Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Elephant In The Room. (Or, in the Book Club.)

Someone asked me the other night, during a book club gathering at my house if I had just gotten married.

"Oh. No. I got married 2 years ago, actually." I sheepishly replied. She just smiled and nodded at me, and I realized I had been going on and on about our wedding. Even to the point where I dragged out our 90 pound album to show to a house full of (lovely) ladies I had just met.

So, you know, I wasn't acting like an insane person at all.

The worst part was, my friend Heather did just get married. And this should have been her time to gush over the details and discuss colors and fun moments of the day and share with us all her honeymoon plans. But noooo. I just kept babbling away about MY day like I was freshly plied out of my wedding dress.

I hate women like that.

I was a woman like that.

The next night Brett came home from a business trip, and as he kissed me hello and sat down on the couch to talk about our day, I immediately blurted out: "I really want to hear EVERYTHING about your trip, but I really, really need to also tell you every single detail from book club last night so you can help me decide if I was a crazy person and have no hope whatsoever of making friends here."

"I missed you too." He said.

"Brett. This is important. I think I was a...little unhinged."

"A little?"

"Ok. A lottle."

"Not a word."

"This isn't helping. I'm kind of embarrassed. I did my frantic-everything-has-to-be-perfect-but-then-just-drank-too-much-and-talked-loudly-about-myself routine."

"Ohhh. That's a fun one."

I covered my face with my hands and deflated into him. "Why did you marry me?" I whimpered into his shoulder.

"Well, for starters, you weren't doing that routine. But, you were wearing a hot pink sweatshirt with a cartoon elephant on it that said "Nothing wrong with a little junk in the trunk." At church."

"That was a great sweatshirt."

"It wasn't." He said, kissing my forehead. "But, what I am trying to say is- you can be pretty charming and fun when you aren't trying so hard. I think the move has you feeling insecure, but you shouldn't be. People will like you. And if they don't, well...who cares? When you just relax into yourself, you're unstoppable. And I'm sure no one at the party thought you were a crazy person."

"I interrupted everyone constantly AND showed them our Christmas card from 2 years ago."

"Oh. Well...we don't need friends here anyway."


Before Brett moved from California to Pittsburgh, we were packing up our belongings in our bedroom and I was wearing that hot pink elephant sweatshirt. I was holding a box, and was about to topple over from the weight of it when Brett quickly grabbed the front of my shirt to steady me- ripping it in the process.

I looked down, horrified. "You RIPPED it!" I wailed.

"Oh. No." Came his flat reply as he tried to hide a smirk. "That's too bad. We'll have to throw it away."

"Like hell. This shirt is special! I'll sew it."

"You don't sew. Besides, the thing is really, really old. Can't we just bury it? In some kind of ritual? A good-bye to the past, a hello to a quieter, less pepto-bismol pink future?"

"Brett. I met you in this shirt." I said, patting the elephant lovingly.

"I don't need that shirt to remember that night." He answered softly. "But, we'll cut the elephant out, ok? And maybe put it on a baby blanket someday. And we can tell our daughter that Mommy was wearing the most obnoxious shirt ever. Because Mommy is kind of obnoxious. And colorful, like this shirt. But, that makes her special."

"And there is nothing wrong with a little junk in the trunk." I added somberly.

And Brett rolled his eyes. And carefully cut the elephant out.

I found the elephant the day after book club in a jewelry box I had unpacked a few days before. I laughed when I pulled the hot pink elephant out, and sat down on the floor with it reverently in my hands. It was winking, which I didn't remember, and that made the whole thing more hysterical. This fat, cartoon, garish winking elephant seemed to be exactly what I needed to hold on to in this moment. Like, it was telling me everything was going to be ok. And yes, I was obnoxious. And yes, sometimes not the easiest person to love. But hey. Be kind to yourself. Life is fun. It's not supposed to be so serious all of the time. And- *wink, wink,* lighten up a little.

So, I hope everyone embraces their own elephants. I hope they can cut them out of the cloth of their past and carry that little part around with them forever. I hope you can embrace a tiny part of yourself that you see as a flaw.

Because, it's not a flaw. You are not a flaw.

And there is nothing wrong with a little junk.
In your trunk.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Not your Mom. But, you're pretty cute, kid.

