Me Without You: Marriage is a Bipolar Bitch

My twenty-four-year-old cousin is impossibly gorgeous. She has a promising career, and lives with her two friends. They are all single and go out together most weekends. On a recent family trip I told her how lucky she was. She replied, “Oh, I know! It’s so awesome.” Then I said, “That’s so great. Do that for as long as you can.” And then I leaned in and whispered, “Or you know, just do that forever.”

She is young.

She doesn’t know.

She laughed and nodded as if she did. I’m sure she walked away thinking, “Wow, Annie must be really unhappy in her life.”

She would be correct, but also dead wrong. This is the contradiction of being married with kids. It’s awful and insanely beautiful all at once. This is impossible to comprehend until you experience it. There are days where the only thing that gets me through are the daydreams I have about being fifty-five and renting an apartment, in Paris, alone. At the same time, I’ve never been this happy in my entire life. I have never felt this amount of joy on a daily basis. I cry happy tears often. The birth of my first child forever removed my ‘filter’ when it came to really feeling the beauty.

Parenting is a crazy bipolar bitch.

As for the marriage part of this equation:

My husband and I recently celebrated twelve years of marriage and sixteen years together. I’m thankful that we’ve grown together over the years, and not apart. That may sound cliché but you have to understand.

I met him before he had facial hair.

I want you to let that sink in for a minute.

If your twenties are the decade when you discover who you are, well, I did that with another person. All day, every day. I knew who I was before, and that girl is still with me. But she is just that, a girl. That girl still has very strong opinions about the way I’m living my life. Sometimes I miss that girl. Sometimes I argue with her. I have to tell her she is only sixteen and has no idea what the hell she is talking about.

There is so much of me that is because of him. It is this that makes it hard to dissect my true self. To remove the layers of the years spent together. So much of who I am is because of all we’ve shared. Just the sheer volume of hours spent together. The way I cook Italian food, or view innovation, my love of Pink Floyd, mafia movies, whiskey, the music of John Mayall, and my intimate understanding of the island of Manhattan. A place I never lived, but feel as if I did.

Then there are the countless things we learned together. We learned how to be adults. We discovered real estate together. We learned bit by bit how to build a home, figuratively and literally. We learned how to start businesses, register for trade names, buy liability insurance, build a client base and apply for a patent. Shit, I even taught him how to drive a car. We don’t argue about money the way many couples do. We plant seeds, we harvest.

Both of us are intertwined in a way only teenagers in love can be. Adult love still leaves room for self.

We didn’t have that luxury.

Both of us came from a place that left us with the deep desire to build something real, something happy. Both of us desperately searching for family. My husband grew up the only child of a single mother in NYC. When I asked how he envisioned his future when he was a kid he said, “Wife, kids, dog, white picket fence, because that’s what I saw in every movie and TV show.”

We don’t want a family together. We want a dynasty, an empire.

I know a lot of women that use the phrase, “He won’t let me . .  .” in reference to their husband when it comes to making a purchase, hiring a cleaning lady or babysitter when things are stressful. At our house I’m Boss Lady. “It’s your world babe,” he says, “I get up everyday and do work for you. It’s all for you.”  I’m fully aware of how lucky I am.

I am so damn thankful for him.

But my nature is solitary. I need time alone to regroup. To convene with myself.

What is left of me.

Marriage is a warm winter coat. It envelopes you. It is a comfort when the world grows cold. But at times the coat grows hot and itchy. At times I have wanted to take it off, not in order to try on another coat but rather to walk unencumbered, without it.

It is a desire to know me, without him.

I’m not alone in this feeling. In the last year pretty much every married woman I’m friends with has admitted to feelings of discontent within their marriage. I have friends that had to take some time away. I have friends that have had to question “Is this feeling us? Is it the marriage, or is it me?” My friends who are mothers wonder if it’s just the stress of motherhood, that by the end of the day they have nothing left to give. They just want to be alone.

My friends without children speak of looking at their spouse and asking the question, “If I met you today, would I be attracted to you?” And like me, many of them have wondered, “Who am I without you?”

This is the thing with marriage. You’re accountable to someone else. Plain and simple. Children increase this feeling ten fold.

