a wanted child.

At 21 years old, married to a lazy sociopath, one year from my college graduation, which I intended to follow with grad school, I did not want my baby. I hadn’t figured out how to take care of myself, yet. I couldn’t imagine another human being relying on me, particularly when I could expect no help from my ex-husband, who I suspected was lying about his employment, again. I was heartbroken that another thing hadn’t gone as planned in what was a pretty wretched existence, at the time. I prayed. I did not pray for the strength to be a good mother. I did not pray for my ex-husband to shape up, as those requests had previously seemed to fall on deaf ears. No. I prayed for God to take it back… to make me not pregnant.

I was supposed to hear my baby’s heartbeat on my 22nd birthday. My first trimester was coming to a close and I needed to pull up my big girl panties and get happy, because there was going to be a baby. I cleaned out a room. I began to look forward to the ultrasound. I tore the tags from the clothes I bought and registered at Baby’s R Us. I tried. In spite of all this, on the first day of my senior year of college, at eleven weeks and one day, my prayers were answered. I started to bleed.

No one ever talks about what actually happens during a miscarriage. I never gave it much thought, myself. I had always just vaguely understood it to mean a woman went to the doctor and wasn’t pregnant anymore. Being on state insurance and having visited the worst emergency room ever, no one told me what to expect. The pain, the amount of bleeding, the baby coming out in the toilet… I had no warning. No amount of prayers reversed the course of the one that was being answered. I had no one with me as I lay on a beach towel and my body ripped apart my child… just as I had requested.

When you lose an unwanted baby, there are no flowers. There are no tears, at least not from anyone else. People still have good hearts, but they’re… well, they’re glad for you. Perhaps they wouldn’t word it that way, but you can hear it in their sighs of relief, in their condolences. Your life is back on course, just a little bumpy, and you’ll get through this… certainly more easily than you’d have gotten through that unplanned pregnancy. Despite any pro-life convictions, they even speak of the baby in less significant terms, as if you weren’t really pregnant. There’s a lot of emphasis on how “sometimes this happens” and “chromosomal abnormalities,” things they would never say about a planned pregnancy. Now, I know each scenario is different, but I promise there is no woman on Earth who wants to hear that the baby she just flushed was probably defective or that it’s “for the best.” In general, it’s a safe assumption that, regardless of the circumstances, you should just keep your fist bump to yourself.

When a woman loses a wanted child, she feels guilt and even betrayal from her body. She feels as though God is punishing her. Years later, when she’s melancholy after looking at an ultrasound photo of equal gestation to her own pregnancy, people mourn with her. For me… well, I quite literally asked for it. I should feel guilt. I should be punished. I should feel heartache when I look at the same photo. I didn’t want the baby and God reclaimed that blessing.

My reasons for asking God to take my child back, have only been validated over the last eight years. My ex-husband is still psychotic and neither I, nor a helpless child, have any ties to him. I had only just gotten to a point where I could afford to take care of myself before my wedding. Despite two incomes, I don’t feel we could fund a baby, even now. Although I married a wonderful man, we have financial and career goals. Personally, I’m still a couple of years away from being in a place where I can properly prioritize the needs and wants of another little life with mine and be a truly good mother. No one talks about what it means to lose an unwanted child, to feel grief and relief simultaneously, even years later. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still weep over tiny overalls as I thank God for the way things turned out… just that I do it confused and alone, as I deserve.

Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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Why Everyone Needs to Stop Telling Me Marriage is Hard

Maybe it’s just my Facebook friends or the blogs I follow, but it seems that the Internet has devoted itself solely to telling me how hard marriage and motherhood will be, lately. Just the other day, Lacy told me how it irritates her that so many people “glamorize” motherhood. Um… I must be reading a different Internet or talking to different moms, because from what I understand, birth looks like this…

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and motherhood looks like this.

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I had my IUD inserted Wednesday and after two months of Summer Reading in a library full of unattended rabid babies, I was tempted to ask the doctor to shove a whole fistful of Mirenas up there, just for good measure. Add in that Facebook post about your four-year-old threatening to throw her dinner plate across the kitchen, those memes about how moms never use the bathroom alone, and passive aggressive remarks about your baby daddy’s XBOX usage and I’m rethinking my entire position on parenting. People make parenthood sound miserable, because all they do is bitch… and the same goes for marriage.

