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Marriage

Thoughts

The first rule of Fight Club is we don’t talk

October 27, 2017

I can do it for hours. Days. Hell, I carried on a fight for more than a week one time. Until I couldn’t remember where it began.

Stone cold silence. That’s my weapon of choice.

When Hank and I fight, it almost always follows this simple, sophisticated 5-step process:

Step 1 – Someone says something insensitive, or shows up an hour later than they say they will, or doesn’t discipline the kids when they should, or drops a truth bomb that burns particularly bad when it detonates, leaving an unmistakable residue of resentment.

Step 2 – A somewhat heated exchange ensues. One in which each participant communicates in their version of “calm” and “effective” dialogue while the other pretends to listen but is really just crafting their own “calm” and “effective” retort.

Step 3 – Both of the opponents go silent.

Step 4 – Silence.

Step 5 – Something happens that makes the silence impossible and/or the anger erodes enough to quell the quiet. (Note: It can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 week for this process to reach Step 5.)

This is how we fight. It’s the ugly way in which we throw down in this house.

My friends aren’t fond of our spat style. In fact, they’re quite critical of it. “How have you never just called him an asshole and moved on?” one of my lady loves asked. I guess I just don’t think he is an asshole. I just think he’s wrong in that instance. Or being unreasonable or insensitive or stubborn or any of the 5 million other adjectives that haunt nearly every marriage, lovely as it otherwise may be.

“But, how does that, like, work?” another friend inquired. We’ve been together for 16 years. Let’s say we fight, on average, four times a year. That’s 64 rounds of the silent treatment. You don’t withhold words from someone that many times without getting exceptionally good at it. I’ll have one of the chicks go tell Dad dinner’s ready, or talk about something I need him to know to someone else but in front of him so he hears it. But don’t worry guys, it’s all completely healthy and on the up and up as far as maturity.

This isn’t the only trick I carry around in my bag, but I’m no Mary Poppins, either. I handle disagreements with friends differently, as I do family squabbles. A difference of opinion at work is an entirely separate deal than a snarky acquaintance throwing shade on social media. But silence is my pocket knife; Handy, capable of inflicting a minimal amount of pain, but not sharp enough to do any real damage.

Turns out fighting is kind of like applying makeup or folding fitted sheets or making dinner in that everyone has their own approach. Their own brutal rituals.

“I yell at him, then he yells at me, then I yell back, turn, walk away and it’s over,” one friend from work said. So, for her, the booty is the last word. That’s what winning feels like.

“We just scream at each other and say all the things we need to. If I feel like I need to call him a mother trucker (except she didn’t say “trucker”), then I’ll call him that. But it doesn’t mean I really think he is a mother trucker. He’s just acting like a mother trucker.” Good, good …

I needed more.

I asked one gal who said that her and her husband don’t get up from the table until they’ve respectfully settled the disagreement. No yelling, no insults, no low blows. I imagine this approach is much like duck at a fancy restaurant; it sounds good and all but just isn’t appetizing to everybody. It’s what you order when you think someone’s watching.

Another buddy said that he and his wife fight via text. Or email. Almost every time. They have the disagreement, part ways and then let their fingertips duke it out. She’ll fire an opening shot from her phone. He’ll get it, fire something back, then eventually, when more needs to be said, they take it their inboxes and shit gets real. I could probably get behind that. But sometimes Hank is really bad at answering my texts.

It’s amazing when you think about it. We’ve crafted a thousand different ways to hurt each other, none of which result in healthy resolution. We do it, I think, to protect our hearts. We have to develop defense mechanisms that will shield the chambers that house our total devotion to our significant others from the petty arguments over finances and futile bullshit that doesn’t matter in the end. We have to establish processes that cue our brains into the severity of the confrontation. We have to streamline our daily showdowns to maintain the household and keep everything moving forward. This, we tell ourselves, is not a crisis. This is something else.

And really, a good fight could just be a sign that the flame is still there. If I don’t like you, I don’t give a loose stool what you think of me. Not my actions, not my appearance, not my opinions. If I don’t recognize your character and light, I’ll respect you, sure, but I’m not going to go out of my way to try and get you to pick up what I’m putting down. I’m not selling you on me. But if I care about you, I care about your opinion of me. I care enough to have the tough conversations with you. I’m all in, because I want you to be all in, too. There is no better example of that than marriage. What do they say? The opposite of love isn’t hate … it’s indifference. If you have indifference, you have trouble.

