We Grew Up in the 2010s

We might be '80s babies, but my husband and I truly grew up in the 2010s. Consider this our decennial family Christmas letter.

Reviewing the main events of the 2010s has been kind of shocking for us, honestly. We feel very hashtag-blessed and whatnot, and if my 2009 self could time-travel to this very moment and take a look around my life, she'd have no idea about everything we've overcome. It just goes to show that resilience, hope, the-stuff-kids-call-self-care, and leaning into joy really do work. And that grandparents are essential.

You can hardly tell that my face is swollen from panic-attack crying!

First, I'll lay out the challenges we've faced since 2010. This is the brutal part. Then I'll list the joys and accomplishments that saw us through to this, our best year ever. Next week, I'll delve into my wishes and goals for the 2020s. But first...

the worst:

We racked up crushing debts. On top of our already substantial student loan debts, we added thousands of dollars of credit card debt making trips to Florida once or twice a year to visit my husband's father, who was at risk of dying at any moment and had already outlived every professional estimate of how long he could live. We have zero regrets for spending this time with the late, great John Miernik, and we are glad he was able to meet his only biological grandchild, who made him very happy. But those flights took a toll on our finances, adding stress to grief.

I had a traumatic birth. Everyone ended up fine, and I am grateful for the excellent care that my daughter and I were fortunate to receive at the hospital and by my family. But sometimes in a complicated process like human birth, stuff just happens that brings you to the cliff-edge of mortality, and you can feel the calm presence of Death like a blend of the Virgin Mary and Santa Muerte waiting, just in case, by your left elbow, while your husband screams in your face to push that baby out. And then you do, but your body is so beaten to hell that it makes the nurses flinch and make pity noises when they come to change your ice diapers. Ugh, human reproduction is gross. I'd been feeling strong, healthy, confident, and excited all through my pregnancy and hours into my labor, but after the birth, I felt like Humpty Dumpty, helpless and shattered. That feeling didn't go away for years. I'm not sure it has entirely gone away to this day. Sometimes TV commercials make me cry.

I fainted at a doctor's appointment. At one of my checkups as a young, nursing mother, I was diagnosed with anemia, being underweight by about 10 pounds, and a hernia. I fainted on the examination table, and I've been afraid to go to the doctor ever since.

We lost Grandpa John. My husband loved his father intensely, and it was hard to let him go. We had a bittersweet time introducing him to our little daughter, whom he loved immediately and with abandon. It was awful that we couldn't be there at the very end of his life and that there was little catharsis in the form of funeral rituals. We interred his ashes at the family cemetery, but there weren't enough people left alive who were close to him after his decades-long, isolating illness to have a proper funeral. All of this was rough on my husband, who felt a lack of support in his grief.

My uncle died a hideous, miserable death. He was my dad's only brother (that he grew up with), and he developed a cancerous tumor after joining a cult-like rural church that did not believe in modern medicine. He resisted advice from his family (infidels, all of us) and furiously tried to convert his siblings until the very end, so it was extra rough on my dad, my uncle's caregivers, and everyone else who loved him. It was also a physically vile, nightmarish way to die, his entire body from the head and face down being slowly replaced by monstrous growths and then liquefied. The doctors he finally let examine him, far too late, had never seen anything like it and couldn't hide how much it disturbed them. The last year of his life, I think we were all just begging God and the universe to let him die. He was incredibly tough, so it took a long, horrible time.

My aunt got cancer while caring for her husband, also with cancer. My dad's only sister also has a grandson who was born with cancer. (He is in remission now but permanently disabled and will probably never live independently.) She also helps care for her developmentally disabled adult step-son. Her own symptoms started out eerily similar to my departed uncle's. Fortunately, my aunt believes in science. She obtained appropriate medical care and survived. However, she is still suffering from long-term effects of her illness and treatment.

My grandfather died a grisly death. He lived to a nice old age but then had an accident so bad there was nothing to be done but numb the pain as he slowly bled to death internally.

