I married his family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family holiday prep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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… and that is the minefield of social contracts.

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

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

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

Bringing a Dish

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

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

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

Being in Someone Else’s Home

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

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

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

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

Gift Giving

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

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

Talking to Children

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

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

Talking to Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus

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

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

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

The Beginning of Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

When I was two and a half, my mother enrolled me in a Catholic preschool. I remember playing with the toys, while she signed me up and I remember going every day. I remember the stern, black nun, holding my hand. I remember thinking that black people must sweat a lot, because her hands were sweaty and at age two, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people of color. I remember when Santa came to visit the preschool. He brought me a Fisher-Price drum and I wore a dress with Scottish terriers on it, because #90skid.

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I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was five years old. I was so scared that I tucked my head into my teal and purple Aladdin t-shirt for the majority of the movie, and sat in my mother’s lap, terrified. That same summer, I saw Hocus Pocus with my Gramma, who hid an entire sleeve of gas station brownies under her coat, because she’d do anything for her grandkids, no matter how ridiculous… and just like Jurassic Park, I saw little of the movie with my face hidden in said coat the entire time.

When I started kindergarten, my mother wasn’t able to take me to school on my first day, so the weekend before, she had me don my First Day Outfit, did my hair, and loaded up my backpack. She took me to the school and had me walk up to the locked doors while she took pictures and had me pose in front of the school, insisting that years from now, I’d never remember it wasn’t really the first day of school.

For much of my life, it’s been a running joke that I remember everything, with friends and family and coworkers, but only in the last few years have I realized that I truly have a capacity for memory beyond what is normal. Though I’m sure I could map out our trailer house from when I was five, I don’t think it qualifies as an eidetic/photographic memory. You see, I can vividly recall far more than just imagery. I don’t just remember when my grandfather died right after I turned five. I remember being confused about why we had to bury him, instead of just propping him up at family events and pretending he was still alive. I remember asking if we could keep the body and my parents (probably confused and a little creeped out by the question), telling me it was illegal. I remember reasoning, in my five-year-old brain, that we could hide grandpa in the hamper if the police came, because that was the best hiding place in the house. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, because I was too young, but considering these other thoughts, I think it might have helped me to understand.

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I could go on and on about the detailed thoughts and feelings and conversations and events of my childhood, despite the fact that many people tell me they don’t really have memories before the age of 7, but these aren’t the only years I remember with such clarity. I can recount, verbatim, entire conversations and events from middle school and high school. I can precisely quote multiple nights out with friends in my early twenties. I can remember what I wore, what Jake wore, which side of the table we both sat on, what we talked about, on our first date, our second date, our third date. While it is, indeed, a blessing in many ways, in others… well, not so much.

I am the best at arguments.

“Don’t you tell me that the last movie we saw in theaters was a Belle Movie, when I remember perfectly well that it was absolutely a Jake Movie. I did not want to see it just as badly as you did and in fact, I told you that it had bad reviews… and come to think of it, the one before that was also a Jake Movie, so you don’t just owe me one Belle Movie, but two.”

“I asked you nicely four times on four separate occasions to go through your mail, before I threatened to throw it all in the trash, so don’t act like I’m being unreasonable. It was so four. I asked on Thursday, when you came home for your lunch, before I went to work. I asked on Friday before dinner. I asked yesterday after work and I asked this morning, when we got up.”

“Two months ago, you agreed that the next time we went to a rodeo, if the Christmas store was open, we could go there first. Just because you didn’t think it would be open in September, that doesn’t mean you aren’t bound by your promise, mister.”

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I get embarrassed/angry/stressed out about interactions that no one else even remembers.

In the 11th grade, someone called me “squinty-eyed.” Sometimes, I’ll randomly wonder, 15 years later: Am I squinty-eyed? Was it just my contacts? Did Lasik fix it? Is it just my face?

