Taking Valentine’s Day To Heart

sneakersPublished in Bay State Parent

Parents take note: Valentine’s Day needn’t be only for love-struck couples or candy-stuck cards for your kids’ classmates. This flower-and-chocolateladen holiday can be easily transformed into a meaningful family event that you and your kids will look forward to year after year. Its theme of expressing love is meaningful; the holiday trappings are few, and the opportunity to sweeten it with memorable family traditions is well worth the effort.

Here’s how some Massachusetts families transformed Valentine’s Day from a Hallmark holiday of obligation into a love-sparked holiday of inspiration:

SAY IT WITH (PAPER) FLOWERS

Pier and her husband Paul, from Webster, started the tradition of giving their two daughters Emily (10) and Kaitlyn (7) flowers since they were young, usually a few color-tipped carnations with baby’s breath.

“It’s a little something to say, ‘You’re my sweetheart,'” says Pier. “We always delight in how it makes them feel special and remembered on Valentine’s Day.”

Gisele, a mom of three from Shrewsbury, looks forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day with her kids Gregory (8), Natalie (6) and Bradley (3) every year.

“I always felt like with my kids, Valentine’s Day was a time to get away from the “store-bought” everything. I like to do more of the heartfelt things,” she says. “It’s not about the toys or presents that they are getting. It’s a time when you can do something simple to tell someone you love them in a simple, thoughtful way.”

Gisele tries to come up with easy-tomake, homemade gifts her kids can give to each other, a friend or a teacher. She admits that while she’s not “crafty,” her own childhood memories have inspired some ideas.

“I remembered when my Mom made tissue paper flowers when I was a kid,” she says. “That’s how I got that idea for Valentine’s Day. We made up little flowers with tissue paper, and tied a little homemade heart to the stem of each flower. It was something their friends or anybody they thought of that was special to them could keep.”

A BOX OF LOVE AND LAUGHS

For Rita-Anne of Lancaster, what started out as a simple idea has evolved into a much-anticipated, much enjoyed family event every Valentine’s Day for her three boys, Benjamin (9), Nathaniel (8) and Isaiah-Thomas (7).

“I had found these heart-shaped boxes at Christmas Tree Shops,” she recalls, “and I thought they would make a great memory box to put valentines in.” Each year, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, Rita-Anne gives each child a blank heart-shaped paper for each family member. They then write something that they “like” or “love” about that family member. Rita- Anne then laminates each card, dates them, and puts them in the each person’s memory box.

The statements are short, endearing, and sometimes humorous.

“They’re simple statements,” says Rita- Anne. ‘I like when you feed me.’ ‘I like when we went to Disney World.’ ‘I like when you read to me.’ Or, ‘I like your hair.’ It’s cute; it’s innocent, and it’s real.”

And as the boys get older, they enjoy reading the valentines in their boxes from years ago, along with the new ones.

“It’s a hoot to look back over the years and talk about why they said what they did,” laughs Rita-Anne. “The boys will say things like, ‘Why did I write that – I liked your blanket?'”

When the boys were going through the “superhero” stage, Ben wrote to his brother Nathaniel, “I like that you like Spiderman, but Batman’s better!”

“I collect them all, and then we have a special Valentine’s Day dinner. We have sparkling cider. We have the boxes in front of each table setting. The kids get all dressed up. ”

“It’s something they can look back on and look forward to,” she says.

OVERNIGHT SENSATION

Renee and her husband Christopher from Dudley take their Valentine’s tradition on the road, celebrating the occasion with their two girls, Alexandra (13), and Madison (10) at a nearby hotel.

“Since they were little, we’d take them away overnight,” says Renee. “It’s a big thrill for them. They think it’s a big deal, just to get out of the house. We normally camp in the summer, so going to a hotel is a rare treat.”

The girls especially look forward to the indoor pool and room service – two musthave amenities that Renee looks for in a hotel.

“Just to swim when it’s so cold out is a treat in itself,” says Renee. “And the room service – they think that’s just the best. That’s something we would never normally do, so it makes it special.”

Renee and her husband got the idea because “we live in such cold climate, so to swim in the winter is such a treat in itself. We picked Valentine’s Day because it’s a holiday where you normally don’t all go out as a family, and we wanted to make it special.”

Renee admits it’s probably a more unusual family-based Valentine’s tradition. “We notice that there aren’t many children at the hotel,” she says. “A lot of times we’re the only one with kids. It’s all couples. We’ve gotten some unusual looks,” she remarks.

TRADITIONS THAT NOT ONLY ENDEAR, BUT ALSO ENDURE

These families all agree that the simplest ideas can make a lasting impression, especially when they are unique, heartfelt, and repeated every Valentine’s Day. They all believe that Valentine’s Day should not be commercialized, but rather memorialized by finding simple ways to express love, kindness, and appreciation for each other.

“When I was growing up, I always waited every year for the dozen roses to come, but they never did,” says Gisele. “When I had kids, I wanted to make Valentine’s Day and other occasions better than what they had become what I feel they meant.”

For Pier and Paul, it’s about “remembering the love that we share as a family, and acknowledging that each person is special. Your family is the thing that you’re going to have forever good days or bad days or in-between days. We hopefully are giving our girls a good foundation so that as they get older, they’ll remember, and make their family and loved ones feel special, too.”

Renee and Christopher would like to carry on their overnight valentine’s tradition even as their girls grow up.

“I would hope that it just continues until they have children,” Renee says. “And we could all go away together. I would love to keep this tradition… just with adjoining rooms!”

Rita-Anne’s wish for her boys is to “keep the spirit of the holiday, to keep it simple.”

“There’s always going to be those homemade valentines in their box every year. Not store-bought. Not commercialized. And there’s always a story to remember each one.”

IDEAS YOUR KIDS WILL LOVE

“HOT STUFF”

Add some simple home-baked traditions to the day. Decorate cupcakes with kids; write a valentine’s note with icing or fudge on pancakes. Make a cake with sweethearts; sing “Happy Valentine’s Day” and blow out the candles.

“SWEET TALK”

Forgo store-bought cards in favor of hand-written notes. Write a letter to your child, saying what you love about him or her. Have your kids write short notes to each other and exchange them over a special meal.

“GUESS WHO”

Have your kids write down their favorite color, vacation, memory, or activity. Then read them aloud together and let kids try to guess who wrote what.

“CALL ME”

Make a phone call with your kids to a special relative, grandparent or faraway friend to say “I love you” or “I miss you.”

“FORGET-ME-NOT”

Spread the spirit of love to those who are sometimes forgotten. Make simple valentines with your kids for your local retirement or nursing home, or an elderly neighbor living alone, and then deliver them together.

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