Friday, April 27, 2012

What I Learned in the First 10 Years of Marriage

1.  Putting your marriage before your kids IS making your kids a priority.
I love my children and cherish them more than my very own life.  All I want in this entire world is for them to lead a life full of joy, happiness and success.  For some time I thought that meant putting them first over every other thing.  Every waking moment revolved around them and their needs.  I cast aside everything else as secondary to THEIR immediate needs.  I was certain that this was the best way to provide for them and make them my priority.

And then I realized that THE most important thing in THEIR life was US.  The family.  Their parents.  And that had not been the priority.  So, changes were made.  And, now, the best gift I am giving them at this moment is investing in the marriage that is the foundation of their little worlds.  I get comments about how we get a sitter just about every other week and how it "must be nice" and "you sure do a lot without your kids."  Well..... Yes.   It IS nice.  And - no - we don't do it a lot.  BUT we do make it enough of a priority that it is regular and consistent.  And I can say with 100% confidence that a few hours of us being a married couple, alone or with other couples, regularly, is the best gift I could ever give my children AND myself. 

2.  There is no such thing as unconditional love in marriage.
There are conditions.  Period.  

You must be some semblance of the YOU your partner married.  
You must be checked in.  
You must be respectful.  
You must be committed.  
You must genuinely care about each other.
You must be dedicated to each other's needs.

Conditions.  Yep. 

3.  "Where you invest your love, you invest your life." - Mumford and Sons
This line of the song, "Awake My Soul" spoke volumes to me the first time I heard it.  And the reason is this:  Your marriage is not an anecdote at a party or a regular topic of girls night.  It is not a state of being that just is.  It is not just something you do because you are supposed to.  Your marriage is your LIFE.  And, some religions withstanding, as far as I know - you only get one.  And each day that passes is a day spent with the person you are weaving into the story that will have been your life.  This person you have tied yourself to is where you have invested the rest of your life.  And they have done the same with you.  And that's about the biggest investment any human could make.  I find that reminding myself that we have invested our life with one another is enough to give me perspective on what's important at times.

4.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  Constant, persistent dedication to moving in the same direction is required from both people.
There is no comfort zone.  There is security in marriage, but comfort zones are dangerous - they allow you to get lazy or assume the other person has everything they need just because you exist together without conflict.  In fact, marriage needs constant attention and touch points.  We age, we change, we evolve.  We live and life happens TO us.  Through all of that we have to be sure we are still in this together.  We have to show each other that no matter what happens, we are still on this same road together.  And this has to be a joint effort.  

5.  The goal is not to be perfect, but to be ENOUGH.
To say that Jeff and I are different, is an understatement.  He will never do everything I want, just the way I want it.  And I will never do everything he wants, just the way he wants it.  But if at the end of the day we can live with our differences and see all of the things we DO do for each other as enough....Well, then we have it made. 

6.  You don't have to like the same things, but you do have to be willing to do things the other person likes.
You know how when you're dating you don't really want to do something, but you do it anyway because the other person wants to?  There's stuff you don't really care about, but you feign excitement because you want the other person to see you being "into" what they're "into".

Yea.....that.  Do it.  Often.

7.  Marriage is a private club with two members and a few private consultants.
No one else gets the details of what happens in your marriage.  They don't get the squabble about the trash, they don't get the complaints, snide comments or jokes at the expense of your spouse.  The moment you expose that to people outside of your marriage, you defile that which is your LIFE.  You send signals, even if unintentionally, that you are unhappy.  And no one in the world deserves to have that information.  And, if you are truly having go to your private consultants, the close friends in your life who support your marriage.  They are the friends who are not a threat, but can offer a hand when you both really need it.  Speaking to people who are not in support of your marriage is a sure-fire way to get advice against your marriage.  So choose carefully who your consultants will be.  Which brings me to #8...

8.  It takes a village.
During our wedding mass, the priest turned to the crowd and asked for them to commit to support us through our life.  He stressed that there will be times that we will need to lean on those closest to us - and he asked them to promise to be there for us.  At 25, I thought that was sweet.  At 35, I think it's essential.  You must lean on your consultants.  Sometimes you need a helping hand and can't carry it on your own.  You need close friends to celebrate successes with and seek guidance from through the difficult times.  Not strangers, not co-workers, not friends who don't have a vested interest.  You need your carefully selected consultants who support the fabric of your life - your marriage.

