Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recyled Valentine's Day Cards & Why We Do Things the Hard Way

This all started with a big *that* mom moment.  I was bothered by the big bag of Valentines my son had brought home from his earthy 'green'-minded school last year.  I was just as bothered by the many candies attached to them.  I thought there had to be a different way to do this to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the impact of sugary junk on my child's immune system.

A few weeks ago as I realized Valentine's Day was coming quickly, I sent the director at my son's Montessori school a message in the kindest, nicest way possible asking if we could re-consider the way we do Valentine's Day.  Maybe that would mean each child bringing in one (instead of 25) specially made Valentine and trading randomly so that every child would go home with one (instead of 25).  Or I don't know something else, anything else.  Or if we had to do 25 valentines, maybe we could encourage the use of recycled materials.  You can guess which one she went with.

I also asked if we could minimize the amount of candy that came in the form of Valentines in addition to the treats they ate at the school party.  What ensued was a short conversation where the Director explained that she was not dogmatic about sugary treats and believed they were the spice of life (oh dear, don't get me started) and I explained that while not being dogmatic, we do try to establish never, sometimes, and all-the-time foods and show our kids that you can celebrate and have special foods without them being things that very bad for us.

I also tried to explain that while a school celebrating may appear to be a once-in-a-while treat, the truth is when it comes holiday time, children are bombarded with everyone in their lives from schools, playgroups, families, and churches thinking they are giving them a once-in-a-while treat that actually turns into a week of no-holds-barred junk.  That week then leads to a week of agonizing detox for families, well at least this family.  I didn't even bother pointing out that while some children attend M-W-F and some attend T-TH, some attend every day of the week so they get that special party filled with once-in-a-while treats two days in a row.  She responded and said yes if you really want to go crazy, watch the documentary Food, Inc. and you'll never want to go to the grocery store again. Oy. Well, yes, maybe we've gone crazy, but I love that documentary, and we try to buy our food as local and as direct from the source as possible avoiding the grocery store when possible.

In the end, she was very receptive which I appreciate and she sent an email out encouraging parents to use recycled materials or print on recycled paper, and not include sugary treats with the actual Valentines but instead send snacks in for the party.  A compromise, I suppose.  But this is how I see this playing out.  Parents will get the letter, be annoyed that they are being expected to do so much work when they can just buy a box of commercial Valentines at the store, and will probably do that anyway.  Because, this is harder.  It's harder to spend the time I have cutting out cereal boxes and magazines and gluing things together.

Reducing our carbon footprint and the impact of toxic foods on our children is harder when we are fighting a system.  It's harder when we are making compromises.  It's hard to sit and make 25 recycled Valentines than it would be to rethink the whole celebration possibly having every child only make one which would be much more reasonable or deciding to celebrating in another way.  If try to stay in the box our culture is stuck in, it is always going to be harder to make counter-cultural decisions.  It's when we think outside of the box completely that these decisions become easier and the path becomes a lot less rocky.

Just like it's going to be very challenging for me to prepare Ben and send him into school for a day full of treats some of which he knows he can't and some he knows he can and yet he is bombarded with the teachers he respects offering him both, opposed to if we changed our perspective and only offered healthy things.  I understand with food it's not that easy because every family has different guidelines, but it doesn't mean we can't try.  Or maybe it's that we find ways to celebrate without food, making children with allergies a lot safer. I don't have the answers.  I just know that when you make the right thing to do harder, people aren't going to do it.  Sometimes we have to take five steps back and look at our approach, instead of taking one step back and changing one element of the situation.


But without further ado, here are our recycled Valentine's Day cards.  We cut out cardboard hearts from boxes out of our recycling bin from pasta, cereal, or crackers.  We cut out squares from magazines of solid color.  We glued the squares onto the hearts making a collage of color.  I found some small hearts or other Valentine's themed designs in the magazine as we were cutting and glued one of those to the center of each heart.  We then painted them with glitter glue.  And finally, Ben signed the back.  Happy Valentine's Day!


  1. Your Valentine's are adorable! I can't imagine having to do 25 Valentine's cards, even with pre-made from the box ones. I think your idea of one each is great!

  2. (a)The Valentines are beyond perfect and his classmates should be thrilled with them. Period.

    (b) Our kids are in a very public school in a very urban environment and the idea of school aged child not being allowed to eat something without there being a specific medically documented allergy is unheard of. I am lucky my oldest is conscientious, and tries to opt for pretzels instead of candy (white flour vs. pure white sugar and HCFS? What a choice!). When my younger goes next year, I am done-for.

  3. Thanks for writing this! It makes me feel not alone in the 'fight'. I really do hate that it is a fight and that so many people are resistant to feeding kids healthier. I'm always amazed that when our teacher asks for no sugary treats how all the parents chime in with "Then I'll bring juice boxes." Ugh. All of our valentine's this year were handmade with a non-food treat for each child. I'm sure all the other parents will roll their eyes at me. ;)

  4. The valentines look great--what a cute idea! I ended up buying valentines for Emma's class. I just didn't have the time to make valentines but maybe when Emma is a little older we can do it as a project together :)


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