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Date Night

First comes relationship, then comes baby, then comes ... what's that? More dating?

That's right. After the sleep deprivation, the months and years of feedings, diapers, night wakings, learning to roll, sit, crawl, walk, talk, read, etc., there comes a time for spouses, partners, adults in general to take some time for themselves.

This seemed so easy for my own mother. Her work revolved solely around raising her three kids. And every Saturday night, she and my father would disappear into their own world while we stayed home with a sitter.

For some reason, I have trouble living that same kind of life. For one thing, I spend a significant amount of time away from my kids already thanks to my desire to earn a paycheck, much of which goes to pay for child care while I'm out working. Plus, do I really want to spend between $9 and $12 per hour plus the cost of entertainment for time alone with my spouse? I sure was gypped when I babysat as a kid -- I only made 2 bucks! So, our few and far between dates revolve around a favorite auntie and uncle coming over to watch the kids.

Other parent friends and family don't have it so lucky. They search on collegesitter.com and sittercity.com to interview and find babysitters. They line up for responsible neighborhood teens. They pay even more than the typical going rates for daytime nannies to come at night. Some avoid payment altogether by forming babysitting groups and logging time watching each others' kids. But there's not a one who doesn't lament just how much babysitting costs these days.

So, the practical question of the day: How do you manage to keep your relationship intact without busting your budget?

Today's Talker: In China, Stern Treatment for Young Internet 'Addicts'

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 22, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
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Comments


We had the same issue as Stacey for years. It was so hard to find a babysitter where we lived that my daughter didn't have one until she was almost 3 (though she did go to preschool, etc.).

Then we moved to cohousing, which is a supportive neighborhood that folks move to in order to have more of a "village" feel-- the neighbors know and care about each other. We get date nights by having childcare swaps, but-- just as important-- we get time socializing with other adults because of living here. We can hang out on each other's front porches after the kids are in bed, or just have the kids play together outside while we have happy hour. It's made a huge difference for us.

My favorite was my neighbor, a grandmother whose kids live on the opposite coast. On New Year's she offered to sleep at our house after our kids went to sleep. She goes to bed early and it's no hardship for her, but a great advantage for us, who got to go out cost-free on New Year's Eve.

Posted by: Neighbor | February 22, 2007 7:37 AM | Report abuse

A young couple, either family or friends, is sometimes a good babysitting choice. Often they will be interested in taking care of kids because they want to know what it is like before they resign themselves to having kids of their own. They are also more likely to interact with your kids because they are interested in family life, and if you can get over the idea that they will probably have sex on your couch after they put the kids to bed, you could save yourselves a few bucks per hour.

Posted by: Babysitter's Boyfriend | February 22, 2007 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Eeks, it is very hard. The problem is by the time the teenager is responsible enough to baby sit, they have their own social life. Our recent teenage baby sitter charges $10/hour to watch my 3 year old. Even with that, my child has to be brought to her house because her mother won't let her sit at someone else's house. That actually works well for me because I don't have to clean the house in fear of what she will go back and tell her mother. I provide a meal for my child. I pack diapers and such. She generally plans some sort of activity. Like cookie baking. But get this on New Years Eve, she wanted $125 to sit from 5:30-12PM. We were stuck. We had no other choice. But next year, we will stay at home. She initially offered us $250 for an over night. But we did not want to pay that or leave our daughter over night.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 22, 2007 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Although I agree with the post, please do not use the word 'gypped'. It is an insult to a minority, gypsies. It's equivalent to saying 'jew them down'. Thank you.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes I hear about grandparents who do a lot of free sitting for their grandchildren. This must be the perfect solution. However, many of us are not so lucky.

Some people have their kids go to bed so early that every night is date night (minus leaving the house). This doesn't work for us, however, because then my kids would never see their Dad.

We've tried the teenage babysitter who now that she's older doesn't respond so much to babysit because of her burgeoning social life. We tried swapping kids with friends who have kids that ours kids like to play with - fun for everyone, right? Not always. I find that watching more than my 2 kids is so much of a hassle I'd rather pay 10 an hour not to have to do that. I guess the key is to find a good reliable sitter who doesn't charge 15 - 20/hour. That is hard to do in this region.

