Today I’m going to be doing one of my serious, touching posts. So, if you are feeling sentimental or not wanting to deal with anything heavy, you may want to walk on by. But, if you feel like reading something a little touching, something that will make you appreciate life and make your eyes mist a little, then this is the post for you on Christmas Eve.
My daughter teaches in an inner city elementary school that is very poor, the school is in danger of closing due to poor performance, and most of the kids in her fifth-grade room come from homes that have poverty level income, abuse, drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and many other issues. Almost every single child has had a sibling, parent, aunt/uncle, or cousin who has been shot in their presence. Many suffer from disabilities–emotional, learning, or disabilities from drug-addicted moms. It’s a difficult school at best– more like a war zone. It is very common for ambulances to bring out children or teachers injured by an eight or ten-year-old child
My daughter runs toward danger– when there is blood on the floor from a third grader hurting a teacher, she flies into the room, after locking her students in their room, and tries to rescue the smaller kids from the room while she screams for security to rescue the teacher. It’s difficult knowing she goes to this school every day….worrisome at best, terrifying at worst.
She has the class calling me Grandma–it started as a joke…but they love it. So, like a good grandma, I bought stocking stuffers for everyone and a hardcover illustrated Harry Potter book for the classroom.
This is where the sad part starts (fair warning:)
She’s been teaching them for the past couple weeks about gifts from the heart. Color a picture. Cut out a picture from a magazine that reminds you of a person, telling them how it makes you happy. Mold clay into a sculpture. Make a card. Write a story or poem.
A child in her room has been homeless for a couple months now– they move from shelter-to-shelter and are talking about moving out of State. He asked why Christmas music has been playing so much this week….he didn’t know that Christmas Eve was Saturday. He said, “Oh, if Christmas Eve is Saturday, then that means my birthday is Sunday.” He became quiet, looking far away.
They each received a lunch bag full of candy, bubblegum, chocolate Santas, Lifesavers, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, candy canes, etc. This same homeless little boy came up to me and said, “I’m going to make my bag last for days, so I can think about Christmas for a long time.”
We take these little candies for granted, don’t even give them a thought. My kids and hundreds of thousands of others on Christmas day will toss them aside as trivial. Not this boy…they’re a treasure.
Later, he said, “My mom loves Reeses, so I traded my candy canes and marshmallow Santa for their Reeses. This way my mom can have a piece of candy every day too.” I’m crying (again) writing this. It touched me so to see how hard he worked to give his mom those little candies– the candies I tossed in thinking no one would even care. Five little cups for each child.
I told him, “Your mom is the luckiest woman in the world to have you….you’re such a good boy.” He beamed and said quietly, “I love her so much.”
Yes. Yes, he does. To sacrifice his candies so his mom could have a peanut butter cup every day…he’ll grow up to be an amazing man.
There’s a little girl in third grade. I’ll call her Lilly. She’s very difficult, running with blood-curdling screams up and down the hallway most days. I’ve met her before on other visits–she’s said to me, “I love your daughter. She gives good hugs and loves me. No one loves me like she does…and I bet you give good hugs too. I bet you taught her…can I have one?” To me–as a visitor–she was sooooo sweet, but I guess she gives people hell most days, this tiny, skinny little girl is troubled–deeply.
I had made six extra bags of treats because she has kids that come to sit in her room. They like the classical music she plays, the Christmas lights on the walls, and the fact that she has firm, hard limits in her room – -you behave or you can’t be there — it is orderly and quiet in there. So I knew she’d have children who would want a prize bag too.
Lilly came skipping into the room, hugging me tightly and thrust a paper under my nose. “Look!” It was a behavior chart. She had three stars for the day. “I’m being a good girl so I can get a Grandma bag too.” By the end of the day, my daughter said to her (when she came to visit for the eleventy millionth time) “Go show Grandma your chart.” Stars for the whole day and a positive call home!! I gave her a hug and handed her a bag. She smiled, digging into it and then she looked at me bashfully. “Can…Can I have another bag?” My daughter knew and looking over her shoulder to be sure no one was listening, she whispered to Lilly, “Is it so you can give it to your brother?” Lilly nodded and said to me, “He’ll be sad. I want him to be happy too.” I swear I couldn’t give her the bag fast enough. She hugged me. “Bye Grandma! Merry Christmas!” She skipped out of the room with a warning from my daughter to “Keep it hidden in your bookbag and don’t tell anyone that you have those. And if someone steals them, we’ll figure something out.” ::::Sigh::::::
Children in the suburbs don’t react this way. I know this– I lived in poverty as a child and saw it many days when I worked for the local food shelf as an adult too. Children who are hungry and poor worry about their family members. Little things like getting a candy cane means your sister or brother will be crying because they don’t have one too and there is no way to get them one either. You’re beholden to the mercy and kindness of others. If they gave you a treat, you ask with your heart in your throat, hoping they will give one to your sibling. I remember worrying that I had to get one for my sister. She meant everything to me and I wanted her to be happy too.
My daughter had bought each child a chapter book for Christmas. It was the world to these kids. I heard several times today, “No one has ever bought us a present at school. I’ve never had a book to call my own.” They sat expectantly, clapping their hands, bouncing on their knees, waiting with barely contained excitement to pick out a book when their name was called. They each grabbed a pillow, curling up on the carpet with classical Christmas music playing in the background to read their new books. No one grumbled. No one rolled their eyes. No one said, “That’s it? We only get a book?”
These children were enthralled and proud to have a chapter book that belonged to them…only them.
My last story of the day. This sweet, quiet little boy came up to me, telling me that I reminded him of his Grandma (I’m still not sure I like being called this lolol but it’s growing on me) and he asked, “Do you like gingerbread?” I said, “Oh absolutely.” He smiled and shoved a frosted and decorated gingerbread on a plate toward me. They had decorated these an hour earlier with the crisis intervention people who come to room daily to help them with the severe issues in their homes. :::sigh::: I said, “Oh no! That’s yours, sweetie.” He looked at me so solemnly. “That gingerbread is me, and I’m giving myself to you. I want you to have part of me.” I couldn’t hide my tears that time. I just let them fall, grabbing him and hugging him. “I’d love to have your gingerbread man.”
So selfless, so kind. I walked away from this day, realizing for the first time a few years (since the food shelf) that we make Christmas so complex, so difficult, so tedious….and why?
When you’re financially lacking, it strips away the complexities of Christmas. The gifts are simple but heartfelt…A Reeses every day for your mom, a gingerbread man that represents yourself, a drawing with a purple crayon, a story to make someone smile, a bag of treats for your brother, a cup of cocoa mix.
Today I was reminded that we need to make Christmas Simple…