4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
My kids were talking about Valentine’s Day in the back row of the minivan. My five-year-old was beyond excited about the day. They had all been told to wear red, pink, and white, and had been given the names of all their classmates so that they could label valentines for one another. My two first-graders piped in immediately, ready to be pulled along in the wave of excitement.
“Do you remember when we decorated cookies in school last year?” my seven-year-old girl asked.
“Did you decorate a mailbox yet?” her twin brother added.
“Or a bag?” his twin sister asked.
Then the little old man in the far booster seat in the back corner of the minivan piped in, “I don’t know what people get excited about anyway. What’s so special about Valentine’s Day?”
Part of me wanted to tell Peter Party Pooper in the back of the car to zip it. No one needs his Old Man Cry Me a River soundtrack anyway.
But another part of me totally got where he was coming from. And I knew not to be deceived by his cool, aloof stance. It wasn’t that he didn’t think much of Valentine’s Day. On the contrary, he thought about Valentine’s Day, and he thought about it hard.
In high school, I had a boyfriend. But I didn’t just have a boyfriend, I had a steady, for like, a long, long time. We were probably a little bit adorable and a lot annoying. He would walk me to my locker. He would take me out one night every weekend, and we would hold hands wherever we went. We attended two proms and two homecomings together, embalmed in taffeta and hairspray.
And I remember for our first Valentine’s Day together working so hard to try and think of something special enough for him. How could I possibly communicate not only the fact that I loved him so (cue Richard Marx), but also the fact that I was the most adorable and thoughtful girlfriend ever?
Pre-Pinterest and Martha Stewart we had to come up with these ideas on our own. So I got mat board and used an X-Acto blade from my father’s model airplane kit to cut a beveled filigree heart-shaped picture frame. While you try to wrap your brain around that I will tell you I also baked him a large batch of chocolate chip cookies, and then I affixed a single diamond earring to a red ribbon and nestled it in his basket of love goodies.
I can’t even begin to imagine what a teenage boy would possibly want with a handmade filigree mat board picture frame with our photo in it. Did he put it on his bureau in-between his cross country trophies and ribbons from track? But I’d gotten it into my head that somehow these would be the things that would represent the myriad facets of our relationship together. And looking back I have no idea what The Basket was actually supposed to mean. And I’m pretty sure he had no idea either.
I can just about guarantee though that I was disappointed with his reaction. And I have no recollection as to what he could’ve possibly given me. A watch? A sweater? No idea.
What is most vivid though is that feeling that there was something big I needed to say, and I was never going to think of a big enough, jazz handsy enough way to say it. And so I would attempt to show him with my resplendent filigree mat board how sublime our romance was.
Which is simultaneously sad and ridiculous. Also, tragically true. And eternal.
And so it should probably come as no surprise that this year the kids and I set up a valentine sweat shop in which my four children commenced to decorate approximately 120 foam hearts with foam letters spelling their classmates’ names. We also made heart-shaped crayons out of otherwise perfectly good cylindrical crayons and bought pink pencils and ladybug erasers to complete the obscene package.
For my kids I decided to write a loving sentiment each day of February on a bright paper heart and tape it to each of my children’s doors. That would be four hearts a night with unique observations about all the ways I love my four often annoying kids. Plus one a night for my husband taped on his mirror above the sink.
By about the sixth night I noticed that I had said the same thing twice to my husband. It’s not easy to come up with something unique and meaningful for every single person on every single day. But I wanted them to feel special. I wanted them to get up each morning and think, Mama knows me. This woman loves me.
And so on February 13th I threw in the towel and decided to simply write Happy Valentine’s Day on the last heart, and stop the madness. We celebrated with dinner out at an Indian restaurant and then capped the romance with Kung Fu Panda 3.
And for the morning of February 14th I set up a little love shrine for each child at their place at the table, the requisite Beanie Baby and a book, plus a card. On the one hand, it felt like punting (the books were actually gently-used hand-me-downs, albeit by their favorite authors, and the Beanie Babies were on sale at Michael’s Arts and Crafts.) On the other hand, it felt like a basket of chocolate chip cookies with a filigree heart-shaped frame, a tragically meaningless overkill.
When I awoke to find my kids knee deep in their new books and molesting their Beanies I felt slightly mollified. But still.
And then my daughter ran up and handed me this:
Your my life mommy. Love is all I need and you gave it to me.
The perfect Valentine. Not too much, not too little.
No surprise. She learned it from the master.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
(And to those mama friends near and far, here’s my valentine for you, Valentine to My Girlfriends posted over with the kind peeps from Mabel’s Labels. Please check it out, and pass it on if you’re feelin’ it. xo xo)