A Terrible Summer and the Family Room We Sometimes Shopvac

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

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

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

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

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… and I hate summer.

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

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

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Every man in Jake’s family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am beginning to HATE going to the movie theater.

When Jake and I met, I was living in Shetland, a suburb of the Metro, where I substitute taught nearly every day, before commuting to my half time librarian job in the city.  Jake, an oil man, lived about an hour west of me, in the same town as his sister, because it didn’t really matter where he hung his hat, when he was working one week on and one week off, as a fluid engineer. All things considered, the chances of us meeting each other (or really anyone) organically were nil. Thanks online dating!

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From that first date, our distance and schedules manifested into an old fashioned courtship, of sorts. On Jake’s week off, we’d have one date and then we wouldn’t see each other again for two weeks. In an attempt to make the most of the one day we had, we’d often cram several dates into one, getting lunch, visiting the zoo, getting dinner, seeing a movie…

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Having met during a Southern summer, movies were an excellent go-to date. There was always a new blockbuster to see in an air conditioned theater, with a bucket of popcorn and a small bag of gourmet candy from the store in the mall. While I’d personally gone to several movies alone, this was admittedly a classic date for a reason; far superior as a romantic activity, where my sexually awkward self could snuggle up to Jake, without fear of things progressing beyond my comfort level. That first summer, movies quickly became our thing and to this day, movie dates hit me with a burst of nostalgia… before a much larger burst of annoyance, frustration, and even rage.

It’s been four years since Jake and I saw Jurassic World on our first real date, after the Zero Date, where we met for sushi. In that time, I’m not sure if audiences have gotten worse or if I’ve gotten more sensitive to them, but I’m beginning to hate going to the theater. It started with Stephen King’s It: Part I, a movie both highly anticipated by Jake and myself, in addition to being part of my 30th birthday celebration. As we watched the kids of Derry scream in terror, a group of women in front of us cackled at inappropriate times… on and off for two hours and fifteen minutes. The laughter was so consistently ill-timed and obnoxious, that I actually complained to management, knowing as a former movie theater employee, that they’d likely do nothing. I was right, and at the end of the movie, I asked for readmits, since I didn’t even see anyone check the theater. Okay, I thought, we had one really bad audience and got free movie tickets, as a result. It could be worse.

Just a few months later, Jake and I saw Jumanji with my step-family, for our annual Christmas Eve outing. The movie was hilarious, so ill-timed laughter wasn’t a problem. Being Christmas Eve, there were no young children in attendance and there were surprisingly few talkers, save for my dad. There was, however, one Avid Facebook User seated in front of me. I’ve previously shared this story, so you may already be familiar with the moment that 16-year-old Belle briefly took over my body and chucked an M&M at this woman who was, quite literally, twice my size… and not happy about having Christmas candy thrown at her.

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Coward that I am, when I realized my impulsivity might get my juvenile ass kicked, I dove into Jake’s side, and whispered in his ear…

“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.”

… and then snuggled up to him and looked straight ahead as if I’d been there the whole time, while Mark Zuckerberg craned her neck in search of the culprit… for like a full minute. It was one M&M… and it should have been more, because she went right back to her damned newsfeed.

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

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This story has become something of a family joke, as Jake likes to bring it up to his family, who are only beginning to get to know me. Overall, the act of playing with your phone in the theater is equally as obnoxious as throwing candy. Even though she totally started it, I concede that the two canceled each other out. Still, the person playing with their phone has become such a staple of the movie theater experience, that I have to draw on the time I nearly got my ass handed to me for Christmas, to cite one that’s actually notable. Just as when I sat next to the Deliberately Loud Laugher, who must be on a first date, because she wants to make it absolutely clear that she finds Thor Ragnarok hilariousthe self-absorbed, disrespectful theater goers seem to just be par for the course. After last weekend, though, I think I might officially be done. 

Jake and I love horror movies… not the cheap torture porn on Netflix, but the high budget ones that actually make it into theaters. It’s rare that we miss seeing one, so I was pretty excited for Child’s Play this past weekend. I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for the movie itself, as it’s based on an 80’s movie about a murderous doll, but I genuinely enjoy remakes and figured it would be fun to see a modern take on such a ridiculous story line. It was somewhat forgettable… more of a Black Mirror episode than a full-length film. The audience, however, was atrocious. 

