You know how it is, right? Before kids, MJ and I did it all the time. Constantly. We couldn’t get enough and we’d spend all night doing it. In our bed, on the couch — didn’t matter. We did it and we didn’t care who else saw.
But now that we have three boys, it’s not so simple.
First of all, we don’t do it together nearly as often. It seems there’s always a kid around who needs attention, so getting on the same page to do it is nearly impossible. Also, and this is tough to admit, but we just don’t seem to share the same preferences. MJ likes romance but I like action because I want to get right to it. I know she likes to take her time and relax, but I like to do it in short bursts. Sometimes I need a snack or a bathroom break in between doing it, but I’m usually pretty good about getting right back on the horse.
Lately though, MJ hasn’t really wanted to do it. Which means, well, I’ve started to do it alone.
I felt really bad about that at first. After all, we did it together for so long and it was great. I very much prefer doing it with her, but if I have to choose between doing it alone or not doing it at all — I’m going to choose to go solo. And if I’m being honest, sometimes that’s nice. All alone, late at night, lights off and everyone else sleeping. After a few touches it suddenly comes to life and BOOM — I’m revved up and in business.
But there’s a certain amount of shame involved, no question.
Sometimes I’ll hear MJ or the kids stirring while I’m right in the middle of doing it, and I panic. I never want to stop doing it after I’ve started, so I’ll get up and go somewhere else. Yeah, I know. Sick, right? I’ve done it in the bathroom. In the kitchen. In the closet. One time I did it outside and the neighbors were none too pleased. Hell, sometimes I find a way to do it on the train, which is tough with all those people around let me tell you. Another time, Will caught me while I was in the middle of doing it. That was a tough one to explain.
But hey, I’ll do what it takes to make sure I can do it until I reach completion. Otherwise I’ll be totally unsatisfied and grumpy.
Yup. Watching Netflix sure can be tough after you have kids.
Hey everyone, don’t forget the newest season of Orange is the New Black has dropped and is ready for binge-watching!
***I received free Netflix for a year and SmartTV for joining the #StreamTeam and writing a monthly Netflix post.
Some background first. My wife and I were in downtown Boston celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It was a blissful and rare occasion where all three kids were taken care of by relatives, the dog was temporarily re-homed for the night, and we were free to dine like royalty and use the city as our playground.
We ate a delicious meal at a small Italian restaurant in the North End. We had a few cocktails. We went back to the hotel lobby bar and had a few more. But soon we grew weary and decided to return to our hotel room.
The elevator doors were closing when a group of kids in their 20s yelled at us to hold the door, and then piled in. They were cocked. So happy, so giggly, so loud, and so carefree. Celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday in Boston, they had just finished pre-gaming and were getting ready to head out to the bars and really kick things into gear. Their night was just beginning as ours was winding down.
It was 10:07 pm.
One of the guys apologized to us for the raucous behavior. “Sorry sir, ma’am…we’re a little drunk.” Sir? Ma’am? Ouch. MJ and I smiled and told him not to worry about it, as we remember those days well. Those days — somehow simultaneously yesterday yet a million years ago. Fun to think about and even replicate once or twice a year, but now no longer wanted. The comforts of Netflix and a warm bed being the preferred option of Sirs and Ma’ams everywhere.
We looked at them and saw youthful exuberance. The ability to push yourself without sleep and somehow feel like a million bucks in the morning. The gleam of adventure in their eyes, never really knowing what excitement the night holds but eagerly anticipating whatever’s in store.
We were once like that. But unlike many 30-somethings who enjoy looking down their noses and lecturing young people about TRUE happiness and REAL satisfaction that can only come from marriage and REAL love that “can only be had between a parent and child,” I don’t think that way.
I think they’re plenty happy. I know I was. Those years were some of the best of my life, and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Even though some of them might one day choose a different path, I know marriage and kids is far from the only way to be happy. Satisfied. So I refuse to look at them with condescending pity like I know better.
I also see them look at us with a mixture of emotions.
They laugh at the thought of going to bed when they’re used to going out for the night. They tell themselves they’ll never be that old, and maybe they’re right. Or maybe not. Either way, they can’t fathom the idea of marriage, kids, and 10 pm bedtimes because why should they? Being in your early 20s is exactly the time to feel invincible and crazy and awesomely impervious.
And yet there’s a tiny glimmer of curiosity there. Could it really be possible to find one person and be happy? What’s that like? Maybe it’s not so bad.
And so it was — an emotional crossroads in a Boston elevator as the wild and careening trajectory of youth briefly touched the more measured plodding of the near middle-aged.
I think both sides enjoyed the interaction, but were glad we weren’t the other. As it should be.
The secret to a successful marriage isn’t just choosing to marry the right person at the outset. It’s choosing to be with that person every single day that follows.
