I am in tears. Another failed attempt at homeschooling my four-year-old daughter logged in the books. She’s in tears too. Of course, she’s in tears. I’ve yelled at her for writing the letter “m” incorrectly and then again for blatantly refusing to practice reading a few silly words. I have nothing left. I’m holding my younger baby, cooing and clueless, and my two-year-old has passed out on the couch, probably exhausted from witnessing the debacle that is me trying to teach my eldest kindergarten at home. It’s a total mess.
I am lonely. I feel unsupported. I am on an island and the loneliness and desolation are palpable. I feel like no one but me has been through this. I need a lifeline-something to get me through.
My husband and I have carefully curated a schedule for his work. He is self-employed and works in a studio off the garage, but he’s not accessible 9-5 because: boundaries. He is 20 yards from me (the huddled crying mess at the dining room table) and yet he might as well be miles and miles from me right now because he’s completely unavailable. Even though he spends his workday right here at home, his job takes him away from me, both physically and emotionally. I can’t lean on him like I used to. A third baby and a mortgage means I get less of him than 2 years ago when it was just two babies in a rental.
I wipe my own tears and gently prod the two year old to consciousness. I drag my body to the kitchen to piece together lunch. I feel like I’m groping for steady. For air. For connection.
I text our babysitter. 5:30 tonight? Still work?
I wait for the lifeline.
I want a portion of his full attention. I want someone to share in this sometimes gut-wrenching and confusing thing called parenting. I want us to abandon our phones and let time run away as we get lost in each other’s words. I want a lifeline.
It’s expensive to have weekly date nights. It’s also difficult because I will have to pump breastmilk for the baby, find a decent shirt, and wear make-up. Why do I do this? I let a little bitterness creep in because I imagine my husband probably won’t even remember that it’s Date Night until 4:30 when I remind him so we can leave. Meanwhile, I’ve had to plan this night all day—dinner prep, jammies cleaned and by the beds, communicating with the sitter and movie queued up and ready.
Then there’s the guilt. I blew it with my daughter and now I’m abandoning her to a babysitter and running from the aftermath.
A spritely text lights up my phone: “Yup! I’ll see you then!”
A lifeline. I am relieved. Help is on the way.
We get in the car and it’s silent. He turns off NPR and I let the quiet wash over me. No crying, no tugging, no yelling. One minute of silence. Ten breaths, uninterrupted. I close my eyes. The day is already melting away into the background and we’ve only just gotten in the car.
There is some small talk, but really, we get to the heart of things quickly. He’s struggling with the pressure of the multiple companies he runs, all the employee dynamics, and the piling responsibilities. He reaches for my hand and I pause to wonder about his lifelines. Does he ever hang on for dear life amid the chaos? What does he reach for? How does he find space to breathe?
I gently squeeze his hand and say, “Well, I put on make-up! Just for you.” He smiles and says thank you, and we are off into the evening, just him and me. No entanglements for this one evening every week.
Each date night is different. We explore restaurants, walking paths, maybe movies but, usually not. We both prefer to be face to face, talking. Some date nights, we sneak to his work studio, separate from our house, and order take out with explicit delivery instructions (Do NOT ring the doorbell. Come around back.). We have dinner while we sit in his little studio and catch up on a show we both love.
Date nights are not always blissful and romantic. Some are hard. One night a while ago, we sat in the car in a parking garage for several hours while I listened as he struggled to navigate hard personal losses. His head in my lap, I was filled with empathy and compassion for him, yet I had to confess I was out of wifely solutions.
“I think you need to talk to someone else about this,” I said, tentatively. “Maybe even get a counselor.” We prayed. We cried. There was not one baby or toddler near us who needed a diaper change. There was no sass from a four-year-old little girl lurking about. Only us. Husband and wife. Date night conversations are not always romantic, but sometimes the conversations themselves become the lifeline.
We’ve had date nights at Costco (we needed a shed) or Target (he needed underwear) or Trader Joe’s (we needed cookies and kombucha, as you do at 9pm on a Thursday). We do these “funny” date nights because errands are made infinitely better when I’m hanging out with my best friend.
I let him unload work stuff, he lets me process homeschooling a strong-willed child and offers me a lifeline. “She’ll be just fine. Say you’re sorry tomorrow before you start school.” Weight. Lifted. We talk about family dynamics and politics. We laugh about our kids. We discuss God, man, and the problem of evil. We go through our memories like a slideshow, pausing to remember the whys and hows of each tableau. We marvel at the speed of the years. When we can get to this space– this quiet, uninterrupted, focused space– we are woven more tightly together, stronger, more unbreakable
We are one.
He and I.
My forever boyfriend.
My kids’ daddy.
My best friend.
It’s expensive. It’s a lot of work. It’s hard to find a good babysitter. It’s even hard to put on actual clothes and throw on eyeliner. It’s hard to pump milk for a bottle. We’ve been investing in our marriage through weekly date nights for 7 years now. The hardships have melted away into deeper love, deeper respect, and deeper intimacy with my husband. It has been worth every painstaking effort it has taken to get here.
The hours pass quickly when we are engrossed in each other. When we get home, the house is quiet and still with the kitchen and living room all cleaned up. We exchange small talk with our sitter, pay her, and she leaves quickly. Intimacy through good conversation and good food leads to intimacy elsewhere. There’s nothing left to be done downstairs, so we turn out the lights, kiss the children on their sleeping heads. Then, we reach for each other with no distractions; each of us a lifeline for the other.
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