We went to the store to pick up Valentine's cards for the kids over the weekend. [And by Valentine's Day cards I mean the $2.99 boxes of cards that come in sheets of four, covered in licensed characters and strained phrases that try to incorporate friendship, Valentine's Day, and the licensed character of your choice in a way that doesn't sound creepy or inappropriate, that you write your name on and punch out. I'm just not a pinterest/creative mom when it comes to these kinds of things and really, the kids could not have been more thrilled to be in the "seasonal" aisle at Walgreen's (because the Target selection of cheap box cards was deeply disappointing) to make their selection. Landon ended up with Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Claire carefully chose the Secret of the Wings hologram fairy collection and we spend 30 minutes around the table once we got home so Claire could color the back of her 12 cards and Landon could painstakingly write his name on the back of all 22 of his. They are both so excited to pass them out tomorrow.] Anyway, we were all in Walgreen's and JP and I decided that it was acceptable and efficient for us to go ahead and pick out our cards for each other while we were there.
We roamed over to the "romance" part of the display and were immediately amused and horrified at the selection. The first card I read was pulled from a tab labeled "Married Valentine's" included the phrasing: We've been together a long time, had lots of ups and lots of downs, "been pretty happy," and made it though. Happy Valentine's Day.
What?! Points for honesty I suppose, but the phrase "been pretty happy" just killed me (and JP and I are now constantly working it into our conversations). We kept reading various cards aloud and they alternated between being funny and depressing. Expectations were just so low. "Our life together has sucked much of the time, but you're still the one I'm with, huh, not sure why that's true, guess I haven't felt like switching you out with someone else - Happy Valentine's Day!". There were several for husbands or wives that relied a bit too heavily on the word friend. I mean JP is my best friend, but that's not the aspect of our relationship I value the most, nor is it the one I'm particularly celebrating on Valentine's Day. There was one that I'm pretty sure was for the mistress in your life- lots of allusions to "secret passions" and a careful avoidance of the word wife. But mostly they seemed to say, "Marrying you hasn't been totally awful, so Happy Valentine's Day, let's try to make it to one more." We did each eventually find one we felt was the perfect card for the other (those are a surprise until tomorrow; cards are one of our only nods to this rather silly holiday, but I do enjoy reading the card he's picked out and the note he's hand-written every year, and yes, I save them all), but we must have read at least 30 terrible and/or depressing ones.
Then I tried to find an anniversary card for my parents (33 years on Feb. 16th!) and that was even more impossible. There are NO anniversary cards for parents. I found anniversary cards for Friends, That Special Couple, Mom & new husband, and Dad & new wife, but only about 3 for "Parents." And those three were terrible. It's basically: Happy Anniversary, you're still married, what a surprise/accomplishment. Love, your kid. My parents are affectionate and very much in love and not only served as the foundation of my happy childhood, but also as my example and aspiration in adulthood. There were no cards to reflect that sort of sentiment. I thought of starting my own line, but then remembered the number of my own friends' parents who are divorced (and are now happy in new marriages) and realized the "Dad and wife" and "Mom and husband" cards were probably the big sellers anyway. And then I wondered if there was some correlation between the lackluster Valentine's Day husband and wife cards and the utter dearth of Parent anniversary cards. Luckily I found one in Kroger later that day, saving me from a pile of construction paper, scissors, and some half-formed rhymes about just how much my parents' marriage has meant to me in my own (though I did add a personal note to that effect, because the Kroger card didn't quite get all the way there and I believe strongly in adding personal notes in cards). Landon and Claire each contributed a Valentine to the anniversary package for Papa and Gigi and we dropped it in the mail with lots of love and Jake and the Neverland Pirates stickers.
I have the breakfast table all decorated for a Valentine's Breakfast for the kiddos (and JP too) - red tablecloth, heart plates and napkins, a card and little gift for each kid picked out by JP (also while in Walgreen's; bubbles, I believe- bubbles Claire nearly shoplifted because she fell in love with a Scoopy dog one and tucked it in her pink purse and I didn't realize it until she pulled it back out of her purse while her dad and I were entertaining ourselves in the card aisle), a rare homemade weekday breakfast from mom (pancakes and eggs; we're not getting too crazy, there is a mountain of work sitting on my desk for tomorrow). My mom always cooked us a special breakfast at a decorated table on Valentine's morning (I recall years with the table set with china and crystal for our orange juice, a very special treat) and my dad always left flowers for my sister and I (usually carnations in my mom's little crystal bud vases by our plates, oh how we treasured them) and candy for my brother, all which he must have gone out to buy at about 5 a.m. because he was always on his way downtown by the time we woke up, and like most of my childhood traditions, I'd like to do something similar with my kids. At night we will eat pizza and cookie cake (sacred traditions started in college when JP and I learned that going out to eat on Valentine's is a terrible idea in the course of celebrating our first one, though I do have a cute slightly awkward picture from that night of us at a French restaurant pretending like we liked what we were eating and didn't mind drinking water with our meal because we were basically children and clearly underage) and then drink champagne and flirt extensively after the kids go to bed. Valentine's is not my favorite holiday by any measure, but I do enjoy having a reason to continue traditions, write a love note, and eat cookie cake in the middle of the week.
Valentine's Day Update: woke up to a text from my dad at 6:18 a.m.: Roses are red, my hair is gray, you are the best Valentine, whom I am so proud of and love so much every day!
Dad, my first Valentine and the man who taught me to expect a hell of a lot from any other man in my life. Also, an excellent poet :).