To Hell With Date Night

I have a confession:

I hate Date Night.

Seriously. Hate.

I love my spouse, but really, Date Night is just too much pressure, especially because we live in such a lame city with no live music or theater or decent restaurants. No improv or stand-up places. There’s candlepin bowling, but then you have to put up with the other bowlers. And we’ve done that already anyway.

We’ve gone hiking, but we do that with the kids and it’s getting dark so early now, I’m worried we’ll surprise a skunk, which would make for a memorable Date Night, but not a terribly fun one.

Last time we had a Date Night, we went to the lawyer’s office and signed our wills and then went grocery shopping. Read More

The Ring of Power

I was on the phone when my six-year-old ran into the room, grabbed my hand, and began working my wedding ring off my finger. Once he’d wiggled it free, he looked up at me and grinned conspiratorially then put it on and hid behind the bed.

This has been happening for the past week or so and is a symptom of the Lord of the Rings mania that’s gripped him since we read the books together (and pointedly did not watch the movies). Apparently, my wedding ring is the Ring of Power, and he uses it to turn invisible at bedtime and cleanup time.

When I asked him why it is I don’t turn invisible when I wear it, he said in what I think was supposed to be a British accent, “It only works with its true ownah.”

But I wonder sometimes if my wedding ring really does make me invisible, or at least makes it possible for me to be invisible. We’re past the era of me being “Mrs. Husband’s Name.” My spouse and I both hyphenated our names, each taking the other’s last name and tacking it to our own, but people generally attribute my original last name to him, leaving me essentially invisible name-wise despite the hyphen.

And although I could easily fall back on the “Mrs. Husband’s Name” formality or take my spouse’s last name in a non-hyphenated form, our marriage allows me to be invisible in other ways.

I can let my spouse’s name be the only one on our utility bills and on our mortgage, making me largely invisible to creditors.

As a stay-at-home parent, I am invisible in the work world.

People in some of our social circles see us as such a package deal that they talk to one of us as a representative of both, and because my spouse is taller, louder, male, and more approachable (he smiles more and doesn’t scowl when he’s thinking), he’s usually the one who gets talked to.

Mostly, this is more an asset than a liability. Every time someone asks the question about which superpower you’d prefer—flight, x-ray vision, or invisibility—I always pick invisibility. I prefer to be anonymous most of the time. I prefer to let my words speak for themselves without my name and personality attached. I prefer to be able to leave when I want to and have people walk past me when they’re looking to gossip or engage in political machinations.

I actively do not want to be famous. If I’m known, I want to be quietly known as someone solid, someone who can be depended upon, and as someone who cares more about outcome than about getting credit.

Until my wedding ring became the Ring of Power, it didn’t occur to me that by marrying I’d actually facilitated this invisibility.

I don’t think it works the same way for my spouse. His visibility doesn’t seem affected at all by our marriage. If anything, he’s got more piled onto his identity, carrying me and our kids in addition to his career.

I wonder how this works in same-sex marriages. Is there always an invisible spouse and a visible spouse? Is this a male-female dynamic, or just intrinsic to coupled relationships? Or maybe it only happens in relationships like mine in which one party is happy being invisible.

What do you think? Is there an invisible/visible dynamic in your relationship? If so, to what do you attribute it—individual personality/preference, societal expectations, or something else?

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dept. of Speculation is the August selection for the SBC online book club. To learn more about SBC or to join the conversation, visit the SBC page here at Imperfect Happiness or join our Goodreads Group.

The first half of this book is just delightful, with the anxiety and the angst and with the story told in little snippets. I relate to both the content and the scattered form. It’s like a pleasant reminiscence about early parenthood, and boy, isn’t it nice to be through those days? as the author and I sip from our respective glasses of wine.

And then comes the second half like a punch in the gut. Still a powerful way to tell a story, but it’s too real to be called “delightful.” It’s like one of my own nightmares put in book form.

Reading the second half reminded me of when I squirmed my way through the movie Before Midnight in which Julie Delpy argues with an awkwardly aging Ethan Hawke for two hours in a way that’s a little too familiar to me.

For the first time since I was in junior high, I’m reading contemporary books written for my age group—finally the GenX authors seem to be taking the place of the Boomers, perhaps because we’re finally entering midlife (or what used to be midlife since “midlife” is now supposed to be 60 or something as the Millennials and the Boomers conspire to squeeze us out of everything)—and although I’ve been eagerly anticipating this day, now I’m not sure that I want to read about the anxieties of those traversing with me the handful of years before and after 40. It’s too close. It gives me palpitations.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.” (p 114)

Incidentally, this book would have been interesting told in little blog posts. I’m glad it’s a novel, but it would have worked as a serial blog, too.

