Many enjoy doing for others during the Christmas season. People, I hear, find certain amount of satisfaction, even joy in this sort of altruism. Not me. Oh, my intentions are always honorable. But I inevitably end up making as ass out of myself and force those I’m trying to help to comfort me in some way.
Most years my church ladies group adopts a family for Christmas. The family is usually referred by a local school counselor and is in desperate need of basics. It’s a perfect group for an adoptive family. There are twenty plus ladies in all ages and economic levels. So there are people who would be delighted to buy a gaming system if that’s the child’s dream. Those who need to do something like clothes or a grocery gift card can do that.
The year I coordinated the gifts, I forbade all gift bags. Why? Because kids hate gift bags. If the only present you get all year long is in a gift bag, what a letdown! Especially if the gift is clothes. The child is robbed of the ecstasy of ripping open the paper and box. I stopped short of insisting we have coordinating paper and bows. But I let it be known what my preference was. I haven’t been asked to coordinate this since. Imagine that.
When I shop for gifts, I end up with hives and tears. I want the gifts to be perfect. I worry about size, color, Spiderman vs. Batman, Hello Kitty vs. Disney Princesses. I chose something and then put it back. I second guess and the second guess my second guess. I worry that it’s too much, that it’s not enough, that I’m not a cheerful enough giver, that the child will be utterly and completely disappointed and will cry on Christmas morning.
Since last year my church group gave gift cards to a mission in Washington, I decided to participate in Operation Shoebox as well. Only gifts that fit in a shoebox. Then Samaritan’s Purse will get it to a child in the third world. Fun and seemingly stress free.
I decided to prepare two boxes, one for a boy each of my son’s ages. What could be simpler? I didn’t take my boys with me to do the shopping because explaining this to Bruce would be impossible. I can hear the endless list of questions, “Where’s the third world, why don’t they have food, why doesn’t Santa just bring them something, why don’t they just move, how do they find the kids, what type of plane will deliver the presents, will they drop them from the plane by tiny parachutes?” Explaining to Reed why he couldn’t keep the gifts would prove equally problematic.
I grew up in the “Band Aid” and “We are the World” generation. You see, the third world is hot. It’s populated by starving black children wearing tatters while standing in line to receive a cup of water and bowl of rice from UNICEFF. That’s it. I can’t envisage another scenario. Although the literature from Samaritan’s Purse suggests differently – the third world is hot, drought stricken and run by tyrants who feed on corruption fueled by trafficking illegal drugs. That’s it!
Shopping at Target, I began to have doubts about my previous supposition. Perhaps Samaritan’s Purse knows a thing or two. Cue the panic attack. I wanted each boy to have a super hero t-shirt. Boys are taught in the womb to love Spiderman, etc. But what if my box when to a colder climate? What if I should have included a long sleeved over a short sleeved? I knew my boxes would go to brothers (they didn’t, in fact). I wanted to ensure that little brother was getting gifts similar enough to big brother’s. Nothing pisses little brothers off quicker than when big brother gets a present that he wants but isn’t quite old enough for yet.
I fretted over colored pencils over crayons. I picture the crayons melting in transit under the heat of the third would sub-Saharan sun.
Toys dealing with war are not permitted. OK, fair enough. But Spiderman and Batman vanquish their share of bad guys. Captain America’s first enemy was Hitler after all. Did I have a Captain American item? What if cartoon characters are too warlike?
I made it to checkout, shaken, red blotches induced by stress marked my neck and I had tears in my eyes. The checker remarked what great gifts these would be but no way all that would fit in two shoe boxes. One hundred and sixty dollars later, I’m at home packing and repacking the boxes, tears running down my face. Husband looking at me like the fool I was.
This year will be different – maybe…
The family we adopted with the ladies group has fallen on hard times. But this is temporary. I have every assurance that this time next year they will be in a better place. So I’m confident that my gift probably won’t be the sole gift this child receives. I’m buying clothing for a 3 year old little girl. I’m going to go to Kohl’s and go crazy in the pink section and include the gift receipt. I intend on buy all colors girls like – pink and hot pink, Oh, and sometimes purple.
On Friday, I’m also going to feed the homeless. Our church participates in a great program called Family Promise. The Cadles will provide the evening meal on the Friday after thanksgiving to seven children and adults. Cue the PRESSURE!
First, good Christians from the South can provide some great food! I’d wager families in this program probably gain weight. I just want my food to measure up!
Secondly, we’re going to give them a fried turkey. I hope it turns out. If you've fried a turkey you know that this can quickly go south.
Thirdly, kids don’t really like Thanksgiving food. I don’t know many who like dressing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. I’m Googling kid friendly recipes for these guys.
I want to give them my best and I hope it is good enough. Here’s to doing it without tears and hives. Maybe I’ll find the joy this year.
If I do find joy this year, then I will have more energy to devote to averting the gaze of the Salvation Army ringers because I have no more change!