It was my cousin’s 23rd birthday last week. Because her birthday is so close to Independence Day and her family visits the lake each year for the Fourth, we actually get to celebrate in person with her annually. As the festivities wore on, it occurred to Nick that, despite not “officially” joining the family until 2001, he had celebrated nearly all of Grace’s birthdays with her, having first joined me at the lake when Grace was just five.
It was my grandmother’s 75th birthday, and her three daughters, all of whom live out of town, were flying into town to surprise her. In turn, they were each bringing their own daughters – so it was to be the six of us all together. Happy Birthday! A girls’ vacation!
We had been dating for a little over a year. The previous summer, I’d felt practically apoplectic because he was in Minnesota and I was in Connecticut. It was that outrageous, blinding, gag-inducing kind of love, where nobody understood us and surely no one in the history of humans had ever experienced a connection as profound as ours. Except for the performers of the songs we included on the mix tapes we made for each another, with titles like “The Long Summer” and “Dreaming of You”. Dire Straits totally got us, man.
Anyway, because I was still in that but he’s my soulmate haze a year later, I brought Nick with me to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. I don’t remember too much from that trip, except that he brought his guitar and sat on the dock and played They Might Be Giants songs for my cousin, which I thought was just the sweetest, awesomest thing ever. Dear God, we were dorks.
What I do remember from that trip was the tumultuousness of being newly in love. The you are my everything feelings, and how very necessary they seemed at the time… but how exhausting they seem now. It’s not that I’m not still crazy about my husband, because I am… but a lot has changed in 19 years, and there’s just way less crazy in the crazy.
It is bigger that it used to be. There are two other beings who we created and need to keep alive, which is, you know, kind of all-consuming. Plus, there are car payments and doctor’s bills, jobs and home improvements and parent-teacher conferences. It is big, this life stuff. But it’s smaller than it used to be, too. We’ve found our spot, the place where we’re meant to be, both literally and metaphorically, and we’re comfortable here. It’s not the place I necessarily envisioned 19 years ago, but it’s a very good place to be.
It is easier. So much of the guesswork is over. I know that he always sits before he puts on his socks, that he’s changed his order from “well done” to “medium,” and that The Jerk never stops being funny. He knows that I sleep with white noise, that I compulsively watch My Cousin Vinny every time it’s on cable, and that I pack the grocery bags according to item type (cold stuff together; dry goods elsewhere; chocolate in my purse). It’s harder though, too. As job challenges and extended-family crises arise, it can be really difficult knowing just how to support one another while still being good parents, good partners, and not relying too heavily on wine and Chopped marathons.
It is calmer than it was before. Gone are the moments of Could that conversation mean we’re over?? and impromptu getaways with friends. In its place are impromptu Bruegger’s breakfasts with Daddy and the girls, offered to them after they’ve received disappointing news from their theatre camp and Nick instinctively knows that they need some special attention. It’s also wilder than it was before. You never know who’s going to vomit in your car, require a visit to the emergency vet on the Fourth of July, or when you might deal with a 21-hour flight home.
It’s so much slower. We watch Homeland and Modern Family instead of heading out at night. A feverish child requires hours of couch cuddling, and chores and emails are swept aside. There are days when I can all but promise you that either Ella and Annie or I will make it until bedtime, but not all three of us, and I swear that each minute has been designed to prove to me why some animals eat their young. But it is also ridiculously fast. College memories seem a couple of years old, not decades old. It is impossible that our wedding was a dozen years ago. And if the girls don’t stop growing up so fast – so very quickly that I have to catch my breath to try to hold onto them – I’m gonna have to pull a Superman (the original Christopher Reeve version) and fly backwards around the earth, turning back time to have just a few more all-important minutes.
It’s predictable. There’s nothing to prove, no one to impress. Wednesdays, the garbage goes out. The girls have swimming on Mondays. After work, he’ll retreat upstairs to play games on his iPad before dinner; once the kids are in bed, I’m glued to the computer. And yet, it’s surprising. Nick said he was going to start swimming in the mornings, but honestly? I knew better. Pfft. Until yesterday, when the alarm went off at 6:30 and damn if he wasn’t done with laps by 7:15. His birthday gift this year was a trip with his dad to a Minnesota Wild game, orchestrated by me in secret (including contacting a buddy of his who is a sports writer and, amazingly, winding up with free tickets to the game). Not that I’m bragging, but it was a hell of a gift. Surprise!