I still remember, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to be 270 pounds, at 22. I remember that no one was ever cruel to me, because they saw right through me, like the time the video store clerk called to the man behind me, that they could take the next person in line. I remember looking around a college classroom and realizing that I was the fattest person in the room. I remember staring at myself naked and thinking that I didn’t even look like a woman anymore. I remember paying more for plus-sized clothing, being hot all the time, not being able to breathe, my feet constantly hurting, and every time I gain five pounds, I fear I’ll wake up right back there.

Catherine once said, about her best friend, “She’s just being a bitch, because she can’t get pregnant.” At my 30th birthday party, she went on and on about how Laura was crazy and her kids were afraid of her and Catherine was going to change her own locks so Laura couldn’t get into her house. Gail didn’t even remember these conversations, but every now and then, it really pisses me off that Catherine acted like was the only Mean Girl in that group of Mean Girls and I’m sure it still will in 10 years.

Last Christmas, Jake’s cousin and his wife wore matching Willie Nelson Christmas shirts. I made a reference to Duck Dynasty, not because I didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but because the shirt made me think of it. I still stress out over the idea that Jake’s very country family thinks I can’t identify Willie Nelson.

I’m more introspective and focused on self-improvement.

It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a need for change, when you can vividly remember every shitty thing you’ve ever said or done. I think, for people with average memories, it’s easier to put these things off on others, claim that someone else started the conversation or told that secret or made that joke. I, however, can remember all of the times I  found a reason to mock people I didn’t even know, to be catty about family and friends, and how I used Facebook as a visual aid… and I can remember how often other people did it, too, that this was normal social behavior.

These glaring recollections are the reason I did away with social media and this behavior entirely… and my perfect memory is the reason I can see how much my life has changed. I remember how much time I used to spend staring at my phone, talking about people I didn’t know or care about, and how ugly my comments tended to be, as a result. I remember that I talked about people instead of ideas and instead of doing things I actually found fulfilling, like reading, writing, crafting, and spending time with my husband and family.

Though my escape from social media has been hugely impactful, even just my innate ability to acknowledge that I’m guilty of being hypocritical or impulsive or lazy, helps me to improve. When I see the statistic that only 37% of Christians attend church weekly, it’s much harder for me to convince myself that I’m following my faith. When I tell my husband that we need to start spending less, it’s not as easy to ignore the $10 I spent at the gas station on beef jerky, or that book I bought on my Kindle. When I get frustrated that I haven’t been successful at losing weight, I can’t deny that it’s because I’ve been sneaking ice cream and candy all week.

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I have more trouble moving on.

As I get older, I realize that there are seasons in life and it is perfectly natural and healthy to drift from one to another… but I think I struggle with it more than some. When I was 24, my whole world revolved around school and Gail and my guy friends… until my guy friends and I started to move in different directions. Gradually, they stopped inviting me to do things with them, and didn’t make the same effort to keep up with me. At the time, I had to find fault in them doing so, telling myself that they were jealous of my academic and career success or that they didn’t want to move forward with their own lives, so they resented me for doing so. Now, I realize that we were all just growing and it was okay to do so in different directions.

Today, I find the same has happened with Gail and I. What was once a relationship that defined me as a person is now comprised of sporadic text messages and the rare meet up at the mall for lunch. It’s not that either of us is truly at fault, so much as it is that we live on opposite sides of the city and Gail has grown passionate about veganism and travel and charity, while I’m further on the traditional path for which I always longed; buying a home, having babies, getting involved with my conservative church, connecting with my siblings and their spouses. While I’m sure we’ll always be connected in some way, it’s still hard for me to move forward, without Gail, when our lives were once so entwined. I so clearly remember having lunch several times a week, texting each other throughout the day, discussing every decision, big or small, with her, and its unlikely that that’s what our future relationship holds.

I’d imagine the same will be true when my dog has to be put down, or my Gramma passes, or my children grow up, or my dad dies. While I think these trials are tough for anyone, I think I remember life’s stages more vividly and while that’s nice when you’re looking back fondly, it also makes for some much more painful longing.

It makes me better at my job.