I recently took the 3 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Ohio to help my Mom out with a few things in our family, thrilled that I: 1. Could drop everything and go to her, and 2. Would be cooking for a family that thinks everything I whip up in the kitchen is culinary gold. (Not to say Brett doesn't, but I'm pretty sure the man is tired of my meatloaf.) The interesting thing about my Mother's living situation is that my sister lives right next door. Like, right there. Next door. With her 2 kids and feral cat and new husband and RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO MY MOM. This means daughter/sister time doubles with Auntie time, and there is no real escaping it. Not that I would want to, but living in California-far away for so long left me with this nagging feeling I wasn't really good at any of these demanding roles. I could barely figure out the whole wife thing. Having to equally balance all other parts of me sometimes proved daunting.

But, this trip I was determined to master them all.

I've made no real secret that the idea of children, and having my own, dances around my head from time to time. I no longer accept my friend's proffered babies with panic and unease. Instead, I greedily reach for them, pretending to gobble their feet and wedge my nose into the baby neck fat, and do all of the things I saw other people do before and thought was disgusting and borderline insane. I'm not ready for children, but I want to hold everyone's baby all of the time, and I absently tested out a carriage in a Neiman Marcus before I realized that is was $3,000 and WHY THE HELL WAS I LOOKING/TESTING OUT CARRIAGES? I even murmured to my friend who was with me that the wheel system was "great for long marathon-type runs."

I have never run a marathon, and even MORE IMPORTANTLY I AM NOT PREGNANT NOR CLOSE TO BEING SO.


After wrapping some daughter duties up with my Mom, making a baked macaroni and cheese for dinner that everyone fawned over like it was cooked with shaved truffles, I called my sister and arranged to pick up my 5 year old nephew for some "Auntie and Elias" time. She agreed, and asked if I wanted to take her 2 year old as well.

"Both? Like, at the same time?" I stammered into the phone, as I sat on the porch and looked into her windows like a creeper. "I mean, am I allowed to do that?"

I don't think that exactly won her confidence, so it was just me and Elias the next day, and he met me very formally in front of the house. He looked over my outfit and awkwardly adjusted his glasses.

"You look...really shiny." He offered, reaching up to pat me on the arm. "I like your earrings."

"I like your shirt!" I replied, walking him to my car. "Where would you like to sit? Wait. I should know where you are supposed to sit in a car, but I can't remember. You don't have a car seat. Right?"

He squinted up at me. "I'm 5."

"Well, yeah. I know. But, you can't be in the front. I think."

"Mommy always lets me sit in the front."

"Are you lying?"

He smiled and shrugged. "No?"

"You're going to get me arrested by the end of the day. I think you should sit in the back."

He turned his huge brown eyes on me and pouted. "I just want to be close to you, Auntie. You smell so nice. Please let me be close to you?"

I melted, and at the same time helped him into the front THAT NOW I KNOW IS A DEATH TRAP FOR CHILDREN, SO HOLY CRAP, BUT DID YOU HEAR WHAT HE SAID? He was immensely proud of himself, and kept grinning over at me as we drove the very short, short distance to a local McDonalds.

Now, I hate, hate, hate, McDonalds, but this is not my child, and if he asks for chicken nuggets, he is going to get chicken nuggets and a romp through the very germy play place. And I will play with him there, and half heartedly try to get him to eat the rubbery apples that they now put in Happy Meals, and I will do it all with a frantic and manic glee because I WILL BE THE FUN AUNT. Some of my best memories of my own "dates" with my aunts involved contraband food and my first taste of coffee at 6. So, judge all you want, but you know you would do the same thing.

As Elias played, I nibbled on the remains of his slimy apples and chatted with some parents that gathered around the Flu Station. (a.k.a The neon play structure.) And I noticed something kind of amazing. If you had a kid with you, anyone would talk to you. I was approached by 2 woman and one young father, and they perched at my table and started gushing over my "cute" son, and "how great I looked" to have a kid.

I'm not joking.

I should have corrected them. I should have been offended. (I look 'good' for having a 5 year old?! Thanks?) but I was quite the opposite. I smiled. I preened. I said things in the middle of our parental discussions like, "Don't take your socks off, Eli!" and "Hey! Make good decisions!" As I good naturedly rolled my eyes at the other parents and shrugged in a gesture of "you know how kids are." My creepy role-playing was broken when Elias marched up to me, socks in hand and thrust his little face in mine.

