By: Amber Leventry
My partner and I don’t get out for nearly enough date nights. Not because we don’t want to, but because paying for two babysitters for three kids—a three and a half year old and 14 month old twins—is not in the budget. Nor do we want to abuse the generosity of our friends. They are really nice people and dumping three kids too often on friends, even generous friends, is not nice.
Alas, when we do get out, I spend the first hour feeling like Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption. Just like Red, my new freedom does not feel right and I’m not sure where I fit in society anymore. I fight the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to act without a child with me. I resist the urge to tell everyone I see that I have three young kids at home. “I’m free!” I want to shout. “Look at me people! The kids are at home!”
Getting out is a small miracle in itself and worth bragging about, but more importantly I don’t want everyone to think my carefree, childless presence is my normal state. I have worked too hard for for someone to assume I get to leave the house every time with just my keys, wallet and cell phone.
No. Normally I am sweating, sighing, and exhausted from having strapped children into car seats or from fighting a double stroller into the back of the mini-van. Normally I show up somewhere in a mini-van. But not on date night; we leave the mini-van at home on date night.
In the hours leading to our departure time, I daydream about leaving someone else with dinner and bedtime duties, and I imagine the simple pleasure of having someone serve me a meal. The anticipation of date night is almost as good as the anticipation of Christmas morning. Add a box of donuts and a strong cup of coffee (a Christmas tradition in our house) and I would have a hard time choosing between Santa and a babysitter.
Recently, for my partner’s birthday and with the help of my in-laws, I surprised Amy with tickets to a concert at our county fair. I was taking her to see her boy crush Daughtry. Judge all you want, but I could have a crush on Raffi if he played to an audience full of adults slipping on a sliding scale of intoxication. If an activity or outing doesn’t involve kids, I can be turned on.
A date night had been a long time coming, but I didn’t anticipate she would burst into tears when she opened her gift. The tears were of happiness, but also of pent up frustration from not having enough time alone or together without the kids. Amy was overwhelmed with joy and relief. As much as we love our kids, they wear us down, one whiny demand at a time.
Once we got to the fair and as the temptation to declare my freedom subsided, I noticed all of the frazzled and tired parents negotiating over-stimulated toddlers and people oblivious to said toddlers and strollers stuffed with snacks, screaming babies, and cheap stuffed animals won by tossing a dart at a balloon. Okay, this wasn’t a miserable or sad fair; it was awesome. But awesome days with kids still have stressful moments. And it’s easy to recognize yourself in other parents, even when you don’t have your kids with you.
I quickly took note of the mess I must look like to non-parents, vowed to smile more when I am with my kids, and proceeded to enjoy the fact that I had two free hands and was wearing a clean shirt. Then I eased back to that long lost feeling of pre-kid life with my partner. It felt really good. For awhile we didn’t say much. The silence of being happy together was too nice to interrupt. We reminisced, we talked about anything but the kids, and we were thankful of how much we still like each other.
For us, date nights are about recharging and feeding the relationship that turned us into sleep-deprived, sometimes cranky, and happy parents. We love being mamas but we love being away from our kids too. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, because by the end of the evening we were back to talking about our kids and back to noticing the kids having a blast with their ragged looking parents.
We took mental notes of all of the stuff our oldest would enjoy when we came back with her. And when we passed a group of teenagers, we vowed our boys would never wear shirts that say things like, “I’d Tap That” printed over a maple tree. Yes, we live in Vermont, and yes it’s funny, but once our boys want a shirt like that it means they get the joke. And if they get the joke then they get the meaning of sex which means they are probably thinking about sex. All. Of. The. Time. I will never be ready for that.
And we hoped our daughter never feels pressure to dress like a prostitute or paint her face with ridiculous amounts of make up. Not that we will let her indulge in such things, but our hope is that she chooses to stick with her natural beauty. And we hope her wardrobe consists or baggy t-shirts and long, athletic shorts. Amy and I are years away from these scenarios, but looking up and away from our young kids for a few hours allowed us to relish the innocence of our babies. Being away from the routine, tantrums, and diapers allowed us to focus on the sweetness of our children.
I still fit into society just fine, but my life is different now. I have kids. I cherish time and date nights more than I ever thought possible. I no longer take showering for granted. However, I don’t always need to be Mama. It’s hard to balance life if I feel like I need to play every role and respect every piece of who I am at all times. It’s not realistic. I will always be a parent, but society will benefit from me taking a break from parenting once in awhile. Clean shirts and happy parents are good for everyone.