My college also has programs for needy students and their families. They gather food for Thanksgiving baskets as well as toys and gifts for Christmas and Hanukkah. Frequently there is a tree on each campus where an ornament on the tree is actually a request for a specific toy or CD or movie, or “something appropriate for a boy, 10.” In 1999 they started doing something different. Their program since then is to adopt a family for Christmas--taking on the expense of a family for the holidays.
The first year when I received an email about this program, I looked down the list of families. All were single mothers; all had one or more children. The children asked for one or two gifts -- those children over age 13 usually asked for gift certificates for music. Younger children asked for specific toys. The mothers often asked for perfume or lotion sets, or something practical like bath mat sets. I scanned down the list, thinking what I’d like to do. These families all moved me in some way. Then I saw Family #5:
Mother: asked nothing for herself
Daughter, aged 13: asked for a gift certificate for music.
I looked at this mother again. Asked for nothing for herself. A sob escaped my lips. I covered my mouth and looked again, and as much as I wanted to remain quiet within my almost silent shared office, another sob escaped my lips followed by another and another.
Asked nothing for herself.
It was Christmas 1981. My sons were 9 and 11. I took a seasonal job at UPS so I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to return at 6 p.m. and immediately going to the store across the street in order to work until midnight. On weekends I would work for my friend who is a quadriplegic all morning and then return home to do bookkeeping at the store. I would then return to the store two hours later to work a 9 hour shift behind the counter. The extra money I earned at UPS would help pay for heating for the winter.
You need to picture this house. For $135 a month, it was a small two-bedroom house. Ten years earlier, before we moved in, a car had parked too close to the house and had slid under it. The landlord had covered the gaping hole with plywood, but never repaired the “basement area.” So when the east winds blew, air would come up through the floorboards. I had no carpeting to mellow out this cold breeze. While I tried to tape the windows during the winter, the air would filter through the plastic “storm windows” I had created. Many a time I would blanket off most the house so I only had to heat the front room, but with the winds blowing through the floor, it was difficult. So, even though I did all I could to help, as well as keep the temperature at 64f degrees, our heating bills were huge all winter.
Christmas was approaching and I had no extra money for gifts for my kids. I told no one of this situation, but continued to work as many jobs as possible, hoping I could take a little out of the heating money to buy them something. One day I received a letter from one of my professors asking if he could build a bike for my sons. I had mentioned that the bike I had given them the year before had been stolen; he said he had many bike parts around in his garage. He also asked what he and his wife could give to me.
I immediately replied how much I would love for my sons to have a “new” bike and thanked him for his thoughts for me, but I needed nothing. I sealed the letter and went on about my life, happy that my sons would have a special gift.
On Christmas eve, he and his wife arrived with this incredible multi-colored, multi-parted 10-speed bike for my sons. They had tied a ribbon around the handle bars and weaved more ribbon through the spokes. I invited them in for hot chocolate and when they came fully into the house, I then saw a bag of wrapped gifts. For me. For my sons. It was a very bright Christmas.
How many times do we as parents want the best for our kids. We don’t want them to miss out on the important as well as the trivial things that make each of our lives a little bit nicer, easier. But to do this we often must deny ourselves important things. I went for years wearing the same underwear, sometimes pins holding them up, because I could only afford to buy clothes for my growing sons. They needed shoes. They needed underwear. They needed school supplies. How many times do we say, “No, don’t think about me. Just make my children’s lives a little bit brighter, please.”
She asked nothing for herself.
I adopted this mother. Doug and I showered her and her daughter with love and things she can't afford for herself. I wanted to make this the best Christmas ever. I wanted to reward her somehow for her love for her child, for her unselfish care for her child. I want to give her something to make her own life a bit brighter for herself.