Making adjustments

I have been absent from this space for some months now and I apologize for that. I have an excuse: I am a newlywed. I can only use that excuse for another four months, so I shall make the most of it.

Having been married previously (and for some time), I have learned that marriage is all about making adjustments, and the first year or so is the most dramatic. This time around is a unique experience as well in that Shari and I are both in our forties and pretty much set in our ways. We knew this going in and had prepared ourselves for the challenges of adjusting our lives around each other.

The first big adjustment was moving in together, which we accomplished a year and a half ago. I was living in an apartment, and Shari owned a two-bedroom condominium, so there was no question of who was going to move in with whom. The challenge was determining how to combine two fully-furnished domiciles of roughly equivalent size. This was one of our first opportunities as a couple to combine our respective skills on a major project. Shari, a planner by trade, was able to work out the entire logistical plan and move schedule. My contribution was to stand in the center of the living room and whimper softly.

Okay, that’s not strictly true. I was also required to answer many yes/no questions, and I was solely responsible for addressing the issue of the wasp nest I discovered inside my gas grill, a process which took about three days to complete. My best time for running the length of the deck and slamming the screen door behind me was 2.25 seconds.

The move itself involved marking roughly half of my stuff for storage and the rest for Shari’s condo. We would load everything destined for storage into the rear of the moving truck, with the “keeper” stuff in front. Next, we’d travel to Shari’s place, unload the front half of my stuff, and reload the truck with all the stuff she was moving to storage. Finally, we’d drive to the storage facility and unload the entire truck.

My apartment was on the second floor and everything would have to come down a narrow flight of stairs. Shari’s condo was on the fifth floor of an elevator building at the far end of the hall. The storage area was inside a climate-controlled structure, about fifty yards from the front entrance. Nothing was located conveniently for truck access. Shari had called the moving company and warned them that this was going to be a complicated, multi-point move. The message apparently was never passed along to the movers themselves, three unfailingly friendly Mexican fellows who, I’m sure, still have nightmares about that afternoon. They showed up expecting a two-hour job, total. It took over two hours just to unload my apartment. The whole move took over six hours.

The process of getting everything situated now became the most daunting challenge. It was a good six months before most things were in place, and of course, we are still adjusting here and there. Our place is functional but crowded, the best we can do given the square footage we have. But what I found most amazing about the process of moving in together was Shari’s willingness to accommodate me and my stuff. When it comes right down to it, even the most passionate, eloquent declaration of undying love is really nothing more than words. When a woman willingly surrenders half her closet space to you, you may as well head straight for the jewelry store, because that shit is for real.

The adjustments, however, were just beginning. The building’s water heater broke down during our first winter together and had to be replaced, which meant more than a few cold showers. The condo was lacking a number of conveniences I had enjoyed in my apartment. I’d given up my in-unit washer and dryer for a coin-op laundry room on the first floor. More significantly, I’d gone from central air to window air conditioners and baseboard radiators.

Let me take a moment to provide some background on our climate control challenges. We live on the top floor, so in the summer, the sun beats down on the roof and we have to run the air conditioners almost continuously. Now that winter is here, we are running the air conditioners…less often.

The problem is that we have virtually no control over the heat. There is a control knob on our living room radiator that we have turned down to the lowest possible setting above completely off. We cannot turn it off because we are at the end of the line and we’d knock out heat to the entire floor, which would require a bleeding of the line to restore.

Knocking out the heat for the entire floor is not an option because the median age of the residents in our building is about 114. In the winter, they like the room temperature to be as close to their age as possible. So in addition to the heat from our own radiators, we get plenty of ambient heat from the units below us. On a day when the temperature is in the twenties or below, we’re fine. However, if we get a freak heat wave that pushes the outside temperature up toward forty, we are screwed. We can have every window in the place wide open and the indoor temperature won’t go below 74 degrees.

I don’t sleep well unless I can get the bedroom temperature under 65. So unless there’s a decent breeze and I can get a cross-draft going, I have to turn on the bedroom A/C. I have it on at this moment as I finish editing this post. Windows open, no breeze, 28 degrees outside and 70 inside.

