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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | Big love and the crack baby.


Not us. But love. And people I am thankful for.

I have so much: a one-eyed dog, a pink bike, a Quacker in Nowheresville, and shoo-in status as Mother of the Year  for the parenting of my teenagers.  I am grateful out the ears.  I won’t bore you with any more of those details; instead I’ll share just one real message of thanks today. I am thankful for big love.

My husband asked me to marry him this morning.

I said maybe.  Usually when he asks – and he asks often, he’s romantic that way – I say yes.  But not today.  Today I am still in the turbulence of a Big Love jet-wash.

Big love.

That’s what we have, a big love with big emotions and big hearts at stake.  We’re pretty poorly equipped for it: two middle-aged losers at marriage their first go ’round, a little self-centered, highly emotional and with the kind of baggage that could have inspired Miranda Lambert’s song Baggage Claim (my current fave tune).

Some people have love, but not big love.  Some people don’t need or want big love.  It seems to me that for many of these people, life is perfect without the highest of highs, because they appreciate and are content with the consistency of a love without the lowest of lows.  Maybe.

Not me.  I want July 4th and Christmas rolled into one, even if the price is the occasional nearly-slain gladiator on the floor of a Roman colosseum.  And I have that, boy do I have that. 

How does one survive a big love?  I’ve written on this before a la Couples Who Make You Want to Puke and the dreaded Relationship Operating Agreement (ROA) concept.  Our ROA does help, as does the ground work we put in creating it. 

Padded walls help.

Valium.  Valium is good, too.

What helps most, though, is perspective and a good sense of humor.  Take this week for example.  Eric and I go weeks, sometimes months, without a ripple on Lake Placid.  Well, it has ripples, but those are more the waterbed kind.  Good ripples.  And then something comes along, and BAM tsunami.  It’s that sudden, and that random.  I lived another life in a relationship with predictability, and with 24/7 bickering that my children still refer to with eye rolls.  This is different.  Different in an enormously wonderful and scary way.

This week, Eric did something that hurt my feelings.  No biggie.  He didn’t mean to.  Three days later, he is contrite, and I realize both his good intentions and my contributions to the misunderstanding. 

But this is big love.  And it became a big deal.  Except that what we battled over was not whether or not he did something wrong or whether or not I was too sensitive.

We fought over the crack baby.  The crack baby is like a feel-good teddy bear, only more addictive.  It’s not like a literal crack baby, which is a serious thing when it happens, and is real.  This crack baby is like a make-believe Raggedy Ann stuffed with crack. The crack baby is our relationship.  It’s the high we get from loving each other.  He took my crack baby by his “action,” I took his by my “reaction.”  Our whole damn fight was literally over nothing more than “make this stop and give it back.”  Which would have happened in an instant if either of us had simply done that.  Stopped.


Neither of us is a “stop first” kind of person.

It ain’t easy being this difficult.  You could strive and strive and probably never achieve these lows.  It’s a (dis)honor reserved for the truly noble.  Yours truly.  And my beloved.

We get apocalyptic, along the lines of, “my best will never be good enough for you,” or “you ALWAYS” and “so I’m never kind/caring/insert-your-word-here, that’s what you’re saying.”  Nonsense shit.  Grown-ups behaving like children. WAAAAH, GIVE IT BACK OR I’LL THROW A TANTRUM.

Sometimes one of us will pull out the ROA, and we’ll regroup and handle our non-issue appropriately.  Other times one of us will try only to get whacked over the head with it.  Usually, we forget in the heat of the extended moment.  Oops.

When we are worn out, beat down, and busted, it will finally re-occur to one of us: we’re simply in withdrawal.  The crack addict in me crawls to her feet from the fetal position, shakes off the DT’s, and surveys the damage.  It’s ugly, but the sun is shining, and look! There it is – a worn baby doll on the floor.  She scoops it up and hugs it, and it is gooooood.  It is the crack baby.

And then we laugh, with some shame and a shared guilt.  We are addicted to the ratty crack baby.  We have just gouged each other’s hearts out over nothing, yet over the most important thing at the same time.  Our relationship.  Our fear of losing the feeling.  Our unspoken terror of losing each other. 

Talk about an attempt to self-fulfill a prophecy.

But what we do next is critical.  We talk over the deviation from the ROA while our wounds are still fresh.  We hold each other.  We apologize.  We forgive. 

If we are having trouble stopping the tussle, we allow one holler of “calf-rope.”

calf-rope, holler v phr  Also call calf-rope, cry ~, say ~, yell ~; also calf-rope exclam [Origin uncert] chiefly S Midl, Gulf States See Map Cf uncle Esp in children’s games: to give in, surrender; to capitulate. 1878 Eggleston Roxy 44 sIN, [They] pummeled each other in a friendly way until the challenger, finding that his antagonist had entirely stopped respiration, was forced to “hollow calf-rope,” that is, to signify by gestures that he was beaten.  1906 DN 3.129 nwAR, Calf-rope [kæfrop]. . . I give up, I surrender. “I’ll give it to him till he yells calf-rope.”  1908 DN 3.296 eAL, wGA, I’ll make him say calf-rope. 1933 AmSp 8.1.31 nwTX, In an argument, rassel, or any sort of contest, a fellow could acknowledge his opponent’s superiority, and usually stop hostilities immediately, by saying calf-rope. In extreme cases, however, the conquered was made to spell it. Ibid 49  

From the Dictionary of American Regional English:

But the privilege of hollering calf-rope doesn’t come free.  As with ending any of our infamous disagreements, we have to recommit to solving the issue (if there is even a real issue instead of just a crack baby issue), reaffirm our love and commitment to our ROA principles, and release the crap that is dragging us down. 

