Ten*

February 2006. Five moves, four cats, three children, two home continents and one beagle ago. I’m brimming with gratitude for having you to grow up with, Matty.

“Love is something ideal, marrying is something real, and no one ever confuses the ideal with the real without being punished for it.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, c. 1823

Today is our tenth wedding anniversary. And we’re in our sixteenth year of love and friendship. In reflecting on this milestone, I’ll start with a moment of misery and move to some lessons learned.

Around two children into my marriage, I called my mom from a Tokyo hotel room, devastated by some marital dispute. I said something like, “I don’t know how long I can do this,” about my relationship. I continued: “Humans live so LONG nowadays!” My mom, who celebrated her 40th anniversary with my dad last year, chuckled and said she totally got it. Her idea is that modern marriage contracts shouldn’t be ’til death do us part. Rather, she wished they were more three or five-year contracts, like my then-employment contract at NPR. In those, you can re-up at the end of the three-year terms, or you can opt not to and both sides walk away without shame. It’s the norm. It’s also a built-in check-in. At renegotiation time, we say, “How are we doing? What could be better? What is the value of this to us?” All USEFUL in a relationship! Instead, in marriage we have a whole “I promise you forever” thing that’s lofty, high pressure and impossible to predict. If you walk away, does the whole relationship have to be considered a failure? It obscures what was likely a solid, satisfying partnership for various periods. Which gets me to my first takeaway…

To me, the day-to-day work is ultimately a better signifier of love than a ceremony. I cannot imagine my life without my husband. I cannot. But the promise you make in front of friends and family on your wedding day is at best a hopeful aspiration, and just one day in an endless run of days in which you choose to be present in the relationship. I have to get up each day and decide whether I still choose this, choose my partner, and so does he. A day can come when he or I decide to NOT choose the other. Ultimately, I’ve learned there was no epic sweep to promising ourselves to one another ten years ago, inside a 16th century room that’s part of an Amsterdam museum. In actuality, our partnership has represented a series of daily recommitments. In that sense, my mom makes so much sense. For a sustaining partnership, we don’t NEED the ceremony of a wedding or a traditional marriage vow at all! Why NOT short-term contracts?

Your partner can enhance you, or he/she can diminish you. Choose well. Matty didn’t think twice about giving up his career for three years to support mine, a choice that women make for men regularly but is less common the other way around. I didn’t expect anything less from him, because our partnership is about sharpening the other from similar  positions of power. (He also agreed to take my last name while we were dating, because, even if it’s just symbolic, down with the patriarchy!)

Marriage is a contract individualized to the people in it. Matty has always acknowledged we aren’t each other’s everything. I feel most seen in the understanding that we won’t fulfill one another’s every need, and he has long given me the space for meaningful connections with people who aren’t him. The moral here is what you decide about your relationship is between the two of you. But intimacy requires bringing your full, open hearts in speaking up and designing your marriage to your unique specs.

Forgive. I love this, from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:

“In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more.”

Older but wiser.

I’m filled with appreciation and love. Especially because part of this post has been “maybe we’ll be together forever, maybe we won’t,” I want to underline how deeply love and appreciate my husband. If Matty and I don’t stay together “forever,” I will still never transition from my roaring twenties to my semi-responsible thirties with anyone else. I will never lock eyes with another man while pushing out a baby of ours in a delivery room. And there’s something beautiful about the moments unique to life stages, all the ones that forever bond us to each other — a shared history that can be shared with no one else. Our most daring choice to be together happens each day. Who knows about tomorrow.

“To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being—what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.”

—Ada Calhoun

*Incidentally it is also an excellent Pearl Jam album, though that’s neither here nor there.

Chicago in January

“So I gotta ask, why Chicago? Is it the rampant gun violence? Or do you just like seeing improv actors who weren’t good enough for LA?”

— Bojack Horseman, on Chicago

What is the snow/slush mix falling down outside!? It is not pleasant.

To be fair. when I arrived on Thursday night the weather was downright balmy in Chicago, for January. But my youngest cousin, Stephanie, was getting married (today) and so I trekked it out here to rep her father’s side of the family. The rest of my family (Matty and girls), and the one into which I was born — the Hu’s, couldn’t make it for various reasons.

Hosting a Chicago edition of It’s Been a Minute, at WBEZ with Greta Johnsen and Peter Sagal. Photo credit: Emily Cummings

Since I was going to be here anyway, I was able to see my Chicago-based buddies AND bring the podcast/radio show I sometimes host, It’s Been A Minute, to WBEZ Chicago, the NPR member station here. It’s located (thanks to a $1 a year, 99-year lease) on the storied Navy Pier, home of tourists wearing MAGA hats, the Chicago Children’s Museum and a ferris wheel I could not see through the morning fog yesterday. Peter Sagal, who hosts the quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me from Chicago, came on to be a panelist. We got to catch up and hit him with the “patriarchy stinger,” which is a jingle that interrupts him every time he’s mansplaining.

On a whim, I decided to reach out to my high school social studies teacher, Mr. Coates, who has been living and teaching in Chicago for 20 years now. I know the exact number of years because he left Texas right after I graduated from high school and this year is my 20 year reunion. (CRAZY!) And I hadn’t seen him since I was 18, but he and his wife, MRS. Coates, met up with me for dinner on Thursday — the first time I’d ever hung out with Mr. Coates, actually. Enjoyed them both. Special night. And since my daughters (who usually introduced the podcast) didn’t tape their show intro in time, I was able to ask Mr. Coates to do it, and he makes an appearance on the podcast itself! He quipped that this is going to do wonders for “his brand.”

Cousin Stephanie and my new cousin-in-law, Josh!

