By Shannon Ralph
Sometimes I wonder if my daughter was conceived, unbeknownst to me, via some advanced alien cloning procedure rather than your plain old everyday sperm meets egg scenario. She and I are so much alike that at times it gives me the spooks. Seriously. Hard core heebie-jeebies.
As my weird creepy clone daughter who mirrors every trait I possess, there are some places that we simply should not be allowed to go together. A few that come to mind immediately are book stores (just try to get us out of there), old-fashioned candy shops (just hook us up to white chocolate IVs and walk away), Michael’s (colored pencils and fancy papers in every hue found in nature…can you say heaven on earth?), and Claire’s (you may not guess it by my outer appearance, but I am a hard core, Hello-Kitty-nail-polish-loving, colored-extensions-adoring, bangly-bracelet-coveting girly girl at heart).
Last night, we ended up together at the worst possible place for me and my clone to congregate. We attended a Girl Scout field trip to the Humane Society of Golden Valley.
As you may or may not know, I am a serious dog person. I love dogs. I adore dogs. Every breed. Every size. Every color. I think dogs are without a doubt God’s noblest creation. I can handle the television commercials showing little children in third world countries with runny noses and bulging bellies. Yes, I want to help them. Yes, I feel for them, but I do not fall apart. Show me as ASPCA add, however, and I melt into a blubbering heap of…well…blubber…on my living room floor. Ruanita says that I stare at random dogs on the street with the same wide-eyed devotion that “normal” (her term, not mine) people reserve for newborn babies and creatures plucked from their own wombs. She thinks it is a sickness. I just think I am a dog person.
My daughter is also a dog person. And a cat person. And a rabbit person. And a gerbil person. And a ferret person. And apparently, a chinchilla person. Who knew? Dropping the two of us off in the middle of a Humane Society facility is really quite dangerous, to say the very least.
We showed up early, of course. About half an hour early to peruse the puppies and kitties on our own before the rest of our group arrived. We both immediately found a dog that, in no uncertain terms, belonged in our home. Then we found another. Then another. Then an extremely furry rabbit named Lionhead. If I am being honest, Sophie had to sell me on the rabbit a bit, but it’s not a huge leap from Fido to Peter Cottontail. I mean…they both have fur. Right?
I was particularly smitten with a one-year-old smallish yellow lab mix named Vixen. She had the sweetest brown eyes I have ever seen outside of my son Nicholas’s orbital sockets. And we had chemistry. Real chemistry. I mean, I could see it in her eyes. She was feeling it too. Unfortunately, we had to go meet up with the rest of our group in the midst of our love connection.
We toured the facility with our Girl Scout group. Both the clone and I were disappointed when we were advised that we could not stick our hands into the kennels to pet the animals. We followed the rules because, well, she and I are both rule followers. Another thing we have in common. We did circumvent the rules a bit, however, by staying after the group tour and petting the hell out of those puppies through the kennel wires.
Vixen remembered me. Even though a good hour and a half had passed since our last visit (a pretty dang long time in dog years), I could tell that she was still crushing hard on me. She wanted to take me home. Or rather, she wanted me to take her home. And I wanted to. I really wanted to take her home and introduce her to the family. I wanted nothing more than to give my boxer, Stella, a little sister. Everyone needs an obnoxious little sister to bug the shit out of them, right? Even a dog.
Unfortunately, despite our clonedom, Sophie is a six-year-old little girl and I am an adult. I had to be an adult. I had to tell Sophie no. I had to tell Vixen no. I had to explain that, while I would love nothing more than having another dog, her other mommy is not quite on board. Actually, that is an understatement. The exact wording she used was “f**k no,” if I recall correctly. And something about hell freezing over…but we’re in Minnesota, so she may have just been talking about the weather when I heard that. Regardless, she is not completely invested in the idea of getting another dog.
