Alicia was my first experience in real Christmas giving, the kind that involved the whole family and money. One hundred dollars- a fortune for a preschool teacher back in the late 80’s. It was a Christmas gift that changed my family. They didn’t know Alicia, although I often talked about the children in my preschool class.
Alicia came into my class with issues; she had spent much of her first year of life in a baby seat. Her mother had special needs and never knew that holding a baby, talking with a child, and letting a baby play on the floor were important to a child’s growth. Never mind reading-aloud or playing with toys- those activities were far away from Alicia’s world.
Her mom had a big heart. She really wanted to do what was best for her child. I spent as much time helping her as I did loving and teaching Alicia. I remember one of our first times together. My class was learning about the Olympics (it must have been an Olympic year), making medals and ribbons, torches, and doing some Olympic running and jumping events. Mom was so proud to tell me that she participated in the Special Olympics when she was a girl. She actually met Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder, and brought old photos to school to show all the children.
Alicia loved school. She was growing and learning. Her classmates helped her to do little things, like put on her coat or find her shoes. Christmas was rolling around and children were talking about Santa Claus and what they hoped he would bring. Alicia wanted a doll and a baby carriage. I often told parents on the sly what their children wanted. I felt like Santa’s Helper.
I told Alicia’s mother about the doll and the carriage. She was uncomfortable and she had to tell me that there was little money for Christmas, and Alicia’s dreams were out of the question. That was that. And, please don’t encourage those ideas. I understood; I was having a hard time that year figuring out Christmas for our children. My husband was in between jobs, and my small paycheck had to go for necessities.
My head absolutely understood, but my heart kept creeping in, like a tiny mouse finding his way out of the cold. That night at dinner I called a meeting with the family. Family dinners were an important time together every evening. I told them about Alicia’s Christmas, or lack of Santa Claus. Our children were in elementary school, barely out of the believing years themselves.
“If you give up most of your Santa Clause toys this year, then Alicia can have a Christmas. You will still get toys, but it won’t be much.”
I never imagined asking my own young children to do such a thing. And, I never imagined that they would say “yes.” To make this fun, we all went shopping together for the doll and carriage. We decided to invite Alicia and her mom over on Christmas day, then we would surprise her with the toys. My children thought we should tell Alicia that Santa dropped off the toys at our house by mistake. Everyone loved that idea. It was all arranged.
On Christmas morning, my children were delighted with their slightly sparse gifts. It wasn’t so bad. They knew that the best was yet to come, and it did! Alicia and her mom arrived. We drank cocoa and ate cookies together. On a cue, perhaps it was a wink or a nod, we told Alicia that Santa Clause had mistakenly delivered her toys to our house.
Then we watched Alicia open the doll. She had no words, and neither did we. She lovingly stroked her hair and hugged her. She rocked her back and forth. My children fought back tears. Somehow they understood, this is as good as it gets. I’m sure I told them a million times that it is better to give than to receive. At last they knew. That act of giving was fundamental in shaping their character. Their hearts grew at least three times. And Alicia? She thrived in my classroom and got some extra TLC from Jennie. She saw me recently, threw her arms around me, and had the same smile she wore when she opened her doll.