When I’m fighting with my husband, I’m coming from an honest place. I want to be heard. I want to be understood. And I want to fix it. I want it to be better when the dust settles, because forever is a long time. I’m so invested in this partnership that neither one of us is getting out without some battle wounds. It’s good and I’m going to fight for it. Every. Single. Day. In big and small ways.

I asked Hank what he thinks about how we fight. He hasn’t really given it much thought, he said. Apparently, I have a bit more time on my hands. I remember years and years ago, before we were married, he told me that I need to talk things out right away, but he needs to let things sit for a bit. He needs to just be with and sort through his thoughts. And then, eventually, he just resolves the issue he has with the situation on his own, and doesn’t feel compelled to circle back and address it verbally with me. I guess somewhere down the road we arrived at this ugly compromise. This fourth child neither of us acknowledge. A handful of times each year, he gets his silence and eventually, I always get my exhausting exchange. Not that I even want it by the time it rolls around.

Are there healthier ways to fight? Oh, 100 percent, I’m sure. I bet there are books on how to have a productive disagreement, and I bet the people who wrote those books order duck at fancy restaurants and don’t get up from the table until they’ve come to a place of shared understanding. And I bet that’s awesome.

Thoughts

Edward & Bella and Me & You

September 14, 2017

So, I’m just finishing up the Twilight saga. Why now? Why ever? You ask. I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m a page in my dayplanner away from 35 years old and the other night I literally said to my husband, “Bella had the baby, Edward had to make her a vampire to save her, and now her werewolf best friend is in love with her baby, whose name is Renesmee.” The sheer ridiculousness is not lost on me, and believe me when I say, I hate myself just a little bit for hanging in this long.

But I think this world has left me in need of a love story. Any love story. The more absurd, the better.

I’ve also been watching The Office like a junkie on Netflix, and I think my obsession with Jim and Pam kind of counterbalances the whole shape shifter/cold ones indulgence. Love is love is love, I guess.

But the big one is this: On September 15, it will have been 10 years since one of my all-time favorite love stories began, and more than 16 years since it really started taking root. Hank and I will celebrate a decade of domestic, wedded bliss and blunders this year. It feels impossible to be honest. Not that we made it this far, but that so much has happened so quickly, in the span of 25 to 35. Kids and houses and jobs and loss and laughter and so many memories.

I often think of this blog as a place to put all of the stories I know the waves of time will eventually wash away. And so, in honor of our anniversary, I’d like to add another to these pages. And this one is a goodie. This is a story about one of the many moments when I knew that Hank was my person … my ride or die … my Aiden Shaw (Mr. Big Mr. sucks, so in my mind, Carrie went a different way).

It was winter break of my freshman year of college (his sophomore year). We were at my parents’ house. Hank was on the couch watching TV, I was holding my baby niece. As I stood up to go change her, a piercing pain shot through my stomach like a red hot bullet. I tossed the infant to my boyfriend like a football in a trick pass.

“Ugh!” I moaned.
“What?” he pleaded. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh my God, my stomach!” I wailed, folded over on the floor.

I reached for the house phone and dialed my mom’s work number. She was home in minutes.

“Should we call an ambulance?” she asked, to no one in particular.
“I can get you there,” Hank said, confidently.

The pain was coming like sheets of furious rain in a thunderstorm. The calm moments weren’t necessarily calm, but just less excruciating. I was running through the options in my head … Ruptured appendix? Pancreatitis? Did I do something to my liver? Oh my gosh, my liver! Damn you, flippy cup!

We made it to the nearest ER fairly quickly. My mom had placed a bag of frozen vegetables on my stomach en route, peas I think. (A bag of frozen vegetables to my mom was like a bottle of Windex to the Portokalos family in my Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

After what felt like hours, they brought me back. They asked me some questions, and put me in a gown and eventually decided they would do an ultrasound.

With a wand.

Why did they need to go in there?

