The Truth About Marriage and How to Carry the Weight of It

Marriage is heavy, and children make it heavier. In order to keep our marriage from drowning, we have to sometimes shift some weight.

We have a running joke in my family from a past fishing trip to Canada where my dad repeatedly transferred his gear into another person’s boat in order to go faster in his own.

He would wave us over and say, “We gotta shift some weight.” while handing over his tackle box and cooler as if that proved a reasonable explanation for lightening his boat and giving me, my husband, or one of my brothers more to haul. This being typical of my competitive dad who can hardly drive on the freeway without channeling Jeff Gordon, we exchanged knowing smiles every time we had to “shift some weight” and watch my dad speed off like a ninja.

We took that trip ten years ago, not long after my husband and I were married, and while we still joke about it with my family, the phrase “shift some weight” has grown to mean more to us over time. It’s become a metaphor for our marriage and the life we’re working so hard to build together. It’s a mantra for the team that we chose to make as a couple, the two of us, I pick you, you pick me, and there’s only each of us together to carry this weight.

If you don’t know, marriage weighs a lot.

We had no clue what we were promising to carry when we stood together all that time ago –mere children – with hearts in our eyes, and nothing in our pockets, believing our love would never die, believing that we’d always want to spend our evenings spooning on the couch watching “Law and Order” reruns.

We didn’t know the weight of being adults yet because, at the ages of 23 and 24, we were just babies. Our apartment cost less than $800 a month. I spent my time smoking cigarettes and writing stories in between shifts at the Macaroni Grill.

Our marriage felt new, and bore none of the wear of growth and change you go through over many years. People often say the past is gone and we can never have time back. But really we accumulate our time like pennies in our pockets, moments and choices adding up to the sum of our lifetime’s worth. Like pennies, time gets heavy.

Now as I sit and think about my marriage, I could easily launch into the hard work of having children, the long days and nights of feeding babies and rocking them to sleep, the arguments about who does what and how. I could talk about feeling touched-out all the time, and list all the things that wear on a relationship.

But I’ve found that the irony of raising kids is not in all the things you have to do, but in the fact that you’ve invited these other people into your marriage. These tiny little people that can suck the living daylight out of you, and do nothing to help you carry the weight of them. These tiny little people making marriage heavier and harder to hold onto. And you don’t know, when you bring these tiny little beautiful bundles of cargo into your boat – believing that they’ll make it so much more beautiful and happy, so much more fulfilling, and amazing – that they’ll also try to sink it like a stone. Not intentionally of course, but by the sheer weight of their being.

Marriage is heavy, and children make it heavier. This is the thing I have learned, we have learned, my husband and I: in order to keep our marriage from drowning, we have to sometimes shift some weight.

Shifting weight for us means asking for help. It’s our message to each other that whatever it is we’re carrying, we cannot do it anymore. It might be that we feel alone, and need the other person to jump in with us, or maybe we need a break and need them to take a break with us, or maybe we need to pass something off that’s too much, too hard, too heavy.

Sometimes we need to call on someone else – a grandparent, a friend, a co-worker, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. Life gets too heavy, and we need help from all corners once in a while. We’re not meant to carry all the weight alone. It will sink us, and our marriage, every time.

Marriage is it’s own externalized entity. For us, it is not our family, it is not our identity, it is not an afterthought that we take for granted like it’s just this crazy thing we did once upon a time. It lives and breaths and we have to take care of it, just like we have to take care of our maniacal oversized children that keep trying to wedge their beautiful little selves in the middle of it every time they hear the beginning sparks of a conversation.

We love our children, but we love our marriage too. This is the thing: if all the extra stuff fell away, if our children were all grown up tomorrow, if it was just the two of sitting at the breakfast table staring at one another, I’d want my husband to feel as though I helped carry the load throughout the years. Not just my share of the load, but the whole load once in a while. I’d want him to feel as though I picked up the load like I mean business, and hauled the weight of it like it’s all I ever wanted to do.

Because that’s what I’d think if I looked at him, separate from our kids, and our stuff, and our dreams. I’d look at him with those little hearts still in my eyes and know that whenever I needed to shift some weight, he picked it up and carried it like an elephant does a flower. Not because he’s the strongest man alive, but because I needed his help.

Marriage is a team, a you and me, a unit. Ours works when we do our best for each other, when we laugh together, and when we learn to shift some weight.

An Ode to Sisters-in-law, and Love

Why is there no holiday celebrating in-laws? What a unique gift, to gain new parents and siblings halfway through life.

