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when I take my boots off

This is probably as good a time as any to admit that I am just not a Camping Person. I used to be, in fact I was quite the outdoorsy tomboy in my day, spending most of my childhood up a tree or in a mudhole, but now, it seems, I am most emphatically Not. This week we took the kids to the mountains for a couple nights, and I was forcibly cheery about the whole thing, probably more for my sake than theirs.

We arrived at our campsite in late afternoon, which, some of you may know, is not ideal. We pitched the tent and I cooked dinner (so proud of myself for surviving the many propane explosions required to get the campstove working properly) as dusk fell and the children whined, and then did the washing up by lantern light, pleased I’d packed both a basin and a sponge. And a lantern. I tried not to think about the bear I’d seen ransacking another site just a few hundred yards away, stowed everything edible in the anti-ursine locker, tucked the children into their sleeping bags, and sat by the fire taking victorious sips of Successful Camping Grownup Beverage out of the cunning little plexi wineglasses my husband had procured. I had dirty feet and ashes stuck to my teeth but by golly I was camping up a storm!

It wasn’t until my pre-bed visit to the bathroom that things got ugly. As I stood contemplating the two stalls, one’s seat smeared with excrement and the other coiffed in a nest-like arrangement of shredded toilet tissue, wondering if this is how raccoons recreated, I felt something soft and almost sticky patter across my foot. Looking down (which required a certain degree of mental coaxing) I saw a centipede languidly wriggling across my flip-flopped foot, pausing briefly on my third toe before I gave a mighty yelp and punted it into the wall. I can put up with putrid restrooms, and large clawed mammals, and dirty marshmallowy children farting sonorously in the tent, but I cannot abide centipedes. Actually, I abhor centipedes. I died a little inside, then did my reluctant business and marched by feathery moonlight back to our tent where I proceeded to remain awake all night, listening to the ominous rustlings of field mice and beetles, shuddering anew at each remembrance of The Thing With One Hundred Feet.

The next day I’d recovered somewhat — hurrah for the Coleman stove, the teakettle, the French Press, and Peet’s — and we had a lovely hike and then several hours on the rocky shore of an alpine lake. The children splashed and collected rocks and I read Alexa’s book and my husband captured it all (including my extra chin! who knew?) brilliantly in living pixel.

Speaking of Alexa’s book, I’d intended to save it for our upcoming fancy getaway, but once acquired (but acquired only after I’d met her, o how I still rue my horrible lapse in consumerist joy) I could not put it down. Now I realize the un-put-downableness of any given book is a terrible cliché, but must insist that in this case? It is more than true, it’s like, PLATO-TRUE. Her story is wrenching, but her gallows humor is wicked funny, and it was personally vindicating to see how hypochondriac neurotic tendencies actually come in handy sometimes. I adore her quirky vocabulary and her tapdancy delivery, but the best part was knowing that when the book came to an end, I could continue following the story on her blog. With pictures, even.

And speaking of fancy getaways, oh how tomorrow cannot arrive quickly enough! For a while there we almost canceled it altogether, what with the expense and the joblessness and all. But then a polite conversation evolved into a pretty serious calling of spades, and we decided to forge ahead, to reward ourselves for sticking out ten years together and possibly stake a claim on another decade. Divorce or inDulge, that’s our motto!

I’m looking forward to crisp white sheets and the noticeable absence of children. My idea of a proper vacation is to situate myself lounge-like in a peaceful locale, a stack of books to one hand and a refreshing cocktail to the other, for hours at a stretch. Of course my husband will want to DO things, and, you know, do THINGS. I will, in my relentless optimism, bring several kilos of reading material, but it remains to be seen how much will be actually consumed and how much merely lugged home again, untouched.

At least there won’t be centipedes!

(Yeah, famous last words, I know.)

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If April is the cruelest month, then June is just one big, unforgiving clusterfuck. I won’t whine too much here, because it’s over and we survived and really, how fascinating can delayed flights and illness and rain actually be anyway? When we perish of the swine flu which I am certain has plagued us lo these past two weeks, you will all undoubtedly admire my restraint. (The husband and the in-laws, in particular, for whom my any mention of “fever” or “respiratory distress” elicited glazed looks clearly indicating they think me a hysterical, paranoid neurotic of the worst kind.)

Though I was too tired to post here coherently, not to mention too impatient to do it via my iPhone (nevermind read everyone else’s blogs on its wee screen of cuteness), I did make good use of the Twitter. Staying connected even in that tiny way to all the other crazed parents out there made my own days of isolated hell more bearable. Don’t get me wrong, my in-laws are truly wonderful people, and they very gracefully put up with a LOT from us this trip, but I think they don’t quite get all the fine, uh, nuances of the insanity that is 24/7 parenting.

