I just got back from a long weekend attending a wedding back in my hometown. It was lovely. The wedding, I mean. The drama that inevitably erupts anytime I attempt to spend time with my family was categorically un-lovely. Do you people have functional families? Anyone? Bueller?
A few things I am left with:
- I love my child, but holy shit I cannot look after him full time. He is getting too big to manhandle but still wants to be held by me and only me. My back is killing me, and I have BITE MARKS. Yes, this is Chick’s latest way of expressing that he is tired. I mean, I get cranky when I’m sleepy but biting is not okay. Like ever. Today, I never felt better about dropping him off at daycare.
- After a weekend in small town/suburbia, I want to buy a house. Bad. I have loved city living for the past 15 years, but I need a nest to call my own. Also realized that moving out West is likely not happening soon, for other reasons I won’t go into now. Good reasons, like an impending promotion. In the meantime, I yearn for a yard.
- Came back to a job a generally love, but man… its days like this I wish I were an archivist at a tiny presidential library for someone no one cares about, like James Polk or Chester Arthur. I want to retreat into my brain and have no one talk to me for a few days. The bonus of being surrounded by dusty books and handling antiquities with care… swoon.
It all started innocuously enough.
It was an ad.
As I was feeding Chick breakfast and listening to the news, I heard an ad announcing that a very large company will be moving to my city. It will take a few years– 2018– but they’re relocating their entire headquarters. My first thought was “Man, housing prices are going to skyrocket.” My second thought was “Man, I either need to buy now or get out before it happens.”
As you all know, I’ve been seriously thinking of leaving the East coast. I’ve been looking at a few cities. In typical fashion, I created a spreadsheet comparing said cities with an Ostrich Quality of Life Index (patent pending.) I like to make informed decisions, and this process helped me quickly eliminate some options and zero in on others. Using my proprietary formula (factoring potential income, average commute time, average cost of a 3 bedroom, and average cost of daycare) I quickly tossed out San Francisco. LA would be possible, but Seattle was looking like the very best alternative. I shared my findings with Mr. O and started to dip my toes in the Seattle waters.
Mr. O had been rather silent. Not entirely out of character, but in retrospect I should have known better. You see when Mr. O doesn’t want to do something, he ignores it. Pretends like it just isn’t happening. And because this Ostrich abhors a vacuum, I fill the silence with whatever I *think* he thinks. And I thought silence was complicity.
With the dawning realization that Very Large Company is coming, my urgency to leave kicked into high gear. I went to work and started looking at how to make this move West work. The trouble was, I couldn’t. Even with all my spreadsheets and research, the three places we were looking at weren’t working out. The logistics were wrong, the cost of living one I can’t support, or commutes I can’t bear. I have been working on this relocation puzzle for weeks, and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t make it fit.
I started to spiral. I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt tight. Cue panic attack! So I ran to my one refuge at work– the Mother’s Room.
While trying to get my shit together, I tearfully called Mr. O because I really needed to talk. More specifically, I needed someone to talk me down.
ME: I’ve tried and tried, and I can’t figure out how to make this work. I’ve looked at all the pieces, all the variables…
O: You’re putting too much pressure on this one decision. You need to slow down. Why don’t we just move and see what happens?
ME: I can’t do that. I want a home, Mr. O. I want to settle down with our family. I don’t want to move across the country, only to pick up and move again because we can’t afford it.
O: Maybe we need to compromise on somethings. You’re not going to find everything you want in one place. Maybe it will mean a longer commute…
ME: I know, but there are somethings I won’t compromise on. I want our own home, and I want to be with our family. Chick is growing up so fast, and I don’t want to miss that because I’m driving two hours in a car everyday. That matters to me.
ME: I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t make San Francisco work. I know that’s where you want to be, but I can’t figure it out-
O: Well, I don’t want to move to Seattle.
ME: … What?
O: I never wanted to move there.
