gelt guilt grams

In ALL, RAISING HOPS INTO BEERS by Stephanie Klein32 Comments

good gelt
Good Gelt?

Inclusive. I try, sometimes fall short, but I try to always be inclusive. I simply don’t see an upside to excluding people. When I have plans with some friends, and another reaches out asking what I’m up to, I tell them and invite them to join us. So I’ll change the reservation to 5 couples instead of 4. If I can’t, if it really really really isn’t my place (an actual invitation was sent), then I usually invite the friend to join me at the bar afterward, to meet up for dessert, stressing (and truly meaning) how much I want to spend time with them. I never want anyone to feel left out. Because that’s something we can control, to be generous and inclusive. And when all else fails, when I really want my girl dinner to just be me, Alex, Dulce, and Smelly, I’d hijack our night and force them to meet Leigha, Lacey, Wendy, and Shannan. Because too bad. I love them all, and as long as I’m there, I’d make room for any one of them.

So, when it comes to raising my hops into Beers, I can’t stress the spirit of inclusiveness enough. “Don’t bring any if you don’t have enough to share with everyone.” We’ve all heard it. In 4th grade, I can still remember the anticipation of a handmade valentine. I’d get the mandatory Valentine from a teacher, and that’s it. Some girls, the girls whose moms had the “good snacks” at their homes, would leave school with a knapsack brimming with doilies and red construction paper hearts. I’d go home and eat my feelings…even the ones with the coconut liqueur.

I’ve been heartened to read school policies about birthday parties, how if you’re going to invite people in a classroom to a birthday party, handing out invites at school, then you must invite every single student in that classroom. Inclusive. Fist pump, yes. Yes, yes, yes. No one’s feelings should be hurt, not over this. It doesn’t feel good to be overlooked, ignored, or straight up excluded. I realize we can’t control how other people treat us, just how they make us feel, how we allow ourselves to feel. But I still would rather go out of my way to make people feel good, which makes me feel good about me.

But this. This flyer I received today in the kids’ backpacks from the school kind of pinched my face and waited for it to redden. The flyer announced the arrival of Gelt Grams: an opportunity to send your teachers and friends chocolate Chanukah Gelt in a bag with a dreidel, delivered at school. 5 Gelt Grams for $13, or $3 each. On the back of the form, there’s space to scribe To: From: and a Message:… And what’s the message we’re sending here, anyway?

The Gelt Grams feel like a small disc of guilt and a larger sack of insensitive, all in the name of fundraising. How do I explain to my daughter that she may choose to give gelt gifts to only some of her friends in school (I would never do this), or explain why only one friend gave her gelt, and why didn’t Annabelle get her a gift, but got one for their other friend Harper? It’s just bad business.

UPDATE: Look, I realize I just did it now, myself, with my sample friend invite list above. A friend reads it and could think, “Huh, why didn’t I make the rhetorical dinner party blog list?” Now, I know that it was top of mind friends, that there’s an intimate list of friends I didn’t include, friends I think of every single day, and that the distinction, the inclusion in a paragraph doesn’t a sisterhood make. But I can also understand how, even in the slightest way, someone might feel slighted.

I know I can’t protect my children from feeling rejection. I know, too, that they’ll experience it many times over. They’ve already gotten a taste. “Mama, Maya wouldn’t play with me on the playground today.” They get it. BUT, for the school to fan the fire of misfired feelings and friendships seems insensitive to me. It’s not the message a school should be sending to children.


  1. I understand the idea behind the ‘you must invite everyone’ policy, but personally I disagree with it. What about those people who host small parties, say 6 close friends, at home? If they have to invite the whole class, they likely won’t be able to fit everyone at home. So they have to pay for a party elsewhere (don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of those party places), or, not have a party.

    Schools shouldn’t dictate stuff like that, it’s not their business. Sure, if someone is running round being mean about how someone isn’t invited somewhere, that’s fair enough, they should intervene. But to teach our kids that everyone has a right to be invited everywhere is only going to set them up for huge disappointment later on. Imagine if you had never experienced that feeling of being left out until college!

    For one, it would be totally crushing to realize it at that advanced age and, two, without having experienced it, it’s hard to have empathy. If you’re the popular kid by college you won’t invite everyone, and you will never know how it felt not to be invited. And no matter how popular you were, every child felt it at some point during my school life. Not necessarily maliciously, but just because we generally had parties at home, and there’s no way you could invite the whole class.

    1. Schools aren’t dictating anything. If you are having a small get together send the invitations to the person’s home. Simple and thoughtful. When handing out things in school it should be all or none.

