Friday, February 23, 2007

Universal Cosmic Protection Plan

The other day I found myself standing in a cooking class room with 8 Japanese high school boys. I was trying to look as confident and poised as possible as I instructed them in how to bake an American pound cake. (I had never baked a pound cake in my life before that moment.) Although I had to pause frequently to stare fiercely at the recipe, things went fairly smoothly. They seemed to truly enjoying baking something and while we were baking I was teaching them bits of useful English like, "teaspoon, mixer, batter, pour, measuring cup." I was the guest English speaker for the day.

I don't recall anyone's foreign born mother getting coaxed into coming to my high school to say, whip up a French crepe or reveal the secret to her amazing enchiladas. . . but when a teacher from this local high school turned up on my doorstep to invite me to come as a guest speaker for a day even his suggestion that having the kids cook something American would be fun made perfect sense to me.

I have lived in Japan for so long now that it is hard for me to extract amusing cultural differences to hand out to friends back home like little gems gathered on a foreign shore. Everything here seems normal to me now and it is only occasionally that something jars me out of myself. I suppose the flyer in the newspaper yesterday for a new restaurant that featured a bowl of miso soup with a crab perched in the middle of it was one of those moments. I mean really, who wants to eat soup that has the potential to reach up and pinch you on the nose?

But more often than not it is something in me that is more inborn, an unconscious response conditioned during my infancy/childhood/young adult days of living in America that registers a cultural difference. In the middle of baking the pound cake I experienced one of those, or actually a series of those moments. First came the flash backs--my mother baking in the kitchen while my brother and I circled her, tiny vultures waiting for the demise of the beaters so we could lick them clean. Then memories of my grade school girlfriends and me baking cookies together. . . having egg fights, eating fist fulls of cookie dough, proudly presenting our mothers with a plate of three or four surviving cookies.

But it was a stronger impulse that led me to squeak, "chotto matte, wait!" "When I saw one of the towering high school boys (Japanese men are no longer short! All over Japan the high school and junior high school boys are looking down on their male authority figures--fathers, uncles, teachers) scooping a finger full of butter, sugar and creamed raw egg up to his lips. "Salmonella!" The Japanese English teacher with whom I was co-teaching the class inquired as to what that was exactly. I just paused and waved the boy on-- "Sorry.Go ahead."

While America has become super conscious to the risks of contracting salmonella from raw eggs in Japan raw eggs are still an accepted part of the National diet. Many dishes arrive on a diner's plate with a spectacular raw egg floating in the middle. Asking for them to leave the raw egg out has always resulted in consternation and confusion on the part of the staff. . . at least in my experience. So I have taken to deftly scooping the raw egg out on my own. I would never be so mule headed or foolhardy as to eat a raw egg.

I don't remember exactly when my mother decided that we should no longer touch raw eggs and that the act of touching, much less consuming raw egg yolk or egg white promised dire consequences for us. . . .but she imprinted it well. Should someone offer me a raw egg my response is similar to being invited to play a round of Russian roulette. RAW egg? Raw egg is dangerous. I assume my mother must have given me many detailed descriptions of what dying from salmonella would be like. I don't remember the exact warnings, but my body remembers the feeling those warnings left me with. I touch raw egg and my body tenses just like it does when I touch a loaded fire arm.

I do remember her warning about the tornado bell in Minnesota when I was three. "They found her arm on Evergreen Street and her leg on North Toledo Avenue. They never did find her head." And that was what happened to little girls who didn't heed the tornado bell and come home promptly to take cover.

My mother's method of raising strong independent children who could take on whatever life had to offer was to tell us in detail all about what life could throw at us. It used to kind of knock the wind out of my friends when they got caught in the teaching process. For example:

My thirteen year old friend and I are leaving my house on a beautiful California summer evening. We saunter down the gravel drive way, setting out on the three mile walk to the tennis courts inside the gated upper middle class foot hill community in which both our families live, tennis rackets swinging at our sides, laughing and occasionally stopping to strike absurd "tennis" poses. We stop when my mother yells for us to wait as she comes running after us stirring up a storm of chalky gravel powder in her wake. My 5 foot 4 inch mother stops in front of us, panting to tell us a cautionary tale. "Last week, just last week, 2 young girls like you were viciously beaten and raped at a tennis court." Then she cheerfully tells us to be careful and starts back up the gravel driveway, the chalky gravel dust seemingly parting to let the petite prophet of doom pass.