9.  Sex and intimacy are the glue.
Unless you are two humans who truly do not need sex to feel intimate and bonded, then the above statement holds true.  Without disclosing personal details, what I will say about this topic is the more intimacy you have and the more equal footing you have in this area, the more enriched you will feel.  One person feeling slighted or ignored is a breeding ground for resentment and hostility.  Again, the investment of your life is worth the time and attention it takes to prevent volatility in the market, so to speak. 

10.  Complaining about your marriage is like poking yourself in the eye and wondering why it hurts.
This is more of an observation than anything else.  When I hear people complain about their marriage, I think to myself, "You married this person.  This didn't happen to you."  So, DO something.  CHANGE something.  Grab the other person and say - "This isn't working.  I love you.  But, we can't be this way."  Complaining just sends words out into the great blue yonder.  Action, and caring enough to tell the other person that this is not the way you want your collective lives to be, is the only right step.  You have invested your life with this person.  Care enough to try every way possible to make this life a happy one.  It's the ONLY one you get.

So, that's what ten years has given me.  That, and 2 beautiful kids and a life with a man who certainly thinks I'm 10% crazy, 15% messy, and 75% amazing (my word, not his).  
The only thing I feel confident the next 10 years will bring is more messes, more lessons and a lot more LIFE.  
Bring it on.
(Gently, please.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beautiful Girls

In the past 3 months two separate messages have gone viral regarding the way little girls dress and how they value themselves.  I remember the day I heard of the first, regarding Peggy Orenstein's new book, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter", as the lead-in to the news program I was watching....  "And in the next hour - Is the obsession with princesses damaging your daughter's soul?  Stick around to find out."

Oh, yes...  I must stick around to find out if my 4 year old lacks a soul because she is obsessed with princesses. 

The next thing I know, Jessica Bennett's Newsweek article regarding Orenstein's book is everywhere.   Orenstein makes a point of saying that girls are excelling above their male counterparts in math and science (no data cited in the article - so I am not sure where she gets this info - but sounds good to me!) and then goes on to say that regardless of that fact, girls are still boy crazy and sit "waiting for their prince charming."  She states that the princess obsession is due to mass marketing by companies like Disney and that "for girls who don’t want to play with pink princess toys, there’s virtually no other option."  She goes on to say, “People have said to me, ‘Don’t you feel like you’re brainwashing your daughter because you’re not giving her the choice of what she consumes?’ ” Orenstein says, “But there’s not really a choice. Disney isn’t giving you a choice."

Since when is Disney the one giving my child choices?  And who says Disney has any responsibility to offer choices?  That is like saying that Americans are fat because McDonald's sells cheeseburgers.  

Disney sells 'Fairy Tale'.  They sell magic and wonder and make believe.  Classic concepts.  This is not some new conspiracy to keep women down while men get ahead.  And while I do agree that the older princess movies, "Snow White," "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" are a bit 'damsel in distress' and 'wait for your man' - consider the era in which they were made!  Snow White was made in 1937, for goodness sake!   However, the most recent tales, "Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled" focus on strong women who teach their male counterparts about hard work, dreams and doing things on your own.  So, of all the times to criticize Disney as the reason for our soulless daughters, why would she choose now?

Back to the princess mania for a second...  We own just about every dress up gown, accessory and matching pair of shoes.  For a solid two years, my daughter wore nothing but dresses.  Sparkly, colorful or ruffled = gorgeous.  She put those items on her body and felt beautiful.  I would watch as her little face lit up and I knew that she felt genuinely lovely.  In a few short years, those dresses will be bagged up and passed on to one of our friends' little girls, just entering that magical phase where fairy tales are still possible.   What would Orenstein have me do? Would she have me explain to my 4 year old that she only feels beautiful because of the mass marketing campaign against her self-esteem?  Shall I tell her that fairy tales are a farce and that real life is hard?  Is this really the age where that is appropriate?  What could be better for my young daughter's self esteem than to look in a mirror and feel beautiful?  Even as a grown woman, I seek clothes that make me feel beautiful.  We all want to FEEL beautiful....whatever that means to us.  And that does translate into many style choices.  I guess that's where you get into the politics of media sexualizing women with revealing clothing and images.  It's a valid argument and brings me to the next message that crossed my Facebook newsfeed more than 5 times just today...

