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Spreading The Love

For some reason, Maddie’s really
looking forward to Valentine’s day this year. I’m not
quite sure why; I’ve always looked on it as one of those
phony, Hallmark-induced holidays and Brian and I sort of avoid the
whole thing (I know, men everywhere love me right now). So
we’ve never really played it up, but regardless of the
reason, Maddie’s had a great time getting ready for the big
heart day.

A couple weeks ago we spent the morning doing a craft project-
making valentine cards for family and friends. Maddie did several
family ones, and only completed two friend-destined cards before
burning out. Nonetheless, she couldn’t wait until
Valentine’s day and had to walk to her friends’ houses
and hand-deliver the cards THAT VERY DAY. So after lunch we all
went for a stroll, Maddie and Cora both laden with bags carrying
their two cards, each replete with pom-poms and glitter glue and,
in Cora’s case, a three-dimensional sculpture of

I thought the madness would end there, but
Maddie’s really interested in this holiday, and what drives
it. Specifically, she’s been a bit anxious that she
won’t get any valentines, a fear I’d hoped she’d
avoid until at least second grade or so. Every time we work on
more, she muses out loud: “I wonder who will make me some? Do
you think I’ll get any?” She also brings up the edible
aspect of the day, asking to make cookies – and, of course,
keep some herself.

I’ve been struggling with a way to make Valentines day not
only understandable to a preschooler, but also relevant. After all,
if I think the whole chocolate heart box is silly, why should I
make my daughter buy into it? I’m also keenly aware of the
impact of such a day on single people – it’s the most
exclusionary holiday of the year, and I hate to think of the
depression it brings to so many people. So I was relieved that
yesterday, I think I finally was able to put the day in terms
Maddie and I can both live with.

We went to a neighborhood park the girls love, and were spending a
wonderful morning watching the ducks and playing on the playground
when a large playgroup descended upon the park. Probably twenty
kids strong, of all ages, clearly some sort of homeschool co-op,
the group cheerfully spread out and began playing. As I sat with
the girls at a picnic table having a small snack, a little girl
came zooming up to us on a scooter.

“Hi! I have something for you,” she said cheerfully,
holding out a red heart to Maddie. “What’s your

“Maddie,” she said hesitantly.

“Well Maddie, happy Valentine’s day to you and your
baby sister!” And the girl handed a pink heart to Cora and
scooted off.

“Mommy, why did that girl give me a valentine?” Maddie
asked, puzzled. “She doesn’t even know me!”

“I know, honey. Maybe she knows how good it feels to get a
valentine from somebody, and wants to make you feel good like
that!” I answered.

“But I didn’t give her a card,” she continued.
“Won’t she expect one?”

“I think she’s giving out valentines without looking
for anything in return. She’s not thinking of herself –
she’s just trying to make other people happy!”

“Well it makes me happy!” she beamed.

Two other kids came over and gave the girls valentines, and by the
time we left both girls were clutching their treasures. The best
was still yet to come for Maddie, though: as we were leaving, a
girl came onto the playground with a huge tray of cookies. While I
wrestled Cora out of the baby swing, Maddie ran over to the girl
and I saw the girl turn towards Maddie with the tray. I hurried

“Maddie, did you ask her for a cookie?” I asked,
scolding. Maddie shook her head. The girl looked at Maddie and
smiled and said, “No, she didn’t, but I’m happy
to offer her one if she’d like it. I made these for
everyone.” After looking at me for permission, Maddie grabbed
one, and I told her she could eat it right away.

A few minutes later, we were all buckled in to the car and driving
towards home. “Mommy, why did you let me eat the cookie right
away instead of waiting until after lunch?” Maddie asked,
rightfully curious about the change in Mommy’s standards.

“Because, puppy, I want you to remember what happened here
today. That little girl baked cookies and gave them all away, again
just to make people happy. Every time we bake, we talk about how
much joy people get when they received baked goods, and today you
got to be on the other end of that. She gave you a cookie, again
expecting nothing in return, and look at how happy it made you! Now
you know what all your friends feel like when we bake things and
give them away. Getting presents sure is great, but you’ve
seen today how happy it makes people to give them as well.”

“Mom, let’s make some cookies and give them to all my
friends for Valentine’s day!” Maddie said, and I
heartily agreed. We had silence for a few minutes, and then Maddie

“Valentine’s day is the day to show people how much you
care about them, and want to bring them joy.”

And that’s a holiday I can get behind.


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