Sometimes I look at my husband and think, “It was you and me when we started and it’ll be you and me when these yahoos leave.” This parenting thing is like a twenty-year team building exercise, like a high ropes course or American Ninja Warrior.
And the further in we get, the more well-oiled machiney we get. The other day we took the kids to IKEA for new bookshelves, because bookshelves make us feel like we’re getting our crap together. Every year we seem to buy more shelves until one day in the future our entire house will be a labyrinth of musty Nancy Drew mysteries and memoirs of my favorite comedians.
We loaded the kids into the minivan and headed out to the Big City to be productive and build things with our own hands. The kids watched a movie and we sat up front and drank coffee and talked, which is equivalent to an Extremely Hot Date when you’ve been married for sixteen years.
While I stood in line for Smaland (which I can only assume is Swedish for “we’ll entertain your kids for half an hour while you run around like crazy people but get your asses back here on time or we’re giving them away”) with our six and eight-year-old, he took the too-old-for-ball-pits eleven-year-old to start searching for the shelves we’d already scoped online. Once the littles entered Smaland, we were on the clock unless we wanted to schlep shelves while peeling children off the Ektorp (which I can only assume is Swedish for “this sofa is great for wiping boogers”), so I raced for a cart and filled it with the items on my list. And a bath mat which was an impulse buy. And three flower pots which were also impulse buys. And a vanilla candle, okay shut up stop being so judgy about the impulse buys.
I met up with my sweat-drenched, crazy-eyed hubs, who passed the eleven-year-old off to me so he could hunt down the missing shelves (“The website said they were here! But they’re not here! So I have to sprint three city blocks to the other side of the store to find them!”). A couple times we’ve gone all the way to IKEA only to realize they’ve sold out (I can only assume Liatorp is Swedish for “Mwahaha, our website said there were five left in the store, but we sold our last one while you were stuck on Level B of the parking deck.”).
We finished up our list, found Daddy, who had found the shelves and was loading them onto a dolly, and had just enough time to go get the littles before they were given away or incinerated or whatever IKEA does with leftover children who aren’t claimed after the allotted thirty minutes. Daddy and daughter stood in line while I grabbed the littles and we met back up at the checkout counter.
It was like a well-choreographed dance. Alex was the Baryshnikov of IKEA dads and the whole thing was oddly arousing. What is it about time management and free childcare that turns me on like that?
After grabbing lunch and heading back to the ‘burbs, we spent the afternoon building bookshelves and organizing our lives. And after the kids were in bed, you better believe we lit that vanilla candle. Yeah baby.
And this is marriage after sixteen years and babies and toddlers and school kids. It’s IKEA hot. (I can only assume IKEA is Swedish for “foreplay for middle-aged married-with-kids couples.”)
As your kids get older, and school and life and activities and big time hard issues heat up, marriage can feel like Google Calendar, where you’re just arranging schedules and checking things off a list. But you also can feel teamier (rhymes with “steamier,” and it’s a word because I said so) and get stronger, like those totally jacked ninja warrior contestants. I can’t navigate the pegboard wall but I can marriage really hard.
You learn how to roll with the punches, and you learn how to roll together instead of colliding. I guess the thing I’m learning to do in the midst of raising kids with this other person is to look for the hidden moments. The IKEA moments. The ones that would’ve never felt like a date a decade ago. Coffee in the minivan while the kids are strapped in back. A hug in the kitchen after dinner with the littles trying to squeeze between your legs. Lighting an impulse-buy vanilla candle and making out between the new bookshelves with the Allen wrench and FIXA (which I can only assume is Swedish for “possibly important leftover screws strewn all over the floor.”).
It was you and him when you started and it’ll be you and him when the kids leave someday. And you’ll be stronger and teamier (and steamier) for having had them if you enjoy the hidden moments.