In our house, we have code words to remind us all to be mindful of our behavior towards one another. The kids, deciding that I have a hard time keeping my sentences short, designated mine, “Apples!” Whenever I hear this word, I am supposed to stop and think about what I really want to say, and find a more concise way to express myself.
It’s been good, really.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I find myself uttering the word to myself.
Case in point: Last night, I sat down to blog about how I got here- “here” referring to the approach I take to childhood, mothering, and teaching. As it turned out, I realized an hour into typing I was actually writing an analysis of my imperfections. To humble myself before you, dear readers, I set out to prove how intimidating I’m really not, and how human I really am.
An hour’s worth of typing. Ok. APPLES!
Here’s the short version: I am no more perfect than anyone else out there. I could outline my myriad flaws, but I suspect they’ll make themselves evident on their own in time. Besides, it’s such a negative way to write, no matter how much of a humorous spin I put on it. So just trust me, dear readers: I am no supermom. I’m simply human.
My journey started when I was a kiddo myself. For the sake of sanity, brevity, and joyful reading, I will wait until relevance renders those snippets necessary. That will shave about twenty years right there.
Honestly, to answer the question, “How did I get here,” it makes the most sense to know a little bit about my children. I could wax on about them a while, too, so they’ll each get their own blog posts soon. To summarize, though, it became very apparent from the start that they were not little blobs of clay for me to mold. No blank slates. Nor could I control them. There were too many outside factors, from health issues, to sensory concerns, to the plain and simple reality of life. I had two choices: make it easy, or make it hard. I chose to make it easy.
Now, don’t let me mislead you. Getting down on the same level as a screaming, flailing child is not the easiest thing to do in that moment. Especially not in a public place with all those eyes watching, judging. In the long run, however, everything becomes so much simpler. The foundation for open and effective communication and trust is laid. Power struggles dissolve. Hard questions seem to answer themselves- not that this makes them much easier.
People have said to me that I seem to speak the language of children, that I “get” them in ways that others don’t. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t let it go to my head. After all, I didn’t have a whole lot of choice. Once I birthed my children, I realized there wasn’t room for my ego to coexist peacefully. You know, that part of the psyche that shouts from atop the swingset, “Look at me, no, LOOK AT ME!”
To be perfectly clear- I have not given up my sense of self. My kids need to see me with an identity separate from their own. I have given up the attachment to my ego, to making it about me.
Or sort of. I am only human, after all.
But once I had children, what I wanted became less of a priority. And even as it did, it morphed from self-centered to whole-centered. I became more aware of the interconnectedness of all things, the inherent spirituality of life and the universe. Mutual respect and love and peace and all manner of hippie thoughts preoccupied me now.
It naturally followed that when my kids used whatever means they had available to communicate, I would listen, no matter how unacceptable their methods might seem. I simply had to also teach them how to share their minds appropriately.
After all, we’re not born 30. How could I expect them to already exhibit the skills that I’ve only just begun to master?
Oh, my. Here I go, getting wordy again!
I had this dream about a year ago that I was being chased by “bad guys”, and I was running all over the place with my kids in tow, trying to keep them safe. I didn’t know who the “bad guys” were or what they wanted, just that I had to keep my kids safe. Finally, I found a building made of brick, a “safe house”, and I explained to the kids that I loved them very much, and one day I would come back for them, but I didn’t know when. I told them if they stayed with me, they wouldn’t be safe. My then-4-year-old son nodded his head sagely, and escorted his sister inside, giving me one last look over his shoulder before they disappeared to the other side of that door. I sat in my car and cried.
That’s the kind of dream that stays with and haunts a mom for a lifetime.
But it’s true – if it would keep my kids safe, I would give up everything to protect them – even my children themselves. I would give them a safe place to stay and content myself with loving them from afar until the danger was over.
Their father does not see it that way.
Regardless of what jeopardy he may be placing them in, he wants a relationship with his kids no matter what, and he wants it on his terms. He wants to bike the kids a mile and a half in 25 degree weather with a 15 mph wind – and on a bike at 30mph, or even 20mph, that translates to a wind chill factor at below-zero. He’s homeless, and he wants to force me to get his consent regarding education and health for the kids. He failed to get the kids’ health insurance, and B.R. missed a week of school because his dad never scheduled that physical he was supposed to earlier this year.
