Christmas wish teaches holiday spirit

  • Published
  • By Paula Spooner
  • 81st Medical Operations Squadron
My young grandchildren recently visited for the weekend. Hoping to gather gift ideas, I suggested they spend some time putting together a Christmas "wish list."

As we huddled cozily under a throw on the couch, I listened as they took turns sharing their hearts' desires. Six year old Lucas, who still firmly believes in Santa Claus, listed everything from Legos to a child-size porkpie hat. Liliah, age 8, campaigned for a much-coveted new doll - one of those realistic collectibles that "breathes," sports authentic human hair and features a tiny heartbeat. As she described her dream doll, the excitement shining in her eyes suddenly transported me back to a night many years before, a time when her own mother taught me a lesson.

It was Christmas Eve, 1991. Exhausted, I had somehow gotten my overly-excited 4-year-old son to sleep and was finally perched on the edge of my 5-year-old daughter's bed, kissing her good night. She said her prayers and I switched off her bedside lamp. Just as I was pulling the door closed (and thinking, "Home free!") I heard a small voice say, "Mama?"

"Yes, Samantha?"

"I have a secret!"

Now, I had new toys waiting to be assembled, but as a therapist, I knew a statement such as this had to be explored. So I turned around. The following exchange, while not 100 percent accurate (given the lapse of more than 20 years), is close enough:
"What's your secret? Is everything okay, sweetie?"

"Yes, but... (excited giggle) Santa is bringing me a super-special present!"

"Oh? Well, we've talked about the things Santa could - "

"NO! You and Daddy don't know about this - only Santa knows about it. Well, Santa and God. And I KNOW I'm going to get it, 'cause Santa promised, and I've prayed and prayed!" As she declared this, her voice was determined.

Now this had me a little worried. She really hadn't asked for anything special that year and we had congratulated ourselves on getting off so easy. I recalled the department store Santa we had visited at the mall and wondered exactly what they had discussed during their brief exchange.

So right then Samantha and I struck a deal: since Santa was already "on his way," it would be okay for her to tell me what this special present was. Leaning toward me, she glanced at the window, and conspiratorially whispered with shining eyes, "It's a 'Puppy Surprise'!"

My heart sank. No. This couldn't be happening. Puppy and Kitty Surprises were one of the hottest toys this holiday season. Pregnant critters with bulging tummies that opened by Velcro, each arrived with anywhere from three to five babies stuffed inside. My daughter was quite the little caregiver, but she'd never said a word about wanting one herself. There was absolutely no way we would be able to locate one for her at this late hour. In an attempt to do pre-damage control I said all the expected things -Santa has a lot of little children to deliver toys to so there could easily be a shortage, that even Santa can occasionally mix-up gifts so it might take a few days after Christmas to sort things out, and that we must always appreciate what we do receive.

With exaggerated patience, she placed her small hand on mine, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, "Mama, just wait and see. I know Santa will bring it to me. I know!" And with that she plopped down and closed her eyes.

Downstairs I paced, relating this unsettling exchange to my husband. Voicing the arguments that were already being waged in my own mind, he pointed out the dismal chances of locating one at 9 p.m., on Christmas Eve. I sadly agreed and in silence we slowly began to assemble toys. Suddenly, after about 20 minutes I stood and grabbed my purse. I simply had to try.

So there I was, on Christmas Eve, battling it out in the toy departments with all the other crazed parents. I hit Toys R Us, K Mart, Meijer and Walmart. No luck. I dreaded the next morning: a 5-year-old who had asked for nothing from her parents but possessed a firm belief that Santa and God would provide, facing the reality that her faith was simply not enough to make it reality. I wanted to cry.

Heading home, I decided to drive a few miles out of my way to check a newly- opened Target, arriving minutes before they closed. As I perused the empty shelves, it was clear that I wasn't going to be successful there, either. I was just leaving the toy department when a clerk asked if she could help me.
When she heard the name of the toy, she shook her head, stating that they had sold the last one many hours earlier. Just then another clerk popped his head around the corner, and said, "Hey, I'm not sure, but I think I saw one of those in customer service." He led the way to the front of the store, pointed, and there, at the bottom of a teetering stack of returned items, was a badly dented box containing a "Puppy Surprise."

The next morning, Samantha dropped to her knees at the sight of her round- bellied "Puppy Surprise" lounging under the Christmas tree. Giggling, she scooped it up and hugged it tightly, then reached down to count the puppies. Six! Unheard of! She immediately named them all and at one point I overheard her murmuring to the mama, "I just knew you'd be under the tree."

That evening she climbed on my lap, and gently took my face between her little hands. Locking eyes with me, she asked, "Didn't I tell you, Mommy? Didn't I promise that Santa would bring me my special present?"

Faith. Defined as "confidence or trust in a person or thing, a belief that is not based on proof," my little girl taught me some lessons about faith that year. She showed me that we are healthier and happier when we believe without reservation in something larger than ourselves, that when the people we love believe in our capabilities it empowers us in ways that can change the world, that the world is truly a mysterious place and that when we believe the impossible can happen, well - it just very well might.

So go ahead, choose to believe in what you cannot prove. See how many anonymous kindnesses and favors you can bestow upon others without being caught. And rediscover the joy in experiencing the holiday from a child's perspective. No matter how old you are, it's never, ever too late.