It's Still Delicious Without the Cherry

It was never about romance.

Growing up, I was indirectly taught that Valentine's Day was an opportunity to express love to friends, family, and classmates. I learned that wearing pink or red made it feel extra special, but it wasn't mandatory. I learned that it was for girls and boys to enjoy. I learned that it meant a party at school, construction paper crafts, and most importantly, feeling cherished.

Mostly, I remember an extra zip in the air. Sort of like Christmas, but lighter, less in-your-face, as if cupid quietly sprinkled little particles of tenderness into the atmosphere in the sleepy hours of the 14th. The feeling reminds me of that distinctive fragrance they diffuse from the confectionery onto Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom. It's not too intense. It's just enough to energize you, making you feel nostalgic and present all at once, as you burst through those shiny, silver turnstiles.

I knew that when I got home from school, there would likely be a modest assortment of goodies waiting for my sisters and me on the kitchen table. We almost always received a bundle of carnations or a single rose from our dad, and you would've thought it was a million bucks. I remember the thoughtful treasures that my mother picked out and meticulously wrapped in festive tissue. I remember the crinkly sounds they produced as we blissfully ripped each thoughtful surprise open. I remember the heart shaped tin full of shiny red, foil-wrapped Hershey's kisses. I remember the Conversation Hearts. I remember the Lisa Frank stickers. I remember tearing open the Toni Braxton Secrets album in sixth grade and immediately bolting upstairs to pop it into my CD player to belt "Unbreak My Heart" into my hairbrush microphone. 

I remember one Valentine's Day in fourth grade when my parents gave me a gorgeous, fluffy, white teddy bear that I appropriately named "Snowflake," as it was the (very snowy) year we had moved from Florida to Indiana. (He was soon renamed "Teddy" by my baby sister, who at two years old, decided he was actually meant to be hers.)

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I remember quieter Valentine's Days that consisted of school and then dance class all evening, but they were always peppered with surprises and affection.

I remember crisp, five dollar bills folded into Hallmark cards that were brushed with opalescent glitter from both sets of my grandparents. I remember the handwritten words telling me how beautiful, smart, and lovely I am. I remember believing the words and knowing they weren't just filler. I remember how, as the years went on, the penmanship became more strained and twisted. This demonstrated even more devotion, as it revealed how desperately my grandparents wanted to get me that Valentine, despite how difficult it had become to go out and purchase one, write in it, seal it with postage, and drop it in the mailbox. I will honor them today, not by buying anything for their gravestones, for they wouldn't want that, but by whispering, "I love you Mamaw Kinder! I love you Papaw Kinder! I love you Mamaw Coy! I love you Papaw Coy!" one by one, right up to heaven. I know they'll hear me and send it right back.

Part of my childhood was spent in Seminole, Florida. I guess we just wore bathing suits as clothes. This was an extra special Valentine's Day spent with Mamaw and Papaw Kinder, who were visiting from Indiana. 1989.

Part of my childhood was spent in Seminole, Florida. I guess we just wore bathing suits as clothes. This was an extra special Valentine's Day spent with Mamaw and Papaw Kinder, who were visiting from Indiana. 1989.

I suppose I knew this holiday could be about celebrating romance, because my dad always had a dozen red roses for mom, but the kids weren't left out of the equation just because we didn't have a soulmate yet. If you were a child who lived in our house, you knew you were loved, but you felt it *extra* on two-fourteen.

I guess that's why I continued to relish in this holiday throughout high school, college, and into my twenties, even though I never had a boyfriend to share it with until I was twenty-eight (yep, 2-8). My family and friends loved me, and that was all I needed. In fact, I never even realized that people, particularly women, had cynical feelings about this day until high school, and I couldn't understand it. Even if they didn't have a date... surely they had someone to love?

Now that I do have someone I'm hot for and in love with and all that gushy stuff, it's just the cherry on top. Valentine's Day was festive and fun before him, and it's even sweeter now. I mean, I can't not have the cherry now. It's crucial to my diet and helps me function, but Valentine's Day doesn't revolve around it. Him. You get it.

I share this holiday with loved ones nearby and overseas. I will open the beautifully decorated cards that have trickled in over the past week from my girlfriends. I will make a special trip to deliver cheap NFL logo bracelets to my nephews and coral, sparkly leggings to my niece. I'll deliver a few fresh flowers to my mom, even though my dad's arrangement will blow mine out of the water. I'll bring a simple surprise to my older sister, and I sent out an actual Valentine, bursting with confetti, to my

teddy bear stealer beloved little sister.

And, of course, my husband and I will exchange cards, scribbled with sugary sentiments, later on this evening.

I guess I'd just like to encourage parents, especially of daughters, to help them understand that sneering at this holiday isn't satisfying. It doesn't make them more powerful or feminine. Denouncing it doesn't give them more independence. Valentine's Day shouldn't be about male bashing, staying at home with chocolates to sulk, or writing scathing letters to Hallmark for (gasp!) carrying inventory that is designed to make others feel cherished. Let's teach them what this affair is really about: extending warmth and gratitude to neighbors, teachers, co-workers, Starbucks baristas, parents, siblings, and yes, lovers too. Expressing love to others doesn't make you weak at all. I'm learning that it truly strengthens. Sometimes it takes guts, grit, effort, and (to steal an overused word from The Bachelor) vulnerability.

And hey, if you're an adult who has come to believe that you despise the fourteenth of February... What if this was the year you changed your mind? What if you resisted the urge to mock it? What if you sent someone you love a card? What if you bought someone a pink peony (are those in season yet? Gosh, those fluffy little things are magical.)? What if you gave the child in your life some Monster Truck stickers or a balloon? What if you treated yourself to something special (self-love is essential too)? If you allow yourself to bask in it, even a little, Valentine's Day has real potential. It might just be the spark you needed, smack in the middle of this otherwise chilly (for some) February week.

Owen's    2nd Valentine's Day. 2012.

Owen's 2nd Valentine's Day. 2012.

Ps- I think you'll enjoy Kelle Hampton's take on this holiday. (And I selfishly like the reassurance that I'm not the only one who loves to do this day up right.)

Happy February: 6 Ways to Celebrate Love

Pss- I love you. Thanks for reading. xx