Posted by: No Plans | February 22, 2007 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes I hear about grandparents who do a lot of free sitting for their grandchildren. This must be the perfect solution. However, many of us are not so lucky.

Some people have their kids go to bed so early that every night is date night (minus leaving the house). This doesn't work for us, however, because then my kids would never see their Dad.

We've tried the teenage babysitter who now that she's older doesn't respond so much to babysit because of her burgeoning social life. We tried swapping kids with friends who have kids that ours kids like to play with - fun for everyone, right? Not always. I find that watching more than my 2 kids is so much of a hassle I'd rather pay 10 an hour not to have to do that. I guess the key is to find a good reliable sitter who doesn't charge 15 - 20/hour. That is hard to do in this region.

Posted by: No Plans | February 22, 2007 8:07 AM | Report abuse

For us, the key to spending time together has been my 15-month-old daughter's early bedtime. DH puts her to bed around 7:30 while I'm cooking dinner, then we have the rest of the evening together to talk, hang out, relax, ect. We try to get household chores done during the day so there's no guilt about claiming those few hours as free time. We don't feel like we have to go out to spend quality time together.

All that said, we are planning a night out in the near future (to celebrate my bar exam being over), and I'm having a hard time finding a babysitter. We're still relatively new to the neighborhood, so I don't know the kids here all that well. It makes me nervous to think of leaving DD with someone I don't know very well.

Posted by: NewSAHM | February 22, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

I grew up in Columbia, the suburban utopia of the 70s. Our cul-de-sac was full of kids and families who routinely organized pot lucks and gathered on the curb each night to watch the Big Wheel races. I became a valued babysitter in the neighborhood, charging a buck and hour per kid, but mostly I was happy to receive any payment that the parents gave me - after all, I was having fun watching their kids and their cable (my parents banned cable in our home) into the wee hours.

Imagine how shocked I was to return back to my old neighborhood with my first child to learn that the babysitters were charging up to $10 per hour. I can't imagine paying that amount AND paying for dinner and/or a movie. So, date night with my spouse is leaving the dishes in the sink while splitting a beer and watching a DVD on the couch after the kids have gone to bed. If we're really lucky, we drop them off to their aunt's house for a few hours so we can have a meal out or see a movie in the theater. And that goes both ways - we host our niece and nephew on evenings when their parents need some time out alone.

Posted by: Once A Babysitter | February 22, 2007 8:12 AM | Report abuse

It depends on how old the kids are. You have to be inventive at each stage.

When our kids were infants, we didn't go out - just had "date nights" at home after they went to sleep.

When they were toddlers and pre-school age, we had the au pairs. Once every couple of weeks we would pay them extra for a few hours of evening coverage.

When the kids were elementary school age and we no longer had the au pairs, we found teenage babysitters. Usually, these were the older siblings of our kids' friends; or the kids of friends of ours. (Here's a technique: at one of your child's activities - softball game, chorus concert, ballet recital, whatever - find out which kids there have teenaged siblings. There are usually a few, and that's an "in" to getting a babysitter. And you'll probably know a little bit about the family to figure out if this is the type of babysitter you want.)

Now that the kids are teenagers themselves, they do the babysitting and its easier. (And the "hit them up at the volleyball game" routine is used on us all the time. Our daughters are 18, 15 and 10; our son is 16. Watch the word fly around the volleyball arena - "that girl has an 18-year old sister who babysits. Which ones are the parents? Who? Where? Is she here?" It allows them - and us - to be selective.)

With regard to the pay issue, sorry folks - while we paid about $5.00 to $7.50 an hour when our kids were younger, our kids charge a minimum of $10.00 an hour. Here's why - the oldest works part time at a pizza place. How much do you think she makes an hour? Include tips in that. If you think it's much less than about $10 an hour, you'd be wrong. My son umpires little-league baseball games and gets $20 for a 90-minute game. Look at minimum wage in Maryland - and now you'll start to understand why the rates are so high. You have my sympathy, but given the situation that's the rate and you're not going to do much better.