    2. I think the school has every right to dictate the handing out of invitations during school hours. If the child is having a small get-together the invitations should be mailed. Otherwise for small children, feelings are going to be hurt, and most kids I know don’t have the capacity to adequately explain why some kids are invited and others aren’t.

  2. I’m smiling but saying, “Wow!” Sounds like it’s time to have your own personal Gelt Gram making party with the kids. Make up your own amazing Gelt Grams for every single person in the kids’ class. Make it about the giving.

    1. Love this idea, Erica.

      And Stephanie, you could write a cheque in an appropriate amount to the school for their fundraising, with a note enclosed expressing your concerns about this fundraising activity, when so many other inclusive options are out there.

      I don’t believe that 4 year olds need to learn that life is hard and people are mean, so get used to it. I DO love the idea of teaching them how to lead the way in being kind and inclusive to others.

  3. Schools have come far but not that far. Honestly, the only people who would even understand why this is f’ed up are people who went home with an empty or almost empty backpack on Valentine/Gelt/holiday day. I totally agree it’s insensitive especially at that age. No one needs to be taught at 4-5 that not everyone gets a card and just suck it up. I’m not on board with the “everyone wins” crap but this is a different category altogether. There are 8000 other ways to raise funds- I know this with 2007 Boy Scout Popcorn from my neighbor still in my cupboard and having to sell a ton of coupon books this year myself. Maybe they just expect the parents to shell out for however many are in the class which is ridiculously presumptuous. If my school is smart enough to have me inviting 25 kids to E’s preschool party because I have to invite the whole class so no ones feelings are hurt (plus his non-school family friends)- I would hope they’d be more consistent in their fundraising. Huge fail and I understand your dismay.

  4. I totally get wanting to include everyone so that nobody feels bad or left out, but being realistic, it doesn’t always work that way. At one point or another in life we’re all left out of something, be it intentional or not. You need to find a way to explain this to Abigail, it’s a valuable life lesson.

    1. A big point here is 4 year olds don’t choose friends. The parents choose for the kids. That seems even worse. They are 4 years old. You would put a kid in that position? “Who would you give chocolate to?”. Not a life lesson to force feed a 4 year old.

      1. I totally get that. My point was more on the flip side as far as Abigail wanting to know why she didn’t get gelt from certain people, when other friends did. I absolutely don’t think that at this age she should be put in the position of having to choose between her friends, so I apologize if that is how my comment came off. Either way, the whole idea is stinky, and it puts both the kids and their parents in a really lousy position.

  5. I wrote recently about the pressure on parents to make up funding shortfalls in public education ( But I didn’t explore the potential for some students to feel excluded — rather than more connected — to their campus community. You raise an important point about the inherent inequality in these types of school activities.

    I’m curious as to what your children’s school will be doing with the proceeds from the chocolate sales. Art supplies? Tzedakah? A new coffee maker for the teachers’ lounge? I hope you share your point of view with the school administration.

  6. There comes a time when schools need to buck up and hire a fund-raising/development professional. You know, as well as I do, that some parent trying to be ‘super mom’ is going to buy all those dumb things for all of the kids – trying to ensure instant popularity for their children. And feelings will be hurt. And once again – the point of the season is not only disregarded but absolutely trashed. I hate this kind of marketing among the little ones. It would take a professional 2 hours to write a grant large enough to cover the $1000 that will come in from this project.

  7. Hi Stephanie

    Well I get your point, truly I do. I also remember the first time my son was excluded, along with 2 others, to an 8th grade grad party in a backyard pool. I mean come on?? You really couldn’t invite 3 more and have the whole class?? Really?
    HOWEVER, having now raised 3 children to young adults I realize that these happenings are truly teachable moments. None of your children will be included all the time, EVER! Come high school, there are candy grams, cookie grams, and secret santa grams. There are teams that they won’t make EVEN though they have gotten up early and went for a 6:45 practice for the last couple of weeks. There are choirs, and plays, and dances that they will definetely be excluded from. It’s sad yes, but it’s reality.
    Tell Abigail you won’t partake in the practice of sending GELT to only a few, and tell her why. This should suffice at this age, but you will ABSOLUTELY have to re-visit this issue in the future.Prepare yourself. The sooner you realize that you can’t protect your children from hurt feelings all the time the easier you will sleep at night.
    And by the way, the day of the swimming pool party we had torrential thunderstorms!! Karma…it gets you everytime!!!

  8. School is so brutal! Chadd and I were just talking about it last night and how at times (me) and almost always (him) we both felt so excluded and lonely in school. There is nowhere in life where the social systems are on display more than in school. I felt so isolated that I graduated school early.
    I think you are right to be bothered by this. Isn’t this the age of innocence for them? In my elementary school you gave a valentine to EVERYONE. Kids can choose what to write and which to give, writing more meaningful messages or giving nicer ones to their very bests without it being obvious to other kids.
    Take up the fight girly and get a craft fair fundraiser going or better yet a bake sale with all your yummy recipes. Something that brings the families together to interact and have fun!

