Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our Teen Marriage

Tomorrow is our 12th anniversary but we have been together since September 2011. If you do the math, our relationship is 15 years old. That's right, our relationship is a teenager. We've passed the cute goo goo gah gah of infancy. Our baby marriage shit its pants over and over and we've had to clean up its explosive blow outs. Our infant relationship was needy and we were very dependent on the other. Back then we always had to be held and we co-slept. Our baby relationship needed the bottle as much as the breast and sucked its thumb for comfort. The first stage of our relationship was all about the basics and immediacy and survival.

We fell and picked ourselves up as relationship toddlers. This couple has thrown themselves on the floor and tantrummed like preschoolers. We've had many growing pains. We've grown and stretched and grown some more. Somewhere around 2010, the relationship lost its chubby baby fat. We learned the A,B, C's and 1,2,3's of marriage. We learned to read one another. We gained more independence and could go for longer periods of time apart without missing the other so much. Our school-aged marriage learned something new every day and it seemed like every day required something else for us to learn. We mastered the relationship building blocks needed for future marital success. All of our energy was spent on building the marriage ,and the family, and we went to bed exhausted and often dirty because we forgot to take care of ourselves or it didn't seem to matter as much at that time.

Then, we became pre-teens and we felt ugly and awkward. Things changed so fast while nothing changed fast enough. The past was forever ago and the future couldn't come soon enough. Our relationship's voice got deeper and the shape of our relationship changed, and changed, and changed again. We'd go to bed thinking one thing about us and wake up thinking the exact opposite. We realized there were people that now expected things from this relationship. We knew this marriage was about more than just us. We had a purpose. Our marriage wasn't just play anymore and the work seemed harder, more complex and at times, too complicated or overwhelming.

Now, as we honor the teen years, we feel more assured in our relationship. We don't feel pressured by peers whose relationships glow and sparkle on social media, because we know better. We know who we are and we are true to it. We celebrate our unique relationship. Like most teens, this relationship needs time alone. Away from family. Away from kids. Sometimes, we just want time alone from each other. Our relationship is excited and it's scared. We love watching our children grow into themselves and we are sad that they have grown so fast. We are not new parents. This relationship is not new. This relationship can get zitty and its emotions are like a roller coaster. "I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you." This relationship gets depressed and isn't always sure why. Sometimes this marriage feels like a cloud and sometimes this marriage feels like we're walking on a cloud. This marriage is combative and argumentative and sometimes rebellious-"I will not empty the trash today even though I know he hates that." "I'm going to buy that shirt and not even hide it for a week before I wear it!"

This relationship is no longer fresh and soft and new. It is hardening and maturing and solidifying. We're not cute but there's something powerful in how we have grown. How much stronger we are; more confident and aware. The shape and outline of this marriage show it is aging. We're edgy and liberated and starting to tune into the world around us not just to our own little life bubble. At this stage of our relationship we have wisdom to share, experience under our belts, and we can fall fast asleep without the other at our side. We have no issue sleeping alone in our big girl/big boy bed -or alone on the couch. This couple is not afraid of the dark.

What will the next five years bring to us, I wonder. My twenties were a shambles. The decade of highs and lows and self-loathing and second guessing. I'm assuming that our marriage may feel similarly, mostly because at year 20 of this relationship, we will be the parents of one 15 and one 11 year old girl. I'm pretty certain most parents experience a great deal of self loathing and doubt while parenting teens. Yet, our 20th year of love will likely also be monumental. For all of the hardship I experienced in my twenties, I also found joy- joy in finding a person to spend my life with, joy in giving life to two children, and joy in being a mother and wife. I didn't realize it at the time, but when I was twenty, the world was my oyster and I had my whole life ahead of me. What had come before was merely the brief beginning of a long, wonderful, hard, challenging, exhilarating journey. Will our twenty-something relationship look back and see that our past two decades together were just a blip in time, the foundation for adventures and better days ahead? I suppose only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Have and To Hold and to Lose and To Find

I move stuff around our house all of the time. I like to organize and one of my mantras is, "There's a place for everything when everything is in its place." Often, that place, however, is not my place. I very much dislike clutter and being surrounded by stuff stresses me out. A fun Friday night for me is cleaning the house and, when I really need to decompress, I grab a trash bag and fill it to the brim. I am the only person in my house like this.

Caroline is just plain messy while Charlotte and Andy are borderline hoarders. Anything that touches their fingertips never leaves their possession and they have a magician-esque manner of acquiring objects. "Oh, look what I just pulled out of this my black hat! (Charlotte owns a magician hat, by the way) Yes, it's 17 plastic toys from McDonald's Happy Meals!" "Oh, what's that behind your ear? A lead soldier! Fancy finding that here!"

