The Right Kind of Fight

The Right Kind of Fight: Dealing with anger in #marriage

Why is it that anger in marriage is so dangerous? Maybe we need to learn to have the right kind of fight!

For twelve years I wrote a weekly syndicated slice-of-life column for several newspapers. I published many of them on this blog, but recently I’ve found some older ones that never made it. So I thought I’d run one today–because I really do like it!

I’ve always enjoyed a good fight. When my husband and I disagree, we haul out every intellectual argument in our arsenal to show why the other person is irretrievably, irreconcilably, and certifiably off his or her rocker. Early in our marriage this usually lasted for several days. Now I can argue vehemently for a few minutes, and then shrug my shoulders, and admit, “I guess you’re right.”

It took me years to learn to say those words. During that time I also learned that trying to resolve an issue at one in the morning is exceedingly stupid; it’s better to sleep on it, because chances are tomorrow you’ll forget what you were fighting about anyway. But most importantly I have learned that even if I am right, listening to my husband’s feelings is more important than winning the argument.

In other words, I have learned how to have good fights.

Before our wedding we didn’t fight. He agreed with everything I said, and I agreed with everything he said, because we thought exactly the same way. Unfortunately, on the honeymoon I realized that he had independent thoughts, which proved very threatening. I had to whip him into shape, and he had to whip me into shape, and we both ended up with whiplash.

Why does anger in marriage hurt us so much?

I think it’s because we misunderstand it. We think anger is like flatulence. This uncomfortable feeling bubbles up inside us, growing ever more urgent, until it just has to be released. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. Unlike farting, anger doesn’t waft away in the air after you’ve expressed it. It’s more like a grenade going off, maiming everybody in its path. You say things you don’t mean, but once those things are out of your mouth, you can’t take them back.

We feel anger so strongly because anger is a master con artist. When we’re angry, it’s usually a sign that there’s something else going on below the surface, something that we’d rather not talk about. And we don’t like that vulnerable feeling, so anger helps us deflect attention from our fears.

Do you and those you love often have the same fight, over and over again, without really resolving anything?

Maybe that’s because in your anger you’re ignoring the real issues.

Picture this couple: he arrives home late and she immediately berates him for being an insensitive clod who doesn’t care about the family. He responds by complaining that if she really wanted him home, maybe she’d make the house a little nicer to come home to.

Words are flying, but nothing useful is being communicated.

On the other hand, if he could be honest, maybe he’d reveal something like this: “I just worry that I could get laid off, and I don’t know how to support us. And maybe I’m failing at home, too. What if I really am a bad father?”

And maybe she would admit: “I feel lonely. I love the kids, but sometimes they’re not enough. What if I’m becoming boring? Show me that you still love me!”

So next time you’re boiling mad, whether it’s at a difficult spouse or a recalcitrant teen, ask yourself, “what’s really going on here? What am I actually scared of?”

And then tell each other instead of blowing up. Sure you’re risking rejection, but as long as two people just yell at each other, the relationship is never going to build anything except more walls. If you could both stop lashing out, and say what’s on your hearts instead, a miracle might happen. It takes guts to open up. But opening up your heart is a whole lot more productive than just shooting off your mouth. And much more honest, too.

Maybe it’s time we all tried it.

Living in the Moment

Living in the Moment

Do we spend so much time rushing we miss out on the beauty of everyday life?

I’ve been contemplative this week. That happens around my birthday, and I’ve written some long pieces that share my heart about our culture. It’s tiring. And a few weeks ago I was writing about wasting time, and I felt unsettled, as if some things were left unsaid. I do believe that we waste too much time, but the answer is no always to be more productive. Sometimes it’s just to do things that feed our souls, rather than things–like video games–that sap it.

While thinking this I came across this column I wrote about ten years ago. I never published it on the blog, but I thought it fit in well with these themes. So I thought it was time. I hope you enjoy it.

Gophers were not meant to run.

They’re pear shaped with tiny little legs, and when they try to gain speed the effect is not of grace as much as it is of galump-galump-galump, as the flab takes time to catch up to the rest of the body. It’s quite the sight to behold.

