The Spirit of Giving (Too Much?)

7 years ago

This post was originally published at

Mother and son (10-12) holding gifts, side view, close-up of hands

Years ago, I attended a friend's wedding that had lots of elements of questionable taste. One of them: The wedding invitation. Tucked inside was a note reading, "Because we are blessed to have everything we need, in lieu of gifts please make a donation to our favorite charities X or Y. Make the checks payable to us and we will distribute the money evenly."

The X charity wasn't a charity I could support and the Y charity wasn't actually a charity. Let's just say, imagine being asked to donate to your friend's Shaman's non-accredited healing fund. Something just like that.

And yes, this was in L.A.

I posed the issue to Randy Cohen, otherwise known as The Ethicist. He wrote back with wonderfully astute (and humorous) advice. Something along the lines of A gift is just that -- a gift -- and not an entrance fee. You are welcome to give as you please, whether you give to one charity, both charities, neither, or give your friends a pony.

This week I kind of felt the same way again, as an email arrived asking for a donation towards our preschool teachers' class gift. The gift is optional, as always, but the request is for nearly three times the amount we've been asked for in the past.

Oh, and the children are in school 7 hours a week.

I'm a big overtipper. And overgifter. I love giving me some gifts. And I love these teachers beyond anything you could imagine. I've already been thinking of what special thing the children can do for them (along with a generous gift certificate of course), because Sage simply adores them. But some special thing in the normal range. Not the Whee! The Economy's Back So Let's Go Crazy! range.

So I wrote back to the class mom. Something like gee, that seems awfully high...

It seemed the right thing to do last night. But I woke up this morning all sweaty and anxious and tinged with regret.

Oh God, I'm That Mom now. I'm the asshole.

(Not that the school didn't stamp that label on my permanent record a full year ago. But still.)

I guess the issue isn't whether we can afford it but whether we all can afford it. And whether it's appropriate. Maybe I'm speaking for some other mom in the classroom -- one I still don't know -- one who doesn't have a hedge fund husband or a second house in the Hamptons or wads of cash lying around in the crevices of her Roche-Bobois couch. There was a time not so long ago that I dreaded birthday party invitations, because of the expense of buying a $10 gift each week. Even even as we rebuild, I still have that recession mentality left in me. I can't be alone here, even in fancy Brooklyn.

I don't want to do less for these wonderful teachers than they deserve. If it were up to me, they'd get a 100% pay raise and a $500 gift certificate, a flat-screen TV, a Teacher's Day Parade, and that pony that Randy mentioned.

How would you handle it?


Liz Gumbinner is the author of Mom-101 which was called "funny some of the time" by an enthusiastic anonymous commenter. She's also a Contributing Editor to Blogher Style.

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