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Happy Valentine’s Day.

With the exception of comments to my students, I don’t think that I have written the phrase “Happy Valentine’s Day” in anything resembling a letter since I was about seven years old. I’ve sent cards, of course, to friends, to my spouse (and to my mother, for Valentine’s Day is her birthday), but not a letter. It is one of those elements of life that is probably interesting to some strange person somewhere, but certainly not to me. I’m not going to give the matter a second thought.

Well, maybe a second thought. :-)

When I was seven years old, what did I possibly know of Valentine’s Day? It was a holiday--those were awfully important in grammar school. (Remember decorating classrooms with autumn leaves, Ninas, Pintas, and Santa Marias, pumpkins, turkeys, Christmas trees, snowflakes, Lincoln top hats, Easter eggs, flowers, or whatever else was appropriate? With all of the fuss, how did we ever learn anything?) Anyway, it was a holiday, and it was undoubtedly the worst one of the year.

First of all, we didn’t get the day off of school. (How can any day be a holiday if you have to go to school?) Second, it was painful. I suppose it was not painful if you were well-liked, but I was the weird child, the one people picked on. And I was also the child who never got any valentines. Well, not never. I mean, I got some, but only token ones from the kids who sent them to absolutely everyone. (Although I do recall one little fledgling asshat who actually sent them to everyone except me. I mean, really: who teaches second graders that kind of cruelty?) And the kids were not the only cruel ones. The teachers always had everyone pass out the valentines right there in class. We would wander around the room, placing cards on various desks. Of course, I always brought one for everyone. (Both boys and girls. It can’t hurt to cover all bases.) But no one returned the favor. So while Suzy Sweetheart and Peter Popular were enjoying digging their way out from the mountains of valentines that turned their desks into termite mounds (not exactly an appropriate image, I know, but it does reflect just about how I felt about the holiday) I was sitting there trying to crawl inside of my desk with the two lousy cards on it.

Such are the torments of the Valentine’s Days of my joyous youth. May they rest in peace with all of the other hells of my childhood.

Now the Valentine’s Days of my adulthood are much more palatable. For one thing, it was on Valentine’s Day that I met my former spouse, so it was an anniversary of sorts. True story: we were working at this greasy spoon in Evanston while we both attended Northwestern (note the clever, unobtrusive reference to my alma mater; it’s nice to have graduated from there, at least if you live in the Midwest--it sure sounds impressive). We met when some time in the winter when our schedules changed and we both ended up working mornings. Several years later we went back to our old schedule books (since we were in school we kept Chandler's assignment books, and we never threw anything away) on a whim, curious to discover exactly what day it had been when we first met. And there it was: February 14. Obviously a match made in heaven. At least for a while.

So all Valentine’s Days were fun for a while. And of course my daughter Julianne’s birthday is next week; she was born on February 19, 1992. I can hardly believe it either; it seems less than a week since we woke up at 3 AM and made our way to the hospital where, a sleepless night and morning later, we found ourselves the parents of a second daughter. Minutes later she was bouncing across the room to where I stood, chattering away in a sweet girl's voice, a baby no longer (in fact replaced in that role by another baby, who minutes after that herself was no longer a baby and has not been one for a long time), and now she's a freshman in college. All in all, a fairly decent little holiday, if you do not happen to be the weird kid in the back of the room.

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