Category Archives: Marriage

Who deserves a vacation?

Of all the titles I thought I’d have throughout my life, Illicit Vacationer was never one of them. And yet, here I am, with my Instagram feed defiantly full of photos of me and my family cavorting on a beach in Maine.

In my defense, I didn’t read Michelle Singletary’s piece in the Washington Post titled “If you’re in debt, you don’t deserve a summer vacation” until after I got back. So, you can imagine my surprise that I somehow managed to get away with sneaking off to the shore without my student loans grabbing me by the ear and hauling me back home while they lectured to me about financial irresponsibility.

If you haven’t read the article, it’s all right there in the headline. But it’s the “deserve” that got me the most. Interesting word choice, considering that the vast majority of Americans are in debt. Luckily, she clarifies what she means by “debt” with the definitely not condescending sentence “I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t deserve a summer vacation if you’re a hot financial mess.”

Ah. Thanks, Michelle. Hot financial mess. Got it. So…everyone then?

But perhaps my favorite bit was when she goes on to say you don’t deserve a vacation even if you saved up for it. Because we should all be using that money to pay down our debt. Because, honestly, how long is it going to take you to become completely debt-free? What, 30, 40, years? You can vacation in your 80’s.

In HER defense, though, she does graciously offer a solution to us mere commoners, us plebs who frivolously spent our stagnant wages on unaffordable higher education, child care, housing, working vehicles and medical procedures. That solution being, of course, the luxurious and also definitely not condescending concept of the “staycation.” Because everyone knows how relaxing it is to hang out in your filthy house that you hang out in every other day of your life. But, as she so kindly reminds us, don’t spend your valuable time off cleaning and attacking that mile-long to-do list. You’re on vacation, afterall. Act like it. Just step around the piles of laundry and dog vomit.

But enough of Michelle’s Very Helpful Tips for the Working Poor. Let me tell you who I think “deserves” a vacation.

Everyone.

Everyone deserves a vacation. Full stop. Everyone is stressed out. Everyone is busy to the point of exhaustion. Everyone is struggling, in some way or another.

I’m sure even rich people get stressed out from time to time. I don’t know, maybe their third Porsche didn’t start today and now they have to have their butler take it to the mechanic and it’s become like a whole thing. I get it, man. It’s rough.

Which is why we all deserve a break.

Do you know what’s so amazing about vacations? It’s somewhere away. Away from home. Away from your problems. Away from the world’s problems. Just for a bit. Just long enough to breathe and take in a lungful of life.

Because by being away, you get perspective. Say, perspective about how you were not put on this Earth merely to work hard and pay your bills.

And you don’t need a big fancy vacation for this perspective. All travel changes you for the better. We only went an hour and half away. In the off-season. For only five days. Because that’s what we could afford. Most of the time it was 55 degrees and rainy.

But it was heaven. Because it was away. Because it was the four of us, laughing and exploring and eating absolutely nothing of nutritional value and remembering that in the grand scheme of things, all the rest of it is just the small stuff. Life is big and should be treated as such.

Because do you know who deserves a vacation the most, in my opinion? My children. They deserve to run around on beach when they’re young enough to scream in delight and slight terror every time a wave touches their foot. They deserve carefree days full of sandy kisses and sticky hugs that leave their lollipops hopelessly tangled in their mother’s hair. They deserve the pure joy that can only come from hopping in the car and setting off for destinations unknown with happy parents.

Debt will always be there. Even if I finally do pay off all my current debt, my car is 14-years-old. We’ll need a new one soon. At some point, someone will break a leg, or get really sick, or need surgery. Eventually, we’d like to own a house instead of renting. Someday my kids will likely go to college. There will always be more debt.

But you know what there won’t always be more of? Time. This time, right now. Where my kids are young and my husband and I are less young but still young enough to chase them through the streets of a charming seaside town with delight.

