Paul started a new job in a different city just about two months ago. We’ve seen each other a bit since then, but it’s mostly been like visitation. It’s really hard to try and hold on to normalcy with your spouse when you only see them sporadically, and then it’s often in the confines of some very specific arrangement to utilize as much time as possible so it becomes task-oriented. Add to that the fact that he’s while he’s working he is staying with his parents and elementary aged sister, and well, visitation is sure to leave me wanting for time alone, just the two of us, on our own couch, cooking our own meals, and sleeping in our own bed in our own 68° house while our cat meows incessantly and our dog snuggles a little too close for comfort.
And while I’m on that note. Let’s just get down to some really serious business. We have awesome families. Both of us. But our families are very different. And any normal married person can commiserate and will also tell any unmarried person this: learning to merge what your bring into your marriage from your upbringings and family dynamics is hard. I am a bit rough around the edges regarding all of this. It’s hard for me to talk about because, well, between me being quiet a lot of times in unfamiliar environments and my incredibly pronounced, albeit perfectly arched, eyebrows, I apparently (and have always) come off as a bitch a lot more often than I’d like. Well, and of course, sometimes I probably am. But not as much as the eyebrows just make me look like I am. Let’s stick with the eyebrow theory, shall we? I digress. It is challenging for me to talk about how our families are different without coming across as a bitch. So let’s just get that out of the way, and march on.
I come from a family where my parents were a bit older when they had me (sorry mom and dad! You can’t keep telling everyone you’re both 39 forever! Wink wink!) I had one brother at home with me who is two years older than me. We all loved each other, sometimes wanted to kill each other, and somehow all lived to tell that through good times and bad, life has always been pretty great. I’m not sure if my parents being a little older also dictated a bit of what our house was like, or if it was their own upbringing. My dad grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens and I like to think that looking around was sort of like being in an episode of Mad Men. Not that I’ve ever watched Mad Men, but the era is close. I’ll be nice and not name years. He lived with his mom, his brother, and various other family members living in the same building. My grandmother, Margaret, was a bad ass (good Catholic woman) who worked for Bulova watch company all while raising two boys. Margaret and her dear sweet brother John and other family made up some weird little net of family to help raise the intelligent, peculiar and hilarious man that is my father. He and his brother haven’t lived anywhere near each other for pretty much their entire adult lives, but I’ll tell you, what little time I’ve spent around Uncle M, they’re like long lost separated peas in a pod. They’re both weirdos in a way that I’m sure only true New Yorkers can be. No, they’re not being rude to strangers, that’s just the way they talk. Yes, they both sometimes drive like Mario Andretti stuck in a game of Frogger, all while eating corned beef and smiling wicked grins that suddenly make them look alike. And though dad’s been out of NYC for many years, he still sounds like a Yankee when he says words like “coffee” or “car”. It’s one of my favorite little quirks.
My mom grew up about a decade later than my dad (hey there, cradle robber!) in the tiniest rural town in southern Indiana. Unlike my dad, she has absolutely no accent whatsoever. It’s funny too, because it’s not like her whole family has no accent. Mostly it’s just her. They mostly sound like Hoosiers. She grew up with two ornery brothers (okay, actually one of them was probably good as gold ahem, Rick…and one of them was probably a hellion… ahem, Robert!). They lived out in the country in a white farmhouse where my grandma had the perfect peonies growing at the arch of their driveway. My grandma, Esther, called them “pie-nees” Em? “pine-ease” ? You get the drift. Esther worked at their little tiny high school in the cafeteria, back when that job meant you were an awesome cook and they were whipping up biscuits from scratch or fried chicken or some other delicious thing schools probably aren’t allowed to serve now. Before her life as a momma of three, she was, as I’ve heard many times, the well coiffed young woman who always wore her high heels to the market. My grandpa worked as an engineer and spent a lot of time on jobs like building bridges. My mom was the baby of the house by a good few years, probably drove her brothers nuts just like me, and wore lace high collared dressed for every year she was in homecoming court for the basketball team. And she liked the Doors. She has always called them “doper music” hahaha! We won’t tell her year either, okay?
