Having teenagers is kind of a trip down memory lane. I think my teens are much more level headed than I was about the whole social environment at school. Maybe homeschooling gave them a better sense of who they are, so they are less vulnerable to peer weirdness. Or maybe teen angst doesn’t show on the surface, and my kids are secretly just as neurotic as I was.
But I was thinking recently about the tradition of Carnation Day at my high school. It was like Valentines day, only different. In grade school, we were REQUIRED to give a valentine to every student, even the kid who wet his pants and the girl who blew her nose on the hem of her dress. But Carnation day was not like that. I remember that it was a fundraiser of some sort, and happened during the bleak, short days around Valentines. Carnations were purchased in advance, to be delivered during class on the appointed day.
Remember that song — “I learned the truth at 17, that love was meant for beauty queens…” Well, carnation day was that truth writ large. All day we’d sit in class awaiting the knock at the door, and student helpers would sweep in with an armload of flowers, and start calling out the names of the popular, the anointed, the beauties and cheerleaders, the girls whose boyfriends paid for expensive armloads of blood red carnations. It was like that moment when they crown Miss America, and the also-rans smile hollowly and pretend to be glad… popular girls went from class to class hauling bouquets on their arms, tangible evidence of popularity, boyfriends, admirers.
My friends and I determinedly bought each other a sympathy flower or two in self defense, but most classroom deliveries left us empty handed. Besides, there was a color coding system that make it clear Who Was Most Loved. Red was for love, pink was friendship, white was a secret admirer. I think there was some “respect” related category for yellow — bestowed upon teachers and such.
So there we were, the ordinary citizens, walking the halls with our three bent stems like Gertrude McFuzz and her pathetic tail… some kids had none at all.
I look back and feel sad that I even cared. If I had a time machine I would send my teen self some exotic bloom, an orchid or bird of paradise or fragrant gardenia, to be delivered in class. From me, with love, and the wisdom of my 40s. The tag would say, “Worth is not measured in public acclaim… Friends are not counted in numbers… The common currency of beauty and popularity are a poor measure of souls.”
Sorting stuff in my attic, I found a box of 30 year old dead flowers; a carnation from Kay, my homecoming mum, corsages from semi-disastrous proms. I rubbed them between my hands until they powdered to dust, and poured the dust into a little jar in the box of memorabilia. I’m not sure why. The folklorist in me wants to make some kind of charm to ward off insecurity, defense against excessive levels of giveaashit about the overrated rites of high school passage… sprinkle it on my sleeping teens so they never forget who they are, and what they are worth, and how much they are loved.