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The cat on the table and the child in my head

I’m chopping vegetables when she starts crying, a plaintive meowing. She paces across the kitchen table, coat gleaming, belly hanging, begging for my attention. “I’m sorry, Cat. I’m fixing dinner. I’ve got nothing for you.”

In my head she’s a little girl. Three or four. Her eyes wide and pleading, “Mama, play with me!”

“I’m sorry, Baby. I’m fixing dinner. Papa will be home soon and I’m hungry! Would you like to help?”

She peels the garlic and breaks heads off brocoli stalks. “They look like tiny trees!” She is gleeful. I’m in awe of her strong little hands and the pleasure she takes in such simple tasks.

And then I chide myself for being so stupid. Getting lost in childish imaginings. Children are not in the picture. Not now, not for years, maybe never. Maybe because you never know and maybe because it just seems impossible. The other day I asked Michael, “How will we know?”

“When I have a job and we have health care and we’re ready to buy a house and we’re not worried about paying bills every month. Maybe then.”

Maybe we’ll wait until we’re in our forties and adopt. I can see myself, like all those women I watched in Manhattan with long silver hair and ethnic children. I could love any child I held in my arms, I know that.

By now I’ve peeled and chopped a whole garlic bulb, but I don’t care. I sprinkle it over the vegetables, slide it into the oven, set the timer. I over-season everything. Fresh cracked pepper makes raw chicken black. Kosher salt, onion flakes, garlic powder, oregano, basil, sage smells like pee but I sprinkle on three-times the amount you would anyway. The chicken will come out of the oven crunchy for spices but I don’t care. I like it that way. Just like I like my food burned crisp. Everything tasting like it came out of a campfire. Smoky.

I reach for another beer. Dinner is in the oven but Mike won’t be home for three hours at least. I’ll eat alone while I balance the budget. Wait up for him. Reheat a plate for him. Press my face into his neck while he eats. Breathe. So glad he’s home.

This is my second installment of Just Write, an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments, begun by Heather of the EO. You should totally join in.

Serious Nesting

We’ve been doing some serious nesting lately, the kind of nesting that involves closet reorganizations and trunk-loads of items for Goodwill and that sort of thing. In the last two weeks I’ve reorganized our bedroom closet, the office closet, all of the cabinets in the hallway, all three drawers in the kitchen sideboard, the kitchen cabinets, the master bathroom cupboards and the second bathroom cupboards. I told you! Serious nesting. But look what it got me:

manicure closet

My very own manicure cabinet! See? This is what I love about organizing. Before the great Closet/Cabinet/Drawer/Cupboard Reorganization of 2011, the medicine cabinet in our second bathroom was just stuffed with random odds and ends. Now, it’s an adorable little manicure cabinet. Every time I open it I get all happy inside. Same with all of the newly organized spaces. My heart sings with happiness when I open a drawer and everything inside is neat, tidy, and easy to find. Love!

While I’ve been busy organizing, Mike’s been nesting on the balcony like a mad man. I can’t wait to show you pictures of the window boxes and planters he’s been building. I keep trying to snap nice photos but whenever I’m out there the sun is in the wrong place and the photos turn out horrible. In the meantime, here’s something else we’ve been working on:

enter-exit

We’re lucky enough to have a private entrance to our apartment and Mike has all kinds of plans for how he wants to fix it up. This is what we’ve got so far. (Except since I snapped this, he moved that little table in the corner to the balcony. It’s adorable out there, but I loved it here, too.) The hooks on the wall were originally the pot rack Mike custom built for our first apartment in New York. Then he rebuilt it to fit our kitchen in Harlem, and now he’s repurposed it for all of our dog accoutrements. You’ll see we use it to hang the leashes, a little towel to dry dewy dog feet after morning walks, and a canvas tote full of poop bags that I carry on all of our walks. On the wall to the right is a basket full of dried eucalyptus that my mother gave us. Eucalyptus wards off spiders and smells fantastic. The door mat was there when we moved in and I’ve never given it two thoughts, but looking at this photo makes me want to hurl it out a window and replace it with something more attractive. I’ll add that to my to-do list.

Later this week (or maybe next week) I’ll post some family room updates. That room is really coming together and I’m super excited about it. I’ll bet you’re just dying to see it, too. I mean, it’s been like, three whole months since I’ve posted a family room update. How have you survived?

