We finally did it. My husband and I ventured out of the house for dinner with our two toddlers for the first time in, well, I don’t remember how long, but it was a long time. We’re not a family that typically ventures out for big date nights as it is, but the pandemic really stretched those outings to few and far between. So, in typical mom fashion, I reflected on our outing after the fact to recognize and remember what factors worked well to make this family date night a success, so I can plan to repeat every step in the future.
Do you have any gift cards lying around or collecting crumbs in your wallet? If you hate wasting money like I do, choose an activity you have a gift card for. We have piles of gift cards from years past, and while we’ve always wanted to use them, I either forget them at home, or we just never find the “right” time to use them. Well, I found that old gift card to a movie theater and I looked up their COVID rules of engagement and suggested a movie date night for our family. Coincidentally, there’s a new Disney movie we all wanted to see, so we made a spontaneous plan for a family date night! The best part about the gift card plan is if for some reason the kids have an epic meltdown at any point, or if something goes wrong, you won’t feel guilty about wasting money!
I used to plan outings around nap times for my kids and if you read my previous post on foregoing naps, you’ll see why I stopped planning anything around naps. Spoiler: no matter how much planning I do, my kids end up falling asleep in the car and boycott naps at home. I refuse to be prisoner to my kids’ nap schedule. So, removing that planning nightmare really helped our family date night succeed. We can be spontaneous with an impromptu date night because the kids get a solid twenty-minute catnap on the drive to the theater. With this mom hack, that’s just enough sleep to keep the kids functioning in public, yet not too rested where they will run wild with confidence or stay up all night when you get home.
There is something really captivating about Disney movies. They really know how to suck in a toddler and hold their attention for an extended period of time. Thankfully, the movie we wanted to see for family date night was Disney’s newest release and we didn’t show it to the kids beforehand. It really was a shock and awe kind of approach. Those bright colors, riveting storyline, and dragons held my kids’ attention the entire time.
One of the fancy new COVID rules of engagement for the theater we went to was selecting your own seats when buying the tickets! It felt like an airplane ride in a giant movie theater. We’ll set the pressure and anxiety aside for a second and focus on the fact we selected the perfect seats. I remember the front row in the middle being elevated enough so you’re not straining your neck, yet right on the walkway so the kids won’t disturb anyone if they need to stretch their legs for a hot second. This was really a guess, and on a lucky stroke of chance, our seats were perfect. As an added bonus, there were less than a handful of other families in the theater- effectively improving our family date night success.
Binge Unhealthy Snacks
Unfortunately, you can’t pack your own mom bag full of snacks for movie theater trips however thanks to that aforementioned gift card we loaded up on movie theater snacks. It may not be the healthiest option, or cost-effective- but it’s a rare family date night, so we went all in. Large popcorn with the free refill, soda for adults to share, one of those Icee drinks for the kids, and candy for the final push through the movie when my little guy decides he no longer wants to sit. Let me tell you, it all worked! Not just for the kids, but that popcorn was delicious for me too! It was nice to not only focus on the kids but to think about my own self-care and appetite (and my husband’s too).
Dinner Reservations for the Brewery Next Door
I’ll skip over the busy drama of the day, and that we didn’t leave the house early enough for our planned late lunch pre-movie meal- so, when we parked at the theater and I saw a brewery with food next door, I called to make a reservation. This way, when the movie was done we didn’t have to banter back and forth about who wants what food and where we will go because we’re all tired and post-popcorn hungry. When the movie was over, we just meandered over to our reserved table and had an amazing dinner! The reservation and quick transition was another key ingredient for the family date night success.
Normally, family date night successes typically involve the Disney+ application on my phone. However, after sitting for a movie and now asking the kids to sit at a table for dinner- Disney+ wasn’t going to cut it. My daughter was handling it well, but my son was starting to feel the jitters after all that candy. Thankfully, this was a new restaurant and the kids were more or less happy to take in the experience. However, the little guy wanted to go and explore those socially distant tables. I needed the ultimate attention grabber- Team UmiZoomie. I’ve tried to cut back on screen time with the kids, because it creates more of a roller coaster ride than anything, but my little guy is obsessed with Team UmiZoomie. I found a couple of clips on YouTube (thank goodness,) and they kept his attention long enough for me to finish my delicious beer, I mean dinner.
Okay, there I said it. Cold, delicious beer. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a beer. And after a staycation week with my husband being home, and the kids reaching an all-time push-mom’s-buttons high, that beer really completed my version of family date night. I’m not saying alcohol is necessary, but at that moment it made dining out with two toddlers during a pandemic fun. It felt so nice being out of our house, enjoying food I didn’t cook, and seeing the kids experience something new.