Finding the Holy Grail of parenting: Date night

date ideas written on popsicle sticks

Cropped image. Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

There are some couples who are just good at it, and some who need a boost. I’m talking about date nights and nights out with grown-ups. No. Kids.

I have a friend who is really good at it. He and his wife schedule date nights once a month in advance. They usually try a new restaurant without their four kids and then run a few errands. My husband and I are horrible at it. I love the idea, but the mythical unicorn of “date night” hardly visits our marriage. I’m not sure if that unicorn even knows where we live.

When the opportunity does come our way, I’m all in though. To get myself motivated to plan a night out, I did some brainstorming about fun things to do without your shortys in tow.

Check out entertainment calendars. Try the Freep or MLive. They list special events at museums, concerts/music festivals, cultural events and more.

Try something different. The last time we went on a date, we tried mini golf. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. We were horrible! But it was a blast and totally out of the norm for us. Also consider indoor rock climbing (before adult beverages, please), a comedy show, go to the drive-in theater or a play, or attend one of the after-hours events at the zoo, Cranbrook Institute of Science or the Michigan Science Center.

If the scheduling gods are smiling on you and you actually make plans with other adults, first take a photo. It’s a rare event. Second, come up with something to do quickly so you don’t just end up camped out at the house of whoever sent their kids off to grandma’s house.


  • Feather bowling
  • Normal bowling
  • A sporting event
  • Wine tasting/whiskey tasting
  • Casino
  • Museums
  • Visit Belle Isle and rent a paddle boat, kayak or bike
  • Preservation Detroit has excellent walking tours
  • Try an escape room
  • Trampoline park

Are you ready to plan a night out? Me, too. Where are you going?

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Girding for the gridiron

Girls' fantasy football league trophy

My Pigtails & Pigskins championship trophy!

My fellow ladies (oops, a little bit of an oxymoron there), perhaps you’ve noticed the changes that are afoot. Summer is drawing to a close. The school supply section at Target beckons. Myriad official forms lurk in desperate piles. Your offspring clamor for the latest and greatest in licensed-character backpacks. Faced with these hurdles, your head begins to spin. So I address you today with an important query: Are you ready for some foooootball?

Yes, it is true. It’s been a long, slow road since the regular season wrapped up in January, but now we can unleash our passion once again. We will take up our laptops, clutch our mugs of coffee, and venture forth into hours of research on The games have started, and now must we begin that Sacred Rite of Late Summer: the Fantasy Football draft. Season starts Sept. 8!

If you’ve never played Fantasy Football, first let me gasp in horror. Now allow me to share some excellent reasons why you really must consider participating in this giant time suck fun hobby.

Live draft. This is the best part of each season (other than winning, of course). It is a ritual in which all of the members in a Fantasy league get together and make their player selections.

The order in which members can make their picks (the “draft order”) is randomly selected by computer. Those drafting, in turn, can randomly select which colleagues to snarl at throughout the draft for both real and imagined offenses. Choosing a player whom someone else was intending to draft — “He’s MINE!” — can certainly be included among such transgressions.

League members who can’t attend the draft in person can participate online via the “trash talk” aspect of the draft platform. This is an excellent feature that allows everyone to share in the joy of the cutthroat competition. Live drafts often involve food in some capacity, too, simply adding to the appeal. After all, where else can one comfortably hurl insults at friends while consuming mass quantities of homemade goodies?

Conversation piece. From September through January, you never have to worry about standing in an awkward silence when thrust into a group of people you don’t really know. As long as you have a Fantasy team, you have something to chat about. “Is Brady still suspended?” is an excellent opening, one that will undoubtedly evolve into a lively debate about the inflation parameters of footballs. Or you could bring up a general concern you have over your looming bye weeks. You may not, however, want to discuss the status of your tight end unless it’s already been established that you are talking about football.

Shopping. This is a wonderful way to satisfy that insatiable urge to acquire stuff. (You know, that need to buy that results in leaving Target with several cartfuls of items when you went in for “just one thing?” Perhaps that’s just me.)

Anyway, Fantasy Football provides that chance to get new things because you can dump players who disappoint you and pick up new ones. These new players can provide a glimmer of hope that maybe you can still be the winner of your league in spite of the way CJ Anderson continues to ruin everything (or perhaps that’s just me again).

See, players not selected during the original draft hang out on the waiver wire. If a league member decides one of her players isn’t performing up to par, she can drop that guy and pick up someone else off of this waiver wire. It’s just like shopping, but it’s free.

Being forced to watch Lions games. If you live in metro Detroit, you’ve likely been subjected to this at some point. It’s especially an issue on Thanksgiving when you’ve just enjoyed a wonderful, turkey-filled meal and then … ugh. The Lions are on. Cue the indigestion. But when you play Fantasy Football, chances are good that you have at least one player on the opposing team, and now you have something to cheer for! It’s also possible that you were stuck with Matthew Stafford as your quarterback and you think you might be able to root for him. If this is the case, I offer sincere condolences and can only pat you on the back from afar as he is creamed by the other team’s defensive line.