"Parents, don't dress your girls like tramps."  Through the first half of the article, reading citations of Abercrombie and other retailers selling sexualized clothing to kids 10 and younger, I thought "Great, more issues caused by someone other than the parents."  But then...ah ha!  Ganderson says, "What's that you say? Ten-year-olds can't drive? They don't have money, either? Well, how else are they getting a hold of these push-up bras and whore-friendly panties?"  Genius!  

While I think it is perfectly acceptable for 4 and 5 year olds to live in a fairy tale world and drape themselves in gooey pink dresses and tiaras, I do see the contradiction when those same girls grow to be tweens and get exposed to more main-stream media concepts.  Unlike the Disney Fairy tales, the messages are sexual, they are about their bodies and they do imply what boys like.  In addition, the blissful naiveté that they had at 5 is gone and they are now old enough to start getting the message and buy into it.  I imagine that is where the real soul searching begins.  (However, I still don't agree with Orenstein’s notion that one phase leads to the other.) Attempting to remove all of those messages and convince them that a modest t-shirt and capris will make them beautiful will be a challenge.  Convincing them that boys will still like you even if you don't flaunt your body, when the media and, let's face it, real life, tell them the opposite will be HARD.   But Ganderson's point, and I agree, is that it comes down to the parents - ALWAYS.  It is our job to filter and decipher the messages.  It is OUR job to talk to them as they race toward that awkward age and KEEP talking and talking and talking and talking....

While I have conflicted feelings about the two articles, I think that at the very heart of it is this: If you wait until they are donning that first princess dress or asking for their first mini skirt to show them the other things about themselves that make them truly beautiful, then you are allowing the messages to speak louder than the truth.   You have to remind them every. day.  from the moment they take their first step or say their first word that they are wonderful.  They are smart.  They are a hard worker. They are a good friend.  They are kind.  They are LOVED.  Say it louder than all of the other messages.  It will sink in.  It will stick.  That's not to say that the conversations and door slamming over some inappropriate outfit they want to wear won't happen.  But, I do believe it will make them easier.  And the open communication will bring those girls to a place where, even if they are following mainstream fashion (princesses or Brat attire) to feel beautiful, their real self-esteem will come from a whole other place entirely.

In the meantime, perhaps the media will spend a little time focusing on who is stealing our sons' souls.  Perhaps they can teach our boys that their value doesn't come from how good they are at sports or from how fast and strong they are.  Where is the outrage over the fact that no one is teaching little boys that they can be interior designers or nurses when they grow up?  How dare the police and firefighters of the world push their agenda on these little boys!  One of these great authors needs to save our young boys' souls before it's too late.  Someone needs to tell these boys they can be whatever they want to be!  

That is the media's responsibility, right? 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


So often I think that sitting and watching TV or surfing the web for an hour or two will be just the perfect way to get some down time or a way to "take care of me."  I plop down, ready to give in to the idea of doing nothing and feeling rejuvenated by the lack of energy I will have to expend.  Inevitably, I waste away mindlessly on a show or catching up on celebrity gossip online only to find myself more stressed in the end.  I immediately think of the ten things I could have gotten done, or the things I should have started while I had napping children and total silence.  You know what I call that?  

A time investment gone wrong.

With two small children, a job, a husband, extended family, etc., time is almost more valuable to me than money these days.  If I could somehow squeeze more minutes in the day or make time stand still, I would choose those over money in a heartbeat.  I constantly feel as though there isn't enough time.  But when I really take a hard look at what I spend my time on, I start to realize that what seems impossible has much to do with me and the choices I make.

From big picture stuff like cleaning house, laundry, grocery shopping, and work, to little things like what I think about and worry on, are all choices I make that either create time or cut the day in half.  If time was money (as any good salesperson would tell you it is) then I wouldn't be so irresponsible with it, giving it away freely or not taking a managed approach to how to spend it.  Yet, I spend almost every day reacting and playing catch up.  I put my time on credit by overextending myself to friends, family, work.  This very budgeted saver, who has no financial credit card debt and is extremely cost conscious, is going TIME bankrupt.  The answer is always "yes" or "I have to" or "I don't want to disappoint."  My time is the world's to have and I can't seem to put myself on a budget I can live with.

