Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Politics of Valentines

E is resisting the dominant valentine paradigm. She made a valentine for A, her best friend from her sitter’s. Then she made a valentine for K, her best friend at preschool. Then she got tired, which was fine, because I savvily started the valentine-making process a week early to avoid the last-minute rush of parentally-pressured shoddily-constructed valentines (yes, we make them, though sometimes I wonder why, since every other kid we have ever encountered in our sitter/school valentine history buys packs of cartoon character valentines that you just need to write your name on--except for M’s best friend L who also makes, which in a nutshell explains why they are best friends--but I feel that to buy cartoon character valentines is to succumb fully to the commodification of all aspects of civilization and I just can’t do it) (besides, I actually like making valentines, which, given my ongoing non-project-mama status, makes valentine-making a rare opportunity for happy mom-kid project interaction) (and, despite the hegemony of commodity capitalism, the other kids love getting M and E’s homemade valentines).

But back to E: when she said she was done making valentines, I said that was fine and she could make the rest later, to which she replied that she only needed to make one for R, another preschool friend, and one for her teachers, and then she’d be done. To which I replied, “No, you need to make one for every kid in your class.” To which she replied, “No, I’m only making them for my friends.”

And there we have E embodying the institutional valentine dilemma. Her instincts are right on: she knows who she likes and she knows that valentines are a way to tell people you like them, ergo she should be making valentines for the people she likes. If I were a textbook conservative, I’d support her freedom to express her individual desires and the hell with the teacher’s socialist demands. If I were a textbook liberal, I’d explain to her that it’s not fair when some kids get valentines and others don’t, and it hurts people’s feelings when they don’t get valentines, and that’s why the teachers ask the kids to bring a valentine for everyone in the class. In fact, since I basically am a textbook liberal, I tried this, but it didn’t work. So now I’m just a conflicted mom who wants to affirm my kid’s autonomy and doesn’t want to make trouble for the teacher, and is really hoping that if we wait a few days the issue will just go away.

[Then there’s M who wholeheartedly embraces valentine-making of any kind and likes everyone in her class anyway. But there are a lot more third graders than there are preschoolers, so I hit on the ingenious solution of a valentine assembly line. M liked this idea because her class used an assembly line to make the holiday cards they sold to raise money for Habitat for Humanity--let’s hear it for public schools teaching our kids to be cogs in the wheel of, you guessed it, a kinder, gentler commodity capitalism. So first I traced 20 hearts on a sheet of white posterboard, then she stamped a purple heart in the upper-left-hand corner of each heart, then I put two small heart stickers on each side, then she put a big heart sticker on the bottom, etc. I cut out the hearts, and voila, 20 valentines in 15 minutes and now all she needs to do is write the names. Almost as easy as buying and about ten times as expensive!]


Elizabeth said...

Came here via This Woman's Work, and felt compelled to say hi because everything in your profile could describe me to. And I suspect I live within 10 miles of you based on your description.

I hadn't even considered that my 4 year old needed Valentines for preschool. Yikes.


LilySea said...

The silliest part is that no one's fooling anyone with the "one for every kid in class" rule. The kids know who likes whom; they know who are the outcasts or misfits and who are the popular kids.

As a sometime outcast/misfit kid myself, I can say that getting a valentine from a kid who didn't give me the time of day any other day of the year--maybe even one who was habitually outright mean to me--didn't console me one iota. It was a just a sad ritual and I always hated Valentine's Day as a result.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I keep thinking of the Simpson's episode where Lisa gives Ralphie a card out of pity (because no one else gave him one) that has a train on it and says, "Choo choo choose me!" and then he falls crazy in love with her. Didn't end happily.



Anonymous said...

(Not anonymous, but I really dislike the blogger sign-in thing.)

I also came here via this woman's work.

My sons are older now, but ugh, valentines. Those little cheap envelopes still make me cringe. My first born son, though bright and quick in every way, had a hard time with writing when he was small. So we'd sat together long hours that 1st grade year, laboriously writing out names from the list the teacher handed out--she'd requested that the children do the writing themselves. Argh. It really peeved me that almost every card he got back was written out by an adult.

The next year we got smart. We had our first Mac, and I typed in the name list and let my son cut and paste individual names onto valentines he made in some early version of Photoshop. We printed them on astrobrights paper. He cut them apart on my paper cutter and dolled them up with paper punches, pinking shears and ribbons. Hand made, yet mass-printed. A later year he made valentine book-marks with drawings and a funny poem from an anthology he liked about monsters in love, printing it in a long, skinny format onto bright cardstock.

Cathy Milwaukee

KirstenM said...

I also came via This Woman's Work, just a couple of months late, and have to comment to say WOW! We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day in Australia anything like you guys do - valentine's are strictly for romantic attachments - and after reading this, I am so glad!

Especially because if we did I know I would feel bound to make them too...