Jun 24, 2015

15 to 15: Stress

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

We had an interesting conversation with our almost 14 year old the other day.  We were telling him how he needed to take on more responsibility because he is getting older.  We recently had set him up with a cell phone on the understanding that he would be willing to do more chores to offset the added cost to us.  Shockingly (not), he did not follow through on his end of the bargain.  So now he has to earn the cost of the phone by doing chores based on a pricing list that we have developed.  He was not pleased with the new arrangement.  He kept arguing about how this wasn't necessary and how he didn't want to do it.  He finally made this statement: "I don't need this added stress in my life!"

The thing is, I remember saying stuff like that as a kid.  STRESS.  It is such an ugly word and carries such horrible connotations.  I, like my son, believed that it was something to be avoided.  It is a monster.  Life would be better without it.  The thing that I did not realize at the time was that stress is a part of life.  It is just something that goes along with living.  Things bring us stress.  They don't even have to be bad things.  A new job could be stressful.  A new child is stressful.  A move, a holiday, a party, a wedding, a big football game.  Those all can bring stress.  To try to avoid stress is to try to avoid living.  My teenager is unconsciously doing that by wanting to lay on the couch all day playing Minecraft and Marvel Puzzle Quest.  But that is not healthy because he isn't experiencing anything other that minor virtual victories.

We got annual passes to Carowinds - the "amusement park" up here on the border of the Carolinas.  [Growing up in Florida, I am used to amusement parks that are jammed to the gills all the time.  Carowinds is pleasantly empty, even when they believe they are busy.]  There is a pretty cool waterpark within Carowinds.  So we go there regularly for the kids to burn energy and play.  It is a fun time, but it is immensely stressful to me.  I have to drive an hour there and back.  I have to keep track of three kids in an amusement park.  I have to juggle the desires of a seven year old, who still loves wading pools and playgrounds, with two middle schoolers, who want to do more daring things.  I have to fend off dozens of requests for Dippin Dots.  I have to worry about sunscreen, thunderstorms, crowds, lines, parking lots, locker rentals, keeping track of our stuff.  It is stressful ... to me.  To them, it is fun.  I'm not going to say we aren't going any more because it stresses me out.  That would be ridiculous.  The kids don't think trips to Carowinds (or Disney, Universal Studios, the zoo) are stressful because they are there to have fun.  I take all that other stress on me.  It is part of the event.

I think we go through different phases with stress. When we are young and immature, we try to avoid stress.  We see it as a villain and spend our lives coming up with ways to not have to deal with it.  Eventually, we understand that it is a necessity, but we don't want to have to deal with too much of it.  We have enough in our own lives; we don't want to take on anyone else's.  Think about teens and college students and how they handle stress.  They will worry about their own mess - their classes, financial aid, bank accounts, laundry - but they are not going to take on more.  They ditch friends and significant others when those relationships become too stressful.  It isn't worth it.  Eventually, they understand that taking on stress from another person is part of living with other people.  So it also becomes an accepted part of life.

But that comes with a caveat.  I recognize this from when Heather and I first got married.  I knew that the things that were stressful to Heather would become stressful to me.  And I accepted that.  So I would try to minimize her stress - just like I used to minimize my own when I was younger.  It wasn't because I cared if it stressed her.  It was because it stressed me to have her stressed.  That may seem very shallow and immature.  You're right!  It was.  I remember having conversations with Heather, where she would say something was stressing her out.  My solution was immediately to come up with ways to stop that stress.  It may be me trying to fix it for her or to take on the stressing event myself.  Or it may be me trying to explain to her how she should not be stressed by said event.  As you can imagine, this worked extremely poorly.  If Heather didn't buy into my pep talk, I would get angry and try harder to convince her - or throw my hands up in the air and say something caring like, "Well I don't know what to do then."  My efforts to take on the stressing events would usually end in disaster as well.  If it was something that came up frequently, I would get upset at the fact that my patch job didn't fix the issue for good.  Which then led me to the pep talk, which I already explained didn't work.  Or I was really bad at the task, which just made everything more stressful.  Like bill paying.  We have switched who was responsible for paying the bills several times in our marriage, and for several reasons.  At first, it was me.  But I sucked at it and frequently forgot to do things.  I did it because it was stressful and I didn't want Heather stressed because that was more stressful.  But not as stressful as being late on payments.  So Heather took over to eliminate my stress and the late fees.  Later I took back over, because she was so busy.  Then she took over because I was busy.  Now I do them again.

