Friday, July 31, 2009

The First Big Commitment

Before I begin I have to clear up 2 things.

1) Last night Brian pointed out, ever so kindly as only he knows how to do, that yet again my memory failed me (for my family all I’m going to say is – golf cart). Apparently, when we arrived in Austin, we met up with the real estate agent on Saturday and Brian didn’t talk to Fouad until Monday. So I had those two events switched around.
2)Brian and I, to date, have taken nothing slowly in our lives unless nature forced us to. We got married in 2 months, bought our first house in a week, and this post will show you again about our speediness. But I wanted to bring that up because for you it may seem like we move fast, but this is our pace.

Now back to the blog…

So, Saturday morning, we met our real estate agent outside of the hotel. Brian was the one who contacted her to set up the appointment. I couldn’t wait to meet her because apparently on one occasion she had phoned Brian and during the conversation had shared with him the trials and tribulations of her recent divorce. I just couldn’t’ imagine a stranger thinking Brian would be a good person to share feelings with. Apparently she was over her divorce because she was nothing but pleasant and pulled together for our entire day together.

As an aside, because Brian will huff and puff if I don’t admit this out loud, Brian made the phone call to contact the realtor because… I don’t make phone calls. I just don’t. There is no major reason for it. It isn’t like I was psychologically scarred by a phone call early in my youth, I just don’t do it. Besides, Brian is really good at it. Inevitably he ends up flirting with the person (even though he denies this and says he doesn’t know how to flirt) and we get money off or we get something for free. Why would I even try a phone call when I’m obviously not in the same league as him?

And, back to house hunting. We were told that the Austin market was a cheaper market than New Jersey (at that point in the real estate world I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Beverly Hills market was cheaper than New Jersey) and so we gave our criteria (maximum of 300k, at least 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, preferably 2 floors) and off we went. The first house we saw had some major drawbacks. First, the deck out back, beautiful deck, was only accessible through the master bedroom. Let’s face it, my bedroom is the last thing that gets cleaned in the house and I don’t want people traipsing through it. The second issue was that these people had obviously never seen a show on how to sell their house because every photo on the wall was of the happy couple. The happy couple engaged, the happy couple on vacation, the happy couple getting married, etc. It was just plain creepy.

We moved on to the next house and went to a brand new development. Before we got out of the car I knew this wasn't going to happen. Every fourth house looked exactly the same. All I could think was “Stepford Wives” – bad omen.

We had one more house left to see – in some development out in Cedar Park. The drive from Austin was pretty (smart real estate agent took the windy and scenic route to Cedar Park) and the development was really well laid out. It had a combination of different builders and they made an effort to not make it look cookie cutter. The house we saw was 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and well within our price range. It was a brand new house, used as a model, so no one had lived in it before. For us, who owned a 40 year home, this meant there would be few maintenance surprises… at least for a few more years.

The agent representing the builder who showed us the home gave us some ridiculous, by New Jersey standards, discount on the house because it was a model, told us the house was one of 3 models left for the builder to sell so they really wanted to get a deal done ASAP. As she was saying this we could see people in the street coming towards the house to see it.

Yes, the night before we had pretty much decided we were moving to Austin, but buying a house wasn’t on my mind. After all, I owned a home in NJ and I didn’t even have a checkbook with me. But Brian convinced me we had to do this. So, within a few hours, we owned a promise to purchase this home within a certain timeframe. The only problem was they needed a down payment and as I said, I had no checkbook. Our real estate agent drove us around to a few ATMs (banks were already closed) but no ATM would let me get out the amount I needed. So, we begged the agent representing the builder to let us get her the money on Monday. She agreed, paperwork was signed, and we sort of owned a home in Texas. I think I hyperventilated a little but was able to keep it to myself.