Oh … my … gosh. They thought there might be a baby in there?!

I was horrified. And confused. And paralyzed with anxiety. Could there really be a baby in there? And did all babies hurt like this when they got in there? But, really, how could a baby get in there? That’s just great. Ain’t no bag of peas gonna fix this, I thought.

After the most uncomfortable test of my life, they put me back in the exam room. My mom and I sat waiting, a pregnant pause between us. “Your boyfriend can come back in the room,” the physician said. “Right, so he can hear the news that he’s miraculously going to be a father, to a baby that’s trying to murder my intestines because it already hates me,” I thought. Hank came in and stood by my head.

The doctor put a smoky black and white image up on the light. She took the end of her pen and began circling a cloudy mass on the picture.

“Do you see this spot?”
“Yes,” we all said, sloppily, definitely not in unison.

Oh gosh, here it comes … It’s cancer. No, twins. No, cancer. No …

“Well, that’s gas.”
“OK …?” I said, not quite sure if “gas” was code for something else.
“See,” she continued, sensing my ignorance, “sometimes gas goes off track. It gets into places that can be rather uncomfortable, in this case, your ovary. It can definitely feel like something far worse, or even serious. The good news is, eventually, it will work it’s way out.”

She smiled kindly and moved onto a gunshot victim down the row a ways. It was quiet for a beat or two.

“So, did she just say I have a fart in my ovary?” I asked.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Hank said.
“A fart in my ovary …”
“The question is, how will you know which fart is the fart?” my mom asked, which was a totally valid question.

Mortified doesn’t cut it. Hank had been my boyfriend for all of maybe four months and he had just gallantly stood by as a doctor diagnosed me with a case of the travelin’ farts. Hurt as that bitch of a gas pain did, it couldn’t compare to the gaping wound that was my pride. Guys, can you imagine if we would have called an ambulance? On top of everything else, he took me to his house that night and I puked all over his parents’ bathroom. No clue why. Maybe it was an aftershock from the wand setting in. I was a gaseous, spewing trainwreck.

But he didn’t leave.

Not only did he not leave, he never made me feel stupid or gross. This scenario has repeated many times over the years, except under different titles. Replace “travelin’ fart” with “black boob from ignoring an infection” or “panic attack” or “extreme dental anxiety”. This man once sat in a chair for four hours – four hours! – while I got the root canal from hell. Only your mama and your person would do that.

Now, a decade in, I’m more certain than ever that I picked the right lobster out of the tank. I’ve never doubted this union for a second, and not just because I adore our babies and the life we’ve created, but because nothing has ever felt more natural, more organic, to me than standing beside this guy. Loving him is like breathing; I don’t have to think about it but I’m so thankful for the life it gives me.

I can’t say what 10 years of marriage is supposed to look like. I can only say what it looks like here. Here, in this stage of our lives, I’ll be honest and say there are days it looks like two people in the thick of the jungle using dull machetes to cut through the vines and make it out of the quicksand. But it also looks like teamwork and calendar consulting and granting ourselves permission to sneak away together sometimes. It looks like feet crossing at the end of the bed with Friends from College playing just above them and sharing the leg pillow since both of our backs hurt.

It looks like splitting and shifting the load so we can do things that make us happy outside of our roles as “Mom” and “Dad”, and petty fights because I’m hungry or tired or redirecting. It’s not a perfect marriage by someone else’s definition, but it is by ours, because we custom built it. We wove it together with the threads of trust and fabric of respect, and we work on it as often as we can, because we want it to be beautiful.

Similarly, I can’t describe a perfect home. I can only describe our home. A home with bedspreads inscribed by our children with permanent markers. A home with splashed, sticky walls and window screens with holes the size of tiny fingers. It’s filled with three little girls who yell “Daddy!” when he walks in at 6 o’clock every night, typically with pink hair ties around his wrist, leftover from that morning. It looks like stolen moments and locking eyes in the midst of meltdowns. It looks like stacks of photos that haven’t made it into books yet and dusty greeting cards with messages to each other we can’t bring ourselves to throw away.