My cousin, the twenty-four-year-old, she wants a family one day. She wants to fall in love and have children. I always wanted it too. I hope she gets to one day.

I wish I had some neat and tidy way to wrap this up. Some uplifting words about marriage and family, about gratitude and sticking it out through the rough patches. I will tell you, for me personally (as the child of divorced parents) there are few circumstances that would result in the end of my marriage. I will tell you that American society is an individualistic one.

Marriage is not for the individual.

I will tell you that my generation often suffers from the entitlement of “If this isn’t fun then why do it?”

So, here is how I’ll wrap this up for you:

When my husband and I were young and first dating we discovered we both had a Rolling Stones song stuck in our heads. We couldn’t remember if we’d been listening to it. Was it possible we both randomly had the same song running through our minds? Surely, it must have played on the radio in the car and we just couldn’t remember. And then we went to see my Mom. She was folding laundry, and singing the same song. It was early on in our relationship, right as we were falling in love. We took it as a sign. Through the years there are times when the song will pop back into my head at just the right time.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Yeah baby, you get what you need.

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Deciding on a Third Baby: My Heart Has Other Ideas

“We’re done” he tells people, “I mean, we have one of each. If there was a third kind then maybe we’d go for another one. We’ve got a son and a daughter and they’re both healthy. What more could you ask for?” Sometimes when he tells people this (often perfect strangers) he’ll enthusiastically add “Time to get the big V” using his hands like scissors to playfully ‘air snip’ at his crotch.

And he’s correct. We have one of each. They are both fantastic and healthy, and I’m not getting any younger. These facts coupled with a friend’s baby being diagnosed with a terminal illness when our daughter was six months old pretty much sealed the deal for us. We’re done.

But this idea, this thought of “being done” is just a bit too much for me. So I tell him, “Stop telling people we’re done.”

“But we are” he says.

“Yes, but what if we changed our minds. All these people you’ve told would think we didn’t really want another baby.”

“I don’t want another baby” he says.

This is where I start to feel irritated and resentful of his assuredness. I too am 95% sure but there’s something about his absolute ‘sureness’ that makes me unsure.

So one day while driving in the car I say, “Hey, please stop telling everyone we don’t want anymore children.” Sensing that he thinks I’m trying to tell him I want another baby I have to quickly add, “Look I’m not saying I want more kids. I’m 95% sure I don’t want anymore kids. I’m just saying, there’s no rush to make any permanent decision. It’s just that as a woman, well, being able to have children, to still be young enough to be fertile, to give birth, to be the mother of a nursling. It just feels like once I close the door on all that, I close the door on being young. The next thing you know you’re going through menopause. This society totally devalues “old women.” This baby thing, for me is all wrapped up in my mortality. And for as much as I complain about what a pain in the ass it can be to care for small children all day, what assholes preschoolers can be, this is the most fulfilled I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I’ve never been this happy. I truly really enjoy being a mother.”

He takes it in. We continue on our errands. We never talk about it again.

A few weeks later we spend the night in a hotel without the kids for the first time since our daughter was born. We drink cocktails. We spend $186 on a steak dinner at 10 o’clock at night. He jokes with the waiter about how he’s going to get a vasectomy. We go back to the hotel and have sex while the snow falls outside. We wake up feeling hung-over and old. We go to brunch.

And then over eggs Benedict he says, “So I’ve been thinking about it and I’d love to have more children, but you realize if we do that you’d probably never go back to work again. You’ll never have a career.”

I’m sure we had a coherent conversation that followed about the pros and cons of having more children. CHILDREN! Plural. But as I sit here a month later I can’t remember what we discussed. And now that having a big family has been presented as an option, essentially being a stay-at-home-mom (a housewife, a homemaker, whatever you want to call it) forever seems kind of appealing.

Dare I admit it?

I was once destined for a PhD in literature. Headed for a career as a college professor. I had dreams of studying 20th Century American Lit at Tufts. Could I really be happy as a housewife? Is that all I would be? Would there be resentment and feelings of unfulfilled potential? And even if I was content, do I want the world to see me as just another suburban, white woman in a minivan?