"Are we still on our date Auntie?!" He yelled. "Do I get that transformer toy yet?!"

It suddenly got quiet. And I suddenly yanked Elias' shoes on and suddenly left my brand new parent friends that looked at each other with expressions that can only convey that I probably won't be invited to play time again. I sat in the car, feeling ridiculous and thoroughly embarrassed and wondering why I played along in that weird situation. I went in trying to be the fun, spirited Aunt- but left dragging my unknowing nephew out after I had turned into one of those desperate women that use baby talk and probably own a lot of denim Winnie-The-Pooh shirts.

Elias interrupted my depressing thought stream with an uncontrollable giggle.

"Grayson though you were my mommy." He laughed, shaking his head.

"Who is Grayson?"

"The little girl I was playing with. With the orange shirt."

"That was a boy honey. I think he just likes to wear earrings, which is totally ok if you ever feel like that is something you want to do."

Elias frowned at me. "Isn't that CRAZY?" He asked. "You! My mommy! I told her that you can't be a mommy- because you are an Auntie. I mean. Obviously."

I pulled a piece of chewed up apple from my scarf and reached over to ruffle his hair. "Obviously. Now. Let's see about that transformer toy."

We got the transformer, and we sat in my car for an hour as I struggled with the long instruction sheet and tried turning this cheap piece of plastic into a truck from a robot. Elias watched my every move, and was in awe when I finally presented the mangled and finished toy to him. We then went grocery shopping, and as he was shyly showing the cashier his new toy, she grinned at me. "Your son is adorable!" She gushed.

"Oh, he's my nephew, but thank you! I'm very proud." I answered as Elias stuck his transformer into my bra.

"You two seem very close." She offered, bagging my groceries. I was agreeing when Elias wriggled around to look at me.



While I can't master every role perfectly, I can take it slow and assemble a toy in a car. Or shrug at a confused grocery store cashier as my nephew wails about not wanting to wear earrings as I offer up a lame: "I guess he's not into that look right now," and suppress a giggle. I can bring him home, and kiss him a million times and be grateful for the fact that I am an Aunt and not a mommy yet, obviously.

And then go home and drink a glass of wine with my Mom as I tell her that her daughter is a totally creepy, flawed, and weirdo human being.

But, very very good at transformer assembly.

Those fuckers are hard.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Heart Crazy Women.


In a kind effort to break me out of my shell a bit and thrust me into something "of my own" in unfamiliar Pittsburgh, my husband signed me up for a semester of voice lessons with a former opera singer.

I was pleased initially, but this morning hid under the covers as I watched the dreaded hour-of-singing approach. I tried explaining my new reluctance to Brett. "I just...don't know where the campus is." I moaned.

"Yes you do." He returned.

"Do you think I am a bad singer? What if I am a really, really bad singer?"

He shot me a look of warning. "You know you can sing."

I nodded somberly. "I'm awfully good at drunk karaoke. But, you always tip the D.J's a lot of money, so that makes me question my abilities."

"If you don't want to go, you don't need to go." He reasoned. "But, I think you should. Like any musician you should practice, and I actually think you need to get out of the house for a little while."

I knew he was right. I was dangerously close to stretching my little pity party into a week long blow out. Kegs and all. This pity party was threatening to soon be off the hook, man. 

So. I went.

I dragged my feet the entire walk to campus, and soon found myself in a very cold, white room with nothing in it except a gloriously romantic-looking baby grand piano. I didn't know what to expect. I tried imagining my instructor. I was pretty close to getting up and pretending to play the piano when She walked in.

There was something about her. I don't even know how to describe it. She was a flurry of cowboy boots, a colorful, swirly fabric of a dress that danced around her bare, tan legs- clutching a huge colorful cookie between her teeth, her colorful self just colorfully bouncing off the color-less walls.

So, she was pretty colorful.

I immediately felt that mixture of complete ease and horrified unease. My posture was calm, but my palms were sweating. My face broke out into an automatic smile at her entrance, but my foot tapped nervously and I adjusted my glasses too many times.

She stooped short when she saw me.

