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Archive for August, 2009

miniversary

Last night we went to Aunt Karla’s for an end-of-summer, last-hurrah barbecue and it was an unexpectedly romantic experience for me. We were back in the place we got married and it was still so beautiful (especially at night with all the candles and lanterns and such lit) – and a lot of Karla’s friends and coworkers were asking about the wedding, saying they’d seen pictures and such. It was just really pleasant to be back there again, with Trevor, on another beautiful evening, sort of reliving it a little.

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motherhood

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m reading a book right now by Peggy Orenstein called “Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, & Life in a Half-Changed World”. Reading her interviews with 3 women who have children has been so enlightening. One is a single, working mom, the father was a sperm donor; another is a married, stay-at-home mom; and the last one is a married, working mom. The way Peggy writes about her subjects, interspersing their own thoughts about their lives (as recorded in interviews) with her own observations, just provides for so much insight – you really get a good grasp of each woman’s daily life and then also the nature of their Lives (capital L!), and how one fits in (or doesn’t) with the other.

I really feel that my own ideas about how one “does” motherhood have expanded a lot in the last year. Part of it is reading these kinds of books and stories and articles, but that’s been a pretty recent development. I think a lot of it is just because of the time I’ve spent around a.) pregnant women, and b.) single mothers in the last year. I was there for the whole pregnancy with my former manager at work, and she was so open about answering questions any of us had – I learned a lot just by asking, but I also learned a lot just from being around her and observing her lived experience each day. Pregnancy has in some ways lost a lot of its mystique and its magic for me, but in other ways I feel even more awe about it now than I did before. The one big thing watching her pregnancy (and now another co-worker’s pregnancy as well) has done for me is demystify it and make it seem like something I could actually do. Not that I didn’t think I could do it before, but I just knew so little about it and had been so far removed from it, that it always seemed kind of unreal – something that other people did, not me.

I feel like I went through the same process re:being a mother as I watched that same former manager and another coworker of mine navigate work while raising children “on their own”. (I put quotation marks around that because both of them have extensive support networks – exes, parents, family, friends – helping them with childcare and other basics, but both of them are single moms, so they’re “alone” in that sense). And it wasn’t just watching them, but hearing from them – hearing all their funny, sad, tragic, happy stories about raising their children – that first gave me some inkling that motherhood is what you make it, and that you can make it what you want, to an extent.

I was pretty ambivalent about motherhood before having these experiences, working with these two moms, and witnessing this pregnancy. I still am ambivalent about it, but now I feel differently. Before, a lot of my ambivalence came from the fact that I felt it was this black and white thing – if you have children your life is this way or it’s that way, two options, no gray area: you have children and it was the right thing to do and you end up loving it or you have children and it was the wrong decision and you’re miserable. Turns out, you have children and sometimes you love it and sometimes you’re miserable, and sometimes you feel like it was the right thing and sometimes you wish you’d never done it.  I also thought that there were two kinds of lives: with children, and without. But there turns out to be so much diversity and variety even within each of those options. Even beyond the kind of typical breakdowns of working or not working, single or partnered – there’s just so many different ways to live your child-free or child-full life, as many different ways as there are to actually raise a child.

It’s kind of too much knowledge sometimes, it overwhelms me. On the one hand, I feel better informed, and encouraged that I am now more capable of making decisions that will be right for me. But it’s also discouraging because I question whether knowing I have so many more options than I may have once believed actually brings me any closer to making my own decisions about it.  That there are many different ways to be a mother has been such a hopeful discovery for me because it means that door isn’t quite shut yet for me, as I once believed it was. When I thought motherhood could only be a total loss of self that just completely precluded me from participating in it – even if I said I may have wanted children, deep down inside me I knew I never could if those were the rules I had to play by. Now that I know it doesn’t have to be that way, I feel a great sense of possibility. But as I’m reading these interviews and stories and as I’m watching these women I work with navigate their lives I just feel more and more unsure.

Ultimately, I am seeing more, varied options for myself than I ever have before, and that is freeing in many ways. But then it is also sort of dizzying. Six, seven years ago I would have told you that I wanted to get married young, and that I definitely wanted to have children. Almost 2 years ago, I was more surprised than anyone to actually find myself engaged, having lost that particular aspiration – early marriage – by then. Lately, I’ve again found myself more surprised then anyone (excepting my best friend, Jeni, who would be shocked to hear I’ve lost the baby-fever that was already so apparent when we were in college) that I have begun to have such a profound ambivalence toward having children. I was about to write “I’ve always wanted children” but I don’t even know if that’s true – I’ve certainly always assumed I would have them, until very recently I really felt that it was just a given. It was more a matter of when than whether or not. But now it’s whether or not.

