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

You Can’t Scam Lucille Bluth

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

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

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

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

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Merry Christmas, everybody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Laid Plans…

I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.

I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.

Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”

The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.

Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and  hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.

I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.

In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.

Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.

The best laid plans… well, maybe not “best.”

How Alcohol Poisoning Reminded Me How Good I Have It

Jake and I had a great day on Saturday. We went to a festival in Springfield, ate fried food and candied nuts, watched Netflix, and then walked around the park to make up for the calories we’d consumed. We had a pretty low key night ahead of us, when I checked my phone to see that Catherine, Laura, and Gail were calling me out for a night on Catherine’s patio. I’d promised I’d come, even last minute, if they sent me the invite and Jake, in all his good ol’ boy charm, was game, especially since Gail’s Terry would be there, so he wouldn’t be the only cock in the hen house. Conveniently enough, we’d just been to the liquor store and were more than prepared for this BYOB with whiskey and coke and the small bottle of Strawberry Smirnoff I’d bought to mix with Fresca… only I’d forgotten the Fresca.

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I remember a great deal of the night. I remember Jake arguing politics with Catherine. I remember sitting in the grass with Laura, talking about her marriage. I remember making fish sticks when we got hungry drunk and walking around the block. I remember teasing Gail about her newfound veganism and Terry about their five year engagement. I remember playing on Catherine’s daughter’s swing set. I’m so glad I remember all of that, because I had a great time… until I didn’t.

You see, I also remember judging my shots without a glass and drinking straight from the bottle. I remember wondering why I wasn’t feeling it more. I remember feeling good and drunk and then thinking I really didn’t want to be any more drunk, but that I didn’t have to worry, because the bottle was empty anyway. I remember Laura realizing this and making me stick my finger down my throat… Jake trying to carry me inside, after Laura’s failed attempts to rouse me… and throwing up. I remember that last one the most. The rest of the night was just a blur of pain and humiliation… and apologies, because y’all, I am a grown ass woman. I have no idea what I was thinking. I haven’t even been close to that drunk since the summer of 2011, when Gail, Malik, and I decided to mix shrimp and peach vodka to celebrate my new apartment. Even then, I had an excuse in the fact that I’d lost about 60 pounds and had no concept of my new tolerance. I’m 29, not 19. I don’t even get drunk enough to be hungover anymore, let alone lose the ability to stand or speak. I’m not that girl. I chase chick beers with water and ibuprofen, not vodka with vodka… and thank goodness Jake and my friends know that…

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… because through all the misery and mortification, what I remember most clearly was Jake and Laura working to get me inside and clean up any mess in Catherine’s house, all while assuring me that I didn’t have to apologize and it was okay, that I’d be okay, because losing that kind of control is terrifying. Ashamed, I begged them not to laugh at me or tease me. Laura spoke in motherly tones while cleaning up vomit. As I dry-heaved, Jake held my hair, rubbed my back, and told me over and over again that I didn’t have to be sorry or embarrassed, because he’d done far worse. The two of them sat in the kitchen sharing their own cringe-worthy drinking tales as I fell asleep on Catherine’s couch.

I woke a few hours later to find Jake in the kitchen and told him I wanted to go home. After 30 minutes of gathering my stuff, we headed out, before Catherine, Gail, or Terry woke to witness my shame. Jake helped me up the stairs and onto the couch, where he was once again unbearably sweet to me as I recovered from just that short trek.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Thank you for being so nice to me.”
Jake: “You don’t have to be sorry.”
Me: “Will you be nice to me tomorrow, when I don’t feel good?”
Jake: “I will always be nice to you.”

Still drunk, I showered and changed as sunlight filtered through the window.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Are you going to break up with me?”
Jake: “I wouldn’t dream of breaking up with you.”

That afternoon, Jake came into the living room to find me with a throw-up bowl in my lap, texting Laura a thank you.

Jake: “How are you feeling?”
Me: “Bad.”
Jake: “Well, the good news is, you don’t have to worry about how many calories you ate, yesterday.”
Me: “I’m embarrassed.”
Jake: “Oh, I’ve been much more embarrassed. Do you remember what you drank to make you so sick?”
Me: “All of the vodka.”
Jake: “Were you just drinking straight from the bottle? Did you think you were a saloon owner in an old western?”

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There is no way I would’ve had more than a fourth shot, had I been using a shot glass, let alone a sixteenth.

Gail texted to ask what time I’d left that morning and I realized that Laura hadn’t told anyone about the events of the previous night. She’d kept my humiliation private. Jake spent the rest of the day watching Harry Potter with me and taking brief breaks to check on the Cowboys game, as I failed to keep down pretzel sticks and water… and wondered how I got so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. Those two are both getting homemade peanut brittle this weekend.

