Gin and Wit

You guys, I finally understand why Dorothy Parker and gin went so well together. Last night, after a very bad no-good day that I first tried to forget by swimming half a mile at the pool and then made the more effective decision to use gin and tonics instead (just two! Over dinner!), I found myself writing the wittiest, most scathing-yet-hilarious blog post in my head about the mommy wars and how I sort of understand why they continue. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nestwent neglected, as did the pile of magazines I had been looking forward to leafing through, as I wrote this mean but so funny! piece. In my head. Sometimes I really wish I could find a gig where I get paid to blog. I really enjoy it.

At any rate, fatigue and possibly common sense kept me from reaching for the keyboard and in the cliched light of day I am glad I didn’t put that post out into the world although I did delete another I was working on, a mushy,over the top piece about parenting Grace. There must be a way, I think, to talk about different parenting styles without being cruel, judgmental or self-righteous. I believe spending time with people who parent differently than I do is important for me, as a mother, and for Grace. Ian and I are the only ones out of our siblings who have a child and many of our peers are remaining childless – we need to learn from other parents.

That said, my daughter now expects baggies full of snacks to magically appear from my purse or her diaper bag, and it is entirely my best friend’s fault.

Before I go any further, let me first say this: Leah and I have been best friends since the fifth grade. I love her as much as I love anyone in this world, including my husband, daughter and parents. I would give her a kidney, part of my liver – I would take a bullet for her or carry her baby if she asked. But holy hell, does she ever need to cool it with the snacks.

Leah brought her two-year old, Paul, to visit last weekend. We had so much fun catching up, talking about everything from bra fittings to child rearing. We have committed to quarterly visits with one another for as long as we live near enough to do so, and it is one of the better decisions we have ever made. It makes me so happy to see Grace trust someone who isn’t a parent or teacher, to ask Leah for help or for a hug. It made me less happy when I realized Leah is the kind of mom who brings snacks with her everywhere she goes, as well as water bottles, juice boxes and perfectly organized kits – a kit to hold baby sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sunhat, a kit to hold bandaids and neosporin…you get the idea.

I am hoping that I can write this in a way that doesn’t make me come across as the world’sbiggest flibbertygibbit, and Leah like some sort of helicopter mom, because neither is the case. It is a pet peeve of mine right now among moms who blog about parenting when they cast themselves as total ditz-balls unable to hold a job or follow a recipe because they are creative and prone to distraction. So please keep in mind that I hold a steady job and regularly get dinner on the table before I state the following:

I rarely carry water, and never carry snacks, for Grace. She doesn’t own a pair of toddler sunglasses, and I haven’t replaced last year’s sunhat yet. Leah, as I noted above, is the Opposite of Me and over the course of walks, bus rides, parks and other outdoor play managed to produce (and keep in mind, she was visiting me) a wide variety of snacks in pastic baggies that made Grace’s mind boggle. Grace wanted it all, from dried cherries to goldfish to raisins, and, since they left, has regularly claimed she “needs” a snack, parlance she picked up from our friends. I am not necessarily adverse to snacks, perse, but they aren’t part of our regularl life rhythm so negotiating this has been tricky.

In the midst of Leah’s rigorous adherence of sun-screen application, water-bottle offering and snack supplying, I had a momentary mean thought. It’s because Paul stays at home with his parents, I thought. That’s why all of this intense parenting is happening. I have rarely, if ever, had a negative thought directed toward Leah – I love her the way Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation loves Anne – and so I know there was more happening, emotionally-speaking, for me than actually believing Paul is hyper-parented.

Paul’s parents do work, but they are university instructors who work opposite schedules so Paul never has to attend daycare. Right now Ian and I are mired in the corporate world and while it comes with great benefits, like paid sick time, health benefits and vacation, it certainly has it’s drawbacks as well. Like most working moms, I shoulder my fair share of guilt on the situation and I guess I found it difficult, in the moment, to witness how organized and together Leah seemed. She was meeting Paul’s needs before he even knew he had them, and I was not equipped to do the same.

