Published on June 17th, 2021 | by Diana Kupershmit2
I Loved How Much My Husband Loved Our Children, And I Was Jealous of Them
“Pick up Joshie, he’s crying,” I yelled to my husband, Tolya, from the bedroom.
“I’m in the middle of changing Emma’s diaper,” he shot back.
I walked past him with our newborn, Hanna, hanging off my breast and bumped his shoulder before making my way to our crying son.
Emma, our oldest, had been born with a rare chromosomal abnormality that left her profoundly developmentally delayed, physically and intellectually disabled with a host of medical conditions. Josh and Hanna were developing typically, but Emma’s myriad needs felt like having three kids rolled into one—all under the age of four. With Hanna’s arrival, an extra layer of tension had been added. I worried our marriage would not survive raising three children—one with special needs.
We’d been high school sweethearts and shared the common ground of being Jewish refugee children from Soviet Ukraine. We married right out of college and had Emma a few years later; ourselves children, we played house.
We had discussed having a third child, reasoning that our son shouldn’t have to solely shoulder the responsibility of caring for his special-needs sister after we were gone. Two children could divide and share the work. Also, we secretly hoped that when the time came, one of the two would be a good, kind soul and put us into a nice nursing home—and not on a boat, out to sea.
But the daily responsibilities of juggling childcare, housework, and our jobs began to exert its weight. We were sleepwalking around each other. We barely spoke, and when we did, it was about the logistics of caring for our children, the frequency of bowel movements, their colors and consistencies, doctors’ appointments, nurse schedules, preschool agendas, reminders to order Emma’s seizure medications, oxygen, and G-tube feeding supplies. The tedium of the care stripped away at us.
This summer, like the previous three, we rented a house in the Poconos. Earlier that day, with three children in tow, we piled into our eight-seater Chevy minivan into which we emptied, it seemed, all the contents of our apartment. To our neighbors, I’m sure it looked like we were moving permanently.
During the almost three-hour drive from New York, gloom descended on me like a dark veil. A veil that reminded me of the responsibility of being tethered to three kids who were each demanding in their own way. Dread of the month that lay ahead seemed to empty my lungs of oxygen. The country house that had once served as respite now loomed as a work destination. When we arrived, I remained in my seat, unable to move.
Tolya emptied the minivan of all the children one by one. “Hi, Emma, did you have a nice ride?” he said gently as he raised her out and into her stroller. He unbuckled Joshua and lifted him out with an exaggerated jump, pulling him up by his hands as his little feet left the edge of the van floor. Hanna continued sleeping in her car seat, which he was now holding.
“Come on,” Tolya said. “What are you waiting for?”
I didn’t know what I was waiting for. Maybe I was waiting for the leaden weight pinning me to my seat to lift. Maybe I was waiting for guilt about my feelings of dread to leave me. Maybe I was waiting for Tolya to direct his attention to me, if even briefly, the way he had done with the kids; to be handled gently the way he did his children, to be taken and held.
Was I feeling jealous of my husband’s relationship with our children? Maybe. Though wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? New fathers envied the bond between a mother and her newborn, I had once read.
I loved how much he loved our children, yet I found myself feeling excluded.
As I remained in the car staring out the window, stories of marriages dissolving under the strain of raising a sick child came flooding back. “A sick child can make or break a family,” I remembered hearing. Was that my fear? Did I worry that Tolya would leave me, leave the kids?
I knew my husband’s heart, at least where the kids were concerned. And I believed he loved me, even though he didn’t often say it—unless he had a glass of wine in him and his inhibitions dissolved in the liquor.
I knew Tolya would never abandon us, but I worried that our once free and innocent love for one another could abandon us if we didn’t tend to it carefully, if we allowed the daily hardships to build into resentment, blame, and worse. I didn’t want a loveless marriage. I knew of them, having witnessed the dance my grandparents had enacted. I’d listened to my mother’s childhood stories of her parents’ bitter fighting.
And in the end, after forty-five years of marriage, at age sixty-five my grandmother picked up her things and moved across the street with her boyfriend so that “she could finally be happy.”. But her loyalty to the father of her children was steadfast as she continued to cross the street each day with bags of produce and homemade meals, ensuring that my grandfather was well fed and his clothes freshly laundered until his last days.
“Why did you wait so long to leave him? Why now that he’s old and sick?” I questioned her, outraged and defensive on my beloved grandfather’s behalf.
She had chosen to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of the family, she explained without apology or shame. I did not want to be that kind of family. I did not want to sacrifice my happiness.
Later in bed that night, I recalled how easy it was to live with abandon when it was just the two of us. The digital clock on the side table read 2:00 a.m. I reminded myself how less than five years ago, we would have probably been seen traipsing all over Manhattan—maybe catching a midnight screening at Angelika, then driving to H&H Bagels on Broadway and 80th, because by that time we’d be starving.
Now at 2:00 a.m., we were listening to the puffs of the machine that delivered oxygen to our sleeping daughter, that competed only with the lights and sounds emanating from the pulse oximeter which gauged her oxygen levels.
In the dark, listening to my husband’s sleeping breath fill the pockets of air next to me, I tried to unpack the day’s events. “You have not touched me in weeks,” I said, when I finally emerged from the car. “I need to feel loved, wanted. I need to be held.” And he did. He heard me, and enveloped me in his embrace.
I thought back on the last half hour spent entangled in the familiar grasping for love, like quenching a thirst that you didn’t know you had until you brought the cup to your lips and realized how parched you really were. I believed, in the deepest recesses of my heart, that we could withstand the forces testing our marriage, if we tended to it like we tended to our children. If we nourished it and held it gently, we would survive.
Yes, I worried about the future, and that worry sometimes eclipsed the present moment. But for right now, my husband was here next to me, his arm draped over my body, holding me—his snoring competing with the puffs of the oxygen machine.