Can I just say that I love Valentine's Day? Always have. It started in 1st grade when I received a handmade valentine from shy, tow-headed Owen. I remember having 20 or so store bought valentines strewn across my desk and his shadow suddenly hovering over me. When I looked up, he shakily passed me his special valentine, a handmade card of contruction paper, doilies, hearts and misspelled words. It was perfect. I was in LOVE….and with a boy I had never even noticed before. And so began my love affair with Valentine's Day.
So, you can imagine how sad I was for my daughter today when she couldn't go to school. She has the flu. Distraught as she was to miss the V-day festivities, I was even more so, I think. The excitement, the anticipation of handing out the specially chosen messages for each classmate, the butterflies in wondering who might have special messages for me, the joy of watching my classmates giggle at the fun in valentines with themes from Star Wars to Barbie to Spiderman, the treats and party that inevitably are enjoyed as a group. All the positive well wishes and messages of love, however corny, can't help but to create a sense of belonging, of safety, of connectedness in a classroom.
This afternoon, a lovely classmate hand-delivered Brooke's valentines to our house after school, knowing she'd have been disappointed to miss out. I admired the thoughtfulness of her friend and was sorry to have to keep her outside lest she catch the rampant germs in my house. So, I gratefully took the bag, noticeably weighing in at over 3 pounds, into the livingroom where Brooke was resting on the couch.
"Wow, Mom! That's a huge bag!," she said happily, before heartily ripping into it. Kind sentiments went completely unnoticed as sandwich and party bags, yes, BAGS, of candy, chocolate, sweet tarts, lollipops, tootsie rolls and more, came pouring out.
"Where are the Valentine's?," I asked.
"These are the Valentine's, Mom (insert 9 yr. old eye roll)! I told you everyone would give a lot of stuff. Mine are so stupid – you only let me give one little chocolate with my cards."
My heart sank. At what point did Valentine's Day turn into Halloween, a contest for who can give or collect the most candy? What about the Be Mine's, the UR Cool, and You Rock My World's? The funny sayings, the cute graphics, the movie themed characters? The handmade cards, scribbled coloring pages and single sweetheart tarts affixed to envelopes scrawled, "To Cris."
Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign is doing so much to increase awareness of healthy living, particularly increased movement in our schools and communities. And, so much is being done to improve school lunches. Communities are focused more and more on health and wellness. Even insurance companies are rewarding exercisers with discounts and incentives to get moving. We teach our children in books and through handouts from the school nurse how to eat better. Good grief – even our grocery stores put stars out with food items to tell us which ones are healthy or not.
We get it, we are certainly becoming more aware of what we need to do. But isn't it time to make some decisions that matter. Seems a small thing, Valentine's Day..what's the big deal? It's a once a year celebration, right? Trouble is, in today's culture (at least in the U.S.) there is seemingly always a celebration – a birthday, a holiday, a family gathering, school parties. I'm all for occasion treats, meaning once in a while goodies. They can't be every day, or in quantities of BAGS at a time. Choices have to be made all day, every day to add up to a healthy lifestyle. And whose responsibility is it to make those choices? Where does it start?
We as parents, teachers and school administrators need to take a stand. Do we or do we not want our children to be healthy inside and out? To appreciate the small things? A bite of chocolate, a occasional sundae, a chocolate chip cookie from a homemade, freshly baked batch? Nothing wrong with that (though frozen low fat yogurt with granola or mixed fruit with fat-free whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce would be a better choices).
Bottom line is, if we load up our children with supersized portions, we set them up for supersized expectations. And of course, this goes well beyond food. The $35 b-day gift for the classmate who we barely know just because we were invited to the party, the 43rd christmas present for the same child under the tree, the 10th package of Silly Bandz, the 22nd Webkinz or ZuZu Pet because they asked for it. Oh, and let's not forget the BAGS of candy to go with our Valentine's. Seriously, are we trying to outdo each other? Is it really good for our kids in any way, shape or form to overindulge them, or is it ultimately at their expense? Let me be clear and honest here – I'm not exempt from this well-meaning yet misguided 'parenting.' I have a lot to learn. But it sure would be a little easier if we were all in this together…
In a related post on Facebook earlier today, I got some great suggestions/comments that I'd like to share:
"Our schools don't allow candy at class parties. They still have cupcakes, etc but they balance the planning and ask for pretzels, popcorn, veggie tray, cheese/crackers, fruiti too." ~ S. Shufelt, Teacher, Kennebunk Elementary School
"We made yogurt parfaits in our class – lots of fresh fruit and homemade granola…tried to balance out the sweets a little. It's so hard though. Education, moderation, and what people think of as treats are all so important!" ~ T. Fitzgerald, Teacher, Kittery Mitchell School
"So true! The saddest part for me (with a 1st grader) is that it seems like it's the parents trying to out-do each other and has nothing to do with the kids. Bring back the homemade construction paper valentines!" ~ D. Sauers, Doula
Alright then. Can we stop the madness? I know I'm going to talk my school administrators or wellness committee about creating a healthy celebrations policy at my children's schools. Perhaps we can start by simplifying Valentine's Day – get back to the basics, the true meaning of the holiday. Heck, I'm going to pull out my pink contruction paper and heart stickers right now. Doilies anyone?