Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine’s Daycare

I used to heart daycare.

But today I hate it. Almost as much as I will hate myself tomorrow for sending my tot, Astrid, off to daycare, armed with a dozen individual Valentines treats in small bags along with dollar-store Valentines cards addressed to two-year-olds who haven’t the foggiest what this day is all about.

I don’t either know what this day is about: after twelve years of living in the US, it still mystifies me. Where I come from (South Africa) Valentine’s Day was always a day reserved expressly for romance. You did not give Valentines to your mother, mom-in-law, or to small people in pull-ups or their friends. You did not give Valentines blandly, to just pals, in some happy, all-inclusive goodwill gesture, bleeding the day of its lust. Valentine’s Day was all about major crushes and red-hot love. You gave a Valentine card to your heart’s desire, or maybe you gave two or three if you were feeling especially promiscuous. But all in the name of passion. And unless you were married to your Valentine, the card was anonymous. I still remember receiving a Valentine at fifteen, unsigned, a boy’s painful handwriting in blue ball point, the writing squared off at the bottom, from what must have been a ruler to keep the scrawl straight: from…Guess Who? I never did guess and that always represented the fun of Valentine’s Day to me, a secret and sly holiday where for once you could come out and say something you had been hiding all year long. Now it’s the opposite. You come out and say to anyone, everywhere what people say daily anyway; namely, “I love you.” (And you and you. All of you.)

But back to what made me so peppery and ticked off in the first place: exchanging Valentines at daycare. For Chrissake, is this really necessary?

When I fetched Astrid on Monday, a staffmember in her classroom (The Blazing Comets) asked me whether I wanted to “do something” for Valentine’s day. She explained that some Comet moms got “really into it” and put together cards and treats in all sorts of inspiring combinations for their child’s various lovers. She also said that I didn’t “have to” do anything if I didn’t want to. In other words, she gave me a choice. So what did I do? Did I tell her that I think giving Valentines to toddlers is stupid, and a waste of time and money – time and money being the key reasons my child is in daycare three days a week to begin with? Did I tell I think it’s ludicrous and sort of sinister to involve innocent children in a day historically designated for romance? Did I say, “OK, I’ll pass.” I did not. I had one of those weird, false reactions. When she asked me if I wanted to bring Valentines for Tanner, Tyler, Teirje (?), Riley, Olivia, Jose, Delany, and company, I said – brightly -- ‘Sure!”

What was I thinking, people? I don’t know. But this is not the first time that I have had strong opinions but appallingly weak reactions to things child-related. In fact, I often seem to find myself aggressively possessed of opinion and high-minded criticism yet when push comes to shove, I fail to produce the appropriate reaction. I cave and say something stupid and agreeable and don’t-let’s-rock-the-boat-ish. I feel as though child-rearing is like my approach to recycling. I get very high minded about it all conceptually and in fact spend a lot of time fuming over the environment and washing out my Cento tomatoes tins and judging anyone who doesn’t, but occasionally, inexplicably, I lack the follow-through and just, you know, throw that little fishy anchovy tin in the regular trash. Because I am basically a hypocrite.

And now I am to be punished for it. By the end of today I must prepare the Valentines, utilizing crap red cards, using my time to spell those names, and raping the enviro once again via tiny cellophane bags into which I shall ladle teaspoonfuls of heart-shaped candy stamped with cheeky flirtational slogans…or maybe I shall divvy up a Whitman’s Sampler and do choccy bags instead? Why am I even thinking about this! Why would I do this?

I do not know. On Monday, the minute I had agreed to participating in the day’s ritual nonsense, I wanted to stop and say “actually, maybe I won’t.” But by the time I came to my senses, Jessica the daycare worker was already busily writing me a list of names of the kids. So maybe I must do this so as to not make her efforts in vain? Maybe because now that I have said yes saying no seems even weirder than it would have in the first place?

Or maybe I can still make my sincerest statement – send Astrid in tomorrow with nothing at all. I’m not yet sure quite what I will do, but I have to decide by the end of this post; that’s what I am deciding. Which means I have to further unpick the V-Day thing and get to the bottom of what it all means to me.

