The Forgotten Valentine

Scan of a Valentine greeting card circa 1920.

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When I was in the sixth grade, I became a little obsessive-compulsive about making sure that every one of my friends received a Valentine.  I saved up my babysitting money and bought just the right Valentine for everyone – not those ‘baby’ kind – but cards which could be perceived as being mature – since I was on the verge of going into Junior High School and didn’t want to be a little kid any longer.  I bought Valentines for all of my favorite teachers and for the little kids I regularly babysat on the weekends.  I even bought ones for my sisters – just because I was pretty sure they would get me one and I didn’t want to have to deal with the ramifications of leaving them out.

I should have thought a little harder about whose feelings I would hurt – and also those very ramifications which I feared from my sisters – because the one person I forgot to include in my craziness was the one person who was intimately involved in my life and could also make life extremely miserable for me – my mother.  Yes, I admit it – I forgot my very own mother on Valentine’s Day – I am a bad daughter – and believe me I paid for this one mental lapse for the rest of my life!

There are those of you saying – why would that matter – technically, your mother is not your Valentine – and after all, she does have her very own holiday (for those of you who don’t remember – that would be Mother’s Day – and if you forgot Mother’s Day, you have bigger problems than I ever had about forgetting Valentine’s Day!) – but in my house, our mother received at least a card for every holiday – including Father’s Day!  Mom definitely felt it was her due, since she was raising five little girls all by herself – and rightfully so!

On Valentine Day morning, my mom always left a small box of candy for each of us – nothing much, usually a four-piece box of Russell Stover’s – and a card.  Then in the evening when Mom came home from work, we would each give her our Valentine – except for that one dreadful year.  That year – Mom did her part – but I was so involved in making sure that I was giving all the right Valentines to the right people – that it wasn’t until dinner time that I realized that I did not have anything to present to my mother.  My sisters laid out their gifts – a couple of hand-made cards and even a small box of chocolate – but I had NOTHING!!  I didn’t even have time to make a card – that’s how over-involved I was in myself – because let’s face it – I wasn’t giving Valentine cards to all of those people because I wanted to be nice to them – it was because I wanted them to be nice to me!  And of course, as selfish motives tend to do – they come back to bite you right in the butt!

My mother thanked each of my sisters for their cards of love and just gave me THAT look – you know the one – the one that makes you feel two inches tall and like you were a serial murderer!  No words were said, but my sisters and I knew that I had really screwed up.  Of course, my sisters were delighted – I’m the oldest and they felt the most spoiled – so any time I messed up it was a great day in their lives!

After a dinner spent in humiliating silence (mine, not everyone else’s) – I went straight to my room (voluntarily) without a word to anyone.  I cried for a long time – how could I have forgotten Mom???  How could I have been so stupid????  How could I make this right???  After some time, I found some construction paper in my room, and made my Mom a Valentine/I’m Sorry card and put it into her pillow case when she wasn’t looking and hoped that she would forgive me before morning.

Nothing else was said about the incident – not even the next morning.  My card was not acknowledged and I still received my Valentine the next year.  In fact, my mother kept up the tradition even after I left town to attend college.  I pushed the unpleasant episode to the back of mind until many years later when my mother made a comment during a small argument we were having.  Her exact words (approximately 30 years after the horrible day) were “You couldn’t even be bothered to give me Valentine’s Day Card after you had spent all of that time and money on your friends!”  I felt the same way I had felt those many years ago – like a two-inch tall serial murderer.  Some heartaches and guilt never go away.

My mother had a point – my friends and I had long ago gone our separate ways and I can safely say that not one of them remembered the Valentine’s Day Card I gave them in the sixth grade – but the woman who had sacrificed a lot for me, stood by me when I cried because my friends wouldn’t play with me because of some imagined wrong, the woman who was my biggest fan – deserved to be remembered FIRST.  It is irrelevant that Valentine’s Day is a very commercial holiday – it was important to my mother that her daughters remember her, especially as we headed into those teenage years where most of us hated our mother at least once a day, if not once an hour.  She needed something to remind her that her little girls loved her when those ugly days occurred – and I had ignored her because strangers were more important than she was.

I never forgot my mom on Valentine’s Day after sixth grade.  Her Valentine was the FIRST one I bought every year – and if I only had money for one – her’s was the one I bought.  I know she forgave me for my foolish selfishness, but it still hurt her heart on occasion – and she would remind me when I was being selfish – just like I was in sixth grade when I forgot the one Valentine in my life who was my FIRST Valentine.


2 responses »

  1. How sweet and how sad. We (my brother, sister and I) weren’t *allowed* to forget my mother on any occasion, although she didn’t get a card on Father’s Day (only our dad got that!). We were afraid of my mother, afraid of her rage, and it was perfectly clear to me from before I have actual, conscious memories, that to forget giving her a Valentine’s, Christmas, birthday, Mother’s Day, Easter, etc. card/gift was not something that could ever happen if you wanted to live to adulthood.

    I have very bittersweet memories of holidays because of that. We lived in fear our gifts wouldn’t be good enough. Even in adolesence when one wanted to rebel, you had better get your ass to the gas station that sold carnations and get her some for an occasion unless you wanted to play with your life. And so we did.

    You forgot once out of selfishness — how can you really blame a kid for that? We all go through it. You learned your lesson, obviously. But did you give subsequently out of fear, or love? To me it sounds like you loved and admired and appreciated your mom, and realized the omission was terrible because it hurt her feelings, not because she’d be so angry your life would be worth nothing if you forgot!

    Fear/love, fear/love. I wish I’d given my mother gifts of love, but mostly they were out of fear. I’d choose your memory over mine any day.

    • Interesting question — out of love or fear? I definitely think it was out of both — I loved my mother very much — and I feared disappointing her. I hated disappointing my mother because she had already had so many disappointments in her life and I didn’t want to be one of them.

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