The “Me” in Marriage

It’s been 7 months since I officially became Mrs. Rathroy and while sometimes I can’t believe the time has gone that quickly, it also feels like we’ve been married forever (in a good way). I’ve noticed that my grip on single Kelly has almost completely slipped away – stories from my life pre-Rathroy have seemingly been deleted from my brain to make space for new memories and stories that we build together every day.

But, losing those stories, along with my maiden name, threw me into a bit of an identity crisis. It’s bad enough that my new signature looks like Kindergarten scribble (no, I didn’t practice signing my married name before the wedding), but now I can’t remember what I used to eat or how I used to spend my evenings before I was a Mrs.

To be fair, I was in Germany.

To be fair, I was in Germany.

I spent some time silently panicking about “losing myself” in this lifelong relationship, and then I realized how silly that sounded. I was unmarried for 27 years and most of them were great. I did things like travel to Costa Rica and play beer pong and try to fix boys that “just needed to be loved.” Overall, a solid showing for my first 3 decades. But, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be married to Mr. Rathroy for like 75 years and I can’t even imagine all the stories and memories and personality traits that will fill all of those upcoming decades. I went through some pretty radical transformations in just the last few years, and I’m so curious about who I will become throughout the course of our lifelong marriage.

So, instead of wallowing in my attachment issues, I’ve started taking note of the things that I’ve already learned about myself since our wedding. I don’t know what it is, but something changes when you’re married. Maybe it’s the joint checking account or the perma-bling on our fingers or (more likely) something a little less tangible, but I’ve quickly learned that things are different now, including myself.

Wedding Ceremony Through Truck Window

1. I talk a lot. There are a few people that have always known this (mainly my ever so patiently listening mom), and I noticed that I babbled nervously around Mr. Rathroy when the romance first got real in Malawi, but boy can I talk. All the time. About almost anything. This is highlighted by the fact that my husband is extremely soft spoken in normal, daily life. He values silence, especially when the lights are off and he’s ready to go to sleep. Which is exactly the time that I have the need to discuss our weekly meal plan or the exchange rate to the Chilean peso.

2. I’m the boss. Maybe it’s because I’m the middle child, but I sure love being in charge of things. I’m a professional delegator and a die hard coordinator. And thanks to Lean In and their Ban Bossy campaign, I’m finally not ashamed to admit this. Though it doesn’t exactly help ease tensions with the Mister when going through a bathroom remodel or a garage reorganization…Thankfully, he fully supports my “leadership skills” and knows when to push back.

3. I love routine. There was a time when I thought I wanted a life of constant, unstable adventure. And while I absolutely need a certain dose of excitement to look forward to in life (a honeymoon in Patagonia, for example), I also really thrive with routine. Waking up at 5:30 every morning to make a smoothie never felt so easy and on Sundays, I bake granola. If someone had told me that about themselves 5 years ago, I might have cried for them. But now, my routine helps me focus, manage my expectations, and work for more when I get bored.

4. I’m really not that stubborn. Despite my boss-like tendencies around the house, I’ve really loosened up on the whole stubborn pride thing. If it’s important to Mr. Rathroy, I am happy to compromise (just don’t tell him or I’ll lose my bargaining chips…). Plus, my negotiating skills are at an all time high!

5. I need alone time. Not a lot of it, but without it I just start following Mr. Rathroy around the house and looking to him for my entertainment, thoughts, and general activities. Which, as you can imagine gets pretty boring for me and pretty annoying for him when he’s working in the garage or playing video games. Plus, it’s hardly healthy. But, with some alone time I reconnect with myself and my needs and it makes our interactions more appreciated and less demanding.

I’m staying tuned in with myself and taking notice of the small shifts that will eventually create a lifetime. I know marriage isn’t always sunshine and butterflies, and that sometimes I’ll still get pangs of nostalgia for who I was in my early twenties, but as long as I keep my eyes, my mind, and my heart open, I know that I’ll become exactly who I’m supposed to be.

