By Wendy Kennar
It wasn’t until my fourth Mother’s Day that I felt like I had “made it” as a mom. I had reached my own special mothering milestone.
Up until then, I had never been on the receiving end of child-made, school-made Mother’s Day gifts. I was always on the other side of the situation. I was the teacher planning, coordinating, and preparing the Mother’s Day gifts.
But that year, my five-year-old son was finishing up pre-school before starting kindergarten in the fall. And that year on the Friday before Mother’s Day, Ryan brought home handmade Mother’s Day gifts for the first time.
I remember looking at the gifts wrapped in their pink tissue paper, and feeling my heart smile. Now I understood why other mothers gushed, why other mothers thanked me. This is why other mothers told me they planned on keeping their Mother’s Day gifts forever. And I hadn’t even unwrapped the tissue paper yet.
As a teacher, I had a system in place for creating Mother’s Day gifts in my classroom. Before beginning work on our gift projects, I always read Todd Parr’s The Family Book to my class. It was important to recognize and acknowledge that families deserve to be celebrated. All families.
Very few of my students came from a family consisting of a mom and dad. I had students being raised by grandparents and adult siblings. Students being raised in a family of two moms. Students only knowing one parent. Students spending equal time with dad and stepmom and mom and stepdad and thus needing two Mother’s Day gifts.
Every year I strived to have my students make heartfelt, sincere, colorful Mother’s Day gifts, and I tried not to make the same gifts with my students year after year. Siblings sometimes circulated through my classroom, and I wanted mothers to receive new gifts each year. I wanted our gifts to be treasured mementoes, something a mom, or the woman in my students’ lives, would keep forever.
Our projects were meant to show a child’s mom that she is special. She is appreciated. Respected. Loved.
Our projects also needed to be gifts a classroom full of children could make. Something we could create with limited time and limited resources.
Most years our gifts incorporated the children’s handprints in some way. When I changed grade levels and moved from kindergarten to fourth grade, another upper grade teacher told me I needed to stop doing kindergarten projects.
“Fourth graders are too old to paint their hands,” she scolded me.
A child, whether in fourth grade or kindergarten, is still a child. And a child’s handprints are a beautiful thing.
That year, my milestone Mother’s Day, Ryan gave me a clay heart necklace on a rainbow-hued string. It’s too delicate to be worn, so it hangs on a nail near my desk so I can admire the swirling colors. And, Ryan gave me his handprint. Actually, it’s a cut-out of his handprint attached to a popsicle stick. The part where his nails should be is decorated with little beads (and clumps of dried glue). On the back, in his teacher’s handwriting it says “I love my mom because she gives me hugs and kisses.” Underneath, Ryan printed, “Love Ryan.”
Today that cut-out handprint waves at me as it sticks out of a pencil cup. Today, Ryan is twelve years old, and his thumbs are almost the same size as mine.
As Ryan got older, the number of school-made Mother’s Day gifts decreased. I was always honored to receive handprint hearts and flowers during Ryan’s early elementary school years. But over time, the painting stopped. Instead I received heartfelt, bringing-tears-to-my-eyes letters and acrostic poems.
These were Ryan’s creations. A reflection not only of his teacher’s guidance, but his expression of how he felt about me away from home.
For me, it wasn’t just about the gift each year.
It was the time it took. It was the patience, careful planning, creativity—and the overall effort each of Ryan’s teachers put into every single gift.
Wendy Kennar is a former elementary school teacher, writer, and mother of a twelve-year-old son. She has lived her entire life in the same Los Angeles zip code. You can read more from Wendy at http://www.wendykennar.com
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