The Hip Mom Searches for Romance
Ah, February: the month of romance! Well, ha ha, you might guffaw — what room is there for romance in the life of a mother? Where is the time for candlelit dinners, technicolor sunsets, breathless whispers and ripped bodices in the midst of diapers, boogers, ear infections and carpools?
Well, I would argue, even if you’re not in the throes of early love (remember those halcyon days of our young love affairs?), there’s a certain imperative to keeping a bit of romance in your life – even in our lives as harried mothers. Let’s take a look at the good old Oxford definition: noun 1. a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love. Well, OK!
I hope you do indeed get a nice date night out with the love of your life this month, and that this date night does indeed bring a flush to your cheeks and a spring to your step. But life is not a string of date nights! What about the second definition of romance? 2. A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life. Hmmm! Now that sounds like something you can consciously cultivate in little, modest ways without having to speed dial some Outlander-esque hero to sweep you off on in his horse and stow you away in his castle (although doesn’t that sound kind of fun?).
So. Mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life. Let’s start with something easy: reading romance novels! Now, I need to admit I’ve been a little snooty about the genre. Not since I was a lovesick 12-year-old pining away for Jason Queen in my seventh-grade class have I read anything remotely like a Harlequin. Like the book maven Anne Bogel (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) notes, “I didn’t used to read romance, largely because I (wrongly) assumed serious readers didn’t.” And it’s true the genre is (sadly) much maligned. But a few savvy readers with great taste convinced me that a good book is a good book, good writing is good writing, and romance writers are some of the best writers out there.
A romance goes a step further in that to meet the conventions of the genre, it must have a central love story. And, according to the conventions of the genre, it must have a happy ending. “Must.” That doesn’t sound like a horrible proposition for gray, dank February! Some suggestions: “Every Last Breath” by Juno Rushdan (a romance with a bit of lethal bioweapon thrown in!), “The Austen Playbook” by Lucy Parker (revolving around the filming of a Jane Austen-based TV adaptation), and “The Prince on Paper: Reluctant Royals” by Alyssa Cole (a bad boy prince!). I’ve heard several podcasters recommend “Evie Drake Starts Over,” about a recent widow who’s actually not too sad about said widowhood.
My reading goddess friend Jill recommends Katherine Center’s “Things you Save in a Fire,” and Elin Hildebrand’s “Winter in Paradise,” and the sequel, “What Happens in Paradise.” She also loved “The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren. She notes that the reading tracking website (and app!) Goodreads has lists created by members which show their favorite romance novels.
If you’ve spurned romance novels like me, it’s time to dive in – surely these books will provide that sense of “mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.” Note: a fun podcast to listen to if you’re interested in diving into the genre is “Learning the Tropes” – where Erin (the “Veteran”) and Clayton (the “Virgin”) discuss a new romance novel every week in a fun celebration of the romance genre.
What next? Flowers! Now, don’t get annoyed if someone doesn’t send you a forest of flowers on Valentine’s Day — it’s a trite, expensive cliché anyway. But does anything transport us to a world of nature, beauty and wildness more than a beautiful bunch of blossoms? There are several flower of the month clubs; Olive and Cocoa’s are my favorite — lush and opulent and loudly extravagant! You can even buy houseplants on Amazon, which seems to be an easy way to get some greenery into your life – stat!
Floral arrangement by Olive and Cocoa
Or you can go all out and take a floral decorating class with Ever Something at Foolish Bar and Biscuit in Brookside. Happily enough it’s also a cocktail-making class, so the class starts out with a lively tutorial on how to concoct a beloved New Orleans tipple, the French 75. So we sip our drinks and then get an informative workshop about constructing an arrangement by the lovely Kayla.
We each receive bowls with a wet, foamy block to keep our flowers saturated for several days. There are very few rules: Aim for a triangle or heart shape; try not to let the foam show; and cut the flowers to proportion. She also shows us a neat trick to open flowers up: Twist them back and forth in your hands a few times! And then she lets us loose with an array of roses, mums, ranunculus, carnations and greenery. It’s so much fun to experiment with color and form; I find this much less stressful than some of the group wine sipping-and-painting classes. And I’m quite proud of my creation.
Finally, if you want to play at pretending you’re a Jane Austen heroine for a bit, visit the Harwelden Mansion. The mansion has been lovingly restored by Teresa Knox; the home is an English Tudor and it’s a visual — and romantic — delight. You can take a tour of the mansion, or visit for a real English tea time — this event is so popular that it’s held monthly on the first Tuesday. Tea time includes little English finger sandwiches, scones and sweets all served on an extensive collection of vintage fine-bone China teacups.
Or if you’re able to splurge a bit — book a night or two in one of the beautifully appointed suites. Even the room names evoke a sense of Edwardian drama: the Primrose Suite, the Lilac Suite, the Magnolia Suite, the Sycamore Suite. A few of the suites include your very own butler, which is exactly my kind of romance. I take a tour with my 11-year-old daughter. She loves hearing about the mansion’s history, and is especially intrigued by the Harwelden’s only daughter, Margot, who married on the property. And there’s even an underground tunnel which connects the main house to the carriage house. Perhaps it was used during Prohibition or for hiding from evil ransomers. How romantic!
So romance doesn’t have to involve a diamond brooch from your husband (although that sounds nice!), or eating bon bons on a pink chaise, or a torrid affair with a barista (I don’t recommend that at all!). Just look for small ways to add a little pleasure, whimsy, a frisson of excitement that can add a bit of sparkle to the humdrum gray of everyday life. Isn’t that a great way to approach life anyway?