Category Archives: marriage

Eight years, four cities, three kids, and 627 pancakes

          We have these friends who, every month, celebrate their monthiversary together.  They go out every single month for the same cuisine they had on their very first date.  For the last ninety-two months.  It’s very romantic, in a Visa commercial kind of way. 

            It’s also pretty funny for those of us here in the cheap seats.

            You see, I cannot imagine actually going out with my husband once a month.  Hell, I’d settle for being in the same city once a year on our anniversary.  Or maybe every other year; no sense aiming too high.

            My favorite was 2004, our third anniversary. I was five months pregnant with Zachary, and I had bleeding the night before, so the doctor had me stay overnight in the hospital as a precaution.  Hence, I spent my third anniversary in a hospital room in Philly while my husband was stranded on a business trip in Nevada.  It was sort of like a candlelit dinner except with crappy food, fluorescent lights, and a monitor on my belly.

            I am supposed to be upset that we are not together for our anniversary, according to Them, whomever They might be.  But, pray tell, at whom shall I get upset?  My husband, who is away from his family, working late nights, in order to support us?  Or perhaps the structure of corporate America?  Or maybe the clients who have the gall to be located at a distance?

            Truth be told, I am not upset.  Romance is not hinged on some arbitrary date that is only our anniversary by the standards of the Gregorian calendar, which anyway is off by something like 26 seconds each year.  Who cares if we are not together each year on the 20th of May? 

            Romance is J hanging out the wash, even though he would rather use the drier, because I want to conserve electricity.  Romance is him taking my car to be washed because he knows I will never get around to it and it hasn’t rained in Los Angeles since three days after the Spanish Inquisition.  Romance is putting on a new toilet lid that does not bang down before our au pair arrived because he doesn’t want her to wake me up if she uses the bathroom in the night.  Most of all, romance is still laughing together, albeit mostly at our children.

            J will tell you I am the least sentimental person out there.  He, on the other hand, cries at Kleenex commercials (and every time he watches An Officer and a Gentleman).  I think this post proves the contrary. Clearly, I am totally the mawkish type, oozing the schmaltz all over the internet.

            So, happy anniversary, honey.  We made it past the seven-year itch.  Don’t forget to call the cable company.

In a name

Because Becky asked.

            The day after we got married, my husband and I opened a joint bank account.  A week after we got back from our honeymoon, I queued up at the Social Security Administration office and changed my last name.

            Now, I am a feminist of the old-school, second-generation type.  I think it is moronic that women feel obligated to change their names and that so many men simply expect it of them.  I am offended by the name “Mrs. J Rosenbaum,” both because it is patriarchal and because it is inaccurate.  My name is not J – that is my husband’s name.  (While we are on the subject, I have a Ph.D., so I ought to be referred to as “Dr. Emily Rosenbaum” if we are getting all formal and correct, although I prefer simply “Ms.”)

            But, I changed my name in an awfully big hurry.  My rationale?  My maiden name was my father’s name.  Either way, I was going to have a man’s name.  Might as well at least have a man I like.

Sidekick?

            Have you noticed I rarely write about my husband?  If I do, it is an offhand remark necessary to the telling of a story about someone else (usually one of our children).  He is not often the subject of posts.

            This is not because he is not important to my life.  He is my partner and my friend, and over the past fourteen (sweet heavens, has it been that long?) years since we met, we have grown together in all sorts of odd ways.  We always know where the other is going in a conversation, we often have the same idea at the same time, and we generally have developed a shorthand form of communication.  There are lots more things I could say, but I try not to write too much about him or our relationship here on this blog.

            I fear if I did, it would permeate our relationship.  We would both become self-conscious, knowing that the things we do together or our conversations could become blog fodder.  More to the point, he would never have the comfort of knowing our relationship is completely private.  Our marriage needs to be a safety zone, where we can say anything without fear of public embarrassment.  If I wrote about him, we would lose that place.

            Writing about my kids is different.  I have certain rules in place – pseudonyms, no pictures, nothing that will cause trouble in the Jr. High locker room.  But, the fact is, they do not know I write about them, so it is not a cause for anxiety or self-censorship in our relationship.  I can write about them, record their lives for them, without fearing that it is affecting how we relate to one another.

            Of course, there is always the mommyblogger fear that they will hate me for it later or that I am invading their privacy, which is why my husband vets my writing, acting as their advocate. 

