I have many feelings about the HIMYM finale (and they are related to this blog)

It has been a long, long time since I’ve posted, mostly because I don’t have a lot of spare time to write anymore.  I tried writing today, but my 4 1/2 month old baby only accepted being ignored for about five minutes.  Meanwhile, while she was napping, I was trying to eat.

But nevertheless, I have come out of hibernation, and I have come out of hibernation because of a tv show.  A tv show, you ask?  Yes.

**Spoilers ahead for How I Met Your Mother and Game of Thrones.

I’ve always been the type of person to get emotionally invested in tales of fiction.  It’s why I can’t watch horror movies, especially those involving torture–I have way too much empathy.  Lately, that empathy has gotten ratcheted up when I see a situation which directly relates to my life: that is to say, it deals with finding love and beginning a family.  The infamous Red Wedding on Game of Thrones aired when I was newly pregnant, still in my first trimester.  My husband had been trying to make me pregnancy cry as a sport for weeks, and every time we saw something touching and/ or kid related, he’d give me puppy dog eyes.  Well, when they stabbed the pregnant lady in the stomach, I absolutely lost it.  I sobbed, because I was already so fearful of the precious little bean I had inside me suddenly losing hold and slipping away, and to think that someone could end something so innocent with such violence left me shocked.

The finale of How I Met Your Mother is actually not that far off with its emotional betrayal.  Actually, it was worse.  At least Game of Thrones warned you with Ned Stark’s death not to get attached to anyone.  Ever.  How I Met Your Mother charmed me, lured me in.  And promised me emotional payoff.  It was right there in the damn title.

At first it seemed like we would get the payoff.  We saw more and more glimpses of the Mother over the final season, and she was utterly perfect for Ted.  She didn’t just get him, she shared things with him.  He has a flail from the Renaissance Fair, she has a jousting lance.  She dressed up as an old Floridian lady to his hanging chad.  It reminded me very much of how me and MR are together.  We share a lot of things, things that when I was single I worried would put off guys, but no.  And those quirks we don’t share just make us more endearing to the other.

That’s the thing.  I get Ted.  I’ve always felt he reflected what it’s like to be a true romantic and single and aching to find ‘the one.’  Before my sudden and crazy romance began, Ted was my touchstone.  First his boundless hope, then it slowly running dry and the fear and exhaustion that sets in.  I could go through episodes, but the list would just be far too long.  In fact, his attachment to Robin was pretty tangential to me as I watched the show.

‘Trilogy Time’ aired just months before I got married.  At the end of the episode, Ted walks in cradling his baby daughter in his arms, and we knew his happiness was just around the corner.  I felt so much the same way.  Just a year before that episode aired, I was like Ted, having given up on the hope of having a husband and a family, wondering if the future could possibly hold anything for me.  But then things changed overnight, just like that, and I was on the cusp of my own happiness.

And that’s where the betrayal lies.  In ‘Shelter Island’, when Ted is about to marry Stella, Robin gives him this big speech about how he deserves his own grand ending, because he is the grand romantic, and instead he is sinking into someone else’s life.  That’s exactly what happened–instead of getting his grand romantic moment with Tracy, Ted just circles on back to Robin, and instead of being celebrated, becomes subsumed.

Moreover, it sends a troubling message to those of us who empathized with Ted, who felt the pain and the fear of being single, and who know either now or in the future what it is to find happiness.  HIMYM says ‘You know that dream that seems so ethereal that it might not ever materialize?  It will.  And then it will DIE.’  In other words, after years of patience you get a second of joy.  HIMYM tells me that since I’ve found happiness, I’m going to lose it.  And that turns a sweet and funny show into something crushingly depressing.

All to turn their intelligent, human characters into Ross and Rachel for the teens

.ImageImage

Not so very different, so what does this say about our fate?

But No Cigar

Yesterday I wrote about things in my life which worked out exactly as I had planned.  MR is a person who seems to always land on his feet, and he says this is not because he’s especially lucky, he just knows how to seize opportunities.  I think I’ve done the same at certain points.  Sometimes, though, with all the will in the world, things don’t work out exactly as I planned, and that is certainly true for settling into my marriage.

Everything began perfectly.  I’ve detailed the story often enough here, but it still amazes me, because when I hit 30 and had been on exactly 3 dates in 8 years, I thought one of my life dreams, having a family, was never going to happen.  As 30 clicked over to 31, and then 32, I started to really panic.  Time was running out.  I had to kiss a few frogs before I found the One, didn’t I?  And I wasn’t even catching frogs.  Then if I did find a guy, we’d probably date for a couple of years before getting married, and then want to be married a couple of years…basically my logic turned into panic along these lines:

Then my friend introduced me to MR and we were exchanging emails before we met as though we were already a couple.  When we met in person several months later in August, it was already a fait accompli.  Then he went about some serious day seizing and surprised both himself and me by proposing at Christmas.

Suddenly my life was falling into place.  Perhaps that’s one of the ways he’s the right person for me, because he goes after the things he wants in the same way.  We started planning a wedding, a big wedding with a 14th century Guild Hall as a venue and a phalanx of bridesmaids and a Big White Dress.

Then things started to crumble a little bit.  MR’s family, especially his mother, is an efficient person, and this is no fault.  Also, this was the first wedding of her 3 children so naturally she wanted to be involved.  However, I as the bride was across the Atlantic, so the efficient planning meant sometimes cutting out the bride, and that was just the beginning of transatlantic difficulties.  I thought when we decided to get married in England that I would have a small cluster of guests.  Not a lot, because a trip to England isn’t cheap, but I thought a handful of people would turn up.  My bridesmaids did, and I was so grateful to them for making that happen even when they didn’t have tons of available funds.  And I did have two friends make the effort to come.  But none of my extended family could come, friends who I had counted on because they said they would.  In the lead up to the wedding this made me feel a bit lonely, particularly because of the immigration circumstances.

