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My husband fixed the icemaker

There is something incredible about a man who can take apart a freezer-door icemaker, look at it’s insides, put it back together, and suddenly the icemaker that’s been broken for six months works perfectly.

I would marry him all over again.

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Mike in his impromptu balcony woodshop, June 18, 2011

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.

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?

Inspired by that kid in the red striped t-shirt.

Last night Mike helped me make one of my dreams come true.

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Mike grew up in Michigan so he knows a thing or two about snow.

That’s right.  One of my dreams was to build a monster out of snow.  Call me crazy, I won’t deny it.  I grew up in California, the land of perpetual sunshine.  Before I moved to the City I could count the number of times I’d seen snow on one hand and still have fingers left over.  As a child I was a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes and I always believed that if I had been lucky enough to live in a place with snow, I’d be the kid building wild snow scenes in the yard every day after school.

Then we moved to the City and it was three years before we got enough snow, enough sticky snow, to build anything.  I started small and with the help of three little girls who’d never built a snowman before:

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The abominable snow lump.


A few days later, Adam and I got a little more advanced.  But then, Adam has a lot of snowman-making experience:

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Frosty the snowman and his trusty sidekick, Freezy the snowdog.

Last night I got home from work around five and dragged Michael from his warm nest in front of the computer to the park around the corner.  It was perfect snowman-making weather and I was determined to take advantage of it.

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Snowzilla tramples everything in his wake!


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Snowzilla has trampled a car and the people, mouths agape, run screaming. But ah ha! A tank is on it's way to shoot missiles at the monster!


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Let your imagination run wild...

Warm, still, calm, quiet.  Just Mike and I, mittens full of snow, snow up to our knees, throwing ideas around like snowballs.  “How about a tank?”  “Ah! His tail looks great!  How’d you do that?”  “What if he’s tromping a car under his toes?”  “Here, try this for the arms.”  The sun went down and it started snowing again.  People walking by pointed and exclaimed, snapped photos.  It was a perfectly perfect evening.

Tips for Happy Couples, #2

Cultivate common interests After the passion settles down, it’s common to realize that you have few interests in common. But don’t minimize the importance of activities you can do together that you both enjoy. If common interests are not present, happy couples develop them. At the same time, be sure to cultivate interests of your own; this will make you more interesting to your mate and prevent you from appearing too dependent.

Mark Goulston, Ph.D.

I’ve never liked pink teddy bears

For as long as I can remember, I have been a hopeless romantic.  I cannot tell you how many high school boyfriends crushed my heart into a thousand tiny pieces because they didn’t arrange for Unchained Melodies to play over the loudspeakers during homeroom, or have a hundred roses sent at lunch or at the very least serenade my bedroom window.  I have always had very high expectations.

Michael warned me early on that he was not a Valentines Day guy.  He’s a spur-of-the-moment romantic guy, but he’s not a Valentines Day guy.  If you were to play a word association game with him and you said, “Valentines Day”, his immediate reply would be, “Greeting card profits.”  He says he doesn’t see the point of having a holiday that forces people to buy pink teddy bears and heart-shaped balloons but I think his distaste for the day has something to do with all the awful Valentines Days he spent in Los Angeles, when he worked in a restaurant that was such a hot V-spot you had to book your reservation a year in advance.  All through the winter holidays, as February 14th crept closer, he’d get more and more tense.  To him it wasn’t a holiday, it was The Worst Night Of The Year.  It hung over his head like a guilty sentence hangs on an innocent man.

Needless to say our first couple of Valentines Days were rough.  He’d work and I’d feel neglected.  I’d pout, he’d get defensive.  We’d argue, we’d make up, we’d move on.  It took a few years but I eventually came to agree with Mike: Valentines Day is overrated and why on earth would anyone want to go out to dinner on the very night the entire rest of the country is going out to dinner?  Besides, Mike’s spur-of-the-moment romance is a thousand times hotter than a pink teddy bear.

This year I had zero expectations for Valentines Day.  We went wine tasting with friends the day before and the morning of Michael scrubbed the entire house while insisting that I stay in bed reading, so I was sure I’d had the nicest Valentines weekend a girl could dream of.  Which is why I was surprised when I came home yesterday and found this:

Be My Wiener

Either Michael is more of a Valentines Day guy than he’s willing to admit, or Theo’s been having inappropriate thoughts about his human companions.

Still growing

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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.

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…

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


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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…