If You’re Happy & You Know It …

While I’m tramping around Florida vacationing with my family, I’m re-running this post from last year detailing our family’s Spring Break exploits. Not much has changed this year … but there’s still time. Enjoy!

… Drag Your Feet:

Does anyone else find it hard to relax on vacation? It likely won’t come as a surprise to hear that I have a hard time relaxing and easing into the rhythm of unfettered free time. I say unfettered but as any parent knows, vacationing with two pint-sized people is hardly the definition of carefree bliss. Our vacations are a lot like weekend family time at home (albeit with more sunscreen): fun family activities intermingled with standard-issue parenting/care-giving tasks. On vacation, we aim to spend more time slathering the girls with sunscreen than actually playing in the sun.

Somehow our attitudes and dispositions followed us to Florida (along with enough luggage to clothe a small nation). And for the first several days of our trip, I found it hard to relax. Not that I had expectations or anything? Moi?

While I thought I signed up for the Von Trapp family vacation (picture-perfect family cruising through Florida, singing our hearts out and casting loving glances at one another circa The Sound of Music), apparently I booked the Modern Family version (overpacked, clueless, loveable family bickering, crying and vomiting across Florida). Who do I talk to at Expedia about this?

…Have Fun, Damn It:

For the first few days of our trip, my need to control morphed from accomplishment mode to memory-making mode: “Family, it is time to make some memories! Have fun. Now.”

I was scared to let go of orchestrating our “good time,” fearing we’d sit in our condo rental for a week staring at each other (our apathy interspersed with lively bickering bouts, of course). Once I let go, I experienced my favorite Florida memory so far: watching in awe arm-in-arm with Ava as a flock of pelicans dive bombed for fish and a mom and baby dolphin danced in the ocean off Naples Pier. Pure bliss.

… Take a Nap:

This trip has shown me it’s hard for me to be a fun, engaged mom for more than ten minutes at a time without a nap. Ava brought along her massive paper doll collection (it was that or the entire American Girl doll contingent). And while Southwest Airlines is generous in its baggage allowances, it did balk at giving Samantha and Kanani (Ava’s dolls) their own seats and carryon bags.

When we’ve played with the paper dolls on this trip, for some reason I’ve been assigned the dog character. After pretending to pee on everything in sight (a YouTube-quality giggle maker with my girls), my role has been to follow Ava and Rhys’ characters around and not say anything. Ever. Not exactly the Tony-award winning role my agent usually negotiates for me.

As any dog knows, when in doubt, take a nap. And nap I have. Apparently, I’m getting the hang of this relaxing thing. I hope to find some balance between constant motion and comatose before it’s time to go home.

… Avoid Your Husband:

In addition to my expectations of familial bliss on this vacation, I also imagined romance, intimacy and connection with Mike beyond our wildest dreams. Months of missed connections at home were supposed to magically transform into lustful, heartfelt interactions on the Paradise Coast. Yet, I’m finding it hard to connect with him. I’d like to blame the kids (an easy out), but really, it’s just hard for me to connect. Period. My preferred state is fight or avoid. Apparently, the saying ringing intermittently in my head “would you rather be right or be happy?” doesn’t apply to me. Right? Happy?

Mike told me the other day that he didn’t find my pissy self much fun to be with. Harrumph. And ouch. (And please. We all know my pissy self is nothing if not fun!). After first getting defensive, I asked him to tell me what he was feeling rather than what he was thinking. He owned that he was feeling lonely. Hey, me too!!! Lonely! That’s what this feeling is! A hug, a kiss, a breakthrough. We’ve got this connection thing down! Check “connect with Mike” off my vacation to do list! Seriously, while our connections are messy and imperfect, I’m grateful we know how to come back together.

… Enjoy the Moment:

I’ve not felt like writing all week, yet I’ve had a hard time letting myself off the hook. A real writer would write while on vacation, I’ve admonished myself. Shut the fuck up, I’ve answered. And when I finally let go and decided not to blog until I got back home, I woke up this morning happy, relaxed and itching to write. Go figure! And then, go home.

What do you think? Fill in the blank: If you’re happy and you know it, __________________.

Spring Break, Family Vacations, Family Memories

PTSD By Proxy

Ever since we built the staircase in our house, I’ve been afraid one of our daughters would fall and get hurt. I never envisioned Mike would fall. I’d rather it was me. Mike is supposed to be invincible. Thankfully, at least he has a hard head.

