A few years ago, my husband, kids and I were at my sister’s home for a wild Friday night family date. And while we were having fun, it had not been our initial plan for the evening. Originally, we were going to hire babysitters so we could have an evening where we were free to be unencumbered adults at our favorite restaurant, enjoying cocktails, listening to live music and then tripping into our Uber ride home, where we would find our kids in bed, sound asleep until the morning hours.
But as the date approached, my sister discovered all of her babysitters were busy. Then mine came down with a stomach bug and while she was still willing to come over, when she ended her text with “…and don’t worry, I haven’t vomited for about 4 hours…,” I absolutely forbid her from entering our home. I mean, can you blame me? A year before I had gambled on that same bet only to spend the next two weeks cleaning up aggressively projected body fluids from my two kids. Gross. In the end, no one could find a babysitter. So it was either cancel our plans or all hang out together – kids included.
Neither my husband nor I were completely thrilled with the prospect of the latter after the taste of freedom had been so close. A night in with all the kids just didn’t have the same draw as a night out without any kids. But as we were still excited to spend time with our people, the four of us adults decided we would just get together at my sister’s home and stay later into the evening after bedtimes since my kids tend to be flexible sleepers.
I made sure to bring our kids’ pajamas, comfort animals and blankets, toothbrushes and a sound machine. My sister set up her Pack ‘n’ Play for my daughter, and a sleeping bag for my son. We then made a plan similar to what I imagine goes into a strategic military defensive maneuver – feed the kids immediately upon arrival, let them play as crazy as they want for an hour to burn off the last vestiges of their daily energy, get them to bed, and then we would open the wine and enjoy our own adult dinner.
Now, between our two families, there are five kids under the age of nine. And two dogs. And a cat. So suffice to say, it began as an evening of high pitched squealing, pounding toddler feet, barking, yipping, shrieking, laughter and inevitably some tears. But as parents, we leaned in. We refereed where needed, redirected when the youngest two decided to smack each other repeatedly at close range for no apparent reason, confiscated the dog leashes from around the middle kids’ necks when they decided to play canine companions. We made plate after plate of chicken nuggets, wiped up spilled milk and generally survived until suddenly it was 7 o’clock.
It was time for bed. The adults gathered in a quick huddle to make certain everyone understood their responsibilities for the next 30 minutes. Moms – get the kids to sleep at any cost. Dads – pick up the carry out dinner orders and ice cream. Ready? Go.
As the Dads smirked at their luck at getting the easier job, my sister and I wrangled our respective kids upstairs to the bedrooms and after (gently) cramming arms and legs into pajamas, brushing sweet little Chiclet teeth, reading several stories, rubbing backs, saying prayers, singing Down by the Bay and doing alllllll the things that are required at bedtime. Our busy little offspring were asleep… just as the Dads walked back into the house with the slam of a door. Which set a dog barking, which led to several of the older kids showing up in the kitchen. Naturally. The Dads herded the bleary-eyed kids back upstairs to bed. My sister and I set out the food on the coffee table in the living room, turned on some music, stoked the fire and sat down more than a little tired.
Moments later, my husband and brother-in-law crept back downstairs. They plopped down beside us around the table so recently cleared of Legos and Calico Critters. For a few moments, we held our breath in collective silence as we listened for signs of stirring above us. With a sigh, we realized everyone was happily asleep. Success.
Wine was poured all around. As we clinked glasses in a collective parental cheer, my sister said the now famous words: “Here’s to Second Evening!” At which point we burst out laughing at the perfectly appointed description of the evening experience of being a parent with young kids.
Think about it – as parents, First Evening is that last push towards bedtime for our kids. And while we savor those moments we get to snuggle them, it is still a small daily victory when they are fast asleep. We did it! We kept them alive one more day! And then comes Second Evening. Those precious moments, minutes or hours post-bedtime when all is quiet and you can be an adult, and just… be. Whether you sit quietly and read a book, or take a hot bath, or savor a cup of coffee and the silence, or watch a movie with your spouse, or – like us – gather with another family with kids and have a date night in that includes everyone. Second Evening is the goal, as it rushes at you like a breath of fresh air.
That night really was a change in perspective for both my husband and me. We were reminded that as parents, not everything goes as planned (duh). And that that is perfectly fine. Was I looking forward to a date night out with my husband and friends? Yes. Is dating my husband without kids around important? Absolutely. But when our best-laid plans failed, we were also presented with an opportunity to give our kids an incredible night playing with their cousins, as well as time with grown-ups. The evening ended up being filled with laughter, camaraderie, good conversation, time spent together and delicious food.
Even though we knew later on when it was time to transfer our slumbering lumps of kids into the car for the drive home and then into their own beds, we would feel tired and possibly question if it was worth it. We did it anyway. Because at the end of the day, it’s really about doing life with each other. And that is exactly what Second Evening is all about.
Since that fateful evening, I have found myself being much more deliberate with my Second Evenings. There are some days my husband and I plan it ahead of time. We order in a meal, we watch a favorite show on Netflix while we eat, and then inevitably pause it at some point to talk. Sometimes about our kids… sometimes about something funny one of us experienced at work… or something stressing us out… But at the end of the day, it is a daily opportunity to spend time together. Looking at one another. Being deliberate with each other when we aren’t distracted by our two-year-old asking us to fill a bowl of water so she can pretend to be a puppy, or our son wanting to discuss his latest take on his Pokémon card collection.
Some evenings, we stay up late playing Scrabble (or Dominion, if he gets his way) because those kidless hours feel worth the fatigue the morning will bring. Yet other times sleep feels like a priority, and after a few minutes of catching up, we crawl into bed. But the fact remains; we focus on each other in an effort to plant an intentional stake in the ground for Second Evening.
So tell me – what have been your favorite Second Evenings? Be sure to tag them on Instagram at #secondevening. Because over the years, word has spread and now nearly all of the parenting adults in our lives use the term. So let’s start a dialogue and grow our community because truly it takes a village to raise these wonderful little people and come out the other side with our adult relationships intact.