Archive for the ‘retrospect’ Category

Where do you come from?

Earlier today, Hillary posted a quiz on twitter about privilege and living in bubbles (I scored a 33), and it sparked a lot of interesting discussion about personal backgrounds.  I had what was, in my opinion, a privileged (and incredibly boring) up bringing, and I am always fascinated to hear about folks who had childhoods and family histories different from mine.  So, even though I think it was boring, I’m writing about my childhood in the hopes that other people might do it too.

I grew up in suburban Atlanta, in a solidly upper middle class area. My dad worked as a physicist in industry (optical fiber and the internet and other physicsy things), and my mom stayed home with me and my brother.  We went to public school, and though Georgia isn’t exactly an educational mecca, the school district we were in was one of the best public school districts in the country.  There was very little racial diversity – when I attended, my high school was something like 96% white, 3% asian, 1% everyone else.  We had what I consider to be a white picket fences sort of upbringing – mom at home, dad at work, we went to school and participated in various extracurriculars (sports, clubs, etc.).  I briefly played soccer and tennis, did swim team every summer, and ran cross country in high school. My brother did all the same sports, but for longer and at a higher level (I… preferred books).  I was never aware of money being an issue – if Johnny or I wanted to try some activity or pursuit, we could; if we wanted something (clothes, electronics) and could make a reasonable case for it, we’d usually get it for Christmas.  We were NOT allowed to quit our pursuits mid-season, which was different from a lot of our friends.  We took family vacations every year – sometimes to visit relatives, and starting when I was 10 or so, we’d go skiing every year.  Sometimes we got to take friends with us (because my brother and I would fight with each other, so I think it was more pleasant for my parents if we brought friends).
While I don’t think my parents ever allowed us to feel any economic hardships, they did work hard to instill us with good money management skills and work ethics.  My brother and I both had jobs in high school – I worked at an animal hospital, and my brother worked at Target.  In neither case did my parents tell us we had to work, but they encouraged us to do so as a means of making personal spending money, as well as to begin gaining work experience.  We both got allowances growing up (I think $10/week in high school?), but we weren’t spoiled as compared to our peers. Which means: our parents bought each of us cars, but they were older/used, and we had to pay for our own gas.  We had to do chores around the house, but I am pretty sure I was a total asshole about it.  My parents put a lot of effort towards us developing good financial habits – we had credit cards and savings accounts in our early teens, and started doing our own taxes as soon as we had jobs, even though we were both still dependents.  Which, now that I think about it, means our parents stopped claiming us as such (and thus didn’t get the tax credits), for that learning experience.
My family has always put a pretty high premium on education, and I think it was taken for granted that my brother and I would go to college.  Both of us went to an in-state school, which was pretty affordable (particularly with Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, which paid for tuition in full), and our parents paid for our room and board while we were at school.  They wouldn’t have been able to if we had chosen out of state schools, I think, but I’m not totally sure.  They also bribed us to be high achievers, by giving us any money we earned towards our tuition in scholarships (besides the HOPE one).  I worked all through college, while my brother didn’t – I worked at a climbing wall and in the gym, as well as in various teaching and research assistantships.  All the jobs were for spending money, though I ended up putting most of it into savings as well.
Writing all of that out, the thing that really jumps out at me most is that, while we both had to work hard and take personal responsibility for our choices, we had choices.  A LOT of choices.  And, probably more importantly, a very solid safety net.
My parents met while working at a summer camp in New England, and are both from New Jersey.  My mom worked for AT&T Bell Labs while my dad went to graduate school, and she got a degree in Occupational Psychology while she was working ( I think there was a free tuition situation through her job?).  My father got a job in Atlanta after he finished school in NJ, and they headed down here. My mom worked until she had my brother, and decided at the end of her six week maternity leave that she couldn’t send him to day care.  Once my brother and I were in school, she did a lot of volunteer work with our schools and sports teams, etc., and worked part time jobs on and off.
My maternal grandfather owned his own business (real estate maybe?), and my maternal grandmother stayed home with the kids.  They were solidly middle class, maybe upper middle.  I have no idea what my paternal grandparents did, but I think I remember my dad telling me they were middle class as well, albeit perhaps not the upper end.  My dad and one of his sisters are both physicists (my aunt works at NASA and is cool as hell), and his other sister is an estates lawyer (I think) in Manhattan, which as far as I know means she is really good at her job.  That whole branch of the family (including me and most of my cousins) is pretty graduate/professional school happy.
I am kind of excited to talk to my mom and fill in family details I have forgotten.  I’m having one of those moments of clarity where I realize how little I know about my parents as individuals, as opposed to just my parents.
I’m also feeling all hyperaware of privilege and I think I’m going to go quietly freak out about how to raise my kid to not be an entitled snobby pants.  Ack.  I know when I got to college, I was a total jackass and thought I knew everything and that I was smarter than everyone. I remember saying OUT LOUD that I thought people with southern accents were dumb.  Yeah, that was special.  Then I spent my undergraduate years in the Poultry Science department and that knocked a lot of the stupid right out of me.  THANK GOODNESS.
OK – now I feel boring and also kind of like an asshole.  Tell me about you!  You are more interesting than me!  Also, maybe my mom will turn up and set the record straight if I botched anything.  Hi, mom!

