It’s the season of love. Well, at least a day of it, if you buy into all the marketing. Valentine’s Day and I have a complicated relationship. I love it and I hate it and I hate that I love it. This week’s three things is dedicated to all things pink, heart-shaped and sweet.
THING ONE: EXPECTATIONS
Is Valentine’s Day really much different than Christmas in the expectations department? Oh, sure, the sheer scope and breadth of the holidays don’t compare, but if you’re not careful, the potential for spending February 14th feeling sad and forlorn is quite real.
Some of my best elementary school memories center around Valentine’s Day. The careful crafting of the custom-made, personalized vessel for the cards–sometimes a repurposed shoe box, other times a large, white envelope fashioned out of stapled butcher paper, a blank canvas just ripe for crayons and glitter and hearts. Classroom parties with cupcakes sporting creamy lids with tiny, cinnamon-hot imperial hearts sprinkled on top. The very best, though, was the moment the teacher gave the nod for the distribution to begin. We’d jump up, clutching our carefully addressed envelopes and circle around the desks, dropping each in its respective receptacle. And then we’d sit back down again, tearing open tiny cards with silly sentiments, signed by our pals and maybe even that one cute boy in class.
The moment elementary school Valentine’s Day turned into a Halloween-esque candy grab was a very sad moment, indeed. It was never about the candy–the sweetness was wholly in the simplicity of expressing friendship and love.
Everything got more complicated in my teenage years. My high school promoted flower and candy-gram sales, intended as a fundraiser as well as an opportunity to let your beloved know you were sweet on them. Inevitably, the Marcia Brady-cheerleaders with the flowing blonde hair would parade through the hallways, arms laden with chocolates and pink and red carnations from their admirers and I would make my way home, empty-handed, still hopeful I might find a cupcake waiting on the kitchen counter.
It’s awkward to see such an obvious display of how some are more desired than others. Especially when you’re fifteen.
Thankfully, I grew up and had nice boyfriends who gave me cards filled with warm, mushy words. An expensive delivery of flowers to my desk at work. Fancy, overpriced dinners in candlelit restaurants. I loved those Valentine’s Days, too, but began to feel the creep of commercialized expectations. Love isn’t really love when it’s an obligation, is it?
Despite what you hear, every kiss does not begin at Kaye and every woman does not pine for diamonds and rubies and vases of red roses. I couldn’t care less about jewelry, but heartfelt words scribbled in a card mean the world to me. Roses are overpriced and pedestrian but three bunches of colorful tulips for ten bucks fetched from the neighborhood grocery store make my toes curl. Often, The Mister is out of town on Valentine’s Day so I treat myself to whatever feels good and right and loving. And I enjoy sending Valentines to a few of my friends, too–after all, love takes many forms.
So, yeah–I’m a sucker for this holiday but have grown wise to its slippery slope of potential pitfalls. A little nudge and encouragement to take a day to express our love to our favorite people never hurt. It doesn’t have to be fancy or purchased or pink or flowery. Love doesn’t cost a thing.
Even and especially when that special someone is yourself.
THING TWO: PINK
When I was pregnant with my daughter and found out I was having a girl, I vowed to never dress her in pink.
I had already been inside Toys R Us enough times to recognize their toy aisles separated into blue and pink. Boy toys here, girls only over there. I hated everything about what pink meant. Pink equalled less than. Pink was weak and limiting and not to be taken seriously. I didn’t buy one single item of pink clothing for my daughter before she was born.
Pink, pink you stink!
Not everyone got the memo, though, and my daughter received several lovely items in pink when she was a baby. Most notably, a wee, soft-pink cardigan sweater, so beautifully knit and well-made that I couldn’t resist slipping it on her chubby infant arms. Much to my chagrin, pink was my daughter’s color. Fortunately, she was never much of a girly-girl and rarely chose pink herself when buying clothes except when it came to her senior prom. The dress she ultimately chose was pink.
Pink pussy hats. Pink, taking its power back.
It wasn’t that long ago when I began to notice a physical reaction in myself when I’d look at certain color combinations. A tingle up my spine, a quickening of my breath, not unlike taking that first bite of the most luscious dessert. Sometimes I’d feel it when looking at my daughter’s colorful gymnastic leotards. Beautifully patterned, often sparkly, and my very favorite of all was–you guessed it–pink. Well, actually pink and yellow with a lick of purple and shimmer of silver thrown in.
Give me the color pink and pair it with yellow and I can barely contain myself. It can be a soft, pale shade or the brightest hue of fuchsia, but when you stick it next to yellow, I’m in sensory overload. I can’t explain it but I’ve stopped worrying about how odd it is and instead allow myself to fully enjoy the experience.
A few years back, I planted only pink and yellow annuals in my flower boxes on my deck. Petunias, pansies, marigolds. The entire summer was spent gazing at those blooms in color ecstasy. I admire any man who is confident enough to wear pink–a rosy dress shirt, a pink paisley tie. My current favorite pair of yoga pants are pink and black.