Of course, it all worked out. Paul hated his sunglasses and sunhat and proptly gave them to Grace, who wore them with all the panache of Audrey Hepburn. They both enjoyed the snacks, Grace rejected all water offered until she got home, and everyone mostly ate well, slept somewhat and were happy.

It’s easy to see how quickly mommy wars can spiral out of control. In my heart of hearts, I trust that Leah knows her son, and knows what he needs to be a happy, functioning kid. After all, we just recently talked here about how toddlers are nothing short of psychopathic. Sure, part of me perceived Leah to ever-so-slightly be hyper-parenting, but I’ve been told by many people that I veer too far in the opposite direction. It’s hard to watch someone parent so totally different than you and not take it personally – I kept thinking maybe Leah would scale back the snack bags at some point in deference to my obviously brilliant decision to NOT have any snacks around.

Not so much.

I have to keep in mind as I move through this world as a parent that for the most part, we are all just trying to do our very best. Some of us are going have perfectly organized snacks and supplies, and some of us are going to be great leaders of baby yoga sessions (something at which I excel). Our love for our children is what matters and we can’t let different approaches divide us. It takes a certain amount of confidence to have faith in the parenting decisions we make…it’s a confidence I’m developing slowly. For now, Grace will just have to get used to the idea that craisins and pretzels don’t live in my purse or her diaper bag, but sometimes other mom’s have those things and she should totally suck up to them when they do, because she’s not going to eat goldfish any other way.

e&me

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Throwing up my arms over climate change

beach

I recently spent four days with my brother at my parents’ place near St. Pete Beach in Florida. Initially I hadn’t been looking forward to leaving Ian and Grace for that length of time, but the trip was to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday and I couldn’t really get out of it. Of course, I also knew that once I arrived, the sun, sand and endless stretch of beach bars would help obliterate any guilt or reluctance I had to travel without my immediate family. At any rate, we spent a fantastic four days together, and every afternoon around four my brother and I would head back to the beach for three hours of boogey boarding and swimming before cocktail hour and dinner with my parents. At one point I looked at him as we were both bobbing over the water, the sun glinting off the waves, casting a silver shimmer across the horizon, and said, somewhat cheesily, “Aw, we’re making a memory.”

“Yes we are,” Ryan said. “Yes, we are.”

Sometimes I think people who live on the ocean have life completely figured out. I would rather be on the water than almost anywhere else and remain convinced to this day that if I had grown up around it I would be an expert surfer. Why, I wondered idly, floating over waves, staring up at the endless azure sky, do I even bother living in the northern part of our country at all?

After several days in Florida, though, I am always reminded that a little bit of it goes a long way – I have minimal self control when it comes to rum, sun, salt water and ice cream and never manage to leave anything less than a freckled, bleary mess, albeit a well-rested one.

There is the possibility, I know, that Ian and I might move somewhere south eventually. He suffers from some autoimmune issues that cause him quite a bit of pain, much of which is alleviated in warmer climates. I’ve grown accustomed to this idea, and have had to force myself to not mourn the changing of the seasons prematurely. After all, we aren’t moving in the foreseable future.

I love living in an area where the seasons change. I grew up in northern Michigan and, with the exception of a couple of years in North Carolina, have always lived in northern climates. Yes, I am one of those wackadoos who even loves winter. I embrace the rhythm and pacing the changing seasons bring, the way food, clothing, exercise and even hobbies change with the weather – it would feel like a sacrifice to give that up.

More and more, though, I wonder if winter is even going to be around as I grow older. Will I be able to take Grace cross-country skiing, like my dad did with me, the snow fast beneath our feet, our noses and cheeks covered with frost while our bodies work up a sweat beneath slate gray skies? In twenty-five years, will seasons even change disernably…will spring distinguish itself from summer, the way it is this year, all early blooms, cool evenings and greening mountains in the distance?

Reports like this one from Saturday’s New York Times make me feel especially hopeless. This article is pretty heavy on data and parts per million of carbon dioxide so you should just go read it but the upshot of it is that the earth is getting hotter faster than anyone could have predicted and we’ve probably passed the point of no return when it comes to reversing the damage climate change is causing.

I do not want to live in a crazy hot world.

