Every year, about this time, I pat myself on the back for being done with Christmas. The gifts are purchased and wrapped, my advent calendar is ready to hang, I even have stocking stuffers ready to go. Done.
And then I remember. The teachers.
My kids have what seem to be an extraordinary number of teachers. Sonya has four main teachers plus several others who, don’t we all agree? the arts are critical to development? develop her brain. Viv only has two main ones but her favorites are gym and art and fitness and creativity – they matter. Amelia has…600 preschool teachers? Something like that.
Last summer, I decided to teach Viv to read. I’m a teacher, she’s a smart kid, I had a plan to work for 20 minutes a day. We did it, and by the end of the summer, she was reading. We also couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other anymore. I could teach my kids myself. But it would be awful for everybody, and the soft skills they learn at school with their peers (negotiation, kindness, cooperation, managing conflict) are critical to their eventual functioning in society.
This is to say: the school system is instrumental in my parenting.
And then there are the coaches and music teachers. I let my kids do any activity they want, and what they learn on the field or at the piano is extremely valuable. We use their experiences in gymnastics and soccer to talk about hard work and perseverance, to emphasize body positivity, to watch them truly see the value in teamwork.
While I could teach my kids academic topics, there’s not a snowball’s chance in aych ee double hockey sticks that I could teach them back handsprings and arpeggios.
Before I had kids, I was working at Starbucks and a colleague mentioned buying her kid’s teacher a Christmas present. Being the cheapest person in the room, I scoffed (it’s so easy to scoff before you have kids). “I am never doing that.” And I meant it. I barely manage to get presents for my family members, no way would I spend even more money on somebody who was getting paid for what they were doing already.
Except – we all know that teachers, who have one of the most critical jobs in society, get paid squat. My kids’ coaches almost all have full time jobs but show up to the field anyway, giving up their lives to teach my kids back handsprings. My kids’ piano teacher knows what an arpeggio is.
Two years ago, I was grumbling to my sister about teacher gifts. She has more money than I do (doesn’t everybody?) and is less stingy than I am (isn’t everybody?) and said she was spending $40 for each kid’s main teacher. I, being a cheap jerk, said, “isn’t that outlandish?” She paused and said, “they’re raising our kids.”
I think about this every year. We can’t afford $40 per teacher or coach and my kids have made it clear that they want to include not just their main teachers but all the ones they find influential (read: all of them), meaning more gifts but smaller amounts, so I grit my teeth and buy up $10 Starbucks gift cards (with a few $20 in there) and make it rain. It’s painful and I think about how gleeful some people manage to be as they say “my entire Christmas budget is $50.” I want to be that gleeful but –
These coaches and teachers are underpaid and overworked, dedicating their lives and hearts to helping my kids become the wonderful people they are becoming. I might not ever be FI or get out of debt or stop freelancing into the night. But I’m grateful to all that they do for me and mine and, after all…they’re raising my kids.