A Valentine’s Day massacre to call our own

Nothing sucks away the Valentine’s Day spirit like Valentine’s Day. This probably holds true in all situations, but it is especially evident when you have children in elementary school.

Valentine’s Day means school parties, which means preparing a bunch of those little waxed ticket Valentine’s cards.

Most public grade school classes contain twenty-some-odd students, making it perfectly natural that the cards come in boxes of 16. If you search hard, you may be able to scrounge up a box of 32 cards, but the prizes (and they need to have prizes now) are not as good.

power ranger valentines

A 32 count box of valentines – more precious than gold.

The boxes I unearthed came with temporary tattoos and glow-in-the-dark stickers. These were not on the lollipop level, but gradeschoolers need additional sugar even less than they need tattoos.

Having limited the number of boxes to buy, and spared dozens of children’s parents from the effects of an added sugar rush, I thought I’d won Valentine’s Day.

I had not.

This became apparent when it came time to prepare the cards. Big Brother was able to address his by himself, but he needed help fitting the tattoos into the little slots in the cards. Those little slits were difficult to find, and impossible to neatly slip the corners of tattoos squares into. It would have been so much easier to ram a lollipop stick through there. Valentine fail #1.

Buster’s cards were worse. With his unconfident penmanship, he could not make his pencil write dark enough on the waxy paper. I gave him a pen that writes smoothly on wax. Valentine fail #2. The pen also smears smoothly on wax. I dictated the spellings of the names of his classmates to him while he wrote the letters and promptly smeared them as he moved his hand across the paper.

We used the extra cards to replace the worst monstrosities. Having learned our lesson, we let the ink dry and folded them so he could write his name without touching the recipient’s name. Then it was time to attach the glow-in-the dark stickers.

More tiny slits! Valentine fail #3. The stickers were harder to fit into the slits than the tattoos were, especially when attempting to do it without touching the ink already on the card.


can you find a tiny slit?

Somewhere on this card are slits for sliding a sticker into. Good luck!

Finally, we were ready to fold up the cards and seal them with the little sticker hearts universal to these kits. We’d just fold the names up inside and not worry about smearing anymore. Valentine fail #4.  We got a good way through this process when it occurred to me that with names folded inside, Buster wouldn’t know who each card was for.


Did you guess right? Congratulations! Only 23 more to go!

This must be a common mistake, because there are about four hearts for every card in the set. We ripped the hearts off the cards, folded them the other way, so Buster could try to interpret the smeared names on them, put them into a baggie, and tossed them in his school bag with the last of my Valentine’s spirit.


Kindergarten artwork – middle child edition

By the initial Fourth Grade teacher conference you mostly know what you’ve got. In our case, it’s a good student who could be a very good student if he developed discipline or a work ethic. But we who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and since I don’t want to break my own windows or menace our good student with rocks, I’ll let Big Brother skate until I can show him a better example, or learn to revel in my own hypocrisy. Either way would work.

Kindergarten teacher conferences are harder to predict. The little diamonds are still in the rough. It’s too early to know what type of diamond/quartz/shiny shard of glass Buster will turn out to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to critique his Kindergarten artwork.

Let’s not name names.

This piece took my breath away. The sentiment was so sweet. The tear I was about to shed was choked by a revelation. He doesn’t know what “thankful for” means. He thinks it’s an alternate way to say “mad at.” I shook off this terrible notion. Of course he knows what it means. They would have talked about it in class. All the other kids are thankful for appropriate things; so is he. He’s truly thankful for his brother. What a charming boy!

Now there’s only one minor difficulty.

He has two brothers.

Did he mean to make it plural? Probably not. It’s strain enough being thankful for one brother. Being thankful for both is a bridge too far. No child should be held to that standard.

So which one?

We could show it to his brothers separately, like we do when we privately tell each of them, “You’re our favorite. Don’t tell your brothers.”

No. These kids are the worst at keeping secrets when you’re trying to divide and conquer them.

We’ll just pencil in an s at the end of brother before anybody sees it. That way, the only people who will have to wonder are his parents. We won’t puzzle over the mystery of the exalted brother too long. If we had a dog, neither sibling would have made the cut. I’m not sure how they’d fare against a hamster.

Portrait of the artist as a trick-or-treater.

Self-portraits always give good insight into the Kindergartener’s mind. I know this is a self-portrait because the subject is carrying Buster’s Halloween bag. The scabs on the knees offer secondary evidence. The letters may indicate he is covering his knee wounds with International Olympic Committee Toilet Paper and he plans to shav[e] his legs. More likely he is following in the footsteps of Michelangelo, who, as every schoolboy knows, liked to practice making his letters on the peripheries of his paintings.

I wish the top weren’t stuck behind the wall bracket. I like to see how kids depict their own hair. That’s disappointing, but it doesn’t detract from the significance of this masterpiece: whatever this kid’s strengths and weaknesses may turn out to be, he draws a killer jack-o-lantern.

