At the check-in of the Sybaris romantic pool suites, I stood in my long black coat. Underneath were yoga pants with fresh baby spit-up.
"My husband will be meeting me here," I said, trying to sound cool and confident, although this was never something in our 15-year relationship I had imagined doing.
We had courted over long walks, Sunday morning snuggles and quarterly travel plans. But in the "The Diaper Dark Ages," with a toddler and baby, our exchanges had become a carnival of the Blame Game and the Guilt-o-Whirl.
Key in hand, I texted my husband the address of our surprise date. Would he think it was sleazy and ridiculous? Would he insist we leave immediately? All I knew was something needed to change, not only for us, but for the sake of our children. I used to be the sought-after prize. Now the D word (divorce) had been thrown out over tears and tantrums.
As I opened the door to our proposed romantic retreat, I was hit with a warm waft of pool-water air, low lights and romance radio. The bidet and under-the-bed lights were a bit much. In the wall-to-wall mirrors, I felt totally imperfect. But the pool, hot tub and steam shower would be like a mini vacation for us.
There was a knock at the door. Although it was the man I'd known almost half my life, I was nervous.
"I can NOT believe this!" he laughed, swooping me up. He was giddy, grinning ear-to-ear. Despite the gray hairs, wrinkles and spit-up, I was his prize.
We swam without children climbing on us. We drank in the daytime. We giggled like school children at the swing hanging over the bed. So excited to just be alone together laughing, those four hours went by like lightning. We were sad to trade the fluffy Sybaris robes back for our Mommy and Daddy clothes.
Admittedly it did feel funny to walk into our home with damp hair and dodge questions about our date. But it was our dirty little secret. Wink, wink. And it was awesome.
In the last few years, we've been there four times. The funniest was the two-story villa with a waterslide from top to bottom. My 200-pound husband whipped down it so fast, he kaboomed into the water, releasing a tidal wave onto the mirrored wall below. I laughed so hard I cried.
When we go, he is always excited and happy, no matter how little sleep he's had. The novelty hasn't worn off because it's not about the waterfalls and racy movies. It's a chance for us to reconnect and have fun. Having those days has helped us even when we are back in our hectic, exhausting lives with little ones, work and responsibilities.
Now we give each other knowing winks over the dinner table. And instead of just "please pick up milk," we send more funny and flirty text messages.
We haven't mentioned our Sybaris adventures to many people because we were worried about what they would think.
But then I realized that it was game-changing for us. And, as I try to teach our children, it's best to share. The few people I've told so far usually give me that look. But then it turns into a sparkle in their eyes, a laugh and eventually booking a room.
I hope you will, too. It saved our marriage.
Cortney Fries is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of a 2- and 4-year-old.