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Something interesting has happened.  I’ve received more emails about my prenup post than I’ve ever gotten about anything I’ve ever written.  Ever.  I was nervous posting it.  I thought for sure if I got any email it would be hate mail berating me for planning my divorce before I was even married.  Whereas I see our prenup as a testament to the strength of our marriage, most people I meet only have to hear the word “prenup” before they start frothing at the mouth.

You, on the other hand, have completely surprised me.  All of a sudden I’m getting emails and phone calls and requests for more information about prenups.  And you really sound interested .  One person even asked a very good question.

This marks the seventy-ninth time I’ve tried to sit down and write another prenup post, but each time I’ve tried I write five or six pages before I realize that there is no way on earth I can say everything I want to say in one post.  So here’s what I’m thinking:  Since so many of you seem to be looking for more prenuptial information, and since I have a giant crush on prenups, I’m going to write weekly prenup posts.  At least until I’ve run out of things to tell you about them.  Which could be in two weeks or six, I have no idea, but I am really excited.

This week I’ll start with the person who asked the really good question.  I’ve received permission to post the question and my answer here, and since I’ve always secretly wanted to write an advice column, I’m going to pretend that’s what I’m doing.

Q: My fiancé and I just got engaged a few months ago.  We’ve lived together for a year and we’ve kept all of our accounts separate. We’ve never talked about money and I’m worried about what will happen when we get married.  I know she has credit cards but I don’t know how many or what the balances are and she doesn’t know about my debts.  I have no idea if she has any savings but I know I don’t have much.  I showed her your prenup post with the hopes that it would get us started talking about money but she immediately put it off as being “unromantic”.  How can I get her to talk about our financial goals without freaking her out?

A: If she feels like it’s unromantic, make it romantic!  I’m not kidding.  When Mike and I talk about our finances we open a bottle of wine, put of vase of flowers on the table, dim the lights and light candles.  It makes the conversation much lovelier.  Set aside a night just for the two of you.  Buy a nice bottle and a bouquet of flowers.  Don’t drink?  Make hot chocolate.  Turn off your cell phones.  Start the conversation by telling her how much you love her and how excited you are to spend the rest of your life with her.  Then start asking her questions. Ask her if she wants to buy a house and where she hopes to buy it.  How big would it be?  What kind of car does she want to be driving in five years?  When does she want to have kids?  Does she want children?  How many?  Will she want to be a stay-at-home-mom or will she want to work? Where does she see herself in ten years?  You need to get her talking about the kind of life she envisions for her future because it’s the life she’s envisioning for your future too.  Then start telling her about your goals.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  What’s your timeline for children?  Do you want to buy a house?  She needs to know these things about you.  You both need to figure out where you have common lines and where your ideas are different.  You’re bound to have some different plans, that’s only natural, but where can you come together in happy compromise?

I realize that you specifically asked how to start a conversation about finances, but the plain truth is that your future depends on your finances.  The financial choices you make today affect the kind of life you have tomorrow.  When the two of you have decided what kind of life you want tomorrow, you can begin to talk about the financial decisions that need to be made today.

A very good lawyer once told me that most people spend more time planning their annual vacations than they do planning their lives.  If you don’t plan your life, someone else will plan it for you.  And you probably won’t like their plan.

UPDATE:  2/19/10
Sometimes I get all up on a high horse thinking that my way is the best way and I need to remember that isn’t the case.  This week I had to eat crow when I heard from a woman who just broke off her engagement because her fiancé wanted her to sign a prenup so awful four different lawyers told her she’d be making a terrible mistake if she signed it.  She pointed out that the prenup showed her exactly what her fiance thought of her and she was glad for it, but I suddenly worried that I’ve been really insensitive about the topic.  So now I’m rethinking the weekly prenup posts because, geez. I feel like a jerk.  Though I promise I will answer the emails from those of you who asked specific prenup questions.  (Your answers are coming!)

Guilty As Charged

Valentine and Theo are, without a doubt, the center of the universe as far as Mike and I are concerned.   Our daily lives revolve around whether the dogs have pooped and whether or not they’ve had enough exercise.  We worry that they’re too cold or that they haven’t had enough to eat.  We delight in seeing their little faces whenever we walk in the front door and we love bringing home new treats for them.  Mike teases that the way I mother them is dangerous because there was a point when Theo gained too much weight and it was because, in my worry that he wasn’t eating enough, I overfed him until he gained an extra two pounds.  Two pounds might not sound like much, but two pounds on a Dachshund is like fifty pounds on a person.   I’d been over-feeding Valentine as well, but that bitch* could eat her weight in chocolate and not gain an ounce.   Theo, on the other hand, has a slow metabolism and because his back is so long, extra weight could put stress on his spine that could cause fractures and then he’d be paralyzed and if he survived it would surely cost us a million dollars in vet bills.  It’s a serious thing when Dachshunds get fat and so that is why my mothering is deadly.  And that was a long story for a short point:   The dogs are my practice babies.