Why is there no holiday celebrating in-laws? What a unique gift, to gain new parents and siblings halfway through life. I always loved being a sister. Having a blood sister is a big part of what made me who I am.
Now I have one by my brother’s marriage, and another from my husband’s side. We look up to each other, challenge each other, and keep each other sane. I don’t say it enough, but for the record: I’m deeply grateful to have them in my life.
So here’s to you, my sisters-in-law. (I never even like to use that phrase. You are my sisters, full stop. Or perhaps sisters-in-love, because love is the bond that means much more to me than the legal status of our relations.)
You are the women who made me an aunt, something I always wanted to be, the women who gave my daughter the priceless gift of cousins. You help me appreciate and understand the family I grew up with from fresh points of view.
You trust me to counsel you on your relationships even though you could dismiss me as biased. I see this as a huge sign of respect to my discernment. I know I can count on you to be there for me when I need the same support.
You empower me to make time for the passions that make me who I am, despite the pressure to put everyone else first. I see you perform music, teach yourself herbalism, maintain close friendships, and pursue your careers. You model a self-esteem that, while a work-in-progress for each of us, reminds me that I discover new levels of strength, beauty, humility, endurance, and ecstasy through motherhood.
You never make me feel bad for flaking on birthday and Christmas presents, because you know that my heart is in the right place even if my head isn’t always screwed on right. You never judge me, as much as I fear you will, when holiday chaos prompts my social anxiety to rear its ugly head.
Every year I promise that, this time, I will hold it together, and every year I’m embarrassed as I struggle so much that I can’t even look you in the eye. But you look into mine, with love. And I can’t tell you how much that means.
You soothe my mind when I wonder who I will call when someday I no longer have my own mother to turn to. Above all, you are proof that there are many ways to raise children, many ways to lead a family, and that the most important thing must always be doing what’s right for ourselves.
You give hope to my aching heart that this world is not running out of good people, because I see you raising thoughtful, caring children, who will grow up to live with their hearts open and their heads high, as champions of the Earth.
No matter what ups and downs life may bring, we are family. So thank you, sisters, for bringing me closer to my brothers, and for holding us all in a web of love that “law” can’t pretend to describe.

Laurie Kilmartin on Life, Death, and the Jokes That See Us Through

Comedian and Emmy-nominated writer Laurie Kilmartin live-tweeted her father’s death. She talks to us about love, laughs, and letting go.

In 2014 when Laurie Kilmartin’s father was dying from stage IV lung cancer, the stand-up comedian and Emmy-nominated writer for CONAN, did what she does best: she cracked jokes. Laurie documented her father’s decline by writing 140-character bits of observational comedy – dark, raw, visceral, and hilarious – tweeting them out into the ether for her followers to capture and read. 
And read we did, laughing and crying our way through Laurie’s loss. Or maybe more accurately, through our own losses, uncovered by Laurie’s words, her play-by-play on death and dying granting us permission to – perhaps at long last – examine our own grief.

