We have made a point of maintaining "date night" since we got married, but lately, it's just not as fun as it used to be. We set aside every Thursday night, mainly because that's the only night we are guaranteed not to have the big kids at home, and we even have a budget for it that we take out of the bank in cash every month, so that the money won't be an issue. Everything should be perfect for weekly romantic excursions, right? They were, actually, before we had the baby, which was basically the first few months of our marriage, but lately, because we don't have anyone close by who can watch our now two-year-old for a couple of hours unless we pay them, and if we have to pay someone, then there goes the date night budget, before we even leave the house.
So, we had an epiphany the other night. We were sitting in Pei Wei, waiting for our order, trying to calm our daughter, who, while normally very well-behaved in restaurants, was justifiably upset that the food was taking longer than usual. The fact was, the food wasn't really taking all that long, but we were all so hungry when we got there that even a ten minute delay was enough to put all three of us over the edge. Picture us, two parents trying to pacify a child with juice or soda which she never gets to drink, placating her with fortune cookies, which she doesn't even recognize as food, and generally having a miserable time, focusing every bit of attention on the baby instead of each other. Once the food came, we were frustrated about the fact that we were pushing it so far past the baby's bedtime that we'd have a heck of a time getting her to sleep, and so between the time crunch and our hunger, we were scarfing down our teriyaki chicken and brown rice like two heathens with no table manners.
At some point, I looked up at my wife and said, "This just isn't fun anymore. I don't like doing this."
She immediately dropped her shoulders and said, "Oh, thank God, I thought it was just me."
From that night we decided that it was too much pressure to try to maintain this night on the town type of tradition, and that some of the best date nights we had were when we both gave in to our laziness and agreed to stay order some food and stay home (but just this once! Next week we're doing something fancy!). Those nights, the baby can play near us in the den and pretty much ignores us as long as her toys work. We can eat in peace, watch a movie, play a game, with minimal interference. And when the time comes to put her to bed, we just put the flick on pause for ten minutes, run down the bedtime routine, and then get back to business, whether we finish the movie or not, if you know what I mean ;). It's a much better situation than forcing ourselves to make the extra effort to eat out, and another added benefit that we didn't anticipate at first was that by saving so much money on tips and extra food, we ended up only using half the date night budget by the end of the month, which means that if we do decide to eat out, it doesn't have to be Chili's with coupons; it can actually be a fancy restaurant that we don't get the chance to try that often.
Still, we want it to be kind of special, and not to devolve into watching Anchorman 2 on the couch, eating McDonald's out of the bag, in our gym clothes. So we try to do something special each week - special but cheap. Also easy. Also PG enough that the baby can be in the room, at least until she goes to bed. The first idea we had was a chocolate tasting, with different types of fancy chocolate. We spent about $12 on different samples of various chocolates, ranging from milk chocolate to very dark, and actually found that we liked some of the darker chocolates better than the safer ones we usually stick to. The idea came from this website, and it really went well. Then we complemented it by my introducing my wife to one of my favorite martial arts movies, Chocolate, and eating some nice, light sushi to cleanse the palate. Overall, it was great, no hassle, no frustration, no time limits, and everybody, including the baby, had a good time. From now on, it's date night at home until we get some reliable babysitting.