Last night, after we’d put the dogs to bed in their crates, brushed our teeth, washed our faces, and curled up with an episode of Law & Order, a long, low howl reverberated from the living room.  It was followed by a sharp succession of ear-piercing ruffs.  This has been Theo’s bedtime routine for the last four nights. He waits until we are in bed with the lights off and then he starts in with a howl followed by barking.

“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“Why is he doing that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“What should we do?”
“Ignore it.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“Is he trying to tell us something?”
“He’s trying to tell us he’d rather be sleeping in our bed, but that’s not how it works, so he’s going to have to get over it.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”

The baby books say to let Baby cry for fifteen minutes and, if after fifteen minutes, Baby has not put himself back to sleep, Mother may go in and comfort him.  So that’s what we did.   We let him “Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!” and after about thirteen and a half minutes he stopped ruffing.  As soon as he was quiet I whispered:

“I seriously don’t know what we’re waiting for.”
“You can’t leave a baby in a crate when you go to work.”

They’re practice babies.  It sounds kind of awful, but it’s true.   I’ve never in my entire life loved something small and furry the way I love those little dogs.   Every day I am amazed that I have enough love in my body to love them but every day it’s there and it’s bigger.  I hear people say that about their kids all the time and I am sure that the way people love their kids is at the very least one hundred times more than the way I love my dogs.  Does that mean that when I have children I won’t have room to love my dogs anymore?  A staggering number of perfectly wonderful dogs and cats are given up every year because their owner has a new baby and just can’t deal with them anymore.  It must be very frustrating to have a new baby at home and have your dog suddenly start humping the coffee table, peeing on the sofa cushions and chewing bald spots into his fur.  At least I imagine that’s what’s going on when someone decides to get rid of the dog now that they have a baby.  Or maybe it’s just that now you have a baby and two other baby-like things that aren’t actually babies and your priorities change.  I have no idea.  But the whole thing makes me nervous.  What will they do when I have a baby?

Let’s take a little tour of my writing chair…

1

Well hello, Valentine!  So you’re the reason why I can’t sit back and get comfortable.  Aren’t you a little chair-hog?


2

And here’s Theo, curled up behind Valentine.  He’s an even bigger chair-hog than his sister.


My hope is that when we have children the dogs will come to see the babies as precious pack members that must be fussed over and adored and protected from danger.  Like the way Chip, my cousin’s five-year-old four-pound Chihuahua, came to see her new baby:

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If we are that lucky, it is then my hope that our children will come to love the dogs as if they were treasured little old great-grandparents to be treated with gentle hands, quiet voices and adoring hearts.  After all, by the time our children are old enough to know Valentine and Theo, the dogs will most likely be just that:  Little old incontinent doglets with stinky breath, grumping and gurgling and leaving strings of slobber behind when they kiss you good morning.

*bitch [bi*ch] (noun):  female dog, wolf, fox or otter.

Kind of a big deal, The End

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Did you know that for the first week of Baby’s life you have to feed it every hour?  You might have a baby who’ll sleep longer stretches and maybe you’ll only have to feed it every two or three hours, but you must feed it at the very least every three hours.

From your boobs.  (Or from a bottle, but still.)

Did you know that babies start learning the minute they make their appearance and that they require stimulation and attention and you have to play with them and focus on them and teach them stuff and they rely on you for everything?  EVERYTHING.

The more I read about the first year of baby’s life, the more nervous I got.  I had this idea that bringing a new baby home would be like a Johnson & Johnson commercial.  I envisioned myself in a filmy white nightgown, sunlight filtering through breezy open windows, Michael across the room at his easel, the dogs curled calmly on either side of me as I suckle the babe at my breast.  But according to this book a more likely scenario is a house that hasn’t been cleaned since before the baby showed up, unwashed hair and stained pajama’s, weeks and weeks and weeks without sleep, the dogs hysterically chewing bald spots into their coats because their lives have been ruined by the screaming alien we brought home from the hospital.  And also?  Every three hours?  From my boobs?

