I have never been a fan of Valentine's Day; it's always felt manufactured and forced to me. Isn't the whole point of loving someone that you let them know, y'know, kind of all the time? Why is a specific day needed to let someone know you care? (Or, alternatively, to let those people who maybe don't feel as loved as they wished feel even more alone and alienated than usual?) I got to thinking about this a little while ago as I considered the holiday, and the fact that for the first time, I'm not with my daughter for it.
On the one hand: Who cares? Stupid made-up holiday. My daughter knows I love her. On the other hand: This isn't about Valentine's Day. This is about what it means to love, and putting feelings into action.
I've been divorced for nearly ten years, and my kids have always lived with me. After a rough year in 2012, my daughter -- now 14 -- decided she wanted to try living with her father for the the next school year. Letting her go could be the topic of another post (or three); my baby moved over a thousand miles away, and all I could do was pray that she would find what she was looking for and come back to us in a better place. I knew it would be hard, for both of us.
She left, and thus commenced a complicated and unfamiliar dance between us; if I didn't contact her often enough (in her mind) or drop everything to talk to her whenever she called, I clearly didn't love her anymore. If I asked how school was going or offered any sort of guidance, I was micromanaging and "long-distance parenting." This is the nature of a teenager, I suppose, even if you don't throw significant challenges and a 1,000+ mile gap in there. Still, it stung. I found myself second-guessing everything I said or did, constantly trying to temper my instincts with what her reaction might be. And the harder I tried, the more it felt like I could do no right in my child's eyes, and maybe I really was screwing up everything. While I'm no stranger to the "You're ruining my life!" gambit -- nor does it bother me when I know I'm doing my job as a parent -- the move changed my role and left us both, I think, unsure.
Things came to a head, as these things often do. Suffice it to say that it wasn't pretty. She didn't speak to me for days, and aside from the hurt and worry I felt, I knew that I was failing to be what she needed. All was resolved, of course, and as I was reassuring her in the aftermath that "There is nothing you could do that will make me stop loving you," I realized that was the key. That's what I'd been missing.
Oh, not that I haven't always felt that way -- of course I do. And I think my children know this, but there's a difference between "rational thinking knowing" and "emotional whirlwind knowing." That's true for most adults, never mind the maelstrom of emotions that is your typical teenager. I had to find a way to turn this into action for her. She needed it, I could tell. Heck, I needed it. I had to find a way, even from so far away.
So one morning I sat down and wrote her a quick email. We were fresh from the recent kerfuffle and I had promised to let her take the lead in our communication, so I titled the email "I lied," and went on to explain that I was okay with her deciding when and how to contact me, and I wasn't going to bombard her with email or anything, but that I had decided I was going to send her one message a day, regardless. "You don't have to respond or even acknowledge it," I clarified. "This isn't about you responding. This is about me being your mama and loving you and wanting to share with you all of the reasons why I find you lovable."
I could tell she was wary. And that was fine. My goal was simply to turn feelings into actions. No expectations, no directives, nothing but love because sometimes, that's what's needed.
Ever since, I've sent her a "daily affirmation" every day. I don't think about it too hard; I sit down and picture my beautiful kiddo and write whatever comes to me. I've sent her an affirmation about how beautiful her smile is, and how her joy is a force to be reckoned with. I've sent her one about how watching her play with a little kid is something that always touches me, because she is so tender and connected and kind and giving. Today I recalled an incident from years ago when she was calm and hopeful for someone else, and reminded her of that and what a help she'd been. They're brief, and I sign them all the same way -- "xoxo, Mom."
You could say it's not much, I guess. It's just a little daily love note. Sometimes she doesn't mention it. Sometimes she mails me right back. Sometimes she brings it up later. I think things are better between us, but in fairness I don't know that I can directly attribute it to the notes.
What I do know is that right now, so far away, I don't get to give the morning-peck-on-the-cheek while packing lunches, the shoulder squeeze as I walk past her sprawled on the couch and buried in homework, the bedtime hug. All of the daily "I see you" touches we took for granted for so many years aren't possible right now. So, instead, for now, I'll send a note every day. Sometimes she'll shrug it off, I know, just as she sometimes shook off my hand when she was busy or annoyed here at home. But I hope most of the time it will be a comfort. The affirmations will pile up in her inbox, and the steady rhythm of "You matter; I'm always here" will be part of her. I hope. I hope I hope I hope.
So Valentine's Day may be the only day some folks are writing love notes, but I'll stick to this daily habit. It's always a good day to make sure the people you love know about it, especially if distance is putting a crimp in your groove.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin believes love notes (and chocolate) are appropriate every single day of the year. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
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