I used to think I knew what love was. When I was in high school, I would awkwardly shuffle down the lonely halls on Valentine's day, wishing I had someone to love. I remember making sidelong envious glances at all the popular couples who would hold hands and make out in public for all the virgins to see.
When I went to college, a couple of my friends had long-distance girlfriends. They would spend hours in what seemed like endless conversation over the phone. On Valentine's day, they would send their girlfriends large heart-shaped cookies. Their girlfriends would send them a note and a care package in loving exchange. I would sit alone in the school cafeteria, munching on Valentine's day themed pink pastry puffs.
Then I met Cassie. The first conversation we had was filled with "me too" moments and real, hearty laughter. Soon, we started dating. We held hands, shared our first dance together, and celebrated holidays together. On Valentine's day, she would make me a cute hand crafted gift and I would inevitably get her a decidedly cheesy sentimental present.
But none of that was truly love. It wasn't until we got married and had kids that I learned what love is. Love isn't really about flowers and chocolate. Love isn't about songbirds and butterflies. Love is poopy diapers and tantrums. Love is screaming children, hungry stomachs, and sniffling tears. Love is coaching a constipated kid to push through a gigantic turd. Love is having your kid completely reject you right to your face, thanking them, and then taking it in the face once again.
When I think back about what I thought love was, it was all so egocentric. I realize now that I wasn't looking for someone to love so much as I was looking for someone to love me. I didn't actually learn what love was until I was forced to learn how to take care of someone other than myself.
But when you really and truly love someone just for the sake of that someone, then you can really appreciate love back. I used to think there was no greater thrill than holding Cassie's hand. But these days my thrills come in the form of a much smaller hand. Whenever my daughter reaches out and says, "Daddy, hold hands" I fall in love all over again.
This Valentine's day, I decided to make a healthy sweet for my little sweetheart. This chocolate hazelnut parfait recipe uses whole seeds in the form of raw buckwheat groats, which give this dessert an interesting texture and nuttiness. I got my buckwheat groats at my local Whole Foods. Happy Valentine's day!