It was Christmas Eve. Todd crawled into bed, fully clothed, too exhausted to peel off even his socks. He had spent the day scouring the shelves for gifts for his son. Every store had just the wrong things, and the prices weren’t right either.
Todd finally surrendered to several boxes of off-brand Legos, knowing his son would be disappointed, maybe even insulted by them. It was better than the off-brand Barbies, at least.
He was deep in thought about the fortunate folks who had purchased and wrapped their presents weeks in advance, jealousy and resentment filling his heart—when he got a flat tire on the interstate.
Great. Just what this day needed to feel merry and bright. Another $500 out the window to get new tires. His body ached as he struggled to put on the spare in the cold. His body was working against him—another flare-up had kept him in bed during the shopping season and it was only through sheer determination to keep Christmas alive for his son that he was kneeling on the icy road now.
His mother would be dropping the boy off soon for his annual visitation. Todd wished he could spend more time with his son, but his health was waning and it was all he could do just to take care of himself. The annual Christmas visit had become the one day worth living the rest for.
The sun was starting to fade as he pulled into the driveway. He didn’t have any wrapping paper or tape—his last thoughts as he summoned all his energy to get inside and into bed.
The doorbell rang.
Todd rubbed his eyes, disoriented, unsure of the time—or day.
As he rolled out of bed and walked to the front door, he noticed his son asleep on the couch. He had no recollection of the boy getting dropped off, but was relieved he was there. And thankful for his ex who must have tucked their son in, trusting Todd would be able to parent by morning.
There were two clean-cut, smiling young men at the door, too happy for a 6 AM visit. They better not be selling anything, Todd thought as he pushed a hand through his hair and opened the door.
“Merry Christmas, sir! We have been walking through the neighborhood offering our assistance. Is there anything we can do to help make your Christmas special?” they pitched.
Todd recognized they were LDS missionaries based on how they were dressed; their nametags confirmed it. He considered closing the door and crawling back in bed for a few more precious minutes of sleep. Then he remembered the gifts in his truck—still unwrapped.
“Dad?” a small voice called out. The boy was awake. It was Christmas. Nothing was ready.
Shame and frustration welled up as Todd fought to stay calm. One holiday a year and he was messing it up. Todd looked at the missionaries. He knew they could be helpful; Todd grew up in the church, only turning away a decade ago when his health became his number one focus. An idol, perhaps.
“Guys, I do need your help,” Todd whispered, “My son is waking up and I haven’t wrapped his presents. They’re in the back of my truck. It’s open.”
The two men smiled and replied, “Go make breakfast for your son. We will take care of the rest!”
Todd looked up to the sky and muttered, “I hope that works,” and turned back inside to find something worth eating.
As his son grinned, excited to see him, Todd’s fears and short-comings faded. They would get through this day. It would be ok. They found some pancake mix and cookie cutters in the cupboard, and proceeded to make a Christmas-themed breakfast. Nothing Martha Stewart would approve of, but they were laughing and munching as if Santa was their chef.
The doorbell rang.
Before Todd could stop him, his son ran to the front door and yanked it open.
No one was there.
“Dad? We got a letter from Santa! Read it to me!!” a red envelope in his hands, a look of marvel on his face.
Todd reached for the envelope, confused about where his helpers went with the presents.
“I couldn’t find your chimney or your tree so I had to bury your gifts outside. I know how much you like adventures! Use this map and a shovel to find your presents! Merry Christmas! Love Santa.”
The boy grabbed the letter from Todd’s hands and studied the hand-drawn map. He grabbed the shovel on the porch and started counting paces, intent on finding Christmas.
Todd, skeptical, grabbed their coats and prepared himself for any number of ways this could end.
“I think I found something, dad!!”
Sure enough, with magic in his eyes the boy unearthed a gift. The off-brand toy suddenly very special.
Glee overtaking him, the little boy whooped and yelled as he ran from spot to spot in the yard, digging up toy after toy. Todd finally let himself smile, warmth filling that scared spot in his heart.
“Son, this is great! Let’s go inside now and play with your new toys!” Todd was getting cold and had counted that all the gifts has been uncovered.
“There’s one more X, Dad! Hold on! I think I found it! I think it’s for you!”
Todd’s son ran to him, holding another envelope, “It says ‘For your dad’!”
He opened the envelope and couldn’t believe what was inside. Five crisp one hundred dollar bills and a note that said, “Your heavenly father wants to spend every day of the year with you, too—but he will settle for just today.”
Tears welled up in Todd’s eyes as he and his son carried the gifts inside. He loved the idea of a God intent on being with him, even if just for a moment. He understood the pain a dad would endure to be with his son. He knew he was not alone in his struggle.
