Great Futures: Gifts Under the Tree
By: Bobby Walker, Jr.
If you have ever been blessed to work with children, you know that their innocence can teach adults so much about the world and how to live life to its fullest.The holiday season reminds me of a life-lesson that an 11-year-old taught me years ago.
As a former school administrator, I was frequently part of conversations to help the school better understand what a child was going through. From conversations with a child’s parents, to educational evaluators and even mental health specialists, this information helped us personalize our academic and emotional support for each child.
The school had been in contact with the parents of a girl named Samantha, whose father had unfortunately lost his job. Although the family was able to bear the brunt of his loss of income early on, there were signs that they were on the verge of economic hardship. Samantha’s stay-at-home mother looked to return to the workforce while her father actively sought new employment. Neither one had much success finding a job for several months. Knowing the holidays were rapidly approaching, Samantha’s parents worried they would not be able to provide a “happy” Christmas for Samantha and her younger sister. The concern was not only a lack of gifts to open on Christmas day, but they worried that upon returning to school, Samantha would have to deal with everyone discussing their expensive gifts and holiday trips.
Her mother asked me if I could get a sense of Samantha’s mood as we neared the holidays and looked for advice on how the family should tell the girls that there may not be gifts for Christmas. Like I usually do, I encouraged the parents to have an open, honest discussion with their girls. While children can be easily disappointed, they are also amazingly forgiving and understanding, too.
As fate would have it, I saw Samantha in Study Hall one afternoon. The homework load was a bit lighter for the 5th graders as holiday break approached. Head down, she was busy with what looked like a massive art project. She was making Christmas cards, bracelets and drawings. She was feverishly working to complete her projects before the period ended. When I asked her what she was working on, she innocently said, “Not now, Mr. Walker. I want to finish these gifts for my family before the period ends.” I gave her some space as she requested, but when the period ended, I asked Samantha to stay behind to speak to me.
“Sam, why are you making so many holiday gifts? I know you said they are for your family, but you have made so much.”
“Well, Mr. Walker, I know that Daddy is not working. We set up a tree a few weeks ago, and there are no gifts under it. He can’t really afford to give us anything this year. So, I decided that I would put gifts under the tree, so he doesn’t have to worry about anything. Besides, I know he is stressed by not working. Maybe this will help him and Mommy smile.”
While trying not to shed a tear in front of a student, I told Samantha that I was sure her parents (and her little sister) would really enjoy the gifts and that there would be smiles from everyone. I also told her how impressed I was that she, at her young age, was focusing on giving gifts and joy during the holidays, rather than receiving those same things. With a furrowed brow and a quizzical look on her face, Samantha said, “Why are you shocked, Mr. Walker? Don’t you know it is better to give than to receive? My parents always give me things. This is the least I can do for them.”
While we all look at commercials, peruse the sales papers and online ads, and create a gift wish list to give to family and friends, I am always reminded of Samantha’s lesson to me. The holiday season, ultimately, is about giving joy to others. In my current position, one of my favorite days of the year is our Member Holiday Party. At this event, Boys & Girls Club members do not receive presents. Instead, they choose from a selection of gifts to wrap and give to their loved ones. The pride shared at this celebration always reminds me of Samantha and brings a smile to my face.
Remember, a “gift” doesn’t have to cost anything. It just needs to come from the heart.