Valentine’s Day can be an emotional holiday for many of us, right? And when I say “emotional,” I don’t mean only feelings of love. It seems like self-pity, disappointment, and even resentment can be plentiful on Valentine’s Day.
As a young kid, the 14th of February for me meant candy and stickers and chocolates and notes to and from every peer in my classroom. But as I got older and went to junior high, I remember Valentine’s Day being a day of dread for me.
Where I went to school, kids were allowed to buy single roses for that special someone. I’m sure it was a fundraiser of some kind. These secret flowers were delivered during homeroom each day. Every morning, the red roses were passed out to surprised girls who looked at them adoringly all day long.
I didn’t get a rose delivered to me. Not one single rose during my three years of junior high. I was too painfully shy to even think about buying a rose for my secret crush, and he didn’t get the telepathic messages I kept sending him that I really wanted a red rose. I’m pretty sure I cried many tears over undelivered red roses as a tormented junior high school girl.
It was around this time in my life that my dad decided to teach his daughters that a Valentine doesn’t have to send you flowers during homeroom. A Valentine doesn’t even have to go to your school, or be your same age. He showed us that Valentine’s Day can be more than a day for romantic love.
It can be a day when a father shows love for his daughters. My dad taught me that it’s a day to show all the people you love how much you care, not just your romantic pursuits. He made Valentine’s Day a family tradition.
Every year, my dad did something really special for my mom and each of his four daughters. When we were kids, he even involved my brother in the gift-giving.
Whether it was a fancy breakfast with all our favorite foods or a gift basket with flowers and chocolate, he took the time show love for us. And he never forgot to write a heartfelt note to tell me everything he loved about me. As an insecure teenager, I didn’t believe in myself very much, so I clung to the words that told me my dad did. He knew I was special, so maybe, just maybe, I could believe that I was special, too.
As the years passed, each of my dad’s daughters married and moved away from home. And he’s passed the torch of Valentine’s Day gift giving to each of his sons-in-law.
My husband and I decided early on in our marriage that we, too, were going to make Valentine’s Day a day of love for the whole family. As starving students who couldn’t afford a babysitter—much less a night at a fancy restaurant—this decision came as much out of necessity as it did pure heartfelt love for our children. But it has since become a tradition that the whole family looks forward to with great anticipation.
Some years we have celebrated by taking the kids to the dollar store to pick out a plastic trinket for each of their siblings. Some years I have splattered their bedroom doors with homemade construction paper hearts, each littered with something I love about them. We call this a “heart attack.” And some years we have celebrated with a fancy candlelit dinner around the kitchen table—my boys are particularly fascinated with open flames.
One feeling I’ve learned to avoid on this day—one feeling that doesn’t ever produce a happy outcome—is the urge to feel sorry for myself. I blame all the Meg Ryan romantic comedies from the 90’s for setting completely unrealistic expectations for me and every other girl in America. When comparing our real everyday lives to those movies, it’s easy to have thoughts like these:
“Why can’t we just go out to eat by ourselves one day a year?”
“This is supposed to be the holiday of romance and it’s anything but that! I’m knee-deep in diapers and runny noses.”
“My husband never even remembers until the night before—and that’s only because I remind him!”
“Once, just once, can’t I be surprised with a trip to New York City where we kiss on the top of the Empire State Building? Is that too much to ask?”
I could spend Valentine’s Day each year wishing things were different than they are, or I can choose to see the love that is all around me. Sticky kisses from my 5 year old. A side hug from my “too cool” tweenager who needs me more than he would like to admit. A daughter who still wants to watch cheesy chick flicks with me. A son who still tells me he loves me. A husband who stays up late to help our middle schooler build a sarcophagus for his unit on ancient Egypt so that I can write this article and contribute and create in a way that helps fill my bucket.
There are so many ways to celebrate the loves in our lives on and around February 14. We get to create that love and those traditions in our families. So whether it’s with candlelit dinners, “heart attacks,” special breakfasts, trinkets from the dollar store, or something else, look for ways to love. You will always find them.
QUESTION: How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?
CHALLENGE: Choose a few ways you can show love and create family traditions during this holiday, no matter your circumstance.
Edited by Deborah Nash and Nollie Haws.