May 12, 2010
After being laid off from my job seven years ago, I was so worried about not being able to play Santa for my children, one of my greatest joys. I’d been fairly honest with my kids, letting them know money was extremely scarce. Initially, I wanted to protect them from the realities of living in a single parent, no income family, but what a gift my disclosure ended up being for all of us.
Just before Thanksgiving, our church hosted a family turkey feast and brought in handmade trinkets for a holiday shop called "Gifts from Around the World." Most of the one-of-a-kind items were made by the hands of women in third-world countries trying to provide for their own families. I learned I could drop off my children (and whatever amount of money I chose to give them) in the gift shop to do their own private Christmas shopping. The "elves" would help them choose and wrap appropriate gifts for me and/or other family members. About a week before the feast, I shared this information with my son (then 8) and my daughter (then 5) and they were so excited to shop for their baby sister and me.
The night of the dinner arrived and, after paying bills, I didn't have a dime to my name. On our way to church, I shared with my children that I didn't have the money to give them after all. They looked at each other and started crying quietly. I told them not to worry – that I absolutely cherished the pictures and “letters” they’d always made for me. I assured them I didn’t need a store-bought gift to know how much they loved me.
Their tears didn't stop until my son leaned over to his little sister and whispered in her ear. They excitedly begged me to "Please, please, pretty please, turn around and go back to the house" because they had forgotten something. I said we'd be late for the dinner, but they insisted. So, I turned around and drove home, watching them in my rearview mirror eagerly whispering to one another all the way. When I pulled into the driveway, they asked me to wait in the car while they ran into the house, giggling with excitement.
After about five minutes I got worried, so I took the baby into the house to find them. I grabbed the mail on the way inside and, as I was flipping through yet more bills, my children came running back out laughing and shouting that they were ready to leave. They each held in their hands a Ziploc baggie filled with every cent they had in their piggy banks. They were ecstatic, jumping up and down and chanting, "We can get you a present now, Mommy! Look at all the money we found!"
I didn't have the heart to tell them their mountains of pennies still may not be enough to buy anything in the church gift shop. I hadn't seen any prices, but I knew how beautiful the gifts were and I was so afraid they’d be disappointed again. So, I began digging through my own dresser drawers, coat pockets, purses, pencil holders, the junk drawer in the kitchen, under the sofa cushions – everywhere in our house I could think to look for loose change. And we kept finding more - a penny here, a dime there. We all squealed with joy when we came across the mother lode - a quarter!
I have no idea how much we ended up with, but when we’d turned the house inside out we stopped, looked at one another and laughed out loud the most blissful laughter we’d ever shared as a family. My children were so thrilled with our finds and I felt like the richest woman in the world, not because of the coins jingling in the plastic bags, but because of the richness and happiness we found in one another that day.
Both children were full of pride on Christmas Eve when they handed me their gifts. As I opened the beautifully handcrafted ornaments, we fondly recollected that day of digging for loose change. There are no words beautiful enough to describe the love I felt from and for my children at that moment.
As I hung each of their ornaments in prominent spots on our tree, I realized these items were more than just decorations. They were gifts from and to the heart -- made by struggling mothers in foreign countries and given to me by my wonderful children, who wanted nothing more than to show their own struggling Mommy their deep and profound love for her.