I get it, people make mistakes, they get hit by hard times. But through all of this, he’s never shown that he’s thinking of the kids first. He’s thinking of himself – and his “relationship” with the kids. The relationship is secondary to the kids’ needs. It grows out of tending to their needs. Babies learn love after an association with feeding has been made. It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that!
After this week, I will have the kids in my home full-time because their dad is homeless. He would like to spend more time with them than just the one day a week I’m currently offering – but I can’t just let him take the kids anywhere, and I can’t have him in my house all the time. We need boundaries. He’s a manipulative, button-pushing guy.
I’ve tried giving him a little bit to work with. But that little inch seems to entitle him to go for a mile. I’m tired of doing all the work to see to it that the kids are well-adjusted and loved in relation to him. I want him to step up and prove himself.
Our court date is at the end of January. I had hoped to work out an arrangement with him out of court, but it seems as though that’s not going to happen – not unless I agree to his terms. He seems to think I’m asking him to give up his parental rights – all I want is for him to think of what the kids need. But he can’t even tend to his own needs, so what am I thinking?
I am so scared. Pickle and I have gotten by ok with having the kids half time, and we want to have the kids full time because it’s a better environment for them here, and hell, we love them. But it’s going to be a big change, especially for Pickle. She’s not a parent – she’s on her way to becoming a step-parent. She’s invested in these kids, but, still, they’re not hers. I can’t expect her to feel as though they are all the time.
I’m essentially going to be a single mom with a little bit of backup.
We haven’t talked about this yet, Pickle and I. We made an “appointment” to talk about it Friday after I get off work – because it needs to be discussed. I have to know where her limits are.
I’m not even thinking as I’m writing this. I’m just nervous and scared. And spitting words out that probably just barely make sense.
I feel like I’m traveling uncharted territory, here.
I would like to see more discussion about andro lesbians. There’s an awful lot about butch-femme identity politics, and there’s a good amount on cis/trans identity politics, but I don’t hear people talking about andro politics much.
Why is that?
Is it because there’s a subtle undercurrent of expectation that lesbian relationships either mimic the exaggerated “hetero model” of masculine-feminine dynamic, or be made up of two very hot girly-girls who like to get it on in front of a camera?
My Sweet Pickle is neither butch, nor femme. She’s not a boi. She has no desire to identify as a male. And while she’s content to be a woman (that is the body she was given), she doesn’t much care to throw herself into that identity either.
Sometimes she likes to cut her hair close and spike it. Sometimes she grows it out long. Always, she wears a baseball cap or beanie over it. She’s built like a 12 year old boy – and shops in the husky 12 year old boy’s section of the store. She kinda acts like a 12 year old boy, too. Sometimes.
I read this article, When a Cis-Woman Dates a Trans-Man, which is about how a cis-woman in a relationship with a trans-man is stymied over what to call her sweetheart. He identifies as male, but to call him her “boyfriend” denies the couple their queer identity. To add in the word “trans” as a description is awkward, both structurally and socially.
In an activist community heavily focused on “people-first language” a part of me is inclined to say, “So what? You happen to be queer – you’re in love with each other first. Labels are for jars.”
But labels can be comforting. There are contexts in which it feels right, can be encouraging, to use labels. For example, I am a woman who is in love with another woman, has two children, and my body parts work differently from the average person. Awkward. But if I’m introducing myself in a Deaf Queer setting, for example, I’d want to say, “I’m a Deaf lesbian and a differently-abled mom.”
And that last sentence, reading it, it just feels so empowering. I look at that, and I’m almost in awe of myself – not to sound egotistical or anything. But in a certain setting, that sentence could do amazing things.
So I understand the struggle with labels. And as a cis-woman madly in love with another cis-woman, I know the struggle with partner-defining labels as well. I hate the word partner. Like the author of the article above, I, too, see images of suited individuals shaking hands. But she’s not my girlfriend, either – to me, people over a certain age are not girls & boys anymore, so the terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” become obsolete. Lover… gag. Companion leaves a little something out. Sweetheart, quaint and cute, and I can live with it… but it lacks a sense of personal identity.
