holiday gift givingGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

Yesterday, I walked into my daughter’s after-school care with holiday treats in hand. I was delivering cookies for teachers, assistants, and administrative staff, as well as books for my little girl to give her teachers. It’s always a good feeling, giving out cookies and presents. My holiday spirit was suddenly ruined though when I got some serious snark from a couple of employees who obviously felt that I wasn’t doing enough for the entire staff. Now, I don’t know if I’m angry, defensive, guilty, or an odd combination of all three.

I like to think that I’m a generous person around the holidays. As we’ve discussed, I really enjoy giving out presents. Another thing that might have been mentioned, I tend to start preparing for the holidays early. That’s right, I have all my shopping and even a little Christmas wrapping done. So this past weekend, my sisters-in-law and I got together for our annual baking day. We made over a dozen different types of cookies, at least 50 of each type. That’s right, more 600 cookies in a single day. Then we all package up tins of various cookies for teachers, music instructors, co-workers, and neighbors.

Our thinking behind making our treats so early is two-fold. First, the holidays are hectic. Finding an entire weekend day to dedicate to baking is not easy. This year, it worked out to be earlier in the month. More than that, it’s kind of nice to get this type of baking done before all of the big holiday get togethers. By the last week of December, everyone is getting pretty worn out on holiday sweets. Right now, they’re still super excited about homemade peanut brittle and toffee.

Last year was the first time that I had to decide just how many of my daughter’s teachers, assistants and other school employees that I was going to get a gift for. I wasn’t quite sure where to draw the line. This year, I felt like I was pretty comprehensive. I included classroom teachers, assistants, and administrators for both her school and her after-school care. It ended up being 8 individuals in all that got containers of homemade cookies. Then, I let my daughter pick out a book to give to each teacher’s collection for their classroom.

I was feeling really good about covering my bases. Then, I hopped out of the car at our after-school care balancing four cookie tins, numerous cards and a couple of wrapped books. As I was walking into the school, one of the janitors and a woman who works in the lunch room were leaving. One of the women looked at me and joked, “Treats for us? You shouldn’t have!” The other followed up, “Oh, but that’s right. You didn’t.”

I had no idea how to respond. I must have looked like an idiot, standing there shocked and still balancing my cookies. They kept walking away from the building, and I stumbled into the door suddenly wary of any other school employee who might feel left out.

For a minute, I felt really guilty. They were right. I hadn’t brought in cookies for the janitors or cafeteria workers. These often thankless jobs deserved some holiday spirit as well. Sure, I donate money to the PTA to provide a holiday breakfast for all the school’s workers, but I didn’t do anything personally. And they interact with my daughter on a daily basis as well, just like assistants and vice principals. Maybe I was a little short-sighted in my holiday gift-giving.

After I helped my daughter deliver her goodies and head home though, I started to get a little more defensive. This little jab might have been the first time these ladies ever spoke to me. Yes, I’ve seen them around the school. Yes, I’ve smiled and waved in greeting. And we’ve never talked. I don’t know their names. My daughter has never talked to me about them. It seems a tad presumptuous to get crappy with someone that you don’t know for not bringing you a gift for the holidays.

At that point, my frustration and doubt really boiled over into anger. I do a lot for my daughter’s school and daycare. I volunteer my time. I donate whatever I can to help. I put a lot of effort into being an involved and thoughtful member of the school’s community. How dare they make me feel guilty because I didn’t make enough flippin’ holiday tins for every member of the school. At that point, I wouldn’t been baking a whole additional day for every person we come into contact with in that school. I cannot be expected to have holiday gifts for every member of a 30-person staff.

Now, I’m just not sure what to feel. I really do want to be kind and thoughtful during the holidays. I give out a lot of gifts to extra-curricular instructors, babysitters, etc. I plan on helping the parent-organized “Thank you” efforts for the entire school. And I really do understand that it must be frustrating to watch every other co-worker get remembered by the students and their families during the holidays.

At the same time, throwing snark at me wasn’t the right way to earn my gratitude. If either of these ladies had taken the time to introduce themselves in the past couple months, I might have added them to my holiday gift list. I’m in my daughter’s schools on a really frequent basis.

After yesterday’s episode, I feel even more confused than before on the appropriate level of school gift-giving. It’s making me wish I lived in a state like Alabama, where teachers aren’t allowed to accept any gifts from students. Then, I just wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. But I might miss the baking.

(Photo: Hasloo Group Production Studio/Shutterstock)