Sweetie and I went for a date last week. As we sat at the Perkins restaurant and tried to decide what we’d order on our last-minute-hastily planned date, I realized that the quality of dates which I’ve taken Sweetie on have not exactly improved over the years.
In terms of dating excellence, my relationship with Sweetie would look at lot like one of those slides that they used to have in pools, the really, really steep slides with the really, really tall ladders. After beginning low, we shot up really high, and then rather steeply declined before dropping under water.
Our date was hastily-planned because we needed a break from the routine stresses of our lives.
Last Saturday, the date of the Hasty Date, was also the day that Mr F finally broke down the last of our crib defenses, a day Sweetie has been fearing for a long time. Our parenting of Mr F and Mr Bunches has largely tracked what the Germans did in anticipating of D-Day: Build up defense after defense and keep our eyes peeled for the breach. We didn’t know where it was coming from, but we knew it was coming, and last Saturday was D-Day.
The one refuge that we get from the Babies! and their sometimes/mostly impossibly energetic behavior is when they sleep, which they do only rarely and which they never do willingly. They fight sleep, fight it with every inch of their bodies. They will walk around, jump, kick their legs, pull hair, and slap themselves to try to stay awake, to keep up the constant motion that is their lives. They are kinetic Babies! who do not stand still, even in their sleep, and who have necessitated the build-up of defenses over three years, beginning with cribs, and moving on to fastening those cribs to walls, and then topping those cribs with mesh “Crib Tents” that were put in place to keep the Babies! from jumping right out of their crib, as Mr Bunches did before we had the tents.
Faced with those seemingly insurmountable barriers, the Babies! redoubled their efforts to stay in motion and stay awake, beginning with constantly undressing. Put to bed in their shorts and t-shirts for a nap, it would take them only seconds after the door closed to disrobe. Sometimes we could hear the clothes hitting the floor as we shut them in, followed by giggling. If we didn’t go in and investigate, they would begin groaning as though in pain to get us to come in and check out the situation. So we fought back by putting sleepers on them, sleepers with zippers and snaps. They figured those out, too, at which point we put t-shirts on over the sleepers, bundling the Babies! up like Eskimos even though it was July, and forcing us to run the air conditioner to combat the layers of clothes we had piled on them to keep them dressed.
It was no use, though, because they figured out how to slither out of those outfits, too, and, having become bored with escaping their clothing, the Naked Houdinis turned to defeating the Crib Tents. They first achieved that goal by simply ripping the nylon mesh. I don’t know how they did that, since I tried and was unable to tear it myself, under any circumstances, but they did, and we went in one day to find that they’d torn holes in the Crib Tents and climbed out.
Sweetie sewed up the holes, and that fix lasted a week or so until the Babies! discovered that they could squeeze out the ends of the tents. The Crib Tents are fixed to the sides of the crib by a Velcro strap that doesn’t entirely cover the crib edge, and it’s possible to slide between that strap and the wall of the crib and then force one’s way outside of the crib tent, although one would have be two-dimensional for part of that trip to make it work.
I found out they could do that, get out that way, when I went in one night to check on them and found Mr Bunches (naked, of course) pinned between the edge of the crib and Velcro strap, chin up, eyes focused, and trying to edge his way up and out to freedom.
I dressed him, put him back and fastened the tents to the end of the crib with the only thing I had at hand: spare cords from the old DVD player we used to have in their room. We’d thrown out the now-broken DVD player but had kept the cords, for some reason, and so I used them to tie the ends of the crib tents tighter to the edge of the crib.
They fought back, as they always do, first by Mr F’s show of brute strength: last Friday afternoon, Mr F simply broke off the entire end of his crib.
I’m not joking in any sense about that. Middle had gone in to check on them and come out and told me that Mr F’s crib was broken. This was the second time he’d broken it, but the first time was just a crack in one bar, so I thought nothing much of it as I headed upstairs to check it out. I was confronted with the entire end of the crib, pushed off and broken in half and hanging on to the crib by a thin metal attachment. The crib was rickety and barely standing and the end hung raggedly in space, and inside it, Mr F slept soundly. He hadn’t even tried to escape; he’d broken his crib in two just to show us he could do it.
After an emergency trip to Wal-Mart for a new crib (and a Butterfinger candy bar, but that was more of an impulse purchase) Mr F was securely locked into a more-solid, newer crib that we thought would stand a chance of lasting until the end of the week, maybe, given some luck.
That led to Saturday, when we were watching TV and heard some mysterious crashing and snapping sounds from upstairs. I was dispatched to investigate and found Mr F in the midst of a collapsed crib tent, the entire mesh affair in shambles around him, and him smiling.
In the midst of a lecture that he paid no attention to at all, I reassembled the crib tent and was about to leave when he attacked again. As I watched… as I watched… he jumped up and grabbed the bar of the crib tent at its highest point, and then fell, holding onto the bar, fell like deadweight, pulling the crib tent back down around him only seconds after I’d repaired it.