Right now I’m watching a gopher—-or is it a groundhog? I can’t remember the difference—-trying in vain to put distance between himself and a very inquisitive toddler. I’ve hooked up my laptop in a library, where I can gaze out the window and enjoy the scenery when the mood captures me. It’s really very peaceful. That’s why I choose to come here rather than stay in my home with the telephone, and the doorbell, and the feeling that I should put on a load of laundry the second writer’s block hits.

Too often we drown the comfort out of our lives in favour of rushing.

It seems we almost bow at the altar of multi-tasking. Few things, though, are truly satisfying when they’re hurried.

One of my favourite times of day is in late afternoon, after I’ve rushed through my day, and my to-do list is as to-done as it’s going to be. I slip a jazz CD in, pour myself something good, and begin to cook. I’m not a great cook, but I do enjoy trying. Chopping vegetables, smelling the garlic and onions as they sautee, or seasoning the roast are all immensely satisfying. I even love cleaning up the kitchen while everything is spending the last few minutes simmering. It’s supremely satisfying to know that one has created a decent meal for one’s family, and has had fun doing it.

On the nights when my husband isn’t home it’s hard to get up the energy to do all that. I wonder what the
point is, since the children are unlikely to appreciate it anyway. Increasingly, though, I’m beginning to understand that I need that forty-five minutes or an hour to myself to reflect on my day and feel that I can at least accomplish something. It feels very purposeful.

Of course, being purposeful doesn’t mean that we always have to be productive.

I think that’s a rather modern, North American way of looking at life. Some of my favourite, purposeful memories aren’t when I was “doing” anything at all. I remember one particular day when Rebecca was only three months old and was lying on a playmat on the floor. She was looking into my eyes and “vocalizing”, as my pediatrician would say. I think she was actually telling me a story. And I remember ordering myself to study her face, so that I could remember just what that moment was like for the rest of my life, as if I were bottling it up for posterity. And I did. It was perfect.

I had other such moments that perhaps don’t make me smile so much but are just as meaningful. I remember the conversation I had with my little boy in the hospital room before they came to carry him off to the surgery from which he would not recover. I told him all the important things I wanted him to know, and held him, and kissed him, and memorized his eyelashes, and his fingernails, and his tiny mouth.

More recently, I cherish the times that my husband and I spend just walking around our block, exploring our new neighbourhood and filling each other in on our days. We’re not moving fast enough for it to really count as exercise, but that doesn’t mean it’s time wasted. On the contrary. It’s time that feeds your soul.

I read recently that Albert Einstein once wrote that we either live as if everything is a miracle, or as if nothing is.

I prefer to believe that everything is, but that means I need to take time and actually enjoy what I’ve been given. So stop and smell the roses. Gaze at your child’s face. Or watch the gophers. There’s much in life to enjoy if only we could learn to savour it.

Enjoy the Gophers

Hopeful New Year

A Hopeful New Year: The importance of an optimistic attitude
I have always believed that an optimistic attitude is more important than just about anything for success in life–spiritually, academically, relationally. And so as we begin this new year, I’d like to rerun this column I wrote back in 2005 about optimism and parenting. 

When my grandfather died last May, just days short of his 95th birthday, he left a hole in his neighbourhood. He had relocated to Ottawa from Winnipeg when he remarried in 1980, and on his little street he became the lifeblood that held it together. A contractor by trade, he was forever climbing up ladders to clean eavestroughs, advise neighbours about their roofs, and, his favourite, paint.

When his wife died in 1997, many worried he would not be able to stay in his own home. But he did, largely with the help of the neighbours who had come to love him. One had him over for dinner every Tuesday. Another every Thursday. Another picked Sunday, and yet another did all his grocery shopping. The neighbours, though, always felt like they were getting the better end of the deal. He made them feel special. He kept track of children, grandchildren, retirements and graduations. He knew everything about everybody on the street, and was friends with all, even those who didn’t like each other.

By all accounts, he should not have been this way. At the age of six his mother died, something that would surely scar any child. At the age of 11 he lost almost all his hearing due to scarlet fever, and until he received his first hearing aid in his late twenties he was virtually deaf. Teachers thought he was stupid. Girls wouldn’t talk to him. But he plodded on.

