Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Eight songs for a mad king

Eight years ago tonight, we said, "I do" and "I do" and then burst out laughing.

This is one of my favorite photos from our wedding.

We kissed first. Or maybe we kissed too early? And then started laughing? I can't quite remember. All I know is, we laughed and laughed. We were married and we were delighted.

It is the laughter that sustains us and that saves us, every time.

It's not like with the kids, where we've somehow, once again, gotten into a standoff about shoes. Or  breakfast. Or tooth brushing. Even though I try so hard to remember to voice their feelings. "You're so frustrated. You want to play. You don't want to put on your shoes."

Too often in the moment, I forget.

I try to remind myself, but then it is morning and everything is hard and I end up being all, "Just put on your shoes! We put shoes on every day! We have to go! Put them on!"

But if we do get into that spiral and I can break the tension "Look, a squirrel!" or make them laugh, we can reset and move forward.

But with grownups, with us, "Look, a squirrel!" doesn't work.

Our tension is not so easily broken.

Eight years ago on this day, we'd known each other for approximately 10 months. Most of those months our free time was spent watching The Office, doing the crossword, swilling beer in bars, and going for runs along the Potomac.

Those months were easy. We had one big fight, about our honeymoon. Seriously. That was the biggest thing we had to fight about. Which exotic location and for how long.

We both wanted kids. We were raised with a strong work ethic, and to pay bills and only incur debt very carefully and with much deliberation. Our politics and worldviews aligned. We both liked Bells Two Hearted.

We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.

And we each found the other funny. Sometimes only mildly amusing. And sometimes hilarious. This was what really got me.

Nick was smart and kind, and he made me laugh. And he loved my humor. Obviously, if he hadn't found me funny, I'd have considered him humorless.

Now we have kids. We spend most of our free time with them. Sometimes this is tremendously fun, and sometimes it's incredibly taxing, and often it's both, all swirled together. But regardless, we both consider it important to parent as well as we can.

But this means we have very little time or energy for the two of us. Our relationship suffers for it.

We have a house that demands a lot, both maintenance-wise and financially. Our politics and worldviews are unchanged and compatible. We almost never drink beer. (Separate personal choices for differing reasons.)

We fight, boy howdy, do we fight. Sometimes the mad lasts for only 15 minutes, or for an hour or two. In the worst case it lasted about a year.

I can simultaneously love Nick with all my heart and be angry enough to loathe him with every fiber of my being. They aren't contradictory, at least not to me. And he is strong enough to handle it.

I don't exactly believe women who never admit to wanting to stab their husbands.

Recently a dear friend asked me if I think she is hard to live with. I said yes. She is hard to live with and I am hard to live with, and so is my husband. It is hard to live with people.

People are annoying when you have to live with their moods and uncapped toothpaste and inside out socks.

So we pick the ones we love the most. The ones whose minds intrigue us. The ones with whom we are our best version of ourselves, because we feel truly good with them. And with whom we can be our worst, most vulnerable versions of ourselves, because we trust and feel safe with them.

The ones who make us laugh, really laugh.

I did, and I do, and I would all over again.

Oh, look! A squirrel!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to start a fight with your spouse in five easy steps

The Heirloom of Injustice
You may already be good at this. But if you need a few tips, I'm happy to share some tried and true fight starters.

1. Remember, timing is critical. 

A great time to start one is late at night, perhaps while you're brushing your teeth before bed. At this point you're both tired, a little vulnerable, and not at your most rational.


2. Pick something that's been eating at you daily, but you haven't said anything about.

For example, me, I'm constantly annoyed by my husband's grandfather clock. It is beautiful, generations old, and imbued with family history and import. It was owned by his namesake. He has known his whole life that he would inherit it.

It chimes like his other ding clocks--and there's bitter history there--but louder. It sits near the bottom of the stairs, and the sound shoots right up to our room hourly and on the half hour.


I've been bothered by it for a long time. And to Nick's credit, since receiving it, he has tried various methods of stifling it. He's wrapped the dinger in a towel, in bubble wrap, etc. His goal was to adjust it so it is loud enough to hear but soft enough to be acceptable for me.

