A Christmas Story

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all people around the world.

I have a beautiful, personal Christmas story to share. It is a bit long for a blog, but the details are very much necessary.

If you follow my blog, you will know that I have an 8 and a 5 year-old. This is the first Christmas that my 8 year-old will no longer receive gifts from Santa. On December 18, I took him on a private date where it is just the two of us, and had a conversation about who Santa really is.

Anticipating this moment, I tried to look for different ways to break the news to him. The story of a jolly old man from the North Pole is in all good fun, until a child grows up. Many parents have felt stuck on how to break the truth to excited older children, who often get to a place where they become extremely aware. They know somewhere in their hearts that Santa is not real, yet they become afraid to admit this. It might mean that once they stop believing, they may not receive gifts anymore. I have heard of kids getting jaded from feeling lied to all their lives. Therefore, it felt very important for me to do this right.

After some research, I came across a story of a very wise mom who encountered this exact dilemma with her child. I decided to apply her excellent strategy. Here is what this mom did. She takes her child out alone on a coffee/hot chocolate date. She does a year in review in how much s/he has grown, how mature they have become, etc. Then, she confirms that when we see Santa, at the malls or in other public places, they are people in dress-up clothes. She turns the conversation into granting the child to BECOME Santa, as Santa are mature people who give the gift of Christmas to others. Excellent strategy. Santa is still REAL. We just go from receiving the gifts to becoming a “Santa figure” as we become older and ready.

I have all this in plan. On this snowy December 18, we drop off the younger sister at a birthday party, perfectly in time for us to have this conversation alone. We hit Whole Foods. I tell my son that he can order whatever he wants. He orders his favourite foods: pizza, hot chocolate, and an eclair. All he knows at this point is that we are about to have a very serious conversation which I called, “a year in review.”

We get to the cashier. We are ready to sit down for our much anticipated talk we had planned for weeks.

I then realize that I had left my wallet at home.

We have had a busy few weeks moving into a beautiful new home. In fact, we had moved just the day before. While being busy with holiday, work, and moving, I had left my wallet in a different purse. I sense a panic that I try not to show. I simply say, “Uh oh, sorry bud. We are going to have to go home and come back.”

The cashier looks at me like she feels really bad. It is now snowing even harder outside.

I am just trying not to disappoint my son. This is our special time together. Negative thoughts momentarily flood my perfectionist mind. Oh no, it is no longer a perfect date. It will eat up so much time to drive home and back in this weather, and I will have to pick up the younger one. The food we ordered will get cold. I internally snap out of it. I console my inner disappointment in failing to make this important mission smooth. I tell myself, “This all happened for a good reason. Something good will come out of this. I will figure this one out, just like I have figured out everything else so far.”

Indeed. For a few moments I fumble, looking for spare cash somewhere in my bag, hopefully. I know that some change will not be enough to pay for all this food. I tell my son that we will need to go home and come back. Our conversation will have to wait.

Just then I hear a voice behind us, “You forgot your wallet? Here, put it on my bill.”

We turn around. It was a dad and a little girl. Another woman, who we earlier saw at the pizza line up, also came over and insisted in paying for our bill. At first I kept declining, insisting that I will drive home and come back. Thinking back, evidently I am still work-in-progress in lessons on receiving. This man insisted in paying for my bill over and over, and told the cashier to go ahead with adding it all up with his bill.

I said to him, “How can I thank you?”

His response was simple. “Merry Christmas.”

He also said he did not want anything back, and that if I really wanted to, I can make some donation to the food bank on his behalf. I take his phone number anyway.

The whole time I was trying not to disappoint my son. I did not want him to feel bad. We finally sit down and start the conversation. I suddenly got a fine idea.

I first talk to him how fabulous he has been, and much he has matured, and mentioned some of his wonderful growth and achievements. This included how he has become good at trying things he is not familiar with, even things that he had experienced a negative outcome in the past. He now excels at working on school subjects that are his least favourite. Even a few months ago, he simply used to disengage. He has immensely grown when dealing with conflict. He has become confident in dealing with a mean child in school, a struggle he has had for most of his school life.

I break it to him: “I think you are ready to be Santa.”

There is a shock and silence.

He asks me: “What do you mean?”

I ask him what is the meaning of Christmas. He tells me that it is about love and family.

I continue to ask if he has noticed that Santa is always someone dressed up. Any time we see him, he is at the mall, at the park, etc. he is someone in a costume. I explain to him that Santa is all around us. They are even people without costumes. Regular people, like the man who just paid for our food when I forgot my wallet. We needed the help, he showed up right there. Plus, there was another woman behind us volunteering to do the same. These people are Santa. They don’t have the red suit and a beard, but they are the people who are open and readily giving to help others around them. I also touched on the fact of all the donations we have done, and how much more we plan to give still. This is how we make Christmas special. We all become Santa.

