The Best Valentine's Day Gift My Kids Have Ever Given Me Didn't Cost a Thing

My kids are older now, so we haven't exchanged Valentine's Day gifts in quite some time. It felt like one minute I was complaining about having to meticulously craft valentines for every kid in school, and the next, I was getting all teary in the local supermarket as I pushed my cart down an aisle filled with suddenly needless boxes of red and pink heart-shaped cards.

It's always that way with milestones, isn't it? So hard to appreciate how special and fleeting the moments are when we're drowning in them, but man, do we yearn for them once we realize they've forever passed us by. If not for the collection of faded Valentine's Day projects my kids have made for me over the years, I might doubt that we ever once embraced the holiday at all. There are the dreamcatchers made with feathers and yarn, the conversation-heart picture frames, the elaborately crafted tissue-paper wreaths. But the Valentine's Day gift I cherish the most is one that hangs haphazardly on a corkboard in my kitchen. It's a poem typed up by my daughter in third grade on a generic piece of white paper. Blink, and you might miss it.

Actually, it's not so much a poem as it is a cheeky list titled "How to Be My Mom." Here it is: "Love reading. Drink wine. Look pretty. Adore high heels. Wear hair extensions. Have blue eyes. Hate when Dylan and I fight. Dread traffic. Smell like awesomeness. Have a passion for writing. Cherish my family."

Smell like awesomeness. If there's any other phrase that so perfectly encapsulates the notion of feeling happy, loved, and safe, I don't know what it is.

Of course, at the time I received the valentine, I remember being a little taken aback by how shallow a lot of those other phrases made me feel. Drink wine. Look pretty. I mean, is there anything more terrifying than the pure, unbridled honesty that springs forth from a young child? I can't deny that my daughter really did capture the essence of who I was in those 11 little lines, though: a mom with fake hair who adored her family, got pissed off in traffic, devoured books to pass time in the school car line, and refused to wear flats. I still won't. And yeah, I still dig my Chardonnay, too.

My daughter is a high-school senior now, and I bet if you asked her to write a "How to Be My Mom" list for Valentine's Day this year, her responses would be very different. Her current inventory would most likely include things like "Nags me to clean my room," "Stresses over my grades," and "Embarrasses me on social media." That's probably why kids stop making lists like these once they graduate from elementary school. But those 11 lines that talked about my blue eyes and my passion for writing? That's something I will always treasure.

I don't get a lot of love letters from my kids these days. Which is why I go back and read the one that's pinned up in my kitchen when I'm feeling particularly melancholy and catch myself wondering where the time has gone. My daughter's words are a nostalgic remnant from a simpler time not so long ago, one when I was the center of her world. As she got older, Valentine's Day inevitably became more about boys and romance — as it should. But her unintentionally poignant list from back in third grade is proof that for one brief and shining moment, I was a fairy-tale heroine in high heels who smelled like awesomeness. And that's all the gift I'll ever need.