I can guarantee you that when all of us are on our deathbeds, we won’t be thinking “man, I’m so happy I got all that debt paid off, what a life well-lived.” We’ll be thinking instead about how we sat and watched the waves on a freezing beach that one day in May. And then we came back to our little oceanfront cottage and made s’mores by the fire, with a peace settling upon us that was interrupted only by spontaneous hugs that left fragments of sticky marshmallow hopelessly tangled in my hair.

So, take that vacation, my friends.

You can’t afford not to.

 

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The weird things that excite you as a mom

I stood there in front of the refrigerator, the cool air wafting past my body like a million tiny kisses from the grocery store angel. I stood there and just stared. For how long, I have no idea. My brain was too busy taking inventory to notice something as trivial as time. Somewhere, way in the back of said brain, I realized I was doing the exact same thing I yell at my kids for doing. But I didn’t care. Rules are made (by me) to be broken (by me).

Besides, I was downright giddy by this point. There are weird things that excite you once you become a mom. That brief 45 seconds where all the laundry is done. Educational toys that promise to make your kid a STEM superstar. Drinking wine based on your favorite TV shows while watching those TV shows.

All great things, truly. But for me, there is nothing that can top the weird excitement I feel in the days leading up to a vacation when I am confronted with the task of getting all the perishable food in my kitchen consumed before we leave. And as I stood there in front of the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice how full it was. Only four days left to go and there were ingredients and leftovers enough for at least a good week. I should have been embarrassed by how exhilarated I was about this. How electrified I was by the challenge.

But I wasn’t.

This was my culinary Olympics.

There are rules, of course. You can’t just throw the food away, for one. You’re a mom, after all. It must be consumed. Or, as in my case since I have small children, prepared and placed in front of my family where it is ignored and stubbornly not consumed. And THEN, after an acceptable amount of ignoring time, it can be thrown out. The goal is always to let as little food as possible go to waste.  

As you can imagine, this leads to some rather creative meals in the days leading up to vacation.

“Mom, what is this?”

“Chicken nugget spaghetti”

“And this?”

“Scrambled eggs mixed with overripe avocado.”

“And for dessert?”

“Mashed potato pie.”

“It looks like it’s just leftover mashed potatoes.”

“It is.”

Another rule is that you will not be going to the store. For anything. You can’t subtract by adding. Which means that some things will have to be rationed.

“Momma, can I have some milk?”

“Everyone gets a thimbleful of milk every three hours.”

“But Momma…”

“I measured it perfectly! There will be no deviating from the plan. There’s water if you’re thirsty.”

“Well, can I at least have a snack?”

“Of course. Here, eat this about-to-be-expired sour cream.”

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Some people, and by some people I mean my husband, think I take this all a bit far. But he’s wrong. Which is why we end up having conversations like this:

“Ryan, did you just heat something up from the freezer?”

“Yeah. I was really craving a…”

*knocking microwave burrito out of his hand* “Do you think this is a game? Was I not clear before? Do you need to see the PowerPoint slides again?”

“Oh God, please no.”

“NO CANNED OR FROZEN FOOD FROM HERE ON OUT.”

“Honey, don’t you think you’re taking this all a bit too serio…”

“THAT FRIDGE WILL BE EMPTY.”

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And lastly, if anything is left, guess what everyone is eating in the car on the way to our destination? I don’t care that it’s a bag of wilted salad and slightly wrinkled grapes and questionably smelling hummus from the far, far back right corner. Eat it. Momma is on a mission and I will not let ANYONE’S fickle eating habits ruin it.

You can eat whatever you want on vacation. You can waste whatever food you want on vacation. There are no rules on vacation. Let complete chaos REIGN on vacation.

But before vacation, I am running this joint like a gastronomic gulag. And you will eat those stale marshmallows and leftover lasagna for breakfast. And you’ll like it.

And all because, and I say this in my most haughty evil dictator voice, it amuses me.

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What? Me? Jealous? No. Pffft.

