Thirteen years ago, my mother-in-law timidly asked me if I'd be interested in hosting a mother-daughter Valentine tea party for my then three-year-old daughter, her first grandchild. After giving birth to four sons, she was delighted, finally, to have a little girl with whom to celebrate life, and it came eagerly and generously in the form of darling dresses and doll babies, treasures and trinkets.
And tea sets. The perfect tea set.
Sarah delighted in little girl tea parties with the joie de vivre of her toddler companion; it mattered not if they were filled with imaginary confections or apple juice and sugar cookies. Before Rachel had full command of her speech, she was taught how to serve and how to be served, and she had equal affection for both. Rachel thrived on her Noni's undivided attention, and sometimes they even invited Grandy to join them. Those tea parties sometimes lasted longer than their real-life counterpart!
Perhaps this was the genesis of Sarah's Valentine Tea Party idea, but I imagine it pre-dated Rachel's birth. Before the age of ultrasound, every time she was pregnant, Sarah was certain "this time" she'd have a daughter. Rachel's arrival had been anticipated for 30 years.
Over the past 13 years, the Valentine Tea has taken many forms. The first few years found pre-schoolers and their mothers arriving dressed in their Sunday best. In addition to ribbons and lace, the girls were adorned with all manner of grace and "best behavior". For the first five years or so, we made a card for the fathers (since they weren't invited), and a Valentine-related craft. The menu was a child's dream--heart-shaped PB&Js, heart-shaped Jello Jigglers, heart-shaped cookies, heart-shaped butter mints. Fare for the moms was a bit more traditional--chicken salad and croissants, strawberry creme puffs, fresh fruit.
In time, I decided to do something "more" with the Tea. Intentional about reaching young hearts, for several teas, I read a "moralized" Valentine story to them (you can find a variety of these at your local Christian book seller); other years, attempting to cultivate "other-mindedness", I asked the girls to bring diapers and wipes for us to give to the local crisis pregnancy center. The last few times I hosted it in South Carolina, the girls could come without their moms, and somehow they always ended up IN the creek in our backyard (the first year that happened, they were still dressing in Sunday best! Oh, how I remember the mud on one of the girl's white, chiffon-layered, junior bridesmaid dresses...:/).
There were always surcies for mother and daughter, finding perfect treats was one of my favorite parts of the Valentine Tea. I'd scout all year for "nice" things at bargain prices, then squirrel them away until tea time.
As a "words" girl, creating each year's invitation has always been fun, too. Usually, I'd write a poem invite (no surprise there), but over the past few years, I've loved making Stampin' Up creations. This year's is decidedly non-Valentine-ish--I wanted to stay away from "traditional" pink and red and went with a totally different color scheme.
When we moved to Tennessee 4 1/2 years ago, I couldn't let our tradition die. It meant too much to my mother-in-law, and surprising to me, it meant too much to me. Once again, we tweaked the Tea to fit our stage in life, and it became a family affair--my sisters-in-laws, their daughters, my mother-in-law's best friend and sister-in-law, too. All the younger girls get to invite one friend along with their mothers.
I've come to appreciate the tradition of our Valentine Tea. It provides a sense of identity to the women in our family; it binds us together and strengthens family (and friendship) ties. It brings a dimension and richness to a holiday known for celebrating romance, and for us, instead, fosters a different sort of "love".
It means more and more to me every year.