It was time for my friend Ginny to open her birthday presents. I always loved this part of birthday parties; there was something deliciously voyeuristic in seeing someone tear open packages and find delightful surprises therein. Even if it had a dark side, invoking a green jealousy and inner-pity-party, it was mostly joyous. Her mom passed her the first gift and then quickly passed a gift to…her brother? What the world?
I may have asked or maybe the mom volunteered the information, seeing my shock making itself known on my face, but she told us that it’s just so much nicer if siblings also get a gift on each birthday so they don’t feel left-out or jealous. In my 10 year-old heart I was all incredulity. It was a mix of “That’s stupid, it’s not his birthday.” and a brief hope that maybe I could convince my parents to give me gifts on my siblings’ birthdays. They would have laughed out loud at the idea of it. I’m glad they would.
So, Valentine’s Day rolls around and isn’t it a day for lovers? How then has it become a buy-cheapo-cards-and-candy-for-our-kids-elementary-school-friends day? How has it turned into a mom-bligation? Aren’t the moms supposed to be sprucing up, eating chocolates, and going out with their love on a date? Can we dare to make a holiday exclusive? Non kid-centric?
There was always a degree of hope and anxiety on Valentine’s day in elementary school. Would my construction paper heart-covered paper bag be full of love notes? Would he give me a “Be Mine” card or a standard “You’re Cool!” card? Oh, the suspense! I remembered carefully, very lightly drawing a faint heart on his card. Maybe he’d see it? Maybe it was too light? It was a bold move! I was declaring my love in barely-there-colored-pencil!
He laughed out loud. He turned and showed it to all the kids around him and then yelled my way, “What is thiiiiis, Sarah?”. Cold. Sweat. Blushes and protestations of innocence.
I didn’t dare telling anyone else that I loved them until nearly out of high school. Love was too risky. But, isn’t that better than too tame? Too predictable? Everyone gets a valentine (a standard rule in classrooms now), everyone gets a ego-soothing trophy, everyone gets a gift, and everyone is super duper special?
I think I’m developing an appreciation for frustration, disappointment, and failure. They are unpleasant crucibles of character, surely, but some metals just won’t yield without intense heat. Won’t become something more and beautiful and new.
They’re having problems in the universities these days; too many non-riskers too afraid of failure. Safe answers. An abysmal lack of creativity and problem-solving skills, and I wonder if it goes back to the buoying-effect of over-praise, ego-protecting, and feel-good-ness of this era. If you’re always floating on a nice, plush air mattress in a calm pool, why would you bother trying out a tippy kayak down a class three rapids? Even if the rewards and the end are much greater?
If everyone gets a trophy (like in some kids’ leagues), you can end up with a whole lot of sad entitlement and false satisfaction. If everyone gets a valentine, then is anyone really pursued, sought-out? If we never experience the sharp edge of disappointment, how will we ever marvel at the flush of joy when we’ve actually earned a trophy, a valentine, a commendation?
So…yeah…I’m taking back Valentine’s Day for lovers, for me and my man. The kids can see this as something unique and set-apart, and not-there-yet-for-them. They can be frustrated and jealous and impatient for a moment, so they can someday truly have all the inner alarm-bells a-ringing when they receive an honest-to-goodness love note of their own. Not written by Mommy.