It’s not that I want a baby any less than I did that first day my switch flipped.  It’s just that now I’m absolutely terrified.  For the first time in our marriage, we are genuinely happy with our life.  We are happy and working towards goals we believe in and building a life we’re excited about.  That’s a big deal.  It’s why we thought now might be a good time to add to our family.  I read up to what to expect in Baby’s second month before I shut the book, stuffed it behind a row of trashy novels and told Mike that maybe now would be a good time to savor our life a little bit.  Maybe now is the time to be enjoying these happy, blissful, quiet moments alone together, I said.  He stared at me for a moment and then he demanded I tell him what I’d done with his wife.  But he agreed.  So we are treasuring nights spent curled on the couch in front of the TV with nothing between us but air.  We will delight in late Saturday mornings and whispering over pillows well past bedtime.  We will relish sleeping for ten hours at a stretch, candlelit dinners alone just because, and dogs who have full coats of fur.  It’s not that we aren’t eager to start a family, because we are.  We just want a little more time to appreciate the adventure we’re on before we jump into the next one.

Fin.

Kind of a big deal, Part 5

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In the summer of 2008, with my clock ticking like crazy and both of us trying really hard to avoid each other in an apartment twelve footsteps from the front door to the back wall, we had a fight unlike any fight in the history of all fights.

Mike and I are not violent people.  He accuses me of being a yeller, but I point out that in fact I grew up with three older siblings and the only way to ever be heard was to talk loudly.  I am a passionate speaker, I argue, not a yeller.  So while I may speak passionately on occasion, Mike and I had always lived a life of quiet harmony.  Until the morning of The Fight.

We were living in a tiny, crummy, roaches-in-the-walls Hells Kitchen tenement.  It was July.  If you’ve never been to New York in July, imagine a swamp of impenetrable stinking, moist, greasy tar. That is New York City in July.  It was seven o’clock in the morning.  I was awake because I hadn’t been to sleep and Mike was awake because I’d woken him up, hysterical.  I was screaming and sobbing and accusing while he held up his hands, don’t shoot.  It was all very dramatic and very frightening and for months afterward I wondered what our neighbors must think.  I said I was angry about one thing but it turned out I was angry about something else entirely.  When I left that morning he thought I was leaving for good.  He told me that, later, when we were curled on the sofa with tea.  It made me cry.  No, I said, his face in my hands and my tears on his cheeks.  Till death do us part.

A few weeks later we were sitting on a therapists couch and I don’t remember how we got to it but she looked at us in shock as she realized we’d never really talked about having children.  It turns out it’s a very big deal to not talk about something.  It turns out the Fight of all Fights could have been avoided entirely if only we’d talked about the one thing we were afraid to talk about. There is a lesson to be learned here: TALK.  COMMUNICATE.  LISTEN.  TALK SOME MORE.  Take it from me.  I almost learned the heartbreaking way.

We still argue when we talk about babies.  Mike argues that babies are clusters of cells that start out very much like tumors and later become small aliens with ideas and theories and philosophies all their own while I argue that babies are lovely little pink giggling things who’s cheeks I want to eat and who’s pants might need changing but oh my goodness did you see that dimple?  We still argue but thanks to a nice stint in marriage counseling we now argue about whether or not babies are made of biological material or angel dust and the arguing is something that happens over dinner and wine and handholding.  And do you know what we did on a date the other weekend?

WE BOUGHT A BOOK ABOUT BABIES.

Then we started reading it.

To be continued….  (For the last time all ready…)

Kind of a big deal, Part 4

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My husband’s feelings about children vary greatly from mine.  In case I haven’t made that clear enough, I will write here, verbatim, our first conversation about kids:

“I’ve always wanted four of children.  Two boys and two girls.”
“I’ve never wanted children.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I’d love to have a big house and a bunch of slobbery dogs and maybe some grandkids.”
“You can’t have grandkids without having kids.”
“I guess I’ll just have dogs then.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.  When we have kids you’ll tell me it’s the best thing that ever happened to you and I’ll say I told you so.”
“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

The “blah blah blah” part was where I stopped listening.  I didn’t want to hear about Mike’s feelings on kids because that would mean acknowledging that I was falling in love with a man who didn’t want children and if he didn’t want children I couldn’t marry him because I couldn’t marry someone who didn’t want a family.  And also it was our first date and I’d just said, “when we have a kids” and how inappropriate was that?

