When my son was in kindergarten I couldn’t afford Valentine’s for him. Seriously, the $4 for a pack of Valentine’s and some candy was WAY beyond what I could do as a newly-designated-single mom-living-off-budget envelopes. Seeing an empty envelope after buying groceries but before buying the Valentine’s he wanted made me feel like a failure. After I cried a bit I decided to put the adage when life gives you lemons, make lemonade saying to work.
I had craft paper, glue and stickers. I was relatively creative. I had the useless talent of being able to freehand and cut out bubble letters. I could make time. I might not be able to afford Valentine’s but that didn’t mean my son wouldn’t be able to give Valentine’s. We were going to MAKE THEM.
The 3 of us sat in our tiny little apartment and set about making our Valen-times (as he called them). I vividly remember them. I would cut out bubble letters of his classmate’s first names. He would then be responsible for telling me one nice thing about each person. I would write it, he would sign it and decorate it. Simple, right?
½ way thru the project I was questioning my sanity. Working with a 6-year-old boy to create valen-times while keeping a 3-year-old terror in line was not such an easy task. For every one I did for him I had to do for her. Keeping both on track was daunting. I had glue and glitter in places where there should not be glue and glitter. Trying to find something nice to say about all 30 of his classmates was not as easy as I thought it should be. There would be times when he didn’t even know who I was talking about as I read the name off the class list. Trying to explain to a small boy that, “You aren’t ALWAYS mean to me,” isn’t something nice to say is a little frustrating. I can remember laying my head on the table after he described one of his classmates with something like, ” you don’t smell”. I am sure I had a heart sticker and purple glitter on my forehead when I finally decided to ‘rise’ up and get back to work. At one point, I remember thinking that there was a probably enough change somewhere—ANYWHERE—to go out and buy some cheap little fold in ½, perforated edged, cartoon character cards that we could knock out in a fraction of the time. I am pretty sure I toyed with the idea of playing sick that day so as to avoid the whole valentine exchange altogether.
I stuck to my guns and we made the project work. At the end of the day I was rather proud of our little creations. I was especially proud that I stayed the course and made my son think of something positive and nice to say about each person. There were times that the only thing he could come up with is, “I guess you are nice,” but at least it was a semi-kind thing to say. I want to hope that that lesson stuck. With a little effort you can find something nice to say about everyone. We used lace doilies, stickers, pipe cleaners, glue, glitter and craft paper. More importantly we used our imagination and did it together.
Needless to say, that year started a tradition. I don’t know that this was my intention but each year we make our valen-times. My son has become a middle schooler so he is no longer interested in making them for his friends (thank GOD) but he does sit down and help his sisters as they create theirs. Having my 13-year-old son sitting at the kitchen table cutting out pink handprints for “I love you this much” Valentine’s for his 2 year-old sister makes me happy. Seeing my 10-year-old crafty daughter jump in with enthusiasm and creativeness makes the effort worthwhile. Watching them join efforts to finish their baby sister’s valen-times…well…that just makes me misty eyed. Don’t misunderstand. The making of the Valen-time’s generally involves one big-knock-down-drag-out argument. It’s not all oh-lah-la and lovey-dovey. At least once every year I think, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. She would be just as happy with DORA or cheetah print valentime’s”, but then I have to stop and step away from the craft table a.k.a kitchen table.
We are a busy, modern day family. One child is always somewhere doing something while the others are at home. Free time involves being plugged up to some electronic device most of the time. We don’t often STOP and sit at the kitchen table together–even to EAT. Until February. My table is caked with glitter, glue and paint but I don’t mind. I hope that these Valen-times are more then little tokens they hand out to their friends. I hope these February projects become memories that they hold onto and take with them when they leave me.