This time of year it seems like Cupid has his arrow pointed at my back instead of at my heart.
Although I tried to evade the ambush, I've gotten caught in the pink and red fluffy, furry, lacey, glittery, chocolaty store aisle and window display explosion that happened as soon as the ball dropped on January 1. The countdown for Valentine's Day, like so many holidays, began at the 6 week mark, not at 10 seconds before impact. I'd find that much more delectable than even a box of Godiva, but no such luck.
And now that red-letter V-Day is closing in on me, I'm reminded that I can't escape the rhetoric surrounding mandatory affection. I can't win, so therefore I give in, always buying my children drug-store stuffed animals and heart-shaped boxes of Snoopy candy, even in their teens. I love doing it for them – they are my kids after all. I adore them. Everyone likes reinforcement of good feelings – and there's no easier time of year to find those on every corner in every super mega grocery drug store. So as far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse. And when I see the looks on their faces – like "Mom, we're big now, but thank goodness you didn't forget us," I know that once again I've done the right thing and that silly Valentines from Mom will be one of their childhood memories. I guess I knew that already since the collection of little animals is still a coveted possession of both the freshman and the sixth-grader.
And while I don't want to feel forced, I do admit that I get sucked in with all with the foil wrapped candy and cutesy trinkets. I miss the school parties and the stacks of Valentines my kids no longer have to shove into handmade construction paper covered personal mailboxes. I remember when my daughter wore only red on Valentine's Day and how she painstakingly attached candy to a card for each child in her class.
To me Valentine's Day is now an excuse to buy myself and my kids something either simple or extravagant and a much better reason that Ground Hog's Day a mere 12 days before. And who doesn't love something, anything, whose purpose is simply to purport love. While it's contrived, it’s a win-win situation.
I wouldn't miss it if the powers that be cancelled Valentines Day but that's not happening any time soon, as it's a holiday long in the making. As legend has it, Valentine, died in prison on February 14 in the year 269, martyred for not abandoning Christianity, and after also having written a letter, signed "From your Valentine" to the daughter of his jailer. He later became the patron saint of lovers, but had he been asked, I wonder if sugary conversation hearts and satin boxers were what he would have had in mind as his legacy.
Like holidays and traditions everywhere, St. Valentine's Day has evolved by tapping into our desire to please and not be left out in the cold. It is now the second largest card-sending holiday only behind Christmas, according to the American Greeting Card Association, accounting for one billion cards sent each year. That means not sending a card really means being left out. This is not where I'd want to be one in a billion. And since 85% of those cards are purchased by women and the majority of candy and gifts are purchased by men, it works for me.
For my kids, it's a given. And when I was married, it was assumed. But when is a new relationship Valentine-ready? Though dating someone doesn't mean a Valentine is necessary, the lack of one certainly insinuates apathy. That can't be good for grown-up dating karma. And as a divorced and dating mom, I'm perusing the advice columns seeking direction, asking my married girlfriends to tap their memory banks, and even searching the internet for clues. What is appropriate and what's not? The right message has to be not too strong nor too weak; not too big a heart of candy nor too small. Not too sappy a card nor too cavalier. It's a quandary lofty enough for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, herself.
So – while I stalk the aisles looking for the right thing for that person in my life, with this year's fluffy white stuffed puppies under each arm for my kids, I try to wiggle out of the grip of the pointy arrow in my back – and decide whether I listen to the angel on my right shoulder or the devil on my left. And then, I revert to well-traversed territory and wonder what a grown man will think of Snoopy candy and a smiling bear.
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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