I'm not sure if I'm just that unobservant or if I am in denial, but stuff in our house accumulates like wet gremlins. I have to work my very own magic to get anything out of the house without Charlotte and Andy seeing, therefore, I spend a lot of time putting stuff into containers and bins in hopes that, if the junk is tucked away, at least is it out of sight and maybe out of mind. Sadly, there just aren't enough containers, or should I say, large enough containers, to fit all of the junk my family has gathered so Andy and Charlotte are now sharing our spare bedroom/office. Like dealing with hazardous materials, it is an enter at your own risk space and one that I just try to pass by as quickly as possible. My only purpose for that room is to take junk that is scattered throughout the house and deposit it there. Chances are, if one of my hoarders is looking for a coveted item, it can be found in the junk room.

And, it seems as though one of my family members is always looking for something. The quest for the missing X, Y or Z generally takes place right before bed (either for them or me), before catching the school bus, prior to catching a flight, when I am on my way out the door, or am on the telephone. The person missing the X, Y, or Z is always very upset, very pushy, and always blaming me for misplacing the missing "I can't live without" item. Now, I own up to the fact that 50% of the time, it's likely that I did see X under the couch, Y in my car, or Z in the mudroom and I threw it in the trash, packed it in a box, or threw it in the hazardous waste room. However, 50% of the time, I have never even seen the item nor had anything to do with its moving from one location (say, under a bed) to another location (like inside one's boot). Yet for some reason, when it comes to missing objects, it is apparently my responsibility to recover the suddenly precious thing. Like right this second. Like stop everything that you are doing because it does not matter and I'm going to stand here and ask you over and over again until you find that small yellow piece of paper that had a name on it and a date and I won't do anything if you don't find it for me. Right now.

I have a method for managing these frequently occurring situations. To start, I stare blankly at the person yelling at me. Next, I announce I've never seen the item. Then, I ask whether the person missing the item has looked for the item. Ha! That gets 'em every time. Then, the person yells at me again. There's usually some arms flying around and accusatory words flung in my direction. This is when I must pull out the threat, "If I look for X, Y, Z and I find it, you're...."

So, one of two things happens at this point in time. If the person missing the item is one of the kids, I end up looking for the item, which generally involves me going into one of their rooms and picking the item up off of the floor. The alternative is that they get distracted and forget they are missing the item and we are all happy- at least for the time being. Now, if Andy is missing something, I either turn my head in a direction and spot the item or I ignore him for a long time because I'm rubber and he's glue. Eventually, his mantantrum settles down and he stops ranting at me because, lo and behold, he has found whatever item he was looking for and has neglected to tell me.

It's been a particularly rough few weeks for Andy in the missing item realm. I've gotten an 11:30 pm phone call from him, from a rest stop outside of Buffalo, asking me to search the house for his debit card. He insisted I stop everything to find a set of car keys despite the fact that I had an extra set in my hands. That piece of paper with the name and address on it? Underneath the lap top. This is the cycle of life in our house. Things are lost. Then, they are found.

Today, I talked to Andy around lunchtime. If we can, we try to touch base during the day, mostly so Andy can remind me where he is or where he is going. (I lose track of Andy's whereabouts like he loses track of stuff.) Today, in closing the conversation, Andy asked me to look for something he's misplaced. I knew something was wrong because he didn't blame me for moving the item and that was a first. He told me he'd spent 45 minutes this morning looking for his wedding ring and he asked me to look for it when I got home this evening. He talked through retracing his steps and asked me to look where he'd already looked. He told me he called a place he'd had a meeting yesterday hoping it'd turn up there but no such luck.

So, tonight, after work, after feeding the pets, and making dinner, and doing the dishes, and helping the girls with their homework, and their bath, and reading them stories, Charlotte and I went on a mission to find the ring. But, this time, it didn't take a simple gesture of walking from one room to another to find the ring. There was no one yelling at me and nobody to to threaten because Andy was not home to look for his own wedding ring. After about 20 minutes, it was past bedtime and we gave up.

I shouldn't read into it but reading into things is what I do best. Andy loses everything so why is it bothering me so much that he lost his wedding ring? The ring that he picked from a gold souk in the United Arab Emirates. The ring that inspired me to get the same ring for myself because I decided our rings should match and this ring looked so perfect on his finger. The ring that we bought before he'd formally proposed to me because we saw the perfect wedding bands and knew we had to sieze the moment. The ring I had inscribed for our 10th anniversary that reads on the inside, My Rock". The ring that symbolizes 'til death do us part, and we're in this together, and nothing compares to you.

I think it bothers me because I often feel that, since that day in the souk, far away from home, we have built a home together and despite growing and changing, we have grown and changed together and for the other. But, sometimes, we are just too busy for one another, so focused on who we need to be for everyone else, that we forget who we need to be for each other and sometimes, that gold band is the only reminder in my day to keep Andy on my mind. Without that ring on his finger, when he's at a rest stop in Buffalo at 11:30 at night, at a county meeting, or a baord meeting, or bathing the girls while it's my turn to be at work, will he remember to think of me? Where do I fit in his day if not resting constantly on his finger?

Maybe I'm reading into it too much. Maybe it's not a symbol of how fragile marriage can be. Maybe it just means he's a shit head and loses stuff all of the time.

