It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Christmas is Coming

Musing on Christmas gifts. I get gifts every year from my clients, some of which are perfect and greatly appreciated, others of which, ah, not so much.

I will say up front that I understand that gifts are not obligatory. There is nothing saying that my parents need to give me a gift at all. The fact is, they do. It is also true that these gifts are an expression of their valuation of the service I offer.

About five years ago, I was given the best gift I have ever received. This mother gave me a portion of her Christmas bonus (I have no idea it if was 1% or 90%). The cheque was generous, and be sure I appreciated that. However, it was the sentiment expressed on the card which accompanied the cheque that mattered most of all: “This is your portion of my Christmas bonus, which I would not have been able to earn had I been worrying about my daughter. I am able to be my best at work, knowing that she is getting the best with you. Thank you.”

You know what? I actually teared right up when I read that. It remains the single best gift I have ever, ever received from a daycare parent, not because of the generosity of the cheque, but because of its symbolism. Mom saw me as a contributor to her work productivity, and so she shared her reward for that productivity with me. It was a measure of the value she placed on my contribution to her world – to her peace of mind.

Last year I received a range of gifts. Three of them spoke of that kind of appreciation. They had been carefully chosen with consideration given of me, my character, my needs. One was a weekend car rental – a great gift for a woman who, at that point, didn’t own a car. One was a hand-knit scarf, knit in shades carefully chosen to match my dress coat – not something the parents saw me wear often. Someone was paying attention!

I also received a couple of token gifts. You know the kind. Perhaps like us you keep a stash of small, nice, generic items, to be given to people who unexpectedly give you a gift, and you wish to reciprocate. They’re impersonal, inexpensive little throw-away gifts. The sort of gife you give the paperboy. No personal thought went into it, because they’re not intended for a specific person. Call me shallow, but a box of a dozen pouches of hot chocolate screams “throw-away” gift.

I should be ashamed of myself, qualifying my gifts in this way. Gifts are, after all, gifts. “It’s the thought that counts!” someone out there is indignantly huffing. Well, true. And how much thought, do you think, went into the grocery store box of hot chocolate? In pouches, yet. As was so well expressed by the woman who shared her Christmas bonus with me, the gift is ultimately an expression of their valuation of the service I provide their family. I did not feel much valued by the hot chocolate people. I did feel valued by the scarf family.

For it is, indeed the thought that counts.

December 20, 2005 - Posted by | Christmas, daycare, manners, parents


  1. Last year, I gave my ENTIRE Christmas bonus to my (wonderful Goddess of a) babysitter in Tokyo.

    This year, though, I`m not working, so our au pair is getting… some very pretty coat hangers. (Thought, etc.)

    Comment by L. | December 19, 2005 | Reply

  2. Last year, one of the families I babysit for on a very intermitent basis (like once a month, twice at the most!) gave me a $75 gift card to a clothing store that I could never afford otherwise, whereas the family that I spend 20+ hours a week at gave me candy… umm, value anyone??

    I understand exactly what you are talking about, thought is nice, but it is possible to see the appreciation that families have for you…

    Comment by Angela | December 19, 2005 | Reply

  3. What a sweet card! I don’t blame you for tearing up.

    Comment by the weirdgirl | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  4. The value is not as important as the thought. It wouldn’t matter how expensive the scarf was if it absolutely hideous:-) Equally, you would have teared up if you’d recieved a hand-made card with the same message, but only a $10 cheque (my Xmas bonus was £15 sainsbury’s voucher – I doubt my nursery workers would be very impressed with a portion of that!).

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  5. What might have been better on that hot chocolate deal is if they actually pulled the packets out of the box and put them in a cute basket with a coffee mug and marshmallows and some sort of note explaining that once the kiddies go home, you could sit down and relax with a cup of hot chocolate on those cold wintery days. Not so much of a throw-away then. At least it would have taken a bit more thought……

    Comment by Jill | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  6. L: Your ENTIRE bonus? You, my dear, are a goddess of a mom! And the coathangers sound perfectly appropriate to this year’s situation.

