Monday, August 3, 2009

Chapter 17: It Takes a Village

For the past eight weeks, I have been neglecting my poor little blog. When I was writing about my past, the words came easily because I’d had time to reflect. Unlike some blogs, my posts are not pithy quip-filled anecdotes, but rather lengthy missives about significant aspects of my life. My life over the last two months has been really good and pretty calm, so it seems comparatively uninteresting to write about what I had for dinner the night before when my prior entries were filled with much more drama.

So what have I been up to?

Ramón and I are still going full steam ahead and are settling in to somewhat of a routine. Awhile back he asked his daughter if it was okay if I stay over at their apartment, and she said yes. This meant that I could come over before she went to bed and stay until after she woke up in the morning. Therefore, to the dismay of my two cats, I’ve been spending about five nights a week in Hoboken with Ramón (and the rest of his family, of course). This makes him happy because he gets to spend time with both his daughter and me and not worry about neglecting either. It also means that he doesn’t have to come up to my apartment, which to be honest is not nearly as nice as his (though better decorated!) and doesn’t have air conditioning. We commute home together after work, watch television, have dinner, go to bed, wake up and commute back to Manhattan together. Wash, rinse, repeat. He jokes that according to tax law, I am a New Jersey resident now, since the majority of my time is spent there. On the weekends we relax and try to find something fun to do.

I like spending time at Ramón's apartment and am getting more comfortable as the weeks pass. I am slowly sneaking my possessions over to his place. First some clothes and shoes, then some cook books, and now even my slow cooker. Given that I spend so much time there, it comforts me and makes my life easier to have some of my things around me. For now I feel like I am biding my time until December when my lease is up. I am already fantasizing about how our two lives will merge. In general, he has better electronics and major furniture pieces; I have better accessories and kitchen gadgets. The prospect of moving in with someone who has their own place set up is a little scary as it means that it if things didn’t work out I would pretty much have to furnish my next place from scratch. But that possibility doesn’t really hinder my excitement. Eventually, I would hope we could move to a new place that becomes distinctly “ours.”

I think the fact that we talk about our future means that what we respectively want is more likely to be actualized. It certainly helps that we are on the same page about most things, but simply knowing that is so makes it so much easier to put my trust in someone after having it shattered a year ago.

Through his actions, Ramón has made it especially easy for me to have confidence in him and our relationship, principally because he has put his faith in me. He trusts me alone with his child and his car, is working on getting me a key to his apartment, and doesn’t mind if I hang out there by myself. Another big act of confidence was giving me a copy of his credit card in my name to use for things like groceries for his apartment. I think he was motivated to do so after I cooked up a huge meal for a picnic in the park for him, his daughter, her mother and myself. It didn’t feel right to him for me to pay to feed everyone when he knows my budget is tight right now.

This bequeath is not without self-motivation for him as it means I can pitch in by running errands and keep his fridge stocked and his life running smoothly (and not have to pester him for cash anytime I need to go run to the store). This is an act of trust because he knows my spending habits have been historically questionable, and I accepted the card knowing my charge (ha!) was to treat it with respect.

As a result of his acts of faith, he has essentially made it easy for me to take care of him. Chores that I historically detested (such as laundry or dishes) I do without complaint. Heck, with a dishwasher and washer/dryer in the apartment it is almost a fun novelty. Almost. If he says he’s hungry, I cheerfully cook him a late night snack. Almost every day I make the bed and straighten up the coffee table. In my marriage such efforts went unnoticed or worse, were criticized. With Ramón, I always get a thank you. In return I make a conscious effort to verbally thank him for the back rubs he gives me or our nice dinners out. I am honestly thankful he is in my life, and I want to be sure he knows I take nothing he does for granted.

I have always sought reciprocity in relationships, and in this case it is not literally, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine,” but rather, “you scratch my back, I do the laundry.” In the past it was hard for me to figure out the exchange rate of this currency. My marriage dissolved into a tit-for-tat debate in which we nearly had a chart of stickers like a child would for their chores to see who was contributing more to the relationship. My feeling with Ramón is more one of, “you just pitch in.” This is how Ramón has structured his relationship with his daughter and her mother, and I am now working to find my position on that team. The team is one, however, that you’d find at one of those “progressive” hippy schools where you don’t keep score. I can’t tell you how refreshing that idea is, and yet how foreign.

As I try to figure out my place on the team, I also contemplate how the team will evolve if Ramón and I were to have children or if his baby mama were to start her own family. Ramón and I both want to have a couple of kids, and we can see having them with each other. How that new family takes shape will remain to be seen. For his daughter’s entire life it has been the three of them looking out for each other, without interlopers. Now I’m in the picture, and I can only hope I am a positive addition who one day begets more positive additions.

