I just replaced my old cell phone. I was due a new one, so it has nothing to do with the fact that I sat on it. Anyway, the directions say:
1) Turn off your old cell phone. 2) Call to activate your new cell phone. 3) Turn on your new cell phone.
This presents a problem if you have no land line. You find yourself sitting in your living room, reading and re-reading the directions, wondering how you are supposed to call with both cell phones turned off. Eventually, you light the old phone on fire and send smoke-signals.
The take-away from this is that burning phones smell horrific. It also illustrates why we get so hung up on having a Valentine. A Valentine is a person who is handy with a cell phone when you need one.
We all need a Valentine.
When I think of Valentines, I think of those elementary school shoe boxes, decorated to within an inch of their lives. Those were where it was at. They were stunning.
Covered in pink, purple and red construction paper with white doilies, cut-out hearts and sequins, those boxes were worthy of a whole classroom of friendship. Making them was the best part – possibly even better than the sound they made when filled with cartoon-character cards.
Remember? You’d put your Valentine box on your desk, and then go deliver your own cards to your classmates. You gave a Valentine to each kid, making really sure the right kid got the right greeting. Politely friendly for some, cautiously swoony for others.
There were also cupcakes in the afternoon. Those were good times.
And then things got weird. There were boyfriends and un-boyfriends and anticipation and disappointment. The days leading up to February 14 were fraught with hope – especially during single or uncertain relationship years. Who was going to come out of hiding and save the day? Who was going to get off his duff and step up to the plate?
I prefer not to remember those years. I am not proud of what a dork I was.
I mean, I’m still a dork – but I’m a different dork now. I like to think that if Chris had not been home to make fun of me for not knowing where the power button was on my new phone, I would have driven down the street to ask a friend to make fun of me.
Wait, that didn’t come out right.
The thing is, those Valentine boxes were great because they were completely jammed with notes from people who were – in some way, shape or form – friends. At some point, we put our (often imagined) romantic relationships ahead of our relationship with humankind, at which point we stopped getting afternoon cupcakes.
I had a voicemail from a friend a few minutes ago. We hadn’t talked for a bit and she said she’d been thinking we should meet up because she missed hanging out. She said she figured she should call and ask me to be her Valentine.
Remembering those piles of construction paper hearts and Hong Kong Phooey cards, I called her back and said yes.
“I have to warn you,” she said, “I’m kind of a ho. I’ve asked like 30 people to be my Valentine today.”
Which, if elementary school is any indication, is exactly how it should be done.
I may have freaked out a little. If you looked around our house (which I will not permit), you would understand. It’s a disaster. There’s an outlet lying on the dining room floor. An empty Tupperware on the kitchen floor. A sock here, a dryer ball there, and all manner of whatnot in between. Every room is covered with abandoned stuff – none of which makes any sense.
“This is not how people who like their homes behave,” I said. “It looks like no one cares about the house.”
Sugarplum, who is the most neat-wired of the family, agreed. But then she said, “those houses where nothing is out of place look like no one cares, too. It’s like no one lives there.”
She stresses “lives.”
She inventories the infringements: no mail on the dining room table, no piles on the stairs, etc. “It’s kind of creepy,” she concluded. This is a problem with which we are unfamiliar.
Honestly, I don’t even know where she saw a house like that. If it’s your house and she came over to visit your kid, we can’t be friends anymore.
She has a point, though, and I need to remember that “lived in” is not always a euphemism for a giant pile of domestic rubble. We do, after all, live here. We love our house and – as far as we can tell – our house loves us. It holds our mail, catches our crumbs and lets us sort laundry in the hall. When we’re busy, it serves as a launching pad. When we’re tired, it gives us shelter.
Our house is like a mom – grabbing our lunch box after school, handing us our cleats, and telling us to have fun as we run off again without a backward glance. Sometimes it has stains on its shirt and is still wearing slippers as it stands waving at the door. It may also have forgotten to shower. These things happen. They don’t mean we appreciate it less. If anything, we appreciate it more.
Not every night can be bath night. Not every day is fresh-laundry-folded-and-put-away day. Our house looks put together when it wants to, but it has neither time nor patience for a wash and set.
Maybe when life is less hectic, our house will be tidy. Mail will be sorted at the door. No one will trip over sports equipment in the dining room. It will be dressed and made up, ready to change out of slippers to greet company at a moment’s notice.
But even then, I hope it never loses the feeling that all are welcome. That it’s okay to dump what you don’t need, grab what you do, and go live. I hope there are signs of life. It would be awfully lonely otherwise.
Everyone has their own place of comfort – probably somewhere between “social services needs to intervene” and “Stepford Wives.” For us – right now – the place of comfort is “clean on bath night.”