Illustration: Jessica Rae Gordon
Melissa Carter, mom of one
Maybe it’s because my son’s name, Sebastien, is nine letters long, but I’ll bet even Zoe/Ava/Kai’s parents feel the same unsentimental sense of dread when the class list of 25 names (of kids who’ve only just mastered writing them) comes home in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
There’s nothing sweet about how stressed I get the night before the 14th, my wrist cramping up from signing Sebastien’s name and taping two-dozen nut-free treats to cards that will probably just end up in the trash (all the while trying to resist breaking open the special bottle of bubbly I’ve saved for myself for the actual day). Waking up warm and fuzzy after I’ve done the late-night work while he slept soundly—truly an act of love.
An occasion that obliges kids to exchange cards with every single one of their classmates—whether or not they actually spend time together at recess—that their parents have completed for them is, if you ask me, essentially meaningless. Even if the pressure didn’t exist and they could hand out cards to select friends (and write them themselves!), I wouldn’t love it.
Sure, kids should be encouraged to show kindness and affection for their friends, but this is a lesson best learned throughout the year and not on a single chocolate-fuelled day. In our house, I try to instill those values by regularly making lists of people to do lovely things for. We start each day with a gratitude journal and we finish every evening with lots of smooches.
Sebastien is in grade one this year. In JK he made heart-melting handmade valentines, and in SK I caved to his pleading for the store-bought superhero variety, which he couldn’t wait to pass out. But of all the cards he’s given and received, the ones that get him most excited are the ones he makes for me—and I feel that’s the only Valentine’s Day tradition worth keeping. So while the practice of card exchanges at school is a waste of my precious time and sleep, he wins because his heart is in it. And at least I have my bubbly.
Lisa Kadane, mom of two
Confession: I still have the valentine my grade-four crush gave to me: a cartoon cat with “Hi, Tiger! Happy Valentine’s Day!” printed on it. I held on to that card as proof that my puppy-love feelings were reciprocated.
Sadly, my nine-year-old daughter, Avery, (who’s now in grade four herself) won’t have these mementos of elementary-school friendships or cute boys. Two years ago, her school sent home a notice to parents asking that kids not bring in cards on February 14. The move effectively banned the traditional exchange, and it’s a trend that’s gaining momentum. The rationale wasn’t to bolster the self-esteem of kids who might get overlooked by peers—it was done to protect the environment.
“If every child at school buys a typical box of 30 valentines, it adds up to 3,000 cards!” the memo read. “Imagine the trees we are saving by not exchanging cards in our school.” Imagine the irony since families were notified of the valentine embargo by a letter printed on paper from an unlucky tree.
Instead, students participated in a school-wide valentine craft where they each made a giant paper heart and asked friends to sign it. A similar friendship activity is planned this year.
Honestly, I wonder if the environment is really gaining from this killjoy exercise. Paper is the currency of communication and learning, and surely there are better ways to cut back beyond valentine sacrificing.
By ditching valentine cards I fear kids are losing more than just a tradition. They don’t write letters to pen pals, and they rarely write thank yous to relatives. Paper birthday invitations have been replaced by e-cards, and when was the last time they passed notes in class? (They’re too busy texting.) Valentine’s Day is their chance to pick out a cute card, pen a personal note and deliver it with excitement. It’s also a time for them to anticipate cards from others and perhaps save the special ones.
Let kids be kids; let them get caught up in the excitement of a holiday that celebrates love. After all, they have the rest of their lives to worry about the environment.
A version of this article appeared in our February 2015 issue with the headline, "Should schools ban Valentine's Day cards?" p. 80.