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Home, Sweet Home (part 2)

This is the second installment of a history of my homes.  The first is here.

After moving out of the residential college, I went to my parents’ home ever so briefly, and then moved into a 2000 Nissan Frontier with my friend, Climber.  We embarked on a three month journey around the country, which is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done.  Peaked at 20, such a shame.  We spent time in West Virginia (New River Gorge), Philadelphia (this kid we met at the NRG paid us money to move him from his dorm in Philly to….), southern Illinois (there are rocks there.  seriously.), Wyoming (Wild Iris in the Wind Rivers Range), British Columbia (Squamish), California (Yosemite, duh), and Idaho (City of Rocks).  I could spend an eternity talking about this trip, and probably should at some point.  This was the defining experience of my life thus far; it is when I found my confidence, it is when I learned about friendship and adulthood and dumpster diving, it is when I tore the ligaments in my wrist that kept me at UGA for grad school.

I returned to UGA for my senior year (wait! that’s only 3 years!…), and moved into an apartment for the first time, with my good friend Turboslut.  Now, I didn’t yet realize she was a turboslut, and in fact, hadn’t yet coined the term (I maintain that is my neologism, and every time I say it I get a particularly naughty visual likening a woman’s naughty bits to a mariokart driver going over one of those turbo strips…  You’re welcome!).  I spent the first 6 months or so essentially having the apartment to myself, as Turbo was in a serious relationship and spent all her time with her boyfriend.  She would come home occasionally to make a giant mess in the kitchen, and then be gone long enough for the fruit flies to come.  This is, obviously, where I perfect my passive aggressive note leaving abilities.  One gem included a delightful comic strip describing what happens when you leave a stack of cardboard in a thoroughfare, with a stick figure biting it hard on the way to the bathroom.  Once Turbo was single though, the tables turned.  And by that I mean she slept with more men than I currently know.  I frequently came home only to be greeted by a sex scene right out of a porno, her felating some guy on the couch in front of the front door, or sounds resounding from her bedroom that I’ve only ever heard issuing from a Jenna Jameson flick.  It was delightful.  They never even paused to acknowledge how icky they were being as I entered the room.

Shortly after all my close friends had worked out their living situations for the following year, I decided it would be a grand idea to attend grad school at UGA and set about finding a place to call home.  I ended up finding a roommate on Craigslist, and spent a year on the north side of town off Boulevard.  This is a quaint, hipster area with cute ramshackle houses and townies in tight jeans with adorable wild-haired children. I lived in a small shotgun house near the railroad tracks with a girl we’ll call Who Cares.  Which is to say, we never really connected.  We had a couple of heart to hearts about how she was an incorrigible cheater looking for love, and how my boyfriend-at-the-time (let’s call him Fester) may or may not have been good enough for me (the answer, it turns out, was a resounding NOoNononono No).  Highlights of this year included watching my cat, Pumpking, and her dog, Mac, pretend each other did not exist.  Also delightful was the fact that my bed only fit one way in my tiny room, and that was up against a poorly fitted and forever shut door.  Directly on the other side of that door was the living room couch.  This was, in a word, awkward.

