I am 99% asleep when he leaves for work, grey light just beginning to sneak in through the cracks in the window blinds we’ve been meaning to replace since we bought the house this summer.
I wake up half an hour later most days, when he is already on the train into the city, to the sound of Ella asking, “Mumma, where’s daddy?”
No matter how much time they’ve had together the day before, he is always the first thing she thinks of on waking in the morning.
Even before we were officially dating, we talked all day on gchat, back when gchat was new. I remember hastily hiding my chat window when the cranky doctor I worked for stalked by my desk.
I pull those conversations up sometimes, to remember who we were, who we were trying to be in front of each other. In my mind, he was still the cool kid in sophomore biology who came back from an unsupervised trip to Woodstock ‘99 with an eyebrow ring.
I can’t imagine what he thought of me when we started, the straight-laced choir girl he knew from high school, suddenly slinking around Allston in ripped fishnets and an anonymous boy’s black hoodie. But I’ve always been better in writing – maybe gchat was exactly the right place to fall in love.
I barely have a free hand to text him these days, and instead of gchat, WhatsApp is our medium of choice. I spend my time wiping bums and boogers, fetching snacks and beverages like a manic vending machine, joyful when I can complete any meaningless task without interruption – switching the laundry, cleaning up cat puke, bringing in the mail.
Many nights it is Ella who greets him at the door, while I juggle a screaming, hungry infant and attempt to make dinner for everyone with teeth. Ella is the one who kisses him like a chaste 1950’s housewife, who asks him about his day, who presents him with gift after gift of pinecones harvested, pictures painted, stickers pilfered.
We spend the next two hours in constant motion. Dinner, diapers, baths, more boogers. We rarely get to finish a sentence without the four-year-old demanding to know what we’re talking about or the two-month-old demanding another bottle.
By the time Ella is ready for sleep, one or both of us is usually ready for sleep, too. At best, we’re headed for the couch, where we’ll rewatch an episode of a show we’ve both already memorized while we let ourselves be hypnotized by the scrolling screens on our phones.
Tonight is no different.
I’m sitting on our couch, sipping a drink he made for me while I hold our new baby in my arms. He’s already gone up to bed in the spare room, because he’s on call at work and because we’ve learned a thing or two since we had our first daughter. Sanity must be preserved, sleep must be prioritized above almost all else.
I might not speak a coherent word to him until he gets home tomorrow night. And, truthfully, it might be a lot longer than that before we’re able to talk about anything meaningful.
But I’m thinking back to a minute before we tucked Ella in. The baby was dozing fitfully in her cradle, and we were trying to rush through Ella’s bedtime song before soft grumbles escalated into desperate screams down the hall.
He put his arm around me, like he does every night. He layered his toes over mine on Ella’s creaky floor. He pulled me in to rest my head on his shoulder. We started Twinkle, Twinkle in different keys, in different time signatures. But finally we met in the middle and finished as an imperfect but earnest duet.
We don’t have a lot of happily married role models – we both know we’re making it up as we go. I think I know better than most how easily a family can come apart, and I think we both know how many near misses we’ve already had.
But I’ll wind down swiping through the most recent pictures on my phone – him helping Ella crush a racing game at the arcade, him dramatically mimicking the baby’s crying face. And I’ll fall asleep thanking God for this partner, this witness to my life.
Even when the going gets tough. Even when the whole house gets norovirus, again. Even when dividing and conquering is the only way to get through the day. Even when raising our tiny miracles distances us from the miracle that is us, together.
We are always for better and for worse, and we are always for each other. That’s more than I ever imagined, and it’s more than enough, for now.