Becoming Mom

My sons finished the school year on Tuesday morning.  It is hard to believe that school is over already as the time seems time seems to have passed so quickly – even eliminating the fact they started the school year in Scotland and had a period of being homeschooled in England before we actually emigrated.  They each came home with so much paperwork from school that they really would have had to hire sherpas if we didn’t currently live next door to the school.  Overwhelmed, I piled it all up on a table and let it intimidate me for a day before I started delving into it, determining what should be added to their memory boxes and what should be recycled.

This whole business of sorting the wheat from the chaff should have taken me less time than it did simply because I found a lot of their work quite diverting.  Among my eight year old’s rainforest of paper there was an alphabetic writing prompt.  For every letter of the alphabet, there was a question (with a tied-in key word) that invited him to develop a pithy, personal piece of writing.  C was for collection and he was asked to share what he would collect if he could collect anything at all.  My eight year old duly answered that he would collect glass human eyes because they are cool and different and “because my mom has always wanted to collect glass eyes”.  So very weird but also very sweet and thoughtful.  My seven year old wants to collect animals bones. I love my little weirdos.

But I digress.  The point of this anecdote is that in several more examples I was referred to as “mom” and not as “mum”.  I have written before about how I feel about what this exchange in vowels means to my identity but to see it on page after page really drove the point home.  In order to make himself understood by his peers, in order to fit in conversationally and abide by American spelling conventions, even the most non-conformist – diligently, defiantly, determinedly non-conformist – of my sons has capitulated to conforming.  Out of curiosity, I then quickly skim read writing by all of my other sons too.  All of them were referring to me as “mom” in their written work.

I accept it and I understand it and, therefore, I support it but by jings it feels very odd indeed.  It feels weird enough reading it but if they start actually calling me “mom” then that will feel even more alien.  It’s only been eight months and my children are being Americanised.  Little transatlantic Pod People.

Selling Love in Packs of Thirty

When I was in Rome a few years ago, we saw the (purported skull) of St Valentine.  I am sure in life he was a stand-up guy but he has a lot to answer for.

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I loathe Valentine’s Day.  With.  A.  Passion.

An element of it is that I am hard-wired from experience to despise it.  Every year, kids at school would pass anonymous lovey-dovey, bokey cards to each other.  I would receive one card a year with handwriting suspiciously mature for your average 11 year old and somewhat reminiscent of my father’s script.  As an adult I can reflect on that and think how sweet and thoughtful it was of my Dad to not want me to feel left out but at the time it felt like salt being rubbed in the wounds.  It wasn’t really that I wanted a declaration of romance from some snotty nosed boy – because really I very much didn’t – but I was bullied for being a square peg all the way through school so Valentine’s Day was just another means to remind me of how unpopular I was, how left out I was. Of course, my super-popular younger sister would need a sherpa to help her transport home all of her cards.  I might have been a wee bit bitter about that at the time.

Then one year, when I was about 13, I received my one and only Valentine’s card and it was gigantic.  Massive.  It was over half my height and there was an icky, cutesy panda on the front. In one fell swoop it could have made up for all of those years of never having received a card.  Except it didn’t.  My epiphany that day was that receiving an obscenely proportioned card from a sproddy teenage boy who makes your spine judder is so very much worse than receiving no cards at all.  So I took the card and shoved it in the outside rubbish bin – because it was too big for the kitchen bin – but my Mum discovered it.  I learned I had been foiled when I walked into the living room and discovered the card, in all its gigantic glory, perched atop the television set.  It was as if my parents had turned it into some sort of shrine.  So I whipped the card from it’s place and ripped it into tiny pieces before placing it, once again, in the bin.  This time my Mum decided not to stick it all back together and restore it.  Job done.

However, it is not just those childhood experiences that wrecked Valentine’s Day for me.  I have been in a happy, loving, committed relationship for twenty years but Valentine’s Day is still not part of my calendar because I actually detest it for ethical reasons too.  First of all the whole idea that there should only be one day a year when people express their romantic feelings to each other, having had to be prompted by the date to do so, is a complete and utter nonsense.  If you want to tell someone that you fancy or love them then just do it when the feeling hits you.  So you realise you like someone on 15th February – are you really going to wait 364 days before you tell them so?  Of course not.  So what is the point?  The point is that having one day a year for designated romance means big business for card companies, florists and possibly even chocolatiers.  It is all just commercial hype that people get sucked into.  You walk into a shop with shelves stacked with random foods and objects covered in pink and red hearts and peer pressure kicks in.  The panic of conformity.  If everyone else is buying this heart covered tat then what happens if you go home to your beloved empty handed?  So you buckle to peer pressure and clever advertising designed to play on your vulnerabilities and buy some tat.  Think of the money those businesses rake in on that one day not to mention the boost for restaurants too.  All those marriage proposals on Valentine’s Day too.  How original.  Thankfully Mr Pict and I have a pact to not submit to the commercialism and we don’t mark Valentine’s Day.  People may judge but we don’t care.  Non-conformity is a comforting feeling in the Pict family.

So why am I blogging about Valentine’s Day weeks too early?  Because I am irked that I am being forced to conform and that makes me loathe Valentine’s Day even more.

The other day, I noticed a post on Facebook from a friend who lives in California.  It was a link to lots of creative ideas for Valentine’s gifts for your kids to hand out.  Woah, woah, woah!  Kids hand out Valentine’s gifts in the US?  I posed the query and friends confirmed that, yes indeed, it is traditional here in America for children to hand out cards and presents to their classmates.  My heart sank and my blood boiled.  Simultaneously.  I pinged a quick email to one of my boys’ teachers in the hope that perhaps their school did not participate in this tradition but alas she confirmed that they have a Valentine’s party and kids exchange cards and gifts and they even make bags in which to collect all their heart-shaped booty.

In Scotland, Valentine’s Day is very much the preserve of teenagers, courting couples and old marrieds.  It is not for children.  My kids have been raised in a culture where giving someone a Valentine’s card is a way of expressing your love for them, a way of indicating that you want to smooch them.  I was not looking forward, therefore, to breaking the news to them.  I predicted a full-scale rebellion.  It transpired, however, that the word “party” took the edge off the news and I was emphatic in explaining to them that the card exchange would, at Elementary School age at least, be a declaration of friendship rather than of love.  They were just about sold.

So now I am being forced to conform.  I don’t want my kids to not participate in events at school, I don’t want them to feel left out and I don’t want to foist all of my views on them either.  Who knows, after all, maybe I am raising some budding romantics.  I don’t see any evidence of that so far but you never can tell.  So this year I am going to have to opt in to the rampant commercialism and buy packs upon packs of Valentine’s cards for each of my sons to hand out and, in turn, they will each tromp home with bags full of pink and red heart-shaped tat.

So now I have another reason to find Valentine’s Day intensely annoying.

I will conclude this blog entry with my Zombie Valentine drawing from a Zombie of the Week project I set myself a couple of years ago.  That’s all the Valentine’s romance I can muster right now.

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