A couple of friends died tragically. A dear, sweet friend died after a long illness. A friend of my husband’s was burned severely in a house fire and recovered, against the odds, but didn’t live much longer afterward.

My college roommate died at a yoga class. We'd had an intense, complicated relationship with each other that at one point consisted of me trying, unable to obtain adult/professional support, and with her fighting me all the way, to keep her from killing herself or engaging in extremely risky behaviors. I always cared about her but never wanted to see her again after college. Her sudden death while she was still in grad school was a big shock and brought up a lot of complex feelings, including an irrational sense of personal failure to have kept her alive, even though her death had nothing to do with me.

My grief for my roommate was cut short by the even greater shock of two domestic murder-suicides in families connected to my workplace. Both slaughters were committed by current or former husbands, who shot their wives and themselves in front of one of their children. In one family, the child was also tortured and killed. I was well acquainted with that family's mother, who had another child who sometimes played with my child. Everyone at work needed trauma counseling.

My husband and I lost three more loved ones to deaths of despair. Along came the opiate crisis. Lots of people we knew lost loved ones to opiates, including the dad of one of my daughter's best friends. My husband and I each lost a close childhood friend of our own. My husband also lost a beloved first cousin. My husband's friend and cousin had also been severely abused by their own fathers throughout their childhoods, sometimes in front of my husband, causing him acute trauma just from witnessing that brutality as a child. We're talking about big, strong men beating the literal shit and blood out of their sons in broad daylight, in front of witnesses--who were always too young or too afraid of them or too loyal to the family, or whatever, to report the abuse.

After the deaths of my husband's two loved ones came the re-traumatizing experience of sitting through funeral services with the abusive fathers of each, who survive without having taken responsibility. At the memorial service of my own childhood friend, the priest, of the parish that had mercilessly punished and mistreated my friend all through his young childhood for his obviously gay sexuality and irrepressible laughter, heavily implied that my friend was burning in hell for making "poor choices" -- a phrase that also appeared in the obituary of my husband's friend, by the way. Classy. At the funeral services for all three of these young men, my husband and I experienced the particular internal violence of feeling unable to say or do anything to the "fathers," biological and spiritual, who either caused or gloated over our loved ones' deaths. It still freezes us up inside to think of these losses and how the violence and degradation continued after death. I am one hundred percent convinced that all three of these "fathers" legitimately feels grief and honestly believes that their "sons" deserved what they got. This long after the abuses occurred, there is nothing to be done but to look ahead and say "never again" to any other child we ever meet, now that we are the adults.

Sadly, we witnessed child abuse too soon. We found ourselves having to support and advocate for a little friend of our daughter's who was enmeshed in a three-ring domestic violence circus involving her immediate and big, extended family. We've done everything we can think of and faced the terrifying reality that there aren't many effective resources out there, even when several adults are willing to speak up on behalf of a child. Our efforts do seem to have made a difference. The child appears healthier, and her larger family situation seems to have calmed down. The years-long struggle to obtain services for her has rattled us, though, as we've learned that there is no sure way to help a child in crisis when the extended family members are seasoned experts at hiding, lying, and covering up--and we've had to face the real fear of violent, criminal family members retaliating if they found out we were involved.

We were conned and robbed by my husband's best friend. The opiate crisis didn't just affect us with the deaths of our childhood friends and family. We also had a close friend who started doing heroin. Before we found out about his habit, he lied to us about the death of his own father and his own family estrangement to extract a large amount of care and assistance from us over a period of three years. Later, he robbed our home and fled the state. We have never seen him again. This individual was the best man at our wedding, and we had sincerely believed that he had recovered from his childhood traumas enough to be making a real effort at turning his life around. We are now relieved that he, as well as most of my husband's other childhood friends (who grew up in the same trauma-saturated neighborhoods), are dispersed out to different states, incarcerated, or dead. Although it's good to feel safe, the betrayals and losses still hurt.

