This valentine is not for my husband of nearly forty years.
It's not for our four adult children either. It's not for our 'Israeli daughter', the girl who became part of our family over twenty years ago.
It's not even for our eight little grandchildren, who inspire the most boundless love imaginable.
This valentine is for our four bonus kids- the three who married into our family, and the one who is engaged to our youngest child.
In-law relationships are fodder for endless jokes and sometimes the source of much heartache. Not for a moment do I take for granted that our family hit the jackpot four times.
Each bonus kid brings so much happiness to the child he or she married, but there's more. Each bonus kid brings out the best in that child.
We were a few years into the married-kids stage of life when I realized the formative role our bonus kids played in who our children became. Adulthood is an age and a stage; it arrives in some form after enough years have passed. We "got them older" as my husband likes to say. But being a devoted spouse and parent isn't an age, it's an aspiration. We tried to model that for our kids, but a parents' example alone is not enough. Finding the right person to spend your life with is what inspired our kids to reach high, to emulate what they learned.
I've told our daughters-in-law and son-in-law many times: we raised these kids but you completed them. They are who they are because they wanted to be worthy of people like you.
As I've gotten to know these kids, I've grown to love them, and to appreciate the specialness they add to our family. One kid has the biggest heart for gift giving, choosing the most original presents which never fail to delight the recipient. That included crafting a custom-made memory book for my 60th birthday. The same kid is also an accomplished photographer. Another eats everything I cook with gusto and appreciation, making me feel like I'm the world's best cook. That kid has a smile that could melt a rock. Then there's the kid who is the model of patience and internal tranquility, bringing calm to any situation. This same kid is also the go-to for fun activities around town, most of which I'd never have found on my own. And then there is the kid who enchants all the grandchildren with imaginative play. The look in their eyes says it all.
My bonus kids have taught me so much about how to grow a family; these relationships take effort on both sides. I had to learn how to step back, give space, curb my bossy impulse. But what our bonus kids had to do was harder. When they married into our family they already had wonderful parents, siblings, and extended families of their own. The essential roles were filled. Yet they made room in their hearts for more. They joined our family all the way.
Two months ago I saw for myself the extent of their devotion. My brother, sister-in-law, and their family lost their home in a devastating fire. The morning after the fire, our house was command central. Our children and their spouses were on hand to help and comfort their shocked aunt, uncle, and cousins. Our kids in Chicago did the same, supporting their Chicago cousins grieving the loss of their childhood home. Whether 'born-in' or 'married-in', they functioned as one team. One family.
What began with four kids grew to eight, and, oh, how grateful I am for them!
Happy Valentines Day to the four kids who came to me as adults, and put deep roots in my heart.