So last night, Friday night, I’d arranged an impromptu date night with my husband.
We hadn’t had a date in quite a while. Kids, in-laws, and household projects all seem to take priority lately. But last night, I saw a little window for us to get out for dinner, just to catch up and gaze lovingly at one another.
The sitter arrived. Mike checked some local restaurants online and picked a quaint little French cafe called Jacky’s on Prairie here in Evanston. I wore a pretty scarf he’d given me for Christmas. He even wore a sport coat.
We valet parked, making the evening feel exceptionally special, and toasted the arrival of spring, which definitely felt “in the air.” .
Our dinner was delicious. Our waiter was friendly, attentive, funny. Even after we declined dessert, he brought us a tiny sample of the restaurant’s signature profiteroles.
During those delightful little bites, though, I asked some dumb questions — which I often do — about finances. Are you, Dear Reader, feeling your skin crawl yet? Or asking WHY I’d mar a perfectly good date night with such a “flash point” topic? Well, even if you’re not wondering, Mike was.
“Let’s save this conversation for another time, okay?”
But I was insistent on hearing my husband’s opinions on everything from refinancing our home as well as a renovation project we’re considering. In my mind, we finally had peace and quiet and a distraction-free space to talk face-to-face about these matters. In his mind, this was not “date night” conversation. But as I often do, I kept going, and going. The more I pushed on talking about these topics, the more cornered he felt. The more he shut down, the more insistent I became. We sat at this lovely table with our napkins on our laps, keeping our voices low but our hearts racing, trying to navigate our very strong opinions in a civil way. I tried to change the topic by asking which car he’d take tomorrow for our son’s ski club carpool. Oooo….another bad choice.
“I’ll need to take the minivan,” he said. Not only does he dread the fact we have a minivan (what man doesn’t?), but now he had to DRIVE it since his car couldn’t hold five kids and their ski gear.
“Oh,” I said. “I wish I would have known that.” In my mind, my statement meant, Had I known you’d be driving the van, I would have cleaned the car out for you and filled it up with gas, since it’s on empty. Mike’s ears heard, You louse, once again you didn’t communicate effectively and messed everything up yet again.
The waiters and busboys circled like nervous pigeons, ducking in to pour more water or clear our dessert plates. Our thank you’s to them, which had earlier been effusive, had now become short and void of eye contact. The beautiful relationship we’d shared with our waiter now felt like a summer-before-college “fling” that just needed to end.
My husband and I, both headstrong first-born children, watched our perfect date night implode before our eyes. He’s a rational, intelligent attorney, a highly capable professional in the areas of debate and semantics. I bring creative, emotional balance (ha) to the relationship, sometimes almost always tipping the scale too far. We’ve been married almost 19 years, every one of them filled with the joys and challenges married couples face. I feel blessed to be his wife…but I sure didn’t act like it last night.
We left the restaurant and waited together, out in the cold, for the valet to bring our car. Our ride home was silent. I’d ruined date night. I’d pushed too hard, and whether I wanted to admit it or not, we both knew it. We went to sleep disappointed that the night hadn’t ended as perfectly as it started.
Then, for some reason, I woke up this morning at 6:00 a.m. — unusually early for me on a Saturday. I reached my foot over to Mike’s side of the bed, assuming I’d find nothing, since he’d have left already to drive the ski-trip carpool. All I felt were empty covers, so I snuggled back down and thought more about last night. When he gets home, I’ve got to apologize for ruining date night, I thought. I pushed too hard.
But then, I heard heavy breathing.
Please oh please let that be the dog and not Mike, I thought.
I reached my foot over further toward Mike’s side of the bed, and felt a leg. It was hairy, but not canine hairy.
“MIKE!” I bolted up. “It’s 6:01!”
“WHAT?” he said. I knew Mike was planning to be at the first carpool pickup at 6:10, and the second house at 6:15. The bus stop for the ski trip was in Highland Park, about 30 minutes away, and was scheduled to leave promptly at 7:00.
