The house is silent.
And it’s not because the girls are asleep: it’s because Husband is away on a business trip. He left just this afternoon but already, it feels like he’s been gone for two weeks.
The girls are sleeping peacefully upstairs, and I am blissfully alone. Eliana isn’t reaching for my hair with the intent to pull each individual curl out of my skull, which is her most recent hobby. Lila isn’t asking me to help her with a puzzle or how to spell something. There are no sixth graders begging for my attention, no seventh graders making excuses. There are no dishes beckoning me to the sink— I’ve already cleaned up the crusted-over oatmeal bowl, the jar of pears, the plate of half-eaten kid dinner, the eight wrinkled napkins. All the toys are put away. I’ve even cleaned the desk.
I am completely and totally alone in the quiet.
And while I have been waiting for this moment—secretly craving the silence, in fact, for several weeks now—I can’t enjoy it the way I want to. Ironically, in spite of all my wishing for a moment alone, all my bitching to Husband about how I just want to be alone for a little bit, the reality is that right now, all I really want is to hear the sound of Husband walking through the door, to feel the rush of cold air following him as he comes up the stairs inside to our home—a home that suddenly doesn’t feel that much like home at all without him in it.
After his amazing month and a half hiatus from business trips, I’d grown used to—and spoiled by—the comfortable new rhythm of our family’s life. Having fed the girls, bathed them, and having put Eliana to bed, Lila and I would savor a luxurious long bedtime routine together as we waited for Daddy, like clockwork, to come through the door at 7:15. At 7:16 each night, Husband would shed his suit for jeans and come into Lila’s room, and we’d pass her off, from me to him, like she was a baton in a race. Our eyes would catch one another’s for maybe a second before I eagerly headed downstairs to enjoy my only fifteen minutes to myself all day. From downstairs, I’d relax, “doing nothing” as Husband routinely requested, listening to the Norman Rockwell sounds of Lila and Husband’s voices upstairs as they chatted together contentedly about each other’s days. If I could bottle one sound in my life and return to it forever, the sound of their voices at bedtime—even without knowing what they’re saying—that’s it. It’s the sound I’d keep.
So now, the irony isn’t lost on me that finally, FINALLY, I am alone for more than fifteen minutes, but as it turns out, fifteen minutes is really all I ever needed.
There is no doubt that having a baby—one, two, three, four, nineteen—changes a marriage. More specifically, in my opinion, having children makes the marriage more of what it is. Children are the magnifying glass to your marriage that suddenly enables you to see all of what your marriage is and all of what it isn’t. Under magnification, what was once merely beautiful becomes radiant. Suddenly, minor irritations become open wounds.
As we look back, Husband and I often “joke” (in quotations, because, well, is it really a joke?) that the six months after Lila was born were impossible. Lila’s sleep was a disaster, and we both quickly learned that with only two or three consistent hours of sleep a night, neither one of us was very pleasant. Life moved at a staggeringly slow pace; even as we truly enjoyed Lila’s babyhood and tried to get our heads around the fact that we had created this completely amazing human, each moment seemed to last about ten minutes long because we were so tired. By the time Lila turned six months old, we both felt we had aged about six years in the same time.
We had done it together. One of us had always come to the rescue when the other parent was sucked into a feeding that was taking too long. When Lila was upset for reasons we couldn’t figure out, we both tried to sleuth our way to the answer. That first time we had to shove a rectal thermometer up there, we were standing side by side, lubing up the thermometer with Vaseline, laughing and repulsed together. When she explosively shat all over the changing table and the floor right after, neither one of us ran away.
As we grew into Lila, we grew into each other as parents, and our marriage became more of what it had always been.
Before Children, I had always been outgoing, always craving the spotlight. I was organized, resourceful and anxious with a penchant for exaggeration, a flair for drama and an inclination towards hypochondria. (To the amusement and irritation of Husband, I have never had a broken nose, a concussion, or hearing loss—due to what I felt was an earplug I shoved too far in my ear—though I have seen doctors and even specialists—for all three.)
Before Children, Husband had always been upbeat, open-minded and optimistic. His face has been in a perpetual smile since we first met when we were seventeen. He was messy, yes—clothing has never once remained folded. Generally speaking, he lived life quickly. He was always on the go, learning something new, trying something different. He was pragmatic. Practical. A people-person to the umpteenth power. Always ready with a solution or an idea.
Before Children, I was merely neurotic. I have become significantly more neurotic as a parent: about routine, bedtime, sleep-training, introducing foods, packing things, being prepared. My fixation with doing things EXACTLY as I envision they need to be done can infuriate Husband; he is not a mind reader—he doesn’t know how to cater to my neuroses, how to anticipate what needs to be done. (In my defense, a full laundry basket, I think, is pretty self-explanatory.) And even if he could anticipate and read my mind, he wouldn’t do chores the way I want them done. Which means I am setting myself up for irritation and frustration with him and him with an understandable reluctance to try and inevitably fall short. It’s a losing scenario that I suspect many husbands find themselves in.
And on the flip side, Husband’s messiness has multiplied with the existence of our children. The messes that once were contained behind closed doors and closed drawers have increased because now there are two additional people to deal with, and there is little time for Husband to remedy his own messes since “free” time is generally filled with meeting little people’s needs. And while I don’t feel that Eliana and Lila’s messes should be solely my responsibility, if I can’t handle the way Husband cleans up, then I can’t really complain about it, can I? Oh, rest assured, I can!
Enter angry fight about seemingly nothing, stage left. Drizzle in some resentment; add a healthy spoonful of silent seething. Half a cup of general irritation and frustration. Enjoy leftovers for days!
At moments like these, the ugly versions of ourselves become manifest, highlighted under the magnifying glass of children.
But thankfully, the magnificent parts of who we are become magnified, too. Both Lila and Eliana have perpetual smiles on their faces; this is from watching Daddy, who never stops smiling, no matter what life throws him. When Husband comes home from work and I’m exhausted, he is cheerful and enthusiastic, swooping in to lift Lila off her feet, metaphorically and literally. I crave the spotlight, yes, but as a parent, this means that we have some pretty phenomenal finger puppet theater here on a near daily basis. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen my fingers working Bert and Ernie finger puppets through a thrilling—and yes, I’ll say it, titillating—rendition of “The Heat is on in Saigon” from Miss Saigon; my work with a finger puppet bear-prince version of Valjean singing “Who Am I?” from Les Miserables is nearly as impressive.) Even my hypochondria has come in handy, as we rightfully ended up at a pulmonologist lately, who diagnosed Lila as asthmatic—and thank god, she is finally sleeping through the night without coughing now that she has medication. (God bless Albuterol.)
Children make us more of who we are, for better or for worse.
And, now, here, in my free night, my first night entirely alone in longer than I can remember, I can’t help but miss Husband– the person who makes me more of who I am as much as my children do, and who loves me in spite of– and maybe just a little bit because of– my flaws.
Only one week until he gets home.