By far the most difficult thing was trying to sort out immigration. We were getting married in England because we wanted to live in New York, but the US Department of Immigration had other ideas.  If we wanted to get married in England, MR would have to wait 9 months for his paperwork to be processed before he could even enter the US.  If he tried before then, even to visit, the border guards could send him home because they could say he wasn’t trying to visit but sneak in.  We could give up our big wedding in favor of a quickie courthouse wedding, but even that would require paperwork and months of waiting if we did everything on the up and up.

I thought when we got engaged that I would have everything–a job I loved in a home city that was a part of me,  and newly, a man I loved who I was going to start a life with.  Immigration law quickly squashed that have it all feeling, and I had some decisions to make.  So I decided–I had been a romantic my whole life, and I wasn’t about to give up on that ideal.  I waited so long for MR, I wasn’t going to wait anymore.

I miss NYC terribly.  It’s still my home.  I miss my friends, and I miss my job.  I worked for a stint at a British school, and part of the reason it didn’t go so well was because it wasn’t the job I had loved for so long.  I’m only just now starting to branch out and make friends, a year and a half after arriving here.

But I don’t just have a husband, I have a family.  If I had agreed to wait those 9 months, I wouldn’t have my daughter next to me as I type this.  We would still be waiting to start a family.  And sometimes I wonder–teaching was always the backup career.  It turned out so wonderful that I really started to devote myself to it, but I had wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old.  I mentioned yesterday I was afraid that writing wouldn’t work out, and the story above is why.  But then I think–even though this isn’t the ideal I set out for myself, it’s still a pretty great life.  And while I may miss home, that doesn’t mean I regret going for this life.  So maybe it’s time to grab a little courage and give my final dream a try.  Carpe diem…carpe horas.

The Doom Squad

The past month or so has been full of intense preparations for giving birth.  My nesting instincts kicked in, and I meticulously organized all the baby clothes and created a spreadsheet for all the things we need to buy.  MR and I attended a round of birthing classes, and I started hypnotherapy in an effort to calm down about the impending labor.  I have to say, the efforts have paid off well.  I was nervous about giving birth (honestly, who wouldn’t be?), but now I feel much more equipped for it.  Plus, the subsequent conversations with MR all this preparation inspired have made me feel even better.

By the time our last NCT class (or birthing class, for those of you in the States) rolled around, I was feeling downright cheerful about the whole thing.  I had labor in hand, I felt–I had an arsenal of pain relief techniques, and if those didn’t work, I had an epidural.  Whenever I went to appointments, the midwives always said I was doing really well, and I didn’t even have gestational diabetes, which I was sure I was going to get.  Things were going to be ok.

Except.

I’ve planned to breast feed for awhile, really for as long as I’ve been planning to have kids.  It just seemed like the best alternative.  I don’t pass any judgment at all on women who choose to bottle feed, but as they keep saying how breast milk is best, it’s something I thought I should do.  Also, nature seems to have over-endowed me in that area to the point where it’s a bit annoying, so I thought it would be nice to put the things to their natural use.

What I didn’t know was that apparently, it’s not as simple as it looks.  This seems a bit unfair as other milk producing mammals don’t seem to have issues.  Heck, humans make use of cow, sheep, and goat milk on a daily basis, which says they can produce enough milk for their offspring and then keep going.  As I learned more about breast feeding, though, I learned that humans, for some reason, don’t have it so easy.  On top of that, because we are self conscious, perhaps too much for our own good, there are all kinds of theories about it.  Science says ‘breast is best’ which makes sense, but then some people take it to a whole other level and say that those women who say they have production problems simply don’t want it enough.  That kind of language weirds me out, because it’s the kind of phrasing they use in the Olympics.  “She’s extraordinarily gifted, but you just don’t see her wanting it enough.”  But the last time I checked, there was no competition for breastfeeding, and it doesn’t get your face on a Wheaties box.  (Sidenote: Are Wheaties still around?  They tasted an awful lot like cardboard.)  So then there are all these levels of superiority, and judging, and the implication that women who breastfeed are better mothers and much closer to their babies.  It’s all a little too intense.

Admittedly, most of this I’m getting second hand, from a friend who struggled to feed and couldn’t manage it, and was subsequently subsumed by guilt and saw accusations towards bottle feeders everywhere, especially internet forums (never the place to go when you’re having a personal crisis).  I can’t say I blame her for getting upset over what she read and heard and perceived–this post is essentially the same thing.  Nonetheless, her reports were enough to start making me nervous, although I tried to say to myself that my experience may be very different, even when she was talking about how much you have to feed to keep your supply up.  Maybe I wouldn’t have issues with supply?

But then other reports started to come in.  Other women I knew who just had babies reported how hard and tiring breastfeeding could be.  Then our NCT classes confirmed: pretty much for the first twelve days, the baby wants to eat every two hours, and will take a long time to do so, so you barely get a break between feeds.  There are a vast number of scientific reasons for this: the baby is learning, the mother is learning, the milk supply has to balance out and meet the demand, but none of this reassured me.  Instead raw panic gripped me.  I was essentially going to be a cow, existing only to milk.  I couldn’t type on my computer, or sew, or crochet, or do anything but stare zombie-like at the television and hope to catch half an hour of shut-eye in between feeds.  Of all the things about motherhood, this is the one that actually terrified me.  MR said I was having an existential crisis about it, which I think is pretty accurate.  That description of barely sleeping and constant feeding made me feel like I would lose every ounce of who I am.  Maybe I would get it back as things started to even out, but a fortnight of losing all sense of self is a rather terrifying prospect.  For the first time I began to worry about getting post partum depression.