All this to say that my parents obviously grew up very different from one another. My dad was a city slicker, my mom comes from an area, that like most things “all American”, I simply refer to as Apple Pie. (My husband, I tease that he comes from Apple Pie. He also comes from a long line of Hoosiers.) Somewhere along the line these two people met up at a big hospital where my dad was rocking a gray Kenny Rogers beard in his residency, my mom was a cute blonde nurse, and well, I suppose they fell in love. Surely with those two backgrounds there have been many a struggle merging what their lives had been like in their formative years. Husband and I have only been married coming up on three years now, so it’s fair to say we’re still figuring out what the hell we’re doing most of the time. And with no prejudice toward one of us or the other, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of things can be traced back to our homes.
Now, before you get to making assumptions about our childhoods, good or bad, let me say this: it’s not about good or bad, it’s about differences. My all-the-time family was just my immediate family, as our extended family was hours away in Indiana, or a far away in New York. That was normal. It was just me, my brother and my parents. We had Christmastime visits with extended family, and lots of extra trips back and forth to see grandparents.
Paul’s family lived, depending on the year, I suppose, nearly all within an afternoon trip to visit one another. And they visited frequently. Now, Paul spent a lot of his childhood living on base, so that’s another chapter all together, but as an adolescent there was a LOT of time spent gathered out at his grandparents house surrounded by uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles, their kids, the people they married, heck… people that if you quizzed me I’d still probably mess up writing out the family tree. Point is, there were a lot of them. And they spent a lot of time together. Up until Paul’s grandfather sadly passed away not all too long ago, you could find a throng of them piled into his grandparents house up on the hillside on any Apple Pie holiday. I remember the first time I was there for the Labor Day family reunion. It was so strange to me. There were 42 different potlucked dishes spread out across the kitchen while kids and adults alike played softball in the backyard, surely followed by s’mores over a fire and a hike in the woods. Y’all. That is Apple Pie. And that was what he was used to. Now here’s where I get to share my feelings and we won’t think that I’m bitchy, right? It scared the crap out of me. “Would you like to come outside and throw a game of cornhole?” Um… No? Thankyouverymuch? What’s funny is Paul’s brother quickly brought along his then girlfriend (now wife), and we have both successfully attended many family reunions since then without so much as once picking up and throwing a cornhole bag. Can I get an Amen!? And I don’t think either of us have been disowned by the family, so that’s good. I’m pretty sure that all of his family have started to figure out as the years have gone by that sweet Apple Pie Paul married a quirky, sarcastic, artistic, liberal-leaning girl who doesn’t like group activities.
So here we are after seven years together, and quickly approaching our third anniversary, and I still look at the two of us sometimes and am thoroughly amused and frustrated when it comes to figuring out what normal home life looks like. We have carved out our own life and existence together that most often is pretty spectacular. I sicken even myself when I say that he really is my best friend. That I really do wish I could spend all day everyday together. But right now we can’t. We are both suspended in this peculiar limbo where our parents are swirling around us and we have no real home base to share and it’s hard. It’s hard to feel overwhelmed by family that you love. It’s hard to not want to see anyone right now because I just want my ‘normal’ with my husband and if I can’t have that then I’m not really interested. It’s hard to feel like driving to visit each other “isn’t worth” the time or money spent doing it. And that when you do, you suddenly feel like teenagers again, being invited down to the dinner table of your family’s home.
I don’t know that I will ever get my Apple Pie badge. I might always completely enjoy yet simultaneously feel overwhelmed when we’re spending time with our families. Who’s house we visit on Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day will probably always be an argument. We will always have Thanksgiving food on Thanksgiving with his family, and my family might make enchiladas. I look forward to raising our own kids and taking them to visit their grandparents and to experience all the weird and wonderful of our families. But mostly I look forward to finding a balance in our own house with just ourselves. I’m not sure when we’ll get to pick back up and continue our walk down that path but God willing our house sells quickly and we will transition smoothly into whatever comes next. I’m craving the next chapter and hopeful it’s a good one.