Today is the kids’ last day of school before vacation, and last night I was engaged in a favorite ritual that I’ve been doing some variation of for almost as long as I can remember: preparing teacher gifts.
Actually, there’s been a lot of variation. When I was Tim’s age, my mother made gifts for my teachers, just as I do now for my kids. She made breads or coffee cakes wrapped in Saran wrap with brightly colored ribbons, and I felt a warm sense of pride as I deposited them carefully on my teacher’s desk that last morning before vacation. By high school, I was making my own baked goods for favorite teachers and academic advisors.
Once I finished college and started working, the tradition resumed with office mates. I hit on a holiday gift specialty when I was in my early twenties: truffles. Or what I – and the recipe in the circa 1950s cookbook I found it in – call truffles. My elder sister, a purist when it comes to any kind of culinary claim, would point out these really aren’t truffles for reasons I can’t define, but I’m sure she’s right, as they’re too easy to make to deserve that elegant a title. Nonetheless, recipients love the truffles.
After Rick and I were married, we conducted the gift-giving ritual together, and our guest list was growing. I remember one year when our entire dining room table was covered with little cardboard boxes shaped like Chinese takeout containers and decorated with holiday prints as Rick and I got organized to bring gifts to our office mates on that last work day before Christmas. I worked in a department of nine; Rick had even more co-workers than I did. We rolled truffles by the hundreds in those years.
And then Tim was born and along with gifts for the workplace we had gifts for daycare teachers to consider. I started expanding my repertoire. A mere dozen truffles were fine for our colleagues, who really didn’t expect a gift at all and didn’t necessarily give one back; but that didn’t seem sufficient for the daycare teachers who devoted hours every day to Tim. Thus began the basket tradition: I bought big festively decorated wicker baskets or bowls and filled them with a variety of goodies: the original truffles, but also maple scones, spiced nuts, Cheddar shortbreads, molasses cookies, peanut brittle, peppermint bark, banana breads, cranberry muffins.
And so it continued once Tim and then Holly started public school, though the contents varied from year to year, and so did the numbers we needed to produce. There have been some years when both of the kids had a teacher and a teacher’s aide, and last year Tim had two main classroom teachers plus a classroom aide. The kids can hardly carry the bounty.
But it’s so much fun, even as I acknowledge to myself that I probably enjoy the ritual of preparing the goodies and assembling the baskets more than the recipients could possibly enjoy the contents. Now the kids help by writing labels for each little bag or packet.
I have to admit too that I toned it down a notch this year. The array of sweets and savories, breads and muffins and nuts and cookies, was always impressive, but it started to seem a little overwhelming. So this year I focused just on candy-making, which is my favorite anyway: each teacher will get peppermint bark, peanut brittle, toffee, and of course the truffles. Since those early married days, we’ve never yet gone a year without making truffles.
Last night we set up the assembly line. Holly wrote out labels; I packaged the candies into decorative cellophane bags; Tim sorted them into boxes. The number of recipients is a little less staggering this year: one teacher per child, plus the bus driver; and Rick wanted to bring gifts to three administrative staffers at his workplace.
I’m self-employed now, which means I get to gift myself. My gift is all the broken or misshapen pieces of candy that didn’t make the final cut into the boxes. It’s a wonderful tradition, but after two weeks of nonstop candy making, I’m glad we’re done for the year. I hope the teachers know how much we appreciate them, far more than even my chocolate truffles can reflect. And I hope members of their families, if not they themselves, harbor a serious sweet tooth. I think they’ll need it.