When I make heart-shaped magnets for distribution at my daughter’s Valentine-themed pre-school class this week, I do so under duress.
When she gets excited about decorating “vantine day” cards, I smile reluctantly.
When she asks if she’ll get to cut a cake (because all momentous occasions require the customary round dessert with candles atop), I sigh.
I don’t want her to be different…to be the odd one out in her still-forming social circle.
I want her to enjoy innocent exchanges of happiness. I want her to make her own choices, reach her own decisions about what she wants to support or boycott.
Growing up, I never knew of Valentine’s Day … It was in the late 1990s, when Archies, the Indian-version of Hallmark, introduced Valentine’s Day cards and plush toys in bookstores.
Suddenly, boys everywhere started going down on one knee, a single red rose in hand, asking random girls on sidewalks to be their Valentine.
They weren’t looking for love, or even cared for friendship. They probably didn’t even know what the word Valentine meant or signified. It was trendy and they wanted to partake. Most girls loved the attention. Most parents were outraged.
I was at the receiving end of many a card and pink teddy bear but I always crushed my suitors’ souls with ease. It felt shallow, meaningless, frivolous.
It felt forced.
My daughter’s exposure to, and experience with, this day will be vastly different. She’ll know of it as a day one exchanges heart-shaped stickers, stamps, erasers, Pinterest-inspired sun catchers…
She’ll know of it as an occasion to make red and pink and rainbow-colored cards for her friends, teachers, parents, grandparents, cousins, neighbors…
As she grows older, she’ll see a deluge of heart-shaped chocolates, pre-fixed menus, the ubiquitous dozen long-stemmed “premium” red roses…
From a simple note a guy wrote in jail for his beloved, to a no-expenses barred extravaganza … She’ll likely read about, observe and participate in it all.
And I hope she will remember that love is much more than all of this.
That love is quiet and strong and spontaneous. It is self-sufficient and compassionate and all-embracing.
That love can find expression in flowers bought on a whim. That it can take the form of an unasked-for hug or an unexpected kiss. That love doesn’t always have to be of the romantic variety.
That love doesn’t need money. Or rituals. Or social recognition.
I hope she will recognize that love isn’t a prisoner to one day in February.