“This is always going to be a problem for us, you know.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well in June there’s your birthday, July our anniversary. And then November is my birthday, followed by Christmas.”
“Oh my. We did not time that well…”
-J. and C.
J.’s birthday is tomorrow, and oh the problems! I ordered his present weeks ago, and after much angst that it wouldn’t come in time, I happily opened the mailbox yesterday to find it snuggled inside along with my mother’s christmas present (Poverty means that you have to buy presents in conjunction with paychecks. The more people in your life, the more paychecks you have to start thinking ahead. I have to think very far ahead). I got it inside, past J.’s grabbing hands and demands of, “What did you get me?!” and snuck it into its hiding place, when an Awful Realization struck.
I think J. may already have what I got him. Uh oh…
Never mind! He’s under orders to appear absolutely thrilled in front of my in-laws and I will quietly exchange it later if it is in fact, as I fear, a double.
Another realization that struck me this past week, though not as awfully as the first, is that I am now in charge of J.’s birthday. His last one we celebrated at his sister’s house complete with parents and four nieces and nephews (which I have now inherited) and it was definitely his parents’ show. This year it’s my job. Which meant a frantic scramble to call up Darling and my sister-in-law to coordinate a family get together. Today I ordered the cake he wanted (thereby pushing Gio and Buddy’s presents to next paycheck’s shopping list. I’m already behind!) and am I hoping haven’t forgotten anything else.
Also unlucky? I’ve already run through my allotted Pandora minutes for the month. Sigh.
“My son complains about headaches. I tell him all the time, when you get out of bed, it’s feet first!”
Unlike many people, J. and I did not live together before we got married which, besides other learning curves, presented us with an amusing problem: learning to share a bed. I lived in our flat alone for months before the wedding and so, after years of university dorm room or ghetto student housing mattresses, I justifiably learned quickly to sleep in the middle of our/my shiny new queen size. Arms stretched wide just because I could. Not so handy when your new over-a-foot-taller-than-you husband moves in!
Nearly every morning one of us delivers a laundry list of blunt trauma accusations to the other. “You kneed me at three in the morning!” “How, exactly did you manage to wake up on the other side of the bed?” “You nearly butted me out of bed, I woke up looking at the the floor.” “Where’d you think I got that bruise from?” “You elbowed me in the face!” etc…
Apart from the normal co-habitation hazards, there’s a new threat. J. has either developed a creative (i.e. sadistic) way to get me up in the morning, or has simply forgotten to turn off his phone alarm. See, my alarm wakes me up to the soothing sounds of Madeleine Peyroux or Adele. J.’s phone alarm sounds, to my sleep foggy ears, like a nuclear attack warning.
However I feel as though I have had the last laugh. Three days ago, when this awful sound catapulted me into wakefulness for the first time, I sort of panicked. And by panicked, I mean flailed. The act of which got J. soundly punched. I felt badly afterwards…a long time afterwards because, being the antithesis of a morning person, a tiny part of my morning-hating soul wanted to believe he deserved it.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Yesterday was the second day of school and I had already made a life changing discovery: my husband will, for all intents and purposes, be dead to me for the next few years. He’s in class from 8-12, then in the library from 12-5 when I’m done with work. We go home, one of us contrives to make something edible, and then I take him back to campus for study groups/work on projects/meet and greet representatives from large firms trying to seduce the students early on/whatever else is going on that night. Then he has homework until at least 11.
So in response, I’m doing what I do best. Mobilizing!
Last night with Venice’s help (J. was at a firm reps meeting) I put together the shelving we bought for the kitchen. Living, as we do, in the ghetto of our university town (it’s not that bad, just old. Nearly fossilized, in fact) we have two cupboards in our kitchen, and the shelves in them are bowed with age. Putting cans or even plates on them for as long as we have has been supremely of foolish of us, but necessity being the mother of desperation, we put off getting shelves for a while. No more! The kitchen is cleaned and organized and, if all goes well, it will stay that way.
I went shopping for food, inspired by the ever fabulous Hammy (Hat Tip to her for this idea!) and loaded up a bowl on our table with snacks. I bough an armload of Ramen and instant macaroni and cheese for days when neither J. or I will be able to muster the strength to make lunches. I’ve stocked up on crock pot ingredients which can all be dumped in together on my lunch break so we have something to eat during the approximate 4.6 seconds J. has at home.
Tonight I’m doing laundry and taking on the migratory herd of cardboard boxes that have been accumulating since our wedding, they’ve been making the rounds through our entire flat and have been grazing on whatever it is cardboard boxes eat in our office for weeks now. Said herd shall be thinned, ruthlessly. I already bought an office filing contraption and have moved critical things like marriage certificates, tax info, and the like in (partly to get it out of the pile on my desk, but mostly to keep J. from throwing it away again).