I’m tired, though, of reports like this one coming out without being accompanied by a recommended action plan. Okay, so – we are living in dangerous climate times. What in the world are we supposed to do about this? On an individual level I already recyle, watch my meat consumption, grow my own vegetables (well, many of them), never drive more than two miles a day and mostly, don’t drive at all, and yet all of this action is completely obliterated whenever I fly on a plane. The U.S. has finally reigned in some of its over-the-top contributions to this particular problem, and China and India are now in the lead, but we CERTAINLY are still contributing.

Climate change news coverage makes it feel like disaster is just around the corner, and inevitable, but unless some sort of action plan is recommended I’m coming pretty close to throwing my hands up in the air and moving on with my life without worrying too much about it. If any sort of action plan ever accompanied these reports, like “Okay, Americans, we can stave off or fix this problem if all of you commit to the following: only 2 plane trips a year for recreational purposes, meat consumption only twice a week, and drive no more than 150 miles a week” I would be SO ON BOARD and I actually think a lot of other people would be as well. Okay, maybe not the hard-core capitalists and creationists, but still, a lot of people – enough maybe to make a difference. We know the situation is dire, but we can’t all be scientists or policy makers! Help us do what we can, and we’ll do that while you try and stop people from blowing the fucking tops off mountains and burning piles of coal in third world countries!

A-hem.

This isn’t a problem people set out to create during the Industrial Revolution, and it didn’t enter into our consciousness, I am sure, when cars were first invented. Now, we know it’s a problem. There are large numbers of us willing to help fix it, but we need guidance. Recommendations. Scientific explanations about what we should do, and why, and not just some hand-waving and groaning over the disappearing bee population or melting Arctic. I mean, if I’m willing to make some pretty significant sacrifices, and there isn’t much I love more than big steaks and for no-reason car rides, then my more tree-hugging, yogurt-making counterparts certainly are as well.

Help us know what to do before it is too late, and we are all living in the equivalent of Mississippi, except probably without water or sustainable crops.

Also, while I’m at it, if you same scienc-y types could explain whether or not the Mississippi River is still suffering from drought after epic rains, I would appreciate that as well.

Marriage Monday – A sporadic return!

On my previous blog, I occasionally hosted Monday postings entitled “Marriage Monday,” where either I or another blogger would write about a specific idea or issue cropping up in our marriage, with discussion continued in the comments section. I was never able to successfully manage posting every Monday but we did have several interesting and engaging conversations. Since it is Monday and I have a few free minutes to blog, I thought I would write a Marriage Monday post. If you ever feel like submitting an idea or writing a guest post, let me know in the comment section or via email!

And, as always, thesesandwichdays believes any couple who wants to be married, should be – we are equal opportunity around here!

So.

Lately, Ian has been working longer, more intense hours. His job poses hourly challenges, especially when it comes to managing his 20+ employees and hitting the quarterly numbers his team needs to hit. He and I handle work stress quite differently – when faced with stressful situations I fall headlong into hideous bouts of insomnia that are only cured by swimming as many laps as possible a day. Ian? Well, he goes to sleep. He gets in bed early and sleeps as late as the day dictates, finding a good 7-9 hours of sleep the most restorative thing he can do. When periods of time like this hit, without guilt or remorse he will let the majority of chores and “to dos” slide, and that is why I found myself last Wednesday hauling our garbage and recylcing to the curb. I believe – staunchly – that taking out the garbage falls into Ian’s chore “territory” whenever he is in town. I felt extroardinarily grumbly about this at the time, internally cataloguing his chore list against my own and finding him sorely lacking. When he looked out the back door a half an hour or so later, he looked at me with a kind of amazement and asked, “Did you take out the trash?”

“Yes, I did,” I said, keeping my complaints to myself for the moment. I was feeling stoic.

“I almost want to cry,” he said. “Thank you so much – seriously, thank you so much. This is the nicest thing you have ever done for me.”

