A Terrible Summer and the Family Room We Sometimes Shopvac

I hate summer. That is not a seasonal declaration, either. On the coldest day in January, when my husband mansplains how to deice my car, while I tearfully scream at him to stop being an asshole and just take me to work, I hate summer.

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At 31, the majority of my life has revolved around the school year. For the first 28 years or so, this helped to mitigate my contempt for the season. Then, I began working as a librarian full time, which meant having an active role in Summer Reading. For those of you unfamiliar, a teen librarian’s schedule is the exact opposite of a teacher’s. Summer is absolute chaos. The library is packed at all hours, with everyone from teacher moms looking for a way to keep their kids busy on the cheap, full daycare classes, unsupervised children who should be in daycare… and it often feels like everyone under the age of ten is cackling or screaming or crying. In fact, every year, by the first of August, I’ve inevitably come to the conclusion that, if I even still want children, my body has probably developed some kind of immunity to procreation, as it does when exposed to chicken pox. All this to say that, the one redeeming quality that was once reserved for the summer months, a time of relaxation, no longer applies to me, as a public librarian wrangling 35 teen volunteers… and therefore, I hate summer.

Now folks, it would not be a stretch to suggest that I’m something of an “indoor girl.” My husband would tell you so outright, but I do enjoy some outdoor activities, such as hiking, swimming, bike riding, outdoor festivals, laying out… and zetus lapetus it is too fucking hot to do any of those things during a Southern summer. Add to that the plague of insects and insect paraphernalia

Me: ::screaming::
Jake: “What?!?!”
Me: ::spinning in circles:: “Spider web, spider web, spider web!!! It’s on me!!!”
Jake: ::raising a brow:: “Are you okay?”
Me: “NO! I am not okay! I need it to be October!”

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… and I hate summer.

Despite all of this, the assumption that I actually want to leave my home from June to August still persists among my family, because they’re all Lake People. They love getting away for a weekend to share space with a bunch of strangers at a hole full of dirty water and creatures. I hate getting away for a weekend. I don’t enjoy ransacking my bedroom to pack a bag, which will be both overfull and missing something, to sleep in a strange bed, or on the ground with no air conditioning. Y’all, there is no surer sign that someone has a charmed life than their insistence on being poor for a weekend. I’ve been poor. Fuck. Camping. As for the strangers, no thank you. I talk to strangers all day long and they pay me $24 an hour to do it. I don’t need to meet more people. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure every injury I had before the age of 10 happened at a lake. Why would I attempt to relax at the number one setting for horror movies?

Now Jake’s family are not Lake People. They’re Rodeo People. These folks work too hard to understand the appeal of a weekend not spent working cattle or traveling to rodeos. Even attending a softball tournament is more acceptable than a weekend wasted lounging at the lake or anywhere else.

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Every man in Jake’s family.

As for me? When I was six, I wrote in my yearbook that my favorite place to be is “home,” and I stand by kindergarten Belle. While I enjoy being outside for limited amounts of time, when the temperature is between 45 and 75 degrees, it’s with the caveat that I can retreat to my own home, take a hot shower, lounge around in my falsely heated and cooled air, and sleep on my two thousand dollar mattress. Perhaps I love winter so much, because there’s a greater general acceptance of this behavior, but in the South, I feel it’s completely warranted from early June to mid-September, as well… and that’s been my default for much of my life. While everyone else dons far too revealing clothing for my taste and leaps into vats of stranger pee, for me summer is a time to crank the a/c and T-Swift, and dance around the house in my underwear, avoiding any and all people, because I met my quota at work this week. It’s a time to make some real progress on my Vampire Diaries rewatch, read 11 dark paranormal romance novels, and finally get around to that sewing project. I hate summer, but if I ignore all conventional social norms and behavior, it’s bearable… except not this summer. Nope. This summer has been truly unbearable.

Folks, when we bought our house, a year and a half ago, Jake and I decided to keep the converted garage as living space. It had a large closet, access to a remodeled 3/4 bathroom, and a heat and a/c window unit. Combined with the placement right off the laundry room, this allowed us to use it as a bedroom, creating a true split floor plan… with a little work and money. After painting, installing a closet kit, finding 96″ floor to ceiling curtains, it made a huge bedroom, both private and luxurious, with the thick pile carpet Jake insisted on installing. For a few months, it was awesome. Then… the rains came.

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Our house is built on the side of a hill, toward the top, preventing any possibility of flooding on the left side of the house, where the original master was placed, while necessitating a retaining wall on the right… next to the garage. In a normal year, this retaining wall would prevent the garage from flooding. This, however, has not been a normal year. If fact, I’d be willing to bet that this has been one of the wettest years on record for Cherokee, bringing several inches of rain in just minutes on multiple occasions… and ultimately flooding the bedroom.

The first time, in October, it wasn’t so bad. We put some fans on the carpet and Jake poured some tar. The second time, just after Christmas, Jake rented some equipment, dried out the carpet, toiled in the drive for a few days and was certain he’d fixed the problem. The third time, he dried out the carpet with a leaf blower while he researched and brainstormed, determined to put that hydrology degree to personal use, and resolve this issue, once and for all. The fourth time, he tore out the flower bed and put down more tar. The fifth time, he bought pipe to install a drain behind the retaining wall. As this went on, through much of winter and spring, I became more and more defeated, withdrawn, and downright depressed.

As much as I hate playing the role of The Damaged Girl, there was something about being uprooted from the haven of my bedroom, feeling as though my home was threatened, that opened old wounds. While anyone would feel a bit unsettled with their home in disarray, it was something deeper for me. Suddenly, I wasn’t a thirty-something homeowner, but a 22-year-old panicking at the sound of a doorbell, after being forced to move ten times in two years. The true homebody that I am, I had no retreat through the stress… exactly as I felt the day my home burned to the ground and killed all of my pets, leaving me with no place to even lay my head and cry. The circumstances were vastly different and yet, all of the emotions were an echo of those long forgotten heartaches. Just as I once lay in bed, watching my well-loved That 70s Show DVDs, on loop, I spent an entire Saturday unable to move, as I binge-watched The Office.

