The baby was crying again. Actually, replace crying with shrieking. The baby was alerting us — 7 minutes after the last alarm — to the fact that she was in critical pain. Or had to fart. Or wanted a snack. Or was having trouble falling asleep. I have no idea, actually, why she was shrieking that loud (or how in this blessed world our 3 year old could sleep through it in the next room, THANK YOU, SWEET BABY JESUS), but it was obviously our problem. One of us braced for another round of what was quickly becoming quite literally back-breaking shushing, rocking, holding and swaddling, as my post-pregnancy wrists and back — still trying to rearrange themselves after 9 months of baby-building work — buckled under the weight of my giant 9-pound baby. (I am weak, okay.)
My husband and I are pretty diplomatic about alternating shifts during nights like these with our newborn. Or just tapping out when we can sense the other is about to lose it from patiently working through 20 or more prolonged minutes of shrieking. I was rescued from my last such shift. Husband silently crept up behind me in the nightlight-lit nursery like the hero he is and found me forcefully rewrapping our newborn’s swaddle as she wailed. I don’t know how long I had been in there. 30 minutes? An hour? When he touched my shoulder I looked up, a sob catching in my throat, “They say the tighter you wrap it, the more it calms her,” I said, before I fled to my bedroom, feeling like an AWOL soldier deserting my post. I laid in bed pretending to sleep with a pillow over my head, but I could still hear the wails, and the guilt slowly washed over me as the minutes ticked by: 10, 15, 25. I could feel my blood pressure returning to normal just as my husband of six years collapsed into bed beside me. Again. A parenting battle won. For at least another 7 minutes.
It was 2:48 a.m.
“Happy anniversary,” I had whispered then in the dark.
“Happy anniversary, baby,” he had whispered back.
We laid there on our backs, making sure our sides touched, and I reached for his left hand and threaded my fingers through his, as I always did before falling asleep, even just for 7 minutes.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Marriage is an adventure. You get to fight in it and for it. You get to design it and evolve it and be surprised along the way.
This is our marriage today — six years after our raucous wedding day and eight years after our first date circling the Festival of Lights, when husband hid two wine glasses in his car’s glove compartment and won me over forever by asking if I wanted red or white.
It is not usually sexy.
It is not always kind.
It is not always patient and lately it only feels warm in the moments we steal late at night with our sides touching and our fingers threaded together.
But it is real and it is solid and it is incredibly committed.
This is real life.
I am tired. He is tired. I miss me. I miss us, and I know he does too.
When the sun rises, it is officially the daylight hours of this sixth anniversary, and it proves to be no more romantic. This six-week growth spurt is going nowhere fast and our normally chill baby is fussy all day.
I gift him two extra hours of sleep. He gifts me two hours toddler-free. I write him a card on notepad paper at 2:00 a.m. that is sweet, if not embarrassingly last-minute. He buys me a card on his toddler shift that day and leaves it, blank, in a plastic bag in the kitchen for a few days.
“We need to get out of this house together ASAP,” I tell him while baby-wearing and chugging my third cup of coffee.
I text the sitter on a whim and ask her if she can come an hour earlier than I initially asked, and she blessedly can.
When she walks in the door at 5:00 p.m., we are ready for her. We throw her our baby, tell her the toddler can watch as much TV as she wants, and we BOUNCE. We agree beforehand that the total price tag of this night for shenanigans + sitter will be 100% worth it and we throw caution to the wind like the wild, delirious new parents of two that we have just become.
“We need to celebrate the fact that our marriage has lasted this long,” I tell husband.
I really like celebrating.
The night that follows is perfect — well until I find myself in the hospital, but let’s not rush ahead.
We spend an hour together walking the bridge and burning off some physical and emotional steam while talking about things that are hard to talk about with small children around needing your total attention. The walk starts off a little tense, with both of us in our own weird survival funks from said growth spurt. We are a bit shell shocked. We are trying not to force the process that we hope will inevitably follow of loosening from business partners to best friends to lovers.
Being married with babies can easily start to feel like you run a business with a tall guy you really like who you can also boss around and blame things on. Then you might work your way out of those roles into the best friends place. Awww, best friends are so cute, right? This means you really like each other and want to spend every day together but forget to do things like kiss and hold hands because you’re still running a business and you have shiz. to. do. And then sometimes, if you’re lucky (and stubborn), you get back to the lovers stage. And I’m not even really talking about sex, though that’s a nice bonus. On this relationship stop, you can’t keep your hands off each other and you smile and laugh a lot. You obviously still keep your kids alive, but you kiss your partner as much as you kiss your kids and you actually mean it when you tell him you love him just as much as you love your angelic offspring.
