Inspired by St. Valentine

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So I think due to all of the stress going on at home since I started this blog I have somewhat drifted away from the original intent of paying more attention to the positive things in my life. I mean, I could launch into yet another illness related post here: my wife was sick over the weekend and I now have a persistent cough and sore throat. However, rather than do that and in honor of Valentine’s Day last week, I hope you will indulge me while I write about the best thing in my life, my wife. More specifically the story of how we met.

So as I mentioned in the About section here on the blog, we’ve been together for about 15 years now. We actually met for the first time a week from today 15 years ago. The encounter itself was an odd string of coincidences and decisions that used to keep me up at night with panic realizing that I almost didn’t meet her.

It was my senior year at college. A few weeks prior to our meeting I had run into an old friend from the dorms at a local coffee shop. He told me that his band was going to be playing at a party at a bar the next week, and that I should check it out. I was planning on going out that night anyhow since it coincided with my birthday. I made plans to meet up with some friends and go hear the band. I took the metro to the city where the party was to be held. I had planned to call my friends from the payphone at the metro station when I arrived so they could come pick me up. However, when I tried to call, I kept getting a recording saying that the line was not available. Since I had nothing else to do that evening I sat at the underground station for about 2 hours trying to call every 15 minutes or so. I was tempted to call it a night and head home a few times, but I stuck with it and eventually I got through. It turned out that the phones were off on my friend’s block due to construction. It’s funny to think that for people just a few years younger than me that whole scenario is totally foreign. First of all, I don’t think you could find a payphone in a metro stop anymore because almost everybody has a cellphone. It seems that fewer and fewer people have a landline anymore! I’m a bit old fashioned and still have and actually prefer using a landline, but I digress.

My friends picked me up and we drove to the site of the party. We got to the club/bar and there were two girls smoking out front. I mentioned my friend and his band and was it alright if we went in? It turned out that party was the birthday celebration for one of those girls. We wished each other happy birthday and I went downstairs into a huge space. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it turned out to be totally and completely…. dead. There were some bored bartenders waiting around and a group of maybe 5 people sitting on some couches near the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t see anyone I recognized. Suddenly this beautiful girl came up to us to say hi and find out who we were and what we were doing there. I remember her huge smile and her clothes and shoes which implied she might have been a raver. My friends and I being the types to save money when we could (and not having a lot of money anyhow) had brought beer from the local liquor store hidden in our coats, so we went to sit down at a table to chat and drink. She came over a little bit later and after talking to all of us she started talking primarily to me. I also remember the way she stared so intently into my eyes when we talked. As the night progressed we would talk for awhile, then she would go off to see friends(it started filling up later) and I would talk with my friends, then we would talk some more.

It was an amazing night, we had all kinds of interests and experiences in common and it was so easy to talk. We had both lived abroad, we both spoke Spanish (her via living abroad). There were many people we knew in common, even though we had never met. Anyhow at some point it was time for my friends and I to go. I have always been extremely insecure about expressing interest in girls and of getting rejected, so I wasn’t harboring any plans of trying to see her again and said something to the effect of “it was really nice meeting you and I hopefully I’ll see you on campus” and left. At the top of the stairs my friend said “Dude, are you going to get her number? She was totally into you!” I was a bit surprised, but after some forceful prodding I went back down to ask if I could call her sometime. She said she would “really like that” and wrote her number down on a metro ticket(which I still have). So my friend from the dorms and his band never showed up, but it was a worthwhile night.

Swingers(the movie) had been out for about a year, so the “wait 3 days” mantra was firmly in my head. On the fourth day I called her number but she wasn’t in and I left a message. I called once a week for the next 3 weeks since she was either of town, or I got the answering machine. I felt dumb but really wanted to reconnect. On the final call, I said that just in case she had missed the previous calls I was leaving my last and final message. Didn’t hear a word. I was bummed, but chalked it up to my usual bad luck with women. I’d actually been in a similar situation a few months before where I was getting signals of interest but no returned phone calls. What killed me the most was how sincere the “I would really like that” has seemed. This rejection served as confirmation that I was better off not making the effort to start a relationship since I was just going to get rejected anyhow. I shouldn’t have gone back and asked for her number, it would have been safer to just leave with the memory of having a really nice night talking with her and my friends. Oh well. I resigned myself to not meeting anyone, and it didn’t seem to matter since I would be graduating in a few months.