He was under the impression that he'd fixed the problem, since I'd stopped complaining. But I stopped complaining because the whole thing made me tired. And he was trying.

The DING is no longer so loud that it actually wakes me up at night. But if I am awake, I count the dings...

3. Wait until your frustration has built and built, so while it seems logical to you (you have daily conversations in your head) it will come out of the blue for your partner. This way you can really wallop her or him with your rage and righteous indignation.

The unsuspecting clock has come to symbolize every instance in our marriage where I felt that his opinion carried more weight than mine. Where his wants and needs came first. Where he pushed harder and I capitulated, because it was just easier to give in.

Now it irritates me every time I hear it. Which is a million times a day.

It is no longer just a clock.


It is the Heirloom of Injustice.

4. React to a trigger. Do not stop to think about the rationality of it.

In my case, the 11:00 chimes were the final straw. 

5.  Go for the nuclear option. Accuse. Use a tone, perhaps some profanity. With built up rage and righteous indignation, this is really the only approach. It works immediately, eliciting anger and setting you up for completely irrational conversation.

For example: "You know, if I ever leave you, it will be because your fucking ding clock is more important to you than my feelings."

You love your clock more than you love me. How much do you even really love me?

Pretty good, huh?

There. You'll of course have your own personal peeves, your own heirlooms of injustice, but follow this formula, and I've set you on the course for a big old fight.

You can take it from here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A good day to remind you that you are wonderful

Today is a grey, grey, rainy day. This kind of weather makes me tired and logy.

Previously, without antidepressants, I would spend this kind of day in utter despair. The rain will never end. Will we ever see the sun again? Winter is coming...

It matters not that yesterday we were on the edge of drought, and we've had so many hot, sunny days that we desperately needed this rain. Facts, in cases like this, are irrelevant.

Anyway, now it's just one of those days that make me tired. That invite me to drink too much tea and wish I could spend the day asleep.

It occurs to me that it's the perfect kind of day to remember that sometimes, people need to be told that they are valued. People need hugs. (Although there are people in this world who don't like hugs, or who might not want you to hug them, so you have to ask first.)

We walk around with our own splinters and shards, our insecurities, our fragile sense of self, our whatever.

None of us are perfect, although Facebook makes it look like a lot of us are.

We all have our something. I don't trust people who pretend they don't.

It's not that I think they're bad people. It's more that for a long time I was oblivious to my somethings. And then when I wasn't, I worked to seems like I was all great, just like everyone else.

Then I finally realized that everyone else isn't all great all the time. And we all have our baggage, may it be a wee little Kate Spade clutch or a giant storage shed.

So today, on this rainy grey day, I am offering you hugs. I'm reminding you that you are terrific. That people love you. That you are different from everyone else in the most perfect, wonderful, fascinating way.

These things are true. Maybe you know them, and you don't need to hear it. But I'm saying so anyway.

If you need help feeling these things, ask for it. There is no shame in it. There's only wasted time in not doing so.

You're the only you there is, and you are amazing.

Much love and hugs,


Friday, September 16, 2016

Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel

We have this delightful new shower in our master bathroom.

Or rather, we now have a bathroom with a shower, and it is new.

I cannot figure out how to take a non-glarey picture of it. Because with the lights off, it is dark and grainy. Anyway. For now you get the idea.

For seven years the tub in our bathroom didn't work, and as we approached home renovations on a most-to-least-crisisy basis--starting with lack of kitchen on the ground floor, lead pipes, cloth covered wiring, and rotting walls and floors and things of that nature.

We had other places to bathe in the house. So we viewed ours, decrepit as it was, as last priority.

And when we did the bathroom, we did it up big. I bought a spectacular mural from my friend Christine at William Morris Tile.

I have many things to say about it, and it deserves a separate post, so I won't get into it here. But it is beautiful and really interesting.

As for the house, I'd like to say that after seven years we are actually done. We are mostly done.

The fourth floor (or floh floh, as India calls it) is where we basically lived our first year here. It has had no renovations. One day we will have to. But not now. The leaks are stanched, for the time being.

