02/14/2012 11:00 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2012

What Mom Taught Me About Valentine's Day

Valentine's day is for sweethearts. But Joe, my husband of 33 years is generous with flowers all year long, so I've come to consider February 14th an overpriced holiday for amateurs. At least that's what it is to me now, without Mom.

I grew up in a family where "I love you" was part of our everyday lives. Dad was so crazy about Mom that, on his hats, he put rivets that spelled out TGFM, "Thank God for Mary." But on Valentine's Day, he went all out for Mom and he expected my brother Jack and me to do to the same. As kids, we'd happily glue paper doilies to handmade red construction paper cards. But the year I was 10, I made a terrible mistake.

Maybe I was too enamored with some cute boy at recess. Maybe I was mired in that mirror-gazing stage. But that year, I forgot to buy a Valentine's day card for Mom. At dinner, Jack and Dad handed Mom their cards with a flourish, while I stammered some lame excuse. My always mild-mannered Dad pulled me aside to say the two worst things he could: "I am so disappointed in you" followed by "With all your mother does for you, never, ever forget to tell her you love her." I ran up to my room in tears, pierced to the heart.

The next morning, I headed to the corner card shop to repair the damage. There were none to be found. Not even a 'glad we're friends' Valentine's leftover. So I bought a generic card with a flower on it and wrote a pathetic 'forgive me' note to Mom.

As the decades passed, I'd always buy multiple cards for Mom since one was never enough. If I got too career-obsessed and missed the mailing date to Florida, I'd even Fed Ex a card rather than break my promise.

My Mom died in 2006 and Valentine's Day lost its shine. I ached looking at the sweet mother cards that I couldn't buy. So last year, I started a new tradition. I bought a Valentine's card and wrote a love note to Mom. Why not? It's never too late.

@MaryLouQuinlan is the author of the upcoming book The God Box: Sharing my Mother's Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go. Find more at and at