Today is the best Valentine's Day I've had in years. And my husband isn't even here yet.
He’s been gone for just over a week, sucked into the polar vortex that is the Northeast USA. He’s in the armpit of the universe, otherwise known as New Jersey. I am at home with the spawn, forgetting to feed the fish, which seems fine considering they have now taken to eating their weaker brethren – the ones who could not overcome the starvation.
Handling three kids, two jobs and several pets by myself has been a semi-common occurrence over the last five years. My sweetie gets called away for work and for his obligatory (read: Man Camp) time in miluim. Upon his departure, I move in to energy-saving mode. Like the computer monitor that goes grey to conserve battery. Nothing extra gets done. Laundry piles up. Kids eat canned corn. The fish morph into cannibals to survive.
Strangely, this trip is an exception. The children are sporting clean (and matching!) socks. I have showered in the last 48 hours. Several food groups are represented in my fridge. (Halvah counts as a food group, right?)
Why is this trip different than all other trips?
My youngest is three. There are no diapers in my house. Not even a one to be found for the visiting toddler-toting friend. The baby gates are now employed to keep the dog downstairs. The cobwebbed Pack-n-Play occupies the narrow space behind the china cabinet, wedged next to the high chair and the potty seat.
This week, I discovered that I miss my husband – not as my tag team survival partner – but as my companion, my confidante, my amusement and my love.
You hardly notice, as you are in the depths of tiny child rearing, the initial switchover. You used to laugh at his jokes but since you’re both so sleep-deprived, he doesn’t crack jokes anymore, and you wouldn’t get them even if he did. You used to value evenings after work together, teasing each other about whose turn it is to pick the stupid-show-of-the-week and which wine can you prefer without being labeled a wine snob.
Now, post 8pm time is reserved for tactical planning – birthday party Thursday – do we have a gift? Shabbat dinner at his parents – is there a clean shirt? The middle one refused to eat again today – back to the pediatric gastroenterologist ?
His absence spells out no one to take turns on the interrupted nights, no one but you to handle playdate pickup or attend the dreaded preschool meeting. You resent his absence since you have to fight the war alone. He has turned from your husband to your ally.
This week, together with my 8 year old, my 5 year old, my 3 year old, the dog, the cat, and the (surviving) fish – we missed my sweetie. We ate dinner at friends’ houses, we read books, we did the dishes and survived a few meltdowns. But my challenge this week was missing my husband. My husband who has almost imperceptibly turned back into the man who makes me giggle, the one I chose when everyone called me crazy for it, the one who stepped off a Greyhound bus and changed my life.
Our marriage has made it through to the other side. It’s possible. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.
And this week has shown me that while the depths of years with tinies are indeed fraught with stress and tears and fear of the breaking point, there is a place on the other side where the one you selected becomes your life partner again, traversing the waters with sensitivity, humor and devotion.
This Valentine’s Day, I realized that I have the best gift available anywhere – I got my husband back.