I hate Valentine’s day. There, I’m in the ‘hate’ camp. Well more accurately I am in the ‘don’t really notice’ camp and occasionally the ‘mild irritation’ camp. Not because I have no beloved (I have the best!) or because he forgets (it was me who said ‘let’s not bother’) but for other reasons entirely.
I used to think Valentine’s was important, I was envious of friends who received cards and bunches of flowers, it was all so romantic. The first Valentine’s I celebrated with Stephen was a few days after we met. He made me a mix tape, I still have it. But over the years it started to irritate me, our anniversary is just before Valentine’s Day so we can never get a table at a restaurant or celebrate without feeling it is contaminated by the shiny heart fest that is Fake Made Up Buy A Card Or Chocolates Or Ugly Teddy Bear Day.
So now you know. I’m a Valentine’s grinch.
When you have small people in your life you become aware of these days again, having successfully ignored it for many a long time. And who doesn’t love seeing their favourite little people get a card from a friend, or a heart shaped sweet with a hand written and badly spelled note attached to it? It reminds us of how easily children love, how freely they share their hearts with one another. Despite the hideousness of some cheaply manufactured cartoon cash-in mini card, the sight of my child’s name in wonky writing never fails to melt my icy heart. If the card is handmade I will pretty much give that child money.
Yesterday, as we sat making some little collage cards out of pink card and heart covered scrap book paper, I felt very far away from feelings of love and contentment however. Neirin was screaming, wailing, complaining, ripping and generally doing everything he could to turn a pleasing card making session into the most frustrating experience possible. And that was the high point of the day. By six pm I was officially out of patience and when he spat out home made cough mixture over me I was done. I got cross, I shouted, I LOST MY PATIENCE.
I felt crap. Where was the love?
But then, after a brief interlude of peace when both boys were settled in bed, the cries began again. This time it was different, a fever had risen in his body and his cries came from a far away place of confusion and misery. Having never been sick he was totally confused, unable to fully wake or fully sleep he tossed and turned; his cheeks burned red, his body radiated heat. Despite my best efforts he wouldn’t accept any medicine, eventually I managed to get some homeopathics into him by melting them in water. He wouldn’t even allow a cool, lavender soaked cloth. Stephen and I hovered over him, hurting in our hearts as he wailed in discomfort and confusion.
Guilt raged in me, I had been angry with him just a couple of hours before, so angry I couldn’t even think straight. I was tired from disturbed nights, I was tired from a day of being wailed at, I’d reached my limit of screaming and complaining and refusing to do even the simplest things like eat, or drink, or take medicine to stop the painful coughing. My shame was burning as bright as his fever.
Then I had an idea, I picked him up, put him on my lap and snuggled him into my breast, close and warm as he has been since he was born. Perhaps he could even hear the strong beat of my heart as he lay his face against my skin, but I don’t think so because he fell asleep in moments. For the first time all night he was peaceful. All night he snuggled in next to me, his body like a hot water bottle; I gave him the only healing I could, my devotion. He wouldn’t take medicine, but he would accept comfort, his arms around my neck, his face pressed to mine.
It is a complicated thing. I find myself angry with my little boy because he won’t take something to heal himself, I love him so much his pain makes me hurt too. But sometimes all we can offer them is love, all we can give is our unconditional willingness to spend the night tangled up together, wakeful and aware, tending and supporting. Even the worst moments can be motivated by love and the mistakes we make can be healed by love too.
I am beginning to see why this festival, this day of red foil balloons and terrifying stuffed animals, might actually be appropriate after all. February is a tough month, a time of cold, a time of being cooped up, of longing for the freedoms of summer months. It is a time when we get sick, when our reserves are low and when our patience with one another can wear very, very thin. But of course this is when we need love the most.
So I’m converted. I may not buy into the ‘romance’ of the day; I think romance is a cup of tea at the end of a busy day, a laugh shared in a tough moment, a big hug when it is most needed, or even when it isn’t. But I can see a reason to celebrate our family, our love for each other, our willingness to spend each day together through the ups and downs. Our willingness to forgive each other, to tend and support each other, to keep vigil in the night and organise a day around a still poorly little boy.
I remember when I was little there was a cartoon that said Love Is…never having to say you’re sorry. I disagree, I think love means saying you are sorry a lot, but it is also shared laughter, home made cards, ginger cookies cut out on the counter by a boy who says over and over again “Because I am poorly!”. It is one day, it is everyday. It is worth celebrating.