Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gridlock Roadblock

Have you ever had a fight with your spouse?  Have you ever had a fight with your spouse and it's the same fight you've had hundreds if not thousands if not millions of times over the course of your relationship?  Have you ever gotten so "good" at this fight that as soon as the topic is mentioned, you just skip the fight part because you already know it by heart and go straight to the being mad at each other part, arms crossed, not speaking?

It's called gridlock and it's a real bitch.

Alex and I love each other very much but man, we are sick of "that one fight."  Our fight tends to sneak up on us when we least expect it.  An innocent comment made by one of us while out for a nice walk on the beach will trigger the anger of the other and suddenly we're scrambling for pieces of driftwood with which to bludgeon each other.  Similarly, there were several romantic dinners ruined over the years because I suddenly wanted to smash his face into his mashed potatoes.

The same thought always goes through my mind as this is happening: "What the hell is going on?  We were laughing five minutes ago, how did we get here so quickly... I DON'T CARE PUT FACE IN POTATOES."

As my astrologically inclined friends are quick to point out, both Alex and I are fire signs and live up to the reputation of two fire signs in a relationship.  Neither of us seems willing nor able to back down from imminent marital conflict.  We both just roll our sleeves up -- "Oh, it is ON" -- and paw at the earth like two bulls about to charge.

(The good part of being fire signs?  The making up part.  Being firey has its privileges, trust it.)

Here's where I'm going with all this -- Alex and I attended a marriage seminar a couple weekends ago. The marriage workshop was run by Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, who are the preeminent marriage researchers in all of the world.  Over forty years of research have given the Gottman research team the ability to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy after observing a couple in conversation.  That's an impressive fact but it also instilled some fear --we were afraid of walking into the seminar and having the Drs. Gottman point at us and yell, "DOOMED!"

It wasn't like that, thankfully.  The Drs. Gottman are funny and their information straightforward and accessible.  Alex and I got a lot out of it.  We're doing very well at Building Love Maps and Turning Towards each other, and trying hard to avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse while focusing on Soft Start-Ups*.  We're down with Gottman.

*A Soft Start-Up should be a personal statement about the speaker only, and not involve any judgment of the other person.  For example, instead of this --

Me:  I'm so sick of your sh*tty-ass driving, you're a goddamn lunatic on the road and a menace to society.  Pull over now and let me take the wheel before you kill us all, jerk.

I should say:

Me:  You know, I feel really anxious when I'm not in control of my personal locomotion.  Would you mind pulling over and letting me drive before you kill us all, jerk?** 

**Dang. Botched it.  It takes practice, people, I'm working on it.

The second day -- the day that addressed gridlocked conflicts -- was a hard one for all who attended the Gottman marriage workshop.  There were many tears and defensive postures, many silent couples who couldn't even look each other in the eye.  A few people stormed out.  Many, including us, had to wave our blue "Assistance Needed" cards in the air until a roving Gottman-trained therapist could get to us and talk us off the anger ledge.  Marriage, yee-haw.

In the middle of all this longstanding pain and marital suffering was a pair of newlyweds.  They couldn't have been more than 22 or 23 years old, the seminar obviously given to them as a wedding present -- or perhaps a wedding prerequisite -- by a concerned parent.

During our "break-out time," when each couple retreated to private corners of the room to work on Gottman-prescribed relationship exercises, the newlyweds made out.  I mean they really made out.  While other couples cried, and glared, and sat in silence, they giggled, she sat on his lap, they groped.  But what they were really doing was pissing off the sea of middle-aged couples surrounding them whose marriages were in various states of disrepair.

By the end of the seminar, the newlyweds had succeeded in uniting the other 200 of us against them.  You would see embattled spouses walk past them, nudge each other, smile and whisper, "I give 'em two years."  Seasoned couples glanced at other seasoned couples and rolled their eyes in unison -- which is a sign of contempt and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse so all of our relationships with the newlyweds are likely headed for rupture.  Good riddance, insensitive jerks.

