Date night…what’s that?! Before COVID struck, my husband and I kept up a steady cadence of monthly date nights out at restaurants in DC. In the early days of parenthood, we were admittedly not very good at going out. But as our boys got older, and we got into a habit of weekly Saturday planning meetings, date night became part of our regular monthly scheduling process.
Then, of course, as for many parents, this tradition came to an abrupt halt. Alongside many parents, we suffered from a lack of childcare. Lack of open dining options. And a lack of places we felt safe from the pandemic outside our home.
While my husband and I spent SO much time together throughout the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to be alone together, what with our 8 and 10 year old boys always home with us. You know the story.
It recently dawned on us that (1) we were both fully vaccinated; (2) our babysitter was fully vaccinated; and (3) our 13th wedding anniversary was coming up. This was certainly a recipe for scheduling a date night, if ever there was one.
Given our first real date was on the Georgetown Waterfront (in 2004), Jason and I have a tradition of heading there every June for our wedding anniversary. Save last year, when that wasn’t possible.
The Waterfront is also where we went for our first date out as parents. Our oldest was about 6 months old, and an older neighbor watched the baby while we went on an afternoon date to Sequoia and sat outside, alone, with fruity drinks. We returned to discover both that baby hadn’t napped and that his diaper was on backwards. But never mind. He was alive, and we had gotten away!
Date Night, Post-Vaccine
So what was this first post-vaccine date night like? Wonderful. And eerie.
When we arrived and took a walk along the water before dinner, I was startled by how desolate it felt. If you’ve ever been to the Georgetown Waterfront on a Friday night in June, you’ll know that “quiet” and “peaceful” aren’t words you’d usually use to describe the scene. And while I wasn’t particularly looking for a crowded or raging party, it was still disconcerting to see how empty the area was.
I also had that moment of, “we usually take a photo of ourselves in front of the water and the Kennedy Center,” but I hadn’t passed my phone to a stranger since COVID began. Hmm, maybe a selfie will work, I thought. But no, we couldn’t get the water in the background. So I reminded myself I was vaccinated, that we were standing outside, and that the virus doesn’t pass by surfaces. Then, I took the plunge in asking a couple walking past us to take our picture. (OH, the mental gymnastics we go through, because of this pandemic!!)
I shared with the woman who agreed to take our picture that this was the first time in over a year that I was handing my phone to someone I didn’t know, to take a photo of me. And she immediately jumped back, and said loudly, “I’m vaccinated!” (OH, how skittish we all are, because of this pandemic!!)
We dined outside under a tent, overlooking the water, and it was amazing. Delicious food, a quiet dinner cooked by someone else, and amazing company. We got a seafood tower to savor, and I felt like I was getting my “dining out” sea legs under me again.
Some things about the restaurant had changed. There were no more big printed menus, but rather little 2 inch square slips of paper with QR codes on them for us to scan with our phones. The dishes on the menu had evolved from my visit 2 years prior. And the restaurant was definitely at less than half capacity.
As I ventured inside with my mask on to use the restroom, and watched parties of 10, 18, 24 people dining and drinking together, packed into long and round tables, it all felt strange. Strange to watch people socializing. All of us trying to figure out how to act next. In a world where there is no post-pandemic playbook.
Jason and I took a long walk after dinner, down M Street, and up Wisconsin Avenue. Ben & Jerry’s and Old Glory were gone. Rothy’s and Allbirds had moved in. “Not Whole Foods, too!?” I declared, in shock, when I saw it boarded up. But my husband reminded me that it had closed pre-COVID on account of rats. Not the pandemic. It’s so hard to tease out what is the wreckage of what.
As we walked up Wisconsin Avenue, dead quiet on this Friday night, it felt like DC the week before Christmas and New Year’s, when everyone was gone. There were no taxis in sight. (Is that industry gone forever?) I had a sense of walking around a world after an apocalypse. Quiet, and eerie.
We’re in for a Long String of Firsts
This seems to be the season of post-vaccine firsts. (Yes, I know, our kids aren’t vaccinated yet, so there will be many more firsts after that happens…but for now, I’m doing the things that feel safe to me as someone who is now protected.) First in-person gatherings of friends. Days back in the office. And date nights.
How have you been experiencing these firsts? There’s an opportunity, I think, to see things through new eyes as we re-emerge. A weekend spent on the soccer and baseball fields is now, for me, something to treasure, rather than something to groan about. There’s something extremely special about fully experiencing a quiet date night, rather than feeling that it’s a monthly routine.
For now, I’m letting myself sit with the strangeness of it all. And with the beauty of reconnection.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave