“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa
I remember when I was in grade school, on February 13th we would decorate boxes that we would use to collect Valentine’s Day cards from our classmates the next day. With red, pink, and white construction paper, tiny scissors with blunted tips, and the ubiquitous Elmer’s glue we would craft works of art to hold the innocent and sweet messages heralded by Snoopy, Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and the Hulk and delivered by our sugar-enhanced classmates. In 6th grade, our teacher, let us play our 45’s on the record player while we worked on the boxes, and Cheap Trick belted out “I Want You To Want Me” while I cut hearts out of square pieces of paper that were folded in half and then affixed them to the shoebox before me. Those were the good old days (emphasis on old).
Last year, despite my cynical disdain for this heart-shaped holiday, I made the choice to participate in my sons’ Valentine’s Day parties at school. When I arrived, I noticed that on the desks of children in the classroom were all manner of decorated boxes, bags, tins, and pails. On my sons’ desks were plastic grocery bags from Safeway. Sad, but true. I hadn’t realized that many schools no longer used classroom time for artistic pursuits like heart-covered boxes for valentines. And so, my sons were given plastic bags by their teachers because their mother had failed to provide them with lovingly festooned containers in which they could collect and bring home their cards and candy. In that moment, I imagined myself in a tattered ball gown holding a dozen wilted roses, a tiara missing its rhinestones perched clumsily on my wild-haired head, and a white sash emblazoned with the words “World’s Worst Mother” running diagonally down my front. Loser with a capital L. I was a sullied angel fallen from the heavenly sky of stay-at-home mothers.
This year, I determined, would be different. My sons would not be doomed to a plastic-bag fate. Yesterday, at 9:30 after I dropped my boys at school and acquired an appropriately caffeinated beverage, I locked myself in my office/craft room with two small shipping boxes, cardstock, duct tape, adhesives, scissors, google eyes, and some slowly atrophying creative skills. I first pondered what might not embarrass them too fully at their advanced ages of 9 and 11. My original plan was simply to cover the cardboard boxes with paper and duct tape (they are future men, after all) and then carve a hole in them. So far, so good. Then, realizing that my usual cut-out hearts might not be “cool” enough as enhancements for a boy’s box, I tried to envision what might be a more appropriate fit for my guys. Joe’s box theme came to me immediately. Joe loves sharks. In our house, he is Sharkboy. Sharkboy’s box would need teeth. Luke’s box was a bit trickier. Luke is our cuddly kid, friendly and open-hearted, not unlike a small and slightly less furry Golden Retriever. I wanted to make him a dog box that would represent his personality, but feared he might find it too girly or babyish. Ultimately, with not one more suitable creative thought, I went for it.
I spent two hours measuring, cutting, gluing, taping, coloring, and wrapping those plain cardboard boxes. Considering my lack of forethought to materials acquisition, I did okay with what I found around the house. The boxes, while not representative of the kind of creative work of which I am truly capable, are much better than a plastic grocery bag because they were created from my heart and are filled with my love. As much as I can be contained, I am housed in those boxes.
The boys were satisfied with my little surprise. Joe confessed that he was hoping he would have time to make his own box, but then admitted that the Minecraft box he had pictured in his head would be nowhere near as nice as the shark I had created. Plus, he said, he did not want me to have gone through all that effort for him for nothing, even though I assured him that my reward was in making the box and not at all tied up in whether he actually used it or not. I appreciated that he acknowledged my effort, though. Luke loved his doggy box so much he said he wanted first to use it to deliver valentines to his classmates before allowing it to receive valentines from them. Then he said he wanted to keep it in his bedroom after his party was over. If he does this, I assume that dog, like our own dog Ruby, will ingest a lot of Legos.
I may never do great things in my life on a grand scale. I will not cure cancer or design a mode of transportation that will put humans into the farthest reaches of space. I will not stop global warming or solve world hunger. I may never write the great American novel or make a million dollars. And, we all know I’m certainly no Mother Teresa. But, after yesterday’s creative bent, I was reminded that at least I can do small things with great love. It’s those little things that will comprise the balance of my life and hopefully prove that I was worth my carbon matter while I existed here on Earth. And, who knows? Maybe the two small things I helped to create 9 and 11 years ago and have loved dutifully in my own small way ever since will someday do a truly great thing and there will be a miniscule part of me in it somewhere. I think that would count.