Guys, I hate to be THAT wife, but I need to brag about my husband for a little bit. He just added the title of “children’s book illustrator” to his already impressive resume. A title he managed to squeeze in while working at his regular demanding journalism job and coming home to his regular demanding wife and kids who are always up in his face the second he walks through the door.

I am so proud of him. This is a guy who literally worked his way up from paperboy to now whatever his current fancy title is at the Boston Globe (a fancy title, mind you, that I definitely know but just don’t feel like typing out right now).

And he’s not just a hard worker, although he is that. He’s also genuinely talented. Which is probably why he’s succeeding both professionally and creatively. Which is great. It really is. He’s amazing and deserves everything he’s accomplished. He has really lived up to his potential, unlike some people he’s married to.

Ha! Ha!

What? No, I’m just kidding. I never had much potential in the first place. Ha! Again. Oh, we have fun here at this old blog of mine. A blog that no one reads and never goes viral. Good thing I have a successful man to stand behind.

Oh, what’s that? No, YOU sound slightly jealous.

Besides, what good would it do if I was jealous? We’re a team, me and him. Him and me. I also reap what he sows. Especially now that we have kids. Every success he has means we can pay the bills and not be homeless and get as many toppings as we want on our Friday night pizza. Including FRESH basil.

More importantly, I love him and want him to achieve all his dreams. So what if the highlight of his week is a cool book signing event and mine is working out a lose/lose situation with my youngest child where if she’ll just SIT on the potty for two minutes she still gets M&M’s even if she doesn’t actually pee or poop.

So no, I hate to disappoint you, but that feeling I’m currently stuffing way way way down deep is definitely not a twinge of jealousy. I fully understand why my own creative endeavours have to take a backseat right now while I take care of our young brood.

Although, if I’m being truly, albeit reluctantly, honest, my husband is also really conscientious about taking over the child care duties whenever possible to give me time to work on writing career.

Yeah. Yeah, I know. Wow, he really IS great.

What? No. That wasn’t sarcasm. Hey, I’m a lucky, lucky woman and I realize it.

It’s just, I mean, at some point isn’t him being so generous and fair just rubbing it in my face that I too have dreams I want to accomplish and he fully supports them? Like, where does this guy get off?

You know what he did last week? Deep cleaned the kitchen  Like, got all the stains off the stovetop that I had just accepted as a permanent part of the decor. The insensitive jerk.

Oh, that sounds a bit harsh, does it? Well, what else do you call doing all the chores around the house so I can spend the weekends working? The nerve of him. It’s like he is taking away all the plausible excuses I could use for why I still haven’t finished that first draft of my “novel” like I promised myself. Or the six children’s books I started writing and stopped because apparently plot is an important part of a story. Basically he’s leaving me no choice but to accept the fact that I’m the one responsible for whether or not I’m successful at my own career.

Total bastard, right?

Look, all I’m saying is that he works incredibly hard so that I can stay home and raise the kids, which I wanted to do and which I love doing, while also giving me time to work on my writing projects, which I also love, and thus making it almost impossible to blame him for anything. I mean, what the hell? How dare he.

AND, speaking of how dare he, how dare he also prove that hard work pays off. I’m a writer. Most writers don’t actually want to write. Writing is hard. We just want to BE writers, sitting around in coffee shops and bars and daydreaming about the day the book we never actually sat down and wrote gets magically published.

Oh, but here comes old Mr. Sit Down And Do It proving without a doubt that doing something is the only way to get anything done.

Sigh. I guess the only thing I have left is to actually work hard, now that he has cruelly taken all my excuses away.

I just hope I can forgive him some day for being such a wonderful and supportive partner.

 

A (rented) room of one’s own

They looked bigger in the pictures online. The rooms. My compliments to the photographer.

The pictures also managed to somehow downplay the whole floral aspect of the room. Which is quite the accomplishment as well. Did you ever sleep over at your grandma’s house in the 1980’s? It looked just like that. Complete with the four-poster bed and the beige, eternally out-of-date, carpet. And, of course, the floral wallpaper. The floral curtains. The chair in the corner covered in clashing floral upholstery.

