Valentine’s Day is for love, but so is every other day of the year

It’s well after midnight, and I’m in the kitchen enjoying a private binge of frozen cake straight from the package.

I’m feeling out of control, fat and guilty. My husband stumbles in, looking a bit panicky.

“I was worried,” he says. “I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Suddenly, I realize that despite all the petty arguments about whose fault it was that we bought the wrong sofa — despite the ongoing conflict about what constitutes a civilized temperature indoors in winter — this man truly cares. And worries. And wants me near him in the dark of night.

I celebrate with another nibble of frozen cake, then curl up next to him, my icy feet on his.

And if that’s not love, then what is?

We’re on a vacation, one that we’ve planned for months. The room is perfect, and overlooks a crystal-blue sea. There’s a terrace that beckons lovers to watch the setting sun or the silvery moon.

But in that perfect room is a woman who has fallen asleep and remained in a semi-coma for the next 48 hours — or three-quarters of our vacation. Too much pre-vacation frenzy is the culprit, and even as I keep falling in and out of sleep, I recognize that my slumber is costing a pretty penny in this Caribbean paradise.

When I wake up every once in a while, my husband assures me that it’s fine to catch up on my sleep — that I work too hard anyway. Once, he arranges for a fresh fruit tray to be delivered to our room because he knows how much I love the pineapples in this tropical haven.

On the plane ride home, he insists that it was a great vacation, even if we got to the beach for only two hours..

I can’t remember when I loved him more.

The kids and grandkids have spent an entire weekend with us. Every single room in the house is in chaos. We find my checkbook under the sofa, my husband’s cherished fountain pen in a laundry basket.

The sink, the counters and every other surface in the kitchen are all piled high with the remains of dinner — or, more correctly, dinners, since three of the grandkids wouldn’t eat the chicken I’d made, and demanded alternatives.

My husband and I survey the damage. And just as I’m about to plunge in, he makes the most brilliant suggestion: let’s take a break.

We do. We sit together in the den and “veg out.” Thanks to my husband’s wise and loving perspective, we remember how lucky we are to have these wonderful bandits in our lives.

An hour later, we’re attacking the mess…together. Our age-old system works: I rinse, he loads the dishwasher. I do counters, he does the floor.

We are partners not in some high-powered corporate venture, but in something far more important — our daily lives. And right at this moment, our joint venture is flourishing.

We’ve both had miserable colds.

The freezer needed a repair at the exact same time as my car’s muffler went.

The electrician raised his fees — again.

Finally, I burst into tears of frustration and just plain exhaustion. My husband understands. He doesn’t lecture. He doesn’t tell me how I can handle all this better.

He just holds me close as my tears drip down his best shirt.

And I know, in that moment, that I’m the luckiest Valentine in the world.

We are reading in the den, both of us absorbed in our books. For minutes — maybe an hour — neither of us has spoken. It’s a wonderful, comfortable kind of silence as dusk reminds us that, hey, it’s time for dinner.

We amble into the kitchen and settle on a dinner of soup and leftover salmon. He sets the table, I assemble the simplest of dinner fare. We both agree that we’ll celebrate this ordinary winter night with the chocolate ice cream — regular, not sugar-free.

As bonafide long-time empty-nesters, meals are generally fuss-free, and we don’t care. No kids’ voices say “Yukkk!” when I present broccoli.

We both miss our daughters more than we ever thought we would, yet we find ourselves drawing closer, even as the silence of Jill, Amy and Nancy’s absence lives in these very walls.

After decades of not being able to finish a sentence, years of concentrating on them, not us, we are back to that first stage of marriage: just the two of us.

It’s sometimes lonely. But more often, it’s wonderful. This new era comes complete with a deeper, more nourishing connection. The hard work of a long marriage has yielded a burnished glow, and for us, it beats the hearts-on-fire stuff.

We are each other’s homeland.

And in any season, that rofound gift reaches beyond mere words. ••