February 14. The one holiday when it is impossible not to think just a teensy bit about the L-word.
Wait, that’s two words. Okay, then. LOVE.
If you have not yet read Mandy Len Catron’s New York Times article entitled, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” please go do that now. Seriously, it is better than anything I am about to say.
However, if you have already read it, or have just returned from reading it, please continue. I have a thought or two on the subject.
I have just finished helping my kiddos prepare their Valentine’s cards, a process that began with excitement, was hindered by crying and dishevelment — not unlike most projects around here – and ended with a sort of weary pride. This year, the prevailing argument centered on why I never let them buy the pre-fab boxed cards.
“Because that is cheating,” I said.
“Cheating?” said the Katie, the oldest. “But Valentine’s Day isn’t a test.”
“Besides, Mom,” complained my 5-year-old, “I can’t even draw a good heart.” It was at approximately this point in the evening that little Lizzie fled to her room to cry in her closet.
I had told the kids that hand-made cards were more thoughtful, and that Valentine’s Day was a chance to share our kind feelings with those we loved.
“But I don’t love most of these people, Mom,” Katie complained. “They are just kids in my class.”
Later, after the cards were completed and the kids were tucked in bed, I looked over Lizzie’s pile of professed mess-ups. There were more than two-dozen attempts to draw a heart. All of them lovely. So earnest. So sweet. So much like her. But she had had an idea in her head about what the perfect Valentine was to look like, and no amount of cajoling by me could bring her around to the idea that all of her hearts were wonderful.
Once again, I think I failed to teach the lesson I thought I was teaching.
Here’s the thing: Valentine’s Day is kind of stupid. Kids sending meaningless cards to other kids is stupid. For most of us, Valentine’s Day is just one more excuse to eat more candy than we should, drink more wine than we need, and argue with the person we love about why he/she didn’t buy us something better.
But, as a kid, I freaking loved Valentine’s Day. I would look carefully at each card I received in my brown paper lunch bag. Had Todd signed Love, Todd to everyone or just me? Did Jeff purposely give me the card with a red heart instead of a pink one? Everyone knew red hearts were more romantic. Of course, now that I have children of my own, I am certain that neither Jeff nor Todd nor any of the other half-dozen or so boys I professed to “love” on those Valentine’s Days gave much thought at all to their cards. They were doing what my kids were doing: just trying to get them done.
These days, teachers are smart. Both of my girls were asked not to put the recipients’ names on the Valentines. “Just pass out one to everyone,” Mrs. M. encouraged. That way, no one got anything special from anyone else. And, of course, no one got hurt.
Except we lose something, don’t we? when we treat everyone exactly the same. If Valentine’s Day serves any purpose whatsoever, it is a yearly reminder to demonstrate affection, to allow ourselves to know and be known.
Which gets me back to Mandy Len Catron’s piece. Catron referenced a study conducted twenty years ago by a psychologist, Arthur Aron, that purported to create love in a laboratory. In the study, two strangers were simply asked to answer a series of questions together. The end result: affection. Catron tried this same “experiment” herself, and described the strange intimacy of passing an evening puzzling through Aron’s questions with a person she barely knew.
It seems to me that all of us, whether we are in a relationship or not, could benefit from an infusion of laboratory-tested intimacy. Maybe this Valentine’s Day, instead of dinner or a movie, just sit and talk to someone you love (or are hoping to love). Not fake talk, of celebrity gaffes or television plots. But real talk. Find someone you love and answer some questions together.
This Valentine’s Day, allow yourself to be known.
For those who need extra encouragement, I’ll start:
Question # 4 – What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Years ago, this probably would have involved lying on a beach in a far off land or attempting to sing and dance on a Broadway stage. But these days, my perfect day is simpler. I would awaken feeling rested, having slept more than enough. I would eat breakfast in a chair, a proper eggs and bacon on a plate situation, rather than toast balanced on the washing machine or chips munched as I pack lunches. I would tell my kids I love them and see them walk safely into school among friends. I would exercise hard — run and lift and jump — and not hear a peep from my wonky knee or Achilles. I would bathe afterwards, and wash and comb my hair. I would remember to wear deodorant. I would write, read, and laugh with people I love. And then I would sleep some more. [As I read over this answer, it sounds so DULL, but honestly, most days, I don’t manage any of this.]
Question #30 – When did you last cry in front of another person?
Last Thursday. At Target. In broad daylight. And much to the chagrin of the lady working in Customer Service. To be fair, it had been a difficult shopping excursion. I had a sick kid. I was late for a party. I couldn’t find the tablecloths. No one would help me. Looking back, I don’t even know what triggered it, except that the lady in my checkout line was roughly the seventh person who had failed to help me that day. Raising kids takes a village and, that day, I was a shoddy solo act. I had all kinds of keenly mean things to say – about decency, and dignity, and the kind of women we should be to one another in this difficult world. Instead, I cried. More on that here.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Laugh. Cry. Go let yourself be known.