Welcome to Suburbia: You Get What You Ask For

I love Kristen Howerton’s blog, Rage Against the Minivan. I especially love the title. The way she married a fun play on words to the mommy-blog culture is fantastically creative. For the record, Kristen now drives a minivan, although begrudgingly.

We all know that raging against minivans is popular in our culture. When my husband and I first bought our minivan, his friends teased him mercilessly. Buying a minivan is seen as the end of youth, fun, and everything good. It’s a symbol of suburbia, boredom, soccer-momming, and schlepping. All that aside, as soon as I became pregnant with my daughter, I knew we had to buy a minivan. At the time, my oldest son was playing lots and lots of baseball, and we had to lug equipment and kids around every weekend. Adding a car seat, diaper bag, and stroller to that mix just wouldn’t work in a “regular” car. And now, with a six-person family, the minivan is even more of a necessity.

I don’t begrudge this necessity, I embrace it.

I am not oblivious to the cultural reasoning behind anti-minivan rhetoric. I understand why many swear up and down they will never drive a minivan, and why they curse the bleary-eyed moms who swerve into the wrong lane and sit too long at green lights. (tip: neither of those things are caused by the minivan. They are instead caused by trying to find the Dora doll that rolled under the seat while simultaneously trying to dig Cheerios out of a diaper bag and shove them into the mouth of a baby who is facing away from the driver’s seat. But I digress.)

Minivans mean marriage, kids, the end of bar hopping and world travel. They mean a regular job, a 401k, and wearing uncomfortable clothes five days a week.

In other words, the owner of a minivan has reached the pinnacle that the vast majority of people spend the first three decades of life trying to attain: spouse, kids, career. All societal markers of success.

So why the bad rep?

The universal “we” tend to do that. We long for marriage, but once married, feel tied down. We want children, yet once they are born, we long for an unhindered lifestyle. We work our hinnies off to get the job of our dreams, then count down the days to the next vacation. We shun domesticity while at the same time struggling hard to achieve it.

This is, of course, nonsensical.

So my suggestion is that the next time you see a harried mom (badly) driving a minivan down the road, instead of being scornful, be awed. You are in the presence of a woman who has everything she’s always wanted, and who wouldn’t give up the minivan life—schlepping, boredom, and Cheerios included—for all the convertibles in the world.


Bringing baby home, safe, in the middle row.

Related post: Why This Almost 35-Year-Old Mama Doesn’t Mind Wearing Beige

Celebrating the 4th of July Even When We Feel Let Down by Our Country

As our nation celebrates the 4th of July today, I realize there might be a temptation to think only of the ironies of “Independence Day.” Today, many may think of our nation’s non-liberty-loving and questionable moral actions: Guantanamo, spying on citizens, war and drones. The list could go on.

But this morning as my husband and I were explaining the 4th of July to our three-year-old daughter, I was overcome by the feeling that we, as parents and as a nation, must not give into the cynical temptation to disregard today and other, similar celebrations of our country.

The analogy that came to mind was that of a marriage anniversary. Marriage inevitably brings ups and downs, problems, arguments, maybe even questionable moral actions. We are exposed, daily, to our spouse’s weaknesses. But when the marriage anniversary roles around, those things are put aside, and the love between husband and wife is celebrated. The bad is left to be focused on another day. And those two things are essential: 1) the celebration of what is right and good, and 2) when the day has come and gone, focusing on the problems that do exist.

For better or worse, we are married to a country that, like a spouse, has good and bad and moral and evil. Today is the anniversary of our country. So let’s celebrate, and tomorrow and all the 364 other days that follow, let’s build up our metaphorical marriage by loving what’s lovable, recognizing strengths, and working towards solving problems instead of throwing up our hands in dismissal and disgust.

Happy 4th of July!

As Wedding Season Begins, Thoughts for the Young Ones

As the invitations to this summer’s weddings roll in, I’ve noticed that I get more sentimental with each one. I get a little teary, even, especially when the bride and groom are especially young, or so in love that the raw and bright emotion radiating from them is blinding.

Reasons become clear and half-formed thoughts come to fruition in my magical rocking chair, and today was no different. I sat and rocked the baby, thinking of weddings, and realized that my sentimentality is rooted in joy, for obvious reasons, as well as something bittersweet, because while marriage itself is wonderful, it is also a marker of a changing life tide. Life will progress in much the same way for everyone regardless of marital status, but in marriage, just as the triumphs are shared, so too are the trials.

Marriage marks the last time one can focus solely on self, the last time chores will be done with only one person’s preference in mind. The last time it’s okay to wash only your own socks without considering the sock needs of another. The last time you can collapse into an exhausted heap at 6pm without feeling the need to explain. The last time finances are relatively uncomplicated, and that it’s okay to consider only one travel option for holiday plans. The last time you can throw up your hands and say “enough is enough,” open the door, and walk away without spending $10,000 in the process.

Lives being bound together in marriage typically begin carefree and beautiful, marked with amazing seasons of joy — wedding, honeymoon, job, house, perhaps pregnancy and beautiful children. But as the joys come in clusters, so too do the sorrows. Arguments over nothing and everything. Misunderstandings of unbelievable proportions. A child lost, a parent aged, a house foreclosed, bills mounting. And as we all know, while we tend to take our triumphs lightly, we are hit full force by trials, and after marriage that force will be felt times two.

Chores once done in love will become harbingers of resentment. If there are children of any age in your union, sleep once taken for granted will be a much fought-for commodity. Bodies will become marked by pregnancy, childbirth, lost sleep, and the inevitable stress of life.

