I didn’t mean to be a jerk on the holiday of love. It just, well, it happened.
It was never destined to be a frosted, heart shaped sort of day at my house. The girls were needy, and I was empty. I slogged through the morning edgy and dry. And then the radio announcer would make a comment, or I’d see my Google search covered in hearts, and something in my brain would cackle that I was supposed to be celebrating my loves.
We tried. Honest. I took a cute picture of the twins for the grandparents, and made a card on a fun site called Fotor. And when the girls went down for their tiny afternoon nap and Ellis woke up early, we baked cookies. Unfortunately the activity lasted for seven minutes, at the end of which Ellis and I both consumed an unhealthy amount of cookie dough and my kitchen became a shrine to measuring cups and spilled flour.
Meanwhile, my Love with a capital L was in the throes of tonsillitis. He came back from the doctor’s office with a new prescription, a jug of orange juice, and barely enough energy to make it up the stairs before collapsing into bed.
I knew our plans of dinner with friends and snowshoeing were out. Along with them went my fast-waning patience. The girls cried. The house vomited princess dresses and Mr. Potato Head pieces.
And I wanted nothing to do with this messy, imperfect side of love.
Love was easy in a new dress and candlelight. It readily accepted the flowers and blushed gracefully at the card with its polished sentiments.
Love at 4:17 in the afternoon was grueling. It had unwashed hair and flushed cheeks. It ran out of tolerance as I packed the girls in the van, dropped them off at church’s childcare, and spent the next three hours alone.
A few days earlier, it had been my birthday.
If I’m allowed to admit it, I LOVE birthdays. Particularly mine. Because something happens on my birthday that I have a really hard time doing on any other day of the year.
I give myself permission.
Let me explain. During college, my roommates and I started this tradition of crazy celebration. The day started with Bruegger’s bagels and bright red strawberries, coffee, coffee, coffee. It ended with the four of us around a restaurant table of really, really good food.
My celebration wasn’t just reserved for mornings and evenings though. One year I ditched class and spent my birthday wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The next year I planned my way through IKEA. I bought myself cupcakes from Lund’s, buttercream icing piled high. I never, ever, worked.
Slowly, things changed. My roomies all got married and the bagel tradition fell by the wayside. I stopped taking the day off. I realized, in true I’m-a-grownup-now-fashion, that the expectation of celebration needed to be consistent with life’s current circumstances.
So this year, when my birthday started with my toddler announcing (in her best outside voice), “MOM IT’S NOT DARK OUTSIDE ANYMORE. GET UP!”, I decided to institute a new phrase into my day.
So what? It’s my birthday.
I repeated it, even though the words felt dumb. Yes. This would work.
The twins were jabbering and cooing in the next room already, so I gathered my girls, made some sort of elephant herding maneuver down the stairs, and settled into the kitchen to make French toast. (The nearest bagel shop is probably 37 miles away.)
And when Ellis spilled syrup all over the floor, I said to myself, So what? It’s my birthday.
When we were half an hour late meeting Jules and crew for our swimming play date and the van was out of gas… So what? It’s my birthday.
When we ate lunch out and both babies started to scream and wanted to eat at the same time?
So what. It’s my birthday.
I’m not uptight. I think I just get tangled up in the difference of how things should be versus how they are. (Wait, still? Didn’t we talk about expectations, ahem, a year or so ago?) I guess some character follies just keep coming back up, whack-a-mole style.
That’s a problem. I stink at whack-a-mole, and seeing life in terms of should means I’m using someone else’s measuring stick. When that happens, the results are bound to be different.
Seeing life as it is and accepting it as such means I throw out the measuring stick. It means I stop getting upset when something turns out differently than I expected. It means I give myself and the world around me permission to be imperfect. Not unkind, just imperfect.
In that permission, love can survive. It might be messy. It might have snot stains and markers on its pants. But permissive love doesn’t keep track of what went awry – it simply acknowledges that when things don’t go as planned, when the babies cry and the knight in shining armor is in bed with a fever, it’s not the end of the world.
That love says, “So what”, and then goes on with a certain steadiness. Circumstance may prune it down some days, but the results are always a branching (LM Montgomery) that will, eventually, bloom bright.