We’re finally homeowners.
When my husband and I make major life choices, we like to stack them together. Apparently. Baby #2 on the way, switching jobs and duty stations, buying a house, it’s all here. Oh, and let’s not forget the global pandemic still ravaging the planet. To say this move was stressful is an obvious understatement. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as stressed out as I have been over the past two months. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, maybe it’s playing single parent again while my husband is away on his master’s course, maybe it’s being in a new place with no established connections and no hope of joining local clubs and groups anytime soon to meet new people. And there’s only so much hospitality I can ask of my new neighbors, my in-laws, and my husband. I swear I’ll never move again if this is the hassle adults face when self-moving their entire family one hour up the road.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy we moved. Ecstatic. I’ve been dreaming of owning my own home for a decade. Fixing it up the way I want to. Not asking permission from landlords, not worrying about filling in picture hook holes, not being charged for some outlandish claim on move-out and having half my deposit magically disappear, not having to paint every room back to a hellishly boring magnolia color. I’ve been fantasizing about how our long garden with a spring-fed stream at its end will look once my (er, our) plans are fully realized. There will be a beautifully trimmed lawn, borders of climbing roses and clematis, white and pink and crimson astilbes jostling with silver ferns and speckled hostas in the shade, bright dahlias poking up everywhere. There will be a small orchard consisting of the four apple trees I’ve so far kept alive in their massive pots, a dwarf cherry tree, a blueberry plant, and black- and red- and pinkcurrant bushes. I’ll use the rustic sleepers we hauled from our last place to make two veggie beds and surround that with a white picket fence that went to waste at our last house due to unforeseen “regulations.” I envision a circular herb garden where even basil will thrive. We’ll use the metal poles of our old gazebo and turn it into an arbor for climbing plants, situating it next to our beautifully ancient red brick wall. And the summerhouse down at the bottom that will double as a remote writing office for me… well, it’ll be grand.
Maybe it’s my earlier-than-last-time nesting instincts kicking in. Maybe it’s a sense of making a house a home, putting your stamp on it. Maybe it’s keeping me active and occupied during the second half of my pregnancy. Garden planning is fun, limitless, creative. Sure, the house needs some TLC, too. Actually, a lot. Most of the incredible stress I’ve been under has stemmed from living like a hoarder surrounded by boxes I can’t lift (too pregnant), not knowing where suddenly important things in my life are now that I can’t find them (winter jackets), trying to keep the parts of the house that are relatively organized (the kitchen) that way, dealing with an avalanche of mail deliveries that cannot be left in a safe place because we have no such space in our house (and realizing the one-hour delivery window is actually seven seconds), and – most of all – parenting a toddler on my own five days a week with zero backup (again). I’m supposed to be home all the time, putting things away, cleaning, organizing, waiting for parcels and workmen, but also out running errands, buying groceries, and dropping off and picking up my daughter from preschool. I’m supposed to continue my job in the Reserves from home via telework, update my blog in a timely fashion, and carve out a morning or evening to write the memoir I tell everyone is still in the works. I’m supposed to attend antenatal appointments at my future hospital one hour away, receive phone calls from my new midwife team, and attend my local surgery for shots, jabs, and vaccines. All while dodging coronavirus symptoms and situations and continuing to grow a child in the healthiest possible manner. No wonder my uptake of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream has increased ten-fold the past six weeks.
I’ve had so many emotional changes over the past two months, it’s hard to articulate the severity of the journey. I found myself crying in the bathtub because I thought my relationship with my husband was at its all-time-low in terms of attitude and lack of respect and kindness toward each other (they say we tend to take things out on the ones closest to us). I thought we were headed down a dangerous path, one that doesn’t end well for either of us. It wasn’t just hormones, though those were present. Stress in all its forms takes its toll. It wasn’t just the move. It wasn’t just taking care of a toddler on my own most of the time. It wasn’t being too big and sore to have a decent night’s sleep. It was a deeper crisis of what I want out of my life and what the reality currently is. I’ve never felt like someone who wanted to be the stay-at-home mom. I enjoy working and making money. I like the ritual of going to a different environment for work. I want to feel like there’s a career for me, one I can ascend and get better at, whether that’s in the military or as a writer (or both). My life feels like it’s on pause for those things.
The pandemic hasn’t helped. I knew having children would change my life. I was realistic enough to know I’d probably be the one at home with the kid(s) most of the time, at least when they were small. I’m the only one who can carry a baby to term; I’m the only one who can breastfeed; I’m the only one who can reasonably be expected to get up five times in the night to comfort a newborn and/or toddler because I don’t have to fly the next day. But I see this uneven distribution of domestic tasks as a huge burden, something dividing me and my husband. He felt he was cooking and cleaning and doing DIY jobs all the time while I just nagged at him and slept and didn’t contribute much around the house. I didn’t feel supported in trying to keep my head above water while trying to juggle all these responsibilities on my own. We both thought we were doing more than the other.
And so a late-night conversation ensued, a belated discussion on his career and mine, and where we might change things up in the future. Every problem has multiple solutions, even if you don’t like them. While we’re still expanding our tribe, I’ll be the one with a part-time job, making sure the kids are healthy and active and stimulated. He’ll be the breadwinner, which may entail being away sometimes. The next few years may be like this. But when we’re done and I can reclaim my body, we may switch. I can go full-time; he can take a sabbatical. I’m not sure that’s the way it will pan out, but I like to imagine a future where we can try it out, even for a year. I think it would be a desperately needed reset for both of us, to appreciate what the other has to offer, to appreciate working, to appreciate more time with our kids. I certainly don’t think it will hurt to try.
I know this period of being stressed and unsettled will pass. Each day gets easier. As one of my former neighbors said, “Next year, you’ll look back and laugh.”
I hope he’s right.