And who really ends up paying for my debts?  The over extension of my time comes at whose expense?   At the end of the day, my poor investments bankrupt my family time.  That's not to say that we don't spend time together, but it's either squeezed in between less important activities or one of us is stressed about what else lies out there still needing attention.  That's the chaos that occurs when you have nothing guiding your choices.  I want to be at peace with my time.  I want to be able to bask in the moment, confident that what I'm skipping was not in the budget and that what I'm spending is worth every minute.  That means putting some priorities around what I am willing to spend my time on.  That includes the simple things like worrying about what so-and-so thinks about what I'm doing, wearing, saying, or how I parent.  If that person isn't a priority, I won't let them bankrupt me by spending time thinking about it.  If I wouldn't hand that person $60 from my pocket, why should they get 60 minutes of my precious time worrying about what they think of me?  Or 60 seconds, for that matter.  

And as for the people who do matter and ARE a priority....even top priorities need parameters.  No one bucket should be getting all of my funds.  I have to diversify, right? I have to be careful to allocate a realistic amount to each bucket.  And only after those priorities are met am I able to see what I have left to spend on the rest of the world.  I'm sure someone at some time has said that you can always make more money, but you can never make more time.  Yet, here I've been watching every last penny, only to squander away my time.  

Creating my budget is going to include a little creative thinking on how to run my household more efficiently, identifying those who get first dibs, saying no more than some friends and family will like and continuing to not waste a minute worrying about what others think (a skill I all but perfected in high school and college.)  There are no "get rich quick schemes" when it comes to time.  Everyone is a pauper and only those who budget wisely and prioritize will ever make something of value in the end.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I ran a marathon!

Today I completed something I never thought I would.  I did what, three years ago, I said I would never do.  Every day, I got up, looked at myself in the mirror and said you can do this.  Just keep going.

The first few weeks were hard.  Harder than I imagined they'd be.  Before I knew it, I got my first curveball.  Health issues that would significantly change the game.  Would I continue or would I give up?  My youngest was an infant and still waking multiple times a night.  Tired is an understatement.  Then, the swine flu got me.

Oh, great.

I pressed on.

My entire life revolved around doing what I had to do to keep this going.  I'm sure more than a few people called me crazy.  I didn't mind.  I remember thinking the same of others I had seen do this in the past.  "I'll NEVER do that!" I'd tell myself.  But, here I was...  

Then one day it started to get easier.  I woke up looking forward to the very thing I dreaded for all of those weeks.  I stopped seeing the sacrifices I was making as sacrifices and started viewing them as a way of life.  Each and every day I committed myself to the goal I set out to achieve.  And today I crossed the finish line.  While I felt fulfilled in accomplishing what I had hoped, I also learned something along the way.  When you set out to do something that is not what those around you are "into," there is often a lack of support and it can trigger insecurity in others.  People think that what you're doing and your own pride is a subliminal message to them that you disapprove of them not having the same goal.  I can assure you, my marathon was simply my own goal.  And my pride is pure and has nothing to do with you or what you choose to do.  I have had to pat myself on the back along the way and maintain confidence in my choice.    I have completed few personal goals in my life and this is the one in which I have the most pride.

Today completed my marathon of breast feeding.  I breast fed my second child for 12 months and 24 days.  I did this through her having a dairy and soy allergy, causing me to scale my diet back, in the early days, to almost nothing.  I cut foods from my diet that I previously wouldn't have given up if my life depended on it.  I'll never have the chance to do this again and I certainly didn't do it with my first.  But today ended that very long journey.  It's sad.  It's sweet.  It's amazing.   And if me being proud of myself for accomplishing MY goal makes you uncomfortable or insecure, go back to thinking I ran an actual marathon.  That sounds cooler anyway!  :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


We all do it.  The moment our child has a symptom of any kind, we call on Dr. Google for the diagnosis.  Our first search inevitably yields one result, whether first or fiftieth, that mentions cancer or some other paralyzingly scary illness. We latch onto the scariest term we see and start Googling it, frantically scanning results for the symptom our child has.  "Oh no!  That IS a symptom of this terrible illness!  This is what they have!"  Symptom diagnosed.


