Gift of a Brother’s Heart

The wonder of the school Christmas Gift Shop never ceases to bring a tear to my eye the day after my kids have gone and selected presents for our family. Who knew a bunch of tables piled deep with future garage sale fodder from Oriental Trading Company could be the source of so much happiness for a mother? But it’s true. Somehow something magic has happened two years in a row the when I’ve gone to pick up my boys from school and they’ve taken a trip to the Little Elves Gift Shop.

This year, Luke went first and came back with a light up snowman nose for Noah and a tiny, pink stuffed animal for Grace. I told him I wanted to wait to open my gift. He tucked it carefully under the tree. Noah obviously put on an act to make Luke think he was very excited about his gift. I think he learned a lesson after last year’s nearly disastrous gift exchange.

In fact, I don’t think anything will ever beat last year’s gift shop conquests. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories ever. I feel it captures the essence of Christmas so well because the true spirit of the season is in giving, not receiving. We always forget that as we race around town to find those “perfect gifts” for everyone on our list. We don’t even realize, God has already given us the best gift of all. The other things are just extra. But it still makes us feel warm and happy to watch our loved ones marvel at what we hope will be just what they wanted. Still every once in a while, the gifts don’t go over exactly as we’d hoped.

This was the scene last December after the boys had done their shopping…

A red-nosed handful of us parents stood huddled in a line along the school sidewalk and watched our breath swirl in front of our faces as we waited for our kids to come bouncing out of the building. Finally, the double doors swung open and they poured out. All were carrying a plastic bag or two in addition to their usual backpacks, their eyes were wide with excitement.

Noah’s blue coat bounced closer and he was shouting, “Mommy! I bought you your Christmas present! I need you to open it now!” And a few of the other little ones were yelping similar sentiments to their parents.

I gently held Noah’s shoulders to calm him and started for the minivan; one of about fifteen other black minivans in the same row of cars. As we walked to the van, I remembered how excited I was to go shopping at the Secret Santa Workshop when I was Noah’s age. So I knew his excitement was bordering hysteria as he skipped spastically next to me.

“Mom! Mom! I got you something that starts with ‘R’ and ends with ‘ing!’”

I helped him into the van and set his backpack down. “Well don’t tell me yet!” I laughed. “I want to have something to open on Christmas morning.”

His face fell and he started immediately to cry, “MOM! You have to open it NOW! I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL CHRISTMAS!”

I tried my best to console him, but he was devastated. My compromise was that we wait until at least Daddy got home from work so that he and I could open our gifts together. He wasn’t happy about it, but agreed it was better than waiting until December 25. We drove around to get Luke on the other side of the school. He too, was holding a bag but Luke’s style is always more subdued.

“Hey, buddy!” I smiled at him as I buckled his seat belt. “Did you do some shopping today?”

“Yeah, Mom. I got you–”

“Don’t tell me yet. I want to open it on Christmas.”

“Okay,” he smiled sweetly.

“Mom! Mom! Can I give Luke and Grace their presents now?” Noah was not giving up.

“Ugh, Noah. Can’t you just wait?”

More tears threatened the corners of his eyes and his lip quivered. I couldn’t say no. His enthusiasm to give his gifts was breaking me down.

“Fine,” I smiled. He tore into his backpack like a maniac and revealed two paper bags stapled closed. He handed one to Luke and one to Grace. I unwrapped Gracie’s and handed her a baby rattle which she gladly took and started shaking. “Say thank you to Noah.” I said stroking her cheek.
“Tanks, Whowa,” she said sticking the rattle in her mouth.

Now all eyes were on Luke. “I hope you like it,” Noah beamed proudly as Luke carefully unwrapped his gift.

Luke pulled out a plastic egg filled with purple goo and a glow in the dark alien cushioned inside. I panicked when he dropped the egg to his lap in obvious disappointment and said, “It’s a girl color.”

Immediate wailing then tears ensued from Noah as he sobbed, “It was the last one! I wanted to get you green or blue but they didn’t have anymore. I thought you would like it.” My heart broke in two. He wanted so badly for Luke to love it and be as excited for him as he was to give the thoughtful gift.

“Luke! That was not nice! You have to say thank you for a gift even if it’s not exactly what you thought it would be. Tell your brother you’re sorry!”

“Sorry,” he mumbled. I rolled my eyes and pulled out of the parking lot. Noah wasn’t giving up so easily and my heart broke even more for him. He plucked the unwanted toy out of Luke’s lap and said through his tears, “I promise, it’s a cool toy, Luke. I’ll show you when we get home! It glows in the dark!”

Luke sat quiet, wisely keeping his thoughts to himself the whole ride home as Noah tried with all the zeal he could muster to explain why Luke should be thrilled with his purple slime and glow in the dark alien.

The minute we opened the door to the house, Noah bolted for the bathroom yelling over his shoulder, “Come on, Luke! You have to see this!”

Luke was not in any sort of hurry as he trudged down the hall after Noah but knew better than to not go at all. My look of warning was probably all he needed. They closed the bathroom door, I could hear water running, objects clunking around, God only knew exactly what was happening to get that egg opened. But I didn’t care. I had to let Noah sell the wonders of this gift to Luke or he’d be scarred for life.