My husband was fired unexpectedly and denied unemployment. Around the same time we were robbed--and had a new baby--just before Christmas and near my husband's 30th birthday (when the above family photo was taken), my husband lost his job. To add insult and more injury to injury, his employer told him he would be eligible to collect unemployment, but when my husband followed the procedure to do so, he was not only denied but punished for attempting to collect. His boss had either lied to him or changed his mind afterward without telling him. Not only did we never receive any unemployment compensation, this drama wasted a huge amount of my husband's time and stressed us out enormously through our baby's first Christmas.

We experienced two traumatic car accidents. In one, my husband collided with a vehicle while bike-communing to work (because we couldn't afford safe transportation, obviously), resulting in a serious concussion. He had to have facial and dental reconstruction afterward. Our daughter was afraid to look at him as he recovered. Later, I was in an accident with our daughter in the backseat that totaled our only reliable vehicle. No one was seriously injured, but my daughter and I had narrowly escaped falling off a freeway overpass, which would have been certain death. I've woken up suddenly in the night for years afterward in terror of another car accident. I've laid in bed thinking furiously about how our family might avoid motor vehicles entirely. (No, it's not possible where we live.) My symptoms have faded gradually over the past five years.

My husband had several more surgeries. A second knee surgery, nasal surgery. Painful, long recoveries. Only a little paid time off.

My mother-in-law had a harrowing and problematic hip replacement followed by a miserable stay at a shameful rehab facility. And we had neither the funds nor the time off work to go and help her in Florida, so all we could do was send a care package and hope for the best.

My husband's much-older half-brother hasn't been any help because his own life has imploded. Domestic violence with firearms, alcoholism, opiates, crime, animal hoarding and cruelty, poisonings and other accidents, child abuse and neglect, you name it, it's happening at his house. Sometimes my husband's mother pressures my husband to try to help him, because compared to him, we have a blessed and privileged life. Gawd.

My mother suffered a freak accident while caring for my daughter. She tripped over a cord and broke her leg so badly it required a permanent metal plate. That was years ago, and still she can hardly talk about it.

My dad developed heart trouble. Meanwhile, my dad was putting in long hours at an almost cartoonishly toxic work environment so that he could take care of all the rest of us dumpster fires in the family. He developed high blood pressure, a heart murmur, and other scary symptoms that made me kind of hope he'd get fired before he dropped dead. He narrowly missed needing a risky heart surgery before he retired, when his symptoms promptly cleared up.

We were told by our insurance company that we needed a new roof--immediately. Though our roof had no leaks, the shingles looked too worn for our home insurer's standards. We found ourselves in the humiliating position of having to ask for a bailout from our parents--yet again--or risk suddenly losing our mortgage and our home.

We survived a two-week power outage during a record-breaking polar vortex ice storm. Hello, climate change! Over a nearly two-week span including Christmas and the New Year, when our daughter was a toddler, a brutal winter storm tore down the power lines in our area and encased everything in thick, windswept ice. The holiday season is my husband's busiest time of year at his UPS job and for me at my church job, so there was no downtime as we split wood, fed the hungry wood stove, cooked over the fire, and shifted around couch-surfing here and there with other disaster buggers-out.

Our preschooler's day care shut down with little notice. Because of course. We had to hastily enroll her in another day care, where she was not as happy and we felt some hostility from some of the caregivers toward the children. We found a better arrangement as soon as possible, but I had time feel the helpless terror of being forced to leave my tender little child with people I didn't 100% trust so I could go to work to pay those people to be with my child. Ugh.

My husband and I experienced our own frightening health crises in addition to the injuries and illnesses already mentioned, including but not limited to: serious post-partum issues, panic attacks (one so bad it required a humiliating 911 call), prescription drug problems, pneumonia, digestive issues, a serious menstrual disorder, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Having a child strained our relationships with family and friends in unexpected ways. We knew that having a family would reduce the time we could spend hanging out with friends, but we were not prepared for some of the ways relationships fell apart. I didn't realize the extent to which a new baby can be triggering for people who have unresolved issues with their own childhoods or bitter feelings of jealousy or hidden infertility pain. Some of our friendships faded naturally, because we couldn't go out and party like we used to, and some of our loved ones exhibited ambivalent feelings even as they did their best to support us through early parenthood. Other friendships and even family relationships exploded into a sort of open aggression that I didn't see coming. Lesson learned: Many people who put on a good show of being happily child-free or grandchild-free, um, aren't. And they will HATE you for having that healthy, cute baby, and there's nothing you can do except cut them out of your life until and unless they do their own work of dealing with their issues.

