Once, I found an envelope left on our dining table. I don’t remember how long it had been there - Jude was still a newborn and we were both in the fog of it, sleep (or the lack thereof) thick and heavy in our eyes and my new baby, just a slip of a thing, tucked inside my arms.
The envelope was addressed to Richard and me; I didn’t immediately recognise the handwriting so I assumed it was just another new baby card (although truth be told, you don’t receive that many third time around which is, incidentally, fine by me - waste not, and all). But when I finally opened it, I discovered a notelet wrapped around a voucher that would go some way to treating us to dinner at one of our favourite vegetarian restaurants. “Just so you know, you guys are doing a great job,” the note said. “So whenever you feel ready for it, maybe when Jude’s older, take an evening off and go out for dinner. My shout.”
The note was from our babysitter, Haylee. Although she sadly no longer works with us, back then, just after Jude was born, she’d been helping out a little more regularly. In the absence of any family close enough to lend a quick helping hand, the kind of useful helping hand that would then immediately leave in order for us to rest ourselves, Haylee would come a couple of nights a week to help me in the witching hour. Between us, we cajoled one, two, three boys from dining table to bath, from bath to bed with all the tribulations of tooth-brushing and hair-washing in between. It was quite a dance we did, not always elegant, but mostly in-step, always to the end of the routine.
She’d leave just as bedtime story would begin, a hush in her wake. And I’d somehow end up in the middle of the children’s bed, one baby on my tummy, two boys tucked under each of my arms, soft warm limbs smelling faintly like the clementines or blackberries of the soap they’d been bathed in. As I’d read, they’d surrender to the possibility of sleep, losing themselves up trees and down rabbit holes and into worlds where lions drink dandelion tea and monocled monkeys eat fine cheese. Moments like these, I’d forget my patience had been tested over a toothbrush at all.
When Haylee left that notelet, I probably (must have, definitely) cried at her kind gesture - a thoughtfulness that was so intuitive, a thoughtfulness we’d never received from anyone before. Her words were recognition: that we were doing better than we thought. Her treat of dinner was a promise: that we’d get through the hardest, trickiest, bittersweet bit. That one golden day, there would be sleep again.
It has taken a year to finally reach that day. We’ve had a good run of unbroken sleep and so it didn’t feel too risky to finally take ourselves to dinner last week. And so we did. We asked Haylee if she could still swing by while the boys slept. We calculated it was perhaps only the third or fourth time in five years (five years!) that we’ve done this.
This isn’t to say we don’t make time for each other; we do, and strongly. Yet we are simply both natural homebirds; we simply both far prefer the company of each other at home than in a big noisy place or group. While the concept of a scheduled “date-night” seems a little contrived to me, I can still see how important it is for us to make time to be together alone outside of the comfort of our home. It took a little reminder of venturing out to remind us that it’s not impossible, to leave three little ones behind. It felt good to have a night off.
When we left the restaurant, too stuffed for dessert, it started raining - the kind of sloppy rain that sticks cold to your skin and drips through your hair like treacle. It occurred to me on the way home, as I looked out the window and traced the rolling drops with a fingertip, that venturing out was also a little reminder of what we treasure so much by staying in.