With my youngest now in double digits, I am beginning to lament the ending of so many elementary school rites of passage: Dwindling birthday party invitations. Forgetting to put Santa’s cookies out. The hilarious tooth fairy charade the next morning when all he really wants is the dollar.
But one thing I won’t miss? Valentine’s Day. With three boys, this has never been a big holiday in our house. But when the class list comes home on the first Wednesday folder in February we either march to Target to get some pre-fab punch-outs or sit down together and cut out some construction paper hearts. They write TO and FROM while I provide editorial oversight for appropriate language. “Your toots smell like roses” did not make the cut in 2014. But it feels like a chore, another item on our busy family to do list.
Last night a friend, a mid-Atlantic transplant to the Lone Star State, texted me about the over-the-top Valentine’s presentations in her elementary school. A four-foot tall gumball machine atop a Valentine’s Day box? Apparently everything IS bigger in Texas. “I’m waving the white flag,” she said. “When did parenting become so competitive?”
And it led me to wonder why some moms (and dads, Example A: The gingerbread house wired with flashing lights) have the desire to invest so much time and effort in holiday crafts and gifts when they know the kids are really only after the sweet tarts. My take? Women want over-the-top visual presentations of just how good of a mom they are. How creative they are. How they can work, and raise kids and volunteer and hit the gym and still have time for the BEST VALENTINE'S DAY EVER! They want to post pictures on Instagram and get lots of virtual love to fill all those corners of self-doubt and identity loss that accompanies motherhood.
And I’m not immune. A few years back I was feeling so guilty about spending so much time working over the summer that I made these back to school vases (pencils rubber banded around a frozen orange juice container full of fresh flowers) for each teacher. Of COURSE I took a postcard-perfect picture, replete with “chrome” filter for a healthy glow, and posted it on Facebook. “You’re so creative” they said. “How do you get it all done?” they wondered. I watched those Likes pile up and for a few minutes, I didn’t feel like a terrible mom for dragging my laptop to the pool and working on their crappy wi-fi instead of playing cards with the boys during break.
I’m not saying you need to delete Pinterest from your iPhone, or knock off all these super cute projects. I’m saying it’s helpful to know WHY you’re doing it. If you know why you are showing off your bad-ass mom skills, you’re more empathetic to others that are doing the same. Let them have their moment, say “You’re so creative!” and “I don’t know how you do it” and then let it go. And for God’s sake, don’t try to compete.
Now that we’ve aged out of all-class Valentines and are on to the awkward teenage boy phase I, you know, very casually asked one of my 15 year olds if he –ummm- needed any help procuring a gift for someone special. “Wait, what? Mom, when is Valentine’s Day again?”