ME: I can’t make California work, Mr. O. I don’t know if we can move at all.
This, it should be noted, triggered more crying and chest heaving. Because I realized that when Mr. O said he wanted to move West, he really meant he wanted to move to San Francisco. There is a part of me that feels this is totally irrational on his part. It’s like a kid who says they want to live in Disneyland. That’s charming, but completely unrealistic.
This is where our partnership typically hits the skids. Mr. O is the dreamer, the kid who wants to live in Disneyland. I’m tethered to reality. It isn’t like we don’t know this about ourselves– we even have a joke about it. This dynamic first came to light when we went on vacation together for the first time. Mr. O doesn’t plan anything and just likes to let serendipity take over. I have to plan everything because… well if I don’t, who will? Thus Vacation Ostrich is the planner, while Vacation Mr. O is the free spirit.
(That makes me sound like a total kill joy, but if it weren’t for me we quite literally wouldn’t have places to stay. Mr. O doesn’t even want to pick a hotel because “Let’s just see what happens…” I’m not okay with just rolling into town without a bed booked because I did that in my 20’s with very poor results. This is not my default mode- you can tell because I looooathe the planning process. In fact, I’ll admit I even resent it. But I’d rather that than sleep on a park bench, literally or metaphorically. Yes, I am justifying my behavior. It’s my blog. Deal.)
Anyway… Where was I? Ah yes… panic attack in the Mother’s Room. I was crying while mumbling “I can’t make this work, I can’t fix it, I can’t fix it…” when Mr. O told me to stop and breathe. And made the radical suggestion that we swap roles. He will be Vacation Ostrich and I will be Vacation Mr. O, at least for a few weeks. We come at problems differently, but we’re not going to go anywhere unless we meet some kind of middle ground. For the next few weeks anyway, I have agreed.
Since then, I’ve been trying to define what being Vacation Mr. O really means. It isn’t so much that he isn’t realistic, but that he sees possibility. I’m trying to broaden my perspective a little bit, even opening myself up to staying where we are.
I’m also trying to sit back and figure out what is important to me and why. It’s been a good clarifying exercise so far. In the midst of my sweaty panicky freak out, I blurted out the two most important things to me: Home Ownership and Family. Smack me with a wet noodle, I never thought I’d say those things. It’s just so damn Leave It to Beaver, but there you have it.
Family… okay, yes. It isn’t uncommon for a mother of a small child to want to spend more time with said small child. As much as it was a surprise, I wasn’t really shocked by that response. The specificity of home ownership? Yeah, that seemed weird. While I was driving home from dinner with friends last night, it dawned on me where that is coming from.
Since my mom died, my father’s mortality has become more real. No, he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. (Hopefully. Seriously, Universe, if you even think of screwing with me like that right now, you and I will officially have a smack down.) But I’m also keenly aware that he will die some day. When that happens, my family home will be gone. My siblings and I will have to sort through ~40 years worth of our collective identify, and decide what to keep. At that point, I will be without a mooring… Unless I moor my goddamn self.
There are other things here that need unpacking, like the realization that my income is what keeps my family afloat. I am the head of the household, which wasn’t really a role I was prepared for. With that comes responsibilities I haven’t even started to grapple with. You’d think Vacation Ostrich would relish that, but I don’t.
Mr. O and I have agree to regroup in a few weeks to see what this Freaky Friday swap yields. Until then, I will do my best to dwell in possibility.
So… I’m getting a little frustrated with my dad. It’s a kind frustration, not an angry one.
My dad has struggled a lot since my mom died. To be expected, really. He has his good days and his bad days, but lately the bad ones have started to rack up with more frequency. My dad has been increasingly needy in the last few weeks. It all started when two former colleagues of his died- he got word within two days of each other. Now, he hadn’t talked to them in years, but still… it’s sad. My father is at that age where the death notices just start to roll in. Again, it’s sad… but what can you do? Stop 80 and 90 year olds from dying?
