But he seemed like such a nice, quiet guy

Wednesday night as we waited for Australia to start, my sisters and I discussed men. Mary’s marriage imploded earlier this year, and Karen is now much less starry-eyed at the prospect of love and romance than Mary and I were when we were nineteen. Karen asked us how she could ever know if it was the right thing to marry someone. How do you know they won’t hurt you as my sister has been hurt?

Of course you can’t know.

Dick could turn out to be a mass murderer tomorrow, and I would be the last person to know.

Not really. I keep pretty close tabs on that boy.

As I’ve told my sisters before, I knew that I had to marry Dick. That he was it. When he got cold feet after we’d been engaged for about a month (remember this is also just a month after we met), I felt that my life was over, and not just in a Twilight “I love you even though you’re a vampire and sometimes want to eat me” sort of way.

Basically, I said, Dick is my evidence that there is a God and that He cares about me.

Mary turned to Karen and said, “You’d think she’d treat him better, then.”

What? I treat Dick JUST FINE.

Maybe sometimes I get exasperated by Dick’s always dwelling in the land of never-never. In the kitchen, making mincemeat pie with his dad for Thanksgiving, Dick reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, who is always so busy daydreaming she forgets to add flour.

Sometimes I can’t revel in the nice things Dick does (like taking the kids home for bed while I see a movie with my sisters) because the next morning he brings them back to my parents looking like raggedy orphans.

You know how they say that in order to counteract one criticism you have to give seven compliments? It’s like that. Dick does or says one irritating thing, and suddenly the five or six thoughtful things he did just don’t quite make up for it.

Well, today he did one small thing that I think is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

I called him early to remind him to bring me fresh clothes and my glasses, and he told me how Susan, after snuggling with him in our bed this morning, had a little accident. We are not amused, Susan. You can’t just go an entire year accident-free and then have three accidents in two days, including one in MY BED.

Dick got a bit impatient with the long list of things I needed from the house. And the butter and ice cream and bacon I needed from the store. He may even have snapped when I suggested he get a pen and paper to write this all down. Wasn’t I sympathetic that he had to FIND THE BAKING SODA and THROW THE SHEETS DOWN TO THE LAUNDRY ROOM?

So finally he made it to my parents. He told me where everything on my list was, and then he said, “I brought you a Mountain Dew.”

That he would think of this on his own, and actually remember it and try to shrug it off as “they were just sitting there right by the door to the garage” —

I don’t even know how many irritating things that counteracts, Dick. Maybe a million.

Jane

What I see when I see you

I found my place at college when I applied for Writing Fellows. I’d settled on English as a major after trying out everything from pre-med to American Studies, and the idea of telling people what was wrong with their writing, for money, was too appealing to pass up. I adored the other Fellows: the smart, quirky girls who studied chemistry and art and the cute, goofy guys who could discuss early American literature with straight faces, even if they did lapse into sports analogies whenever possible. They were all very cool in a way that only other earnest idealists would appreciate.

One day I saw a thread on our listserv from one of the Fellows who’d matriculated into the group a semester before I did. So he was extra cool, being one of the “big” kids. And he was using a Walt Whitman quote as a stirring call to action about how we would help the poor beleaguered masses find their writing voices. I thought he sounded pretty condescending (and was kind of hijacking Whitman), so I responded with “What the hell are you talking about?”

Being the big nerd he was, he didn’t get mad, he was delighted that someone was stirred enough to issue a challenge. And that was when a few of my bad habits began. I started stumbling to the computer first thing in the morning to see if he’d replied to my latest salvo. I snuck into the Writing Fellows office and stole his literary biography, a writing memoir that was the first assignment a new Writing Fellow always completed. It usually turned into a Declaration of Writer-ness. I read his, about coming to school intending to study physics, about spending two years in Venezuela, about realizing that literature and writing were what he really loved.

I went home and told my mom I’d fallen in love, not that his essay was so great. It probably stunk almost as much as mine did, but I was in love with the person who’d produced it. Then I realized that I had no idea what he looked like, and a sudden fear struck me. Fear that he would be that one guy with thick glasses, awful shirts, and a fanny pack. The one who was always taking pictures and had floppy hair, not in a good-floppy sort of way.

Dear Lord, I prayed that night, anyone but him. I LOVE him, but, please, anyone but that guy.

My bad habits continued. I snuck into the Writing Fellows office again and found a picture of my Fellow. He was not the guy with thick glasses, awful shirt, and fanny pack.

There is a God.

He suggested, over email, that we meet, go out, further our acquaintance. I said yes, of course, because I was already in love with him. We joked about carrying roses in books or wearing yellow, but in the end his roommate picked me up on the way back from taking his girlfriend caving.

