We Don't Need Valentine's Day in Elementary School

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.

They Think They Can Do Better — Well So Can You

"Prang's Valentine cards". Advertise...
“Prang’s Valentine cards”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My single friends look at me with longing; they think as a mother of two, husband in residence, that my greatest life questions are resolved.

“Gal-pal” is such a casual label for these women whose worth is above gold. We have conversations I can only dream of with my friends who are also mothers. Unfettered by constraints of feeding, nap, or bedtime schedules, we can meet whenever work or sleep allows.

They sigh and bemoan their lonely futures; I urge them to pursue their passions rather than a man. They contest my advice as  invalid, offered from the safety of the ivory tower of matrimony.

“Pour that urge to nurture into a new hobby!” I cheer.

“Easy for you to say,” she grumbles. “You’re settled.”

“I’m going through the same struggles as you,” I protest. “In different ways.”

My dear friend would like to meet her life partner and have a baby. Yet, hours of conversations show that her thirst for intimacy is no different from mine — for female in friendships; I’d love to have more friends who were reliable and didn’t cancel at the last minute or move away after three years.

Often the heartbreak of ending a romantic relationship can feel like it will drag you under.

But again, from my parallel universe, in the week leading up to that most commercial of holidays, second perhaps only to Christmas, Valentine’s, I am reminded that many people can hurt us, not only our intimate partners.

People disappoint us. Often treat us other than we deserve.

But as with boyfriends or husbands, once I recovered from the shock, I steeled my resolve: if they think they can do better – then they should try.

After all, as I’m reminding myself, so can I.

Moral of the story? Don’t put up with sh#t from anyone. Not a lover or a friend or an employer.

After all, you’re worth more than they think — though they’ll never know unless you show them. How you let other people treat you says more than the words you use. This Valentine’s Day, remember: true love, begins at home.


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We Need to Talk About Death

English: Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Hudson Un...
Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Hudson Union Society event in September 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May seem like a morbid headline, especially with many fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman reeling from the news of his untimely passing. The truth is, in our technologically advanced “modern” society, we don’t talk about death enough. Or the facts.

We are finite beings whose lives have a beginning and an end. None of us knows when either of these are coming. We share in common, regardless of race, creed, or status, an overriding uncertainty. But the more toys we develop (or acquire) the more this singular bond fades — that is until the notice of an illness or tragedy brings our mortality back, full force, with enough weight to crush us.

We resist the decay of our bodies, in particular as women, but also men, through surgeries, creams, and lotions, eliding the very wrinkles and sags that signal our common end.

I was having dinner with a friend, almost ten years younger than me. She, and many of my single friends, look at women like me with envy. I am happily married, have two boys, enjoy my work.

“I don’t want to be alone,” she said.

“There are no guarantees,” I answered.

The truth is, we jump into the pursuit of happiness as though once found,  joy will sustain us to the end of our lives. As anyone who has ever been married (or fallen in love) can tell you, the effect wears off. Euphoria becomes mundane; you’re at the sink, brushing your teeth, deciding who gets to sleep in and who’s day it is for nursery drop off.

“He could die,” I told her. “And then what? I start the romance circuit all over again.”

I have so many friends, longing to find a partner. I remember that feeling, the worry of never finding “the one.” I also know, now that I “have” him, he’s not mine to keep. I share this perspective with them,  gently, to curb their mounting self-judgment of unworthiness at still being single.

Often I get a sidewise look in reply. But I persist. The seldom acknowledged truth is, my husband, my children, my parents, or even you dear reader, could be taken at any time.

(* 4. April 1979 in Perth, Western Australia, ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The worst is when, like with Mr. Hoffman, Heath Ledger, my young friend Claire, or high school classmate Raul, we are left behind in the wake of someone’s decision to end his/her life. Suicide is a rude interrupter of the pedantic notes of life, shaking the foundations of our perspective, of the grocery list, the tires that need changing, the dishes waiting to be washed.

Let’s abate this quiet despair by talking. To loved ones, to strangers, to students, or friends. In the sharing of our experiences, perhaps we can all be a little less lonely. And such a connection may be the first sign of true love. Not the over hyped eros that is the focus of the commercially created frenzy around Valentine’s day. But the steady, true phileo, or brotherly love.

Who can you reach out today to lend an ear? If you yourself are in need of one, you’ll find me here.


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