Laurie’s new comedy special, 45 Jokes About My Dead Dadnow streaming on Seeso, offers a documentary-style backstory – including interviews with Patton Oswalt, Andy Kindler, Conan O’Brien, and Cheryl Holliday – followed by Laurie’s cathartic stand-up.
I had the opportunity to speak with Laurie about the experience of losing a parent while also raising a young son.
When you were tweeting about your dad – I’m sure so many people have said this to you – but it really hit home, having lost both my mom and dad, and having survived so much of it by laughing with my brother. 
Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your parents.
Thank you, I’m sorry about your dad. It’s such a loss. And you’re a parent yourself. Really – authentically – how are you? 
I’m okay now. It’s weird how the first year is really surreal, and then you kind of get used to the new order.
It’s a year of firsts.
Yeah. There are still times where I miss my dad intensely but the intervals are further apart, and I also feel like I grieved him properly. I think about him a lot and – this sounds incredibly trite – but he has a permanent place in my heart, and I feel like I can remember him and access him all the time. That makes me happy.
How old was your son when your father was dying? How did you weave him into – and/or protect him from – the experience of this loss?
He was seven when my dad died and I know he has memories of my dad, but when I look back on being seven, I don’t remember anything. It’s all from photos that I’ve seen.
I’ve really tried to mention my dad a lot and say, “Grandpa would love that.” and, “Grandpa would think that was so cool.” as a way to keep my dad a living thing in his life.
I guess my son’s primary memory will be how important my dad was to me. That’s how he’ll be important to him.
I think, much like yours, my father was central to my life. He died when I was pregnant and I’m always remembering him to my son. It feels like a sort of oral tradition. 
It does. It’s odd though, I think our dads are the last generation whose every move is not completely recorded. They’re the last unknown people in a way, and they’re going to exist only from a few old photographs and what we say about them.
What would you say to people trying to raise young kids while also caring for sick parents and coping with death?
It’s about how you talk to your kid about death. And it’s weird – just talking about death in general – when the person you’re talking to hasn’t lost a parent yet, they’re frozen in fear. It’s almost like you have this contagious thing and they don’t know what to say.
And, really, that’s fine. I was the same way when my parents were both alive and people would say, “My dad died.” I’d be like, “How can you even say that?” I almost thought, “No, they can’t die. They didn’t die. That doesn’t happen.”
It happens. It’s an emotional river and, once you cross over, you have an empathy that you won’t get until it happens, so you can’t fake it.
With my kid, I don’t think he understood when it was happening. He knew I was sad, and I’m not super religious, really, so I didn’t have a thing to say like, “Oh Grandpa’s going (wherever) now.”  But after my dad died, my sister noticed there was just one mourning dove at the house – and mourning doves travel in pairs – and my son said, “That’s Grandpa.” It was profound. Until the other dove showed up and we were like, “He’s already found a new girlfriend.”
Oh, great. Now we have a wicked step-dove.
[Laughs] Exactly.
Do you feel like you hear your dad’s voice in your head?
I guess I hear his laugh more than anything, and I can see his eyes crinkling. Especially when my son does something funny, I know my dad would have this kind of high, loud laugh. I keep that in mind.
And I have a lot of my dad’s stuff. I took his drafting table, and I refinished it. He had it for 50 years and now that’s my desk, so I think about him all the time. I just like seeing it and knowing that he touched it.
What was the the most surprising thing for you about watching your dad die?Besides actually losing him?
With hospice – and I did jokes about this in the special – but when they tell you you can’t call an ambulance – that’s so shocking. You just have to let this thing happen. They make you sign something. It’s like I even can’t believe this is legal.
It’s so counter-intuitive.
Basically, death is counter-intuitive. I think you summed it up perfectly.
Thanks! I guess we’re done here since I just nailed it. I’m going to put that one in the bold – quote my own self.
[Laughs] You should. Give me an assist on that one, but that’s you. That’s all you.
Once your dad was gone, what was surprising about life without him?
That everyone else goes on the next day as if my father didn’t die. You go to the store and people are shopping and they’re not upset, they’re not sad. Everything just goes on. I’m in this horrific despair and no one else seems to give a shit. My friends do, but the rest of the world doesn’t care and that’s so weird.
My mom wanted my dad’s cell phone number for sentimental reasons and I had to go to Verizon to transfer all the stuff over and I remember walking into the store after we’d been crying for three or four days straight. And people are working and cheerful and I felt like, “Guys, the greatest man who ever lived just died. How can you even be at work right now?”
Yeah. Go home.
Right. Why are you here? Why are flags not at half mast? But then, you think about it, it’s kind of comforting. You probably wouldn’t want everyone else crying and mourning and apocalyptic. We need somebody to be in control here.
It just makes you realize – when you’re out at Safeway or wherever – there’s probably someone in the store who’s really horribly upset about something and this is a surreal day for them.
A hospice nurse told me that sometimes people need permission to go. One of your tweets describes your dad’s nurse saying something similar. Did you have that experience?
Yeah, I was like, “No. You do not have my permission.” [Laughs]
When he was just shutting down, and he knew he was shutting down, he seemed content, as much as he could be. I remember my cousin Kathleen called – she couldn’t be there – but she called him and said, “Well, Ron, you did it. Everyone’s healthy. You have two daughters, you have grandchildren, you did it.”
My dad’s one of those guys that worried about everything possible thing happening all the time –  a terrorist attack, all the calamities that can befall humanity or the family. So, I remember watching him take that information in and going, “Yeah.”
He could feel like, “I did it.”
Yeah – he did it, he delivered us as far as he could, and we’re okay.
When it was all happening, did you feel more like you were losing your dad, or that your son was losing his grandfather, or a combination of both?
Oh yeah. I was really upset that my son was losing his grandfather.
No one loves you like your grandparents. Grandparents love grandchildren – I think – more than their own children. As much as my mom drives me crazy, my son has never had the sort of devoted love that he gets from my mom.
You cannot replicate it, you cannot find another alternative. It only exists as long as the grandparent’s alive, you know? It’s a unique, special bond, and it really sucks when it ends early. 
How many times a day do you look at your son and think, “I wish my dad was here to see that.”
My son’s funny, and my dad would have just enjoyed him so much. Also, my son apparently has the math gene that my dad had. It skipped me. He would be so excited my son’s doing well in math. He never had a son, so a grandson was just exactly what he loved.
What was the darkest moment?
The night he died, I was in his office, and being around his things knowing he was never going to touch them again. It felt like there had been movement in the air when my dad was alive, and now that he was gone, even the air was still.
There was this stillness, and just knowing it would not be broken up by my dad walking in again. It was really devastating. Then I just started screaming, really loudly. I did that for a while, until I was out of screams.
Yeah. I know that feeling. It’s not a choice. It’s very primal, very animalistic.
It’s totally primal. It’s beyond your brain and it connects you to every single person alive and it connects you to the stars and it connects you to everything.
Here’s to the dads.
Yeah. Here’s to the dads.

How to Make the Most of Your College Student's Winter Break at Home

Parents get excited when their college kids come home for holidays and schools breaks. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and be together.

Parents get excited when their college kids come home for holidays and schools breaks. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and be together. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do to make the most of visits home.

Do family time

Plan one or two mandatory family activities. Let them know in advance what day or times that you’re planning them and that attendance is non-negotiable. Based on your family’s likes and schedule, plan something special, like dinner at a favorite restaurant or show tickets or a family game night.

Don’t overwhelm them with plans

Understand that, while you’ve missed them, they have missed everything about home. They miss their friends, their pets, even just sleeping in their own beds. It’s not that they don’t want to be with you, it’s that they have limited time at home and many people they want to see. Try not to be smothering or overwhelm them. Making family plans for every minute will just lead to stress and disappointment.

Do allow for down time

After months of sharing a room with roommate(s), they might just want to spend some time alone. Don’t worry if they aren’t overly social or feel like spending some time just watching TV or catching up on sleep. Time at home is a good way to re-charge and get a rest from college late nights.

Don’t get insulted

Many college students walk in the house, drop their bags (filled with dirty laundry), and immediately head out the door. Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to re-connect with friends from high school. If you feel like your kids haven’t spent any time at home, suggest they invite friends over instead of going out.

Do set some rules in advance

They’ve been living on their own for a while now. They aren’t used to asking to borrow the car or having a curfew. Communicate your expectations to your young adult. You may need to loosen the rules you enforced when your child was in high school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set some boundaries regarding underage drinking, car use, etc.

Don’t stress the mess

Having your college kid home means more stuff. More laundry, more shoes at the door, and messy rooms. Remember this mess is temporary. Try not to battle about messy rooms and just close the door. If it truly gets out of hand, let them know in a calm manner.

