Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

This Valentine’s Day Romantic Love Comes Second To My Toddler

A long time ago, in the days before motherhood, I was an avid member of the Anti-Valentine's Day Club. "It's a greeting card holiday designed to take all our money," I might've said. "It's brainwashing us to believe romantic love is all fairytales, pixie dust, chocolate, balloons, and no hard work," I would muse. "Showing your partner(s) affection shouldn't be limited to one day of the flippin' year," old-me proclaimed with gusto, probably tipsy off one too many champagne truffles gifted to me by my mom. To be honest, I still believe most of this stuff — but that hasn't stopped me from wanting to celebrate Valentine's Day with my toddler this year. She's just over 2 years old and, together with her father and 6-month-old sister, she is one of the greatest loves of my life.

Despite counter-V-Day efforts like "Galentine's Day," which turns the romantic narrative of this holiday on its head to focus on female friendships and the strength we often gain from them, the reality is that most of us are socialized to think of February 14 as a day specifically meant to highlight and celebrate romantic and sexual love. Not friendship. Not the love between a parent and a child. Not sibling closeness. Definitely not self-love.

Just this year, Revolut, a banking app, released an advertisement in the U.K. reading, "To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine's Day: You OK, hun?" Because single people obviously have no love in their lives worth feeling good about, amirite?

One could easily argue that women are still funneled towards believing that romantic love is the be all and end all of love (if not of existence, entirely). Without a partner to validate us, what do we really have? When it comes down to it, I think this is what my distaste for Valentine's Day was born of. I never wanted to participate in rhetoric that served to affirm the notion that I could only be happy with a partner by my side.

It could be something as simple as my eldest giving me a random cuddle or kiss on the cheek.

As I've grown older, though, I've begun to reframe what the holiday means to me. My definition of, and capacity for, love has broadened with the birth of my children. Co-opting Valentine's Day in order to celebrate with my eldest, who is now old enough to engage and speak and play, seems only natural.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

It also feels wildly important (which is shocking to me, given the aforementioned Anti-V Day club status). As I navigate the weirdness that is raising two small children, I most often find myself feeling overwhelmed, fed up, exasperated, or exhausted. Then, I feel tremendously guilty for feeling these things — because, one, I should be enjoying my children as much as I can, and two, well, moms are usually inundated with every variety of guilt at any given moment.

The point is, parenthood is one of the hardest jobs there is. My toddler is, to put it bluntly, in a very difficult stage. Everything is fodder for a tantrum, be it pulling out the wrong-colored fruit pouch from the cupboard, asking her to share something with her sister, telling her we'll play in just one minute (after I finish peeing or something), or temporarily misplacing her knitted Humpty Dumpty toy. She is full of aggression towards our baby — scratching, whacking, shoving, you name it. She is a picky eater who fights me at every meal time. Like many 2-year-olds, she can be a lot.

It's all too easy to let this stuff get on top of me. I worry that it's all somehow my fault; that I had another baby too soon; that I'm not giving my eldest enough one-on-one time; that she's inherited my anxiety; that I am messing her up; that I'm not equipped to be a mom. Then, suddenly, my baby will start crying for no apparent reason. She'll be fussing inconsolably while my toddler tries to smack her in the face. And, sometimes, I just want to scream into the abyss or cry on the toilet. Sometimes I do.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

As it so often happens, the difficult moments can kind of ruin the rest, coating the days in clouds of frustration and despair. There are glimmers of light, though. Little bits and pieces so inherently joyful and warming that every bad thing to come before them is forgotten. It could be something as simple as my eldest giving me a random cuddle or kiss on the cheek. Or saying "thank you" after I bring her a snack. Or gently pecking her sister on the forehead. Or asking me to read her a book. Or reciting the lines of a song we have been dancing to together. My youngest will smile one of the best smiles I've ever encountered. Or she'll giggle at her big sister's funny faces. Or she'll light up when I re-enter the room after even the shortest of absences.

I hope to help deconstruct this idea that romantic love is the most important or fulfilling type of love.

If I'm honest with myself, motherhood is the most difficult and most beautiful thing I've ever experienced. Even if there are more "bad" things to any given day, however, the "good" stuff always makes it all worthwhile. Those two little people make it all worthwhile.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

I want to celebrate Valentine's Day with my toddler for a lot of reasons. I suppose part of it is that I hope to help deconstruct this idea that romantic love is the most important or fulfilling type of love — but a lot of it is just for me. I want to have a day during which I celebrate my toddler fully. During which we do all the things she wants to do, play with the toys she wants to play with, go to the part or a kid's museum or the trampoline center filled with all manner of bouncing gear — and just take in the sheer wonderment that is knowing this little girl and loving her so profoundly that it very literally hurts sometimes.

I'm trying not to beat myself up too much when I feel overwhelmed or fed up, but I'm simultaneously going to try to absorb the pleasant, beautiful parts of this motherhood stuff more fully and more often. I plan to start on Valentine's Day because, at its core, it is a day about love. And the love I have for my kid — with its all-consuming, all-feelings-at-all times sort of essence — it one of the best loves I have to honor. Once my youngest is old enough to join us in playtime, she'll certainly be coming along for the ride, too.