Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Grow old along with me. Pretty please.

I glanced into the mirror as I rinsed my hands last Sunday morning. The face looking back shocked me: dry skin dotted with acne and a sunspot on the cheek, lines and pores more visible than ever; hair speckled with grays but lacking any lightness ("as we get older, unfortunately our hair loses it's luster," says my rainbow-haired 20-something hairdresser); bloodshot eyes sunken behind puffy folds of skin, crows feet wrinkles forming in their corners; a chin that's quickly moving south and a jawline getting rounder, thanks to the 12 (!) pounds of "winter weight" I'm carrying. (But let's be honest: We know this weight's not going on summer vacation.) I don't like much about this picture.

I shlumped back into bed with a big dramatic sigh. "God, I look old. And I'm fat. And my skin is horrendous. I'm hideous."

"You're beautiful to me. Always," he reassured as he pulled me closer.

"How can you tell? Your eyesight is terrible. You're so old you can't even see me."

He rolled over and wrapped his arms around me, radiating warmth against my back, kissed my neck and ran his hand along my arm to rest on my elbow. He whispered, "I promise, you're beautiful. Always. But...," he tweaked my elbow, "your boob used to be much softer."

As I fell into giggles, he kissed me again. Softly, gently, because he knows I'm fragile right at this moment. We adjusted our round bellies so we fit comfortably next to each other on our sides. I relaxed into that moment as I realized this, yes, this is what it means, the reason we are Us, the reason we are really good together even all these years later. His beard is flecked with gray and his eyes have lines around them, too, but he's so much more handsome; there's wisdom in those grays and laughter in those lines. He gets me. But more, we like each other. We laugh. We roll with the tides of life.

When I picked our wedding song, "Grow Old With Me," it seemed sweet and sentimental: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." I was 24, he was 27. We were so young, we thought we were right in the midst of The Best. Yet growing old together seemed romantic, faraway, idealistic. "Grow old along with me, two branches of one tree."

But here we are, 15 years later, and it's happening. We're growing older together, discovering the best really is yet to be. In fact, the best is happening every day whether or not we're paying attention to it. Two healthy growing kids that challenge and surprise us and fill us with joy; one miscarried baby that shattered our spirits but reminded us how much we yearned to be parents again. Four near-death illnesses that have taught us how to be strong for each other, how to ask for help from those who love us. Two parents' deaths, which showed us that life cannot ever be taken for granted. One layoff, four new jobs, each transition proving that there will never be enough money yet somehow we always live comfortably. One major relocation and life reboot: moving to a new city without even knowing what our rental house looked like, facing foreclosure on our empty house with aplomb, knowing whatever happens next, we will handle it. And every day, through every phase, no matter what, when he comes home, this man wraps his arms around me and I melt. That is my favorite moment of each day. All these years later, I still feel a tiny thrill when I hear the key turn in the door and know he's home. I'm whole.

Today is our wedding anniversary. But he is in the hospital, fighting tremendous pain and feeling scared and helpless. I am at home, caring for our vomiting child and harassing our realtor about our big empty house. It's been a shitty week. I probably should feel sorry for myself, but I don't. Instead I'm looking at photos of us and our kids over the last year, grateful for the smiles and the sunshine and all the excitement and newness we've experienced together. Yes, I hate it when he's sick. It's terrifying and frustrating and maddening. But even when he's not in the hospital I fight back fear of losing him every single day; I often wake in the night to make sure he's breathing beside me. I don't really know how many times I can brace myself for his death before it actually kills me instead.

But this is Us. It's part of who We are. No matter how hard the hardest days are, even the regular days are so worth it -- and the great days, like the time we played hooky and spent the day together meandering through Boothbay, or when we took the kids to the National Zoo in a rain storm -- well, the great days knock my socks off. He is my companion and greatest cheerleader. He is the only person I can be completely honest with. He has given me these amazing children, and when I watch him as a father, I am awed by his wisdom and humor and firm yet patient style. Also, he thinks I'm beautiful no matter what.

So. This is Us. Growing older together. In the prime of our lives, hiking along rocks on the edge of the bay one day, calling an ambulance and clinging to hope the next. Newlywed-me had a slight inkling of how hard marriage can be because I watched my parents struggle through better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. In fact, I almost broke up with him after my mother died because I was so afraid of loving someone so much that I would feel pain and fall apart the way my father did without her. Thank God I stuck with him! Can you imagine what I would have missed out on? I joke sometimes that I wish I'd known about his genetic disposition to Bad Health Things before we'd married...but really, what good would that have done? I adore this man and I love the life we've created. I would have missed out on everything.

I did not realize way back in my 20s when we got married and picked that sappy wedding song that growing old together would be my greatest wish every single day. I also didn't realize, when I said those vows, that our worse would make us better, our poorer would make us richer, and our sickness would make us healthier.

