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Month: May 2009

End-of-the-Year-Gifts for Teachers

Okay, class, time for a math quiz.

Take your child’s attitude. Multiply it by 24 students. Subtract 11 weeks of summer vacation, but add $5.3 billion in education budget cuts.

That’s what our kids’ teachers cope with daily, from the second their coffee kicks in to the moment the blessed bell rings at 3 o’clock. And we parents are grateful, of course we are. As the school year ends, though, it’s hard to know how to express that gratitude. Or, frankly, how to wrap it.

Some families bake cookies to show thanks. Others give potted plants, scented candles, or handmade greeting cards. I’ve heard of parents bestowing teachers with cashmere robes, Tiffany necklaces, and even $300 cash.

“Are we supposed to be supplementing their income because they are ridiculously underpaid?” asked a mother I know, whose confusion echoes my own. “Or is it purely a token of appreciation, in which case, should it come from the child or the parent?”

So I did what I’d be too ashamed to do without the defensible guise of “column research.” I asked teachers what they really want. And some of their answers surprised me.


They say crisis brings people closer. Certainly it was true during the Jesusita Fire when, if you weren’t evacuated yourself, you were welcoming displaced friends into your home.

I think motherhood — especially new motherhood — is a kind of crisis in itself. For all their wee littleness, newborns bring colossal emotional upheaval and physical duress. Their arrival demands mandatory evacuation from our comfort zones.

And women bond over it. Un-inclined to discuss their chapped nipples and husbands’ quenchless libidos with the friendly check-out guy at Vons, they’ll squawk their guts out to any stranger with a diaper bag.

Or a movie camera.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27th, UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Theater will screen a new documentary on the pleasures and pains of parenthood. Birthright: Mothering Across Difference will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, my friend Celine Parreñas Shimizu, who teaches in the Feminist Studies department. The event is free.

The film is a patchwork of interviews with 50 area moms: gay and straight, rich and poor, married and single, working and stay-at-home, white and Latina and Asian and black. Despite differences, they share anxieties, hopes, and points of pride.

Pearly Whites

News-Press. These are all things I’m more likely to be doing on a Sunday morning than attending church. I’m an atheist. Not an agnostic. Not “spiritual but not religious.” Just a full-blown, you-people-are-crazy, call-me-a-heathen-if-you-must atheist. I can’t even get myself to capitalize the word god (so if it’s upper-cased in this column, you’ll know my editor feels differently). When our first son was born, my Methodist in-laws asked if we planned to take him to church. “It’s a great place to meet like-minded parents,” they said. “Unless you don’t believe in god,” my husband chuckled. “Then it’s a place to meet unlike-minded parents.” But I did go to church — just once — earlier this year. I had heard about this cool local parish that’s high on karma and low on dogma. Everyone I know who goes there is free-thinking, unpreachy, and socially conscious. And I was curious. What could make people give up a precious Sunday morning — unique to the week for its sunny, undemanding emptiness — to put on undergarments and sit on a wooden bench where you might have to think about locusts?