February 13, 2009

Interview

A few weeks back, Alison offered me some interview questions as part of a pay-it-forward blogging challenge that a friend of hers began. I know that she is probably in awe at my promptness with this- it's only taken me about a month and usually I'm way more behind than that. So, Alison, and all you other avid readers, here we go:

1. What is the one wild adventure you wish you would have taken before having children?

I'm so glad you asked! For years, YEARS, I've had this vivid, though probably overly idealistic, fantasy about running away to a little cliff-side inn in Vermont. In my mind, it'll be autumn with the leaves changing color and the air taking on the first hint of winter's bite. I'll wear comfy sweaters, go for long, solitary walks, read engrossing books and write for long hours in my journal, possibly birthing my Great American Novel. In the mornings I'll curl up somewhere on the inn's big wraparound porch with a mug of hot coffee and watch the rural setting come to life. I know, I know... it's not exactly a "wild adventure" in the strictest terms. For me, though, it sounds blissful. I've never gone anywhere by myself and certainly not for the sole purpose of just being alone. I don't know why the New England coast has so deeply ingrained itself into my mind as the ultimate solo getaway, but there it is.

2. What is the best children's birthday party you have ever been to and why?

This turns out to be a slightly delicate question. The truth is, and I mean no disrespect, but I don't really like most birthday parties. It's not to say that they aren't generally fun. I know my girls absolutely love them all and wish we could do it everyday. But, given the choice between a party and staying home, I'd probably rather stay home. (Now I will never get invited anywhere ever again, thanks Alison!). Mostly, I always feel sort of awkward at birthday parties; I'm hyper-aware of how my kids are behaving, self-conscious, worried about what to say to people and fairly convinced that whatever present I've brought is in some way inappropriate. So, I suppose the best parties I've gone to have been the smaller ones where Kurt comes with me, we know all the people, my kids are contained- and there's beer.

3. What helped you get over the hump of exercise being a joy rather then a burden?

Therapy. Lots of therapy. No, just kidding- well, mostly. My first real commitment to exercise came last year and I approached it with dread determination. I did not look forward to it, but dammit, I was going to do it. My stress levels were through the roof and exercise is one of the few absolutely guaranteed means of letting off steam. My treatment plan quite firmly detailed regular exercise. I'm not sure at what point I started looking forward to it instead of dragging myself to the gym, but I know that the main impetus was my health. When I work out, I am more level-headed, confident, relaxed and a better parent and spouse. When I don't, I am more tired, self-critical, anxious and short-tempered. I enjoy my workouts because I have solid proof that I am a better person because of it. I guess the trick is that you have to first put in the time before you can empirically look back and say, "Oh, exercise has helped me."

4. Was it love at first sight or date with your husband or did he grow on you?

Love at first sight for me, though I had to grow on him a little. (That's such an odd phrase, isn't it? Growing on someone makes me think of mold or a tumor, not love.) I picked Kurt up in a bar. He was still reeling from a bad break-up and didn't know what to make of me. I drank too much, flirted outrageously and laid one on him about an hour after we met. He, of course, was a perfect, if startled, gentleman during my whole performance. I knew I was head over heels when he stood me up for our first date- I was devastated. I sat there until midnight all dressed up, waiting, and eventually cried myself to sleep. He never showed up. The next morning, I dragged myself, pathetic and heartbroken, to Barnes & Noble where I worked at the time. He called the store about three minutes after it opened, blurted out, "PLEASE DON'T HANG UP!" and explained that he'd forgotten to save my number in his cell phone. He took me out that night and we've been together ever since.

5. What was your major in college? If you had it to do over again would you change it?

I majored in Technical Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations. While I had a knack for PR, after a few years in the business I discovered that I really, really, really disliked it. All that twisting of words and trying to make people like things they hated- I was so unhappy. If I could go back, I'd have concentrated in Magazine Writing instead. Those were all my favorite classes. I loved doing my homework and had really good grades. It's where I plan to take my career post-preschoolers.

Thanks for the self-indulgence, Alison, hope I didn't bore anyone into actual tears. In the tradition of the challenge, if you'd like me to send you five interview questions just post in the comments.

February 08, 2009

In for a penny...

Last night was Kurt's birthday and I finally got to tell him about the surprise ski trip I've been planning forever. True to form, I was emotional and riddled with anxiety as the moment approached.

I've worried so much about this gift. First there were simply the logistics of the thing: where to go, where to stay, transportation, child care and, of course, cost. Cost remained the most haunting of all my worries, the way that it always is. I am a stay-at-home mom with no income of my own. That's not to say that what I do has no value, but it certainly doesn't bring in any money.

Every financial decision in our family goes through Kurt. Oh, we say that it's a joint effort, we work to provide transparency in both directions, but on a nearly primitive level, it is all governed by ingrained societal roles. I am the housewife, he is the breadwinner. Anything I spend is his money and deserves, at the very least, his knowledge if not also his approval.

We've talked about this so often and always try to come out on top of it in a fair-and-equal kind of way. After all, though I don't earn a paycheck, my work hours extend far into overtime and the demands of my job are certainly equal to his, just incredibly, totally, different. We made a decision to be a one-income family while the kids are young so I can care for them myself. When I do go back to work that money will be shared as a family, the same way that our money, in theory, is now.

The disconnect lies inside my own head. I have trouble owning that joint-finance reality. I defer, often unconsciously, to Kurt's authority over our expenses. And let's face it, there's no denying I've had some spending issues. It's not like any concern on his part is unfounded. I'd like to chalk it up to mental illness, but the truth is I've never been terribly careful with my wallet. It's been a sensitive point between us, on and off, for years.

So, the decision to make a big purchase on my own, secretly, even as a gift, involved a big ol' leap of faith for me. Here was the test, for us both. Is it really "our" money, does he trust me with it? If he decided to send me on a fantasy trip, I would never question the expense. Will he respond in the same way for me?

And you know what? He did. He really, honestly did. Last night, he opened his card to find a small tour guide for Park City, Utah. He turned to me, looking incredibly confused.

"We leave on the 20th," I said, trying to hide the nervous squeak in my voice. "I've already cleared it with your boss and mom's taking the kids for the weekend. You've practically given up skiing since we had kids and you deserve a big getaway. Happy birthday!"

He never once asked me about the cost. It took awhile for the whole thing to sink in, but then he spent the rest of the night flashing a spontaneous little grin and poking through the tour guide and maps.

"Wow. I'd never have done this for myself, this is awesome!"

Today we briefly talked, almost as a side note, about how I paid for it without him knowing.

"You OK? Are you still nervous about last night, if I'd like the trip?" He was honestly confused at my anxiety, an expression that was more of a balm than anything he could have said.

I avoided eye contact for a moment. "Mostly I was just worried about the money- that I made a big purchase behind your back." I had to bite my tongue to keep from apologizing.

"Really?! No," and he waved his arm around in dismissal, "no, that's nothing. Why...? Don't worry about that. It's going to be great!"

And there it was, all my worries put in their proper perspective. After all, we share together in the troubles of our lives, why not also the benefits? Money shouldn't be the biggest issue in a relationship, it really shouldn't, but it often is. So many little things, small irritations that rub each other raw, come down to money- who owns what, who's responsible for what, even what one partner owes the other in terms of chores or obligations versus financial support.

It's not that I think all those creeping background issues will just disappear overnight, but the confidence boost right now feels very good. I wanted to give the love of my life an experience he'd always remember and a surprise he'd never forget. I did it and he delighted in it.

Guilt-free! Now there's a tab we can both approve.