But we’re working on her. Sophie and I are working hard to bring her into the fold. I have tried appealing to her sense of family. (“Stella needs a sibling. Every child needs a sibling.”) I have tried appealing to her inner lazy ass. (“If we had two dogs, they would get a great deal of exercise by playing together in the back yard. You wouldn’t have to take Stella on so many marathon walks anymore.”) I have tried appealing to her narcoleptic nature. (“If Stella had another dog to cuddle up with at night, perhaps she would not try so hard to sneak into our bed. Maybe we’d get a good night’s sleep for a change.”) I have even tried appealing to her in that most sacred of places—her wallet. (“If you agree to adopt another dog, I will completely stop bugging you about getting cable. Expensive cable.”) To date, nothing has worked.
But the clone and I are not giving up. Two brains are better than one—especially two genetically identical brains—and we WILL come up with a way to rally her to our cause.
By Shannon Ralph
It can’t be easy being the son of hard-core lefty-leaning liberal lesbians. At least, this is the message that came through loud and clear from my soon-to-be ten-year-old son, Lucas, this weekend. He didn’t say it in so many words. But I got the distinct feeling that he was thinking it.
This weekend, my nephew had his 10th birthday party. The theme of the party was camouflage. All of the kids came dressed in camouflage. (All of the kids except mine, that is, because we discovered in preparing for the party that none of my children owns a single piece of camouflage clothing.) There were army men on top of the cupcakes. There were green balloons. There were camouflage plates and napkins. There were camouflage do-rags for all the kids to wear. It looked like Al Qaeda had set up a training camp in my sister’s living room. The kids all played “army” with guns and ammo and snipers and ambushes. Well, most of the kids anyway. Sophie, being the only girl at the party as usual, was completely unimpressed with the party theme and preferred to spend the afternoon attached to my hip. Nicholas spent most of the party playing on my sister’s iPad. He had little if any interest in the warfare going on around him. Lucas, however, was completely enthralled by the party. He waved toy guns around like a true rebel fighter. He did the G.I. Joe belly crawl down the hallway. He perfected the guttural war cry. He loved every minute of it.
My sister bought my nephew a real, live BB gun for his birthday. A Red Rider BB gun just like the one Ralphie begged for in “A Christmas Story”. I resisted the urge to tell him that he would shoot his eye out, but knowing my nephew, I secretly suspect that there is a real risk that he will eventually shoot someone’s eye out. Of course, he was beyond excited about his birthday present and all of the kids lined up to take a turn shooting his new gun (sans BB’s, of course).
I knew this party was going to be a tough one for me. Or a tough one for Lucas, I guess. Ruanita and I do not allow our kids to have toy guns. This is something we agreed to years ago before we even had children. I have no problem whatsoever with my sister buying a gun for her son and this blog is in no way meant to disparage her or her parenting or her son. Ruanita and I just have a different take on guns. A different opinion. An opinion that I tried to explain to Lucas in the car on the way home. The declarations of “unfairness” began the minute our butts touched the seats of the car. “Why can Jonah have a gun and I can’t?” “It’s not fair.” “They’re not real.” “Uncle Matt carries a gun.”
I explained to Lucas that guns hurt people. Every single day in this country, guns hurt people. They kill people. Guns are not toys. War is not a game. His uncle Matt carries a gun because he is a police officer sworn to protect people. Lucas, on the other hand, is just a boy who has no need for a weapon. I tried to explain that his aunt and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to toy guns. She is allowed to make decisions for her son. That is her job as his mom. Just like my job is to make decisions that I believe are correct for my children. Lucas is my priority, not his cousin Jonah. He is my responsibility and my child to raise and teach and mold. I explained that his mom and I do not believe in toy guns and that he will not be getting one. End of story. Needless to say, he was pretty upset and convinced that life just isn’t fair.
Here’s the thing though. I get it. Really. I do. I get that it may not be easy being the son of lefty liberal lesbians. As often as I say that gay and lesbian parents are just like every other parent out there, there is a hint of untruth in that statement. We are certainly like other parents in more ways than we are different. But there may just be a few ways in which we may not be exactly the same.
