Santa here. Just wanted to write you a note to acknowledge your disappointment that I didn’t bring the zipline and smart whiteboard that you asked for this year. You see, my elves have so many, many presents to make, and only a limited amount of materials and time. Your requested items amounted to what would have been $8,010 in materials and 297 elf-labor hours. Creating them would have simply not allowed me to provide toys to all the boys and girls in the world. I know you are the kind of boy who cares about others and wants to make sure things are fair for all children, so I’m sure you understand. But even though you understand, I’m sure you are still feeling a little let-down. After all, you have been alive on this planet for 7 years, all the while being told left and right and everywhere you look that acquiring the next big material possession is what brings happiness.
So I suppose it was only natural that I saw you—through my magic snow globe—ask your mom the other night, “Mom, if Santa can’t bring me what I want, can you just work some more so that you can buy me what I want?” You looked a little disappointed when your mom explained that she only works part-time so that she can be home with you when you get home from school and that money and toys aren’t what make people happy. She hugged you, and you nodded, but I still saw that you were confused.
So, Ronnie, I would like to remind you of a few things that I saw through my magic snow globe this holiday season to make you understand better the truth about money and toys and happiness:
I saw you, on the playground after school one day, dancing to “Uptown Funk” blasting from your mom’s phone. You were having a dance contest with four of your friends and both of your brothers. When it was your turn to show off your moves, your mom shouted, “Go Ronnie, go!” and I heard you laughing wildly all the way at the North Pole. You talked about that moment every night for a week. That joy and freedom wasn’t purchased with money and didn’t come in a fancy box.
I saw you, on your front step one afternoon, resting your head in your mom’s lap. Your best recess buddy had just moved away, and you were missing him so much. Your mom rubbed your back and kissed your head. “I’m sorry sweetheart. I know you miss Jason.” You sat there for 10 minutes, a little tired and a little sad, just feeling the warmth of your mom’s fleece jacket surround you in silence. That feeling of safety and comfort didn’t cost any money and didn’t come from a store.
I watched you as you insisted on reading The Piggy in the Puddle to your brother in an animated, high-pitched voice. You did it, even though you hate reading aloud, because he had pneumonia and you were trying to cheer him up. Your mom made such a big deal about your kindness, and you started associating being kind with feeling good. You later offered to donate $20 of your own money to a family whose car broke down. I also saw you, after reading the attached sign, sneak $1 of your tooth fairy money into the Ronald McDonald House Charity box when no was even looking! (No one besides me of course.) The feelings of purpose and meaning that stem from compassion cannot be purchased with money or wrapped in a box.
I saw you, when your dad got home from a business trip, go running into his arms, only to be squeezed between your mom and dad a couple seconds later. “A Ronnie sandwich!” You giggled at your own joke and completely took for granted your mom and dad kissing each other over your head. You later found a cartoonish book your mom made for your dad in 2006 and was fascinated by the love story in it. “Yup,” your dad said in front of you,”I’m a lucky man.” And you knew what he meant because you’ve heard your parents say that about each other so often. That security and love didn’t cost any money and can’t be kept in your toy box.
I saw you, when it was time to get on the road to your family’s yearly Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, leave the house wearing two different shoes. “Ronnie, why do you have two different shoes on?” your dad asked. You answered,”Because I’m starting a trend. Being different is sometimes cool.” And your dad used all the self-control in the world to smile at you and let it go, even though that kind of stuff is embarrassing to an old-school guy like him. Later your brother decided to copy your “trend” because he looks up to you so much. And you couldn’t hide your smirk when you read that Char had written, “I’m thankful for my brothers,” on his kindergarten turkey project. That sense of belonging and acceptance can’t be purchased and can’t be wrapped with a bow.
I saw you struggle with your homework one day, since you repeatedly kept skipping over one important word in the instructions. Your mom calmly reminded you to slowly read it over and over until it finally clicked. You felt proud of yourself—triumphant in a way that later compelled you to slow down and reread some difficult instructions instead of whining in despair. That sense of growth and capability could never be purchased with money or wrapped in shiny paper.
I saw you at your aunt’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party, casting “spells” and performing “magic” in your dramatic and theatrical voice. The whole extended family clapped wildly. I also saw you later, in the car, watching a musical light show. Between the laughter from your knock-knock jokes and the movement from your “booty shaking,” the car was actually rocking. Your brothers cheered you on: “Again, Ronnie!” To them, you were more entertaining than the show. Later, when your mom handed you the phone to arrange a playdate or reschedule your martial arts class, you confidently made the calls. That confidence and self-assuredness couldn’t be bought or wrapped as a gift.
I saw you, during the bike ride to school one day, suddenly stop and panic. “I forgot my bike lock!” you announced. Your mom looked you in the eye and reminded you of the road safety rules before you pedaled back and crossed two streets to retrieve the lock. When you caught up with your mom and brothers a moment later, lock in hand, you beamed with pride. You told your dad all about how you went back all by yourself, and how Mom trusted you to be responsible. Remembering that, you later volunteered to read the announcements, something that would have made you nervous before. That pride wasn’t purchased with money and didn’t come wrapped in a gift bag.
I saw you look at the floor as your mom reminded you that admitting you did something wrong makes her a little disappointed but mostly proud of your bravery. Then I saw you whisper that yes, you were snooping around looking for hidden presents in Mom’s closet. You didn’t protest when your mom removed a sticker from your chart on the kitchen wall, and you weren’t surprised when she also gAve you a big hug and acknowledged your courage with a pat on your back. Do you remember that complicated-but-warm feeling that you felt just then? That was living with “integrity,” or behaving according to what you know is the “right thing to do.” You felt that feeling again the following week when you told Nathan that he needed to include your brother in his football plays, even though you knew that sticking up for Benny might make Nathan act mean toward you. Being able to hold your head up high because you live with integrity is not something that can be bought or placed on a toy shelf.
Ronnie, I know you won’t understand this completely right now, but all of those moments—of joy, safety, compassion, love, acceptance, belonging, growth, confidence and integrity—are the moments that fuel you now and will continue to fuel you. You probably don’t even notice the real power of those experiences as they are happening, but I know they are the real gifts in your life.
Yes, I’m the guy who flies around giving presents to everyone, but compared to those moments, I want you to know that what I have to offer is overrated.
It’s my wish that you and all children—from 1 to 99—have, sprinkled throughout the ups and downs of their lives, many, many moments more important and meaningful than even the most popular toys or expensive possessions.
Ho, Ho, Ho!