I sometimes wake up and feel as though nothing is as it should be. It almost always happens before five, when the world is still hushed and dark. I lie as quietly as I can and listen to my husband’s breathing. I listen to the stirring of the bunnies in their cage across our small house, the rhythmic rushing and rumbling of cars passing outside our bedroom window.

I listen to the cacophony in my heart: Am I doing the best with my children? Will they be able to go to college if they want to, or has my haphazard attempt at homeschooling messed up everything? Am I failing at work? Are my clients happy? Are my friendships good? Am I failing anyone I love? Am I hurting feelings, stepping on toes, crushing spirits? I replay conversations with friends where I’m sure I’ve said too much, said something wrong. I see glimpses of the day, of myself at my worst, snapping at children to keep it down or telling them I’m just too busy to play.

Sometimes I feel adrift and roll on my side to look at the curves of silvery moonlight cutting across my husband’s cheeks. I try to match my breaths with his. Remember when we had nothing? When we were in a trailer park and had four small children sleeping in one bedroom and we ignored the unanswered bills piling up on the desk? Remember when we had everything? Before jobs were lost and careers changed and we spent money that should’ve been saved? Remember when I was decades younger and I was going to go and be a missionary, a servant, an adventurer? Something entirely different than this—this woman, this mother, this sleepless body lying in a bed and worrying that she has made a million mistakes and failed a world full of people, and the sun hasn’t even come up yet. Drifting further and further into an ocean of my own doubt and worry, I lean into Vinnie, nudging him until he holds me, still half asleep himself. It’s a small thing, to be held, but it’s a lifeline.

It’s a small thing, to be held, but it’s a lifeline.

On a recent morning, as this whole familiar scenario played itself out, our five-year-old—a mere shadow with a blanket hanging over her shoulder—slipped into our room. She climbed into our bed, up over my husband, making her way to the space between us, hoping to burrow and nuzzle against our warm bodies. But there was no space for her. My husband mumbled, half asleep but still with kindness, “Sorry, Goose, you can’t be between us.” And he squeezed my hand.

Sometimes marriage feels like an anchor, holding me here in this place, in this house, on this couch, when the world seems so infinitely wide and colorful and interesting and my wanderlusting heart whispers, GO.

Other times, marriage is the life vest, saving me over and over again from the sea of my own selfishness, recklessness, and doubt.

You can’t be between us is one of the only long-lasting themes in our fumbling journey through parenthood together. We love and care for our children tirelessly. But we are also the first to insist that our relationship—his and mine—is the one we committed to first.

Children take up space, and not only in the clutter, in the closets stuffed with games and toys and broken pieces of things they refuse to throw away (because somehow they’ve become emotionally attached to actual garbage). But they also take up space in our hearts and minds. They take up space in my anxious thoughts when it’s quarter to six and I haven’t slept in hours. Children take (and take and take) from our emotional wells, but, unlike spouses, they don’t have the responsibility to replenish anything. They are ours for only a moment in this life, and if my husband and I are successful in our endeavors, our children will leave us, hopefully well prepared for their own journeys.

You can’t be between us is one of the only long-lasting themes in our fumbling journey through parenthood together. We love and care for our children tirelessly. But we are also the first to insist that our relationship—his and mine—is the one we committed to first.

For our marriage to work, for it to thrive amidst this family life, we need to choose each other, even above our children. Because, unlike our children, my husband and I did make vows to fill each other’s emotional wells. We didn’t know, standing together in that arboretum at the ages of twenty-one and twenty-two, surrounded by friends and family, that our wells even could be emptied. When we exchanged vows, we promised for better or for worse, but we only truly understood the better—the feeling of happy fulfillment that we shared in that one small, perfect moment.

We didn’t know how it would feel to argue over a sink full of dishes or how humbling it would be to lose jobs, to have to move in with our parents with a six-month-old baby. We didn’t know how it would feel to lose two pregnancies, to cry until our hearts were wrung out and there was nothing left to do but sleep. We didn’t know that we’d work until two in the morning just to get up and work some more, or that we’d add homeschooling to our chaos.

We had no idea how any, and all, of that—how simple, daily life—could drain us. Because it does. This stage of life is exhausting. I am exhausted, often.

I don’t always tell my husband the anxieties that go through my brain in the pre-dawn hours. I don’t always tell him when I’m wrought with worry over how maybe I didn’t hug the kids enough that day or when I’m regretting every time I’ve barked at our toddler refusing to use the potty. I don’t always tell him about lying in bed, watching the ceiling fan spin, and wondering about every decision I’ve made that has led me to that place.

But, when I do, he listens. And in the simple act of listening, he tethers me down, gently, back to him. To us.




Photo Credit: Simply Mella Photography.