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Can you answer this question honestly?

17 May

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I have a question. I know it’s none of my business but I really want to know. It’s not an easy question to answer. Normally when someone asks you this question your instinct is to lie. Sometimes it catches you off guard.

Sometimes you drive yourself crazy asking it of yourself.

To me it is THE question. It’s the only one that matters. Achievements, accomplishments, money, family, friends and possessions aside…none of it matters when it comes to this.

Okay, here it is…

Are you happy?

I know, annoying right? Are you happy. Is anyone happy? What does it mean to be happy? Is happiness even a goal? Is being in a constant state of happiness achievable?

To me, happiness is not a state of being. Happiness is a feeling. It comes and goes, like sadness and anger. So to ask someone if they are happy is a false choice. Happy vs unhappy. I don’t believe either of these is possible as a constant.

I’ve annoyed you by asking the question so I’ll show how I deal with it. I’ll ask myself and you’ll understand why I think it’s a silly question to ask.

Am I happy?

No.

Happy isn’t how I’d describe myself. Satisfied? Yes. Fulfilled? Yes. Happy? No.

Happiness comes and goes. I have moments of happiness. It comes and goes. I’ve felt happy several times today and then I’ve felt sad, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed, cranky, lonely…

I go through so many feelings more than once each day. This is normal.

I am happy with individual things. I’m happy with work but I’m not happy with how cold it is on the bus each morning. I’m happy with my family but I’m not happy with their behaviour at bedtime. I’m happy with my marriage but I’m not happy with how my husband hardly helps out around the home. I’m happy with my home but I’m not happy that we are only renting. I’m happy with how I look but I’m not happy that it seems to be deteriorating at a rate of knots as I approach forty. I’m happy with my health but I’m not happy that it takes me three weeks to recover from exercise-induced-injuries.

So, are you happy?

Or, may I ask, are you satisfied?

We are all a work-in-progress. We are a work-in-progress until we take our last breath. One of the motivating forces for life is the search for happiness. It’s the search, the process, the seeking, the consideration and the hope that makes life worth living and when those moments of happiness come it’s great, when they go we can look forward to the next.

Next question, the last one, I promise.

What do you think it will take to make you happy? We all have something.

To be fair, I’ll go first.

I will be happy when we own our own home again. It’s my current motivation for everything and once we have that home I’ll have another happiness goal that I’ll focus on.

So, what is your happiness goal? I really hope it isn’t a weight goal because trust me, you’ll never be completely satisfied with that. Instead of a specific goal I prefer a weight window – a five kilo window of weight in which you are happy to hover.

Is it a career goal? Have you ever really tried to get the career of your dreams. It’s never too late. I’ve met and interviewed EVERYONE. Trust me when I say anyone can be anything and you can STILL achieve your secret dream.

Is your happiness goal financial. Come up with a plan. Financial goals are great, especially when you can see exactly how to get there and be confident in your process.

Do you want to get married or have kids? I have seen people jump through some incredible hoops to achieve these. Nothing should stand in your way. Never give up. Never.

It’s Friday night. The weekend looms. Tomorrow is ultra-busy and I won’t be happy as we race around cramming it all in. On days like tomorrow when the kids have more activities than I do in a week, I consider myself a facilitator of happiness. I facilitate my children’s happiness. At night once it’s all done I’ll be happy that the day went well. Then that feeling will go and be replaced with fatigue or another fleeting feeling.

I have a project for you. This weekend think about your happiness goals. What are they? Don’t be afraid. Say them, at least to yourself. Write them down even. Because they are worth it. They are achievable. And you too can be the happiest you can be.

Then, when someone asks you, “Are you happy?” you can say, “I’m as happy as I can be, thanks. And you?”