Wedding Ceremony Site

And, as always, many thanks to Mr. Rathroy for walking softly by my side as I stomp through the unknown.

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The Apple of My Eye

I pride myself on being a good dog owner. To me, a big part of owning a dog (and especially a pit bull), is the responsibility you take for their behavior. I want nothing but positive feedback on my silly, lazy, wuss of a dog. So, when she barks her face off at the doorbell or pees on the floor when we have visitors, it doesn’t bode well for me.

Mr. Rathroy and I have spent a serious amount of time teaching Piper the rules and boundaries of our lives. Our teamwork in dog training is actually one of the biggest producers of my baby craze – it’s like training wheels for raising a kid. I mean, if we can teach Piper to sleep in a crate at night, certainly we can handle a baby, right?

Don’t answer that.

But, because of her squishable face and incessant desire to cuddle, Piper gets spoiled by almost everyone else in her life. And when those people watch as we flatly tell her to go to her bed while ignoring her puppy eyes, we take a lot of flack for being too strict. No, she can’t get up on the bed. No, she’s not allowed in the kitchen when we’re cooking (Mr. Rathroy is barely allowed in there. Have you seen the size of it?). And no, she doesn’t get a treat for doing what she’s told – that’s what she’s supposed to do.

I’m pleased as pie when we take her into a coffee shop and she lays down at our feet while we order. I love that she sticks her nose over the top of the mattress to say good morning instead of stomping on my head to take over my pillow. And I beam with pride when she goes into that crate without a fuss. But sometimes…

Sometimes, her face is just too squishable. And her cuddling is just so incessant. And her manners are so stellar, that we break down.

And we break down hard.

Piper_PeanutButter

Lap Dog

Piper Cuddles

I mean, if you’re going to spoil a dog, at least make it special, right?

I couldn't lick both mixers.

I couldn’t lick both mixers.

Priorities 101

Welcome to your crash course in adult priorities. The class is Pass/Fail and there will be a test every single day. Some days, you won’t even know it’s a test, and on those days you can rest assured that you are failing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a parkour course between the workplace and the home place – trying to keep a handle on the revolving door of adult life. You mean I have to do laundry again this week? And why are people still sending work e-mails at 8:00pm? Nothing ever settles or stays clean or is laid to rest and I’m left with an ever increasing list of tasks that need tending. And on the opposite team are my beloved Mr. Rathroy, our dogchild, my new favorite workout routine, and the oh so anticipated drama of House of Cards. Not to mention quiet time that a person might use for some light reading or blog writing…

Despite the juggle routine, I had been feeling pretty smug about my pass to fail ratio these last few weeks. Sure, I haven’t blogged in a while, and our house is a tad less tidy than I would prefer, but I was killing it at work, finding time to exercise, and everyone had clean underwear. That sounds like winning to me. That is, until a particularly rough Monday landed me and Mr. Rathroy on the couch with beers and a couple House of Cards episodes. Normally, I would allocate that time in my mind as a deserved break or fun bonding time with my husband, until I realized the next morning that there was no food in the house.

Mr. Rathroy would have Carl’s Jr. for lunch the next day (not that he minded), and I would spiral into guilt-town for spending an entire evening on my ass instead of taking care of something, anything productive. Where were my priorities? And from there, the snowball grew. It chased me down my mountain of to-dos like a bad Indiana Jones dream until I found myself on the floor of our bedroom, huddled in the corner next to the outlet so that my phone could charge while I held it to my ear to discuss a work emergency at 9:30pm. Smug doesn’t last long in the corner…

I’ve been hearing a lot about the rule of thirds lately. It’s been applied to everything from social media posts to personal finances, and it might be time that it applies to my own priorities. I still feel like I’m being chased by the insatiable snowball at times, but I’m hoping that setting goals and standards for task hierarchy will help me stop running and start accomplishing.

1/3 Work

1/3 Home

1/3 Fun

This is, so far, just a theory. I am currently not the leading expert on setting appropriate priorities as indicated by my muddling through these words after an 11 hour work day on a laptop in bed with a snoring husband next to me. There are a lot of things about this current picture that would change according to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Whether it stands the test of time as the greatest Priorities 101 lesson remains to be seen. But it will be a shift toward balance, and I think all of the thirds in my life will appreciate that.