           But him?  He is an adult, he knows what I am doing.  And I just cannot see how our relationship would be the same if instead of being two tired people sloughing through life together I turned us into the observer and the observed.

Defense of marriage

Chani wrote a fabulous post about this topic yesterday, and my response was way too long for a comment.

            I have been married for seven years, and I have never really been tempted to dabble outside of my marriage.  Now, that may be because I have been perpetually exhausted by school and work and kids for those seven years, in which case we should look for me to start shopping around for an affair sometime around 2023, when I have finally had a good night’s sleep.

            However, I suspect there is more to it than that.  Monogamy was not a choice for me.  We talk about marriage as though it is elective, but the fact is that, like gender, it is a social construction we have reinforced time and again from the moment we are old enough to recognize that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are raising their ducklings (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack) together.  Sure, we notice that plenty of adults get divorced, but that is supposedly a failure of the institution we all are very much invested in seeing succeed. 

            The fact is, I did not choose to believe in marriage any more than I chose to believe in shaving my legs, wearing clothing in hot weather, or admiring thin people.  It is just one of many traditions that I have absorbed as “right” because that’s what my society is doing.

            I have often pondered my willingness to fall in line with so many accepted norms of society.  Am I weak-minded and unable to think for myself?  If I had been around 200 years ago, I wonder, would I have just gone along with another of society’s “peculiar institutions”?  Or would I have had the imagination to realize things could be different?  

            I hope the answer is that I am able to think outside of the box when injustice is involved.  My idea of marriage is a smidge different from the one that I saw all around me as I grew up.  In my mind, marriage is exclusively between two adults who love each other and have chosen to be legally bound to each other.  Almost sounds like the prototype, except I can honestly say I ascribe no gender to those two adults.  Yep, I kicked off one aspect of the societal definition, but when I say that of course I support gay marriage, I am backing the institution all the more.

            If I were really able to think outside societal definitions, I would not even see marriage as a preferred state of being.  I would assume relationships are just as they have been built by the people involved, and I would have no judgment for polygamists, cheaters, and men who cannot commit.  Instead, I cannot imagine why those who are trying to bolster family values do not get behind gay marriage.  More people for the cause!  10% more of the population underscoring the value of marriage!  Woohoo!!!

            Yes, despite all my jabber about gender norms and not wearing makeup, I am a good, old-fashioned conformist.  However, I suspect that my lack of interest in extramarital nookie is deeper than that.  After all, nowadays, sometime it seems like cheating is a part of half the marriages out there.

            No, I like monogamy because it has been good to me.  My partner and I have grown towards one another.  We are tense, we are tired, we are moving way too often, but we are so much a part of one another that intimacy with anyone else seems absurd.  It just could not be like the intimacy we have, that is born of sharing a life so fully together.

            So, Chani asks if monogamy is natural.  I say, who the hell knows?  Probably not.  It is probably a convention that, like all conventions, serves some of us better than others. 

            As I sit here writing this, two little boys in bed, a little girl growing inside me, a husband across the country (where are you this week, babe?), and a picture of the four of us on the shelf in front of me, I can honestly say it has been pretty good to me. 

            It may be, however, time to start rethinking that whole absurdity of wearing clothes in hot weather.

Blue Satin Sashes

            Today is our anniversary.  Seven years ago today, I married the only other person I could imagine putting up with on a daily basis.  Of course, at the time, I had no idea I would rarely actually see him on a daily basis.  I had no idea that our careers would go the way they have, that our lives would bend sideways and my intense career focus would get sidelined for his growing ambitions.  We had no inkling that I would end up home with children while he spent nights in hotels.

            What we did know was that we wanted two children.  We had no idea how complicated accomplishing said children would be or the strength our relationship would need to survive fertility treatment in the face of constant absences from one another.  Nor did we quite gather the strain the compromises of life would put on us.  But we did know we were best friends and that we could do it together.

            And, did I mention we knew we wanted two children?  Well, four months ago, J was obviously home for a few minutes, because now it appears we are having a third child.  And today, on our anniversary, I will be going in for the ultrasound.

