So there’s this bug going around…
No, I don’t have it — yet.
Am I the only one out there not freaked out, but still get that it is a real thing? I mean, I know I will likely get it, or at least be exposed to it if I haven’t been already. I also assume that, sadly, I will know someone who dies. That’s an awful thought, but the odds are likely.
In the meantime, I am not sitting around wringing my hands and obsessively watching press conferences or reading charts or graphs or statistics.
My life has changed, sure. Date nights are gone. So is any personal space. My activities at home have to be curtailed to accommodate our home being turned into an office and school space.
The first time it started feeling real for our family was on our trip to Seattle Feb 27-March 2nd. That was about the time it started breaking open in Washington. As we wandered through museums and tourist attractions, rode planes and Ubers and ferries and monorails, ate samples at food markets and didn’t wash our hands enough, the bug was out there, closing in.
On Wednesday the 10th, HWSNBN was sent home from work to self-quarantine. He hasn’t been back to work since. That was the first way the pandemic has affected the family. We are lucky that he is still working — but keeping puppies quiet during his conference calls has been challenging.
At my weekly marketing meeting for Secondhand Hounds, the animal rescue I work for, we discussed possibly changing our upcoming events. I reached out the next day, Thursday, to my upcoming puppy parties (that’s what I do: I run our puppy party division), assured them that animals can’t spread the virus, but if they wanted to reschedule, that’s fine. No one took me up on the offer.
The next day we sent another letter, informing that all events were canceled, whether we liked it or not.
About that time my daughter and son were starting to feel the ripple effects where they are.
Singer Girl goes to school in Michigan (Go Blue!). She loves it there. I told her to prepare for things to change. I told her that her A Cappella group’s trip to Boston would likely be canceled. She said no way (it was canceled). I told her folks would soon be leaving. She said no way. The local kids started heading home temporarily. The school canceled classes for two days to decide how to handle the situation. They went to online classes. She wanted to see what would happen with all the social stuff. When St Patrick’s Day and Aca prom and here sorority’s charity event were all canceled, she was stunned.
I told her she would be coming home soon. She said no. She was still working; in fact, she was working more than she ever had, to cover the shifts of all those who had left already. She also worried about exposing us to anything she had come in contact with.
I told her she would be coming home. She said she didn’t want to leave her friends. I said just start emotionally planning for it. She rolled her eyes, and we hung up.
Two hours later she called and said, “Ok: come get me.”
So last Thursday I drove 10 hours to Michigan. We packed her up the next day and drove back on Saturday.
Now, we all have to juggle wifi and quiet time so she can do her studies, HWSNBN can do his work, and I can stay sane while they step all over my routine.
Sailor Boy is supposed to change duty stations this summer — to Italy. Not sure if that’s going to happen now. The military is taking some major steps to deal with the virus, and his day to day life has drastically changed. He calls every day, and we discuss the latest development. Will he go to Italy? Will he stay with his current ship? Will he deploy? Will the navy help him move? Will I have to go to Washington and help?
Weirdly it’s like wartime. It’s what he signed up for, I tell him. In a lot of ways, this whole gig reminds me of what I imagined WW2 was like. Folks are sacrificing and stockpiling. We are being told to use supplies wisely. Many common items are hard to come by. People are churning out homemade masks and hospital gowns to protect health care workers. Neighbors are checking in on one another. Again, we all are waiting for that shoe to drop: who will we know that will pay the ultimate price?
Rescue is all weird now too. We have been told to stop doing spay and neuter surgeries. We’ve already cut our office staff to a skeleton crew. On the plus side, more people than ever before want to foster. Sadly, we are unable to take in as many animals as we usually do, as we have cut down on transports to minimize potential volunteer exposure. So we have fosters just waiting to help, and we can’t get needy animals to their waiting homes.
On a day to day level, my life isn’t radically different. I am not worried. My philosophy for most of my life has been to plan for the worst, hope for the best.
In 2015, I saw a movie that pretty much changed my life: Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks stars as an attorney on cold war America, called upon to defend an accused Russian spy. He funds the situation distasteful, to say the least, but does his civic duty Upon meeting the spy in jail, Hanks’s character explains the gravity of the situation, while the accused spy calmly listens. hanks, exasperated, asks why he is so calm. Isn’t he worried?”
“Would it help?” the Russian replies.
Would it help? Does worrying help? No, of course not. It just stresses you out. So from that moment on, whenever I get that nagging feeling, I pause and take a breath. Rather than waste energy worrying, I take action. Do what I can to take control of the situation, then let it go.
That’s where I am now: I have done what I can to prepare. Now I breathe. And wait.
Whenever HWSNBN attend social events — company parties, dinner clubs, drinks with friends — people always have the same fascination. The same desire to know, to pick our brains.
