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The scoop on date — and un-date — nights for parents

Setting aside regular time for date night is a common practice among couples dedicated to maintaining the health of their relationships amongst the chaos that is raising a family. Couples raising children need scheduled time away from their offspring to maintain sanity and stay connected.

I was reminded of the importance of date night after running into an acquaintance at a restaurant last week. She was excited to share about her new system for date night. So while waiting for our table, my girlfriend and I — who were on a double date night if you will — got the lowdown on the date-night jar.

They began by purchasing a jar they could decorate as a couple. The jar, once glittered up, was designated the date-night jar. Inside the jar they placed color-coded Popsicle-type craft sticks. The stick’s color indicates the type of date they must plan. One color represents an at-home date, one represents an out-of-town adventure date and so on.

Listening to the story, I was not only reminded of the importance of date nights, but also of the fact that some people live within reach of best-case scenario situations. The date-night jar system, which she plucked from Pinterest, seemed elaborate and magical.

Most of what I see shared on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets falls into the best-case scenario situation category. This may be the first time I’ve encountered a best-case scenario thing that actually pans out within someone’s reality.

My reality typically falls short of the best-case scenario. Hubby and I are advocates of date night. However, to incorporate the creativity of a dedicated jar and color-coded craft sticks falls short of our capacity and enthusiasm. If a date night takes that much whimsical planning, we’d never have date nights. Rather, we’d have a sparkly jar gathering dust in a forgotten corner.

It would be great, however, if we could employ a version of the date-night jar. Hubby and I would just need to make accommodations for our less than best-case lifestyle. To begin, we would not decorate a jar specially bought for date night planning. Rather, we’d recycle an empty wine bottle.

Our craft sticks would be actual Popsicle sticks assuming we could salvage them before the kids tossed them in the recycling can, garbage, or — the most likely scenario — a piece of furniture in their bedroom. Partially decomposed ice pop sticks are one of the many types of refuse we find during spring or fall cleaning.

The cherry-flavored stick could be designated as the “Micki picks the place we eat” date night. The grape-flavored could represent the “Hubby picks the place we eat”date night. Lime could indicate we have to order take-out. Orange could be a wild-card color, which would give the boys the power of choosing where we go so when we bring them back some food, it will be something they actually want to eat.

Of course, whenever we’d pick orange, we’d probably end up having date night at Little Caesar’s. But if you think about it, at only $5 a pizza, it’s really a win-win scenario. The date night would be inexpensive, we’d get out of the house for a little one-on-one time and the kids would get a break from picking up their own $5 pizza.

All of our sticks would be a version of the dining-out date. After being together long enough to raise three boys, we greatly appreciate having a night to ourselves during which we can pick where to go and what to eat without any arguments. Food also acts as an argument buffer. We are more tolerant of each other’s opinions when our mouths are full of deliciousness.

Movies are nice, but we both enjoy them better in the comfort of our living room. Also, we are too old to get away with eating movie theater popcorn. Such a snack adds two to three pounds — depending on the length of the movie — to our already inflated spare tires.

At home, we can enjoy air-popped goodness with a spritz of olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt. And, we can pause for as many restroom breaks as we need—this attribute becomes more and more important as the years slip by.

The need for date night becomes less critical as the kids begin flying from the nest. Once our boys started demanding less attention, we began spending lots more time together without having to designate time for date nights. We’re spending so much time together that we may need a jar for un-date nights or time apart.

Once the boys are completely on their own, my un-date night Popsicle sticks will be color-coded for things like girls’ night out, girls’ wine-tasting weekend, shopping spree and spa day.

Hubby won’t need sticks. He will simply disappear with a book for hours or end up on a porch with his friends enjoying grilled meat, craft brews and a pipe.

We do love each other and our boys, but we are also looking forward to our future empty nest adorned with our un-date-night recycled wine bottle.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com