After that initial immature way we handled stress, we adopted a new strategy.  I think it can best be described as "Not my circus; not my monkeys."  This is a great way to deal with things when talking about people in your world, but not your house.  A friend keeps posting all kinds of dramatic posts on Facebook?  Just say, "Not my circus; not my monkeys."  Someone at work starts complaining about the boss and how they hate corporate policy?  "Not my circus; not my monkeys."  But that is a very bad way to handle things in a marriage.  You worry about your crap; I'll worry about mine.  Yeah, that is healthy.  That is doing life together.  Not at all. I think I'm so excited about our 15th anniversary because during this NMC;NMM phase, I seriously wondered if we would get to 15.  I think a lot of marriages crumble during this phase of life.  And I do think most marriages go through a time like this.

We got past that and are now in a different phase.  It looks similar to an earlier phase, but with a completely different mindset.  There are times when I take on stuff that stresses Heather out, and she takes on stressful things for me.  But it isn't because of trying to help myself.  It is because I love her and don't want her to have to deal with another thing on her plate.  (And vice versa.)  I am taking on that stress for her sake.  She is taking it on for mine.  The bill paying? I do that because my wife has more than enough to worry about without having to keep track of bills.  I try to keep up the house (we will keep my actual abilities out of this) because I don't want her to have to worry about it.  I have the time; she doesn't.  This is such a different way to look at stress.  It is going to be there, but I am going to take some of it away because I can.  Does it make it harder for me?  Yes.  And sometimes it makes it harder for her.  But it is worth it.  There have been times where I have had one of those days and I have said to her, "I just cannot make this phone call.  Can you please do it?"  And she will.  Or there are days when she has just worked an overnight and she will ask me to take her car to get gas.  So even if I just worked a shift for Kaplan, I'll go get her gas.

I find this way much superior.  Stress is now just a part of life.  We deal with it.  We even will laugh sometimes at just how much stuff we are dealing with.  You know those online stress tests?  Something like this or this.  We routinely test into the "danger zone" or "highly likely to have stress-induced health trouble."  I just took them both again and same results.  I am not worried though, because that ALWAYS HAPPENS.  Health problems?  Yup.  Changes at work?  Both of us, all the time.  Moved recently?  Yes.  Moving soon?  Yes.  It just keeps on going.  And compared to some people, we recognize that our lives are very calm.  So we just deal and move on.  Here's an example.

Monday was a crazy day. We had just gotten back from a weekend trip to Jacksonville.  We drove five and a half hours down on Friday and back up five and a half hours on Sunday.  After that, I ran over to my friend Greg's house to pick up a sofa.  Greg and Christina are our two best friends her in Columbia.  We were friends in Orlando and moved here at the same time.  Greg is my best friend here.  Well, now he lives in Manchester, England.  He flew there on Monday and Christina flies there next Monday.  So our best friends just moved to a different continent.  Monday I woke up with my RA flaring up, probably due to the 11 hours of driving and moving said sofa.  I dealt with the kids, did three hours of Kaplan work, then had a stress test at the heart clinic.  HAHA.  Stress test.  It was a precaution because I am getting older.  I kept telling the tech he didn't need to strap me up and put me on a treadmill.  Just whisper stuff to me like, "Your son will be driving in sixteen months.  You owe six figured in med school loans.   College is just five years away.  You have to move in a year."  He laughed and then stuck me on the treadmill anyway.

I got back home and had to sign on to help teach a Kaplan class that evening.  We also are watching some friends' dogs at their house and had to run over there twice.  In my class, I screwed up twice with a timer and it freaked out another time.  I got chewed out a little over that, which I hate.  It eats at me because I am good at my job and I hate getting a mark on me because of something like a timer. After that class, I did another hour of other Kaplan work.  I finally came down to watch a little TV with Heather around 10:15pm.  Less than an hour later, Heather asks, "Why does it smell like chlorine in here?"  I had been smelling something weird at the same time.  That is never good.  I know chlorine is a poisonous gas, so I got nervous.  We started going around the house, trying to find the source.  I couldn't smell it upstairs at all.  It seemed isolated to the center wall of the house. It could have been the air handler.  The filter was not due to be changed, but it was clearly covered with dust.  I shut off the A/C, but the smell didn't stop.  I could smell it our room, the kitchen, the living room, and the dining area.  I called my in-laws and woke them up. They didn't know, but were concerned it was a burning outlet.  Heather scoured Google and got a variety of answers, but nothing definitive.