Ruanita and I refer to bodily parts by their actual names. Penises and vaginas instead of wee-wees and pee-pees. We sang our kids to sleep with Indigo Girls songs. We don’t allow our boys to become Boy Scouts like their friends. We struggle with explaining -to a couple of little boys who just want to go camping and learn to tie cool knots- about the injustice of an organization that doesn’t allow gay people to join. We don’t really watch football. Or baseball. We don’t play sports. We do watch college basketball and cheer excitedly for the Kentucky Wildcats, but we live in Minnesota. None of their friends cares about college basketball. We don’t hunt or fish. We aren’t exactly the “outdoorsy” type. We talk about feelings. A lot. We believe every conversation is a “teachable moment.” We buy our boys Legos so they can build something instead of guns so they can destroy something. We make Lucas go to choir rehearsal every single Saturday morning so he can grow to be a “well-rounded” man. We are smugly proud of ourselves when our son walks around Target singing the soprano section of ¡Cantar! louder than he realizes. We talk about politics. We explain the issues to our kids as best we can. We want them to be politically savvy. We stress in our house that girls can be scientists and mathematicians and doctors and lawyers. And boys can be caregivers. Boys can be gentle and loving. Boys can be kind and generous and sweet. Boys and girls can both be anything they want to be. There are no pre-conceived gender roles in our house.
Perhaps it is because every single child in a gay or lesbian family is meticulously planned. Desperately wanted. There are no accidents in a gay or lesbian family. Whether our families are created by artificial insemination or surrogacy or adoption, we go to great lengths (not to mention great expense) to bring our children into our families. As a result, we may be a bit hyper vigilant in our parenting practices. When something that is so very wanted for so very long finally materializes, we have a tendency to treat it with kid gloves. To over think this whole parenting thing. I admit at times to parenting in a more cerebral and less organic fashion. I should really think less and just “be” more.
Not only do gay and lesbian parents want to raise our children to be good people like all parents do, but we have the added burden of feeling that we must somehow “prove” that we can be good parents. To show the world that our children are just as smart. Just as kind. Just as moral. Just as “normal” as all the other children out there. It’s silly, really. Why do we have to prove anything to anyone? Who cares that we have spent out entire lives being told that the only real families—the only families who should be raising children—consist of one man and one woman? Why should we care when we know we are just as capable as straight people to raise children? Because the notion that we are not still exists. It’s still there. Whether I like to admit it or not, there is a desire deep down within me to prove my worth as a parent. And my children sometimes get caught in the crossfire of this internal struggle.
Will my son grow up to be a serial killer if I buy him a BB gun? No. Will my nephew grow up to kill innocent people just because he had a camouflage party for his 10th birthday? Certainly not. I am sure they will both grow up to be perfectly wonderful men. Boys will be boys, right? That’s what people say. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. It’s true that my son will find a way to fashion a gun out of sticks or toilet paper rolls or Legos. He will find a way to make a gun. It’s what boys do. As his mom, however, I do not have to arm him. I do not have to be a participant in his war-worshipping. I can show him another way. I think it is my responsibility to show him another way.
Whether he likes it or not.
By Shannon Ralph
When Lucas was one year old, I never thought I would enjoy another year of his life as much as I did that one. He was this angelic, chubby little blonde thing with dimples that just wouldn’t quit. And he was so happy. He just sat around and played with his matchbox cars repeating “Brrrrummm” over and over again. I adored him and was certain I would never enjoy him as much as I did at that very time.
Then he turned two. And he developed a sense of humor. And a streak of independence. And a sweetness that eclipsed everything he was at one year old. And I thought to myself, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
Then he turned three. Frankly, three was not my favorite. He was a bit of a beast. But we survived and he turned four. Four was magical. He was this perfect little thing who believed completely in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and fairy dust and magic. He relished the things that the rest of us had grown too busy and beleaguered to even notice. A yellow leaf twirling in the wind. Ants slowly making their way across the sidewalk. Fat worms wriggling in the dirt, warmed by the summer sun. He could draw, cut, color, and paste for hours on end. He smelled amazing when he was freshly bathed and dressed in his cozy pajamas. Four years old had to be the perfect age.
Each year of Lucas’s life, I have thought, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.” And each year I am surprised that he keeps getting better and better.