La Dolce Vita,
Jo Abi

Why it’s important to put the loo paper on the actual toilet roll holder

11 Jan

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I have a pretty damn-near perfect marriage. I love my husband and he loves me. He is the one I think of when love songs are played on the radio. We still hold hands. I picture us growing old together. We feel like we’re part of a special love story…

Except every morning when I wake up my first thought about him is ‘lazy bastard’ because every morning without fail he chooses not to put the toilet paper on the actual holder. Instead he props it up on top of the holder, on top of the empty roll. It’s infuriating.

Each morning when I wake up the first thing I do I stumble to the toilet so I am starting every day with a negative thought about him. Why isn’t it on the holder? Why couldn’t he be bothered to do that for me? Is he that lazy? Am I asking too much? Is he in a rush? Is that what he thinks of me – I’m the toilet paper holder fixer and he’s just so busy and important that he can’t take half a second to do it himself????

Still, I shouldn’t complain. Until recently he didn’t bother to get a new roll at all. I can’t tell you how many times I went running for the toilet in the morning only to find no toilet paper. Legs clutched together I’d run to the cupboard, retrieve a roll and barely make it back to the toilet in time. This is when I’d ring him and the first conversation we’d have each day is me calling him an ‘inconsiderate prick’ for not replacing the toilet paper when he used the last of it and if he wasn’t going to replace the toilet paper he needn’t bother coming home!!!

He came home after the first of these early morning ear-bashings and we greeted each other hesitantly before laughing and kissing each other hello properly. I explained again why it was such a big issue for me. I explained that the first thing I do each morning is use the toilet and if there is no toilet paper or a roll haphazardly placed on top of the empty roll it makes me think he doesn’t care about me or my comfort, that he is lazy and selfish because he doesn’t think beyond his own needs and doesn’t consider the fact that the next person might need toilet paper or toilet paper on the roll for easy use.

He explained that he doesn’t think that far ahead, that the consequences of not putting the toilet roll on the actual holder doesn’t enter his head as he gets ready for work each day but now that he knows how important it is to me he’ll make more of an effort.

I know half of you are nodding vigorously right now and the other half (not married and still in the ‘my boyfriend always puts the toilet paper on the holder’ stage) are shaking their heads saying, ‘I’m never going to put up with that. My partner will be way more considerate than Jo’s husband.’ Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘So what Jo? He works full time so you don’t have to so if he forgets to put the toilet paper on the actual holder, just do it you whiny nag’.

To each of you I say there is a ‘toilet roll holder’ issue in each of your relationships. This is the one that annoys the hell out of me. Yours could be that your partner leaves toast crumbs all through the butter, or maybe he takes the washing down from the line but doesn’t fold it so it becomes all wrinkly. She might eat all the chocolate after you’ve gone to bed or fall asleep in front of the TV. Why can’t she just turn it off and come to bed like a normal woman? Must I shake her away, be snapped at and get her to bed every night?

And so the wheels of our relationships keep on turning. Now most days when I wake up with a fresh roll of toilet paper carefully and considerately placed on the toilet roll holder I think, ‘He loves me.’ It’s my first thought each day. Now I feel loved and in love until at least 10am when I discover he has eaten all the Ben and Jerry’s (all of it you greedy pig) or has pointedly ignored the rubbish bag I tied up and left at the front door so he could throw it out on his way to work. I’d do it myself but there is a mega-scary night time spider that now lives over our garbage bins from around 9pm each night.

I’ve always been told and I’ve always believed that it’s the little things that make a relationship work. Also, actions speak louder than words. I might be stretching to think that no toilet paper means ‘I don’t love you’ and new toilet paper means ‘See how much I love you?” But I believe it to be true.

Just like my eternal search for his favourite Yoplait full-fat Strawberry Yoghurt continues (why is it always sold out!) and why I make sure my children each have their favourite biscuits (Nice for Philip, Teddy Bears for Giovanni, Scotch Finger for Caterina). It’s how I say ‘I love you too.’ It’s how I say, ‘I think of you even when you’re not with me.’

