YOU & YOUR CHILD

Let your family know what's in your heart

Valentine's Day isn't just for sweethearts


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 12:48 a.m.

Valentine's Day can be celebrated as a family holiday - not just as a flowers-and-chocolate observance between sweethearts.

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J.J. Finley Elementary School student Corrina Johnson, 11, creates a Valentine's Day card in the after-school program. Once the paint dries, the card will be cut into puzzle pieces.

CHRISTINA STUART/The Gainesville Sun

The movie "Love Actually" begins with vignettes of happy reunions at airports and a collage of people's faces. "Before the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate and revenge - they were all messages of love," says a narrator. "If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion you'll find that love actually is all around."

Ideally, love is all around our children. They love their parents and siblings, their neighbors and grandparents, their friends, teachers and pets.

Rather than being a hokey holiday that benefits Hallmark, think of Valentine's Day as a time to let the people you love know what is in your heart. It's a day to say or write, "I love you," and mean it.

This year, V-Day falls on a Saturday, which gives your family a chance to celebrate the day more fully than if it fell on a busy weekday. You could make Valentine's Day cards together, throw a V-Day party, cook a special dinner, go on a family outing or even share your love with others. (Why not make a bunch of Valentines and then spend a couple hours on Valentine's Day distributing them to the elderly residents of a nursing home, for instance?)

If you'd like to forgo store-bought Valentine cards, it's fun and easy to make your own. Gather anything that looks frilly and romantic. Be on the lookout for such items as paper doilies, red glitter, heart stickers, dried flowers, lace and gauzy ribbon. Find old photos of your child and cut out faces for gluing onto Valentines. Also, cut photos of flowers and pretty things from magazines. Line up white glue, paint, crayons and markers for writing Valentine messages.

Whatever you can't find aroud your house can be purchased at a craft store such as Michaels. (New this year are textured, thick stickers that look like candy hearts, the kind with messages on them such as "Be mine.")

Spread your Valentine makings on a table covered with a plastic tablecloth, and then let your kids (gently!) have at it. You might want to set up your glue gun in a corner nearby so you can help them glue down trickier items.

You can make bookmarks, refrigerator magnets or mobiles using your imagination and the same materials. They aren't much more complicated than making Valentine cards.

To make a puzzle card, draw a heart on thin cardboard, write a message on the back, and then cut the heart into puzzle pieces. Give the puzzle in an envelope.

In her book, "The Book of New Family Traditions" ($12.95 Running Press), author Meg Cox writes about a variety of ways parents can express their love to their kids on Valentine's Day.

Her "What's Sweet About You" posters feature a poster-size card for each child in your family. "This is like giving your kid a giant Valentine card, but much more personal," writes Cox.

Buy a sheet of poster board and cut 9-12 hearts from red, pink and purple construction paper. (Make them about 4 inches high and 3 inches wide.) On each heart, write one trait you love about your child's nature. Make it specific, Cox writes, focusing on positive aspects of your child's personality.

"Glue the hearts to the board, but just put glue on the bottom edges and up the sides of the hearts. Leave the top open, so they work like pockets. Put a piece of Valentine candy in each pocket."

She recommends you present the posters at a special dinner or prop them up against a chair so that your child sees them when they come to breakfast.

Cox's idea for "The Book of Love" is just that - a blank book in which family members take turns writing love messages to each other. Each year, every member of the family writes one loving thing about every other member (take dictation for young kids). Keep the book on hand so family members can re-read the messages throughout the year.

On Valentine's Day, celebrate with a "Red Food Night." Serve mashed potatoes mixed with red food coloring, and either ham (it's pink, technically), or pasta with red sauce. Red fruit might include strawberries or raspberries. Even milk can be red. Dessert can be brown, as long as it's chocolate and shaped like a heart.

If you enjoy your Christmas tree, try making a "Valentine Tree" to mark the holiday each year. Buy a tree in a pot and decorate it with white lights. Cut hearts out of red tissue paper, tie a ribbon on them and hang them on the trees. Keep the decorations on the tree until spring, when you plant the tree in your yard. "If you do this every year, you could designate a special Valentine Grove on your property," writes Cox.

We have the Golden Globe awards and the Academy Awards. Your family can celebrate the "Have a Heart Awards," in which each member of the family gives an award to each other member for a special act of love or kindness.

Cox advises you buy round, fuzzy ping-pong ball-sized pom-poms at your local craft store, and glue on little eyes, mouths and feet. Cut hearts from a piece of construction paper and glue the feet onto the paper heart. Write on the heart the name of the person getting the award and what they did.

For more Valentine's ideas, subscribe to Cox's monthly newsletter by sending an e-mail to familyrituals@aol.com. It's free.

Julie Garrett can be contacted at (352) 374-5049 and by e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.

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