Valentine’s Day Revisited – A Hearts, Flowers and Cards Committee for Change

Sunday, February 13, 2011 –

It was finally a decent temperature today or as my friend put it, “It’s about 70 degrees warmer than last week. Let’s go skiing.” I’ve been sick all week and today seemed like a good day to try and participate in the outside world.  The three of us boarded the Couch and wrestled with overly weighty footrest bar. The Couch is aptly named and meant for sharing with friends: oversized and kind of cushy and not going anywhere soon. In the words of the great AC/DC, it’s a long ride (way) to the top.  And you need those friends; there’s no way you could ever lift the footrest bar on your own.

Today was a good Couch day because it was super-sunny, and there was a lot to talk about. Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day.

Someone said it and then, a moment of silence.

“Valentine’s Day is the worst.”

“Seriously, it’s like I dread it all year. Everything’s just going along fine and then –wham. Here it comes.”

Friend to the left has been dating someone for a few months; friend to the right has a boyfriend (we’re using the word) who’s a single dad a few hours away.

Left Friend: “So yeah, I am not expecting much. I got him a card, but I’m holding onto it. We’ll see what he does first.” I ask her how everything’s going. “Oh, great. Everything’s fine!” We laugh.

It’s just Valentine’s Day; this is what happens.

I ask how long she’ll wait till the big card unveiling – Ten o’clock? 11:59?  “Yeah if he blows it?  Maybe I’ll give it to him right at the last minute; scribble something real quick then whip it out, just to make him feel bad.”

So it’s not about genuine affection, it’s about who draws their pistol first?

Right Friend chimes in: “Well, you don’t want it to be like Christmas, when Scott unveiled the new TV set, and I showed up with a hat. I was like, ‘Um, yeah, still working on your present pile, hope this’ll tide you over.’”

I am now cackling.

“I was horrified!” she continued.  “I didn’t know we were going big, geesh…”

I nudge Left Friend. “So definitely don’t overwhelm him with that card.”

“It’s a girl’s holiday,” she said, still laughing. Meaning we should go all out and shower the man? “No, meaning it’s their turn to do the fussing. I’m hangin’ onto the card. I’ll keep you posted.”

Right Friend’s boyfriend was supposed to come over for the weekend, but his family obligations whittled the visit down to maybe just Sunday night; then they were both traveling for work for a few weeks, starting Monday morning. “I mean, I can’t be upset because he’s being a good dad, which is awesome, but our weekend just got totally …shrunk. “ She referred to the Weekend of Dwindling Time as the Shrinkage.

Our laughter was now moving the chair; good thing the footrest bar was so heavy, after all.

“So he’ll be here for like four hours. Yeah…and then it’s Valentine’s Day…”

There it is. Insult to injury. Relationships are hard enough. You don’t need an interpersonal speed bump followed by a road damage sign that reads, “yeah…and then it’s Valentine’s Day…”

I try to be Zen and transcendental, all those things that go over well between pages on coffee tables and say, “How about if you get all Jedi Mind trick this year and just choose to…ignore it?”

* * *

I’ve tried this approach. It’s harder than you’d think.

Valentine’s Day, the movie, is actually a decent treatment of the whole matter. It deals with communication and relationships and human interaction on all levels of love, not just the romantic kind.  I liked it. I saw it last year, while home in California during a pre-emptive Valentine’s Day strike of my own; not that it was in any threat of being celebrated here in Aspen, but I thought I’d simply remove myself from the whole issue and go home to see my family.

Turns out, they have Valentine’s Day in California, too.

My sister and I went to the midnight screening of Valentine’s Day, the movie; she was psyched to stay up late and her husband manned the fort and the kids so we could have a Sister outing. One of the best scenes is when Jamie Foxx, Valentine’s Day foe, loosely tells his news team crew: “Now listen, y’all know I’m a player. And I purposely take myself off the market from New Year’s to…St Patrick’s Day, that’s right, just so I can avoid Valentine’s Day.”

That reminded me of my dad. Not the player part. My sisters, brother and I grew up in a family filled with lots of love and healthy affection between adults, and my parents were happily married for 26 years before my dad passed away. This is not about that.

It’s about my dad and his utter disdain for Valentine’s Day.

He thought it was the stupidest, most made-up marketing ploy on the planet and he refused to acknowledge it in the expected fashion. That’s not to say he didn’t acknowledge it, however.