“So…tell us about those date nights!”
We chuckle and look at each other. He sips his drink, and I start talking.
The three questions we get asked most:
- How does it work?
- How often do you do it?
- Where do you get the ideas?
So how do the date nights work?
Our date nights stemmed from a conversation HWSNBN and I had in late August 2018. Singer Girl had just left for college, and the nest was empty. My husband of just weeks shy of 25 years looked at me and said: we are in a rut. He said he didn’t want us spending the rest of our days just going out to dinner and binge-watching Netflix shows. I agreed,. But I said I didn’t want this to be a one-sided thing, where I have to plan everything and then feel (whether rightly or wrongly) like the pressure is on me for us to have fun.
So we came up with a plan: we would take turns planning date nights. If it was my turn, I’d have it all planned out, with no input on the planning front from him — which meant he couldn’t veto what we were doing. The same goes for when it is his turn. That veto thing is the most important part of making these date nights work. How many of us come up with an idea for something to do on a Saturday night, but when we ask our significant other, they say “I don’t know, Nah. I’m not feeling it”?
If the other person doesn’t know what you are doing, they can’t kill the idea.
This also means that we get to do things we want to do — even if we know it wouldn’t be the other person’s first choice.
Our first planned date night was my choice, and we went mini-golfing at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. that night, we also tried our first selfie. We are really bad at those and have pledged (well, one of us did) to do them every date night. We try to send them tt he kids, partly to let them know we still exist, partly to let them know we are doing ok (and partly to brag. Singer Girl has wistfully proclaimed she can’t wait to be 21 so she can hang out with us, as we seem to know where all the cool places are!).
How in the world do you find things to do?
We have done a lot:
Museums and galleries and art festivals
Countless amazing restaurants, bars, and breweries.
Inflatables courses. Pumpkin carving extravaganzas.
And so much more!
It is super easy to find things to do. I have always been a list maker and a collector of information, so I have folders of ideas. I have a paper one, filled with articles I have cut out of papers and magazines. I also have a computer folder with things I have seen online. The internet is amazeballs for this sort of thing: once you start clicking on things, you get suggestions thrown at you left and right. I mean, all you have to do is think about something and you get targeted ads, right? Well, imagine what happens when you start actively looking for things to do.
If I can’t think of something new and timely, I search local calendars. My absolute fave Twin Cities one for kooky ideas is City Pages. I have signed up for their suggestions, as well as tons of others. Here are a few interesting ones:
Sometimes you have to plan far in advance. I planned this Friday’s date about 3 months ago because I needed to buy tickets for something. I know he would’ve said no if I asked him, but afterward, he will say “I am glad we did this.”
How often do we manage to do date night?
Do we do it every weekend? No, but we try to. I have it on the calendar: Donni plans date night, HWSNBN plans date night, alternating weekends, so we know in advance who’s up to bat (yes, we’ve been to baseball games — and football, and soccer!).
Sometimes life gets in the way and conflicts inevitably arise. It is a lot harder to do when the kids are here, and, full disclosure, we are kind of glad when they go back from whence they came so we can get back to our adventures. We are also pretty busy socially in other ways, so sometimes we have to squeeze stuff in. The holidays are tough. His work travel can make it challenging.
But we can feel when it has been too long.
We start to go back to the boring, with not as much to talk about. Let’s face it: marriage is hard! We have been married 26 years this fall, and actually have known each other for 34 years. When you start out with someone, often the moments are somewhat stolen, and you fit the person into your life. They don’t know you, and you don’t know the, so every little factoid is fascinating (“you use toothpaste? I do too!”). Relationships are like fish: if you don’t keep swimming, they die.
HWSNBN sometimes says he feels like the date nights are a competition. I do not. I feel like they are a great way to learn more about ourselves and to do things that make each of us happy. Maybe I feel this way because I have always felt that pressure to make sure we had a good time, and now I feel it is shared equally.
One side benefit that we didn’t expect: all those people who ask us about date nights. I have people (often life-long Minnesotans who are younger than us) asking for suggestions. I think it’s so cool that we inspired folks to get off the couch and try new things.
Yes, it’s my turn this weekend. We will hit the road around 3pm and drive to an unknown destination (that’s another fun part: keeping it a secret as long as you can!). We have to be back by 930 the next morning, as we are booked solid: the Chilly Open for him in the morning, our Gourmet club Sat night, the Klondike Dog Derby Saturday and Sunday, and cramming as many movies in before we take the couch for the Oscars Sunday night.
And the couch will be okay then because we know that our next adventure is just a few days away! Happy dating to you all!