It’s an open home, where our friends and family are always welcome, because that is what matters most to us. There are cobwebs in the corners I can’t reach and shoes caked with dried mud from Saturday hikes. I wouldn’t eat off the floor, but I’ll get down on it and tickle one of my girls without hesitation.

Our marriage, our home, our life, is my legacy. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if they didn’t exist. I wouldn’t be who I am if they didn’t exist. The light that lives inside me would be that much duller without each of these things we built together. Ten years seems like a significant milestone, but also still just the beginning.

Henry, I love sleeping in giant barn shelters along the Appalachian Trail with you (and 20 strangers), and getting lost down rivers in our kayaks with you, and sprinkling food and water over these little chicks and watching them grow with you, and getting drunk and going to Costco with you and exploring this miraculous world next to you. I can’t wait for all the adventures we can’t even imagine just yet. Edward and Bella. Jim and Pam. They ain’t got shit on us, babe. Happy Anniversary.

Bonus fact for those who hung on until the end:
My mom thought I seemed anxious the day before the wedding and gave me a Lexapro to “relax”. Then I drank wine and started tripping out. Thank God for good friends to bring you out of your Lexa-coma. (And the ones who take pictures of it.)

Thoughts

Confession: I gave bad advice to bachelors

June 9, 2017

In 2003, Hank and I were just babies. I was a journalism student who smoked a pack of Camels a day and wore black stretchy pants with one-shoulder tank tops when I wanted to be fancy. He was a frat guy who drank Early Times with a splash of Coke and grew lawn grass in a pot as a conversation piece.

At the seasoned age of 20, through a series of events erased by Bacardi and time, I ended up connecting with the editor of the newspaper at Hank’s all-male school. It was a perfect storm, really. I was a card-carrying member of the cult of Sex and the City and they were thirsty for a female perspective. Thus, a weekly advice/editorial column, called From the Hip, was born.

I had the purest intentions, I swear. Hand over my heart, I believed I was giving them legit advice. I aspired to be a guiding light for their liaisons, both committed and casual. They were my Anthony Michael Halls, and I was their Carrie Bradshaw, and together we were going to revolutionize the way men and women – who drank a lot and hooked up – communicated with each other. I exposed all of the sores and issues on the underbelly of the twenty-something dating scene, often shoplifting stories from my roommates’ love lives, which were far more exciting than my own.

The men of the campus gradually started seeking me out. Once adequately liquored up, guys would come up to me at Tommy’s, the townie bar, and scream their questions in my ear over Sublime and Tom Petty. I’d walk by them at parties and they would point and sloppily gush as they realized, “Hey! You’re that girl in the paper!” Then they’d be on to a sweet piece of ass who wouldn’t exploit their misfortunes for a spot in the “Stuff” section. Professors and students debated my opinions in class and it didn’t always fall in my favor, which bewildered me. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an old friend about writing aspirations and the good ole’ days and all the things you cover with the dear ones, and she mentioned my old column. I hadn’t thought of those articles in years. I hadn’t read them since college. So, I went home, did some Googling, and soon found myself sitting inside the mind of my 20-year-old self. And let me tell you, it was scary in there. Nothing was how I remembered it. It was like finding your childhood dollhouse and realizing just how tiny the furniture was. The writing was terrible, the perspective was all wrong and the topics were predictably tacky.

Aren’t these just the cutest things you’ve ever seen? I mean … precious. And naive AF. Sure, there might be some little nuggets that hold up, but overall, the work and the arguments are mediocre at best. My 34-year-old self realized I had done a massive disservice to the men at that college, and their partners. I took a platform primed with potential for enlightenment and healthy dialogue and squandered it on topics like strip clubs and clingy exes.

The view from the woman behind this keyboard – now 14 years of living, 10 years of marriage, and 3 children the wiser – is much different. It’s messier. Happier. More Claire Dunphy than Carrie.

Honestly, I’m confident the voice of Courtney 2017 wouldn’t have really resonated with the men of 2003, or the 20-something men of 2017 for that matter. But you know what, screw it! Here’s to trying to right what’s wrong …

FROM THE HIP
What real women really want

By Courtney Leach

First, gentlemen, I must apologize for casually disrespecting the complex expedition we endure to establish strong relationships in the unsophisticated fashion that I did. The idea that the intricacies of one person dedicating their mind, body and soul to another person for any period of time could be simplified or summarized in 800-word musings was an ignorant, albeit well-intentioned, endeavor.

