Most years, Alex and I celebrate Valentine’s Day by sitting on the couch. That’s it. Just sitting. We make zero plans, have zero celebrations, and exert zero energy. Valentine’s Day has become the annual night when we do as little as possible and tell Romantic Expectations to eat it. Date nights for big holidays can be more trouble than they’re worth.
A few years ago, though, after a month of family-building, child-rearing hilarity, we decided that we needed a night out sans kids to remember how much we love each other and occasionally still want to make out. As the completely brain-fried individual that I was, I knew this night out must require very little effort to plan or I would give up before I could open Google on my phone.
The universe must’ve agreed that we needed a night out, because the first babysitter I texted said yes. I mean, really?!?! I pulled off a last minute attempt at a babysitter with zero effort? I grabbed a reservation at a yummy restaurant and tickets to an improv show, and we were set. And I hadn’t even gotten off the couch. God bless the internet.
The big day came, and my kids were jumping up and down at the chance to play with the babysitter they hadn’t seen in awhile. And probably thrilled to get a break from their boring parents. Magic Sitter showed up with a bag full of toys; I had pizzas, cookies, and pink lemonade. The kids got busy for some fun of their own.
I donned sequins and grabbed my Mommy’s Going Out purse (You know, the one with no extra room for Matchbox cars and wipes). The kids barely said ‘bye and I hustled out without making too much eye contact. I think we were all trying to move past The Incident from earlier, when my two oldest walked in on me naked singing Hillsong at the top of my lungs. (If you’ve read my essays in The Magic of Motherhood, I need you to know that this is an entirely different story of accidental nudity. Apparently this happens a lot around here.)
This is why I never shower at five o’clock at night. This is why I’ll lock the door from now on. It happened in slow motion. They stood there staring, and I calmly said, “Please leave.” Nothing. “Pleeeezzz leeeeevvv.” They turned, walked out the door, and now they’re probably scarred for life.
So I was even more excited to get the heck outta Dodge and slid into the front seat of the minivan, on the passenger side, because I had a hot date and not carpool.
Now that we are full-fledged suburbanites, it takes us about an hour to drive into the big bad city for all the glitzy fun. Since our CD player was broken in the van, we entertained ourselves with loving, romantic conversation.
Alex: Drive! Everyone drive! C’mon c’mon c’mon!
Me: If you keep driving like this the whole way there, it’ll be exhausting. We’ll get there when we get there. Hashtag my opinion.
Alex: Hashtag all that counts.
Me: Hashtag thank you.
We arrived on time, but couldn’t find the parking lot. We remembered too late that Fancy City People valet their cars at Fancy City People restaurants. In the suburbs we just shove our van in a space between all the other vans in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. Surveying the sad state of our minivan and its usual array of old cups, tissues, crumpled craft projects, and open packages of gummies, we realized the valet would see it all.
Alex: Quick, help me clean this up.
Me: Do you want the valet to like us? We’re already driving a minivan. He knows we’re not cool. Hashtag who cares.
Alex: Hashtag sigh.
As the valet climbed into the driver’s seat, Alex apologized, and he said, “It’s okay. We’ve seen a lot worse.” Thanks, validating valet man. You’re my hero.
We ate an incredible meal, and as we finished our entree, we started wondering if the Trader Joe’s down the street was still open. We suburbanites have to drive an hour for TJ’s, and sequins or no sequins, I hated to waste a trip to the city and a chance to get more olive oil.
We became so excited to go grocery shopping that we could barely finish our meal, and I admitted in that moment that somewhere between my twenties doing theatre in D.C. and my thirties raising kids in the ‘burbs, I’d become my parents. Growing up, I remember them getting excited to have date night at Sam’s Club and shaking my head at their total lameness. And here I was ready to drag my sequins through Trader Joe’s.
After our meal, we stood in line for the bathroom, and at Fancy City People Restaurant, the bathrooms are unisex, with a little lounge in case you want to hang out together after you’re done peeing. Standing in line with guys staring at a painting of a woman draped naked over a couch, I could not quit staring at the poor naked woman’s boobs. I wanted to grab a magic marker and draw a shirt on her, but of course, I’d brought my Mommy’s Going Out purse and didn’t have my usual bag filled with everything from art supplies to high bounce balls.
In the bathroom stall, I checked the lock twice, worried that someone would walk in on me. I was still a little jumpy after The Incident earlier at home.
We picked up our minivan, which I affectionately called Red Rocket, and as we pulled away from the valet stand, Alex accidentally beeped the horn, not the rude HONK to get someone out of the way, but the little beep-beep, like “Okay buh-bye! Have a great night! Good to see you!” We slunk down in our seats and peeled out of there, weird, over-friendly suburbanites.
When we finally made it to the improv club, I remembered that improv shows involve audience participation and started getting the panic sweats.
Alex: They’re sooo going to pick you to go up on stage.
Me: Why would you say something so horrible?
Alex: You just have that face. “She looks awkward. Let’s get her.”
Me: Hashtag suck it.
They didn’t pull anybody on stage, but someone did walk in on me in the bathroom at intermission. Malfunctioning lock and the theme for my day.
All in all, our night out was a smashing success, and sitting in that theatre made me feel like it was 10 years ago, before kids when we had energy and could do whatever we wanted. And then we drove all the way home in our minivan to our three sleeping beauties in the ‘burbs. Our tanks of energy may be empty, but our hearts are full. Having kids makes me appreciate the moments I do get to go out on the town, and coming home to them is ever so sweet.