Jake was supportive and compassionate, showing me more care than I’d ever guess a hard-as-nails country boy was capable of, even though he couldn’t quite understand my distress. When I began to suggest abandoning our converted-garage bedroom, however, he would insist he could fix it, perhaps feeling as though he’d failed me or that he should have been able to resolve the issue, when he literally majored in water. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I could no longer sleep in our bedroom, too stressed from my obsessive weather analyses, though I traditionally love rainstorms, to find peace. When Jake woke up one morning, to find me sleeping on the couch, I quietly told him…

Me: “I think we need to move into the other bedroom.”
Jake: “Okay.”

… and so it began… more renovations, on the heels of the expense and stress of Jake’s attempt to waterproof the garage, which came on the heels of transforming the converted garage into a bedroom in the first place.

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Despite the coming projects and expenses, I was relieved to have a solution, even one that would make summer more stressful and miserable than ever, more expensive than winter and spring combined. You see, when Jake and I bought our home, there were a couple of odd design quirks, such as the kitchy, trendy barn door over the master bathroom, which I hated and immediately sold. Of course, this left us without a bathroom door, not that a door that neither latches nor locks really deserves its name. The master bedroom in a house built in 1980, is also substantially smaller than one built post 2000. While I measured and measured, there was simply no way our entire bedroom suite would fit in the intended master. Luckily, the media console fit beautifully next to the dining table, but there would simply be no room at all for a bookshelf. While most of my childhood mementos were lost in my fire, I cherish and display the few survivors… so I would need wall shelves.

Y’all, my husband deserves a big gold star. Whereas two and a half years ago, Jake couldn’t even discuss decor that wasn’t a dead animal, today he truly trusts me. Not only does he realize that I can envision things he can’t and that I’ll make choices that ultimately reflect him and his taste, he trusts me to dream it up and then make it happen, himself. So it happened, that he cut, stained, sealed, and hung 360 degrees worth of shelves for his mementos and mine.

Meanwhile, I organized… and painted… and organized, and painted. I started by switching the closets, which fucked up my back, to the point that Jake had to take me to the doctor, because I couldn’t drive myself. Then I painted and organized both the old bathroom and the new one… then the new bedroom and the old one. Jake scheduled an appointment with a contractor to install a pocket door, the only door that would fit. He flaked. I told Jake we should go with someone else and he insisted he knew how these guys worked, as he wrote him a check. The contractor flaked and we lost money. We fought.

Oh, how we have fought this summer. Summer is bad enough when I have a cozy hobbit hole I can hide in, until the worst of the heat and biblical plague of insects have passed. This summer, not only have I hated being outside, I’ve hated being inside, as our house has been in complete chaos. As if that weren’t enough to further ruin an already rotten season, I’ve spent the last two months going toe-to-toe with my best friend and the most stubborn man alive. He gets frustrated because I spend money on a project, when we aren’t done with the current one. I get frustrated because these are all projects we’ve planned and I’m following the agreed upon timeline. He tells me we don’t have the money for paint for the garage and then writes a check of equal value to a flaky handyman, without doing his research. He wants to save, unless it’s time to spend money on something he wants and I want to banshee shriek that it’s not just his fucking money. We rarely fight about money, unless we’re spending a lot of it and this year we’ve had no choice. Now we’re both so stressed that everything sets us off.

– Jake hangs up the phone in his work truck with his coworker. –
Coworker: “What’s wrong?”
Jake: “You know how a mockingbird will just dive bomb a hawk’s nest and get it all riled up, as it defends it’s home?”
Coworker: “Yeah?”
Jake: “Well, Belle’s nest is messed up… and I’m the Hawk.”

We’ve worked and we’ve fought and I’ve hurt myself and we’ve sweated and spent far too much money on paint and wood and stain and rollers. Finally, as Summer Reading comes to a close, as back to school supplies and even Halloween candy are appearing on Wal-Mart shelves, despite the consistently 90+ temperatures, there seems to be an end in sight. What was once a spare room with a TV and an elliptical in it, is now our surprisingly spacious bedroom, complete with pocket door and shelves all around. What was once our watery bedroom is now The Blue Room: a Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac. Jake told me I couldn’t paint it in one day, so I naturally threw out my hip and blistered my hands proving him wrong.

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The Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac is more is more or less empty, for the time being and it will take us two months to catch up financially, but Summer Reading is finally over and Jake and I can stop being total assholes to each other. I can once again arrange my nest and Jake can stop fucking dive bombing it. Now, if only it could be October.

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A Discount Store Celebration of My Girl Parts

Y’all, I’m ashamed to say that, after years of struggle, I’ve managed to take the small things for granted. I still smile when I’m able to buy the name brand Spaghetti O’s, when I only have to work 40 hours a week, when I get to spend an evening reading next to my husband, instead of rushing to an awkward first date. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken one of life’s many blessings as a given. Y’all, for 31 years, I have been living under the assumption that my girl parts were not up for public discussion… and I was mistaken.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. There is, of course, a clear distinction between “public” and “family.” The ink had barely dried on my divorce papers, before my brother informed 23-year-old Belle that all the good ones were taken, so if she wanted to get married and have kids, she’d better get on it. The entirety of my twenties, in fact, were peppered with not-so-subtle suggestions that I procreate, even before Jake and I were engaged. Just last Christmas, my Aunt Dee sat down next to me, as I was holding my baby niece, and demanded “What about you? What’s your timeline? When are you having babies?” in lieu of silly pleasantries like “Hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Belle’s Girl Parts have been a favorite family discussion topic for years. Truth be told, save for my dad, the lot of them have had a stopwatch on my uterus for the better part of the last decade.

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As for Jake’s family, who are far more old school than mine, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that they’ve only just begun to hint that we should get on the baby train, after two years of marriage. Though they don’t quite have the gall of my family, the comments are getting increasingly less subtle, and honestly… that’s okay. While it bothered me to hear these things from my own family, when I was working on my career and figuring out what I wanted from life, I never held any true ire or resentment. As blunt and nosy and opinionated as both sides can be, it’s forgivable… because they’re family. A foundation of nearly every familial portrayal in media is that they suck at boundaries, because they love you… and I can handle that. What I cannot handle, however, is the same lack of boundaries from the cashier at Dollar Tree.