On my in-laws' advice, I called 911. They told me they would send a truck.  Two minutes later they called back.  Apparently the chief was coming and wanted us to evacuate the house.  We raced around and woke the kids up, grabbed the dogs, and got everyone in the car.  FOUR fire trucks pulled up outside of our house: two big trucks, two suburbans.  All the neighbors started coming out.  Big burly firemen came up to the house. The head of the team was talking to us and then caught a whiff of my shirt. He turned to the firemen and said, "Put on your masks now. Let's get in there and find this."  He was sure there was a burning outlet.  For the next thirty minutes they went all around our house, checked every outlet, climbed into the attic and under the crawlspace.  They checked everything.  He finally called us back in and told us they found nothing, but thought maybe some lint had fallen into the A/C system and burned.  Then the mammoth firemen asked me why my smoke alarms had their battery doors open.  I honestly was more scared at that than anything else.  "They work," I squeaked, "But they squawk at us if the doors are closed."  They accepted that explanation and they told us we could go back in the house. The kids were (rightfully) terrified, so we stayed at a hotel instead.

 The next morning (Tuesday) I dropped our fluffy Minnie dog off at the groomers, which was right by the hotel, and we ran some errands and went home.  We later went and picked Minnie up and they had totally butchered her hair.  It isn't on the scope of a fire, but it was stressful nonetheless.

The point of all of those stories was to show how now stress has just become life.  As adults, we realize that.  I found it interesting that during my "stress test," I was actually most stressed about the kids sitting out in the waiting room.  I was most worried about them, not me.  When I was catching my breath, the nurse offered me a second bottle of water.  My response was that I was good, but my youngest son had said he was thirsty before I went in and I would take a bottle for him.  That is being an adult.  Marriage is about carrying each others' burdens out of love, not obligation or self-preservation.  I think about how we handled Monday night and how we would have handled it in each of the other stages of our life together.  We just worked like a team on Monday.  Heather went over to calm the neighbors and I calmed the kids.  We would swap back and forth to answer questions of the firemen.  And even the decision to stay in the hotel was because of the kids.  We were both exhausted enough to sleep anywhere at that point.  The whole thing just became another story. 

POST SCRIPT:  We figured out that the smell was from a lightbulb burning out.  Yes.  A lightbulb.  When I had been googling for causes of a chlorine smell, I saw one post about the newer lights putting off a horrible odor when the burn out - like chlorine gas.  I checked our lights, but didn't see any with issues.  I did not check one lamp in our bedroom.  Apparently, it was burning out that night and burned out when the firemen were inside.  The smell started to dissipate, except in our room.  During the day yesterday, I still found a faint trace of chlorine in our room.  When I went to turn that lamp on last night, I noticed the bulb was out.  It was scorched where the glass coils matched up with the base.  I sniffed it and verily I detected chlorine.  So it was all just a lightbulb. Keep that in mind if you ever are wondering why your entire downstairs smells like a combination of poisonous gas and burning outlets. 

Jun 18, 2015

15 to 15: Death

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

There is a curious phrase in a typical wedding vows.  "'Til death do you part."  I find it kind of interesting how in a moment where a couple is celebrating the beginning of their lives together, they are reminded that life has an expiration date.  That could be a morbid proposition.  But death is a part of life.  The whole "Circle of Life" thing.  You know, you've seen The Lion King.  It really isn't possible to look at a life together and leave out death.  It paints an incomplete picture.  Death is an unwelcome visitor, but a persistent one.  And it is often in those most painful of moments when a person's true mettle is discovered.

With my life with Heather, death intruded early in our marriage.  Less than a month after our wedding day, Heather's beloved aunt Pris was taken by cancer.  It was a difficult situation.  Pris' illness came on quickly and took her far too soon.  Pris and Heather both had a love of strawberry decorations.  We have a lot of strawberry stuff in our kitchen.  After Pris died, we actually received some of her strawberry collection.  So she and Heather had a connection that went beyond even their genetic bond.  I fortunately had met Pris one time - right after my father had passed away.  [As serious as this post is, a good funny "dark humor" story is in order.  My father died on a Tuesday.  I went down to West Palm Beach for the funeral and then returned to Tampa so that I could attend a collegiate conference in Jacksonville with the church where I worked.  Heather's family is from the Jacksonville area, so they went to the mall to meet some of Heather's friends.  Pris and her husband Ed were in town, so they came along.  It was the only time that I would meet Pris.  When I walked up to meet the family (we were not dating yet - not for another eight months), Heather's mom saw that I was a little down.  "What's wrong?  You look like someone died."  Um...  I looked at her and then at Heather.  "Yeah, my dad did four days ago."  I get good mileage from that with my mother-in-law.]  I was not able to go to the funeral, having used too much time off for my recent honeymoon.  It is hard how closely those two events are linked.

