By: Shannon Ralph
So, I’ve been
obsessing thinking a lot lately about my eldest son’s all-too-near-future foray into middle school. I’m worried about him. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Lucas, let me take a moment to describe my dear son.
Lucas is, well…he’s very much a product of his environment. Take one high-strung, work-her-ass-off, the-sky-is-always-falling lesbian, add a terminally laid-back, slacker, isn’t-that-falling-sky-a-gorgeous-shade-of-blue lesbian, throw in a couple of dysfunctional extended family members with addictive personalities, add a chubby blonde baby to the mix, and you get…Lucas!
Lucas is awesome. Really, he is an amazing kid and I adore him. But he is an enigma, of sorts. He is a math whiz, but struggles with reading and writing. He can remember the (every language BUT English) words to his entire choir repertoire, but can’t seem to remember to flush the toilet. Or change his underwear. Or bring home his homework. He gets nervous. Often. But not over the things you and I might get nervous about.
He is a sociable kid. He can stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds and sing beautifully without so much as hint of nervousness. But he freaks out if the bathroom sink drips. He struggles with anxiety. He doesn’t handle the unknown very well. He has to know what he should be doing at all times. He has to know how things will turn out. He has to know how every story ends. He has attention issues at times. He’s never been diagnosed with attention problems, but he tends to escape to his own thoughts a lot. He’s a thinker. He’s what used to be called a daydreamer. He’s not worldly like other boys his age. He’s a true innocent. Obnoxious, but innocent.
Come September, he will be thrown into a completely different world and I am worried. He has a good group of friends, so I am not so much worried about him being lonely. Or bullied. Or called names. That may happen, of course, but he has a core group of four good boys that he hangs out with. He’s not a loner.
No, I don’t harbor the “normal” parent middle school worries. My worries are irrational. Ridiculous, even.
• I worry that he will be unable to remember his locker combination and will start crying in the hallway—a turn of events that would mortify him.
• I worry that he won’t remember how to get from one classroom to the next without a kindergarten-style walk-with-your-finger-on-the-wall line of classmates.
• I am afraid that the clothes I pick out for him (because he does not care in the least about clothes and will put on whatever I hand him) will be a little too lesbian chic for 5th grade.
• I am afraid he will start speaking in lingo I don’t know and that I won’t be able to find an appropriate translator.
• I am afraid he will begin cursing and, being a less than stellar parent, I will laugh rather than react appropriately, thereby reinforcing a sailor’s mouth in my innocent little boy. And we all know that “shit” and “damn” are gateway words. Before long, my baby boy will be casually spouting the BIG ONES, and it’ll all be my fault because I reacted poorly in middle school.
• I am afraid he will not fit into any of the typical middle school cliques. He’s not truly a “geek/nerd” because he is a pretty dang social kid. He’s not really a “brainiac” because, while he is amazing at math, he can’t write a coherent sentence to save his life. He is in no way whatsoever a “jock.” He has neither the interest nor the ability to be athletic. He’s not really “preppy,” as he does not own a single piece of clothing manufactured by Hollister or Abercrombie (we are Target and Old Navy people up in here). He’s never been your typical rough-and-tumble boy. He’s just a regular kid. A good kid. I am hoping there is a group for that.
• His friends will find out that 1.) He cannot tie his shoes (seriously…he wears slip-on shoes all the time and has refused to learn to tie his shoes—though his six-year-old sister can tie hers), 2.) He still cannot ride a bike (and has no desire to learn, in part due to his anxiety), and 3.) He still sleeps with the stuffed “doggie” he’s had since birth.
• I worry that his homework is going to be beyond me. Fourth grade math is already pretty damn advanced for my tastes.
• I worry that he will stop climbing in bed with his mommas on the weekends. I love that time with him.
• I worry that girls will like him. He’s a handsome boy with gorgeous blue eyes and big dimples. He’s smart. Sociable. Kind. Gentle. He’s everything an eleven-year-old girl wants in a steady “boyfriend,” right? I am SO not ready for unworthy little hair-flipping, giggling, make-up-wearing wenches hanging on my son. See…there you go. I am not going to be good at this.
• I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the shuffle. An average kid amongst average kids. How will anyone know what an extraordinary child he is?
In the end, isn’t that what we all worry about as parents? Will the world be able to recognize the amazing potential that exists behind those radiant blue eyes? Will the world understand what a beautifully crafted, brilliantly original child we created? Will the world treat him as such?
I hope and pray.
Yesterday, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved gay marriage in the State of Minnesota. It’s not officially legal yet, as the Senate still has to vote on the measure on Monday. However, the Senate is considered a slam dunk. The House was the real obstacle. So…as of August 1st, Ruanita and I are able to get married.
It all happened rather quickly and quite unexpectedly. I supposed when a wall crumbles, it does so in one fell swoop and not one brick at a time. So right now, in this moment, we are seeing history unfolding. And what is a woman to do in the face of unyielding historical freedoms?
Well, plan a wedding, of course!