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To my right was Jake, and to his right, was an Exclaimer. You know, the woman who loudly exclaims “WOW” of “NUH UH!” every time there’s a big reveal. In front of me, was the Marathon Texter, and behind us was a woman with three small children, including a crying baby.

Y’all, I try not to judge parents. I really do, because I don’t have kids and I can’t empathize. I do know that Jake and I have only been to so many movies this year, though, because we’ve agreed to go as much as we can, since we know that when we have kids, movies are going to be few and far between… because it’s a dick move to bring a baby to a theater. Now, if we were seeing Toy Story 4 at 2:00 on a Saturday, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the presence of fussy children. That is, in fact, precisely why Jake and I don’t see children’s movies in theaters. While I still think it’s stupid to bring a baby, who can’t even comprehend the movie, I understand that there are some toddlers who love Toy Story. I don’t think I’d take mine, because I’m cheap and would feel like it was a waste of money on an experience they can’t fully appreciate, but I don’t blame the parents who do. This, however, was Child’s Play, an exceptionally violent, vulgar horror movie, where young teenagers say “fuck” on loop. I am 100% comfortable judging the choice to bring small children to this movie.

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Not only was this movie completely inappropriate for the children behind us, they were completely inappropriate for the theater, starting with the opening trailers. The boy, who couldn’t have been more than seven, was an Exclaimer in the making, loudly commenting on random lines with “That was a good one!” At no point did his mom correct him, either. No. She was too busy shushing her baby, who she was simultaneously trying to distract with a cell phone, because she’s self-absorbed, inconsiderate, or short-sighted (perhaps all three) and brought small children to an unquestionably adult movie. I get it. Being a parent is tough and sometimes you need a break, but:

1. How is this a break?!?! You’re literally spending the entire film trying to keep your baby from erupting from pure boredom. You’re unhappy and your baby is unhappy.

2. Other people deserve breaks, too. If you’re a parent and you want a break, either get a sitter, so you can have some fun adult time or do one of the many family-oriented, appropriate activities that your children might actually enjoy and let other people have some adult fun time, sans kiddos.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like children, but I do not complain about the existence of children, where children are expected and intended. When a child throws a tantrum in Wal-Mart, I don’t bat an eye. Everyone needs groceries and underwear and toothpaste. Some of those people have children and children aren’t always happy. When a baby screams in the library, during story time, I understand that some toddlers, who love sensory play and mermaid books, have little brothers and sisters. Of course mom isn’t going to get a sitter for the baby and bring the toddler. It would be ludicrous to expect that.

As a married, but childless, woman in her thirties, I often feel surrounded by small children and as a librarian surviving summer reading, I often am. I’m happy to coexist with children and when I’m not, I realize that it’s my nerves that are tender, my threshold that’s low, my problem, because children are a part of society. When I’m in a rated R horror movie, however, I think it’s a pretty damned reasonable expectation that I not have to listen to a baby cry on and off for two hours… which was exactly what I told management, when I asked for readmits, which I have not done in two years, since It: Part I. 

When I returned to the theater, I snuggled up to Jake and whispered “I have free movie tickets in my pocket,” and we were both better able to handle the baby crying through the rest of a meh horror movie. Except, as I consider all the new movies coming out, that I’d love to see with a respectful and considerate audience, I’m not sure I want to risk seeing any of them in a theater. Anyone want free movie tickets?

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Between Marriage and Motherhood

Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.

When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.

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It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.

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I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.

Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.

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Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.

Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”

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As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.

Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”

It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.

Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”

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She didn’t seem to hear me.

Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.

Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”

While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.

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Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.

Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”

… and I meant it

The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.

I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.

Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
Jake: “Okay.”

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Two Vitally Important Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know how to fight.

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

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

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

We know how to comfort.

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

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

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

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

We know how to share space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re growing and changing together.

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

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

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Roots

Roots are a funny thing. For most of my life, my roots have been shallow, at best. As a child, I suppose I took stability for granted, as all children will and should do. Our trailer house on five acres, with my grandmother living next door, was all I knew. My parents were never… happy, but they weren’t overtly miserable, either. Besides, Gramma was right next door and seeing her was the end game of literally every day. Fuck parents.

