I’m married now and one month in, something is happening that I didn’t anticipate: I’m having an identity crisis. AGAIN. This one is precipitated by the fact that we’re buying a new house, since the 1,400 square feet we live in is now too small for us all.
I don’t know what it is about the process of moving that is has me questioning who I am, but it’s set a ball in motion that I can’t seem to get ahead of. At least, not yet. Could it be that I am now sharing my office with a nine-year-old who looks to me for guidance and flexibility?
After all, when C comes to visit, my office doubles as her bedroom. There’s a sofa that opens into a bed and, when it does (usually for the entire weekend she’s with us), the only things moving around freely are C, the dog, and a few dust mites.
If a 118-pound woman like myself (okay, it’s my blog, I can lie if I want to) spends too much time in there, she starts to feel like an elephant in a Port-A-Potty.
And that’s not good.
Suffice it to say, sharing command central with a nine-year-old is about as stressful as sharing a sleeping bag with a rattlesnake.
Yet, this is all through no fault of her own, as she is simply playing to type. With indelible markers and a stack of my copy paper, she uses our special-order bed sheets as her drafting table. And literally dances on my designer pillows when she’s had a little too much chocolate.
I try to ignore it. To smile and talk myself through those moments when I realize I’m no longer in control of my life.
Instead of screaming, I now simply mouth the words “DON’T TOUCH THAT” when C isn’t looking. And when she is, I try hard not to flinch.
Who cares that her steaming mug of hot chocolate is precariously close to my $3,000 laptop? Who needs to access their email? I don’t need to know any time soon if I got that $5,000 project I was after–or if my editor thinks my novel is a set of minor revisions or a total rewrite. I’m not alone anymore. And that’s a good thing.
And, well, if the Pilgrims lived without the Internet, well then, gosh darn it, so can I.
But sometimes, well, I’m only human. And while my house is not a five-star restaurant, a historical landmark, or a museum, I am still fairly preoccupied with keeping it neat. And old habits die hard. I’ve been a solo act for more than four decades. My stage is full of set points. I’m used to what I’m used to: Order, closed up sofas, empty cups, outwardly showing everything – even my frustration.
But that approach just isn’t gonna work anymore, as I learn that beyond the joy of falling in love, gathering family, being a bride, and experiencing the gaiety of no longer having to go it alone, there is a whole new set of transitions to be negotiated. Like how to do with too little aloneness. It’s over-extension versus under-extension. How to share decisions on the structure of life with another person or several; where we live, how to live, what, why, and how often–when all you want to do is take a bath, read More magazine and fall asleep to the news.
The new Jill, the one who is married and full (versus single and hungry), has to balance the benefits of her new life with a whole new genre of compromise. Letting my new family, from top to bottom, be themselves.
To let there be ink on the walls because that’s better than walls without anything.
So we bought a house. It’s in the, gulp, suburbs. A fabulous suburb, but a suburb is a suburb just like jeans that dig into your stomach are jeans that dig into your stomach and the only way to stop the digging is to take them off.
But I’m not taking mine off any time soon. I’ll take the house, in the corner of a cul-de-sac and all. I’m going to shut my mouth and adjust. Make peace with the fact that our new house is in the suburbs. There. I said it again.
This city girl lives just 35 miles north of the skyscrapers on Broad Street. Come off the highway, make a right and a left and a right and a left and after a long series of turns, drive right onto our street and into our development. That’s where my, no our, house is. Yes, they all look the same, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Puppies all look the same too, but they’re not.
And I’m not – we’re not – either.
The other night, I woke up in a sweat, even though I sleep in a tank top and shorts. I look over at Dan, poor guy, in a fleece down to his knees and a pair of sweat pants. And then it dawns on me. I’ve got a problem. I shake him awake.
“What? Are you okay? Where’s Winnie? Is the door open?” He throws his two legs off the side of the bed and puts up his dukes. I notice only one of his eyes is fully open. So cute. Probably can’t even see his way to the bathroom.
“I’ve got a big problem.”
He gets back into bed. “We’re not being robbed?”
