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Perfectly Perfect Perfect

When we moved from Hells Kitchen to Harlem I was working eleven hours a week and Mike was unemployed and on Spring break from school. We were able to spend the better part of every day cleaning, unpacking, decorating, nesting, and we were all settled in a matter of weeks. It was fantastic. But this time I’ve been at work every day and Mike’s had to do most of the heavy lifting without me.  Me, who likes to do everything myself because I want everything to be perfectly perfect perfect.

This has been the source of several very high energy moments in the past couple of weeks. Mike is very patient and very laid back, and I am the Tazmanian Devil. We signed our lease on a Monday but by Tuesday I’d spent four days decorating the apartment in my mind and making long lists of everything that needed to be cleaned.

One morning as Mike was driving me to the office, we had a huge fight.  Except it wasn’t really a fight. Calling it a fight implies yelling and screaming, and that’s not our style.  Anyway, immediately after lecturing Michael on how I won’t be able to live in the apartment until the bathrooms have been scrubbed inside and out, I started telling him that I thought it would be fabulous to decorate said bathrooms with all gold vintage decor.  He made a face at me and said he thought that was the most horrible idea I’d ever come up with ever.

Except not really. What he said was, “That will look really tacky,” but what I heard was, “That is the most horrible idea you’ve ever come up with ever. Also, you are fat and ugly.”

When he dropped me at work I was nearly in tears. I was also on my way to being late for work, so I couldn’t sit in the car and talk about how I was feeling. Instead I had to sit in my office and stew about it.  And stew I did, for a nice long while. Then I texted him:

“I love you. I want for this to be a fun and happy time for us.  I want to feel like you accept me and like my ideas. It’s crushing when you think my ideas are stupid. You’re my best friend and when you think my ideas are stupid it’s really painful. So far you’ve hated every idea I have and I’m starting to feel like this is your apartment, not ours.”

Don’t you love how dramatic I am? It’s so awful it’s funny, right? “So far you’ve hated every idea I have…” Straight out of Days of Our Lives, the generic suburban version.

He texted back:

“All I’m doing is cleaning. I understand how you feel. I’m sorry. I don’t want to feel the same – like you want to make this your apartment, and all I do is scrubbing and hauling. The good news is that we are not in a huge hurry. I want us to work together to make a home. I respect your ideas, and I know we can make this work.”

I took a deep breath. Why was I so angry? I mean, seriously. Sixties gold décor in the eighties-era bathroom with the clamshell sink. It wouldn’t have worked at all. So I called my mother and my girlfriends, some of the most brilliant and wonderful women I know. “What should I doooooo?????” I whined. They all three said the same thing. They pointed out that we both had valid points and we’d both expressed a desire to work through the situation.  They said we were ahead of the game. They offered help, advice, encouragement, and comfort.  They made me laugh. And Kim gave me complete instructions for how to wash out my filthy dishwasher, something I otherwise would not, for the life of me, have known how to do.

I wasn’t angry that Mike didn’t like my ideas. I was angry because he was doing it all without me. I felt like I was missing out on everything.  All the cleaning, all the moving, all the furniture-arranging.  He thought he was getting a big chore out of the way, but I felt like I was being cheated of an opportunity to nest – something I’d been aching to do since August. Meanwhile, here he is, spending his days scrubbing and hauling while I yammer on about curtains and throw pillows and give lectures on how to clean the toilet. No wonder he didn’t have the patience to talk about gold vintage décor.

When we finally got another chance to talk, we realized that we were both aiming for the same thing – a fabulous little home we’ll love for the next two to five years, depending on how long it takes us to save up for a house.  Once we figured that out, we were able to talk about all of the things that needed to get done, his priorities and mine, and I realized that moving comes before decorating and maybe my evenings were better spent scrubbing the filthy toilet instead of shopping online. Which, of course, was what I really wanted to be doing anyway.  After all, there is nothing in the world like a freshly scrubbed toilet.

