Thursday, February 13, 2014

On Valentine's Day, Express Gratitude for People and Things That You Love

Today is Friday, February 14, 2014.

As a former teacher, I associate Valentine's Day with eagerly-anticipated classroom parties, red and pink candy, and child-friendly Valentine cards.  Valentine's Day is right up there with Halloween and Christmas as an exciting time for kids, especially since schools nowadays ensure that each and every student gets the same number of valentines as everyone else.  Gone are the days when the class pest or the socially awkward child gets fewer – or no – Valentines in his or her mailbox.  

As someone who has been single for a good long time, since 1981, to be exact, I haven't had much use for the romantic side of this holiday.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's great if you have someone special who actually remembers to get you something nice, but basically, for singles, this holiday can be rather painful: Singles Awareness Day.  Normally I am able to focus on the kid aspect, but a number of years ago, I was a little depressed and feeling sorry for myself on February 14.  It was a school day, and I remember being at "breakfast duty" before school started.  My job was to watch the kids get off the bus in the morning and see to it that they formed an orderly line for breakfast.  One other teacher shared this duty with me.

There was one little first-grader that I enjoyed watching every morning.  He was a little black kid with very short hair, a ready smile, and boundless energy.  When he got off the bus this particular day, I could tell that he was excited.  As he ran toward the door, it was obvious that he was drawing breath to say something important to us.  As he breezed past us, he shouted in a loud voice, "HAPPYYYYYY THANKSGIVINGGGGGG!"

Of course, we had expected him to say, "Happy Valentine's Day," so it took my colleague and me a couple of heartbeats to recover from the cognitive dissonance before we started to laugh.  The laughter broke up my bad mood and set the tone for the rest of the day.  

Later, I realized that this was a "waking dream."  A waking dream is an event in our daily lives that seems to have just a bit more significance than usual.  In my case, I had been feeling depressed because I didn't have anyone special to celebrate Valentine's Day with, but the little first-grade student reminded me in a very charming way that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and focus on all the love that I was being given by my friends, my family, and my students.  

Gratitude has a magic effect on the heart. Melody Beattie writes, 

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."

A web site devoted to kids' activities gives instructions for making a gratitude tree.  The idea is that Valentine's Day is more meaningful for kids if you move away from the romantic aspect of the day and focus on what we love and what we are grateful for.

Photo credit: The Nurture Store
Find some branches without leaves (pretty easy in the northern states) to use as the tree, and get a vase ready with some clear glass stones to hold the branches in place.  You can fill the vase with water, too, to keep the branches from drying out.  

Have the kids make hearts using construction paper, wrapping paper, paper doilies, or anything else you wish to use.  On the back of each heart, have kids write (or dictate to you) things, activities, or people that they love.  Start each sentence with, "I love..." 

You can make this a family activity, with each person contributing two or three things.  You can also make extra blank hearts for house guests to write something to add to the tree.  (For next year: send one to Grandma and ask her to write on it and send it back for your tree.)

Make a small hole with a hole punch in each heart and thread a thin, red ribbon through the hole.  Tie the hearts onto the tree with the ribbon.  :-)

Happy Valentine's Day to all my friends and family! 

Photo credit: CrossEarth on Etsy

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