Happy Valentine’s Day: 30 Something Style

I’m a last minute person.  Even my children know this.  It’s a part of my personality that clashes with my oldest child’s tendency to want to plan things months and weeks in advance, but we have an understanding with each other.  For example, if she starts to tell me weeks before her birthday exactly how she wants to make her cake and what we need to buy, I stop her and ask, “How does Mommy operate?”

“Um, one day ahead.”

“Right.  So when do you need to tell me all of the things you need for a birthday cake?”

“The day before we need to make it.”

“AMEN!”

Sometimes this last minute planning works out beautifully for me, but other times it doesn’t.  Over time I have learned to adjust and bend here and there.  For years Christmas was one thing I planned way ahead of time, finishing up all of our shopping by October, and not because I had the intention of being well-prepared, but because I desired to avoid the holiday traffic and shoppers.  This year I ignored my conscience and waited until after Thanksgiving to start shopping, thus I spent more time in stores and driving on congested streets than I have in all previous seasons combined.  Consequently, it was also the most miserable Christmas season that I can recall.

Valentine’s Day is one of those odd holidays.  (Is it even a holiday?)  Unlike Easter, when I’m typically left pillaging through the remainder of unwanted candy and stuffed animals the night before, Valentine’s Day seems to be one of those holidays that coincides beautifully with my tendency to do everything last minute.  How hard can it be to find a card and a small pack of Russell Stover’s chocolates the day before Valentine’s Day?  There is always so much of it on the store shelves, and even if that runs out, it’s not impossible to find an un-themed box of candy.  Perhaps a gift of womanhood is not having to plan for rings and flowers and balloons, or in our case, a new oven.  I have a man and three girls to shop for.  Cards.  Chocolates.  DONE!

Last night, when I had to stop by the grocery store for a few items, I stopped by the card aisle to make my selections.  The girls were fairly simple.  I found a cute card with a little cartoon girl riding a pony for Molly, a funny hologram card for Anne, and a sentimental card about growing into a lovely young lady for Jane.  However, when it came time to find a card for my husband, I found the task to be nearly impossible.  It isn’t that the cards were all sold out.  Most of the slots still had a few cards left in them.  It was that I couldn’t find anything that fit quite right to our 30-something stage of life .  There were funny and sappy cards for old love, or terribly sentimental cards for new love.  There were cards for people who are just entering parenthood, ones celebrating first Valentine’s Days, and plenty of trashy cards for Valentine’s Day flings.  What I failed to find were cards that most aptly fit into where my husband and I are in marriage:  two busy homeschooling parents/chaffers with older children.  We are no longer in the honeymoon phase of parenting, ushering our little bundle of joys in and out of high chairs and car seats.  We don’t have our little toddlers around who drive us nuts, but who also go to bed in time for us to enjoy a bowl of popcorn, or ice cream over a movie.  We have travelled so far beyond that, and it feels like it has been a lifetime even if realistically it has been going by in a flash.

My husband and I are in the throws of parenthood.  More often than not, we are now at the point where we fall asleep in exhaustion by the time the oldest child goes to bed at 10 pm.  If we want to enjoy a bowl of popcorn and a movie in secrecy, we would have to either drink a cup of coffee to keep us up a few extra hours at night (we actually do this from time to time), or put a microwave in the garage where the smell and sound wouldn’t waft up the stairs and into little bedrooms, which would inevitably be followed by the sound of feet hitting the ground.

Where were the cards for this stage of life when sentimental poems seem too sappy and silly, and the funny ones seem like lame jokes that aren’t worth the $4.99 price tag?  I can offer up more sarcasm and get more laughs than that for free in the kitchen.

As I stood there dodging the other last minute shoppers who happily and quickly made their selections, obviously in a different stage of marriage than I, I started to think that maybe I should just go home and make my own card.  I began to wonder who was writing these cards, and how underserved the market was for couples in our stage of marriage, for 30-somethings with older children.  I even thought about writing to Hallmark and asking them for a job for next year.  I could write some really good cards that would be most fitting for a couple like us, and surely there are other couples out there who would benefit from my half-witted wisdom and sarcasm.

Here are some of my ideas:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love you and you sure are great!

Can I go take a shower now?

___________________

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Roses are red;

Violets are blue.

I hope no one says “poop” over dinner;

don’t you?

___________________

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did you accept my invites on Google for all of the upcoming soccer games?

___________________

Just as I was about to give up, I gave myself one more desperate attempt to find the perfect card for my husband.  One card I kept coming across was awful looking.  From what was sticking out behind the shelf, I could make out the lame artwork of flowers and the beginning of a poetic cliche.  I sighed heavily and pulled the card out of its slot on the shelf.  Surprisingly, it turned out to be the most perfect card for our stage of marriage:

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Simple.  Sweet.  Right to the point.  I put it in the cart.

