Valentines Stress Disorder
The true meaning of Valentine’s Day used to get lost around our house. Both my sons would bring home edicts from their teachers instructing them to bring twenty-odd valentines to their school party. A couple of times teachers even suggested the children bring enough valentines for the entire grade level, topping one of my son’s count at around 60 cards. Because I can’t bear the thought of purchasing that many mini-advertisements for television shows or kids’ movies, I would pull out the art supplies and get the kids gluing and cutting. Invariably, they would spend half an hour on their first valentine, while I urgently reminded them that there were many left to make. By the time both of them had hit their fifth one they were tired, bored, and complained their fingers had cramps. “Love” was not in the air.
Three years ago my husband, Pat, came up with an artistic solution that didn’t cause VSD—Valentine Stress Disorder. He helps each of the boys design their own postcard-sized valentine on the computer. Once it’s designed, he can duplicate as many as we need. The children choose images and pictures they like and arrange them on the card template. One year, Murphy placed a picture of a cat next to one of quarterback Brett Favre. Last year Spencer chose a picture of himself on a beach with the jokey caption, “Click here to feel the wind whipping around for five nanoseconds.” Since we’ve been doing this I’m proud to say I’ve resisted the urge to impose my own heart-inspired valentine motifs, ensuring that the boys’ valentines are unique and that they get the satisfaction of designing them by themselves (we even add a line that says, “designed by…”).
Keeping it personal and unusual is the goal of every artist. That’s why I help the kids write a list of specific things they love about their grandmas to copy into a Valentine’s Day card. They’ve come up with gems like, “You love the Super Bowl but only when the Colts win.” A friend of mine does a similar thing with her kids, but creates a rhythm by suggesting that they start each line with “Grandma is…” If a line is long, she breaks it into two parts. When she puts the list together, it reads like a poem.
Creating family traditions for children inspires them to think ahead. Another Mom friend of mine collects art supplies a few days before Valentine’s Day. Parents and kids grab what they need and retire to their rooms to create elaborate valentines for each other. I would guess that the payoff in this case is huge because the kids get to anticipate and witness the opening or unveiling of each valentine on the actual day. She tells me that the secrecy of creating the valentines alone in their rooms also builds suspense.
Holidays offer every arty parent an opportunity to get creative with their kids. Thinking beyond hearts and flowers on Valentine’s Day opens up their imaginations. Maybe this year, I’ll suggest that they write a list of the things they love best about me.
On second thought, maybe not. Murphy has already told me that one of the things he likes best about me is that I don’t make him take a bath every day. I might not want that in print.
Make it Happen
Thinking beyond hearts and flowers for Valentine’s Day opens up a lot of creative doors for your kids. Instead of running straight for the pink construction paper, use the opportunity to talk about love as a theme that is celebrated in all of the arts. That way, when you finally bring out the construction paper and doilies they may have a lot of fresh ideas.
All genres of music celebrate love from the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” to Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” Virtually every opera aria ever sung is about love. The ballet Swan Lake is about tragic love, as is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t stop Shakespeare from writing about love. His love sonnets are funny, tender, and sad. All in all, poets probably beat out songwriters for going on about love.
The poems and correspondence of the Brownings are a virtual monument to their true-life love story. And don’t forget movies. Kids love older ones like Singing in the Rain or Steve Martin’s Roxanne. Thinking beyond romantic love, which can get a bit too squishy for some kids, I like the books Gentle Ben and Old Yeller. And the paintings of Marie Cassatt celebrate the love between mothers and children.
You won’t have any trouble coming up with many of your own examples. After which, Valentine’s Day won’t ever look quite the same.