I am not a morning person

6 Dec

Sleepy

I am not a morning person. This morning at 4.50am I was trying to set up my computer for work through a sleepy haze when my husband sang out “Good morning hon” and before I knew what I was saying I said, “Fuck of”. Whoops.

He was so offended but I’m sorry, my brain isn’t awake yet let alone my thought-to-mouth filter. It’s like truth serum. He could have asked me anything I would have accidentally told the truth. This has happened to me once before when I was working in breakfast radio. I’d had a particularly bad sleep the night before and I was sitting at my computer trying to remember where the ‘on’ button was when my perky-that-morning co-host skipped in and asked, “Do you like my new shirt”? I glanced over at his frilly black number and said, “No, I don’t” and then turned back to my computer and got to work.

He didn’t speak to me for almost an hour.

Thankfully my husband is a. forgiving and b. a quick learner because he is now making no attempts and early morning conversation and is giving me a wide berth. Oh wait. He just came in and asked if I’m “feeling any better”. I’m just going to ignore him and keep on typing. Oh good, he’s walked away. I was going to throw something at him. Much easier than explaining that I prefer to be left alone in the morning. He should know this…I’ve been this way for a solid fourteen years that he’s known me!

I have never been a morning person. Even getting up ten minutes earlier than I absolutely have to leaves me feeling groggy all day. I prefer to wake up naturally (at around 7am) but for the next two months my wake up time will be 4.45am. After getting up to the kids seventeen times at night (Mum, I’m thirsty, Mum, I need the toilet, Mum, I’m not covered) I feel a bit like I’m severely jet-lagged and I look a lot like a homeless man.

It doesn’t make sense. I’m not a night person either. If I’m bored I’m happy to go to bed early instead of party all night. But by the time I’ve finished my uni work or any other work I have, picked up all the crackers from off the rug, cleaned up after dinner and gotten the kids asleep, it’s usually quite late.

I’m just trying to take each day as it comes.

The first morning of this dreaded shift my husband kindly asked if I would like him to boil the kettle. I shook my head rudely. I just didn’t have the strength to explain that if I made coffee now it would just sit there untouched because I was too tired to lift the cup and drink it. Plus my stomach didn’t really appreciate anything being placed inside it until at least 6am when I usually become ravenously hungry and needed peanut butter toast and then the coffee to wash the peanut butter off my teeth before I attempt to talk on the phone for work.

It’s a tough life.

I know, I’m grateful to be employed and I wanted this work and in about thirty minutes I’ll be pretty perky myself. But it would be great if those who leap out of bed like jack rabbits (another issue) could bugger off while I try and remember where I am, my name, my age and what I’m meant to be doing this morning.

Must wake up, must wake up (slapping myself).

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

How to pay off your credit cards

13 Apr

Recently I’ve been asked how I got my family out of debt. After losing our business and home in the financial crisis we were left with personal debt from credit cards to the tune of $32,000 from three cards.

After losing our business and home our funds were limited. We’d also borrowed money from two family members. We thought everything would be sorted and the loans would be short term. Nothing was ever sorted and we were faced with the humiliation of losing everything and having to start all over again. But we had our health and we were both employable. I got a job straight away and my husband followed suit a few months later after he realised that no amount of fighting with the bank would change anything.

I had to take over the budget. My husband’s new job was very demanding and mine was part time. I’d never been good with money in the past. Even saying that makes me feel stupid. Being good with money isn’t a choice. It isn’t something that can happen these days. We have to be good with money. We have to be smart. We have to know where every cent is spent because every hour we work takes us away from our families, our friends, we make money for companies and it is our money! We are in control.

Credit card debt is a sinister thing. I got my first credit card at nineteen and it had a $300 limit. It’s all I wanted. In the lead up to Christmas they pre-approved me for an increase to $1000 and it would happen unless I contacted them! I let it happen, spent up big on Christmas presents and was in credit card debt from that day on.

Credit card debt isn’t free money but it is invisible to a degree. We spend on credit cards and can push it to one side because our income keeps coming in and it’s up to us how much we put on them.

