There are many parts of life that are swept away when parenthood comes crashing down around you. Some of them come drifting back eventually (sleep), while others remain hopelessly lost at sea (money).
Then there are your buoys—the things that you clutch onto for survival.
Matt’s my buoy.
I’m so used to having him for support that I sometimes forget he’s not just a buoy; he’s also man. But because the demands of parenting are so relentless, the part of our partnership that is romantic has to sit the bench a lot.
(I realize I’m mixing nautical and sports metaphors now, but just bear with me.)
On a day-to-day basis, Matt and I are like two ships passing in the night. Or two footballs passing in the end zone. Our most torrid exchanges sound like this:
“Hey Matt, so Jem has a booger in his nose and Finn is out in the back yard eating poisonous berries and Bran is lying crushed beneath the TV. But first could you humanely catch and release this spider I found and by the way we’re almost out of toothpaste.”
“Cool. The dog just pooped on the rug.”
It’s a paradox, this life of ours, because there is no single person in the world who is more important to my survival than Matt, but he’s also the one who gets the brunt of my frustration or the dregs of my attention. I sometimes forget that Matt is the person I stood with, in front of all our friends and family on a cold October day, and pledged to love as my eyes filled up with tears (from the piercing wind). I forget he’s that guy—the guy I adore more than anyone—and not just an extra set of arms for me to fill with wet towels.
Luckily, Matt and I can sense when it’s time to shift our relationship out of autopilot and patch any holes we’ve poked in the other person during the parenting hours. Sometimes all we have time for is a hug or kiss in passing. (I like to do this in full sight of our kids because it really bothers them.) On occasion we’ll creepily slow dance in the kitchen while the boys are eating, which is even more revolting to them. We steal moments to keep us going until we can get a longer break, and then we reconnect by openly badmouthing our kids, discussing our current interests, philosophizing on life, and goodmouthing our kids when the wine kicks in.
Most days, however, our relationship has to stay on autopilot because we’re too busy:
• Preparing dinner
• Stopping boys from looting our house while dinner is being made
• Threatening boys into eating their dinner
• Bathing boys while threatening them
• Mopping up bathwater
• Making boys sit on the potty
• Mopping up urine
• Herding boys into bedroom
• Powdering, moisturizing and diapering bodies
• Applying approved sleeping garments
• Combing hair
• Reading bedtime stories
• Rubbing backs
• Turning down requests to rub butts
• Putting boys to bed
• Putting boys to bed again
• Repeating 100 more times
• Loading/unloading dishwasher
• Picking up toys
• Folding laundry
• Watering neglected yard things
• Feeding/medicating neglected dog things
• Responding to texts/emails from neglected friend and family things
By the time we’re finally free of responsibility, we’re also free of cognition, memory and emotion. So the choice comes down to using the last sliver of our day to do what we individually need to do to replenish our reserves and feel OK about life, or try to draw whatever water is remaining in the well to give to the other person. Some nights we choose to retreat and do our own thing, some nights we choose to hang out together. All nights we drink.
One recent evening, as Matt and I were slogging past each other with Mr. Bates and Anna realness, he said, “Let’s hang out tonight.”
“Yes, let’s!” I said.
Then I glanced over his shoulder and saw our dogs rolling on top of a corpse in our backyard.
“Oh, look, there’s something dead out there!” I laughed merrily. “And the dogs are covered in it!”
An evening where you have to bury a dead possum, bathe your dogs and then bathe the bathtub your dogs were bathed in is not an evening that you will be good company for another person. Neither are evenings when you let the kids play naked in the kiddie pool only to have one of them do the old squat-and-squirt on your deck.
And now that I think of it, you also don’t really feel very lovey-dovey when your tree falls on your neighbor’s house, when you get a big medical bill or when you read about shootings, alligators, hot cars and other awfulness.
Life. Am I right?
It’s not always so romantic.
Me and my buoy are doing the best we can. The world changes and then changes again. Oceans rise, triplets fall. We race in parallel paths from Point A to Point B, intersecting in short bursts of frustration, humor and affection.
We reach the limits of what we think we’re able to do. And then we reach a little further for each other.