With our 12th wedding anniversary just three days away, I can only hope that, like all other things that he loses, his wedding band will just turn up, and he'll neglect to tell me, and I'll see it on his finger again.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kids in Tow

We have done a ton of traveling since the girls were born. Just four short weeks after Caroline's birth, we traveled to Puerto Rico to attend my best friend's wedding. I'm comfortable with being on the go- all of the time- and with kids in tow. Traveling, and being out in public, with kids, is a learned skill and, in my opinion, is a true art form.

When the kiddos are itty bitty, you have to learn how to cart all of the crap with you and be able to distinguish between the crap you really need on the road and what crap should stay at home. Like car seats. Yes, it is worth sticking your body in the car, in the airport parking garage, in the dark at 5 am, and wrestling with the belts and buckles to extricate the ginormous car seat and then clunkily balance it on your luggage while you hussle to the check-in. (Yes, you have earned the right to pay the extra $3/day to park in the garage and not in long term.) Get this, nobody will tell your baby if you use disposable diapers for your overnight trip in a hotel so that you don't have to carry around poopy/pissy pants in a wet sack for 48 hours. Yep, you can warm up your baby's bottle without that fancy-pants bottle warmer Aunt Patty got you from your registry. Ask your Mom, she'll show you how. Same goes for the wipe warmer. Baby will still coo and smile when you change her even if you aren't removing poo from her fanny with a perfect temp wipe. (It's not a spa people, it's a diaper change. Get 'er done.)That magic binky that seems to be the only DAMN THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD THAT GETS YOUR KID TO SLEEP? Bring two. Blankie? Put it in that secret fanny pack, you know that one you have under your shirt, with your passport? That shit's sacred.

Traveling with kids is stressful and physically challenging. I don't think I've sweat more in my life than I have traveling with my children. Carting the stuff, carting the kids, getting up and down, rocking, running, assembling and unasembling, packing, unpacking, re-packing: it all requires quick thinking and fast moving. My mom, who only took me out in public once a week, to church, just doesn't understand why I go through the pain and stress over and over again. Unlike my mom, who decided to hibernate for 15 years, I was determined that being a parent wasn't going to stop me from having fun and being social. I travel with the kids because I don't want to miss out. As a big time extrovert, it's hard for me not to take part in a good wedding, friend gathering, cousing bonding vacation or bite out after a long week at work. Since child care is hard to find, and is expensive, and because I spend so much time away from the girls already, I try to "kill two birds with one stone" and share, rather than separate, our experiences.

And share experiences, indeed, we have. Like standing in a hallway, behind a closed door during a wedding, because the girls are whining and crying and we don't want to disturb the ceremony. Like sitting in a hotel room while everyone is enjoying the wedding reception because you thought she'd fall asleep in the stroller and you could tuck her in a corner so you could have a drink and cake, but instead she melted down and you are alone in your room crying and eating a left over happy meal she didn't eat for lunch. Like walking around a hotel parking lot from 6-9 am because your kid gets up before everyone else and then, when the rest of your group gets up to eat breakfast, you sit in your hotel room, with the curtain drawn, while your kid takes her mid-morning nap.

Instead of bringing me into the social action that I so crave, having my kids in tow at public events and social functions has too often isolated me from others. Countless times I have hoped and dreamed and anticipated seeing an old friend or family member, to end the event having hugged the friend/family member hello and good bye and not exchanged any words and merely mouthed "sorry" and pointed downward while the toddler dragged me to a location as far away possible from any other adult. I have been so close, to social fun, yet so far from it, all at the same time.

Today, I was really excited to catch up with a friend after we both had a hectic week. We decided we would get our girls together and do a little shopping at an outdoor flea market. The kids could be loud, play with eachother and we could gab while strolling behind them. Our first hour was spent eating lunch- cutting up food, re-rodering food after the first food served was deemed unacceptable, picking up spilled drinks and being talked over- and over -and over. Thirty minutes of the second hour was spent chasing the kids to each flea market table and managing the multitude of junk purchase demands. The following twenty minutes we divded and conquered. She took one of my kids, with hers, to do more junk purchasing, while I stood outside a toilet stall at a coffee shop so one of my kids could poop. I'm pretty sure that 2/3 of my outdide-the-home life since kids has been spent either standing outside of, or facing a corner/wall (I am afraid to be alone but don't look at me!) in toilet stall.

"Oh, you went to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada? Yes, yes, me, as well. I agree, their ornithology collection is equisite! And might I add that their restroom facilities are sparkling!"

You say you are looking for a great place to go on vacation? Might I suggest the Duluth, Minesota area? Their parks are educational and fun and you could sit on the floor of their restrooms! You won't even feel like you need to hot wash your kids when they crawl under the bathroom stall when they forget how to unlock the door!

