Valentine’s Day is coming. At the risk of sounding like a cheapskate, as I may very well be, I’m going to say I don’t like Valentine’s Day: the flowers, the roses, the chocolates, the commercial aspect of it all. According to Valentine’s Day etiquette you don’t love your significant other unless you buy them a dozen roses, a heart filled with chocolate, or an overstuffed teddy bear with a t-shirt saying “I wuv you,” or that sappy chef romance movie with Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart… and the list of cheap commercial crap goes on. Or am I bitter? Since February 14th of 2008, I, Daniel Penner, have not had a Valentine’s Day date. Maybe because of this I’m raining on everyone else’s confetti and candy hearts parade. You can read into this however you’d like.
I haven’t always felt this way. I remember my four-eyed, 9-year-old self excitedly tearing through the aisles at K-Mart in search of the perfect cards to share with his fellow snot-nosed friends. Wide-eyed and full of holiday fervor, I remember staring up at all the possibilities… Michael Jordan, Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kittens, Ponies, (insert random cute animal here), Looney Tunes… it was a sensory experience. The next day, in preparation for the awesome party that we skipped study hall to have, we designed boxes using only red, black, pink and white. Afraid of having my masculinity called into question (third graders can be vicious… especially towards chubby kids with glasses) I decorated my box only with the colors of a checkerboard. Pretty brilliant. As this process was completed I threw my single piece of homework in my oversized Land’s End backpack and scurried home to fill out the cards.
Filling out the cards was always easy… throw out the overly mushy ones, and let the card writers do the rest. They were so clever, with “you’re dino-mite!” on a (you guessed it) dinosaur card, or the classic “owl be your friend forever,” a big commitment for a 3rd grader – but Tyler Z. and I were pretty close. Another big aspect was the female-male interplay, or lack thereof. At this point our pre-pubescent selves weren’t really sure what love meant, and I was fairly certain it was nothing like Shelby W. giving me an Indian rug burn and then asking me out. But the point I’m trying to drive home is how innocent we were. There were a few kids that “dated,” but they were weird. At most they made eye contact at recess and even that was scandalous. After a couple more days, I left for school with my Land’s End backpack actually full, stuffed with my one sheet of homework, Valentine’s Day cards (Looney Tunes edition) and a Tupperware container filled with festive heart-shaped cookies.
When the time finally came around for the party to start – the excitement had been at a crescendo for most of the day – there was a roar let out from the students and a dash was made to our lockers as Mrs. Hadsall directed us to start passing out our Valentines. I systematically and democratically passed out my cards and then chowed down on cookies and punch, knocking back the red Kool-Aid like an alcoholic at an open bar. After my stomach grumbled at me to lay off the sugar and red food coloring, I moved on to look at my cards. Friendly messages from friendly people… it felt good. Then, slowly, the climax of the event wore off and before I knew it, I was heading home on bus 32, smiling contentedly after a Valentine’s Day well spent.
I hope you can identify with this play by play of a childhood memory. I wanted to share how ridiculously awesome my early Valentine’s Day experiences were. They maybe weren’t without the consumerism that I boldly named in the opening paragraph… but they were joyous occasions. Would you consider Valentine’s Day a good time? I don’t know if there is anything that can be done about this. Perhaps this is nothing more than a lament of innocence lost. Or maybe we can try to fit this awkward egalitarian card giving ritual back into my current life… I hear that’s what some people are doing. Well, thanks for listening. It was just something that I needed to share.