“I like getting older. I feel like I’m finally aging into my personality.”

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The child of a blended family, I have a hodge podge of siblings, including biological, step, and in-law. While my oldest (biological) brother and I only talk about once a year, I get along quite well with the latter… so well, in fact, that I was included in a Girls Night Out bachelorette party for my future sister-in-law, 24-year-old Brianna, along with my step-sister Bea (25) and sisters-in-law Sadie (29) and Kallie (27). That’s right. I was invited to a night Downtown, complete with barhopping, dancing, and inebriated fun!

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my sisters… enough to refer to them as sisters. They’re fun and funny and genuinely good people. I like them so much, in fact, that I’d actually agree to a Girls Night Out with them, in the first place… let alone agree, forget, make plans to watch all five Twilight movies, remember, and still go. They’re the only four people in reality or fiction who could convince me to do such a thing. No joke, if Buffy Summers and Spock himself invited me to go barhopping on the moonSabrina the Teenage Witch style, I’d cheerfully decline… but family is family. So, it was, that I found myself leaving work to change out of my grout covered clothes (librarians wear many hats) for a night on the town!

Y’all, I’m not a total recluse. I enjoy good company. I want to be included in sisterly group activities and I realize that declining invitations such as these is a great way to ensure that I’m not, in the future. However, I just celebrated my 32nd birthday and for once in my life, I feel like I can relate to my age group, because I have been over 30 since I was 12. 

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I turned 13 in the year 2000, starting my teen years when Abercrombie & Fitch, Eminem, and American Idol reigned supreme. Preppy was in and the football players and cheerleaders ruled the school. A DDD, prior to my breast reduction at 15, I could never shop at the trendy stores. At 13, My favorite hobby was sewing. My single-minded obsession was Roswell. I didn’t know one Eminem song, but I could sing every word of “Love Will Keep Us Together,” from The Parent Trap soundtrack. I never attended a single sporting event and spent my weekends in RPG chat rooms based on my favorite TV shows. In short, I was not cool.

Today, I primarily buy my clothes at Ross, because I’m cheap. A good number of them are adorned with some kind of nerdy print, from the Halloween dress covered in witches to the Spock “Trek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” tee. Sewing is still a favorite pastime, along with crochet and I’m psyched about season two of Roswell, NM. I can sing every word of “Earth Angel,” and I’ve planned a pretty awesome vampire RPG game for my teens next week, called Bite Club. It’s chock full of hidden learning opportunities and I’m super excited. In short, ain’t much changed.

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At 32, in 2019, though, I’m no longer alone! Millennials have embraced nerd culture from Harry Potter and other YA novels to coding to D&D. We’re all drowning in student loan debt and working on a side hustle, so Dave Ramsey and crafting hobbies that can bring in a little money are cool now. All of my old crazes, like Roswell, Buffy, and Charmed are considered cult classics and some of them are even getting remakes, reboots, and spinoffs. I might not be up to date on modern music, but in a time when we’re all nostalgic, my knowledge of Beatles lyrics is cool.

When I was six, I “forgot” to give my mother the permission slip for my daycare field trip to the public pool, because I wanted to stay inside and play with all the toys alone. That same year, the memory page in the back of my kindergarten yearbook asked “Where is your favorite place to go?” I wrote “home.” Folks, kindergarten Belle was more self-aware than any version of Belle up to age 30. I have always preferred to be in my own home, with no more than a handful of people. At 8, 14, 22, and 26, this made me antisocial, a recluse. At 32, 28% of my ilk (a word I did, indeed, learn from Double, Double, Toil and Trouble) prefer drinking at home. Not only do Millenials go out less, they read more, care more about self-improvement, love tech, and are even flocking to suburbia. Y’all, I am all of those things! I’ve been all of those things my whole life! Zetus lapetus, you guys, I’m finally cool!

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All that being said, a downtown Girls Night Out is very much not my jam. As I drove to my sister’s house, I tried to psych myself up for a night of adventure, via a conversation with Belle.

Me: Come on! This was fun at 25!
Also Me: No, it really wasn’t.
Me: Alright, it wasn’t… but what would you even being doing tonight, that would be so much fun?
Also Me: Crocheting, watching teen movies, and eating snack foods for dinner, while Jake is away… exactly as I’d planned, until Bea reminded me of Girls Night Out.
Me: Okay. So, it won’t be fun. The company will be good, though.
Also: … until they get drunk. Everyone’s annoying drunk.
Me: Alright. So you’ll go, smile, pretend you’re having fun, and worst case scenario, you’ll be home by midnight. Maybe next time, the itinerary will include a craft show or some board games!

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When I arrived at Bea’s house, everyone was waiting inside for Kallie, so I sprawled on Bea’s bed, next to my impending sister-in-law, Brianna and we shared our life updates. The wedding planning is complete, leaving room for some excitement. Bea gets along well with her new roommate. Sadies’ daughter, Annie, is developing her own little personality. Librarians sometimes grout tile. It was nice, casual, quiet, and intimate. Then Kallie showed up and they started to hammer out the plans.

Me: “What exactly are we doing?”
Bea: “Oh, I just figured we’d stay here and play board games.”

I perked up, until everyone started laughing, voting on different trendy neighborhoods in the city, and discussing calling an Uber. It was in that moment, that I should have realized that I was not getting home by midnight.

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The Uber arrived and our first stop was the newly opened city park.

Me: Alright… a stroll through a lightly populated downtown park. This isn’t so bad.
Bea: “There’s nobody here. Let’s go get something to eat. They’ll have live music later!”
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We walked to a hip new eatery, where I ordered $14 nachos at the bar, got water from a self-serve fountain, and sat outside at one of the picnic tables lined up in a row… so like really expensive summer camp. We shared our food family style and although pricey, it was quite tasty. We sat and talked about our lives, our marriages, future plans. It was really quite nice and I dutifully ignored the fact that we could have easily done this on my sister’s queen-sized bed. Not my night, not my plans. Soon, they grew tired of the tame atmosphere, however, and suggested we take the streetcar to a more populated area.