Jake and are getting married. We’re not engaged, because his job is in flux and his hours suck, but we’re no longer speaking in terms of “if”, but “when.” While he still speaks in the hypothetical to his parents, his sister has invited us to attend a marriage seminar at her church, with her and her husband. We’ve discussed dates and venues and argued about how insane it is to suggest an open bar for 200 people, because I’m apparently dating one of the Windsors. No money has been put down and no rings have been bought, but we’re in agreement that it’ll likely be official by the holidays… and that’s wonderful… or at least it would be if I wasn’t constantly hearing comments and reading articles about the impossibility of marriage.

I know, I know, these comments are generally coming from good people who mean well and 80% of the time, I’m more than happy to look past a person’s words or actions and analyze the intentions. Then, why does it get to me so much this time?

It’s just all so generic and… cliché.
I’m getting countless marriage related Facebook ads. I don’t know if it’s because my relationship status changed approximately a year ago or if it’s the fault of all those times I’ve Googled barn venues while bored at work, but nearly every suggested article is about engagement, weddings, or marriage. There was also that one about joining the “cat lady” subscription service, which felt like an implied threat, if I don’t get married yesterday, but generally they all have titles like “7 Things to Discuss before Getting Engaged.” Spoiler alert: children, religion, money, sex, location, family relations, and career should all be discussed before planning to spend the rest of your lives together. Zetus lapetus, I should light a candle at Mass for HuffPost, because I nearly saved that talk about my absurd student loan debt for the honeymoon!

Wait. No. We brought up religion and career before we met, family and kids and location on the first and second and third dates, sex on the sixth, and finances after three or four months… because we aren’t complete morons.

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What the fuck do people think we’ve been doing for fifteen months? Is it really so preposterous to think that in lieu of spending the first year having sex, we’d choose to actually get to know one another, discuss our goals and values, introduce each other to friends and family, and really assess whether or not we could build a life together? Must people actually be told that they need to discuss these things? Does anyone actually find this advice helpful?

It would’ve been nice if someone had told me that birth control could make me sick enough to Google how to cope with chronic pain. I’d have liked a heads up that him turning me down sexually doesn’t mean I disgust him, before I burst into tears while naked in bed about how I’m bad at sex for not understanding these things. It would be great for someone to write an article on how to explain to your future mother-in-law that you’re not inviting your own mother to your wedding. I’d love a how-to guide on letting him take the lead in a traditional relationship without occasionally feeling like I’m being steamrolled. An article with that combination of information wouldn’t appeal to the masses, though, because not everyone needs the same things. 

People assume everyone needs the same things.
Gail and I have been through some frighteningly similar life events, from marriage and divorce to lost babies to money, dating, and career struggles. Interestingly enough, however, these things have shaped us into very different people with completely different needs. Gail needs to know that she is always in control of anything pertaining to her. She needs to be asked not to do something or have it suggested that she might benefit from a specific choice. I need to know that I’m with someone who will take charge and make a decision. I need to know that he cares enough to tell me that I need go to sleep when I’m blubbering from job stress in the living room in the middle of the night. Gail needs to know that she is still in control of her life and I need to know that I’m with someone who will take an active part in our lives. The concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, but our priorities drastically differ… and that is okay. 

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I have several friends who will openly admit that they wear the pants in the family, others who insist that both people are equal, and some who believe the man should be the head of the household. None of them are wrong. Just because one perfect view of marriage means the woman works 70 hours a week and the man stays home with the kids, doesn’t mean the opposite is archaic and degrading. We’re all so quick to point out that there is no right way or wrong way to parent, but no one ever says this about marriage. They just talk about how hard it is in general terms, because everyone has different needs and therefore different struggles. I’ll never have to worry about crying in frustration, because Jake won’t put down the XBOX controller and discipline his kids or help me around the house, but I will cry after a ridiculous fight over the fact that I threw out a carton of expired milk without even tasting it first. My marriage will not look like anyone else’s marriage, so they really can’t give me advice about the ways in which it will be hard.

I’m divorced.
It’s actually pretty cool that everyone in my life seems to have completely forgotten about the four years I spent married to Lord Voldemort, but it’s still one of the primary reasons that receiving generic marriage advice gives me such a burning desire to be a patronizing asshole right back. Oh, he left a glass by the sink?

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You know what my ex-husband left?

My ex-husband left…

  • … a lawn full of dead pets after he burned our house down.
  • … me alone while I miscarried.
  • … my dog chained to a wall for a week, while I was on vacation with my mother.
  • … a window unlocked after our divorce, so he could break in and steal things to sell.