Oh, you were at the Cinderella ballet at The Albany Egg? We were, too! Why didn't I see you? Oh, that's right! We spent 30 of the 50 minute performance in the bathroom. Yes, the kids found the echo in the bathroom more entertaining than the ballerinas! Oh, you say the performance can be streamed on YouTube? Great news. Glad we spent $50 on those tickets.

As time goes on, and the girls become more independent, we have found that it's getting easier. We are definitely carrying less stuff around with us. We're down to a booster seat and we usually find the nearest Wal-Mart and pick up certain travel necessities once we arrive at our destination. Smart phones have helped us communicate, and catch up, with our loved ones so that, in the event we are like ships passing in the night at a reunion or wedding, we still know what they had for dinner last Tuesday, how much they hate Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, and what their kids wore on the first day of school. And that play date with my friend today? For the last hour, the girls played together, wihout fighting, and we talked! About, like three things- from start to finish! And nobody had to poop.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Don't Be Mad at the Helping

I'm pretty sure Andy came out of the womb helping people. I can see him now, in the hospital nursery, crying as loudly as his little baby lungs could cry, in order to get the nurses attention. Not for himself, of course, but because the baby next to him needed his diaper changed. Service might as well be Andy's middle name and his desire to help others is one of his truest intrinsic motivators. Andy remembers being a kid and his mom instilling good deeds into all that he did- hold doors for others, shovel sidewalks, help carry heavy loads. He can't recall a time when it wasn't important to him to watch out for those around him and he can't tell you the moment when he decided that service mattered. As he tells me, "it's the right thing to do."

In highschool, when most teens are spending their energy on figuring themselves out, hiding from adults, and feeling dark, gloomy and zitty, Andy was out in his community, building bird houses, cleaning parks, and volunteering at a raptor center. Sure, he was zitty and doing regular teen things, yet he never lost interest in caring about others- a great accomplishment at a time when kids can hardly think about much more than caring about themselves.

His interest in community accelerated when he moved to our small upstate town. As a matter of fact, his mom has told me that she thinks Andy gravitated to upstate for its small town lifestyle and the ability for him to make an impact on the place he calls home. As a graduate student, Andy was always signing up for extra volunteer assignments, staying behind, after most others had left, to make sure everything was cleaned up and the last box packed away. He volunteered to help an retired professor set up his computer and offered to do errands for him or just spend time listening to his elderly friend's life stories. When he got his first post grad job, it wasn't long before he was joining committees and planning community events, like our annual Winter Carnival. He spent countless hours, and shed lots of sweat, ensuring these community activities went off without a hitch and everyone had a good time. To Andy, the end goal wasn't always about how much money he made, or the connections he established. It was about how much of a difference he could make, or even more simply: it was about helping others when help was needed.

Helping others may not buy you yachts and fancy houses but it does get you some recognition. Andy's got badges and sashes and framed certificates and other accolades to commemorate his dedication to service. He's been called a super hero and has developed a sort of infamy in our small town. When I first heard him called a supero hero, I laughed. I also slammed my fork and knife on the table and started chanting his name, but we were at a restaurant and I was drunk. Now, many years later, I actually visualize Andy wearing a suit (I know, think Mr. Incredible when he was out of shape) underneath his button up and khakis and being ready, at a moment's notice, to help someone in need. Kittten stuck in a tree? There's Andy to save Mr. Meows and return him back to little Suzy and Bobby. Mrs. Johnson's paper bag full of food rips open as she tries to load her groceries into the minivan? Never fear. Andy is here with a reusable tote for Mrs. Joshnson to use- and he's so good at getting under all the cars to gather the cans of corn and jars of pickles that rolled away. The Smiths tire goes flat in a big thunderstorm and they have no cell service or AAA? No worries, Handy Andy to the rescue. He uses his membership to call AAA, fashions a giant umbrella out of a tarp in the back of his truck so they don't get wet walking from their car to his, books them a hotel in town-on him- and runs up his data plan so Little Jimmy can use his phone to watch Netflix on the way there. All the upstate citizens know they are in good hands since Andy is always nearby. It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Andy the Eagle Scout. On any given month, on any given night, Andy can be found volunteering. He's helping others, serving the community, and making a difference.

And I think it's so f^&king annoying.

I'm not a bad person. I like to help people, too. It was my idea to start a Little Free Library! I was on the Diversity Day Committee in highschool. I donate clothes to charity. I help little old ladies, and kitties stuck in trees. I hold doors open. Service and community are important to me but so are my kids and a clean house and my damn sanity. So, while Super Andy is out leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and getting certificates for it, I'm folding my 10,097th pair of underpants and re-wiping the tooth paste blobs from the sink. Maybe I wanted to be the adult chaperone on the service week trip to the DR but Andy had 5 evening meetings that week and I needed to be home for the girls. I like to help others, but at this point in my life, I feel more like a sulky teenager who can't figure out how to take care of myself. I can't figure out how to fit it all in.