I’m scared for his brain, his lovely, thoughtful, warm, loving brain, and I want to be up his ass about resting and recuperating. I’ve flip flopped between telling him what to do, policing his activities and leaving him be.

I’ve had no shortage of opinions on Mike’s recovery, and I’ve been willing to share my hard won medical knowledge, gleaned from too many years of watching medical dramas. I feel like a doctor, but as far as I know no one has bestowed on me a medical degree, and Mike is less likely to listen to the wisdom I’ve collected trolling the Internet than he is to his doctors. (The ones who actually completed medical school. As far as I know.)

If I were in his shoes, what would I like? To live my life. To make my own choices. More pain meds.

Mike isn’t a child, and I may want to consider not treating him like one. Perhaps it is time to back off and focus on my own recovery from the trauma of seeing him so vulnerable and hurt.

My emotions don’t match up to Mike’s current state. My husband is fine, getting stronger every day. Can you say “delayed reaction?”

Our daughters have been extra emotional lately (and that’s saying a lot), and I have the patience of a gnat (one in need of more antidepressants). I firmly believe every spouse or partner of an injured person should be given a prescription for the same level of pain medication that the patient is taking. An automatic partner prescription. I’ll take some valium too.

Who knew a loved one’s accident would give me PTSD? I have many of the symptoms (pieced together from every crack website I could find):

  • Reliving the Event – Every time Mike moans or coughs, I think he’s dying. If he’s too quiet, I think he’s dead. Isn’t that normal?
  • Avoiding Situations that Remind You of the Event – Well, I don’t want our girls anywhere near the staircase and I want to move to a nice, flat ranch house. Stat. Does that count?
  • Feeling Numb – no luck on this one – I’m feeling plenty thankyouverymuch.
  • Feeling Overly Emotional – Define “overly.” My crying jags feel so refreshing, even though they come over me in inconvenient places (read grocery stores and preschool classrooms) and often scare small children and animals.
I wish I looked like this crying ...

I wish I looked like this crying …

Instead I look more like this. Scare any small children lately?

Instead I look more like this.

  • Feeling Keyed Up – ding, ding, ding – I am on the lookout for danger and am feeling on guard and easily startled (See “Reliving the Event” above). My daughters are taking advantage of my over-reactivity by making loud noises just to see me jump. Thus my unrequited need for valium. Apparently, deep breathing exercises are all I get.
  • Impulsive or Self-Destructive Behavior – I’m obsessed with finding a new pair of sunglasses. But that’s pretty standard for me. Does shopping for hours on Bluefly for a new party dress and shoes I don’t need count? How about my new found big screen TV obsession?
  • Diminished Appetite – Ok, here’s the problem. Why is it I never get the diminished appetite symptom? Of any illness? Even when I have the stomach flu, I want to eat. What does a girl have to go through to get a diminished appetite?

I’m not making light of PTSD, please believe me. Whether or not witnessing an accident like my husband’s contributes to a PTSD response, I am not qualified to say (though at times I convince myself I am).  However, I am struck by the backlash of emotions I’ve felt over the past several days after holding it together for my family during and in the days following Mike’s accident.

I’m grateful for the friends and family who have offered me a safe and comfortable place to fall while I’ve fallen apart. After several days of feeling the weight of my emotions, I am feeling more and more like my regular crotchety old self. For this, we’re all blessed.

And if I don’t have PTSD now, just wait until we get the shopping medical bills from this little shenanigan! I’ll especially appreciate paying for all those $15 boxes of tissues I snotted up in the hospital. I better go order another pair of shoes.

Be well!

What Happened to the Martyr He Married?

My husband returned last week from a three-night trip to Miami to watch his beloved Notre Dame football team get walloped by the unstoppable Crimson Tide.  Mike’s getaway left me the sole parent, a role I have played many times and one I typically milk for as much resentment as possible.

Mike is exceptionally good at making plans with friends for activities he enjoys. Whether arranging football weekends, golf outings or ski trips, Mike knows what he likes and what will bring him joy and connection. He makes both a priority in his life.

Until recently (read today) I’ve been exceptionally good at being a martyr. And a scorekeeper. Not a fulfilling combination in our marriage. (And certainly not a satisfying role for an intelligent, smoking hot woman in her prime.)

