Paul and I had a pretty well-laid plan for Valentine's Day. Or so we thought.
We were to enjoy a wonderful Valentine-themed breakfast with the kids, spend some time in the morning playing racquetball together, and then games and activities with the children. We would serve them pizza for dinner (their favorite) and then whisk them off to bed an hour early and then enjoy some ordered-in sushi, wine, and cheese while watching a romantic film together. It sounded fun, low-key, and pretty perfect.
Things did not go exactly as planned.
First, since Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year, we had to get up at 6:00 AM to rouse the troops and head over to church for Mass. Matthew and Lucy were both in excellent moods and awoke without an issue. Emma, however, was an ogre from the start. She was just in a nasty, nasty mood. She awoke with great difficulty, and we tried to be sensitive to the fact that our middle child really enjoys her sleep. We initially opened her door so she could hear the bustle of us getting the other two kids ready and perhaps feel motivated to get out of bed. It motivated her alright....she climbed out of bed, marched across the room, and angrily slammed the door so the room would once again be enveloped in darkness, and then climbed back into bed for more sleep. So, we had to be a bit more aggressive with our tactics and dragged her out of bed, took her to the bathroom, put her in dainty lace dress while she kicked and complained. and then wrestled her into the car. She was pretty awful during the entire Mass and had to be taken out on more than one occasion. We figured she was just tired.
The bad behavior continued. While Matthew was a perfect cherub, all Emma did was whine and complain. The night before, I had decorated the table with a red tablecloth, heart-shaped plates, heart straws for the kids' cups, Hershey Kisses scattered across the tablescape, and a personalized valentine for each child (and the husband) at their plate. As I worked in the kitchen to prepare a breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Nutella-Stuffed Red Velvet Pancakes, Emma whined and complained that she only wanted to eat the chocolate on the table and nothing more. When we sat down to eat, Matthew dug into his breakfast with glee while Emma sulked. When Matthew declared happily: "Mom is the best cook in the whole wide world", Emma contradicted him by saying: "No she's not...she's the worst cook in the whole wide world!"
That did it for Paul. He whisked Emma away upstairs to her room while scolding her, "You don't speak to your Mom that way!" He sentenced her to a time-out in her bed until she was ready to be more pleasant.
As Emma's window-shattering screams could be heard overhead, Paul noticed a tiny card peeking out from under his breakfast plate. He pulled it out and found a My Little Pony Valentine that Emma had picked out for him. "Ahhh look. A valentine from Satan!" Paul remarked, as another angry shriek emanated from upstairs.
We were really bewildered as to why our normally pleasant child was choosing to act so ridiculously unpleasant. We should have seen what was coming.
Paul and I played about 90 minutes of racquetball, during which time I let him win each match. Anyone aware of my racquetball skills know that statement is a bald-faced lie, but I did perform better than I expected. We came home, played a few games, and then I took Lucy upstairs for her nap. While I was trying to get the baby asleep, Emma apparently started throwing up everywhere. Paul, who had been working on something in another part of the house, found Emma lying on the floor in a heap with a trail of puke leading from the kitchen to the living room behind her. He cleaned her and the floors up and then set her up with a bucket in front of a movie. I came downstairs to find a very pale Emma calmly throwing up into her bucket while Paul made Matthew, who was completely unphased by the plague developing around him, some dinner. Emma continued to fill her bucket time and time again over the course of the next few hours. We tucked Matthew into bed and continued to monitor Emma. We decided to set her up on the floor of the family room where she would be in front of the television and less likely to soil her bedspread or her stuffed animal collection. She was happy with that decision and cuddled right into her sleeping bag and fell asleep.
By the time Paul and I finally managed to get Lucy to sleep (at around 9:30 PM), we were a little hard-pressed to find a place to enjoy our romantic Valentine's evening. Our appetites were pretty much shot and the entire main floor smelled of Lysol. We did not want to awaken or disturb our patient, so we ended up constructing a makeshift table in our bedroom using the piano bench. We then sat cross-legged on either side of the piano bench, set some mood lighting using the dim lights of our closet, and enjoyed a sushi feast together while listening for sounds of wretching from our ailing daughter through the baby monitor we had set up. We had to laugh at how our plans always seem to take unexpected turns now that we are parents to three little ones.
Yet, through it all, I would not trade a moment of this life we have built together. I mean, sure I would have preferred to spend a romantic evening out with my husband, enjoying some fancy food and toasting our relationship. However, I treasure being a mother and having the privilege of being able to lovingly hold back my daughter's hair during a moment of illness or rocking her and telling her she will feel better in the morning. It is one of the greatest expressions of love I can give her, simple as it sounds. Watching my husband wipe up vomit from our floor with a cheery smile makes my heart swell with joy and affection for him, for I know what an expression of true love and commitment that chore is. True love is not about the fancy presents, the five-star restaurants, or the fleeting thrill of a stolen kiss. It is about the commitment to remain dedicated to one another in the not-so-glamorous times, to suffer through the drudgery of the day-to-day together with a smile. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies played through my head as I thought through what had happened that evening. If you have ever seen the Yours, Mine, and Ours (the original, not that silly Dennis Quaid remake), you probably distinctly remember the scene where Frank Beardsley(played by Henry Fonda), while helping his very pregnant wife down the stairs to head to the hospital to deliver their 19th child, calmly explains what love is to his teenage daughter:
"If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you...It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won't keep it turning. Life isn't a 'love in,' it's the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and... ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to a bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts."