Friday, February 1, 2013

A Skunk Tale

I began this post last January. It's about my first adventure in our new house. Like most of the projects in my new house, it went unfinished as "real life" issues got in the way. The subject of this post is a familiar one to our friends, and I'm still asked about it from time to time, so I thought I would finally publish my story and hopefully kick off a year of active blogging. Please to enjoy, A Skunk Tale

It's 11:55 PM, a few days 'til Christmas 2011. It's the third night in our newly constructed home. I say "newly constructed" because it is essential to the story, not because I'm bragging about having a BRAND NEW HOUSE! 

I am lying in bed, sleepy, but awake, when I am startled to full alertness by the faint sound of scratching. It's the kind of faint sound where one is unable to determine the source or location of the sound. 

Me: Do you hear that?
Steve: Hear what?
Me: It sounds like scratching. Or something. Or Libby banging her food bowl on the wood floors. I don't know. But it won't stop.
Steve: Uhh, I don't hear it.

I lie in bed silently, not even allowing myself to breathe...yeah, I definitely hear it. But what is it? I jump out of bed with a sense of urgency.

Steve: What are you doing?
Me: I'm getting to the bottom of this!

I scamper out the room on my tippy-toes, looking left and right as I go. I find my mom in the hallway, she's also heard the noise, but we quickly determine there is nothing inside the house. Together we hop around the perimeter of the house, guided by the World's Dimmest Flashlight. Nothing outside. But, standing outside our bathroom window, I hear banging and scratching coming from inside, louder than ever. Then a smack against the frosted glass. Mom and I scream! It's Steve. He's conducting an investigation of his own. "Yep! Definitely something inside these walls right here!" he shouts triumphantly. I sigh impatiently, "Nice work, Dick Tracy. Glad you solved this mystery. Now can we try not to scare the ever-loving sh!t out of the animal trapped in our home? Thanks!"

The next day, I called the builder. That's the cool thing about new-construction warranties. I pick up the phone with any complaint, and they have to come running (within 48 business hours, sooner if a live animal is involved.) After a cursory inspection by the builder's liaison, Dave,  he concurs that there is in fact an unidentified animal within the walls of my home. When I ask the obvious question, "How the hell did he get there?", I am told that he must have entered during the late stages of construction and hidden under or around my jetted bathtub. I distinguish my tub as "jetted" because there was an incident where, during construction, a wire to the motor of the jetted tub was accidentally cut by construction workers, requiring a replacement motor, which caused the underside of the bathtub to remain open and exposed late in construction, when most tubs are already sealed up. This is when the animal had the opportunity to sneak in and hunker down. Had I been outfitted with an ordinary tub, I never would have had an animal in my house. I'm certainly not bragging about my luxurious brand new jetted bathtub!

So...what to do when an uninvited animal is inhabiting the interior walls of your bathroom and can't escape? I learned that one must cut open the "skirt" of the bathtub and set an animal trap obtained from the city. We're really scientific here, and so we place a club cracker schmeared with peanut butter inside the trap to bait the animal. We have ascertained, based on our given clues, that this is a nocturnal animal, likely a possum, skunk, or raccoon, and know that we must wait til the late night hours to trap it. From here, it gets tricky. If it is a possum or raccoon, we can pick up the trap and carry it out to the back patio until animal control can arrive. Oops, I spoke out of turn. The Animal Control Officer quit retired, and so when this animal is trapped--in the middle of the night--I am instructed to call the police. Now, if it is a skunk, I am advised not to attempt to engage the animal or move the trap, because the skunk may spray, and that would be bad. Like, throw your furniture in a dumpster, gut your house down to the studs and rebuild it,  bad.  Armed with all this information, I take a deep breath, I close the door to my bathroom. And I wait. 

