This week, I joked with my friend that babies have the ability to tear a marriage apart and put it back together all in the same day. Though “tear apart” may be too dramatic a phrase, my flippant adage would be proven true within the next twenty-four hours.
The flu virus has been skipping around for months now, but somehow my daughter and I’ve out maneuvered it. However, yesterday I could tell by her glassed brown eyes, runny nose, and cough that the flu bug had landed. Was the carrier the librarian who had leaned in too close while handing back my card? The cashier? The usher at church who loves to gush over our baby girl, bedecked in her Sabbath trimmings?
There was no way to know, but one thing I did know was that it was going to be a long night. This made me nervous.
Have I mentioned I’m not a relaxed parent?
From the time my firstborn was four weeks old, I’ve threatened to take her to the emergency room for gas pains, for general irritability, for diaper rash, for roseola, and now for her first coughing fit.
I think, when God saw me puttering around down here, He knew I needed someone sensible; someone who could tip these histrionic scales of mine. Usually, my husband and I enjoy this balance without knowing we are balancing anything. But when our child’s sick, everything’s off-kilter—the pressure turning me into a worrywart and my scruffy mountain man’s good-natured pragmatism into mush.
Therefore, I paced the nursery, wringing my hands, and he wanted to walk our daughter and soothe her and pat her back whenever she cried. Believe me, I know I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who is also a proactive father. (Stupidly blessed, some of you are thinking.) But since I’ve taken care of Miss A all day, every day, for the past eleven months, shouldn’t I also be able to care for her at night?
Fast-forward four hours to one o’clock in the morning. The baby monitor had broken that very day (I might’ve stepped on the camera accidentally; it’s all a bit hazy now). This made my husband nervous to leave Miss A in the crib without Big Mama and Big Papa making sure she was okay after her last coughing fit. So she came to our bed.
Smack dab in the middle.
She would sleep, then gasp awake with a coughing spell, panic because she couldn’t breathe through her stuffy nose, and cry. My husband would roll her toward him and pat her back. She would fall asleep, and then awaken, cough, panic, and cry.
The terrible cycle continued. Sleep did not come for anybody. The next time she awoke, I rolled her toward me.
“Like that should help,” my husband muttered.
Both our fuses were awfully short, but our twelve-inch height difference made mine shorter.
“Fine then,” I snapped. “If you want to play nanny, I’m going upstairs to sleep.”
So that’s exactly what I did.
I grabbed my pillow, marched upstairs to the guest bedroom, and crawled beneath the covers. I slept so soundly, when I awoke at five o’clock, I didn’t even know where I was.
Feeling guilty because I had slept enough to properly think, I threw back the covers and followed the siren song of my daughter’s cries.
I cracked open our bedroom door and padded into the dark room. I carefully climbed onto my side of the bed and watched. My husband’s eyes were closed, as were my daughter’s. He was patting her little back as she hiccupped, and I heard the rasp of his calloused fingers on her fleece sleeper with the slim pink moons.
My eyes welled as I continued to watch them. And I understood – once again – that my husband and I are not in a competition to see who can be the better parent.
But that we are in this heart-wrenchingly beautiful and challenging journey of parenthood together.
This morning – all three of us raw-eyed and wearing hoodies or sweats – my husband explained that he hadn’t been trying to say that I couldn’t soothe Miss A, but that at that point neither of us could.
He then went to the couch to play with our daughter. I went into the kitchen and doctored his coffee with cream and sugar and brought the mug over, setting it on a coaster before him.
“What’s this for?” he asked, puzzled by my small kindness.
And that’s when I realized: I have got to do a better job at being his wife first and her mother second.
So here are a few things I’m going to do:
- It may sound silly, but on the mirror in my closet I’ve taped a snapshot of us from the day after we became engaged. I like to glance at that picture and recall everything that has brought us to this point – as parents, as lovers, and as friends.
- I’ve planned a little get-away next weekend—just the two of us. We did this six months ago, and it helped add that luster back to our marriage that time had dulled. If we want our marriages not just to survive, but to also thrive, we must invest in them. Cancel your cable and use the money to go on two small trips a year.
- This hasn’t panned out yet, but I’ve been praying about working with an older couple, whose marriage has thrived through the parenting years. I love getting advice from family and friends, but I also believe it’s important to get an objective viewpoint whenever marital and familial obstacles crop up.
Any other suggestions for putting “wife” first, “mother” second?