I tuck the twins in bed and turn the hallway light off as I make my way to the baby's room. My husband of fifteen years is standing in the semi darkness, the baby on his shoulder. We trade places and as I lift the sleepy child from his arms, he leans in for a kiss. The lip chap rubs off on me and I lean it for more. We laugh as he leaves and I smack my lips to spread the grease evenly.
In the darkness as I rock the baby to sleep, I realize this exchange is reminiscent of what our marriage is like. The baby struggles to find a comfortable position and I stand up and walk around the room. Perhaps it is the movement, perhaps she is tired, her thumb falls out of her mouth and the other arm she had clutching my ear lobe slackens and lets go. I sit on the rocker, unwilling to put her down. I cherish these last few days and months of intense mothering. The weight of her is comforting.
Earlier in the morning I slammed the phone down when I could not deal with disappointment. I realized as I poured warm water over the baby that my anger stemmed from a place far deeper. The burden of being mom day in day out was taking a toll on me. Resolving to apologize, I make my way down from the baby's bedroom. The sorry stays in my head, clamoring to be heard but something stops me. I never say the words.
We are seated on the sofa. I change position so as to lean on him and his arms drape themselves over my shoulder. We sit in silence, the music pumping from the radio taking up the space around us. As Beiber croons "Sorry" I snuggle against the reassuring wall of his body. The kids dance in the living room oblivious to our presence and I wonder if I can freeze the moment in my head.
I walk to my study knowing I have work to turn in. I plug the baby monitor in, turn the laptop on and turn to find a warm throw on my chair. I feel a rush of affection for the man in the other room watching tennis videos on mute. Settling in comfortably, I realize our marriage has reached that comfortable, complacent zone where a lot is taken for granted.
The first Valentine's day after I met him, my ideas of love were about grand gestures. I waited in vain for the red roses and the thoughtful notes. I drowned my sorrows in the handwritten diary I maintained. I probably cried myself to sleep. The next few years, I waited for the surprise gifts, the impromptu vacations and the winking diamonds. I am still waiting.
My ideas about a romantic partner had been cobbled together from fictional people, from the Darcys of literature and the Khans of Bollywood. In essence, they did not exist. Marriage is a lot of work I concluded as I expressed enough for the two of us. I wrote notes, I pored over recipe books, slaved over the stove and tried to make sense of the man who was my husband.
In the early days of being a couple, I imagined moonlit drives, reruns of old classics on the DVD and soulful music that would bind us together. I was not far off the mark. The moonlit drives happened but not when I expected them. Four years into our marriage, I remember catching the perseid meteor showers driving back home from a weekend trip to Ohio. As the skies lit up above us, his hand reached out for mine as we drove home. The movies and the music took longer. I learned to appreciate his tastes and he mine. By the time, we agreed on the arts, we had been married ten years.
I look back on my checkered career arc and remember the driven, ambitious woman I once was. "He won't even forward my resume," I remember crying to my friends. Then I remember the months and years he dropped me to work and picked me up while I struggled to get my driver's license. One New Year's morning, I remember sliding into the driver's seat, the headphones from my cell phone secure in my ears as I drove in the pre dawn hours to work. He stayed with me the entire twenty minute drive until I parked and stepped out of the car on shaky legs.
I check email and the reminders pop up on my linked calendar. I dismiss the one for taxes and snooze the rest. I smile as I reconcile the once ambitious woman with the person I am now. The yellow bookmark I picked up from the county library with the link to the careers website along with books I call research taunts me. The half finished manuscript that resides in the annals of my hard drive mocks me. I gave up full time work ostensibly to be a mother. I only had to ask once before the husband agreed to fund a one year program for me to pursue a path not taken. He hardly blinked when I expounded on the necessity for a professional critique of my manuscript. For all the seeming lack of interest in what I do, I realize he is the backbone upon which my dreams are built.
The baby monitor lights up and the crying sounds filter down. I look at my half finished draft and wonder if I should go up when his voice carries through the night. "Don't worry, I'll get her." If the first few years of marriage had me recalibrate the ideas of romance and love I had, the next decade has taught me that love is the silent meeting of minds.
The morphing and mutating of our selves as we meet midway on long held beliefs and ideals. It is discarding Bryan Adams for Ilayaraaja. It is grudgingly agreeing to plan weekend trips so as to be home for Sunday evening tennis. It is holding on to the phone each Saturday morning discussing politics you have no interest in because the person on the other end of the phone means much more. It is sitting through taxes together, one poring over the IRS website while the other enters a hundred entries for some obscure form that must be filed. It is slumping in exhaustion at the end of each work day only to find a bottle of water or a throw on the chair before you realize you need it. It is in that bright bunch of flowers that graces your kitchen island because it has been twelve years to the day on which you met. It is in the ice scraper on the passenger seat on the days it is supposed to snow. It is in gamely accepting to be primary care giver for a week when I fly off to visit friends across the country. It is in knowing you can slam the phone down and speak your mind without fear of consequence.
Above all, it is in the love that envelops you as you watch your spouse struggle through Math with the children you raise together. It is in the hard conversations you have when you decide to expand your family, open your heart and mind to the possibility of sharing your children with another family. It is in the pride that tinges your words when you speak of your spouse. It is in the eyes that meet across three children in the bed that acknowledges what a beautiful life this is.