A Strange Kind of Love

On Valentine’s Day, my oldest daughter went ice skating with her second grade class (where one child bloodied his face, another broke a leg, and her teacher broke her wrist). Luckily my husband took off the day to go with her (and to tend to some things around the house that needed his attention). Each of the kids had classroom parties and returned home to spill out their bags of sweets and cards on the kitchen table to examine before picking out one treat to have before dinner.

The booty they brought home rivaled Halloween. So many children pass out goody bags of candy, pencils, erasers, stickers for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Christmas, birthdays. I can’t help but think that the holidays lose some of their magic when they morph into differently colored versions of one another.

At this age, the kids still give everyone in their class a card or piece of candy. At this age, they may or may not pick out a special card for a friend or teacher. At this age, they haven’t quite gotten into the romantic part of the holiday and the potential heartache that come with it. At this age, they still like Valentine’s Day.

I know this will change.

Sooner than I like to admit, there will be wide-eyed infatuation and puppy love, as well as heartache and drama and tears. I remember it so well: the years I did not receive a card from the boy I liked or from the girl I thought was my friend, as well as the years when I walked hand-in-hand with someone for a few secret steps, or arm-in-arm with a “best friend.” The moments were fleeting, but they charged Valentine’s Day with hope and the beautiful fantasy of what it mean to be wanted, chosen, special.

I think that’s the hardest part—wanting to be special. Kids have this desire even at a young age, but they still look to their parents, teachers, or other elders to recognize them in some way. It’s when the need for approval turns to the fickle whims of their peers that even more heartache is possible—no—inevitable.

It was during the loneliest days of  Junior High, that I began to write. What had begun as classroom exercises with a wonderful seventh grade teacher who insisted on in-class essays, evolved into my earliest journal writing and poetry. The essays earned praise, while the personal writing was mostly rambling pre-teen angst that I kept to myself. The important lesson for me was that in the absence of a real-life audience or peer group, I had a place to express myself…on the page.

In her new book, The Window’s Story: A Memoir, Joyce Carol Oats writes:

There are those—a blessed lot—who can experience life without the slightest glimmer of a need to add anything to it—any sort of “creative”effort; and there are those—an accursed lot?—for whom the activities of their own brains and imaginations are paramount. The world for these individuals may be infinitely rich, rewarding and seductive—but it is not paramount. The world may be interpreted as a gift, earned only if one has created something over and above the world. (You can read an excerpt here, on Scribd.com.)

She eloquently put into words one of my fears and the conflict I experience daily as I try to balance writing and life. Does writing keep me from living? Does living keep me from writing? Yes and yes, and so I teeter from side-to-side trying to celebrate and experience both. Some days are more successful than others.

My seven-year-old received a Star Wars valentine from the boy she likes. She has recycled all her valentines but that one.

And so it begins.