You know you’re staying someplace nice when the little hand soaps they give you are massage bars
After three years of marriage and one toddler later, my husband and I are finally going on our honeymoon! I have to admit, it still feels incredibly surreal. We’re kind of getting a two-for-one special out of the deal. We’re taking our first vacation from parenting (and from family in general for that matter), and it will be our first vacation alone together ever. So we picked someplace kind of exciting that neither one of us have ever been before: Vegas! Okay, so Vegas wasn’t at the top of our list as a honeymoon spot, but the constraints of time and money demanded we make some practical decisions, and that meant 1. Flying to a destination that the soon-to-expire free tickets I’ve been hoarding for a year and a half will take us to and 2. Going somewhere that’s desperate enough for business that the rates are at an all-time low. Vegas fit both criteria.
When I think honeymoon, images of sipping margaritas on some white sands beach in Mexico come to mind, but only the truly brave would even think about crossing the southern border right now. (Since the birth of our son, my husband and I have grown incredibly less brave). Vegas has always been described to me as Disney Land for grown ups, so while it’s someplace I’ve always wanted to see at least once in my lifetime, it never struck me as a particularly romantic destination. I even started getting a little depressed in the initial planning stages when I discovered the only hotels in our price range looked so old, the smell of musty bedspreads wafted up from the room pics and emanated right off my computer screen. And that’s when I heard the voice of my sister-in-law ask, “Is this one of those times you just suck it up and charge it?”
I’m one of those people who gets stressed out by debt. Any amount of debt makes me uncomfortable. The size of my credit card debt is large enough that it’s not going away anytime soon, but it is still considerably–immensely–smaller than the debt of the average American household. Paradoxically, I also consider myself somewhat of a credit card queen. I’ve never used a credit card for a shopping spree or a vacation or something else extravagant I couldn’t afford, but when I was young and trying to survive on a pretty piddly salary in NYC, there was more than one occasion I had to tap a cash advance offer to make the rent. During that time, I picked up a few tricks, and since then have developed a policy: I don’t pay interest. If I still have a balance on a credit card when the introductory 0% interest period is over, I accept one of the gazillion new introductory 0% interest offers I get every month and transfer my balance. Of course, if you keep racking up the debt, eventually you will run out of available credit, and the new offers will just stop coming. The idea is to keep the balance manageable and as low as possible of course. Even if you don’t open a new account, if you’re lucky, one of your old cards may miss your balance enough that they’ll bribe you with a 0% balance transfer offer, and you can keep rolling that balance along until you either pay it off or run out of offers. I haven’t reached either inevitable conclusion yet, so I decided the answer to the imaginary voice of my sister-in-law was a resounding, Yes, this may just be one of those occasions.
Once I got comfortable with the idea of racking up the credit card a little bit, (okay, I’m still not “comfortable” with it, but I’m successfully ignoring the discomfort for now), I decided if it’s going to be a honeymoon in Sin City, we might as well spend just enough for a room that feels like it could be on a white sand beach somewhere and not across the hall from a wise-guy crime scene. And that is when I discovered the shimmering pyramid better known as the Luxor. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the weeknight rate was only $50 a night! This was considerably cheaper than the other hotels in its class–that class of hotel being the ones that are too new to have any musty rooms in the back wing where they stick the cheapskates like us. The weekend rate jumps up of course, but if you make two separate reservations, and make the weekend reservation an all inclusive one, it comes with the all-you-can eat buffet all day long and free show tickets. And almost as if the universe was rewarding me for letting go of any spoiled princess notions I had of what a honeymoon should look like, I discovered the all-inclusive comes with tickets to a Chris Angel show and the Bodies exhibit! I never in a million years thought I’d have the opportunity to go see Chris Angel live, and the Bodies exhibit was a show in NYC that I’ve actually tried to get to more than once and failed on both occasions. It’s kind of funny that we have to fly all the way across the country to see something that was in our own back yard for the longest time, but I took that as some kind of sign that we chose wisely in planning our unconventional honeymoon.
