Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Science Kit

I was way excited today when I got home. Because when I opened my mailbox I found a science kit.

It's not for me. It's for a kid whose name I drew from the community Angel Tree. These are children from families who are clients with the local Department Human Services, or who have been referred to the community Christmas program by concerned others.

My kid is five years old. I don't know her name, but I know she wants a science kit and a beading kit. I like that; a well-rounded child, even at five. I also suspect that, in this community -- which happens to be my hometown -- she is not going to get a lot of support for her budding interest in science, either at school or at home.

When I was five years old, the thing I wanted most of all at Christmas was a science kit -- one of those humongous kits from Sears or Penney's or Monkey Ward that contained a real microscope and test tubes and minerals and pickled animals and all manner of fascinating materials for conducting experiments. Oh, how I wanted one of those science kits. I circled them in crayon in the Christmas catalogs. I'd show them to my parents -- ever the diplomat, I'm told that instead of declaring, "I want that," I'd obliquely murmur, "Should I have that?"

But I never got a science kit. I got other things I wanted -- the mack-daddy Crayola set with 100 crayons; the Spirograph; a bike; lots of animal books. I also got a lot of things I didn't want -- a creepy life-size doll that reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode about malevolent talking dolls, that went directly to the attic to live; another doll that was eventually relieved of its hair and its limbs as I wavered between imaginary careers as a hairdresser and a surgeon; a tea set that wound up lost in the chaff in our hay barn after I used it to feed the cats; board games, which are fairly useless to an only child. But no science kit ever appeared under the tree.

Several years ago, during a round of holiday reminiscing, I cautiously broached this subject with my mother. "I don't get it," I said. "It wasn't about the money, because you spent as much on other presents."

My mother looked uncomfortable. "We didn't think you really wanted one," she finally answered.

"What do you mean, you didn't think I wanted one?" I exclaimed in disbelief. "What about my waving marked-up Christmas catalogs in your face from the day they came in the mail until Christmas Eve?"

Mom winced. "We didn't know any other children who had science kits."

"What about my cousin the brain, who had a pickled deer embryo in a jar on his dresser for years? I bet he had a science kit."

"Your aunts," Mom sighed, "thought that you should get dolls for Christmas because you were a girl and because you didn't have any brothers or sisters and they thought you would be lonely."

"You listened to your in-laws instead of listening to me?" I asked incredulously...although I could imagine my imposing, frowny-faced and hopelessly conventional Teutonic relatives gradually hectoring my sometimes unconventional mother into submission.

"We just didn't know any better back then."

So this is kind of a personal thing for me. When I saw the tag on the tree, I knew it was my tag, as if God had personally pressed it into my hand and said, "Here -- this is your kid to help."

And I did. I found this science kit, that makes rainbow crystals and other fun stuff; I found another kit for growing a cactus garden; I found a picture dictionary, and a bird book, and a "fun with math" game, and a little kit for making sun prints, and a tin filled with colorful beads. I threw in crayons and a coloring book. "Brimful and spilling over" is the bag of my five-year-old's Christmas presents.

Fellow Traveler has a tag too, and we spent part of last weekend finding things for her kid, who's eight years old and tiny and wants art supplies and things to wear. We found a great artist's kit with lots of stuff in it at a Large Mallish Bookstore, and some kickin' clothes, even though our expertise in tiny girls' sizing leaves something to be desired. This child's bag is overflowing as well.

Everyone should do this at least once -- be a secret shopper for some kid who'd otherwise have a bleak Christmas. I can't adequately describe to you how much fun this is. The experience is the exact opposite of the stress and resentment involved in searching for "contractual obligation" Christmas presents; I'd perhaps go so far as to say that it's a tiny, tiny taste of God's extravagant love and grace. And we get to help.

And in my case -- the case of the science kit that will wind up under a five-year-old girl's Christmas tree -- I can't help but feel that, somewhere, a cosmic equation has finally balanced.

8 comments:

Evelyn said...

I totally agree that the experience of buying Christmas gifts for a child who may not otherwise have any gifts is something NOT to be missed. I've bought toys and clothes for a Salvation Army "angel" for the past 2 years now. The child won't know who the gift is from, and that is just perfect! I'll be making this practice a tradition from now on -- it's one of the most joyful parts of the holiday season for me.

Quotidian Grace said...

There are so many cool science kits for kids now. I was shopping for my little nieces for Christmas and found one that creates your own soda pop, lets you dig for dinosaur bones, create bath products and make real "snow"--great for south Texas kids! I'd like one myself! Your "angel" should love it.

Reverend Dona Quixote said...

Good for you, encouraging a little girl to pursue science and math if she wants to. And good for you for your generosity.

I'm trying to convince my DH to get me my own special adult science kit for Christmas --a beer brewing kit! But judging from the eyeroll I received, it isn't going to fly ...

The Vicar of Hogsmeade said...

A kid who was "heard" for christmas, that's a real gift to go with the one that'll be wrapped

Kathryn said...

That's lovely...There isn't (unless I've missed it) the opportunity to give "targetted" presents to needy children in the same way here, so giving tends to be rather random/hit and miss. I'm so pleased that you've been able to really engage like this...and that you've finally got your science kit, albeit vicariously.

Anonymous said...

(RuthRE-boo blogger betta boo!)

Awesome. Truly. I seem to grab more tags each year. I had the idea before things got crazy and frazzled round here to grab an equal # of tags to friends who i normally exchange gifts for and to give them a picture of the toy that I bought in their honor for some little kid.

Alas...I slipped and got presents....but i'll still get the toys! Nothing better.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Truly. I seem to grab more tags each year. I had the idea before things got crazy and frazzled round here to grab an equal # of tags to friends who i normally exchange gifts for and to give them a picture of the toy that I bought in their honor for some little kid.

Alas...I slipped and got presents....but i'll still get the toys! Nothing better.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Truly. I seem to grab more tags each year. I had the idea before things got crazy and frazzled round here to grab an equal # of tags to friends who i normally exchange gifts for and to give them a picture of the toy that I bought in their honor for some little kid.

Alas...I slipped and got presents....but i'll still get the toys! Nothing better.