This Valentine’s Day my husband Andy and I woke up to a sick toddler, no hot water in the bathroom, and the second coldest day on record for Southern Connecticut. The night had been both too short and too long, filled with breaks for Children’s Motrin, cups of water, the vomit that ended up in our bed and — as we only later discovered — in our daughter’s hair.
And then there was the cold. We live in New England so we are used to cold, but I mean, this was cold – like, winter advisory not to leave your house cold. So sick little one and all, we skipped church and stayed in, soothing our feverish girl, scooping breakfast bowls for the boys, and scraping their contents off individual chair rungs, while Andy intermittently investigated what we learned to be a frozen pipe.
Happy Valentine’s Day to us?
But somewhere between the neverending oatmeal, the steaming pile of sheets and washing my daughter’s hair in the kitchen sink, I looked over at Andy and thought: We’re doing it. This is it. This is love.
This unglamorous procession of daily sacrifice, this liturgy of requests called across the kitchen – Can you wash this? Would you bring me that? – this, this is the libretto of love in the trenches, the choreography of our devotion, the work of art we are creating, one sleepless night at a time.
Did we see this coming, ten years ago – ten! – when we met on the fourth floor of a dorm in Cambridge, Mass.? Could we foresee this mortgaged future the summer we were twenty-two, when the afternoons stretched before us like the green along the Charles River, when evenings tumbled open on the cobblestone and rumbled along the Red Line, stopping who knows where? I look at those pictures of us and we were so… dewy then, all teeth and hair, like life itself was one big juicy fruit, ripe for the picking. And we were ready to devour it, seeds and all.
And we did. And here we are.
Sam and Grace were playing house. Well, a version of it.
“Let’s drink from this coconut,” said Sam. Pause, as I listen from the kitchen. “Okay, we drank from a coconut. Now, let’s go to town. What do you want for dinner? Burgers or pizza?”
“Burgers,” said the two year old, who has never had a burger in her life.
“Okay, burgers,” said Sam. “Okay, now let’s go to sleep.”
“Okay, good night.”
This dialogue must have been cobbled together from books (“Let’s go to town”? What is it, 1955?), a photograph of Andy and me sipping a coconut during our honeymoon in Jamaica, and a small amount from real life, in which Andy and I fall asleep at 9 pm after a crazy night out at Shake Shack. Whatever the origins of this brief love story, I love it.
I love the humor in it, yes, I love the mundane details of the fast food date, but I especially love that the romance of married love has not been lost on them: that yes, there is a time to clean the vomit out of your daughter’s hair, and there is a time to lay on the beach and have a grown-up drink. (And to take pictures for posterity, so that there is proof that once upon a time, you were cool.) And I hope my kids watch us and learn that Real Love, True Love, in-the-flesh, grown-up love, is made up of many things: it’s more a garden than a vase of long-stemmed roses. Because here is what I’ve learned since twenty-two: love isn’t something you consume; it’s something you grow. It’s a thing borne of muck, needing water, sunlight, and attention to detail in order to thrive, each a form of love, a kind of pouring out. C.S. Lewis wrote of “The Four Loves” the Greeks had; still others note six. In any language, there’s probably not an exact number, as all loves – as our love, this great love of my life – mature over time, winding their way in and through the years, blooming, fragrant, bucking the dirt, surviving the frost, stretching their roots: a gorgeous ecosystem, a hard-won harvest, a miracle of the most ordinary kind. It’s a pot of hot coffee on the counter every morning; it’s a red envelope left on a pillow at the end of a long Februrary 14th. Marriage is for the faithful, and I’m not just talking about sex. It’s a million faithful little gestures over the course of a day, choosing the other over self, choosing love, choosing love, choosing love.
So this Valentine’s Day, I want to say, I love you sweetie. I just really, really do, in a thousand different ways. And I can see the thousand different ways you love me. (Thank you for fixing that frozen pipe.) And I’m sorry this Valentine greeting comes two days late… but, I guess we were a little busy that day.