In the latest “Love, Recorded,” Matt looks back at how the column has changed over almost 2 years and finally gives some (reluctant) advice.
Once upon a time, this column used to be about relationships. It used to be sexy, or at least sexier. It used to go places, see people, attend events. Now—I have faced the fact—it is about a baby. It is about a 10-month-old named Grace who doesn’t sleep well, most of the time, who is pretty in pink and loves to eat and hates to drink and wants to keep moving always and wants to be entertained always and has just started dancing and calls her mother constantly and her father intermittently and pulls hair and noses and grows and gets thinner and fatter and smarter and less interested in being taught and becomes more attached and yet more independent. I have even heard from an agent interested in a parenting book, as if I could give advice to someone with a baby not my own.
Once upon a time, this column was about hopes and dreams and wants and keeping a marriage together. Now it is about fear and logistics and practicality and meeting marks. It has always been about the future. It has always been, secretly and not secretly, about nothing but myself.
Recently I have been making a huge mistake. I have been thinking of my time with the baby as help. I believed taking care of Grace was giving my wife a break. I believed when I was home and my wife took Grace, it was the same: she was giving me a break.
I wanted my wife to be grateful. I wanted my care of the baby to be a reason she loved me, something extra. Though often being a parent gets too much for me, and I call her. My wife makes all the baby food. My wife feeds Grace when she refuses to eat. My wife gives Grace almost all of her baths. My wife takes the baby to classes while I am at work. She used to take the baby to church for a few hours on Sunday, giving me time to write.
My wife’s help is help. She helps when it is supposed to be my time with the baby. Whatever I can do for Grace she has done all day. When it is her time with the baby, I cannot help. I am at work.
I want to please my wife, surprise her. When I come home, though, my responsibility is to take care of our daughter. This takes up everything, every ounce of strength and attention.
It must be easier, we sometimes think, for parents whose babies sleep at 8 PM—they have a little time for themselves (and for each other) before they go to bed. It must be easier when the baby will sleep on her own, in her crib. It must be easier for parents who are not always mining in the dark, trying to dig up energy they have no evidence that they possess.
I want to do something for my wife. But I want to write. I want to read. I want to see friends. I want to go outside. I want to veg out, watch TV, relax.
I know she wants to do these things, too. We both want what is best for the baby. Have we forgotten about a relationship?
A writer couple I know recently came out about their pregnancy in the most public of ways, with an essay published online. The essay was about the wife’s fear that her identity will change. How to hold onto that old self, a little longer.
I know a little about making the private public, though nothing compared to what any woman knows, perhaps. I know how this side of baby is this side of baby. It is like a bridge in a video game, the way from which you came disappearing behind you. Pregnancy is still a semblance of privacy. You can still believe that your wants will drive your life. You want a certain kind of relationship, with your baby, your spouse, your job. Then suddenly there is a third set of wants, and those are the wants that want the most, that have the highest stakes.
I thought this column was about me. And it is. But then what am I about?
Once upon a time, this column told a story. I was the protagonist. I caused what happened to happen.
Don’t ask me for advice. I am the worst at knowing. But if you do ask, I can tell you: don’t think of the baby as extra. A baby is not a matter of addition. Or if it is, the sum is the same as before—you are no bigger, no more able to fit another life. You must have always contained multitudes.
I can tell you: changing the baby’s diaper is not like buying your wife flowers. The baby is not a realm of appreciation, or a way to make a good impression. Your relationship is your relationship. Where will you find the time for it? If you figure that out, would you let me know?
I can tell you: If you can do everything, do everything. If not, you will need to find a new definition of help. You will need to reconcile what you can do with you wanted to do, with what you hoped to do for each other. The baby will not do anything for you that is not something you do for it.
If you cannot do everything, if you are me, I can tell you: forget about what you are reading here. You may need to learn to forget what you forget.
–photo Flickr/Stanin Photography