He is nine years old now. Almost ten. I never thought I would enjoy a nine-year-old boy (or a boy at all, for that matter). I could easily list the things about a nine-year-old boy that bug me. He leaves his dirty socks laying around everywhere. And his underwear. He tunes me out any time a screen of any sort is in front of him. He is sarcastic at times. His feet stink. He manipulates his brother who absolutely worships him. He is kind of lazy. Sort of obnoxious. Somewhat annoying. But tonight, out of the blue, I found myself thinking, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
He was taking a shower at the time. At nine years old, Lucas is very a much a little boy who wants very much to be a big man. He wants to shower himself. He doesn’t need to his mom to help him. But like generations of kids before him, he is pretty convinced that aliens are going to abduct his entire family while he is alone in the shower. So he has asked me to stay in bathroom with him when he showers. And of course, as a survivor of the pre-teen alien abduction nightmares, I happily oblige.
I was sitting on the toilet while Lucas showered and he was chattering on as he so often does. I tend to tune him out at times because he just talks so much, but tonight I was listening.
“Ask me about particles, Mom. Or space. Ask me anything about space,” he said.
“Okay, Lucas, what about a light year? Is a light year a measurement of time or distance?” I attempted to stump him.
“Oh Mom, that’s too easy. It’s distance,” he exclaimed. “People think it is time because it is a year, but it is really distance. How far light travels in a year.”
“Alright, you’re smart.”
“Did you know that the Big Bang is still going on?”
“Really?” I asked skeptically.
“Really,” he replied. “Right now, at this very moment, we are banging.”
“Right now? In this bathroom? You and I are banging?”
“Yep. The Big Bang is still happening today. We are banging. The universe is still changing. The Big Bang isn’t over.”
At that moment—sitting on a toilet watching a blue shower curtain dancing with the movements of my clumsy son taking a shower—I loved him. I loved his enthusiasm. I loved his voice. I loved his constant, incessant science talk. I loved his weird sense of humor. I loved the smell of his deodorant sitting on the sink. I loved that he still likes talking to me. I loved that he needed me there, sitting on that toilet, to protect him from the monsters that lurked in his imagination. It was such an ordinary, daily life sort of moment. One of those everyday, uneventful, unexciting moments that make you pause and think. That make you realize how very lucky you are to have a part in creating such an extraordinary person.
This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.
By Shannon Ralph
That was quite a blogging hiatus, huh?
As you may or may not have noticed, it has been quite a while since I have written anything for The Next Family. I completely missed Christmas. I totally overlooked New Year’s. I even missed the Epiphany. I apologize for my absence. I won’t get into the gory details about why exactly I have been MIA for the last two months. Let’s just suffice it to say that my entire family has been in self-imposed isolation related to a particularly ugly virus. And leave it at that. No need to get into the phlegmy details.
So I find myself finally re-entering the land of the living and attempting to resume blogging well into January. What should I write about? Christmas was kind of boring this year. Not much to report. Ruanita worked on New Year’s Eve and I was in bed by 9:00pm. Nothing exciting to tell you there. I suppose I could, as I have for the last several years, share my New Year’s Resolutions with you.
I decided to go big this year. Go big or stay at home, right? I’ve decided that, frankly speaking, I need some work. Some real work. Your everyday garden variety resolutions just aren’t going to cut it this year. “Losing weight” or “reading more books” or “exercising”—these are just the tip of the iceberg. I need a complete overhaul. Therefore, I am resolving to make multiple life-altering changes this year. Below you will find my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions.
- I resolve to kick my bagel habit. Once and for all, I will shed the shackles of Bruegger’s asiago and parmesan perfection.
- I resolve to try to like tea for the 463rd time. Even if I have to choke the putrid liquid down, I am damned and determined to cultivate my tea-drinker-nose-in-a-book-philosophical-intellectual-snooty-holier-than-thou persona.
- I resolve to do less laundry and use more deodorant. Laundry is stifling. It gets in the way of everything. It sucks the time and the energy and the very life out of a person. And, simply put, I hate it.
