This past Christmas, my son was about to turn 4. Both my mom and my mother-in-law are awesome gift-givers. What I mean by that is that they like to pick out fun stuff for their grandchildren, but they’re ok with me giving them advice about what they’d actually want.
I had gone with my mom Christmas shopping, and actually picked out the Thomas Train set that my kid would FLIP to have. I was kinda actually a little jealous that she got to give it to him!
Anyway, cut to Christmas at my mom’s. My son, E, started to tear open the gift wrap and before he had it all off, he started screaming, “I didn’t want this one! This one is NOT the one I wanted! I don’t LIKE this one!” and had tears running down his face.
I was MORTIFIED. I swear to you, every day something comes out of one of my children’s mouths and I am like, “OMG WHO TAUGHT YOU THAT? THAT DID NOT COME FROM ME? ARE YOU THE DEVIL BECAUSE SERIOUSLY!”
(On the other hand, there are things they say where I’m like….”Uh…oops. That’s my bad! I’m not perfect, yo!)
My mom, who just wants her grandkids to be happy, started with, “Oh, no, E, don’t worry, Grandma can take it back and get you the one you want!”
I walked over to whisper to my mom and was like, “No, mom, absolutely not, he’s good. He’ll love it in a minute.” And, well, he did love it, but I was still just…mortified. Gratefulness is just one of those things for me. And, I have talked with my kids at length about how if you get a gift and you don’t like it or you already have it, we’ll figure it out once we get home (I mean, they make gift receipts for a reason, you know what I’m saying?)
Also, I want to say, that I do realize my son is only 4 and I can’t really expect that much out of him, and don’t worry, I didn’t punish him, I just talked about it with him. I know this is TOTALLY not a thing that only my kid does, kids are learning, and all that. Still-it’s so important for me to know that my kids are on their way to learning to be grateful.
Cut to today. Today was the last day of school (work, I’m a teacher) for me. This week, in talking to a few of my colleagues, 2 of them mentioned that they had been up until 1 or 2 in the morning getting their end of year gifts ready for their students.
I have to be totally honest here-I used to give my students tons of gifts. Something for Halloween, a Christmas gift, Valentines, and end of the year. I’ve done personalized books with messages and dollar store items to match their end-of-year awards, and mad-libs, and scarves, and pictures of our class in frames.
I don’t, though, anymore. And, it’s not like I don’t want to. I seriously adore my students. When I’m out shopping, I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, G would LOVE that!” and I think how cool it would be if I could financially and appropriately buy them something they’d love.
It’s also not really about the money, although I will say that adds up, yo.
A few summers ago, I was out hitting up rummage sales for books to build up my classroom library, and I checked the inside of a book for some reason. In it, I saw this heartfelt message from “Mrs. Applegate” where she told the student all sorts of things they are great at, and wished them well. Ok, well, I mean, I guess we don’t hold on to everything, so whatever.
Then, I was at one where they were selling a winter felt scarf with “Love, Mrs. M” attached on a tag. I asked how old it was and the child replied, “Oh, I just got it this year. I just don’t like it.”
I imagined a teacher, spending her whole Sunday, deciding which fabric would fit which kid, cutting it up, lovingly putting on the ties, and delivering each one as a gift to her beloved students.
I had kids tell me, “I don’t like this book.” Or, “Does anyone want my mad-libs? I don’t like these.” Or, I’d find them left behind under their hooks at the end of the school year.
So, I stopped. Kind of like I stopped buying my kid something crappy from the $ section everytime we walked through. I stopped getting Happy Meals, because we just threw the toy away. I stopped buying 600 presents for Christmas (hyperbole, people) and only choose one gift for their birthday, and no gift at all if they are having a party.
***Full disclosure here, I did just take my kid at 7:00 a.m. to a local grocery store before school because he wanted sunglasses to make him a “cool-dude,” but hey, we gotta do it sometimes, right? LOL!
Do you remember this post, about the bean bag beans? This was one of the best days I’ve ever had in a classroom. I wanted my students to remember how fun it can be to just let go and have so much fun, even though it’s making a gigantic mess.
I had 2 photos printed for each of my students, and I wrote a message on the back that said, “Remember: Always be kinder than is necessary! Love, Mrs. W, 6/2/17.” Then I gave them this big speech about kindness and fun and told them that they mattered. It was time for the assembly, so I said, “Ok, chickadees, go put these in your backpacks, and line up in number order to head down to the gym!” I was feeling so good-the last day of school is so special when you spend so much time building a community!
They line up, I go to the door, and in the wastebasket, right by the door, were two of the pictures I had SECONDS BEFORE given to them as their gift, crumpled up and tossed in.
Here’s the bad part. I started to cry a little. Tears sprang to my eyes. Call it exhaustion, emotions, fury, whatever-I started to cry. I was SO embarrassed. “Get it together, Christy! You can’t cry in front of your students! You need to pull yourself together! You’re letting a 10-year-old hurt your feelings!” I just felt like it was something so special, and got a little too caught up in, “Dude, you are rocking this teaching thing, changing lives, totally so special!”
Today, a boy said, “I love this picture so much, I’m going to take it with me to my dad’s for the summer so I’ll never forget you.”
I got a hand-written card from a 5th grade student who said I was like her older sister and that I had totally helped shape her into the person she is today.
One of my students picked out a metal bookmark with a Thoreau quote on it and told me, “Don’t worry, I’ll mention your name in my book someday when I get published.”
But, you know what I keep thinking about? That crumpled up photograph in the trash.
I know I am dealing with kids. Kids are learning. My son wasn’t trying to be ungrateful-he was sad because he wanted the “one where Thomas jumps over the ice.” But, you guys, there is a MUCH bigger issue here than these incidents.
I just think we owe it to them to teach them what it means to be grateful and say thank you, and for goodness sake, wait until you GET HOME to throw the thing away that you don’t want. I mean, do they know how many snowman mugs I’ve given to the Salvation Army? And I don’t see myself as ungrateful, I just don’t drink coffee. 🙂 I think we owe it to our kids to stop buying them every thing they want.
A friend of mine recently returned her daughter’s birthday gifts because she was whining they weren’t good enough. I was like, “Um, you GO, I think you are so awesome.”
At my work, we have had hurt feelings over collections for some staff members and not others at Christmas time, and some teachers give certain staff members better gifts, and…yeah. Even as adults we don’t so much have it together.
We’ve gotta band together though. Collectively, we need to decide that enough is enough. Time to stop giving each other “Holiday Bell Swirl” lotion and pine scented candles at Christmas just because we think we “need” to give someone a gift. Go to coffee and talk. Write each other a hand-written note. Tell the person why you love them.
And then, when you see something in the store that will truly bring that person and you BOTH joy, you purchase it for them. Because you want to, not because you have to. I want to see the spontaneity back into gift-giving and gratefulness!
I’d love to hear your experiences/advice/thoughts on this! What do you do with your own families that works? What do you think?
***Disclaimer: I think teachers who give their students end of year gifts are AWESOME. My daughter LOVES LOVES LOVES every gift she’s ever gotten from her teachers and regularly talks about them. I think you ROCK and I am NOT saying you shouldn’t do it!!!!!! Mwah!