When Coupling Is Hard
I believe the third rail (if you're not a city person, that's the rail you don't want to touch) in the writing world is the honest discussion of marriage and of how having young children changes marriage (life gets real - real fast). Petty grievances accumulate so quickly causing fault lines - literal fault lines - that make us shift and quake in our couple relationships. It can get mean, ugly, and dirty fast because we are sleep-deprived while living a wonderfully beautiful life, a life we would not trade for the world, but one we'd certainly take a 48-hour break from if anyone would offer to give it to us.
No one wants to touch upon this area for too long, I believe, because none of us wants our relationship on display and, maybe if we're honest, none of us knows what the hell we're talking about if we're in it. And if we're not in those years when young children make a simple conversation hard to have, we've blocked it all out so that any help we might be offered is from people with severe memory lapses.
What I know from older people who have no skin in my game (because when they are your mother, they generally just say, "Oh, don't be mad about that" even if they were mad about that 30 years ago) is that coupling while parenting is hard, mind-bending work. The other night, my husband and I were at a dinner where everyone at our table was married with children and about 15 years ahead of us in life. I think because we were the only ones with young children, the others at the table felt they could, perhaps, offer some sort of advice that they wished they'd been offered years before. And that 15-year window must be the sweet spot where you still remember how tired you were, how hard it was at the time, and the truth of life when you have young children.
One guy said, "Gosh, I'll tell you: those years were hard. You [to my husband] are working all the time and trying to get ahead for your family. And you [to me] are working all the time at home and trying to make your family work. You [to me] never have a moment alone and you [to him] don't really either. Everyone's being pulled."
It was an open bar throughout dinner or I would have bought this guy, actually, our whole table, a round. They were giving it to us straight. My husband and I have never been to a therapy session, but I'd call this dinner pretty darn close to that for us. The whole table offered us their stories - a mother who reared their babies in Russia while her husband worked all day and night and entertained clients, and she tried to meet one friend - one single friend - so that she had someone to talk to besides her babies, a father who said honestly, "I was just never really available for her. Ever. I feel bad about that now."
My husband and I have talked about how backwards it is that, in this life, we build everything at the same time - families, careers, ourselves. We do it all at once, sometimes at breakneck speed, even though we know life is not a race but a journey and our children's childhood only comes around once. If we miss that, then we miss it. The end. No do-overs there. And yet, if we don't build while everyone's building, will we have enough, be enough, give enough?
See, this is why no one writes about it when we're in it. No answers here, just an honest discussion with no skin in your game telling you not to worry (because we all worry) and not to be mad (because if you're mad, you're mad) and not to feel rushed (if you do, you do).
What I do know is this: this picture offers a way we stay together. I was going through pictures from our trip and deleting some and organizing others. I got to this one and went to delete it because what the heck is going on with my one eye? My husband said, "Don't delete it. I like that one eye. But actually, delete it because that's a terrible picture of my face." And I said, "Well, I'm not deleting it because of your face because that's not a bad picture of your face."
So I kept the picture. Even though we both don't love ourselves in it, we love the other person enough - sometimes, just enough, barely enough - to keep it together, to not delete it all. And that's enough. It's enough to know that this time in our lives when we feel like we can't hardly breathe at times (let alone, sleep) is fleeting. The people at our table told me so.
One couple said, "Yeah, my advice is just hang on. Just don't do anything or say anything too drastic until your youngest is 6. I think that's when I had a brain again."
That's a lot of years away for us; it feels like eons, actually. But for now, if it's good enough (even barely good enough) most of the time even when I'd like exceptional all of the time because that's the kind of hairpin I am, I'll just keep catching the sun with my squinty eye and I won't delete it all. That's all, day after day, until I get a brain again. And to those people at our table the other night, the ones who didn't have to get a babysitter to go out to dinner? Cheers to you. And thank you for your honesty.