—Brian and Anna-Marie—
We decided to write this week’s post together. We’ve used font colors for clarity. (A-M is green. B is orange).
When Anna-Marie and I got married, we waited a long time before we had kids. We knew we wanted to adopt to start our family and we weren’t ready to do that yet.
So the first 7 years of our marriage was like one giant “date night.”
We had the exact same schedule. We both worked together. We traveled together. We even had one cell phone, because we didn’t need to each have one if we were in the same place.
Every night was a date. We would pull carpet up or start painting a room at 11 p.m. We would go watch a movie or go for a road trip to somewhere we wanted to go. We were in the same rhythm. It was wonderful.
I look back at this time as a truly amazing time. We were able to create a strong bond and foundation in our marriage early on. We learned how to have fun with each other, learned about each other more than we ever thought we knew, and we built years’ worth of experiences and adventures together.
Things changed when Knox came home.
There was a third wheel in the mix now. And it was wonderful.
We fell in love with Knox. All we wanted to do was be around him. He was so fun and so entertaining. And raising Knox was something exciting that we were doing together. We had already built a strong foundation in our marriage. We had already built up so many experiences together…
Raising Knox was a new experience and as a result we were still in rhythm together.
We still did make time for each other occasionally. For example, we always tried to do something special for our anniversary, usually an overnight outing. We even spent one anniversary in New York City. But outside of big, special occasions, our dating was mostly nonexistent.
Five years later, Tobin came home.
And “date night” evolved again.
Two kids make things a bit more—stretched—and during the time we were falling in love with Tobin, we were also having a really tough transition time with him and couldn’t really leave him with anyone else.
I’ll never forget that anniversary date we went on the first year Tobin came home. He had been home four months at the time of our anniversary, and we had my parents come over and watch the boys… while we drove to McDonald’s drive-thru, got ice cream, and came home.
It was quite the change.
As life progressed, we realized it was more than a transition making things challenging with Tobin. Tobin received an autism diagnosis, and even though we definitely felt a great need to get away and reconnect, the amount of anxiety we felt at leaving him with someone else for an extended period of time overshadowed any desire for a date.
This anxiety only grew. I didn’t know how to handle Tobin’s meltdowns effectively, so how could I expect anyone else to know what to do? And even when he wasn’t melting down, there were all sorts of scary things I worried about: What if Tobin swallows the dimes I keep catching him putting in his mouth? What if the sitter doesn’t see him going toward an outlet with that metal toy like I caught him doing yesterday? The stairs! He likes to hang from the gate at the top of the stairs! What if she doesn’t see him doing that? And the poop! What if she doesn’t catch him digging into his diaper?
I couldn’t let go. We couldn’t let go.
But in the second year following Tobin’s diagnosis, we began having occasional date nights—something fun in St. Louis where we could get away for a long stretch of time. These were really good for us.
And we started to lean into my family and a couple of trusted caregivers for our boys. Each time we came back, I was amazed at the reports from the babysitter and how we were filled up from time away with each other. Everyone seemed to do really well. And those folks we trusted our kids with? They seemed to enjoy the time with them as well.
So it was Good.
Just not enough.
Even though we added these occasional “dates,” they weren’t helping us grow closer together…
If I’m honest, I think it’s because they were partly just an excuse to get away from the stress that was at home… away from the hard…
Our dates were a time to get together because we knew we needed and wanted to, but the reality was when we got back home we weren’t as connected as when we entered our home.
Because if I’m really honest…
Home was stress.
Home was more of a job.
Home was not much fun.
Home was hard.
When we began to start putting the pieces of us back together, I found that “date night” was not the cheesy thing I had thought it was…
One thing that had bugged me about “date night” was that it seemed to me to be forced. It was something that I knew I needed to do to keep our relationship working. It just seemed inauthentic to me.
The problem was that I had been looking at it the wrong way.
My perspective was off.
And now everything had changed.
My perspective had changed. I had changed.
I found that dating was something I so badly WANTED to do. I wanted to woo her, not just take her somewhere to mark off something on a marriage to-do list.
So we made some specific decisions and commitments to our “date night.”
We made it a priority. Into something even better than it had ever been before.
We began doing stuff that felt special… creative… fun… new…different…
Because that’s the really Good that happens when things fall apart. You get to recreate. You get to make things like you always wanted them to be. Because just like a seed has to be buried before it can grow, and the sun has to set before it can rise, sometimes things have to die so they can bring new and better life.
And “date night” evolved again… this time becoming something that connected us together, like we were truly dating again…
Brian was so fun about the dates. Planning adventures for us to do together.
We were starting over.
Our “first date” was a dress-up date, with dinner at a fancy restaurant. He picked me up with a dozen roses, and we made small talk on the way, asking “getting to know you” questions like it was our first time out together.
(SIDE NOTE: wouldn’t you know it, when he rang the doorbell, a spider dangled down in front of him as I opened the door!)
He kept surprising me with different nights out… said he had a “line item” in the budget for us to make dating a priority, and we began having fun. Frequent, consistent, necessary fun together.
I began getting texts like this:
We were reconnecting. Rebuilding. Remaking. Revising.
And it was so Good.
But this evolution required leaning into other people. Because there is still the childcare issue…
I still have all the same fears and concerns. They are still there and they are still valid. But I’ve learned to manage them the best I can.
And it’s crazy how it has worked out.
Family has always been crazy about our boys and wanting to spend time with them, but aside from them, we have a few people who have stepped up to taking care of our boys—and the crazy thing is that they each have experience in special needs. Two of them are paraprofessionals who work in the school with special needs children, and one of them is currently in school getting her degree in special education.
This is huge.
(I can’t say it enough.)
Not only do they not shy away when I go over his Picture Exchange Communication System or where we are in the potty training process or the new repetitive behavior Tobin has begun, they LOVE our boys.
Like really love them.
I never considered how much it would fill my heart to come home and see Knox laughing and playing Minecraft with Kara—for an hour after we’ve been home.
Or watch Tobin curl up in Garrett’s lap when we all go out for ice cream.
Or hear Knox choose to stay home with Aunt Alexa when given the option to go to an event with us.
I had a wise friend once tell me that there is nothing like witnessing someone really love your kids. And she was right.
Bursting open our bubble of comfort and allowing other people to help care for our boys is a scary thing. But expanding the circle of love in our family is a wonderful thing.
It all goes together. Tob.
Even the culture in our house has changed.
In the past, when we mentioned going on a date, Knox would be upset and not want us to go. Now that is much different. The other day we told Knox that we had purchased tickets for a date but his baseball game had gotten rescheduled for the day of the event, and we wondered what his thoughts were. He said, “It’s been busy around here. You and Dad need to see each other. If it was my last game, I’d want you there, but Meme and Papa can take me to this one.”
Don’t get us wrong…
We are still madly in love with our kids and want to spend every minute we can with them.
We are now back in rhythm.
Our family is back in rhythm.
Leaving our boys for a night away is hard.
But we’re seeing the benefits from this practice in so many ways. For all of us.
And that’s what makes date night so Good.