“They should know better.” I hear this so many times a week, in my job as Teen Librarian and each and every time, my response is “Why?” Everyone expects to have to explain behavioral and social norms to children, but never to teens. Teens should “know better.” I remember being confused as to why I suddenly went from cute to annoying, sassy to mouthy. I remember every conversation being colored with patronizing tones and preachy, subjective religious stances. I remember adults refusing to speak to me like I was a person with feelings, capable of extreme embarrassment and regret and heartache, because “teenagers are stupid”… and it makes me a lot better at my job.

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Just yesterday, I sat in the teen area at work, talking to my kids, when a woman came back and rudely snapped “You guys don’t have your own room, you know.” I firmly replied “This actually is their space,” to which she responded that we were being really loud. No, we weren’t. The building is just stupidly designed in a way that funnels sound into the computer area. “We can be quieter, but this is the teen area.” I don’t think anyone ever championed me like that as a teenager and that just made me angrier and it made my life harder. My ability to remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 makes me so much better at my job.

Nostalgia hits me harder.

It’s a good thing I’m so happy with my life, y’all, because sometimes, I really miss being 16 years old, riding around with Gail and Malik. I remember my 17th birthday party so vividly, giggling as we played a pathetically PG version of “strip Twister,” when we were all virgins, who’d never been kissed, before any of us were divorced or addicted to drugs or had babies that died. I remember life before any of us made any real mistakes and I remember how it felt to have all of those decisions ahead of me. Thirty seemed so far away and I pictured my life so differently… because I couldn’t comprehend how great my life could be if I spread things out a little more, but I miss that naivety.

From what I understand, most people have vague impressions of childhood, their teen years, and even now their twenties… but I remember it all in extreme detail.

I remember my mother making me birthday pancakes every year, before school, even though she worked full time as a nurse. I remember how she volunteered for every field trip and put little green foot prints all over the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remember, when I was 9, how my best friend teamed up with a boy down the street to lock me in a van and beat the crap out of me, because she didn’t know how to tell me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I remember not telling my mother about it, when she picked me up, and how much it hurt that she was too distracted with her own life to notice something was wrong.

I remember my middle school crush and how horrible it felt that he didn’t like me back. I remember the embarrassment when his friends made fun of me. I remember how relentlessly I bullied him in revenge.

I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, making nerdy jokes and having spinning contests, finally feeling accepted and welcome. I remember how much I loved those friends, who I no longer know and I miss them… not the 30-year-olds, but the 15-year-olds.

I remember the black cat I had as a teenager and how heartbroken I was the day she died, along with all of my other pets in the fire set by my ex. I remember exactly how the charred house smelled and the feel of warm water on my pants and I tried to salvage what I could. I remember everything about that day and exactly how horrible it felt.

I remember Grace, Gail’s daughter, and how much I loved her and how hard it was saying goodbye. I remember Gail and I leaning on each other during the hardest times in our lives and I miss that bond.

I remember being single and free to do as I wished, crafting and reading and Netflixing all night, and eventually waking to a feeling of emptiness and longing for my life to start.

I remember the uncertainty I felt in dating my husband. Was I texting too much or too little, did he really like me as much as I liked him, should I play hard to get, was I really as awkward as I thought I was and did he care? Yes and no, by the way. I remember the first time I told him I loved him and how badly I wanted to take it back, because it made me so vulnerable and I remember falling in love with him all over again a dozen times. I remember his proposal and the joy I felt walking down the aisle to him.

For better or worse, it seems I really do remember it all… and there are no rose colored glasses with a memory so clear.

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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Buying a House With the Duchess of Cambridge

It’s part of the American Dream, y’all: owning a home. Fortunately, it’s also one part that’s a lot more attainable in the South, where property values and the cost of living are low. Regardless, I’ve been dreading it… not owning a home, but choosing one… not because of me, but because of Jake.

