the trouble with valentines

by bam

hmm, well, it seems we’re in a pickle, here on the brink of the 24-hour timeout for ooey, gooey, goopy love.

i’ll reel out the dilemma:

the house–thanks to a bodyclock that manages to run on little sleep when a big hour is at hand–is all laid with the trappings of that national feast day of construction paper and glue. oh, and i do mean trappings. nearly slipped down the stairs, i just almost did, when my heel caught and slid on a red paper heart. or was it a pink one? hard to tell in the dark. i’ve got hearts scattered like puddles after a downpour in april.

up to that point in this cupid-pocked tale, there are no protests. not a one from the one particular inhabitant of said house who went to sleep with a fear in his head, and a rumble down in his belly.

nor will there be picketing when it comes to the old maple table, the one now bursting with hearts in pink and in red. the one with hearts that are shimmering. hearts that you’d better not shake for they’re losing their glittery scales like a snake on some sort of diet.

no shouts of protest when breakfast is served in red-plastic heart plates. nor when young hungry folk see that the star of the table is the fat giant cookie their papa brought home from the store, in the cover of darkness, i think, when no one was looking. although i must pause and wonder what the cashier must’ve thought, when she saw a tall man with glasses and puffy old snow coat trying to pay for a chocolate chip cookie the size of a championship frisbee, iced with the words, “kiss me hot stuff.”

hmm. no wonder we’ve got just a bit of a valentine’s problem.

the problem is this:

the little one, the one who loves everything about the day when he wakes up to the paper-heart trail, the one that leads from the edge of his bed, out his room, down the stairs, round the bend, into the kitchen, and straight up to the table where sugar comes in a few extra forms, well, that very little one is adamantly lobbying that he–along with the rest of the first-grade boys–should be excused from school this very fine thursday.

now, why, you ask? why would a boy want to skip out on a day where cupcakes are served, and brown paper bags are hung at the edge of each desk. why would a boy want to miss out on the foil-wrapped chocolates that might get dropped in that bag, along with, say, a valentine?

ahhh, the v-word. that there is the problem.

i’ll let the little one explain, as he did last night at dinner, while popping clementine moons into his mouth, delivering the occasional swift kick under the table to his big brother who could not wipe the giggle off of his lips:
“all the boys don’t want to go to school,” he began, “because they think we’ll get cooties.”

what are cooties, the little one’s mama asked, coolly, without so much as a flinch. (poor child is tied with a long-historied inquisitor for a mama. when it comes to questions, he gets ’em rat-a-tat, till there’s not a thing left to wonder. fear not, the child can take it.)

cooties, he explained, are: “things on your face.”

popping a clementine, he refined his definition: “just like dimples.”

[note to reader: we think he meant pimple, but when you are six, consonants slip-slide all over the place, wind up where they don’t belong all the time. we pay no mind to trespassing consonants. we take them in stride.]

how do you get them, we asked of the dimple/pimple/cooties?

“you know,” came the two-syllable answer, rounded out with a roll of the eyes.

“girls,” came the addendum. delivered with a swift and certain kick to the shin of the big brother, who by then was near bursting with giggles he knew to contain. apparently, he didn’t contain them nearly enough, for the little one, suddenly, out of the blue, teetered on tears.

“only if a girl kisses you,” he explained, unprompted.

and, apparently, the mere thought of a classroom of puckered-up girls pushed him over the edge. there were tears everywhere suddenly.

tears mixed with clementines. tears mixed with what appeared to be punches into the arm of his nearly-choking, trying-so-hard-not-to-laugh big brother’s baggy sweatshirt. and finally, tears buried in the chest of his mother. who, for the record, is not a girl, and was allowed to very much kiss him to try to make the tears go away.

so here we are, right here on the brink of the moment itself. any minute now, that sweet dreamer will awake, will be swept by the hearts at the edge of his bed, down the stairs, and into the insanely overdone table. he will romp with the reckless joy of cookies for breakfast, along with his pink scrambled eggs, and his strawberry floating in orange juice.

but then, the moment will come. he will freeze. mid-bite, probably. he will writhe. he will try, one more time to wriggle his way out of going to school on the day when the cooties could come.

ah, but his mama, being a meanie, she will knowingly, glowingly, send him anyway.

a boy’s got to learn, now doesn’t he, that a little love surely won’t hurt him.

and if he gets a cootie or two, well, he’ll learn about clearasil, too.

big day for six-year-old boys, this day packed with cut-paper hearts and rampant, out-of-control possibility.

to be loved, is the point, is to be at risk for all sorts of troubles. you might be drawn to places you’d not dreamed of.  you might tap into bits of your soul you’d never explored. you might find yourself falling for someone who urges you to become more than you ever knew you could.

not a bad lesson for first-grade.

not a bad lesson, at all.

and my wish for each and every one of you: that you too get into the trouble of being loved. and may this day of hearts and random, lurking cooties bring you unexpected giggles. and even a chocolate or two. or maybe just the biggest fattest juiciest strawberry you ever bit into.
did you ever worry about cooties? do you have a heart’s-day tale to tell? do you, like my friend emb, live to scatter hearts today the way i so often scatter bird seed?