So, did my mother raise me to be fearless or fearful? Mostly fearful and pessimistic or at least that is how I turned out. Whose to say how much of that outcome had to do with her penchant for telling chilling tales from the real world and how much of it comes simply from my own personality? Regardless of how it was formed, mine is an outlook that is always waiting for what is not on the scene. If there is sunshine and blue skies outside the window I still check the weather channel before going out--they have radar that will show what storm clouds may be lurking out there waiting to roll in later.

An example of how this outlooks spills over into my life is: Even after getting married a decade ago I still occasionally have dreams in which my husband reveals that he has never really loved me and never will and that our 10 year courtship was all an elaborate plot/hoax just to ultimately expose me as a complete fool and laughing stock. In the nightmare he always delivers the same speech in the same flat emotionless voice except for when he turns to the woman he has his arms around (he has been talking to me over her shoulder while she has been sneering at me the whole time) and then his voice turns very warm and vibrant as they laugh together--at me.

When I wake up I am usually grumpy and short tempered with him for the whole day. Although as we are truly an old married couple now and our children are growing up I am getting a little better at reminding myself, "for the love of God, it was only a nightmare. . . "

I think I chose him (and oh yes, I did choose him. It was my intention to keep him the first time I met him) partly because he was so diametrically unlike my pessimistic mother. He took life as it came and didn't waste any time worrying about the future or the past. He was of the moment.

Our first date was in Portland, Oregon and the car broke down on Burnside--in basically the most dangerous area of the city. When we first met he was an exchange student from Yokohama, Japan at my University in Oregon. When the car broke down just as we were leaving the city it didn't seem to phase him at all. If it had phased him, even a tiny bit, I would have felt comfortable enough to begin my headless chicken dance of panic. My friends have seen the dance. I'm famous for quoting Indiana Jone's movies "We're gonna die in here!" over something as simple as missing the right freeway exit. But he didn't panic. He smiled sort of shyly about the car breaking down. He apologized. He looked incredibly cute.

We ended up walking all along Burnside, smoking as we walked and stopping frequently as the inhabitants of Burnside (mostly prostitutes and homeless men and women) would invariably, drawn by the plums of smoke, come investigate whether or not we had a cigarette to spare. He handed out almost a whole pack, smiling each time he was approached. As the night turned to dawn we finally encountered a taxi. The driver looked at us with wide eyes and told us we were in the "wrong" neighborhood and took us off to a Red Lion Hotel in a safer part of the city.

But I had found that even in the wrong place I felt safe with him. Without him I would have seen murders, drug addicts and rapist on every street corner (or better yet, hiding around the street corners out of sight), with him I was able to see who he saw, people who wanted a smoke--people who perhaps used drugs or performed sexual acts for money but people. For that night, he had managed with only his presence to help alter the filter through which I was used to interpreting my world.

Plus he had this notion that he was living a blessed life. Literally, he felt that he was under some sort of cosmic protection and that "nothing bad" would ever happen to him. If he loved me than that cosmic protection automatically extended to cover me as well.

After growing up amid body parts flung about by the wrathful winds of nature and violent rapists waiting at every tennis court. . . it was an irresistible invitation into a much more welcoming world.

So, despite language difficulties (he was really a beginning level English speaker when I met him and my Japanese was even worse) and geographic challenges we somehow managed to arrive at the state of marital bliss in 1996, just months shy of 10 years from the first day we met. Of course, by the time we were swapping vows he had become fluent in English and I could at least converse at the level of a grade-schooler in Japanese.

And those were pretty good--luck wise--years. Nothing horrible happened to either one of us. While my husband's car at one point was flattened into a tin can--he and all the passengers in his car escaped unscathed. We both flew many times, on both domestic and international flights without any kind of aviation glitches ever taking place. I don't even remember getting a bad bout of the flu until years later when my daughters started to bring it home to me! But the year 2000, having missed the boat on the millennium bug, seemed set to deliver us a message of doom none-the-less.