And why should it be conventional? My husband and I have done everything backwards. We got engaged, pregnant, married, had a baby and then a wedding, all in that order. Nothing about our family has been typical or conventional by any standard measure, so why should our honeymoon be any different? Don’t get me wrong–the whole experience has given me a newfound respect for convention. Sometimes breaking with tradition is the best way to learn why the traditions came to be in the first place. There is no question that our path would have been far easier and smoother had we gone through the steps in the conventional order. This became most clear when I was trying to plan a formal wedding while nursing a three month old. There’s a reason why, traditionally, people got married before making babies. The crazy thing is, it doesn’t seem like anyone does it in that order anymore. I can make this statement with some degree of confidence because my husband sells jewelry. Engagement rings to be exact. He would say about 75 percent of the couples he sells rings to have already had a child together. He even had one poor customer who had been browsing for the right ring come running back into the store in a panic one night because his girlfriend was in labor, and he wanted to propose right after she had the baby. He said he wanted it to be right at that moment, to make their family complete.
I was always very cognizant of how children dramatically change your life. I’m the youngest in a family of five, and all of my older siblings had their children in their early twenties, before they were really ready. So I took heed of the message they repeated constantly, and that was to make sure to go to school, get an education, and wait until you’re “older” to start your family. I did all those things and more–I got a degree, started a career, got some more education, changed careers, joined the Army, deployed to a combat zone, and even waited til I was in my thirties to start my family. Somehow I thought if I just did enough, and waited long enough, then I was doing things in the proper order. But in spite of all my best efforts to make good choices, to be independent and self-sufficient, somehow I still managed to do it backwards. And that’s okay, because I know that when my husband and I finally get to more solid ground, we will appreciate where we are on such a deeper level than if we had taken a more traditional path. I just wish my poor parents didn’t have to put a roof over our heads and be as inconvenienced as they have been while we’ve been busy learning what should have been rather obvious life lessons.
So I had some guilt stepping onto the plane. Part of me feels like we don’t really deserve to go on this trip, even though we’ve heard a lot of, “Have fun, you guys deserve a honeymoon,” before we left. I’ve been waiting on a certain job to come through for months. There’s been a number of obstacles in the way, but we’re finally at that place where we can say with confidence, I really should be getting that phone call any day now–the one that says everything is finally a go and we can start packing our bags. So I know if we don’t use the free tickets that I got when I signed up for a certain credit card (did I mention I’m a credit card queen?), they will likely expire right around the time that I’m starting my new job. But free tickets aside, we don’t really have the cash on hand for the rest of our trip, so we will have to charge the major expenses like the hotel. All this while we’re still living in my parents’ house. I’m having some cognitive dissonance here.
And then of course there’s the guilt of leaving the baby, who my sister who has so graciously offered to watch while we’re gone, but that’s a whole other entry I’ll save for another time. The point I’m focussing on here is that some part of me feels like we don’t deserve something as luxurious as a honeymoon right now. But then another much stronger voice inside me knows we need this–our marriage needs this. I know that sounds spoiled–my marriage needs a honeymoon? What? Really? But the thing is, we kinda skipped a huge step.
My husband and I met on a patrol base in Iraq. Our first date was a refit. A refit is when the team convoys up the highway to the main base to drop off laundry, restock on supplies, get a decent meal in a real chow haul (as opposed to the field chow you eat out on the PB), and take the night off of missions and work in general. Since I was the only female on the PB, there were generally no separate accommodations made for “females” on such occasions. So my husband and his battle buddy offered up a cot in their tent for me to sleep on while we were on refit (him and every other guy on the PB!) We sat tight next to each other on an Army cot while we watched DVD’s on a laptop, and then we went to bed. Shortly after that, we became official. He never saw me with makeup on. We had no idea what each other looked like in plain clothes, or what each other’s style was for that matter. We had no idea how each other acted with a couple drinks in us, or if we had moves out on the dance floor. He didn’t know that I’m a pretty decent cook, and I didn’t realize he doesn’t eat anything that doesn’t come out of a box. In short, we missed a lot of those initial moments couples have together while they get to know each other–those things most people take for granted because it’s difficult to imagine it happening any other way.
We spent the next few months talking about all the things we couldn’t wait to do when we were finally safely home together. We couldn’t take each other to our favorite places to eat, but we tried to figure out if we liked the same kind of food without being able to share our favorite meals. It turned out he modified his answers a little. We don’t like any of the same food. (I almost called the engagement off when we got home and he refused to try the marinara sauce I made for him because he doesn’t like tomatoes. This is a huge problem for a Sicilian woman.). We spent our time talking about more important things, like how we would like to raise our children and what values we think are important in that process. We dreamed of what it would be like to wake up and have breakfast in our P.J.’s together, sitting on a comfy clean couch in front of the T.V.