Here's the good news we took away from Gottman: conflict is not bad.  It's healthy.  It's important. How you handle the conflict is the key to staying married.  I won't get into the details but here's a summary of the seminar:

bludgeoning with driftwood = bad
smashing face into mashed potatoes = bad
all the stuff they taught us to do at the workshop = good
donuts = delicious

Alex and I stayed at a downtown hotel for the seminar weekend.  Our trusty and loyal babysitter, "Saint Babysitter," stayed at our house with the kids.  I debated beforehand whether or not to show her our house alarm system but ultimately decided to do it.  I thought she would feel more secure in our strange neighborhood if the alarm was on while she slept.

Saint Babysitter let Oscar out that night before she went to bed.  When she let him back in, she unknowingly did not close the door firmly enough to latch completely.  Then she set the alarm and went upstairs.

An hour later, a strong wind blew the front door open and the alarm went off.  Saint Babysitter came running downstairs in her pajamas to see the door standing wide open at 1:00 a.m.  The alarm was blaring so loudly next to her head she wondered if she'd ever be able to hear the faint whisper of wind through trees again.

Saint Babysitter made a terrified tour of the downstairs to check for intruders hiding behind curtains.  Finding none, she went to disarm the system but her hands were shaking so badly she had a hard time shutting it down.

Our security company, noticing our lengthy alarm, called our cell phone contact numbers but as it was 1:00 in the morning, both Alex and I were asleep and didn't answer.  Back at home, Saint Babysitter took a few deep breaths, reset the alarm, and went back up to bed.  She was rattled but relieved it was over.

Twenty minutes later, as she was drifting off to sleep, the alarm went off again.  After promising herself she would never, ever come back to our hell house if she survived the night, Saint Babysitter ran back downstairs to find three large men in the entry hall.  They boomed, "Who are you?" and she yelled back, "Who are YOU?"

Our security company has a key to our house, you see.  When we didn't answer the monitoring station's calls but they could see the alarm had been turned off by someone, they sent a team to our house to save our sorry asses from whatever circumstances had befallen us.

Saint Babysitter noticed their security company uniforms and realized who they were but they were not so convinced about her.  She told them she was the babysitter.  They asked her name and, unfortunately, her name is the same as my name.  They looked down at the papers in their hands then looked back up incredulously as if to say, "What the hell kind of sick game you playing at, lady?"

The security team grilled her at length, took pictures of her and her drivers license, walked around the house, even poked their heads into the kids' room to make sure they were OK (the kids never woke up, oh to sleep like that again). Finally satisfied, they left.  I don't think Saint Babysitter even attempted to go back to sleep that night.  She just sat in the entry hall on an uncomfortable chair, hyper aware, vigilant, twitching.

It's good to know our monthly monitoring fee is going towards a system that works and will protect us from well-meaning babysitters far into the future.  Also, Stella the parakeet can now mimic the sound of the alarm and does so often.

We spent last week on the Olympic Peninsula for the kids' midwinter break.  Upon our return, we learned Alex's grandmother passed away.  It was not unexpected but it's awfully sad all the same.

Your family is going to miss you, Francoise.  You were a force of nature.  Oh, the stories they're going to tell about you at your funeral!  There will be more laughter than tears, and that's the best way to leave 'em, so nice work.   

the incomparable Francoise
(with the incomparable baby Lucien)

Gottman out,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Lifestyle

Alex and I love to get out of the city and into the beauty of the Western United States. We don't do it enough, a fact we regularly bemoan.  Even the shortest of trips takes time and energy to plan and those are two things of which we are in short supply.

We considered buying a cabin as a way to draw us out of the city regularly but then decided we didn't want to go to the same place all the time.  We want new farflung places.  If you pair that with the intense all-consuming love I have for road trips, all signs were pointing in one direction --

Alex and I are looking into "The Lifestyle."  
(the RV lifestyle, not that other one)

We went to the Seattle RV show over the weekend and had a grand yet confusing time. There were hundreds if not thousands of RVs to tour as well as educational seminars and vendors showcasing products such as special poo container cleaners.  Wait, what?

Some of the giant RVs were ridiculous.

Leather recliners and a fireplace.  
Screw campsite fire pits, some people like their fire fake and indoors

Full ceiling height kitchen

This one had an additional mini kitchen plus TV outside

More TV.  TVs everywhere.  This model had four TVs scattered throughout. 
I don't understand.