P.S. A hug and a kiss to Adam for making sure I met my fundraising goal for the Epilepsy Foundation. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You.

The Crap in His Pockets

I mentioned in this post that our mattress-less futon was still sitting in two pieces in the family room because we’d lost the pins that hold the thing together during our move, but what I didn’t say was how certain I was that Michael had lost them. I was sure it was all his fault. I just knew it. After all, I’d watched him take the futon apart in Harlem, watched the various screws and bolts and pins roll across the hardwood floors. I’d scrambled to pick up the errant hardware and I’d put it all together in one of our nightstand drawers and then taped it shut, all the while fearing I’d missed something, irritated that he’d left the hardware to roll into oblivion, certain we’d come up short in LA. So when we unpacked everything and, in fact, two integral pieces of hardware were missing, I knew he was the one to blame.

Meanwhile, he was adamant that he had not lost the pins, he’d put them in a safe place, they were around here somewhere.

“Are you sure you haven’t seen two L-shaped metal pins somewhere?”
“I’m positive.”
“Because I know they are around here somewhere. I know it.”
“Haven’t seen them. Pretty sure you lost them.”
“I didn’t lose them. They’re here somewhere.”

Then I’d watch, shaking my head, while he tore through boxes and rummaged through tools, muttering to himself that he knew he had them, he knew he saw them after we unloaded the truck in Los Angeles, they’ve got to be around here somewhere.

When I wash Mike’s laundry I find the strangest things in his pockets – bottle caps, drill bits, rubber washers, half-chewed dog biscuits. These items end up in my own pockets, and then they find their way into various drawers and baskets and sometimes, my jewelry box. Why don’t I just put them with his tools? Normally I would, but for the four months we lived with my parents, I didn’t know where his tools were, so whenever I’d empty his pockets, or clean off the top of his nightstand, I’d put the random odds and ends in my jewelry box. (Not the bottle caps and half-chewed dog biscuits, mind you. Just the drill bits and rubber washers.) This weekend I was cleaning up the bedroom, putting away some of the jewelry I’d worn during the week. I opened my jewelry box and rolled my eyes because there amongst the baubles were two allen wrenches. Clearly from Michael’s pockets. And then it hit me. Like a slow-motion scene in a movie, the memory came flooding back.  It’s August. I’m cleaning the guest room we’re living in at my parent’s house. There are two L-shaped pins on the night table and I put them in my jewelry box because I don’t know where else to put them and I figure they’re probably important. Flash forward to this conversation, had as I’m digging through my jewelry box deciding which earrings to pair with that day’s outfit:

“Are you sure you haven’t seen two L-shaped metal pins somewhere?”
“I’m positive.”
“Because I know they are around here somewhere. I know it.”
“Haven’t seen them. Pretty sure you lost them.”
“I didn’t lose them. They’re here somewhere.”

You guys. He didn’t lose them. I’ve been looking at those damn pins nearly every day for six months, all the while rolling my eyes and tsk-tsk-tsk-ing because Michael lost the pins that hold our futon together. So I snapped a picture of the pins with my BlackBerry and emailed it to Michael with a note that read, “Do you need these? Can I toss them?”

futon pins

The World Keeps Spinning

Shadows

My heart has been so heavy the last couple of days. Mike started working nights again, which is awful. But it’s particularly awful because he’s working a job that brings him absolutely zero satisfaction, so he’s not even enjoying himself. At least if he were doing something he enjoyed, like EMT work, or a property management gig, or if he was gone all night because he was taking classes or something, at least I would know he was getting something out of it. But instead I know he’s on his feet all night, miserable, the hours dragging by like years, and so it’s hard to sit through my own personal loneliness with a brave face.

Then there’s the weather. You guys, seriously. The weather has been cold and gray for days and days. It has rained three times this week. Are you honestly telling me that we moved back from New York for this horrible, gray, dreary weather? Seriously? Because I could have stayed in New York for this. And then at least I’d be in New York.

I don’t mean that. I really do love the Valley. But this weather is seriously bumming me out.

