Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Valentine’s Day Is When I Said, “I Do”

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The origins of Valentine’s Day are traced back to a man named St. Valentine. From there, the story varies. Some believe in the romantic tale of an imprisoned Valentine who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Others speak of Valentine as a man of strong principles who disagreed with the Roman Emperor Claudius II’s prohibition of marriage. Whatever the truth may be, we sign our cards “Your Valentine” and we ask others to be “Our Valentine.”
Valentine and I have had a years-long relationship. And, like most male/female relationships, ours hasn’t been easy or without challenges. There have been many occasions where I have wanted to walk away and refuse to acknowledge this man and his holiday. Other years, I merely tolerated Valentine much like I would the classical music playing on the telephone while I wait to speak with a representative from my insurance company. Now, though, I embrace Valentine, give him that special slow smile that is reserved for those close to my heart.
In elementary school, teachers insisted that each child bring a card for every student in the class. I diligently wrote out cards for all my classmates, resenting the fact that I had to give a card to a boy who taunted me with chants of “teacher’s pet” or the girl who ridiculed my cream cheese sandwich.
During middle school and high school I found solace in books. I wasn’t walking the halls clutching heart-shaped helium balloons or cuddly teddy bears. The candy-grams I received were from a few close friends. All female. I had no cards from a secret admirer. No “I like you” note was slipped into my locker during a passing period. Those romantic scenarios apparently only played out in my beloved Sweet Valley High books.
The situation changed during college. I was now involved in the retail side of Valentine’s Day, working part-time in a flower shop. Valentine’s Day became known as “V. Day,” the busiest day of the year in a flower shop.
For me, Valentine’s Day became “I’m-Sick-of-Roses-Day.” Single, long-stemmed roses and roses by the dozen. Pink roses, yellow roses, white roses, and red roses. Always the red roses, that weren’t really red, but more like the color of a scab that formed on a skinned knee. Roses stripped of their leaves and thorns. Roses wired so their heads wouldn’t droop as they bloomed. Roses arranged in vases, in boxes, in cellophane wrappers. Roses nestled between leather fern, bear grass, and baby’s breath.
For years, I detested Valentine’s Day. I didn’t enjoy it; I endured it. Valentine’s Day was a holiday that started weeks before the actual date – taking delivery orders, writing out cards, blowing up balloons, and displaying teddy bears. The day itself required at least a fourteen-hour workday. I did it all. Selling, arranging, taking orders, sweeping, and mopping, all for the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour.
Like a battle survived, V. Day left me scarred. My fingers were cut and raw and swollen. Thorns not only tore up my hands but sometimes found their way into my skin where they nestled down deep and needed to be removed with the use of a sewing needle. The silver rings I usually wore wouldn’t fit on my fingers. Shampoo stung the open cuts. My sister declared she would never work anywhere that caused her hands to look as bad as mine.
On this day of love, many women swooned, “oohing” and “aahing” over the roses they received, roses I had prepared for them. But not me. I didn’t get flowers. As my boss pointed out, I wasn’t pretty enough for a boyfriend. Acne can do that to a girl’s complexion, words like that can do it to a girl’s self-esteem. Soon after, I quit working at the flower shop.
The damage was done – I felt destined to be an anti-Valentine’s Day woman.
Falling in love changed that.
Valentine’s Day 1998 was our first as a couple. We had been dating for eleven months at that time. Eleven months of phone calls, hand-holding, weekly dates, and kissing until we steamed up the windows of my mom’s Honda Civic. On that Saturday night, I picked Paul up from work and while we were trying to decide how to spend our evening, I knew it was time. I suggested we visit the nearby jewelry store, buy each other rings, and become engaged. That night. It was the most spontaneous thing I had ever done in my life.
We had discussed marriage; we knew it would happen sometime in the future. I was ready for the future now. In hindsight, I can acknowledge my desire for my own romantic Valentine’s Day story. A ring was so much better, so much more permanent than roses. We ventured off to the silver store where we bought engagement rings for ourselves—rings chosen based on available stock. A silver band with my birthstone in the middle graced my left ring finger, while Paul’s ring, two inter-locked silver rings, represented our two inter-twined lives. We took our rings and went back to Paul’s dad’s apartment (at the time, we each lived at home). In the yellow-walled kitchen, we proposed to each other.