In thinking about it, I realized there’s a certain amount of betrayal in that description.  I need some hope at the moment, something to look forward to.  Labor is not an exciting prospect, however prepared I feel for it, and now that I’m counting down these last four weeks and three days, pregnancy is really getting old.  I’m constantly uncomfortable, and can’t really walk anywhere.  I’d like to be able to stand up without a monumental effort, or crouch down without my knees singing out in pain, or eat without having ferocious heartburn.  I can’t remember what it was like to have a normal body.  But the baby was going to be the payoff, and that was what I was hanging on to.  To hear that the first couple weeks with her will turn me into a zombie was crushing, especially as I do not like anything zombie related.  (No, I haven’t watched the Walking Dead, and I don’t plan to.  It’s really not my thing.)

MR has mentioned before how new parents *love* to give advice and get all wide eyed as they impart dire warnings of impending misery.  He also points out that despite this misery, people seem willing to subject themselves to parenthood multiple times over.  This is something of a paradox.  Except it’s not–people in general love to complain and feel uncomfortable gushing.  And so I don’t even know if ‘experienced’ parents realize what they’re doing to people who are about to become parents.  I mean, I know it’s not going to be a bed of roses.  I’m going to have to deal with a lot of crap, both literal and figurative in just over a month, and that will continue for the rest of my life.  But in a way, that’s kind of beautiful–this little person is coming into my life, and she’s never, ever going to leave it.  No matter what happens, no matter how much she or I screw up, I will always be her mother and she will always be my daughter.  It’s irrevocable.  Early adulthood is full of fragile human bonds that seem to break so easily–fights with friends, relationships ending, and there’s an amazing security of parenthood.

Which brings me to my point–this isn’t going to be a horror movie.  Yes, it will be hard.  I’ve never done anything like it before.  But I have been sleep deprived.  I’ve pulled all nighters to finish papers; I’ve been on many, many transatlantic flights where sleep was impossible.  And breast feeding is probably a lot easier to pull off on no sleep than making incisive points comparing the depiction of childhood in Dickens and Twain.  I just wish people would *say* that.  A little encouragement would go such a long way.  Not the grim “You’ll get through it” that people seem to espouse as some form of motivation.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Tell me it’s hard, that’s fine, but also tell me that there’s some magic in there, something good.  No, I may not be able to write, or do much of anything, but tell me that really seeing your baby’s face and seeing your own features or your partner’s reflected in it is incomparable.  Tell me how happy all the relatives will be to meet the baby.  Tell me that somehow it brings you and your partner closer.  Tell me something good, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t you think I need to hear it?

Ultimately it was MR who got me realizing that there would actually be good stuff in the midst of the two week haze.  He said that whenever he announced a happy change, it was always met with an exhale of air and some dire warning.  When he got engaged, everyone who was married said “There goes your independence.”  When we bought the house, all the homeowners said “There goes your money.”  I don’t know if this is a British thing, or just a people thing, but it made me realize–getting married was stressful (and was made more so by certain Departments of Immigration which may or may not be shut down by government crises at the moment), but even with all the planning and rushing around the two days before the wedding, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  The best to date, really.  Moving house was again very stressful, and packing wasn’t much fun, but setting up our new house as distinctly ours was.  We bought all this great furniture and painted things how we liked them, and it felt really good to do that and build a home with someone.  And now I get to walk around the house and know that it’s *mine* (well, half of it anyway), and that I’m not answerable to any landlord.  So clearly the same is going to happen when we have this baby at last…isn’t it?  If you have any words of encouragement, I’d really like to hear them.

An unexpected journey

When I  started this blog a year and a half ago, I conceived it as a witty look at a geek relationship, which really reads that I was indulging in a moment of narcissism where I believed the world would care about my newfound relationship.  Look, he’s British!  Look, we’re geeky together!  I don’t know how bad a thing that is, or if it’s even a bad thing–isn’t a lot of writing, great and otherwise, born of egotism?  Besides, it liberated me to do something that I had never wanted to do before in my writing–I wanted to write about myself.  I had kept journals, of course, and had a daily email correspondence with a close friend, but I never wanted to write anything about myself that was meant for an audience of strangers to read. Continue reading

It was a very good year

Now it’s New Year’s Eve.  Like most of the New Year’s Eves of my life, I’m not really doing anything special.  Except that everything is different.

I’m sitting here on a sofa in England–not my friend’s sofa, but my husband’s (and now mine).  I knew this would be a big year at the start of it, but I didn’t know just how big.  Last December 31st I was newly engaged, but also in a long distance relationship and preparing to say goodbye to my husband the very next day.  We were vaguely beginning to plan a wedding in England and a life in New York.  The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men go aft agley.

So without any further ado, here’s what actually happened in 2012.

1) The world didn’t end.

I’ll admit–the Mayans had me scared.  It all goes back to this Nostradamus special I watched when I was 14 that scared the bejeezus out of me.  Quite literally–I had the scariest dream involving a floating crucifix after that special.  Then leading up to 2012 all this scary stuff started happening, like cities being leveled (hurricane Katrina), and I remembered something about a seven year war with the third antichrist (OMG Bin Laden!).  Of course I should have seen the flaw in this when they called the first antichrist Napoleon on that special, because Napoleon was certainly a megalomaniac but certainly not an antichrist.  Anyway, 2012 seemed like this far off Jetsons-era date and yet we were closing in on it–surely the world would end.

I knew in my head that was pure silliness, but I couldn’t shake the fear.  Apocalyptic movies like 2012 troubled me to the point where I couldn’t watch them, even if they were hilariously bad.  Last year for Christmas as a joke gift I got an end of the world scenario page a day calendar from MR.

Then, slowly but inexorably, Dec 21st came creeping up.  In June it was still a little worrying, but in December, when it was a week away, and then two days away, I would think “The end of the world is the day after tomorrow?  That can’t be right.”  It wasn’t some mystical far-off future, but a date I could see on the calendar.  It didn’t feel like the world could end.  And of course, it didn’t, dispelling all the apocalyptic fears I’ve had since childhood.