When my husband and I first started to settle into home life I had three cards and my husband had one big one. We paid off two of mine but we increased the limit on my husband’s card. We had the same level of debt but I just felt better about it because it wasn’t my fault as such.

Debt is easy to amass when you are trying to live a life you simply can’t afford. It adds up when you buy little things here and little things there. Do that most days and you are thousands of dollars in debt.

We moved into an affordable rental home and I sat down with pen ad paper to figure out our budget. Our credit card debt seemed overwhelming. Even paying the minimum only left me with a huge amount of debt. I imagined doing our budget without that debt. It was a dream I was determined to make come true.

We were lucky because everyone knew we’d lost everything so we were allowed to be thrifty for a while. But I still wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. That’s when I found a show on Foxtel called Til Debt Do Us Part. I became obsessed with it. Gail Vaz Oxlade would go into people’s home and work out a budget that would allow them to be debt free in 2-3 years. She never went into a home where she couldn’t work out a debt-free path in this amount of time because she said ‘finance fatigue’ would come into play, people would tire of counting their pennies and start going back to their old ways.

On her website http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/ she had a budget calculator. You could do your entire budget or just your debt. I entered my credit card debt, the interest rates on them and she showed me how much to pay, on which ones and how long it would take to be debt free. It was such a huge relief to see the path. Logically I knew I just had to put money on them but I’d end up putting too much on and then leaving myself short and having to use them again, and then felling upset that I used them and buying myself a pick-me-up. Sound familiar.

So I entered it all, printed it off, sat down with my pen and paper and constructed a weekly budget for my family. I did it weekly because that’s how my husband was paid. Do it to suit whatever pay cycle you are on. Factor in an allowance for each of you so it’s not to depressing, figure out groceries, all your bills. Ring every single provider and beg for a better deal or a reduction, including your credit card companies. Don’t bother consolidating your credit cards. Statistically most people who do this end up back in credit card debt. You have to do the work and feel the pain to solve your credit card problem forever.

There’s so much more to tell you and feel free to ask me questions. The day I made the final payment was one of the best days of my life. I rang my husband immediately. We were debt free. It was better than winning lotto, almost.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

I used to think I was busy

28 Mar

I used to think I was busy. I was looking after my three children, working occasionally, trying to keep up with the housework and my sense of self (both of which seem to cancel the other out). The point is that I was busy, but I still had time to THINK.

This week, I officially don’t have time to think. As I write this I am listening to a uni lecture. I am even making notes. Multi-tasker extraordinaire! My husband is so funny. He wouldn’t dare tell me to say no to extra work and he’ll carefully avoid mentioning his lack of clean work shirts (he’d do them himself if I had time to let him know that I can’t) and he tries not to enrage me at dinner, making sure to let me know that he doesn’t mind toasted sandwiches or last night’s dinner of eggs on toast.

Before you start screaming in feminist outrage, my husband leave for work at 3.30am and doesn’t get home until at least 6.30pm. Crazy hours, a crazy job but the money makes it worth it and I’m meant to take care of the rest so he can get through it all. Sometimes I pack his lunch. Sometimes I fall asleep in the clothes I was wearing that day. When I read stories to the little kids at night I skip a few pages, hoping they won’t notice. My eldest son told me that when he calls me in the middle of the night I look a bit like a monster. Monster-mummy doesn’t like being woken up and because she’s fallen asleep in her clothes and makeup she sure does look like a bit of a monster, in fact a lot of a monster.

Insert your own manic list here but this week I am – having meetings at my son’s school re bullying, having meetings at my son’s school re Trivia Night and the upcoming P & F meeting, meeting up with the committee at my son’s pre-school re my role as Treasurer, trying to keep up with two subjects of my masters degree, working way too much, doing enough housework so we can walk across a room without getting bits of food stuck to our legs and doing enough laundry so we have enough clean clothes although the clean clothes may not be the clothes we want to wear. I went to the doctor where I found out I am anemic and deficient in vitamin D. I’m trying to reduce our family sugar intake to cure my husband’s gout and improve our health overall but we’ve run out of good fruit and the corn I bought has rotted. My friend and I are writing a book together. My email inbox is struggling to cope. I think it needs some vitamins too.

