Obviously I can’t speak for anyone else’s circumstances beyond my own (although the next time I get together with my friends who have children in elementary school, I hope remember to compare notes with them) but at the childcare facility my family makes use of, Valentine’s Day is a disproportionately big deal. The children in each room are expected to exchange valentine cards with one another, and to that end the parents are provided with photocopied lists of the names of all the children in the room(s) where their child(ren) spend each day. Up to this point, I say fair enough. Certainly I exchanged valentine cards with my classmates growing up, and I believe even back then there was a strong suggestion (official or unofficial, all the same to me as a kid) that the children not exclude anyone, but write out valentine cards for everyone else in the room. (Of course I do also remember picking my cards with utmost care; if there were six different templates in a 24-pack, they were easily arranged in a hierarchy of subtexts from “I really like you” to “I am obligated by rules of decorum to address this to you” and I made sure each recipient was matched to the message accordingly.) The point being I don’t have a problem with the valentines being mandatory.
Or at least, I wouldn’t have a problem with as regards my son and the Montessori Room, as he is almost four-and-a-half and is starting to navigate the shallowest waters of social relationships. But there was also a mandatory exchange of cards in my daughter’s Toddler Room, where the median age is about 21 months or so. For the little guy, valentines cards are another opportunity for him to practice reading simple words and writing his own name and his friends’ names. The little girl is of course oblivious to all such things, so asking the parents of pre-verbal tykes to do all the work of addressing/signing a rosterful of cards, the significance of which will be lost and wasted on the children anyway, seems … odd? (Or infuriating, if you are my wife, and since she is the one who did the hand-cramping work of a/s-ing the cards, she has every right to her fury, I say.)
But above and beyond that, the whole valentines card process has actually become much more elaborate than when I was in the playground set. Apparently it is not enough to exchange little rectangles of perforated cardboard imprinted with jedis or fairies, and it has become customary to attach a little treat to the valentine as well. Sometimes this is a single lollipop or bag of mini-M&Ms, but sometimes it is an entire goodie bag with candy, stickers, and other sundries. One of the girls in the little guy’s class (whom the little guy is actually very fond of) gave out bags that contained one packet of mini Oreos and one heart-shaped silly straw, ostensibly for use in a glass of milk to accompany the cookies. Which I am not so much of an ogre as to deny the inherent cuteness of, I just … I don’t know. It just seems a bit much.
And of course, while I’m predisposed to find this all a tad excessive, I think that I would still find the higher-end lapses of parental judgment aggravating even if I were fully on-board with the whole gift-exchange escalation. Lapses of judgment such as selecting peanut butter filled chocolates as the affixed treat, despite some fairly clear and reasonable rules at the daycare center about food allergies and not bringing trigger ingredients (LIKE PEANUT BUTTER) into the classrooms. Or lapses such as putting little novelty erasers in the goodie bags in the Toddler Room. (Did I mention that the toddlers’ parents do the whole goodie bag thing, too? Because they do, apparently.) Happy Valentine’s Day, here’s a choking hazard for your child who’s still very likely still in the put-everything-small-in-his-or-her-mouth stage.
Needless to say, although we bought gender-coded (Avengers and My Little Pony) valentines cards for our children to hand out, we did not take things to the next level, as the kids say. Hopefully we did not ruin our progeny’s lives as a result of low-balling the significance of the valentine rituals amongst their respective cohorts. It should be our last daycare-assisted Valentine’s for a while, anyway, with the little guy headed to elementary school as of this fall and the little girl at home with her mom and her baby brother on the day of the week V-Day 2014 happens to arrive. But the kindergarten thing does emphasize that I do need to know if this whole valentines-plus-treats thing is a weird local phenomenon or becoming (or already has become) more widespread and mainstream. I take no particular pride in the thought of being the kind of parent who would have his children’s pleas to fit in falling on deaf ears, with no more counterargument than “That’s not how we did it in my day, and that sounds dumb.” I can go along to get along, moreso if it’s for my kids’ sake. I’d also like to think I’d take a stand on issues that actually merited it, but I doubt that applies to buying a little extra candy every February 14th.