The other day as I made my way into work, I received a text from my husband: “Sorry honey, but life shouldn’t be this hard.” He sent this about 15 minutes after we spoke our usual morning conversation about how our girls were at daycare drop-off that morning and my concern for his Debbie downer mood he had the past few days. He works closer than I and has a short commute to work, so it makes sense he drops and picks up our children to and fro. It’s not easy on him, though. He works a night job as well as his day job to supplement my lost income, so I can work part-time. Which translates into him getting maybe two hours of sleep several nights per week.
This is where it gets hard. No one should have to work two jobs, let alone a father involved with raising two children, ages 5 and 1. It’s more than exhausting. It’s basically a punishment. And yet it is the choice we’ve made so I can have a couple of extra days per week to spend with them. Something we both feel is important for their development.
Our girls are never easy in the morning to get ready. At their ages, it’s not a shocker. I work three to four days per week and those mornings are painful. Getting everyone ready and out the door by 7:30 a.m. feels like a nightmare. Except I’m awake. Very awake to the lashing out of my toddler. My husband is usually pretty lethargic and crabby and he has every right to be. He makes jokes about his schedule, like “I’m a Navy Seal.” But I know he wishes it could be different. The thing is, is he’s a good man; a good father; a good husband. And he is old school. He wants to be the one to provide.
Lately, our 1-year-old has been a basket case, waking anywhere between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. only to scream her lungs out and kick her crib until it moves. My alarm is set for 5:20 a.m. each morning. Most of the time I get ready for work listening to her pleas. In my head, I pray she doesn’t wake her sister. My husband is sound asleep, knocked out rather, and my fear is that she will wake both of them. I give myself 20 minutes to look presentable for work; usually slopping on makeup and spraying a ton of dry shampoo in my hair to mask the fact that it’s dirty.
Once I grab my toddler from her crib, I then attempt to wake my husband. I trek downstairs to make coffee and eagerly wait for my coffee to brew so I can devour it before I spill any on my clingy child, who insists I hold her. She always cries a bit before she settles after I put Sesame Street on the television and give her orange juice. I have no idea what goes on in the world anymore and the news is a foreign thing to me, since I can never watch anything unless Elmo is involved.
When my husband does eventually make his way downstairs, he is a zombie. My daughter may or may not be in the mood to be kissed by her father. If she isn’t, this will set her off even more. Shortly thereafter, I wake my 5-year-old. She is always hungry upon waking, so I get her some breakfast and then my 1-year-old starts belting out commands. It’s still hard for me to decipher what she wants when she is flailing her body around when I tell her “no” to her request for eating a cookie.
After they eat, the girls and I get dressed and brush our teeth. My oldest is so wonderful about getting herself dressed, it’s a blessing. She is pretty good about coordinating her clothes and I am a bit impressed with her skill. My littlest, well, that’s a different story. It usually depends on how well she slept. Most of the time it is somewhat of a battle to change her, namely her diaper. She always squirms and tries to run away. She thinks it’s a game. Mama doesn’t like playing games at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, though.
I routinely get dressed with my toddler at my leg screaming and shouting out, “up, up.” Meanwhile, my husband curses his Italian/Sicilian hair from the bathroom. There is always stress in the morning. I rummage through my jewelry while holding my toddler, distracting her with anything shiny. I often hear my husband talking to himself and I am always irritated because I can never find a matching pair of black effing socks. The time just flies and I should be out the door but instead have to brush both of my children’s hair. This is when the 5-year-old gives me strain. She hates having her hair brushed. I tell her “we’ll just get it cut,” then she usually pipes down. Psychology 101.
I work downtown, with a good 45 minute to one-hour commute (on a good day), possibly more, depending on traffic. I start at 8:00 a.m. but my coworkers expect me to be late. And I hate to let them down. My husband is always in a tizzy about the rush of the morning. I wholeheartedly agree while bundling up to face the cold, kiss my children and husband goodbye and head out to start my day. It’s always a rush. This is our normal routine. It is hectic, it is scary. I’m tired before I even begin my day. I have learned to come up with ways to make my mornings easier, like showering at night, ironing my clothes at the start of the week, but it’s never easy. And the traffic is always another stressor to deal with.
My husband calls me around 7:50 a.m. every morning and I still have miles ahead of me, the freeway is generally bumper to bumper. With our chaotic schedule, this is our only time to talk without interruptions. Because the evening routine isn’t much easier. We always say “love you” after every conversation. And it’s not because we are on autopilot, beyond all the mayhem of our daily life, we are in it together, and that’s what makes us strong. Through all the messiness we endure with young children, we love one another – even when we dislike one another.
Our marriage is never without its ups and downs. Having young children puts a big stressor on a relationship. I can see why marriages end when children are brought into the mix. It’s a challenge. And it’s a challenge both parents have to be up for. Both parties have to fully commit to the children and also to each other.
And after I received that text that day, I couldn’t help but wonder if my husband is right or wrong. Are we doing something wrong? Are there secrets other parents are aware of? Is life meant to be hard? Bumpy with gray skies and screaming kids? Or smooth with sunny days and happy-go-lucky children? Maybe life is meant to be simple. But, life with littles is anything but simple.
I know we chose our current circumstances, but we also never knew parenting could be this hard. I have to believe one day we’ll reminisce about these hectic mornings. I wish for things to ease up and I know in time they will as our children grow. But, I also believe that nothing good comes easy. And raising children is anything but easy.