- I am going to stop cooking with heavy whipping cream. No more rich mashed potatoes. No more ultra creamy pasta dishes. Instead, I will whip the cream and eat it with copious amounts of chocolate. As God intended.
- I resolve to stop being a hypocrite. When I tell Nicholas that he has had enough screen time for the day without taking my eyes off my own phone, it screams of hypocrisy that even a six-year-old can’t ignore. And doesn’t ignore.
- I resolve to work with neglected children. I will begin with my own.
- I resolve to take up an exciting new habit. Perhaps knitting. Or stenciling. Or maybe smoking.
- I resolve to spend less than $1825 on coffee this year.
- I resolve to watch more cute and cuddly kitten videos on YouTube in 2013. I mean, what else am I going to do with all the free time I gain once I stop doing laundry?
- I resolve to gain enough weight to get on The Biggest Loser. First and foremost, two words: Jillian Michaels. She can scream at me any day. Second, resolving to lose weight as I have for the last several years seems to have the opposite effect on me. Rather than shedding pounds, I am putting them on. And if I am going to gain weight, let’s go hog wild and just get it over with. No half-assed packing on the pounds for me. No way. If I am going to do it anyway, I may as well commit to doing it right. Right?
- I resolve to try and drive at or under the speed limit. At least when I’m not tired. Or running late. Or even worse…hungry.
- I resolve to enjoy the sweeter side of life. The side that includes M&M’s, cheesecake, candy corn, Sugar Babies, Hot Tamales…
- I resolve to start listening to my children. Really listening. Even Nicholas who never stops talking and often causes me to develop an inexplicable urge to assume the fetal position underneath my kitchen table. I will even listen to Nicholas.
- I resolve to start making my bed. For real.
- I resolve to make a concerted effort to develop relationships with my coworkers. Even if I don’t want to.
- I resolve to shave my legs in 2013. At least once per quarter. Try as I might, I can’t quite carry off the Yeti look.
- I resolve to manage my stress. Possibly by drinking more.
- I resolve to start opening the envelopes the bank sends me. Even the ones with the mortgage bill in them.
- I resolve to read to my children every night. Perhaps some Huffington Post. Kids like white, liberal, left-wing political humor, don’t they?
- I resolve to volunteer to help others. I’m going to help them curb their annoying habits. Like talking to me. And calling me. And looking at me.
Yep, 2013 is going to be a banner year for me.
I feel it.
By Shannon Ralph
Reason #4: We worry about our children.
Ruanita and I take turns worrying about our children. I’ll obsess about Lucas’s lack of vegetable intake in his limited diet, while Ruanita worries about Sophie’s shyness at school. I will worry about Nicholas spending too much time playing video games while Ruanita worries about Sophie not reading as well as her twin brother. Typically, we will worry about different children at different times, thereby protecting our kids from the double whammy mommy fret.
On rare occasion, however, we will both focus our energy on worrying about one child. Right now, we are in the midst of just such a vortex of anxiety. It began recently when we had a parent/teacher conference with Lucas’s fourth grade teacher. All went well, for the most part. He had scored slightly above average on his state reading test and well above average on his state math test. He had a little trouble staying on task in the classroom and there were instances where his anxiety issues had been apparent to his teacher when he wasn’t sure what he should be doing. These reports were not unexpected. And she raved about what a sweet, kind boy Lucas is. We were fairly happy with the overall report until his teacher broached another topic with us.
Basically, in no uncertain terms, she indicated that she was concerned about Lucas being bullied in middle school next year. She recalled an incident in class where another boy had his feet propped up on Lucas’s seat and would not move them. Lucas just stood there looking at the boy’s feet saying nothing. Looking anxious. She made the boy move his feet, but was concerned that Lucas said nothing. She was concerned that some of the boys with “stronger,” more testosterone-infused personalities may see Lucas as the perfect–silent–victim.
Here’s the thing. Lucas is completely 100% non-confrontational. He is not an assertive child. He does not speak up. As a matter of fact, he lives most of his life in his own little world. A world where everyone plays video games and builds robots from cardboard boxes and walks around singing show tunes. He lives in a happy world filled with Einstein and science documentaries and choir and Legos and Goombas and Myth Busters and grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off. He is the quintessential geek. And I absolutely love his geekiness. He is incredibly sensitive and sweet and gentle. And nerdy. And Ruanita and I adore him just the way he is.
