This coming week is the last of the calendar year that my kids will be in school. It is also the last week that my kids will see their various therapists. This last week brings not just holiday parties at school, anticipation for Christmas and a hope for snow days, but also the annual Teacher Holiday Gift Season.
My youngest son will give one teacher gift. My oldest son will give three. Jack, my seven-year-old with autism, will give 12. Yes, twelve.
Now, to be fair, not all of those gifts will go to teachers. They also go to therapists, paraeducators and bus drivers. See, my youngest son has one teacher. My oldest has a homeroom, a math and a reading teacher.
Jack has a homeroom teacher, who is also his reading teacher, plus a math teacher. He has two paraeducators/resource teachers who work with him during the day. He has a driver and an aide on his morning bus, and he has a different driver and aide on his afternoon bus. Then there is his speech therapist, his occupational therapist and the two therapists who work with him at his social skills group.
You may wonder why I give gifts to all these people. My reasons are threefold:
1. Momentum. I started giving gifts to these people back when I had four to give. Now that there are sixteen, I can’t backslide on the gift-giving continuum.
2. Peer pressure. When I showed up to social skills group last week, one of the other moms had her adorable little gift bags all ready and sitting on a chair next to her. Do I really want to be the jerk who mumbles “happy holidays,” and slips out the door while everyone else is hugging and cavorting over thoughtful gifts? (That’s how it happens in my mind.)
3. Pure gratitude. The real and true reason I give these gifts in December is that I am incredibly grateful for all of the care these people put into helping my child. All of them work really hard for Jack, some of them for very little money, and I like to let them know that I really and truly appreciate what they are doing.
Everyone on my list, from the teacher who accepts Jack as a welcome member of her classroom, to the aide on his afternoon bus who makes sure he waits safely at the top of the bus steps until I get to the door to catch him, has become a vital part of his care.
Jack has connected deeply with these people—as have I. He asked one of his paraeducators to be his second mom (which, you know, sucks for me, but is great for him). One of the women who worked with Jack in the past has become a personal friend of mine. Jack regularly asks to go back to see his occupational therapist that he hasn’t worked with for an entire year, and I will genuinely miss his speech therapist, who is moving to another state at the end of the month, and whom we have seen nearly every Monday afternoon for the past two years.
It feels important to mention that I am a firm believer in gift cards for this kind of gift. Regardless of their impact on our lives, I don’t know any of these people well enough in their private life to buy an appropriate, yet not too expensive, gift. Sometimes cookies or candy can work, but with so many people concerned about what they eat, I tend to steer away from this as well. Ergo, every December I head out to Target or Barnes & Noble and buy a stack of gift cards in various denominations.
Each of these people has created a space for themselves in our lives. Shelling out gobs of money every December for the cards isn’t awesome—but giving thanks to the people who are helping Jack reach his highest potential really is.