Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Bounty

The lovely Julie at The Artful Flower has written quite eloquently about a new phenomenon in classrooms all across America. I'm feeling the need to vent and share my $0.02 too so hang on for the ride.

The boys and I made homemade valentines this year for their classes. We figured we'd give something both useful and homemade. We poked pencils (10 for a buck at the Target One Spot!) through little flags we made of scrap craft paper we had stashed away in the over flowing art box. Deal's flag read "Pencil me in for a playdate." Bird's pencils read "Write on, Valentine." Bird wrote his friends' names and then signed his own. Deal added rainbow glittery stickers for just the right finishing touch. We were quite proud of our crafty creations.

I volunteered at Bird's school and helped the kindergarteners decorate their Valentine mailboxes. Those red wrapped shoe boxes were decked out with more bling than the Kimora Lee Simmons section at JCPenneys. I'm talking crepe paper flowers, doilies, heart stickers, bejeweled ribbons, faux rose petals, crystal hearts, foam hearts, and glue galore. Memories flooded back to me in a slow motion blink. I remember painstakingly decorating my shoe box back in the day. Wwwaaaaaayyyy back in the day. My crowning glory was the mailbox flag I fashioned out of leftover wallpaper scraps and a paper fastener. Being the OCD adult I am, you can imagine what type of child I was. I cut and measured and glued all the details with scientific precision. My doilies were perfectly centered. My name was signed with a just-so flourish. I spent ages making the slot the perfect size - large enough to hold an envelope, small enough to not allow busy bodies to peek inside at the goods.

The slot of my Valentine box would not have been adequate to hold one single valentine my kids got this year. Apparently I did not get the memo that Valentine's Day is Halloween in February, sans costumes and scary creatures (though Cupid in a diaper ain't the stuff sweet dreams are made of). Bird's shoe box was bulging from all the candy. Candy! Deal's class made darling mailboxes to hold their cards. Deal brought his loot home in a brown paper bag. Nothing fit in that little puppy mailbox. Not one thing. Candy. And I ain't talking the token Necco conversation hearts that are forgivable because the sayings are so darn entertaining. I'm especially fond of the new fangled high tech ones like "Be my icon" and "Email me."

Bird and Deal came home with chocolate bars, lollipops, Hershey kisses, licorice, candy necklaces, bubble gum, and a few stickers and tattoos. Not one person gave just a simple token of friendship on a homemade heart. Granted, neither did we, but our intent was clearly not a sugar crash or oneupmanship. As a rule, I don't even bother playing those mom of the year games, and the Joneses are dead to me. So what's triggering this obscene display of false affection? When and how did a simple, fun, sweet celebration turn into an event?

What's worse, Bird came home upset that people made fun of his valentines. Some children went so far as to mock him and say, "I don't want that stupid pencil. Don't even put that in my box! Whadya mean you don't have any candy?!" Imagine the horror I felt when he relayed this to me, confusion and sadness coloring his voice. I grabbed the reins of this teachable moment to explain gratitude, manners, respect, friendship, and above all, the whole point of this freaking Hallmark holiday. And inside I was F.U.M.I.N.G. Even at age five Bird didn't understand why candy, that would be chewed up and pooped out in an instant, was more valuable than a pencil that a kid could use for a year or more. "A year or more, Mommy!" he wailed. I had no words to explain the over-the-top parenting today that will hand over to us a sickening generation of entitled brats. I had no words to explain why everything has gotten so out of hand and why the simple precious tokens of life are no longer cherished.

And so I told him about my mailbox with the flag. I told him how I so anticipated giving and getting those treasured little cards adorned with funny sayings and cutesy images. I told him how I used to go home and lay out all my cards, stacking them in order with my best friends' cards on top (as a fellow OCD neatnik, he could totally relate to this). I spoke of tucking that box under my bed and sneaking out of the covers to read and reread them by the faint glow of my night light for weeks on end. I showed him the stack of Valentine's cards Mac Daddy has given me over the last 12 years, tied daintily in a red satin ribbon.

And I told him that no one hangs on to a candy wrapper.

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Anonymous said...

That made me sad, although it's unsurprising.

Life is too complicated and people are not satisfied with simple things. It does send a terrible message to children especially.

One of my colleagues leaves everyone simple little Valentines on our doors and it's so sweet.