And then to throw gender-politics into it.
My brother likes to refer to my Sweet Pickle as his “brother-in-law,” or “Uncle” for his kid.
I hate that. She doesn’t identify as male. She’s not trans. It seems disrespectful to all my trans friends out there who work so hard to have their identities taken seriously, and it feels disrespectful to me on her behalf (though she honestly doesn’t care), because that’s not who she is. It seems disrespectful to me because I just came out of a ten-year hetero relationship, and came out as a lesbian, and I feel like it’s my brother’s way of making sense of the whole thing without actually trying to understand it. He’s making me “straight” again.
But she doesn’t care. So why should it bother me?
Because my identity matters, too. OUR identity matters.
She’s not a girl. She’s not a boy. She’s not a man, and she just barely identifies as a woman. (If there was a 12-year-old boy status on the gender chart, she’d probably pick that one)
She’s my Sweet Pickle. She is who she is, nothing more, nothing less.
I’ve come to two conclusions: 1)I hate the gender binary. (Actually, I’d concluded that long ago, it’s just reinforced again) And 2) I want to call her something that isn’t completely devoid of attachment and feeling, and doesn’t have a bunch of other inappropriate-to-us meanings associated with it. And the only place I’ll find that is right here, with the two of us.
She’s disgusted by me.
I had sex with him. Before she ever came along, I thought so poorly of myself, I thought he was worthy of my devotion. And even after I slowly started coming to the realization that he wasn’t, I still procreated with him willingly, created offspring with him.
If you can call having to be drunk to do such a thing “willing”.
I made my choices a long time ago. I will continue to see how those choices’ effect unfolds throughout the rest of my life. I have no option but to accept that, and content myself with what is.
I thought one of those choices was my life partner. I thought that in choosing her – dedicating myself to her in tempest and tame waters – I was honoring myself. She is a goddess to me – not superior to me, but holy, sacred.
She reaches into the depths to dredge out the toxic sludge that’s been rotting away inside for years. In doing so, she enables me to feel the power of liberation – I am free to experience anger and sadness, indignance, pride. In experiencing these powerful emotions, I let them go, and when I do, the bliss settles in. The joy that I have lived, I have survived and triumphed. I have come so far.
Even when it seems I have such a long, long way to go.
She tears me down, but to give me the opportunity to build myself back up again. She guts the foundation and helps me lay the stone and cement. The materials are mine, the tools are mine, even the labor is mine – but I’m not doing it alone.
I can’t wonder if that’s what she’s doing right now.
When she says she’s thinking of walking away because she can’t deal with him anymore. Because looking at me makes her want to vomit, and no one should ever feel that way about the one they love.
Am I strong enough to build myself back up again without her? Do I have that kind of endurance? Surely, I must be. I have to be. I’m only given what I can take, right?
Oh, but I already feel I’m at the end of my rope with everything else in my life.
So does she. Money problems have been ridiculous. Problems with my ex have been outrageous. Everyone’s paying for it.
She compares it to being stuck in a Chinese finger trap. Those woven bamboo dealys that you put your fingers into, and when you try to pull them out, they tighten? But once you relax and release the pressure, your fingers just slip right out of them.
How do we release the pressure?
He’s not going anywhere, my ex. He’s a constant reminder to her of my past. When she thinks of how little regard I held myself in when I was with him, she thinks, “What’s wrong with me? How bad am I?” She questions my standards and it reflects in her self-image.
What she and I have, I’ve never had with anyone else. When we’re intimate, I’m a different person than I have ever been with anyone.
I am completely comfortable with her. I can be myself. I don’t have to fill a role, pretend to be what I’m not. I don’t have to close my eyes and “go somewhere else.” I savor every last part of the experiences I share with her, I look into her eyes – something I’ve never shared with anyone else. I feel like I’m reconnecting with myself when I connect with her.
I have patience with her that I’ve never had for anyone other than my own children. I have love for her that compares only to the love I have for my children. She is part of my family. She may not have made those babies with me, but she makes this family. She fits us all so perfectly, and we complement her. We bring out the best and the worst of each other, the light and the dark.