(BTW, when the kids were younger, any long absences on our part - overnight, weekend trip to a wedding - meant the kids stayed with their aunt or grandparents. Nothing else was acceptable to us. So that only happened about once every other year, but it makes us enjoy our weekends alone much more now.)

Posted by: Army Brat | February 22, 2007 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I would love to have a situation where I can exchange babysitting with someone. Right now I am sort of during it with a neighbor who has a 9 year old( she doesn't let him go downstairs to our apartment without being acompanied). Her son is an only child and kind of selfish. When my 5&7 years old are at her house they play what he wants to play and he is not flexible about it. When he comes down to my house all he wants to do is play Xbox. My boys are only allowed to play on weekends. I would suggest they play chess or other board games, but the parents would objected because according to them he hates to loose. Both parents are PHDs, but the child doesn't play well with other kids. If I don't feel like paying for a sitter, they're the only resource I have right now.

Posted by: NV | February 22, 2007 8:26 AM | Report abuse

NV - your 5 and 7 year-olds have - and play - xbox? geez...

Posted by: naive | February 22, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

It's all about community--relationships with other people that makes any of this feasible at all. I trade play dates with another mom for those times when I really need to have babysitting or when she does. We're careful about when and how we do that so neither of us feels taken advantage of. We also watch a friend's baby and she will come over and babysit my child when needed. There are a number of other people that we can call on for emergencies. My husband and I don't go out alone very much but when we do we have relied on our ties with neighbors, friends and church members for assistance (and they with us).

Posted by: DC Mom | February 22, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Neighbor, you love in utopia!! Enjoy! so good to hear there are still places like that in the world. Hope I can work to make my neighborhood a littl emore like that. I'm inspired to try to do a potluck when it's warm!

The whole date ngith thing RARELY happens for us. Since we both work, we really enjoy spending our free time with our toddler. We also don't have much free time anyway with house hold projects and laundry, etc. Besides, I got married so that I could AVOID all that dating crap! Seriously, snuggling up with my hubby on the couch with a fire in the hearth and a child playing with toy trains at our feet is just as lovely as the fanciest, most expensive meal out.

Posted by: 505 | February 22, 2007 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Depends on how many kids you have. We have three and it's tough to convince a neighbor to take your three on top of her own kids on a Friday night, for example, when everybody's beat at the end of the week. (Nor do I want her three at my house at the end of a long week.)

One or two extra kids maybe, but three's pushing it. And farming them out to multiple different sources and then picking them up is more complicated logistics-wise and has the potential for one or more arrangements to fall through at the last minute.

I'm afraid we still have couch dates with a good movie, some wine or champagne and special yummy food just for us adults after the kids go to sleep.

And this is going to sound silly, but I think the main point of having a "date night" is so that you and your spouse realize that you're not JUST parents, but also a couple, with interests in common and so forth. One thing that has helped us to shore up that part of our relationship is occasionally reading the same book together (usually a novel, current events or something like that) whenever either of us has the chance -- and then talking about it in the evening when the kids go to sleep. It sounds dumb, but it's a great way to build some intellectual camaraderie together, without actually having to leave the house.

Posted by: Armchair Mom | February 22, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse


We don't care to get a sitter beyond the workday. My impression is that the desire to carve out kid-free with spouse time runs higher among SAH then working moms, and higher with young parents than older. We were a couple for 12 years before kids, and we've established that abiding partnership that just carries itself, through quietly sharing the same experiences, without the carved-out weekly tending session so many younger couples schedule. We don't have to leave the context of our family to feel like a couple --- there are plenty of moments to catch each other's eye or hand as the kids run off to the park, off to climb or do the monkeybars, off ahead while hiking together, off to play games together or on their computers/DSes, etc, or while we're watching a kids' soccer game together, or setting up a campsite when the kids go off exploring, etc. And since we both work, we put the premium on our family time, and catching moments of adult companionship in that context, as the co-leaders of our family. Honestly, it's coordinating together as co-leaders and seeing each other in action that's always made me feel most attuned to and appreciative of my DH --- even when we were backpacking co-leaders way back in college, I remember feeling totally gauzy noticing how patient, how brilliant, he was while teaching map and compass (yes, I was totally goofily smitten), a man who's not only brilliant but who'll also be a great partner and great dad . . . being together in family gives you the chance to admire your partner in action all over again . . . and to jointly admire the people your kids are evolving into, and occasionally commiserate or find reassuring humor in their quirks and the parenting challenges they pose . . . parenting is a central experience in your life and your partner is the only other adult who's fully immersed in it, the only one with whom you can really share and appreciate and make sense of it . . . .

