"Can we go to Michaels?" my eldest daughter asked after I mentioned that we were due (overdue) for a date. This was not a shocking request since Michaels seems to be where many of our dates wind up. Well, there and a local patisserie.
The request didn't really sit well with me this time, however. Since we are a creative bunch, an arts and crafts store always seemed like a good place to go. It seems in my experience, the trip to Michaels has been much less about spending time together but more about checking out the latest additions to the Beany Baby display (and she doesn't really need another freakishly wide-eyed animal to add to her backpack zipper pulls even if she is purchasing it herself, thank you).
In my dream scenario, we would walk into the store bursting with creativity and a wonderful, meaningful project would unveil itself to us. In reality, art materials aren't super inspiring in and of themselves. Without a plan and a list, we are doomed to wander more than wonder. Our dates had become more like aimless recreational shopping than the imagination driven experiences I had hoped that they would be.
I have nothing against shopping when there is a legitimate need to fill, but I'd rather not set the example of shopping as a hobby, or worse "therapy", for my girls. That is already a big enough battle they will fight in our culture. As parents, we are likely to innocently give our kids their first hits toward an addiction so common, it's hard to even recognize in yourself.
I have tried to think outside the box with the date activities. I aim for cheap/free activities. Togetherness is free after all. Once in a while, we will take in a movie (or a high school musical), but it's not the best in the way of time to talk. The art museum of our local college is a good choice. Once we took our sketch books along and sketched. A student docent even taught us a few things. Hiking is an option, but since our girls hike pretty often with their dad, it somehow doesn't feel as much like "our" thing. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe we don't need to have our one "thing," and I certainly don't want a Michaels rut to be it.
The Simple Show podcast over at The Art of Simple had a great episode (#93) last week about dating your spouse. I picked up a few great hacks and ideas. I highly suggest. They talked about how showing your spouse that you love them daily, takes away date night pressure which allows dates to be more enjoyable.
Is it just me or is there pressure for dating your child too? I hear pretty often about how important that one-on-one time really is. It is. I don't disagree. I like to think my husband and I are intentional about time with our kids everyday, so that these dates aren't a dire need. That being said, they are super special. It's fun to plan and anticipate this time with your kid.
Like sunscreen, car seats, and healthy eating, they are another thing my generation contends with that our parents didn't worry about. I'm pretty sure my mom (or any of my friends' moms) never worried about falling into a rut with their dates with their kids. As the second of five kids, there weren't a whole lot of one-on-one dates happening for me. Perhaps this explains a lot about me!
I should ease up on my expectation of the perfect one-on-one time. This isn't the Bachelor. There is no Rose Ceremony. If I can just keep it simple, pressure-free, and have a plan, I might be more likely to go on these dates more often.
The basic structure of a date is an activity paired with something yummy. It might be helpful to create a bank of ideas to break us out of our Michaels box. Here is where I brainstorm ideas for dating my children (mostly as a resource for me, but I'm happy to share) :
Bake. Perhaps middle sister could go out with daddy during the baby's nap and we could have a dessert party waiting for them when they get back. With decorations of course! Win for everyone!
Walk around town. Walk around the college and downtown. Follow this with a few macarons from our favorite place. My daughter writes poems now and then. Maybe we can write one about what we saw around town, or not! No pressure!
Nature Sketching. Go to the park. Squirrels, ducks, leaves, sketchbook, pencil, trailmix.
Serve and soup. Serve at a local food bank.(My daughter loves to do this!) Go to a good soup spot in town and feel grateful together. Maybe even make a list of our blessings.
Go to the library. Look for a good book to read together. She is an avid reader, but finding something we can read (a tad beyond her ability), just the two of us, would be special since it's been a while since we've done that. Get some cocoa and read a bit on a bench or in a coffee shop.
At home spa time. Once she came out of her room in the evening and saw me with a green mud mask on. It really made an impression. We could be super girly and do mani-pedis. The girls got some Ella and Mila polishes in their Christmas stockings last year. We could even whip up some fun natural treatments. I have been wanting to try a few more recipes from the book Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore, founder of S.W. Basics. Of course we will enjoy some smoothies too. We could use the same scenario as the baking date to get some alone time.
Shoot hoops. Find a short hoop somewhere and show her how to shoot the perfect free throw. It's all in the follow through...hmmm sound like a life lesson. Snack...orange wedges like true athletes.
Bowl. The potential for feeling weird and awkward together is funny and a memory for sure! Letting my kids see me try something I might not be amazing at (other than parenting!) is a valuable lesson in both humility and bravery. I could also try something my kid is good at but I'm not (or at least I never tried). This would mean climbing with our middle monkey at the climbing wall gym for me! As for the yummy treat? For bowling, that's a hard one. I think I'll stay clear of the bowling alley food. Ok. Maybe some fries and rootbeers, but only if forced.
Geocaching. Friends of ours swear by this. Turns out there is even a geocaching app. Time to give it a shot. Granola bars.
Of course the craft idea is a good one if you plan ahead for what to make. I have been thinking a kite would be fun. No matter what we plan, the most important detail is that the date needs a date, as in a date on the calendar. If I don't plan it, it never happens. Plus, like I said before, it's fun to anticipate the date with your kid. Of course, finding impromptu dates in day-to-day life is great, too. A grocery store tag-along can be just as meaningful if you are intentional about paying attention to your kid.
By the way, my daughter picked the park sketching date. We decided to take advantage of a beautiful day.
A warm-up leaf contour drawing.
Everything is more fun in a tree.
Our date was relaxing and fun. My sketch was mostly unfinished since my model needed to change positions, but it wasn't really about the sketching anyway.
What in-expensive, non-shopping dates do you go on with your kids?