At Central Elementary in Fall Creek, where I grew up, you had to make a valentine for everyone in your class. Of course kids play favorites, so some get more effort than others. As Eric said last night, "I only made valentines for the girls I liked." Others got the pre-made printed slips. But I'll never forget seeing a girl named Juli*--who was always getting picked on because her clothes smelled, because she spoke too slowly, or because she would sit in circle, openly picking her nose-- smiling in sheer delight as she peeled off the tape that stuck two chalky miniature candy hearts on one of the slips of paper in her pile.
Some thoughtful mother, most likely, helped their kid take their obligatory valentines to the next level by including a little treat for us all, but for Juli, it was a moment of relief - happiness even - from what was probably a really painful childhood. Now that I'm older, of course I can recognize the sad truths. Juli was a little slower because she likely had a learning disability. Her clothes were soiled because she didn't have a parent at home who knew or cared enough to wash them. She picked her nose because there were no adults who payed enough attention to her to tell her it wasn't the best of manners. (Although, who among us doesn't remember childhood days, digging up there for gold? Come on. Every kid picks their nose.) Children can be so mean to each other. As a writer who set out to recapture the whimsical beliefs of her youth, I'd glamorized the child mind, where magic is a real, breathing thing, possible, where cartoons and fantastical creatures came to life behind our closed eyes. I failed to remember the people like Juli, and how disturbing it was to watch the emotional abuse she suffered from other kids on a daily basis.
Nowadays, I believe that increased awareness and especially the anti-bullying campaign, has shed light on this. I do remember that our teachers were always sweet to Juli, and of course forbade rudeness, in so much as they could ward it off while they were around. But all of this got me thinking about Valentines Day, and how these days, as grownups, we're so focused on romantic love that we sometimes forget that now that we're all grownup, we have the ability to expand the definition. To include the people who don't get included. Otherwise, what have we learned from being young?
So today, why not keep an eye out for someone who could use a little love?
For my part, we're spending the evening with a group of friends, and I'm going to get my cookies and cupcakes ready early, so I can be sure to have some packed up for our mail carrier and the UPS crew that visit us several times a day. Because they might have sweethearts at home, and sure, you can say it's an overblown, commercialized holiday. But because I hope that grown up Signe will endeavor to never to miss an opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, in someone else's (Valentines) day.
Happy Valentines to you, wishing you some extra love and affection from all who surround you.
(* not her real name.)