We were married four months later, and this weekend I realized that one of the things I am most grateful for in my whole entire life is that I fell in love before knowing what he looked like. Before seeing his face and wanting his strong body. Before his pheromones promised mine that there would be babies, sweet, chubby babies in our future.

Because I fell in love with him.

Some days I am sure that deciding to become a stay-at-home mother was the biggest mistake I ever made

Today, minutes before I exploded my new Pyrex brownie pan by turning on the wrong burner on my glass-top stove, Dick took the car to his scout meeting. He refused to take any of the girls with him, and, since he worked from home today, he never really “came” home before leaving right before the joyous Eat Dinner and Go To Bed part of our program.

(And this week’s trash has not yet made it to the trash can, and tomorrow is trash day.)

(And he left out the blender. Again.)

Yesterday I walked to my cub scout pack meeting with all three girls (WHO ARE NO MORE WELCOME AT MY SCOUTS THAN THEY WOULD BE AT DICK’S SCOUTS) because Dick took the car to his voice-over lessons that he’s getting in exchange for blog consultation. The voice lessons which appeared on his schedule to help him podcast better. (AS IF I CARED ABOUT HIS DING DANG PODCAST).

Now, I know. It could be worse. Dick could be dead. Dick could be a selfish, narcissistic, insensitive creep who left us for a Barbie-type fantasy with LONG HAIR. Dick could be unemployed and uninterested in looking for work. One or all of our children could be terminally-ill with last-stage myofarcoinsentialoma. I could work all day at a real job and then come home to deal with the exact same problems.

But. Could anyone, male or female, explain to me why, when I need to leave the Smoking Brownie-Glass Chunks Everywhere mess in my kitchen for emergency Chik-fil-A fresh-squeezed lemonade (and dinner for the kids), I am car-less because Dick has driven FOUR BLOCKS. (WITHOUT KIDS).

Also, I know. I shouldn’t blame this whole (obviously hormonal) fiasco on being a stay-at-home mom — at least, certainly not on the “mom” part, not when Spot, seeing my weeping while vacuuming glass is intent on hugging my leg in comfort. And not when Susan, even after I spanked her mouth for repeating that very naughty word ONLY MOM CAN SAY says, “It’s okay Mom, you don’t have to be mad.”

But I’m sorry, all of you who have tried to claim some other title, like Homemaker or Soul Sculptors for the King of the Universe. I love my kids. They are the most significant part of my life. The only part of being a stay-at-home mom that I don’t like is the part where I SUDDENLY FEEL LIKE A SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN IN MY OWN LIFE.

Jane

Comment of the day from Emily Jones:

Oh man, I so feel ya. In my blog, I have a separate tag for poo parties, because they happen often enough to necessitate one. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has days that age me 10 years. I’m also glad to know I’m not the only one who wants to run away from home. It’s almost easier to have a husband that beats on you, because then you can blame him guiltlessly. But when he’s a decent guy who works for a living, it’s harder to tell him he’s being a jerk.

*Not that I want to make light of abuse. If your husband is ANY WORSE THAN MINE in ANY way, please dump him. Right now.

2nd Comment of the day from Maggie:

Some days I feel the same way. Some days, as in days that end in Y. I’m sorry you had a bad day. I’m sorry your husband couldn’t walk his tush and leave you the car. I hope you have a better day today and an awesome weekend.

My Better(-Paid) Half

I’m often asked why I blog (WHY do you blog? Why do you blog? Why do you blog?). There are as many reasons to blog as there are people to blog. Basically, writing is good for you like exercise is good for you. It quickens the heart, focuses the mind, works the muscles, cleanses the system.

Blogging is the easiest and most easily rewarding way to write that I know of. But it can still be discouraging or upsetting or maddening. In the end, I blog (despite not turning blog-famous) because I have something to say.

And also, apparently, to communicate with my husband. Dick writes at IdRatherBeWriting.com, and today he’s got a post up about how living with a mommy blogger is great training for a corporate blogger. He totally misrepresents me in places, but I’m reminded that I fell in love with his thoughts and writing even before his hot body.

If you started reading Seagull Fountain after reading Dick, I only ask that you keep in mind that, while Dick’s college GPA was .02 higher than mine, I smoked him on the ACT, GRE, and dishwashing championships.

Why do YOU blog? (Or not?)

Jane

talk-to-me-tuesday_white

Poor Mother Hubbard

Yesterday I came home to find Dick emptying the dishwasher. He’d been pushed that far by an exchange we’d had over Twitter. (Twitter = Communication = Great for Marriage).