The longer Michael and I dated, the more his skepticism about having children terrified me.  I had so many emotions tied up in the topic that I didn’t know how to talk about it without crying and he didn’t know how to talk about it without getting defensive so it was easier to completely ignore it.  The funny thing is, if we’d just put it all out there like we did with our finances, we would have discovered that we actually wanted the exact same thing.  But we didn’t do that.  We bared our bank statements, but we didn’t talk about kids.  When we got married we’d paid off all our credit card debt and we had started to save and we could even afford to buy a fancy TV but we couldn’t talk about kids.  Six months later we continued not talking about children while we sold all of our belongings and moved three thousand miles east to a city neither of us had ever visited.

Fast forward to the summer of 2008.  We were terribly, terribly homesick.  We felt alone and isolated even in the other’s company.  My biological clock had started screaming and now we were actively avoiding one another while living in an apartment so small the bathroom door wouldn’t shut if you were sitting on the pot.  We were six months shy of our two-year anniversary and we’d gone from crazy-in-love newlyweds to people who couldn’t make eye contact over dinner.

There is a lot to be said about our decision to move to New York.  It changed my life and it changed my marriage.  I thought we were moving for one reason but it turned out to be something else entirely.  Mike had completely different yet equally important motives for moving.  The last three years have been the hardest of my life.  They have also been the best.  Moving to this city made Michael and I soul mates.  We are family now in a way that we wouldn’t have been if we’d stayed put.

To be continued…

Kind of a big deal, Part 3

Click here for part 1
Click here for part 2

Mike has absolutely no idea what it’s like to walk into a super market at eight years old, praying that all the other shoppers think the baby doll clutched in his arms is his real baby.  I do.  Growing up all of my favorite toys were baby dolls and my favorite childhood play-pretend was Single Mother.

While little boys make forts with their blankets, I turned my bedroom into a multi-room apartment.  Hanging sheets for walls, I made bedroom, kitchen, living room.  Each of my dolls was given a name and an age and after getting everyone dressed and ready for their day, I would kiss them goodbye, warn them to behave, “lock them in” and be off to work.  From there I’d walk the exhausting distance to my mother’s kitchen, take all of the canned goods out of the cupboard, pile them onto the kitchen table, “scan” them, bag them up, and put them all back in the pantry.  I killed two birds with one stone by playing “grocery store clerk” and “tired mom buying groceries on her way home from a ten-hour shift” at the same time.  At the “end of my day” I’d go home to my seven children and inevitably someone would have gotten into trouble, someone else would need grounding and I would lay in bed and wonder how I would ever be able to take care of all these damn kids.

Lord only knows where I came up with this stuff.  When I wasn’t playing Single Mother I was wrapping white towels around my head and practicing my walk down the aisle.  In a real life twist of irony, there was no aisle to walk down on my wedding day.  Instead we said our vows on the exact spot in my parents living room where I practiced my vows to imaginary Prince Charmings as a child.

If I said that Mike and I had never talked about children, I wasn’t being entirely truthful.  While the subject of money and finances has never been a sore spot for us, the subject of children has caused a lot of tears, a lot of slammed doors and one particularly painful evening in a beautiful hotel room overlooking the ocean on Maui, which I spent sobbing on the floor of a bathroom.  It’s not that we never talked about children, it’s just that when we talked about it we fought about it and so we made a mutually-subconscious agreement to completely ignore it.

To be continued…

Kind of a big deal

Depending on whether or not you’ve read my About page, what I’m going to say may come as a surprise.

I am completely baby-crazy.  I can’t remember when it started.  I do remember a specific evening in April of 2008 when my brother asked me whether or not my hormones had kicked in and my response was to scrunch up my face, stick out my tongue and say, “Blegh.  No way.”
“Really?  Because all my chick friends are going crazy over babies right now.”
“I am so not ready.  The idea of having kids right now makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little.”

That month I received what was to be the first of many emails announcing someone’s pregnancy.  I was horrified.  I wrung my hands nervously and wondered, what ever would she do?  The poor girl was going to have to give up her entire life!  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was projecting.  My friend wasn’t going to have to give up her entire life, I was.  Except I wasn’t because I wasn’t the pregnant one.  But you know what I mean.

After the fifth email from my fifth expecting friend I started feeling wistful.  I wanted it to be me.  Except if I got pregnant I wouldn’t be able to send out an announcement saying, “we’re over the moon” or “we’re so excited to be starting a family together” or “we feel like we’ve been blessed with a miracle”.  My announcement would read: “Whoops! Looks like we slipped up somewhere because surprise!  We’re pregnant!  We’re totally freaked out and we don’t know what we’re going to do, we’re pretty sure this means we’ll be broke and miserable for the rest of our lives, but we’re gonna give it a go.  Pray for us, keep your fingers crossed, and try not to gossip about us.”