Bonding with children. If you have children of football-watching age, Fantasy is way for you to commiserate over your frustrations and failures together. Our family has its own league that’s just for the parents, kids and a few trusted family friends. It provides a safe environment in which youth can learn and grow in the ways of offense, defense and special teams — areas that are sadly overlooked in most school classrooms.

If your children are competitive, you may want to have extra Kleenex on hand when their quarterback throws numerous incompletions, or for when their star running back is benched for being a doofus. Brace yourself for hearing more exclamations of “WHY?” and “NO!” than usual (Then again, it’s quite possible that you won’t even notice because you will be shrieking right along with them).

You may also learn interesting things about your progeny that you never would’ve guessed, such as an irrational yet stubborn need to absolutely, positively own three kickers. It is a unique challenge, as a parent, to guide children through their team ownership. Fantasy Football offers so much in the way of teachable moments. How are you not doing this yet?

According to the internet, Fantasy Football was invented by a man named Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach in 1963. He and some friends came up with the idea of selecting (“drafting”) certain pro football players to play imaginary games against each other. Their scoring system evolved over the years into the complicated beast it is today, and math dummies like yours truly all over the world are thankful that computers can now make the calculations for us. At the click of a button, we can know which players caught how many passes, ran how many yards, scored how many touchdowns and fumbled how many times. We instantly know which of our players did a good job for our team and which ones need to be benched in the future. Instant gratification is a wonderful thing.

Thank you, Bill, for your marvelous creation. Because of you, we are definitely ready for some football.

Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and Fantasy Football enthusiast.

Pinterest Wins and Fails

Photo of giant water blob in a backyard

Pinterest inspired me to make this giant water blob.

Confession: I’m not “crafty.” I can’t crank out beautifully handmade Christmas cards, or “ooh” and “ahhh” over my kids’ scrapbook. But Pinterest has a strange power over me. I look at it and think, “I can bake a three-tiered, Mickey Mouse-themed birthday cake.”


Still, I keep trying projects on Pinterest, hoping that one day something will work.

A Few of My Greatest Hits

  • The hidden objects bottle was awesome for a long car trip. I used orange juice bottles, which in hindsight were a bit too heavy, and put all kinds of objects in it to find. The kids loved it.
  • My husband made the PVC car wash sprinkler out of scraps in the garage. He felt very manly. This toy soaks the grass, so make sure you move it around frequently.
  • This one has nothing to do with kids, but I’m telling you — it turns out perfect every time and it’s easy. Make this bread once, and it’ll be your signature dish forever.
  • Then there was my home organization kick. My kitchen cabinets were driving me nuts so I reorganized them. Why didn’t I think to store water bottles on their sides, instead of standing them up so I have to knock them over and catch them before they hit someone, or make a loud noise that wakes the kids? It’s brilliant!
  • I also loved hanging the scissors on the inside of a high cabinet. Note: I tried this with a small nail first, but the scissors kept flying out of the cabinet when the door opened, which freaked out a few people (including my unsuspecting husband). So, I bought some small screw-in hooks. Worked like a charm.
Scissors hanging inside a cabinet door

Hanging the scissors inside a high cabinet keeps them out of the reach of curious kids.

Some of My Pinterest Fails

  • I saw this system of tunnels and thought it was a great way to use empty diaper and wipes boxes. So I carved out tunnels to drive cars through. Unfortunately, the kids didn’t actually use the tunnels for what they were intended. Nope. Instead, they pretended the boxes were cars and flipped them over and sat in them. And, no. I didn’t get all fancy with my tape.
  • Let’s not forget the water blob. The kids were only “eh” about this one. So, yeah, it was more trouble than it was worth and I ended up looking like a Smurf because of a blue food-coloring backfire. Also, the instructions said I’d be done ironing by the time the Doc McStuffins “I Feel Better” song was over. Not so. I watched two episodes of Downton Abbey.

What are your Pinterest wins/fails? C’mon! We’ll always applaud the effort.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

Ahhh … My First Trip Away From the Twins

Interior photo of Montreal's Notre Dame Cathedral

I put my photography hobby to good use inside the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. The photo is unedited, so those are the true colors.

It finally happened. After 2.5 years, I left my kids to go on a short trip with my husband. It was divine! Glorious! Relaxing!

And I felt guilty.

Up until May, I had never spent even one night away from my twins. Not one. But the time had come for mom and dad to get away and recharge our batteries. We aren’t spring chickens anymore, you know.

In April, my husband told me about a work trip he was scheduling in Montreal. It would be from Monday night until Thursday night. Three whole nights of uninterrupted sleep. Two whole days of grown-up meals and restaurant visits that didn’t end in one of us cleaning the floor. I was excited.

And I felt guilty.

I planned my alone time (wah-hoo!) carefully. I wanted to do some window shopping and practice my photography hobby that has been sorely neglected. I wanted to take long, hot showers just because I could. And most of all, I wanted to just kick back without a schedule, without structure and just be.

Without feeling guilty.

