Having kids affects your romantic life in myriad ways. Less time alone, more fear of noises (for what Kenneth on "30 Rock" calls "grunting naps"), exhaustion, and becoming more mommy and daddy (or mommy and mommy or daddy and daddy or just mom or just dad) than the sexy individuals you once imagined yourselves to be.
Valentine's Day, in the context of family, is party about the kids -- getting them cards, gifts and chocolates, helping them make their Valentines and making sure they get one for their other parent. But you try to hold on to a little space for Valentine's to be about you as a couple. At worst, this devolves into stereotypical roles -- the guy brings flowers or candy or an expensive piece of jewelry and the woman accepts these gifts. The gendering plays out in ads, which always hail the man as the giver and the woman as recipient and always suggest that Valentine's Day is a test for the man, that if he fails to please his woman he will have hell to pay (or, as many have noted regarding a Telaflora Superbowl ad, they suggest that he better pony up if he wants any sex, ever). Even the President reminded men on Tuesday that it was Valentine's Day, made some typical joke about how he learned his lesson after forgetting once, and suggested to men that they "go big."
I actually got engaged on Valentine's Day, as hokey as that is. So my husband and I regard it as a sort of anniversary. This year, to celebrate, I ordered fresh lobster and clam chowder from Plymouth, MA, where some of my family lives. I thought this would be a lovely gesture -- a great meal with a little Annie Hall whimsy thrown in as we would laugh and chase live lobsters round the kitchen. So, imagine my surprise when my husband called me as I was commuting home from Indiana to tell me there was a problem. I thought perhaps the Fed Ex box had not arrived. No, it had arrived. But my son had discovered that the lobster were alive which meant that we were going to kill them. Now, understand, my son loves food and loves meat. He even cooks meat. The night before Valentine's Day, he cooked our dinner (a scheme I adopted from a NY Times article I'd read in which each of my kids plans and cooks a meal each week, even doing the chopping and sauteing themselves.) He made a pasta with sausage, slipped the sausage out of its casing and put it in the pan. He eats soft boiled eggs. He is not squeamish. But he can get sentimental. Once, after eating a rabbit stew and loving it, he found out it was rabbit and wept for hours. So, the lobster set him off. He began sobbing as soon as my husband picked him up from school, and continued off and on for hours until I got home.
When I got home, both kids were snuffling upstairs, asking if I was going to kill the lobsters, "Can't we keep them as pets?" I explained that even if we didn't eat them, they would die, that there was nowhere to take them, and that all the meat we eat required killing. My son accepted this, he said,. It was just the idea of US doing the killing that bothered him. (Okay, Michael Pollan, yes, I get it.)
We reached what I thought was a detente in which we would kill the lobster out of his sight but eat together as a family (his sister eating the chowder, him eating some pizza, as he does not like lobster or chowder). We cooked the lobster, less whimsically than I might have hoped, due to the anxiety leading up to it. I took a few pictures but it was felt less like documenting our Annie Hall moment than Abu Ghraib. Then we settled down to eat. My son sat with us for salad, but when the lobster arrived, he burst into tears and went upstairs. His sister followed and my husband and I ate our dinner alone. We got some solo time but it was not the bells and whistles of sexy non-parents, just the depressed after effects of traumatizing our children. So much for romance.
The next night, my son happily ate lamb burgers.