Tag Archives: love

Valentine Boxes

Bless me, Father, I still do valentines for my grown up kids.  I’m five years past the classroom Valentine’s Box hoopla of hunting down a shoe box and trying to decorate it about half an hour before bedtime the night before.  The grocery store Valentines that we argued over still had to be labeled for every kid in the class–(neatly, please! You can’t even tell whose name that is!)–with protests and whining about having to give one (yes, a NICE one) to all the girls.   Doing this with my daughter was easier.  A pink girly Valentine box with stickers and hearts was just fine, but is there such a thing as a masculine Valentine box?  Something about lizards and Darth Vader just doesn’t say Valentine’s Day.  But whatever.

Valentine boxes always caused issues.  There were always the one or two kids who got all the lame valentines, the over-achieving parents who had to ALSO include candy (no nuts, gluten free) with each one, and the surprise and gossip caused by finding an extra special note from “Guess Who?” or “Secret Admirer.”  Bless the teachers on Valentine’s Day, who try to judge the best box, organize 20+ hyper first graders to put the right valentines in the right boxes, and oversee the class party with spilled red juice and way too many pink cupcakes.  They are headed straight to heaven.

Bless the parents of multiple grade schoolers who have to oversee and coordinate 40, 60, or 80 plus handwritten valentine notes and go through untold closets to find battered and torn shoe boxes.  Bless those Mother Hubbard parents whose craft cabinets are bare of glitter, stickers and glue.  Who are cleaning up said glitter and piles of sticky spilled Fun Dip and pixie sticks this very morning.  And who will, by rights, pilfer their children’s valentine candy upon their arrival home from school.  Did they learn nothing from Halloween?  Thou shalt not trust parents with chocolate.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere.  I’m paraphrasing.

This morning my 17-year-old came down ready for school and tucked into breakfast with approximately zero idea that the calendar had flipped to February 14.  It’s actually kind of refreshing how un-phased he is by the date.  In late December, the aisles of Christmas decorations have barely disappeared when suddenly everything turns to red and pink.  Those chalky pastel candy hearts with the stamped messages show up:  hot stuff, QT pie, be mine.  He is happily oblivious and has been since middle school.

Not one valentine box has survived.  I can’t even track down any of the valentines either of my kids have received over the years from “yore good freind Taylor.”  Our shoe boxes inevitably got recycled into show & tell containers, book report dioramas, or a fancy house for the hapless frog that forgot to make itself scarce in the backyard.

So, although I do not miss the valentine box phase, I haven’t quite given up on the day altogether.  This morning I snuck a bag of cherry blow pops into my high school junior’s lunchbox because it is open season for trying to bribe a hug from a bristly adolescent who now towers over me.

#shameless

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At least it wasn’t a love-struck Darth Vader holding a pastel heart stamped with “hubba hubba”.  I do have standards.

By Heart

If you don’t count song lyrics, I have a short list of things I’ve learned by heart:  the 23rd Psalm, a brief poem from my childhood, the Preamble to the Constitution, and Antony’s soliloquy from Julius Caesar.  Oh, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  Because ‘Merica.

Ancient Greeks used to believe the heart was the seat of intelligence, emotion, and memory.  In some ways, that may be true.  In many cases, people who have had heart transplants report having at least temporary memories of things that happened to the donor.

This week, we are celebrating our 25th anniversary, and while we may not have exchanged hearts in a literal sense, we do share decades of memories.  If such a thing can be true of people and not just poems and pledges, I know him by heart.  The date of our ceremony is engraved on the rings we wear, but we started learning about each other about 7 years before that, essentially growing up together since meeting in high school.

weddingOn a stifling hot June afternoon, we got married under a canopy of trees in a state park across the street from my parents’ house.  After the promises and shy public kiss, we walked hand-in-hand down the aisle to the Beatles singing “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”.   I was barely 22.  He was in the middle of vet school.  He had hair.  I had a waistline.

We had exactly one fabulous week at the beach, where we both got alarmingly sunburned and had to drive 10 hours home trying not to let our skin touch the seats of the car.   Good times.

Cue the sound of crashing expectations.  Those first years were sweet, but tough.   Tuition and car insurance led to cereal for dinner occasionally.   Late nights studying for vet school made for lonely channel surfing instead of foot rubs and cuddles.  Stress from work came home with me.  We fought.  Sometimes badly.  This was a far cry from hours of sharing dreams and giggles on the phone at night and going out on dates each week.  Now we shared finances, family, furniture.   Everything, it seemed, had to be negotiated, compromised.

