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Over the past 18 years, I have worked hard—sometimes with success and sometimes gritting my teeth—to detach myself from things about my spouse that are not my responsibility and/or that I cannot control.

This certainly isn’t “Here’s how you do it,” this is wow, look how much I have grown! I really did used to take on all of these things. I remember sitting in a therapists office and he drew a triangle and the following words appeared, one on each corner of the triangle: Parent, Child, Partner.

He asked me to draw an arrow to the corresponding corners for Jeff and me. I wanted to draw Parent/Partner. But in fact he pointed out I had been engaging in a Parent/Child relationship.

I was smothering, hovering, controlling, fixing, dictating, and deciding.

He asked me why I fell in love with Jeff. What about him did I love? I listed several things and then he asked me to reflect on what we were arguing about—what brought us to his office.

They were the same things. What I had once loved was now something I was fighting against.

“He is so easy-going and relaxed” had translated into “He is lazy and doesn’t do anything around the house.”

“He is active and involved in a bunch of stuff” had translated in to “He’s always going to hockey or some sport.”

“He has a traditional family scenario” had translated in to “We just come from such different families.”

“He is so funny” had turned in to “He never takes me seriously when I am mad.

My my mother asked me the other day, “Remember when you used to call me in tears because Jeff was so disorganized?”

“I did?” I asked, finding it hard to believe.

“Yes. You were at your wit’s end. You had tried everything to get him organized. Baskets with labels, bins, drawers…anything you could think of and none of it worked.”

I couldn’t believe that 1) I cried over it and 2) Jeff was ever that disorganized—so disorganized it was worthy of tears. Jeff is not super organized, but really? That’s what I was so worried about that I cried?

There it is, folks: the marriage of a 26 year old with no kids.

Life was simpler early on, for sure. Now, complicated by children, careers, sports and school activities, trips and adventures, maintaining relationships with friends and extended family, doctors and dentist appointments, haircuts, just the most mundane tasks can really make life complicated.

I definitely don’t have time to cry about how Jeff organizes the mail.

Here are some things I have let go of as over the years I have continued to focus on avoiding the Parent/Child relationship trap in my marriage.

1) I don’t maintain Jeff’s relationships. This means with his family, friends, coworkers, etc. That is his responsibility and he willingly accepts it as his. It frees me up to focus on the relationships that are my responsibility: my friends, my family, my colleagues, the kids’ teachers, etc. I have willingly taken on the role of being the primary contact for teachers and school stuff, except that one time when I was losing my shit on the administration and teachers so often I was asked not to contact anyone at the school, so Jeff had to step in (true story; I will have to tell that one sometimes).

Family is an interesting one. My family culture is very different than Jeff’s. Our families have different expectations. The way I see it, I am responsible for meeting my family’s expectations and Jeff is responsible for meeting his family’s expectations. I do not take on those obligations as my own just like he does not take on my family obligations as his own. This doesn’t mean we don’t do things with each other’s families. We do. But my relationship with my mother or father is not dependent on him being able to join us for dinner. The two are mutually exclusive.

Same is true with friends. He has friends, I have friends and then we have couple friends. That was a rough process to establish. Sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t. I didn’t like his friends he brought in to the relationship and he didn’t like mine. We would spend time with those people separately and most of those relationships eventually faded—not because of disapproval by the spouse, but because of where we all were in our lives. Now, I don’t feel an obligation to hang out with the wives of his friends and I don’t force him to hang out with the husbands of my friends. But some friends we do share—and when it works, it’s a ton of fun.

2) I don’t maintain his calendar. I maintain the family calendar (although, I am known to screw shit up on the family calendar…but I give it my best effort, always). He can add anything to it he wants. But, I don’t make his appointments for haircuts, doctors, car repairs—anything. I do make lists of things he can do to help me out when he asks, but that’s his choice to help (and he almost always does).

3) I don’t think for him in daily tasks. He thinks for himself. He loads the dishwasher his own way. He picks out his own clothes; he packs his own suitcase, and always puts away his own laundry. He takes on tasks and projects and I don’t help. He was the president of the board of our summer swim club and I didn’t once write an email or an agenda for him. Sometimes, it killed me. I had to restrain myself, but it demonstrated to me—once again—that he is a fully capable adult and can do things without my direction.