At least, that’s my thought on the matter. I immediately began trolling Pinterest for wedding ideas. I immediately began googling venues in Minneapolis. I immediately envisioned my two young sons in suspenders and coral bowties. I immediately planned a shopping trip with my daughter to pick out her “fancy” Disney-worthy flower girl dress. I wanted to cheer. And cry. And shout.
Ruanita, however, had a different response to the vote to legalize gay marriage. It went a little something like this:
“Oh, that’s nice.”
Seriously. That’s nice?
Within an hour of gaining (not technically until Monday, but pretty much decided yesterday) the right to marry the woman I love, I found myself incredibly pissed off at her. Like grit my teeth, mumble under my breath, give her the cold shoulder, totally passive aggressive, leave-her-sitting-alone-in-the-living-room-while-I-went-up-to-bed PISSED!
I was irrational. Borderline full-blown bitchy. In other words, I was a Bridezilla in the making.
The truth is that Ruanita’s reaction to the vote is just as valid as mine. We’ve been together for 15 1/2 years. In all that time, we’ve considered ourselves married in every sense of the word. We have a mortgage, two cars, three children, and a dog. We had a small, low-key commitment ceremony fifteen years ago. As far as we’ve been concerned—primarily, I think, because we didn’t see another option anytime in the near future—that was our wedding and we are a married couple. An old married couple with fifteen years of wrenching marital experience under our belts. We are far from blushing brides.
It’s a totally valid and reasonable way to look at this historic vote. We will no doubt get married, but Ruanita doesn’t see a reason to make a big deal out of it. I mean, we just bought a new car. Why put money into a wedding that will change absolutely nothing? Ruanita would be thrilled to get married in our back yard with only our three children and our dog in attendance. And we would be legally married. That’s the ultimate goal, right? Who needs all the hype and hoopla?
But the thing is—and I am a little embarrassed to admit this—I kind of need it. At least, I kind of want it. I come from a large family, as many of you know. I have 11 aunts and uncles and 25 first cousins on my mom’s side. I was also in a sorority in college, so I have more “sisters” than I can count on all of the fingers and toes in my family. I have sat through wedding after wedding after wedding. I have bought gifts galore. I have thrown rice and danced the funky chicken and drank more champagne than I care to admit toasting happy couples. And all the while, I wondered, Why not me? When will it be my turn? When will everyone toast to my happiness?
That day has come. Or at least it seemed so yesterday when the vote was announced. I know that I may have gone overboard pushing my sudden “wedding agenda” on Ruanita. I am sure it seemed come completely out of left field. And really, who can afford a wedding? Certainly not us. And certainly not when the argument could be made that we had our day in the sun fifteen years ago.
But legal matters. As much as we’ve said for fifteen years that it doesn’t matter and that we are just as married as everyone else, we’re not. Not a single one of my twenty-five cousins danced at my wedding. One aunt and two uncles were there, and that was it. I am not faulting them. I am just saying that fifteen years ago, a commitment ceremony was mostly unheard of. No one knew what it meant. No one understood what it was.
But a marriage? A wedding? We all know what those words mean. We all know what it means to be a wife. To be a married couple. I want to celebrate with my family and friends.
I want to be Ruanita’s wife.
So I guess we have some negotiating to do. I have no idea what our eventual wedding will look like. Perhaps it will be a Justice of the Peace in our back yard. I don’t know. I just know that I want what all the rest of you take for granted. I want to marry the woman I love.
And I want to dance at my wedding.
By: Shannon Ralph
Shannon climbed under the covers next to her eldest son and smiled at him. “I think we need to talk.”
Lucas was ten years old and had long ago adopted the habit of slipping upstairs with his mama after his younger siblings were sound asleep in their own beds.
It was their time. It was time Shannon looked forward to every night. Often, Lucas did nothing more than lie on her shoulder and watch her play Sudoku on the iPad, occasionally offering advice on where she could place her next 4. Other times, they snuggled and talked about their day.
Lucas’ other mom, Ruanita, worked evenings. She got the kids when they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. Shannon got them after a long day of school and work when all four of them—mama included—were exhausted and crabby and whiny and hungry. She got her three children when homework needed to be completed and bodies needed to scrubbed of the day’s dust and muck and arguments over “gross” dinners needed to play out in their entireties. Bedtime stories had to be read. Goodnight kisses had be doled out. And then given again. And one more time, just for good measure.
When all the work of the day was complete and Shannon finally dragged herself upstairs to climb into the memory-foam-covered bed she so adored, her quiet time with her oldest child was a welcome respite. A bright point of calm in an otherwise harried day.
On this particular evening, Shannon decided the time had come to have the talk she had been putting off for weeks. The talk. Tonight would be the night.
Everyone had been telling her for months she needed to have the talk with Lucas. “He’s ten years old. He’s talking about these things.” “Do you want him to get his information about sex from his buddies?” “You need to talk about sex before he’s having sex.”
Shannon could not even fathom her ten-year-old child thinking about—must less having—sex. He still slept with a stuffed “doggie” every night, for God’s sake!