"How old are you?" She demanded.


"You look 22." She said, cocking her head to the side, biting into her cookie. "So. You moved here for a man?"

"Well. No. My husband goes to school here, so I...uh. I moved here..."

"Is your husband a man, sweetheart?"

"He is. A man." I mumbled.

She smiled then. Quick and beautiful and I found myself giggling.

"Holy shit. I moved for a man!" I laughed. "That sounds bad. It's not like that."

"It's only bad if you don't do something for yourself too. You work?"

"I do not work at this moment, no."

"You need to. I can see it all over you. You know what I thought about you when I first walked in this door?" She asked, dumping her bag of piano music on the bench and brushing crumbs of cookie off of her jacket. "I thought: this girl. Her glasses. I get her. She needs to be doing something spectacular, and she is going to fade in this city if she doesn't get on it soon."


She looked at me impatiently. "Have you seen your glasses? Have you looked around this town? You know what your glasses tell me? You don't give a shi- uh- crap about being cookie cutter 'perfect.'. Sure- a million hipsters have those glasses. You're no hipster, don't get me wrong- but you are an artist. You are a non-working artist. I can see it all over your body. And, the worst part is I think you have given up on yourself a little bit, but you are not beyond saving."

I sat there, opening and closing my mouth and trying not to stress-sweat. Who was this woman? Where had she been my whole life?

"We're not going to sing today." She said, closing the piano. "You need to talk. I need to listen. We'll do that today. I'll unlock your inner artist. But, for today, I want to talk to you. So- where were you born?"

"Concord, New Hampshire." I whispered. And we were off.


One time Brett and I were laughing over a story I was elaborately acting out about my day, and he stopped me, his eyes glittering. "The craziest stuff happens to you." He said. "I've never known anyone where stuff...just happens to them, falls in their lap, all of the time. It's amazing."

I brushed it off then, but I am sitting down now at our table and thinking about it. Last night I cried into my dinner about how my life wasn't making sense. How I moved here and felt like my drive and my dreams were all dropping away and it was my fault. Brett's loving answer to my pathetic little pity party was the gift of voice lessons.

He was trying to give me back my voice. (Not that I ever truly lost it. I mean, let's be real here. Expressing myself is not usually a...problem. To a fault.) But, here I was in this cold little room with a woman I trusted implicitly who seemed to love learning every inch of the miles that brought me here. This stranger believed in me, and saw something that I had stopped looking for in myself. What a crazy thing to happen.

She walked me out after my "singing" time was through, and we lingered in the doorway like new lovers. "I'm giving you 4 days to get a job."

"4?!" I returned, laughing. "Listen. You obviously don't know me as much as I thought you did. Maybe we need another "voice" lesson."

She smiled. "There you go! I like it! Ok. A week. That's it, New Hampshire. You got this."

"Ok. A week. And I'll see YOU next week. Same time?"

"Same time." She answered, and then stopped me as I walked out the door. "I don't want you to find a job because I think you are lazy. I want you to really start in the arts- your passion- because I know your very soul depends on it. I don't want you to look back on your life in 15 years and be unhappy. I don't want you to give up. I think you are about to, and I cannot let that happen. Got me?"

"I've got you."

"And New Hampshire? Next week we sing. We sing the shit out of something. You're ready."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dating While Married: 101

The other day, as I sat in the kitchen excitedly telling Brett about a party I was planning once our house was settled and not a war zone, I started reciting the guest list before I stopped mid-count, crestfallen.

"Oh no." I said.

"Oh no what?" He dryly responded without looking up from his paper. "Oh no this is going to be expensive?"

"Oh no- we have no friends." I shot back.

"We have friends, Melissa."

"Ok. List them."

Brett leaned back and started rattling off 3 couples we knew in Pittsburgh. And then he faltered.

"See? 3 couples. Which is great. I love them a lot. But, we basically know 6 people in Pittsburgh. 6."

"If you include us, it will be a party of 8." He wisely returned. "And everyone knows that parties of 8 are the best kind of parties. And besides? Why are you so concerned with numbers? Is this a popularity contest?"

"Well, if it is, we're losing." I grumbled.

"Oh my God."

