6:00 a.m. ochre sky. A simmering hot cup of ginger tea. December chill seeping in, despite the layers of blanket we’re swaddled in, snuggling closer on a single chaise longue on the balcony. Happy conversations. Sudden laughter. And a sudden delightful realisation.
Four years later, all of that is clear in my memory. The moment when I and my husband realised – as we sat there, enjoying our tea and discussing everything and nothing – this was the first time in months that we were alone, just the two of us.
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We’d had our first child in August. The five months since then seemed to have whizzed by in a flash. Which felt odd, because surprisingly, all I’d done in those months was nurse, bathe, change diapers, and then nurse again. And yet, even with that limited job profile, I was constantly deadbeat and harried.
Let me establish some background first. Both of us had lost our mothers long ago. We couldn’t expect our fathers to adjust their lives to help us with the baby. And long before we even decided to have a baby, we had ruled out the involvement of a nanny. So we knew well going in, that it would be ‘just us’ raising the baby. And it seemed okay.
Shortly before quitting my job for my pregnancy, I was managing a pan-India team of over 80 people. My husband had ten years of work experience under his belt. What could a six-pound baby possibly throw at us, that we couldn’t handle, we wondered? Nothing, we foolishly surmised.
And then parenthood hit us. We were caught in the vortex of diapers and feeds and naptimes and bath times and vaccination schedules. And despite all the reading, and researching and preparation, it took us a few months to find our sea legs.
In the quest to be perfect parents, we’d completely forgotten we had been something else as well, not too long ago. A couple. A husband and a wife who could hold a conversation that wasn’t about our child. Who spent time together, and not just crashed next to each other every night, with a hasty ‘Good night and I love you’.
We knew we were alone in this, sans any support structure. But it sure didn’t feel like we were in this together. Alternating our time with the baby so that the other parent got a break for a quick nap or a relaxed bath meant operating on alternate shifts.
We were like two employees of a company working on different shift timings; a nod in the hallway, a smile in the cafeteria – co-existing but hardly interacting.
Thankfully, it hadn’t started to strain our relationship in any way, yet. But it surely would, eventually?
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The thought got us worried. But what could we do? It didn’t seem like we would be getting any control back in our life for another few years, till the baby is a little older. Each of us worried, although we didn’t say it much; would our marriage suffer on account of us being parents now?
The next morning, my husband nudged me awake at 6 a.m. again. He stood by the bed with two cups of tea and a suggestive smile. The tea, the blanket, the chaise longue and the one hour before the baby woke soon became our daily routine. A refuge for a couple who had got lost momentarily in the labyrinth of parenting. In the evening, no matter how tired I was, I’d stay up to keep my husband company for dinner. Then began the text messages to each other every few hours, something I don’t remember doing since our courtship. Saturday nights were strictly movie marathon nights, after we put our child to sleep, a tradition which continues even now. Sundays became ‘no-cooking’ days, so that when my husband is home all day, I don’t waste my time in the kitchen. I found myself watching sports with my husband, something I never did before. And he would hang around in the kitchen while I cooked or did the dishes. We, in our own little ways, were trying to make the most of whatever little ‘child-free’ time we got with each other.
Soon we sensed that finding the husband-wife we’d lost for a little while helped us become better parents. What could have threatened our couplehood became the strongest bond between us – our child and raising him together as one unit.
And isn’t that what a marriage is all about?