1:00 AM. I wake to the sounds of scratching in the bathroom. I hear an animal struggling in the dark, throwing himself [yeah, I decided it's a boy] against the French doors that separate my bathroom from the bedroom. Here's the thing about those French doors: they're the kind that just click shut, and this fella was throwing some weight against them, and I get nervous that he would escape into the bedroom and bite me and give me rabies and kill my dogs. So I jump out of bed and braced against the doors to prevent them from opening, whispering to Steve to slide over some plastic storage totes against the door. Uh oh. I think I scared our friend away. I return to bed, having secured our doors. 

3:00 AM. I wake once more to the sound of persistent animal scratching. Steve and I cling to one another, as if we are ill-fated characters in a 1980s horror film, helpless to save ourselves from the killer on the other side of the door. He is trying so hard to break through. Will he succeed? Whatever shall we do? We hold our breath, suspended in time, as his fit of fury persists. As I listen to the scurrying and the scratching, I imagine the scene I will witness when I open the doors to my brand new custom bathroom tomorrow. After twenty minutes of struggling, I hear the long-awaited squeak and creak of a metal spring closing on the trap. And silence. Steve and I look at each other, waiting anxiously to hear what happens next. The silence surprises us most of all. I sort of expected the wild animal, once caged, to freak the hell out. The silence is puzzling. I roll out of bed and tiptoe towards the kitchen, phone in hand.

Steve: Where are you going?
Me: I'm calling the police.
Steve: [laughing] Why would you call the police?!
Me: So they can come get the animal.
Steve: [still laughing] Wait, wait--let me get this straight--you're gonna call the police department, at 3:00 in the morning, and say, "Heyyy, I trapped an animal, can you come get it? K, thanks, bye!"
Me: [hissing] keep your voice down! Don't spook the animal [eyeballing the bathroom door]. And yeah, that's exactly what I'm gonna do, because those were my instructions! The Animal Control Officer "retired" [using exaggerated air quotes] and they didn't replace him, so protocol dictates that when a wild animal is trapped within city limits, using the city's animal trap, I must contact the police department. It's a freaking nocturnal animal, when do they expect me to make the phone call?!
Steve: [not laughing now] Oh. Well. I did not know that.

I call the city police department. County dispatch answers. I explain my situation and give my contact information. 10, 20, 30 minutes later, I'm not sure exactly how much time passed, I receive a call from...well, I'll let him tell you:

Police: Hi, this is Officer Sullivan, what seems to be the problem?
Me: Hi. Well, I have a new house, and there is an animal inside the walls, and our builder picked up a trap from the city earlier today. Now we've trapped the animal, and I was instructed to call the police to pick up the trap.
Police: Ok. I need you to verify that the animal has in fact been trapped.
Me: [to Steve] Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Uhh, just tell him that he's trapped.
Me: Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Uhh, just say you looked and that the animal is trapped.
Me: Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Ugh! [gets out of bed and storms out of the room]
Me: [to Officer Sullivan] Oh, well, that's just great! This whole time we've been dealing with this "animal situation" and we've been all nervous and concerned, he's mocked us and made light of the situation. Now that it's the moment of truth, he's being a total pansy!

Officer Sullivan chuckles, catches himself laughing, and abruptly goes quiet. 

Me: [hopping out of bed ] Ok, I'm going to verify that the animal has been trapped. 

I step in front of the bathroom door. I take a deep breath. I set the phone down and re-do my ponytail to get the wispy hairs out of my face. I stand with one foot in front of the other in a lunge-type posture, shifting my weight back and forth from the front foot to the back foot. It's like I'm preparing to do my first round-off back handspring.  My palms are sweating. I swing my arms like I'm stretching. I pop my neck.

Steve: What the f*#% are you doing?
Me: Shhhhhh!!!!

I take another deep breath. Instinctively, I reach towards the bedside table lamp and turn it on. I gesture to Steve to turn on the overhead light in our bedroom. I figure that flooding the room with light gives me an advantage over my nocturnal house guest, right? 

I pick up the phone. I place my hand on the door handle. In one quick and seamless motion, I open and shut the door, but not before making eye contact with a beady-eyed animal with black fur with a shock of white extending from the center of his head. 