Many icons of my youth died. From David Bowie to Dolores O'Riordan, there were about a dozen musician and actor deaths that made me cry so hard I almost had to miss work. The only one that really got to my husband was Chris Cornell. We listened to his most depressing songs for hours on end and waterboarded ourselves in our own tears. I didn't even cry that much over the deaths of some people I actually knew. To this day, I cannot explain why this hit us so hard.

The 2016 election and its personal aftermath cannot be left off this list. I work for a nonprofit that serves refugees, advocates for human rights, and supports interfaith collaboration. Some of my personal friends and acquaintances, including children, were harassed, bullied, threatened, and assaulted soon after the election of a human hate symbol for president. Then came the flood of cellphone videos of police brutality. I tried to avoid them, but they were everywhere. The voice of Philando Castile's baby in the backseat will haunt me for the rest of my life.

At first, I thought that there might come a silver lining in the form of greater energy and collaboration among activists. My hopes were punched in the face when many local activists I had formerly respected, admired, and even considered friends, turned on each other. There was some kind of dirty, underhanded competition to win the Most Woke public performance and call out and cancel everyone else on social media before it could happen to them. There were endless, screamy "open letters" to unnamed groups of people with a lot of the word STOP in all caps mixed with classy italics and spirited exclamation marks and long lists of awkward, socially bizarre instructions to follow to be a Good Ally to the person screaming at whomever had dared to read. Some activists transformed into insufferable college professors overnight, burying each other in Required Reading lists of hundreds of books that supposedly must be read before a person may claim to care about other people or have any right to breathe the same air as [saddest demographic you can find]. And finally, these activists began to send each other, or the nameless recipients of the screamy open letters, unironic invoices for UNPAID EMOTIONAL LABOR that nobody ordered in the first place.

Feminism forgive me, for I have sinned. I unfollowed bell hooks on Twitter. #sorrynotsorry but I hit that button when she called Beyonce a terrorist for Lemonade. Then to keep up my ratio of black women's voices in my social media feed, I followed Erykah Badu on Instagram. No regrets.

Very quickly, I realized that the internet was not a good place to be making positive social change, so I threw myself into real actions like protesting. I thought, I will use my various privileges to stand up for those without them! It did not go as planned. I refuse to list how many times a person of color and/or queer person happened to witness me getting harassed for taking a stand and jumped in, at personal risk, to "rescue" me. Like, I feel very loved and appreciated, but no. I quickly realized that doing protests and other confrontational actions was not working the way I had hoped either, so I changed strategies again.

I started serving the communities and individuals I wanted to support in quiet, covert, sometimes completely anonymous ways. And then the Good Allies came after me nagging that I should do more to "raise my voice" or "show up." And to that I say, eat a bag of dingleberries, Judge Judy. Mind your own business. (Small victory: people have started minding their own business after I made a big deal out of turning 35. Middle-aged women are boring and a waste of time to harass. Yay!)

My high school BFF's preteen cousin had her mom taken away. I feel like this gets its own line even though it's part of the real political persecutions mentioned above, which never stopped while SJWs were having mud-wrestling matches on Twitter. My friend's aunt had been working on her citizenship for years while the laws and the politics kept changing under her feet. Finally she was forced to leave the country where her husband and child are citizens, for a full year, and then apply to come back, not knowing if it would ever be allowed. This woman and her family are wonderful, loving people who deserve every good thing. They were eventually reunited, but not without serious health, emotional, and financial costs.

And then the 2010s ended with an impeachment and a weary cry of "OK Boomer."