Sometimes I worry that if it Mr. Meows was our kitten, Andy would not rescue him from the tree. I usually carry in my own groceries. And you know what, there is a true story about me, Andy's mom and the girls (infant and toddler) trapped on a back road with a broke down car and Andy leaving us there to go to a baseball game. Just this week, Andy disappeared from our house to help a family whose car had broken down. When he returned home, I freaked on him, after panicking about his whereabouts (one minute he was in the house, waiting for Char to put her PJ's on, and the next minute his car is gone and he's not answering his phone.) He was very direct with me and not interested in an argument. He said, "If it were you and the girls stranded, I'd have wanted someone to do the same for you." I told him to go fu$k himself and stormed away but what I really wanted was to remind him of was the fact that it was true-I would want someone to do this for me, but all those years ago, why hadn't he? I can't help but feel like the girls and I don't get to see Super Andy. By the time he gets home from a day of service, he's used up all of his super powers and he has little energy for rescuing me from piles of laundry. He's used up all his good listening skills, polite patience, and attentiveness on others, and has little tolerance and time for the girls whiny woes. Andy gives so much of himself to others that I get angry and hurt when it doesn't feel like he has much left to give to us.

The night that Andy left to help the stranded family, Charlotte and I sat in her bedroom, waiting for his return. She was anxious because Daddy reads to her every night that he is home and she can't fall asleep without a Daddy story and back rub. She asked over and over where he went and when he'd be home. I was tired. I was mad. I was frantic and nervous. I was in between swears and tears. When he finally answered my call and told me where he was, I shared with her that he left to help a family. I told her I didn't know when he'd be home and I was sorry and I was mad at him for letting her down. I asked if I could fill in for him and I rubbed her back and then leaned over to give her a kiss goodnight. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled my face to hers. "Momma," she whispered, "don't be mad about the helping. Be mad about the not calling."

She's right. It took a six year old, someone who is also greatly impacted by Andy's passion for service, to remind me that I can't get mad at the people Andy is helping nor can I be mad at Andy for wanting to help others. At a time when many would look the other way when someone is in need, Andy reminds me that stepping up, and going the extra mile for others, is just as important as taking care of ourselves. Andy's good example will instill the same value in our girls as his parents instilled in him. And I bet you, after reading this, Andy will never, ever, leave me and the girls stranded on the side of the road again.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Sometimes we make decisions and we never look back because we know we made the right choice, the best choice, the only choice. Other times, we don't look back because we can't, because we are afraid we made the wrong choice, or because it will hurt too much to think about what could have been, what would have been, and we wonder if it is what should have been. We make decisions every day. Some of them are small and inconsequential and others change our lives and the lives of those around us. Some decisions are bigger for others than they are for us and sometimes we make decisions that seem small to another but are our own giant hurdles.

Nearly two winters ago, I made a choice. Six years before that, I made a choice. In 2008, less than a year after Caroline was born, I left my full-time job, in a field that I'd planned for, and trained for, and hoped to become a leader in, for a part-time, entry-level position in a new field that I was interested in but not trained in. A field in which I never imagined I'd become a leader in because, at that moment in time, I didn't see my professional future. I did not have eyes for myelf as a professional. I had eyes for a little person, a little girl, who was beautiful and full of joy and love and who took my breath away with each of her own. Along came another miracle and my life was so full. There was no room for a full-time job, a professional life that pushed me, and required 50 or 60 hours of my physical time and many more hours of my mental time.

Despite a part-time schedule, I spent many panicked days trying to work from home after calling in sick with an ill child or due to being stranded at home because of a snow storm. I spent many days feeling exhausted and trying to hide my exhaustion so I could keep up the appearance that I was "in the game" professionally. I I pumped in bathrooms while at meetings on the road. I cried in pain in a hotel shower because I forgot a critical piece of my pump and had to self express, and then I went to a work function and smiled despite feeling like I had boulders attached to my chest. Others may have spontaneously stayed in the office late to catch up. I carefully planned every after- five work night and most eves, I rushed from the office to the daycare and home, willing myself to be patient and at ease when all I wanted to do was go to bed. I made a choice to work part-time but there were many days, and many teary-eyed nights, when I asked myself, and Andy, if I had made the right decision. The decision I questioned was never about deciding to leave full-time employment. I regularly questioned if I should be working at all.

I did what I could at work and then I did what I could at home. While I worked part-time, during those years I felt like I was a full-time staff person and a full-time mom. There was always so much to and never enough time. But I wasn't working full-time. I made the decision to share my energy and time and I did that. While I was salaried, I generally worked 4 days a week. I worked 10 months and, in the first years of my part-time gig, I checked out of work almost 100% during the summer months. Yes, juggling both worlds was hard. Yes, I never felt like I was doing enough or being enough, at work or home. But I was. I was being everything to everyone, and personally growing, despite my exhaustion or doubt. It was the right decision for me.

