Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A "LOVE"ly Valentines Tradition

To most, Valentine's Day is a chance for couples to celebrate each other and their love. I find it funny how this innocent little holiday frequently evokes lamentation from men and hope-filled excitement from women.  From an early age, girls get giddy as they wish and hope and pray for some fabulous expression of their sweethearts dying devotion (ie: flowers, candy, jewelry...) For some those hopes are fulfilled, but for others the anticipation can be somewhat of a let down.

The day of LOVE has essentially become just another over marketed holiday. It's almost as if we've decided to believe that the key to someones heart is through our wallet.

However, it doesn't have to be that way.

I am fundamentally opposed to buying any item just because tradition and culture dictate that we should. I don't think my sweetheart needs a box of chocolates (which by the way, would go stale before he ate them) to know that I love him. Likewise, I'd rather him not run into the jewelry store to frantically purchase a necklace that I probably will never wear. The same holds true for overpriced flowers. Instead of throwing money into the laps of distributors once a year, we choose to express our love to each other daily - in the big things, but also in the little things.

And, what greater manifestation of our love is there than our children? The very breath they breath is a witness of the love my sweetheart and I share. The laughter, the joy, and even the occasional heartache they bring into our lives is the pinnacle of our family existence. We love them more fully than we could ever love ourselves. This is why Valentines is a family affair at out home.

(Disclaimer: my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary in the days leading up to Valentines, so by the time the 14th rolls around, we've already spent many days devoted to each other! Disclaimer #2: I believe the secret to keeping your marriage strong is to run away together at least once a year. Disclaimer #3: Aforementioned "runaway" should only involve the two of you, which means you will need to plan ahead for a multi-day, responsible babysitter... aka Grandma.)

Our family Valentines tradition started about a dozen years ago when my two oldest were still toddlers. Because our family situation at the time didn't lend for an expensive night on the town as a couple, I decided to treat my sweetie to a candle light dinner at home. And, if I was going to do it for him, I thought it would be fun (and more functional) to include the children. With little preschool scissors, my two toddlers and I cut out dozens of little hearts from sheets of construction paper. We blanketed the table clothe and even made a little heart-mobile to fancy-up the light fixture. We set the table with our best dishes (ceramic, which was a big step up from the kids typical plastic settings). We even including crystal champagne flutes at every place setting.

In probably one of the purest expressions of love I've ever felt, I made dinner for my little family. The menu was simple, yet exquisite to the little ones. Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes and gravy (both died pink, of course), broccoli (our family favorite!), handmade rolls (also pink), and flutes full of sparkling cider. Dessert was heart shaped brownies topped with french vanilla ice cream, homemade hot fudge, and ample portions of whip cream.

Hands down, that little dinner ranks among the best evenings of my life. In those candle-lit moments, I saw my children in a whole new light. They were not the little rascals I spent my days chasing, they were angelic little offshoots of my husband and me. They were the purest manifestation of the love my husband and I share. They were my little valentines.

I can't claim that I was intending to start a tradition (lets face it, I'm just not that genius), but my kids grabbed onto the memories and began anticipating them year after year. Our Valentine's dinner has become one of their annual highlights. And, as the kids grow and mature (haha, that's such an interesting concept, isn't it?), the decorations have matured too. Gone may be the days of our construction paper hearts (though they still exist in a Rubbermaid tote in the basement), but one thing has remained constant: the menu. It just wouldn't be Valentine's without pink potatoes and gravy and chicken cordon bleu.

I'm so happy we stumbled upon such a lovely tradition all those years ago. I'm so grateful to have a day to celebrate the LOVE that we share as a FAMILY. I'm such a believer in the binding power of traditions - a believer that the little consistent repetitions are what will hold us together as the kids continue to grow. I hope the memories will continue to burn in their minds and their hearts long after the candles are blown out. I hope they will remember the love their parents have, not just for each other, but for them too. And, I hope that we have taught them how to love as well as how to be loved.

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