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Romance Rekindled

I'm standing beside my husband at a window of the Marriott Hotel, in New York City's World Trade Center, gazing out at a dizzyingly romantic view of morning spreading over the Hudson River. The last time Harry and I took in this sight was ten years ago to the day, when we were married here

Actually, we were married at the hotel that was formerly here, the Vista International. That hotel was remodeled in a very dramatic way in 1993: It was bombed. When my husband and I tell out-of-town friends where we tied the knot, we just say that it was at ground zero of the World Trade Center bombing, above the parking garage where the explosives detonated. The orange carpeting and mauve wallpaper that served as a backdrop for the ceremony were blown to bits, committed to our memories and a few hundred wedding pictures.

Fortunately, the Vista's fate hasn't been a metaphor for our marriage. We have three kids and a home we love in a community where we've planted deep roots. But the hotel's disappearance from the face of the earth has sometimes struck me as symbolic of our former lives. Gone is the excitement of discovering each other, when every clue helped unravel the mysteries of who we were. The night Harry proposed, on a moonlit beach in Maui, I lay awake staring at his back (while he snored like a buzz saw), and thought, "How can you sleep when we're about to plunge into the unknown?"

Not surprisingly, the excitement and romance of those early days have given way to the comfort of routine and predictability. I'm not complaining: I love knowing that at around 6:30 every evening, the man I love will walk through the front door. I just miss feeling as though I could shut out the rest of the world for a little while and focus on the two of us.

Every year, the whirlwind of activities that makes up our kids' lives has made our lives seem to rush by faster and faster. It's tough enough to keep up with homework, soccer practice, piano lessons, and playdates, much less find time for romance. I love my children dearly, but it seems we're never without them. I can't take a shower in the morning without my toddler thrusting her arm, Psycho-style, through the curtains. Harry and I can't have an adult conversation until all the topics pertinent to the kids, from what happened in gym class to the latest spelling-test stumpers, have been exhausted. What did we talk about before becoming parents?

That's why, as our tenth anniversary approached, I wanted to go back to where our lives officially came together, to reexperience what it felt like before we knew the endings to each other's stories  -- when it was just us. Arranging a night in the city required the military planning of General Patton, but I did it  -- secured a sitter, composed an exhaustive list of instructions for her, made sure we brought a beeper and a cell phone, arranged rides to soccer. But as the day drew near, I found myself having mixed feelings. What if the visit into our past created a yearning for what we couldn't possibly sustain?

Despite my misgivings, Harry and I set off one Friday evening. An hour later, we pushed our way through the revolving doors of the Marriott lobby, startled to see the warm wood, bright oriental rugs, and elegant floral arrangements that had replaced the flashier 1980s interior. It was more mature looking, I decided  -- like me.

I still don't recall what we talked about on our wedding night  -- maybe about how I tripped walking up the aisle or how there wasn't enough time to relax with some guests who had traveled a thousand miles to be there. But a decade later, as my husband and I enjoyed champagne and sushi at a nearby restaurant, I realized that finally given the chance, we didn't want to talk about anything as lofty as global, or even local politics, which would have taken a backseat to playground politics at home. And we weren't primed to whisper words of affection, the kind that would make our kids reel in mock disgust. The way we share our love nowadays is through the joy, the excitement, even the exhaustion of raising our kids. They're the strongest link that binds us: Their lives fuse our lives into one common purpose.

So we marveled at their limitless energy and remembered stories from when they were babies. And as for the lost thrill of mutual discovery: We now know that we can survive tough pregnancies and complicated deliveries, arguments and confrontations, and emergency room visits, and come out stronger. And that's exciting.

Back in our hotel room, we vowed to return for our 20th anniversary. We took in the view one more time, then collapsed on the bed, folded into each other gratefully, and fell asleep smiling  -- by 10 p.m. By force of habit, we woke at 6 o'clock sharp, listening for our 2-year-old daughter's wakening wail of "Come get me!" And as we prepared to leave the scene of our first night as husband and wife, I realized I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cindy Schweich Handler writes for a variety of national magazines.