I could go on, but I’m not actually trying to belittle anyone else’s marriage struggles. Yes, being treated like a house elf for twenty years is a legitimate problem, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to trivialize the pain I suffered. I know that marriage is hard, but the broad reasons cited are usually ones I’ll gladly face if it means my pets are all alive and well at the end of the day. So, if you don’t want a copy of the fire report, while we compare marital woes, then…

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But… again, I know these comments are generally coming from good people who mean well. There were things about their own marriage that genuinely surprised them and they want me to be prepared. That is so very kind of them and I hope they’ll invite me to the marriage seminar at their church, lend a supportive and non-judgmental ear when we do have struggles, and tailor their advice a bit more specifically to the situation and people involved. Most importantly, I wish they’d just celebrate when we do get engaged and married, because  I research for a living, so I promise I’m getting plenty of the doom and gloom marriage prep material. We’ll have problems one day, I’ve no doubt, so let’s be joyful while we don’t.

 

Living in the Moment

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At 19, nine years ago today, I came home from work to find my house burned down, my pets dead on the lawn, and my ex-husband suspiciously profiting from the tragedy on the same day he lost another job.

At 20, I woke to pounding on my front door and an officer telling us we’d been evicted… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent.

At 21, I spent an ice storm in a motel room after being evicted, again… with my ex-husband, suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent, again. Later that year, we lived in another motel room for two whole months.

At 22, I had just lost a baby, my ex-husband totaled the truck my Gramma gave me for my 16th birthday, Gail buried her infant daughter, and the engine blew up in my car right after my college graduation… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d changed the oil.

At 23, 24, and 25, I worked two jobs and took grad school classes online, while coping with the fall-out from an emotionally exhausting divorce and attempting to date.

At 26 and 27, I continued working two jobs, with my only emergency fund and healthcare provider being prayer.

My entire adult life has been spent looking toward the future, because the present was at best unsustainable, and at worst made me near suicidal. For years, I told myself that things would be different in X amount of time. In five years, I’d be done with school/have steady income/be married to a good man. If I could only get through the present, the answer to my prayers was just on the horizon. This line of thinking was, quite literally, the only thing that kept me going, at times. I lived for the future, because I had no choice. It was pure survival.

Now, I’m 28-years-old. I’ve finished my master’s degree and and have a full time supervisory librarian position. I have healthcare and a hearty retirement fund. I have the money I need and even some extra I want. I met the man I’m certain I’ll marry and he’s perfect for me (not for anyone else, because he can’t keep his foot out of his mouth). I even got the black kitten I’ve yearned for, Thackery Binx. I’m living what will most certainly be some of the most exciting years of my life and it’s so ingrained in me to look forward that I’m afraid I’m missing it.

Last week, I wrote about my readiness to marry Jake. I don’t begrudge myself the eagerness to start our lives together. I think it’s healthy, at this point in our relationship and that’s truly not what I’m referencing. I just worry that I’ll look back and see myself always longing for another time, never enjoying the moment, because of a time when there were so few moments to enjoy. It’s not just me, I don’t think. We, as a society, treat life’s many stages as though half should be spent waiting, the other half reminiscing, with only a few years in between intended to be enjoyed. I was miserable for so long that I want to take the time to enjoy it all. I don’t want to marry Jake and count the days until we can pay off the debt, buy the house, have the babies, get them in school, get them out of the house, have grandbabies. I’ve been wishing my life away and for a time, it was necessary, but it’s just so good right now, that I wish I could be truly content.

Over the Fourth of July, I downed half a pitcher of margaritas and drunkenly fell on my ass while trying to get Jake to dance with me, in the park. I lit sparklers for his nieces and watched them chase their pigs. His mom and oldest niece both hugged me for the first time, before we left and I felt like one day we’ll really be family. Last week, when I drove to Wellston to enjoy a few hours with Jake, he tackled me to the couch, when I announced that his friends were going to think he was super sappy, as I tried to share Facebook’s “Friendiversary ” video from his phone. He cuddled me on his bed and let me give him Eskimo kisses. I’m terrified that I’m going to wake up one day, old and grey, devastated that I never truly appreciated these insignificantly beautiful moments and I pray for the ability to just… be.

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Getting My Tattoo Removed

At 24 years old, I sat in a Sonic drive-through with Gail.

Gail: “What do you wanna do?”
Me: “Let’s get tattoos!”