            J has never made one of these little appointments.  I go on my own and call him from the car.  “Yes, the baby looks healthy… No, there is no cleft-palate… Yes, it’s a boy.”  I don’t really care that he misses the ultrasounds.  We both feel that it is more important that he be there after the birth, and, amazingly, despite his absurd work life, he really is.  Our sons are strongly attached to him, and they see him a lot more than they really ought to, given the call of his work.  There are fallow stretches, times when work lets up and he is home every night for bath.  There are weekends and there are holidays (although he is yet again cutting a three-day weekend short to travel next week).  And we both agree that the top priority is family time.

            We agree on a lot about parenting, J and I.  We agree that kids need structure and routine.  We agree that we need to say “no” to useless crap and “yes” to books.  We agree that education is the most important investment we can make.

            And, we agree that dresses are not necessary for little girls.  Although J has less of an objection than I do, we are in agreement that if this one turns out to defy the odds and confirm her brother’s suspicions, she will operate under the same policy as her brothers: you get a dress when you are old enough to ask for one.  In the meantime, they are a hindrance to crawling and climbing, and we will return any we get as gifts.

            I know I am in the minority on this one, and even my husband feels it much less passionately than I do.  But I maintain that the only reason to put a little girl in a dress is to gender her.  We all know they are much less convenient to the business of childhood, and I know no grown woman who would go rock climbing in tights and a dress, yet we expect little girls to climb the jungle gym in just such attire.  Sure, when she is two or three, she may begin requesting dresses, and then I will be happy to oblige, just as I was with her older brother’s clothing requests. 

            In the meantime, girl or boy, this child will play with cars, dolls, trucks, stuffed animals, musical instruments, and, it goes without saying in our house, trains.  We will read books about two princes who fall in love and caterpillars who eat chocolate cake.  And, the kid will wear pants, because a girl spends 90 some years of her life conforming to gender standards and she deserves two years off at the start.

            Today, I will call J to wish him happy anniversary and hopefully to tell him that the baby looks healthy (touch wood).  I also will let him know whether we need to figure out another boy name, because we do tend to conform to gender standards when it comes to names, hypocrites that we are.  And, four months from now, we will get a chance to learn whether this particular event actually plays out the way we expected it to or whether, like everything else, we can only predict our lives so much.

Cross off one more item

We’ve been light on content around here this week.  Thought you could use a break from the usual pathos.  Don’t get too used to it; we’ve got a rather weightier series coming up next week.

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            The subject header read “I bought a car,” which might not seem so odd to most of you.  People buy cars all the time.  I have been known to do so on occasion.  But, this morning, when I opened my inbox, I was a little surprised.

            You see, the email was from my husband.

            He is in LA, working on the projects that will consume his professional life once we move there in seven weeks (counting down, y’all).  I am in London, puttering about doing miscellaneous tasks like editing my book, talking to movers, and raising our children.  This is nothing new.  I am used to him coming and going, which he has done his whole career, although I was a little surprised by the person who, upon hearing that J would be traveling back and forth to California over the next two months, said “Oh, this will be a tough stretch for him.”  For him?  Tough stretch for him?

            I told J when he left this time that he should test drive some cars.  We need to buy immediately upon our return, given that we had to sell ours upon leaving two years ago.  We have budgeted carefully for this.  We had narrowed down our list and I figured he would test drive a few and then report back, perhaps eliminating one or two.

            Instead, sometime between when I spoke with him at 10:45 GMT last night and when I turned on the computer this morning, he purchased the family vehicle.  Now, how would you feel if your spouse made a major purchase without consulting you?  If he or she decided to plop down a sizeable portion of your budget on the car you are going to be driving for the next ten years without so much as checking what color you might like?

            Dude, was I ever relieved.

            One less thing to think about.  With the move and the kids and the book and his travel and selling our other house and Zachary in a growth spurt so his ankles stick out every time he gets dressed for school and filling out forms for the preschool and immunization records and everyone but Benjamin getting a stomach bug (including our nanny so that I was up half the night working on the book because she was out sick and J is in the States and the damned book still has to get done, hence the bloggy break this week) and us all still needing to eat every now and then, I was just pleased he was not asking me to think about the damned car.  I do not give two shits and a raisin about cars.  As long as he investigated fuel efficiency and safety and cost, he could put me in a pink cardboard box with wheels and I would be fine.  He found the car and got a deal?  Great.  Check one more item off the list.

            His email sounded a little nervous, like he wasn’t sure he made the right decision.  His doubt, however, comes not from thinking I would mind but from thinking most spouses would mind.  Me?  He knows I do not care and do not want to think about it.

