State College Friends School
ROSES ARE RED…
I started doing something about 20 years ago, and I need your help figuring out how to stop it.
Twenty years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little Valentine’s Day poem for each of our 30 Friends School students. What a sweet, shortsighted idea that was. It appears that I didn’t have the foresight to know that Friends School would not always consist of only 30 students. I did not foresee the day when this sweet little idea would translate into the mass production of 132 little Valentine’s Day poems. I did not anticipate the day when I would suffer from severe sleep deprivation during the first half of each February because I would stay up half the night grinding out foolish rhymes for lovely children.
So, how to get out of this? Two years ago when I filled in as the school’s Acting Head, I saw it as a prime opportunity to escape. Kids would ask how the year was going for me and I would reply that things were fine, but that I was unusually busy and not at all sure that I could find time to write poems for everyone in February. It turns out that these young people are not always the empathetic creatures I believe them to be. Their solution to my dilemma: “Well, I guess you’ll just have to start earlier this year”. So, I spent Halloween night that year cutting out those darned little pink construction paper hearts between trips to the door to dispense treats. And, I wondered about the point of having an empty nest if it just kept getting filled up with kids anyway. The point is that appealing to their sense of compassion does not work.
Each year, I try to belittle the tradition. I explain the difference between good poetry and bad poetry in the hopes that our students will come to value the good stuff so deeply that mine will insult them. I’ve tried presenting the project as one originally begun for very young children. I express my appreciation for their tolerance of this silly practice and offer to stop it this year as an acknowledgement of their maturity and well-developed sense of taste and appropriateness. It’s at that moment that a fifth grader will tell me about the box he keeps in his room labeled ‘Teacher Mary Valentines’; a seventh grader will recite every stupid poem I’ve written to her since she was five; a sixth grader will describe the collection of old Valentines that adorn her bulletin board at home. This conversation invariably leaves me at a loss for words. How could this be important to them? They show every indication of being healthy, well-adjusted kids. They lead busy, interesting, fulfilling lives. Who knew?
I’ve tried the ecological approach. Although some students choose to collect the poems, it appears that just as many litter the parking lot with them. So, I like to point this out to the environmentalists. Can they calculate the number of trees I’ve sacrificed over the years? Is litter that rhymes somehow more acceptable than litter that doesn’t? Don’t they think that the pink dye is probably toxic? Children all over the world live in despicable conditions. Shouldn’t we try to live more simply? Do we really need all of the superficial trappings that mark this minor holiday? I have made no inroads. As young as they are, our students demonstrate a surprising understanding of what is and is not important…until it comes to Valentine poems, which they seem to be convinced that they need.
I have become so desperate that I’m thinking about trying bribery. That’s a bit out of character for me, but maybe it’s unrealistic to just suddenly stop writing Valentine poems. The cold turkey approach may just be too much for these young and inflexible creatures of habit. So, maybe I’ll start giving the kids a choice: do you want a poem or a dollar?
If you will help me stop these rhymes,
I will give you many dimes.
If you say ‘stop’, you’ll be a honey,
And I will give you lots of money.
I’m not too optimistic, though.
You’ll want the poem, not the dough.
Beloved assistant head of school and child whisperer, Mary retired in 2015. She is missed every day at Friends School.