I wrote this a while ago but could never find a home for it. It lives here now. Hope you enjoy.
A year ago our parenting method could have been called, “How to be The Giving Tree.” It wasn’t for the squeamish and we were concerned it might eventually land our marriage in therapy.
Our sons are charismatic and wonderful now, but as babies, one was colicky, the other had severe eczema and both were sweatshops of fuss. Even at one and three, they rarely played by themselves or slept through the night.
Despite our babysitter’s proficiency, we avoided letting her do any of the hard stuff like bedtime and night terror negotiations. The price of our parental narcissism was a nearly dateless marriage.
We needed some time alone, but since relinquishing control of the night time ritual was too frightening, we went out to dinner at the comical hour of 4:45pm. Around the time people in Spain start thinking about lunch, we were fighting early rush hour traffic en route to Legal Seafood at the mall. Thankfully it has a separate entrance so we didn’t feel like a tween couple eating in the food court before a 6:05 showing of Twilight.
A restaurant may officially open at 4:30 but unless it’s connected to a casino or hospital, it’s rarely ready for customers until at least 5:15. When we arrived, the staff was in various states of preparation: waitresses were eating; the janitor was vacuuming; the bartender was assessing his vodka supplies and the hostess was texting on her phone. My wife asked, “You’re open, right?” Her nametag read Madison, “Umm, yea, sure, I guess.”
Not the type of romantic start we’d envisioned. As we walked to our table I pretended to have a coughing fit that made it difficult to steer my walker. Lindsay shushed and laughed. I imagined by our third visit the hostesses would come to expect us like they might a near-death couple on scheduled furlough from the nursing home.
None of this bothered us. We were out, sans children, and even if it was only for a couple hours, we were determined to enjoy it. It was more than that, really — we were excited. Sure, the symphony of other tables’ laughter and arrhythmic clinking of glasses is better ambiance than a vacuum cleaner, but we were alone. That was the whole idea, right?
Rich people rent out entire restaurants to impress their dates in movies. Here we were simply arriving early enough to experience the same bliss, like Jake Ryan and Samantha Baker in an extended ending to Sixteen Candles. Of course, we’re significantly older (as evidenced by my reference to a 27 year-old movie), but I haven’t really kept up with romantic comedies over the past two decades.
Lindsay chose a nice booth in the middle of the room, but then changed her mind, moving us to a different one that was “less central and closer to the windows.” We moved once more to a table without a “wobbly top.” She was crumbling under the combined weight of excitement and too many choices. But I learned years ago to stay out of these decisions due to not understanding how they’re made.
After finding the one magical table, we sat and placed our iPhones face up; each of us poised to pounce on a text or call from the babysitter.
“Do you think everything’s OK? Is Arlo freaking out? I mean, I’m sure she’s just letting Silas watch Scooby Doo or something, but Arlo never goes very long without me. I mean what if he freaks out? Oh my God, my boobs are tingling. He’s probably hungry. Just tell me everything’s fine. Everything’s fine, right?
“Of course everything’s fine.”
It took us ten minutes to stop talking about the kids and ignore the echo of our voices in the barren dining room. A waitress, who was still putting her hair up, approached the table,
“Hi, welcome to Legal Seafood. What can I get you to drink this evening?” Lindsay’s eyes turned to pinwheels. She hadn’t considered the possibility of a drink drink. “Should I get a kamikaze, or just some white wine? How much alcohol really goes into breast milk?”
The waitress looked nervous, not knowing if she was expected to answer the question better suited for a lactation consultant.
“She’s a little excited to be out of the house and away from our kids.” I said.
“I have 4 kids at home.” She responded, forcing a smile.
“Maybe I should just have some sparkling water. No, I want a drink drink. I deserve it. I’ll have a cosmopolitan.”
Her announcement wasn’t met with the amount of enthusiasm she expected from our server.
“Bold choice” I said, filling in.
We opened the stiff picture book menu and gazed at it like Charlie entering the chocolate factory. For years we had eaten huddled over the sink while trying to find a version of the Bob the Builder song that would calm the incessant musical desires of our toddler. The idea of cooking a meal with pots and pans and other civilized instruments was laughable. We had sacrificed indulgences for the comfort of our kids, making Legal Seafood feel like a fantasy world.
We had to be careful. Our bodies were no longer accustomed to un-microwaved food. Lindsay was busy doing battle with all her options and eventually narrowed her choices to steamed lobster or stuffed lobster. I encouraged her to get it stuffed and ordered it steamed for myself - just in case. She got another cosmopolitan, and we both unsuccessfully fought our urges to fill up on warm biscuits.
We smiled and laughed and managed to forget about the kids for multiple seconds in a row. We even felt brave enough to mock ourselves for being so over-protective,
“Oh, we can’t leave our kids because they’re so precious and would completely fall apart without us, blah di blah blah. Look at Jason and Lindsay, letting their kids run their lives.”
Our lobsters arrived. She looked at hers, then at mine, and, as expected, we switched. The joy on her face when she excavated the entire tail was more than worth the price of her asking me the same questions over and over again due to mild drunkenness. Her mouth and cheeks were lightly greased in melted butter, and her teeth glistened when she laughed.
Before long, our table looked like a depot for spare crustacean parts. We weren’t alone anymore either, as the hum of the vacuum cleaner had been replaced by the sounds of people. By 6pm the restaurant was packed, but we were ready to leave.
Arriving home, it felt we’d been gone for a weekend. I remembered what my parents smelled like when they returned from a dinner party, and I wondered if we smelled the same. The kids ran to us for big hugs and we explained to them what lobster is.
We’ve since found a few other restaurants capable of taking us at such a ridiculously geriatric hour. Now that the kids are two and four, we sometimes even go a little bonkers and extend our reservation to 5:30. Hopefully it won’t be long until we’re able to go see a movie.