Sunday, March 1, 2015

Work-life balance and the end goal

I know I’m not the only millenial that grew up hearing, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” And everyone said it: parents, teachers, television. The first day of my high school psychology class, the teacher asked us what we wanted to be. In the entire class, there was one person who said, “I just want to be a mom.”

Living in Iowa City, one of the first questions I get from most people is “are you a student?” When I say, “no I work,” the next question is, “what do you do?” And I find that I don’t want to answer. It bugs me to be defined by my job.

Recent conversation between me and the Vice President:
VP: Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Me: I want to write fiction and raise kids.
VP: So you want to be at home, working on fiction?
Me: Yes.

Owen called my response risky. In reality I just can’t think on the spot, so the only thing that can come out of my mouth is pure, unedited honesty. She was nice, but it felt like I was supposed to give a different answer, something about climbing the ladder.

I have the luxury of working my tail off at work, then coming home and ignoring my email and phone until the next work day. Owen, on the other hand, has homework to do. He doesn’t even get work-life separation, let alone work-life balance.

Don’t let his being in a Ph.D. fool you—Owen’s aspirations and mine are actually very similar. Right now, he doesn’t always get to spend the time he wants to on “life” away from work. But Owen isn’t in his Ph.D. program to work toward a career goal. He’s in it to work toward a family goal.

For us, work-life balance is about why we’re working, not just how much we’re working. I “just” want to be a mom. Owen “just” wants to be a dad. We are working toward finding careers that will allow us to spend as much time with each other as possible and to be emotionally available to our kids and those around us.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love Grows

We did want to get pregnant. It was planned. But for some reason, the moment I saw those two pink lines, I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster that I didn't want to be on, and it was rolling forward.

Now, D-Day is less than five weeks away, and I have Grown. And our house has shrunk, as baby things overflow the room I thought we had.

And Owen is starting to wonder if he will still get love and attention after the baby is born. Between his Ph.D. program, my job, and keeping our house from becoming a complete mess, we don't get enough time together as it is, and now he'll have to compete for my time with a baby?  He doesn't stand a chance. And MaryMilo (our giant tortie monster-cat) still thinks that the crib is for her—she's in for a surprise.

The YouTube series "Convos with My 2 Year Old" takes real conversations between daddy and child and reenacts them with an adult man as the child. For one, the videos are hilarious. They also highlight an interesting relationship dynamic between daddies and children: the children are interlopers. They're demanding strangers who come in and steal your wives.

But we've discovered something about love from our relationship together: Love Grows.

We thought we'd lose friends in becoming a couple, instead we've gained each others' friends, and family. And our friends are getting married and adding more friends. I'm not saying it's always easy. Adding new people to existing relationships creates all sorts of roll confusion, jealousy, and sometimes divisiveness. But none of those things come from love.

I think the most common contender to love in growing families is idolization. New parents have so many things to idolize: the baby, future dreams, old habits, ideas of what it is to be a mom or a dad, to name a few.

Now Owen and I have the opportunity to let the love we have for each other grow to include love for our baby. We don't expect to completely avoid the pitfalls of idolization, but we know what to look out for.

We're Back!

Hello! It has been a very long time. I almost forgot how to get to the editor. (and let's be honest, the new header needs work!) But I'm so excited for this year's theme, and Valentine's Day, that I couldn't wait. Beautification will just have to come later.

After nearly more than a year hiatus, I am excited to get back to My Modern Marriage. Blogging helped me through those hard first two years of marriage, and now... things are changing again as we enter parenthood. We are expecting the arrival of our baby girl March 17.

Goals for phase 3 of My Modern Marriage:
1. Do not turn My Modern Marriage into a Mommy Blog. Keep the focus on marriage and the crazy stretch mark our marriage is gaining.
2. Do include some cute baby stuff.
3. Do post every two weeks.

Preview of things on my mind to blog about:
1. Love Grows
2. The poisonous dish rack
3. Career envy

But, who knows, once baby is born the poisonous dish rack may not seem as interesting. ;-)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thoughts on Nostalgia

Nostalgia: a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Upon getting married, I fully expected to experience that short stretch of time known as the honeymoon phase. A time when you are so happy to be together that nothing else really matters or concerns you. We didn't even have a trace of the honeymoon phase after getting married. We had too many other things to deal with, and life was very difficult for us. During this time, Owen turned to childhood nostalgia as a means of alleviating the daily stress.

