That’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day. Like a can of mixed nuts. Remember those cans of Mr. Peanut Planter’s mixed nuts that would magically appear once or twice a year in the living room? At first glance they looked like the regular dark blue can of roasted salted peanuts, easy for me to ignore, peanuts were never my “fave.” Why I love peanut butter but can live in the same house with a can of roasted salted peanuts without any temptation for noshing on them still mystifies me. But this can, upon closer inspection, was the bonus can of “Mixed Nuts.” If I was lucky to get to the can before my dad, there may be some filberts left. I LOVED the filberts. If I got there before my sister, I could still “score” some pecans. But the true treasures for me were the cashews. Even rarer was finding a cashew in its entirety and not just a chip of the crescent or a split half; but the full cashew.
I believe my earliest experience in mindful eating came the first time I ate a cashew. It was the perfect combination of salt, crunch, flavor and texture. Sweet and salty at the same time and rich with a smoothness of oily munchy goodness. YUM. But mostly, the can of mixed nuts was stuffed with peanuts, and someone else always seemed to get the cashews and I was left feeling somewhat…empty…disappointed…and craving something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Valentine’s Day over the years has meant many things to me. Before I went to school, it was an art project that my mom and I did together, cutting out lacey doilies and scribbling over the textured paper with red waxy crayons to see what shapes came out on the white paper beneath it. Then my mom would do the most amazing thing. She would fold the piece of paper in half and cut the paper and when she was finished; she would reveal a heart, filled with my scribbles. I couldn’t understand how she could cut a piece of paper and still have it come out as a full piece and not split in half.
Valentine’s Day was about miracles with my mom and it was indeed a cashew.
Later on, once in school, Valentine’s Day was about bringing valentines to every kid in your class and your teacher. The first year I remember diligently cutting out valentine after valentine, my mom having taught me the scissor trick and bringing them into school eager to hand them out. To my horror, everyone else had brought in Snow White or Sleeping Beauty Valentines, glittery, each in their own perfect tiny envelope; except the one for the teacher which was much larger.
My valentines were the peanuts and I left school that day feeling somewhat…empty…disappointed…and craving something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
In Junior High, while the tradition continued to bring in the mass marketed valentines, now available in super heroes, Barbie, and Charlie Brown versions, what was written on the back of the valentine was the true valentine. Most of them were just “peanuts” signed by the person who like me had used the class list and written name after name on each card, so as not to leave any one out or hurt someone’s feelings. But once in a while, you would get a note on the back that was different.
“To the prettiest girl in Homeroom, Love, Gary”
Wow…that was a cashew, a filbert and pecan all rolled up in one!!!
Into adulthood and Valentine’s Day became about true love, romantic love, intimate sexy hot passionate love. And of course if that was not in your life, it became about, why am I alone? Why don’t I have a valentine? Where is my Gary now? If I were thinner, I’d have a Valentine, I would think to myself as I mindlessly and angrily ate a piece of heart shaped candy that was given out at the hospital where I worked. This whole February 14th thing is just a Hallmark Opportunity to sell cards and make money.
When my son was three, he and I sat at the kitchen table dutifully making valentines for all of the kids in his preschool. Surrounded by doilies and red crayons and construction paper, we scribbled and cut and pasted enough valentines for each and every kid in his group and made special bigger ones for his teachers. I showed him how to fold a piece of paper in half and cut it so it came out in ONE piece shaped like a heart. His eyes were wide with wonder and glee. We used glitter and stickers and he made one extra for himself. I smiled when I saw that. It had never occurred to me to make a valentine for myself, but somehow it felt right.
When I dropped him off the next morning, all of the other kids were marching in with their arms full of valentines. Some were home made some store bought, I grinned. I left feeling somewhat…full…hopeful…and satiated…as if I had had my fill of cashews.
Whatever Valentine’s Day means to you, whether we like it or not, we will be bombarded by the media’s message that it has to do with buying the right gift, and being loved or loveable enough. I say, it is about connection. And the most important connection we can make is with ourselves. That is not selfish, that is not narcissistic, and that is not arrogance. It is healthy. The most important valentine we can receive is the one we give ourselves, from a place of self love. Then we can open up to the love of others and be able to love others as well.
Imagine having enough cashews to go around??