Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Which I Advise Those Who Will Come After Me

I was naive going into this. I admit that. I thought that being the wife of a grad student would be simple. Sure, I anticipated a few changes. I knew that I would have to proofread the occasional paper. I knew that the hubby would usually have to study during our evening coffee dates, but I looked forward to this as a chance to catch up on all the classic literature I missed in college. I imagined myself hosting study parties at our apartment and feeding everyone blondies. (I make very good blondies.) I imagined everyone asking for my blondie recipe.

So far, no one has asked for my blondie recipe. 

I imagine that I am not the only person seeing her spouse through graduate school. In the spirit of solidarity, then, let me offer these five handy tips for surviving the long years ahead:

1. Learn the lingo. This is important. The hubby and I used to have conversations that went like this:

Hubby: ...and the anterior shakes on the Dutchman's joints appeared bilaterally spliced between the midsection and crossbeam, and, as Higgins notes, the brick facade is fundamentally unstable without the stretcher bond touchpointing the spall.
Me: Erm. Can you chop that mango for me?

But after a month or so we had this conversation, of which I am not proud:

Hubby: I'm free Saturday after I get back from field recordation and condition assessment for stabilization at the Watson-Price barn.
Me: The...meh? The what?
Hubby: I've been doing this for two weeks. Remember?
Me: Is that where you're trying to save the barn that they should totally just tear down because it's an eyesore?
Hubby: I'm getting the feeling that you're not particularly invested in my chosen field of study.
Me: Erm. Smoochies?

So I'm working on learning the lingo, because I like knowing what my husband's talking about. I know what a a jalousie window is and where to find it (trailer parks, mostly) and I know that lamb's tongue has nothing to do with soft fluffy animals. I'm still mostly quiet when he's talking about school, but now when I say "Erm" it's an educated erm.

2. Expect to cook a lot of dinners and do a lot of dishes and wash a lot of laundry. I imagine that spouseless grad students just let the dishes and laundry pile up until the end of the term, at which point they burn it all. I see no other option: there simply isn't time in the graduate schedule to allow for normal domestic activities. As the spouse, if you don't want to reside in a hovel you're going to have to take on a bit more than your fifty-percent share of the housework.

Your spouse will feel guilty about this. Every time he thanks you and apologizes for not being able to help, tell him it's your joy and you love being able to help him out. And then, at the end of the term, when exams are in the past and he's had his first good night's sleep in three months, he'll cook you a nice dinner. There will probably be candles. This makes all the laundry worthwhile.

3. There will not be much you can do to help. Get over it now. You can't do the reading and you can't take notes and you can't do the detailed architectural drawings (well, you can, but you will do them wrong). You will wake up at three in the morning and realize that your spouse hasn't come to bed yet because he's still trying to churn out a paper and you will want with every ounce of your being to take some of the load off his shoulders. You can't. You can't even format his footnotes for him because his program uses an incredibly counterintuitive style you've never heard of before.

I may be alone in the desire to format my husband's footnotes.

4. Grad student housing sucks. It's best to get over this quickly. You will dream of drapes. You will imagine all the colors you could paint your walls if you were allowed to paint. You will spend untold hours on Pinterest lusting after the floorplan you can't have. You will wish desperately for a puppy, but the only allowable pets have gills. You will fantasize about having closets with doors on them. You will think about someday, maybe, having neighbors who don't store their trash outside their front door. (Also pans full of grease.)

The day for drapes will come. For now, just be glad you have a door that locks.

5. Remember it will end. This is the hardest part--especially on this side of summer, when the hubby will have an internship 3,000 miles away. But I keep trusting that, as always, many years from now I'll look back on this time and be amazed that it went so quickly.

Well, maybe not quickly. But it sure can't last forever. Until then, I'll keep working on this blondie recipe. Because even if I don't get an honorary master's degree out of this, I will at least keep my family well fed. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In Which the Government Gets My Money, Even Though I Don't Feel Like They're Doing a Particularly Good Job Representing Me

Here is what it's like to do taxes in high school:

Collect W2 from employer. Give it to Dad. Dad says, "Cool, I'll take care of that." Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes in college: 

Collect W2 from employer. Lose it in stack of papers. Two months later, panic and turn desk inside out looking for it. Succeed. Give it to Dad. Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes as a newlywed:

Collect W2s from employers. Add up the two numbers. Write numbers on forms and send forms to government. Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes when you have one job but that job involves the occasional speaking engagement and you have one W2 but about eight miscellaneous income forms from the different groups you spoke to and your husband is a graduate student and he was a non-resident for the first term of the year and he has a lot of receipts for school-related expenses like books and protractors and and you also moved across the country and have about a thousand receipts documenting the move:

Collect every piece of paper you have touched in the past year. Have a glass of wine. Regard papers. Wonder what would happen if you wrote a letter to the IRS saying "How about we just call it even this year?" Have a cookie. Compose letter. Show letter to husband. Giggle manically while husband deletes letter. Call H&R Block and try not to sound too hysterical on the phone. Resolve to become a hermit next year.

We know what would be easier? We could make taxes proportional to how well we feel the government's done. I'm happy to pay my state and local taxes this year, for example. The roads aren't too pothole-y and the trash is always picked up on time. The state parks are well maintained and they're always careful to post warnings when someone has been mauled by a bear recently. Congress, however, reached an unprecedented level of incompetence this year, and I just don't trust them with my money. 

If you need me at any point in the next week, I can be found on my couch amidst a pile of papers and file folders and ballpoint pens and paper clips and post-it notes, wishing that we were still on the feudal system and I could satisfy my debt to the government (or benevolent overlord) with a few sheaves of wheat and my daughter's hand in marriage. Wish me luck. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Which I Make Plans and Abandon Them

I have this friend.

I met her in college. We were both eighteen, but she was already so much older. It was like she was the dorm mother, always there to wipe a tear, always ready to make you a big pot of tea and listen to your sorrows. And she was a great cook. (Still is.) It's funny to think of dorm and hospitality in the same breath, but somehow she managed it.

I had different priorities. I was planning to work for the International Justice Mission at the time. I was working on my French and was certain I'd be using it in international development. I wanted to be important. I wanted to do something big, something that would make a measurable difference in the world. I remember telling a group of friends that I was more interested in planning my career than dreaming about marriage and children.

We got older. My friend travelled. She learned languages. And while she was doing that, I settled down and got married.

Priorities change.

Perspectives shift.

I can't tell you where my friend is today--it would, quite literally, compromise her safety. She's working for peace and she's working for justice and she's working for the restoration of all things. The global community will be stronger, more vibrant because of her life. Whenever I talk to her I tell her to be safe, and I tell her that she's free to come live in my neighborhood so we can swap lasagna recipes and have Christmas present wrapping parties. And I feel like I'm telling Joan of Arc to stay home and churn the butter.

And me? I live in a valley not far from the mountains. I share my life with my husband, and our hopes for the future are for children, pets, a backyard with lots of trees and maybe a creek, and a loaf of bread in the oven. I pray that our home will ring with the laughter of good friends. That's it.

I have a quiet life.

And I can't imagine being happier. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't want this, and not for the world would I trade my life for my friend's. Nor would she trade hers for mine. In spite of our best-laid plans, I think we've both ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

How's that for happy endings?