Well played, Mayans.

2) My world did change.

According to the Mayan prophecy interpretation I have gleaned from news reports, 2012 isn’t the end of the world but the end of an era, the start of a new one.  Now that was certainly true.  Everything changed for me in 2012.  But I have to say that not only was I due a change, the changes were pretty fabulous.

I’m living abroad.  Not studying abroad and doing it for awhile, actually living in another country.  I have a semi-permanent visa which can be renewed ad infinitum.  In just a few weeks, I will own a house in this other country.  I didn’t even dream of owning a house in NYC (that makes sense considering the real estate prices).

I thought my visa days were over, and when my passport with my student visa expired I remember being sad because those days would never come again, and I wouldn’t have a visa in another passport.  How silly of me.  How very, very silly.  Now I am an actual immigrant, with all the pains that come with it.  Although admittedly I forget sometimes to look around at how far I’ve come.  It’s easy for life to go on as life–I need to appreciate this adventure for what it is.  Originally we wanted to live in NYC, but American immigration rules being what they are, doing so meant at the very least a nine month separation after we were married.  Considering all the time we’ve had together since September, I know I made the right decision.  Back when I was deciding people were telling me nine months was a drop in the bucket of life, but after spending these months together and not with the ache of being apart, I know that’s not true.  We met each other so late, we have to seize all the time we can.  So I moved to another country to be with him because he was prohibited from doing the same for me.  But I have to remember that on a certain level, this move was for me too.

Speaking of that…

3) I got married!!!

Boy, did I think that was never going to happen.  I was the most hopeless singleton you could ever meet, someone who lived in fear of the opposite sex yet hope desperately that one of those creatures would deign to recognize her…while she was still in her house.  Against all odds, this happened.  At the beginning of this year I knew I would be married, because MR proposed on Boxing Day 2011, surprising the hell out of me.  But now I actually am.  I have to change my name on stuff.  I’m officially Mrs MR (or Mrs GeekErgoSum if you follow his blog).

I got all the fun of being a bride, of having the people I loved around me while I said my vows, of saying those vows, of having my first dance in a 14th Century Guild Hall (see: reasons to get married in England).  I got the big dress and the honeymoon in the Maldives, and it was all so utterly fabulous that I’m really sad to see 2012 go.  It was certainly one of the biggest years, and one of the best.  I definitely did not come out of this year the same as I went into it.  I was a fiancee and now I’m a wife.  At the start of 2012 the biggest thing ahead of me was my wedding, now it’s the rest of my life.

4) My career has taken some interesting turns

I was a teacher for eight years.  I suppose I still am, though can you call yourself a teacher if you don’t have a classroom?  I absolutely love teaching, but the thing about it is it’s always going to be kind of the same.  Always pretty awesome, but nothing really changes.  And, thankfully, huge amounts of job stability.  I happened to be teaching at my alma mater, which was so fun.  I am a freak who loved high school, because rather than the experience so many have of feeling like a misfit, I felt like I belonged there, in this world of nerds and geeks where getting a high SAT score and playing in the band made you cool.  I got to return to that as a teacher and live out my Dead Poet’s Society fantasies.  This year I left all that to come to the other side of the pond (see above), and I experienced a period of government imposed unemployment–the longest in my working life, I might add.  I’m still not sure how I feel about not working.  On the one hand the rest is nice.  On the other I miss the challenges.  It’s nice to have so much time to do things I want and work on my writing and for once, be somewhat neat in my home, but it’s also a bit isolating.

2013 will most likely be back to teaching, but having some time to myself has been interesting to ruminate on.

5) Oh, you’ve heard of Les Mis?  It’s only everywhere

And my most favorite musical *of all time.*  As a geek, I relished in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings mania.  I certainly loved when the Chronicles of Narnia came out, but it never got to be that huge.  But nothing compares to the awesomeness of hearing everyone gush about the musical that I have been gushing about since I was fourteen.  The musical I made my then eight year old cousin listen to and memorize when I cast him as Gavroche in our family singalongs.  The musical my sister had to reference in her maid of honor toast.  I’ve read the book, memorized the lyrics in French, and the entire libretto in English, and until now, only a few people would even remotely understand.  I had met less than ten who understood my fervor when discussing the merits of Peter Lockyer as Marius and the finer points of the various cast recordings, or who could sympathize when I was gutted that they cut out Combeferre’s lines after Javert is exposed as a spy.

But now I understand fully what all the LOTR fans who had Frodo Lives! bumper stickers felt when the movie came out 12 (!) years ago.  Validation.  Sweet, sweet validation, that I liked something that was intrinsically cool all along.  It only needed Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to show the world.

A downside to living in England, though–the movie has not come out here yet!  I am dying.  But at least that’s something to look forward to in 2013.  I need something, because it will be really hard to top 2012.

5) Bucket list item–accomplished

I went to the Olympics.  It was an early football/ soccer match of Belarus versus…someone I cant remember.  I was with a friend who is a die hard football fan, and he said it was not exactly thrilling play.  It was in Coventry the day before the opening ceremonies.  BUT IT WAS STILL THE OLYMPICS, DAMMIT.  I have always, always wanted to go to the Olympics, and now I have.  The Ricoh arena was covered with the London 2012 purple.  The Olympic rings stood proudly on roundabouts and banners lined the A45.  My ticket, which I of course saved, has the official Olympic rings on it.  I still want to go again, and be there for the opening ceremony live, but I went.  And the rest I watched on BBC, which was as good as being there because they don’t package anything and there are no commercial breaks.  We can at least give the BBC the Olympics, despite their humiliating failures elsewhere.