A few months later I realized I had eleven pregnant friends and family members and that must have been when it happened.  A hormone switch flipped.  I don’t know how to explain it any other way.  Maybe it was herd syndrome.  Like when you’re trying to get out of the subway at rush hour and you walk to the turnstile with the longest line instead of walking to the turnstile no one’s using.  I do that all the time.  Three turnstiles crammed with people, one person, one at a time, click, click, click.  At the end of the platform a fourth turnstile, empty, sad, alone, invisible to the herd.  I always stay in the long line because it feels like too much effort to walk over to the empty one, but maybe that’s a different issue I need to be dealing with.  Either way, it happened over night.  One day I was perfectly happy living alone with Mike and four animals and the next morning I woke up and I wanted a baby so badly I thought I was going to die.

Thanks to my Moon Cycle Chart I have learned that these feelings are greatly exacerbated between the fourteenth and thirty-fourth days of my cycle.  Between days one and ten I’m baby-crazy but not to the point where I believe my ovaries are berating me for the eggs I’m wasting.  On the eleventh day I begin rationalizing why this month might be a good time to start trying and by day fourteen I’m kind of like a cat in heat which sounds funny in a literary sense but is actually really awkward.  I recently made Mike promise that he would not agree to start trying for a baby unless we were making the decision between the first through tenth day of my cycle because  it’s a decision I’d like to make with my brain instead of my hormones.

To be continued…

Preface to a Prenup

Last week I mentioned how Mike and I have periodic romance-infused financial meetings, but I didn’t go into the how’s or why’s. We had our first financial meeting within a few weeks of getting engaged because we had to if were going to write a prenup.

The last time I told someone that Mike and I have a prenup, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again. But I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially after last week’s financial post, and the fact is that a prenup isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Our prenup is the reason we were debt-free less than a year after we married. Our prenup is the reason we have never had an argument about money. Our prenup is the reason I got to move with my husband to New York and live out one of my wildest fantasies. The last time I told someone we wrote a prenup that person grimaced as she said, “Why would you do that? Why would you marry someone you’re just going to divorce?”
“What?”
“Obviously if you need a prenup it’s because you know you’re just going to divorce the person.”
“What? No, it’s not. I don’t –”
“That’s awful, Tricia. That’s just awful. I’m really surprised.”

She was actually that appalled, I do not exaggerate. And she’s not alone in her feelings. Enough people have had that reaction that when she had it, I decided our prenup was something people just didn’t need to know about.

Except now I’m telling the entire Webisphere.

I’m working on learning how to stand up for myself. Today I’d like to announce that my husband and I wrote a prenup before we got married and contrary to what you might think it was not because we were rich or because we were planning on getting divorced. We had a lot of debt and our only assets were each other, but we sat down and we worked out the complications of our finances and in doing so, he learned how important it was for me to have the opportunity to run with my dreams. I learned how important it was for him to save money so that one day he could have an old sprawling house to fix up and build furniture for, with a treehouse in back for the grandkids and five big-headed dogs. And when I learned that, I knew I really did want to spend the rest of my life with this man, because no matter what happened between here and now, we really did want the same thing.

Writing a prenup was a way to protect ourselves from divorce. Everyone has different feelings about money and no two people feel exactly the same way. Money is a tender, delicate thing that dances with pride and envy. It can be used to hurt just as easily as it can be used to help. A brilliant family lawyer once told me that money is the last thing couples talk about and the first thing they fight about. I was determined not to have a marriage that could be damaged because we never talked about money. You can’t write a prenup without talking about money, and so we used it as an opportunity to have a very honest and very real discussion that would go on to help us shape our lives. And it’s true, we could’ve just had the conversation without ever writing the contract, but the fun in writing the contract was including provisions like:

“Prior to filing for divorce, the parties must agree to a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling, once every week for twenty-four consecutive weeks. If, after twenty-four consecutive weeks of marriage counseling the parties still agree to divorce, either party may file the Petition without effect. If one party files for dissolution without completing the agreed upon counseling, that party agrees to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in full.”  (Except a lot fancier because it was translated into lawyer-speak.)

I really do believe that if both parties commit to marriage counseling for six months they won’t need a divorce. And if they really still want one, then maybe they do need it. However, if one person isn’t even willing to give counseling a shot, then they should pay the damn legal fees.