The XX Factor

Sorry Cupid, Valentine’s Day is for Kids

I love Valentine’s Day. No doubt it’s the byproduct of growing up with an elementary school teacher for a mother, but I love any holiday that comes with brightly colored decorations and can be celebrated almost entirely with construction paper. Like Halloween, Valentine’s Day is gloriously free of the religious complications that weigh down Christmas and Easter, and comes without even the remotest need to travel to faraway family destinations. It’s a free pass to feel festive, and all day long there exists the possibility that someone-almost anyone-might give you candy or possibly a pair of socks covered in little hearts.

This Pollyanna-ish view of a holiday that irks many for either its focus on faux-romance (heavy on the consumerism) or for the angst they’ve experienced in lacking said romance (I’m thinking of those of you who went to schools where the other kids did NOT have to give a Valentine to everyone in the class) probably comes straight from my above-mentioned mother, who’s almost sure to give me a pair of the similarly above-mentioned socks. Or maybe a heart-shaped keychain. Or a magnet. And a card, probably a goofy one, telling me that I’m her Valentine now and always. I’ve had my share of Valentines from “boys” and my share of Valentine’s Days without them, but the focus of the holiday for me, thanks to my mom, has always been on family. Valentine’s Day isn’t a day for “romance,” but a day to bestow a heart-shaped sugar cookie, with sprinkles, on the people you love all year round.

Love isn’t “romance,” anyway. The real Valentine’s Day comes on the day your husband stands beside you when you lose a baby, and day after day after week after month of misery after. It’s the day your father tells you he never liked that guy anyway. The morning when your daughter hands you a rumpled card she made a week ago at school, and it shows every single member of your family asleep in bunk beds in the same room while Santa Claus walks by. It’s the sudden hug from a running little boy, the big kid who leans on you and then offers to build his sister her lego house, and the preschooler who says “I love you, Mommy” while she puts her cup, wrong side up, in the dishwasher. It’s every “I was thinking of you” card your mother puts in the mail. Love is the everyday stuff and the tough stuff. Valentine’s Day is just the day we wave it around and have a party for it.

All that’s absolutely corny. Valentine’s Day is exactly that: the day we teach kids that it’s OK to be corny. We can drop the cynicism and poses, don our heart-covered socks, and shamelessly declare our passionate attachment to the people who get us through the other 364 days a year. The tiny plastic heart ring or pack of hockey cards with a big heart sticker that we put next to the Valentine’s Day breakfast plate lays a tiny part of the foundation for the love we share with our kids-love we hope they’ll be strong enough and brave enough and corny enough to share with others later. There are times in life for the big romantic leap. Valentine’s Day isn’t one of them. It’s the day for celebrating the sure thing.