Thursday, February 14, 2013

In defense of a love that is found in surprising places


It’s the season of valentines, and to be honest, I kind of don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of love. It’s just that my understanding of love has evolved over the years to the point that Feb. 14 is just another day.

In my elementary school years, love was getting that special valentine from the boy who sat next to me in arithmetic. Those were the days when we created mailboxes to sit on our desktop, and we’d walk around the room and put our valentines in each box. My mood would rise or fall based on what that certain valentine did or did not say.

Teenage years weren’t much better as I eagerly anticipated receiving a mixed tape with all those great love songs of the ‘80s (they seemed great at the time). Plus I watched “When Harry Met Sally” and “Say Anything” which pretty much set me up for years of unrealistic expectations when it came to love.

College years were all about scorning traditions with snarky sarcasm, declaring Valentine’s Day as just another way for “the man” to keep us down through the marketing ploys of Hallmark.

Then I met Craig when I was 23 and once again love became pure, made up of walks in the woods, gazing at stars and sharing an ice cream cone. The simplest activity seemed to carry all sorts of meaning, further convincing me that I was indeed falling in love. And Valentine’s Day? It was the most significant of days.

Fast forward five years to Valentine’s Day 1996. Craig and I had been married for four years, and we had just given birth to our first child two months earlier. We were averaging about four hours of sleep a night (in two-hour chunks). During that season of life, taking a shower equated to “really tackling the day.” Put simply, my bar was pretty low when it came to Valentine’s Day.

So when Craig woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Let me give the baby a bottle and you sleep” it was better than receiving a four-carat diamond from Tiffany’s.

Valentine’s Day six years later found me mid-way through a six-week stint of bed rest during the tail end of my second pregnancy. I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and so Craig was doing laundry for the family while making dinner and helping our son with his Kindergarten reading. There were no cards, no flowers, no night out on the town, but the love was an active, living thing that day.

A few years ago, we found ourselves with a free night at home on Feb. 14, and Valentine’s Day became the whole family cuddled on the couch watching “Fantastic Mr. Fox” while sharing a bowl of popcorn. I believe Craig and I exchanged cards that year, but the real joy was in being together, all four of us.

It’s not that we’ve given up on romance. We still have our regular date night, we still take walks in the woods and I’m constantly eating his ice cream. It’s just that we’re discovering that there are many layers to love.

When we were married just a year, an older friend and mentor told me that real love is getting up in the middle of the night to get that person a drink of water when needed. She explained how that one simple act expressed selflessness, compassion, commitment, devotion and love.

At the time, I thought that seemed too simplistic.

But the longer we’ve been married, the more I see that my mentor was right. When you’re looking for love you’ll find it in the oddest places, but it’s there … in the middle-of-the-night feedings, the loads of laundry or the cup of water … and it’s in those moments that happen year-round when we truly have reason to celebrate.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer living in Winchester, Ore. You can reach her at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.