Sales & Marriage

When Mike gets the mail, he carefully tears open the envelope, using two fingers to widen it so that he may peer inside without removing the actual bill. Craning his neck and squinting his eyes, while carefully poking at the still folded contents, he is able to locate the accounting total in the dark abyss of the legal sized stationary. From what I can surmise, it’s a coping mechanism — if the paper is never removed from its source, he’s never really seen it. But from the outside, it’s the kind of careful hesitation that someone might heed if they were bracing themselves for a crime scene. Then he leaves the bill for me, the official family bookeeper, so that I may take it to the office for payment, removing himself emotionally from the final assault of the burst pipe that resulted in our lovely plumber’s latest correspondence.

Yet, the credit card bill that arrives during sale season is an altogether different affair. I probably keep ten percent of what arrives, so as far as I’m concerned, the initial number is just a rough estimate — like overpaying your taxes, knowing that you will get a lot of it back at the end. But while I whittle down my purchases significantly, there’s a lot happening on that pre-returns bill. So I prefer to intercept it, hold onto it for a few days, and then nonchalantly stick a random post-it on Mike’s desk with a non-descript total. This way, everyone is on the same overall marital page about where our household expenses are going. Sometimes I’ll jot a little asterix with some diversionary highlights - *Dentist. *School Supplies. *Lola’s health insurance (i.e. that dog really needs to get a job). I then try to discreetly slip out of his office and back into mine hoping the post-it gets lost amongst the paper recycling plant that doubles as his office.

You see, I treat sale season like someone would a side hustle, working the night shift into the wee hours, stalking the internet for the shoes and jackets that at full retail seemed like irresponsible purchases. During these few times of year, my porch looks like a shipping and receiving dock and I’m constantly worried that Lola is going to give herself a heart attack from the anxiety of the UPS and FedEx drivers that she can see making their daily rounds down my driveway from her living room perch. She has literally spent the last two weeks barking at the constant clanging of the trucks’ metal doors rolling up to reveal my concealed garment bags stacked within.

In the throes of my sale season compulsion, I truly believe that I am saving us money when making these purchases. Plus, when I end up returning something and the funds are credited back to my card, there is a fairly large piece of me that feels justified in the conviction that I am actually making money. I do realize that this sounds like a fashion Ponzi scheme.

For Mike, there is no question about what is going on here. We share office space and he is fully aware that my company’s business shipping is done from there. This is personal and, as he side steps over the cartons that are often stacked in the foyer, he knows exactly what’s happening.

The other night, knocking on the door of my closet, which is just a tiny room filled with cheap rolling racks, Mike peaked his head in and jokingly asked, “What do you do in here?” 

“I try on clothes,” I responded. 

Again, very direct. I was surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, plastic hanger bags, return labels and a box cutter, which I keep in my costume jewelry drawer for slicing through packages with ease. Having one on hand is a habit I picked up as an editor wrangling in product for photo shoots, so keeping one in an accessory drawer seems not only appropriate, but also professional. In full disclosure, I also store a tape gun in there for proficient returns.

Yet, when it comes to the credit card post-it, before I make it to the door I inevitably hear a stunned, “Nic…what was on this bill?” 

“You know, life stuff,” I usually respond. To deflect further questioning I might even throw in, “Do you know how much the co-pay is for the boys’ pediatrician? It’s insane!”

“Can I look at it?,” he’ll call out to me without the accusatory tones I surely deserve.

The man knows to the penny what the cable bill will be every single month and yet he won’t make eye contact with it, but this of all financial reckonings he wants to see? Why did he not grasp the full implications of this operation when the postman was using a dolley?

Yet, every four months, we do the same dance. I go back to my office in our shared suite, returning with the paper and acting excessively nonchalant, which by definition is not at all nonchalant. I’d normally insist that if he wants to see something, he needs to walk to my office, but tactically I prefer that he is sitting down. Mike leans back in his chair and, clearly practicing great restraint, calmly scans the bill.

My husband will then rub his temples to settle himself, look up at me and, without irony, ask…                                                                        

“What did you buy at Trader Joe’s?” 

And while this pattern repeats itself, I am almost always shocked by the purposeful evasion of the actual matter at hand. 

The way the breakdown of designer dot coms reads, most rational people would assume their wife’s credit card was stolen. And yet my husband projects his astonishment and distress on the supermarket, which we both know carries life necessities. Food for our children, for example. It’s a ridiculous charade. 

