I believe in Santa. He laughs — he’s jolly and dresses in red and he brings presents and candy and joy. He brings presents to the deserving. Often, even when there seems no way for presents to arrive, Santa still comes through. Story after story in American lore tells of the deserving, for whom Santa found a way to give them their heart’s desire.
My nephew’s heart’s desire is Christmas for his three young children: his two-year-old son, and his four-year-old and six-year-old daughters. He has custody of them now — a long sad Oklahoma story. And the four of them live w/ his mother, my sister.
My nephew is a veteran, who at times made some not-so-great choices. But for the past many months, he’s been working hard to put his life — and the lives of three wonderful, smart, amazing children — back together. All of us in the extended family are trying to help, but the hard work falls mainly on him, and then my sister.
He’s gone back to school, enrolled in parenting classes, and is in counseling for his PTSD. Someone at either the parenting classes or his counseling at the VA suggested he sign up for Christmas assistance, since he’s using his VA benefits to finance a very meagre income. My nephew demurred, saying that his family was helping, and the 3 kids would have a decent Christmas.
The people at the centre said something we should all remember: it isn’t always about us. Sometimes, it’s about helping people see that what they do — the sacrifices he’s making, the hard work he’s putting in to his new life — is appreciated. And that others want to help affirm that hard work.
Last night, as I pulled up to my sister’s brightly lit apartment (she does Christmas in a BIG way!), she asked me to come in. She wanted to show me their presents. Puzzled, I agreed.
Inside the small apartment living room were 70 (count them: 70) presents. A chest-high pile for daughter #1. A chest-high pile for daughter #2. A chest-high pile for my grand-nephew. And clothes for my nephew, as well as ‘house presents': pots & pans, cleaning utensils for the place he’s trying to move into.
“Oh honey! This makes me tear up!” I said with a choke.
“I’m not ashamed,” he said — “I flat cried, myself.”
A company took my nephew and his three children to sponsor. And they bought gift after gift for him, his new household, the kids. Each one beautifully hand-wrapped, complete w/ bows and tags — left blank, so his children would not need to know he didn’t buy these himself. He could say Santa brought them, and the kids wouldn’t know.
But I know. And his mother knows. And he knows. And the people who bought a single-parent family with three small children SEVENTY GIFTS — each carefully wrapped and ribboned and tagged — know. And all of us are the better for that knowledge.