Shannon and her partner, Ruanita, had decided some time ago that Shannon was better equipped to have the talk with their children. Ruanita was a mental health therapist. A professional psychoanalyst—a vocation that came in handy as she navigated the day-to-day trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood. Though she had the very best of intentions, however, conversations of the kind that was about to unfold were not exactly her forte. She examined things in minute detail. She tended to lecture rather than discuss. And she talked a lot. Much more than was necessary. Much more than a ten-year-old could comprehend. After sitting through some lengthy and rather uncomfortable conversations in the past, Shannon and Ruanita came to the mutually agreed upon decision that Shannon alone would handle the talk.
“Well, um,” Shannon began. “I want to talk to you about something. Something you are old enough to learn about.”
Lucas’ face lit up with a dimpled smile. He liked being told he was old enough for anything and everything. “What?” he asked.
“Well, um, let me ask you a question first.”
“Well, um, have you ever heard of the word sperm donor before?”
Lucas fiddled with the blanket lying on his chest. “Umm…not really.”
“Well, um.” Jesus Christ, do I have to start every sentence with ‘well, um’? “Let’s back up. Have you ever had anyone tell you that you can’t have two moms? That it doesn’t work that way?”
He shook his head. Shannon saw a flash of fear in his brilliant blue eyes as he appeared to comprehend the direction their discussion was headed.
“Well, um.” Shit, there I go again. “You know that it takes a man and a woman to have a baby, right?”
Lucas nodded mutely, his mouth hanging open in thinly-veiled terror.
“So maybe you’ve wondered how it is that your mom and I were able to have you and your brother and sister?”
Lucas shook his dishwater-blonde head. “Not really.”
“Well, it takes a male part—the sperm—and a female part—the egg—to have a baby. When those two come together, they make a baby. Well, um… (I’m a writer, for God’s sake! When did I become so freaking illiterate?) When your mom and I decided we wanted to have you, we didn’t have any sperm, obviously, so we went to something called a sperm bank. Have you ever heard of that?”
“Umm…no.” Lucas smiled. He always smiled when he was nervous. “Do we have to talk about this?”
“I just think you’re old enough to know some things. Do your friends ever talk about where babies come from?”
Shannon envisioned Lucas’ bespectacled group of 4th grade cronies. Geeks. Nerds. Whatever noun you chose, they were your typical science-loving, Star Wars-quoting, video-game-adoring, fart-joke-rendering, girl-repelling, lactose-intolerant, asthmatic group of highly intellectual, socially inadequate boys. Three of the four, Lucas included, sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir. Four of the four were competing in their school’s completely optional, non-obligatory, doesn’t-affect-your-grade Science Fair.
“Do your friends ever talk about…well, you know….sex?”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“I think we should.”
“No, mom, we don’t talk about sex or babies.”
Shannon believed him. This was the child who, just the day before, had said to her, “Hey mom, Sully and I have a theory about how water molecules are held together…” These were the things he and his buddies discussed on the playground at recess.
“Okay. Well, when two women want to have a baby, they go to a sperm bank and borrow sperm from a man who donated it. That man is a donor. You have a donor out there and your brother and sister both have donors. It’s all anonymous, so we know very little about your donor aside from medical history and some basic description.”
“Okay,” Lucas responded anxiously. “Are we done?”
“Do you want to be done?”
“Okay, we don’t have to talk about this now.” Perhaps having your first conversation about sex while lying in bed with your mother is not ideal. Perhaps, just maybe, Shannon was scarring him for life; essentially dooming all his future sexual encounters to miserable, soul-crushing failure. As she considered the bill for her son’s lengthy and expensive future psychoanalysis—she wondered briefly if Ruanita’s connections in the mental health field could secure them a good deal—Shannon said, “I just want to say one more thing and then we can be done.”
Lucas groaned. He rolled over on his side and pulled the cover up to his chin, bracing himself for whatever verbal vomitus his mother intended to inflict on him this time. “Okay,” he muttered. “What?”
“I just want you to know that you can always come to your mom and me with questions.”
He nodded vigorously, obviously hoping that the harder he nodded, the quicker the conversation would come to an end.
“If you ever have questions about sex or babies or donors or…anything…I want you to come to us. You know you can talk to us, right?”
Lucas nodded again, much more earnestly than before. Shannon was concerned he would dislocate something that would prove vital to his future as a Pulitzer prize-winning physicist living in his parents’ basement, so she decided to put him out of his misery and end the conversation there.
She grabbed the iPad from her nightstand and turned it on. “So,” she said. “Should I play sudoku or mahjong tonight?”
“Sudoku.” Lucas smiled, relief evident in his blue eyes. “Definitely Sudoku.” He laid his head on Shannon’s shoulder. “Mom, can we never talk about that again?”
Shannon breathed a sigh of relief. She had done it. She had broached the topic with her eldest son; had introduced the word “sperm donor” despite his mortification. It was not done perfectly–or perhaps even remotely adequately–but she had done it. Shannon had done the bare minimum required of any responsible parent. And she found herself oddly content with the bare minimum. Like parents the world over, it was now time to sit back and observe the fall-out from her less than stellar parenting.
“Sure, honey,” she relied. “We’re done.”
By: Shannon Ralph
Was that a siren?
