One Year Down

Well, we survived year one. Survived. That’s a strange way of putting it, and I’ve been saying it over the last week or so in a jocular manner, laughing that neither E nor myself has killed the other. We’ve gotten the old “the first year is the hardest” response, although a friend also said that year two was actually more difficult, but I tend to consider it the way I do most things: it all depends.

For our anniversary, we mostly drove in the car–at least on the day of–as we set out for Chicago for a few days of city life and to celebrate the start of Year 2. We did a lot of things, including a second trip to Wrigley to see the Cubs beat the Tigers in comeback fashion, toured several of Chicago’s finest breweries and even saw the most random play I’ve ever witnessed called Bat-Hamlet, which is exactly what it sounds like. All in all we had a good time, although Chicago is far away from where we live, which meant we essentially traveled for 4 days of the trip. Man, teleportation would be incredible.

Still, I think it was important to make the trip, even if this doesn’t start a tradition of longer-term vacations for each anniversary. It was important because Year 1, while it was edifying and mostly excellent, was actually quite difficult. I’ve discussed the idea of transitions before and how neither E nor I is very good at them, and how our lives seem to be filled with them, probably because we are no good at them and need to learn to cope. The constant movement between families, with little L (who is now 4 and getting smarter and sassier by the day), between each other has kept the boat rocking pretty much from day one; but none of this is wildly surprising.

What is surprising is that I actually might have learned a thing or two about how to get through the chaos. I’m seeing now how vital it is to protect our little family above all other relationships, even if that means telling other people “no” from time to time, as well as realizing that pretty much everyone else in our lives knows how important this is, too. For some reason I came into things believing that most everyone else in my life would hold some sort of grudge against me for choosing my wife first, but the more I recognize that this isn’t the case, the better I feel about making that choice.

And this is the best option, it seems to me, and not just in the long run. Moment to moment remembering this helps me to know that this is what matters the most of all my human relationships. It’s not as simple as happy wife, happy life or some other cheesy sentiment like that; instead it comes down to priorities and doing what’s right for my family, which is me and these two girls.

And somehow I’ll keep making mistakes, but I’d like to think, one year in, that I’m a little better at standing up and doing what is best more than I allow the feelings and worries of those outside of us push me in one direction or another.

And now, for fun, here are some photos from the trip.

Post-Summer Blues

Please, for a moment, let me allow my non-teacher friends to get out your “but at least you get summers offs” out of your system. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

 

Okay, now that we’ve moved past that, I can do what I came here to do: summer is officially over for me, and frankly I’m less enthusiastic about that. To be honest, my new job, which began in earnest this summer, has meant that I’ve not been as removed from my campus as much as I have been; so minus my honeymoon and an extended weekend in Gatlinburg, TN recently, I’ve seen my office for extended periods rather regularly since mid-May. This has been unusual, and even that has taken a little getting used to. Even the past two summers when I’ve been teaching, those classes basically consisted of showing up for the class and going home; but this summer has been different in that I’ve done a lot of going in for a few hours and taking care of new job responsibilities, that sort of thing.

Still, when summer really ended yesterday, the emotions really started to settle in. Everyone was back, and that was really great see all my colleagues and see how their summers went, and to share with those who I hadn’t seen as much of the various highs and lows of my own. The downsides, of course, include that at my school, they don’t believe in slow rolling us back into the year: we hit the ground running, hit the bottom of the hill and break into a dead sprint from there. Day 1 was meetings from 8:30-3, including an hour-long keynote speaker right before lunch; day 2 was making the meetings look enticing, as each full-time faculty member in the school of arts and sciences was instructed to work on some assessment of work done by our recent graduates. This is all work I know to be necessary, but it is a long and often confusing way to spend the second day back.

This is not intended to be a vent session. I actually really like my job for the first time in probably my entire life, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. I never thought I’d be one pushing for upward mobility, but I’m working toward that goal, hopefully with the ability to stay where I am. Add to the fact that my wife is in education, and our parallel career lines should make for a very nice schedule for us. But getting up early in the morning after not having to for several weeks isn’t fun, especially when you realize that this isn’t just anomaly, but the state of the rest of your life for the next several months. Again, I’m not seeking affirmation or the playing of the world’s smallest violin or really a stringed instrument of any size; this is merely a reminder of my reality.

