Let's Get Real About How Valentine's Day Works When You Have Kids

The Morning

Before children: You slept late on Valentine’s Day. You cuddled in bed and then lounged in pajamas drinking coffee. Maybe one of you hit the gym while the other read the paper. After a shower, you both went out for some lunch in the neighborhood.

After children: By 6 a.m., a tiny and very insistent voice is yelling for you from the next room. You and your spouse instinctively launch into negotiations to determine who will get a glorious five extra minutes in bed while the other escorts the little one to the potty. Once everyone has gone pee pee and has been changed from their PJs, the whole family moves to the kitchen to get everyone fed. While one makes pancakes, the other plays referee, wipes runny noses, and tries to find a beloved missing toy fire truck to keep the toddler from completely melting down. Breakfast itself involves more negotiations – only this time with the kids – to try to get them to eat something, while attempting to keep them from using an entire bottle of syrup on the two bites of pancake that they’ll actually end up eating. One kid tries to feed the dog while the other bursts into tears for no apparent reason. You and your spouse sit across from each other, each with a kid on your lap and a tepid cup of coffee in hand. You share a knowing look, wondering exactly how you got to this place, and silently long for just one day that resembles your past life of sleeping in and reading the paper after snuggling in bed.

The Gift

Before Children: Flowers for sure. There were always flowers. Some years there was sparkly jewelry, others there were more practical gifts, like a running watch or a favorite movie on DVD. Chocolates always made the day a little sweeter. Lots and lots of chocolates.

After Children: One of you spends a cold, snowy day indoors with the kids, busy making Valentine’s Day cards for the other parent. You manage Elmer’s glue, broken crayons, and stickers, along with a popsicle stick or two to make it just right. There are still chocolates, which are kept hidden so that tiny fingers don’t shove them into tiny mouths, resulting in a hyperactive sprint around the house before bedtime. You and your spouse inconspicuously grab a candy or two throughout the day, slyly slipping one into the other’s hand, and ever so subtly turning your back as you eat it. You quickly gulp water so that tiny noses don’t smell the chocolate on your breath and start begging for a piece.

The Date

Before Children: You always enjoyed getting a little dressed up, and this evening was a great opportunity to look your best and head out on the town. You would sip a cocktail at the bar before dinner, and then leisurely make your way through a tasting menu. There was champagne, wine, and maybe even a nightcap somewhere else before heading home. A hangover was a possibility, but never a problem, because sleeping late the next day was always an option. You laughed and loved and talked about what the rest of your lives would be like together.

After Children: You each tackle a child to make things move more quickly. One bathes the baby in the sink while the other wrestles the toddler into the tub. There is screaming and chasing but somehow everyone gets clean. One of you agrees to do bedtime while the other orders Thai for dinner. You splurge: tonight you’ll order an appetizer and a third entrée, all just for the two of you. When the parent on bedtime duty emerges from the kids’ room, disheveled and sweaty, you both collapse on the couch. With the baby monitor within earshot, you listen closely for one more potty request or a plea for another song to be sung. The food arrives, and you scarf it down as though you haven’t eaten in days. One of you queues up Netflix while the other grabs dessert from the freezer. You snuggle, sort of like old times, but fall asleep before the end credits have even had a chance to roll. Next year it will be different, you tell each other. They’ll be older then. But you somehow realize that while this Valentine’s Day is a little more stressful, a little stickier, and a lot less sexy than in years past, it is still a day of love. But now there’s a whole houseful of people to love – not just one other person. And you remember that the days the two of you had always talked about over cocktails, while wearing fancy clothes and with no bags under your eyes, are finally here. And there’s something pretty cool about that.