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Christmas trees, treasures and names that escape me


I lay my head on the railroad track and wait for the double-E; the railroad don't run no more. Poor, poor pitiful me.
DEC. 14, 2010: Every year at this time, we follow the same routine. We load the Christmas tree with sparkly ornaments collected over the last 35 years, occasionally pausing to ensure they are spread out evenly.
Except for the special ornaments. When we pull them out of our stash of snowflakes and reindeer and angels, we stop and hold them up to momentarily ponder and enjoy. Then they go on the tree.
They are the ornaments our two sons made when they were elementary school students.
Today, our sons are a collective 13 feet and 450 pounds of manhood. But once upon a time they sat in classrooms with other first graders, all being guided by elementary school teachers who helped them create these, well, treasures.
The stitching is fraying. The letters of their names are askew. And heaven only knows why the face of the snowman is on the larger bottom boulder of snow rather than the top.
But in these Christmas ornaments time stands still. Our children are again seven. The world is full of excitement and wonder.
“Look what I made, Mom. It's for you.”
The treasures were created in the classrooms of anonymous elementary school teachers. It shouldn't be this way. I should remember their names. My kids would know, I'm sure. But why should I have to ask? Why don't I remember the names of the women who helped my kids create something that I still treasure 20 years later?
It's not all my fault. We've moved a few times and today live nowhere near where our kids attended elementary school.
But there are other factors. Yearbooks, school plays and varsity sports tend to put high school teachers in the forefront of a community. And some elementary school teachers — oh, Lord, help me say this the right way — speak with a voice so suited for the nurturing of children that they do not command the attention they deserve in a roomful of adults.
In the end, how many of us credit an elementary school teacher with much of anything?
With each passing year, these elementary school teachers enthusiastically welcome to their classroom more and more children from fractured families, all little angels who went through hell the night before. The teachers aren't stupid; they can tell soon after the first day of class which students will spend their school years prospering through calm and which ones will likely suffer through calamity.
And yet when it comes time to make treasures, elementary school teachers don't worry about how many of those treasures will be saved with care and how many will be tossed aside carelessly. These teachers simply get out the Styrofoam, glue, string and beads and with fresh enthusiasm start anew.
And if their schools don't have the money, they buy the materials themselves.
Unemployment is rising. Social Security is at risk. Wars rage on. The Huns are at the gates.
Meanwhile, in schools across America, elementary school teachers are once again trying to teach children how to count, how to spell and how to put their boots on right. In the midst of all that, they continue to be the first responders in trying to hold the fabric of our society together by teaching songs and creating crafts that celebrate our traditions.
And sometimes it just takes 20 or 30 years for a parent to finally figure it all out.

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