There was that horrible stretch of time in middle school when Valentine's Day was just about the worst holiday a girl could imagine. Or rather, experience. My imagined Valentine's Day was sweep-you-off-your-feet lovely. My actual experience of Valentine's Day was as painfully awkward as myself.
I was chubby, with braces, glasses, and the kind of haircut that makes me want to take my mother by the shoulders and plead, "Why? No, really, why?"
A few weeks before February 14th, the table festooned with crepe paper would make its appearance just outside the cafeteria. The poster board behind gave the necessary details:
Valentine's Day Flowers!
Send a flower to a "special" friend and let them know how much you care!
Did you endure this as well? The idea was that anyone could fork over a few dollars, send flowers to their friends, and let the student council do God-knows-what with the profits. We all knew the real deal, though. Only the lamest of the lame sent flowers to their actual friends. No, the only flowers that counted were the ones that were sent by the opposite sex. Valentine's Day came, and the score was tallied: Total flowers received – flowers sent to you by your girlfriends = Net Self Worth. Minus 10 points if it was discovered you sent flowers to yourself.
God, how I dreaded Valentine's Day. There I sat in homeroom, watching the carnations pile up on the desks of some, while mine remained pitifully bare. I'd let my mind wander, thinking of my imaginary admirer. Of course he didn't send me any carnations – he'd gone to the flower shop in town! Any minute now they'd walk in with my roses. And balloons. There would definitely be balloons.
If nothing else, my imagination got me through that day until I could get off the bus and wallow in my uncoolness at home. In the safety of my home, though, I always had a Valentine. Every year, without fail, from the time I was a little girl until I left my home for college, my Dad would give me the ubiquitous heart-shaped Whitman's sampler. I'm sure in those heinous middle school years he was rewarded with an eye-roll and a snide remark about me being too fat for chocolate, but deep down I was oh so very grateful. He remembered every year. He loved me no matter what I looked like on the outside or felt like on the inside.
My mother is out of town this week, visiting her sister in Florida. My dad stayed behind, and on this Valentine's Day I invited him over for dinner. When dinner was over, he pulled out a small bag: two cards and two little boxes of chocolate for Elena and Eli. My heart swelled. I don't need that box of chocolate anymore – I have my very own Valentine for life. My kids aren't of the age where it really matters to them, either. But someday, it will. It's nice to know they'll always have a Valentine, too.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Valentine's Day.