    Angela: Perhaps some families don’t realize that the gift is symbolic. When you feel that your contribution – helping them raise their child – is being lumped in with the paper boy and the kid who mows their lawn? That doesn’t feel right.

    Weirdgirl: Yup. It’s the first time that a parent had ever expressed that directly to me, in those terms, and it meant more than I can say. Here I am, five years later, still raving about her!

    MrsA: It’s the mix of thought and cost, perhaps. However, that scarf probably didn’t cost much, and it meant every bit as much as the car rental, though the rental was undoubtedly more costly, because both showed thought.

    Jill: Exactly! You’ve hit that combination: it doesn’t have to be costly, just put a bit of thought and concern into it. I would have been very appreciative of the basket you describe.

    Comment by Mary P. | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  7. My wife does inhome childcare…and she appreciates Christmas presents that have some meaning…not just ‘token gifts’ so some parent can feel good that they gave something to their childcare provider…Mary your very lucky…someone appreciates you.

    Comment by chris | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  8. I’m still reeling over the portion of the bonus check, and the amazing logic and sentiment behind it. The hot chocolate packets would definitely seem like a throw away compared to something as meaningful as that.

    Comment by Kristen | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  9. Chris: I am lucky, and I know it. My parents are a good lot (especially now that the hot chocolate family is gone!)

    Kristen: Yes. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge that poor family on the standard of the bonus cheque woman!! (And amazing L. up there, who gave the whole of her bonus to her caregiver. Wow.)

    Comment by Mary P. | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  10. The thing I like most about Christmas is coming up with something special. We all know that commercialism has created the hot chocolate sort of giving, but it has also created other sort as well. This year I made my best friends pictures – I took some winter pictures, photoshopped them and them printed them out. Three gifs for three special people cost me less than 20.00 (in total!), but I’m so _pleased_ to give them!


    Comment by Heather | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  11. About my bonus — before anyone assumes I`m Bill Gates, I`ll say, my bonus was a) entirely unexpected, so therefore not factored into our family`s budget, and b) equivalent to about $1,000 — so please don`t think it was five figures or anything. I was going to give my sitter a huge bonus, anyway, and when I got mine, I figured I would just give it all to her. My baby called her “Mama,” for God`s sake. Honestly, this woman took care of me as much as she took care of my kids.

    Comment by L. | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  12. Geez, L., that’s still a heckuva lot of money, and so generous! No one is judging or anything; it’s wonderful that you did that.

    I agree, Mary, that it’s the thought behind the thought, if you will, that is what is important. My MIL will give me another crappy gift this year, like always, which will leave me wondering just what she was thinking when she said to herself, “Now Candace will just LOVE this!” Hell, my own mother just gives me cash because while she wants me to have *something*, she doesn’t always know what that something is.

    Comment by misfit | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  13. L: Your baby called her “mama” and you still loved her! WHAT a good mama you are. And I hear your rationale about the bonus and it all makes perfect sense, but I’m overwhelmed by the generosity, nonetheless. Wow, again.

    Misfit: Ooo,ooo… we could have a “let’s compare bizarre presents” contest!! I’ll have to put some thought into that. 🙂

    There was that time when I was teaching kindergarten that I was given a partially used bottle of talcum powder! (I suspect the little sweetie had pilfered mom’s bathroom and neither parent had a clue she’d done it. Pretty funny!)

    Comment by Mary P. | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  14. So does giving my daycarista potatoes seem odd?

    Wait. Let me explain. The potatoes were actually for her husband and his famous potato pancakes and they came from my brother…. the famous former spud farmer and they really are good potatoes.

    I also gave her half a bag of equine senior horse feed, 3 giant bottle of sunscreen, 4 canisters of baby formula, deer thuringer, & several empty egg cartons. Ok, I admit it… that was all last spring and not REALLY her Christmas gift.

