Valentine’s Day is all about love, right? Well, sort of. For preschoolers, it’s more about friendship and learning. For teenaged boys, it’s kind of annoying; teen girls, on the other hand, are more likely to have visions of hearts and flowers dancing in their heads. Got kids and a full-time job and maybe older parents to care for in between appointments and meetings and baseball practices? Who has time for Valentine’s Day? Well, the golden couples who have been married for more than half a century certainly do.
In honor of this day of romance, the Hippo talked to all kinds of people, spanning generations to find out how little kids and lovebirds celebrate. Kelly Sennott spent some time with preschoolers and learned about their visions of love (kissing on the mouth is a sure sign of it). Luke Steere went to the mall to talk to teens and discovered that the boys’ take on the holiday is a bit more “whatever” than the girls’. Jeff Mucciarone, being a young, busy married guy himself, took a look at what Valentine’s Day means when you barely have time to breathe. And Cory Francer sat down with some older folks who have spent many, many Valentine’s Days together and still try to make the day special. All together now: Awwwww...
It’s all about friendship and love for mom and dad
Love is when you go on a date. Love is kissing someone on the lips instead of the cheek. Love is when you get jewelry.
Ask any preschool student the meaning of love and you’ll get answers like these, from the kids in Beth McGrath’s class at The Growing Years preschool and daycare in Manchester.
Ask them them what Valentine’s Day is and they’ll say things like, “when you give chocolate hearts” or “when you write letters” — at least that’s how the 3- and 4-year-olds from the Manchester Child Development Center explained it.
Many schools in New Hampshire have strayed away from this Hallmark holiday, either not celebrating at all or morphing it into more of a “Friendship Day” that may or may not include flimsy store-bought valentines or cupcakes with pink and red frosting.
Sure, princess chocolates and Star Wars cards (“Yoda One for Me!”) are mostly for fun, but some teachers say Valentine’s Day can be rich with opportunity to learn about love and even life skills, particularly for preschool-aged children.
Cathy Germino, a Pre-K teacher at the Manchester Child Development Center, uses the holiday as an opportunity to teach kids about kindness and love, with just a hint of dragon.
Every year around Valentine’s Day, Germino reads her students Dragon Land, which tells the story of a dragon who changes color based on how good he feels. Words of encouragement, love, hugs and kindness make him glow like a rainbow. Mean words turn him green. It’s something that kids can relate to, Germino said.
“It’s a way to introduce feelings into the curriculum, and it works in a way that kids understand,” she said.
And in a way that they like — the kids love going on their imaginary trip to “Dragon Land” afterward. It’s in the downstairs kindergarten classroom, where the Pre-K students don’t usually venture.
In addition to teaching 4-year-olds about kindness, Germino says that their trip to “Dragon Land” helps them learn how to plan (they need to decide what to bring in their backpack to Dragon World) and how to use a map (a very simple map, at that, describing how to get to Dragon Land downstairs).
For other students at Manchester Child Development Center, Valentine’s Day is a springboard into learning how the mail system works. Each classroom contains a candy shop, flower shop or post office. They learn about how a cash register works, how the post office works, and how things are “stamped” before they’re mailed. (This can’t be left out; the kids love stamping things, Germino said.)
And, for preschoolers, this is a time when they learn how to write their name, Germino said. What better way to practice writing your name than to write it 15 times on Valentine’s Day cards?
Over at The Growing Years, McGrath is making monster Valentine mailboxes with her 4-year-olds this year from tissue boxes, egg cartons and googly eyes. She’s also using the holiday as a curriculum theme. February is a time to talk about “the people we love.” This involves lots of hands-on activities, like Hershey kisses with kind words and clay stamps with the word “LOVE” carved in.
For the kids at The Growing Years, Valentine’s Day offers opportunity to learn how to budget at the “Love Shack.” It’s a store in the center with goodies that teachers and parents create — cookies, bookmarks, picture frames, pins, etc. With $1, kids will purchase gifts for their valentines. At this age, it’s usually for their parents or another adult in their family.
