In early 2007, Elanor, who had just turned two, was attending a local daycare center in Fargo, ND.
A few days before that Valentine's Day, the lady who ran the center told me that they were going to have a Valentine's Day party. All the kids were going to make valentines for each other, and they wanted each child to bring in a valentine box.
I inwardly winced; I knew I could wrestle all weekend with a glue gun but still produce something that would look like a head-on collision between Sesame Street and a nightmare. I really didn't want to make my toddler blush with shame.
I had a sudden inspiration and knew exactly what to do: I called my mother. All the Martha Stewart genes in the family had passed me by, but my mother had them in spades (my sister got them too; I somehow managed to cop the bibliophile genes instead).
I explained what I needed and asked her if she'd be willing to whip something up for Elanor.
"A shoebox with some paper doilies or construction-paper hearts will be fine," I told her. "Nothing too elaborate."
She enthusiastically agreed (in hindsight, that should have been my first inkling of what was to come), and promised she'd have it done by the following weekend.
Sure enough, she called me the Friday before Valentine's Day to tell me the box was done. We made arrangements to meet and pick it up.
I had asked for a shoebox with some artfully arranged stickers, stamps, or maybe some curling ribbon.
What I got was this:
A pink princess castle with five turrets and a drawbridge.
"Mom," I said. "I asked for a shoebox."
"I know," she said apologetically. "But I found this really cute idea online, and... well, I got a little carried away."
"She worked on it for hours," my stepfather offered. "It turned out really great, don't you think?"
On Valentine's Day, I walked into the daycare with that box, and every single woman in the room turned and stared at me -- or rather, at what I was carrying.
"This is Elanor's valentine box," I said sheepishly. "Her grandmother made it."
As the other mothers exchanged glances, I knew I had become, for once in my life, one of those moms. (It's never happened since.)