Less than a year after we got married, my mentor lost his father suddenly.  I knew all too well how that felt, so we drove together to Dothan, Alabama just so I could give him a hug.  It wasn't even a question of if we could make that work; it was just what needed to be done.  Then came 9/11.  Josiah was being induced on that fateful day.  We once again were faced with the juxtaposition of extreme joy and extreme sadness.  Even though we were nowhere near the terrorist attacks, the memory of them are interwoven with our firstborn's arrival.  As I'm sure was the case with most Americans, processing that event was difficult for both of us.  The mammoth loss knocked us both for a loop - a very difficult thing when also discovering how to be parents. 

After moving to Orlando, we experienced a miscarriage.  We didn't even know Heather was pregnant until things were already ending.  We were out of town that weekend and she was feeling weird.  It was surreal to find out about the pregnancy in the urgent care center, immediately followed by the news that it wasn't going to make it.  How can you mourn something you didn't even know existed?  But it still ached in both of our hearts.  Thankfully, Natalie came along very soon thereafter.  My mom's mother was my last living grandparent.  She desperately wanted a great-granddaughter.  Natalie was her first, and she was born one day before my Grandma's birthday.  So it was a very neat arrival.  About nine months later, Grandma passed away.  I so distinctly remember how much she loved my kids.  She was so impressed by baby Josiah and so thrilled to meet Natalie.  This woman would babysit for me when I was younger and it was such a cool feeling to see her holding my kids. 

Heather's grandparents on her mom's side moved to Jacksonville while we were still there.  I was so blessed to be able to get to know them and love them.  They were such cool people and they really filled a hole in my life.  I had lost three of my grandparents before I graduated high school.  I had gained a new pair, which was awesome.  Unfortunately, we also got to experience the inevitable decline that comes with people in their 80s.  The funny, witty, intelligent man that was the powerful cornerstone of a family became a shell of his former self.  He passed away in Heather's first semester in Medical School.  We had three kids who had grown to love these precious folks as well.  It was the first loss that hurt the whole family.  Heather came home from Anatomy lab to that news.  The kids were so lost and confused.  As parents, you have to put your own desires and feelings on hold sometimes to take care of your kids.  That is a difficult lesson to learn - having to grow up when you are still processing your own grief.  A few years later, we lost Grandma Blann too.  It was even harder for us and our kids.  They were older and more connected to her at that point.  But I have always loved to see how tender my wife can be as she helps someone navigate difficult times.

And then there is my mother's battle with cancer.  While it has not claimed her yet, her diagnosis is bleak and undeniable.  It has been very difficult, wrestling with the reality of losing my mom.  She has been such a huge part of my life - friend, buffer, encouragement, refiner.  I hate even thinking about a time when she will not be around.  Through this entire season, Heather has been right there with whatever I need.  It could be an understandable explanation of confusing medical news.  It may just be sitting there and holding my hand.  I have no doubt that I would not have handled this well at all without Heather's love and support.

I would love to be able to avoid unpleasant situations, especially ones like I'm talking about.  But I see something so incredible in my wife in those moments.  It can be in something as simple as making our kids take a gross medicine or something as major as helping someone deal with horrible loss.  She just radiates love and comfort.  I have seen it happen.  When we were on vacation this past Spring Break, we went to the Uzdar-Hazy Museum - a branch of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.  [Side Note: If you can go there when you are in DC, DO IT!]  A man had what appeared to be a stroke as we were walking by.  Heather took over the situation, calmed down his family, treated the man, and directed the security team until the paramedics arrived.  I watched as my wife transformed into an incredible professional.  My kids looked at her like she was a superhero.  I absolutely love watching her as a doctor.  I can't even explain how much it moves my heart to see her making a difference in families that need her.