I’m hiding from the police. I expect them to knock on my door any minute now. See, I kind of did something bad this morning. I am not entirely sure it was illegal, but it was at least immoral and likely illegal. It could probably have been considered terroristic threatening without much stretching of the imagination. And that’s illegal, right?
Hence, my fear of sirens.
I threatened my son this morning. I did not threaten him with a loss of privileges like most parents do. I did not threaten to tell his other mom on him like many parents do. I did not threaten to send him to bed without dinner like some parents do. I think my exact words were…
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Yes, I threatened to fling my youngest son down a flight of stairs this morning. Would I have actually done it? Unlikely. But did I seriously consider it in the heat of the moment? Absolutely.
Allow me to explain.
Nicholas slept upstairs in my bedroom last night, as usual. When the alarm went off this morning, I got up. Ruanita got up. Sophie and Lucas reluctantly got up. And Nicholas refused.
We went downstairs. The kids ate breakfast. I washed my hair. Ruanita fed the dog. Nicholas remained asleep upstairs.
I stood at the foot of the stairs yelling for him to come down, to no avail. Ruanita stood at the foot of stairs yelling louder than I did for him to come down, and he still did not come down.
I had taken the day off work to go car shopping with Ruanita. I was practically dragging her there kicking and screaming. It had taken every coercive drop of energy I could muster to convince her to go get a new car today. The kids had to go school. Today was my only shot at a new car. (And if the lousy $400 we got for our barely limping minivan on trade-in was any indication, we desperately needed a new car.) Unless he was missing a limb or there was blood seeping from a life-threatening head or trunk injury (extremity wounds would not have been serious enough), Nicholas had to go to school. It was not a day for pussy-footing around.
So I trudged upstairs with dripping hair to rouse my youngest son. I found him lying in the oversized chair in my bedroom, hiding under the covers. I pulled the covers off and asked him to kindly remove himself from the chair. He refused to open his eyes and did not budge.
I lifted him from the chair and stood him on the floor. His body went completely limp. When I tried to stand him again, he wiggled out of my grip and climbed back into the chair. We repeated this process three times until I finally realized (she can be taught!) that is was an exercise in futility.
Grumbling under my breath, I lifted Nicholas from the chair again, and this time carried him to the landing at the top of the stairs. Again, he went limp. Yet again he nimbly scrambled back to the chair.
Now, had I been a stronger person, I would have simply carried him down the stairs. I could not, however, because 1.) I have an extremely irrational but irrefutable fear of stairs, because 2.) I have bad knees and have convinced myself that they will certainly give out on me one day while walking down a giant flight of stairs and I will plummet to an untimely and ungraceful death. So carrying Nicholas down the stairs was out of the question.
I, however, like to consider myself smarter than the average first grader, so I once again carried him to the landing at the top of the steps. This time, however, I spread my arms and legs wide, blocking the doorway to the bedroom so Nicholas could not flee to the chair.
Realizing that he had been outsmarted by a greater intellect than his own, Nicholas wrapped his skinny arms around the stairway handrail and began to cry. Strangely, there were no actual tears involved in his cry. It merely included a rather odd-looking facial contortion and an ear-splitting wail.
It was at that moment—spread eagle in the doorway to my bedroom facing imminent defeat—that I made the barely conscious decision to resort to terroristic threatening.
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Am I proud? No. Was it one of my finest mommy moments? No. Am I the owner of a shiny new Honda Pilot? Yes.
Was that a siren?
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason #9: The dance.
At this moment, I am preparing myself mentally to commence the dance. No, I will not be salsa dancing in my living room. There will be no break dancing in the kitchen. There will be no ballroom dancing in in the bathroom. Rather, I am going to attempt the “let’s-get-something-for-dinner-dance” with Ruanita.
In any relationship, there are dances that must be performed in order to get what we want. There are ruses to play out. As a married person, I can’t help using my intimate knowledge of my spouse to manipulate her to get what I want. Whether it be convincing your spouse you need a dog or a 55-inch plasma television or a night out without the children, we all do it. Any married person who claims they in no way manipulate their spouse is lying to you. That is, unless they are Mother Theresa, in which case they would be a nun and unable to marry anyway. So that is a moot point. Minor manipulation is key to any healthy marriage. We all manipulate.
Tonight, I want Chinese take-out. I am the cook in our family and I really don’t feel like cooking this evening. However, I don’t want to suggest that we order something for dinner because that would make me the “weak” one in our both unspoken and yet way-too-overly-discussed agreement to curb our eating out. So rather than suggesting we get something for dinner, I have to compel Ruanita to suggest it. I have to manipulate her to believe that she wants Chinese food. Hence…the dance. It goes a little something like this:
Me: Are you hungry?
The Wife: Yea. I’m hungry.
Me: What sounds good to you?
The Wife: I don’t know. What sounds good to you?
Me: I don’t know. I am just kind of tired and really would like something good for dinner.
The Wife: Okay.
Me: What would you like me to cook?
The Wife: If you’re tired, I can cook.
Me: No. I’m the cook in the family. I can cook. Does anything sound good to you (rummaging through the cabinets and fridge as if I am looking for something to eat)?
The Wife: Not really.