“Parents are very involved with the holiday,” McGrath said.
This is true in elementary school, too. Principal Lizabeth MacDonald at Weston Elementary School in Manchester said that the Valentine’s Day sweetheart dance that the PTA started about five years ago has become a hit. The kids dress up in dresses and collared shirts and bring their parents as “dates” for an evening of dancing.
When you’re a young kid, the romance of Valentine’s Day isn’t getting asked out on a date or receiving a bouquet of red roses (though there is an exception to every rule; some young girls have already learned that love is when you get jewelry). For the most part, the romance is still in the excitement of receiving “mail,” in counting cards, and in making “super-awesome” mailboxes. And your valentine is not the cute boy (or girl) two seats down. It’s usually the person picking you up from school, making you dinner, and exclaiming in awe as you present them with a sloppy, finger-painted card with hand-shaped prints that says “thumb-body loves you.”
Teenage Valentine’s Day
Guys who are over it and the girls who want more
Valentine’s Day? Whatever.
That’s not a direct quote but an embodiment of what later-millennials I talked to think of Valentine’s Day and romance in general. For teenagers, as a lot of us can attest, romance is all part of growing and learning. Some are growing more and learning faster than others, and, I have to say, it seems to be the girls who are figuring it out a bit faster.
“I don’t like Valentine’s Day that much, but I am going to ask someone out for it this year,” said Jonathan, 16, who was hanging out at the Mall of New Hampshire recently. He has someone in his sights too. “She already knows I like her; I just have to ask her out.”
Anthony, 15, recently called it quits with a girl due to a pandemic sweeping many gents his age: she “cheated on him with a bunch of people.” So he’s planning a sort of boycott of the holiday.
“I won’t be celebrating it, but I would if I was still in a relationship,” he said. And how would he celebrate, if his heart weren’t broken? “I don’t know. Buy stuff.”
George, 16, has a similar approach to Valentine’s Day: “Get the girls something they like,” he said.
Boxes of chocolates, teddy bears, jewelry and the inimitable “other stuff girls like” were among the more popular answers from guys ranging from 14 to 17.
For teenage guys, Valentine’s Day means nothing without a girl. But girls, they seem to make an occasion out of it either way.
“I celebrate it every year,” said Courtney, 14. “I invite my friends over and we make heart-shaped cookies. Unless someone asks me out.”
If she had a boyfriend, Courtney said, she would want to “make sure I have a good day.”
For Gillian, also 14, she’s hoping her boyfriend comes through for the holiday; since the school year began she’s been “on and off” relationship-wise and is falling back on her friends for Valentine’s Day if she’s left in the lurch.
“You need to interact with people on Valentine’s Day, that’s what true romance is,” she said. For those in relationships, “It’s a chance for a guy to do something for a girl.”
“A guy should get flowers,” Gillian said. “And spend time with you. I think it’s always been like that.”
Some of the guys even agreed with that.
“On Valentine’s it’s important to have somebody to spend time with and talk to them in person,” Anthony said.
In this spirit, Barbara, also 15, said she celebrates the day with both her significant other and her friend.
“I always enjoy it; it’s a fun holiday. We’ll watch movies and we’ll talk, and when he leaves, I’ll invite friends over or just watch movies alone. I like Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Eighteen-year-old Roseann is spending the day with her parents. This year she doesn’t have a boyfriend to celebrate it with, she said, but doesn’t mind.
“I feel that the holiday has been way over-commercialized, like Christmas or Halloween,” she said. “It’s all about the bigger, the better, but I would want it to be more romantic. Instead of the biggest jewel someone can buy, it should be about romance.”
Reactions to the word “romance” ranged from giggles to frowns. Valentine’s Day, it seems, can mean many things to many teens.
Roseann has one way of looking at it.