Three hours and a bottle of champagne after we start our walk, we’re back on lovers lane. We remember what it feels like to be connected. We bask in the part of our identities that is not mom or dad. Fun Gervase, relaxed Kev. We lean into the spontaneity of a night out that ends with karaoke. It is exactly what we needed.
Cards and gifts don’t matter to me or husband. You know what does? Quality time and how we show up emotionally and energetically in our relationship. When I’m okay, he’s okay and we’re okay. Tonight teaches us that lesson for the 200th time.
So about that hospital visit . . .
Because we wanted to create an anniversary that we would remember for-e-ver, we decide that a growth spurt, bridge walk, a couple bottles of wine and karaoke are not enough . . .
Home in bed later that night, I startle awake to the baby’s wailing alarm, per usual. Unsure of the time and definitely not fully awake yet, I launch — literally, LAUNCH MYSELF — from the deepest sleep towards the bedroom door. As someone with low blood pressure and a propensity for fainting, particularly when I’ve been drinking for several hours, I catch myself mid-fall on the bookshelf right outside our bedroom door, seconds later. The bookshelf just happens to carry a large glass-blown decorative plate from our travels in South America atop it (DEFINITELY NOT BABY PROOFED). Aforementioned plate crashes to the ground and shatters at my bare feet.
Husband comes running from the nursery where he was ALREADY HANDLING IT, to find me standing in a pool of blood in the dark insisting I’m totally fine. I could have stayed in bed where I belonged. “This is a waste of much blood and stress,” I can’t help but thinking as husband dutifully cleans up crime scene.
Three hours later (because I need to sober up), I drive myself to the emergency room and tell that same embarrassing story to about 13 ER staff members over the course of four hours. “Kind of an odd hour to be doing housework,” the lady at the front desk tells me at 4:30 a.m. when I tell her about the plate attacking me. “It was our anniversary,” I mutter. I was just celebrating.
She is the worst.
Six hours and six stitches later, I hop on one foot (literally) back to my car and drive home to where husband is doing his best to hold down the fort without me. He will, regrettably, need to continue doing so for the next 48 hours since I cannot stand upright, let alone care for my children. This is terribly inconvenient, of course. #MomoftheYear
The weird thing is that my husband and I are kinder and more loving towards each other for those next 48 high-stress hours than we have been in weeks, which just goes to show it’s not necessarily about the quality of the “hard,” but about the quality of the breaks and connecting opportunities we take in between the hard #ThisIsRealLife moments.
Because, let’s be honest, marriage is hard work.
Raising tiny humans is hard.
But still — it can still be kind of a fun ride if you take TIME to create the moments you and your relationship and your #momlife need to survive it in one piece.
Why do women have a warped concept of marriage after kids?
Because nobody tells the truth.
Because everyone pretends theirs is the best.
Or everyone secretly feels like theirs is the worst.
We aren’t talking about it honestly and we definitely aren’t portraying it honestly through the filters on Instagram.
This is REAL life.
What if marriage after kids wasn’t the best or the worst?
What if it was both and we could totally handle it?
Marriage is an adventure. You get to fight in it and for it. You get to design it and evolve it and be surprised along the way. You can choose to stop the busyness and the hamster wheel living and celebrate it, without excuses. Celebrate the growth spurts and the date nights. The hospital visits and the picture-perfect moments, because you earned it ALL, and you do not get the GIFT of the highs without the lows. You don’t get to have one without the other. At least not if we’re talking about REAL LIFE MARRIAGES.
We’re here to live the full range of what it means to be human, and there’s nothing wrong with that experience. Your life doesn’t all have to be Instagram-ready to be fulfilling and freaking epic.
Yesterday, I brought the baby into our bed at 7am and she cooed and smiled at us for 10 minutes before the toddler climbed into bed and the four of us snuggled and laughed and loved harder than we ever thought we could love.
This is real life.
It hard then it’s easy then it’s hard again, and it’s all totally okay.
Happy (late) anniversary to the best life partner I could have ever chosen for this crazy ride.
I promise to keep apologizing to you, being honest with you, loving you and being brave enough to live the highs and the lows with you every year till we’re old and fat and these kids we’ve raised will pour our champagne and change our diapers.
This post originally appeared on Shiny. Happy. Human.