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Valentine's Day and the Art of Procrastination

A daughter's annual tradition of mailing a card to her mom is also traditionally done at the last minute

By Dana Shavin

Recently thinking about a past Valentine's Day, I recalled standing in a ridiculously long, ridiculously slow-moving line at the Post Office, and remembering I'd not yet gotten my mother a Valentine's Day card. Getting her a card for Valentine's Day — and sometimes a silly little gift — is something I have done for more years than I can remember.

Conveniently, on a rack beside where I stood waiting, was a selection of cards. This was when that booming voice in my head, the one always ready to propose ill advice, piped up.

Valentines card, mother, Next Avenue
Credit: Getty

"There's still time," it said. "Get the card later. Relax, and enjoy your interminable wait."

No Time Like the Present

Relief flooded my body. I could go on just standing there, marveling at how starkly uninviting Post Offices are, with their kitschy mail-themed merchandise (a stamp dispenser shaped like a mailbox, a keychain with a dog on it) that no one would ever buy unless they were trapped in a line behind hordes of people starved for conversation about stamps, shuffling at a tortoise pace toward the single functioning clerk station.

Getting her a card for Valentine's Day — and sometimes a silly little gift — is something I've done for more years than I can remember.

Which is why I own both the tiny mailbox and the keychain.

But then I realized that Valentine's Day was actually only three days away, and that unless "getting the card later" meant leaving the Post Office I was at and driving straight to another one to purchase and mail the card, there, in fact, was not time. So, reluctantly, I began scanning the cards, but not without hoping the line would suddenly pick up and I'd be forced to abandon my card quest. It didn't.

Seven cards later, I found the one I would send my mother. It had a picture of a hole puncher on it with a heart outlined with the punched-out holes. It said, "I love you a hole punch." This cracked me up.

To "I love you a hole punch," I added, "Because love is a staple." This, too, cracked me up.

Then Ill Advice piped up again. "Buy it now, but write a note and mail it later," it said.

Relief flooded my body again. I would not have to think of what to say right now. I could wait and do it later.

Then I reminded myself that not only was Valentine's Day three days away, but I was actually at that moment in a Post Office, where, if I scribbled a note (and not even a quick one, because let's face it, time was not of the essence), I could purchase the stamp and mail the thing all at the same time and be done with it.

Not Committing to Being a Procrastinator

And still I was reluctant. The problem seemed to be that I had come to do one thing and one thing only, which was to mail an extraordinarily long overdue thank-you note and book to someone.

The author and her mother, Valentine's Day, Next Avenue
Dana Shavin and her mom, Phyllis  |  Credit: courtesy of Dana Shavin

In fact, the thank-you note was 25 years overdue, which is why I was including the book: as an apology for being two and a half decades late to say thank you, but also to remind the person who I was (the book was my memoir).

At last, I opened my mother's Valentine card, fished a pen out of my purse and thought for a moment. To "I love you a hole punch," I added, "Because love is a staple." This, too, cracked me up. Then I parked the card in the envelope, sealed it and resumed waiting idly in line, happy that I had no pressing business left to attend to.

Twenty minutes later, in the car, I was telling my husband the whole story (including the fabulous parts, about loving my mother a "hole punch" and love being a  "staple") when he made the observation that I am a procrastinator. Which might be true, although I don't want to commit to the label right off, preferring instead to think about it for a bit.

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What I do know is how much more rewarding it is to complete a task you've put off for decades than to cross it off a list moments after you've put it on one. My husband is not in agreement about this at all. Completely unbidden, he will brandish a working list with 27 items on it ranging from the urgent to the completely optional and declare that he must complete 17 of them before day's end. And then he will do it.

His way makes me crazy. My way makes him crazy. Despite it all, we love each other a hole punch.

Unfortunately, I waited until too late to get him a Valentine's Day card.

(This piece was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.)

Contributor Dana Shavin
Dana Shavin’s essays and articles have appeared in Oxford AmericanThe Sun, Psychology TodayParade.com, Bark, and others, and she has work forthcoming in Garden and Gun. She is an award-winning humor columnist and travel writer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and the author of a memoir, The Body Tourist, about the intersection of her anorexia with her mental health career. Her work has been nominated for inclusion in Best American Essays, and for a Pushcart.  You can find more at Danashavin.com, and follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes. 
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