And Now I Celebrate Valentine’s Day
I celebrate my family on Valentine’s Day. I take this itty-bitty heart-shaped cookie cutter that I have and I go mad with it. I stamp hearts out of watermelon and hearts out of their sandwiches. I heart their toast in the morning, and I heart out their afternoon snack of English muffins.
I heart the whole house up with red and white crepe paper streamers and heart a note to them taped to their bathroom mirror. I celebrate my family on Valentine’s Day, because before them, I used to think that I had to be what people wanted me to be.
Before them, if I sensed an eyebrow begin to raise, or heard a mouth-escaping gasp from someone while I told a story from my life, without missing a beat, I’d change it up so it would become a harmless, less serious tale – one that would lessen the risk of disapproval.
I learned, from the reaction of others, that opinions are formed quickly, assumptions are made, and blame is doled out. I’d see the whispers and nods of others, so I’d walk away from their small circle. And I learned to tell better stories, ones that would keep away the silent judging and labels that don’t tell who I really am.
I learned to not share details of what wasn’t pretty, to keep things light and fluffy, and play to what people preferred to hear. I told stories that people liked. Ones that when they’d repeat them, it would bring people over, wanting to meet me.
People like to hear what is happy, funny, and especially what is not different, life-lite.
But do you know what happens, when you safeguard your real stories? You will have 20 friends who like the “safe” you, but not a single friend of the “real you.”
That’s what my life was like before my family.
The world had come to like the woman who was an instant show, a way to make them laugh. Someone once said to me, “I tell everyone, when you feel down, call Alexandra. She’s always up.”
The pretend me was always up. The real me was hiding inside, waking up to the mental chant, Just make it through today. It was me who kept things hidden, because I had seen how people don’t like the messiness of life.
When you are known only to yourself, everything you see and hear and participate in, feels false. It’s not the real you with these people, it’s the acceptable you that’s with them.
But not after I had my family.
Through the gift of my children, my husband, I have – for the first time in my life – spoken, out loud, of who I am, to them.
With a tale or two here and there, sticking my toes in first to check the water, my children listened, and no one turned away. It’s okay to them that I am not a perfect tidy package.
I used to think that I had to always provide the diversion, a clever anecdote, a memory that would make people laugh. Charming snippets of life in the flesh, entertainment for all!
But my family has seen my baggage, looked through it and shuffled it around. There is nothing to keep secret anymore. And now, through their acceptance and love, it’s just me here – no longer hiding behind words that I think others will like. My children know who talks to them.
I celebrate my children on Valentine’s Day, and they love the woman back who did not come from a sparkly clean beginning, who isn’t always up, who is in love with them.
I don’t need to offer anything other than what I am anymore. I’ve been made to feel safe, by them.
I stand tall now. I look in their eyes and see love shining back. I am confident in their esteem for me, because I know it’s based fully on knowing who I am.
This night before Valentine’s Day this year, just like the night before Valentine’s Day last year, I’ll hum and float through the house with anticipation, because I can’t wait to show all four of them, the ones that live here with me, just how many things can be cut into and stamped into hearts.
I will have a heart strewn about the house for each prayer I prayed, that I would someday have someone to tell my stories to.
And I can never thank my family enough.
ABOUT ALEXANDRA: You can find Alexandra at Good Day, Regular People, as well as writing regular columns at Aiming Low, Mom Renewal Project, MilwaukeeMoms, Sprocket Ink, andTikiTikiblog. She was named a 2011 BlogHer Voice of the Year for humor, an honor which allowed her the the opportunity of reading her winning entry before the world’s largest conference for women in social media. In 2012, she was chosen to be part of The Moth’s National Live Story Tellers Tour, and presented alongside Molly Ringwald. Alexandra is also a co-producer/director for the Listen to Your Mother show in Milwaukee.
CONTINUE READING IN THE FAMILY ROOM