It was hard, at that exact moment, to keep my mouth shut and simply say “You’re welcome.” I mean, come on – the nicest thing I’ve ever done for him? Seriously? Readers, I have done many MUCH nicer things for him, including always doing all the gift shopping for his family members for holidays, birthdays and similar occasions. In that moment, though, I realized he felt like taking out the garbage was one of the nicest things I had ever done, and instead of sniping about having to do it in the first place or pointing out the many other things I do, I actually kept my trap shut and instead offered to make him a bowl of grape nuts.

We are coming up on our thirteenth wedding anniversary sand I really feel like it’s only been in the last couple of years that Ian and I have truly learned to care for one another well. Part of this, I have no doubt, is due to how young we were when we married. Barely out of college and poorer than dirt-poor, he found my attempts to cook healthy dinners or take care of him when he was sick smothering, like his mother – I found his attempts to care for me either paternalistic or substantially lacking. There were times we both just wanted to move back in with our parents. In the years since we have made strides – both in accepting help when we needed it and providing it when necessary. There are times during a marriage when one person is going to have to carry a heavier load than the other and it certainly tests our grace, compassion, and even the promised unconditional love when this happens.

I have seen and supported Ian through bouts of depression and flare-ups of his painful autoimmune disorder – he has seen me through bouts of anxiety, a scare with my pregnancy and various sprained and broken ankles and feet. When these periods occur we slow down and take things day by day and even with that sometimes things felt like too much to bear but every time we see a difficult period through we’ve come out happier, stronger, with a deeper sense of joy and love than we had before.

I feel sad when I hear of marriage endings after three or five or even seven years (unless, of course, they end because of infidelity, financial lies or verbal or physical abuse) – while I realize that some people end up marrying the wrong person or find themselves deeply unhappy in their marriages, I do feel so many hiccups and issues are surmountable. It takes time to learn how to love someone the way they need to be loved, and to receive that love in return – and illnesses, financial troubles and mid-life crises are going to occur.

I love whenI get to spend time with couples that have been married for decades – couples who have seen each other through career changes, raising children, deaths in the family, unexpected illnesses. Maybe he is a little rough around the edges from a lifetime of too much sun and red meat – maybe her middle-age spread spread a little bit further than she ever intended – they might have five children, or none at all – traveled extensively or rarely left the town they live in – probably they’ve each lost someone close to them and more than likely at least one of them has faced a chronic illness of some sort – and they still like spending time together. She still worries if he doesn’t eat breakfast – he makes sure she takes an extra sweater to the airport because it’s always cold there, summer or winter. I find the affection between couples like these almost palpable, and I’m almost always driven to say something to Ian like “I really really really hope we get to grow old together!”

He always says, calmly, “Of course we will.” Sometimes his quiet confidence is all the assurance I need – others, it’s all I can do not to say something like “As long as you don’t fall in love with some else, or pass away from a deadly disease or something!”

I don’t fully remember why I cast my lot with Ian so many years ago. I have no doubt a large part of it was the fact that I knew I wanted to stay with him, and staying with him meant moving to North Carolina so he could go to grad school at Duke, and in order to do that without being disowned by my parents meant an engagement – I never would have been brave enough, at twenty-one, to make such a move otherwise. I also recall surveying the young men I was graduating college with and seeing little but a lifetime centered around Lions football games on Sundays and endless, endless rounds of golf, but I’m old enough now to know that would have had its own kind of beauty and security. And, of course, I loved him! Truthfully, I loved Ian since I met him at summercamp when we were teenagers, I loved him even more once we began dating and I love him even more than that, now, thirteen years into our marriage.

But I wouldn’t say I learned to care for him – nor did he know how to let me do so – until just recently.

The other day I was having a conversation with the wife of a colleague, and I was gently teasing her about all the food she prepares for him every time she left town. This is something I would never do for Ian, nor would he want me to – he likes to indugle in the foods he loves that I don’t when I’m away. There is a pretty significant age gap between this woman and my colleague (thirteen years) and she said to me, with all sincerity, “If I don’t make bolognese, then he’ll order pizza. I take care of him – it’s what I do.” Part of me was slightly taken aback by her sincerity, but mostly I thought she was onto something – something that took both me and Ian years to learn.

What about you? Are you and your partner good at taking care of each other, physically and emotionally? Or is it something you had to grow into, learn how to do?