 

I remember thinking 1992 was an amazing year.  In retrospect, it’s hard to pinpoint why–I got chicken pox and my family lost our house thanks to a pre-Clinton recession.  Nevertheless, the movies, the music, the *Olympics*–it was the first year I felt alive, part of the world instead of a kid living in my own bubble. 1992 was amazing.  I remember the Queen saying she was very glad to see the end of 1992.  I remember there was a fire in Windsor Castle and Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated so fair play to her–not a great year for her Majesty.  Still, though, when that statement was publicized, I remember feeling personally affronted that this year that I loved living in was just a waste of time to others.  There have been some “Phew, thank goodness 2012 is over!” posts on Facebook, and while I get that not everyone had a banner year, I still feel that same sting when the world is happy to put 2012 behind them as though it never happened, because it was monumental for me.  Perhaps that is a bit narcissistic, but I can’t help the sting even so.  I hope you out there, whoever you are, are both as sad to see 2012 go as I am and yet also looking forward to big things in 2013.

Goodbye 2012.  You weren’t the end of all things, but now you’re ending, and I shall miss you.  You changed everything.

2013, take notice.  You have a lot to live up to.

Nine months was nothing, they said

I’ve just learned that the NYC Dept of Education, in all their wisdom, decided to cut February break short this year in order to make up for lost instruction time due to Hurricane Sandy.

My first thought is that this is abysmally stupid.  Firstly, in high schools, it just throws things off.  High schools run on semesters, and teachers plan accordingly.  Getting days in February will not help cover material needed for the January regents.  In my own classroom, this would have given the kids three more days on Things Fall Apart, but we still would have lost major time in the heroes unit that I do in November as a prequel to the Odyssey.  Also, I’m sure those days could have been found elsewhere.  Plus, I’ve missed at least two days out of the schoolyear several times before, and no one’s had to make up the days.  I’m mad on behalf of all my fellow teachers and all my students that they’re being punished for something they couldn’t control.

I’m mad because I know if it had been me, I would have been gutted.  I almost always used that February break to visit friends in England.  Over this past year, I used it to visit my fiance.

This takes me back to the time when I was embroiled in trying to make the decision of what to do.  When MR and I got engaged, we blithely assumed that it would be no problem to live together in either country, so long as we were married.  Arguably, it’s one of the reasons we moved so fast, although we can never know what might have happened if I was an English girl.  It turns out that we were only half right.  The UK would let us stay together, but the US was much more complicated.  If we wanted to live there together, we had to get married there.  To get married there, we needed to apply for a fiance visa, which would be given at an indeterminate date, taking up to seven months to process.  Once issued, we would have had to get married within 90 days.  Try planning a big wedding under those parameters.  It’s impossible.

Several people suggested the City Hall option, but that wasn’t an option for me.  I know a couple who were in our position–he’s Irish, she’s American, and that’s what they did.  She described her sudden City Hall wedding as an adventure, and I can absolutely see the appeal.  But it wasn’t for me.  I was one of those girls who had planned her wedding from when she was small, and I wasn’t about to give up on that once I had finally found the guy.  Plus, by the time we found this out we had already paid deposits and started planning our wedding in England.  I already had the big white dress with a train that was begging for a church aisle.  And I’m admittedly religious.  Not crazy evangelical or anything, but having a church wedding was really important to me.  And to MR–although he’s not religious, the pomp and circumstance appealed to him, much moreso than a clandestine city hall celebration.

We went to a lawyer, and she told us that if we got married in the UK, he would have to apply from there for entry, and that process could take nine months.  Nine months.  First, it would take four to five months to approve our marriage and decide that we actually did want to be together, and then it would take an additional four to five months to get his green card.  To add to that, during that time he might not be able to visit me.  UK visitors enter the US on a visa waiver program, but of course MR would be trying to waive his need for a visa while simultaneously applying for a visa.  In a post 9/11 world, such information comes up on the border control’s computers, and depending on which border guard he got and what mood they were in (95% chance of surly bordering on scary–nobody ever smiles at me at US customs), he could either be let through or put on the next flight back to the UK.

When we found this out we tried every possible permutation of how to get around this.  We asked every question.  People were constantly suggesting things to me–what if he got a student visa? (No, you can’t have dual intent with a student visa.)  What if he came in through Canada?  All of these were complex and none of them were really helpful. I myself tried to get a leave from the Department of Education for a semester to shorten the length of time we were apart and was given a resounding no.  Thanks, Dept. of Ed.  I can see you appreciate my years of loyal service.

After a couple of months of hemming and hawing, it became apparent that we had only two choices: either I give up my job, my car (I had a gorgeous BMW which I got by luck and some very nice friends), my apartment, my life, and move to England, or we spend the first nine months of our marriage apart, that I get married and go on honeymoon, and then fly back alone.

People were shocked that I might even consider the second option.  While the school secretaries were very kindly helping me with paperwork and scheduling meetings, I remember them saying “You have to think about this, honey.  Nine months is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to a lifetime.  You don’t want to give up a good job.”

It was true.  My job was pretty fabulous–I was teaching some of the brightest, nicest, funniest kids in the city.  I had great colleagues.  I even advised a program called TDF Open Doors which took kids to Broadway shows for free, because according to playwright Wendy Wasserstein, theater is every New Yorker’s birthright.  As the advisor, I got to go along.  For free.  To see Broadway shows which I would have shelled out hundreds for, and happily.  I was teaching creative writing, which was enormously fulfilling.

But we had already done eight months apart and it felt like an eternity.  Yes, I loved my job, but it didn’t compensate for how much I missed him.  That was a pang that was with me daily.  People said to me at least I had Skype, but I knew that.  We were already using every app available to us–Skype, email, What’sApp, gchat.  I will tell you this–nothing electronic can ever compensate for being with someone.  I didn’t know how much longer I could carry on.  Nine months didn’t seem like nothing.  In fact, the time frame seemed particularly significant when it came to being with my husband.  In nine months, I could gestate a baby.  And that started me thinking–I’m in my 30’s and just getting married.  What about having kids?  I knew I wanted them.  Three in an ideal world.  Would those nine months be crucial to the planning of my family?  Then I thought of getting pregnant during one of the few chances we’d have to see each other and doing it all on my own.  Not having anyone there for the baby’s first kick.  Not having anyone there to put together a crib or choose a carseat.  Not having anyone, and yet knowing there was someone who should be there, who would be, were it not for some really stupid immigration laws.