The worst part of it is how bad I am at transitions. On this statement, you’d likely think I’ve made a poor career choice, since mine is a profession rife with transitions (a point I’ve made in another blog on this very site); but a lot of my struggle with this past few days (and what will likely prove to be difficult about the next 2-3 weeks) has to do with this very conflict. Things are changing, and I don’t much care for that.

And of course, things are changing all around me. My marriage is only a month and half old, and I’m learning to live with not only a new adult but a small child; my wife’s new career is just getting started, and she’s facing her first-year of teaching with a confidence and grace I’m not sure I had my first time out; and our new home means figuring out our routine from multiple perspectives, something that butts up against my own desire to get up and do the same thing every morning. Pretty soon, I’m going to be responsible for my three-year-old step-daughter every morning, yet another challenge, yet another change to my norm.

I’m learning to be okay with these, learning that it isn’t all about me and how I like things, but that other people in my life have thoughts and opinions and expectations, and that part of my new role as husband and father is to be better at going with the flow and adapting to the changes faster than I might generally be comfortable doing so. This is an interesting part of all the new things going on in my life that I sort of knew about, but it is also truly a case of “you don’t know until it happens to you.” And so I’m working on saying more of what I mean, on expressing my thoughts and preferences, and yes, on not allowing small hiccups to throw me off entirely.

The first week back at work, then, is maybe a small way for me to deal with that. At least there are elements of the familiar there, and at least at the end of these wild, brain-wrenching days, I know that my girls are home, just excited to see me.

Who’d have thought?

The Honeymoon Story

It all began when someone overfilled the crapper.

I couldn’t make this up if I tried, so you’re going to have to trust me when I say that I’ve never seen anything like this happen before. E and I had just boarded the plane for our three-or-so-hour flight to Punta Cana, DR for our honeymoon. She’d been up since 6, because she’d chosen to sleep the night before and pack in the morning; I, on the other hand, stayed up well into the morning, packing clothes and then putting together our new dining room table, because these are the kinds of things my mind wants me to do at midnight. Still, in our varied states of rested, we crammed into our Swift Airlines seats and readied for take-off.

Then rows 21 and back were asked to leave the plane. There was something wrong with the lavatory in the back of the plane and it needed to be fixed. All others were invited to remain seated while the situation was remedied. E and I, of seats 8E and F, respectively, sat patiently, reading and otherwise passing what I assumed would be a quick fix.

After about 30 minutes, our scheduled flight time had passed. The crew began to inform the other passengers that deplaning was allowed, so long as a boarding pass was obtained. Neither E nor I budged; time ticked on.

More help started to arrive. A man with a long extension cable. Another with your standard issue shop vac. The crew passed out complementary adult beverages to satiate the muttering masses inside the cabin. To the credit of my fellow passengers, nobody really seemed to grow restless or discouraged, and most were in good humor, likely because even if it took a while, the final destination of our flight that day was leading us all to multiple days of relaxation and all the food and beverages we could consume.

No matter how bad the crapper situation got, it’s hard to ruin the anticipation of that magnitude.

Finally, about more than an hour and a half, the aforementioned men came back down the aisle, shop vac (fully of who knows what) man first, then cord man, wrapping over/under; and eventually, the rest of the passengers, who were swiftly ushered back into their seats to get the departure procedures underway. We were now closer to our scheduled arrival time than our expected departure time, but the general mood of the cabin was spirited: we were all just happy to finally not be sitting in a hot airplane going nowhere.

The pilot finally introduced himself, made a lighthearted joke about how you’d feel if you had overfilled the toilet on your first day of work (Apparently a new crew member at the airport had not realized there was a difference between a 5-gallon and 10-gallon capacity toilet, and had gone ahead and filled our plane’s to ten. You can imagine the problems that would cause), and promised he’d get us to Punta Cana as quickly as he could, a promise he’d make good on. The flight itself was pleasant enough—smooth and easy, which is always my favorite type of flight conditions—but E and I both observed later that the passengers were some of the loudest we’d ever seen on an airplane. To be fair, nobody was doing anything stupid or acting foolish, but it seemed like everyone either had someone to talk to (loudly) or quickly found someone to talk to (still loudly), and the cacophony of noise reverberated throughout the cabin. It wasn’t rave-levels of craziness or anything, but the constant sound of conversation murmured throughout the entire flight (oh, and ironically, the gentlemen sitting next to me, who had basically introduced himself by complaining about the size of the seat, spent most of the flight turned toward his wife across the aisle and another women sitting across the aisle and behind him, effectively pushing part of his sizable butt into my seat…I just had to roll my eyes at the whole thing).