It has taken me 16 years of being with the same man, decades of listening to my dear friends and a lot of great books and self reflection to realize that my opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter, are just that, opinions. They are beads representing other people’s experiences we string on a necklace and wear on the battlefield of our own relationships. They are tools in the shed, but each landscape is different. There is no magical salve for your relationship pain points, because each partnership is unique and requires its own set of care instructions. Instructions you come to on the other side of steep mountains and colorful emotional bruises.

But since this stage is meant for advice, I might have a little bit left in my back pocket. A few beads to string on your necklace.

You’re in college now, and what I offer you is a glimpse into your future. A telescope for the not-so-distant journey ahead. My sincere wish for each of you is that you find that person who pours into your heart and fills in every gap, every hole. When fate reveals your other half and truest equal, it’s an unimaginable gift. Recognize the beauty in that and celebrate it every day, with both minor and magnificent gestures. Everyone’s love language is acknowledgement. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Including your partner. Don’t forget that when things get hectic.

I can tell you that, in my experience, the best unions are rooted in respect, fed with thoughtful exchanges and watered with laughter. There will be so many hard moments and gut-wrenching decisions to be made in the years ahead; Unfathomable losses and love so intense it frightens you to death. The sooner you learn to dance in the light and joyful reprieves, the fuller your heart will be. Don’t take life so seriously. There’s enough weight to carry between the two of you as it is.

Understand that the woman you love will feel like a stranger in her own skin at some, or many, points in your life together. Maybe it’s a result of pregnancy and the subsequent nursing and hormone changes that accompany that process. Maybe it’s a change in metabolism or motivation or her ability to cope with the suffocating stress of keeping a household running. Whatever the cause, the body she has now, will not be the body she has always. And she will wrestle with that. Be understanding of this gradual evolution. Remember what came with those curves; your son, your daughter, a warm meal at the family table, a soul standing and aching next to you in the hardest of times. You, too, will likely change. Just use it as an excuse to go for a walk together.

Contrary to what your current stage of life would have you believe, sometimes being the strongest man, means staying completely silent, unless your words can guarantee progress or healing. It requires you to hold your tongue when the sharp organ is dripping in toxic antagonism, and reserve your words for constructive conversation instead. Words can build bridges between torn hearts, but they burn them just as quickly. Be thoughtful with the woman and the people you love.

If you’re angry, go lift some weights. Move boxes around in the garage. Go for a run. Just go. The water tastes like shit when you draw from an indignant well. Just be sure to circle back when your mind has cleared. Progress is the pup born of honesty and communication.

Always have your partner’s back. Even when she is wrong. She probably knows deep down that she is. (If she is.)

Life is about to pull a big fast one on you and pick up its pace. It goes way too quickly to argue about who’s going to come to your wedding, or get the groceries, or fold the laundry, or take the car in for an oil change. Don’t burn these sweet minutes on such inconsequential disputes. With a full-time job and active kids and a thousand responsibilities you can’t even imagine right now, you’ll come to see your time together as an extravagance. Be an observer of your partner’s struggles and the load she carries. Watch for opportunities to pitch in and do it, unprompted. Make the ride a little easier so you can both enjoy the music on the radio and the sights as you speed along. She isn’t the only one who can pack the sandwiches. And, I’m tellin’ ya, a basket of folded laundry at the hands of her spouse, is a woman’s greatest aphrodisiac.

When in doubt, come back to the love. You will always think that you are right. And she will always think that she is right. And both of you will be accurate. But there is nothing more important than the magnetic, authentic admiration you feel for the soul that climbs in bed next to you at night. Lose that perspective, and you’re screwed.

To assume it will be perfect is to set yourself up for a life of disappointment. It’s a fool’s vision. You have to go all in. You have to do the work. You have to get into your bathing suit and embrace the heat when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. The bruises and bumps and hiccups are perfectly human, and they will subside with time and care. And, as you grow together, as a couple, you learn when to warn each other to duck and come out less scathed. In the end, 98 percent of your disagreements are trivial, and the best things often come from the brutal 2 percent that’s left over.

