"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, December 22, 2013


When I opened the door to let the kids into the classroom, it was the usual happy chaos of good mornings and good-natured pushing around those whose need to share something with me couldn't wait until they were in the room. On this day, unusually for them, two girls hung back to be the last. One blonde and brash, the other dark and shy, both deeply dear to me.

The blonde shoved a small wrapped package into my hands, her words tripping over each other like rocks rolling down a hill. The shy girl watched intently as I took the gift, and offered her own words, which got lost in the other's avalanche. "Secret Santa" emerged a few times, but I heard little else beyond, "Open it now!"

There was a note taped to the outside of the gift, with "Shucka" (no Mrs. in sight) written in ink on top of the folds. Both girls were crowded so close to me that I had to unfold the paper with elbows tucked to my sides. The paper itself was from a notepad with a hole at the top for a pencil to rest with the initial F at the top. Neither girl has an F as an initial for either first or last names.

I read:

-secret santa

:-) <3

p.s. secret santa will be the one to hold you at the end of the day to the buses. 

The package was wrapped so tightly I knew it was a heart before the paper came off - with the girls still so close to me I felt gift-wrapped myself. And what a heart it was. Large, poufy, sparkly, only slightly grimy around the edges. The Goodwill tag still attached. (I didn't see that word as part of the gift until much later.)

The girls were beside themselves with  a weird combination of glee and tenderness. "We don't know who your Secret Santa is. Someone put the package in our hands and told us to give it to you. The heart is Alex."

I played my part, although I was having a hard time holding back tears. "I guess I'll have to wait until after school to find out. I wonder who would have done such a wonderful thing for me."

With the heart placed prominently on my desk I pushed us all into the day. During the morning I felt both girls watching me whenever I would reread the note, or shift the heart out of the way. For a bit I wondered which was my Secret Santa, but then forgot about the whole thing as I gave myself over to the thousands of decisions and conversations that are the hallmark of every teacher's day.

At the end of the day, after giving closing directions and while overseeing the usual pandemonium of twenty-four kids on the verge of freedom, I felt a nudge at my left arm, which I lifted to encircle the unseen child. I looked down into huge brown eyes beaming up from a porcelain face framed by waves of almost-black hair. 

I smiled back down at her, and for long moments there were no words at all. Just knowing. And love. And the ghost of a kitty only two weeks gone.

She stood under my wing for the rest of the day - as I guided the kids to the bell, and all the way to the buses.

Eventually there were words: "I saw the heart and I thought of Alex, so it's him to remind you he's still with you so you won't be sad."

"This is the best gift a student has ever given me, and now I'll remember both you and Alex whenever I see the heart."

At the doorway to her bus, we hugged, I kissed the top of her head in benediction, told her I loved her and breathed the purity of her love in and back out into a world greatly in need.

Wishing for all of you at least one gift of this magnitude this holiday season. Your presence in my life, your comments of encouragement and love, your stories - these are all gifts I treasure in the same way I'll always cherish that Goodwill heart. 


deborahjbarker said...

How beautiful Deb. Your students amaze me as do you. Happy Christmas!"-)

DJan said...

Now I've teared up from this post, Deb. It's so beautiful, perfect story for the season. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Deb, and a heartfelt thank you to your secret santa. :-)

Meryl Baer said...

A wonderful story and a special little girl. Merry Christmas.

Linda Reeder said...

I will have trouble typing this comment now because of the tears in my eyes. Memories come flooding back of dear children and their gifts, both literal and figurative, and of lost loved ones and dying kitties, and, oh, my.
Thank you for this lovely post.
Merry Christmas to you. You are a gift.

Linda Myers said...

You put your arm around the unseen child. How loving.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"I kissed the top of her head in benediction, told her I loved her and breathed the purity of her love in and back out into a world greatly in need."

You made me cry. Very special story.

Donna said...

You have SUCH an amazing gift as a writer that I am sure you are one very special teacher too! A sweet Christmas story....thank you.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Her gift to you was perfect, and so was yours to her...and us. It is a gift to be so loving and demonstrative in thanking someone. Merry Christmas to you and your Secret Santa.

Terri Tiffany said...

You made me cry with this story!! Boo hoo but it is so sweet. A huge blessing to you as you are to your children!

Richard Hughes said...

Years ago I substitute taught for my sister's second grade students. I couldn't believe how innocent and loving they were. Being a teacher is tough, but it does have its rewards.

Retired English Teacher said...

Truly, as I read this I had chills up and down my spine. A goodwill heart. A gift that speaks volumes. You touch so many hearts. You have the most beautiful of hearts: a teacher's heart that teach much more than writing. There are no tests that measure what you do.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Wow that is a powerful story.

Sandi said...

Such a dear and lovely story, demonstrating the magnitude of your love for your "children". Truly, these are the gifts that keep on giving, as they wrap us in the innocence and childlike love bestowed upon us.

(I wrote a comment on the 22nd, and just noticed that it never posted when checking blogs this morning.)

May you revel in the last moments of vacation, and in the return to your love-filled classroom.

I'm sorry that we didn't get a walk in over the break, but know it was a busy one for us both! Love you lots!

Barb said...

Well, tears are coming down my cheeks, Deb. What a story and what a gift. All our hearts are richer, bigger, and fuller because of that child's gift.

yaya said...

How loving and sweet. I'm sorry I'm so late reading this. I don't know how I missed it. It made me get teary eyed too and the love of those children sure warms the heart...but the love you have given back to them will always be a special part of their memories of you. I wish you all the best in this new year Deb.