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Standing in the greeting card section of the store, I can’t help but smile. Rows of colorful cards tower over me, and even though I might need the navigation app on my phone to find my way out, right now my heart is happy. I’m on the hunt for the perfect card for my special Valentine — who happens to be my 6-year-old son. 

In my six years of parenting, I’ve tried establishing fun traditions for all the different holidays we celebrate. There’ve been top-notch ideas like the Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles we eat for Christmas breakfast and not-so genius plans like playing flashlight tag in the bright sun on the Fourth of July. Coming up with fun rituals builds meaningful memories for my son, but giving my little guy his very own big kid Valentine card is not my idea. It’s the inspired concept of my father and grandfather. 

In my family, St. Valentine’s Day is not only a day meant for romantic sweethearts, but also a time we show family members we’re thinking of them. I’m not sure how this practice began, but I’ve been given a Valentine’s Day card from my dad and Papa for as long as I can remember. This tradition grew as I did, and eventually I began to understand its deeper meaning. 

As a child, having my very own card when I wasn’t even allowed to walk to our mailbox by myself made me feel very fancy. This is why I took my time reading both cards and savoring the sentiment behind every word. I traced the detailed illustrations with my finger until each finger had the design memorized. My grandfather and father’s tiny tangible gesture showed me I was appreciated, and I certainly felt that way. 

I began to depend on their simple act of sending cards as relationships in my life became more complex. In grade school, my social circle was as precarious as Jo’s relationship with Blair on The Facts of Life. There were days when I wasn’t sure of my friends or of myself. Peer groups and social structures were working to decrease my developing self-worth, and that’s when the smallest of gestures made the biggest of impacts. I found stability was not a hallmark of my junior high days, but those Hallmark cards sure were. 

My yearly Valentine’s Day cards helped me grow in confidence, knowing that I was always appreciated in my family circle. The consistency of the cards showed me I could depend on my family’s support when I was picked last for kickball or my friend chose a new one. They gave me a much needed boost, and this is why I want to continue the tradition with my son. I want my little guy to feel the same sense of caring intention.

Those cards followed me into my adulthood, and even though my husband has been my official Valentine for quite some time, my dad still sends me a Valentine’s Day card every year. Today, I take my time tracing the card’s design with my finger, but now I appreciate the sender who picked it out even more.

P.S. Try making this special treat for your Valentine this year.

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