Shortly after the hearing aid acquisition he also managed to acquire a wife. They had a wonderful marriage that lasted 25 years until she succumbed to a brain tumour. Within a few years he had married again: a fiery woman not anything like my grandmother. Their marriage, too, was a lot of fun until cancer stole her away seventeen years later. And then came the final wife, another distinct personality that he cherished.

Here’s a man who endured the death of his mother; a profound disability; the near collapse of his business in the Great Depression; several heart attacks in his 50s; and the death of three wives. Yet he still radiated peace and contentment. He was not perfect. He fretted, and he didn’t know enough to stop when he should have. Yet his was a life anyone would be proud of.

As the new year comes I’ve been thinking a lot about my Poppa.

I want, beyond all, to be the kind of person who leaves a mark on those around me just as he did.

I want to be able to look at adversity and not just cope, but thrive. I want to be flexible enough to handle whatever hand is dealt me, even if it’s not what I envision. These traits, I believe, are the heart of optimism.

Optimism, if you look at my grandfather’s life, is not something that is borne out of things going well for you. It is cultivated in the way we choose to respond to things going badly.

Optimism: the importance of developing an optimistic attitude!

As parents, one of the best things we can do is cultivate an optimistic attitude in our own children, for optimism is far more important for academic and professional success than is intelligence. For social and personal success, optimism is even more crucial. When you go through life with a chip on your shoulder, as if everyone is against you, soon everyone will be. But if we can go through life being part of the solution, soon people will be rooting for us.

My daughter Rebecca recently had to practise for a piano recital. She didn’t like the pieces, and was making sure practice time was unbearable for everyone. So I had a talk with her. Did she want to do the recital? Yes. Could she change the pieces? No. So why fret? “You don’t understand!” she cried. “You’ve never been in a piano recital!” So we talked about Poppa, and how when things can’t be changed, it’s best to accept them and move on. “I guess I need a new attitude,” she said. I told her not to worry; such an attitude runs in her genes. Poppa knew that life isn’t just worth living, it’s worth embracing. Even piano recitals. That makes everybody happier, but especially you. Here’s wishing all of us that kind of hopeful New Year.

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My Man of Steel

Yesterday was my twenty-third anniversary. We were married at Christmas when I was 21 and he was 22.

When I started writing my newspaper column twelve years ago, one of my first columns was about my anniversary. And so I thought I’d publish it here–about what Keith meant to me after eleven years of marriage. This was first published on December 21, 2002.

Reflections on Our Anniversary: My man of steel

This Saturday I’m supposed to give my husband something made of steel.

We’re celebrating our eleventh anniversary, and for this blessed occasion whoever is in charge of anniversary gift etiquette obviously ran out of ideas. “Paper? Taken. A nice wooden chest? Taken. What about diamonds? Better save that as an incentive to stick around.” Growing increasingly desperate, she probably looked out the window, saw her husband’s ‘57 Chevy up on blocks, and yelled, “Steel!”, forever relegating us to eleventh anniversary hopelessness.

I figure I’m left with a new car (fat chance), the foundation for a new house, or power tools. But the only thing more ridiculous than me trying to choose a power tool would be my husband trying to use one. The one and only time he did any home improvements was his attempt, along with another doctor friend, to hang a pot rack. Instead of drilling into a stud, they drilled into my toilet drain, sending water—and I don’t know what else—into our kitchen.

Whatever I choose, though, it occurs to me that Ye Olde Marriage Etiquette Lady may have had a point.

Steel is an appropriate metaphor for marriage.

Steel holds houses together, keeps bridges from buckling, and forms the foundations of our cities. Steel doesn’t bend.

Over the years of our marriage we’ve had some tough times. Keith’s residency at the Hospital for Sick Children was horrendous. He always came home exhausted. Two babies demanded our attention, leaving us with no energy for anything else. In the middle of this, we had a beautiful baby boy, who lived only 29 days. Though I will treasure those precious four weeks forever, his death left a hole that can never be filled on this side of heaven.

When I walked down the aisle eleven years ago, I knew I loved Keith and that he loved me.

I figured that love would be enough for forever. I was wrong.