Next is my job. It’s super frustrating right now. I’m having to learn a whole new set of skills, and what it feels like is that I’m learning a new language, and I’m not going to lie, it’s a little scary. I’m learning how to do things I never thought I’d have to learn and on the one hand, that’s the entire reason I took the job. Because I knew it would challenge me in ways I’ve never been challenged, and that was exactly what I wanted. And yet.

I think the problem here is that I don’t handle change very well. Or maybe I handle change just like everyone else does, and maybe everyone else feels super overwhelmed by change. I don’t know. Can you answer that for me? Because all of these little life changes are starting to pile up and feel a little crushing, now that the honeymoon has worn off, and I’m freaking the eff out.

Deep. Breath.

Another. Deep. Breath.

And yet. We chose this. We wanted this. Mike and I both. We stopped going out and eating at restaurants so we could save up enough money for this. We talked about it and planned it out and when we found out it was all real, we were so happy we cried.

And there have been days since we moved when all we can do is grin at each other and knock fists and bro-hug, we’re that pleased with ourselves. There have been happy reunions and little victories and days we both felt our lives were too good to be real. So I’m not trying to say that we made the wrong choice, or that I was starting to regret our decision, or anything like that. It’s just that it’s life, you know? It’s complicated and messy and boring and then it’s fantastic and perfect and full of tiny bursts of light like shooting stars that make all the rest of it worthwhile. I guess the thing to do is try and find the peace within it all. The zen. So that the crappy stuff doesn’t matter so much and the happy stuff is the thing you notice the most.

A Willing Man

twit picTweeted this photo a month ago, not fifteen minutes after I’d finished vacuuming. Then I cried.

In an average week I spend anywhere from ten to eighteen hours taking care of the hearth and home.  By that I mean I spend between ten and eighteen hours vacuuming, washing dishes, doing laundry, paying bills, walking the dogs, emptying the litter box, taking out the trash, et cetera, in addition to the forty plus hours I work at my jobs, in addition to the work Michael does around the house, and I’ll tell you something, that man more than pulls his weight around here.

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines about how marriages where the husband helps out around the house are happier and less likely to end in divorce than marriages where the wife shoulders most of the household chores.  I think this is an incredibly interesting topic because I’ve had a personal theory about this for years, a theory something along the lines of how I would die of apoplexy if I ever lived with another man who was incapable of taking care of himself.

No, Kevin, I’m not writing about you, I know you think this post is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?

You guys, I once lived with my friend Kevin and the fact that we’re still friends is kind of a miracle because I was the worst roommate in the entire world.  I did things to that poor guy that I can’t even type here, but to give you an idea of what a really terrible, awful roommate I was, I will tell you that whenever I knew he was bringing a girl home, I would poop in his toilet and not flush.

Hello, future potential employers!

Anyway, I did that horrible thing because I was… I was… I’m drawing a blank.  He got me back though.  He once hid all of my oranges.

Where was I?  I was a terrible roommate, but at least Kevin could take care of himself.  Sure, he left his groceries on the porch overnight, more than once, and I’d find his shoes in my bathroom and his underpants on the TV, but he worked hard and he was patient and kind and he helped with the chores.  And we’re still friends.

I’ve lived with other men over the years, I’m not talking about family members, I’m talking about roommates and what not, and the ones that didn’t help with chores?  They are no longer a part of my life, not even a little bit.  So my theory evolved from my inability to maintain relationships with men who refused to treat me as an equal.  Because that’s what it comes down to folks.  If a physically able man who hasn’t hired full time help won’t chip in with the chores, he’s either a completely dependent child or he thinks he’s too good to stoop to a woman’s level and take care of the home.  Am I being a little brash?  Probably, but I’ve watched too many women I love sacrifice themselves for a guy who doesn’t give back and I’ve been the girl who gives everything and finds herself alone and empty hearted.

When I mentioned the headlines about husband’s who help with housework to Mike he looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Of course.  A husband who helps with chores is the kind of man who helps.  He’s considerate, he’s thoughtful, he’s kind.  Of course his marriage is happier and less likely to end in divorce.”  He spoke the words on the tip of my tongue.

Like salve on a wound

Lately when I sit down to write I don’t know what to write about.  But if I’m sitting down to write at all that’s a big deal, because lately I can barely even get myself into my writing chair.  It took me two days to write the last post.  Two. Days.