MJ and I chose each other for life 10 years ago to this very day, and life immediately began testing us in ways I could never have anticipated. From losing more pregnancies than we have children to declaring bankruptcy and losing our home four years ago, we’ve seen some shit. Not as rough as some people had it to be sure, but pretty awful at times.
At some point during the plunge to rock bottom, I began to think my life would be easier without MJ. That was a startling and terrifying realization, until I realized something important. I’m a complete idiot.
Of course life would easier without being married. Pledging to be with someone for the rest of eternity and occupying the same space (and therefore the same problems) is inherently complicated. And messy. So yes, technically speaking, life would be easier absent those complications.
But it damn sure wouldn’t be worth it.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and things obtained easily are seldom worthwhile. MJ and I are two difficult people who have wildly differing personalities and interests. We have to work every single day on being good partners to each other, because we are not naturally compatible. But we decided long ago to make it work, so we do.
I won’t sit here and tell you I didn’t know love until I met MJ. I had been in love several times before her and she loved other men too. The difference is, with MJ, I learned how to love better. She showed me love is more than just fiery passion (which I have in abundance) and grand gestures, it’s in the mundane. The everyday moments when no one is looking. I used to think that was boring, but I also used to have relationships that ended with fiery crash and burns.
I knew love in the past, but I never knew how to nurture it with the daily care that’s so vital to its growth. I never realized I had to choose to love on a daily basis and commit — I mean REALLY commit — to focus on it every day. To realize it’s worth it, and never let that notion leave my mind.
It’s not easy and there are always doubts, but it’s worth it. All of the bad times are worth it if you’re with the right person and willing to work at love.
I’m with the right person. I knew that 10 years ago and I realize it even more now. I’m with a patient, kind, forgiving, and considerate person who gives of herself always. I’m with a woman whose loyalty is never in question, and who is strong in all the areas in which I’m weak. Someone who makes me want to be a better person all on my own without ever tossing down an ultimatum.
When it comes down to it, I’m with someone worth fighting for. Ten years ago, today, and always.
Thank you for the last 10 years, MJ. Thank you for sticking with me even when you had no reason to do so. Thank you for your patience, kindness, and support. We’ve been on top as homeowners in our mid-20s, knocked down and humiliated a few years later, and we’ve built ourselves back up again. But even with all that’s happened, I wouldn’t change anything. Not if it meant giving up even one iota of this life we’ve worked so hard to build together.
It is the honor of my life to be your husband, and I’ll never stop trying to prove I’m worthy to be your partner on this crazy journey.
Today, just as I did a decade ago, I choose to love you. Always.
“Life has been cloudy and grey
Take the bad memories and put them away
For the sun has come out , we have waited so long
All of the hard days are gone”
I’m not a religious man and I don’t pray. But after five miscarriages, even the most ardent atheist will get a little desperate and start to wonder if there are outside forces working against you. And more importantly, what you can do to turn the odds in your favor.
Eleven months ago, MJ and I found ourselves looking at a positive pregnancy test. It was our eighth in seven years. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been through multiple pregnancy losses can tell you, that Hallmark moment of blissful celebration disappears. It is replaced with anxiety and VERY reserved optimism.
We found out just before our ninth wedding anniversary, so I decided to change things up a bit. I booked a hotel room in Saratoga, NY, bought tickets to one of our favorite bands (Hair of the Dog), and asked a couple of our best friends if they wanted to come celebrate with us. And it was great. We went out to dinner, told them the good news, and enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep sans children before the concert on Saturday night.
Then, a few hours before the show, I had an idea.
I jumped online and snagged the email address for the band. I knew it was a longshot, but I fired off an email to Rick, the band’s lead singer, and told him about our situation. I requested my favorite song and the one I sang to my wife’s belly when we lost our Alexandra at 16 weeks, and I asked that the band dedicate it to MJ. To my wife, the strongest person I know and the only woman I’ve ever loved this much.
Amazingly, Rick and the band got my email in time and came through for us. They called us out by name, said they were moved by our story, and dedicated the song to us right then and there. It was pretty unbelievable.
“We’re all safe and warm here my friends
The hard days are gone they won’t come again
So raise up your voices and give us a song
All of the hard days are gone”
The belly of a dive bar might be the furthest thing from a church sanctuary at first blush, but perhaps it’s not so different than most people think.
MJ and I surrounded ourselves with good friends and positivity, and we felt that embrace through song. Not just any song, but a song that bridges our past turmoil and reluctant goodbyes with hope for the future. Our sacrament may have involved shots and we traded godliness for Guinness, but the booze-soaked confines of the Parting Glass pub gave us a barroom blessing neither of us will soon forget.
