Keeping It Real on Valentine's Day

A couple of weeks ago at the dinner table, I was doing my customary "Troops, here's how the next two weeks are going to go down" speech to the family that outlined upcoming doctor's appointments, car pool responsibilities, babysitting jobs, and out of town visitors. I summed up with, "On the 14th, Grandma and Grandpa are leaving to go back East, and Dad will be in New York. I'll drive and pick up from ballet that night."

The youngest said, "Awwww. That's sad. When will you two celebrate Valentine's Day?"

I motioned across the fruit bowl to her father, who had a work-induced thousand mile stare as he absentmindedly gobbled up the turkey tetrazzini.

"This is it, baby," I told her. "Look at the passion. Every day is Valentine's Day around here."

At which point my husband looked up and said, "What?"

Sigh. People kvetch about New Year's Eve but for me, Valentine's Day is the high holy holiday of sunken expectations.

It started early. The only Valentine I can remember in detail from my childhood is from third grade, when we opened the little decorated bags we'd made in class and I pulled out a pretty one made of olive green construction paper, with a heart glued on the front and my name across the top. I unfolded it to read, "I hate you. Signed, Julie." What the heck? I didn't even think Julie, who as a sophisticated 4th grader in my 3/4 split class, knew my name. Guess she knew me well enough to hate me.

In high school, Valentine's Day was all about the ruse, at least for the late-bloomers crew of which I was a member. The cheerleaders sold carnation deliveries for $1 a flower for weeks in advance at tables outside the cafeteria - white for friendship, red for lust, pink for love. On February 14 the popular kids walked around after homeroom looking like racehorses in Saratoga, draped in their mantles of white, red, and pink. My friends and I, however, knew there weren't any boys who were going to miraculously come through with the red and pink flowers for us, and a person carrying an all-white bouquet of carnations just looked a little pathetic.

So we bought each other red and pink carnations and disguised our handwriting and wrote steamy love notes signed with names like Felipe and Jacques, in the hopes that one of the boys decked out like a Rose Bowl Float would think he had a reason to be jealous. Because that strategy is WAY less pathetic than just accepting some white carnations.

I was living in Germany when I met my first serious long term boyfriend, and in Germany any celebration of a holiday invented in America smacks of the Marshall Plan. When I mentioned my excitement over Valentine's Day to him one January day, my otherwise kind-hearted boyfriend made a funny face. It just wasn't done, he explained, probably praying that this conversation wasn't going to once again veer off into my exasperation over his country's shocking lack of peanut-based confectionery products. He did buy me a Valentine once, and the signature inside was so romantic it made my knees knock: "So is this how I'm supposed to do this?"

I guess the death knell for romantic Valentine's Day came when my then-boyfriend, now husband, made me a card which compared me to NY Giants running back Dave Meggett- "You are the Dave Meggett of Girlfriends." The implication, as he explained it to me, was that Meggett was a player on whom all his teammates could depend, a guy who always came through in the clutch situations. And truly, what gal DOESN'T want to be compared to a hulking football player on the most romantic day of the year?

But the fact of the matter is this: that was the most heartfelt, meaningful card I ever got, homemade by a guy who does not do crafts. The only Valentine I ever held onto in a keepsake box was the Dave Meggett card, and I still crack up whenever I run across it.

That's probably proof that while Valentine's Day with my husband ain't perfect, it's perfect for us.