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Folks, I’ve worked retail, and still very much work in customer service, so I try to be courteous. When I get to the register, I put my phone down, greet the cashier, engage in any small talk, say thank you and just generally try not to act like an entitled ass. Usually, I receive the same respectful treatment, from someone who will likely never see me again, but still makes an effort to create a pleasant interaction by smiling, making chit chat and ignoring my purchases. So, last week, when I stopped in to grab a card for a coworker’s last day, I thought nothing of it when I piled a few ovulation tests on the conveyor belt, cuz why not? They’re a dollar and I’ve long since passed the time in my life where I’m embarrassed to buy tampons or condoms. Just as I couldn’t care less when a customer asks me for books on demonology and antique dolls (or I at least keep quiet about it), I know cashiers aren’t interested in my budget fertility experiments… or are they?!?!

Cashier # 1: “Oooooh! Are you trying to have a baby?!?!”q1zsbb8
Me: “I… um… I guess so?”
Cashier # 1: “That’s so exciting! I always said that if I were going to have any more, I’d do it that way, so I could know exactly when they were coming. I’ve got an IUD now, though, so I’m good for five years.”tenor-1
Me: ::I literally do not even know your name:: “Oh, um, yeah I actually had one of those for a little while.” ::Why the hell am I telling this woman about my birth control?::
Cashier # 2: “What’s going on?”
Cashier # 1: “She’s trying to have a baby!”babyishbountifulgarpike-size_restrictedCashier # 2: “Oh, that’s exciting!”
Cashier # 1: “Yeah, I had to use over-the-counter options before this, because I couldn’t use anything else.”
Me: “Yeah, that happens sometimes, I know everything else made me sick.” ::Are we really talking about your condom usage?::giphy-2

… and then I thanked her, wished her a good day and left with my bag o’ pee sticks. That’s right, y’all. It is so ingrained in me to be a good customer, that I thanked the cashier who asked me “How ’bout that vagina?” My When my Aunt Dee asked about my timeline, I had the presence of mind to clap back that Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole (Merry Christmas!), but a woman I’ve never met blasts my sex life over the loud speaker of a local discount store and I wish her a good day.

When did this happen?!?! When did my fertility become something that not only my family asks about in a pesky, yet somewhat endearing way, but strangers think makes for appropriate small talk?!? I’m all for lifting the taboo on pregnancy, liberating “expecting” 50s housewives from their mumus, and encouraging breastfeeding moms to make themselves comfortable in public, but there is a difference between oppressive taboos and basic privacy! For instance:

Telling a woman she should hide her pregnancy shames her for something she should be celebrating.

While humiliating a woman for feeding her baby in a public courthouse makes a healthy and natural activity taboo, asking a woman if she’s planning to breastfeed is prying into a private personal decision.

Congratulating someone on their pregnancy announcement shares in the joy of a growing family, but asking her about her girl parts is invasive and uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that!

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Naturally, I went home and shared this story with Jake.
Me: “Next month, you get to buy the ovulation tests.”
Jake: “If it happens again, just tell them you’re breeding your dog.”

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I’ve been pretty hesitant to revisit this Dollar Tree, though, even with it being so close to work. While a part of me wants to perform some kind of expansive social experiment and buy increasingly awkward items from various cashiers, another part shudders to think what will happen when I actually do get pregnant.

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Two Vitally Important Years

One of the first Saturday mornings after our wedding day, Jake came into the living room to see my cat, Thackery Binx, crawling into my lap, as I sipped my coffee and ate my donuts, while reading the news.

Jake: ::waves his hand at TB:: “Git! Go!”
Me: ::shielding TB:: “What are you doing?!?”
Jake: “He’s trying to get to your food!”
Me: “No, he isn’t! He’s trying to get to my snuggles. He doesn’t even care about my food. You, ‘GIT!'”

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What Jake didn’t realize, was that Thackery Binx and I have a morning routine, which involves my eating breakfast, around him, as he lounges across my lap or chest. He never goes for my food. He’s not interested in human food and doesn’t think I should be either, if it’s going to interfere with his morning snuggles. It’s literally been our schtick, since I got him as a half pound kitten.

On another early day in our marriage, Jake started to get up from the couch, putting on his Crocs.

Me: “Where are you going?”
Jake: “Nowhere… just to get a drink.”
Me: “You put shoes on to get a drink?”
Jake: “Yeah. I don’t want to walk around barefoot.”

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What I didn’t realize, is that Jake cannot stand the thought of walking anywhere barefoot. I’m not sure if I even wore shoes for the first ten years of my life. I’d go so far as to state that it’s a societal norm, in the mild temperatures of the south, to walk around barefoot, any time doing so is not prohibited by policy or law. Just last week, I climbed a chain link fence barefoot, which I 0/10 do not recommend. It is bizarre to me, that a man who has had his entire arm in a cow’s vagina, cannot handle the thought of walking to the kitchen sink, without having his feet protected.

They say you never truly know a person until you’ve lived with them, often claiming this supports the idea that you must cohabitate prior to marriage. I’ve always disagreed with this insistence, feeling that two mature adults can be honest enough with each other, to reveal any genuine deal breakers, without living together. If it’s the little things that might do you in, like the way she eats her breakfast around the cat or the way he wears Crocs at all times, then you’re probably not ready for marriage, anyway.

After two years of marriage, I stand by this. Jake and I represented ourselves quite authentically, in our year and a half of dating, prior to engagement. We knew each other’s goals and visions of the future, religious and political worldviews, and financial and personal wellness habits. We might not have known all of the quirks, but we knew each other. Still, as we celebrate our wedding anniversary, I must admit that the last two years have been vitally important, as we’ve gotten to know each other even more.

We know how to fight.

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Goodness do we. Y’all, Jake is my best friend in the whole world. Incidentally, he’s also capable of pissing me off more than anyone in the whole world. In the last two years, we’ve gone a few rounds… over life changing things, like buying a home and a car… and over stupid things, like who ate all the Miracle Whip (spoiler alert: him) and whether or not we really needed more candy (spoiler alert: yes).

Whereas Jake is definitely the more prideful of the two of us, I just might be the more stubborn, which has, admittedly, led to some pretty epic standoffs. As a result, we’ve discovered how to fight in the most effective, and least harmful, ways. I, personally, have learned how to explain, in a more timely and collected manner, why I’m actually upset… which is almost never the reason Jake assumes. On his part, Jake understands that I’m not likely to dig in my heels over something frivolous. His pride deflates more quickly these days. He’s better at listening overall, and quicker to apologize. As a result, I’m less likely to make it to irrational and tearfully explosive.