In this way, my husband and I were very blessed to have an unconventional beginning. We didn’t fall in love with each other’s taste in music. We fell in love with with each other because we got the opportunity to see who the other person was under the most terrible of circumstances. I had the opportunity to see my husband’s compassion towards his fellow soldiers and the sick and injured Iraqis who came to him for medical treatment. He saw me put my rank on the line when I told a Captain he was going to get my team killed if he didn’t get out of my way and let me do my job. These are the experiences you will hear us talk about when someone asks us how we met, how we fell in love. But we never knew how it felt to just be with each other, to just enjoy each other without having half our focus on our weapon and the mission.
I made it home about five days before my husband did. The first time he saw me in civilian attire was when I met him on the parade field in a sundress and high heels I barely remembered how to walk in. The poor guy had to meet my parents in that same moment. After a week of readjustment back into our units, we got to go on leave together. Our plan was to drive to his family in Iowa, over to my family in New York, and back down to Georgia where we were stationed. We started it off on a sad note. My 11 year old black lab, who had been cared for by various family members while I was away, was dying. No one wanted to tell me while I was gone, but when I came home, I found out his spine was deteriorating and he could barely walk anymore. That dog had been across the country with me and back more times than I could count. From New Mexico to New York City, he had been loyally and faithfully by my side. The thought of loosing him so soon after I came home was devastating. My husband said we could take him with us to his home in Iowa, and that was mine and Cody’s final road trip together. He made it as far as Iowa, but only his ashes came home to New York.
After mourning the passing of Cody, my husband and I had what felt like an ever so brief moment of being carefree together. We went on a camping trip (with his parents) in the Black Hills to visit Mount Rushmore and catch a glimpse of the infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And on a little campsite somewhere between the roar of Harley Davidsons and the somber glow of an American monument, our little hell raising angel came to be. Pregnancies are not smooth and graceful for the women of my family. I immediately gained 10lbs in water weight almost the second he was conceived and entered a constant state of wanting to do nothing but lay down and sleep. I realized I was pregnant about a week after we hit New York, and that was pretty much the end of my leave as I had anticipated it. Morning sickness set in about a week or two after we got back to Georgia, and anyone with kids pretty much knows what the rest of the story looks like from here.
Once again the story of my husband and I unfolds in an unconventional manner that gives us the opportunity to come to love and appreciate each other on far deeper levels than if we had done things in the more traditional order. My husband and I know and love each other for the parents and spouses we have come to be. Our love grows out of a respect that comes after you have had no choice but to surrender and depend on someone when you finally realize some things you simply cannot manage alone, when you realize your partner has a choice in whether they are a reliable or a selfish one, and they choose to be the former kind. This is precious and priceless, but it never changed the fact that while we may be relatively healthy and whole individuals, there has always seemed to be a piece missing to us. It’s that piece that most civilian couples get in those first few encounters, no matter how brief or few they are, when they can be completely self-absorbed and wrapped up in each other all at the same time. Those encounters where conspicuously absent are M-4′s and the ever lingering threat of incoming rockets and mortars. Those moments that aren’t clouded by the occasional onset of panic or anxiety that washes over you when you step out of that world and try to impersonate a regular person for the first time in 15 months. It is this piece of our puzzle that is whispering to me, “You guys need a honeymoon.” So I hope that part of me that feels like this vacation is a luxury we cannot afford (and therefor do not deserve) can forgive the other part of me that says this is one extravagance we need to engulf ourselves in.
I’m sure I’ve given my son something to tell his therapist about someday by buying him a Dora the Explorer potty seat, but after trial and error with a couple potties he ultimately rejected, and waisting 15 bucks on a potty cushion painted like a football that doesn’t fit in the toilet seat, I broke down and bought the only cushion I could find that does fit! At least I didn’t grab the pink one.