Love alone would not have seen us through these eleven years, through miscarriages and sleepless nights, through baby stresses and our son’s death. As much as I adore my husband, I don’t think it’s love that has made our marriage strong. Indeed, that idea—that love keeps us together—can actually harm a relationship.

If love is what keeps us together, then when we stop feeling all gushy towards each other we wonder if the relationship is viable. Commitment is just as important as love, and perhaps even more so. If you’re not truly committed to each other, you can’t really discuss problems. Whenever you do, the whole relationship may be at stake. But when you are committed to each other, you can hash something out until you get it right, because you know that person isn’t going anywhere.

During our first year of marriage, I was ready to kill my husband many times over, or at least bean him on the head with a frying pan. He understood nothing about my feelings, while I, of course, understood everything about his. What allowed us to get through that time was not that we loved each other—there were times we both doubted it—but that we knew we were in this for the long haul. We had promised God, and we had promised each other, and we did not make those promises lightly. And if you’re in it for the long haul, then you may as well work it out, because the longer you wait, the more miserable you’re going to be.

In every relationship there are times when splitting up seems like the only option.

Certainly in cases of abuse or chronic infidelity this may be the case. But overall, God promises that people will be happier if they choose to honour Him by staying and working it out. It occurs to me that this is the way steel is forged: through hard work. The sign of a strong marriage is not that storms don’t come; but that when they do, you decide to weather them together. And as you do so, that steel supporting you grows stronger.

My husband is the most romantic guy in the world. He’s easy to love. And as we’ve chosen to commit to each other, the steel holding up our house has grown stronger. My kids can tear all over it and it won’t collapse. They can jump and tug and pull, and we’ll stand firm. I cherish every day we have together, and I look forward to many more.

It is not love that keeps a #marriage together; ultimately it is commitment.

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of Christmas
Apparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!

Say Cheese! The Dreaded Christmas Family Portrait

Taking that dreaded family Christmas portrait! Funny column...

This column first appeared December 2002. It was one of my first Christmas ones–and I thought you all may enjoy a peek into my life when the kids were smaller!

Christmas is coming, which means many of us are primping hair and ruffling bows so that we can participate in that most cherished of holiday traditions: getting the family photo taken. This tradition usually unfolds as follows:

After dressing in an actual dress and styling your hair and applying your make-up, you look completely unrecognizable to anyone who knows you, since beauty products have not touched your body in any other capacity since you first went into labour. Once you are satisfied with this transformation, you coax your lovely offspring, who are busy squabbling, into their best clothes so they look spiffy, too. The baby, of course, takes this opportunity to spit up all over your silk blouse and his new outfit, requiring several well-chosen words as you change both of you once again. When you and the kids are finally ready to go, you frantically yell for your adoring spouse, afraid that at any minute renewed spit up or spats will wreck this picture of perfection. When he arrives he looks exactly the same as he always does.

After waiting for 45 minutes in a room full of whiny kids and frantic parents, it is your turn on the photo table, which is covered with what closely resembles a dead polar bear. The 18-year-old photo operator, in an effort to continue with the bear theme, is wildly wagging some dilapidated teddy in front of your baby’s face. This, naturally, results in him wailing and, possibly, spitting up again. By the time you’re finished, you’re exhausted, grumpy, and ready to trade in your family for one of the nice, smiley ones on the wall.

The dreaded family photo

We finally got Katie to sit down for this–though she whipped off her socks and shoes first. I look exhausted because Katie had been jumping for the last 10 minutes! And that is not Becca’s teddy. She finally took it away from Katie to get her to sit still.

Like most parents, I shared this tradition for a few years. It worked well for Rebecca, my first born and thus my “eager-to-please-so I-can-prove-I’m-perfect” child. Though she was often rendered terrified by the teddy bear wagging photographer, she usually smiled on cue. She continued to smile even when we added little Katie, who decided to squirm and spit instead. Indeed, all the pictures we have of Katie taken at these studios before she’s a year and a half involve her spitting. She liked it. She spit and squirmed, and Rebecca smiled.