It was right for me because I was able to spend time home with my daughters and while, in 2008, I could not see my professional future, in 2014 I could. After tears, after pain (what seems like a lot of boob pain), after doubt and through mommy-hood, raising my daughters, and summers at the lake, I made another decision. I was offered the director position in my office, a full-time, five days, 12 months, position. At the time, the decision seemed clear. The girls were getting older, Charlotte was headed to school in the fall. I worked hard to prove I deserved this opportunity and there it was, right in front ot me. I traded in Friday laundry days and said good bye to summers in the sand with my daughters for summers under A/C with a lap top.

I used to write a blog post, at the end of each summer, titled, "Reflecting on a Summer with my Girls" and last year I had to retire that post topic. I thought about writing a post titled, "Reflecting on a Summer without my Girls" but I can't bring myself to do it. I made a decision. Yet, hindsight is 20/20. As the summer comes to a close, and I come home to the smiling, sun-kissed faces of my children, I can't help but wonder if I made the right choice. Yet, I can't look back. I can only look forward. When it comes to making a decision about work and family, professional success and personal satisfaction, there is no ultimate and final best choice, right choice, or only choice. There is just the best choice we can make at any given moment.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mrs Cooperstown

On a June return flight from California, I sat next to a woman on the connection from Chicago to Albany. Without sharing our names, we began chatting about the usual flight topics like how cold it was on the plane, racing to catch the flight after delays, and the dreaded drive home from Albany at 11 at night. After telling her my drive was an hour and 15 minutes from Albany, she asked exactly where I called home. When I told her Cooperstown, I should have known what she might ask.

"Oh! Cooperstown! Do you know Andrew Marietta?"

I couldn't help but roll my eyes when replying, "Yes! Yes, I know him!"

She smiled, cautiously, and I continued, "He's my husband."

I went on to tell her I can't help but react in this way because it happens so often. She continued to share with me, as most people do, that she's from our area, and has worked with Andy before. She told me how helpful Andy is and how friendly and informative she finds him. These are all words echoed by many community members, however, one thing she didn't say, that many others do, is how thankful she is to me for, "letting him do what he does."

I made a new friend that night and had a laugh at how small the world can be and how big of a fish Andy is in our small pond. For the most part, I'm content to know that the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with has chosen to spend his life helping others. It is truly his calling. As a career advisor, I know that Andy is in the right place for him- the ultimate professional goal. Yet, I have shared before tales of my marital competitive side and my struggles and wishes for the same level of local notoriety that is bestowed upon my partner.

I find that, some days, I just don't want to be "Mrs. Cooperstown" and, as I stand at his side, at various community functions, nodding and smiling, I have to bite my tongue when someone thanks me for, "allowing him to do all the good work he does." I want to say, "First of all, I don't allow him to do it! I've been trying, with every ounce of my being, to stop him from being so damn helpful. It's called free will, people! Don't thank me. Thank him. Get me a drink."

I'm a bad wife, I know. I'm a bad wife because I don't want to be the great woman behind the great man. I want to be the great woman next to the great man. I want a leg in the potato sack race and I want to be on the winning team. A long time ago, in college, I was pretty sure I was going to be that woman who changed the world. When we are at these various functions, and as I stand, mostly, behind him, I wonder, what happened?

At a recent Andy-obligatory community function (yes, I wanted to watch Downton Abbey in my pj's instead) I was prepared for the usual activities of an event of this nature. I would wear something nice, enjoy a drink, shake hands and smile, and try to amuse myself by looking at my surroundings and monologuing in my head. This particular night, it was hotter than Hades, I was sober-preparing for a race the next day- my dress was too tight and I couldn't breathe well. Right from the start, I knew this event was going downhill fast.

That is until one of the guests approached me for conversation. I was at my usual post, hovering next-to-but mostly-behind Andy, juggling water and apps. Andy initiated the conversation, introducing himself, wrapping one arm around his waist, and the other pensively stroking his chin, while he prepared his pitch. This guest, however, didn't even give him the chance to start pitching. She turned to me, her body facing me directly, her eyes wide, and said, "You must be his wife."

I was caught completely off guard. I tried to quickly inhale the cracker and salmon before I mumbled, "Uh, yes. Yes, I am." I thought that'd be the end of my part in the conversation until she asked me more questions, like "What do you do?" When I shared that I am a director of a career office at a college she said, "Oh, I must talk to you! You have all the secrets." I did a slight look over my shoulder as I was pretty sure she was talking to someone who just walked in, obviously having lost interest in me. But, no, she continued to ask me questions about industry trends, student career interests, and I gave my own pitch about my passions: the value of a liberal arts education and the need for parents to have better resources to juggle child rearing and work. I did try, a few times, to weave Andy back in to the conversation, but this guest was committed to hearing my opinion and for once, he stood quietly by my side..

Now, I'm no fool. Unwavering attention and keen listening skills are required in this guest's line of work. You see, she is a politician who is up for election. It is her job to listen to her constituents and demonstrate her sincere interest and enthusiasm, which she did very well and in turn, I'll vote for her. I also wondered if, since I was one of the only "young" mothers in the room, and she is also a woman, she knew that I'd appreciate some face time.

