Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kismet: London, not Venice

Sometimes, the best laid plans go to waste. And sometimes, those plans are derailed for reasons unknown to us at the moment, with better ones waiting to be revealed.

We were relaxing in the American Airlines Admiral's club at the Chicago, O'Hare airport when our names we called over the paging system. Nathan disappeared for awhile, while I continued crocheting, ready to board our business class seats to Madrid within the hour, and then continue on to Venice, Italy, a place we had been dreaming about for months. 

After about 10 minutes, Nathan came back and silently walked up to me, looking really upset. All he said was "Umm, you need to follow me." As we walked to the counter, I knew it was bad news. We're probably not sitting together, I naively thought. Or at the very worst, maybe we're flying coach. As we approached the counter, he let them do the talking.
I'm really sorry, but you will need to return home. You cannot enter Italy because your passport expires in March. It needs to be valid for a full 90 days after your expected return date.
I was too in shock to be upset. Valid 3 months after we return?! That makes no sense. I stood there, bewildered, and said But we can't go home. Is there a manager I can speak to? Well, he was the manager and there was nothing that could be done: It was a rule of the entire European Union, not the airline. So I did what any pregnant woman about to be denied a babymoon would do. I started crying. The silent type of cry that produces lots of tears and really lets people know you're serious.

We couldn't do an emergency renewal because it was a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday. If we had been sent out of the lounge and left to fend for ourselves, not only would we have not been able to go anywhere else (last minute tickets are always outrageous!) but we could have lost all of our miles being used and had to pay for the return, because the trip had technically already started. But the staff of American Airlines, specifically Doug Dean, Cheryl Krajnovic and Isolina Conception were amazing. Isolina even brought me some of her almonds while she helped us on the customer service call. 

The entire European Union was out, but within an hour, we had our choice of a few destinations, including Australia. All I could think about was the 85 degree weather there and my suitcase loaded down with cold-weather clothes. Buying new clothing can be fun, but not when I have to shop maternity and they would only fit me for a few more months. The only upside to going to Australia would have been the fact that Nathan offered to turn all of his jeans into cut-off short shorts, and rock them like no one's business.

London, England? Well, it had the same weather as Venice, and was not officially in the EU, so we could enter. Even though we had each been there before, separately, it seemed to be the best of our limited options. They held the aircraft at the gates waiting for us and when they drove us to the gate, we boarded immediately. 

In the lounge at Heathrow, Nathan booked a great hotel in the Covent garden area that was actually reasonable, while I bought tickets to see War Horse at the New London Theater. We made our way to the hotel, slept and freshened up and then found a great local pub, Shakespeare's Head, a place that we would end up at 7 more times over the next 8 days because the food was good and we could get two meals for under 20 pounds. McDonald's was almost as expensive there.

On the off-chance she was free, I called my Mum's sister and left a voicemail letting her know that we unexpectedly ended up in London, and asking if she had time to get together, to possibly see where Mom grew up. My Mom lost touch with most of her family over the years since she left after getting married at 19. I had only met her sister once, when she came to America when I was 12. We had only spoken on the phone twice, once after Mom was diagnosed, and once after she died. I wasn't even sure she still lived near London.

A few days went by. Nathan and I had an amazing time exploring the city on foot, with minimal use of the Underground until I was too tired and needed it. We walked past the London Eye, over to Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, to Westminster Abbey and through Hyde Park. To Buckingham Palace and back. We explored the British Museum, had dessert every night, went to the Tower of London, Harrod's and on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. Through all of this, we enjoyed the time just to ourselves, something we haven't had in over seven months.

Outside Westminster Abbey on Ash Wednesday
Nathan said that after his first trip over 10 years ago, he never needed to see London again. But on this trip, he saw the city in a different light and can now see himself returning. We talked about bringing our daughter back, and found some souvenirs for her: a musical Peter Rabbit, My First Paddington Bear, Paddington Visits the Palace book, a baby carriage ornament from Buckingham Palace and two bodysuits from Westminster Abbey; one with the Union Jack, and one with a crown.

We had just booked our weekend plans, The Changeling, a 17th century play all by candlelight, at The Globe and a tour of Windsor Castle when she called. My Aunt was free to give us a tour of where Mom grew up! And she could do it the one last free day we had. That night, I went to bed a bit nervous and excited. I was worried it would be too sad or emotional, and mostly just wished Mom was coming along with us. And with the help of my imagination, it felt like she was. I imagined her by my side, with her arm around my waist and mine around hers, as we so often did those last few months when the brain tumor robbed her of her balance.