Days and days go by and it consumes me. It is practically all I can think about. I look at my children and feel security in the idea of having more of them. It wraps around me like a warm winter coat. As though having more would some how safe guard my heart. As if I would have spare children incase the worst were ever to happen. But this is not how love works. You don’t simply divide your love between your children; as though you have a finite amount to dole out in equal percentages. It is not this way. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies. You’re only opening yourself up to more heartache. Instead of two little people walking around with your heart in their pocket there are now three, or four, or five.

I talk to a friend. I make a pros/cons list, which of course is of no help for these sorts of life decisions. I know having more would be irrational, but choosing to have children is never a rational decision. I search Google.

Google!

I try to give myself a year to not think about it. “Just wait until Lids is two” I tell myself.

But my heart. My heart has other ideas . . .

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**Endnote: I wrote this nearly a year ago. A few months back I made the definitive statement that I was done. Guess who came home from work the next day saying he wants another kid? The indecision continues…

 

 

My Birthplace, My Body, I Won’t Wait

                                             

                                                  “Hell is longing to be somewhere else.”

                                                                 -Author Unknown

 

My birthplace by the Atlantic, I long for it. It beckons me. I spent every July from the age of seven to seventeen there, visiting one last time at twenty. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was.

And then I stayed away.

For nine years.

My baby cousins aged. They aged out of thinking I was important. They were clingy, sandy babies, frolicking in the ocean, riding my hip through the breakers, standing below my breasts in the shower. I was braiding their hair, still wet from the bath. But they became teenagers and all but erased me from memory.

Because I wasn’t there.

My grandparents went from being quirky, old New Englanders, telling jokes and old stories with friends around the breakfast table, to being separated from one another. Bedridden in separate nursing homes. And I missed it. I missed it all. When I returned nine years later it was for my Nana’s funeral. So much time had passed, but it was all the same. The smell of the air. The rhododendron bushes and rose hips. My blood feeling the pull of the saltwater. The land was the same. How I wished I was the same too. But I was twenty-nine, healing from a miscarriage and filled with regret for all the time spent away. At the reception, in a thick Rhode Island accent, my Mom’s cousin asks me, “So, when was the last time you saw your Nana?”

“Nine years.”

“That’s a long time. Long time,” she scolds.

I fight back tears for the 100th time that day.

I stayed away because I was young. I had dropped out of college. I had gained weight. I kept telling myself I was about to lose weight, always about to make the change. My body in constant flux, my appearance only temporary. Don’t go back now, you won’t be able to go to the beach. You’ll look huge in a swimsuit. Don’t go back now, your Nana will be disappointed. Your relatives will talk about you when you leave the room. “Look how heavy she’s gotten,” they’ll say. It’s best just to wait until you’re back to a “normal” size. This is only temporary.

But it wasn’t.

I lived in denial for a very long time. I lived in shame and failure. I wasn’t living at all. With the exception of a couple of years in my late twenties, I have been overweight my entire adult life. This is a truth I have only recently come to terms with.

I’m thirty-four now. To be on that beach, to swim in the ice cold Atlantic, floating on  my back over the waves; it’s spiritual for me. The ocean, she speaks to me. I sneak away early one morning while my family sleeps. I go down and stand in the sand. The water, it rolls over my feet, burying them. She pulls me in.

It is foggy this morning. I’m alone with the exception of an occasional jogger. “I’m back,” I tell her silently.

“I know,” she says.

“I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”

“It’s ok,” she says, “I’m always here.”

“I have babies now,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, “They’re beautiful.”

 

I’m a grown woman now. I’m the mother to two little people who are looking to me to show them what it means to be alive. I make my way back to the rental house and put on my swimsuit. I take my babies to the beach. My family is there, all of them, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. I don’t wear a cover up. I sit in the sand with my son and search for digger crabs, my belly puffed out as I squat down in the water holding my baby girl on my hip. We walk down to the river to gather shells, my legs jiggling with every step. My big butt and thighs covered in muddy sand. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been.

 

And I don’t care. I want to feel the water on my skin. I want to see my babies on my beach. I want to feel my daughter’s warm body as she rides my hip through the cold waves. Her sandy little face buried in my neck while she sleeps, wrapped in a towel.

I want my family to know me. To know my kids, and I’m not waiting anymore.

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