"Don't look in my folder!"
The cry was sharp and panicky.
The child had just seen her mother extract an orange folder from her backpack, having already removed a wadded-up blue T-shirt, a handful of dented pencils with the lead snapped off and a green apple missing a single bite. You never know exactly what you're going to find in a school backpack, but you can always count on something semichewed.
"Darling," said her mother gently, "is there something you don't want me to see?"
Well, duh, of course the child didn't want her to see whatever was in the folder. That much was obvious; but why? Was it a bad grade?
"Well, it's for you! But not yet! Wait -- " the child said.
She shut her eyes. She counted carefully on her fingers. She opened her eyes. "You can see it in four days."
Her mother laughed. "OK, but what's happening in four days?"
"She means three days, don't you?" said a sibling, kindly.
The smaller child shut her eyes again and ran through her fingertips a second time. She opened her eyes.
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," she said. "Four days."
"But today is Monday," said the girl's sister. "So, not counting today, it's three days until Valentine's Day."
"Aaaah! You told her!"
"It's OK," said their mother. "I know that it's Valentine's Day on Thursday."
Actually, she'd forgotten all about Valentine's Day and felt an absurd stab of relief at this timely reminder.
Feb. 14 would not seem an easy thing to overlook, given that whole aisles in supermarkets and drugstores had been scarlet for weeks with boxes of chocolates, clear plastic hearts filled with pastel candies and those ghastly, pre-fab, punch-out, cardboard valentines that children are supposed to give every single one of their classmates if they give to any. She'd managed to lose track of the saint's day, nonetheless; one of the unintended consequences of too aggressive marketing, perhaps.
"Goodie!" said the older girl. "Will there be chocolate hearts when we come down to breakfast?"
"Ah, that is a mystery," parried her parent.
"Didn't your father give you big fancy boxes of chocolate when you were little?" asked another child, coming into the kitchen.
"He did. I used to keep the boxes afterward, and smell them."
"Inside, I mean: They kept their chocolatey fragrance even after all the candy was gone."
"Why don't we ever get big fancy boxes of chocolate on Valentine's?"
"Because there are too many of you. Also, candy is bad for your health."
"Ugh! Health, health, health!"
"Mummy would put chia seeds in the chocolates if she could."
"And lentils," said the girls' older brother.
"Gah!" The children laughed and pretended to be sick.
"Very funny," their mother said dryly, and then, to the youngest, she said: "I can't wait to see what you have hidden in your folder, on Thursday."
The little girl bit her lip. Suspense is awful when you're 7.
"I want to give it to you now," she blurted. "Can I give it to you now?"
"No, no, let's wait. It's nice to get a valentine on Valentine's Day."
And it would be.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@ washingtonexaminer.com.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.