A product of suburbia, the streetcar was probably the best part of my night. We told jokes and took selfies, with my dear sisters posting everything to social media. We disembarked further into downtown and walked to a… beer yard? I don’t know what else to call this, you guys. It was an area outdoors, sectioned off by white lights and a bar, with picnic tables and yard games, like corn hole… and it was completely deserted, save for a few guys talking and a couple on an obvious first date. Kallie ordered shots and we drank to Brianna, before going upstairs to sit at another picnic table… where I dutifully ignored the fact that this was only a slight variation on scenery to what we’d just done. Not my night, not my plans. We drank, talked, snuggled the bartender’s pomsky dog, like the basic white girls we are, and played a game where one person listened to loud music through headphones, while the others took turns saying a wedding phrase, which the listener was supposed to guess by reading lips. Eventually we each gave our best wedding advice.

Me: “Being divorced sucks. No matter what you guys are fighting about, I promise dating as a divorced 27-year-old sucks a lot more.”

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I’m basically Yoda.

At this point, the night had gone at a pretty acceptable speed. I’m not sure if it was the football game that day or what, but even though the weather was nice, the crowds were unusually thin. It wasn’t watching Twilight movies and eating a bowl of candy salad for dinner, but it was fun. Then someone called another Uber and the night took a turn for me, as we made our way to a venue with uncomfortable modern seating, a bar, and random overpriced eateries in different kiosks… so a mall food court with booze… and music that was way too loud, despite a sparse crowd and no dance floor, ultimately requiring shouty talk.

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After an $8 ice cream “sundae” (so not a sundae), I was kind of over the evening and just wanted to go home… but not my night, not my plans, especially since I didn’t have my car. So, I sat at a table and chatted with my increasingly drunk sisters. The normally very private Bea opened up a little about her dating life and Brianna and I talked about our most common spats with our guys, while Sadie and Kallie quietly bonded. It wasn’t a wretched time, but it was 11:00, on a Saturday when I’d worked all day, and I was really tired.

Finally, an inebriated Kallie excitedly suggested we go to the bar where my step-brother Brent bar tends. I was firmly in the “no” camp, but since it wasn’t actually a camp and was just me being a curmudgeon, I said very little and left it up to Brianna. She clearly did not want to go, but Kallie, in her drunken state, insisted Brent would love to see us and called another Uber. The saving grace of this night was that, at no point, did anyone ask me to chip in for these many Ubers, nor did I offer. The van pulled up and Breanna, seemingly almost as sober and tired as I was, despite being the bachelorette and the youngest one there, turned to me and said, in her best Cher Horowitz impression:

“Ugh. It’s a van. This car is so going to smell like snacks.”

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We got in, sat down, and neon lights lit up under the ceiling and on the floor. This guy knew how to get his tips from drunken twenty-somethings.

Brianna and Kallie: “Oh my gosh! Is this Cash Cab!?! You guys, I think we’re in Cash Cab!”

Y’all, I am too fucking old to ever be in a van that can be mistaken for Cash Cab… as evidenced by my attempt to take a short nap on the way to Brent’s bar, while Breanna and Kallie took selfies.

… and that is how I found myself sitting at a table in a bar, on a Saturday night at 1:00 in the morning, sipping water and eating bland fries. Breanna sat across from me, alternately texting Cade and ranting about how much she hated this bar and couldn’t believe people were still allowed to smoke. Bea drunkenly tried to find her dollar pinned to the wall, an establishment trademark I have never understood, because I’m not going to even waste one dollar on bar wallpaper. Kallie danced around like she was in her living room, because she essentially was, having spent countless nights there with Brent and his coworkers. Sadie, quite the social butterfly, despite motherhood, took advantage of a night out and soberly danced along with her. Me?

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Brianna: “Are you actually reading a book right now?”
Me: “Yup. It’s The Shining… really good… much better than the movie.”
Brianna: “Why do you have your Kindle in a bar?”
Me: “What do you mean why? This is why.”

Finally, after twenty minutes of an intoxicated Bea repeatedly assuring me “You are my family” and at least two phone calls from Brianna to Cade, because she missed him, Sadie called an Uber, fifteen minutes before last call. Bea climbed into the SUV…

Bea: “Are you Dominique?”
Dominique: “Yes.”
Me: “Dude. You’re supposed to ask him for your name. We’re totally going to be sold into sex slavery.”

Bea tried to pass herself off as sober, out of politeness.

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Bea: “Hello. I’m Bea. Do you do this full time?”
Dominique: “I do.”
::chatter continues for a moment::
Bea: “So, Dominque, do you do this full time?”
Me: “You already asked him that.”
Bea: “Oh, well do you do this full time?”
Dominique: ::laughing:: “Yes. I do.”
::chatter continues as Dominique gives us what is likely his usual Uber driver spiel::
Me: “… but the important question is… do you do this full time?”
::everyone laughs, including Bea::
Bea: “You guys are all assholes! When we get back to my place, none of you are invited inside! Except for you Domnique.”
– INFO: Bea is a proud Christian virgin. –
Me: “Wow. Dominique’s getting a big tip tonight.”
Bea: “That’s not what I meant!”
Domnique: ::laughing:: “You guys are definitely my funniest group tonight.”
::SUV pulls up to Bea’s house and we all get out::
Me: “Wait! Bea, is Dominique not coming?”

After trolling my drunken sister, I briefly went inside to say my goodbyes, before heading home, completely exhausted. I walked into a dark house, stripped to throw all of my clothes into the wash, because they’d smell like smoke, tried not to fall asleep in the shower, and crawled into bed, beside my husband. He’d driven three hours from his hometown, having left at 9:30 and still beat me home. Though I’d only had a single shot all evening, I woke early with a pounding headache and asked Jake to bring me some ibuprofen and slept until after 11:00.

Jake: “Do you feel bad?”
Me: “No. I’m not hungover or anything. I didn’t even drink. I just had a really bad headache.”
Jake: “Oh, well did you at least have a good time?”
Me: “Ugh. No. It was horrible. The company was good, but no.”
Jake: “Why didn’t you just leave?”
Me: “Because we Ubered there and I didn’t have my car. I didn’t want to be that person.”

… but you know… the girl reading a Kindle, while sipping water in a bar? I’m totally okay with being that person. She spent the rest of the day being comfortably 32: reading, crocheting, watching Vampire Diaries, and absolutely not nursing a hangover.