You may be wondering what else was involved in this Valentine’s Day extravaganza of what seems like little effort compared to what most others do.  Obviously, we missed all of the Jared Jewelry commercials and I certainly didn’t have enough money to buy my husband a brand new sports car.  And after all, from the sights of Facebook, everyone else’s Valentine’s Day includes expensive jewelry, a dozen roses surprising someone at work, and other lovely gifts that go beyond sweetly pleasing the sweet tooth.  We have more in store, but in our classic fashion, it will be simply sweet and shared.  Later on tonight we will make our traditional Italian Valentine’s Day dinner that we have been sharing with our girls since they were born.  The exciting thing about this stage of parenthood is that I have three girls who are now old enough to help me prepare the meal.  We will dim the lights, light some candles, and enjoy dinner and a glass of wine (sparkling grape juice for the girls of course) before indulging in cannoli, which we have twice a year – on our Anniversary and on Valentine’s Day.

As far as gifts, well, those were involved as well, but they came in bits and pieces, and were also typical of being in our late 30’s with three kids and living on a budget.  I had to order new running shoes last week, so that was sort of a gift.  We also had to have a new stove, and I have to admit that it’s nice to be able to put something in the oven and not have to babysit it for fear that the heating element will automatically switch off.  It also looks a lot better in our kitchen than the big, white eyesore that was there before.

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In addition to these fine gifts, our compressor went out on our heating and air unit, which we have to have replaced next week.  And lastly, we even had a truck-full of mulch delivered and put down in the landscaping yesterday, which I’m sure our neighbors are more grateful for than even us.  If you collectively added up all of these gifts, we could have driven to the beach for the week.  However, so goes the story of our lives in what seems to be a transitional phase for sentimental love with little time left to waste on bad attempts at Hallmark humor.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of the 30 somethings out there!  I suppose we better embrace all of our last minute shopping, rare enjoyment of late night popcorn, and Legos scattered all over the living room floor.  If it holds true to what most older couples say, one day we will look back with sweet memories and appreciation for this stage of life.  If anything, we will be ever the more grateful for being able to spend a week at the beach instead of buying new appliances and sprucing up the landscaping.  And who knows?  Maybe we will invite our then grown children to join us.  I will have to have someone to help me make that big Italian meal.  Nah, perhaps by then we will form a new tradition of hiring someone else to make the meal for just the two of us.

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Investments In Happiness

I’m going to try really hard not to sound like a dumbass here, but that may have been more of an apology for what I know is about to come:  a comparison between money and happiness.

We took the girls on a vacation to Disney this past Fall.  One particular attraction in Epcot involved the girls answering a series of questions regarding what they would save up for if they had the chance to earn a lot of money:  a vacation, a bedroom renovation, and something else that I can’t recall.  Once they had made their decision, they were given a large, pink piggy bank to take through a crash course of short games that either helped them save money, or caused them to lose it.  As I assisted our preschooler, one particular game stood out to me.  The screen was of a bedroom that you had to hide your money throughout.  You had the choice of a chest of drawers, a trunk, bookshelves, under the bed, and other secret hiding places.  The goal was to spread your money out instead of hiding it all in one place because soon the big bad fox was going to come rummaging through the bedroom to find and steal your money.  In order to prevent the fox from stealing all that you had, and thus losing all of the money you had saved, you had to be sure not to put all of your money in one place.  That would be disastrous.  The best you could hope for would be that the big bad fox would make out with very little of what you had worked so hard to earn then wisely tuck away to protect.  Funny, even as a 36-year-old woman, I learned something valuable from this game, but it had nothing to do with money.  It had more to do with happiness and how, just like with our financial investments, we would be wise to spread ourselves out instead of putting all of our coins into one place; otherwise, we would be taking a big risk at losing it all.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about that game.  We are given only so much time, so much energy, and only one life, just one chance to get it right.  However, what if we mess up terribly?  What if we put all of our energy and love into one place, but it ended up being a really bad hiding spot?  What if a big bad fox comes through unexpectedly and devours all of the joy you had invested in, even after you had tried so hard to put it in the safest place possible?  Damn.

There are other options – other ways to spend your energy and invest in personal happiness.  Instead of putting it all into one place, you can deposit it here and there, and if the bottom falls out of any one of those things, then you didn’t lose it all.  You still have something valuable – albeit smaller – to work with.  One thing can go wrong, but you still have something to hold onto.

I put all of my bets into one place:  home.  And there is this belief that if we don’t do that as women, we are wronging ourselves, our spouses, and our children in some way.  Sure, for a while it is completely necessary to invest ourselves where the most energy is needed, and let’s face it, having babies and really little kids takes more energy than we even have available on most days.  It takes an arsenal of caffeine and wine just to get through the first five years of baby’s life.  Then what?

Well, our story has been different than most.  See, our oldest child has “special needs”, which aren’t that bad (especially since I consider those particular “special” things to be her greatest gifts), but it has left us in this continuous slump when it comes to educating her.  To say she has had an eclectic education thus far is an understatement, but whatever one takes from that, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has worked.  She is funny, bright, and really a super cool kid – I mean, really.  The kid is pretty cool for 11-years-old.  For a child who used to ask in the second grade, “Why did God make me this way?” to now having a really strong sense of self and a really good sense of humor to go along with it, I think we have done a pretty damn good job making the decisions we have made.  But now…now…she is older.  She’s going into middle school.  Our baby is going into kindergarten.  (I have mentioned this like three or four times in the last few blog posts.  Maybe there is something there I should pay close attention to.)