It’s a strange situation because Ramón has a daughter who I am just getting to know. Her mother is very present in her life, so right now I get to be her dad’s fun girlfriend who takes her to the park, watches iCarly with her or accompanies her and Daddy to paint pottery and go out to eat. I don’t tell her when to go to bed or discipline her (not that she requires much discipline, being the sweet thing she is). I think because having a kid around is a novelty for me, she takes full advantage. I’ll hand her the remote when we are watching television, play games with her when she asks, do arts and crafts and listen to the stories her friends and family have already heard. To me (and probably to her), all of this is fun. I can imagine if I had to do it 24/7 for nine years it might get a little tiresome and I’d be ready to tell her to knock it off. On the other hand part of why I want to be a mother in the first place is to open up the world to a child and in turn to see it through their eyes.

For example, the four of us went to The Cloisters for a picnic and to tour the museum. I have wanted to go for years, and since having moved mere blocks away, felt the tug even stronger. I adore museums and could spend hours reading every placard by every piece of art. Going with others in tow is always a precarious situation. Finding a good museum-going companion is like finding someone who is a good travel buddy or someone whose opinions about movies you trust. I wasn’t sure what the day had in store, but I was excited.

So anyhow, here there we were, sitting having a Burger King picnic outside the cloisters building when the curious little nine year-old spots an inchworm climbing a blade of grass. She points it out, but only I get down eye-level with her on the lawn to check it out. To me, that sort of self-discovery and curiosity should be celebrated and encouraged, so that’s what I did. It is in sharing these little moments that I feel motherly, even if she might never call me “Mom.”

Later, as we wandered the museum and Fort Tryon Park, I tried to point out things that I had some knowledge of, hoping to make it the educational experience it could be. I mean, I’ve lived in Europe and seen this type of stuff before. This was my neighborhood, and I’d wandered this park for hours. I certainly should know something on the subject. On the other hand, I also was hyper-aware that her mother and father, both teachers themselves, might want to lead the tour. So I offered up my little tidbits cautiously, and in the end I think we all had a good day.

I don’t know that I will ever be an authority figure with Ramón’s daughter. Luckily they’ve done such a good job raising her that for now it doesn’t matter. I just wonder what it would be like if she is a rebellious thirteen year-old and there is a toddler in the house calling me mommy who she is asked to look after. I just don’t ever want to hear the words “Oh yeah, well you’re not my mom!”

So the big picture is everything is going well. But that is not to say Ramón and I don’t have our moments. Or more to the point - that I have my moments. It is probably fair to say that any disagreements we have are instigated by me. When confronted with something that doesn’t sit well with me, I tend to make a snippy remark or grow huffy. I get upset when confronted with something unexpected that I disagree with. I realize some things (like the weather) are beyond my control. But I am a planner, and when what I anticipate or imagine doesn’t come to fruition because of an extraneous source, I tend to get PISSED! This is true in all aspects of my life (work, travel, traffic, whatever), but when it comes to romantic relationships, things get a bit more hairy. We can read each other pretty well at this point, and he even knows when I have something boiling under the surface. Even when I know it’s not a big deal I tend to make reactionary comments or faces that cause Ramón to react defensively. The problem is, once the bomb has been triggered, it is hard for me to figure our which wire I need to clip to defuse it.

In conflicts throughout much of my life I would retaliate with a raised voice, cutting words, or (in the case of my little brother) mutual assault. I see where that has gotten me in the past, and as a result now try to remain calm and explain what I’m thinking.

The problem is, I don’t always immediately know why I reacted the way I did to a certain situation. My writing, in part, has helped me take a step back and analyze my thoughts and actions in an effort to modify the ones that cause me undue pain. However, in the heat of conflict, I can’t always take that step back and figure out just why I got upset. So my response is to remain quiet. I feel like not saying anything will prevent me from saying something stupid that I will later regret, or asserting something to which I will later be proven wrong. Ramón grows increasingly frustrated with the bombs I drop and my subsequent silence. The obvious solution is to let things slide and go with the flow, but part of me always wonders where does the line between being easy-going blur with the one of being taken advantage of?

I try to learn from the experiences in my life. I know that I am prone to sarcasm, which in inter-personal situations is not something anyone (myself included) appreciates. I think I have been pretty good about checking that. I know I am quick to anger, but I am also quick to forgive. I know that even if I thought I’d forgiven and forgotten those old wounds, like with a boxer, open up quickly when the punches start flying. So I am trying, and I think Ramón knows that. I am sure if he thought otherwise, I’d be kicked to the curb by now.