This is all my fault, I thought. We went to bed frustrated with each other, and neither one of us remembered to set our alarms.
“My alarm didn’t go off!” he said, throwing clothes on, trying to gain his bearings.
Yup, definitely my fault. I should have checked to make sure the alarms were set. Kids are waiting in front of their houses in the cold right now, and they’ll be picked up late, all because I insisted on talking about fixed rate mortgages and laundry chutes.
The flurry that ensued was epic. I shocked Henry into consciousness then ran downstairs to Google the exact location of the bus stop Mike had to drive to in Highland Park. The ski club’s website was down (of course!) so I had no idea where to tell Mike to drop off his crew of excited skiers for their last trip of the season. I didn’t have time to make a lunch for Henry, so I rummaged through my purse for cash to throw at him. Nothing.
“Mike, do you have cash?” I asked.
He gave me the look he always gives me when I ask that question, the look that says, Well now, you KNOW I don’t have cash because I never carry cash. “We’ll just have to stop for cash.”
“But, Dad,” Henry said, clenching his unbrushed teeth, “we don’t have TIME!”
Mike and Henry ran around, gathering coats and snowboard equipment and bus tickets (which, naturally, did not include the bus stop address). I made a haphazard egg and cheese sandwich for Henry, wrapped it in tinfoil, and shoved it in his backpack. Then I remembered my van needed to be emptied out for our passengers.
“Mike, I’ll go out and unload my car,” I said, reaching for my coat to throw over my pajamas. The van was was filled with boxes from the Girl Scout meeting I ran the day before, plus all the other accumulated detritus from a week’s worth of carpooling and errands. I’m creative, emotional, and, oh yes, quite messy.
“I’ll get the stuff out of the car,” Mike huffed, throwing a hat on his head and stomping outside. What his body language said to me was, For God’s sake, WHY do you always have so much CRAP in your car?
Somehow, miraculously, the boys took off only 10 minutes later than scheduled, and raced to two kids’ houses for pickups en route to the bus stop. I called the friend living furthest away and let her dad know the carpool, though running late, was definitely on its way. “Oh, Brian,” I said to the girl’s father, trying to sound nonchalant, “by chance, do you recall where the bus stop is in Highland Park?”
“Uh, no…?” Brian said, his voice trailing off. My mind filled in the rest of his sentence: …but I’ve gotta say, Christine, I’m sending my daughter at six in the morning with you guys and I’d hoped you’d at least know where to take her since YOU’RE driving the carpool…
“No to worry,” I insisted. “We’ll figure it out.” Then, with my toes curling as the words came out of my mouth, I said the unthinkable., “Oh, and Brian, um, is there any chance you could, uh, just — gulp — lend Henry some lunch money today?”
“Will twenty be okay?” Brian said without missing a beat.
“Oh thank you thank you thank you, I just didn’t have any cash and we woke up late and I didn’t have time to make him a lunch and –”
“Not a problem.”
[Later, Brian tells me that when my husband pulled up to his house, disheveled and bleary, he was ready for Mike’s questions: “Hey, Brian, do you happen to know where –” “Yup, Mike, we’re working on it. The website’s down, but we’ll call you with the info.” “Oh, and do you think Henry can — ” “Already covered…Hannah’s got a $20 in her backpack for Henry.”]
Once Mike had all the kids gathered in the van, he stopped just long enough to add four gallons of gas to my empty tank. By then, I’d successfully accessed the ski club website and gotten directions to where the busses were waiting. I called Mike and gave him the information.
They made it to the bus just in time. Mike waited in the parking lot until the kids pulled away for a carefree day of skiing and snowboarding.
Thirty minutes later, I heard the front door open as Mike walked back into the house. I stood up and met him in the kitchen.
We looked at each other and laughed out loud. And hugged. And apologized.
“I’m sorry I pushed so hard last night,” I said. I meant it.
“And I’ll try to communicate more,” he said. I can tell he meant it, too.
We both shook our heads, laughed at the insanity of the morning, and poured our coffee.
Now I remember why I never schedule date nights…