Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Wishes

I had just gotten off the phone with my sister who’d been telling me about her youngest son, four-years-old. It was a typical kid-story for this time of year. He’d industriously taken a stack of newspaper ads, cut out all the pictures of things he wanted for Christmas, and taped them neatly to several pieces of paper, announcing this as his Christmas list. I didn’t ask exactly how long the list was, but judging from my sister’s tone of exasperation, it sounded lengthy.

“Then he walked around the house all morning saying, ‘This is what I’m getting for Christmas!’ as if it were a done deal!” I could almost see her eyes rolling over the phone. “Every day he has a new list. I told him ‘You better start thinking about giving, or I am canceling Christmas!’”

I snickered at this, a classic, and empty, parental threat.

But Christmas lists and letters to Santa are a childhood tradition, and during that afternoon’s run I found myself contemplating a “Letter to Santa” blog post, in which I requested from Santa the following: 1. My motivation, 2. Entries into my chosen lottery-impacted races (Cool and Miwok), and 3. A new bladder for my hydration pack, which, after a month of abandonment, I had re-discovered the day before was still leaking.

As my mind wandered, I started thinking more sincerely about what I really wanted in my life, what was important to me. I thought about choices I’d made and things I might have done differently. Suddenly, my humorous blog post had taken a decidedly more serious, and personal, tone. My letter to Santa began to sound more and more like a prayer.

Sometime later, I was walking a group of my students to after-school care when a 5th-grade girl posed a question to the group, “If you could be any age for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Yes, these are the kinds of questions 5th-graders often pose, and frankly, I enjoy the conversations that ensue (at least, when we’re not in class).

I think my answer was something like 24. Maybe 27. “But with the knowledge and life-experience I have now,” I added hastily. I couldn’t commit to just one age. (Obviously, I take these questions entirely too seriously.)

“Mine is seven,” she announced confidently.

“Seven?” I was incredulous. I could barely even recall myself at that age.

“Yeah,” she nodded, “that’s the most fun age.”

I thought about the 2nd- graders I worked with in Homework Club after school. They were adorable, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to trade places with any of them.

Childhood looks blissfully simple to an adult, but even though their world is smaller, I think it’s at least as scary and confusing at times as ours. Maybe harder, even.

I saw a boy of about seven walking through the grocery store with tears silently streaming down his cheeks. At that particular moment, I felt very much in solidarity with this boy, and I found myself envious of his childhood right to cry in public without evoking comment. Children get a pass on public displays of emotion, while grownups are expected to contain them. Being a little contained has its obvious upsides, of course, but I still envy children sometimes.

I realize though, that my empathy for the grocery-store-boy was somewhat of an outlet for my own emotion. I so often feel like a child myself; it makes sense that they can be the ones with whom I frequently identify and connect.

Their ability to speak in simple terms, to show every single thing they’re feeling, lies in direct contrast to the complexities and restrictions of adulthood. Seeing them run around the schoolyard with their hearts on their sleeves reassures me that others do indeed feel wrought by the difficulties of daily life, as I do. And at the times that I can offer them any comfort, it tends to lighten my own burdens.

Perhaps this is one of the benefits of maturity? The ability to empathize allows us to connect with others. It keeps us from feeling quite so alone in this world.

My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas today. The reality is that I don’t really need anything. My sister is right – I should think about giving. (Otherwise I may have to cancel Christmas on myself!)

I’m not talking about that traditional “volunteer-your-time” or “give presents” kind of giving. I’m thinking more about emotional giving. I feel so constantly barraged by the neediness of those around me, and yet, I am equally bereft. I know from experience that giving comfort can be likewise comforting to the giver. St. Francis was right, I’d say: In giving, we receive.

So it seems I went from Christmas list, to prayer, to New Year’s resolution all at once. That’s not unusual of me, actually. But regardless of label, “giving” seems to sum up my Christmas wish rather nicely– To let go of my child-like needs that are so self-focused, and instead embrace my adult abilities to empathize and connect, to comfort, to give. To love.

