My pre-parental views on certain things now feel downright quaint.
For instance, in the months when we were expecting Lily, many of our friends with kids, and the few books I read, recommended shooting for, at minimum, one date night a month.
I scoffed at this. “Well, that should be the easiest goal of all time to attain,” I thought. “I know we’ll be busy, and tired a lot, but please!”
I was so freakin’ adorable. It’s like I want to reach back through time and pinch my own cheeks.
As it happens, Joe and I will have about four hours on our own this Saturday – because we bought tickets to the upcoming Detroit live recording of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” several months ago – and previous to that, I gave Joe tickets (as a Valentine’s gift) to a Monday (not an ideal night), March 7 Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert. So we missed April entirely, and to be frank, we hardly even noticed.
This isn’t because Joe and I wouldn’t like more nights out together, of course. (And contrary to the stereotype, I’m happy to report that when we do get the chance to spend time alone together, our conversation isn’t generally focused on Lily – partly because my partner happens to be a chatty Cathy with a ludicrously broad range of interests that are fun to discuss.) But when scrambling to make arrangements for a night out, so very, very much has to fall into place exactly right. And that’s just something I didn’t fully grasp before I had a child of my own.
The obvious part, the babysitter, is the most crucial, and sometimes the most elusive. New Year’s Eve? Valentine’s Day? Good luck finding someone without plans of their own (understandably so). And regarding the set of grandparents that lives nearby, we don’t want to abuse their kindness (they have all three kids in the area vying for their occasional babysitting services), and they have busy schedules of their own (again, understandably) – not to mention how reluctant they are to put Lily to bed, even when we’re getting home quite late. (“She didn’t want to go to bed,” they say. Um, of course she didn’t want to go to bed. She’s 2!!) Finally, sometimes, despite much advance planning, you’ll exhaust every possible person and still come up with nada through sheer bad luck, or you’ll have something worked out and get thwarted by your child (or you or your partner) getting sick. Either way, you’re out.
And scheduling is its own kind of minefield. On many weekends, we have obligations that already feel a little overwhelming after five days of work; and because I often have evening assignments – fun events, admittedly, but I usually can’t take Joe with me – there’s often a sense, by week’s end, that I’ve already short-changed my half-pint as is, and I kind of miss spending time with her. Plus, when I’ve had two or more evening assignments in one week, I start to long for a few nights at home.
So Joe and I are constantly busy and treading water, and the time just flies by. But we still do our best to get out on our own now and then.
I will say that I significantly mourned the loss of time spent alone with Joe after Lily was born. Things that we used to always do together – like running – we suddenly had to do separately, when we could even manage to squeeze it into our days at all. (Lily was fine with the jogging stroller for a short stint of time, but beyond that, no dice.) And of course, when Joe and I ran together all the time, we’d talked about our work, world events, our ambitions, etc. Despite the high demands of Joe’s job, running was always a time when we could just relax and talk and focus on each other.
So when we tried to go out together once with the jogging stroller, and Lily threw a fit early on in the run, Joe took her back, and I spent the rest of the run feeling grumpy, mopey, and self-pitying. I missed my husband, I thought. I missed us, the couple we had been together before we were parents. Because while raising a child brings you closer in some ways, it inevitably pulls you apart in others.
These days, for instance, when Joe puts Lily to bed, he stays up in her room until she’s asleep, often falling asleep himself, while I clean up from dinner and/or try to exercise (provided we didn’t eat 20 minutes earlier). When Joe emerges, he tries to exercise while watching something on the DVR, or a live football/basketball/hockey game, and I’ll often perform a pragmatic task (fold laundry, pay bills, blog, take care of unfinished business from work) while in the same room. We’ll sometimes do some trombone warm-ups together, since we both want to stay in minimal playing shape, at the very least; and then we head up to bed, where we may watch “The Daily Show” together while brushing our teeth, or read for a little bit. (Yes, even when we try to do the in-house date night kind of thing, renting a Pay-per-view movie on a Saturday night, we often only get halfway through before one of us is nodding off, forcing us to try and finish the movie off the next night.)
Occasionally, though, when neither of us drops off to sleep instantly, we find ourselves lying in bed, chatting for a long time in the darkness, and these are the moments when I most feel like we’re still the old version of “us.” We make each other laugh; and there’s an ease and a decadent laziness to the conversation. Finally, for the first time all day sometimes, we’re doing something for no other reason than because it’s fun, and we enjoy it.
Which is supposed the function of those maddeningly elusive, ironically stressful “date nights,” of course. But occasional stolen moments in the dark offer the same sort of release, thankfully, and demand so, so much less effort and time from us. So for now, I’ll happily take them.