Do stock the fridge

Nothing says welcome home like a fridge stocked with your child’s favorite foods. Many college dining halls to not have the most appetizing choices. Your kids may have been surviving on Ramen, peanut butter, and take out pizza, so make sure you have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, as well as some homemade treats. Let them pick the dinner menu for their time home.

Don’t ask too many questions

Of course you’re curious about their life at college, but don’t bombard them with questions the minute they walk in the door. While it’s natural to want to hear lots of details about your child’s new life, it’s more important not to make them feel interrogated or judged. Let your young adult take the lead in conversations. You may want to hear about their classes and grades, but they may be more interested in discussing fraternity life or roommate issues. Don’t press. They are adults and may want some privacy.

Do savor this time

From sibling banter to hearing their footsteps come down the stairs for breakfast (or lunch), embrace the sounds and laughter of having your child home again. Make time for simple activities you enjoy doing together, like going to the movies or the mall or just hanging out on the couch watching reality television. Take cues for your young adult. If it seems like they feel like talking, take a break from whatever else you are doing and really listen.

Don’t forget, they will be back again

It can be hard to say goodbye, but try not to focus on the fact that they’ll be leaving soon. Remember that your kids will be back again for other holidays, and summer break. It’s not the same as when they lived at home full time, but this next phase of parenting can be wonderful, too. 

Sometimes the Sexiest Thing You Can Do Is Help With the Dishes

It’s rarely easy to align the stars of love. But with a little planning and awareness, there may be more opportunity than you think.

Ever heard of the term willing suspension of disbelief? In case not, here it is in a nutshell: Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term back in 1817 at a time when supernatural literature had fallen out of fashion in favor of rational, science-backed thought.

Coleridge, however, romantic rogue that he was, wanted to restore fantasy fiction to its rightful place in the canon. His concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” was a way the educated classes could still enjoy dream- and drug-induced mysticism without betraying their enlightened ideas of the world.

I bring this up because the following may require a suspension of disbelief, willing or no. Sometimes even the most pragmatic among us need to “sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”  With practice, I think you’ll find your disbelief suspension muscle tones easily, which is good, because you’re going to need it.

Alright, so let’s say you and your spouse are still hot for each other and you totally love having sex. Let’s also say it’s a Thursday evening and you’re feeling good because you’ve made it over hump day and can see the light of the weekend close on the horizon.

You’ve opened a bottle of wine as you whip up a quick dinner that everyone will eat without complaint. You sing along to the Mayer Hawthorne album playing on the stereo and flirt gamely with your husband in the kitchen while the kids entertain each other in the living room.

You marvel at your sons’ impeccable behavior (neither fighting and breaking things nor insulting each other with potty words) and feel a rush of mom pride swelling in your chest. You eavesdrop on their adorable banter and get to thinking that maybe the world would be a better place if you created more humans like them. At least one, maybe two more.

As you shift between julienning vegetables, stir-frying tofu, and sipping your Cabernet, you feel confident sex will most definitely happen tonight. A glimmer in your husband’s eye reinforces this conviction. The stars are aligned along Orion’s sword, and you’re in the mood to celebrate.

Surely the rest of the evening will go as smoothly as it has gone so far. Surely you will merge your parenting powers to get the kids to sleep earlier than usual, leaving you with hours of uninterrupted adult time together.


Wrong. Dead wrong. As dead as flattened road-kill wrong. (This is where Coleridge comes off his opium high to realize he’s not in a “stately pleasure-dome” in Xanadu.)

Welcome to one of the inescapable truths of parenthood: What seems is not what ends up being so. What’s more, the distance between flirting and actual sex might as well be a thousand miles of impassable wasteland.

While I do believe that plenty of sex a healthy marriage makes, I also know it’s not as straightforward as simply pledging to have it more often. You need to be strategic, deliberate, even planful. And while planned sex is about as sexy as solitaire (i.e. not so much), think of it more as making a date than scheduling intimacy.

For starters, your spouse doesn’t need to know of your plans. When well-played, the element of surprise can serve as the perfect stimulant and make for a supercharged “Whoa, where did that come from, you sexy beast!?” sort of experience.   

But take care with this approach. You’ve got to tune in to your partner for this to succeed. If you don’t, surprises can backfire in a big way. Extenuating life circumstances tend to be extraordinarily effective anti-aphrodisiacs, so pay attention. Nobody wants to be put in a position where they feel guilty about not being up for it. That’s just plain old bad sex karma.

Likewise, you’ve got to seize opportunities when they do present themselves. Maybe you’re lying there in the pre-dawn darkness, deeply irritated that you can’t sleep now that the kids finally are sleeping. Angrily, you remind yourself that these could be your only golden moments of pseudo-rest for the next 18 to 20 hours.

Or maybe (reengage suspension of disbelief now) an opportunity for early morning delight with your darlin’ has just fallen in your lap like a ripe fig. Maddening insomnia or coitus? You decide.

What’s even more important than the element of surprise and seizing the moment? Freeing yourself from your mental checklist. This proves challenging for anal-retentive fussbudgets like myself. But seriously, folks, it’s just a frickin’ checklist. And it will most certainly not sprout legs and run off should you decide to save some tasks for another day.

When overwhelmed by all the undone things, remember there’s no buzzkill so complete as feeling second to sparkly clean toilets.

