“They’ve ruined us.”
I’m not sure which one of us said it, but it didn’t really matter. We had both said it a hundred times before. Our twin toddlers were shrieking through the monitor like a pair of dying smoke detectors and our four-year-old was pounding on the bedroom door.
I looked over at my husband, bright pink amoxicillin sunk deep into his nail beds, briefs turned inside out. He was radiating the sensual energy of a saguaro cactus. These were the supposed hard times of a marriage, the beginning of the end of the magic, but it was in this woeful, chronically exhausted place with its puke-stained sheets and tantrums about shoes where we finally, really fell in love. Our kids didn’t ruin us, they saved our marriage.
Children don’t fix anything, but if something can be broken, they will smash it into oblivion. Buckley and I had married quickly. We were young, entitled, and so grossly unprepared for each other, it was mystifying.
He was bad with money, and he lied to me. I drank too much and never missed an opportunity to punish him for letting me down. Like most good kids, we tried to fix it. We tried to fix it with sex, a new house, time spent together, and time spent apart. We went to counseling and we went to Napa, but we were failing. So, we tried to fix it with a baby. It was selfish and desperate, and given the fact that we were about an inch away from divorce, it should have been catastrophic.
When I found out I was pregnant, I texted him a picture of the test. I didn’t know what to say. We were poor, uninsured, and so persistently angry at each other that we could hardly stand to be in the same room sober.
FYI: being in the same room, not sober, is how two people that don’t like each other make a baby. The morning of our first doctor’s appointment, he smashed the glass on the back door and I threatened to leave him, but we went ahead anyway to see the tiny flicker of life born from our fading relationship. Our parents were thrilled, our therapist was visibly grim, and we quietly wondered if we’d made a huge mistake.
Our first son arrived and drove us into adulthood mercilessly, leaving our assumptions in a sad puddle on the floor. He left a lot of things in puddles on the floor (as babies do). When I wasn’t nursing, I was crying, sweating hormones, and leaking from everywhere.
Buckley oscillated between fear and confusion as he tried to find affection for the red-faced, sputtering child who would do nothing but scream in his arms. We were terrified, vulnerable, and ill-equipped, but we were all we had. We didn’t talk much during those first farcical weeks; we just stared dead-eyed at the Keurig as it graciously spat its coffee.
At 3 a.m. one night, something extraordinary happened: we started to need each other. Maybe for the first time ever.
The baby was sobbing so powerfully on my chest that the windowpanes shook, my wrists felt like they were about to snap from the unfamiliar motions of new motherhood, and I was bleeding through my pants. All of a sudden, my husband held onto me. He held onto me tightly and fearlessly even though, for months, I had shown him nothing but rejection. At 3:45, he held onto me again. And, again at 4:15. In the days that followed when he felt frustrated and alone, I told him he was a good dad, and I meant it. Necessity had brought gentleness and compassion to live with us for the first time in ages, and it changed everything.
As the months grew into years, we were bound together progressively less by survival and more by the joys, fears, and odd cadence of the life we shared. The demonic baby eventually turned into a kid. He broke things and woke up at 5 a.m.
He made us crazy and taught us to be patient and kind. When there was anger (and there was plenty!) we found understanding—sometimes even forgiveness. Parenthood unearthed the things in us that we hoped were there all of those years ago, simmering beneath the bubbling surface of a very new, very young love. We became family.
Here we are almost a decade and three kids later. There is dried applesauce on our walls. We haven’t had sex in two weeks, but we’ve played approximately 40 games of Candyland.
We love each other. Truly. Kids are notorious for the things they take from their parents, but they can give an awful lot, too. Ours have given us everything: gravity, tenacity, and one time, pinworms. They handed me back the love of a lifetime, a person I never really saw clearly until he was a father.
We are not together for the kids, but we are together because of them—because of what they revealed to us about each other. Having children might save your marriage or it might not, but for better or worse, it will show you what it’s made of.