Divide & Conquer

Last night, Mr. Rathroy made dinner. On top of an already busy week, I had signed up for a special 6 p.m. preview class at U Barre, the latest (and greatest) workout trend, with Girls on the Grid. I was even less in the mood to discuss our dinner plans than normal, especially because it meant a trip to the store during grocery rush hour.

That morning, I had gotten out of bed an hour and a half before Mr. Rathroy. In that time, I got myself ready for the day, took care of the dog, made our daily green smoothie, and even baked a fresh batch of peanut butter granola. And even though I had chosen to do all of those things, I found myself very annoyed. Why did I have to take care of everything (and in the dark no less) while he ignored his alarm and went into work later than usual? Doesn’t he know how much work it is to curl my hair and feed him every morning?

By the time I went into our dark, sleepy room to say goodbye before I left for work, I was in full domestic rebellion – not a great way to start our interactions for the day.

After a few hours of reflection in my cubicle, I sent an apology text and, because Mr. Rathroy is the greatest and most understanding man in the world, he responded with a heartfelt thank you for everything that I do. I knew that I was being a martyr and that I had never even asked him to help that morning. I just grumbled about how nice it must be to sleep in and how lame it is to be the lead homemaker. I decided to ignore the fact that I my lead homemaker status was self-appointed.

So, when it came time to discuss the fact that we had nothing for dinner, I knew it could go one of three ways:

  1. I could take it on as my unspoken responsibility to feed my husband and trudge my butt to the store so that he could eat while I went to the barre class
  2. We could split the responsibilities and he could take care of dinner since I was already scheduled to be out of the house
  3. I could have a meltdown about being a square peg in the round hole of traditional female roles and we would order Chinese food

We went with the second option and It. Was. Awesome. We each picked a couple dishes that we’d like to have on our menu for the week and drafted a grocery list together. Mr. Rathroy went head first into grocery rush hour and cooked up a storm while I flailed around gracelessly on my tippy toes during my ballet-inspired workout. By the time I got home, I was elated about my newfound exercise routine and Mr. Rathroy had made roasted vegetable mac & cheese from scratch and puff pastry wrapped jalapeno poppers…Uh, why had we not made him Head Chef of the Rathroy household yet? The kitchen was spotless, the food was still hot, the dog was curled up in bed, and he was patiently playing Forza4 until I was home to eat dinner with him.

I quickly realized that I had become a bulldozer. I took it upon myself to try and take care of everything around the house. My office is closer, my hours are more flexible, and my paycheck is smaller, so why wouldn’t I make up for it with meal plans and freshly baked granola? I took those life responsibilities off of his plate without even asking him. I made it my obligation to keep the house clean and do the grocery shopping, which in my mind, meant that no one else knew how to do it correctly.

Mr. Rathroy is not only fully capable, but is happy to pitch in and work for our lifestyle as much as I do. And when we split up the mundane responsibilities, they become less of a burden which means we’re both happier to contribute. And after devouring half a dozen homemade cream-cheese-filled jalapenos last night, I’m happy to release control of the menu and share the tasks that create our daily experiences together. And who knows, maybe I’ll be the one relaxing with Forza4 and a freshly prepared meal next time…

Like a Boss

I’ll admit that I’ve whined a bit on this blog about the small scale on which my life seems to be measured. Most notably, after a visit to Southern California success town. Sometimes, I let myself wallow in “how did I get here” thoughts rather than actually looking back and assessing how I actually got here. They’ve all been choices. They’ve all been MY choices. And when I actually do retrace my steps, I find some solid decision making skills co-mingling with hesitation and self-doubt.