Me: [whispering as I run out the door on my tippy toes--always on my tippy toes] Oh sh!t.
Steve: [chasing behind me] What? I couldn't see anything!

I hold my breath until I reach the entryway, sure that the animal can't hear me speak, and I tell Officer Sullivan my findings in a panicked whisper: 

Me: It's a skunk!
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk?
Steve: It's a skunk?!
Me: Oh my god, it's a skunk!
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk?
Me: It's a f^#+!&% skunk!
Steve: It's a skunk?
Me: It's a skunk. Oh, this is bad. This is baaaaadddd.
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk.
Me: Yes. This is bad. This is reallyyyyy bad. 
Officer Sullivan: Ok. We outsource this sort of thing. I'm going to give him a call later, when he wakes up, and he'll come get it. Until then...just...don't do anything to disturb it.
Me: Yes sir.

And so we wait...hours go by...sleep eludes us...

Me: So...what's his name?
Steve: The skunk?
Me: Yeah. Any animal who stays in our house more than 30 minutes gets a name. What's this guy's name?
Steve: His name is Larry.
Me: Larry. That's nice. Let's not piss off Larry.
Steve: No, let's not. 

Moments later...

Steve: What are you doing?
Me: I'm reading about skunks on Wikipedia!
Steve: And...
Me: Did you know they are part of the weasel family? And while they don't hibernate per se, they can be sort of dormant and hunker down and not eat or drink for days at a time?
Steve: I did not know that.
Me: And they are not aggressive animals! Here, all this time, I thought they sprayed folks all willy-nilly, but it turns out that they are passive, timid creatures, and they spray only as a last resort, and it takes them 10 minutes to reload between sprays! Wow! They are pretty much useless creatures! I mean, I always liked them and thought they were cute, but they are so lazy and defenseless, I bet that if not for this whole "spray" defense, they'd be extinct by now!
Steve: You might be on to something.
Me: Hmph. I learned something today.

Later that morning, our builder liaison, Dave, arrives. He greets me with a solemn nod and the reverence normally reserved for the funeral of a Head of State. He always removes his shoes before entering. I greet him with a tight-lipped half-smile and a casual head nod normally reserved for two high school athletes passing in the hallway. I'm still in my pajamas, messy hair piled on top of my head. I'm red-nosed and puffy-faced from nursing a wicked cold.

Dave: How are you doing this morning, ma'am?
Me: [dryly] Well, I haven't slept in two days and there's a wild animal trapped in my bathroom. All in all, I'm not doing so good, Dave.
Dave: I understand, ma'am.

Poor Dave. He is so frightened of me right now.

"Do you know the game plan?" I asked. I assume he has been through this all before, and I don't want to tell him what he already knows. He hesitates to answer, as he tries to read my face for clues as to the "correct" answer to my question. Ahh, crap. I'm gonna have to walk him through this. I heave a big sigh and plop onto the sofa as I launch into my explanation:

Me: Ok, so apparently skunk removal is a tricky maneuver, and so they outsource it to this guy..."Dan the Animal Man" or "Kevin the Animal Dude" or something like that. Ever heard of him?
Dave: No ma'am.
Me: Ahh, well, he's The Guy. Officer Sullivan called him, and I'm told he'll be here as soon as he wakes up.
Dave: [checking his watch] It's 10:00 AM
Me: Yep. My thoughts exactly.
[uncomfortable silence]
Me: Screw it, I'm calling him.

I search for the phone number on Google.

Me: Brian
Dave: No, I'm Dave
Me: No, the "Animal Guy". Brian.
Dave: Ohhh...

I dial the number and listen as the phone rings and rings. Is that a home answering machine picking up, like the old-fashioned kind? Cool. I leave the following message, in my most cheerful-sounding voice, like he's an old friend:

"Hey, Brian! It's Samantha, the lady with the skunk trapped in her bathroom. Anyway, I'm just sitting and this skunk...for about nine hours now, and I was just wondering if there is anything I should be doing...or not doing...with this skunk...until you arrive. Thanks so much, byeeeee!"

