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Friday, February 11, 2011

With Love, I Plead, BAN THE BAG!

Valentines Day is Monday and as is tradition, both Walker and Maggie came home with notes in their backpacks from the party planning moms that said, "Our party is Monday, blah blah, if you wish to send in an item for the treat bag, please have it to the teacher by blah, blah, blah."

I'm going to let you in on a secret.  I hate this treat bag party tradition.

Here's my list of why I hate this tradition:

1.  My children do not need anymore candy than I already provide for them.  In fact, during my recent cabinet cleaning, I threw out about 500lbs of left over JUNKY Halloween candy.

2.  When asked to provide treats for an entire class, most parents turn to the least expensive bag with the highest quantity of candy which inevitably turns out to be the super-saver extra large, jumbo sized bag of Laffy Taffy, Pixie Sticks, Sweet Tarts, fruity Tootsie Rolls, and Dum Dum lollipops.   It's quick, it's easy and you can buy one bag and get 5 million candies - enough to share with each child's classroom.  Bing Bang Boom, you're in and out of the Walmart and done.

3. Those candies suck!  (Sorry if you love these candies, but if you really want to give a "treat", give some GOOD candy.  A mini Dove, a Hersheys kiss.  Just sayin').

4.  My children do not need another Oriental-Trading- Dollar- Tree-Dollar -Store -made -in- China plastic miniature toy that will get left on the floor for me to step on or for the baby to put in his mouth and potentially choke to death if he does not first bite it into pieces with his incredibly razor sharp baby teeth and swallow it bit by bit leaving me not to worry about his lead levels but his Cadmium levels as we all know this is now the chemical to worry about.

There are several ironies to this treat bag situation.

The first is that my family is already overly blessed in the toy and goodie department.  In fact, as parents, Erik and I struggle with how much excess our kids have.  I struggle daily with the dilemma of too many toys, not enough organization, and deciding whether I should keep items because they were given as gifts, donate them to a cause that could use them, or is that wasteful because it is likely that having three boys, one of the younger boys will receive a duplicate gift to the one we've given away because a well-meaning relative sees that we don't have that particular type of tractor/truck/farm animal in our collection and "By Jove" they've found the perfect gift for us. (repeat cycle).  We are trying to teach our children to first be grateful for what they have, second, not fall into the societal traps of envy and want, and third, not expect something at every little occasion.  

I wonder what happened to the days of the party moms planning some games, doing a craft and then the class enjoyed a nice home-made (or store bought) treat. A heart shaped cookie, a red iced, red velvet cupcake or some rice Krispy treats with those red, white and pink sugar balls sprinkled on them?  Remember when that was the treat?  And what about when someone brought in cupcakes baked in an ice cream cone???  Holy Moly that was the hit of the party!  Right?  If we were really lucky, one of the moms brought in juice boxes to go with the snack. If not, we got a dixie cup from the teacher and got some water from the fountain out in the hall and carried it back to our desks.  We liked it, we appreciated it and we looked forward to it.  Then we'd take out our Valentines cards, go around and drop them in our classmates decorated boxes and we'd be done. We'd grab our full box and head home and maybe find some candy Necco conversation hearts in our boxes from our teacher.

There is all this campaigning for us to teach our children respect, acceptance and tolerance no matter what.  I am not opposed to this.  So, my question is, what does distributing a treat bag teach our kids about acceptance for just being who you are?  My educated guess as to why we celebrate Valentines Day in school is to allow our kids to show friendship and love to each other, to encourage them to extend the virtues of universal friendship to everyone - this is why the teacher usually sends home the prerequisite note saying that the students are expected to bring a Valentine card in for EVERY student in the class.  If we are sending in gifts as well as the cards, aren't we teaching our kids that a card is not enough to demonstrate our affection to someone - that we must buy their friendship with candy or toys?  I'm pretty sure Patrick Dempsey illustrated quite conclusively that money "Can't Buy Me Love."  

(On a side note, after searching for this image, I realized that I married Ronald Miller - that's another blog post entirely!)

