No Special Valentine

spongebobcard.jpgYesterday I asked my son Sam the question I have asked him every February since he started kindergarten. “Is there somebody you want to get a special Valentine for? We could make one, if you want, or we can pick one out when we buy the regular ones….” This year, he embellished on the six-year tradition of polite refusal by rolling his eyes and saying “no” in a tone that translated clearly into “derrrrrr.”

I am not anxious for my twelve-year-old to be in love, or even smitten. In a twisted knot of irony of the type found only in motherhood, I am simultaneously delighted that he is not interested in girls, and worried that he should be. All around him crushes are blooming, complete with third-party intercession, texting after bedtime, and group movie “dates.” Sam finds the sixth grade romance scene ridiculous, in a benign and pragmatic sort of way. His best friend is a girl, and he listens kindly and without comment to her lengthy, high-volume and rapid-fire proclamations of love for various boys. He is waiting for her to stop talking so that they can do something interesting, like making a video or playing Xbox.

val3.jpgSam’s stake in the whole Valentine’s Day business is, as it has always been, the acquisition of candy. We will head to the store after school today, and paw through the boxes of Transformer, Sponge Bob and Monster Truck valentines until he finds something reasonably masculine; then we will look for candy that will, according to longstanding tradition, be taped to each card. He will talk me into buying more candy than we need, I will remind him that his current teacher abhors candy and gum, and we will end up driving home laden with bags of Snickers, chocolate hearts and Blo-Pops, half of which will be consumed by Sam while he punches out the cheap paper cards, writes names on them and attaches candy with tiny pieces of tape.

At some point during this ritual, Sam (who is not a fan of art or craft) will get tired of writing names and attaching candy, and I will end up finishing. We will then turn to the decoration of the Valentine Box, which is really my job, with Sam in the role of Creative Director. The process should be interesting this year, as his teacher is focused on all things South and Central American, and Sam’s name in class is “Fidel.” I am not sure what kind of valentine receptacle is fitting for an aging Communist dictator, but I’m thinking something bunker-colored with pink and red cigars for decoration.

valentinecandy.jpgOn February 14th, Sam will come home with a bag full of tiny cards, candy wrappers, and candy.  At least one of the valentines will be much larger than the rest, and clearly handmade with care or selected from the ranks of proper, grownup valentines. On the front of the envelope, “Sam” will be written with an astonishing number of loops and flourishes (or maybe, this year, “Fidel”) and the card will be signed “your friend, Allie,” or “hi from Brittney.” I’ll ask him if he likes her, too, and he’ll probably say (as he did last year) “not really, but I said thank you for the cool valentine.”

Sam has always been some little girl’s “special valentine,” and he is always one of mine. I hope that when he is really, really ready, the universe will reward his long history of chivalry and restraint with a girl who will like him back, at least a little. What’s not to like?


Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Forest Street Kitchen blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.