Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day Revisited: alt. title "To My Sons' Future Valentines"

I am totally stealing this blog idea from another blogger (Single Dad Laughing, Dan Pearce. He's in my blog roll, check him out. I promise that you will never be the same) but his message bears repeating.

In fact, his message bears calling from rooftops and deserves a full-page ad in every newspaper from coast to coast. Heck, every newspaper, EVERYWHERE. Every FB profile, tweet and email forward should be this "Single Dad Laughing's" post: Memoirs of a Bullied Kid

Obviously, it's about bullying. Bullies. Mean Girls.But more so it's about surviving childhood and how we, as parents, as neighbours, as HUMAN BEINGS, need to step the EFF up and stop this insanity.

I worry about my own children, especially Matthew. He is so sensitive and trusting. Smaller than most and so eager to please. I worry that his wonderful, open, amazing heart will be broken and trodden upon and forever hardened by some mean, lashing-out kid. Or kids.

 I worry that Luke, so cocksure and stubborn at three, will retreat into himself and become even more standoffish, because of some insecure and cruel classmate. Or punk neighbourhood kid.

I worry that the Reds won't always have each other's backs as they grow and travel through their days - in different classes, different grades, different social circles. I worry that they won't protect one another when I am not there. I worry that my love will not be enough to carry them through and that who they are and who they become will be shaped by their peers instead of me, the one who loves them best.

I worry that one, or both, will be me.


I was not bullied in the classic sense. I mean, sure I was called names and got teased a lot because I was an awkward, bespectacled, buck-toothed, chubby nerd, but most of my childhood memories are good ones.

I had girlfriends, friends who were boys and had grown up with most of my classmates - typical small-town life. My husband is from that same town and while his memories are different, his views and beliefs have been shaped, in part, by these same people.

When I was in 7th grade, my best girlfriends were beautiful. I mean really, truly beautiful. They were the Beauty Trio and they sailed through adolescence with nary a pimple, never seemed to have a bad hair day and were, of course, the object of all the boys' ardour. You know them. Perhaps you were them.

I was that friend - the one who was easy to talk to and whom most boys approached first in order to get closer to Beauty. You know me. I might have been you.

Anyway, 7th Grade. Thursday. The classroom buzzed with excitement because the next night, we would attend our first Valentine's Day Dance. My friends and I giggled and gossiped endlessly about what we would wear and whose father drove the biggest car so as to accommodate as many of our gaggle as possible.

That morning, with half-formed romantic visions floating through my mind (Would there be one boy, one special, cute boy who would see past my outward geek to the girl inside who longed to be Beauty, too?), my fingers closed over an intricately-folded note, mysteriously appeared in my desk.  Where had it come from? Eagerly, I peeled back the layers to reveal the cryptic message inside:

"Are you going to the dance?
I hope so.
I like you and hope you save me a dance."

It was unsigned and the handwriting was messy enough that I believed in my suddenly-wildly-beating 12-year old heart, that it was indeed from a boy. A mystery boy. But who?

I showed my girlfriends, the Beauty Trio. They smiled and giggled along with me, guessing in excited whispers. Maybe it's Ted. Maybe Sean? Could it be Jeff - the cocksure-cigarette-smoking-forbidden-and-so-therefore-impossibly-attractive bad ass?

We tittered and clucked and blushed and swooned at the romance of the note - a love note! I was breathless with pleasure and peered around the room, trying to catch the eye of my admirer I felt hopeful, happy and for the first time in my whole life, I felt pretty.

Next, I straightened my shoulders and boldly began visiting my male classmates, coyly asking each and every one if he was going to the dance. Surely I would know with a glance who'd written. If he blushed, I'd know. If he looked away, I'd know. If he stuttered I would know.


Most of the boys grunted out a "Yeah"  the way that prepubescent boys do. Some smiled a bit mockingly, as if to say, "Sure, nerd. What's it to you?"