As my husband always says, you can find evidence to support anything you go looking for on Google.  You're directing your search, which returns massive results, and then you choose which of those results is going to get your attention.  You skip the ones that say "common cold" and "heat rash" and go directly to bacterial meningitis.  We selectively form facts by ignoring some information and focusing on the stuff that feeds our twisted goal.

I was thinking this week about how I use this same Google search fact-forming in other areas of my life.  Every day my Google engine is running.  The search results are sorted faster and the self-selection may be a bit subconscious, but it is there.  My Mind Google.  Capable of searching as far back as 1980, it is impossibly powerful.  Search, results found, fact formed.  Search, results found, fact formed.  

Search:  My husband never does anything!  
Results Found:  He didn't call the furniture place, he forgot to empty the trash, in 2001 he forgot to pay the cable bill.  
Fact Formed:  He does nothing.   

But just like when I go to my friend, Dr. Google, it is I who is determining the facts.  It doesn't make the results wrong.  I am just looking at them in isolation.  I am skipping past all of the other results that do not support the fact I am trying to form.  But what if I change the search to "My husband is helpful."  Well, then I have gobs of results that include: He gets the baby up and changed every morning.  He does all of the vacuuming.  He does the dishes every night.   Fact Formed:  He is amazing.  

Each day, I Mind Google my husband, my kids, my job, my life.  My facts determine my mood and overall interaction with my family.  Sometimes the searches are geared toward finding happy facts.  And then other times my search engine gets frozen on a negative query.  Like any Google search, every fact I attempt to prove has supporting evidence. 

But what if I set a filter on my searches?

Select "Include positive results."  
 Check off the box that says "Exclude results containing the words 'Never' and 'Always'."  
 Choose to "Suppress results containing information regarding what other people do or have."  
 "Show CURRENT results only."  

Then what kind of facts would I be left with?   Facts that make those excluded results isolated incidents rather than facts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We got the beat... YEAH! We got the beat!

Yesterday was a cranky day.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  I was cranky yesterday.  There wasn't any particular reason why I was cranky.  Mostly it was stress about work and a few household projects I am coordinating that had me snippy.  I went from one thing to another all day and slowly my crankiness grew and grew.  Fast forward to my husband coming home from work, smile on his face, hugs and kisses for me and the kids.  Me?  Cranky.  Fast forward to an hour after my husband got home.  My husband?  Cranky.  My kids?  Cranky.  Suddenly, the whole house was in a sour mood.  Obviously it's no secret that crankiness is contagious, but it got me thinking about just how much I dictate my family's overall mood.

You know the old saying, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?"  So often it's used as a joke to be a reason why "Poppa" should just do as he's told.  A jab at why "honey do" lists should be completed, purchases should be made or presents should be given.  But something is lost in that translation.  It puts the onus on everyone else to make us happy.  It fails to recognize our own responsibility in making ourselves happy to set the right tone in our family.

We are the drummers of the family.  We set the beat.  If we are happy and upbeat, our kids are energized.  Our jazzy tempo is met with flutes of laughter and joy.  If we are rushed, upset or stressed, it's a whole different song.  A classic example of this is being late.  You plan your time poorly, you rush your kids, your kids feel frazzled by the rushing and they melt down.  Everyone falls apart.  We drum a loud, hurried beat and the crying and whining accompaniments play right along.  And what about that dude who you started the band with?  Let's go back to that smiling guy full of kisses and hugs.  Within an hour I was able to change his happy melody into a dark foreboding tune.  In fact, our mood affects them the most, I think.  As an original member, they would like input on the kind of music the band is producing and feel pretty bummed when you're choosing a song they don't like a little too often.   Rightfully so!

So, frowns be gone and slap on my Sally Sunshine hat.  I'll never be cranky again!  Right?   Not quite.  I know that I am not always going to have a super fantastic day and that everything is not always flowers and fairies with my husband.  I am still going to have stressful days, be late for things and be grumpy with my spouse from time to time.  But in each one of those scenarios, if I gather myself, get a nice beat going and try to keep it going, my stressful, difficult, grumpy days may be met with helpful hands and smiling faces rather than meltdowns and more stress.  And isn't that what you need on a hard day?  Help and support instead of resistance and matched funk?  Of course!  