I’m still trying to sort that out, and that’s just fine. Mostly, I’m just excited to see myself growing in this way. Look back those six, seven years and you’re looking at a girl who, though proclaiming herself a feminist, still believed that there was one proscribed path and that she would eventually be taking that path. Now I feel like I’ve come to realize there are so many different options, and so many different kinds of lives I could lead, and also that you don’t make the decision of how to live your life or what your life will be once, you make it over and over again, all the time, every day. I learned this while thinking about whether or not I want to have children, but this is a profound lesson that’ll serve me well in all my pursuits, decisions, and daydreams.

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Trevor got a promotion a couple months ago, making him a supervisor where he works. I was doing interim-manager duties during my manager’s maternity leave and then was subsequently offered the job when she was let go. In effect, we’ve been living in a two-manager household for about 2 months (since I started as acting manager), and it has made a bigger difference then you might think.

Both our stress levels have gone way up as our responsibilities have increased, and gone are the days when my job was less stressful and I was therefore more capable of being there for him when he needed me. Now we both vent to each other. I often feel like I can’t have a story all to myself – as soon as I start talking about something that stressed me out that day, he has his own story about his own stressful day to tell, too. I don’t mean that it bothers me, it doesn’t – it just feels a little like we’re both just kind of talking out loud at each other. Clearly we both need to vent, need to talk about it with someone – so we do it with each other but we’re both so wrapped up in our own daily stresses that it becomes hard to really hear the other person.

The upside is I do feel like we understand each other better – I can now identify with some of the stresses he goes through that I couldn’t before, and I think now that I’m a manager it has lent my job and my daily stresses more validity in his mind. I don’t think he looked down on my job before, but I always got the feeling that he was thinking “well, yea, but you’re just a receptionist – how hard could your day possibly have been? not as hard as mine” – and I don’t feel like that is really in play anymore, which is nice. It’s nice to be seen as an equal, in terms of the work I do.

It also helps that I’m making more money now, I think that also lends my job and my work more validity in his eyes because hopefully I can become a more equal contributor to the household income now.

Another way that living in a two-manager household has been a positive change is that we both have the same goal when we get home now: to relax. I still am more likely than he is to want to (or have the energy to) go out after work – but I’m nowhere near as likely to do that as I was before I was managing. Most days I am so just mentally exhausted from the day that I’m happy just to come home and hang out, which is what he has always done, how he has always felt. So that puts us a little more on a par with each other, too.

This whole experience just has me thinking how interesting it is to live with someone – you both come to the table with completely different life experiences that have shaped and formed you to become what you are now, and then you continue to grow and change and learn while you’re together – and it’s interesting how the same thing experienced by two different people produces two different results. But it feels like the longer we’re together, the more similar the results become. Not, I think, because we are becoming more alike, exactly. But, rather, because we’re moving into this time in our lives when more and more often we are having the same experience at the same time, sometimes simply by dent of living together, but other times just by coincidence. Although I don’t know if both of us working in management is coincidence – in a way, I think we are both the same time of workers: we work hard at whatever we are doing: whether it’s cleaning bathrooms or upper management, we’re going to excel at what we do because we both take the time to learn the ins and outs and we both want to be good at what we do, and to be recognized for that. Both of us are also people-persons, we get along with a wide range of personalities and we’re both good at conflict resolution. We also both seem to believe in the ideal of being straight-forward, honest, and direct at all times, although I think both of us are still learning how to do that. So, in a way, it isn’t that surprising that, as different as we are, we would “coincidently” both end up as managers at some point in time.

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productivity

I got the certified copies of my marriage license, so next week (after payday) I can start making my rounds and getting shit done. I already went to my bank and changed my name, and just yesterday I got the new card – which, incidently, was my first piece of mail with my married name on it, which was sort of exciting.

I guess that’s not true, because I also got my voter registration card with my new name on it sometime last week – but, really, how exciting is that? In my experience, you never even actually have to show it to anyone.

My only concern right now is that I’m going to try to use my bank card and someone’s going to ask me for i.d. and then I’m only going to have my i.d. with my old name on it and there’s going to be a hassle. But hopefully just no one will ask me for i.d., right?

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why I got married

I can’t be the only woman who, upon getting married, promptly gets reading. I’m always reading, so it only makes sense that such a big change in my life would be accompanied by yet more reading. In the spirit of getting married, and of hitting quarterlife crisis time, I picked up two books: “Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, & Life in a Half-Changed World”, and “The Meaning of Wife: A Provactive Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century”.