But if you thought that was fun, the crazy really hit the moment we landed in the Dominican Republic.

The Punta Cana International Airport is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s very open air—much like most places in the country, I’d come to find out—with thatched roofs and no real gates. Upon arrival, we exited the plane directly onto the runway and were bused the short distance to the line for customs and check-in, then we were cattled over to the baggage claim, where the workers had already shuffled all the suitcases off the plane and into the airport. While your standard issue conveyor belt was situated in the center of the baggage claim area, it was hardly in use; all the bags from our flight had been placed in a nice little clump by the time we got through customs.

The problem was that neither E nor myself could see our suitcase. We’d packed in a single suitcase in order to avoid paying for two (one of the “perks” of the company we’d booked the vacation with), and I’d thought we were being economical and clever about the whole thing. And yet the downside.

After a minute or two of walking in circles, trying to check other claim areas and being told there were more bags yet to come, it became exceedingly clear that the latter was not the case. And so we were escorted over to a desk by a congenial young man who politely told us, in the first of many broken-English conversations for the week, that our luggage was still in Charlotte. Normally having baggage in Charlotte wouldn’t be but a minor inconvenience. But seeing as we were in the Dominican Republic and had in our possession literally zero other items of clothing, this was a pretty major issue.

I should mention that every time I fly, I walk off the plane with anxiety of the unknown. Trepidation is high, and I almost always assume that my luggage has jumped planes and took its own vacation to somewhere more exotic than I was headed. The irony of the fact that the first time this ever happens was when I was actually landing somewhere exotic is not lost on me.

Anyway, the nice young man tells us the next flight from Charlotte is coming in Monday afternoon, and that he will see to it personally that our luggage will be driven directly to our hotel, and even implies that he will drop it off at our room himself. As a sign of good faith, he even provides us with his direct telephone number (a number we’d soon find didn’t work at all) and asks us to call him with our room number as soon as we arrive at the hotel.

To say that this added to our already long day would be understatement number one for the week. Rather than being able to go to our room and shower off the travel grime, put on fresh clothes, grab a bit to eat, maybe hit the pool before the day was done, E and I were left with the realization that we needed a back up plan if we wanted to participate in anything for the first two days of our trip.

We finally arrived at our hotel much closer to dinner time than we’d expected, and even more exhausted than we’d wanted to be. Checking into the hotel wasn’t an issue, and the dinner buffet was in full force by the time we arrived, meaning if nothing else, we would be able to get a good meal and eventually a bed to sleep on for the night. My proactive nature also led me to spend a good chunk of our first evening trying to figure out how to get somewhere so we could buy some clothes. This yielded two results:

First, our resort had, like I imagine most resorts do, a gift shop, with t-shirts, bathing suits and other knick knacks to take with you and share with family back at home (the sort of “haha, we went on vacation and all you got was this lousy photo frame” type of stuff), which solved most of our issues, minus at least one: underwear. But for that, we were told we could take a bus to San Juan, a shopping center about 20-minutes from the hotel, where we might be able to solve the rest of our issues.

I should stop here and admit that I had expectations regarding my honeymoon, probably some that I’ve built up over years and years of hearing stories or watching too much television or too many movies. In short, I’d assumed the whole thing would be a magical time, where we’d both be happy all the time and all our preferences and things we wanted or needed would be secondary to us spending our time together. I admit this, because otherwise it will seem foolish for me to be shockingly admitting that our honeymoon was not those things. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has traveled with someone they love, but being on vacation does not mean that the person you are goes away. If you get mad about certain things or frustrated by others, if those things pop up on vacation, no matter the purpose of said trip, they will bother you or anger you or make you sad or whatever on vacation.