Wearing the cross that holds some of her remains, we took the tube to Paddindton Station and from there, caught a train into Reading. The train ride only took 30 minutes, and I realized that Mom always saying she grew up "30 minutes outside of London" was indeed accurate. 

We arrived at the station and after sitting out front for a few minutes, my phone rang and it was my uncle Mark! I had not seen him since I was two when he came to visit my Mom with my grandmother Lilly. That was the first and last time I met her, and she brought me a gollywog. Turning around, there he was, all grown up, walking with Anna. Some hugs and introductions to Nathan, and we were on our way.

The day could not have been more perfect. I was hoping to just see one house Mom lived in, but they planned so much more. First up: visiting the grave of my grandmother Lilly, and my great-grandmother, Mary. 

Mary mangan
Died Feb 15 1965 aged 66

Lilly sheehan
Nov 2 1993 aged 65
While our baby's first name has changed a few times, all along we have been planning to give her the middle name Mary because that was my Mom's middle name and also his aunt's name. I didn't realize that my Mom's middle name was Mary after her grandmother until I stood here, at her grave. Anna and Mark left us alone there for awhile, and I prayed for them and to them, thanking them for raising such a wonderful, beautiful, loving and kind person.
Mary Mangan with my Mom, Paula Mary DeWitt (Mangan)
Next up: the very first place Mom lived when her Mum and grandmother emigrated from Ireland with her in tow,areound a year old. I had no idea that the three of them lived in one bedroom. Not "rented a one-bedroom" but actually lived in just the bedroom. We aren't sure which room it was, but it is one of these rooms, in an old Victorian on Castle Hill. It would be just around a year until they could afford something better.
1st house (actually a room)

I imagine the stigma they faced, just two women and a child. I know at least one person who judges that now, let alone back in the early 1950's. What strong women they were to up and leave like that, seeking work and a better life for little Paula.

The next place we saw was where they moved after they saved up enough to get out of the one room, and then where they were living when my grandmother met her husband, Johnny Sheehan, also an emigrant from Ireland. 

2nd house
3rd house

Finally, a few streets over, the house where they all lived at and raised their five other children, Johnny, Michael, Julie, Anna and Mark. This last house is where Mom was living when my father was courting her.

4th and final house

Street view

As you can tell from the street view, all the houses look the same. But I remember Mom saying my grandma painted her door red, and was talked to by the housing council who did not appreciate the originality.

Already, it was an amazing day, but what they had in store for us next was incredible. Down the street and to the left is Christ the King Catholic Church at 408 Northumberland Avenue, Reading RG2 8NR. This was where my Mom and Dad were married on August 9, 1969 but also, as I learned that day, where my Grandmother and Grandfather were married. For years, I knew my Mom's and Dad's wedding picture, with them standing in a doorway. But i had never seen her parent's wedding photo, also in the same spot. My Aunt Anna had an 8x10 of this photo to give me, and it made our visit there all the more meaningful. The church was even open that Friday afternoon because they were setting up for a concert, and we were able to walk down the aisle, imagining the excitement nervousness Mom and Dad felt when they were doing the same.
Lastly, we were off to visit my grandfather. This was to be my very first time meeting him. I knew it would be hard. Eight months earlier, he suffered a stroke while walking to meet his Irish friends at a pub and had lost his ability to speak. Anna and Mark entered the room first, and told him someone special was here to see him, Paula's daughter, Megan from America. I entered the room and after he saw me, he began weeping. You have to remember that is a strong Irish man who never spoke about his feelings and was probably never caught crying his whole adult life and now here he was, breaking down. He held onto my hand tightly and alternated between trying to communicate and crying. Tears fell as I thanked him for being such a good father to my Mom. Asked if I looked like her, he nodded and griped my hand tightly. We told him our daughter's name and when asked if he liked it, he nodded and tried to say yes. When I asked if I could take this photo with him, he reached his hand up to make sure he smoothed his hair down and nodded yes.

