There’s a line in the Robin Williams movie RV: Runaway Vacation that really resonates with me. It’s not a great movie by any stretch, with the trite message that spending time with your family is more important than spending time at work, but it has a certain clumsy charm that makes it far more likeable than it ought to be.
Towards the end of the movie, when the family is at its lowest ebb, the wife opens up to a delightfully happy hippy couple about how when you first get together, it’s all romance and fun and affection, but then before you know it you’ve become ‘partners in the marriage business’ – this one needs taking to school, that one to football practice, you need to get the shopping on the way home from work, who’s paying the rent this month? – and somewhere along the way, you forget what it was that drew you together in the first place.
My wife and I have become partners in the marriage business.
Our relationship is entirely about who is cooking tonight, let’s get take-out, are we made of money, you need to pay the swimming teacher, I’d rather pay the pizza boy, do we have enough nappies, we’ve run out of wipes, why is there ink all over the carpet, you’ve shrunk my shirt, no you’re just fat, have you seen her dummy, where’s the lid to this bottle, I’ve lost the TV remote, well if the house was tidy we wouldn’t keep losing everything, so tidy it then, someone needs to get petrol, by someone you must mean me, you’ve spent how much on Christmas presents, no I haven’t even thought about it yet, can we please turn off Peppa Pig, I appear to be sitting in a wet patch, did you feed the cat, it’s your turn to change the nappy, I changed the last one, there’s poo on your jumper, I’m tired, I’m hormonal, how come we don’t connect any more, how can we possibly connect when we’ve got two kids, I hate my life, I hate your life too, oh God why’s she crying again, I don’t know I’m not a mind reader, really I thought you knew everything, oh go to hell, I’m already there, that’s because you’re the devil…and so on, and so forth.
Yes, the marriage business.
We’re so disconnected that the toddler has started calling them ‘mummy’s sofa’ and ‘daddy’s sofa’, and calling us ‘cheeky monkeys’ if we dare to swap. When we kiss or cuddle, as we’re trying to do to rekindle something of the spark we once had, the toddler shouts, ‘No fighting!’ because little signs of affection are so rare, she thinks we’re attacking each other.
It’s a little worse at the moment because my baby has a cold, my wife has a cough and a cold, and my toddler has a cough and a cold and conjunctivitis. In addition, we haven’t had an oven for three weeks as a two-day kitchen makeover has dragged on exponentially. And currently, the kids are tag-teaming me.
When they’re not screaming at the same time, they’re taking it in turns. Either way, there’s no respite. Two days ago I got up at 4.30 in the morning and didn’t get to bed until 2.30 am yesterday, which by my reckoning is a 22-hour day. Not even Amazon makes people work that hard.
So, as our marriage is on the rocks, and we’re aware of that, we decided we needed to reconnect physically, because everyone knows that if you solve the problems in the bedroom, everything else falls into place (yeah, I know it’s meant to be the opposite, but what else can we do, talk to each other?).
Unfortunately, intimate time when you’re married with a toddler and a baby is easier said than done. When I was up to my middle knuckles in shit the other day, trying to extract my baby from three layers of yellow-stained clothing and fighting to wipe peanut butter off her ankles, knees, belly button and nipples (no, I’m not joking, it was a bad one), my wife looked at me with a wink and a nod, and mouthed the word, ‘Later.’
I’m on a promise, I thought. Yay! But I wasn’t entirely convinced.
I’ve been on a promise for a fortnight now.
What tends to happen is, ‘Sex tonight?’
I put the toddler to bed around 7.30, and my wife goes to bed at nine with another hint of things to come: ‘don’t be long’, she says, seductively drawing her fingers across my shoulder as she leaves.
Whereupon the baby does her nightly cluster-feed, keeping me up till around midnight when she falls asleep in my arms. I go upstairs, put her in the Moses basket, rock her back to sleep since she always wakes up during the transfer. And then I look down at my wife in the bed.
Snoring away in a ball of misery and discontentment, wrapped up to the eyeballs in the least-flattering pyjamas she can find. Which, to be honest, is a relief.
I can’t afford the time or energy it takes to have sex. My kids climb over me all day so by the time I go to bed, I don’t want even the slightest trace of physical contact. Added to which, I’m knackered and I just want to sleep, knowing either of them could wake up any second and demand my attention.
But I figure I’d better go through the motions anyway and continue with the charade.
Nudging my wife with my knee, I say, ‘You still up for sex?’
‘Too tired,’ she mumbles without even waking up.
‘Thank God,’ I mutter, and collapse into bed.
We’re partners in the marriage business, and it doesn’t look like that’s changing any time soon.