I thought about reassembling the tent, but decided it was too dangerous at this point. I didn’t want him to break a bar and poke his eye, or break his neck trying that trick a third time. So I took the crib tent down, and told him sternly to stay in his crib and go to sleep. He seemed not to hear me, but that’s probably because as I said it he was climbing out of his crib and heading for the door.
I put him back and told him again: ”Stay in bed,” and then picked him up and put him back again, as he’d climbed out while I said that. We did that for a while before I wisened up and put him to bed and quick left the room, smartly closing the door behind me.
I was three steps away when he opened the door and began to follow me.
I put him back again and then grabbed a gate, of the kind that we use to keep the Babies! out of the furnace room, and put that in his doorway. He stood there watching me, having gotten back out again. I put him in his bed again, closed the door and snapped the gate into place.
No sooner had I done that than Mr F opened the door and looked at the gate. Then he looked at me. Then he began climbing over the gate.
That’s when I gave up and announced to Sweetie that he was just not going to nap that day, and that’s what led to a stressful afternoon of us debating what to do.
Sweetie took the stance that we should do something.
I took the stance of what is it that you want me to do?
Sweetie then took the stance of we need them to stay in bed.
I then switched to what is it that you want me to do.
Mr F then toddled through the room and hugged Sweetie.
We tried debating some more, with Sweetie also pointing out that I was not taking things very seriously and me pointing out that Sweetie was taking things very seriously, and both of us strongly implying that the other was not correct in his/her viewpoint, at which point Sweetie summed up her side of the argument with: we should do something. I hung strong with what do you want me to do, and that settled things, except that nothing was settled.
Eventually we hit on a strategy of “Let’s see if we can’t get Mr F to stay in his bed when he sleeps,” with a side of And Daddy will be the one to monitor him staying in bed each night until he falls asleep since it was Daddy’s idea to take down the crib tent, and an implied And since Daddy doesn’t seem to take this seriously, that serves him right. We also decided that later that night, we would go out and get a cup of coffee or a dessert or something to spend some time together, time that did not involve Mr F occasionally meandering through us with a tired look on his face, and time that did not involve the weighty questions of what should we do and who’s not taking this seriously.
Then, Sweetie abruptly moved our date up to dinner, instead of sometime after dinner, which is how we ended up at Perkins, a little wary because of the near-quarrel of the afternoon and a lot tired because Mr F, frankly, had exhausted us.
That was our date. I’d like to say it was more romantic or elaborate than that, but it wasn’t, really. I ordered a burger, Sweetie ordered a salad, and we split a plate of appetizers, and then we drove a little and talked and then we went home. I think we also might have dropped off some library books, too, but I can’t be sure. I might have decided that “running errands” wasn’t a good mix with “romantic burger” and opted to leave the books at home.
During our date, we talked about the kids and about movies we’d seen and about how crazy my family is – all our usual topics of conversation – and we managed to each stick to the appetizers that we each like, and during our drive we talked about those things, too, and that was about it.
I’d like to say that our dates weren’t, or aren’t, always like that, except that during the time I’ve known Sweetie, as I said, the dates mostly were exactly like that.
Probably the best date I’ve ever taken Sweetie on was our wedding, and I count that as a date because getting married is the ultimate date. A date, after all, is a romantic night out when you’re supposed to get dressed up and have dinner and do something romantic and then show your date off to your friends, and that’s a wedding in a nutshell. The groom picks up the bride (at the altar), they go for a short ride and eat a dinner that neither is much interested in while making small talk, then some dancing and socializing and then on home.
Our wedding was, by my standards at least, a very successful date in that I didn’t do anything to screw it up, at all. On most dates, I manage to do something or other to mess things up. I may, as I did last Saturday, put on a nice shirt for a change so that Sweetie can enjoy seeing me in something other than my Green Lantern t-shirt, but if I do, on my date, wear a nice shirt, I am guaranteed to also, as I did, spill ranch dip on it more or less the very minute the appetizers arrive.
Or I might mess up a date in a worse manner, like I did on our first “romantic date” ever, when I had Sweetie to my apartment for dinner.
Up until the Apartment Dinner, Sweetie and I had gone on dates mainly after work, leaving from the law firm where we both worked when we met and heading someplace that was inexpensive enough for a law student who earned $10 an hour to be able to buy something for his date and still have gas money to get his Ford Festiva back to Madison, 48 miles away. That meant that most of our dates were to the coffee shop in Baraboo, where I would get a coffee and Sweetie would get a soda and we would sit and talk and sometimes play a game of chess before she walked me back to my car and I headed home and she headed home.