View all my reviews

Love and Marriage

When the music started, I rose with the rest of the congregation, but I didn’t look towards the doors at the back of the church. I kept my eyes on my brother, my little brother, the man with the beard and the fancy suit, standing on his own with the icons and the altar.

His face was drawn, a crease between his brows.

Until.

The doors opened and his eyes found her. He exhaled, his shoulders eased, and a smile dissolved the tension around his eyes. My smile mirrored his and my eyes filled at the love in his face.

She joined him there and they joined hands and she joined our family.

This is what marriage is about. I am so grateful I was there to witness it.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Throughout the year, my spouse reads books about science, the economy, the economics of science, or the effects of the science industry on the economy, and scientific research papers about the brain structures of schizophrenic mice.* But every December 1, he asks me for a recommendation for a novel for him to read during his company’s annual shutdown.

This past December, I picked a winner for him: Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. He loved the book, and he wanted to discuss it with me, but there were four years and a cross-country move between me and my reading of the book, and I couldn’t remember the details well enough to talk about them. Setting aside his disappointment, he made a remarkable proposition: Why don’t he and I read Pessl’s second novel, Night Film, together? We could have a Spouses Book Club!

This suggestion was unprecedented from so many angles. It was the first time in our 20 years together that he read more than one novel in a year, the first time he and I read together, and the first time he’d ever proposed that we discuss a book. It’s the most romantic thing he’s ever done for me aside from sitting behind me in the tub while I birthed our son and taking the car for regular oil changes so I don’t have to. (He knows I’m not big on cut flowers.)

We got two copies from the library, and we were ready to go.

We knew that I read faster than he does, so I’d planned to give him a three-week head start before opening the book. But a week into March, he was getting antsy that I’d not started it yet; he wanted to talk to me about it.

So one Sunday night I started the book. That night we went to bed with our bookmarks in the same pages of our respective copies of the book. We talked Monday about how spooky I found the book and how I’d needed to turn the lights on to go down the hall to the bedroom the night before. He didn’t see what was scary about the book at all. This was what we’d been seeking! Sharing our differing experiences of the same book! Spouses Book Club was off to a brilliant start!

On Wednesday I finished the book. He was still 500 pages from the end. He was not happy that I’d outpaced him so comprehensively, but he can reach things on the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards without getting a stool, so I don’t feel too bad about this little advantage.

And besides, once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. As each clue and development drew the characters further into the mystery, it also drew me further into the story. Not only was it an incredible story, it’s one of the only times I’ve read a novel set in New York City that didn’t irritate me with how self-conscious it was about being set in New York City.

I think the thing that I really appreciated was that it wasn’t just about solving a mystery. It was also about facing death head-on every day so we live with what’s important to us in the fore of our minds all the time. It’s about facing hubris and about the value of being the “good guy” even if there’s nothing in it for us (and even if it’s not clear what “being the good guy” entails). It’s about protecting those we love from the parts of us that can hurt them. It’s about how there can be multiple versions of a story that are all “true,” and about how the most logical answer to a question isn’t always the most satisfying one. Life is messy, and if our lives aren’t messy, we aren’t really digging into them.

Lacking a smart phone, I did not use any of the interactive features of the novel, but I kind of like that they’re there, despite my Luddite tendencies. I certainly found the multi-media presentation style (i.e., the use of visuals as a storytelling element) effective, at least in freaking me the heck out.

So, Honey, if you’re reading this, it’s really not my fault that I finished the book before you did. Blame Marisha Pessl. (And come on and finish the book so we can talk about it!)

*My spouse informs me that there’s no such thing as a schizophrenic mouse, and what he actually reads about is the absence of a good mouse model for schizophrenia. I stand corrected.

My Spouse and I Talk About Jason Bateman

Me: Did you know that Jason Bateman was born in Salt Lake City?*

Spouse: No, I didn’t. I would not have guessed that.

Me: Me, neither. But he does have that kind of clean-cut look.

Spouse: That Salt Lake City look?

Me: Did you know that our son was born in Salt Lake City?

Spouse: Wait, what was Justin Bateman in?

Me: Jason Bateman. Justine is his sister. She was on that show…Family Ties.

Spouse: What does Justine Bateman look like?

Me: Like Jason Bateman only with long hair.**

Spouse: Was she the real tough girl?

Me: No, she was—

Spouse: Was she Tootsie?

Me: Tootie? No, that was that other show. What was that called?

Spouse: Diff’rent Strokes?

Me: No, but there was a Diff’rent Strokes tie-in. It’s the one with Charlotte Rae. You know, [singing] “You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have—”

Spouse and Me Together: The Facts of Life!