I didn’t even know flowers had it in them to be so aggressive.  

But this room, it’s mine. For two nights at least.

My husband kicked me out of the house. The beautiful bastard. He had silently watched for months as the daily grind wore away at me, chipping relentlessly at those parts of me that were buried underneath the gargantuan title of MOM.

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He watched and watched and then said enough. Take three days. Go somewhere. Just you.

There were a thousand reasons not to go. Seven hundred of them, at least, being things that had to be done IMMEDIATELY. He let me spout off a mere handful of these reasons before interrupting me with perhaps the two most beautiful sentences ever uttered in the English language: “I don’t care. You’re going.”

As I type this I have a Harry Potter marathon on the supernaturally tiny TV they provided. I’m reclining on a ridiculously comfortable bed (with floral bedsheets) surrounded by books and graphic novels and back issues of magazines and newspapers that I wouldn’t be able to finish even if I had three months.

I keep waiting for an interruption. For a knock at the door. For a feral howl of my name to reach my ears. For…anything.

It never comes.

I’m so happy.

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Remember your room from childhood? From when you were a teenager? How it was your sanctuary? The place you could dream in, wonder and plan who you would become. It was perhaps the only place where all the possibilities and all your potential was allowed out in the open.

It has been a very long time since I had that feeling.

“What are you going to do?” my friends asked me when they heard I was temporarily running away from home.

Nothing.

Nothing?

Nothing.

Or perhaps everything.

I don’t know and it’s delicious.

In the end, I do things. And then I don’t do things. And then I think about doing more things but just lay in my beautiful but possibly haunted rented Victorian bed for a bit longer because sometimes just thinking about doing things is better than actually doing them. I keep checking the time. An old habit from my old life, with kids. It’s going slow, the minutes and hours crawling forward, in no hurry to get anywhere. I briefly debate stealing this precious clock.

And then, perhaps the most magical thing of all happens. I start to miss them. My family.

It has been a very long time since I’ve had that feeling.

It’s lovely.

And, I now realize, vital.

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I don’t know how I can ever repay my husband for this gift, for these three days he gave me to remember who I was, who I still am, underneath all the MOM. And to remember all the reasons I decided to take that title in the first place.

But should he ever feel the need to run away from home, I know a place.

 

Because who doesn’t want aluminum for a gift?

Well, well, well. I never thought it’d come but here it finally is. At the end of this month, my husband and I will be celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary!

…yay…!…?

Yeah. I know. Not that exciting.

I mean, ten years, yeah, of course. That’s a huge deal. You made it an entire decade. It’s the…copper anniversary? Bronze, maybe?

Holy crap. I just looked it up. It’s the tin or aluminum anniversary. Also, I stole a glance at the ninth year gift. It’s willow or pottery. I mean…what? Who made these rules? (Because my guess is it was either an extremely practical woman or an extremely clever man).

“Thanks for putting up with my farts for ten years, honey. Here’s some tuna.”

“Aw, the dolphin-safe kind. Just what I always wanted. Thanks, darling!”

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Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes…

But nine years? Eh. At nine years your anniversary plans are likely squished in-between giving your kids lice treatment because there was another outbreak at preschool and a meeting with Todd, your semi-dodgy accountant but he’s the only one you can afford.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for marriage and am personally very happy my husband and I are still going strong. (I don’t want to brag or anything, but I am not the easiest person to live with).

It’s just that after nine years of building a life together, the building part is mostly done and now it’s just a whole lot of maintenance. Maintenance that sucks up all your time and energy and money. Especially when you throw children and careers and pets into the mix.

Take, for example, this very moment right here. I am attempting to type this sentence with a two-year-old squirming on my lap while my husband texts me about his crazy morning at work and I text back “Crap! We need band-aids and juice boxes. Can you get them after work?” And then my 2-year-old almost breaks my laptop and I yell at her and she starts crying and the dog starts barking and my husband texts me back he has a late meeting but will as soon as it is done.

