Over dinner last night Ella told me that all of the kids at school get stuff for Valentine's Day -- chocolates, toys, cards and the like. I hear this a lot -- whether it's at Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick's Day, birthdays, whenever -- friends at school invariably get lots of stuff. (One friend even got a trampoline for Easter. When I was a kid I got a chocolate bunny.)
Every time these conversations come up I feel my hackles (if I had hackles) rising. I mean, stuff is one of the problems with society. Our love affair with stuff is at the root of many environmental and social issues. (Instead of listening to me rant about this, check out "The Story of Stuff".)
But bringing it back to the dining room table, I gently tried to reaffirm to the kids (without sounding like a total grouch) why I'm encouraging we stop coveting stuff: because we're watching our spending, because stuff invariably ends up at the thrift store or landfill, and days like Valentine's Day, or Mother's Day, or any Day that has its own Hallmark card, have largely evolved into a marketing scheme that encourages people to spend money on stuff to show others how much they love them. And instead of taking one day of the year to show our appreciation fr each other, why can't every day be Valentine's Day or Father's Day? (This isn't a veiled excuse to eat more chocolate, even if I had a big sweet tooth, which I don't.)
The kids have been getting this speech for years and they seem to get it (Jack even said to me several times this past December that although it was a small Christmas, it was an awesome Christmas) and I tell them how much I honestly understand that it's hard to be "different" from other families. So far, at ages 8 and almost 11, there hasn't been much of a backlash (though I'm bracing for it).
But we find other ways to mark these special days, often with homemade treats and some sort of crafting. Jack no longer makes Valentine's Day mailboxes with his class (that's grade five for you) and he said there wasn't an in-class party or anything this year. However, he could have bought a $2 carnation for that special someone. He wanted absolutely no part of that. None. Nada. I think he was a bit mortified by the idea.
But Ella still loves to craft Valentines for her friends. So last night, while Jack practiced his skateboarding in the garage, we made simple paper heart flowers and attached them to colourful postcards.
While I know most kids at school with be exchanging store-bought cards (no judgement there -- just stating a fact), I love our annual card-making ritual. Each year the cards get a bit more fancy, the cutting is a bit more precise and there's more glue on the cards than on the table. She hasn't yet been teased for her homemade creations and I hope when that time comes she can find the strength to follow her heart. Especially on Valentine's Day when love for oneself should trump love for more stuff.