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Now, perhaps, if I’d actually had a tattoo in mind, this wouldn’t have been such an inevitably regrettable decision. I am not anti-tattoo. My first was not my last. I also have my Gramma’s signature of her first name, which is my middle name and hopefully one day my daughter’s middle name, on my left foot. I will genuinely cherish that tattoo for all time, particularly when she’s gone, though she still insists that she’ll live forever. At 24, though, I had just divorced my ex-husband, lost 90 pounds, was dating again, nearing graduation for my master’s degree, and felt like I’d gotten my whole life back. I wanted to commemorate that, so when put on the spot, I chose something that spoke of life to me. The fact that it was a Logan’s Run reference was just an added bonus.

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Today, I look at this tattoo and you know what I see? I see a girl who needed to start her life over and all the reasons why. I see a 260 pound 22-year-old fantasizing that her psychotic husband will kill himself. I see two part-time jobs substitute teaching and cleaning gym equipment with a bachelor’s degree. I see myself driving around with all of my valuables in my trunk, because the man I live with will pawn them. I see a 24-year-old who desperately wants to distance herself from the most terrifying years of her life, by getting a tattoo that symbolizes their end.

You know what, though? I did get my whole life back. I got to be young and reasonably fit. I got to go to bars with my friends and giggle through bad date stories. I finished my master’s degree and built a career. I fell in love. I’m going to get married and have babies and buy a home and it’s just going to be… my life. I don’t need a reminder that I ever had another one. I’d love to say that I came to this conclusion, gradually, over the last four years, and in a way, I did. However, I also went home from the tattoo parlor, looked at my cliché white girl ankh, and Googled how much it would cost to remove it. Maybe a part of me knew, even then, that this symbol wouldn’t be relevant for the rest of my life. Knowing removal would be costly and painful, of course, I tried to rationalize. This was my Gail tattoo. This was something crazy and impulsive we did together. Had I just gotten something silly and fun, like an elephant or a flower, then sure, it would be. But, as Jake and I have become more serious, I can’t deny that this is a reminder of a time in my life that it hurts to remember. Those years still cause me nightmares and I think about them every time I look at this tattoo. I just… don’t want it anymore. I also know that, when it comes to removal, it’s now or never. If I still have this tattoo when I get married or especially when I have kids, it’s not going to be a financial priority. So, a couple of months ago, I bit the bullet and scheduled my first consultation.

Speaking of time and finances, do you have any idea how long it takes to get a tattoo removed or how much it costs? Perhaps I shouldn’t have built my expectations for this procedure on a season of How I Met Your Mother, but I felt like it was a two to three month process, of 10 sessions. No. In fact, there must be eight weeks between each laser removal session and patients are advised to expect 10 sessions. So, in a year and a half, I can hope to see a mostly clear-skinned foot. That’s right. Results cannot be guaranteed, so the decision must be made to pay the price and hope for the best. That price, at the only clinic in the city, is $35 per square inch, with a $50 minimum. Because my tattoo is thankfully small, that makes it $50 per session. I’m no mathematician, but even I can figure that it’s going to cost more than $500 to  get this tiny little ankh off my foot. So, how much does it hurt?

Thiiiiiiis much.

The first picture is of the scorch marks from the laser. The second is of the blistering that happened later. I did a little bit of research online, about how much the procedure hurts, trying to get an idea of whether or not it would even be bearable, before investing money. The comparisons ranged from “popping like a rubber band” to “small droplets of hot grease hitting your skin.” In my personal experience, the latter was dead on. Fortunately, I have a great technician, who will stop and let me take a break. The first session took me three goes, the second only two.

Does it hurt more than getting the tattoo? Yes, but it’s a much quicker process. Because my tattoo was so small, it would’ve taken, literally, about 30 seconds to do the whole thing, had I not needed breaks. Getting the tattoo took about five minutes and was also quite painful. Personally, I’d rather the extreme pain of removal for 30 seconds than the substantial pain of application for 10 times that. That being said, were this tattoo any bigger, I’m not sure I’d bother, partly for the price and partly for the pain.

As it stands, now, I’ve been through two tattoo removal sessions and I deem it bearable… but only just. I’m cheap, though, so even if it did get more painful, I’d be completing the process, because I’ve already invested $100. Fortunately, it’s supposed to get less painful, but pretty much always be awful. I keep having nightmares that I have larger and uglier tattoos to remove. Will this one be worth the time, pain, and expense? For me, yes. My advice overall, is simply not to accompany a divorce with at tattoo.