Truth be told, Valentine’s Day really hasn’t been exciting since elementary school. Back then, it was one of the best days of the year, trumped only by Halloween, Christmas morning, and your birthday, in that order.

For children, Valentine’s Day is about two things–getting candy, and exchanging fun Valentine’s Day cards with friends and classmates. Back then, the biggest stress of Valentine’s Day was deciding whether to make your own Valentine’s cards or buy pre-made in the store, and figuring out what card to give to whom. You couldn’t just pass the cards out willy nilly. You had to be careful what message you were sending. Accidentally address a card that says, “Be mine” or “You hold the key to my heart” to the nerdy kid who has a crush on you, and you may need to think about joining the Witness Protection Program. Hand a lame generic “You’re swell! Happy V-Day!” card to your best friend, and you might find yourself uninvited to her next slumber party.

Nowadays, a lot of school kids get the shaft with Valentine’s Day. Back at Cheylin East Elementary the Valentine’s Day card exhange was legendary. The week leading up to the big day, we spent several hours in class designing and decorating our “card catcher” boxes. While we did do some work on Valentine’s Day, it was never anything too challenging, and then we spent the afternoon enjoying our Valentine’s Day party. We ate pink frosted cupcakes, drank red fruit punch, and pored over every card left in our boxes, tucking the attached candy into our desks or backpacks to eat later.

Most of those old Valentine’s Day cards ended up getting tossed out shortly after the holiday was over. I did hold onto one though, and still have it tucked behind my 3rd grade class photo. It was from a boy named Jason. We were good friends all through school. His uncle lived just one house down and across the street, and we used to play basketball in his driveway. We had crushes on each other on and off throughout elementary school. In Mrs. Antholz’s 3rd grade class, he gave me a special Valentine’s Day card with a “song” (a short 4 verse poem with musical notes drawn around it), and a short note telling me he liked me and asking me to write him a note back, but to make sure Teacher didn’t see me.

Somehow, between elementary school and adolescence, Valentine’s Day become a whole lot more complicated. Suddenly, it wasn’t cool to hand out valentines to everyone in your class. Instead, you made a statement by delivering cards and candy to a chosen few–usually your close circle of friends, anyone you wanted to be in your close circle of friends, and anyone you happened to have a crush on. Reaching the age when we began “going out” and having boyfriends or girlfriends meant a whole new level of Valentine’s Day pressure. Gifts began to get more elaborate and more expensive. The front office at Holdrege High School was packed from wall to wall, floor to ceiling to with flowers and chocolates and cutesy stuffed animals every Valentine’s Day, and the assigned office aides spent the entire day delivering them.

By that time, having someone to spend Valentine’s Day with was the most important thing, and anyone unlucky enough to be single was something of a social pariah. Suddenly, Valentine’s Day just wasn’t any fun anymore. Instead of being a nice holiday where you give out small tokens of your friendship to those who matter most to you, Valentine’s Day had turned into a sickeningly phoney competition. It was all about who loved who the most and who got the coolest gift. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten some nice Valentine’s Day gifts over the years, but it doesn’t much matter when the person only treats you that nicely one day a year.

I won’t say that I am anti-Valentine’s Day, because I’m not. I think it’s a great holiday for kids, and I enjoyed spending my second Valentine’s Day with my daughter and my husband today. We didn’t do anything “special” to celebrate. Cadence enjoyed eating a chocolate-covered animal cookie from her Grandma Jayne and Papa Duane, and I got some great Valentine’s Day photos of her with both the cookie and a lollipop I bought for the occassion. When Steven got home from work, we enjoyed a rib eye steak for dinner. I gave Cadence a bath, then gave Steven the haircut that was long overdue to get rid of the mullet he’s been sporting since Christmas. Steven gave Cadence her bottle and rocked her to sleep, and now he, Electra, and I are just hanging out on the couch and enjoying a quiet evening together. We don’t need flowers or chocolates or fancy dinners. We don’t need mushy cards or chilled champagne. We just need each other, every day, and that’s more than enough.

Today’s 365 Project is dedicated to Valentine’s Day 2011. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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