Lucas has always had friends in school. He is a pleasant, engaging kid who I think people like. The fact that his sensitivity and non-assertiveness would cause him issues in life simply was not on our radar. We have always relished the fact that he will likely grow up to be a sensitive man. Women love sensitive men, right? I guess we always knew that he wasn’t like other boys, but to actually hear his teacher say the words, “He’s not like other boys” was a bit of a slap in the face. But it is the truth. He’s not rough and tumble. He’d rather sing you a song than wrestle with you. He’d rather watch a documentary about the Earth’s core than ride a bike or play baseball. As a matter of fact, he is almost 10 years old and does not know how to ride a bike. And has no desire to learn. And he has absolutely zero interest in learning to play any sport. Unless you count chess as a sport.
This weekend, Ruanita and I were shopping for Christmas presents for the kids. In the toy aisle as Target, Ruanita turned to me and said, “Do you think it’s because we don’t let him play with guns? That we won’t even let him have a Nerf gun? Do you think he’d be more assertive if we let him play with toy guns like other boys?” Ummm….no. I don’t think arming him will make a difference. I think he is who he is. I think it is in his nature to be completely, unapologetically Lucas.
Does this mean we will not worry about him? Does this mean we will not obsess over him? And fret about him? And ache in the deepest, darkest parts of our souls for him to have an easy life? A happy life? No. We are his parents and we will worry about him and for him until the day we die.
Worrying about our kids is one more way that my marriage is just like marriage.
By Shannon Ralph
Reason #5: The push and the pull.
Marriage is all about give and take. Compromise. Push and pull. Gay and lesbian marriages are no different. Ruanita gives. I take. I push her. She pulls me. This push and pull dynamic is apparent in many aspects of our everyday life.
- We do not have cable. This is absolutely the direct effect of Ruanita’s pull being a wee bit stronger than my push. I have pushed this issue for years. I have begged for cable. I have whined for cable. I have stomped my foot and demanded cable. As any intelligent adult knows, anything and everything of value in television today is on cable. Game of Thrones. Homeland. Boardwalk Empire. Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. Unfortunately, my desire to watch Pawn Stars is simply no match for Ruanita’s desire to cling to her cash. Therefore, we do not have cable.
- We have three children. I admit that this one is entirely on me. Ruanita was content with one child, but I pushed and pushed until I won her over. “Lucas doesn’t need to be an only child.” “Everyone needs a brother or sister.” “Two is the perfect number.” “I want to experience the joy of childbirth.” Yea, what the hell was I thinking? Secretly, I would happily have six children. Ruanita wanted one, reluctantly agreed to two, and ended up with three. I don’t think even my stellar pushing skills can budge her even one more inch. We are done.
- We have a dog. Again, this one is on me. I wanted a dog. I thought our children should grow up with a pet. Now we are the proud owners of a completely dead lawn, numerous disemboweled stuffed animals, and a pungent aroma that permeates every crevice of our home. But am I content with all of this loveliness? No. I am actually pushing Ruanita to get another dog. A dog needs a BFF, right? Luckily, she is pulling harder than I am pushing at this time.
- I do not own an iPad. In all honestly, I do not need an iPad. I have a smartphone. I have a laptop. Actually, I have two laptops. I have a Nook. I have an iPod. What could I possibly do on an iPad that I cannot already do on any one of the other assorted electronics I own? Nothing. But, being a master pusher, it does not matter. I want an iPad. I think that I need an iPad. I am pushing Ruanita to buy me an iPad. As of yet, I have been unsuccessful. The $600 price tag and her complete lack of appreciation for any and all electronic devices (did I mention she still carries a little flip-style cell phone that is older than all of my children combined?) is causing Ruanita to pull. And pull. And pull some more. I simply do not see an iPad in my future unless one of my loyal readers—overcome with a sense of compassion for my plight—surprises me with one. I’m not holding my breath, however.