  9. I wish schools would not do this. It is fun for some of the kids but misery for others.

    I even hated it when Adam and I went to have Thanksgiving lunch with Bram, and the kids who didn’t have parents there broke my heart. It isn’t their little faults that mom or dad can’t get off work!

  10. What I would do (since you posed the question on FB) is let them have their gelt thing this time, but speak to the director about your feelings on the subject privately. See how she/he reacts and then you’ll know what you’re dealing with and if they’re even cognizant of how wrong this could go for such little kids. High school kids can handle not getting the carnation (even if was really hoped for). Pre-school? I think that’s asking a lot. Yes I agree it’s a good teaching moment but that’s a moment that I think could’ve waited.

    But, hey, I’m the mom that wants to scream (at the kid and parent who is doing nothing) when I hear “You’re not our friend! You can’t play with us. Go away!” coming to from two or three kids to mine at this play place we go to. My kid is turning 3 and just wants to play- with anyone. I don’t get not teaching your kid how to be a friend and inclusive to all. Yes, it’s costing me too much money to invite his whole class to his birthday, but not every kid is going to come and I’m not cool with exclusion at 3.

    1. Author

      I witnessed this exact thing, Tara. I overheard a clique of girls in Abigail’s class tell her that she couldn’t play with them. We were on the playground in our home development, so these are girls in her class and also girls who live in the same development. The girls told her outright that she wasn’t welcome to play with them. I waited to see how she’d handle it before making an issue of it. Because if she didn’t make an issue of it, I wouldn’t. But she came over to me, and repeated the story. “That’s bad manners,” I told Abigail. “Do you know why?” I asked her.
      “Because if we don’t want to play with someone, we tell them that we’re playing right now, but that we can all play together in a little bit.” Pretty good. Not a lie, allows for keeping things intimate for one on one play and could also apply to a specific toy or “the swing” or whatever, and lets the other person know that they will have a turn, will be included eventually. I like it.
      I take Abigail’s hand, walk up to the girls and ask, “You girls look like you’re having a great time. Can Abigail join you?”
      “No!” One girl tells me. “We don’t want to play with her. It’s just us!”
      “Okay, but how would you like it if someone said that to you, that you weren’t welcome to play?” She actually answered me.
      “I wouldn’t like that.”
      Another girl spoke up. “Abigail can join us.”
      “Well, that is such good manners! My goodness! What is your name? Well, ****, I am going to go tell your parents what wonderful manners you have. You should feel very proud of yourself for being so welcoming and making everyone feel included.” The girl BEAMED with pride (and I did tell her mother later). Once the other girls heard this, they chimed in, too, raising their hands, encouraging Abigail to join them. They wanted praise. They wanted to feel important, recognized, acknowledged, to feel special. It’s all any of us wants. So, I focused on that. It won’t always work as smoothly as it did. I wish all parents could take the time to parent that way, to make the kids feel good when they do good.

      1. I love how you handled it. I think that was great. Thing is, I guess they sort of have more freedom at Abigail’s age where their parents are out of earshot. My current issue is kids that do that with their parents a few feet away. They seem to have some kind of idea what their kid is like, but either they’re just too exasperated by the behavior to keep working on it or they just don’t care. I get FURIOUS when this happens. If E EVER did something like that, I would be mortified and we’d have a few choice teaching moments at home about it to reinforce. There are two kids right now in different settings where E will say to B or I- “He is NOT nice!” because of the “You can’t play with us”. I don’t even know it that is nature or nurture. Are they just Lord of the Flies inside or are their parents just not teaching them manners???

      2. I love how you handled this situation. I’m a first time mom to a 6 month old baby, so I have a while before having to deal with these social issues. I just hope I can have half of the insight and patience you did when addressing this situation. I can’t imagine it is easy to see your child’s feelings hurt.

        As for the Gelt grams, I am in the same boat as most people. I absolutely felt excluded when these things were available at school and I didn’t get anything. In fact, it was extremely rare that I would receive a “gram” at school. It was a very lonely time for me. I would never want to inflict that pain on another kid, especially at such a young age. But seriously, are you supposed to spend the money to send one to everyone? That’s absurd. Prior commentors are right: the school needs a new fund raising strategy. As for what to do now, I have no clue. I would love to hear how you handle it, though.