That is what nine years looks like.

Nine years is spending 27 minutes trying to figure out who can take which kid to their dentist appointment.

Nine years is silently and mutually agreeing to ignore the awful noise the dishwasher makes every time it’s turned on because there is no money in the budget currently to fix it.

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Nine years is yelling at each other in strained voices about the ridiculously high vet bill and then 30 seconds later, in a perfectly calm voice, bringing up which cake you should get for your son’s birthday as though nothing had happened. Because sulking is only for couples with the luxury of free time.  

Nine years is “hey, come look at this…should I go to the doctor?”

Nine years is constantly forgetting to kiss each other goodbye but always remembering to get extra pickles for them when ordering take out.

Nine years is a horror movie and two bottles of wine on Valentine’s Day.

Nine years is mostly communicating via memes when apart.

Nine years is a truly impressive Tupperware collection.

Nine years is “I did your laundry. It’s in a giant pile on the bed.”

Nine years is a truly comfortable silence. Interrupted by a truly impressive fart.

Nine years is realizing all that sugary sweet marriage advice you got at your wedding was useless. Never go to bed angry (um, then we’d never sleep). Never keep secrets from each other (those secret stashes of fancy chocolate are the reason my family is still alive some days). Would you rather be right or married? (I’m never wrong so it’s a moot point, Aunt Carol).  

And, if you’re very lucky, nine years is wanting to do all this god-awful mundane business of living– the bills, the cleaning, the obligations, the never-ending youth soccer games, the grocery shopping, the novella-length kindergarten registration packets– with no one else but them.

I love you, Ryan. And I can’t wait to clean out the kids’ closets this weekend with you.

Which reminds me…

Get some wine at the store too.

 

Get out of my house

Pretty much at some point in my day, pretty much every day, I realize just how lucky I am. A loving husband who loves to tell me about his day. Beautiful little children who fill my heart with the sounds of laughter and the pitter-patter of little feet. I treasure each and every moment with these amazing creatures.

But I could treasure them even more with just a little bit of distance. Which is why right now I need all these people out of my house.

I don’t care if it’s far away or just down the street.

But get out.

Oh, I realize this might sound ungrateful. These people fill my life with a joy I have never known before. Moreover, they have filled it with meaning and purpose and unconditional love.

And whistles. They have filled my life with oh-so-many whistles. What idiot gave these kids whistles? Whistles that they blow right beside my ears while jumping up and down right beside me on the couch.

Which is why everyone needs to get out of my house.

Now.

I have never lived alone. I lived at home and then had a bunch of college roommates and then I moved back home and then BOOM, my stupid husband made me fall in love with him and we started our life together. And then we added two more homemade humans to the mix. Humans who have no concept of personal space and proper booger disposal techniques and appropriate voice volume.

And while I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, there are days when a room of one’s own isn’t nearly enough.

Everyone get out of my house.

Of course, it’s not like I myself never get the chance to leave my house. My husband is great about giving me time to do my own things. I go for runs. I go to coffee shops to write. When he gets home from work and I have a certain look on my face, he quickly ushers me out the door into the direction of the closest bar. But there are those times when I don’t want to put on an entire pair of pants and comb the little green army men out of my hair so that I can be “socially acceptable.” I want to eat junk food that I don’t have to share on the couch in my ratty old robe while watching TV shows featuring nudity and curse words. And I don’t want to have to pause it so that I can refill sippy cups eight times in two hours.

Get. Out. My. House.

Someday, years from now, I dream of a house filled with my husband and my grown kids and their significant others and an entire litter of grandbabies who all call me MawMaw. A day where we all gather around the table and the house is full to bursting with conversations and laughter and jokes and memories. A day where I can’t imagine that at one point I ever wanted time alone.

But today is not that day.  

EVERYBODY OUT.

And don’t come back for at least three hours.  