Dave's jaw goes slack.

Dave: Wow, ma'am. That's the nicest way I've ever heard somebody say "Hurry up."
Me: [a smile slowly crosses my face] Ya like what I did there, don't ya, Dave? I told that guy to get his ass in gear without using the words "Ass" or "Gear".
Dave: You sure did!
Me: Well, Dave, if there's anything I've learned in this life, it's that there's certain people you don't want to piss off: the person who answers the phones, the person who serves your food, and the person who removes the skunk from your bathroom.
Dave: That is the truth.

Within 30 minutes, Brian shows up, having already returned my phone call, urging me to stay away from the skunk and promising he was on his way. I am so relieved to see him, and to know that this ordeal is nearly over. I've been avoiding my bedroom and bathroom all day as if there's a bomb inside. Or a dead man. I'm so creeped out right now. That's when Brian gives me the worst news of the day: protocol dictates euthanizing the skunk for removal. What?! I've gone through all this, only to learn that I've merely been babysitting Larry until his executioner arrives? I can tell you one thing, had I known this, I never would have named him. This is all getting really personal. I cover my hands with my face as I bemoan Larry's fate.

Dave: Are you ok, ma'am?
Me: Dave! He's about to murder an animal in my brand new custom bath! Do you have any idea how much bad juju that is?!
Dave: No ma'am, I do not.

Brian administers a lethal injection to a sleeping Larry using a really sophisticated, high-tech syringe-taped-to-extension-rod technique. I peek through the door.

Dave: You really want to watch?
Me: Dave, a man is about to die in my house. Attention must be paid.
Dave: Yes ma'am.

The rest of the removal played out without incident or fanfare. Larry fought the good fight, he went quietly into the good night, he didn't spray his stinky spray all over my brand new custom bath. Dave sent a cleaning crew to erase all evidence that Larry had ever been here. But I'll always know he was here. He damaged one of my fancy Restoration Hardware Turkish Cotton bath towels. So long, Larry. I'll remember you with melancholy fondness. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Robinson is Two

I can't believe my baby boy is two! We celebrated with a Bubble Guppies-themed birthday party the day before his birthday. The Guppies are his favorites. We just invited a few of our favorite toddler friends over for lunch. It turns out that when a dozen small children are involved, there is no such thing as "low key". Our friend Nick described the scene best as "controlled chaos." It was fun though, and the two hour party went by in the blink of an eye. Thanks to everyone who came, and here are some snapshots of the day for those who couldn't be with us!

I've never made invitations before, but this was actually fun.

Don't ask how long it took to make the bubble curtain or the banner!

Refreshment table with banana pudding, butterscotch blondies, brownies, and Texas Caviar
 I like the idea of this bubble backdrop, but it made for tricky photography lighting, yes?

Bubble and water pistols for the kiddos

Love these boys! So glad Uncle Jay was on hand for the occassion!
...and Kelly Bean too! Love my sissy 

I made this cake with love...and lots of marshmallow fondant!

Family Picture

Pizza was a hit with the kids, and easy on us!

Rob is learning to color in his new Bubble Guppies coloring book
Birthday Brunch at Cowboy Chow the next day
Birthday smiles!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Locks of Laziness

The past twelve months have been pretty action-packed for our family. We've moved (twice), attended my brother's wedding, numerous tot birthday parties, and have stayed busy keeping up with our toddler. In the midst of all this, I let a few things remembering to get a haircut at regular intervals. 

Here's a photo of my hair after my most recent haircut, in November. It's long, right? Well I didn't bother getting a haircut again until MAY. Imagine how much longer my hair grew in six months. You have to imagine, because I sure as hell didn't take pictures!