Also, it turns out a surefire way to put your lover to sleep is to spend half an hour practicing meticulous dental hygiene (guilty as charged). Fresh breath definitely matters, but so do responsive partners. Time yourself if you have to, and get in there while he’s still conscious.

Finally, when and if your love stars are aligned, give these sex-sapping landmines a very wide berth:

  • Falling dead asleep in your child’s bed
  • Debates about conflicting parenting techniques
  • Any and all discussions about money
  • Exhaustive calendar logistics
  • In-laws

All relationships are a two-way street. So is sex. You may find lingerie the best entrée to an evening of bliss. Meanwhile, your partner may be having flashbacks to that time she had to act out the word “lascivious” when auditioning for a part in a Harold Pinter play in college.

In other words, it can’t be all about you. It needs to be about both of you. Never be afraid to ask yourself, “What actually turns her (or him) on?”

Which brings me to an important Public Service Message! Please listen carefully!! Never underestimate the foreplay power of house chores. Once I gave my husband a t-shirt that said, in slanted “Dukes of Hazard” writing, Good Daddies Are Hot. True. So are daddies who buck up and deal with the dishes and cook, or fix light bulbs and pipe leaks, or basically do anything that shows they are thinking about you and what would really make your day.

(I suddenly feel compelled to design a t-shirt in honor of this idea. It’ll picture a man in an apron and dish gloves, and emblazoned across the pectoral region, “Dish-Doing Dads Are Divine.”)

I’d be willing to bet there are as many variations on the theme of arousal as there are different kinds of people. What does it for you? Are you content with the one-hit-wonder approach, or do all roads lead to Rome? Does your spouse even have the map? Do you live on the same continent?

If you were separated from your lover by a raging river too dangerous to cross on foot, to what lengths would you go to make it to the other side to be with her again?

Why I Don’t Regret Waiting to Live With My Husband

Most people can’t believe my husband and I never lived together before getting married. But I believe it was the best decision we could have made.

Friends, co-workers, and random people I’d just met expressed shock upon learning that my fiance and I weren’t living together. They seemed unable to believe I knew Dan well enough to commit to marriage without having first co-habitated. They would’ve been no less horrified had I told them our marriage was arranged.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Seven years and two kids later, I don’t regret our decision to wait to live together.

I was well aware of my husband’s strange habits by the time we got married. I’m not saying I liked them. I’m just saying I was prepared.

Before we lived together, we spent five to six nights a week together.

I knew what his breathing sounded like when he slept (loud), how often he cleaned his bathroom (never), and how often he vacuumed (twice, ever). I knew that he had a Rubbermaid bin full of worms in his bedroom (Google “vermicompost” – it’s a thing). And I knew that until I nudged him to purchase a dresser and a hamper, his clothes were “sorted” on his floor into two piles – dirty and clean.

I didn’t want to deal with the reality of sharing space until we had to.

Love is beautiful. Love is amazing. But eventually real life intrudes and shit gets hard. This is the reality of two people sharing one life.

Life is messy – there are conflicting schedules, in-laws, values, and desires that inevitably rub the rosy sheen off even the hottest of romances. Why add household chores, bills, home repairs, and snow removal to the Very Long List of Things That Interfere With Romance?

I can’t help but wonder if our decision to wait to live together prolonged the honeymoon phase. For the first two years of our relationship, I never once scraped snow off of my own car on a dark, freezing morning. 

The option to be apart anytime strengthened our relationship.

When my husband and I got engaged, I immediately found an apartment within walking distance of his condo. The oven was practically doll-sized. The closet doors constantly fell off their tracks. The parking lot was riddled with potholes. The neighborhood was sketchy. I wasn’t living in the lap of luxury, but I was saving money for the down-payment on our house, and I was thrilled.

I relished in the fact that this was my last single-girl apartment. I hung my vintage bicycle art exactly where I wanted. Cosmetics and lotions crammed every bathroom shelf and drawer. No matter how rarely I slept there, I knew my apartment was waiting for me, in all its shabby chic glory. Dan and I have the rest of our lives to sleep in the same place, hopefully. But we’ll never have another chance to make the choice to be together on a daily basis. I’m so happy we took the opportunity when we had it.

Not living together meant that we could have broken up relatively easily at any time.

A couple of months before he proposed, Dan told me he didn’t know where he saw the relationship going. I was devastated. Eventually, he came to his senses and asked me to marry him but, in the meantime, it was crucial for me to have some distance from him – both emotionally and physically.

made the decision not to give him an ultimatum, but to instead be patient. It was stressful enough, I can’t imagine how much worse that time would have been if we’d had the added stress of having to find a new apartment, or worse, either one of us feeling stuck in the relationship because we lived together. Instead, we were able to take the time and space we needed.

I didn’t make it convenient for my husband to put off proposing.

We’ve all heard the expressions: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? He needs to shit or get off the pot. Yes, they’re crude, but they exist for a reason. And I’m ok with comparing myself to a farm animal and a toilet.

I’m not ok with making myself totally available to a man, 24/7 without the promise of marriage. When my husband and I met, I was 29. I felt my proverbial clock ticking. I was tired of dating. I wanted to get married and start a family.

Dan and I were engaged a year after we met. I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified to discover I was pregnant on our first anniversary. Mostly, I feel lucky that things worked out the way they did. But it wasn’t pure luck. It might not have played out that way had we moved in together before I had a ring on my finger.