And, let me be clear: if he asked for help, support, assistance or encouragement on any of the above—I am there. We work together on many things. But that’s together. That’s not me doing it for him, my way because he can’t. He can. He does. And, it all works out just fine. I have learned to trust that he knows how to do things on his own.

For some reason, early in our marriage I became an expert at creating opportunities for him to need me. See, I treated him like a child so he needed me to mother him. I guess real kids took care of that dynamic pretty quickly—although then the struggle became turning off the mother dynamic after spend all day mothering little people.

We are very different people—and one kind of person is not better than the other, we are just different. Which, as the therapist pointed out early on in our marriage is exactly why I love him so much.

 

Monday, November 13, 2006

I can hear it from a mile away. Click, click..click…click. Eeewww. Someone clipping their fingernails. Am I the only one in the world whose mother taught me that this and all other personal grooming should happen in the bathroom? The worst culprit seems to be older men. They pull their clippers out standing in line, at the Y, in restaurants, wherever.

I was recently in a meeting with an older man in a restaurant-a business meeting-and out they came. He clipped, trimmed and clipped some more, paying close attention to a stubborn hangnail. Just make a mental note to get it when you get home-in your bathroom! Same thing at the conference I just went to in Nashville. Smack dab in the middle of a workshop, out came the clippers!

Fingernails are gross. And, they are rather personal. Seriously, they hold DNA. Why would you want to spread that around?!?! Mothers of boys, let’s all make a pact to teach our boys that trimming your nails is a personal hygiene habit, that while necessary and important, is best done in the bathroom.

I have entered peri-menopause. And, I am sure of it. I know this is just the beginning of what could be a 10+ year process, but for about the past 18 months, I have been experiencing changes. These changes, combined with my age, spell the path to menopause.

I went to the doctor early on to rule out anything more serious. And, rule it out she did. My OB/GYN I had had since I was like 15 retired a few years ago and I have a new one. I like her. She’s full of energy, has three boys like me, hugs me when she sees me, but is the complete opposite of my old doctor. She loves intervention.

I go in and say I am experiencing these changes. The first thing they do is a pregnancy test. Negative (of course). Next, an exam. Nothing seems out of whack. Finally, a cervical biopsy. Have you ever had one of those? One of the most painful things ever and I simply wasn’t prepared for it that day. All negative.

At the end, she sort of claps her hands together and declares, “Well, must be the start of menopause” and talks to me about uterine ablation or a partial hysterectomy. Okay, in the grand scheme of things, I have had this for like five minutes. I think I will ride it out a bit. And then advised me to talk to my mom and females on my dad’s side of the family to learn more about their journey.

My sweet husband said, “I don’t really know anything about menopause.”

I think I said something like muu whaaa haaaa haaaa in response.

The worst part is the PMS. I have always had PMS but now, some months, it’s like insane. And, for some reason, I am not always aware of it—I mean of the source.

Like the time I lost my shit on the Kroger manager and then the next day, I started my period. Oh….I thought. That explains it.

When it’s really bad, I feel like I need to just run away and be in a quiet room by myself. Even the tiniest sounds sometimes are amplified 100-fold and make me want to rip my eyeballs out. I just want everyone to BE QUIET for one fucking second.

I drop things, spill things, forget things, lose things, break things and sometimes out of frustration destroy things. I think sometimes I would be capable of killing a small animal with my bare hands.

One night on the way home from our lovely family tradition of Headless Horseman at Connor Prairie, we were scouting out stops for ice cream, like we had promised.

Jeff says, “I don’t want any trash left in the car. Someone left an ice cream cup in the trashcan of my car the other day.”

“Well, it was in the trashcan,” I respond.

“Yeah, but for like three days and it started to smell.”

“It’s a trash can.”

“Yeah, but it smelled and I didn’t know it was in there.”

