Tuesday afternoon Jack got off the bus as he would have any other day, and we went up stairs and took off our coats, and I began to unpack his backpack when I came across a piece of paper with a list of names on it. It was a class list from his teacher with a handwritten note on the top saying that if we wished to make Valentine’s Day cards these were the names to address them to.
I immediately was overwhelmed by this feeling of utter shame and disgust at how my son was embarking on the road to commercialism….. okay, that’s a little dramatic… let’s back it up a bit. There was a moment last year at one of Jack’s numerous doctor appointments with various specialists where he was subjected to a plethora of tests and was rewarded after by his choice of sticker. Which sticker did he choose? a generic sticker of a dog… Now, he could have chosen Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, Dora the Explorer or even Thomas the Tank Engine, but he has no relation to those characters. He hasn’t been exposed to them because I don’t own a TV, and only let him watch the one Sesame Street DVD I own as a last resort. I admit, I took great pride in that moment, my son reaching for the cute dog sticker, and with one hand rejecting what society assumed he would want. I was proud of him, and of myself… “I’m raising a free thinker”.. not that I would judge him for reaching for a sticker of some stupid sponge or some demonic looking mouse…but he genuinely likes dogs, and recognized the sticker of the dog and asked for what he wanted… in a few years the situation could be very different, I recognize that.
This whole free-thinking non-conformist world I was painting for him was intruded upon in December when he came home from school multiple times with presents… and little notes in his backpack explaining to me that Santa had come to visit the classroom, and later on in January, ANOTHER bag of presents in honor of Three King’s day! Not sure the average American knows what Three King’s Day is, and how did they explain this to Jackson?? I would love to hear that story… And let me clarify, we’re not talking about some ten dollar gift …. In December he came home with a yellow Tonka truck, a red striped turtleneck (??) and a playschool little people farm set. In January, Jack greeted me at the bus stop clutching a Matchbox car-wash station… one of those activity sets that came with hundreds of tiny stickers and required me to find a screwdriver in order to assemble the darn thing.
I couldn’t tell what I was more upset about, that he had come home with presents, or that there was a Santa and Jesus presence in his classroom. It’s one thing to color pictures of snowmen and snowflakes, or give presents to each other in the spirit of giving, it’s quite another when the school hires a large man to parade around in a red suit and hands out presents -it’s the difference between the acknowledgment of a tradition and condoning one. In previous years, I had a tradition of buying Jack one new book, and one new toy for Christmas. This may sound really small, but believe me, he gets plenty of toys and books and clothes from his relatives. We also have a tradition in the New Year of going through all the toys and setting the ones aside that he no longer plays with. To those of you out there who think that there may be a time in your life when you have children, I highly recommend a clean-house approach once a year, if not more frequently.
I digress, I, as the crunchy, compassionate, non-material and highly idealistic Mommy have made an active choice not to saturate him with the smells and bells of Christmas holidays… We have no tree, no lights, not a snowflake or snowman in sight. Part of this is because I’m so busy singing a Messiah every freaking five minutes that the thought of erecting a Christmas tree bedecked with lights and tinsel makes me want to wretch… the greater reason is that I don’t want him to think that those things, while they are wholesome and nice, are essential to the spirit of Christmas and more importantly, the spirit of giving. Can we give and care and love without a tinsel-draped blinking tree, hell yeah, and we will.
Back to my point, at the moment that I looked down at those names, I thought to myself, crap, we have to make valentines. The note didn’t say that we HAD to make them, but I didn’t want Jack to be the only kid in class who didn’t send in valentines.. (not that he is capable of making valentines at the age of three, but whatever., it’s really a coolest Mommy contest, and the game was ON!) I admit, there were three seconds where I thought to myself, wow, oh to have a car! oh to have the ability to drive to Rite-Aid and buy some cheap box of pre-perforated Sesame Street valentines, and we could take 30 minutes filling out the To and From, and be done with the whole thing.
But, No! This was a teaching moment, not just for Jack, but for me, and I knew that how we dealt with this minor crisis (which I admit didn’t phase him in the least) was going to be huge. I didn’t want to toss off Valentine’s Day, just like I don’t want to toss off Christmas. They are both days where we remind people that we care, and we can do that in a completely non-commercial way. So, to the table we went! and for the next few hours I cut out paper hearts, and more paper hearts, and then some more paper hearts, and Jackson told me which of the names were girl names and which were boy names, and then we stenciled their names, stamped Jack’s name on the back and he glued little hearts onto the larger hearts for about an hour. The finishing touch on our project was stringing yarn through the sides and tying the slack into a bow. These weren’t just valentines, they were handmade name-cards, which could be worn around your neck or hung on a doorknob, whatever. My point is we spent about four hours working on them together, and it was awesome.
On a side note, my point is not that I am actively trying to deny Jack access to Sponge Bob or Dora or Thomas, or that those families that sent in store bought valentine’s were somewhat inferior. I recognize that his exposure to Dora and Thomas is for the most part, out of my hands, but by not actively buying into the commercialism I am hoping to encourage him to keep enjoying the things that he likes. I do ask myself at what point my aversion to commercialism begins to infringe upon his right to live a “normal” childhood. My favorite answer to this predicament so far has been “next year.” (thanks Kendra)… Well, I’ve been thinking about getting a tree next year, they’re real pretty, and I think decorating a tree with the popcorn and Christmas carols (which I really despise ) is something that he’s entitled to, and part of the act of loving is compromising and sacrificing, and I want my actions to be reflective of the qualities that I would like to see in him.
The funniest part of all the Valentine’s Day crisis was that we were hit with three inches of ice during the night and his school was cancelled. Not only had it stormed, but it was sleeting rain for the entire day-Jack and I were housebound. This is only interesting because I, indulging in my own materialistic demons, had ordered a Quentin Tarantino book to give to MY Valentine, and couldn’t get to the store to pick it up…. So what did I do? Well, the glue stick and construction paper were already out. I made a Valentine, and he loved it, probably more than if Tarantino had given it to him.