A few things happened this week. I found out some friends of ours were expecting (yay!), I visited a few friends with newborns and through them, relived the horror and happiness of those days, and it’s Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day sucks.
We’ve never celebrated it as a couple, and I've never liked it as an adult. Of course as a teen, it was always "bigger is better." I'm talking about the size of the stuffed teddy bears I'd receive from my pimply amours, obviously.
As a little girl, Valentine's Day was the most magical day, full of hearts, pink, and glitter. I didn't even know there was jewelry involved at this point - imagine! I just knew it was of utmost importance. I remember dragging my mother to the newsagent every year, and insisting on picking out two cards – one for each of my parents. I would pore over the selection and read every single one (much to the amusement of the newsagent, I’m sure, and the chagrin of my mother), just to make sure the message inside perfectly described my feelings for each parent. Eventually my ever-increasingly frustrated mother explained to me that Valentine’s Day is for the mummies and daddies to celebrate together, not for the kiddies. It broke my little heart. I gave up Valentine’s Day in an instant, never looking back. Until today.
My son came home from his Ready Steady Cook class with a heart shaped card and some heart shaped cookies with sprinkles on them, which he presented to us shyly and proudly (but then wouldn’t let us eat). As we watched him selfishly munch on a week’s worth of sugar, and wondered if all toddlers were like this, it hit me. From now on we’ll probably always celebrate Valentine’s Day, not only because the Hallmark holiday is being pushed on our kid at this young age, but for the fact that for him, Valentine’s Day truly is all about love.
I thought I knew love. After all, I have loved my whole life.
I love my parents fiercely, in a way that drives me to make them proud. I love my little brother with a need to protect him throughout our lives, and I love my little dog Hudson for his unconditional happiness when he sees me, whether it’s only been 5 minutes, or 5 hours. I love my husband, to a point where I doubt we each know how to live without the other anymore.
All this being said, I thought I was well-versed in all the different kinds of love one can experience: Parents, sibling, spouse…all that was left was the child. But nothing prepared me for that one. I thought I loved him when he was a little kidney bean in my tummy, but what I felt was worry. Worry to make it through the pregnancy with his brain, eyes, limbs, 10 fingers and 10 toes intact. I thought I loved him when I saw him for the first time, and those first few days of us becoming a family. But what I felt was an overwhelming urge to nurture him and keep him safe.
I thought I knew love. Years ago, my Dad asked me if I thought it was worth bringing a child into the world, when there was so much pain and suffering here. To that I responded “But you love so many people in your life, and if something happened to any of them you would be devastated anyway, so what’s one more?” He gave me a small, silent smile. I thought he was smiling at my magnanimous character, but now I know he was smiling at my naivety.
I once read that having a child is like tearing your heart out of your chest, sticking arms and legs on it, and watching it run around outside your body for the rest of your life. That’s pretty awful. And wonderful, all at the same time.
I thought I understood where my baby would fit in; with all the others gathered there among the top tiers of my heart. I didn’t know he would be its nucleus. I didn’t know he would expand it and push everyone else that I held so dear, so much further down. Not to say that I don’t love each of them as strongly as before…but this is an entirely different understanding of love. This isn’t the terrified, messy love of those first newborn days. This isn’t the inspirational and aspirational love of family. This isn’t the “til death do us part” possessive love of courtship.
This is L.O.V.E. love. Pure love made out of light, with no motives, goals or consequences. It's so easy to say but so entirely different to truly feel.
When I smell the scent of his little head in the middle of the night, feel his all-enveloping cuddle in the morning, look down and see tiny little fist holding on to my pinky finger, when I hear an uncontrollable giggle; when I see the way he gazes at me, as if I am the one to cause the sun to rise every morning.
When I realized that every beat of my heart is for him. That’s when I knew love.
What would I tell my friends who are expecting their first child of the ride they’re about to get on? Or my friends who have just brought home newborn babies and are experiencing the roller-coaster of new mommy emotions?
“You think you’ve seen the Sun,
But you ain’t seen it shine”
And Happy Valentine's Day.