In grade school, Valentine’s Day was pretty neat: mailboxes made out of milk cartons and cereal boxes decorated with tissue paper and heart-shaped doilies, overflowing with ready-made and homemade Valentines; boxes of candy hearts; school parties with cupcakes and juice.
Everybody shared in the fun. No one was left out. We had to make a Valentine for everybody in class: the teacher, the brainiacs, the shy kids, the awkward ones, boys and girls, even the bullies. It was fun to include everyone, walking past each decorated box and dropping in the notes.
Then came junior high, when some people started to get left out. A few people were deliberately “forgotten” in the filling of mailboxes, if there even were mailboxes. The shy, awkward and brainiac kids had only a few notes. The bullies may have received some extras as peace offerings. The psychological tricks of the “in” crowd turned this party-friendly, sociable, happy holiday into a disappointment. Valentine’s Day became the day when one’s status was formally revealed. One celebrated an abundance of notes, or slipped one’s meager few deep into a backpack pocket to be pondered later, when no one could count on one hand the number of cards received.
By high school, I grew to detest Valentine’s Day. It became a couple’s holiday. Girls had dates, or they didn’t. They had parties to attend, or they stayed home.
During most of high school, I stayed home. No dates, no parties. I just sat and watched some sappy Hallmark movie on TV, feeling sorry for myself. Like Charlie Brown, my mailbox, the one by the curb, was empty except for a card from Grandma. I dearly loved my Grandma and prized her card, of course, but it’s not exactly what I was hoping for.
One especially mopey year, my dad (under clear instructions from Mom, I suspect) brought home a card and small gift: a heart-shaped box. Lifting the lid revealed a music box. I turned the crank and it played a melancholy rendition of “The Way We Were.” I still have the box. You can listen to it yourself.
In spite of this lovely parental gesture, I grew to dislike Valentine’s Day, even dread it. It made me feel unloved and unwanted. Left out.
So when our kids were little, and since I didn’t really like the holiday much anyway, I determined to turn it into a big family holiday. We call it our Family LoveFest, and we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. The Belgian Wonder and I do not go out on that day (our anniversary is shortly after, so we go out sans enfants then). My theory is that eventually a sister will have an invitation to something–a dance, a date, a party with friends–and the others won’t. My hope is that our Family LoveFest will be such a wonderful time of fun, food, love and laughter, that whoever is stuck at home won’t feel “stuck” at all. In fact, I love the thought that the one with the invitation might even be thinking a little bit about us, wondering what she’s missing! I know, I know. That isn’t likely to happen, but maybe it will ease the sting for those left behind.That’s the background and motivation for Family LoveFest. Here’s what we do:
Family LoveFest Menu planning. We plan the menu together, as elaborate or simple as we are in the mood for. When the kids were younger, they liked it super-simple, so we didn’t make it any more involved than they wanted. Now that they’re older, they are branching out and suggesting different food items. We usually try to include lots of red and pink items, but we don’t force it. They like red Jell-O and jellied cranberry sauce. Tomato-based main courses. Pink lemonade. Angelfood cake with pink icing. Strawberries.
We try to involve the kids as much as possible in the planning so that there’s ownership on all fronts. This year we have the unexpected pleasure of sharing Valentine’s Day with their grandparents. Two of the kids asked if they could be the waiters. “Only if you really want to,” I said, “because this is your LoveFest, too.”
“We want to!” they exclaimed. “It sounds like fun!” Wonderful! Besides, serving others and love go together. That works.They want to write out a menu and serve courses. They want to dress up. They’ll decorate the table themselves–probably with bears holding homemade hearts. And they may scatter M&Ms around for color (and chocolate). We’ll make Valentine cards for everybody, with special love messages, because in our Family LoveFest, no one gets left out. And we’ll go around and tell each person what we admire about him or her–Valentine’s Day affirmations.
I do go online sometimes (this year I’ll be checking out the ideas listed at WFMW!) for creative ideas, but the basic concept is the same: to let everyone in the family know that no matter what’s happening at school with friends or bullies or boyfriends and girlfriends or the lack thereof, they are and always will be loved at home.Please visit Rocks in My Dryer for more great ideas!