[thumbs ups and high-fives]

Spouse: Wait, so Jason Bateman was on Facts of Life?

*********************

*Turns out I was incorrect about this. He was born in New York and moved to SLC when he was four, according to the internet. Of course, the internet is also where I got the notion that he was born in SLC. But facts aren’t really important in this particular conversation.

**Justine Bateman also doesn’t look like her brother with long hair. Well, maybe a little when they were kids, but not so much now.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy produces urushiol to protect the pl...

Poison ivy produces urushiol to protect the plant from herbivores. In humans this chemical produces an allergic skin rash, known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I put on my rubber boots and pulled latex gloves over my gardening gloves. My spouse put on the special farm-chemical elbow gloves I’d bought him, and we both donned our rain jackets and rain pants in spite of the sun shining overhead.

Sweating under our rain gear, we walked through the pachysandra looking for the characteristic “leaves of three.” Each time we found a patch of poison ivy, my spouse would follow the leaves as far as he could down the creeping vines, but every time the stem would break before he pulled up the root. Swearing softly, he crumpled the plants and put them into the plastic garbage bag I held open for him as we both tried to remember not to wipe sweat or bugs or loose hairs from our faces. We continued this until we could find no more poison ivy.

At the backyard spigot, we Tecnued everything we could, then went through the garage and tossed the lot into the washing machine. Then we washed our bare hands with Tecnu for good measure.

And now we wait.

It kind of reminds me of the early days of our relationship: Today, as back then, only time will tell if the barrier method was effective.

On Love and Marriage

We lived in California when same-sex marriage first became legal in Massachusetts. I remember seeing  Rev. William Sinkford, then president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, on television performing the first legal same-sex wedding ceremonies. I remember feeling incredible pride that I was a UU.

When we moved to Massachusetts this past summer, New York had just legalized same-sex marriage and the article I read mentioned that it had been legal in Massachusetts for eight years.

“Oh, yeah,” I thought, remembering seeing Rev. Sinkford on TV all of those years back. “This is the first time I’ve lived in a state where same-sex marriage was legal. Neat.”

Then a couple of months ago, my daughter’s flute teacher referred to her wife. It was in the context of her wife having pneumonia, which wasn’t cool at all, but her using the word “wife” had a powerful positive effect on me.

My thoughts ran something along the lines of, “I am a wife. I love being a wife. I have a husband. I love having a husband. She’s a wife. She loves being a wife. She has a wife. She loves having a wife.”

All of my adult life I’ve had friends who were in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships, marriages in all senses but the legal one. This was the first time I had shared the language of marriage with someone who was part of one of these relationships.

I was surprised at just how joyous I felt—and feel—about sharing marriage with my friends who were previously denied this right. I’ve never been a big fan of weddings (I once—to my shame—stepped aside and let the bouquet drop on the floor rather than catch it when the bride threw it). I can’t stand Pachelbel’s Canon, feel unaccountably annoyed when I hear that bit from 1st Corinthians, and just generally think a lot of the talk about marriage is corny and cliched.

But marriage equality may have pushed me over to the romantic side just a tad.

I love love. I love seeing people in love. I love being married, and I find that I love seeing happy married people, especially those who’ve not been allowed to marry in the past. It’s like a brand-new celebration! And I feel practically giddy talking about who’s taking whose last name (which is another major point of sharing as my husband and I chose to be unconventional with our name-sharing: we both hyphenated our last names).

I feel almost embarrassed at the intensity of the glee that I feel about marriage equality. I want to hug and congratulate every same-sex married couple that I see. I don’t, though, because that would be way too corny for me. And besides that kind of weird.

But this Valentine’s Day, even though I’m refraining from hugging people I hardly know, I wanted at least to share with all of you how happy I am to live in a state where all people who love each other can be wives and have wives, be husbands and have husbands, and be married, just like I am so thrilled to be every single day, even after more than 12 years.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

My First Love

Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of ...

Gilbert Blythe (as portrayed in 1985 by Jonathan Crombie). (Image via Wikipedia)

When I was in middle school, I developed an intense crush. Even today, happily married and with two beautiful children, if this person came back into my life and asked me to go away with him, I would have difficulty choosing my husband over him.

I met him in a one-room school house in Canada. He pestered the other girls mercilessly but mostly good-naturedly. Once he tugged the braids of a new girl and called her, “Carrots.” He did overstep his bounds with that one, but her reaction was a little extreme. He couldn’t have known how sensitive she was about her red hair.

As the years passed, he matured but retained his sense of playfulness even through college and medical school. He also maintained his devotion to that red-haired girl (who eventually forgave him for the “carrots” thing), which caused me, for many years, to try and become a redhead myself.