Since I moved wayyyyy across town, I thought I would try out a new hairstylist in one of the local salons.
I arrive early for my appointment and am greeted by my new stylist, Lindsay. Lindsay has short-and-sassy blonde hair and tattoos that say poetic things about a girl who had the courage to jump and then realized she could fly. Something like that. I stand beside her in stark contrast. My hair, which I normally keep in a ponytail at home, is flowing free and hits at about my waist. She looks like a carefree sort of girl who would be a fan favorite on a reality show. I look Amish. This is not the look for me. Lindsay knows this too, but she will handle this conversation with the care one gives to a Faberge egg. Am I one of those kooky broads who hides behind her mass of hair? Lindsay has no way of knowing, but she knows she doesn't want to upset the crazy hair lady.

Lindsay: [running her hands through my endless strands] want to...keep it long? 
Me: Not exactly. See, I have hairorexia, which is a term I made up. You know how anorexics are skinny, but they think that they're not? Well, my hair gets ridiculously long, but when I look in the mirror, it seems average-length to me, and I think that I just got my hair cut a few weeks ago, but then I look at a calendar and realize that it's been seven months, and maybe I should so something about that.
Lindsay: [nodding slowly] Right?
Me: So yeah, you can cut all this off, I don't care. I mean, don't go crazy, I think it's plain to see I don't have the bone structure to carry off a short hairstyle.
Lindsay: Yes. But you don't really have an attachment to your hair?
Me: Oh, I think I obviously have an attachment to my hair, as evidenced by my thrice yearly haircuts.
Lindsay: Yeah, right.
Me: But you know, if you cut it a little too short, it's no big whoop. I'll probably forget to make another appointment until Christmas.
Lindsay: Great!

I show Lindsay an "inspiration photo" 
Tabatha Coffey says it's a good idea to bring photos to consultations with a new stylist, and who am I to argue with Tabatha?

Me: I figured that since we're already cutting so much hair off, we might as well cut enough to donate.
Lindsay: Oh, that's nice! Have you done that before?
Me: Never. But I figured hey, I let my hair get stupid-long for no reason other than I'm absent-minded and apathetic. Might as well help make a wig for a kid in need while I'm at it.
Lindsay: That's the spirit.
Me: Oh! Another thing, before I forget--I will always ask for bangs. Don't let me have them. They don't work on me.
Lindsay: Got it.

I'm donating my hair to Locks of Love, whose rules dictate that hair be donated in the form of ponytails that are at least ten inches in length. Lindsay sections my hair into two ponytails, but furrows her brow in hesitation about the drastic cut she's about to make. As she runs her fingers down the length of the strands, she cautiously asks:

Lindsay: So, your husband--does he like you to keep your hair long, or wear it a certain way?
Me: Huh? I mean, he prefers long hair over a pixie cut, but he doesn't really care. He's not Jim Bob Duggar or anything. He doesn't require me to wear waterfall bangs and a home perm...
Lindsay: [relieved, mixed with nervous laughter] Oh, good!
I learned a lot from my Locks of Love donation experience:

1. If you wear your hair too long, people will approach you and speak to you like you're some crazy cat lady or a member of a fundamentalist group who believes that Jesus and the dinosaurs walked the earth together. I will never let my hair be that long again.

2. When you chop off a ponytail, the remaining hair will be very crooked, so...

3. Even if you used a ruler to gauge how short your hair will be after you've donated your hair, it will be even shorter.

4. If you don't like your haircut, but you're happy about the cause for which your hair was cut off, you won't really mind enduring the awkward growing-out phase.

The result:
bye bye, hair!

My hair looks nothing like Reese Witherspoon's. To me, it looks like an asymmetrical bubble that I feel compelled to wear pulled back because it looks so odd. I'm not kidding myself, I realize the hairdo pictured above isn't much better. I don't blame Lindsay, because it wasn't her idea to chop off ten inch ponytails. She salvaged my remaining hair as best she could, and just as soon as I have enough hair growth to even out this mess, I'll be back to see her. September. I'm holding myself to that!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mischievous, Clever, Affectionate

