You know how astrology proffers the idea that a really confusing and sometimes annoying situation—that would be individual human beings, their characteristics, and how they relate—is actually easy to figure out, and even predictable, based on one’s understanding of a Pokemon-esque system of hybrid human-animals that reside in their own special, circular universe?
Well, if you are a parent, and you have a child that goes to school, you will appreciate what I am going to give you now, which is a system through which you can understand a similarly murky state of affairs: your role in presenting your child’s teacher with an end-of-year gift.
Perhaps you already know the confusion I am talking about. Perhaps you have already spent an entire May and part of June watching in disbelief as otherwise seemingly intelligent adults pour huge amounts of energy—theirs, yours, and your child’s—into creating a gift.
The reason for these gargantuan efforts is simple: for many parents, a teacher is a combo of the Mom Who Never Loved Me Enough and the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, parents can’t just assuage the power imbalance in this relationship the old fashioned way, by buying the teacher, say, a car. No, the gift has to be funneled through the children. And this is where you come in. So what does your May and June hold? Which of the four Class Gift Signs are you going to dwell in: Toiling Artisan, the Lion King, Weegee’s Delight, or Alcoholics Anonymous? Let’s find out.
You know you are in the territory of the Toiling Artisan when your class mom sends an email asking for 30 paper towel tubes, 400 glitter pipe cleaners, two shoeboxes per child, a mountain of puff balls, and a truckload of other things that she could just run out to Michael’s and buy herself.
The fact that a perfectly fine teacher gift could be purchased in two minutes by any grown up with internet access, is like the Oz standing quietly behind the curtain in the Class Mom’s apartment where you will spend three or possibly four of your precious Saturday afternoons helping to create the Most Beautifully Crafted Object of All Time.
This masterwork is usually designed by a class mom who, naturally, has an artistic gift, or, even more likely, a child with such a talent. It does no good, in this situation, to casually ask a class mom if it wouldn’t be a nice idea if we all pooled our money and presented Ms. Hoffman with a generous AmEx gift card in a tasteful box, and then the people who wanted to make their own gifts or cards could make them, however they wanted, in the comfort and privacy of their homes, and give them to Ms. Hoffman themselves. Wouldn’t that be a nice thing? Something an underpaid teacher would genuinely appreciate?
The answer here is: No.
In the land of the Toiling Artisan, what is a nice thing is 28 small, poly-blend T-shirts that have been decorated with glitter glue and stick-on jewels by each child, and then given to the class mom and her henchmen (class moms always have henchmen) to slowly masticate over moonlit nights (class moms don’t sleep, a fact you will realize when she keeps sending you emails that are time-stamped 4:30 AM). The moms and henchmen will masticate the shirts into a glittery white goo, and then the children will return to class mom’s apartment several more times to mold the goo into a classically-inspired frieze of their class photo, which the teacher can then use as a coat rack in her studio apartment. Thanks Ms. Hoffman—have a great summer!
The Lion King
Do you have a class mom whose kid dances and/or sings? Then you are undoubtedly in the realm of the Lion King.
The Lion King knows only one psychological state and that state is: performance. Your own particular kid may not like to sing, may be horribly stage-shy, may vomit at the idea of public speaking, but you know what? Class Mom’s kid loves it. Now, sit down.
The question for you, having found yourself in this realm, is what part of the Lion King you are stuck in? Are you in the Lion King/Elton John, the Lion King/Julie Taymor, or the Carnivorous Combo, i.e., both?
In the Lion King/Elton John version, your class mom will compose a ditty that is the equivalent of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” The children will rehearse this unabashed love song at Class Mom’s house several more times than necessary, and if you are lucky, you can run to the corner once or twice with a sympathetic sane mom and grab a coffee, and the two of you can vow to buy your first graders a robot that does homework when they are through with this hogwash.
The song will, of course, be presented as a surprise, so as to require everyone to be conspiratorial about and sympathetic to the performance, which you will have to attend, and during which Ms. Hoffman will hopefully have the good sense to cry, or at least sniffle, before a beaming Class Mom, or Class Mom will turn into Scar and eat Ms. Hoffman up.
The other possible parts of this realm, the Lion King/Julie Taymor, or the Carnivorous Combo, in which Class Mom and her henchmen actually write a musical for your children to perform in, is too horrible to contemplate here.
If you are lucky, you will find that you are a denizen of the sign that is slightly less awful than the others—Weegee’s Delight. Those in the sign of Weegee’s Delight do not have to build parade floats out of popsicle sticks or perform songs or even spend that much time at Class Mom’s apartment. And Weegee’s Delight actually makes use of that incredibly efficient and timesaving tool: the Internet. Your job as parent is just to get a photo of your child, and a page of your child’s artwork, to Class Mom, so she can make a book out of it on iPhoto, for Ms. Hoffman. Not so bad, right?
The devil is in the details, though, as you will discover, when Class Mom sends you 17 more 4 AM emails about the exact size and DPI of your child’s photo, as well as what he/she should or should/not be wearing, how he should be posed, and that the material to be used for said artwork is one kind and one kind of paper only, and it must be put in a secret, unmarked, manila envelope in her child’s cubby, before the deadline, which is tomorrow.
You should be prepared, while under this sign, for the fact that your artwork and photo will be rejected by Class Mom and/or lost on its way into or out of the Class Mom’s kid’s cubby, because children, who are supposed to secretly and quietly ferry these envelopes, are not the most reliable messengers. Weegee’s Delight is like a day—or two—at the passport desk of the main post office. However, at the end, Ms. Hoffman gets her brand new passport, I mean, photo book, featuring pictures of all the kids, and a page of their magnificent drawings, and it only costs 20 dollars per parent and 40 hours of your life.
The fourth and most grim quadrant is one we shan’t speak of much here, but you will know if you are unfortunate enough to land there. Class Mom will sent incoherent emails, henchmen will glower threateningly at pickup and drop-off, a gift will resentfully be pulled together with much drama and ill-will, and Class Mom may well transfer her child to another school for the following year. See? Even in the most awful of quadrants, there is a silver lining.
And really, this is true of all the realms of giftology: whether you show it with a masticated statue, a pained performance, a tortuously cobbled-together photo book, or just old-fashioned drunken rage, a miracle has taken place: a gift that was never in the world before has been made. A teacher has been thanked. Parents who had crappy childhoods are slightly and momentarily assuaged. The wheel of giftology turns, and next spring will bring us new quadrants in a new formation.
Have a great summer, everyone! See you in second grade!