The State Fair: A Family Affair?

Y’all, it is my favorite time of year: the beginning of the last third. Nearly everything good about the year is still ahead of us, with only my birthday in the rear view mirror. I still have the premiers of all of my favorite shows, several pre-ordered books, Jake’s birthday, the YALSA conference, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and…

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Christmas! Even following that, is a season of socially acceptable hermit behavior, with the possibility of waking up to a winter wonderland and a text message from the automated system at work, informing me that I have a paid day off for reading and snuggling the dogs. Come fall, the decor is prettier, the food is better, the clothes are cuter, and the temperatures are bearable. Zetus lapetus, after playing the house cat all summer, I love this time of year.

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There’s one favorite fall festivity I left out: the state fair. Every September, the fair immediately follows my birthday, a convenient extension of the already drawn out celebration. Now that I’m married to rodeo folk, our trick riding nieces serve as the perfect annual draw to people watch, day drink, and eat ourselves sick before settling in to watch a nine-year-old hang upside down from a horse, before triumphantly hoisting herself to a standing position, when I can barely be trusted with a step stool on the best of days. It’s always been great fun and I looked forward to it for some time, having bought tickets in August, to save a few dollars.

This year, as we made our way through the horde of people, however, I saw it through new eyes. With Jake and I having spoken more and more about starting a family, I couldn’t help but notice the families surrounding us… and how miserable they all seemed. I eventually turned to Jake and declared:

Me: “I’m willing to concede that this is possibly one of those claims I’ll make before we have children, and later I’ll eat my words, but I don’t think I’d ever bring our kids to the fair.”

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I stand by this claim and if Future Belle wants to prove me wrong, I welcome her to do so, because…

The fair is swarming with people.
We went to the fair on a Saturday night, because that’s when the girls were trick riding. Folks, I don’t even like to go to the mall on a Saturday night and that’s open for the entire year, as opposed to just two weeks in September. When I was single, I frequently did my grocery shopping at 1:00 in the morning, because that’s the best time to go to Wal-Mart. Black Friday is strictly for eating sweet potato pancakes and watching Christmas movies, while shopping online. I hate crowds.

Rationally, I’m afraid of some drunk guy getting in my face when I stumble and cause him to spill his beer. I’m afraid of setting my phone down as I get out my wallet, only to turn around and see it gone. I’m afraid of losing Jake in a crowd and realizing that he doesn’t have his phone, but he does have the keys. Less rationally, I’m afraid of gunshots going off or a fire breaking out and confirming my suspicion that while everyone else has a fight or flight reflex, I have a deer in headlights reflex. I’m a first world survivor, y’all. When the rules of society break down, I am nothing but a liability.

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All that being said, I can’t imagine trying to keep up with a four-year-old in a crowd like the one at the Saturday night state fair. Jake has enough trouble keeping up with me when I see a really cute dog or a sign boasting chocolate covered cheesecake, but a smaller Belle with fewer inhibitions? She’ll have the power to teleport. Every six months, it seems there’s a national news story of Some Horrible Thing that happened to Some Poor Family, because kids are slippery, y’all. You let go of their hand for ten seconds and a gorilla dies or they get eaten by an alligator. That sounds like the worst night out ever.

The fair is generally inaccessible.
As a rule, with crowds comes congestion and with congestion comes inaccessibility. This is especially true at a festival which takes place among a hodge-podge of buildings of varying ages, over a few square miles. I’m no expert on children. In fact, just last week, I accidentally referred to a customer’s child as “that.” However, it’s my understanding that they’re not known for their ability to wait, that their needs are generally pretty immediate. Weaving through a jam-packed labyrinth of identical stands to find one of the newer buildings, with the cleaner, larger bathrooms, only to wait in line for 10 minutes is tedious when I’m the one who has to pee.

Every time I’m around my four-year-old niece, it seems she needs something, be it a drink of water, a snack, help in the bathroom, or someone to scold her older sisters for making her fake cry. By the time one problem has been resolved, another arises and that’s just at Naunnie’s and Pa’s house, where all life’s necessities are immediately available. Navigating the fair to find a water fountain, a clean bathroom, a changing table, a spare diaper or wipes, a cheap snack, air conditioning… with the urgency of a child’s needs sounds wretched. I’m not even sure where one fits fun into this real life adaptation of a bad cell phone game.

The fair is way too expensive.
I admit, these problems aren’t exactly unique to the state fair. They could easily be replicated at a street festival or the local medieval fair… but entry to those and many of their attractions are free. The state fair costs $12 per person for admission alone. As for food, a single ear of corn is $4, a piece of chocolate covered cheesecake is $7, a slice of pizza is $10. The activities a child might actually enjoy, such as carnival games and face painting might only cost a few dollars, but they also only last a few minutes. Thirty minutes of games could easily add up to fifty or sixty dollars. Add in rides that fold into boxes for easy travel, an entirely separate issue, and you’re looking at another thirty or forty dollars for wrist bands, per family member. I don’t even have an estimate for the random junk sold at every stand.

Even if you can budget a couple of hundred dollars on this family outing, while an older child might enjoy such things, I’d wager they’d also enjoy a family day at the park and a new video game, a trip to an amusement park and pizza, or a family trip to the drive in and burgers, all cheaper combinations. Regardless, a smaller child tires easily, overheats easily, melts down easily. It’s fair to assume that being dragged around a crowded fairground in 100 plus heat is not fun for them, in addition to all the reasons it doesn’t sound fun for the parents.

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It’s of course possible to forgo fairground luxuries or pick and choose. Jake got his ticket for free from work, while I bought mine in advance to save $4. We ate everything that caught our eyes and bought some soup mixes as planned, but rode no rides and played no games. We people watched, ate, and walked around looking at stalls. It was a lot of fun… for grownups. At one point, I heard a frustrated dad tell his nine or ten-year-old daughter, “Well, I’m sorry you think you’re bored, but…” Of course she’s bored! You’re dragging her through buildings full of grownup stuff, when there’s a carnival on the other side of the fairgrounds! The best behaved child would grumble about that. I totally support not blowing all of your money on such frivolity, but I also support finding something more fun for your child to do than follow at your heels, as you repeatedly tell her no.

