Today is our 9th wedding anniversary and Jackson’s half birthday. It seems fitting to celebrate both as interwoven as they have been these past six months. It’s hard exactly to describe how having a baby has changed our marriage, some moments have been the most beautiful and then hours later some of the most exhausted and drained. Overall, I think that it has been what I would call a tender season.
It’s been a season of tender love in the sense that we are both lavishing so much love on little Jackson—and it is easy: he’s beautiful and extraordinarily good tempered. My heart is just mush over Jackson’s round little fuzzy head and eyes that are growing browner like Evan’s each day.
I love every little baby detail about him, button nose to tiny toes, and find his affection and preference for me the most flattering and delightful thing.
And then watching Evan with Jackson is so sweet and wonderful—the way they laugh together, tiny Jackson carried in tall Evan’s arms, Evan bending way over to change him chatting or singing away, or the way they read stories together.
We are tender to each other too. Babies stretch us so thin that the slightest grace, the tiniest service is a gift. There is nothing more romantic to me at 4:30 in the morning than the words whispered, “I’ll take him, you go back to sleep.” Nothing. I would trade all my Christmas presents for the rest of my life for two hours of sleep some mornings. A kiss, a back rub, a bar of chocolate from the store—every tiny gift is magnified, sometimes cried over. Love is dishwashers emptied and clothes put away and lunches made and counters wiped. Love is all service and kindness these days.
But the flip side is also true: we are tender and sensitive to slights. We are sore and on edge with lack of sleep, we feel uneasy surrounded by a messy house, and a howling baby makes it hard to be gracious. And there is no way, not through all the gifts and acts of service, to fully make up for the lack of quality time together. (And the sleep; I think that sleep perhaps should become the 6th love language). Sometimes, neither of us wants all the opportunities we get to practice forgiveness, or summon the strength to ask for it.
Babies are weighty. And having one is like showing up to the first team practice of the year all out of shape and doing a couple hundred lunges. The next morning you are so sore. You cannot sit without pain, or climb the stairs without groaning, and sometimes even laughing hurts. You tear your muscles down so that when they are built back up they are stronger. And babies make tiny tears in your marriage muscles, making you sore and tender.
There is such little margin for someone besides the baby to have needs, so little time to listen properly and with full attention, so little space for the way that you used to do life and love together. I know the intensity of newborn-time will pass, the soreness and the tenderness will slowly ebb away, and leave us stronger. We’ll trust each other more, know each other more deeply, and have shared something so real and meaningful and beautiful in raising little children.
The trick is, I think to know what the good soreness feels like and when you’ve crossed over into injury— pulled tendons or tweaked knees that require extra care and maybe some outside help. So far we’ve been blessed to have just the usual tenderness of a first baby, but it’s easy to see how thin the line is between baby bliss and marital discord.
Still it is a privileged and sacred work, to constantly care for a baby and a marriage, to grow and stretch into our own family. And it’s not the first hard season that nine years of marriage has seen us through, nor will it be the last time that stress and strain and lack of sleep reveal the harder side of our vows to “promise to love, comfort, honor, and keep one another in sickness and in health, forsaking all others and being faithful to one another as long as we both shall live.”
Three graduate programs and six moves, sleep apnea and lyme disease, new jobs and family members in crisis, leaving programs and getting counseling— have prepared us for this season. Each has reminded us that we are both so much more fragile and so much stronger than we realize.
Nine years of marriage is just enough marriage to remember that while small slights and unkindnesses matter, so do small acts of service and small slivers of really listening. We may not have a lot of time and energy to give to one another, but what we do have is enough and is valued by the other. The small gifts, the small kindnesses — they are enough.
Parenthood is so messy, an unending array of ways to get dirty. But it’s also filled with just as many opportunities to get cleaned up—to wipe a face, change a shirt, take a bath. Again and again we get to start again, fresh diaper, fresh smelling baby, fresh night sleep, fresh grace, a fresh day.
New parenthood gives us such tender hearts. In all the ways that tenderness is uncomfortable and all the ways that tenderness is beautiful, I am so very thankful that this is the season we are in. I am so glad this is where nine years together has taken us, to a very good and special place.
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