Third, our governments, Local, State and Federal invest millions of dollars each year into educational programs designed to teach our children about the evils of junk food, the importance of eating healthy and exercising daily.  In fact, at the PA State Farm Show, there was an entire exhibit geared towards teaching kids about "60 minutes a day" which not only taught the kids aerobic dance style exercises, but offered FREE exercise videos to take home.  Our school lunch menu features the fruits and vegetable choices prominently.   Whole wheats and multigrains are italicized to highlight the progressive healthy choices that are offered.  We get "help at home" sheets offering advice on how to make and keep our kids healthier.  We even get a note from the school nurse stating that our child's Body Mass Index (BMI) has been measured and based on the results, we are given tips on how to reduce or maintain the results.  I am not opposed to this.

Additionally, the classrooms have separate garbage cans for regular trash and paper that can be recycled.  The cafeteria has recycling garbage cans.  The kids are presented with programs, assemblies and other curriculum to encourage environmental awareness.   I am not opposed to this.

Even Disney Channel gets in on the bandwagon with their partnership with the First Lady in commercials highlighting the fight against Childhood Obesity.  Disney also sponsors a "Friends for Change" campaign encouraging kids to go green, to reduce consumption of electricity, plastic bottles, car emissions, etc.  An encouraging campaign, right?

So, what does this have to do with our kids?  Well, what kind of mixed messages are we sending when our schools have educational programs telling our kids to eat healthy and exercise, then we send them home from a party with two pounds of sugary candy?  What message does it send when schools and television stations tell our kids to "make a change" "reduce, reuse, recycle" and DIScourage kids from consuming more, but we send them home from a class party with a PLASTIC goodie bag filled with PLASTIC wrapped candies and PLASTIC toys made in a factory and designed to exploit the mass consumerism of American children?  

I know it is pretty ridiculous to get all upset over these little goody bags.  They truly are innocent enough and I'm sure the distribution of them was designed to allow every child have that feeling of excitement of receiving a gift at the end of a party.  However, not only have they become so common that their existence becomes ho-hum and ordinary, but we are filling them with JUNK that is harmful to our bodies and our environment.  

This post wasn't meant to be soap boxy, but it was inspired by a post from a friend on Facebook who is new to this whole school party experience and she commented that she took the teachers note asking to send in Valentines cards for the class at face value and she was shocked that her child came home with a goody bag full of stuff.  It sparked some interesting comments. Overall, the general consensus was that for the most part, moms HATE these goody bags, not for the reasons I mentioned, but just because Moms HATE having to CLEAN UP THE MESS the wake of these goody bags leave.  "Nothing irks me more than finding those little dollar store bag fillers (balls, cheap toys, etc.) all over my house. Its just more crap for me to throw away! "  was the quote from one mom.  

I agree.  I am sick of the bag fillers!  While the reasons I stated above are very valid and when I dig deep, are actual reasons why I hate those bag fillers, the real reason I hate the treat bags is that I truly, madly, deeply, abhor picking up, keeping track of, stepping on, retrieving, and eventually throwing away the junk.  If it is not a toy bag filler, it's the candy.  The candy just sits in a big bin in the cupboard until January rolls around and I throw the whole bunch out.  Now that Walker has braces and an expander, he can't even EAT the candy he's going to receive.  

So, for all of us in the minority who hate the goody bags. BAN THE BAGS!  Say you're doing it for your child's health, say you're doing it for the environment, or go ahead and say you're doing it because there's this one bitchy mom in your kids class (me) who hates the goody bag.  But BAN THE BAG.  Instead, take a little extra time, sit down with your child and help him or her understand that LOVE isn't about materialism and treat bags.   Love is many things, but for our kids, it should be a sweet little 1x3 inch card from a friend.  The candy will rot (well, maybe not) and the plastic made in China toy will  either get broken or thrown out, but the little Valentines card may sit in a classmates keepsake box their entire life to remind them of a time when love was innocent and uncomplicated.  They'll pull that little card out of their treasure box someday and read the uncertain handwriting and they will go back to first grade.  They will smell  paste and feel the texture construction paper,  aluminum foil, and white paper doily as they cut out hearts to cover their Valentines Day box.   They will  remember a childhood friend, and that memory will put a smile on their face as they remember showing genuine affection for others without guile, just because they were your friend.

That's the lesson we need to teach and carry with us as we celebrate Valentines Day.

With Love . . .

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