Chapter Five: Be Uncomfortably Nice
August came. Poppy was now seven months old, and though she was crying less often, she was still a handful. Fortunately, by this time, I’d mastered the routine that best served both our needs, and it started and ended with the car.
Poppy loved the car. In the morning, as soon as the crying started, I’d put Poppy in her carseat and immediately, she’d quiet down. We’d drive to the store, a playdate, a coffee shop—anywhere that would have us, really. While Poppy watched and learned, I shopped, chatted or read. Then came my favorite time of day: naptime. We’d head to the quiet road with no speed bumps and no stoplights, and twenty minutes later, she’d be down. I’d find a semi-secluded parking spot somewhere and read in the car. When Poppy woke up, there’d be another playdate or a long walk. Then, a second nap, usually at home with me lying next to her and by the time we woke up, Matthew would be home.
The days were long, but they were also indulgent; though I was often exhausted, I still felt lucky. And not only because I was spending the summer with my new baby, but because of a subtle shift happening with Matthew.
When Matthew and I first met, what he saw was a quiet woman with a strong will—someone who challenged him to be better, do more. What I saw in Matthew was something I needed just as much: a partner to truly have fun with. Matthew’s philosophy of life was, enjoy and play. Mine was, work and work some more. In spite of this difference, though, our personalities blended well—so much so that until becoming parents, we hardly noticed the ways we didn’t match up. Or maybe we did, but we knew that our differences were also strengths: I kept the train running down the track, and Matthew made sure we enjoyed the ride. 6’2″ with a large build, Matt loved to play basketball, eat with abandon, throw dinner parties for his many friends. I, on the other hand, preferred working overtime at my paralegal job, then coming home to read or watch a movie.
Starting with my pregnancy, I brought my usual intensity to this parenting thing: I read all the books, tried the advice. After Poppy was born I kept a strict bedtime routine, carefully shielded her from computer screens, and narrated my day out loud to jump start her verbal skills.
Right from the start, though, Matthew was different. He sung to Poppy more, played silly games. He was goofy. He was lighthearted. When Poppy started solid food and threw it on the floor, he said, “If you keep doing that, I’m going to get you.”
And this levity didn’t just benefit Poppy—it was a huge asset to me, too. When Matthew finally arrived home from work after a long day, I felt a great sense of relief. It’s true that he usually asked for dinner right away. But mostly he asked with a smile.
And that smile? It helped a lot.
Now, though, a change: as Poppy matured, Matthew’s interactions with her did, too; this fun-loving dad was becoming a father. He spoke to Poppy about serious things long before she understood a word. He showed more interest in making decisions concerning her care—which shoes to buy, which foods to start her on, even which schools to consider for later. For the first time, he welcomed long nighttime discussions with me about all the pressing and not-so-pressing parenting matters.
Mostly, I enjoyed this. But not entirely.
The discussions brought us closer, I felt, and I loved knowing how much he cared. Every once in a while, though, we hit on a topic we couldn’t agree on. And though I expected it would happen eventually, that didn’t make it any less difficult. This was new territory for us, after all.
Our first big child-rearing disagreement, which I later called the Unfight, occurred as the summer was coming to an end. As the name suggests, the Unfight wasn’t so much an argument as a tense discussion that could’ve turned personal, but didn’t.
Which is why this time, it wasn’t my failure that taught me my next great marriage lesson; instead, it was my success.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.