We took the kids to an early dinner last night, at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Let's just say we've had better, more romantic Valentine's Day dinners in the past. L. spent the entire car ride there and the time before dinner in a deep funk, throwing out insults and perseverating round and round on the fact that T. brought Molly McIntire to dinner. Then he ate soup for about ten minutes and spent the rest of the meal trying to use a toothpick to break into the candy machine behind our table.
And T. wanted Molly McIntire to have her own seat and cried until I had the brainstorm idea to go fetch her a restaurant high chair.
L. refused to sit next to a doll at dinner and so we had to play musical chairs again, and T. knocked over her salty lime drink and Molly got wet.
There were wails and not enough napkins.
"See!" L. said. "This is what happens when you bring a DUMB DOLL to dinner."
Over the growing spread across the tabe of spilled salty lime drink Scott and I exchanged a glance. Not a romantic one, mind you, but one of those glances--you know, the kind of glance that speaks volumes, right then and there, about love.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, Valentine's Day was about romance for us. Fifteen years ago on Valentine's Day Scott and I went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant near our apartment in Maryland. It was the second Valentine's Day together as a couple, and I think I was still giddily adapting to the realization that, after many years of hating the day, I really, really was coming to like it--no, love it, after all. Valentine's Day is an all or nothing proposition: you either love it, or hate it. And if you hate it, you feel even worse about things because in hating it you're reminded constantly, everywhere you go, that if you only loved it things would be much better for you.
But I had hated it for many years.
I was one of those Charlie Brown-like kids who hardly got any cards. This was in the days before teachers and parents realized that it would be less traumatic for kids like me if everyone received cards at school instead of just the popular kids (who were all named Tracy, it seemed, and whose hair always feathered just right). If I did get cards at school, they were from my one or two friends who also only received one or two cards. One year I got a "love note" from Danny D., but he had oily skins, large glasses, and sweaty palms, and I think I felt even worse about it when I saw the note, half folded, peeking out of my card box at school.
For many, many years Valentine's Day had been about feeling self-conscious, and awkward; on the periphery of it all, like some lost soul standing outside in the cold, face pressed against a window, while the lucky ones enjoyed themselves. And while it certainly wasn't about that every year for me, the day just wasn't ever what I truly wanted it to be. Something was always missing; something that made the day seem flat and gray, the way the world is in that short moment between night and day. The day wasn't dark, but it sure wasn't light, either.
On that second Valentine's Day with Scott, we came back to our little apartment after dinner, and settled down for dessert and a movie. Then, mysteriously and abruptly, Scott got up from the couch, grabbed the cat, and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later the cat came wandering back by herself, and then came Scott. He scooped her up again (she just wasn't playing along and wanted to sit by the window) and set her on my lap. She jumped down. He went and got her again (what is it with this cat business? I know I wondered). Again he put her on my lap. This time she stayed put, and as I petted her I noticed something dangling from her collar.
What was that?
I looked closer.
And this is why, as Scott says year after year, sometime in-between when I get my heart-shaped box of chocolate, and when we're cuddling on the couch after the kids are in bed, there is just no way to top that Valentine's Day.
But even if every February 14th since then hasn't been as amazingly life-changing, or radiated out as much light and happiness into all the days and weeks following it; even though we have had our share of blah Valentine's Day celebrations, and ones that found us both tired and cranky; and even though we've had countless Valentine's Days when babies and kids sucked all the romance right out of what the day used to be (and one day in particular when T. vomited all over me during dinner), all of that has never mattered much in the end. Because, what I've learned from 15 years' worth of Valentine's Days is that marriage isn't always years of soaring times and giddiness and dazzle and endless romance. Sometimes it's about the ordinary; it's about being staid and stalwart; being the two walls side by side that hold up and protect what you love the most: each other, your children, the good days, and the not-so-good ones, either, and all those moments in-between.