His messages to me started to get a weird panicky tone. He emailed and texted me several times a day. Then he texted me that my great uncle died (he was 96.) I got this text in the middle of a meeting. Not exactly the right time or place. Perhaps this is an example of older folks not understanding appropriate communication methods, but that’s just shit you don’t text.
Anyway… Sensing a disturbance in the force, I called him that afternoon. And he talked for 45 minutes mostly about my brother. (Context: my brother basically got fired because he got so depressed after my mom’s death that he stopped going to work. He’s been able to plead his case and is now “on leave” with the understanding that he is supposed to find another job while he is “on leave.” There is more nuance to that, but that summarizes what’s going on.)
Now, I get it. My dad is concerned for my brother. But this was different. It’s like my brother’s depression and all the people dying is proof that the world is a terrible place. He also implied that my mom’s death was easier for me because I’m “okay.” Cue brain boiling. Even though that insensitivity, I did my best imitation of a cheerleader, and talked with him about ways he can get outside, try new hobbies, meet with friends… you know, keep living even when life looks shitty. After the past few years I’ve had, I’m very good at this.
Several times in the last week, I emailed him an interesting article or podcast, and he’d either claim he can’t read it or access it. The end request is “Why don’t you call me and tell me about it/show me how it works.” Today he asked me to call him and tell him about a party I went to this weekend.
He emails constantly, texts me about people dying… Just as I was writing this, he texted me, my brother, and my sister an essay about Beverly Cleary’s birthday, and asked if Ramona Quimby was my role model. It was like an essay question over text. What, what?
Look, I love my dad, but I can’t be on the phone with him for 45 minutes every night when I get home from work. I have dinner to make, a baby to take care of, a house to make less chaotic. I can’t respond to every text and email because I have a job to do (and a big fat project I’m trying to keep from going off the rails.)
In the spirit of teaching a man to fish, I did a little research and found that there is a cooking class on May 14th that I thought Dad would really like. He’d get out of the house, it would give him something to look forward to, and he’d meet new people. Our exchange went something like this:
ME: What are you doing May 14th?
ME: Great, I’ve found a cool cooking class for you! It’s only 3 hours on a Saturday. You’ll go to a local farmer’s market, meet the farmers, and make fresh food from seasonal ingredients!
DAD: I appreciate what you’re doing but I have to get ready to go to my summer house. So no thank you.
To be honest, this is horse pucky- the man has 6 weeks between now and the class, which is plenty of time to get ready. He just doesn’t want to do it.
Anyway, this was my epiphany: my dad wants companionship, and the best I could possibly be is a cheerleader. He wants my mom back and is trying to replace that closeness through emails and texts, and it just isn’t going to happen. Every time I make suggestions about how he can find companionship elsewhere (like going to the pool, going to a cooking class, or joining a book club) he finds reasons not to do them. I offer him this support, and he says no, I want that. But I just can’t be the only thing he seems to want.
It’s a no win situation.
In the past, I’ve had to set boundaries with my dad and it looks like they need a refresh. The question is… how do you do this that doesn’t shake his already fragile foundation?
It’s that time of year, friends. When Starbucks red cups abound, and people shriek in terror that we’re declaring a war on Christmas because they can’t find anything else better to do.
If you’re me, it’s also that time of year when impatient relatives start asking where you are spending the holidays, with the implicit expectation that you’ll be spending it with them. (Obviously.)
This year we have the added pressure of “Where are you spending Chick’s first Christmas?!”
Answer? Not with any of you motherf*ckers.
Strangely, my family has been pretty okay with this answer. Maybe it is because I’ve been living so far away from them for so long that they’ve gotten used to not seeing me around the Christmas table. Maybe it is because they pragmatically understand that I burned through every last second of vacation time while I was trying to make up for the 4 week gap between when my leave ended and daycare started. (One of the many complications of having your baby show up waaaaay ahead of schedule.)