Me: Okay….well, we could have bean soup (not a Ruanita favorite). Or……hmmm…we have spaghetti (again, not a favorite).
The Wife: Really?
Me: Yea. Is there something that sounds better to you?
The Wife: Well, what would be easy since you are tired?
Me: Ummm…nothing really. Anything I cook will take time. But that’s okay. I can make whatever you want (note the undercurrent of martyrdom in my response).
The Wife: Well, do you want to get something? Is that what you are hinting at?
Me: (with feigned shock on my face) What?! No…I wasn’t hinting at anything (still rummaging through the cabinets). I can cook. What sounds good?
The Wife: If you want to get something, I would be okay with that. I could be convinced.
Me: (Defiantly) I wasn’t hinting at anything, Ruanita. I can cook.
The Wife: No, you’re tired. Why don’t we get something?
Me: (sounding mockingly defeated) Okay…fine. If you want to. That’s okay with me. What sounds good to you?
The Wife: How about Chinese take-out?
Me: Sure, if you want to get something for dinner, I can do that.
The Wife: Yea…why don’t we do that. It’ll be easier for you.
Me: Okay. If you are going to twist my arm…
Ta-da! (Jazz hands).
There you have it. The dance. Were it not for my tree truck thighs and complete lack of even a modicum or agility and grace, I could have been a professional dancer.
The dance is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
We’ve changed one another.
In ways small and large, Ruanita and I have changed since our union first began fifteen years ago. In some ways, we changed on our own. We evolved as we grew older and have become more comfortable in our own skin. Not to sound too Oprah-esque, but we have become more of our “true selves.” More the people we were meant to be.
In other ways, however, we definitely had a hand in changing one another. We have grown in ways that I am certain would never have happened had we not met. Had we not decided to spend our lives together. We have evolved into different people than the two searching and unfulfilled souls who became pen pals fifteen years ago.
Some of these changes were fairly insignificant. Way back then, Ruanita did not like Chinese food. Now she cannot get enough of it, due in no small part to my love of all Asian foods. I never liked to cook. Now, by default, I am the family cook. And I am slowly developing an appreciation for it. Ruanita hated country music. Somehow along the way, I converted her. She now enjoys a twangy ballad about dogs and beer and cheating wives as much as I do. Ruanita turned me into a hotel snob. Before she came along, I considered the Motel 6 a perfectly fine establishment for a night away. Now I do not do “motels” at all. And I will not stay in a hotel that does not include a minibar and complimentary champagne and plush bath robes as part of the package. These were minor changes, but changes nonetheless.
In other ways, we intensely changed the course of one another’s lives. Fifteen years ago, Ruanita thought she would live out her entire life in Owensboro, Kentucky. She had no reason to leave. She had no desire to leave. Today she is 750 miles away in Minneapolis—a place she had to look up on a map when she first met me—because she followed me home one day. She left everything she ever knew and loved because I lived in Minneapolis and refused to move back to Kentucky. Fifteen years ago, Ruanita wasn’t entirely sure she wanted children. And if she did, she only wanted one. Today, she is the proud parent of three crazy kids. And she is loving every minute of it. Those three children have become her entire world. I made her a Minnesotan. And I made her a mom. Two things she never saw coming, but two things that have worked out pretty damn well.
Ruanita changed me in ways less logistical and more profound. If I had not met Ruanita, I am not entirely sure that I would have had the strength to come out as a lesbian and live my truth. I was always sort of timid. A little shy. I did not want to be different. I was not at all a boat-rocker. I followed the rules. I was a good little Catholic girl. Ruanita, on the other hand, was always completely and unapologetically true to who she was. That brashness made me feel strong by association. Simply being near her made me feel like I could take on the world. That I could stand up for what was right and true because I knew she had my back. I have known for fifteen years that I have her unconditional support. Whatever I want to do. Whatever I want to be. She supports me completely. She is my strength. In many ways, she made me the person I am today. And there is no way that I can ever properly express my gratitude for the beautiful changes she has brought into my life.
We’ve both changed for the better as a result of binding our lives together. We’ve grown and evolved as a result of our marriage. We’ve become better people together than we ever could have been alone.
This is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
There comes a time in any marriage—particularly lengthy marriages—when a conscious decision is made that we will no longer hide our perfectly natural bodily functions from one another. This is not particularly a decision we are proud of, but it is a decision we all make at some point or another. It may be a decision based on logistical necessity. It may be a decision based on fundamental laziness and sloth. Either way, it is a choice we make and a decision we stand by through thick and thin.
We all belch and fart. It’s just a fact of life. If we did not belch and fart, we would spend our lives in doubled-over agony trying desperately to hold in noxious gas that wants nothing more than to be let out. We would be nothing short of incapacitated. That is no way to live.
Luckily for the married among us, we are free to let it all out.
When you first met your spouse and were trying to win his or her affections, you would certainly never consider farting in front of them. Or belching. Or clipping your toenails. Or waxing your mustache. Or peeing with the bathroom door open. You took special care to hide all of the vile things you did in private from the object of your affection.