Meeting my grandfather, Johnny Sheehan, for the first time. Born in Castleisland, Ireland in 1932.
Looking into his blue eyes made me keenly aware of how quickly time passes. How I wished I had visited him just one year prior, when he could have had a pint and a laugh over his stories, like he did with my Mom in this photo below so many years earlier. But still, here I was with him and for that I will always be grateful. If you have family in far away places, go visit them now. These memories and photos are something that cannot be bought. The tendency to be practical or frugal can sadly win out, and once they're gone, you can't change your mind. 
L-R: Bartender, Alan Bride, my Grandfather Johnny Sheehan, my Mom Paula DeWitt (Mangan)
Leaving was tough, because its not like I could say see you again soon or, ever. We left his room and all sat down in the common area of the nursing home. Night had fallen, and my heart was full with everything that had transpired that day. But there was one final surprise left in store for me. Anna brought photo albums, and told me that I could take any of the pictures I wanted. I paused when I saw a wedding photo of my Mom and Dad that I had never seen.

Another book was filled with baby photos of me, that my Mom sent to her Mum. But one gem stood out, and tears began flowing as I held it. This photo of my Mom holding me at three days old melts my heart, and is something I will always treasure. The love and care that she wraps me in with her arms is almost tangible, and when I look at it, I can feel it. I hope to take a similar one of our daughter, and hang them both in the nursery.

In all, it was a much more meaningful trip than Venice ever could have been. More than one person has told me that it was meant to be and I believe them. A few years ago, I laughed at the old adage everything happens for a reason. But situations like this trip make me think there is something to that. None of this would have been possible without the help of those American Airlines staff and I wish they could know just how much their help means to us both, for all the years to come, and one day, to our daughter.

Mom, making a wish

Mom, with her cats
At 18 months, with my gollywog that my grandma brought me

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Babymoon Booked!

This "relaxing or romantic vacation taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born" was likely invented by a group of smart, scheming women who liked to vacation. It didn't really exist 10 years ago, yet is something husbands can end up feeling guilty for not giving their wife, much like the newly invented "push present."

Planning to take full advantage, I started planting ideas for a babymoon in my husband's head early, before we were even pregnant. I knew it would be an easy sell since he loves to travel, and we try to take an international trip every February anyway.

Venice is known for being one of the most romantic cities in the world. It is also know for being one of the most expensive. That's why its best to travel off season, like we did when we visited Rome. Our district has a week off every February, which is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of places like this. We fly out on Valentine's Day. Sure, it will be a little chilly, but we won't be fighting the crowds, and what other place could look as beautiful in the gloomy mists of a winter fog? With all of the walking we'll be doing, I actually prefer cooler weather, and Venice has a high of 50 right now.

I'm just starting to explore things to do, but already have a few things on our must-do list. We will be catching the tail end of the Venice Carnival, which started back in the 11th century and was very popular until outlawed by the King of Austria in 1797, and picked back up after a long absence in 1979. During the Carnival (Carnevale) f
rom January 31 - February 17, 2015, Venice will slough off the winter gloom and burst into life. This most magical of cities fills with a mass of masked party-goers - posing and preening, dancing and philandering, in a slightly surreal re-invention of a great tradition of the city. (Think Eyes Wide Shut.)

What's any historic city without a good Murder and Mystery Tour? Those of you who know me well, know I only watch one channel: Investigation Discovery so this is right up my (dark) alley. Discover an entirely different Venice as we make our way through a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, where shadows linger and footsteps echo. Imagine a dark silent Venice with no lighting, eerie and spooky.

Learn about the public executions in St. Marks square, the inhumane mental asylums situated on the lagoon islands. Anecdotes of the courtesans, casinos and brothels and of course Casanova and 'the last kissing spot'.

There's a story of the mysterious footprints, headless body and the head seen floating in a canal, the assassins alleyway and the murdered women dressed in white! Secret courtyards and architectural gems hidden in the silent alleys, such as the impressive spiral staircase. Finally the story of the ill-fated Theatre, La Fenice and mystery of the last fire...

I'm also excited about where we're staying: the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca Island, facing the Grand Canal. Once a flourishing flourmill, it is now internationally recognized as one of Italy’s iconic pieces of industrial architecture. 

