Each year, Dan and I take turns planning our anniversary. Last year it was his turn to plan, which was good, considering I was four days postpartum and in no position to plan… anything. We did it lower than low key, at home, while my mom took Sweet Pea out to dinner. We were “alone” with days-old Lady Bug, doing our best to make our kitchen feel like a very special place. I wore my best pajamas, and I might have even traded my glasses for contacts. Dan picked up a box of miniature artisanal cupcakes in flavors like lavender-basil and macchiato. They were only partly smushed on his bike ride home. We drank Prosecco. We toasted to four years of marriage. We had no idea what this year would be. I think it’s better that we didn’t know.
After the fancy cupcakes, there was upheaval.
There were long days, as I recovered from the birth in my bed, while Dan took Sweet Pea all the places I wanted to be instead; the park, the library, the farmer’s market. When I was ready to put on a real outfit, the first place I went was the doctor, then immediately to the hospital for an MRI. I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. The right half of my face was paralyzed. I was scared and sad. There was no way to know whether it would get better, whether it would fully resolve, and how long all of this would take. A year later, it’s a lot better, but not back to normal, and I’m starting to accept that I might never see my old face in the mirror again. Obsessive Google searching confirmed the best thing to do was to rest. Except I had a fussy baby who was an awful sleeper, and a toddler to take care of. My face looked like a creepy Halloween mask. I felt ugly, anxious, and self-conscious.
Sweet Pea was thrilled to have a real live baby doll in her new sister. I felt like I was supposed to be thrilled, which I sometimes was, but mostly I was overwhelmed. Lady Bug always had something going on; thrush, reflux, eczema, congestion that made me leap out of bed in the middle of the night when I heard what sounded like her drowning in her own secretions. It felt like everyone needed me, all the time. I was giving kisses, hugs, snuggles, breastmilk, sippy cups, potty treats, breastmilk, warnings not to touch the baby’s head, special creams, probiotic powders, homeopathic drops, prescription lotions, final drinks of water, final-final drinks of water, and more breastmilk, all day long.
Much of my free time was given to acupuncture and physical therapy, in my dogged, if not entirely fruitful pursuit to get my face back to normal. Trips to the park were pushed off till tomorrow while I shushed the kids or hid in my room on the phone with doctors offices, pharmacies, and the insurance company for Lady Bug. Entire mornings and afternoons were taken up by trips to the doctor, the naturopath, the dermatologist, the allergist, the craniosacral therapist, and the anthroposophic physician (yes that’s really a thing). She was diagnosed with allergies; severe, potentially life-threatening allergies to eggs, milk, peanuts, and tree nuts. Another chunk of my time was devoted to searching Pinterest for dinner ideas that would accommodate our new diet.
Many days, after the kids were down, I have had to fight the urge to collapse, myself.
I thought I had done the whole “Who am I now that I’m a mom?” thing after having our first child, so this year has felt like a sneak-attack. This must be how my three year-old feels when the baby destroys the tower she so carefully constructed. Her whole body convulses in great, heaving sobs, as she cries, “She ruined my tower, Mama. I have to start over. “ I know, honey. I know. It’s exhausting to have to start over from the very beginning and create something new.
It was my turn to plan our anniversary this time. I leaned on Dan a lot this year. I’ve complained, I’ve cried, I’ve yelled, I’ve vented, and he has listened. I have been mean, sarcastic, and critical. I’ve been apologetic and he’s been forgiving. He read an earlier draft of this post and felt I was being overly hard on myself and that it is only fair to mention that I, not he, was the one to wake up with the baby two to three times a night, every night, until about two months ago. See, he’s really nice like that.
I started scheming months in advance and surprised him with an overnight getaway for our anniversary. When I asked him if he had any idea what I had up my sleeve, he told me he wasn’t even thinking about it. “I’m just trying to get through the week, ” he said. Our favorite babysitter was available and willing. Our dear friends had a beautiful, empty home with an impossibly gorgeous mountain view and a hot tub, which they were happy to let us use. A fabulous local restaurant delivered a delicious meal that accommodated all of my many restrictions, along with a wine pairing.
There was nothing low-key about our fifth anniversary. We were really alone this time. There was a delicious meal on a tranquil patio with a stunning view on a warm, clear summer night. We took an after dinner walk. We stargazed and danced in the street to the faint sound of “Come On Eileen” that wafted through the otherwise silent neighborhood streets, coming from a party on someone’s lawn.
We took our time getting up in the morning. Meaning, at 6:40 I rubbed sleep from my eyes while Dan was in the kitchen, doing last night’s dishes. We took a meandering walk in the morning sunshine on nearby trails. We took a dip in the hot tub. We took only 45 minutes to get from the hot tub to the shower to the car… I thought that I had a severe life malfunction that prevented me from getting out the door in an efficient manner but I realized it’s not a malfunction, it’s just a baby and a toddler. We had a leisurely brunch at one of our favorite places. There was abundant coffee and I drank it while it was still hot. There was conversation about important things and not much at all. There were humorous remarks and references to old jokes we’ve shared.
And, there was us. Beneath the chaos and the rubble and all the harsh words born out of frustration, sleep deprivation, and as Dan likes to say, resource contention, there is still us. I think we’re going to be ok, assymetrical faces, life threatening allergies, and sleepless nights notwithstanding. What a happy anniversary it is.