For the first time since my son was born, my husband and I had a playful round of combatives yesterday. I know that rolling around practicing choke holds is probably an unorthodox way for most married couples to bond, but for us, it has always been good quality time spent together. So what started as my husband giving me a hard time in the kitchen quickly ended up on the floor in the family room. My son—who has been rolling around with my husband pretty much since birth—quickly abandoned his Barney video in the other room and ran out to join us as soon as he saw what we were up to. We must have looked like a pretty funny stack of turtles on top of each other’s backs, with my husband on the bottom and my son on top. (I wasn’t quite sure if the baby thought he was helping me, or rescuing daddy).
I have spent the last three months lecturing my husband on how his rough housing—while playful—confuses our son, who has had some issues with aggressive behavior. He’s only two-and-a-half, so it’s hard to explain to him that it’s okay to run and charge after daddy when they’re playing but not okay to hit when he gets mad. But he was laughing so hard and was so happy to be wrestling with both daddy and mommy, that I had to eat my words just this once.
I grew up in a house full of rowdy boys and crazy tough tomboys, so much like my son, I was being tossed and tumbled and rolled around like a football before I learned to walk, or crawl for that matter. I’m an Italian-Irish American from New York with a family full of boxers. I even have an uncle who was a Golden Glove champion. So it’s no surprise that when I got to college, I became fairly active in Martial Arts. I studied Muay Thai kick boxing, Thai Chi, and I picked up a little Akido here and there. My husband was a wrestler in high school. He’s a farm boy from Iowa. At some point when we were still wearing uniforms in Iraq, he discovered if he playfully pushed or pulled a little too hard, I would push or pull back, and that’s when our unusual habit of practicing combatives together began.
Comabtives training was always my favorite part of the Army. For the civilians who read this blog, you could say that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is pretty much the civilian version of combatives, although machismo arguments are made on both sides claiming one is better or tougher than the other. Combatives training Level 1 teaches soldiers basic grappling techniques. It’s basically wrestling. It’s not very lady like. In fact, when I was a civilian studying kick boxing, the dojo I went to held a grappling class for the men. When I asked the instructor if women could participate, he seemed kinda horrified by the idea.
Even as a civilian, I was very aware that if a person is violently assaulted, the conflict usually ends up on the ground, and the best grappler is generally the one who gets to walk away alive. As a female who was raised by very protective men who believed it was important I knew how defend myself, I was always looking for ways to improve my ability to do so. But my kick boxing instructor, who thought it was perfectly acceptable for women to don head gear and punch each other full force in the face, drew the line at rolling around on the ground where there may be a possibility of ending up in some awkward positions. At the time, I felt a little embarrassed for asking, so I just let it go.
There is no question that men and women grappling together can be awkward. I felt sorry for some of my fellow male soldiers who were clearly uncomfortable practicing combatives with women. But most listened pretty well to the drill sergeants and instructors who explained that if they felt awkward, they should think about how what they were doing could save our lives one day, and they’d be doing us no favors by taking it easy on us. Sometimes I think my husband listened a little too well. After the first time I choked him out (again for the civilians—a practice where you get your opponent in a headlock and he has to tap before he passes out to let you know that you won that round), he never took it easy on me again.
Notice how I said yesterday was the first time we practiced combatives since my son was born, and not since I was pregnant. I was still in the Army when I became pregnant with my son, and the Army has a way of teaching soldiers to ignore obvious physical conditions. For example, pregnant soldiers still wake up at the crack of dawn, morning sickness and all, and put on their PT’s to go work out. You do get to go to a special class with all the other sick, vomiting pregnant women, but you better believe there’s no getting out of PT in the Army. And I wasn’t off the hook with my husband either. I still had to defend against an occasional unexpected assault every once in a while, and for that reason, my poor son never stood a chance of coming out a passive boy.
After I had the baby, I put my foot down on the combatives for obvious reasons, but there was more than just being a new mom going on too. I spent pretty much my entire time in the Army with stress fractures in both legs, and towards the end of my term, two herniated disks in my lower back. The weight of my pregnancy (I gained a whopping 70lbs!) did nothing to help the healing process of these conditions, so even after the baby was born, I was still struggling to recover. At the same time, I was looking at opportunities in law enforcement which required I met certain physical standards. When the baby was about 6 months old, I started a very rigorous regimen that consisted of about 4 hours of physical therapy exercises a day, two visits a week to the chiropractor, and a pretty easy going aerobic exercise program in an attempt to get up and running again, literally. After about another six months of this routine, and pretty pathetic progress on the running end, the only result I got from my efforts was that I completely blew out my already damaged feet.
