Thursday, July 28, 2016

We Got Lucky

It’s popular now to say “I married my best friend.”

The sage advice from old married couples, the recommendations of people who have experienced divorce, the ambition of young lovers is always “marry your best friend.”

Follow that advice, and you can make some early assumptions that preclude all the rest:
  1. This person genuinely likes you and wants to be around you.
  2. This person is willing to be vulnerable and trust you with their vulnerability.
  3. You can be vulnerable and they can be trusted with yours.
  4. You can cheat on the golf course and they'll still love you.

Best friendness does not, however, make you lucky.

Last week I had some skin cancer removed from my forehead. It was benign, basal cell carcinoma, the result of a childhood spent on the pool deck. The effect, though, was to completely deflate me. Just holding the mirror up to my face with that open, gaping wound, was enough to terrify me.

Bandaged up and healing, medicated and muddling through, I put on a brave face for days. Admittedly there was some binge watching and frozen vegetable face packs but mostly I took it like a champ.

Then Saturday night we all crawled into Hollie’s bed to snuggle like we do sometimes and she raised her head to nuzzle my chin and caught my bandage with a head butt. The pain was excruciating. I made a quiet escape and staggered down the stairs, tears pouring down my face. When Charlie joined me, the vulnerability between us swelled in the room.

Me for my open expression of pain and him for his stunned helplessness.

In fifteen years, we’ve only rarely been in similar circumstances. Our vulnerability usually looks like this:
Partner 1: Oh shit.
Partner 2: What are we going to do?
Partner 1: We'll figure this out.

We’ve been lucky. Really, really lucky. 

So far we haven’t had the kind of medical issue that makes us worry what life will be like without the other. We haven’t had military service to separate us for long periods of time or financial devastation to require liquidation of assets. Our kid is healthy and happy.

We’ve been lucky. So maybe it’s not so hard to survive 15 years with your best friend in pretty much ideal conditions. But marriage is hard. The people who tell you it’s not are the same assholes that say tattoos don’t hurt. Do not trust those people.

Still, when you marry your best friend the hard is different.

It’s hard to remember that this is, in fact, a marriage. As such it requires certain things to maintain it. It requires all the stuff First Corinthians tells us: patience, kindness, no pride, no boasting, no envying. It requires all the stuff financial advisors tell us: a legal will, financial goals, a vision for retirement, a savings plan.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is remembering that there’s work to be done. It’s not all a Wednesday on the golf course. Sometimes it’s going to work on a Saturday when the other is heading out for a Clemson game.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is getting out of the comfortable habits of pajama pants and video games and challenging yourselves and each other to try new things, meet different people, grow your relationship. Maybe go to Five Points.

Marrying your best friend does not guarantee that you can handle crises together, you can weather presidential politics together, you can objectively evaluate Fox News as the Dark Side together, or that you can parent together.

Best friendness does not provide immunity from the shit life throws at you like a monkey in a cage. But it does improve your odds.

Thanks for 15 of the luckiest years on record, Charlie Whitener. Here’s to 15 more. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Be the Neighbor You Wish You Had

Be the change you want to see in the world.
Write the book you want to read.
Build the company you want to work for.
Be the neighborhood you wish you had.

Last time we got together with our neighbors, I told them how I’d been bragging about how awesome they are. We frequently have happy hour on my driveway, cookouts in our adjoining backyards, and cornhole games that get a little too competitive.

Last Friday I was talking about the camaraderie in our neighborhood with a colleague in New York City and she said, “I wish we had that.”

My book club ladies all echo the same sentiment. We all know people who won’t let their kids play outside unsupervised.

Then it occurred to me: I built this.

It started with me sitting outside with Hollie and beckoning my next-door neighbors over whenever they were outside. Then we started inviting people who walked by up on to the driveway for a game. When the kids found a new friend, I walked over to the friend’s house and invited the mom over for wine.

When it was time to go home, the neighbor parents walked over and collected their children and we chatted for a few minutes.

