In Night Sweats and Snores, ’til Death Do Us Part

Sixteen years ago today I stood in front of family and friends and hitched my wagon to my (soon to be) husband’s star. In truth, I can’t say it was holy matrimony but it was definitely legal.

Sixteen years on, I’ve learned a lot. If we had to stand in front of family and friends again today, I would heartily and truthfully say “I do!” even more enthusiastically. There are, however, a few things I’d add to those vows….

Me: I promise to love you through snoring, through man flu, and in World Cup years, ’til penalties do us part.

Him: I promise to love you through night sweats and hot flashes, through pork rage and red mist.

We promise not to offer each other unsolicited advice in the heat of the moment.

Me: I promise not to passive aggressively ask if you’re done with the coffee cup that’s on the counter, right near the dishwasher, and just put it in myself because it’s really no big deal. Really.

Him: I promise not to passive aggressively ask if you’re done with the straightening iron every single day and just graciously accept the fact that it is going to live on the floor by the bed.

We promise not to compare our marriage, sex lives, or financial state to anyone else’s.

Me: I promise to tell you what I’d like for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and my birthday when you ask. I promise not to resent you if I tell you ‘oh, nothing’ and then you do ‘oh, nothing’.

Him: I promise to love you through muffin tops, fad diets, pregnancy hemorrhoids, and caffeine withdrawal.

We promise to accept that human beings change and evolve and grow, but then again, so does love.

Me: I promise I won’t expect you to read my mind, decode hidden meanings, or know what I want before I do.

Him: I promise never to ask if you have your period just because you’re angry.

However fierce a storm may rage, We promise to be patient enough to wait for the skies to clear.

Me: I promise not to say “It’s fine” if it’s not.

Him: I promise never to shush you

We promise never to anger-sleep in the spare room for more than one night.

Me: I promise never to undermine, correct, or contradict you when we’re at a dinner party and you’re telling a story.

Him: I promise not to make fun of you for crying during television commercials.

We promise to keep our mouths shut when the other is talking, not simply to wait for our turn, but to actively listen.

Me: I promise not to ask you six hundred questions in the morning because I know you don’t like early mornings.

Him: I promise not to stretch the concept of early morning past 10 am.

We promise not to air our grievances on social media.

Me: I promise not to hit you too hard in the middle of the night if you are snoring, or hogging the blankets, or stink like beer and meat after a night out with ‘the guys’.

Him: I promise I won’t hold your sleep talking against you, even after that one time you woke up insisting the baby wasn’t breathing and it took me an hour and a half to get back to sleep.

We promise not to freak out if we don’t have a mid-life couple’s hobby.

Me: I promise to leave you love notes when you least expect it.

Him: I promise to bring you flowers for no reason.

Me: I promise not to write about our marriage…too much.

Him: I promise to believe you…mostly.

Happy sweet sixteen, darlin’, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, even if I would need reading glasses to read my vows.

(Me: I promise not to try to get the last word in…)

State of the Union

guys-skiingA few weeks ago I kissed my husband goodbye at the door.  He was on his way for a testosterone heavy weekend filled with skiing, beer, male bonding, and no doubt, copious fart jokes and lack of sex commiseration. For three days he could stop being Husband, Father, and the Holy Worker and just be one of the guys.

As I closed the door behind him, I realized, with a little surprise, I was happy.

Not happy because I could lounge around in leg-warmers and sweat pants all weekend (I do that anyway). Not happy because I could roll into the middle of the bed or watch a sappy movie with a bottle of wine and a bowl of chips.

Not even happy in a fine, if you really need to get away from us all, go ahead! way. It genuinely made me happy that he was going, without me, to do something which made him happy.

It sounds like a simple thing, right? Who wouldn’t be happy because their spouse was happy?

Er….

woman-with-suitcase

There were plenty of golf days and work trips where I was anything but happy. When the kids were young and we hoarded alone time the way my grandmother used to hoard tin foil, every minute spent away from the demands of the family was mentally calculated and tabulated. Time “off” was often given grudgingly and tinged with resentment. On one fateful occasion, as I pulled away from the curb with tires squealing to do the grocery shopping, my husband stood at the door, baby in his arms, shouting “This count as alone time!”

He was joking.

Mostly.

So, there were plenty of times when I was slightly less than happy when my spouse was off doing something that made him happy.