Before I met Jake, I worried that I’d have a bigger personality than anyone I married. I feared I’d be left to make all of the decisions, discipline the children, act as the primary authority and intelligence in my family. That sounded exhausting. What is the point of having a partner who needs his hand held through every moment of the day? Jake harbored similar worries, until he met me. We both have pretty big personalities and, therefore, may have a lifetime of brawls ahead of us… but we’ll never have to worry that we haven’t met our match.

We know how to comfort.

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I’m not great with tears. I used to joke that Spock was the perfect man, completely logical and entirely emotionless; that Louis, from Interview with a Vampire, was a close second, because he only cried one tear every thousand years. It’s not sexist. I can’t handle a woman’s tears, either. In fact, I am at a loss for how to comfort anyone who’s crying; and it is an absolute double standard, because as I get older, I cry all the damned time.

In this way, Jake and I were made for each other, because my husband has not cried since he lost a football game over 15 years ago. A coworker once blamed his “toxic masculinity,” but no one ever told Jake that boys couldn’t/didn’t cry. He was never punished or mocked for it. I’ve seen other men in his family cry, with zero criticism. It’s just as sexist to claim that a man has to cry, to avoid being labeled toxic, as it is to say he can’t cry, when women are allowed to cope with their emotions however they see fit. In general, the men in Jake’s life just work their frustrations out via ranch chores, because there are always plenty to do. When Jake is upset, he works in the yard, because that’s what he knows, what makes sense to him, and what actually makes him feel better. I’ve learned to leave him to it. When he comes inside, I’ll cuddle with him quietly, but I don’t insist he copes in a way that makes sense to me, because it’s not about me.

As willing as I am to cry around Jake, I’m only willing to cry around Jake. When Rupert escaped, a few weeks after I got him, I had to leave work early. My coworkers were just so compassionate and sympathetic, that I couldn’t get any work done and I refused to break down. When I nearly cut off the end of my thumb with the guillotine cutter, I didn’t shed a single tear until Jake and I were on the way to the clinic. If it’s just Jake and I, I’ll cry because I just read the scene where the dog died, but if anyone but my husband is around, I’m pretty sure I cry sand. Jake is the only person I want, when I’m hurt or upset… and he is surprisingly good with my tears, no matter the cause. Throughout this past weekend, as we celebrated our anniversary, I periodically broke dow, over the teen I lost to suicide. Each time, Jake just held me, until my crying jag passed.

I recently told Jake that I didn’t call him about something that had upset me, because we’d had some silly argument the previous night. Growing up, my parents were both the people who would declare “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me” in such a situation. Jake reassured me that, no matter what ridiculous quarrel we were having, I could always call him crying, because he knows he’s the only one I want… even though providing comfort over the phone seems to be his emotional Kryptonite, because he has no idea what to say. Maybe that’s one for the next two years.

We know how to share space.

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I admit it. Living together has as a learning curve and I’d say one of my biggest struggles has been with the fact that human bodies are disgusting, something Jake doesn’t struggle with at all. This was best evidenced by that time I failed to mention I might have food poisoning, because we had free tickets to the amusement park, a few months into our marriage. Jake seemed to catch on, however, when I projectile vomited all over myself, on the way home.

Me: ::crying::
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes… but I’m so embarrassed.”
Jake: “Why are you embarrassed?”
Me: “It’s just so gross! I’m disgusting! Just leave me on the side of the road to die!”

I have never felt worse in my life and at no point, was Jake ever disgusted with me; a sentiment I can’t say I’ve always had the grace and selflessness to return. It wasn’t just the night that Jake got sick and called for an extra pair of underwear from the bathroom. No, people are just gross. Jake is admittedly better than many, but while there might not be pee on my bathroom floor, there are certainly red beard hairs all over my sink. While he doesn’t intentionally do crass bodily things, we’ve had repeated arguments about how often a grown man should clip his toenails, because I have to share a bed with him.

Me: “You’re going to cut my femoral artery in the night. I’ll bleed out right next to you and you won’t even realize it, until it’s too late.”
Jake: “I can’t cut them. What if I need to climb a tree or catch fish from a stream?”

Sharing space hasn’t been as much of a struggle for Jake as sharing in general. Early in our marriage, there never seemed to be much time to stop and talk with my Gramma for a few hours, on the way home from an entire weekend with Jake’s family. There was always time and energy for video games and the movies and shows Jake liked, but the reserves were tapped, when it was my turn to choose an activity. Financially, there always seemed to be enough money for a bottle of whiskey on the weekend, but strangely, things were tight when I wanted to buy a new cardigan. What was Jake’s was mine, when it came to household chores, but not so much when it came to peanut butter, cottage cheese, apples, and chips.

In the past two years, we’ve learned to choose our battles. I’ve made great strides in overcoming my aversion to the human body and Jake has made an effort to watch more Belle Movies and go on walks before losing himself in a video game. Jake buys discount whiskey and I buy discount cardigans. I still feel lucky if I get any peanut butter, though. It’s like living with a human tapeworm.

We’re growing and changing together.

It’s only been two years and Jake and I are already different people than the day we married. On Jake’s part, he’s more considerate to other people, more religious, a better listener. On mine, I’m more careful with other people’s feelings, more family oriented in my career goals, and a better communicator. We’ve changed, but we’ve checked in with each other, as we’ve done so. When Jake wanted to invest a portion of his IRA, he discussed it with me, before making a decision. When we started thinking about children, we set a timeline and followed up. When I started thinking about a career change, I began talking over the family benefits and financial implications with Jake.

Looking back over the last two years, I’ve never been happier that Jake left oil when he did, because these years without children won’t come around again. These chances to improve ourselves for each other will be harder to come by as time passes. The habits and relationship dynamics we create now, set the foundation for our marriage. These have been two vitally important years.

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Buying a Car: An Unexpected Matrimonial Challenge

Y’all remember, a little over a year ago, when I was super prepared for buying a house with the Duchess of Cambridge? I knew how impossible it was going to be for this suburban librarian and her hardheaded Southern man to agree on a modestly priced abode that fulfilled all of our contradictory must-haves. I had us pre-approved for a mortgage and started looking months before we could even consider purchasing. We had plenty of time to reconcile our needs and wants with what was both available and possible. We had time to discuss whether or not we really needed a garage, how much land was actually feasible, and deliberate potential paint colors and new furniture. There were still some pretty heated… debates (we’ll go with that), but it went surprisingly well and we ultimately ended up in a house we both love. Now… what the fuck happened to that Belle and why didn’t she warn me that buying a car with a stubborn cowboy would rank with buying a house with a stubborn cowboy?

