Feb 14 2013

Valentimes

Last night, a frenzy of jet-lag induced productivity resulted in a batch of just-in-time handmade Valentines. At about 9 pm, when I should have been coaxing Short-pants and Buddy-roo to brush their teeth and crawl into bed, I remembered that we hadn’t made any heart-shaped cards or messages for their papa. Out came the construction paper, Mr. Sketch markers, magazines and scissors. The dining table was instantly covered in scraps.

De-facto had left for a week-long trip that morning, almost exactly 24 hours after I’d returned from a week-long trip, giving us just enough time to hand off the baton of childcare and bring me up to speed on the upcoming homework assignments, rehearsals, birthday parties and the rest of the long Buddy-roo_Vcardlist of social or scholastic responsibilities. It was barely enough time to reconnect, and not enough time for me to get those girls’ fingers in glue and glitter to make Valentine’s cards without him knowing, so that we could slip them into his suitcase.

Instead, the meeting of touch and tech, as their handmade masterpieces met the glasstop of the scanner and went digital so they could be attached to emails that zapped out of my inbox this morning. Once the girls were in bed, I made my own handmade cards for the them, scanned the one I’d crafted for De-facto and attached it to an email, pasted everyone’s head on a couple of Jib-Jab cards. By now I’d passed the window of drowsiness when I could fallen into a sound night’s sleep. My second wind had kicked in, and with it I scurried around the house in the dark, the girls snoring audibly upstairs in their rooms as I moved from love messages to work emails, scrambling to clean out that in-box, to catch up from being gone, to try and get ahead so my time wouldn’t be so crunched at the end of the week.

I’m still trying to make peace with time. Each day I wrestle with tendencies that have plagued me my whole life: overestimating what I can do and underestimating how long it will take. On top of that I’m greedy. I say yes more than I should, but it’s hard to turn down interesting opportunities. Then, when all my plates are overloaded and I’m barely keeping them spinning in the air, I throw myself back against my pillow, pressing the knuckles of my hand to my forehead, lamenting my foolish busy-ness and longing for a string of slower days with nothing to do.

When I was walking the Camino I slowed down, and so did time. It took all the hours of the day – or most of them – to get from when resting place to the next. In between there were only the distractions of nature, and the clock_bellysound of my own footfall. Today, rushing home after dropping Buddy-roo at school, chatting out loud to myself about the things I planned to get done before noon, grumbling about the cold rain, the lights in the kitchen that need to be fixed, my suitcase on the floor in the hallway, still unpacked after two days home, a surge of impatience swelled in my chest. Forced to wait at a busy crosswalk, I looked down at my boots, the worn, brown hikers that carried me 550 kilometers last year. They reminded me to breathe. Sometimes I wonder if all the presence and steadiness I gained from walking the Camino has already worn off. I’m not sure I expected it to change me entirely, but I felt different when I returned. Then my world of work and family wrapped itself around me again, many patterns remain.

Except the winding up takes a little longer than it used to. The dervish in me spins out a little sooner. My recovery is faster. All it took today was looking down at my feet on the pavement, and the miles of track and road and grass that I’ve covered stretched like a wide wake behind me, a slow and welcome drag on the engine that motors me forward.

I pulled those boots out from the back of my closet because I’m breaking them in again, reminding my feet about how they fit. And a month from tomorrow, I’ll travel back to Astorga, where I left off last summer. I plan to finish the Camino, ending in Santiago on Easter weekend. Not one single professional assignment has landed in March, and De-facto is willing to pilot the household alone again for a couple of weeks while I take time to finish what I started.

Which might be why I stayed up till the wee hours last night, making cut-out hearts and pasting and coloring, making Valentimes, as Short-pants and Buddy-roo – and just about every little kid you know – used to say. De-facto doesn’t care about the holiday, there’s nothing Hallmark about him, but I had to let him know. This is a guy who, time after time, never stands in the way of me doing what I want to do. He gets to be my Valentime. back_of_Vcard

This morning, shrills of delight from the girls as they found feathered heart pens by their breakfast bowls, heart shaped lollipops and my home-made cards hidden in the pockets of their school bags. Short-pants handed over some Valentines she’d made last weekend, pink and red and peppered with crooked but affectionate words. She motioned for me to turn the card over to see the back, on which she’d drawn a laptop computer with a heart in place of the Apple logo.

“Because you spend a lot of time on your computer,” she said.

I winced. No mother wants this to be how her child remembers her.

“But mama, you love to write.”

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. I never snubbed it – who wants to be left out of the holiday of hearts? This year I think I’ve figured out why it’s worth celebrating. Hopefully, the people we love know it because we show them in little ways, every day. Valentine’s Day is when you take that extra bit of time to slow down and make sure you tell them.