I fell hard for my husband during the summer of 2001, the year after we graduated from the same college. We went camping as friends and I was pretty certain I was going to marry him after that trip.
We started a 5-month-long distance dating relationship that was full of spontaneous weekend trips to see each other, sappy emails, and plenty of mutual admiration. After that, he moved to be near me and it wasn’t long before we were engaged and married.
A lot of people say their first year of marriage was hard, but ours was pretty blissful. We then had five more years of loveliness where we traveled, napped on the couch, read books, and supported each other to our heart’s content.
When it was time to have kids, they didn’t come as fast as we’d hoped, and we had a few years of infertility and experienced miscarriages. We held each other and cried, longing to be parents. When the kids finally came, they came quickly — four babies in five years.
The attention, the time, the space, the stress-free moments we shared; the pre-kids us now feels a lifetime away. Instead there are piles of dishes, baskets of laundry, baths, boo-boos, decisions, moves, bills, and countless other responsibilities that weigh us down. The carefreeness of marriage before kids floated away with the birth of our first.
The tendency of marriage after kids is a slippery slope to becoming co-chore-doers. Co-kid-wranglers. Co-too-tired-to-do-anything-after-we-put-the-kids-to-bed parents.
Recently my husband took the mayo out of the fridge and asked me to smell it. He wasn’t sure if it was edible. After a whiff (it passed), I thought, This is where we’re at? Not that smelling the mayo isn’t a perfectly acceptable spouse request; there’s the safety of the whole family to consider. It’s that I realized I miss the old Us. The Us that had time for deeper conversations than ones about condiments.
Since Mary Poppins isn’t going to drop on our doorstep to shoulder all the duties and childcare we’re too tired to handle, it’s going to be a slog for the next few years. I don’t have all the answers. We’re in the part of the race where the blisters and joint aches are maddening but we keep running because…well, we signed up for it and we want to make it to the end.
One foot in front of another. For as long as it takes.
I tell my friends who want to try natural childbirth, to process it one contraction at a time. No one can handle the thought of never-ending-over-the-top painful contractions, but almost everyone can breathe through ONE.
Marriage after kids is getting through this tough moment. Or this tough day. Or this tough week. And then, hopefully, we’ll get a date night, or a weekend away, or a shared laugh. We’ll be reminded of what brought us together and what we have together in spite of the struggles. We’ll regroup and keep running the long-distance race that is marriage after kids and parenting.
Because in five or ten years and beyond, when the kids have their own lives, and we’re left alone in the house with the laundry folded and some down-time, I want to have something to talk about besides the mayo, you know?