Perhaps I’d understand this choice of family fun better, were Jake and I in a different income bracket, but it ain’t exactly the Kardashians who frequent the state fair. It’s pretty consistently a middle income form of entertainment. Most attendants don’t have the money to do everything and even if they did, that doesn’t negate all of the other reasons taking children to the fair sounds like a terrible time. A customer once told me that she hated to travel when her children were young, because she always felt like she was playing house, just without the comforts of home. That’s how I feel when I travel, now and that’s how I imagine I’d feel taking kids to the fair.

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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I’m ready for children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… we have established careers.

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

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

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

… we have our finances in order.

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

… we have our families.

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

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

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

… we have each other.

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

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

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

Deconstructing George Bailey: The First Millennial

It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*

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This is a 12-year-old.

As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of the Messiah. Just last week, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.

Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”

My 82-year-old grandmother just told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Fuck Santa.

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So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…

He’s selfish.

The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”

Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.

Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”

George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.”

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Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”

Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.

As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.

– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”

After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.

– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’

That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:

– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”

“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…

He’s entitled.

As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.

In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.

– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself,  isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”

He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.

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Yeah. I’m entitled.

It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the wold, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.

– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”

– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?

– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”

This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dsytopian version still has a successful library.

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The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?

– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”

Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved  two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.

In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was a total fucking martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…

He’s ungrateful.

When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For GB, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.

George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’s served by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.

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Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*

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Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”

Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:

– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”

– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”

– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”

That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begin to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…

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Pictured: The First Millennial

Citations

https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/pocahontas

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184272/educational-attainment-of-college-diploma-or-higher-by-gender/

https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/how-the-1920s-thought-electricity-would-transform-farms-510917940https://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/censusatlas/pdf/10_Education.pdf

https://www.diydoctor.org.uk/projects/staircase-parts-and-terminology.htm

I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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Holiday Social Contracts: Landmines for the People Who Would Rather Be Reading

Every New Year’s Eve

Jake: “What do you wanna watch?”
Me: “We could watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.”
Jake: “I thought we were done with Christmas movies.”
Me: “That’s not a Christmas movie. It’s a New Years movie… and in seven months, we can watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.”

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Y’all, I love the holidays. I don’t mean that the way normal people do, either. I mean aggressively so. I love the decorations, the music, the holiday movies and episodes of my favorite TV shows. I watch and sing along to The Worst Witch and Hocus Pocus on repeat, starting in late September. I love the garishly themed jewelry and t-shirts and hats that are suddenly acceptable on October first, but I pull them out a week early, regardless.

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One of the major concessions of my marriage involved selling my six foot tall hot pink Christmas tree and decor that looked like it was stolen from the set of Babes in Toyland. No one will ever convince me that red and green M&M’s, Reese’s Bells, and Christmas Crunch cereal don’t taste better. I love the holidays so much, that I have to fight getting depressed halfway through, because they’re almost over.

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I will, however, admit that there is one aspect of the holiday season I loathe entirely… 

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

In my field, anyone who doesn’t consider themselves to be entirely crippled by their own introversion, is labeled an extrovert. This somewhat skewed view means that many of my coworkers consider me to be quite the social butterfly, due to my comfort level socializing with all eleven of them. They’re not entirely wrong, either. I quite enjoy my job. I spend each day with the same handful of people, whose personal stories and worldviews and interests I’ve come to know and respect. I have numerous casual interactions with customers that rarely go deeper than a reader’s advisory discussion on the abusive relationship dynamics present in Nicholas Sparks’ novels. I see the same teenagers at each program, where we discuss who would win in a battle, Doctor Who or The Hulk. Overall, as someone who always scores on the cusp of extroversion and/or introversion, I get exactly the right amount of stimulation in my position… now.

When I first started at the Cherokee Library, I was completely overwhelmed, socially. I didn’t know my coworkers’ backgrounds, religious views, entertainment interests, political affiliations, or tastes in music. If I mentioned my desire to buy a house near the local Catholic school, so I could send my kids there, would I appear judgmental to the nonbeliever? If I told my coworkers I couldn’t handle the ALA Think Tank Facebook group, because of their political hostility, would they shun me for my less liberal viewpoint? If I casually suggested that Taylor Swift lacked depth, would I devastate her biggest fan by inadvertently calling him shallow? Every night, I went home and turned over literally every interaction in my mind, wondering if I’d said the right thing, left the correct impression, presented myself accurately. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be well liked, but properly understood. It was fine with me if someone didn’t like me, as long as they didn’t like me for reasons that were valid. While taking on the new title of Teen Librarian was daunting, the social implications of starting at a new library again, left me emotionally spent. It’s been about a year and half now and I’m finally in my element, because I see these people literally every day. In short… extrovert my ass.

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So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve finally realized that what I truly enjoy is the build up. I love sitting at home, reciting every word to Hocus Pocus, with the cat. I love watching Thanksgiving episodes of How I Met Your Mother, on my tablet, while Jake plays video games. I love listening to Christmas carols on the Google Home, while making peanut brittle in my kitchen. I love showing pictures of my Christmas decorations to my coworkers, and oohing and ahhing over photos of their pets in reindeer antlers. I love driving through Christmas lights with my husband and choosing a real tree together. What I really love is sprinkling the everyday, homebody familiar, with bright colors and lights and glitter and festivity. The grand finale, though? That stresses me the fuck out, primarily due to the aforementioned endless mandatory social contracts, such as…

Bringing a Dish

On December 22 of last year, I burst into tears when my three-ingredient peanut butter cookies tasted exactly like three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and angrily tossed them in the trash.

Jake: “They’re fine. Why don’t you just make another batch and cook them less?”
Me: “Because they aren’t good and all the women in your family will be judging me on what I bring. If I take those after taking Oreo balls to Thanksgiving, they’ll all think I can’t cook.”
Jake: “What was wrong with the Oreo balls?”
Me: “They were a no-bake dessert. They’ll think I’m a just a Pinterest cook and they’ll all hate me, because I can’t make cookies!”

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Of course, in the end, there were plenty of desserts, too many in fact, which I knew would be the case, but social norms required I bring something.

Being in Someone Else’s Home

Why do I have to offer to help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, when we both know there’s nothing for me to do and little space in which for me to do it? Why does she have to stop what she’s doing to pretend I’m useful and let me spoon butter she’s already melted onto biscuits she’s already made? 