Until a month ago, Nick spent seven years bathing and dressing up there daily. Without exaggeration, he caulked the upstairs tub weekly.

There is dangerous old caulk. But is there ever such a thing as too much caulk?

I dunno. But I think we can agree that seven years of caulk is a lot of caulk.


We now have this super duper awesomely beautiful shower with multiple shower heads. One side is for Nick, and the shower head is like 8 feet in the air. And the other side is for me. And they each have a hand held component.

Now the kids and I shower together a lot, which saves time and is actually something they get enthused about. They like the separate showers, the room to play, and the fact that they get to squeegee the glass walls.

It is perfect. Everyone has enough water, and I can have mine scalding hot and don't have to tepidize it for anyone.

There is plenty of room, but it's still a shower. We're in reasonably close quarters.

Last week, India reached up, put her little hands on my boobs, and tried to push them up.

I said, "Whatcha doing, India?"

And she said, "I'm trying to help them. Why don't your boobs stay up, Mama?"

I bit my tongue, thought I was tempted to launch into a whole thing about babies and nursing and how really, mine stayed up just fine before. And actually, it was all their fault.

Before I could say anything she said, "You know. Nana's boobs don't stay up either."

And there you have it.

Friday, September 09, 2016

I wish it were vodka

Nick found this video on an old hard drive. It is almost seven years old.

This video is small and oddly stretched, but it's not very long, and if you have ever had a newborn or suffered from depression or both at the same time, you may relate.

I watched it the first time and wanted to give myself a hug. And some antidepressants. And some sleep. I feel like these 45 seconds kind of sum up my life at that time.

Nick filmed this when Jordan was maybe two months old.

At that point, Nick worked until 9:00 or 10:00 every night. So this was taken shortly after he got home.

I was still recovering from my C-section, and our entire ground floor was under construction. Our kitchen was on the 4th floor.

Oh, and! And my dad had recently died by suicide. And my mom was doing things like smoking and watering one spot of their lawn until 4:00 AM. You couldn't blame her...but one cannot say it was helpful.

Nursing was hard, so I was nursing, pumping, and supplementing with formula. I felt like a huge failure. Also, people were all, "Sleep when the baby sleeps!"

And I was all, "But I have to wash the fucking bottles! And pump! And wash the goddamn pump! And eat! And drink water! And then he wakes up again and wants to eat!"

I had not yet been diagnosed with postpartum depression.

So I didn't know that I was deeply depressed. All I knew was that I hated my life. And I hated my husband. I fell asleep every night dreading the inevitable wake-up cries and dividing up our furniture.

Truly, I feel lucky that I was diagnosed not long after this. Nick came up to the kitchen one day to find me sobbing into the sink, washing out my breast pump.

I said, "I hate my life." And I did. I hated everything about it, so much. I was in utter despair. I saw no hope.

But not now. Thank God. Thank professionals and medication.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Happy birthday, Betty!

Dear Mama,

Today is your birthday.

Last night, when Jordan was drawing a cake on your card, he asked, "Do I have to draw ALL the candles?"

I said there was no need to draw all.

He loves math, and after one of the children at his school died, he became preoccupied with death. Now he regularly counts all of us back from 100. The assumption is we will all live to 100. He regularly asks our ages, so he can subtract them.

And then he half-cheerfully half-despondently tells you how much time you have left. As oldest, he lists you first. He frets about it; you can tell.

We grow up defining who we are in relation to others. I was a daughter before I was anything else. Now I'm a daughter, mother, wife.

I don't know how my kids define themselves, but I know how they define you. You are THEIRS. Their Nana. You are theirs to crawl in bed with. Jordan did this long before India, and he clearly still feels proprietary.

You're theirs to garden with. Theirs to walk with to CVS (and you always share your Mentos).

You were the one to take them each out for celebratory dinners on their respective first days of school. You are the banana bread maker, and the one India asks to take her to the background (which is what she still calls the back room) to do laundry. Oh, the thrill of putting things in the dryer!

They relate the news that they see on your TV, since we never have the news on. The outrage of Trump. A baby that died. Flooding. Obama. The fact that they have seen it and I have not makes them authorities; they love this.
Last weekend Nick, the kids, and I were heading out on bikes. The kids were riding on the back of mine, and Nick on his own. I said, "We're taking a family bike ride!"