Well.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what we decided.  I’m sitting on a couch in Birmingham, typing away.  I won’t pretend it’s been an easy decision.  I miss New York a lot.  I miss my family.  I really want to go out for dinner and drinks with my friends.  I miss my students–the kids I saw enter as freshmen when I started teaching at THHS are graduating this year, and I would give anything to be there.

But when I see this news, that one of my few chances to see my husband would have been snatched from me, I feel the echo of the helpless ache I would have if I had stayed.  When even the thought of something that’s never going to happen causes me that much pain, I know I made the right choice.  Marius Pontmercy, indeed all of Victor Hugo’s characters, taught me well.  I have always been prepared to make big sacrifices for love.  I was so ready that when I was younger I left a world behind to go and live in North Carolina.  When that relationship failed, I thought it meant that I had been stupid to do that.  Indeed, when I got into this relationship at first, I vowed I wouldn’t move for him, that he would have to move for me.  My friend said, “It doesn’t work like that.  You have to be willing to do for him what he would do for you,” and I realized he was right.

Now I see that failed relationship wasn’t proof of my idiocy.  It was training wheels, to show me what such a sacrifice meant.  And it’s made this leap a lot easier.  This time, I have a real partnership, someone who loves me as much as I love him, and we are happy.  I miss home, but I’m building a new life here and making another home.  Now I know this for certain: I miss New York terribly, but not half as much as I would miss him if I were still there.

Excuse me, ma’am

I believe I’ve mentioned before how when I so much as liked a guy, I’d match my name to his last name to see how it sounded.  My high school crush and my college boyfriend had middling results.  I had a passing fancy for a guy whose last name was Kelly, and I thought ‘Caroline Kelly’ sounded like a movie star’s name.  But the best, by far, is my new last name.  (Which I’m not revealing at the moment because you know, internet anonymity, etc.  Not that many stalkers or dangerous people would have mu.ch patience for this blog, but meh).  It’s unusual and elegant sounding, and with it, I sound like a Jane Austen character.  Plus, I get to keep my CCC monogram.  CCCC if I hyphenate.

I was very much looking forward to the time when I could be Mrs. C instead of Miss C, and devoted a good deal of time fantasizing about it and crowing about my new last name to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen.

In the months leading up to my wedding, I resented filling out forms and still having to call myself Ms. or Miss, because I was so close to being a married woman.  I reflected how beautiful the word ‘wife’ is, and how I longed to be Mr and Mrs C.  Some people may think this terribly old fashioned and not at all liberated, but I do wonder how liberated I am in actual practice, despite being very women’s lib in theory (more on that later).

Now, though, people are starting to use my new last name.  It’s on my British bank card.  There’s a package of moving boxes addressed to “Mrs. C C” in my living room.  My students, who I keep in touch with, bless them, have great fun with it, addressing emails “Hi Ms–I mean, Mrs!”  Even my mother sent me something and addressed it to “Mrs. C.”  Of course I like it–I love it–but there is still a part of me that can’t quite believe that’s me.  Case in point–I was doing the calligraphy for my sister-in-law’s wedding invitations and saw “Mr and Mrs M C” on the list.  As I’d done all the invitations for that side of the family for my own wedding, I wondered who that was because I hadn’t seen the name before.  Then I realized–it was the invitation for me and my husband.

I admit, it’s a bit weird, being a Mrs.  I think because I was a Ms or Miss for so long, and, being a teacher, my last name gets used a lot.  In a way, too, it makes me feel older.  Which is silly, but it does.  ‘Miss’ is used for young girls and women, and I’ve always taken secret satisfaction in the fact that when strangers want to get my attention they mostly say “Excuse me, Miss.”  It’s a great sitcom joke when women get called “ma’am” and it makes them feel old, and I’m certainly brainwashed in that regard.  I’ve been clinging on to youth for awhile, and suddenly I’m Mrs, and with that comes a very grown up life where I’m thinking about selling and buying houses and having children.  I suppose this might have been different if I got married in my early 20’s like some of my friends, but as I got married in my early 30’s, it’s very different.

It’s not that being Mrs is bad, mind you.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be someone’s wife, and it’s so interesting to think seriously about things I thought I would never have two years ago.  It just takes some getting used to, that in taking on a new prefix, I’ve taken on a new life.

But of course, now that I’m applying for a visa and carefully reading over the application so as not to miss a single line, I note that it says the visa will be issued in the same name as my passport–i.e., my maiden name.  Despite all my ruminations on how odd it is to suddenly be Mrs, I find I very much want to be.  I wonder now if all my documentation will, depressingly, have my maiden name.

It’s funny–in principle I’m very women’s rights, and have crusaded often on the very subject, be it contemplating writing a story from the point of view of the voiceless women in Hamlet, or decrying Twilight for its treatment of women to my students.  Yet in practice, I find myself very traditional.  I always knew I would take my husband’s name, without hesitation.  Should I ever have the good fortune to be a published author, I’ll publish under my married name.  I’ve never had a moment’s scruple about it.  I know some women think that it’s a sublimation of the self to take on a married name, that suddenly your identity gets absorbed in your husband’s by becoming Mrs John Smith (or what have you).  I don’t quite see it that way.  Getting married is, to me, starting a whole new family, and that new family deserves a new name.  I want the world to know my husband and I belong together right on the very surface of it.  It’s the same reason I was very keen on my husband wearing his wedding ring.  I just hope that I get the chance to get used to it!