My bunion on my right foot became so large and enflamed, I couldn’t even wear sneakers without being in pain. My arch was so collapsed that not only did I have bunion surgery, but the surgeon fused the joint in my arch with a big metal plate to give the foot some stability. So I’ve spent the better half of this year with a walking cast on one foot or the other. Three foot surgeries later, and I’m finally starting to feel like a normal human being again.
I know some part of my husband has deeply missed the spunky wife he married, and I’ve felt bad on many occasions when I pushed him away because the constant pain had simply taken all the playfulness right out of me. So yesterday, when for the first time in almost three years I felt a twinge of spunk, I had to roll with it. While I know that—God forbid—if the mailman or someone had come to the door and seen one of us with our arms wrapped around the other’s neck, they probably would have called the cops on us, but for me, the joy of being able to roll around on the ground with my husband without having to worry about snapping my back in half was worth a thousand candle lit dinners.
- Mixed Martial Arts Links (10-8-11) (unlimitedfightnews.com)
- Fundamental, Technical And Foundational Martial Art Techniques (Essential Tools And Basic Core Knowledge) (Introduction) (Part 1) (paradoxparables.wordpress.com)
- Continuing A Theme (godfamilycountrylove.wordpress.com)
- America’s anomaly: The place where war is a constant (cnn.com)
I’ve come to the conclusion that the terrible twos are just going to happen, regardless of how I respond. There’s nothing I can do to modify my child’s behavior. I was under the foolish misconception that the entire purpose of “time out” is to get your child to stop throwing, hitting, kicking, back-talking, screaming, and all the other key examples of this lovely phase of his development. But I am realizing that no matter how many time-outs he sits in, the hitting, kicking, back-talking, and screaming will continue, despite all my best efforts to correct it.
As parents, we understand when our children are infants that they are not responsible for their behavior. They sleep, they eat, and they cry when they need something. That is how they communicate. No good parent gets angry with an infant for crying. But when they become toddlers, they do such a fantastic job of impersonating little rational beings with the capacity for reason that it is difficult to keep in mind that for the most part, they still really don’t know what they’re doing.
Sure, they intentionally do things that they know will upset us, but half the time they don’t even understand our reactions. We get mad, they laugh. They are just beginning to learn that they can modify our behavior, and seeing as they seem to be so much better at it than us, why wouldn’t they keep doing it? Beyond the thrill of repeatedly exercising this new and powerful skill they have discovered, for the most part, they are still operating on pure impulse, without the prefrontal regions of their brain developed enough to act as referee, in spite of the fact that they appear to be rational beings.
So what is a parent of a two year old to do? Keep putting him in time out. Yes, I know someone, somewhere once said the definition of madness is continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results, but I believe the terrible twos are the exception to the rule. I am thoroughly convinced that my child will continue to express whatever random emotion he has the second he has it with the full force of every expression he has available to him until his little frontal lobe grows a little more and he develops that part of his brain that will allow him to do otherwise. What he does when this day comes, however, will be heavily influenced by how I spend the next year responding to his outbursts.
I am deeply hoping and praying that if I execute the time-out with a miraculous degree of patience, somewhere between years three and four, he will develop some self-control and find more gentle ways to express himself. The most important thing I can do, I have concluded, is remain calm and detached. I have decided that the consequence of his actions must simply be the consequence, without a great deal of emotional frustration and exacerbation expressed on my end. If I put him in time-out expecting to modify his behavior, I will only continue to be disappointed and frustrated. But if I recognize that the purpose of the time-out is to send a consistent message about cause and effect, consequences, and acceptable behavior, and if I accept that it will take about a year for this lesson to sink in, I just may make it through this phase of development without completely loosing my mind.
- Chimpanzees like humans are born with immature forebrains (news.bioscholar.com)
- Neuro self-help? (neurosphere.wordpress.com)
- When is the Brain Fully Mature? (psychologytoday.com)
- Fertile Minds (time.com)
- Chimp and human brains are even more alike than we thought [Monkey News] (io9.com)