It is Valentine’s Day, and I am sitting in a restaurant with two girlfriends, eating samosas drizzled with mint yoghurt dressing. One of them has called for this Valentine’s “summit” because she is at a cross roads in her life and she needs us to be her sounding board. As she talks about one of the juicy opportunities she has been offered, and mentioning the fact that she is only one of five professionals in her field in the Philippines, I ask her, “Doesn’t it feel amazing to think that you could be the answer to this (potential employer’s) prayer? Just as you are, you are a gift to someone.” A tear escaped the corner of her eye. No, she hadn’t thought of it that way before.
We all decided to meet on Valentine’s Day because that was the day we were available. We are all mothers, around the same age, living in close proximity to one another. We are at that stage of our lives where we don’t really need to be on a date on the dreaded “day of hearts”. But it slowly dawned on me during the course of the conversation that we human beings, at some point or another, need to remind ourselves that we bring something unique to this world, that our presence brings happiness to others, that we are loved. And it needs to go deeper than knowing “I have value.” As I listened and mildly admonished this friend to appreciate herself, I silently asked myself, “Do I do the same? Do I belittle my own talents and abilites, constantly comparing myself against impossible standards?” I’m a full time mom, but I don’t bake my own bread at home. I’m a working writer, but I don’t have an MFA. I have a loving family, but my waistline still exceeds my bra size three years after giving birth to my youngest child. The list goes on and on. The weight of my own perceived mediocrity is baggage I bear on a daily basis.
As I tucked into my chicken masala, I realized that this outdated celebration of Valentine’s might be necessary after all. But not in aid of romantic excursions with significant others. We are in dire need of falling crazily, head over heels in love with our selves once again.
“I love you, Mimi.”
“I love you too, Kuya.”
This sweet, spontaneous exchange happened the day before Valentine’s, in the car while driving home from school. It was not prompted at all by the anything, and it warmed my heart to hear it.
I decided quite late in the day that I would celebrate Valentine’s with my kids in my own special way, mainly because my husband was abroad that week. Had he been here, we would have gone out as a couple on some hackneyed version of a Valentine’s date, underscoring the fact that February 14, whatever its true origins, has become a capitalist’s dream, a puerly commercial ploy to get us to buy exorbitantly priced roses. So I welcomed his absence, because it freed me to be creative about celebrating the essence of that day.
Last December, Kidlat and I enjoyed springing surprises on our kids, one of which was a trip to the beach. It turned such an ordinary trip into something mysterious, and we loved the looks and sounds of delight elicited from the discovery of the surprise.
After putting the kids to bed on February 13, I must have had a smile on my face too as I brought the balloons, flowers and cupcakes out of the car where they had remained hidden until the kids fell asleep. I set the table, using their favorite stuffed toys as a centerpiece, taped the heart-shaped balloons to their chairs. I put the flowers in water, to be placed alongside their plates in the morning. I set my alarm early, so I would have time to prepare one of their favorite breakfasts before they left for school.
It really was just a small effort to make the children feel extra special. I loved the looks of awe and surprise on their faces as they came out of the bedrroom and saw the breakfast set up. They loved the flowers, balloons, the participation of their toys. They enjoyed every bit of their rainbow velvet Valentine’s cupcakes. Kalinaw was over the moon about having sausages and eggs for breakfast. “I’m going to tell teacher I had cupcakes for breakfast,” Mimi declared. “Can we do this again next year?”, Kalinaw begged. We were all in a good mood as we drove off to school. It didn’t matter that we arrived a few minutes late.
Our bedtime prayer is usually list of the things we are grateful for: our small but cozy home, our warm beds, playing with friends and classmates, the love we have for one another. At the very end, Kalinaw added, drowsily, “And thank you, God, for the Valentine’s surprise breakfast Mommy made.” Amen.
I once read somewhere that there are 137 different kinds of love, but we humans can only recognize about five or six different shades of it. Having children, far more than the experience of having a spouse or a boyfriend, has taught me another shade of love, how to love in this giving way. To do something without expectation of thanks, to do something purely for the delight of the other. That is the gift I gave myself in becoming a parent, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every single day.