It’s February and any day now my son will come home from school with a list of his classmates’ names. The list is for Valentine’s Day. There are 23 kids in Lewis’ fourth-grade class and he will need to have a card for each child – even the girls.
When I was a kid, how many valentines you got was an accurate reflection of how popular you were. It wasn’t a holiday for wimps and it wasn’t politically correct. Now, every kid sends a card to every other kid. The girls also send cards to the teacher, the student teacher, the crossing guard, the school bus driver, the school nurse, the principal and the lunch ladies.
I have no problem with the sentiment. The problem is that my son would rather do anything – play on the computer, eat creamed spinach, even clean his room – before he would put a pen to paper. Especially to send valentines. Especially to girls, who are gross.
So writing out the cards becomes a struggle. Me nagging. Him postponing and making excuses. It could take weeks to write out 23 valentines for the children in his class (never mind the ones for the principal and the nurse). It almost makes homeschooling seem appealing. Almost. Maybe military academy. I bet the cadets don’t have to send valentines to their sergeants.
I know that there’s probably an upside to having to write out 23 valentines. For one thing, it will give him fodder for future psychotherapy sessions.
He’ll also get a chance to practice his cursive and maybe develop his math skills: “If there are 24 valentines in a box and Lewis messes up 16 envelopes, how many envelopes will his mother have to make out of notebook paper?”
When my son was in preschool, it was different. I bought doilies and construction paper so that we could spend an afternoon together making cards for his 10 little classmates. While Lewis peeled dried glue off of his fingers and cut paper hearts that looked like spleens, I copied his clumsy signature and signed every card “Love, Lewis.” Now, he never signs his valentines “with love.”
“Love is mushy, love is gross, love is for girls,” he grumbles.
Now, he demands macho valentines that feature superheroes or military motifs. Last year, we compromised on Harry Potter valentines – but I had to buy two extra boxes because Lewis wouldn’t use the cards with pictures of Hermione. This year, I know that even if we find cards with pictures of NFL quarterbacks or a portrait of Colin Powell, that after writing his name on four or five cards, the signature will degenerate from a labored but legible “Lewis Band” to a hastily scrawled “Lew.”
What if I had named him Zbigeniew?
After one or two more cards, he’ll start to complain that his fingers are cramping, that he’s starving, he’s exhausted and he feels like he is going to throw up. Before he’s gotten through half the names on the list (forget the cards for the lunch ladies), he’ll abandon the project entirely.
This year, I’m not going to turn Valentine’s Day into a battle. I won’t threaten or nag him to do all of his valentines. I’ll just gather the cards that he didn’t finish and neatly forge his name. I’ll send cards to the teacher, the crossing guard and the bus driver, too. And I’ll sign every valentine “with love.”
Even the ones to the girls.
Carol Band writes lovingly about family life for United Parenting Publications. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see other Household Word columns by Carol Band.