It all started with talk of babies. As I mentioned in my last post, we’re ready to start a family. I’m 31. Jake is 34. We’re just shy of our two year wedding anniversary. We really are best friends, even if that manifests in the occasional bickering, because Jake’s primary inspiration for lifelong romance is his mother and father, who never stop pecking at each other; and I can’t even rightly say my dad and stepmom are any different.

We have stable jobs. We own our home. Rupert is more or less over the puppy phase. Our finances are almost in order. Our cars have been paid off since we got married and Jake insisted on paying off mine, due to the exorbitant 12% interest rate. Except… it was beginning to show its age. I’d never been overly conscious of my 2010 Nissan Sentra. In fact, more than once, I jumped into the wrong one, because it looked like every other car on the lot, just another silver sedan. Sure, I’d have liked something snazzier, but as long as it got me from point A to point B, the air conditioner worked, and I could listen to music, it was fine. Then, winter of 2017, Jake slipped on the ice in the driveway and grabbed my driver’s side mirror to brace himself… which shattered in his big rancher hand. A few months later, the check engine light came on and since buying a house is so expensive, I decided that this could be Future Belle’s problem. Ultimately, we both agreed to ignore it, in lieu of putting more money into a car with 150,000 miles. Finally, just as the engine would stall at stoplights, the blower motor went out, meaning no heat and air, just before a major freeze.

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At least the radio still worked?

That frozen morning, as I covered my car in deicer, unable to get a grip on the glaze with the scraper, I called Jake and told him I couldn’t turn on the defroster and couldn’t get the ice off. I could hear his eyes roll, as he imagined my girl arms failing at something so simple, not realizing that the ice was too fine and still accumulating. He responded in his most condescending voice…

Jake: “Pour some deicer on it and then scrape it.”
Me: “Thank you. I’m so glad you’re always available to narrate what I’m already doing.”

I was finally able to clear enough ice to make the short drive to work… or so I thought as I drove east out of our neighborhood, only to turn north, into the sleet, and watch my windshield completely freeze over. Driving with the window open, repeatedly stretching my arm out to spray deicer, I stopped twice to spray down the windshield completely, before I was forced to pull over, as cars began honking at my attempt to Bird Box it to work.

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I called Jake crying, shaking from both the cold and fear of having almost gotten into a wreck.

Me: “I need a ride.”
Jake: “Why?”
Me: “Because I can’t see to drive.
Jake: ::beleaguered sigh:: “Alright. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Able to drive south, away from the sleet, I got my car home in time to meet Jake, who clearly still thought I just didn’t know how to scrape a windshield and, without consideration for my well-being, patronizingly and exasperatedly demanded…

Jake: “Give me your scraper.”shrillunderstatedgerbil-small
Me: “I ALREADY SCRAPED IT! Stop being an asshole and just take me to work!”

I cried the whole way, still shaken up from my attempt at driving blind. Not knowing the details of my harrowing trip, Jake sat quietly with his dude pride, making no move to comfort my seemingly irrational tears until he pulled into the parking lot of the library. As he opened his mouth to say something, I jumped out of the still moving truck to avoid saying something.

That night, as we clarified our misunderstandings and apologized, we both agreed that we couldn’t wait much longer for a new car. While we’d initially planned on a Kia Sorento, we agreed that we should scale back and aim for a smaller and less expensive vehicle, until we actually need a family car. After another month and a trip to Texas, sans air conditioning, with two dogs in the back, one of whom gets car sick, we agreed to look at cars the following weekend. On the way home, the bickering began.

Me: “What about a Prius? They get really good gas mileage.”
Jake: “We are not buying a Prius.”
Me: “Why? Because of your Southern-male-Dodge-pickup-driving pride? That is not sufficient reason to veto a car.”
Jake: “Oh, yes it is.”
Me: “It’s my car. You only get veto rights for practical reasons, like size, age, mileage, or a ridiculous color. You know what? I’m going to buy a Prius, whether I like it or not. Then, I’m gonna order a Bernie Sanders ‘Hindsight 2020’ decal for the window.”
Jake: “You hate Bernie Sanders.”
Me: “Not anymore… and not as much as you do. I’m a Bernie Bro, now.”

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As we drove home, I’d point out different vehicles, which Jake would insist weren’t big enough. He’d point out larger SUV’s and I would remind him that we were going for something smaller. I thumbed through an app on my phone and showed him ads for newer sedans, but with a dachshund nose at his elbow and a fishing pole in his neck, he had a point when he declared them too small. I found a couple of cars that I wanted to consider looking at the next day and if they weren’t available, we agreed to just wait until the weekend.

The contenders were a 2015 Buick Encore with 31k miles or a 2018 Kia Soul Plus with 37k miles. On Monday, in true Ravenclaw style, I devoted all of my downtime to research. I looked at numerous cars and concluded that these were really the largest we could afford, if we wanted something newer and with low mileage. I compared the two in question… at length. I read dozens of expert and consumer reviews, which all declared that they were essentially the same size, despite Jake’s insistence that the Soul was too small. Wanting to save time, I got off work a couple of hours early, so I could test drive the Soul and see if it was even worth the time to show it to Jake.

I instantly loved this car. It was bigger than it looked and the large doors meant maneuvering a car seat in and out of the back would be easier than with the smaller doors of an Encore. It was fun to drive and, compared to a 2010, had plenty of bells and whistles. Most importantly, it was marked several thousand below comparable models. It was also bright red. I have my whole life to drive a boring mom car. I wanted a bright red one this time. The salesman tried to keep me from going to see the other cars, but I knew Jake really would want to stick to our plan. He offered to let me take it, with a temporary tag, and I told him that I was certain my husband would feel like I was making decisions without him, so we would just have to come back.

When I got home, I told Jake I loved the car, that I thought he’d like the size and that I wanted to go see it first. He insisted on seeing the Buick first, since it was on the way. I calmly explained why I thought the Soul was the better deal, cheaper and newer with similar miles, and coming from a dealership with a better reputation. Finally, after nearly an hour of waiting for Jake to dress and get everything together, and twenty minutes of driving toward the other dealership, Jake agreed to see the Soul first, which landed us in five o’clock traffic.