“I hope when I am married, Valentine’s Day is like another anniversary for me,” she said.
Too busy for love?
When work, kids and life get in the way
The other day I noticed something on my wife’s dresser. It was a poem I’d written for her when we were in college as part of a Valentine’s Day gift. She had recently reorganized our “extra” room and had probably come across the poem in the process. It made me smile that she’d decided to display it prominently.
The problem is that I’d written that poem for her when we were in college, seemingly eons ago. But had I made any thoughtful gestures or gifts for her on Valentine’s Day recently?
Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve ignored the holiday — we still go out to eat each year — but I’m realizing that the thoughtfulness on my part may be lacking. Or maybe it’s on both of us — maybe the holiday has lost some of its meaning.
I’ll go ahead and blame our son.
Think about it. If you’ve been married for a number of years, if you have kids, if you work 50 hours a week, Valentine’s Day could be another item to check off the to-do list. The key phrase there is “could be.”
My wife and I have been married almost five years. Our son is going on 4. We’re busy. We’re tired. Finding the time, energy and babysitter for a proper celebration isn’t getting any easier. Every day is a juggling act, and Valentine’s Day is one more thing to juggle. Finding a babysitter, making a reservation at what’s sure to be a crowded restaurant, navigating crowds to pick out a special bottle of wine or chocolates, and picking out a card that strikes a balance between sweet and cheesy — it’s not an insignificant time commitment. That’s assuming you want to put some thought into it; a single half-rotten rose with a plastic “Happy Valentine’s Day!” thingie sticking out of it that you picked up at the Shell station on your way home from work is easier, true, but you’re probably better off staging an anti-Valentine’s Day crusade and hoping your better half will join forces with you.
But then, that’s no fun. One year, my wife and I opted against our usual date night because things had gotten so busy. I think we both regretted that decision.
Talking to other couples who either are or have been in our situation showed me that, for many, the hustle and bustle of everyday life hasn’t gotten in the way.
Take Elaine Loft, who works full time in the state Division of Cultural Resources.
“Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday,” Loft said. “Who can resist a secret admirer or chocolate?”
Loft, who has been married for 25 years, still looks forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day with her valentine each year.
“When we were younger there were pretty elaborate plans,” Loft said. “I once made an all-red meal, and he once left me a tape recorder on my doorstep with a tape of him singing a song he had written for me.”
Loft and her husband still enjoy a nice dinner date, as well as “heartfelt cards” each year. No roses though; she said she banned them at the very beginning of their relationship.
It’s also become a family affair in the Loft household. Until her children graduated from high school — they are 19 and 22 now — Loft would adorn the breakfast table with special napkins, plates, streamers, cards and candy each Valentine’s Day.
Some couples are happy celebrating the day without anything too elaborate. Bedford residents Kimberly and Adam Coughlin (a former Hippo reporter) work full-time, demanding jobs. There’s not a lot of time and energy leftover to spend on a big celebration. But they still take time out each year to share something simple, like a card or a special meal.
“Kim and I believe that love is found in the small gestures and the private moments,” Coughlin said. “What’s great about that is that you always have time for those no matter how busy you are.”
The holiday isn’t necessarily about gifts or going on a date either.
For Shelly Angers of Contoocook, Valentine’s Day is a day to remember how much she and her husband love each other.
“I find myself singing The Beatles’ “I Will” every year, and it just makes me feel really happy and content knowing that I have such a terrific husband, and that we were meant to be together,” Angers
I began looking inward. What is Valentine’s Day all about for us? It’s about sharing a moment or a meal or an evening or a day with the one you love. Simple.
For me, honestly, it’s about having a conversation with my wife while having dinner. I think I actually have dreams about us having a conversation at the dinner table — no disrespect to our son, but he kind of commands our attention, at all times.