We’ll always have that.

Click here for a flashback to the critique of Big Brother’s Kindergarten artwork.

To infinity and beyond

Buster is developing a curiosity about infinite loops. The other day he asked me, “If two people were saying goodbye and one said ‘Have a nice day,’ and the next one said ‘Okay, have a nice day,’ and the first one said ‘Okay, have a nice day,’ again, and they kept saying ‘Okay, have a nice day,’ to each other, what would happen?”

“No one would have nice day,” I answered.

It wasn’t what he was looking for, but I’m not good with infinity. I can find the ends of it to wrap my brain around, and that’s disturbing.

Buster thinks these type of thoughts a lot. I don’t know if this means he’s destined to become a great philosopher, an accomplished astronomer, or the next Rain Man. It’s good to indulge in deep thought once in a while, but I’m not sure forever thinking about infinity will end well, or at all.

Buster would rather conduct his own thought experiments than accomplish the usual academic goals like learning to read. Two months in, he’s still not sold on Kindergarten, because, in his words, “They make me do things I don’t like to do.”

I can identify with that. It happens to me all the time at work. Still, he has to go to school and I have to go to work so we don’t both end up in an infinite loop of poverty.

They make you build things out of dominoes in Kindergarten? I had no idea it was that horrible.

The thing to know about these deep thinking philosophers who don’t always want to go to Kindergarten is they can be moody. The moodiness strikes hardest in the morning when it’s time to get ready for school. This morning, the disgruntled whimpering started early.

Sometimes when I ask him what’s bothering him, I get a whiny grunt that means, “If you were the kind of parent who loved his children, you’d know what’s wrong without having to ask.” Today I actually got an answer: “I wanted to sleep in the bed with you and Mommy. And I want you to make a fire.”

I explained that everybody had to get up and asked him if he were cold.

He shrugged. “A little.”

Mommy put on his jacket and we sent him to school.

The desire to climb into bed with us, I understand. It’s his favorite Saturday morning ritual. Making a fire is another story. We haven’t thought about our fireplace since last March and we’ve never built a fire before school.

It’s a good thing he told me the problem instead of giving me the “If you loved me, you’d know,” grunt. My love for him is infinite, but maybe that proves there’s a limit to infinity, because I still would not have loved him enough to know I was supposed to build a cozy fire on a random weekday before school.

It looks like I may have to crank the love up beyond infinity to understand him. I hope infinity + 1 is enough, because that’s the largest number I know.


The reluctant kindergartener

Please welcome back our occasional guest blogger, Buster, aged 5.

I’ve been telling them, ever since the end of preschool, I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Maybe they thought I was just trying to be cute. Whatever. I don’t have to try to be cute.

See, preschool was fine: three hours a day, then right back home to play.

This kindergarten is a whole new ball of wax. Did you know it goes all day, from like early in the morning until God-Knows-When in the afternoon? I’m not ready to make a commitment to that.

And then there’s all this pressure to learn tons of crazy stuff. I mean, I mostly know it already, but these people are sticklers for the details. A B C D E F G blah blah blah. I got the general gist of it. I don’t know why I have to be weighed down with minutia.

Counting? I can count to 20, give or take. If I leave out a number in the teens, big deal. Where I am is more important than how I got there.

Taking the leap into that great unknown called elementary school.

The worst part is they want you to talk . . . out loud . . . to other people. That’s just not my style. I made it through two years of preschool without having to open my mouth much, and that’s the way I like it. Give me some paper and a bunch of crayons and I’ll whip you up some top-notch art. Most of the coloring will be inside the lines too. But here’s the key part: I must not be disturbed. Don’t come around asking me questions about what I’m making. I’ve got no time for chit-chat; I’m creating.

Man, the teacher’s probably going to call on me and everything this year. What did I ever do to her?

Then there’s the whole lunch thing. They don’t even know what I’m in the mood for. The first day, they had pizza. I was totally ready to mow on some chicken nuggets. The second day, I was like, “All right, I’m down with your pizza.” Was there any pizza in sight? No. They had some kind of waffle thing. Didn’t anybody tell them I don’t like waffles?

Oh, but I had the option of getting the “fun lunch” which is like yogurt and celery or something. Fun lunch? False advertise much? Two hands full of M&Ms – now that would be a fun lunch. Let’s get that on the menu.

I haven’t had homework yet, but I bet they’re going to oppress my civil liberties with that any day now. I’ve seen my brother do homework before and it looks like torture. I’m just going on record right now as somebody who wants no part of that.

The first week is almost over and I’ve survived so far. I guess that’s a testament to my indomitable spirit. Isn’t that what they call it when your parents take you to school and make you stay there all day and you don’t even cry?