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A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day Love

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
02/01/24  3:59 PM PST
feeding tube accessories

Valentine’s Day in elementary school was epic. You decorated your container (mine was a Keds shoebox, because, hello, it was the 80s) in construction paper and glitter stickers. You went to Walmart or Target (because there was no Amazon) and selected the pack of cards to give your class. Then, on the big day, you wore all the red and pink you could find and you spent half the day waiting for the party and then other half of the day after the party sifting through your box reading the notes while sucking on a Lifesaver lollipop. Perfection.

Things got…less perfect in middle school and high school. In high school, you didn’t have to give the entire class a card. In fact, we were all too cool for cards. Instead, you could buy Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses from the school and send them anonymously to your crush. They were delivered in clear plastic baggies during lunch. So the first half of the day was equal parts flutters of fear and excitement. Then you watched as names were called and your peers walked to the front of the class to receive their “hugs and kisses” from secret admirers. Remember, these bags were clear. My eyesight was never better than when I was counting how many displays of love someone carried back to their desk. There were always a few people who didn’t get a single piece of candy. They stayed seated and their desk remained empty as others filled with discarded foil wrappers. Oof. I was always somewhere in the middle, never totally without a piece of candy, but also never spilling over into a second plastic bag.

When my oldest son Charlie who has cerebral palsy first began his Valentine’s journey in elementary school, it was just as sweet as I remembered, with kids drawing pictures of him in his wheelchair with hearts all around and everyone getting a note of love. But I knew what was down the road. He starts middle school next year. I don’t want his day to be filled with that oof feeling. I don’t want that for his younger brother or sister either. So we are starting a new tradition this year—we are flipping the script on Valentine’s Day and giving back in a different way.

Everyone thinks of donating their time during Thanksgiving and Christmas – volunteering at the homeless shelter, delivering meals to families, sifting through closets to find warm clothes to give to charity. But if Valentine’s Day is a day of love, doesn’t that make it the perfect time to give back? Why can’t we extend that show of generosity that we so freely gave just a few months ago to this holiday also? We decided that each year from now on, we will pick an organization to give our time, hearts, and thoughts to in the hopes that it will keep Valentine’s Day as sweet as it is meant to be. We’re spreading the love.

This year, my kids are really into crafting, so we will be sewing g-tube patches for the kids at the children’s hospital where Charlie spent much of his time. Every kid with medical equipment knows it’s better with bling. We will be making a trip to JoAnn’s Fabric and Crafts to select fabrics covered in footballs and ballet slippers and puppies and Crayons to cut and stitch into circles to replace the plain gauze pads that usually go around the g-tube area. I remember ordering the same kind of thing off Etsy when Charlie had a g-tube and it delighted us both to pick a new pattern each day in the same way you would pick out a shirt. To accessorize gives a little power to what can sometimes feel like a powerless situation.

So this is how we’re turning the tables on the day of love. We’re going bigger than shoeboxes of cards. We’re giving our energy and creativity to people we have never and probably will never meet in the hopes that it will make them feel seen on Valentine’s Day, a day when everyone deserves to feel special.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:















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