As beloved as our Anna is today, my pregnancy with her caught Paul and I by surprise. We were doing well enough financially, but I was grossly overwhelmed with the needs of my then three, and one and a half year old. Most days, a good shower was my only barometer of success. "Why are you crying?" Paul asked, when I showed him the positive test, "This is good news!" So I chose to overlook the beads of sweat dotting his brow and joined in his optimism instead.
When I woke up later that night, I found a construction paper heart on the bathroom mirror. "I love you because...you're so beautiful" he'd written. I walked into the kitchen, shaking my head and giggling in sheer, unexpected delight. This was a man who traditionally scribbled "Love, Paul" on the bottom of embossed greeting cards. Turning on the light, I found another heart. And then another. The entire kitchen was decorated in paper hearts. "I love you because...you're so fertile!" said one. "I love you because...the third times a charm!" read another. And on and on they went.
The holidays are always hard when you're missing someone, and 2013 doled out terrible suffering to some of the people I love most. But while the world has felt dark and hostile lately, I vowed to keep it from my children. Waking early on Christmas morning, I saw Cole's room lit up and him, bustling. "What are you doing awake? It's 4 in the morning!" I asked him. "I know Mom, I set my alarm!" was his matter of fact reply. So I did what my son instructed, returning to bed so he could finish up whatever scheme he'd begun; delighted as much to see his excitement at giving it, as for the present itself.
Later that morning, after a reading of the First Christmas, after stockings and cinnamon rolls, after my daughters had presented me with paintings and tea and bath scrub, it was Cole's turn to give his gift. Had I known what waited for me, I probably wouldn't have dropped to the bed, weeping unabashedly. But what would you do if you saw entire closet doors covered in construction paper hearts? Like his father's, Cole's hearts were funny, "I love you because...you think I'm handsome and you're the only one who says that to my face." And sweet: "I love you because...you comfort me when I am sad."
I've made several resolutions for 2014. Drink less wine. Run more. Spend time with people who make me better. One of the most important things I could do this year though, is simply to remember what Cole wrote on his last purple heart. It said: "I love you because you are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, Important." On this, the first day of this brand new year, it is my prayer for you as well. May you always remember how very important you are.