For Christmas, I asked for Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In (yes, I ask for books for Christmas) and the first night I cracked it open, I knew I had found something special. In the first chapter, she pretty much pointed her finger at me and said, “This book is about you.” It led to a lot of underlining and note taking and trying to share passages out loud with Mr. Rathroy (much to his delight as I’m sure you can imagine). And it has since led to many a deep thought on the paths that I’ve chosen in the past and which ones I’d like to take in the future.

For lots of reasons, this book has spoken to me. From making (or more likely abstaining from) career moves based on future potential children, to taking on socially prescribed gender roles, to selling myself short, this book points out all too common and overlooked obstacles that women face when deciding who they will become in the world.

When I was in elementary school, a caricature artist came to our school to draw us as our future selves. Basically, an exercise in the “who do you want to be when you grow up” department. And because, for as long as I could remember, I either wanted to be a marine biologist or a military pilot, I had him draw me as a high powered military leader giving a speech in my dress blues. I’m pretty sure the President was drawn into the audience. That was my goal when I was 10 – back when I competed with the smartest boy in class for fastest timed math tests (it got pretty heated), when I ran and won a campaign for Student Council President, back when “bossy” wasn’t in my vocabulary.

Since that caricature, I’ve gone through a series of personality variations that included apathetic, manipulative, doormat, and am finally circling back around to extrovert. I don’t know of a specific moment where things in my mind turned from ambition to unattainable, but over time I fell in line with what I thought was conventional female behavior. I became passive, kept my head down, did what was asked of me, and focused a lot on how I was perceived.

Sandberg captured this movement away from myself in various passages:

“Young women internalize social cues about what defines ‘appropriate’ behavior and, in turn, silence themselves.”*

“In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can.” *

I couldn’t count the number of my homework assignments that I let a boy copy. Or the number of group projects that I completed but allowed a boy to present to the class. In college one time, I even wrote two separate papers for one assignment – one for me and one for my boyfriend at the time. His got an A. The one I turned it got a B+. This was the doormat phase and it lasted for a long time.

“While compliant, raise-your-hand-and-speak-when-called-on behaviors might be rewarded in school, they are less valued in the workplace. Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting.”*

I spent the first 4 years of my professional life trying to stay afloat in a department of all men. I never spoke at meetings until the round table updates came to me, and when my update began, so did their side conversations about chewing tobacco and duck hunting. I was directly told that my salary was the lowest in the organization ($12,000 lower than my male boss that I replaced). And yet I spent years thanking my lucky stars for that job and willingly withdrawing my voice for fear that it would jeopardize anything.

As I continue down my professional path, considering gender roles, potential future children, and all other factors that play into career moves, I’m emboldened by my younger self. The girl that didn’t think about the social or family factors that would affect the high profile military career of a female 4-star General. The girl that quite effectively marketed herself up and down her school into the top student leadership position. The girl that won writing competitions and worked to beat boys at being the smartest in class. The girl that was unaware that “bossy” was a hurtful stigma.

I think I still have that elementary school caricature buried in my childhood closet somewhere. That rendering of future Kelly represented more than my childhood career goals – it portrayed my personality and some of my greatest strengths before I was made aware that those strengths might be unladylike. My plans for military greatness may have changed over the years, but my 10 year old gut feelings about what I would be really good at in life haven’t. I can lead. I can be a boss. I can do more than be assigned tasks by other people. And thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the support of Mr. Rathroy, and my parents that have always known what a boss I am (and never discouraged it), I feel like I’m finally ready to shake that doormat phase for good.

I wonder where my aspirations toward military greatness came from...

I wonder where my aspirations toward military greatness came from…

Big moves are being made. And I can’t wait to finally jump into the game with my boss face on.

——-

*Please don’t put me in jail for plagiarism. These are passages from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I haven’t written a real reference since college and frankly, I’ve completely forgotten how.

Malawi Is…Home

We just celebrated the first Christmas of our marriage. It was full of family, twinkling lights, food, and new traditions. It was perfect.

It also included a decent amount of home improvement projects (shocking, I know). From a new fence to replacing a broken door to building a table out of 100 year old farm fence posts, we kept ourselves quite busy with house projects this holiday season. And the more we improve our current home, the more I grow nostalgic for the first home we shared in Malawi.