On Monday, when Brian went to tell Fouad he accepted the offer, I went to find a bank in Austin. I got a money order so we could finalize the deal. Oh, and by special request, I’ve been asked, by Brian, to include in this blog the only funny thing Fouad ever said. Apparently, when Brian went to accept the offer he told Fouad that we had just bought a house. Fouad’s response, “Well, I guess that weakens your bargaining point.” (I didn’t say it WAS funny, I said Brian thought it was funny)

So, on the plane back to New Jersey, as I thought about the fact that I was indeed moving to a foreign country, I mean Texas, that I now owned 1 home and held a legal promise to own another very soon, that I had to pack our house, move the cats, and keep sane, I just knew this was not as good as it gets.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Little Yankee Went to Austin… (just for a visit)

The State of Texas was kind enough to do the interview over a teleconference where Brian would be in a room in Philadelphia and the interviewers would be in a room in Austin. And I knew that they would want Brian to come down to Texas at some point. Yes, he was “young” for the position for which he applied, but Brian has a unique skill set of knowledge and passion for public health that people find mesmerizing. Having worked with him for the last year and a half, I’ve seen first-hand how he can speak to people and remind them why they chose to work in public health. They leave the room with the wide-eyed excitement of a 20 year old who feels they can change the world.

As I predicted, his interview was successful. And before I move on, let me take a minute to explain to you an interview with the Texas Department of State Health Services. You arrive 15 minutes before the interview (whether teleconference or in-person) and you are handed the questions that will be asked of you. You can take those 15 minutes to read over the questions and prepare answers or do whatever one does when locked in a conference room all alone. You are then seated in front of typically 3 interviewers, all of whom have the questions you just studied sitting in front of them. Everyone smiles at you, introductions all around, and then the “lead” interviewer explains to you how this will work. Basically, the “lead” interviewer will read you a question and you respond. While you respond, everyone will be taking copious notes and making very little, if any, eye contact. Once you have completed your response, the next question is read to you, you answer, everyone takes notes. This continues until all questions have been asked and answered. At no point are there follow-up questions from the interviewers, very little opportunity for you to showcase your humor and charm the interviewers. Instead, it’s kind of like being questioned at a Senate Hearing. Think “Anita Hill” only there are no accusations of wrongdoing involved. The people who succeed in these interviews are people that 1) like to talk, and 2) like to talk about themselves. Brian scored off the charts.

So, my husband comes home, tells me he has this opportunity to take a job in Austin, Texas, it’s a promotion and an opportunity that won’t come around often. We have what I remember to be a very composed conversation about the pros and cons of moving to a new state and a new job and I ask him for one favor – that before he makes any decision to let me see Austin. We plan our trip.

Now, all of that sounds very civil and logical and not at all what was going on in my mind. My brain was having a more stream of consciousness chatter which jumped from fear, to anxiety, to just plain crazy. It sounded a little like this:

I can’t move to Texas. Texas isn’t New Jersey and all I know is New Jersey. Sure I lived in Boston for college but Boston was just Philly with more white people. And I lived in Italy for a year and didn’t speak the language, but that had an end date, I knew I was coming home. Is Texas even in the United States? I’ve only ever met one person from Texas, people must not leave the state which I’m sure means people don’t want me in their state. How could I possibly move furniture and cats to Texas? Who does this sort of thing? What if I hate it? But Brian looked so excited when he told me about it and it’s been too long since he looked like that over his career. Oh my God, I’m going to Texas.

And so I boarded a plane for a long weekend with my husband. And he was so excited and giddy about this new job that I swore to myself that unless there was some reason I couldn’t live in Texas – like if we had to ride a horse to and from work – that we were going to move.
We had a layover in Houston. Walking around the Houston airport was a but surreal for me. The only other place where I’d seen so many cowboy hats and boots was when we would go skiing in Colorado. However, in Colorado I had convinced myself that the hat and boot wearing men were the visitors – playing cowboy for the vacation. In Houston, these were real cowboys. I could tell by the scuffs in their boots and the creases in their jeans.

Then we got to Austin. I braced myself and walked off the plane. The first thing I noticed was how warm it was. It was February, which in Philly meant snow and temperatures in the 40s. In Austin it was breezy and in the 70s. That I could deal with. Then I noticed the people. I saw aging hippies, rock star wannabes, yuppies from the west coast, and only the occasional cowboy hat. So far so good.

We rented a car and we were off to our hotel. I was mesmerized. I still felt like I was in the United States but in a special corner of it. The sky was wide open and blue, on every corner there was what looked to be a locally owned bar or diner, and people seemed happy (only someone who grew up outside Philly can really understand what that means).

We got to our hotel, right on Town Lake, and went out to investigate. We walked around 6th street (apparently the hip place to be full of bars with live music) and took a horse and buggy ride. We ate the best Tex-Mex food I had ever had (up to that point) and I was okay. There was still the anxiety of moving, but that was more anxiety associated with the act of moving and not moving to specific location.

