Valentines Dinner In An Autism World

I had an idea!

I had a plan!

As autism parents, we don't get to go out on "date nights" much and Hallmark Holidays, like Valentine's Day, are even more "unobtanium". Autism does not allow for pre-planning and scheduled events.

Autism is it's own calendar and the one on which our household runs!

And then there's finding a baby sitter. Right? Sitters have become universally hard to come by and come at a high hourly cost these days. And finding one that can and will do autism? Pfft. Good luck!

So here we were again staring down the barrel of February 14th. I'd spend the day with Kirby and his older brother, Zandy, running around doing errands. It would give mom some time off on a Saturday. And we'd pick out some cards and little gifts that the boys could present their mom for Valentine's Day.

I too would get Jana a card and some trinket. Something that would somehow say to her, on this manufactured holiday, "we don't get to pick our paths in life but we're in it together and always will be". Something that said more than "I love you", more than "you're my best friend", something that said "we are autism parents and warriors and as hard as things can be, we are making a future person and there's no higher calling".

In our house we're also trying to do a socially responsible non-profit startup, I'm taking time off from a "real job" to do it and at 47 years old living on a startup shoe string budget is no easy trick. So I also needed to remind Jana that living on Ramon Noodles and burning our savings was about making a future for more than just "our person", we are fighting  to make a better future for everyone with autism and those who love them.

And so I was struck with an idea! A crazy plan formed in my delusional mind... I channeled the best of Wile E Coyote. I was suddenly a super genius!

There's a new Italian restaurant up the street. Less than a mile away. The food reviews from friends have been good but we'd never been able to get there. Late at night on February 13, I looked at the Open Table App for reservations. The last one was at 9:30PM and there was availability - I grabbed the table for two.

You see, Kirby is in bed by 8:30 and his older brother is almost 14 and wanting to show more responsibility. Zandy could keep an eye on the house and phone us if there were any problems and we'd be back in a flash - we'd be just 3/4 of a mile away. And the neighbor who's 200' away would keep an eye on it all too. Easy peasy. Kirby would be asleep. The older brother would feel good about being a baby sitter. I'd get to take Jana out for a rare "date night" dinner and on the big V-Day itself! Look at me go right?

I announced my plan to Jana who was delighted, skeptical, and then in a sudden frenzy to find something to wear for date night and on Valentine's Day itself!

In preparation and to make sure that Kirby would be well asleep, I gave him a higher dose of the clonidine that he gets at bed time and a warm bath and I even threw in some melatonin for good measure. We ran hard all day doing our V-Day errands and some extra outdoor time on the trampoline too - that should knock him out!

There was just one (or two) hitches - first it started to snow and then the kid decided that this was one night he wasn't going to sleep. As we approached our reservation time, it even appeared that he got MORE revved up. In parallel, Jana was having a "dressing issue". The night was unraveling in front of my eyes. I really was Wile E Coyote! My great plan was in ruins.

But eventually, by around 10PM, Kirby fell over. Coincidentally Jana made it through her dressing issues and was ravishing. My autism mom had turned into the hotty I knew from back when. The snow was falling steadily but the road was clear.

Well - we had probably missed the kitchen. They'd probably cancelled our reservation. But the kid was finally asleep and Jana was beautiful so at least we could go up the street, sit at the bar and have a glass of wine and salvage something of the sense of "going out".

When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised that the kitchen was open until 11 and that our table was still available. The restaurant was clearing out with the snow but some late night SUV driving revelers were still enjoying the bar. The waitress turned out the be the neighbor's daughter and was awesome. The food was rushed but we did get our Valentines Day dinner date after all.

One of the hardest things was relaxing once we got there and were seated. It reminded me that the level of stress and anxiety that comes in an ASD household is an element even when one can "get away". It took us most of the dinner to "find ourselves" and remember how to be a couple instead of autism mom and dad.

And that's the take away - I suspect the reason that so many autism couples divorce early is that figuring out how to make time for each other and then actually remembering how to be a couple is REALLY hard. I wish I had some good advice on HOW to fix that but alas all I can say is that I know it's really important...

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