Before Dan and I moved in together, we argued about where to sleep. Accidentally packing the wrong pair of black pants in my overnight bag would drive me crazy. These days, I stress about how long I’ll sleep before one of our children is crying, needing a drink of water, or having a bad dream.

I get up extra early not because I have to grab something from my place before work, but because little people need me. My husband and I do not always get along, but we face the challenges of parenthood and marriage as a team. And way back in the days of unlimited sleep and leisurely brunches, we were building a foundation for that team, despite — or perhaps because of — our separate addresses.

How I Teach My Daughter About True Love

The best we can do to teach our daughters about loving a good man is to lead by example.

I know it’s so important to raise your children to be hard-working and have strong morals. We give them the best education we can so they can build a bright future for themselves and be independent. Which I do, don’t get me wrong. But, I hope for so much more for my daughter.

My greatest hope for my daughter, once she is grown, is to know the love of a good man.

I want my daughter to understand how a man treats a woman.

I’m not talking about gender-specific roles from the olden days. My husband cooks dinner for our family, and I mow the yard. I take out the trash, and he starts the laundry. There’s no bread-winner in our home or homemaker. We both work and we both make our home run smoothly. We are a team.

I’m talking about good old-fashioned chivalry.

My husband always gets out in the cold to fill the car up with gas, even if I’m driving. He always rushes ahead to hold open the door wherever we go. When we cross the street or take the stairs, he holds out his arm to make sure I don’t fall and always walks closest to the street. When we go to a restaurant, he always pulls out his wallet to pay, even though all of our money is coming from the same account.

I know it sounds silly, but my daughter is watching. 

They say children are a product of their environment, a product of their parents. Well, in our family, it sure feels like that must be true. My parents are divorced. So are my husband’s. And so are my daughter’s.

Yes, my husband is her step-father. She has, unfortunately, seen every dynamic of a broken home that she can. She has step-cousins, step-aunts, and step-uncles. She has more grandparents and step-grandparents than any child I’ve ever known.

But, what may be hardest of all: she has a half-sister born to two married parents who love each other and have loved each other all her little life.

I know that for my youngest daughter, finding a wonderful man will be easy. She will look for someone just like her dad. She gets to grow up with someone who is kind and generous. She gets to grow up with someone who loves her with all his heart, someone she can depend on, no matter what.

Most importantly, she gets to grow up with someone who loves her Mom.

I’m trying to teach my oldest daughter that this is possible. That in a world where over half of couples divorce (and well more than half her family does), love still exists.

What’s the easiest way to teach her this? To date my husband.

We still have nights out on our own where we get dressed up for each other. We still find things to talk about that don’t involve the kids. We still hold hands in public and sneak kisses.

In today’s crazy hectic world, it’s very easy to get too busy to be a couple. Kids have homework, games, practice, and lessons. You have work, errands, housework, and carpool. A date night seems impossible. Of everything going on, it’s the first thing to get cut from the list.

But, it can’t.

Your kids may be your world now, but they won’t be forever. Your kids will grow up (or just turn into moody teenagers and have no time for their parents). They will move out and make a family of their own. They may even move far away and have a hard time visiting. They will find their own days filled with work, games, practice, lessons, and carpool.

And what will you have?

Your husband.

In a world where half of couples divorce, I can’t wait until the day my daughter finds herself part of a couple that won’t. I can’t wait to see this vicious cycle come to an end. And I will tell my daughter about the importance of dating her husband.

As a woman, my daughter will have always known love, because she’s grown up watching me love my husband. 

Marriage is Hard, Sex Makes It Easier

Despite all the requisite challenges of being married with children and jobs and mortgages and debilitating health issues (etc.), we need sex.

When friends new to marriage ask for advice, I often say this: “When in doubt, have sex.”

I believe it, too.

That’s not to say sex solves everything, or is easy every time, or feels fabulous regardless. Sex can be loaded and heavy, empty and uneventful, disingenuous, confusing, hurtful.

It can also be an astonishingly beautiful and sensually resplendent act of deeply connecting with another person. In this manifestation, sex may be the best way to keep your marriage healthy and, consequently, happy.

In 2004, Tom W. Smith conducted a study for the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. In a New York Times article on the topic, Smith said, “There’s a strong relationship between rating your marriage as happy and frequency of intercourse.” So, my hunch has some scientific backing.

“What we can’t tell you,” continued Smith, “is…whether people who are happy in their marriage have sex more, or whether people who have sex more become happy in their marriages, or a combination of those two.”

I vote a combination of the two. Happiness inspires sex. Sex inspires happiness. Okay now, hold that thought…

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a parent. And all parents know that sex has a way of becoming conspicuously absent from our lives for a whole host of reasons that you should feel free to outline for yourself later on if you like playing the masochist.

Point being, we all go without it – willingly or not – more than we’d care to admit, and sometimes for painfully long stints. In the above New York Times article, reporter Ralph Gardner, Jr. writes, “To many spouses, ‘married sex’ may sound like an oxymoron. And ‘married-with-children sex’ may sound like that elusive antimatter.”

That’s what I’m going to call it from now on: “Hey honey! How about some hot elusive antimatter tonight?”

Sadly, Ralph is not completely off base. I’ll be the first to admit that the exhaustion of parenthood has the power to invade every cell in my body. It seeps into the marrow of my middle-aged bones and tries to convince me I am no longer young, no longer beautiful, and far, far away from my formerly sexy – or at least sex-inclined – self.