Maybe that’s why we go out to eat each year, without our son, to talk to each other. We also exchange cards. We exchange small gifts: flowers, chocolate, wine. One year, at least, we went away to celebrate. So except for that one Valentine’s Day that was kind of a bust, we’re not ignoring it.
Still, I made a vow to myself this year: I will do something thoughtful. We’ll go out to dinner. I’m sure I’ll pick out some flowers (surprise!). But I will do something that has more significance too. I can’t say what it is, in case my wife reads this, but I’ve got a plan. Really, I do.
For the lucky ones, love gets better with time
Seventy-one years ago on Valentine’s Day, Kingsley Kelly took a 40-mile trip from Oswego, N.Y., to Syracuse, not knowing his future wife was on the other end of that journey. World War II was at full-throttle in 1942, but as luck would have it, Kelly was stationed just a short trip away from where his sister was living after she graduated from Syracuse University.
With a free night out, Kelly’s sister invited him to head south to the university, where she planned to introduce him to Sally, the younger sister of a friend and a Syracuse senior. The “more than just an ordinary blind date” led to a wedding four years later and a partnership that has resulted in five children, 15 grandchildren, seven great-children and two more on the way.
Their marriage started in Manhasset, a Long Island town just outside of New York City. After the war, Kelly said, finding a house or an apartment was a near impossible task, so the newlyweds moved into a building where they rented a single room. From there, the Kellys bounced around Long Island from Levittown to Greenlawn before finally settling into a farmhouse they fell in love with in the Berkshire town of Sheffield, Mass.
The Kellys now live in Havenwood, a retirement community in Concord, where they said their love is as strong as ever. Though that first Valentine’s Day night out in Syracuse is long passed, Sally Kelly said the holiday still holds an important part in the couple’s lives.
“In a word: gratitude,” she said, when asked what the day means to her. “It’s thankfulness of many years together. On Valentine’s Day my heart is filled with gratitude for my husband and our life together.”
Judy Baer said that after her first husband passed away, she adamantly said she would not date anyone else. But after her children moved out as fully grown adults, she relented at the request of a close friend to attend a local meeting for widows and widowers. In 1989, she reluctantly traveled to that meeting from Derry where she met Tom Baer, who was living in Hooksett.
Immediately, the two found that they had a quite a bit in common. Tom was a long-serving member of the Air Force and had served overseas in World War II. Judy Baer’s first husband had also been in the Air Force, and they discovered that they had visited many of the same international locations throughout the 1940s.
Still, Judy Baer hesitated to go on her first date since the death of her first husband. But a little persistence can go a long way. Tom Baer kept calling to ask her out, and she finally said yes. Two years later, they eloped to Niagara Falls.
Valentine’s Day has held a special place for the Baers, who now live at The Meetinghouse at Riverfront, a Manchester retirement community. They typically exchange small sentimental gifts like flowers, cards and the traditional chocolates in a heart-shaped box. But there is one that stands out in Judy Baer’s mind. Some years ago, they sat down for dinner in Goffstown when Tom handed her a piece of tissue paper, Judy said with a smile and a skeptical glance at her husband.
“He handed me this crumpled up Kleenex,” she said. “But inside, it had a six-diamond ring.”
Ken and Edna Walker, also residents of Havenwood, said they always hired a babysitter on Valentine’s Day to watch the kids while they enjoyed a night out -- often dinner and a movie.
But there was also a family celebration of some sort during the day.
“I made dessert – cake especially – when the kids were home,” Edna Walker said.
To celebrate the day now, the Walkers enjoy the Valentine’s Day meal at Havenwood. Havenwood also puts on a party with music and entertainment. Kingsley Kelly said the parties have been a great opportunity to enjoy the day with his wife and also to meet other residents at the facility.
“It’s a wonderful thing for individuals and for retired couples,” he said.
Judy Baer said she and Tom enjoy the festivities at the Meetinghouse. There are gifts and a special meal and events.
“It’s a time to think about each other and reminisce,” Tom Baer said.