A week later Todd called the local LDS church, wanting to thank them for their generosity. He was connected to the Mission President.
“Thank you for sending those missionaries out to my house on Christmas day. I think their names were Mike and Gabe. They really made Christmas for me and my son. The $500. Wow. Thank you,” Todd blurted, the memory still giving him strength.
“We do appreciate these kinds of reports, but I think there’s been some sort of mistake. We do have a team named Mike and Gabe, but they flew home to Alaska on Christmas Eve. I took them to the airport myself. And they definitely didn’t have $500 to spare! I really want to hear more about the two angels who showed up on your doorstep on Christmas.”
Todd and the Mission President got acquainted, talking about the miracles that occur every day, but seem so obvious on Christmas. They laughed and cried for a long time. Todd realized again that he wasn’t alone. He had been given a friend and a support network by those mysterious visitors. He would be able to get through another year.
Story by Angela. This story may be shared around your Christmas Tree during the holidays. Read it out loud, and tell me how it went!
As you're finishing off the last of the turkey sandwiches and the kids are looking for things to do, it's time for the Grand Opening of Santa's Workshop.
Every year around Thanksgiving, as I'm cleaning in preparation for guests, I make a pile of gently used and unused items around the house. Things I neglected to return or little trinkets that just never found a place in our home. I also throw in some interesting items from the recycling bin and various art projects that came home from school. And finally, I select some special papers, stickers and ribbon from the craft closet.
SOME of the ITEMS IN THE WORKSHOP THIS YEAR:
partial packs of post-it notes
pieces of a music kit
purple cloth bags that new shoes were packed in
pecans collected from our yard
really cool canisters and jars
partial deck of animal-themed Go Fish playing cards
small 3-ring binder and plastic pockets
Next, I make the announcement that Santa's Workshop is almost open. I allow a quick peak at the items in the workshop, and then--first, we have to brainstorm a list of people we want to give gifts to this Christmas. Most kids want to give gifts to EVERYone (that guy walking down the street right now!). We review some basic social rules on who it is appropriate to give gifts to, and then we set aside a basket for "EVERYone" gifts.
GENERAL CRITERIA FOR APPROPRIATE GIFT-GIVING:
people you see almost every day, and you greet by name (teachers, neighbors)
people who have made a profound impact on you (church friends, postal worker, librarian)
very close friends
people who will be giving a gift to YOU!
This list may be different in your child's eyes than yours. Try to be flexible! :) There is no wrong person to give a gift to, but you can explain how "our culture" works and how sometimes people feel awkward when they receive a gift they weren't expecting from someone they don't know. That said, random gifts can be the most powerful of all, so be prepared for some random gift recipients on your child's list!
With the list in hand, take your child through Santa's Workshop (this can be a simple pile in a closet, or a spread across a large table).
The one RULE FOR THE WORKSHOP:
You can use ANYTHING in Santa's Workshop for making gifts, but show it to mom or dad first and tell them what you have planned for it.
(This way you can guide your child through a hot gluing project or steer them away from a potential disaster. You can also quiz your child to make sure they're making a gift that is appropriate for the person on the list!)
Ask your child who's up first on the list.
Then interview your child, "What does your teacher like? What does she not like? What kinds of problems does she have during the day at school? What do you think she does for fun?"
From this interview, my daughter came up with a special finger cymbal set that her teacher could use to get the class to quiet down. Thoughtful and appropriate!
The best gifts are the ones that demonstrate you care about and notice the recipient!
Try to back off and let your child create and experiment.
Once the gift is ready it should be wrapped and tagged and set aside. Children have a tendency to go back and put more finishing touches on their creations; which can lead to disaster. With a long list ahead of your child, there won't be time for perfection! Focus on completion, as this is a big task!
Your child's artwork makes EXCELLENT wrapping paper.
We are using cards from the partial deck of playing cards for gift tags!
Show your child how fun it is to check people off the list as each gift is completed. Help your child budget their time and resources--and get items in the mail on time!
Feel free to purchase items needed to complete any gift ideas. Santa's Workshop is a starting point for inspiration!
You cleared some clutter
You gave your kids a positive, creative activity
You empowered your kids to participate in giving
You taught your kids time and project management skills
You taught your kids about empathy, perception and intuition
AND--you ensured a good giggle or teary eye on Christmas morning when you realize that your child put their heart and soul into turning a recyclable into a piece of jewelry to match your favorite outfit.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas!!
Angela's Musings about Public Education, Web Design, Business.