The last of the Christmas decorations, who must have hid their way through the Christmas clean up, have congregated on my writing table. A glittered reindeer is currently leaping out of a valentine vase. And a streamer of felt candies, made by our youngest and I one day after preschool a few years back, is still hanging behind the sheer curtain. I just noticed it a few days ago, though I sit here every single day.
The leftovers of Christmas aren't overshadowing the valentines around the house, though. I love Valentine's Day. It rises in the ranks of my most beloved holidays every year. I went through this phase where I loathed the exploitation of love and commercialism and blah, blah, blah. Now I'm like, "Whatever. Bring me chocolate. Bring me flowers. Let's dance." Because love is hard, folks, and it deserves a holiday. Besides, during one whole month of winter, red and pink and hearts and flowers make life more colorful. They keep the heart beating when it might want to hibernate. As much as I think bear life sounds amazing, I'm a human, and full on hibernation is not what we do.
One of my favorite books from childhood is The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. LOVE it. I paid a ridiculous amount of money when our oldest was a baby to add the book to our collection of storybooks for her. It was out of print, so I hunted up a used copy which is now lovingly tattered, as it has been read and slept with to the point of softness. A mark of high privilege and praise for a child's book. Lucky for all of us, it's back in print now. I think I'll get a couple copies and put them away for the girls when they're grown.
Mr. and Mrs. Bear know love is hard. They go the extra mile. They show up for each other, even though they're bears and hibernation really is their thing. Mrs. Bear thinks Mr. Bear isn't going to show up, and she's not having it. Valentine's Day is happening. Even though other creatures are still sleeping, or are watching her like she may be crazy...Mrs. Bear is doing this thing. Mr. Bear is, of course, being a prankster, and has prepared for the day, too. They laugh. They hang out. They eat. They go back to sleep until Spring. All of this happens against the backdrop of 1985 earthy softness. The colors are soft and somewhat muted; greys and reds, mostly. The effect is bewitching and soothing and enlivening all at the same time.
This book still delights me after close to thirty years of reading it. I remember my mom and my grandma reading it to me. I read it to myself. I read it to my daughters. I listen to my husband read it to them, too. Now that I have a lived in, weathered love, I recognize this book as the metaphor for seasoned love that it is. A celebration of going to sleep and waking back up; reviving love and letting it rest over and over again. Letting love go through its phases of sleeping and waking is not the easiest part of loving someone deeply for a long, long time.
We were just talking, my husband and I, about how our culture doesn't support this model of love so much. New love? Yes. Old love? Yes. Middle love? Not so much. Old love is romanticized to the point that the dying that's happened over and over is barely acknowledged. We've been together for a dozen years, married for nearly eleven. One marriage made up of dozens of different relationships. We're always recommitting. Recalculating. Adjusting. And every time change comes around, something that was once beautiful is laid to rest to make room for what's coming next.
We held on to new love for ages. We really did. We thought we were winning at life. Beating the odds. Beating the system. Our love will never die. It'll never happen to us. We were so cute. We were so determined. And so foolish.
The first death was bewildering. The second, excruciating. The third, numbing. The day I realized exactly how the couple in Stepmom fell apart, even though they so clearly loved each other, I got seriously scared.
Then, ever so slowly, I began to pick up on the art of rebuilding. Constant remodeling, that's middle love. Standing together and bashing apart something that hasn't been working can be fun. Cleaning up the rubble, meh; it's necessary. Building something new, maybe not as fun as it sounds, but so much better than the alternative. What's going to work to keep us together? How can we make sure we're both getting what we need while we're working so hard to take care of our responsibilities? That's middle love. It is so much work, but the worn in, weathered feeling--the sense of accomplishment--the knowledge that your kids are the ones who are really winning--it's so worth it.
Now, middle love is no excuse for lack of romance. I used to think that romance was evidence of love, not I think it's love's nourishment. Valentine's Day is our friend, and I am counting down the days. Me and Mrs. Bear, we're making Valentine's Day happen come hell or high water. Pretty sure the mister has some plans, too, because a mystery box showed up at the door yesterday, and I've been ordered to open no packages that come in his name. Ah, romance. I'll take a triple serving, please and thank you.