February 14, 2023 8:00 am A Family Valentine
Written by Anne Martine Cook
This story was originally published in February, 2014.
During the Thanksgiving holiday, four-year-old John Colligan became tearful at every turn. He was feeling extra attached to his mother, Liz, and wanted to be with her all the time.
She did make special times for each of her four children but loved time with all of them as well. The children were happy altogether too. Yet John suddenly began to separate himself from the board games, the family fun outdoors and even the cozy movie nights.
Nelly, John’s six-year-old sister, sensed his sadness and lent him her lucky stone. His nine-year-old brother, Dylan noticed his absence from their happy times and gave him a little chocolate bar which he had been saving since Halloween. Liz tried to soothe John. Even Robby, the two-year-old, who was pretty oblivious, reached for John’s hand more often.
John was in his room. His pillow was in a sunny spot. Putting his head down, he fell asleep with tears in his eyes.
Liz carried a stack of folded towels upstairs to the linen closet. She quietly peeked into John’s room and saw her little boy asleep, with Nelly’s stone in his hand. The chocolate bar was on his night table. Looking closely, she could see fresh tears in the corners of his eyes. Liz covered him up and patted his back. Opening his eyes, John tried to rub away his tears.
“Oh John, please tell me what is making you feel so sad.”
“Mommy, I don’t know. I just feel sad.” He put his head down and scrubbed at his eyes again.
Liz put her face on John’s forehead. She knew immediately he didn’t have a fever. She took his hand. Her heart ached for him.
Just then, Robby called, “Mommy?”
Feeling pulled in two directions, Liz whispered, “I’ll be back.”
She found Robby about to color on a white wall. “Here’s paper, Robby. Please don’t draw on the walls, ever.”
“Okay, Mommy. Me won’t.”
Liz went back to John. He looked a bit happier. “John, we all have little sad spells. Nice things to do help us feel better. Thinking a lot about sad stuff never really helps. How about if we go downstairs and have a change of scene?”
“Okay,” John agreed softly, “but can you stay with me?”
“Yes. Should we make cookies?”
“Yes! May I put in the vanilla?”
“Of course you may.”
Nelly and Dylan were in the den playing Old Maid. “Hey, John, wanna play?” Dylan called out as John and Liz walked into the kitchen.
John looked at his mother. She said, “I’ll get the ingredients ready and preheat the oven while you and the others play a hand, okay?”
John loved Old Maid, but wanted to stay with his mother too. The phone rang suddenly.
“Hello? Oh yes, hi. Thanks for calling. Yes, New England landscapes primarily.” Liz sold art and never knew when a new client might call. The children knew to be quiet when she spoke with her ‘business voice.’
“John?” pleaded Nelly. “The game is more fun with you. Please play with us.” Sighing, John slowly walked into the den.
“Here you go John.” Dylan patted a spot on the couch. Dylan dealt the cards and soon they were all laughing as they tried to avoid getting stuck with the old maid. Robby climbed up and affectionately leaned into John. Robby’s warm body felt good.
The front door opened. Chuck, their father, was home earlier than usual. No one moved.
Nelly said, “Hi Daddy. Wanna play cards?”
“Is this all you do? You were playing cards when I left.” Chuck hung his jacket on the banister.
“We drew and sang and danced. Mommy showed us how to make cocoa. She took us to the park and we saw two dogs. We watched videos of us on Cape Cod. We talked to Nana. Then we came back to cards.”
“Not much of a day. Where’s Mommy?”
“A lady wants to buy a picture. She’s on the phone in the kitchen.”
Liz waved to Chuck, but continued her conversation. “I do have other pastels. One would look great on the wall in your kitchen near the large window. Why don’t you come over and see, Carol?”
Chuck threw his hands up in the air. “Are you kidding! Selling a small piece of art is really not that big a deal.”
John held a new hand of cards as he watched his father move towards the mail.
“Come on Daddy, play with us?” Nelly asked, hoping to cheer up her father.
Liz came in the room. “Hi Chuck. Sorry to be on the phone when you got home. I hope to sell one of the small pastels this week. Carol is coming over on Friday.”
“Unlikely. You spend more time on potential sales than they are worth. How often do you sell a piece? Once a year?”
John slowly put his hand down. Nelly did too. Dylan clutched his cards. He had the Old Maid and didn’t want anyone to know.
John said firmly, “I know that lady will love the picture with the barn and the two cows.”
“Maybe we can help you sell it,” Dylan said with a smile.
“Children, thank you. I bet you can.” Liz smiled at them warmly.
Surrounded by his family, John realized he didn’t feel sad anymore. He knew he was loved. He touched the little stone in his pocket.
Chuck went into the kitchen and took out some crackers and cheese. He began eating them, standing at the counter. John looked at his father all by himself.
“Daddy, won’t you play with us? Please? Just one hand.”
Chuck walked into the bright room and sat next to John.
“Daddy, this is history! You’re sitting with us,” Dylan laughed. New cards were dealt. John had the old maid. Then Chuck picked it from him and laughed. Soon all the cards had matches and the children looked at their father with his three cards.
Chuck smiled. “I guess I have to play cards with you more often. You kids are pros!”
John took Chuck’s hand. “We’re going to make cookies. If you help, you can add the vanilla.”
“John, thanks,” Chuck said gratefully. “That’s your favorite part. How about if I measure the flour?”
Liz took out the cookie sheets and put them on the counter. She felt Chuck’s arm around her shoulder. “I hope you sell that picture,” Chuck told her.
Liz looked up quickly. “Thank you.”
The children knew these were going to be the best cookies they had ever made.
Children feel sad out of the blue. Having a sense of belonging can ease the sadness and allow happier times to follow. John was soothed by his family’s generous displays of love for him. Tender John, feeling grateful to all of them, sensed his father’s solitude and wanted Chuck to feel, he was an integral part of the family too. Liz’s steady warmth showed the children how comforting it is to be a part of something happy and alive. They were able to share that feeling with their father.
Anne Martine Cook has 40+ years experience teaching nursery school children.