Valentine’s Day was always fun for me as a kid. Handing out brightly coloured paper hearts, to all of my classmates, and devouring way too many Conversation Heart candies always made for a fun afternoon. While February 14th is better recognized as a celebration of romance, I’ve always felt that this love-infused occasion will always be more fun for the kids.
Having worked in a school for several years, I noted that Valentine’s Day always seemed to bring out a certain kindness in the children I worked with. There really is something special about the act of giving or receiving a message of “I care about you” that brings a smile to your face that is nothing but contagious. So, this year I wanted to help my son celebrate the occasion by doing something nice and baking a festive treat that he could share with his teachers and friends at daycare.
The plan was simple—we would use an easy-to-follow brownie recipe and cookie cutters to make the desserts look like mini hearts. My little guy was thrilled, and he couldn’t wait to strap on his apron and hop up onto the stool next to me to begin our creative and heartfelt endeavour.
The result of this plan was slightly different than intended.
Everything started out smoothly. Little Buddy helped add in the ingredients and I beamed at him as he successfully cracked his first egg into the batter. We chatted away and he proudly stated that his friends would think his brownies were “so yummy,” while I pretended not to notice him sneaking some chocolate chips out of the bag.
“Time to bake, Mommy,” he announced as the pan was placed in the oven. And when the timer went off, he came excitedly running back into the kitchen to see what he’d created.
The brownies themselves turned out wonderfully. So good, in fact, that I went into the next stage with way more confidence than I should have had.
Now, I should tell you that, while I greatly enjoy baking with my son, we do not have that much experience working with cookie cutters. We have tried them out with playdough, but he was always much more interested in telling me what shape they were rather than using them as tools. I should have kept this in mind as I laid them in front of my exuberant toddler and right next to a large sheet of chocolatey goodness.
“Giant cake!” Little Buddy exclaimed—and before I could stop him, he dove both hands into the brownies to help himself to a taste.
Luckily, he was unsuccessful in getting too much of the dessert into his mouth before I was able to stop him and explain that we first needed to use the cookie cutters to make heart shapes out of the brownies. I am also grateful that once I explained this to him, he was thrilled to give it a try.
And try he did.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh as I watched him work. It has become painstakingly clear to me that, while I can demonstrate what to do and offer to provide assistance, my child is way too independent to want my help with anything. And, it’s fine. This was something he wanted to do on his own, and it’s the thought that counts anyway. So, allowing him the chance to do it his own way, I stepped back and looked on as he, way too roughly, slammed the cookie cutters down into the brownies.
Our plan was for the brownies to look like hearts—little hearts that he could give out to his friends.
My son had other ideas and he looked down with pride at his masterpiece of smooshed chocolate crumbles.
With brownie bits in his teeth, he smiled and demanded I look at the treat he had made for his friends. And I couldn’t help but pull him into a giant hug when he picked up a chunk and handed it to me saying, “Treat for Mommy, too.” I realized, in that moment, that while we’d definitely have to come up with something else to bring to daycare, the lesson I had been hoping to get across had made it. He understood. Valentine’s Day is about doing something nice for the people you care about. And that looks different for everyone. For some, it is being given flowers; for others, it is hearing the words “Be my Valentine” or “I love you.” For my son, it was getting the chance to make a memory (and a mess) while making brownies with his mom. And for me, it was the hug I received from the love of my life as he got melted chocolate all over my hair.