Dick: My left wrist feels like someone ran over it with a car, but I have no recollection of any injury to it.

Jane: @Dick Hope it wasn’t all the dishes you did last night. WAIT. You didn’t do any dishes last night (ever). Probably carpal tunnel :(.

(Sidenote: In going back to get this word-for-word, I noticed the tweet Dick had written two hours before the wrist thing. “Just thinking that my blogging life with Jane is the natural extension of a marriage of two English majors. Love reading her blog everyday.” Boy, I’m starting to look really bad here, huh? In my defense, all I can say is that Dick had played basketball the night before, and that he truly hadn’t washed a single dish since we moved into this house one month ago.)

Now, I recognize the wisdom in the advice given to women that they shouldn’t criticize the way hubs diapers the baby or barbeques the chicken or washes the dishes. I know just enough behavior modification to realize that criticizing the way someone does something they don’t enjoy anyway is not a good way to encourage them to keep doing it.

But. Dick does dishes the wrong way.

He does.

Plus he hasn’t cooked (yet) in this new house, so I was prepared to be exasperated when he started hunting through cupboards looking for the mixing bowl’s home. And I blushed deep red half-way through saying NOT THAT ONE:

Not that beautifully empty, extra-deep cupboard that I . . . completely forgot about when setting up my kitchen four weeks ago.

If I weren’t feeling so sheepish, I’d be overjoyed at the thought of an EMPTY CUPBOARD. That’s like a $20 bill in your coat pocket, waiting for weather cold enough for you to discover it.

What will I put in that cupboard? The possibilities are staggering, and endless. I’ll probably keep it empty as long as I can, opening the door to admire its rich blankness whenever I feel cluttered and overwhelmed. It’ll be my secret place. A reminder that now we have more: more space, more possibility, more home than we need.

Jane

(and thanks for doing the dishes, Dick. You’re the best. (husband and father, not dishwasher).

Don’t slam the screen door

I’ve been thinking about infidelity a lot lately, probably ever since my sister’s husband left her. Yesterday the New York Times reported that infidelity is on the rise. Politicians cheat, pop culture glamorizes cheating, and sometimes even my own true love thinks that it’s obviously my job (not his) to clean the poop out of the tub.

Sometimes the bloom seems off the rose, the glitter wears thin, and the once-in-a-lifetime is obscured by the everyday.

I usually avoid adultery movies. I’m just not interested in the rationalizations or romanticizations of being unfaithful. I don’t care how tragic or star-crossed or understandable it is that someone would cheat. If it could happen to them, it might happen to me, and I don’t like to think about that.

Then Dick and I moved to Seagull Fountain and entered a technology-drought like it was 1984. No internet, no TV, no internet. So we watched Spanglish, a movie we’d borrowed from my parents a year ago.

Dick loved it. Thought it was the best Adam Sandler movie ever (not a hard thing to be), and I thought it was the saddest movie ever. Until I watched The Bridges of Madison County for the first time, and decided that was the saddest movie ever.

Sad because I totally get why Francesca would cheat. Her husband, the farmer, slams the screen door. Every. Day. He’s silent during dinner. Her kids are normal teenagers (enough said).

That slamming door is so symbolic, I tell Dick. It means the farmer also leaves the lid up, the cap off, the blender out, the foreplay forgotten.

Oh, Francesca! Where do I find an itinerant National Geographic photographer of my own, eager to peel carrots and bring me drinks and ever-so-gently ease the door shut?

That silent screen door is so symbolic, I tell Dick. It means the photographer sees her. He sees her flaws and loves her anyway. He sees her dreams and rejoices in them. HE SEES HER.

At the end of the movie, when Francesca is devastated over the photographer leaving and her staying, the farmer notices that she is undone, and asks what is wrong. More tears. He asks again. She says she just needs a minute.

He reaches over to the radio and — Here it is, I think, here is where he turns the dial to Francesca’s favorite Italian opera music, proving that he, too, SEES her, and it is a SIGN FROM THE HEAVENS ABOVE that she has made the right decision (the staying, not the straying).

But no. He turns it to the Farm Report. Francesca cries. The photographer drives out of Iowa.

And then, as the stupid tears course down my cheeks, I remember a few things:

The farmer falls in love with Francesca in Italy and gives her all he has.

The farmer tells her that he cannot sleep without her beside him.

The farmer TAKES THE KIDS FOR FOUR DAYS so she can have some alone time.

The farmer asks her what’s wrong. Twice.

I don’t know about you, but if my husband takes the kids to the state fair for four days, I’m not thinking of cheating on him, I’m polishing my shrine to his saintly-wonderful self.

And not only does he notice when she’s upset, he asks her what’s wrong. Twice.