I'm about to get preachy here.  I know that it has become a popular stance to rip the medical community - accusing them of being part of a conspiracy, being brainwashed by pharmaceutical companies or whatever.  I get so angry when I hear this position being promoted.  If people could just know what the average doctor actually feels and goes through.  If they could see them crying when they can't find a way to rescue a child.  If they could watch a doctor allow a parent to scream at them or accost them - just to give them an outlet for their grief.  My wife is not part of some conspiracy.  She has sacrificed years of her life to be trained to help people.  That is all she wants to do: help people.  I see her heart break on a regular basis when dealing with kids whose lives are destined to be brief and difficult.  She is going into a field where she will spend most of her time dealing with kids who are not going to survive into their 30s.  Why would someone do that?  She wants to be there for those kids, for those families.  And she hopes at some point to discover something that may change those odds.  She is going into Death's backyard and fighting, instead of just waiting for him to do his dirty deeds.  For someone to wantonly declare that this woman has anything but the best interests of others at heart, well it makes me extremely angry. 

There are lots of things that makes me love my wife more than I did when we got married.  But few things have made me love her more than watching her handle the worst that life can throw at her.  I see the compassion and love that she brings to people who are in the throes of grief and despair.  I feel the comfort she brings me.  I know the agony she feels when she cannot fix the unfixable.  This is the side and depth of her that I never would have known without experiencing pain and loss.  So, while I would never wish for those events, I am glad to have this person by my side through them.

Jun 10, 2015

15 to 15: Travel

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

Last week I talked about some of the differences between me and Heather that make things fun.  Today, I want to look at one of the things we share in common.  We both love to travel.  I did not travel very much growing up.  We didn't take annual vacations or visit out-of-state family very often. The first time I ever flew on a plane was my senior year of high school when our chorus group flew to Washington DC for some performances.  But I always had this desire to go other places and explore our world.  I was able to visit a couple of other states in college, which was fun.  I planned on making travel a part of my life as an adult.

Heather's family was quite different from mine.  They traveled quite a bit.  She was born in Pennsylvania and still has family there.  So their family would visit relatives all over the midwest and Atlantic seaboard.  In addition, Heather was a band nerd.  So she got to travel overseas to perform.  Her passport was already well used when we got together.  And her handy dandy map of visited states was already peppered with colors.

We have been able to travel all over the place since we have been together.  We both like doing similar things in new locations.  We try restaurants we can't go to back home.  We visit crafty stores to look for unique items.  We do some of the touristy things that a city has to offer.  But we also both really enjoy history.  So we really like to visit Presidential Libraries.  They are such a neat capsule of history.  You don't have to like the President to enjoy their library.  Together we have been to Reagan's in Simi Valley, CA and LBJ's in Austin, TX.  I have also been able to go to Clinton's in Little Rock, AR and Carter's in Atlanta.  One of the things I am excited about with our move to Texas is that both of the Bush Libraries are in that state.  I was at Bush Sr's location when they had started it, but it wasn't done yet.  So that will be two more checked off.  

Our very first trip as a married couple was to Vermont on our honeymoon.  I had been to Vermont as a very young child; Heather had never been.  My dad's family is from the Maple State.  Unfortunately, my dad died a few months before Heather and I started dating.  He never met her.  So by going up there, it was kind of a way to connect with that part of my heritage. If you have never been to Vermont, it is a wonderful place to visit.  First of all, it is absolutely beautiful.  Second, there are so many little stores and towns to discover and explore.  We went to the Ben & Jerry factory and The Vermont Teddy Bear Company headquarters, visited the Von Trapp Family Lodge and Restaurant, shopped in Queechee Gorge at a very dangerous (to my wallet) Christmas store, explored an Apple Farm and Mill, and stayed at the Inn at Essex - which houses the New England Culinary Institute.  We also went to my dad's hometown, saw his childhood home, met one of my cousins I had never met, and paid tribute at his grave in the Vermont Veteran's Cemetery.  We even took a dinner cruise and a side trip to Boston (my first visit there) for the US Gymnastics Olympic Trials.

All of that was great.  Two of the most memorable stories, though, took place on our trip up there.  When we landed in Burlington, VT, I couldn't remember what car company I had booked our car with.  I knew it wasn't Alamo.  Like Mos Def in The Italian Job, I had a bad experience with them when I destroyed one of their cars in Atlanta a couple of years earlier.  I had booked on the internet, but that was a very risky move back then.  It was a great deal on a Ford Explorer.  But I started to freak out.  I visited every car company in the airport and none of them had our name.  I started to get more and more panicked.  We had been married for like a day at this point.  Heather was standing there quietly with our luggage, wondering if she had just made a terrible mistake. I finally went to Alamo to check. "Oh hi, Mr. Staples.  I've got you right here."  Moron.  Me, not him.