The words “soulmate”, “best friend,” “partner” … they’re all so vague and they miss the mark. To say she’s “my better half” or “a piece of myself” reflects images rife with codependent meaning. But I have yet to find the words to describe our relationship with one another.
She’s the person I’ve been looking for my whole life, and I found her when I least expected to.
And now, she may walk away because my ex is unbearable, selfish, ill-mannered, and smells bad? Is it bad that I’ll forgive her ten times over for leaving me for her own peace of mind, but if she does, I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again?
How can one person have so much power over me, when I’m not the one giving it to him?
Or am I?
I am invested deeply in her, in our relationship. I’m still a whole person without her, though I’ve grown quite attached to her. I gave her a certain power over me – a shared power – and my happiness. If she walks away, she takes a portion of that with her. I gave it to her because I trusted her, I do trust her.
I know she’ll do what’s right for her, and I believe what’s right for her is what’s right for us.
I just have to have faith.
I need to believe.
I’ve discovered I possess a disturbing perspective. Specifically in regards to individuals who have identified as gay and suddenly find themselves in heterosexual relationships.
I find myself viewing them as “defectors.”
I, who identified for the majority of my life as bisexual, who was in a heterosexual relationship for ten years, and who primarily maintained heterosexual romantic relationships prior to that, feel betrayed when one of “my own” starts dating someone of the opposite sex.
It doesn’t alarm me so much if a woman who has primarily dated women in the past involves herself with a man who’s preferred the company of other men. In my mind, I chalk that up to experimentation.
When did my view become so warped? Am I so immersed in the LGBT lifestyle, so entrenched, that now I take the polar opposite stance as one who believes gays are unnatural?
I suppose part of it is the new-ness of my own self-liberation. I’ve embraced being a lesbian. I look back at my past involvements with men and I honestly can’t understand how I did it. I’ve always found male anatomy disturbing, I’ve always been better friends with guys than lovers, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the ladies.
So why would I “go back”? I think some of my thought pattern involves a bit of projection. If I wouldn’t “go back”, why would anyone else? And if there’s nothing to “go back” to, why even mess with it? Trust me, it’s safer over here on this side of the rainbow.
It’s funny. I’ve always proclaimed loudly, “Love knows no gender!” Hell, I don’t even believe gender is as black and white as the dominant tradition in the U.S. would have us believe.
I’ve also notoriously been a rebel. I don’t follow, I don’t really lead either. I pick out my own beat and march to it, the rest of the band be damned. If someone tells me what to do, even if it was originally my plan, I’ll reverse tracks. And if there’s any semblance of conformity around me, I’ll change my colors to stand out – even if that means that there’s a whole slew of others just like me and I’m only changing my colors to conform to them.
It’s a reaction. I’m not a poser, just a reactionary. And it takes me a while to realize that my non-conformity is actually just a variation of that which I’m balking against. So then I change my colors again. And inevitably… well the cycle has repeated itself so often through my 3 decades here, so why should it stop now?
I wonder if my warped view is a reflection of this? Am I changing my colors to fit in with my still-relatively-new identity? Once the novelty wears off, will I be more understanding? Or will I always see my gay-gone-hetero friends as Benedict Arnolds?
Well, hey…. at least I don’t have to give a toaster back every time.
Pickle and I have been in a tremendously rough spot lately.
She’s been my rock throughout the hardest part of the divorce – renegotiating the terms of my interactions with my ex, my kids’ father. She’s been so supportive through it all, and she’s watched the toxic games play out.
She’s had more than she can take. Now it’s time for me to put on my big girl panties and get ‘er done. I can do this – I can stop playing into his manipulation, I can think first of my children, my self, and my lover. I need to.
She’s felt for some time that I give him more love than I do her. I have allowed him to take up more of my energy than is appropriate. I’ve preoccupied myself with how to make him happy in order to win his cooperation with the objective of making the kids’ lives easier, better.
I don’t need to make him happy. I don’t live with him. He can have his feelings, and I can respect those feelings, but it’s not up to me to take responsibility for those feelings.
It’s not up to me to take responsibility for her feelings, either. Don’t get me wrong. But she is the one I live with, she is the one I love, and therefore, she is the one I have chosen to be deserving of my love and attention.
