My wife and I have been married for 10 years now. For all but the first 10 months of our marriage, we've also been parents.
We don't do everything well, but we are good at being fruitful and multiplying. We have produced four kids at last count. And believe me, we count all the time to make sure we're not missing one.
When I was younger, I heard many sets of parents call each other "Mom" and "Dad" rather than by each other's first names. That's sad, I thought. They are so consumed with children that they have turned into nothing more than parental teammates.
Now we refer to each other as "Mom" and "Dad" almost all the time. When she says my first name, I know either I'm in trouble or one of the kids is.
Long ago, we had time for romance. That was before I stopped sending flowers and started giving her presents like a wheelbarrow for our anniversary and a screen door for Valentine's Day (in my defense, she asked for both).
We almost missed each other's lives entirely. We went to the same college for four straight years without meeting and worked at the same newspaper for two more years on different floors without coming in contact.
Finally, Elise and I met on the "down" escalator at the newspaper, between the third and second floors. She was funny, smart and breathtaking. An hour before our first date, I wrote a giddy note to myself that read in part: "I don't know what will happen tonight or in the future, but here's a guess: Elise and I will get married one day and I'll one day show this letter to our child."
We got engaged on that same escalator and were married eight months after we met. I read that note at our wedding reception.
Then the babies started coming. She quit work to become a stay-at-home mom. I began to admire different things about her. She still looks great in a black dress, but her wizardry with car-seat installation and coolness in an emergency room seems far more important now.As a father, I do my best. But I'd be lost without her.
We wonder what we did with all the free time we had before becoming Mom and Dad. How was it possible that we thought we were so busy back then?
We hardly ever have serious arguments, but we do annoy each other. She doesn't like the way I burst into song with little provocation. If she mentions that one of the boys has 19 kids in his class, I can't help it - I immediately break into Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen." A mention of an appliance bought in "1999" makes me start screaming Prince lyrics and dancing. Believe me, no one wants to see that.
As for Mom, she has turned into such an Al Gore "Save the Planet" disciple that she monitors paper towel usage, insists on cloth diapers and won't run the A/C unless the clocks are melting like in the Salvador Dali painting.
I know we have a good marriage, though, partly because I know what a bad one looks like. Elise was never married before. I was - a tumultuous, childless union in my 20s.
Kids always change a marriage. I'm convinced they change most - certainly ours - for the better. Our lives are far more chaotic than they were a decade ago, but we laugh much more.
Once, we were falling in love. On the good days - when the three boys are catching fireflies in the yard, we are sitting on the back porch and our baby daughter is cooing - I feel like we are rising in love.
At moments like that, I glance over at my wife and smile. But not for long. I've got to look back at the kids, counting heads to make sure we aren't missing one.