Being a kid is tough. Being a shy loner with severe anxiety and a nervous tongue makes it even harder. So when Valentine’s Day and all other days that required interaction with other kids came around each year my apprehension increased to the point that I started preparing my mom for a ‘sick day’ from school a week in advance.
My hatred for Valentine’s Day started in Kindergarten and extended beyond my youth into my young adulthood. I don’t believe I ever got over being socially awkward but like most enthusiastic, hot-blooded males I never admitted it because you’re clout on the social food chain decreased immensely if you couldn’t prove your prowess with the ladies – some things never change.
I don’t think that my sons have the same issues. They seem to do very well, have lots of friends, they don’t appear to have any problems speaking with the opposite sex and they are generally well liked by their peers. So I wasn’t surprised this morning when my two youngest sons jumped into the car for a ride to school holding their decorated Valentine’s Day boxes to receive their candy hearts and Valentine’s Day cards from their friends.
They had smiles on their faces; I had a flashback to third grade.
Third grade was the year that I finally worked up the courage to decorate a Valentine’s Day box of my own and brave the inevitable feeling of disappointment and defeat when all the other kids would get mountains of treats and I would get another meager handful of generic notes with the words “You’re nice” scribbled on them. I was determined to be a trooper and my main priority that day was to give out as many Valentine’s as possible, even to that kid who had a habit of kicking my backpack down the aisle whenever I wasn’t paying attention.
I nervously sat down in my assigned seat and placed my elaborately decorated box on my desk. After the customary announcements over the P.A. system and the pledge of allegiance we all sat down and waited impatiently for Mrs. Eyring to give us instructions on how we would proceed to hand out Valentine’s. I can’t recall any of the tiny details about that day but I do remember walking around the classroom, dropping a Valentine with my own handwritten, personalized niceties about each of the students in the classroom. At each desk I stopped at I was greeted with a smile and a polite “Thank you” until I was finished, saving the last and largest Valentine for Mrs. Eyring, an angel who had taught my older brother and sister before me.
Because my box was sealed I was unable to open it until I got home but surprisingly I was not even concerned about it. No, by the time the final bell rang to end classes I was beaming with pride that I had finished the day without a hitch and that I had given something to each one of my classmates as well as friends in other classes who in turn reciprocated.
I raced home and probably got something to eat before my mother asked me about my day and suddenly I was reminded of the gaudy red box adorned with the lace hearts sitting on the kitchen counter.
“Are you going to open it?” I’m sure my mom asked as she followed my eyes to the box.
“Yeah,” I must have muttered through a mouthful of peanut-butter-and-jelly.
Slowly, reluctantly I tore off the top of the box and to my utter amazement there were dozens upon dozens of candy treats and cards. I was surprised by their sheer number and the personal notes written by classmates and friends. I know that I wasn’t a popular kid then or ever, but that day it didn’t matter. What mattered is that my low opinion of myself was greatly exceeded by the kindnesses showed by my peers.
I like to think that it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life but quite honestly it still took me a number of years, a move to a new country and a mission for my church to help me break out of my shell. My wife still thinks I’m a recluse and I’m still rather reluctant to allow people into my circle of trust, but those experiences like Valentine’s Day in my formative years were satisfying albeit difficult for all of us – more so for some.
This Valentine’s Day as is the case every year, I am extremely grateful for a beautiful, fun, vibrant and loving wife who accepts my eccentricity while encouraging me to be more social, friendly and kind. I love her for being good to me and to my sons and look forward to many happy, blissful Valentine’s Day celebrations with her in the future.
I love you Jen! Happy Valentine’s Day!