In the end, being a good man is a matter of character. It’s about supporting your partner’s dreams and setting some of your own as well. Hold onto who you want to be, and make a point to validate the goals of the person across the table, too. Put yourself in her shoes, even when that badass, exhausted woman is wearing those pointy uncomfortable ones. Pitch in so she doesn’t feel alone, always. Practice empathy, loyalty, compromise and humility.

Remember that you are not perfect. Neither is she. You are two flawed creatures trying to build a burrow where you can create a life of contentment. Don’t overthink it. Just bring it back to love. If you always come back to the love, you’ll do just fine, young man. (Well, that and pare your morning shit back from 45 minutes to a more acceptable 15, um kay?)

Laughs

How to throw a dinner party (the way grownups do)

February 1, 2016

On the last Saturday evening of January, on an unseasonably mild Midwestern winter night, 10 30-somethings gathered together for one super-fancy dinner party. It began at a fund-raising auction. My brother raised his paddle and clenched an in-home dinner with an accomplished local chef. He kindly invited several of our friends, who were at the fundraiser that evening, to join him for what was eventually named Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party. This entire post would be just about the food – which was practically indescribable – except that the behavior of the guests – who have known each other for nearly 20 years – was just as entertaining. I think we can all use this experience as a learning opportunity.

5 Keys to Throwing an Elegant Dinner Party in Your 30s

1. Set an attractive table.
One might give a great deal of thought to the presentation of the tablescape; Perhaps selecting elegant linens, coordinated chargers and china, and dynamic flatware. There are artists who get paid to craft striking centerpieces. Many hosts will consider contacting one of these artisans or, at the very least, consult Pinterest.

With Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, I received a text from my brother the Friday before, that read: “Can you be at my house at 9:30 tomorrow morning? They’re dropping off a table.” See, Matt didn’t realize this would be a “sit-down dinner”. I guess he kind of figured the chef would just throw the food up on the bar and we would pick at it like a football party. While he was out, and with the delivered table set up in the basement, I scoured his bachelor pad for something to put in the center of the black tablecloth. A poinsettia from the holidays with 4 petals left? A Glade scented candle? I left it bare and sent him a text on my way out the door: “Consider stopping for flowers or something. Think black and gold.” He didn’t stop. There were no flowers. It didn’t matter.

The table

2. Attention to ambiance.
Upon entering your home, you want your guests to feel like they are part of something special. This can be achieved with a signature cocktail, warm embrace, prompt removal of their jacket, soft lighting and elegant background music.

At Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, we all spent a handful of minutes mingling around the kitchen before eventually shuffling down to the basement for vodka cocktails (cranberry and Red Bull, respectfully) and a pre-dinner screening of Straight Outta Compton. Once they announced the first course was en route, Matt made the decision, as any seasoned host would, to pause the movie and turn up the 90s rap playlist already in rotation for the service staff upstairs.

3. The menu is everything.
For a true culinary journey, pick a theme for your event menu. Tell a story from salad to the sweet ending with thoughtful fare and exciting, innovative offerings.

For Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, several suggestions were thrown out (the advantage of having an exceptional chef on your guest list who can offer such ideas). After nothing registered on my brother’s face when I mentioned, “An evening in Paris,” “Seafood Reimagined” or “Molecular Gastronomy,” our friend the chef dreamed up the concept of pub fare. The children of this vision arrived in front of us, one after the other, as 5 plates of the most palate-pleasing food I’ve ever had in my life. People always say that after a good meal. But this was it for me. Like, you know when you’re so full you fear you’ll vomit but, given the choice between puking or missing one more bite, you go for the bite? This was that. Not to mention Hank and I have been living in Whole30 land and, even though we had 3 days left, we decided to indulge. You guys, I would compare this cheat to fulfilling your one celebrity gimme. It was the Ryan Reynolds of cheats. The specifics are a haze of duck fats and sou vides, but we’re talking about chicken wings drenched in bacon marmalade, flavor-rich pork jowls in a tender red pepper and chive crepe, a Wagyu beef burger with a fried pickle, red onion jam and life-changing ale cheese, a delicate crab cake atop a honey-jalapeno mousse and, the grand finale, freshly fried donuts with espresso gelato and a chocolate spoon. It was a filthy food porn movie, with more moaning and “mouthgasms” than any one wooden table should be subjected to. I think we were all changed a little bit that night.

