Disclaimer: If you want a Valentine’s Day as filled with sweetness as a marshmallow heart, then this post is not for you. This Valentine is more of a dark chocolate pecan cluster: chewy, nutty, bittersweet. May stick in your teeth.
It is no secret that I prefer depictions of love that are messy and imperfect. There is so much about Valentine’s Day that smacks of enforced declarations, duty buying, expectations that are artificially inflated, and the corresponding heart bruises when those expectations are not fulfilled. This is not restricted to adults: children are increasingly targeted. Cards, candy, clothing, merchandise of every kind are all aimed like a quiver-full of Cupid arrows at families so they will be enticed to spend on stuff they otherwise don’t need just to fulfill the expectations of this saccharine day.
Here are a few good reasons to take a stand against the Valentine frenzy.
Let’s begin with that traditional bouquet of roses. The flower industry, unlike the food industry, is not tightly regulated in regard to use of chemicals on the flowers while they are grown or when they are prepared for market. Workers and ground water alike suffer egregiously. The flowers are then flown or trucked from afar which greatly increases their environmental footprint. Instead of that costly bouquet, look for flowers marked Fair Trade or better yet, ask for locally grown plants—something you can grow in your garden come spring surely says “enduring love” better than an ethically dubious bouquet which will end up in the garbage next week.
Chocolate. I love chocolate, I do. But I know that much of the chocolate we so avidly consume comes with a terrible hidden price tag, particularly for the children who are often trafficked and/or enslaved to produce the cocoa that serves the chocolate industry. Best to look for Fair Trade chocolate. Or locally made Valentine confections. Another option is Fair Trade coca, which is increasingly easy to find. You can make your kids mugs of frothy Valentine hot chocolate with heart-shaped marshmallows. Call it a Cup of Love and enjoy it with a clear conscience. Come evening when all the restaurants are full, put a shot of something decadent in it for your spouse and stay home.
If you must go through the classroom protocol of a Valentine for every child, try making cards at home. It is easy to find craft ideas online, or simply spend an afternoon baking heart shaped cookies. Store-bought Valentine cards for kids are no longer sweet flimsy little cards depicting puppies, they are usually a glossy “branded” package deal, the merchandising arm for a movie or TV franchise. This makes me feel resentful and uppity. I’d rather use a bunch of recycled paper we already have in the craft drawer and make home-made cards even if I still find glue in the rug three months later.
If, like me, the whole day just makes you kind of cranky, do something good. Give blood on Valentine’s Day. For the extreme anti-Valentine Valentine, ask your spouse for an afternoon off to take care of that pap smear/blood test/breast exam you have been avoiding. Or send your Valentine guy this post at Dadcentric by TwoBusy, who quite correctly pointed out “Nothing says romance like a robust GI procedure.”
Or a healthy set of boobs and a clear conscience.
Happy Valentine’s Day sweethearts.
I have grieved for trees.
A star magnolia sacrificed to a landlord’s ire.
A magnificent oak lost to a developer’s greed.
A blueberry bush we left behind.
A new white lilac bulldozed.
When I was a child I walked between the trees and felt sheltered. In quiet forests I moved freely, quietly, (and mostly unsupervised!) trying not to disturb the creatures seen and unseen, hoping for a glimpse of a white tail, a fairy’s wing. I was not afraid.
This is not nostalgia, nor a paean to world long gone. If you look you can find trees standing quiet sentinel, certainly and with relative ease if you are able to leave the city, and even if you cannot. In our urban cityscapes there are parks, protected places, quiet lots with trees that have endured for a hundred years.
We have, all of us, by necessity and through regrettable experience, taught our children fear in those dappled places. There was a huge rhododendron bush in the park near our house. Underneath the thick snaking branches and sturdy leathery leaves there was a cave made of green and earth. A natural and perfectly-sized place for toddlers to play. We found a used needle there once, and spent condoms, and detritus from someone’s night or nights spent living rough. Consequently we taught the kids to avoid the rhododendron and to play on the park’s bright plastic climbing equipment instead.
I choose trees over plastic slides. Bark-skinned palms over metallic monkey bars. But. Such freedom is not always possible and kids need to run and play. So we let them – in community centers, on trampolines, all over safety-inspected play structures. And I am grateful for all those things, I am.
It is just that I worry we are forgetting the trees. Forgetting to teach our kids to stand underneath them. To climb them. To value them. Forgetting to share the smell of a lilac or the pleasure of finding the perfect acorn with it’s crosshatched hat. Forgetting to look for the magic hiding in the branches of weeping willows. I worry that we are teaching fear over wonder.
I worry too that we are forgetting that trees are the lungs our planet uses to breathe. I worry about the birds. We are all connected to this habitat and plastic playgrounds will not sustain us.
Children need to run around. They also need wonder. And an earth to inherit.
Where do you look for trees? And wonder.
photo credit: blmurch at Flickr Creative Commons