Those months passed. As part of graduating we had to attend “Loan Exit Interviews”. It was an informational session about loan repayments and deferments options. I chose a date at random, and got there early. About 10 minutes in the girl I had met at the party walked in. I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t find her attractive anymore but it didn’t work. I then decided that I was not going to go up to her(why get rejected twice?) and wait for her to leave before I did. That didn’t work either. She stood at the foot of the seats while everyone was leaving and seemed to be jotting down information. She stopped me and flashed a smile and said my name as if questioning her memory. I hadn’t forgotten hers, but I played dumb. We talked and talked all the way back to campus. In the interim since our first meeting we had both independently decided to move to the same city(far from where we currently were). She remembers me using a golf umbrella as a cane, and I remember her eyes and mouth (and this overwhelming desire to kiss her). We came to a junction on campus where we split ways, and this time I gave her my number(I wasn’t about to get rejected twice!). I wasn’t sure what to expect but she called a few days later and we talked a lot during the next couple of weeks before we went on our first date, the rest is history.

Recalling this story is interesting. I don’t go into the cold sweats I used to reliving all the events that led to us meeting; the encounter with my friend at the coffee shop, waiting at the metro stop, the chance encounter at the loan exit interview. I used to wonder, what if I had given up on reaching my friends via the payphone? I didn’t sit in the metro station for as long as I did because I felt that there was a larger purpose or something important was going to happen. Rather, I didn’t have anything better to do, and I was feeling a bit stubborn and sorry for myself. What if she hadn’t gotten up earlier than usual to go that specific exit interview? From the beginning of our dating it felt so right and meant to be. Despite the distance from the cold sweats, so many things aligned perfectly for us to meet that it still seems scary. Our relationship was the first time that the idea of fate or synchronicity seemed remotely possible.

I am also reminded that taking risks and being disappointed is often necessary to achieve greater things. If I hadn’t sat at the metro station for as long as I did or if I hadn’t asked for her number I might have avoided the disappointment of not having her call me back. However, I wouldn’t have met what I truly consider the closest possible thing to a “soul mate”. I think I need to keep that in mind in regards to other aspects of my life. I tend to minimize my exposure to risk or failure and I think that gives me a sense of safety but it’s very shortsighted. What other great things in my life am I missing out on because it’s too scary to fail?

What I also feel in recounting this story is the joy and lightness and warmth that we had when we first met. It’s like a getting a whiff of a perfume and instantly being transported to a different time or place or really having a vivid memory of someone. For me our story is a whiff of the excitement and discovery that we had getting to know each other and also a reminder that my wife is such amazing and stunning person. Going back to when we first met helps distance me from the stress of our lives now and reminds me that she is her own person with her own dreams and longings. Remembering she is separate from me makes her more real and precious and makes me desire her even more. It reminds me how much I love and appreciate her and how I cannot imagine my life without her. It makes me want to treat her as I did when we first met, and be more happy to do things for her rather than bitch and moan when she asks me to get something or I have to interrupt whatever I am doing(especially when I am tired).

So to my wife, I love you so much more than I can ever tell or show you and despite all the stress and craziness I love my life with you. And to all the players involved in us meeting, I’m eternally grateful.

My teacher?

Infrared Daughter

The illnesses continue! My older daughter is beginning to get better, her cough isn’t as constant as it was, and she doesn’t turn as red when she does cough. However my younger daughter is now going through it. Over the weekend she developed pink eye and an ongoing fever. Today we found out that she has 1) Pneumonia 2) each ear has an infection and 3) hives! It’s gotten to the point that even though I was up every hour last night and am quite sleep deprived, I still find this so absurd that I have to laugh. Maybe it should be “because” I’m so sleep deprived rather than “even though” But seriously, when things get so over the top (and no one is horribly suffering) what else can I do? In more upbeat news I fixed my modified infrared camera.. For sometime it wouldn’t see anything when I tried to take pictures, I could look at old ones on the screen but any new ones would come out black.  I think the CCD cables were loose. I was so happy to get it working again, I had already started scoping out replacement cameras to dismantle and modify. The cover photo for this post is my older daughter shot with that camera, still a little sick.