For actually having adult conversations, passing info, making mini-decisions, etc we phone often in the day, send e-mail, use a joint calendar, etc. When we worked on the same campus we'd occasionally go out to lunch together --- for a while we'd go to nice ethnic places, as our kids' bland diet preferences were stultifying to us; that way we got quiet, alone companionship and conversation and a nice, sensorily-pleasing meal for a change. And it came while our kids were already cared for, by everyday childcare/school. Sometimes instead one of us would just pick up a take-out lunch and surprise the other . . . . (we know each others' schedules well, day-to-day, and know which days the other won't get lunch unless it magically materializes between lectures)

We always loved travel and hiking, and have found that as our kids get older and we travel and camp more, even though we're all together, we feel more connected as a couple, experiencing new things together. And we're sharing and building that experience base, of who we are, with our kids. I guess when the kids were littler we did that more with day outings, to the zoo, botanical gardens, etc.

But I don't think we've ever got a sitter for an evening date/event . . . rarely when we're really crushed by work will we hire our (now-former) workday sitter for a Saturday, to catch up on work . . . Those school fundraisers, or fancy college functions, that are adult-only --- the art auctions, silent auctions, etc --- I have just never seen the appeal *at all*. Why would I want to dress up uncomfortably, wander about collecting hors d'oeuvres off trays or sit at a bunch of tables with other parents, without any kids around? I just give contributions to those, sometimes put in an absentee bid . . . I guess DH and I are just introverts but yech, much more fun to either stay home with the kids, or have alone time with DH . . .

Those of you with only 1 kid will get plenty of automatic date nights eventually, as they start doing sleepovers with friends . . . we've still got our youngest around when our oldest goes off on sleepovers or summer sleepaway camp . . . and she needs our companionship more in the gaping maw of her sister, her preferred playmate's, absence . . . .

Posted by: KB | February 22, 2007 10:07 AM | Report abuse

We solved that problem by choosing to take a pay cut and moving to the Midwestern town where my parents live. As they also need breaks from caring for my elderly grandmother, this has worked out great for all of us.

Posted by: Adrienne B. | February 22, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I live in between the two luxuries described here. My husband has a phobia (don't know what else to call it) about allowing a sitter into our house (not for the kid, not for the dog). Therefore, I've never paid a sitter for a night out with my husband. We don't get out much as a result. When we do get out it is because my daughter goes over to my parent's house for the evening or weekend. This is great exept she comes home a monster from too much indulgence. Plus she doesn't go as much since she is a little older and has activities and playdates scheduled during much of each weekend. I guess we each take what we can get.

Posted by: Private School Mom | February 22, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

"Although I agree with the post, please do not use the word 'gypped'. It is an insult to a minority, gypsies. It's equivalent to saying 'jew them down'. Thank you."

I never knew this! Thanks for telling us.

I love the parent's night out at the day care center where my daughter goes. We also pay a teen in the neighborhood to watch our daughter too. The mothers of the other kids got together and decided that the going rate was 5.00 an hour.

Being that I just moved from DC where I was paying 12.00 an hour and the fact that I make a decent living, I decided that "my" going rate was 7.50 an hour. The other mothers were not immpressed.

