"Isn't it beautiful?" Joseph said with awe in his voice. I looked at the bracelet doubtfully. It was gaudy in only they way a $7 bracelet from a discount store can be. But to my son, it was the most beautiful bracelet he'd ever seen and it belonged on the wrist of his beloved first grade teacher. I did the mental math and decided we could swing the extra gift.
That night, he and I filled quart mason jars with layers of colorful beans, carefully measured out spices, and made sure to add a label with instructions on how to make bean soup in a crock pot for a warm and filling dinner after a long day of teaching rowdy six-year-olds. Joseph wrapped his teacher's bracelet and added it to the seven jars weighing down his backpack.
"Are you sure you don't need us to carry them in?" I asked, worried about the weight of all those jars and beans.
"No! I don't want to spoil the surprise," he said with a grin on his face. He was proud of the gifts he'd made for his teachers. I was glad to be able to give them a little something to show my appreciation. I may not be able to swing gift cards to Starbucks or Sephora or Barnes & Noble, but I can give them something homemade and warm, something that comes not just from my son and daughter's hearts, but from my own. I smiled as I thought about his teacher coming home to the smell of bean soup bubbling away in her slow cooker. I laughed a little at her surprise over the bracelet and imagined her sharing my laughter over what children believe is beautiful.
I never thought she'd throw it all away.
According to articles popping up on the internet, homemade teacher's gifts are "out". According to teachers being quoted, they are thrown away. They much prefer a nice bottle of wine, a gift card to Lush, or cashmere socks. While I understand 25-30 dozen baked goods is a little out of control, for some reason I assumed they shared them in the teacher's lounge, pulled them out for carolers, added them to the plates of cookies dotting their homes, and maybe, if nothing else, dropped them off at the homeless shelter.
In an economy in which unemployment is high, just like the cost of living, I also assumed teachers would appreciate any small token from their students' families. I think of the hand knit scarf I made his preschool teacher, the jams and jellies I canned for his second grade teachers, the bean soup we made in quart jars, and the whole wheat bread I was planning to bake to go with the jams and jellies this year. I imagine them being tossed in the trash, the glass shattering.
Those articles leave me with a chill that has nothing to do with plummeting winter temperatures. I'm hoping, like rainbow looms, this trend doesn't extend to our small town.
Joseph's teacher's thank you note, written last January, gives me hope it hasn't. She told him she loved her gifts and she thanked him for making her winter's night a little warmer. It may not have been cashmere socks, but it was from the heart. And isn't that what this season is supposed to be about?