If I am to be remotely true to what I believe I will of course shirk the Valentines altogether. I don’t believe in the candy, nor the idea behind exchanging it with every child in your daycare class (because everyone is special yes, and Astrid is meant to love all of them equally I suppose). Both the candy and the message are evil and have no place in my child’s Comet cubby hole. But I am not sure people will get this at my daughter’s Wyoming daycare. This is not New York. And even if it were, I am sure not all of my sentiments – or lack thereof – would find sympathy, because…when I really get down to it, I see that this issue goes deeper than the stupidity of Valentine exchanges among children. It goes to the heart (oof-pun.) of what I feel about love. Here’s the clincher: I don’t tell my child I love her. I didn’t tell her that today and I won’t be telling her that tomorrow on Valentine’s Day. Partly this is cultural. Having grown up in a stiff-upper-lip culture we just didn’t throw that phrase around, so I feel strange saying it, cold commonwealth fish that I am. (Note: This doesn’t mean I don’t say, “You are Mommy’s love” or “you are my precious” or a multitude of other ick-sweet nothings on a constant basis. But I don’t say “I love you”). Mainly my reason for NOT saying “I love you” is that this goes without saying. Of course I love her. And she knows that because I make it apparent to her, at least some of the time, by being her mother. However, when this phrase is so appallingly ever-present, bandied about throughout a person’s given day, bold sentiments dashed off by near-strangers, by friends, in-laws, whatever, then why bother using it with the ones you really love?

I think the occasion for “I love yous” should be rare and romantic. Reserved for one’s romantic love and said without frequency, perhaps once or twice a year. Like on Valentine’s Day.

Back to her Comet cohorts, I think it’s completely absurd and repulsive to dish out declarations of friendship and love on Astrid’s behalf especially when in most cases those feelings are patently not there. She does not “love” boys – or other girls -- on demand. (Yet I find myself sometimes engaged in those asinine forced discussions about toddler romance with other moms, where we speak of their son as “ a real little heartbreaker” and of how maybe we can have “an arranged marriage” with my daughter. God, what is that about? For one thing it's just such a cliche.Yet, I have participated in such talk, certainly, double-standard setter that I am. It’s true that I sometimes, cringe-worthily, refer to certain little boys as Astrid’s “boyfriend.” (But only the really cute ones, of course.)

While I recognize the sham of these various impulses in me – to go along with some gag-inducing thing I feel no connection to – it seems I haven’t yet figured out how not to engage in pukeworthy rituals with toddlers and their mothers. When a mom indulges in that sort of “romantic future of our children” talk with me, I go along -- perhaps I have even initiated it myself. And when a daycare worker suggests Astrid hand over candy stamped with “Be Mine” or “Yes, Dear” to a group of tiny uncomprehending illiterates, I say “Sure!”

Or do I? I’m still not sure what I will end up doing. I want to blow off the whole rubbishy thing. But my anal superficial obedient self is telling me to go to the dollar store and pick up those ‘tines, cuz I told the teacher that I would.

Will she or won’t she?

Stay tuned, for all shall be revealed…on the morrow…

p.s. this post was written yesterday but I had connection probs so I posted it today. the short answer before i go and get lobsters ready for tonight's din-dins: no, I didn't bring Valentines for the wee ones. But not because I stood form. Bascially because of my car. not worht explanation. suffice to say i did not bring them after all. yay!


Anonymous said...

The nanny does my valentines, and I think it's very lazy of you to not have walked out in the snow to send poor Astrid to school with some heart-shaped lollies. Broken car or no.

Mousey's Mind said...

Oh how splendid that you say what every red-blooded anti VDay mommy is thinking. Valentine's Day is a stupid holiday anyway, meant only to make any one who is not gooing and gushing over his or her "soul" mate to feel like some sort of aberrant. To add insult to injury, us "bad" mommies in constant fear of being discovered, feel pressured by all the "good" mommies to do stupid ass little cards for kids who can't read, can't write and don't care. I have two boys under the age of 4, have a part-time job, do service work and help my husband run our small business, yet I found myself on February 13th filling out little tiny cards and then putting CARS movie tatoos in the miniature slots on the insides of the cards. This fun little project that me and my 4-year-old were going to bond over turned into a scream fest. "Get your butt back over here and try to write your name." And then, "No, that's not right! You did the C backwards. Who is going to be able to read that?"

Ah, nothing like wasting precious time on trivial, commercial-driven bull crud to bring out that loving feeling.