Here’s our scorecard:

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting Styles, Martyrdom, Football WidwoMike = 35 Mary = 3

Yes, I’m exaggerating. I’ve only taken one trip:  a weekend visit to New York City last June with a dear friend.

This disparity has been an issue in our marriage for years; ever since we were blessed with children. Our pattern looks like this:  Mike makes plans for a night or weekend away. I collect a chit for a future getaway.

And by collect I mean hoard. My chits are stacked to the ceiling and threatening to overtake our living space. The time never feels right for me to plan a solo adventure, so I save my chits for a future, better time. When will this magical “better time” occur? Perhaps when our young daughters are away at college?

Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of activities together as a family and as a couple. From date nights to nights away, we tend to our marriage in ways big and small. But most of my time is family time. When it comes to making room for individual pursuits, I’ve lagged behind (hid behind?) my socially-engaged husband for years.

I believe I deserve my own time, but am afraid of using up my IOUs and never having more; afraid of committing to my own happiness. If I keep my adventures in the future, I’ll have something to look forward to – you know, when we’re 84 and living on a fixed income. Then I’ll make time. Woot, I’ll live it up!

While pragmatism can be a worthwhile asset, I don’t want to model martyrdom and deprivation for our daughters or teach them by example that only one person in a marriage gets to enjoy time away for fun and pleasure. And somehow resentment doesn’t look as good on me as I hoped.

I believe people are put in my life, by choice and by design, to teach me things and help me hit bottom on traits that don’t work for me anymore. Under that belief, Mike has been trying for years to teach me to grab what I want and enjoy every big, juicy bite of it, trusting that more is on its way.

I have a choice. I can resent my husband and be a victim (Option A) or learn from his example and plan my own time away (Option B).

Option A:  “What the fuck, Mike? Why do you get to go away on another boondoggle? You should be here with your family having fun, damn it.”

Option B:  “Have a great trip, Mike! Before you leave, let’s coordinate our calendars for next weekend because I’m going away with my girlfriends. You have the babysitters’ numbers if you need them. Wanna have sex before your flight?”

Which would you choose? Exactly.

Today I cashed in one of my chits and spontaneously planned my own weekend getaway with two girlfriends. For next weekend! Although I’m feeling squirmy, I’m proud of myself and excited to try on a new role in my family.

One concern:  without my regular martyrdom and resentment fix, who will I be? Time will tell, but next weekend, I’ll be the one sitting by a pool reading a book. You may not recognize me. But I bet I’ll be looking damn good.

Dude Write

Also linking up with the good-looking group of writers at Yeah Write. Come check us out.

Messes Are My Kryptonite

My husband and I possess competing superpowers.

I have the ability to walk into a room and notice every last thing that is out of place. Depending on my mood, I also can spontaneously spin my head around a la The Exorcist while muttering obscenities. (I know you’re jealous, but you should know that superpowers, no matter how glamorous, can also be a burden.)

My husband, Mike, can walk into a room and not notice anything that is out of place. It’s a gift, people.

I would prefer sexier, more enticing superpowers – self-propelled flight, time-shifting, whatever it was that Wonder Woman could do. Unfortunately, my husband and I seem to be stuck with these superpowers. For now. And unless something changes (e.g. my husband suddenly inherits the superhuman compulsion to clean up), we will continue to argue over life’s messes. For better or worse.

If you have messiness issues and want to know more about ours, check out my guest post, It’s a Safety Issue, over at Me Myself and Kids.

Hope Floats (and Jumps In a Lake)

Long before we met, my husband and his brothers bought a small cottage on an inland lake in Michigan.

“The Cottage” as we call it, has been my husband’s pride and joy; a retreat from the city and a reminder of the fun-filled days he spent as a child at his Nana’s lake cottage.

For the past 12 years, Mike has pushed encouraged me to enjoy the cottage and see it through his eyes.

Here’s how he sees it.

Photographed by: Oliver Dixon via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s how I see it.

Photo by Oven Fresh via Wikipedia Commons

For 12 years, I’ve hated the place:  the bugs, the slimy lake, the remote location, the old furniture, the lack of cable or internet connections. .. my list of grievances is long and justified (by me). And I’ve always felt that being at the cottage is a lot more work than I want to do on vacation.

The cottage has been a big thorn in our marriage from day one – a convenient place to stash our varied resentments with each other. We’ve talked about the cottage ad nauseam – with each other, with friends, with couples’ counselors – and though we’ve learned to compromise over the years, we’ve never been able to truly resolve our fundamental differences about the place.