The other story was from our actual flight up. As I am constantly reminded by the people around me who love (to ridicule) me, I am nearly six years older than Heather.  She was young when we got married.  In retrospect, it ended up being great for our family.  We were able to have our kids before Heather went to medical school.  So she will be able to practice without the interruptions of childbirth.  At that point, we didn't know that.  I look older than I am; Heather looks younger than she is.  Few people believe that she is her actual age.  They think she's in her mid-20s until she tells them she has an almost 14 year old.  So when we got married, she looked even younger than that.   We were sitting in our airplane seats.  Heather was wearing her USF sweatshirt and had leaned up against the window to take a little nap.  The flight attendant came around to hand out "breakfast" to everyone.  When she got to our row, she asked me, "Would the little girl like a breakfast?"  Uh, what?!?  "My WIFE would like one when she wakes up, yes." She got flustered and said, "Oh I am so sorry.  Here you go," handing me two breakfast boxes.  Once she left, the lady sitting to my left leaned over. "In her defense, your wife does look very young."  I turned to the helpful lady.  "Yes, but she doesn't look like my DAUGHTER."  "No, no she doesn't."  That was a great way to start our honeymoon - masquerading as child abductor.

We have a little competition going with travel, as well.  We both would love to see the states we haven't visited.  So when one of us gets to go somewhere new without the other one, we naturally make a big deal about it.  A couple of years ago, Heather got to go to Utah for a conference.  She kept sending me pictures of the Olympic training site and the mountains.  She claims it was to share what she was doing.  I think it was to show me what I was missing out on.  (Then again, maybe she was telling the truth and I'm the only one who is mean.)  Even in our Spring Break trip up to Philly and DC, the kids and I got to run over to New Jersey while Heather was in her interview. Naturally, I told her, "Now I can mark that state off and you can't."  Yeah, I think it is just me.

Since we have been together, Heather and I have both been to Georgia, North & South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, California, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mexico.  I have been to Australia, Montreal, Arkansas, and New Jersey without her.  She has been to London, Germany, Utah, Missouri, and Kansas without me.  Our kids have already seen more of the country than I had by the time I was 25.  We like introducing them to new areas.  And they seem to have gotten the traveling bug. Well, except Gabe.  He always wants to go home.  He likes some things when we are gone. Before long, though, he misses his house.  That is one of the nicest things about traveling. I love that first night climbing back into my bed.

So I look forward to the other places we will visit.  We already are planning on how to get to the other major Texas cities once we move.  I am excited to see Houston and learn about that new place.  And Heather and I have talked about places we still want to go.  I really want to visit Chicago at some point.  London is also a place I've always wanted to go.  Heather wants to go to Hawaii some day.  So I don't see this travel love ending any time soon.  I just make sure I always print out my car reservations.

Jun 4, 2015

15 to 15: (Un)Common Interests

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

It is very funny to me when I think about ideas and conversations about marriage that I had when I was single, or talking to single people.  The things we "look for" in a spouse and that we feel are important.  I remember talking to one college student about how he dated a lot.  I felt that it wasn't the best idea for him.  He asked me with a laugh, "How am I supposed to know what kind of woman I want unless I date a bunch of them?"  I tried to figure out what exactly he was figuring out in these relationships that was going to help him figure out who should be his future bride.  

There were these little things that I would think were so important.  She likes music!  She likes movies!  It is like the scene in Friends when Phoebe is talking to her mom about how they don't have anything in common:
Phoebe Sr.: Well, I don't know. I mean, it's not like we don't have anything in common. I mean, I like, uh, pizza.
Phoebe: I like pizza!
Phoebe Sr.: You do? Wait, I like, um, the Beetles.
Phoebe: Oh my God, so do I!
Phoebe Sr.: I knew it! Wow!
Phoebe: Wait-wait-wait-wait! Puppies. Cute or ugly?
Phoebe Sr.: Oh, so cute.
Phoebe: Uh-huh, well!
Phoebe Sr.: You see?
Phoebe: Well, um, do you wanna get something to eat? I'm kinda hungry.
Phoebe Sr.: Hey! Me too!
Phoebe: All right, stop it. Now you're just doing it to freak me out.
You can find something in common if you're looking hard enough for it, I suppose.  So I used to put a high value on some of those things that Heather and I had in common.  And while those have been great to enjoy together, I have actually found that it is much more interesting to look at the things we don't have in common.

