A few years ago, my son, then 11 years old, had his first major crush. While he whipped out obligatory store-bought Valentines for the rest of the kids in his class, he labored over a beautiful handmade Valentine for the girl in question. He strode off to school with pride and confidence.
He lumbered back home in defeat. The object of his affection had laughed at his beautiful Valentine. Her friends had snickered.
"I hate Valentine's," he cried. "Nobody loves me!"
"Well that's a bunch of bunk," I told him. "I love you. Let's celebrate that." That night we made a pact not to give up on a holiday that's about opening your heart, but to take back the night on it. We vowed to find fun and nonromantic ways to celebrate all the love we do have in our lives instead of dwelling on the loves we might not have. Here are the five ideas for future Valentine's Days, not one of which requires a crush.
Read a book about love to your child
Our favorites in this arena are Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram's Guess How Much I Love You, and I Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. Whether your child is a toddler or a teenager, sit him down on the couch with a cuddly blanket and remind him, "I love you to the moon and back."
This year we are celebrating the day of love with the color of love – red. Everything on the dinner table has to have red in it. Everyone in the family is responsible for making one item. Here's what is on the menu so far: spaghetti with red sauce, strawberry salad, pink milk, radishes, baked peppers and red velvet cake with strawberry ice cream. Each one is also responsible for decorating someone else's place setting, but the rule is that no one can spend more than $5 to decorate. Hershey's kisses anyone?
A mailbox full of love
Speaking of kisses, we stole this idea from one of my daughter's suitors. On Valentine's night, he crept over to our house and filled the mailbox with Hershey's kisses. When my daughter went out to check the mail, she turned as red as the foil on the candy. This year, we are going to anonymously fill our neighbor's mailbox with a note that says, "Share the love!"
Let's talk about love
I came up with this one. Use Valentine's Day as an opportunity to talk about love, loving relationships and sex with your child. Yes, give 'em the talk! With all the focus on couples and romance, what a perfect time to invite your kids to ask you any questions they want about love. One way to start the conversation: Give your children a sheet of paper and ask them to write five questions they have about love, sex, relationships, marriage, etc. Assure them that you will answer their questions in private and that you will not laugh at any question. Then take your children out (separately) to a special coffee shop and answer their queries. You may also ask them if they'd rather have you answer back in writing. If so, write up your answers and slip the envelopes discreetly under their bedroom doors. Include in the notes an invitation to a fun and informative face-to-face chat when they are ready.
The day we met
Every kid revels in the story of how her parents met. Use Valentine's Day as an excuse to share your story. It doesn't matter if you are married, divorced, single, straight, gay, or celibate now; hearken back to the moment you met your child's other parent, pulling out the warmest memories for your child to hold. My kids' father and I are divorced, but as part of our Red Dinner this year, they will hear again how we met as young newspaper reporters both sent to cover a tragic murder. And so will my companion. If he's going to be around the family on Valentine's, he's going to hear the story. Luckily, my kids like hearing about how we met, too.
When my ex-husband and I met, it was my first day on the paper and the editors did not realize they had sent two of us out on the same story. We each thought the other was the news competition and were each knocking ourselves out to get better quotes than the other. When we returned to the newsroom, we were required to write the story together.
My daughter, who has heard this story every Valentine's Day for 12 years, likes to tell her friends, "My parents met over a dead body."
Ah, the romance!