I stare at the cell phone on my desk and will it to ring. It’s silent in my dorm room save for the quiet ticking of my roommate’s alarm clock and the occasional passersby on the sidewalk outside. I notice a couple walk by hand in hand while frustration prickles the back of my neck.
I snatch my phone and call Jake. I think better of this decision about two rings in, but the prickly anger wins as soon as I hear him answer.
“Hey,” he says. I hear confusion in his voice. I had seen him less than an hour ago, after all. He dropped by my dorm room on his way home from the cafeteria to say goodbye before I went home for fall break. He stood on my porch for about five minutes before he walked back across campus to his room. I wanted him to stay longer. Only, I didn’t actually tell him I wanted him to stay longer.
“Hey,” I say, icily.
Pause. “What’s up?”
I sit up straighter in my chair and load my words carefully. “You could have stayed longer than five minutes tonight, you know. I’m not going to see you for four days and, really, I have only seen you for like 52 minutes all week.”
As the last four words leave my mouth, I realize how ridiculous they sound, but it’s too late to swallow them back up. Instead, I’m left with silence and the mortifying fact that I had taken the walks between class, the quick drive to Taco Bell and the run-in at the student center and turned them into an exact amount of time. I mean, I hadn’t even bothered rounding up.
The silence on the other end shrinks me in my chair.
“Well,” he finally says, “I’m not sure what difference that makes. I guess I’ll see you in a few days.”
I am terrible at math—a fact that may surprise you given my keen attention to minute details.
I’m pretty sure I felt my first heart palpitation in third grade when my teacher placed a minute math worksheet in front of me. Mental math? Multiplication of fractions? Size estimations? Forget it. I’m still over here using my fingers to execute basic addition.
It’s funny then that I’m so prone to counting up minutes and storing them in labeled jars on the shelves of my brain, ready to unseal and wield at a moment’s notice.
When Jake and I were first dating, I saw a direct correlation between the health of our relationship and how much time we were able to spend together. In those early years, I was fixated on quantity over quality. It didn’t matter so much to me what we did when we were together as long as we spent enough time with each other.
A few years after that college night of specific numbers, my boyfriend became my husband, and time was ours. The years of demanding careers and 3 a.m. wake up calls were ahead of us, so we went on spontaneous road trips and played cards at Starbucks whenever we wanted. It was early marriage bliss.
The babies came soon thereafter though—four in just over five years—and, coupled with a job which required so many of Jake’s hours, time felt stacked against us. I could never seem to get as much time with him as I wanted.
Still today I often wish we just had more time.
My cell phone alarm nudges me out of a deep sleep. I roll onto Jake’s side of the bed and try to remember when we last slept here together. As I warm up his side of the bed, that mortifying memory from college comes to mind, and suddenly 52 minutes a week sounds pretty nice.
My thoughts are interrupted by the girls downstairs. I throw on a sweatshirt and meet them in the kitchen. Lily flips on the light. Norah follows and takes her seat.
“I want cereal,” they each say, nearly in unison.
Just as the milk hits their bowls, I hear Sawyer calling from the other room. I open his door and make my way toward his crib. He takes one look at me and asks, “Where’s dad?”
“He’s at work,” I say as I pick him up, “but I think he’ll be home soon.”
I take him into the kitchen where his own cereal bowl awaits him. With the kids quietly eating, I wonder if I have enough time to drink a cup of coffee before Jude awakes, but with that thought, I hear the front door open. Sawyer does too, and his eyes brighten.
“Dad!” he exclaims. “Dad’s home!”
Jake rounds the corner, fresh from another night at the hospital. As I watch him connect with each kid, I try to remember when I last spent time with him alone. My mind stretches back five days before he started this string of overnight shifts.
I wish I could tie a nice ribbon around it and say that I have learned to stop counting minutes and to be content with whatever time I have to spend with Jake, but the truth is, there are still some weeks where we don’t feel like we have enough time together because some weeks we don’t have enough time together.
So, I still do the math sometimes (usually on my fingers). During the weeks where our schedules line up just wrong, I look ahead to when we will next have measurable alone time to spend with each other. The difference now is that I no longer measure the strength of our relationship by these minutes.
Instead, I’ve learned to be grateful for the quality of the time we share. The 19 minutes drinking coffee together on the couch while our kids crawl around like cats at our feet. The 23 minute conversation at the kitchen table while the Paw Patrol theme song carries up the basement steps. The silence we enjoy together on the 10 minute drive to church. These moments can make all the difference as long as I make a choice not to squander them.
Jake meets me by the refrigerator and wraps me into his arms just as I’m shutting off my internal calculator.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I reply with a smile.
I want to make this moment count.
p.s. If you want to read some different perspectives about what love looks like after babies, let me introduce you to my friends Cara and Stacy:
Butterflies by Cara Stolen
Still Looking for Love by Stacy Bronec
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