And Jordan said, "That's not exactly correct." I assumed he would point out that we weren't each on our own bikes.

But he said this. "It's just part of the family, not the whole family. Because Nana is staying home."

The longer I live, the more certain I am that nothing in this world matters more than love. The people you love, and those who love you. Family, whether by blood or by choice.

I cannot think of one single thing that matters to me more.

I wish you a great birthday and a year of joyful surprises and all things delightful.



Thursday, September 01, 2016

Once I was seven years old...

Dear Jordan,

Two weeks ago, you turned seven. The night before you said, "I just realized...I'm never going to be six again."

No, my sweet, you'll never be six again. My mama always told me not to be in a hurry to grow up. Like you, I always wanted to be older. To be a big kid. To be a teenager. To be a grownup.

And you, at seven you are suddenly so grown up.

For your birthday you didn't want a big party; you wanted only family. You wanted chocolate cake with Lego candy on top. Truthfully, you're rather indifferent to cake. You are mostly about the Lego candy.

You are an interesting human being. You're articulate, thoughtful, and kind.

You love to play Lego, and you have spectacular building sense and imagination. I love seeing your creations. Most things become weapons, or have some deadly component to them. But they're still very compelling.

This summer, you started reading of your own volition. You discovered Calvin & Hobbes, and you fell in love. The other day you were home sick, and you curled up in bed and read it to Nana for ages.
I have always preferred reading to almost anything else, and I am so excited that you like to read. You don't choose it over Lego, but you like books more and more. I'm dying for you to read some of my childhood favorites. It feels like I'm going to get to introduce you to old friends.

I put my old Tin Tin comics in your room, and you're kind of interested, but they're still a little dense for you. Plus they're falling apart. Partly it's age, and partly it's the fact that my fish tank in Bangladesh leaked on many of them.

I don't push you on reading material, though, because that's annoying. Truly, I want you to love books, whatever you choose.

Sometimes you read to your sister, and it melts my heart. She's often large and in charge, but she'll ask you to read to her, and it is the picture of sweetness.

You read Knock Knock jokes in the car. Boy howdy do you love a Knock Knock joke. The other day I was driving somewhere I didn't know and I said I had to pay attention to the GPS and India offered to take over the "Who's there?" part and I don't know if I've ever been so grateful in my life.

(On a side bar: I have taught ESL and I still struggle with who's and whose. I will never not have to think about it, I fear. Also, and related, I now know I quite loathe Knock Knock jokes.)

Every time we go to the pool you and India insist on standing on the scale. We talk about your weight. We talk about hers. We talk about your weights combined. You weigh 65 pounds, and you are so proud of this. Together you weigh over 100 pounds!

I can still lift you and carry you, but not as far as I used to, and only because I am strong. I tell you and your sister that I'm strong. That you're strong and that she's strong. I make sure to do this, and I say strength is important.

I don't say skinny is important, because that's not a message from my childhood that I want to give you. Strong is beautiful, and strong is important.

You love to demonstrate your strength. You pick your sister up regularly. The other day at the pool you figured out a way to lift her in the water. She hopped on your arm and then you slung her over your head.

You bellowed, "Hey, Mama! Mama, watch how I pick India up by her vagina and flip her over my head!"

I could see by the faces of strangers that they had, in fact, heard your pronouncement.

You flipped her into water. She came up laughing.

I said, very calmly, because I couldn't think of what else to do, "Well, we don't really pick anyone up by their vagina, do we?"

To which India yelled something like, "Jordan! Throw me in the water by my vagina again!"

This story is going to make you want to die when you're a teenager. It just is. And yet, it is too good not to record.

We still hold hands when we walk, and I love it.

I take your hand, and now when we hold hands, yours are almost as big as mine. You love this. You don't quite fit my flip flops, but enough to wear them. You think it's funny. I think, oh, so soon he'll be taller than me. Soon his hands will be bigger. Soon he'll outgrow my shoes.

Do we ever outgrow our mamas? I certainly hope not.

I love you love you love you.