But I’ve not been, and so life carries on in this new usual way. I realize that going from nerdy to thirty does not just entail finding the man who will make me happy for the rest of my life, and I for the rest of his. It is about me and making my self a better, whole, happy person. The feeling of being in a bit of limbo with the living situation has not helped my bigger goals. I’ve not started the exercise regime I’d hoped. As a baseline I am a demotivated person and the idea of going home to a man who loves me as I am does little to motivate me to change that. But he does have me thinking about the future and where my career path might lead.

My boss has been travelling for the last two weeks, and returns tomorrow. While he was away I was running the show, which included overseeing subcontractors doing work at a showhouse we are doing. This particular showhouse will be published in Town & Country Magazine with a coordinating television show on the Fine Living Network. The theme of the townhouse we are decorating is the movie “Dinner at Eight.” I have been on-site directing electricians, painters, wallpaper hangers, faux finishers and delivery people without oversight from my boss. I can only hope that the executive decisions I made when certain questions came up are made with his approval.

It was gratifying to be the one in charge. I think the people working with me appreciate my level head in a time of crisis. My boss is the kind of person who thinks raising your voice and insulting people is the way to effectively solve a problem, but I prefer to catch flies with honey. Figuring out whose fault a problem is or why something went wrong seems like a waste of time. I find it much more efficient to just look for a solution.

For example, a wall’s worth of wallpaper did not arrive on site as scheduled just two weeks before our deadline. It is a hand-painted product from China that normally has a twelve to fourteen week lead time. Despite my emails with attached drawings and dimensions, the salesman missed the fact that we needed that paper. When I realized the mistake, I explained the situation to the salesman and the owner of the wallpaper company, who were both mortified. My boss had said not to worry about the paper and just paint the wall instead. In the end, I had the wall painted just in case the additional paper do not arrive on-time, the missing wallpaper panels should arrive with several days to spare, and hopefully in the end the way I dealt with the situation will help make the project look better in the end.

Being on my own in the office the last two weeks has made me realize how much I want to have my own company one day. I have some ideas for businesses I would like to start. Ideally, when I settle down and have a family I would like a flexible career that allows me to spend time with my children. When my brother and I were little, my mom worked from home. When we went off to grade school, she began working part time and so was home in the mornings and afternoons with us. I can’t imagine myself not having a career of some kind, but I also can’t imagine letting someone else raise my children.

I would love the opportunity to start a flexible, home-based business, which I think being an interior designer allows. Alternately, I would love to set up a restaurant/shop that would have a manager and thus not require me to be there all day (or where my children could hang out with me). I wonder if I have the connections, drive and business acumen to make such an endeavor succeed, but I sure think working for my self would be exciting.

In talking about these ambitions with Ramón, he told me that if we end up married, my ambitions would not just be pipe dreams, and that he will help make them a reality. If past successes are any indicator, he will always be more financially successful than I. However, my own measure of success has always been more motivated by personal triumphs and my ability to contribute something intangible to a community or an individual. Even as a waitress, if I could recommend a wine to a customer that they loved so much they wrote it down – that was a good day on the job for me. This is not dissimilar to the satisfaction I get as an interior designer, showing a client a beautiful chair that they just can’t imagine living without. Or, as I mentioned before, imparting some bit of wisdom to a child. You never know when those little moments, like the proverbial flapping of the butterfly’s wings, will impact the world.

I went to a party recently at my cousin’s apartment in Brooklyn. He had lived in the city for about a year, but we’d never actually gotten together. He moved here from Illinois to work for a record label, signing new bands. When I was chatting with him at his party, I told him I was accountable for all his success. He gave me an inquisitive look. I said, “Well, when I was your nanny in Michigan, when you were about twelve, I taught you what a signature was. Now getting people to sign their names is your job!”

He laughed and said, “Oh that was you? When I went back to school that fall I taught all my friends what a signature was and worked really hard to make mine cool.”

I then asked him to sign the printed-out hopstop directions to his party. Just in case he really makes it big one day, I could say, “I taught him that, even if he hadn’t remember himself.”

So, I am happy. Contented. Definitely optimistic. I took Ramón home with me for the Fourth of July, the anniversary of my husband telling me he was leaving. He made an effort whilst there, which was all I cared about. He chatted with my grandmother about finance, my uncle about photography, and my cousin about law school. He put himself out there. Despite whatever trepidations he may have had, I deem the weekend a success. He, in turn, has invited me into his family’s life. They visited the city (Dad twice, Mom once) and we hung out when they were here. I like to think that our families recognize what we do: that what we have is special, that we are a good match, and that the love and laughter we share now is real and will endure. And I think it will.