Wow, writing all that out sure was a downer. My life looks like California from here, endlessly on fire. But what's equally true is that over the past decade, my husband and I mastered this thing called Adulting. Right now, at this very moment, near the end of 2019, we are healthier, happier, and wealthier than we have ever been in our lives. I'm going to have to write everything out to understand, myself, how we got here. Truly, in some ways, the 2010s were...

the best: 

We gave our baby the best start we could, and it transformed us. In the year 2010, my husband and I learned as much as we could about epigenetics, fertility, and healthy pregnancy. Before conception, we both worked hard to eat well, exercise, and reckon with our bad habits. We also had emotional discussions about our personal worries and childhood issues, and we helped each other to work through some psychological things. We planned and prepared as best we could, and it all paid off (thanks also to a bout of good luck that spared us problems that can't be prevented). We both started our parenting journey in our best health up to that point in our lives. My pregnancy went smoothly, and our child was born beautiful and strong. She has been the greatest love and joy of our lives. She's made us laugh, made us proud, and made us better people. And her existence has bound us to hope, because we love her too much to give up on ourselves or the world she will inherit. I think it's good to have a wicked sense of humor as a parent, but true cynicism and despair are intolerable. She's probably the main reason we came out of this decade ahead.

Our marriage has never been happier. My husband and I are still best friends as well as lovers and life partners. We've settled into a division of labor that suits us. We agree on the things that matter and argue respectfully and lovingly when we don't. We support each other's health, healing, and goals and celebrate each other's achievements. And maybe most importantly, we have a lot of fun together. We're into some of the same weird things that nobody else in our life gets, such as the Netflix YouTube show "I Like to Watch" (basically MST3K with drag queens) and F&M, the new album by Lindemann. We saw Rammstein in concert for our 5th wedding anniversary and felt the heat of the pyrotechnics on our faces. We enjoy doing weird stuff like going to bed early on New Year's Eve and getting up before dawn to run into the snowy wilderness and howl at the sunrise. I hope we'll continue that tradition into the next decade, though I suspect our daughter does not.

We have a cat. It cannot be underestimated how much a kitty transforms a house into a complete, cozy home. She snuggles us at night and makes us laugh every day. She's a beautiful little runty rescue mongrel named Gretchen MurderMittens, and we treat her like the goddess she is.

I wrote two big novels. In addition to lots of bad drafts and some okay short stories and poems, I completed a sensual fantasy and an epic historical thriller. At the beginning of the decade, a smart and creative friend and I started a writing group of four women that lasted for seven years and resulted in at least two completed novels by each of us. Writing novels has been a wonderful, sanity-saving artistic outlet even if it never pays--but I am looking forward to seeking literary representation this winter.

We've kept the same jobs for over 10 years (me) and almost 15 years (him). My husband has been with UPS longer than he's been with me. Seniority is a wonderful thing. I know some people love to job-hop for quick raises and shiny new opportunities, but I prefer the comfort of routine, a commitment to meaningful work, and the stability to build a life rooted in a particular place, with everyone I love most nearby.

My husband now manages a business owned by a (good) friend. Right after my husband lost his former job, a buddy of his opened a bike and sporting goods shop and hired him to manage it. Unlike most new businesses, the shop succeeded. My husband and his new(ish) boss share real friendship, trust, and respect for each other. The shop owner also began working as a real estate agent, and my parents hired him to help them find their dream house--and he did!

My parents have both retired and moved into my neighborhood. My parents retired from their stressful jobs in good physical and financial health. Now they can spend lots of time with my daughter, my childcare worries are over for good, and my parents get to enjoy a nicer home than any they've ever lived in before, with forest and river views. Some Judge Judies out there have looked down on my parents for years because of how much they've supported me and my neurodivergent brother well into our 30s. However, now my parents can enjoy their golden years in a better position than most, because I am now able to help them age in place in their dream house, and my brother was just able to pay them six figures in cash to buy their old house from them. Booyah, Boomers! (Yes, my parents are also Boomers, but not that kind of Boomers.)

