As far as holidays go, Valentine’s Day isn’t high on Alex’s list of festive days. Since he has been home schooled for nearly all of his education, he doesn’t partake in the annual classroom Valentine’s party with the exchange of cards and eating of all things sugary and heart-shaped. Not that he really minds; he can’t eat most treats on his gluten-free and casein-free diet, and unlike when he was little and mesmerized by holiday cards, now he—in typical teen fashion—gives cards a cursory look just because he knows he should to be polite. Unless there is money or a gift certificate in the card or something really eye-catching, such as a funny picture or one of those shiny squares that reflects his image, he’s not terribly interested. Knowing Alex’s preferences, my parents usually give him a card that has both shiny and green stuff inside it, and this makes him happy.
When Alex was younger, I used to buy the standard box of valentines for him to sign his name and send to various family members. Depending on what his current interests were, we’d pick out the cards that had characters he liked at the time: everything from Mickey Mouse to NASCAR drivers. Although I thought this was a ritual that he might enjoy, he would hurry through the routine, eager to get back to some activity he really preferred. While he would humor me by going through the motions, one year he thought it was hysterically funny to write “Kenneth” as his name instead of Alex. At the time, outstanding Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings was Alex’s hero, and he thought he’d use Ken’s name instead of his own. I guess Alex thought my reaction of surprise was amusing because he continued this attempt to use a pen name for the next several months anytime I had him sign his name on a card. As I would hand him the pen to sign the card, he’d break out into a fit of giggles, knowing that I would remind him to write “Alex” and not “Kenneth.” Fortunately, Alex’s handwriting is so poor that probably only Ed or I would know the difference. A later twist on this was during his early teen years when he thought it was humorous to write profanities on cards, just to watch my annoyed reaction. Amazingly, Alex could write four-letter curse words legibly enough that anyone could probably read them, which meant that we imposed a moratorium on card signing for Alex until he got past that stage and simply signed cards for him.
This year, Ed will have Alex sign a card for me, and I will have him sign a card for Ed and another for my parents. Both of us will be thankful that we don’t have to remind him not to write names other than his own or to wrest the pen away from him when we recognize the familiar beginnings of swear words and then have to try to make them look harmless. For Valentine’s Day treats, I bought him marshmallow Peeps and smaller Kraft marshmallows that are heart-shaped and strawberry-flavored, but more importantly are in keeping with his restricted diet. We like to find some small gifts for him, and this year I tracked down an electronic gadget I think he’ll find entertaining. In sorting through one of my desk drawers a few weeks ago, I discovered a toy review from a couple of years ago detailing a Leap Frog educational device called a Crammer, which has hundreds of electronic flashcards for various school subjects, such as math, social studies, and science. Some Internet searching revealed that these handheld learning tools are no longer made, but I was able to track them down at a fraction of the original cost on Amazon and ordered Alex one of the last few in stock. I think that he’ll not only enjoy learning facts on the Crammer this week during the Jeopardy showdown between the IBM computer Watson and two of Alex’s favorite game show contestants Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, but he’ll also appreciate that I Googled it and bought it on sale from Amazon, his favorite online store. Since I couldn’t find any valentines for “Son” that had the cheap reflective mirrors this year, I settled on one that lists all the things he embodies in comparisons, including the following: “Charmer,” “Prince of a Son,” “Sage,” “Clown,” and even “Attila the Hun.” Somehow the writers at Hallmark know Alex well, or perhaps he’s not too different from other sons, after all. Certainly, the last stanza of this card expresses how Ed and I truly feel about Alex: “But you’re always a son who brings pride by the ton, and you’re loved more as each year goes by!”
“My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!” Psalm 57:7