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I Am Not One of Upstate's 20 Under 40 And It's Not Because I'm Over 40...Yet.

Whenever I introduce myself to someone, locally, the first thing they ask me is, "Do you know Andrew?" Of course, I want to say something sarcastic because that's the kind of girl I am, but instead, I smile and reply, "Why yes, he's my husband." Usually they continue by telling me how great he is and how much he's helped their organization, that they think he's a great landlord, blah, blah blah. Oh, and half of the time, someone throws in that he looks like Ben Affleck. I want to tell them that, while that's all fine and dandy, I wish Ben would put his shoes away, fold his pants instead of throwing them on the couch, and take less time in the bathroom each day.

With all seriousness, though, I'm really proud of all that he does for the community and always have been. When I met Andy, 14 years ago, I was very selfish. I cared about me, me, and me. There may have been a few select others who I cared about, but mostly, yeah, just me. Andy was always interested in helping out. It annoyed the hell out of me. He'd convince me to volunteer on the weekend or stay a little late to help clean up after a function. After a time, I, too, realized that there's more to the world than just me. I learned, from Andy, that helping people is important and the right thing to do. Even back then, I was never as civic-minded as Andy, but I started to get on the band wagon. I even joined a few boards and volunteered for an after school program. Then we had kids.

I got lost for many years after having kids. I couldn't think about helping anybody but the two, needy little beings whom I'd birthed. A luxury, I felt, to envelope myself in their world. To have eyes for them and them alone. Forget Andy, my family, and friends. Work was a back burner task. And I, well, I was there but not there. I was critical to the well-being of my kids, but I was only me for those purposes. Who I used to be, who I wanted to be, who I was at the moment didn't matter. I was mom. The outside world could have been burning down but all that mattered was what was going on in my small world, my home, and with my children.

Andy stayed connected to the outside world, for whatever reason: because he is the man, the father, the breadwinner, not the nurturer, the mother, the center of the children's universe. He cared if the world was burning down. He cared about how others were doing even though he had two bundles of joy at home. Work still mattered to him as much as it did before they were born. He was still Andy. Not the same Andy as before kids, but he still existed. He was still Andy sans kids, in some form.

For all of these years I've mutually resented and loved this fact about Andy. As I said, I'm truly proud of him the difference he makes in our community. Recently, he was acknowledged as one of our area's "20 under 40" and recognized for his community work. We went an event celebrating the honorees and, in my typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, I wrote in sharpie on my name tag: Andy's wife. I am not me. I do not exist. I only exist in relation to others.

A few people, sensitive to my needs, commented to me that Andy could only do what he does because I am at home, taking care of the children. (That is when I'm not working and yes, winning bread.) This is true. Andy chooses to be participate in civic activities that are often not too kid friendly. For example, he is on our Board of Education and attends monthly evening meetings. Those meetings do not offer childcare. He serves on a number of other boards or on committees. He's tried to bring the girls with him. It didn't go well, even at the zoo, where you'd think kids acting like monkeys would be acceptable. It can be hard helping many people at one time. Sometimes, we have to make a choice.

Poor me. Poor, poor me. Sigh. OK, listen, I want to let you in on a secret. I've started to find myself. Me before kids is reappearing. I fought for her all last year. I wasn't home all of the time with the kids. But, I wasn't out at the food pantry either. Last year was the year for me. I said to myself, hey, hey you! You're there! You still exist. Go find yourself. So, I did. I ran and ran and ran and loved it. And, I worked, and worked, and worked and found renewed passion in my 9-5 an got a promotion as a result of my time and dedication. There are places where Melissa exists without Caroline, or Charlotte, or Andy. Nobody at a race asks me if I know Andy. I do exist independently of those who matter most to me. I realized, again, that I, too, matter most to me. I realized it was time to be selfish again.

I'll never be nominated as one of our area's 20 under 40. Mostly, because I'm getting old and 40 is in the near future. Those women and men deserve our recognition and many of them are juggling all that I do and still, somehow, manage to take time for others. Some, maybe,have a made it a priority to help others, perhaps at a cost. I hope someday, maybe when the kids are older, maybe when I'm not still finding my professional footing, maybe when I get to work without having left my lunch on the counter or having my undies on inside out, I will get my act together and do something for someone who isn't one of the true loves of my life. Maybe I'll feel like I'm back, I'm me, my underwear are on the right way finally and I'm ready to help others. This is what I can do: I try, every day,to do something else for someone, even if it's as simple as sending a text to let a friend know I'm thinking of her or holding the door open for someone.

And, for now, when someone asks me if I know Andy, I'll say yes, I know him. He's my husband. Then, I'll give them my business card, remind them that my name is Melissa, and ask if they would offer one of my students an internship.

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