Why is there only bar soap in the bathroom? How many people have used this hand towel? How obvious is it that I dried my hands on the bottoms of my jeans? Will I look rude/weird if I get out my antibacterializer?

If I don’t eat these “appetizers”, am I going to hurt someone’s feelings? Can you call a bar full of cheese an appetizer? Literally, there’s queso, next to a plate full of cream cheese with cranberry sauce, two cheese balls, and a plate of sliced cheese. If I eat this, I won’t poop until Christmas.

Where do I sit? I like the chair that doesn’t require me to sit next to anyone else, but is there some unspoken familial claim to this chair? Am I in Uncle Buck’s Chair? Okay, I’ll sit on the couch by the arm and Jake can sit next to me. Why doesn’t he ever sit down? He’s been pacing for the last 30 minutes. I’m like 80% sure he’s forgotten I’m here. Wait. Is anyone else sitting down? Should I be standing? But… I don’t want to lose my couch corner.

Gift Giving

Zetus lapetus, y’all, I do not get gift giving. I’m 31 years old. I make $50,000 a year, in one of the cheapest states in the country. If I want something, I can buy it. If I can’t, no one else can, either. So what is the damn point of gift giving? Why do I have to spend $20 to buy a gift for someone that they might like, just so they can spend $20 to buy a gift for me that I, quite frankly, probably won’t like, and pretend that we’ve done some sort of charitable service, when both of us had $20 to spare in the first place? A couple of greedy, materialistic, little bitches trading twenties is, in no way, symbolic of the gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. If anything, we should just all donate that $20 to give Christmas to a family down on their luck or buy toys for children with incarcerated parents or purchase a goat for a family in a third world country or literally any better cause. If I want to do those things, though, it has to be in addition to trading twenties, which just makes the holidays more costly and stressful. I can sort of understand close family trading gifts, knowing the recipients will enjoy them, but why, oh why do the women in my family draw names for each other’s children and trade advice on what to buy them, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!

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Don’t even get me started on Dirty Santa, where I’m supposed to spend $40 on a gift for no one, so I can stress myself out by over-analyzing the social etiquette of stealing home decor from my mother-in-law or leave in frustration when I contribute a gift I kind of like and open a bowl of decorative wicker balls and a diabetic cookbook. If I refuse to play, I’m anti-social and if I bring a gift I’d truly enjoy, I’m the weird one who brought the Spock Bluetooth speaker to Christmas. If we must all leave with gifts, why can’t we each spend $40 on something for ourselves and open them in a big circle with genuine delight? I don’t understand.

Talking to Children

I’m a woman and a librarian, so it’s just assumed that I like children. I don’t. I don’t like babies. They’re fragile and they’re always leaking and it’s inevitable that they’ll start screaming like a newborn banshee and I won’t be able to find the mother. I don’t like little kids. I don’t have the patience or the sense of humor for them. Why are you still telling me this story that I think is about Spongebob? Why did you choose me to tell? Am I sending off pro-child vibes, because I work very hard to maintain subtle anti-child vibes. Why are you making that face? Was I not supposed to ask that? Fuck, don’t cry and get me in trouble.

Give me tweens and teens any day, but the holidays inevitably mean someone will leave me alone with a small child and I will make them cry or tell them something I shouldn’t. Someone will ask when I’m having children and I’ll either sputter through an awkward, but appropriate, answer or make a wildly inappropriate joke about how I can’t get pregnant the way we do it. The build up to the holidays does not necessarily mean associating with children, but the holidays themselves are crawling with them. Yes, yes, Jake and I are planning on having our own children soon, but that’s different, because it has to be or no one would procreate. I’ll figure out children when I must.

Talking to Adults

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I love my family. I do… but we do not get each other. I don’t mean that in some sort of coming of age drama way, either. We’re just very different people; or rather, they’re all the same people and I’m very different. My aunts, uncles, and cousins love body humor, the occasional racist joke, maybe something about killing a cat and I just don’t get it.

Jake: ::talking about our Christmas tree:: “When we get home, I’ll take it in the back.”
Me: ::giggling uncontrollably::

Jake jokes that I’m randomly an 8th grade boy sometimes, likely because I spend so much time with 8th grade boys, but the humor is all relatively innocent and is very rarely gross or cruel. I don’t understand why poop is funny and I understand even less why comparing our former president to a monkey is funny. I was genuinely horrified to hear my dad’s cousin giggle over the news story of the teenage boys who were arrested for sexually assaulting their teammate with a pool cue, last year, because apparently rape by instrumentation is funny if it’s done to a boy. Fortunately, my public school administrator uncle was just as appalled and I wasn’t the only one seemingly lacking a sense of humor. My humor is very dry and my family rarely even gets that I’m joking. When it’s not, it’s usually comprised of dorky and innocent puns, which they also don’t appreciate.

These people frequently tell me that they can’t have a conversation with me, because I’m too smart… which they think is a compliment. Conversationally, I’m just extremely intellectually curious. I like to theorize about the average age of parents who shake their babies, the effect of commonplace Photoshop on the children we’re “fixing” when they become adults, how technology is contributing to pornography addiction in teens and apparently, none of this is Christmas talk. I have one or two cousins who seemingly enjoy these discussions, but we’re not the norm. Even my fashion sense is completely off base. They’re Miranda Lambert to my Zooey Deschanel. They wear National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation t-shirts, while I bite my tongue about how much I hate that movie, in my giant hand-crocheted Christmas tree hat and my Meowy Christmas cat shirt. None of us is wrong. We just don’t really fit… and also, they’re wrong and that movie is stupid.

Jake’s family has been nothing but kind to me, but if I thought I don’t fit with my family, goodness I have no idea how to talk to those people. Last December 23rd, at his big family Christmas, Jake must have pulled me aside three different times to ask if I was okay, because I’d hardly said anything, but it was just so much people and we have nothing in common. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand the appeal of rodeo. I’ve never castrated a bull. I don’t want to look at the dead mountain lion in my brother-in-law’s truck. I don’t fry stuff. I am so not playing in the family Thanksgiving basketball game, because that sounds like literal Hell.I will get yelled at and have an asthma attack and/or break a bone.What the fuck am I supposed to say to these people?!?! Trust me, baby, you want me to keep my mouth shut this year, because if pressed, I will randomly start talking about the lack of  diversity in the Harry Potter books or why marijuana is not a gateway drug and the benefits of legalization. Just let me be a mystery, dude. Jake, of course, being the most extroverted person on the planet, fits in everywhere.

