Oh, How I Wanted Normal Valentines

My mother used to make Scandinavian heart baskets every Valentine’s Day. She would weave together thick red and pink construction paper in the shape of a heart, and add a handle on top, making a little pocket to put cookies or candy.

That was what I was supposed to give my classmates as a valentine. Imagine the horror of that, when you’re in fourth grade.

She would bake heart-shaped sugar cookies to put in them, or fill them with wrapped chocolates, but I longed for the die-cut Snoopy or Garfield or teddy bear in thin white envelopes like everyone else had. I wanted to be able to write Kellie in big scrawling cursive letters on the back, and then lick the envelope and write a kid’s name on the outside.

I couldn’t write names on mine—they were too lumpy to write anything. So mine were always the same, generic.

Everyone else could bring their Valentines to school in their pocket or backpack. I had to bring mine in a Tupperware container. Sometimes even on the bus.

Everyone then knew that I didn’t quite fit in, that I was from California or something.

But in reality, it wasn’t because I was from California. My mother just read Family Circle and Better Homes & Gardens every month and when she came across a craft like this, she would actually make it. She was one of those people who pulled recipes and crafts and decorating ideas out of magazines and then later made them, writing “Excellent!” or “Good for a rainy day!” on the article at the top with a Sharpie, and saved it folded in a file cabinet.

This was before Pinterest and Google—if she wanted to ever make something twice, she had to save the directions. (Someday, I’ll have to write about her Easter eggs.)

She would sometimes elicit my help to make these valentines, but often she would do all the cutting and weaving, and baking and frosting herself. She was much more careful than I was, and she wanted them to be perfect.

One year, I remember my class had decorated shoe boxes with stickers and cut a slot in the top so we’d have a place to put our valentines. We went through the ceremony of walking around the classroom from desk to desk, handing out valentines, kids smiling and saying, “Wait until you see mine,” most of us wondering if any two had used the same ones.

But my valentines would not fit into that slot in the shoe box—the kids had to put it on their desk or open up the top of the box to put it inside.

Sometimes, the teacher would let us eat the cookies, or the candy, before lunch. Even though I didn’t think they were that cool, the kids did seem to like the cookie part.

I only made this kind of valentines for my son once—when he was young and wasn’t able to express his preferences. He was in kindergarten at Eagle’s Flight, and my mother helped me make them for his whole class. They all got very excited about the cookies.

He went for cooler valentine’s right after that. Making them for him in first grade wasn’t even an option (not that I would have anyway, without my mother’s help. I am not so construction-paper inclined, maybe from early childhood valentine trauma).  

But, I still have my mom’s cookie cutters. I’ve used them a few times. That sugar cookie recipe will always be my favorite.

And, I have a pair of her black-handled metal scissors in my desk.