February 18th, 2018
Valentine’s Day is a balancing act. There’s a razor-thin tightrope all Type A parents must walk to succeed. On one side lurks the chasm of high expectations. On the other is the pit of broken dreams. How do you make this a holiday that proclaims your love and devotion for your offspring without accidentally setting impossible expectations (in their mind and yours) and ending up feeling like a total failure as a parent? It’s tricky.
As the opening sentences might suggest, I struggle a bit with Valentine’s Day. It’s a dangerous holiday for me because there’s a huge temptation to Do All the Things which can lead very quickly into Failing at All the Things if you’re not careful.
A couple years ago, our dog ate the children’s chocolate chip heart-shaped scones right off their plates on the breakfast table while I was upstairs waking them. Like I said, it’s a dangerous holiday.
I also have an inexplicable emotional hang-up about valentines. I cannot bring myself to purchase the multi-packs of Scooby Doo or Snoopy cards from the store. But I also don’t have the time, energy, creativity, or personal finances to pull off the amazing array of beautiful handmade greetings that lie in wait on Pinterest, ready to shame the hapless mothers who turn there for inspiration. Oh, I’ve tried. I custom-ordered red, white, and pink crayons to make recycled heart crayons a few years ago. Let that sink in for a minute. Custom-ordered supplies for ‘recycled crayons.’ Yep.
This year, two of my children wanted to make slime for their friends, which seemed like a good plan.
Having now made fifty snack-sized bags full of slime in multiple colors – some with sparkles and some without – I can hypothesize with confidence that the CEO of Elmers glue sold her soul to the devil to make that substance an international phenomenon. I spent upwards of $25 on bottles of glue and borax and the finished product is disgusting. We got it squished into little baggies but I doubt any child was able to extract the goo when they got home. But some of it sparkled (which pleased my daughter) and some of it looked like snot (which pleased my son) so all was not lost.
Then there was my third child, the perfectionist. She takes valentines seriously and hand-crafted a personalized card for every one of her 23 classmates – plus her teachers, grandparents, and pen pal. Each one took about 7 minutes to complete and involved a pencil sketch, followed by a permanent marker inking, followed by watercolor painting. A final application of glittery heart stickers at strategic locations completed the effect. The inside of each card contained a poem – some variation on “roses are red, violets are blue” – personalized to each friend’s preferences, along with a second drawing. Soccer balls, trees, silly faces with mustaches, and donuts all made an appearance.
It was actually quite lovely to hear her talk through her reasoning behind her choices. For her grandparents, she drew two Sudoku puzzles, a pair of reading glasses, and a specific lamp from my dad’s den. Nothing says love like attention to detail.
But the total time commitment to create the valentines took its toll, emotionally. There were tears as the night wore on and she got tired. A spelling error here, a moment of creative block, there. When you put your heart and soul into a project, you want it to turn out just right. I totally understand.
My own creative endeavor was to compose love letters to my children out of conversation hearts. It’s really funny to see what sentences you can build around those cheesy phrases. Unfortunately, the Valentine Gremlins sabotaged my efforts. When I opened the bag of conversation hearts at 10 pm the night before Valentine’s Day, I discovered that every single one was illegibly smudged. Every. Single. One. There was not a readable “be mine” or “kisses” or “I love you” to be seen in the entire lot. So much for that good idea!
Lucky for me, my children do not depend upon chalky, tasteless candy to know they are loved. They also had chocolate chip scones to eat, silly pun-filled cards to read, and disgusting bags of slime to share with their friends. That plus the fact that I feed them, shelter them, and dutifully listen to them sing off-key in the bathtub. All immutable signs of deepest affection. We’ll call the day a success.