Compromises

Before we had kids, I would join Mike at the cottage for a day or two at most and he would spend time there alone. When our kids were babies and toddlers, I used my terror of being so close to the water to justify not wanting to spend much time there.

For the last several years, our compromise has been to rent out the cottage to others for the entire summer, save for a day or two when we celebrate Ava’s August birthday there with our Michigan family members.

Now that our girls are older, they ADORE the cottage; LOVE everything about it:  the lake, the boating, the nearby ice cream shop and mostly, being close to family (their many cousins live in an adorable neighboring town). My kids love the place, my husband loves it, what’s wrong with me?

This year, Mike decided he wanted our family to spend a week at the cottage – one of my worst nightmares. (Okay, fine. I can think of many worse things and I’m aware I’m coming across as a spoiled brat, but hey, I warned you I am high maintenance!)

I’ve been dreading nervous about this week all summer. However, being the giver trooper that I am, I bravely headed to the cottage last week for Ava’s ninth birthday party. Mike handled everything for the party –  from food to drinks to water fun for all of us.

I relaxed and enjoyed his mom and siblings’ company and found myself de-stressing from the moment I arrived.

What was different this year? Yes, Mike was in charge, but  this doesn’t account for my sudden insanity change of heart.

My secret:  we brought one of Ava’s school friends from home with us for the weekend. N is a darling, kind, funny little girl, one whom my daughter loves and connects with well.

From the moment we walked into the cottage, N commented on what it lacked:

One bathroom? Ewww!

Small beds? Bummmmer!

Boggy lake bottom? Groooossss!

Spiders and bugs? Disgustttttinnnggg!

I saw myself so clearly in little N.

Instead of taking in the beauty of the lake, the picturesque surrounding area and our cottage’s desirable position on the water, she focused on its flaws.

Rather than admit she was nervous about being out of her comfort zone, she criticized her surroundings.

Um, could I relate? Hell yes!

And suddenly, for the first time ever, I felt utterly willing to take advantage of all the cottage has to offer. I put on my bathing suit, lubed myself with sunscreen and perched a billowy hat on my head (to protect my delicate sensibilities).

Properly attired, I offered my hand to N.

I was going to face my fears and jump in that lake. Would she join me?

The first few steps of boggy, mushy, slimy lake bottom did nothing to entice us farther. We traded “ewwws” and joked about turning around.  We had a choice.

I chose “yes!” I was going to join my daughters and husband, already out frolicking in the lake. Was N coming with me?

Yes, yes she was! We jumped!

And splashed.

And had the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

We laughed and giggled and tubed and boated our way through the day. And this mom (me!) even went for a solo swim, up and down the lakefront. Ava was shocked, shouting, “I never thought I’d see my mom swimming in this lake. Never.”

I’m grateful I got to surprise my kids and show them a new side of me. I surprised myself, too — old dog, new tricks and all that.

In that moment, I felt like an Olympic athlete, facing my fears and confronting my old attitudes. I was bursting with hope – hope that with a little support, I could change many old beliefs and self-limitations and open myself up to joy and new adventures. That’s the life I want to live and the model I want to provide for our girls.

And here’s a huge shoutout to N – once she jumped, she never looked back! And that girl knows how to have fun!

She’s a brave young girl, and I’m grateful for her loving guidance. I couldn’t have done it without her!

We had a wonderful visit to the cottage this year. Of course, this could have been a momentary lapse of sanity on my part. I’ll let you know next year.

When was the last time you took a risk and tried something you’ve been avoiding? How did it work out for you?

I’m participating in Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope. I was handed the Relay Baton by the inimitable Kristin Mae at Abandoning Pretense. Be sure to check out both of these wonderful women!

I’d like to invite Outlaw Mama, Welcome to the Motherhood, Mom in the Muddle and The Fierce Diva Guide to Life to take the Baton and write a post about Hope.

Here are the instructions:

Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you (me, in this case) at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.

Melanie Crutchfield will be holding “Closing Ceremonies” around August 10 and will gather up little snippets from people who wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay.

Thanks for reading!

Opposites Attract: Ten Years & Counting

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Ten years of wedded bliss. Actually, I’ve used a new iPad app to determine exactly how many of our 3,650 days together have been blissful and how many  – not so much.