The farmer doesn’t see Francesca because she does not show herself to him.

My sister worries that our youngest sister will have a harder time taking the leap of faith into marriage, after seeing what happened to her could-have-been-perfect marriage. I think it is a darn good thing that Dick and I leapt when we were both just babies, too dreamy to guess how many things could go wrong.

After ten years of a marriage that I would like to continue forever, I have a few pieces of advice for both of my sisters and whomever they end up with:

For the men: Don’t slam the screen door.

For the women: Show yourself to your husband. (Every day). (Even when he forgets to ask).

For both: Don’t forget the . . . friendship.

Jane

That’s what works-for us. What works for your marriage? Got any advice for the single or the newly re-single?

Once upon a time (or, Susan’s book pick: Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner)

Sometimes I fantasize about organizing a “too much stuff” intervention for my parents. I try to tell them, nicely, that we have libraries, Blockbuster, and WalMart for a reason: so we don’t have to stockpile every last ding-dang thing in our own homes.

But ever since Sally learned how to read, it’s been kind of nice that they have too many old hardback copies of Nancy Drew, The Secret Garden, and Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. Susan and Spot love Grandma’s picture books. Like toys, someone else’s books are always much more exciting that your own.

A couple months ago, Susan set down Grandma’s copy of Rapunzel long enough to discover Fanny’s Dream, an enchanting pseudo-Cinderella-type fairy tale. Fanny’s fairy godmother doesn’t arrive in time to send Fanny to the ball. Instead, her good friend Heber comes calling and offers her “one hundred and sixty acres, a little log cabin, and dreams of my own . . . and good food and great company.”

Fanny accepts, though she warns him that she doesn’t do windows. So Heber and Fanny settle down to a mundane life of farming, parenting, and laughing.

Here’s my favorite part (and a good candidate for fridge lamination):

As for Heber, he figured that it hadn’t been easy for Fanny to give up her dreams, so he made it a point to wait on her at least once a day, as if she were a princess, and every so often he wiped the grime off the windows.

When Fanny’s fairy godmother finally shows up, after three kids and a house fire and pig slopping, butter churning, and outhouse pranks played on Heber, Fanny has to decide whether she wants her current life or her dream life. I don’t want to give away the plot, but let’s just say I haven’t finished reading it yet without crying.

Last time I read it to the girls, I noticed an inscription on the title page: To Mom and Dad, love Jane and Dick, Christmas 1998. That was just six months after Dick and I were married. And I think I gave it to my mom because I know she gave up a lot of her dreams when she got married at 17, had me at almost-19, and then mothered continues to mother the five of us and grandmother the kids that we have added.

I guess it’s okay to hang on to some books forever.

Obviously, Fanny’s Dream Works for me!

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We who are your mothers and wives salute you!

On Friday Dick had to attend his first (and hopefully last) Boy Scout Jamboral. Since the Boy Scouts have even more regulations and permits than merit badges, Dick and his boys were going to catch a ride with someone authorized to transport scouts, but the plan was for me to drop them off at the church rendezvous point.

That afternoon I picked Dick up from work and drove to the boys’ apartment. I suggested he call to make sure the boys were ready to go, but Dick will sometimes do anything to avoid talking to people on the phone. After we’d waited a few more minutes and I nagged a bit more, he went in search of the boys (because that’s easier than actually making a phone call).

The boys weren’t ready. They weren’t packed, they hadn’t sewn on their patches. And they hadn’t made their tinfoil dinners yet. Dick was pretty ticked. Can you believe those boys hadn’t SEWN ON THEIR PATCHES or MADE THEIR TINFOIL DINNERS? I wondered if their mom was able to help, and Dick said their mom doesn’t know how to sew, and anyway, the boys SHOULD TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES.

So I reminded Dick that I had:

A) procured his shirt,

B) shopped for and assembled his tinfoil dinner,

C) bought the boys’ shirts and patches that were not sewn,

D) reminded Dick to get his sleeping bag and tent from my parents’ house,

E) reminded the boys the previous day that they should make tinfoil dinners and sewn on patches,

F) picked Dick up from work, and

G) washed and folded his clothes that he wanted to take.

You’re so right, Dick. Boys should learn to do things for themselves.

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For my own personal history

Memarie Lane has a great post today about how most of us are bit players (if not Kleenex-disposable extras) in the big scheme of life. That’s why (because I agree, not because of her post) I wasn’t going to write some grandiose “Where were you?” post about September 11th. Wasn’t going to say that we were living in New York City in 2001. That we were proud of Rudy Guiliani,and also the democrats, and that we were scared when we thought there were seven planes hijacked. But we calculated that Columbia’s Low Library must be pretty low on a terrorist’s list of targets.

