I suspect I might be more British than I realized. This awareness hits me this afternoon when I pick up the Chatterbox from school. Last week my five-year-old had been sent home with a note telling parents that the kindergarten class would celebrate Valentine’s Day. There were specific instructions that each child should receive a Valentine. (I’m guessing this is to avoid the mortification I felt as a child – some people, you discover pretty early on in life, are more popular than others. Counting the number of Valentines you got each February 14 was one way of denoting your popularity or lack of it. This cutthroat approach to a day celebrating love is no longer in vogue, I gather.)
I take this note at its word and dutifully buy a Valentine for each child at the dollar store. It doesn’t occur to me to do anything else. I also agree to do this for the Raging Bull’s nursery class (12 children under 3). Feeling obliged to go the extra parental mile, I also sign up to take jello to a Valentine’s Day party at the Bull’s daycare. Last night, after getting home late from drinks with the Brother, I feel virtuous because I have actually bothered to use a cookie cutter to make jello heart shapes. This is as domestic as I tend to get, and I feel kind of proud of myself for how the jello shapes have turned out.
This feeling of motherly accomplishment is short-lived because I realize that almost all of the parents have gone to far more trouble and expense than I have. As I walk the Chatterbox back to the car after school today, she is lugging two bags full of Valentines; all of them have chocolates, candies and treats attached to them. I ask the Chatterbox if she got candy from her friends and she says nonchalantly, ‘Oh no, I got some toys too.’
I guess I should have seen this coming. Why would you send boring paper Valentines that have someone’s scribbled signature on it when you can buy cute little bags and fill them with toys and treats? Yes, it costs more money, but it will also make your child the most popular kid in the playground. Or at least a tad more popular than the one who just sent some scratch-and-sniff cardboard.
The second wave
I get a second wave of guilt and nausea when the Raging Bull, who is only two and a half, comes home with another bag full of goodies. She’s even received a stuffed toy monkey with candy bananas. (She loves monkeys and I have no idea how her Valentine knows this.)
And so it hits me: I have lived abroad in a nation of relative indifference for far too long, and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be an American. The British don’t tend to go all out for holidays such as Valentine’s Day. Last year we did nothing at all for the Chatterbox’s class at her English school; the day went by totally unremarked and, consequently, February 14 became unremarkable in my eyes.
So, you see, I had no idea that it would be such a big deal here. I thought I’d simply buy a few cheap cards and that would be that. I have learned my lesson. Luckily, I have learned this lesson before the children start keeping track of these subtle rituals such as giving candy and toys. As they get older, I’m guessing some will become quite adept at keeping track of who gives the best stuff. You would make the most generous your lifelong friends and not your enemies if you had any common sense. Funny how the same rule basically applies to adult life, but you are just substituting candy for money or favors.
If you want to know the origins of this holiday, read this article from NPR. It states that Valentine’s Day sales are expected to total $18.6bn this year. Now, that doesn’t surprise me at all.