Becoming more and more tightly wound, I chose not to speak, to avoid a fight. When Jake asked what was wrong, I explained that I was certain the car would be sold by the time we got there, because he took too long and the salesman had texted to tell me someone else was looking at it. When he scoffed about salesmen tactics, I told him that’s exactly why I hadn’t said anything, and went back to silence. We got to the dealership and learned that the Kia Soul, that I only wanted my husband to consider, because it was heavily marked down from comparable models, had already sold because it was heavily marked down from comparable models. I was pretty upset. The eager salesman suggested some alternatives, but I told Jake that I didn’t want to look at anything else and just wanted to go home. I didn’t care if he felt like I was throwing a tantrum, because I knew that any car we bought that evening would always feel like second choice. I needed time to adjust and find something else I actually wanted. Before we left, however, the manager came over and told us that if we really wanted that car, for that price, he could get something very close at an auction at the end of the week. After test driving a comparable model, Jake admitted that he really did like the car. He agreed to let the manager see what he could do and said we could discuss it over the next few days… except I didn’t really feel like talking to him, anymore.

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It took me a couple of days to fully articulate exactly why I was angry with Jake. It clearly wasn’t about the car, as the dealership could apparently cut us a similar deal. In fact, waiting a few days was turning out to be for the best, since it gave me time to actually sell my Nissan, as opposed to trying to trade it in for far less. No, it wasn’t about missing an opportunity. There were other cars. It was about feeling bullied into doing things Jake’s way.

I’ve mentioned before that the hardest part about getting married at 29 and 32 is that we’re both quite set in our ways and we both have strong personalities. The process for buying a new car, in Jake’s mind, is test driving five or six vehicles, from five or six dealerships and then making a decision. That sounds like a circle of Hell to me. I hate the idea of talking to several salesman, taking their time and getting their hopes up of making a sale. I don’t feel that the important information comes from a test drive and schmoozing with a salesman. It comes from research, reading reviews from experts who know how it compares to other cars in its class and every day people who report frustrations and appreciations. Fortunately, I’m a researcher, by trade and I did a damned good job. While I understand that I have to compromise too, in this case, I stand by my declaration that it’s my fucking car and after two days of little to no communication, I finally told Jake as much.

Me: “How would you feel if you thought you’d found the perfect truck… you loved the color and it had low mileage and it was a great deal, but I made you keep looking and you lost it? Not that that would ever happen, because you could pick out a bright yellow Chevy S10 and I wouldn’t say a damn word, as long as it were in our price range.”
Jake: “You asked me to help you buy a car.”

Me: “Yes. I asked you to help me buy a car, not choose a car. Under what scenario would I ask you to help me research? I admit that I got screwed the last time and that’s why I asked for your help with the financing. I don’t need you throwing it in my face as an excuse to bully me into doing things your way.”
Jake: “I wasn’t trying to throw it in your face or bully you. You had only test driven one car.”
Me: “It’s my car. I just wanted the option to buy it, after you saw it, but you wanted to force me to do it your way. You know that if you’d test driven that car and liked it, you would have insisted I test drive more, even though I was certain that was the car I wanted. It was also undeniably the best deal, financially, and we still would’ve lost it.”
Jake: “That’s how you buy a car!”
Me: “That’s how you buy a car! I’m not some silly little woman who wants a car because it’s cute. I researched several cars, exhaustively, and just because I didn’t do it your way doesn’t make it wrong. I’m not a child! You’re not the adult in this marriage! I’m smart, too!”

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It took some time for both of us to cool down and try again.

Me: “I could’ve taken that car home, that night, but I didn’t want you to feel disrespected and steamrolled. The thanks I got was feeling disrespected and steamrolled.”
Jake: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bully you into anything. That’s just not how I buy cars. I know you’re smart.”
Me: “You liked the car, didn’t you?”
Jake: “Yes.”
Me: “Then why?”
Jake: “Because I’m a stubborn asshole. I’m sorry.”

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I love him. He’s my very best friend… and I am so glad we don’t have to buy a car together for at least another five years, because my new red Kia Soul only has 35k miles on it and will definitely haul two children.

Jake: “You know, the more I look at those Encores, the less I like them. They are really small.”

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If you’re wondering, by the way, I settled for a “Kirk/Spock 2020: The Logical Choice” decal.

Four Stitches and a Tetanus Shot: My Favorite Librarians Who Saved the World

Quiet season at the library has more or less ended, now that the holidays have passed. As a teen librarian, this means that I’m planning more original and creative programs for my kids, as opposed to lazily ordering kits from outreach, because there’s a 60% chance no one will show. This means more prep and sadly, for me, more injuries.

Three weeks ago, on the new branch manager, Penny’s, third day, I was prepping for my stained glass program, when I cut my finger and yelped in surprise and pain. It was just bad enough that, without a Band-Aid, the blood would have been an issue, so Penny helped me bandage it, sharing her own klutzy tale and we returned to work.

It was a rough day, as I later learned that a coworker from another branch had suddenly died over the weekend. He’d been my motivation for becoming a teen librarian and I told him so just last summer, at our teen volunteer laser tag party. I powered through, however, as I chose an additional last minute craft for the week’s book-themed family program. What cuter craft than a laminate bookmark made of shapes cut from book pages… or so I thought, as I trimmed the edges with the guillotine paper cutter.

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In my shock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I walked into Penny’s office, cupping my left thumb and blurted “This is much worse.” A flurry of activity ensued, in which I learned that dealing with blood is not one of a librarian’s many talents, as Penny, a former high school librarian, was the only one who could assist without fainting… including myself. Someone called Jake, as Penny determined that I needed to go to aftercare.

Jake: “So, what did you do?”
Me: “I made a beautiful craft.”

Three hours and four stitches later, the doctor asked when I’d last had a tetanus shot and my manual labor husband chimed in:

Jake: “I’m sure she’s had one through work.”
Me: “I’m a librarian. We were just mocking the fact that we have to take a blood borne pathogens training. When would they have given me a tetanus shot?”

So it was, that after seven and a half years with the system, I learned about worker’s comp… along with my new manager, on her third day. On the way home, I cried and told Jake that Jim died. He asked who Jim was and, knowing it was the only way to jog his memory, I reminded him of the guy at the Southside Library, who, coincidentally… was missing a thumb.

