After I had my first baby, I forgot a lot of things: where I left my car keys, whether I turned off the iron, how long the roast had been in the oven, and how to be a wife.
My time — all of it — was spent doing normal newborn things: feedings every two hours, diapers every few minutes, load after load of laundry, rocking and swaddling, and on occasion, sleeping. I was attentive and doting and every bit obsessed with my new daughter, and I was also ignoring the “other” person in the house. The one who was there first.
My husband, Mike, was equally distracted, sharing every responsibility that came with being a parent, including managing the sale of our home and the purchase of another, all while working 10+ hour days designing construction equipment for a manufacturing company. Our relationship changed the second our daughter was born and we became busy in different ways…and in time…different people.
I was so wrapped up in being a perfect parent that I became a rather imperfect partner. I took motherhood seriously, mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing and had no one to ask or show me how to care for a baby. Almost immediately, I lost my sense of humor. Worse than any of the above mentioned behaviors, I also forgot how to talk to Mike as an adult. After a year or so of motherhood, I realized that I didn’t talk to him, but at him. Mike didn’t say much about my new personality (well, not too much), and he didn’t have to. I could hear it in my own voice.
During Ava’s toddlerhood, our household grew by two more people: We had moved my father into our home (he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease), and then I became pregnant with our second baby. With new duties in the mix, we were even less of a couple and more of a couple of caregivers. If we wanted a break, there wasn’t one to be had.
And that was the point: I couldn’t leave the house. I was so tied down between children, a sick parent, a handful of pets and freelance projects that I didn’t see the light of day. I wasn’t unhappy, believe it or not, but I was spoken for…everyone needed me. Yet, I couldn’t see that my marriage did, too.
Let me be clear: We didn’t have marital problems, but we certainly should have. I learned during this era that I was married to the most patient, pleasant man ever created. No conversation? No privacy? No downtime? No vacation? No breaks? No problem.
After my dad passed away, I gained some freedom to do the things I once couldn’t. But being at home also meant that I had to train myself to go out again…to loosen my grip and trust others to keep the home fires burning. I had to take baby steps of my own. Mike and I would race through Target for a half-hour or so. Then to dinner. Then to dinner AND a movie. Then to a local baseball game (four innings, max!), and then to the 7th inning stretch…and then the whole game! Finally, the big one: A trip to Cincinnati to see the Reds play the Red Sox.
It was a gigantic step for me to leave the girls with a babysitter in a hotel room in Kentucky (yes, I know…Kentucky and Ohio are a bridge apart — you can throw a rock at both welcome/come back soon signs). I went, but it took some prodding from authors of magazine articles who outlined why marriages struggle in the first years of parenting. When one spouse is more focused on the children than his/her partner, the other person becomes focused on different things (and people), too. Separate lives often become separate residences.
I vowed never to find myself in those ‘unfortunate’ statistics. After all, this was the guy whom I had a crush on since I was a teenager. He was as close to a Mickey Mantle lookalike as I could have found in this world, and about as ornery. A blonde-headed-blue-eyed-baseball-loving-boy with a smile brighter than the lights at Yankee Stadium, Mike was still the kindest and most respectful man I knew. He deserved a lot more from me.
Now in our 20th year of togetherness (married for 14), we found ourselves back in Cincinnati when the Reds played New York (and we took our girls!). While standing in line to get into the ballpark, I looked up at a banner advertising Paul McCartney’s “On the Run” concert slated for August 4th. Mike appreciates old music more than baseball, and I knew he’d love to see a Beatle in person. I headed for the box office, where I discovered that a few seats remained. I returned to the line and handed him an envelope.
“You got tickets?” he exclaimed.
“I bought ’em. We’re closer to John Lennon than Paul McCartney, but we’ll be there.”
Mike looked inside. “Only two tickets?” he asked.
Yes, just two. Just us. It’s a date.
Later that night, we made plans for our weekend in August, recognizing that not many people can say they’ve seen even one of the Fab Four. And, we might not have a chance like this again. That’s true for a lot of things. We have to enjoy every moment, however and whenever we can get them.
“Hey, maybe before the game we can get a bite to eat somewhere downtown, then head over to the concert, and then get a drink afterward,” he suggested. And the rest of the weekend? Who knows what we’ll get into. I’m just going to let it be.