Several months ago I wrote an essay and entered it into Real Simple to try to win a trip to New York. Since they haven't called to tell me I've won, and the magazine is hitting stands soon, I am guessing I can now share my entry.
The topic: I never thought I'd....
...Own a Minivan, and technically I still don't.
I am a thirty four year old married woman. My husband is a thirty nine year old married man. Obviously, he’s married to me. We have two point one children. The point one is for the occasional pets that come to visit our home. They never stay for very long. It also stands for the baby girl we talk about one day adopting - if we don’t have to pay for her - and some kind of needy soul rings our doorbell and says, “Please take this perfectly healthy, beautiful, baby girl and make her your own. No paperwork involved.”
On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we all get up and go to school or to work. I suppose technically I go to both, since I work at my youngest son’s preschool. My husband goes to just work. He’s a lawyer. On Saturdays we go to the soccer fields and yell at our kids to run faster. The kids – Well, they’re boys. On Sundays we get in our Ford Explorer (with a third row seat) and go to church.
As you can tell, I am living the American dream.
Except that in My Childhood American Dream I lived in a big city and rode on a subway. I had a husband that worked for a non-profit and we ate at little, local, tucked away restaurants just like in the movies. We were poor. In theory. I still got to wear J Crew and he always looked like a slightly unshaven underwear model. Children of my own were a vague hope floating somewhere in the future. My job was to save inner city kids just like that teacher did in Dangerous Minds. I was really, really great, but still humble.
Truth be told, I had no idea what I was wishing for when I imagined my future. I created a story I thought sounded interesting, then aimed for it. Yet somewhere along the way, I got distracted. And then I got distracted again. And before long I ended up in the place I am now. Now is what I fondly refer to as My Grown Up American Dream – revised edition.
It’s messy, this real world in which I live. Being married is grueling. My husband and I drive each other crazy, and I swear he does stuff like leave cabinet doors open, just to irritate the living daylights out of me. But I get him back. I subconsciously spread my shoes all over the house just so he can trip over them. Our children are actual live little people with sticky hands and tricycles in my house on rainy days and one even still has trouble with the bathroom paperwork. They go to school where these teachers give homework and they ask questions, like, “Do Mommies and Daddies grow babies? I thought God grew babies.” And I have to answer with, “God gives Mommies and Daddies babies, and Mommies grow them in their bellies. Daddies don’t grow babies.” At which point, having boys, I hear, “Yesss!!!” coming from the back seat of that Ford Explorer.
Then there are the relatives that accompany the marriage of a spouse. Crazy Irish Catholic relatives with thick Southern accents and boundless energy. On paper, they would look so normal, so like my family. In this real live, bounce off the paper version, however, they are much louder, much more opinionated, and love to celebrate birthdays. Even all the adults get birthday parties. Even those of us that marry into the family get birthday parties. My own family stopped giving me birthday parties when I went off to college, so I have to admit, it’s almost always fun and rarely boring.
Unlike the in laws, the family I bring to the marriage is normal. Normal to the point of being weird. My father reads in the evenings while my mother sits or sleeps on the couch, and my siblings live in big cities, but love visiting their roots. They have distinguished academic jobs, and nobody has been through a nasty, not playing nice in the sandbox, divorce. They’re all mainly Episcopalians, except one that jumped over to the Presbyterian Church. Combining one of us with the crazy Irish Catholics has taken some work, but somehow we have endured.
The key to all this wonderfulness is love, grace, and a mastery of sarcasm. Because in my explanation, what I’ve really left out are the messy parts. I’ve skipped right over my husband’s constant vigil over his diabetes, or my mom’s dementia and how it hurts that she can’t remember when I was born. I haven’t mentioned how two women in our families have battled and survived breast cancer, or all the adoptions our siblings went through to get those magazine worthy cute kids. I purposely left out an explanation of what debilitating anxiety looks like, or how grief over losing a brother to a drunk driver feels. I have yet to explain our heart wrenching circumstances that, over the years, have tugged at my faith in myself and have left me at times seriously questioning God. Explaining all those things, well, that would just be yucky.
And yet, it is all these messy parts of My Grown Up American Dream – revised edition - that help me to see my real life just as it is.
So, on Sundays, we get up, and we put on clothes, and we go to the local Episcopal, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Holiness Please forgive me Church. We go because we were raised to go. We also go to feel that love and that grace. To some people, religion isn’t necessary. For me, my faith is what helps me stand up, look outside of myself, and see that I really do have it pretty nice. It’s what sees me through when life gets so messy and tear streaked that snot comes out of my nose. Grace. Love. They feel good. They are what help me recognize that I never would have planned my life along the path I am traveling, and in my planning I would have missed out on everything. I would have missed the opportunity to hear my husband’s snoring and my kids arguing over the Star Wars legos and the phone ringing during dinner and my mom showing us her belly button and my dad explaining the futility of worry and crazy uncles sending treasure hunt instructions in the mail and my in laws giving me advice over gin and tonics. Seriously, Thank God for Sundays. It’s when we ride downtown, wearing clothes from Target, in our Ford Explorer (with a third row seat) and I finally see that despite my best intentions, I sure enough am living out my real life, messy, American dream - two point one kids, ranch house in the suburbs, and all.