“I’d love to have a job where I can read all day.” Yeah. Me, too. Let me know if you find it.

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So, my thumb has finally healed enough that I can comfortably type to tell you about my favorite librarians, who saved the world. Spoiler warning, as appropriate.

Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It was a fandom war, when I got my new puppy, y’all. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter? In a moment of truth, however, I named my little guy Rupert, after the half-superhero, half-father figure librarian of Sunnydale High. Giles wasn’t just the only reason the Scoobies ever even knew what or how to fight, he killed two major series villains, one as a mercy to Buffy, so she wouldn’t have to take it on her own conscious. For me, his real heroism, however, was best repesented in the scene where he comforts Buffy after she loses her virginity to Angel, causing him to lose his soul. Anyone with a buttload of explosives can be a badass. It takes a real hero to comfort a crying teen, as her world falls apart.

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Mike Hanlon – Stephen King’s It

Zetus lapetus, librarians never get any credit in fiction. If you ask anyone how Stephen King’s It concludes, depending on whether or not they’ve read the book, they’ll either mention eleven-year-old group sex or a weird spider from outer space. No one seems to recall that this story, in ever single way, is about a librarian who saved the fucking world. Not only was Mike Hanlon the only character to stay in Derry, he was the sole individual who kept any memory or record of the horrors that happened in his childhood. He called back Bill and the gang to fight this ancient evil, after they all went on to live lives of success, leaving him behind to be an intelligent black man in a terrifyingly racist town. Fuck Bill. He was only the main protagonist, because he was a semi-autobiographical and Stephen King is in love with himself. Mike Hanlon was the real MVP.

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Samwell Tarly – Game of Thrones

Due to his lack of rapey tendencies and general mental stability, Samwell Tarly is portrayed as a meek, cowardly character in Game of Thrones. In some respects, this is a valid description, as he refuses to stand up for himself and fails at most athletic and physical feats. His overall lack of aggression seems to have freed up a lot of mental space, though, as it’s Sam who discovers the long lost key to killing the White Walkers, by testing it out personally. He even cures greyscale, a magical and more horrifying form of leprosy, on his way to discovering John Snow’s true identity. Of course, Game of Thrones has not actually concluded, which makes this more speculation than spoiler, but we can see where this is going. Sam uncovers the true identity of John Snow and he ushers in a golden age of royal unity for the Seven Kingdoms, even though this is a world where magic is second only to violence, because research is badass.tumblr_myzwhrflwp1s5m21go3_250

Barbara Gordon – Bat Girl

Barbara Gordon wasn’t only the daughter of the police commissioner, James Gordon. She was the head of the Gotham City Public Library. Y’all, I have worked in an inner-city library, and Batgirl or no, this makes Barbara Gordon a tough cookie. Not only was she a researcher and homeless people’s advocate extraordinaire, Barbara Gordon used her innocent librarian cover to throw the scent off her own vigilantism, which is essentially my dream… if I could just get Jake on board. Even when she became wheelchair bound, Barbara Gordon simply shifted her goals and alter-ego to become The Oracle, basically librarianing the bad guys right into the hands of Batman and friends. Librarians, folks, are truly the unsung heroes of literature.

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Deconstructing George Bailey: The First Millennial

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

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This is a 12-year-old.

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

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

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

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

He’s selfish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s entitled.

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

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

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

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

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Yeah. I’m entitled.

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

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

– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s ungrateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pictured: The First Millennial

Citations

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

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

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

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

I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

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

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

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

Bringing a Dish

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

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

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

Being in Someone Else’s Home

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

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

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

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

Gift Giving

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

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

Talking to Children

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

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

Talking to Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

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

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

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

What No One Tells You About Being a Grownup

I’m not sure when it happened, y’all. Was it my master’s degree, a full time job, health insurance, marriage, turning 30, buying a house? Maybe it was the combination of all of the above, but I recently realized that for the first time in my life, I feel like a grownup.

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I waited for this epiphany for the entirety of my twenties and was ultimately convinced that the concept of “adulthood” was, like the horizon, an imaginary line that recedes as you near it. For me, it wasn’t just about self-sufficiency, but generally just having my life together. I didn’t just want to be able to work and pay my bills. I wanted to build something, a career, savings, a family. Perhaps because millennials openly abhor adulthood, the concept had begun to feel like a fantasy. Then, after Jake and I bought our house, life began to settle and the topic of children came up again, as it does from time to time, more so lately. Out of habit, I defaulted to my usual internal monologue of “Kids? I can barely take care of myself right… wait.”

Zetus lapetus, y’all, that’s not true anymore! It is a rare day when I feel like I need to get a more grownup grownup to handle my problems! For years, my dad and I have had an unspoken agreement that if I called crying, he’d give me money, as long as I didn’t abuse the privilege or require… you know, emotional support, because that’s awkward and messy. It’s been almost three years since I’ve had to play that card! It’s real you guys! That magical place called adulthood actually exists… and here are some of the things that no one ever told me about living in this fantasy world.

My tastes have changed.

As a kid, I hated avocado. It’s now a weekly staple. While I’m still not the biggest pasta person, I can appreciate a cup of Ramen, where once it tasted like nothing, as long as it’s the spicy kind… even though I could barely handle cinnamon gum 10 years ago. I enjoy fancy teas and black coffee. I like sappy romance movies and the occasional Hallmark channel and Lifetime shows. A registered Democrat at 21, my political views have drastically shifted, as have my religious views and my thoughts on various social issues. Whereas once, I thought my tastes were an integral part of me, I now know they’re ever changing and I’ll never stop trying new things.

My financial outlook has morphed.

Once upon a time, I joked that I’d know I arrived when I could afford to buy my panties by the pair, instead of by the package. Well folks, that day has come… and I’m still wearing Hanes. At 24, with a pantry full of generic Spaghetti O’s, a hatchback that rattled like a can full of bolts, and my favorite dress from Goodwill, I felt like security meant stuff. If I could buy the things, it meant I could pay the bills. Now, as a real live grownup, I still buy generic. I still buy in multi-packs. I still shop at Aldi and Ross. I eat at home, almost never eating out and when I mentioned that to my family recently, they thought it meant I had money troubles. On the contrary, because we’re frugal, we know we can afford our mortgage, build an emergency savings, pay off our zero interest credit card before the deadline. Where once I thought having “arrived” meant you could see it from the car I drive, I now know that I can feel it in the lack of car payment.