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…
I’m a member of a popular Facebook Group called Grown and Flown. Ostensibly it’s for parents whose kids are in the high-school-college-just beyond age group. The topics covered are too diverse to count, and can focus on all sorts of highs and lows, most pertaining to the drama of young adulthood. Some posts are braggy, some are heartbreaking. Most of the time people are looking for help, such as advice on how to pay for college, what to do when your child’s heart is broken after that first big romance ends, or how to deal with kids driving you nuts.
The other day someone posted something that had been discussed before (frankly, most topics get re-introduced regularly. Reminds me of how similar we all really are). This topic: “What’s a reasonable amount to spend for a prom dress? We are not trying to create entitled attitude but do want to make this special for her.”
Now any time anyone asks a question on social media the answers are gonna range from helpful to hurtful. This was no different. This was my response:
“No one can tell you that! It’s up to you… To me, it’s not about the money. It’s about the memory of THAT MOMENT…don’t do what you can’t afford. But do what feels right. I leave practical for grocery shopping and doing housework.”
Recently I was reintroduced to the high-stress world of prom dress shopping. I thought that those days were behind me (I also thought my days of wondering what school my kid would attend were over as well, but that’s another post). However: Drummer Boy is a high school senior, and he and Singer Girl are still going strong, even after a year of separation (sort of — they saw each other every month, lol).
So it’s prom time again. Which means, of course, shopping again. She wants it to be special but was torn, because she knows last year we spent a lot, and she wants to be practical. It’s not her prom. And wouldn’t it be nice to get something she can wear twice?
I totally understood where she was coming from. And I appreciated it. So when we ventured out, we tried to be fiscally responsible and cognizant of her desire not to look like she was in high school still. She had a look in mind, but we couldn’t find it. Then we started broadening the search parameters and kept venturing away from re-wearable and back. Then we danced towards glitzy and pricey, then retreated.
Anxiety was building. I tried to keep an even facade and let her lead the way. But she was stressed, and the whole time we shopped, I was battling the inner demons of wanting to give her everything and wanting to pull back. After a while, I realized that even though she didn’t want us to go overboard, I was prepared to do so. Why?
Because every day I hear of a family that will never again see their daughter dress up in a beautiful gown. Or of a mother who can’t be there when her daughter shops for her wedding dress. Or a father who won’t be there to be uncomfortable when he sees a young man look at his daughter in awe.
I’m not morbid. But life sometimes sucks. And it’s effing unfair. And shit happens.
Last week we lost a friend. I wasn’t super close with him or his wife, but close enough that we always stopped when we saw each other in the schools or gravitated towards each other at work functions. My husband worked with him and was close to Mark, and the loss gutted him. An amazing man, gone too soon (only 62). Bigger than life — and now, suddenly, gone.
I tried to put myself in his wife’s position, shocked and stunned and overwhelmed. All those plans: gone. All the dreams that would go unrealized. What would it be like, to not be able to do another date night? To quarrel over the kids’ choices? To laugh at the foster dogs and their antics?
Time is short, and memories are precious. I’m not saying anyone should do anything that will truly be a burden for their family. If it’s a choice between paying your bills or buying the fancy, expensive, never-to-be-worn again dress, don’t buy the dress.
If I can afford to spoil my kids, I am going to. If it’s not a financial hardship for my husband and me to take a trip, we’re going now — and not waiting for someday. If I don’t have to choose between groceries and the overpriced glass of chardonnay from a winery a friend raved about, I’m buying it (but I might not share).
When it came time to choose the prom dress, we actually went home with 6 options and we had a voting party with Drummer Boy and HWSNBN. Silly? Maybe. But it’s a memory for all four of us now. Someday Singer Girl could become Mrs. Drummer Boy. Who knows? And someday, when people are reminiscing, this story might be laughed about in a moment of sadness and loss.
Ultimately she picked the first dress she tried on — a respectably priced one. But she actually really loved another outfit as well. It was a jumpsuit, and not really right for prom. But she loved the way it made her feel (and frankly, when an outfit makes you feel good, you should buy it. Period.), so we kept it as well. So yeah, we weren’t totally practical.
But that day was well spent. We didn’t fight. We had fun. What could’ve been a stress-filled trip ended up being a happy one. Maybe when she wears that jumpsuit, she’ll remember that day and smile. I don’t get enough days with my kids anymore, so I want to treasure what I get. And I think they get that.
There’s a funny meme going around, that reminds you to think about what you wear carefully because if you die that will be your ghost outfit. Silly, yes. But it also reminds me: be careful how you end every conversation or experience with someone. If they never see you again, that will be their last memory of you. At our friend’s funeral, one of the sons said that losing their dad suddenly wasn’t as bad because they always knew where they stood with him. He never let them wonder if they were loved.
Buy the dress.