Yes, I know you are screaming at me at the moment. Talk to my sister. She’s been saying this to me several times a week. “You are doing too much”. Yes, I am doing too much because I feel like I am running out of time to do all the things I want to do before I die. But I’m doing everything badly. I’m forgetting basic things like buying night time pants for my son (crucial to a good night sleep for me!), we ran out of toothpaste for the first time in eight years, I sometimes call my children, niece and nephews two or three different names before I get to the right one and I would LOVE to do a hard workout on my cross trainer followed by some girlie pushups and then wash my hair and blow dry it perfectly. Oh, I think I fell asleep for a second and had a mini-dream.

The lecture is finishing. Good. I absorbed enough to fudge my way through this week’s online discussion.

I reached breaking point yesterday afternoon when I realised I’d forgotten to organise my son’s birthday party which is coming up all too soon. I haven’t exercised for days. I feel like crap. Somethings gotta give.

I just said no to more weekday work and it physically hurt to say no because I LOVE my job. I have emailed a lecturer to drop one subject at uni which means it will take me four years instead of two to get my Masters in Creative Writing but at least I’ll actually get it. I’ve contacted a place that will host my son’s birthday party and now need to find time to drop off a deposit. This will help me for now. And perhaps I’ll stick a note on my bedroom wall that says “Say no Jo”. Catchy. Or in the words of my two-year-old daughter, “No mummy work”.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

What happens when parents drop a ball?

4 Feb

Each day my alarm goes off  at 6am. I hit snooze but I don’t fall back asleep. Those fifteen minutes are spent organising my day. I used to work in radio so my life has a soundtrack and circus music is what I hear during this time. Or that music at the end of Benny Hill. It’s the music of the insanely busy, it’s the music of fun and chaos. The music sounds funny but it’s ominous. What if today is the day that I drop a ball?

Mothers are skilled jugglers. Our brains are designed to allow us to multitask successfully. The male brain is larger than the brain of a woman but the connective tissue between the two sides is larger in a woman. That’s why we can do several things at once. Based on these findings it has been suggested that female children can do a good job of their homework in front of the TV where as male children benefit from silence and space in which to focus and concentrate. I totally agree with this. I do my best work in front of the TV.

School has only been back for one week and I feel like I have been sucked up in a tornado and spat out the other side. And I have help in the form of my amazing older sister. She and I joke that together we make up one complete, functioning person. Our husbands work very long hours and when mine is home it’s like he’s in some sort of stupor. He helps every now and then but without consistency. So out of necessity we have created a schedule that balances perfectly where we share child care, activities, shopping for supplies…we remind each other about mufti days and cake stalls and between us we get everything done and manage to work a little too.

We’ve had slip ups. I crashed her car with our children in it driving back in torrential rain from my son’s birthday party. She and her husband were so calm and forgiving. She started backing out of the driveway once before my son had a chance to climb into her car. I yelled, she braked and we were both left laughing because trying to get my son to climb in the car before starting a conversation with his cousins via the open window is always a challenge. I once forgot my son in my car at her house. We do this thing where we count our kids quickly and often to make sure they are all accounted for. I did the count as we started making coffee and realised what I had done. He’d only been in the car for two minutes but I felt dreadful. My daughter managed to wrap herself up is a tube in the backyard around her neck and I found her when I arrived to pick the kids up. Each day after they are in bed I am surprised and relieved they are all happy, safe and in one piece.

