No matter what

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It was just about a year ago that our life jumped its tracks.

For quite a while we’d chugged along pretty happily; then, in the fall of 2014, things started to change. Last February, when two of our three children spiraled into crises we could neither control nor cure, it was a full-on train wreck.


I have no memory of our last Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday neither Cane nor I have much use for, even in a good year. I usually make him a silly card and we do something that’s a nod to the day, but we see it primarily as an economy-fueler and a romantic pressure cooker that makes this kind of truly creepy, weird nonsense happen:

(Yeah, that’s a real commercial, not a parody. It aired during episodes of Swamp People last weekend, which I watched only because I was stuck in a hotel room with Cane and a migraine.)

Last year, in what I can now see was an attempt to deal with what was going wrong by carrying on as if everything was all right, I began making a real (not joke) Valentine’s Day card. The thing is, when your life feels like a mess of twisted steel, well, that kind of thing just isn’t a priority.  And it can feel all kinds of false.

Fast-forward to this year.

I still think Valentine’s Day is a trumped up holiday that perpetuates stupid and unhelpful ideas about love and romance, but I like to reclaim things and find the value in them and make them into something that works for me. I also like to muck around with paper and glue and images, and a Valentine’s Day card is a good excuse for doing that.


I originally thought I’d just have fun doing something more graphic than meaningful, like this image Eric Carle shared on his Facebook page:

heartpaternBut then, flipping through some of my discarded book pages, I found the words that I’ve put on the front of this year’s Valentine card to Cane. Not too long after that, I found the black-and-white image of a train, and the card felt meant-to-be something more meaningful.

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We are learning that “on track” for us doesn’t have to look the way we always thought it did. It certainly doesn’t have to look or work the way countless movies, novels, poems, fairy tales, and insipid commercials tell us it should.  We aren’t going to be married any year soon, and although we now (sort of) live apart some of the time, our life is back on the rails, and our love for each other feels like The Little Engine That Could, pulling us and our children up the steep and rugged peaks of their adolescence and our middle age.

After a time of real uncertainty about our future together, we are committed to staying on the rails, no matter what. And that’s something worth celebrating. (But not with a giant teddy bear.)

Hoping you all have whatever kind of Valentine’s Day you are hoping for.



Train wreck photo credit: simpleinsomnia via Compfight cc

14 thoughts on “No matter what

  1. Katherine says:

    Your card is perfect. That commercial is ridiculous. Are you positive this wasn’t on SNL? The guy winking over his girlfriend’s shoulder? The women exclaiming their joy over a massive teddy bear? Oh my word.
    Happy Valentines Day from Virginia.
    Katherine recently posted…Brain DumpMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      It really is a real commercial. Saw it on TV. Googled to make sure it wasn’t a parody. Creeped me out! Happy Valentine’s Day from Oregon. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Marian. Things are still really challenging, but better.

      I could become obsessed with stitching on paper–but it’s tricky. I tried to outline the big inner heart with red stitches, but I couldn’t make the turn tight enough. It’s fun, though. And fun is good!

  2. Shannon says:

    I would’ve LOVED a four and a half foot teddy bear… when I was four and a half. That commercial is weird. I love your card and I love that you’re reclaiming things on your terms. 🙂 I am indeed having the kind of Valentine’s Day I was hoping for, thank you. The kind that’s just a regular Sunday night, but with some of my favorite movies on Turner Classic Movies (and knowledgeable, funny, welcoming strangers/twitter friends to live-tweet them with). Sabrina, Casablanca, and Now Voyager. You’re right, movies, novels, etc. are often not realistic, in fact I much prefer when they’re not, but they are fantastic, enchanting worlds to spend time in. Just like a great book…any great story…I love to visit, but I’d never want to live there. My real life is so much better and more meaningful than any script or plot line, even when I’m struggling to keep it on the rails…simply because it’s mine. No one else in the world ever has or ever will have the exact same experience in life as I get to have. Good times and bad. What a special gift that is. 🙂 Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts today, Rita. 🙂
    Shannon recently posted…Ghost Of Information Enjoyment PastMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for sharing yours. 🙂 I realized the other day that I’ve never seen Casablanca, and I’d really like to. Wish I got Turner Classic AND that I knew you were live-tweeting. That would have been fun. Maybe we should try to watch something “together” some time. I’m @ritaramstad. But I hardly go on Twitter. Keep trying to for professional reasons, but just can’t find the time to really do it.