It’s interesting seeing how differently the girls behave when they are sick or at least run down. My younger one gets a little destructive when she’s not feeling well and she appears much more withdrawn than usual, she also gets a little defiant but nothing major. She’ll tell us that something hurts, but she doesn’t really complain or put on as big of a show as my older daughter. My older one complains to no end about the slightest pain, to put it bluntly she whines a lot, and also tends to get really obstinate or defiant and act out.

Whining is always annoying but I’ve noticed this past week that when I’m tired whining REALLY bugs me. But what gets me even more worked up is when my older daughter starts yelling and becomes defiant. When I’m reasonably rested I can tolerate it to some degree, it still really upsets me, but I manage to keep it under control. However, if I’m already in a bad mood, the defiance and yelling trigger something deep in me. It is a huge task to stay calm, to not get aggressive with her. A few months ago during one of her screaming-and-kicking hold-the-door time-outs I got so upset that I threw the door open, restrained her and got right up in her face and yelled at her to stop it. She was kind of freaked out and crying and my wife had to go in and calm her down. I was too upset that night to apologize, and the next day she was telling her teacher that I had yelled at her and scared her. I apologized the next day for losing control and scaring her. I don’t like the way I acted and it really scared me that I could get so worked up. I guess what most bugs me about all this is that I get so deeply resentful when she acts this way. She’s just a 5 year old who is prone to tantrums and acting out. I actually just ran across an article talking about things we can still teach girls to empower them in the future. It’s an interesting problem because I really want to empower her, to have her feel free to express her emotions and act against injustices and I want her to grow up not being afraid to act out because she is a woman. However, gender aside, when that acting out is against me it’s so hard to take.

I think I have such a hard time with her acting out, because I learned early on that it was not okay for me to act out or have strong emotions. I still remember being put into a cold shower with all my clothes for “being out of control” when I was 6 or 7. I don’t remember what the issue was but even years later my parents just said I was too upset or worked up. Later, while coming into puberty I started having fights with my dad. They weren’t full on punching fights, but more an aggressive and angry wrestling. Once, coming back from the mountains my dad and I started fighting over leg room in the back seat. This was before the super strict child seat laws so my sister was up front with my mom. It got heated and my mom pulled over so my dad could drive, so as to separate us. I was so upset that I jumped out of the car and ran up an abandoned off-ramp. My mom had to eventually coax me down back to the car. At another point I was watching TV in my parent’s room and my dad came and grabbed the remote and changed the channel. I got mad and tried to take it back. We ended up once again in an angry aggressive wrestling match. My mom came in screaming at my dad to knock it off and tried to break us up. She ended up with a sprained wrist, and I was sent to my room. I jumped out the window and ran away for several hours until my dad found me and asked me to come home. I still remember my sister crying in her window watching me ride away on my bike. The other incident I still remember is my dad trying to talk to me during a camping trip. I don’t remember the details, but I must have done some earlier in the day and he wanted to talk to me about it. I kept saying no, or repeating something contrary to what he was saying and he got fed up and punched me in the mouth. I didn’t bleed but it hurt and really scared me.

It wasn’t until I saw my first therapist during graduate school that I even considered that what my parents had done wasn’t okay. I had always figured that was how one dealt with an “out of control” child and that I had deserved it. But I now realize that my parents probably learned at an early age as well that it was not okay to have really strong reactions or to appear out of control in any way. I also find it interesting that my dad was acting in such a childish manner. You’d think that a grown adult could handle an unruly child in a better way. However, I can see that it’s only a small step between restraining a child and fighting over a remote control or leg space or punching someone in the mouth.
What I think I am working on these days is learning that is okay for me to have strong emotions or to get worked up at times. How that gets channeled is important, but I think in the long run it’ll be healthier than trying to bottle everything up. It’s amazing to see my older daughter who really has no problems with that at all. She is very free in her emotions and behaviors, even if it does annoy me at times. I guess my other work is finding out how to teach her to respect her emotions and not make her scared to let people know what she feels, but also how to deal with it as a parent. I think she, and her sister, have a lot to teach me.

