When we were first married, Lisa and I made a pact to go out on a date at least once a week. And, more or less, we’ve been faithful to this promise.
There was a time when these dates were glamorous. When we went out on dates in the first two years of marriage, we would both get dressed up, hire a babysitter for Athan and go out to dinner. We had a favorite restaurant that was about fifteen miles from our house. It was a quaint little restaurant that was so tucked away that only a few people knew about. The owners served food that was so exceptional it didn’t matter what you ordered—you knew it would always taste fantastic. The conversation was as light as the pastry before us, as Lisa would tell me something funny that little Athan did during the day, or something that he had just learned to do. We’d set aside about two hours for the experience, casually working our way through appetizers, gently sipping our wine—usually a California Cabernet Sauvignon—until the final bite of our dessert and the last sip of our coffee was finished. After dinner, on summer nights, we would open the windows to our car and smell the wafts of fresh-cut grass, and feel the warm night air as we drove over the magnificent lush green hills of the Shenandoah Valley to make our way back home.
As I said, we’ve been faithful to that weekly promise, but as time has gone by, the definition of “date” has degenerated to include almost anything. What amounts to a date these days? What about a trip to the hardware store to get a new drill, and stopping for a cup of coffee on the way home? That’s a date. What about a trip to pick up the boys at basketball practice and grabbing an ice cream cone? That counts.
However, one recent “date” pushed reasonable boundaries. The idea for the date was hatched when we learned that our washing machine was broken. For obvious reasons, few things strike more fear in a mother of nine than a broken washing machine. After a few days, we were forced to make a decision: wear dirty clothes, or “outsource” our laundry needs (meaning, in less thrilling terms, going to a laundromat). We opted for the latter, and as we were loading our clothes in our SUV, Lisa and I announced to the children that we were going on a date—a laundry date.
If you haven’t been to a Laundromat in a few years, let me fill you in. Other than bowling alleys, it would be difficult to cut yourself a slice of Americana more easily than visiting a laundromat. Laundromats show you how people really are. That’s not necessarily good. Most people in America spend at least a few seconds grooming before going somewhere; they don’t necessarily primp, but at least they’ll wear clean clothes and comb their hair. Not so with laundromats. People seem to take it as a given that they will not run into anyone they know.
There are unstated rules of laundromats. For instance, every one I have visited in the past 15 years has had a Ms. Pac Man machine. Ms. Pac Man machines are as common as the ubiquitous Buddha statues in nail salons. No one really knows why they’re there, but you can expect one when you go.
There are also stated rules. First, you are not allowed to dye clothes in their washing machines. Every once in a while, you might think to yourself: “You know, I think I’d look good in brown. Why not dye all my clothes that color?” Perhaps a great idea, but don’t expect to be able to do it in a laundromat. Second, alcohol is generally not allowed. That’s a shame, because you really haven’t lived until you’ve mixed drinks on a clothes-folding table. So leave the cocktail shaker at home. Third, pets are not allowed. This rule is an inconvenience to say the least. The summer after high school, I got to be friends with a girl who trained tiny Capuchin monkeys to assist people. Now you’re telling people that they can’t bring their monkeys to help with the folding and sorting? Who, pray tell, should do this work?
Two hours after we’d arrived, as we loaded the clothes back into the car and drove home, there were a few similarities with those early dates that only the most hardened cynic would fail to see. Instead of the smell of fresh-cut grass, we could enjoy the smell of fabric softener wafting through our car. Instead of wine, we drank orange Gatorade. Instead of the scenery of rollicking hills and plains, we could enjoy the understated ambiance of an unlit alley. Of course, we still had a great time. And maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the most important part of the date to me was the constant in the equation—my constant: Lisa. I’m guessing that many of us home-schooling fathers have “dates” likes this from time to time. The next time you do, remember my twofold piece of advice: first, try to remember that the “who” is more important than the “what” in many of life’s activities, and second, bring a lot of quarters.