Oklahoma City family fun isn't what we plan or where we go.
Valentine's Day always feels hurried to me, rushed like so many other holidays we live with our families. The focus on romance seems to have expanded in our culture to make room for other relationships: co-workers, classmates, friends.
I didn't realize how much I would appreciate that shift as a parent.
Before my children were born, Valentine's Day held all the allure of rose bouquets and dinner proposals and fun outings. Even then, we never celebrated one that really worked out; there was a lot of traffic, lost reservations and disappointment.
If you can celebrate this holiday as just a couple, that's beautiful and fun and worth it. If you can't, though, know that you're not alone in the lack of personal plans today. We, fellow parents in your community, are here too, trying to make sure our children take all the things to school that they're supposed to, juggling the fruit tray and the cardboard mailbox and counting all the heart-themed cards with stickers. And tomorrow, we'll be fighting our children through the fifty percent off chocolate aisle.
Making the stars align for one date loses its joy sometimes when everyone else is trying to do the same thing in one small urban area. If you're planning a living room picnic with Netflix in the background or thwarting small children's efforts to tear the cellophane on the chocolate heart before your partner in this parenting effort even has a chance to see it, yeah, that's us too.
When my oldest child was a baby, I remember my mother-in-law telling me that I would want other people to love my children, as in those outside of our home and immediate relatives. I thought that was a puzzling statement at the time because I didn't see the broader picture of what it means to live in a community, to have teachers and friends and neighbors who I am grateful to know do care about our kids.
Those are also people we celebrate today in an expanded definition of care. The people who choose to be kind to our kids when they don't have to, when they could do their jobs by just going through the motions, are the ones I focus on today, those overseeing the frosted cupcake exchange and the cards in the decorated boxes. They're watching out for hurt feelings and melted chocolates.
I see now what those words meant. We aren't there every time our children fall down. We don't have to change every diaper to be outstanding parents. And the world will most certainly knock our children down but I am so glad caring individuals like their teachers and friends' parents were some of the first adults to help them up from the blacktop before they go off to places that are not as gentle because that experience, of how to get back up and carry on playing, is formative. That's love.
Even though these children may not remember the exact details of events at home or at school, they will remember how those occurrences made them feel. We all carry those feelings with us, more or less.
A few years ago, I decided to wear my Grandma Billie's ruby ring in her honor for the entire month of February, which was the month she was passed away in the mid-90s, at the relatively young age of 64. Her death was unexpected. My Dad had driven the 16+ hours in our blue Dodge minivan alone to go and see her after a heart attack, from Wyoming to Kansas in a day and a night. He left her in the hospital but in good spirits and started the pre-cell phone era drive home. We met him in the driveway with the news that she had passed away. It was a shock for all of us.
I was about 10 and the gravity of that event still hangs in the air if I think about Valentine's Days that go completely wrong. My uncle had sent us chocolate hearts and we ate them silently while my parents planned the drive back for the funeral.
A blur of February, heart health month, the blood red rubies, the red roses at her funeral and red chocolate boxes are what I think of this time of year. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was the funeral's anthem and a dizzying sadness washes over me when I hear that song.
My Grandma had visited that past summer, not something she did frequently; we lived in Wyoming, she lived in Kansas and I remember that she hated the cold, so she had planned a trip for what was supposed to be the warm season. It snowed on the Fourth of July that year and we had to stay, snowed in, at a hotel in Yellowstone National Park, one of several touristic ventures we tried out with Grandma. She went back home and my Mom took a roll of film from her visit to be developed at our local K-Mart.
I guess we went back that fall to pick up the photos only to find out something strange had happened. They weren't ready in the usual yellow envelope at the photo center with its shiny white counters, the employees had nothing to say and an epic search effort began around our house and in that same minivan, the thoroughness of which I can still remember.
The roll of film had vanished. We looked in trashcans and under all the car seats, in outdoor trash barrels and through kitchen drawers.
No one knew Grandma would pass away the next year but once she had, the photos still had not been found. My Dad was sad, of course, and my Mom felt terrible as she tried to retrace her steps. Had she even turned in the roll of film? Was it lost at the store, lost in the parking lot?
There were zero clues and not knowing hurt in its own way since those were some of the last images we had of this beloved person gone too soon.
Some period of time later, I don't even know how long, my Dad got an unmarked envelope in the mail; it came to our PO Box with no return address. Inside were the developed photographs with a handwritten note that said simply "Somebody loves you."
I have never known the truth about how those photos came back to us.
K-Mart shuttered and we didn't know any employees there. My Mom swears it wasn't her. My Dad says he doesn't know.
It's one of those mysteries of the universe I guess we'll just never solve. And that's okay with me. I'm not even sure I want to know because there is a kind of faith in the not knowing, buoyed by hope and enveloped in love, which I guess does come in the mail sometimes.
Someone knew we really needed to get those pictures back.
The very first time I tried to wear that ruby ring out, one of many my Grandma wore and the one thing I inherited from her, I lost it. The ring was one size too big and it slipped off my finger. When I realized, I felt a kind of panic and sadness that brought back the same panic and sadness around her passing and those photographs.
I searched the car, retraced my steps, drove back to my older son's school where I had been that morning. No ring.
Four hours later, a total stranger turned the ring in at my younger child's preschool that day and it came back to me. I cried with relief. Being in a positive community makes all the difference. Somebody loves you.
So today, while my sixth grader is at Arby's for lunch after the State Archery Tournament, I know he's with his friends and I am happy he has them. He doesn't need me right there to be his "smother" like on "The Goldbergs," which my kids have constantly playing on Hulu. Family is love but the ability to reach beyond it, knowing you can always go home, is a kind of security kids need. Our love is what they take with them.
My other two children are at school, with teachers who care about them, including at the same preschool where that ring turned up.
That's what community means and it's what my mother-in-law meant too.
At MetroFamily, we are all about community. If you're looking for family fun and people who care about kids that put on all these different activities the metropolitan area has to offer, resources abound as we try to cover all that families need.
When you can, take the time and do a real Valentine's. Staycation ideas are here.
Until then, know that your family and your community are right here for you, today and every day.
Happy Valentine's Day!