This evening we gathered our family together to celebrate our daughter’s 3rd and son’s 5th birthdays. I’ve been stressing about this event all week, wanting to make sure that everyone had a good time, that there was plenty of food, and that my house was reasonably clean enough to invite in people who don’t live here on a daily basis. And, I have to admit, I was also stressing over a strange sense of guilt I felt surrounding this party. While I bought cute napkins, helped my mom arrange for themed cakes (Lego Batman for my son and Disney Princesses for my daughter), and assembled some treat bags for the kids at the party, I didn’t go over the top this year. I didn’t spend hours perusing Pinterest for themed foods, clever decorations, or sentimental party favors. And all week this has somehow made me feel like a bit of a failure, as if I wasn’t doing enough to honor my children on their birthdays.
Tonight our family came over. We laughed together, shared a meal, and enjoyed spending a few relaxed hours with each other. The kids played while the adults caught up on each other’s lives. Gifts were opened, candles were blown out, and memories were made. After the very last guests left, I asked the kids if they had a good time at their party and was met with a resounding Yes! from both.
As I think back on this evening and the guilt I felt leading up to it, I can’t help but realize that I didn’t have to go over the top to make the moment special. My children will remember that they played with their cousins on their birthdays. They will treasure the time spent with their grandparents and aunt and uncle. They will know that they were surrounded by people who care about them. And, although I don’t have a camera roll full of photos to splash across Facebook to show off the clever ideas I borrowed from Pinterest like many of my friends have, I do have pictures of my son helping my daughter blow out the candles on her cake, of my daughter and her cousin giggling as they jumped on the trampoline, and of my parents as they posed for a picture at the end of the night with their grandkids.
Sometimes less really is more.
I can’t help but also reflect on how this transfers into the work we do in our classrooms. I think of the hours I spent at the beginning of my teaching career creating file folder games (coloring and laminating!), developing the perfect math centers, and designing classroom displays that were intended to go far above and beyond the average bulletin board. How much time did I spend every summer arranging my room perfectly, creating a theme, building a library, and plotting out every square inch of my classroom with precision?
I don’t regret any of the time I spent creating a great learning environment for my students, and I don’t wish I could go back and do anything differently. But I do wonder as I sit here tonight, what would have happened if I would have treated my classroom then the same way I treated the party now? What if I would have put the energy I spent on “cute” into even more time spent building relationships?
As each day now brings me closer to setting up my new classroom when I return to a teaching position this fall, I’m excited to create a classroom community again. I can’t wait to create a learning environment where students will feel welcome and comfortable. But maybe, just maybe, this time I will spend a little more time thinking about how I will build relationships with my students and a little less scrolling through Pinterest in pursuit of the perfect classroom. After all, what really makes a lasting impression is feeling loved and valued, not the decorations on the walls.
I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday and daily during the month of March in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.