Finally, the bathroom door creaked open and a smiling Luke and jubilant Noah emerged. Luke was holding the now amazingly cool purple slime and the small white alien as Noah chattered on, “See? I told you it was awesome! I knew you’d like it, Luke. Luke, what do you say to me?”

“Thank you, Noah,” Luke said staring at his treasures.

“Give your brother a hug,” I said to Luke. Noah wrapped Luke in a giant hug and Luke let him. I unsuccessfully held back my own tears as I watched my little boys appreciate the best gift I could have ever given them; each other.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Luke and Noah, Best buds since 2010

“I’ve Got No Strings to Hold Me Down”

This week I did my usual “mom” stuff. I made beds, worked with Grace on the letter “Ii” and the number “6.” I packed lunches, made dinners, picked up the kids from school. It seemed like an average week…Oh and the kids had the day off school on Tuesday because it was voting day. I went and voted that day. My sister and my nephew Joey came here from Jackson and we took the kids to see Trolls at the Milford Cinema. It was nostalgic; the tiny one room theater with ancient red plush seats, the ticket counter where no one is actually issued a ticket but you give the man behind the glass your head count, he tells you your total, you pay him and admit yourself through the rotating-metal-arm-thingy–It’s the same theater my brother and sister and I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in back in the 80s. The Trolls movie was cute. The message was that we are responsible for creating our own happiness. We cannot depend on others to do that for us. Hmmm…(foreshadowing?)

I woke up Wednesday at 6:30 to begin my routine of packing lunches and forcing my sons’ limbs into their uniforms. Scott came into the kitchen to announce who had won the election. I believe my response was, “Holy crap! Didn’t see that coming!” The news kind of caught me off guard, but in truth, I felt fairly indifferent. Whomever won the election wasn’t going to change my day to day “momming.” And I wasn’t a fan of either candidate. I didn’t feel compelled to vote for either one (although I did vote!)

After I got the boys out the door to school, I sat down to my slice of toast and egg, I decided to check in on Facebook, just to see how everyone spent the day off school.

This is when I felt I was looking through a window to Armageddon.

My left-wing friends, and pretty much every celebrity who had supported Clinton were losing their minds with grief, anger, and fear. College students were asking for a day to grieve the loss of what was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s election. Hateful comments and posts were being flung back and forth. I gently set my phone down and let this all wash over me. I have been letting it all sink in for a few days and I’ve been trying to find the words to articulate my thoughts on it all.

For anyone who cares (and believe me, you don’t have to), this is my take: It doesn’t matter who is in the White House. It doesn’t even matter who is sitting in Congress or the Senate. They create the guidelines for which we are meant to live our days. Government doesn’t have the power to tell you how to love your family. Government will make up laws to make sure people are being treated fairly.

Trump is not going to be the one causing an increase in the amount of bullying we have in schools. If my child said they felt encouraged to bully or discriminate against a person because of Trump being president, I’d take them to volunteer at a soup kitchen and they’d be grounded from anything even resembling a social life until they understood that in our family, only people who respect others will be allowed to interact with the rest of the world. I have that power as a mother to influence the attitude of my child; Mr. Trump does NOT. We are the ones responsible for teaching our children respect and tolerance.

Additionally, Trump is not going to be the one to affect climate change. That is on us as a world. Use a cloth rag instead of paper towel once in a while! Recycle your junk! Be aware of what you’re consuming! Have a conscience about waste! Trump is not the one putting toxic chemicals into your cart at the grocery store. If big businesses start losing out on sales because their products aren’t being bought, they will be forced to look at what they’ve created and will have to make it better.

Trump isn’t the one who allows us to make immoral decisions. It’s on us as a people to do the right thing. Government can’t fix those things. Government isn’t responsible for breaking those things either. That was us. That was our blatant disregard for humanity, our short-sighted thinking. It was us who allowed two morally corrupt politicians to be in the running for the presidential election. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

How many times has it been said, “If you want change, BE THE CHANGE.” Not even a sad election is going to decide the fate of our country. We need to stop blaming others for our problems. We were put on this green and blue marble to do something bigger than ourselves. Everyone is looking for an answer outside of themselves. Bigger government, or any government for that matter, is not the answer. Who is going to stop inner city school children from starving every day? Who is going to put an end to human trafficking? Who is going to give us a sense of self-worth? The answer is staring at you in the mirror.

It doesn’t hearten me to see so many people whining about Donald Trump being elected. He is one man. He isn’t God. If our powers are combined for good, for helping each other, for not taking advantage of a system or a person, we will do amazing things! That is divinity at work.

So everyone needs to suck it up and accept what has happened, realizing this doesn’t define us as a country. We need to do better by each other. Trump is our new president. He isn’t a puppeteer and we are not puppets. We decide our own fate and destiny. And it starts at home. Loving families create loving neighborhoods. Loving neighborhoods create loving cities. Loving cities create loving countries. You get the picture. Maybe in four years we’ll have a presidential election we can all believe in and it won’t matter if there is a (D) or an (R) after the name. But it has to start now. Everyone needs to stop wallowing and start living.