We were married one year later, on Valentine’s Day 1999. I originally envisioned a July wedding, because the other months were full of family celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, and national holidays. But, of course, plans change. My health insurance, under my parents’ plan, was about to be cancelled due to my age. I am asthmatic and need health insurance so we bumped up our wedding plans to February so I could join Paul’s health plan. A practical, completely unromantic answer to the quintessential question, “When’s the wedding?”
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t get married on Valentine’s Day. Honestly, I don’t feel any more romantic on February 14th than I do on any other day. There are so many factors working against us that I must have been blinded by love not to think of them when planning our wedding day. Going out to dinner is a challenge. Restaurants raise their prices, serve from fixed menus, and are often booked to capacity, making it virtually impossible to have a quiet, romantic dinner. And the day isn’t just “ours.” Although we chose to marry in a small non-denominational chapel ten minutes from our home, we share our anniversary with other couples who married in group ceremonies in Las Vegas. 
My mom regards our Valentine’s Day anniversary differently. She sees it as a blessing from Cupid. Having been married to my dad for thirty-five years, she knows the challenges involved in maintaining a healthy marriage. Because Paul and I chose to exchange our vows on the day that is christened “the most romantic day of the year” she believes our marriage has a special significance, a special charm about it.
We’ve turned our Valentine’s Anniversary into a year-long anniversary. Every month has a 14th. So, whether it’s the fourteenth of August, October, or February, we exchange cards. Sometimes it’s a heartfelt Hallmark card that leaves me “Ahh-ing.” Other times it’s an e-card that occasionally finds its way into my husband’s inbox prematurely on the 13th. And during months like June when I’m busy writing out final report cards, a quick note on a construction paper heart will suffice.
I know there are those who believe Valentine’s Day is a contrived holiday, forcing people to be more romantic, more affectionate, more loving on that one particular day. And I totally agree; it is. But let us not forget about Thanksgiving. One day in November is set aside to eat much more than we usually do while showing appreciation and gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Thankfulness should happen on a daily basis, but the truth is, it doesn’t. We need that day set aside to make sure we slow down and show thanks. Likewise for Valentine’s Day. We need the permission that one day grants us to be more sentimental, more romantic, more mushy. We need that day to step out of our daily to-do lives and bask in that special closeness and connection you share with another – whether it be with our best girlfriend or with our spouse.
The longer we’re married, the more I realize our relationship is changing. Romance on a daily basis doesn’t look like roses and chocolates, and honestly, part of that is also because we’re full-time working parents with a toddler at home. In our home, romance takes different forms nowadays. Emptying the dishwasher without being asked or remembering to bring a replacement roll of toilet paper into our bathroom are both romantic gestures. They don’t take the place of flowers or See’s chocolate truffles, but they’re do-able, affordable actions that my husband can perform on a regular basis to remind me that he’s thinking of me and he loves me. And that I can do for him.
February 14th is our wedding anniversary, foremost. Our wedding anniversary just happens to fall on Valentine’s Day. And for me, Valentine’s Day isn’t what it used to be. It is not a day to be endured. It is a day to be anticipated and celebrated because I have someone to share it with. Lots of someones, in fact. My husband. My son. My class of students.
Now as an elementary school teacher, I follow in the footsteps of my former teachers and insist that my students bring a card for each classmate. We spend the day thinking kind thoughts about each other, and writing them down. We compose a list of the “100 Reasons Why We Love Our Class.” We acknowledge Valentine’s Day as a day of friendship and respect.
And now that I am married, I still don’t get roses on Valentine’s Day. Except now it’s my choice. I don’t want to. I know how much roses usually cost, and I know how much their price is marked up for Valentine’s Day. I can’t justify my husband spending our hard-earned money on flowers that will die within a few days. Also, I do believe I have some sort of florist curse haunting me since I quit working at the flower shop. I don’t seem destined for roses.  
My husband once surprised me and had what was supposed to be a dozen roses delivered to our home. Instead it was a dozen stems, with eleven heads. Another time, he went to the market to buy me roses, only to return with eleven wrapped in cellophane. Maybe it’s because roses aren’t my favorite flower. Red roses, especially, don’t set my heart aflutter. A bunch of sunflowers will send me smiling ear-to-ear.
Certain things in life cannot be predicted. I never would have imagined my son and my mom would share the same birthday. Nor, could I have imagined that the self-conscious young woman working in a Beverly Hills flower shop would someday walk down the aisle, say “I do,” and kiss the man who is my Forever Valentine.


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