“What do you think Dad will get for you for Valentine’s Day?” Miles asks.
“Um, nothing?” I respond,
He puts on a shocked expression, over the top and dramatic, which fits him perfectly.
“We just don’t do that.”
He shakes his head and wanders into the next room.
“I don’t understand you guys at all.”
I never have cared much for Valentine’s Day. I’m also grumpy about the traditional Mother’s Day and maybe even a little about Father’s Day, Sweetest Day and St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not grumpy about all the holidays, only the holidays that bring with them outside pressure to have fun and romance or deep meaning. Ok, maybe I am grumpy about most holidays.
It may be my non conformist talking here but I don’t need any more pressure to feel something at a certain moment. It’s the “you’re not the boss of me” attitude coming out. I’m a burgeoning curmudgeon. What can I say?
When faced with Valentine’s Day this year I realized that for the first time ever I would be responsible to providing treats for about 90 kids. My boys are all in “real” school for the first time in their lives and each swim in a sea of about 30 kids day in and day out. Two of the classrooms allow candy with the Valentines and one allows only paper and cheap crap that will gather dust under my kid’s bed if it’s lucky enough to make it into the house at all after school.
I’ve had this obligation on my mind for at least a month and each time it has come to mind I’ve gently wrestled it back behind that door marked “procrastination.” A few times I’ve polled the boys with questions like, “what kind of Valentines do you want for your class?” They roll their eyes, unfamiliar with this practice, certain that it would be vastly “uncool” to bring Valentines but I know better. I know, from my own school experience, the feeling of sitting in my seat, brown bag in hand, waiting for the Valentines to be passed out, waiting and counting. This is back before teachers started requiring Valentines to be handed out to ALL the kids in a class so no one would feel left out. Back in my day, being left out was sometimes the point. The memory of it drags a deep and lasting dread over me. It was never a good experience.
The memory of sitting in my seat and waiting dregs up another bad memory- 7th grade and my “secret admirer” who I thought might be the boy I had crushed on that year. I was just discovering myself, discovering how I moved in my introverted skin, how I felt about the other people around me, mainly about the boys in the class. I was noticing who was “cute” and who was “mean” and usually those two qualities paired up. Why is that, I wonder?
My “secret admirer” sent me notes and I read them behind a bookcase in Mrs Conrad’s class. My “secret admirer” said the best things at the right moments and promised a surprise on Valentine’s Day. He said to look on the bookshelves that afternoon at recess and I looked forward to it for a week. On the appointed day at the appointed time I stayed in at recess, presumably to do some extra credit work, I made my way through the empty classroom to the bookshelves and I found the special Valentine, it was a book sized box, wrapped in Valentine’s paper; hearts and bears and cupids, oh my.
I tore into the package, unaware at that moment there were 2 or 3 boys standing behind the next shelf over, waiting to see my reaction to what would end up being a gag gift- valentine bikini underwear.
Seriously. I lived out that tired, angsty pre teen movie scene where the geeky, awkward girl is duped once again. It’s no wonder I still root for Sissy Spacek’s “Carrie” when that pig blood comes down at prom.
Still, I wanted to give this classroom Valentine’s thing a new spin, perhaps redeeming it for the boys and maybe for myself. I considered carefully which Valentines they might like as I finally stood in the aisle of the Walgreens the night before the big day. Leaving it to the last minute worked against me, obviously. We were left with Batman and Hello Kitty. For the non candy classroom we went with Batman valentines which included a crappy eraser that would most likely serve no real purpose. For the candy oriented classes, M&M mini bags with a Valentine theme. It was a half-hearted attempt on my part. No pun intended.
I prodded them to write their name on each one, not even requiring they write the names of classmates. I shoved them into the backpacks and reminded the boys to pass them out at the appointed time, regretting the lack of prep as I saw posts by other parents in Facebook and Instagram about their contributions to what most people consider a fun day. I felt that holiday Grinch sigh contentedly, slapping his hands together with a “job well done” kind of satisfaction. For a brief moment I considered making a trip to the store, adding something weighty to the boys offering and dropping it at their schools.
“Am I ruining this holiday for them?” I thought to myself. How long will I hold on to this old grudge against Valentine’s day, brought on by a bunch of pre teen idiots over 35 years ago? Maybe I am getting this wrong after all.
Then, I found a note from Miles on my phone. He’d asked earlier that morning if he could write me a Valentine’s note on my phone. I handed it to him in the car saying, “Yeah, I could use a Valentine I guess, thanks!” I sat in my car thinking about the meager Valentines I’d sent with the boys, thinking about the lost opportunity to teach something deeper and better, thinking about those 7th grade boys who pranked me at such a tender time in my life, thinking about the aisles of hearts and chocolate and Batman valentines and I read Miles’ note, hoping for some redemption, some shift of my curmudgeon-y course, some change of heart-
“Happy Vaelintines Day! Buy Miles a zombie sundae from Margies Candys!”
And I was strangely calmed then for reasons I cannot truly articulate. We don’t always get what we expect at the moment we need it, but sometimes we do get just what we need and right then I needed to be reminded that I’m not 12 anymore. I’m not standing at the bookshelf waiting for a note that was never written. This is my life, these are my people and my people like ice cream. I’ll take it.
Never change, Miles.