When I enrolled Robinson in preschool for next school year, the application asked me to choose the three words that best describe him. I imagine this question is designed to tell the teachers and administrators of the preschool as much about the child as about the parent who fills out the application. I avoid words like "stubborn", which though not inaccurate, carry a negative connotation. I also avoid anything effusive that makes me seem like I lack self-awareness or that I have my head stuck up my kid's butt because I'm just so blindly in awe of this magnificent being I created. Nobody likes that mom, and by extension, that kid. I avoid words like "bright". Everyone thinks their kid is bright. Unless they think their kid is a dope. Then they describe him as "loving". See, I chose "affectionate". That way, when Robinson becomes so overcome with joy and excitement during dance time that he impulsively grabs the nearest child in what can only be described as a bear-hug-like embrace, as he has a history of doing, the teacher will not be surprised, she'll just think, "Ahhh, I get it." And "mischievous" and "clever" is meant to serve as a heads-up that Rob will try to circumvent her safety measures and find loopholes in her rules. At least I find him to be pretty crafty in that way. But totally in an adorable ragamuffin sort of way.

Robinson has a few words he can use. We call that his "vocabulary". Wanna know more? Read on.

Puppy: "Puppy" doesn't refer to actual puppies. It only refers to Jingle the Husky Pup Interactive Story Pup, a Christmas gift to Robinson from his Auntie Vickie. My mom reported to Vickie that Jingle Puppy is now always at Robinson's side and has become his favorite companion. Vickie's reaction was something like "It is?! Uh, I mean...It is!" Puppy becoming the Six to Rob's Blossom was a development nobody saw coming. You see, Jingle the Husky Pup Interactive Story Pup is intended only to be a companion to night time story books, and these night time story books have Christmas subject matter. So, he's really meant for story time only, and only during Christmas. I tried to pack him away after the holidays so that he would be fresh, exciting, and new next year, and Rob had none of it. He carries him everywhere. They have meals together. Rob likes to gnaw on his face. One morning, I picked Robinson up out of his crib before he had a chance to swipe Puppy, and the whole time I was changing Rob's diaper, he shook his head back and forth with his eyes shut tight, moaning "Pupppeeeee!" To those who respond, "Hmph, what's the big deal?" I would include the information that Puppy has a battery back in his tummy, a speaker in his skull, and if you press the button on his ear, a woman's voice purrs, "Jingle wants to read a story to you". He's so not machine washable, so not designed to live up to the wear and tear of an active toddler, and he's so not prepared to read a story on his own. I imagine this ending months from now, Velveteen Rabbit-style.
Bubble: "Bubble" refers to Bubble Guppies, Robinson's favorite children's TV program. He can't get enough of it, in fact, and when he wants to watch one of the episodes I have saved on my DVR, he walks around the house chanting "Bubble, bubble" until somebody turns it on for him.
Outside: A word he learned from Bubble Guppies, because they sing a song about going outside every episode, Robinson also happens to love going outside, and since he can say the word, he chants "ow-sad, ow-sad, ow-sad" and opens the back door, teeters over the threshold and steps into the yard. There's no stopping him. No, really. He can't be stopped. I've tried. He loves to just stomp around, barefoot in the grass. If it's wet grass because it's beginning to rain, even better. 

More: pronounced "moe", this word accompanies the gesture of thrusting a sippy cup into my lap, or my favorite, when Robinson picks up my left arm, removes whatever item is in my left hand (or he simply opens my fingers) then he places the cup in my hand. "Moe". I taught him to say that. It is so much nicer than listening to him cry and wail. I used to stare at him calmly, while he was mid-tantrum, and ask, "Do you want more milk? Is that why you're screaming? Just tell me you want more. It doesn't have to be this hard." He sniffled. His face relaxed and tear-free, he hands me his cup and says "Moe". Then I ask him to say "please". He furrows his brow and frowns at me, like he's thinking, "Well, do you want me to say 'more' or do you want me to say 'please'? Which is it? Make up your mind, woman!" I'm working on "please" and "thank you".

