CAVEAT: this is not a Woody Allen-esque "How To" piece.
I remember when Ashley and I first started dating. Oh, those magical times when we would just lose track of the hours we would spend together, and not only because we had both fallen asleep on the couch watching TV. Work and the demands of our jobs were ever-present (curse you, money needed to exchange for goods and services), but that was it as far as distractions went. Both of our families lived hours away, so there were never times when our parents or siblings would show up unannounced and cart us away for time with them. We'd occasionally need some "Me Time," but other than that, we were almost always together. For meals, for movies, for going to the bookstore (hey, remember those things?), for coffee - you name it.
Then we got married.
The first 22 months of our marriage were pretty much the same as our dating life, except this time there weren't two separate apartments to return to at the end of the day. Our lives, like our laundry, intermingled and became a blur of oneness. Other than we had moved to Miami and were naked a lot more, it seemed like marriage had changed nothing about our lives or our relationship.
Until March 2009.
After Kai was born, we suffered from First Time Parent Syndrome: we all but stayed rooted to our apartment; not out of fear of exposing him to EWWTHOSEDIRTYGERMSFROMFILTYPEOPLE, but because it was just...easier. No internally hearing the theme from Mission: Impossible while we tried to time out if we could load up a car seat and diaper bag, run to a restaurant, eat, and get back before the Banshee-like lungs of a newborn shattered the tranquility of the other patrons (or God forbid, he cried all the way home in the confines of the car). Our families were even further away thanks to our moving to the bottom right corner of the United States, so getting someone to watch our little critter while we snuck away was all but impossible.
Since I was a stay-at-home dad by this point and was unintentionally morphing my Myers-Briggs typology from "Extrovert" to "Introvert" due to almost no social interaction save for the clerks at Publix or Target, Ashley beautifully gifted me with one night out a week to either go to the local brewpub to meet up with some friends or head over to watch Doctor Who with a buddy of mine.
After Kai turned one, we moved to South Carolina. Now closer to our families (but not TOO close), and with a toddler whom we felt incrementally better about leaving in the care of others (for approximately 60 minutes at a stretch), we actually took the opportunity to go out as a couple sans child.
Like, six times or something. From 2010-2013. We even went totally nuts and for two years there took an OVERNIGHT! TRIP! (literally overnight and back at the 24 hour mark) on our anniversary.
Again: not because we're "those" weird parents who can't leave their kid, but because - honestly - it became the norm. The easy thing to do. We were a trio and it was just how we were. Part of the beauty in this was Kai always had the opportunity to feel loved, special and included (even though part of the time he may have felt unloved, abused, or oppressed because "No, we are NOT going to Zaxby's for dinner AGAIN."). It was genuinely special and hopefully gave him a bit of a strong foundation of love in his life.
Since I was still a stay-at-home dad, and had to start up an entirely new social circle, Ashley again beautifully gifted me with one night out a week to go to the local craft beer joint. (You'll notice a theme emerging at some point.)
Until July 2013.
After Eli was born, we started to fall back into the routine of "second verse, same as the first" with how we were after Kai was born; namely, we were about one ring away from becoming Gollum and staying in our cave, never to emerge into the light. Like with Kai, part of it was necessary (you can't just cart a newborn anywhere), but something had changed. Something was different. Something was new.
Ashley's mom had retired and moved to Columbia late last year. To help us.
Which meant we could go out as a couple, preferably to restaurants that didn't have a Kid's Menu.
Other than going to the local library on Saturday mornings to steal their wifi while I worked on some writing assignments, my "Me Time"/talking to adults outside of the home had slowed to a trickle save for about every other week hitting up the local brewery for an hour or two. Ashley's only outlet unfortunately was work, and although she has friends there, there's not a lot of social intermingling one can do when one is still tethered to a breastfeeding child that requires sustenance every three hours or so.
So we decided that - for practical reasons (baths, meal times, and all the other incidentals a kid needs) - in lieu of a "date night" once a week, we'd have a "date day" on Sunday afternoon. This way, we could time the need for bottles and naps with our need to just take a freaking break and be with each other.
Needless to say, we kinda stink at it.
Not counting our staying home and not going out due to the Great Sinus Plagues of Late 2013 and Early 2014 which meant we had not one but two sick kids to coddle, we tend to not take full advantage of the time we can. We'll go grab a meal with food that would make Kai gag - and then pick up the kids. Or we'll go see a movie a few months after it's been released - and then speed back to pick up the kids. It's not that we believe they somehow have overpowered Grandma, tied her to a chair, and have ordered Pay-Per-View episodes of Power Rangers Megaforce, but it's that we stink at being a duo now.
And that's not an entirely bad thing.
Kai and Eli see us hug, they see us kiss, they see us playfully pick on each other, and they see us fight (healthily), which means they're hopefully going to grow up with a moderately grounded idea of what a loving couple should look like. And I'll go on record saying that Ashley is the most loving, attentive, caring, nurturing, and fun mom imaginable. These boys explode with joy when she is with them, and I find it impossible to imagine a time or scenario where she wold not be the best mom ever.
These days when we fall asleep on the couch, it's due to exhaustion and not because we're just so comfy cuddling each other. When we lose track of time, it's from having to wrangle two monkeys and not from a deep conversation about faith, life goals, or what the hell is going on with Lost.
We're making baby steps towards dating again. We're striving towards relearning this lost art of being with each other and not with checking the phone to see if Grandma has texted us.
It's the simple act of attempting to recalculate our life math: 1 + 1 = 1.
We'll just carry the other 2.