From there, I moved into Fester’s house (he and his roommates were vacating the place), with three close friends Caro, Monty, and Clorox.  The house was on one of the seedier, townier sides of our downtown area, in close proximity to bars and shops and food galore.  This was the year of the great depression, as I found myself with a very bad, terrible, no good advisor after my first year of grad school, and a very bad, terrible, no good boyfriend to boot.  I remember the night Monty moved in – she was sleeping on a mattress in the living room that night – and Fester was out with all his friends.  He stumbled home – to the wrong home, as he had moved days before – to our front porch, and yelled for me until I came down.  He then proceeded to puke all over me and our front porch, and raise hell, and make an ass of himself, and scare me half to death, before I could locate his (noisy, boisterous, douchebaggy) friends to take him home.  This was after I found out he’d been cheating on me, among other things.  So, obviously, I waited 6 more months to break up with him.  I can only plead Stockholm syndrome at this point, for both the boyfriend and the advisor.  The latter relationship culminated in me getting a clipboard thrown at my head, after which I got a new advisor.  Anyways, despite all that, I did have some fun that year – I was finally of drinking age, and I spent a good bit of time exercising that right (I never had to worry about getting a ride home! It was so easy!).  When I wasn’t getting soused downtown, we roomies spent much time harassing drunken tailgaters from our porch (candy corn projectiles!), listing to Clorox’s stories of the rampant gay experimentation occurring in the nearby fraternity, and helping Caro sand down her art projects, including this one: Sally the Nekkid Lamp Lady .  This was the year my kitty cat died of cancer, a few days after somehow catching a bird from the porch of our second floor apartment and depositing it by my usual seat.  It was also the year I snapped out of a lot of crap (grad school, bad boyfriend, not exercising) and started playing frisbee.

Rather than stay in that house with my darling Caro, I skedaddled to an apartment in the Boulevard area with my other favorite, Swilson.  I was not in love with our apartment, but I was very glad to live anywhere with her.  I adopted a parking lot kitten, only to find out he was a malnourished three year old later on.  Dragon eventually became Swilson’s, as I was far too busy that year to be a proper cat owner.  I played frisbee like a fiend, and consciously implanted myself into the frisbee community, constantly going to parties and whatnot.  The previous several years had left me without a decent community of people, after I stopped climbing and dated Fester for waaaay too long.  I spent very little time at the apartment, between traveling to tournaments every weekend and sleeping on friends’ couches after having too many drinks (I won’t drive for hours and hours after even one or two).  The first half of the year, I pretended I was an undergrad, phoning it in at work and partying most nights and weekends.  Then, I started dating husband, and it was wonderful.  But – I spent even less time at the apartment, because he was a night owl and had nothing to do there.  I slept at his downtown loft so often that it gets its own paragraph…

Husband’s apartment was located a couple floors above a bar that was known for its loud dance music and underage clientelle.  You could feel the bass all night, but it didn’t bother us too much.  His apartment was a loft – basically a single huge room with a very high ceiling.  Four boys lived there, knew each other through playing poker.  The bedrooms were literally little boxes attached to the walls, the size of a bed and perhaps 4 feet tall.  You got to them using ladders.  They had a poker table like you would see at a casino, two couches, and perhaps 6 televisions.  The televisions were like bizarro nesting dolls – they had at least one each of a 17″, 27″, 37″, 47″, and 57″.  They had every video game thingy known to man.  It was a bachelor pad to the nth degree.  I actually really enjoyed hanging out there – lots of good natured shit giving, restaurant food, Planet Earth in HD, cave dwelling.  It was probably the closest I will ever come to being a fly on the wall in a metaphorical boys’ locker room.  Educational, to say the least – they really aren’t talking about boobs or sex most of the time, whatdya know…

I’m stopping there, because it’s gotten too long again.

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On marriage…

I think the phrase “marriage of convenience” means, to most people, a marriage that is based on something other than the relationship itself.  While I dearly love my husband (haaah!  still sounds funny.), the things that made it apparent in our early relationship that we could go the distance were all practical: we have similar attitudes on spending and saving, family, work-life balance, etc.

