Nonetheless, after putting in my hours at home, I had a couple of hours to spare before I needed to pick up the girls. (It’s amazing what hacking off two 30 minute commutes from your typical day can do.) I bundled up and walked a few blocks, feeling vaguely giddy and guilty at the same time.
Why? Because I was heading to the second-run theater near our house for a holiday matinee screening of “Mockingjay” – something that Joe would probably be interested in seeing, too. But since the last non-animated movie we’d watched together was “The Hundred Foot Journey,” at the same theater sometime last fall, I knew that the chances of our making it to “Mockingjay” before it left were slim to none.
So I grabbed at my opportunity, glad to have it, yet sad to feel like I was committing some kind of betrayal.
Thinking about all this on my way to the theater, I remembered my dentist telling me that his wife seem to have tricked him into thinking she was a bigger University of Michigan football fan than she was before they married; he said that now she was only marginally interested.
And maybe his read on his wife is accurate. But I tend to think this – and my occasional secret affair with movies (and shows like “Downton Abbey”) – is about a more subtle shift that happens in marriage following the onset of parenthood.
For I, too, was far more rabid a sports fan before we had children. I’d regularly watch football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games on TV with Joe, paying rapt attention, yelling at the screen at his side. I’d looked forward to attending tailgates as well as every home Michigan football game, no matter how crummy the weather.
These days, though, when Joe’s watching a game, I’m usually doing bills or laundry, or taking care of various tasks online, looking up occasionally when Joe says, “Did you see that play?” (And since Michigan’s football program has been in the toilet, I’ve been perfectly happy giving away my ticket in recent seasons.)
On Joe’s end, he nearly included in his wedding vows a promise to always take me to movies. For film’s long been a passion of mine – particularly watching them in a theater, where you can more completely lose yourself in a story while sitting in the dark.
Despite my cinephilia, we only rarely get to the theater since becoming parents; and though On Demand is an option, by the time the kids are in bed, Joe’s often trying to exercise (since he has no other chance to) and thus can’t focus on it; or one of us nods off 45 minutes into it; or he needs to do some work; or there’s a game he recorded that he really wanted to watch before seeing a spoiler online.
So here we are – not quite as in sync as we were before having children.
I think people often refer to this as “growing apart,” but that’s not quite right. (Joe and I still love talking with each other and spending time together, these subtle shifts notwithstanding.) Instead, I view this change as merely a consequence of our leisure time being shrunk to nearly nothing; for while the list of things I love to do overlapped with Joe’s significantly when we had free time to burn, once Lily was born, we were each forced to pick the 2 or 3 things we loved best.
And they didn’t necessarily match up.
My things were running (which we both still do, but we now have to do it separately); yoga; and various entertainment pleasures (movies, shows, and books). Joe’s are running; watching, and reading about, sports; science and history TV programs and books; and he really wants to join a band or orchestra so he can regularly play his trombone again.
With the exception of yoga – when Joe tried it years ago, it just made him angry, which seemed to defeat the purpose – we’d still love to share all these things with each other. But because our work and our kids demand the lion’s share of our time, we just can’t.
So we do our own things, and mourn to intense closeness we had before each of the four chairs at our kitchen table had an occupant.
And it’s hard to bridge the gap during the time when you’re parenting together, too, because it’s often stressful, and that’s precisely when you find yourself lingering in the shower, or while running an errand by yourself, stretching out any small moment you might have to yourself.
But Joe and I still often make each other laugh, and we still have moments of crossover, and that seems enough to sustain us.
For example, after getting the kids to bed on Sunday night, we had a ball watching the rollercoaster ride-like last quarter of the Super Bowl together.
On other nights, we’ll exercise together; or have an adults-only meal at the kitchen table (or the back porch when it’s warm) and just talk; or watch “Project Runway” and howl at the judges’ ruling. (Joe indulges me in this, my one reality show obsession.)
Because of these rituals, I feel like we’ll be fine. We aren’t exactly the same people we were before we had children – seriously, how could we be? – and some of our personal priorities have clearly shifted; but generally, I’m rolling with Joe’s choices, and he’s rolling with mine, while we both strive to stay connected to each other.
And this, really, is what a marriage boils down to.
May the odds be ever in our favor.