The One Promise I CAN Make to My Future Children

Dear Future Children,

I have six or seven unopened pregnancy tests under my bathroom counter, right now… and not out of hope, but paranoia. I’m not ready for you yet. You’re really more of a concept, an eventuality, and as such, I can’t make a lot of promises. I can’t promise I’ll never yell at you. I can’t promise that I’ll put my phone away every time you have a story to tell. I can’t promise that I’ll never send you to school sick, because I was certain you were bluffing. I can’t promise that I won’t look away for a second, missing the moment you climbed too high and fell and broke your arm. I certainly can’t promise to never embarrass you.

When you’re 11 and just starting to notice that other people judge you, and you forget to tell me that you need a cover for the report that’s due the next morning, I’m wearing my Star Trek pants to the store, or we’re not going. In 2035, when I catch you having a hologram chat with that boy you’ve been crushing on, I’ll interrupt to explain that it’s late and you’re now grounded. If you’re a cute redheaded girl, then I genuinely apologize for how much worse your dad will be on your first date.

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It’d probably be more accurate to just go ahead and promise that I will embarrass you. I’ll sing and dance to 50’s music, when I clean. I’ll use outdated words and phrases, like hogswoggle and hokum. I’ll wear t-shirts that say things like “Having fun isn’t hard, when you have a library card.” I’ll do these things even more when you complain. The one promise that I absolutely can make to you, though, is that I will never embarrass you online.

When you get stuck in the doggy door, I’ll text a photo to your grandma… but I won’t put it on Instagram. When you throw a tantrum at the mall, long after the acceptable age to do so, I’ll record it and send it to your father… but I won’t live stream it. When you have your first wet dream or your first period, I’ll update your Aunt Gail… but I won’t update Facebook. When you’re caught cheating on a test, I’ll make you tearfully tell your dad… but not Youtube.

The people who love you will know all of your embarrassing stories, just as those who love me know mine. That’s the cost of having family and you should never take that for granted. That photo of you, proudly wearing nothing but underwear and a princess crown, will make the annual family album. However, when you have a falling out with your best friend in the 7th grade, she won’t be able to tag everyone you know in it, along with the one where you smeared your diaper all over the crib.

I know that I’ll make mistakes as a parent. There will be times when I forget to sign your permission slip and keep you from watching that video in class. Maybe I’ll forget that your friend is allergic to melon. I’m sure I’ll yell at you for something, only to realize later that your father is to blame. In response, I’ll atone privately, not while wearing a sign around my neck on Facebook. In turn, I vow that you’ll receive the same courtesy. You’ll be lectured and punished, but it will happen behind closed doors. I’ll receive validation from your dad and Gail, not that woman I graduated high school with 25 years earlier.

When your first boss Googles your name, anything scandalous to be found will be your poor decision making, not mine. Large scale shame and humiliation will never be part of your punishment. When I’m angry with you for being a disrespectful brat, I’ll tell your grandpa, not all 157 of my closest social networking pals… only for you to read all about it four years later. I don’t know anything about being a parent. I can’t promise that I’ll be any good at it. I can, however, promise that I will not ruin your online reputation, before you even get the chance.

Visiting the Family Ranch

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That sounds so made up.

Last Friday, I drove straight from work to spend the weekend with Jake, in Wellston. Lately, my grandma has been dubbed Beagle Sitter, so I didn’t have to go home to get Jude and the other supervisory librarian was comfortable with my leaving an hour early, to make up for a previous late day. Still, Wellston is an hour from Shetland and an hour and a half from the Northside Library, so it was quite the trek and I was glad I’d be getting nearly three days with Jake for my efforts, since I’d arranged to work the evening shift on Monday. I was both hungry and tired when I arrived in Wellston, as was Jake, after working nights on the rig for a week. Neither of us objected to going to bed early, knowing that we’d be attending Jake’s nieces’ basketball games, first thing in the morning.

Y’all, we have officially entered new territory. I am no longer being introduced. I’m being included. This was not a meet and greet, but a family event.

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Having previously met everyone, I wasn’t caught up in a lot of pleasantries with Jake’s family. His brother-in-law, Cody, seemed friendly enough, while his sister, May, briefly said hello between plays, as she was coaching a herd of five-year-olds, her daughter Lucy included. Jake’s nine-year-old niece, Shana, seemed shy, so Jake and I were mostly left to enjoy the game. I don’t know what Jake looked for in me, as I watched his nieces play… perhaps nothing. What I noticed, however, was how wonderfully supportive his entire family was of this slightly silly game. I also admired how patiently his sister coached, without coddling. I couldn’t help but think how much more I might’ve enjoyed sports had I been taught with such positivity.

