In the quiet of the morning, my husband and I plant Valentine’s Day cards for one another. He puts mine by my coffee; I put his on his school bag. A quick kiss–which is brave since I haven’t yet brushed my teeth–and he’s off to work. The end.
We have no plans, no reservations. There are no gifts. He redesigned one of his free Elks Christmas cards into a Valentine’s Day message, and when my 13-year-old son walks into the kitchen and sees me laughing, I hold the card up for him to see. He giggles, “Elks care, Elks share! That’s so dad!” He’s right. It is “so dad.” And there’s such a familiar security in it all that I realize: there are gifts.
Valentine’s Day didn’t always look like this. Twenty-one years ago, it was weekend getaways and grand gestures and so much togetherness. Now, I fill cards with sappy we-are-so-proud-of-you’s, signing everything from Mom & Dad. I smile as I busy myself situating bags and stuffed animals at the kids’ breakfast plates, anticipating the moment they arrive at the table. I have come to savor these very simple things. Later, when the kids thank my husband for their new things, he’ll have no idea what they’re talking about, but will graciously accept all their hugs.
It’s true Valentine’s Day today is much less glamourous, much less romantic these days. In place of jewelry and golf trips are phone calls to check in and offers to do the thing the other doesn’t want to. Namely, empty the dishwasher or provide any transportation after 9pm.
We’ve traded swanky hotel linens for soft, woven couch blankets that our dog has laid claim to. My husband pretend-scowls at our rescue mutt and I laugh. There’s a steadiness now, safety. I feel it. Our kids feel it. And even though we both separately joked in our cards about the chaotic daily grind and that our offspring have hijacked our lives, we wouldn’t want it any other way. We are grateful to give our children a life they love. Even if that means spending Valentine’s weekend at the Hilton with my daughter for basketball instead of my with husband for non-basketball related reasons.
Not that we’d mind a nice bottle of wine or a couples’ getaway, it’s just not our life right now. Right now, that would-be wine and missed trip signed the kids up for their spring sports. Right now, for better or worse, our marriage is primarily functioning as a partnership that tends to all the moving parts of our family, trying really hard not to forget a kid somewhere. Again.
Right now, I love you looks a lot less like roses and chocolate and a lot more like…
Thanks for picking up the dog poop
I’ll cook, you clean up
Kicking the kids out of the room to watch what we want
Tag-teaming the big talks and discipline
Quick emails or texts throughout the day
Finding the funny in the familiar
Accepting one another’s shortcomings and adjusting expectations accordingly
Recognizing when we need more time together, then actually finding the time to be together
Laughing at ourselves
I appreciate you
Respecting one another even when–especially when–the other is out of earshot
Date night on the couch and Thirsty Thursdays on the deck
Hearing each other
Honesty and loyalty
Our I love you is not always exciting, definitely not always romantic. It’s messy and loud and authentic. And the older I get, the more I want of this stuff: stuff of substance. If nothing else, these simple Valentine’s Days are reminders that we actually still like each other. Because from what I understand, we’re going to blink and the kids’ breakfast plates will be gone and we’ll be spending our money on ourselves again. Until then, here’s to the free Elk’s cards and our partnership, and hopefully not forgetting a kid somewhere. Again.