It seems obvious to me now that you would introduce yourself to the people your kid knows but, really, how many people do that? I don’t know any of the moms at the dance studio. Admittedly I haven’t invested in them at all.

But I did invest in my neighbors. I got to know them: which ones are Clemson fans and which ones are Gamecocks, which kid belongs to what adult, where the house is, what they do for a living, if and when they’re home in the afternoon or over the weekend.

Knowing my neighbors keeps my kid safer.

Not safe. She’s safe because she’s been taught how to spot danger, how to stay with others, and how to find help when she needs it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

So Long, Brando

I loved my Miata.

It was little, sporty, quick, and an obvious declaration that it was just me and Charlie against the world. So in 2007 when we found out we were expecting Hollie, the first thing that had to go was the Miata. It was no longer just us.

Most newly-pregnant families will recognize that alien feeling of knowing someone else is going to show up and be around for a while. Those of us who’ve been parents for a while might forget what it felt like to be “expecting.”

It felt miserable.

I put off selling the Miata for four months after we found out. Denial, certainly.

Charlie even sent me pictures of Miatas that came to Discount Tire with baby seats in the front seat. As much as we knew expansion was upon us, the confines of our duality were very hard to break.

Enter Brando. The 2008 Honda CRV had a stubborn under bite look to it. I liked the leather seats, the sunroof, and the gas mileage. I hated the mini-van feel of the arm rests, the windshield, and the tailgate.

Even so, Brando was a good car. 

We called him Marlon Brando as a nod to the underbite and he took Hollie and me over 180,000 miles. Our most recent road trip was to Florida and try as he might, Brando couldn’t get the A/C to work more than 30% of the time.

So it was time. The guy at Carmax said, “This is a good car. Why are you selling?”

I took a long look at Brando — 180,000 miles to Clemson for ball games, to Northern Virginia to visit family, to Florence to see my Nana every week until she died. The Clemson Love sticker with the tiger paw “o” and the orange palmetto tree sticker in the back windshield. The fray on the passenger armrest, the middle console compartment that had been stuffed with crap for so long I hadn’t opened it in years.

Eight years with Brando.

“Call it a mid life crisis,” I said

Monday, May 16, 2016

Love Builds Confidence

For Mother’s Day, Hollie gave me a picture card she’d drawn in school. It said: 

You like to read and write with me, write and read, write and read, write and read. You work every day, work, work, work, work. You watch movies and shows with me, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch. You eat lunch with me on Saturday, eat, eat, eat. I love u!

Beneath it was a picture of two equally-sized people wearing orange, holding books, and standing near a restaurant booth. On the table was a hot dog (hers) and a glass of wine (mine).

My first thought was, “Way to hit that word count, girl!”

My second was, “Hollie really knows me.”

I’ve not been hiding myself from her. She knows I love to read and write. She knows I love to watch movies and Animaniacs. She knows Saturdays are our date days and that during lunch she can have sweet tea and I’ll be drinking wine.

I am who I am.

Being myself with Hollie is how I’m showing her that it’s okay for her to be herself, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Worst Day of Someone Else's Life

The first thought I had when I woke was “Today is going to be the worst day of someone’s life. But it’s not mine.”

We buried a man that day. I knew from the minute I woke that the depth of suffering I would witness would astonish me. I’d truthfully never seen anything like that.

The only funeral I had attended before that was the one for Charlie’s grandmother. It was a modest affair, she was an old woman with few friends and a very small family.

I missed my own grandmother’s funeral. I was in Hawaii.

But here I was, at the service of a man I’d known only by association, a good friend to my father-in-law. Through the service I thought mostly about his daughter who is not much older than me. I thought about losing your father. About losing my own father.

This is the worst day of her life so far, I kept thinking.

I have a friend whose kid has neuroblastoma and my friend writes frequently of the worst days as he experiences them. When they go in for treatments, he knows they’ll be tough and the poor boy will suffer and watching your kid suffer is the worst kind of Hell.