Suburban Snapshots

Good Company

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I wasn't sure after writing that first post about starting counseling if it was something I should be sharing. I know some of our family learned what was going on for the first time when they got the subscription email, and looking back I probably should have given them a courtesy heads up. I had Steve read the entry before sending it into the Intertubes, and then promptly invited you all into our circumstance.

Steve rarely used to read this blog but has always supported it and knows me to be a bit of a sharer — okay, a total over-sharer with a borderline addiction to Facebook — and he's incredibly understanding about that. I read the best comments to him and we talk about them; last week he was moved to respond.

Some friends haven't posted comments publicly here, but have emailed me. Some readers I don't personally know have done the same. I thought I was writing about Steve's and my situation to clear my own head, thinking maybe a few readers had struggled some in their own partnerships, anticipating a handful of supportive or sympathetic responses.

You all have done so much more than that. I am humbled and so grateful for the comments you've been leaving here — paragraphs long — offering advice, insight, or stories of your own. I knew Steve and I weren't the first couple to have trouble, but to hear from so many of you, and from real-life friends who I would never have suspected of having anything but turbulence-free marriages, well it's elevated this blog from something I do to nurture my snark into something more important.

I've felt for a long time that this was a one-woman show — just me, typing away, hoping to amuse you or engage you, or just stoking my own narcissism. But your contributions lately have been so much more than responses to what I've been sharing, they're meaningful, they've surrounded me with all kinds of goodness and elevated these isolated musings into something like a community.

So thank you, sincerely. Especially in the midst of everything, I am grateful to be in such good company.

Advice on Advice

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The first counselor we saw — the one who didn't find swingers humor appropriate in the therapeutic environment — said something to us that I'm not sure I ever absorbed, or intended to absorb, or maybe I just don't know how to begin putting into practice.

In outlining the ways in which Steve and I needed to "circle our wagons" she said, "He is your family. Your immediate family isn't your primary family anymore. Your husband and daughter are your family."

Putting aside my distaste for Pioneer metaphors, it seems like a big ol' duh concept. Of course they are my family. We share a house, we're together all the time, we rely on each other for small things like hanging up wet towels, and big things like sorting out finances and making sure the Keurig is powered on by 6 a.m.

But then I realized that what she was saying was basically, "You don't get to be the kid anymore. You're in charge of this group. You are a grown-ass woman." And that kind of made me pee in my pants a little bit.

In my family, all us kids still feel taken care of. At 32, 34, and 37, we are still collectively The Girls. We are all three mothers with families and responsibilities. We take care of our jobs and our kids, we cook dinners and clean bathrooms, we pay our parking tickets and show up for jury duty.

At the same time though, we all talk to our mom almost every day. We talk to each other multiple times a day plus texting, Facebook, iChat. We share things between us that our spouses don't know — or don't know yet. When we all lost power last winter in the same storm, even 40 miles apart, we converged, families in tow, on Mom's house, where the generator and wood stove kept us warm and fed, where we were all taken care of.

Maybe I misinterpreted the counselor's message, or maybe my family is more attached than most. Maybe in some circumstances that's not as beneficial as I always felt.

I need help translating what the therapist said into something I can actually do. Can I still be Mom, Honey, and one of the kids? Can I circle my wagon and still gab ten times a day with my sisters, my mom? You guys are smart, tell me what you'd do.

Edit: your comments so far have done more to clarify this than the counselor could. I'mma fire her and hire you guys. You cool with that?


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In counseling (I know, this again. Sorry, I'll return to stories about how my almost three-year-old has become occasionally worthy of the b-curse with her crappy attitude of late, how she frequently sings, "Oh na na, what's my name?" and I don't stop her, or how she navigates my iPhone with the dexterity of a gum-smacking, ingrate teenager. Trust me, people, I wish I had something else on my mind at least as much as you do.) you have to do all kinds of soul searching, examining stuff you'd normally shove into the recesses of your gray matter while horking down Fritos with microwaved queso, and you have to do this and hope your spouse is doing the same thing.

As it turns out, New Hampshire blizzards are super conducive to thinking a lot and then spending huge amounts of time trapped together watching helplessly as the DPW plows a pile of snow so high at the end of your driveway that you can actually see sherpas escorting rich, white people to its summit.

So when we're not pressing our faces against the picture window hurling muffled obscenities at plow drivers, we might talk about stuff. We talk about missing life in the city, how I wasn't ready to leave, how I loved walking fast and with purpose, how even though it was full of people who'd been raised by wolves, sometimes I miss taking the train to work. Then we talk about how much harder that life would be now, with an additional dog and toddler, and we agree that where we ended up has been a good compromise.

We talk about how we got here, to the counseling and The Work. We realize that even two people whose relationship was built on spending huge amounts of time in small spaces (namely Boston real estate) need to get away from each other sometimes. So while I am lucky to have a full-time, from-home job, holy shit people, we have been together in this house almost non-stop for four years — that's four of these bullshit winters, power outages, unemployment, a colicky newborn, three needy dogs, countless bounced checks, marital strife — all while within twenty feet of each other most of the time.

Steve got a new job this week that will have him out of the house — though at odd hours — and I anticipate the time apart, the reliable extra income, and his re-established sense of worth will all improve our situation. Now we just have to get through this week's nor'easter without one of us ending up in the crock pot.

The Work, Part Two

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

You guys all rock my mothereffing world with your thoughtful and supportive comments. Friends emailed their thoughts and left some really, really wonderful messages, I didn't get any panicked phone calls from relatives (which I hope means they're confident in our resilience and not worried I'll answer sobbing or dropping the D bomb) and all of the love heading our way has helped more than I can begin to write, even with copious swearing.

Now that I'm done with the dirty hippie freelove portion of this entry, I have some more thoughts on Marriage; the care and maintenance of.

People close to us emailed me to say that Steve and I were either one of their favorite couples, or most easy-going couples, or couples whose relationship they admired. I still think we are worthy of all of those sentiments, because I know the reason we're still here is the foundation we started with (not the part where I resented being forced to share an apartment with what I thought was a hermit, recluse, weirdo, but after that). We were realistic in our expectations of each other and our relationship. We had our own lives and histories. We didn't expect the other to fill any existential voids. We weren't naïve enough to believe that on the whole earth, there could be no one else we'd ever love. And I knew that eventually I could convince him to see a real barber.

Still, as Allison at Motherhood, WTF? noted in her comment, "… his stuff, his ideas, his own upbringing and beliefs, and his own personal growth and struggles are just ALWAYS THERE." That was right on the goddamn money. Add some life stress to the equation and you end up with serious division. (Can I please get some props from my nerds for the math metaphor?)

Each of us admits fault for ending up where we did. We were both forced to make heady decisions and to really look at our circumstances. We took stock of our mutual past and present, and of ourselves as individuals. We held hands and held our breath.

Things are already better, but it's an evolving and ongoing process. We'll plan to see the counselor as-needed from here on out because for starters, I think we have a good handle on the situation and secondly, because who doesn't laugh when you wonder aloud during your session if open marriage might be the best option? Someone with no appreciation for crisis humor, that's who. Want to know who did laugh? Steve.

Photo once again by Channing Johnson, who you should hire immediately.