And here we are, 11 months later, with a healthy baby boy in Tommy. Is a song dedication from an Eastern NY Irish band in a wonderfully old pub the reason? Probably not. Just like it’s extraordinarily unlikely it was “God’s will” we avoided a sixth loss.
But in that respect, I gained an understanding of why people voluntarily give themselves up to the thought of a higher power or larger force.
It’s comforting in a way to believe someone can help you, rather than being the random recipient of horrible luck over and over again. It’s why I still have a lucky Patriots jersey and stand in the same place in my parents’ house during big games. It has no impact on the outcome, but it makes me feel better. And sometimes that’s enough.
“All of the hard days are gone
It’s all beer and whiskey and songs from now on
Laugh at the darkness and dance until dawn
All of the hard days are gone”
When I accepted a new job as a director of a PR agency in Boston a couple of months ago, I was worried about a lot of things. Could I do the work? Would I fit in with the people there? Will the learning curve be too steep? Will I be able to hack it in the city? As it turns out, those fears were unwarranted. I can do the work, I love the people, I’m contributing as I learn, and I’ve come to really enjoy the city. I’m out of the creative rut I was in at IBM, I’m back with a smaller company which is more my style, and I get to do something different just about every single day. It’s fantastic.
The problem I have isn’t at work, it’s at home.
I used to work from home three days a week, which meant I saw my kids all the time. I was still connected if not always available. I could do things like put my son on the bus and volunteer in his classroom every Friday. I was home for dinner almost every night. I was plugged in.
Now I commute into Boston five days a week. I’m out the door by 6:30 am and I don’t get home for another 12 hours. Sometimes the kids are awake when I leave, sometimes they aren’t, and I get home half an hour before Sam goes to bed. I miss every dinner. I have just enough time to scarf down some food, put Sam to bed, ask Will how his day was, put Will to bed, and gaze at Tommy as he drifts off to sleep.
Occasionally my wife and I even say hello to one another before falling into bed exhausted.
That means MJ is basically a single mom for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. She handles everything at home because I’m not there, and she does it well. I married a fiercely independent woman, and even before I started my job she was preparing herself for when I was gone. That means developing routines predicated on being a one-woman show, maximizing individual effectiveness, and strategically adapting to life as a solo, on-the-go mom.
I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was what happens when I am finally there.
MJ scrambles to get by with three kids in tow on a daily basis and she’s developed certain routines. But when I’m home, my strategies are a little different. We’ve always differed in our approaches to just about everything, but now that she has the bulk of the parenting responsibilities during the week, it’s all her way. Needless to say, the weekends are full of clashes.
She and the kids are used to one thing, I’m bringing something else to the table. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of familiarity. Being unfamiliar with their regimen, I feel like I’m gumming up the works. Mainly because my oldest has no qualms telling me “you’re doing it wrong, dad” when I’m upending their routines.
I feel a little bit like an outsider or a fish out of water. I watch my family operate — accustomed to life without me during the week — and I get a little sad. I feel like I don’t fit in, and worse than that, I feel like a hindrance. I’m unnecessary drag on their sailboat as I struggle to figure out what my crew is doing.
MJ would never say this and she denies it, but I’m confident I see it at times. I don’t blame her, she’s doing what she has to do to get by on a daily basis. But still, I feel so — removed.
I used to eyeball Will’s homework and work with him on his spelling every morning over breakfast. I used to be the go-to person for his teacher and I was a familiar face in the classroom thanks to volunteering. Working at home allowed me to see Sam grow up and become awesome on a near daily basis, as I was the first to hear new words and watch him meet milestones. I was still working at home so I couldn’t always play, but I could take five minutes and snuggle with him. And I could discuss things with my wife and give her a hand when necessary.
Now? I’m a ship passing my family in the night. Sam sings the alphabet and counts to 15, and I didn’t know right away. A girl has a crush on Will at school, and I found out days later because it had already been discussed. And Tommy seems to age 6 months every time I come home from work. I try to plug back in on weekends between emails and sponsored blog posts for my second job, but I never feel like I’m on the same page. Nothing feels like it fits anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all my kids will remember of me is the guy who left when it was dark and got home when it was darker.
Kids don’t care that the lights need to be kept on, rent needs to be paid, and down payments need to be saved for a house. Stay-at-home parents are amazing and keep the world turning, but working parents are forced to give up life’s most precious commodity — time. We worry every single day our contributions — while completely necessary — aren’t enough. We worry we’re more of a hindrance than a help, and an annoyance patiently endured until Monday morning when things get back to normal.
This tightrope we walk is so perilous, not because of the fall, but because success isn’t even guaranteed should we make it across.
It’s time to find my fit and focus on quality time versus quantity. Oh, and single parents — I have no freaking idea how you do it!