I often think of that commercial from a few years ago that featured a couple at the kitchen table with their small kids. Everyone's eating breakfast and the mom passes a card across the table to the dad, smiling.
He opens and reads it, and looks up with a twinkle in his eye. They smile flirtatiously at each other, and as the dad reaches for the mom's hand seductively, a handful of flying cheerios, thrown by a toddler, hits him square in the face. Game over.
I laughed like crazy the first time I saw it because it rang so true. To me, that scenario sums up the struggle of remaining "a couple" while parenting. It's tricky. It's funny. It's annoying. And it often involves flying breakfast cereal. But it is possible.
If finding time to get away together is difficult, or cost-prohibitive (real talk: getting a babysitter for three kids for the night almost kills our date budget before we even leave the house), I have an idea for you. But first, a quick story.
My best childhood friend was one of eight kids. When we were young most of them were still living at home in her parent's house. I had only one younger brother at home, and I found life at her place endlessly fascinating and fun. I slept over as often as I could.
Her parents were wonderful, kind, and incredibly good-natured about feeding extra kids, considering they were in the midst of raising eight of their own. And man, her mom could cook. I loved being called down to dinner at their house and jockeying for a spot at the huge wooden table because I knew whatever it was would be delicious.
One sleepover night, after we'd been sent upstairs to bed (i.e.: talk and giggle in my friend's bedroom until the wee hours), I wandered down to the kitchen to get a drink of water. I pushed open the swinging door and was surprised to find my bestie's mom and dad sitting at the table alone, glasses of wine in hand and a candle lit between them, having a lovely dinner for two.
"Hey!" said her dad in his heavy Queens accent. "We're just having a little late dinner. You gotta keep the romance alive, kid!"
I got my water and scooted back up the stairs, a little embarrassed to have interrupted. But I never forgot that moment. I think about it a lot, now that my husband and I are in the trenches raising three young kids of our own. That story, I believe, tells exactly how you keep your couplehood while parenting: By making a little time, and maybe a little something tasty, for each other.
So let's hear it for dinner dates at home. Here are five ideas to get you started.
Set the table for two after everyone's asleep, order your favorite dish from your favorite spot, and share. Bonus if you get it delivered. And don't forget the candle!
If you're feeling energetic and have a little time (it could happen!) make something delicious. Bonus if you get to cook together, and/or try something new. Don't worry if it doesn't turn out perfect, it's the time alone together that counts the most. Here are 16 great mini-menus to inspire you.
If you're feeling exhausted and have no time to cook (that sounds more like it) make a couple of sandwiches. This option is great because, like take-out, it can be pretty much completely spontaneous. Go super casual and make grilled cheeses, or pick up a few things at the store ahead of time and you can try one of these bad boys.
Put them on plates, with chips. Use cloth napkins, and crack open a bottle of wine, or something tasty and non-alcoholic.
Remember when you wished you could do this as a kid? Well now you're adults, and you can do whatever you want. You could pick up some dreamy chocolate cake from your local bakery and hide it from the kids. Maybe make some killer ice cream sundaes, like these.
Or make this boss ice cream pie I invented using chocolate graham crackers, caramel gelato, and Fluff.
Now turn off the tv, put down the phones, put on some music, and enjoy the lack of flying cheerios. Couple status, restored.
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