I should also mention that this does not mean that the entire trip was like this. Most of it was not, but I got frustrated by the normalcy of my feelings towards E and the world around me. An embarrassing example:

While we were shopping the Sunday after our arrival, my expectation was that E would get a bathing suit so that we could go in the pool or do something before our stuff arrived. It didn’t have to be fancy, just something to get her through the first two days. I did not express this, but internally I allowed myself to get more and more exasperated by the fact that she didn’t seem to be taking the shopping process seriously, all without uttering a word to her. So when she said she wanted to get some food at this little rinky dink shopping mall (complete with the tiniest IKEA of all time), and asked me if it was okay if we got food from the Wendy’s inside, I got mad; mostly because I’m an idiot, but also because of silly things like not eating at a place we could eat all the time. And also because of the bathing suit thing.

E, you see, is more optimistic about things than I am. I was looking at this shopping trip as a final destination—very much we either get stuff there or that was the end, or “assume our luggage never comes” type of thoughts; while she saw none of those things—this was something we were doing to get by for a time. Also, to be fair, I never said anything about the bathing suit or the frustration until I was already mad about the Wendy’s thing; this is a dumb thing I do, and something I’m realizing needs to stop unless I intend to drive both myself and E crazy for the rest of our lives.

Anyway, I can tell this story because it is my own fault and I am the one who comes across as a failure. It’s only right, because my lovely wife is somehow perfecting herself and I am getting stuck in my ways. In some ways, I’m even older than I actually am.

A great deal of other details happened of note on our trip. We walked on the bottom of the ocean (although I bailed before the trip was over, because the pressure underneath the water was getting too much for me, and, I’ll admit it, I panicked more than I needed to); we swam with very docile sharks (who mostly just sat on the bottom of the water, minding their own business); we ate splendidly, especially at the specialty restaurants at our resort; we slept on a king sized bed (eventually stirring us to trade up on our own bed at home) that was probably the firmest mattress I’ve ever slept on; and we mostly just tried to relax as best we could.

I won’t continue with specific stories, mostly because that would get boring after a while, and this is already a pretty long post. Here’s what I did find out: the person I am all the time, regardless of how tropical or otherwise the location may be. The thing is, I’m not sure this is a terrible realization to take on just a few weeks into marriage. You see, our life, for better or worse, is going to heavily built upon transitions. We’ll move in and out of school years, in and out of vacations, all that, quite consistently. So I think it’s okay to sit back and collect these thoughts, file them away for later use; because they are going to be useful. It was great to get away for that week in Punta Cana, but I believe the recalibration of my brain was the most important part of the entire thing; and I don’t anticipate that being something that ever stops from here on out.

On A Soon-to-Be Wedding

I’ll just say it: wedding planning is the worst. And I’m saying that as the male part of a nearly married couple, wherein my job is to pretty much stay silent unless I’m spoken to. No, I don’t always follow through on that, but the point still remains: the multiple tiny events that lead up to having a wedding are likely my least favorite events ever.

This is a bad attitude on my part. I’m also very aware of that. But it’s still true that over the last several weeks, when someone has asked me if I’m excited about my pending nuptials, my honest response has had to be that I’m really just read for it all to be over. I’m embarrassed by this response, mostly because I don’t want to feel that way and because I feel it’s a disservice to E and her parents who are paying for this big party; but I also believe it reveals something about me that I probably could have guessed at prior to all this if I’d considered it long enough: I’m not one for the build up.

To me, the really important part of all this is that at the end of the day, E and I will be bound together forever. So while I haven’t really been responsible for that many elements of the single day, most of my dissatisfaction with this process has been regarding the fact that I seem to be the only one that cares what happens after this mess is done. I realize this is not actually true–obviously both our parents care, and other people, too–but to me, the weight of what happens the first day we wake up as husband and wife and every single day after that feels like it rests solely on my shoulders.

This is foolish. For one, my theology tells me that I’m not only not asked to do it alone, nor is it expected of me, and furthermore that I’m encouraged to reach out and find God’s guidance and help in not only this, but all things. Frankly, this is where I am weakest, and I allow life and all its minutia to build up around me until I sort of lose my mind, even if just for a few moments, and blow up from just the sense of how vast everything is. It’s also foolish because, as I said, the days that follow are not all on my shoulders, even if it feels that way. E and I have a great support system, not only from family, but friends, too, who will do all they can to hold us up when we feel incapable.