Posted by: scarry | February 22, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

We have them more frequently now, but still not so much. The most illicit thing we do is spontaneously meeting for lunch since our jonbs are close together (within walking distance). It seels so illegal, since e just get together with no coordination, no one sitting on our laps, no one yelling etc.
I still recommend them, tho since it is important to get time together as a couple. We bite the bullet and get an expensive sitter, but sometimes my in laws will help out too.
However wit the oldest getting to the right age, I can see sleepovers on the horizon. So exciting.

Posted by: atlmom | February 22, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

We have them more frequently now, but still not so much. The most illicit thing we do is spontaneously meeting for lunch since our jonbs are close together (within walking distance). It seels so illegal, since e just get together with no coordination, no one sitting on our laps, no one yelling etc.
I still recommend them, tho since it is important to get time together as a couple. We bite the bullet and get an expensive sitter, but sometimes my in laws will help out too.
However wit the oldest getting to the right age, I can see sleepovers on the horizon. So exciting.

Posted by: atlmom | February 22, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

naive - I have friends with three year-olds with Xboxes. I got my 5 year old his first game boy when he was 2. My oldest had gotten one for his birthday, his brother wouldn't allow him time to play with because he wanted to play too. I spend as much time with them outdoors as the weather will permit, but during the winter months I use the Xbox as a treat for them. The husband travel ALOT, outside of school, I'm with them 24/7, so having the Xbox is really helpful as far as keeping them busy while I get things done around the house. boys are rough with things and they get bored easilly. The Xbox is a nice way to get them to settle down a bit. They only get games that are rated E. They I mentioned that my husband is gone more than half the time. We never have date nights.

Posted by: NV | February 22, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I don't have kids yet but find it very interesting to hear how parents manage their date nights. However, I do have a comment/question regarding the costs of babysitting. I know that evenings out are expensive these days but I always felt that babysitters are rather underpaid. I mean, they ARE watching over your children, right? Why should we pay someone more an hour to cut the grass than we entrust someone with our precious children? I'm not saying this to be critical, but have always wondered at that...

Posted by: Arlington | February 22, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I don't have kids yet but find it very interesting to hear how parents manage their date nights. However, I do have a comment/question regarding the costs of babysitting. I know that evenings out are expensive these days but I always felt that babysitters are rather underpaid. I mean, they ARE watching over your children, right? Why should we pay someone more an hour to cut the grass than we entrust someone with our precious children? I'm not saying this to be critical, but have always wondered at that...

Posted by: Arlington | February 22, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't have kids yet but find it very interesting to hear how parents manage their date nights. However, I do have a comment/question regarding the costs of babysitting. I know that evenings out are expensive these days but I always felt that babysitters are rather underpaid. I mean, they ARE watching over your children, right? Why should we pay someone more an hour to cut the grass than we entrust someone with our precious children? I'm not saying this to be critical, but have always wondered at that...

Posted by: Arlington | February 22, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, 505! It's not quite utopia, but it's a wonderful place to live.

Is 505 your area code? Arizona has several of these cohousing neighborhoods. http://directory.cohousing.org/us_list/all_us.php
Some folks are lucky enough to have great community already, but others like me had to move to a place to find it. Where I lived before had *no* sense of community, so it was much easier to leave it for a place that does.

Posted by: Neighbor | February 22, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I leave my child with family for a few hours one day a week to spend time w. my husband.

Posted by: StudentMom | February 22, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I agree with KB's points. We were a couple for 12 years before having kids in our 30s, and my favorite thing to do is be with all three of my boys. After the little ones go to bed, we have some time to talk about our day - while making bottles and doing laundry - then we relax together.

Posted by: CA | February 22, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Interesting question, Arlington. My husband insists on paying higher than the going rate for babysitting. He figures that 1. he wants the best babysitters; 2. he wants them to want to work for us; 3. we have more challenging children than many, so they earn it. We don't use paid babysitters all that often anyway, so it doesn't matter much. But it is odd to have him pay above the going rate.

Posted by: Neighbor | February 22, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"I know that evenings out are expensive these days but I always felt that babysitters are rather underpaid"

Exactly what I thought when the wife of a self described CEO said they pay the babysitter 5.00 an hour.