Me: “I wish I fit in with your family as well as you fit in with my family… actually I wish I fit in with my family and much as you fit in with my family.”

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million book and doll sets, which doesn’t even account for the new line of accessories.* For most people, however, it’s a slightly creepy self-imposed chore of a tradition, which many parents regret ever starting. I knew, when it became popular, that I wouldn’t be purchasing an Elf for my own children. I’m even more certain of that fact 13 years later, as I watch my family and friends scramble around to perform for their children nightly, for the duration of a season that’s supposed to already be plenty magical by nature. Speaking of which…

I used to be one of the masses, the people who thought parents who didn’t play Santa were ridiculous and depriving their children of the magic of Christmas, but as time has gone by, I don’t really understand why we do this. If you’re a religious person, as I am, then why do you need to add magic to the season with a cartoon character? Yes, yes, Saint Nicholas was a real guy, but the modern depiction of Santa Claus no more resembles Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas does the historical woman. We’re not honoring a Saint, anymore… and quite frankly, Protestants never were, because they don’t acknowledge sainthood. We’re revering a caricature, who often overshadows the true Christian value of the season, ironically through the very un-Christ-like means of greed and materialism. If you’re specifically nonreligious, shouldn’t you be opposed to such fairy tales? Isn’t that one of the primary principles of Atheism, that one shouldn’t have faith in what cannot be seen or proven? Doesn’t the modern Santa Claus directly defy both of these belief systems? Isn’t this entirely appropriate conversation for Christmas dinner?!?! Can I please just go home and only talk to my husband and my pets now?!?!

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Sources
https://www.today.com/series/holidays-made-easy/elf-shelf-turns-10-secret-history-santa-s-little-scout-t62531

The Beginning of Things

For my entire life, I’ve struggled to live in the moment. On my first day of kindergarten, I was disappointed, because I didn’t have a desk like the big kids. I couldn’t take my lunch to school. I was only able to go for a half day. I couldn’t grow up fast enough. At nine years old, I longed to be a teenager, look exactly like Kelly Kapowski, hang out at swanky diners after school, and have popular boys fighting over me. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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By the seventh grade, I was counting down the days until graduation, eager to start my life. I couldn’t wait to go to college, live in a dorm, make a thousand friends, and be appreciated for my intellect. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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Just after high school, I was desperate for my life to come together, when I would have the money for the things I needed and a few of the things I wanted, with just enough set aside to cover an emergency. It would all be okay, if I could just get my bachelor’s degree… a teaching job… my master’s degree… a librarian position… full time… meet a good man…

There’s a marketing term, I read about in a college textbook that I can’t find much evidence of online: nexting. It described the concept of wanting the next big thing, finally getting it, and instead of feeling enjoyment, eyeing the next big thing. My favorite Don Draper quote sums it up nicely: “… what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

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At some point, in my mid-twenties, I realized that I was wasting my life wanting. A survival tactic at 21, my tendency to look toward the future was causing me to miss an equally valid and valuable stage of life. I couldn’t see the trees for the forest. So, I began to make a conscious effort to enjoy what I had, while I had it. I decorated my hot pink Christmas tree every year and yarn bombed the living room making handmade gifts. I watched marathons of teen shows and had midnight dance parties with the dog. I went on dates and took myself to movies and dinner alone. Now that that time in my life has passed, I’m glad I enjoyed it. I just sold that Christmas tree, in favor of new traditions, because never again will I be 25-years-old and single. I’m proud of myself for realizing that and refusing to spend that time longing for marriage and children. It was always an effort, though, not to default toward the future.

By Southern standards, I got started a little late on this whole adulthood thing, which means that, at 31, I am still in the most glorious phase of my life: the beginning of things. This is when it really gets good. Jake and I just bought our house and have paid off a substantial amount of debt. I’m at a wonderful place in my career and have built strong relationships with coworkers and customers, teens and their parents. I’m still reasonably young, healthy, and fit and have yet to struggle with any downsides of getting older. I’m truly in the prime of my life, the point people most long for in their golden years, as is evidenced by literally every conversation I have with my Gramma, about children.

Gramma: “You guys have some really fun years ahead of you. I miss that time the most, when you kids were little.”

Now, I suppose, at 84, it’s normal to spend the majority of your time reminiscing, so I won’t fault my grandmother for it. Lately, however, this seems to be the prevailing thought process for most adults, Gen X and Millennials, as well: to long for the beginning of things, despite the fact that we haven’t even hit our midpoint. As a teen librarian, I frequently speak to kids whose once doting forty-something parents, have obviously lost interest in them, now that they’re less adorable and more opinionated. As I enter my thirties, I hear more and more tales of seemingly frivolous divorces, requested by men and women who long for the younger and freer days of only 10 or 15 years ago. Our youth obsessed culture seems to suffer from the opposite problem I’ve struggled with my entire life: they look perpetually to the past, forgetting that the present and the future comprise some of the most exciting years of their lives.

My twenties were great, y’all… but I can’t recapture that. I’m a married, 31-year-old, home owning librarian, planning for motherhood and there’s not a DeLorean in sight. I cannot go back, but more importantly, I don’t want to go back. This is what I’ve been waiting for and for the first time in my life, it’s not such a hardship to live in the moment.

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That girl, the one who thinks five years into the future, is still here, but her voice is a lot quieter, as she makes financial arrangements to afford Catholic school tuition, instead of panicking at the idea that her life will never start. I no longer have to look to the future as an escape, only as the adventure I always envisioned. I am so excited to have babies to snuggle, toddlers to chase around, school age children to accompany on field trips, teenagers to love unconditionally as we scream at each other, and finally, adult children to support and even befriend. I can’t wait to be married to Jake, my best friend in the whole world, for five years, ten years, fifty years. I’m excited to save money, build equity in our home, start a family, go on rare date nights, take the kids to Disney World, and see my children graduate school, start careers and have families of their own.