I thought surely I would die if I had to hear one more freaking word about the ice cream cup in the trashcan. And all of the sudden I am all like, “OH….MY….GOD…STOP TALKING ABOUT THE DAMN ICE CREAM CUP IN THE TRASH CAN.” A silence fell over the car.

“Okay,” Jeff said softly as we pulled up to the drive thru of McDonald’s to get cones. There. Problem solved. No ice cream cups; just cones.

Each year on our fall vacation to Asheville, we pick one challenge activity. This whole trip is pretty much outdoors focused but we like to do one thing that takes us out of our comfort zone. One year it was rock climbing (like, legit rock climbing with a guide, etc.). One year Jeff and I did a zip line course that included a 950 foot zip from mountain top to mountain top above the canopy. It was spectacular, but definitely a challenge and outside my comfort zone. One year we went to Biltmore. Yes, that is a challenge with three young boys.

This year, our challenge activity was white water rafting. And how this became our challenge activity goes back to my childhood. In fact, I relived two failed events from my childhood on this trip.

When I was growing up, we traveled a lot. I had a lot of great opportunities that I now see I squandered and decided instead to pitch a huge fit and refuse to do. In hindsight, it was probably not totally my fault. Knowing what I know now about myself, I was probably having an anxiety attack about the very idea of whatever it was or was foreshadowing my brother torturing me. Picture for example a ride on a motorcycle with him—or my dad, or my uncle. This is how it usually went down.

Me: Just don’t go fast. And don’t go around sharp curves.

Them (any one of those three males): Of course, sure. I won’t.

Ten seconds later, they do.

Me: SCREEEAAAMMMMSSS . TEAARRRSSS. STOOOOOOPPPPPP!

That scene would play out over and over again. No matter what the activity. I come from a very male-heavy family. I am the second to youngest among the cousins and one of only two girls. I was ripe for the pickin’. So, I just often refused to do the activities.

Two that I regret now as an adult are white water rafting in the Colorado River Gorge and although I did it, I hated it the whole time, the alpine slide at a ski resort in the summer (maybe Breckenridge?). I cried the whole time and refused to go fast…or even moderately fast. It probably took me 30 minutes to get down.

This trip, I did both as an adult! And so did our entire family. Including Sam, who was replaying my childhood by freaking out and saying he didn’t want to do either. But this time, I knew what it was about (anxiety, fear of the unknown, etc.) and unlike my experiences, I was able to talk him through it and get him to give it a shot. He loved both.

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Please, please please look closely at my face in this picture.  I was scared shitless on the white water rafting, but it was so much fun and so beautiful to be on the French Broad River for half a day. I can’t wait to do it again next time we go to Asheville.

With three boys in the house, Dick’s is our go-to for clothes.  One of our kids will only wear sports stuff: shorts, t-shirts, warmup pants.  I haven’t seen the kid in jeans in five years (and he’s only 10).  I do most of my shopping online.  Stores overwhelm me.  Seriously, have you been someplace like Macy’s lately?  I mean, it grosses me out–how can people NEED that much stuff?  How can they make money on anything when there is that much merchandise?  It’s insane and overwhelming. So, the internet–while all those things are still available–allows me to shop without having to look at so…much…stuff.

Sorry, back to the conversation at hand.  So we order from Dick’s often.  I usually wait for a sale email.  But the last three times, here is what I have noticed.

First, the sale email will tout free shipping.  Well, Dick’s already offers free shipping and returns on clothes and shoes.  Plus, you can return items to the store.  So, that sucks.

Second, the exclusions.  Here is the email teaser.  In fact, we tried to use this offer just the other day for a huge order.

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At first glance, it clearly said Online only.  Check.  We were ordering online.  Next, Excludes Ping.  No problem, no one was ordering golf gear. Then, there are the two asterisks.  And here is what it says with those:

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Okay, again.  No problem.  Excludes Beats, Ping, UGG, Babolat and Select Nike.  And then, see that line “other exclusions may apply?”  This is where things get really, REALLY annoying.

Here is the list of brands that are excluded.

