I had always prided myself on not becoming one of “those” moms. The ones who refer to themselves as “Mommy” at dinner parties (“Mommy’s getting tipsy!”), who listen to kids music 24/7 and whose relationships with their husbands don’t exist outside of co-parenting. But then it happened. One night, after the kids were in bed, I told my husband I had to go potty.
Before having our first baby, keeping our relationship strong was a priority. And I may have even done a decent job of that the first year. But then, just 15 months after having our daughter, Austen, I had Sam. With two well under 2, we were knee-deep in babyland, and Mommy and Daddy gradually replaced Allyson and Peter.
The night I caught myself telling Peter I had to go potty, I knew something had to change. A few years ago I wouldn’t even go No. 2 if he was in the same dwelling, and now there I was telling the guy I had to go potty. Sometimes I would even catch myself referring to him as “Daddy”—not to Austen or Sam, but just in general, as in “Daddy, can you hand me the butter?” (I didn’t do it in a creepy Freudian father-figure kind of way, either.)
And so I set out to reclaim our titles as Husband and Wife; Mommy and Daddy had reigned long enough.
I decided to devote 30 days to reconnecting as adults. Every day for a month I’d make a concerted effort to interact with my husband as human beings, not just as parents. No matter how exhausted, frustrated or vapid we felt, I was going to put forth my best effort to get that prebaby magic back. Here’s how it went …
Day 1: I start easy with a no-tech night. Peter and I tend to retreat to iPhones, laptops and TV after the kids are asleep, so tonight we’ll disconnect to reconnect. I ask him how his day was. He answers. We stare at each other. Fifteen minutes in and we’re sitting silently on the couch watching “The Voice.” This will get easier, right?
Day 3: My mom is watching the kids while we spend the afternoon at a hotel pool. After kissing the babies goodbye, we both instinctively grab for our phones. “No!” I yell (causing Sam to burst into hysterics). “We’re connecting with each other, not the rest of the world!” At the pool, we have a handstand contest and do somersaults. It may not be “adult,” but it sure is fun.
Day 6: With a day full of meetings, working late and two cranky babies, it’s tough to get in any adult time. But I am determined, so before bed I make sure that we have a good 15 minutes to talk about something other than meetings, working late and cranky babies.
We play the hypothetical game, where I ask “What if?” questions and my husband kindly indulges me. Tonight’s question: What would you buy if you had a million dollars in the bank?
Me: A signed first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.
Peter: An Armani suit.
Me: Which of your friends would you leave me to in your will if you had to pick?
Peter: I’m not playing this game anymore.
Day 8: Get my blood drawn. Give up wine. Watch a “Caillou” marathon. These are all things I’d rather do than sext. But since the babies arrived, sex has become more of an obligation than a perk, and I’m determined to get our groove back.
Peter and I started dating just before texting took off, so sexting has never been a part of our mating ritual. But this is what people do these days, right? This is hot. I can totally do it. I sit down in front of my phone and … nothing. I Google “sexting husband.” I burst out laughing at the sample messages.
Maybe a picture instead? I try taking a cleavage selfie. Dammit, there’s dried milk all over. And raisins down my shirt. Why the heck are there raisins down my shirt? We don’t even have raisins in the house. I take another pic, this time cropping out the crusty breast milk and mysterious raisins. Send. He likes it. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.
Day 12: I come this close to skipping a barbecue at Peter’s co-worker’s house, but then I remember my mission this month. Once there, instead of talking to the other moms like I normally would, I initiate conversation with Peter’s boss’s boss and his wife, who were sitting alone.
It turns out we have a lot in common and talk for the rest of the night. Peter is thrilled that I’m scoring him brownie points and that, for once, he can talk to me about work stuff without my eyes glazing over. (Post-script: A month later, Peter scored a big promotion. I take full credit.)
Day 13: Game night with nonparent friends. Conversation never once drifts into poop or pumping territory. Via one of the games, I learn that my husband will take baths only on vacation, would prefer a dead animal in our attic over live mice and would rather the babies eat dog poop than know where he keeps his gun. Fascinating.
Day 18: I don’t cook. I did once, back in 2012, but it was a disaster. Now I just stay out of the kitchen. Peter wants to make gnocchi from scratch, which is fairly labor- intensive, and I (reluctantly) agree to help. We pound, press and roll together for hours while the babies nap. Just before bed, Peter says something to me that I haven’t heard in a while: “I had a lot of fun with you today.”
Day 23: I think it takes less strategic planning for Secret Service to get the president through a war zone than it does for my husband and I to coordinate going for a run together. First, we both have to be home at the same time. This happens approximately 30 hours per week. Next, we have to have someone over to watch the kids for an hour while we run. This happens approximately zero hours per week. So you see our dilemma.
This weekend, however, we have out-of-towners staying with us, and while babysitting may not be their No. 1 must-do event while on vacation, it’s what they’re going to do this morning. After tiredly debating whether sleeping in constitutes a bonding activity, we drag ourselves out of bed. Although we’re not exactly chitchatting on the run, it’s nice to be outside together, snaking through our neighborhood and doing something we know is good for us. Back home our energy levels are higher than normal, and we have a great rest of the day.
Day 26: Two words: morning sex.
Day 30: Date night. This is a no-brainer, right? I’m betting that the top piece of advice new parents get regarding their relationships is to make time for regular date nights. But come on, if you’re lucky enough to get a few hours alone at night, you’re gnawing on Kit Kat bars and falling asleep on the couch in front of “Project Runway.” (Or maybe that’s just me?)
Tonight, though, we put away the chocolate, say auf wiedersehen to Heidi and go out to dinner at the kind of restaurant that doesn’t have a kids menu or a changing table in the bathroom.
I realize halfway through my pork belly tostada that we’ve been talking nonstop, a far cry from day one when we couldn’t go 15 minutes without resorting to TV. You see, the thing about reconnecting is that (a) it gets easier the more effort you put into it, and (b) it’s actually quite nice to “meet” that guy you fell in love with all over again. After I eat up every last bite of my chocolate cake, I excuse myself to go to the restroom. Not the potty, the restroom. Victory!