See, to me, marriage is all about pragmatics.  I’m not religious, so that’s out as a foundation.  I have had several intense and passionate relationships in my life, and all of those burned fast and left a whole lot of crap in their wake, so the fact that Husband and I didn’t have a whirlwind courtship is actually quite heartening to me.  The beginning of our relationship was marked by a lot of really frank conversations about important stuff: money, faith, family (kids or not? how many? when? approaches to child rearing, division of labor, etc.), communication styles (for instance, I have a tendency to bottle up my anxiety and let it all out in the middle of the night in a really irrational way.  I felt Husband should know that in advance.), career goals.  We talked about how we wanted our lives to work, and then spent a lot of time deciding if the other fit into that picture.  What we found was that if we held a lot of common views, and wanted our lives to look pretty similar.  Like, if you drew a venn diagram of things that were important to us, it would almost just be a circle.  No really:

important things!

Now, I don’t want to make it sound as if I don’t love him, I DO.  Very much.  It’s not all about practicality 100% of the time.  It’s just that I think no amount of chemistry or common hobbies can make up for certain practical inadequacies.

Marriage is, to me, mostly a financial and practical institution.  In the U.S., things are easier if you are married – it is easier to have children, if you so choose, as the burdens (financial and otherwise) of child rearing are borne by two instead of one.  It is easier to get by if you lose your job (as, at least in my life, my spouse will be able to support us both for at least a while).  You get to split up household duties – not just sweeping and dusting – financial planning, too, which I think is much more important than vacuuming.  But maybe that’s because I detest vacuuming. Good thing Husband’s parents bought us a Dyson (omg!) and Husband once said if we had a Dyson (omg!) he would do all of the vacuuming forever and ever!  Suck it sucker.

Anyways, this didn’t go where I planned – I wanted to write about my Financial Attitude, because it has been coming up a lot lately, but I guess a post about marriage is timely.  And my audience’s patience for such rambling will likely run out before too long 🙂

Quick, here’s a picture to distract your from my failure to properly end a post:

It rained, which made me even more glad I chose not to wear shoes!  Shoes suck!  I like green!

It rained, which made me even more glad I chose not to wear shoes! Shoes suck! I like green!

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Home, Sweet Home (part 1)

I don’t remember the house I lived in from birth till age 3, except in random snapshots… the bushes next to the red (I think) house, painting a sign made of a half slice of tree trunk for the neighborhood park with my mom.  I know from visiting the neighborhood in recent years that it has been hit hard by economic decline – no one has painted in years and years, lawns are untended, so it has taken on a dilapidated air of neglect.

The house I spent the rest of my childhood in, where my parents still live, I have a lot of mixed feelings about.  It’s in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta, which I hate, but it backs up on actual forest (old growth, even!) with an actual river (albeit with high levels of coliform bacteria) and railroad tracks and a swamp (I use the term loosely, of course… it was really just a permanent, giant, icky puddle, with tadpoles).  Our neighborhood is older, built in the 60s or 70s, and thus the lots aren’t squashed together, and they actually have trees on them.  Going home now brings back a flood of memories – the hill I sustained upwards of 5 concussions on between ages 8 and 15 (when I stopped riding bikes… I’m a slow learner, possible because of all the head trauma), the woods I spent years playing in (pretending we were characters from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, building forts and tree houses, rope swings, tubing in the river, putting things on the railroad tracks to watch them get squished, the time the swamp froze solid and you could see all the little fish and plants in suspended animation, in between “skating” around it in our snow boots), that eventually the neighborhood miscreant would set fire to, the night before I started high school.  More in the house – the bookshelf I used to sleep on top of, the rollerblade routines we made up and performed in the basement before it was finished (usually to Whitney Houston and Disney songs).  I love my neighborhood and my house, I just wish it weren’t in such typical suburbia – we used to hang out at QuikTrip.  Seriously.  We’d go play frisbee at one of the numerous parks, and then go to QuikTrip to get fountain drinks and just… sit outside.  For several hours.  You can’t walk anywhere (sidewalks got put in since I went to college, but it’s still several miles between where people live and Everything Else), there are strip malls everywhere, and there is zero diversity.  I can actually remember the first time I saw a black person.  My high school was 94% white, with the remainder mostly consisting of asians.  It was very bizarre, especially to my parents, who moved down from greater NYC.

