So I made the huge tactical error tonight of stopping by walmart to buy some some necesseties (read: diapers) on Valentine's Day Eve, and the place was a MAD HOUSE with all the kids racing around the card section, trying to decide if Spongebob or X-men better described how they felt about their fellow classmates.
(I don't know about you, but I find it kind of funny that kids seem to take Valentine's Day waaaay more seriously than adults. I mean, here we have a holiday specifically designed for romance, but the ones that are freaking out about it are all the seven-year-olds. Why is that?)
Anyway, Walmart looked like a red and pink war had broken out. Boxes of assorted cards lay littered across the aisles; casualties of finicky grade-schoolers searching for the perfect level of friendly versus coolness. Heart-shaped candies were trampled by the wayside. Assorted chocolates, small plush bears and those bizarre rose-in-a-balloon deals (because nothing says romance like not being able to actually smell your rose?) were being escorted out of the melee as prisoners of war.
Not that I can really blame them. It doesn't make sense to me now, but I can certainly remember being that age and sitting at the kitchen table the night before the class party, painstakingly assigning cards to my fellow classmates in deference to the cut-throat second grade hierarchy. It wasn't that easy either. In a box of 24 cards, there were only 4 designs to choose from. That meant that I only had 7 of the best ones to divide out between best friends, cool kids, and any boys I happened to like at the time. Acquaintances were second tier, then those kids that you never interacted with because their last name started with W and therefore sat on the opposite side of the room, then (because class rules required that everyone be given a card) the kid who ate glue and the one who blew spit bubbles during lunch.
You can see the problem.
Did Eric Watson (pro: could draw really well. Con: Sat about as far away as possible) deserve a Snoopy and Woodstock "You're Neat!" card or the lower, less cool Linus and Sally "I think you're swell!" card? And if you bumped Eric up to Snoopy, that meant that you had to demote the shy girl who transferred into the class last month to a Peppermint Patty "Hi Pal!". And no matter who you gave the Charlie Brown's to, as soon as they realized that they were on the same social rung as the glue eater, there was going to be hell to pay.
It was a logistical nightmare.
And that was just cards. Depending on the party planned and the rules of the teacher involved, there was also the possibility of having to navigate candy. Small pieces of foil-wrapped chocolate, it goes without saying, were the best and could ratchet you up into the coolness stratosphere if you could talk your parents into buying it (I never could). Next came red heart-shaped suckers, and then towards the bottom were those boxes of chalky candy hearts that break your teeth and taste like Rolaids (actually, those weren't bad. At least they had fun sayings on them. It was the tasteless generic knock-off candy hearts that my Dad tried to pass off as the same thing one year that could really take you down a peg on the old popularity meter. It was actually better to show up empty-handed and pretend to be diabetic than to bring those to school).
Still, it wasn't all politics. Someone's Mom always brought cupcakes with red sprinkles, and there were cookies with pink icing on them, and red kool-aid, so we were pretty much guaranteed to be in the euphoric chaos of a sugar high as we raced around handing out our cards to each other. (How the teacher wasn't insane by the end of the day, I will never know).
And it wasn't like we were immune to the prick of Cupid's arrows either. One year I got the bright idea to give two cards to the boy I liked...one with my name on it, and then another as a secret admirer! Oh the cunning! I was just sure that he'd spend days in thoughtful contemplation, trying to figure out who liked him. And yet I'd still have plausible deniability because obviously I had already given him the card with my name clearly on it! (How this was supposed to make him fall madly in love with me while having no idea that I was the one who sent it I'm not quite sure. All I can say is it made sense at the time.) And no doubt the plan would have worked beautifully too had nosy Erin Spangler not happened to see the anonomous card and take it upon herself to try to figure out who had sent it! It wasn't her mystery to solve! It was his! And anyway, she was much too smart for her own good, because she quickly realized that the mystery card was of the Punky Brewster variety, and my signed card was Punky Brewster, so therefore they had to had come from the same pack! She was smug, I was annoyed, and the boy (I wish I could remember his name!) only really cared about seeing if he could find someone to trade his pink cookie for another cupcake.
(Oh the trials and tribulations of seven-year-old love).
Luckily things are easier now. Having been married for almost nine years now, my Valentine and I have worked out a routine. He gets me chocolate, I get him Twinkies, and we go out for Japanese food. Done and done. No confusing Snoopy hierarchy, no busting a filling on a chalk rock masquarading as candy, no nosy Erin Spangler messing up my love groove. Just me and my honey, being together and ignoring the rest of the frippery. Maybe that's why adults don't stress Valentine's as much as kids do. Once you've gotten some practice at it, then it becomes less about the trappings and more about the other person.
Well, the other person and a Punky Brewster Valentine's Day card. Because if you still need help this Valentine's Day, you can't go wrong with Punky.