Bundle II was hoarding the glitter glue. Bundle I was gluing one paper heart onto a bigger paper heart. Strips of construction paper lay dying on the floor where they had been dropped. Both kids had managed to inscribe their foreheads with marker. There was paint, glitter and glue on the carpet. Epic negotiations resulted in scissors being passed around. Arguments over markers ensued. Finally the whole project was done. It had taken at least five days.
Bundle I had taken some real effort to personalize hers; drawing a car on the one for her race-car obsessed school mate, drawing a picture of herself and another child playing on another. Bundle II put her focus in carefully spelling out everyone’s names and then her own in nice neat block letters. My role was to pass the scissors, offer advice, and moderate disputes over the rapidly dwindling resources.
Earlier in the week we had gone hunting for supplies, but had been disappointed to find that there were no paper doilies, no glittery hearts or stickers; nothing really, in the spirit of making your own, except if you were planning on making cupcakes or heart shaped fudge. Boxes and boxes of pre-mades were stocked up though…and candy. Always, the candy.
But the results were pretty well thought out and they were certainly original, so the kids proudly brought their school Valentines in and, well, there wasn’t much more to the story. Because they came home with some valentines and a whole lot of sugar, but there were no handmade, badly cut hearts amongst the lot, there were no personalized messages of affection. There was Barbie, Monsters Inc, Shrek, Batman, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Dora, Cars. And candy. Always the candy.
At least most of Bundle I’s class had taken the time to write their classmates’ names on the cards themselves. Bundle II’s grab bag of assorted Disney characters were mostly all written in clear, tired adult handwriting. One, done, get it over with. Here, have a lollipop in the shape of Olaf. And neither of my kids showed any interest in looking at the actual cards themselves. They’ve all ended up in various piles on the floor, the candy long since separated and stored for later consumption. For a holiday they’d spent a good week preparing for, the end result was severely anti-climactic.
I’m not suggesting that all these kids get out some scissors and do some old-fashioned handiwork. And I know that just taking time out of busy schedules to select a box of pre-made Valentines is a stretch for some people. But if that is all that we’re doing on this day which is supposed to be about affection for each other and connecting, shouldn’t we just stop? If my kids are the only ones being duped into the idea that their classmates are thinking anything about them as they hurry through a box of Barbie so they can get on with their iPads or their TV or whatever they actually wanted to do, why bother? Why bother at all?
I myself had earlier asked both kids if they wanted to make their own, or if they wanted to buy their Valentines. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and heartache on their part, and a gigantic crazy gluey mess on my part. They were both eager to put effort into the holiday of Love. But I wonder how long their connection to their schoolmates will last. I wonder how many times they’ll ask me to call someone’s parent to have someone’s child come over for a playdate: a call which frequently goes unreturned. I wonder how much longer they’ll see themselves as part of a community that doesn’t exist, before they finally retreat into themselves like all their peers have done. I wonder when the tiny paper hearts will stay uncut from the paper, longing for freedom but knowing it won’t come from here. I dread that day but I also long for it. At least we won’t be different anymore.