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Rekindling the Romance

This summer, we’ll be visiting Bubbe in Newport, R.I., and my in-laws in Milwaukee. In Newport we will pick raspberries, scream in terror at lobsters, gaze in wonder at the surreal topiaries at Green Animals, ride the carousel at First Beach. In Milwaukee we will once again eyeball livestock at the Wisconsin State Fair, run around like maniacs in a model digestive system at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, bob around on Grandpa Bob’s boat on Lake Michigan. We can have our own Ice Cream Throwdown, with Gray’s in Tiverton competing against Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Glendale: Both have been named among the country’s best ice cream parlors by Jane and Michael Stern in Gourmet magazine. To paraphrase that Maimonides of Kitchen Stadium, Alton Brown: Whose cuisine really does reign supreme?

Heck if I know. But one thing I do know: Jonathan and I will not have a lot of romantic time on these trips.

We haven’t actually had an alone-together vacation since Josie’s birth. We had to cancel our last big trip before kids. We were supposed to go to Morocco, a country I’d always dreamed about, during my first pregnancy. It was to be our last major pre-kid adventure, at the start of my second trimester. My midwives felt that it was safe for me to go. But the morning we were scheduled to depart, I started to bleed. That afternoon, I miscarried. For the next two days, I barely thought about not being pregnant anymore; all I could think about was not getting to see Fez and Rabat. (I was on drugs.) The not-being-pregnant-anymore thing took a bit longer to sink in.

Years later, when I had little babies, I didn’t want to leave them overnight. I hated being tethered to a breast pump, and not to overshare here, but there was no question that I’d need to pump. You know those “nursing mother” teas, sold in health food stores, that are supposed to increase your milk production? If I accidentally drank a cup of that stuff, I would produce more milk than the entire Holstein tent at the Wisconsin State Fair. (I’m hardly exaggerating. When my girls were truly tiny, I could barely get out to see a movie. How’d I fail to hear that “The Lord of the Rings” was three hours long? When Jonathan and I went to see it, when Josie was about 10 weeks old, I soaked through my shirt and had to leave the theater shielding myself with a popcorn bucket. Too bad I didn’t have Frodo’s mithril undershirt!) (And hey, that’s the geekiest joke I have ever made in this column!)

After those first few months, though, it gets easier. And I think that some time away from the parents is good for everybody. In a few years, we may be able to drop both girls at my mother-in-law’s for a week. They could attend the same day camp Jonathan did, and we could run as fast as we can in the opposite direction. We could sleep late, read the Sunday paper, gaze into each other’s eyes without someone ritually chanting in the background: “She’s poking me! She’s poking me!”

But right now, the notion of an actual romantic getaway seems awfully remote. And I know how much we need it. Life has become an endless whirl of picking up errant crayons, making pasta with butter, negotiating the sharing of the multicolored xylophone. Jonathan and I snap at each other more than we should. We’re boring even to ourselves.

But even 24 hours away from the kids makes a huge difference. For a recent story I did for another publication, I got to spend a night with Jonathan at the Mandarin Oriental hotel right here in New York City while my mom stayed over at our place with the kids. Oh. My. Gosh. It was crazy. We were on the 46th floor in a corner suite, with giant windows offering a spectacular view of Central Park out one side and the Hudson River out the other. The hotel did that schmaltzy trick with rose petals winding through the suite to the bed, which is beyond cheesy and yet delightful in its cheese. There was a giant bouquet of fat red roses, chocolate-dipped strawberries and really good champagne chilling in a bucket. The bathroom was stocked with schmancy little shampoos and unguents. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, Asiate, where we sat a window table, watched the park darken and saw the city lights start to twinkle. The food, which was Pan-Asian-y-Japanese-y-French-y, was delicious. (The service was a little too obsequious to be comfortable for me — I always want to tell fancy waiters that I’ll clean up, they should just relax and put up their feet — but I own that.) The front-desk staff were extra-sweet without seeming Stepfordian. At checkout, they were giving away stuffed animals from FAO Schwarz, urging us to take one for each kid. I hesitated, not wanting to open up my suitcase and stuff two fat plush corpses inside. One clerk sensed my hesitation and ran, unbidden, to get a fancy gift bag at the spa for me to put the bunnies in.

The whole experience was so, well, romantic, how could we not be swept up in it? I’m trying to resist clichés like “falling in love all over again,” but it’s tough. We were in a delicious place, with only each other to focus on. We appreciated every moment of living the way the other half lives. Of course, in our actual lives, we can’t afford this level of luxury. (The rack rate for our suite was $2,400 a night, though I assume people often pay about $1,000 a night, which as we all know simply can be found in the cushions of the couch.) Still, the experience made me realize how important it is to work on the romantic stuff occasionally — no matter how broke we are, no matter how busy we are. We loved giving in to the over-the-topness of this night, but we need to do it on a smaller scale more regularly. We need more nice dinners out, an occasional concert or play, drinks at a swanky bar. But even going out with a group can be good for us as a duo. Recently Jonathan accompanied me to a work dinner at a grown-up restaurant. Watching him charm the big-deal photographer who was working on the project with me, I was smitten. I was seeing him the way an outsider would, watching him find common ground with someone in a different field, make jokes, show off his brilliance without seeming showoffy. Afterward, the photographer said to me, “I love your husband!” And I said, “Ohmigod, me too!”

And even time apart can fuel the relationship. Not as much as a kid-free escape to the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, of course, but when Jonathan goes on his annual trip to the Burning Man festival in the desert (and comes back grateful that I let him go) and I go on my getaway to the Jersey Shore with my girlfriends, the simple act of being apart from the kids and from the grind gives both of us a little perspective. Spending time with your friends puts you back in touch with the person you were before you were coupled and kid-addled. You remember not the person you fell in love with, but the person you were when the other person fell in love with you. And that’s vital. Friendships are always the first things that suffer when you’re balancing partner, work and family. But I need my girls. And Jonathan needs his giant sand goggles, sparkly sarong, tent and flaming gong, apparently. It’s all good. Not as good as Rabat would have been, but good nonetheless.

Write to Marjorie at [email protected].

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