"No, it's not that. Its- ok. Think about how exhausting I can be, right? And we have 3 sets of friends- which means they will be in heavy rotation. And will have to deal with us, ok, me- 1/3 of the time. Which could be pretty frequent once the holiday season ramps up. And we want to keep these friends, right? So- wouldn't we be a much more desirable social option for them if they only had us in small shifts? Or our presence was diluted with the addition of a lot of other people around us? At our upcoming party?"

"Again. Oh. My. God."

"It's basic mathematics. And science. And"-

"Craziness." He cut in.



When we lived together in California, we had a vibrant and colorful social circle of very dear friends. We all attended endless dinner parties, concerts, birthday celebrations, work celebrations, and one or two 3am dance parties in our living room together. A lot of these friends were couples- which can be a great thing to have as you all traverse the sometimes confusing and unfamiliar terrain of marriage. One by one these couples moved away- and we were left behind. When we moved too, we had to start all over again. And it was like dating. Couple dating.

We'd dress for these "dates" and frantically adjust one another's clothing with frantic assessments. "That dress is a little low for a first dinner, no?" Brett would ask.

"Oh God. I didn't think of that. You're right. I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression. Glasses or no glasses?"

"Definitely glasses. Do you like this shirt?"

"It's purple."

"I know. You're right-too much. Blue?"

"Better. But, unbutton the top. You don't want to appear uptight."

"Ok. So, let's go easy on the wine tonight. I'll drive, but we don't want to seem sloppy."

"Ok. But, I LOVED that one couple that got super drunk. It was hilarious."

"We're thinking long term, though. Let's be ourselves- but the best part of ourselves."

"Like, the fancy part?"


While this conversation isn't word-for-word accurate- it is pretty damn close. And we'll navigate through the date much like you would a first romantic date. We'll ask questions about family, education, background, hobbies. I'll always throw in questions about kids after my second glass of wine, and we'll gossip in the car after on the way home- trading notes.

Sometimes the husbands will hit it off while the wife will eye me warily through the entire dinner. Which only makes me drink more and try harder, and that never ends well. Sometimes I will become best friends 4-EVA with the wife and the husbands will awkwardly talk about sports with little enthusiasm. And sometimes- sometimes- we hit it off so well with BOTH parties, we cannot contain our excitement.

And then the nervous oh-my-God-how-can-we-make-them-like-us-forever panic sets in. At least for me. Brett is decidedly more chill about these social arrangements.

There was a time recently where we hit the couple jackpot. During our summer in Ohio, we met this amazing couple: Natalie and Scott. Natalie and I HIT IT OFF and I fell in love with her instantly. We were at an orientation for the company our husbands worked for, and as we chatted happily over dinner, I noticed Brett and Scott hitting it off as well. I was beyond excited and later that night bounced on our hotel bed as I recited everything I really like about the two of them.

"She's pretty and funny and smart and Scott is funny and smart and Natalie laughed at all my jokes and didn't look at me weird when I ordered a second drink-"

"They are great, Melissa. But you didn't exactly let Natalie talk all that much."

"But, she did! She was laughing! A lot! That is very much like talking."

"She was laughing because you launched into your nervous stand up comedian routine."

"You're no fun. I only told a few jokes."

"You told every joke you know- but they are funny. Let's email them tomorrow. Too soon?"

"I already got her number and have texted her 3 times, so..."

"Oh God."

I have no doubt that Brett and I will "date" successfully in Pittsburgh. After all, we have met 3 couples that seem to like us both, and we'll do everything to continue to make those commitments work. Maybe I'll go out and buy them all flowers. Maybe I'll send a "I'm thinking of youuuuu!" text.

Maybe that is entirely weird.

While the only person I really need is my husband- sometimes it is nice to sit with another couple, Linger and laugh over dinner, trading stories and dreams and hopes for the future.

And have a 3am dance party in your living room. You know, to keep things spicy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How To Be A Wife: Anniversary Edition.

I'm a gal who loves a good party, but for some reason prefer anniversaries to be pretty low-key affairs. I think this boggles the mind of my dear husband, since I insist on celebrating every holiday from Saint Patricks Day to Hanukkah...and I'm not Jewish. We also celebrate made-up holidays- or "anything-I-feel-like-celebrating-if-I-need-to-spice-things-up-or-am-particularly-bored-days." It is normal for Brett to come thorough the door to find our walls covered in random decorations, cheap champagne chilling, and a chocolate in the shape of a fish. Or a note from me telling him to meet me out for Thai food for "Thai Day"where I gift him with a few awesome children's books. There is no rhyme or reason to these celebrations, which makes it even more fun.

