Why let a crying baby get in the way of romance?
It was Valentine’s Day 2000. A Monday.
I was a flannel shirt, a ponytail, two mismatched socks. Jay was a long day at work, a broken snowblower, and a head cold. I smelled of spitup. Jay smelled of two-cycle oil and desperation. We’d both been up since 4 a.m. with the baby.
It wasn’t exactly a recipe for romance. But, dang, if we weren’t going to try.
We put the baby — our son, our first child — to bed. We set the dinner table. We called a restaurant delivery service.
It goes without saying that we didn’t have a babysitter.
For starters, we didn’t have any family in town. And we were still new enough to Rochester that we knew relatively few people. Plus, we were in that ridiculous stage of early parenthood where you think your baby is so much work that you don't dare ask a perfectly capable acquaintance to take him on.
But that's OK. We had a foolproof Valentine's Day plan.
We put the baby to bed. We set the table. We ordered Waiter Express.
Seconds after we opened a bottle of wine, our meal arrived. As we unwrapped the boxes of pasta and rolls and little pats of butter, I thought, for one glowing moment, that we had tricked fate. That, by Job, we might not be able to go out, but we would have our romantic evening. We would have our Valentine’s Day.
And then the baby cried. And cried some more.
I rocked the baby. And Jay walked with the baby. And we took turns eating while I thought the kinds of desperate thoughts you have when you’re covered in baby snot and you haven’t had enough sleep and all you want is 10 minutes to sit down at the same table with your husband.
Thoughts like: WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO HAVE THIS BABY, ANYWAY? And: THIS IS WHAT OUR LIFE IS GOING TO BE LIKE FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.
And now it's, incomprehensibly, 20 years later.
By all accounts, that's true. Friday marks Valentine's Day 2020. Yet, I swear to you that I can still remember the anticipation of that pasta dinner. Still remember the glass of rosé waiting, lonely, on the dining room table we'd bought at Montgomery Wards. Still remember thinking in despair: "Will we never, ever get a break again?"
I can still feel the weight of that question.
But somehow, in the thunderclap of time that is two decades — a span that happened so fast that I think this is what teleportation must feel like — that crying baby now lives 300 miles away from me. And his little brother, born two years and two months after that fateful Valentine's Day, is getting ready to leap boldly from the nest himself.
So, yeah, I'm about to get a break.
How could I have imagined, back in 2000, all the life we would live in these 20 years?
How could I have possibly steeled myself for two decades of growing a family — of picture books and trips to the park and walks to the school bus and Legos everywhere and cold lunches and new math and backyard water fights and time outs and first loves and family dinners and blow-out fights and road trips and "I'm sorry"s and stacks of laundry on the couch and school conferences and movie nights and vacations and heartbreaks and learning to drive and sinks full of dishes and sporting events and tears and band concerts and the kind of love I didn't even know I could feel?
How could I have possibly known, then, that after all of that — after 20 years so full that I hardly remember what life was like before them — that I would, at long last, be offered a break? Would, in fact, be staring down a future consisting of whole days and weeks and months of breaks from raising my babies.
And that it would feel entirely too soon.