by Gabriela Barragan

A good friend of mine is a kindergarten teacher. Her stories on the kids are fascinating — their antics, their parents, their obsession with stickers, and most of all, their truth zingers. There’s no honesty more brutal, or deft, than the kind of skinned truth delivered by a 5-year-old not yet conditioned by social graces.

My friend, who loves her job and wouldn’t want any other, also hates Valentine’s Day with the kind of passion that, if harnessed, would be enough to shift a pair of tectonic plates. It’s the only holiday she wishes were banned from the school calendar. Not because of the holiday’s high sugar content, but because it always, always involves pain. She walks away from the day cursing Hallmark and drenched in pathos.

She’s explained it to me this way: 5-year-olds are in some ways exactly like adults. They may be smaller and wear cartoons on their clothes, and have an unnatural fondness for apple juice, but they still have feelings and emotions like grownups. They just aren’t as equipped or accustomed to managing their feelings and emotions like their more jaded adult counterparts.

[Quick side note. We all know grownups who never developed the emotional fiber to tackle any feeling more profound than fear, which might explain the mind-bending support for Sarah Palin. Could we also blame a case of stunted emotional growth on a long-ago Valentine’s Day involving a metaphorical heart stomped to metaphorical gore right over glitter-strewn carpet? My friend would answer with a resounding “Yes”.]

This is why when a 5-year-old has a crush, and the crush does not respond in kind (which, arguably can happen on any day of the year, but let’s face it: the likelihood skyrockets like a motherfracker* on February 14), said 5-year-old experiences the exact same kind of shattered-to-the-core heartbreak adults get drunk over, and adult poets get really drunk over. But, a heartbroken 5-year-old obviously can’t choose alcoholic obliteration, or a myriad of other vices drawing on the over-hyped Seven Deadly Sins, and sugar cookies don’t just make it all better. At least not right away.

So every year, among the paper hearts and associated craft provisions, my friend is on high alert for code red heartbreak: the kindergarten version. All she can do is offer kind words, a hug, and pray that any trauma profoundly felt is washed away by the pebbly sands of time. She knows, though, that kids can hold on to the memories of early heartbreak with a fierce tenacity that outlives childhood, roosts comfortably in adulthood, and then occasionally leaks out in one form or another after a few cocktails.

I don’t remember feeling wrecked as a kid by Valentine’s Day or unrequited love. I was one of the lucky ones; I was never heartbroken before I had braces. And if I broke some kid’s heart back in the day, I don’t remember. I do remember the heart-shaped, pastel-colored candies that tasted like a combination of mild, mint toothpaste and envelope glue. I remember red-foiled chocolate kisses, sugar cookies, heavily frosted cupcakes, the omnipresent red punch, and that washing baked goods down with that red punch resulted in a weird, unsavory aftertaste.

These days, my Mom is my standing Valentine. She has given me a card and chocolate ever since I could talk, even when I was in college, and even when I railed against the corporate greed of retailers. These days I also conveniently use the day to polish off a box of chocolates, generally in one sitting, and justify my sweet gluttony on the fact that I achieved it on a holiday.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

–Gabriela Barragan

*I don’t endorse use of the word “frack”; it’s just plain leotarded. But, my Mom might be reading this.

This piece first appeared at Gabriela Barragan’s blog, House of G, on Valentine’s Day, 2010.

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