And up in the ‘burbs, my cousin Steph is now lawfully wedded. Given my inability to handle anything below 65 degrees, I cringed in horror as the wedding party braved the falling snow and 30 degree F/-1 degree C, windy outdoors to get a photo outside the church. But so glad to be here, to celebrate the wedding of my final unmarried cousin (who, incidentally, is only 24), and ready to get back to the sunshine, so long as the gods of O’Hare airport let me.

After Midnight

I had no idea what to do with this after I got it from our wedding videographer/friend, Jeff. He’s the younger brother of my longtime KVUE-TV colleague, Shelton Green, and he’s a filmmaker based in Berlin. He hopped over to Amsterdam for the Hu-Stiles extravaganza and shot for days; he ended up with the whole weekend wrapped  into an eight minute video but as a bonus, created a short “after midnight” mashup featuring the crazy time we had at Club Air.

We are  told Club Air’s THE new nightclub to be at in Amsterdam. It’s in Rembrandtplein, not far from the main wedding hotel, and we wound up partying in the VIP area next to some of Holland’s world cup players (little did we know that a month later, they would be, like, famous.) It was nuts. Transvestites, performance artists, glitter… a night to remember.

Home

Back from two weeks in what I’ll call an alternate reality – something like my real life, only way better. A four-day wedding extravaganza that was really more like being on vacation with thirty people we love the most, followed by basking in the sun and exploring the caves on Greece’s largest island. Aside from a rocky donkey ride and one of my bridesmaids accidentally getting her luggage sent home to Austin, NEVADA, everything went flawlessly. Travelogue is to come.

The Manliest Bridal Shower Brunch

Manly, or the manliest? Male-maid-of-honor/man of honor Sudeep teamed up with my most-together friend, Melissa, to throw a bridal shower brunch at a hot dog place. (The other selections were Taco Cabana and Lambert’s, a barbecue place). As Sudeep once joked – this will appeal to your very masculine side (is there any other?)

Melissa added girly touches, like a lace runner along the table, adorable favors in cloth baggies with pink flowers on them, and Chinese cherry candies. We drank pear mimosas and ate chicken and waffles (leg and thigh – gotta go with the dark meat), shrimp and grits and hash brown casserole, among other selections. My friend Mon-Pon got me a gift that included a Woman’s Day Magazine — but it was “The Man Issue”.

A huge thank you to the brilliant and beautiful people who took part. A delightful brunch before the frenzy of next week gets underway.

Lawfully Wedded

Travis County District Judge Charlie Baird wedged in our legal marriage proceedings behind four folks on the criminal docket and before jury selection on some aggravated assault trial. Our closest friends in Austin, many who have small babies or large mortgages and cannot make it to Amsterdam, squeezed into the judge’s chambers with us for a quickie legal ceremony on Monday morning. I vaguely remember some sort of vows we had to repeat. But it felt like a strangely out of body experience once things got rolling. Stiles felt his knees locking so he obviously wasn’t more lucid than I was.

One of the women I asked to be a bridesmaid, Virginia, found out she was having a baby that would arrive one month before the wedding in Amsterdam (and boy is baby girl Cass a cutie). She won’t be coming overseas, but is a fantastic bridesmaid anyway. She hosted a classy, gorgeous engagement party at her house for us and guided me along on all things girly. (She also made a makeshift floral arrangement for me for the legal ceremony on Monday with the random fresh flowers she had around her house. Like I said, Virginia rocks.) So we picked her to be our witness, and she got all teary-eyed upon getting the assignment.

Afterwards, the group celebrated with chili cheese dogs (my favorite food). Matrimony Monday couldn’t have gone any better.

Our Dutch Wedding Planner: Reality TV Star

It’s not just American TV programming that’s drowning in shows about rich people. Our Amsterdam wedding planner, Tim Laan, appears in a Dutch reality show about a bunch of rich girls. I can’t understand the language but Tim explained the premise: One of the rich gals needs a planner for a wedding on the Spanish island of Majorca. From what I can tell, the show is ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ meets ‘Cribs’ with a dash of ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen’. In the clip, the girls are interviewing potential planners, and Tim’s brought in to make a quick proposal. It’s all Dutch to me…

Tim Laan Party Planner

Oh hey! We’re back from the trip to Amsterdam to visit Mom. While there we spent one action-packed day checking out the wedding venues. I scraped together random bits of free time to put together a chronicle of our day with Tim Laan party planner, the Dutch professional who’s taking care of nuptial preparation and making sure no one gets arrested during wedding weekend.

We Have Liftoff

Wedding planner hired. He is SO fabulous. I mean, just look at his profile photo.

timlaan

Destination Confusion

We’re I’m beginning wedding planning for nuptials in Amsterdam next May, which is already proving to be a character test.

I’m only on the first task, which is finding a suitable wedding coordinator overseas and hiring him/her without meeting face-to-face. This means I must judge them by context clues, none of which has proven satisfying. There are the people called “Wedding Planners Amsterdam” (natch), only they commit the sin of having music on their website upon arrival.

Then, I spoke to a really nice lady via Skype who runs her wedding coordinating services out of Den Haag (The Hague). I thought things were moving along well until I received an email from her in Comic Sans typeface.*

Tried another place recommended by some people on a website, since I really have no guide but the internets. That place, called “WeddingIdeaz” (I don’t know why it’s one word), has yet to answer one of my phone calls.

At this rate, I know we’re going to wind up getting hitched at City Hall. Somewhere in America.

*I think I’m getting over this one. While this would be viewed as a huge infraction if committed by an American wedding planner,  I feel the cultural disdain for Comic Sans probably hasn’t reached across the Atlantic. Perhaps it hasn’t become a cliche in Europe yet?