But instead of playing along with the grocery game and appreciating Mike’s impulse to protect our marriage from the issues that have plagued so many couples before us, I react as though I am being accused. Which, in fairness, I am - but under the guise of buying too much food to feed our sons. 

So while I want to say, “What the f do you think I bought there?,” but should in solidarity say, “Those boys just plow through snacks,” and then get myself the hell out of there, I instead sarcastically respond with, “You know, a Chanel bag. They are nineteen cents like the bananas, so I bought a ton.”

“Nic, you don’t have to get defensive,” Mike always responds reasonably. “I’m just asking because I can’t understand what you do with all of this money at the supermarket. I mean, what happened at Whole Foods?” 

“Well, I know the Whole Foods charge seems a little high, but they had the Marni sandals I’ve been searching for,” I quipped the last time. Is he kidding? If he ever went to the supermarket, he’d know how much organic lettuce runs these days.

Of course I’m defensive. We have two children and a 120-year-old house that is falling to the ground and I’ve got a warehouse of designer shoes being unloaded in the driveway. I am a maniac. Feeling victimized is my only option. And if anyplace can make a wife a martyr, it’s the supermarket.

In truth, we have always had a democratic marriage when it comes to money and everything else. As adult partners that share the responsibility of two children and a household, there is simply the unwritten understanding that we have priorities, but we trust each other to make individual decisions about the personal purchases we make. 

The issue with this arrangement is that I know in my heart it is completely imbalanced. Mike doesn’t even buy underwear and wears the same “vacation shirt” on every trip that we have taken since I bought it for his first visit to St. Maarten with my grandparents almost twenty years ago. Every fall he has the boots resoled that I got for him at the Barneys Warehouse sale before we moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for nine years and we have been back for three, so you do the math. Last Father’s Day, my boys asked if we could get him a new bathing suit because, “Daddy always wears the same one.” If only they knew that he was wearing those trunks when we were counselors at sleepaway camp decades ago. It would not surprise me if his name and bunk are written in them. 

He’s no buddhist, but my husband is a person who truly wants for nothing. At least beyond his wife and childrens’ happiness. So, while I would have never married someone who didn’t feel that I was free to make my own financial decisions without oversight, I do realize that my material values may be called into question in comparison to someone who doesn’t wear underwear because it seems like a waste. 

Mike simply wants to enjoy his home and the world’s many experiences with his family. I do too, but sometimes momma wants to do it in a new pair of shoes. I may be defensive about this twice (ok, thrice) yearly compulsion, but I have enough self-awareness in hindsight to admit my shortcomings. And Mike, to his credit doesn’t judge me.  More often than not, when I have buyer’s remorse, he urges me to keep the pants. “They look cute,” he said to me the other night as I was hemming and hawing over a new arrival, smiling at me like he used to when we were teenagers. Everytime he does that he reminds me that I have all that I need, so those pants will likely go back. Maybe it’s a tactic. 

Reflecting a little, I can see why Mike's reaction touches me. My  grandfather adored my grandmother Leona, always wanting her to have beautiful clothes, taking true pleasure in seeing her enjoyment in getting dressed. When "Loni" recently passed, we found stacks of photos that he had taken of her often standing at the top of their stairs, modeling her outfit before a night out. But they grew up during the depression and my grandfather’s desire was born of a need to give his love the life she had only dreamed of in hopes of erasing those memories of never having enough. And yet, for her, from the time she was in high school with a wardrobe that could fit neatly in a grocery bag, he was already her everything. 

Always reminding me, “You don’t love things, you love people," for my grandfather it was never about the clothes, but rather the wish to see someone you love enjoy a little uncomplicated delight in an uncertain world. I can draw no comparisons to the bread lines that my grandfather was too pained to speak of, but I did grow up wanting to emulate my grandparents’ relationship — one where I would wake up everyday appreciating feeling treasured. It may sound trite, but that’s how I feel when Mike smiles at me lovingly and tells me to keep the pants. It reminds me of my grandparents. If I close my eyes, I can vividly picture my grandfather grinning at Loni and telling her the same.

“Ok,” Mike will finally say about the bill. “I think if we can both make a concerted effort not to waste, we’ll reign in the supermarket runs and be back on budget.” 

Having come to my senses I always answer, “I totally agree,” both of us knowing that nothing will change but the seasons.

