|Remember this? I do...and I miss it!|
It seems as though just about every relationship guru out there, whether religious or secular, is always promoting the idea of a couple having regular date nights to make sure the relationship is progressing along nicely. I can tell you that while I wholeheartedly applaud the idea and believe in it in a theoretical way, in practice it has become quite hit or miss for us. I guess that isn't surprising when you take into account our circumstances: three small children with the small budget to match and not a lot of free time. Going out for dinner and a movie every weekend is plain out of the question; going ANYWHERE is difficult because it takes some arranging with someone to come and watch the kids. So that pretty much leaves at home dates after the kids are in bed, and that usually boils down to watching a movie. Strike that...it usually boils down to something like this:
The Scene: our apartment, Friday or Saturday night, 7 PM.
Jenny: (closing the door of the kids' room behind her) Well, the kids are in bed...
Ruby: LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN JUST A CRACK PLEASE MOM!
Max: (inarticulate noises in agreement)
Jenny acquiesces to the door request, then flops down on the couch--a fatal mistake.
Jenny: Okay, so, they are in bed. Do you want to do something fun?
Allen: (looking at NBA.com on the computer) Like what?
Jenny: I don't know. I guess we could watch a movie...of course, the library is already closed, so we'd have to pay to rent one.
Allen: Well, Redbox is only $1.29; let's see what they have. (They commence to check the selection online.) What are you in the mood to watch?
Jenny: Nothing sad.
Allen: Okay, so no dramas. What about action?
Jenny: Um, maybe, I guess it depends.
Allen: How about this one [insert action title here]?
Jenny: mmmm, no.
(This goes on for several minutes)
Allen: (somewhat frustrated) Okay, so obviously action is out. What about comedy?
Jenny: Maybe there will be something good.
But there is nothing good. Or if there is, it is available in Blu-Ray only, which rules it out.
Jenny: There's never anything good on Redbox!
Allen: Never anything YOU like, you mean.
Jenny: Well, there are some things I like, but you wouldn't like them. I wanted to watch [insert historical drama or period piece here], remember? But you didn't want to.
Allen: But you just said no dramas!
Jenny: No, I said nothing sad. Not all dramas are sad.
Allen: So do you want to watch that [historical drama or period piece]?
Jenny: (pause, considering) Not tonight. Actually, I'm kind of tired. It's too late to be starting a movie anyway, even if there was anything good.
Allen: (incredulous and annoyed) It's just after 7 pm; it's not late.
Jenny: Yeah, but by the time we pick something to watch and go get it and stuff it will be late.
Allen: We live like two minutes away from a Redbox. And the Redbox also happens to be located outside the place which sells my favorite sized can of cold, refreshing Mountain Dew.
Jenny: You can go get it if you want.
Allen: Maybe later. We could watch Jon Stewart. Haven't seen that in a while.
Jenny: Meh, yeah, I guess. (long pause) I think I just want to go to bed, actually. Going to bed by 7:30 PM sounds pretty awesome.
Allen: (sighing) Okay, whatever.
Let me tell you, my friends, this is how our at home dates have gone more often than not...good intentions but one or both of us having a complete lack of motivation to do much of anything about it. But I don't want to be relegated to a dateless existence for the next several years, either. Something has to change about the way that we are pursuing our at home cheap-as-free date nights. But what? And how?
Then, the other day, I was inspired. I really can't even remember what put the thought into my head, but the phrase, "Around the World in 80 Days" came to mind, and then the idea to change that to "80 Dates." Yes, that would be it! I would create a long series of themed at-home date nights of an international theme. As a kid, I absolutely loved "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" I loved the computer game (and its spinoffs, such as "Where in Time...", "Where in the USA...", and most challenging of all, "Where in America's past..."). I will have you know that I did catch Carmen Sandiego on the "Where in the World" game and it was a victorious moment. I also loved the TV quiz show and secretly longed to be a contestant on it. I attribute any success I've ever had with geography and memorization of countries and capitals to that game, and wish that it were still around for my students (the Facebook version was, alas, a total disappointment to me). So, why not incorporate a little bit of learning and quizzing to the date nights, too? Leaving Allen clues during the week about what country we would be celebrating that weekend seemed like a fun way to get us excited about date night (and also keep me accountable so I wouldn't pull the "ready for bed at 7:30" stunt so much).