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On second thought… nah.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for actually playing sports, I enjoyed watching. From an educator’s standpoint, I found the teaching methods fascinating. As a woman with working ovaries, I found Jake’s open interest and encouragement quite appealing. It’s a good thing, too, because Lucy’s game was immediately followed by Shana’s, in a nearby town.

As I set my stuff down, at the next game, and turned to sit next to Jake, I noticed my seat had been stolen by Lucy, who just looked up at me and grinned. She is, clearly, her Uncle Jake’s smallest fan. Not wanting to deprive either of them of their bonding time, I took a seat on her opposite side and, surprisingly, got the chance to bond, myself. Lucy is both ornerier and more outgoing than Shana and she chattered away with me as I snuck her m&m’s, because a little bribery never hurt anyone. Together, we teased Jake, who teased us in turn.

Jake: “I won a trophy just the other weekend.”
He was referring to the trophy he’d won at the engagement party, as the champion of a drunken carnival game.
Me: “It wasn’t a real trophy, and he cried when he didn’t win the other one.”
He was genuinely mad that his teammate lost him the title of Beer Pong Champion.
Lucy: “Ha ha. You cried!
Jake: “I didn’t cry. pouted.

There are a lot of different ways in which I find Jake attractive, but none of them have ever matched watching him snuggle and talk with his niece as he cheered the other one on at a game that was going quite poorly. At 28, you just don’t care about his six pack. It’s all about dad potential.

This game led to Dairy Queen for the kids and Chinese food for the adults. Afterward, we went directly to Jake’s sister’s trailer, where we all chatted and helped Jake’s parents with their new tablet. The entire day had been spent with Jake’s family, but it was nice to get to know them better, without the pressure of a First Meeting. Knowing we’d have time the next day, I wasn’t bothered, until…

Mrs. Granger: “Your Uncle Benny’s coming down to the ranch to go quail hunting. He wanted you to go with him.”
Jake: “Yeah. Dad told me. I may do that.”
Mr. Granger: “You comin’ down first thing in the morning?”
Jake: “Well, I don’t know if I’ll come down first thing.”

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We hadn’t seen each other for nearly two weeks and now he wanted to ditch me? On the one hand, I didn’t want to tell him that he couldn’t do something, or manipulate him into feeling that way. Jake had already mentioned how limited his time to go quail hunting would be, with his work schedule. On the other hand, we’d specifically planned to spend the weekend together. Not wanting to discuss it in front of his family, but unable to completely hide my hurt feelings, I got kind of quiet, until we got in Jake’s truck.

Jake: “You okay? You’re kind of quiet.”
Me: “I’m… um… I just… I’m good.”
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Jake: “‘Feelings are for the inside?'”
Me: “Um… yeah. They belong with the last Horcrux… it’s just… I had a great time with your family. I enjoyed getting to know them better, but I thought we’d have time tomorrow, because we planned to spend the whole weekend together. That’s why my Gramma has my dog and I even arranged to go into work later on Monday. Now you’re leaving the state to go hunting and I feel like you’re just ditching me. I don’t wanna tell you not to go, because I know you want to hunt with your uncle, but we had plans and it hurts my feelings.”
Jake: “Well, you can come. I wasn’t just going to leave you.”
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Me: “Why… why would I assume that? I’ve never been to your family’s ranch. You’ve never mentioned taking me and I’ve met your parents twice.”

The most functional part of mine and Jake’s relationship is how we communicate. At no point did either of us raise our voices. We were both genuinely surprised by the other person’s assumption. Jake was truly sorry he’d made me feel as if he didn’t value his time with me and I was excited that he wanted me to see his family’s ranch. So, the next morning, we got up early and headed further south to The Granger Ranch.

Y’all, I am not pulling a Belle-esque exaggeration here, where I make some hyperbolic statement and assume you’ll read it as such. The Granger Ranch is a legit, fully functioning ranch. This is the family legacy, which Jake made it more or less clear, will one day be the subject of the Granger boys’ prenups. Over 2,000 acres, a 3,000+ square foot house, hundreds of red angus, and a custom brand comprise the multi-million dollar ranch run by Jake’s parents and his brother. Jake occasionally assists, but tries to distance himself, because he does not want to be a cattle rancher. This, folks, is why I worried that Jake’s friends might think I was after his money, as he’s currently one third of the eventual ownership. His brother Craig’s girlfriend, Matilda, is why I worried Jake’s family would think I was after his money, as she seems to be. I can only assume that this is also why Jake’s mom was so… cool to me, after Jake left me at the house, to go hunting with his uncle for a few hours.