_____________________

A few months ago, friends requested that I share some of my finds during my frenetic nights of sale season. Some of my best gets sold out, two of them because of me, but here are three handfuls of items that have either made their way to my door or I have my eyes on.

P.S. If those Marni sandals pop up in a 7 (they run big!), be a friend and message me! Happy Sale Shopping. xoxo

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SLIDES 4. BLOUSE 5. JEANS 6. LOAFERS

 

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SANDALS 4. T-SHIRT 5. CULOTTES 6. SANDALS

 

None the Worse for Wear

(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)

 

No matter where in the world we travel, be it Botswana or Belize, Baja or Boca, there is always one setback that I can count on and, regrettably for me, it’s not delayed flights or lost baggage. To my unbridled discontent and even preemptive stern warnings, my husband will, without humility or even self-awareness, wander the hotel’s grounds and enjoy the property’s amenities clad in nothing more than his complimentary hotel bathrobe.

I have stumbled upon him enjoying the open view of the bush in the lobby of a South African lodge in this getup, jovially greeting stunned new arrivals as they checked in. I have found Mike in his man-robe, enjoying a snack by the pool in Florence while sophisticated Europeans enjoyed Prosecco nearby. Most recently I witnessed him dressed for a bubble bath while reveling in a nightcap at a quaint boutique hotel in the Berkshires. The other couples still wearing appropriate cocktail attire were at least inebriated enough at that hour to be easily amused.

Mike firmly insists, “That’s what the robe is there for.” I cannot imagine that the other guests who enter the business center to find Mike tapping away in terrycloth would agree. We have never stayed at a nudist colony.

To add insult to injury, he wears the plush wrap tied low, Tony Soprano style, and balances out the show of misinformed masculinity that is the chest hair peaking out of the over-exposed neckline by completing this well-edited ensemble with the equally flattering, and also complimentary, bedside slipper mules. I mean, he can’t wander Ojai barefoot, right?

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same person who has coined the phrase “No Pants Tuesday.” You see, Mike spends this day with our toddler boys, taking them out for a “Dudes Lunch” and then to a wild afternoon of bonding at the playground. Just envisioning my three men together out on the town truly warms my heart, which is what I like to focus on. Because when I arrive home at the end of the day, eager to see my crew, and even though Mama has curated an enviable wardrobe for Sweetlips and The Bean, no one is ever wearing pants. Because it’s “No Pants Tuesday.”  (He swears that everyone leaves the house fully clothed.)

So, when despite my earlier protests, I do inevitably encounter my husband swathed in his jetsetting finest and chatting up other fully clothed patrons who are trying to engage in polite conversation while praying that this affable guy has boxers under there, I try to take a photograph to document my plight. When it comes to marriage, always have proof.

I like to send these displays of mortification to my mother-in-law. Why do I bother to involve her? Because she made this bed and now I have to sleep in it. You see, it is my opinion that this sort of blissful oblivion to basic human protocol had to be ingrained as either acceptable during childhood, or at the very least it was consciously overlooked. So while this may seem like a coping mechanism, I blame my mother-in-law for all of her son’s shenanigans, and if I have to suffer through them now, I’m not going to let her retire and take a cruise. As she always says, “Hey, you married him.” Yeah, well you made him.

Yet, we’re still traveling.  The truth is, against my better judgment, I can’t help but laugh. I’m literally an enabler of the inane. When I give a stern warning, it’s simply because I fear that we won’t be allowed to return, not because I want to change him. As his co-parent, I’m glad that Mike is showing the boys to take life seriously by making the details more fun. And I can only hope that one day Sweetlips and The Bean’s partners will continue to bring me in on the joke. Even in our darkest moments, I believe that we pressed through because we’ve been able to unearth even the slightest morsels of humor or levity. Or, in the case of the bathrobe, which my husband truly believes that the hotel has offered for his all-inclusive comfort, I’ve learned to just let certain things go for the sake of my sanity.

The bottom line is, he has no shame and for fourteen years this has been good for me who has plenty. While he’s lucidly padding around a resort in a bathrobe and slippers, you can be sure that I am meticulously accessorized within an inch of my life. We balance each other.

What can I say? Love is blind.

_____________________

Since this essay was pulled from the archives, I've added my new wishful packing list for an upcoming summer getaway...and a little something for the hubby too.

the outlaw

(from the archives with updated links to our nursery decor)

 

“I wanna baby, I wanna baby, I wanna baby!,” my mother-in-law squealed at the top of her lungs as we stood outside a Los Angeles restaurant late one Saturday night many years ago.

