The Heart-Shaped Box

By Veronica

Ten years ago, Az the Husband brought me a gift of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Our tender gifts still conformed to expectations: chocolates, jewelry, romantic dinners, etc. Now that we have been married for thirteen years, we get more sentimental over an unexpected basket of folded laundry or an afternoon to indulge in a good book, but back then, our romance was more Hollywood conventional.

The chocolates did not last long, but the box was so beautiful I decided to keep it. It was red and velvet, quilted with little gold beads. I kept it in my closet. Eventually I began to store ribbons in it. Any beautiful ribbon that came my way, too nice to throw away, was lovingly rolled up and placed in the box.

And I never told Az – because he was still nervous about having kids then – but I imagined that someday I would have a sweet little girl, and we would take down the box and play with the ribbons together.

As it turned out, I have four sweet little girls, although “sweet” is not always the optimal adjective. And when my oldest was about two years old, I did get the box down from the closet, and we did play with ribbons together. She ran the satin and silky ones across her hands or over her hair, and I watched closely to make sure those ribbons never choked or entangled her.

The beautiful heart-shaped box did not stay beautiful for long. A three year old and a two year old can do a lot of damage to a box. Playing with ribbons was not quite the calm, admiring game I had envisioned. The ribbons were not merely hair adornments; they were fierce snakes that had to be wrestled to the ground, lassos for recalcitrant mustangs, and leashes for growly pet lions. They were tied around stuffed animals and dragged through the house. They were woven through bedsteads and dangled from doorknobs. They were loved and used thoroughly.

My beautiful box began to look battered, then stained. Finally, my sweet little girls began picking off the gold-colored beads in order to play with or eat them. The ugly, tattered old box was no longer a safe toy. It was time to throw it away.

Parenting is not what I expected. The visions of sweet children playing calmly, listening to stories and looking up innocently at the adored parent – those have remained just visions. The children who stay still long enough to be painted by a Victorian artist, or remain in camera frame long enough to appear in movies – presumably those are real children, but I have not met any of them. Perhaps they are specially bred, like genetically modified corn. In any case, my own girls have proven to be faster, louder, more curious and more intense than the doe-eyed and docile creatures I imagined while folding those hopeful ribbons.

But unlike the battered Godiva box, my heart has proven sturdier than expected. There are days I am thoroughly battered (both figuratively and literally), and we won’t even discuss how my outward appearance has changed, but the hopeful heart that longed for children has grown large enough to accommodate my happy, unruly, loving brood. And when all my beads have fallen off and my stitching has burst and my sides have crumpled, I will have the satisfaction of knowing what it was to thoroughly love and be loved in return.

When Veronica is not lying crumpled under a pile of children, she blogs at Toddled Dredge.

9 Responses to The Heart-Shaped Box
  1. Julie
    February 3, 2009 | 2:51 pm

    Ooooh, that IS schmaltzy… and I mean that in the best possible way. 🙂

    I had a similar thing happen with the giant fancy Lego set I lovingly preserved from my childhood. It’s completely gone now: the box destroyed, the legos under the couch behind the fridge beneath the dryer inside the piano… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. Stephanie'sMommyBrain
    February 3, 2009 | 4:03 pm

    I’m feeling a little battered myself today. Thanks for reminding me that it’s a good kind of battered. Sort of like the Velveteen Rabbit.

  3. JulieC
    February 3, 2009 | 5:07 pm

    “Perhaps they are specially bred, like genetically modified corn.” ha! You are a hoot! I laughed out loud. Good job!

  4. Mozi Esme's Mommy
    February 4, 2009 | 1:55 am

    What a beautiful valentine’s story!! Very sweet…

  5. Emily
    February 4, 2009 | 10:48 pm

    LOVED this post. Miss you at TD, but hope the book is going well!

  6. Beck
    February 9, 2009 | 8:10 pm

    This was gorgeous. It’s funny how our pretty view of what love is turns out to be so wrong and the reality of grubby old love turns out to be so fulfilling….

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