Yeah, we have to let it go.  Get the hell over it.  Which isn’t always easy, because we’ve created a mountain of garbage out of nothing.  But yet it is always achievable because of…

Big love.


And laughter, with each other, about each other, eventually.  Me sooner than Eric.  Eric grudgingly a few days later, but loud and real. 

Big love = epic adventures, big screen romances, and greeting card sonnets.  It’s Disney princess.  It’s The Notebook.  It’s lightning in a bottle.

Not everybody wants it.  It doesn’t come free.  But I wouldn’t trade our passion for predictabililty.  I’m crazy that way and imperfect to boot, and damn lucky to have someone as my partner who’s crazy and imperfect in just that same way.

Today, I’m thankful for the big love. 

And, Eric, the answer is always yes.


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22 Responses to Big love and the crack baby.

  1. Terri Swain via Facebook says:

    Awww… Can’t really puke to that even if you wanted to.

  2. :) Eric said it is the best love letter I have written to him yet. He is awfully patient about living his life out loud. Thanks, Terri.

  3. Here’s to Big Love, good friends, and living the great life.


  4. Predictability is highly overrated. Can’t say I know near enough about Big Love but it sounds A-Frickin-Mazing.

  5. Big Love – something we both used to only dream about. The reality is well worth the occasional moments of insanity and immaturity. I love this line: “WAAAAH, GIVE IT BACK OR I’LL THROW A TANTRUM” – exactly. I’m taking my ball and I’m going home… oh. I am home. I have nowhere else to go. So I have to to work it out and give up my sulk fest. Leland is usually the quicker one to forgive & get over it – we are SO much better than we were early on. Now it only lasts, at most, an hour. Used to last a few days! You know what’s funny? I’m always asking Leland to marry me and he’s always saying no. Says he wants to keep me on my toes! BIG love. I am so thankful I know what it is, too. You just say it so much better!

  6. Tammy Hamilton says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing Pamela! Such a great perspective and it makes me happy to know that somebody else is in the same crazy love as me and my hubby! 27 years and one hell of a ride with no predictability but I would not want any other man to go down this road with! He is the love of my life even if I want to kill him every blue moon, lol!

  7. Rhonda says:

    I loved this…in fact I sent the link to my husband to read. When we first got together we were one of those couples that our friends envied because we couldn’t keep our eyes (or hands) off of each other. It was literally like no one else was there for us, even in big crowds. As the years wore on and life got hard, there were moments that we thought we hated each other. This article is a much better description of what was really going on….BIG LOVE! BIG passion. We are still together 20 years later (married for 16). I’m happy to say the BIG LOWS are fewer and further between. I don’t think the big ride is a trade-off on stability. Surviving the highs and lows I believe has bred even more stability…there’s too much at stake to jeopardize the relationship. Ha ha. You don’t ever want to give up the highs and you worked too damn hard to get through the lows to throw it away. ha ha Thanks for yet another great article!

  8. adena says:

    Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for showing me what a real relationship is. Thank you for showing me that there are struggles but that there is always love. Thank you for showing me that despite disagreements and personalities that the love can still be there. be the most important. Thank you for showing me that you need to be with your best friend. And finally thanks alot for making me cry at work!! I am single but if I do come across someone now, after knowing you guys (and some other amazing tri couples) I will wait for my best friend. I totally heart you two.


    • Pamela says:

      Ah, Adena, I totally <3 you back. I was trying to explain Twitter to my parents today, and I read your comment aloud to them as an example of people that touch each other that you don't know but you KNOW, a world away. I am conjuring up a best friend, with passion and unpredictabilty thrown in. Do what you love, and your heart will find him there.

      • adena says:

        Say HI to Mom and Dad for me!! And that awesome hubby of yours and take a hug for yourself. 😉 The only people that ‘get’ twitter are the people ON twitter. Whenever I tell people that I’m meeting someone that I started talking to via twitter they are always afraid I’m going to be murdered.

  9. Eric Hutchins says:


    You have this way of being able to continually up the ante. Each time I think you have written that perfect thing that cant be topped you produce something new that is even more “perfect”. What you have written describes us embarrassingly well.

    I am also so grateful for the incredible highs, for feeling alive, for having a reason to care so much. I also think that we are learning to handle the bumps better and recover quicker. But even those are a reminder that its nice to care so much.

    • Pamela says:

      What I think is great is that after I do one of these vomit-up-my-soul posts, you and I talk about it, and lo and behold it goes to another level again, a deeper level of safety even within the tsunami :) I love your acceptance of and love for me, even the parts of me I wish weren’t there. You know who I am, and that my faults don’t define me. I am grateful for you.

    • Pamela says:

      And you are INCREDIBLY able to deal with living your life out loud, if you will. And, because I find increasingly that I write about human interaction through personal introspection, I would be doomed if you didn’t!

  10. **Today, I’m thankful for the big love.

    And, Eric, the answer is always yes.**

    Big Love. Yes!
    —Gosh, I loved this post, P. ;)) Superb.

  11. Ally says:

    Loved this. You guys are awesome and amazing and the fact that you can write about it helps the me sometimes put my own feelings into words!

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