I am a big believer in laughter being important.  I like to joke and be funny, to tell stories in a humorous way.  (That is probably a surprise to most people.)  I remember once in seventh grade, a friend of mine got mad at me in Algebra class and punched me in the chest.  During class.  While the teacher was teaching. My other friend, Ellis, was about to destroy this guy.  The guy said, "You're always playing!"  Ellis didn't know that I kept messing with the other guy - poking him in the back and stuff.  I keep reminding people that I actually wrote a post "The 33 Most Annoying Things I Did to Greg Ramer."  It's on this blog.  Go read it.  I can be a total punk.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  So sometimes I cross the line.  But I think that my friends really appreciate the humor most of the time.  And Heather does too.  She likes how I make her laugh.  I covered this in an earlier 15to15 post.  Well, there are certain things that Heather likes that I don't like.  And there are certain things I like that Heather doesn't like.  These Uncommon Interests are a great source of fun-loving banter.  We poke at each other about them.  We try to communicate with each other about them, but it doesn't always work.  We have always tried to keep mean and biting sarcasm out of our marriage.  (Shut up.  My sarcasm dial is turned waaaaay down with my wife.)  But these little areas of friction end up providing a little sarcastic playground.  They aren't big areas of discord or strife.  They are like two magnets with the poles turned the wrong way.  The magnets don't get mad that they are not matching in that moment.  They just kind of bounce around and then get together later.   That's how this works with us.  I actually enjoy these things.  Married couples don't have to walk through life like a shared Facebook account.  They can have their own interests.

For example, I probably would have been a major gamer if not for the fact I didn't own any gaming systems until college.  I have all of the standard markers for this: love of sci-fi, nerdy, geeky, love of comic books, pasty complexion from too much time indoors, the look of a comic book store employee.  But I didn't grow up playing on these systems.  And I am a hopeless klutz.  So I actually am quite bad at video games that require any coordination or skill.  I really wanted the game Injustice for Xbox.  It is a DC fighting game with parallel universe versions of DC superheroes fighting each other.  So I actually got it as a birthday present.  I've played it twice.  There are so many buttons to memorize.  I just would mash things and hope I could beat someone.  The game is very cool.  But I just can't maneuver it.  The same goes for the Arkham City games.  Play as Batman and beat up people?  Sure thing.  I got the first one and couldn't get out of the intro levels.

So I gravitate towards games where dexterity takes a back seat to logic, persistence, and lots of free time.  I love the Lego games.  I have been a big fan of Angry Birds games and endless runner games like Temple Run.  Heather is great at Mario Kart.  I suck at Mario Kart.  So when we all play, Heather will fight for first and I end up falling off the mountain thirty times and don't even get to finish.  I have played Mario Kart for years and have never been good at it.  Now, Goldeneye Multiplayer on the N64?  I was good at that.  Why?  It was strategy and plotting, not how fast you could jam buttons down.  [I bought the recreated Goldeneye for Wii when it came out.  Couldn't get past the first level.  Back to the button mashing and precision playing.]

I will try to explain how I am doing on a game to Heather.  I will watch her.  She loves me, so she wants to care.  She wants to follow along with me.  But she can't.  Part of it is that she does not play the games I play.  Part of it is that she doesn't value them like I do.  Part of it is that she has better things to do with her life.  So she will sit there on the couch as I prattle on like the teacher in Charlie Brown.

I play this one game on my phone called Marvel Puzzle Quest.  It is like a Bejeweled game.  You have a team of three Marvel superheroes and are competing against another team of three characters.  You match colors in 3, 4, 5, or more combinations.  The different colors will power up your characters, which let them do extra damage with special moves.  The goal is to kill the other team.  There are story lines and tournaments.  It is quite fun.  But trying to explain the nuances of the game to someone who doesn't play, understand, or care so that they then can understand why you are so excited is impossible.  Heather will listen to me for a while, glaze her eyes over partway through, and then when I get animated enough, she will say, "Wow.  That's cool."  Kind of like what I do when my boys tell me about some level they built on Minecraft.  The other day I was trying to explain something to her and she said, "I don't know what that is, but you don't have to explain it to me because I won't understand and won't care."  I proceeded to explain it anyway.  She looked at me and said, "I said don't bother.  I don't get it and don't care."  Thinking back, it was a pretty stupid story, so maybe she had a point.