That night we talked. Tomorrow Brian would go and tell Fouad (his soon-to-be boss) that he would take the job and we had contacted a real estate agent just to see what was available and the pricing. And I felt okay, I really felt that this was going to be as good as it gets.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The ‘Tween Times

The “’tween times” is how I’m referring to the 2 years between getting married and moving to Texas.

Brian and I got married in May, 2004. At the point, we really only had one married couple friend, Danielle & Ted, and no friends with kids. Everyone else was either dating or getting ready to get married. Quickly after us, I can think of 4 couples that got married within the next year. And I can also think of 4 couples who got pregnant within the next year – oddly, they are all the same couples.

I wasn’t ready to think about kids just yet (I think my pack-a-day habit contributed to that) and Brian was just getting started in his career and had no interest in children either. So we bought a house, Brian started to work for the city of Philadelphia (someday I might let him guest post about some of the lessons he learned while working there), I got a job working at a sub-prime mortgage company (which, surprisingly, no longer exists), and we got 3 cats – or more accurately we got 2 cats, Bubba cat was always around.

This was the time when we were working out that whole couple thing. Like how we were learning to depend more on each other rather than our families and how we were learning to blend decorating tastes and compromise. You’d think that some of these things would be taken care of before you get married, but it just isn’t true (and I can hear my mother saying “I told you so” as she reads this so shout out to you mom). I guess all that planning for the wedding, trying to figure out where to seat people, and other nonsense takes over.

We had even merged our bank account and by unanimous decision I got put in charge. I voted for me because money makes me anxious so I like to know what is going on with it. Brian voted for me because he claims in his younger days he used to play ATM Roulette – he would put in his pin number and see if any money would come out.

We were all grown-up and feeling pretty good about our lives. And then, our closest couple friends starting trying to get pregnant and some people we knew were on round 2. Here is the conversation Brian and I had as these baby things kept happening around us:

Me: Are you read to have kids?
Him: I don’t know – are you?
Me: I want to know what you are thinking.
Him: But I want to know what you are thinking.

Musical interlude while we continue on our all grown-up conversation, I don’t want to subject you to this. Hum something to yourself.

Me: I don’t think I’m ready.
Him: Are you just saying that?
Me: No. I mean it. People always say you will know when you are ready and I’m not.
Him: When do you think you will be ready?

Danger Will Rogers, danger (red lights flashing everywhere).

For those of you who don’t remember post #1… I hate planning – I mean I seriously hate planning. And, since I don’t think I made this clear in post #3, Brian LOVES to plan – he loves it in a way that I will never understand. In the present, on July 29, 2009, Brian and I have been able to come to some sort of understanding about our planning tendencies. Like, I try and be very understanding and not run screaming from the room when we plan our weekends or if we need to plan a trip somewhere. I can even actively engage in these conversations now. And Brian has become very good at not poking or prodding when he asks me for a timeframe and I answer “I’ll just know.”

But, the conversation I’m quoting above happened 4 years ago and we weren’t quite at this higher level of coupledom yet. And because of that I won’t bore you with what happened next. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there was yelling, frustration, possibly some tears (which may have been true or just for effect), and I can guarantee you… no resolution. Aaah – the good old days.

So, we didn’t have kids – at that point anyway. Instead, we had dinner parties, Christmas parties, BBQs, Sunday Football watching, and many other types of friends hanging out at our house. And I thought, if this is as good as it gets then I’m okay with that.

Then Brian came home to tell me had an interview with the State of Texas. Yes, Texas y’all. I thought the same thing… cowboys, tumbleweeds, and of course... J.R. And I wondered - were there even Italians in Texas?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Who is this masked man? (or man in glasses to be more accurate)

It just doesn’t seem right to start telling you about our life together without telling you about Bubs (aka Brian).

The first story to share is why I call him Bubs. One New Year’s we spent with Brian’s parents at Walt Disney World. One day, in a most Ellen-like way, I turned to Brian and told him that from here on out I would refer to him as Bubs. He wanted no piece of that and claimed he didn’t like the name at all. Of course, I completely ignored him, and now he has been Bubs for more than 3 years. And now, when I don’t call him Bubs, he gets all upset. It grew on him because it is who he is.