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Please tell me one brand that is NOT on that list. It’s like the whole damn store.   Really, I mean what’s even the point of offering the coupon if it’s not valid on your ENTIRE FREAKING STORE.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

We are all on the couch before heading up for bed, having some fun family time, giggling, talking, you know–one of those good moments.

I smell something and realize I think it is Jeff’s feet. I go in for a closer smell and let out a big, “Eeeewwww, I don’t think your feet have ever smelled that bad!”

Okay, I know there are several things wrong with this comment. First, I smelled the feet to confirm what I already knew, as the smell of stinky feet is unmistakable. Second, I say “have ever” which indicates I have smelled his smelly feet, probably up close, on more than one occasion. And third, they are feet–of course they stink.

Part of why this is such a big deal is that I am the queen of stinky feet in our house. Yes it is true. My sweaty feet are the main reason I cannot stand to bind my feet in the inner housings of those God-awful coffins called shoes. I would wear flip-flops all year if I could, and I do most of the year, but we do have snow in Indiana. I need to let my feet breathe and roam, explore their environment. Otherwise, like an angry skunk, they retaliate with a mystifying scent that is unmistakably mine.

So, back to last night, as I am certain that is too much information about me. Now the tables have turned and Jeff has stinky feet. The boys laugh and laugh and Phillip says, “let me smell.” See? This is life with a house full of boys–let’s all take turns smelling gross stuff and then laugh about it for 20 minutes!

“Eeewwwww, those smell like cock!” he says. Jeff and I are like, “WHAT? They smell like WHAT?” He says it again. We are rolling on the floor, tears running down my eyes.

Finally, after we pull ourselves together, we ask what he meant by cock. “You know, the caulk that Daddy squeezes out with that gun.” The CAULK gun….oh. That’s better!

And then, Phillip farts in Jeff’s face.

I recently read a book called What Alice Forgot. It’s a pretty popular book, by the same author (Liane Moriarty) who wrote The Husband’s Secret which was the hot book early this summer.   And, like the title suggests, Alice forgot. She hit her head and developed amnesia. She cannot remember the last 10 years of her life and my how things have changed. She doesn’t like the person she has become and cannot really figure out how she became who she had. It was an interesting perspective and made me think: if I look back 10 years ago, do I like who I have become or do I like the old me better?

It took me about .35 seconds to answer this. I much prefer the new me. And, it’s a combination of several things that have made me the person I like more.

First, pharmacological intervention. Yep, that’s right: medication. After years of struggling with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder and resisting medication for some asinine reason, I finally realized those feelings were taking over my life. They were getting in the way of me living and I had to get it under control. They were creating conflict where there was none; they were creating paralyzing fear when there should be none. Medication, at the urging of a good friend, was a life-changer. And, not just for me—but for my marriage, my kids and our family life. I was always afraid it would change who I was. Instead, it allowed the real me to come out. It was like taking a shower after years of caked on dirt or pulling off layers of clothes as the day heats up. The real me was finally allowed to see the light of day.

Look…it’s me, at an amusement park.  This NEVER would have happened pre-medication.  I still didn’t go on any rides, but I went and enjoyed myself.

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Second, age. Yep. I gotta say, I love being in my 40s. I really think my late 30s started to bring that change. The perspective life has provided is amazing. I have learned, changed, relaxed and engaged so much more in this stage of my life than ever before. I feel like for me, my 40s are all about being present. I have never felt more present in every aspect of my life than I am now. Life just seems easier. I worry about what’s happening tomorrow tomorrow. I know the dishes will be here for me when I am ready to do them; until then—I can live with them. If they bother someone else in the house more than they are bothering me, they (I mean, he) can do them. And sometimes he does. I know that I am flawed in many ways and I stopped worrying about those ways and instead learned to embrace and laugh at them. I have learned that making yourself vulnerable is the best way to connect you with people, not push them away.

Third, my kids. They are older; life is easier. I love, love little babies. I LOVE them. I love nursing, co-sleeping, wearing my kids, cuddling infants. But, as much as I think they are so stinking cute and funny, toddlers stress me out. So, here is the thing. I am sort of an introvert. I need time alone to recharge. Constantly being needed and my presence being required stresses me out—which is essentially the battle cry of a toddler. Leave them alone for a minute and it’s all over, any way you look at it.