My goals for this challenge:
1. Try to keep the dates cheap (less than $10) or free. Exception to the rule: if the groceries needed for a meal I'm preparing are going to feed the family, that does not have to fall under the $10 rule.
2. Do not always just do dinner and a movie from or about the country of the week; branch out with other ideas so this doesn't become a rut.
3. Learn something new about the country.
4. Find out if there are any people or people groups in the country needing prayer for a specific cause and pray for them.
5. Involve the kids to some extent.
Last Friday night was our first international date. I did not have all week to ready myself, since I came up with the idea on Thursday and wanted to put it into action right away, but I still found some clues thanks to a few quick internet searches and texted them to Allen on his breaks. Our first country was China.
I texted Allen some non-dead-giveaway clues (this country has the third largest area of any country in the world; this country is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world) and bundled Max and Ben into the car to go to the library to get some books on Chinese calligraphy and a couple of movies. One was a documentary about China and the other was Mulan (Allen's a Disney fan, after all). I found a yummy looking recipe on Allrecipes.com for Kung Pao chicken and got the ingredients for it which I lacked. I also spent some time reading up at Voice of the Martyrs and PrisonerAlert.com about what it is like to be a Christian in China and getting some ideas for intercessory prayer requests.
$25 in grocery money (had to restock on some staples like sesame oil and cooking wine but since we were eating the meal as a family I don't count this as an expense.)
How it went:
Well, not organized enough...I was just getting home from the grocery store when Allen was getting home; the kids were hungry and dinner was nowhere near ready. But after I got dinner fixed it was a success. The recipe turned out to be a little too spicy for the kids' tastebuds but Allen and I liked it a lot. We prayed as a family for people in China, especially those who are in jail for their faith, and I made a mental note to find or make some kind of world map placemats or something for the kids so they can begin to see where the places are that we are talking about.
Then there was a pause in the date night as Allen cleaned up the kitchen and I put the kids to bed. After they were in bed, we sat on the couch and I explained the options: we could use the calligraphy books I got and learn/practice making some Chinese characters (since I happened to have a jar of India ink left over from a cartooning class I took several years ago), or we could watch a movie. Allen was glad for the artistic option but as both of us were feeling pretty worn out and not necessarily up for the brainpower of reading the books and trying the character painting. So we decided to watch a movie...and yes, we went with Mulan (although the next morning Allen did watch the documentary with the kids). So sue us. It was fun and a throwback to our Disney-watching youth (plus, I was 15 when it came out and had never seen it in theaters and thus had only seen bits and pieces.)
Some of you may be thinking, "This date doesn't sound too romantic...sounds like something a modest LDS high schooler would do, not a young married couple." Hey, at least two people who read this blog (or used to, anyway) ARE modest and awesome LDS high schoolers, so bonus for them, free date night idea for when they turn 16 ;) And secondly, while there was nothing inherently romantic about the activities planned (besides the gentle rom-com nature of most Disney movies), it was a good friendship-rekindling date. I'm not going to lie, our friendship needs some rekindling. When you have three kids in three years, having all those young'ns can do a number on friendship. We are so busy managing the house, bringing up the babies, and doing our jobs that it makes for a very business-like arrangement: you do this, I'll do that. Mark Driscoll, in this sermon that I actually saw live during a weekend visit to Seattle, calls it a shoulder to shoulder relationship, and there needs to be time made for face to face time. The date achieved that purpose.
So, the inaugural date was a success. Where to next? Stay tuned...