Once she was a year and a half, Katie finally decided that the wagging fur thing was worth a smile. In fact, she was so enthused by it that she decided it was worth a jump, too, so we couldn’t get a focussed picture because she was going up and down, up and down.

Then and there, I made the decision that no sane person should have to go through this charade. Besides, candid photos are so much better, I reasoned, so from now on, we would just take our favourite candid photos and blow them up for our portraits.

Such a decision sounds very lofty and mature. It is, however, entirely impractical if you have more than one child. As anyone with more than one child knows, there simply aren’t any candid photos of this second child (let alone the third or the fourth). Showing your photo album sounds something like this: “Here’s Rebecca’s first smile. Here’s Rebecca’s first giggle. Here’s Rebecca’s first solid poop. Here’s Rebecca’s first step.” “Where’s Katie?”. “Ummm, let me see, I must have one of her here somewhere. Oh, here she is on this tricycle. She must be, what, two or three?”. “And who’s that in the foreground?” “Oh, that’s Rebecca.”

My uncle, who is one of quite a large clan, once remarked to me that the first child in a family inevitably has 4,000 pictures taken of him or her within one hour of leaving the womb. In contrast, if the fourthborn has more than twelve pictures taken of him or her by the time he or she is 16, half of them are in a file at the police station.

Today, Katie no longer spits (though we’re still working on the nose picking thing), and she’s getting quite good at sitting still. I’m getting my hair cut this week, so I’m ready to be totally unrecognizable, and Rebecca enjoys sitting nicely, if only to prove she can do so better than her little sister. So before the Christmas rush is over, we shall venture down once more to get a new family portrait. Then, when Katie is all grown up, I’ll be able to prove that yes, indeed, she was actually a part of our family after all.

A Little Etiquette: Why Manners Matter

Why Matters Matter: We could all use a little etiquette!

I’ve been on a mission lately to encourage people to do the little things in marriage–say thank you to your husband, and when he reaches out, reach back. Little things. Not huge things. But they make a big difference. Manners matter.

What a Husband Needs: Gratitude
It reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago about etiquette. We don’t like to think about manners anymore–we figure we’re above that. But manners had a purpose. See if you agree!

I am not one of those people who rejoices in the intricacies of etiquette.

I avoided certain distant relatives for a decade after my wedding in mortal dread that I had forgotten to send a thank you card. I’m committed to etiquette enough to feel guilty when I don’t do it, but not committed enough to follow through on all the details. It’s the worst of both worlds. Nevertheless, I do believe that simple politeness is one of the cornerstones of our society. Saying please and thank you, deferring to those who are older than you, or offering to help a young mom struggling with a stroller are all basic things that keep our society functioning.

I must admit to getting a little bit teed off when clerks who are waiting on me won’t make eye contact, don’t say thank you, and treat me as if I’m an inconvenience. An older gentleman I know recently expressed his dismay that teens, hanging out on sidewalks near high schools, often don’t vacate that sidewalk while he walks by, forcing him into the street. At one point, younger people made way for older people. We gave up seats on trains or buses, and we let them through the doors first. Now it’s a dog eat dog world.

Politeness, on the other hand, reminds us that others are worthy of respect.

Vacating the sidewalk sends a mental note to our brains that other people are important, too. Staying there sends the opposite message: we are the only ones that matter. And that’s not healthy, either for society’s smooth functioning or for the moral and emotional health of our families. Etiquette reminds us that we are not the centre of the universe. Others deserve our deference simply because they, too, are people.

Etiquette keeps us humble.

Recently, while out shopping, my youngest daughter said, “thank you” loudly to the cashier as we left, and then rebuked me, saying, “Honestly, Mommy, you never say thank you.” She took me aback. I thought I always said thank you. But I guess sometimes I mumble, or if I’m in a hurry, I don’t. As our culture has forgotten etiquette, I guess I’ve started to let it go, too.

We are growing increasingly lazy about matters of etiquette, at the same time as we are becoming an increasingly callous and self-focused society. Those two things are connected. We only break rules when we think they no longer apply to us. When thinking of others and treating them well is way further down on our priority list than doing what we want, etiquette falls by the wayside, and with it, all the things that brightened our culture.

