Ever since my oldest daughter, Maddie, was born 13 years ago, I have read the book Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney to my kids at bedtime. In the book, Little Nutbrown Hare and his dad, Big Nutbrown Hare, challenge each other to see how much more each one loves the other.
Both Maddie and Alex, now 10, loved the book. But it was my 6-year-old daughter, Riley, who was especially taken with the story and its meaning.
One night after we had read the story, I tucked her into bed, told her I loved her and kissed her goodnight. As I was walking out of the room she quoted one of the lines from the book: “Mom, I love you up to the moon and back.” And thus was born our nighttime ritual. Every night since then, she and I have gone back and forth over who loves the other more. We have loved each other up to the top of Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World, to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and to space. But then she got me.
“I love you up to God and back,” she told me one night. I pressed her about her answer a little and she smiled and said, “God’s love never ends, and that’s how much I love you.”
A Lost Message
I often think about Riley’s and my ritual around Valentine’s Day. It is such a simple thing that we do, but it means so much to both of us. It speaks of our love and relationship more than any candy bar or stuffed animal could.
The message of Valentine’s Day so often gets lost amid all the material aspects of the day. Jewelry, chocolate, and flower ads trump what really, at its core, is a holiday with a very simple message: Let the people in your life know that you care about them.
The fact that this year Lent begins a week after Valentine’s Day has also helped me gain perspective on the true meaning of love. Is there any greater love than Jesus dying for our sins?
Getting Back to Basics
So here are five easy ways that you and your family can celebrate Valentine’s Day without all of the hype and retail gift giving.
1. Write a note telling someone what you love the most about him or her. It could be his laugh, her cooking or the way that person always has your back.
2. Have a treasure hunt. Leave clues on paper hearts that lead to a Valentine’s Day treat, such as a big hug.
3. Plan your dinner on Valentine’s Day so that all the food you prepare is red. One of my kids’ favorites is when I make a breakfast dinner and make red and pink pancakes. All you have to do is add food coloring to the batter. For added fun, I use cookie cutters, such as a heart or the word “love,” to shape the pancakes.
Some other food ideas: red Jell-O, strawberries, cherries or red peppers. To drink? Cranberry juice or cherry juice.
4. Have a family night. Let’s face it, we’re all very busy. But nothing says “I care” more than spending time together. Clear your calendars and spend the evening playing games, looking at old photo albums or watching a movie. You might even want to show your kids the video of your wedding day or a wedding album.
5. Call your mom or dad, daughter, son, sister, brother, aunt or uncle or your dearest friend and let that person know you care about him or her. Sometimes we get so caught up in the everyday that we forget to stop and take the time to let people know they matter to us. Take that time today.
As for me, tonight I won’t be reading the book to Riley—she’s much too old for it, she tells me. Now I read it to her little sister, Kacey.
But when I tuck Riley into bed, I’ll still be trying to think of the highest place I know that I could love her “up to.” But I know it won’t be high enough, because she’s going to love me up to God and back. She’s not too old for that. As a mom, I don’t think I could ask for anything more.