Hilton Molino Stucky Venice - Exterior
Our hotel
But forget about the architecture, I'm more interested in the spa! The 6,500 square foot spa is billed as the largest wellness center in Venice, and I can't wait to get a treatment or two there. It also has 7 restaurants and bars, including a panoramic rooftop bar that promises sweeping of the skyline. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle boat over to the 9th century St. Mark's Square and nearby Doge's Palace

Other than that, the rest of our itinerary will be open. Nathan made all of the (first class!) travel arrangements, and said it's up to me to plan what we do while we're there. I like to have things on my must see list, but not in any particular order or day. Having too full of an itinerary is stressful.

I definitely want to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection, attend Mass at St. Mark's Basilica, and explore two of the famous islands of the Venetian Lagoon - Murano and Burano. Burano has all the colorful buildings and is known for its intricate lace (I can't wait to find something for Autumn there) and Murano is known for their precious glass. Lastly, I hope we can catch a show at the Teatro San Gallo close to our hotel.

But mostly, I want to walk down narrow alley-ways holding hands, not knowing where we're going, while getting about as lost as you can on an island.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wait, it's a Boy!? Becoming Foster Parents

Before our baby girl arrives at the end of May, we're having a boy! A teenage boy.

As I was about to leave work on Tuesday, I received a call that a student I had been working with was placed at an emergency youth shelter, Orangewood. I can't discuss any of the circumstances surrounding why he was placed there not just because of confidentiality, but because it is his story. None of us would like our stories shared, and there is always misinformation and another side to things. Suffice to say, he was now in "the system" and would be looking at at least two months there (usually closer to eight or nine) before hopefully being placed with a foster family. 

That is, unless someone who was related to him or knew him stepped forward. I already knew that he had no one. I thought of how he had attended school every day the prior week, a first for the entire school year, and how he was just starting to smile and feel connected. I spoke to our campus police officer who has been instrumental in helping get him clothing, shoes and school supplies, and he said he was searching his mind for someone who could take him in. He said he would take him himself, except that he has four boys, and I knew he meant it. Everyone likes this kid. Right away, I wanted to say "We'll take him!" but knew I needed to talk to Nathan, who would probably tell me it wasn't good timing.

Without hesitation or even a whole lot of information, my husband was all for it said we should help. We were being called to do so. I was surprised by his response, but I probably shouldn't have been. On one of our first dates, he told me he believes service to others is his main purpose in life. He said that although he has never met this boy, he trusts my judgement. This means a lot to me, especially in light of the fact that I routinely loose my cell phone inside my own house and just the other day put the ice cream away in the fridge, overnight. We decided to move forward.

The first step was to speak to his social worker and give her all of the information needed on both of us to complete a criminal background check. She also asked the student if he would want to live with us, and his answer was yes. On Wednesday night, we spoke to him and set up our our first visit for the following day.

The fact that we are flying to Italy on Valentine's Day presented a problem because we can't very well leave him unattended for 10 days while we ride gondolas and eat lasagna. At first, the social worker said that we would just wait until the end of February, when we return. But that didn't seem right, and I searched for someone willing to take him while we were gone. I was amazed to find out that one of his teachers was willing to take him for the entire time we are gone. The social worker was in support, and they are moving forward with that background check as well.

Every day, Nathan and I have been talking about this and giving it careful consideration. Can we really commit to having him stay with us for six months to a year, possibly more? What if behavior problems arise? What will it be like with a newborn? With our backgrounds and experiences I feel that we are fairly well equipped to handle whatever is thrown our way. I told my husband that I love him more for being so open to doing this, and he said he is so happy he found someone who is willing to take this on. Being 5 months pregnant, it may not be the best timing, but its as good a time as any. We don't choose when we're called to serve, and the timing for something like this is probably never perfect.

We had our first meeting with him Thursday night and it could not have gone any better. He hit it off with my husband, talking about video games and baseball. We tried to get to know him, asking what his favorite things to eat are and what he likes to do. All three of us were a bit nervous. He smiled a lot, very shyly, while looking down. He seemed excited. When we asked him if he had any questions, he wanted to know what time he would need to go to bed, and if he could drink soda. If he was allowed to drink soda, how many could he have in a week? Rather than having set answers, we told him that we would all talk and figure out what was best with his input.

Toward the end of our visit, I told him that we are just here to help, and that he didn't choose to be in this situation and that it wasn't fair, or his fault. His response astounded me so much that I had to ask him to repeat himself. He said "Better me than someone else." We ended the visit on a positive note and told him we would be back to see him on Saturday.