Life was really coming together. The evening my husband arrived back from interviewing for a new job in Japan, one that would be higher paying and give him more social status, was the same evening that my home pregnancy kit told me we were expecting baby number two! And, as he had gotten the job in Japan, the pink plus sign I showed him on the pee stick didn't even phase him . So we both spent the following three months looking forward to the future. He was enjoying telling everyone at his present workplace exactly what he thought of the board members and upper echelon administrators as he prepared to leave for the new job in Japan and I was excited about the prospect of being able to afford to buy meat again not to mention having health insurance for the whole family! And as most pregnant women do, I was reveling in the role of "mother earth".

My first pregnancy at the age of 32 while in the midst of a PhD. program had taken me completely by surprise. I had gone into the University's health center thinking I had the flu and had come out pregnant. And for some reason I had pregnancy symptoms when I was only about a week along so I spent the first month obsessing over whether or not the pregnancy would continue. The doctor had basically told me, "You're pregnant but it is so early that I wouldn't be surprised if you miscarried. Many women miscarry this early without ever realizing that they have even been pregnant." Then she sort of patted my hand, gave me pamphlets on different "choices" and told me that I should stop smoking and drinking coffee if I was going to keep the baby.

So for about a month I spent most of the time between dawn and dusk wondering how things were going on in there. Then I had an episode of spotting and light bleeding. Anxious phone calls to the Health Center told me that I should just take it easy and wait until the first trimester was up when I could go to the ob-gyn. for my first official pregnancy exam.

The rest of the pregnancy I stayed just about as tense and worried as I was those first four weeks of it. I hate that bible of pregnancy "What to Expect When you are Expecting". It is probably actually quite a good reference book for people who use it responsibly. But I was always reading in the areas I wasn't supposed to be in, "if a problem arises. . . when the baby's heart rate drops. . . " and so I spent a lot of time imagining the worst possible outcomes.

I think that first month of being pregnant but not "knowing" what was going on made me fundamentally distrust my own body. I mean, here I was, "pregnant" but I had no way of knowing what was happening in there. Was the pregnancy progressing? Was it progressing the way it should? Then the bleeding in the second month of the pregnancy really shook me up. I had just begun to settle into being "comfortable" with being pregnant and suddenly my body starts to do something that it shouldn't. I never trusted it for a second after that. It was a classic by the book pregnancy after that but I never relaxed.

So with my second pregnancy I decided to enjoy myself. I looked at my then nearly two-year-old daughter and thought, "look what you can do! You did that!" and silenced any of the doubting worrisome voices that tried to get my attention. I decided that my body was wonderful. It could grow and nurture new life. I was sickeningly in love with being pregnant.

Then, just a day shy of the end of my first trimester of pregnancy, I spotted. I debated over whether or not this merited a trip to the doctors and after ringing them was told that although it was probably nothing, as I would basically just be coming in a day early to go ahead and drop by. My husband enthusiastically offered to go with me which puzzled me at the time. Generally he was not excited by keeping our young daughter entertained in public areas. I learned later there was a rheumatology hospital located opposite the Royal Woman's Hospital where I was going and that is where he really wanted to go.

Just before I was called into the examination room, my husband mentioned that he wanted to dash across the street for a moment to get a consult on his knee. His knee had been bothering him for several months but then this was the same man who during graduate school used to poke himself in the armpit to the point of causing pain. He poked at it in the morning. He poked at it in the evening. Sure enough, no matter what time of day it was, if he poked at it hard enough it hurt. The doctor at the University Health Center all but wrote out the word "hypochondriac" on his forehead. So I had been treating this more recent "my knee hurts" episode as more of the same. While I was a bit vexed by his choice of timing, I acquiesced. So when they ended up subjecting me to numerous ultrasounds (invasive included) while my exuberant toddler raced around the examination room unconfined and stopping every few minutes to look at the blank monitor and chant in a singsong voice, "where's the baby? where's the baby? baby? baby? baby?" I was effectively, emotionally, all alone. There was no baby. My wonderful Mother Earth Temple had crumbled. I was living in the ruins, had been living in the ruins for weeks and not even known it. Silly me, doing my palace dances and singing my palace songs. If my body were anything really, it was a walking coffin.

My body was a failure. The pregnancy ended in a D & C (dilate and curate) which got me one night's stay at the hospital before I went back home and started to pack up our life in Australia and get ready for the move to Japan.

