My grandmother called me one rainy evening asking for help changing a light bulb. I was only 14, so I brokered a ride from my friend Chris. My grandmother’s house was a mile down the road, but the rain was torrential. This was long before her Alzheimer’s left her confused about which family members were nearby. I called on her regularly, for social visits as much as assistance.
She met us at the door, light bulbs in hand. Thankful to have light before sunset, she offered us cookies from one of her 5,000 tins, then told us she’d be right back. She hurried up her stairs as fast as her tired knees could carry her (not fast at all). We set to work on the fixture. She reappeared in the kitchen, holding a tiny hand-carved bird pin. “I think this is from you,” she said. Chris took it from her and flipped it over. On the back it read in tiny letters: Thank You for a Great School Year! Chris H. 1983.
“My mom carved this bird!” he told me, shocked.
My grandmother had been Chris’ preschool teacher 12 years earlier. She always had this amazing ability to match the nearly adult face of one of her former students not only to his name, but also to his gift of gratitude. She kept nearly all of them as her most precious treasures. Her hallway walls were covered from floor to ceiling in tiny art items, spoons, and craft show-style plaques with sayings such as “Thanks for Helping Me Grow” adorned with flowers. She could tell you a brief story about every child.
But good luck trying to find the potato peeler.
As the school year comes to a close, I think back to my former students and look at the treasures I have kept. A vase on my shelf with the word “gratitude” from Tyler. A hand-painted jewelry box on my dresser from Emily. The most thoughtful, beautifully composed letter from Jarrett. My own kids’ favorite, “No Whining” from Maddie. Those kids are rounding out their junior and senior years of college now. And these little items remind me that I helped them get there and how thankful I am to have been just a small part of their lives.
Over the next few weeks, teachers will be hugging their students and preparing for the handoff to next year’s educators. These passionate people have loved our children like their own, daily, for the past 10 months. As I sat down to write this, my son told me that it was the 154th day of kindergarten. As of last week, my daughter’s preschool teachers had spent more than 900 hours guiding her, inspiring her, loving her and occasionally tolerating her antics.
We will offer them our appreciation with tokens of gratitude. Remember, though, that they are grateful, too. Grateful for our children’s progress. Moments of joy and triumph. The comedy as well as the drama.
During carpool, I said to my son’s teacher, “There are only a few weeks left.” And she put her hand over her heart and replied, “Don’t remind me.”
Autumn Sadovnik is the director of lifelong learning at the Edward A. Myerberg Center.