Last week, my husband and I went out for a date night while my parents saw our boys for a couple of hours. It was the first time in quite a while that we had gone out just the two of us though we try to do something without children at least once per month; it often ends up being dinner with another couple, an adult-only wedding or drinks with friends.
As we sat across from each other in the restaurant sipping our cocktails, I realized how seldom we get to speak to each other one-on-one nowadays.
Sure, we talk every night when he calls on his way home from work, but there is usually a baby crying in the background or a toddler eating toilet paper when trying to climb in the oven which forces the call to some quick end. We often chat in the morning while I am showering and he is shaving at the sink, but it is that easy shorthand of couples that are always crunched for time–“Yep, sure” and “Love you… have a good day.”
When we finally wrangle both children in bed at night and crash on the couch, one (or both) of us is usually asleep sitting up before we have even selected a picture on Netflix “Just choose a TV series,” I often tell my husband. “I doubt I have over 20 minutes of battery life left in me.” Yes, we speak, but we do not really talk.
So when we finally got the opportunity to do so without a deadline, I found how much I miss our pre-children conversations. We chased Trump vs. Hillary, mulled over his latest job interview, speculated about the trajectory of my budding writing career.
I felt like an adult, talking things that never necessitated with the word “poop.” But, as our entrees came and we shared forkfuls of Risotto throughout the table, the conversation took a meandering return to our favorite subject: our kids.
On the heels of an offhand remark about a coming family Easter celebration, I casually said that our toddler had identified the easter bunny on TV that afternoon. “He is so smart,” my husband said, his eyes light up the way they do when he talks about our children. “I cannot believe how much he learns every day.”
It was like setting a toe into the sea and finding it enjoyable warm; once we had quietly agreed it was okay to venture outside, both of we dove right in. Conversation flowed smoothly as we discussed our younger son’s newfound ability to sit up unassisted and our toddler’s proclivity for mimicking every four-letter word that accidentally pops out of our mouths.
As the second round of drinks was delivered, we slowly waded into deeper waters; I talked of my doubt about having a third child someday while my husband disclosed that he feels guilty when he is relieved that it is my turn to place our older daughter to bed because he sees her infrequently. It was the type of subject matter we would never handle sitting across from each other at our dinner table as I help our toddler eat his dinner one-handed and he mops up spilled milk in the highchair tray.
After we returned home and retired to our respective sides of the bed, I felt lingering gratitude for the rare chance to speak sincerely about raising children together. And yet, I felt a nagging shame in breaking among the cardinal principles of parenthood: do not talk about the children during infrequent alone time.
I have not only had this suggestion dispensed to me on several occasions, but I have also doled it out myself (early on in my blogging days, I wrote a post about keeping your marriage a priority following children that touched on this very subject.)
I know the logic behind the opinion: if all we talk about is our children, what will we have left in common when they are grown? How will we adjust to being just a couple again? What will remain of our relationship once we subtract our best commonality from the discourse?
I remembered well our first ever post-baby outing when our now toddler was only a couple of weeks old. We went to a restaurant less than three miles from our home and enjoyed mediocre Italian food while dodging the subject of our brand new baby. After the dessert dishes were finished and I finally brought up our son, it was not because I had run out of other things to say; I just really wanted to talk about him.
However, I saw the slippery slope I had started tiptoeing down–soon enough we might have nothing else to discuss. I made a mental note to hold out longer next time.
For almost two years, I have taken this nugget of wisdom with me, attempting to observe it whenever my husband and I visit someplace without children. However, at the moment, lying there in bed, a more forgiving train of thought eventually presented itself.
Our kids are easily our best-shared interest: how realistic is it that, during our infrequent alone time, we would not speak about them? Yes, we also happen to love the Foo Fighters and peanut butter cup ice cream, but Dave Grohl’s facial hair is decidedly less exciting fodder for discussion than our toddler’s ever-expanding vocabulary.
For us, the most recent pop culture developments or the splashy political headlines are no match for the information of our baby’s recently acquired dimple or his growing small tummy. It sounds dull, but it is our kind of stupid. Mutual mundaneness.
Occasionally, it is almost like having our very own secret language that insulates us from everyone in our immediate area. We gesticulate wildly while telling tales which involve our children, pantomime their habits, mimic the charmingly wrong way they pronounce certain words.
It feels natural and straightforward, like speaking one’s native tongue after returning from a foreign country. The language of our kids is the one we talk the best, so why bother ourselves with those to which we’ve grown unaccustomed through the years?
The woman I was before children cringes at this realization; I thought we would never become that couple who had nothing better to talk about than our children. But then again, the girl I was before children did not understand that there really is nothing better.
My spouse and I have over a decade of history and a thousand little things in common, however, right now, in this period of our lives; our kids are our one significant thing. In some ways, it looks like a natural progression; a coming to fruition of the kind of people we were bound to become. I might just be okay with that because we are a team.
At this time, I have thrown every other parenting principle I’d before children out the window. I suppose it cannot hurt to get rid of this one, too.