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When I was 8, we left the trailer and my grandmother moved to town. After a year or two of finally having all the things, my parents still began their Lifetime Original Movie level divorce and my brother and I were more or less left to fend for ourselves. Stability was a thing of the past and I wouldn’t claim to have gained anything resembling it until after my divorce at 23. My new roots were shallow, indeed, as I worked two jobs to afford my single girl apartment and attended grad school part time. I hoped that, in time, all my efforts would pay off and my roots would deepen. I dated on and off, at times wondering if I even wanted to try the marriage thing again. At 24, my brother told me I’d better get on it, because the good ones marry early. At 25, my aunt offered to set me up with some cute musicians, to which I responded that that’s exactly what I needed, another man without a job.

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At 26, the cynicism began to fade and the panic began to set in, as I wailed to my Gramma that I was going to die alone. All the while, I worked to climb the ladder in my library system and shared my dating stories with you fine folks. At 27, Jake showed up, fucking finally. At 29, I married him; and at 30, we bought our own home. In these six or seven years, I found myself at six different libraries, living in three different dwellings. In short, it was a crazy time. I yearned for stability.

Today, I’ve begun to set down new roots. I’ve been stationed at the Cherokee library, heading the teen programming for all five satellite locations, for almost two years now. Jake has received a promotion to crew chief, with the city. We’re fixing up our home and planning on children soon. We’ve formed some tentative friendships at church. Still, not three months ago, I was in tears, because the connections feel so insubstantial. We live near no one. My family isn’t nearby and if they were, I wouldn’t be especially close with them. As wonderful as my step-siblings and their spouses are, Jake and I have vastly different interests and are simply in a different stage of life. I have delightful friends, but they have different goals, dreams, worldviews. Jake’s friends, who are much more relatable, in these regards, are in another state. His family is scattered across both states and again, are largely in different stages of life. I love my husband and feel entirely secure in our marriage, but I can’t help but wonder, will I ever feel anchored in any other area of my life?

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The first couple of months of the year were hard for me. As much as I love working with my teens, my library system doesn’t provide any additional compensation for working in the satellite branches. We get such varied experience, it makes us obvious candidates for promotion, something many gladly take, because working at five libraries is substantially more stressful than working at one. Even small issues, such as sharing supplies, covering the desk, and filling out mileage forms, often become huge stressors. Naturally, this results in much higher turnover and every time a position is filled, another is vacated. We finally get a strong team, in which everyone works well together, only to have to train someone new. It’s exhausting, particularly when coupled with the general chaos of the system as a whole, which was turned on its head nearly five years ago and has never quite righted itself. For literally the first time in eight years, I’ve begun looking at my options. Yet… my library system is all I know. I’ve worked there since I was 23 and the idea of leaving is scary… but since I don’t seem to have set down any deep roots, just yet, perhaps this is the right time.

I’m reading Gone with the Wind and I find myself envying Scarlet. I’ve never had a Tara, a place for which I feel a true sense of home… and maybe, as hard as it’s been lately, that’s for the best. Just maybe, before Jake and I have children, get them into school, plant ourselves more firmly into our fields and our community, we could consider uprooting, once again. I still have a valid teaching certificate and I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of education for the last ten years. I could leave my system and work as a school librarian, my original goal, when I began pursuing my master’s degree. I could continue to work with teens, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and have more time in the summers, the most hectic time of year for public librarians. If we were to relocate to Jake’s home state, I could make very similar money. We could move closer to friends and family, before starting a family of our own, and be there to support Jake’s parents as they move into their seventies. We could even use the superior public school system and save money on tuition for Catholic school. We could transplant these shallow roots, in a way that might not be an option in five years.

And yet, I worry that the constant shifting within my library system, although beyond my control, has created a sense of professional wanderlust in me. Am I considering leaving so I can have something more consistent or have I just been in Cherokee for almost two years, which is about my turnaround per branch? Am I looking for a stronger commitment or a bigger challenge? Do I crave predictability or chaos? Have I spent so long with a shallow root system that, although appealing in theory, the idea of deep roots has me feeling trapped? I don’t know, but the prospect is terrifying. Roots are a funny thing.

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Buying a Car: An Unexpected Matrimonial Challenge

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

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

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

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At least the radio still worked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready for children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… we have established careers.

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

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

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

… we have our finances in order.

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

… we have our families.

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

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

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

… we have each other.

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

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

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

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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