 

Honest Christmas Letter

Greetings, friends and family and people I barely know anymore but still have your addresses saved so what the hell!

I hope this year has been good to you (she types like she hasn’t stalked over half of you on social media late at night with a glass of wine in her hand…definitely-not-creepy haha!).

It’s been a wonderful year here at the Brandon-Huddle household. At least I think it has. If I’m being completely honest, I can’t remember what it was like before the Vague Plague swept through our house, reducing all of us to coughing, feverish, snotty shells of our former selves. You know, that mysterious illness that hits one family member and then passes through all the rest until the first one finally gets better right as the last one is coming down with it, thus passing it back onto the first one, on and on and on until none of you can remember what it is like to breathe through one nostril anymore, let alone two. It has no name but is somewhere in-between a cold and the flu. Unless, of course, the man of the house gets it, in which case it is a Very Serious Case of Almost Certain Death.

But although our collective health is currently drowning in a tsunami of snot, everything else is a fantastic mixed bag of tragicomedy.

Ryan is working hard as usual. Some would say too hard. And by some I mean me. Awkward haha! Because I reach a certain point in the evening where I simply cannot “mom” for one more minute. But at least he’s smart enough to know that if he walks through that door past six he is to have a bottle of wine tucked under his arm for me. Maybe also a cheeseburger. And a taco.

But it’s not entirely his fault. You gotta make a living, right? Kids are expensive. And he’s really good at what he does. Plus, during those brief twelve minutes we have together in-between the kids going down and us passing out on the couch after watching the opening credits of “Sabrina” on Netflix, we are reminded how much we love each other as we grunt and stare vacant-eyed into the other’s rapidly aging face.

As for myself, I completed a half marathon this year, which has been a dream of mine ever since my friend Emily texted me “wanna do a half-marathon?” and I drunkenly texted back “hellz yesh!” The race was awful. Just truly awful. Why do people like to do this? What is wrong with them?

But the point remains that I did it. Which I now tell anyone standing within earshot.

I’ve also been keeping up with my writing. I’m even trying my hand at writing a book. Which means I rapidly swing from “I can do this, I can totally do this” to “I’m an idiot. What is a plot? Whet r werds?” on a daily basis. I definitely think I need new hobbies.

This has also been a big year for our oldest, Riker, who started preschool this year. He loves it. Now. In the first few weeks there was some atomic-level leg clinging during drop-off but now he can’t stop talking about school. At least I think he’s talking about school. His stories aren’t always coherent. They pretty much start somewhere at the ¾ mark and then jump backward toward the middle with a brief glance at the beginning while the ending has apparently escaped through some window, never to be heard of again.  

Allow me to share his latest. It’s so cute. I think…?

“So then Ethan is a bad guy, but a friendly bad guy, and we chased the ghosts on the swings and Mrs. Ferris says, but Momma, it’s always important to share, and remember, Momma, when you first get to the classroom, we have to do our arrival jobs so we walk quietly and carefully to our cubby and put away our things and then sometimes Elena hugs me too hard and I don’t like it but that’s ok and now I’m a big boy, not a baby, which is why the vampires were hiding in the closet.”

Speaking of babies, our baby isn’t a baby anymore. Mae turned 2 in July. She is just turning out to be a fantastic little person, albeit one who drinks what has to be an unhealthy amount of bath water. We are a bit nervous about her arch-villain tendencies but, as they say, raise the children you have, not the children you want. Even if they scare you a bit.

And last, but certainly not least, is our dog Buffy. He’s 13 now! Can you believe it? I certainly can but then again I am constantly reminded thanks to his old man dog farts, which are numerous and aromatic, to put it politely. But the vet says he is in great shape and super healthy and only charged us $600 to tell us that.

All in all, we realize how lucky we are with our beautiful little family and a roof that only leaks sometimes over our heads. Although if anyone is wondering what to get us for Christmas, a nap would just be fantastic.

Happy Holidays, everyone!