“No, baby. It’s worse.”
He rubs my back. “What is it, babe? Tell me.”
There a long silence before I say it: “I have too many pillows.”
I’m talking decorative pillows, the kinds that fill up a sectional. That you have to move before you can sit. In all different shapes, sizes, colors, fabrics, and dimensions. Overpriced and underutilized. These pillows have defined me for all my single life. Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but single women are highly predisposed to having excessive quantities of decorative pillows and cats. Now, I never got the cats (allergic to dander and their sneaky nature). But I got the pillows. And they must always be in just the right place at the right time. In fact, if one falls out of line, I can’t rest until it’s just perfect.
I get a great sense of accomplishment in fixing my pillows–fluffing them, whacking them on all sides so they’re even in perimeter and diameter and what have you. Laying them on another cushion just so. It’s a process I’ve been overseeing for as long as I’ve been paying my own rent. It caps off each and every evening, like a cup of weak decaf or a warm bath.
I stand up, fold any requisite throws, and plump and place the pillows. And, with one person, that’s been a quick and easy task. But with two, sometimes three, four, five, six, seven, and even a dog that doubles as eight (not to mention the soccer ball), well, it’s becoming burdensome.
I realize in my current nocturnal sweat, shivering, that I’ve got to give them up. The pillows. There’s just no way around it. I look at the dog, sleeping on the corner of the bed. How nice for her. Delta sleep. Now I know what it looks like.
In desperate need of something to hold on to, I grab her from the middle and pull her close. She opens her eyes, sneezes, untangles herself from my grip and lies back down in the corner without a bleep.
“That’s it?” Dan asks. “You have too many pillows? That’s why we’re up?”
“How can you be so insensitive?” I can’t believe I married this man. I wipe a little drool from the side of my lips. Thank goodness I have girlfriends.
“I’m not being insensitive, but it’s 3:15 in the morning. Can’t we talk about the pillows when real people wake up?”
“Betcha Diane Sawyer is up.”
He sighs, drags himself out of bed and heads for the bathroom. I shout, “I’VE GOT TO GET RID OF THEM, DON’T I?” The dog starts to bark. She retrieves a bone from the hallway and brings it on the bed with her. I hear her carving away at its sides. “Winnie, not on the bed.” She ignores me.
“GET RID OF WHAT?” he says. I hear the toilet flush. He reappears in the doorway.
“The pillows. They’ve got to go, don’t they?” Winnie pushes the bone off the bed and then looks confused – like she wants it after all. We women are all the same. We just don’t know what we want.
He crawls back in bed and puts his arms around me, whispering in my ear, “Yes.”
“Yes what?” I’m crushed.
“Yes, you can get rid of those pillows.”
But I don’t know how. Where will be my soft place to land? And then he speaks, again, this voice that I pledged my life to.
“But only if you want to, okay? No pressure. Whatever you decide is okay. It’s all okay.” Then he kisses me on the side of my head, lies back down, and rolls over onto his side. The side he sleeps on every night. Facing away from me. But next to me. The backs of his ankles and his butt pressed firmly against mine.
I take a deep breath in and let it out quietly through my nostrils. I roll away from my husband, tingling from his touch. I’m having an identity crisis. Call the paramedics.
See, not so long ago, I was a single woman, sad to have never had the experience of real commitment, to live a life without children. A part-time daughter, sister, aunt and best friend, living far from the people and places that laid the foundation for who I would become over a lifetime.
Now, everything is different. It’s wonderfully different, but still different. And being a wife, stepmother, and full-time member of the family is like wearing skin from the body of another person. Sometimes, it’s a couch with the wrong cushions. Too sleek and super modern, instead of overstuffed and pleasantly worn, ready to hold me like memory foam, in whatever form I happen to be in.
But, as my wonderful husband, my so-right-for-me life partner, says: “It’s okay. It’s all okay.” In time, somebody else’s onion will peel like mine again. It will feel right, perfect, like a glove on a willing hand, layering fresh skin, one on top of the other, in a way that gives new meaning to the phrase, “love handles.”
For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I look forward to having them.