I’m not sure exactly how these thoughts will manifest themselves into actions. I suppose I’ll keep them at the forefront of my mind and simply wait for opportunity. I don’t want it to be merely a nice idea, and in this case, I think I’m the only one that can make my wish come true.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll call my sister to ask what I should get my nephew for Christmas. (Assuming it isn’t canceled, of course.)


  1. What a beautiful, beautiful post. I also would not mind being younger (much younger) but with my wisdom (I like to believe I have acquired) but I wouldn't want to just be a child.
    This year we decided to rather create memories than focus on presents so no letters to Santa in our house this year. But then, none of us is a kid anymore.

  2. Beautiful.

    When we are weak, and we all have those times in life (I just finished one.), we perceive people as taking from us.

    When we are strong, we perceive the very same exchanges as us giving.

    The people that need stuff from us, they aren't really going to go away (Sometimes, when someone is really awful and when life circumstances allow, you can rid yourself of someone. But I think that's an exception.). And, almost exclusively, we shouldn't really mess with the world around us. All of that, it just is.

    You are a strong lady, stronger than you know at this moment. The real deal is creating the shift inside your head that allows you to know (again) your strength.

    I've seen you at your strongest, so I know it's there. You just gotta dig it out.

    Much love to you,

  3. Last year, I said I wanted tools for Christmas: I got a publicist and an agent.

    If I could revisit any age, it'd be 21. I was very tentative and unsure and ended up missing out on a lot; maturity has made me more wreckless through not caring what others think. 21 should've been more fun.

  4. Insightful thoughts, very nicely expressed.

    I think it is a wonderful indication of the kind of person you are that you are often taken in by the musings of 5th graders. That wouldn't happen if you weren't really present in your interactions with them.

  5. I read last week that giving and philanthropy produce the same neurotransmitting euphoria as chocolate and sex. Something to consider when you're ready.

  6. Ewa - Thanks. I like to think I have aquired wisdom, too. Sometimes I wonder though, you know? Or else I think I am re-aquiring the same wisdom over and over. ;)
    Hope you create great memories this holiday!

    Meghan - Very well said! When I can look at myself as being able to help fulfill others, rather than feeling put-upon, things are always better. Thanks for your wisdom, friend.

    Hank - I was thinking that this post would probably fall under that category of things important to me, but not so interesting to others, so I appreciate the feedback! Thanks.

    Steve - You were tentative and unsure? I'm having trouble imagining it, but yes, you deserve a second chance at recklessness! :)

    Stac - Aww, thanks. Much appreciated. I sometimes worry what it says about me that I frequently appreciate ten and eleven-year-olds more than those my age. I think perhaps I'm just more forgiving of them. Plus they provide me an excuse to act goofy. ;)

    Anne - Oooh, I like it! Thanks for the tip.

  7. Wow ... this is beautiful, chica. All those writing blogs you read are obviously having an effect on you.

    For what it's worth, you seem quite grounded to me about appreciating the important things in life, and giving of yourself to others. Just keep doing what you do, girl.

  8. Donald - It's worth plenty, actually. Thank you.

  9. Just noticed I typed "wreckless" rather than "reckless." Freudian slip, I think.

  10. Children are not the only ones with rights to be who they are, to display their emotions on public, to openly say what they want. We all are. Each of us personally is responsible for putting that adult pressure on ourselves - so, each of us should lift it off and not expect the ban be lifted by some other power. May be that;s why we often say "old folks are like kids". Because we finally wise up and give ourselves permission to be who we are, because we care less about Joneses. At least I hope most of us, once we grow up:) And that is "giving" - to yourself, and to others (because when those others see how happy you are while "careless" and not very adulty, may be it'll make them think and give themselves permission as well).
    Happy New Year, Gretchen, and Merry Season to you.

  11. Olga - I hear what you're saying about just being ourselves and not worrying what others think. Still, I think the ability to sometimes hold back our thoughts or emotions helps us to function better in this world. That doesn't mean we should deny those feelings! It just means we have to think more carefully than children do about how, when and to whom we express them. Life is complicated that way. Of course, I'm all for acting like a kid when I can! :)

  12. And that's why we trail run:)