If you’ve followed my blog for, well… a minute and a half, you’re aware that my husband and I are very different people. Introvert and extrovert, librarian and manual laborer, I plan everything and he responds in a drawl “It’ll be a’right.” At 25, I wept over a 98.5% on a graduate school assignment and after seven years in and out of college, he literally chose his major out of a hat. I am pink glitter and sparkly flats. He is dead animals and work boots. I’m an indoor girl and he’s a country boy. If we couldn’t agree on bedroom decor without tears, just a year ago, how would we ever agree on a home for the next thirty years? 

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You’d think, from the above description, that I’d be the one with the expensive tastes, that it would be the gal in the blinging shoes that just had to have the envious wood burning fireplace and stately trees, granite countertops, the expansive kitchen with brand new appliances. Well, you’d be wrong, because it is, without fail, that when making any purchase, am the one excited by most possibilities, while Jake turns his nose up at nearly all of them.

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That’s right, y’all. The same man who still wears his 2003 high school football t-shirts is too good for new trees, a gas fireplace, and white woodwork. For the past year, I’ve been mocking him for his insistence on the perfect brick color, declaring that he insists we can’t buy a house that isn’t between Red Brick No. 4 and Red Brick No. 9 and honestly, it’s not that much of an exaggeration, because I married the freaking Duchess of Cambridge.

Me: “We’re going to be looking at a house and you’re going to make some ridiculous statement about how this wall is just the wrong shade of beige, and I’ll be like ‘Plus, it’s haunted.’ You’ll be all ‘Haunted?’ and I’ll respond “Yeah, cuz I’m about to murder you in it’ and then we’ll have to find a new Realtor.”

Indeed, when we started this process, Jake insisted that we have a newer house, with air ducts through the ceiling, old trees, lots of natural light, a deep kitchen sink with the power wash faucet, a wood burning fireplace, a two car garage, dark woodwork, at least an acre of land with no HOA, but located off the main road… and also, he’d love it if there were a water source on the property. Essentially, he wanted to live in a newly renovated Thomas Kinkade painting.

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Oh, wait. He said no siding. So, not even a newly renovated Thomas Kinkade painting will satisfy my husband, P Kate.

I, myself, had some deal breakers as well. As much as I love the curb appeal of two story homes, I didn’t want to heat and cool the second story in the South, worry about baby gates, or feel like I was constantly going up and down stairs, forgetting something. Whereas Jake had to have space outdoors, I had to have space indoors.

Me: “I don’t want our kids underfoot and on top of each other all the time.”
Jake: “That’s why you make them play outside.”
Me: “Yeah, if they’re like you. If they’re like me, they’ll want to play inside and they’ll hate outside. I’m not subjecting a child to that.”

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For me, it was less about square footage and more about division of space. I wanted our kids to have a space of their own, to be kids, without being yelled at for making a mess or being loud and crazy… and I wanted that space to be somewhere other than their bedrooms, so they would also have a place to be calm and rest. I also wanted a place, ideally a large master suite, that could be a completely kid free zone, an idea on which Jake and I agreed, having both grown up in homes where children did not enter the master bedroom without an invitation.

What the requirements came down to for me were one story, with either four bedrooms or three bedrooms and a formal living/dining room that could one day be a play room. I hate carpet, but since Jake apparently dreams of living in one of those carpeted cat boxes, I’d have accepted it in good condition. I liked the idea of a big back yard, but would’ve been happy with a 1/4 acre lot. Proximity was high on my list, close to work and also close to the Catholic school where we go to church and intend to send our kids to school and I’d have really liked an actual laundry room, as opposed to the nook between the kitchen and the garage… but that’s more or less it.

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I didn’t care if it had siding or what color the brick was, as long as it wasn’t too garish. I preferred something post 1980, but would’ve been content with a remodeled 70’s home. I like garages, but we never use the one in our rental home, so I could live without one, and the same goes for a fireplace. I’d have probably agreed to an HOA, were it not too restrictive, but figured we’d price ourselves out of a neighborhood like that in an older, smaller suburb, like Cherokee anyway. Mostly, I wanted to find something quickly, because interest rates are rising and it’s a sellers’ market out here, as the Turnpike comes through our neighboring town of Harmon. What did want out of the home buying process? The same thing I wanted out of the wedding planning process: to contentedly put it behind me. What did Jake want out of the home buying process? The same thing he wanted out of the wedding planning process: a fucking fairytale.

