An early Valentines

Posted: Feb 12, 2003 12:00 AM
Valentine's Day came early for me this year with the arrival of triplet grandsons two weeks ago. With their big, dark eyes and tiny, helpless bodies, these three miracle babies inspire the deepest kind of love, not the sentimental stuff of greeting cards. It's been interesting to gauge the response of people when I tell them about the triplets. One group offers unqualified congratulations, often remarking what a blessing my family has received. The other group, after a quick "best wishes," launches into a series of commiserations. "How will the parents -- poor things -- possibly manage?" they ask. It's a fair question, especially since my son David and daughter-in-law Sandi have two other children, a 6-year-old girl and a 14-month-old boy. "With love," might be the simplest answer. Not just the instinctive, parental variety that transforms every funny-looking, wrinkled newborn into a Botticelli angel, but the love of family, friends, church and community that bonds us humans to one another. Countless people have extended this kind of love over the last few months, without which these babies might never have been born the big, healthy boys they are. My daughter-in-law's parents, though suffering from health problems of their own, drove 150 miles each week to help with the housework and care of the other two grandkids when Sandi's doctors ordered her to bed full-time in her fifth month of pregnancy. My husband and I pitched in to help out on weekends, as well as kept our granddaughter overnight once or twice a week. But then, that's what grandparents are for. What impressed me most was the love and sacrifice of non-relatives who pitched in tirelessly. Friends and neighbors collected clothes, blankets, bassinets, baby swings and other essentials to supplement what the family already had. Ladies from their church provided meals for the family several nights a week when Sandi could no longer cook. And now that the babies are home from the hospital, volunteers from the church have signed up to spend eight hours each day to help care for the triplets and their mom, who is still recuperating from the difficult pregnancy and births. It's hard to imagine how the parents could have done it without all these support systems in place. Unfortunately, too few young parents can count on as much help. In our mobile society, it's unusual to have even one set of grandparents in the area, much less two. And proximity isn't the only issue. Many grandparents either can't or don't wish to take on extra responsibilities when their grandchildren arrive. If you believe the advertisements aimed at baby boomers, today, most gramps and grandmas are out learning the rumba or running a marathon, not changing diapers and getting up with the grandbabies for 3 a.m. feedings. David, Sandi and their children benefited, too, from living in a small-town community. Many Americans live in cities and suburbs where they don't know their neighbors, or are too tired from long hours at work and commuting to become involved in their communities and churches. Who's going to bake a turkey dinner or wash dishes for a family whom they only run into at the mall? On a day we're celebrating love, maybe we should remember that the most important kind of love isn't the kind that sets our hearts aflutter and sometimes makes us act like fools, but the more enduring love of husband for wife, of parents for children, of neighbors who help one another in times of need. Perhaps we should remember, too, St. Valentine, whose name we honor on this day. Legend has it that the 3rd Century Roman emperor, Claudius II, decided to ban marriage because he believed his army was losing soldiers, who preferred to stay at home with their wives and children rather than fight the Goths and others who threatened the empire. When Valentine violated the emperor's orders by secretly performing marriage ceremonies for Christian couples, he was arrested, beaten with clubs and, ultimately, beheaded on Feb. 14. As I revel in the love of my ever-expanding family on this Valentine's Day, I'll remember the man who sacrificed his life to preserve marriage and the family nearly 2,000 years ago.