It’s already February! February means Valentine’s Day. I’m all about chocolate, flowers, and date nights sans children. In fact, I’m just wrapping up a long trip to South America with my husband and we didn’t take our children with us.
Almost our entire trip was spent off the tourist track. We rented rooms from locals and stayed in their homes. We shared breakfast, walked through their neighborhoods, ate at local restaurants, and shopped in their markets. It seemed like we were the only gringos they’d seen in a while. I loved getting to really know the people and their culture. We saw a lot of great things and had awesome experiences, but we also saw some hard things, too.
A homeless man rummaged through garbage cans, eating rotten food. A mom held her baby with three other kids beside her, all barefoot in the market. Most of the cities we stayed in didn’t have safe drinking water. While we had a great time exploring, I couldn’t help but wonder why I have it so dang good when countless others do not.
More than once, we were walking and munching on fruit or bread when someone came up and asked for a piece. Sometimes we felt impressed to share and give them a bit of whatever we were snacking on. It felt good to do something kind.
This trip has turned my thoughts towards what I can do to make my home, family, and community a better place. I can’t always help people across the world, but I do have influence in my home and local community. There are people in my own neighborhood that could use my help.
I know that a couple people doing a couple nice things won’t make a giant impact in the world. But, if each person reading this did one small act of service for others, imagine how much kinder our community would be. We typically think of Valentine’s Day as a holiday for romance between lovers. Instead, I want to invite you, this Valentine’s Day, to not just think about the day as a romantic holiday, but as a day to show love and kindness to your fellow human beings. Maybe even a stranger. In some Latin American countries, Valentine’s Day is known as, “el Día de Los Enamorados” (Day of Lovers), but another name is “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). I love the second definition so much more.
Here’s a list of 12 simple activities you can do with your kiddos to start a new family “Día del Amor y la Amistad” tradition:
1.) Share a kind word. My in-laws have this tradition where everyone writes a few things we love about each family member. The list is compiled and mailed to all participants. I love the encouragement that comes from this simple activity and I still pull out those papers with kind things written about me on days where I need a boost.
2.) Send treats to a friend or neighbor. Last year a friend brought me a plate of Valentine sugar cookies. We were actually more like acquaintances/Facebook friends at the time. She showed up on my doorstep with these cookies. She told me I was hilarious and that she wanted to be actual friends, and asked if I would be her Valentine.
3.) Support your local First Responders. Take some treats and a thank you card to your local police/fire station. A few years ago, I did this with my girls. The firemen weren’t very busy and gave my girls a little tour. The girls even got to go inside one of the fire engines.
4.) Help shovel a neighbor’s driveway. Let’s be real. This is Wisconsin and we have plenty of time for more snow. It’s always a nice surprise when I go outside and find that someone has already cleared the walk for me and I get to stay inside where it’s warm.
5.) Take some Valentines to a local nursing home. If you have older kids and more time, you could also take some games with you and make an afternoon of it.
6.) Get a head start on Spring Cleaning. Donate items to a local homeless shelter. Kids can help select items and pack them up for other kids to enjoy. You can usually find wish lists on their sites.
7.) Decorate place mats with your child for Meals on Wheels. They also need volunteers to deliver the meals.
8.) Start a book drive and donate the books to Reach-A-Child. First Responders take them to kids when they are called to traumatic situations.
9.) Draw pictures, make Valentines, or write thank-you notes for Operation Gratitude. These letters go out with care packages sent to deployed military, veterans, or brand new recruits.
10.) Start a food drive for Secondhand Harvest. Have your kids pick out their favorite foods to donate and drop the donation off together.
11.) The Dane County Y is collecting Play-Doh for the American Family Children’s Hospital! Play-Doh cannot be shared after a patient has used it. The hospital is consistently in need of unopened, store bought Play-Doh. You can drop off donations through 2/11 at all three Y branches; Life 102.5 studio; Apple Wellness in Fitchburg and Sun Prairie; Chick-fil-A East and West; and Yola’s Café. Hospital patients will receive the Play-Doh as a special surprise on Valentine’s Day!
12.) Box of Balloons, is an organization that believes every child’s birthday should be celebrated. They help with birthday celebrations for families in need. Their site lists ways for you and your child to get involved.
I’d love to hear about how your family chooses to celebrate Valentine’s this year, especially if you try out some of the ideas above!