We’ve only been home for the evening – from school and my daughter’s ballet class – for a few minutes and she’s somehow managed to become entrenched in a monster of a tantrum. Something about not being able to find a book.
“Come back outside when you’ve calmed down, please.” I tell her, pointing to the door. She trudges inside, red-faced and screaming and slamming her rage-filled fists into everything in her path.
I hear her wailing from inside and out of the corner of my eye, can see her pressing her face up against the screened-in window. I’m pretending not to notice, pretending I’ve gone deaf. I’m checking my phone for the time and hoping my husband will walk in any minute.
The baby stumbles up to me with his arms outstretched and bangs his head on the table. I pull him up into my lap, rubbing his back and wiping the not-so-unusual combination of tears, snot, and dog hair from his upper lip.
I check the time again. Where is the pizza I ordered on the way home? Where is my husband? I’m tired of waiting for everything and everyone today.
Finally, my daughter comes back outside. She’s still whimpering, but lets me hold her hands and look into her eyes. We talk about how hard it is to calm down sometimes, and I believe every word she says. I love how honest she is in these moments – when she tells me about how she can’t stop crying, or how she doesn’t really know what’s wrong – because you don’t often hear people say exactly how they feel. We’re all a little afraid of not making sense.
“Anger did it again. Sadness did it, too” she tells me. “It’s not my fault, mommy. It’s all their fault!”
I nod. “I know,” I say, and I really do know. “Sometimes anger and sadness get the best of us, but we have to learn to control them. They don’t control us, okay?”
It’s not always true, but she trusts me enough that she sniffles and nods and makes her way into my lap. Now everyone is on me and the dog is trying to get on me, too, and I know it’s going to be one of those nights when that’s where everyone wants to be. There’s no sense in fighting it, or asking for space, or even moving a muscle.
I glance at the time. I glance over my shoulder. I swish my wine.
A few hours later, everyone is sleeping. It’s nearly nine and since it’s still a nice evening, I ask my husband, who has just gotten home, if he wants to sit out on the porch tonight. “Sure,” he says, enthusiastically. Finally! It’s time to relax. It’s my chance for a decent conversation with an adult today. It’s time to catch up. It’s time to enjoy one another. It’s time to just be, without trying so, so hard.
I nestle myself into a rocking chair and look up. But my husband isn’t looking at me, instead he’s tapping on his laptop. He’s working again, so instead of finding the connection I was looking to our marriage for, I practice my patience a little more.
We sit in our rockers that are maybe the only interesting pieces of furniture we own. They were my grandfather’s and they’re made of old, swirling wood. I rock and I rock and I swish my wine.
All day, all afternoon, I’ve been waiting, I realize. Waiting for the kids to tie their shoes or clean up their mess or calm down or eat their dinner. Waiting over an hour for the pizza while everyone melted down and way longer than I thought for my husband to get home from work. And now it’s 9 o’clock and here I am, waiting again and wondering where the day went.
Finally, I’ve grown bored, and vaguely angry. I huff and puff a little, then go inside and flip on the TV. I don’t have the energy to find something decent to watch so I just leave it on a game show I’ve never seen before and didn’t know existed. An hour ago, I was tired, nearly ready for bed. Now I’m irritated and lonely and wide awake, still, swishing my wine.
I’m trying not to be mad because I know there isn't always time in a day for everything that you need in marriage, or anything that you need, no matter how badly you need it. I’m well-versed in this truth. I’m a product of divorce. I had my first baby before I even got married, so I know the drill.
I know that marriage is not perfect – I never thought that it was. But sometimes I think I’m too hopeful that all the pieces will fall just as they should, and we’ll have time to talk or laugh, that the kids will go to sleep early and easily, that all the work will be done for the day, and that we’ll both be in a good mood at the same time.
I’m hopeful for connection because, in this season of my life, I sorely need it. I so rarely have time to visit with friends without children hanging from my limbs as I try to focus just enough to make conversation. I have hobbies and work that I love, too. But sometimes, like on these dull nights, it’s not enough.
For a half an hour or so, I sit there stewing, having no real reason to feel unsatisfied, but letting it wash over me anyway. Feeling the emptiness of all my efforts and needing something for myself, but not knowing where it is, at least not right now.
It is not in the bottom of this glass, or bottle. It's not outside on the porch, staring into a screen. It’s too late to pour myself into work. I’m bored by the TV and too irritated to sleep. So I stew and stew some more and think about the day I had, how long it was, and how tomorrow will probably look the same, or close to it.
But my husband doesn’t know anything about my day – that I was a good mom even though it was hard. He doesn’t know about the tantrum, or the 28 times the baby bumped his head. He doesn’t know about the 15 times I opened and closed my computer, failing to work for even a few minutes, or the 20-minute workout I attempted to do in the yard, before the baby smashed a glass on the sidewalk and I had to sprint over and scoop him up before he stepped on the shards.
He doesn’t know that I ate bites of salad and pizza in between getting everyone water, and new water when it spilled, and napkins, and reprimanding the baby for throwing food at the dog. He doesn’t know how hard I had to try to breathe deeply, and not tell my daughter – who'd been talking incessantly for hours – to please, please, stop talking.
He doesn’t know how I helped everyone practice forward rolls. He doesn't know that I clapped while they danced and dressed in costumes for an hour before bed. He doesn't know that I sprayed whipped cream in their mouths as a reward. And he doesn’t know that I needed him to need me differently than they did, just for a little while, before the day's end.
Today, our interactions consisted of: passing each other in the hallway, yelling out instructions to each other as he shoveled a piece of pizza in his mouth and tucked in one of the kids. And it wasn’t horrible – in fact, it was regular.
But these hurried conversations, these days gone by without connection, sometimes make it feel like our marriage has stalled. Like it needs to be nudged, or maybe even slammed into, by one of the front-loaders in my son's dozens of truck books.
But it’s a marriage, with young children, and it’s mostly fine. So maybe eye contact, a back rub, or someone to watch "Bloodline" with me, all have to wait. And even though I wonder how much waiting is too much, or if we’re doing it wrong, or if it just is what it is, I do know that our babies won’t always need us so much, and that work won’t always be so demanding and that one day – one day, one day – there’ll be time.
I crawl into bed alone and type a text, “are you coming up?” But my phone dies before I hit send. Instead of going back downstairs to argue, or to ask him to come to bed, or tell him how I feel, I turn out the light.
My husband doesn’t come to bed. He sleeps on the couch, but it’s not out of spite. It’s because he knows that sometimes when he wakes me, I don’t fall back to sleep. It’s an act of consideration. And it's one I appreciate, if not at night, then in the morning when I've slept the whole night through until my daughter comes in – wrapping her small, strong arms around me – and the baby cries. And I feel thankful, even if it’s wrong to feel thankful for sleeping alone.
Sometimes, I worry about what this all means – the distance that comes and goes. But I know that we can’t be in sync every day. Marriage is the sum of all the days, and the days are many. Some days, I swish my wine, and I practice my patience, and I remember that it’s okay to feel.
And sometimes, it’s okay to go to bed alone.