Al and I squinted at the RV show seminar program and wondered why half the seminars were about guns.  They had titles like "Gun carry permits for RVers" and "State laws pertaining to RV gun owners" and "How to best enjoy your gun in a miniature home flying down the highway" and "Your gun and you: a lifelong friendship."  

I must admit, I could get over the overwhelming number of TVs and fake cheesy fires but all the gun talk gave me pause.

Me:  Umm... so... why all these guns in RVs?  What are people afraid of?  Are they afraid of animals or are they afraid of other people?
Alex:  I think they're afraid of other people.
Me:  Should we be afraid of other people when we're out there?
Alex: Definitely, they're all going to have guns.

I stepped into one RV and opened one of the cabinet doors.  It was an oddly-shaped shallow closet so I shrugged and told Al, "I guess it's a coat closet."  Then a man climbed aboard behind me, opened the same cabinet, and called over his shoulder, "Got a nice rifle closet in here."  That's when it was confirmed -- we were perhaps going to be slightly out of our comfort zone in The Lifestyle. 

I've been doing a lot of research about The Lifestyle and have learned a lot.  One of the most popular topics is boondocking, which is when you park your RV overnight somewhere other than a designated campground.  There are many places to boondock -- the ever popular Wal-Mart parking lot, rest stops, rural roads, farmland, etc.  -- and you can find lots of advice on how to get away with it without getting towed or ticketed or beat up. 

For instance, I found this helpful tip -- 

In the west especially, check out Federal and State "Wildlife Refuges."  Some allow overnight parking.  Tip: When asking the ranger if overnight parking is allowed, have binoculars and a camera, a notebook and all that other "birder" stuff on you and mention how you want to see the "flaming boobie hatch" or similar real bird's name at sunrise.

No problem.
We got this.

Guns and lying to wildlife refuge rangers aside, the fact remains I'm a road warrior and am hurting to get out on the road in one of those things.  We want Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier.  And when the kids start their whiny chorus of "I have to go to the bathroom" every fifteen minutes as they have on every other road trip ever, I'll be able say, "Well, get up and go!" then honk my horn like the crazed RVing mo-fo I am.

We'll likely rent one in the upcoming months and take it out for a spin.  We need to determine if this is an activity we'd truly enjoy or a giant waste of money full of TVs. We may return hardened, and owning a few guns, but if that's the price of road trip freedom, so be it.

What do you think, friends?  Tiny house on wheels, yay or nay?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spaghetti Tail

Super Bowl Sunday began with a morning visit to the grocery store.  I needed to buy a bag of Doritos because I'd already eaten the bag of Doritos I'd purchased two days earlier to avoid a day-of-game trip to the grocery store.  I'm pretty good at planning ahead but also pretty good at sabotaging my own planning.

It was a good idea to try to avoid the grocery store on Super Bowl Sunday.  It was crowded with people jostling to buy ingredients for guacamole and spicy chicken wings.  The fun part was seeing everyone decked out in the unofficial Seattle uniform for the day.  I've never seen the grocery store so color-coordinated.

Our friends came over and we did a little shadow boxing, some stretches, got pumped.  And then, in what has since been called "the most boring Super Bowl ever," the Seahawks pummeled the Broncos 43-8.  Our ragtag band of fifth-round draft picks, a yoga-loving coach who'd been fired by another NFL team and a "tiny" quarterback proved all the doubters wrong.

We're the Bad News Bears of football

The city held a Seahawks victory parade yesterday to celebrate our very first Super Bowl win.  Over 700,000 people showed up which, when you consider only 600,000 people live within the city limits of Seattle, is a very impressive number.

People skipped out on all other commitments to be there and many parents, including me, called schools to report their kids were sick -- let's call it "Seahawk Fever" -- and wouldn't make it to school that day.  Lucien's school later decided all absences due to Seahawk Fever would be excused because it was evident by the number of absences this was a very important event for the community.  Some moments in a city's history are so epic and unifying, it feels necessary to put other things on hold for a minute to be a part of them.