In my 30’s, I developed another crush. This time it was for the dark gentleman with the acerbic wit and the obvious scorn for those who engaged in the niceties and ridiculous rituals of society, even as he himself also participated in them. He was exceedingly wealthy, but that wasn’t the primary appeal. He was so discerning a character that to win his heart would be a reward in and of itself. And there is something incredibly attractive about a man willing to admit his errors and to change his opinions when confronted with contradictory evidence. I watched as his heart softened and he gradually fell for a woman I both admired and envied, a woman he had initially dismissed but eventually saw for the uniquely intelligent and caring person she was.

Alas, neither of these loves was meant to be mine, not because they were in love with other women, and not because I am off the market as a married lady and mother myself. These loves weren’t meant to be because these men live in the 19th century and in different countries, figurative offspring of the imaginations of the women who wrote them.

But I picked a husband who shares many qualities with Gilbert Blythe and Mr Darcy. He’s generous and kind and has strong ideals which inform his every decision. He’s willing to admit his errors and doesn’t lord it over me on the rare occasion that I’m wrong. We initially didn’t like each other, but we gradually grew to know each other for who we were beneath the surface and by some miracle, we found we loved one another for all of the bumps and bruises and imperfections that constitute our individual beauty.

So I am, sort of, Mrs Gilbert Blythe or Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy, just without the Canadian maritimes or the English country estate. Although my birthday is coming up. Perhaps my husband will surprise me by revealing some title he’s been hiding for the past seventeen years.

Oh, Baby! Yet Another Young(ish) Mother Responds to Erica Jong

Erica Jong is right about one thing: I don’t like to talk about sex.

In her article,  “Is Sex Passe?” (published in The New York Times on July 9th, 2011), Jong asserts that my generation of mothers are bored with sex and so we use motherhood and pregnancy and birth to distance ourselves from our husbands so we don’t have to have sex.

I’m not sure whose reality she’s observing, but it’s not mine.

I don’t like to talk about my sex life. Jong gives the impression that anyone who doesn’t talk in detail about their sex life doesn’t have one, but that’s just not the case. Just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I think it’s a matter of a contrary definition of “intimacy.” In my mind, sex is an intimate act. If I talk about the details of my sex life, then it’s no longer intimate.

With that in mind, I’m going to do my best to talk about sex without actually talking about it. We’ll see how this goes.

While bringing children into our homes (and our beds) and loving them (and providing for their needs all day and all night, in sickness and in health, on and on forever), can make “Mommy-Daddy Snuggle Time” difficult to swing logistically, the act of bringing these children into our lives and parenting them can set the stage for incredible intimacy—and a great deal of heat—between their parents.

At least in my relationship, my husband and I are more comfortable with each other since having children. We know each other better. We’ve shared the metamorphosis of my body during pregnancy and birth, and we’ve shared the lasting changes that childbearing has wrought on my body. We’ve shared the intimacy of birth and the explosion of love in our hearts while gazing at our progeny. Even the process of disagreeing and then reconciling about how to raise our children brings us closer.

And really, what’s hotter than a man who’ll sit in the birth tub with his wife while she births their son?

In addition, seeing the amazing things my body can do (creating a human being then nurturing it with milk my body produces? How awesome is that?) has given me a much greater appreciation for my body. I’m more comfortable in my skin and better able to see the beauty that my husband sees in me, which makes it easier for me to feel close to him in the brief moments that we’re actually able to be alone and in close physical proximity to one another. This turns the thermostat up another several notches, as well.

I’m happy with my marriage, and I’m happy with the intimacy that my husband and I share. Were I to judge our physical relationship by Jong’s standards, I might be disappointed. But why should I do that? My husband and I share an equality and mutual respect that it seems many women of her generation only dreamed of, and parenthood has been a factor that has positively contributed to this closeness and sense of partnership in my marriage.

Jong says women of my generation are bored with sex. As a woman of my generation, I disagree. Maybe Erica Jong thinks my love life is boring. But from where my husband and I sit, the thrill is not remotely gone. And I happen to think our opinions matter more than Jong’s on this particular issue.

I’m not remotely the only voice speaking out about the heat that exists in post-baby relationships. I offer some of the ones I particularly like, for your reading pleasure:

“Parents Have HOT SEX Too” at ForgeOver

“Get Out of My Bedroom, Erica Jong. You’ll Wake the Baby.” at The Bad Moms Club

“Dear Erica Jong” at Raising My Boychick

In addition, the comments on the original NY Times piece are quite articulate and pleasant to read and offer great critiques of Jong’s article.

(I’m sure I don’t have to warn you that these posts deal with “adult themes,” but some also have a fair amount of swearing. I would read them when little ones who know how to sound out words aren’t around.)