(P.S. If you have given birth to actual children, are currently raising them, and you cannot relate to the paragraph above, please first confirm you are not a robot, and then email me immediately so I can beg you to FedEx me your immortal mojo elixir.)

Gardner’s article features two couples who pledged to have sex every night for as long as they could possibly stand it. Doug and Annie Brown made it 101 days before Doug started equating their scheduled trysts with a “long-forgotten appointment to hear some tax attorney talk about estate planning.” (Oof.) Brad and Charla Muller “hit a wall” around 40 weeks in, but nonetheless managed to copulate an average of 27 times a month for AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Considering Smith’s study found that married couples have sex 66 times per year on average, I’d say the Browns and the Mullers are worthy of a spot in the Sex Hall of Fame.

A 2014 Huffington Post article paints a more optimistic picture of our nation’s sexual health. It refers to a Reddit poll that asked couples of every vintage how often they get it on. My favorite responses come from the “Married Seven-15 Years” set:

Married seven years and now with one child. We went from one to three times a day, to one to three times a week. But we are both okay with this; because if you “save up for it,” the sex is AWESOME.

Oldish. Married 15 years. On average, we have sex three times a week, but sometimes it’s every day. What’s more important is we talk and cuddle every day.

Late 30s. Married 15. Five kids. Our quota is four times a week. Although “quota” sounds weird…it’s a way for us to remember that although we’re busy with life, we still need to have some romantic time with each other to stay sane.

The sex is AWESOME? Talk and cuddle every day? Need romantic time with each other to stay sane? Yes, yes, and yes. As Otis Redding knew so well, a little tenderness goes a long way. Maybe all the way to a more sexually charged marriage.

Annie Brown claims what started as “a way to banish suburban boredom” resulted in a newfound “intense closeness,” which was new to her marriage of many years. Likewise, the Muller’s 365-day sex marathon “required a daily kindness and forgiveness…that I don’t think either of us had experienced before.”

See that? Sex reconnects us, and regular sex keeps us connected. Therefore, despite all the requisite challenges of being married with children and jobs and mortgages and debilitating health issues (etc.), we need sex. Full stop.

We probably need sex even more now than we ever did. We may have wanted it more way back when, but now we actually need it. Why? Because it feels good! And we deserve to feel good, dammit!

Also, because sex gives you superpowers. I’m not joking. It literally transforms people.

Sex makes us look and feel younger. Sex can surprise and embolden us, energize and rejuvenate us. Sex has the power to soften and heal. It teaches us new things about ourselves and reveals the hidden loveliness within someone you thought you already knew. Sex is that magical language only understood by you and your partner. It keeps you alert, rapt, enthralled, alive.

In short, it keeps us well.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to believe this. Instead of an act of concession or indulgence or, at worst, violation, I decided to believe that sex could make me stronger. It could help me be more trusting, more patient and forgiving. It also ironically helped me come to terms with the weird, untenable shame that comes along with being a girl in the eyes of men.

What I didn’t expect is that sex would help me overcome fears, and confess flaws, and let go of a bundle of emotional hang-ups I’d been lugging around since adolescence.

Here’s something else I didn’t expect – or probably couldn’t even imagine before having children: A healthy sex life makes me a better parent. This has evolved into a sort of kinetic truth for me. My child-rearing gene simply functions better when I exercise the biological necessity that made those kids in the first place.

So there you have it. Sex: YAY! No sex: BOO!

Why not get after it today, folks? Get crazy with your bad, sexy selves! What have you got to lose? (And DON’T say pounds. I won’t stand for it because you’re a god-damned dreamboat and that’s final. Hell, if you’re doing it right, you’ll probably even lose a few.)

Maybe it’s been a little while. Maybe you’re feeling rusty. Don’t worry about that! Just remember as you rifle through your barely worn leatherette lingerie that Mr. Brad “28-times-a-month” Muller promises the sex will get better. And Delicious Doug, who yelled, “Uncle!” on day 101, nonetheless entitled his book about the experience “Just Do It.”

It’s time, people. It’s time to dig out that dusty box of dildos you purchased on a whim at your girlfriend’s Passion Party a few years back and call in a nooner. Ask the g-rents to have the kids overnight. Maybe take off to Montreal for the weekend. Because it’s high time we restore “that illusive antimatter” to its rightful, primal place in our lives.

How to Get Your Husband to Help (Written by a Husband)

Most moms are inundated with far more than their husbands. Knowing how to ask them for help is the key to balancing the workload.

It isn’t fair.

Women today make up nearly half of the workforce and yet are still largely expected to run the house and take care of the children, just like their maternal ancestors did. Don’t believe me? Think: “Nah, this is 2016 for crying out loud!” Think again.

A 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that, on an average day, only 22 percent of men actually did housework compared with 50 percent of women. To top it off, men in families with young children only spent 25 minutes providing “physical care” (e.g., a bath) compared to the hour women spent. Considering the fact that 70 percent of women with children under 18 are now working, this just isn’t fair.

Likewise, for moms who stay home, it still isn’t fair. These moms, in addition to doing more housework and child raising than their husbands, report higher levels of worry, sadness, stress, anger, and depression than their counterparts who work outside the home.

The point is this: moms, whether working outside the home or not, are completely inundated, and their husbands are oftentimes just not doing enough to help. The problem, however, is that these same wives are trying to get their husbands to help in all the wrong ways.

