As a child, Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Red Hots. I loved those smooth, shiny cinnamon hearts. I ate them until my fingers were stained red and my tongue lost feeling. I ate a pound of red hots in one day a few years ago, as an old lady, and got a stomach ache. So now this delightful holiday treat is ruined for me.
As a late-blooming junior higher Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Confusion. Some of my classmates were giggling and sneaking kisses and basking in the glow of being chosen by a boy with three mustache hairs and body odor. I didn’t get it. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t chosen, and assumed something must be wrong with me because I didn’t want to be.
As an earnest but cynical high schooler (I was a delight!) Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Shame. I wasn’t in love. I liked boys who didn’t like me. I didn’t like the boys who liked me. I think this is a universal part of high school, but it felt personal. Every single time I looked in the mirror or watched a couple mash against the lockers I would ask, “What is wrong with me?”
In college I still had not found love, so Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Anger. “Like, what the hell? Everyone is just stupid and Valentine’s Day is stupid. Hallmark Holiday. Blah Blah. Everyone sucks.” I spent the holiday in baggy sweats with friends talking deep about “When Harry Met Sally.”
Soon after college I met Chris and Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Making Out. It was glorious. Those were magical, flushed days, making out all over snowy Vienna. I was chosen, known, wanted, and treasured. We kissed about every 3 minutes, much to the disgust of our colleagues and all emotionally reserved Austrians.
We got happily married and then Valentine’s Day meant one thing: Pressure. We took turns planning it. One year Chris convinced me were going to Medieval Times, “We’ll eat mutton! It will be great!” I was grossed out but tried to play along. In the end he proved he knew me and took me to a fancy steak dinner instead. We enjoyed each other’s company, but no one was kissing every 3 minutes any more. Every year the pressures of work, grad school, and daily responsibilities made Valentine’s Day look like the day we should “bring back the magic.”
The worst Valentine’s Day of my life was February 14, 2009. That day was about one thing: a Vasectomy. Chris had it done the day before, got lots of pain meds, 2 new macs to set up, and some funny movies. He closed the door to our room and spent some quality time with frozen peas. My dear mother in law took our 4 year olds out and came back with real, living fish. My 9 month old had decided to start weaning and I got my first period in 18 months that very day. Things were fragile.
The highlight of the weekend was when the kids jumped on our bed with Chris sitting there wincing with a cookie sheet shielding his privates and a full pot of coffee tipping and soaking through every layer of bedding. I had a dramatic breakdown, ripping sheets and blankets off our bed, crying about having to now take care of fish your mother brought over and comparing his stupid vasectomy and bedrest to actually giving birth and doing laundry the next day. It was very romantic.
Redemption came the next year. My sweet son, Caleb announced, “Valentine’s Day must be Jesus’ favorite holiday, because it’s all about loving! He loves everyone!” So that’s what that Valentine’s Day was all about: Loving. The kids wanted to help Haiti after the devastating earthquake. It was really fun to make crafts and bake treats for friends and neighbors, for the purpose of loving people in Haiti. There wasn’t confusion, shame, anger, or performance pressure. It was sweet.
It was a revelation. Valentine’s Day sucks because I make it about me. What am I going to get? Will Chris write the right words and pick the right restaurant and make me feel loved, sexy, and perfect? Is my marriage still romantic and steamy? Does the world know that I’m chosen and loved? The day, for all it’s plastic, forced declarations and cheap chocolate is always a let down.
The year our family made Valentine’s Day about the people of Haiti was freeing. It wasn’t about me. I will always love fancy romance, white tulips, and declarations of unfading love. We have great Valentine’s dates. But I like how our family’s focus is about giving love instead of getting it.
This year Valentine’s Day was supposed to be about one thing: Socks for Homeless. Zoë had bought $75 worth of thick socks for Jesus’ Birthday Present at Christmas. She wanted to go with our church friend, Gayle, and hand them out in downtown Chicago. The first day that worked was February 14th – perfect! We’d have something to do that wasn’t cheesy, we’d be loving people, we’d be World Changing, and we’d all learn a lot.
Gayle contacted me yesterday to report that it’s going to be -6º tomorrow night, and that she doesn’t think the kids should be walking outside for three hours like that. My honest first thought was, “Yay! I don’t have to go!” My second thought was, “Forgive me, Lord. Show me how to talk about this with Zoë.”
This morning I said, “Hey, Zo, Miss Gayle thinks it’s just too cold for us to go give the homeless your socks tomorrow. Should we pick another day for you to go hand them out?”
She replied, “If it’s too cold for us to go see them, it sounds like this is the weekend they need the socks the most!” She said we could drop them off to Gayle later (she’ll be visiting her homeless friends by car, jumping out when she sees them tomorrow). I thought Zoë wanted to hand out the socks for some sort of glory – her big idea, getting props from grown ups, feeling like a helper and world changer. She took me by surprise. She just wants to give.
She and Greta made little Valentines to put in each pair. After Zoë made them she held the pile close to her heart and said, “I hope they really feel loved, Mom.” (Cue the tears.)
I’m sure as Zoë grows up she’ll move through Valentine’s Days with the same clumsy feelings I had. She’ll hate it, then want it, then dread it, and then hopefully redeem it. I can totally see her rolling her eyes at 15 and telling me how lame it all is. I hope when she is in her goth/nerd/jock phase and so cynical about love she’ll remember these childhood Valentine’s Days. She wasn’t looking to get love, she knew she already was (by us, by God). She wasn’t looking to be wooed or chosen. She was giggly and free. She looked for ways to love new people and got nothing from them in return.
If I’m honest, I wanted “Valentine’s Day with the Homeless” because it would have been picture-perfect for the Family Compassion Focus. The children, the dark cold night, the steam from the sewers, the hand-written valentines. Can’t you see it? But thank God it didn’t work. That would have been about me, and what I got. Pretty embarrassing. That would have sucked.
You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day.
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2015