Bubs is a man of paradoxes. He is a genius epidemiologist (as shown by just winning the national award for Young Maternal Child Health Epidemiologist of the Year) and yet can’t make a bed (believe me, I’ve seen him try it, he is not play acting). He can fire someone without batting an eye, and yet fall to his knees in grief at the loss of a cat. He doesn’t suffer fools well, and yet laughs at my “blonde” moments without fail.

Bubs is a man with a strong conviction of what is right and wrong. Nothing drives him crazier than a double standard and he will always point out when he sees one occurring. He isn’t willing to accept the status quo but always wants to elevate the situation to a higher ethical level. He wants to do what is right and wants everyone else to do the same thing (his definition of “right” of course).

Bubs is a man of strength. He was strong enough to support me when I went through some pretty crazy moments during our quest for conception (don’t worry, you will get to read about those soon enough). He was strong enough to rub my back when I would wake him up in the middle of the night, sobbing over Kitty’s death. When you walk down a street, at night, in the middle of hell (also known as New York City to me) with Bubs, you aren’t afraid for two main reasons: 1) His sense of right would never let him abandon you, and 2) as the guy putting in our alarm said – “no one is going to purposely jump Brian.” Not to throw around hyperboles, but I know that if a tornado came and swept away our possessions, our house, and our car, that Bubs would be able to protect me just by holding me. There is something incredible sexy and giddy about that.

But most of all, Bubs is a man who loves me. I’m not really sure why he does. I’m full of faults – like I sometimes take my frustration out on him when he has nothing to do with it, or I get moody and impatient with his ability to handle my moods, and I’m not always as nice as I could be to him. I know he loves me because when I get frustrated at his inability to pick his clothes off the floor, he spends weeks doing this, just for me. Because it’s been months since I’ve had to put a toilet paper roll on the roll – he does this. He gave me a pedicure when my belly made it difficult for me to reach my feet, rubs lotion on my ever-expanding belly, and came back after the Great Bowl Fight of 2002 (long story, but basically it was our first fight, over a bowl, which was really a fight over my freaking out that someone was coming into my space – I may have brothers and sisters but I’m so much younger than them that I’m not sure my “sharing” gene was appropriately nurtured). He even loves me at the moments when I find myself not loveable.

And finally, Bubs is the type of man, who upon hearing a story about a guy who was having sex with someone at work, said (and I quote), “That’s not possible, he’s married.”

You can’t have him. He’s all mine.

Here Comes Bubs

A little bit of background for you who are new to my love life. Since I was 14 years old and had my first boyfriend, it has been very clear to those around me that I am dating challenged. It’s not that it’s hard for me to find men (that part is relatively easy), nor is it hard for me to keep men (Brian wasn’t the first to propose) – it’s that the men I found and kept were not every parent’s dream come true.

Just to give you more insight… in my mid-20’s I started a list of “screening” questions which, I kid you not, I would ask on the first 1-2 dates with any prospect. All of these questions came about from real experiences that had happened to me. Here is a sampling of some of the questions:

1. Can you dismantle and reassemble an automatic weapon (high school boyfriend – saw him do this to a “toy” gun)?
2. Are you legally allowed in the United States (at least 2 men from my early 20s)?
3. Is English your first language (almost every man after college)?
4. Are you an alcoholic (the re-appearing college man)?
5. Will your religion interfere with our ability to have a relationship (I can think of 3 right off the bat)?

And as I said, this is just a sampling. By the time I was 27, the list had about 20 questions. I was weary of asking them face-to-face and looking for an alternative. So, one night I was sitting around my condo, probably drinking a glass of wine, and decided that I would join (if you think this was an abrupt decision, look at my previous post on my aversion to planning). I sat down, filled out the information, and paid to join for 6 months. I figured this would at least allow me to ask the questions electronically before I even got to the date stage.

The outcome? A date with a man so boring I spent most of the night talking to the bartender. Another date with a guy who explained to me he had a foot fetish and wanted to know if I wore pantyhose and owned boots (more power to the fetishists out there, just not my cup of tea). A date with a man whose baby’s momma (I didn’t know about the baby or the momma) called during our dinner to find out why he was out with me. This date ended with me asking him not to contact me again and him calling me for weeks and even proposing marriage on my messages. Moral of the story – I was 4 months in and my dating karma had not improved online. I was willing to ride out the 6 months and then accept my destiny as the single cat woman of Haddonfield. And then came Bubs.

