Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays I was looking forward to leaving behind. When I was new to parenting, and committed to making every moment whimsical, I would decorate the table with treats and love notes each Valentine’s Day. I did it because I enjoyed the surprise for my children, and liked having an opportunity to create a space devoted to loving each other. I didn’t even notice I did this from year to year. Until Gabe was born. A few days after his birth, Keith and I overheard 7-year-old Nicolas talking to 4-year-old Siena and reminding her of how much fun Valentine’s Day is. “Remember, Siena? We come into the kitchen, and the table is pretty with treats and decorations? I love waking up on Valentine’s Day.” Crap.
I looked at Keith with alarm. I hadn’t changed out of my jammies in days, I was rank with sour milk, and I was still getting used to having one more human in my family. I had zero energy to create a special, festive display of my overflowing love. Keith mouthed, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” And he did.
Ever since, I’ve resented the expectation. Not enough to back out of it, but enough to heave a sigh of begrudging aggrievement at the realization of another Valentine’s Day. I’ve made the dreadful mistake of creating too many expectations, and I’m enjoying a year liberated from Valentine's Day, birthday parties, or filling hundreds of plastic eggs.
Valentine’s Day in Spello is as mellow as I’d hoped. I yawn and stretch in the morning, and curl against my husband without racing downstairs to put out the final bits of flair. I tussle my children’s hair and tell them I love them and Happy Valentine’s Day, they respond with dawning understanding, “Oh, right!” When I come home from the forno, I find that Keith has adorned the frothed milk in my morning coffee with a cocoa heart, and I’m moved by the simplicity of the gesture.
As I do my marketing, I pass my neighbors, with perks of awareness of the hidden holiday. No one notices me secretly sending love to passersby. I’m a reckless love vigilante. I have a conversation with the butcher and his wife, who want to know if we are staying in Spello, “Per sempre?” For always. And I love them. And the Moroccan produce vendor sells me one more etto of olives than I ask for, and I grumble, shrug, and love him. And on the navetta Luciano, without my mentioning it, offers to tell the driver to stop at the forno so I can get off closer to my house, and I love him. And Siena calls from Chiara’s house, asking to stay longer because Chiara wants her to stay as long as possible, and I love them both. And I send Nicolas and Gabe to the piazza together to buy chocolate, and they leave hand in hand and I love them. Nicolas comes home and tells me that the owner of Bar Cavour complimented him on how polite he is and apologized for being out of the Milka bars he usually buys and I love her. I see Sicilian Angelo in the piazza and he hugs me and calls me cara and I love him. And in the evening, we stroll down to Vinosofia where we enjoy a fabulous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that tastes of blackberries and caramel, and spirited conversation, and Brenda’s gift from Graziano—her favorite Carnevale treat of a ring of small, fried balls of dough mixed with hazelnuts, bound with honey and a little orange. I love them both, and I love the way my senses sing.
As we walk home, Gabe assiduously lugging his precious bag of pandoro for tomorrow’s breakfast through streets that are mellowed with fog and tender with starlight, I can feel in my bones how much I love it all.
Love—sans candy hearts, unadorned with plastic roses, without a Hallmark card. Whimsy-free. Just a simple, vigilante valentine.