grown up relationships


i found this essay browsing NPR’s “This I Believe” and had one of those moments when i thought “man, why didn’t I think of that?” family as a verb. to family.

we familied over the turn to the new year with friends (a, j1, j2) who now live nearby. before we moved to our new home/city/state in may, these friends were an 8-10 hour drive away through some dull country. now they’re 90 minutes up a major highway. we drove up on new year’s eve for a wintry dinner of risotto and wine, watched tv through the obligatory midnight hour (and oh, how my heart sank for poor dick clark), ate 12 grapes each, one to signify each month of 2008 (i wanted to be like the italians and shove as many grapes in my mouth as possible, but the family (a noun) opted for the more delicate spanish mode and i’m not one to make waves) and stayed through the new year’s celebratory meal of hoppin’ john, when we were joined by our other dear friend p and p’s new friend c.

given this wealth of food and friendship, we familied well. in fact, we familied better, and more happily, and with more verve and style and with less exhaustion and tension than i could ever dream of doing with any of my blood relatives. j1 laid a beautiful table featuring a crushed orange velvet tablecloth from denmark. a fed us with absolutely brilliant food, and put up with us while we all drank. we took a brisk walk in the bitter cold just as snow was starting to fall, and came home to warm with up french-press coffees. we stuffed our gullets with lovely homemade chocolates, a holiday gift to j1 from an old college friend. i learned that i really like c and now can genuinely hope that c and p will be happy together. i told p some things i wasn’t sure i could, i listened to j1 tell me about some problems she’s facing this coming term (that’s school, not pregnancy), i admired j2’s new thomas the tank jammies, i watched m toddle around and befriend befamily absolutely everyone with equal enthusiasm, and i listened to a & s talk about music and smoking and “taboo food” in northern england.

the group of us celebrating together is a subset of a larger group that vacations together usually once–sometimes twice–a year, and has done so for eleven years. we have long described ourselves as a family of choice, since many of us (especially the women) have major issues with our families of origin. but to family: to family by choice. i like that.

male cuteness syndrome (māl kyoot’-nĕs sin’-drōm). noun. 1. collection of behaviors exhibited by the male species that are both unanticipated and endearing. 2. an apparently unavoidable display of eagerness and hopefulness shown by grieving and also possibly expectant fathers.

every morning s rolls over in bed and asks me if i can pee on a stick today. sure, i tell him. i can pee on a stick every day. but today (just like yesterday and just like tomorrow) that stick won’t tell me anything except that my pee is yellow.

now, he knows as well as i do when it will be reasonable for me to start peeing on sticks. he knows what day it is in my cycle and he knows the earliest that stick-peeing will actually maybe provide useful information. and he knows that it’s probably best for us to wait a few days beyond that as-soon-as-possible date, for sanity’s sake.

but he still has to ask.

he also knows as well as i do that it’s too early for me to have symptoms one way or the other. too early for sore breasts, too early for nausea, too early for bloating. too early to gag on my toothbrush, or to scream at him that the cumin he just threw into our dinner SMELLS LIKE B.O. and will he PLEASE GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW. and we both know that when that all starts we will both be MISERABLE and will be counting the months/weeks/days/hours/minutes until it STOPS. but he still has to ask.

it’s so adorable that it takes every last ounce of self-control for me not to squeeze the stuffin’ out of him.

and yet…it also makes me so sad, because when it is finally time to pee on a stick i may be the one who has to give him the bad news.

i finally told him this yesterday — that it’s getting hard for me to know his excitement is building and to have him ask me if i have a gut feeling about this cycle (i don’t) or if i feel pregnant (i don’t) or if i think “we have a little zygote swimming around in there” (i’m willing to believe that we could) — because when it turns out that i’m not pregnant i’ll have to burst his bubble.

i told him all this and he put his arms around me. “honey, that won’t be bad news. it just means that we get to have sex again next month.”

i’d forgotten that when i’m puking and yelling and crying while being bloated and constipated and really really sore that i don’t like to be touched. but apparently he didn’t forget all that, and even so, he’s hoping for it.

see? mcs.

yesterday marked one year from our non-wedding. s and i have been together for over 11 years, and except for one small period of time when we actually tried to plan a wedding and then got so fed up with family input that we canned the whole thing, we have never wanted to be married. i’ve actually really liked not being married. i like calling him my partner — which i still do, much to his mother’s dismay, who is visibly relieved that she now can call me her daughter-in-law. (she never knew what to call me before that. apparently my name wasn’t good enough.)

but last year at this time i was just going back to work and s had just quit. and then suddenly he needed health insurance.

i have to say, i hated the idea of getting married for the insurance. it seemed to belittle the whole enterprise. i’m not very pro-marriage but i do believe that if you’re going to make a lifetime commitment to somebody you do it in public, in front of the friends and loved ones you are asking to support you in your mutual endeavor. for our part, we had planned so badly — waiting until the very last minute to decide that s would be a SAHD — that there wasn’t really any way to throw the right kind of celebratory commitment party.

so instead, one evening (november 28 2006 to be exact) we took 3-month-old m and went to our friend tb’s house. tb is a minister in the universal life church, and had married several people who were still married. (this was important to us. our friend r is also a minister in the universal life church, but everybody he has married is now divorced. our friend d is also a minister in said church, but she was starting divorce proceedings of her own.)  and stats aside, we don’t really care if divorce is something that most people are doing. we at least didn’t want to go into this with a minister with a rotten history.

anyway, we bundled up m and went to tb’s house. our friends m & t came along as witnesses. we sat on tb’s couch with mairin while tb filled out the paperwork. m & t signed it. s leaned over and kissed me on the cheek and it was done.

no vows. no words of affection. no promises. just somebody else’s signature and a peck on the cheek.

at first i hated being married. it was hard for me to tell s how much i disliked it while still convincing him that it had nothing to do with him. i hated being called “wife.” it still kinda creeps me out; i’m not entirely sure why. but i’ve slowly come around, if not to a joyful welcoming of the wedded state, then at least to a quiet acceptance that it’s the right thing for us.

but i think i still won’t feel really married until i’ve stood up in front of lots of people and said some important and sappy and life-altering things out loud. and i think we’re close to agreeing on the way to make that happen. in 2009, our REAL anniversary — the one we’ve been celebrating for eleven years and i’m not about to give up — falls on a friday. we’re thinking a big weekend bash, with an outdoor ceremony at one of our local parks. lots of food, some music, kiddies and maybe even dogs running around.

in the meantime, we’ll go on quietly celebrating our two anniversaries. this year our real anniversary was marked by the sadness of having just lost ruby. we spent our technical wedding anniversary with a very crabby m, who did not sleep until 3:30 a.m. and who needed her mama DURING THAT WHOLE TIME to hold her and kiss her and sing to her and rub her tummy.

since she’s the reason we got married anyway, perhaps there is some kind of poetic justice to that.