Lest you think this is a one-way issue, we go through the same problem whenever Heather is talking to me about medical stuff.  She will come home and be very excited about some procedure she did or some illness she saw.  She'll try to explain it to me.  I just stare at her.  I want to be excited for her.  But I have no idea what she's talking about.  And it gets even worse when she is with a group of other medical people.  They chatter on about all kinds of stuff from med school or residency.  I end up staring at the wall, playing with the kids, or waiting to make some stupid inappropriate joke to remind everyone I'm still there.  We used to get together with some friends when Heather was in med school. Often, I was the only one not in medicine in some way.  Or it was me and one other guy.  We would be chatting and having fun.  The next thing you know, everything would go wrong.
And then I'm standing there looking at the guy.  Dr Whatshisdoodle is actually poking him in the glarnox.  Can you believe it?  He was twitching all over.  Nearly sprained his lumbosis periodontalitis.  I had never seen a doctor do that.  There was the one time Dr Smartybritches diagnosed a case of Rubelian Sea Mumps just by seeing a guy spit on the window.  But this was next level stuff!  (Everyone laughs. I think how happy coma patients must feel at dinner parties.)
We also have vastly different opinions about what makes for quality television and movie watching.  We have some overlapping interest in these things (Castle, Burn Notice, Blue Bloods, Fresh Off The Boat).  But there is also a wide gulf between us.  There are some shows that I record that she has no interest in watching.  Fortunately, since she has a real job, she has to go to bed early and I can watch my Gotham and Marvel Agents of Shield and Elementary and Daredevil. Sometimes Heather will have a meeting or get together at night.  She will come home and I will be watching one of these shows.  I'll stop it and she'll say, "Oh, you can keep watching it."  But I know she has no interest in seeing it.  Since I want to stay in the same room as her, we switch to a common interest show.

Heather started watching Downton Abbey a few weeks ago.  I had deftly avoided this show because it sounded stupid.  I like British stuff as much as most geeks.  But stuffy rich people in early 1900s Britain seemed like a colossal waste of time - which is really something coming from me.  She would watch the show and I would sit on the couch playing Marvel Puzzle Quest or a Spiderman running game.  Then I would be watching the show and asking questions.  But if she asked me if I wanted her to pause it when I took the dogs out, I would say, "I'm not watching it. Do whatever."  Liar.  She did the same thing with Scandal and Duck Dynasty.  I would never admit it, but I think she has better taste than me in shows. I can't think of many shows I have won her over to in our marriage - Eureka was one.  But I know of several she has sneakily gotten me hooked on.

We both love books.  And we like a lot of the same books: Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, Shade of London.  A few months ago, Amazon made it possible for families to share Kindle libraries. It was awesome.  All of the sudden we both could access the dozens of books the other one had bought.  So we were talking about what series the other one should read.  So far she has read zero of mine.  She told me to read one and I started it.  When she got home I asked, "So what was the big idea telling me to read that stupid romantic bodice ripper?"  Heather does NOT read romance novels. But I have always called her books bodice rippers.  She hates it.  This book wasn't one either, but it was about a world where love was illegal or some hooey like that.  I tried to read Twilight, but it was horrendous.  So we just kept on reading our own stuff.

It may sound weird, but I actually like it that there are things that we don't share in common.  It isn't because I want to have my own world where Heather doesn't cross into.  But it shows that we are two different people with different likes and dislikes who choose to see past that to what is truly important.  I'm not insensitive to her interests and she isn't numb to mind.  In fact, that is where we can express how much we do care about each other.  Heather will frequently come up with great presents from my interests that she would only know about if she were listening when I thought she was zoned out.  I will ask her about things from work that I don't understand.  Or I will try to educate myself enough to be able to at least stay engaged in the conversation.  And we let each other enjoy those things.  We may zing them about it.  But I still encourage her to hang out with her doctor friends.  She still sends me to the movies to see Avengers 2 or to Game Stop to buy Lego Jurassic World.  I have some awesome Batman and Star Wars socks that she got me; she has socks with intestine designs on them (seriously, she does).  The similarities are rewarding.  But the differences, and the acceptance of them, adds so much depth.  To have someone volunteer to climb into something they do not care for, just because you are there?  That is a tremendous feeling.