Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Magic Lives On

(Posted in the O.C. Register-12/20/13)

Christmas through the eyes of children is a magical experience. The perspective changes, however, when your child grows into a suspicious tween who's been getting mixed reports at school, or a full blown teenager who's got it all figured out. In my house it's challenging to manage the various versions of truth and belief circulating within.

My sweet and innocent youngest is beyond excited. He has revised his letter to Santa at least ten times. It's ready for the the mail, but he has some concerns about the reliability of the United States Postal Service.

"Mommy, don't you think Cocoa and Frosty could deliver my very important list to Santa faster than the mailman?" (Cocoa and Frosty are our "Elf-on-the-Shelf" elves.) When I agree to elf-delivery, the light in his eyes is completely contagious.

My middle, on the other hand, is distraught. He has come to tears more than once in the last month. Ever since he watched the movie "Guardians" (a must-see, by the way) with a friend who knew the wiser, he has been teetering on the edge of a painful reality, still frantically hoping the rumors are false.

"I don't want it to be true, mom. I want to still believe in Santa."

Per his request, I have neither confirmed nor denied the big man's existence. But I wish more than anything that I could erase his sadness and recover the lost innocence from this part of his childhood. It's heartbreaking.

My oldest is happily aware. She knows her dad and I are the Santa stand-ins and she's fine with it. In my opinion the rite of passage was perfectly timed. She actually made it to adolescence with her magical belief system completely intact. She even lost all of her baby teeth believing in the tooth-fairy. Lucky her! "Don't worry mom. I'll still pretend for the boys," she assures me.

Don't misunderstand me, our children know that, first and foremost, we celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmas-time. But during this season of transition, when their different beliefs are painfully apparent, I want them to know that Santa is more than just a list-collecting, chimney-hopping, gift-giver. He is a teacher. His job is powerful and real. Santa shows children how to believe in something they cannot see. Children need this ability for all of their lives: to believe in themselves, or in a cause, or in their friends, or in their future. This capacity to believe also extends to immeasurable things such as hope, faith and love.

Even though this year mine is a house divided, when the time comes, I want my children to understand why we waited as long as possible to reveal ourselves as Santa's helpers. Year after year, we delight in their sweet faces, lit with joy, when they discover the presents he's delivered. We are also eternally grateful for the intangible gift that he has given them: the gift to BELIEVE. This gift, after all, will last long into adulthood and one day, they will carry on the tradition of weaving magic and love and hope and joy into the Christmas season for their own children. And so, the magic lives on.

{J}

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's a Christmas Miracle!

This post is from the whole Hale family. Really. My kids wanted me to share this story and they had lots of ideas of what was important about this post. Writing for the blog is often a family affair. So here goes.

This past weekend, we made several trips to Home Depot. We had barely recovered from our over-indulgent Thanksgiving feast when we catapulted ourselves, along with the rest of South Orange County apparently, into the Christmas craze.

We went to Home Depot for the supplies we needed. Actually, we went six times. And frankly, it was way more crowded than the mall. (I was there too, so I know.) This was the weekend for everyone to get their Christmas on. On one hand, I appreciate that so many people waited until after Thanksgiving to set up for the Christmas holiday, allowing the turkeys their share of the holiday pie. But on the other hand, I didn't appreciate the scores of grumps that I encountered, all worrying about making the right purchases so they could prove how cheerful and "holiday-ish" they were. On the outside: "Look, we're totally in the spirit," and on the inside: "Quick, get that tree before that family gets to it. It's perfect and it's ours!" Charlie Brown would be horrified!

But I digress. Amidst the Christmas chaos and the shopping mayhem, there were still some wonderful people spreading cheer. We met one. Sunday night. Trip #6 to Home Depot. His name was Alan.

Alan overseas the Christmas tree lot at our Home Depot. They experienced record sales this past weekend and sold almost all of the trees. When we were ready for our tree, after church and a yummy Jalapeños dinner, we sang carols all the way to the lot and guess what? It was closed. Early, on account of them selling all but a few trees. Well, we walked all around the chain linked fence, searching for a way in, but to no avail. And that was very upsetting. To some in our family (ahem, Noah) it was devastating. Particularly because he had been asking to go get our tree every 38 seconds ALL day Sunday.

So when it didn't look like it was going to happen, the crying ensued. At first, it was a sniffle. It soon evolved into a sniffle-whine. Before we made it back around the fence, it was a snotty-wet-sniffle-hiccup-WAIL. No kidding!

Then...here comes Alan. He was wearing an invisible cape and used his super-hero hearing to identify the dreadful noise, making his way to us in order to save the day. You see, he'd seen us walking around the gate looking for a way in. He knew why we were there. And he knew the reason behind the moaning.

"Now I can't send you home like this," he called out to us as he approached.

He looked directly into Noah's glossy eyes as the tears continued to fall. The wailing ceased. Noah wanted to hear what Alan had to say.

"How about we see if we can find you a tree to take home? There aren't a lot to choose from but would you like to take a look?"

Noah, wet-faced and still hiccuping, nodded and wiped his nose. The rest of us nodded too and we were all filled with a rush that felt like equal parts luck and joy, because that's what it feels like when a Christmas miracle actually happens to your whole family! It was awesome!

Alan helped us find the best remaining tree. He gave it a fresh, chainsaw cut to its trunk, packed up some tree nourisher and put that gorgeous tree in the back of our truck. All the while, my children danced around him saying "It's a miracle!" "Thank you SOOO much!" "You're so nice!" "You should get a raise!" "Want to come over for Christmas?" Alan was smiling as much as they were. They were feeding each other joy. It was a beautiful exchange.

Once we paid, Alan handed us the receipt and asked us to do him a favor. Really? We were planning to name our next pet after you, but whatever you want...it's yours!

His request was simple: "Could you go to the Home Depot website and rate your experience today? Feel free to use my name. I'm Alan. I oversee the lot. It's been a long weekend and it would really help me out," he sighed. We agreed to complete the survey and we meant it. (It was the first survey we've ever completed.)

Driving off, the kids continued to squeal about our good fortune meeting Alan, the most thoughtful person we'd met that entire weekend. At the same time, I realized that Alan had probably had some run-ins with the other patrons that I mentioned earlier...the rushed, overwhelmed, cranky, "I-want-what-I-want-and-I'll-fight-you-for-it" type that were out in full force this past weekend. Yes, I can practically guarantee that our friend Alan dealt with customers that were less than kind. Those who didn't get their "perfect" tree because everyone was buying trees at the same time, or those who complained that the lot was understocked or overcrowded or the service was slow. And my fear was that those folks were completing online surveys of their own. It made me sad and grateful for Alan at the same time because despite his "tough" weekend, Alan had shown our family kindness and compassion and holiday cheer. And we were changed by his generosity.

Listen people, spreading joy, regardless of the holidays, is a choice. It's simple, lasting and has a rippling effect. More than anything, our community is in dire need of the simple spreading of joy. Instead of racing around to cross things off your list, make the effort to look up from the list and smile at someone, preferably someone with a scowl. That person needs it more than you know. Instead of merely going through the motions of decorating your house with cheerful lights, set aside some time to rekindle the light in your heart, remember the magic of holidays past, bring that light out and let it shine. You need that more than you know. And instead of focusing on the "bigger and better and newer" that you're told you must have to be happy, take stock in what you already have and share your abundance, be it toys and food, or compassion and grace. The world needs that more than you know.

So, as you find yourselves looking for the perfect gifts to show your loved ones how much you care, think of Alan and remember how simple it is to share that love and kindness and thoughtfulness. It can change the world.

{J}