My eyes slowly peel open as the jarring bleeps of the alarm clock resound in the recesses of my ears. Reaching over to turn it off my arms contacts a crinkly-sounding object. My mouth breaks into a side grin. It’s Valentine’s Day. I am wide awake now and I quickly sit up to see what is lying next to my pillow. I think, Oooh! Dark chocolate, my favorite! I think a Thanks, Dad! to my loving father who is away at work. Then I find Mom and thank her, wishing her a Happy Valentine’s Day and giving her a special hug, kiss, and “I love you.”
This anecdote describes a typical Valentine’s Day in the Boutwell house growing up. Oftentimes, I would wake up and find a little goody on my bed. It would be in different locations over the years: the foot of the bed, next to my pillow, on the edge of the bed where I would not roll over it, sometimes even under my pillow! I think one time I even woke up with something in my hand — who knows if I grabbed it or if it was sneakily placed there! Other years, I would get up and go the bathroom or eat breakfast and a love gift would be waiting for me when I got back to my bedroom.
Valentine’s Day was always made special by my parents. Though I felt love from them every single day and we verbally expressed that love every single night, I always felt that love extra on Valentine’s Day. Though I knew they loved me, I really knew they loved me on Valentine’s Day because they givingly demonstrated it. Usually they would just give me and my sisters a bag of candy, but what made it so special is that they knew our tastes, and they would give each of us the same treat but in the particular kind of chocolate that was our favorite. They took time to know us, and they loved us enough to think about what we would individually like instead of “buying for the masses.” The differentiated thought made me notice how much they cared for me. This knowledge still fills my heart with the warmth of their love more than the gifts themselves, which truly were just an outward representation of their love for us.
One year I remember thanking Mom for the Valentine’s gift, and she replied, “I didn’t buy that for you. Your father did.” I was slightly taken aback. By this time, I was in college. What appeared on my bed that day was a little bit more than what was usually there. There was a white heart-shaped basket with a bag of candy in it. I thought the basket was very sweet and really practical (I like practical gifts). That Dad would give me a basket that he picked out himself was…endearing, for lack of an appropriate term. I was so surprised and so thankful, and again my heart seemed to burst in love because of the love my dad was portraying through his thoughtfulness, sweetness, and generosity. I viewed Valentine’s Day much differently after that, wondering if it was always he who was behind the gift-giving. It also made me think back to my childhood years, and I wondered if the reason he treated us as his Valentines was so that we would feel love and not look for it elsewhere.
I think it was precisely because my parents gave us Valentine’s gifts that I was never very disappointed at not receiving a valentine from a (secret) admirer at school. You may remember those cheap fake roses that various extracurricular clubs would sell as fundraisers: pink means crush, red means love, white means friendship. Someone would deliver them in the middle of a class period; everyone would see who received a valentine! I, like any other normal middle school girl, was disappointed at least once that a boy did not send me a fake flower. But any disappointment I experienced was very short lived because I would think, I don’t need some boy to like me. My parents love me, and I got a valentine from them. Then I would smile and shove any other related thoughts from my mind and continue merrily about my day. It was enough that my parents loved me. (Besides, I had a whole bag of chocolate waiting for me at home which was far more enjoyable than a flower, and frequently I would find a little note or treat in my lunchbox that day from Mom, too!) Seriously, I think I would have been more disappointed about lack of “a love interest,” or rather a “like interest,” at that age if my parents, particularly my dad, had not religiously given me valentines every year.
Many years down the road I was spending my first Valentine’s Day with my husband. He surprised me by taking me to my favorite restaurant. However, since my commute home from work was 30 minutes away, and then the location of the restaurant was another 20 minutes away from home, by the time we arrived the wait was going to be an hour and a half just for a seat. So we left and went to a Mexican restaurant where we were seated immediately. It was not the best food nor the most romantic location; it certainly was not my favorite place nor was it expensive – but it was moderately quiet, dimly lit, slow-paced, good service (most of which we would likely not have experienced at the other restaurant), and we had a grand time together! It was a lovely Valentine’s Day.
That same year, I do not remember for what occasion, I served my husband a simple everyday meal on our new china complete with candlelight. Someone close to me scoffed at the idea of something so simple; she thought we should be “doing something special, like going out to eat.” I replied with a simple principle, one of my secrets to contentedness:
Special is what you make it. Special can be anything. It is what you choose to make it.
If it is going out to eat, that can be special. If you make a special dinner and serve it on china, that can be special, too.
Special is what you make it.