No stage of life is better or more valid than any other, be that dating in my twenties or motherhood or adjusting to my eventual empty nest. Just as I fought to enjoy my twenties while I had them, I’m going to fight for every other stage of life, because longing for another time in life, in either direction, will only feed a vicious cycle, in which I miss the most important time: now. We have it all wrong, as Americans. The best time in life isn’t when we’re young, fit, and free. It’s this moment, right here, and if you’re longing for the beginning of things, you’re missing it.

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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.

Holiday Social Contracts: Landmines for the Socially Awkward

Jake: “What do you wanna watch?”
Me: “We could watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.”
Jake: “I thought we were done with Christmas movies.”
Me: “That’s not a Christmas movie. It’s a New Years movie… and in seven months, we can watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.”

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Y’all, I love the holidays. I don’t mean that the way normal people do, either. I mean aggressively so. I love the decorations, the music, the holiday movies and episodes of my favorite TV shows. I watch and sing along to The Worst Witch and Hocus Pocus on repeat, starting in late August. I love the garishly themed jewelry and t-shirts and hats that are suddenly acceptable on October first, but I pull them out in mid-September, regardless.

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One of the major concessions of my marriage involved selling my six foot tall hot pink Christmas tree and decor that looked like it was stolen from the set of Babes in Toyland. No one will ever convince me that red and green M&M’s and Reese’s Bells don’t taste better. I love the holidays so much, that I’ve been a little depressed for the last two weeks, because the season was almost over.

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I will, however, admit that there is one aspect of the holiday season I loathe entirely… 

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

In my field, anyone who doesn’t consider themselves to be entirely crippled by their own introversion, is labeled an extrovert. This somewhat skewed view means that many of my coworkers consider me to be quite the social butterfly, due to my comfort level socializing with all eleven of them. They’re not entirely wrong, either. I quite enjoy my job. I spend each day with the same handful of people, whose personal stories and worldviews and interests I’ve come to know and respect. I have numerous casual interactions with customers that rarely go deeper than a reader’s advisory discussion on the abusive relationship dynamics present in Nicholas Sparks’ novels. I see the same teenagers at each program, where we discuss who would win in a battle, Doctor Who or The Hulk. Overall, as someone who always scores on the cusp of extroversion and/or introversion, I get exactly the right amount of stimulation in my position… now.

When I first started at the Cherokee Library, I was completely overwhelmed, socially. I didn’t know my coworkers’ backgrounds, religious views, entertainment interests, political affiliations, or tastes in music. If I mentioned my desire to buy a house near the local Catholic school, so I could send my kids there, would I appear judgemental to the nonbeliever? If I told my coworkers I couldn’t handle the ALA Think Tank Facebook group, because of their political hostility, would they shun me for my less liberal viewpoint? If I casually suggested that Taylor Swift lacked depth, would I devastate her biggest fan by inadvertently calling him shallow? Every night, I went home and turned over literally every interaction in my mind, wondering if I’d said the right thing, left the correct impression, presented myself accurately. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be well liked, but properly understood. It was fine with me if someone didn’t like me, as long as they didn’t like me for reasons that were valid. While taking on the new title of Teen Librarian was daunting, the social implications of starting at a new library again, left me emotionally spent. It’s been five months now and I’m only beginning to relax, to feel like I belong. In short… extrovert my ass.

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So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve finally realized that what I truly enjoy is the build up. I love sitting at home, reciting every word to Hocus Pocus, with the cat. I love watching Thanksgiving episodes of How I Met Your Mother, on my tablet, while Jake plays video games. I love listening to Christmas carols on the Google Home, while making peanut brittle in my kitchen. I love showing pictures of my Christmas stockings to my coworkers, and oohing and ahhing over photos of their pets in reindeer antlers. I love driving through Christmas lights with my husband. What I really love is sprinkling the everyday, homebody familiar, with bright colors and lights and glitter and festivity. The grand finale, though? That stresses me the fuck out, primarily due to the aforementioned endless mandatory social contracts, such as…

Bringing a Dish

On December 22, I burst into tears when my three-ingredient peanut butter cookies tasted exactly like three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and angrily tossed them in the trash.

Jake: “They’re fine. Why don’t you just make another batch and cook them less?”
Me: “Because they aren’t good and all the women in your family will be judging me on what I bring. If I take those after taking Oreo balls to Thanksgiving, they’ll all think I can’t cook.”
Jake: “What was wrong with the Oreo balls?”
Me: “They were a no-bake dessert. They’ll think I’m a just a Pinterest cook and they’ll all hate me, because I can’t make cookies!”

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Of course, in the end, there were plenty of desserts, too many in fact, which I knew would be the case, but social norms required I bring something.

Being in Someone Else’s Home

Why do I have to offer to help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, when we both know there’s nothing for me to do and little space in which for me to do it? Why does she have to stop what she’s doing to pretend I’m useful and let me spoon butter she’s already melted onto biscuits she’s already made? 

Why is there only bar soap in the bathroom? How many people have used this hand towel? How obvious is it that I dried my hands on the bottoms of my jeans? Will I look rude if I get out my antibacterializer?

If I don’t eat these “appetizers”, am I going to hurt someone’s feelings? Can you call a bar full of cheese an appetizer? Literally, I see queso, next to a plate full of cream cheese with cranberry sauce, two cheese balls, and a plate of sliced cheese. If I eat this, I’ll die.

Where do I sit? I like the chair that doesn’t require me to sit next to anyone else, but is there some unspoken familial claim to this chair? Am I in Uncle Buck’s Chair? Okay, I’ll sit on the couch by the arm and Jake can sit next to me. Why doesn’t he ever sit down? He’s been pacing for the last 30 minutes. Wait. Is anyone else sitting down? Should I be standing? But… I don’t want to lose my couch corner.