It is sillier and more stupid. It’s rapping the lyrics to “Parents Just Don’t Understand” while the girls look away in horror. It’s singing bad 80s music in the shower while the other one of us harmonizes at the sink. But it is so much wiser. It is knowing when is an appropriate time to have an important discussion, recognizing that right after a Wild loss is a poor choice. It is ignoring nasty words that are said when someone is tired, understanding that they don’t mean what they’re saying, and that engaging in a counter-argument would be unproductive and dumb. It is knowing when to offer help and when to let the other person do it alone, when to suggest that another beer is a poor idea and when to join in for the next round, and that, through it all, there’s still no one on earth I’d rather be living this life with, and so long as we do it together, we’ll come out just fine.
It has become repetitive. We have the same argument over and over (oddly, Nick has yet to see that I’m right). I can quote you Looney Toons episodes by heart, not because I have seen them (not a single one), but because the girls have memorized them and quote them to us (please don’t be too jealous). There is the bedtime routine: let the dogs out, take Annie to the potty, check on Ella, finally get some shut-eye; lather, rinse, repeat. Yet, it is also exciting. We fly to New York for our anniversary, eating our way around the city. Nick receives an A in his first MBA class and has a Facebook post go viral; I look for a new teaching job. We’re planning a 40th birthday getaway that will (thank you, Macklemore) be effin’ awesome. Or… maybe there’s even a new Trip Flip on the DVR – and the crowd goes wild.
It is chaste and clean. The girls need to get off to school in the mornings, there is homework and email at night. We share a room with our daughter when relatives visit or we go to the lake. Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated because (according to someone I know, *cough*) it’s too commercial. But it is also passionate and provocative. It is stolen moments when the kids aren’t around. It’s flowers sent just because and perfume worn because it’s his favorite. It’s knowing that little is sexier than watching him read to the girls before bed or bring the trash cans into the garage without being asked.
It is louder. There is constant singing (especially “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” – betcher bottom dollar that tomorrow, there will be 392 renditions of “Tomorrow” and my head will be sore from all of the banging). There is clomping around in high-heeled dress-up shoes and barking dogs and Stop touching your sister. It is also quieter. It is hearing him bemoan that he needs some desk space to do his homework, and then taking hours that evening to clear out cupboards and rearrange furniture for him so that he has a workspace. It is sweeping the floor but then having him reach for the dustpan and gather up the dust bunnies so I don’t have to.
It is sad. It is losing loved ones and fearing losing others. It is saying goodbye to our Golden Girl. It is the girls’ heartache over a broken foot, a troubled friendship, a lost blanket, and knowing that a kiss will not make things better. But it is also happy. Sometimes deliriously happy, but mostly just content, satisfied – joyful. It is watching our daughters read to one another. It is Annie and Ella giggling as Nick tickles them or I slip into an accent mid-sentence. It is Disney World before Christmas with our best friends. It is returning to Minnesota and showing the girls the bridge where we got engaged. It is card games with family after the kids are in bed. It is attending The Book of Mormon and our mouths being sore from all the laughing (in that omg I can’t believe I’m watching this kind of way, which is pretty much the best way).
It is kisses goodbye every morning and snuggling close every night. It is days when we hardly even see one another, much less have a meaningful conversation. It is hands held in the car and purposeful, over-the-top smooches in front of the kids, because we know it bugs the heck out of them – but also because, you know, we’re still in love and all that. It is acceptance. It is anger. It is forgiveness. It is my heart still skipping a beat when I see him across a room. It is his picking up chocolate-covered caramels on business trips and calling each night to talk to the girls before they go to sleep. It is saying something and having Nick chuckle at it, and feeling a smug sense of pride that, nineteen years later, I can still make this man laugh. Which is a good thing, because he does the same to me every single day.
It is not what I expected it to be; instead, it is so much less… but oh so much more.
Which, when I think about it, is pretty crazy.