“So get knocked up,” I responded placidly, undisturbed by the absurdity of a grown woman having a hissy fit.

Yes, to most, my mother-in-law’s level of involvement in our life together seems inappropriate. But my mother-in-law is completely inappropriate and, well… she’s mine. When I married my husband, I effectually married her too. I knew what I was getting myself into and after seven and a half years of dating, “The Outlaw,” as my painter called her, was part of the package.

Was I always so accepting of our, ahem, her little arrangement? A year and a half into our relationship, Mike and I were home from college and staying at his parents’ house. We were lying in bed when the door suddenly swung open and in walked The Outlaw, who proceeded to climb into bed with us, squealing and clapping with joy. Stunned, horrified, and stuck in the middle, a good foreshadowing of the years to come, I crawled out the other way on all fours. 

But this was a shining moment for my mother-in-law, a story that more than a decade later she recounts with pride, while I wonder if perhaps therapy could have helped me get to the root of whatever emotional issues I have that forced me to stay with someone else’s meddling Jewish mother that doesn’t simply lack boundaries, but bulldozes over ones that most would innately believe are set in stone…like loudly stating that my “headlights” were on at a family friend’s chilly backyard party six months into Mike and my very fragile relationship. 

She’ll embarrass you into submission if she has to.

The truth is I already have overly needy emotional issues with my own mom, who I call fifteen times a day, despite an inordinate level of neurosis on her part that has clearly begun to rub off on me. Why would I have exacerbated an already unhealthy situation with the coupling of two mothers who would become friends and get branded with the singular nickname “Mom Squared”?  (Two separate lunatics melded into one completely insane human being.)

When I decided to leave a job I loved to take a daunting leap of faith, I received a little pewter, swinging door in the mail from The Outlaw that reads, “Another opens.” It has. And The Outlaw was behind me.

 

____________

 

We did not know then that when the time finally came for us to also desperately want that baby, we would have a very long and difficult journey ahead. But in the end, as my grandmother mused, “I guess when you wish and work hard enough, sometimes you get twice as lucky.”

So when I saw those two healthy heartbeats, the years of heartache turned to bliss. The fun could finally begin. I poured my excitement into creating a precious nursery in our very first home as a family. 

Playful and quirky decor ideas that may not work in other areas are right at home in a child’s room — it's free reign for a chic fantasy land. And while there are plenty of sophisticated furniture lines for kids, there’s no need to restrict your choices. Sweetlips and The Bean’s changing table was a nine-foot 1940s bar console with lion handles found on 1stdibs.com. The top was fitted with two changing pads while the cabinets stored their little onesies. Today, it’s in our living room lined instead with cocktail tray and highballs. And yes, I do see the irony of parents turning their twin infants’ changing table into a home bar. 

Here are a few of my favorite elements from that first precious room…

 

1. TEEPEE  2. DREAM CATCHER  3. WALLPAPER  4. SCULPTURE  5. RUG  6. BASKET  7. PILLOW

 

what's in a name

(From the archives with an Africa Where to Stay list)

I have a confession. My name is not really Nicole Mann Novick. At least not legally.

Every time we have attempted an articulate discussion about the weighty subject of my name, no matter how Mike approaches the inevitable, “But why?,” all I can come up with is a somewhat daft, “Because that’s not my name.”  And, once in a while, I throw in a, “How do you just change your name?,” for good measure.

Who the heck is Nicole Novick? – It’s not me.  Nicole Novick has never been asked if her family likes to be referred to as “The Men,” while the asker waits with anticipation to see if that stinger really got her, like no one has ever asked that before.  No one has ever called Nicole Novick, Nicole Wo-Mann, stressing each syllable for what the jokester believes is the necessary punch to really make it a good one.  Nicole Novick was not the precocious eight-year-old on the tennis courts given the nickname Nicole Ineeda Mann by an older, trés cool counselor – an epithet that stuck for all of her camping years.  

Yes, I know, names shouldn’t define us.  But, I feel like the shrink that came up with that was thinking more along the lines of “Fat,” “Lazy” and “Stupid,” not what appears on our birth certificate or social security card. And I don’t give a hoot if I am referred to as “Mike’s wife – Nicole.”  You can just call me, “Mike’s wife” – I’d be proud of that.  I just don’t know who “Mike’s wife, Nicole Novick” is.  I am not concerned about carrying on the family name either.  I have a brother and a cousin that will inevitably produce tortured young women to carry on the tradition of being referred to as “The Mann Eater,” often accompanied by a chorus of “Whoa, here she comes, watch out boys she’ll chew you up.”