This time, we were able to take him out of Orangewood for two hours. We walked around the Block at Orange and had lunch at TGI Fridays, a place he had never been. Again, it went really well and I think we can both now see ourselves in this role.

Our home visit is scheduled for next Wednesday, where they will open every drawer and peer into every cabinet. It's supposed to last two hours. They will also be asking us some pretty interesting questions I assume, because she already front-loaded us and told me not to be offended, "They're just questions we ask everybody."

The clothes that were given to him a few weeks ago did not make it with him to Orangewood, so we are in the process of contacting some people who may be able to help. While there eventually will be some funding that comes with him for clothing and food, it does not kick in for 6-8 weeks and his birthday is less than two weeks away. My friend Delia asked her friend Dave who has already made contact with some people at Hurley, Oakley and Vans.

We are both so excited about the possibility of making a difference, even a small one, in this young man's life. So many people care about him - more than he knows - and their caring and concern motivated us to take this leap. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

14 Days of Love - DIY with Printables

((This repost is from The Dating Divas who reposted from Six Sisters Stuff.))

I'm excited to do this for Nathan! Last year, I did a scavenger hunt for him on Valentine's Day. You can view that posting here. I like that this is for two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, so it helps build the excitement while taking a little pressure off of the gift. I plan to leave these by the coffee pot or in his car in the morning, since I leave before he does. Or, around the house if it's something he won't be taking to work (like the sparkling cider). The printables are found here. I've made my shopping list, and have started picking up a few items each time I go to the store.

One or two of these could be used instead of the whole 14. You could also use some of them for children, friends or co-workers. "You are the apple of my eye" is great for a child, and "You are soda-mazing" could be given to just about anyone.

You are the “apple” of my eye!
You could also use apple juice, candy apple rings or actual apples.

“Honey, comb” you’re hair, because we’ve got a date tonight!
If you’re not into cereal you could just use a regular comb.

You are one “hot tamale!”
You could also use Red Hots or any other cinnamon candy.

I’m “nuts” about you!
You could use any type of nuts, a Nutrageous candy bar, or Nutter Butter cookies.

I wouldn’t “chews” anyone but you!
You could also use Starburst fruit chews, Charleston Chews, or Chewy granola bars.

I think you are “soda” amazing!
You could also use Soda Candies or Soda Crackers.

We were “mint” to be together!
You could also use York Peppermint Patties, Butter Mints, or a mint flavored dessert.

We make a great “combo!”
These were my husband’s favorite growing up so I just had to use them!  They are found right by the checkout.
You could also use a combination flavored pizza or PB and J combo jars.

Thanks for “stick”ing by my side!
We lose chapstick as soon as we get it around here so this works well for us.
You could also use Chic-O-Sticks, Orange or Raspberry Sticks or super glue (or anything else sticky for that matter).

I’m “bananas” for you!
You could also use real bananas or banana flavored candy.

You have o”fish”ally stolen my heart!
You could also use gold fish crackers.

I would be so “mix”ed up without you!
You could use any flavor of Chex Mix, trail mix or other snack mix.

Life would be un”bear”able without you!
You could also use a honey bear or Klondike Bars with the bear on the front (just be sure to keep them in the freezer). :)

You make my heart “bubble” over!
You could use any type of carbonated beverage, Bubble Tape, or Bubble Yum.

Print your 14 day tags here!

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Linked up at: 
Blooming Homestead

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Christmas Gifts, From Mom

One of the reasons I blog is for the documentation and archival aspects. I've already gone back and reminisced reading Autumn Weekends with Mom, trying to assure myself that I made the most of our year together post-diagnosis. And I like imagining that our daughter will one day read this blog. She may not be interested until she's older, but if I had something similar written by my Mother or Grandmother, I certainly would. 

In doing so, I hope she will have just a glimpse into the planning and effort that went into trying to have her, and all of the excitement and anticipation surrounding her arrival. After IVF failed the first time, Mom told me "I'm going to hold that baby!" I want Autumn, as we have taken to calling her, to know how loved and wanted she was, even before we received that positive test. And how overjoyed my Mom was when I told her I was pregnant, both of us silently knowing and wishing that she could be here for more. 

