My friend, who is also the mother of my daughter’s classmate, asked me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to join in on a group holiday gift card for their teacher, thus setting off my annual tailspin of panic on how to appropriately gift the many folks who care for and about my kids.
While I absolutely can’t begrudge my daughter’s regular ed teacher the $15 worth of Target goodies she would have gotten if I participated, I had to decline. Or more precisely, my wallet and my sense of fairness did. If I can’t do it for everyone, I shouldn’t do it for anyone.
I’m not going to whine about how expensive it is to give gifts to all the people who work directly with my son: the six behavior therapists, the special ed teacher, special ed director, BCBA, two clinical directors, school nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and his beloved bus driver. Having a lot of people to thank is a good problem. Most kids receive too few services. That’s not the case for us. But it does make me feel like a cheapskate.
It’s not just the awkward feeling of inadequacy around my limited gifting capabilities that is uncomfortable at this time of year. This deep revealing of obligation is unsettling. I am starkly reminded of my son’s vulnerabilities and how dependent he is on so many other people to get through life.
I too am dependent: on our education consultant, the special education administration, the lawyer, the financial planner, the school committee members, the other special ed parents in our district, the special needs parents who advocate and change policy we couldn’t live without, the agency professionals, the doctors, the nurses, the front desk folks who make sure we have referrals and prescriptions, the pharmacists, the diaper delivery man, the transportation coordinator, the newsletter writers, the conference planners, the breakout session presenters, the support group coordinators, the bloggers, the friends, the family members, the neighbors. Even you, dear reader, on whose community I have come to rely to get through this unexpected life. I am dependent. I cannot do this alone, because he cannot do this alone.
To be honest, part of me resents that dependence. We live in a culture in which independence is strength, independence is freedom. The ideal American life is free of obligation, of reciprocity, of dependence. As I have come to learn, that freedom is an illusion. A delusion even.
So this year, the kids and I have been whipping up batches of chocolate-covered Oreos as token gifts for the school personnel. (Luckily we are able to make them slightly faster than we can eat them.) Three a piece, decorated with sprinkles, in a cellophane bag with a candy cane. Even my daughter’s teacher will get some.
It’s not enough. But it will have to do. I am getting comfortable with being indebted.
To the rest of you, I say simply thank you. I hope I get to say it in person, maybe even with a hug. But if not, please know that I know that I couldn’t do it without you.
This really touched me as being dependent/over dependent on the system because of my sons special needs it is something I also struggle with. However having recently moved from a developing country back to the UK I am really grateful that there is a system!
Your writing is funny and moving, thank you for your honesty.
Thanks Kate. I would love to hear more about your experiences in the UK and in the country you just moved from. We have so much to share and learn from each other. But you’re right, however hard it is to be dependent on the system, it’s better than not having one to depend on. This is one of those cases of what we here in the US are referring to as a “First World Problem.” I definitely appreciate what I have, such as it is.
I moved back to the UK last summer with my 8 year old son who has Noonan’s syndrome. We had been living in rural Argentina for a few years. In many ways it is a great place to live and we were lucky in that C (my son) had relatively (for NS) few issues. However it was a constant struggle to get the ones he does have monitored and though the actual medics there are very good, accessing the system is very complicated and stressful. We didn’t actually intend to move back here but came on holiday to see family, and while we were here took him to the hospital were he had previously had several heart operations; as they had said they would give him a check up of we were back in the country. Unfortunately they told us he needs another op, and as we had been told by an Argentine dr just a week before we travelled that he was fine, for me it was the final straw . It is a long and complicated story but basically it seemed the only thing to do was to move back here as his medical issues have to take priority. I had also had a lot of worries about the educational help available there. So we have well and truly thrown ourselves back on the “system” here and as I say though it can be frustrating and humbling to have to rely on so many others when I am naturally an independent person, it is indeed so much better to have the option to do that that not! IT makes me realise how very priviliged we are in the “first world” and how much we ( in general) take for granted. I am talking about the UK obviously but here there is an amazing health service. Ok I’ll stop rambling on now!
Thanks again for your blog, it really is a good read and you are an inspiring mother!
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