One of the most life-changing events for me was when I could say to all of my kids, “Go take a bath” and they did—and I didn’t need to be there for every second of that bath. Now, sometimes the mess in the bathroom (like the time the water poured through the kitchen ceiling) is a bit overwhelming but it’s there when I am ready to deal with it, which is usually in the morning (or if it’s water—it dries!).

Same thing with “go to bed.” The bedtime ritual was sweet and there were some good moments there that probably made my kids feel very safe and loved. But it often made me want to scream and flee. I was DONE by bedtime. I am a morning person and I give each and every day my all—meaning I am constantly on the go. By, 8PM, I am pretty much done for the day. But they still wanted me and needed stuff from me. Ugh. It often pained me. Reading stories when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed. Answering endless calls for drinks of water, lights on/off, someone has to poop, a bloody nose—all of that shit drove me insane.

Bedtime can still get a bit squirrely in our house and still does sometimes end with me or Jeff yelling at someone. Left unattended, the boys now engage in door slamming, laughing, someone exposing themselves to the others, farts on someone’s pillows, etc. But eventually, they stop and go to bed. And it’s way better than a toddler climbing out of his crib and us having to reverse the lock on his bedroom door (yes, it happened).

I feel like I spent several of those years being crabby and impatient. Those were the hardest years for me. Now, they will wake up in the morning and someone will report they had a bloody nose in the middle of the night. Yes! They can do it on their own!

All of my experiences leading up to this moment have contributed to the new me, but boy I sure do like her better than the old me. I don’t think I have the energy for the old me anymore. And for that, I am grateful.

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I am going to state the obvious here. Men and women are so different; as frustrating as it can be, it’s also kind of funny. This January, Jeff and I will have been together for 20 years (married for 18 years this coming March). And, it’s not without a lot of hard work.

Now, that’s not to say if you are not still married you didn’t work hard. It’s to say that we worked hard and have managed to date, to avoid all the other pitfalls that can lead to divorce. It doesn’t mean we are superior, more in love than the next person or better at marriage.

I know some people argue, “you shouldn’t have to work at marriage” if it’s a good marriage. But I complete disagree. Shit, I couldn’t even live with a Tomboy roommate from Oak Park, IL who chain-smoked Camel cigarettes, wore Air Jordan high tops (unlaced of course) and lived off of Mountain Dew for a semester my first year at college in Philadelphia. I think I made it five weeks before I pleaded with the nuns (yes, nuns) to get me a new roommate. I think you must work at a marriage.

At this point, I should fully disclose that I am aware that I can also be a difficult person to live with and I am certain there are things about me that are less than pleasing to some.

But one of the things I find so interesting is the difference of opinions—unspoken opinions—on just how one “works” on our marriage. Sure, there are the obvious things like spending time together and talking about what each other is thinking, doing, experiencing, etc., periodic sweet text messages, and we are no strangers to professional intervention whenever necessary.

But for me, the mental checklist goes a little like this: Tidy up the house, keep things put away and organized. Make the environment comfortable and relaxing.

For Jeff, it goes a little like this: Sex.

[And, there will be future posts about sex, so if you are related to me and this makes you uncomfortable, you might want to stop looking at this blog, mom.]

For me: Always having a fresh package of Oyster crackers in the pantry in case I make chili and he wants to put Oyster crackers on it.

For him: Sex.

For me: Picking up some shirts at J.Crew I saw on sale in his size because they match his eyes.

For him: Sex.

For me: Cooking almost every night nutritious, healthy and clean meals from scratch.

For him: Sex.

For me: Meeting the kids needs when he is tired or has a migraine. Making myself available to cover kids’ schedule stuff so he can pursue his passions and do fun stuff with his buddies.

For him: Sex.

For me: Clean sheet day!

From him: Sex (which definitely isn’t happening on clean sheet day).

Up next…what “working on the marriage” doesn’t mean to me. And then—an entry about sex (warning, relatives: you may want to stop reading).