As you may have garnered from this list, I am typically the pusher in my marriage and Ruanita is the puller. I push her toward ridiculous, fanciful, often farcical ideas. She pulls me toward non-movement and stagnation. Somehow we meet in the middle. We compromise. We both give a little. As a result, we have a lovely home instead of a mini mansion we can’t afford or a rent-controlled hovel in the hood. We have three happy children instead of an out-of-control brood or one child that we managed to turn freakishly weird with our undivided attention. We have one pet instead of a menagerie to rival any metropolitan zoo. We don’t have cable, but we also don’t spend 90% of our lives staring at the television with drool forming at the corners of our mouths. And we still have Downton Abbey, so not all is lost.
The push and the pull is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason #6: Little touches.
I am working from home today and Ruanita is getting a massage. Well, not really. She is being massaged without actually being touched. A friend of hers is studying “energy healing” and is using Ruanita as a practice guinea pig. Ruanita is sitting upright on our living room ottoman while her friend appears to be acting out a massage without actually touching her. Tweaking her chakras, I guess. Like charades. I am incredibly tempted to break the deafening silence by yelling, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone!” I am trying my best to refrain.
In addition to now craving a rousing game of charades, Ruanita’s touchless massage has me thinking about all the ways that we incorporate touch into our marriage. Like all married couples, Ruanita and I touch one another. Often. I am not talking about sexual touching. I am not talking about bumping into one another in our too-small kitchen or during our nightly struggles to coerce three children to brush their teeth in one tiny bathroom. I am talking about the small ways we touch one another every day. On purpose. Like most married couples, our touching is done with little or no thought. It is instinctual.
When Ruanita and I watch television at night, I sit in my favorite chair and she reclines on the couch. She will be on her laptop. I will be on my Nook. We will not be talking. Or even looking at one another. But nine times out of ten our toes will be touching on our shared ottoman. My feet will rub hers under the blanket we are sharing. I don’t think about it. I just do it.
When we enter a room—a restaurant, a friend’s house, a movie theater—I will place my hand on Ruanita’s lower back. As if to guide her. As if to escort her safely through the doorway. As if she may just get lost without me. I do not know why I do this. It is a habit. An instinct.
When Ruanita is standing at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, I will rub her back as I walk past. When I am driving, Ruanita will reach out and grab my hand and hold it in her lap. I will put my hand on her shoulder when I reach across the table. She will stop to briefly wrap her arms around my waist as I am standing at the stove cooking dinner. We will sit side by side on a park bench with our knees touching as we watch our kids play at the park.
These are simple gestures, but telling ones. They tell a story of love. Of partnership. Of commitment. Of mutual respect. Of affection. They tell the story of a marriage.
These little touches are one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By Shannon Ralph
Reason #7: The united front.
There are times in any marriage when “teamwork” is put to the test. This is especially true if you also happen to be parents. If your children are anything like mine, they will try with every bit of might they have in their scrawny little bodies to drive a wedge between their parents. To divide and conquer. To drive a wedge into the very heart of everything that makes you a married couple.
Sometimes their tactics are pathetically obvious. “Mom said I can’t have a cookie and I don’t think that’s fair. What do you think?” Yea buddy….right. At other times, their schemes are fairly sophisticated. As a married couple—regardless of the level of attack—we must stand firm. We are a team. We must present a united front to the children.
If I say to my son, Nicholas, “As your consequence, you are not allowed to play the Wii for a week,” Ruanita is bound by the unspoken laws of marriage to back me up. To agree to my selected punishment for our child’s misbehaving. Despite the fact that Nicholas’s one hour of Wii time each day is the only respite we get from his constant banal chatter, Ruanita will comply. She may not agree completely with my decision. She may wish I had never spoken those words. But she will back me up. She will enforce the consequence even when I am not around.