Naturally, conditions often change overnight. The temperature will drop or the wind will pick up, and before I know it, we’re down in the low fifties, indicated by the presence of a cat-shaped lump under the comforter that bites you if you try to push it out of the way. Some nights I have to get up two or three times to make adjustments.

At every opportunity, I made sure that Shari was acutely aware of all the “sacrifices” I’d made to move in with her. Understand that one of my family’s favorite pastimes was recreational complaining. The rules stated that it had to be done in a teasing and/or humorous manner, and so long as that requirement was met, the sky was the limit. So when we’d meet up with friends and so forth, I’d hold court about how difficult my life was now and how much I’d given up just to come live with this woman. Shari was always a good sport about this, and our friends got a kick out of my feigned indignation.

I remember one evening in particular after we were married. Shari was sitting up in bed watching TV after a miserable day at work and just looked so forlorn and unhappy. My first instinct was to congratulate myself for not being the source of her misery. But after a few minutes I had another impulse — a bit of insight, perhaps, and it occurred to me that I could do something to make her feel a little better.

I sat on the bed next to her and stroked her forehead. She kissed my hand and looked up at me.

“I’ve been thinking about something,” I began. “It occurred to me that I spend a lot of time teasing you and your friends about how much I gave up to move in with you. You do understand that I never meant any of it, right?”

She nodded.

“Well, just the same, I don’t feel like doing it anymore, even if I think I can still squeeze some laughs out of it. This place isn’t perfect, but it has one feature that trumps everything else, something I never had in my life before. It has you. And as long as you’re here, I’m not missing out on anything. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

When you have lived with someone a long time, or when you take an accelerated path to that same level of comfort as Shari and I have, there is a tendency to assume that your partner always knows exactly what you are thinking and can divine your intentions accordingly. I have been guilty of this in the past and in the present. Adjusting in this case means that sometimes you have to say exactly what you are feeling, if only because the other person needs to hear it said out loud.

In case our ability and willingness to make adjustments hasn’t been tested enough during the rest of the year, along about now comes the holiday season and all it entails. Now you have to accommodate not just the needs and traditions of your partner but your new extended family as well.

The big tree doesn’t fit in the living room any more because of all our stuff, so we scaled back to the three-foot tabletop tree. Naturally, you can’t fit all of the ornaments on the little tree, so a process of negotiation and elimination ensues. We worked it all out quite well without resorting to fisticuffs or passive-aggressive sniping. But the issue of holiday family obligations has exposed how different our respective traditions and expectations are.

My parents are both divorced and remarried, and my younger sister is married with three young children. Then add in-laws to the mix. That adds up to four separate families to schedule. I’ve spent my entire adult life running hither and yon in an effort to see everyone over some portion of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and I’m used to doing that.

Shari, on the other hand, has a mostly intact extended family and has never been married before, so her holidays have always been easy to plan and stress-free. She has not yet acceded to her obligations as a newly inducted member of the Pontillo Family Flying Circus.

Frankly, I don’t blame her. It’s a lot easier to spend the holidays with one family and follow them around from event to event, as opposed to my system.

  • Assign a point value to each day* as follows:
    • Major holidays (New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day) = 5 points each
    • New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve = 4 points each
    • Friday after Thanksgiving = 3 points
    • Easter Saturday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and December 23 = 2 points each
    • Weekend after Thanksgiving = 1 point
  • force break
  • Schedule holiday time with the four family units, each of which scores the designated number of points for whichever day you are able to spend with them. (Overlap is crucial.)
  • force break
  • At the end of the year, if you have planned well, each family unit will have close to the same number of points scored. The lowest scoring family unit must receive first dibs for the holiday of their choice in the following year.

Technically, my system could also cover birthdays and anniversaries, but I would have been institutionalized by now if I’d attempted such a thing.

My wishes to you all for a safe, enjoyable, and uncomplicated holiday season.

*Yes, this system assumes the Christian holidays, because it’s my system. Feel free to adapt this to Hanukkah or Eid al-Fitr as necessary.

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