February 14 is just another day

When I was little, my mom and dad always made a huge deal out of Valentine’s Day. At a time when they barely had money for food, they made sure to give each other something — cards, notes, flowers, anything — to say “I love you.” I grew up thinking this is how all couples celebrate love.

When I started dating, I learned the hard way that not everyone celebrates love like my parents did — and, looking back on it, that’s probably because nobody loved me the way my parents loved each other or me. My first several boyfriends broke up with me within a week of Valentine’s Day each year, and I started to think the day was cursed. But my parents, and especially Dad, always went out of their way to express their love for me. Even when I was too young, stupid and self-absorbed to know the flowers they sent to me anonymously in high school were from them and were an extravagance in their budget.

When I moved out on my own, my parents always sent me a Valentine’s Day card. I’ll never forget the Animaniacs card from them my junior year of college that basically said, “Hey, it’s just another day, don’t sweat it!” I know they were making light of the “curse,” but that message sank in for me. The guy I was dating that year later became my husband, then my ex-husband. He bought me flowers, I took him to dinner. Valentine’s Day was superficially romantic, I guess, but even that first year the card my parents sent me felt more real.

And those cards came every year, whether I was fighting for my marriage, walking away from it, happily dating or happily single. Last year, it was an oversized Snoopy holographic card. Always the cards would bear my mother’s giant, loopy “We love you” handwriting, but I could tell my dad had a hand in the process. Just another day, yes — but a sweet moment I took for granted each year.

Of course, this year Dad wasn’t around to pick out my card. More importantly, he wasn’t around to get flowers for my mom or pick out the perfect card and sign it with the perfect sentence that summed up years of love.

In fact, Mom has been dreading today for about a month. I found myself on the phone with her, quoting that card from college to her like a mantra. I don’t know if it helped at all, but I hope she knows how much that simple concept — that Valentine’s Day is just another day, and that the people who love you do so just like any other day — has gotten me through over the years.

Happy Any Other Day, everybody.