Our results:

Ten Years. That’s a long time for two people with well-documented commitment issues. We’ve had our ups and downs and have the bumps and bruises on our love to prove it.

Overall, it’s been a happy, laughter-filled road to ten years. But I don’t have anything concrete to compare it to. I could compare ours to our family or friends’ marriages, but who really knows what goes on in a marriage? And comparisons burn my ass every time.

While my husband and I are similar in many of the areas marriage experts say really matter:  mutual love and affection (at opposite times of the day), shared values (laughter), strong commitments (in-patient and out-), similar money styles (cheap), compatible sex drives (at opposite times of the day), and intense love for our children (when they’re asleep), our differences can be summed up in this exchange:

Me:  What happened to the silverware?

Mike:  I moved it. It’s now in the drawer nearest the phone.

Me:  Huh?

Mike:  We needed a change. I’m shaking things up a little!

Me:  What? Messing with the silverware is your idea of “shaking things up?”  What’s next – unpotting the plants? The silverware was fine where it was!

Mike:  I’m a renegade, honey. I thrive on change. Wait until you see the family room!

Where Mike embraces change, even seeks it out, I resist, fight and usually, after some drawer slamming and angry muttering, come around. Actually, the silverware works well by the telephone. The family room redesign – not so much.

Although we expertly push each other’s buttons, mostly we laugh, value each’s contribution to our family and love the bee-jeezus out of each other and our kids. And then we laugh some more.

At a recent wedding we attended, Mike and I considered whether we would want to be newly married again, our entire lives together in front of us. We decided not unless we could begin with all the hard-won wisdom we’ve gained over the past ten years.

We’ve walked through a lot together, and we both give as good as we get. On our recent anniversary getaway weekend, Mike told me that he understood going in to our marriage that I was going to be a pain in his ass. And that he was going to be a pain in mine. That we both deserved exactly what we got. And we both couldn’t have made a better choice. I think that’s romantic.

And, yes, I would do it all over again. Would you?

“He’s my baby

And I’m his honey

Never gonna let him go.”

John Prine, In Spite of Ourselves

Can you say am-biv-uh-luhnt?

Who wouldn’t want to spend time with this crew?

I’m telling on myself.

The story in my head is that I’m a committed, loving spouse who enjoys her husband and wants to spend time with him. Meaningful talks, spontaneous dates, uninterrupted time together – I tell myself I long for more loving connections with my husband.

Just not right now.

Maybe later. When I’ve finished this post. Or this book. Or maybe this bagel.

While I was writing this blog post today, my husband stopped home unexpectedly. I could see his car pull up through our kitchen window. My first reaction was joy! Yay, a surprise visit from my husband! What could be better?Unexpected time with my beloved without any children jockeying for our attention. Sounded like bliss. For a moment.

My husband rarely pops in from work unexpectedly. The last time he did, I assumed he’d lost his job. In the time it took for him to park and exit his car, I drafted a story in my head featuring our financial ruin and eventual homelessness. I expected him to emerge from his car with a box of belongings in his arms and a nearly undetectable droop (or possibly spring?) in his step. A logical assumption. Right?

Upon seeing his car this afternoon, my initial joy quickly (I’m talking split-second quickly) turned to annoyance. He’s going to mess up my plans! And I have important things to do, damn it!

Before he’d walked through the door, I’d decided he was going to want to talk, ask me stuff, find out how the girls’ field trip went this morning, blah/blah. Ugh, I thought to myself, I don’t have time for idle chitchat! Don’t f*** with my perfectly timed schedule. I have to pick up the girls from school in 30 minutes.

Then he came inside, announced that he was in a rush to get to a work meeting nearby. He didn’t have time to talk. Just to grab a folder he needed. And to pee.

Well, naturally, I was pissed. Why doesn’t he want to talk to me? Make time for me?

Don’t you wish I was your spouse? Sometimes my husband does.

Lucky for my hubby, I don’t limit my ambivalence only to him. I also have plenty of mothering ambivalence. Sometimes I miss my girls like crazy all day – right up until the moment they get home from school. Then, after a few minutes of joy and happy connection, I’m ready for them (or me) to be elsewhere. Ok, that feels too scary to admit. Does anyone in the entire mothering universe relate? Anyone reading this blog?

We’ve all heard that confession is good for the soul. Does anyone know if confession is also a cure for ambivalence? When I find out, I’ll let you know.

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