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.