Red hot exhaustion

**Disclaimer:  So, obviously, this blog is based a lot on my personal life.  In this post, I reference a real event, and real opinions of my friends (though I have made every endeavor to keep them anonymous).  The debate I reference got quite heated, and to any of my friends who may recognize themselves or their points of view–I’m not taking sides.  I’m just ruminating, because it’s an interesting debate.

Two days before the wedding, my sister-in-law (in two days) was driving me and three of my bridesmaids who were staying with me back from the rehearsal barbecue we had just days before the wedding.  She and I were chatting inconsequentially when all of a sudden the volume of the conversation in the backseat rose by a volume of about 15 decibels.  I caught snatches of it, and being a naturally inquisitive (read: nosy) person, I was dying to know what was going on.  But I was marrying into a British family, and  the Brits excel at a) not making a fuss and b) pretending a fuss is not happening.  (Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever fit in. )  So we carried on talking about teaching.

Eventually, I found out that the source of the debate was this: one friend was explaining how she wanted her relationship to be full of lifelong passion, and the other was saying that is an unrealistic expectation.  In so many words.

Of course this got me thinking, as I was about to enter into a lifelong relationship.  What did I hope for in my marriage?

The friend arguing passion had expressed this feeling to me before, and in expressing that opinion said, essentially, that she didn’t want to be friends with her partner, that she had plenty of friends, and if he wanted to tell her about his day, maybe he could feel her up while doing it.

I have the good fortune to have some truly amazing friends (like the ones I’m referring to in this post), and in that I see her point.  I don’t *need* another friend.  That is one area where my life is full.  But still…the husband and I are friends, and in a lot of ways that’s really nice.

Part of the draw of being with someone is that you don’t have to be alone anymore.  When you are in any form of serious relationship, there’s a comfort in knowing you won’t come home to an empty house.  Or even more, that their lives are tied up with yours.  Someone else cares just as much when the internet goes out, or the tv dies, or dinner gets burnt, and that makes you feel a little less alone.  And if you’re going to be going through life together, it’s nice to know that the person by your side is a comrade-in-arms, a friend who can be confided in and relied on.

More than that, it’s fun.  Passion is an important part of life, but it’s a very specific one, and unless you have some seriously jumped up hormones, nobody feels passionate every waking moment of the day.  So when you’re not feeling passionate, if that’s the basis of the relationship with your partner, there’s not a whole lot left to do together.  My husband and I can sit around watching Wonders of the Solar System or play Rock Band or just sit and have a chat.  Last night we ate dinner, watched a couple of episodes of Community and Grand Designs, played a bit of Rock Band and read in bed.  Nothing hot about it, but I loved reading in bed together, because we’d read funny bits to each other, or turn and smile at each other, and the simplicity of that made me really happy.

Moreover, constant passion is exhausting at the very least, if not unsustainable.  To wit: one of my other friends was telling me how a coworker’s marriage seemed to be falling apart due to some Facebook craziness.  I was shocked, but then as she went on to explain, they were crazy for each other but would fly into jealous rages and follow each other to make sure of where they were going, and interrogate each other over who’s posting what on whose Facebook wall.  There was lots of slamming doors and sleeping on the couch.  That to me is a side effect of a passionate relationship.  Yes, the highs are very high, but nothing in life can be a constant high.  Eventually there’s a crash, and in a relationship that means bitter arguments, perhaps a lack of trust.  Perhaps even (and this may be a controversial hypothesis) passion causes mistrust, because when one partner isn’t feeling amorous or passionate, the other can easily come to believe that they’re getting satisfaction elsewhere.

Also, if passion is constant in a relationship, when it’s good, what room is there for anything else?  I remember a friend (the same one who was reporting on her work mate’s problems) telling me about her first relationship, a deeply involving Edward and Bella sort of affair (her comparison).  She told me that after the whole thing ended her family expressed sheer relief.  Apparently, they hated the guy because not only did he not even address them, but he also totally distracted her and drew her in.  We’ve all been there, but the point is would you want that for the rest of your life?

The husband and I discussed this debate while on our honeymoon, which turned out to have its very unromantic moments.  Ultimately, I’m glad we’re friends and glad we can support each other when we’re feeling ill or upset.

But this is a double-edge sword.  It is so easy to be friends, and so comfortable, that a danger exists.  While constant passion is unsustainable, it is all too easy to forget about it altogether and sink into the comforts of married life.  We’re going through this a bit now, I think.  There’s no more drama, no more separation, no more big wedding, and so while we have our nights where we do stuff together, there are also nights where we’re in the same room, but engaged in our own activities.  It is blissful to do nothing, and sometimes it’s tempting to not bother with passion and romance, because they are a lot of work.  But the thing is that when you marry someone, while it’s necessary to be friends, you’re clearly not *just* friends, not if you married for love.  There is an attraction there, and that shouldn’t be forgotten because things are familiar and comfortable.

I think the thing is that keeping passion alive does take work.  If it happens too naturally, then you get a very tumultuous relationship that exists only around passion.  But humans are essentially lazy, and once the chase is over would rather rest than keep running.  Of course, all this is well and good to say, but the trick is to find the things that will keep the spark alive.

Contented Ever After

The (very famous) opening line of Anna Karenina is “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  This is one of those literary moments that became famous because it is a universal pearl of wisdom that Tolstoy shrewdly pointed out.  Most people focus on the ‘unhappy families,’ and all the problems and drama therein–after all, isn’t that the very basis of story even in life?  But I find myself in the first part of the sentence at the moment, settling in to contentment.

I think that’s the exact sentiment–settling in, and contentment.

There is nothing wrong with either of these things, really.  In fact, I’ve wanted both for a long time, and have tried to fabricate contentment all the years when I was alone and something was missing.  In our long stretches apart, the husband spoke very fondly of a time when we could be together and do nothing together.

So here I am, in happily ever after.  All the hullabaloo is over, and I have exactly what I’ve always dreamed of.  And I’m *not* ungrateful.  I’m very content.

