12/14/08

Christmas #19: A Sunday Suit for Christmas

“Children, today is the first of December. What wonderful holiday is coming up?” Shayna asked her first grade students.

“Hanukah! Kwanza! Christmas!” the children shouted.

“And what do all of these holidays have in common?” she bit her lip, hoping for a good response.

Nathan raised his hand as high as he could. Waving it so hard he kept hitting Daniel on the head [why? insert where Daniel is in relation to Nathan so that this makes sense]. “Nathan, what?”

“Presents!” he said, exposing his missing front tooth with a proud grin. As soon as the word hit the air, all the other children latched agreed.

She [who? Need to identify] walked over to the dusty chalkboard. “Class, today we are going to make a wish list. I want everyone to think very seriously about what they want for the upcoming holiday. Then we will go around the room and write or draw it on the board.”

Keisha threw her hand in the air while calling out, “Miss Wright, can it be anything? Anything in the world?”

“Well, what do you think, class?”

Suddenly Brian raised his hand. Shayna remembered meeting Brian’s haggard mother for the first time at parent-teacher conference a few months ago with a child on her hip, two in the stroller and another son ready to start kindergarten. The young teacher knew right away that they must be Mormon. Since moving away from Utah, Shayna had yet to look up where the church building was. This was her second year teaching and she was amazed how easy it was to let go of that part of her life.

Brian looked very serious, “I think we should only write what we really need, Miss Wright.”

“That is a great idea. There are things that each of us need.” She looked at the cruise tickets sitting on her desk. There was no doubt in her mind that she needed this vacation, but why was her mother making such a big deal of her not coming home for Christmas? Her mom had called over a dozen times, since she had found out. Finally, Shayna had hung up on her. Why couldn’t her mother understand?

“You know, maybe if we wish hard enough,” the young teacher added, “we will get what we want.”

They went around the room with each child taking turns writing and drawing his wish, which included various games and game systems, sports equipment and a new Plasma TV with HD. Then it was little Brian’s turn. He wrote the word “suit” and sat down.

Daniel yelled, “What kind of suit? A spaceman suit?”

Brian passed the chalk to his neighbor, “No, a suit for church.”

Riley crinkled up his nose, “Like with a tie? Why would you want that?”

“Well, my dad wears one, the missionaries wear one and the boys who pass the sacrament. I only have plain pants and I want to be like them.”

His answer was lost to the other children, but Shayna heard every word. It tugged at her heart. She envisioned this little boy going to church on Sunday, wanting so badly to have a nice suit and having to wear hand-me-downs from the thrift store. As the class lined up for lunch, Shayna knew what she had to do. Even though she wasn’t going to church anymore, there was something she could do to make this Christmas special for him. She could make this boy’s Christmas wish come true.

The next two weeks whizzed by in a flurry of excitement. Shayna went to the teacher’s lounge during lunch and told the sad story of the little boy whose only wish for Christmas was clothes to wear to church. She told about his poor family that barely had enough money to put food on the table. [How does she know this?]

The kindergarten teacher who taught Brian’s younger brother listened in fascination and her mouth dropped open, “I never would have guessed it. They put up such a good front, but he does bring his lunch and often has leftovers- how sad!”

On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, everything was finally ready. Shayna proudly licked the envelope containing a check for $1250, money from the teachers’ own pockets. Looking at the huge pile of gifts waiting behind her desk, Shayna hugged herself. This was the true meaning of Christmas, the essence of giving, she thought.

At precisely three o’clock a stylish lady stuck her head in the door. Her brown hair was in a sporty cut and she wore a smart tan jacket with straight jeans and neat leather shoes. “Can I help you?” Shayna asked.

“Hi, I’m Amy Pratt, Brian’s mom.”

This wasn’t the over-stressed housewife she had remembered meeting. Unsure of herself, Shayna went behind the desk to her place of safety and invited the woman to sit.

Amy sat and smiled softly, eager to find out the reason for the visit, “Is anything wrong?” she asked.

Trying to sound as professional as possible, Shayna began, “Mrs. Pratt, recently we had an activity where children were asked what they wanted for Christmas and Brian’s answer had us a little concerned.”

“Really?” the mother pulled up to the edge of her seat.

“He said he wanted a suit to wear on Sunday. So we started…”

The mother’s eyes glistened with tears, “That is so sweet. What a great guy he is.” She beamed at the thought of her son.

Shayna tried to continue, “Yes, we thought so too, so we decided to take up a…”

“No, you see,” she lifted her hand to explain, “about three weeks ago I found this wonderful suit that seemed just Brian’s size at the thrift shop in town. It looked like it had never been worn. That boy is so hard to fit, being so small, and they won’t take anything back. I mean, the suit was thirty five dollars. So I blindfolded him and had him try it on. I knew he knew what it was, but at least the color would be a surprise for Christmas.”

Shayna was frustrated. Nothing was going as planned, “Then why would he have said he wanted a suit if he knew he was getting one?” she snapped.