Labor Day weekend, 2002, I was helping a friend move to New York City. While at her new apartment, I checked my account and had an email from Nomadic_Man. He was intrigued by my love of “The Simpsons” and he told me all about himself – he was working (earner), getting his PhD (smart), was already very well published (ambitious), and liked to do things outdoors (totally a lie but I fell for it). The only downfall was that he didn’t have a profile picture. I reminded myself that I wasn’t shallow (again – proven by some of the men I dated) and figured I would go for it.

We emailed back and forth for a week or two (and I still have all the emails to prove it) and then we moved to the phone. Turns out Nomadic_Man was named Brian and we could talk for hours (which is impressive because I hate the phone). I never got bored of him and he could make me laugh – in that way where your belly hurts and you wet your pants a little bit. It was good. It was very very good. And then we decided we had to meet. Don’t blink, or you will miss the rest of our courtship.

Brian lived in Tom’s River, NJ and I was in Cherry Hill so we decided to meet somewhere in the middle – Atlantic City – the romance capital of NJ (that would be sarcasm dripping from my words). To Jersey-ify this even more, we both decided we would goomba out at much as possible – all in black, big hair for me, and bling on both sides. And, to help me out, Brian explained that the way I would recognize him was that he looked like a cross between John Goodman and Drew Carey.

And I almost didn’t go – what a terrifying description. But, I decided our conversations were worth it so I told a friend where we were meeting, his screen name, and the telephone numbers he had given me (I may be daring but I’m not reckless) and I was off to AC.

It was October 25, 2002 and the entire ride down all I kept saying was “Just make me attracted to him” because that was the last step – if he was cute we were good to go. And my friends – he was C-U-T-E! I may have fallen in love with him that night. I was so enamored I was willing to overlook his kelly-green Camaro with a white convertible top. We were engaged by December 24, 2002 and married by May 1, 2004. I was sure that this was as good as it gets.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In the beginning

I'm not due until early September (or, more accurately, when the boy is ready to enter the world) so I thought I would take my first few posts, while I still have time, to fill you in on some background information about me, our journey to conception, and my pregnancy.

When I was in first grade, I wanted to be President of the United States. This would have been around the time Regan came to power, and since my political leanings are more communist that republican, I don't think it was his presidency that impacted my dreams. Instead, it was the idea that I would be the one in charge... of everything - and be the first woman to do it. I was enamored by the amount of power that was possible. Then I learned about the House, the Senate, and the concept of checks and balances. I decided that president didn't seem as glamorous anymore.

My next career ambition was to be a writer, someone as popular as Stephen King but as literary as F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was going to write the next American novel... based on all the experiences of my 10 years. Needless to say, not much came of that and then puberty hit. Through my veil of angst and depression, I decided to modify the writer dream and become a poet. But not just any poet - a poet like Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath - people who really understood the darkness.

This new dream coincided with my mom going back to get her Masters in Social Work. She read one of my puberty-ridden poems and the next thing I knew I was in therapy. Being in therapy can really negatively impact dark poetry. It isn't easy to write about death when you are starting to feel good about life.

At this point, I was in high school, getting ready to go to college and I had to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life - and as my parents reminded me this involved making a decision that would someday allow me to financially take care of myself. So, post-therapy, I decided to become an English Professor and write on the side - of course.

I went to college, and made a lot of stupid mistakes, none of which impacted me permanently - thankfully. Then I went to grad school to really start my journey towards tenure. And, for the first time, I was allowed behind the scenes of a collegiate English Department. What I saw were a bunch of people trying to prove that their studies meant something to the modern world and in fact, meant more to the modern world than their colleagues. It was a desperate jumble of egos and it made me nauseous.

And there I was, 24 years old, working at Borders Bookstore and with a skill set that most businesses didn't need nor appreciate (how many companies really needed to hire someone who could critique the misogynistic leanings of Shakespeare or if he really could have been misogynistic since that concept wasn't yet invented). So, I went to a temp agency, they placed me in the training department of an insurance company, and my love for adult learning was born.

Since then, I've had about 10 different jobs, all covering different aspects of adult learning. I call these "jobs" for a very specific reason. I'm not a planner - in fact planning makes me break out in hives. Having a career means I'm planning - that I have different steps to accomplish in order to reach my final goal. Me - I take jobs - they interest me for a while, then I move to the next one.

So this was my life, at 27, working different jobs in adult learning, living alone, dating men who were REALLY bad choices and I honestly thought this was as good as it gets. Then I met my husband...