My niece likes to talk about the months. A lot.
No matter what time of day, where we are headed, or what else we might be right in the midst of talking about, within roughly 30 seconds of getting strapped into her booster seat, hearing the key turn and then the ignition spark, she asks me, “TT, can we talk about the months?”
Although listing out our family birthdays, the national holidays, and random seasonal highlights felt like stale material as long ago as last November, I have a hard time not indulging this little love of mine in this simple yet clearly treasured routine. Somehow, listening to me shuffle through the calendar of the year never gets old; rather, I think it’s become a source of comfort to her, like a lullaby or a fraying blanky.
Children are a wonderful reminder of how big the little things really are.
Lately, when I respond by asking my niece, “Okay, which month should we start with?”, she kicks things off with January. Which I appreciate, because it is the logical place to start and because it’s my birthday month. January is a pretty slow month, though, on the whole. New Years, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my birthday (read: immediate tangent into talk about cup cakes, balloons, and how old I am), Aunt Joscie’s birthday, cousin Reese’s birthday…and snow storms. We get through it pretty quickly.
And we used to blow right through February, too, in a rush to get to March, which is Mommy’s birthday, which means it’s Grace’s favorite month of the year. (She is, quite devotedly, her mother’s daughter.)
However, all of this—and our conversation about the months—changed quite dramatically a few weeks ago. Because last week, on February 3, my newest niece, Lillian, was born.
You can imagine the build up to this event. Grace and I would sometimes spend the entire morning of getting ready for school talking only about how Aunt Joscie was going to have Baby Lily sometime in early February and how Grace would have a new cousin and how Lily would be our family’s first February birthday and on. We talked about what Lily would look like, and whether Grace would visit her in the hospital, and how long until Lily could talk and play, and how did Baby Lily eat if she didn’t have teeth?!
The day after Lily was born, I picked Grace up from school. On the way home, in a moment’s pause from talking about everything that happens in July (“Fireworks!”), Grace asked when she could see Lily, and could we go to Pennsylvania tomorrow, please? I suggested we Facetime with Aunt Joscie and the family at the hospital instead, after we finished her bath and brushed teeth.
A few hours later, laying curled together, Grace and I stared into my phone screen at Lily, asleep in my sister’s arms. Jack and Sam hovered nearby, first shy then straining over top one another to wave and point and shout hello’s and tell us everything about their newest sibling: she was soft, she was small, she slept a lot! My eldest sister smiled quietly in the background, looking tired but so beautiful, and content, full of the life she just brought safely into this world.
After we hung up, Grace caught me wiping away a few tears and immediately asked why I was crying. I tried to explain that it was because I was happy, that we had a baby in our family again, that Jack and Sam now have a little girl to love, that my sister’s joy, for her new daughter, was my own, too.
Grace played distractedly with my necklace, bit at her lip, and then whispered, “TT, can we talk about the months?”
And she told me to begin with February.
The other morning, as we barreled through the snow-slicked streets on our way to school, Grace and I got to talking about Valentine’s Day. I informed her that she was my Valentine—along with Sam, and Jack, and Lily, of course.
Grace asked me a string of questions about Valentine’s Day, the only holiday worth discussing in the month she’s now hung up on, thanks to Lily’s birth. What was Valentine’s Day for? Who is Valentine? Why are the painted Micky and Minnie kissing with hearts all around them in the window of the Muffin Shop?
It’s a blessing—children’s propensity to force us adults to think rationally about the ridiculous so that we can explain it in a way that makes sense. Because, usually, kids make a whole lot more sense out of things than we do.
Grace asks me these kinds of things, the way she asks me about those damn months of the year, and I have to filter out the cynicism, the disbelief, the monotony, that inevitably creeps in as you get older. Because I am responsible for helping shape the way she sees the world. And I want that view to be positive, imaginative, creative, confident, open, and excited.
“TT, Valentine’s Day—” Grace prompted me, crumbs of peach muffin catching in the creases of her pink coat.
I told her that Valentine’s Day is a day for people to say “I love you.” For people to remind those they care about that they’re special and appreciated and remembered. For people to send silly cards and share silly and serious sentiments. For daddies and mommies to buy chocolate and send flowers. For children to have sugar-filled parties. For stores to sell pink everything. For Micky and Minnie to kiss because they like one another.
Grace stared out the window, thinking. I drove, thinking, too.
“You know, you don’t need a holiday to tell someone you love them or to tell someone they’re special. Or to send a card, or to kiss and hug a friend, or to buy flowers or wear pink or whatever. You can do those things every day, any day, any time you want to, my little duck. Okay?”
I paused. Sometimes, I know I give her more than she can handle.
There, in my backseat, covered in crumbs and curls, Grace’s cheeks lifted in a small, sweet smile. Our eyes met in the review mirror.
“I love you.”
Yes, these little, perfect Valetines of mine.