The mother shook her head, obviously proud of her oldest boy, “Because, we’ve taught our children that they should want most what they already have. Our focus should be on the blessings around us, not beyond them. I know it may sound funny to you, but I have very strong feelings about this. I mean, we could afford a new car, but why would we when the one we own fits our family and is paid for. I probably lecture the children too much about it, but I get so tired of children wanting and wanting things they don’t need or shouldn’t even have. Our focus needs to be more on giving, especially at this time of year, don’t you think?”

An expression of sheer joy bubbled from the mother’s lips again, “I can’t believe that Brian totally gets it. Isn’t it awesome when one of them actually listens to you?”

Shayna stood up defensively, feeling like her Christmas surprise was completely ruined, “Well, we started a collection for your family- and I can’t give it to anyone else.” She pushed the envelope toward the young mother angrily who stared at it in surprise and then looked at her son’s teacher across the table with kindness.

“Thank you, I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding.”

“That’s fine… and we have these,” Shayna couldn’t understand why her eyes were edging with tears of disappointment as she handed the packages to this woman who was trying her best to be gracious but obviously wasn’t in need at all. Stiffening her jaw, Shayna decided she would just go through the motions and get this over with- there was no way she could back out now.

She helped the mother carry the mound of packages to her van and after closing the door, the woman turned around, “The children will love these things. Thank you. It must have taken a lot of your time and energy to do this. What a wonderful gift. It means a lot to me that you would make such a remarkable effort for one of your students. I am really grateful that Brian has you as his teacher.”

Shayna looked in this woman’s eyes and saw sincere gratitude. This was not how it was supposed to be, she was supposed to be thrilled to get the presents. The gifts were supposed to change their whole Christmas. Instead, it wasn’t even the gifts she cared about, but the fact that her son’s teacher had spent her personal time thinking about him.

As the mother got in her dented van and pulled away, she waved out her open window and shouted happily, “Merry Christmas.”

Shayna looked at the scene with new eyes. This woman wasn’t forced to drive that car; it was a choice- a gift, in a way. Walking back through the hall alone, Shayna felt confused. Christmas was supposed to be about cool presents, incredible surprises, just plain fun, and, well, wanting stuff, wasn’t it? But what had made the last two weeks so wonderful was the hope of giving something important, something that mattered. She had looked forward to telling all the other teachers the happy ending, but what would she say now that it was all a stupid mistake?

Looking around the empty room, Shayna shuddered. She felt cold and alone. She had a nagging suspicion that she was missing something, but she knew if she let the idea in that it would change everything. Why couldn’t Christmas just be fun? Why couldn’t she do what she wanted without feeling guilty?

As she turned to reach for her coat, Shayna caught sight of a little card on the edge of her desk where Mrs. Pratt had been sitting. Curiously, she ripped open the envelope and held the card in her hand.

It was a picture of a beautiful baby Jesus in the manger, staring warmly at her. She laughed to herself as she remembered the wild nativity plays her family used to put on with her dad as the donkey, wearing construction paper ears taped to a baseball cap. She thought about going to Temple Square at Christmas and feeling the Spirit of that sacred place. Then she thought of rounding the stairs at the visitor’s center and walking up to the large white statue of the Savior and knowing he was real. He was born in Bethlehem and died for our mistakes. And Christmas was His birthday. This was the real story of Christmas, not the silly story she had made up about little Brian’s family.

She opened the card and the message read, “What will you give Him?” Inside was a snapshot of the Pratt family wrestling around on a bright green lawn in a pretzel of arms, legs and smiles. For a long time she stood there in silence, and somewhere in the silence her guilt melted away as a feeling of peace gently spread over her. She knew she wanted to give Him- something real.

The tinny sound of “Jingle bells” pulled her from her thoughts and she looked at her cell phone. It was her mother, again. Well, she thought, this would be a good start.

“Mom, I changed my mind. I’m coming home for Christmas.”

We need some explanation of why Shayna jumps to the conclusion that Brian's family is in such need. A boy wanting a suit doesn't seem to be quite enough to me. Also, why such a difference in the way the mother looked before and now? Need some type of explanation. And I'm a little confused about the mother just taking the stuff and saying thank you. I'd rather see her involve Shayna in giving it to others who needed it more? Or something.

What I liked best: With the exception of the few wholes pointed out above, the story is told fairly well. I like the twist that the family doesn't really need the money or gifts.

Magazine ready? Not quite.

3 comments:

David G. Woolley said...

I really like this story. It is very well written. The characters were terrific. Only one suggestion. I was hoping that another boy in the class and his twin sister or brother would show up after the Christmas break with the suit that was given to Brian and some of the other gifts. Brian wanted the suit for another Mormon in the class who he knew couldn't afford it. That may have even impacted the teacher more.

But I do really, really like this story. Well done author.

DGW

Christine Thackeray said...

What a great idea- now that would be a good story!

Abra said...

Great story!