I was in the kitchen, on Facebook, trying to find a babysitter for Valentine’s Day, when my 7-year-old, Norah, started freaking out. It’s funny how, as a parent, you begin to know your children’s screams. Norah wasn’t in pain, or in trouble, or fighting with a sibling. She was frustrated. This was the same irritating screech she made when she couldn’t figure out a homework problem on the first try.
This time it was because she couldn’t separate the temporary Princess Elena tattoos that came in the stupid shitty overpriced Valentines we bought her earlier that day at the grocery store. She wanted to do it herself, but she couldn’t seem to do it without ripping them, and by the time I came into her room, she’d destroyed half of the box of 30 Valentines, her face was red, and she was sprawled out on her bed, kicking her legs, having a full-force melt down.
And as I talked her down, my phone buzzed with messages from teenagers telling me that they’d already agreed to watch someone else’s kids on Valentine’s Day, and I started to realized that I was simply too late.
But ultimately, this is the reality of Valentine’s Day as an adult with young kids. When I was in college, I waited tables at the Olive Garden, and I remember Valentine’s Day being the worst day to work for a couple reasons. First, it was only tables of two that didn’t tip nearly as well as a large group. Second, people hung out at the table getting all gooey-eyed for long stretches of time, making it uncomfortable to approach them because they were, more or less, making love with their eyes.
I remember looking back at those couples and thinking about how ridiculous they all seemed. It all felt like a Hallmark holiday, something established to make people spend money. But now, as a 30-something with small kids, I totally get it. I’d love to sit across the table from my wife on Valentine’s Day, just the two of us, and savor every moment. I’d love to stay at the restaurant far too long and just chat. But honestly, in the 10 years that my wife Mel and I have had kids, I think we’ve been able to have a Valentine’s day date two, maybe three times.
We don’t live near family, and our kids are a little crazy, so usually when we do find a sitter on Valentine’s Day, we tend to be quicker than we’d like because we feel sorry for the sitter.
And I know this will all change, eventually. At some point in the next few years my son will be old enough to watch our younger two kids, and it will all be fine. And yes, I know that we can go out a couple days before or after the holiday, but honestly, that doesn’t feel quite as special for some reason.
And I know there’s someone reading this right now, ready to give me the solution to my problem in the comments section, but I don’t want that. I just want to bitch for a while about the struggle of trying to be a romantic husband and doting father on freaking Valentine’s Day.
I talked Norah down, helped her separate her Valentines. She told me about her friends at school who would get her special Valentines, the ones with the cutest temporary tattoos.
Then she set one of them aside and said, “Close your eyes, Daddy.”
I’m always suspicious whenever one of my children asks me to close my eyes. Oftentimes, it means getting handed something wet. But I did it anyway, like I always do.
I heard Norah writing something down, and then she said, “Okay, you can open them.”
She handed me one of her special Valentines. “Love you Dad” was written on it. She was missing one of her front teeth. She looked up at me with her gap-toothed smile, her bangs hanging level with her brown eyebrows. And although I was feeling down about not finding a sitter for Valentine’s Day, I’ll be the first to admit that simple gesture from my daughter melted my heart.
I thought about my wife, and my family, and let out a breath. While Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly what I want it to be at this stage in my life, it is still something special, just in a different way. It’s a day to show the people you love how you feel about them, and clearly Norah understood that. This isn’t to say that I didn’t want to do something special with my wife. I still did. And I still would. But I needed to stop feeling frustrated about my plans falling through and focus on all the love that was around me.