            We have been together for thirteen years.  When we met we were practically still in diapers (OK, in college).  We are like some hybrid tree that started out as two very distinct entities but now is a mass of tangled branches and trunks and roots.  We get each other.  I make social plans without his consent.  He buys cars without mine.  It would stress us both out any other way.

            So, honey, because I know you are reading, don’t worry about it.  I am thrilled.  And we have people coming over on Saturday night.  We’re ordering in, because you know damned well the last thing I want to think about is going to the butcher.

Instead of learning to dance

 

J and I thought about taking dance lessons before our wedding.  We were living in different states most of the week, but we figured we could squeeze in an hour during the three days we did spend together.  We are, after all, rather ungainly dancers. 

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We decided, however, to forgo dancing lessons and make fools of ourselves on our wedding night.  If we had one hour a week to devote to preparing for our wedding, we were going to spend it in pre-marital counseling, not in learning the cha-cha.  I do not mean the meetings we had with the rabbi, during which we mostly discussed how to avoid offending my side of the family at the ceremony.  Nor do I mean the type of counseling friends have gotten from their clergy people, advising them on the sanctity of the union they were about to enter.  I mean honest-to-goodness, every-week-for-four-months, warts-and-all counseling.  With a trained therapist. 

“Why bother?” an older friend asked me.  “Your arguments will all be about two things throughout your marriage.  You’ll argue about the kids, but mostly you’ll argue about money.”

Well, here we are, seven years in, and I can tell you, we rarely argue about money.  We’re way too tired.  If we’re going to argue, it’s going to be about something far more basic.

We argue about sleep. 

J travels a lot, and his internal clock is so whacked out he’s never quite sure what time zone he’s in.  I, on the other hand, have become a much lighter sleeper since having kids.  This is a recipe for a lot of disrupted slumbers.

It is true – there are fortunate souls out there who can function on very little sleep.  I have always envied people who are fresh as a daisy after six hours.  How much more they must accomplish each day with those extra hours on the vertical.  I am not one of those people.  I need nine hours a night.

I can get by on eight, but if you really want me to be my charming, sweet-as-pie self, leave me uninterrupted from 9:30 till 6:30, at which time I will leap out of bed, ready to jog five miles or deconstruct Victorian sentences.  Needless to say, night after night of only six or seven core hours leaves me twisted in funny shapes.

I suspect we are not the only couple with slumber-related disputes.  While some folks may need less sleep or may be more able to doze right on through one another’s tossing and turning, I do think there must be other couples out there who every now and then find themselves arguing because of sleep.  Stumbling languidly into the kitchen on Thursday mornings, there must be others who, while arguing over the coffee maker or the phone bill know that, deep down, they are snipping at each other because they are just plain tired.

“The baby kept me up for two hours last night, but he slept right through it.”

She got in an hour after I went to bed and turned on the hall light.”

“I can never sleep after eating his lamb and curried cous cous.”

You cannot get angry at the baby, you cannot admonish the hall light, and you cannot take back the extra serving of cous cous.  The only thing to do is turn on the other adult in the house.  It will not make you less tired, but at least you’ll have someone to blame.

I have to say, I think nothing will solve our sleep-deprivation until the boys are adolescents who actually want to sleep later than we do.  We will probably continue to have the grumpy mornings and exhausted evenings that lead to spats over emptying the dishwasher.  But, we learned something in those four months of counseling.  We may not have learned how not to disagree (and, if you’ve figured that one out, shoot me a quick email, please), but we have learned how to sit down together and search for solutions.

We have come across a few, not the least of which is ensuring each of us gets a good nap at least once a weekend.  Another is occasionally sleeping in separate rooms when too many sleepless nights have piled on top of one another, making a stack in peril of toppling over and burying us in our own exhaustion.  A futon for a living room chair may not be elegant, but it can be a very practical way to create a spare room.  These things help.

What helps even more – from my side at least – is a little monologue I have in my head.  “He’s just as tired as you are.  You are both being grumpy because you are exhausted.  And the boys are learning to treat people disrespectfully whenever they aren’t feeling up to snuff.”  This speech only blocks about half the snippy things on their way out of my mouth, but at least it stops some of them.  And we both keep working on it.

If there’s one thing we learned in pre-marital counseling, it is that a good relationship is a continual process, not a state of being.