Redefining Romance

When the candlelight dinners are replaced by soccer games and Cub Scout meetings, just where does the flame come from?

When David and I married 11 years ago, he was looking forward to years of candlelight dinners and romantic restaurants.

Well, he was half-right. We've had a few candlelight dinners all right, but mostly they consisted of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese on paper plates. At home. In our kitchen. And the candles? Leftover stubs from my son's fourth birthday party.

And so it's been since our wedding day, when David took on the role of new husband and of father to my two preschool children from a previous marriage. It wasn't long before David's visions of spontaneous romantic moments started fading away.

While other newlyweds were dining at upscale eateries, gazing romantically into each other's eyes, we were hurrying the children through the last piece of cold pizza so we could collapse for the night. While other newly married couples snuggled in close for the late show at the movie theater, we were picking popcorn out of the hair of the child in front of us at the matinee showing of Bambi.

I have to give David a lot of credit, because he took it all in stride. We snuck in a hug, or stared dreamy-eyed at each other sitting in the bleachers at a dusty baseball field whenever we got the chance. It was mysterious—our romantic secret—trying to steal a few moments in those early years.

As the kids grew, life became busier and romance took a backseat to gymnastics, Boy Scouts, basketball games, school events, dental appointments—the usual parenting jobs took precedence over any mommy-daddy time. At times, it seemed the only moments we had together were in the car while taking a child from one event to another.

In the next several years we were blessed with two more babies, making our family of six complete. Our lives were full. We changed diapers, wiped noses, kissed boo-boos, tied shoelace after shoelace, and one by one we sent the little angels off to school. We watched the calendar—surely our time for romance was just around the corner.

It was a day in September, after putting the littlest one on the school bus for his first day of full-time kindergarten that my husband and I realized we were alone in our house for the first time in 10 years. It was an eerie feeling.

We thought about all those years of "lost romance." But were they really lost?

What is romance, anyway? After all those years of tending to children, had we missed out on nurturing our romantic side? Had we overlooked a key part of parenting—taking care of Mom and Dad? We sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, waiting for the other to say something that had nothing to do with children. The quiet of the moment was quickly shattered as our dog came barreling into the kitchen, hacking and spitting, as though he were coughing up a lung. Neither of us moved as we watched the dog vomit all over the floor, then go back to chewing the bone he'd been working on. Any thoughts of romance were obviously skirted by the mess in front of us.

I went to bed that night feeling as though our marriage was just about kids. Then it dawned on me—our marriage was about kids. When we married, we both knew we wouldn't be alone for a long time. And we'd spent the last 10 years proving that it was wonderful just like that. Going to ball games, camping with the Cub Scouts, volunteering at the kindergarten class, and eating at McDonald's was all worth it—because we did it together.

That's when I realized that's what romance is—simply spending time together. The more I thought about the past decade David and I spent together, the more clear my thoughts on romance became. We've been romancing each other all these years without even knowing it!

Romance is the phone call he made to me last month from the car on his way home to say, "I love you." Romance is holding our newborn baby for the first time and believing he's the most beautiful child God ever created. Romance is giving each other a high five when our son hit his first grand slam. Romance is that quick e-mail I sent David in the middle of the day to tell him he's the greatest husband in the universe. Romance is watching him teach our teenage son how to tie a necktie for his first date. Romance is having someone to hold your hand and wipe away your tears when you get the phone call that your dad's passed away.

Romance is sharing a life together.

For us, marriage and family go hand in hand. Our time to be alone will come. But until then we're finding that a quick kiss, or a gentle touch in a busy day does it for us. We know we'll forever be grateful for the times we spent rearing our children—together.

And when our kids finally move out of the house, we hope they take the dog with them!

Gwen Morrison, a freelance author, lives with her family in Georgia.


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