About four weeks ago the Normal Mormon Wife gently reminded me that it was my year to plan our Valentine's date. This knowledge has been looming over me like an Eeyore-style raincloud for the past month because I generally have a hard time coming up with original, creative date night ideas. While my subscription to Husband Hero has been helpful in sparking some spontaneity, not even the pros can tell me what to do every time I plan a date. My success rate at pulling off fun date nights is pretty similar to Shaq's free throw shooting percentage. I've been dating for almost as long as Shaq has been in the NBA, yet we each only manage to get the job done 53% of the time.
Since the moment I was notified that the pressure of Valentine's Day rested squarely on my shoulders, 73% of my brain has been dedicated to carrying out major life activities like breathing, working, parenting, churching, eating and completing the off season in the year 2015 of my Madden franchise. The remaining 27% of my mental capacity has been consumed with figuring out what to do with the Normal Mormon Wife on the holiday that Hallmark invented. Not only do I have to whip up a memorable date with enough activities for 3-4 quality scrapbook photos, but keeping it secret from the NMW is nearly impossible. She has a sixth sense of guessing what I am scheming for our date nights and for figuring out what presents I bought her for major holidays and birthdays.
For example, let's say I was going to buy her a completely random, nonsensical gift. Something that she should never be able to guess in a million years. Like a chainsaw. The NMW is just too smart for her own good and ends up figuring out my surprise gifts to her by conversations like this one:
Me: "Wow. Look how big the branches on that tree are."
NMW: "Yep, those are some big branches. What made you notice tree branches all of a sudden?"
Me: (Panicking) "Uhhh...no...reason..."
NMW: "You're going to get me a chainsaw for my birthday, aren't you?"
Me: (Driving the car into a ditch to protest the injustice of never being able to surprise the NMW.)
NMW: (Fastening her crash helmet and Hans device since she had previously guessed that my reaction would be to wreck the car when she figured out her birthday present.)
We decided to go out on our date last night (Feb 13th) since we normally try to avoid fighting the crowds on Valentine's Day. Nothing says "romance" like sitting for two hours in the Olive Garden waiting area with four hundred other people hoping that your little UFO thingy will light up and start vibrating. The NMW and I try to skip the crowds since the babysitter meter increases as fast as the national debt clock every minute we are away from home. Plus, it would probably be a little insulting to our 17-year-old dating-age female babysitters if we called to ask them if they were available to babysit for us on Valentine's evening. You know, as if they would otherwise be sitting home with nothing else to do. I could see a couple of young women's Facebook statuses being updated with less than happy one-liners if we insinuated they would be spending Valentine's at home by themselves. (Speaking of Facebook, if you like this blog blog you can join the NMH Facebook fan group if you wish.)
I started to panic on February 10th when I still had not figured out what to do for our date. But my inability to come up with a plan was not from lack of trying. I just simply froze, like Ralphie on A Christmas Story when Santa asks him what he wants for Christmas and the only response he can come up with is "a football." I had several lame football-caliber ideas and had even got to the point where I was thinking up excuses as to why we should just stay home for Valentine's this year (e.g. "You know, honey, with the economy the way it is..." or "I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch today and I think it was manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of Amer......." and then fake a seizure.)
Then, on February 11th, inspiration struck. I knew the NMW liked gazing at the stars, so I thought maybe I should do something outdoors and away from the city lights where we could see constellations, planets, astronaut tool boxes and satellites crashing into each other in the heavens above. Since the babysitter comes at 8:00 p.m. when the kids are ready for bed, we would have already eaten dinner and would probably just want dessert. Hmm...what dessert goes with being outdoors? S'mores! And since S'mores require a fire, this date would also allow me to satisfy my constant craving to burn stuff. I think most men have some primal urge to build fires and go to bed smelling like smoke for some reason. Heck, I even recently bought myself a flint stick and have been perfecting lighting fires using nothing but flint and a pocketknife. Some people call that a "mid-life crisis." I call it being prepared to keep my family warm if we ever have to escape the city and live like aborigines in the forest. And, no, I have not been to Australia recently so don't try to blame me for the whole continent being ablaze.
I called the campground, bought some firewood, assembled the S'mores ingredients, got the obligatory Welch's sparkling grape juice, grabbed two Milk Chugs to wash down the S'mores, packed my iPod and speakers for some music to dance to under the stars and got ready for a romantic evening alone with the NMW. I also packed my hibachi grill just in case I failed to light a fire with my flint stick and/or the backup lighter I brought. And guess what?
I TOTALLY SURPRISED HER!
The NMW had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. When we got to the campground and she started putting two and two together, she seemed to be delighted at doing something so different from what we normally do on date night. As we entered the park, a large female deer stood directly in front of our van about twenty yards away and made us feel like we had escaped the real world for a minute. As we unpacked and built the fire (I got a small fire going with the flint - BOO YA!) we heard two owls hooting in the trees near us. Unfortunately there was thick cloud cover and we couldn't even see the moon, let alone the stars, but the sights, sounds and smells of nature and the flickering light of a campfire were very cool. Okay, I'll say it. It was romantic. The S'mores were delicious, the Milk Chugs were a hit and dancing all by ourselves in the middle of the woods to Norah Jones was was memorable.
Just when I thought the night could not get any better, the NMW gave me my Valentine's gift. She has used sites like Blurb.com before to make books for grandmas and grandpas, but this time she had them publish a hard-backed book called Normal Mormon Husbands Vol. 1: The Best of 2007 and 2008. She spent hours going through my old blog posts and picked out her 19 favorite columns. The end result was a 117-page professional-looking book full of some of the more entertaining moments from our lives. She included many of my favorite posts, including The Price of A Boy's Soul? $1 (which is my all-time favorite post, BTW), The Twilight Series for Dummies, 1 Boy + 16 Girls x Estrogen = Awkward, Christmas and Angels and many others. It was such an incredibly thoughtful, insightful gift for her to give to me. I will cherish this book for the rest of my life.
The next time I see Shaquille O'Neal go to the free throw line with his team losing by one and no time left on the clock, I am going to have faith that he will sink both attempts and win the game.
After all, if I can pull off a date like Valentine's 2009, anything is possible.
(Not to get too far off topic, but would any of you be interested in buying a Best of NMH book? Now that a lot of the work has already been completed by the NMW, it wouldn't be too hard to reprint it. Please vote in the polls on the right and let me know.)
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