So, obviously, at this point I’m asking, “What now?”  As life seems to be slowing down a bit and we no longer have a child under the age of 5, I am really thinking a lot about myself and what I have been ignoring.  Truth be told, everyone is happy and joyful.  We laugh and we have a good time.  Our kids are pretty good.  We have great friends.  But…am I happy?  No…not really.

And I don’t really know what it is that I need to change.  It just sits there on my shoulders waiting for me to figure it out and do something with it.  My biggest problem is that I have a really hard time sitting still, so instead of taking up yoga or meditation, I ask myself, “What now?”

I can write a good book.  I think I would be pretty great at it.  I’m not the most captivating writer (please for God’s sake don’t pick out all of these grammar mistakes), but I have heard from a decent number of people throughout my life that I should write more because they love to read what I write.  Doing that will take up at least a good three years…maybe four.  I could put some of my energy there.  I could go back to school and put some energy there.  I could still have some left for home because not as much is needed here…at least I don’t think that is the case.  I could take up a hobby like gardening, but then I can’t even keep a house plant alive for very long, so chances are that I will end up with a large muddy patch in the yard that will more than likely stay that way until we get ready to sell our house and, therefore, need everything to look all nice and tidy again.

The truth is, I’m kind of sick of putting all of my energy into one place.  It’s not that my children don’t make me happy because they do.  I love my daughters unlike anything else in the world.  They are the only people on the face of the earth for whom I could say beyond a shadow of a doubt I would give my own life.  But…kids grow up.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to stay little!  I enjoy them growing up and I honestly don’t want them to live under my roof for forever.

And…what about marriage?  It’s forever, right?  I hope so, but what if it isn’t?  What if it doesn’t work out?  Then what?  Well, if you didn’t take the time to invest in yourself you run a real risk of really losing it all.  You spent all of this time and love and energy and self in one single place.  You didn’t spread it out over several different places, which truthfully helps you hang onto something should any one thing fall.  And me?  Well, I haven’t done that, and it’s kind of scary.  I keep thinking about how I put all of myself into one place, but does this one place really give me back what I put into it?  Not really.  Should it?  Well…no.  It’s about sacrifice (at least that is what we tell ourselves), and sacrifice makes us happy, right?  No, not really.  It’s good…perhaps…but it doesn’t ensure happiness.

So what does give us happiness, and what is the purpose of it anyway?  I can tell you this:  Happiness is the result of good investments, and the purpose of it is to ensure that we can continue to smile, laugh, and enjoy life while we are here.  I know, I know.  People say that happiness isn’t important, right?  It’s selfish in a way, I guess.  I agree that it is completely selfish to think about it in terms of using material goods to fill the void of happiness.  However, real happinessjoythat is what feeds our soul.  That is the thing that helps us to connect to other people, to help other people, and to make sacrifices.  It’s what gives us the get-go to get up and face the challenges of each day, to endure hardship, and to live life for everything that it is worth.

And God…where does He come in in all of this?  I have no idea, but He would have to be a part of it, right?  I read the bible daily.  I hear what it says.  It doesn’t say anything about personal happiness being a virtue, but it says a ton about being humble, gracious, kind, giving, honest, and loving.  The truth is, if we walk around in a cloud of darkness each day then what good are we for any of those things?  Not much.  Not much at all.  I know that I used to be able to deliver on all of those aspects with full force, but now I feel like I’m running on an empty tank.

I have to figure out a way to fill up again with all of the good things I will need to get through life continuing to be a good, strong woman.  It’s such a delicate thing to understand and balance.  It’s like when my 8-year-old got in trouble yesterday and I told her the story of the angel and the devil that sit upon opposing shoulders.  This is a scenario that has been depicted in cartoons numerous times, but this is actually a pretty good way to describe to a child what exactly it means to have a conscious and how to use it to decide between making a right and wrong decision.  It’s easy when you’re a kid.  You know that you don’t steal something, or hit your sister.  As an adult this gets much more tricky.  Is choosing to make some changes in order to help yourself find a deeper meaning and joy in life turning your back on good – on God?  Are you paying more attention to the little devil that wants self-gratification at the expense of others?  On the other side, if you ignore this constant pecking in your soul that you need to do something more – to hone in on your gifts and do something with them – are you then selling yourself short and at the same time not utilizing the best parts of yourself that God has given you?  It’s really hard to know the answer to those questions right off the bat, and mostly because the answer to those two questions constantly shifts throughout life.

Maybe this is just like anything else in life.  Sometimes you have it all figured out.  For example, it’s pretty easy to know what you’re going to make for dinner (most nights) and what you’re going to do for the day.  However, when those decisions get really big and confusing, you have to be okay with the fact that the unknown is a reality you have to learn to deal with in the best way possible.  Unfortunately, sometimes the only answer is to just close your eyes and jump, hoping that before you land, you will have learned how to fly.  If anything, at least the gift of flying will help you to avoid that asshole of a fox who is always lurking around the corner to steal all of your investments in happiness.  If you don’t learn to fly, let’s just hope you end up landing in a really good hiding spot.

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