Monday, June 12, 2000

It's the thought that counts

The end of school is two weeks away, which is a good thing because it means the kids have successfully navigated another year through the educational system, and a bad thing because I am responsible for successfully navigating them through another understructured summer. But the hardest thing about the end of school isn't figuring out how to handle all those end-of-year half-days, or figuring out where to send them for camp, or figuring out how to keep their brains running for three months so they won't be stalled in September--it's figuring out what to give the teachers for year-end thank-you gifts.

Gifts are a good thing because they give you a chance to show your appreciation to the people who have taken the little ones off your hands for nine grueling months and actually taught them something in the process, and a bad thing because you know whatever you buy will wind up on the big heap of useless junk the teachers get from similarly thoughtful but clueless parents. I look at the racks and racks of little apples and little schoolhouses on the Hallmark shelves and wonder how many of each the teacher will be getting. I try not to obsess about this; I want to get something nice, but I don't want the choice to take over my life. In the end, it's the thought that counts, though I don't suppose that's much comfort when she opens her fifth or sixth desktop bell or wooden apple calendar.

I'll admit, I'm also pretty cheap when it comes to teacher gifts, which does not reflect on my esteem for those individuals, but mostly reflects on the sheer number of individuals involved in any one year of special education. At times, when both kids were in special ed, we might have had two teachers, four aides, two bus drivers, two bus aides, two speech therapists, one physical therapist, and two occupational therapists. Even getting all those folks an inexpensive gift adds up fast. I'd think about ranking the personnel in terms of time and effort spent with each child and then giving each a class of gift that corresponds with their relative investment, but pretty soon I'd need to quit my job in order to work through all the various permutations. And then I'd have even less money for gifts.

I remember the first Christmas I had a child in school, I brought the teacher and aides and therapists pumpkin bread for a gift. I thought that was a nice thing, from the heart; not a big deal, just a thoughtful gesture. Then I happened to get a look in their back room, and saw piles of huge gifts. I've never felt comfortable just gesturing since. Though in fact, they may have enjoyed the pumpkin bread more than the contents of those boxes. One teacher friend tells of receiving one year, from a young pupil, the gift of a bra. And not just any bra, but one that was well-worn and sweat-stained. His mom is probably still searching the washing machine for it, wondering where it went.

I figure I can do better than that. And if not, I won't be alone out there on the big heap of useless junk.

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