A few weeks ago, my school celebrated Homecoming Week. In addition to the actual homecoming game, the week included daily dress-up themes, a door-decorating contest, a pep rally, a community parade, and a Homecoming Dance. The week was fun. I enjoyed dressing up and seeing my students express their creativity in their costumes, but by the end of the week, I was ready for it to be over. The changes and excitement had begun to distract my students, and by Friday, keeping them focused on the lesson was next to impossible.
And really, that’s okay. Teenagers are still kids. They still deserve to have fun, and a week like that, every once in a while, is good for them. But teenagers are, for the most part, capable of handling their costume needs by themselves, and my costumes were inspired by what was already in my closet, so I did not need to do a whole lot of planning or purchasing.
As a mom, I have very different feelings about these weeks.
Red Ribbon week was a struggle for my family. Day one required a red shirt. That doesn’t seem like a difficult theme to meet, but my oldest has grown out of her red shirt from last year, and I couldn’t seem to find another one the weekend before – probably because everyone else was buying red shirts too. She also doesn’t regularly wear jeans, so we needed to purchase a pair for her. Friday’s theme was “Red, White, and Blue,” items that are much easier to locate during the spring and summer, not in the midst of the holiday season. The following Monday was Halloween, so their schools extended Red Ribbon Week to include Character Dress Up Day. Thankfully, my mom had recently sent pirate books to my kids, so I didn’t have to come up with a literary-inspired costume in addition to their actual Halloween Costumes, but it easily could have turned into one more special outfit I had to figure out.
I felt bad for disappointing my kids when I couldn’t provide an outfit for each day, but I just didn’t have a lot of time to search all over Timbuktu just for a few spirit days. I might have tried to find a little more time to put together outfits for their spirit days if the week had been a stand-alone special week, but in reality, it came on the heels of several other special weeks. The week before Red Ribbon week was Bus Driver Appreciation week and a food drive at my oldest daughter’s school. And two weeks before that was Custodian Appreciation Week. Schools send home suggested acts and gifts of appreciation for EVERY DAY of these weeks.
And it’s all too much.
I’m not saying that Red Ribbon week doesn’t have an important message or that custodians and bus drivers don’t deserve an appreciation week. As a teacher, I know all too well how essential support staff is to the education system. I am saying that these recommendations for a different gift every day in celebration of these special weeks, weeks that fall one after another, put a great deal of strain on parents who are already overwhelmed trying to keep up with homework, grades, field trips, and extracurriculars.
Informational flyers for these weeks used to trigger my anxiety. I’d stress about what snacks and gifts I was going to purchase, and whether or not I’d be able to convince my daughter to actually draw a picture or write a note of thanks. The mornings would leave me panicked about which gift was supposed to be sent in that day. This year, I was just too overwhelmed with my own responsibilities as a teacher to worry about selecting and managing the tokens of appreciation from, now, two school-aged children. And I was so busy with my own stuff that I didn’t feel bad about it until I saw a collection of gift bags by the bus driver’s seat one morning.
For a minute, I felt ashamed and embarrassed for my children.
My kids hadn’t brought gifts because I didn’t have the time or energy to prioritize bus driver appreciation week, but they also didn’t say anything to me about having not given the bus driver gifts. They weren’t bothered or upset by the letdown, and at that moment, I realized that these weeks are not serving their purpose. The goal of these weeks is to teach kids to appreciate the adults around them who make a difference in their lives: custodians, bus drivers, teachers, and nurses, but all they do is put pressure on the most immediate adults in their lives. In fact, I would argue that rather than teaching kids to appreciate these adults, they imply that kids need a week to be reminded to respect and be thankful for them. The weeks acknowledge the significant impact these adults have on our children and the waning respect these professionals have received over the years, but they attempt to band-aid it with cookies and coffee rather than real change. And while I can’t speak for all teachers, I personally don’t need any more coffee mugs. I’d rather have student respect and parent support.
I will send one nice gift at the end of the year for the bus driver and my kids’ teachers. I will happily donate to a luncheon for custodians, nurses, and other support staff because I agree they deserve more than a verbal “thank you.” But I’m going to stop behaving as though a lack of participation in these weeks of tokens and forced thanksgiving is something I should be ashamed of. Instead, I’m going to continue to teach my kids to show their appreciation EVERY DAY by encouraging them to say “good morning” and “have a nice weekend” to their bus driver, to clean up after themselves and to thank the custodians when they see them in the hall, and to respect and obey their teachers. I’ll send in supplies when their teachers make special requests, I’ll address behavior concerns immediately, and I’ll volunteer if and when I can. I will do whatever I can to support those who support my kids every day, but I’m no longer going to stress over the chaos of appreciation weeks.