When the kids were younger, toddlers and preteen, I would make sure to get each of them a Valentine's Day gift of some sort, usually chocolate and some other small gift, and usually very last minute, like an hour before school let out if Valentine's happened to fall during the week. Then one year, as I was standing in front of the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, trying to decide what to get the kids, I said (and I'm pretty sure I said it out loud as I stood there), "Enough, I'm not buying into the idea any longer that I have to spend money on something to show those I love that I love them." Affection and love shouldn't be reserved for just one day of the year. Affection and love are an everyday thing, which is what I've tried to teach the kids their entire lives. Is this one day filled with red hearts, red roses, red ribbons, red everywhere you turn really something we need? The answer for me is an emphatic, "No!"
It's not uncommon to find all of us huddled together on the couch, poking at each other, laying our heads on each others' shoulders, being playful with one another. From the moment Lovely Beautiful Daughter entered the world, I vowed to help her know without a doubt that I love her. When Funny Delightful Son graced us with his presence five years later, I renewed that vow, but this time, I added one more declaration: he and his sister were going to have a close, loving relationship, one in which if she ever needed him, he would be there for her, and if he ever needed her, she would be there for him. When Angel Baby followed two years later, I renewed both of those vows to include him, but I went another step: all three of my kids were going to enjoy one another, support one another, be comfortable talking about anything with one another. My vision for my kids was that they would be friends as well as siblings.
I know my emphasis for developing strong relationships between my three kids stems directly from my own experiences. I have five siblings and I barely talk to any of them, and they barely talk to me. I don't have any rivalries or bad blood towards any of them. But I also don't have close bonds with any of them. I didn't while growing up, and I don't now as a middle-aged adult. Sure, we get together during the usual holidays--Thanksgiving and Christmas (and while we are together we enjoy each others company)--but beyond these holidays, the rest of the year is filled with silence. I'm not sure why my siblings and I aren't closer, talk more often, spend more time together. I am sure, though, that I don't want my own kids to follow that same path.
The lack of friendship I have with the rest of my family has bothered me for a long time. I used to send cards and little gifts throughout the year to my Florida sister, but I never heard back from her. After several years of wondering if she received what I sent, I stopped. When Mom was alive, we traveled to Indiana to visit on a regular basis. Many times, since my oldest sister and oldest brother live in the same area as my parents, we would see them during our visits. In the 15 years we've lived here in central Illinois, I can count on one hand how many times my sister and brother traveled here to visit us. Since Mom's death, our visits to Indiana have dwindled significantly, so I see my sister and brother even less than before. About two years ago, during one of our visits to see Dad, we were preparing to leave and make our way home. My sister said something along the lines of us not taking so long to return to visit next time. I remember turning to her and saying, "When you figure out the road actually does make it to our house and you come visit us, we'll think about coming back over this way." She has yet to make it over our way.
My hope is my kids don't become me and my siblings. My hope is they cherish each other and the friendships they have with each other. Now that Lovely Beautiful Daughter lives 16 hours away, I fear for what this might mean for her relationship with her brothers, but every now and then, one of the boys will tell me about a texting conversation they had with their sister, or an email exchange they've had with her. When she and I skype, I make sure the boys are there to see her and fill her in on what's going on with their lives. My hope is these little moments of interaction will help the kids continue to build their relationships into adulthood.
I know lots of people embrace Valentine's Day, and if that's what they enjoy, so be it. Hubby asks me every year what I'd like for Valentine's Day, and every year I say the same thing. Nothing. I implore him not to spend money on a card, flowers, or chocolate. I don't need these as Hubby shows me every day, in ways that last much longer than a dozen roses would, that he loves me. Things can be nice, but the without-a-doubt emotional contentment is priceless.