Mike doesn’t want to hyphenate Sweetlips and The Bean. I don’t want them to have a hyphenated last name either. Secretly, as a child, I always felt bad for those tykes during standardized tests as they shaded in the bubbles for their double name with a no. 2 pencil. There were never enough bubbles or a place to mark a hyphen. At the time I remember feeling that parents should have thought things like that through and I promised myself I would keep that in mind when I grew up.

Sometimes completely unrelated and benign incidents offer up revelations, ones that couldn’t be found or justified by love or sensibility alone.  I found mine at the dermatologist.  I have a very distinctive mole just at the inner edge of my right eyebrow.  Growing up my mother has always referred to it as a beauty mark, “because you’re beautiful” – you understand.  But, it’s a mole, nonetheless. Because of this mole I have decided not to completely change my name.  Some people reveal that it is my defining characteristic.  While I often forget that it is noticeable, a friend recently admitted that it is the first thing people see.  They stare at it during our entire first encounter and then they move on.  Yet, the mole would be my incriminating feature if I were ever to be put in a lineup of petite blondes. A dermatologist recently told me that she would like to remove the mole.  While it is completely healthy, she felt that my beauty mark is actually quite ugly and (I’m quoting here), “Whenever anyone looks at you they can’t even focus on your face. All they are seeing is that horrible mole.”  I wasn’t offended.

I recently brought up the mole removal to Mike.  All I nonchalantly inquired was, “Should I remove my mole?”

“No!,” he exclaimed, quite passionately for someone that thinks replacing all forms of my present identification is no big deal. “You wouldn’t be you if you remove it. Everyone knows you as having that mole.  You can’t remove it,” Mike pleaded.  And here’s the clincher: He added, “It’s who you are.”

So, let me get this straight – I can’t remove a mole, else lose my identity, but I can change my name?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

As it stands, I am not changing the moniker on my driver’s license or my Loehmann’s membership card. That will remain as Nicole Mann for now. My marriage license reads Nicole Robin Mann Novick, and I will continue use Nicole Mann Novick as my editorial byline and for Garland Collection. If “the kids’” teachers refer to me as Nicole Novick, so be it.  As for Mrs. Novick, I will do my best to remember to respond.  

Clearly, we haven’t sorted out all the details. (I can never remember what name I make dinner reservations or doctor’s appointments under, so I always offer at least three options when I arrive.) But, I love Mike and I wanted a family with him in theory and in name, so it’s a compromise with myself. I have decided that Sweetlips and The Bean will have nothing to do with it – they will be home free with the utterly harmless Novick (although Mike has recently informed me of what little rugrats can do with just the switch of a letter).

I, on the other hand, will have two versatile last names, sometimes using one and when it pleases me using the other, often penning both.  While my incredibly generous and understanding Mike insists that I should do whatever makes me happy, he frequently affirms, “It sounds ridiculous.”  Trust me, I know. But, hey – what’s in a name?

The moral of the story? Traveling with a husband, a dog, two kids and multiple last names continues to be a logistical nightmare and when someone books my flight for family trips under the name Nicole Novick, the only point it proves is that I am not allowed on the plane.

_____________________

We honeymooned in Africa after the name changing indecision decision and traveled back again with Mike's family. Here are a few of our favorite hotels and lodges in South Africa and Botswana, including Royal Malewane, where I took countless pictures of the decor, down to the bathroom floor tiles, knowing that I would one day want to recreate the look in our bedroom at home.

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana

 

CAPE GRACE HOTEL 

 

 

 

Cape Town, South Africa

Charming, welcoming and iconic.

(photo courtesy of Cape Grace)

ROYAL MALEWANE

 

 

 

Kruger National Park, 

South Africa

 

Expert guides, out of this world game drives, and a luxurious lodge and suites perfect for honeymooners.

(photo taken by NMN)

ZARAFA CAMP

 

 

 

Selinda Private Concession, Botswana

 

With only four tented campaign-style suites, this intimate camp amongst big game is reminiscent of Hemingway's journeys to Africa. Stunning in decor and awe-inspiring in setting, it was developed by National Geographic film makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert.