By Claire Mullen
It’s February, and, much like the flu, love is in the air. Our family’s Christmas decorations are still tarrying in their plastic containers on the dining room floor, yet we’ve blown through more Little Debbie heart-shaped snack cakes than I care to admit.
Many of you have already carved out some special time to celebrate the Month of Love with your person. This might mean a reservation, booked thoughtfully in advance, at your favorite restaurant, or if you’re lucky enough, maybe even a weekend getaway replete with crackling fires, hot toddies, and snow falling outside your cabin window. As for my husband and me, we’ll consider ourselves blessed if we squeeze in one genuine, call-a-babysitter, out-past-9 p.m. date night between now and our wedding anniversary in August. Like many parents of young children (ours are 3 and 5), our household’s calendar is eternally chockfull of this and that: playdates, business dinners, birthday parties, piano lessons, PTO meetings, Saturday soccer.
At the end of our marathon weeks, date night often amounts to the two of us exhausted high-school sweethearts sprawled on the living room sofa with a frozen pizza between us and a true crime series on the TV. The Gen Y version of “Netflix and chill”. Literally, watching Netflix and trying to stay awake through the first episode.
We’ve not always been this sleepy. Our love story dates back almost 20 years, to a fateful blind date set up by a mutual friend. I was an almost 15-year-old sophomore at Fayetteville Academy, and managed to snag the captain of Terry Sanford’s varsity soccer team. He drove a Chevy Blazer with mud tires AND a brush guard. The rest, as they say, is history.
Corey and I are proud second and third-generation Fayetteville natives, and have spent the course of our relationship dating each other in our great city. He took me bowling at Lafayette Lanes for our first date. During those early years, the recently closed Applebee’s on Raeford Road was our spot — perfect for dining on a high-schooler’s budget, and Corey never failed to point out the picture of his team hanging on the wall by the host stand.
The nature of our dates evolved along with our relationship. Boisterous post-football game group dinners over bottomless chips and salsa at Mi Casita, steaks and a bottle of wine at Luigi’s to celebrate new careers and our move back to Fayetteville after years away at college and graduate school in Chapel Hill, pancakes and coffee at Zorba’s since dinners out were temporarily on hold due to our infant daughter’s early bedtime. And these days, outings like a babysitter-sponsored field trip to Lowe’s to pick out a new dishwasher, capped off with a parking-lot picnic — a Sabrett hot dog and shared Coke — in the front seat of our SUV. Hey, we’ll take what we can get.
To our fellow mamas and daddies who, like us, sometimes worry that unrestricted date night won’t be rekindled until the early bird dinner special at K&W, we say don’t lose faith. Even if it’s only twice a year on your birthdays, call in reinforcements. Change out of your sweats and yoga pants. Call ahead for a table for two at Circa 1800. Head down to Person Street. Order craft cocktails and take your time sharing dishes from their ever-delicious seasonal menu. If your babysitter is brave enough to tackle bedtime, linger downtown a little longer. Stroll next door to Caruso Confections for dessert and cappuccino. It’s truly something special, and maybe even a little bit romantic, to unplug and enjoy adult conversation with our thriving downtown as your backdrop.
And should you find yourselves faced with a free Saturday night and no babysitter on speed dial, consider a fun family outing to the Mullens’ newly discovered absolute favorite weekend hangout: Dirtbag Ales Brewery and Taproom. Located at 5435 Corporation Drive in Hope Mills, Dirtbag is practically perfect in every way. Along with their carefully crafted selection of house brews, they offer an abundance of greenspace complete with a playground for children of all ages to romp. They feature live music and yummy locally sourced eats by Napkins Catering Company. Cherry on top, they even welcome the family dog. It was here on a recent excursion that I looked at my husband, flecks of gray in his beard, across our table littered with half-eaten tater tots, crayon nubs, and empty pint glasses. Our son and daughter were holding hands and dancing like little maniacs to The Guy Unger Band’s rendition of “Whole Lotta Love”.
I couldn’t help but think that after all these years, we’d found it. The perfect date night for two. Plus two.