By Ashley Doyle Pooser
The big red circle on my 2014 calendar was creeping closer, and I still had no idea what I was getting for teachers’ Christmas gifts. This season always creeps up on me, and I am continually surprised when Christmas happens every December. I wanted to do better this year. My daughter was in preschool, and I’m pretty sure she helped her teachers achieve sainthood that year. While they truly deserved a vacation, a thoughtful gift was the best I could do.
At the beginning of the year, we received a list of the teachers’ favorite things. I held on to the list and did everything short of laminating it to keep it safe. I obsessed over The List for an entire week before the Christmas party. I scoured Pinterest for hours, desperate to come up with something that would hold its own among all the other thoughtful, crafty gifts from room mothers who could rival Martha Stewart. How could I combine the teachers’ favorites into a unique and thoughtful gift, thus proving our undying love?
One of the teachers, Mrs. A., listed her favorite flower as “herbs” and said she enjoyed cooking. The other teacher, Mrs. C., said she really enjoyed gardening. I was thinking along those lines but had no viable ideas until my sister, a teacher herself, mentioned one of her favorite class gifts was a rosemary tree. She was able to use it when cooking, it looked adorable, and it made her house smell terrific. I was sold!
The morning of the party found me rushing to Trader Joe’s, where there was a huge display out front. A big sign labeled “ROSEMARY” stood in front of half a dozen rows of beautiful little potted trees in festive wooden boxes. Unfortunately, a raging head cold kept me from enjoying the wonderful aroma of fresh rosemary I was certain was filling the air. I rushed around choosing fancy Christmas ribbon to decorate the trees and delicious cookies to add as an extra treat. I was trying hard to stay humble even while imagining the oohs and aahs my gift was sure to earn.
I walked into the Christmas party, proudly carrying the decorated rosemary trees. I spent the next half hour playing games and singing songs, trying not to burst with pride. On our way out, I made sure to mention to the teachers that I had left their gifts on the table. “It’s just a little something. A rosemary tree!” I knew sounded like a hyped up five-year-old seeking approval from the grown-ups, but I couldn’t help myself.
About a week later, we were visiting my sister’s house for some Christmas festivities. She pointed out her rosemary tree and asked if I had decided to go with her suggestion.
My stomach dropped all the way down to my toes.
This was not the same tree I had bought for my daughter’s teachers. I frantically googled images of the potted trees sold by Trader Joe’s until I found the familiar, adorable little wooden boxes…holding cheerful little cedar trees.
Suddenly, my mind’s eye saw those sweet, hardworking teachers happily cooking Christmas dinner, using fresh clippings from their trees, serving dinner to their families, and everyone ending up in the hospital with food poisoning. I shot off a desperate e-mail to Mrs. A. and Mrs. C. and prayed they had been whispering, “Bless her heart,” for the last week and not flavoring their food with cedar.
Thankfully, this was the case.
(This year, it’s gift cards for everyone. Hooray!) I’m finding ways to refocus on the heart of the season. I downloaded a favorite carol for my mobile phone and now, just for a few moments whenever it rings, I’m thinking of ancient prophecies fulfilled instead of worrying about stocking stuffers. I copied a few favorite scriptures and taped them to the bathroom mirror so whenever I’m running late (always), I can take a breath and be reminded of hope, joy, peace, and love. I wrote a stanza from a much-loved Christmas song and hung it from my rearview mirror. Each time I find myself sitting in holiday traffic, I try to take just a few minutes to read those words and truly think about what they mean in my life.
Please, my dear sisters, let my mortifying tale of woe be a lesson to us all. This is what can happen when the pressure of a “perfect” holiday season takes a toll on our sanity. In our frantic need to be awesome, we lose sight of what’s important, and we end up poisoning teachers. Or maybe that’s just me.
Ashley Doyle Pooser is a wife and a mom of three. She recently moved to Atlanta, where she’s trying her best to be a responsible adult but feels like she’s mostly flying by the seat of her pants. She blogs at ashleydoylepooser.com.
Photograph by PublicDomainPictures.