What I couldn’t figure out what to do with, however, is the seething resentment about all the effing work Monsieur Shriek had to do on our supposed vacation. Initially it was supposed to be about 3 days out of the ten, then at the last minute it changed to more like five. I was disappointed, but respecting that he’s giving his all to something he now hates and that has drained all sense of creativity or enjoyment from him, but pressing on because he is providing for us… well of course I didn’t want to get snarky about that, and kept it to myself.

But another day he had to go in to the office, and another, and another…finally totaling nine. NINE. Out of TEN. I was pissed. I mean, here we were cooped up out of the rain in a house where there are few toys and the ones we brought had long since lost their luster, at least one kid was sick and feverish at all times, and did I mention rain? You know when even the television bores and you’re using your fakey ISN’T THIS EXCITING voice to coerce the kids into watching yet another episode of SuperWhy that the day is long indeed.

Anyway the husband kept working, I tried my best to keep my grumbling about it to myself, but the whole experience cemented my resolve to never go on another work-related “vacation” again. The fact that he never apologized, until the evening of our last day (when, incidentally, he’d said he’d be done by noon but in fact didn’t even contact me until the dinner hour) is probably what rankled most. At one point, one of the in-laws joked that he was using the stress of work to avoid the stress of family. And even now I don’t care to admit how deeply jarring of a revelation that statement was.

It’s been difficult enough sorting out my conflicted feelings about my own work/time/family matrix, and adding my husband’s to the mix seems nearly insupportable. Clearly it’s not about his actual time working — he does it a lot, nothing new there – but about the attitude shift towards the impact it has on his family. Clearly he isn’t concerned with that, or thinks I’m being huffy, entitled, and dramatic (in no particular order). But the fact that now our son is in full-on NO I WANT MOMMY mode should clue him in to the ripple effect his absence has wrought.

How do I honestly but non-accusingly bring up my concerns about his workaholism in a time where he is lucky to even have a job, albeit one he loathes? When he is feeding, clothing, sheltering, and soon schooling (forthcoming post) us with his labors? Is it wrong of me to ask him to try harder to make time for if not me, at least his kids? It is becoming more and more difficult for me to separate the unfortunate realities and requirements of his job from what I am beginning to perceive as his utter indifference towards me and even possibly our children.

By way of example: I caught the kids’ virus and have been feverish and ill since our return; the first day back I forced myself to get groceries, catch up the laundry, and even make a roast chicken dinner, all while juggling the kids. Did he notice, or ask how I was feeling (clearly rotten, as evidenced by tissues and cough drop wrappers littering my staggering wake)? No. He simply complained that I had stuffed the poultry cavity with lemons. OK then!

This is the part where I start wondering about affairs (hello Argentina!), and the seemingly thin and manageable cracks in our marriage start to look more like a peeling veneer. Granted, he has his issues with me (and I’ll freely admit to several of them even being valid), but even so, some simple interest in how I’m feeling would go a long way on the resentment reduction plan. I make a point to always ask about his day, listen to his tales of workplace woe and frustration, and register appreciation for him sticking with it for our sakes. Even the barest minimum of reciprocity would make me feel valued in my diminished capacity as housewife, child-rearer and sometimes-contributor to our household finances.

When I started this blog it was my intention to charmingly and cleverly discuss my trials and tribulations as a part-time, work-at-home mom, offering refreshing and funny insights into a world that is so familiar and yet so confounding to many of us. What I didn’t intend on doing was discussing anything in the deepest recesses of my marital turf, particularly the unpleasantries, but I’ve since realized I simply can’t do what I set out to without referencing the uglies at least in part. Part of the reason I’ve kept things anonymous is so I could be truthful without the worry of hurting anyone – it’s time to run this stained, white flag up the pole and see if anyone else recognizes it or even better, airs their own issues. And if I end up hoisting myself by my own petard, well, at least I’ll be the only one who knows.

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to the invisible country

We finally saw Milk the other night, and as we watched Sean Penn’s remarkable portrayal of Harvey Milk’s inimitable spirit, of his ongoing courage despite loss after loss after loss, there was this odd sense of time catching up with itself as an eerily similar struggle plays out in the voting booths and halls of justice in this one hundred and fifty-eight year old entity known as California.

The California Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the voter-approved ban on gay marriage is as gut-wrenching as the bullets that tore their way through Milk’s body the day Dan White let corrosive hatred guide his hand. Those of us who grew up not “tolerating” the gay lifestyle but just accepting it, and gay people, as another shade of normal, owe Milk a debt of gratitude. Because of him, our minds aren’t clouded with hate, and we can love our gay family and friends without hesitation or judgment.

