Some of our fellow mommies and daddies are super enthusiastic about Date Night. Date Night: you know, that modern concept wherein parents take short breaks from their kids to focus on each other and rekindle the flame of marriage.
My husband Beau and I have been parents for five and a half years now, and we’ve never been big on Date Night. Some of our friends have been sure we should be, stopping just short of kidnapping our children so insistent have they been that Date Night was essential to saving our marriage.
We, in the meantime, didn’t know our marriage was lost. In fact, after waiting seven years after our wedding to have kids, we felt like our marriage was finally found. Our kids have never felt like invaders on our relationship; instead, when they came along, they felt like the puzzle piece that had finally been found and fitted in.
So for years he and I have politely ignored the barrage on Date Night. At some point I told Beau that if Date Night was something he desired, he needed to communicate that to me and make arrangements for it… because it was not something I was longing for. I’m a low-maintenance gal. He’s a low-maintenance guy. And we’ve always made do with movies and chocolate on the couch after the kids’ bedtime as a means of reconnecting. Saves money. Saves dressing up.
Secretly, though, I worried that I was weird because I wasn’t longing for Date Night. Was I a controlling mom? An inconsiderate wife? (In fact, what I’ve always craved way more than Date Night is a quiet house all to myself. After some experimental years, I’ve discovered the best way to achieve a quiet house is to stay up into the wee hours of the morning while my family sleeps. What is wrong with me?)
The good news is this: time has granted me a little wisdom on the subject, and I’d like to announce that I’ve had another psychiatric breakthrough. I can happily report that I am just fine; I am, in fact, a completely normal… cow. Here’s what I know:
The real issue is that I have no desire to leave my babies with a babysitter; in fact, my instincts strongly fight the notion. (I mother mostly on instinct, having learned a lot of what I know about mothering from observing cows. And everyone knows you just don’t get between a cow and her calf.) So I continue to believe that my babies — probably up to 18 months — are best off with Mama and Daddy.
But as the kids are growing, things are changing. I now feel very comfortable letting my 3-year-old and 5-year-old spend the occasional night at Grandma’s house. I find it’s good for them and good for us to have a break from them.
In the end — as with most issues in life — it makes more sense if you look at it through the eyes of a cow. Cows have much shorter life spans than humans do. Haven’t you heard that you can compare a yearling heifer or bull to a hormonal human teenager? Accordingly:
Cow behavior: A good cow is very protective of her newborn calf. In fact, if you give her the chance, she’ll likely go off someplace to hide when it’s time to deliver. And she’ll leave her calf sleeping in a safe place for a few days afterward, even if she emerges from the hiding place for water and feed.
My psychological breakthrough: See? I’m totally normal, especially if we consider a human to be “newborn” up to 18 months of age. No wonder I don’t want you touching my baby.
Cow behavior: Cows will start leaving their calves in “babysitter groups” for an hour or two, as they go off to graze or water, when the calves are as young as a week old. This behavior will continue as the calf grows toward weaning time.
My psychological breakthrough: One-week-old calves must be comparable to 18-month-old humans. This means I will feel comfortable leaving my baby with a sitter for an hour or two when she’s 18 months old. I’ll tell my husband so he can start planning our hot date.
Cow behavior: Accordingly, I would estimate that an eight-month-old calf is comparable to a three-year-old kid. Most calves are weaned at about eight months because they’re at a good age to survive on their own. And a cow never spends a night without her calf, unless something is terribly wrong, until he’s weaned. She misses her calf for a few days… then she starts getting ready for her next one.
My psychological breakthrough: See? I’m right on schedule emotionally when I feel comfortable sending my three- and five-year-old to Grandma’s house. The kids grow a little during our time apart, my husband and I get a break, and I have other things to focus on anyway — like the baby.
I predict that as our kids get older I’ll desire Date Night more. For one thing, they won’t be newborn calves, so I’ll be totally cool with leaving them behind. For another, I never had the need to be away from my big kids until they started talking. (People, that’s when parenthood really gets hard: when they start talking.)
In that interest, my husband and I and the baby recently spent a night at home, alone, without the big kids. It was a date in and of itself. I took the big kids to Grandma’s house to stay last Thursday. While I was gone delivering kids, my husband finally had the free time to set up our new grill, and when I returned home he grilled steak for us. Then we settled on the living room floor and ordered The Martian off of Pay-Per-View. I tell ya, it is a real treat to watch an adult show on our television anytime before 10:30 p.m. (We wouldn’t have let the big kids watch, of course, but figured the baby wouldn’t absorb too much.) As we watched, the baby played around our legs until she tuckered out. Then I rocked her as we watched and put her down and we finished our movie.
The next morning, the three of us woke to blissful quiet. There was no talkative five-year-old jockeying for airtime. There was no crabby three-year-old demanding a chocolate chip granola bar and a cup of coffee (not a joke). There was just the baby, the softly babbling baby. Things were flowing so smoothly that the baby and I even went along with Beau to feed cows. We were all out the door by 7 a.m.! That is, like, unheard of when the whole family’s here. Taking a step back from the big kids helped me to realize how much more each additional child complicates the daily routine. (Going with Daddy to feed cows is almost not worth the effort with all three kids jammed into the cab of the pickup. First, getting them into the pickup is like herding cats uphill. Then there are the dropped mittens and water bottles to run inside and retrieve before we go. Once everyone’s loaded, there’s a lot of elbow-jabbing and eye-poking, complaining over who gets to sit on the console of the feed truck, constant requests to remove one’s outerwear, constant worries over snack time… and, well, I love them but they kind of take the fun out of it.)
But the baby was a wonderful third wheel as we helped Daddy feed. She didn’t talk; in fact, she slept part of the time. As we loaded the cake wagon with feed and bumped it out to the pasture, my husband and I had ample opportunity to blow the dust off of the complex topics we can’t address when the big kids are present and are too tired to talk about after bedtime. It was a beautiful early spring morning. The cows, shiny black in the early morning sunlight, chewed their cud and looked on with curiosity. And they and I treasured our special (until now, secret) kinship.
Not that you and I have been arguing, but I guess my main argument is this: I’m not weird for not wanting to ditch my baby for Date Night. I’m just responding to the simple science of nature. My cow friends tell me I am totally normal. (They also tell me it’s okay to charge and head-butt anyone who makes me mad, but I’ve decided to draw some sort of line between human and animal behavior.) To summarize: If Date Night is your thing, you just go for it. Do what you need to do to stay alive and keep loving your kids. Follow your own instincts. You don’t have to be a cow like me. You just be any animal you want to be.
© Tami Blake