When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day meant that I got to stay up late the night before. My parents did not plan this on purpose, but I was usually engaged in a mad scramble to make Valentines for everyone in my class. Every year I begged my mom to buy a box of those pre-made Valentines – you know, those little cardboard rectangles with popular cartoon or movie characters on the front, and the printed message on the back that said “To:__ From:__”. I was still young enough to think filling in the blanks was supremely cool. I also loved the Aladdin Valentines, in particular, but she would have none of it: “Don’t be ridiculous, Katherine! Those are a waste of money! Homemade Valentines are far more meaningful, anyways.” When I threatened to buy them with my own money, she’d whip out the classic line that always won her battles: “You really want to spend your money on that?!”
So out came the craft kit after supper – red and pink construction paper, white doilies, sparkles, glue, scissors, and markers. I was an expert at cutting out hearts from a folded-over rectangle (aren’t most girls in elementary school?) and I especially liked to layer different-sized hearts on top of each other. The hours ticked by and the pile grew, painfully slowly because of the detail I put into each one and the fact that I had to make twenty-five of them!
The big day arrived. There was always a spectacular homemade Valentine waiting for me at the breakfast table, so beautiful that it usually ended up spending several months on display in my room. Then I’d race excitedly to school, inserting my creation carefully into each person’s paper bag on their desk. When it was time to open the bag, I pulled out each Valentine one at a time. The faces of Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, and Belle all smiled up at me. There was never a single homemade Valentine in my bag. I flipped each over to see who had given them to me, and then counted to make sure everyone had given me one. But once those names were counted, there was nothing left to do; back they went into the paper bag, and eventually into the recycling.
All around me, my classmates were doing the same thing, but they always paused when they got to my big, gaudy creation. Some kids laughed, others shoved it aside, and a few looked at it carefully. No one ever said they liked it or thanked me for it. I felt embarrassed, wishing my mom didn’t make me do it, and then I’d return home feeling thoroughly depressed. In retrospect, I’m sure many of the kids truly appreciated my homemade ones but didn’t know how to say so.
Funny how things come back around. My son is off to nursery school on Friday morning and since this is Valentine’s Day week, the kids are encouraged to bring Valentines for everyone in the class. The time has come for him to carry on the family tradition of homemade Valentines! Of course I’ll have to make them myself, and I’ll keep them simpler than I used to, but there’s no way on earth I’m going to buy a box of Cars-themed Valentines! What a pointless waste of money! And entirely meaningless, too! ( You were right all along, Mom.)