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Oh, look. It has a water source.

So it goes, I was exhausted by the experience before it had even begun. It’s a uniquely stressful process, not just because of the Duchess, himself, but simply the nature of purchasing the home we plan to live in for the next 20 years. At 33 and 30, Jake and I talked it over and decided that the time in our lives for a starter home, had passed. Were we five years younger and five years further from starting a family, perhaps such a purchase would be an investment, particularly in Cherokee, where property values are rising… but we’re not and buying a home with the intent to sell in the near future sounds exhausting, when the next five years are guaranteed to hold babies and toddlers.

So, not only are we expected to choose the perfect house for us, within our current income restraints, but one that will fit a family we haven’t even begun to grow, both indoors and out, in case we have an adventurer and a hermit, while still remaining affordable amidst expenses like daycare and Catholic school tuition. It’s not enough that I find something close to my work or close to Jake’s work, but close to the Catholic Church, where we’d like to send our entirely hypothetical children to school, but still in a fair school district, in case that’s not an option later. Y’all, I just got used to making accommodations in my life for Jake. I’ve just stopped calling babies “it”… mostly. I’ve just gotten excited about the prospect of starting a family in the next couple of years. I’m not ready to commit to where my children are going to school!

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Fortunately for Jake and I, I jumped early… as I tend to do… and we were pre-approved for a mortgage two months before we could actually make an offer, if we didn’t want to pay both rent and a mortgage for a month. So, for the next two months, we bickered… over the importance of a fireplace in the South, where it rarely even snows, over where Jake was even planning to get firewood, over flooring options, over siding vs. brick vs. stones carried over from Windsor Castle by hand, over whether or not that one has a “weird roof”, over square footage and our budget…

So, by the time we were actually able to look at houses, we’d narrowed down our boxes. We both had a more realistic understanding of what we could afford and what we actually needed. Having considered every listing that had come on the realty website for the last two months, at least had an understanding of how long homes were staying on the market and how choosy we could be… which was “not very.” All the bickering ultimately paid off, by the time we looked at our third home. The first was a poorly executed flip, with bent and wavy aluminum back splash, crooked tile, and a window seat that extended onto cinder blocks, adding up to a home that was still about $10,000 over budget. The second was an open house we’d stumbled upon, with an enormous luxurious shop and nice shed on one acre, but only three bedrooms with the master being so small that we’d never get our furniture in it. Finally, the Monday before the weekend we’d scheduled to spend a day looking, I had a feeling about a listing and asked the Realtor if she’d show it to us that night, since it was just 10 minutes from work. She agreed and after two months of squabbling, we found our home.

I’d have never converted a garage, but I fell in love with the idea of finishing the conversion to a master bedroom, since there was a 3/4 bath right off of it, creating a true split floor plan and fourth bedroom. That means, when the time comes, our existing master will make the perfect den/play room and our kids will have their privacy and quiet and we’ll have our grown up cave. Jake got his wood burning fireplace, as opposed to a modern gas fireplace and his large trees, because this house was built in 1980. Being a well done flip, however, meant we got new appliances, granite counter tops, and completely remodeled bathrooms… three of them. With the converted garage, we’ll have 2,300 square feet indoors and more than a full acre outdoors. We financed less than $200,000 at a 4.75% interest rate and have a manageable mortgage. Less than 10 minutes from both of our workplaces and 17 from the church, it is absolutely perfect and we have a total of six weeks of overlap, before we have to leave our rent house, in which we can make it truly ours. It’s a good thing we found it when we did, too, because literally every house we were scheduled to see that weekend was under contract by the weekend. That’s right, y’all. The fighting is over and all we have to do is agree on paint colors and a couple of pieces of furniture!