Penny: He loves The Big Bang Theory, and the beautiful Penny is a favorite character. If you don't watch the show, I'll tell you that there is a bit they do every week, where the obsessive-compulsive Sheldon knocks on her door, but his ritual goes like this: 
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
So, one afternoon, while I was working on an art project that involves actual pennies, I pulled Robinson onto my lap to show him my progress and asked, "What do you think? See the pennies!" And Robinson smiled and knocked on the dining room table. Three times. Then he said, "Bea". I was a little taken aback, so I asked, "Penny?" Again, he smiled, knocked on the table three times and softly said "Bea." Now, if anybody knocks at the front door, he shouts "Bea!" If he sees a commercial for The Big Bang Theory on TV, he knocks on the nearest hard surface and shouts "Bea!" I'm telling you, if the actress Kaley Cuoco knocked on my front door, and Robinson answered to find the real Penny standing there, it would totally make his decade.

Mama: Ok, this seems obvious, but wait until you read more. Over the course of decorating the house, I have hung dozens of framed photos on the wall. As you might guess, I appear in many of the photos. Early on, Robinson began pointing at pictures of me, mostly in my wedding dress, and sweetly saying "Mama". I melted, Steve melted, we all clapped and cheered and had a big reaction. What lesson did Robinson take away from this? If you point at a picture and say "Mama", you get applause and kisses and cheers. So guess what happens to every picture Robinson sees? "Mama". Cardboard display of Rachael Ray in Walmart? "[pointing] Mama". Dakota Fanning on the cover of Cosmopolitan "[pointing] Mama". Ed Helms on The Hangover 2 DVD in the Walmart checkout aisle? "[pointing] Mama". I get a lot of strange looks from people. Every photographed image is "Mama", including images of Steve, much to his dismay. Also, anybody who is in a position to do something for Robinson, like give him candy, he calls "Mama". He just thinks "Mama" is an all-purpose word used to win friends and influence people. He isn't wrong. So what does he call me? He doesn't have to call me anything, because I never go away. He just hands me sippy cups and says "Moe". I very briefly believed that his name for me was "Moe". Sometimes, if he is in the playroom and I am in the kitchen, in a moment of desperation he will dramatically cry "Mahhhh-meeeee". That might be my name.

Other vocabulary words, shared without anecdotes:

bye (buh-bye, bye-bye, g'bye)

Oh, and this one time, I was feeding Robinson his breakfast at the kitchen table. He gazed out the window and saw our dog Libby walking in the backyard. It totally blew his mind that we were inside, on one side of the window, and she was on the other side. His eyes got huge, he pointed at her, grinning, and said "Uh-bee". I was dumbstruck. "Libby?! You said 'Libby'?!" He did, I swear, and I cannot get him to repeat it! Darn it!

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Open Letter to Celebrities Who Refer to Marriage as "Just a Piece of Paper"

This morning, I was reading an excerpt from a recent Jon Hamm interview with Elle UK (via Celebitchy), and in it he talks about a lot of things, like his 15-year relationship with Jennifer Westfeldt:

"Having a piece of paper serves to remind you of your commitment, but we do a pretty good job of reminding each other."

The statement isn't all that controversial or original. Celebrities in long-term relationships who choose not to marry are regularly faced with questions about why they aren't married, and the "it's just a piece of paper" argument is their go-to defense. I guess since my own wedding anniversary is this weekend, the comment hit a little close to home. I thought, A piece of paper? What, like the marriage license, or the marriage certificate, because I think the marriage license is on file in the county courthouse. I guess he means marriage certificate. I wonder where my marriage certificate is? Crap. I hope I didn't lose it in the move. No way. I put it somewhere safe, for sure. I think it's in my special "memory box" where I keep a lock of my son's hair and a poem my vet gave me when he put my dog to sleep about how I'll see my dog again at the Rainbow Bridge when I get to Heaven. Yeah, I'm sure that's where it is. Whew.
The blogger and her husband on their wedding day, signing the church marriage record.

Yeah, the piece of paper. That's totally why I got married.

During our six years of marriage, whenever we've had a dispute, one of us has waved that piece of paper to remind the other of our times. In fact, it's interviews like Jon Hamm's that serve to remind me that I even have a piece of paper. 