Gift Giving

Zetus lapetus, y’all, I do not get gift giving. I’m 30 years old. I make $50,000 a year, in one of the cheapest states in the country. If I want something, I can buy it. If I can’t, no one else can, either. So what is the damn point of gift giving? Why do I have to spend $20 to buy a gift for someone that they might like, just so they can spend $20 to buy a gift for me that I, quite frankly, probably won’t like, and pretend that we’ve done some sort of charitable service, when both of us had $20 to spare in the first place? A couple of greedy, materialistic, little bitches trading twenties is, in no way, symbolic of the gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. If anything, we should just all donate that $20 to give Christmas to a family down on their luck or buy toys for children with incarcerated parents or purchase a goat for a family in a third world country or literally any better cause. I can sort of understand close family trading gifts, knowing the recipients will enjoy them, but why, oh why do the women in my family draw names for each other’s children, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!

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Don’t even get me started on Dirty Santa, where I’m supposed to spend $40 on a gift for no one, so I can stress myself out by over-analyzing the social etiquette of stealing home decor from my mother-in-law or leave in frustration when I contribute a gift I kind of like and open a bowl of decorative wicker balls and a diabetic cookbook. If I refuse to play, I’m anti-social and if I bring a gift I’d truly enjoy, I’m the weird one who brought the Spock Bluetooth speaker. If we must all leave with gifts, why can’t we each spend $40 on something for ourselves and open them in a big circle with genuine delight? I don’t understand.

Talking to Children

I’m a woman and a librarian, so it’s just assumed that I like children. I don’t. I don’t like babies. They’re fragile and they’re always leaking and it’s inevitable that they’ll start screaming like a newborn banshee and I won’t be able to find the mother. I don’t like little kids. I don’t have the patience or the sense of humor for them. Why are you still telling me this story that I think is about Spongebob? Why did you choose me to tell? Am I sending off pro-child vibes, because I work very hard to maintain subtle anti-child vibes. Why are you making that face? Was I not supposed to ask that? Fuck, don’t cry and get me in trouble.

Give me tweens and teens any day, but the holidays inevitably mean someone will leave me alone with a small child and I will make them cry or tell them something I shouldn’t have. I’ll refuse to hold someone’s baby and call it “it”. Someone will ask when I’m having children and I’ll either sputter through an awkward, but appropriate, answer or make a wildly inappropriate joke about how I can’t get pregnant the way we do it. The build up to the holidays does not necessarily mean associating with children, but the holidays themselves are crawling with them.

Talking to Adults

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I love my family. I do… but we do not get each other. I don’t mean that in some sort of coming of age drama way, either. We’re just very different people; or rather, they’re all the same people and I’m very different. My aunts, uncles, and cousins love body humor, the occasional racist joke, maybe something about killing a cat and I just don’t get it.

Jake: ::talking about our Christmas tree:: “When we get home, I’ll take it in the back.”
Me: ::giggling uncontrollably::

Jake jokes that I’m randomly an 8th grade boy sometimes, likely because I spend so much time with 8th grade boys, but the humor is all relatively innocent and is very rarely gross or cruel. I don’t understand why poop is funny and I understand even less why comparing our former president to a monkey is funny. I was genuinely horrified to hear my dad’s cousin giggle over the news story of the teenage boys who were just arrested for sexually assaulting their teammate with a pool cue, because apparently rape by instrumentation is funny if it’s done to a boy. Fortunately, my public school administrator uncle was just as appalled and I wasn’t the only one seemingly lacking a sense of humor. My humor is very dry and my family rarely even gets that I’m joking. When it’s not, it’s usually comprised of dorky and innocent puns.

Conversationally, I’m extremely intellectually curious. I like to theorize about the average age of parents who shake their babies, the effect of commonplace Photoshop on the children we’re “fixing” when they become adults, how technology is contributing to pornography addiction in teens and apparently, none of this is Christmas talk. I have one or two cousins who seemingly enjoy these discussions, but we’re not the norm. Even my fashion sense is completely off base. They’re Miranda Lambert to my Zooey Deschanel. They wear National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation t-shirts, while I bite my tongue about how much I hate that movie, in my giant hand-crocheted Christmas tree hat and my Meowy Christmas cat shirt. None of us is wrong. We just don’t really fit.

Jake’s family has been nothing but kind to me, but if I thought I don’t fit with my family, goodness I have no idea how to talk to those people. On the 23rd, at his big family Christmas, he must have pulled me aside three different times to ask if I was okay, because I’d hardly said anything, but it was just so much people and we have nothing in common. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand the appeal of rodeo. I’ve never castrated a bull. I don’t want to look at the dead mountain lion in my brother-in-law’s truck. I don’t fry stuff. What the fuck am I supposed to say?!?! Trust me, baby, you want me to keep my mouth shut, because if pressed, I will randomly start talking about the presence of second wave feminism in the Harry Potter books or why marijuana is not a gateway drug and the benefits of legalization. Just let me be a mystery, dude. Jake, of course, being the most extroverted person on the planet, fits in everywhere.

Me: “I wish I fit in with your family as well as you fit in with my family… actually I wish I fit in with my family and much as you fit in with my family.”

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million copies.* For most people, however, it’s a slightly creepy self-imposed chore of a tradition, which many parents regret ever starting. I knew, when it became popular, that I wouldn’t be purchasing an Elf for my own children. I’m even more certain of that fact 12 years later, as I watch my family and friends scramble around to perform for their children nightly, for the duration of a season that’s supposed to already be plenty magical by nature. Speaking of which…

I used to be one of the masses, the people who thought parents who didn’t play Santa were ridiculous and depriving their children of the magic of Christmas, but as time has gone by, I don’t really understand why we do this; though I do know that I’ve already lost this battle and Jake will insist. If you’re a religious person, though, as I am, then why do you need to add magic to the season with a cartoon character? Yes, yes, Saint Nicholas was a real guy, but the modern depiction of Santa Claus no more resembles Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas does the historical woman. We’re not honoring a Saint, anymore. We’re revering a caricature, who often overshadows the true Christian value of the season, ironically through the very un-Christ-like means of greed and materialism. If you’re specifically nonreligious, shouldn’t you be opposed to such fairy tales? Isn’t that one of the primary principles of Atheism, that one shouldn’t have faith in what cannot be seen or proven? Doesn’t the modern Santa Claus directly defy both of these belief systems? Isn’t this entirely appropriate conversation for Christmas dinner?!?! Can I please just go home and only talk to my husband now?!?!

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Sources
https://www.today.com/series/holidays-made-easy/elf-shelf-turns-10-secret-history-santa-s-little-scout-t62531