Eventually, we leaned in.  His infinite patience and our shared sense of humor buoyed us.  That, and the fact that we treated the union as a third party, something separate from ourselves that needed care and attention.  Looking at our wedding photo back when we were fresh and doe-eyed, if I could have shared some wisdom with the Young Us, it might include the following.

  1. Congratulations!  You are now a complete family.  Notice children have nothing to do with this, so when people ask you when you plan to start a family, tell them you’ve already checked that off.   If later on you feel the need to procreate, rock on.  But you’ll just be expanding the family you’ve already made.  When the kids leave home, I still got you, babe.
  2. Your spouse cannot and should not fill all your needs or empty spaces.  While you might make a great team and complement each other in all the right places, you still need friends, interests, and soul-filling that have nothing to do with one another.  (Ditto for children, by the way.)   It’s not in the marriage job description for him or her to make you happy.
  3. Have a focus outside yourselves that you can look outward toward together.  I’m not talking about a weekly trip to Home Depot for the latest DIY project.  I mean a common service to your community/world at large, so you can remember that there’s a whole lot going on outside your little bubble of two.  Pray together.
  4. Learn how to fight.  Even if you can’t imagine a cross word in your lovey-dovey state of bliss, it will come, and arguments shouldn’t shake your whole foundation.  You’ll disagree about something–in-laws, money, sex, division of labor, children, or asinine stuff like rinsing out the cereal bowl or peeing with the door open–and if you know each other’s battle mode and can see beyond the conflict, the casualties are fewer.
  5. Assume the best.  Beyond the morning breath, snoring, hair in the drain, and the way she sings off-key is the person you chose for better or worse.  Remember their best self.  Don’t see them as they really are, see them as their best version–Spouse 2.0– and stockpile your grace.   Hope like crazy they’re doing the same for you.   You like someone because.  You love someone although.
  6. If you got married for safety or security, it’s too late for a refund.  You should’ve read the fine print.  Love is not safe.  Human love is never pure or perfect.  It comes with truckloads of imperfection.  Love like this is the biggest risk out there.  If life is kind and nobody gets hit by a bus, the payoff is golden.  You get to be those adorable old people that everybody envies walking hand-in-hand  in the park.  You’ll hold up your hair and he’ll automatically zip up the back of your dress.   You’ll straighten his tie and admire how good he looks in a suit.
  7.  Being a person is hard sometimes.  When you lose a job, or a parent, or a child, or if there are surgeries and procedures and prognoses involved, hang on.   Love is not the honeymoon at the beach.  Love is the roof sailing through the wind in the tornado, and the two of you huddling together in the closet, not letting go.  Be each other’s weight-bearing wall.
  8. Find other people who are doing it right and copy them.  Don’t make it harder by trying to do it all by yourselves.  Ask for help if you need it.  Sometimes an objective voice is critical.
  9. Forgive.  Forgive lots of times, and then forgive some more.  Kindness goes a long way.  Speak life to each other.  The world is hard.  Be each other’s safe place.

So, the Preamble, Psalm 23, a poem, a bit from Shakespeare, and Bob.  The things I know by heart.  Happy Silver.  old couple

 

Caution: High Winds

When you live where we do, you get used to hearing tornado warnings on TV, usually in the spring.  I’ve lost count of how many tornadoes have swept through our area with the accompanying hail storms, wind damage, and insurance claims.  The weather man’s refrain is stuck in my head like an 80’s song.   “Find your safe place.  Go to an interior room with no windows.  Cover your head.”   For now, that place is our closet, where many times we have crammed in beneath the hanging pants with our sleepy children and uncooperative pets in the middle of the night.

Some friends of ours relocated here from out west, and they recounted their reaction the first time they heard the unfamiliar urgent warnings.  As they should, they took it seriously and huddled in the bathtub together, hunkering down.  “Cover your head,” the weather man said, so they earnestly scrambled to follow directions.  They ended up making their children wear bike helmets while they each donned 5-gallon buckets from Home Depot.  I always chuckle when I remember their story, imagining the newspaper photos and puzzled looks from the authorities if their house had been swept away and they’d been found that way, staggering out from the wreckage topped with buckets.

In the movie Unbroken, depicting the incredible life of Louis Zamperini, there’s a scene where he and two other men from his unit are stranded on a life raft in the middle of the ocean.  As they’re floating along with the sharks, figuring their odds of survival are slim, one of his buddies says to Louis, “I’m glad it was you.”  If your plane is going down and you’re faced with many lean days in the middle of nowhere, you hope you’re paired with someone decent, level-headed, and strong.

