February 10, 1994
“Maybe I’ll buy him flowers, even dinner. Do you think Michael will have dinner with me on Valentine’s Day? Of course a card, but I really need to show him how I feel about him…..” In my third year at NYU Law, I was talking (okay, droning on incessantly) on the phone to Lia, my BFF since college. “Are you kidding me? Meg, why in the world would you do that?” Lia was engaged to be married later that Spring in what would be the most beautiful wedding ever at the Drake hotel in Chicago. Meanwhile, I remained head over heels in love with a former fellow law student who had graduated the past year.
Our conversation continued well into the night, as I truly tested my best friend’s ability to listen to me on this endless subject. “Li, if I continue showing him what I feel, I think there’s a better chance he’ll return the feeling, maybe more so.” In reality, I had been dating Michael for several years since my first year of law school, but even after all that time, I was uncertain about the strength of his commitment to me. All I knew was that Valentine’s Day represented something extremely important. If someone was dedicated to you, then you knew it on that day. Most importantly, I needed to ensure that my boyfriend’s feelings were sealed in my favor. I needed to make sure he was willing to love me, despite my physical differences. I was screamingly insecure.
February 10, 1998
“Whatever you do, do not waste your money on getting me flowers, chocolate or anything else for this Saturday.” “Meg, are you sure?” The question came from John, the man that I had only been dating for five months but would become my fiancé later that summer. Because Valentine’s Day was to fall on a Saturday night, the pressure for couples to share a particularly romantic evening was looming. “Positive. In fact, let’s not go out. The restaurants will be really crowded and I’d rather just hang out at my place or yours, order in and rent a movie, okay?” “Are you serious? Will you marry me?” John offered that last line with a wink and a smile, clearly viewing my lackadaisical attitude toward the Hallmark holiday as fantastic. I didn’t flinch at his mock ‘proposal.’ I had stopped longing to be with someone if they didn’t long to be with me. Little did he appreciate how much I had changed over time.
That Saturday night, the doorbell rang. Although we exchanged Valentine’s Day cards, I relished in the time spent with a man who, from the minute we met, seemed instantly engaged and devoted. Having had a really rough break-up with my Michael the prior summer, I had spent the following months getting a grip and a reality check. I knew how low I had sunk and spent the time finding my self-respect. The experience left me exhausted and I no longer had the energy to spend on someone that didn’t feel the same way I did. Although I still didn’t fully love myself for who I was and what I looked like, I was getting there. Meeting John at that point was remarkable because being with him was effortless.
Today, as we have for the past seventeen years since we met, John and I will be exchanging Valentine’s Day cards. Earlier this week, when my assistant at work asked what John and I were doing for Valentine’s Day, I laughed it off and referenced that Ethan was hoping to go to California Pizza Kitchen for the spinach avocado dip. Appreciating that she was newly engaged and probably saw romance in the holiday, I added, “Let’s just say Valentine’s Day at our house is focused on our kids.”
In truth, although we have three children, most of the week’s activities relating to the holiday have been focused on our two younger kids, with Ethan being “…done with that since grade school.” In addition to hunting down holiday themed heart paper goods for Savanna’s class party, John and I supervised as both Savanna and Charlie addressed pre-printed Valentine Day cards for each student in their respective classrooms. “Mom!” It was Charlie. “I don’t want to use some of these. I mean, ‘Be Mine’ and ‘Got Love?’ Those sounds so dorky—I can’t send anything that says that to my friends.” Although bringing cards is not mandatory, there is one rule in their school: Each child must bring in one Valentine Day card for each student if they choose to participate.
As I watched our children carefully place each card with an accompanying sweet into a Ziplock baggie before school, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from this picture. I thought about Oliver Scheier, a Kid Flaunter who wrote for Don’t Hide It Flaunt It earlier this month. Oliver was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. While many kids have to remember to brush their teeth and go to the bathroom before bed, each night Oliver has to give himself a shot and wear a breathing mask to ensure he is infused with energy for the following day. Despite what would be considered as a significant setback in life, Oliver and his magnificent parents, Mindy and Greg, have made sure that he is living his life to its fullest. He sounds like every other kid when describes his love of Minecraft, his strong interest in the life of President Lincoln, and how much he loves to play tennis, soccer, football, swim and even to dance. But Oliver’s life is also filled with its challenges. “Sometimes people say to me ‘why do you run so slow?’ and that makes me feel sad, but I know that I run as fast as my body can run.” Oliver concluded, however, that not only has he accepted his lot in life, he is even proud of it: “I always do the best that I can do, and I feel as normal as all of the other kids. You are who you are, and nothing can stop you from being the best that you can be.”
It occurred to me that Oliver’s approach to his Kid Flaunt should be the real Valentine’s Day card for our kids to write. Although he is only nine years old, Oliver has already grasped what it means to love oneself, despite any apparent setbacks or difference. It took me well into adulthood before I figured that one out.
With this in mind, I thought how different the school Valentine’s Day celebrations would be if, each year, the kids were required to write a Valentine card first to themselves, before going through the rote ritual to their classmates? For example, Charlie could write about how he has embraced being born with only two fingers (and two toes). He could point out how he is soon to begin his second season playing on a baseball team, after playing winter basketball. He could write about how good his handwriting is, and how much he loves to draw cartoons. Savanna could write about the fact that she is adopted, that it makes her feel special. In her card she could even acknowledge that this past year she wrote her own Kid Flaunt about it. She could also write about how she has learned to appreciate the fact that she is the only one in her family with blond hair, rather than question it or wish she looked more like the rest of her family.
If every year my kids got the chance to recognize those things that made them unique and special in a self-named Valentine, I actually think that sending cards on this holiday to their friends might take on a new meaning for them. In fact, rather than reluctantly offering pre-printed cards with ‘dorky’ messages to their pals, they could even create a customized card for each classmate, describing something they like about them.
And if they’re ever stumped knowing what to write to each classmate, they could use the advice Oliver offered to all: “Nothing can stop you from being the best that you can be.” Now perhaps that is what “Be Mine” really means anyway.