Sitting in my bed, I attempt to hide and drown out the noise downstairs with the rhythmic hum of my breast pump. I can still hear the baby crying and my toddler son whining. His twin sister yells at the top of her lungs for no reason, except maybe to keep up with the decibel level of everyone else. I’ve been here longer than necessary, partly because pumping takes extra time. I worry my supply is dropping, maybe due to diet changes or stress or who knows what. My mind conjures up a thousand possibilities, all of which I feel the urgent need to research.
I stop my frantic Googling as I notice my heart pounding faster. Apparently escaping to a semi-quiet room only made my anxious thoughts louder. I try to sit still as I listen to the steady hum of the pump, praying those bottles will fill with a few more drops. I’m not ready to add the chaos from downstairs to the chaos I carry in my own body.
It’s mac and cheese for dinner tonight—the one from the box, not the good homemade stuff. I can hear my husband’s footsteps bound up and down the stairs as he manages whatever is going on. He’s working hard to give me peace and quiet, but the volume can only be helped so much—especially during the witching hour.
There’s no denying it’s hard to connect. It’s hard to have the time and space to look each other in the eyes and ask, “How was your day?” and then actually answer without LEGOs being thrown across the room or a not quite potty-trained toddler peeing on the floor. How can we connect when I can’t even be in the room with the rest of the family?
Before babies, we used to get home from work and sit at the table together. I’d cook a homemade meal nearly every night. We’d talk over pasta and salad, garlic bread and a glass of wine. Now, even the most gracious attempts to talk more deeply or resolve conflict seem impossible. My husband’s words get caught in the tornado of emotions and information swirling in my mind, and I can’t seem to calm the storm. Some days that storm rages only in my head and heart; other times everyone else gets swept by its gale force winds. Feeling connected—feeling as though we’re on the same page, moving in the same direction, on the same team some days appears to be an exercise in futility. How do you connect with each other in the midst of a messy house, postpartum anxiety, sleep deprivation, carrying the burden of parenting, mom guilt, kids’ schedules, and the fact that if one more set of hands touches me, I may completely lose it?
After an appointment a while back, our counselor gave us homework to “check in,” to sit down every night for at least a couple minutes and talk. As soon as the kids went to bed, before washing the dishes or picking up toys or planting ourselves in front of Netflix, our job was to plant ourselves in a chair, look each other in the eyes, and ask the simplest of questions: “How was your day?” and “How are you?”
Setting aside any other responsibilities for a few minutes signaled to each other that this mattered. This attempt to reconnect amidst the chaos of every life was worth it. Some nights, our “check-ins” took five minutes as we briefly acknowledged each other and offered to listen if needed. Other nights, we fought, finally dealing with conflict that had been brewing. Other nights, we made decisions that no longer needed to weigh on one set of shoulders. The burdens could finally be shared.
It’s easy to get disconnected, to let life pull at the strands of your marriage until you start to unravel. For us, the intentionality of asking these basic questions, the undivided attention given, the eye contact, and the physical proximity to each other as we talked started to weave the frayed edges back together. There was space to listen, space to fight, space to voice opinions (of which I have plenty). It’s not a magic solution and not a practice that suddenly makes marriage easy. But it’s been one small point of connection after another, one more stitch in the fabric of our marriage. Evening after evening, we sit down at the kitchen table and weave a little more.
Last night I pulled leftovers out of the fridge. As soon as we all tried to eat together, my preschool son ran frantically to the bathroom, my one-year-old threw food over the side of this chair, and my daughter protested the peas in front of her. The noise level of our house has remained about the same level of loud over the past year. The breast pump has been sitting in a storage bin for over six months now, but I still find myself needing to retreat to a quiet(er) corner of the house periodically.
After we tucked all three kids in bed, my husband sat down on the white armchair as I curled up on the couch. We had planned a date night in which started with a long overdue “check-in.” We’d gotten out of the habit for a few months, especially as holiday busyness encroached on our usual routines. The hiatus resulted in an emotionally exhausting attempt to make up for lost time: a two-hour not-so-romantic conversation about life and marriage. But it got the ball rolling again, it got us talking and sharing, weaving together a few frayed strands.
Ever so slowly, we’re inching closer to connection, carving out moments despite the mess and trying to listen in the noise. We’re learning, growing, and finding each other again, little by little.
Marinated Skirt Steak with Pineapple + Green Onions
Yields 2-3 servings*
When getting out of the house isn’t possible, my husband and I schedule date nights in. We make something we like and sip a favorite drink while we watch a movie, play a game, or simply catch up. This recipe makes the perfect date night in dinner. Get the marinade going earlier in the day, cook the rest of the dish as soon as you get the kids in bed, and savor a good meal and a few moments together.
For the Steak Marinade
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup pineapple juice
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds skirt steak, trimmed
For the Pineapple + Green Onions
6 ounces green onions
¼ cup pineapple juice (no sugar added)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cups cubed fresh pineapple (about ½ of a medium-sized pineapple)
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛-¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Cayenne pepper (optional but highly recommended!**)
Add all the marinade ingredients except the steak to a medium bowl or gallon zip-top bag and mix well. Add the steak, cover or seal, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 10 hours.
About 30 minutes before cooking, take the steak out of the fridge to allow it come to room temperature.
Remove the steak from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. Transfer to a dish, and blot the steak with a paper towel. Discard the marinade.
Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it’s searing hot. Add the steak to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes without touching it. Flip and cook for about another 3-4 minutes (depending on the thickness of the meat) until the internal temperature is 125-130 degrees (for medium-rare). Cook a minute or two longer if you want it medium or medium-well.
Turn the heat off the skillet. Transfer the steak to a plate or cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes while you make the pineapple and green onions.
Trim the ends off the green onions. Finely chop 1-2 of the onions and set aside for serving. Cut the rest of the onions into 1 to 1½ inch pieces.
Before turning the heat back on, pour the pineapple juice and olive oil into the skillet to deglaze the pan. Stir up any browned bits from the meat.
Turn the heat to medium. Add the cubed pineapple, onions, salt, and a pinch or two of black pepper. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pineapple and onions soften and the sauce reduces. Season with cayenne and additional salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the steak thinly against the grain and serve with the pineapple and green onions. Top with raw chopped green onions. Enjoy!
*You can easily stretch this recipe to feed 3-4 people if needed by serving with rice, roasted potatoes, or cauliflower rice.
**A hint of spice helps balance out the sweetness of the pineapple, so if you like a little heat, definitely make sure to add this!