It’s not going to be like last year, I thought as I walked into the classroom with my Lisa Frank backpack.
No, I thought. This year will be the total OPPOSITE of last year. Because this year wasn’t fourth grade. This year was FIFTH grade. I was One of the Big Kids now. I had a year of knowledge under my neon orange Safety Patrol belt. And with more maturity, less baby teeth and an idea, I was determined to win the fifth grade Valentine’s Day Box competition.
Since I, you know, sucked it up the year before.
“Settle down, take your seats,” the teacher said. The school bell shrilled. I weaved around the chairs that Must Be on All Four Legs Always At All Times and sat down at my desk, opening the lid to find my Social Studies folder. I glanced around the room at my classmates. My competition.
Though I worked hard on my Valentine’s Day box the previous year, I didn’t win the fourth grade competition. Last year’s box featured red wrapping paper with dalmations, a slit at the top for kids to put in their valentines. The idea was for the box to look like an actual Dalmation—it had pink and white ribbons curled and taped to the back (the tail) and an awkward cutout of a Dalmation head on the front.
So it was a box covered in dalmations with a dalmation head. Puppy love, if you will.
I guess it did look a little weird.
Deep down, I knew I didn’t deserve the sweet taste of victory. I mean, there was a robot box covered in tin foil. And a Valentine Volcano, the whole “my love erupts for you” theme. So when I lost, I bit into my Reese’s Peanut Butter cup heart, hoping the sweet of the chocolate would cover up the sour look on my face. It didn’t do the trick.
Because nothing tastes as sweet as victory.
And let’s be honest, “Puppy Love” didn’t cut it. Not over a freakin’ robot box and love-erupting volcano.
So here I was, a year later, and tomorrow was our Fifth Grade Valentine’s Day party. My last shot at sweet, sweet success before I moved on to middle school, where the Cool Kids were determined and only people you were “going out with” gave you valentines. Whatever “going out” meant.
But that boyfriend-girlfriend, I love you forever, check yes or no stuff could wait until next year. This year was all about The Valentine’s Day Box.
Sitting in the classroom, I felt a sugar buzz just looking at the cupcakes and candy hearts on the counter, all pink-frosted and multi-colored, promising to “Be Mine” and “Luv U 4Ever.” (Candy hearts were like the first version of text message lingo). The teacher said the treats were for tomorrow’s party and “not to touch today,” a unique type of torment for a classroom of ten-year-olds. I was antsy the entire day, just waiting for the bell to ring so I could put on my Safety Patrol belt of Power and Neon Orange and lead the little kids to their yellow bus. Then I’d be home to execute The Box. But I knew I needed some help.
When I got home after school, I found my dad in the kitchen. I had prepped him a few days earlier about the party and how each kid usually made a valentines box, but I hadn’t asked if he could assist in executing my idea.
“Hey Sis, what’s up?”
“Can you help me with something?” Pleasehelppleasehelppleasehelpnothingisasimportantasthisboxpleasehelp, I thought.
“With what?” he said. I shrugged my backpack off my shoulders, anxious.
“I need to make my Valentine’s day box for school,” I said. “I want it to be good this year. I have an idea, but I need help.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked, curious. “What’s kind of idea?” Um, only a genius one.
“I want to make a boom box,” I said. “Or, like, a CD player. You know—so they can put their Valentine’s into the box through the CD tray. Like putting in a CD. But a valentine.” So. Awesome.
“A BOOM box?” Dad thought for a moment. I could see him imagining what we would need for this box. It was going to be a lot of work; I had already thought about it. We needed construction paper, Kleenex boxes, glue. An old CD tray. Time to put it all together.
“I don’t know, Sis,” he said. My face fell. “Can’t we just wrap a regular box? Put some ribbons on it?”
“That what I did last year, though,” I said. “I just need your help figuring out the CD tray-thing.” And putting it together. And cutting things.
Dad looked at me. I tried to open my brown eyes really big like a puppy, a trick I learned from cartoons. That always seemed to work for them.
“Okay,” he said, his voice getting higher at the end. “But I don’t know if I can make it look good.”
“Yes! Thankyouthankyouthankyouuu!” I said, dancing around the room like fifth graders do. Best Box Ever.
Best Dad Ever.
It’s been fifteen years, and I still remember sitting on the floor of the kitchen on our forest green rug, my dad sitting across from me. Cutting out a slot for the tray. Two tissue boxes for the “speakers”, one shoe box for the main CD console. We covered the boxes in black construction paper, circles for the actual speakers and a cassette tape console. We even added an antennae by taped a tube covered in aluminum foil.
My dad cut out a small jagged square in the box so I could get my notes of love and affection (sarcasm) from my classmates.
“Well, what do you think, Sis?” my dad asked. He liked it too; I could tell. He opened the CD tray; I slipped in a small sheet of paper to represent the valentines.
I stepped back and took a look. It looked good, exactly what I envisioned, but it was missing something. I stood, pondering. I know what it’s missing. I need to tell my classmates a message—it’s Valentine’s Day, after all.
“It looks great, Dad,” I said, excited. “But hold on, I’ve got to add something.”
Dad watched as I ripped out a piece of white construction paper. I grabbed the pink and red Crayola markers and kneeled down, pondering for a second. Then, I started to write, alternating the colors of each word. Red, pink, red, pink. I cut the sentence out, flipped it over to put the purple glue on the back. I taped it to the front of the box, right above the cassette holder.
“Finished?” my dad asked.
“Yup!” I smiled. My dad smiled. This box was awesome.
The next day, I brought my Valentine’s Day boom box in and set it on the counter amongst the other boxes. I was proud to see my and my Dad’s creation, there in its shoebox and construction-paper glory. I was proud to see my classmates open the tray and put the valentines in, see my scrawl with the phrase I so carefully wrote the night before:
MY HEART IS JAMMIN’ FOR YOU.
When I got third place instead of first—losing out to a box with legos standing on top of what looked like a giant love submarine—I didn’t care. My dad helped me with my project and that’s all the love I needed. My Boombox of Love. A heart jammin’ for me.
I still have the box. My mom wanted to throw it out when we moved to the New House, but I woudn’t let her. And my dad still have a bond over that box. I told him I was writing this blog and was hoping we could find it so I take a picture to showcase the Heart is Jammin’ For You Box.
We both tried to look for it in our basement, but it somehow has hidden away amongst the Beanie Babies and Barbies and tools and other tangible memories.
Celine Dion’s heart goes on. Some girl was tearin’ up N’Sync’s heart.
Mine is jammin’. Always jammin’.