California

Saint Valentine

I have thought about tonight’s topic so often that I actually thought I had already written about it last year or the year before or the year before that. See, my son and I have a tradition that we have repeated every year since he started kindergarden where we make valentines for 20-30 strangers.

Before you start to think that we are oh so loving and altruistic with this tradition, let me inform you that the “strangers” are his classmates.

So maybe strangers is a bit harsh to describe them, but when my son has been to five different schools by the third grade, it’s hard to know what else to call them. Maybe distant acquaintances?

[Before you start pitying my son with his multitudinous moves, I will say that we do have a small group of close friends with kids he loves who he has known for either most or all of his life. These kids just don’t go to his school(s).]

I hate this tradition. Not like I hate pizza. This is a true hate because I feel as if I am teaching my son a terrible lesson but do so nonetheless because I want him to fit in.

Ugh. I hate how parenting makes you compromise things you never thought you would.

No. I am not anti-valentine’s day. I actually love it. My family (back when I was home-schooled with the goats) used to make homemade cards for each other. Each year we’d try to outdo the last and each other with creativity. I still have a box of these valentines from my brothers and my parents that truly remind me of what love and family is really about. While I do think that you need to share that love all year ’round, not just on February 14th, I also think it’s cool to have a day where you make a heart-shaped strawberry cake just because. You know. Love is in the air.

What I hate is the mass-produced spirit that pervades this day of love. This spirit that tells us that not only do we need to tell people we barely know that we love them but that we need to do it in such a completely fake and mass-produced way.

Because even if my son and I made 27 (this year’s count) valentines by hand (which we did), taking care to consider each child in his class (which we did not), the school has declared that you are not allowed to designate a specific valentine for a specific person. Rather, they all must look the same and bear no one’s name but your child’s (which must be signed by hand so that it has a “personal touch”). If my son did want to make a few special valentines, he has been told he has to wait after school to give them to his friends “discreetly.”

Really?

This year, my son begged me to include a piece of candy with his valentines because last year (different school) he got mocked for only giving out homemade cards.

Really? Really?

So this is what my son learns year after year:
1. You must tell people you like them even when some of them are jerks and hurt your feelings on a daily basis.
2. Notes of affection and camaraderie are not only lies but are a dime-a-dozen.
3. These notes are so commonplace and cheap that they will be thrown away within an hour.
4. It is not worth your time or effort to tell someone you care for them because everyone views it as rote and they will only accept it if you give them something (candy. Or a pencil. Pencils were a trend last year. We still have some.).

Ultimately, he’s learning that love is disposable. It is a consumable commodity that you buy and then add a “personal touch” so that people think you actually care. And I hate that.

I hate it even more that I let him continue in this hellish tradition (even helping him with the making of cards–yes, we still do homemade cards) because I don’t want him to be the only asshole who doesn’t bring cards.

So what am I teaching him?
1. You are an asshole if you don’t conform to something that is actually devaluing one of the few things of value left in this world.

Love matters.

Being kind matters.

Doing these things for strangers is a blessing beyond our understanding. We need to have open and loving hearts to the world. We need to teach our children to love unabashedly but to also have discernment.

The thing is: making valentines for “strangers” isn’t inherently wrong. I found out tonight via twitter that my girlfriend is making valentines with her son for their neighbors. Knowing her, she is using this time to not only have time with her son but to teach him about having a kind and loving heart to the world as well.

That is exactly what Saint Valentine’s day is about.

Intentionality.

Not factory-producing meaningless things. This devalues love. This teaches our children that they really aren’t worth more than that $0.27 card. That they can’t have discernment or choice about who they love and how. And that when someone says they care for you, they are only parroting a script some ‘bot wrote.

My son suggested that this year he miss school on valentine’s day. While that is a great quick fix to my quandary, it still doesn’t address the issue. Rather, while we made cards (and they were all different, if not designated for a specific child), we talked about each other’s days and our feelings about Dad coming home early and my family’s tradition of valentines cards. I told him I’d find the box and show him the cards this week.

Quality time spent. Not perfect because Thursday, he’ll still be receiving meaningless messages. But it’s a start, I guess.

Maybe next year we’ll actually resist this “tradition” even in the face of being labeled an asshole.

Maybe next year we’ll just skip school. It’ll be a different one anyway.

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4 thoughts on “Saint Valentine

  1. This makes a beautiful point about how we are forced to de-value the most valuable things. Might I make a suggestion for next year? Instead of Valentine’s cards, bake Valentine’s cupcakes (or cookies). While still giving in to the false tradition and pervasive superficiality of modern Valentine’s Day, it might alleviate several of the issues you highlighted:

    1. You must tell people you like them even when some of them are jerks and hurt your feelings on a daily basis: cupcakes come with no message.
    2. Notes of affection and camaraderie are not only lies but are a dime-a-dozen: again, no notes involved.
    3. These notes are so commonplace and cheap that they will be thrown away within an hour: cupcakes are made to be eaten and thus are by their nature disposable, but will not be simply thrown away.
    4. It is not worth your time or effort to tell someone you care for them because everyone views it as rote and they will only accept it if you give them something: you are giving everyone something, but can enjoy the process of making the cupcakes together.

    I would also add:

    5. Cupcakes maintain the anonymity required (i.e. no specific Valentine for a specific child)
    6. You can make extras and give them to your neighbors, or better, the person who cleans the school after hours, or the people who work in the school office, or the groundskeeper (my mother does this at her school and these people are infinitely grateful that someone remembers them)

    If cupcakes violate your ideas about nutrition, then make it almond date bars, or heart-shaped carrot pieces, or whatever.

    Just an idea from someone who despises forced fun and fake displays of affection 🙂

    • That is a good idea. He’s gone to some schools that won’t let us bring homemade food (don’t even get me started on that one), but this one doesn’t have that restriction. And I like cooking with him, so we’d get the fun of cooking together rather than his signing his name over and over again on generic cards.

  2. Pingback: Valentine’s Day: It’s Not About You |

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