I should probably show her that, eh?
We have a little bit of a co-dependent streak going on. Wasn’t always like this. But somewhere along the line, our interdependency turned into something a little less healthy.
How to fix that?
I suggested a couple of days ago both of us sitting down and writing lists of our individual hopes, dreams, expectations, boundaries. She said, “Hell, no. I’ve told you, told you, I’m done telling you!”
“Sweetie, I’m not going to force this on you. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, we can find a different way. But I need the visual. I need to put our two lists side by side – see where we match, where we don’t, where we can meet in the middle. I want to put it somewhere where, when we lose sight of our own objectives or the other’s, we – or least I – can refer to it for a reminder.”
Two days later, after some resistance and negotiating, we finally came to an agreement. She hates writing. So I will write her list for her – on my own. And she will check the list to correct what I’ve left out, misunderstood, what have you.
Could be treacherous territory we’re treading upon. But if it works, if nothing else, she’ll have PROOF that I’ve been listening, soaking in her words. And it’ll be a foundation for us to build upon, rebuilding our trust and faith in one another and our relationship.
We fell in love for a reason. As my brother says, we need to dig down and remember that reason. It’s not hard for me.
I fell in love with her free spirit. Her devil-may-care attitude. Her Peter Pan swagger. I fell in love with her smile, which runs the gamut from cat-who-swallowed-a-canary to little-kid-seeing-something-awesome-for-the-first-time-on-Christmas. No matter what the smile, it’s contagious. I fell in love with her breathtaking blue eyes – eyes older than the hills, yet full of wonder like she was born yesterday. Ice-colored eyes to go with my fire-eyes.
I fell in love with her brashness, her audacity, her romantic spark.
She fell in love with my confidence, my girl-who-rules-the-world bravado, my Tinkerbell flittering. She fell in love with my ass (honky tonk badonkadonk), my belly – it wasn’t long before she couldn’t sleep without my belly moving with every breath on her back.
We fell in love with parts of each other that have been buried under the stressful events of the last year and a half.
We used to get each other token gifts – silly little things, but things that meant something – on the third of every month. We started dating on May 3, 2009, so it was a cute way to commemorate the day.
I think it was when we stopped that that we began to lose our focus. And we just stopped because life got busy, we got broke. Priorities shifted.
It’s time for them to shift again.
Pat Benatar sums it all up. Pickle played this song for me yesterday.
“We Belong, We Belong to the light
Many times I’ve tried to tell you, many times I’ve cried alone
Always I’m surprised how well you cut my feelings to the bone
Don’t want to leave you really
I’ve invested too much time to give you up that easy
To the doubts that complicate your mind
We Belong to the light
We Belong to the thunder
We Belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better
We Belong, We Belong
We Belong together
Maybe it’s a sign of weakness when I don’t know what to say
Maybe I just wouldn’t know what to do with my strength anyway
Have we become a habit do we distort the facts
Now there’s no looking forward
Now there’s no turning back
When you say
Close your eyes and try to sleep now
Close your eyes and try to dream
Clear your mind and do your best
To try and wash the palette clean
We can’t begin to know it
How much we really care
I hear your voice inside me
I see your face everywhere
Still you say
Oh, how I want to write… it’s the perfect day for it – stormy, cool, autumn-like.
Alas, it seems I may have broken my finger. Index finger at that. Slows me down some.
Pen and paper, it is then. I’ll share my chicken scratch with you when I can type adeptly again.
Thanks for reading!
I wish I was more handy with a sketchpad and watercolors than I am. I’d love to paint this afternoon…
We’re in a creek bed, almost completely dry except for a few foot-deep pockets. Rocks and stones piled up everywhere keep the mud from sticking to our shoes. Roots jut out of the walls as the tree branches, bedecked in their emerald glory, filter the light of the sun on its way down to us; mottled splashes of light intermingle with the stones and puddles.
