Happy Valentine’s Day! How do we all celebrate?

Most real romance is small and mundane, happening in unscheduled, quiet moments. Still, I never shy away from a chance to celebrate a holiday—and, in this case, have no qualms about exchanging love notes or pouring a glass of champagne to toast to those we cherish.

It just so happens that this year, the kids and I are on our own. I’m thinking poke bowls for dinner and candy from their classroom exchange for dessert, and maybe a movie together before I indulge in a favorite—either some Meg Ryan classic or Pride & Predjudice. (By the way, any good recommendations for kids on Valentine’s Day?) I’m sorry that Aron can’t join us, of course, but I’m also completely fine with this plan.

That said, I am familiar with how busted expectations for a certain kind of Valentine’s day can get to anyone. Usually I consider myself very low-key about it, but all bets were off the year Skyler was born. Valentine’s Day fell just 10 days after we’d brought her home from the hospital, and I was so shocked, as I sat down with our newborn at my breast, that Aron hadn’t planned anything special at all that I burst into tears. (There may also have been some hormones involved.)

Since then, I think we’ve been more careful to be clear about expectations. So I’m always curious to hear about others’ expectations when it comes to this particular day. How are real women around me celebrating? And how would they like to be?

We reached out to some of our friends—women between the ages of 25 and 55, mostly mothers—to ask:
“What will you be doing on Valentine’s Day?” And “What do you wish you were doing?”

Here’s a sampling of their replies…

Plan: A normal night at home, with the kids.
Ideal: A date with my husband, away from the kids.

Plan: Normal day.
Ideal: Normal day.

Plan: We always exchange homemade cards. And we talk to our girls a lot about how Valentine’s day is about celebrating love and the good relationships and friendships we all have.
Ideal: That’s just how I like it!

Plan: Go out of town with my husband on a weekend getaway.
Ideal: This, plus a nice dinner.

Plan: I probably will be at basketball practice, and then eating pizza with my family.
Ideal: I would love to be able to go out to dinner, drink tons of wine, have dessert, and take a LONG bath (preferably in a hotel).

Plan: We have none. To be honest, my husband doesn’t plan things and it’s a point of contention for us. If I don’t make the plans, we don’t leave the house.
Ideal: I would prefer to go out to dinner, or have a romantic dinner at home. These days, Valentine’s Day is about the kids.

Plan: Nothing.
Ideal: Go out to dinner somewhere—with no kids.

Plan: With a friend, and our combined 5 children (all 5 yrs and under).
Ideal: Either as I am doing—with my friend with the kiddos. Or with my hubby, on some sort of a date.

Plan: Quiet night with takeout.
Ideal: Quiet night with takeout.

Plan: My parents are taking the kids, and we will be cooking a slightly fancier than usual dinner at home, and perhaps having a glass of champagne.
Ideal: I don’t really have a wish to do anything differently. I kind of see it as a manufactured holiday, and try not to get too wrapped up in it.

Plan: Dinner at home.
Ideal: Dinner made for me at home.

Plan: We will probably do a nice dinner at home with our girls.
Ideal: If I could spend the whole day with my family, the people whom I love most, that would be ideal. Sadly, it’s a school day.

Plan: We don’t go out, but we make something together we’ve never made before—a “cooking adventure.” In the past, white sauce butternut squash enchiladas, chicken pot pie from scratch; this year, poke bowls.
Ideal: See above. The kids love it, too!

Plan: Pancake breakfast for my little. And homemade valentines for her friends at school.
Ideal: At home or on a low-key adventure (sledding!?) with my family. Generally, I think it’s overrated and over-priced.

Plan: At home.
Ideal: On a warm, remote, exotic island resort!

I noted that the theme that stayed strong throughout was expectations. Those who had set expectations, often by setting up a tradition (whether that be doing something or nothing) seemed most content with the way the holiday played out. The pressure off, the planning done!

One of my friends told me that the holiday is one of her favorite traditions—as a couple and as a family. They’ve spent it the same way for 12 years! “We cook the same things every year. There’s no stress trying to find a babysitter, make reservations, eat out with big crowds… I decorate the table with balloons and confetti for the kids and we cook together: Seared scallops, potato pancakes, and arugula salad. There’s nothing else I would rather be doing. It’s more chaotic now with three kids, but it feels special. We light candles and do it up and they love it.”

When it comes to Valentine’s Day: Do you have a tradition that you love? Do you love to do nothing at all? Or do you find yourself disappointed? How are you celebrating? And how do you wish you were celebrating?

Wishing you something that makes you smile today!

P.S. The post just before that Valentine’s Day the year Skyler was born (when I told myself I didn’t expect any fanfare). And also, if you’re looking for a tradition, one suggestion involving cookbooks.

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