Christmas is my absolute, number one, four hundred percent, most favorite time of year, hands down, no matter what, always and forever.
That being said, I tend to overdo it at Christmas time. I stress out about finding the perfect gifts for everyone on my list. I lose sleep over the Christmas tree and decorations. Nothing is ever big enough, pretty enough, simple enough or perfect for "Christmas." Toss in the whole "baby's first Christmas" this year, and you can imagine the amount of holiday hoopla I've designated for myself. Leave it to a couple of fourth graders to remind me what this whole season is about.
I've mentioned before that I have some very challenging students. (I'll change names here, out of respect for my class.) My kids come from the urban "hollers:" all of the little nooks and crannies of poverty and neediness. None of them can afford their own lunch at school. A few of them don't know where they're going to spend the night each night. And all of them have some pretty deep and lasting emotional issues. But every once in a while, I see a glimmer of hope in these kids, and that glimmer of hope has nothing to do with me, or with school, or with any adult. That glimmer of hope has everything to do with the innocence and kindness that are inherent and easy for a child - for nothing more than the fact that they are children.
Connor is a sweet girl who has some incredible social and behavioral issues. She has no idea how to express herself or control herself in a classroom setting. By this time of the year, she is getting on everyone's last ever-loving nerve! I can't find any students who want to work with her in a group. I can't find any adults who have good advice about what to do with her. She is, in every sense of the word, a conundrum.
Alexis is a smart, sweet and delightful student. When adults aren't looking, she tends to get a little bossy and likes to start all kinds of "girl trouble," but for the most part, she doesn't present many problems. She does, however, get very easily frustrated with Connor, and that's why I've had to separate them for the last couple of weeks. Alexis has no tolerance for people who don't know what they're doing. She has no tolerance for students who don't know how to get good work done. Overall, she's a delightful student, but she can lose her temper at times.
This morning, in the hustle of our daily morning routine, I barely noticed when Connor came up to me and asked, "Mrs. Fasciotto, can I open my Christmas present from Alexis?" My first reaction: a what present? I noticed a small package sloppily wrapped in candy cane wrapping paper. On the top was an index card that said, "To: Connor, From: Alexis." My next reaction: Sure, fine, whatever, just leave me alone.
I finished checking the agendas of the students at my table and looked up to find my entire class huddled around Connor's desk. No one was fighting to see. No one was shoving anyone else. No one was even talking to another student. Everyone was waiting with bated breath to see what Alexis had given to Connor. Was this a joke? Was it going to be something silly or stupid? What on earth was going on? Why did she bring a gift to school on December 10th? Who does she think she is? I stood back and watched.
Connor tore away the wrapping paper to find a small, pink Disney princess purse. I winced because I knew that the other kids thought this was a "baby" toy. No one said a word. Connor opened the purse to find a few plastic rings, a pencil, two silly bands and a one dollar bill. You would have thought this child had just dug up a hidden treasure. Her face lit up like I'd never seen it light up before. The little girl smiled. She never smiles. She doesn't like to talk to people, or touch people, but she looked at Alexis and gave her a giant bear hug. Two girls, who I thought hated each other...oil and water...were hugging in my classroom. I couldn't believe my eyes.
The other students patted Connor on the back and said, "Wow, what a great present!" Even though it was probably from Goodwill and they would probably have laughed if they had received it themselves.
They patted Alexis on the back and said, "Wow, that was really nice of you! Connor loves it!" And then they went about their day.
I stood in the corner of my classroom and held back tears while I realized the importance of this tiny gift. It was thoughtful - no one else would have wanted it. It was meaningful - a gift for someone who is NOT your best friend, a gift for the person who has no friends in the classroom. I know that the rest of the students had no idea how important it was; I don't even think Alexis knew how important it was, but I knew it and my heart exploded.
At recess I asked Alexis what made her think to give Connor such a sweet gift. Here's what she said, word for word...
"Well, I know that a lot of people make fun of her. And I know it must be hard for her to go through that every day. So I thought I'd give her something to make her feel better."
What can a teacher say???? I gave Alexis a giant hug and said, "That was really sweet. I'm really proud of you for recognizing what Connor needs." Then I let her go and told her to go play with the rest of the class.
I know it sounds sappy, but we're outside at noon, and we always hear the nearby church bells ringing in the middle of our recess. I closed my eyes and listened to the church bells playing some Christmas tune. As I watched Alexis run away to play with the rest of my class, I thought to myself, "There it is. Christmas in a nutshell." It's not fancy or expensive. It's not wrapped in ribbons or covered in glitter. It's just a child. Being sweet and kind and innocent. And giving where no one else would think to give.