Saying “please” and “thank you” can seem like a throwback. Hand written thank you notes? So blasé. Holding the door open for others? Neanderthal.

Maybe we need a dose of Neanderthal to jerk us out of our selfishness.

I want to make it a practice to say “thank you” more. I’m even going to start writing notes–even to people that I don’t always particularly appreciate (in fact, perhaps especially to those I don’t always appreciate when I see that they have done something worthwhile). I’ll thank them for being cheerful, for helping my child with something, for making a meal. It’s part of recognizing the good in others, and recognizing the lack in ourselves. That’s what healthy societies are built on. Manners matter. When we forget that, and just focus on what we can get out of others, we become boors. And nobody wants to live with a boor.

My Blind Spot of Shame: Admitting Your Mistakes

Admitting Your Mistakes: why sometimes it's hard--because we don't even notice them!

Do you have a difficult time admitting your mistakes? I do–and it’s not always a pride issue. Sometimes it’s because I have a definite blind spot.

On Fridays I like to run my columns–or my short pieces that sum up what I think about family, love, and society. Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2008 about the difficulties I have remembering appointments. Considering the school year is upon us, I thought many of you organization-minded mamas could relate!

Next time I go to the orthodontist’s office I will have to wear a paper bag over my head. I just forgot yet another of my daughter’s appointments.

It was easy to rationalize away the first one we missed. Keith had the girls that day, and we just didn’t share information in an appropriate way. In other words, I forgot to tell him. The second time, though, was entirely my fault, and I didn’t have a fallback excuse.

Feeling very badly, I promptly instituted a new fixture in our house: the calendar on the fridge. All our appointments were dutifully recorded, so that none could escape our notice.

However, the fridge door is not the most ideal place for a calendar that uses wipe off markers. People constantly rub against it as they stare, mouth gaping, into that appliance, in the process obliterating our appointments forever.

The third one I forgot, though, is still easily forgiven, because my mother’s best friend had died and we were rushing out of town for the funeral. How can an orthodontist compete with a funeral? In my moments of honesty, though, I admit that I would have forgotten anyway. It’s become a habit.

The strange thing is that I don’t forget anything else.

My dentist, doctor, and optometrist have nothing to complain about. I’m at every committee meeting, every family meeting, every church meeting. But when it comes to my daughter’s orthodontist, I have a blind spot. I just can’t seem to keep appointments in my head.

After the fiasco with the funeral we told Rebecca it was now her job to remember, since I was obviously not up to the task. She said she would. And she did remember, right after I yelled, in a panic, “Becca, when’s the orthodontist appointment!?!?!”. She checked her little yellow card, which she had helpfully stowed deep in her closet, so that she could find it if she ever had the urge to look for her old winter snowsuits. “Yesterday,” she meekly replied.

My husband once operated a full-time pediatric office, and I remember how we used to feel about those parents who continually missed visits. They’re scatter-brained, irresponsible, and pathetic excuses for mothers and fathers. And now I’ve joined their ranks. I feel like a slug, especially when I stare into my empty wallet and realize how much my lapses of memory are costing us. But we all have blind spots, don’t we?

And often our blind spots are exactly the things that bother us in other people.

I get so annoyed when people fail to show up to meetings I’ve called, but here I am doing the same thing. Similarly, I’m forever thinking critically of parents who feed their offspring junk, but to be honest, if my girls ask, “can we have chocolate before breakfast?”, my response is usually, “Is your father gone yet?”. And if the answer is in the affirmative, we all partake together, if just a little, because it’s common knowledge that the chocolate you eat before your day really begins doesn’t count.

Perhaps you have blind spots. You get mad because your spouse keeps the house in chaos, but every time your anniversary rolls around the significance of the date bypasses that part of your brain which reminds you to buy a card. Or your mother’s overindulgence of your children drives you crazy, but you fail to see how taking them to McDonald’s because you can’t be bothered to cook is proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Nobody likes admitting your mistakes.

It’s far more preferable to blame the rest of humanity for being worse than we are. Unfortunately, my orthodontist bills are making it harder and harder for me to do that. I have considered obtaining affidavits from my dentist and my doctor attesting to my exemplary record of attendance. (I did forget the time of a dentist appointment once, but I still had the date right, and that has to count for something.) I don’t think, however, that this will heal the breach. Only groveling is going to do it. I wonder where we keep the paper bags.