Marriage, however, is a completely different story. First and foremost, “private” doesn’t really exist anymore once you tie the knot. Healthy boundaries disintegrate sometime shortly after the honeymoon–specifically if you are married with children. You shower while your spouse is brushing her teeth in the same bathroom. You dress while discussing your checkbook. You pee while your child shows you his latest math test. There is no privacy. At least not in my house.
If I have already spent my day showering, dressing, and peeing with an audience, what is there to keep me from letting go of all that gas while lying in bed with my spouse? What shred of dignity could I possibly have left? Why torment myself and tie my stomach into knots by trying to hold it in? Why disengage myself from my warm and cozy covers to excuse myself to the chilly bathroom to fart? She’s already seen me pee. She has to know I fart, as well. Right? Is it possible that she thinks my body is the lone exception to the laws of biology? That this temple is somehow immune to the side effects of the Chipotle burrito? Surely not.
When you are in the office or sitting in a coffee shop or hanging out with friends, there are certain social mores that surround the belch and the fart. If one happens to slip out, we understand that the farter or belcher will undoubtedly be mortified. Therefore, social norms suggest that the belchee or fartee (the one who is belched or farted upon) ignore the incident. We pretend it did not happen. As our eyes water and our noses scream out for relief, we completely ignore the rogue bodily expellant.
In a marriage—in an environment of communal showering and dressing and peeing—these same social mores do not apply. Therefore, Ruanita feels free to screech and hold her nose and swat at the air dramatically when I pass gas in bed. And I feel the same prerogative to leap (perhaps a bit overzealously) at the unsuspecting dog resting innocently at the foot of our bed and selflessly fling my body on top of hers to protect her from Ruanita’s pestilent fumes. Though we both know that belching and farting are natural bodily responses to excess gas, we do not let the belcher or farter off the hook so easily. No, we call obnoxious attention to the act while secretly finding solace in the knowledge that Ruanita loves me enough to fart in my presence and I love her enough to belch in hers. Isn’t that what true love is all about? The good, the bad, and the stinky?
A lack of basic social boundaries is one more ways that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason #15: The midday check-in.
Ruanita calls me every single day while I am at work. It does not matter where she is or what she is doing. It doesn’t matter if she has 100 things going on that day or none. It does not matter that she has no news to tell me. It does not matter that she knows I am in meetings all day and will be able to say little more than “Hello.” She calls. She always calls.
For fifteen years, Ruanita has called me in the middle of my work day. Some days, she will call me numerous times. Other days, it is just our one midday call. It’s funny how our midday topics of conversation have changed throughout the years.
Before we had children, Ruanita would call me to discuss our plans for the evening. Did I want to go to a movie? Did I want to eat out or stay in tonight? Did I want to go to the Vulva Riot on Friday night? Did I remember that “E.R.” was on tonight so my family was not allowed to call or stop by any time during the 9:00pm to 10:00pm hour?
When Ruanita became pregnant with our eldest son, our free-wheeling conversations turned a bit more serious. Ruanita would call to report any and every feeling, sensation, or movement she experienced. She also called to fret…her personal specialty. Was it normal to have raging heartburn? She was nauseous. She had not felt the baby kick for over 10 minutes. Should we call the Nurse Line? Would I stop and pick her up another McDonald’s cheeseburger on my way home from work?
When I was pregnant with our twins, her calls were often more panic-stricken. Did I think we had enough insurance? How in the hell were we going to pay for daycare? Did I think she’d be a good mom of three? I DID realize that we are going to be outnumbered, didn’t I? We need to go ahead and get cribs. We need to be prepared. I shouldn’t be painting the babies’ room. Paint has fumes, you know? I needed to eat something. Anything.
When our twins were little and Ruanita was home alone with them during the day, her calls became subtle cries for help. They were ganging up on her. They had managed to shred another board book with their bare hands. She caught Nicholas climbing up his dresser again. Aren’t I glad we secured it to the wall after he pulled it over on himself last week, barely missing his tiny little skull? Sophie’s ear-piercing screams could be heard across the entire neighborhood. And she was upsetting Lucas and Nicholas. It was a feast of tears at my house. Nothing would calm Sophie down. Those were the days I was glad to be at work. At least momentarily. Until I relieved Ruanita to do the night shift alone—outnumbered and outsmarted at every turn.
These days, things are calmer. Life is simpler. Our calls are still primarily about the kids, but there is less of an urgency to them. Ruanita only had to stay in Sophie’s classroom 20 minutes this morning. That’s progress. Will I please remember to make sure Lucas does his math homework tonight? Nicholas was in the nurse’s office again at school today. She must think he has the bubonic plague. Will I write out a check for Lucas’s choir tuition this evening? We are out of milk. We are out of juice. We are out of toilet paper. We need Tooth Fairy cash for Sophie. Nicholas has already played his allotted one hour of video games, so he is cut off for the day. The dog puked on the bedroom floor.
And then there are my favorite calls. The short and sweet ones. The calls that have no real purpose. No real agenda. The calls that go a little something like this:
“What do you need?”
“Oh, nothing. Just checking in.”
