valentine’s day

Country Tunes, Rose Ceremonies, and Expectations

IMG_0921It’s Valentine’s Day, the one day of the year when expectations of all ilks band together to form a super group of disappointment. You might recognize some of their greatest Country hits.

  • How Could You Not Know
  • Lingerie…the Gift for You That’s Really For Me
  • Ended up at Chili’s in my Best Dress and Pearls
  • Don’t Give Me Chocolate and Complain that I’m Fat
  • I Paid For Lobster and Got Cold Fish
  • My Dog Loves Me More Than You Do
  • Stalled in the Friend Zone
  • Valentine’s Day Threesome – Me, Myself, and I
  • Sleeping on the Sofa Again

Traditionally, this has not been my favorite holiday because I’ve never been great with expectations. Based on something that happened last night with my son, however, I have evidence my attitude may be changing.

Him: “If I wanted to buy some flowers, what would be the best way to do that?”

Me: *silently processing* Flowers? What for? Oh shit. It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. OMG. This may be the cutest thing he’s ever said. *squeal* Act cool. Don’t let on that he’s being adorable. And, for holy lizard’s sake, don’t be patronizing. Whatever you do, do not ask who they are for. Crap. Where will we find roses in the morning before school and how early will we have to get to the store? Maybe we should go tonight. Oh man. I don’t want to drive all over town tonight. If we go quickly, maybe I can still catch the men’s half-pipe finals. 

“We could hit Whole Foods after dinner if that sounds good,” I replied with my best game face, as if it were barely an issue. “Whole Foods usually has nice flowers.”

“Okay,” he said.

We geared up and drove the five minutes to the store and, being Mom and being something of an expert on expectations, I prepared him for multiple scenarios surrounding the endeavor. There could be no flowers left. There could be a million flower choices. The store might be inordinately busy. The flowers might be more expensive than he was thinking. We might have to go to a few different places. He might have to change his game plan.

He seemed not at all fazed by the prospects. He shared that some of his friends said he was crazy. Some expressed concern he would get hurt. Some said nothing because they had done something similar last year and were reserving judgment. I told him that if he was being honest about his intentions, there was no way to lose. If you act from a place of thoughtfulness without return expectation, you can’t go wrong. Giving should make you feel good, no matter where it leads. The act of giving selflessly is actually a gift for you too.

He was in luck. Whole Foods had dozens of buckets of roses. He had (quite charmingly) done his research about the meanings of rose colors and had decided against yellow. He and the recipient were already friends, so friendship roses seemed to express the obvious. He further knew that red roses were way beyond what would be proportionate to his feelings. He decided on light pink roses so she would know he admired and appreciated her. We inspected the pink rose bouquets to select the optimal bunch. I helped him pick out a small, blank card in which he would later write “Happy Valentine’s Day from your friend” to make sure she knew he simply wanted to do something nice to make her day more special. When we got home, he selected four flowers from the assortment and we put them into a vase.

IMG_0920

This morning he was nervous, not about the gift but about the managing of the gift. Where would he put the flowers until they saw each other? How much shade would his classmates give him? How awkward was his morning going to be? What had he gotten himself into? He had no idea what to expect. I told him that was a fair place to be and wished him godspeed.

I have spent most of my life sweating the constant, crushing, considerable heft of expectations. I was raised under them and unconsciously came to regard them as a weighted blanket, a comfortable and secure place from which to operate. Only recently have I examined them more closely and accepted their truths. Expecting too much from others or yourself only causes trouble. Expecting too little from yourself or others leaves your self-esteem vulnerable. Somewhere in the middle of that see saw, around the center at the pivot point, is the best place from which to ride life’s waves. I think I will find that sweet spot eventually. For now, I am enjoying the remainder of those pink roses we purchased last night, admiring and appreciating myself for getting closer to where I hope to be.

Grand Gestures and Restraining Orders

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

Those who know me know that I despise Valentine’s Day. It’s partly because it’s never been a happily memorable holiday for me and partly because I’m highly pragmatic and figure if you’re not loving on the people who matter on a daily basis then one day isn’t going to help. Despite my antipathy towards this pseudo-holiday, though, my sons enjoy it. Or at least they enjoy the candy aspect. So every year I go out and buy candy for their classmates and make Valentine’s Day cards for the boys to write and hand out.

Over the weekend, the boys and I were discussing the Valentines they were going to give their friends.

“I don’t really want to write any out,” said Luke, hoping to avoid any extra work that even remotely felt like a homework chore.

“Even though it’s a pain to do, you might feel a bit awkward if everyone else in the class ends up handing them out and you don’t, Luke,” I nudged.

“Okay, okay,” he acquiesced. “I’ll do it.” There’s the male Valentine spirit I am used to…hands tied, forced to participate.

“There ya go,” I replied. “What about you, Joe? What are you thinking?” I asked.

“Oh…I want to hand them out. I have a plan.”

Now, Luke often has a plan. Luke is dreamer and a schemer. Joe? Not so much. He’s as straight forward and up front as you can get. I was curious. I raised an eyebrow at him.

“A plan, huh? What kind of plan?” I teased.

“I am going to write To and From on all the Valentines except one,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Oh…I see. And the one that’s the exception, would that one use a different word than From?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I knew exactly where this was going. Joe has had a small crush on a girl in his class all year. He can’t seem to decide on a best friend, but the boy knows a cute girl when he sees one.

“That’s pretty bold, Joe,” I said. “Women like a grand gesture.”

“It’s not a grand gesture. She’ll only figure it out if she sees that I didn’t write Love on anyone else’s card,” he said shyly.

