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.