I’ve had some terrible Valentines Days. I’m not gonna lie.

But there is at least one bad Valentine’s Day that I can finally laugh about. I’m over it. It just has just taken about, well, twelve years.

Our church had an annual Sweetheart Banquet.

The reason that matters is that this particular year, they decided to do things more informally and just have a dessert and a program. The program was to be put on by two couples that I knew were excellent musicians. Translated: It would be good.

Kevin was taking Allyson, so my sister Erin and I (we’ll share equal blame in this part of the story) thought that it would be really fun to go too. Mom and Paul we’re going to be out of town, so, good sport that he is, Dad said he would take us if we really wanted to go.

The next Sunday after church, Dad decided that he’d better put his plan into action. Just as Dad was ready to hand over the money for the tickets, I raced over to the table. I had changed my mind. What on earth had I been thinking? I didn’t want to go to a sweetheart banquet! Going as a family would be like advertising the fact that…well…never mind.

Dad had his money poised in the air, and the lady had the tickets also poised. Dad was buying tickets for the two of us girls plus my grandma and another friend of ours, Meg, who had happened to be sitting in church with us that day.

Dad said since he had already asked Meg, he really shouldn’t change his mind. I agreed and braced myself for an evening of feeling foolish sitting with my sister and grandmother eating dessert with a bunch of married couples.

Too bad Sweetheart Banquets hadn’t gone extinct prior to that year.

Later, at home, we had a big discussion. Erin had changed her mind too. Dad didn’t want to take Meg unless we girls were going, etc. We all groaned and travailed, but finally came to the conclusion that we would come up with something else to do and have Meg over for that. It was an unfortunate waste of ticket money, but anything was better than being stuck at that awful sweetheart banquet.

Before I was able to tell Meg about the change of plans, things got worse. She was so excited about getting invited to the Valentine Banquet that she announced it in Wednesday Bible Study. The news got back to us in the form of “So, I heard…”

It was too late to change plans. Everyone knew that Mom was going to be out of town and that we were coming—we were ALL coming—to the banquet. Oh, I wanted to die.

So the next Sunday, our youth pastor announced that the church would like to provide babysitting for the banquet. I poked Meg, who was conveniently sitting next to me, and asked her if she would rather babysit than go to the banquet. She hesitated, but said both sounded like fun. That did it, I ran to Pastor Steve afterwards and volunteered Meg, my sister, and I to help babysit.

Ahhh! The sweet taste of freedom.

Well, the dessert didn’t start until 7:30, so one of the girls at church invited us all over to come to her house first. Even better. We’d go to Leslie’s for dinner and then babysit. We’d get out of going to the banquet, have some fun, and make a little money in the process. Maybe I wasn’t going to have to dread Valentine’s Day after all.

That brings me to Tuesday. I was minding my own business when Pastor Steve gave me a memo about the Valentines babysitting. I glanced at it briefly and then let out a squeal. The babysitting was supposed to begin at 5:00 so parents could go out to dinner before the dessert. Now I had double booked myself.

So I talked to Pastor Steve about it. Surely he would let me come at 7:00.

Pastor Steve said that he wished he could let me off, but he only had one other person to babysit—a teenage girl with no experience. I couldn’t leave her stuck there by herself, so I would have to cop out on the dinner invitation.

Then I asked, innocently, “How many kids are signed up to come Friday night?” He handed me the list.

There were 36 names!

36 kids ages 6 months to 13 years for four hours among the four of us. I nearly croaked. We had 11 kids under the age of three. That alone would take four of us. He said he’d try to get more help.

Oh, the tangled web…I was just trying to get out of going to a Valentines Banquet and here I had just put myself, my sister, and my friend on the struggle bus.

Wednesday I talked to Meg again. Wouldn’t you know it, she was going to have to work Friday night! All this and she wasn’t even going to be able to come at all. I just wanted to sit down and cry.

But I didn’t have time to cry. I had to try to figure out what three babysitters were going to do with 36 kids for four hours. I was seriously considering getting married in the next two days so I could ditch the whole mess.

Things got worse. Erin said she saw enough of kids during the week. That put us down to two. I tried to do some recruiting, but most of the other single girls at church were also school teachers or else they had other babysitting plans. Pastor Steve was running into the same problems.

Thirty six kids. Two babysitters. Four hours.

This was February in New Hampshire–it was far too cold too take the kids outside even if we could control them once we were out there.  The church approved list of movies was far too short to be of any use. The large spread of ages made it difficult to try to plan anything meaningful.

I was getting an ulcer.  And I love to babysit.

Who invented Valentines Day and where does one go to file a complaint?

When all else fails, recruit Dad.

Like a trooper, my dad (who had taken my Mom out before she left town) said he’d help. Now we were back up to three babysitters. Whoohoo! 

So Valentines morning, I had to work for eight hours, teach a music lesson on my lunch break, make a fast run to Wal-Mart for activity supplies, and then came back to church for four long hours of 36 kids ages 6 months and up.

The point of this story—and there is one—is that I have a wonderful Dad. How many men do you know who would invite four girls to a Sweetheart Banquet, get dumped by them all, and then come and help babysit? I know only one, and I’m very, very grateful I do. As a return favor, I sweet-talked the church secretary into giving Dad his ticket money back.

As my memory has gotten dim, I don’t remember what they paid us. But I do recall that the donations jar was sadly neglected if not wholly unloved.

Just the same, I swore to myself that if I heard any of any single people complaining about their boring evening, I’d gladly provide their names to Pastor Steve for the next Valentine’s Banquet. Just so they can come to appreciate having nothing to do on Valentine’s Day.

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