Six years ago, a friendship of mine caught fire and turned romantic. Three years ago, we married. This weekend we celebrated both in what we generically call our anniversary week.
In the whirlwind that was our brief courtship, my husband and I were blissfully unaware of the hardships that awaited us. We lived in the land of possibilities and fell deeply, perhaps even madly, in love. We gleefully abandoned logic and jumped headlong into the realm of parenthood. As time passed, we naively told ourselves that life would calm down once the baby was born. Once the new job started. Once we moved. Once we got married. Once we welcomed our second baby. The list grew with each passing day, but we remained confined to a domestic life neither of us were prepared for.
Time passed and we endured. We fortified our relationship through couples therapy and sponsors but the spark of madness that was the catalyst of it all was fading. So, we planned and prepared to eke out some time away from the kids to seek out the madness that forged us. Several times our plans were foiled by Covid and circumstance, but we persevered.
Almost five years passed without a single night away with just the two of us. We had several nights away separately, as the crushing weight of parenthood fell squarely on us, and we had to find time away or perish.
Yesterday, the whole family sat by the front door waiting for our faithful, trustworthy, and kind babysitter to appear. My husband and I had been fooled before, only to be crushed by disappointment by the promise of a night away, but this time felt different. When she pulled up in front of our house, our hearts lifted, and we were ready to begin our adventure.
When faced with the question of where to go, we defaulted to the hotel we stayed at when I was pregnant with our first child, the Radisson Blu at Mall of America. A lot of things had changed in the last few years, but we were confident in our choice, so we booked it and headed on our way.
A few months ago, I was walking at the mall before the stores had opened and was swept up in a lockdown. The reality that violence is a risk in a place like the Mall of America impacted me in a way I didn’t expect. The normality of the experience and the lack of surprise by the employees and even myself only seemed problematic after reflection and realizing how apathetic we’ve become as a society.
It didn’t take long after our arrival to remember how and why my husband and I fell in love. We walked the mall holding hands and admired the progress and diversity that had transformed the mall from a shopping center into a thriving metropolis. We enjoyed an amazing meal at a restaurant we would have never even noticed had it not been an oasis in a sea of people. We held hands and looked into each other’s eyes as we talked about mundane topics with acute interest as we were free from dogs, and children, and dishes, and all the distractions of everyday life.
There was a wrestling match going on in the mall that had attracted a very large number of people. The roars from the crowd echoed through the entire mall. At one point, my husband mentioned how it felt like we were at a ball game as the noise compounded as the match progressed. There was a tickle of distrust of the crowd as we picked up our pace as we walked by but overall, we felt safe enough to validate being there.
At first, I thought it was a costume. A man dressed in a white security guard uniform holding an AK-47. Earlier, we had seen a man carrying a fake ax for a cosplay, so it took a minute to decern if it was real. As we got closer, it became abundantly clear that it was indeed a real gun and that the security guard yielding it was not messing around. With his finger hovering beside the trigger, and holding close to the middle of his chest, he looked ready to shoot. He only needed a target.
We pressed on and found a “tropical restaurant” that had a portrait of Two Harbors, Minnesota painted on the wall complete with parrots and tropical palm trees. Intrigued by the wild inaccuracy of Minnesota geography, we got a table and enjoyed some molten chocolate cake and coffee. We casually discussed that mall cops, who have borne the brunt of rent-a-cop jokes for decades, now carry AK-47s. We were indeed living in a different world. We laughed and relaxed as we ate cake and sipped coffee.
In the middle of the largest mall in the United States, my husband and I found quiet moments to recharge our emotional batteries and to connect on a deeper level. In a calm, lovingly stroll back to the hotel room, we congratulated ourselves on making this long without alone time together and reveled in every second.
By 9pm we were both in bed fighting sleep that eventually won. The night passed quickly, and morning found us rested and optimistic. We walked several miles in the mall past rows of closed store fronts before we returned to the hotel for a gourmet breakfast. The morning passed like a lazy river, calm and serene, but even lazy rivers eventually come to an end and so did our kid-free reprieve.
The reality of life came rushing back as we communicated with the babysitter and found out one of our dogs was sick and had several accidents waiting for us. And that the kids wanted lunch. Our jolt back to reality had some immediate consequences as we before we could get out of the city, we found ourselves in an argument. Thankfully, we navigated our heated discussion and were able to pick up lunch and come up with a reasonable plan for dealing with all that laid in front of us. All of this melted away the moment we opened the door to our house and were greeted with two smiling faces and met with our children’s sweet welcome home hugs.
Today I am grateful for my husband. There is no one else I rather do this thing called life with. But like any relationship, love is expressed through effort. Lots Of Voluntary Effort. This weekend we put in the effort and the rewards were rich. We are blessed.