Two weeks before Valentine ’s Day my daughter’s teacher sent home a box with instructions to decorate it and bring it back for the class party. We’ve made Valentine boxes for the past few years, so I was no stranger to the tradition and was at least grateful that this time we were given a box and did not have to scrounge for one ourselves. We kept running out of time to work on the box and it eventually got lost under the pile of debris that perpetually accumulates in the one corner of my kitchen that I’ve started referring to as the Black Hole. I tried to forget about the fact that we needed to decorate a Valentine box because I had much more pressing things on my mind in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Then, on the Friday before Valentine’s, my daughter announced that she wanted to decorate her box to look like a tea set and that she would need some stiff paper in red and pink. Inside I began to panic a little, because I’m not that crafty and I certainly do not have the skills to turn her vision into reality. But I still went to Hobby Lobby the next day and loaded up on pink and red cardstock and Valentine stickers.
The weekend before the holiday came and went. We managed to get the kids’ valentines made (thank you pre-cut foam kits) and the heart-shaped sugar cookies baked, but there was not time to decorate the box. Unfortunately Monday is now my longest day of work, and I had to work from noon until nine. Before I left for work I made sure that frosting and sprinkles were ready for the cookies and that supplies were in place for decorating the box. I felt another pang at the fact that, even though my help would have been meager, my daughter would be left to decorate her box all by herself. I had visions of the projects I had attempted by myself as a child that didn’t turn out like I had pictured them in my mind, as well as the lovely things my mother had helped me create (like a clay diorama of a Lipizzaner horse complete with felt saddle and bridle). I walked in the door at 9:30 the night before Valentine’s day with a bit of dread, knowing that I had not been able to be there for my daughter. Then I stopped short when I looked at my kitchen counter.
There was a Valentine box that was more beautiful than I had even imagined. I knew it was exactly what my daughter had been dreaming of and would be the envy of her classmates. My sister-in-law, who babysits for us, had spent two hours helping my daughter with her box. She had come up with creative ways to make the tea set idea work, and had enjoyed doing it too. I think that what made me stop short was not only the artistry of the box, but the fact that it had been a labor of love. If I had been the one to help my daughter, it would have been a labor of obligation, frustration, and annoyance.
I am perpetually amazed and humbled by the love that other people have for my children. Yes I love them and think they are wonderful, but it is so fulfilling to see that they are valuable in the eyes of others as well. I have sometimes noticed a strain of thought among mothers that they have to be everything and provide everything for their children. As a single parent I’ve quickly realized that this sort of thinking is impossible in my situation, since I can’t even physically be with my children every hour of the day or else we wouldn’t have a home or food on the table. But for any parent and child it’s not the best either. No one person is perfectly able to do all things and be all things for everyone. I am so grateful for the teachers, extended family members, friends, neighbors, and fellow ward members who love my children and do what they can to help them succeed. I love it when one of their teachers from school or church shares with me how much they enjoy knowing my child or gives me a little insight into how my son or daughter behaves in a different setting than our home.
One of my fears in being a divorced parent has been that my children will grow up feeling inferior to other families; that they will feel somehow “less-than” because their family is different. At the end of the day, it’s just me and my kids reading our scriptures and saying family prayer together; there are now four of us in a house built for a larger family and sometimes it can feel like there is something missing. I love my children and know that I am the primary influence in their lives, but I also know that we exist within a wide web of love from those who surround us. I may be a single parent, but the truth is that most days I don’t feel very alone at all.
Who are the people in your children’s village? When you were growing up, were there people outside your family who loved you and helped you?