He nods. I tell him that Santa is none other than people who spread the love of Christmas. It is a great honour to be able to become Santa and do the job of giving.

Over the conversation, he cannot get over the fact that he is now allowed to be Santa. He warms up to getting over the shock. Now we talk about choosing who he feels that he needs to show love to the most. I say to him that it is important that we think about someone who is not our friends and family, but who could really use some extra love. The real Santa delivers gifts to people who are strangers to him.

After moments of deep thought and some more eating, my son makes a decision. He decides on our previous neighbours upstairs.

As I mentioned, we just moved. So who are these previous neighbours?

They are actually the reason why I finally decided to move out of that place fairly suddenly, even though it was in plan for a few months in my mind. On December 1st, just 24 days ago, we opened our front door to find shattered glass everywhere. Our neighbours upstairs have a gaggle of unruly teen kids, and different people living in the household. I have never encountered neighbours like them in my life. We were already living in this place when they moved in, and our lives have never been the same. They went through my garbage, and routinely threw stuff in my garbage bins, leaving a huge mess around my back door more often than not. On Halloween, they threw firecrackers at 8 am, which fell under my window, scaring my kids. I talked to the parent, and she was oblivious and in denial that it was her child. We even witnessed the teen running away after this incident.

They were routinely loud and cursing. Not long ago, they were very loud until 1 am. I had to put on my nightgown, go upstairs in the middle of the freezing night, and ask them to quiet down. The next day, I got a foul present left in my back door, which I will not even write what it was. I bagged it, took it upstairs to my oblivious neighbour who blamed people from the street coming into the property. An unlikely story. I took a picture and sent it to my landlady, who was lovely, always spoke to the neighbours about their behaviour, but without much consequences.

These neighbours were always crashing around, regardless of the time of the day. It was common to hear foul language and shouting, which my children have never experienced in their lives. Living with them upstairs gave us a routine to talk to my kids about what not to become. The neighbours once took my parcel, which was clearly addressed to me, and opened it. They never handed it to me until I asked them if they had seen it. Recently, another package addressed to me had gone missing, and was never found. I spoke to them over and over. It never got better. The teen kids had disrespectful friends who would look into my window, park their bike in front of my doorway, take our soccer ball from the doorstep and kick it around. I would have to repeat, over and over, about respecting boundaries and privacy. And now, on December 1st, I found shattered red glass all across my front door. I gave notice that day. Talking to the landlord was pointless. She was too nice to make any changes, and I was not about to wait around for things to change. We deserve better and we do not belong here. On moving day, I found more of that shattered red glass spread inside my flower pot. It was obvious that it was very much done on purpose.

It was definitely the worst case scenario of neighbours I have ever had to deal with in my entire 33 years of life, and all along, I felt that it was unfortunate that my children had to witness this at such young age. Yet, here was my 8 year-old son, in the true spirit of Christmas, saying that the people that need love the most were these disrespectful, unruly neighbours upstairs.

I could not agree with him more. I would have picked the exact same people. Except it took me 33 years to understand that kindness is the only way to deal with such complete lack of respect and inexplicable hate. It took me 33 years to learn to not react with anger towards people with this type of behaviour, to know that I did not have to put up with it, but to also not judge, as I don’t know what they are going through. It took me 33 years to get to a place of living from love and gratefulness, regardless of circumstances. I was extremely proud of my son. After all, while the relationship with these new neighbours unfolded during the course of over a year, I had been feeling upset about how much it was affecting my children negatively. It was evident that in the end, my son learned a valuable lesson, a lesson that took me 3 decades, a lesson that many adults struggle with. The lesson of love. I asked him what he would like to get them. It did not have to be a big gift. He said he would like to get them some chocolate to warm up their hearts.

What a perfect gift idea.

On Christmas Eve, we go to the store. He picks up some Lindt chocolate.

We bring it home, wrap it nicely inside a gift bag with a fancy Santa on it. We write on it, “From Santa. Ho Ho Ho.”

Very early this Christmas morning, we drive by our old place. My son drops it at our neighbour’s doorstep. We are both really proud. We hope that love and kindness will give them a better life than whatever they have been going through. We know that happy people do not act in such ways towards others.

As for that father who paid for our food, I texted him to thank him. I have since decided on a monthly contribution to Doctors Without Borders, currently focusing on the conflict in Aleppo. My son and I plan to do more in the upcoming months, as we believe strongly in cancer research and helping people struggling with cancer.

This Christmas has been the most memorable, beautiful time of all. We cuddled Christmas Eve to watch movies, after a delicious dinner at our beautiful new place. We would not have found this place if the conflict with the neighbours had not thickened. If it had not gotten so bad, I would not have taken action so soon. We ended up in a beautiful place, where we truly feel good coming home to. All experiences in life are true blessings. We are extremely grateful. From the bottom of my heart, I wish everyone another fabulous year ahead.