Back up for air(for now)

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Okay, I’m back. As my last post may indicate, last week was not so good. Between a lack of sleep brought on by my younger daughter’s never-ending cold, a resistant older daughter who refused to go to sleep for three nights in a row (and each night ended up in a room with me holding the door shut while she screamed and kicked for about half an hour), and who incidentally is still coughing, a snapping and irritable wife, and then stupid stuff like my multimeter malfunctioning and my car having issues, I kind of short circuited. I tried to follow some of the tips from my (man)bag of tricks but either they didn’t help or I couldn’t expend the energy to try hard enough. I walked down to the beach during my lunch break which normally helps, but I was still in such a foul mood. The “killed by muggers fantasy” that I mentioned is a reoccurring one in which I get held up at gun point and rather than hand my wallet or whatever over I just start screaming at them to kill me since I hate my life anyways. The idea behind this is that suicide makes it harder for the family to collect life insurance (though not impossible) and in my low states I see my only worth as the money life insurance would provide my family. Anyways, what was interesting was that the previous weekend and beginning of the week had gone so well. I was actually going to post on how having a concrete task or goal (at work at least) really made me feel good. After the depression kicked in nothing really helped until I attended a social event later in the week.

The beginning of the week was such a contrast. I had been very focused at work the prior weekend and into Tuesday preparing a presentation for a conference being held this past weekend. Everything involved in preparing the presentation such as generating figures from the data, making videos, editing the presentation slides etc, made me feel like I had some purpose. A lot of my issues at work stem from feeling so inadequate compared to my co-workers. I don’t seem to have the same drive or perseverance in coming up with new ideas and implementing them. I also don’t seem to have an expertise. Most of my duties fall in the support realm; at times I think I am just an overpaid technologist. Not knocking the technologists, they do a lot of work and have to put up with inane management decisions but it’s not my job title. I’m supposed to be investigating more, coming up with new ideas, creating new things. To repeat, I feel inadequate compared to my colleagues. I gave my practice talk on Tuesday morning to the group, and was so surprised to get such good feedback. I don’t know what I was expecting, and I’m generally confident on my public speaking abilities, but the critiques were minor and well thought out and people really seemed to like it. After that I was feeling capable and confident for once. Maybe I was a good speaker! Maybe I could do science! Maybe I do enjoy what I am doing!

That warm glow faded by the time I got home due to all the craziness. I’ve mentioned this before but I don’t do well when the kids are sick. A controlled experiment in which the kids are sick but I get enough sleep would be interesting, but back here on Earth, I have a hard time handling it. When adults are sick, there is much less whining involved, well usually, and especially if you don’t count me. Okay scratch that, we just seem to get sick less often. Also with my kids, I usually feel useless. They don’t stop crying when I wake up to tend to them, so that forces my wife to get up, which makes her more tired , which eventually leads to her snapping at me, which makes me feel worse, which leads me to make snide comments, which makes my wife angrier. It’s a lovely cycle.

It’s now a few days after the conference and I’m doing better. The conference was in our city, so the night before it started a colleague hosted a dinner at her house with our group and some visiting ones. There was good company, absolutely amazing wine and food and the view was pretty insane too. I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen for awhile. It was fun. My talk went well (I was the only one in the group to give an oral presentation) and I got some good feedback and interest from people outside our group. Also breaking up the normal routine and being at home so little made me appreciate my kids again. I even(wait for it!) initiated sex with my wife on Sunday night! We both commented on how when we have sex we remember how good we are together, but we are usually too stressed or tired to get around to it. It was nice to feel connected for a short while at least.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. The obvious points for me are that having a very clear task on hand at work makes me feel much better. I tend to enjoy and do at least a decent job of public speaking. I am able to miss and appreciate my family when I am away from them for at least two days. Also, doing something social with people I know seems to help, perhaps it’s feeling connected that does it. I’m actually going to add that to my tricks list.

Unfortunately it seems my wife now is coughing and is tired and stressed, so I’m already noticing a decline in my mood. Since I’m not deep into depression yet(really don’t want to get mugged), and I’m getting some more sleep I’ll see if some of the (man)bag tricks help. I hope so, since I don’t have a conference to escape to this time around.