Being a mother puts us in a very powerful position.  Our entire family looks to us for so many things and our children put us on pedestals (whether we want to be there or not).  You go from being a single person who floats along and is responsible for no one but yourself to having little people watching your every move and building their entire world around what they see and hear.  While I may still sing the blues from time to time, I am going to try to drum an upbeat tempo at the same time.  No one likes it when a great band falls apart.  And if mine likes happy tunes, well then that's what I'll (try to) play.   :)

Monday, March 29, 2010


I love the internet.  I may even be just a teeny tiny bit addicted to the internet.  I dabble in online shopping, try my hand at being a home retailer by selling junk on eBay, and enjoy a good blog or two from time to time.  But my real addiction comes in the form of Facebook and BabyCenter, the crowning jewels of internet for a mother with small kids these days.  On Facebook, I read every status, look at every picture, and post too many of each, myself.  I genuinely enjoy following past and present friends' lives and the idea that they, in turn, may be following mine.  I may have fed, clothed, carted and played with 2 children all day, but there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment that comes from being "Liked" 4 times and getting 6 comments.    
And then there's BabyCenter, a place where thousands upon thousands of mothers from all over come to talk, argue and one-up each and every day. You file into a group of mothers that is recommended to you by the site and feel bonded by the only real thing you have in common, being due in the same month of the same year.  Anything from bodily functions to politics is discussed and by the time your baby arrives you may even end up with a few friends for life.  And the cycle goes on and on and on...
So what's the appeal?  Why on earth am I addicted to staring at a screen and hanging on old friends' and strangers every word?  The simple answer is that it reminds me that I am not alone.  On any given day, someone out there is having as good or bad a day as I am.  On any given day, I can read stories and see pictures of people doing the same things as me, things I've never dreamed of doing and things I wish I could do.  It's a whole world at my fingertips.  I'm never alone.  No isolation.  Full access, 24/7.
I've heard my mom and others of her generation make comments about how nice it must be for young mothers to have that kind of access.  Bouncing things off of each other, getting support, ideas, name it.  They say that in their day you didn't talk about hardships of motherhood and you certainly didn't have websites to see if something was "normal" or read up on "how to" potty train, sleep train, behavior train, etc., etc....  How easy it must make things!
As an internet addict, I say, "Yes!  Yes it does!  We're so lucky!"  But are we?  Or does it make our lives as mothers even harder?  Just last week I saw a posting on BabyCenter asking other mothers if they had taken their "Bunny ears picture" yet, followed by pages of women posting the actual picture.  (To explain, this is a picture of your baby wearing bunny ears for Easter.)  Well, no.  No, I haven't.  Am I supposed to?  Does everyone take bunny ears pictures?  Six years from now will she come home with a homework assignment to bring in her baby bunny ears picture, to which I'll have to break the news that her mother didn't take one?  Oh no!  Off to get the camera and a pair of bunny ears...  
There is a whole new list of supplies that every mother just has to have, perpetuated strictly by the widespread distribution of the internet.  From tutus and flower head bands to $500 cameras and strollers worth more than my car, you quickly realize that there are a lot of "necessities."  Not to mention the activities people fill their kids' days with.  While I'm lucky if I make it to the grocery store, play Barbies, a board game or two and get dinner on the table, others are effortlessly doing high level crafts made from all homemade materials and making outings to every park, zoo and farm in the tri-state area.   
But is it effortless?  Or is it just that the pictures, statuses and stories make it seem effortless (perhaps even on purpose sometimes!?)?  Or maybe it's our ability as women to weed out the down days these same women may have, seeing only the things we wish we could do, be, have.   I'm sure it's a mix of all of the above.  But in any case, it's a trade off from the lives our mothers had.  Where they had isolation, we have open access.  But with open access, albeit one dimensional, comes some one-upping and facades of perfection (which is timeless and not invented by the internet).  I guess at the end of the day, if you can manage to keep yourself in check and see things for what they are, the comfort of the internet is a blessing.  You just have to remind yourself that pictures and stories told through a keyboard are not people’s total lives, just a piece.   No different from this blog.   I am actually a man who lives alone.  :)