Being too ambitious is a thing.

I’ve had some miserable years in my adult life, and I won’t begin to pretend that my year in management was one of them, but fuuuuuuuck, I hated it. Desperately needing full time, I was so excited to take on a position described as 80% librarian, 20% supervisor, only to realize that it was, in fact, more like 80% librarian and 100% supervisor. While I love the idea of building people up, making them better at their jobs, serving the community in a more profound way, I cannot tell grownups to do the base level requirements of their jobs, on a daily basis. The entirety of my life as a supervisory librarian was meetings about meetings. It was explaining to 25-year-old pages that they had to show up when scheduled and couldn’t wear their jammies to work. It was listening to my boss, Brett, quote managerial podcasts about labeling employees to better “handle” them. It was supporting policies I didn’t agree with to my direct reports, to prevent complete and utter anarchy. It was crying in my living room, because I hated my job and I went to school for seven years to do so. It was sheer envy toward the teen librarian who got to do what I’d always wanted to do, when I thought that ship had sailed.

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Stepping down from my management position was one of the hardest decisions of my professional life. I was told by people below me, above me, and laterally that I was great at it. The director himself told me he didn’t want me to step down, that he wanted me to run my own library one day. Even I knew that I was a force for good, in it for the right reasons, eager to treat people like humans, instead of going by some new managerial standard, be it True Colors or Strengths Finder. People need that in management. But I needed something else. I needed to be happy in my career. I needed to feel like I was changing the world, not just talking about changing the world. I was shocked to realize that upward momentum was not the only golden ticket. I could be amazing at a mid-level job… and I could be a lot happier.

My social life has been consolidated.

I used to be quite the social butterfly, even if it were in an introverted sense, via social networking. I knew everything about everyone, was hip to all the gossip. I would spend hours chatting with random people from high school, via messenger, and even met up with them in person a few times, just to catch up. I had acquaintances, work friends, and close friends. I was immediately available to every single one of them, too… until the day I realized how exhausting it had become. What had, at one time, fueled my extrovert side, was wearing me out. I realized that I didn’t have the energy to keep up with my marriage, family, work relationships, and the other connections in my life that mattered, if I was constantly stressed out about what some friend from high school thought of me, what my extended family was saying about me at the family party I couldn’t attend, whether or not people found my Facebook posts funny or my arguments intelligent.

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Today, my world is much smaller. I keep my friends local, preferably limited to people I know through work or church, so we have built in opportunities to spend time together and easy conversation topics. Instead of chasing relationships I should have let go of long ago, I’m building bonds with my step-siblings and Jake’s family. My marriage is stronger, since I’m not constantly checking my phone for a message from that girl from elementary school who’s a foster mom now and the friend from 11th grade who’s in a poly relationship. I talk to and connect with my husband more, sharing my stories with him instead of the world… and it doesn’t make me less interesting or dynamic. It just makes me more energized and happier.

My timeline changed drastically.

Y’all, sixteen-year-old Belle would be devastated to hear that 30-year-old Belle doesn’t have kids yet. She wouldn’t even be satisfied with new kids, but would expect, like, school age children, because in the South, that’s what you do. You get married at 22, buy a “starter home” that you still can’t afford, and have all your babies by 26. Your husband ultimately goes into oil to keep up with this lifestyle, as you both begin to realize what you missed around the time you turn 30. You give it another five years before you file for divorce, just as your children are entering their teen years and need you the most. If they’re lucky, they have a public library within walking distance, staffed by a teen librarian willing to give them hugs and hear about their problems, because you’re all selfish assholes.

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If the latter doesn’t happen, the former is still tradition around here. You marry before 25 or you’re breaking the mold and no one knows what to say to you at Christmas. Even when I divorced, feeling as though I were too old to start over (at twenty-fucking-three, mind you), I assumed I’d be working full time in the next year or so, fall in love, and be engaged or married again by 26. What no one told me, however, is that growing up is a marathon, not a sprint. None of the people in the above scenario were any more advanced than I. Most of them were just more comfortable with their place on the conveyor belt, taking on roles before they were ready, often with the wrong people. If you think I’m jaded, just look at where we rank in divorce statistics.

I didn’t just press the reset button on my relationships at 23. After finishing my degree in education, I started at the bottom in an unrelated field, embarking on an additional three years of schooling to advance. Ultimately, at 25, I was where my high school classmates had been three years earlier; in my career, my financial standing, and my personal life… and that was okay. More than okay, actually, it was fantastic. I had a great time in my twenties and, as I’ve mentioned before, I still enjoy recapturing those days when Jake’s gone for a weekend. Now, at 30, I’m exactly where I always wanted to be. I just took the scenic route and now I’ll always have those memories. I’ll know what the grass looks like on the other side, because I took the time to visit it when I was supposed to and I’ll be able to truly enjoy my future adventures, knowing I didn’t give up my past ones to have them earlier.

My limits for my future aren’t as firmly set.

On our third date, I told Jake I was never leaving the Metro, in part because libraries are such a volatile field. Depending on their funding model, many libraries are cutting staff, hiring only part time, even closing their doors. I was very clear that I’d never give up my place in such a strong library system once I got full time and that’s still true… mostly.

I never thought I’d love someone enough to consider leaving my home, my family, my career… and then there was Jake. We’ve been married for one year now and I’ve realized that, if it would make him truly happy, I would be willing to discuss moving to his home state to run the family ranch. It would completely uproot my life, require home schooling our children and only allow for a part-time job, if that. I’d be hours from my family and friends and I’d have to watch animals die on the regular. Even six months in, my response to this scenario would’ve been “no fucking way”…. but now we’re married and I’d be willing to have that conversation.

I am still me, but we’re also we, and I’m willing to consider sacrifices I never thought I’d make. Jake left oil for me, paid off many of my debts, lives much closer to the city than I think he would on his own, and I realize that it’s not just about me anymore and my plans are a bit more fluid than they were five years ago. It seems, there might be many more things I haven’t discovered about being a grownup.

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What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in Our First Year

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

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

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

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

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We worried both less and more about privacy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve touched base on our timelines.

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

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

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

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