I’m dating again. A quick evening out to get ice cream. A bike ride through the park. Loosely held hands and affectionate glances. I’m not exclusive with any of the four people I date, and that’s what makes it exciting and fresh each time. What does my husband of 13 years say about my dating? He’s very supportive. Mostly, because he’s dating, too.
Bill and I have started a new tradition of scheduling dates with our children and each other. Like most good ideas, this one was born out of frustration. A few months ago, when we had our foster daughter living with us in addition to our own three children, we noticed that while we did a lot together as a family, sometimes we’d come home from an excursion tired and cranky. Jacob, 12 couldn’t tell us anything without Jamie, three, interrupting. Liam, eight, sometimes felt that it was hard to get through a few sentences without Jacob (the fact checker) clarifying his story for him. In addition, something about being strapped into their car seats inspired Jamie and our foster daughter, both preschoolers, to sing endless rounds of Old MacDonald.
One night, after an especially tiresome ride home (here an oink, there an oink, everywhere an oink, oink), Bill strode over to the family dry-erase calendar and started writing.
“What are you doing?” I asked with alarm. Our calendar was already too full.
“I’m writing down dates with the kids,” Bill said. “I’m afraid that otherwise, we’ll never get to talk to them.”
It was a bad idea, I thought. We could barely get the kids to the events we had already committed to — school, soccer, baseball, piano, swimming lessons — how could we add any more?
My first date was scheduled for the following night, with Liam. It had been an extremely busy day at work. I was exhausted, and if truth be told, I was hoping that perhaps Liam wouldn’t notice his name on the calendar and Bill would forget about the new plan.
“I’ll clean the kitchen, you go on your date,” Bill said, after dinner. I paused and looked at him. I hadn’t realized dating excused a parent from kitchen duty. Perhaps this was a good idea, after all.
I had received a laptop computer from work that day and Liam and I decided that he would be the first person in our family to try it with WiFi. We went to a local coffee shop and as Liam slurped his frothy drink, I sipped a decaf and together, we figured out how to connect with the shop’s wireless system so he could play an online game. As he played, he explained the game to me, and allowed me to try it, too. After a few rounds, we put the computer away and Liam told me what he was learning about volcanoes in school. Since our family fact checker wasn’t there, I couldn’t be certain that Liam had it absolutely right, but everything sounded reasonable, and it was far more than I knew about volcanoes before the date.
We both came home happy, and the kitchen was clean.
In the months that have followed that first date, the kids have come to anticipate when their dates are and make sure the date happens, even if the day is already packed with activities. Probably because we’re not a family prone to a lot of treats out, our kids are satisfied with pretty simple dates. Liam has clarified that for him, a date must involve “a special kind of food or drink,” but Jacob allows foodless dates. One of Jacob’s favorites was when he and I went to a sporting goods store to buy the cleats he needed for baseball. Normally, an errand like that would be done with Jamie or Liam in tow. Turning it into a date, though, made it a time to talk to Jacob about baseball. I got to see his thought process as he tried on different sizes and styles of cleats. If Jamie had been with us, Jacob would have been trying on the shoes alone, and I’d have been chasing after her, rather than talking to him.
Dates can happen at home, too, we’ve determined, as long as there are no other family members in the room. Bill woke Liam up early one morning for a pancake breakfast date before school. Once, when we didn’t have time to get a babysitter for our date, Bill brought home Chinese food and he and I had the date in the dining room. The kids, having been on many dates by that point, understood what it was all about and played in another room without interrupting. “Mommy and Daddy are having a date,” I heard Jamie telling her doll, “so you’ll have to wait to talk to them.”
Newly acquainted couples naturally understand the value of time spent alone together, talking. We would question the seriousness of a couple who only spent time together while in a group. How can you really know each other if you’re never alone together? We would ask. But the same is true with relationships in a family, I believe. How can we truly know each of our children if we don’t spend time with each apart from the others? Jamie is a different person when she is allowed to be “Just Jamie” alone with Bill or me, and not “Jamie, the little sister” when she’s with her brothers. Similarly, I am a different mom when I am — if only for a half hour-- the mom of just one child, not of three. I have a better sense of humor alone with one child. For once, I’m not a disciplinarian or a referee. I’m Mom, the companion, not Mom, the director. It’s a side of myself I’m happy to see — a side I suspected was there.
Thanks to my husband, I’m back in the dating scene. I’m enjoying the ice cream, the rides in the park and the excitement of learning new things about these people I love.