  11. Exclusion can have many intents behind it. It can be mere ignorance of another person, it can be negligence of how singling out a few people can hurt others, or it can be a form of passive aggressive bullying. The point is that feelings do get hurt when one is excluded, and one can’t help but think the worst when this happens. And it happens to everyone. Not everyone fits in a mom’s minivan to go to the movies. Sometimes people have to pick and choose who is coming over (which is why I disagree with inviting everyone in a class to a private birthday party, but I do believe that invitations should not be passed out at school if not everyone is invited).

    Is dealing with exclusion a lesson we have to learn? Yes. There are many bittersweet life lessons that we have to learn. But I am in full agreement with you that the school should not be behind making toddlers learn this lesson at such a young age, and for profit, to boot! There is obviously no sincerity in these Gelt Grams. They are a blatant way of making money at the expense of children’s feelings.

    This is a learning moment for your daughter. Instead of purchasing the school’s gelt grams, connect with other mothers and fathers in the class and have the children make their own grams to send to everyone in the class. They can still put messages on them, but the intent and the delivery will change the tone of the gift. And the children will learn another lesson: to give is better than to receive. A difficult lesson for these little fellers, but the earlier the better.

  12. These Gelt Grams sound ridiculous. I had to remind myself that your kids were preschoolers. They had something similar to this for Valentine’s Day when I was in junior high and of course I never got one… Now I’m a second grade teacher, and I try to be sensitive to this. When kids do exclude their peers we, as adults, need to use it as a teachable moment to help them be inclusive. I don’t understand how the school is perpetuating the exclusivity. I think it’s worth mentioning after the fact to an administrator. I’m willing to bet many other parents and teachers share your viewpoint.

  13. I understand that a lot of the outrage hinges on the age of the children, but the reality is that at some point we all get excluded and we rarely get an explanation for it. Clearly, this is easier to explain to an 8 year old than a 4 year old.

    We used to do something similar for Valentine’s Day starting in the first grade and there was always at least one person left out. My mom made me fill out Valentine’s for everyone in the class every single year. I never understood why other mom’s didn’t do that.

    So I agree with the suggestion to make your own gifts with the children and perhaps donate money to the school in another way.

  14. Not sure which way I fall on this one. I think your intent is sweet. Yet I know that as an unpopular kid, being invited to a party because “my mom said I had to invite you” totally took away from the joy in attending the party. To this day, I don’t want to be somewhere I’m not wanted. Yes, it would have been nice to have gotten a valentine at school, but I really hated it the couple of times I got pity valentines. Perhaps you’re coming at this as a parent from the other side – the side of the child who is super popular, and you want them to be nice to the unpopular. I don’t know what the true solution is.

  15. It’s funny you wrote that about the hypothetical dinner party in the update. Because when I read the blog originally, I DID think, oh, those must be SK’s “best friends”.

    Anyway- my final thought is that kids don’t know what a “pity invite” is at 4 the way they might at even 6 or 8. Hell, I wasn’t even “unpopular”- I was more middle of the road, take me or leave me, I guess. I had a falling out with 2 popular girls in school in 6th grade. The one left me off her b-day invite list and I was devastated. Long story short, they called me from the party and asked me to come. I did. I wish I’d been strong enough to say no but I wanted to go so I did. At every age, everyone just wants NOT to feel left out. Of COURSE it’s going to happen and MOST of us are going to deal with a hearbroken child. BUT, Stephanie, I wholeheartedly agree that the school does NOT have to SET UP the kind of situations that is DEFINITELY going to end badly for some. If it happens organically, fine. But, setting it up seems…I don’t know any other word but gross. Just leaves me with a bad feeling. Pre-school, to me, is the age, to give them a strong foundation of healthy (not entitled) self-esteem. Break them down later if it has to happen!

  16. Wow, this kid thing is so complicated, especially when you are trying to do it “right” (whatever that means).

    There are really two sides to this coin (probably more). One, what you teach your kids about the fact that you value being inclusive and you hope that they value it too. And two, how to handle it when they are not included. There will be plenty of times to teach your kids about rejection, just on the playground.

    My observation is that usually one girl is the ring leader. Good for you teaching those girls that they can speak up against the non-includer.

  17. I dont think I even saw an invitation til I was about 8, all that shiz was done discretely at pick up, but then you had all the stay at home Mum clique issues so noone ever wins. Think I’ll stick with cats.

  18. Maybe I missed it, but what is a gelt?

    My son is in Pre-K, and his school requires you invite and include every classmate. If this is not possible, they ask you contact the individuals OUTSIDE the classroom, which I think is fair.

    1. Author

      Gelt is a term for money. For Hanukkah children often receive chocolate gelt (those foil-wrapped chocolate coins), and they can use the gelt to play with the dreidel (a four-sided spinning top, gambling game). Yes, we get ’em gambling early, setting them up for mahjong later in life.

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