It was Mr. Rathroy’s home for two years, but for the time that I was there he let me take half ownership (he’s such a good sharer). I can’t imagine what it was like for him to walk away from that house, that village, that country after all he had experienced there. I still miss it and my experiences are hardly a fraction.

As with any approaching new year, I’ve been reflecting on the past – trying to remember lessons learned, laughter felt, and love shared – so that I can make the incoming year the best one yet. Malawi was such a short period of time in my life, but it changed everything. So, I’m finally adding another episode to the neglected Malawi Is… page.

Malawi, just like Mr. Rathroy, is Home.

Ironically enough, our current house is probably only slightly larger than our Malawian one.

Ironically enough, our current house is probably only slightly larger than our Malawian one.

Sharing a twin bed takes talent. And mosquito nets make you feel invincible.

Sharing a twin bed takes talent. And mosquito nets make you feel invincible.

Clean dishes drying outside.

Clean dishes drying outside.

Wringing out the excess and hoping they dry before they mold in the humidity.

Wringing out the excess and hoping they dry before they mold in the humidity.

Real (Kid) Talk

Mr. Rathroy is the cool uncle. He hangs you upside down, he makes awesome truck sound effects, and he’s really comfy to nap with.

Cool Uncle

He’s so awesome with kids that it makes my ovaries physically ache. And it makes me really self-conscious about the ways that I interact with kids when he’s around. Because, let’s be honest, no one wants to follow the guy that hung you upside down and incited the biggest giggle fest of your life.

After spending Thanksgiving with his brother’s kids (my new niece and nephew thanks to that sweet wedding we just had), I was forced to confront the fact that I would be the boring parent. I would be the mom that causes eye rolls in our pre-teens and he would be the dad that causes excitement screams when he comes home from work.

Despite my efforts to play race cars or start dance parties before the turkey was done, I always ended up filling a lull in activity with an interview. Seriously, if a kid comes up to me with a toy, instead of ripping into it and using funny voices to participate in the fun, I just ask the kid a bunch of questions.

A sample interview from my Thanksgiving evening:

Kid: “Look at these cool cars!” (One Formula 1 and one Nascar)

Me: “Wow. What kind of cars are those?”

Kid: “Um, really fast ones that race!”

Me: “Oh, cool. Do they race each other?”

Kid: “Um…yeah…and they go really fast!”

Me: “So, they participate in the same kind of race? Like, do they use the same kind of fuel?”

Kid: Re-iterates that they’re both fast and then runs away because I obviously do not understand how awesome and fast his race cars are.

After that exchange, I spend most of the rest of the evening projecting as much awkward, non-verbal kid repellent I could muster. I mean, I’m the new kid on the block with this family and the last thing I want is to look dumb around a 4 year old in front of everyone. So, I sipped wine and sat in the formal living room with the adults and stayed a safe distance away from the race cars. My first Thanksgiving as a wife would not be ending in confused child tears, thank you very much.

But as bedtime approached and giggly turned into sleepy, my niece and nephew migrated over to the couch (no doubt because I was sitting next to their cool uncle). They climbed up, toys in hand, ready to sabotage my plan of avoidance. And suddenly, they snuggled. They snuggled with me just as much as they snuggled with Mr. Gigglefest Rathroy and I felt my heart swell as their sleepy faces disappeared in our arms.

As we drove home, we joked about our opposite interaction styles when it comes to kids. I love that Mr. Rathroy is such an awesome uncle and I love the way he talks and teases with kids (it’s also usually how he talks and teases with me). He brings so much laughter and comfort into their world. And, as it turns out, he loves the way I speak to them too. My favorite thing to do is watch children learn and when they realize that they actually do know the answer to one of my ridiculous questions, I like to think that it builds their confidence. Even though we’re considerably different as individuals, I think the Rathroys will make a pretty dynamite parenting team. Between all that laughter and confidence building, you’re bound to turn out like a good kid right? Right?

That’s just what I’ll keep telling myself…