Road Maps (#202)

There are some free spirits who eschew calendars and maps. They are content to see where the day and the road take them.

I don’t understand these people.

One such free spirit is my friend, JM.

I don’t understand her, either.

What one of my daily lists looks like.

I’m a planner. I have a Daily “To Do” list. I have a monthly “To Do” list, with 3 different categories: Regular Work, Writing Objectives, and Miscellaneous (dates bills are due, household repairs, upcoming birthdays needing cards/ gifts, etc.) I even have a yearly “To Do” list that involves travel.

Before a road trip — before smart phones and Google Maps — I had road atlases and computer printouts ready. Last time I drove across the country, I had carefully mapped out interstate routes and made hotel reservations. It took me three days.

My friend JM? She drove across the country on back roads and only ate at non-chain restaurants. It took her a week.

Once upon a college football game, she drove us to San Diego.

As we approached the city, I asked, “What’s our exit?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “The stadium is at the university, right? So we’ll exit there.”

We exited at the university. We drove around the university. We found an overgrown stadium that hadn’t been used in years. We asked students for help. Given that we were wearing the opposition’s colors, we got very little help.

The help we did get nearly landed us in Tijuana. I think we made it to the game for the fourth quarter.

Our friendship went on hiatus after almost-Mexico.

But we reconnected about the time I started dating Andy. JM helped me find my perfect wedding dress. She even threw me a bridal shower.

Only she hadn’t accounted for 405 traffic and was an hour late. She was also driving my friend KL (co-bridal shower-thrower), so KL was late, too.

But that was okay. Because I am a planner. I’d dragooned Andy into making killer Martha Stewart hors ‘devours that morning. The day before, I’d baked several dozen cupcakes.

As she left — with leftover cupcakes — JM laughingly noted, “Wow! You threw yourself a great shower.”


I’m a planner because stress makes me psychotic. I lose my temper and I’ve been known to throw things. Long-term planning alleviates stress. Long-term planning also helps you get good deals on airline tickets and pet-sitters, though climate change is now making a mockery (and a misery) out of air travel.

Most of my siblings are also planners. Maybe it’s how we coped with all the divorces, deaths, and upheaval in our childhoods. We’ve been known to organize B&B takeovers during weddings more than a year in advance. We have the food responsibilities for Thanksgiving broken down by September. Secret Santas are set by Halloween.

And yet I hadn’t planned out the most important life choice of all.

Having a child. Or not.

Andy and I had done premarital counseling. I knew he wanted two kids, but would settle for one. He knew I was on the fence about having kids, but one was possibility.

Andy thought I’d change my mind and want kids.

I thought Andy would change his mind and want to keep having sex.

Andy started pushing for kids.

I pushed back.

He sulked.

I bitched about it to JM over dinner one night. “Kids are so much work,” I groused. “And it would be me staying home with the kid, doing all that work. I’ve already got two dogs and two cats that interrupt my writing for food, bathroom breaks, and attention!”

“So no daycare for you guys?” asked JM. “No nanny?”

“Huh. We never really talked about it. I guess it seemed premature to hammer all that out before even getting pregnant.”

“Really? Stevie Hollywood and I did.” JM had recently married a TV producer. She still oozed unbearable newlywed smugness when she gave relationship advice, all prefaced with phrases such as: “Stevie and I think,” “Stevie and I would never,” “Stevie and I already solved that issue by…”  Which was a bit much, given that JM met Stevie at the beginning of college football season and they were engaged by the Rose Bowl.

I made a rude noise and said, “You did not talk nannies and daycare during your whirlwind romance. You never had time, you sanctimonious liar.”

“No, really! We did!” JM protested. “Because my family doesn’t have your family’s ridiculously fecund record. I asked Stevie, ‘Do you want kids? Because my ovaries have issues and I might not be able to have one. If you must have kids, you have to be okay with IVF, or a surrogate, or adoption. And so we agreed we’d try them in that order, because he really wants kids and is partial to his own sperm. And then I said, ‘Okay, who is going to stay home with the kid?’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ll do daycare or a nanny.’ To which I replied, ‘The hell we will. Why have a kid if neither of us is raising it?'”

I said, “Damn.”

JM continued, saying “And then I told him he could stay home, or I could stay home, but one of us was staying home or there was no kid and if that was not okay, then there was no marriage.”

It took me a few seconds to close my jaw. It took me a few minutes to finally admit the truth. “I can’t believe it. You fucking OUT-PLANNED me.”

“Only on the important stuff,” she said. “I’m still a mess on regular things. Like, can you pay tonight and I’ll get next time?  Because I left my wallet in my other purse.”

I was so flummoxed by her new, long-range planning skills that I agreed, even though it was a more expensive restaurant than our usual place.

Later, though, I wondered if she’d planned that, too.


The Matter with Kids (#201)

I’m convinced that most American parents didn’t realize how much work raising a kid was when they decided to have one.

 If they did, we’d have a negative birthrate.

Having a child changes your life irrevocably, in that you will have at least eighteen years with no life. A good parent prioritizes their child’s needs, especially during infancy. They endure a constant state of deprivation: sleep deprivation, cleanliness deprivation, time deprivation, and quiet deprivation.

