Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cupid's Arrows Stick, Flight Paths Questionable

"I pity the fool who won't be my valentine!"
This column originally ran yesterday, February 13 (which explains the "tomorrow" that kicks of the first paragraph). With a title that includes Cupid and an image that includes Mr. T., what more introduction is needed? You can view the original column here.

Tomorrow, elementary school classrooms across the country will be filled with children delivering valentines. Handmade boxes will be filled with cards featuring favorite musicians, cartoon characters, and even toys, each declaring undying love and a desire to be someone's valentine. Classrooms transformed to mail rooms, all for love. 

And candy.

Everyone gets valentines. Class lists are sent home to ensure there is no child left behind when tallying the Valentine's Day booty. Isn't that why the Star Wars and Thomas the Tank Engine and Hello Kitty valentines come in packages of 32? One for each classmate, a couple extra for mistakes and misspellings, and one for the teacher.

One might think that with cookie cutter valentines and class lists, the romance would be taken out of Valentine's Day. The "mine" in "Be Mine," after all, is singular possessive. No candy hearts read "Be Ours." How can 24 children all agree to be 24 other children's valentine? Doesn't this reduce Valentine's Day to Halloween Lite? There's just as much candy, but no costumes, black cats or pumpkins, and the farthest you have to walk is across the classroom.

Really, where's the love?

Ah, but don't underestimate children. Even in a world of boxed valentines with canned catchphrases, children can find a way to be creative.

Just don't expect them to execute their plans perfectly.

If memory serves, it was fourth grade. On the night before Valentine's Day, the living room floor was covered with A-Team valentines ("I pity the fool who won't be my valentine!"). Time was up. No more procrastinating. Tired and frustrated, my heart not in it, I quickly wrote my name underneath "from" on the back of each card. Having lost my class list, I got 23 classmates' names on 23 envelopes, then spent 10 minutes wondering who was missing.

Realizing I was the 24th (thanks, Mom), I commenced stuffing the envelopes. At the last minute, creativity struck. Cupid handed me an arrow. On one valentine, below my name, I carefully printed, "I like you."

Cookie cutter valentines, take THAT!

I rushed through stuffing the envelopes, both thrilled and terrified at so openly wearing my fragile 9-year-old emotions on my sleeve. What would happen? What will she think? What will she do?

What have I done?

During the class party, I dutifully handed out my valentines. Twenty-three envelopes, including the one holding my confession, were placed into 23 artistically decorated pink and red shoeboxes.

Then I sat. Waited. Opened valentines. Munched M&Ms.

And secretly stole glances. Would she look my way? Would she smile? Worse, would she frown? Would she call me gross?

Nothing. Nary a glance.

Surely this proclamation would produce some reaction. What could have happened?

Then a new feeling began prickling the hairs on my neck. Excitement had led to confusion, now replaced by the sense that someone was watching me. Had to be. Even fourth-graders know that feeling. Who could it be?

Another classmate, three rows over and one seat up, in the opposite direction. Why was she sneaking glances at me?

The wrong envelope! Somehow I had either mislabeled, mispackaged, or misdelivered my missive.

The experience taught several lessons: Valentines aren't binding contracts. Fourth-graders and romance don't mix. Cupid's arrows stick even if they don't fly true.

And only send one valentine.