Our Not-So-Crunchy Valentines

Crunchy Parent Valentines

So here’s the deal. I wasn’t going to post about making the kids’ classroom valentines this year. The reason, if I’m being completely honest is because they aren’t really crunchy. They’re crafty, but they involve plastic and are devoid of wool or watercolors. They are anything but natural. I feel mildly guilty about this and I wasn’t entirely proud of sharing that bit here, where the focus is the crunchiness of my parenting. The omission nagged at me though, and I felt like I was being disingenuous. I don’t want to project an image of myself that is fake, holier-than-thou, or unattainable. Of course, I don’t Periscope when I’m at my wit’s end and losing it here in the Crunchy Casa, but I can be honest about the valentines at the very least.

Remember back when I said that family life and needs and resources are always changing and sometimes choices that I make or things that I do may seem uber-crunchy, and sometimes they may seem crunchy-light? Well, valentines this year were crunchy-light at best.

I have reasons for this. I have learned that I have limits, and that I am best served by acknowledging and respecting them. I have also spent some time recently reflecting on my own memories from childhood; the moments that felt the best and the experiences that I most strive to replicate with my kids. What I’ve come to realize is that the specific events and outcomes were not important, it was the feeling of joy and fun and care that I associated with each memory. Doing something that felt special was awesome; being pushed too hard to adhere to a specific imposed standard was not. In approaching Valentine’s Day this year I was striving for the former.

Valentine’s Day is being celebrated in the kids’ classrooms tomorrow since the holiday falls over the weekend this year. I knew that I would be flying solo all week because Rich had to be out of town for work. I steel myself for his work travel. My admiration and empathy for single parents and military families grows with every trip. I knew that adding extensive craft projects to the week would be too much for me to take on if I hoped to remain a pleasant person. I wanted the valentines to be mostly done before he left town on the Monday morning red eye.

I suppose that I could have moved the valentine deadline up and still craft something masterful, but last weekend we were celebrating Chinese New Year with a family hot pot meal, we had a special occasion to attend for family friends, and then there was the Superbowl. We also have a big cancer charity event next week and I’m working on planning Eva’s birthday in two weeks. I wanted each event to be a fun experience without homemade valentines feeling like an obligation hanging over our heads. My goal was for the valentines to be fun and manageable. I hoped that the kids would be excited about making them, and that the valentines would reflect each individual child and who they are right now.

I talked with the kids to get an idea about what was important to them. Asher super did not care. Alina is at a school where for the very first time she is allowed to give out candy with her valentines, and her Priority #1 was to give out a valentine that had candy attached to it. Eva wasn’t sure what the kids might be doing for valentines, but she wanted to give out something that was “a thing” and not just a paper card. With these guidelines, I turned to Pinterest. The girls and I looked over the scads of pins together. I took the liberty of finding an idea for Asher that I thought that he would like. He loves space so I took a space-themed valentine and riffed on the idea a bit.

Asher's space valentines

Asher’s space valentines

Alina’s teacher (bless her) had requested that the students make personal valentines for their peers; having every child write at least two lines of genuine compliments for every other child in the class. I knew that I wanted Alina to focus her time on this aspect of the valentines, so I steered her away from anything too time-consuming in the crafty department. Alina also tends to think big and then get overwhelmed by the reality of her vision, which is a meltdown in the making. In the end, she settled on letting me do a photo valentine of her. Her favorite part about it (beside the candy of course) is that she was still wearing her pajama bottoms when we took the picture. I bet in 10 years she’ll look back at those valentines and laugh about wearing her pajama bottoms, which is much better than seeing them and rehashing a bitter memory of her mom nagging her for a week to finish gluing on doilies or sign her name on every card.

Eva’s class has a lot of students who benefit from fidgets to occupy their busy hands. We decided on a “slime” valentine that the kids could squish and play with at school or at home. As I write this, all three of my kids are playing “bakery” with the extra slime at the kitchen table. If their enthusiasm is any indication, I have a feeling that this valentine will be a hit with the kids at school.

Eva's valentines complete with pink glitter slime

Eva’s valentines complete with pink glitter slime

Just in case you are in a last-minute panic and searching for something for your kids, I’m including the links and resources that I used here.

For Asher’s space-themed valentine, I used this great idea. The astronauts mentioned in that link were no longer available through Amazon so I ordered cute glow in the dark aliens instead. I also used a red Sharpie to draw on hearts because that seemed faster and easier than painting them on as mentioned in the original tutorial. I printed the template out onto card stock and then glued some silver glitter around the moon. All design, color, and embellishment choices were made by Asher. I might have made some different ones, but he had a clear vision of what space should look like, so who was I to impose my ideas? Asher eagerly wrote his name on the back of each valentine. He has been talking about the party at school all week.

For Alina’s lollipop photo valentine, I searched for “lollipop valentine” on Pinterest and found a bunch for inspiration. I snapped a few quick pictures of Alina striking a pose against a plain wall in the house.

Raw photo for valentine

Raw photo for valentine

After selecting the one best-suited for the project, I  used the free photo editing software at Picmonkey to create the card. I’ve been using Picmonkey for a while so I knew my way around, but the site is fairly straightforward and they have a lot of video tutorials to help you achieve the look that you want.

Valentine after Picmonkey magic.

Valentine after Picmonkey magic.

Alina gave her opinion about the colors and design and came up with what she wanted the card to say. I then had the pictures printed up at the Walgreen’s one-hour photo (I used code FORTYOFF40 for 40% off and went through ebates for another 4% back). In an hour I had her photo cards for under $8.00. We planned to attach the Yummy Earth organic lollipops, but the wrappers were so large that they covered up her face. I had a bag of mini tootsie pops leftover from Halloween and they were a perfect size. Mind you, Alina can’t eat them due to her food sensitivities, but she isn’t giving a valentine to herself, so we’re okay there. We printed out Alina’s personal messages and taped them to the back of each photo.

When I went to pick up Alina’s pictures at Walgreen’s, I saw the exact heart-shaped containers that I had been looking for to use with Eva’s slime valentines. Walgreen’s had the containers on clearance. Each set of eight cost me 50 cents. I had all of the other supplies on-hand to make the slime and as mentioned, the kids have been having a blast playing with the excess all week. I printed out the little message on card stock and traced around it with a heart-shaped template that I created to match the back of the containers. I taped them on to the back of the containers with a little loop of tape.

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I have a few aliens left to tie onto cards tonight, and I’ll also be making some killer gluten-free, dairy-free brownies for the kids to have at school during their parties tomorrow. I’m not stressed though. I won’t be up until 3:00a.m. trying to embroider heart sachets or needle felt valentine gnomes. In all it is much less crunchy than prior years have been, but I’m okay with that. Making crunchier choices most of the time lets me consciously choose to be un-crunchy on occasion.

Crunchier valentines of yore: wet on wet watercolor with a resist.

Crunchier valentines of yore: wet on wet watercolor with a resist.

I try to remind myself that this parenting thing is a marathon and not a sprint. When the kids reflect back to their childhood memories, they may only remember the year that we made beautiful wet-on-wet watercolor valentines using a resist technique, or they may have forgotten everything except the time that we took PJ-pics and played with slime. I just hope that the memories that stick with them the most are happy ones.

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