I guess The Hamm is marginalizing marriage as "a piece of paper", because if it were more meaningful than that, he should have done it already. I don't think that people who subscribe to that belief realize that it can be a little offensive to those of us who are married, and who consider marriage much more significant than the paper on which the legal record is printed. Then again, it's not the job of the unmarried to validate my life choice. Isn't it the role of the married people to make those who chose the "alternative lifestyle" of remaining unmarried to feel inadequate or like they need to explain themselves? No, but these sorts of magazine interviews, like Jon Hamm's in Elle UK, and countless others before it perpetuate this. 

I considered this further, while taking my son for a stroll through the neighborhood. What if Steve and I hadn't gotten married? I don't mean what if we hadn't stayed together. Ha. We were always going to be together. We're like Ross and Rachel. Hmm...comparing us to Ross and Rachel ages me a bit, yes? Friends ended eight years ago. What TV couple do youngsters reference nowadays when talking about a couple who breaks apart then reunites, because everyone knows they're meant to be together? I guess we're like Leonard and Penny.

So, if I were to postulate an alternate universe, wherein Steve and I share a home and a life and a child, everything that comes with being married, except we did not stand up in a chapel in a white dress and a tux in front of friends and family and make a solemn vow to God that we will stay together until we die, would our life in this alternate universe be any different from our real life, save for the legal document that serves as evidence that a wedding ceremony took place?

Well, for starters, I would have a bare wall where my wedding photos are hung...

But beyond that, what else? In most love stories, marriage is the grand finale. And they lived happily ever after. As a married couple. I mean, what if Ali and Noah never got married in The Notebook?
What if, instead of Noah's famous "So it's not gonna be easy" speech, he proposed an alternate lifestyle? It might have gone something like this:

Noah: I wanna cohabitate with you indefinitely. I don't know if that means we can file a joint tax return, or if we'll still have to file separately, but I wanna merge all of our assets. I'd even cosign on a loan with you. That's how serious I am. And maybe someday we'll have a baby. Your Memaw will disapprove of our child-out-of-wedlock, because it goes against her religious beliefs, but after awhile she'll only grumble about it at family get-togethers. And it's always going to be a pain in the ass when there's a new teacher at daycare, and you have to explain why you and our baby don't have the same last name so they don't think you're trying to kidnap your own child, but they'll get used to it. We'll have a joint checking account, and become so financially immeshed that even if we wanted to break up, years from now, it would take a team of skilled lawyers to sort out the tangled wreckage of what they'll call a "common-law marriage", despite the great lengths we will have gone to avoid such titles. Are we gonna fight? Sure. Ours is a stormy love. But we'll stay together forever, and not because of a piece of paper! Because we choose to stay together! Every day!

Isn't that the most romantic prose you've ever read? So, without the marriage certificate, would old-man Noah have gone to visit old-lady Ali in the long-term care facility every day as her health was failing? I hope so. Is "not needing a piece of paper" really the best reason cohabitating monogamous couples can offer for not marrying? Can they offer a reason that doesn't involve business or finance? I can't answer that, nor can I say whether the life and the relationship shared between two monogamous, cohabitating people is more or less satisfying or meaningful than that of a married couple*, so I asked myself why I think people get married. 

I think that the decision to marry is a sign of optimism. I think it is a bold declaration to the world, that you intend to make a permanent commitment. More than legal, it's formal; it's public. Also, it's pretty sweet and romantic. And for many, it's traditional, and has much to do with the couple's religious upbringing and beliefs.   To those who dismiss the institution of marriage as merely a piece of paper, I'll give them a pass. But those of us who are happy to be married, well, we know better, don't we?

*Blogger's Note: I can say that I've had a front row seat for the break-up of one of these unmarried, cohabitating couples, and it's every bit as messy and painful as a divorce. In fact, in a lot of ways it was worse, because dividing the assets and responsibilities was ambiguous, as there were no divorce proceedings to sort things out. Break-ups are hard for everybody.