Thursday Night Family Dinner

family party 2006

A family gathering, November 2005

One of the reasons I am so excited to move home is because finally, finally after three-and-a-half years, finally I get to participate in Thursday Night Family Dinner. My mother always spends Thursday afternoons with my niece, and then my brother and sister-in-law come over for dinner, and often times, at least when I’m in town, most of the other siblings and their partners and various off-spring come over, at least whoever is free that night, and we all sit around the dining room table and eat something wonderful and talk about our day and what’s been going on lately, and sometimes we end up reminiscing and telling family stories, and those are my favorite times of all.

Other times we have a big family fight and someone stomps out of the room and everyone whispers in hushed tones and the person who said something to make the other person mad goes upstairs to apologize and then the mad person and the apologetic person come downstairs and we all eat ice cream. Or graham crackers with peanut butter and honey.

When I was growing up, my parents and I sat around the dinner table every night, ate a meal my mother cooked, and talked about our day. Which usually led to us talking about other things, like something great that happened, or something that was bothering us. Dinner time was our time to reconnect as a family. When I was really little, I would get sleepy listening to Mama and Papa talk and I’d crawl into Papa’s lap and lay my head on his chest and the deep rumbling of his voice would lull me to sleep.  Later he’d carry me upstairs, say my prayers with me, and tuck me in. In the mornings Mama would wake me up singing, she’d fix me breakfast and pack my lunch and Papa would walk me to the bus stop so we could spend a little extra time together. In the afternoons I walked home with the other kids and Mama would be waiting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and we’d sit and have snacks and visit and then I’d do my homework while she cooked dinner and when Papa came everyone smiled and laughed and kissed and hugged and then we ate dinner and talked about our day. Family dinner made my childhood better.

Mike and I eat dinner together at the table every night we possibly can, which for the last year and a half has been nearly every single night. I adore our dinners together. Next to when we finally curl up at the end of the day, dinner is my favorite time of day. Dinner is when we reconnect, talk about our day, the great things that have happened, something that’s bothering us. It’s our one guaranteed hour of quality time in the day. It’s a gift from one to the other.

When something is bothering me I need a little time to warm up before I can talk about it. I can’t just pin Mike down at the end of a busy week and dump my heart out. I’ve got to spend a little quality time with him, talk about the weather, the dogs, something stupid, anything. I’m slow to warm. Which is not to say I don’t feel safe with Mike, because if there is anyone I feel safe with, it’s him. That man has known me through some of the ugliest moments of my life and he has always stood next to me, arms open and ready to catch me the moment I fell. I’m no psychologist, but I believe that open and honest communication is the only way to have a solid relationship. And open and honest communication only comes when you are able to communicate on a regular and frequent basis, because communication = human connection. Therefore family dinner = human connection = happy marriage = happy family.

I was not at all prepared for the loss of connection with the people I love the most when I moved to New York. Of course we’ve all made the best of it, found ways to connect through social media and lengthy emails and photos and regular visits. But it’s going to be so much better when I’m not so far away! And also more annoying, probably. There is nothing like seeing someone on a regular basis to make you feel like they’re driving you crazy. Even that considered, I’m really excited to go home and take part in Thursday Night Family Dinner. I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s day, what’s on their mind, what’s going on. I can’t wait to be a part of their lives again, and have them a part of mine. I can’t wait for everyone to get to know Mike better, and for me to get to know his family better. And also? I can’t wait until the day we get to bring our own off-spring to dinner, Thursday nights and every night.*

*That’s at least twenty-two months away,** so don’t get excited.

**Not that I’m counting or anything.

On our favorite Thai place in Thai Town, Hollywood

Him: If I can’t see the little old Thai ladies cooking in the kitchen, we’re leaving.

Me: Ok.

Him: And the only reason I won’t hate you for dragging me away from them, all the way to New York where all the Thai food is heinously Americanized, is because they’d started the renovations before we moved.

