My first February as a graduate teaching assistant I explained to the class why I was ant-Valentine’s day.
“A day for women to make men guilty for forgetting and for men to think women are needy,” I said. I’m sure my hands were on my hips in front of the chalkboard – though this would count as an embellished memory.
“Someone’s bitter,” the blonde girl in the front row muttered.
Thing is, I wasn’t. At my all female college we celebrated Peanut Week, a week of secret gift exchanges in the spirit of a secret Santa. The exchanges culminated in a big reveal, on, you guessed it Valentine’s Day. Your peanut was designed to distract you from the yard long table laden with bouquets. You can surmise how successful a platonic teddy bear full of candy was in the face of floral professions of love.
I’m not anti-love. I need love. Unconditional acceptance, the ties that bind me to my fellow sisters and brothers, the care I shower on children: all of it. And yes, as a married woman, eros plays a part in life, a part any couple raising young children might wish were larger (I wrote expanded at first and that seemed an even bigger pun. Dirty minds!).
Send the five year old home with a list of 15 names and say he must send in Valentine’s for all of them, purporting to teach appreciation, and suddenly I’m as conservative as my Hindu mother.
“He’s not going with Valentine’s to school!” I exclaim.
Now, I have these other not so vague memories, of sending the mandatory Valentines when I was in grade school. Whatever was cheapest at Walmart. I had two crushes then. And I let them both know it – signing all the cards anonymously – cleverly sending one to myself. Speculation was rife in class; as it circled and circled, I grew bore of the conversation, somehow forgetting my earlier ruse, and revealed myself.
“You like them!” The girls squealed. The boys were embarrassed at the attention and perplexed that a girl wanted to spend time with them.
I didn’t have an arranged marriage. I have written a romance novel.
And yet, the subject of love among four and five year olds gives me pause. We can’t say this is about phileo or brotherly love. We certainly aren’t talking about unconditional or divine love. These two are of inestimable more value at this (and any) age. So why do we continue to celebrate this holiday at school and let the chocolates have their commercial victory?
Am I getting old? Showing my roots?
I would love to be that parent who protests. But then my child won’t get any Valentine’s.