We have achieved financial independence. With a lot of help from our parents (especially my parents buying us a new roof and an electric car), we have achieved financial stability and independence. Our credit is very good, we have tens of thousands in home equity, our retirement accounts are on track, and we have a good start on a college fund for our daughter that I opened when she was a baby. This decade, my husband and I have dealt with our bad habits, learned better money management strategies, saved, invested, and learned to live extremely frugally using creative solutions so we don't feel deprived. (The local library helps a lot!)

We've felt the glow of generosity by putting in many volunteer hours and donating thousands of dollars. We support our daughter's school, my organization, and other causes and individuals here and there. We are careful not to overextend ourselves, but we are happy that we have the ability to give back to our communities and be there for other people experiencing need. Parenting has made us both stronger in our personal boundaries and more compassionate toward others, especially other families and children.

That junkie who robbed us shamed my husband into learning how to cook before he left. There's a silver lining to everything, and everything is complicated. We did share some good times with my husband's unfortunate ex-friend before he burned out of our lives. He was an excellent cook who made us many wonderful meals and, though he was too crusty to actually divulge his secrets to anyone, he did inspire my husband to step up his game in the kitchen. Having a husband who cooks well has been a permanent lifestyle upgrade for which I am appreciative.

We have achieved our best ever hair and beard lewks. I found a great and affordable salon this decade, and my husband grew out his lustrous head and face hairs in a variety of majestic styles. I feel like we've been more attractive in our 30s than we were in our 20s. Our daughter is also incredibly cute and fashionable. Not humble, just bragging. I finally joined Instagram and everything.

Mischief managed: We successfully treated our physical and mental health. Our experiments and efforts have resulted in positive outcomes for all of our health concerns this decade. All of our conditions are either gone or well under control with a combination of medications, physical therapies, healthy lifestyle habits, and all the boring stuff that is real self-care. All of our family members (Mom, Dad, daughter, cat) take good care of one another and ourselves, and we've never felt better.

We've healed intergenerational trauma. My husband and I are both descended from generations of people whose mental health disorders march straight back to genocide, war, displacements, and famines. Our daughter is almost nine years old, and she has been a healthy, happy, bright child her whole life. She has a happier, healthier, safer childhood than any of her known ancestors ever had. She is exceptional and high-scoring like her parents, and she has many friends who love her enthusiastically. She is kind and helpful to others (so much that her school often sends home award certificates for her above-and-beyond behavior), socially aware, and cool. We support her in trying every extracurricular activity she'd like to try, and we support her without a fuss when she feels like quitting. We don't pressure her to perform or maximize stats that we can show off, so she has not lost her love of learning and playing and experimenting--and just plain relaxing, guilt-free. This is my life's crowning achievement. I feel like I've paid my lifetime dues to the universe, and any other good I do for the world is pure gravy.

We have accepted being ordinary. This is a weird one, but bear with me. My husband and I were both exceptional children with high test scores and precocious talents, who bore the burden of our parents' desperate hopes that we would be able to plaster over all of their own fears and insecurities and secret shames by becoming rich and famous. Together with our parents, we've reexamined our values and healed our inherited psychic wounds and become much more comfortable with just being okay. My husband and I never had the will nor the personality traits that would have enabled us to cold-bloodedly pursue riches and fame, and here we are, still not rich or famous or trying to be. And our parents are okay with that, and we're okay with that. And that makes it possible for us to fully love being with each other and to feel grateful for the good fortune, abundance, and joy that we have in our lives.

I kept this blog going the whole darn time. Blogging is so old it's already coming back into style, but I haven't quit. I've hidden most of my past posts, but I'll probably go back and revisit some oldies for Throwback Thursdays or something. My most successful post of all time is "35 Great Things About Turning 35," which I wrote during the time blogging was supposed to be dead. This blog isn't monetized in any way, but it's fun to write something that resonates with thousands of strangers.

Goodbye, 2010s!

I am proud of how my family got through this gauntlet of a decade not only intact but in better shape than when we started. Now we rest!

Next week, I'll write about my dreams for the next 10 years.

Happy Solstice!
Happy Hannukah!
Merry Christmas!
Joyous Boxing Day!


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