Tell Me What You Need

My 5:30 a.m. wake-up call babbles through the baby monitor. I groan, never ready to start the day so early. My husband rolls to face me and asks, “Do you mind if I go for a run?” A good wife would say yes right away, I think. But I pause before responding with a sigh.

“No, that’s fine. Have fun.” We both know I’m struggling to be sincere. He pulls running clothes from the dresser and I grope for my glasses on the nightstand. The thing is, I want him to run. I know it’s good for him to have a hobby, to have time alone outdoors, to get his heart pumping and endorphins flowing. Running makes my husband feel like himself.

I watch him lace up his running shoes, and I know why I struggle when my husband leaves me behind to go on a run. It’s because I want to go somewhere and do something that makes me feel like myself, too.

Our two-year-old daughter’s face is covered in yogurt. Our son, heavy in my arms, needs a diaper. I need a shower and a nap and a two-week solo vacation. I stare at my husband, passed out on the couch after working an overnight shift in the urgent care. It’s midday, but he shows no signs of stirring even with the lights on, windows open, and pulsing tones of cicadas almost drowning out his snores.

“Hon, can you please get up and help me with the kids?” He responds with another snore. I squat down so my face is next to his and gently squeeze his shoulder. I feel guilty waking him up. Maybe I should just let him sleep, I think.

I shift the baby to my other hip. My mind races with a calculus of resentment, tallying hours awake, diapers changed, tantrums defused. I count the hours my husband has spent running to train for his fourth marathon, the hours he spends at work talking to other adults. Rage fills my chest, so heavy I believe it will sink me. I consider screaming into a pillow.

I scream in his face instead.

“Wake up!”

He shakes awake, eyes wide and wild on me.

“I can’t believe you yelled in my face,” he says, closing the dishwasher. He walks over to where I am wiping the countertop.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I…I just wish I could fall asleep in the middle of the day like that. But I never feel that free.” He is quiet, and I continue. “If you want a nap, you take a nap. You go for runs. I barely shower every day,” my voice cracks.

“If you want to take a nap, you can take a nap. If you want to run, you can go for a run. Tell me what you need, and we’ll make it happen.” He pulls me into a hug and we stand in the silent kitchen.

“Okay,” I sigh. “What I need is a break.”

One month later, I check into a fancy downtown hotel on a Tuesday night. I eat cheese fries for lunch (and I don’t have to share them). I get lost in a novel without interruptions. During dinner, I people-watch through the restaurant window with the din of laughter and forks and knives on plates in the background. I watch a movie from my king-size bed, and I don’t set an alarm for the morning. It’s not the two-week solo vacation of my fantasies, but it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s exactly what I asked for.

“Any fun plans for your Saturday?” the barista asks, handing me a steaming latte. Six
months into a pandemic, fun is relative.

“Not really,” I say, my words muffled through my mask. “I’m actually going to go sit in my car. It’s the only way I get alone time these days.” The girl chuckles and nods.

In the car, I enjoy a few sips of my drink before pulling out my laptop, determined to get the first draft of an essay started. My husband just finished working an eight-day stretch, which means I haven’t had time alone in more than a week. Last night after putting the kids to bed, we discussed our plans for this morning.

“I would like to go for a run at some point,” he said, as expected.

“Okay,” I said. “And I need some time alone to write. Out of the house.”

This is our Saturday routine now. He runs. I write. In writing, I have found something that makes me feel like myself. My husband’s words, “Tell me what you need,” forced me to voice my needs, and voicing my needs gave me the freedom to rediscover who I am, one word at a time.

This piece first appeared in The MOPS Magazine Summer 2021. Used by permission.

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One thought on “Tell Me What You Need

  1. I love how you write! And it’s always good and ok to ask for help. I found that out the hard way, but finally did it and it felt good! Love you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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