Thefood

4. Engage in polite conversation.
Before the event, it can be helpful to consider a list of topics to keep the chatter going at the table. Make connections between your guests and use this as an opportunity to catch up with your friends.

The problem with Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was that we brought together a group of friends who enjoy each other’s company just a little too much, and each other’s company is typically accompanied by a healthy amount of cocktails. It’s easy to take your buds out of the bar, but not so easy to take the bar out of your buds. My brother was raised by the same man as me, and that man makes quick work of dirty words. We spent our childhood stepping around F bombs, and tiptoeing past JC land minds, until we eventually learned the value of just using the colorful vocabulary ourselves. Matt and I have never found a curse word we didn’t like and, once the wine and laughter started flowing, so did our swearing, and so did the guests’. When I think of those poor, helpless servers just trying to put the plates of food down in a sophisticated, synchronized fashion as Matt pumped his fist and chanted, “1-2-3 … hell yeah!” Or how the peanut gallery let the “holy shits” justifiably roll off their satisfied tongues upon their first bites … Without any verbal confirmation, we collectively abandoned any attempts at being classy somewhere around the start of the first course. It was a dangerous combination of comfortable company, glasses of drunken grapes and happy bellies.

The ladies

Thefellas

5. End the evening with a nightcap.
Offer your guests a warm coffee with a hint of Bailey’s, finger of aged scotch or bold brandy as a delightful way to cap off an enjoyable evening.

You know in a movie, when they use a montage or flashbacks to reveal a vital element of the plot? Well, that’s kind of what the day after Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was for me. One long, weird montage. At some point, a giant teddy bear was brought out of the toy room and I remember people in various states of cuddles with him at different times. I remember my husband demonstrating he could french braid on my friend Jenn’s hair. I remember much talk about ubers and really bad dancing. You know, the kind where it feels like you’re Channing Tatum’s wife in Step Up, but you’re really just shuffling side to side? I remember combining beautiful wines in one glass, with no regard for the integrity of their bouquet or Wine Spectator score. We all know how evenings like that can be; once the train picks up enough momentum, it’s really hard to stop it.

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As I take my second round of Tylenol and reflect on my behavior at Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, do I feel embarrassed? I mean … I’m gonna go with no. Sure, there is a time and a place to button your top button and play the game, and that can be enjoyable in its own way. But what fun is life if you don’t give yourself permission to snuggle with the giant teddy bear while watching Straight Outta Compton once in a while, too? You can’t take yourself so seriously. After all, what’s the saying … “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” It was a merry time indeed.

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Laughs

A night of amore

October 5, 2015

Sometimes it’s fun to find a kind soul willing to watch our litter, put on a shirt saved for special nights, and go out for an evening with adults. There’s just something about knowing you won’t have to put down your cocktail to wipe someone’s tush that make the drinks that much more delicious.

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Friday night, four couples came together to toast our dear friend, Jenn. Now, it’s important to  note here that birthdays aren’t just birthdays to Jenn. They are National Holidays (always capped), and this woman has been known to make said National Holiday a week- or month-long celebration. It is your right, she would say, to make at least 24 hours all about the fact that you were born and you are fabulous. She is also the first person to return the favor when your own special day rolls around.

Jenn and her husband know their way around the local culinary scene – he is a stupid-talented chef after all – so when they suggested an intimate spot called The Italian Connection for her official National Holiday dinner, there weren’t many arguments from the peanut gallery. The charming eatery was located in a small home that has been reimagined and transformed to offer guests an authentic Italian ambiance in a random Midwest neighborhood. The walls are caked in memorabilia; faded photos of distant family members, strands of polyester roses with delicate plastic stems and knowing saints looking lovingly on.