When college started, I moved into dorms on campus.  My first roommate was a huge disappointment – she was a senior, and had lived in the same room for several years, so I felt like I was always in “her” room, rather than “our” room, and she could no longer relate to my college freshman experience.  Of course, we were also like oil and water – I was on probation my whole freshman year for climbing a building; she was super religious, and I would frequently return to find letters to Jesus on the whiteboard on our door.  Somehow, I convinced her to move across the hall for second semester, into her friend’s room.  Then a new girl moved in – a freshman.  She was escaping from her first semester crazy roommate, and we had much more in common – both science track, smart kids, both freshman, etc.  Later on, it became apparent that she was one of those smart people completely lacking in common sense.  One of my clearest memories of living with her was the time she spilled sugar all over the floor of the room, and didn’t clean it up for weeks.  WEEKS.  if you walked barefoot, you’d get sticky granules of sugar all over your feet.  It was… unpleasant.  It was also my first solid introduction to leaving passive aggressive post-it notes, which I believe is a rite of passage for American college students.  The sugar incident coincided with one of my bouts of mysterious and intense illness, so I was confined to the room for the better part of a month, watching Dawson’s Creek re-runs (4 in a row, 8-12pm every weekday on TBS!) from my lofted bed, refusing to move because of the sugar and my fever.

That summer, I lived with my older brother’s roommates, first in a house way out on the east side of town, notable only for its creepy unfinished basement, where you had to walk on wooden planks across a frequently-flooded area to get to the washer/dryer (and I am the kind of person who thinks serial killers are obviously lurking in all dark corners all the time, so it was extra fun… I think my mom did all my laundry that summer), and then in a house on the far north end of town, in an area that was…  a bit past the fraying edge.  My roommates left something to be desired… they were stoned all the time.  One of them had a puppy and a full-time job, and he never walked the dog, so it pooped everywhere – I felt terrible for the dog, and also angry because there was dog shit all over the place all the time.  They never did dishes, and I remember seeing dirty dishes stacked 6-12 inches high on every surface in the kitchen, with roaches everywhere.  The house was sort of scary, in retrospect, as the doors didn’t fit the doorways and the windows didn’t lock.  I would frequently come home and find random kids from the neighborhood in the house and have to shoo them out, after giving them food or whatever was lying around to play with.  One day, I came home from work to find my window wide open, and it freaked me out completely.  Later I learned that my brother’s friend had gotten stoned out of his gourd in his upstairs room, and had gotten himself locked in his room – broke the doorknob off, apparently.  So, he’d escaped by -no shit- tying his sheets to his bed frame and rappelling out his window, and then entered the house again through my window.  And didn’t explain for a week.  It was…  a great summer.

In the fall, I moved into a different dorm – a residential college.  My roommate was random, chosen from profiles posted on the wall like personal ads.  Mine said “Me: studies a lot, goes to bed fairly early, hates hair dryers and make up, likes climbing and playing frisbee.  you: hates hair dryers, not a drunk, respectful.”  I was in high demand, based on that, and had my pick – it was good, mostly.  She wasn’t crazy, and I got a lot done that year, but we aren’t still friends or anything.  Our room was on the top floor, the co-ed floor, the first of the girls’ rooms.  One of the boys who lived across the hall was a freshman frat boy, and I vividly remember getting into a top-of-my-lungs screaming match with him when he wouldn’t stay out of my room, or stop making sexual comments.  Other than that, it was a great dorm – the kind you could walk around in your PJs all day, like a giant home.  We had massage club in the lobby, we would read books aloud in each other’s rooms.  I took O-Chem that year, and learned all the various equations by writing them in sidewalk chalk around the quad.  I snuck on to the roof to make out with a boy from down the hall.  We would play frisbee all day on the quad on game days to try to stave off the tailgaters, and we would bully the drunk guys who would pee on our building.  Some weird kid wrapped the building in ribbon one day…  It was exactly what a dorm should be.

This is really long already, so I’m leaving the rest for another entry.

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