Why the frenzy, you ask? First of all a house in order is easier to keep in order long term, so if both mine and J.’s potential chore-doing ability has evaporated, let’s get the house put together before one of us has a breakdown rendering us incapable of sustained linear though. Second because it really needed to be done, I’ve been putting the house off since we got married. Third? Because I am an AWESOME wife! Who knew?
“You know those shows? The one where the foreign nanny comes to fix the broken, angry kids and they all scream a certain way? That’s what the kid sounds like.”
In the flat in between mine and Venice’s dwells a couple. About a year ago, this seemingly normal couple spawned and the wife was brought to bed of an apparently fine boy. However as the weeks went by, it became increasingly obvious to all (except the parents) that there was something wrong…
To boil down months of annoyance and sleepless nights to a single sentence, the child is a Screamer. And he has somehow mastered the dark art of knowing exactly when a neighbor is nodding off. Or when it’s 3a.m. Or when you’re carrying something easily breakable and likely to be dropped at the sound of a sudden shriek. Or if it senses smiles and happiness, which the Creature cannot abide.
As rotten luck would have it his bedroom abuts Venice and Val’s, but they aren’t the only victims to this child’s nightly symphonies. Our building is made of three rows of four flats…and everyone one of us can hear the baby. And we have no idea what his parents are doing because he screams for hours at a time and it sounds like no one picks him up or anything, he just lies in his bed and makes his misery heard. I myself have rarely glimpsed Demon Baby out in daylight, just a couple of times while his parents were putting him (screaming) into his car seat. J. says that he’s seen them walking around the neighborhood and the kid, when not screaming, sill has a perma-scowl. It apparently hates the world.
A couple of tenets have casually mentioned it to our landlords, but most of us are keeping mum. Partly because it’s a delicate business making one’s frustrations with one’s neighbors known…and partly because our landlord and his wife are themselves expecting their first child any second now and no one wants to fill the soon-to-be mother with horrible worries. Even though she herself has expressed concern that she will give birth to Demon Baby 2.0. Pray for us all.
“I myself prefer dogs.”
–Catherine Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman
Ever since getting married (a grand total of a month and a half ago) I wait with baited breath for Mother Nature to confirm that I’m not pregnant every 28 days. That’s right, I actively look forward to That Time of the Month to reassure myself that a Mini C./J. is not in the works. In days leading up to it I get unbelievably tense and engage in ridiculous conversations that I’m guaranteed to regret 4-5 days later.
“Does this milk smell off? …CRAP! I’m pregnant!”
“No you’re not,” says J. with an irritated but still loving roll of the eyes. “The milk’s bad.”
“Oh.” (Goes back to pouring cereal)
Occasionally I can border on the paranoid. The first month after marriage I was “late,” which mean two whole days of angst that I think I hid well but during which I secretly gnawed my metaphoric nails to the wrist.
“What if I’m pregnant?” I demanded morbidly one night as we brushed our teeth.
“You’re not,” J. said (again, and just as irritated/patiently).
“But what if I am?!”
“Well, that’ll certainly change things.”
“How can you be so calm??!!” I hissed.
“About a purely hypothetical situation?” he countered.
See, even though it would “change things,” I don’t think J.’s world would be rocked to the core if the Fates decided to play this horrid, horrid joke on us. But then again, he’s not the one who would have to host this alien parasite for nine months, forcibly expel it, and then still find a way to be the primary breadwinner for our family in addition to a full time parent. I’m a tough girl, I can handle quite a bit, but the mere thought of that last scenario makes my knees knock in quivering terror.
And I’m sorry, I don’t even find babies cute! Anathema, I know…but just think about it! They’ve got these big alien heads they can’t support, they don’t communicate (in any language I speak, or will until I do decide to breed), and if there is an opening in their body anywhere, something gross is coming out of it. I like little kids better. I’ll take the Terrible Two’s over the Irrevocably-Broken-If-I-Touch-It Infants any day of the week!
Now, before I’m burned at the stake, I know I’m going to think my own children have been individually sprinkled with awesome dust. I’ll probably even think they’re cute in spite of the many varieties of goo seeping out of them (my husband’s a fine piece of work, if I do say so myself, and I don’t look like a horse, so the odds are in our favor). Just…not yet. Not for a few years. Not while he’s in school, not while I still have to work, and not while the idea still turns me into a catatonic mess.
And even though deep down I can admit I look forward to having a family with J. (a long way down the road), I suspect in the meantime, every 28 days, I’ll be going through this same process of fear, soul searching, and grudging resignation. At least I am assured of one ally.