I remember him giving my mom all kinds of cards on Valentine’s Day– Get Well Soon, Sorry for Your Loss, Congratulations…I think he even dug up a Good Luck on Your New Adventure or some sort of Graduation card one year.  The St. Patrick’s Day cards were the best; those leprechauns kind of look like evil cupids, so he actually wasn’t too far off those years. He’d take her to dinner, do something in honor of the day – but never any Valentine’s Day cards.  I remember my mom sighing and shaking her head, “Oh, Spike…”

It always made me smile, that little ritual.  It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad; he was an innovator in many ways, not the least of which was raising his daughters to raise an eyebrow at the February 14 aisle.  Life is like a box of chocolates, but love is not contained in one.

* * *

“There’s no point even going out,” said another friend the other day. “I mean you get bad service, because no one wants to be there.  And there’s nowhere to sit, because it’s all two-tops.”

I spoke to Left Friend after skiing. Any developments?

“Well, he called and asked me if I had any plans Monday night,” she said. “He’s like, I guess we should go to dinner or something, huh?”

Well there you go. Now you have plans?!

“I guess we should go to dinner?”  Kinda weak.  She was right.  “Whatever. Not card-worthy yet. I’m keepin’ it in the drawer.”

So while my dad thought the card was the least of the sentiment, a dinner date on the big night still didn’t mean my friend’s date was getting a card.

Valentine’s Day: a complicated Hallmark ritual, fraught with withholding.

Left Friend asked Right Friend how the Shrinkage was going; any word on the dwindling weekend calendar?  Scott was on his way. No more talk of Shrinkage.

* * *

I went home happy and rather tired, a great, long day of sensory overload. After throwing down the cough syrup in the dark homestead all week, it had been a big re-entry into the bright light of the world.  Time to re-assume relaxation position.

I called my niece and nephew to chat. I missed them. Nate is 9 and Sophia is 11 and I needed an update from each. Nate’s pizza had herbs on it, gross, and all of the classes in Sophie’s grade go to IHOP every Valentine’s Day but for some reason, this year, her class wasn’t going.  And she was mad.

I told her I’d be mad, too, if everyone got to go to IHOP but me, but more importantly, why’d they go to IHOP every Valentine’s Day?

“They just do. I don’t know.” I decided maybe that was a nice new tradition, if we’re all supposed to celebrate the day. Pancakes. At an International House Of them.

“Yeah, and I was supposed to bring cards to school for everyone but I told the teacher that it was a waste of paper and glue, and I didn’t do it.”

“You did?” I said. “Awesome. But do you really feel that way, or is it just because it’s for Valentine’s Day? Because I’m sure you waste paper some other way…”

She laughed. “Well I mean if it’s for Christmas or Chanukah it’s OK. Because everyone gets presents. But Valentine’s Day is a lame, made-up holiday that was invented by the Hallmark card people.”

Damn. Good stuff.

“Who told you that?” I asked, trying not to encourage her, just wanting to hear what she had concluded for herself at age 11.

“Mommy,” she said, giggling.

I then told her the story of our dad, her Grandpa Spike, who she’s never met, and how he showered Nana with many good things over the years but never, ever a Valentine’s Day card.

She giggled and giggled. I think she, too, liked the St. Patrick’s Day card year the best.

* * *

I suppose it’s time for some grand conclusion.  Sigh.  I am my Father’s Daughter in many ways, but still, I am his daughter, not his son. I do my best to form my own opinions and resist the Capitalist Card Conglomerates but the truth is, it’s hard to be a girl on Valentine’s Day. Those Hallmark people are slick.

And I like presents as much as the next guy so if you’re following the Sophia “Christmas and Chanukah, Presents for All” line of reasoning, bring ‘em on.  Just make sure you give one to everyone, following that egalitarian “Valentine’s Day in grade school line of reasoning” that, sadly, gets lost in the real world. According to my 4th Grade Teacher, everyone gets candy hearts and secret Valentine’s Day cards. Where have all the good times gone?

Better yet, save a tree and send a Valentine’s email. That’s helping everyone and giving the old heave ho to Hallmark, all at once.

Or if you’re going to write something, here’s a thought. Sophia sent me a hand-written Valentine’s letter a few years ago and it’s still on my fridge.  It’s written on those dotted-lined for good hand-writing sheets of paper they used to give us in school, when hand-writing counted and we actually spelled out our words. Where have all the good times gone?

“Dear Aunt Jamie, Happy Valentine’s Day!  I can’t wait to see you in Mexico! We are going to have so much fun. We are going to go rock climbing and hiking. Maybe I can stay in your room one night.”

Might I suggest that’s a Valentine’s Day card we’d all like to get; so if you’re going to give one this year, bust out the dotted-line paper and the sparkly star stickers and your best hand-writing.

And please send all Valentine’s Day emails to:

Love, the Hallmark people.

P.S. I would now like to re-quote both myself and Forrest Gump:  “Life is like a box of chocolates, but love is not contained in one.” Happy Valentine’s Day.

Copyright 2011

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