“When I look at him, I see the 17-year-old I met,” my 78-year-old mentor said to me once of her beloved, aged 77-and-a-half.
“That is the perfect love story,” I replied. Then I winced, thinking of my own husband, aged a few weeks shy of 42. I thought we had the perfect love story, but it felt like a while since I really looked at him at all.
When we met, I was 21 and he was 24. The first time I saw him I marveled at all of him, including his ears, which I thought were shaped exquisitely.
When I was a child, it felt like time passed by laboriously and I left for college exhilarated to be free of childhood. Then came my 20s: a blur of falling in love, a degree, a career, marriage, moving to the United States, homes, cars, and all sorts of delicious grown-uppy things I had longed for. And then.
Insert dramatic pause. When I was 29-and-a-half, a baby came into this world, and two parents were born. Before we knew it, the boy with the perfect ears and I found ourselves floating in a giant bubble with the tiny humans we miraculously produced.
Time is of no consequence in the bubble. Some days seem to go on forever, but our children grow at breathtaking speed and we realize that the years pass quickly. We lack rejuvenating sleep and are so weary, especially those months of the year when someone is always sick. As we work tirelessly on being thoughtful, present parents, we are often less than thoughtful and present with each other.
Ten years into running like unicorns on a treadmill there came a reprieve. The tiny humans are weaned, the diaper delivery subscription canceled, and night-wakings limited to nightmares or coughing. As we approached the 14th anniversary of our sacred union, we pondered the viability of getting away ― for an entire night ― from the precious beings we had so meticulously raised. Could we be so bold? The answer was, undeniably, yes.
On the evening of this brazen endeavor, the babysitter arrived at six, and we stepped out 14 minutes later. There is a marked difference between exiting the door for a “Date Night” and a date where you’re not returning for the night, the latter for which I have coined the term “Night Date.”
On a “Date Night” you constantly have your eye on the time, you return home to step on a Lego in the dark, and, if you close your bedroom door (should you not be mired with fatigue), there is the inevitability that your pint-sized offspring will run in screaming about being gobbled up by a giant cello. (Of course these are real-life examples, because you cannot make this stuff up.)
On this very first “Night Date,” I stood outside my house, looked perfect-ears in the eye and started to giggle, uncontrollably. I giggled all the way down Interstate 35, while checking into a hotel downtown (“No extra cots needed, and yes, a king-sized bed would be terrific!”), while going up the elevator (“Yep!” to the champagne, although I felt deliriously tipsy even before the first sip), and back down to a street of bars and restaurants brand new to us because they didn’t exist before we were mommy and daddy.
By the time we’re seated at a restaurant, we’ve been away from home for two hours. This is usually the halfway point of “Date Night,” but on “Night Date” it’s barely the beginning. It is time for me to put a lid on the chuckling because I’m surrounded by adults being, you know, grown-uppy. This, however, does not curb my merriment, because my “Night Date” date is genuinely funny.
Six hours past our regular bed-time we fall into the king-sized bed, and he says, “I’m glad to see you’re having such a good time.” I look at him, really look at him, and mystically, all the years between 24 and 42 fade away.
Yes, there is silver woven through his jet black hair and in the stubble on his face, but his ears, my word, are still just as irresistible.
I ask him, “What keeps you going? When it’s busy and exhausting and thrilling all the time, what keeps you going?”
“It’s you,” he says, “The fact that you’re so grounded and driven at the same time.” I inhale his words, spoken without hesitation.
“What keeps you going?” he asks. I close my eyes, for a while. I contemplate all the mundane activities that make up our lives: mealtimes and bedtimes sure do take up a lot of time. Then I recall the hairy ones: driving to the hospital at 2 a.m. following an incident involving amniotic fluid. Another, screeching to a halt in front of an emergency room with a toddler severely dehydrated from a salmonella infection.
I think of the things he did that I never expected, such as waking up at night to keep me company while I nursed the newborns, and the things that I did expect, like him standing by me through thick and thin. Perhaps we don’t look at each other as often as we should, but it’s partly because we’re in this together, side by side.
Finally, I say, “It’s you. The fact that you’re right there with me.”
At noon the next day we are back home. It is already chaotic because our tiny humans are bicycling around with humans produced by a neighbor and everyone wants to know what we’ve been up to.
I couldn’t explain that we had just had an experience that was nothing spectacular yet profoundly moving at the same time. Over the previous 18 hours, I had grown to understand that looking at your 77-and-a half-year-old sweetheart and seeing him as the 17-year-old you met has nothing to do with age, but what happens in the decades in between. I owe this realization to “Night Date.”