14: The Nine O’clock Rule

14: The Nine O’clock Rule

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

The Nine O’clock Rule

Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.

~Jean Anouilh

The toughest part about being married was finding time to be married. “Lonny,” I said. “We haven’t had a date in one hundred years.”

“I know,” my husband said, even though we’d been married for only twenty. “We’re way overdue.”

Lonny and I were in love. Deeply. Completely. Our marriage was time-tested. We’d walked through the fire and had emerged refined. But even the healthy need nourishment, and our marriage was getting the short end of the stick.

“Let’s go out Friday night,” he said.

“Basketball game at the junior high,” I said.

“Saturday?”

“Cub Scout dinner.”

Such was life. We were blessed with five amazing sons. Lonny and I tried, nonetheless, to keep our marriage on the forefront. Marriage first. Kiddos next. It sounded good in theory. Just didn’t pan out that way in time.

“Well why don’t we reserve a table, for two, in the year 2020?” I said, with a laugh.

“Sold,” he said. But the smile on his face made me not want to wait.

Lonny must’ve felt the same. He approached me a few days later, while I piled never-ending clothes into the never-resting washing machine.

“Hey,” he said. “We do, totally, need to work on a date night. But what if we claim some time alone, in our home, on a regular basis?”

“Show me how.”

“We’ll call it the Nine O’clock Rule. Each night, at nine o’clock, we’ll be in our bedroom. Alone.”

“Easier said than done,” I said.

“Well, the three smaller boys go to bed at eight. The two older ones can understand the need to give us time together.”

True. They were teenagers. But still?

“Let’s give it a try. What have we got to lose?”

I shut the lid on the washer and turned the dial. “See you at nine.”

Lonny winked.

At eight o’clock, three little boys stood at the bathroom sink with foaming mouths.

“Okay, guys, brush well! Then meet me in your room for tuck-in and prayers,” Lonny said. I trailed after him, to help get the boys settled and still. Our older two sons were hunkered over homework. It appeared that the first Nine O’clock Rule night was going to work.

Lonny and I snuggled our little sons in for the night. Then my husband gave me the thumbs-up as he headed into the bathroom for his shower. I glanced at the tall, dark grandfather clock in the corner. Eight forty-five. I grabbed my own pajamas and bolted upstairs to the boys’ bathroom for my own nighttime shower.

“We did it!” I exclaimed, fifteen minutes later, back pressed against our closed bedroom door. Lonny was sitting on our bed already. He patted the empty spot beside him.

“Grab a seat,” he said. “Let’s talk.”

I’d no sooner snuggled in beside my husband when there was a soft knock on the door.

“Mom,” said the voice on the other side. “It’s Samuel. I’ve forgotten how to sleep.”

Lonny looked at me and smiled. Then his eyes grew round as saucers. I could read the look in his eyes: BE LOVING BUT FIRM.

“I love you, dear Samuel. But you’ve slept every night of your life for eight years. You know how, sweet boy. Now go back to bed and Dad and I will pray that you’ll rest.”

Lonny smiled his approval but another knock came quickly. This time the voice was deeper.

“Dad, it’s Grant. I’m stuck on a math problem.”

I smiled at Lonny and bulged my eyes at him.

“Okay, buddy. Mark the problem. I’ll help you with it in the morning. Love you, Grant.”

“Okay, Dad.” Footfalls. Away from our door.

I pushed into Lonny’s arms and waited for the tap of our next visitor. But it didn’t happen. And Lonny and I began to share. We talked a blue streak. Laughed out loud. Shared stories from our days. Took time to ask questions. Invested in our relationship without restraint.

“Perfect,” I said, as we drifted off to sleep.

The Nine O’clock Rule rocked.

It’s been a few months now, and Lonny and I are still doing our best to live by our rule. It’s tough. We have to be creators and defenders of our time. But it’s worth every ounce of energy and defense. The kids are used to the routine now, and I think that they, in their boyish hearts, appreciate our priority and the blessings that it brings.

It doesn’t work every night. We have to allow for some grace.

But on most nights, I catch Lonny’s smile across the brimming bustle of our home sweet home.

And I smile too, when he says, “It’s nine o’clock.”

 

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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