I felt so saddened by my new husband's yearning for a time that didn't include me. Rather than excitement for our new life together, he desired to turn to the past. I know better now that this didn't have to do with me so much as our being thrust into adult life, and with the added responsibility of caring for an extra person. As much as our society has progressed past traditional roles, many married men still feel the pressure to provide necessities as well as luxuries for their wives and children, sending many men yearning for Rosebud*

The term Nostalgia, coined in the 1600's, was first used as a medical condition for people, often soldiers or sailers, who were so homesick that they lost their senses. In modern times nostalgia has developed a more positive connotation as suggested by the dictionary definition above. Now, nostalgia is often viewed as an enjoyable way to recount the past with friends and family. 

According to recent research on nostalgia, New York Times: What is Nostalgia Good For?, it can help people feel more connected to their communities and their loved ones and can make life feel more worthwhile. At its best nostalgia isn't a yearning or a comparison to a less happy present, but a time of reflection.

I find that when Owen and I can share in nostalgia, such as in comparing childhood stories or recounting happy memories from the beginning of our relationship we feel closer to one another and happier to be together. 

For my birthday this week, Owen (not a morning person) woke up at 7:15 to light the charcoal grill. We cooked french toast and bacon over the fire, and nestled a foil bowl of strawberries and peaches under the grate. My sister found a tablecloth and set the table with pretty glass.

The food tasted so good that I found myself eating it very quickly. At some point I realized what I was missing in my haste-- I stopped eating and looked at my family and looked at the beautiful food. I breathed the image in and stored it in a place in my mind that I could look back to it years from now for future nostalgia. 

*In the film Citizen KaneCharles Foster Kane, a rich and successful businessman with two failed marriages, dies alone in his mansion uttering the words "Rosebud." Journalist Jerry Thompson spends the rest of the film trying to understand Citizen Kane's personal life and the significance of Rosebud. In the end of the film, viewers learn that Rosebud refers to his childhood sled, a symbol of the happiest, most free time of his life. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Love is Sharing the Awkward

Embarrassment is an emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others.

When I was in my early teens, my family had dinner at Pappadeaux for the first time. At the end of the meal, our waiter took our left-overs to the kitchen to package them. A few minutes later he returned with another waiter from the restaurant. He explained to us that the other waiter had lost our left-overs, and insisted that the other waiter apologize, making certain that we knew it was not his fault. It was so insignificant a moment, but my emotional response was so strong that it has always stuck with me: I felt disgusted that our waiter was so evasive of blame as to cause more embarrassment than necessary for the waiter who lost the food. It was such an unimportant thing--losing the left-overs.

This memory pairs with a later one in my mind, when I was staying with a friend of a friend and accidentally broke a ceramic bowl. I was so embarrassed and felt so awkward. My friend, one Lisa York, joined in my mistake by telling the other, "we broke a bowl," thus relieving me of my embarrassment.  That is a good friend. 

Have you ever seen it when one partner in a couple is clearly embarrassed by the other? One partner may tell a joke that doesn't go over well in a crowd, and rather than laughing anyways, the other partner rolls his or her eyes. Such a response to an awkward moment not only reveals discomfort with the hypothetical embarrassing partner, but a lack of loyalty or compassion in the relationship. I know when I see this pattern in other couples I'm usually more bothered by the partner rolling his eyes than I am by the partner telling the lame joke.

Awkward Engagement Photo
Yet, sometimes being the eye-roller is tempting. When your partner says or does something that you would never do-- maybe dancing badly or giving away a little too much personal information
-- it feels like others will attribute the awkward behavior to you, and distinguishing yourself as separate from the behavior is the natural reaction. 

When we give into the temptation to separate ourselves from something embarrassing our partner does, we create separation not only from the behavior, but from the partner (and being unsupportive of our partners doesn't look very good to onlookers either). Is trying to save ourselves from a little embarrassment really worth divisive actions?

Joining in on an awkward moment and acting as if it isn't awkward or embarrassing at all not only avoids divisiveness, but creates a stronger partnership over all. Let the world laugh. What does it hurt?

"There's a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there's not much else that can really get to ya." Christian Bale

Friday, June 21, 2013

I Will Wait For You

As popular as it is right now, Mumford and Sons' I Will Wait frequently sticks in my head. This idea of waiting for the right person is a common and romantic theme in media. There is a suggestion that waiting for the the right person, known or unknown, will lead to a beautiful, albeit delayed, love.

"“...of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”  Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

But what exactly are we waiting for? Commonly the idea of waiting for someone romantically insinuates one of two things: (1) The beloved is absent, such as in the instance of a typical WWII movie where the brave soldier goes to war while the pretty and worried beloved waits for him at home; (2) a body purity concern.