It was a sub-freezing day so Lucien and I put on all the clothes we own and waddled downtown with some friends.  Our group wasn't alone; streams of people walked alongside us and once they got downtown stood 50-60 people deep at every intersection, cheering, stomping, laughing.  The steep hills of downtown came in handy and acted as bleachers, giving the people in the 60th row a birds-eye view of the action below.

It was a loud and proud giant frigid football party

There was a palpable sense of joy radiating from 699,999 spectators.  The one person not feeling the love was Lucien because after an hour and a half of waiting, he could no longer feel his fingers.  I took my miserable and tear-stained son into the library to warm up.  As I pulled him through the crowd to the library doors, he yelled, "Why are you torturing me like this?  I don't want to be here, I WISH I WAS IN SCHOOL!" to which all other kids within earshot gasped audibly.

 The Loosh is not convinced this is a good time 

Lucien and I lucked out; while waiting in the library, we scored prime space at the front window, a head above everybody outside yet toasty warm inside. We even stood next to a couple of women who volunteered to help me lift The Loosh up so he could see even better.  The only downside was none of the spectators crowded inside the library were allowed to cheer because it's a library.  We instead cheered softly into our cupped hands and silently high-fived each other as players rolled by outside in amphibious vehicles and military pick-up trucks.

Here comes the Legion of Boom 
(ridiculous yet truthful nickname for the Seahawks defense)
including my personal favorite, 
the mouthy and brilliant Richard Sherman.

It's not a super important thing, winning the Super Bowl.  It's insignificant in the grand scheme of living.  It's not going to make the world a better place and it's not going to save lives.  But damn, it sure was fun. 

Coco has become very attached to one of her preschool teachers.  If you ask Coco who her favorite person in the world is, she won't name me.  It's that damn Teacher Heather.

Coco wanted to buy a Valentine's Day card for Teacher Heather so we went looking for one at the store.  She immediately picked out a pretty card with a bright red glittery heart on the front.  I agreed it was beautiful and opened it to read the inscription, which unfortunately said, "Oh my darling, the time the two of us spend together, just the two of us, away from the rest of the world, are the most cherished moments of my life."

I then attempted to explain to my excited, shiny-faced daughter clutching her "pretty card" that perhaps it wasn't the most... platonic... card to give a preschool teacher.  Coco stuck her lip out and clutched the card harder, resulting in a tense tug-a-war between me, Coco, and a glittery card in the middle of a grocery store aisle.  I finally relented, threw the card in the shopping basket and made a mental note to include a mixtape of Barry White slow jams for Teacher Heather.  If we're going in, we're going all in. 

Teacher Heather opened the card at school today.  Coco beamed as Teacher Heather laughed in a whole-bellied kind of way.  Then she grabbed Coco and hugged her so hard, laughter tears still running down her face, and winked at me over Coco's exuberantly happy shoulder.  I'm glad Teacher Heather is in on the joke and doesn't think my daughter is trying to muscle in on her marriage.

As for our pets, Stella's tail feathers are now dyed orange because she dive-bombed the sink when I was doing dishes and landed in a bowl of spaghetti sauce.  I tried to grab her and wash it off but she squawked and gnawed on my hand.  Fine, Stella, go ahead and look ridiculous.

Don't you touch my spaghetti tail

Bobo the bearded dragon got all stressed out recently because I removed the paper covering on one side of his tank.  It was torn and I didn't think it was important so I ripped it off.  What I didn't know at the time is bearded dragons DO NOT LIKE CHANGE -- and they like seeing their own reflections in the glass even less.  In response to my careless action, Bobo's beard turned black and he began "glass surfing," which means he frantically tried to crawl up the sides of his tank but of course failed because glass is too slippery for his little reptile feet.

A few frantic Google searches later -- "My bearded dragon seems upset" did the trick -- I now know "glass surfing" and turning their beards black are common behaviors amongst "beardies" and are signs of stress.

To summarize, my bearded dragon is stressed out and my bird is orange.  At least the dog seems OK, although he seems to be losing his hearing and wears a diaper at night because he's reached the age where he can no longer hold it all night and our floors are paying the price. Other than that, he's fine.

And we won the Super Bowl.
Seattle out,