I’ve come to learn that my aversion to pink was based solely on cultural expectations and when I bought into that myth, I denied myself the pleasure of such a toe-curling color. No longer a color of weakness or merely a watered-down red, pink stands strongly on its own. Pink is kicking ass and taking names.
Hot pink, soft pink, fuchsia, coral, salmon and everything in between. Bring it on–with side of yellow.
THING THREE: KISS
I love love. For as long as I can remember, I was that girl whose whole body trembled at the sight of my crush. That swooshy-woozy rush of blood in my veins, the flush of blush in my cheeks, the earthquakey aftershocks in my heart. Like an addict, I crave those sensations. Is there anything quite like the feeling of romantic love?
My first crush dates back to kindergarten. A little bald-headed boy whose name I can’t remember. A smattering of puppy loves throughout elementary school, all unrequited. At sixteen, I had never been kissed and spent that entire year of my life obsessing over it. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed! Sixteen came and went and by the summer after my seventeenth birthday, I decided to take matters into my own hands. And lips.
My best friend, Jenny, and I were convinced we were too cool for school and ready to launch our careers in the music business. We posted 3 x 5 index cards in local music stores that read “Got a band? Need a hand? Maybe we can help!” with all the earnestness two naive teenage girls could muster. (Which was a lot, by the way.) There were only a couple creepy responses before Steve called. A few years older than us and just as idealistically passionate about rock and roll, Steve rolled up in his red Chevy Impala and whisked us away for the next forseeable future. He was a lighting guy and quickly landed a job with a local band called Blue Mountain Eagle.
If there was heaven on earth, we just found it.
Blue Mountain Eagle had six members–all at least five years older than us and therefore far more worldly and attractive than any boy in our high school. Late afternoons spent at band practice, Friday and Saturday nights spent stringing cable, lugging cases, setting up and practicing saying “we’re with the band.” Our hands smelled of duct tape and metal and we even scored the exclusive band t-shirts with the blue ribbing which were just for the roadies. The band played at proms–so many proms–and we tagged along, helped out and engaged in a few raucous food fights during tear-downs. The guys in the band welcomed us like the younger sisters they saw us as. Make no mistake, though–this was rock and roll and you could smell sex every time Gallagher, the lead singer, gave a sly grin and swiveled his hips to “Sneaking Sally Down The Alley.”
Hormones on high.
True to form, I had crushes on all six guys, but none more than the electric violinist, Mark. Yes, electric violin. Bespectacled with a generous mop of Afro-curly hair, dimples and the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, Mark was not exactly my type, but definitely my favorite. Not nearly as raunchy as the swaggering Gallagher, Mark seemed almost studious with his violin and would often stand back and let the other, more flamboyant guys take the spotlight. And every July, like clockwork, there was a massive party held in his honor–The Mark Booth Birthday Party.
The Mark Booth Birthday Party was legendary. And I had a plan.
Held each summer at a modest home near Sea-Tac that you could see from the freeway, the action was always behind the house. A makeshift stage for the band to play on, barbecues grilling burgers and hotdogs, kegs of beer and fifths of Black Velvet for as far as you could see. Mother Nature was a fan, as well, and each year she came through with bluebird skies and sunshine. It always seemed like a hundred people were there, with bare skin for miles and everyone decked out in tube tops, tanks and Levi cut-offs–the requisite uniform of summer.
Oh, the perfume of fresh-cut grass, warm, sun-kissed skin, weed and stale beer!
The band played for hours, often joined by other musicians who happened to stop by. Jenny and I did our best to be appropriately sociable and charming without embarrassing Steve or the band. We knew we were some of the youngest ones there and were careful to behave maturely. Well, as maturely as is expected with a rock and roll band. Before we knew it, the sun had set and the crowd was beginning to thin out.
In the dusky shadows, I spotted Mark standing to the side of the stage. Emboldened by a bit of beer and a lot of teenage desperation, I walked up to him to wish him a happy birthday in person. He grinned and wrapped me in a hug and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. It was time to implement my plan, I thought. All systems go. It was really happening. As we hugged, I whispered in his ear, “Can I give you a birthday kiss?”
Never hurts to ask for what you need.
Mark seemed happy to help a girl out and I got my kiss. My very first kiss with a boy–not mushy and romantic, but not exactly a peck, either. It was nice. Mark’s lips were soft and his eyes were smiling and my heart was ba-ba-booming right out of my chest. I thanked him and giggled a bit before skipping off to find Steve and Jenny and head home, lips a-buzzing with a brand new glow.
My persistent anxiety over that milestone evaporated like smoke into the warm summer breeze that night. I never regretted taking matters into my own hands and gettin’ er done. Mark was a champ about it and eventually went on to find a girlfriend and break my hopeful teenage heart, as all musicians did.
Kissing is awesome and underrated. Powerful and passionate. The meeting of mouths and lips, hot breath and warm tongues. Intimate and exciting or sweetly familiar. Not simply a means to an end, but a pretty fantastic event all on its own.
Kissing still remains one of my most favorite things in the world.
Thanks, Mark, for getting it started.