A few weeks before Christmas, my Dad told me he asked Mom what to get me. My heart skipped a beat. Then he said "When you've been married as long as we have, you know what the other person would say." He wanted me to know that the gifts I was going to receive, for our baby girl, were from both of them.

Christmas Eve came, and traditionally we open one present. Dad knew the package, and handed me one wrapped in paper different from everything else under the tree. Inside were the most darling pink leather baby booties, with roses for Mom.

On Christmas morning, I did my best to cook up some sausages like Mom did, but they weren't as good. There was an emptiness in the air and in our hearts. The first holiday without a loved one is something to get through, not enjoy. But we did our best, as Mom would have wanted, and having this baby girl to look forward to helped. In my darkest days of grief, she is a bright spot.

I feel like the gifts that Dad picked out and had imported from England really were something Mom would have chosen. I will pack these away when she outgrows them, and like to imagine that Autumn may pass them on to her girl one day.

The mittens, booties and cap from Bonnie Baby are Cashmere, and super soft. She's all set for her baptism with the christening shawl and bonnet, which has intricate bead work on it. She will wear my gown, which Mom saved.

Another Christmas tradition in our family is that after all of the gifts have been opened, there's a special one, the best of all, from Santa. Sometimes it's hidden, or in another room. One year, a bike was left up on the roof, because Santa couldn't fit it down the chimney.

As in years past, this last gift was the most special. "Santa" had developed 15 rolls of film on disposable cameras that all belonged to Mom. When I switched to digital cameras around 2003, Mom's complaint was that the photos were never printed. So when we had an event or special occasion, she bought a disposable camera. It was amazing to look through the hundreds of pictures, most of them taken by her. Here are a few of few of my favorites. 

Her favorite Saint, Blessed St. Martin

I received that Tiffany anchor necklace that year, along with a note I saved that said I was the anchor of the family.
This was a dirt field when she started. Avenue G, Yucaipa.
Joking about having a double chin in photos. I miss her laugh, but can almost hear it when I look at this.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Husband ≠ Dancing Monkey

Excerpt from: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
APRIL 21, 2009
– Diary entry – Poor me. Let me set the scene: Campbell and Insley and I are all down in Soho, having dinner at Tableau. Lots of goat-cheese tarts, lamb meatballs and rocket greens, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. But we are working backward: dinner first, then drinks in one of the little nooks Campbell has reserved, a mini-closet where you can lounge expensively in a place that's not too different from, say, your living room. But fine, it's fun to do the silly, trendy things sometimes. We are all overdressed in our little flashy frocks, our slasher heels, and we all eat small plates of food bites that are as decorative and unsubstantial as we are.
We've discussed having our husbands drop by to join us for the drinks portion. So there we are, post-dinner, tucked into our nook, mojitos and martinis and my bourbon delivered to us by a waitress who could be auditioning for the small role of Fresh-faced Girl Just Off the Bus.
We are running out of things to say; it is a Tuesday, and no one is feeling like it is anything but. The drinks are being carefully drunk: Insley and Campbell both have vague appointments the next morning, and I have work, so we aren't gearing up for a big night, we are winding down, and we are getting dull-witted, bored. We would leave if we weren't waiting for the possible appearance of the men. Campbell keeps peeking at her BlackBerry, Insley studies her flexed calves from different angles. John arrives first – huge apologies to Campbell, big smiles and kisses for us all, a man just thrilled to be here, just delighted to arrive at the tail-end of a cocktail hour across town so he can guzzle a drink and head home with his wife. George shows up about twenty minutes later – sheepish, tense, a terse excuse about work, Insley snapping at him, "You're forty minutes late," him nipping back, "Yeah, sorry about making us money." The two barely talking to each other as they make conversation with everyone else.
Nick never shows; no call. We wait another forty-five minutes, Campbell solicitous ("Probably got hit with some last-minute deadline," she says, and smiles toward good old John, who never lets last-minute deadlines interfere with his wife's plans); Insley's anger thawing toward her husband as she realizes he is only the second-biggest jackass of the group ("You sure he hasn'd even texted, sweetie?").
Me, I just smile: "Who knows where he is – I'll catch him at home." And then it is the men of the group who look stricken: You mean that was an option? Take a pass on the night with no nasty consequences? No guilt or anger or sulking?
Well, maybe not for you guys.
Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys.
Nick will come home, sweaty and salty and beer-loose from a day at the ballpark, and I'll curl up in his lap, ask him about the game, ask him if his friend Jack had a good time, and he'll say, "Oh, he came down with a case of the dancing monkeys – poor Jennifer was having a “real stressful week” and really needed him at home."
Or his buddy at work, who can'd go out for drinks because his girlfriend really needs him to stop by some bistro where she is having dinner with a friend from out of town. So they can finally meet. And so she can show how obedient her monkey is: He comes when I call, and look how well groomed!
Wear this, don'd wear that. Do this chore now and do this chore when you get a chance and by that I mean now. And definitely, definitely, give up the things you love for me, so I will have proof that you love me best. It's the female pissing contest – as we swan around our book clubs and our cocktail hours, there are few things women love more than being able to detail the sacrifices our men make for us. A call-and-response, the response being: "Ohhh, that's so sweet."
I am happy not to be in that club. I don't partake, I don't get off on emotional coercion, on forcing Nick to play some happy-hubby role – the shrugging, cheerful, dutiful taking out the trash, honey! role. Every wife's dream man, the counterpoint to every man's fantasy of the sweet, hot, laid-back woman who loves sex and a stiff drink.
I like to think I am confident and secure and mature enough enough to know Nick loves me without him constantly proving it. I don't need pathetic dancing-monkey scenarios to repeat to my friends, I am content with letting him be himself.
I don't know why women find that so hard.
When I get home from dinner, my cab pulls up just as Nick is getting out of his own taxi, and he stands in the street with his arms out to me and a huge grin on his face – "Baby!" – and I run and I jump up into his arms and he presses a stubbly cheek against mine.
"What did you do tonight?" I ask.
"Some guys were playing poker after work, so I hung around for a bit. Hope that was okay."
"Of course," I say. "More fun than my night."
"Who all showed up?"
"Oh, Campbell and Insley and their dancing monkeys. Boring. You dodged a bullet. A really lame bullet."
He squeezes me into him – those strong arms – and hauls me up the stairs. "God, I love you," he says.
Then comes sex and a stiff drink and a night of sleep in a sweet, exhausted rats" tangle in our big, soft bed. Poor me.

