A Valentine’s Day love letter (to myself before kids)

A mother of two small children looks back on her time as a single woman and writes a letter of appreciation for life before, and after, kids. 

Tony Gentile/Reuters
A woman holds a flower as Pope Francis leads a special audience with engaged couples, to celebrate Saint Valentine's day, in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican February 14, 2014.

Dear Old Me,

I should say, former me, as the “old” me wasn’t 40, like I am now. It’s tempting to think that this is the old me now, but 40 isn’t aged – though it would have seemed old to the 25 year-old to whom I’m writing.

It’s Valentine’s Day soon and I’m writing to express my love and admiration for what once was. I didn’t appreciate you then, former me. And I didn’t appreciate what we had: those long unbroken hours of contented solitude, the uninterrupted showers (bathroom privacy in general, actually) and the quiet. Oh, the quiet.

I didn’t feel gratitude for you the way I do now and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I know I broke up with you for a handsome, tall sea captain and the dream of soft, darling babies. I just want you to know that now that I am ten years down that road, I see a few things more clearly.

So many things have changed and so many of them are things I failed to enjoy as much as I could have while they were happening. Though I’m not at all sorry I chose the life I did, I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving you behind.

Maybe it’s the mountains of snow here in coastal Maine right now that are making me nostalgic for travel. I’m thinking of how you backpacked alone around Australia and New Zealand. Or that first solo apartment in San Francisco. You didn’t need to tell anyone where you were going. Ever! You could disappear for hours at a time and get lost in aisles of seasonal vegetables at the farmers market or hike for hours and stop at the beach on the way home and no one would miss you. You could binge watch “Sex and The City” without anyone asking to turn it to “Dora The Explorer” instead, or eating / manhandling the remote control to the point that it becomes impossible to simply change channels.

Remember when you got eight or more hours of sleep and got up and washed your face every morning and even had time to apply mascara without someone hanging on your leg? Time then, was so generous.

Now, if I happen to squeeze myself into a pair of non-stretchy pants or a date-night dress on the supremely rare occasion that I am going out, I have a glorious preschooler to nourish my ego. She is always curious why I hardly ever change out of my pajamas. She was so amused on my behalf at how I looked like a “makeup-y princess but still tired” when we recently attended a wedding.

Life used to revolve pretty squarely around daily yoga class, work, trips to the beach, and brunch. My daily exercise now involves mostly dishes and chasing children. I am in awe that I have nurtured life and given birth in this strong vessel of a body and I try to be as cool as I can be with the changes my body has undergone, but I can’t lie and say I don’t sometimes miss those lower digits on the scale. More than that, I miss the fit woman and the feeling that I could conquer anything. I’m pretty exhausted now – getting all the laundry put away feels like a genuine triumph.

Mealtime: that lost art of eating at a normal pace. How I miss lingering over dinner on purpose. I have a child whose pace at dinner is glacial. Animals have evolved more rapidly than my daughter's attempts to consume a meal. I also often watch others eat while I, parched and ravenous, breastfeed my infant son. I have also mastered the art of eating with one hand while someone small tries to tug my fork out of my mouth.

Don’t let me forget the sleeping in until noon on Sundays. Or staying up all night to finish a book that couldn’t be put down because no one would hit me in the face with a pillow at 5:30 a.m. and demand breakfast before I can even pry my eyes open. No one ever used all the toilet paper to decorate the dog or stole your lipstick every day. And where was all the jewelry? Right where it was left it in the jewelry box the night before – not shoved in a random pocket of some jacket never worn or around the teddy bear’s neck. I never truly savored these things or vacations, massages, airplane rides, or driving alone, anywhere.

It was a good life. I made the best of it, even without really knowing what I had then.

I have to go now, though. Someone has said my name, conservatively, 648 times in the last 2 minutes so I have to help find the missing slipper / pack a lunch / build a fort / put someone to bed…

I’m glad I had this time to sit and think of you. Sometimes I really miss you. I catch a glimpse of you every once in a while, usually late at night when I’m secretly watching bad TV on the iPad while I wash the dishes or if I go to the grocery store by myself.

The rest of the time these days, between those now sparse moments of solitude, I am constantly surrounded. There is never quiet anymore: there is infant giggling, burbling attempts at first speech, cheeky preschooler chatter. The playroom is bursting with books, puzzles, crayons, and piles of drawings. On bath night, the full tub overflows with splashing and toy boats.

At night, when I put the baby to bed, his head goes heavy on to my shoulder. I am the only one he wants and as he sinks into sleep, his breath on my neck, I don’t wish to be anywhere else in the world. After bedtime books are read, our daughter begs both parents for more snuggles, more time beside us, and we abandon the dirty dishes in the sink for this dreamtime of darkness next to this precious girl. My bed is no longer an open expanse – each morning is a tangle of warm sheets, baby scent, and soft limbs. The whole beautiful, exhausting routine begins again.

Just tonight, I dragged myself upstairs after work late but found my king size bed empty. I longed to collapse in bed alone. The former seafarer I married has become an extraordinary father and he had gotten them all happily to sleep in my absence, all curled around each other in my daughter’s bed. A tender silence permeated our home as they rested together.

Especially when I am very tired, as I was tonight, I was again fleetingly curious what life would be like now if it was still just me. I climbed into a big bed alone that suddenly felt empty.

I will always love you, I will. But I have to admit something: you were never the love of my life.

They are.

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