That’s where I come in.

You see, I am a husband…and I regularly do housework and child rearing. (Don’t give me a trophy – it is my responsibility, but that’s a story for another day). Wives, I can help you understand your man.

But before getting into the ways you can get your husband to help, you need to understand a few ground rules:

“Clean” means something different to him

Your husband’s expectations for “clean” are probably different than yours. Don’t try to convince him to increase his standards to match yours. Instead, you need to tell him that doing chores above and beyond his level of cleanliness is one way that he can love you, not because he agrees with your level of cleanliness.

Understand the rule of reciprocity

The rule of reciprocity tells us that if you treat your husband well, he is, evolutionarily-speaking, more likely to respond with kindness. Likewise, if you nag, yell, or treat him with ugliness, he is more likely to respond with ugliness. Thus, you need to treat him well.

You are now ready to take the steps required to get your husband to help.

Before anything else, forgive him

Someone I respect very much once said that forgiving someone means deciding to cancel the debt that they owe you. I want you to tally your husband’s debt against you (e.g., the times he criminally failed to help you) and then, once you’ve taken a deep breath, decide to cancel it out. (Note: this process takes time.)

If you try to do any of the other steps in this article without heeding this one, you’re going to fail.

Communicate your hurt, not your anger

When you (wives) get angry, we (husbands) get defensive. However, when you express your hurt, something within us wants to rise up and protect our girl, even if that means protecting you from our own actions, or inaction. If you want to spark a change in us, it starts with showing us your heart, despite what culture may have you believe about men.

Be specific and straightforward with requests

No sighing and no rants about how we “don’t do enough.” Tell us exactly what you expect us to do. Ideally, we’d sit down and both agree on a set list of chores, including a deadline for those chores.

Assume the best about us

Sometimes we aren’t going to get around to fixing the vacuum as quickly as we told you we would (true story). You have every right to be upset at us. But the best thing you can do in that subpar circumstance is to assume the best. For example, instead of assuming that we don’t care about you or your requests, assume instead that we may have completely forgotten about it. Then, ask us.

Appreciate us when we do the right thing

I’m not talking about showering us with praise or giving us one of those condescending “wow, you can actually do something right” kind of “compliments.” Just be genuine.

I understand the argument that we shouldn’t be thanked because it’s just as much our job as it is yours. And you know what? You are absolutely right. However, when you stick to your principles and decide not to appreciate us, you miss out on an opportunity to love on your husband. You also miss the chance to help him associate your happiness with his helping.

Finally, don’t be afraid to send your husband this article. If I’m right, I suspect this will be a welcome change for him, too.

After all: happy wife, happy life.

What Caddying For My Son Taught Me About Being a Mother

As parents, we offer our kids countless unsolicited opinions and advice. But when the parent is also the golf caddy, restraint is the key to success.

The sun beat down on us from above, softened only by a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees. We smelled the faint odor of cut grass and felt the buzz of nervous energy as we approached the first tee of the golf tournament. It was our first as mother and son. Usually my husband is my son’s caddy, but not today. I prayed that I wouldn’t mess it up.

Golf is a tough game. There are not three strikes before you’re out as in baseball, and no second serves as in tennis. Every stroke counts. Every single tap of the ball. It’s hard enough for an adult to keep calm in this situation, let alone an 11-year-old boy. It was all on his shoulders with only a little bit of help from his caddy.

There are strict rules for being a caddy. You cannot touch the ball once it’s in play, you cannot direct the shots too closely, and you cannot disrupt the game. You can provide advice, a voice of reason, and a shoulder to cry on. A caddy is a partner for discussion and analysis, but the caddy does not make the decisions and she does not take the shots. It is his stroke, his game, and his life. It reminded me a lot of parenting, especially for teens and young adults.

Our day had ups and downs. We celebrated together when he sunk a birdie putt from the edge of the green and mourned together when he lost his ball in the woods and had to take a penalty shot. Sometimes, he stomped ahead to deal with his emotions alone – his caddy a distant memory. Always, I was his steadfast companion, carrying the clubs and ready to support him when he needed it. 

As a parent, I’m often in the foreground of my children’s lives, offering my unsolicited opinion or issuing directives. But as a caddy, I behaved differently. I stood back, waiting for my son to come to me. In a crisis, I stepped forward to present my view – which was sometimes well received, and other times ignored – but most of the time I was in the background, letting him decide what clubs to hit and what risks to take. It was an eye-opening experience.

There were moments when I watched proudly as he treated his fellow golfers with kindness, just like we’d taught him. I witnessed him struggle with the temptation to not count a penalty stroke, and breathed a sigh of relief when he came down on the side of honesty. There were times I bit my tongue as he voiced his frustration a little too loudly under his breath or slammed his club back into the bag a little too angrily. I held my words and my hugs at bay to let him work through the flood of emotions he was feeling.

It was hard — picking my spots to step forward but trying, more often than not, to hang back. I let my son make poor decisions and learn from those failures without judgment. I somehow knew when to step in to help him pick up the pieces for his next challenge.

Being my son’s caddy was like being the best version of myself as a mom. No helicoptering. No being overly involved. Providing space for taking risks and living with the consequences, but always maintaining a steady supportive presence. I was there when needed, but mostly on the sidelines, trusting him and waiting to catch him if he fell too hard.

On the course, caddying for my son, I was the mom I want to be.