“We’re late.” My partner was driving too fast in our neighborhood. I pressed my foot into the floor of the passenger side floor mat.
“It’s fine,” I said.
“We’re going to miss half of it,” he said.
We were running late for Ravi’s third birthday party. Our son, also three, had been talking about this party for weeks. Since he is the youngest, he is always being dragged to his older sister’s friends’ events. He finally had a party of his own. For the past week, he’d walk into a room, declare “Ravi is my friend,” lower his glasses for dramatic effect, and skip out.
“Danielle,” my partner said, annoyed. “Why are you laughing?”
I was laughing. I looked at him, shocked at myself.
“I guess I just love that you’re upset,” I said.
I hold the masks partially responsible. I’ve grown used to smiling bigger and singing in public behind my masks like a small shield of privacy that allows me to greater experience the world around me. But I wasn’t wearing a mask in the car. My joy was visible for him to see.
Let me tell you about the man I married. He’s a good one. He makes a mean pancake and an even better espresso martini. He has unquestioning faith in me and our children. Our happiness comes first, whatever it takes. He can be uneasy with the veracity of his emotions, how they can cling to him, and how they often seem to infect his days. Sometimes, getting the kids to eat their dinners becomes a clash of wills without much warning. I love seeing this humanity in him. It allows me and my children to forgive our faults. He forgives himself less readily.
However, punctuality has never been one of his gifts. Maybe it’s because he’s an immigrant or maybe because he’s a big proponent of IST (Indian standard time). Maybe being 30-minutes late to everything is a subconscious way of retaining his cultural identity. It was acceptable before we had kids, when our schedules were our owns, but dropping off our daughter fifteen-minutes late to school gets marked on her record.
In the past, when I have shown my annoyance at arriving late to the kids’ functions, he has been quick to point out the triviality of such things. “It’s just a party.” I often say being on time is important to me because it’s important to our kids. And I would look at them to hammer in my point only to watch them become gleefully swallowed by their friends. He was right. They didn’t care. I was the only one upset.
But after more than a year of working and learning from home, my partner has become more engrained in the day-to-day. All four of us seem on the same page like never before. No longer am I the only one stressing about being late to a birthday party our kids will enjoy, but not remember, in two days time. My anxiety is heaped over both of our shoulders as together we hope the lights are green and they haven’t served the pizza before we get there.
And it’s here that I’ve realized that over the past year two things have happened. First, my partner and I see each other a touch more clearly than we had before. Our ability to understand and be understood has deepened. We feel a little more the same way than we did before.
Second, when our daughter was born, our eldest, we fell into parenting as if we’d just been dropped in the middle of a sea and told to find shore. There were her needs to conquer, of course, but also the imbalance of work and our new lives. I watched the baby while he worked and then we traded. And in this way we survived, orbiting the same new world on our own trajectories that occasionally overlapped. Often, I look at my children’s lives and imagine a time when they’re out of the house, when I can pick up my memories of their childhood and turn them over in my hands, and see clearly what it all was and what it all meant. This assumes the sleepless nights haven’t ruined my memory.
But after a year of quarantine, our family feels not like the haphazard collections of moments but a crafted thing, a place we as parents have created through intention and planning. Now, my partner and I watch each other parent, adjusting here and there until we are a force of consistency. We handle our three-nager’s tantrums with the same phrases. Our six-year-old no longer searches the house for a second opinion when one of us has denied her request for more iPad time.
It is something to be seen, it is another to be understood. And after a year of forced-togetherness, a shorthand has bloomed between us. For once the stress and panic feel on the outside. Our successes are shared. And when we pull up to the playground only twenty minutes late, we smile at each other because we made it.