extra sprinkles

We Saved Valentine's Day From Being A Big Disappointment Every Year

A slight pivot made everything better.

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Before we had kids, my husband and I loved to celebrate us. We filled weekend nights — and often weekday nights — with dinners out, movies, or game nights. We had golf dates, double dates, I-don’t-feel-like-cooking dates, and surprise dates (where I would plan the evening and not tell him any of our destinations in advance).

I miss the spontaneous ones the most, the rush I got when a normal night turned into an outing at a moment’s notice. Those don’t happen now that we have kids. Any outing requires a lot of work: getting four kids into coats and shoes and making sure everyone has their water bottles and snacks. I have to make sure we have extra underwear for whichever kid is potty training and then there are fights about who gets into the car first (just … why?) and before we even buckle our seatbelts I’m exhausted and ready to call the whole thing off.

I spent the first few Valentine’s Days post-kids mourning those date nights. Co-workers and child-free friends spoke of their plans, romantic dinners or nights on the town, and I was looking at just another night at home.

Then, when my oldest kid was around 5, he dreamed a dream. “What if,” he suggested one cold January day, “we could have an ice cream party where we have all different kinds of ice cream and we get to pick whatever toppings we want?”

My wheels began to turn. “You know Valentine’s Day is coming up in a few weeks?” I replied. “What if we have a Valentine’s Day ice cream party?”

And so one of my favorite family traditions was born.

Each year, I ignore my inner mom voice as I watch my 7-year-old squirt his second helping of whipped cream onto three scoops of ice cream. I don’t say anything as my husband dumps an extra spoonful of sprinkles in our 2-year-old’s bowl. I willingly stock my grocery cart with a bag of mini marshmallows, a jar of candied cherries, mini M&Ms and hot fudge. Some years I’ll add gummy worms and others I’ve picked up a pack of Oreos to crush up.

Is it the best idea to have a big sugar party on a day when the kids are coming home from school already totally sugared up? Probably not. But it’s just one day. Every other day of the year, I cut them off after a scoop or two of ice cream and one squirt of chocolate syrup, but not during our ice cream party. I think that’s part of what makes it so fun for them. In the grand scheme of things, we’re just making ice cream sundaes, but the freedom I give them turns it into an event they wait for all year.

When co-workers ask me now what my plans are for Valentine’s Day, I have something to share, and many comment on what a good idea it is — to celebrate as a family while our kids are young. And I’ve come to appreciate that my husband and I can celebrate our love on our anniversary or other stolen moments throughout the year, but Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate all love, not just romantic love between couples. And there are not many times where I feel more love and joy than when we’re all gathered around our table, full bowls of ice cream in hand.

Lauren Davidson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor focusing on parenting, arts and culture, and weddings. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England and western Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English and French. She lives with her editor husband, four energetic kids, and one affectionate cat. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmylo.