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The Second Time

<i>Beneath the sunset and over the sea<i/>
Beneath the sunset and over the sea

The second time couples counseling saved my marriage was in the summer of 2008, exactly three years after the most romantic marriage proposal in the history of all marriage proposals, and less than three weeks after the fight that was the biggest fight in the history of all fights.

The recent six-part story I wrote about babies was supposed to be a post about how important counseling can be when a couple stops communicating, but it ended up being a post about babies because that’s just how I roll.  I could sit down to write a story about ketchup going on sale this week and before I know it I’ll be writing a story about babies.  My biological clock has taken over.

Since I never made the point I wanted to make in that post, I’m going to make it now: Couples counseling saved our relationship and then it saved our marriage.  Now I think counseling is a magical elixir for relationships.  (You can read about the first time it saved us here.)

Instead of re-telling you about how not talking about babies nearly ruined my marriage, I’ll just say that Mike and I have learned the hard way.  Twice.  Ignoring our feelings + avoiding communication = disaster. You could try to argue that couples counseling didn’t work the first time, your evidence being that we had to go back a second time, but you’d be incorrect.  The second time we only needed a refresher course.  We lost our way for a minute but we got back on track in a matter of weeks because we had the strong base we’d built in our first round of therapy.  That being said, I have to admit that Mike and I were lucky in that both times we started counseling, we started before we got to the point where we hated each other.  A lot of couples wait too long and by the time they’re in counseling their relationship has been badly damaged, sometimes heartbreakingly, irreversibly so.

A marriage is another person sharing your home.  There’s you, there’s your spouse and there’s your marriage.  Each marriage has its own needs, it’s own peculiarities and it’s own character.  Marriages need to be nurtured, nourished and cared for.  If a marriage is neglected it will not thrive.

I realize I’ve been proselytizing about couples counseling, but far more important than counseling is simply taking care of your couple, however works best for you and your partner.  Counseling was the magical elixir that taught Mike and I how to take care of our relationship.  What is it for you?  What has been the thing that has saved you and your partner, whenever you’ve needed saving?

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…


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


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:


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.

On A Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

Sometimes I worry that I’m not working hard enough or fast enough and that the days of my life are slipping blindly past. I worry that we’ll never be ready to have children, that we’ll never have enough money to buy a house or live debt free. I worry that going back to school means we’ll be spending the rest of our lives paying off student loans and we won’t be able to send our children to college because there won’t be anything left over. I worry I’ll never be young enough or pretty enough even though that’s ridiculous because I’m not even old yet. I worry about how we’ll pay the electric bill this month and then I worry that we’ll never have enough money to not worry about how we’ll pay the electric bill. And I know that everyone has these worries. I know that we are young and just starting out. I know that no one’s ever ready for kids and there’s never enough money in the bank. But the worry is real and if we allow it to, it will eat us alive.

And then there is always a Sunday morning.  A morning when the sun pours in through the windows letting the leaves on the pathos glow in a fairy-green light. A morning when the dogs doze peacefully, curled closely with the cats, who, for the moment, are not meowling about their next meal. A morning when Mike is at school, he’s studying, he’s learning, he’s shaping a brick in clay and when it dries hard in the sun on a bright winter day, he will use it to build our dreams a little higher. A morning I have spent writing, writing, writing, my feet tucked under my body and my shoulders beginning to ache, but what a lovely ache; the ache of accomplishment.

The thing to remember is that everything, right now, in this moment, is perfect.

Look around you. Notice your surroundings. Take a deep breath. What do you hear? What do you see? Are you in a cubicle? Can you hear the hum of an air conditioner? Can you hear the comfort in it? Are you at home? Near a window? Is it night or day? Take a deep breath. What is the light like? Is anyone else nearby? How do you feel?

No matter what is going on in life, no matter what happens tomorrow, right now everything is perfect.  Maybe it’s not what you wanted to do today.  Maybe there’s somewhere else you’d rather be or someone else you’d rather see. But we are alive. We are here.

The sun is warming my back. The dogs are in a heap on the sofa. I woke up this morning alive and healthy. My loved ones are alive and healthy. And I thank God and the Universe and all the stars in the sky because whatever happened yesterday and whatever the future holds, we really are blessed.

Think Again

I’ve spent today in kind of a daze. I got up much earlier than usual, started work much earlier than usual and worked hard all day long in twenty-degree weather. Barely two hours before I was done, one of the wheels popped off my suitcase.

In one of my other lives I’m a traveling sales girl. Kind of how Johnny Cash started out, except instead of selling vacuum cleaners, or whatever it was he sold, I go door-to-door selling holistic pet products. I’m not a very good sales person. I’m not aggressive enough. When someone says “no”, I smile and say “Thank you! Sorry to bother you!” and then I rush away, horrified. It’s all very awkward. Being that this is Manhattan and I don’t own a car, I work my job on foot. I carry my samples in a suitcase with wheels, which I drag around on the subways, the busses, and over miles and miles of sidewalk. It weighs almost forty pounds. The original wheels lasted three months before they completely disintegrated. Mike replaced them with wheels from his skates, which he made me swear I would not lose should one come loose, because they cost two hundred dollars to replace. That was last month. Today, in the middle of an intersection, the bracket that held the left wheel in place snapped in half and the wheel went spinning off behind me. I managed to catch it, but I still had four stores to visit and now I would have to drag the suitcase along with one of its wheels in my pocket.

I would just like you to take a moment and picture me, bundled up to my eyeballs in fleece and wool, dragging a one-wheeled suitcase down a busy New York street. The sound of the bottom corner dragging on the pavement was so loud that every single person I passed had to crane their head around and glare at me as if my one-wheeled suitcase was somehow offensive to them. At one point I thought it would be easier to just carry the thing but it turns out forty pounds is really heavy.

It had been one of those days and by the end of it, I was exhausted. It was only 5 p.m. but I knew I would spend the rest of the night on the couch, feeling sorry for myself and wishing we had ice cream while I watched old episodes of Law & Order. My night was ruined.

I curled up on the sofa with my laptop. Valentine climbed onto my lap and I propped the computer on her comma-shaped body. Theo folded himself against me and two feet away, Mike sat in his studio working on a still life. I opened my homepage and Amelia, perched behind me, began performing her ritual evening bath. Under the melody of Guided by Voices I could hear Toby’s tags singing against his water bowl in the kitchen.

That’s when I found out. Suddenly my night felt like something to be grateful for.

May our prayers, hopes and dreams be for the people of Haiti.