I eventually got over the miscarriage but just a year after the birth of our second daughter, my husband finally got a positive diagnosis on why his knee (and by that point his wrist, right index finger, lower back, right shoulder) was so painful. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. He was 40 and suddenly the universe had revoked it's cosmic protection. I only realized much later that his first symptom of RA had stood up to be accounted present at the same exact moment that the doctors had been staring at the ultrasound monitor looking at the absence of a baby. . . I guess if his universal protection policy had covered me as well then I lost my coverage along with him.

The future suddenly disappeared. Being told that the pain you are experiencing is of a chronic nature and that the disease causing it is terminal sort of wrings the last drop of optimism out of future vistas. We are probably both still in some stage of denial but for now our focus has swung completely onto the present. I have ventured on-line and googled RA only a handful of times since my husband's diagnosis and each time I have left with a new appreciation of why his doctor once told him, "best not to think about what the future may hold. If you think about all the different twists and turns that RA can take you'll become suicidal."

The present however is very helpful in keeping us awake, alert and on the scene. You can't have two children under the age of 10 in your household and NOT be living in the moment! They need orange juice, and they need it now. The smaller one (only just four-years-old at this writing) can't possibly pee without an audience and the older one (at eight years of age) still can't fall asleep at night unless you are holding her hand. Since my future has temporarily evaporated (I'm sure that we will regain it eventually. It is there, just as solid and inescapable as the past, we in our disillusion are just looking the wrong direction--when we lift up our eyes from the ground where we have been hurled it will be there, in front of us still) I have found a kind of comfort in experiencing the present, in relishing the present.

But the shift in the nature of the universe from benevolent to malevolent has led me closer to the world that I tried all those years ago to escape. I want to get those muggers and mad men out of the shadows. Realistically speaking, concern over the safety of children has increased in both Japan and the U.S. since the 1970's and 80's when I was a child growing up with the petite prophet of doom. Growing up my schools never had a color/level warning system in place for parents to alert them to the possibility of harm occurring to their children or the presence of a child predator in the area. My mother never received a phone call that told her to come gather me at the school gates because someone had sent the school a letter threatening to kill one first grader every day that week. My older daughter's school in Osaka did phone me with that message. And now in America, when I was home on a visit, my friend popped the trunk to her car and hauled out an extra pair of jeans for my daughter. We were visiting a Chuck E. Cheese's (child pizza and play area) and she advised me that it would be prudent to have my three-year-old daughter don the jeans instead of the skirt she was wearing. She explained to me that children who have been the victims of sexual preditators in turn sometimes perpetrate sexual violence on smaller children. She had a friend in child protective services who had taken her aside and warned her. Suddenly, my daughter needed to be wearing protective clothing in order to enjoy the indoor slides/climing maze.

So, yes, unfortunately we as parents need to take more precautions regarding our children's safety than parents of yore. But I don't want my children to play tennis nervously, I want them to play joyfully! And I realized that my husband's (and my) new found sense of dread was threatening to change a sunny world view into one that focused instead on all those resulting shadows the sun casts.

It wasn't a subtle realization that came to me as I sat in the park watching the girls play. It didn't come to me in a quiet moment over a cup of morning coffee in the stillness of the house that I enjoy before the girls wake up. . . No, simply put it was a few weeks ago at bedtime when my eight-year-old, with my hand firmly grasped in hers as we both snuggled down under our winter comforters (My four-year-old was already asleep on the other side of me, her little hand still resting on my tummy.) suddenly sat up and said, "Mommy?"
"Mommy. . . can you tell Daddy to stop telling me those stories?"
"What stories?"
"The ones he sees on the T.V."
"Oh." (I knew instantly what she was talking about--I had caught him telling her in detail all about a 10-year-old girl who had been killed--run over and dragged several meters by a big rig truck in Tokyo.)
"I keep having bad dreams. . . make him stop okay?"

I know why he told her that story. He didn't need to, and he shouldn't have, but I know why he did it. He did it because he is scared--of the malevolent future. When I broached the subject with him he was quick to point out the 30 minute walk to and from school she has each day--all those shopping centers that she walks past, cars going in and out, the icy roads of winter, children laughing, talking, not paying attention to traffic.

But the child who was tragically killed in Tokyo was crossing an intersection after looking both ways, the walk signal was on, she was doing everything right. It was the truck driver who came careening around a blind corner and simply swept right over her who was not doing right.