“How long is this going to go on?” I whined to Venice after Scare #1.
She came back with a chipper, “12 times a year. Enjoy!”
“The name we give to something shapes our attitude towards it.”
Good. Grief. Men just have to cough up enough for a sparkly ring, rent a tux, and show up. Us girls not only have to go through the angst of dress fittings, agonizing over catering (incidentally, I didn’t get to eat a thing at my reception; a fact about which I am inordinately bitter), fret pointlessly over flowers, and basically worry for months at a time. And THEN, after the whole affair is over, we get to go around sorting out an entirely new identity, complete with documentation.
Our marriage certificate came in the mail last saturday, a fact we celebrated by almost immediately consigning it (accidentally) to the garbage. I blame J., J. blames me (I think I have a much more convincing case since I’m gone all day and, even though I’m a horrid klutz, I’m not usually that much of an idiot). Either way, I got off work early today so I trekked on over to the county buildings and got a new copy and then, in a burst of energy I know regret, I decided to be productive and get my name changed on a few things as well. An hour later, still waiting in line at the Social Security Administration (listening to the endless repetition of numbers of people who had long ago thrown in the towel, “47?…47?…47?…Is 47 here, please?…47?…”) I finally got that sorted. There was the minor hiccup of me not being born anywhere near the Continental United States, but that minor heart attack was glossed over by the fact that they had my previous information from when I was employed as a student.
Then off to the Driver License Division (otherwise known as the 9th circle of Hell)! However, getting there was a mess because there were two places listed and somehow in my temper frayed state, I managed to superimpose the numerical address of one place on the opposite city. Which meant that I spent another 45 minutes doing loop-de-loops across town trying to find this office. It was housed (read: hidden) in a small bank without any labling on the outside to indicate its presence within. I must have circled that parking lot half a dozen times before I worked up the nerve to just march into a building and demand guidance. Then we had a repeat of the line process, the only difference was that this time I got to sit. Right next to one of the more unusual characters I’ve seen in weeks.
This woman was tiny, the size of a 12 year old, and from the waist down she could have been an octogenearian: varicose veins, droopy tatooes working their way down her calves, and crusty feet. But she had plump childlike hands and arms and a head that I honestly can’t put an age on. Grandma-ish features on a young face and hair color that looked natural. Midway through my wait she answered a phone call and started arguing in the meekest, quietest voice about some sort of payment.
“You’ve gotten me into something I can’t get out of,” she mewed, “I’m a student” [to add further to the riddle of her age] “and I can’t possibly afford to pay for this.” My ears perked up in spite of themselves, though I kept my nose firmly buried in a David Sedaris book. It sounded serious! “I didn’t know I had that option,” she chirruped softly, “I was told I was under a contract and that I had to keep buying, so I did, but I can’t honor those commitments now.” A gambling addiction? A vicious, silken-tonged bookie on the other end perhaps?
“But I only wanted the animated Bible stories and you made me buy lots of other films! It’s terrible of you to try and make me pay for this, it’s about religious material and you were completely false in selling them to me, you should be ashamed of yourselves!” She took a breath and said in an even meeker voice, “I’m sorry you alwas see the worst side of me in these phone calls, I don’t like being so unpleasant, but I’m just so upset.”
A huge letdown, in my opinion.
Another half hour later I was called and with a brief repeat of the question of my natal origins, I got my name changed on my license as well. Then, driving home, I rolled down my window because I thought my car was making a funny noise. Having ascertained it wasn’t, I rolled my window back up but managed to catch my sun visor in the closing pane and heard two terrible crunches before I managed to reverse the window and survey the damage. My visor now has a definite dent down the middle where the plastic inside has been snapped in half and my mirror was shattered. All the way home I was showered with confetti-like shards of glass.
And halfway home I got a text from J. telling me his parents are coming over for dinner. Bless him for cleaning up and doing dishes, otherwise I might have tossed our new certificate right back in the trash in a mood and gone straight to bed. Thank goodness tomorrow is a state holiday and I can sleep in!
“Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
Women of the world, raise your voices in the age old cry with me, “I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR!”
And, melodramatic as it may sound, I genuinely mean it! From the moment I got engaged, my so-called frivolous spending (Frivolous: as if looking good isn’t important. Did none of you endure high school? I spent mine more or less a tragic mess) was sharply curtailed. Money was put towards a new apartment with a significant raise in rent, utilities had to be set up (which generally involved some sort of fee in varying degrees of heftiness), and I had to start putting down payments on everything. My parents paid for the reception which was gorgeous (pictures may or may not be forthcoming, the photographer we used for it did a terrible job. And I’m not saying that facetiously, ask Venice. Bad), but I paid for my gown myself, plus shoes, veil, jewelry, hair, salon time for my bridesmaids and mom, bridesmaids presents, plus extra invitations when we discovered we didn’t have enough. All that means much less money to spend on food, frolic, and fashion than a single girl might be used to.