    Next spring I’m hoping to give her raspberries & apples…. assuming the deer fencing holds…..

    Oh, and, fortunately, I know she & her husband love a certain restaurant in town so we get her a gift certificate to go there for the holidays. This year Sweet Boy & I created a lovely card with his picture, snowmen & helicopters (his favorite things right now) and, apparently, he was quite adorable running to her waving it saying, “ewlcotters, tac-ie, ewlcotters.”

    But, you know, the kid is adorable doing just about anything and I just hope his adorability makes up for an social blunders his mother commits….

    Comment by Homestead | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  15. I got my HDL a gift certificate for a one hour massage at my buddy’s salon and a portion of my bonus as well.

    Goodness, I owe that woman so much more.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | December 20, 2005 | Reply

  16. I just finished up doing an internship in a first grade classroom and one of the parents gave me pictures of me with the kids in the class. It was really a great gift and I am so thrilled to have the pictures because I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera and take any pictures of the kids. She also had her daughter make an adorable card!

    Comment by Erin | December 21, 2005 | Reply

  17. The hot choclate packets would have been much better had the recipient told you to go sit down while he/she PREPARED the hot chocolate for you and served you. And maybe joined you for a chat about how grateful he/she is that you are in their lives.

    Comment by Misfit Hausfrau | December 21, 2005 | Reply

  18. My wife has received the following gifts…Bath and Body Works basket ( the same thing she got last year from the same parent…maybe my wife stinks)…
    a wine basket with wine, garlic cheese spread,pimento olives (which makes her sick)…

    She is not ungrateful but she is housebound all the time…give her something to get her out of the kitchen and out of the house…

    Comment by chris | December 21, 2005 | Reply

  19. I just gave our caretaker her Christmas bonus today along with a huge hug and some listening time since one of the kids she’s watched since birth left yesterday to attend preschool full-time (she’s three now). The family of that girl didn’t even give our caretaker a proper goodbye. They showed no appreciation for the marvelous energy and effort she put into raising their daughter. Plus, I don’t think they ever bothered to even give her any kind of Christmas gift or bonus over the last three years.

    How can people not show appreciation for those who are doing the MOST important work of all?

    Comment by MIM | December 21, 2005 | Reply

  20. Homestead: This comment should be framed. I’m not sure why I’m finding it quite so entertaining, but I just keep coming back to it and grinning some more: horse feed? apples and raspberries? deer fencing? I’m so glad you’re blogging so that I can get a peek into this world!

    You sound like a WONDERFUL parent to have – observant and helpful all year round. Gift certificates at Christmas, what a great gift.

    And what on earth is “deer thuringer”?

    Crayonz: I love it! It’s a great gift for someone who does as much lifting as a daycarista (to borrow homestead’s great word!)

    Someone did the same for me a couple of years back, and as the masseuse worked on my back, she says, “You know, the muscles on the left side of your back are way overdeveloped compared to the ones on your right!”

    Gee, I wonder why?

    Erin: It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to be meaningful, does it? That’ll be one for the scrapbook or the mantle, I’ll bet!

    Misfit: Ah, those hot chocolate people. They didn’t treat me so well, all in all…

    Yours is a good approach. If they wanted to enhance it with a little something while they mix it up, that would be good, too!

    Chris: This proves the difficulties of gift-buying. I love B&BW stuff. Sweet Bay Rose bath stuff, and Eucaplyptus Spearmint massage oil. Love it!

    (You can’t get it here, but I had a friend who used to bring me stuff from there whenever he had business in New York.) For me, it would be a great gift – for your wife, not so much!

    mim: No Christmas gift? In over ten years of doing this, I’ve never had a client not give a gift. Even though the calibre of the gifts has varied, at least everyone was thinking. I’m shocked!

    Good for you for providing the listening ear and the tangible support and appreciation. She’ll go the second mile for you, I’ll bet.

    Comment by Mary P. | December 21, 2005 | Reply

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