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Finances in Your Twenties: Don’t Waste the In-Between Years

Finances in Your Twenties--Don't waste these years, even if you're single!

Did you ignore finances in your twenties? Or did you meticulously budget?

If you chose the latter, you’re in a very small group, because most twenty-somethings don’t worry much about finances–especially if they’re still single. I remember speaking once at a women’s event, and a representative of a Christian financial company had sent a guy to come give a quick talk and a draw for a prize. He was only 22, but he was married, with a kid, and he had his finances in order. I was super-impressed.

So I wrote this column about him, and I thought I’d rerun it here today.

Let me give you the stories of two men. One we’ll call Jim. He married straight out of high school—rather an anomaly today. He didn’t go to college, but immediately took a job at a financial planning firm in Windsor. He became certified in investments, and worked his little butt off building his own client base. He looks about 12, but he always dresses impeccably in suits.

Jim’s first child was born two years ago, when he was about 20 or 21. Today his family is still doing quite well, despite the economic downturn. They’re saving up for a downpayment on a house, building their little nest egg at a time when most men his age are still living in their parents’ basement. At one point Jim would have been quite typical; today he sounds like a dinosaur.

Now let’s talk about Bob. When Bob was Jim’s age, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. He concentrated on working as little as possible so that he could play as hard as possible. He took extended vacations to the Caribbean so he could scuba dive, renting apartments with other twenty-somethings. He lived a carefree life until well into his late thirties, working odd jobs, minimizing his income and maximizing his fun.

At 38, though, he met the woman of his dreams and settled down. They’ve since had three kids, and while both he and his wife are working, money is tight. They’re starting almost twenty years after Jim did, and neither of them used those in-between years to shore up any sort of nest egg.

Many people just don’t worry about saving when they’re single.

But in the long run they do themselves a disservice, because when they do marry (if they do), they’ve lost about a decade or so of good earning years and saving years.

Now 44, Bob is juggling saving for a house, putting money aside for his kids’ education, and contributing to a retirement savings plan. He’s in a really difficult bind, because time is no longer on his side. He has to put money into a retirement savings plan if he’s going to have anything at retirement, but he also has incredible family expenses right now, too.

One thing Jim teaches his financial clients is that if they save $2000 a year in a retirement account from ages 19-26, as he is planning to do, they can then afford to stop for a bit and save up for a house. If you wait like Bob did, though, and don’t start contributing until you’re in your late thirties, putting in $2000 a year until you’re 65, guess who has more money in the end? Jim does, even though he actually contributed far less. That money has more time to accumulate and grow! It’s starting early that makes all the difference.

If you’re in your twenties right now, even if you don’t have a family of your own, chances are one day you will.

And if you want the rest of your life to be much less stressful, squirrel away money for a house and retirement now, before you need it, to avoid feeling the crunch later.

I know cash is short when you’re in your twenties, but you don’t need a big-screen TV. You don’t need to eat out every night.

You don’t need all the latest gadgets. It may seem like responsibility is a long way off, but think instead of these years as the breather years. You don’t have any major expenses, so now is the time when saving is actually the easiest. Don’t just coast through life until responsibility hits. Act responsibly now, and you’ll be so much more comfortable in the end.

Is Marriage Worth It? Ending Marriage’s Bad Rap

Is marriage worth it? Why we shouldn't talk down marriage so much

Is marriage worth it?

That’s a question so many people ask today. All around them it seems like everyone is divorcing and married people are miserable. But is that actually true? I wrote a column a few years ago where I tried to end marriage’s bad rap, and I thought it was time to post it again.

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston is beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Leanne Rimes, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum–even Whoopi Goldberg!–have all been caught cheating.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceDisastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn crunched the numbers in her book The Good News About Marriage and found that the divorce rate is closer to 30%. Things are not as bad as magazine covers make them out to be.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Case for MarriageYet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship.

In their book, A Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

And so is marriage worth it? Well, you have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. Marriage is worth it. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

Best of Reality Check

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