Marriage (and pretty much my entire relationship with Shawn, if I’m honest) has been…easy. My history with relationships was that they are hard, requiring constant tending to and nurturing and negotiating. So when I met Shawn, it felt almost jarring how simple and uncomplicated it all was. It’s not that we haven’t faced moments of adversity or argued over something mundane. It’s just that I’ve always been proud of our ability to communicate, the way we are able to work together. I naively thought that the effect of a new baby would be minimal, just a blip on the timeline of our life together. An adorable, squishy and significant blip— but certainly not the homemade explosive it has turned out to be.
Being tired makes me unreasonable. It magnifies my emotions, my expectations and my disappointments. I wasn’t even really sure what my needs were in those early weeks, but I was pretty certain that they weren’t being met. I refused to accept any help and then inwardly scoffed that Shawn wouldn’t somehow insist on helping anyway. In short, I expected my husband to be both a mind reader and a martyr.
Life has gotten easier as Everett continues to grow. I’m still not sleeping but I’ve reached some kind of hybrid zombie human state that is manageable, if not exactly ideal. The fog has lifted and I now have the capacity to consider things outside of the realm of ‘baby'- personal hygiene…laundry… I even sometimes remember that there are television channels other than Bravo.
But I have a secret that I am weirdly shameful about. I am terrible at prioritizing time for my relationship. I often feel genuinely confused when I see new parents doing the very normal thing of dropping off their babies with a grandparent or other doting relative (who is usually actually salivating at the prospect) and escaping for a few hours. I encourage my own friends with new little ones to take time for themselves and my logical brain recognizes the value of it. But for me, personally…well, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone and having to come up with a plan and thaw frozen milk and pack up a bag and admit to our laid back non-scheduled parenting style and apologize for the fact that my baby doesn’t nap…frankly, it often feels like too much work. Which is not to say I’m not madly in love with my husband. In fact, I love him more at this moment than I ever have in any other point at our relationship. He is my best friend, my consummate partner and fits into every last cheesy cliche.
Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of him in my peripheral vision in the middle of a mundane parenting task and my heart threatens to explode with joy and gratitude. His over abundance of patience with Grace has saved not only my sanity but probably my relationship with her, too. When I come back to bed after feeding the baby, he always reaches out to me and squeezes my shoulder in a sign of sleepy solidarity. He does the dishes every night, navigates school pick up almost every day and is the first to encourage me to work towards goals especially when I’m feeling uncertain. I also sometimes want to strangle him because WHY IS HE BREATHING SO LOUDLY AND ALSO WHY CANT HE READ MY MIND, but this seems pretty typical. So, I’ve honestly been surprised at just how bad I am at putting myself (and therefore my marriage) first. When Grace was a baby, I was prioritizing survival and figuring out how to be a grown up. My relationship just never felt that significant. Now, I’ve got the grown up thing slightly more under control but it feels so daunting to try and carve out the necessary slivers of time to connect with my husband in a way that doesn’t involve playing pass the baby or switching off bedtime duty. And still, I have this pervasive fear of looking up eighteen years from now and discovering that Shawn is essentially a stranger.
Like so many other aspects of parenting, it’s a balancing act. And I’m not very good at balance, as it turns out.
When I was trying to get pregnant, every month that it became obvious that I wasn’t felt like a small tragedy. As I was lamenting to a good friend about the abject disappointment I was feeling she said that she was glad that I was in a place where I wanted something so wonderful to work out so desperately. At the time, it seemed like an overly optimistic spin on the situation but now, I find myself returning to this idea. That it is a privilege to have something beautiful that is worth working towards, where you care so much about the outcome. How lucky I am to have a marriage that is worth protecting and prioritizing.
So today, I sat with my husband in a darkened theater in the middle of the day on a Sunday. I ate overly buttered popcorn, frequently pausing to wipe the grease off onto my jeans (the same pair I had worn the day before). I reached over and hooked my pinky finger into my husband’s and nuzzled my head into his shoulder, my body feeling palpable relief akin to coming home again (I also hid behind that same shoulder more times than I would like to admit- but I think I subconsciously chose a horror movie to capitalize on this exact situation). The entire date was over in a flash— my in laws didn’t even believe that we actually had been away long enough to watch an entire movie but even that small amount of time was like coming up to the surface for giant gulp of air.
I’m learning to take that rush of oxygen where I can get it. Sometimes it will be a stolen hour or two on a random Sunday, sometimes just a favorite TV show and sweatpants and ice cream on the couch after the kids go to bed and sometimes (maybe someday?) it will be an elaborate and meticulously planned weekend away.
And in between the breathing in and out, the world will continue to spin just the way it is supposed to.