Elijah's Valentines this year

Elijah’s Valentines this year

I have never been big on Valentines. I don’t know why, I used to claim that it was because of feminism or commercialism, and even that it reminded me of the pain of growing up not being conventionally pretty and not feeling like I had the hope for romance the holiday celebrated, but maybe it’s just that I don’t like this time of year. Its cold and snowy and I just want to start planting stuff so bad. Who’s bright idea was it to put a holiday exclusively about romance in the middle of a season where it’s too cold to wear anything pretty or sexy on a date? (Probably someone who didn’t live in USDA Zone 4-5, I guess) It just seems like a holiday that shouldn’t be that big of a deal, like St. Patricks Day or Groundhog Day, but that people get waaaaay too obsessed over. As an adult, the part of Valentine’s Day that bugs me the most is the school party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about holiday parties at school, but I just don’t like Valentines Day. The era of Pinterest has only made school parties higher pressure than ever, and I can manage that at Halloween (because I love Halloween), but Valentine’s Day? Blech.

I guess there are a lot of things that bother me about this holiday, the weather, the glorifying of romantic love above all others, the promotion of stereotypical gender norms and beauty standards, the gluttonous consumerism (Elijah has learned quite a bit about criticizing jewelry commercials this time of year from me), but this year the thing that is getting to me most is the waste of it all. A few weeks ago we were at the grocery store, and I decided to walk down the seasonal aisle to see if they had any potting soil out yet (they did not, grrrr), and I saw the stand filled with Valentines for school Valentines Day parties. I asked Elijah what he thought he would like, some Star Wars Valentines? Some Valentines that had little games on them? Some Valentines with mustache shaped temporary tattoos inside? He was trying to decide, clearly not enthusiastic about any of the options, and I was suddenly struck with the absurdity of buying these things. They were literal pieces of trash. Millions of kids will be bringing bunches of these things to school this week, handing one out to every kid in the class, maybe with a piece of candy, and those kids would then be taking some 30 different little pieces of paper with pictures of whatever trademarked character the giving kid likes best this year on it, and they would all go immediately in the trash (or get scattered all over houses before frustrated parents pick them up and put them in the trash). We are literally paying four bucks for a box of 15 little pieces of garbage to hand out to all the kids in our kids’ classes. We are paying real money for what amounts to a garbage exchange.

Does any parent actually like this tradition? Its not like any heartfelt exchange is actually happening on these little pieces of trash. If it were, I might feel differently about it. Sure, making your kid write all the names of the other kids in their class is an opportunity for them to practice their spelling and their penmanship, I guess, but I know my kid has plenty of other opportunities to do that. I personally hate this tradition. Looking at all the Valentines I got as a kid wasn’t the fun part of the party for me, the food was! And the fact that we weren’t doing school work for an hour or so. I even liked decorating the shoe boxes they had us do to put Valentines into. But reading the Valentines themselves? I never gave a shit about that. And neither does my kid. He’s in it for the candy.

I told Elijah to hold off on the Valentines, that these paper Valentines were wasteful, and maybe we could come up with a better idea. We left sans Valentines, and never ended up getting any.

I have been trying to figure out ways to teach Elijah about conscious consumerism. Conscious consumerism is the idea that we should make purchases with a purpose, and think long and hard about the impact our purchases make on the world. We might not always be able to make the best possible purchase in every situation, but being aware helps us to make the best purchase we can in the moment, and to feel better about skipping purchases that we might be conditioned to think we need, but when we really evaluate it, find that we don’t. It’s hard to teach kids these concepts in a world where advertising firms hire child psychologists to make advertising more manipulative for kids, and kids are exposed to this junk almost all day long, but I feel like I’m making slow progress. I’ve been looking for a kids book on the subject, with no success so far (if you know of one, let me know in the comments!). I decided this was an opportunity to learn a little bit about conscious consumerism.

Elijah and I talked about what parts of his Valentines Day party he liked best (getting the candy), and what part he thought his classmates liked best. I asked him if he felt getting the Valentines from people was especially meaningful for him (he said he didn’t care) and asked if he thought his classmates felt differently (he wasn’t sure). I asked what he thought happened to all the Valentines when kids were done with them, how long before kids were done with them, and what they did with them in the time they kept them (they got thrown away, probably as soon as they got home, and they probably barely even looked at them). He did argue that maybe kids would recycle the Valentines, to which I replied that that would be great if they did, but we couldn’t guarantee that they would, and even if they do, it’s still not as good for the environment as if the cards had not been made in the first place, and referred him back to the video The Story of Stuff, which we watched recently. I also talked to him about how the money we would spend on Valentines might be better spent on something that would actually make him or his classmates happy, instead of on something that doesn’t do much to make us happy, and just ends up in the trash. We decided that he would just hand out candy at his party. His grandma had gotten him some bags of Valentines Day themed gummy candies for him to hand out with his Valentines at his party, but we decided just to write the names of all of his classmates and “From Eli” on the package with a permanent marker, and hand those out alone. Elijah pointed out that the candy generates trash too, with all of it’s individually wrapped servings, which is true, but at least that trash is being generated for a purpose that brings his classmates some happiness. And, if we had paper Valentines, that’s just additional trash. By deciding just to give the candy to his classmates, we reduced the amount of trash we were producing, saved money, and didn’t take anything away from the fun of the party.

Elijah still had his doubts. He felt he would be looked down on for not having a paper Valentine with his candy. A paper Valentine is pretty much expected, it’s one of those things we all do without thinking why, because we have been conditioned to. Its weird to think that simply giving candy at a party could be perceived as such a radical move, but I can understand his trepidation. Surely there are some parents who will call me a cheapskate for this. But I also don’t think he will face excessive scorn. It’s not like he’s bailing on the party all together.

What are some other ideas for avoiding the mindless consumerism of the school Valentines Day party without opting out all together? If you guys have suggestions, I’m all ears, because I want to make sure we’re all still having fun while living in line with our values. Tell us about them in the comments!