Valentine's Day in our household was a family affair. My parents divorced when we were pretty young, so the practice of giving gifts and chocolates to romantic partners wasn't what we associated with the holiday.
Instead, as my mother put it, we were our mother's "Valentines."
To preface this story, I have to share that my mother is a huge fan of holidays. Really, she sees every holiday, big and small, as an occasion to decorate and celebrate.
On Halloween she was the mother who would create a haunted house in our living room for the neighborhood kids. Sound effects, bobbing for apples, a caramel apple station, pin the eye on the mummy— you name it. Fourth of July, she'd organize the barbecue for the neighborhood block party. Christmas, she'd leave clues around the living room as "evidence" that Santa had visited. A bit of his beard left on the fireplace, half eaten cookies and nibbles on the carrots we left by the fireplace (by the reindeer, of course). She calls my brother and me her "little turkeys," because we were born on Thanksgiving.
For Valentine's Day, it was all about valuing and showing appreciation for family. We would wake up in the morning to the sweet smell of heart-shaped muffins and the sound of sizzling bacon. Waiting for us on the kitchen table would be gifts set carefully next to three place settings. Each gift, usually wrapped in the gaudiest pink or red cellophane she could find, included a valentine that she chose just for us.
While Christmas and Easter gifts tended to be toys or clothes for school, Valentine's Day gifts were something special she hoped we'd keep into adulthood. For my sister and me, she usually gifted jewelry adorned with cubic zirconia hearts. My brother usually got a watch.
As we got older, we enjoyed choosing gifts for each other. Every year, we'd hand pick chocolates for our mother from the local confectionary in Helena, Mont. The Parrot has been around since my mom was a teenager. She'd go after school with friends for a shake after cruising the "Main Drag" (aka Main Street) with whoever was able to borrow their parents' car that day. Her name is even carved into one of the original wooden booths (a rebel with a beehive).
I spoke to my mom about how we celebrated holidays when we were younger and why it was so important to her to celebrate Valentine's Day with us as a family. She said she wanted her kids to appreciate the holidays and each other.
"I wanted every holiday to mean something," she said. Awwww.