No matter what crazy shit I come up with in the heat of the moment, Ruanita will have my back one hundred percent. “Sophie Elizabeth, you are not allowed to have sweets for the next year!” Ruanita will be standing right behind me pointing her finger at Sophie saying, “Yea….what your mom said! No Christmas candy! No Easter! No Halloween! You’re not even getting a birthday cake this year, missy!” If I were to yell, “Lucas Matthew, you are not allowed out of your room for the next six months!” Ruanita would immediately begin compiling lesson plans to home-school our child despite our both being completely befuddled by 4th grade math. If I happened to scream, in a fit of rage, “Nicholas Arnold, you are not allowed to breathe the air in the living room for the next week!” Ruanita would probably look at me strangely, but she would be on the internet fast as a whip looking for the nearest gas mask vendor in the metro area. If I declare it—particularly if I declare it using middle names—she supports it. And when I inevitably realize how absolutely ridiculous and morally questionable and probably illegal my punishment is and I amend it, she will support that decision, as well.
This unconditional support goes the other way, too. Just last week, Lucas found this out the hard way. On a particularly cranky day, Lucas had the absence of judgment to call me “lazy” for “always” being on my laptop. It was rather absurd because I was working from home at the time, so I had to be on my laptop. I fussed at him and left it at that. I admit that I was a wee bit hurt because, dammit, I do a lot of crap I don’t like doing for him and he thanks me by calling me lazy?! Ruanita was working at the time and I mentioned it to her on the phone that evening after the kids had gone to bed. Whereas I was hurt, Ruanita was pissed. The next day, Ruanita made Lucas sit down and write out several ways in which his momma is NOT lazy. This was an ideal consequence because 1.) Lucas hates to write, and 2.) He needed to acknowledge all of the things I do for him that are decidedly un-lazy. I also suspect that Ruanita reamed him pretty good because I got an unsolicited apology and a hug when I got home from work the following day. Lucas felt the full brunt of the united front. Ruanita, in no uncertain terms, had my back.
The united front is one more way that my marriage is just like your marriage.
By: Shannon Ralph
Reason #8: The ugly cry.
There are few people in this world who we allow to see ourselves at our very worst. For the most part, we try to put on a happy front. A dignified mask. We want the world to see us as confident. And capable. We want people to think we have our shit together. That we aren’t afraid. That we aren’t neurotic. That we don’t make stupid decisions. That we don’t question our own abilities on a daily basis. That we are better than all those losers out there who can’t seem to manage their own lives.
It can be pretty damn exhausting to keep up this façade.
When you are married, however, there is always one person who knows the truth. There is always one person who sees you for what you really are. There is always one person who knows that you snore. And that you get bitchy when you are tired. And that you ignore your children at times. That you are often selfish. That you feel guilty about every decision you have ever made in your life. There is one person who sees all of your ugly little neuroses. There is one person who sees you.
Ruanita has seen me at my worst. She has seen me cry. Some people cry these cute little sobs. They whimper silently. With tiny little sniffles. Blotting at their eyes with tissues. When these people cry, you feel an overwhelming desire to protect them. To wrap your arms around them and shield them from anything and everything that will ever cause them sorrow. Anything and everything that will ever cause them to make those pitiful little whimpering noises. My son, Nicholas, cries this way. Unfortunately, I do not.
I cry UGLY.
I repel people when I cry. People recoil is disgust. When I cry, my face contorts into something reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker. My face is almost instantly covered with hideous red splotches. And thick green snot pours from my nose. A tissue is useless against the phlegm coming out of every orifice in my head. I need a full sized bath towel to wipe that stuff away.
And what good is whimpering? How is any emotion expelled through a tiny little whimper? I wail. I heave. I blubber. I howl. I snivel. I hyperventilate. I make noises that I am certain are painful to the dogs of my neighborhood. When I cry, it is a macabre feast for the senses. Kind of like a horror movie. You cover your eyes in terror, but can’t help looking through your fingers. I am a train wreck.
Ruanita has seen my ugly cry on more than one occasion. And she is still here. She did not toss me a bath towel and immediately dial up a divorce lawyer. She has stuck with me despite the ugly cry. Despite my neurosis. Despite the fact that I don’t have all my shit together.
Being able to look past the ugly cry is one more reason that my marriage is just like your marriage.
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.