The potential dangers that he identified in our daughter's commute to school would have been better addressed in a simple traffic safety talk not in the gory details of the tragedy on the T.V. news. I grew up with a small girl's body parts littering the neighborhood because she didn't heed the tornado bell. Do I want my daughters to grow up with little girls pinned beneath the tires of every big rig on the road?

Where my husband used to quiet my general misgivings and "what if?"s he now silently absorbs them, he lets them settle and solidify there before us, and before our children. So I have suddenly learned to quiet them myself. In an odd way, losing the future temporarily has helped me really embrace and live the present. The present makes an excellent shield. Do my children need to watch the tragedy unfolding on the T.V. about the 34 year old local mother who threw her daughter off a bridge?--no, deflect it. It is also a useful sword. Can anything be gained by watching the T.V. footage of cars sliding into each other on ice coated roads? Perhaps, but the best way to illustrate the slipperiness of ice? It's the puddle frozen out back in the garden! If there are bad things waiting in the future than I'll take the opportunity now to sharpen my sword. I will not poke holes in my own armour with self-doubts, fears and general forebrooding. Nor will I weaken my children's defenses by drawing murals of modern day cautionary tales from the evening or morning news in their dreams. Instead I will teach them how to hold the sheild, how to lower it and jab with the sword. I will teach them how to spot black ice and let them practice how to fall when they do hit it.

We couldn't have ever planned for living life at the mercy of an incurable terminal immune disorder. And even if we could have, wouldn't it just have sucked all the joy and fun out of the years prior to the official diagnosis? (something I had a taste of in my child hood. . . ) Or maybe the fear of its shadowy presence solidifying would have propelled us into a head long rush into overdrive and self-destruction--neither ways of living life very appealing.

I know why he did it. My husband was scared. He is scared. I am too. Of course I feel my chest tighten, my heart contract whenever I realize that a child, a child like one of my children has been hurt, abducted, abused, killed--in accidental or criminal circumstances. But I am not going to raise potential victims. I want to raise happy, confident children who grow up into young adults who choose wisely. I want to bring up my children as safely as I can. I want them to have long and interesting childhoods. Then when they are teens, I want them to explode the world and set out to find what in it is theirs. I want them to find out how they fit into the world, what they can do here and what they can do well. Of course they will make mistakes and take risks: it is through finding out who you aren't that you often discover who you are. Failure leads to success, eventually. But I want to weight the odds in their favour. I want to increase the probablity that they will make good choices. I am a mother after all. I want them to avoid doing foolish, mule headed things like smoking a cigarrette because it will cut their appetite, drinking to get drunk, forgoing the use of a condom in the heat of the moment, or eating--God forbid--raw eggs. But the bottom line is that I want them to grow up secure enough to be optimistic--not looking fearfully into the future over what it might disclose, but eagerly looking into the future exicited to engage it, live it and make it uniquely theirs.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Valentine's Day" or "It is better to Give than to Receive"

As a elementary school student I remember the thrill and joy of Valentine's Day in the early grades. Back then it was a day to stuff your Valentines cards into all your friends/classmates Valentine's Day mail boxes set up on each child's desk. It was fun. Opening up your own mail box at the end of the day and sorting through all the different cute and funny cards. . . eating the chocolate frosted cupcakes that someones mother had brought in and giggling over the messages on the candy hearts perched on top of them--February the 14th was a candy coated, smooth chocolaty comforting day.

When it suddenly switched from a day of expressing "love" for all your friends and became tinged with the pre-pubescent romantic notions of fifth and sixth graders I began to grow decidedly more and more uneasy. If there was one day out of the entire school year that I would have joyfully fallen ill, victim to anything from a severe head cold to a bout of really nasty influenza--February the 14th would have been that day. When you are inside a changing body and spend most of your time fixating on which feature is your worst and which is your best and then on top of that are thrown into the kind of vicious social arena so many junior high and high schools can be. . . Valentine' s Day comes off as a pre-approved method for publicly stamping "reject" on your forehead.

Every year eating my mother-given chocolate and reading my mother-given, "We love you our beautiful daughter" card seemed to only underscore the pathetic state of my social life in reality. I can't remember ever receiving a bouquet of roses or even pink carnations while in the middle of any of my high school classes. No one ever had to interrupt class to present me with a bouquet of Valentine's Day balloons. I have very clear memories of other girls, the really pretty girls, the popular girls giggling and laughing, tossing their princess hair over their shoulders as they received their Valentine's day flowers and balloons. Very clear memories, crystal clear and sharp painful memories.

