This will be our second Valentine’s Day as parents. I have no idea what we did last year to “celebrate,” but I don’t really remember what I was doing last week at this time, either. My memory has never been all that reliable… or helpful. My guess, however, is that we ordered a heart-shaped pizza, stayed home and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
Just because the calendar read Feb. 14 didn’t change the fact that we had a small human being in the next room that was entirely dependent upon our sobriety to survive. Now, granted, Valentine’s Day is no St. Patrick’s Day, but even a shared bottle of wine has ramifications when your living alarm clock could pee the bed at any moment.
As a parent, Valentine’s Day is different both in expectation and actual experience. The same can be said for pretty much every other day of the year as well, because toddlers have no concept of time or tradition. As a result, my wife and I have had to adjust (lower) our expectations.
For example, Macklin—who is now a year-and-a-half old—has developed a fun-for-only-him habit that we like to call “face spanking.” Others would just call it hitting, but he always seems to purposely aim for your face, so we decided to give it a proper name. It’s always frustrating, but especially so during meal time, when your facespank comes with side of creamed corn.
Thus, compared to the years when a successful Valentine’s Day would include a romantic dinner, fancy cocktails and maybe even a sport coat, this year we’ll be thrilled if we get through the night without having food flung at our heads. And I would have never applied a word like “successful” to Valentine’s Day prior to becoming a dad. That’d be creepier than a creamed corn facespank. But this is the lens through which I view the world right now—successful days with giggles and less than one outfit change versus days of tears and blowouts.
As my wife, Emily, and I were discussing what we might do this year, acknowledging the likelihood that we’ll opt for early bedtime over a night on the town, she pointed out how our current situation is quite similar to that of our former lives as broke college students. We both have very little spending money, we’re constantly exhausted and neither of us can afford to be hung over the next day.
But it wasn’t until Emily pulled out the box of Valentines—as in “I Choo-Choo Choose You” kids cards—that I finally realized my life had come full circle. My Valentine’s Day life, that is. I’ve made it to the end and circled back for more, about to re-live every stage along the way, starting with silly cards and fish crackers. Thank God he has his mother to get him through this arts-and-crafts-heavy stage, but I know my time to shine will come when he hits the awkward middle school (through early college) “I’ll be alone forever” stage.
Life with a toddler changes your definition of what makes a good Valentine’s Day, but it also shifts your perspective on the meaning behind the day. While they’re great at complicating simple things like putting on socks, kids also have a wonderful ability to simplify the complex. Maybe it’s just a lack of abstract thinking on his part, but when Macklin gets a hold of a free donut ball at the grocery store and eyes the display of helium-filled balloons, he doesn’t try to act tough. He doesn’t worry about the pricetag. No, he freaks the hell out and lets everyone within earshot know how much he loves those overpriced $4 balloons.
So take a cue from the kid. Freak out about that which brings you joy. Most of us already freak out enough… we’re just doing it wrong. Scream and shout about love. It’s Valentine’s Day.