I’m currently reading “Flux” which is by Peggy Orenstein, who wrote an excellent, similarly-structured book I read years ago called “Schoolgirls”, about adolescent girls struggling with issues of self and identity, among other things. My past experience reading her other book, along with Anne Lamott’s endorsement of the book, and my own sense that “something big is happening” in my own life ( or maybe that “nothing big is happening and maybe it should be”), really drew me to this book and so far it’s been pretty interesting.

Today, I started reading a section on marriage in which she says, “…women often described the decision to marry as a pragmatic one. It was time, they said, or they felt internal and external pressure to marry, or they couldn’t envision building a life alone. Those who had reached their mid-thirties felt an additional urgency: They wanted to have children.”

And I started thinking about why I got married. As I just got married it may seem like the answer should come swiftly. And, in a way, it does. Before I got married, my stock answer whenever anyone would ask why I was getting married was always “because I love him”. But that answer always seemed inadequate and sort of too-easy, and until now I couldn’t pinpoint why. It turns out “because I love him” is one of the reasons I’m with him, in it for the long haul – but why did I want to get married?

I don’t really know the answer, even now. I do know that I didn’t recognize myself in Peggy Orenstein’s description of the reasons women give for getting married – I don’t feel “the crunch” yet, I don’t feel my biological clock tick-tocking away just yet; I didn’t get married because “it was time” or because I felt any particular pressure to do so. I guess the only point of similarity that I can eke out is that I do feel that, to an extent, I got married because it was the next logical step – that’s what you do when you love someone and you know you want to spend your life with them, right? For me, any pressure I felt wasn’t about time or worrying about my childbearing years – I really didn’t feel any pressure at all – but I do recognize that I’ve been societally influenced and educated into thinking that marriage is necessarily the next step. A Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell kind of unmarried, monogamous, lifelong partnership is clearly not what I had envisioned – that married part was essential to my conception of our next steps as a couple. And I honestly couldn’t tell you why. Maybe a psychologist or sociologist or anthropologist could tell you better than I.

Obviously, marriage confers certain benefits and there are many couple who decide to marry based solely on the need for health insurance through their partner’s workplace or other such practical considerations. We didn’t have a situation that stark, but I did take those kinds of things into consideration: it scared me to think he might not be able to see me immediately if I ever landed in the hospital or vice-versa, for instance.

I also wanted to have a party. There I said it. I wanted to get married, of course, but the fact that there was a whole party I got to plan thrown in really sweetened the deal. I feel like, among the offbeat/alternative bride community, there’s this huge taboo against admitting you were actually that excited to plan your wedding – because you’re not supposed to be that traditional, like all those other brides, who are more excited about the wedding than the marriage. But whatever, although wedding planning was also stressful at times, it was mostly fun and a chance to exercise some of the creativity muscles I haven’t gotten to use in awhile, and then there was a party at the end and I looked pretty and everyone came to see us and then bought us gifts – it was nice, ya know. The wedding is not the reason I got married, but it was a factor.

This directly relates to the whole baby thing for me, too. I recently decided that I don’t want to raise a child – what I want is to be pregnant and talk about baby names and be the center of attention and possibly have the cutest baby ever who is also fawned over constantly – but I don’t actually want children. I might change my mind at some point in the future, but right now that pretty much sums it up and I think it’s good to realize this now rather than later. There was a point during wedding planning (very early on) when I had to seriously ask myself if I was getting married for the right reason. I had gotten so excited about the wedding, and was so lost in color schemes and themes and patterns and dresses and flowers, that I had to take a step back and reevaluate – and unlike with the baby thing – I came back knowing I was making the right decision, that I was excited about the wedding, yes, but that I genuinely wanted to be married to Trevor, too. I get excited about the idea of a baby, but the reality is distinctly unpalatable to me right now.

How did I get to babies?

Anyway, I’m withTrevor because I love and respect him; he supports me, comforts me, and loves me; we both allow each other our separate identities and independence; he makes me laugh and I enjoy his company; he’s good in bed…I could go on. But it’s newly clear to me that the reasons you love someone or the reasons you’re with someone just aren’t the same as the reasons you marry someone. As to why marriage and not just unmarried lifelong committment? I only have guesses. I think that the societal validation and the affirmation of our commitment by our community of friends and family; the ceremony and the feeling of becoming bonded that is a product of that; a deeper sense of commitment and love through marriage; and, yes, the party – all of these things were important to me and contributed to why I got married.

Why did you?

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