Just in front of me, a huge rock plunks into the foot-deep puddle, splashing me and my two children. On the ledge above us to my left, our rottweiler rests, panting and grinning, watching in curiosity. Down below, in a patch of mud immediately next to me, an earthworm lies, exhausted after the children’s explorations and exhortations. “Can we take him home? Please, he likes me!” On my right, my daughter stirs the pool with a two-foot-long stick, telling me she’s making chicken noodle soup. She tosses in the “ingredients” – small rocks and pebbles – casually, like she’s done this a hundred times before. She chatters to herself and anyone who will listen about the task at hand. Further to the right, a little ways down and around, my son sits on a rock, perched lightly, cooly tossing large rocks in and admiring their loud plunks and fountain-like splashes.
He looks so big today. He’s not the baby I remember holding in my arms a short while ago. His deep rusty hair glows in the sunlight, almost seems to draw the light towards him. He’s been talking about a mohawk when fall comes, but for the time being, he’s got a beautiful shag any little skater kid would be proud of. He’s wearing long grey bell-bottoms that wrap themselves around his flip-flopped feet. Maybe they’re just a little too long, but he wears them well. An oversized pink t-shirt proclaiming in big block letters, “Live and Let Live,” cooly drapes itself over his shoulders, complimenting his hair nicely. His new Harry Potter backpack hangs out behind him; forgotten, but not neglected. He looks so mature, so casual and at ease with life.
At ease with life…. this life I gave him? The life that his father and I made for him, made so many mistakes with? How can he be so secure, so calm and confident, and so young? He’s five, but he carries himself like he’s ten….
And his little sister, so much like him and so different. She, too, carries the same confidence and sense of being a little wise beyond her years. Not so sure she has the same sense of security, ease with the world; she’s very demanding of comfort and reassurance. She’s also three, I feel better knowing that she still feels like she needs me. But today, she’s confident and relaxed. She’s making chicken noodle soup, and nothing else matters – not even the mud making its way onto her overalls, normally a cause for alarm. Even now that we’re home an hour later, she hasn’t insisted on changing her clothes. When asked if she wanted a bath, she replied she would take one tonight, before bed. This is the girl who has to change her clothes if she gets a drop of ketchup or a little water on them. Now, she’s content to pretend she’s a cat and lie on the couch, purring.
When I suggested to their father that we meet at this particular park to do the hand-off, I had no idea what was to come. I expected that we would be at the playground, the kids would frolic and caper while Dad and I discussed their week and talked about the parenting plan. Failing that, I expected the kiddos to ask to watch the kids at the skate park, something that fascinates both of them (though I’m not sure which of them will be the first to actually get on a skateboard). When I arrived, there they all were, sitting in the bleachers, watching the skaters go by. One guy fell off his board, and my son loudly groaned, “Oh, MAN! Wipeout!” A few minutes later, another guy wiped out, and my daughter empathized vehemently: “OUCH! Mom, did you see that?”
It didn’t take long before the kids became restless; an adventure to the creek behind us was in order. Little girl led the way with her dad, I followed with the dog, and Big Red followed us with the stroller. Next thing I knew, their dad had jumped down into the creek bed (no small feat, I found out later), and was helping the kids in. I stayed behind with the dog (who, fearless as he is otherwise, is afraid of heights), while they wandered a few feet down to explore. When they came back, their dad climbed out while they commenced to throwing rocks; we finally had a chance to talk about the week’s events.
My son fell into the river standing on a rock at the edge and nearly lost his flip-flop. Obviously he’s fine, and so are his flip-flops. Dad was right there next to him to catch him. I’m relieved. My daughter… wandered away from the house and crossed a somewhat busy intersection, and was about to cross a definitely busy intersection before her dad caught up to her. She was going to Dolphin Island. Hey, she told her dad where she was going, and he told her ok… he just didn’t realize she wasn’t playing pretend like she does all the time these days.
Where is Dolphin Island anyway? We live in Kansas….
The whole idea of meeting in a park to hand off the kids to one another started because we needed to touch base with one another about the week’s developments in regard to the children. Dropping off and taking off was not working. There was no communication. So we agreed to meet in neutral territory.
This is the second week we’ve done this. I’m noticing additional benefits. Dad wasn’t there long, but it was long enough. The kids know it’s safe for them to have fun with Dad when Mom’s around; they see us talking when they are playing, and they visibly relax. It makes the transition from Dad’s house to Mom’s house much easier. The discipline issues I used to have when they came home from there are not nearly as prevalent. So far.