Regardless of her intentions, I rode that wave, and despite the fact that I felt like a stuffed, melting sausage, I held my head high that night, thankful for some attention and for the chance to speak with someone about my opinion.

Speaking of my opinion, as I mentioned, one of my talking points was "brain drain" and the ever-present upstate challenge of retaining talent in the area. We all know that families, lots of them, and with good jobs, help stimulate the local economy. Politicians and economic developers are always talking about how to retain good talent and think teams gather to strategize tactics. Well, I'll tell you and I told her: People! It takes a g-damn village to raise a child! A village does not two people make. Working families need a network of resources like excellent health care providers, top-notch educators, supportive after school programs, stimulating and engaging enrichment co-curricular activities, and safe public transportation. Working parents need reasonable salaries to pay for all of this and flexible employers who understand the value of raising children(or helping elderly parents). Working families need communities that give resources to people and places that support working families like schools, hospitals, public health entities, community gardens and after school programs, to name a few.

Yes, brain drain experts, I want cute and hipster places to buy purses and coffee. Yes, I want to listen to live music within a 30 minute radius of my home. Yes, I want a salary that matches my abilities and experience but most of all, I want to know that my girls are safe and sound, healthy, happy and learning all day, every day, especially when I am not with them. I spend a lot of time building our family's village and I hope one day, to give back to that village, to support all of the resources our working family needs to thrive. But, for now, I focus on what I can do- through my work and with my children, and I leave it to Andy to focus on strengthening and supporting our community resources.

I'm glad Andy dragged me to that event (because I still got to watch Downton when we got home) which allowed me to realize I don't have to stand behind him. I can stand right next to him. There's nowhere else I belong and I should stop telling myself anything different. Andy and I are in that potato sack together, racing toward the same finish line and when people thank me for allowing him to do his good work, I'll silently thank myself for doing my own good work, even if it's not as publicly regarded. It's true, I struggle sometimes being "Mrs. Cooperstown" because I did not choose to be a public figure or a big fish in a small town. I'm still just a small fish, doing small fish things that are vital to the ecosystem of our pond. I do it all. I do good. I work. I raise kids and I still have time for Downton Abbey. And if you want to call me something, you can call me Your Ladyship.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Power of a Kiss

This week, to wish her five-year old daughter happy birthday, Victoria Beckham kissed her on the lips. Mommy shamers united in hatred and blasted Posh Spice, calling her action disgusting and her a pedophile. In the photo, posted on her Instagram account, Victoria and Harper are in a pool (an AMAZING infinity pool with an ocean view BTW) and Victoria has her head slightly tilted while kissing her pig-tailed kid smack on the lips. With a few simple clicks you can be privy to the negative comments questioning the appropriateness of the kiss. You can also read tons and tons of positive comments in support of the kiss and see photo after photo of Mommy and Me smooches.

There are many articles, and blogs, online discussing whether parents and children should kiss on the lips and as you can imagine, there are just as many supporters as there are those in opposition. The web has drawn upon experts, like a British etiquette expert who said it's not proper etiquette to kiss your child on the lips and an American psychologist who commented on the irony of the controversy over a mother kissing her daughter, considering the over-sexualization that takes place in our culture. You can guess that the fashionista/icon's celebrity kiss wasn't the first time the debate has been sparked, and discussed, on the WWW. A simple Google search brought up a string on Ask Yahoo! from 2010, many mommy blogs, and this article from just this spring.

Is it right? Is it wrong? Is there a kissing cut off? What are acceptable actions of affection and which actions cross the line?

I think about this a lot because I was a touchy kid. I grew up with a mom that wasn't necessarily affection-seeking with me, but she certainly allowed me to be as affectionate as I needed to be with her. Mom was also very open about the human body and nudity and she didn't really have a choice for, as a kid, wherever she was, there I was. I took a bath with her until I couldn't fit in the tub anymore. I remember stuffing myself behind her in the bath, catching the water she'd toss over her shoulder and washing her back while she flicked her cigarrette ashes into a tray on the side of the tub. I'd follow her around the house, telling her nonsensical stories. I couldn't stop talking, so I'd tell her stories while she did the dishes, while she went to the bathroom, and while she got dressed. It didn't matter to me if she was naked as long as she listened to me.

At night, I'd smoosh into the recliner to watch TV with her, wrapping my arm around her and crossing my legs over hers. When she made dinner, I would grab onto her legs and laugh as she tried to prepare dinner while dragging me around. For his pre-dinner entertainmment, my brother would pretend Mom was his wrestling opponent, putting her in a Figure Four and making her shout, "I submit!" Did I mention we did this as teenagers? I loved the summer we borrowed a camper, parked it in the driveway and she slept in it with me each night. Nobody is better to spoon with than my mom. Even now, when I return home, I have no problem if the sleeping arrangement permits me to cuddle with Mom and her pug, Lilly. And when I leave, after leaning over to give her a hug, we might even still kiss on the lips.