Does that make me a horrible, selfish person? Maybe. But probably it just makes me normal.

In any relationship it’s easy to get caught up in who does what, who slept later, who scrubbed the toilet last. Throw some kids into the batter and the ante gets upped. Who changed the last diaper, who’s slept less, who’s given up bladder control in exchange for propagating the species. Sometimes seeing your spouse or partner happy becomes an afterthought. And sometimes, if we’re being honest, you don’t want to see them happy at all, you want them to be as miserable as you feel after months of 2 am feedings.

Harsh. But true.

suitcase-manBut there I was, standing at the door, genuinely happy that my husband was happy at the idea of spending time away, not necessarily from us, but with others. A chance to let his husband/father guard relax. If he had hair, I can imagine it would have been let down. A long time ago we used to snigger at the idea of separate vacations. Who would want that, we thought. We were young(ish), in love, wrapped up in the idea of each other as well as physically around each other. But here we are. Solid in our marriage. Secure in the knowledge that our love and respect for one another are able to withstand physical distance–even if it includes fart jokes and jibes about infrequent sex.

I never thought to gauge the state of our union by a fondue heavy ski trip with the guys. I never thought watching him pull away form the curb, metaphorical tires screaming, would make me happy. Not for me, but for him.

I’d say the state of our union is pretty damn good.

 

 

Thanksgiving Heroes

liberty_waveSometimes the thankful gets buried under an avalanche of the…other stuff. The worries, the concerns, the humdrum, the fury.

Recently, for me, it’s been a lot of fury. Make no mistake, I’m thankful for the fury. It’s protected my heart against the onslaught of grief which is no doubt coming. It acts as a buffer until my spirit is ready to put one foot in front of the other. The rage acts as a middle woman between yesterday and tomorrow.

But fury takes its toll. It sucks you dry like a vampire leaching blood. I’ve been here before. When you eventually come limping into port, spent and sputtering, it is scary as hell. What you need is someone to help guide you in. Someone who will catch your elbow as you stumble ashore. Hero to Leander rowing across a sea of emotion.

 

My husband and I met on Thanksgiving. Over nineteen years the story–our story, our once upon a time–has been honed and polished. We’ve been together long enough that we both tell the same version–the she said and the he said have long since been we said. This year I had planned back to back posts of a very different nature and then life went and threw a monkey wrench into my sea of relative calm and well, here we are. Here I am. Not so silently vibrating with rage. Lightening bolts of fury crackling from my fingertips.

The thing with fury is that you never know when it’s just going to burn itself out. When it’s just going to extinguish and take with it not only the flame but the light you use to guide yourself. It could be five minutes from now. It could be two years. But however long it takes, I know I have a safe haven to land, to dock. It’s the same one I’ve had one for nineteen years. Even when things are going along float-ingly and I’ve no use for it, it’s there.

He’s there.

 

There is a saying I am fond of, one of those slightly cheesy-could-be-on-a-poster-in-a-break-room type quotes:

Fate whispers to the warrior, you cannot withstand the storm.
The warrior whispers back I am the storm.

There is a lot of energy contained in a storm. It can do a lot of damage, but it can also sweep away the detritus, blow away the cobwebs, leave everything around it…different. My husband has, with unfailing consistency, accepted each storm, accepted the damage, accepted the different. Exactly as I have done for him. In a story of Heroes and Leanders, we have played each to the other.**

And for that, today and everyday, I am thankful.

I tease my husband that I am an easy person to be married to. Except for the hard bits. It is not easy being married to someone who is vocal, who is opinionated. I will say passionate, but passion is often bedfellows with lunacy and single-mindedness. Yet not only does my husband carve out a space for me to refuel and sometimes lick my wounds and heal, he is proud of my opinionated, single-minded, passion bordering on lunacy.

And for that too I am thankful.

leightonheroI don’t subscribe to the idea of luck when it comes to love and relationships, though I am partial to a bit of fate all tied up with string. My husband and I chose a course, a series of conscious decisions which led us to one another, which led us exactly here.

So in the history of us, a love story which started over pumpkin pie and has led us all around the world, I am once agin reminded to be thankful. Not only for the ability to feel, and feel well and passionately, but to have a place to dock, night after night. And to offer a place in return.

 

**If you’re not familiar with the story of Hero and Leander, it ends, as with most myths, with death. Leander crashes upon the rocks. A distraught Hero throws herself of the cliff. Rest assured that my infatuation with Greek mythology stops short at the death bits. I’m not that passionate.