But for the Apartment Dinner, I invited Sweetie to drive down for a night of romance, “romance” being a rented video (
“Romance” didn’t include, as it should have, a corkscrew, something I didn’t realize should have been included until I tried to open the wine after Sweetie was there, only to realize that I had no way to the cork out of the bottle. Having spent nearly $5 on the bottle of wine, and knowing that “romance” in my case depended heavily on Sweetie being at least drunk enough to not notice when I spilled spaghetti sauce all over my shirt, I tried to pry open the wine bottle with the only thing I could find handy, a sharp kitchen knife. I tried to poke the knife in and twist the cap back and forth and back and fo
rth, but that didn’t help get it out and in fact forced it into the bottle a little more.
Then I thought: What if I just push the cork into the bottle, instead? I could then pour the wine around it. So I used a wooden spoon handle to try to do that (while Sweetie sat politely on my old green couch in the other room) but that just jammed the cork further in and I couldn’t dislodge it anymore.
I then hit on Plan C, which was to use the original sharp knife to slice into the cork, little by little, in hopes of cutting enough out that I could then pry the cork back up o
ut of the bottle. That worked, but not the way I intended it to: Instead of cutting out a bit of cork and pulling the cork out, I cut out a bit of cork, and then a bit more, and then a bit more, and then the remainder of the cork disintegrated and the entire cork, now in very small pieces, fell into the wine.
I stared at that and wondered what to do now. Could I strain the wine and pour it back in? That seemed unlikely, as I didn’t have a strainer. I thought about using the coffee pot – pour the wine in, hit brew, and then have the wine burble up into the pot and through the filter. But wouldn’t that make it hot, and take time? I thought it might, and time is rarely on my side in dating, s
o I opted for the direct route. I prepared a plate of spaghetti and poured the wine into the two nice glasses that I (improbably) owned, and took them all out to Sweetie for us to eat off of my coffee table.
“Dinner is served,” I told her, and held up her glass. “Just try to spit out the cork parts,” I explained in what I hoped was a casual manner, as if to say that’s how cool people drink wine, anyway.
Our relationship survived that and continued, and survived, too, the next time I tried to cook dinner for her – the Sage Taco night, when I offered to make us tacos and she (unwisely) took me up on that. I was 98% done with dinner when I thought I should maybe spice things up a little. The only spice I had was “sage,” and so I took the jar of sage and prepared to put just a smidge onto the
ground beef to make this a fancy taco dinner, but the lid fell off, dumping an entire canister of sage onto the meat and turning the meat green, and making the entire apartment smell vaguely like Oklahoma. Or at least how I imagine
Sweetie lived through that and kept dating me, for some reason, and lived through a variety of other disastrous dates – like the one where I got pulled over for speeding
on the way to a family reunion and found out that I didn’t have a driver’s license due to identity theft, and like the one where I took her to play golf with my dad while she had a kidney stone (she won) and the trip to Great America where a semi-truck nearly ran us over and I almost got arrested for arguing with the police officer about whose fault it was (I felt I had the right to be angry, having nearly been driven over by a truck, a truck that was still parked nearly on top of our car while an officer questioned me about whether I’d accidentally driven under the truck instead of it driving over us) and through it all, Sweetie has kept her chin up and put up with everything life throws at her – while I’ve paid her back with corky wine and salads at Perkins.
It’s not as though I’ve not taken her on good dates – there was our wedding, of course, and the honeymoon, and also I took her to
ht from one of those mall candy shops.
And I should take her on more dates, and better dates. That was the other message I gathered, as we sat and ordered our dinners last Saturday. The haste with which she’d planned it made me realize that maybe Sweetie needs a little more romance in her life, something to offset t
he constant battle that the Babies! present, to help ease the stress of having to keep up with not only twin 3-year-olds but also to monitor the activities of The Boy and Middle, and even Oldest, who’s been coming around a lot lately, so much so that I suspected maybe she got evicted from her house (she assured me she didn’t, but I’m not certain, because she’s been over nearly every day this week). I decided, sitting there last Saturday, that not only does Sweetie need better dates than simply a drive and a salad, but she needs dates period.
It’s not just that she needs them. She deserves them, deserves a nice date. Anyone who on a daily basis can deal with the mountain of diapers and half-eaten bananas and football practices and phone calls about changing work schedules and insistence that only a certain kind of lunch meat be purchased, and can deal with that while doing all the laundry and all the grocery shopping and all the cooking (although, can you blame her?) and can do that with a constant background noise of teenagers playing their music while Babies! watch Little Einsteins for the 54th time that day, and can at the same time act interested when her husband, who is supposed to be earning a living, calls her and mentions that he just found out that, in the comics, Batman died, anyone who can do all that and not simply move out and leave us all fending for ourselves, deserves to be treated to a little romance now and then, a night out on the town, dressed up and eating fancy foods that she didn’t make, eating dinner without having her sleeve pulled on and without having to hear about whose turn it is to take out the garbage. Anyone who puts up with what Sweetie puts up with ought to have a night away from all of that, a night of enchantment and romance and fun.
But, since she’s married to me, she’s going to end up with Sage Tacos and Cork Wine.