Daycare newsletter comes out, including the calendar of events for the month. Feb 14th is clearly marked with Valentine's Day party - children are to wear celebratory colours. The word "party" subtly indicates that further action and responsibility will be required from the parents, but I choose not to think about it.
A list of treats for the party appears near the sign in/out sheet so that parents can't ignore it. I sign up for chips because it requires little effort and no thought. So much "no thought" that I promptly forget that I've signed up to bring them.
Later that week:
I work four out of 7 nights, get far too little sleep, and occasionally remember that daycare has a party next week that I'm sure I'm supposed to do something about. I drink lots of caffeine and forget.
An email arrives from the ever organized and enthusiastic daycare staff. It is a list of all the children. It's meant to facilitate the appropriate exchanging of Valentines at the party that is quickly approaching. They considerately suggest that children really only need to bring Valentines for the other children in their particular play groups. I wonder how I'm supposed to know which children (out of the 45 or so) those are. I also wonder if they are going to post a sign-up sheet for treats to bring.
I feel like I'm forgetting something.
I decide that we are going to make unique, hand-made Valentines for Sam's playmates. David asks me when I think I'm going to find time to do this. I scoff at him.
I've been working again. And not sleeping enough. And I decide that I will go to the store to buy generic and mass-produced Valentines tomorrow morning and drop them off to daycare later. The party can't possibly be until the afternoon.
Feb 14, 7:40am:
I wait in the car while David takes Sam into daycare. I've asked him to find out when the party starts and peak at the sign up sheet to find out what I said I'd bring. He comes back and says 9 o'clock. And chips.
What?!? Who serves chips to a bunch of toddlers and preschoolers before lunch?
Feb 14, 8:15am:
I have dropped David off at school and am searching through the surprisingly decent selection of boxed Valentines left at the drug store. I find something inoffensive and grab a bag of chocolate for the staff as I make my way to the cash. I feel quite accomplished. Y'know, considering.
Chips at the grocery store. Baked. Because, it's going to be before lunch!!
Feb 14, 8:30am:
Sitting in front of the list of children on my laptop, I blink. I don't know these kids! I don't know which ones Sam sees everyday. I don't want to leave anyone out, but I only have 32 cards and there are 45+ kids. I start to panic.
I decide that I'll stick to the kids 4 years and under. Thankfully, the list is divided by age group. Sorry, school-aged kiddies, you get fuck all from Sam this year because his mom is a douche and left all this to the last minute.
Feb 14, 8:50am:
I arrive at daycare with my bag of goodies. Sam sees me and says "Maaaaaa-ma!" in his newly acquired Italian baby accent (just imagine a "mia" tagged onto the end). I stay a bit to chat with the teacher and put Sam's Valentines in the other children's crafted envelopes. But there is something wrong.
There are envelopes for the staff.
I forgot about the staff.
I'm out of Valentines.
I can't make eye contact with the teacher anymore. Luckily another teacher arrives with kids from the other group who is joining the party. I quickly finish filling the envelopes and make sure to point out the chocolates I brought for the staff!
Feb 14, 9:10am:
I get Sam resettled, after the disruption of my appearance at the daycare, and sneak away. He will cry a bit then have fun at the party and the rest of the day. I will clean the house and feel inadequate as I think of ideas for the unique and hand-made Valentines that I didn't make. Next year, I decide, I will be better at this.
Feb 14, 4:00pm:
We are all at home now and I sit down to snoop through Sam's Valentine's envelope. He has made out well. Cards and little baggies of treats. Even a cute little pencil with a giant eraser. I sigh. I should have done something like this. Something more than stamped out paper lameness.
My sense of failure is stirring up an unpleasant competitiveness with other parents who I haven't even met. My kid can't be the one whose mom phones it in on these sorts of things.
So now I get it. Why some moms hate these daycare / preschool / kindergarten / events. It puts too much pressure on us to perform on behalf of our kids, to not let them down, to not embarrass them. We stress out about how we - and, in turn, they - will be viewed by the other kids, parents, and teachers.
It's stupid, of course, because these are not the things that matter. I'd much rather my kids be known for their kindness, honesty, and sense of humour than their mother's gourmet cupcakes.
It's a good thing too. I don't do cupcakes.