It’s agonizing.  Last month I was an addict, shooting up every chance I could.  Everything else slipped away while I showered my thoughts on the keys.  My fingernails on the keyboard sounded like machine gun fire in a tiny miniature war.  This month my fingers ache.  They hover uncertainly above the keys, each word typed tentatively, second-guessed.

Mike’s in his cave.  Did you ever read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?  I read it when I was sixteen.  I’ve always been interested in relationship how-to stuff.  How to make your relationship stronger.  How to communicate better with your partner.  That kind of thing.  According to that book when men are under stress, or if they’re upset about something, they need to be left alone, to sit in their proverbial cave and sort things out, uninterrupted.  I understand that.  I’m giving him space.  But women need to talk it out, women need attention, women are from Venus.  I feel shut out and alone.

We tiptoe around, offering help.  He walks the dogs and I do the dishes, he takes out the trash, I empty the litter box.  We’re overly polite.  We apologize for being in the way, for forgetting the mail, for talking.  We send little text messages throughout the day, checking in.  Making sure.  It’s as if we’re waiting for a bomb to drop, disaster, chaos.  We handle each other like sticks of dynamite.  Keep the fuse far from flame.

But at the end of the day, shaking rain from our coats, we pause.  Eye to eye.  He opens his arms and I press my face into the curve of his neck, I breathe.  He smells like home.  I press my ear to his chest and listen to his heartbeat.  Neither of us talk.  We stay like that, his hands in my hair, head to heart, hip to hip, toe to toe, until our arms ache from the embrace.  It’s the best part of the day.

Bury a cold nose in the crook of his shoulder

I am kind of a snob when it comes to my marriage, I just want to admit that right now. I am convinced that my marriage is the best marriage in the world. I’m pretty sure that the way I feel about my marriage is similar to the way I’ll one day feel about my children and the way I currently feel about my dogs. The only reason you don’t hate me is because no matter what I think, I know as well as you do that my marriage is not perfect. No one’s marriage is ever perfect.

Mike and I have worked really hard to be happy. We’ve spent four out of the six years we’ve been together in couples counseling. In college I made the mistake of dating someone I didn’t really like for an entire year because I thought that at some point I was going to have to grow up and pick someone to marry and it might as well be him. I misunderstood “working to keep a relationship happy” for “working to force two people who do not belong together to act like they’re happy”. I know better now. Mike and I went into couples counseling because we saw in each other people with similar values and similar goals; we had a lot in common and we were crazy about each other but we’d stopped communicating without fighting and we didn’t want to be that couple that fights all the time.

See how proud I am of my marriage? All of that up there? Those run-on sentences? That was bragging.

In the last four days I have worked forty hours. Mike, who is still looking for EMT work, has taken sole responsibility for the dogs, the cats, my meals, the laundry, the groceries and everything else it takes to run a household. When I leave for work in the morning my belly is full and there’s a packed lunch in my backpack. When I come home at night there’s hot tea and a bowlful of soup ready and waiting, all of the chores have been done and I am free to spend the rest of my evening doing whatever I want. I curl up with my tea and I write and I write and even though I worked for ten hours I can write for three or four more before collapsing in bed.

All week I have gushed and sighed and squeezed Mike’s hands and kissed his nose and thanked him for taking such magnificent care of me. But it wasn’t until right before dinner tonight, the fourth day of the week, the fourth day of Michael rubbing my feet and pouring more coffee and closing the window so I don’t catch a chill, when he suddenly stood up from painting and wrapped his arms around my waist, that I realized we hadn’t hugged all week. Not once.

See? Even we screw up. We work so hard all week to show each other we care; he cooks, I eat, he cleans, I compliment, but we don’t even hug until Thursday. And all that other stuff is incredible, I get that, I am not complaining, I am absolutely thrilled. But there’s something about a good bear hug, an everything is going to be wonderful hug, a you’re my best friend in the world hug, that just makes a girl feel heavenly.

Hug each other as soon as you see each other after work Our skin has a memory of “good touch” (loved), “bad touch” (abused) and “no touch” (neglected). Couples who say hello with a hug keep their skin bathed in the “good touch,” which can inoculate your spirit against anonymity in the world. –Mark Goulston, PhD How To Be A Happy Couple

We just made a pact to hug every day after work. I need the hugs and he deserves them.