Education Opinion

A Wonderful Gift

By Susan Graham — December 21, 2009 3 min read
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Today is a gift! I was supposed to be at school today and again tomorrow, but from Friday evening until Sunday morning it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. And school has been cancelled. Here, from my home on a hilltop in the Virginia countryside, the world has gone quiet. One neighbor got a snow plow blade for his lawn tractor for his birthday and he’s helped us all clear driveways. We’ve been dropping cookies by to each other’s houses, and, since we have the best hill, the neighborhood children are sledding in our yard.

I’m having a good time watching the kids from the warmth our office window. Mitchell who is four is wallowing in the snow. Six year old Meredith is not so sure it’s fun. Amelia is ten and she is the snow engineer who is figuring out how to slick down the run to make it faster. I remember when my own children and I could hardly contain ourselves as we bundled up to play in the snow on that same hill. Then we’d hurry inside to get warm; drinking hot chocolate around the fire. I didn’t have to worry about childcare and commuting like so many. As a teacher mom, I was there at home with my kids playing, baking, working puzzles and reading. Snow days were, and still are, magical.

Because I am a teacher, I can’t help but wonder what my students are doing today. They don’t all have the privileged lives my children did. Are they out in the snow? I hope they are having a little wonder, because they are still, for all their pseudo-sophistication, children. And while they are fast approaching the age when wonder becomes a little harder to come by, I hope they manage to have another year or so when a White Christmas is more magic than marketing.

It may not happen for some of them because middle schoolers are easy marks for the marketing industry and they are caught between childhood and young adulthood. They are a little too old for toys and a little too young for a really nice sweater. Shopping for the eleven to fourteen set is pricey and frustrating and giving presents to an eleven to fourteen year old can be less than gratifying. They don’t squeal with delight like their little brothers and sisters. They haven’t yet mastered hiding disappointment or valuing “the thought” that comes with adulthood.

In part this is because middle schoolers hesitate to risk unchecked enthusiasm. At the same time they are young enough to have a hard time hiding disillusionment. This year disillusionment is likely to happen too often. We had more kids that needed a coat this year. The food bank is feeling extra demands. Every teacher knows about their marginal families that have always struggled and will be in need of assistance. But this year we are seeing families that are accustomed to living comfortably who have moved past giving up small luxuries to figuring out how to manage providing necessities. The financial austerity they face is particularly difficult during the holidays. Because they are old enough to understand that times are tough but young enough to still want magic, this may be a hard holiday for some of my kids.

I suppose that is why I was touched when I read about the First Lady’s visit to the Quantico Marine base Toys for Tots distribution center. She was delivering toys collected by the White House staff in one of those official photo opportunities that First Ladies do. But I was touched when

Mrs. Obama noted that bins of toys for younger children were full, but those for older kids were not. "If you're 11, you're still waiting for Santa, and you still want to make sure that they have something in the stocking."

She would know. After all she’s the mother of an eleven year old sixth grader. Middle school: It is a wonderful/awful time of transition that is both thrilling and bittersweet. As the innocence of childhood slips away, you can’t blame young adolescents for longing for one more year of magic. They may hide behind their blasé masks of indifference, but they still want to be surprised. They still want to believe.

My Christmas wish for my students: May they keep their their sense of wonder. They keep it alive in me and that is a wonderful gift indeed.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.