Monday, February 13, 2012

The Truth about Love

Straight from a six year old’s mouth

Valentine’s Eve, 1982, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A girl, just six years old, with golden Shirley Temple  ringlets and dimples, sits at a kitchen table, pen held awkwardly in hand, frowning over a pile of homemade Valentine’s Day cards.

Her father, corporate attorney, Mormon Bishop, marathon runner, is in Denver trying a case. Her nine-months pregnant mother is busy wrangling three wailing boys under the age of four who are all in diapers and formula simultaneously. Her older sister (that’s me) is poking her, grinning, and running away.

(Of course, the older sister’s Valentines are already done, with perfect penmanship and delicate lace doily trim, composed in iambic pentameter. Of course, the older sister has been crowned Valentine’s Day queen of her classroom).

This is my favorite Valentine’s Day story of all time. It’s not a story about love. It’s a story about the truth.

My sister, six years old, does not know what to write on her Valentine’s Day cards. So she asks our mother. “Write something heartfelt, something you mean,” mom tells her in a distracted tone, balancing the baby on her swollen belly and comforting two whining toddlers tugging at her pant legs. My sister nods gravely and begins to write.

Fortunately for all involved, the annoying older sister (that's me) is unable to keep from meddling and proof-reading (some things never change). Here are just a few of the things my sister wrote on her classmates’ cards:

“Dear J, I think you are fat. Love A.” And “Dear K, you would have more friends if you weren't so mean. Love A.” And…you get the picture. Tell a precocious six-year old to write something she means, and you may get more than you bargained for.

My sister has grown into a lovely and successful woman. But she still has golden Shirley Temple curls. And she still has a disconcerting habit of saying exactly what she means sometimes.  She is single, like me. I think we have both discovered that our frank and literal natures may not be well-suited to the white lies that glue romantic relationships together.

With luck, I will manage to dodge the strange and ancient ritual of Valentine’s cards and decorated boxes this year—my children’s stepmother, not knowing (or not believing) my housewife history, does not think I am capable of anything involving the domestic arts, so she usually “helps” me by sending in the boxes and cards early.

But if I have to create Valentine’s Day cards with my own six-year old tonight, I will definitely pay attention to what she writes. Because the truth, like love, sometimes hurts.