Anonymous said...

o, my goodness! Gabe got maybe 4 pieces of candy (2 lollies and 2 sm. pkts of hearts). I had no idea you were talking about THAT much candy... he got maybe a dozen candy-free v'tines. And a pencil! Poor bird. Life is so hard!


Anonymous said...

The boys still have the cards from friends from last year's Valentine's Day. Sadly I gave them no candy and they did not give out candy at school. Tell Bird it is okay, his cards were made with love and caring. Those kids probably had nothing to do with the candy they gave out.

You're doing a great job and so is he! Don't worry about those other parents! Maybe one of the parents is a dentist and they are trying to get some business!

San Diego Momma said...

Toots made her valentines last year and it took her hours to cut the hearts and write names on each.

She got the same reaction: put-downs and ridicule. it totally killed me.

So i caved and bought some lame-ass candy this year. Because I'm a tool. You and the kids did a wonderful thing and it makes me want to revisit making our own valentines next year.

Unknown said...

Wow. When I started reading the post I was excited because I thought that your idea was great! This was my oldest son's first Valentine experience and I had wanted to make cards, but couldn't come up with anything. (I blame an awful head cold & being pregnant, but maybe I'm just not very creative. hehe) I'm so happy to have read this post as it is a good reminder to me of what I want to teach my sons. I commend you and the lesson you've taught your son! Thank you for sharing!

Gibby said...

I was shocked when my oldest celebrated her first V-day at school. I couldn't believe what people gave! My youngest this year got 5 gift bags chock full of crap and candy. I refuse to conform. We gave out pencils, too (from the dollar spot in Target!), so we are right there with you guys!

Anonymous said...

My daughter is in Pre-K, and she was the only kid to give out little homemade valentines. Every other kid gave out full goodie bags. I had no idea this is what was expected! But I wont be doing anything different next year.

Threeundertwo said...

This has happened to us too. If I knew then what I know now, I would work with teachers before the holidays to lay down some rules. I think the candy focus of Valentine's Day is just ridiculous.

The alternative though, seems to be a stack of meaningless tacky little Sponge Bob cards.

Few families are as creative and caring as yours. Give yourself a pat on the back and maybe talk to the teachers next year about some modifications to their Valentine's Day party plans.

Carrie said...

Ugh. It really surprises me that parents want to do this because eveyr parent I know is already complaining about having too much candy due to Halloween and Xmas.

Since my daughter is only in nursery school, we didn't get too much candy. I was even surprised by what we got, tho. I mean, we bought a box of drugstore valentines and got her name signed on them, and I thought that was an accomplishment. Ha! I am so not up to her entering elementary school next year.

Anonymous said...

I love the Valentines you guys made. "Pencil me in for a playdate" is so creative! It's too bad some of the other kids weren't happy and grateful for the heartfelt sentiment.

Buying kids crap like candy and video games just gives them a quick sugary rush, but isn't lasting. And you're right, it creates bratty entitlement.

I like the way you are raising your kids. They will turn into fine adults. I'm sorry they (and you) had to deal the way you did.

Anonymous said...

Very sad story, but kudos to the great liners you wrote, I wish Z would have gotten homemade cards, as for the candy 2 pieces, his school didn't want any, I think becuase of allergies and also where do parents stop.
PS Did they have shoeboxes when you were in school? LOL

Jen L. said...

That was a fantastic way to seize the opportunity to share that story. How sad. Kids can be cruel. I also hate those "mom of the year" types that try to buy love or popularity by sending pounds of sugary sweets and inviting every child her kid's ever met to the birthday party. That takes the fun and magic out of it for the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

We got the memo - NO CANDY, we are emphasizing friendship not sugar - a few weeks ahead of time. I'd say 2/3 of the cards were homemade. A pencil, a couple tatoos, but mostly just cards. The most exciting part for my just turned 4-year-old was she could "read" who the card was from. OK, recognized a couple letters and was able to figure out the name, but pretty good reasoning, I thought.

Gotta love a Montessori school.

Anonymous said...

Will put my 2 cents in and say this happened to us also. We did cards and a homemade cookie attached. While I hope he wasn't made fun of for that, it certainly didn't compare to the enormous gift bags of candy crap individually made for all 18 children in his class. Whaaa..??? And the cost of this! What, so the bigger bag full of crap, the better, more thoughtful, cooler mom? B/c thats what I think this is about. And if you don't keep up with what the mommies are doing, you clearly don't get it. Nope. I don't. And I don't want to get it. Enjoy the cookies, thats all I got.