Before my husband and I had children, some of our married friends who had kids told us about their scheduled "date nights." At the time, we laughed at the idea. Back then, every night was "date night" for us, and we couldn't imagine being so calculated about spending time together. Fifteen years and two kids later, I finally understand.
There is a very different energy to being together as sweethearts and being together as parents. When we're with our daughters, who are seven and nine years old, we're in "Mom and Dad mode" — enforcing rules, modeling good behavior, keeping the schedule, and monitoring their nutrition, safety, and personal hygiene.
I get so used to speaking in "Mom voice" that I hear myself talking to my husband like that too, calling him "sweet pea" and making sure he hasn't forgotten his water bottle.
But when it's just the two of us, we get to be those people we fell in love with all those years ago. We may be a bit more wrinkly and jiggly, but we're still fun together. We can still be spontaneous and we still make each other laugh. Basically, we still like each other. Which, given the statistics we're up against, is no small feat.
Some of our friends with kids are lucky to have family members living nearby, or close friends who watch their kids regularly, and they seem to have happier marriages than those who never get a child-free break.
My husband and I don't fall into that category, and that's been rough on us over the years. When too much time goes by without connecting with each other, it's easy to wonder: Does he still love me like he used to? Are we still "us"?
Earlier this year, I set a goal to have one whole week alone with my husband somewhere beautiful in the world. I contacted a friend in another state who our kids adore, and offered to pay for her plane ticket and spending money if she'd come spend a week with them — having her days free to do whatever she wanted while they attended summer camp.
She loved the idea! So I started saving. I took on extra freelance writing work at night and I put a little away each month. It took many months, but I was able to surprise my husband with a vacation.
We just got back from a wonderful week in Costa Rica. I wish it hadn't taken us nine years to take a trip without the kids, but I'm so glad we did it. At first, it was like something was missing. We kept looking around and feeling like we were forgetting something. But as we relaxed into vacation mode, we had the best time, and totally savored every minute.
Now that we're back in our routine, I'm committed to making more of an effort to have date nights and weekends away more often. I'll offer to trade childcare with other parents at the kids' school, trade some writing or editing work with willing babysitters, and start saving for another special trip just for us in the future.
Because even though our kids are small now, and sometimes it seems like they'll be with us forever, I know they won't. I know the next 10 years will go by in a flash and when they're packing their bags for college or wherever their next adventure will take them, my husband and I will be "just us" again.
And when that time comes, instead of turning to him and saying, "Who are you again?" I want to celebrate it, grabbing the hand of my favorite partner in crime and saying, "Bring it on!"
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