I wasn’t going to admit that I was excited that we got to order in (free) lunch from that deli on Broadway because we were all so upset and of course I couldn’t even think of eating at a time like that. I think I ate a spinach salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs, and a vinegary-sweet dressing. (This is not a comment to trivialize but to confess how my appetite is never, ever ruined. A post for another day.)

Earlier that morning my shoulder dislocated while I was using the thera-band from my physical therapist. Wasn’t the first time, or the worst time, but, oh! did I feel sorry for myself as I rode the subway to work. As I took the 1/9 to 116th and Broadway and walked through the quad at Columbia University.

Someone had a TV on in the lobby of the SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) Building, and the rest of the day was a Kafka-like nightmare of helpless surrealism. We sat around the Economics Department with the lights half-on. We made plans to give blood, and then we heard that no blood was needed.

I wondered if Tom was okay and if I’d be able to make it home to The Bronx, if the bridges and tunnels and subways would be reopened soon. He was home with one-year-old Avery back then. Every day at four he dropped her off before going to class, and I took her home after she’d gotten lots of attention from Angela and Sharon and Leslie, and polite disinterest from Laura.

I had visited the World Trade Center for the first and only time two weeks before the attacks. My brother was visiting from Utah and wanted to see everything. I’ve got pictures of us with Avery in her MacLaren stroller. We have pictures of her, a little older, in the same stroller, in front of the photo and ribbon-festooned plywood barricades that ringed Ground Zero (and probably still do, for all I know).

I felt so stupid that day, for feeling sorry for myself about my dumb shoulder. Even stupider when reports of the bravery and desperation of the “Let’s Roll” people came out of Pennsylvania.

It was probably only weeks or days before I felt sorry for myself again, over something even dumber, like too many poopy diapers in a twenty-four hour period. Or a husband who liked to play basketball in the evenings instead of rushing home to be with us.

And then I’d remember to be glad, and immeasurably grateful, that he would be coming home at all.

 

Katie Couric and Me: Dick Survives His First Colonoscopy, and So Will You!

Dick’s maternal grandfather died of colon cancer at the age of 43. He was diagnosed about 18 months before that, and left behind a wife and three children. When I realized that Dick would be turning 33 next month, and that we have three children I cannot raise alone, I started asking about colonoscopies.

My dad is usually my first stop for medical advice (okay, after the internet), and he said that, coincidentally, he was scheduling a colonoscopy for my mom because she just turned 50, which is the age screenings should begin for those with average risk.

If you have a grandparent, parent, sibling, or child with colon cancer, you’ll want to have your first colonoscopy (or other screening) done 10 years before they were diagnosed. Which for Dick meant yesterday.

As others will attest, the preparation for a colonsocopy is much worse than the actual exam. It involves 24-plus hours of a clear liquid diet and nasty-tasting bowel cleansing medicine. But I’m afraid I wasn’t very sympathetic. I have borne Dick three children, after all, and frankly, bodily dignity is not worth forgoing children or a long, healthy life.

For the actual exam, Dick was knocked completely out. Some people don’t actually fall asleep, but if you are at all sleep-deprived or situationally narcoleptic (like Dick), you’ll be out before they have the camera turned on. In the recovery room, Dick was incredibly cheerful and loopy. I mean, more so than usual.

Dick now owes me his life, because they found a polyp in his lower colon. Probably not cancerous, not yet, but they removed it and will do a biopsy. Fewer than 20% of forty-year olds have polyps, and the doctor and nurses all congratulated Dick on having such a loving wife.

While Dick was at the hospital, I cleaned furiously, because:

1. I felt guilty for being mad about something he’d said even after he apologized quite nicely.

2. The house was a serious wreck and no one should have to come home to dishes in the sink after getting their keister probed.

3. I had to take my mind off the fact that if the doctor accidentally perforated his colon and had to perform emergengy surgery and if Dick died from a freak scalpel accident, the last post of mine he ever read would be one where I neglected to mention that, though I would not die for him (unless our children were already dead), if something ever happened to him, I would not be happy to still be alive.

If you or someone you love is at risk for colon cancer (and everyone over 50 is), please schedule a screening or talk to your doctor today. (Liz! This means you! Hie thee to the colonoscopist!).

I promised a Back-to-School Edition of Things That Must Go today (I know, you probably didn’t even notice, or miss it, or care, but just pretend, okay?). And now I’m all posted out. Saturdays weren’t doing much for me anyway, so I think I’ll try posting Things That Must Go on Sunday nights. I have some great (bad) ones stored up, and I hope you do too!