Seven Date Night Lessons From My Son
Last weekend's date night took a different twist. Billy took our daughter out to her restaurant of choice, and I took my son out. My son's only stipulation on the restaurant selection was that he had to be able to order a burrito. Easy enough! I approach date nights with the kids as a way for me to hone my listening skills and improve my connections with them. I think about what words of wisdom I can give them (make eye contact when ordering, hold the door open for others, say thank you to your server, etc.), but more often than not I learn more than I teach. Last weekend was no exception. Here is what I learned:
1. My son is a sponge these days, and date nights are great opportunities to hear what he's been learning, experiencing, and wondering. My favorite exchange of the evening:
"Mom, what does 'cram it down your throat' mean?"
"Um... why do you ask?"
"I read that in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I don't know what it means."
I KNEW I should have been reading their books! I haven't been keeping up and his question surprised me. You're less likely to choke on your chips and salsa if you can see a question like this coming, so stay current with the kid's reading...and all his/her different arenas of input. Focused "date nights" together provide a good time for them to process, question, and discuss what they're learning from life (and books). Plus, these kind of conversations always help minimize surprises...like getting a note home from a teacher saying your son told her to stop trying to "cram mathematics down his throat." (Didn't happen; thankful for that!)
2. Don't sweat the small stuff. For my son, shoe selection is at least as important as restaurant selection. If it's date night, my son gets to pick his attire no matter the weather. Shorts and Crocs? Ummm...OK. (Not acceptable for hubby date nights though, I'm afraid). I'll let others judge my fashion sense for my son in exchange for him loving his evening more! The goal for the night is comfort and fully being oneself...together.
3. If an activity is important to your kid, make it important to you! In my case, the fact that seven-year-old boys have a radar for VW bugs was reinforced. I am constantly losing at the "slug bug" game, but we play it no matter what. As a result, I got slugged a few times on our date...and got a few in myself, as well.
4. Go with the flow. This means remembering that this is as much a date for HIM as it is for me. The goal is for BOTH of us to enjoy it. I need not turn this into a dinner for adults (which would bore my son to death). That is why we did a few things that were decidedly...well... seven-year-old boy things. For instance, having guests at the dinner table (see below) is important if you need to build a race track while waiting for your food...and catch up on the latest strategies about Wii Mario Kart. While Billy was swimming in a sea of pink at their dinner (and talking about boys, who-likes-whom, and lip gloss), Peach was losing a race to Luigi at ours.
5. Don't over-manage the conversation. As is typical at our dinners, my son needed to crank out the kid's menu first (while breaking as many crayons as possible), so who am I to interrupt...except for a few cut-throat matches of tic-tac-toe? Once we got that done, it was on to bigger and better conversations... about important topics like Mario Kart (see above).
6. Bend the rules. Even if you have strict guidelines for eating, date night is an exception. Fro-Yo isn't a healthy (or appealing) dessert alternative, at least the way my son makes it. Still, being together and having some focused time is a a treat in itself. Why not throw in some fro-yo...and sprinkles... and gummy worms... and strawberries... and chocolate syrup... and more sprinkles... etc? (Can you guess whose is whose below?)
7. Wrap up the evening with a little extra hang-time during the evening routine. Stretch the good conversations all the way through bath time (instead of trying to race the clock). Make funny faces in the mirror together. Read an extra book. And remember to use the hooded bath towels as long as possible. Having an extra dog in the house is always a good thing.
Since my son is (already!) seven, I figure that I have 4-6 easy years left where I'll still be an interesting date to him. I plan on stretching this practice absolutely as far as I can. I'm also mentally preparing to drive (or fly) a long way to take my college-aged son out to a great meal and good conversation if he will let me. It wont always be as easy as throwing on some Crocs and picking a nearby burrito eatery, so I'm making dates a priority while I can!