I don’t know about you, but parenting is wearing me out. When you first bring a child home, you feel like you never, ever want to be touched again. You’ve seen too much. You’ve felt too much. Your skin is lava and don’t touch the lava. Back away slowly. As your kids grow, you shove one under your arm while slinging a bag around your neck and feel another kid yanking your other arm off. You begin to worry that at some point, your arms will just detach themselves completely. (Note: look into detachable arms. That should be a thing.) You wash your hands forty million times a day because the poo under your fingernail from that last toddler butt-wiping is messing with your OCD and your kids eat boogers like it’s a food group.
You want to live in a giant, sanitized bubble, at least for a few hours of recovery time. And then your spouse walks through the door and you want to die and wish you could make a sex-clone, just someone else to take up some slack around here. There’s not enough of you to go around. You begin to understand the sister wife thing a little better.
As your kids get older, you don’t get pulled on as much, you start to regain feeling in your arms (just in time for your kids to start playing with the extra skin underneath, making “boing boing” noises), but then the mental games begin. After hours of “he hit me,” “she took my special piece of lint,” and “you ruined my life I hate you wait hold me I need you,” you have no mental faculties left to carry on an adult conversation and stare blankly at your spouse while he or she talks about normal things like the stock market and health insurance. He or she doesn’t understand that you just spent two hours trying to calm down a child who lost an eraser.
So. In these desperate times, we have to return to the basics. We don’t have the bandwidth for anything fancy. Start with the little things that act like glue or maybe like a space heater that defrosts the area on a freezing cold day.
1. Touch fingers.
If the kids are like really cute lamprey eels and you can’t bear the thought of one more person sucking the life from your body, hold his hand. Let your fingers intertwine like they did when you were first dating. Play with each other’s fingers. Don’t think about sex. Start with fingers. Fingers are not intimidating. You can do fingers.
2. Pour a cup of coffee.
I know. He or she can get their own damn coffee. I agree. But it’s the act of doing something little for the other person. I bring a cup to Alex in his office and on weekends I hear him putting the kettle on for the French press and feel loved. It’s just coffee. But it’s boiled love.
3. Hug in the kitchen.
We are like passing ships. But sometimes those ships set down the stuff in their ship-hands and bear hug. Hug until your shoulders relax. Don’t let go until your breathing calms. Sigh into each other’s necks. We are so dang overwhelmed. Hug. Sigh. Breathe. And move forward.
4. Make eye contact.
You spend your time together staring at schedules and making notes in your phones. Look up. Ogle each other’s eyeballs. Doesn’t have to be long. Have you seen the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice? (Note: if you have not, I’m concerned for you. If you mention the Hollywood version I will flick you in the face.) The sexiest part of the entire six hours is when Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle make eye contact across the room when she helps his sister at the piano. My tummy goes squishy every time. They stare at each other and they know. This whole big awkward thing has just gone down in the room and they are the only two that know what happened and they stare into each other’s eyes and it is hot. Alex and I recreate this scene at the dinner table every night when the kids are insanazoids and we will each other to find the humor in it using only the power of our eyeballs.
5. Sit next to each other.
Don’t be afraid to sit next to each other on family movie night and stick your kids on the ends. In your attempt to separate your children and keep them from whaling on each other in the middle of a movie, you use your bodies as human shields, like breakers on the edge of the roiling ocean. But sometimes you just have to sit together. Sometimes you have to share a blanket and lock fingers and let your little ones sit on the edges.
I know this is not ground-breaking stuff. Hands, coffee, hug, eyes, sit. This is like relationship advice for eighth-graders, except replace coffee with Mountain Dew. But if you’re like me, sometimes marriage in the midst of everything else can feel overwhelming and I have to roll back to the basics. If you get a date night, awesome. Please do. If you get a weekend away on a tropical island, grab it. But if you’re trying to connect with your spouse when you’re drained of your life force, start small, hang on, and don’t give up.
We’re all in this together.
(Note: look into marriage app that tracks how many hand holds and eye contacts you’ve done in a day, like a Fitbit but for marriage. Shut up, it’s not lame and you wish you thought of it.)