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Mother Earth: Will You Be My Valentine?

In the first of a new monthly column, Mill Valley mom Bea Johnson, whose family operates a Zero Waste household, looks at the romantic holiday's impact on the Earth.

I no longer get excited about Valentine's Day. But I hope this year will be different.

I understand and enjoy celebrating love, but I don't understand and resent drowning it with red kinky lingerie, heart-shaped junk, dust collecting stuffed animals (who buys that stuff?) and tree-munching Valentine's Day cards.

Many might view my anti-consumerism detachment as political or radical, but I blame it on cultural differences. I grew up in Europe, thinking that Valentine's Day, as it is celebrated there, was globally reserved for lovers. That is, grown-ups involved in an intimate relationship.

But during my eldest's first year of preschool here in America, I was instructed by his teacher to go to Rite Aid, buy a dozen Valentine's cards (I had never heard of such things), and address one to each classmate. So wait, I, a grown woman, am writing love cards to 12 toddlers I barely know?

Although I did not quite grasp the meaning behind my first purchase of Batman Valentines, I eventually came to realize that Valentine's Day in American schools does not celebrate "love", but rather "appreciation" for fellow pupils. So I went on pushing my kids to participate in the school activity for the next six years, as prescribed by
subsequent teachers. I saw it as a way for me to embrace the American culture.

But this practice no longer fits our family's current zero waste lifestyle (of refusing external trash) or the sustainable awareness that I strive to instill in my children. As a concerned mother and Earth citizen, I can no longer condone wasteful celebrations engrained in public education. Valentine's Day does not need to be a wasteful event.

Last year my kids came home with a Safeway plastic bag (compliments of one of their classrooms) filled with wrappers, half eaten candies, and crimpled cards. I asked my youngest, Leo, what he thought about the Valentines that he had received.

"I don't know, I just want the candy attached to them," he said.

I don't blame him for choosing candy over duplicates of impersonal and commercial Valentines, many of which are picked out and signed by his peers' moms.

Luckily, my eldest, Max, is blessed with a wonderful teacher this year, who shares my philosophy on the subject. And before I could proactively suggest a sustainable alternative to this year's celebration, she sent out an email instructing her students to create one, inventive, recycled or edible valentine to be exchanged randomly.

"Take care, take time, and make something you yourself would like to receive," she wrote.

Now that is a valentine gift I can approve of! Max plans on carving a watermelon.

Leo's teacher had mixed feelings about my preemptive suggestion of a cookie exchange in lieu of overlooked valentines. I ran the idea through my kids and it got them excited. Nonetheless, she welcomed the idea and shared it with the class. I cross my fingers in the hope that classmates will adopt the proposed alternative and appreciate the homemade thumbprint cookies that Leo will care to make and bring to school in a jar.

On a personal level, I, of course, love my husband and kids. They do not need to receive clutter from me on a specific day to know how much I love them (nor do I wish to receive anything from them). A hug, a kiss, and my time is all they truly need as a token of my unconditional love, and I will make sure they get extra on Monday.

But if Valentine's Day, in my adopted nation, is more an "Appreciation Day" than a "Lovers Day" or "Fete des Amoureux," then I have to turn to the one I appreciate most and without whom I would not be alive to experience love.

Mother Earth: Will you be my valentine?

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