Happy anniversary, lovebug. Grow old along with me. Pretty please.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I love-hate my house

Our big, empty house still has not sold. We listed it last July at a price that would allow us to break even; it's now listed almost $50,000 below what we paid for it in 2006. And it will likely sell for even lower than that. I feel physically ill when I think about how much money we have thrown away on this place.

This house has in fact been a major source of stress and anxiety since the moment we signed the papers. When I think about our first winter there -- when I look at photos of my sweet Happy, just 18 months old opening Christmas gifts on the bare tile floor because we couldn't yet afford an area rug -- I taste the sour fear that we wouldn't be able to maintain the place, let alone pay the mortgage every month. It's ironic that now that we're in a better job situation and not even living in the house, we still face major financial hardship because of this building.

The annual first-day-of-school pic
in front of Bachmania
We've been house-poor for almost a decade, never really able to make the improvements we wanted in the 8 years we lived there. We bought the house at the peak of the market, just before the big real estate crash and recession, and the monthly mortgage payment has always been too high, more than we could really afford. I held my breath every time we turned on the heat or a/c: Old house, old systems, and I've been constantly worried something huge would give out and we wouldn't be able to replace or fix it. Miraculously, we've eked it out, even through job loss, an expanding family, and significant changes in income. Just before we moved, we sunk more than $10,000 into the place, replacing the master bathroom the week before and the entire roof the day after we moved out. I haven't even seen what that new roof looks like. Surely it's spectacular, as far are roofs go.

It wasn't really the right house for us from the start, an ugly split-level like all the others around it, lacking character except for the large semi-private yard. It didn't have the right space for large people with growing kids either. The kitchen was too small; the garage served as our pantry. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub that was too short for my long legs. The ceiling in the family room is low enough that if I wore heels, I had to bend my neck slightly at the bottom of the stairs. The master bedroom was just big enough for our bed and dressers, barely room enough for two 6-foot adults. There were cave crickets in the laundry room, for heaven's sake!
I spent many hours reading and
drinking wine on this deck.

Ironically, despite the ill-proportioned rooms, it was too much house for a busy young family. Cleaning inside took hours, and maintaining the yard took entire afternoons in the spring, summer, and fall. Most weekends, by the time the yard work was done, we were too tired to enjoy the yard. And now I'm actually paying someone to do the yard work, which I hate even more because I'm still not enjoying the yard!

Here's the punchline: I miss that poorly laid-out, time-sucking, money-draining house. I miss sitting on the beautiful deck shaded by 60-foot trees in the late afternoon. I miss eating tomatoes from my garden. I miss sending the kids out back to play together on the swing set. I miss working in my little desk in the back corner of the sunroom, watching the family of cardinals in the weeping cherry tree. I miss hearing the high school marching band in the fall; in fact, that was the sound that made us want to buy the house in the first place. I miss each of us having our own space to spread out, Happy drawing in the sunroom, Honey watching football in the family room, Zippy playing by me in the dining room while I cooked on a Sunday afternoon. I miss a fire crackling on Christmas morning or the entire family gathered around the table singing happy birthday. I miss sprawling on the sectional sofa with bowls of popcorn on a Friday night in front of a dumb kids' movie. I miss waking to the hum of the neighbors' lawn mower, or watching the fireflies twinkle in the trees outside our window.

I miss our neighbors, who were always friendly and happy to see us. I miss having a bunch of children for Happy and Zippy to play with whenever they stepped out the front door. I miss walking to the park or library whenever we wanted. I miss the moms at the bus stop each morning and the way my heart would swell when I saw all our kids bound off the bus together in the afternoons. I miss catching up with friends at the swim club on our street or seeing familiar faces in the coffee shop on a Friday morning.

We could cram a lot of people in
for birthday parties.
Stupid house! I'm so mad that I miss you! I never liked your structure, your small rooms, your upkeep, your expense. But you were our home for a long time. In fact, I lived with you longer than any other house in my life. Your belly was where our older son learned how to walk and where I rocked my younger son as a newborn, staring out the front window at the small Japanese maple and basketball hoop in the front yard. Your backyard held countless family cookouts, hosted neighborhood friends for campfire marshmallow roasts, grew delicious vegetables, and served as final resting place for our beloved cat. In your rooms we rode out two hurricanes and two extreme winters. And you always provided space and warmth for our family and friends. You really sucked at being a house, but you were really good as a home.

Being responsible for a big empty house 500 miles away from where I live is wearing me down considerably. I have missed out on a lot of sleep worrying about the house and wondering why it's not been purchased yet. I feel every person who walks through and doesn't make an offer hates it, and I do take that personally. But I understand because I, too, hate this house! I would like nothing more than for an asteroid to land on it.

I know, however, that when the day comes that we actually sign it over to a new family, I will weep.