“Yes. But you’re putting yourself out there, Joe. That’s brave and not at all easy to do. I’m proud of you.”

It was probably because I told him I liked his plan and was proud of him that he told me the very next day that he was not going to go through with it. It was too risky. I told him understood. I do. I didn’t tell my middle school crush I had a crush on him until we were 38 and at our 20-year high school reunion. Only then did inebriated and emboldened me take the time to seek him out and tell him that I regularly used to ride my bike by his house. I don’t know what I expected from my admission, but having him look at me as if he might be in need of a restraining order in the near future wasn’t my best case scenario. Admitting your feelings comes with a risk no matter how old you are. It never gets easier, but the younger you start the better off you will be.

Tonight I called the boys up to write out the cards so I could attach the treats and get them ready for dispersal at class. I left Joe with his class list and went on to other things. When I returned later and was slapping lollipops on the handmade, handwritten notes, I noticed that one of the notes did not have the customary From sign-off. One of them was clearly and neatly signed Love, Joe. It made my heart smile.

I still don’t like Valentine’s Day. I don’t. It’s hokey, commercial, and highly overrated. But this year I almost have reason to celebrate and it’s because of a card that wasn’t even written to me.

 

 

I’m No Mother Teresa

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

Sharkboy's box

Sharkboy’s box

I remember when I was in grade school, on February 13th we would decorate boxes that we would use to collect Valentine’s Day cards from our classmates the next day. With red, pink, and white construction paper, tiny scissors with blunted tips, and the ubiquitous Elmer’s glue we would craft works of art to hold the innocent and sweet messages heralded by Snoopy, Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and the Hulk and delivered by our sugar-enhanced classmates. In 6th grade, our teacher, let us play our 45’s on the record player while we worked on the boxes, and Cheap Trick belted out “I Want You To Want Me” while I cut hearts out of square pieces of paper that were folded in half and then affixed them to the shoebox before me. Those were the good old days (emphasis on old).

Last year, despite my cynical disdain for this heart-shaped holiday, I made the choice to participate in my sons’ Valentine’s Day parties at school. When I arrived, I noticed that on the desks of children in the classroom were all manner of decorated boxes, bags, tins, and pails. On my sons’ desks were plastic grocery bags from Safeway. Sad, but true. I hadn’t realized that many schools no longer used classroom time for artistic pursuits like heart-covered boxes for valentines. And so, my sons were given plastic bags by their teachers because their mother had failed to provide them with lovingly festooned containers in which they could collect and bring home their cards and candy. In that moment, I imagined myself in a tattered ball gown holding a dozen wilted roses, a tiara missing its rhinestones perched clumsily on my wild-haired head, and a white sash emblazoned with the words “World’s Worst Mother” running diagonally down my front. Loser with a capital L. I was a sullied angel fallen from the heavenly sky of stay-at-home mothers.

This year, I determined, would be different. My sons would not be doomed to a plastic-bag fate. Yesterday, at 9:30 after I dropped my boys at school and acquired an appropriately caffeinated beverage, I locked myself in my office/craft room with two small shipping boxes, cardstock, duct tape, adhesives, scissors, google eyes, and some slowly atrophying creative skills. I first pondered what might not embarrass them too fully at their advanced ages of 9 and 11. My original plan was simply to cover the cardboard boxes with paper and duct tape (they are future men, after all) and then carve a hole in them. So far, so good. Then, realizing that my usual cut-out hearts might not be “cool” enough as enhancements for a boy’s box, I tried to envision what might be a more appropriate fit for my guys. Joe’s box theme came to me immediately. Joe loves sharks. In our house, he is Sharkboy. Sharkboy’s box would need teeth. Luke’s box was a bit trickier. Luke is our cuddly kid, friendly and open-hearted, not unlike a small and slightly less furry Golden Retriever. I wanted to make him a dog box that would represent his personality, but feared he might find it too girly or babyish. Ultimately, with not one more suitable creative thought, I went for it.

I spent two hours measuring, cutting, gluing, taping, coloring, and wrapping those plain cardboard boxes. Considering my lack of forethought to materials acquisition, I did okay with what I found around the house. The boxes, while not representative of the kind of creative work of which I am truly capable, are much better than a plastic grocery bag because they were created from my heart and are filled with my love. As much as I can be contained, I am housed in those boxes.

The boys were satisfied with my little surprise. Joe confessed that he was hoping he would have time to make his own box, but then admitted that the Minecraft box he had pictured in his head would be nowhere near as nice as the shark I had created. Plus, he said, he did not want me to have gone through all that effort for him for nothing, even though I assured him that my reward was in making the box and not at all tied up in whether he actually used it or not. I appreciated that he acknowledged my effort, though. Luke loved his doggy box so much he said he wanted first to use it to deliver valentines to his classmates before allowing it to receive valentines from them. Then he said he wanted to keep it in his bedroom after his party was over. If he does this, I assume that dog, like our own dog Ruby, will ingest a lot of Legos.

I may never do great things in my life on a grand scale. I will not cure cancer or design a mode of transportation that will put humans into the farthest reaches of space. I will not stop global warming or solve world hunger. I may never write the great American novel or make a million dollars. And, we all know I’m certainly no Mother Teresa. But, after yesterday’s creative bent, I was reminded that at least I can do small things with great love. It’s those little things that will comprise the balance of my life and hopefully prove that I was worth my carbon matter while I existed here on Earth. And, who knows? Maybe the two small things I helped to create 9 and 11 years ago and have loved dutifully in my own small way ever since will someday do a truly great thing and there will be a miniscule part of me in it somewhere. I think that would count.