Last week I delivered the holiday gifts for the Forest Park Middle School teachers. I purchased the chocolate covered espresso beans and raspberry chocolate bites way back in December of 2019 but somehow they never made it into gift bags, nor were there cards to accompany them, and before I could get the dressings for the gifts, school was out for winter break.

Despite my embarrassment, I was determined to get those small chocolate bites out of my house and to the people they were purchased for. 

Here in Forest Park I see a new crop of dried-out Christmas trees on parkways, now a solid week past the 12th day of Christmas, I felt a kinship with these wise families who have also embraced their inner determination to publicly display their trees for disposal, far after the holiday passed. 

Heading to Schauer’s Hallmark for the bags and cards, I relished the discount, not knowing that it was one of the last times I would be able to shop there. Found a delightfully irreverent bulldog with antlers announcing, “I got your yule log right here, pal.” That would provide the perfect balance of awkward and kind I was looking for to ride along with the late gifts — they are middle-school teachers, after all.

I delivered the gifts to Ms. Crawford who sat attentively at the front desk, Thursday, with a little note in every card. In my imagination, each teacher pulled out their grading matrix to check if I had A) recognized that the gift is late, B) asserted appreciation for all he/she does for my son, and C) included a closure of “Happy New Year.”

Since middle-school teachers are accustomed to looking beyond imperfections. I figured if these sages could manage fiddly pre-teens, they could also abide their tardy parents. 

It was only a few months ago that Mr. Staser defended the entire Social Studies class against a bee that found its way into his classroom. No match for his accelerated instincts, the teacher/warrior took on the flying attacker with a swift flick of a folder against the window. After the class cheered, one pupil (who might be related to me), decided to pick up the bee from the floor to enhance his middle-school experience. 

Jerome, named over a salami sandwich, was notorious for the havoc he caused in Social Studies that day. His short, powerful jolt of energy distracted the entire class from the past to the immediate present with his ominous stinging presence. Although unresponsive, Jerome was the protagonist and that day’s hero, and was befriended by a team of middle-schoolers on his journey through the middle-school day. He was carefully placed, lifeless, on a folder during math class and gently balanced on a book to ensure his safe transport in the halls. 

It was in science, appropriately, that Jerome came back to life. The once-stiff bee started to twitch, then started to clean his antennae. It certainly was a transformation worthy of middle-schoolers’ delight. Jerome was a zom-bee. Though Ms. Pesavento was not as delighted by Jerome and his spasm state, she directed him to the garbage, to restore order to the room. But Jerome did not make it into the garbage, instead he was tucked into hiding. His end was near, though, because soon he would sting his middle school pal, ending not just his own insect life but completing that day’s middle-school story. 

So it would be irresponsible of me not to send a Christmas card and a small token of thanks, however late, to the teachers who manage a classroom full of quirky and irreverent people.

And when Ms. Pinta, sixth-grade English Language Arts instructor, gave students the choice to write a letter either in a critical or complimentary style to mail to businesses, who could have predicted its sincere value? 

A large box arrived at our house from Microsoft addressed to my middle-schooler. Inside was swag like I’ve never seen before — cups, card holders, stickers, eye glass wipes, travel coffee mug, and, the tour de force, an X-box controller and headset. A simple letter thanking him for the inspiration he shared with all the Microsoft staff was typed and on Microsoft letterhead in the box. 

My son, Logan, chose a complimentary letter and explained to his friends, “Complimentary letters are way better then criticism letters.” 

The lesson of giving a compliment was far more valuable to me and my family. For that I am forever grateful.

While I might be late with my gift of thanks, I know the value of receiving kindness. I am sure there were plenty of other middle-school families who sent notes of thanks and admiration but having one from our family, too, was important. 

I imagine the tediousness of being a middle-school teacher, going to work every day knowing that your craft is going to be sabotaged and subverted or you’ll be competing for a middle-schoolers attention. Somehow you and your subject matter have to be more interesting than a dead bee, which may seem reasonable, but what if that bee comes back to life … just try to top that. 

 We all appreciate a kind word now and again; after all, building our students up is what we expect teachers to do. Seems like building up our teachers is what a parent should do, and a one-time thank-you or compliment might be worth doing even if it’s outside the ordinary prescribed giving cycle.