When we were in elementary school, each year as February approached, my sister Lindy and I started to get excited. We would begin looking at the boxes of Valentine’s Day candy, the Valentine’s cards, and all the other paraphernalia related to the magic day. And we would start wondering about the Valentines we would receive.
Buying the cards and candy didn’t seem to be a problem. Mother understood that every child in the classroom would receive a card from us and that, therefore, there would be enough to go around. No, the problem didn’t occur until the teacher said:
Tomorrow bring a shoebox to hold your Valentines cards.
Those words would strike terror in my soul because I knew that we didn’t have any shoeboxes, and in the event that we did have a shoebox, I would not be allowed to take it to school. Mother would ask:
What is it with those teachers? Are they just trying to ruin my day?
Despite assurances that nobody was trying to ruin her day or inconvenience her in any way, she would continue to rant and rave, coming down hard on the public school for its lack of valentine supplies.
Isn’t it enough that I buy all these cards for you? Why do I now have to find something for you to use as a mailbox?
Sticking out from the other children is one of the biggest worries for a child from a dysfunctional family. So in a panic I would search everywhere for an abandoned shoe box. Usually I would find one. Sometimes a friend would bring an extra from her home, but either way, on the appointed day, I would be able to decorate my Valentine box. I did the decorating on my own, as based on her decorating and design skills, seeking any help from Mother would have been a recipe for disaster.
Like many “Mother moments,” it was a stressful experience getting to the “normal” experience of just being one of the kids. On Valentine’s Day, I would proudly bring home the box filled with cards and candy. Then I went through each and every card with Mother, who had developed amnesia about the previous events. She also seemed utterly uninterested in the cards I had received from my friends in class.
As for Dad, he always surprised Lindy and me with a large heart-shaped box of candy. The boxes were elaborate creations with dolls with beautiful dresses residing on the top. In later years, when Dad was receiving dialysis treatments for his kidneys, he would order boxes of chocolates for all the nurses at the dialysis center. We would pick up fifteen or twenty big boxes of candy, and Dad’s face was radiant as he distributed the gifts to delighted workers.
That’s one of the big differences between our dad and our mother. Dad always enjoyed giving and was elated with the delight experienced by others. Mother was only happy when life in general did not inconvenience her too much.