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  • Renee Burns

Co-parenting and cohabitating post-surgery... As seen through the eyes of expedition partners

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my knee surgery. Over these past 2 weeks I have been between bed, the couch, and the floor, attempting to help change diapers in between the pain management. Turns out having 2 repairs done on a major joint at the same time can really slow ya’ down!

My husband, on the other hand, has not slowed down. He’s had to take on IT ALL. And when I say IT ALL, I mean, IT ALL.

He has to do times TWO of everything- diapers, naps, bottles, in and out of high chairs, dishes, laundry, baths, playing, car seat shuffling, formula-making, etc…and on top of that there’s the dog that needs to be walked, the cat that needs to be let in and out all day long, a regular old job to do, and a wife on crutches that needs help putting her pants on! The to-do list has been endless for him. Non-the-less, yesterday, he took the time to help me leave the house.

I haven’t gone anywhere other than physical therapy (which happens to be not even a mile away from home) since surgery. This on top of the NICU experience, and twin parenting during a pandemic has really been a not-so-welcomed challenge. However my husband took the time to put 2 folding camp chairs and a sleeping bag in the car for me, asked his parents to watch the girls, and drove me as close to the water as I could get. Water heals me. We live in northern MN, it’s still winter here, but when the sun is out and shining across the cold, fresh, blue water of our lake, Lake Superior, braving the brisk air is totally worth it. He set me up in 1 chair, while guiding my recently operated on leg out across the other chair. Wrapped up in a sleeping bag we shared a local cider, some tears, and much needed time together…which yes, sounds TOTALLY absurd after the past year and half that we’ve spent together, side-by-side EVERY DAY!

But, sitting there, looking out at the lake, taking our first deep breaths together, alone since knee surgery, was so important. We realized that even though we have spent literally every day together since I was hospitalized with my water breaking (Oct. 2019) we can feel sooo disconnected from each other at the same time. The endless to-do’s of the day can create a wall between any couple really, pre-pandemic even. However for us, the unexpected ‘insult to injury’ with my knee surgery really drove a huge, unexpected wedge between us.

Why? We talk all day every day, we co-feed, co-clean, co-change diapers, co-cook, we even watch the same shows together. Why so distant?

My husband and I met, and fell in love, over a shared passion for all that the wild has to offer. We both had been outdoor guides, adventures, and educators prior to meeting. When we met we had a shared ethos based in the knowledge of A: what an expedition was, B: what “expedition mentality” meant, and C: the difference between what it meant to be a ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ expedition member. As we sat together, sipping our cider yesterday, the conversation meandered down the path of ‘expedition mentality’ and how it has both helped, and hurt our relationship as of recent.

When your traveling in a group, in the wild, your main goal is to do what’s best for the group- for the expedition- no selfish acts allowed. You focus on the tasks at hand, and at the end of the day can relish in the achievements conquered together, over a fire, under the stars, in silence…maybe with a nice warm beverage in your hand. My husband knows how to conquer day-to-day tasks. He thrives in the “to-do” lists…so taking on the daunting task of parenting, husband-ing, working, and house-managing post my knee surgery was almost second-nature to him. His professional career has been built on what it means to metaphorically be part of an expedition – how to show up and do what’s best for the group.

However, at the end of these days, or even during the quiet parts of the day- the distractions of “front-country” life vs. “back-county” expeditions are deafening. We realized that when on an expedition, the reward is the quiet, the stillness, the lack of screens, of superfluous “to-do’s” that we impose on ourselves that don’t really matter. The beauty, and the draw of the expedition, has also been the intimate connection that is created with your peers. In the “front country” it can be so much more challenging to find/make the time to form the intimate connection.

At the end of these busy days, when I am on the couch icing my knee, and he is laying on the floor stretching out his back, in the same room, after the twins are asleep, we don’t have a fire to sit around to bring us back home to each other. Our only task isn’t to make sure there’s enough wood to burn. There’s TV, there’s internet, phones, computers, dishes, pets, life…

How do we bring the simplicity of the expedition to the everyday? This was our discussion as we sat together breathing in the cold Lake Superior air together.

What it comes down to for us is what we want to model to our daughters. We may show up every day in their lives, giving them all our attention, effort, love and affection, however if we’re not able to sit around the fire together at the end of day and connect, it doesn’t matter. We want to model what a sincere, strong, hard-working relationship can look like for them. In order to do that, we need to continuously remind each other to return to our roots, to the thing that drew us to one another.., both the understanding of the expedition, and the sweet reward of the connection made at the end of the tough days, when the “to-do’s” are done.

We have a long road of “to-do” lists ahead of us, and I know we will drift apart, return, and drift apart again, at times feeling as though we are on a solo expedition.

Never underestimate the importance of taking the time to reflect, sit, breath fresh air, and look out over the horizon with someone if you feel disconnected.

I am beyond grateful for the time my husband took to get me out of the house and bring me to the water- crutches, brace, and all. The conversations aren’t always easy, but if it were easy I’m sure I’d be bored.

-Deep Breaths-

Mama Burns



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