Since Americans aren't known to be particualry affectionate, there can be days when we might not be touched by anyone. We learn, when we are young, about personal space. We prefer nodding-with eye contact and hand shaking to cheek kissing, and the "bro hug" is used by as many women as men.We reserve intimate affection for our partners and let's be honest, most women know that a back rub isn 't just a back rub. That means that, while some couples hold hands or hug or kiss just to kiss, many couples associate affection with sex and that leaves us to think that, if people share affection, they want something in return.

So, remember how I said I was touchy? I wish we were cheek kissers. I wish we walked around holding hands with our friends. I want to hug people all of the time. It gets awkward. I've had to learn to hold back from hugging people as much as I want to and I even warn people when a hug is coming their way. Nobody at work liked my idea of standing at the door each morning to give our co-workers a morning hug. Wouldn't you want a morning hug from me? For me, physical touch establishes comfort. I know that this is not possible in almost every other situation of my life, but it can happen with my family.

Back to my poor mom. I say that she wasn't necessarily affection-seeking because my brother and I were all over her all of the time. I couldn't get close enough to her. I imagine that all she wanted to do was take a bath alone, or go to the bathroom without someone at her feet, reading her a book. I, too, confess that, despite my penchant for affection, there are just some moments when I don't want anyone to touch me, even my kids. For many years, especially for new moms, our bodies don't feel like they are our own. After a day of nursing, followed by a night of nursing, I craved fifteen minutes without a sweaty little body stuck to my body. On a hot summer day, when I'm carrying groceries in from the car, (you know, trying to hang as many bags on my arm as humanly possible while praying the bags don't rip apart) I really don't also want to give one of my children a piggy back ride. I also prefer to poop alone and it's not so much fun when I draw a bath and someone, uninvited, climbs in and announces she peed. But, for the most part, I love having my kids as attached to me just as much as I was attached to my mom. I like the feel of their warm, soft bodies next to mine and I relish the intimacy we share that will likely fade over the next five years, if not sooner. And, like Posh Spice, I'll you what I want, what I really, really want, I want a, I want a, I want a kiss.

Charlotte is a big-time kisser. She has no problem laying one on me before bed or when she gets on the bus in the morning. She also loves to chant, "KISS! KISS!" whenever Andy and I are remotely near one another. She kisses me so much I have to forget that she picks her nose and eats it and lets the dog kiss her, too. (BTW, I bet you all the Victoria Beckham haters have no problem letting their dogs kiss them. People, dogs eat poop and lick their own butts.)Now, Caroline, on the other hand, is not a kisser. When she was a baby, I kissed her as I pleased. In her toddler years, once she was able to show me what she wanted, Caroline never wanted kisses. If I pursed my lips in her direction, she would shyly lower her head, allowing me to kiss the top of her it rather than her face. We didn't talk about it then, but I took my cues from her and simply kissed the top of her head. As she got older, I noticed how downright nervous she looked if someone wanted to kiss her, even on the cheek. She loved hugs and having her hair rubbed and, for those she trusted, she'd almost purr and rub her head on one's arm. She certainly used touch to show affection, helpful for someone who struggled to communicate verbally, but anyone, even Andy or I, touching her face was always too intimate.

When she started Kindergarten, she and I were layng in her bed one night, doing her nightly post-story back rub. What I still consider the best time of the day, I tucked myself into the covers and spooned against her, feeling the rise and fall of her breath against my own. Just as I thought she was about to drift to sleep, she turned and looked at me, our faces not more than six inches apart.

"Mommy," she asked,"does kissing hurt?"

"No," I whispered, "not at all."

What does it feel like?" she asked.

I smiled at her. "Well, it feels really soft. It's very nice." I held my breath.

Then she asked: "Can we try?"

"Of course." I told her. She leaned in to me, closed her eyes, gave me the gentlest, sweetest of kisses and tears welled in my eyes. It had been years since we had kissed and it pained me that she thought something so beautiful and special would hurt her. I tried to understand why she was afraid to kiss anyone, especially me. After our kiss, I asked her if it was so bad. She smiled and said it wasn't. The next night, as we lay in bed after reading, I asked her if she wanted to kiss me again. She smiled shyly and told me no. Ever since that night, now over four years ago, she has never asked me to kiss her again and I do my best to respect her wishes, even by warning her if I would like to kiss her on the cheek. I watch her, with Andy and Charlotte, or with our parents. She will glady hug those she feels safe around and she isn't shy about asking friends and family to rub her legs or her feet, but she almost always lowers her head when she hugs, ensuring that she shields her face from any unwanted kisses. Andy tells me her fear of kissing isn't a bad thing and it means she won't be giving them out to anyone, unless they are absolutely deserving. However, I can't help but wish, for her, that she can one day give someone she loves a kiss, and share in the joy that this simple action can bring, whether it is with me or someone else she really loves.

So, Victoria Beckham, I say you go girl because, to me, whether a mommy/child kiss is shared in a fancy pool and blasted out for the world to see, or shared in a quiet bedroom after story time, it is something to be coveted and celebrated.