Wednesday, February 17, 2016

reflections on Valentine's Day.

(So I know I’m a day late – or three– and a dollar short with this one, but bear with me. My schedule has been a bit hectic as of late, so my Valentine’s Day story is showing up after Valentine’s Day. I’m ok with it if you are.)

I am no romantic. I can’t sit through a romantic comedy without making cartoon gagging noises. When a customer at the library asks for a romantic fiction recommendation, I rely 100% on the trusty old internet… as I have never read romantic fiction. Hell, even James’s and my wedding was light on the romance – it was heavy on “we are totally perfect for each other in every nerdy way,” but no mushy stuff. 

No, I am no romantic. 

But you know what?

I kind of totally love Valentine’s Day.

With my aversion to all things romantic, you would think that this is highly unlikely. You know what makes it even more unlikely? 

That fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend with whom to share Valentine’s Day until I was the ripe old age of 19. 

And that’s damn old, considering most of my high school classmates had gotten their first boyfriends out of the way by about 13.

So why on earth would I enjoy this sugary-sweet holiday, even during my boyfriend-less high school years when whether or not you had a boyfriend was basically a measurement of your value as a human being? 

Because I don’t see Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate romantic love. To me, it is (and probably always will be) a day when you appreciate all the awesome people, places, and things in your life. Valentine’s Day is for ALL: not just those of us who are coupled-up, but EVERYONE who loves and is loved.

I have my parents to thank for this. For as long as I can remember, Mom and Dad had Valentine's cards for us - always specific to each child. Lion King for me, Power Rangers for my sister, whatever car my brother happened to be into at the time. And of course, these cards were accompanied by our favorite candy.

As I grew older, all the boyfriended-girls were getting flowers delivered to the school on Valentine's Day - their names were read over the intercom as they were asked to pick up their flowers in the office. Indeed, I had more or less resigned myself to never hear my name called over the intercom on Valentine's Day. Until one day... I did! I arrived in the office with trepidation, wondering what I had done wrong or which one of my siblings was sick. To my surprise, I found a bunch of red carnations waiting for me with a note wishing me happy Valentine's Day from Mom and Dad. My heart? Melted.

Elementary school Valentine's Day was also totally awesome, but incredibly stressful. In my elementary school, you were expected to provide a Valentine for each and every person - this was not a hard-and-fast rule, but everybody would know if you didn't. And then you were an asshole.

It was stressful not just because you had to provide a Valentine for each kid in your class, but you had to provide the RIGHT Valentine for each kid in your class. You had to reserve the super-awesome ones for your best friends, and you had to make sure you didn’t give cheesy ones to the boys. You couldn’t have them thinking you liked them. And you couldn’t give the popular girls the Valentines that said things like “Let’s be friends, Valentine!” for fear of appearing desperate for their friendship. It was an amazingly delicate balance, and I spent hours agonizing over which Valentine would go to whom.

I was, and still am, a world-class over-thinker.

Emptying out your Valentine box was unquestionably one of the highlights of the school year. You got to soak in all the nice things the cards said, and you got to gorge yourself on pink-and-red wrapped candy. (And ceremoniously chuck the conversation hearts into the garbage. Those are the worst.)

This year at work, we had a Valentine exchange. I suck and therefore forgot about it until the night before and found myself dashing to ShopKo at the eleventh hour in search of Valentines. And you know what I found out? Valentine cards now are much more elaborate when I was a kid. I bought two boxes: one set came with erasers shaped like bunnies, and the other set was watercolor dinosaurs, complete with a little watercolor sheet and a teeny plastic brush. Back when I was giving Valentines on a regular basis, you were lucky if you got heart-shaped stickers with your Valentines. The times, they are a-changing.

But anyway, the Valentine’s Day work exchange was absolutely dandy, even though I dropped the ball and didn’t get a fancy Valentine’s Day box made like I should have. Next year. If I remember. Because I suck.

Valentine’s Day, of course, is not all about cards and candy and gifts. Many of those who hate Valentine’s Day will bring these things up: a commercialization of love. I totally get that, and I don’t need a card or a gift to appreciate Valentine’s Day. All I really want is to spend time with people I enjoy. (Though who am I to turn away a gift? James got me the most delightful sparkly shoes for Valentine’s Day this year, and I just want to spend my days staring at them.) James is a total believer in buying flowers for Valentine’s Day – one year in college, he went out and bought flowers for all of his female friends. James is a gentleman and a romantic, and I am still fairly stunned (and glad!) that he ended up with a non-romantic like me. 

Spending time with James on Valentine’s Day can be trickier than you might think. James is a music teacher, and his annual Minnesota Music Educators Association conference often lands on or right around Valentine’s Day. When it does, we have made a semi-tradition of meeting in the cities and squeezing in a few hours of Valentine’s Day joy. It’s usually too cold to do much of anything except eat (enormous cupcakes, if you please), which is one of our favorite past-times anyway.
Pictured: enormous cupcake.
In college, not only did James have to go to this convention, but he was also in a band called Funky Gumbo. They would play each and every New Year’s Eve, and each and every Valentine’s Day. Also every weekend. Funky Gumbo was the worst. One year, when James was booked to play on Valentine’s Day (a Saturday, no less), my parents made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Morris to have Valentine’s Day dinner with me. They joked about me spending Valentine’s Day with my parents, but you know what? I loved it.

In the years since Funky Gumbo, I’ve been able to spend more Valentine’s Days with James than not. In 2010, he and I had just moved to a tiny garage-turned-apartment near the cities. I was working as an unpaid intern and juggling four part-time jobs. James was student teaching. We couldn’t afford to go out for dinner, so we bought a frozen pasta meal for six dollars and dined on plastic lawn furniture on our only two plates. And it was really quite nice. 
Can you see that the vase is actually an empty alfredo jar?
Honestly, I don’t know if I’d be so pro-Valentine’s Day if I didn’t have James. We have been together for almost nine years, and that’s lots of time for me to enjoy Valentine’s Day. The older you get, the more it is expected for you to have a significant other with whom to spend days like this. Lucky for me, I do: and a great person, at that. But if I didn’t, I probably would have soured a bit on the concept of Valentine’s Day. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t, but me being me, who knows.

But that’s not the point. The point is that I grew up appreciating Valentine’s Day as a bigger picture holiday – like Thanksgiving is not just about the food, but about the things you are thankful or, Valentine’s Day is not just about having a date, but about all the people you love to have in your life and who (hopefully) love to have you in theirs. 

Valentine’s Day was on a Sunday this year, so James and I ate gigantic burgers in northeast Minneapolis and walked around downtown as much as the biting cold would allow us. 
The night before, we had gone to Gasthof  zur Gemutlichkeit (a German restaurant) with my parents and our cousins. We ate about a million kinds of breaded pork, were serenaded by an accordion player, and toasted by saying, “Ziggy zaggy, Ziggy zaggy, oi  oi oi!” 

That is my kind of Valentine’s celebration.

So that is why I – the non-romantic – love Valentine’s Day. To me, it’s all about spending time with great people. And luckily, I know a lot of those.

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