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Challenge: Romance After Kids

What Date Night Looks Like Now (and Why I Love It)

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I met my now-husband in the era of AOL Instant Messenger. Looking back, it seems so archaic but in a very real way, I’m glad we didn’t find each other when Facebook was finding its footing. That would come a few years later, when he was going off to college and I was still in high school and with every girl that added him as a friend I grew a little more irate (and a lot more insecure).

He worked with my cousin at the local golf course and was a year ahead of me in school. He heard I was interested but he was a little shy, so I made the first move.

Nope, I didn’t call him up or talk to him in the halls. Even better. I left slyly romantic lyrics as my away message.

Then, after a few days of no feedback, I worked up the nerve to message him. We chatted for months at night and strategically avoided each other the next day at school so as to not risk actually having to speak in person.

Eventually, he did ask me out. He arrived on my parents’ doorstep in a yellow button down shirt and khakis. He had nervously spilled water on the passenger seat of his dad’s car, so he had a towel down for me to sit on.

We ate at the mall, in a restaurant called Garfield’s. We played putt-putt afterward, then the took me home to watch a homemade mobster movie he and his buddies had created called “The New Boss.”

It was, by all accounts, an incredible first date. The conversation flowed and he was a total gentleman, even when he took me to his parents’ garage to show me their Volkswagen camper van with the pop-up top. That looks much more scandalous written out, but in reality, we were both such good kids it didn’t even cross our minds to push any limits.

That was on August 30, 2003. He was 17 and I had just turned 16 that spring. It turned out to be my last first date. We fell deeply in love that fall and had a really great year together before he left for N.C. State in 2004.

Our dates were all about us. We’d go swing dancing at the old, towering library and sway to big band music under the stars. We’d see back-to-back matinees and wouldn’t think twice about buying concert tickets on a whim.

I followed him to college and we kept courting. We drove overnight to catch a sunrise hot air balloon ride, and then ate ham biscuits afterward at a little diner in Richmond. We ate at so many nice restaurants we stretched our part-time job budgets really thin. I’d curl my hair in my dorm room and put on my best heels and we’d hit the town.

On August 30, 2008 we got married in our hometown, at the same alter my parents were married, and where I was baptized. We got a little dog and rented a little home and started real jobs.

Then, our dates started to look a little different. We didn’t have the luxury anymore to stay out late on a random Wednesday because we had work the next day and Thirsty Thursday doesn’t quite feel as fun when you’re struggling through your Friday morning commute. The old mall shut down and Garfield’s closed.

So we took to staying in. I’d throw the big red ball down our long hallway and our dog would fetch it for hours. We got really into T.V. and binge-watched Lost, King of Queens, and a few really cruddy reality series.

When I got pregnant, my only real craving (both times) was homemade shaved ice with fruit juice poured over it. He cranked the Pampered Chef ice machine until the handle broke off and he had to use a makeshift rubber band ball to make it turn. I consumed at least 200 of them over the course of two years.

That became our date night. Me with my big belly, propped on the couch with the gas logs rumbling even in the summer, a giant bowl of crushed ice on my lap and our dog at my heels.

I don’t have to tell you that babies change all that. Because, of course they do.

Nights alone? Sure, you can snag them if you’re willing to stay up until 11 p.m. to get started and even then any romance will likely be interrupted by a whimper, a wail, or a parade of tiny footsteps down the stairs.

Those heels you once slid on with ease? Try fitting swollen postpartum tootsies into those bad boys. Same goes for that pencil skirt he loves.

I went through a pretty hard period of time when I wondered if I’d ever feel up to dating my husband again. Don’t get me wrong, I never once hesitated in my love for him. I just didn’t think I had it in me to get fixed up, put on clothes that didn’t have built-in elastic, and leave my babies long enough to eat a steak in peace.

So when the kids were both really little, our date nights looked like frozen pizza on the living room floor. Thank the heavens above our tiny town got a hibachi take-out place in 2015 because I ate so much of it that year I almost turned into a chopstick. We’d give them baby food pouches, a few Goldfish crackers, and a milk cup. Then, we’d turn on the radio and do little dance parties in front of the stove I never used.

Those nights were really different, but they were so incredibly sacred to me. Now that they’ve gotten a little older, we’re able to leave them with our parents occasionally (a perk of moving back home after college!) and sneak away for a quick meal together. We watch a ton of Redbox and Netflix and HGTV.

It’s slower-paced, but important time. We make sure to fit it in, for our sake as well as our kids’.

I read once that one of the top 7 divorce dos is to take everything you want from the house. If there’s something of significant value to you, don’t leave it in the home when you leave. Pack it up somewhere or bring it with you to your new location.

Number one, I date my husband purposefully so I don’t have to think of strategies like that. But, when I read it, I thought of how simple that sounds, but how difficult it really is. Sure, you can take your jewelry box or that artwork you adore. But you can’t take the movie nights curled up together around a bowl of popcorn.

You can’t take kissing across the pillows or the way his arms wrapped behind you when you did dishes. Falling asleep together after finishing a bottle of wine. Saturday mornings with all the babies in the car.

I don’t look around my home and see my possessions. I see my people.

So maybe my curling iron hasn’t seen the light of day since 2014 and maybe I own more leggings than dresses and more sports bras than lingerie. Date nights don’t have to look like they did when I was a teenager, and think of all I’d be missing if they did.

Thomas Rhett’s new song says it best: “Life changes, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

It’s a shame AIM isn’t around anymore. That would have made a killer away message.

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