But no one blushed with pleasure at my query, not a single one turned away in embarrassment, his love discovered.

Dejected, I returned to my seat and to my circle of giggling girlfriends, let their sympathy wash over me as I puzzled over the identity of my secret admirer, basking in the brand-new, heady feeling of being desirable. Desired.

It took a few minutes but all of a sudden, I  began to notice the furtive glances that passed between the Beauty Trio. There may have been a smirk. Or two.  There was definitely Blinking, I turned to K - the most likely to spill whatever secret they were hiding.

"What's going on?" I asked, not really wanting to know, feeling my heart sink slowly...sllllowwwlly....

K. raised pleading eyes to mine and then shifted her gaze to R. the prettiest of the three, she of willowy limbs and flawless complexion, innate physical grace and the best hair ever.

R. raised her chin defiantly, her sympathetic smile gone. She rolled her eyes: "WE wrote the note, Liz. As a joke. And you totally fell for it! Did you really think a BOY wrote it?"

This last, incredulous, mocking....sneering, even.

And then they burst into fits of laughter, delighted at their trick and my gullibility. Delighted.

I began to laugh, too. Not because it was funny but because I wanted to cry so very, very badly.

Somehow, I managed to grin and chuckle and smack my own forehead with a self-deprecating "DUH!", chortling along with my so-called BFF's. The clown, hiding tears.

But inside? Inside I was reeling with utter humiliation, the sheer agony of this terrible, hateful "joke."
25 years later - 25 YEARS! - I can still hear my own brittle laughter and taste the anguish of that moment - the moment I realized that I would never be Beauty and that pretty should never be trusted.

A lifetime has passed and  I still cannot get through the telling of this story without tearing up and feeling abject humiliation all over again. When the Beauty Trio come up in conversation, as they have from time to time, I do not think of them fondly, the way one does when speaking of old friends.

I feel instead a deep and burning resentment and must resist the urge to snarl and wish fat asses and divorce upon them. (Sometimes I don't resist - I wish fat-asses and misery and cheating husbands upon them. THEN divorce and more misery. Yes, I may have aged but there is some question about whether or not I've matured!)

Having said that, even though I do feel the pain all these years later, I am grateful that my experience was so very, very long ago. How much worse might it be if I were navigating my way through adolescence now -  in this age of cyberbullies, when Beauty hides behind her Blackberry?

And while I am grateful to be raising sons instead of daughters (I could not bear it if my daughter became a Beauty) I believe that it is up to all of us, as parents, to teach our children kindness and love and compassion - and not just on Valentine's Day.

I implore the mothers of the girls who my sons will one day love: teach your daughter that her value lies not in how she is seen by the world, but how she treats those in it.

It matters. It matters more than you might never know.

Happy Valentine's Day.


  1. awww...Belly this left me in tears. Those damn girls!! I'm sorry my friend, but you are can be incredibly mean. I love what you said to the mothers of the future loves of your Reds. So true!! xo

    PS. You ARE beautiful! (inside & out)

  2. You are one of the most beautiful people I know Liz! Once again I wish I could find words the way you do. I have several of my own similar experiences and I get very nervous at the thought of my kids beginning to experience this stuff for themselves. I wish for my children to be head strong, compassionate and considerate to others...neither the one being bullied or possibly worse, the one doing the bullying. I have 2 girls and a sensitive little boy to guide through these years and the thought of them being hurt or hurting somebody else breaks my heart. Your boys are going to be just fine because they have you as their role model...they will never be the mean kids and they will stand up for what is right....supporting each other along the way, I am sure of it!

  3. Wow. A horrific memory, beautifully told. Kids that age can be so mean, perhaps that's why I've condemned myself to repeat it every year (I teach Junior High by choice), hoping to make it a little less bad.

    The best thing that happened to me in Junior High was my sister (6 years older and in college and way cooler than any of my classmates) told me that the kids who are popular in Junior High will be the ones no one cares to talk to at the reunion.