Kyle and I celebrated our 17th anniversary earlier this month, and as usual, we went out on a dinner date. Sometimes we do a weekend away, and so far on our bigger milestone years (our tenth), we go away for a whole week. We hope to do so again on our 20th, wildly coming up sooner than we ever imagined.

It’s hard for both of us to believe it’s been 17 years; in fact, before we came up to the front for our priest’s anniversary blessing at our parish that weekend, we had to do quick math — 2019 minus 2002 …yep, 17 years. How did that happen?

Anyway — on our date, we had our traditional anniversary conversation: What was a highlight from the past year? What was a challenge? How have we changed? What do we want for this next year?

I’m typically able to answer these questions pretty easily, but this time, there was more chewing in silence than usual as I thought. Kyle, too. We both ran through this past year, and after awhile, we realized — Whew… It’s been a doozy of a year. Nothing bad, nothing to raise a warning flare, but exhausting.

Our kids’ ages mean that while, yes, they can stay home on their own while we go out on dates, and while they make their own school lunches and dress themselves (and even do their own laundry when they realize it needs doing), our focus has been heavily on them.

Theater practice. Gymnastics. School projects. Orthodontist appointments. Tutoring. Papers needing filling. Payments for special outings. Driving them to and from friend hangouts. …Most of our household administrative tasks revolve around the kids.

And that’s fine; there are seasons like this when it’s the reality. But what we didn’t realize until our date, when we forced ourselves to stop and think, is that we’d forgotten to layer those errands with the other stuff that makes life sweet.

Our conversations, exhausted at the end of the day and rushed in the flurry of the morning, had mostly become task-oriented and quotidian, more urgent than important. And with Kyle starting new work and me doing a bit of fall travel for mine, our daily rhythm of life had accidentally fallen into checkboxes and duty. Things we were fine with doing; willing and able, in fact. It’s part of this stage of family-rearing.

But we had accidentally forgotten to have fun.

When our kids were younger and we needed paid babysitting, we made the most out of our dates. We had a tight budget, so they were never fancy, but because we were so desperate for adult interaction, we dove into them fully. We’d sometimes go to the local bakery in our neighborhood with a board game or deck of cards, and have fun.

Sometimes we’d go on hikes, or the movies, or heck, even put the kids down early and enjoy dessert and drinks out on the porch and simply savor not changing diapers or talking about Thomas the Tank Engine.

But now that we can engage with our kids in conversations we actually enjoy, they sometimes go to bed later than we do, and they take up much more of our calendar, we have to intentionally, methodically, purposely make an effort to simply enjoy each other’s company.

I hear this is common in this messy middle of parenting, that we’re not alone in this phenomenon. And I absolutely wouldn’t wish this stage away; I can hardly believe that our oldest is in high school and will be on her own before we can blink. I plan to make every moment count as we rear up slightly older kids.

But golly day, Kyle and I have to remember to enjoy each other’s company, too. We need to remember how to play, and not just talk about dentist appointments and signing school papers and deciding who’s taking who when and where.

As we finished our anniversary date, we made a pact: we’re going to play more together. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, but intentional and on purpose. We’re going to carve out deliberate time to talk about not household admin. More of our front porch chats will revolve around enjoying each other’s company and watching the leaves change color, and less on who’s going to trim that tree and when should we seed more grass and oh yes, there’s a sale right now on rain barrels and should we get one.

In the messy middle of life, even when things are good, I need to play and remember that — oh yeah, I like that guy I’m married to. He’s even fun.

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