When I was in grade school, I did what every other kid did a few days before Valentine’s Day. I scoured the house for a suitable container that I was then supposed to decorate—usually a shoebox. Or my mother would offer me some empty box that I would then have to transform into a worthy receptacle for small, usually white envelopes that would contain oh-so-clever valentines like: “Hi Valentine—It’s ‘ruff’ without you!” superimposed over a cute, frolicking puppy. And don’t forget the teacher: the caption “You’re the best teacher ever” would be encased in a heart with a picture of an adorable kitten carrying another even larger heart.
My receptacles were underwhelming and lackluster, but not for lack of trying. I knew there would be some amazing decorated boxes lined up on the large table set up just for this exercise. Many parents, I am sure, decorated some of the more elaborate ones, but I did not realize it then. I always compared my amateurish one to the others, and I always felt inadequate and wondered just how my classmates managed to be so fabulously creative.
When the day arrived to display my skimpy vessel, I did so with a mixture of anticipation and loathing. I knew mine was mediocre, but I still hoped that my box would be filled with thirty or so envelopes—envelopes that we would be allowed to open in class (not all of them—just five or so for now!) and laugh at and then wonder if the sender actually meant what was on the valentine.
Over the years, there were times when I received either no Valentine’s Day gift or else received one that screamed “Yeah, I know I’m lame, but here I am anyway.” Little by little I came to regard Valentine’s Day as a celebration for others. So, as I was thinking about Valentine’s Day this year, I remembered that I still have in my possession a collection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards that were given to me almost 20 years ago. I suspect that I still have them because I like most things vintage, and then I remembered a painting I made in 2008.
My daughter has a new boyfriend, and they are making plans for the 14th. When she told me about how they wanted to celebrate the day, I suddenly remembered it was my anniversary, and I was momentarily surprised—like I am every year. Did I pick February 14th as the day we would marry (and then, consequently, have to celebrate it every year thereafter) because it meant so little to me prior to that time?
I may not know the answer to that puzzling question, but I do know one thing: I am glad my daughter will know what it is like to plan and talk about and anticipate a day with someone she loves. I know there are many people who think this day is simply a marketing tool, and I’m pretty sure it has evolved to warrant that moniker. But Valentine’s Day has made my daughter happy and, along with writing this essay, it has given me gift. Thank you.