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Well, it’s February again. And since Punxsutawney Phil has bolstered everyone’s spirits by announcing spring is just around the corner, I suppose it’s time for us to set our sights on the next big event of the month, Valentine’s Day. Before I get all mushy and start talking about hearts and flowers, I just have to wonder out loud – how has old PP (as he’s known to his friends) managed to stay in such great shape? Even by rodent standards, being 172 is pushing the long-in-the-tooth scenario just a bit past believable. What? You’re kidding me! Punxsutawney has stunt doubles? Is nothing sacred??
Yes, something is sacred: Valentine’s Day. And what a day it is. Who doesn’t remember their first Valentine’s Day? Me, that’s who, but I’m willing to bet the same is true of most of you as well. I mean, really, no self-respecting infant is going to be able to recall something like that. If memory serves me, I was in Kindergarten before the love bug bit. And I wasn’t in love with any little 5-year-old boy! I was in love with getting the most valentine cards and chocolate. At even that tender age I somehow gauged my self-worth by who liked me and was willing to lavish gifts on me to show it.
Do you remember all the hoopla surrounding February 14th when you were a child? Here’s how it worked in my neck of the woods. Each of us had to take an old shoe box and decorate it appropriately. If we were lucky, it didn’t smell like old shoes.
Although my imagination was pretty much second to none, my artistic skills were wanting. Each year I would visualize the very best Valentine’s Day Card Box EVER. The end result was generally something covered in finger-wrinkled wrapping paper with a jagged slit cut in it. I couldn’t even guarantee the hearts would be shaped correctly,although I did point out to one critic, my version looked much more realistic. So there
For the first few of my early school years, Valentine’s Day had all the appearances of a popularity contest. A few kids’ boxes would be overflowing with the “love.” The rest of us could have actually had shoes in the box and there would have been plenty of room for our cards. I can tell you that way before video games and PG-13 movies, we were all picking up the message loud and clear. I’m willing to bet, if I’d had an allowance at that tender age, I would have tried to bribe my fellow classmates into sending some of their love my way. I suppose there are some benefits to being poor. One being that my character wasn’t too severely tested at such an early age!
Two things changed as I grew up. The first had to do with a teacher who apparently understood a thing or two about young hearts and minds. Miss McNellis created a rule where we had to bring a Valentine for each kid in our class. Man oh man, did that ever even the playing field. I know this didn’t really change which of us was cutest, or the most likeable, the most popular, or even the most deserving. What it did was allow all of us to feel like we weren’t being singled out or further convinced we weren’t good enough. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking most young girls don’t need ANY help finding fault with themselves.
The other change occurred when I was 11 and somehow sprouted ginormous breasts. Suddenly, boys were coming out of the woodwork asking if they could carry my books, walk me home from school, or take me to the student dance. I was 11; I didn’t say I was a rocket scientist, so I mistook this sudden and avid attention for actual feelings on their part. Yes, yes, I know they had feelings – but certainly not the sort I understood back then. It wasn’t until 20-some years later at a reunion when one of my former young and ardent admirers loudly announced, “I remember you! You were the first girl in our class to get boobs!”
Well, there you have it. Even Miss McNellis couldn’t have magically changed that outcome. As young women, we quickly learn what tools we have to attract wanted attention. I didn’t spend hours in front of a mirror for my health! On some level I knew my eyes and my breasts were my two best features. And, yes, I used them to my advantage whenever possible. And there’s the irony.
I don’t consider myself a shallow person, but I most certainly have spent much of my life calling attention to my physical attributes without considering who I would be without them. Certainly not everyone deals with the loss of a breast (or breasts), but with luck, we all age, and in so doing we had better have something in our repertoire that isn’t planted firmly in how we look.
This year I’m sending out a genuine Valentine to all of you. No matter where you find yourself in this moment, realize you are beautiful. Remember you are special. Revel in your uniqueness. Relish your individuality. Relinquish your doubts. And rapidly unwrap those chocolates!