No, no…this particular episode of crazy is brought to us by the following sponsors: Mr. O’s dad and Mr. O’s mom. (Seperately. Because let us remember that they dislike each other so much I’m sure they would be appalled I just lumped them into one sentence with nary a comma between them.)
Christmas was always difficult for Mr. O as a kid. In fact, he hated Christmas when I first met him. I couldn’t understand why. Christmas is filled with presents, singing, long lazy days in your pj’s by the fire! Not his. His were filled with being shuttled from one house to the next, waking up before dawn to spend hours in the car, typically culminating with a fight between his two parents.
After a few years of witnessing this first hand, I got it. Christmas as he knew it did suck. Does suck. Because it is December 25th or nothing. If we don’t spend December 25th with his mother or father, they both believe that it’s like we didn’t see them at all. If we manage to squeeze them both in? It’s a question of who we saw first. Or for the longest time. There is always a yardstick that we are not measuring up to.
As I’ve mentioned before, Mr. O is determined that this won’t happen to Chick. There will not be two Christmases or two Thanksgivings. We’ll have ONE, and if people want to come and act civil, that’s wonderful. But as I saw first hand in the Baby Shower Skirmish, civil is too much to ask for.
So how do two grown ups deal with a situation like this? Run away! RUN AWAY!
If all goes well, we’ll be spending Christmas in a cabin on a farm. Just the three of us. I’m planning on naps, hot cocoa, and watching Chick play with wrapping paper.
The thing is I know that this decision will not go over well. And you know what? I kinda don’t care. No, wait… I ACTUALLY DON’T CARE.
Mr. O is all about fleeing for the holidays. In fact, he wants this to be our tradition– we always go some place else. Maybe it is a way for him to separate our family from the clear dysfunction of his. We’ll be our own unit, with our own traditions. In theory, I’m okay with this. I really don’t like Christmas with his family because there is so much tension and so little joy. Where this solution starts to break down is when I think back on my family Christmases. I remember the excitement of being the first person up in the morning so I could open the advent calendar my mom made by hand. I have such great memories of listening to Bing on the turntable and singing “Mele Kalikimaka” loudly (and poorly.) And later, I love the tradition my parents introduced of letting the grandchildren pick one ornament off their tree for the kids to take home for keeps.
But, as Mr. O points out, it’s hard to sell his family on not being home for the holidays when that really means pointedly not being with his parents. It almost would make the matter worse.
This year, we’re sticking to our guns and running for the hills. Next year? Not quite sure how that’s going to shake out. Maybe by that time, everyone will have stopped talking to us. One can only hope!
The other day, my brother posted something ominous on Facebook. One of those “something isn’t quite right” posts. So I reached out to him over email and asked what’s going on.
A lot of no good, that’s what. I won’t go into details, but basically he’s dealing with his own shitstorm.
And I know a thing or two about shitstorms, amiright? Like a good sibling, I offered up my version of a pep talk.
ME: So often in the past few years, I’ve had to remind myself that we don’t pick the challenges we face in life. But we do decide how we’ll get through them. So I guess the question is, how do you want to get through this? This isn’t a question that you need to answer for me. More like a question I ask myself all the time (it seems like) and helps me refocus.
BRO: I choose to think of what is happening to me right now like living through a hurricane. You hunker down and wait for sunny skies.
My first reaction was “Wrong answer.” Amended to “Wrong answer for me. I need to scream into the storm.”
The trouble is that when you treat your life as a hurricane you assume that the hard stuff is temporary. That what you’re going through will pass. What if it doesn’t? What if these proverbial sunny skies don’t actually materialize?
Is this how we divide up the world? Into hunker-downers and storm-screamers? I don’t mean to imply one is inherently better than the other. My brother, for example, wouldn’t find my tactics of facing my trauma head on remotely do-able. Honestly, it would likely be more harmful to him. Just like for me, the hunker down method would probably deaden me inside. (Dramatic, but also accurate.)