  3. Laura says:

    It’s just the way life is, isn’t it, that we have to experience some deeply crappy stuff together in order to figure out exactly what’s meaningful in the relationship, what works and what doesn’t? Extending your metaphor, I have a train just leaving the station; I’m old enough and wise enough to know there are no guarantees. But I love that you and Cain have found an equilibrium that works for your particular situation in all this family crisis; that’s quality love. It’s worth celebrating. Not just on Valentine’s Day, which I agree gets weighed down by all the wrong things like guilt and commercialism, but often, in those moments that only the two people involved can create.
    Laura recently posted…Houses are for New BeginningsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      WHY is it that way???? But yeah, it is. I’m not sure we’ve found equilibrium. In fact, I’m pretty sure it can’t really be found–not in the sense that we find it and then we have it. We have to work to keep it all the time. But I think that’s true of everyone, in all kinds of relationships. I hope your train has a good, long ride.

    • Rita says:

      I guess things are getting more tolerable. Better? Maybe? Nothing’s changed much externally. But that’s the thing, isn’t it–that pain isn’t so much about what’s happening to us and what’s happening in us? I know I’d understand more of this (and likely suffer less) if I were Buddhist. But I am not. So I will just make cards. 🙂

  4. Kari says:

    We watched Pretty in Pink on the big screen during the day and had brats and potato salad.
    After grounding the youngest for bad behavior.
    Life is hard and it isn’t always pretty.
    Valentines has always sucked for the most part here but we muddle through and brats and potato salad was just what we needed to make it sane.
    Well, that and Duckie.
    Kari recently posted…How I Am Making Winter My Bi#%@My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Duckie seems like a pretty apt choice for Valentine’s day. As does potato salad and brats. This is the first year Cane and I have gotten the day right and neither one of us felt funny in some way–and I think this is our 7th go at it. Amazing brunch at a hole-in-the-wall, bumming around town where we found a great find on a lamp for my project room, a long walk, and Downton Abbey at the end of the day. I gave him the card and he gave me a new puzzle. Writing this, I realize we sound like a seriously boring old couple. So be it. It’s better than any Valentine’s day of my youth, that’s for sure! 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    On an intellectual note, the contrast between the finally-finished apron and the discarded-unfinished Valentine is so interesting to me. It’s fascinating to ponder why we feel some projects must be finished and it is time to move on from others. (Not needing to draw any conclusion here about why one project was one way and not the other…just interesting to observe.)

    On a less intellectual note, I am so glad you and Cane are solid. That makes me really happy. I know it isn’t easy in your everyday, and I know there’s a lot of the story that you’re leaving out from this space, but I still find it really inspiring that you two are sticking it out and finding a new way to make it work.

    I was out of town for Valentine’s day, as has happened the last several years — my daughter and I go and visit my parents in Arizona over the President’s Day weekend b/c of her school break. I left a high-end peanut butter cup and a hurriedly scrawled card on my husband’s desk before I left (the front of the card said: “You are the right amount of grumpy,” which is way more awesome than any sentiments I could come up with for the inside). He never mentioned it so on Sunday I said, “Happy Valentine’s.” He was like, “Oh yeah, thanks for the card. So…is Valentine’s Day something you want to be a thing or what?” Sigh. What do you even say to that?
    Sarah recently posted…Finished objects: Wool felt dryer ballsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’m not sure what you say to that. I can tell you that Valentine’s day is something Cane and I have had to struggle to get right for both of us. I think for a while he didn’t believe me when I said I was OK with it being low-key. It’s been hard to hit just the right note. I love “you are the right amount of grumpy.” 🙂 Hope you guys figure out how to have the right amount of Valentine’s. Or grumpy Valentine’s?

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