My sister and I have become really good at moving forward when it comes to the kids. Some days we yell, some days were are disorganised, some days we buy fast food for dinner and some days we feel resentful. These are our feelings, they are normal and they are fleeting because we mostly feel so blessed and lucky to have our families and each other. I love how close I am to my niece and nephews. I love how I go to work knowing my children are with her and are being cared for just as good if not better than they would be with me. I would give up everything for my children and my niece and nephews but thanks to my sister I don’t have to. She is the reason all my balls are still in the air and I hope I help her with hers.

Motherhood is a juggling act. I always thought my husband would be standing next to me catching the balls I dropped but he is one of the balls I am juggling, and the person catching the balls I drop is my sister.

Oh my gosh I feel like crying. This blog was meant to be a witty insight into the chaos of motherhood and has turned into an ode to my sister. I have two sisters and my other sister is about to have her first baby. I look at her and I am so happy for her but so relieved it’s not me. It was so hard in the beginning. Motherhood is now a well-oiled machine for me. It will be for her eventually and luckily we can help her figure it out…if she wants us to. The best advice I have for her eight years after becoming a mother is…may the force be with you!

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

We forgot our wedding anniversary!

16 Dec

 

At 11.23pm last night I realised my husband and I had forgotten our wedding anniversary. Three weeks and 8 years ago my husband and I tied the knot at the Park Royal Hotel in Sydney on 30 November. It wasn’t a conventional wedding and we have never been a conventional couple, but our dual ignorance of what should have been at the very least a day of remembrance has left us both a little disturbed.

When I met my husband I was a young, ambitious radio announcer still living at home with Italian parents who tried to be strict. My husband was a separated father-of-two living with his girlfriend wondering how he was going to feed his kids that week. We met at the radio station and horrified everyone by becoming friends and then dating. What we thought would be a short relationship ended up being one full of love and joint ambition. We jumped over so many hurdles and navigated so many obstacles to be together that we are still surprised we made it.

On the outside we look like any hard working, happy family. On the inside that’s exactly what we are, with the added spice of a bankruptcy, our families, our children who have food allergies and our personal unfulfilled ambitions. But we make it work as best we can and we are grateful each day to be together and to have the family we have. I wish he worked less, was more romantic and was more of a hands-on father. He wishes I was more patient about his work hours and had more faith in the fact that he plans on becoming a hands-on father as soon as his work hours allow. Sounds pretty normal, right?

8 years is an achievement for any couple, especially those like us who can say they are happy they met and happier still at the family they created. So why did we forget our anniversary?

The previous year my husband reminded me of our anniversary and the year before we both remembered. The year before that was pretty traumatic but I reminded him. We’ve never both forgotten before. We’ve been busy before. We’ve had newborns, new jobs, stresses, illnesses and other challenges but we’ve never completely forgotten and to have neither of us remember until three weeks later? It’s embarrassing.

After making the realisation while watching a taped re-run of Grey’s Anatomy I tiptoed into our bedroom and told my husband about our forgotten anniversary. He hugged me, kissed me and told me he loved me. He was snoring again before I left the room (he gets up for work at 2.30am). I was left in a state of insomnia, trying to analysis it, as women do.

Here’s my conclusion. There is an anniversary my husband and I are obsessed with and it’s not our wedding anniversary. It is the anniversary of his bankruptcy. He lost his business in the Global Financial Crisis when property values plummeted. We (he) come out of bankruptcy on 16 May, 2012 and we text each other a countdown most days. We were recently elated to discover that we had under six months left. Today we have five months and two days left. We are so excited by the next chapter, after the trauma of having to start over again, not to mention the failed business and all that comes with that. It was heartbreaking, humiliating and scary. But we survived it and are happy enough that we forgot our anniversary and aren’t exactly crying over it.

So here’s to us honey. I wish you smelled better when you got home from work (he’s a transport manager so he smells like sweat, grease and other truck related odours) and I wish I looked better and was more relaxed when you arrive home (by the time he gets home I am dishevelled and chasing after our three children). I love you and I am so happy I met you. You eat all the lollies and leave none for others and you hog all the pillows. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s try better next year.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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