Its Corbin's first Christmas. One he will only 'remember' through our stories and photos. Of course he had presents wrapped in pretty paper and toys stuffed in his stocking even though the wrapping paper was much more enticing for his five month old eyes. But it made for nice memories for Mr. Incredible and me (and his grandparents and aunties and uncles etc). I was reminded of one of my Christmas memories and a lesson I learned from that particular experience- one I hope to teach Corbin early on.
I remember my first visit to a Romanian orphanage- it was around Christmas time and I was only 12 years old. The orphanage was built way up on top of a mountain, above the tiny coal mining village. The day before, our team had helped pack Christmas gifts for the children. Toothbrushes, soap, a few cookies, and dime-store toys were packaged into handmade draw-string bags. As I quickly put these together, I thought about how lame the gifts were and how no kid would want these for Christmas. My mind automatically wandered to my own Christmas list and all the amazing toys, gadgets, and the new bike I was anticipating seeing under our Christmas tree at home.
It was bitter cold and my California- bought coat and shoes were not adequate for a Romanian winter. We went into a large room where all the kids were gathered and I realized it was colder inside than outside! My thin coat and shoes suddenly felt like arctic expedition gear compared to the children's worn sweaters and rubber sandals. We sang songs with the children and handed out the meager gifts. The excitement on the children's faces was overwhelming as they carefully inspected each item in their bags. Our translator leaned over and whispered to me that we had just given the children the only present that they would receive this year.
After our little Christmas program, the children surrounded me, speaking eagerly and quickly. I only knew how to say 'I don't understand' and 'where is the bathroom' so the conversation was very one-sided but I smiled and let them hold my hands. My little brother and I stood out in the dirty snow with kids much older than us and oohed and aaahed at the hot wheel cars and rubber bouncy balls they had received. It didn't seem to matter that the toys were cheaply made and tiny. They just smiled and laughed and showed off each item in their bags. I drove a toy car around in the snow for a fifteen year old boy whose eyes lit up, like, well, Christmas morning. A girl about the same age as me handed me a yo-yo with a confused look on her face. I threaded the string and quickly showed her how to use it. More kids surrounded us and the laughter and joy doubled.
It was time for us to go and as I climbed into the beat-up van that transported us around, several of the children grabbed my hands one last time. I inexplicably had tears in my eyes as we said goodbye. The children were called back inside and as the van door slammed closed, I realized that I had several rubber bouncy balls and other small toys in my hands and pockets. They had given me their only toys- the only presents they would receive for Christmas and as far as I knew the only gifts they would get all year. I tried to call out to them and return the gifts but the children were already herded inside. Suddenly my tears were not so inexplicable and that expected new bike was as far from my mind as California was from Romania.
I sat in the back of that old van silently shivering from the cold and sniffling from the lesson that I had learned - it is far better to give than to receive. What we get in this life will fade- wheels will fall off, strings will get tied into knots- but what we give- smiles, time, joy- will last.
Merry Christmas- I hope it was filled with wonderful time with family and friends, smiles, and joy!