 

 

The Weight of (Moving Around) the World on Your Shoulders

Atlas 2I write a lot about my life as an expat, but usually through the window of my own experience: that of the non-earning partner.

It’s not often I delve into what it must be like for the catalyst expat. The one whose job brings you to another country, whose carefully negotiated package determines everything from where you live to how many times a year you get to go home. The one upon whose shoulders rests the weight of the world, quite literally at times.

We first packed up and moved with the peacekeeping arm of the United Nations. We bypassed all the shit postings you often have to get your feet mucky in on the UN circuit. We skipped the war zones and zipped past the just-finished war zones. We circumvented the countries without stable governments and landed, pretty softly, in what’s generally considered the cherry on top of the whipped cream atop of the UN peacekeeping cake: Cyprus.

I hated it, at least for the first year. I hated it so vehemently and vociferously that it became a running joke at my husband’s office, where they would often great new staff with a variation of the following:

Welcome to Cyprus, the posting everyone’s trying to get into, expect for X’s wife, Dina, who’s trying to leave.

I was so far up my own ass for those first twelve months it took me a long time to realize how my unhappiness was eating away at my spouse, who had assumed responsibility for my misery. It wasn’t a question of letting him as much as it was simply not being aware that it was going on. Yes, my head was that far up my ass.

There’s plenty of expat guilt I carry with me, but not the guilt, worry, and stress shouldered by the one responsible for pin-balling a family around the globe. My go-to joke is that starting work in a new country means a new office, a new cafeteria, and maybe a new stapler, but that essentially going to work is going to work, no matter where you are. That’s oversimplified, of course. Getting used to working in a new environment can be terribly stressful. Add in a spouse who is unhappy, kids who are crying because they miss their friends and eating unknown cuts of meat every night and well, is it any wonder expats seem to drink as much as they do?Atlas

Good friends who moved recently tallied the stress levels involved in picking your family up and repositioning them around the globe. Three months of packing up/leaving/worrying stress on the old end followed by three months of unpacking/settling in/worrying stress on the new one. Six months of feeling unsettled and a lot of the time, unhappy. If you move every two years, that’s a quarter of your life navigating the sea of stress with nothing but a flight home to paddle your way upstream.

That’s a lot of stress. It’s not good for your heart. Or your liver if you self-medicate with wine. Or your marriage.

I’ve joked (and been serious about) the anger some feel toward the working partner, most often as a handy stand-in for companies who like to toss employees around the world like rag dolls. But I’ve never really stopped to think about what it’s like to be the one on the receiving end of that anger or unhappiness and how much it has to affect the quality of their life.

Though we generally (knocking on every piece of wood I can find) don’t have to worry about cutbacks and layoffs as much as some (there’s never any shortage of war or disease), it’s a legitimate and sobering worry for other expats.

Redundancies are uncommon in the international civil service game, but Copenhagen is a hub for the oil industry, which is experiencing major cut-backs and lay-offs and sayonara, we-can’t-afford-you-anymores. We’ve watched families step off the plane get turned back around, a package and a pat on the back, others made redundant just as they were settling in. Some have been here for years, considering it home and suddenly they’re out of a job.

Obviously losing your job sucks whether you’re an expat or not, but the added of stress of losing your job, or potentially losing your job, when you’ve carted your entire family overseas is not something to be sniffed at.

Sometimes it’s the hard-to-shake worry you’ve made the wrong decision. Feeling as if that decision rests squarely on your shoulders, shaken-not-stirred with watching your partner and kids struggle to settle. Those things are HUGE. To absorb responsibility on one set of shoulders is enormous. And usually, unfair.

Atlas 3As much as I like to wax on/wax off about our crappy health insurance or paint the fence with the layers of common sense which are sorely lacking when it comes to expecting families to move around the world in 8 days, the sole responsibility should not be placed at my husband’s feet or on his shoulders, regardless of how broad they may be.

We are partners. In marriage, in parenting, in the topsy-turvy world of living outside our countries. We went into this beautiful mess together and we’ll shoulder the responsibility together. In the nearly eight years we’ve been doing this, I’ve pulled my head out of my ass long enough to see that.

If Atlas shrugs, shaking us from one continent to the next, we’ll shoulder the weight equally.