Dad and Mom, On a Date Night

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    Come on. Admit it.

    You’ve said it.

    “It’s date night,” you say. “Just you and me, babe.”

    Could be dinner and maybe a movie. Better yet, a quick stop for hot tapas at that trendy joint on your way to the show you’ve been waiting months to see. You might drop by a party later. Or maybe go dancing. Then you’ll swing by your favorite wine bar for a dose of cool jazz and a nightcap. She stirs her raspberry martini. She laughs at your jokes. She gives you a look that says this night is just getting started, fella.

    Sound like you? Okay, me neither. Because that dreamy scene leaves out two important details. I’m married. And I have kids.

    Date night? Let me tell you about date night.

    Once upon a time, I dated my wife. In a former life, we’d plan a date by spending a whole afternoon perusing the movie listings and trying to choose between Indonesian and Ethiopian cuisine. We’d prep for our date by throwing on whatever clothes happened to be lying around. I was happy to let her primp as long as she wanted before her altar of perfumes, lotions and oils.

    But that was before my wife became my wife–and the mother of my two children. Now that we share a home, a bedroom and a handful of personal care products, we start every date by frantically cleaning the house so the babysitter won’t think we live like savages. For me, grooming rituals have been reduced to a quick dousing with the kids’ no-moretears watermelon-scented shampoo.

    Strangely, I now help decide which jeans my wife will wear, what tops go with which jeans, and which jeans go with which of a dozen pairs of shoes—which all look black to me. Of course, whatever clothes I choose to put on cause her to utter the three words that cool the ego of any happily dressed husband ready for a night on the town:

    “You’re wearing that?”

    I head back upstairs to change and smile at the thought of dates long ago. Debating the state of the world. Dissecting the meaning of the art-house movie we had just seen. Diving deep into our endless fascination with each other.

    But then the kids came along, and date night sort of went off the rails. Early on, we freaked at the idea of leaving our babies for even an hour or two. Of course, now that the children are well past toddler age, they’re all too happy to see us leave. Here’s their chance to eat pizza in front of the TV and try to con the babysitter into letting them watch shows and movies well past their pay grade.

    These days, dates are different the minute we leave the house. I used to clean out the car before letting my best girl sit in the passenger seat. But I’m just not the gentleman I used to be. Now I just throw all the random trash into the back as soon as we get in. Heck, why pretend? We’re driving a scuffed-up minivan that smells like spilled coffee and week-old french fries anyway.

    Besides, we’re on a mission, and every couple with kids at home knows the ironclad algorithm that governs any night out. The length of your date equals the sum of your activities divided by the total amount of money you plan to pay the babysitter. Take your eye off the clock, and you can quickly go into babysitter overtime, which could mean a trip to an ATM machine for more cash.

    Which is why we’ve gone straight to dinner without seeing a movie—again. At the restaurant, I blow past valet parking (hey, walking is good for you) and soon we’re seated and checking out the menu. Would we like something to drink? Back in the day, we’d imbibe just to keep the night rolling, if you get my drift. Now we try to drink as little as possible so we won’t fall asleep as soon as we get home. Choice of entree? Once, we’d order all sorts of exotic foods we never cooked for ourselves. These days I just try choosing something that won’t alarm my intestines. Though I would like a huge Styrofoam container for all of my leftover dinner. And all of hers, too. Uh-oh, she’s glaring at me. Check, please.

    Yes, we could still make the movie if we hurry. But why not do what we did last time we had an extra hour to kill? We went over to Barnes & Noble to browse through the books. And here’s the thing. We went off in different directions as soon as we walked in, and we never saw each other the whole time we were there. And that was just fine by us.

    Tonight we’ve gone into overtime again, but there’s no ATM in sight. So here is my date—my wife—buying a 99-cent pack of chewing gum at 7-11 just to get an extra twenty bucks back from the till. Watching her pocket the cash and pop a stick of gum in her mouth, I smile again at the thought of date nights that seem like a lifetime ago. Well, we ain’t who we used to be, and it’s way past the witching hour. But I like to think I can still get her to laugh at my jokes. Oh, and give me that look that says the night is still young, too.