Grownups for a night, the eight of us proceeded to catch up, laugh like drunken fools and reconnect over bottles of the house red wrapped in intricate wicker and al dente noodles paired beautifully with their authentic sauces. But the highlight came after the meatballs and marinara. The chef, a condensed character straight from a stereotype, came out, turned on his party lights and fired up his karaoke machine. As he raised his eyebrows in sincere flirtation and worked through the lyrics of his favorite crooners, he pulled the men from their chairs and nudged them to dance with their sweethearts. It was, in essence, a middle school house party chaperoned by the coolest grandpa ever.

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We sang, we slow danced and we succumb to the joy parents often push aside on the list of priorities. It was a blessing shared with some of the best people we know, and a solid reminder that sometimes it’s OK to call in the grandparents, shed the guilt and go for the group date. And if you want it to be really memorable, add in Alex, the singing Italian chef and take a selfie stick (hence all of the group shots).

Mindfulness

8 is great, let’s go on a date

September 17, 2015

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Yesterday, Hank and I toasted 8 years of little monkeys, messes and matrimony. Our love story actually started more than 14 years ago, when a cocky college sophomore in a red bandana flirted middle-school style with a recently graduated high school girl in cargo khakis over the course of 15 hands of euchre. He was snarky. I was living in my dreams of college days to come. It was nothing. Until it was. It really, really was something.

Our relationship has always been one saturated in that calm confidence that comes with absolute certainty. I used to tell Hank we were destined to find each other considering we once had the same dream within 24 hours of each other and received jury duty on the same day. The universe wanted us to build this beautiful life, and who are we to argue with the universe? Perfection isn’t really our style, but the imperfections suit us just fine. Do we fight? On occasion. Are we opposites? Um, hell yes. Did I strike the spouse jackpot? You bet your ass.

September 15, 2007, was a sunny, 70-someting-degree day. I remember sitting on a party bus with our bridal party and thinking, I have never been this full of joy. I love these people. I love this man. I love my life. And every year, on this day, we make it a priority to tap back into an, admittedly, milder degree of that euphoria. A lot of life has happened since that day. Wonderful, colorful twists and surprises and, of course, three extraordinary little ladies.

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Our traditions are small. We go to dinner, stop by the church where we got hitched and catch up. I always ask what his favorite moment in our marriage was the year before. This past year, our trip to Vegas and getting Emma so we could go on our camping adventures were his happiest memories. I agreed. But now that this little blog is out in the world, I wanted to take it a step further. So, I went on …

Biggest change for us
“Jobs.” – Hank

Best meal
“Didn’t we have a really fun meal one time? Or are all the meals running together for me? That one where all the kids ate, and they didn’t fuss and … oh, wait, that never happens.”

You feel most supported when I __
“Let me be a stay at home Dad.”

Sweetest moment
“Our terrible selfie on the way to Vegas. We were all snuggled. I still have the picture somewhere. We got to be adults for a day, you know, with your parents.”

Funniest moment
“When we got drunk and rocked out to the Doobie Brothers on a weeknight. Jesus is just alright with me.”

Something you learned about me
“I don’t know what the right word for it is. You’re a … like, I don’t know … persistence … or determination. Cuz damn it, you’re gonna run that half marathon.”

Thing you want us to work on in the coming year
“Ew. I want us to have more fun. Too often it feels like we just coexist with all the crap that goes on.”

In 10 years, we’ll be __
[clasps face] “Raising teenagers!”

Not the best interview I’ve ever done, but the good Lord loves him for his honesty. I answered them, too, of course, and it’s funny how, when you ask the right questions, you discover this unspoken overlap between your treasured moments and hopes, and your spouse’s. What can I say, I think using your anniversary as an excuse to dig a little deeper into the caverns of your partner’s head space is healthy. It sparks conversation and gets some goals out there for the next 365 days.

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After 8 years, I’ve learned that the best marriages are the ones where no one feels smaller or less important than the other person. I’ve learned that laughter only becomes more necessary and is a secret weapon for survival. That acknowledgement and validation are invaluable, and often the most neglected of commodities between people who love each other. I’ve learned the “don’ts”: Don’t tell each other’s secrets. Don’t discourage hobbies or dreams. Don’t make someone sacrifice pieces of their true self. Know when to give your partner space and when to grab on unprompted. And above all, never put conditions on your love. Give it freely and every day.

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Until next year …