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Keep your Valentine’s traditions simple so you’ll repeat them.

The more awkward and imperfect your family’s Valentine tradition, the more it will warm your family memories in the decades to come. Don’t worry about FaceBook perfect Valentine traditions. When it comes to your family, it’s the terrible, horrible moments that will ignite your family memories.

Valentine’s Day, in my family, is most lovely because it’s mixed with memories of throwing up and lice. Here’s my story:

Simple construction paper hearts.

One year, when my kids were little, I hid simple construction paper hearts on Valentine’s morning. My family liked the treasure hunt, so I repeated it the next year. Then, on the third year, probably because I’d read some Martha Stewart-type magazine, I felt pressure to fancy up my simple Valentine’s tradition.

Instead of the 15 minutes I’d previously spent cutting and hiding hearts, I went to the stationary store, bought fancy paper and spent three evenings cutting and gluing when I should have been sleeping.

Finally, on the night before Valentine’s Day, I hid the hearts and we all fell into bed. Keep Valentine's Day traditions simple

In the middle of the night my son, who had asthma, needed a breathing treatment. Still exhausted, I brought him into my bed so I could hear his breathing even as I dozed. About 5:30 I awoke to a shower of barf.

My husband dashed into action yanking blankets out of the way.  When he woke up enough to see me, my hair literally dripping, he burst out laughing.  My son and I got into the shower.

Just about the time I’d gotten the goo thoroughly rinsed from my hair, my daughter called from the bedroom, “Can I wash the Ovide from my hair?”  Lice.  Her school was rampant with the stuff and she’d been sent home early the day before.  The shampoo they gave us to treat it was wretched and smelled like a toxic version of pine-sol.

All smells attacked at once, and I wondered if Martha Stewart ever featured Valentine’s moments like this in her magazine.

Simple paper hearts save the day:

As I emerged from the shower I heard my husband call from downstairs, “Hey there seem to be a plethora of hearts down here!”  My daughter forgot the dreaded lice that had sent her home in tears. My son rallied, and the tone in my home was instantly warmed.

Buzz Lightyear entertained my family that day and, as I emptied the throw up bowl, I held a child in each arm. The forced-air heat came on and it twirled the paper hearts we’d hung on some branches I’d placed in a vase.

Raising a family is hard work. You’re exhausted most of the time. You get barfed on and lice invades your house.

During the barf years I didn’t know I was a great mother. I was overwhelmed and there was always more to do than I had time for. I wanted perfection and that desire filled me with doubt and guilt and worry.

Those twirling paper hearts look different to me now than they did then. When I made them, I saw all the ways my love fell short and those Valentine hearts looks amateurish. Now I can see that I was a pro each time my family heard me laugh instead of scream.

Don’t try to create a perfect Valentine’s Day tradition.

You can’t. Love arrives to overwhelm you when you least expect it.

Instead, think of your Valentine’s tradition as an anchor point to keep you mindful that love is messy and complicated. Let the mess wash over you as it teaches you to love.

Keep your traditions simple so you can repeat them. Choose something that makes you happy so that, when the forced-air heat comes on, you will see love swirling about you.

Try this:

  • Start (or maintain) a Valentine’s tradition that makes you happy.
  • Collect something. Make something. Frame something. This will give you a talisman for love to reveal itself.
  • Repeat. Simplify. Repeat again.

One day, weeks after the barfing day with Buzz Lightyear, I bought some velvet paper that was soft, but strong. Three colors for three family members. The hearts sat in the cupboard all year waiting to keep my Valentine’s tradition simple. I hung them up. The kids hunted for them.

And it was enough.

Ideas for your tradition:

  • Save something your child made and put it in the car to light up your drive to school.
  • Collect heart rocks. I never saw them until I looked. Now they’re everywhere.
  • Take a photo of hearts in nature and laminate or frame them.

When have you been surprised by love’s complicated mess?

Watch this video from Michael Amadi who sings, “You are the place my heart feels at home.”

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