I think of myself as a realist, which is why when it comes to relationships I tend to discard Nicholas Sparks and other sappy fodder.  In my experience, real life tends to be more like Louis’ lifeboat or the tornado closet.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in butterflies and a twinkle in the eye.  Even, perhaps, in love at first sight.  But pheromones and weak knees aren’t going to get you through the storms.  And as anyone who’s been married more than a couple of years can tell you, butterflies have a short life span.

I always thought the traditional marriage vows should be more specific.   Maybe if they were, fewer people would actually marry for superficial reasons. Instead of:

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part,

How about:

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, through infertility, miscarriages, and the loss of a child; through late nights worrying about a sick baby or a wayward young adult; through special needs and learning disabilities; through bankruptcy and job loss; through bad investments and mounting debt; through annoying habits, hair loss, and weight gain; through scary diagnoses, surgery, and recovery; through loss of grandparents, parents, and others; through bad decisions and character flaws; through dementia and cancer, stubbornness and selfishness.  I pledge to love and cherish you, to be faithful to you no matter what, and to hold you up when you’re weak, scared, or too tired to go on. Forever and ever, Amen.

In the movies, they say, “You’re not the person I thought you were.”  They say, “You’ve become someone else.”   They say, “I’ve fallen out of love with you.”   Unless they’re stuck in the ridiculous body of a 100-year-old sparkly vampire, of course the person you marry will change.  Don’t you hope they will?   If you’re not different at 50 than you were at 20, then you are stagnating.  If life, loss, and parenthood doesn’t change you, then you’re more of a statue than a human being.  Newsflash:  real marriage is not like the movies.  It doesn’t wrap up after an intense star-gazing courtship and end happily at the altar while the credits roll.   That’s just the start.  You’re fresh off the assembly line and have just hit the road.  Once the warranty runs out, you can expect the new smell to wear thin and a couple of dings to appear on the bumpers.  That doesn’t mean it’s all a big mistake or you’ve missed your destiny.  It may just mean that you’re doing it right.

Gold, like that ring on your left hand, is a soft metal.  It bends.  It is easily hammered, forged, changed.

Long-lived, married love is not the butterflies, although they’re there in the distance. It’s often brilliant and easy, comfortable and true.  It’s a choice you make every day to stay.  To be faithful, to make an effort, to be available, to help each other grow.  It’s something you cobble together, every day, day after day, by choice and sometimes by sheer force of will as you grit your teeth and bear down.   And if you do that, over and over, day after day, then sometimes, in moments that may startle you, the butterflies revisit.  They alight when you see your husband patiently helping with math homework or when he fills the car up with gas, when your wife rocks and sings to the baby, when you see him decked out in a great suit, or when she’s curled up asleep on the pillows.  If all you’re after is a constant stream of giggles and stolen kisses, then you’re a string of affairs waiting to happen.

You can’t always predict the way a person will react to disappointment or tragedy.  But watch the way they handle a traffic jam, plans that changed at the last minute, lost keys, or a phone call to Comcast.  Witness their response to someone else’s sadness or bad news.  Is there compassion?  Patience?  Empathy?  Even-temperedness?  If necessary, would you want to be in a lifeboat with them?  If you heard the weatherman say “Hunker down, folks and find your safe place,” would it be with them?

Sometimes when we’re dating we may be so busy star-gazing and dreaming about the warm, sandy beach honeymoon and the picnics with flowers and wine, that we forget about the likelihood of hurricanes.  And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can be blindsided by a tsunami that devastates everything in its path and leaves us clinging to a tree for dear life.  Sadly, some storms, with some people, just cannot be survived.

After being married only a few years, I once said to a group of women that your husband (spouse) kind of has to love you, they’re like family.  A woman I’d just met corrected me sharply.  “Oh, no, they don’t,” she said. “You were born into your family.  Your spouse has a choice to make.”  Her husband had recently left her.  Take away lesson:   for better or for worse, but never, never for granted.  

At the end of our wedding ceremony, my husband and I walked down the aisle to “When I’m 64” by the Beatles.  Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?  We have quite a few more years before we hit that mark, but so far I’ve always been able to look over and say, “I’m glad it’s you” when the high winds have started to howl.  Sometimes we may look silly stumbling along with buckets on our heads, but I’m grateful that we are each other’s safe place.