“Okay, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I suspect that Ruanita will continue to call me until my very last day of work, which will likely coincide with my last day on this Earth at the pathetic rate I am saving for retirement. It’s nice to know that she thinks about me during the day. It’s comforting to know that, after fifteen years, she still wants to hear my voice. That she needs to touch base. She needs to know that I am okay when we are apart. And she needs to tell me that she is okay.
The midday check-in is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason # 19: The in-laws.
When Ruanita and I stood before our family and friends and declared our commitment to one another, two families became one. We committed ourselves not only to loving each other for life, but also to tolerating our in-laws for better or for worse. Through the last 15 years, we have definitely experienced the better and the worse with the in-laws. Had we initiated a worldwide search, we could not have possibly merged two families that were more diametrically opposed.
Ruanita comes from an extremely small family. When we first met, Ruanita’s family consisted of her mother (who is certifiably insane), her brother (who is a “born-again” Christian and, therefore, has chosen not to have a relationship with sinners like Ruanita and me), and her estranged father (who had divorced her mother when she was pregnant with Ruanita and had never really been a part of her life). She did not have aunts, uncles, or cousins with whom she was close. Growing up, her grandparents were her primary caretakers and the loves of her life. Once they were gone, “family” took on a different meaning for her.
My family, on the other hand, is extremely large. Loud. Obnoxious. Enmeshed. Up in each other’s business. I have two sisters and a brother who are my very best friends. I have 11 aunts and uncles whom I adore. I have 20-plus first cousins who I don’t see often enough, but immensely enjoy when we do get together. Needless to say, my family was a bit of a cultural shock for Ruanita.
Navigating the in-laws has been a struggle at times throughout the years. In my family, we are extremely close, as I said. That closeness can at times be claustrophobia-inducing—particularly for someone not accustomed to people who freely give unsolicited advice, are in possession of extremely loose tongues, have no sense of privacy, and share all secrets small and large.
In addition, I was raised with a strong sense of duty when it comes to family. If someone in my family needs something, I give it to them. I don’t question it. I haven’t always considered whether it might be the best thing for my own household. I haven’t always considered Ruanita’s feelings or needs or desires. I admit this has caused tension in our marriage at times throughout the years.
In the same way that Ruanita struggles at times with my family that is so very different from her own, I struggle with her family. Her mother is mentally ill. She has spent the last 48 years slowly sucking the life out of Ruanita. I know that sounds harsh, but I am sure Ruanita would not argue with that description. In many ways, Ruanita never had a mother/daughter relationship with her mother. She was always more of a caretaker to her mother than the other way around. Try as I may, I can’t hate her mother. I know she is ill. Plus, her illness helped make Ruanita the person she is today. The person I am completely mad about and the person to whom I chose to bind my life. So I can’t hate her. At the same time, however, she’s an incredibly hard person to love.
I won’t say much about Ruanita’s brother. I have met him. I have little time or energy to devote to a man who did not acknowledge the birth of any of his sister’s children and still thinks he is heaven-bound because he espouses to be a “Christian.” Yea….good luck with that one on Judgment Day, buddy.
Despite the occasional struggle, family has also been an immense source of joy in our marriage. Before she passed away, my grandma–an old devoutly Catholic woman who had lived in conservative Kentucky her entire life–accepted Ruanita with open arms. She adored Ruanita and worshipped the ground our firstborn son walked on. She would never let Ruanita walk out her door without first giving her a big sloppy granny hug and kiss. In many ways, she reminded Ruanita of her own grandmother, and I think her love and acceptance was one of the greatest gifts in our early marriage.
My family has also given our children the aunts, uncles, and cousins to grow up with that are lacking on Ruanita’s side of the family. They have given our children a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Bigger than our little house on Columbus Avenue. Despite their flaws–and I do not deny that they do have their flaws–my family has welcomed Ruanita and our children with no reservations. No sideways glances. No hesitation whatsoever. The kids play with their “Kentucky cousins” when we visit home. And they know that they have a large network of adults who love them and will always “have their backs.” One day they may wish that all those adults would just get the hell out of their business, but hey…that’s family, right?
Ruanita also recently reconnected with her father. He’s made some regretable mistakes in his life, but he is an incredibly likable man. Funny. Irreverent. Kind. And deeply committed to repairing the broken relationship with his daughter. I see so much of him in Ruanita. And in my Lucas. Lucas and Nicholas instantly adored him, and he even managed to win over skeptical Sophie a bit. Just yesterday, I got an incredibly sweet belated birthday card in the mail from him. After fifteen years with Ruanita, I have the joy of adding a whole new set of wonderful in-laws to my family–Ruanita’s dad, his wife, his other daughter, her children. In-laws who are easy to like. Even easy to love.
In-laws will always be in-laws—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Learning to navigate the in-laws and survive “family” is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason #23: I can’t hear you.
One of the greatest tools for success in any marriage is the ability to completely ignore your spouse when appropriate. Yes, you love her. Yes, she is the center of your universe and the rock of your family. Yes, there are times when you hang on her every word and want to spend every waking moment in her presence. That is…until she turns freakin’ ass nuts on you.
In any relationship, sometime you are the freakin’ ass nut. Other times, you are merely the innocent bystander psychologically assaulted by the freakin’ ass nut. Yesterday, I was the nut.
