I was the youngest of four girls so my dad was outnumbered by a fairly large margin. By and large, I think he loved his position as the only guy in the house and doted on all of us lovingly. In hindsight, my dad did a great job being both protective and chivalrous while being totally clear that his girls could be or do anything, empowering us to take the world by storm. Yet on Valentine’s Day my dad’s intent was simply to adore us. All of us sisters received a rose, and my mom got a dozen. And we all got sparkly, puffy, pink-hearted, often punny Valentine’s Day cards from both my parents. Then, adding to the magic, my mom made the quintessential 80’s pie for dessert: Nabisco graham cracker crust filled with red Jell-O, coated with Cool Whip topping with some fresh raspberries around the edges.
Oh, man, did I love Valentine’s Day.
Sadly, that was about as good as Valentine’s Day got. Yes, people, the bar was set mighty high, and it’s been kind of disappointing since then, beginning in 9th grade, when my boyfriend broke up with me right before the Valentine’s Day formal but still took me to the dance which I CRUSHED in a fitted black velvet dress with red plaid taffeta sleeves the size of a small country. Then on Monday, which was actually Valentine’s Day, I assumed we were back together because I both rocked said dress AND danced the heck out of Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.” But when I handed him my cheesy homemade card which included a cut-out heart around a photograph of his face and a super cheesy note inside, he made it really clear we were just friends. Publicly. In the student lounge. Ouch. Cupid majorly missed with that arrow.
I think I have had some rather nice Valentines since then, mostly with my husband who always delivers with flowers and chocolates and affection. But, as you may recall from my Christmas blog, I just am not a holiday person. I love Thanksgiving, and no one loves birthdays more than me, but I feel very overwhelmed by the fanfare and expectations around most holidays. In terms of this Valentine’s Day business, well, my 13-year-old daughter summed it up pretty nicely when I asked if she wanted to bring cards into school this week: “Ugh. No. I hate this holiday. Why do I have to pretend I love everyone even if we’re not friends on one dumb day that’s all about hearts and pink stuff? It’s so stupid.” Huh. OK then. She’s not even cynical or snarky by nature, so I have clearly been problematically influential, even while I appreciate her perspective. I’ll add to her concerns: too much sugar, store-bought cards, and a weird baby angel with bows and arrows… it’s just a lot.
My husband will tell you I sucked the romance out of the holiday eleven years ago. Reid, our middle guy, was born on February 6th. So eight days later I was still pretty sleepy, leaky, fluffy, and, yes, was wearing large mesh undies and a nursing tank. Jon came into our room where I was lovingly rubbing Reid’s belly with one hand as he slept next to me, and with my other hand, I was just mindlessly squeezing all the excess skin and girth on my round, recently vacated belly. I literally greeted my hubby by looking up smiling while I happily played with my rolls, in my knock-out outfit. Thank goodness I am loved by a man with a wonderful sense of humor, who simply looked at me adoringly, laughed, and said,
“Hot. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
(Oh, and this year, he was looking over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of one of Hudson Botanica’s spectacular bouquets on Instagram on my phone and said, “Oh those are pretty!” And because we’ve been together for 20 years, and I know how thoughtful Jon is, I replied, “No no. Don’t get flowers for me for Valentine’s Day. We’re on a tight budget this year.” So, yes, I have perhaps sucked the romance out of Valentine’s Day. Forever.)
But the problem is, I have a business and a blog.
And my marketing gurus tell me most people are full of love and romance this week, and I need to get with the program!
Sooooooo, while I refuse to hop on the Hallmark train, I am very happy to report to all you hopeless romantics and Valentine’s fans out there that love is alive and well both in my home and at Baby Botanica. For example, that same year that I played with my jelly belly on Valentine’s Day, a two-year-old Michaela insisted on buying her new little brother two hugging monkeys, velcroed together, that sang Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” when their bellies touched. Michaela and Reid each still have one of the monkeys, and even now can sing the whole song because they sang it together daily through their toddler years. Our youngest, Booch (or Ivan), now seven, wakes up each morning like a puppy, ready to love and snuggle everyone he holds dear. And this little guy LOVES Valentine’s Day. That said, the rule in our house is school Valentines have to be homemade and made with materials already in our home. So all week, Booch has been painstakingly creating one for each child in his class, aware they won’t dazzle without candy or other desirable elements but is still determined to make each one special and full of kindness. And his big crafty sister happily helps him.
Meanwhile, here at Baby Botanica today, I decided to ask guests about how they give and receive love in their families, and this is what I got when I asked children how they know their parents love them:
“They hug me!” – Patrick, age 2 ½;
“My daddy says ‘I love you.’” – Ava, age 3;
“I love my mom. I love lots of people. And I love to draw pictures. My mommy loves me.” -Adora, age 2 ½.
And when I asked a couple of moms how they’re shown love by their children:
“He gives me hugs and kisses all the time.” (At which point Eli, age 4, jumped into mom, Stephanie’s, arms);
“She loves to grab my cheeks and shake my whole face!” Deb, mom of Gwen, age 1 ½.
And then, amongst siblings:
“By hugging me! Gives me kisses!” Fern, age 3 ½, about the ways her baby brother Levon, age six months, shows love;
And, finally, James, age 2, upon being asked how he shows love to his tiny sister, Nora, age 3 ½ months, leaned into the car seat, sent her a loud “MWAH” kiss and then demonstrated how he rocked the car seat to soothe her while beaming up at me with pride.
To add to the love fest above, all the tots who visited today voluntarily made Valentine’s Day cards for parents and grandparents with no instruction and just a handful of supplies, happily sharing space, time and materials. Even a gal like me can appreciate pure love and thoughtfulness like that.
Alas, in this week of pink, romance, and shows of affection that often seem contrived, let me comment on my own very full heart for a moment. Today, a dozen moms and babies filled our space, drank tea, and listened to some music while they chatted about motherhood, life, feeding, births, siblings, family, spit-up, poop, big emotions, and dates. They laughed a lot. Lots of people cuddled with and smiled with adoration at lots of babies, even those who weren’t their own. Many of these people have only known one another days or months. As for me, I held several tiny people and got hugs from some tots I have known from the day they were born when I met them as their doula. One very wise and kind little girl, who is watchful and warms up more slowly than others, whispered “You rock, Valentine,” in my ear and handed me this homemade card.
So I gotta say, today Cupid hit the mark.
And I hope all of you feel the love of partners, children, new friends and old this Valentine’s Day. And apologies if you’ve now got Captain & Tennille or Poison in your head. (Or, you’re welcome as the case may be.)
( P.S. Oh, and to my hubby, Jon, even though I stink at Valentine’s Day, you have both my heart and my commitment to embarrassing you whenever possible. So, in the parlance of those little school Valentine’s Day cards of our youth AND Ralph Wiggum, “I choo-choo-choose you to be my Valentine.” Thanks for putting up with me! xoxoxo)