Posted by: scarry | February 22, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Watch your ethnically derogatory terms. "Gypped" is based on Gypsies and ain't cool to use.

Posted by: Ryan | February 22, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree that offensive words shouldn't be used, but it is offensive because it is offensive to a group of people, not because they are a minority.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Our church has the occassional Parents night out. It's usually 4 hours on a Friday or Saturday night, which is enough for a good dinner or a movie, or dinner and rent a movie. They don't charge a lot per kid. We rely on these three or four a year for a real night out. The best one they do is in early December...it allows us to get the Christmas shopping for the kids out of the way! Other than that, we don't have family in the area, so when my parents come we will occassionally leave them with the kids.

Posted by: Fairfax | February 22, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Do you any of you live in a neighborhood/town with a babysitting co-op? I just joined one, and oh my god, it's great! (It turns out the DC area has a number of them, depending on where you live -- I live in Takoma Park). It has solved a big problem -- and not just to get sitters for date nights, which are nice, but also for the times when my husband has to be out of town, and I need to attend something for a couple hours. If you have a group of parents who are in a similar situation as you are, I would strongly suggest getting together to work out a co-op.

Trading with friends can work too. When my brother is in a bind, I'll volunteer to sit for his kids, knowing that when we need something, he'll do the same. And we also try to do later nights, so if I'm watching his kids, I'm really just sitting on his couch watching TV because he's already put them to bed.

As for X-boxes and playstations, well, many of us already have them for ourselves so I think it's somewhat inevitable that our kids will be playing with them!

Posted by: writing mommy | February 22, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

It's harder when you're a blended family with every weekend custody. You see your kids (or stepkids) only part-time so you don't want to leave them with the sitter...but just about every concert, work event, party or other social event happens on a weekend. We say no a lot, but for the vital work events or once-in-a-decade concerts, we'll get a sitter. We're lucky to live in WI (albeit in Milwaukee and not a rural area) where paying a sitter isn't stratospheric, and we have a 15-year-old Red Cross-trained girl next door.

I'm the stepparent, and I'm the only one whose parents live in the area -- my mom is finally coming around to accepting my stepdaughter as a family member (it's not that she was evil before -- she just didn't know what to do, as divorce and remarriage is rare in my mom's family), which means, yay, free babysitting on occasion.

Posted by: Stacie | February 22, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the insight here. Interesting topic. My wife and I are between babysitters for our two boys, ages 7 and 3 and a half, and it's been tough. We really do need those nights out every once in a while (and we'd been paying a local lady $12 an hour to sit, which really seems ridiculous in retrospect). Luckily, we live near family, and have leaned on them a bit recently. Now, my wife's 16-year-old cousin, who lives one town over and knows our kids well, is going to sit for us a bunch of times in the next few months, and we'll see how that works.

Date night at home just doesn't work for us, for a number of reasons:

1. Our older boy doesn't go to bed until 8:30 p.m., meaning we don't have a lot of free time at night. I mean, who wants to start a movie that late? Maybe before we had kids we wouldn't have thought that was late at all, but now, we're both usually ready for bed by 10:30.

2. We're usually too tired by the time the kids go to sleep to feel much like having a deep, meaningful conversation. We just want to be lazy. Good conversations are what we have over dinner when the two of us can get away from the kids.

Posted by: Dan | February 26, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

We try to take a day off work every 6 weeks or so, drop the kids at daycare as usual and then spend the day together. We plan it in advance so work needs can be accomodated. This works really well for us.

BTW - we were a together for years before having kids (3 in 3 years) and love spending time with them but like a break from the constant demands. They all go to bed by 7:30 and our evenings are quiet by then I'm really tired and need to get things ready for the next day. As they get older (the oldest is 3.5) this may change but when they're this small, we love having a free day.

Posted by: Amy | February 27, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Do what you need to do to keep your marriage alive.

Your kids deserve their parents to stay married.

too many get divorced; because they don't work to keep the marriage alive.

Divorce stinks. Broken families stink.

Keep your marriage sparkling! It is worth the price.

Posted by: C.W. | March 1, 2007 6:19 AM | Report abuse

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