Following the holidays, I was completely spent. Literally and figuratively. For a couple of weeks straight, I had daily requests for secret santa gifts, teacher gifts, bus driver gifts, coaches gifts, a friend here, a friend there…..
I was exhausted and broke. Last Thursday night before driving my 13 year old to practice, she said, “Could you please get me a birthday gift to bring into school tomorrow?” Normally not a crazy request, but my gift closet was bare and all I could think was: Didn’t that kid get enough things from Christmas? I know, terrible, especially considering both my son and I share a January birthday.
I answered her with frustration and let her know I have five kids and I can’t keep giving multiple gifts every week. I ranted for a good ten minutes starting with telling her she had to earn the money and ending with ‘it’s too late to get anything now.’
The next morning I scrounged around and was able to put together a cute little purse filled with treats and lip glosses and reluctantly handed it over. Of course it also came with the lecture about not buying friends, and making sure gifts go to special friends, etc. She looked up at me and simply said Thank You.
As we were on our way out, my other daughter noticed a pile of gift cards sticking out of my 13 year old’s back pocket. When I asked her what it was, she pulled out the stack of cards she received as Christmas gifts. Of course it came with another lecture from me about keeping things safe, gift cards are actual money, you can’t use those at school, there’s no reason to flash those to your friends so they think you’re cool… I was on a roll and she just looked at me, handed the cards over and said, “You’re right, sorry.”
That was pretty much the end of it and I walked away feeling like I taught her great lessons and was glad she was starting to mature and look at life from a more grown up perspective.
My self-righteousness lasted until the end of the day when I received a phone call from the school. A teacher that I’ve never met called and told me a story about my 13 year old.
“Hello, I’m Mr. W, a teacher at your daughter’s school. We don’t always get to call home for good news, but I wanted to let you know something amazing that your daughter did at school today. There is a girl in 8th grade that is one of our more special students and although she gets along in the system ok, because of her needs, she has a difficult time completing thoughts and carrying on conversations. I don’t think she’s been able to develop many friendships.”
There was a long pause and it was almost as if the teacher was holding back his emotions.
“It was her birthday today. Without making a scene or any big announcement, I witnessed your daughter bringing her a little present. Both girls quietly smiled and it was truly a magical moment. Today was a day that I was proud to be a teacher to these kids – it was incredibly heart warming, and I just really thought you should know.”
That night I talked to her about it:
“Why didn’t you tell me why you needed a present?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think it mattered. I just knew I wanted her to feel special because I didn’t think anyone else would notice. Middle school is hard. Feeling like someone cares makes it a little less hard. I guess I just really wanted her to feel special.”
“So, were the gift cards part of all this?”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure you would have a gift for me to give in the morning, so I was going to give her all my gift cards from Christmas. Sorry, I just really wanted to give her something.”
Man did I feel like crap after those conversations. Why couldn’t I have been more patient and receptive to my daughter? I took everything at face value and used my superiority and years of experience to figure out what was going on, but clearly I was the fool. Here I thought she was maturing because she said I was right, but really she was maturing and showing much more compassion in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.
If I didn’t receive that phone call, I’m not sure I would have ever known the whole story. My only advice to parents and my future self is to look at our children a little more deeply to discover what’s really going on in their minds. Life isn’t always as it appears.
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