Mrs. Granger: “So, Belle. You don’t like this stuff at all?”
Me: “What?”
Mrs. Granger: “Going out in the pasture, seeing the ranch?”
Me: “No, I do. I just don’t think I’d take to quail hunting and I know Jake really wanted time with his uncle. I didn’t want to intrude.”

I tried a few times to engage Mrs. Granger in more conversation, offering to help her clean the breakfast dishes, but she didn’t seem eager. Soon after, Craig stopped by and briefly said hello. Not wanting to push myself on anyone, I sat down and crocheted a hat for Jake’s smallest niece, Chloe, with the yarn he’d bought me on the way, so I’d have something to do. After I showed Mrs. Granger what I’d made, she seemed impressed and asked if I’d like to go with her and Mr. Granger to find Jake and his uncle and see the ranch. She seemed pretty surprised when I was eager.

As we rode in the high-end ATV, Mrs. Granger began to point things out on the ranch, like the windmill she’d requested for Christmas a few years past. She seemed pleasantly surprised that, while I wasn’t necessarily knowledgeable about country life, I was interested. For a good 45 minutes to an hour, the Grangers drove me over the ranch, telling me all about their land, while lovingly sniping at each other. When Mrs. Granger snapped at her husband to quit going over so many bumps and he sped up, I couldn’t help but think that Jake is definitely his father’s son. Eventually, we found Jake and Benny and took Jake to retrieve the tractor to pull his uncle’s truck out of the mud. A boy riding a tractor…

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Jake: “What are you doin’?”
Me: “Chillin’ with your parents.”
Jake: “You havin’ fun?”
Me: “Yup. I love you.”
Jake: “Love you, too.”

Then he kissed me in front of his mom. Sigh.

Not wanting to be in Mrs. Granger’s way, when we got back, I walked down to the horses I’d seen and talked to them and petted them for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. I didn’t realize it, but Mrs. Granger had been watching from the kitchen window. It was like talking to a different person, when I returned. She told me who Jake was in high school and asked if I could tell the difference between him and Craig in old photos. I’ve known for months that she’s a bit high-strung, often worrying needlessly, but I could see how deeply rooted in love that was. She’s a good mom. Mr. Granger is a good dad. May is a good sister and mom. We had a dinner of ribs and homemade pecan pie, and headed on our way.

Me: “I think they liked me. I liked them a lot. Your sister seems like such a good mom. I’m glad I like her, because…”
Jake: “… you hate your sister-in-law so much?”
Me: “Well, kind of, yeah. I’m not proposing, but it would really suck to have two sisters-in-law I didn’t get along with one day. That’s kind of the same reason I like your mom so much. She may be a little high-strung, but her intentions are good. She’s a really good person.”

A few days later, Jake and I talked on the phone, after he’d gone back to the ranch to quail hunt for another day.

Jake: “Yeah, I asked her, kind of trying to catch her off guard, ‘So, do you like Belle?’ She goes, ‘Yeah, she’s real sweet. She’ll actually talk to ya. She’s a lot better than Matilda.”
Me: “Woot! I’m the favorite. Does she seriously hate her that much?”
Jake: “Well, apparently Craig called to say he and Matilda were going to come over for dinner and mom told him not to, claimed we didn’t have enough ribs. When I told her we had plenty she snapped ‘The only time that woman comes around is when dinner is served!'”

For reasons best not detailed, at this time, I don’t really blame Mrs. Granger for this. The situation sounds like Matilda probably is after Craig’s money, but at the very least, she’s a controlling woman who doesn’t want him to have much to do with his family. I also see it as promising that Mrs. Granger is just as forthright as her son. My own family has always been loud and opinionated, never leaving you to wonder where you stand. That, I can do. Fake, I cannot. Overall, I am beyond thrilled that Mrs. Granger likes me, because she is clearly the one to please as Jake and I continue to grow closer… and that we do.

Jake: “So, do you want to go somewhere the week after next?”
Me: “What?”
Jake: “You have some time off, don’t you? Do you want to go to Ruidoso and ski?”
Me: “I have Friday through Tuesday off. Are you serious?”
Jake: “Well, yeah. Let me look at my budget. I’ll let you know for sure.”

He called just a few days later to tell me he’d booked a room. I didn’t have to plan anything. I just have to go to Wellston on Friday morning, right after I get my last Gardasil shot, and we’ll head out from there to spend our first weekend together that will actually involve sex. I’ll hyperventilate later. Right now, I’m too excited.

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