Just…happily ever after feels a bit anticlimactic.

I’m not used to a quiet romantic life.  Up until now, my love story has had a sort of novelesque feel–finding someone so serendipitously, knowing we were right for each other so quickly and then making a relationship work across an ocean through sheer perseverance and the wonders of Skype.  The way he proposed so quickly, and as such a romantic surprise, planning a wedding and worrying how we would ever be together with draconic immigration rules getting in the way.

Because our time together was so limited, every second felt precious, and we felt the need to fill it with excitement and activity.  We were always going out somewhere, doing something, and when I arrived at last to live, the fairy tale continued, for we were gearing up then for a wedding.  I thought life had its quiet moments then, but I was wrong.  This is quiet.

After everything, I think that’s what I’m struggling to get used to.  The biggest day of my life, that I hoped and planned for since I was a little girl, is over, never to come again.  That’s an odd feeling.  I don’t think I would want to stage another wedding, not with all the stress of coordination involved, but it’s weird to know that I can’t dimly look forward to being a bride.

And life is so quiet.  Due to visa stuff I can’t work at the moment.  Tomorrow all my fellow teachers will be heading back to school, preparing course contracts, writing out lesson plan calendars, fighting for space at the copier.  In July I thought I’d never miss it, but now I find that I do.  That’s the trick of teaching.  You get to feeling like your life has some real drive and purpose.  But here I am, looking for ways to fill my days.  At the beginning of July, when it was all still like a fairy tale I thought I could happily be a housewife.  That’s because it was still novel, and still this illusion of peace in the midst of turmoil.  Now it’s all to easy to spend the day melting into the sofa cushions and watching bad reality tv while playing iPad games.

I’m *not* complaining.  I am happy to have my story, and I’m happy to be a wife, and to know in a few hours my husband will come home, and we’ll have dinner and live the ordinary life we’ve been craving.  I don’t even dislike the quiet, I’m just…struggling to adjust.  Everything went quiet so quickly.  It’s like when I would visit my grandparents in the Pocono Mountains in the summer.  In New York, even in Queens, there is always street noise.  Even if we didn’t live on a main drag, there was always one nearby, and the rush of traffic, punctuated by sirens and sometimes people wandering about, doing who knows what at 2am in the hours between Monday and Tuesday.  It was its own lullaby to me, and I grew used to the sounds, found the constant company comforting.  Then we would go to the Poconos, where there were no streetlights and the darkness closed around the car as we wended our way up barely paved roads with no sidewalks.  When I would lie in bed at night, all I could hear was crickets.  They were so loud, and so natural, that I missed the rush of the city.  Eventually I got used to the crickets, and they lulled me to a better sleep than I got in Queens, but there was still that period of adjustment, of learning how to cope with quiet after noise and bustle.

What I find weird is how the husband and I are settling in to our old routines even while everything is new.  I’ll happily sit chatting to my best friend while he plays Xbox.  There’s not anything wrong with this, but there’s still a part of me that wonders–shouldn’t we be glued to each other’s sides just that little bit more?  Is all the romance leaving our relationship already?  Probably not–we’re still quite sappy with each other, but it’s just another example of how quickly things are slowing down and how normal married life is.  When I was single, marriage seemed like this fantasy land, a nirvana where one has achieved perfect bliss.  That of course is hardly the case–it’s just life, with someone beside you.  And I’m struggling to get used to the normalcy of that.

Wasting away in paradise

So it turns out a sojourn in paradise does not mean everything is perfect.  I just went on honeymoon in the Maldives, and it looked like this:

We stayed in one of these:

And they did things for us like this:

It was exactly what you would imagine paradise to be.  I’ve never been steeped in beauty like that before.  Of course I’ve been a lot of beautiful places, some unexpectedly idyllic (like the visitors center in Concord, Massachusetts).  But I’ve never stayed in one place that is so aesthetically pleasing all the time.  Everything was perfect-looking, unspoiled.  Of course, there was a staff on the island which worked like elves (sometimes camouflaged in green uniforms) to preserve this, but nature did a pretty good job on her own with crystal clear aqua water and deep blue skies.  That is what is relaxing about going someplace beautiful that is the middle of nowhere.  We had nothing to do but enjoy the scenery.

Some people might be bored on such a holiday.  Even I couldn’t go to the beach every time.  But for a honeymoon, it was perfect.  I love museums, but didn’t want to spend a week scurrying through them.  Cities fascinate me, but I didn’t want to be dead on my feet.  I wanted to enjoy time with my new husband, and the respite of it being just the two of us after all the wedding frenzy.

Well, we certainly did grow closer, but not in the way you’d expect.  We caught a stomach bug and were both down for the count for a couple of days.  Even after we recovered, it was mostly chicken and rice at the buffet, passing over the tempting carving station, cheese board and unlimited desserts.

It was disappointing, but it didn’t ruin our vacation in the way I thought it would.  Firstly, when there’s nothing to do but lay around and look at the ocean, it was hard to feel like we were missing out.  Our water villa was gorgeous inside, and we didn’t pay to upgrade and not spend any time there.  And ok, when we left I thought we would be engaging in honeymoon activities and packed appropriately, but it turns out that being sick together brought us closer in another way.  We wound up taking care of each other (I think he was better at it than me, but he’s British and a boy and therefore doesn’t embrace coddling very well), and let me tell you, having a stomach bug together tore down any fair-like illusions that were left, any ideas that we could somehow be perfect people for each other.  We found out how much the other person’s crap stunk and we loved each other anyway.

And at the end of it, we rallied enough to snorkel and go on a sunset cruise and do some lazing around in other locations, like the pool.  I’ll always remember how beautiful Komandoo is, but what I’ll also take away is that this little sojourn in an ethereal paradise was the beginning of a very real marriage, with all the thorns and warts that make it somehow lovelier.