So, today is our 2 year Anniversary. And we will cook dinner at home, drink a good bottle of wine, and exchange simple gifts. And then probably assemble some furniture we bought at Ikea yesterday. You know, if we are feeling particularly crazy.

This sounds perfect to me, especially because I informed him that we are celebrating the holiday of "Anniversary-Dessert-Edition" in a week where we exchange the "cotton" 2 year gift and eat cake. Mainly because it is too hot to eat cake tonight, and I need to eat cake on a holiday. Obviously.

It says a lot about Brett that he didn't even bat an eye at my request. Or, demand.

Anyway, this year has been the hardest one we have had in our 6 year run together. We're basically newlyweds at this point- learning to live with each other and accept one another. We sometimes get shy, we sometimes get ridiculously angry, but we always laugh and he is my best friend. I know that phrase in married relationships is often overused, but NO REALLY GUYS, HE IS. He is seriously the only person that has put up with me on a semi-consistant basis for 6. Years. He takes a lot of crap, he sticks up for me when I'm blatantly wrong, and he conjures up a healthy interest in my celebrity obsession, my rants about the very common abuse of the arts, and my disdain for scrambled eggs. When people tipsily grip his arm at cocktail parties and say " OH MY GOD...your wife is so funnnnnnny!!!!!" He just nods politely, sips his drink and probably thinks, "Cool. Glad you think that. Spend a weekend listening to her tell that same story 949874 times and then we'll talk. Ok buddy?"

No. He wouldn't really think that. Brett has never used the word "buddy."

He's a trooper. And he's very good at the board game Battleship. This should be said.

When I was ten years old, our teacher asked us what super power we would want to have if we could choose. My answer was immediate. "I'd wish that God could tell me who I was going to marry."

I attended a private christian school, so it wasn't a shock I mixed God into the "super-power" territory, but my teacher was confused nonetheless.

"Well, that is not exactly a super power, right?" She ventured. "I mean, you could just pray that God would direct you to the man that was intended for you."

"Oh no." I wisely returned. "I'd want a specific answer right away, so I was hoping the super power part would be that I had this hologram tablet-thing that let me know everything I needed to know. Right away. And maybe give me a picture of him and his favorite foods and stuff." (sorry techie-internet-people- I'm pretty sure this is me inventing the ipad and the internet all in one go, so you know...sorry I beat you to it. And anyone that corrects me and says "the internet was actually around during this time." IT WASN'T REALLY BECAUSE WE STILL USED ENCYCLOPEDIAS TO WRITE ESSAYS AND COMPUTERS WERE THE SIZE OF MINI COOPERS. SO BACK OFF.)

The real reason behind my desire for this power-that-isn't-really-a-power was the fact that I DESPERATELY wanted to marry Joey Lawrence, and I was interested to see what God on my hologram tablet had to say about that. I didn't want the mystery of adult dating-(which I still thought was sharing ice cream cones, (ew.) Followed by a swift and chaste proposal. And hopefully sparkling apple juice because that was the bomb and made me feel ridiculously fancy.) I just wanted answers. I wanted them right then and there and at my fingertips AND with a wax stamp of approval from the All Mighty.

Wouldn't life be great if it worked like that?

Well, I didn't marry Joey Lawrence. He was heartbroken, but I was all: "Dude, chill. You will have a full life of mediocre sitcoms and a stint on 'Dancing With The Stars' and still be, you know, handsome. And bald. Oh yeah. Sorry. You'll be bald. BUT YOU'LL HAVE ABS!"

And thankfully he moved on...because I found Brett.

Brett who loves to dance with me and sings the lyrics of the song in my ear. Brett who cuts fruit for me in the morning and cooks elaborate dinners for me at night. Brett who listens to me talk about scrambled eggs for 3 hours, patiently and with interest, and then will tell his own story about duck hunting for 3 hours.

And I'll listen patiently too. And not think of Joey Lawrence AT ALL.

Because I married the real star.