Before I tell you the whole sordid story, allow me to first mount a reasonable defense.
Defense Exhibit A: I was pre-menstrual. And not happy about it.
Defense Exhibit B: I have arthritis in my my right knee. I can go months and months without it ever hurting. Then it flares up out of the blue and I am completely crippled. Then I go months and months. Then I am a crippled. It is an exhaustibly vicious cycle. Yesterday, I was borderline crippled.
Defense Exhibit C: I suffer from debilitating allergic rhinitis this time of the year. Snot was oozing out of every orifice in my head.
Defense Exhibit D: I was nursing the beginnings of a yeast infection. (I realize that is probably waaaayyy more than you wanted to hear, but coming to know me on an uncomfortably and awkwardly intimate level is one of the many perks of reading my blog.)
Defense Exhibit E: I had been out of my birth control pills for a week because I was too lazy to go the Target Pharmacy to pick them up after getting off work. As a result, I was sporting a couple of nasty zits on my chin.
So….I was crampy, bloated, pseudo crippled, snotty, yeasty, and zitty. It was not one of my finest moments. And Ruanita, being the dear sweet partner she is, was completely attuned to my “issues” and was able to ignore my illogical and inexplicably angry rant.
So what happened?
I had bought Sophie this new dress with matching leggings from Naartjie. It was not a cheap dress. I got it on sale, but still. Normally, most of Sophie’s clothes come from Target. Rarely do I spend much more than a couple of bucks on any of her clothing—for good reason. She is incredibly hard on clothes. As a tomboy princess, she loves girly clothes, but quickly ruins them while chasing frogs and wrestling with her brothers in the back yard. So I try to make sure she is in possession of a fairly cheap wardrobe most of the time. But I couldn’t resist this particular dress. She looked absolutely adorable in it. Yesterday, we were going to my nephew’s birthday party, followed by the first game of the WNBA Finals to cheer on our illustrious Minnesota Lynx. Sophie wanted to wear her new dress. Of course, I had no problem with my child looking adorable for the game.
My nephew’s party didn’t last as long as we had anticipated, so we had some time to kill before the basketball game. Ruanita suggested taking the kids to the park and letting them run out some energy before subjecting them to two hours sitting at a crowded game. Normally, I would have been totally on board with the kids expelling some energy. However, yesterday I was not quite feeling like myself. I replied, “But I don’t want them to get dirty before the game.”
“Dirty? Our kids don’t get dirty at the park.”
Okay…if you have children—particularly of the klutzy variety that I have—you know that kids do get dirty at the park. Ruanita was just plain wrong. However, in the midst of my snotty, yeasty haze, I allowed her to convince me that the kids would not get dirty before the game. So we headed to the park.
Ruanita and I parked ourselves on the nearest bench (that’s why they’re called “park benches,” right?) to watch the kids play. Almost immediately—seriously, within seconds—Sophie fell in the tiny pebbles that covered the playground area. She came over to us in tears with a slightly bloody knee. And with brand new leggings covered in dirt and already worn thin in the knee.
I looked at Ruanita and declared, with more venom than I really intended, “Kids don’t get dirty at the park, huh?” She ignored me, kissed Sophie’s boo-boo and sent her on her merry way to play some more.
Within minutes, Sophie fell again. This time in the grass. To add a smear of mud and a lovely green grass stain to the knees of her new leggings. “Shit!” I yelled. “What the hell? Can she not walk?” Luckily, Sophie did not hear me, but Ruanita did. I continued to mumble about how I can’t buy anything nice for the kids. And why in the hell would we take them to the park when Sophie is in her new dress anyway? And “Kids don’t get dirty at the park, do they, Ruanita?” I was, in short, a complete and total bitch about Sophie ruining her new leggings. I knew I was being a bitch. I knew I was being totally irrational. I could always buy her another pair of matching leggings. Or Sophie could wear her adorable dress with any any of the multiple pairs of tights she has in her sock drawer at home. There was no reason whatsoever for me to get upset. There was certainly no reason for the venom that was oozing out of every pore of my body. I had inexplicably turned freakin’ ass nuts on Ruanita.
And she knew it. She knew it was the snot and the zits talking and not her beloved spouse. She knew that there was no talking me down from the ledge at that moment. She knew that no amount of reasoning would calm me. As a matter of fact, reasoning with me would certainly have had the opposite effect. She knew arguing with me would turn ugly. Try as I might to turn the tide, I was one hundred percent completely invested in my freakin’ ass nuts rant. I knew it was irrational, but I couldn’t help myself. So how is a good spouse to respond?
She totally ignored me. Completely.
She walked away. She moved to another section of the park. She took the kids with her, as to shield them from their mommy’s spewing anger. She left me on my park bench to stew. Alone. Eventually, I did calm down. The bitchy ooze leaking from every pore did eventually dry up. I was able to rejoin my family, forget about the stained leggings, and have a great time at the basketball game.
That, my friends—the ability to completely ignore your spouse when they turn freakin’ ass nuts on you—is yet another reason why my marriage is just like your marriage.