Part of me wants my children to get married young — getting married and having children tends to bring out in people all the good things their parents taught them. They return to how they were raised, and shed many of the habits that need shedding. Part of me wants my children to marry later in life, so they can know more fully who they are, live a bit, and put off this marker of change.

I already know that when I talk to my children of love and marriage, they will smile and nod when I tell them they can’t live off love. That they will need a firmer foundation than that to build a marriage on. As I prattle on, they will be feel certain that they will be different, stronger, better. They will say that they know of the hardships and sleepless nights they will face, but they will never lose sight of love and passion. That they will never argue over selfish things, or fight over holiday plans, or worry about money because that is just so unimportant in the face of glorious love. As they smile and nod at their mom’s incessant ramblings, they will know with all their heart that the little fights they have during courtship will never grow larger, or will somehow resolve or become unimportant once they are under the same roof.

And maybe they will be right.

But when the time is right, I will try to explain, so they will be prepared, that someday soon love will be measured by how many times he got up with the baby last night,

or how many times she let you eat first.

That there will be fights over 15-minute increments of sleep, whose computer time is more important on any given day, and who left the bedroom light on, again, when no one was in the room. In these moments, you must remember you are on the same team, that your spouse has only good intentions. That your spouse is human and imperfect, just like you are.

You will be too tired, on occasion, to feel the things you felt on your honeymoon. You will also get tired of eating only broccoli because there’s no other vegetable you both like.

You will not understand how no one else can see that improperly loading the dishwasher is a divorce-worthy character flaw.

You will, occasionally, not ever want to see your beloved’s face again.

And that’s normal, I will tell them, but you have to have a plan. Otherwise, the bright and shiny thing held early in marriage will tarnish and fade.

Your plan should include not buying into the notion that you will be different. Stronger. Better. You won’t be. You will instead be awful, and selfish, and wonderful and horrible all mashed up together, and you will need to know how to draw the wonderful out of that big tangled ball. Your plan should include realizing that your marriage is just the first of many expositions, but there is only one resolution: each other. You have, as my Aunt Lucy would say, moved beyond “playing house,” to where that option from before — the one where you walk out the door — is no longer available. Marriage is the tie that binds as the waves of joy and sorrow and passion and stress wash over you and it would be easier to just give up, think only of self, run away.

As you and your partner discuss this, start detailing your plan. Discuss children, money, religion, politics, job goals and theories on parenting (and trust me, I will have much, much more to say to my children about parenting). Start talking about how you would handle it if date night happened only once every six months, and that that date night might just be 20 minutes in front of a movie while someone else holds the baby. Or maybe a drive in the minivan to drop off food for a friend. Discuss what you will do when your spouse feels down on life and you’re bursting at the seams with happiness. Hopefully you will address these issues in premarital counseling. If you do, and you realize there are just too many differences to move forward, than by all means, don’t.

But if you discuss it and plan it and realize you want to move forward together anyway…. well, there’s not much else in life that is sexier or more romantic than that.

The Places Where We Are Nothing

I’m not a very judgmental person. Really, I’m not.

I typically understand that everyone has something going on in life that is causing a deep emotion—whether good or bad—within them that will occasionally render them rude, inconsiderate, oblivious, or all of the above, among other things. So when someone cuts in front of me, goes through the express lane with $300 worth of groceries, or otherwise commits one of life’s standard offenses, I shrug it off. (Not always, but usually.) This is true whether the person is friend, stranger, or relative. The only person who doesn’t make this list is my husband.

I am grateful—dare I say proud—that I don’t get upset easily and tend in general to be a patient and understanding person. My family of origin is made up of yellers and quick tempers. It took a while to shake that off, but I did it. These days it takes a lot to push my buttons, and once pushed, my anger isn’t even that bad. Unless my husband is the button pusher.

Let me be clear: this is not because my husband is one of those sitcom-type men who can’t figure out how to work the toaster. My husband is wonderful. He works, he parents, he plays, and he is the best writer I know. He is far more accepting of my faults than I am of his, and he loves me unconditionally.

So the fact that I am harder on him than any other person is something I’ve thought about a lot. And, obviously, have tried to change. I don’t like that I notice and dwell on every common offense committed. That I can’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to dirty socks or a snippy comment on a tough day. That I can’t say, like I do for perfect strangers, “it’s okay, I understand you’re under stress right now.” That I am unable to extend easy forgiveness to the love of my life.

I think I’ve finally figured out why this is: I do not recognize, other than intellectually, that we are not the same person. Now, I don’t mean we have an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. Far from it. What I mean is that I assign to him the unhealthy, perfectionist expectations that I place on myself that so many women fall victim to. If I cut someone off on the freeway, I might spend the next hour internally yelling at myself for being so thoughtless. If I say something inconsiderate, I might dwell on it for a week. I berate myself for every thing I should have done better or differently, that “should have” been perfect but wasn’t.

And because we are married, because “husband and wife become one,” I extend unhealthy and unrealistic expectations to my husband that I would never extend to anyone else, other than myself. Realizing the root of the problem won’t make me try any harder to correct it—I already try as hard as I can to “fix” this part of me. This is, of course, a Catch-22. I will feel like an imperfect failure if I can’t change my perfectionist mindset, yet I shouldn’t expect perfection because no one is perfect.

I’ve never believed that intentions are what matter: actions and results are what matter. But there does come a point where we reach the end of our own abilities. Today in church the pastor said that within all of us are places where we know ourselves to be nothing except for the grace of God. I wonder if this is one of my places. I hope not. I want to feel, deeply and sincerely, that the softened (not lowered) expectations I have of others should also apply to my husband and me.