And yet, I can’t shake the I’m just ready for this all to be over answer. In reality, there are myriad reasons for this. Things like I’m actually really excited for it, but won’t admit it; or that I’m ready for the marriage to begin, and the wedding just feels like the final stepping stone to get there; my place in the current pecking order plays into it, too, because I have opinions about things and am generally not shy about sharing them; and my small bouts with daily separation anxiety, when the night ends and E and I have to separate are all on the list, among a host of other things. These are all true, and yet they share one more distinction beyond that: they’re all excuses.

No matter how I feel about all of this, it isn’t my job to make everything harder for those around me or push hard in areas where my opinions–no matter how strong they are–don’t really matter. This has been the hardest lesson to learned, and in reality hasn’t gone any deeper than head knowledge up to this juncture. In a great moment of irony, I fully expect to start to indicate some sense of grasping the concept in the last few days, only to see things change again. Our life is one that will be characterized by transition, as we move in and out of semesters, in and out of summer and back into school, rinse and repeat. In other words, if I don’t figure out how to do better, the roller coaster inside my chest is going to kill me one day, and given where I’ll be in 19 days, I just can’t have that.

I need to find the calm.

And so that’s my goal over these next few days. It isn’t survival, it isn’t acceptance, and it might not even be getting excited (I have a feeling I’ll get there, but maybe not until the actual day of): it’s figuring out how to make myself more ready than I thought I might be. I won’t have it all figured out–probably not ever–but I also can’t just sit back and let it all happen to me. There’s no room for passivity going forward. Everything is going to change, and I’ve either got to embrace it or…well…that’s really the only option I have, isn’t it?

Counting Down

I’ve always been a big proponent of counting down days. In my line of work, it’s pretty par for the proverbial course: how many days until the weekend or the next long break or summer? So I’ve gotten good at keeping up with countdowns. Here’s my latest:

2 months, 1 week, 6 days

or

7 months, 6 days

or

72 days

Whichever suits you best.

If I’m being dramatic, then this is the countdown to when my entire life changes forever; but if I’m choosing to go a little less so, it’s the months or weeks or days until I get married. The story of how we got here is long and complicated, and it will likely find itself the focus of many a blog post–if not something longer–in the coming months; but the getting to the big day over the last few months or so has been a much more trying time than I anticipated.

Our engagement has mostly existed during E’s semester of student teaching, meaning she’s been anywhere from knee-to-neck deep in her school, all the while making sure that L is taken care of and other relationships are covered, too. So while my schedule is all over the place and constantly changing, E’s has been consistently asking much of her. And while the time constraints have begun to melt away in recent weeks, my crazy mind is already trying to think ahead to complications that may arise during the summer months.

And that’s the problem: may arise. I’m a classic over-thinker, especially in terms of thinking ahead and trying to anticipate potential issues that may come up. But the truth is I never know, there’s no way for me to know, and that in all honesty, all I’m doing is adding unnecessary stress by majoring on the not-yet. The extra stress pushes me to the edge of anxiety, forcing me to add more stress on E that she doesn’t need.

And this is all self-inflicted and wildly detrimental.

Here’s the thing about the countdown, though: I think it’s a very telling obsession of mine. To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings regarding wedding planning and the whole process of getting past the next 72 days and onto the rest of our life together. There are days where I want to be heavily involved (although for various reasons that doesn’t always work out anyway) and there are days (and this is my overwhelming go-to position) where I’m just ready for it all to be over. And that’s the thing about the counting down in my eyes. I’m looking so far ahead because that’s where I prefer to be, not necessarily because I fully hate being a part of this process. But it also means I don’t stay in the moment and am easily frustrated by the fact that I don’t own a TARDIS so I can skip ahead to the “good” part.

But that’s dangerous, because it assumes that no good can come from this period of life, that it’s just a piece to survive or get through as opposed to enjoy or learn from. Instead of embracing opportunities to grow, I get stuck looking forward and forget to live in the now. In doing so, I also signal what I’m trusting in and I miss this:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)

And that should be the most vital thing here. Yes, I am also missing out on chances to grow my relationship with E, to show her my best self as often as I can and embrace more of my soon-to-be wife and her family; but those elements feel secondary in this case. The thing is, it’s on me to give of myself and get out of my own way.

Maybe I’ll still keep the countdown, though. It maintains the high levels of excitement. And that matters quite a bit, too.