If you think I know this because my parents were such awesome role models, you must be a new reader. I had a front row seat to the shit show Too Many Children, in which an angry, stressed father lashed out at the kids he never wanted. My siblings and I grew up overly competitive, judgmental, and mean. We were terrible at relationships and had eating disorders.

So of course there was a sequel after my parents divorced and found new spouses: Let’s Have More Children and Fuck Them Up, Too.

As needy teenagers, we were pressed into service, caring for baby half-siblings. We learned how to change diapers, prepare bottles, clean up vomit, and identify everything from strep to roseola.

College, even with 18-21 credits a semester, felt like a vacation. No cooking. No childcare. Only my own laundry to fold.

And my vomit stain removal skills made me popular.

I knew how much work babies were. Which was why I’d hoped to be making more money than my husband when his biological clock started ticking. Then Andy could stay home with the baby he wanted. Just like my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and her husband, Georgia Boy.

But Andy’s clock started its final countdown while he made the money that paid our mortgage.

I tried to beat back that damned clock with a reality check.

“If we have a baby, there’s no more talk about quitting your job to run a Bed & Breakfast in New Hampshire,” I warned him. “Not for eighteen years or until I can make money. Babies need health insurance. You’ll have to max out your health care spending account. Baby proof the house. Turn the guest room into a nursery. Give up your dreams of making the extra fridge into a kegerator, even.”

“That’s okay,” Andy said. He hugged me and said dreamily, “A baby.”

I stepped out of the hug. “You know a baby is a screaming machine that only shuts down a few hours at a time, and spits out bodily fluids like the girl in The Exorcist, right? And you know we have to do it ourselves. Twenty-four seven. There’s no convenient grandparent to spirit the baby away on weekends or anything. My mom is dead. My other parental units are too far away.”

“Maybe my parents could come help—”

“Are you outta your goddamned mind?!” I shrieked. Normally I try to be diplomatic about Andy’s intrusive Chinese-American parents, but that kind of insanity had to be nipped in the bud. I chucked marital diplomacy under the bus and raised my voice several decibels. “Your parents treat me like a servant. They expect me to wait on them, how can I do that and take care of a baby?! Plus they nearly burned down our house on their last visit.”

Andy prudently opted not to pursue that tack. “Well, I can help. I can take 3 months of family leave.”

“Yeah, but it’s not paid leave, because the United States sucks,” I grumbled.

Andy, anticipating a delightful, three-month vacation from work — because he truly was clueless about babies — looked crushed. “We don’t have enough in our joint savings to cover that.”

“No. We don’t,” I agreed. Our lack of funds could have tabled all the baby talk. Only my husband looked so very sad. Also, I didn’t want to keep secrets that could be thrown in my face when Andy was fifty and moaning over mythical lost children. “I do, um, have some mutual funds that I could cash out,” I admitted with a sigh. “My grandparents started them when I was a baby. For college. I never used them all up.” Who knew getting a scholarship and graduating in three years would bite me in the ass a decade-and-a-half later?

“I married an heiress!” Andy crowed. He kept crowing as he calculated the fund’s value, which would cover our mortgage and bills for almost exactly three months. Then he gave me a side eye. “Hey. Wait a minute. What other assets have you been hiding from me? ”

“They also gave me 100 shares of Kroger stock.” My paternal grandfather had been a successful tax attorney. My grandmother methodically divested various assets when financially prudent, usually before December 31st.

“Wow. All this stuff you never told me about.”

“Ahem. That’s all pre-marriage stuff and you’re not entitled to it and what if you’d turned out to be a dick and cleaned out our bank accounts and ran off with someone from work?”

Andy gave a shout of laughter. “Have you seen the women I work with?”

“No, because your work is top-secret, I’m not allowed in the building, and it has no windows,” I reminded him. “And how very reassuring that you’re not sampling the work buffet because the food there is so unappetizing.”

“Oh, c’mon, honey. We’ve been together for 5 years. When were you gonna decide I wasn’t a dick?”

“After maybe eleven years, I guess. My dad lasted ten years a couple times.”

“Geez,” Andy said, but he wasn’t really upset. He knew all about Dad and also it’s hard to be upset when your wife makes thousands of dollars magically appear. “We could really do this! And I could stay home with our newborn, too!”

I tossed a Hail Mary. “Or we could take the money and start that B&B you sometimes talk about.”

“No,” Andy shook his head emphatically. “Too risky. Let’s stick to the plan. You keep writing, we have baby, I keep working, and we use the company’s health insurance.”

“Then this is YOUR idea, okay? I just want to make that clear up front. You are responsible. I never want to hear any complaints. No whining ever about how it wrecked your life, okay? No complaining about how much it all costs, or how you had to give up your dream of a B&B. You chose baby. You never get to go back. Every sleepless night, every trip to the Emergency Room, all the costs of whatever sport this kid plays, the higher education costs – this is on you.”

Andy shrugged and said, “That’s fine. I chose baby. Baby!” He swooped in for another hug. I didn’t dodge this one, though I merely stood in his embrace, rigid.

Andy whispered, “Not your dad, honey.”

And then I hugged him back.