Which leads me to my current predicament: this has been the first summer I’ve worked a legitimate post-university job. I spent my first two university summers working in Belgium (significantly cooler than the western U.S. desert I’m currently sweltering in) and the next two either taking classes (and therefore in jean and tee shirts) or travelling/visiting my family in England. My student jobs on campus all required me to dress up for work so my wardrobe had a couple pairs of nice trousers, pencil skirts, and nice shirts…all appropriate to an autumn and winter climate. I also have a fair amount of jeans and teeshirts, which I can only wear on weekends now. I have a new reason to long for my student days!
And so, now the many lovely cashmere sweaters I’ve amassed are no good. The carefully-tended-to-make-them-last classic wool trousers are worthless in 90-100 degree weather. Even long sleeves shirts are a heat-exhaustion risk for me because I like my weather much cooler, with more clouds in the sky, and a decent wind blowing, and not even 4+ years in this part of the world has cured me of that. My boots, scarves, hats, dark tights, and coats, fabulous as they are, are simply useless to me until September!
Women seem to be slightly more at the whim of the vicissitudes of fashion than men. It may just be me, but I’ve observed that our clothing seems to be made of flimsier stuff, which means that we either need to A) replace it often as it wears out, which costs us more, or B) have a large enough wardrobe to begin with so that we can rotate clothing so no one player gets too much time in the field. This also requires not only money, but time, and planning! And, even though I’m getting better, putting outfits together is not a skill that comes effortlessly to me. My fabulous and talented friend Janssen over at Everyday Reading has an equally fabulous and talented sister who spent a couple of months showing her daily outfits on her blog, sadly she’s not doing it anymore because I got some really good ideas from it (along with bouts of mind mangling jealousy). And this girl occasionally makes lots of her own amazing clothing! Oh mother, how do I now regret those basic sewing lessons I scorned in my youth!
Of course it’s currently mid-July, so summer won’t be lasting much longer, so I should probably suck it up and just continue to rotate my two pairs of lightweight trousers for another month and a half. We’re now starving newlyweds, trying to save enough to get to England to see my family for Christmas. But…but…
“How’s married life?”
“How should I know? I’ve only been married a week and four of those days were vacation!”
-Lt. Citrus and C.
Usually when reality hits me it does so with enough force to break teeth. So here I am, a week into marriage, flinching and waiting for some kind of blow to fall…but it hasn’t landed yet!
Daae says her favorite part of being married is waking up and seeing her husband next to her every morning. J. and I, neither of us being morning people, tend to ignore the alarm and fasten our eyes firmly shut against the light for at least a half hour after we had nobly intended to get up, and then try and urge the other person to take their shower first so that one of us can sleep even longer.
After we’ve both managed to get presentable in spite of ourselves, I’m off to work on campus and he’s off to the city for 4-8 hours a day where his summer job is helping a firm write an article for publication (meanwhile C., being the resident aspiring writer in our newly hatched family, is stuck back as a secretary for a bunch of people who managed to overlook her several emails warning them of her week-long leave and created all sorts of muddles for her to sort out when she returned to their grateful, frantic arms. There’s no justice in the world!). After work I’m back at the gym, which after a two week absence has been hellish, for an hour before heading home. Where, depending on work, chores, and moving in necessities, J. may or may not be.
And as for setting up house! We opened our hoard of wedding presents monday evening, feeling rather smug about how orderly we were being about writing down who sent what, disposing of boxes, and carefully sorting…until we stepped back and surveyed the carnage from outside our little cardboard cocoon. We looked at the two rooms filled with receipts, wrapping paper, and presents, looked at the clock (midnight), looked at each other, and went to bed. And did pretty much the same thing last night when confronted with the wreckage again.
So far I think we’re a pretty boring couple.
But there is this. When unwrapping presents and pulling out the one from Dr. Don, he listened intently when I went off in raptures about how Don had sent me plates! The story of which is that last summer I was in Oxford with him and some other students and we’d gone with him to the Oxford English Dictionary projectwhere we had a presenter, who was also a researcher on the team, who shared his favorite word with us: twiffler. Which literally means it’s a plate that can’t make up it’s mind what size it is! Don had given us twifflers and I was ridiculously excited about it! J., who did not tease me as he usually does for being a hopeless nerd, got this big smile on his face. And when I rather mulishly demanded, “Why are you grinning?” he just kissed me and said, “You’re my wife.”
Which, I’m not going to lie, makes me pretty giddy to hear.