Me: Wait … what?

Him: I’m just saying, it’s grounds for retroactive resentment.

lovely

P2270117

Hello, Internet.  I miss you.  I really do.  And I have some exciting things to tell you, and some half-written stories to share, and I have been filling the well with college reunions (wtf), martini’s, lots of work and everything is awesome, honestly.  I’m just tired.  It’s not personal.  So in case you’re annoyed that there has been too much snow and not enough content, just be grateful that no one pees on you when you’re trying to do your business.

Also?  We need to work on Theo’s manners.

Still growing

theacorn

treasured little things

In the last moments of our final couples session before we moved to the City, our therapist gave us a tiny silver acorn.  When we’d started couples counseling we’d been dating for close to two years but didn’t know where the relationship was going.  She gave us the acorn to remind us that we had been like the tiny seed, but we’d worked hard and now were a young green sapling.  She told us that we had the tools, the knowledge and the love that we needed to nurture our relationship so that it could grow into a strong old oak.  I keep that silver acorn, with the boutonniere Mike wore on our wedding day, in a vintage ashtray that belonged to my great Aunt Sue.  Symbols of things worthwhile; treasured memories.

***

After Mike and I had been dating for a year, we started having disagreements that would go on for days at a time.  I wouldn’t call them fights because we never threw any punches or anything, but something would come up and one of us would get upset and then the other one would get upset and then things would be really awkward for a while.  After a week or so we’d meet up for coffee and try to talk about it and things would be ok for a few weeks but then something would come up and we would get all weird again.  After several months of being fine one minute and awkward the next, I started worrying that if we didn’t learn how to communicate effectively our relationship would fall apart.

I knew that I loved Michael and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.  I knew this because we had the same values and the same goals, we made each other laugh, we had common interests, we respected one another.  But I couldn’t spend another week in awkward silence, so I suggested we try counseling.

“I would really like to go to couples counseling with you.”
“Why?”
“I think we need to learn how to communicate better.”
“We don’t need counseling.”

And that was that.  For six months.  Six months of dancing around topics we couldn’t talk about because if we did we’d end up in tears or screaming or breaking up.

Then, one beautiful spring morning, Mike looked at me over coffee and said the three little words I’d been longing to hear: “Let’s start counseling.”

We had our first appointment the following Thursday.  Within a few weeks, Thursday’s had become our favorite day of the week.  They were our day.  A day we devoted to spending quality time together and getting to know one another.  Every Thursday I’d leave work early and drive to Sherman Oaks where Michael would be waiting for me with my favorite Starbucks latte. We’d walk arm-in-arm to our therapist’s office and no matter how the session ended, regardless of if we were weeping or glowing, we’d go to In N’ Out for dinner and talk about what came up during the session.  And every Thursday, even if we’d started dinner in tears, by the time we kissed goodbye we were holding hands again.

Talking honestly about one’s feelings can be very difficult, but it’s a significant and important step towards learning how to communicate.  We soon discovered that the thing we were refusing to talk about, the thing that had become the fat ugly beast hovering in the room, the thing causing all those weeks of awkward silences was Marriage.  Mike had asked me to move in with him every month for the last six months and each time I’d said, “I won’t move in with you unless we’re engaged.”  I wanted to marry him but I didn’t want to give the milk away for free.  Mike fully intended to marry me, but he needed to know that we could live together without killing one another.  His hesitance to propose wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me and my refusal to move in wasn’t a reflection of my feelings for him.  We both wanted to live together and we both wanted to get married, we’d just been too scared to talk about it.

A few months after our first counseling session Michael asked me to move in with him and I said yes.  Two months later we were sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and his hands were shaking as he held out a tiny blue velvet box.  The stars were flung over our heads, the night air was cool and filled with the scent of the sea and somewhere someone was playing a guitar.  It was the most romantic proposal in the history of all marriage proposals.  I blame it on couples counseling.