As part of this blog, it’s my hope to also share longer, more edited posts. In celebration of my five year anniversary, I’m sharing this, which I wrote on marriage earlier this year.
It’s usually 9:30 pm when I drag my spent body into bed. We finally bought ourselves a king-sized bed a few years ago. Along with the king bed came king pillows, and one of them always runs the length of my body, creating a wall next to me. At the end of the long repetitive days with two tiny, needy, touchy humans, when I climb into bed, I just want to put the wall up. Don’t touch me. Don’t come between me and my seven hours. Maybe eight. Maybe four if insomnia or teething hits. That’s one of the things about having kids, you never know what any night will bring: you could miss your doctor’s appointment because your kids sleep until eight for the first time in a year, or you could see every hour on the clock and change the sheets on their beds three times.
The sheets on the bed were a gift from my husband on our second anniversary. We alternate planning a getaway for each other every year for our wedding anniversary. Each year, one of us gets to run with it and do all the planning – no check-ins necessary, and the other just gets to show up with a suitcase. This tradition, which started during our first year of dating, was borne out of a love of grand gestures and romantic surprise, but it continues to thrive due to the boldly unsexy necessity of parenting two small children with very little help. In our house, it has become almost impossible to have a conversation about anything, to break through the ceaseless din of two pleading, whining, growing, curious toddlers. So the grand gesture continues because it’s efficient, not because it’s romantic.
But, back to the sheets. Zac planned the trip that year. We escaped to Oregon. I was 7 weeks pregnant with our son and we left a 9 month old at home. I was constantly nauseated. I was pumping to try to maintain my supply. I was trying to feel like a relatively newlywed wife and embrace the freedom of being away from our daughter to totally focus on us, but the two little ones pulled my focus toward them, even then. One made it impossible to swirl and swish the crisp whites of Oregon wine country and the homemade hazelnut cream liqueur of our small family-owned hotel on the coast. The other necessitated that I pump day and night, lest our trip be the end of nursing, which would carry with it a bucket of mom guilt I didn’t feel like lugging around for the next several years.
On that trip, I fell in love with the sheets on the bed. I’d love to say they were a tangled mess due to endless love-making, but the truth is that I was sick with first trimester exhaustion and nausea. I spent much of the time curled up in bed while Zac walked the beach alone. On our last day, I lamented having to leave behind the luxurious sheets, and when we returned from our trip, they were sitting on the doorstep. They remind me of what two years of marriage felt like. They are their own grand gesture. They bring me much more joy than that vacation did, despite the best of intentions. They remind me of how my husband listens and hears my tiniest desires and wishes and delivers them to me, even when he can’t change the day-to-day of our lives or effortlessly pull my focus back to him.
We celebrated four years of marriage by driving down the PCH in a borrowed convertible, wine tasting in Santa Barbara, and working our way up through Big Sur. On that trip, we left two full-blown toddlers at home. We fretted less. We drank more. We sent them live photos of us trying on masks on State Street. We FaceTimed a little, but mostly we re-introduced ourselves to each other and took meandering walks holding hands, had long uninterrupted conversations and debates, and climbed back into each other’s arms at night a little less tired, a bit less frayed. Four years felt like coming home and knowing you would stay there for a very, very long time.
On the way back from that trip, as the unrelenting sun beat down on us in the convertible and our hours together without toddlers were numbered, we fought. We fought the way that only two people who have barely had room to talk for several years can fight. We had long periods of silence followed by heated discussions and more silence. As we pulled back into our neighborhood, it was as if we had picked a fight just to make it easier to come back home. Within moments of coming inside, being greeted by kids and grandparents, all of the grandness of the trip had evaporated.
Still, I woke up the next morning to coffee and a clean kitchen. My husband is a man who every single night, while I am sleeping, empties the dishwasher, takes out the trash, makes the coffee, hand-dries the pots and pans and puts them away so that I have a clean slate for the next day of the rat race. His small ways of loving me amplify his servant heart. He understands that the small gestures become the grand ones over time.
As we approach five years, I marvel at the ways our love has changed. It’s a Tuesday night. We’ve decided to feed the kids first, and steal a supper for two later after bedtime. James Morrison is belting “You Make It Real” out of the speaker: “There’s so much craziness surrounding me/ there’s so much going on it gets hard to breathe” and in between playing ponies on all fours to our half-naked kids, rather than stepping by and over each other while one grabs one kid and the other grabs the other kid, we allow a brush against each other to turn into an embrace. Before I know it, we have stopped for a slow dance and a make-out session in the middle of the living room: “that’s why I’ve been missing you lately /’cause you make it real for me.” It’s one of those sitcom moments that I never actually thought would happen in (our) real life. Only a few seconds pass before I can feel my son climb between my feet and in between our calves, wedging himself there and yelling “up, mama,” but in those few moments I’ve made one of the grandest gestures I have in a while, allowing myself to be caught up in the moment.
In many ways, it’s easy to parent small children – it’s tactical and problem-based, and, as my friend Anna says, children bring you into the eternal present. It’s much harder to be a wife; to allow your husband to pull you close to him during the witching hour and stay there for more than a beat. To allow him to push you off your course for a moment – derail you in the kitchen. To let him in, beyond the quick pecks of hellos and goodbyes, to make your spine tingle. To take your pillow wall down.
It’s my year to plan our anniversary trip, but as the small has become the grand in our lives, I resolve to master the art of the small gesture in time to make the grandness of the trip, the bliss of uninterrupted time together, small in comparison.