Imagine how different her night would have been if she were upset with him for not showing up. How different both of their nights would have been.

My husband and I just celebrated our first year of marriage last month. Newly pregnant (read: hormones) and grieving the loss of my Mom, I recently fell into a bout of self-pity that lasted a few hours, after my husband received a phone call and rushed off to complete a task. He left abruptly and (I do hope you're sitting down) didn't kiss me goodbye or (gasp) ask me if I needed anything while he was out or before he left. And yes, the task he had to complete was Christmas shopping for me, but still!

Sulking, I picked up this book and happened to read this chapter. It took me awhile, but I realized that I could have reacted very differently. Instead of being upset with him, I became upset with myself for almost asking him to be my dancing monkey. It kind of scared me, because I have seen wives make their husbands do things the husbands obviously did not want to do, even (or, especially) in front of others. I have always sworn that I would not be that way when I finally landed a husband. Yet, there I was.

Before you start to think I'm being sexist, imagine the reverse scenario: a husband telling his wife to dress a certain way for his friends, fix her hair or make-up a certain way before they go out, or complete tasks for him in front of others, just so they could see how much she cares. Imagine him telling her that no, she cannot go spend time with her friends after work, or skip something they had planned because something else came up. Women-libers would be all over that, and he would be viewed as a controlling husband. So why is it okay when women ask their husbands to do the same?

Before we were engaged, my husband and I were going out to dinner with a few people. Right before we left, he came over and asked me if what he was wearing was alright. The question was so foreign to me, and my response was that he looked fine, and could wear whatever he wanted to wear. I seriously cannot imagine asking him to dress a certain way based on our company or the setting.

When I think of how my Mom would have handled the rushing-off scenario, I realize I have a lot of work to do. Mom would not have batted an eye, and would have been warm and welcoming when my Dad returned home. Just as in other areas of my life, I am still learning and improving, and still figuring out what type of wife I will be. Certainly not the demanding, emotional coercion kind that invents tasks for him to do as a test of his love. Instead, I want him to do things for me because he wants to, and because I do things like that for him. How much more meaningful is it when our partner - guy or girl - does something for us because they feel like it, instead of because they are afraid of our reaction or don't want to upset us?