Walking home from the creek, my son took responsibility for his sister. Since I had the dog, Big Red buckled her up in her stroller and pushed her the whole way home. On the home stretch, he grabbed my hand and put it on the stroller handle with his, and said, “Hold hands with me, Mom.”
For all I know, that may be the last time he ever does that. He’s 5 going on 10, after all.
I was smart. I kept my mouth shut and did as I was told.
“Do you know how much I love you?” I asked.
“I’m starting to. But you’re slow,” she replied.
Just call me Turtle. When things get scary, I hide in my shell. I move slowly through life, savoring the scenery, taking my time to get each step right. Sometimes, I’m so focused on taking the next step that I forget to pay attention and come dangerously close to becoming a turtle pancake in the middle of the interstate.
In two months, it’ll be a year and a half since the turtle and the pickle found one another. It’s been a long, arduous journey. And it seems like all the hard work, the head-beating-against-the-wall, is coming to mean something.
In the beginning, we had so much in common. It was what bonded us. I, 8 1/2 years younger than she, shared interests and experiences. I was born in the wrong decade. We’d while away the hours with nostalgia.
We still do, though its potency has weakened some. A few weeks ago, however, we saw a great riot grrl act that looked and sounded straight out of 1993. As I grinned wide and bopped along, Pickled whispered into my ear, “You do know this is one of the reasons why I love you, right?” That put a little extra spring in my bop.
Now, it’s not so much our similarities that hold us together, it’s recognizing our differences. It’s taken some time to even be able to see them. She does not see the world the way I do. There’s much to be said for the middle ground, and we share plenty, but we really are as different as they come.
I am by turns outspoken and reserved. It depends on my mood and the situation. When I see a conflict, I view it as, “What can I do to make the situation better?” regardless of any perceived fault. When cleaning, I’m detail-oriented to the neglect of the bigger, more readily apparent tasks, and will spend two hours scrubbing the same damn spot on the kitchen counter. I see a big mess, and I’m lost, I don’t know where to begin. I have to break jobs down into micro-components to get them done. I’m very passionate, zestful – I throw all of myself into everything I do. But sometimes, I don’t look like I’m doing much, because I’m also that passionate about relaxing. It does strike some as laziness.
Pickle is also by turns outspoken and reserved – usually the opposite of me. She sees a conflict, and she thinks, “Why does this keep happening to me? I wish they’d just knock it off already!” When cleaning, she can go through and pick up a cluttered room and vacuum and have it looking nice in 20 minutes. She sees a job and just goes for it. She’s very relaxed, laid back… also very passionate, but it manifests in a different way that I have difficulty describing.
When I’m experiencing turmoil, I need to talk it out. She, however, needs to be alone. When the turmoil is between us, this presents a difficult situation that we haven’t quite learned to navigate around.
Last night, we were playing, and I got too rough. I crossed a line, and she was angry with me – and hurt that I would cross that line when there were so many other options. I had said, “Do that again, and see what you get,” and when she did, I retaliated aggressively – she said, “When I say that, and you do it, sometimes I cuddle you or tickle you or kiss you… why do you always have to be so aggressive?” In her words and tone, I heard something akin to, “Why do you have to hurt me when I love you so much?”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
I’d honestly not even realized there was an alternative to my aggressive behavior. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but that was a real epiphany for me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know. And I’m sorry means it won’t happen again.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, sullenly. “Just don’t give me a 20 minute explanation of ‘I’m sorry’.”
I held her hand and looked in her eyes. “No explanation. Just sorry.” I sat and waited. She got uncomfortable. I was actually giving her the silence she needed, and it was so strange, she thought I must want something from her. She started to launch into a spiel about how I don’t need to babble at her forever and quit staring at her –
“I’m not babbling. I haven’t said much.” She arched her eyebrow at me. Ok, she thinks I talk too much anyway… I smiled. “Well, not for me. I haven’t said much, for me.”
That was it. That was all it took…. she smiled, said, “I love you. Go to sleep.” And everything was peaceful.
I hope I remember that.