There is, of course, a value to conserving emotional energy. I know now that I sometimes need help, to admit I can’t do “ALL THE THINGS.” This has been one of the many painful lessons I’ve learned. But there is a part of me that feels my brother is being naive in thinking that it will get better.
Does this make me a jaded asshole?
If there is one thing I have learned through bed rest, early delivery, and 6 weeks in the NICU, it is humility. (Maybe that’s the wrong word, but cut me some slack as I write this on my phone at 4:00am while I’m pumping in the dark.)
I’ve learned there are limits on what I can do myself and sometimes it is okay to ask for help. So when the great mold capper of 2015 began, Mr. O and I asked our families to take us in. Through the weekend, we’re staying with his aunt. And through next week ( yes, this whole shit show is going to take a WEEK to clean up) we will be staying with my dad who is spending the summer about 3.5 hours away.Mr. O’s aunt is one of the kindest people I know. She is like a second mother to him- Mr. O grew up down the street from her family and she looked after him while his dad worked nights. So she didn’t bat and eyelash when we asked to stay.
The funny thing is that she still lives just down the street from Mr. O’s dad. (Who, it is worth noting started talking to us again after Chick was born. Which, it should also be noted, I find almost as rude as the whole not talking to us thing. Like now that we have bequeathed him with a grandson, all is forgiven. Bite. Me.) We aren’t staying with Mr. O’s parents because there is literally no room for us- Mr. O’s dad has a bit of a hoarding problem. But that is a story for another day.
Last night, we went over to Mr. O’s dad’s house for dinner. This was Chick’s first outing since leaving the hospital. Of course, the first thing Murre wanted to do is hold check. Kittiwake was running around taking pictures with flash. Murre was grinning from ear to ear.
And I wanted to punch him in the face.
My kid is not a tourist attraction. Nor is he a Kardashian being chased by paparazzi. He is a premature baby who needs food and sleep right now, not to be lit up like the goddamn Fourth of July.
I literally wanted to rip my child from Murre’s hands because he was playing with Chick. In my defense, Chick was on the verge of a meltdown because he was overdue for a feeding. You can’t hear your baby crying with hunger and not want to rush in an fix it. That’s what the baby hormones pumping through your veins are for. Instead, I mostly bit my tongue and watched the baseball game on TV. It KILLED ME, and not just because I find baseball exceedingly boring.
There is this weird vibe with Mr. O’s folks. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. There is this sense that seeing Chick, holding him, is their right. Murre in particular never once asked how he could help when we were in the NICU. The question wasn’t “How can we help?” but “When can we visit?” What we needed wasn’t visitors in the hospital, which was the only time we had alone with Chick. What we needed was someone to pick up groceries, bring over dinner, or help putting together his nursery. Murre and Kittiwake only checked in to see when they could see Chick.
Interestingly, Mr. O’s mom has struck a better balance. Yes, she still wants to know when she can hold him, but she also helped straighten up the apartment and brought over pizza. Perhaps I underestimated her, but I never saw this coming and I’m grateful for the support she’s given us as a family.
All this rambling has made me realize that I’m still really mad at Murre for his whacked out temper tantrum over the baby shower. Mr. O has even made peace with it all. I have not.
In my most honest moments, I resent him immensely. Murre chose to isolate and alienate Mr. O and me when we needed him. Now that we have something he wants, he flips a switch and gets to be back in our lives.
My mom does not. Though not perfect herself, she wouldn’t have pulled a stunt like this. She couldn’t be here because she is gone. The “decision” to be a part of Chick’s life wasn’t hers to make.
Then I just get angrier. I realize this says more about me than it does about him.
I’m rational enough to know that there is no correlation between my mom being dead and Murre’s ridiculous behavior. Maybe if things had been different and my mom was still here, I would be able to brush it off as Murre just being crazy.
As is, I want to tell him to jump off a fucking bridge.