Waiting for an absent lover in our current society could be more readily portrayed in the form of long distance relationships where the partners are pulled apart from one another because of disparate career choices. Such partners have to deter other romantic possibilities as they wait to be reunited with their long-distance loves.

Waiting through absences is seen as romantic. What about waiting for a partner while remaining in his or her presence?

Sometimes waiting with a partner who is having emotional turmoil can be just as hard as waiting for an absent partner. Negative emotions are hard to carry in a relationship, and when life circumstances bring one partner down, the other suffers as well.

When life is hard partners don't always wait. In the documentary Happy one of the women interviewed reflects on a life-changing accident. The woman was run over by a truck, leaving her far less beautiful than she had been and bed ridden for many months. During this time of trial her husband didn't wait, instead choosing to leave her.

“Waiting hurts. Forgetting hurts. But not knowing which decision to take can sometimes be the most painful...”  José N. Harris, MI VIDA

In the documentary, she regains strength, she meets a new man, and has a happier life than she had before her accident. Cheerful, kind, creative, and resilient, she was a woman worth waiting for, and her first husband missed out on learning the capacity of her spirit.

Would the first husband have waited the same amount of time as the recovery period (8 months if I remember correctly), had the months been spent apart for a career concern? Perhaps waiting for an absent partner is in some ways easier than waiting for a partner to regain strength after facing emotional or physical damage.

As I put my life plans on hold to wait for Owen to finish school, I like to think of songs like I Will Wait. It helps me to remember the value of this waiting period as we continue to build our relationship in preparation to pursue our life together.

"Blessings may appear under the shape of pains, losses, and disappointments; but let him have patience, and he will see them in their proper figures."  Joseph Addison The Guardian 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Plan D

Plan A: Graduate from St. Olaf and enroll in grad school in Ft. Collins, CO in our respective fields.
Foiled: Owen was accepted to Iowa, but not Ft. Collins.

Plan B: Owen enters the PhD program in Iowa City, the following year I enter either the writing MFA program or the English PhD, and we buy a house.
Foiled: It turns out that you cannot apply to both the MFA program and the English PhD at the same time, which I only found after having applied to the impossible-to-get-into MFA program, which I didn't get into. Buying a house was more difficult than anticipated... Though we did eventually end up in a townhouse that we love.

Plan C: I work for a year and reapply to the MFA program. Owen's program progresses as usual.
Foiled: I again was not accepted to the MFA program. Owen's program proved entirely more difficult than expected.

Plan D: Go with the flow.

One of my favorite things about Iowa City:
The trees wear sweaters!
At times it feels like we have little to no control over how we spend our lives as financial, academic, emotional, and physical restraints keep us from achieving our plans. Yet, looking back, I am glad that so many of our plans didn't work. Had we both been accepted to Ft. Collins, we would be taking out student loans like crazy trying to pay for both school and rent, but the University of Iowa gives enough financial aid that we are actually paying back some debt. Besides finances, we've also discovered an interesting city full of creativity that we never knew existed. Had we not moved to Iowa, I would probably have never known about tree sweaters.

Also, living in Colorado would mean being much further away from our college friends, who have supported us and helped us through so much of the past two years.

Had we bought a traditional house, we would be in way over our heads by now, but our townhouse has fulfilled everything we wanted in a home without the stress of having to worry about the roof or the yard.

Though not getting into the MFA program was frustrating, I wouldn't trade my time working with the Arc for anything! Spending a year helping people with disabilities has made me a more patient, nurturing, and open person.

As much as we've felt like we didn't have control, we've certainly had to make plenty of choices. Confronted with difficulty, Owen had to choose to work his butt off fulfilling the requirements of his program. Faced with my own stumbling blocks, I've had to choose to keep trying new ways to find fulfillment.  By choosing to go with the flow, we've finally found a plan that can't get foiled.

We haven't entirely stopped making plans, but we don't necessarily think of our plans with the same urgency and anxiety to fulfill them. Now plans are merely a map of how to spend each day until something changes. My current plans of finding a job that allows me to use my bachelor's degree and pay off students loans has me applying to multiple jobs a week, as I simultaneously prepare to take on Arc shifts to pay the bills meanwhile.

I won't say that following Plan D is necessarily easy. The temptation to get this job or afford that item sometimes overwhelms the non-attachment attitude of going with the flow, but ultimately what else can we do? We have to choose to continue to keep moving forward no matter what does or doesn't work out for us. Until I know what I'm doing next, I'm going to keep writing, keep cooking, and maybe start learning some HTML... I don't have any concrete plans for the knowledge gained, but it can't hurt right?