It meant I finally peeked my shoulder up and over the wall of my overwhelmed mom trench. My head and neck had been free for a few years, looking out towards the horizon, recognizing my old life and former self after forgetting about her for a while. Now with the steak success, I found that happy, fun-loving, attentive chick again.
Back in the deep trench days, I remember hearing moms at playdates talk about how they never went on dates anymore, now that they were parents. Even then, I was surprised by that. I resolved to never be "that" mom who forgot about her husband , who lived solely for her kids. Who lost her own footing in who she used to be, pre-baby fog, and didn't have plans to look for her again.
This was before Aedan was born. Once he came along, all bets were off. We were battling PTSD from two sick babies, trying to come to grips with another baby born in under four years. I couldn't work since I took so much time off to care for Liam, who now required more time as he began showing signs of autism. Plus it costs a small fortune to put three kids in daycare. Having an MA in English will never translate into the big bucks needed to fund that spending train.
Starting up his practice, fresh out of medical school, Brendan worked long hours in his first clinic. While I was wading through a messy house trying to start disastrous art projects, cleaning up potty training snafus, cooking kid dinner with a newborn attached to my chest, Brendan pounded the pavement. He made flyers on the cheap at a local Kinkos, going door to door passing them out. He contracted with Sprouts to set up a vitamin injection "shot" clinic; he did ear acupuncture sessions, cooking demos at Whole Foods--anything he could to generate a clientele and patients. Things were hectic, stressful, and full of potential.
Besides doing all he could to provide for us, Brendan from day 1 has been my biggest fan. He’s challenged, inspired, pushed, cheered and supported me to go further and take risks, given me what I needed without questions asked. And vice versa. In the state I was in, however, I lost my relationship direction. I didn’t look up to see him, my best friend and confidante, right there in front of me, arms and heart open like always.
One night he came home after 7 pm to find me frazzled, bun atop my head, cleaning up plastic play food while the kids watched yet another Veggie Tales.
"Hey guys!” He picked up Audrey, hugged Liam. I looked up, smiling, noticing the tiredness in his eyes. “What's for dinner?" Brendan asked, wading through toys and various objects on the floor.
Dinner. I hadn't even thought about dinner for him. I hadn't showered, went on a disastrous play date earlier, rushed home for Aedan's nap - probably hadn't looked at myself in the mirror since the morning. Was I becoming one of THOSE moms?
I froze, guilty.
"I don't have anything made. I'm sorry. Can you take the baby?"
And I held Aedan out, like a prayer, while I tried to scurry away in both anger and shame. I realized then that he had become low man on the totem pole. I hated myself for it.
Brendan is a fantastic cook. He’s never expected to be waited on or cooked for when he comes home. But that wasn’t the point. That night dinner symbolized a schism in our marriage, an unseeing on my part. No matter the reason, no matter how unintentionally it happened, I lost sight of him.
He walked into the kitchen and made his own steak. We didn't speak for a while that night, my co-dependent guilt and lack of sleep suffocating me, his hurt and exhaustion enfolding him. Our maxed out stress cortisol levels and adrenal fatigue followed us both from dawn to dusk.
Things got better as his business started to skyrocket, as our kids got older. One kid, then two, and finally three survived Pre-K and Kindergarten. I left the house to teach part-time, eventually to help open our new medical center. I began to understand the intricacies of his days seeing patients, and I started to really see him again. He had more time to help with the kids, to witness me and my day-to-day stresses. Happily, we still liked who we saw in the other.
Marriage is hard work. You go to your job every single day and give it your all: your attention, your time, your inspiration, your best self. Why is marriage different? People give up on marriage when it becomes difficult, when it's "just not fun anymore." Managing kids, starting a practice, recovering from PTSD, learning about autism, rediscovering your partner, trying to give your self what you need: this is a full-time job. And then some.
We've fought hard, figuring this "marriage with kids" thing out. We've laughed, we've negotiated, we've cried. We discovered each other's love languages. We constantly learn how to better look out for each other and reaffirm that yes, we were best friends, lovers and adventurers before kids. Last weekend I organized a sitter and a hotel room for a little night away, hanging out in Scottsdale for dinner and chilling out with a few friends. Waking up in that quiet, clean hotel room, without dogs barking or kids squabbling….we make those moment count because they give us fuel.
Audrey cried the whole way home from the gym the other night, holding on to her ear in pain. Turns out she has a little ear infection. I tried to infuse all the compassion I could into my voice, but at the back of my mind I kept thinking : "I just want to go back to that quiet hotel room." I love my kids but they are not my entire life.
When they are grown up with their own lives, I'd like to have a bullet-proof foundation in our marriage to continue to build upon. Something real, fun, and long-lasting. It always saddens me to see couples who divorce after their kids go to college, because they have nothing in common anymore. You have to work at that commonality and passion when the kids are there. Even if you make mistakes, are exhausted, or sometimes forget in the hectic passing of a crazy day.
So, I learned how to make the perfect steak. It intimidated me for years, but I did it. I surprise him now and again with a stay-cation, like last weekend, or a night out. Bringing him stuff that he forgot, before he asks. He brings me flowers, stops to get food on his way home from work, helps me knock out dishes, takes me out on dates. Listens to me. Takes us on vacation. We try to have a steady arsenal of babysitters so we can go out at least twice a month. Sometimes we end up talking about work or kids…sometimes the date ends in a stupid argument that we laugh about later. Sometimes it's not doing much at all. Sometimes it's out till 3 am , just because we can.
Sometimes it isn't fun, life - or marriage. Child rearing and business managing. But those trying times enrich the fun, worthwhile, amazing times that matter the most. They make them better.
If I could talk to my former self 8 years ago, a tired 34-year-old with a new baby, a spunky toddler and a sweet, autistic pre-schooler, I would tell her to move. Stop feeling guilty. Look up and see the man walking in the door. Put the baby in his bouncy seat, give your husband a kiss, tell him to sit down and relax with the kids. Give dinner some thought - even if it’s just ordering pizza.
But if there is a steak defrosted, I would guide her to the fridge, open the door, and take it out. If she is unsure of how to cook it, just ask him. Or look it up. Ask, and then do it. Maybe it won't be perfect the first or 5th time. But the goal is to make him feel important, remembered.
A lot can be solved and nurtured with a good steak. And waking up to a quiet, cold hotel room. He's your best friend. Do your best to never forget that, even when you're covered in baby drool.