when love is a relay.

For Brett. Puerto Vallarta-9

 

We are driving the same drive we have driven hundreds of times, 90+ miles from here to there, mostly freeway, always stop and go traffic through the city of Davis. It is gloomy and cloudy and the skies are every shade of grey, which is not fitting at all, actually.

It is Easter.

Everett starts to whine, and then cry, and in 10 seconds his face turns green and I know exactly what is happening.

"Get off, we need to pull over!" I yell, followed by a more peaceful, "It's okay buddy, you're okay, it's okay, it's okay."

Alas, we are too late, and chunks are flying out of his mouth.

Carson is screaming his head off, as he normally does during stop-and-go traffic. Brett flies across three lanes and we get off on the next exit. Farmland and a single gas station. That'll do.

We pull into a parking spot and it starts to rain (because sometimes life is like a movie).

Brett hops out immediately to tend to Everett and for the first time that day, I realize it is unseasonably cold. The wind howls and rattles the car back and forth, while my husband of seven years wipes vomit off our firstborn.

I un-click my seatbelt and unbuckle Carson, who is still screaming, and, as it turns out, is covered in spit-up himself.

"I don't suppose we have a change of clothes for Ev?" Brett asks.

"I think there's a sweater back there somewhere," I reply.

I console Carson with a two-minute nursing session. Brett stands in the rain, droplets staining his shirt, and changes Everett out of his barf shirt into the spare sweater. Both of them hop into the front seat, across from Carson and I.

And we look at each other and we laugh because there was nothing else to do but laugh. Everett chimes in with a giggle, and Carson smiles. The car rocks ever so slightly with the wave of the wind while raindrops pelt the windshield.

And we sit there, parked at the gas station on Easter Sunday, all four of us huddled in the front seat, limbs crammed together, listening to the rain and trying to ignore the scent of vomit permeating the car.

This is our life.

***

I've been thinking about how my marriage has changed since having our second baby. We are more tired, of course. There is more laundry to do, more dishes, more baths to give, less of us to go around. We are in man-to-man defense mode most of the time.

You take this kid, I'll take that one. You feed this kid, I'll feed that one.

There is no break, no time to sit, no time to relax. We are always doing something: feeding kids, changing kids, bathing kids, cleaning up spit-up, cleaning up pee, cleaning up toys, cleaning up yogurt, you get the idea. It's ironic how much time we spend cleaning, given that our house is a complete disaster on most days.

We split the responsibilities as best we can. We negotiate time away and we negotiate the chores and we try very very hard not to complain.

Do you want to do dishes or bedtime? Do you want to do baths or laundry? Do you want to go grocery shopping or watch the kids?

It's a cycle, and it never stops. We're two ships passing in the night, half asleep with blue-eyed children in our arms. We're learning the ins and outs of our own exhaustion, our own debilitating frustration, our own shortcomings as parents. We're learning to read each other better, to understand the different types of tired, to notice the I-can't-do-this-anymore looks on each other's faces.

Right now, parenting feels like a giant relay race with no end in sight. We're simply running different stretches at different times, but the race never stops. We're taking turns and running till it hurts, until we need a break, until we're running so fast we can't breathe. And then, when we simply can't go any further, when our knees are about to give out, we tag each other.

Tag. You're it. 

And then it's my turn and I'm running and I'm not stopping and I'm pouring the Cheerios and cleaning up the yogurt and breastfeeding and trying not to yell. I'm behind on everything: work, e-mails, gifts, thank you's, meal planning, laundry, 40 pieces of unopened mail. I'm reading books and doing finger puppets and changing diapers and giving time-outs and I'm going going going with sweat dripping down my face, heart pounding out of my chest, and then it is 6:07pm and my knees are about to give out.

Tag. You're it. 

And then he's running and he's not stopping and he's wrestling and playing catch and tickling baby feet and giving baths. He's exhausted from his day, his job, his stress, the overwhelming burden and privilege to provide for a family of four. He's warming bottles and reading more books and doing dishes and he's going going going, fire in his lungs, and then it is 8:24pm and his legs are done.

Tag. You're it. 

And somedays we have barely said anything to each other aside from hi, how was your day, it was fine, how was yours, it was fine, the kids did _____ and it made me laugh and the kids did _____ and it made me angry and I'm so tired, are you tired? When will we not be so tired?

We ignore the piles of mail, the to-do's that aren't done, and opt to collapse on the couch instead. He finds the Netflix binge du jour while I set up my breast pump and we watch TV with the familiar sound of milk filling bottles in the background.

We go to bed too late, as always, he sets the alarm and I turn on the oscillating fan, and our bodies melt into the mattress side by side. We rest, for just a moment, before the next stretch of running, which comes only a few hours later at 3:02am. Every single night at 3:02am I get up and start running, because it's my turn, while he dreams until 6:47am, and then it's his.

Back and forth, round and round, we're on the hamster wheel that never stops. We're learning to love each other in stolen glances, in midnight whispers, in hamstring stretches and water breaks. A lot of the time it feels like we're parenting separately, running separately, resting separately. I never knew co-parenting could feel this isolated, this exhausting, this lonely in our own house. It feels like we're running in two different directions with two different kids, doing two different things, only stopping occasionally to check in with each other: are you okay?

We're seven months in and I still feel like we're in survival mode, like this is harder than it's supposed to be and we never have enough help and how is my baby still not sleeping through the night? I think a lot of people would say that the transition from zero kids to one kid was The Hardest but my truth is the opposite---zero to one was a breeze compared to this. And zero to one was not a breeze. I think about all the families with three young kids, and four young kids, and five young kids, and I'm just dumbfounded. How are they not drowning?

I have to believe that this is a phase, that this too shall pass, that pretty soon things will click into place and parenting two young children won't feel so stressful and chaotic and physically draining. But the truth is: I really miss running together. I miss parenting side by side.

We'll get back there, eventually, I think. I hope.

For now, I just need to keep reminding myself: even though we're not always running at the same time, we're still running the same race, and we're on the same team, chasing the same prize, and damn---there's nobody I'd rather relay with than him.