When the day came for us to leave, I spent the last hour snuggled on the couch uncharacteristically letting the kids watch back-to-back episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, just so I could hold them. At T-minus 30 minutes to departure, I was starting to blink back tears. What were they going to learn while I was gone? What if they missed me too much? My daughter is very attached to me. What if she doesn’t do well?

And then I felt really guilty.

When the time came to leave the kids in the hands of our wonderful nanny, I kissed and hugged them until they got annoyed with me and I cried all the way to the car. They, however, were in their own little world, which was great. No tears from them. I decided I had to get it together. I didn’t want the TSA thinking my husband was putting me on a plane against my will. So I put on some music that didn’t involve wheels on the bus or weasels popping, sat back, and enjoyed the ride.

And tried not to feel guilty.

Once we were there, I remembered how much I love traveling and enjoyed myself thoroughly. We had a fantastic dinner at a posh restaurant, saw the sights at night and during the day and, you guys, I even took a nap and relaxed in a hot tub! I was like a kid in a candy store.

And I tried not to feel guilty for not feeling guilty.

The kids did great while we were gone. Our fabulous nanny stayed with them and they did art projects, went to the park, and even met nanny’s dog. Our son really didn’t care where we were. As long as he had food, his bed and his trucks, all was well. Our daughter had a little rougher go of it. The first night, she had a tough time going to sleep, but after that she was fine. She asked about us a lot, but was satisfied with knowing that we would come back. All in all, it was good for us as adults to have some time together. We are better parents for it.

And I finally don’t feel guilty.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

How Do You Balance Being a Mom and Owning a Small Business?

BeaumontDonationBeing a mom is a tough job in and of itself, but add owning and running a business to that and the question of “how does she do it?” often comes up. I sat down with two moms who do just that to answer some of those questions that most of us moms often wonder on the days when we feel overwhelmed.
Meet Julie Penn and Justine Vetor. Longtime friends met when their youngest children started preschool together and instantly clicked. Today, they own Just Me Socks, creators of fun, expressive athletic and street socks and unique fundraising opportunities.
As part of their endeavor, they knew they wanted to do something to give back to the community. Keeping work and production in Michigan was a conscious decision they made during start up. Because they have a website, they are still able to sell anywhere and have had orders across the globe.
They also found a way to do something for local children. Last summer Julie’s son was sent from Troy Beaumont to Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak for an emergency appendectomy. Although it was a routine surgery, it was a very scary time for their family. “They were so great with him and we were so thankful he was in good hands,” recalls Julie. “While my son was a patient there we saw so many sick children and I thought if there is anything we could do to make one of these children smile it would be great.” Hence, the SMILE socks were born. Both Julie and Justine delivered all of their children at Beaumont Hospital.
Q. What made you decide to start your own business?
A. Justine and I were both stay at home mothers  busy with our kids and had fulfilling lives but always would brain storm on different ideas to start our own business.  Eventually our kids were in school full time and we had more time to ourselves. We got to a point that we wanted to feel valued and contribute to our family. Our drive to succeed grew and we had full support from our husbands so we took the plunge and went for it. 
Q. Why socks?
A. That’s a question we asked ourselves as well. Our husbands love fun and crazy socks and while sitting in an airport waiting for a plane our husbands said “You guys should make socks,” and we said “Okay.” We all had a laugh and then over time and many discussions Just Me Socks came to life. We each have 2 boys and that is why we went into the sport sock direction which worked out great for us because they are walking advertisement for us.
Q. What’s it like trying to run a business AND take care of your family?
A. Busy, overwhelming, rewarding and satisfying.  Our biggest wish is that there could be more hours in a day to get everything done. I think Justine and I both agree that having an organized laundry room is never going to happen if we ever want to sleep.  Over all our families are our biggest supporters and they all are adjusting very well. 

Julie's boys: Caden, 12, and Carter, 9

Julie’s boys: Caden, 12, and Carter, 9

Q. What’s it like being your own boss?
A. That is the best part about owning your own business. It gives you a drive to want more and succeed and a feeling of self fulfillment because in the end we are the ones who are rewarded for our hard work. It also allows us to be the taxi to hockey practice and the room moms at school. We haven’t had to give up any part of being an involved parent the only difference now is we go to the office during school hours. 

Justine's children: Mason, 13, Stone, 9, Meadow, 7, Harper, 5

Justine’s children: Mason, 13, Stone, 9, Meadow, 7, Harper, 5

Here are their tips for working moms:
  1. Sometimes you just have to let things go and prioritize. As working moms, we may not always have the cleanest house and we may not always be serving gourmet meals, but everyone’s happy.
  2. Enjoy those moments now. There will be time for laundry later. What matters most is that your kids grow up so fast and time with them is valuable. 
  3. Keep a positive attitude.
  4. Work life balance is important. Sometimes they have to set work aside to attend to their children, but they know the work will be there once the kids are in bed or tomorrow, even. But that’s easier when you can have flexible working hours.
—Sarah Jo Sautter, Parenting Program Blog Editor and Publisher