I slunk away from those high school Valentine's Days and went off to college where I was sure that I could, in my new found sophistication, scoff off the dreaded lover's holiday. And I was fairly successful. Annoyingly, I still had friends whose boyfriends provided them with romantic dinners and blood red roses perched atop heart shaped boxes of chocolate. However, in my new found maturity I forgave them their happiness and instead sought out my other boyfriend-less girl friends so we could complain about men together.

Then I met my future husband. Poor guy--I did everything but wrestle him to the ground and tag him like an endangered species upon first meeting him. From the first moment we met I knew that he was what I wanted. I didn't even know why, I just knew that this one I had to keep. Of course I was wise enough not to let him know about my long term plans for him--instead I gazed into his eyes and when he asked if I wasn't unsure about starting a relationship with someone from another country I simple replied seductively, "live for the moment!" He still wistfully remembers the gold pot he thought he'd found when I huskily whispered that against his neck.

I was mentally calculating at what age I would birth each of our future children.

We started dating in November and he left for his university and life back in Japan that December. Apparently my famous "live for the moment" quote had been passed off so successfully that he felt the need to try to secure my amorous affections so he was incredibly diligent with regular phone calls and love letters during our next semester apart. He sent me boxes of chocolates on February the 14th that year. I remember them all--one came in a champagne glass shaped like a woman's high heel shoe. The others were in heart shaped boxes, flower shaped boxes. . . there were so many! He had shipped two separate boxes full of Valentine's cards, letters, hand drawn pictures, chocolates. . . and he had fresh roses delivered to me.

When I got to Japan three months following my graduation from University I was not only in love, I myself was as good as hog tied and tagged. When my first Valentine's Day in Japan rolled around and wonders of wonders, they had gotten the holiday all wrong--in Japan women give men chocolate not vice versa--I realized exactly what he had done for me the previous year. I would have married him on the spot. He confessed that it had been one of the most embarrassing moments of his life, walking into the department stores and buying Valentine's Day chocolates and cards as in Japan only woman do that.

For the next few Valentine's days I joined the ranks of young Japanese women scouring the departos (department stores) for the rarest import chocolates with which to impress my love. After our fourth Valentine's day together though it began to dawn on me that this man of mine, who in the first year of our relationship had been quite the verbalizer of his unending love for me had succeeded in suddenly silencing any talk of engagement or marriage . . . and so I stopped buying big boxes of chocolates and instead waited at night for him to bring home all the chocolate he scored from woman co-workers, admires and friends. Then I would sit and consume most of them in front of him declaring that since he was mine, they were my spoils by default.

The only results were that I tended to put on a little weight every February for the next few years. By the eighth year of our relationship he had pretty much made me eat my famous "live for the moment" line. Turned out that the love letters he had posted to me with, "marry me!" "I can't live with out you" and various other lines in them had been penned on the advise of a Playboy magazine's article on how to keep a girl in a long distance relationship from cheating on you. As punishment I hung in there and nearly a decade after we first met we married.

Now, after a decade of being married, looking at the big 4-0 looming on the horizon for my March birthday this year I realize that I have been with the same man now for exactly half of my life. I met my husband when I was 20. He got my twenties and most of my thirties (There was a year or so in there that I had to finally put my foot down and leave him until he came to his senses and agreed to marry me.) and now it looks like he'll get whatever is left.

Nowadays when Valentine's Day rolls around I am, I imagine closer aligned to my Japanese contemporaries than I am to my American ones in how I perceive the holiday. This year I see it as more of a holiday for my two young daughters than for me. I will probably give my husband some form of chocolate but it will be in conjunction with my daughters. We will, all three of us, set out this evening to bake a chocolate roll cake to present the family male with.

Ironically it doesn't even enter my mind to stress over not receiving anything myself this year. Well, I can't lie. I was sort of shocked to realize that this year, while my mother sent the kids Valentine's Day cards she didn't send me one!

Yet, it seems kind of fitting that for a woman who grew up dreading the 14th of February every year after I hit the age of 10 I now live in a country where the holiday is all about women giving chocolate. As I approach 40 I can now say that from my experience yes, it is easier to be dumped than to be the dumpee; it is also easier to be the giver than the receiver--at least on Valentine's day!