As much as I bear a deep and seething anger for those who oppose gay marriage, I pity them more. To be so insecure in their knowledge of love and so threatened by its boundlessness is to be truly alone. I hope, as the struggle continues to grant every person the freedom to love and marry whom they choose – and we will some day achieve this – I hope that the people opposing this basic human right can eventually come to where they know that love, as Dickens said, is “eternal and illimitable, not bounded by the confines of this world” and can instead of denying love, allow it in.

For now, I’d like to remind all the intolerant, hateful naysayers of this, a letter from the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, a letter which is to this day is commonly, ironically, read at weddings (including my own nearly a decade ago):

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

May our love let us bear this ruling, believe we can change it, hope for greater understanding, and endure the pain of the moment.

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keep me always at it

What could be more tedious than housework? Reading about housework, of course. Or so I thought, until I kept finding myself rammed halfway through posts scattered around the intertubes, all strangely devoted to domestic duties (hi DoctorMama and the modernity ward!) and actually rather intrigued by it all.

Housework is one of those rare topics that manages to be absolutely stultifying as well as instantly galvanizing. Getting people to discuss the division of domestic labor has about the same net effect as turning a few gladiators loose in one of those spherical iron cages: a swinging, hooting, bloody mess of vengeful madness. Particularly here in the twenty-first century, where the legacy of feminism unfortunately contains — along with its fabulously cracked glass ceilings, voting rights for half the population, etc — a certain degree of confusion about what, exactly, constitutes valuable work. [See: Hilary Clinton’s unforgettable cookie comment and ensuing backlash.]

These days, we are all careful to ask one another, “do you work outside the home?” rather than “do you work?” so as to sidestep the implication that homemakers don’t do real work, a notion that has been laughable since neanderthettes were stuffing wooly mammoths into crockpots and Swiffering out their caves.

But despite this growing consciousness, the fact remains that work inside the home – be it cleaning, cooking, or childrearing – is inherently less valued in our culture than work outside the home. How do I know this? Because no one pays me to change diapers, scrub the bathroom, shop organic, or find Polly Pocket’s goddamned shoe. No, that is its own reward, dear hearts!

And here’s where, for years – YEARS – my husband and I tripped over our mutual resentments on an almost daily basis. I probably don’t need to go all granular with our separate points of view, where he laments the chains affixing him to his desk and where I sadly reflect on the fact that he at least converses with actual adults during the course of a typical day. It is probably all too familiar for all too many of us, in varying degrees and permutations.

So as I read DoctorMama’s two-column list of his ‘n hers chores, delightfully peppered with gender stereotype-busting duties, I admire the balance of their shared responsibilities yet at the same time note that for a while now I’ve been studiously avoiding making exactly those sorts of lists.

Because for Monsieur Shriek and I, even though he excels at ironing napkins and I usually manage to get a square (ok, triangular) meal on the table most nights, keeping track of who does what is a ridiculous exercise, provocative only in its propensity to ignite the chips on each of our shoulders into flaming pyres rather than foster any sort of productive dialogue of mutual appreciation and support.

No, the mutual appreciation and support only comes when we relax our grip on the “I do this, this and this” stick and instead recognize that at the end of the day, we are each drained in our own way and try our best to replenish each other with humor, hugs, and the occasional Harvey Wallbanger (ok, actually a Cosmo or iced Lillet, but bear with me, I do so love alliteration).

The fact of the matter is, he’s got the earning power, I’m the Polaris of our domestic compass, and both of us do work of Sisyphean proportions in our own way. He is wonderfully hands-on with kids and chores when time permits. I freelance for pay when I can squeeze it in. The scales may not always balance out, but knowing that we seek fulfillment in other areas of our lives at least helps us disengage our sense of worth and identity from what we must do and instead focus on what gives us joy, what intrigues us, and what unites us.

Honestly, at this point I’m convinced that our best option is to stick our heads straight under the sands of the gender equity debate, at least as far as the who does what conversation goes. I’m tired of trying to hold up my feminist ideals with one hand while vacuuming with the other — I know I’m an intelligent creative woman whose integrity is in no way diminished by quotidian responsibilities (and here please permit me a small plug for my children, who have enriched my life beyond words and yes by enriched I do mean those low lows as well as those high highs). I realize this may not sound like a terribly enlightened approach, but I think if we want to stay married – to each other – making like ostriches will ultimately prove to be our saving grace.

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