An insanely busy week culminated yesterday in the parking lot of Quinn’s large, downtown school. Traffic rushed past on the four-lane, one-way streets to either side of us. Behind me, “The Castle”, the huge Presbyterian church and school building loomed, cutting across I-90 where it sweeps over the city on giant concrete trestles on its way to Seattle.
A few hours ago, we finally wrote the last of eighty-three total Valentine cards. EIGHTY-THREE VALENTINES. If there is a phrase that sums up the hellish side of having four children in five years it is EIGHTY-THREE VALENTINES written in slow, shaky elementary school hand. I never want to name another being ever again. ALL of the names are ruined for me.
T? T mommy? T?
And then? AND THEN?
No, after T.
R. R. As in ARRRRRRRG.
Matt and Nate headed to Costco for the morning to alleviate our desperate grocery situation while I endured, mostly happily, the Kindergarten talent show. Quinn made a snowflake. His favorite part is using a hole punch as the finishing touch on his masterpieces. I carried our three hole punch to the school just for his moment in the spotlight and, of course, the damn thing spilled 10,000 paper holes into the bottom of my purse. They lay there now, a hole punch blizzard, waiting to be dumped or scattered like confetti as I approached Matt in the parking lot with Quinn and his friend Ty in tow. Matt planned to take all of the boys skating and he was midway through transferring the groceries to the back of my car so I could go home and unpack.
We filled each other in as I buckled the boys next to Nate. Costco was busy. The show was cute. Quinn did great. The snowflakes were perfect. Ty played the violin, be careful with it, make sure he takes it home.
Matt placed the last item, a Costco pizza for dinner, in my arms when I joined him at the rear of the truck to say goodbye. “Have fun,” I told him. “All of the boys have lunch in their bags.” He nodded, placed a kiss on my forehead and laid a bouquet of roses he’d pulled from the truck bed on top of the Costco pizza. A dozen Costco roses still in their price-checked wrapper.
I admit, a little part of me wanted to snarl at him. Really? Just like that, huh? One more item on the grocery list – pizza for dinner, check, milk for the week, check, annoying romantic holiday acknowledged, check. Would it have killed him to leave them in the truck? Maybe buy some tissue paper and a card on his way home? Give them later, after bedtime. Maybe actually hand them to me. Into my hands while making eye contact even.
But, I didn’t. If I have learned one thing in the last fourteen years, it’s that love doesn’t live there. I know some of you are reading and you don’t believe me. You’re young and relatively unscathed. You still believe in the idea of perfection. You pin scrumptious images to tumblr blogs of a strong hand cupping a girl’s perfect cheek. A steaming cup of coffee. Windblown hair. Soft sunlight on a rumpled bed. A man’s arm thrown lovingly over a woman’s slight chest. And you think it’s sad that I would give up romance and settle for Costco roses and a pizza in a dirty parking lot with homeless people watching from under the highway bridge.
There’s nothing I can tell you that will make you believe me, but anyone can love when the sunlight is soft, the sheets are clean, and the coffee is hot. When there’s no where to be. When the Pacific stretches out before your two-man kayak in endless sheets of impossible blue and a warm rain starts to fall. That’s the beginning, hopefully, if you’re lucky, and it’s damn fun, but if love is going to live, not just begin, but really live, it has to be hardier than that. It has to grow when the sheets have to be washed the next morning and you’re out of coffee and it’s raining cold, wet, unhappy rain. It has to hold on when babies die and dreams don’t work out and exciting careers become drudgery. It has to be generous enough to find the best in each other when life is disappointing and hard.
No one will live up to the fantasy in your head all the time. Nor will you always live up to your lover’s ideals. Waiting for someone to read your mind is a losing game. If you hold onto a fantasy from a picture carefully staged to perfection, you will miss the real story. You have to look for love, seek it out where it lives.
It’s in the way Matt gives up his day off every week to take the boys skating and in how carefully he saves for our future. It’s in our plans that we whisper about late at night to someday, somehow spend winters in Equador. It’s in his smiles, his willingness to hold a newborn, his eagerness to see the kids when he gets home at night. It’s in the calls I get every day at lunch. It’s in his quiet presence by my side as we brought each of our children into the world – even the ones we didn’t get to bring home. It’s in his constant upkeep of this ancient house, in his diligence about the safety of our tires, and even in the construction of that miserable pit toilet. It’s in the way he laughs at me when I’m furious and in the way he holds me when I’m heartbroken. Not one of those things makes a pretty picture. But together they make a beautiful story.
I drove home to our quiet house, put the groceries away, changed the laundry, and carefully cut the roses and arranged them in a vase for the center of the table. Nate stomped into the house later, asking for pizza, leaving a breadcrumb trail of discarded clothes, boots, and bags behind him.
“Oh,” he said, “I see our flowers. We got those at Costco because we love you.”