Me: “Literally every dining set you chose was over a thousand dollars and you turned your nose up at every one I suggested.”
Jake: “They were just really small.”
Me: “They were seven piece sets! That means they seat six. Who are you inviting to dinner, the Duggars?!?”

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Me: ::crying:: “You’ll never be happy, until you have a hearth you can do jumping jacks in, just like your parents’. We’ll never have that kind of money. We’ll never be able to buy the thousand dollar dining set.”
Jake: “That is not true. I’m always happy with you and you’re always good enough.”

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In Defense of Earning Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one ever told me that marriage is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I LOVE New Year’s.

As a society, we have a tendency to mock the mainstream, be it Taylor Swift, Uggs, Gilmore Girls, and of course… New Years Resolutions. Personally, I care so little about whether or not I’m considered “basic”, that I had to Google “things basic girls like” to construct the previous sentence. I admit, without shame, that I can rock out to some T Swift, relish the few days when the weather’s cold enough for Uggs, and am currently on season 4 of my big GG rewatch, but I must say that I love New Year’s. 

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For many, New Year’s is the consolation to the holiday season. The presents have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten, the decorations are coming down, so here’s one last hurrah.

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For me? New Year’s is a celebration all in itself. I get to reflect on the last year and assess all I’ve been through and all I’ve accomplished. Essentially, I get to grade myself and if you followed this blog when I was a grad student, you’ll recall that grades have always been one of my favorite things. I’m proud of 2017 Belle, because in 2017, I achieved a lot. In fact, it seems lazy to call 2017 transitional, because it’s just so darn accurate. In 2017, I…

  • started a new job
  • moved to a new city and said goodbye to my single girl apartment
  • planned a wedding
  • got married
  • moved in with a boy
  • went on my honeymoon
  • worked at three different libraries through my system’s grassroots restructuring
  • changed job titles
  • saw my best friend get married
  • moved on from unhealthy friendships
  • reconnected with old friends
  • ended my relationship with social media

Zetus lapetus, y’all, 2017 was exhausting. In hindsight, the year was good to me, but it was intensely stressful all the time. If I was shocked by what a disgusting boy Jake can be, he had to have been shocked by what a total basket case I could be.

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2017 was a time for change, but New Year’s doesn’t just offer the opportunity to look back. It gives me the chance to look forward, to plan. If there’s anything I like more than grading myself, it’s planning. The aspect of New Year’s that has the rest of society rolling their eyes, is what I love best. I love the positivity that comes with a new year. I love the fact that we change a single digit and the world is full of hope. I get to realign my ambitions, who I want to be and what I want to achieve. Sure, I can do that any time of year, but there’s something about the first of January that wipes the slate clean. We can all start over with a new marker for our success and we can do it together. There’s a sense of community in the new year, a fellowship of people ready and willing to encourage each other to do their best. How can I not love that?!?!

Where 2017 was transitional and life altering, I aim for 2018 to be settled and comfortable. In 2018, I hope to:

  • swear less
  • buy a home
  • save for a car
  • use my time for things I truly enjoy
  • read more
  • lose weight

I also have more abstract aspirations, such as being:

  • physically healthy, by exercising more consistently and eating right
  • emotionally healthy, by managing stress better and building up my healthier friendships
  • a good friend, through genuine kindness, affection, and follow-through
  • a good wife, offering my support and love and making the most of our time together, while it’s just the two of us
  • a good daughter and granddaughter, by initiating more contact
  • a good Catholic, by going to Mass and practicing what’s preached

I know there are a lot of curmudgeons out there, scoffing at the New Year and everyone’s resolutions, declaring these things will never happen, but I can honestly say that I accomplished more in 2017 than I thought I would on January 1st, so I have every confidence that I can do the same in 2018. At the very least, there’s hope and effort. So here’s to 2018, a hopefully less exciting year than 2017!

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