I’d been home from work for a couple hours, and my wife and I hadn’t kissed yet. Usually we do, but sometimes, with three kids under 10, it’s too crazy for kisses. Mel had dinner on the stove. At her leg was a poopy toddler in a onesie, her blonde hair a mess, screaming for attention. At the table were my two oldest, Tristan and Norah. Tristan was trying to help Norah with her math homework, but she just wasn’t having it, and suddenly they were arguing. Tristan kept saying, “Just let me help you!” and Norah kept saying, “I want Mommy!”
Sometimes, when I get home from work, it looks like this. It looks like chaos. Just recently, I saw a set of paintings on Bored Panda that were supposed to depict people in love. Most of the images were of two people holding each other. In one painting, the woman was leaning over the kitchen counter reaching for tomatoes, and the man had his arms around her from behind, his head resting on the woman’s shoulder. It’s hard not to feel sentimental when looking at a painting like that, because the fact is, Mel and I have had similar moments during our 13 years of marriage. But with kids, when things are chaotic, it doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. It doesn’t look like love and compassion. It doesn’t look like two people snuggling.
It looks like a business relationship at times. It looks like my wife looking at me with her lips drawn to a tight line, eyes open wide. It’s a look that says, “Help me.” And as much as I’d rather wrap my arms around her, as much as I’d rather give her a kiss, when the kids are in four-alarm mode, there just isn’t time to get sentimental and mushy in that moment.
I plopped down my bag, and picked up Aspen, the youngest, changed her bum, all the while talking my two oldest through their argument like I was trying to tell someone over the phone how to diffuse a bomb. Mel kept working on dinner, and once it was done, I helped her set the table. Then we sat down as a family and ate.
Mel and I hardly spoke most of the evening. No one asked about the other’s day. We didn’t touch each other. We just got down to business. We’d been parents long enough to understand how to work together to manage our home. And while all of this doesn’t sound romantic at all, it actually is a beautiful thing.
There is something to be said about knowing that my wife is in this with me. We are past the point of needing to ask each other for directions, or saying anything like, “How can I help?” Because the reality is, we know how to help each other. We know what needs to be done to get our kids moving forward. So we just pitch in.
The sad reality is, I think a lot of people see moments like this as a sign of growing too comfortable. I think they see it as a reflection that the love, the spark, the passion, is gone. But I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think it’s just the reality of being married to someone, of loving them, and raising a family together. Marriage and parenting are wonderful. However, there is the sad reality that it doesn’t always look like a love story. At least, not the kind you see in the movies.
Sometimes it looks like business partners discussing their taxes. Sometimes it looks like dividing the kids, so that two issues can be solved at once. Sometimes it looks like backing each other up on disciplinary issues. Sometimes it looks like seeing the beauty in someone even though they didn’t have time to change out of their sweatpants that day.
This doesn’t mean that you should be content with all that. It doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel on kisses, candy, snuggles, and romance. What it does mean is to take a moment and admire that when things are chaotic, you have found a partner. You found someone who is willing to work alongside you to do one of the most difficult jobs in the history of ever — parenting. There is so much beauty in that.
Once the kids were in bed, the dishes were done, and Mel and I were winding down for the night I said, “You haven’t kissed me.”
Mel was in the living room while I was standing at the end of the hallway. Her back was to me, so she turned around and said, “You haven’t kissed me.”
We looked at each other for a while, both of us waiting for the other to make their move. Then we both walked forward and kissed. I held her for a while. We kissed again, and for just a bit we looked like the couple in those paintings. We both smiled, and then we heard a door creak open down the hall. It was our toddler. She was out of bed and making her way toward us.
Without discussion, I let go of my wife, picked up Aspen, and carried her back to bed. The romance was on hold again. For now.