After Mike and I exchanged cards and gifts Valentine's Day morning, he left to spend the weekend with his family. Since he hadn't been able to visit them in December, the weekend became a combined Valentine's Day-Christmas (that I deemed "Valen-Christmas") for them. I had packed a couple gift bags for Mike's family into his rental car, enjoying the opportunity to mix and match Christmas wrapping paper and handpainted Christmas ornaments with Valentine's Day flowers, heart-printed tissue paper, and heart-shaped cherry pies. Two of my favorite holidays rolled into one this Friday.
Mike returned Sunday evening with a car full of our Christmas presents from his family, and while our Christmas-in-February was fun, I was more grateful for the gift of his having made it home safely after a few hours of driving on slippery roads. We usually take advantage of our once-or-twice-a-year car-rentals by heading to a local shopping plaza and stocking up on some things that are easier to bring home with a car, and we had planned both to do that and to enjoy a belated Valentine's dinner out, but when he called to let me know he was back and temporarily parked across the street, his first words were "I hope you're not disappointed, but the roads are awful. . . ." No, I was not disappointed. I was relieved, not really feeling like being out on them, or even away from home at all. He returned the car, ordered a pizza--extra cheese with mushrooms, my favorite--we opened our presents, and we called it a day. With his being gone and our plans abruptly changed, Valentine's Day didn't feel like it usually does here anyway. I had sent the Valentine's Day bib to my niece but had mailed only a few cards. I didn't even bake a cake, having expected us to eat out. Due to my work schedule and energy level, this past Thanksgiving had the same play-it-by-ear feel. Sometimes it's just like this.
When I was younger, even a couple years younger, I would have beaten myself up a bit about these things--I
should have made a cake and cookies, I should have knocked his socks
off with some beautifully-creative impromptu dinner for us, I should
have gotten more mail out, what happened to the homemade heart-shaped gluten-free cookies I was going to send to Mom--but ohhh noooooo. One of my wishes for my thirty-sixth birthday was to be kinder not only to others, but to myself, as well. It wasn't just words randomly typed into the text-box here; It's something I always need to work on. I'll eat junk food in my packed lunches for a few days and spend my lunch money on a gift for someone instead. I'll skip an extra couple hours of sleep in order to catch up on emails or get a long letter written. I'll treat Mike to a book or cd he's mentioned but will rarely do the same for myself. I go through phases and sometime long stretches of taking the time to watch movies and go for my beloved long walks, but spending this time on myself usually takes a backseat to looking out for my loved ones. (I always make the time for journal-writing and that kind of reflective and prayerful quiet time, so that's in my favor here, at least.) There is always more (and more and more) I want to be doing for people--and I love doing it--and I'm better at taking care of them than of myself. It's just one of my issues. When I mentioned this to my mom years ago, she seemed almost puzzled by the fact that I didn't "get it" and just said, "Well, Vally, there's always more that it would be nice to be able to do for people"--with an implied "???" clearly heard at the end of her statement. And she's right, but I can be hard on myself and this runs deep with me.
Almost a year after declaring that I wanted to do better in this regard, though, I can say that I'm getting somewhere. I'm more likely to allow myself to sleep when I need it. If I send ten Valentines instead of twenty, life goes on. My loved ones know I love them even if their cards arrive a day late or the fudge shows up broken. I am finally, in my late thirties, becoming gentler with myself. I splurged last month and treated myself to a bottle of long-wished-for L'Air Du Temps perfume. I recently bought myself a couple nightgowns. I've been watching more movies. Owning a camera now that can take good pictures outdoors should help me stay on-track with my daily walks. Slowly, I am finding ways to balance showing love toward others with showing love toward self. (Why is it just sooooo fun to give to others, though, and such work to take care of myself?!) When I say that I like growing older, this kind of learning is one of the reasons why. It is fascinating to me to see how issues that were so big to me ten years ago are no longer things I even think about, let alone "get hung up on," and how characteristics I accept as simply being my personality end up, given enough time, having been just quirks or the way I was during certain stages of my life. Finding these patterns and putting these sorts of puzzle pieces together: That's so much of the beauty and benefit and fun of aging.
After all that, it will likely not surprise you to hear that while I nestled a number of mini heart-shaped pies into tissue paper for Mike's parents on Friday, I also set aside a few for myself. And that a Valentine's Day that began with wrapping presents for others ended with curling up in a granny square afghan watching movies with Stuffed on my lap. This balance, even if it needs to be recalibrated from time to time, has been one of the great gifts and lessons of my thirties, and I am most thankful for it. ♥